Viewing the world as a system will help us establish sustainability

Paul Hawken was the keynote speaker at the Sustainable Industries Economic Forum in San Francisco on Thursday. He had some inspiring talking points (the forum’s goal was to ‘reinspire the inspired’), but one of the key takeaways was in how we should be viewing sustainability.  He started by saying that sustainability should be viewed as a easily defineable.  Sustainability means we survive.  Living unsustainably means we don’t.  But it was how he suggested we view this that was really interesting. 

He wanted to suggest that sustainability is about seeing the world as a system.  Once you see it that way, it’s hard to un-see it.  If you see the world that way, there’s no such thing as bad news.  You can see the loss, feel the grief…the loss of a child, the loss of a species, the loss of a culture…it’s connected to a whole system.  Instead, it turns into just news…information.

In this way, we can view the whole world as one system of energy.  A watershed, for example, builds over millennia using a lot of energy in terms of rainfall, geologic uplift, etc.  We are tapping into that energy, unsustainably, and have been since the industrial revolution.  We’re using our reserves.  Quickly.  Seeing this as a system, where the river may look ok today, but when viewed as part of a system, clearly is not, is a path toward an enlightened view of the world that many more people can share.

All the oil in Canada can run the world for 6 months.  China…7 months.  The U.S.:  9 months.  Nigeria:  12 months.  Russia: 28 months.  Iraq:  4 years.  Saudi Arabia has 8 years.  Biggest recent discovery offshore of Brazil:  15 months…after it takes 20-25 years to extract.  When viewed as a system, with all the energy that went into the creation of that oil, it becomes so clear that extraction and burning is not the answer.  Drill, Baby, Drill is just plain dumb.

Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business:  Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill)

Written by Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride.


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