Newton doesn’t do ’sustainability’

”Learning to live sustainably” is an article* written with colleagues Nadia McLaren and Olena Pometun. In it we quote Philip Anderson:

”The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe… Psychology is not applied biology, nor is biology applied chemistry.”

Obvious? Well, yes… in a way. The problem is, we tend to forget it when tackling questions like climate change or sustainable development. We analyse and analyse, narrowing in on smaller and smaller areas. But, as Nadia writes,

“Something is lost when a whole is degraded. Let’s call it coherence or integrity. Partly because what is lost is often invisible, it is usually ignored or any loss of value denied. This is the penalty of analysis.”

Conventional analytical thinking doesn’t work at the quantum scale or the cosmic scale. This was the paradigm shift from Newton to Einstein. Nor does it work when living beings are involved. “You could insist that a falling egg, just before it smashes, has the same constituents as the mess on the floor. Materially it does, but it cannot make a chicken.”

Yet still today the responses to environmental problems and the solutions put forward are coming largely from an analytical perspective. It is as if we are trying to live and breathe a vital internal life of a new sustainability paradigm while wearing a medieval suit of armour.

To move beyond the current road-blocks that prevent us from seeing our way, we need a whole brain approach, incorporating the right, pattern-completing brain and the emotional, limbic brain.

When are schools going to start teaching synthesis as well as analysis?

*Global Environmental Research journal 4/2010, one of the documents in the research section of our web site.

Elephants on the move in Stavanger

Not just a ceremony but a living event with people ready to engage in dialogue, deep exchange, action. Grateful thanks to all in Stavanger who organized such a wonderful series of events. Not least the children’s choir from Sola – text of one of their songs will soon be posted. Meanwhile: a couple of photos.

”World Environment Day” – what a way to celebrate it! Below, the Global Action Plan International team in Stavanger.


Five steps to a more sustainable lifestyle?

A Norwegian journalist, Petter Egge, interviewed me recently. He absolutely wanted five pieces of advice for a more sustainable lifestyle. I resisted – giving advice is not what I’m best at. But he was very persistent and finally we arrived at five points.

Today I got to see the article in print, and find that Egge has done some excellent research and added facts to the advice. So I’d like to share it. The last point was news for me. You could say, stick to second-hand clothes if you want to have a holiday abroad!

1. Pay attention to what you eat

Food production is one of the biggest causes of climate change. It’s also one of the areas with the biggest and easiest potential for change. For instance, if every family of four made some non-drastic changes in their eating habits, they could save as much CO2 as they would by getting rid of the family car.

Facts: 18 % of human-produced greenhouse gases come from the production of meat, eggs and milk. Food production also consumes enormous quantities of water, energy and chemicals. Globally, food production accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the whole transport sector. Producing one kilo of beef corresponds to 126.5 km of travel in an average Norwegian family car.

2. Compost!

Separating your garbage is good. Even better if you compost the organic waste – in the garden, on your balcony, or with a friend. Organic waste accounts for the biggest fraction of the garbage, by weight, so you save on transport – and your garbage bin doesn’t smell.

Facts: Food and garden waste account for nearly a third of our garbage, so composting can save a lot. Each kilo of garbage causes about as much CO2 as 1 km of car driving. Each Norwegian generates 821 kilos of waste annually, whereas the average for Europe is 500 kilo. Norwegians are however recycling champions.

3. Choose your energy suppliers

In Sweden we can choose our electricity supplier in order to buy 100% renewable (in Norway almost all electricity is renewable). In our home we’ve changed from oil heating to heating with pellets: compressed forest waste, which is almost CO2 neutral.

Facts: In Norway nearly 70% of all housing is heated by electric radiators. Heat pumps can save between 20 and 60%. Different kinds of heat pumps take heat from the air, water, sea or soil. Pellets are the most effective fuel, at 95%. If you replace oil by wood or pellets you can save 3.7 tons of greenhouse gas annually.

4. Take care of your health

What’s good for your health is also often good for the environment – and vice versa. For example, taking the bike or walking instead of driving is good for your health as well as the environment. The same is true of food. We say ‘you are what you eat’, but actually the environment is also what you eat. More vegetables and less meat, for instance, is good for both.

Facts: 10% of Norway’s greenhouse gas emissions come from car driving. More than half of all trips under 1 km are made by car. If you go by bike instead you save 172 g CO2 per km, and if half a million Norwegians were to commute by bike 100 days a year we would together reduce greenhouse gases by 150,000 tons.

