The Chinese Word for Crisis – Opportunity out of Adversity

The article clip and link below makes clear the critical need for ‘systems thinking’ and our need to create opportunity out of adversity. We stand at the gates of a low carbon future but do not have the key to unlock them, critical thinking skills. We have not educated ourselves to understand that  our ‘quality of life’ depends on the quality of the goods and services we produce and consume, and the ‘loss to society’ created in the process.

We fail to comprehend that the One Planet Equation governs and overshadows our future possibilities, ultimately fixing the ratio of our consumption and its ‘resource intensity’ Frozen in the headlights of financial disaster, we are sleep-walking into the most massive ‘external failure’ of quality we will have experienced, our failure to ‘keep ahead of the oil curve’ and the resulting symptom of burning fossil fuels, Climate Change.

The possibility of satifying the One Planet Equation at levels of consumption the developed western economies currently enjoy is remote, as the WBCSD report, referenced in a previous post admits. Our only course of action is to identify those goods and services not ‘essential’ to our quality of life and reduce their ‘resource intensity to zero i.e. eliminate them; then work to continually reduce the resource intensity of those that remain, in conventional terms ‘improve their ‘quality’.  From a system perspective, quality is that which ‘maximises the ‘value to society’ resulting from the creation, use and disposal of products and services’, whilst working to continually reduce the ‘loss to society’ they create.’



………………….We are in a crisis. But it is useful to recall that the Chinese word for crisis consists of two letters: One signifies danger, the other opportunity. This crisis affords us an opportunity to both stimulate the economy and tend to our much-needed infrastructure backlog. And many of these jobs cannot be outsourced. The work is done in this country, adding to effective demand and providing a basis for sustained growth.

There are two potential hazards associated with large-scale infrastructural investments.

The first is that the money will be allocated in the usual pork-barrel fashion with powerful U.S. House and Senate committee personnel steering funds to their districts and states irrespective of the benefits.

In order to short-circuit the possibilities of future bridges to nowhere, we need a bipartisan commission that evaluates objectively the cost and benefit of major infrastructural investment. We already have a model that works.

The recommendations of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) cannot be cherry-picked by members of Congress. The recommendations are voted up or down in a block so that individual members cannot influence the fate of individual bases. A similar procedure for a National Infrastructure Commission is essential to reducing wasteful spending.

A second potential problem is that, just like with wars, we tend to fight the next one with the strategies of the last one. We must avoid building new infrastructure geared toward the needs of the last economic growth wave.

A National Commission on Infrastructure would need a mandate to build for the future, not just for the short term and the present. The interstate system was perfect for the car age coming into its own in the 1950s. What we need now is infrastructure that promotes smart growth and long-term sustainable economic growth. Building more bridges or motorways just because that is what we always have done is to build for the 1950s, not the 2050s. New and improved infrastructure should be directed toward more creative use of mass-transit systems, refurbishing our aged inner cities and inner suburbs and improving citizens’ lives, and laying the basis for a greener economy.

We are in a crisis. From the nation’s last great crisis we created the New Deal. We need a New New Deal, one that appropriately funds and fairly distributes infrastructure projects to states that lay the foundation for a smarter, greener, more competitive economy. We need a Metro Green Deal for a new infrastructure commission that allocates investments so that we can link public and private, city and suburb, rich and the poor in an America of and for the future.


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