We are in dire need of a paradigm shift to bring us into sustainability

We are in dire need of a paradigm shift. One that brings us into sustainability. Before I explain what this shift could entail I need to spend a short time talking about paradigms.

The word first entered more general use in 1962, when Thomas Kuhn released the book The Structure of the Scientific Revolution. For him a shift of paradigm was a change of one way of thinking to another when “one conceptual world view is replaced by another”.

In business, the concept has been used to explore ways of thinking and working that are so common and ingrained in the organization that staff probably do not know they are using them. In this respect, a paradigm gives a HOW often phrased in everyday terms as “the best way to…… is to ….”.

Consultants work to identify the paradigm and bring it to the surface, to examine how functional is it given the new business reality.

So a paradigm shift occurs when there is a major change in circumstances or attitudes.

Take the paradigm “The best way to calculate sums is to use one of our mechanical adding machines”. This paradigm became obsolete when they invented electrical calculators.

Here are some other paradigms that have shifted

  • The best way to discourage murder is to hang murderers. (Changes when taking human life is valued differently and research into prevention reveals other possibilities.)
  • The best way to keep in contact electronically is by e-mail. (Changes when social networking sites blossom.)

What situation do we have today that is different from say, ten years ago? Well, we have a growing awareness of the downsides of environmental depletion and destruction caused by our way of life. Emission of carbon dioxide are over the 350 safe limit and oil production has probably peaked. For more on this see my “back of the envelope” explanation of the end of the oil age. We have to explore the paradigms underlying the set-up.

The following text borrows from work done by SURE on the Krakow declaration, soon to be released.

The current paradigm holds that the best way to provide daily needs is via a system that stimulates global human attachment to consumption and to economic growth (as measured by GDP and other indicators). We are convinced that this paradigm is essentially unsustainable and counterproductive.

The system involves human actions that contribute to climate change and to the drawdown of the world’s limited resources. This further limits the capability of ecosystems to provide valuable services for future generations and reduces their access to mineral and biological resources as well.

The application of this paradigm results in:

• Unlimited emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases

• Unrestricted depletion of non-renewable (fossil and nuclear) fuels

• Deforestation

• Reckless management of water resources with scarcity of drinking water on one hand and accumulations and flooding on the other

• An economic system that invests in operations with high amount of external burden on the environment

If this paradigm continues to be the main driver of human activity, it will lead to continuing acceleration of climate change, to devastation through flooding, weather extremes, rises in sea level, loss of biodiversity and desertification; to the drawdown of natural resources of all kinds. Furthermore, and equally important, it will not deliver that which it is set up to do, failing ultimately to tackle widespread poverty and human suffering.

Moving towards a sustainable Europe in a sustainable world

We offer a new paradigm: the best approach to providing daily needs to citizens is to configure the system so its capacity to provide services increases whilst at the same time biological and mineral resources stay available, and ecosystems that provide essential services remain intact.

This paradigm is characterised by

• High and visible degree of social equitability

• Limiting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases

• Limiting depletion of non-renewable (fossil and nuclear) fuels

• Forest cover preservation and regrowth particularly of tropical forests

• Sustainable management of water resources throughout the world

• An economic system that enables investment in creation of daily needs services that work without unsustainable external effects

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