Saturday, October 23, 2010

CancunCocoon#14: "Either with us or against us"

The ultimate consequence of our behavior with our environment is the extinction of a species.

Under normal circumstances, species thrive and grow in population. When the volume of the population grows unsustainably beyond the constraints of the ecological niche where it can live, then the population is reduced naturally. If there is not enough food, the weakest will starve leaving food for the strongest, who will eventually survive.

When a species becomes extinct, it is because its ecological niche is not able to support it any longer. Either food has ran out, or basic protection or humidity levels of quality of the air or water has deteriorated. When a forest is cut down to build a neighborhood, all the animals that lived in the forest cannot live on the streets. Animals have not learned to be homeless.

In 2010 alone, more than 100,000 species of animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms have become extinct. Most of them has to do with human behavior. We are cutting down forests, and this reduces habitats or ecological niches for those species. We dump thousands of tons of toxic chemicals into the ocean and that kills small microbes on which larger species feed. So both the microbes and their predators are disappearing.

I do not foresee a rapid change in our behavior that will prevent species from growing extinct. My concern is the realization of the interconnectedness of our behavior and the extinction of a species. It is a chain reaction. Although we are not predators of the species in some cases, the satisfaction of our needs is pushing the limits for more forests, for more consumption, for more food.

The waste we generate accumulates where we don't normally see it. Somewhere behind the mountain or into the desert or at the bottom of the sea. Waste chemicals are usually invisible. The east garbage patch is a floating garbage dump composed of an estimated two trillion pieces of plastic. It floats on the Pacific Ocean, somewhere between Hawaii and Japan. It covers an area twice the size of the state of Texas, or twice the size of France.

What if we collect that garbage and process it by adding some heat and reshape it in the form of highway divisions to prevent car crashes? This could be a triple-win situation: we would be reutilizing waste, we would be cleaning the environment for millions of animals that die trapped in plastic containers, and we would be reducing deaths in our highways.

If non-human nature had a voice, it would probably be hollering "are you with us or against us?" Truth being said, it should be us asking the exact same question: are we with "us" or against "us"? The planet is one. The global ecosystem is one. Extinction of a species is a threatening symptom about our own behavior. We cannot thrive as a civilization without trees and forests; without clean sources of water to drink; without fertile land to grow our food.

Giving animals a break is giving ourselves a break. Have I said my health has never been better as it has been since I became a vegetarian? Plus, I lost 16 kg (38 lb) in the process. Try it. Or at least do it for a few days at a time. Culture is what we make of it. It is constantly changing. Help our culture change.

Friday, October 22, 2010

CancunCocoon#13: Where Have All The Forests Gone?

When we got married, my wife and I decided to have an alternative celebration. We gathered our closest friends and relatives for a tree-plantation ceremony. We requested people to dress on a white top (not everyone did, much to our dismay) so that pictures would have a nice contrast between faces, white outfit and green, natural scenery around. The pictures look beautiful!

Anyway, we decided to plant trees because we thought our relationship had to be like caring for a garden or a forest. It needed nurturing, attention, sensitivity. So far it has worked beautifully. And the trees are growing strong too!

When a tree is planted, it absorbs carbon from the air as long as it lives. Growth of trees is the accumulation of carbon for its trunk and branches. Not only does a tree absorb carbon from the atmosphere. It also releases oxygen as part of its respiration process, and releases water vapor, pure and pristine, that later becomes clouds and rain. Trees clean our air and our water.

It would sound like a good business, then, to grow many trees so that we ensure there is always abundant -at least sufficient- clean water and air for our consumption. Well, it's perhaps the two elements we can't live without, right? And still what is happening is completely the opposite: we are tearing down trees at a rate of 20 football fields per minute, all day, every day. At that rate, all the rainforest of my paradisiac Costa Rica would be chopped down in 15 weeks. A horrible thought. Somewhere in the world in the next 15 weeks a forest of 25,000 square kilometers will be converted into, well, whatever a forest becomes when it lacks trees: grassland, and eventually desert.

The big problem is in the long term. How many more trees can we cut without losing the planet's ability to recover itself and to clean our air and water? If we had to pay for the price of cleaning our air and water I am sure it would cost us dearly. In fact, The 11th Hour, a documentary produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, proposes that the value of the function that our natural environment serves us cleaning air and water could cost some $40 trillion dollars, a value far greater than the estimated $18 trillion worth of global economic output per year.

