Frameworks: Part 2

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Framework(s), Part II

To Framework(s), Part I



Date: Fri, 7 Nov 1997
From: Shealagh E. Pope
Subject: Diversity of voices


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    Hello all,

    I meant to write this message earlier in the week, but here goes...It'sa bit rambling...

    Jody Williams and Stephen Goose of the International Campaign to BanLand Mines and Valerie Wormington of Mines Action Canada gave a talk hereon Monday. It was truly inspirational. They have over a thousand NGO's participatingin the Campaign and they have convinced governments to treat that Coalitionas a legitimate partner in the process to ban landmines. The coalition wasan integral partner in negotiating the treaty that will be signed here inDecember - they didn't have observer status - they had participant status.

    They grew from 6 ngo's to 1000 in less than 7 years. The strength ofthe Coalition lies in the diversity of its members - church groups, armscontrol groups, human rights groups, environmental, refugee ... This isNina-Marie's diversity in full glory. All the NGO's were finding their effortsto achieve their individual goals hampered by the resources, emotional energy,limbs, and lifes lost to land mines.

    None of the three really discussed the use of communication media suchas the internet and email - but they did cite the central role that quickaccess to information played. Any movement by one government would be trumpetedto the group at large with details on what strategies were used to get thatmovement and then the partners from the next likely candidate country wouldtake that information, that slight movement on the part of another government,and use it to push their own government. Jody Williams described the declarationof a total ban on production, stockpiling, and use of land mines in Belgiumas the beginning of an EU competition - who could out-ban Belgium.

    They said that what the NGO's did through their committment and throughthe fact that they could demonstrate widespread support for their positionwas leverage "diplomatic capital" - they had credibility thereforethey had standing, they convinced the diplomats that is was an importantand widely-supported goal and then they helped the diplomats do their thing.The three activist viewed the process very much as a ngo-government partnership.And everyone seems to agree that this partnership is unprecedented. Theprocess has been dubbed the "Ottawa process" and is apparentlythe subject of much study here at the Norman Patterson School of InternationalAffairs (I hope to find a minute in my life to find out more about thisas we need to learn from this lesson!).

    The coalition will be at the centre of the monitoring process to insurecompliance with the treaty (If and when it gets ratified - and they havea plan for that too). It's called a "Citizen's compliance mechanism".Is this a hand off of government responsibility or a recognition that governmentsneed to be watched - that they can't be counted on to always do what they'vesaid they will do. We know this to be true, we know that you need peoplereminding others of their responsibilities, so this is official sanctioningof the importance of that role.

    Valerie Wormington from MAC did point out that part of the reason thatthey were so successful was that the issue was narrow - that everyone couldfocus on it and see the ban as achievable. It seems to me that this is akey issue - how do we make living in harmony with the planet something thatpeople can focus on and see it as achievable (I don't think we can evermake it narrow - but maybe I'm wrong - someone's going to say "Thinkglobal, act local" - but I think we've pushed a whole bunch of processesbeyond the local scale and that's part of our problem - we have difficultythinking beyond the local scale.).

    I thought it would be useful for the dialogue to talk about the tremendoussuccess of the International Coalition to Ban Land Mines, because it doesseem to be a new way of doing things. I think that this is happening ina large part because of the changes in communication technology. We canjust move information around so much faster, make it available to so manypeople, and get feedback so fast now, that it changes (or should change)the whole dynamic of how we do things.

    Let me talk (if only - my typing is glacial) just a little more aboutcommunication and information sharing, because I think there is potentialhere. Coming back to the fisheries, I gave the example earlier of one halfof the department promoting increased international shipping and thereforethe potential for introduced exotics, and the other half promoting aquacultureand neither of the two thinking about the other (or knowing). I was startledto learn last spring that DFO only just recently got the capacity to downloadsatellite images and use those to monitor the fishing fleet on the grandbanks. While it doesn't tell them exactly who is down there - it does tellthem approximately what size of boat and where the survelliance plane shouldfly. Now rather than flying transects and hoping to encounter a boat (whetherlegit or not), the planes could do target inspections given the satelliteimage data connected to a gis. With a geographic information system likethe one used to monitor the grand banks we could contrast in spatially explicitterms the aquaculture project of one part of the department with the increasedshipping of another - look at the shipping lanes and currents version theareas being proposed to encourage aquaculture and ask - which of these shouldwe support, or how could we support both.

    This is part of Nina-Marie's point about experts helping to map out thechoices - draw a map and show the two programs together and that leads toa discussion of conflicts. Don't draw the map, and the conflicts may nevercome to light. So how do we get the information coordinated and how do wemake it avialable so that different people can look for conflicts (and opportunities)?I'm making a presentation to the Lands for Life forum a week Monday (MikeHarris's effort to put a public consultation spin on his give away of halfof Ontario's crown land to the forest industry - I don't expect my presentationto have any impact) and it occurred to me that a way to solve the accountabilityproblem (there being no mechanism to hold anyone accountable for what get'sdone on these lands as far as I can tell) is to make the forestry companiespost their cutting plans on the web, post their planting plans, post theirmonitoring and assessment of the success of their silviculture on the web.We need to know this - the Ministry of Natural Resources has been so guttedin efforts to downsize government that it no longer has the capacity tomonitor and enforce (do I think this is by chance???). But the NGO's arehard pressed to get the data. We're supposed to believe the industry willself- monitor. Give me a break - just give me the data.

