What distinguishes natural systems from systems created by humans? In her book "Rethinking our world - an invitation", social scientist Maja Göpel asks and answers this question right at the beginning. Natural systems are designed for the long term, artificial systems for the moment. Natural systems are based on diversity. The waste of one is the food of the other. In this way, nothing disappears. Natural systems know no waste. Human systems, on the other hand, must be imagined like a conveyor belt. At the front, resources are extracted, then they are processed and consumed, and at the back of the conveyor belt, the waste of the process falls down. However, this man-made waste cannot usually be recycled any further. The cheapest way to get rid of it is, of course, often burning it.
For Göpel, this is why the global environmental and social crises we are experiencing are no coincidence. They reveal how we treat ourselves and the planet. In order to master these crises, which in Göpel's eyes also include the Corona pandemic, we would have to become aware of the rules according to which we have built up our economic system and question them.
Let's take the resource forest, for example. In the conveyor belt thinking that is still common at present, the forest is first and foremost a supplier of wood. It has therefore only taken a few decades for the timber industry to make the forest ecosystem, which has been resilient for millions of years, deeply vulnerable. Monocultures and plantation management make the forest less resistant to climate change and increase the risk of forest fires. In many places, excessive logging is destroying the forest's internal climate, further diminishing its self-healing capacity. Machinery weighing tons for logging and transport compacts the soil, which in turn causes plants and trees to grow more poorly. Sooner or later the forest will be destroyed. Our conveyor belt thinking damages its ecosystem.
Is there a solution to this dilemma? At this point, technological progress is often cited as the solution to all problems in the future. The retailer Walmart, for example, filed a patent for a robotic bee two years ago. The drone is supposed to be able to artificially pollinate plants in the future. Is such a robotic bee the right answer to the bee die-off we are currently witnessing worldwide? Or wouldn't it make more sense to preserve the natural system so that bees can live in it? Perhaps it would also be an approach to start to remunerate the services of nature, which we currently still use for free, and to consider them as an actual value. The economic benefit of bees, for example, is estimated at 150 billion euros a year. Or we start to move away from our conveyor belt thinking and rethink our world. Maja Göpel has also outlined the premises for this new thinking in her book:
From product to process.
From the conveyor belt to the circuit.
From the individual part to the system.
From extraction to regeneration.
From competition to collaboration.
From unbalance to balance.
From money to value.
Maja Göpel is a social scientist, expert on sustainability policy and Secretary General of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU). Her book "Unsere Welt neu denken - Eine Einladung" was published by Ullstein Verlag.