It's not about money. Without trees there would be very little life that could be supported around here. So the need to preserve it is existential as well. Ethical or moral. Principled or rooted on a very humanly inherent will to survive and to procreate into the future.

Perhaps that's what we have lost: a sense of ownership with a future that we won't live to see. The world of our grandchildren and their grandchildren's grandchildren. As a Native American leader said, we need to think about the seventh generation after this one to learn how to preserve nature so that they -whoever that is- will also enjoy it.

We have also lost sensitivity for everything that is not immediate and discardable. The instant fix of satisfaction that goes with the next breath of air and that is costing so much on our nonrenewable resources. Our forests are in a way nonrenewable. We could replant a forest that has been cut down, but it will take as long as it had been standing, if at all, to recover. That's the greatest wealth of primary forests. They have been standing since time immemorial. They carry our history, our genes, our wisdom. Chopping it down is an unintelligent thing to do as a species.

The way to change our culture is to start planting trees, as many as you want. Make an appointment with friends to go plant trees. Watch them grow. Learn about them. Teach our children to care for them. Plant trees on behalf of your faraway relatives. Of the ones that have passed. On the ones that will come. Plant a tree for each child that is born. A tree to celebrate a promotion and a tree when each tooth of our child falls. Make up lame excuses to plant trees and plant as many as you possibly can. We will need to make a coordinated effort, those of us who care, to make a significant impact on our destructive tendency as a species.

Change culture and make it cool so we can have fun in the process. Change has never been boring anyway!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

CancunCocoon#12 - Overfishing: Who Cares!

It awakens my concern to realize the way in which our fishing industry deals with our common marine resources. A tragedy of the commons indeed. At the pace we are extracting fisheries, many species will be decimated to endangered levels or even to extinction.

It could very well be that some are not aware of that. It could also be that some are aware but don't care, and even others that are aware and do care. The way market forces operate, tendencies indicate that the first two groups of people have a leading voice in hyper-consumption.

Some hard facts:

-More than a third of the animals extracted from the oceans are dumped back -dead- because they have no market value, because they were caught unintended, or don't meet market standards (species, size, volume, etc.)

-According to Conservation International, in the last 50 years volume of fish caught has grown four times, from some 20 million tons per year to almost 90 million tons per year. In the same period of time, volume of available fisheries has decreased 50%.

-Ninety percent of large species of fish (sharks, cod, tuna) have disappeared.

-For every pound of wild-caught schrimp, ten pounds of other edible seafood is discarded as waste.

-some 1000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die EACH DAY in trawl nets. []

-According to "Science," at prevailing trends of overfishing, we will run out of wild seafood in 2048. []

Now, who cares? If you didn't know, how can I expect you to care? If you knew and did not care, what would make you react? Knowing you won't be able to afford some seafood in a few years, or it simply won't be available anymore? Who cares!

I do not eat seafood. In fact, I do not eat animals. The environmental cost of our unsustainable agribusiness of meat, poultry and seafood motivated me to suspend -if only temporarily- to stop consuming meat of any kind. I have never felt this healthy before and I only felt cravings during the first 11 days, and three or four times per year only. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to undertake with pleasure.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

CancunCocoon Episode#11 - Deadliest Catch

Who doesn't know the famous Discovery Channel show about king crab fishing? This is not about crabs, but about everyday vegetables and seafood we eat regularly.

Our food production process is corrupted. We use fertilizers to increase land yield. This makes crops more vulnerable to plague. To combat those, we use pesticides, some of which have been so toxic that they have been already banned, like DDT. At least in the developed world. Or so we hope.

Daniel Goleman quotes an expert in his book Ecological Intelligence explaining an additional problem with fertilizers: “Producing and applying fertilizer contributes sixteen percent of all global greenhouse gases, especially nitrous oxide, which is three hundred times more aggressive than CO2 [carbon dioxide].”

Once the harvest is collected, not only have nutrients been extracted from the soil, but also chemical residue that has been added in the process seeps into the soil contaminating it as well as water reservoirs or nearby lakes and rivers. Some chemicals -like antibiotics we use to combat infection in humans and animals or mercury used in mining- do not biodegrade easily. They flow into water basins and all the way to the sea in some cases.

