Monday, January 30, 2006

Making Sustainability Happen

James Lovelock, the independent inventor and father of the Gaia hypothesis created quite an impact across the world with his latest article on the earth's morbid fever.

While we may continue to or , the story of climate change highlights two important fundamental action principles about ensuring sustainability of a system.

The first principle is that of the homeostatic nature of sustainability: To use Lovelock's example, by failing to see that the Earth regulates its climate and composition, we have blundered into trying to do it ourselves, acting as if we were in charge. In any system that we try to sustain we fail to recognize the actors, all those who contribute to the balancing of the system, to homeostasis. Naturally, we end up making interventions as if we were the only ones in charge and our interventions can happen in isolation. How many solutions to problems around us identify the actors within a system? How many solutions align these actors to ensure they will sustain the system?

The second principle is that of keeping the respite time larger than the response time: Again to use Lovelock's example, the time before the earth catches the morbid fever (respite time) is small in comparison to the time in which we can get the various actors to act to regulate the global climate (response time), assuming they can! How many of the systems we are a part of are attentive to the respite time? How many interventions for making a system sustainable actually ensure quicker response times? How many solutions work to enhance the respite time?

The challenge before anyone trying to ensure sustainability of any system is to ensure that intervention does not violate these two fundamental principles. Our responses, our designs, our policies, our decisions that use these two action principles will decide whether we are able to sustain the systems dear to us.