    Ok, ok, so I'm a dreamer. But when we were trying to put together ourpresentation in our lab, we kept hitting brick walls about current forestrypractices in Ontario. Probably because we're not foresters - but where isthe data on regeneration, on the size and distribution of cut blocks, etc.etc. TO get a satellite image of northern Ontario I have to pay the CanadianCentre for Remote Sensing that probably bought the image with my tax dollars(I hate saying that - it's such a whine - but it's true) a couple of thousanddollars. I should sell out money to get information I probably already paidfor so that I can make sure that the public lands of this province are properlymanaged - there is something wrong here.

    I'll stop ranting (mostly because I have a meeting).




    Date: Fri, 28 Nov 1997
    From: Ann Dale
    Subject: Sustainable Development Principles


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      At our June 1997 workshop, with respect to a dynamic slate of genericprinciples, we agreed to accept the Natural Step Principles as a stratingpoint. The Natural Step Principles, described as four system conditionsare:

      1. Nature cannot withstand a systematic buildup of dispersed matter minedfrom the Earth's crust (eg., minerals, oil, etc.).

      2. Nature cannot withstand a systematic buildup of persistent compoundsmade by humans (e.g., PCBs).

      3. Nature cannot take a systematic deterioration of its capacity forrenewal (e.g., harvesting fish faster than they can replenish, convertingfertile land to desert).

      4. Therefore, if we want life to continue, we must (a) be efficient inour use of resources and (b) promote justice - becausing ignoring povertywill lead the poor, for short-term survival, to destroy resources that weall need for long-term survival (e.g., the rainforests).

      I believe there is a more elaborated version of these four system conditons,but the essence is essentially the same. Although I find these principlesto be adequate, I believe the principles elucidated in the World Scientists'Warning to Humanity to be richer in breadth and depth (outlined below).For me, they are not as anthropocentric as the Natural Step Principles,and in particular, they address head on the issues of population and gender.I wonder if David Sims would like to comment here, given his very firstintroduction on population issues, and perhaps, Stephanie Cairns, who firstintroduced the idea of adopting the Natural Step Principles. I would liketo suggest, further to everyone's comments, that we adopt the 5 principlesfrom the World Scientists Warning. In this way, we are building upon analready global consensus.

      One of the things that has always puzzled me in the "domain of sustainabledevelopment" is the lack of collective momentum on any one group'sideas, rather, there have been so many disparate ideas, movements and emphases.Perhaps this is due to the nature of the beast, the multiplicity of levels,complexity and uncertainty, that many of us have been working separately,rather than building upon one another's work. And this is a contributingfactor to what I defi ne as the lack of hard-wired constituencies aroundmany of the sustainable development issues.

      Interestingly, the movement forward on climate change, or more accurately,the "emerging" re-interest in the media, may be the result ofa coming together of several communities, spearheaded by the work of theIPCC, whose key statement a year ago, and their consensus that human activitiesare directly impacting on climate change, made such a difference. This thenputs the pressure on the political level to act, in other words, the constituencycoalesces.

      Since there is very little with which I disagree in the following statement,I have produced it in its entirety (I wish email had spell check) for yourcomparison with the Natural Step Principles.


      World Scientists' Warning to Humanity

      (April 1993)


      "Introduction Human beings and the natural world are on a collisioncourse. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage onthe environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our currentpractices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human societyand the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world thatit will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamentalchanges are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course willbring about.

      The Environment The environment is suffering critical stress.The Atmosphere Stratospheric ozone depletion threatens us with enhancedultraviolet radiation at the earth's surface, which can be damaging or lethalto many life forms. Air pollution near ground level, and acid precipitation,are already causing wide-spread injury to humans, forests, and crops.

      Water Resources Heedless exploitation of depletable ground watersupplies endangers food production and other essential human systems. Heavydemands on the world's surface waters have resulted in serious shortagesin some 80 countries, containing 40 percent of the world's population. Pollutionof rivers, lakes, and ground water further limits the supply.

      Oceans Destructive pressure on the oceans is severe, particularlyin the coastal regions which produce most of the world's food fish. Thetotal marine catch is now at or above the estimated maximum sustainableyield. Some fisheries have already shown signs of collapse. Rivers carryingheavy burdens of eroded soil into the seas also carry industrial, municipal,agricultural, and livestock waste--some of it toxic.

      Soil Loss of soil productivity, which is causing extensive landabandonment, is a widespread by-product of current practices in agricultureand animal husbandry. Since 1945, 11 percent of the earth's vegetated surfacehas been degraded--an area larger than India and China combined--and percapita food production in many parts of the world is decreasing.

