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NEW PARADIGMS TO SUSTAINABILITY & GOVERNANCE

post by Marines Pocaterra

We hear the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘sustainability’ almost every day. But what does it mean exactly? Is it about people and culture, our environment, or jobs and money? Is it about cities or the country? Is it about you and me or is it something for other people to worry about? Sustainability is about all of these things and more.

The Present generation is learning about sustainability, about the risks inherent to our present way of life. But connecting knowledge to action is something deeper. The world, in its recent realization of global environmental damage already reached, through urban development, needs to change its general conception in a motivational sense, both in the corporate and the citizen fields; and it is not an easy task.

Cities and towns depend heavily on materials and energy from outside their boundaries. Thus, urban ecosystems are heterotrophic. This is a simple statement, but it is profoundly revealing. Because most of their resources come from outside, cities are dependent on all kinds of processes beyond their borders. The significance of this to human populations is the illusion it encourages: that humans are independent from nature. Unfortunately, this illusion of independence from nature, has led to eminent global risks.

Increasing numbers want access to modern advantages, living connected in a system of services and social interaction provided by an urban system. To accommodate the present and near future aspirants to the city; our “living machines” must evolve towards adequate density, preservation of natural sources and values. Citizens-to-be have to earn their right to the city, not in a monetary sense, but through the knowledge that everyone’s personal effort is needed to sustain a healthy urban metabolism, by learning how to use less resources and make the most of them.

Capacitation of its beneficiaries will enable them to cooperate, improve, sustain and absorb norms for a complex urban metabolism to keep functioning while sustaining a rapidly  growing population; to internalize how we affect environment and how environment affects me and my children and what we can do about it.

Up till now, sustainability has been explained mainly in function of economic policies, possibility of transition to renewable sources of energy vs. full employment. It seems these are all out-of-reach concepts to the common folk. Some efforts or policies seem very far from our everyday life. Change requirements are directed at various government levels. Most people don’t feel they can do anything about it.

It would seems the economic equation is prevailing over the human factor.

How can banking systems fund a transition to renewable energy without pushing financial fragility and unsustainable debt levels?

Clarifying the links between channels through which the ecosystem, the financial system and the macro-economy interact. The modelling framework can be used to evaluate the effects of various environmental policies on the ecosystem and the sustainability of our economies.

Since finance affects macroeconomic activity, it indirectly influences pollution and the use of natural resources. For example, when banks lend to companies that use energy from fossil fuels, they indirectly contribute to the increase of carbon emissions.

It’s also highly likely that natural disasters caused by climate change affect financial stability by destroying physical capital – factories, machines, offices – leading to defaults and bank losses. This implies that the robustness of the financial system cannot be adequately assessed without taking into account the environmental risks.

The financial system has a major role to play in the transition to a low-carbon economy. The green investments that allow firms to build low-carbon capital and research and develop innovative green technologies require a significant amount of funding. If the financial system is not designed in a way that promotes these types of investment, the chances of slowing climate change fall significantly.

Happy Index 2.png

Fig. 1 Modelling the interactions between the ecosystem, the financial system and the macroeconomy

Maybe we need to build on new paradigms.

Statistics expert, Nic Marks, creator of the Happy Planet Index, says we are thinking of sustainability in negative terms: of lowering your expectations of life or else the future of the world is doomed. This is due to our imaginary that producing more is success (GDP) not based on population wellbeing (healthy, happy, and socially involved) which is really the index of satisfaction that should grade a countries success.

Re-formatting to positive statements what the world you want is he finds out it is not about more produce. The happiest country in the world uses ¼ of resources of world media.

He wonders why we usually revert to money and economics as a measure of a country’s success.  He paints a positive picture of the future, where we use fewer resources and lead happier, longer lives.

He has identified 5 elements for a happier life Happy Index 3:   

Connect – be social, get out there and enjoy the company of others.

Get Active – an obvious one but exercise makes you feel better.

Take Notice – be aware of what’s going on around you: people, the changing seasons…

Keep Learning – not necessarily in the formal sense but stay curious.

Give – it’s proven that people who give to others are happier.

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