2015: a tipping point for a more sustainable future?

tipping point

Tipping points and leverage points exist in complex systems – 2015 may be a tipping point and the leverage point may be your decision to shift to a mindset of nurturing people, planet and profits.

2015 has seen some monumental events that may be pointing to an expansion of global consciousness around the need for we humans to change the way we live and work on this planet.

These include:

And the big question of what agreement may be signed at COP 21 in Paris this December may finally answer the question:

Is 2015 a turning point for matters related to human sustainability on Earth?

How will you respond privately and organisationally?

Collectively these responses recognise that sustainability issues are near a tipping point and are:

1) Very important – and becoming very urgent.

2) Broader and deeper than planting more trees.

3) An interconnected set of challenges that join up human and environmental wellbeing (including species diversity); the way we relate with others – social justice; and the degree to which we each enjoy inner meaning and peace as we live authentic lives.

To resolve the issues that are being highlighted requires a profound change in the way in which we live and work.

One way of viewing the fundamental nature of that profound change is seeing it as a shift from exploiting resources – to nurturing resources – human and environmental.

As you nurture your people more, nurture your communities more and nurture the natural environmental systems more, you will also nurture bottom line financial returns. Investment analysis confirms this now. But that’s not the reason to do it – it just makes it easier.

Exercising your leadership is right and surprisingly rewarding

The reason to do contribute towards a better world now is because its the right thing to do and as Peter Drucker said, “Leadership is doing the right thing.”

For an appreciation of what may be possible when we start nurturing natural systems, instead of working against them; and an appreciation of the surprising outcomes that may spring because the world is interconnected, have look at the the film clip, How wolves change rivers – the link is shown below.

This post was first published at http://www.the-partnership.com.au by Josie McLean.
Josie is the founder and principal consultant for The Partnership, an Australian organisational and leadership development firm dedicated to a more sustainable world that works for all. The Partnership’s purpose is to guide organisations to transform their cultures to one’s that nuture their people, their communities and economies, and the natural environment.

2100 AD : A poem

The children turned the page and said
What is this creature?
It is the spirit of the wind
And the heart of fire
And its name was Cheetah I said

And the children turned the page and said
What is this garden green?
It is the creator of beauty
And the seat of life
And its name was Forest I said

And the children turned the page and said
Where is this place?
And I said
It is where freedom flies
It is the link
It is where the soul finds its sanctuary
And the gospel its spirit
And its name was Wilderness.

And the children said
You have stolen from us.
You have taken what is ours.
We do not know Cheetah or Forest or Wilderness
Therefore how can we know Soul or Spirit or Freedom or Fire.
Because you have destroyed the link
We are blind.

And I saw how they grasped desperately for a light
Out of the darkness we had led them too

And I had no answer.

Val Payn (2005)

This poem by South African writer and environmentalist Valerie Payn was originally published in the anthology ‘For Rhino in a Shrinking World’.  Visit this website for more details: https://rhinoanthology.wordpress.com

Val will be an occasional contributor to this blog.

Learning together for a change

Enhancing and making more conscious our inherent human capacity for collaborative learning through shared action and reflection will accelerate the changes we must make to survive the Anthropocene transition.

In Western societies emphasis is usually given to individual choices and actions as the way to positive change. Many activists seem to assume that the aggregation of individual actions will create a ‘critical mass’ of opinion that will somehow trigger systemic change. But it is surely the intelligence and effectiveness of what we do together that will determine our fate. Ultimately our ability to survive and thrive in the Anthropocene will depend on our capacity for wise and compassionate collective action. This suggests a greatly enhanced capacity for collaborative or social learning in order to adapt to conditions of rapid change and profound uncertainty.

The global North and West typically frames learning as an individual process mediated by a teacher or some kind of instructional technology. But learning is also a social process in which groups of people share their experiences and knowledge, experiment with different ways of dealing with a difficult challenge, reflect together on the meaning of their experience, and decide on new forms of action.

