[OSList] OST as a way to go in addressing climate change and other perils

imaginac at bigpond.net.au imaginac at bigpond.net.au
Mon Feb 18 18:47:51 PST 2019

Fascinating discussion. Here are some of my thoughts...


The problem with unfettered growth:

towards a steady state


by David Smith



Following the release of Britain’s Review on the Economics of Climate Change by Sir Nicholas Stern, there was a surge in reporting about climate change and its possible consequences. The reason this has sparked interest among politicians and some business people seems to be the conclusion that expenditure on countering global warming will not amount to a cost, but to a saving of potentially billions of dollars as the potentially dire effects of melting icecaps,  rising sea levels and shifting rainfall patterns are offset.


But why is it that our business and political leaders only sniff trouble when there are dollars involved? I believe the answer lies in the failure of human societies, of whatever political persuasion, to grasp the reality that humans are an integral part of the living world, not in any way separate from it. For hundreds, possibly thousands of years, we have turned our backs on our underlying biology and this has had critical consequences – now we have reached pay-back time. 


In the mid-1800s the French physiologist Claude Bernard wrote eloquently about what he termed the ‘milieu interne’, by which he meant the internal chemical environment of our bodies. Walter Cannon took this further, introducing the ‘doctrine of homeostasis’ whereby, despite external variations, the chemical composition of our cells and their bathing fluids is normally maintained within remarkably close tolerances. Over the past century, it became ever clearer that whether we are speaking about the internal workings of our bodies, or about the dynamics of how whole populations or ecosystems operate, in biology steady states are the norm. Too great a deviation from the steady state leads inevitably to death. James Lovelock attempted to encapsulate this notion of planetary homeostasis in his Gaia hypothesis and physiologists have long understood the importance of the body’s internal regulatory systems and gained great insights into how they achieve the regulation of blood pressure, tissue oxygenation, glucose levels and all those other myriad variables which if left unregulated will surely kill us. 


As our society has developed we have progressively uncoupled ourselves from our underlying biology. In our writings and musings we have seen ourselves as different to the animals and certainly superior to them, placing ourselves with no hint of modesty at the top of the evolutionary tree. The greater the divergence between us and our biology, the more important has our technology become in bridging the ever-widening gap. Thus we have remained comfortable with the scheme of things even though the environmental cost of this technological band-aid has been increasing exponentially.


Why do we continue living as though we were not a part of nature? One of the root causes has to do with the rise to global dominance of the market economy and its underpinning assumptions and pre-requisites, one of which is continuous growth. Even in his recent impassioned writings, scientist Tim Flannery has found it necessary to rely on market forces – in this case carbon trading – to produce continued ‘development’, productivity and future wealth. I think Flannery is partly correct in this, but his argument doesn’t go anywhere near far enough. At a deeper level we should be thinking about how and why global warming has come about and why we have been so reticent to address it. 


If our economic theories rely absolutely on the assumption of continuous economic growth, and yet we live on a planet in which continuous growth is plainly impossible, then our economic theories must be seen as being fatally flawed. This of course, seems almost comically divorced from reality but it’s not. We need, as a matter of the utmost urgency, to seek out ways by which our human society can re-couple itself with our underlying biology and work towards operating the way the rest of the planet does, ultimately achieving a societal – and economic – steady state. 


Interestingly, Anne and Paul Ehrlich, authors of the 1968 book The Population Bomb,  have recently added their voices to the debate by pointing up the possible benefits – economic and otherwise – of a declining world population. Far from creating the catastrophe forecast by our economists – whose theories are really about as primitive in a predictive sense as was the theory of blood flow prior to William Harvey – negative growth may be a very good thing indeed, enabling us to move more swiftly to a truly sustainable steady state society. 


Just as inappropriate use of fresh water is coming to be seen as profligate – even criminal – so societal models that cannot operate in the absence of continued growth will also come to be seen as highly inappropriate and destined for the scrap heap. Plant and animal populations frequently demonstrate local boom and bust cycles where herbivores eat themselves out of vegetation or booming carnivore populations eat themselves out of house and home. In such situations the consequences for both individual animals and populations can be severe. It may be that global warming, by signalling the onset of a major catastrophe, is offering humanity an opportunity – indeed an imperative – to radically re-think its priorities. If we can achieve that, and do so in time, then the climate crisis may actually have been a very good thing indeed. 


