2019 UN HLPF side event scheduled Tuesday July 10 2019 1:15 to 2:45 at the UN Millennium Hilton, 3min statement. Further links to natural growth strategy below. – Jessie Henshaw
Thank you for coming. Find more of my statement and links at www.synapse9.com/signals
My name is Jessie Henshaw. I’m a natural systems scientist who developed
a fascination with how living systems transform as they develop, such as how
our economy once changed by small accumulating steps that got bigger and bigger. Those ever-increasing rates and kinds of
change are the key reason there are natural limits to growth. Growth is itself an organizational process that
pushes economies and their organizations in the direction of increasingly
For example, walking down the street
by bigger and bigger steps, making more and more progress at first and would
lead to losing control, and a painful fall.
Similarly, in the last 250 years, the world economy doubled its annual expansion
about 12 times, so our annual expansions today are about the size of the entire
world economy of 1920, truly enormous.
In part, we experience that as universal pressure, for increased economic performance from all people, all organizations, all societies, and of course, all of nature too. We are also feel surrounded by systems failing to keep up, and in crisis, crying for help, that we find hard to deliver. So today the true location of the most “vulnerable people” and most “vulnerable regions,” struggling with unmanageable demands, is now truly the whole earth. (to cut for time)
At first, the economy’s growing
demands were not overwhelming, and seemed very rewarding for large sectors,
having a negligible impact on the earth as a whole too. Continually multiplying them changed all that. Now they disrupt every environment and are breaking
through all silos of discussion. Now we
see there was no “economic decoupling,” but just detachment from our responsibility. Now we look around and see an enormous diversity
of crises that were not supposed to materialize, and need to decide what to do.
We need an “economic recoupling” with our responsibilities
for the earth and humankind. An easy
first step is to think of your responsibility for steering the economy as equal
to your share of the economy. It may
seem small, but in a global economy where it takes the whole world to deliver
every product or service, we are similarly responsible for a share of every
harm caused too.
The path ahead I see, for transforming
the economy is to change from compound
growth to natural growth, climaxing growth at a peak of resilience and vitality,
ready for a secure, enduring and creative life on earth.
“Finance Serving Life” introduces an updated version of the transformation journey for global capitalism envisioned by J.M. Keynes. He first described it with a biblical fable he called “The widows cruse” (or “Widow’s cup”) based on the 1 Kings 17 story of Elijah asking for food from a poor widow with scarcely any, just a last bowl of flour and flask of oil. To relieve the poor widow of doubt Elijah tells her that if she shares her scarce provisions it will provide generously for both of them, becoming inexhaustible as long as she is in need.
Keynes’ use of the fable was meant illustrate to the wealthy that if growth ever became unprofitable, they could sustain a healthy economy by spending rather than compounding their profits, and have their profits forever be return to them. It illustrates a true natural economic principle of sustainability, that at natural limits to growth spending the profits from investments will become necessary to keep them profitable. That principle is also observed in living systems that repurpose their surpluses at their limits to growth, from being used for multiplying their parts to perfecting their uses and designs in order to thrive at maturity.
Today we can observe that using profits to continue to multiply the parts and demands of the economy on the earth and humanity have become excessive, in total effect impoverishing rather than enriching the both the human and natural world. In principle, though also depending on how it is done, relieving nature and humanity of escalating demands for increased productivity by wisely spending, rather than reinvesting profits would assure that the same level of profits would become everlasting.
Philanthropy and sustainability are among many such good purposes that those with a “good eye for value” might choose at a time such as the present when compounding profits to multiply the parts and scale of the world economy has become increasingly unsustainable. In macro-economic terms, spending the profits of the economy as it approaches the natural limits of healthy development relieves the natural world from endlessly increasing extractive depletion and disruption, while repurposing the use of profits for perfecting the economy’s systems and their relationships with the natural world, potentially bringing endless vitality to the whole.
One of the fine points observers often miss is that a non-growing world economy, using its profits for perfecting its designs for thriving and caring for the planet, would not become a stagnant “cash-cow.” Like a natural ecosystem it could be a thriving and stable system for continual self-reinvention, maintaining as much creative change, i.e. “creative destruction,” as is comfortable. Maintaining that balance of healthy creativity, avoiding both rapacious growth and stagnation, is then the steering job of the transformed economic system.
People are such wonderful designers of systems they put their minds to, and life offers so very many wonderful examples of successful transitions of this kind, from compound extractive growth to long lived creative stability, it is hoped that now that we are faced with the challenge, we could put our minds to it and figure it out.
The current slide set for presenting the concept more fully as a talk or webinar has the same name “Finance serving Life.”