      Forests Tropical rain forests, as well as tropical and temperatedry forests, are being destroyed rapidly. At present rates, some criticalforest types will be gone in a few years, and most of the tropical rainforest will be gone before the end of the next century. With them will golarge numbers of plant and animal species.

      Living Species The irreversible loss of species, which by 2100may reach one-third of all species now living, is especially serious. Weare losing the potential they hold for providing medicinal and other benefits,and the contribution that genetic diversity of life forms gives to the robustnessof the world's biological systems and to the astonishing beauty of the earthitself.

      Much of this damage is irreversible on a scale of centuries, or permanent.Other processes appear to pose additional threats. Increasing levels ofgases in the atmosphere from human activities, including carbon dioxidereleased from fossil fuel burning and from deforestation, may alter climateon a global scale. Predictions of global warming are still uncertain--withprojected effects ranging from tolerable to very severe--but the potentialrisks are very great.

      Our massive tampering with the world's interdependent web of life--coupledwith the environmental damage inflicted by deforestation, species loss,and climate change--could trigger widespread adverse effects, includingunpredictable collapses of critical biological systems whose interactionsand dynamics we only imperfectly understand.

      Uncertainty over the extent of these effects cannot excuse complacencyor delay in facing the threats.

      Population The earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes anddestructive effluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy isfinite. Its ability to provide for growing numbers of people is finite.And we are fast approaching many of the earth's limits. Current economicpractices which damage the environment, in both developed and under-developednations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systemswill be damaged beyond repair.

      Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands onthe natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainablefuture. If we are to halt the destruction of our environment, we must acceptlimits to that growth. A World Bank estimate indicates that world populationwill not stabilize at less than 12.4 billion, while the United Nations concludesthat the eventual total could reach 14 billion, a near tripling of today's5.4 billion. But, even at this moment, one person in five lives in absolutepoverty without enough to eat, and one in ten suffers serious malnutrition.

      No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert thethreats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurablydiminished.

      Warning We the undersigned, senior members of the world's scientificcommunity, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change inour stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast humanmisery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to beirretrievably mutilated.

      What We Must Do Five inextricably linked areas must be addressedsimultaneously:

      1. We must bring environmentally damaging activities under control torestore and protect the integrity of the earth's systems we depend on. Wemust, for example, move away from fossil fuels to more benign, inexhaustibleenergy sources to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the pollution of ourair and water. Priority must be given to the development of energy sourcesmatched to Third World needs--small-scale and relatively easy to implement.

      We must halt deforestation, injury to and loss of agricultural land,and the loss of terrestrial and marine plant and animal species.

      2. We must manage resources crucial to human welfare more effectively.We must give high priority to efficient use of energy, water, and othermaterials, including expansion of conservation and recycling.

      3. We must stabilize population. This will be possible only if all nationsrecognize that it requires improved social and economic conditions, andthe adoption of effective, voluntary family planning.

      4. We must reduce and eventually eliminate poverty.

      5. We must ensure sexual equality, and guarantee women control over theirown reproductive decisions.

      The developed nations are the largest polluters in the world today. Theymust greatly reduce their overconsumption, if we are to reduce pressureson resources and the global environment. The developed nations have theobligation to provide aid and support to developing nations, because onlythe developed nations have the financial resources and the technical skillsfor these tasks.

      Acting on this recognition is not altruism, but enlightened self-interest:whether industrialized or not, we all have but one lifeboat. No nation canescape from injury when global biological systems are damaged. No nationcan escape from conflicts over increasingly scarce resources. In addition,environmental and economic instabilities will cause mass migrations withincalculable consequences for developed and undeveloped nations alike.

      Developing nations must realize that environmental damage is one of thegravest threats they face, and that attempts to blunt it will be overwhelmedif their populations go unchecked. The greatest peril is to become trappedin spirals of environmental decline, poverty, and unrest, leading to social,economic, and environmental collapse.

      Success in this global endeavor will require a great reduction in violenceand war. Resources now devoted to the preparation and conduct of war--amountingto over $1 trillion annually--will be badly needed in the new tasks andshould be diverted to the new challenges.

      A new ethic is required--a new attitude towards discharging our responsibilityfor caring for ourselves and for the earth. We must recognize the earth'slimited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility. Wemust no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must motivate a greatmovement, convincing reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctantpeoples themselves to effect the needed changes."




      Date: Fri, 28 Nov 1997
      From: Ann Dale
      Subject: A reply to Nina-Marie's Message


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        In her last email, Nina-Marie proposed some guiding principles for sustainabledevelopment. You may recall that at our June workshop, we identified thefollowing operating principles:

        • holism - holarchic/webs
        • enlarged decision-making contexts
        • multiplicity of voices
        • interdisciplinary
        • bricoleur (plural methodologies)
        • learning organization (safe to fail)
        • dynamic, self-organizing structures (webs)
        • diversity
        • subsidiarity
        • mutalism
        • integrity
        • willingness to act under uncertainty
        • precautionary principles
        • humility
        • first principles
        • sustained reflection, and
        • embracing complexity.


