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Empowering Leaders to Understand and Protect Our Home Planet for the Long Future

What is Long Future?

Long Future is a system framework that helps explain the right relationship between people (and the corporations that they form) and the natural systems of Earth. This is an important relationship that can lead to enduring prosperity and longevity if it is conducted rightly.

Earth's natural systems and human systems (such as the economy) are intimately entwined. As our planet struggles under the weight of human activities, it is increasingly important that people (and in particular, leaders) understand the systems that they are both influencing and being influenced by. The Long Future Framework explains how we might best think and act in this regard.

There are five five key elements to the Long Future Framework:

- Habitable Zone
- Planetary Boundaries
- Natural Capital & Ecosystem Sevices
- Back-in-Sync
- The Long Future Diagram

Habitable Zone

Life has existed on Earth for over 3.8 billion years because Earth's orbit around the Sun is not so distant that all the water freezes, nor so close that all the water boils off.

Earth is said to occupy the 'Goldilocks Zone' or more scientifically, the Circumstellar Habitable Zone.

Scientists tell us that Earth will continue remain in this zone - and be habitable for life - for another 1.75 - 3.25 billion years. Beyond this time, the Sun will expand and eventually Earth will be baked dry, taking all of life with it.

This is a crucial and overlooked part of the sustainability conversation. What this means is that your business or organisation could be providing goods and services hundreds, thousands, if not millions of years from now!!

This is what we call the Long Future.

However, we will not get to enjoy the Long Future if we continue to destroy the planet, the way we are doing. Have we destroyed too much? What are the safe limits? These questions are answered by the Planetary Boundaries.

Planetary Boundaries

Planetary Boundaries is an initiative of the Stockholm Resilience Center.

In order for business to thrive on Earth, it is necessary for the natural systems of Earth to stay within nine planetary boundaries.

As the diagram below shows, we have already pushed beyond the safe zone of four of the nine boundaries:

  • Climate Change
  • Biogeochemical Flows (nitrogen and phosphorus pollution)
  • Land System Change
  • Biosphere Integrity - Genetic Diversity (species loss)

Antarctic cruise ship Akademik Sergey Vavilov in the ice.

Unfortunately, the main drivers that are stressing the planetary boundaries are still in place: economic growth using unsustainable business models that destroy natural capital.

We need new business models that restore natural capital if we are to be assured of maintaining a safe operating space for humanity.

Johan Rockstrom from the Stockholm Resilience Centre talks about the Planetary Boundaries >>

To understand the relationship between the human economy and the Planetary Boundaries, it is necessary to be familiar with Natural Capital & Ecosystem Services.

Natural Capital & Ecosystem Services

Natural capital is the stock of natural assets which include soil, air, water and all living things that is provided for free by nature. In the past, natural capital was abundant. However, our global economic infrastructure is consuming natural caipital much faster than it can be replaced.

Ecosystem services are the services that nature provides humans for free. This includes the rain, stabilisation of the climate, pollination of flowering plants, and so on.

Nature generates natural capital and provides ecosystem services for free.

- When was the last time the cloud sent you an invoice for the rain that watered your lawn?

- When did you ever get a bill from a bee billed pollinating the crops.

- Who pays the phytoplankton to produce oxygen, create clouds, sequester carbon and feed our seafood?

Unfortunately, because these services are free, they are abused.

Despite the critical importance of these things, they do not show up on the company ledger and this is a key driver of them being used unsustainably.

By understanding the natural capital and ecosystem services input to your business, you gain market intelligence on the threats to your future prosperity.

Back in Sync

For most of the 200,000 years that humans have been on Earth, we have lived in-sync with nature. This is to say that we did not damage or interfere with the Earth Systems Processes and did not exceed the Planetary Boundaries. We gave as much natural capital as we took.

However, in the past 12,000 years, since the advent of human civilization, we have falled out-of-sync with nature. We have busted through the Planetary Boundaries and squandered the abundant natural capital.

In order to enjoy the Long Future, we need to get back-in-sync with nature.

The Long Future Diagram

The Long Future Diagram shows the relationship between the demand and availability of natural capital and the Short and Long Futures. If we can steer the global economy onto the sustainable, blue, trajectiory, we can enjoy the Long Future.

Contributing to the Long Future, is an noble aim for any organisation.