I’ve been observing the UN SDGs as a natural systems scientist since 2013 when I saw with some surprise that the one topic both Country delegates and Civil Society groups could agree on was the wording of the ideals for global development. Even when the Co-Chairs, Ambassadors Korosi, and Kamu, began persistently asking for the discussion to turn to means and methods it never did. Ideals are wonderful, but the strains the SDGs are responding to are still growing, as the global disruption of human cultures by the growing intrusions of the economies of the world powers continues. That’s a problem not yet to be studied and discussed. Why? Partly to be “diplomatic” and partly not having a model for human cultures as living social organisms that carry all our shared ways of knowing living. Still we need a way to discuss the rapidly growing strains on human and ecological cultures caused by accelerating economic growth, a global cultural sickness.
As growth presses the limits of the earth and challenges the world to ever faster rates of change, the damage to nature and human society is more and more lasting. That’s a conclusion you can reach from many directions I think. The communities the SDGs aim to help seem mainly deeply rooted old cultures that are now “failing to thrive.” That is a living systems problem, not a numbers problem, as the SDGs were designed to solve. Failing to thrive is more like a “lack of meaning in life” dilemma, requiring a different approach. It’s also a symptom that one can use to map the problem worldwide and begin to look at its real dimensions.
Failure to thrive seems to hit both indigenous cultures worldwide and communities within economies where “creative destruction” is leaving lasting scars, like rural flight or outsourcing that hollows out a region. One example is the deeply alienated culture giving support to Donald Trump in the US, distressed by the world changing so much around them. There are also non-thriving local cultures in North, Central, and South Africa, as well as in the Middle East and North, Central, Southern and Eastern Asia, as well as in Oceana, Australia, North and South America. It’s not “the same old thing,” but a truly accelerating global plight, seeming to be of all the cultures that didn’t welcome or were disrupted by the intrusive growth of the world powers.
Human cultures are truly the crown jewels of humanity, though, where most of our gifts come from and are on display. They are the unique individual species of the human ecology. If you think about it, there is no other place on earth for the safekeeping of all our ancient accumulated ways of knowing and living. Each culture either crafts its separate way of knowing and living or branches off from another. They are our most important gift, evidently now absorbing a great deal of abuse.
With each culture being its own “knowledge system” it keeps people from making sense of any other culture, or even our own. If you trace the evidence, it does check out. We get the large part of our ways of understanding things during early childhood, by what you might call ‘osmosis’. Some say it’s “too close for us to see,” or that our mental way of seeing is functionally like a camera and its lens, that are never visible in the pictures they take. Cultures also have a deceptive “cellular design.” Their ways of knowing and living are internally shared, and not experienced from the outside. Even with extended immersion, an outsider does not develop a native feeling for another culture’s roots.
The great challenge we face today is that growth is an ever faster process of expansion and change, *doubling* its demands on the earth and humanity every 20-30 years. That radical rate of increasing demands is what eventually overwhelms the adaptability and resilience of people and the earth. Living things are being pushed to keep mechanically doubling numerical returns for culture-blind investors, as if the earth was unoccupied.
That’s how the English occupied North America, a hundred years after the first settlements rapid expansion began with importing slave labor then a wave of settlers swept across the rest of the continent, as if it were unoccupied. Elsewhere the economic powers built systems for globally harvesting resources, placing overseers where needed to manage their access, as if there was no one else there. Today it continues with how global capitalism still relates to the world, measuring its success in rates of accelerating expansion alone, as if no one is here. What’s most surprising perhaps, is how very effective our cultural blinders are in hiding our blindness to our own and other cultures from us. That is, hidden until you have an indicator like the glaring disruptiveness of ever more sudden change.
So what would relieve our fast growing societal distress? There’s a new business model expressly for responding to it, to use biomimicry for how nature builds thriving ecologies. If interested there’s a longer discussion article on how healthy cultures are the foundations of healthy economies and the business model for nourishing our cultures, that I refer to as “True Public-Private Partnerships” (tPPPs) discussed more in the essay Culture, Financing for Development and tPPPs.
The new business model begins like any business, organism, or culture does, with a period of innovating and vigorous growth, making profits to expand its systems. When the environment responds with increasing resistance or stiffening competition, the new strategy is to choose when and how to switch from maximizing profits for growth to maximizing long-term profitability to pay it forward. That’s done by refining systems to operate in smooth harmony with each other and their world. It’s a more gradual process but would produce more integrated development and be more profitable in the end, to combine human ingenuity and natural design.
Do comment if this gives you questions or ideas!
[*] Jessie Henshaw consults as HDS natural systems design science, email@example.com, offering insight into nature’s processes of negotiating change. She uses natural systems thinking strategies (NST) with “action research” (AR) and architectural “pattern language” (PL) methods of collaborative developmental design. The start is from recognizing that organizational processes in nature follow a familiar arc, beginning with bursts of innovation, and then refinement, leading to a final release (IRR). That is not unlike how we all do home or office projects, in stages of immature then maturing growth then release, also seen in reproduction. The system produced is first “framed out” with innovations then “filled in” with refinements and “delivered” as the release when ready. Her current related research article is on how our Systems Thinking co-evolvolves with our Systems Making.