These chemicals, which pile up in the thousands of tons every year in our lakes, rivers, beaches, and underground aquifers, are being absorbed by marine species, both plants and animals, and in the process, it affects their gene pool. In some cases, they are simply stored on the skin, bones and muscles of those animals and we later eat them ignorantly. Dr Al Sears, M.D., mentions an Environmental Protection Agency test conducted in 300 streams in the U.S., where 100% of all trout sampled accumulated mercury, and two-thirds of them were beyond the maximum threshold that the EPA considers safe. Mercury -he continues- sticks to red blood cells and accumulates in animal muscle, which is the part of fish we eat. Then it gets scary: your body confuses mercury with amino acids, being stored into all tissues and organs of our human body, including the brain, affecting our nervous system. []

Terrifying what we are doing to ourselves. Those of us who know should spread the word. We need culture change. And fast. Suggestions, anyone?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

CancunCocoon: Episode#10

Sunlight has struck the Earth for billions of years and will do for billions more. As long as 650 million years ago, living organisms that nurtured from the sun's light later decomposed and piled up as the Earth was still forming as we know it today, including more evolved life forms.

In a way, burning today a combustible material that lived on the surface millions of years ago is the equivalent of burning sunlight that hit the planet that long ago. In other words, we are generating carbon that should be buried underground in order to preserve the planet's long-achieved climactic balance.

Today, our civilization has developed technologies that allow us to extract those very ancient fossils that have been compressed under a lot of pressure over a long, long time, and we have managed to convert them into energy. Unfortunately, over a century of extraction of fossil fuels has not made us more efficient transforming that long-gone decay. In fact, an important amount of energy is invested or lost in the process of extracting, transporting, refining, and burning these fuels.

Seventeen billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere in 2010 alone will have an important impact in the temperature exchange between the heat that reaches the Earth and the heat that leaves to outer space because of the Greenhouse effect. Gases that accumulate in the atmosphere trap some of the sun rays that are reflected from the Earth's surface (albedo effect). This prevents them from leaving back into space, and instead create an amount of heat that is contained when it should be released.

There are plenty ways of sinking more carbon back from the air. Growing vegetation is perhaps the most important one. Forests, vegetation in general, plankton in the oceans, and agricultural products are predominantly composed of carbon. Growing more trees additionally helps other living organisms have access to oxygen in the air, as they breathe carbon dioxide in, and breathe oxygen out. I have known this since fourth grade elementary school. I am sure you have, too! :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Imagine what would happen if greenhouse gases (GHG) and carbon emissions would have remained at ground level instead of rising up into the atmosphere. Billions of toxic gases blurring our vision and contaminating our lungs outside our house. Who would have tolerated. Worse than that, our youngest ones playing out in the street and coming home suffocating with asthma symptoms.

If that was the reality, climate change would have been dealt with a century ago, as no one in the early industrialized countries would have tolerated. Today we tolerate because gases go up and we don't see them, and because the amount of pollution has been accumulating very slowly, over the course of years and decades of running engines and burning fossil fuels to heat our homes, cook our meals and keep our electronic toys running. In sum, to keep our addiction to comfort up to par.

The rate at which we are generating carbon emissions is clearly unsustainable. Everybody knows that. The problem is that action to cap that contamination comes at a very high cost for everybody as well. Now, we are talking about two different types of costs. The monetary cost of transforming industrial processes to be less carbon intensive will cost producers and consumers alike in their efforts to incorporate negative externalities into the supply and demand equation. The environmental cost is less tangible and not so much spoken about.

You see, among the policymakers that rule the world, many are economists of have studied classic economics, a marvelous field of study that lies somewhere between social science, mathematics and psychology. If Economics would also teach about ecology then we would be saved: we would understand, once and for all, that our economies are constrained within our human societies, and that our human societies are constrained within our natural ecosystem. We cannot grow beyond our environment. We cannot live outside the limits of the planet. At least not yet. At least not all of us anyway.

