The last part (The Path Ahead; page 122) of WWF’s 2016 Living Planet report says this:
The facts and figures in this report tend to paint a challenging picture, yet there is still considerable room for optimism. If we manage to carry out critically needed transitions, the rewards will be immense. Fortunately, we are not starting from scratch. There are several countries that have managed to raise the standards of living for their populations with much lower resource intensity than industrial countries . Furthermore, the world is reaching a consensus regarding the direction we must take. In 2015, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals were adopted. And at the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015, 195 countries adopted a global agreement to combat climate change, and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low-carbon future. Furthermore, we have never before had such an understanding of the scale of our impact on the planet, the way the key environmental systems interact or the way in which we can manage them.
Ultimately, addressing social inequality and environmental degradation will require a global paradigm shift toward living within safe Planetary Boundaries. We must create a new economic system that enhances and supports the natural capital upon which it relies. Earlier in this chapter, leverage points were identified to support the necessary transitions. These were mainly focused on changing societal patterns and systemic structures either by implementing incremental changes or by supporting the development of niche innovations. Changing mental models, societal attitudes and values underlying the current structures and patterns of our global economy is a more challenging course of action. How can we “repurpose” businesses so that they are not just focusing on short-term profit but are also expected to be accountable for social and environmental benefits? Or how should we redefine what desirable economic development looks like? And how can we reduce the emphasis on material wealth, confront consumerism and the throw-away culture, and promote the desirability of more sustainable diets? These kinds of changes to societal values are likely to be achievable only over the long term and in ways that we have not yet imagined.
Still, the speed at which we transition to a sustainable society is a key factor for determining our future. Allowing and fostering important innovations and enabling them to undergo rapid adoption in a wider arena is critical. Sustainability and resilience will be achieved much faster if the majority of the Earth’s population understand the value and needs of our increasingly fragile Earth. A shared understanding of the link between humanity and nature could induce a profound change that will allow all life to thrive in the Anthropocene.
In a recent blog post, our chair of trustees, Bill Scott, wrote about this comment. He said this:
“This sentence: “Sustainability and resilience will be achieved much faster if the majority of the Earth’s population understand the value and needs of our increasingly fragile Earth” shows the problems to be overcome and the limitations in our abilities to do this. It also shows why optimism (it’ll all likely turn out ok …) is not enough. Some will say it shows the need for environmental education (though this hasn’t been all that successful over the past 60 years); others will see that it’s education itself that needs to be re-oriented (given that it’s been part of the problem for far longer than 60 years). Meanwhile, others who ought to know better, will babble on about paradigm shifts. It’s almost enough to allow gloom to take over and hope to be extinguished …”
Well, NAEE has never knowingly babbled on (or otherwise) about paradigms (whether shifting or static). Nor are we in the gloom business – nor, as we know very well, is Bill. We do know that once (it seems a long time ago) it was environmental education that was seen as the means of re-orienting mainstream education in schools. That time may come again, and we shall be waiting. Meanwhile, there are practical things to do alongside all that hope.