The Growing Effort to Decouple GDP from Energy use and CO2, is having no apparent effect, raising serious questions about the nature of our plan.
The graph below (Figure 1) shows the 46-year record of world GDP PPP, Energy, and CO2, during which their growth rates have been in constant proportion to each other, called their “coupling.” The things to read are 1) the lack of accumulative departure from the steady trends, and 2) how closely the exponential trend lines (dotted) follow the data.
It shows that the long trend still holds despite both big efforts and bigger promises that accelerating growth using more efficient processes would separate the expanding economy from its impacts. Focusing so much on the “positive” completely disguised the big picture, though, that in 46 years there has been no accumulative effect at all. So there’s a lot to explain, yes, but the graphs below show persistent regular behaviors of the economy as a whole resilient system, a problem not yet faced at all.
That energy use and CO2 emissions are now still growing at the same rate as 40 years ago is strong evidence that none of the sustainability measures such as exceptional efficiency gains said to decouple the economy from its impacts, have had any effect at all.
The irregularly fluctuating curves below (Figure 2) show the annual rates of coupling if world Energy and CO2 growth rates to World GDP (PPP). The scale at the left shows their locally averaged growth rates as a fraction of the locally averaged GDP growth rates (to somewhat smooth the curves) going below zero once. The important thing is to notice is that the fluctuations vary around nearly horizontal trendlines.
It’s as if the economy is guided by an “invisible hand” keeping the fluctuations symmetric to the near constant trend. It says the fluctuations have been adding up to no effect. The likely cause of this is how a competitive economy naturally works. Technology and resources are supposed to be treated as being fungible assets, to be constantly reallocated to maximize profits. In the data, that functional coupling between the physical and financial systems of the economy is shown working rather smoothly, replacing less with more profitable assets to maximize the growth of profits for the whole. That stable coupling of managed assets to growth is then an apparent natural emergent property of the system as a whole, as a partnership between human cultures and the financial world’s effort to maximize growing profits.
How the world community came to say that “sustainable development” would reverse this stable natural relationship between the economy and its resource uses is described in more detail in April 2014 in The Decoupling Puzzle. Small fluctuations do keep causing excitement for both devoted climate deniers and sustainability advocates, though, each picking out brief trends seeming to affirm their hopes, like the five periods of apparent rapid decline in CO2 to GDP coupling shown here. The real evidence is that the local fluctuations never seem to result in a change in the direction of the whole, like ripples on a pond that always level out. The latest dip in the CO2 coupling trend has been claimed as a sign of turning the corner by the IEA, clearly unaware of the consistent pattern of that metric repeatedly fluctuating around a near-zero trend.
Added perspective on the global data is gained by plotting the ratio of GDP to Economic Energy energy, the amount of wealth produced with a unit of energy. We call that variable “Economic Energy Efficiency,” the amount of economic wealth generated per unit of energy. Having its growth rate = 1/3 the GDP rate implying that improving efficiency contributes 1/3 of the value of energy to the world economy, growing Energy use contributing 2/3 if the value. That ratio demonstrates a general case of Jevons famous observation that in a growth economy efficiency results in growing rather than declining resource use and impacts. Any way one reasons it, what is crystal clear is that in the last 46 years strenuous effort to use efficiency for sustainability have had the opposite of the intended effect, recreating the original problem rather than solving it.
So we need to be suspicious of the world policy to maximize growth at any cost. The costs are rapidly swelling not shrinking. The other coupled impacts of growth also causing how people live being forced to change ever faster creating major disruptions and dissension all over the world is one of the biggest, though even the NGOs are very slow in recognizing. In nature, growth is how all kinds of natural systems begin, but those we admire for their perfection turn to refining their designs before they climax rather than, driving their growth to the point of being torn apart of being exhausted.
That’s the trick. Maximizing growth might seem logical as a way for societies to keep up with social distress and debts, but now it’s accelerating them. So now we need to balance the attraction of short-term profits and connect them all the unbalanced disruptive changes that now surround us. We talk lightly about replacing people with robots, for example, overlooking that the robots only work for the banks. That’ll make people and governments ever more indebted and incapable of responding to climate change, for one problem. And that chain of consequences goes on and on, that is as long as we keep ignoring how natural growth systems that avoid the problem work. More disruption is not the solution, only moderation.
There’s an alternative business model that could serve as a general design for growth without disruption, one that switches to paying the profits forward once any debts have been paid back. Once understood, that is what would achieve truly integrated, thriving and self-limiting development, as biomimicry of ecosystem designs. It is discussed in more detail in the article linked from my next post, Culture, Finance-for-Development, and tPPPs.
Use biomimicry for how nature uses growth to build thriving and enduring systems.
