How Will We Choose To Respond?

How Will We Choose To Respond?

This post is the result of an engagement toward contributing to an e-book with reflections about a post-Covid-19 world “Coming of Age in a post-Covid-19 Age “Dare to Dream”.

Before jumpstarting an imaginative exercise about how we can individually and collectively show-up in a post-Covid-19 world, I would like to invite you for an inquiry process to broaden the lenses of this crisis.

With our best intentions, sometimes we immediately rush to find solutions and ways to leave the daring conflict that we find ourselves. Considering the predicament we are in, it’s even more understandable, given its heart-breaking impacts that we are facing. But by doing so, could there be a risk that the recovery action plan toward a just transition ends up perpetuating the deep causes of the crisis and reinforcing the problem?

The notion that infectious diseases represent a global risk is hardly new[1]. The World Economic Forum through their Global Risks Reports, for example, have frequently cited pandemic and infectious diseases as major global risks. In their 2014 report, they stated:

“Environmental risks, such as climate change, extreme weather events and water scarcity, have become more prominent since 2011, while health-related risks (pandemics and chronic disease) have become less so.” [2]

But can we truly dissociate environmental risk from health-related risks? How can we thrive and be healthy if environmental risks have become even more prominent?

The global intertwined systemic crisis is complex (WEF, 2020), as illustrated in the simplified figure below.

 

Global crisis interconnections

Global crisis interconnections (WEF, 2020)[3]

 

Are the pandemic and infectious diseases and the other major crisis symptoms of the dysfunctionality of our current way of living as individuals, society and culture?

 

How can we unpack the deep roots and causes of these crisis?

 

Why is it that for decades, even with all the scientific evidence, available technologies and finance, public policies and various local, regional and global agreements signed, we still do not see effective actions on the scale and depth necessary to deal with the climate emergency or the severe depletion of natural resources, to mention just two of the countless symptoms of the serious planetary crisis we are experiencing?

 

What can we learn from the creation of the Earth Celebration Day?

 

It was not until this year, when we celebrated 50 years of the creation of the Earth Day, that I learned more details about its background story. Enthusiastic with the leadership role of the progressive senator who supported the movement, I dove into the website to learn more details.

And this particular picture, an advertisement published in the New York Times to raise funds for the campaign, caught my attention.

Please, take a moment to scan the advertisement.

 

Advertisement for funds for Environmental Teach-In[4]

Reproduced with permission from Gaylord Nelson Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society

 

What do you experience reading these sentences?

“A disease has infected our country.”

“Its carrier is man”

 

Could it have been written today, in 2020, 50 years later?

 

Are we now, from a certain perspective, even in a worst situation, as the planet continues being severely devastated?

 

I have compiled data from the Global Footprint Network about Earth’s overshoot capacity and expressed it as hypothetical numbers of planet Earths that are needed to maintain our global lifestyle and systems[5].

 

In spite of all the great efforts to tackle unsustainable consumption and production, the diverse agreements, international policies, major evidences and reports, the trend in the figure is unquestionable: the unsustainable consumption and production patterns have been deepening year after year.

 

 

In fact, over these past decades, it was the Covid-19 pandemic crisis that has led to the greatest reduction in this unsustainable trend. And yet, this reduction – while it’s the most significant we have experienced so far – is very far from what is needed to put our development on track to a thriving future. We are still living as if we had 1,5 planet Earths at our disposal!

 

We simply cannot afford to keep doing more of the same. We do not have another 50 years in front of us. And even if we had, we simply cannot withstand simultaneously other pandemics.

 

Beyond the covid-19 pandemic: The Global Syndemic Crisis

 

In 2019, the Lancelet Commission described climate change as a pandemic given its sweeping effects on the health of humans and the natural systems upon which we depend. And it included obesity and undernutrition as pandemics, which alongside climate change “constitute a syndemic, or synergy of epidemics, because they co-occur in time and place, interact with each other to produce complex sequelae, and share common underlying societal drivers”[6].

 

Could we broaden the meaning of the Global Syndemic Crisis?

 

Besides the health and environmental crisis, social and cultural issues have been aggravating with increased inequality, social-cultural polarization and racism as well as an increased tendency of totalitarianism.

