Note — Apr 03, 2022

The Future of Sustainability: ‘the Same, only Faster’ or Deep Transformation that Challenges the Fundamentals of Our Systems?

Caroline Ashley, the Forum for the Future’s Global Programmes Director, recaps some of the lessons and insights from their recent Future of Sustainability: Looking Back to Go Forward campaign. She details three critique surfaced in the process, concerning a more sustainable future: Current solutions are too piecemeal, shallow and short-term; Social justice is missing, separated, and/or tokenistic; Siloed approaches have driven unintended consequences, and will continue to if not addressed. And then the Forum’s “six things [that need to be done] if we’re to deeply transform at the scale and pace needed.”

It’s a good illustration that, after the long and misguided debate about “climate change, real or not,” we are now in the midst of another debate. The points Ashley and the Forum make parallel the “growth or degrowth” discussion, which can be summed up as “Did we take a wrong turn or do we ‘just’ have two wheels off the asphalt and need to slowly roll back on?” We definitely made a wrong turn and need to change a lot of things, but many many ‘sensible’ voices seem to think we can just tweak and keep going. The piece does a good job of showing why the latter won’t work. (And of course, this view connects completely with Alexander’s in the article above.)

There is a sense that there is something deeply broken in the current system, and therefore it’s only a matter of time before it decomposes in front of our eyes…. I think we’re right on the edge, the cusp, of things potentially changing but the question is, do they go in our direction or somewhere else?” […]

Take, for example: focusing on clean but not responsible energy; designing climate interventions that fail to consider biodiversity or recognise climate and nature as one single existential crisis; tackling hunger issues without addressing the fundamentals of food production. […]

How do we lean into decline in a way that creates the flourishing of new better systems? … This means engaging with the facilitative capacity for change, and the governance models that might support how we re-organise, as well as the emotional work required to deal with such change. Empathy is an essential practice of systems change”.