Global Sustainability Newsletter

Issue 1 - January 2007

TO BE OR NOT TO BE?

In the era of global concern about long term planetary sustainability a lot of work has been done and numerous papers and books have been published on that topic. We seem to be flooded with information. But as we all well know today we are no closer to saving the planet from an ecological crisis as we were ten years ago. International reports about the global situation confirm that in almost all areas of concern global ecology is continually deteriorating. So, why can we not stop and reverse this trend? What are the underlying reasons for our failure?

As an entire civilisation, we have not been suitably organised to address planetary problems and challenges. To secure global sustainability we need to change our modus operandi from a national focus to a global focus, from competition between states to cooperation of all states in the common interest - long-term survival of all. Systemic errors, which counteract many positive constructive solutions, must be eliminated. But that requires nothing less than a paradigm shift to global management.

As individuals we also need to mature quickly to see how corruption at all levels is destroying constructive efforts. We all need to ask the question: 'To be or not to be?' and make a choice.

Lack of focus

Adopting the role of an observer who is looking from a distance at the numerous efforts to save the global ecology, what will we see? The first inevitable impression would be that all these efforts are chaotic and not coordinated. We see nation states devoting funds to research and development projects only profitable for those states. As much as it is understandable, it does not help the planet's sustainability prospects. It actually makes them worse in the majority of cases, because many efforts in one country counteract efforts done elsewhere. Similarly, and even more so, most of economic states (i.e. large multinational corporations) undermine planetary sustainability. Their sole purpose and condition for survival is a financial profit. Any other considerations have to be subservient to profits for those entities to continue operations. This is why we still observe operations in underdeveloped countries, where the advantage of less strict environmental and social laws is taken scrupulously. With the exclusion of taxes they pay (or sometimes avoid to pay), multinational corporations have no statutory obligations to provide for societal welfare; they are concerned mainly with their own welfare. This approach, as well as a blind belief of many corporate 'gurus' in unlimited economic growth, have driven the planet to this point of crisis.

The work of research institutions is often not coordinated with the work of others. Moreover, the competition to outdo the others thrives, because we want to pride ourselves on being 'better', 'smarter', or just simply we want to win the race. So, instead of seeing the resources allocated in all different parts of the world as our common resources, many institutions continue to indulge in competition.

In this 'business as usual', we seem to be very busy, frantically working towards numerous goals: national, organisational, professional and personal - to concede at the end that we have failed to progress the issue of global sustainability. We may have achieved our personal goal, our corporation's goal, or our national goal, but we have not yet found a solution to achieve the planetary sustainability goal. And if we continue working under the current paradigm, we will never achieve the planetary goal. If our efforts were not designed to achieve a planetary goal - how can we expect them to achieve what they were not designed for?

As the nation states or conglomerates become more powerful, competition, which is degrading the global ecological support systems, becomes even more fierce. Instead of seeing all national efforts as contributing to the unity of the entire civilisation, we prefer to see ourselves as separate, competing states.

By promoting separation, division, and competing interests, which all work against the all-planetary solution, we will not achieve the desired outcome. First of all there is a compelling need for creation of a global environmental organisation with strong powers to implement all the necessary legislation. This organisation would also coordinate and integrate all states' programs, so as to avoid competing interests and undermining each state's efforts. Ecological management of the planet should ultimately be designed addressing ecological regions and their needs rather than artificial state boundaries. Calls for the creation of an international coordinating body have been made in the past 1 and the results so far are not forthcoming. Unless we, as an entire civilisation, mature to the fact that nothing less than a concerted, civilisation-centred effort, can actually deliver what we ideally want to see happen, we will continue the path of half solutions, conflicts of interests, back fighting, espionage in the national interests, and so on. To save this civilisation we need a shift to a new paradigm in thinking, in relating to each other, and in global management.

Many people are very reluctant to see the so called 'centralisation of power' over the planet. But the global coordination of efforts leading to the sustained, controlled development of the civilisation should not be mistaken for a 'grab' for power. If we, as a civilisation, are not capable of distinguishing coordination from clinging to power, and cannot design an equitable system of global environmental management, we will not succeed in saving the ecology in the long term. This is also true for many other areas of life of this civilisation. We need to start designing and implementing the new paradigm on earth - a planetary coordination approach; we need to address global ecology, global economic injustice and poverty, global ethnic violence, global health problems and all other problems endangering sustainability of the entire civilisation at present.

Lack of integrity

Another issue of paramount importance is the phenomenon of corruption. Corruption has many faces and many levels of subtleties. 2 One could ask the question who was corrupted first: the politicians or the population. And as this question will remain unanswered as one of those 'chicken and egg' questions, we need to re-define our values as a matter of utmost urgency. We have lost the sense of what is good and what is bad, what is appropriate and what is not appropriate, what is ethical and what is not. As much as it would be desirable from pure personal liberty considerations to keep these matters open to interpretation by everybody, as a civilisation struggling for survival, we can not afford to remain complacent and let the anarchy to descend on us.