So, as long as this is not a possibility, it is up to us to deal with the problem. If you are not in the oil industry, if you are not a politician that makes promises as a way of living even if they are never fulfilled, if you care about the world you are going to die in, if you would like to inherit onto your descendants a healthy, secure place to thrive as individuals and families within communities, then I suggest you get informed about what needs to be done to change our culture of unsustainable development.

As Jared Diamond wonders in his masterpiece "Collapse," what did the Easter Islanders say the day they cut down their last tree? If we don't want to answer that question, we better start planting more trees than the ones we are cutting down today. So far this year, almost 9 million hectares of forest have been lost worldwide. That is more than twice the total land area of Costa Rica, my beautiful piece of paradise.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What is Culture Change?

It is the description of the task we have before us as a civilization required to transform the incompatible constraints that emerge before us as a Global Community: our pace of economic growth and the pace of environmental unsustainability at which we are retrogressing.

We need to revert the sense of the engine, in more than one sense of the word. One certain way to do it is to coordinate our leaders into understanding that the problem at hand is anything BUT a political problem. They as well as we depend institutionally for our social cohesion on the Rule of Law reigning our global governance. Humanity has not encountered a better way to coexist peacefully than through the language spoken at the United Nations. The Security Council has delivered much order and security, and much peace and prosperity to billions of citizens. Making it a stronger organ is in our best interest as a concert of nations. The solution is not political. In politics all ideas but one are defeated and only one survives, governing the rest for a very long time. That has never been the source of progress of a people. Progress has been the result of coordination between a people to achieve a common task.

Let's stop telling China to democratize its political system. Let them be. That is their culture. They are proud of their Communist Dynasty and what it has achieved so far in only 61 years. Jiang Zemin said at the turn of the century that China pretended to recover the leading role in human civilization that it lost a thousand years ago and that they had for a thousand years before that. One of the most ancient civilizations in our world that are still thriving. Like Jews and Hindus alike.

What a beautiful diversity of wealth and love we have created! We have made sure to create the most comfortable place to live in the entire Universe. In terms of real estate, we have the best location in the universe, and believe-you-me it's true. There is no place around like Earth. Nowhere. Not that we know of. Not even close. Nothing lives out there that we have discovered. Nothing thrives. No one dreams. No one enjoys. Nobody laughs. Nobody cries. Nobody sleeps. Just silence. And mostly darkness. For miles and miles around. For millions of years around. We are completely alone in the Universe. So far. So let's make sure we fix things up in here and ensure that it will remain the best place to live. We all benefit from this.

Human collapse or extinction are not a devastating event for the planet. More than ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND (100,000) species of living organisms have ceased existing this year 2010 alone (scroll down to Environment for other scary revelations: I would even dare argue that the planet could take a break from us sometimes, but we insist in toiling away incessantly.

More than EIGHT MILLION HECTARES (approximately 8,913,392 as of the instant I last checked today, Saturday, October 16, 2010 at 21:28 hrs. GMT+10.5) of forests have been lost in the entire planet this year alone. That is more than two times the size of Costa Rica. I think what would happen if next year it was my country which would lose all its forest. Even worse. At the rate at which we are deforesting the planet we would deforest Costa Rica's more than 50% of its territory covered by forests (approximately 25,000 square kilometers, or 2,500,000 hectares) in three months. To imagine arriving back home in March of next year to a country without a A SINGLE TREE makes me react concerned in call for action and attention.

I am working on an independent academic study with Ari Lightman ( on Social Media Strategy and Analysis. Part of what I am doing is learning how to connect more effectively with others to communicate messages virally and intentionally. What a blessing, I thought. People still listen! And what I have learned so far is enormously valuable for all of us to know: everyone listens! We are always listening. All day. All the time. Let's do so with Unconditional Positive Regard (Carl Rogers) as Steve Olweean teaches and preaches and practices at the Common Bond Institute (

Let's listen to each other with admiration. Let's not stop asking questions, as Isaac Newton reminded us. And let's learn now to listen and talk to the Groundswell (, which is where we can communicate the fastest we have ever done so. Global Community, meet Twitter ( This is the tool we needed to implement some minor adjustments -attitudes mainly, and some information- to outpace the rate of degradation of our planet by restoring its ecosystem.

