Here’s a post that arrived in my Inbox this morning from my friends at the Far North Environment Centre. Their website is

David Hillyard in the Green Room 

There is growing awareness of the damage we are doing to the planet and the natural resources on which we depend, says David Hillyard. Yet, he argues in this week’s Green Room, we still carry on along the same track regardless, refusing to make much-needed changes to our behaviour.

More than half of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited, putting 27 million jobs and $100bn of income at risk, UN data shows.

One sixth of the world’s population relies on fish as their main or sole source of animal protein.

Yet despite considerable effort by many groups, unsustainable fishing continues apace on a global scale.

The Amazon rainforest pumps 20 billion tonnes of water into the atmosphere each day, which drives global weather patterns and rainfall essential for people’s survival.

Yet we continue to lose tropical forest cover and with that the services it provides, not least in the mitigation of droughts around the world.

However far removed from nature the human race may seem, we are inextricably linked to it.

The Earth’s natural systems provide many essential goods and services that ensure our survival and enhance our lifestyles and well-being – such as food, medicines, building materials, climate regulation, flood defence and leisure opportunities.

The ecosystems that provide these services are rapidly decaying to the point of collapse. Human-induced climate change, infrastructure development, the loss of forests and agricultural production are primary drivers of these losses.

The prevailing economic model that exacerbates these problems, rather than counteracts them, is fundamentally flawed.

“GDP is unfit to reflect many of today’s challenges, such as climate change, public health, education and the environment,” was the conclusion of Beyond GDP, an international conference on gross domestic product held in Brussels in November 2007.

Despite this recognition, governments have spent trillions of dollars around the world in the past year to get out of “recession” and get back to GDP growth at any cost, it seems.

Why? It seems as if the main goal is simply to maintain the current ailing market system and stimulate continued unsustainable consumption.

Slim pickings

The world’s governments are meeting in Copenhagen in December to try and agree a global deal to combat climate change.

The chances of a sufficiently binding agreement that will meet the challenge of stabilising greenhouse gas emissions in a short enough timeframe to avoid “dangerous climate change” are slim.

But are we seeing the whole picture?

Climate change has helped put the global environmental crisis on the map; but it is time to stop considering it as a single issue.

Whilst we argue over the extent to which climate change is going to impact the planet, and while governments quibble over emissions targets, we are losing sight of the fact that ecosystem services provide the mechanisms needed to tackle climate change – such as capturing carbon, driving rainfall patterns and maintaining soil quality.

Maintaining the integrity and functionality of ecosystems is a real and present challenge for business, society and governments.

Without them, we have no hope of sustainably tackling climate change and we risk losing forever the natural environments that enable us to survive and sustain lives worth living.

Bridging the gap

Governments tend to be driven by nationalistic, short-term agendas – increasingly so, as natural resources become ever scarcer and they rush to “capture” as much “natural capital” as they can.

The need for systemic change and global solutions that transcend national boundaries has never been greater.

At the same time, changing patterns of behaviour and consumption need to happen at an individual, local level.

So, what role does business have to play in tackling arguably the greatest challenge that our generation faces?

Business communities in both developing and developed economies are in a strong position to reach the individual at a local level and influence consumption patterns.

They can interact with and influence government at a national level, and can drive the international political agenda through bodies such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

Coalitions between business, informed experts, NGOs and governments are powerful platforms from which to explore and develop alternative business models.

These alliances could drive behavioural change both within companies and among consumers, encourage sustainable use of natural resources, allow communities to thrive and still allow the companies involved to satisfy shareholders’ desire to generate profit.

The HSBC Climate Partnership – a collaboration between HSBC, Earthwatch, WWF, the Climate Group and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute – is one example of how such collaborative programmes can support measures to protect biodiversity and enhance livelihoods whilst also changing the way that business operates.

Whilst there are certainly some forward thinking local and international enterprises out there, the international business community needs to continue working closely with international bodies, NGOs and governments to identify a collective vision and action plan of what a “post-GDP” world would look like; where value is not determined by levels of consumption or sales.

This would be a vision where quality is defined by a new set of rules which restores ecosystems rather than destroying them.

Governments may then be brave enough to set policy agendas accordingly and incentivise and regulate to support a new approach.

We have already embarked on a global climate change experiment that has unknown results.

We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically. We may invent new technologies at sufficient scale to capture and store carbon dioxide and control our carbon emissions, but are we missing the wider point?

We need more focus on maintaining functioning ecosystems and biodiversity that will regulate our climate and provide the other essential conditions we need to maintain human life on Earth.

In a world driven by a market economy, business has vital role to play in moving to this new future and can step up and play a leadership role in creating a sustainable future.

David Hillyard is the international director of partnerships for Earthwatch Institute, an environmental charity

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website.

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John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.