Cracks letting the light get in … collapse acknowledgement … scaling ‘out’ … glimpses of hope … Sunday Thoughts

Edition 22 | November 2023

Ring the bells that still can ring – Forget your perfect offering – There is a crack, a crack in everything – That’s how the light gets in. (Leonard Cohen, Anthem, from his 1992 album The Future)

Cracks letting the light get in

The last Lighthouse Keeper is more than three months old, and my time since then was filled with several highlights: the breathtaking r3.0 2023 conference, a trip to the Lofoten Islands in Norway (see your Lighthouse Keeper in front of the lighthouse in Andenes), a trip to India, teaching a shortened version of r3.0’s Transformation Journey Program in a top-notch Global Leadership Program, and the exciting restart of our (completely redesigned) UNSDPI Training Program. While I have outed myself as a collapsologist (not easy!), and the world looks like a grim place, moving into an age of darkness, my own grievance process also takes me to the other side, where the light shines through the cracks, as Leonard Cohen reminded us of in his song ‘Anthem’. Having defined my future agenda as concentrating on ‘post-collapse readiness’ I enjoy these glimpses of light and the warmth they give me. This Lighthouse Keeper edition wants to share some of the light with you, while also acknowledging the ‘grim logic’ of what’s also to come.

Collapse Acknowledgement

…reports are blatantly clear

 The last two weeks were a real challenge – within a couple of days major reports came out that clearly had one message – we’re beyond control! We are entering ‘unchartered territory as humanity’ (as per the 2023 State of the Climate Report), ‘time is up, causing profoundly distressing scenes of suffering to unfold.’ Wow, never have the top scientists been clearer, but let’s also not forget the Antonio Guterres ‘climate hell’ speech, it still hammers in my head!

Furthermore, UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report 2022: Too Little, Too Slow – Climate adaptation failure puts world at risk finds ‘the world must urgently increase efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change that are already here and to those that are to come. Yet global efforts in adaptation planning, financing and implementation are not keeping pace with the growing risks.’ The report continues to tell ‘the number and volume of adaptation actions supported through international climate funds, multilateral finance, and bilateral donor support continues to rise. However, without a step change in support, adaptation actions could be outstripped by accelerating climate risks, which would further widen the adaptation implementation gap. Current adaptation practice falls woefully short of what is required, but there is good understanding how to improve effectiveness.’

Then the UN University published the 2023 ‘Interconnected Disaster Risk Report’ that clearly states that the root cause is ‘linked to an economic system which prioritizes the maximisation of profits over all else and which undervalues environmental costs. This system breeds global pressures relating to increasing demands for goods and services and perpetuates social inequality by providing only certain geographies and groups with access to good development and livelihood opportunities.’ The legacy of colonialism and ongoing challenges in garnering international collaboration are clearly highlighted in the report.

…regional conflicts are global conflicts

 And then we have the ongoing so-called ‘regional conflicts.’ The financial market logic, the weapons industry and even the massive philanthropic machine (ouch!) thrive on these regional conflict resolution tactics, while humanity overall suffers more and more by unresolved global problem solving. There’s no ‘Marshall Plan’ for the world to seriously tackle climate change, apart from those that still think COPs deliver anything but white noise, too little, too late. The amount of co-optation, obfuscating and blurring vocabulary – look out for the newest trick: ‘unabated fossil fuels’ – and the revelations about McKinsey’s conflicts of interest while consulting COP protagonists, is simply unbearable, same as the denial of these facts. Just look for example at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy’s Ukraine Support Tracker Data, and see all the money that gets pumped to just this one regional conflict. Now the Palestinian/Israeli conflict comes on top of that. And the Sudan genocide is resurfacing again.

Regional conflicts today, if you go back to the roots, are connected to these economic system malfunctioning causes, they are outbursts of earlier or still ongoing oppression, arrogation and religious indoctrination. Social media carry these conflicts around the world and create additional inflammatory cells all over the world. It is useless to think these conflicts can be kept regional. As long as the root causes of our colonial economic system design isn’t transformed to a regenerative and restorative design, the collapse playbook will continue to unfold. We do not only have domino effects around climate! The UN Security Council is powerless, as at least one member will veto anything that would be powerful, it’s a painful manifestation of our collective failure. The tragic is that a fraction of the money pumped into all regional conflicts would potentially have been enough to redesign our global economy design, to be of service to all humanity! 

…and corporates?

