GeoffLamberton - Ethically Speaking

The ethics of natural systems Part 1

Its quite remarkable watching the tipping point in the global warming debate. Its reminiscent of how long it took for the link between smoking and lung cancer to be proved beyond reasonable doubt in our courts, enabling compensation for victims. Of course that link was clear as early as the 1960s.

So how should we respond to acceptance of the reality that humankind is creating havoc with the earths climatic systems? I would suggest we acknowledge that climate change is one of many environmental problems. Pollution, species extinction, resource depletion, erosion and water contamination are examples of many other environmental problems which humankind has a responsibility to fix, or at least remove ourselves as a major cause.

Why is there an obligation to fix environmental problems? The self-interest based answer is that human welfare is inextricably linked to environmental welfare. A species cannot flourish within a sick and degrading environment.

The ethical answer is that we have an obligation to pass a healthy natural environment to future generations.

Australia, together with 170 other nation states, signed the declaration of sustainability in 1992 committing all of us to the goal of sustainability, requiring that we meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the needs of future generations. Everyday as our lifestyles further degrade the natural environment, we slip further down the path of unsustainability, and we break our 1992 commitment to the rest of the world and future generations.

But I dont pretend for a minute that meeting our obligation under the 1992 declaration is an easy task. One of the critical barriers is the design of the economy which produces goods and services. In production terms we are still stuck with the industrial design of the first industrial revolution which began way back in the 18th century.

This production system involves four critical steps:

1. Natural resources are used as material inputs into production systems.

2. Fossil fuels (minerals, oil, gas) are extracted from the earth.

3. Energy from fossil fuels is used to turn natural resources into finished products and services, some of which are essential (food, shelter, medicine), some are luxury items, whilst others are contrary to well-being (land mines, illicit drugs, chemical weapons, cigarettes, junk food).

4. We dump products in local landfills or waterways when they are no longer of use to us.

This process that underpins our economy is sometimes referred to as the take-make-waste production system. It seemed like a good idea in the mid 1700s when pollution wasnt so noticeable, resources seemed plentiful and we had never heard of global warming.

But this design is no longer appropriate. The good news is there is an alternative. Another production system is at work on planet earth. It produces goods and services using locally grown raw materials. The only energy input into this production system is renewable solar energy. And best of all there is no waste over the entire product life cycle.

This alternative production system is natures economy, and a new business movement based on the principle of biomimicry is inspiring the redesign of our business systems using the design experience of nature, which has evolved over 3.8 billion years of life. This is the next industrial revolution.

To be continued

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