Speed of change: how can we move fast enough?

Big change takes a long time

As Jonathan Porritt observes, even with the beginnings of modern-day Corporate Social Responsibility stretching back into the 19th century, it’s taken 50 years of concerted pressure, advocacy, research and strategy to get sustainable development into the mainstream of business strategy and planning.

But have we got a long time?

Taking a global perspective on marine fisheries and charting the development of the Marine Stewardship Council, Rupert Howes explains that several large fisheries appear already to have been wiped out. 2048 for the end of commercial fishing?

In his perspective on water, Dominic Waughray points out that global demand for food is set to increase by 70% by 2030, but that we already use 70% of freshwater on agriculture. He gives us 10 years to act.

Often we have the tools and the know-how, but the wrong underlying culture

In her perspective on Education, Jane Wilkinson explains that we have good theory, good practices, good training for doing sustainability education well, but the pace of change in using these assets is just too slow. And it’s not going to get faster until sustainability is incorporated into the heart of education – systemic change is required.

Taking a look at the historical relationship between humanity and nature, Andy Dobson asserts that, fundamentally, for as long as humans see themselves as the centre of life on earth, they will not be able to keep that life going. We need a cultural revolution to de-center human beings.

And changing underlying cultures can require radical steps

In her perspective on Democracy and sustainable development, Halina Ward asks how democratic governments will ever be able make the long-term policy changes needed for sustainability if the short-term consequences for voters mean they get voted out of office. Do the rules of democracy have to be changed? Or bypassed?

February 2014

800px-Occluded_mesocyclone_tornado5_-_NOAA bw.jpg

Occluded mesocyclone tornado. Occluded means old circulation on a storm; this tornado was forming while the new circulation was beginning to form the tornadoes which preceeded the F5 Oklahoma City tornado, 1999
OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL)

Big Questions

Big Question pages are editorials, pulling together common strands, and sometimes different opinions, from across all of the perspectives, timelines and discussions on Sustainable Development Perspectives.

Other big questions

The challenges of sustainable development are often huge, inter-connected, comprehensive and fundamental. Some practical steps from authors’ perspectives on getting over the sense of futility and making effective change.

One of the characteristics that almost all sustainable development work has in common is working with a variety of different stakeholders. But multi-stakeholder working is complex and hard work: competing agendas, different ideas, managing egos, maintaining relationships... Why not just do it alone?

It's easy to focus on big, hard-hitting targets: corporate strategies, government policies, intergovernmental agreements etc. But often, the big achievements in sustainable development have come from working with ordinary people in extraordinary ways.