Environmentalism takes another form

“…it would be wrong to accept that environmentalism has entirely failed. To do so would negate the accomplishments of the movement in the past years and the exciting developments which are underway.”

In the article, Environmentalism Has Failed: On Adopting a Biocentric Viewpoint, scientist and broadcaster David Suzuki,  traced the development of environmentalism first as a driver in raising awareness in the public, in the creation of national and international environmental governing bodies, then in influencing behavioural changes towards stewardship. While environmentalism has come a long way, Suzuki argued that it has failed. According to him, societies and governments are continuing to live and operate with an anthropocentric view of the environment, that is, actions intended to be “environmental” are not done for the sake of the environment but of humans.

While societies are yet to fully embrace a biocentric view of the environment, it would be wrong to accept that environmentalism has entirely failed. To do so would negate the accomplishments of the movement in the past years and the exciting developments which are underway. The shift to a biocentric paradigm is slow, but it does not mean that it is not happening. History will attest that major paradigm and cultural changes, societies took time to adapt.

Environmentalism is evolving. What was once viewed as a marginal activist movement is now in mainstream discussions. Governments around the world have embedded environmental sustainability in strategy, policy and decision-making along with the economic and social aspects. In Australia, for example, the government established the National Sustainability Council in 2012 to provide independent advice on sustainability issues to government by establishing a set of sustainability indicators.

Environmental sustainability has ultimately found its way into the boardroom of private firms. Businesses are embracing transparency in how their operations affect the environment. In 1999, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index was launched to set the standard for the economic, environmental and social performance of the largest companies listed on the Dow Jones Global Total Stock Market. Since 2013, sustainability reporting by state-owned companies has been made mandatory by the Indian government. The Sustainability Disclosure Database  reported an increasing trend in businesses adopting sustainability reporting. By December 2015, sustainability reporting in all publicly listed companies in Singapore will be mandatory.

The financial market has responded to the environmental movement through the introduction of impact investing. In 2011, the World Economic Forum released the white paper, Accelerating the Transition towards Sustainable Investing, to stimulate the integration of environmental, social and governance factors into mainstream investment analysis. Impact investing and quantifying the impacts of this type of investment are at an upward trend.

Leading environmental thinkers are also paving the transition from anthropocentric to a biocentric view of the environment. Rockstrom and his colleagues at the Stockholm Resilience Center identified and quantified the threshold of nine planetary boundaries which, when overstepped, could cause unacceptable environmental change and disastrous consequences for humanity. The planetary boundaries concept was first endorsed by the UN for the Rio+20 Talks in 2012. Building on this concept, Raworth introduced a doughnut-shaped model of sustainability. Unlike the intersecting circles model where the environment, economy and society are shown as equally interdependent pillars of sustainable development, the doughnut model recognizes the environment as the ceiling for all social and economic activities.

Perhaps the greatest challenge that sets the environmental revolution from the others in history is that it is time-bound. We are in a race against time to ensure the survival of humankind in a changing planet. Saying that environmentalism has failed is, perhaps, Suzuki’s way of challenging the pace the movement is taking. Environmentalism will need to accelerate at a better pace, but it has not entirely failed.


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