I have recently had the pleasure of reading Eric. D. Beinhocker's book The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics. Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press; London: Random House, 2006. 526 p. As someone whose whole scientific career has been in systems science, I found it encouraging that mainstream business people are finally waking up to the fact that traditional economics is based on the wrong premises about human nature and purpose, and about the way complex systems of all kinds work and evolve.
A recent question about the famous 1972 study for the Club of Rome on "The Limits to Growth" touches on the heart of our challenge today as Baha'is and others working to transform society. Baha'u'llah warned us about civilization carried to excess, and said that the old world order would be rolled up (like an old carpet) so that a new one could be laid out in its stead.
For those who have been following the line of thinking about the potential collapse of civilization, starting with The Limits to Growth (1972) and including Jared Diamond's Collapse and Thomas Homer-Dixon's The Upside of Down (see Dahl 2008), there is an interesting new approach from a mathematical modeler.
A question many of us are struggling with is whether, with the seeming inevitability of possibly catastrophic climate change, we can still have hope for the future.
I have just posted the following contribution to the UN World We Want 2015 web site (http://www.worldwewant2015.org) on the topic: Framing Environmental Sustainability in the Post-2015 Agenda. They asked two questions:
What are the barriers and enablers to gradually moving towards environmental sustainability?
Fragmented institutions and short-term perspective
Bankrupting Nature: Denying our planetary boundaries. A report to the Club of Rome. Anders Wijkman and Johan Rockström. London: Earthscan from Routledge, 2012. 206 p.
I was recently asked about the relationship between climate change and highly political issues around fossil fuels and energy independence. This raises an important issue about the linkages between all the different processes that make up our economy and human-planetary system, none of which can be resolved in isolation. Can we treat the scientific parts of the problem separately from the economic and political parts? How far can participation in dialogue go before it becomes too political and divisive?
For an excellent summary of the outcomes of Rio+20 (the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012), see the article by Maria Ivanova "The Contested Legacy of Rio+20" at http://uncsd.iisd.org/guest-articles/the-contested-legacy-of-rio20/.
RIO+20 started and we are all participating in many different events, dialogues and discussions!
IEF president Arthur Dahl gave a talk on one of the side events organized by the Earth Charter "Exploring synergies between faith values and education for sustainable development"
EXCELLENCE AND HOLISTIC THINKING
Arthur Lyon Dahl
(Presentation at the EBBF Make It Meaningful event "Redefining Excellence" - Selsdon Park, London, UK - 13 May 2012)
See also http://ebbf.org/blog/arthur-dahl-excellence-from-holistic-and-systemic-thinking/
Our scientific and technological civilization has flourished by encouraging increasing specialization. The universal man (think Leonardo da Vinci) has not existed since the renaissance. With the rapid multiplication of knowledge and the techniques for storing and transmitting it, the human capacity to absorb and use knowledge is rapidly saturated, so we end up by knowing more and more about less and less, compensating our increasing specialization with a division of labour among more and more specialists, with managers ensuring (hopefully) that everything fits together. This is accompanied by a reductionist approach that assumes that if you know each part, you also know the whole. While this may be true of machines, more complex systems like computer programmes, ecosystems and people show emergent properties that cannot be predicted simply from a knowledge of the component parts.