Magazine article UN Chronicle

Vision Needs a Seat at the Negotiating Table

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Vision Needs a Seat at the Negotiating Table

Article excerpt

When American theorist Buckminster Fuller said, "[we] are called to be architects of the future, not its victims," he may not have known how difficult a challenge that would become in the years following his death.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In the second decade of the twenty-first century, the architecture we need to solve global problems--including the barriers to a more sustainable civilization--is as daunting as the problems themselves. It requires unprecedented levels of international collaboration, new institutions and systems, and the courage to confront threats not only to everyday life but to the natural systems that support life itself. Mere transactions are not sufficient. In the words of businessman and entrepreneur Sam Walton: "Incrementalism is innovation's worst enemy. We don't need continuous improvement, we want radical change."

Although he might not have imagined how great the challenge would become, Fuller's analogy remains instructive. Let's think about what architects usually do. First, they have a conversation with their clients to learn their needs and wishes. That conversation is an exchange of information: a combination of the client's requirements and the architect's knowledge of the latest and best designs in the building business. Next, the architect renders one or more design options. Once the client approves, the architect draws up the plans that will guide the engineers and contractors who do the construction.

Apply this process to world affairs with the world's people as clients, sustainable development as their requirement, the United Nations as the architectural firm, and international negotiators as the architects. It appears that two critical elements in the process need to be improved: dialogue with the clients, and rendering the designs they have seen, understand, and want.

In the context of the United Nations work on sustainable development, including the June 2012 Rio+20 Conference, there has been a great deal of consultation with stakeholders but until now, not at the level of a true global conversation. In addition, design renderings--in this case visualizations of sustainable societies--have not been a significant element in negotiations. Yet, we have extraordinary capabilities for global dialogues and a vision that we did not have when the first Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Widespread public access to the Internet's information superhighway did not exist then, nor did the many social media that allow conversations to take place without boundaries in real time. Consultation between policymakers and the people around the world whose futures are at stake has never been as possible as it is now.

Meanwhile, communications technologies and visual arts have advanced so far that it's often difficult to distinguish reality from virtual reality. The entertainment industry uses these technologies to take us to imaginary worlds; the advertising industry uses them to entice us into new desires. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the pictures we are able to generate today can be infinitely more valuable in reaching the public than policy documents on topics as abstract as sustainable development. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on 22 November 2011: "We need to imagine a different future. What would our world look like if everyone had access to the food they need, to an education, and to the energy that is required to develop? What would our communities look like if we created a vibrant, job-rich, green economy? This is the future we want."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It is not that visions of the future are absent from society; rather, visions of the negative kind tend to dominate popular media. Think of the documentary film The 11th Hour, the movies The Day After Tomorrow and The Road, or the nightly news images of economic collapse, war, homelessness, joblessness, and the brutal treatment of people by their Governments. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.