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On April 11th President Trump signed an executive order making it easier for companies to build oil and gas pipeline projects- and harder for states to block them. The aim of this executive order is to weaken the Clean Water Act where clean water becomes an obstacle to the delivery of cheap oil or gas.
The executive order calls for the EPA to review a section of the Clean Water Act that requires applicants seeking federal permits for energy infrastructure projects that might pollute protected waters to get certification from the states where any potential contamination could happen.
As amended in 1972, the Clean Water Act established the basic structure for regulating pollutant discharges into the waters of the United States. The CWA gave EPA the authority to implement pollution control programs such as setting waste water standards for industry. Since the law was amended, numerous catastrophic spills have occurred such as Exxon Valdez (1989) and BP Deepwater Horizon (2010). These legendary spills are not even in the top 10 of the largest global oil spills. There have been thousands of spills via pipelines and tankers throughout history. All of which have had devastating effects on the communities and ecosystems involved, costing billions of dollars in clean-up costs and loss of life, habitats, and industry.
The executive order goes on to describe this regulation as “outdated”. What is outdated is the concept that economic policy can be made without the consideration of all stakeholders. Understanding that oil and gas are a necessary part of our lives today, we can certainly respect those oil and gas companies that have made a commitment to be responsible for the way they operate, especially with regards to environmental impact. What we find to be outdated however, is that financial and investment decisions can be made today without careful scrutiny of the positive or negative impacts on the effected global systems. It’s not just outdated. It’s reckless, careless, and puts communities, ecosystems, and all of us at risk. This poses the question whether the executive order is just political noise or is it the reality we face that regulation designed to protect ourselves and our planet is being stripped away with total disregard of their purpose.
Have you considered that Humanity and the Earth are at a crossroad?
For decades we have struggled with our energy demands and supply, dependent on foreign oil. We’ve been so transfixed on our energy independence that we have been completely willing to overlook the costs. Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring. Yet we would rather be in denial about our contribution via greenhouse gas emissions than threaten our mission to supply our thirst for oil. Scientific research demonstrates that greenhouse gasses emitted by human activities are the primary driver. The cumulative pressure the human species is putting on the planet is sapping its resources and destroying its health.
And to say that our oil supply needs are the only driver, without assigning the appropriate credit and blame for over-consumption and corporate greed is naïve and hardly limited to the oil and gas industry. Between 1990 and 2010, 21.5 million acres of forest have been flattened in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. Our forests are the most biologically diverse habitats on earth, home to a manifold of species. With the continuation of our habits to produce without conscious decision about our impact, there is a clear risk that hundreds of species could become extinct. Policies like the U.S. Lacey Act, E.U. Timber Regulation and Australia’s Illegal Logging Prohibition Act that are enacted to protect our forests are not being enforced strictly. Deforestation in the Amazon Rain-forest jumped a staggering 13.7% in 2018, that’s approximately 1.2 billion trees. The Amazon accounts for 10% of all species and takes in 25% of all CO2 emissions. With it being degraded it results in significant threats to our survival.
When we hear these stories it is greeted by most with a yawn and shrug. One fewer bird species? I’ve got my mortgage to pay! Another mammal extinct? There are plenty more!
The inter-connectedness of our species and our dependability on other species are critical to our survival. Extinction affects us in complex ways. “The Parsi community in Mumbai has traditionally exposed their dead to the vultures in “towers of silence,” as they’re called in English”. Vultures are now disappearing. It is estimated that 97 to 99 percent of them are now gone in the last few decades. The Parsi community is now left stranded to appropriately dispose of their dead in a world without vultures. According to National Geographic these Scavenging birds play an important role in controlling diseases from the number of predators that feed on the carcasses like rats or dogs. The reduced number in this species may lead to a rise in diseases like rabies and anthrax in India.
Changing the Way We Think
This is not a political issue but a global humanitarian crisis. Overpopulation, resource scarcity, ecosystem degradation and anthropogenic climate change are damaging the life support capacity of the earth.