Learning embedded in relationships is familiar to many indigenous peoples and in more traditional societies. But even in the West decades of research and experience with organisational learning, communities of practice, participatory inquiry, and action learning can inform the development of new social learning methodologies to enhance the adaptive capacity of communities and organisations. These methodologies must be grounded in an understanding of how communities and organisations make sense of their shared experience and collaborate to modify their collective responses. Adaptive social learning needs to be integrated into our everyday social practice at all levels of society.

We will ever remain biological creatures, but we are also cultural beings who create our own virtual habitat and through it share an emerging collective intelligence, potentially much greater than the simple sum of its parts. Finding ways to more fully realise this collective learning potential in the service of the continuing viability of our species within the limits of Earth’s biosphere is a key challenge in the Anthropocene.

Rethinking Emergence

A workshop in the series: Living in the Anthropocene – Rethinking the nature/culture divide (see previous post)

University of Southampton UK
January/February 2016
Convenor: Tudor Vilcan

Complexity theory presents a fundamental challenge to the rationalist principles of liberal modern thought and governance. Whereas the latter is premised on the ability of subjects to predict and control the world around them, complexity theorists propose that such attempts will always be exceeded by the unpredictable and non-linear nature of life itself. Various complexity theorists suggest that governance can only work by abandoning the reductionist frameworks of liberal modernity and instead unleashing the potential of life to self-organise. The key to understanding how complex life can be governed is the concept of emergence. In between the entropy generated by chaos and the reductionist order of modernity, emergence postulates that order exists through a process of continuous adaptation modelled on evolution through the mechanism of natural selection. This means that order can be generated without an overarching designer or hierarchy, whether we are looking at a colony of ants or a human society.

Complexity and emergence are subject to wide consensus in regards to the natural world, but the entrance of emergence into the cultural realm should be subject to more examination. Questions can be asked about the rather deterministic overtones of the concept and its relation to human agency and intentionality. The workshop represents an opportunity to rethink emergence in the light of its implications for the nature/culture divide.

So what of eco-mutuality?

It’s not just that the concept of sustainability has been co-opted as a corporate greenwashing tool. Nor that its meaning has become so diluted and oxymoronic that its usefulness is problematic. My problem is that sustainability is in its essence an anthropocentric concept.

The focus of sustainability is on how humans can satisfy the present demands of a swarming and rapacious population “without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland 1987). But what of the ecosystems we have laid waste to, the species our predations have driven to or over the edge of extinction? Surely the concept of sustainability at best ignores and at worst reinforces the very essence of the problems we have created by acting as though the rest of life on Earth exists primarily to serve our needs and satisfactions.

This is the hubris that drives the existential crisis we have created for ourselves in the Anthropocene—and for the many other species we are driving before us. Life on Earth will survive our marauding self-interest, but it will be many thousands of years before the biosphere finds a new stability conducive to life’s flowering on the planet.

Take climate change for example. Scientist tell us that even if we were to cease all greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow the Earth system will take hundreds of millennia to reabsorb the excess carbon we have pumped into the atmosphere and the oceans since the start of the industrial revolution (Archer 2009). In the Anthropocene we must accept responsibility for the consequences of our collective actions in deep time, when our custom is to think only within a timeframe of multiple human lifetimes.

To me it seems self-evident that we need a much more robust and inclusive term to encompass a fundamentally different relationship between our species and the rest of the community of life on Earth if we are to survive the Anthropocene. Sustainability simply doesn’t cut it.

This is not just semantics. Our categories of thought and discourse prescribe our actions and condition our ethics.

So what of eco-mutuality? To me the term denotes an ethos of partnership or, in Thomas Berry’s words, “a mutually enhancing relationship between humans and the Earth and all its living creatures” (1988). It implies a retreat from hubris to humility, from predation to co-existence.

I’d be interested to know what connotations the term eco-mutuality has for others. What specifically are the values that seem to you to be explicit or implicit in the term? What resonances does it have for you?

Can we try a thought experiment to flesh out some of the meanings and implications of eco-mutuality and how they might translate into practical ethics?


Our Common Future, Report of the UN World Commission on Environment and Development (known as the Brundtland report), Oxford, 1987.
David Archer, The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate, Princeton, 2009.
Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth, Sierra Club Books, 1988.

Image credit: Ecohustler.co.uk