Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Define Our Decade - the gift of climate disruption

We're already starting to feel the impact of greenhouse gases emitted decades ago. In the meantime, we've continued to increase the annual rate of emissions year over year.

In other words, not only has the faucet been turned on, filling the bathtub (i.e. the atmosphere) more and more each year, we've been turning the tap so we're filling more and more each year, and faster and faster each year. Play around with Climate Interactive's C-Learn Freeware Online Simulator for a little while to see how hard that makes it for us to get the level of the bathtub back down to a safe level of 350 parts per million.

The human brain has trouble dealing with the concept of time. Decades seem like forever, until they fly by. That's why we need to Define Our Decade, set out the visions of the future we want to create, and then continuously work to make those visions a reality.

In November I attended the Society for Organizational Learning's Leading and Learning for Sustainability workshop, where Peter Senge referred to what he called "The Gift of Climate Disruption." I interpreted that to mean that because climate disruption represents such a massive threat to civilization, to all people on the planet, it also represents a great opportunity to put aside our differences, to better understand each other, and to work together to create better systems, which don't have negative unintended side-effects like climate disruption.

Climate disruption itself is just a symptom of more systemic, underlying forces at play, that taken together represent "unsustainability." Just solving that problem won't create a sustainable society. For example, if we create a miracle solution of cheap, clean energy, that could in many ways make a lot of other problems worse - it's likely we would take that solution and simply ramp up a lot of other activities that are devastating to social and ecological systems.

However, climate disruption does force us to think systemically, and to acknowledge our role in the system. Nearly every aspect of our modern economy and daily lives are dependent on fossil fuels, so we are all implicated in this problem, and all presented with the opportunity to develop better systems. As Adam Kahane has said "if you're not part of the problem, you can't be part of the solution."

So my vision for the next decade is for us all to come together and agree that we want to implement the smart, effective, safe solutions that already exist and create a prosperous, thriving, and sustainable future.

We will disagree on many of the details of how to get there, but if we can agree that we all want to do everything we can to affirm life and keep this human experiment going, and if we can work together in good faith towards the goal of sustainability, we will get there.

For me, elements of a vision of a sustainable society that I think are absolutely achievable by 2020 include:
  • thriving communities increase people's capacity to meet their needs
  • smart city design reduces transportation demand by 60%
  • renovating 75% of the existing building stock to reduce demand by 75%
  • all new construction is net-zero
  • 100% renewable electricity smart grid
  • 90% of all food travels less than 100 miles (eating habits shift and improve nutrition, urban and vertical farming abounds, permaculture design becomes the norm)
  • every job is a green job
  • global trade is fair
That's not a comprehensive vision of course... but some of the key elements of I think we can actually do in the next 10 years. Many may look at that list and think it's absurdly ambitious - even impossible. But we certainly won't even come close if we don't try, if we don't stretch, and keep the indirect implications of every decision we make as front-of-mind as possible. And I really do think it's possible. Particularly if we all slow down a bit and take the time to reflect on what is really important in this life, and how we relate to and affect other people - from our immediate family, to our neighbors, our nation, and those we may never meet, on the other side of the world and on the other side of Our Decade.

Stay going.

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