Global Environmental Crisis

24 05 2010

I got asked the other day the following question:

What is/are the root cause/s of the Global Environmental Crisis?
How can they be addressed?

Here are my thoughts.

The root causes of the global environmental crisis stem from the disconnect of people from acknowledging they are part of nature and environmental cycles rather than being separate from or able to control nature.

In the business world there is a growing discussion that measuring a business’s success in terms of profit and shareholder dividends alone is no longer good enough. When assessing the sustainability of the business and the risks it faces, investors can take into account more the impact the operation has on the local communities and the natural resources it is dependent on. Countries continue to use the measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to show the health of the country and how well it is progressing. GDP does not take into account what is being produced (money spent on recovering from natural disasters and building more military arsenal adds to GDP just as providing housing and producing food does) or what effect it has on nature (clear felling forests for the timber adds to GDP however no account is taken for the loss of biodiversity or ecosystem services that the forest provides, such as producing oxygen).

It is measures like GDP that have driven the growth in consumerism where more goods are being purchased and hence need to be produced,therefore raising the GDP of an economy. Marketing leads people to believe that more “things” will make them happy and show them to be successful in their communities, however this does not necessarily lead to a healthy and happy community. People need to appreciate those “things” from a perspective of what has been utilised to produce them.

We can address this disconnect by raising awareness of the interconnectedness and reliance we as the human species have on a healthy planet. Educating people in what is involved in producing food and goods so that they choose options that have a lower embedded energy, along with a lower social and environmental cost, will help reconnect people to their place in nature. This will lead to more meaningful measures of success being adopted such as Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) or Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) rather than GDP, thus allowing a further break from the current connection between consuming more “things” as measures of success.

Looking at our planning and design requirements in all aspects of life is another way to address the crisis. By giving more consideration to the production processes of products to enable them to be reused and recycled can reduce our environmental impact. Moving back to producing products that have longer design life expectancy rather than adhering to a replacement system and finally, by designing products so that the output from one process becomes the input in another process while utilising nature to assist the cycles and hence reduce the energy required in the production process, are all solutions to addressing the global environmental crisis.

Overall we need to think more strategically around sustainability issues taking into account in our management of the 5 major types of capital being: human capital, financial capital, natural capital, produced and social capital.

In conclusion, the key to addressing the global environmental crisis is having a longer term perspective that revitalises the role humans play in generating sustainable growth that does not disproportionately disadvantage ecosystems or human cultures.

I would love to hear yours either here or on facebook via!/note.php?note_id=418673911003