Our current thinking is driven by an education system devised in the 17th century, systematised in the 19th century and rendered obsolete by the end of the industrial revolution. We are now in a race between understanding and disaster. Let me explain.
We are still teaching our children to think like products of the industrial revolution when that era of human development has finished. Education is still based on retaining information as that knowledge used to be valuable. Business schools still teach the concept of win-win deals being the ultimate objective when we know that in almost every industrial revolution business deal there was always a loser – the environment. The skills we need to foster include critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration with nature.
Life, we were taught, is about managing predictable patterns of change. That may have been true in our past but not any longer. Seemingly unpredictable and infinite change will become ever more commonplace as our natural world is transformed by humans at remarkable pace. Winning through the sustainability revolution is all about understanding the connectivity between ostensibly unrelated business and the eco-systems on which they depend. This new thinking is what will determine the outcome of the revolution and indeed the 21st century for humankind.
We talk about not being able to see the wood for the trees. Never has a truer word been uttered about today’s relationship between humankind and our planet. A wonderful example of this is the story of how the wolf reforested Yellowstone National Park.
Hunters shot the last wolf in the park in the 1920s. The Aspen trees looked as beautiful as ever, but then in the 1980’s the woods started disappearing at an alarming rate. The wolf was then re-introduced to the Park from Canada and the trees came back.
The Aspen trees had matured and died as they do naturally– and whilst everyone could see the trees, they did not look at the woods. Once the last wolf had been shot the elk moved from the plains to the woods and grazed on the young saplings – so no new trees could establish.
Since the re-introduction of the wolf in 1995, the elk population has been reduced and their natural grazing habits have returned. The elk, frightened of the wolves, no longer graze at the river edges or in woods but on the open plains. Young sapling aspen trees now survive and as they mature the woodlands are naturally re-establishing themselves. That is how the wolf helped reforest Yellowstone National Park!
As businesses struggle to shift from the industrial revolution to the sustainability revolution new industries are emerging and old ones will die off. Companies like AgriProtein that recycle organic food waste using insect larvae into sustainable feed for monogastric animals will reduce reliance on fishmeal producers and thereby help save our seas. Companies like Oxitec, with their sterile insect programs, will also put traditional pesticide manufacturers out of business. These and many other sustainability revolution industries are displacing industrial revolution businesses that are stuck in outdated modes of production and are yet to adapt to the new economy.
Businesses are desperate to attract talent that can think differently – that think beyond the confines imposed by our educational system.
We need to re-kindle our intimacy with the natural world in order to redefine humankind’s future. We need to draw upon the knowledge embodied within natural ecosystems rather than forcing an unreceptive and exploitative relationship with nature.
We have to stop teaching and thinking linearly, like the machines that defined our experience of the Industrial revolution – and start thinking in systems and interconnectedness between business, human existence and nature. We should build upon nature’s four-billion-year head start to inform and redesign production processes of the future.
We need to teach our children values for the 21st century, whilst resetting our goals and ambitions that were based on the unrealistic thinking of the past.
In any fight with nature, mankind will lose – so we need to give up struggling and start learning.
Let’s get busy repairing the future…