You are not a guest on planet Earth.
“Let’s fix the gas problem!” or “Let’s travel less.” or “Let’s only eat local food.”
Sounds all nice and doable, but all these topics are too intertwined, the resolutions are so complicated, and many parameters and consequences we simply just don’t know. So, we have to take very conscious steps and watch very carefully, as humans, as a country, as a city, as a company, and even as a family. Sustainability is the foremost subject of our time, which we must not mess up, and we will not.
Energy and the climate go hand in hand. They are governed mostly by politics, but hugely integrated into economics. During the Covid pandemic we saw pollution numbers go down radically, nature rise up again, and the air quality was much better than usual. But, at the same time, the economy shrank, layoffs were the norm, and it even had an impact on people’s wellbeing.
We can’t just turn some knobs and expect something good to happen automatically. Mega models are needed. Yes, some teams are working on it. Yes, even supercomputers are used to crunch the vast amount of data, but not sufficient yet. You reduce something here, it has impact over there, you change something there, it has an effect on something completely unexpected. Furthermore, the effects are usually rather long-term and therefore very difficult to measure or observe.
There are many different groups with many different ideas. Some want to focus on the energy transformation, away from fossil-based fuels to an all-green energy mix. How nice, maybe possible, maybe even existentially unavoidable. But at what cost? Employment, economics, current investments, policies, habits, and many more things stand in the way.
Once slavery was the engine of economic growth in some parts of the world. They even said that for some people to be able to enjoy sugared tea or coffee and wear cotton shirts, some people must do what they need do. Would you wear garments today produced under inhumane and unacceptable circumstances, just because you can afford to do so? No!
Energy is a complex system.
Energy is a global phenomenon and, at the same time, it is a very local issue. Oil prices are determined by global markets, but the need is local. Everybody understands that renewable energy sources are the way to go. But the transition will not be possible overnight, it will take some time. Jobs depend on certain industries. Some businesses depend on certain energy sources.
Governments, industries, civil society, and academics all need to work together and must even improve their collaboration to find mutually agreed ways to accelerate the transition. Answering big questions such as “Is nuclear an option?” requires many people to work together. And there will be always multiple opinions fighting each other. Usually not the best one for the planet, but the best funded and the best argued wins.
But it must be the contrary. The best ideas for the sake of the planet should win. As we just passed the “Earth Overshoot Day” (on 28th July 2022) it is important to remember that we must change our behaviour if we want to survive. We must produce energy differently, we must improve transmission and distribution, and we must also change our energy consumption. At the same time, we want to advance our way of living, improve education, healthcare, and other essential services, all the while still wanting to entertain, travel, and enjoy life. Not such an easy knot to untie.
Just let me give you one very small example. Due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, gas has become a geopolitical issue. Biogas looks like a great alternative. Why not increase the capacity? Biogas is based mostly on silage from crops. We need those crops to feed cows for our hamburgers. And we need those crops for our bread, pasta, and other food. So, we can’t just turn one knob and expect everything to be alright. Everything is interlinked, dependent on each other, and affect many other things, some of which we know, some we don’t. And there are hundreds if not thousands of examples like this.
Climate is an even more complex system.
It all started with the industrial revolution. And it accelerated to unprecedented levels with our modern day living, tourism, internet, global logistics and supply chains, full globalization, and much more. Since the hole in the ozone layer, we know how fragile our atmosphere and our planet are. With more satellites circling the planet, with more data every day, better models, more powerful supercomputers, our understanding of what happens why and when is getting better every day. But it is still not sufficient.
Since the Kyoto protocol we have reached an agreement on a global scale to fix this issue and behave more responsibly. Unfortunately, not much changed. Actually, the opposite happened. This was raised in Paris in 2015 again and with great fanfare we celebrated a global agreement to take real action. It required a little girlto speak about her desperation about the future the elder generations are leaving her with.
But shouting alone is not enough. Ignoring it is definitely not the way forward. We have a wicked problem in front of us which requires all our attention, because it is existential. We don’t have anywhere else to go, at least for the time being, so we must treat our home wisely. This requires conscious behaviour of every single person on the planet. Marshall McLuhan coined a few important terms like the global village, or a statement like “the medium is the message.” But in this context, most importantly he said: “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.”
One of the most influential thinkers and doers of our time is the Columbia University economist and UN advisor Jeffrey Sachs. In a recent interview with Techonomy, he spoke about his disappointments. The severity is not fully understood yet. The actions taken are not sufficient. The solutions are premature. The policies are not strong enough. The current approach will not save us.
Action required. Immediately.
You are in charge. I am in charge. Everybody has a role to play. Especially businesses must play an important role, since they are the most influential, the fastest and most efficient to execute, and also the most effective to advertise, influence people, and create business models or apps which change our daily habits.
Are you aware of your maturity? Where are you regarding your sustainability transformation? Can you tell precisely what you have done, what it resulted in, what you and the planet have gained, and how you compare against others in your industry?
Sustainability is not a simple thing, which you can buy off the shelf. It is a long journey. Sustainability is not something you can leave to a few people or a single department. It is a team sport, it is a corporate matter, it is your burden.
We are all crew. There are no passengers on planet earth. There are no guests in your company. Everybody needs to act, to take responsibility, to contribute to change, to make the world a better place.
At Digitopia, we live by this mantra. Digitopians are a special breed. We are the good guys. Let’s talk and find ways to help each other. Looking forward.