        In her expansion of these principles, Nina-Marie refers to adaptive managementand adaptive decision-making, asking the critical question "how dowe encourage a return to an "optimum operating point" that wehumans enjoy and recognise as a "preferred system state". I wouldlike to point out there are probably optimum operating points, rather thana single static point, and that these points are going to be highly sociallyand culturally context specific. And this may be the role of the "experts"is in explaining the science behind the context, to provide a more enlargeddecision context that looks at the system-wide aspects as well as particularpoints?

        With respect to adaptive management, I would like to highlight the workof Holling and Walters concerning Adaptive Environmental Assessment andManagement (1978). This work emanated from the former Institute of AnimalEcology at UBC, when Holling and Walters worked with David Suzuki, IlanVertansky, Hamish Kimmins and others on modeling work involving bringingtogether scientists and public policy decision-makers. This leading-edgework was also funded by the federal Dept. of the Environment, a far-reachingdecision on their part. Unfortunately, this work was shut down, when theInstitute was disbanded, I believe, in the early 80s. Essentially, the teamworked to apply a general understanding of environmental systems in methodsthat worked in the real world with its many uncertainties, based on a fundamentalunderstanding of the structure and dynamics of ecosystems as entities. Theybelieved that "Understanding of environmental systems can only be gainedby a careful sampling of carefully selected elements and processes, proceedingin parallel with the building of a model (ideally an analytical or mathematicalsimulation model)." These models, are based and built, however, ondialogue between "managers" and "environmental scientists"through a series of interactive workshops at which a wide range of environmentaland social variables, as well as the alternative options and methods fordevelopment are discussed.

        Their process, described as a process of adaptive environmental managementand policy design, integrates ecological with economic and social understandingat the very beginning of the design pocess, in a sequence of steps duringthe design phase and after implementation. It is offered as a contrast tosmall core planning staff and large interdisciplinary teams.

        Bascially, the process involves a small core group of two or three analystsand a support staff of one or two. The core group usually has experiencein two or three of the disciplines involved, although their key experienceshould normally be in integrating information and coordinating people. Thecoordination comes from the development of a series of steps, each of whichis initiated by a workshop that brings together key cooperators for shortperiods of intense interaction. The time between the workshops is spentin consolidation. The workshops that define the sequence of steps are theheart of the approach, they provide a series of targets, maintain integrationwhile minimizing organizational and emotional overhead, and allow involvementof a wider spectrum of key actors than is normally possible.

        Holling (1978) states four properties determine how ecological systemsrespond to change and, as a consequence, how policies should be designedand how impacts should be assessed:

        1. The parts of an ecological system are connected to each other in aselective way that has implications for what should be measured.

        2. Events are not uniform over space, which has implications for howintense impacts will be and where they will occur.

        3. Sharp shifts in behaviour are natural for many ecosystems. Traditionalmethods of monitoring or assessment can misinterpret these and make themseem unexpected or perverse.

        4. Variability , not constancy, is a feature of ecological systems thatcontributes to their persistence and to their self-monitoring and self-correctingcapacities.


        In summary, adaptive environmental management involves the following.

        1. Ecological dimensions are introduced at the very beginning of thedevelopment of policy design process and are integrated as equal partnerswith the economic and social dimensions.

        2. Thereafter, in the design phase, there are periods of intense, focusedinnovation involving significant outside constituencies, followed by periodsof stable consolidation.

        3. Part of the design includes benefits attached to increasing informationon unknown or partially known social, economic, and ecological effects.Information can be given a value just as jobs, income, and profit can.

        4. Some of the experiments designed to produce information are part ofan integrated research plan, but others are designed into the actual managementactivities. Managers as well as scientists learn from change.

        5. An equally integral part of the design is the monitoring and remedialmechanisms. They are not seen simply post hoc additions after implementation.

        6. In the design of those mechanisms there is a careful analysis of theeconomic trade-offs between structures and policies that presume that theunexpected can be designed into insignificance and less capital intensivemechanisms that monitor and ameliorate the unexpected (Holling and Clark1975).

        In terms of the level of decision-making in which I am interested, thatis, the political level, it is critically important that the trade-offsand compromises between competing policies remain as visible as possible.This is clear in the case of the East Coast collapse of the cod fisheries,where quite often, these trade-offs, or their magnitude, were not on theCabinet Committee decision-making table.

        It is also interesting in the recent debate in the Ottawa press aboutthe role of science in federal government decision-making, that some peopletalk about the need for science to inform policy, and hence, the rationalefor not separating science from government. On the basis of my experienceas a bureaucrat, I would suggest that there are great solitudes betweenthe science advisory and public policy advisory processes in government.

        I wish everyone a good weekend, from a snow-bound Lac Maskinonge.




        Date: Thu, 18 Dec 1997
        From: David Brown
        Subject: Still here, despite all evidence to the contrary


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          Ann, I am glad that the dialogue is now turning to the 'dynamic slateof generic principles' that we discussed on that cold winter day last year.As I recall, after much discussion during our time together in Niagara inthe autumn, that's when the verbiage crystallized, on the little loggingroad near your home in the Gatineau foothills, with our breath freezingon our faces and the dogs racing up and down at the ends of their leads.

