By: Dr. Martin Baitz
MANY PEOPLE ARE UNAWARE of what global warming will mean for human civilization. Too often it seems we underestimate the serious risks involved in failing to act. If we don’t take decisive and rapid steps toward securing a more sustainable future, both as individuals and as organizations, it will threaten the future of humanity’s ability to survive and prosper.
In a new hotter climate, most of our infrastructure will be rendered completely useless. Let’s just think about bridges and buildings for a moment. Concrete needs to maintain a certain water content otherwise it becomes brittle. So too with metal structures. If we keep losing rainforest in the Amazon because of climate-related fires, and the Gulf Stream patterns shift, it could get much colder in Europe and the Middle East. If it gets too cold on the Arabian Peninsula, for example, a lot of steel structures might no longer comply with safety specifications and need to be carefully inspected and maybe refurbished or reinforced. We will have to invest billions or perhaps trillions of dollars in completely new or refurbished infrastructure. Without new infrastructure, the global economic system is likely to collapse in a transformed climate.
Let’s look at another example: farming. Changing water and harvest conditions in a hotter climate will displace hundreds of millions of people. The political pressure and military conflicts would be immense. For a large portion of humanity, life would no longer be about generating wealth, but about pure survival. None of us wants such a situation to come to fruition.
We don’t know for sure if it will take five years or 50 years, but there is a tipping point in terms of the emissions we release into the Earth’s atmosphere. That is the point when the entire climate system will change into a fundamentally different equilibrium. The dynamics of the climate system hang in a delicate balance. Although global warming means that average temperatures are rising all over the planet as the result of human activity, the effects on different regions will vary.
Each of us needs to make a few changes to avoid the catastrophic tipping point to buy ourselves the time necessary to implement sustainability technology, develop sustainable economies and construct a sustainable society. Here are seven ways to accomplish that.
1. Implement New Business Models & Work Toward Transformation
A classic example for a new business model is found within the automotive industry. It used to be that greater sustainability in car manufacturing was mostly about improving efficiency during the use phase of vehicles—the period of time when consumers actually drive their cars. Manufacturers analyzed vehicles at the engine-production level so as to reduce emissions to their lowest possible point during the use phase of the vehicles. Now auto manufacturers have pretty much perfected their own systems and production. They now seek to provide mobility rather than physical automobiles—they are moving beyond material manufacturing in their outlook.
2. Define Sustainability Holistically
Sustainability acts as the foundational building block of life on our planet. It is, in a sense, the way of nature. Without environmental sustainability, the physical environment won’t be able to support the economic and social pillars. Sustainability, therefore, has to take into account the symbiotic relationship with nature. It is a kind of circularity in which no energy or material is lost in the system and no emissions are produced.
3. Take Personal Responsibility
We have to ask ourselves why, despite having known for decades that we have a serious environmental crisis on our hands, so many of us have failed to act on a personal level. And we’ve got to take responsibility to do everything in our personal power to become more sustainable.
4. Encourage a Chain Reaction
Solving one thing, such as the long-term problem of renewable energy, opens up opportunities for other improvements. The sustainability I’m advocating is a kind of self-sustaining system—always improving, always moving to a greater level of sustainability.
5. Use Your Organization’s Influence to Pressure for Regulatory Change
Along with personal and business transformation, we absolutely need supportive legislation that helps the transformation. Without legislative encouragement, the technology and infrastructure will struggle to adapt for a more sustainable future. Use your business as a vehicle for regulatory transformation.
6. Use Facts and Systems Thinking to Analyze
Now that we’ve given ourselves a definition of sustainability to work from, how do we proceed? What is relevant for me? What is relevant for my company? What is relevant for my city? The process of identifying relevancy is more simple for individuals, more complex for organizations and very complex for governments. Analyze all facets.
7. Recognize Cultural Differences
There are also culturally specific things we can do, cultural tendencies that we have that we can change to avoid creating unnecessary harm to the environment. That means examining how other countries and people handle sustainability, examining your own subculture.
To learn more about these critical steps and join the conversation, please visit Dr. Baitz’s LinkedIn article.
Dr. Martin Baitz holds a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Stuttgart, was a founding member of PE International, works as an associate lecturer for Life Cycle Assessment at the University of Applied Sciences in Esslingen and is content director at Sphera. As an expert in Life Cycle Assessment, he is responsible for Quality Assurance, Innovation and thought leadership of the GaBi Databases and Content and life cycle information supply and exchange at Sphera. He is a subject editor for data availability and quality for the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. Dr. Baitz has worked extensively in chemical and automotive industries and works regularly as an expert sustainability consultant for governmental bodies and industry associations.