Living with our planet: towards a sustainable way of life

By Roberto Sciffo

In many cases, it would appear that humanity is in control of the environment; we have shown the ability to dig mountains, seed clouds to make it rain, place chemicals on our crops to make them grow faster, defy gravity by sending rockets into space, create drugs that help our bodies, work at the nanoparticle or DNA level, and use science to understand the universe.

We may feel like we are the most advanced species and we are above and in control of the environment, after all, our impact on the environment is now recognized as the engine of environmental change; the anthropocene era.

However, the Earth, having evolved over the past 4 billion years, has developed into a complex, self-regulating synergistic system (aka Gaia’s Theorem) that maintains favorable conditions for the evolution of life. Humanity developments on the planet are tilting this balance, resulting in unusual events with new records of super storms, hail, floods, drought, pests, melting ice caps, elevation sea ​​level, etc. some turn to the biblical.

These events are “feedbacks” from Gaia, which change the way we live and survive on the planet. This indicates that we are not really in control of our environment, but that we are certainly able to influence it.

In essence, we are just another living organism, albeit the most influential one, existing alongside all the biological activity that exists in the biosphere (the thin crust around the planet bounded by the oceans, the lithosphere (rock) and the upper atmosphere). How we live in this biosphere will determine how we live on the planet.

History has shown us that if we do not protect and enhance this biosphere, we will be doomed; the fall of certain societies like Easter Island, the Mayans, the Chaco Anasazi are direct examples, while the fall of the Roman Empire was brought about significantly by a disproportionate use of environmental resources, combined with volcanic eruptions, and three consecutive pandemics.

Today we are in a similar situation, but it is on a global scale. If future generations are to live and prosper on the planet, we have to, at a very basic level, become “sustainable”.

In 1987, the United Nations Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

However, this can be difficult as today the nearly 140 developing countries around the world seeking ways to meet their development needs are faced with the challenge of climate change, population displacement, crisis. water and much more. Protecting future generations may not be a top priority.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we only have about ten years to turn the tide. It means a capital movement involving everyone; we the people, entrepreneurs, start-ups, businesses and industry leaders must step up and help governments by taking action on the ground, so that our impact contributes to a bright future for our lives and for generations future.

However, there are a multitude of different types of economic enterprises in the world; How can we make sure that we are taking care of both the planet and the people when we are bombarded with differing opinions about climate change and sustainability? Where to start ?

Just as understanding what is “good” or “bad” is principled, we can also develop a context around what is “sustainable” and “unsustainable”.

An easy way to contextualize sustainability is to see it as the function of a system that over time does not degrade either the environment or the society operating within that system. This is naturally logical; without a good environment (clean air, good food, fresh water) we cannot function, and all economic activity is carried out by people; therefore, society as a whole must also be maintained in good health.

To make this happen, the Blekinge Institute of Technology in Sweden has worked for the past 30 years or so, in collaboration with scientists, industry partners and government entities, to refine a set of sustainability principles. It is an interactive process that has been developed with companies like IKEA and Volvo, governments, municipalities and even Åland (an autonomous region of Finland); principles that apply to all areas.

The result is a set of eight principles of sustainability (PS); principles that are supported by laws and scientific knowledge, which we can all use in our own lives and businesses to help humanity live sustainably.

The first three concern the environment and the control of planetary processes. In order for the natural symbiotic relationships and geological cycles of the Earth to work, certain limits must not be exceeded when it comes to:

  • Substances extracted from the earth’s crust; activities such as mining and pollution override natural processes, putting pressure on the biosphere
  • Concentrations of substances produced by the company; substances emitted or leaked which the biosphere cannot degrade, or which can settle naturally in the lithosphere. These can be natural elements such as nitrogen oxides, or elements that never existed in the biosphere such as chlorine or CFCs.
  • … Degradation by physical means; human activities that influence the biosphere through physical means, such as destruction of wetlands, deforestation, overexploitation and, in many cases, methods used in industrial food production.

These last five principles concern society, according to which people should not face obstacles when it comes to:

  • Health; people should not be exposed to environments that compromise their physical, mental or emotional well-being (such as unsafe working conditions or lack of sleep)
  • Affecting; people should not be systematically prevented from participating in the formation of social systems (such as with the suppression of free speech or the neglect of opinions)
  • Skill; people should not be systematically prevented from learning or developing skills (for example, not having access to education)
  • Impartiality; people should not be systematically exposed to partial treatment (such as discrimination or unfair selection for posts)
  • Creation of meaning; people should not be systematically prevented from creating individual sense or common sense as a group (e.g. suppression of cultural expression)

With these principles, we have a framework that we can use to review our current situation, and also to develop future societies around. This might be a tall order, but early adopters will have (and settled) to operate for the long term and in many cases much more efficiently and economically.

There are already initiatives around the world that have taken off, which put the environment and people first, before profit; circular economy, cradle to cradle, regenerative agriculture, agroecology, permaculture, and many more. We will explore them in the next article!

Roberto Sciffo is the CTO of ISA Energy, an innovative project development company focused on sustainability and cross-sector decarbonization. Roberto has varied experience in engineering and biological medicine, environmental systems, integrated economies and systems thinking.

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