It would be a way for businesses large or small to begin to experiment with how nature succeeds in creating beautiful, thriving, and purposeful systems. It’s a fairly simple formula. It’s also a practice we all know well for how to successfully relate to other people and how to successfully complete business or home projects. It starts with building up innovations to then select what to refine for making the result resilient and purposeful in its environment. If we approached every new relation or project by piling on new experiments with no turn toward refining something to last in the end, all the effort would go to waste in the end.
To start you study the similarity between nature’s way of building things to perfection and how we do our own home or office projects! They all take place in “three acts.” The first act is for “innovating,“ the second for “refining,“ and the third act the “release” of the finished product into its waiting environment (IRR). You see the same three acts in the birth cycle, and in the start-up of new businesses too, as well as the formation of new cultures and most every other kind of individual development. The trick is really to pay attention to the inspiration that starts it off, as something to fulfill. That lets you anticipate and move smoothly between the stages of emerging development, first adding up more innovations, then refining the ones worth keeping to the end. It’s what comes most naturally when we can see the whole effect.
When you can see the whole it’s easy to recognize the point when adding more innovations begins to work against getting something finished, called a “point of diminishing marginal returns.” Of course on a home or office project what tells you it’s time to shift to finishing what you started is just sensing what can you finish while you have time and resources. For anything measurable, like wealth, the point of diminishing marginal returns is when it becomes more profitable to put efforts into getting things to market rather than try more experiments. To apply it to the world all you do is ask: “What is our real plan here?” and look around for how to perfect what we started, and at the right time stop taking on more and more that we probably won’t be able to finish. It’s a matter of shifting to pursuing achievable goals rather than hanging on to thinking ever bigger with no end in sight. Reaching for the right goal doesn’t necessarily make the work easy, of course, particularly for big personal, community or business projects. It just makes the work a lot better, and the end something fulfilling and rewarding.
I discuss that as a way to measure truly lasting success for the UN’s 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, instead of just “more, faster” the ways the UN’s goals are like the goals of business-as-usual, discussed in more detail in Culture, Finance-for-Development and PPPs.
The global GDP PPP curves show IEA data from 1971 to 2008 spliced to overlapping World Bank Data from 1990 to 2016. The curves for global Energy are from BP statistics, and the Global CO2 curves show data from WRI.
The Energy and CO2 curves were each scaled to the GDP curves in proportion to their average growth rates for a graphically clear and honest comparison.
dy/Y is the ratio of the change in a measure over the total, like an interest rate or growth rate measures. I get smoother curves by blending a bit, using a center-weighted 5 point bracket.
– The wide implications relations based on fiduciary trust – JLH
Professionals making decisions for others have a duty to act in the client’s best interests, to the best of the fiduciary’s ability, as the basis of trusting the fiduciary’s services.
The law doesn’t limit “best interests” of others to short term financial gain, leaving open all other interests everyone has a right to, such as not being misled, living sustainably, respecting due process and receiving justice.
What has changed in the modern world is that we face more threats and know more about them, so now we can hold our professionals responsible, demanding our universal human interests be respected as their fiduciary duty.
Putting this on the human rights agenda would only take talking and writing about it.
– Current Law: The Fiduciary Duty for investors[i]
“Whenever you are dealing with someone to whom you will entrust your money, such as a registered investment adviser or a bank trust department, it is nice to know that, in the United States, they owe you what is known as a fiduciary duty. This is not to be taken lightly because, under the American legal system, a fiduciary duty is the highest duty owed to another person. It requires the fiduciary (the person with the obligation) to put the interest of the principal (the person to whom they owe the fiduciary duty) above their own.”
“This requirement to act in their best interest includes disclosing any conflicts of interest that may arise so they can be known ahead of time, leveling the playing field. Breaching the fiduciary duty can result in draconian punishments, including being barred from employment in certain fields, being banned from working with certain types of securities, being forced to pay significant civil and criminal penalties, the loss of employment, and, in some cases, felony conviction with accompanying jail time. To put it bluntly, the fiduciary duty has teeth.” [see source for rest of article]
“A “fiduciary duty” is required of a person who manages money, investments, or other property on behalf of another person. When the situation involves a board of directors managing a corporation, the fiduciary duty the board has to the corporation’s shareholders and investors is known as a “business duty.” A person who has a fiduciary or business duty is known as a “fiduciary.”
“A fiduciary duty requires more than the ordinary reasonable care that appears in most personal injury and tort cases. Fiduciary duties are generally split into two categories: the duty of loyalty and the duty of care. In some cases, board members may also have a duty to disclose information. They also have a duty to avoid conflicts of interest.”
“The duty of loyalty requires the person who has it to handle money with the best interests of its owner in mind. The fiduciary must put the owner’s interests before his or her own and may not profit from managing the owner’s assets without the owner’s consent.”