 So what about the crème de la crème of the corporate world? Any hopeful signs of collapse awareness or acknowledgement? Checking the latest ‘Reporting Matters 2023 Report’ by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and Radley Yeldar gives us little hope. The report is nothing but a continued slap in the face of authentic sustainability, and don’t even look for regenerational content. See yourself how they keep it all free of ‘sustainability context’ information, only possible through the use of science-based or ethics-based thresholds and allocations, the only way to level up from #ESG to #Sustainability and to prove to be within carrying capacities. They invented ‘Operating Context’ as a relative, subjective opinion, and again, see yourself, what they capture there. The only thing uniting all case studies and outcomes is to implicitly call less degeneration ‘more sustainable’, which is obviously utter nonsense.

Luckily there is a way out through the use of the UNSDPI, available since November 2022, and all WBCSD members are invited to understand and applythese, also as an escape route from ‘Fort Interoperability’ of the Standard Setters. Maybe Reporting Matters 2024 can make the UNSDPI application a highlight to make reporting really matter. Time to get serious and stop sneaking around!

Scaling ‘OUT’ as scaling ‘UP’ isn’t working!

So how to make sense of all the above? I have summarized this in my Sunday Thought on November 12, by using the terms ‘scaling up’ and ‘scaling out’, something that came up in our r3.0 internal discussions more frequently. I am often using this differentiation between those that think they can cure the polycrisis from within our economic system logic and those that break out to break through for a restorative economy and let go of old stereotypes.

…technology, politics, negotiations don’t deliver!

I am more and more convinced that technical attempts to scale up are useless endeavors. All these solutions sound great – if they work. By that I mean the technology itself, their promise to work at the global scale needed, and their potential to trigger positive tipping points for restoration and regeneration. We know since the CoR’s World 7 model calculations that we’ll run out of the necessary resources for that! And necessary circularity infrastructure won’t be available in the remaining time (as per last research we are at 7.2%, and declining). At best, all this can smoothen or prolong the ongoing collapse, but won’t avoid it.

I also believe engagement of well-meant political activity and support of multilateral institutions that shuffle money around, creating debt-based budgets for curing symptoms and entertaining endless rounds of negotiations and COPs of all sorts in the existing economic predatory downward spiral, create surreal effects and outcomes. Look at armadas of lobby-zombies and an army of opportusultants, full of conflicts of interests and business models that are in principle incapable of dealing with restoration and regeneration.

 As a consequence all political, financial and technological arrangement are so far too little, too late, where action isn’t supported at the level long decided upon. All recent reports support this enormous amount of ‘sunk engagement’ (or simply a lack of it)! Scaling up – in sum – is dead on arrival for a lot of humans. And they are at best intermediate solutions for the privileged, ignoring ongoing colonization for those without privileges.

…scaling ‘out’ to restore and regenerate

Scaling out describes a direction out of the existing economic system logic, following the principles of what is regenerative and restoring. Bioregionalism, local small but repetitive, flow-based allocation of resources (not attacking the stocks), logistically lean, season-oriented, subsistence-based, weaved interactions with neighboring or nearest-by bioregions for goods exchange, currencies based on scarcity and abundance factors, prosocial governance (independent of politics and ownership structures as we know it), generating funding ecosystems. Indigenous wisdom, rediscovered and re-established, is an essential source of inspiration, as is researching positive social tipping points.

Does that sound like a parallel world? For many it does and they can’t even imagine it could work, but point is all of this exists already. There are many bioregional hubs that look for weaving together, and I call many of these collaborators in our work at @r3.0.

 And yes, scaling out also depends on energy stability, internet access, certain logistics, food supply and medication, but the difference here is that it’s utilized for degrowth strategies, local autonomy and different forms of ownership, regenerative education, individual healing and management of the commons. Their production though must comply with the principles of restoration and regeneration.

 …a very personal choice which side to choose!

Now, as scaling up doesn’t work, and scaling out offers solutions and salvages desperately needed for healing of the soul, in community with others, how would you engage in finding your own healing? How can your own organization deal and heal with regeneration and restoration? Can it at all? Will it have a right to continue or will have to discontinue? Acknowledgment of how far you are part of the problem or the solution is a great first step!

Glimpses of hope

So, where are these cracks that let the light in for me? What gives me hope to invest my time into ‘post-collapse readiness’ and not fall back to all sorts of ‘yes, buts’ from the perspective of what’s existing, but what can emerge?

…the r3.0 conference 2023

I have enjoyed to listen to all of the speakers, that’s for sure. But most importantly what’s the puzzle like and do the pieces fit together? More and more, I find. Here are some of the many highlights and how they weave for me:

 

I could also mention all the other speakers and their contributions as well, but what you see through the above selection is the necessary mix of principles, processes and goals that shape the idea of restoration and regeneration. All speakers here were part of one of 4 sessions that are available as recordings against a small fee here, so for those of you that are interested you can watch the totality of this brilliant set of speakers (single sessions, day 1/day 2 package, full package). I am forever thankful for the strong message that all we ask for to ‘scale out’ can be done.

