Missing Principles of Ecological Thinking – in plans for the Earth

The following list of 12 principles of ecological thinking seemed missing from consideration in the comments of UN member nation delegates and others at recent meetings led by the UN, in its major effort obtain a consensus on sustainable development goals (SDG’s) for 1) eliminating widespread poverty, 2) responding to climate change and 3) maintaining steady economic growth for all… for framing the UN Post2015 development plans.  The good reception I got mentioning couple of these to some of the experts at the meetings prompted me to send them an email with this longer list.

The changes needed in the world economy are SO massive, eliminating endemic cultures of poverty for 1/8 of humankind, doubling the size of the world economy while cutting fossil fuel use back to ~1960 levels, in ~30 or so years, is “a very full plate” agenda.  One might see it as more of a full emergency global economic rebuilding, to save the earth.

The UN leadership prepares extensively for such meetings, providing briefing documents and inviting very expert speakers, generally all show clear efforts to consider the true complexity of intervening in cultural/economic/environmental systems for making such big changes.  The UN doesn’t make a real effort to educate the delegates or other participants as systems thinkers, though, to understand and be able to discuss the real nature of the complex problems we face in proposing to rearrange the human ecosystem.

Feeding but not directing the thinking of others, does mark a conservative approach to intervening in the social and political cultures the UN serves, though, and is quite traditional at the UN.  I think today ecological thinking has advanced some, and the problem we face has changed a lot.  So now that conservative approach comes at some real cost.  It allows a low level recognition of our real problems by world decision makers to persist, and important false directions to go unchecked. Everyone seems to agree we have little time to discover the errors we’re making in our use of the earth and getting them straightened out.  ed 4/30/13


Colleagues, I was delighted to get positive reactions from thought leaders as you each are, at the UN OWG-2 meetings last week, to my pointing out key principles of natural systems not being considered by the delegates.    I thought I’d summarize a list of 11 of them, from my notes on the meetings while the week is fresh in our minds.   I represent the Commons Cluster in the NGO Major Group, and this is part of my own work in that group.

I first noticed the first five this week, while carefully listening for the questions the delegates were consistently not asking.   The other six are one’s I’ve studied carefully for decades.   They’re mostly very logical, perhaps even obvious, but missed by people tending to think and talk in terms of our own social purposes, ethics and values.  So asking what choices are on “nature’s menu” of options is honestly just overlooked.

Because they don’t automatically connect to social values, yet at least, lots of people also respond as if these natural principles are just “too far out to consider”.   So these may seem  “a little far out”.   I think are quite accurate descriptions what’s on nature’s menu of options and rather relevant to our work, though.

  1. We talk about “not crossing planetary boundaries” in the future, with world resource prices rising for a decade, problems emerging of increasingly unmanageable complexity, and conflicting interests tying our hands with indecision, all indicating we crossed the boundary well in the past.
  2. We want both “sustainable development” and “economic development” overlooking the conflict, one being for cultures learning to create wealth with their own resources, and the other for cultures learning to create wealth with growing amounts of other people’s resources.
  3. We talk about growth for “curing poverty” when it’s now causing it and worsening debt crises, with growing competition for limited resources that takes limited supplies from lower profit sectors to give to higher profit sectors, visibly accelerating as supplies hit more severe limits. Continue reading Missing Principles of Ecological Thinking – in plans for the Earth

Growth lifting all boats, no longer

Post to UN NGO thematic consultation on: Environmental Sustainability and Equality

Why growth is now driving inequity,
not the reverse

A popular but mistaken idea is that what is needed to relieve inequity and the food crisis, is a restoration of long term economic growth.   Now that the economy is beginning to press ever harder on the fundamental limits of the earth’s resources, the exact opposite effect is taking place, as growth efforts cause competition to intensify for shares of less and less available resources.

We’re at the limits of cheap resources.  That’s the line we crossed.   So to provide the supplies demanded by the most profitable and fast growing sectors of the world economy, resources need to be taken away from the less profitable sectors, causing them to stop growing and go into ever greater debt.

Growth lifting all boats, no longer - André da Loba, NYTimes

The evidence of that happening in how the commodities markets have exhibited 10 years of escalating prices for essential food and fuel resources.  That directly indicates the transfer of resources from weak to the strong competitors, that the resources available are going to those who can afford higher and higher prices.  That is greatly adding to the other strains causing the food crisis and the world debt crisis, both experienced as “increasing inequity”. Continue reading Growth lifting all boats, no longer

“Active Learning” more than goals… For SDG’s we need to Rethink

This is a copy of a requested comment on the UN NGO Major Group’s recommendations for the UN Post2015 Sustainable development goals, being developed by the UN Open Working Group (OWG) of member country representatives, guided by the UN’s consultants and representatives of civil society groups around the world.   It’s a really exciting thing to be part of…

Comments on draft NGO SDG framework Post 2015
on the SD Knowledge Platform site

I represented the NGO Commons Cluster at the major groups HLPF meeting, 1st OWG meeting and CIVICUS meetings at the UN in the past month.   I’m a natural systems scientist, and for decades have studied a type of physics for understanding why systems like economies are sometimes smoothly self-managing and then sometimes spin out of control.   I’m also active in CAUN.  For reference to what we are learning about how to apply commons principles to the SDG’s, see our 1) proposal for the UN to adopt the commons approach and our 2) draft “Ideal Model” for a global commons approach and for engaging civil society in solving SD problems.  These proposals were reposted to Post2015.org #1 & #2.

We have a lot of rethinking to do:
My main comment could go after pp #1:

A lot of rethinking is apparently needed, as current sustainability efforts are being ineffective, need to be brought into question and new direction found. There’s clear evidence of many kinds that after 40 years of mounting efforts there has been little appreciable effect on the course of the economy’s ever swelling strain on the earth’s resources and living systems. The one exception is unintentional, the current slowing rate of increasing impacts due to the slowing of world economic growth. That’s only from the failure of economic recoveries following the 2008 financial collapse.

So it appears, essentially, that **we don’t know what we’re doing yet**, and so need to take a more active learning approach rather than focus the effort at expanding on current methods, that now seem unproven. Promising new directions like a rejuvenated “commons approach” for facilitating multi-stakeholder collaboration on common interests, are only just being explored. But we believe some way needs to be found to use the active engagement of civil society’s resources central to the world’s SDG framework, and to bridge the silos of thinking now keeping our solutions from changing our problem.

[the following notes would help with turning “needing to rethink” into an “active learning approach” for finding new direction. It comes from email comments on the evolving “commons approach”.] Continue reading “Active Learning” more than goals… For SDG’s we need to Rethink