Thursday, December 10, 2009


Kendra wonders how do we bring about permanent global change on fundamental levels?

I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately, first because on a personal level there are some new habits I’d like to cultivate (hello running) and because on a global level, that is what sustainable development is about isn’t it?

At its core Sustainable Development is about changing the way that we as a species operate on a fundamental level.

If it were just about shifting technologies as so many economists and scientists seem to believe, then we could have accomplished it already. Witness the shift from ozone depleting chemicals to non-ozone depleting chemicals as experienced under the UN’s Montreal Protocol, the shift (of questionable environmental efficacy) to dolphin safe tuna, or the move from organic fertilizers to chemical based ones.

We are very good at changing technologies.

But if you take a step back, each of those shifts was a baby step that did little to fundamentally change how humans operated; at least not at first. Dow and other companies had discovered other chemicals that we could use to keep our aerosol cans without punching a hole in the ozone layer. Farmers lay down chemical fertilizers with no clue as to what it would do to the longer term fertility of their soil, to groundwater, to the state of modern agriculture – it was decades before the full brunt of those actions were felt. Dolphin safe tuna did not in any way impinge upon our ability to eat tuna even though by saving the dolphins we put dozens of other species at risk.

Truly sustainable development means that we have to look beyond the immediate problems (climate change, hunger, systemic poverty, cultural and linguistic extinction, biodiversity loss) and find the root causes in order to not only fix the current problem but also to avoid creating new ones.

And anyone who sits down and looks at the intersection of culture, environment, and economics recognizes that means we have to change, truly change, how we interact with each other and with the planet. It means a shift in thinking from one in which consumption takes center stage to one in which people and the environment occupy the main frame. It means creating economic systems (note the plural) that serve people, instead of people that serve a system. It means a shifting from binary thinking, from black and white, right and wrong, to one in which a plurality of ideas can coexist peacefully. It means accepting conflict, but rejecting war.

The question really isn’t do we need to change, but rather how do we bring about Cultural Revolutions in a broad and long lasting way.

Any suggestions?

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