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Let’s start with the fact that climate change is anthropogenic.

More or less, people have agreed on that. That means it’s caused by human behavior.

That’s not to say that engineering solutions aren’t important.

But if it’s caused by human behavior,

then the solution probably also lies in changing human behavior.

—Elke Weber

We don’t even know what the changes we are seeing now might bring. Beyond the environmental changes taking place in our global climate and the very local social and economic consequences that is already producing, we are in the midst of a major transition. There is a sense of climate change more broadly—in the ways in which we engage with each other, and in the ways we fundamentally see the world. The realities we took for granted no longer are supported as they were in the past, and we find ourselves on a bridge (or in a gap) between eras.

I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but I have recently found myself talking with clients and encouraging them to see that we are involved in work that is fundamentally about remaking America and reconnecting with the world. Opportunity and prosperity allowed many to disconnect from a system that was fundamentally unstable, to ignore what was happening on a broader scale socially, environmentally, and politically.

We’ve been in this change for some time—and the instability and tragedy of the September 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina and an economy in free fall are simply more powerful indicators pointing out the need to explore fundamentally different paths. And it’s not just about changing and remaking the world—it’s about adapting as well, about admitting that we don’t have control over so many aspects of our lives. As Columbia business and psychology professor Elke Weber observes in the quote above from a recent article in the New York Times Magazine about green consciousness, we are wrestling with the challenges of changing human behavior.

I’ve often said that technical or policy innovations alone won’t help mitigate the changes we are experiencing, but we need to shift the ways in which we relate to each other. Here are some indications of how that is happening, and what it is that we might need to rely on increasingly as we explore ways of creating more sustainable organizations and communities to support the transition to a more sustainable society.

  • Collaboration. It might be a buzzword, but it’s gaining traction. Increasingly, we are seeing that we can’t ‘go it alone’. We absolutely need to seek solutions in a way that rely on the creativity, resources and support of partners in transforming the way things work. From reimagining our economic system to designing buildings that respect the health of the local environment and the local community, we need to do even more at transcending organizational (and sectoral) boundaries to find that we each have a piece of the answer we seek.
  • Innovation. I often encourage groups I work with to ask “what if and why not?” Creating new ideas and new thinking requires that we step outside of the way we have always thought about the world and both open our eyes to what is happening and experiment with what might be possible.
  • Connectivity. We need to move from a place where see ourselves and our work as fundamentally separate to a deeply held belief that we are inextricably linked, and that this must guide immediate action. A redwood tree is able to stand as tall as it does because of the powerful and extensive—albeit unseen—matrix of roots connecting it to other redwoods. This awareness guides more effective collaboration (see above).
  • Resilience. Ultimately, we need to embrace the design principle of resilience to create  a human ecology that is able to not simply withstand change but evolve gracefully with it. We are an incredibly adaptable species and we can use this fabled adaptability more wisely and creatively as we move forward into the unknown to help articulate a greener, more just and more equitable world.
April 2009