Can you envision a sustainable world? Do you dare to dream today?

By Susana del Granado *

“A vision comes not from the intellect or the mind but from the heart, from the soul”

Donella Meadows

Today, June 5th , we celebrate World Environment Day and, as a celebration, the United Nations Environmental Program has launched a campaign and a contest about “sharing your dream[1]” to move people to imagine a sustainable future and to trigger discussion on the objectives for sustainable development[2].

A vision is a desirable future and, by definition, it is a positive image of what you want to see in the future. Donella Meadows, an environmental scientist and leading author of “The Limits to Growth”, while presenting at an ecological economics conference, inspired and requested her audience to envision a sustainable future. To develop that vision, she asked them to get comfortable, to close their eyes, to take a deep breath, and to dream:[3]

Put yourself in a sustainable world that you would like to live in. Put yourself right into that world. Star near your home (…). Whatever your home looks like, that is comfortable and beautiful and sustainable. And look around, how does that home look like, inside and outside? What does it feel like? To live there? To work there? To eat there? To get up in the morning?

How does it feel like to walk out the door into your community, your neighborhood? Rural or urban or in between. What does the neighborhood look like? One you would love to live in, that is sustainable? And that knows itself to be sustainable, a world that could be handed on intact or even better to the children of that neighborhood and to the grandchildren of [ their] children?(…)

And now if you can move up to a bigger view of several neighborhoods together. A whole city. Or a whole rural area. A whole state or a province where you live working sustainably in a way you will love it to work?.

Look at your whole nation, what does it look like, how does it feel like? How are decisions made, how are conflicts resolved? What kinds of technologies are being used and being born?.

Then go the whole world.  Sustainable, full of nations and neighborhoods and cities and rural areas, where people love to live, when they know that their children and their grandchildren will have an even more intact, more sustainable, more exciting world that they lived in. What kind of world is that? How do people of different kinds, and colors and cultures communicate? How do they learn from each other? How do they get along with each other? How do they resolve conflicts?

Spend some other few more seconds in your sustainable world looking at anything you want to look at (…) about this world in which you would love to live (…). And when you are ready open your eyes (…)

Donella Meadows was a remarkable person that deeply influenced environmental thinking, not only because of her research and ability to think in systems, but also for her warm heart and her talent to inspire people to dream.Ssuana

I envision a world where people from different disciplines, religions, genders and races, experts and non-experts, are working together to advance knowledge and to solve problems.  These people have retained the values of amazement, surprise at discovery, adaptation, humility, fulfillment with simplicity, and innocence, as only children have been able. They appreciate and respect each other’s uniqueness, yet acknowledge that only by working together will they be able to see things they could not see by themselves. Together they can see the scarcity of resources and the complexity of natural and human systems.

I see a world where each community is able to adapt to changing social, economic and environmental conditions by understanding the far-reaching consequences of their actions (feedback loops). Communities are able to make decisions through a participatory process informed by a combination of traditional and scientific knowledge. Communities understand issues through the lenses of a co-evolutionary framework interlinking values, organization, technology, knowledge, and environment[4]. Through this framework, communities understand that relations among the given components are dynamic and determined by random events. Communities acknowledge that systems cannot be understood apart from their values, technology, organization, environment, and knowledge.

In my sustainable world, humanity sees itself as a sub-system within nature. Nature has value on its own and the common goal of humans is to create and sustain a world of happy human beings living in harmony with the environment, with themselves, and with each other. In my vision, the goal of societies is wellbeing, rather than growth. The target is not improving efficiency (less resource used per unit of output) or material accumulation, but effectiveness (get the “right” things done). Humans’ increased understanding is encompassed with the acknowledgment that we do not know everything.

Once we have a vision, we need to look at the present and try to reduce the gap between the vision and our current reality.  In our present, we live in a world with a predominant focus on economic growth. We see the world as an empty, simple system, with simple questions, and one goal that leads to one right alternative, an optimal alternative, which could be achieved by pursuing growth. To achieve a sustainable world, as I envision it, this dominant economic thought needs to shift to conserve nature, to narrow the gap between rich and poor, and to make people happier (markets have failed to do so).  In our current reality science has led us to believe that ultimate truth is out there waiting to be discovered, and its discovery is just a function of time and effort. Science is most useful when the questions are defined in terms of “what is” and focus on the advancement of knowledge, rather than “what ought to be” with a  focus on problem solving and applying value judgments. Scientific information could be useful to guide value-driven decisions, but is rarely enough on its own, thus the importance of having a vision.

…. Do you dare to dream? You might create a better neighborhood, community, nation and world.

[1] http://conexioncop.com/el-pnuma-anima-a-compartir-suenos-en-el-dia-mundial-del-medio-ambiente/ and http://www.unep.org/wed/

[2] The objectives focus on food, energy and water resources and are consider to be the post Millennium Development Goals objectives.

[3] To see the entire speech go to : https://vimeo.com/13213667

[4] Norgaard, R. 1994. Development Betrayed: the end of progress and a coevolutionary revisioning of the future. Routledge. New York.

* The author is an Associate Researcher at INESAD, Ph.D. candidate in Environmental and Natural Resources Policy at the State University of New York at the college of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF), sdelgranado@inesad.edu.bo – smdelgra@gmail.com

 

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