Can we ever live consciously?

Skyscrapers_of_Shinjuku_2009_January

Credit: Wikipedia

The recent IPCC report reiterates what has already been proved – that humanity is largely responsible for changing the climate and even if the World Inc. begins to reduce its green house gas (GHG) emissions now, earth will experience temperature rise, sea rise, heat waves, rains and what have you.

This is, if we become conscious of this fact today, stop sleep walking and start living consciously and start doing something about it. But the big question is will we do enough of it in time? The frog slowly boiling away doesn’t know that it’s boiling. When it realizes, it’s too late.

Humanity is experiencing this at the moment and knows that the water is boiling…but perhaps not enough to jump out and save itself – fast.

There are 2 aspects to conscious living – one is to be conscious about the earth’s biosphere and its support systems which are fast depleting and the other is to be conscious about our own way of being. As individuals, we can make the shift in our way of being and as businesses, we need to make the shift in our ways of operating.

The Total Factor Productivity (TFP) concept in the economics has in fact failed us. When TFP came into play, there was abundance of natural resources and very few people – so TFP made sense. Today it’s the opposite – fewer natural habitats left with ever growing population. TFP, instead of delivering more free time to enjoy our fruits of productivity, has made us slaves of it self, with free time seen something to be shunned in today’s fast changing economic environment.

What we need is the exact opposite of TFP – something that makes immense use of man-made technology with as little use of nature as possible. It’s just a flip in the view – instead of viewing nature for man, the view becomes, man for nature.

Conscious Living symbolizes that aspect of our nature when we’ve come to realize that what we thought of flying was actually falling down without wings. Tom Friedman alluded to an analogy that’s so appropriate: If you jump of an 80 storey building, it’ll feel as if you’re flying…until you hit ground! Developed nations have found that out already. China and India are currently experiencing that flight and feel they can fly without the care in the world. And this is still with major populations steeped in poverty. They too will hit the ground in the process of lifting their poor into the middle starry eyed new found consumptive model of life style.

We need to bring a change in the way we live, our current pattern of consumption, what we call success, our measurement tools, indicators of high growth GDP, if we are to make the leap into the next century. The system that rewards success and penalizes failure must cease.

Sometime back, I wrote another article titled CONSUMPTION FETISH, where I pondered on how a man is a living contradiction – a split being. He is selfish and selfless at the same time. And how the same characteristic translates into the business world. On one hand we see companies striving to be green and gravitating towards sustainability, and on the other, it is also promoting endless consumption – a complete disconnect.

9 billion – is what we ‘re looking at by 2050 and it’ll drop to less than a quarter of a billion by 2100. A classic case scenario that is described in the book “Ecology of Commerce” by Paul Hawken. He explains about an experiment conducted in St. Mathews Island in Bearing Sea, where about 16 reindeers were left during WW-II. In 3 years, scientists returned to find that population rise to 2000, in another 3 years it peaked to 6000 and 1 year later, it suddenly dropped to 20. What happened? Well, the reindeers overshot that island’s carrying capacity to carry them – they over consumed than what the island was able to provide for them.

Changes are happening albeit at a slow pace. Conscious consumption and conscious living are going to be the core precepts of the overarching goal leading to Conscious Capitalism – contra-competition, contra-growth, contra-GDP, contra-money. The the only thing that matters is to make the change at a scale large enough to make any dent in the climate change game. The solution has to be scalable, replicable and measurable.

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal” says the report. I am a pragmatic hopeful. Businesses are making the push towards sustainable behaviour and practices – even it may seem as hypocrisy. For me, that’s the first step of change.

Paul Hawken said that business (that created the problem in the first place) is the only institution left on the planet that is big enough, resourceful enough and well enough managed to make the change – that’s so true. The fact that the words “conscious” and “capitalism” are spoken in the same breath gives me hope.

We’ve got to recover and recover we will.

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