          I still think that a ' dynamic slate of generic principles' approachis the most appropriate way to 'reify' the concepts of sustainability ina wide-ranging, accessible fashion (hence, of course, the proposal for thethird volume of the Sustainability Series, of which we must talk again whenyou're able).

          I thought I'd remind you that within our Environmental Policy Institutewebsite at Brock ( assembled numerous lists of principles of sustainability for criticalanalysis and reflection. None of them is the last word, but collectivelythey indicate the direction of thought in this area. (The list is currentuntil about the end of July of this year, when I last updated it). Perhapsothers in the dialogue might wish to visit this site. Also, if others areaware of lists of principles that I missed, then I'd be delighted to hearabout them. (Notable in its omission is the early list that Sally Lerner,George Francis, and John Robinson developed in their Alternatives articlein 1991 - I simply haven't gotten around to including it yet, with no reflectionon its appropriateness).

          What should a 'dynamic slate of generic principles' for sustainabilitylook like? Earlier this month, I presented a paper on our applied sustainabilitywork in Thailand at a UNESCO conference entitled 'Educational Innovationfor Sustainable Developent' here in Bangkok. In a plenary session, MichaelHeyn, Katrina Lythgoe, and Charles Myers presented a paper entitled 'Educationand Economic Development: Education, Sustainability, Thresholds, and Equity'*.One of the key points of their address had to do with the importance ofattaining threshold levels of education before sufficient synthesis occursto allow for discernable progress towards sustainability:

          "..In international research, education has been found to increase agricultural productivity, enhance the status of women, improve child health, reduce fertility, enhance environmental protection, and increase industrial productivity. But the effects found are not linear. Education has little impact untilthreshold levels of attainment (years of schooling) are reached. Then the effects are large.

          "The threshold levels for these effects vary with the quality of education. When quality is good the threshold levels of attainment are low. When quality is low, the thresholds are higher. Poor children are least likely to reach the critical thresholds in either case, but particularly when the quality is low. If, in addition, females fail to reach thresholds in greater numbers than males, the negative cosequences for sustainability increase. Here, concerns of sustainability and equity coincide completely."

          The authors go on to point out the minimum thresholds of years of educationrequired to see improvements in various sectors: agricultural productivity- four to six years; status of women and fertility reduction - six to eightyears; environmental effects - nine to twelve years. Even given the widemargin for error in studies such as those cited by the authors, and recognizingthat formal education is but one of a number of ways of learning, I thinkthese findings have implications for our dialogue.

          Let's reflect upon the discussions in the dialogue to date. They havebeen uniformly interesting, edifying, and progressive in terms of defininga pertinent theoretical framework for sustainability. Perhaps that's whatis primarily intended amongst dialogue participants. But, ever the pragmatist,I am concerned about the applications of theory in a 'real world'; the elusivetransitions from theory into practice. Even with specialist jargon removed,and with even the simplest biophysical concepts (never mind sociopoliticalconcepts) distilled to their 'lowest common denominators', the frameworkof sustainability as discussed in the dialogue is considerably more complexand esoteric than would be accessible to a person with a basic educationto even the secondary level. If we are interested in a democratic systemof governance which upholds principles of sustainablility as normative values,then presumably the voting populace should be able to discern and understandthese principles. Hence, a pragmatic question: with most southeast Asiannations, for example, currently well below the 9 to 12 years required forattainment of the secondary school threshold, is it realistic to expectthat principles of sustainability are likely to be embraced by the votingpopulace? If we continue to speak in abstractions, I am not optimistic.

          The policy responses are twofold, I feel: 1) ongoing efforts must, ofcourse, be redoubled to improve basic education across the board, and 2)more narrowly, but perhaps just as importantly, principles of sustainabilitymust be expressed in simple, understandable terms. To be simple - but notsimplistic - about sustainability, while remaining consistent with the emergingbroader theoretical framework, is no small feat.

          In the talk I gave, based upon some earlier work I did, tried to elucidatesome 'rules of thumb' for appropriate principles of sustainability (note:criteria, not the principles themselves, which I recognize are much moreof a work in progress). To be useful, I feel that principles of sustainabilitymust:

          • be easily understood
          • be applicable in many contexts
          • be transferrable across scales (physical and temporal)
          • translate well into applied policy and practical action
          • deal with individual concepts or ideas in concrete terms
          • identify possibilities for both radical transformative change AND positive incremental change
          • be regularly revisited, critically evaluated, and updated whenever appropriate


          So far, none of the sets of principles I have encountered (includingthose mentioned in the dialogue to date) meet all these criteria, thoughmany are perfectly useful starting frameworks for applied initiatives. Butin our quest to establish a 'dynamic list of generic principles', I believewe must keep things simple (but not simplistic). I think it's possible thatpeople who may not be capable of the intellectual syntheses required tounderstand the broader theoretical framework of sustainability might nonethelessgravitate to a list of logically stated, intuitively appealing principlesof sustainability that is consistent with the broader theoretical framework.Such a list of principles, if championed by a committed party or leader,might have significant potential for making real progress in the politicalarena.

