SDG17: We, the people

We, the people. These three powerful words open the Constitution of the United States. This country, whose ideals arise from the French Revolution and humanist values, has for the past four years been sequestered by demagogic fabrication of alternative facts. Now, it feels as if it has regained serenity, decency, and rigor of truth.

While watching Joe Biden taking the oath as 46th US President, I felt hope. I hope that he will live up to his words and prove that the US can “lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example”. I hope this example will be based on the understanding of power as a multidirectional and disperse phenomenon (Foucault) rather than a unilateral one based on dominance. I hope that the ability to seek collaboration and cooperation, which have often been mentioned as the main strength of his political leadership, will emerge from the new scenarios that arise from the post-Covid-19 reality. I hope it will turn into Active Hope, shared among all nations, institutions, and corporations.

‘We, the people’, have a choice between four different storylines. Only one leads to keeping the global temperature close to 1.5°C to assure keeping the living conditions within sustainable boundaries.

These four storylines are a product of the highest ever achieved scientific consensus. They are based on an extensive assessment of driving forces and future greenhouse gas  (GHG) emissions produced by very complex dynamic systems and are determined by driving forces such as demographic development,  socio-economic development, and technological change. (IPCC)

Three of the choices follow the Business as Usual path where the system of production and consumption was designed to nurture the illusion of infinite growth. However, aside from its ability to generate economic wealth, the Business as Usual system was also designed to:

  • Put tons of toxic material into the air, water, and soil.
  • Produce materials so dangerous that they will require constant vigilance by future generations.
  • Produce giant amounts of waste.
  • Base prosperity on the unsustainable exploitation of finite natural resources.
  • Erodes biodiversity.

The difference between the past and today’s choices is that today ‘We, the people’ have the knowledge to make sustainable choices.

‘We, the people’ can no longer hide behind “we didn’t know”.

‘We, the people’ «need a spirit of cooperation among ourselves, but like gardeners, we need more cooperation with nature and more insights into its specific rationales.»

Besides the structural or operational redesign, the sustainable transition also relies upon social science’s ability to translate findings from the physical sciences and engineering into “frames and languages that are accessible to social actors”.

Within this process, sustainable solutions require the support of new forms of business, new technologies and processes, and new forms of governance. UN Sustainable Development Goals and Science-Based Targets provide an overarching framework for their implementation.

Circularity is one of the main properties of such solutions. By designing processes and strategies that prevent the loss of resources and materials, circular solutions help reduce the burdens on the natural resources caused by our material and energy consumption. However, circularity is not a panacea.

The scale of the impacts driven by climate change requires wide interdisciplinary cooperation that arises from the integration of knowledge generated through science and extended stakeholder participation. Therefore, the cradle to cradle vision of a circular economy should align with planetary boundary methodology, a top-down approach that helps define sustainable thresholds.

‘We, the people’ should use the SDG 17 as a global framework for redefining growth.

We should use them as a gardeners’ manual where WE, THE PEOPLE decide what should grow.

Since one person’s knowledge can only represent a fragment of the totality of what is known, wisdom can be achieved when people combine what they have learned… the defense of the world can truly be accomplished only by cooperation and compassion… We became human by working together and helping one another. – Paul Hawken

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