With businesses contributing to more than 71% of global emissions, we believe that critical rethinking of how businesses operate should be underway. According to the economist, Milton Friedman, the sole purpose of business is to generate profit for shareholders. Friedman’s 1970’s philosophy though far from universally accepted, is the driving force behind the oil and gas exploration executive order and many others.
President of Quaker Oats, Kenneth Mason, writes in Business Week, ‘"The moral imperative that all of us share in this world is getting the best return we can on whatever assets we are privileged to employ. What American business leaders too often forget is that this means all the assets employed -- not just the financial assets but also the brains employed, the labor employed, the materials employed, and the land, air, and water employed." This discipline of the interconnected elements defined in Mason’s quote is more than just a collection of tools and methods. Systemic thinking as a discipline in the role of sensitivity is the effective reactions to the circular world we live in. It’s an awareness of the role of structure in creating the conditions we face, and the realization that there are consequences to our actions that we are oblivious to.
Many people recognize the need to transition to sustainable, resilient ways of living, but the prospect of such a transition is formidable because it fosters new ways of thinking about and addressing complex problems looking beyond traditional ways of thinking.
At its core, systems thinking means taking a wider perspective in examining how things relate, looking for root causes and improvements to the problems we face and how they all are interconnected. Our system of life cannot be understood by parts alone as it is a universe made up of integrated wholes. Hence we must challenge ourselves and change our paradigms to not just accommodate our changing environment but to mitigate and prevent increasing damage.
To cultivate the habit of systems thinking, we must be critical thinkers. We should not accept the ideas of the majority or traditional ways of doing things. Consider the motivation behind actions and demand logical reasoning or experiential evidence. Ask questions, and be curious, look for intertwined relations. Nothing exists in isolation. Everything depends on something else to function. Unearth those connections and consider the possible perspectives that exist.
Our vision is a world where all humans have access to healthcare, nutrition, education, shelter and economic opportunity, where the market systems are based on ethical, fair and transparent approaches. The United Nations through their 17 Sustainable Development Goals creates an interconnected, mapped out blueprint that includes all global stakeholders and acts as a guideline for all global systemic issues, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice, as well as business value creation and prosperity.
Systems thinking may be the ideal problem solving framework for sustainability. It leads to creating a community whose actions do not diminish the ecosystem or social well-being for current and future generations all while being resilient against social and ecological changes. It’s thinking beyond us to the succeeding generations and looking below the surface to understand how things really work. Systemic thinking poses this platform.
Application in process:
The idea of producing cheap oil or gas without consideration of all stakeholders is preposterous especially when the only account is for profits and providing energy, which should not be discounted with a high price on social well-being. Thinking systemically presents these concerns: The erosion of oil leaks poisons our marine life and all animals that rely on the ocean as a source of food and water, displacement occurs as the government secure new spaces for gas and oil plants, and disruption of wildlife migration routes and habitats from noise pollution.
The governmental administration and pro-drilling congress members want to open approximately 19 million acres of untouched wilderness in Alaska’s Arctic Refuge for oil and gas drilling according to the Wilderness. This would be disastrous, oil and gas endeavors promotes roads and industrial infrastructure, fragmenting habitats and exposing the tundra and its inhabitants to toxic chemicals and oil spills. Not only does it contribute to species endangerment (Ingestion of oil causes cancer, immune system suppression and leads to reproductive failure) and the potential to devastate one of the most pristine environments left on the earth but it also contributes to the warming of ice caps resulting in sea level rises.
We understand that our economy relies on fuel consumption, it has become an integral part of living but with technological advances there are no excuses for not resorting to renewable resources such as solar, geothermal, and wind which does not contribute to climate change or local air pollution since no fuels are combusted. The benefits for social well-being increases as we transition to a low-energy economy, jobs are created, and air quality is improved as well as a reduction on greenhouse gasses
Today we have the means of changing for the better. Money and technology are at our disposal to voice a change that is critical to the survival of humanity. Steering investments toward companies that have taken leadership in these areas and continue to progress is a starting point through personal investing. In addition, you can begin voicing concerns about the need to enforce climate policies to your elected officials. To find out who your representative is visit: www.callmycongress.com. This may be our last best chance to get this right.
One minute of your day changes the lives for our future generations.
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