The dawn of 2013 breaks with ominous storm clouds gathering on the sustainability horizon. We know them as climate change, peak oil, decreasing resource supply, increasing demand, accelerating environmental destruction (fisheries, forests, etc.), increasing inequality, fraying of the social fabric, and an ideological and fiscal assault on the commons. What are the implications for successfully responding to this widening sustainability challenge? Fortunately, the dawn also breaks with slivers of hope shining through the storm clouds in the form of inspiring innovation and leadership.
The key question is whether we have enough time to “take shelter from the storm” and which “shelter” to take. The hidden choice is when to “seek shelter” and how. This is a critical choice because each day of delayed and insufficient response feeds back to increase the ferocity of the future storm. This is humanity's predicament as we begin the fourteenth year of the 21st century. Understanding the mental models that we unwittingly use to see the world and read the signs is essential for making the right choice.
The difficulty we face is that this choice is invisible from the mental models most prevalent among people in leadership positions at the policy levers of sustainability. Further complicating matters is that society is not designed to make the fast and creative pivot required to “seek shelter” and sufficiently reduce the “coming storm's likely ferocity.” In fact, our social structure is set up to continue business as usual (BAU) against all odds. In fact, some protestations reinforce BAU and would be unwittingly counterproductive (see Meadows, How to Intervene in a System). This does not mean we cannot make the needed choice to seek shelter earlier. It simply means that we need to understand the level of difficulty of making the choice and the strategic options available for systems change and transformation.
Fortunately, there is no better framing of our predicament than that of the late Donella Meadows’ discussion of love, hope, and sustainability at the end of her book, Beyond the Limits--Confronting Global Collapse and Envisioning a Sustainable Future (Chelsea Green, 1992, pp 235-6). The last seven paragraphs of the next SOS Journal post are particularly poignant). That discussion provides the basis for authentic hope and constructive action for ultimate sustainability success in 2013 and beyond. It allows us to accurately hold and effectively act on the daunting challenge of sustainability that we face as sustainability champions, practitioners, and well-meaning citizens.