Welcome to another two weekly review of energy and environmental events and developments from both here in New Zealand and around the world. As always, we hope you find our collection of stories to be of interest in what continues to be a rapidly evolving area.
This week, we embark on more of an opinion piece than most. History is full of examples of human civilisations that went extinct because they had consumed all their resources or could not adapt to the ravages of nature. Examples of these include the Olmec from South America, Khmer in Asia, Minoans and Mycenaens in Southern Europe, Nabateans in the Middle East, Aksumite from Africa, Clovis and Anasazi in North America, etc. This week we ask some fundamental questions about sustainable development and how we, as the human race, understand the environmental threats before us.
Economic degrowth has been subject of many other papers on sustainable development and Samuel Alexander brings it up as, possibly, the only option to buy us time to adapt to a changing climate. Degrowth however, will require both a massive step-change in our developmental mind-set and a change in how we value natural capital. It is, in short, a fundamental change in societal thinking and values.
There is no doubt wanton consumption of earth’s resources has led us to a point where we can almost see the bow wave of an impending collapse. Consuming 1.5 planets as we are at the moment, doesn’t require a degree in Maths to understand that this is impossible to sustain. Furthermore, scientific evidence is leaving us fewer options to manage our way through to a viable future. The most important word in all of this is ‘manage’. We must not wait for change to be forced upon us, as happened to those previous and now extinct human civilisations, but manage our way into the future.
If our political leaders allocated a similar amount of time and resources into managing our way into a sustainable future, as they are on the incredibly secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), we can’t help thinking we would all be better off.
World Watch Institute asks where the disconnect lies between environment and society. While there is no confusion as to the linkage between environment and social development, there are no obvious deliberate actions to close ranks across disciplines and fully address the looming threats. But exactly who is being threatened? At the moment, it appears to be Corporations and their continuing profits at the expense of continuing degradation of natural capital. And with a continuing and unabated degradation of natural capital, it means in turn, we are all threatened.
We feature an insightful article about Philippe Squarzoni investigating and building an understanding of climate change. As an individual, he sees the immensity of the challenge and how, alone, he cannot solve it, despite being threatened. If anything, he along with the rest of us has to hold hope that something can still be done, but with each day that passes, hope can only but fade.
Using and reusing resources is a well-known concept that can be labelled as the Circular Economy. Whilst moving to a Circular Economy appears to be a logical step, it may require more than that to reach what could be considered a Sustainable Economy. What is clear, however, is that the global development mind-set has to change to enable society, as a whole, to survive what may be a long and treacherous adaptation period.
As, after all, nature is the ultimate example of zero waste, and as humans we seem to be at cross purposes with that concept. With rapidly changing technology, it makes sense to adopt a fee for service approach, as opposed to the “buy-own-and-dispose” culture that is at present prevailing. There are good examples of these zero waste models and they need to be integrated into the broader economy.
The Fashion Industry is admittedly a major user of natural capital. It is also by nature reliant on people producing the raw materials and converting them to goods. Recent discussions at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit by GLASA, serves to show there may not be a shortage of opportunities for industry leadership in 3D accounting.
Carbon has always cost money but the public sector has always paid, as opposed to industry paying for it. Now governments are seeing the benefits of putting a price on carbon and there may well be a major change in the climate change policy arena. If politicians change then investors will also inevitably change and react to reduce risk.
So how do we measure progress on what might be described as a Sustainable Economy? Integrated reporting, where financial and sustainability issues are integrated, is one sure way to bring all stakeholders into the Boardroom. When we say into the Boardroom, we mean figuratively. Stakeholders of course are shareholders, customers, staff, the environment and even politicians. Integrated Reporting provides a means for the Material views and issues of all stakeholders to be aired, considered and ideally ‘owned’ at the CEO and Board level. An understanding of what is Material (important enough to be reported on) helps bring unity of purpose amongst all Board Members and an appreciation of the wider-risks to the business if these are not acted upon. It also has positive upsides, through attracting staff and customer loyalty. It is accepted however that not all businesses will embrace Integrated Reporting. Therefore, in time, with the absence of an effective voluntary disclosure regime, society would expect the implementation of regulation that requires comprehensive and mandatory reporting.
In summary, embrace degrowth, manage its implementation through a shift to a Circular Economy, and track progress using Integrated Reporting.
We wrap up this week by congratulating New Zealand founded LanzaTech who has been named the top clean technology firm and North America Company of the year in the annual Cleantech 100 rankings. For those of you who may not be familiar with LanzaTech, they have developed systems that convert waste gases from processes such as steel productions to biofuels.
Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and we look forward to catching up with you again. If you have any items of interest you would like to submit, then please feel free to forward them.