The birthing of a new dawn?
Here is a guest blog-post by Pete Takacs exploring the emergence of a new way of viewing the world.
I like to revisit the YouTube depiction of the Industrial Revolution during the opening ceremony at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. It is such a spectacular artistic expression of our sustainability dilemmas today, not simply because it was masterminded by an ingenious director Danny Boyle, but because it captured the 200-year-long history of the British industrial growth in just under 5 minutes. This skilful video made it possible for many a spectator to appreciate, just in a matter of a few minutes, the important role that industrial change in Britain played in the birth of sustainability around the world today!
Seledom are modern sustainability dilemmas associated with the distant past. Yet, I was impressed by how Danny Boyle managed to make a skilful invitation to this though. His memorable depiction of the Industrial Revolution during the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony begins with a snapshot of the best of UK’s natural environment – its pastoral fields sprinkled with red poppy flowers and enlivened by sheep and fathered by shepherds. Suddenly, a radical transformation overpowers this bucolic landscape: the Earth shatters and opens up to make way for magnificent grey chimneys, which sever the Earth’s crust and soar into the sky. The pastoral fields fade away and industry is created! The stupendous size of the man-made structures dwarfs all natural surroundings, including the hills and the mountains as well as the structures’ creators – people.
This scene can make many an environmentalists uneasy because of its crudeness. And yet, one can’t help but notice the symbolic optimism in it: despite their seemingly brutal severing of the Earth’s gentle crust, the industrial structures symbolize something positive – a birth, a new stage of human evolution. It seems as if the Industrial Revolution helped the Earth and humanity go through a painful but meaningful ordeal. This was an ordeal which one can observe during any birth and growth phase in life with its inevitable growing pains and exploitation of resources. Not only did the Industrial Revolution bless people with technological innovations, but over the years, humans tested and improved those innovations until they have matured in their attitude towards the environment itself (the soil, seas and atmosphere as well as our view of each other and other living beings). Remembering Danny Boyd’s video, there is a realisation that through the ordeals of the Industrial Revolution one can gain perspective on the value of preserving our natural environment rather than the continuing over-exploitation of it.
There is hardly another scene more pertinent to our sustainability debate and dilemmas today than this one!
The need for a radically new business paradigm to be born out of the current out-dated take-make-waste approach is indeed based on a more mature and careful understanding of the Earth and our mutual relations with it in a way which will enable people to harness its natural potential without an immature mind-set of brutal Nature explorations and exploitations: melting its rocks for re-construction, razing its forest for industrialised farming, experimenting and violating other living beings for scientific discoveries, in turn making ourselves isolated and hidden from one another in the shadow of our creations.
However, this old reality has started to change for the better. People are changing the way they view the inter-relations of economy, environment and society. Therefore, it is not surprising that people inquire about the financial, social and environmental viability of big events like the Olympics. The Olympics gave even more impetus to organizations like My Fair London to try and make the city a more social place by bridging the gap between the rich and poor and giving the latter a more visible standing in society. Hence, the Olympics could be viewed as a threshold for a post-industrial mentality, where striving for optimal environmental, social and financial development is now viewed as essential rather than optional. As a result, what seems to have crystalized the most out of this story, is a mode of thinking, which is clear, considerate and careful. This is a mode of thinking, which is aimed at optimizing the performance of human activity with respect to its environment in its various natural, social and economic dimensions. This mode of thinking, one calls sustainability.
At the same time, one can’t help but think what else can be born out of this? Transformational times, call for transformational change and revolutions lead to fresh new ways of viewing the world. The dying of one mode of thinking and acting can release new behaviours that transform cultures. Revolutions spawn new evolutionary cycles of re-birth and growth.
The guest blog writer Pete Takacs studies at The London School of Economics and has recently been exploring the whys and wherefores of sustainable business.
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