“In a business situation, the duty of loyalty requires the board of directors to run the corporation in the best interests of the shareholders. Directors have a duty not to let their personal interests conflict with those of the corporation.” [see source for rest of article]
Note: there is no limit to what “best interests” a fiduciary needs to serve,
1. There’s only a limit on their ability to serve them, and
2. All “best interests” would require not being misleading
Setting Our Whole system goal,
Making the Earth our good home.
Much of my effort over the past five years fosuces on working with civil society organizations at the UN on the world sustainable development goals (SDG’s). This year, needing to take care of other business, I’m sitting out. It may be ironic, of course, as the challenges of implementing the UN 17 separate goals probably makes:
more and more participants think of how the goals need to all work together,
and can’t individually be achieved without the ‘nexus’ of the whole.
Ultimately my years at the UN was mostly spent identifying the widespread absence of systems thinking in the SDG’s, watching somewhat painfully as the UN spent all its time creating lists of separate goals, as if unaware of their interlinkage. The interlinkage most neglected of course was that of *MONEY*, our main tool and problem. So my writing of that time may be a little out of date. I can tell that much of the systems thinking I found so absent before still is, however.
I have lots of other writings on how “systems thinking” for our world needs to become “systems making”, the next step toward true “homemaking on planet earth”. Finding how societies can make their good homes on earth is the answer. Like ecologies of other kinds do, we can invent our way out of the deepening trap we now find our world economy in, using nature as a guide.
I got fairly frequent applause at the UN, enough to know people are listening, but to my knowledge no one ever followed up on my carefully reasoned recommendations, and no one ever asked me to be on a panel discussing them either. So here I’ve collected some of my old lists of observations on the process, and reiterate my offer to help people understand the guiding patterns of natural system design that I’ve spent my life studying.
A Youtube of one of my interventions for last year’s HLPF gets right to the heart of the matter too!
I also can’t help returning to a central subject of collective organization I’ve studied my whole professional career, the seeming fate of economies to bring periods of high cooperation to an end with total disaster. The main cause could of course be said that no one in particular is at fault. But there is science enough to identify who could intervene, and do something about it.
My previous post was on the work of Ernst Ising, the physicist who solved a range of collective behavior problems, and how pattern language design science might address the question of what kinds of environments are required for emerging local phenomena. Why economic collapse is always on the road straight ahead for our form of highly cooperative modern economies is one such subject I’d like find physicists using Ising’s work on with.
One might wonder about what keeps driving our highly cooperative world economy toward escalating conflict.
All of humanity seems driven by a “rat race” toward extremes of destructive competition all the time, unable to escape, with most everyone feeling they are reacting in their own defense. That’s not a model for a safe and secure world.
Could we possibly trace how the economic forces, like those driving everyone to achieve rapid growth in economic productivity, and so for the earth and humanity, creating circumstances ripe for triggering grand economic collapses. If we can identify the system doing that we could identify interventions well in advance, to engage a “general protection fault” to avoid the usual mad collective collapse.
I for one think it boils down to demanding people do impossible things, demanding of our society to do impossible things, like continually doubling the speed at which we collect and use energy and expand our control of the earth. That can only end in tragedy, like it has for economies again and again. Why economies are driven to it, to be ever more productive at ever faster rates, follows unavoidably from their organization for maximizing compound returns from investment, making ever more from ever less. Like being forced to “make bricks without straw”, the regular investment of profits in escalating to create ever more daunting competition ultimately compels cooperation in cheating. In the end that unavoidably disrupts the order, as one of the natural outcomes of pointlessly taking the compounding of returns to its natural limit.
We could do something else if we understood the problem…
An interesting global question is, to me, raised by Ernst Ising’s work in physics – (see the arxiv pre-print on his life and work if interested. https://arxiv.org/pdf/1706.01764.pdf)
Ising’s main work in the 1920’s was deriving a mathematical explanation for ferromagnetism, the ability of atoms in certain solid metals to develop aligned spins, and exhibit permanent magnetic fields in there surroundings as a result. The part of that might be of interest from a pattern science viewpoint is how his model has been successfully applied to numerous collective phenomena, both other emergent collective atomic behaviors like magnetism as well as emergent collective macroscopic behaviors like the emergence of organization in crowds.
The math, honestly, is beyond me, but there’s an interesting assumption in the work that might be discussed from a pattern science perspective, that the math rests on treating such phenomena as arising from purely local interactions.
Ising Said: “So, if we do not assume [ ] that [ ] quite distant elements exert an inﬂuence on each other [ ] we do not succeed in explaining ferromagnetism from our assumptions. It is [thus] to be expected that this assertion also holds true for a spatial model in which only
elements in the nearby environment interact with each other.”
What I suspect is that there’s more of a wave/partical type duality present, involving both local and contextual interaction
in bringing about collective organization.
In the collective phenomena we observe there is certainly has a strong local character, whether it’s snowflake formation, ecologies, social movements or probably also the punctuated equilibria of emerging species. All such collective phenomena seem to arise in relatively small centers and then spread mysteriously. They also seem to require specially primed and fertile environments, as global conditions that are receptive to the local accumulation of collective designs.
