On September 20 we saw climate strikes happening all over the globe. Young people are raising their voices and bringing a focus to the future implications of our past and present collective actions. It is a powerful and inspirational message to behold. These people, both the young and young at heart, are asking us to think about their future when we make decisions so that their lives will be better.
Counter to mainstream American culture, future generations and the earth should be active stakeholders in our present decision-making. Currently, many businesses, institutions and politicians see no problem prioritizing immediate profits over the needs of the future. In systems thinking, one of the key principles is that when we optimize a part of the system, we diminish the health of the whole system. This accurately characterizes our situation. We have optimized economy and privatized profit at the expense of the health of everything else.
Missing the mortal irony
Where did this idea come from? When did money become the top of our food chain, and why can’t we see the fundamental problem with this kind of thinking? The irony of this worldview is the way the debate is being framed. A commonly held solution mindset is that we should change the way we do business to protect the earth. However, that simplified outlook misses a key and obvious point – if we destroy our environment, it is humans that are at risk, not the planet. The way we do business poses the greatest threat to the existence of human life.
Nature is a regenerative system. The planet has gone through five mass extinctions, and each time, it regenerates itself. However, not all life that existed comes back. If we destroy our climate and make it unlivable, the planet will regenerate itself, and new life will be created. But that new life might not include human beings. Would we feel more urgency if we understood that we could trigger or accelerate the sixth mass extinction on this planet as a result of our inaction? Perhaps we would no longer delay changing destructive policies that protect a business model which doesn’t serve the whole.
Creating conditions conducive to the life of future generations
Nature has a clear purpose embedded in the way it is designed – to regenerate itself. All of nature’s design principles support future generations of life. We could learn from nature if we just listened to and used its lessons. We could understand how to create conditions for future generations to thrive.
Today’s climate strike is a reminder that the present quality of the environment will have a direct impact on the future lives of today’s children and those who have not yet been born. If we don’t decrease the carbon emissions in our atmosphere by 2030, the quality of life on this planet for everyone will diminish. Is this the legacy we want to leave for our children and grandchildren? Maximizing our current profits won’t protect human life in the future. Is that not reason enough to change faster? Let’s take a page out of Mother Nature’s book and accelerate changing our way of life so that everyone – now and in the future – can live!