Is Our Future Revealed from the Past?

short-historyOn occasion, a book comes across my desk that has a profound impact on my understanding of the nature of our species, how we got to where we are, and where we are likely to be heading. Although “A Short History of Progress” by Ronald Wright was written in 2004, I did not pick it up until 11 years later. It was not recommended to me, nor had I heard of it. I just happened to be browsing a library and it caught my eye – serendipitous it would seem. I have since learned that it was a best seller and one critic provided the following overview:

A brilliant analysis of everything humanity has done to ruin itself down the ages.

Jan Morris
Books of the Year
Independent on Sunday

Its relevance to me is helping me grasp why we have not taken advantage of sustainable business practices despite the financial advantages and the preservation imperative of addressing climate change.

It was 24 years ago, when I was a financially challenged graduate student and very much involved in environmental and political issues. A cohort of mine, Joan Russow  who later became the Leader of Canada’s Green Party, was also short on cash but was able to gather enough to fly to Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, also known as the Earth Summit. We had such hopes that we were on the path to effecting positive changes that would ensure an inhabitable environment for future generations. It was an amazing time filled with hope, as tens of thousands of people representing 172 countries gathered to address the mounting environmental challenges resulting from human activity.

The outcomes were encouraging as many countries signed legally binding agreements. These included the Convention on Biological Diversity which sought to protect biodiversity, use natural resources sustainably, and ensure equitable sharing of genetic resources. There was also the Framework Convention on Climate Change which focused on stabilizing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere at levels that would not threaten life.

In other words, we acknowledged the damage we were doing to the foundations of life, decided to face up to this fact by assuming responsibility, and actually take concrete steps to address the issues. Heady times indeed!

Now, here we are in 2016, and after more than 2 decades of debate, we reached a landmark agreement on December 12 in Paris, which mapped out some key directives for the world including:


  • the goal of limiting global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius
  • Establish binding commitments by all parties to make “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs), and to pursue domestic measures aimed at achieving them;
  • mobilize $100 billion a year in support by 2020 through 2025

The expression “Better late than never” comes to mind, but may not actually apply in this case. Let’s start with the ticking time bomb of GHG concentrations which scientists argue need to be stabilized at approximately 350 part per million. In 1992 the concentrations were at around 360 PPM. Now we are hovering around 400 PPM and rising, and the rate at which we are contributing GHGs is increasing. This is due to most developed countries not seriously addressing the issue and developing countries rapidly growing their economies by burning fossil fuels.

While the Pairs Summit goal is to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius, the reality is we don’t even have mechanisms nor plans to keep warming below 4 degrees Celsius!


While the world is finally mobilizing, rather than changing our behavior that led to our current condition, we are using our old methods to address the very problem they created. We are throwing more money at innovation in hopes that we can resolve the problem with new technology. Which brings us back to the book “A Short History of Progress”. I will not provide a spoiler here, but think Easter Island and the demise of that civilization.

A well known quote that has been attributed to many, including Albert Einstein the famous theoretical physicist, is:

“The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.”

At Greenomics, we argue that the future is dependent on individuals who embrace sustainable business practices and demonstrate leadership through environmental restoration and social justice. Some of our future blogs will focus on these individuals and companies who are leading the way. They are pursuing alternative solutions and directions to juggernaut  corporations and governments. So, I encourage you to read the book, and ponder how the insights relate to your own experience, and decide how you want to move forward.

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