Category Archives: Mail & Comment

Personal comments and letters that seem to capture an idea well

Nature’s Capitalism: “Homemaking” now, not competition over shrinking pies!

This post is for the UN’s OWG 5 proceedings next week, on Post2015 Macro Economic development positions.  It led to the OWG 8 proposal “A World SDG“, introducing an integrated true scientific measure of sustainability... It’s now followed with “The Decoupling Puzzle – a partial answer” , on measuring our decoupling rate”, and the development space reserved  within planetary boundaries, such as for achieving world cultural wellbeing!

Sadly, as careful as I am with the language, there is some scientific thinking… so the social organizations generally found no way to engage in discussing it.   The basic principle is that “when you build something you then need to take care of it”… something everyone knows in their personal lives.  That runs into the problem that, culturally, we don’t see economic growth as “building something”.  We see it culturally as a “constant” of prosperity… the ultimate tragedy of our times. that ever faster change is seen as “constant” it seems. 4/21/14 jlh

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As a young systems scientist many years ago

I noticed a need for a better type of economic model,

that would connect money to its “externalities” in part.  More importantly it would let people see economies as the complex living organisms they really are.  What I found was the universal stages of natural development, that are repeated in the way any natural event or system develops from small beginnings to multiply at first, and then by multiplying in it’s environment changes it, an Organizational Stages Model (OSM)

Economies are chock full of independently organized and behaving social and cultural communities behaving like organisms, that each develops from a seed of organization in an environment of resources.   You can talk about “why” things occur, causes at a distance or coincidences but that’s an intellectual issue, a prediction, a theory.  

This is about using the most general of pattern of “how” individual events occur the processes of developmental causation taking place in nature in every location where events occur.

Economies, for example, are all populated by actively creative and learning people, discovering things and following each other’s leads….  So what this “Organizational Stages Model” (OSM) approach focuses on for economies is how people learn and how what they learn to do spreads as transformational stages of growth and the emergence of new systems, and their natural limits.   The simple rule, for the transformative stages of any process of new emerging organization, then, is that it’s organizational process will follow an “S” curve.   The first half is of multiplying innovation and expansion of connections, a “burst of development”, and the second a process of rebalancing and integrating.

Organizational Stages Model

That’s the dynamic we need to capture in our minds to understand the world we live in.    An economy is really a whole “civilization” in fact, organized like an ecosystem, accumulating and passing on its knowledge of “how to live” in the form of family and social cultures, as the living “genetic code” of the societies they create.   THAT is what the word “growth” refers to, the compound rates of expansion of that whole organic living culture.

As systems of nature, all those living parts and the whole, first grow and then mature to live and later decline
by very much the same succession of life’s great transformative experiences.

The ultimate most useful model for it I found is really cool!   It’s organized as “a Narrative of Life” as a great chain of instrumental transformations.   I’ve been looking for a name for my life’s work on it.. perhaps “Life Narrative Studies” (LNS) would do.  I won’t further introduce it here, as it’s what my whole site is about, but just present this new graphic to help readers get a feel for the general pattern.

 

Organizational Stages Model (OSM)

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3Step process for Working With Nature

    • A “Sustainability Learning” Proposal
    • Jessie Henshaw – UN representative of IPS & scientific adviser to the NGO Commons Cluster on natural systems, in response to the UN Major Groups call for:  “Crowd sourcing ideas for thematic areas and modalities of engagement for the one day intercessional with the Co-Chairs of the OWG and MGs and other Stakeholders”

    • – “Experiential Learning” and “Transformative Education”,
    • – For building bridges from deterministic, linear and Cartesian thought and word use, by exploring our observations of the environments and their living systems affecting our ideals.
    • 1. As a Break-out Group Activity 2. Outline of the process 3. Other Formats
      4. Purpose & Theory behind it
      5
      . Why we rely on social networks to define our reality

      Added References: Draft Facilitator’s GuideTypical “Public Pad” meeting template

       