With extreme predictions of 25 metre sea level increases following polar icecap melting, perhaps we should have filmed the office scene at Williamstown completely underwater!



Dr David Smith BSc(Hons), PhD, FRSA is a Melbourne zoologist, writer and film maker.



From: OSList [mailto:oslist-bounces at lists.openspacetech.org] On Behalf Of Brett Barndt via OSList
Sent: 19 February, 2019 12:52 PM
To: World wide Open Space Technology email list
Cc: Brett Barndt
Subject: Re: [OSList] OST as a way to go in addressing climate change and other perils


Wonderful questions.  There are some wonderful people who have done interesting research in and around this issue of paradigm change. Their voices are not invited onto the national network chat shows. They are not interviewed on TV or radio. Newspaper editors do not include them. Is it possible to convene marginalized voices in OST to generate some real new knowledge? 


Has any paradigm ever changed from the center? Is it not the edgewalkers and outsiders who bring change to systems?  


Here are some marginalized views to consider. 


Jared Diamond posits a useful theory about why elite decision makers and their "vassals" fail to respond to the signals about ecological degradation caused by the dominant economic practices.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IESYMFtLIis

*	He seems to say the pressure to keep up on obligations to elites keeps everybody running in place and not responding to what becomes obvious.  
*	He asks the question how is it that the last tree was cut down on the Easter Islands? 
*	It turns out other civilizations degraded their ecology and collapsed, mostly due to overusing water for intensive agriculture to support vast civilizations supporting urban division of labor.  
*	The North African breadbasket for Rome may have been one such place. Mesopotamia, once a fertile crescent is now a dry land, salt water invited in by the removal of the ground water. There is a pattern here. 

Another wonderful voice who links debts to the race to the bottom "lower limit morality" because economic actors need to "avoid bankruptcy" in the current system as it is is Karl Homann. The economic actors may wish to do something different ethically, but they are compelled to play along or face destitution.   






In our modern world, we might look carefully at the financial balance sheets that force firms, families, individuals (and most of us) to continue on in our daily economic activities in the fossil fuel age without stopping. And, even resisting losing our place in the hierarchy. 


The major stake shareholders of fossil fuel corporations are also cross-shareholders of banks. They aren't in a position to pull credit from their fossil fuel assets only to bankrupt themselves. 

There's been 40 years for them to do so. We see only small projects, and mostly in countries where fossil fuel owners are not politically powerful.  Denmark, Germany show it can be done. But those are not economies dominated by corporate stocks like BP, Exxon, Chevron, Halliburton, etc. and the banks who have $Bs in credit lines extended to them for decades. And, cross-shareholdings at the apex of control. 


Instead of diving into the opportunity for a new industry with potential for ever rising EROEI, what we have seen is tremendous efforts to stop the tide, create confusion in the public about climate change, and continue with ever harder drilling and coal removal despite obviously diminishing energy returns on energy investment and moribund economies in the West stuck on fossil fuel infrastructure. 


Tim Jackson wrote recently about diminishing EROEI as the explanation for our stagnating economies in US, EU, etc. https://www.cusp.ac.uk/themes/aetw/wp12/#1475182667098-0328ae0f-4bcb3691-b07686d5-d83f5228-4386


These views are not part of the voices in the dominant discourse. They are counter-narrative voices, marginalized by the academy, journals, and media. 


There is also a lot of brain science about denial of in VUCA situations.  Rebecca Costa wrote about this in The Watchman's Rattle. We the collective operate from a place of denial and dissociation, evidently.  Elites (and their "vassals") operate from a place of repaying their debts so not to bankrupt themselves.  Everyone knows it needs to change.  Nobody can see the solution because it means stepping out of the looking glass, breaking through the coloring book lines, changing systems for which we have no vocabulary words, and raising taboos. 