So my question is who else is talking about this pattern of nature. Is this raised in Christopher Alexander’s “The Nature of Order” or other pattern language writings? Is it raised in the work of anyone else writing in the pattern language field? More specifically, does it need to be understood to know how to describe the contexts we work in, perhaps such that a calm and receptive and so fertile context is needed to be a good host for pattern designs to flourish?
The discussion of the UN’s Sustainable development Goals (SDG’s) focuses on the poor, and “Leaving No One Behind”. That overlooks that it’s most often the growth of the world economy that made older parts of the economy outmoded, and leaving whole communities behind as the world economy moves on to what’s more profitable. This discussion illustrates more of the detail, how innovative change like the “green revolution” thought to be for feeding the poor. It would quite predictably also leave more and more agricultural communities behind, …as everyone has increasingly seen in their own regions… like in my own home region of New York State, exhibiting common symptoms of being economically left behind you see around the world:
abandonment of rural communities
as farmers can’t afford sell to feed their own communities
the flight to cities with now skills to sell
the growing refugee and landless migrant populations
growing youth cultures with little to do but to get angry
or that are fighting over resources degraded by over use
And that’s only one of the kinds of distressed communities unable to keep up with the competition ans the most profitable invest their profits in becoming more profitable and more and more people can’t keep up.
These all actively leave whole societies of suffering people behind in a way that is not reversible. It’s the real predictability of ever escalating competition causing all these uncounted impacts of how we invest money in growth for the wealthy, that undermining the sustainability traditional economies. That’s the real quandary here, it so very predictable. What DO development planners think about, not to ask who the latest innovation will put out of business. Well, to do real sustainable design, we’d need to add that question to the list, what will our “killer app” put out of business? It’s always a trade-off when you “create jobs” of any kind, that there will be jobs lost elsewhere with a very high probability.
Conceptually the lasting profitability option is fairly simple, gradual stabilizing of the whole system profit as the profitability of growth stops growing as fast, leading to a steady state creative living.
For the big picture of how we got the math wrong…
The economic impacts we don’t count turn out to be the great majority of disruptive earth and societal impacts we experience (seeImpactsUncounted ). They even have a name, the “externalities” incurred as liabilities of obtaining services by paying someone else to deliver the goods. So those are actually internal to the operating necessities for running a business, only external to the accounting we’ve been doing. Counting them is actually just ruled out for SD accounting, by a “stroke of a pen”, as effects that decision makers don’t feel responsible for, and have no direct control over. Those include impacts of financial decisions, for investing in disruptive innovations, also excluded from the discussion of impacts by the stroke of a pen.
Some impacts of finance are easily measured and some not, so to fully understand the problem takes sorting through what is accountable and what is not, develop different ways of assigning shares of responsibility. Certainly the ones that are measurable should be counted. They’re mostly counted globally, like soil and water depletion and lots of other things. They’re just not at present assigned to anyone’s responsibility. Doing so proportional to share of world GDP would be both scientifically correct and perfectly fair. So a study group would pick one or two such questions at a time to see what can be learned.
Another concern is how the continual compounding of profits forces everyone in the economy struggle to keep up with financial demands for ever increasing productivity and competition… what the phrase “the rat race” technically refers to. It’s why we all seem forced to to run ever faster to stay in one place. That’s of course not really sustainable, but very hard to know how to measure. Still, it’s a very real kind of suffering and accumulative culture change, and connected to the escalating competition in the economy that leaves ever more people and communities behind, a kind of “destructive creation”.
In figures 1 & 2 illustrate how regions are left behind, using the example of how once thriving agricultural communities of New York State collapsed, leaving long term economic damage behind. The question is where did the money go that once invested in productive farming in the region. The costs were left behind as the money fled to create the extractive industrial farming of the mid-west and elsewhere, mining water and fossil fuel resources very unsustainably, to grow corn, wheat and soy where it wouldn’t thrive naturally. Of course, much of this is only observable in hind sight and not really manageable, but the costs to society clearly also do escalate. That makes it imperative we take responsibility and do what’s right. The driver is making more profits, for investing in even more competitive businesses, using “disruptive innovation” that also leavea ever more others behind somewhere too.
For many decades people have more often called that effect of disruptive innovations “creative destruction”, accepting that to make more money and increase the economy’s products, you have to destroy the economy’s old ways of making products. The hard question is when to change from calling that “creative destruction” to calling it “destructive creation”. The programming of the economy to always grow that process seems to assure ever stiffer competition for everyone, all the time. It’s so constant we might just take it for granted,… but as a continual culture change for pushing everyone to face ever stiffer competition for how they live, it’s certainly not sustainable. As you push the limits then… it seems to naturally leave more and more people and environments behind, and be really more destructive than productive.