      Foreword:
      Here I propose a meeting technique for small diverse groups of people to help enrich each other’s awareness of how their environments work and see what they have and need to work with to “work with nature”. Looking for the working parts the world around them, for how their own cultures work as systems that create their own economies, it might first seem they don’t know any more about that than they do about the weather. The trick is to shift attention from what’s hard to explain in our minds to noticing what’s going on and working all around us. PDF copy

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1. Learning to Work with Nature: – as a break-out group activity –

A diverse work group of 6 to 20 people would be assembled, helped by a facilitator, needing about an hour to just go through the basic 3Step process.   It’s NOT a discussion group, of people offering opinions, but a learning group of people offering connecting observations.  During the session they’d need to be able to write as they talk, building on each other’s observations, starting from being given or choosing an ideal goal to work with.

They’d use that ideal to lead them on an exploration of what people in the group already know from observing their cultural, economic & ecological environments, sharing with each other things they’ve seen are happening that could affect achieving the ideal. The product is a large collection of freshly shared observations on what’s happening and how it connects; they’d need to work with to proceed to planning for investments in changing their environment.

Drawing out each other’s observations on how things work

Continue reading 3Step process for Working With Nature

UN Development Goals… leave out Common Needs

Report I. (below) 18 June – Comment to UN organizers of Final Report on MDG’s in dialog with Major Groups –  MDG solutions are not designed to hold, because the goals were defined as performance metrics not cultural growth and development.  JLH

Report II. (above) Comment to UN President, Member State Delegates and UN SDG agencies, on the UN Sustainable Development Goal Progress Reports of UN Agency and Stakeholder Groups – UN Development Goals… Leave out the common needs for a world that works as a whole:

  1. UN High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons, Report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda – May 2013
  2. UN Development Group: The Global Conversation Begins –  Emerging views for an new Development Agenda – June 2013
  3. United Nations NGO and Civil Society Stakeholder Forum Initial Stocking Taking Analysis of the SDGs eInventory – June 2013
  4. United Nations Global Compact: Report on UN Post-2015 Development Agenda
  5. Sustainable Development Solutions Network An Action Agenda for Sustainable Development – June 6 2013

by: Jessie Henshaw UN representative of Institute for Planetary Synthesis (IPS) & Science Adviser on natural systems to the NGO Commons Cluster – PDF copy (See related problem/solution discussions linked below)

 

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1 Jul 13 – Report II.

Left out are the deep common interests we ALL share, a secure world working together as a whole.

The progress reports on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals display an inspired cultural image of the future, but tragically omit the most important practical necessities of sustainability. Over time the discussion has drifted, toward being only about sustaining ideal economic development, quite overlooking the conflicting critical tasks of sustaining the Earth. It’s been thrilling to observe the process of dream weaving online, and in the many meetings I’ve attended at the UN.   There’s clearly been a massive response from the global social networks, and an eagerness to build a new vision for our future. The vision we see forming is highly impractical though.   For me, as a natural systems scientist who understands the implications, it has been extremely painful to watch as the discussion proceeded, with the critically important steps of sustainability being consistently left out.

Continue reading UN Development Goals… leave out Common Needs

“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

Review of Science for UN’s SDG’s

A brief report and links to presentations for the Mar 20, 21 Science meeting at the UN

 

There was an Expert Group Meeting on Science and Sustainable Development Goals at the UN last Wed & Thurs.  Most of the presentations would be easy to get the sense of just from the slides.   I think worth the trouble.    Below are the links and very brief notes on my impressions.   There’s also background information on science and the Rio & Agenda 21 issues: Science; Sustainable development goals;

{j} A brief report. The 10 presentations are highly informative. One in particular raises grave concerns.   The apparent dominant view in the sustainability sciences from #1 still seems to be that “decoupling” is a realistic objective, if we just “innovate”.

