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Common Dreams, reporting on the May 2014 release of the U.S. National Climate Assessment put it bluntly: "We're Screwed." "This Is What a Holy Shit Moment for Global Warming Looks Like," trumpeted Mother Jones magazine in its coverage that glaciers in the West Antarctic ice sheet appear to have become irrevocably destabilized. The New York Times used sober, but equally alarming language: "A...
Humans are a miraculous example of evolutionary success. Our ability to engage in rational thought, to form cooperative groups, to share information through complex symbols, to make and use sophisticated tools: all of these things have enabled us to spread and flourish. However, at the dawn of the 21st century the features and manifestations of our success now challenge our future. On one hand...
Slowly, quietly, people concerned with achieving a sustainable and equitable society are beginning to get serious about two new challenges. The first involves what is best understood as the next system question. The second has come to be called the new economy movement. Movement forward in both cases is likely to intensify as social, economic, and ecological difficulties worsen. The long-term...
Activists of every kind hope to see their cause addressed as quickly as possible, but this seems particularly true when it comes to environmentalists. Every week, news emerges about the dire consequences in store for Earth’s inhabitants if something is not done right away about species extinction, water and air pollution, and climate disruption. Combine these prognoses with the glacial pace of...
Sustainability is dead; long live sustainability. Sustainability has gone “mainstream.” Firms develop sustainability strategies, develop sustainable products and business processes, produce sustainability reports, and appoint chief sustainability officers who tout sustainability as being core to their mission. University administrators promote sustainability as central to their curricula....
When people think about how to move our societies towards sustainability, they usually think simply about reducing our collective environmental impact. But the related question, of how human well-being can be produced more efficiently, is often ignored. Modern economic systems are disastrously inefficient ways of producing well-being. The vast majority of people in rich countries live at...
Protecting and conserving our natural resources is important now and for future generations. National parks, land-use conservation, and marine reserves all contribute to this effort. The gains that come from conservation are indisputable—often quantified as ecosystem services. This is especially true in terms of the enhanced biodiversity and the long-term sustainability that go with preserving...
Donella Meadows was renowned for her capacity to envision a sustainable world, and to inspire others to do the same. As she notes in the “Envisioning” section of this issue, a sustainable society isn’t stagnant and authoritarian. She believed a community dedicated to the planet’s health relied on innovation and playfulness focused “on mindfully increasing the quality of life.” This special issue...
Every day when we go to work, we have an opportunity—an opportunity to do better, work better, and raise our voices to build better companies. Most companies want to change how they do business in order to change the world. When we are the leaders of those businesses, we not only have an opportunity, we have a responsibility. The woes of our world are well documented. We can no longer ignore...
This special issue of Solutions celebrates this year’s most important environmental event: the Rio de Janeiro summit on sustainable development in June. Twenty years have passed since the first Earth Summit in 1992, and we need an urgent reevaluation of how our economies depend on our environment. Since 1992, the earth’s population has grown from 5.4 billion to more than 7 billion—a leap of...
"All that we do, almost all the time, is design, for design is basic to all human activity. The planning and patterning of any act toward a desired and foreseeable end constitutes the design process." —Victor Papanek, The Green Imperative Solutions always arise out of the design process. Any time we conceive a course of action aimed at solving a problem, we are designing. Design involves scripted...
It is commonly assumed that our national security depends only on our capacity to project military power beyond our borders and has little to do with how we organize the internal business of the country. The nation’s armed strength and its “soft power” are necessary components of security, but they are not—and cannot be—the whole of it. A larger vision of security includes the internal resilience...
This special issue of Solutions is devoted to the idea of ecosystem services—the benefits humans derive from our shared “natural capital” assets, including everything from climate regulation to water supply to pollination to cultural amenities. The idea that preserving the environment is an asset, rather than an impediment, to economic growth and development is both very old and very new. For...
Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from a speech Senator Sanders (I-VT) gave in December 2010 on the senate floor to protest President Obama's proposed tax cut compromise. As everybody knows, the United States has a record-breaking national debt exceeding $14 trillion at the same time as the middle class is collapsing and poverty is increasing. It is important to first say a word about...
Most of us who care deeply about the conditions of the United States and its public policy are sustained and carried forward by the expectation that serious progress in the directions we favor is coming, sooner or later, and that things will get better. And the harder we work for the change, the better it will be. This comfort zone is where most of us are most of the time. Maybe. But there is a...
“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” —H.L. Menken Everyone, it seems, has a solution for the energy and environmental problems our global civilization must confront in the next two decades. Build more windmills. Grow corn to produce ethanol. Construct more nuclear plants. Clean up coal. Drill baby drill. Tap ultra-deep subsea petroleum and gas....
In 2010, the world’s women face daunting challenges, yet they are also the most promising and untapped agents of change. Who can forget the ink-stained fingers of the 2,000 Iraqi women who ran for parliament in that war-torn country’s 2010 elections; or the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina fighting for justice and human rights; or the Women in Black in Israel, widely credited with...
We met in 1974 on the north coast of Jamaica, in Discovery Bay, then one of the great pioneer centers of coral reef science. At the time, many of us blithely took the reefs for granted. They were already largely fishless, which we noted, but luxuriant living corals carpeted the reefs built up by their ancestors over thousands of years. We had no inkling of a time when the corals themselves might...
Could the old adage “Seeing is believing” have it backwards? Increasingly, we’re learning that we humans see our world through a paradigm, as Donella Meadows reminded us in her seminal article, republished in the first issue of Solutions. A paradigm boils down to our “great big unstated assumptions,” she wrote, “or deepest set of beliefs about how the world works.” These core assumptions...
In late 2008, James Hansen and nine colleagues published a paper designed to save the world. Years from now, when historians write the definitive history of the climate movement, they may well conclude that Hansen and his colleagues succeeded. For consider the remarkable impact to date of their paper, “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?” On October 24, 2009, less than one year...
A patient diagnosed with cancer must confront a long, difficult road to recovery. The same can be said for the hundreds of mountaintops in Appalachia that have been ravaged by strip mining. America’s addiction to cheap energy has spread disease amongst some of our most beautiful natural resources. From a fatalistic point of view, we fear that Appalachia might soon die. Once a lush, verdant...
Last September I attended the Prairie Festival at The Land Institute in Salinas, Kansas. At the institute, Wes Jackson and his colleagues are undertaking one of the most important agricultural research projects in the world. They have gone back to first principles and are breeding new grain crops that are perennials rather than annuals. To do so, they cross high-yielding annual crops, such as...
A Copernican shift is underway in fields as diverse as agriculture, materials science, architecture, engineering, business, economics, urban planning, waste management, national security, and many others. In every case, it is driven by the need to discover patterns and larger systems essential to reaching higher levels of efficiency and lower environmental impacts—and by the requirements of...
This inaugural issue of Solutions marks the beginning of what we hope will be a long and fruitful dialogue across our global society. To help build a shared vision of where our society wants to go and initiate a broad agreement about how to get there—these are our intentions. We want Solutions to help us move beyond the debate that dominates public discussion toward substantive and constructive...