Would you give us a hand? How do you want to participate? Please be creative and ask for your friends' help. Make a hugely constructive use of Facebook. It's more fun than before, believe me. You have a role to play. It's your planet too. We got in this together and only together will we manage to succeed. Look for us in Twitter under #culturechange or follow @alvarcidane. Let's get going. Pura vida.

PS. I regard Michael Jackson as the first global humanitarian of our civilization. Blessings to him for singing. Global Community, meet Grooveshark. (



Agent-based Modelling for Water Forecasting

SimulAIt is a software based on artificial intelligence, namely agent-based modelling, from the defence industry. Autonomous agents are used to represent the behaviour of different people and system components. Some agents represent households, others business people and regulators. All respond in different ways to prices, policies, programs, services, and opportunities to replace products.

Thousands of agents can be used to mimic the many thousands of components in the real world to create a virtual simulation of it. The ability to integrate a vast quantity of dynamic social, economic and environmental data and behaviours, enables better predictions to be made through a greater understanding of how people behave and respond to change. The simulation can be used to run “what-if” scenarios and observe the emergent behaviour of the system, as well as the behaviour of its individual elements.

From a conflict prevention point of view, Don Perugini and his team could soon be considered champions in the struggle for safe, clean water for all, today and in the future.

BlogActionDay has given us the opportunity to put our heads together into thinking, talking and sharing about water today. Coordinated action will most likely come from the synergies developed over the web in social media platforms through events like this one. Kudos for the initiative and impressive mobilisation!!!

Forecasting, Modelling, Predicting, Simulating

How can we predict our future economic and resource needs? Do we have data today about how much we are consuming? How are circumstances like demographic growth and climate change going to affect availability and consumption of resources?

When we talk about water, this discussion immediately moves from rhetoric and politics to mathematics and action. Thanks to BlogActionDay, we are able to raise awareness and motivate towards action to tackle our most sensitive of elements: water. A broken pipeline, a contaminated aquifer or a drought can bring entire communities to the brink of collapse.

Conflict prevention is perhaps the best, easiest and certainly cheapest way to deal with future problems. A tool that allows us to predict how a situation might escalate into conflict is very useful to identify effective ways to prevent those scenarios from happening, if possible. That's what Simulait offers.

Simulait is beyond econometrics and statistics, and has the capability to model the reactions and behaviours of millions of consumers at the national, state, regional, city, postcode and household level.

A key benefit of SimuaiIt is the ability to validate models by "predicting forward from the past", and comparing simulated results to actual historical data that has not been explicitly used as an input into the model (e.g. customer billing data). This can be achieved because Simulait uses highly detailed data to logically derive outputs. This type of validation provides a high level of confidence in the model’s predictive capability.

Simulait Online provides a web portal into Simulait, allowing users to create and run scenarios, as well as analyse and obtain results, anytime and anywhere via a web browser. Large scale simulations are run on dedicated servers, eliminating hardware requirements.

This versatility makes Simulait a cost-effective requirement for your company, your township or your government.

Simulait: Simulate?

Simulait is a sophisticated consumer modelling and forecasting tool that has achieved over 95% accuracy in water and environmental sectors.

As explained by its creator, Don Perugini, "Simulait is a consumer modelling tool perfect for marketing problems which you may not have encountered before or are seemingly ineffable. Simulait is a micro-simulation with the capability to model the reactions and behaviours of millions of individual consumers to new strategies, products, prices and competitive behaviour. Simulait allows the integration of a wide range of complex (qualitative and quantitative) data, such as market research, demographic data, econometric and statistical data, environmental data, as well as your domain knowledge. The ability for SimulAIt to model drivers of consumer decision making enables you to run "what-if" scenarios to explore options to influence consumer behaviour, and answer a broad range questions."

On this BlogActionDay, talk about water can't just end in talk. We need action. Water scarcity, contamination and consumption will affect each and every one of us and our communities. Are we drinking clean water today? What chemicals are used to purify it? What are the side effects of those chemicals, especially on our youngest population?

Understanding how consumers behave today and how they will behave into the future is critical to deal with the issue. This is a matter of numbers and data, not only of good intentions and eloquent blogging.