 

What to say about self-aggression and violent behaviours? The staggering rates of suicide in wealthy areas of the world is an example. In some wealthy cities, more people die from committing suicide than from crimes[7]. And it’s disturbing to notice this self-destructive behaviour even in what we could describe as pleasurable circumstances. Such as the deaths on the Everest, where mountaineers seeking for the best selfie photos expose themselves to so much risks that many have died[8]. Or the scenes of people fighting for “precious” products at Black Friday sales. Somehow, similar behaviour, driven by a scarcity mindset, helps to explain the scene of people fighting for toilet paper in supermarkets in the beginning of the pandemic.

 

  •  . What are these individual expressions informing us?
  • . Could these above symptoms illustrate a crisis of meaning and lack of purpose in life?
  • . How does this crisis interconnect and relate with the others?

Photos by: Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash (a); Prakash Mathema/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images (b); Raphael Alves  (c);  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – CDC (d); AFP (e); FAO, UNICEF, WHO (f), Henry Ravenscroft on Unsplash (g)

 

What is it that we are missing?

 

I recently attended an international conference on sustainable consumption and production and a keynote speaker concluded her talk emphasizing something along the lines that “people are not the problem; the issue is political and ultimately a question of how to take control of power”. Others usually describe the “problem” in other systemic dimensions like financial and economical.

 

All of these dimensions are important, for sure. And the individual one is also critical. It cannot be neglected. Not because I think “people are the problem”, but that we are part of the problem.

 

“If you are not aware of how you are part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution”

Bill Torbert[9]

Firstly, we as individuals, are responsible for a huge share of our planet’s resources depletion. Research shows that, on average, in the world, household consumption represents 65% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and between 50% and 80% of total materials, land and water uses[10].

 

Secondly, politics, government, companies, the systems that we are all wanting to reform are made by people. By all of us. We are not only part of the system but we drive the systems we are investigating.

 

Human beings are neurobiologically, emotionally and spiritually programmed to be in connection with each other. And yet why have we been failing to incorporate precisely these human and cultural elements of connection and their subjectivities, beliefs, values, worldviews and consciousnesses in the processes of change?

 

With the best of intentions, are we designing strategies, policies and programs that superimpose our own worldviews, values and beliefs, that are only partly true, upon the goal of “solving” the crisis? Is this approach promoting and getting us stuck in polarizations?

 

How can we honour and integrate the diversity of worldviews, the cultures we live in and the systems we build? And from there, how can we open a space for new ways of being for individuals, cultures and systems to emerge?

 

Change Processes & Recovery Plan

 

We have been framing the change process to guide us to a post-Covid-19 world as a “recovery” plan.

 

Change or recovery can mean many different things for different people. It can be understood as “improvement”, as “revival”, as “getting better”, as “coming back”. But none of these words reflect the depth and the scale of profound transformation that is required to put civilization on track toward a thriving future[11].

 

We are currently operating under self-terminating processes. The question under the current paradigm is not if major global ecosystem and societal collapse will occur, but when.

 

What is being called upon each and every one of us is an evolutionary quest. How will we choose to respond, individually and collectively? How will we create deep transformative, regenerative and anti-fragile[12] scenarios?

This is the invitation that Covid-19 has put before us.

 

Even though we talk about the creation of a plan, there is actually no plan that will guide us. There is no outside of ourselves “solution” to this crisis. It will emerge through us[13], [14].

 

Succinctly and directly said, this is the result of a deep individual and collective inquiry process.

 

  • . In what ways does my thinking and my values inhibit or enable mindful consumption? In what ways does my thinking and my values inhibit or enable self-terminating processes?
  • . In what ways my own behaviours are inhibiting or enabling mindful consumption? In what ways are my own behaviours inhibiting or enabling self-terminating processes?
  • . In what ways does our shared values and worldviews as a group and culture inhibit or enable mindful consumption? In what ways does our shared values and worldviews as a group and culture inhibit or enable self-terminating processes?
  • . In what ways do we as systems, of which we are collectively part and drivers, inhibit or enable mindful consumption? In what ways do we as systems inhibit or enable self-terminating processes?

Dimensions of Change

Adapted from Owens(2005)[15]

 

Agents of Change

 

 

Dimensions of Change

 

The four inter-linked factors, subjective experience, individual’s behaviours and health, systems dynamics, and stakeholder relationships, can be expanded into nine different dimensions of change which are systematically interconnected and interdependent: health and behaviour patterns; natural and societal & infrastructural systems; cultural and social; spiritual; psychological and knowledge.

 

                 Expanded Dimensions of Change

                     Adapted from MetaIntegral Framework22

 

  • How can all dimensions of change be activated?
  • How can a new way of Being for Individuals, Culture and Systems emerge?

