A Sustainable Future

I attended a great talk today.  Al Gore presented highlights from his latest book, The Future:  Six Drivers of Global Change.  Here are Gore’s six drivers:

  1. Economy:  technologically advanced, globalized, with distant and deep supply chains
  2. Communication:  instantaneously enabled by the internet
  3. Political Power:  shifting from the west to the east
  4. Growth:  population and economic
  5. Genetic manipulation:  revolutionary developments in the life and material sciences
  6. Ecosystems:  relationship between humanity and the natural environment

For sure, it’s challenging to digest Gore’s list as a set of stand-alone topics.  Since these topics are all interrelated, they’ve got to be considered holistically.  For the average person, myself certainly included, this is … impossible.  I keep coming back to the question, how can we think about sustainability such that it’s both understandable and actionable?  Humanity must come to a consensus on this, and quickly.  We must row together in order to pull our boat forward.


Image courtesy www.ivyleaguesports.com

One thing Gore talked about today is “winning the conversation.”  To explain what he meant, he used the Civil Rights movement as an example.  A major milestone was achieved here in the States when it became socially unacceptable to speak or behave in a racist manner.   Regarding climate change, the conversation is turning from debate about its existence to debate about how to respond.  This, unfortunately, is where the conversation splinters.

Because there are multiple complex and interdependent variables in play (see Gore’s list) and because the situation is dynamic, the global community must collaboratively develop both a broad perspective about the best long-term strategy as well as a close-to-home perspective about tangible and feasible ways to live and work more sustainably.

Hence, systems thinking is required.  Ideally, by seeing a situation as a whole, new insights emerge and new prospects are envisioned in response to problems where solutions are not easily attained.  According to Daniel Aronson, “Systems thinking has proven its value (regarding) … issues where an action affects (or is affected by) the environment surrounding the issue, either the natural environment or the competitive environment (and regarding) problems whose solutions are not obvious (Aronson, 1996-98).”[1]

So, assuming that we concur with Gore on the six drivers of global change, we must create a vision for a sustainable future.  Perhaps we ought to focus our sights on making nakedly transparent the true costs of growth (population and economic) and on comprehensively analyzing the technical and moral implications of genetic manipulation.  In this way, we can determine a path forward based on an understanding that “Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment (EPA, n.d.).”[2]

© Taryn Fisher 2013

[1] Retrieved from: http://www.thinking.net/Systems_Thinking/Intro_to_ST/intro_to_st.html.  Daniel Aronson is the host of the Thinking Page (http://www.thinking.net), a source of information on improving organizational and individual thinking.


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