          There are dangers inherent in simply-stated principles, of course - dangersof misinterpretation, reversion to dogma, fundamentalist interpretations,and so on - but I think that a thoughtful, broad-based attempt at constructingsuch a dynamic list of generic principles is long overdue (hence, again,the proposal for the Third Volume of the sustainability series). If thisis an explicit objective of the dialogue, then I think it's also a worthyone...but I would exhort us to follow Thoreau's maxim (however taken outof context), and 'Simplify, simplify'.

          I'll sign off now, again resolving to be a more frequent contributorto this interesting and worthwhile endeavour.

          Sawasdee from Thailand,

          Dave Brown


          • Date: Fri, 9 Jan 1998
            From: Nina-Marie Lister
            Subject: Response to December postings


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            In re-reading the postings over the last month (end of November to the holidays), I think Ann has done a succinct job of pulling together our wanderings around the principles of sustainability. I agree that it is time to move ahead and link theory with practise as David Brown has articulated. I'll start doing this after Ann directs us with her next set of strategic questions, but for now I wanted to comment on a few of the December postings that I couldn't get to during exams and marking etc.
            First, I want to thank Ann for pointing out that there are probably some optimum operating pointS around which we, as the acting-dominant species, will want to shape and manage/steer our ecosystems. I certainly didn't mean to give the impression that there is some (teleogically or otherwise) "preferred system state (singlular)", but rather "human-preferred stateS", towards which we can steer and ultimately adapt. Ann has said more than enough on this matter in her summary of Holling (1978) and H & Clarke (1975), so I'll levae it here.
            Next, I want to state my agreement with the use of the Natural Step 4 general principles as the basis for our elaborated framework. In re-reading the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity, I do think that their principles could be grouped under the 4 (agreeably, more anthropocentric) general Natural Step categories, and we can shape them to fit with and build on the points that we made in the June workshop as well and the elaborations many of us have posted over the past 6 months.
            Finally, I notice that we never came back to the question of case studies again. While I support the use of the Fisheries example, it is only one context in which the sustainability debate rages. (For example, being single-species focused might be a decided disadvantage.) Another example that might contrast nicely would be the Climate Change debate, where we might look at IPCC's position vis a vis the Canadian gov'ts stance (or lack of) in Kyoto this past December. Recalling that Ann observed the "re-emerging interest in this debate in the media", it is just something to consider. In any case, I would suggest that we have at least another case or preferably 2 to which the dynamic slate of generic principles we come up with can be applied -- even just in a "rough and dirty" fashion. PLEASE NOTE I'm not suggesting an in-depth study, just an outline and background of the issues in each case that can be used to demonstrate the "generic" heuristic quality of the principles across several cases AS WELL AS highlighting the important issue of context-dependency, i.e. those aspects of sustainability that are context dependent. Given that this will form much of the basis for Ann's analysis in her dissertation, it is important that we (or she with our help) develop criteria for the selection of these cases, so that they are defensible, etc. etc. (This doesn't have to be a big undertaking, just some preparation for how Ann will use this information later.)
            Well, that's all for now. More later.
            Cheers, Nina-Marie

            Date: Mon, 19 Jan 1998
            From: Nina-Marie Lister
            Subject: Environmentalists


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              [... ][see email #78 under "Barriers"]

              To end on a positive note, and to reinforce Caterina's point, let meillustrate an example of where Caterina's advice is actually being taken:In my ecological planning and design practice, I spend considerable timeworking with clients who, in many cases, represent the development sectorthat contributes to if not perpetuates the problem of human consumptionand ecological imbalance. With a growing number of others in this field,we devote considerable energy to teaching by example, and taking every opportunitywe can to educate our clients as to their planning, development CHOICES-- i.e. the option of a "sustainable development" in which wecan clearly lay out the costs (and the usually far greater) benefits, besidewhich we can compare the "irresponsible development". You mightbe surpised how many live in the dark, and commit "sins of ommission"rather than commission in the development world (I'm talking about housing,education and community development mainly -- not corporate transnationals,just to clarify!) In this case, we can and do talk loudly, clearly and demonstrateaction through change, rather than leaving to the "others" who(in this case) are ill-equipped to deal with or ignorant of ways to breakthe pattern of consumption and destruction.

              If Ann is in agreement, I would welcome anyone else's examples of actionsfor change, and perhaps we can bring these action-examples into Ann's frameworkfor SD. (just pushing forward....)

              Cheers, Nina-Marie

              Date: Thu, 22 Jan 1998
              From: Ann Dale
              Subject: Discussions to Date


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                I have been much encouraged by the spontaneity of the last messages,and believe, that as we push both process and product, we will be able todevelop truly dynamic framework(s) for sustainable development. For withoutsome measure of spontaneity, we miss the power of the email medium, whichis the anarchy and fun that can emerges when a group of people meets fora common purpose.

