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Greg Worden

Entrepreneur and Adjunct Professor of Sustainable Business, Worden Associates

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What's beyond sustainability? A resilient economy?

When we think about the term sustainability it often connotes doing less with less. It's a feel-good approach to climate change (and change in general) that we can simplify our lives, pollute less, and have less of a negative impact on the environment; hence live more sustainably. As Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger note in their book, Breakthrough, that vision fails to inspire. It also fails to take into account the massive potential we as a society have.

Why is it that some cultures can remain virtually unchanged for nearly 10,000 years while others land people on the Moon and send robots to Mars? One answer is due to stimuli. If our environment (cultural as well as physical) remains the same why should we change? But clearly our environment is indeed changing. We need to be ready to act proactively as well as reactively.

Does that mean we need to be "resilient?"

What does resilient mean in this context?

What would a resilient economy look like? How should our businesses change?

What would a resilient political body look like?

How should our education system change to promote resilience?

You can see my bias. I see climate change as the greatest challenge we have ever faced. The word challenge was chosen carefully. People like to rise to challenges rather than merely live with them. So how can we push beyond our business and politics as usual and usher in the next age whatever that looks like?

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    Sep 14 2012: Certainly we need to reduce our negative externalities, bowing to our economics discussion above. Most would agree with you there. I wonder though, if the whole concept of community needs to change. We're more mobile then ever and frankly so busy that finding time to spend with neighbors isn't easy. That's especially true when your neighbors are commuting 2 hours each way.

    When the US embassy in Libya was attacked recently one of those who was killed was Sean Smith. He was a long-time member of the online community Eve Online. When he dies he was widely mourned. People online knew about the attacks before the media did because Sean was online and told people he had to go because there was gunfire. I realize this is very different than the idea of community that you noted above but it makes me wonder, if we can't go back to the previous notions of community, what's next?
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    Sep 13 2012: Let me begin to answer your questions by speaking of my passion: education. It needs a massive overhaul. Today, people are being educated more and more about less and less (specialists). This leads to a generation of graduates who are not sufficiently educated to "connect the dots". I call these people functionally uneducated. And given the outright lies (of both commission and omision) that are required in the k-12 environment, I also call these people diseducated.

    We cannot be resilient if we are rewarded for being "not" resilient and our educational institutions instruct us to be non-resilient. We cannot think outside the box if our educations are limited to very narrow frames of reference.

    Example: Accountants doing a farmer's books or taxes should be understanding that soil erosion, aquifer pollution, and extinction of naturally self-generating crops that are being replaced with crops that do not naturally regenerate (corn, for instance), combined with over population and energy needs, come with (unstated) costs attached.

    Only economists have an understanding of comparative economics - which is an outrage given our unsustainable economy. Every high school graduate should have taken such a course.

    I find it interesting that quantum physics is guiding us into questions about WHAT people are - what thoughts are (electromagnetic energy). Until they began realizing the obvious suggestions that their evidence was giving them, those who have learned to intentionally manifest their realities were laughed at.

    Our educational systems need to be re-worked from the ground up. Here is a TED talk (from RSAnimate) that addresses the problems succinctly:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

    I also refer you to the video mentioned in my answer to your other question - about the crisis in capitalism - an economic model that is guaranteed to fail and cause great hardship on people while stripping the earth of its resources.
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      Sep 14 2012: Wow. Fantastic response. Clearly this is something you are passionate about.

      I will completely agree that economics should be taught at the high school level. Econ 101 is not very difficult. After all, we do teach physics and chemistry at the high school level so we should be teaching economics too.

      Can you explain what you meant by: "Until they began realizing the obvious suggestions that their evidence was giving them, those who have learned to intentionally manifest their realities were laughed at."
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        Sep 15 2012: I must have conjoined 2 sentences when I wrote what you quote. I'll try explain, now that I hv more characters.

        Humans are not what we have been taught that we are. I know that this will sound very unbelievable, but thoughts are things, and we use them to create (manifest) our own realities. There is a greater reality that exists beyond that which we have learned, and from within that awareness, comes the ability to utilize what I sometimes call the living energy or source (energy). Quantum physicists call it the quantum, morphic, or unified field. Sages throughout the ages call it things like the universal intelligence or the kingdom of heaven. It's more than an abstract thought. It's more like a place. It is the greater part of our beings - individually and en masse. The separation that humankind perceives is an illusion. We are one, and we can experience ourselves as such.