How that escalates is illustrated below, alongside the map of New York State, roughly showing the area of Central NY farming communities that vanished in the 50’s to 70’s, giving in to the competition from industrial farming. We could count the region’s lasting economic and cultural damages, perhaps. We can also see that the global corollary is of larger scale and seeming leaving more and more behind around the globe all the time. We can see it was no one’s political decision, nor is there anyone else at direct fault. We can see that kind of change is quite irreversible once it has happened. We’d only know if we counted it, and attributed the costs to our financial decisions to profit that way. As societal collapses are not reversible, we’d really need a more holistic way of measuring our impacts, to understand the costs of how we make money for our future.
Re: 18 – 21 Oct 2016 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (research ref’s at the bottom)
Fourth meeting of the IAEG-SDGs
SD indicators need one more, the World SDG
so Innovators can design their goals
in relation to the whole
My comment is as an expert on both system design and natural science indicators, on how innovative organization develops in both natural and intentional complex systems. There is a great depth of professional design practice that has yet to be consulted regarding the plan for the SDG’s
The general model of innovative transformations is that the emerging culture change, starting from some “seed pattern”, and then going through the classic phases of their own life-cycle of internal growth and changing roles in their environment (fig 1). There are of course many kinds of invasive systems and life-cycles. The type we are most often concerned with innovative transformations of human design, whether our own educations, or our society’s struggle to become “sustainable”, succeeds or not.
The earliest visible pattern is the emergence of an “inspiration” or “design”, looking for an opportunity to take hold, to have a starting organization that gets going by using environmental energy for building up the design. That energy flow for formation then tapers off as the transformation progresses, toward refining the “new capability”, or “new culture” or “new business” etc.
The natural goal is generally to stabilize the design as it begins its real work at a peak of vitality, beginning a long productive life. So in general, it’s to first grow and then make a home, to have a life. This model developed from study of natural change patterns , applying constraints of physics principles for energy use, that for designs to develop or change they need to develop new energy uses too.
I’ve been attending the UN SDG meetings for four years, first for the Institute for Planetary Synthesis, and then with CIVICUS, learning a tremendous amount, but also noticing the very distinct lack of systems thinking in the design of the SDG’s. The main reasons seem to be that systems thinking is not taught in liberal arts educations, and that the design of the SDG’s was mainly shaped by demands for change, by issue focused groups from governments and civil society, not experienced with how organization relies on designs to join differentiated parts. So ideas of how to organizing the differentiated parts when undiscussed and were mostly left out.
So the process produced 17 idealistic “goals” and 36 main “topics” discussed mostly separately, arising from a profound concern with the whole global pattern of culture change and economic development. Personally I had a wonderful time, but was also sad I never got to talk about my main expertise, i.e. on how the parts of whole systems connect. From a natural systems view the SDG’s may be spoken of as separate, but are all indicators of “holistic cultural growth”. They’re not really indicators of “economic growth”, as it’s whole culture growth that brings value to an economy not the reverse.
With the process lacking systems thinking resulted in missing systems indicators: for how differentiated parts connect, for how cultures develop unity and cohesion. The diagram below is mainly for study, a “sense making tool”, a “map of questions” to help guide innovative changes.
The challenge is our usual mental confusion, with our minds working with disconnected bits of information and but actually working in holistic organizations and trying to engage with holistic systems of our world. So our “maps” and our “worlds” show a “mismatch of variety”. So we need to constantly study and learn from new experience. To succeed with an SD partnership, the organizers first need to find a “start-up match” between its “own abilities” and “an environmental opportunity”. Usually it takes “a study of the context”, identifying “forces to make whole” with a “unifying response” ( a reference to “pattern language”) . In terms of the 8 kinds of indicators for planning change, it’s matching type IV indicators of whole system potential, one set within the organization and the other in the environment. The actual initiative might focus on one or the other…
The 4 quadrant map has “condition indicators” for “states” (how things are) and “guides” (what can change). It has “context indicators”, “local” and “global”. The four quadrants are repeated for the Organization and the Environment as a 3rd dimension for the array. This arrangement borrows a bit from David Snowden’s Cynefine “place” centered holistic complex system business design practice. It fits with the long lists of indicators of functionally different kind needed for the SDG’s
There are also other advanced holistic system design traditions to choose from. In all of them design proceeds in “stages” of team “learning”, “work” then “review”. With each cycle all the indicators being worked with are reviewed. All the indicators the organization uses to guide it are consulted in the learning phase of each cycle. The architectural, product design and performance design professions have ancient traditions of how they do their work. Newer traditions of system design where this kind of learning is studied include “action learning”, “pattern language”, “object oriented design”, and “permaculture”. None of these traditions of advanced design practice seem to have been consulted for the SDG’s for some reason.
I do hope the above is helpful
for where SDG implementations can go for advice.
My real reason for writing, …and offering this way of understanding transformational change,… is the oddly disastrous pattern of excluded indicators in the official statistics for the SDG’s. The measures of ESG impacts that businesses are told to report as measures of their responsibility, have many more exclusions than inclusions.
