Transformation – Ways forward
Dialogue forum on 29 January 2013
Environmental degradation and climate change, not to mention social and economic challenges, are confronting mankind with enormous problems. If we do not quickly change our way of thinking and act now, future generations will have to pay a high cost and live in a bleak world. "The (im)mobile society – Ready for the future?”, the 2013 dialogue forums, examine how ready people are to accept responsibility for bringing about the requisite transformation. The direction that we must take was the subject of this year's opening forum, "Transformation – Ways ahead". The panel of distinguished speakers featured Prof. Gesine Schwan, Prof. Angelika Zahrnt and Prof. Dirk Messner.
The starting point of their deliberations was the report "A Social Contract for Sustainability" published by the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU). The report argues that our present economic model based on fossil fuels is not tenable, as it threatens the stability of the climate system and therefore the natural life-support system of future generations. "We need to make the transition to a prosperity model that respects the limitations of the earth system," urges Prof. Messner who, as Director of the German Development Institute and Vice Chair of the WBGU, was actively involved in the report. Society's development towards greater sustainability is an immense task. "This transformation can be compared to some extent with the Neolithic Revolution, in other words the emergence of agriculture and herding, some 10,000 years ago, or the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century," said Messner, making the dimensions clear.
Social contract for a new target system
However, despite the enormous time pressures, we must not act blindly. "We will not make better use of the short time available by launching ourselves into frenetic action", insists Prof. Schwan, President of the Humboldt Viadrina School of Governance. What we need to do, in her opinion, is concentrate on the essentials, and society's ability to communicate and cooperate. "With technological means alone, we will never achieve this transformation." On the contrary, it is more important to expose the conflicting interests and resolve them. "If we really want to pursue the energy turnaround in Germany, we must communicate with our neighbours about their interests, something we haven't done in the past," urged Schwan. For her, communication is the key to solution-oriented action.
What is currently lacking is a dynamic global movement towards a sustainable economic structure. "We need to speed up the transition process and move on from the many pilot projects to system solutions," says Messner with conviction. "It is important not to wait for the stragglers in the convoy but to allow the people who take the threats seriously forge ahead," agrees Zahrnt. Schwan on the other hand sees greater prospects of success in getting as many partners as possible on board. "I fully understand the avant-garde position but we must give ourselves time to seek consensus." Ways of reaching agreement must be sought, she says, going well beyond those taken so far. Russia, for example, will not be persuaded overnight to stop using gas, and Poland will also continue to depend on coal as an energy provider. In her opinion, unilateralist actions by individual groups would only push any consensus on future developments far into the future.
Call for a proactive state
The past has shown that mankind is quite capable of changing its standards, values and principles. "We have learned to respect limitations such as human rights or the social rights of working people. We now must define similar limitations from the perspective of the earth system", urges Messner. Once these limitations have been acknowledged, mankind's creativity and fantasy will ensure the right solutions are found. Science can set a target system, as in the WBGU report. However, in the final analysis, society has to decide on the direction that it wants to take. Prosperity based not on the exploitation of resources but more on non-material values, such as education, would be a good way of bringing about sustainability.
The next dialogue forum "Higher, faster, further – Mobile amidst traffic chaos?" will take place on 21 February.
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