Task force/Recommendations/Advocacy 4

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As an extension of our original mandate, our task force was asked whether and how Wikimedia might include environmentalism in its advocacy efforts, and how Wikimedia generally should approach environmental issues so that we select strategies and tactics with the highest impact.

Our recommended conceptual approach for pursuing environmental strategies and tactics is below.

Internalizing the situation

A prudent first step that many organizations have not taken is to internalize the conservative consensus of the scientific community as to how climate change will affect life and economies in the 21st century.

The expected and best case scenarios predicted by the IPCC are considerably worse than what many imagine to be the worst case. Some specific and predictable climate change impacts are significant to any organization that is socially minded, long-term focused, and/or particularly dependent on energy or natural resources.

Assertion: If we internalize the realities of climate change now, we will make different and better choices.

Note: Although there are many excellent resources available on climate change, the second half of Shaun Chamberlin's The Transition Timeline is a particularly accessible and well-annotated summary of the conservative, global scientific consensus on the subject.

Applying the right filters

Organizations that aren’t themselves specifically focused on environmental issues tend to approach environmentalism and climate change in one of three ways:

(a) reducing impact —trying to do incrementally "less bad"

(b) adopting business practices that ensure the longevity of the organization while reducing negative environmental impacts to zero

(c) creating systems—human, technical, social, economic—that can survive predictable shocks and spontaneously generate new order

We could label these different approaches or mindsets as green, sustainable, or resilient.

NOTE: These terms are not universally or consistently understood; the distinctions above are meant to facilitate useful conversation, not disparage good work that others might be doing under any of these three banners.

Green:

Efforts to make our business practices "greener” or incrementally "less bad" are worth pursuing, in the sense that every bit of positive effort counts. However, these "less-bad" behaviors don't necessarily lead to "all-good” if we are indeed serious about avoiding the worst effects of global climate change. The latest scientific evidence suggests unambiguously that a concerted, communal re-booting of civilization's energy, agriculture, and transportation infrastructure is needed to avoid an unlivable climate. In other words, many small incremental steps won't make enough of a difference over the relevant time scales.

We can and should purse small, incremental opportunities—recycling, etc.—provided that they don't distract us from potentially bigger opportunities. Also, we must be aware that in the current business climate, small, incremental steps have become status quo, and thus have no PR value. (Many organizations have brought on negative publicity when they’ve trumpeted their small environmental accomplishments too loudly.)

"Green" choices are fundamentally reactive and tactical.

Sustainable:

The idea of a zero-footprint or triple-bottom-line organization is a noble one, and "sustainability" as opposed to "green" is a more powerful frame for organizations seeking to reduce their negative ecological impact.

Examples of “sustainability” include proactive shifts to greener energy choices (as WMF has already begun) or the re-writing of corporate by-laws to include ecological mandates (e.g., “B Corporations”). Sustainability is a worthy filter for Wikimedia's long-term business planning and major capital investments.

"Sustainable" choices are fundamentally proactive and strategic.

Resilient:

The limit of "sustainability" as a mindset or a vision is implicit in the name itself—in that it connotes stasis, e.g. technical and biological nutrients replenishing themselves endlessly in closed loops, or financial, human and ecological capitals balancing themselves perfectly in a ledger. The reality is that human, economic, and ecological systems are highly dynamic. Many businesses that get high marks for “sustainability” are not in fact set up to survive shocks like peak oil, the emigration of millions of environmental refugees, or the collapse/reinvention of basic infrastructures we take for granted.

The term "resilience" is gaining traction as an alternative to "green" and "sustainable" thinking. Resilience embraces the uncertainty and dynamic nature of complex systems, and asks how human systems can model the survival strategies of forests, which can respond to system shocks (e.g., fires) and spontaneously generate new order afterwards. Redundancy, inefficiency (as opposed to efficiency), de-industrialization, and re-localization are key themes. The post-Industrial and post-WWII global economies have not been designed for long-term resilience, so most resilient choices involve designing systems that haven’t been seen before.

"Resilient" choices are fundamentally creative and visionary.

The filters in practice

Business strategy:

As a business, Wikimedia should choose a mix of green, sustainable, and resilient activities as appropriate, aligning these activities to our strategic priorities.

For example, using "resilience" as a conceptual frame/filter, we might ask how we can use what we know about climate disruption in the coming decades to help define our Expanding Content initiatives, perhaps with an emphasis on local community knowledge and self-sufficiency.

Or we might ask how we can apply insights from our Offline programs in the next few years to prepare for and then serve environmental refugees as a core audience.

Advocacy:

Wikimedia, as successfully disruptive social and technical experiment, has an opportunity to model how to be a 21st century enterprise, and incorporate green, sustainable, and resilient values and behaviors into its DNA. Along with the other issues we care about, we can engage our community and partners around these causes.

Selecting advocacy positions and activities:

A suggested exercise: The first half of Shaun Chamberlin's The Transition Timeline depicts some specific (albeit debatable) scenarios for what the ecological, social, and political world might look like mid-century. What is the role of Wikimedia in each of these future-world scenarios? How can we leverage the power and potential of Wikimedia to ensure that the most positive and vibrant scenarios come to pass?

A suggested exercise: Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Discipline—another excellent resource—sets four global priorities for the next century (urbanization, nuclear energy, biotechnology, and agriculture). What is Wikimedia's relationship to and opinion on each of these priorities? How can we use advocacy as a tool to further the best possible outcomes related to each?