                Although we are hampered by a cold, hard interface, rather than the warmthand personal nature of face-to-face meetings, if we can trust one anotherenough to try out newly emerging and sometimes half-formed ideas, buildingupon one another's thoughts, then we become stronger through our collectiveexpertises, wisdom, experiences, values and feelings. Thus begins a truecollaboration of action researchers.

                We must not forget, as well, that this is one of the few times such amethodology has been employed, there are only one or two other such forums,and they were not the same kind of research collaborative of action inquirythat we are attempting. So, at the same time as we are tackling an incrediblycomplex concept, at both the theoretical and practical levels, we are alsousing an innovative process through which to develop that product. Not aneasy undertaking.

                I wanted to write a brief message about my feelings about dependencyupon large systems. We only got our power back this past Monday, and onTuesday afternoon, it went off again until the evening. I was surprisedat my reaction, the dismay and yes, anguish. Today, I understood that itis because I have realized our utter dependence on a large system, and onethat is not sustainable, and may become even more so, over time. Althoughwe all agree we must take a systems approach when working with sustainabledevelopment, I don't think I will ever forget the relationship between systemand individual resilience, and that over-reliance on any one way of operating,being, way of thinking is no longer sustainable.

                Similarly, as Christine wisely puts out, just as the "discipline"of sustainable development requires multiple perspectives, pluralistic methodologies,enlarged decision-making contexts, it also requires multiple actors, asthe last three messages have highlighted. There are some actors (groups,organizations) better suited to certain roles, than others, and we shouldperhaps keep this in mind when we turn to the framework for governance.

                From a much warmer Lac Maskinonge, Ann




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                Date: Mon, 9 Feb 1998
                From: Ann Dale
                Subject: Generic Principles

                  The framework I am proposing is one of reconciliation, using the definitionof sustainable devlepment as the reconciliation of three imperatives, theecological, the social and the economic imperatives. And that equitableaccess to these three imperatives is fundamental to the realization of sustainabledevelopment. From this definition, will flow generic principles, followedby strategic imperatives, and then, strategic objectives, leading to a frameworkfor governance.

                  Before further developing our framework, however, I would like to setthe context for further work on the principles flowing or "emerging"from our definition. David Brown, in an earlier email, suggested some excellentcriteria for developing principles, namely,

                  1. principles of sustainability must be easily understood

                  2. be applicable in many contexts

                  3. be transferable across scales (physical and temporal)

                  4. deal with individual concepts or ideas in concrete terms

                  5. identify possibilities for both radical transformative change andpositive incremental change, and

                  6. be regularly revisited, critically evaluated, and updated wheneverappropriated.


                  I would suggest another criterion, that is, that they be in simple languagethat can be easily communicated to a wide variety of audiences.

                  One of my committee members, (Westley 1997) in an article entitled, Sustainabilityand the Corporation, states "The challenge is an interdisciplinaryone; we must find a set of rules or guiding principles that bridge the conceptualgap between our economic and managerial theories and a scientific understandingof the dynamics of natural environments. Such rules, or guiding principles,are vitally needed to stimulate creative thinking about strategies for sutainabledevelopment and as a guide for organizations seeking to support and realizechange, both in relation to overdevelopment and underdevelopment."

                  Given the above, I would suggest a final criterion, that our principlesbe generic enough to provide meaning at multiple scales of human activitysystems by deriving, wherever possible, from natural systems processes andfunctionning. In this way, we begin to eliminate what I argue, with manyothers, is the artificial dualisms and separation of humans from nature,giventhe integrist paradigm I proposed earlier.

                  In his email, David also states his belief that the principles we developedfrom our June workshop do not meet his criteria. I disagree, since a briefreview of principles developed to date by a variety of sources, in my opinion,reveals that the principles are not generic enough to transcend dominantparadigms, tend to be anthropocentric, or are sufficiently vague as to bemeaningless. I think our principles have to be generic enough, so that strategicimperatives and objectives naturally emerge from them, and furthermore,that the principles, by deriving as much as possible from the operationsof ecological systems, can elegantly be incorporated into human activitysystems where we naturally begin to work with nature rather than againstit. And most importantly, that they transcend the current dominant socio-economicparadigm.

                  And values are fundamental to principles. You may be interested to knowthat at a recent workshop in Winnipeg, the International Institute for SustainableDevelopment presented their indicators framework, developed by a multi-stakeholderprocess. Their framework, however, does not accept the notion of biophysicallimits, and thus, has some imbedded fundamental values that are not explicit.The framework was powerful, however, because a discussion on limits emergedfrom a critique of the framework. In addition, it was very anthropocentric,centered on human well-being and ecosystem well-being. I pointed out thatit would be simple, if it was valued, to include indicators for biodiversityconservation, by including human population patterns overlayering biodiversitypopulation patterns, a gap analysis so to speak. Thus, I argue that oneof the generic principles we adopt is the notion of biophysical limits.

                  After reviewing the principles we developed in June, I have collapsedsome and renamed others, based on the above criteria, and would like tosuggest that each of us take a principle and describe it in plain language,keeping in mind the following strategic questions as we move to this nextstage of our research.

                  1. What values, structures and processes would help move us from ourpresent dominant socioeconomic paradigm to the suggested integrist paradigm?

