I send you here the text of my forthcoming "Green Conversation" in the magazine Forbes.For your interest and possible reference.See you soon!ErvinBest -- ErvinThe New Business Of Business: Evolution Of Culture And The Survival Of Humankind
Dr. Ervin Laszlo is Founder and President of The Club of Budapest, Chancellor of the Giordano Bruno University, Co-founder and Director of the Ervin Laszlo Center for Advanced Study, Member of the Hungarian Academy of Science, Fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, Member of the International Academy of Philosophy of Science, and the author or co-author of fifty-four books. He obtained his PhD from the Sorbonne, in addition to receiving four honorary PhDs. The recipient of numerous international awards, he has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2004 and 2005. He lives in a four hundred year-old former chapel in the hills of Tuscany.
Michael Tobias (MT): Dr. Laszlo, as you have written to me, "Many people say - and I do so, repeatedly - that only a thorough transformation of the way we manage ourselves and our environment can avert a major crisis and possibly breakdown. Why is that?
Ervin Laszlo (EL): When you deal with such complex systems as a living organism, and indeed the whole web of life, there are critical points where change is sudden and decisive. These come to the fore already when we simulate the dynamics of such systems: then we see that in place of the usual periodic and point attractors so-called "chaotic" or "strange" attractors surface—practically out of the blue, as the systems analysts note.
The evidence for these "critical" or "chaos" points (also known as "systems bifurcations") is manifold and entirely convincing. Ecosystems reach what is known as a "climax"; species and populations reach crucial "tipping points," and individual organisms reach a life-or-death point where they can no longer maintain themselves in their environment. When these points are reached, change is sudden and deep-seated.
MT: Total disaster?
EL: Not necessarily. That depends on the kind of system we are dealing with. A system coded by one basic set of information cannot pull out of such states: it must go under. This is the case in regard to biological organisms such as ourselves.
MT: We are mortal.
Avoiding "Catastrophic Bifurcation"
EL: Yes. We are irrevocably mortal: we reach such a "catastrophic bifurcation" sooner or later. But a system made up of different species and populations has the option of changing its basic structure. If it reaches a crisis point it can pull out by restructuring the relations between the species and populations that compose it.
MT: How can this distinction nurture a positive orientation in people?
EL: Michael, this is an important distinction. The world we have created on this planet entered a crisis stage not because of the genetic coding and epigenetic mechanisms of the organisms that compose it, but because of the unsustainable nature of the relations between its various species and population. In this situation, our species has become the critical factor.
MT: Evolution dictates biological sustainability, winners and losers. The implications are not hard to divine.
EL: Correct. We have become unsustainable because of the way we relate to the species, the processes and resources, that make up our life-supporting environment. The nature of this relation depends not on our genes but on our culture.
MT: OK. That is truly a major paradigm shift.
EL: I think so; the fact our relationship to the biosphere is not genetically but culturally coded.
MT: And what does that concept say to you?
EL: This gives us the answer we need: We must change our system of ecological relations on this planet. This is a manageable project. It calls for evolving the ensemble of our perceptions, values and aspirations that make up our culture.
MT: When must this "cultural evolution" come about? Is there a 'deadline' beyond which things will become more or less irreversible?
EL: Nobody can answer this question with precision. The contemporary world system is so complex that we cannot compute the exact time of its bifurcation points. What we do know is that a catastrophic bifurcation will come IF we do not transform our relations to nature. And the sooner we begin this culture-based human-nature transformation the greater the chances that we reach a new plateau of sustainability becomes a reality. There is real hope here, because cultural evolution, unlike genetic evolution, is both rapid and open to conscious guidance.
The Compelling Role of Consciousness
MT: Let us suppose you are correct; that our culture is the key to evening out the playing field between human civilization and the environment. But there is not one human civilization but hundreds if not thousands shared by the seven billion+ humans that live on the planet, and there is not one environment but thousands of biomes, ecosystems, and possibly as many as one-hundred million species still co-habiting this miraculous Earth with us. What is the ultimate role of business in embracing a vision for sustainability that is most likely to encompass all the variations in attitude, personality, vision, or lack of vision that now characterizes Homo sapiens?
EL: If we are to answer this question in relevant detail, we need look at each case of unsustainability in turn. This can be done, and it is being done by scientists and forward-looking business people in many parts of the world. But there is something simple and basic that we can say that applies to all cases and forms of unsustainability. Why is any living system unsustainable? The answer is, because of the faulty way it is attempting to maintain itself in the living state.
MT: The specter of various laws of thermodynamics.
EL: Absolutely. Like Alice, we must keep running just to stay in the same place (and we must run even faster if we are to move forward). If we don't "run" we run down: this is a law of nature, the second law of thermodynamics. Running for a living organism means constantly replenishing the energy, the matter, and the information it obtains from its environment. Living systems constantly use these resources every time they breathe, eat, move, even when they think. If they are not careful, they use them up. And then their viability is endangered.
