Adeela Hameed

Systemic Change for Environmental Conservation

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Protecting the environment – a sentence easy to understand but difficult to hold – is a go-to motto of every eco-sensitive individual out there. As there are multiple ways to be sustainable, we have to understand not every one, entirely depends on a single human being. Yes, we have to take care of our footprint, but not just that will help us power through climate change mitigation strategies or aid in adapting to new environments. What will really make a huge difference is the route of systemic change.

What’s systemic change anyway?

The definition is abstract in tone, controversial, and more concerned with diagnosing the wrongs rather than offering concrete solutions. Ambiguous and difficult to grasp?

Let me make it clear and comprehensible for you – explaining it with regards to three key aspects.

It’s about sustainable and scalable impacts

Sustainability and large-scale impact are two of the central features of systemic change. Parties responsible should own the change, be it private enterprises, government agencies, or civil society organizations. Systemic change calls for a wider and larger impact – both in scope and quality – going beyond a few farmers, youth, municipalities, and the like.

Development challenges have durable solutions at their core which can be more than patches of success. Though these challenges aren’t new; what has been lacking is an efficient way of stirring the changes.

Having a feasible and relevant vision by any development initiative is the start of stimulating such changes. What it will require is taking stock of current work, and developing a realistic impression of how this will transform, once the present initiatives or projects are over, in the future.

The underlying objective is – what you do is less important than how you do it – to improve mismatched, inadequate, oreven absent systems.

It’s about the dynamic structures of a system

This seems complicated. But with the risk of oversimplification, what it means is the rules, practices, customs, norms, relationships, power dynamics, and resource flows around a system. It can be in a governance system, an education system, an ecological system, a health system, or any other for that matter.

For this, it’s imperative toknow what shapes the behaviours, practices,and material conditions of people – individuals, businesses, public sector offices, civil societies – within a system.

Let’s take the serious challenge of mitigating the effects of global warming. Unresponsive, impractical, and outdated curricula in our education system is one of the root causes that we are lost in the abyss, not informed enough toproduce definite solutions regarding this issue. We don’t promote creativity and action in our schools. Rather our focus is on the highest percentage or grade obtained. What adds to the macabre truth isthat our young people don’t necessarily choose what to study as per their ability.Even if that means investing their time and energy in technology or research that would help us face the climate change conundrum!This is true at least in most developing countries or countries in transition, like India. Perceptions of parents or norms of communities shape what students pursue to study or work.

It requires enhancing processes

An education, advocacy, or a health system isn’t static. This is true for our ecological and global environmental systems as well. All systems, including our climate, continuously evolve. We have known this since the beginning. Yet, such changes may not be in a positive or meaningful way, i.e. for the benefit of our disadvantaged or excluded groups.

In this line, Shawn Cunningham and Marcus Jenal argue that,

Rather than seeking to ‘make’ change happen, development initiatives should focus on ‘creating access’ for all levels of the society to contribute to and shape this process…

Thus, it shows that systems in developing countries or countries in transition don’t need projects – from outside – to enter and support durable and large-scale changes. Why do we need others for change to happen? Although technological inventions and researches related to sustainability can be shared, however, what we need for proper implementation is quite simple – act on it!

We can’t wait for America or China to do things for us. India has to take a stand against what ails it. Be it air pollution or poverty. Therefore the role of environment-relateddevelopment projects, such as the reduction in emission initiatives or utilization of renewable energy technology, which will enhance further action in achieving systemic change need to complementary and facilitative.

Contributions by a nation in enhancing processes, involving dynamic structures of its national systems, and catering to sustainable and scalable impacts correspond to a systemic change.

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