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The environmental sustainability problem has proven difficult to solve. The modern environmental movement has attempted to solve the problem in a large variety of ways. But little progress has been made, as shown by severe ecological footprint overshoot and lack of sufficient progress on the climate change problem. Something within the human system is preventing change to a sustainable mode of behavior. That system trait is systemic change resistance. Change resistance is also known as organizational resistance, barriers to change, or policy resistance.
Sustainability is the ability to exist constantly. In the 21st century, it refers generally to the capacity for the biosphere and human civilization to coexist. It is also defined as the process of people maintaining change in a homeostasis balanced environment, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations. For many in the field, sustainability is defined through the following interconnected domains or pillars: environment, economic and social, which according to Fritjof Capra is based on the principles of Systems Thinking. Sub-domains of sustainable development have been considered also: cultural, technological and political. According to the Our Common Future, Sustainable development is defined as development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainable development may be the organizing principle of sustainability, yet others may view the two terms as paradoxical.
The environmental movement, also including conservation and green politics, is a diverse scientific, social, and political movement for addressing environmental issues. Environmentalists advocate the sustainable management of resources and stewardship of the environment through changes in public policy and individual behavior. In its recognition of humanity as a participant in ecosystems, the movement is centered on ecology, health, and human rights.
The ecological footprint measures human demand on nature, i.e., the quantity of nature it takes to support people or an economy. It tracks this demand through an ecological accounting system. The accounts contrast the biologically productive area people use for their consumption to the biologically productive area available within a region or the world. In short, it is a measure of human impact on Earth's ecosystem and reveals the dependence of the human economy on natural capital.
While environmentalism had long been a minor force in political change, the movement strengthened significantly in the 1970s with the first Earth Day in 1970, in which over 20 million people participated, with publication of The Limits to Growth in 1972, and with the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972. Early expectations the problem could be solved ran high. 114 out of 132 members of the United Nations attended the Stockholm conference. The conference was widely seen at the time as a harbinger of success:
Earth Day is an annual event celebrated around the world on April 22 to demonstrate support for environmental protection. First celebrated in 1970, it now includes events coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network in more than 193 countries.
The Limits to Growth (LTG) is a 1972 report on the computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth with a finite supply of resources. Funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and commissioned by the Club of Rome, the findings of the study were first presented at international gatherings in Moscow and Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 1971. The report's authors are Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III, representing a team of 17 researchers.
The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, Sweden from June 5–16 in 1972.
However, despite the work of a worldwide environmental movement, many national environmental protection agencies, creation of the United Nations Environment Programme, and many international environmental treaties, the sustainability problem continues to grow worse. The latest ecological footprint data shows the world's footprint increased from about 50% undershoot in 1961 to 50% overshoot in 2007, the last year data is available.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is a programme of the United Nations that coordinates the organization's environmental activities and assists developing countries in implementing environmentally sound policies and practices. It was founded by Maurice Strong, its first director, as a result of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in June 1972 and has overall responsibility for environmental problems among United Nations agencies; however, international talks on specialized issues, such as addressing climate change or combating desertification, are overseen by other UN organizations, like the Bonn-based Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. UNEP's activities cover a wide range of issues regarding the atmosphere, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, environmental governance and green economy. It has played a significant role in developing international environmental conventions, promoting environmental science and information and illustrating the way those can be implemented in conjunction with policy, working on the development and implementation of policy with national governments, regional institutions in conjunction with environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs). UNEP has also been active in funding and implementing environment related development projects.
In 1972 the first edition of The Limits to Growth analyzed the environmental sustainability problem using a system dynamics model. The widely influential book predicted that:
System dynamics (SD) is an approach to understanding the nonlinear behaviour of complex systems over time using stocks, flows, internal feedback loops, table functions and time delays.
Yet thirty-two years later in 2004 the third edition reported that:
Change resistance runs so high that the world's top two greenhouse gas emitters, China and the United States, have never adopted the Kyoto Protocol treaty. In the US resistance was so strong that in 1999 the US Senate voted 95 to zero against the treaty by passing the Byrd–Hagel Resolution, despite the fact Al Gore was vice-president at the time. Not a single senator could be persuaded to support the treaty, which has not been brought back to the floor since.
China, officially known as the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia and the world's most populous country, with a population of around 1.404 billion in 2017. Covering approximately 9,600,000 square kilometers (3,700,000 sq mi), it is the third or fourth largest country by total area. Governed by the Communist Party of China, the state exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four direct-controlled municipalities, and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or simply America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.
