By Joern Fischer
Today, I’ll write my first post on recipes. Well, kind of. The basic premise is that saving the world is like some pretty basic cooking and requires just two steps. By saving the world, I mean making substantial advances towards sustainability, considering intra- and intergenerational issues of justice alongside ecological sustainability.
First, there is a central assumption — and I’d be interested in comments if people even agree with that assumption. The assumption is that most current efforts can be seen as “incrementalism”, while the major drivers underpinning unsustainability continue to intensify rather than weaken. I’ve made those basic points in “Mind the Sustainability Gap“, and in “Human Behavior and Sustainability“. This means, effectively, that most current efforts are band aids, on their own bound to do not very much (nothing). I think of things like failed summits in Copenhagen or Rio, new guidelines to clear just a bit less, or offsetting our carbon emissions while flying more and more. We, often, miss some key underlying points, and our “successes” are not real successes. They are not even steps in the right direction because the overall trends are not going in the right direction — or does any scientist working on sustainability believe that we are actually moving closer to true sustainability (globally!)?
If this assumption is correct, then a steady evolution approach to societal change seems to be futile. Instead, we need to think about some more fundamental drivers; I see some of those in our value and belief systems. As long as the answer to “what do you value” is “consumption and growth”, actions for sustainability will remain essentially futile.
If this is true, the two steps to saving the world are: (1) recognise that we need to do something fundamentally different (in terms of societal order, dominant values, etc), and then (2) work towards implementing fundamental changes.
As I see it, this cake is going to take some time to cook though, because we have not yet reached step 1.
At a recent party I spoke to two “young” scientists (under forty is young, right?) about such issues. They, like me, came into this business at least partly because of concerns about where the world is going. The point is there are so many of us — there must be thousands of “next generation scientists” around the world who would agree that something somewhat fundamental needs to change.
My question to those reading this is: would thousands of such young scientists signing a joint statement that we need to look at societal values more fundamentally (or some such thing) not create some useful momentum? — Would it not be a bit like at least getting step 1 on the way? Or would a statement of that sort, delivered to the UN, major governments, and of course the media, be truly worthless?
If step 1 is to state that change is needed, and if step 1 has not been voiced effectively so that society actually hears it, then it’s precisely that step which we should start with. Would it be possible to get a few thousand “next generation scientists” to agree on some fundamental tenets of such a joint statement, and would it be worthwhile?