This is a common theme hiding behind some of the posts. It deserve a better place under the spotlight. So I decided to open a new category: sustainability.
Twenty years ago, it was difficult to explain what it is and why it is important: only very few individuals were able to forecast its necessity and provide a scientific framework for it. One of these individuals is Fritjof Capra in its book The Turning Point.
Who is Fritjof Capra?
Born Austrian, he earned a Ph.D. in theoretical physics at the Vienna University in 1966. He then conducted research in particle physics and systems theory at the Paris University, the Santa Cruz University in California, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, the Imperial College in London and the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. He is fluent in German, English, French and Italian.
His theories have always been peculiar: in his now famous Tao of Physics, he fundamentally shows how physics and metaphysics lead to the same type of knowledge!
Capra’s contribution to sustainability
Already in 1982, Fritjof Capra was able to explore a large set of human domains: science, sociology, technology, medicine, psychology, economy, etc. and extrapolate patterns out of these. One of the common patterns that he managed to show is how our society has been influenced by the way of thinking that was introduced during the Renaissance by thinkers like Descartes and Galileo. Capra produces a plethora of examples and situations for the purpose of showing an evolution pattern that starts from the concept of dividing a complex problem into two or more simpler problems to ease its solution. This principle – undoubtedly both successful and useful – has shaped the approach of the whole humanity to pretty much everything.
Though this helped to achieve significant results, it generated the approach of dividing (sometimes physically!) and creating separate branches of study. In ancient times, philosophers were mathematicians and mathematicians were philosophers – and you wouldn’t be able to make a distinction. Now this is just unthinkable: industrial chemists would be uneasy moving to biochemistry! The way these disciplines evolved went towards more specialisation: it made everyone focus deeper on narrower subjects.
The side effect has too often been that specialists have less understanding of the context. This is so obvious in medicine: a hepatologist will cure your liver, probably at the expenses of your kidneys that a nephrologist would need to treat, maybe damaging something else. None of these would be able to treat you as a whole…. The keyword becomes the holistic view, sometimes presented as systemic view – from systems theory.
Capra puts increased emphasis in the holistic approach – a trademark of oriental cultures – over an overwhelming analytic approach – the preference of Western cultures. Very intelligently, Capra never discounts the positive aspects of both approaches and defines the sweet spot as the proper equilibrium between the two. So he needed to put a lot of emphasis to the holistic approach that, in 1982, was much less understood and popular that it is now.
So what is it?
From my perspective, sustainability is not a discipline but an approach.
Most of the problems we now face have more than one solution – otherwise there is no need to discuss! Each solution – assuming that it resolves the problem completely – differs from the other ones for the collateral (usually undesired) effects it leaves behind. Most of the times, the undesired effects are ignored and they grow undisturbed to the level of systemic issues.
The classical textbook example is pollution: the undesired and ignored effect of the savage industrialisation which started in XIX century. At the time, some smoke as a residual for burning some coal in a handful of places in England could not be considered an environmental problem: it would be nowadays.
The question becomes then: what are the approaches that would minimise the global impact and still resolve our problems? Not easy to answer, but the fundamental issue is that, so far, the efforts were diverted to recognise the problem – which is just a step before looking for the solution!
The posts in this new category will aim to describe the problem – in the hope of convincing that it is a problem – and attempt to propose an approach – if not genuinely holistic, at least more aware of the context. For most of these problems, the brainstorming is happening worldwide and no expectation of a quick and easy solution is reasonable….
May I count on your help?
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