Editorial: Why are we losing the sustainability wars? In transport, in cities, in our lives? Because we are . . .

Consider these irrefutable unpleasant truths:

There may be successes and improvements in this project, in this  place, in this way, but when we look at the bottom line — i.e., the aggregate impact of our transport choices and actions on the planet  — it is clear that we (that’s the collective “we” including all of us who have in some way committed to or accepted this great responsiblity, this author certainly included) are failing, big time. And if we are frank with ourselves, we can see that this is quite simply because . . .

1.       We are not smart enough.

2.       We do not care deeply enough.

3.      We are not original enough.

4.      We are not honest enough

5.      We are not courageous enough

And, as if that were not enough we can also see that our system failure (because that is what it is) results from the fact that . . .

6.       We are hopelessly mired in the habits of thought and patterns of behaviour of the long-past 20th century.

7.       We somehow have failed to come to grips with the fact that there are powerful reactionary economic and political interests in play that profit from each day that we fail to redress the structural imbalances that underlie our tragic situation

8.        We fail to grasp the big picture as we systematically over-compartmentalize and sub-optimize our organization, analysis and actions, thus rendering effective systemic reforms unlikely or impossible.

9.        We are not good enough as team workers: as individuals we exhibit a discouraging tendency to want to take credit for any success, but avoid responsibility for anything that might go wrong.

10.       We are content to slide by today and avoid the pain involved in changing course courageously as we must; leaving the future as someone else’s problem.

11.       We are generally setting poor examples for youth, our neighbors and anyone else who may be looking in terms of our personal choices when it comes to getting around in day to day life.

12.       We have effectively given up (though we continue to make nice noises to the contrary just to retain our dignity and our place in society.)

How can we reverse this?  How is it that Steve Jobs and a couple of others can put an entire universe at our fingertips, whereas our responsible institutions and actors, and the rest of us, are so patently unable to turn around the mega-trends that are murdering the planet and our future?

Think we are not losing this war?  That we have grounds for optimism?  Let me help you. If you believe that you are either hopelessly wishful or misinformed or stupid or blind or  hypocritical or lazy or have an invested interest in things bumbling along as they go – or some combination of the above.  But for whatever reason, innocent or not, in any event you are tragically wrong.

When are you, when are we, when am I, going to change and start to get to work on this, as if it were serious? We are not going to get the job done by sitting around and waiting or complaining. Or waiting until we are all in agreement. Remember what Keynes said: “In the long run we all are dead”?  This is a positive challenge. It cannot wait. It requires a willingness to take risks. And it demands concrete action today. We have the tools. We have the knowledge. Let’s set the bar high and get on with it.  We can, you know.

Or do you think the problem will fix itself? Your call!

Eric Britton, Editor

PS. I really hope this irritates you. If so, please share your displeasure with the author. You can be sure you will not be the only one.

# # #

About the editor:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as an international development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities | See Britton online at https://goo.gl/9CJXTh and @ericbritton

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One thought on “Editorial: Why are we losing the sustainability wars? In transport, in cities, in our lives? Because we are . . .

  1. Hi Eric
    I am not irritated by your post. I just agree with it very strongly, and my irritation or frustration perhaps is that it is so true and action seems to be futile. But a great friend of the genre is a chap called Roger Herz who’s email byline for a while was ‘better futile than passive’. So we carry on trying to do ‘something’ so that we are not passive, in the hope that we achieve some small victory along the way, and I suppose also the hope that at some point everyone will wake up, or some people will wake up, and we will be able to present what we have been thinking about, and perhaps it will be useful.

    I think your reference to Steve Jobs is interesting. Like it or not, his products are successful in the market, and as far as I can tell there is still no market for a more sustainable transportation system. In fact, there is not a market for transportation in most places: there are markets for components of the system, but not for the use of the system itself. I am not convinced that making a traditional market for use of the system itself would result in greater sustainability because success for the ‘owner’ of such a market would probably be ‘greater use of the system’ (leading to greater revenues) but poorer overall outcomes.

    But core to your point is that Jobs was an innovator, and transportation does not have a track record of innovation, especially innovation focused on people being drivers less of the time. The process by which we arrive at ‘what to innovate’ in transportation is far too hit-and-miss, and strongly influenced by fads and flavor of the month. Most research focuses on how to get more people to use existing known solutions. Existing levels of congestion suggest that either these known solutions are not sufficient, or ‘personal-transport-policy decision-making’ is not sufficiently understood by transport planners.

    Lots of money is spent each year trying to innovate, and perhaps for greater sustainability in transportation we need to look at how that innovation spend is directed (and try to make it more effective).


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