…UNSDPI training grabs attention

It has been a constant theme here in earlier editions of the Lighthouse Keeper that we at r3.0 counter the ignorance, inaction and narcissist and sociopathic activities of the 3 ESG Standard Setters (I?SB, E?RS, GRI), doing a disservice to humanity by not doing what’s necessary and having formed a self-serving ‘Fort Interoperability’ to please their very own needs, while driving reporting organizations nuts. All this now got collated into ‘The Lost Decade – How Sustainability Standards Sabotage Sustainability’, and wow, we see a great level of interest. Do companies finally wake up to the pied piper’s myths? We’ll see! My colleague Bill Bauerecently presented The Lost Decade at the Audencia Multicapital Accounting Workshop, feel free to look at his presentation if you look for more insight.

One glimpse of light is the ongoing success of the UNSDPI Training that we at r3.0 conduct since January 2023 and that more than 100 sustainability experts have gone through. After 6 mostly sold-out trainings we took a summer break and restarted in November with a fully refurbished version, having built in the final version of the ESG Standards (in comparison to the value the UNSDPI deliver) and making the training quite a bit more interactive. Just have a look at the fantastic testimonials we got. The value of the UNSDPI is more and more understood. More trainings for December 6/7, January 24/25 and February 28/29 are open for registration! We need to train not hundreds, but thousands of sustainability, investment, rating & benchmarking staff, so lots to do!

Since last week there’s now also a German version of the UNSDPI Manual available, translated by r3.0’s German Advocation Partner B.A.U.M. e.V. – Netzwerk für nachhaltiges Wirtschaften. The launch happened online, and I had the honour to present during the launch and take part in a Q&A at the end of the session.

…a new market for ratings and benchmarks is opening up

And while mentioning rankings and benchmarks based on the UNSDPI’s authentic sustainability assessments, we see the first two warm glimpses of a new quality of rankings and benchmarks popping up:

  • The South Korean Hankyoreh Institute assessed the authentic sustainability scores of the worlds five biggest IT companies (see visual). They concluded: ‘“The ‘big five’ companies that have come to dominate the global IT market have generally received strong ratings for ESG management, which refers to standards for environmental, social and governance issues. In short, they’re regarded as model ESG companies. However, an assessment based on the SDPIs devised by UNRISD has had markedly different results. All five of those companies only score 50-60 points on sustainability performance [on a 100-point scale], placing them squarely in the “average” category. In short, they have a long way to go before achieving true … sustainability.”

 

  • Quite similar results came from money:care that did a study of 200 companies in their Impact Investing Report, see the following visual and dive into the report for lots of more topic-specific information. A fascinating read!

 

Are we seeing the beginning of a (still quiet) revolution for sustainable Investment here? Who knows, but these results cheer me up. Even in a post-collapse world, there’s only one way to assess being within the carrying capacities (that can actually dramatically change through an economic system meltdown): thresholds- and allocations-based performance measurement. Anything else misses the mark.

Finally, an article by Emergent Africa underscored the value and importance of the UNSDPI for the African continent. One voice at a time, but every voice counts. The article states ‘So, whilst traditional corporate sustainability and ESG reporting approaches are a step in the right direction, questions remain as to whether this helps drive real-world sustainable development and to what degree organisations contribute to the SDGs. […] The Sustainable Development Performance Indicators (SDPI) aim to address these exact concerns, with the SDGs and the achievement thereof placed front and centre. […] By measuring their sustainability performance using these indicators, businesses can gain a better understanding of their impact on the environment, society, and economy.’

A personal glimpse

It doesn’t happen too often to be quoted in a book that is addressed towards the mainstream. Marjorie Kelly’s book ‘Wealth Supremacy – How the Extractive Economy and the Biased Rules of Capitalism Drive Today’s Crisis’ was a surprising exception. #ESGLaLaLand gets noticed globally, what it is and criticises. It’s one of the memes I created that really made a global round ;-)

Sunday Thoughts

This Lighthouse Keeper used text from several Sunday Thoughts as they presented themselves in the logic of writing this edition. Which other ones did you miss?

A Sunday Thought: ‘Now and Then’ – And if I make it through, it’s all because of you! (November 7)

A Sunday Thought: ‘What’s normal in an age of collapse’ – somewhat functioning chaos, total security control, digital markets for instant delivery? Reflections on a recent trip to Delhi, India (October 22)

A Sunday Thought: ‘Ego-nomy on steroids’ – the Collapse Script in full swing! (October 15)

A Sunday Thought: ‘Mirroring Reality’ – the need for calm waters to see the reflection of the mountains. (8 October)