Our Climate Crisis Demands Cooperation and Collaboration
Climate is an unusually broad topic — the causes, impacts and solutions require expertise across vastly different subjects. We tend to solve problems in a linear, hierarchical, siloed fashion. We disassemble complex systems into discrete modules that are easier to understand. That leads to specialization and a separation between disciplines. If we examine the problems and opportunities we face with a deliberate effort to transcend a top-down model… by working across disciplines, we can build and deploy solutions that create no unintended consequences.
There’s a time lag between the increase of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and our ecosystem’s reaction to it. This means that the full impact of today’s carbon emissions will not be experienced for decades. Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere and continues to affect climate for hundreds of years. The effects of our climate crisis will get worse even if no more greenhouse gases are emitted. Without more effective ways to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to at least offset what is emitted, global heating will intensify.
Our climate crisis is symptomatic of a broader societal problem that undermines the ability of humans to build a better world. This existential threat is so urgent that we need to consider what more can be done to accelerate discoveries and innovative technologies. Hierarchical systems are wasteful and particularly bad at communications. Top-down management and trickle-down economics are faulty in execution. A transdisciplinary approach is needed. This requires not only the science behind the problem of decarbonization, but also human and societal conditions and values surrounding it. Both climate science and social science should feed into policies, just as the issues that are addressed should be informed by the real problems on the ground. Climate change “solutions” may tackle the symptoms of the “disease” (e.g. build a sea wall to keep out rising waters), but also need to address the root causes (e.g. the critical role of carbon in economies).
Although climate change models are now sophisticated and reliable, it is still difficult to forecast the details of future effects. What is clear is that society is not prepared for the changes, and relatively little is being done to prevent them. Solutions must view the problem across a variety of scales (from local to regional to national to planetary) and across disciplines ranging from policy to physics and medicine to economics. Effective solutions that avoid unintended consequences must be based on a systems-level view of how the atmosphere, oceans and biosphere interact with each other; and take into account how those solutions might affect people, society and the other species needed to provide a healthy and livable planet.
Few, if any, solutions are being developed using a systems perspective across the variety of scales needed, at the planetary scale in particular. Biologists, physicists, engineers and inventors should be working together. We need to leverage the biomimicry research into the billions of years of nature’s trial and error R&D to inform our climate solutions! If we do things right, we can prosper without killing off the resources and systems we need to live. We can deploy systemic solutions while avoiding economic collapse.
More involvement, inclusion, investment and governance can help to create cross-silo solutions. We know these to be true:
- In community involvement, each effort in volunteering enables us to bridge our fabricated boundaries and helps us to meet new people, learn more about the workings of our neighborhoods, and improve our security. Inclusion begets more inclusion.
- In investing, when we diversify our holdings we have safer earning potential, and a more flexible and secure financial base. Investment in local, small, diverse companies brings benefits at the local level, and improves economic resilience.
- In government, when we allocate funds on well-run social support programs including health care and education, we are investing in a stable present and future for a greater number of citizens. This means people can spend their time and energy on earning, living, learning, creating and supporting their own extended families. People can weather periodic health and earnings issues with more security… meaning they can focus outward and help their neighbors. A secure life allows creativity and compassion.
- In businesses, B-corps and other socially savvy businesses choose to change the hierarchical structure of Board, CEO, VP and layers of top-down influencers. Some of the most successful businesses are employee-owned, with decisions shared or created in systems of dynamic governance or other sociocratic approaches. Success of the whole means success for the individuals, which fosters a “stake in the game”. The career becomes a calling; the job becomes a passion.
Sociocracy is a system of governance using consent decision-making, and an organizational structure with closed feedback mechanisms.
Our most crucial change over the next decade must be a replacement of our top-down thought process and hierarchical structures. If we treat each issue as having a linear path, with a start and finish, and inputs that have no feedbacks from the outputs, we will fail to improve our current situation in business, in our social structure and in our climate solutions.