The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty which extends the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that commits state parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, based on the scientific consensus that (part one) global warming is occurring and (part two) it is extremely likely that human-made CO2 emissions have predominantly caused it. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. There are currently 192 parties (Canada withdrew from the protocol, effective December 2012) to the Protocol.
Due to prolonged change resistance, the climate change problem has escalated to the climate change crisis. Greenhouse gas emissions are rising much faster than IPCC models expected: “The growth rate of [fossil fuel] emissions was 3.5% per year for 2000-2007, an almost four fold increase from 0.9% per year in 1990-1999. … This makes current trends in emissions higher than the worst case IPCC-SRES scenario.”
The Copenhagen Climate Summit of December 2009 ended in failure.No agreement on binding targets was reached. The Cancun Climate Summit in December 2010 did not break the deadlock. The best it could do was another non-binding agreement:
This indicates no progress at all since 1992, when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was created at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The 2010 Cancun agreement was the functional equivalent of what the 1992 agreement said:
Negotiations have bogged down so pervasively that: “Climate policy is gridlocked, and there’s virtually no chance of a breakthrough.”“Climate policy, as it has been understood and practised by many governments of the world under the Kyoto Protocol approach, has failed to produce any discernible real world reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases in fifteen years.”
These events suggest that change resistance to solving the sustainability problem is so high the problem is currently unsolvable.
Understanding change resistance requires seeing it as a distinct and separate part of the sustainability problem. Tanya Markvart's 2009 thesis on Understanding Institutional Change and Resistance to Change Towards Sustainability stated that:
The thesis focuses specifically on developing “an interdisciplinary theoretical framework for understanding institutional change and resistance to change towards sustainability.”
Jack Harich's 2010 paper on Change Resistance as the Crux of the Environmental Sustainability Problem argues there are two separate problems to solve.A root cause analysis and a system dynamics model were used to explain how:
The paper discussed the two subproblems:
The proper coupling subproblem is what most people consider as “the” problem to solve. It is called decoupling in economic and environmental fields, where the term refers to economic growth without additional environmental degradation. Solving the proper coupling problem is the goal of environmentalism and in particular ecological economics: “Ecological economics is the study of the interactions and co-evolution in time and space of human economies and the ecosystems in which human economies are embedded.”
Change resistance is also called barriers to change. Hoffman and Bazerman, in a chapter on “Understanding and overcoming the organizational and psychological barriers to action,” concluded that:
John Sterman, current leader of the system dynamics school of thought, came to the same conclusion:
These findings indicate there are at least two subproblems to be solved: change resistance and proper coupling. Given the human system's long history of unsuccessful attempts to self-correct to a sustainable mode, it appears that high change resistance is preventing proper coupling. This may be expressed as an emerging principle: systemic change resistance is the crux of the sustainability problem and must be solved first, before the human system can be properly coupled to the greater system it lives within, the environment.
Systemic change resistance differs significantly from individual change resistance. “Systemic means originating from the system in such a manner as to affect the behavior of most or all social agents of certain types, as opposed to originating from individual agents.”Individual change resistance originates from individual people and organizations. How the two differ may be seen in this passage:
If sources of systemic change resistance are present, they are the principal cause of individual change resistance. According to the fundamental attribution error it is crucial to address systemic change resistance when present and avoid assuming that change resistance can be overcome by bargaining, reasoning, inspirational appeals, and so on. This is because:
Peter Senge, a thought leader of systems thinking for the business world, describes the structural source of systemic change resistance as being due to an “implicit system goal:”
Senge's insight applies to the sustainability problem. Until the “implicit system goal” causing systemic change resistance is found and resolved, change efforts to solve the proper coupling part of the sustainability problem may be, as Senge argues, “doomed to failure.”
Presently environmentalism is focused on solving the proper coupling subproblem. For example, the following are all proper coupling solutions. They attempt to solve the direct cause of the sustainability problem's symptoms:
The direct cause of environmental impact is the three factors on the right side of the I=PAT equation where Impact equals Population times Affluence (consumption per person) times Technology (environmental impact per unit of consumption). It is these three factors that solutions like those listed above seek to reduce.
The top environmental organization in the world, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), focuses exclusively on proper coupling solutions:
The six areas are all direct practices to reduce the three factors of the I=PAT equation.
Al Gores' 2006 documentary film An Inconvenient Truth described the climate change problem and the urgency of solving it. The film concluded with Gore saying:
The four solutions Gore mentions are proper coupling practices. There is, however, a hint of acknowledgement that overcoming systemic change resistance is the real challenge, when Gore says “...we just have to have the determination to make it happen. We have everything that we need to reduce carbon emissions, everything but political will.”
