Radical Confidence: Follow the Evidence that Points to a Greener Future

Radical Confidence: Follow the Evidence that Points to a Greener Future

My dearest friends: For now, this represents my last regular column for GreenerBuildings.com. I have very much enjoyed the weekly exercise of looking at all of the interesting coverage and the bigger-picture thinking it stimulates in trying to create a coherent theme for these column introductions.

I have appreciated your comments and insights and hope you do keep in touch. I will continue working in other capacities with GreenBiz Group. Please keep an eye out for the annual Green Building Market and Impact Report due out in early November. My GreenBiz Group email remains: [email protected]

As promised, in this last column I will address the top leverage point for stimulating real change in a system, according to the hierarchy set up by systems dynamics professor Donella Meadows. In her article, "Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System" (PDF), Meadows lists the top strategy for promoting system change as "the ability to transcend paradigms." Readers of last week's column will remember -- if they haven't tried to expunge this ridiculous word from their brain -- that a "paradigm" is another word for "mindset," or "way of looking at a problem/situation."

Although in her article, Meadows characterizes this last leverage point in more spiritual terms -- she uses the word "enlightenment" more than once -- perhaps a more accessible way of looking at this leverage point is to follow the example of the CSI teams who regularly grace our living rooms on the television set.

Spending long stretches on airplanes definitely gives you a chance to catch up on popular film and television, and it is a regular CSI plot device to have various theories trying to explain crime scenarios that are either incomplete or contradictory, which inevitably leads to one of the protagonists stating, "we will follow the evidence," or something similar.

The concept behind transcending paradigms is to attempt to look objectively at the situation and try to figure out a solution according to available evidence. And while facts and evidence are often characterized as being "stubborn things" or not being the personal property of any individual or, forgive me, paradigm, what is very slippery and I think what Meadows is getting at, is our interpretation of the evidence or facts at hand.

Being paradigm-free, or at least sufficiently mindful of our own frame of reference and mindset to understand that we are seeing things less than objectively, would allow us to move to a conceptual framework for governing humanity based on the laws of the planet: chemistry, biology and physics. These three merciless disciplines are indeed paradigm-free and act predictably according to rules that apply across the universe -- for example, researchers in Hong Kong just proved, once again, that is not possible to exceed the speed of light (crushing the dreams of this Trekkie) -- and are not beholden to any sort of political expediency or personal agenda.

Perhaps the only thing more difficult than changing our minds is opening them. It is indeed intense cinematic drama when one sees an implacable foe trying to break the will of the plucky and determined hero. At least with a human foe, we know that there is some weakness, some chink that can be exploited or perhaps overcome by the force of will of the protagonist(s). Sadly, I don't see such a fairytale-ending regarding our ability to overcome universal law. There will be will, there will be pluck, there will be determination, but if all of those efforts and forces are directed at trying to overthrow the mechanics of the universe, then the only possible dramatic outcome is tragedy.

That's the funny thing about interpreting universal law: Being wrong can be fatal.

And yet, it is our resilience as a species that has allowed us to grow, in many respects prosper and, in some unfortunate aspects, dominate our planet. I do, however, have the radical confidence to believe in a positive future, one in which our better instincts -- our Golden Rule instincts -- allow us to interpret the evidence in a way that allows all life on Earth to prosper. Indeed, it is the only way forward for us.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Rebecca L. Daily.