                  2. What ecosystem principles should be incorporated into human systems,and why? Examples of some ecosystem principles are integrity, resilience,dynamic equilibrium, evolutionary pathways, self-organizing, open and holarticsystems.

                  3. How do you integrate time, place and scale phenomena of ecosystemsinto human decision-making?

                  4. Is there a way to redesign government information systems so thatfeedback loops from natural systems are systematically incorporated intodecision-mkaing, delays and lags reduced or eliminated, and policy changesdynamically responsive?

                  5. Are there existing transiton strategies that would help in changinggovernmental values for sustainable development?

                  6. What government leadership initiatives would encourage industriesto bring their flows of energy and materials below their source limits?

                  7. What collaborative networks are necessary to diffuse sustainable developmentconcepts and practices throughout Canadian society?

                  A separate email follows with the list of generic principles and suggestednames for explanation.

                  Ann Dale




                    Date: Mon, 09 Feb 1998
                    From: Stephanie Cairns
                    Subject: Re: Generic Principles


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                    Hi everyone--

                    Well I've just reviewed all the notes for the last 5 months and am remindedagain that SD is a field of tremendous breadth and interpretation. Muchof the correspondance to date focuses on natural resource management andpublic sector decision making/planning; or is at a theoretical level that(as I said in June) I find hard to relate to the policy development andlobbying that has been my reality. As those of you I met in June may remember,I am doing a very applied programme in industrial and environmental/SD managementin Sweden this year. I would like to add a few thoughts on what has beenleft out; in the belief that you should always be aware of what your modeldoes not address, and building on some of my recent learning.

                    1. Implicit in almost every message is the belief that the key actorsin the governance model are the government(s), public/citizens, and in someplaces we have talked a lot about the role of science and how it is handledand interpreted at the bureaucratic and political levels. We have not hadany mention of corporations.

                    Like it or not, I believe we are in a period of historical transitionof power from the nation-state to the transnationals and the institutions(mainly trade) they control. This is antithetical to most of what we aretrying to achieve with SD, but happening in parallel and, unfortunately,with more impetus than SD efforts! I think that a framework for governancemust at least consider how we wrestle with the lack of accountability ofthe transnationals that, more often than not, are also the major economicinterests halting progress on international agreements such as climate changeand forestry. I'm wanting to do more thinking in this area, arising partlyfrom my sense that the activist models we have been using in the environmentalmovement are based on outdated and wistful models of the role that governmentplays in society.

                    Re: corporations and thinking of the recent Kyoto conference. Really,we need to be having corporations signing these protocols too; althoughsuch an idea is definitely outside of the boundaries of what we considerinternational relations, it does seem obvious that Exxon's acknowledgementof limiting climate change as a corporate objective is much more importantfor achieving that goal than whether Sri Lanka signs on....

                    What are the new tools for environmental activism in the emerging ageof economic globalization, where government feel/are impotent on many issues?

                    I think they lie very strongly in transparency of information; this recallsSheila's thoughts about having forest companies at least post data abouttheir activities on the Internet. Environmental performance indicators andcredible environmental reporting (and info re other dimensions of corporatebehaviour) are the building blocks for information campaigns, stockholderaction, etc that seem to be the only tools we now have for activism withthe Shells of the world.

                    Of course, one good part of globalization is the globalization of informationthrough the Internet so that it is now much easier for people at the locallevel to work together around the world....

                    2. Which brings me to the other essential actor in a framework for governance:so-called "civic society". The Land-mines convention discussedby Sheila provides an inspiring example of how a "civic society"initiative can by-pass many of the in-built barriers of a consensus modelof international diplomacy, and bring leaders onboard to create near-consensuson a much stronger goal. (This recalls for me how much of government decisionmaking, especially in the fed/prov environmental policy sphere, is limitedby the need to obtain multi-lateral consensus on everything, instead oflooking for opportunities for more bi-lateral, leadership based initiatives.So Alberta drives Canadian climate change policy when in fact Quebec mighthave a much more interesting approach to offer...)

                    But back to the land-mines example: as the role of government is changing,part of the new framework has to be acknowledgement of civil society aspartners of government. I'm not naive about the problems of accountability,representation, etc, raised by such an approach, but I think that increasinglyit is simply reality. Can our framework incorporate this concept?

                    3. Finally, Ann asked for ideas of government policy to encourage reducedmaterial flows, emissions, etc. An approach that seems to have had significantimpact in Europe is Extended Producer Responsibility, which is now beingconsidered for extension from packaging to much more complex products suchas cars and electronic products. It is powerful because it has made everyproducer look at the impact of their product at its end of life stage, andstarted to shape some of the design-stage changes that are needed if weare to de-materialize products. Of course, many of the drivers in the Europeancontext do not exist or are not accepted as much in North America: lackof landfill space, resistance to incineration, etc. How you would pursuethis in the Canadian jurisdictional context is not clear to me, however.

                    Sorry not to have more to contribute; but I did enjoy going through allof your thoughts....



                    To Framework(s), Part III


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