        People from every culture around the globe are discovering this strange awareness, and this understanding that most people live lives inside-out and upside down. They too are consciously creating circumstances, thus avoiding unintended consequences that those who are not yet awake must face.

        You asked in another question - where does inspiration come from. When you recognize who and WHAT you are, you can center into your being and drink from the trough of never-ending inspiration (potentials & probabilities).

        Here lies the solutions to all humankind's problems. Here lies the answers to your sustainability question. In a world of academic specialization, we deprive ourselves of the wisdom that I clearly remember having before I started kindergarten - then lost - then regained many MANY years after school.

        My route to finding it was self-education. Some find it after a period of regular meditation. Some have a life-altering event. All take their own routes to this discovery. But once found, it is our greatest joy, and those who hv found it R instantly recognizable.
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    Sep 11 2012: A long sighted and open minded economy, as opposed to the shortsighted and narrow minded one that we have today.

    World projections go as far as 2050. To me this is mind boggling. 2050 is a year that I expect to see behind me, this means that my retirement projections go beyond world economic projections. In physical terms this is as if I was trying to expand my blanket beyond the edge of the universe. I do not have the guarantee that economic environment (laws of nature, in my parallel) will be compatible with my calculations at that point. This is the least to say shortsighted. Economic science should, to best of our possibilities, try to plan thousands of years ahead. If we did that, we would realize that the economy is more like Lorentz's butterfly rather than the stable environment that we rely on today. We would realize that variables that we ignore as being trivial become quite relevant, possibly critical.

    Another crucial aspect is open mindedness. Inevitably, in these projections, there will be parameters that are difficult to assess. As a society we must be mature enough to consider all aspects open heartedly. Take global warming for instance: there is irrefutable evidence that the warming is happening, yet to these days there is no clear statement on what we are facing. Are we warming the planet? Is the planet warming by itself? Perhaps both? We cannot keep these topics taboo, we need to address them as mature beings and we need to consciously implement plans which will allow us to adapt along the way. Global warming is not the only taboo. Another enormous taboo is the "finality of natural resources": how can we seriously project and build our future when we don't take into consideration something as elementary as the available resources.

    We are smart, resourceful and I am convinced we have the potential to succeed. Implementing it will probably be difficult but I don't see a choice here. It's either we succeed or collapse as a society.
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      Sep 14 2012: Your closing statement brings me back to Jared Diamond's book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. I've heard anthropologists and sociologists argue that the book isn't as scientifically rigorous as it needs to be but we can at least say the book is very approachable and eye-opening.

      He says societies can fail for four broad reasons:
      1. Failure to anticipate a problem.
      2. Failure to perceive a problem.
      3. Failure to even try to solve it.
      4. Failure after trying.

      With climate change we've certainly perceived it. At the moment we're failing at #3. We're not even trying seriously. We're making some attempts certainly but not on the scale we need. It certainly doesn't help when prominent politicians claim it's a hoax.

      We have the far right denying the very existence of climate change but interestingly on the far left we have environmentalists trying to stop wind energy projects. The two extremes actually have quite a lot in common. I'm moving a little off topic here but I think it's important that we stop looking at American politics as a spectrum. It's not just Left vs Right. We have more dimensions than that. The whole notion of Red state vs Blue state oversimplifies our politics -- at least here in the US.
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    Sep 11 2012: It can be soemthing called Adaptable Economy.......i.e. the economy that can adapt quickly enough to the environmental as well as day to day human need.......may sound utopia !!!
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      Sep 14 2012: I like this name. That works well. You're right, of course, that the economy and society at large must change constantly. It does so naturally as a result of internal or external stimuli. The issue that we are potentially facing is really one of rate of change. Change is happening faster all the time whether we're talking about climate change or trying to keep up with the viral spread of YouTube videos. We need to make sure that we are all able to be prepared to change.
  • Sep 11 2012: I see not a singular resilient economy but a diverse array of municipal economies.

    I see not a singular resilient political body but a diverse array of municipalities.

    Education should place it's emphasis on respect for diversity and an abhorrence of avarice.

    There is more than enough knowledge and technology to be shared in order to support self-sustainable geographic communities. The problem is that those with big political power and big economic interests would lose their power and money if the world were to become community-centric.

    So I would say pushing beyond would mean striving toward making the community in which you reside less dependent on the causes of environmental destruction. Those causes being monopolistic businesses and imperialist politics.