5. Cut your costs

If you ask people what they long for, it’s not more things but more time. If you use any surplus money to reduce loans, rather than buying more things, you reduce your need for money. You can choose to work less and use your time differently. The less money we spend on things, the fewer resources we use – and the more time we have.

Facts: All production of goods gives rise to greenhouse gases. For example a sweater that costs 400 kroner has a carbon print of nearly 40 kg of CO2. If you buy two items of new clothing a month, the carbon print per year is nearly as big as flying twice from Oslo to London and back.

Translated from Stavanger Aftenblad 3 June 2011

‘Green growth’?

In the run-up to next year’s Earth Summit in Rio, the concept of ‘green growth’ has been launched. It’s intended to bridge the gap between the poorer countries’ need to ‘grow’, i.e. to get richer; and the richer countries’ need to assure their voters that they will not be asked to give up anything to our poorer brethren.

No wonder some people are sceptical. What if we take a new look at ‘growth’?

Is growth always good? Not if you’re a mature person. If you keep on growing past maturity, chances are you’re either very overweight or have cancer. But that doesn’t mean we stop ‘growing’ when we mature. On the contrary, that’s when the really exciting growth can happen: the intellectual and spiritual growth that gilds our days, enriches our years, opens our minds and spirits to ever new insights. As Einstein is reputed to have said, ”The more I know, the more I realize I don’t know…”

So how do we create an Einsteinian society? One where – once the necessities of life are assured (and maybe a LITTLE bit more!) – we find our joy in growing in insight, understanding, service? Doesn’t that sound like a worthy challenge?

The funny thing is that in survey after survey in the richer countries (including, for instance, Russia), a big majority of people say that what they value most and would like more of is TIME. Not things. Time to spend with family and friends, time to spend on doing what we feel passionate about. But – and here’s the crux – most people feel kind of alone in this. We value time, but we’re afraid everyone else values THINGS more, so we feel a need to acquire more things just so as not to be regarded as odd. We keep running, without knowing where we’re running to – or why.

Maybe that’s what the hero’s journey is really about. Learning to stand up for what we value most.

Heroes and heroines: myth and reality

At last: Joseph Campbell’s book ’Hero With a Thousand Faces’ has been published in Swedish. Not a decade too soon! At the launch party yesterday we saw (again) Bill Moyers’ wonderful interview with Campbell. Campbell’s face lights up as he speaks about the heroic journey of each and every one of us. He points out that the original heroic journey is our own birth, as we struggle to leave our safe womb and take our place in a new and dangerous world.

It’s true, every one of us is a hero/ine. If we can manage that amazing journey, that amazing transition, then surely we can do anything. When did you leave on your last heroic journey? Or are you just preparing for one? Tell your story!

Burning without burning up

Celebrating a 30th birthday today, and talking about adulthood. Does it mean you lose your passion? Or at least that your passion loses its edge? Or that if your fire burns too brightly, you risk burn-out before 40?

I suspect the Buddhists have it about right. Personally I hope my passion never dims. And, to live with passion also takes non-attachment. The less attached I am to outcomes, the more I can burn without burning up – ?

And yes – we had some passionate conversation today! Thanks, everyone. And happy birthday, Andreas!

Enough! It’s not about scarcity

We have everything we need to create a global society of wellbeing. What stops us?

More and more, I think it’s about what’s inside our heads: our beliefs and our fears. Belief in scarcity triggers fears of doom. The fears trigger greed.

Specifically, I see an extraordinary belief in myths about money. Money is the least of our worries – after all, we invented it. We can, and should, re-invent it. Governments were offered a shining opportunity to re-invent money in the wake of the recent financial crashes. They missed their chance. So we will have more financial crashes – and more opportunities, but a lot of suffering in the meantime.

More and more, I think the transformative power lies with communities. Municipalities, parishes, townships, city wards, counties – whatever they are called, the important thing is the local scope. A community doesn’t have to re-invent the entire monetary system; it can create its own microeconomy.

Do we in fact have everything we need?

Not quite. We need more trees, to produce more oxygen. It’s a simple equation:

Fewer trees + more people = not enough air
Plant a tree today, so we can all keep breathing tomorrow!

Life is full of small (and less-small) miracles

Is it possible to capture some of them in blog-form? The miracle of physical existence – a flower, a child, a zebra. The miracle of consciousness, and thus the ability to embrace mortality. The miracle of synchronicity. The miracle of being able to talk to you, across space and time. Is anyone there?