If our civilization is to have a future we're all going to have to change the way we think. We'll need a new way of seeing things, new values and principles - call it Future Thinking, thinking about what we need to do to ensure we can provide a future to our grandchildren and the generations to follow them. It can't be all about us anymore. Look around and see where that sort of thinking has brought us.
You need new ways of thinking when you run out of stuff and, like it or not, we're all running out of stuff. Future thinking is all about how we're going to get along in a world where there's not enough to go around, not enough of a lot of things, really important things.
Future thinking is going to be front and centre at next summer's "Rio + 20" UN conference on sustainable development in, you guessed it, Rio. It's being organized by the United Nations Environment Programme office whose mandate is to inspire, inform and assist "nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations." Okay, two things to note. This is about sustainable development, not necessarily sustainable growth. And it's also about how people can improve their quality of life but not at the cost of future generations. Oh boy, my favourite subject - Posterity.
UNEP chief, Achim Steiner spoke with The Guardian about the focus of Rio + 20.
In Rio, equity and sustainability will be central parameters of thinking about the future of our economies. That allows us to address some of the crises before this [current economic] crisis. Some of the problems we are facing did not begin with the banking, financial or debt crises; they were beginning to be visible and driving our economies and societies beforehand.
We have to make the link between the broader sustainable development agenda, which to some may seem a little bit abstract, and the very real crises of the moment but also not to simply get stuck in the symptoms.
Steiner says the world needs a new model of economics one that fully recognizes the value of natural wealth - freshwater, unlogged forests - in their own right, a Green GDP.
You might well say we have done rather well without that in the last 200 years or 1,000 years where we could always turn to the next forest, the next valley, the next river. But the world today with 7 billion people has run out of places to turn to and therefore it needs to start managing, the priority being on sustainability.
...On the natural resources front, supply chains are becoming more and more vulnerable. Risk is becoming more pronounced for many businesses. Food–price markets are fluctuating violently because of extreme weather events.
People recognise the risks of environmental degradation: climate change, loss of ecosystems, scarcity of water and land to produce food. These are all factors that are putting the economy on a more unstable path, and that is why businesses with a degree of longer–term vision and strategy are increasingly looking to governments to address those risks. And they can be addressed only through the kind of scalable responses, such as moving from fossil fuels to renewables, that no individual business actors can actually bring about.
A well–functioning market is actually a regulated market, funnily enough, and not a Milton Friedman notion of 30 years ago of the less government the better. That is definitely emerging.
...environmental policy will increasingly be viewed not as a constraint on development but really the enabling factor for future development and that when we talk about environmental standards, pollution standards, and efficiencies, that they will be appreciated for what they really are – a driver for greater economic efficiency, productivity, while creating fewer risks for society.
To some, Steiner's remarks may be troubling, especially those mired in Milton Friedmanland like Harper and most of his cabinet. Yet if we're to break free of that self-destructive pattern we're going to need a revitalized Left. This is the worst possible time for the Libs to turn Conservative-Lite and for the NDP to transform into Latter Day Liberals, wrapping themselves in the very principles they rebuked for generations. All the Libs and the NDP are doing is helping Harper cement Canada's political centre far to the right, in Friemanland. They're helping Harper fix Canada in the very place it least needs to be. We have to restore meaningful and effective progressivism in this country. We have to accept the UNEP mandate that our quality of life must be achieved without compromising that of our future generations.