If asking the hard questions suggested by #9 we’d acknowledge “decoupling” is an idea to have ever growing wealth and ever shrinking resource needs as our future plan.  We’d also ask whether resource limits are what matters in the end, or whether ever larger and faster change in how we live would become unmanageable anyway…

There also seems to be no direct measure to use for determining if SD goals are achievable or sustainable.  My presentation, if I were to make one, would offer the science to fill that gap.

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1. Decoupling – Natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth – Mr. Fischer-Kowalski & Mr. Swilling, International Resource Panel and UNEP

{j}  – The fervent dream in some quarters that we might create ever increasing wealth without resources (“decoupling”) is still at odds with the long established and continuing trends.  It seems presented here as still a hopeful challenge rather than something probably dangerous to rely on.
– see also Apr30 2014 “Decoupling Puzzle – a partial answer

2. Early warning of climate tipping points – Mr. Tim Lenton, University of Exeter

{j}  – It would be great to hear the full presentation, as the new information I see right at the top of this is quite shocking, that the climate change expected not too far off, is a relatively abrupt shift from one stability range to quite another.

3. From MDGs to SDGs: Key challenges and opportunities – Mr. Dave Griggs, Director, Monash Sustainability Institute, Future Earth

{j}   – several nice conceptual diagrams, hopes and fears

4. Future Earth: research for global sustainability – Mr. Stephen Zebiak, Earth Institute, Columbia University

{j}   – presents a world science collaborative called “Future Earth”, to guide all parties in making decisions from a scientific basis, so, a ‘multi-stakeholder’ process for science to speak, that I think would succeed and fail as the IPCC did unless it includes the financial and business communities, AND, the three of them use real measures to determine what profitable scenarios are actually sustainable.

5. Strengthening the science-policy interface – Global Sustainable Development ReportUnited Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) Mr. Richard Alexander Roehrl, Division for Sustainable Development

{j}   Nice presentation on trends in research, and list of upcoming assessments of progress and potential,  but talk of global modeling of system change as the reference indicator,

6. Strong support for SDGs from the scientific communityInternational Council for Science (ICSU) Mr. Gisbert Glaser, Senior Advisor

{j}j   Science strongly supports the funding of the great scientific research being done

7. Sustainability is political – Building pathways in a safe and just space for humanity – Ms. Melissa Leach, Steps Centre

{j}   Good selling points for succeeding, but not clearly connected with paths to success as I see the main dilemma and barrier to selling it

8. The role of science and scenario modeling in setting priorities for SDGs – Ms. Claudia Ringler, International Food Policy Research Institute

{j}   Focusing on hunger, the benefits of succeeding and the costs of not

9. The role of science and scenario modeling in setting priorities for SDGs? – Youba Sokona

{j}   A planning exercise, last three slides ask the hard questions…

10. The role of science and scenario modeling in setting SDG prioritiesUnited Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) Mr. Mark Howells, Royal Institute of Technology (Kungliga Tekniska Hogskolan)

{j}   Nice display of the complex system modeling approach contemplated, that misses the financial need for compound returns for financial system stability, and so for the system to accelerate outputs to infinity…

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Jessie Henshaw 3/23/13

Wholes and parts in unaccustomed partnership

It’s hard to make a mass movement out of working with others you didn’t invite to share your environment,
but it’s a mass happening on earth these days.

The famous “tragedy of the commons” is about partners in using a common environment who let their self-interests destroy it, for not knowing how to see or work toward their common interests.   As people keep pressing the limits of the earth, nature is setting up the same challenge for us, asking us to work with accustomed partners, and learn how to work toward common interests, to not destroy the environments we share on earth.

These accustomed partners seem ‘odd’, both in seeming 1) to need the same ecological space we might feel is our own, and 2) each appearing to speak different languages. It turns out that needing to learn unfamiliar languages is the real reason “perfectly nice people” create tragedies in their commons.  If you can’t learn enough to “get along”, it lets self-interests amplify till a commons is destroyed.

