Originally trained in design, I’ve learnt...
Through history, human intelligence has enabled us to adapt to and transform our environment, and develop tools to respond to the most pressing demands. Now, as the forces of climate change, global inequality and economic efficiency exert pressures on our natural and created systems, we need to think and act in radical new ways.
Climate change demands that our boundaries be redrawn, anchored to the physical realities of catchments and ecosystems, realities that reinforce our commonality rather than our differences. Just as the circular economy looks at new ways to manage our resources more intelligently. We must look at opportunities to provide solutions that work with our natural systems.
There has been no other time in history when we have had so many people from such diverse backgrounds with a multitude of easily accessible information – on everything from the physical nature of the universe to the lastest understandings in neuro-plasticity. What could we achieve if we were to harness this collective intelligence with a transparency that exposes self-serving desires and prejudices and drives forward new and better ways of working? Could we, for example shape a more economical, environmental, and socially equitable world?
We have plenty of evidence of the causes and effects of a multitude of issues, including climate change, gathered in vast pools of data; now we need to collaborate with the same energy and openness as we do when faced with catastrophic events such as earthquakes and hurricanes. Who can we share resources with? And who will collectively share the risks, responsibilities and benefits?
We have the data and the tools to communicate and collaborate but do we have the mindset to act intelligently to interpret and seize opportunities as they arise? John Wood talked about the need “to notice, share and harvest unforeseen combinations of data, things, experiences and meanings”.
This requires adaptable intelligence to respond to changing circumstances and good local, regional and global governance. For example, in the past we approached flood defence by building walls at the points where flooding occurs. We now recognise that flood defense should mean a functional landscape of re-naturalised rivers, forests, cycle paths, city streets and parks.
The population of Bogotá is supported by catchments above the city that originate in the Chingaza National Park. Multi-agency collaboration and investment in the upstream protection of Bogota is projected to save the city $35million (US dollars) over the course of ten years through improved water quality. It will do this by recognising that forests provide water filtration and storage at significantly lower costs than traditional infrastructure approaches. To mirror this success in other areas, we will need to work across disciplines, departments, organisations and local governmental boundaries to recognize the wider systems that support our cities.
In the future, might our local and national boundaries recede as the physical realities of climate change reflect the real boundaries of places that can sustain humanity? We need an intelligence revolution if our created systems of economics, politics and law are to truly serve our natural systems.