Lack of integrity within the system is another vital matter which needs to be addressed if we are serious about sustainability. No one can construct a building from faulty, cracking materials. Such a building would collapse as soon as it is erected. Corruption in human affairs is creating cracked relationships and cracked goods. These goods are being produced but do not serve any useful purpose, because they are unstable, not reliable and eventually break down.

We need to reflect deeply on our own human nature and how our weaknesses contribute to the corruption of the current system. Why can't we prevent corruption from happening? Why have we accepted that corruption is an inevitable part of human life? Why do we allow the efforts of so many people and international organisations to be diminished by every corrupted deal? Can't we see that through corruption we are undermining our own efforts, and the efforts of those who are trying to find solutions and help?

As an entire civilisation we need to redefine our value system. In recent years the United Nations led an international initiative to create the Earth Charter. 3 This document is an excellent starting point and the ideas expressed in it should filter through to every level of discussion in government, corporate or community groups, including individual reflections about the purpose of life of this civilisation.

Individually we need to become more serious and responsible for what is happening to our civilisation. Let us wake up to the fact that we need to engage ourselves in driving government's agendas rather than waiting for things to happen. Governments respond to public demand very quickly. We should be acutely aware that if there is no public pressure there will be no response from governments. We need to become more mature, more conscious and conscientious to see that it is us who are required to act, to design our work in a different way, to be ultimately accountable for what is going to happen, because responsibility for the future of this civilisation lies individually with every person. So, rather than waiting for the products to be delivered to us, which may never happen, we need to start asking questions how individually we can contribute to the welfare of this civilisation.

Each and every one of us should make a conscious effort to work not only for ourselves but to make a contribution to the betterment of the planet. Having different skills we all can contribute complementarily in real terms. But to make sure our efforts are not in vain we must also accept the fact that there needs to be order in our work. We need to find integrated solutions to the defined problems and only then work toward solving them.

Integrated solutions

Our civilisation and our society operate on many different levels of organisation. An integrated solution could be defined as a solution which holds true for all levels of organisation it has an impact on. For example, solutions for local councils or nation states do not counteract each other and are also true for the entire planet. The emphasis here is on the entire planet, because this is the pre-requisite and a necessary starting point of consideration for all citizens of the earth.

But are we, as an entire civilization, capable of thinking in global terms? The immediate answer is no. Otherwise we would not have found ourselves in the situation we are in. It would be safe to state that only a very small percentage of our citizens have the ability to think in global terms. And unless these people are given jobs of finding integrated solutions for our civilisation we will continue facing the current problems.

Our civilisation has not been fully aware of the existence of this aspect of global functioning. People are being chosen for the job on the basis of qualifications and work experience. Systems thinking, understanding the issue of holistic coordination, in other words: the finding of integrated solutions, is rarely a consideration during the selection process. And this will need to change if we are to change the direction of functioning of our civilisation. We need to design a system of integrated thinking selection criteria suitable for all levels of jobs. The system could be similar to IQ tests, but reflecting the integrated thinking capacities required for a particular job.

There are many people today whose job satisfaction could be immensely enhanced if they were given the opportunity to work in jobs commensurate with their abilities. And inevitably, there are also many people who have found themselves in positions much more advanced than their own levels of thinking and understanding, people who make many wrong decisions. But because the system is still very hierarchical and military in terms of a superior and worker relationships, those on the top of hierarchy 'are always right'.

Some level of integrated thinking skills is needed on almost all levels of worker responsibility. These levels may be different for people who work in small business, or in factories, or in government departments. But nevertheless some standards should be devised and be included in pre-requisite assessments of suitability for jobs. So, in that way we will be in a position to offer important positions to manage national and international affairs to responsible and truly gifted people, and to bypass corruption, which is part of the problem today.

We are one

We are all individuals, but we also belong to one human family which is coexisting on our planet. And nothing else reminds us so strongly of our common heritage and our common fate as the necessity of long-term ecological survival. The challenges of global sustainability should unite us, should make us realise that in view of Nature's mighty power we are insignificant, no matter how important we think of ourselves as individuals.

  • We are not equals, we are the same thing.
  • All men and women in the world have the right to share his part of the truth.
  • All countries of the world have the right to unite with others (with European Union for example). 4

We have a tremendous potential tool we can work with to help with long-term global sustainability. This tool is the unification of human effort - coordination and unification. Instead of counteracting each others work, we can unite and work truly as one to stop further deterioration of the planet's ecology. The challenges we are facing are so enormous that the famous question: 'To be or not to be?' could not be more relevant today for the existence of our entire civilisation.

We all need to realise the simple truth that we are one.

Danuta Nowak

  • 1 H French, Vanishing Borders: Protecting the Planet in the Age of Globalization, Washington DC, Worldwatch Institute, 2006.
  • 2 P Hawken, A Lovins and L Lovins, Natural Capitalism The Next Industrial Revolution, London, Earthscan, 1999, at 160-161.
  • 3 Earth Charter International, Earth Charter Status Report 1999-2000, San Jose, Earth Council, 2000.
  • 4 Earth Charter Organisation, Global Ethics for a Human World, The Hague, Globus, 14-15 February 2002, virtual conference, contribution by Juan Jose Sanchez Inarejos