A Swedish expert in social, ecological and economic
sustainability urged students to begin “playing the game” in becoming
sustainable Tuesday night.
Karl-Henrik Robert, the founder of a scientific consensus on
sustainability called The Natural Step, addressed an almost-full Mills Hall.
The Natural Step is a consensus developed by numerous
experts in various fields of science. The consensus outlines a description of a
level of sustainability — the ability for the earth to withstand and survive
our current way of life — and a strategy to uphold that level.
According to Robert, humans as a species need to focus less
on the individual and more on society and the system that is holding society up
as a whole. He described this by explaining how a family may spend millions to
save one life but will still be destroying the habitat of the entire human
Tom Eggert, senior lecturer for the University of Wisconsin
School of Business, agreed with Robert.
Eggert said parents would do anything to save their child’s
life, yet they “are acting in ways that are increasing their [children’s]
chances of cancer.”
For example, Eggert said parents let their children drink
diet soda, which has been said to cause health problems.
The Natural Step has four main rules. The first three
outline ways to be more conscious of what materials we use and what we’re putting
back into our biosphere, according to Eggert.
The fourth rule is concerned with how people treat each
“Even if we solve science issues, if we continue to
concentrate the wealth within circles of a few people, it is not healthy for us
in the long run,” Eggert said.
Robert explained how his fourth point serves to emphasize
the importance of allocating the earth’s resources more evenly.
“We are not (currently) ensuring the capacity to meet the
needs for everyone,” he said.
Robert repeatedly called attention to the lack of leadership
in the sustainability movement. He explained how progress cannot truly take off
without the proper leadership.
“People are willing to sacrifice, but they can’t believe in
the system. Since we can’t believe in the leadership, we don’t do anything,”
Robert said. “I can come year after year and tell you about the steps, but it
means nothing until the leadership is there.”
Robert said the sustainability movement has already taken
root in Madison, and the city’s citizens should continue their efforts to make
Madison a role model.
Senior Emma Ingebretsen attended the lecture to learn more
about sustainability and systems thinking.
“We need to achieve sustainability in Madison,” Ingebretsen
said. “The Natural Step is a very effective way to do that.”
According to Eggert, Robert’s lecture was probably one of
the most important lectures a college student could attend because of the role
sustainability debates will play in the near future.
“After 3.4 billion years, we are approaching reverse
evolution,” Robert said. “You can absolutely hate nature. You can be a person
who is obsessed and only cares about money, and you should still follow [The