Dancing on the Precipice: Intersecting Economic Growth with Environmental Sustainability
‘Dancing on the precipice’, sums up how precarious the sustainability of biodiversity is on this planet! Some scientists predict the extinction of many plant and animal species within the next few decades. This results from mindless and uncaring human behaviour towards the natural world, driven by rampant industrialisation, greed, excessive consumption and a ‘profit before posterity’ business ethic. Reckless actions have contaminated our water systems, polluted our air, killed much of our marine and terrestrial life, and is accelerating our potential demise as a human species!
The metaphor of a ‘dance’ symbolises balance; harmony; flow, and is how we respond to music. When we dance we feel rather than think; sense rather than comprehend and thereby connect to sound and rhythm in a deeper, more authentic way. Similarly, when we immerse ourselves in nature, when we listen, experience and observe deeply and patiently, we sense its timeless natural rhythms – the ebb and flow of the ocean, changing of the seasons and the slow transmutation of landscapes. It is then that we realise that we are all in a finely tuned choreographed network of relationships with each other; each playing a vital role in the web of what we call ‘life’!
Ecosystems such as natural habitats, human society, business communities, or even our own bodies, contain varieties of life forms; microbial, animal, plant or insect, all living in dynamic co-dependence on each other. Physicist and ecologist, Fritjof Capra, in The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems (1997) emphasises that the variety of life is not just an ‘assemblage’ or collection of species, but that they form a community, interdependent on one another.
Similarly, economies are like ecosystems, and are also located within a web of relationships – designers, manufacturers, marketers, retailers and consumers. And, this entire commercial value chain operates within human society and then within a larger natural environment. It is therefore to our peril when through the obsession with ‘bottom line’ profitability and protecting shareholder value that we disregard the impact of commercial activities on the natural environment. Industrial waste byproducts such as toxic fumes pumped into the air, slow perishable garbage dumped into landfills and effluent leaking into the water systems, have contributed to natural disasters which include, dwindling fish, animal and insect life, as well as rapid climate change, resulting in severe droughts and floods. These impact the entire ecosystem and ultimately pose a threat to all of life.
So where do we start to mitigate the threats of impending doom? A systemic approach is needed which brings together key stakeholders – government, education, business and civil society to work towards a common understanding and a shared value system. All of us must realise the dire state the planet is in. This is confirmed in the article, Climate emergency: world ‘may have crossed tipping points’ (The Guardian, 27 November 2019) which warns of the existential danger to human civilisation as a result of the world having crossed a number of climate ‘tipping points’. Ignorance, misinformed policies and an indifferent approach that does not sense the urgency of the rising challenges facing humanity, threatens us with extinction.
Meaningful, and if necessary, radical paradigm shifts should extend to parliament, boardrooms and classrooms to influence practical steps which could include the following: transforming of education curricula, policy development and implementation, setting up of more Ecological Protection Zones (land and sea), promoting greater use of alternative energy, strengthening recycling initiatives, as well as reducing single use plastics within the packaging industry.
The global race by nation’s against each other for economic and technological supremacy is pitting humanity against the ‘doomsday clock’ and time is not on our side! According to the Ecological Threat Register, the world has witnessed a tenfold increase in natural disasters from the 1960’s to 2019. At this rate and with the increase in global pandemics such as the coronavirus, human existence on planet earth, the only home we know, is becoming increasingly precarious. Man’s domination of the natural environment, promoting gratuitous consumption and thereby enabling a ‘plunder for profit’ mentality, largely devoid of humanist values – caring, empathy and sustainability, is a case in point. An example is the rapid destruction of one of the most important ecosystems- our ocean, on which over 1 billion people depend on for food, through overfishing, ocean mining and the unregulated flow of raw sewerage.
We have to act decisively, speedily and collaboratively. And, we have to do it with what MIT academic and author, Otto Scharmer, calls ‘mindful intentionality’, which harnesses an open heart; open mind; open soul. It is only when we see the planet as an extension of our sentient body albeit in a different form and we recognise our intrinsic connection with it, that is when we will realise just how fragile that body really is!
Rudi Kimmie (PhD) is Chief Executive Officer at TSIBA Business School. He writes in his personal capacity.