Ecological Sustainability – It’s the Big Game

The challenge of this generation is to do “the impossible” — face the greenhouse effect, understand the fact of global warming and join together in a determined effort to successfully change the path of our planet’s future.

Note: Shel Horowitz’s book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, contains a great deal of other information about the interplay of marketing and social change, and ways to move a business toward both environmental and economic sustainablity.

This article originally appeared in acknowledge Environment Victoria news, December, 2001, #188 — the newsletter of Environment Victoria Inc., Melbourne, Australia

Achieving sustainable societies world-wide in the next 20-25 years, is the whole environment story, old time EV campaigner and now director of Green Innovations, Philip Sutton, told the Environment Victoria Annual General Meeting in November.

Massive social and economic change is needed to slash greenhouse gas generation so we can avoid adding to what are already the highest atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in 25 million years.

Philip Sutton said a key to getting action and achieving results was in understanding the true scale of what we are facing.

“We are looking at the possibility of massive disruption and changes. The snow on the Himalayas melting, the Ganges drying up in summer, season changes in Victoria that may mean we can’t feed ourselves using traditional crops, no more snow on Australian Mountain in just a few years.

“Sea ice melting and vast areas of coral reefs dying, the loss of the giant currents powered by the temperature differentials between the tropics and the poles, and as a result, the death of the deeps, and loss of the enormous biomass generation of antarctic and arctic waters.”

It sounds daunting, Philip says, but:

“You cannot solve the problem until you can see and understand the scale of the problem – and work on solutions on the same scale.

“If you want to tackle a lion, don’t practise on a mouse.”

Modelling Says…

Philip Sutton cited CSIRO modelling which showed that just to stabilize at an atmospheric carbon dioxide level of 350 parts per million, we need to get out of fossil fuel altogether.

“Scaling back our use of fossil fuel slowly is not good enough. The atmosphere is like a carbon dioxide bank – you deposit your carbon dioxide into it and it stays there for a long, long time, perhaps 100 years or more.

“Carbon dioxide does not break down and is not removed from the atmosphere at anything like the speed we are generating it, so cutting our CO2 output by half doesn’t reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide, it simply slows growth of CO2 levels a little.

“What we need to do is to stop that growth completely.”

Do it Now!

And time is of the essence, Philip says.

Looking at the current criteria used by the United Nations for measuring the effects of global warming – criteria which are actually inadequate because, for example, they don’t take loss of coral reefs into account – the whole world has only 20-25 years to bring greenhouse gas generation under control.

It sounds impossible, says Philip, but we cannot allow it to be impossible because it must be done or the outcomes will be catastrophic.

The stories of nations like Korea are instructive. Korea transformed itself from a poor agricultural country to an industrial powerhouse in just 20 years.

That demonstrates that change on the scale needed to tackle global warming is possible.

How Can We Act?

Rocky Mountain Institute

The Rocky Mountain Institute in the United States showed the way when tackled the question of cars, Philip Sutton says.

Rather than urge a mass shift to public transport, the Institute said changing the cars to meet ecologically sustainable criteria – moving to zero fossil fuel – would be easier than getting Americans out of their cars.

They started on minimizing fuel. A typical car uses about 1% of its fuel to move the passenger and 99% of its fuel to move itself.

The Institute developed hybrid designs using 75-90% less fuel. Converting the whole American car fleet to these hybrids would save as much fuel, and therefore as much greenhouse gas production, as the whole OPEC oil production!

Then next question was how to move the car industry to build such cars.

The Institute did two things – it put the solutions into the public domain so no-one could buy and bury them, and it looked outside the car industry for an industry with the processes and scale to build innovative cars.

The aerospace industry was interested so the car industry was forced to respond or possibly see itself decimated.

There is still some way to go, of course, in cutting fossil fuel use and greenhouse emissions to zero, but it can be expected that once the highly efficient cars are in production, research will take off.

Philip points to what the Institute did right:

* It looked at the problem and sought solutions on the right scale – huge.

* It found solutions and put them in the public domain so they could not be not be killed off.

* It then set up a process to get the industry itself to move to adopt the solutions.

Business Cycle

The other key is to surf the business cycle’s peaks and troughs, Philip suggests.

“Smart business people surf the cycle – when it is in a downturn as it is now, they are planning and developing ready to build and expand as the economy picks up.

“In 20 years, we might have three or four peaks and troughs. Maybe we should follow the smart business people and work with that cycle so that we can make maximum impact and maximum use of our resources.

“How about an environment movement that got into 30 year planning and connected that planning with real life action?”

City Action

Accepting the absolute importance of developing ecologically sustainable living means the environment movement must, by and large, refocus, says Philip.

“EV grew out of forests and national parks campaigns, and has done sterling work, along with many others, in those areas since. In addition, it has taken on issues like transport, sewage, water and so on.

“But while its campaigns have moved from protests to promotion, they have still been targeted and primary targets, such as forests, in the bush.

“If we want to take on greenhouse and win, if we want ecological sustainable societies, we must do an about turn – the action, the targets, the answers are all in the cities.

“In Victoria, the prime area for action is Melbourne and we must work on massive systems change.”

Who Will Do It?

Philip Sutton says the systems, technology and social changes needed can’t be achieved just by “greenies”.

In the end, he points out, an ecologically sustainable future can only come about if everyone adopts it and lives it, and if our systemns, industries, government and social and physical insfrastructure are fully engaged too.

We need to think of the green movement as “all sorts of people everywhere”, he says

However, environment organizations have a key role to play in providing focus, identifying needs and solutions, helping people become aware of the scale of the problem and the scale of solutions, and even tackling specific problems, as the Rocky Mountain Institute did, to kick-start massive systems change.

Environment Victoria, with its record of 30 years of action, willingness to tackle the big issues, links with other organizations small and large, and experience in working with governments and industry “is in a wonderful position to take the initiative here,” Philip Sutton concluded.


For more articles on sustainable business and the environment, please visit the Sustainable Business section of Down to Business Magazine.
For more information on the Rocky Mountain Institute and their Hypercar&reg, please visit Amory Lovins: Reinventing Human Enterprise for Sustainability.

Note: Shel Horowitz’s book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, contains a great deal of other information about the interplay of marketing and social change, and ways to move a business toward both environmental and economic sustainablity.