Category Archives: Policy discussion

Whole Culture Led not Technology Driven – getting SDG’s to really work

The UN’s idea of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), as a “unified policy framework”, and seemingly everyone else’s too, turn out to be “missing something”,

Missing the glue that fits and holds the many parts together, high aspirations lacking a real method for connecting the parts

In the UN’s “Vision of a Future Worth Choosing

“The High-level Panel on Global Sustainability argues that by making transparent both the cost of action and the cost of inaction, political processes can summon both the arguments and the political will necessary to act for a sustainable future.”

Human cultures have NEVER changed according to plan, is the problem.  That’s now how societal change works.   How people are discussing the implementation of the SDG’s, called a “unified policy framework”, is almost entirely as just a list of ideals, almost like “complaints” about how economic development didn’t fulfill our best intentions over the past century…  No, it certainly didn’t.

What isn’t mentioned, though, is how to change that.  How would the economy’s normal steering mechanism might be changed, if it didn’t go where we’d want in the first place?   How would a new steering mechanism be created that would be more responsive to rational concerns about fairness and our role on earth?   Just a list of desires for what didn’t happen is really just wishful thinking, a delaying tactic perhaps, rather than addressing the problem.

The simple framing of this problem below, what steers the economy, is followed by my brief reports to CAUN on how the “connecting the parts” problem came up in the DESA workshops on implementing SDG’s.  The Workshop Agendas offered a fairly comprehensive view of the “technology push” transfer techniques being contemplated… which helps illustrate the basic problem that human cultures don’t learn that way.

the servant became master, the served the slave
A choice between Whole Culture Led and Technology Driven change...

A. Technology Driven Change, the “tech solution” – leaves cultures shaped to serve technology values, perhaps with ignorance of culture

B. Culture Motivated Change, “the cultural solution” – leaves technology shaped to serve cultural values, perhaps with ignorance of how things work

What thrives in nature is the cultural solution, when… cultures are able to understand what technologies are physically profitable, linked together to produce more than they consume, and… their choices show long foresight in being responsive to where profit ends… Continue reading Whole Culture Led not Technology Driven – getting SDG’s to really work

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

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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

the “Ideal Model” – SD Goals & World Commons Economy

This Mar 2013 proposed “Ideal Model” for steering the economy toward making us a good home on earth led to a Feb 2014 proposal for implementing it, a World SDG .   It’s a global application of the general principle, that we all are responsible for our shares of the abuses of the economy as a whole in proportion to our owning, investing in and using it.   What that provides is an Inclusive Accounting that is close to unarguably fair and even handed.    It ALSO avoids the arbitrary faulting of businesses where impacts are observed even though always paid for by someone else, an actually dishonest way of accounting for responsibilities that also omits huge categories of impacts that are not traceable that way. 

The World SDG uses a method of calculation for any person’s or business’s share of world GDP, for estimating their total share of  responsibility for world economic impacts as “users” called “Scope-4 Accounting“.  The legal view of responsibility is different from “cause and effect” in that, legally, both the people paying for, benefiting from or authorizing a tort harm may all be held as equally responsible as the person actually doing the harm, as familiar for hiring others to commit a crime. 

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A World SDG Global Accounting of Responsibilities for Economic Impacts

This “Ideal Model” is a concept being considered by CAUN and the NGO Commons Cluster. It’s “a big idea”, with lots of emergent possibilities, basically asking how might the world work if economic decision makers (us) had much better information, now that scientific and technological advances make it potentially possible.

It’s intended as a contribution to the conversation on UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as seen on its SD Knowledge Platform site.  It proposes a new kind of “Information Dashboard” for steering the earth (to make that concept much more of a reality), an idea I’ve been toying with since helping a couple years ago to design the 4YG Transformation Dashboard. …

 

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Principles, Funding and Methods,

for Empowering a Multi-Stakeholder Commons, to create and follow an SDG Dashboard for the Earth

The ideal

It would be ideal if the UN, mandated by the world governments, were to facilitate the creation of communication networks so everyone would get good information on their choices for making the earth sustainable.

Stakeholder communities would work together following global principles to create value by finding their own sustainability solutions.   They’d be aided by “Information Dashboards” with coordinated scientific, economic, cultural and strategic screens, showing benefits and liabilities for all to see.   It would bring funding to all levels of sustainability, as the best source of information on which governments, individuals and institutions could base their investment policies and decisions.        Let’s do it!

Start with combining the scientific and economic information on real profits and liabilities, getting the financial community working for us and our future (!!) and so decision makers can see the real choices.

That approach would “put the ball in the right court” and let the UN do more of what it does best, as host and facilitator for the stakeholders of the world solving their own problems.    Perhaps the world’s governments would give the UN that mandate, to facilitate stakeholder collaboration involving all of civil society.   For the SDG’s it favors 1) goals that fit local talents and problems 2) solutions that can be implemented efficiently in the self-interest of the participants, 3) coordinated with the needs of of society, 4) avoiding intractable wrangling between people with different ideas, and 5) as only possible when keeping the focus on everyone’s common interests. Continue reading the “Ideal Model” – SD Goals & World Commons Economy

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

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

Why we’d need 8 Whole Earths by 2100

We’ve largely used up or maximized our use of the good quality sources on earth, for lots of our critical resource needs.  It’s evident in their systematically rising prices, for one thing, but also in our rapidly declining rates of discovering new reserves, for half a century now!   We’ve “eaten the good stuff”, and still plan to find more and grow the economy as before.

a fact

So, not that you couldn’t use your shopping and profits for values far greater than just having more, of course,

BUT, to prosper by increasing our wealth as we have been,

It seems like it'd be a real joy! Just catch them with your radiant smile.

 

we need to

*Double* our total previous use of natural resources
three more times this century !

(like being the sorcerer’s apprentice)

It’s a detail overlooked by the world’s mainstream economists, and apparently nearly all the critics too.   Our present economic plans are to keep prospering as we did over the past two centuries.  That necessitates continuing to double of our resource uses every ~33 years in the future, then, or magical change only dreamed of.

It’s really ALL our long term professional economic modeling, all our long term environmental rehabilitation planning, such as responding to climate change, as well as all our long term government, finance and business plans, that “just assume” continued growing resource use as before.  Just to make the point clear,… our long term plan is not only to “make bricks without straw” but also to project making bricks without water or clay!

Why it not adds up to our really needing 8 whole earths by the end of the century has to do with the sneaky mathematical properties of doubling… sneaking up on our brains. In each doubling period everything changes as much as throughout all its prior history.   The oddest and most sneaky of all aspects of it, of course, is that this dilemma is quite real…

Even if we could find 7 more earths worth of resources as good as what we started with, it would actually end up just make our problems worse.   “Enjoying them” would then reasonably be expected to involve 7 times the impacts we’ve had on the beauty and sustainability of the earth too…!!   It also exposes the  madness of our well meaning hope to rely on growth to pay for reversing climate change!

These problems add to the evidence that the fundamental in-feasibility of our long term growth plan has avoided most everyone’s attention.   It’s not just “unlikely” that we’d keep finding many times the total amount of natural resources we’ve consumed before,… and that using them would have no effect.

You might as well be looking for an endless line of magical frogs to kiss.

Continue reading Why we’d need 8 Whole Earths by 2100

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