Friday, October 15, 2010


BlogActionDay2010: Simulait - Water Forecasting

Water forecasting: modelling consumer behaviour

BlogActionDay ( is a great opportunity to raise awareness about the gravity of water scarcity. Perhaps we are subsisting -if only barely- despite water shortages and water contamination. In 40 years from now, regardless of what we do, our global population will reach 9 billion people. That would be equivalent to adding two times the population of India to our current population. Then water scarcity will be a life-or-death issue, most likely the latter, unless we do something about it now.

Simulait is the perfect tool to conduct water forecasting of consumer behaviour into the future, to know where -and how much- water will be required. Pricing is just part of the problem. Availability is much more so.

Have a look:

Three days without...

On a conversation I had with Don Perugini, founder and director of Simulait, a very accurate water forecasting software, he said:

"Existing modelling tools are not accurate enough or truly predictive. We know that consumer decision making is influenced by many social, economic, environmental factors. Examples include: demographics, psychology and culture, marketing approach, price, expendable income, discretionary and non-discretionary expenditure, product quality and quantity, weather, sporting events, etc. Existing tools lack the ability to effectively incorporate all these complex factors to accurately represent millions of different consumers and their decision-making at a suitable level of granularity. The Simulait consumer modelling and forecasting tool addresses these shortfalls."

On this BlogActionDay2010, water is an issue. We can write poetry about it. We can sing and dance under the rain. We can worry about drought or grow concerned about contamination of water basins. Truth is, we can't live three days without it. Knowing how much we will need -and, most importantly, where we will obtain it- is a of utmost concern for our policymakers at a local and international level.

Water needs in 2025

I have had the honour to encounter Don Perugini, director and founder of Intelligent Software Development, the company that has created Simulait, the software modeling tool for consumer behaviour simulation.

It comes across as a very handy tool for conflict prevention. They have been quite successful modelling water consumption behaviour. On the day of the Blog Action Day dedicated to water (, the discussion about future water scarcity is a must in today's future scenario planning. We have heard for years that wars in the future will be fought over water. Well, maybe not.

This is what Perugini has to say about his full-time job:

"Simulait is a sophisticated consumer modelling and forecasting tool, and has proven to be 95% accurate in forecasting consumer behaviour in industries such as water retail and environmental policy. Simulait is a micro-simulation with the capability to model the reactions and behaviours of millions of individual consumers to new strategies, products, prices, policies and competitive behaviour. Simulait allows the integration of a wide range of complex data, such as market research, demographic data, econometric and statistical data. Simulait has been used to simulate up to 2 million households and 4.5 million consumers to assist with forecasting, strategy and business case development, marketing, policy, pricing, and behaviour change."

More in a while.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Simulait: Water Forecasting

These guys at Intelligent Software Development in Adelaide, South Australia, are changing the game of forecasting consumer behaviour with a remarkably precise agent-based software for modelling and predicting future consumption.

Their track record and award-winning start-up is already leading the way in terms of water forecasting. What a useful tool for the world to know about!

They are launching the Simulait-Online interphase that will allow users to run their simulations over the Internet. How cool!

More on Simulait during the day. Visit them at, see their newly released video on YouTube under Simulait channel, or follow them also in Twitter @simulait.

Pura vida!

BlogActionDay2010 - JOIN!!!|Start Petition

Cancun Cocoon #4


Saturday, October 02, 2010

Ecological Intelligence: Accountability for a Culture Change

We are used to seeing the graph of carbon emissions as a quadrant in the “X-Y” axis, where time runs right along the “X” axis and tons of emissions run up along the “Y” axis. This gives the subconscious impression of earnings, profits, positive change, when in fact the accumulation of such gases represents a deterioration of the global ecosystem, also called “carbon footprint.” It puts nations in a vicious spiral of competition towards who is the greatest polluter.

Oddly enough, nobody wants first place. As long as you are second, this already hides you behind the shield of the biggest polluter. Whether measured by country (China), per capita (US), per unit of density (Australia) or otherwise, the greatest polluters of the planet are the largest economies measured in dollar terms (the G-20 countries contribute with 85% of greenhouse gas emissions).

There is a second quadrant that lies below the “X” axis, in which negative carbon emissions represented by carbon sink on behalf of the Earth can be graphed as a curve over time that indicates restoration of ecosystems.