MT: So how do you characterize our chances?
EL: Performing the feat of constant energy- information- and matter-replenishment is a stupendous job. It requires the fully coordinated collaboration of all the cells that make up the human body—and there are more cells in our body than stars in the galaxy. As long as we are alive and healthy, our cells collaborate in the shared task of maintaining us in the living state and then we can perform this feat. When we are sick, some of our cells fail to collaborate and if this is not rectified, we die.
MT: Historians like Arnold Toynbee applied this non-rectification pattern to some 22 past civilizations that have gone extinct.
EL: Precisely. The same applies to human societies and to the human family as a whole. They, too, need to maintain themselves in a dynamic state where they can make use of suitable energies and matter without exhausting these supplies and degenerating their surroundings. But they have more options for restructuring themselves: they can restructure the relations among the species and populations that compose them. This can be done consciously, purposefully.
MT: What are the conscious, purposeful options that we can look to reasonably, imaginatively, even quixotically?
EL: Human beings are the critical factors in this. We humans have the consciousness and thus could have the insight and the will to restructure the relations in the world system so that its various species and populations—including our own human species—could survive and thrive.
MT: Clearly this is the flash point, as I think of it.
EL: Yes. Here is where we come across the crux of the problem of our world's sustainability. Our world is a quasi-living globally extended complex system. Its resources are not managed effectively. As its dominant species, this is our responsibility. Our energy source is quasi-inexhaustible (the Sun), but only its source is that, and not the energy stored on the planet. If we use fossil energies, or other forms of energy stored by natural or artificial means, we live on our energy capital and not our energy income. As in the case of all finite capital, sooner or later it is used up.
MT: The physics is unassailable and, in our case, approaching global tragedy.
EL: Our use of matter is clearly unsustainable. The matter we have on board our spaceship is also finite, and we need to manage it carefully. If we use up more of it than we replenish or can access, we will have matter- (that is, material resource) shortages, which is what we have already, as the production of one resource after another peaks, while demand grows.
MT: Last month, in Bonn, scientists met to discuss "Water in the Anthropocene" [http://www.gwsp.org]
and highlighted an H20 tipping point that will affect everyone of us on Earth. The crisis is already affecting more than one billion of our kind. This is simply symptomatic of what our species is inflicting across every finite, life-sustaining component of the planet.
EL: Hence, the answer to your earlier question - how can we encompass all the variations in attitude, personality, vision, or lack of vision that most generally characterizes Homo sapiens is simple and basic. Each of us can give this answer in reference to a set of fundamental questions. Is the way we operate, as an individual, as a community, and as an enterprise, sustainable or unsustainable?
MT: Do we give or do we simply take?
EL: More specifically, do we degrade more energy than we access; do we deplete more material resources than we recycle and regenerate? And do we interfere with and possibly damage the natural reproduction and availability of these vital resources, poisoning and polluting our environment? Because we live and act sustainably only if we rely on flow energies and recycle the material resources we use—and if we safeguard the integrity of the rhythms and balances of nature.
MT: So what is your personal view of where our species, and this Earth stands at this point? Are you confident that we can make it?
Business People and the Chances of Human Survival
EL: There is a vast groundswell of public opinion—or should I rather say public feeling and consciousness—that indicates that we will make it. This groundswell is not fully rational, it is not motivated only, or even primarily, by reasoning. It is an expression of the deepest resource a species has when it is endangered. This is what naturalists call the instinct for collective survival. Humanity's instinct for collective survival is now emerging with striking force and clarity. It comes to the fore in popular movements such as the environmental movement, the peace movement, the occupy movement, the intercultural and transgender solidarity movement, and movements for conciliation and empathy.
MT: And with regard to corporate culture and movements?
EL: There it surfaces as the recognition that spirituality has a role in business, and the insight that profit and power are not the end-all of a company. Ever more business leaders are embracing the view that profit and power are legitimate aspirations, but that they are not ends in themselves. They are means to a higher end: that of contributing to the survival of our species, and the flourishing of all life on the planet.
So to the extent that our instinct for collective survival finds concrete expression in business, I am optimistic.
MT: What, specifically, about business culture? I the evolution of that culture a ground for optimism?
EL: It is. Because business moves faster than politics, and it is more immediately effective than any system of education and institution of culture. Because business people are rational people who can weigh the options available to them, but are also human beings, members of the human species, with a highly developed faculty for instinct and intuition. That could be our salvation. If that faculty further develops in the business world and reinforces and transcends the established forms of reasoning, then yes, I am optimistic. Then we shall make it.
MT: Thank you, Ervin.
EL: My pleasure, Michael.