The twenty-seven solutions that appear during the film's closing credits are mostly proper coupling solutions. The first nine are:
Some solutions are attempts to overcome individual change resistance, such as:
However none of the twenty-seven solutions deal with overcoming systemic change resistance.
Efforts here are sparse because environmentalism is currently not oriented toward treating systemic change resistance as a distinct and separate problem to solve.
On how to specifically overcome the change resistance subproblem, Markvart examined two leading theories that seemed to offer insight into change resistance, Panarchy theory and New Institutionalism, and concluded that:
Taking a root cause analysis and system dynamics modeling approach, Harich carefully defined the three characteristics of a root cause and then found a main systemic root cause for both the change resistance and proper coupling subproblems.Several sample solution elements for resolving the root causes were suggested. The point was made that the exact solution policies chosen do not matter nearly as much as finding the correct systemic root causes. Once these are found, how to resolve them is relatively obvious because once a root cause is found by structural modeling, the high leverage point for resolving it follows easily. Solutions may then push on specific structural points in the social system, which due to careful modeling will have fairly predictable effects.
This reaffirms the work of Donella Meadows, as expressed in her classic essay on Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System. The final page stated that:
Here Meadows refers to the leverage point for resolving the proper coupling subproblem rather than the leverage point for overcoming change resistance. This is because the current focus of environmentalism is on proper coupling.
However, if the leverage points associated with the root causes of change resistance exist and can be found, the system will not resist changing them. This is an important principle of social system behavior.
For example, Harich found the main root cause of successful systemic change resistance to be high "deception effectiveness." The source was special interests, particularly large for-profit corporations. The high leverage point was raising "general ability to detect manipulative deception." This can be done with a variety of solution elements, such as "The Truth Test." This effectively increases truth literacy, just as conventional education raises reading and writing literacy. Few citizens resist literacy education because its benefits have become so obvious.
Promotion of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been used to try to overcome change resistance to solving social problems, including environmental sustainability. This solution strategy has not worked well because it is voluntary and does not resolve root causes. Milton Friedman explained why CSR fails: "The social responsibility of business is to increase profits."Business cannot be responsible to society. It can only be responsible to its shareholders.
Founded in 1968 at Accademia dei Lincei in Rome, Italy, the Club of Rome consists of current and former heads of state, UN bureaucrats, high-level politicians and government officials, diplomats, scientists, economists, and business leaders from around the globe. It stimulated considerable public attention in 1972 with the first report to the Club of Rome, The Limits to Growth. Since 1 July 2008 the organization has been based in Winterthur, Switzerland.
The World3 model is a system dynamics model for computer simulation of interactions between population, industrial growth, food production and limits in the ecosystems of the earth. It was originally produced and used by a Club of Rome study that produced the model and the book The Limits to Growth (1972). The creators of the model were Dennis Meadows, project manager, and a team of 16 researchers.
Eco-capitalism, also known as environmental capitalism or green capitalism, is the view that capital exists in nature as "natural capital" on which all wealth depends, and therefore, governments should use market-based policy-instruments to resolve environmental problems.
Column generation or delayed column generation is an efficient algorithm for solving larger linear programs.
Environmental degradation is the deterioration of the environment through depletion of resources such as air, water and soil; the destruction of ecosystems; habitat destruction; the extinction of wildlife; and pollution. It is defined as any change or disturbance to the environment perceived to be deleterious or undesirable. As indicated by the I=PAT equation, environmental impact (I) or degradation is caused by the combination of an already very large and increasing human population (P), continually increasing economic growth or per capita affluence (A), and the application of resource-depleting and polluting technology (T).
Sustainable transport refers to the broad subject of transport that is sustainable in the senses of social, environmental and climate impacts. Components for evaluating sustainability include the particular vehicles used for road, water or air transport; the source of energy; and the infrastructure used to accommodate the transport. Transport operations and logistics as well as transit-oriented development are also involved in evaluation. Transportation sustainability is largely being measured by transportation system effectiveness and efficiency as well as the environmental and climate impacts of the system.
Leverage-point modeling (LPM) is a demonstrated approach for improved planning and spending for operations and support (O&S) activities. LPM is a continuous-event simulation technique that uses the system dynamics approach of model building. Dr. Nathaniel Mass championed the potential of LPM, and adapted it for the Department of Defense (DoD) as a tool for jumping to a higher performance curve as a means of offsetting higher costs and declining budgets. The purpose of LPM is to test policies and investments that improve mission capability for a given level of investment or funding. It is particularly used to evaluate investments in component reliability and parts availability.