It is possibly unintentional but oddly very boldly “hidden in sight”, the clear exclusion of all responsibility for the disruptive impacts of business and investor money decisions. It comes from the modern continuation of the ancient practice of excluding all business responsibility for economic “externalities” of the choices for what to profit from. Some impacts of what to profit from no one in the past would have know about. Now we really do know most of them.
The very largest exclusion from business impact reporting, though, is one that anyone would always have known about. It’s all the human consumption that business revenue pays for to obtain human services, ALL of it, as if those impacts had no environmental cost. That one accounting exclusion is commonly five or ten times the impacts the rules say businesses should count. The indication is that we have not started doing any form of sustainable development yet, systematically making decisions as if 80-90% of the impacts don’t exist.
At the UN and in writing to people I’ve been finding most people understand all this fairly quickly, …but then avoid engaging in discussion, the worst of all possible responses for our world. The cover-up and avoidance is always the bigger crime.
I urge you to respond to the challenge.
There’s a simple way, too, include in SD reports one new indicator, “global share of GDP impacts” proportional to share of global GDP
It’s really important to start the discussion.
Thanks for all your dedication and work
The next more detailed introduction, to the “mostly uncounted” SD impact indicator problem, with references.
I’m writing as a scientist, and expert on the design of natural systems and natural science indicators. I had wanted to attend the Ethiopia EAG meeting on Indicators, due to the major neglected issues I need to raise. Not having a sponsor I thought to pass on some of it to others who may get there. It’s about reliable filling the unusually large gaps in the SD impact indicators used for decision making.
As a consulting systems scientist I’ve has been attending UN meetings for four years, observing the SDG process, and noticing the big gaps in systems thinking being built into the plan. One in particular is that our impact measurement methods are not holistic, but actually quite fragmentary. Just having better information on visible impacts won’t tell us about the growing system-wide impacts, so SD decisions will still be unable to avoid traditional pitfalls of economic planning. Going ahead with just fragmentary indicators could really then make the SDG effort backfire, perhaps badly, adding to the “externalities” of the economy not reducing them.
That we are not yet doing holistic impact assessment is fairly easily documented, as whole categories left out of the accounting. There’s an amazing list of things the economists (at the direction of the OECD it seems) have arbitrarily left out of the list of things to count. The peculiar result is that the exclusions add up to nominally 90% of the real total. The biggest category of exclusions is usually the largest category of business environmental impacts. It’s the impact of paying business people for their human services, and for professional services, financing and public services. As a result SD decisions to maximize profit are being made unaware of nominally 90% of the future impact costs of those decisions. It’s surely a long standing habit we can’t change all at once, but we desperately need a recognition of it.
The economists have historically counted the business impacts as only things the business specifically directs. That then treats the “consumption for production” of human services as having zero impact, the usual largest of costs and of lasting environmental impacts of any business. The same is the case for all other supply chain impacts that are packaged as “services”, all counted as having zero environmental impact.. Having so little information on the lasting direct costs of business profits has always been a problem, and when combined with not feeling responsible defining “business as usual”. Today SD decision makers are still trying to maximize returns with a similar lack of information, though, as if just feeling responsible would compensate for the misinformation. It doesn’t.
I think most important is not to pick fights but to raise discussions of our common responsibility to address our common interests, to begin to include ones we’d been blind to. The caution is that It’s common for people whose sight is suddenly restored to be in shock, so it’s caring for them not making demands that lets them see.
If you or others would like to follow this up, you might start from watching my video comment to the UN on July 11 (1), and read the short “Impacts Uncounted” circular (2). I found it very effective for explaining the details when talking with people at the UN. There’s also a quite surprising scientific solution that makes holistic accounting possible, first reported in a peer reviewed 2011 paper (3). How to use that principle that “shares of the economy are directly responsible for shares of its impacts”, because of globalization, actually, is shown in a general 2014 proposal to the UN called the “World SDG” (4). It’s not getting discussed much yet, apparently due to the shock. Another caution, of course, is that we need the old economy to build the new one, part of why transformations are complex.
The big mental shock seems to be realizing the lasting impacts of using money are not close to “zero” at it appears. They’re actually very likely close to “average”, for being so unusually widely distributed the way an efficient economy works, that to do most anything takes everyone’s service. That “reassessment” is an almost infinite change of scale in our responsibilities, after all. It directly connects what we do innocently with money with all the disruptive things the economy increasingly does as our growth model collides with the limits of the earth, ..hurting the distressed communities the most.
So what we need is for people to keep doing what they’re doing, and begin to assume they have a real responsibility for what’s going wrong with the economy and the world, in approximate direct proportion to their share of the economy.
I hope that connects with your thinking and gives you a start with mine. Please send me anything you think is relevant.
Good luck your good work! Thanks so much for your time.