Resilience Thinking and Human Impact on the Planet

In This Podcast
Show Notes
Lisen Schultz
E 145

In This Podcast

  • Climate change impact and human warming
  • Sustainable business practices 
  • Sustainability transition and its benefits for society
  • Climate action and hope for the future

We all depend on Planet Earth for life and yet as a species, our collective actions are having devastating impacts such as a loss of biodiversity and climate change, among other things. It’s literally the definition of insanity, says Lisen Schultz, Associate Professor in Sustainability Science, Deputy Director for the Stockholm Resilience Center, University of Stockholm, Director of Education and the Programme Director for the center’s executive programme in resilience thinking.

We humans aren’t evil, our problem is we don’t see what we’re doing as damaging, nor can we see how we could do it differently. Our world is built around a formula of growth, rather than meaningful growth. 

In this episode of Corporate Unplugged, Lisen discusses the urgency of the climate change challenge, but also the potential opportunities it presents for us individually, as well as for companies, but, in a way that doesn’t create a whole new set of problems. 

To find out more, download and listen to this fascinating conversation. 

Show Notes

Resilience Thinking with Sustainability Scientist, Lisen Schultz

When Lisen Schultz was a teenager, she had a horrible feeling that she was a member of a species that acted like a parasite on planet Earth. She didn’t want to live her life as a parasite, because despite what the news would have us believe, we humans actually bring so many beautiful things to our planet. There must be another way for us to live with this planet, on this planet, she reasoned. And thus a seed was planted, which would see her pursue a career where she could be part of that shift from a parasite to a more symbiotic species.

Fast forward a few years, and today Lisen is Associate Professor in Sustainability Science, Deputy Director for the Stockholm Resilience Center, University of Stockholm, Director of Education and the Programme Director for the center’s executive programme in resilience thinking.

Climate change impact and human warming

“Humans aren’t evil, but then we’re not always good either. We pursue wellbeing, happiness and security to meet our needs, and an aggregate effect we see is the loss of biodiversity and climate change. But no one is actually trying to make that happen.”

No one likes to burn fossil fuels, says Lisen, we just want to eat, to have clothes, and live in warm houses. We don’t see the impact we’re having, nor do we see how we could do it differently. 

We have now put so many greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere that we’re heating up the planet. But, nature has been trying to slow down our destruction, absorbing more than half of our emissions since we discovered fossil fuels. 

And we’re approaching tipping points in some parts of the planet that so far have helped us mitigate climate warming, like parts of the Amazon rainforest. Continuing down the route we’re on, we’re risking accelerating warming instead, because the Amazon has become an emitter of greenhouse gasses, whereas before it was a net sink.

“The capacity of the ocean to absorb our heat is approaching its limit, but it is still functioning, it’s still doing this massive service for us. And it will continue doing that for years to come. And if we were to stop emitting greenhouse gasses, it would actually start helping us decrease the greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere eventually.”

Sustainable business practices 

If you’re a business leader and you want to limit the impact your company has on the planet, you need to be asking yourself some serious questions, says Lisen. Questions such as: why do we exist as a company? What is it that we contribute? What need are we serving? How can we serve that need in a way that doesn’t erode the opportunities for future generations or their lifespan? Or people on other parts of the planet? 

“A big reason why we see a transgression of planetary boundaries is that we don’t account for what’s called externalities. Side effects. We see private companies gaining a profit for their owners, but society has to bear the cost.”

Companies need to start realizing the influence they have on norms, rules and habits, says Lisen. We affect far beyond what we realize we reach. And as leaders, we need to take responsibility for those impacts. Once we’ve taken individual responsibility, we need to then look at bringing suppliers on board, getting customers on board; how we can lobby policy makers and what regulations are or aren’t in place? If we want to bring about change, all of these things need to be well aligned.

“Bodine, a Swedish outdoor clothing brand, is a small company founded on this idea. They were one of the first companies to do an assessment of their impact in relation to the planetary boundaries.”

Sustainability transition and its benefits for society

What they’ve tried to do at the Stockholm Resilience Center is build in collaboration, co-production of knowledge, communication, throughout their research and education so that they can shorten the time between a scientific insight to action, while also still pursuing curiosity driven science that’s not agenda driven or bought by a company.

“Both the problems and the solutions are very often interconnected, which means there are also ways of addressing multiple problems at the same time. But when we try to address a problem, we have to be careful not to do it in a way that creates new problems, depending on our system boundaries.”

In essence, we need to find a way to go from fossil fuels to renewable energies, from linear to circular, and then from exploitation in general to a more of a regenerative approach.

We need to get policymakers on board, says Lisen, to speed up policies to support this transition. Because the private sector cannot bring about change on their own. It needs to have politicians and unions on board to drive meaningful change, to help people see how their jobs and incomes will be secured in the future, or throughout the transition.

“People will be much more supportive of climate policy, for example, and we are also going to make better decisions if we have them included than if it’s just driven by the employers. This needs to be a just transition, not just transition, but a just transition.”

Climate action and hope for the future

As a phenomenon, Lisen loves life. She’s fascinated by all the diversity of life, there’s so many life forms. And she’s very passionate about not allowing loss of life. In particular, she loves human life, she loves connecting with kind and intelligent people and working on something together.

“We can all do something, however small, we can all do something. And we can learn along the way. No one has the final recipe like if you do this, you’re all sustainable. But we can learn to live through this together.”

Humans have such a drive, says Lisen, we have the capacity to feel solidarity for each other, as well as for other species. We have the capacity to think long term, to collaborate; we can achieve wondrous things if we’re given the space to blossom. 

So, what does Lisen want to see in her future? Easy, she says, halved emissions. And we’ve done that by scaling up testing technologies in energy, in food production, in transport, industry, buildings, we’ve scaled them up. And in the meantime, we have continued innovating so that we’ve done it in a way that is just and people feel included.

“All companies have some connection to biodiversity, both in terms of dependency, but also on impact. So, start mapping those and seeing how you can be a better participant in the broader ecosystem.”

If the talk resonates with you, we’d recommend you listen to this episode too: Charles Eisenstein