Living with our planet: on the way to a sustainable way of life

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By Roberto Sciffo

In many cases it appears that humanity is in control of the environment; We have demonstrated the ability to dig up mountains, sow clouds to make it rain, put chemicals on our plants to make them grow faster, defy gravity by sending rockets into space, making medicines to help our bodies to work at the nanoparticle or DNA level and use science to understand the universe.

We may feel like the most advanced species and that we are over and under control of the environmentAfter all, our environmental impact is now recognized as the driving force behind environmental change; the Anthropocene epoch.

However, the earth, which has evolved over the past 4 billion years, has evolved into a complex self-regulating synergistic system (also known as Gaia’s theorem) that keeps the conditions favorable for the evolution of life. The developments of mankind on the planet are overturning this balance, resulting in unusual events with new records set in super storms, hailstorms, floods, droughts, pests, melting ice caps, sea level rise, etc .; some turn to the biblical.

These events are “feedback” from Gaia that are changing the way we live and survive on the planet. This suggests that while we are not in control of our environment, we are in a position to influence it.

In essence, we are just one more living organism, albeit the most influential, that exists alongside all of the biological activity that exists in the biosphere (the thin crust around the planet made up of the oceans, the lithosphere (rocks), and the upper atmosphere is limited). How we live in this biosphere will determine how we will live on the planet.

History has shown us that we are lost if we do not protect and value this biosphere; the fall of certain societies such as Easter Island, the Mayans, Chaco Anasazi are direct examples, while the fall of the Roman Empire was largely caused by a disproportionate consumption of environmental resources combined with volcanic eruptions and three consecutive pandemics.

Today we are experiencing a similar situation, but on a global level. If future generations are to live and thrive on the planet, we need to become “sustainable” on a very fundamental level.

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 a challenge when today the world’s nearly 140 developing countries looking for ways to meet their development needs are facing the challenges of climate change, population displacement, the water crisis and more. Protecting future generations may not be a top priority.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we only have about a decade to change things. This is a momentous movement that involves everyone; We, the people, the entrepreneurs, startups, corporations and industry leaders need to support and support governments through action on the ground so that our influence contributes to a brighter future for our lives and for generations to come.

However, there are many different types of business enterprises around the world; How do we make sure we care for both the planet and people when we are bombarded with different opinions about climate change and sustainability? Where do you even start?

Just as the understanding of “right” or “wrong” is based on principles, we can also develop a context for “sustainable” and “unsustainable”.

An easy way to contextualize sustainability is to view it as the function of a system that over time does not harm either the environment or the society that operates in that system. This is of course logical; without a good environment (clean air, good food, fresh water) we cannot work and all economic activity is human-driven; Therefore, society as a whole must also be kept healthy.

To make this a reality, the Blekinge Institute of Technology in Sweden has worked with scientists, industry partners and government agencies over the past 30 years to refine a number of sustainability principles. This was an interactive process developed with companies like IKEA and Volvo, governments, municipalities and even Ã…land (an autonomous region of Finland); Principles that apply to all areas.

The result is a set of eight Sustainability Principles (SPs); Principles based on scientific laws and knowledge that we can all apply in our own lives and in our business to help humanity live sustainably.

The first three relate to the environment and the control of planetary processes. In order for the earth’s natural symbiotic relationships and geological cycles to function, we must not exceed certain limits:

  • Substances extracted from the earth’s crust; Activities like mining and pollution go beyond natural processes and pollute the biosphere
  • Concentrations of substances produced by society; emitted or leaked substances which the biosphere cannot degrade or which can naturally be deposited in the lithosphere. These can be naturally occurring elements such as nitrogen oxides or elements that have never existed in the biosphere such as chlorine or CFCs
  • … degradation by physical means; human activities that physically affect the biosphere, such as the destruction of wetlands, deforestation, overexploitation and, in many cases, the methods of industrial food production.

The latter five principles relate to society, according to which people should not encounter obstacles when it comes to:

  • Bless you; People should not be exposed to environments that affect their physical, mental or emotional well-being (such as dangerous working conditions or lack of sleep)
  • Influence; People should not be systematically prevented from participating in the design of social systems (e.g. by suppressing free expression or neglecting opinions)
  • Competence; People should not be systematically prevented from learning or developing skills (e.g. not having access to education)
  • Impartiality; People should not be systematically exposed to partial treatment (such as discrimination or unfair job selection)
  • Make an opinion; People should not be systematically prevented from creating an individual meaning or a common meaning as a group (e.g. suppression of cultural expression)

With these principles we have a framework with which we can review our current situation and also develop future societies. This may be a big task, but the early adopters will (and have) adjusted to long-term and, in many cases, much more efficient and economical work.

There are already initiatives around the world that have caught on and prioritize the environment and people over profit; Circular economy, cradle-to-cradle, regenerative agriculture, agroecology, permaculture and much more. We’ll explore these in the next article!

Roberto Sciffo is CTO of ISA Energy, an innovative project development company with a focus on sustainability and cross-industry decarbonization. Roberto has a diverse background in engineering and biological medicine, environmental systems, integrated economies, and systems thinking


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