Joining forces to close the sustainability gap

By Joern Fischer

Most of you reading this blog are just as sick as I am of hearing that our world is falling apart. We’re in the sixth mass extinction event. Global warming is significantly enhanced by human activities. Many international development goals relating to poverty reduction and social equity remain a distant dream. What’s worse: it’s not even clear that we’re on any reliable pathway to ultimately achieve this thing we call sustainability. Often, it feels like we’re moving away from it, rather than towards it.

A few years ago, Adrian Manning and I led a paper on the sustainability gap. In the paper we argued that a lot of the time, we know that certain patterns or practices are unsustainable, but still, we continue to do more of the same. We’re often caught in short-term pragmatism, trying to solve our sustainability problem by applying the same old tools, just more resolutely. Those tools we termed ‘short-term pragmatism’. What’s not happening, however, is dealing with the long-term, foundational issues. What is our relationship with nature? Which value and belief systems underpin our actions?

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment told us more clearly than ever that ecosystems are losing their capacity to absorb the various pressures we put on them. Often, we know what would need to be done (e.g. reducing greenhouse gas emissions), but as a global society of people, rarely do we get our act together, and actually bring about change at the scale at which it is ultimately needed.

More and more people are sick of hearing about sustainability problems, and feeling like there is nothing that can be done. Or conversely, people feel like things are being done – but those actions typically fall far short of what is needed.

In an effort to get together, understand and rectify the reasons why we continue to undermine our own life-support system, academics and non-academics are now starting to join forces in the new Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (previously termed Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior). This initiative is a bottom-up movement of people who want to use their insights to actually do something for sustainability (see video below). I encourage you to visit the website of this initiative, and think about how you can contribute. Nothing wrong with good science, or good intentions. But it’s time to join forces and close the sustainability gap.

8 thoughts on “Joining forces to close the sustainability gap

  1. Jared Diamond in his book ‘Collapse…” and others as well write about short term decisions versus long therm decisions and the potential effect of this. With my students at Babes Bolyai University we debated a bit this topic, just to find out if there is something ‘biological’ behind this decision pattern. We listed few things, for example, environmental uncertainity can select for this. What you can hunt today, do it, dont let it for tomorrow (because maybe other will hunt it etc.). With these demographich changes experienced by humanity today, I feel that this selection pressure is even bigger. Unfortunately I believe that we tend to go toward even shorter decisions and loos even more our ability to think long term. It may be kind of fositively feed backed, and instinctually driven circulus viciosus which eventually will lead our civilisation in collapse. Since it is instinctually driven, and we are many, and will be even more, potentially it is likely that it will be hard to achieve a statistically and environmentally significant change – although, of course, some individual people may change. My opinion.

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