Everyone listens in a different language too

The following emails discuss some of the very interesting details of the human ecology that would enable “the commons approach” to work.  Nature is already challenging us to learn how to get along with strange partners… like new kinds of global development demanding the same resources as others have used, and rapidly changing local communities in many cases too.   So this discussion would also help you recognize where people are already learning to focus on common interests in getting along with different kinds of partners.

It came up in discussing how to communicate, in my response to Barry’s observations on a lack of response on a forum had asked about.

JLH 3/8/13

Barry,

Thanks, your response seems particularly helpful, and to add to a discussion on the same subject with Helene in the Commons Action group, extending the thinking we found talking with you and others in Systems Thinking World.   The subject of learning styles has come up as we try to understand how to communicate the idea of what commons are and how to make them work.

One interest is in the five “modes of hearing” described in the work of social scientist Barrett Brown as well as similar concepts of others including Carl Jung.   Brown has a table in that article describing five types of ecological self-awareness ethos, roughly: romantic, heroic, manager, strategist & idealist.  It’s not clear, but I think Gordon Parks’ observations you bring up, that people are either receptive to ‘serialist’ and ‘holist’ learning, may apply to all of Brown’s categories to different degrees.   What is clear is that we can identify personality types that greatly influence what sorts of messages are “music to your ears”. Continue reading Wholes and parts in unaccustomed partnership

Your Ontology getting lost in Epistemology??

First (V.) is Helene’s response, to (IV.) my observations on the dilemma of “defining reality”, that doing so presents “reality” is represented as decided in our brains! Natural reality is precisely the opposite, of course, everything NOT defined in our brains.  Yet… the epistemologists keep winning the dumb argument anyway… even though the true answer is so clear.

A way to extend the idea of “empathy” termed “holpathy” is used, referring to our ability to recognized thing as “wholes” to then later to be more defined, like “a dog” seen as a whole while lacking information to describe it in defined terms. Seeing environmental systems as wholes, also from the extent of their parts acting together perhaps, allows whole parts of nature to first be recognized intuitively, to THEN be defined by information gathered and made sense of later.

Having empathy for other people is very helpful that way, giving you a tangible feeling and impression for them as a whole first, without any hard information on what’s happening inside.  It’s similar for recognizing other whole systems in nature.  You draw on your ability to listen and watch intently and create an image that fits holistically, used for the appearances of other whole cultures, shifting relationships in business or personal live, for the ineffable characteristics of  “places” too.  Those holistic impressions become highly useful later for connecting or fitting in later arriving facts.

After that is our first exchange on the subject (III., II., I.) III. discusses the question Helene asks, in II., whether holistic recognition addresses what some call “humanity’s original logic error”; mistaking logical states for natural forms, and the interesting approach of Barry Kort. I. first introduces the idea of “holpathy” for helping relieve our general cultural blindness to natural systems.

My scientific method for whole systems, developed in the early 80’s, also follows this “seeing the whole helps make sense of the parts” approach (fig 2).  I commonly start with data on continuities of change, like growth curves, that convey a holistic character of the system behaving as a whole to produce it, and of its current changes of state.  It offers a “home base” in one’s reasoning and a way to refer to the same whole system in nature for others to look at, as well as a central location for putting together all the information on a subject associated with it, to unify holistic and analytic information, like a replacement for equations to use with complex natural systems.

1. God's Cookie Jar - contains all the parts in wholes!

Whole systems have character you can intuit but not define, to then use as a mental framework to help fit bits of disconnected information you collect together

V. From: Helene Finidori To: ‘JL HenshawSent: Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Subject: RE: Meeting with High Level Forum for those in NYC last Friday – a little holpathy please?

Jessie,

I think you put your finger on the problem. And from what you wrote and the reading of these recent articles I think the problem is double. First it seems that as soon as someone starts talking of reality or nature and what is observed, or ontology, they place themselves in the realm of rhetoric and epistemology, and that’s where hard core ‘epistemologists’ get a win… Continue reading Your Ontology getting lost in Epistemology??