On Mon, Feb 18, 2019 at 7:52 PM R Chaffe via OSList <oslist at lists.openspacetech.org> wrote:


It is time for us to think why has the system rejected action on dealing with human influences on climate?


I suggest that we might think of the opportunities ie money making things for the greedy,  that the current and projected climate in our area of operation?


Somehow the wider community needs to face the current reality.  So far there have been a suite of threats thrown at the community with very few opportunities apparently.


The ABC (National Public Broadcasting organisation in Australia) reported that based on the current investment over 60% of reticulated power will come from wind farms.  Some people have read the tea leaves and invested heavily in wind power as the area in Victoria covered by very high voltage distribution power lines just happen to pass through an area where increased wind is predicted in some of the new climate models.  Good news and who knows and who cares?


I am sure there must be similar stories around the world, might we use this list the make March a celebration of things being done to make the best sustainable use of the current climate and reduce green house waste?  


We then could use our shared experience to validate positive action to work with nature and reduce our pollution and unsustainable practices!


What do you think?




On 19 Feb 2019, at 10:36 am, Alan Stewart via OSList <oslist at lists.openspacetech.org> wrote:

 G’day Fellow Spaceniks and other Kindred Spirits 

The items below may be of interest to you.

They are about the looming perils of climate change and associated ways to consider and act on them, recently come to my attention. 

I have followed such matters keenly since I attended a presentation by James Hansen <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/19/james-hansen-nasa-scientist-climate-change-warning>  while living in Hong Kong a decade ago. 


My question: Could bringing Open Space Technology <https://openspaceworld.org/wp2/>  (OST) approaches be a vital means to address constructively the issues we face as global humanity in the now Anthropocene with its perils and opportunities? 


Opinion | Time to Panic - The New York Times <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/16/opinion/sunday/fear-panic-climate-change-warming.html> 


Using Open Space to address climate change matters



We need to have a paradigm shift in how we view society and life.


Also:      <https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/#sf-1> Fourth National Climate Change Assessment


(To add:  Here is a report, entitled  <http://www.multimindsolutions.com/?page_id=41> Vision, Values and Vibes which illustrates my credentials as a Spacenik!) 



Tall orders indeed! Yet are there any means at hand other than OST <https://openspaceworld.org/wp2/>  with its underpinning premises and highly practical approaches to addressing complex issues - now needed urgently to create a viable living for succeeding generations of we humans and other inhabitants of our tiny, fragile planet home?

With young people, particularly school children, crying out for necessary action: 


Next such events are happening all around Australia on March 15, 2019. 


To conclude:

While I feel a need and associated responsibility – given the particular experiencing I have had over nigh on eight decades of being an earthly denizen (including participating in seven 'World Open Space on Open Space' gatherings, beginning in 1998) - to bring these perspectives to your notice … 

It is, in my mind, for you younger Spaceniks to make what you will of them. Given that what I have drawn attention to here is likely only another way of expressing what you are already aware of.  

Bearing in mind that,  as with great works of art, "Which cannot be taken in at a glance" Linguist I.A. Richards, so it will be in your grand adventuring ahead.  

Looking forward, indeed.👍



Al (formerly Alan) Stewart, PhD
Process Artist 
Facilitator of conversations that matter and participatory fun

Senior Fulbright Scholar 

Blog:  www.conversare.net

Member:  American Society for Cybernetics <http://asc-cybernetics.org/>  

Member:  <http://www.ntmu.com.au/> National Trouble Makers Union

Residence: Adelaide, South Australia, since 1975 
With time away in the USA (1981) and Hong Kong (2005-2011)  





"Whenever we treat each other well good things happen."
Al Stewart


PS. If you feel in need of inspiration, you may wish to look out for  - perhaps through your local library - a book of photographs entitled 'The Family of Man'. "The greatest photographic exhibition of all time ..." 

This was published in the early 1950s. And was subsequently exhibited in many countries. I saw one of these, at age 14, in what is now Harare in Zimbabwe. It had a profound influence on me. 

You may also find this little <http://www.multimindsolutions.com/?page_id=537>  story to be uplifting. ☺




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