Andrew Matias

By Andrew Matias

andrew.matias@vincit.fi

According to the U.N., we must reduce human-caused greenhouse gases by 50% over the next 10 years to avoid catastrophic, irreversible climate change. Together with a panel of experts, we discussed strategies to push the climate agenda to the next level. So, how can strategic thinking tip the scales in favor of planetary health?

From Tragedy to Strategy – Earth Day's online panel discussion

Resource use and CO2 emissions continue to rise at an unsustainable rate. To avoid a climate catastrophe, humanity must limit global warming to 1,5 ºC this century. This means cutting the anthropogenic greenhouse gases in half by 2030 and decreasing the emissions from 2020 to 2030 by 7.6% every year.

So, we know what we must achieve to avoid a climate catastrophe and when it must be done. Now, we must figure out how to get there. The Tragedy to Strategy online panel discussion held on Earth Day was focused on strategic opportunities to create desirable and sustainable futures. We invited leading experts in strategy, futures thinking and foresight to share their ideas:

  • Dr. İdil Gaziulusoy, Assistant Professor of Sustainable Design, leader of NODUS Research Group, Aalto University
  • Amos Taylor, Project Researcher at Finland Futures Research Centre
  • Katri Vataja, Strategy and Foresight Director at Sitr
  • Jirimiko Oranen, CEO, Partner, T-Media Relations

Our aim was to provide tools for decision-makers to be more strategic in their initiatives, and for citizens looking to push the climate agenda to the next level. This is a summarized snapshot of our panel. A video of the entire discussion is available for your viewing here.

The moment we are in is the result of a long term process. What strategies led to where we are at with the unprecedented pandemic?

Idil: “Essentially, COVID-19 is a manifestation of what happens when you mess with ecosystems, without forethought. If you have been following scientific discussions about the origin of the virus, you do see the intrinsic connections between the ecosystems we have been interfering in quite heavily and how they respond to that in return. How COVID-19 has come to existence is very relevant to how we relate to the ecosystems and how we see ecosystems, wether from a utilitarian point-of-view or from a coexistence systemic point-of-view.”

Jirimiko: “In western society, we have been living in fairly stable circumstances for a very long time. There are not that many people around who remember the horrors of the second world war first hand, for instance. Therefore, a great deal of our strategies has been based on continuity and now we are facing severe discontinuity in this pandemic. One of the relevant questions is whether the scenario work for this pandemic was there on a governmental level around the world. The warning signs had been clearly articulated by the scientific community. Yet we did on a global level let our guards down, hence our current feeling of vulnerability and fear."

Katri: “In general, the issue is that the timescale we use is too short. When it is too short and focused on creating efficiency, it doesn’t have space for renewal. Somehow this current situation can change this and open future thinking. There’s more pressure to think about different timescales and horizons when thinking of the future and how we can get out of this situation. But there are now risks that we focus too much on the current situation that we don’t build bridges to the future.”

What are the tools that we need to handle crises like this and bigger ones regarding planetary health?

Katri: “In this situation that the future is open, but not so clear, I think it’s important to build people’s hope and capacity to think about futures, to dream and think big on what is possible, what is a desirable future. There is no hope that the status quo could remain, that's why we need to be responsible for the current challenges and meet them in a sustainable manner. This cannot be done with a top-down approach, we also need bottom-up movement and activity.”

Amos: “We would really need what is called Futures literacy, which means the ability to acknowledge the uses of future. Here it is important to understand that there is not only one narrative, individuals have their own perspectives on the future. These are highly loaded, but they can lead to the emergence of something new.

In our work we think about these world making perspectives. We have different world views: our different assumptions and drives on how the world works. And these are all correct future perspectives and we need to understand this kind of diversity. If we are able to do that we are able to be more literate and capable of engaging the future.”

Idil: “I think one tool quite important is systems innovation. Innovation is understood generally in a more narrow way as new products and services or technologies, but there are also innovations taking place at cultural, societal, sociotechnical systems levels.”

Jirimiko: “We need a global approach to the problem and solution. We need broad-based buying from the population at large, everyone needs to participate in the solution. It takes intelligence, initiative and global solidarity.”

And what about technology?

Amos: “In the previous summer, there was the Thai football team that was stuck in a cave. The solution for it was not a technical solution. It came from a diverse highly specialised team, that worked in international collaboration to solve the problem. So problem-solving is not coming from Elon Musk's rocket ship, it’s not just one hit, it’s across the board. We really need to acknowledge the skills that individuals have. The coronavirus is a similar situation: we have people in the front lines who we have to depend on for their skills, interpretation and follow that kind of narrative hopefully into something positive.”

Idil: “I think we need to see technology as a facilitator. Mind you, digitalisation has been immensely instrumental in keeping everyone connected, getting work done, keeping everyone sane. But the technology and the behavior that are most important for us to manage the pandemic are ancient ones, handwashing and soap. We have had the technologies to tackle the environmental crisis. We don’t necessarily need to mindlessly develop new technologies. Instead of being techno-centric, we need to understand that all of this is actually for humans and non humans. Considering what kind of technologies we need and whether we need to develop new technologies are very relevant ethical questions about world views and values.”

Katri: “We need to talk about values when we talk about transformation. When it comes to technology, technology as such is not good or bad. That connotation comes from how we use it, from our values. Who creates vision for transformation? How do we use technology in that kind of vision? Do we have the capacity to talk about those things? In the current situation, where technology is used to solve the pandemic, what happens at the same time? Do we abandon some human rights? Do we know what is happening right now?”

Jirimiko: “Technology is but a tool. As people would like to come up with new things, regardless of what happens in this crisis or with the environment, this technological push is kind of natural to humanity. It is our role globally to make sure it is used for good for humanity and the planet.”

Idil: “We are social and creative creatures, so creating something gives us a big kick. But the systems that underlie our current society prioritise technological development over anything else that is new. There are many communities innovating ways of organising. The very first response to the crisis were those innovations being put in place. Before top down help can become functional in any kind of crisis, we know that it is self-organisation that saves lives, that saves assets, etc. We need to understand the importance of social innovation and support it. This raises the question: what is value creation in society and how should we distribute resources across all relevant areas, including but not exclusive to technological development?”

Closing remarks

Also other interesting concepts such as social innovation, transformative agency and resilience came into discussion during the panel. If you want to dive deeper into them, please view a video of the full panel discussion here.

For more information on upcoming events and our free design toolkit, please visit the Planet Centric Design website. Our next event is already on June 5, and registration is open here.

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