Sustainability = growing profit then steady profit

Posts on the UN NGO Week 4 Sustainability dialog for “WorldWeWant2015Post II references Post I below it, and is in reply to Alison Doig, working with Christian Aid, Green Alliance, WWF, Greenpeace and RSPB to understand the nature of the relation between environmental sustainability, quoted at the bottom.  Alison lays out a set of simple but broad principles for sustainability, a preview of a longer paper, but missing key issues for working with the natural phases of developmental processes for environmental transformations.  jlh

See also Jan 2014 OWG7 proposed World SDG incorporating this principle and others

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Post II  Jessie Henshaw Fri, Mar 1, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Alison,    Your approach seems quite sensible, but to be missing one of the key controlling variables for all these objectives.   That’s whether the improvements you seek are “by an accumulation of larger steps” or “by an accumulation of smaller steps”.   An accumulation of smaller steps is probably sustainable, and an accumulation of larger steps is necessary to get any process of change started, but quite unsustainable, is the interesting rub.

This distinction is also quite missing from the whole discussion, always has been actually, so you’re not to be faulted for overlooking it.   Still, it does in fact control whether any of the things we hope will be sustainable actually will be.   I’m a systems physicist and this is the subject I study, both how all sorts of development processes need to begin and end, and how easy it is for people to overlook the whole subject.  I’d very much like to work with you if you see how to build any of this into your report in progress.

As a matter of change over time, start-up development always needs to be divergent and expansive, a series of ever bigger steps, and maturing development always needs to be converging and self-limited, a series of ever smaller steps.  In-between the physical momentum of change builds and decays.

The natural succession of development phases

For the  “three dimensions of sustainability”, social, economic, and environmental, it applies to all three. Continue reading Sustainability = growing profit then steady profit

Post 2015 UN Sustainable Development Strategy

Responding to questions for UN Post2015 Sustainability Consultation with NGO’s
Week 2: Development Challenges in a Changing World (11 Feb- 17 Feb)
on the UN http://www.worldwewant2015.org website  

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1. Which global trends and uncertainties may influence how environmental sustainability is framed in the international development agenda over the next 10-30 years?

There’s a major global shift that will continue, and upset virtually everything people are planning on, because people are NOT planning on our world economic growth model to stop producing growing economic returns.  It financially relies on consuming the earth ever faster.  That is produces ever shrinking returns.

You can see the physical evidence of it happening all over and as the main cause of our converging world crises, the world commodities crises, food crises, inequity and ‘missing middle’ crises,  the related financial crises and ecological liability crises.   It is giving us a world increasingly mired in conflicting interests, complexity, confusion, and indecision. Continue reading Post 2015 UN Sustainable Development Strategy

Thinking a natural world Into Being

A group email on how to connect the mind’s concept language with nature’s process language, earning one “KaShu!” from Alanna.

 

To get things to connect it really does help to first see how they are disconnected.   People put no particular value on where their money comes from or goes to, for example.  As that is a major pathway for our own accumulative effects on our world, nature cares about that a great deal!   People also quite ignore small % changes over time, even though they naturally result in exceeding large scales, complexities and rates of change, inevitably pushing the limits of stability for whatever physical system is doing it.   People just tend to see no association between accumulative causes and their dramatic effects, though.    I indicates “something funny going on”.

So to get a reliable grasp on how different a conceptual world is from the natural world, you need personal examples of where you notice “something really missing”  to go back to it again and again to reground your own thinking on the disconnect between thought and nature.    What I go to are times and places when I could observe growth producing lasting change, making it obvious it’s not in my head but happening where I’m seeing it happen.   There are any number of different kinds of “pregnancies” where bursts of growth large and small develop in isolation. Continue reading Thinking a natural world Into Being