Dr. Harrison’s Constructing Sustainable Development (SUNY Press, 2000) shows that sustainability can only be fully understood and effectively pursued by viewing human communities (including their attendant ecological systems) as the complex interaction of complex systems: economies, societies, communities, and the natural environment with which they all interact. Communities, societies, and nations emerge from the interaction of individual humans each of whom has a unique experience of their social and ecological environment. The “environment” is not “out there”; it supports and sustains each of us . . . and all of us. At the same time, society emerges from our individual relations with nature and with each other.
Modern societies, both rich and poor are unsustainable. If everyone on the planet lived like Americans, we would need another half-dozen planets. A sustainable society cannot be defined; there is no destination when we will all live happily ever after, in balance with nature. It is a path - uncertain and ill-defined - of future development for humankind. Despite myriad “visions” of sustainability, nobody knows where it is or how to get there. We have never been there before. We have no maps: science cannot tell us what sustainability means or how to achieve it. We must find our way much as we would seek a way out of a strange and nighted wood.
To learn more about complexity science and to understand how to live with complexity and to limit the chaos it creates in your life. Just think for a moment about what the volatility in financial markets, a complex system, has done to your life and fortune. Get some control of your life on a Complex Planet.
Sustainability from Self-Organization
Because we do not know what sustainability is or in which direction sustainable development lies, do not look to governments to get us there. Top down dictats, edits, and regulations will help us little. Society is complex it is not possible to predict the effects of intervention in social systems, such problems must be approached with caution as we cannot know in advance the effects of our tinkering.
Ultimately sustainability requires self-organization not command and control. Self-organized sustainability comes from all of us, from each of us. Complex systems are little affected by fiddling with parameters, changing a few rules and laws. They will only be moved in a new direction by deeper changes in system goals and the beliefs we carry around in our heads. Sustainable development is not protection of a favored species, designation of some wilderness areas, or definition of pollution limits, though these may help at the margin. Because of social complexity, sustainability can only come from redefining the social paradigm that underpins the system and that drives personal behaviors. Social paradigms are constructed from the behaviors of member agents but also drive those behaviors. Sustainable Capitalism and the Pursuit of Well-Being builds a model from this insight of what a sustainable society should look like.
For consumers, the pursuit of freedom without consumption is the road to happiness. We do not have to dress in a hair shirt and live in an unheated cabin in the woods. But we need to understand why getting and spending makes us unhappy and what is the source of happiness in life. If we think clearly about life, we can Live Well, Retire Young, and the Planet. This book will be published later in 2014
For business leaders the pursuit of profit in a dangerously unpredictable and complex world requires a change in organization, strategy, and operating processes that coincidentally reduce business impacts on society and environment; business is sustainable when it is is Doing Good by Doing Well - when it helps society and protects the environment by making profits in the right way.