According to BBC news, this year alone, 100,000 km2 of forests have been lost. That is equivalent to twice the land surface of Costa Rica. Desertification shows similar figures: 120,000 km2 of land converted into desert only in 2010. These two trends have been occurring for decades. Another trend that has been recurrent throughout the 20th Century is demographic growth. Today at seven billion, the trend projects nine billion people in 2050. A question that should be posed for policymakers, scientists, corporations and consumers alike is how much forest coverage and fertile land (non-desert) is needed to support nine billion people on the planet?

Let’s think for an instant that we invert the quadrants of degradation and restoration and we place the restoration quadrant on top. That would show, when positive, the negative carbon footprint or how much pollution we manage to extract from the planet’s air, water and land.

The shift is not only graphical. The shift is cultural. The concept of sustainability has made us believe that we should simply aim for that line as if that was the solution, when the truth is that we already have enormous damage to repair to the planet in order for it to recover its sustainability.

According to National Geographic State of the Earth 2010, today we are consuming 1.4 Earths worth of resources per year. At 1.0, the Earth is able to renew or replenish the resources that have been extracted from it. That’s referred to as its carrying capacity. Beyond 1.0, it is referred to as the Earth’s overshoot, the gap between ecological demand and supply. This year, the planet reached overshoot on August 21. That means that, since that date, we are using resources that the planet will be unable to restore before the beginning of a new year. We are entering an ecological debt, and this trend has been happening for the last 30 years, according to the Global Footprint Network.

According to the same source, if every human being consumed like Americans we would need 5.4 Earths to support our lifestyle. It is clear that the American-style consumerism is dangerously unsustainable. Here the pertinent question would be: how can we incorporate Americans into the path towards solving this collision course in which civilization is apparently heading to? Without them becoming aware of the problem and acting effectively and boldly towards it, it will be impossible to come to a transformation from degradation to restoration of the world’s ecosystems.

Assuming there was consensus about the diagnosis of the conflict, the debate between mitigation and adaptation to climate change would require a complex solution. The ethical stance of sustainability is necessary to understand the impact of our modern behavior. Adaptation demands differentiated accountability from three major groups of actors: policymakers, corporations, and consumers.

With regard to policymakers, the laws in place should guide action towards solutions, not towards punishment. Containing carbon emissions or developing a yet another global financial market to exchange carbon certificates is not a guaranteed path towards ecological remediation. Instead, efforts should be geared towards investing sufficient public and private funds into research and development to achieve technological innovation for two main purposes: first and foremost, renewable energy generation; and second, towards the development of technologically engineered consumer products whose waste enriches the ecosystem instead of degrading it.

If the vision is a virtuous one, the correct challenges will be in place for technological designers and innovators, biologists and engineers, to transform our culture by developing consumption products with restorative effects on ecosystems.

Restraint for nations is important especially because fossil fuel energy generation tends to be a matter of state for most countries in the world, but not exclusively. There are private transnational corporations that are also accountable and need to abide by new sets of rules towards a change in culture.

Concerning corporations, they are critical players because every industrialized product we consume has been manufactured by one. They know –or should know at least- the ecological impact of the materials they use, the by-products they generate, and the waste once the products are discarded or thrown away. As Daniel Goleman (Ecological Intelligence) says, “when you through something away, there is no away: it stays on planet Earth.”

This means that corporations are the ones that can lead the transformation of production and consumer goods redesigning them towards eco-remediation. This process can be enhanced and accelerated by public and private investment on research and development. It does not necessarily require policy that obliges them to behave in that manner. Many corporations have taken the initiative towards greening their production. Also, consumers can have a great impact voting with their feet, walking away from products that have a greater ecological footprint, and towards others that have a lesser one.

The third group is, therefore, consumers. For this change to occur, buyers require transparent information about the products. Could we think about policy that would compel manufactured goods to clearly reveal their toxicity content and the ecological impact of their production? Countries like Australia and the European Union already require certification of production standards. Information technologies can drive an exponential change in consumer awareness, therefore reducing the information asymmetries that do not allow transparency in the process.

In order to move forward, we must set our sight farther ahead. Focusing the climate change discussion on carbon emissions is looking backwards to the source of the problem. Culture change will come when we start thinking and doing things differently, as Einstein warned.