The false duality of mind & nature

Tweets from Shoudaknown 7/17/13

1      The false duality of mind & nature is clear, in how events for each begin with bursts of self-organization and energy use, “eventfully”. ;-)

2      More revealing is how the eventfulness of mind and nature doesn’t occur in theories, relying on defined relationships not discovered ones.

3      Operating the earth as an equation, by our rules rather than natures, we go mad hoping our bursts of self-organization can be made infinite.

4      We misplace reality as what’s in our models, missing the eventful world still undefined they point to, not what we see but what we look at.

5      First language was created to express feeling, then split by using facts, needing models with controlled relationships, and unfeeling.

6      That’s why we are destroying the earth, and see but don’t feel it, relying on models that blind us to the meaning of what they help us do.

7      3Step Process of Learning to Work With Nature (not a theory, but a method of finding meaning in the facts of life). …

8      So, since models inherently can’t tell us the meaning of change, we now need our hearts to learn how environments work, to find what to do.




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)



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

a Care Giving Purpose – a neglected constituency

A three minute message originally for the UN,

Caregiving Purposes

(YouTube video)

As a way of life no one would make a practice of consuming ever more of their neighbor’s resources.  If we just pay someone else to do it for us though, and the profits are used to grow the process, people get so distracted they lose track of where the profits are coming from, … making the temporary fountain of wealth seem like a good enough idea to organize a whole civilization around.

The science I study clearly points to our society rapidly causing the greatest tragedy of the commons the earth has ever known.    We don’t recognize our roles in it, simply for not looking at how our money does what it does for us, passing on our requests for services and generating profits to grow our ever increasing requests.

By looking at money only in relation to our own needs we are “laundering” the information about what our incomes, spending and savings really do, to the earth and for us. It’s visible enough we could easily get the idea of if we wanted; that it’s using money to make money that grows wealth and overshoots, spoiling the wealth created.   So it’s our every-day practices of using money that overwhelm any way of creating reliable profits, passing on messages to add to demands beyond their limits rather than to care for the productive partnership people build with nature.

Spending the time and effort to see how our money system uses the earth has other returns. Gaining that ability to recognize how systems behave beyond our intent lifts a veil on new perceptions of nature and nature’s systems, with real benefits. Whether your first concern is cultural values, or economic ones, or religious ones, professional or artistic, it’s much the same.   To learn how nature can work for you, you need to first find how to recognize nature’s systems and how they work.

It lets you watch and become familiar with the many more kinds of individually behaving living things around you. You begin to notice the communities, cultures, economies, industries, professions, networks, governments, environments, ecologies, and people’s lives, etc, around you, in a new way. You notice we’ve been ignoring them as living things, and how they behave by themselves, as a quite important neglected constituency on earth.

Each living system has its own internal organization and lively behaviors, that developed as it grew, as our own did, and as those of every other living thing.   You may study them your own way, (no one actually has any other way…), but your approach needs to be a quite open minded and objective, like a scientist or a business person takes, or a parent takes, toward their care giving purpose, and use it to care for the earth.


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


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 #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. 


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. …



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.


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…


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


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

New object oriented natural science for working with natural systems.