A low-carbon economy (LCE), low-fossil-fuel economy (LFFE), or decarbonised economy is an economy based on low carbon power sources that therefore has a minimal output of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the biosphere, but specifically refers to the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. GHG emissions due to anthropogenic (human) activity are the dominant cause of observed global warming since the mid-20th century. Continued emission of greenhouse gases may cause long-lasting changes around the world, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.
A technological fix, technical fix, technological shortcut or solutionism refers to the attempt of using engineering or technology to solve a problem.
Greenhouse Solutions with Sustainable Energy is a 2007 book by Australian academic Mark Diesendorf. The book puts forward a set of policies and strategies for implementing the most promising clean energy technologies by all spheres of government, business and community organisations. Greenhouse Solutions with Sustainable Energy suggests that a mix of efficient energy use, renewable energy sources and natural gas offers a clean and feasible energy future for Australia.
A global warming game, also known as a climate game or a climate change game, is a type of serious game. As a serious game, it attempts to simulate and explore real life issues to educate players through an interactive experience. The issues particular to a global warming video game are usually energy efficiency and the implementation of green technology as ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thus counteract global warming. Global warming games also include more traditional board games, video games, as well as other varieties.
Hypermobile travelers are "highly mobile individuals" who take "frequent trips, often over great distances." They "account for a large share of the overall kilometres travelled, especially by air." These people contribute significantly to the overall amount of airmiles flown within a given society. Although concerns over hypermobility apply to several modes of transport, the environmental impact of aviation and especially its greenhouse gas emissions have brought particular focus on flying. Among the reasons for this focus is that these emissions, because they are made at high altitude, have a climate impact that is commonly estimated to be 2.7 higher than the same emissions if made at ground-level.
A carbon diet refers to reducing the impact on climate change by reducing greenhouse gas production specifically, CO2 production. In today’s society, humans produce CO2 in every day activities such as driving, heating, deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. It has been found that carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, natural gas, and oil for electricity and heat is the largest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions. For years, governments and corporations have been attempting to balance out their emissions by participating in carbon-offsetting — the practice in which they invest in renewable energy to compensate for the global warming pollution that they produce. Despite these efforts the results are still far off and we continue to see growth in CO2 concentration. Now, a growing number of individuals are trying to make a reduction in the amount of CO2 that is being produced by participating in low carbon dieting. This small adjustment in household CO2 production has the potential to reduce emissions much more quickly than other kinds of changes and it deserves explicit consideration as part of climate policy. It can potentially help avoid “overshoot” of greenhouse gas concentration targets; provide a demonstration effect; reduce emissions at low cost; and buy time to develop new technologies, policies, and institutions to reach long-term greenhouse gas emission targets and to develop adaptation strategies.
Dantzig–Wolfe decomposition is an algorithm for solving linear programming problems with special structure. It was originally developed by George Dantzig and Philip Wolfe and initially published in 1960. Many texts on linear programming have sections dedicated to discussing this decomposition algorithm.
Sustainability science emerged in the 21st century as a new academic discipline. This new field of science was officially introduced with a "Birth Statement" at the World Congress "Challenges of a Changing Earth 2001" in Amsterdam organized by the International Council for Science (ICSU), the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). The field reflects a desire to give the generalities and broad-based approach of “sustainability” a stronger analytic and scientific underpinning as it "brings together scholarship and practice, global and local perspectives from north and south, and disciplines across the natural and social sciences, engineering, and medicine". Ecologist William C. Clark proposes that it can be usefully thought of as "neither 'basic' nor 'applied' research but as a field defined by the problems it addresses rather than by the disciplines it employs" and that it "serves the need for advancing both knowledge and action by creating a dynamic bridge between the two".
At the global scale sustainability and environmental management involves managing the oceans, freshwater systems, land and atmosphere, according to sustainability principles.
Individual action on climate change can include personal choices in many areas, such as diet, means of long- and short-distance travel, household energy use, consumption of goods and services, and family size. Individuals can also engage in local and political advocacy around issues of climate change.
The Growth and Underinvestment Archetype is one of the common system archetype patterns defined as part of the system dynamics discipline.
A structural fix refers to solving a problem or resolving a conflict by bringing about structural changes that change the underlying structures that provoked or sustain these problems. According to Heberlein such changes modify human behavior by regulating the social settings or the 'structures' in which the behavior occurs − their context. Such fixes are typically long-term opposed to temporary and require open and in-depth inquiry for the root structural causes of a problem and understanding of a system. Effectively changing norms would be an example of a structural fix. Often structural fixes involve a change of incentives.