Enough with the Band-Aids. It’s Time for Solutions!

If the goal is to solve (or avert) the problems of business as usual, then it is going to take more than band-aids to do it.

That is a simple lesson that I teach my students every semester, and one that requires them to go through a series of exercises to identify the root factors causing the problems that emit the byproiducts we are seeing, who the stakeholders are of the key factors, and then how to effectively engage them into a solution that will address ROOT FACTORS.

By doing this, and moving beyond addressing byproducts, the goal is to nip it in the bud so to speak.  To fix the problem BEFORE its byproducts are able to impact the wider systems (directly and indirectly), rather than apply a fix to what is visible.

Unfortunately, the recent post from Greenpeace The Solutions on China’s air pollution issues highlights that those who are in a position of influence are still falling into the trap.  The trap whereby the byproduct itself creates a nice “fix it” story that no one is interested in looking past the byproduct to fix the system

The most basic solution for air pollution is to end its root causes: quit coal and move away from fossil fuels, replacing them with clean, renewable energy.

In the short-term, there are many intermediate solutions for air pollution. However, all of these solutions require governments to recognize the impact of air pollution on public health and the economy, and take action immediately.

  • In China, update the Air Quality Index to include PM2.5, the most dangerous form of particulate matter, and make air quality information easily available to the public.
  • In Hong Kong, update and amend the Air Quality Objectives to match World Health Organization targets
  • Tighten the controls for power plant emissions to reduce emissions
  • Introducing cleaner fuel standards and switching to electric vehicle
  • Restrict the construction of power plants and other energy-intensive industries near residential areas
  • Improve urban planning to increase green spaces
  • Take air quality into consideration when conducting environmental assessments for major projects; for example, flyovers and highways should be far away from residential areas.

Looking at the above, what is happening is that Greenpeace’s analyst has labeled air pollution as “the” problem, and then proceeded to identify transparency in reporting, emission controls, fuel standards, lacking green space, and urban planning as the root causes. An approach that I feel is incorrect as it labels the problem incorrectly, the medium (coal) as the sole source of the problem, and the solution set that is presented does not address core issues the CREATE air pollution beyond cars and coal.

The above is simply applying band-aids to the byproducts, and in a way that would at best slow down / contain the impacts, but would certainly not result in a systemic change that would eliminate the byproducts.  What the goal really should be.  To accomplish that, and to develop a true solution, the process needs to change.  It must start with taking the physical/ tangible byproduct (air pollution in this case), and the analyzing the systems that are creating the byproduct to understand what solutions can be implemented.

Solutions that would permanently move the levels of emissions downward.

In reviewing the above, what strikes me the most is the lack of systems thinking.

Coal is seen as an evil.

Cars are seen as an evil.

There is no systemic approach to the problem, the real problem, and as such no depth exists as you why each of these evils (anything that results in carbon) exists and the solution set needed.  As is, it is a piece that is focused on building a message to support a supply side solution set, and ultimately that is nothing more than a band-aid to the byproducts of the system.

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