Thursday, December 15, 2011

Future Thinking

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.


Anonymous said...

Andong said......Yes....we are going to have to stop thinking we all are entitled to be a billionaire. We are going to have to do away with huge factory farms desecrating the ground water, the air and the food we eat. Stand up and tell the FDA no friggen way are you going to poision anymore. Stand up and tell the medical profession it is time they speak out about the pollution of the human race and the biggy....stop having babies. It was interesting to listen to Richard Gwynne talk about his new book on CBC. He ended with a comment about Harper looking for the great idea. It will be a frosty Friday in Hell before he ever finds the great idea that will put him in the Roosevelt or Churchill league. His tunnel vision is strangely humongous and he doesn't realize his secretive attitude is what makes it so.

The Mound of Sound said...

Harper lacks the courage to pursue great vision. He showed as much in his stimulus budget. His government went to the markets to borrow money large chunks of which were doled out for people to have a deck thrown on the cottage or some landscaping in the yard.

What Harper could and ought to have done with that borrowed money was inject it into the economy in the form of infrastructure investment - new roads, high speed rail, etc. - the sort of spending that will yield returns to the economy in future years when taxpayers get the bill for that borrowing. He didn't have the courage to muster up the vision for that sort of sensible spending and so he squandered all that money pointlessly leaving future taxpayers with all the debt and no offsetting benefit.

Great ideas need courage if they're to amount to anything and Harper is bereft of courage. All he's got is cunning.

VULT CULT said...

Here's the problem as I see it -

Despite living in the 21th century, we are all actually constrained by a way of life that has developed and essentially stopped in the 20th century.

Our systems of governments, standards of business, our transportation systems, even our morals - they're all based and rooted in the past.

And now, we've reached a point where all of these things are now taken over by non-individual entities society has created supposedly to make it easier to function in life - entities whose primary interest in sustainability is solely in terms of profit.

So it's no wonder the human race is dooming itself to eventual extinction.

Even the Internet - something I have long held as one possible tool that could help humanity overcome its need to destroy and pillage for profit by using it's power to inform and empower by application of knowledge - is slowly being destroyed by the very non-entities mentioned above.

The simple fact is, unless there is a way to get pretty much every single fucking sane human being on the planet on the same page, understanding the same information, and thinking, talking, discussing, planning, developing, testing, and implementing long-lasting solutions - together - to all our global problems (number one IMO is global warming) - we as a species will be done for.

The Mound of Sound said...

We are, as you argue, firmly fixed in the past, CV. So are the institutions, both public and private sector, that govern our lives. Both of these forces actively promote inaction among the public using fear of the unknown as their prime motivator.

Among the majority of global warming critics I speak with there's a powerful undercurrent of fear that action would mean wrecking the economy, destroying their wellbeing. They seem to understand we're getting overtaken by natural forces but they don't get that the course they insist we continue following is the route to really wrecking the economy, destabilizing their lives.