 

 

 

 

All scenarios and processes are not exhaustive, nor represent the full spectrum of stage-structures of development. It is intended to illustrate the potential expressions of the dimensions of change and trigger reflection and inquiry processes by you, the reader.

 

It is argued that non-reductive and integrative ways of activating all dimensions of change are important since each change interconnectedly affects the whole system. It is proposed that the global intertwined crisis we are facing is in essence a relational and meaning crisis: how we relate to ourselves, how we relate as a society and culture, and to the systems we create and drive and of which we are all a part.

 

Therefore, individuals trained as agents of change are not only more skilled, with higher capacities, but essentially incorporate a new way of being through a more complex, compassionate and inclusive worldview enabling them to activate all dimensions of change.

 

References

[1] Heng, Yee-Kuang (2015). Managing Global Risks in the Urban Age: Singapore and the Making of a Global City. Routledge. Availabe at https://bit.ly/2Cf1fbq

[2] World Economic Forum (2014)http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GlobalRisks_Report_2014.pdf

[3] World Economic Forum (2020) http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Global_Risk_Report_2020.pdf

[4] http://www.nelsonearthday.net/docs/nelson_157-10_env_teach-in_NYT_ad.pdf

[5] Global Footprint Network (2020). https://www.footprintnetwork.org/2020/06/05/press-release-june-2020-earth-overshoot-day/

[6] SWINBURN, Boyd A; KRAAK, Vivica I; ALLENDER, Steven; et al. The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change: The Lancet Commission report. The Lancet, v. 393, n. 10173, p. 791–846, 2019. Available at  <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673618328228>

[7] New York City, 2016. Health Department Releases New Data on Suicides in New York City from 2000 to 2014. Available in this link

[8] SCHULTZ, Kai; GETTLEMAN, Jeffrey; MASHAL, Mujib; et al. ‘It Was Like a Zoo’: Death on an Unruly, Overcrowded Everest. The New York Times, 2019. <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/26/world/asia/mount-everest-deaths.html>

[9] David Stroh, 2015. Systems Thinking for Social Change. A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences and Achieving Lasting Results.

[10] IVANOVA, Diana et al, Environmental Impact Assessment of Household Consumption, Journal of Industrial Ecology, v. 20, n. 3, p. 526–536, 2016.

[11] Don Edward Beck and Christopher Cowan. 1996. Spiral Dynamics – Mastering Values, Leadership and Change.

[12 COBB, Kurt. Resource Insights: Is “antifragile” better than “resilient”? Disponível em: <https://resourceinsights.blogspot.com/2013/11/is-antifragile-better-than-resilient.html>.

[13] Ioan Fazey, Niko Schäpke, Guido Caniglia, James Patterson, Johan Hultman, Barbaravan Mierlo. 2018. Ten essentials for action-oriented and second order energy transitions, transformations and climate change research.

[14] Otto Sharmer. 2016. Theory U. Leading from the Future as It Emerges. Second edition.

[15] Cameron Owens (2005). An integral approach to Sustainable consumption and waste reduction, World Futures: The Journal of New Paradigm Research, 61:1-2, 96-109.

[16] Transitional Space. Mendonça, C. 2004. Self-portrait; 35mm color photography.

[17, 18, 20]: Meade, M (2018). Tension of the Opposites (Podcast #55). Available at: https://www.mosaicvoices.org/episode-55-the-tension-of-opposites

[19] Viktor Frankl

[21] Michael Meade (2020). Paths of Initiation. Available at: https://www.mosaicvoices.org/events/touching-the-soul-of-the-world-jwye8

[22] MetaImpact Framework. https://www.metaintegral.com/

[23] Stein, Z. (2019). If education is not the answer you are asking the wrong question: why it’s time to see planetary crises as a species-wide learning opportunity. Transformative Educational Alliance. London: Perspectiva Press. Available at https://bit.ly/2NQmSkP

[24]. Esbjörn-Hargens, S. (2009). Uniting multiple perspectives of the natural world. Integral Books. Boston & London. Pages 302 and 303.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cristina Mendonça

Master of Science in Urban and Environmental Engineering from Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) and Technical University of Braunschweig, Executive MBA from COPPEAD-UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), specialist in R&D from COPPE-UFRJ, Chemical Engineer from UFRJ, and leadership courses in personal, social and cultural transformation processes.

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