Importance of Culture in Ecological Dialogue

by Salim Al-Hassani Published on: 21st April 2013

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Professor Al-Hassani addressed in a keynote lecture the 16th Eurasian Economic Summit organised in Istanbul on 10-11 April 2013. His speech in a session on the "Importance of Culture in Ecological Dialogue" was entitled "A Holistic World Systemic Model for Government Decision Makers". We present hereafter the text of this lecture with illustrations.


16th Eurasian Economic Summit Istanbul 2013

A Holistic World Systemic Model for Government Decision Makers

by Professor Salim T S Al-Hassani,
President Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation (FSTC), UK

Good morning Honorable Guests, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

The title of this session is Culture and Ecological Dialogue. The organisers of the Summit described their expectation from this session by this sentence:

“We are tenants of the Nature. However, we insist not to fulfill our responsibilities. Consequently all living creatures are under constant threat. What should be our duty towards our future?”

I am sure you all agree with me that a high and sustainable quality of life is a central goal for humanity. Our current socio-ecological regime and its set of interconnected worldviews, institutions, and technologies all support the goal of unlimited growth of material production and consumption as a proxy for quality of life. However, abundant evidence shows that, beyond a certain threshold, not only does further material growth not meet humanity’s central goal, it actually creates significant hurdles to sustainability through increasing resource constraints like oil and water limitations as well as climate disruption. A quick look at the first three figures (Curtsey of Tony Hodgson – Decision Integrity and IFF) show how population, urban living, energy consumption and ecosystem distress increased in an alarming manner over a period of 100 years. 

Overcoming these hurdles and creating a sustainable and desirable future will require an integrated, systems level redesign of our socio-ecological regime focused explicitly and directly on the goal of sustainable quality of life in a single planet living rather than the proxy of unlimited material growth.


If we live like Cubans we probably manage in one planet, but if we all live like Australians we shall require about 4 planets. You cannot imagine how many planets we shall need if we all lived like Texans.

This transition, like all cultural transitions, will occur through an evolutionary process, but one that we, to a certain extent, can control and direct. This figure shows how a transition can take place from the present Horizon 1 state to the final state, Horizon3, through a realistic process, Horizon 2.

So we all have a common cause, a better future. It is our legacy to all of our children and theirs too, wherever they are in the world, whatever race, color, culture, religion, sex or age they are. Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem using the thinking that created it. This is where we need to see real innovation – in how we perceive, how we think, how we relate, how we grow, how we communicate, how we change, how we learn. Together. All of these things must be done together.

The questions facing us now are about how will we do this, where do we start, how do we overcome the barriers of culture, religion, politics and history. These are big issues but they are precisely the reasons why the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation (FSTC), of which I am President, was formed some twelve short years ago.

I would like to give you an argument, which I hope will help.

When each of us looks at a particular situation, we will all see different issues, different causes, different problems to overcome, different solutions, different resources we can apply, different hurdles and different ways through. Because we are all different – this is a reflection of our identity, which is unique for each of us. So we try to build the future, in the present, through – and using – our identity. Our identity is shaped by the culture which surrounds us, our family and friends, our education, the media we are subjected to, the religion we are introduced to and so on. These things form our identity, which is formed in the past. It is through the eyes of the past that we look at the present and towards the future. We all have different pasts, some of which are in conflict. We at the FSTC believe those pasts can be changed.

A major reason for which FSTC was formed, was to address what we refer to as 1000 years of amnesia. In the West – certainly in the UK and Europe – we are taught that, before the Middle Ages, the Greeks and Romans (and maybe some Chinese and Indians) did all of the thinking and making. And then, during the Middle Ages, not much was going on and, suddenly, almost out of nowhere, the Renaissance happened, and within a magical 50 years or so many inventions and discoveries were made that have produced our modern world. And then there is a continuous history until today. This is simply untrue.

During those Middle Ages, whilst not much was happening in Europe, important discoveries were being made, the knowledge passed on by the Greeks and Romans was being built upon and all of this was done in a civilisation that stretched from Spain to China and included more or less all religions, and cultures. So many of the basics of our modern world were given to us by the civilisation that focused all of this knowledge, invention, discovery, literature, poetry, medicine, and entertainment. And yet we are not taught this. So the West appears as the source of all of our culture. So if you look at tenable proper history, with an open mind, we suggest that you will see a past that is not what you thought it was, that did not include so much culture from, for instance, the Muslim civilisation, or the Chinese, or the Indian and so on – all of whom have contributed to our modern world.

So, to get back to my short argument, you find that we each share part of our past with people a lot of us think of as ‘not us’. And so we find that at least part of our identity is shared with those who we might think of as threatening or adversaries. But, if we all have a partly shared past then we have a partly shared identity. Our identity becomes enriched and so, when we look at the problems of the present, we can do so through a different identity, one that is enriched with a shared past and so we can work more effectively in the present to build that so important shared future.

Consider for example how Istanbul had acted as a hub for scholars, scientists and entrepreneurs from Europe and Asia in developing innovative ideas and inventions in Science and Technology and Medicine. The past work of great scholars from Asia came to Istanbul to be later on studied by scholars from East Europe. Unfortunately, the subject of East European scholars is little known and it requires urgent research.

So, here is the crux of this argument. If we are to work together in the present towards a better shared future we have to move to a space above and beyond our differences. The most common shared space of all is that of Science. If we focus on religion we will clash, if we focus on politics we will clash and look for domination. But if we focus on science, we can work together as scientists always have. This is why we call it a ‘New Space for Dialogue’.

The next questions are still about how to work together. Any tools for dialogue and working together must be systemic – they must have at the core the notion that everything is linked with everything else in some way. In the UK, we keep hearing the expression ‘systemic failure’ more and more when something fails in the public or private sector. Tools must also be inclusive, not exclusive – they must include, or allow the inclusion of all people, not just an elite of some kind. They must deal with the complexity of the present and the increasing complexity of the future. They must be recursive in the nature – this is a tricky one. By this I mean that they must be capable of dealing with issues on a local or global scale and all points in between. And they must be usable by ordinary people as well as highly skilled negotiators, facilitators and such like.

There are innovative tools that have all of these characteristics. There is not enough time for me to go into them in this short talk – which is already close to being too long, but I will very briefly share a couple of them with you, that FSTC has selected and is helping to deliver to the world.

Being the future (BtF)

The first challenge is to find practical ways to help us work towards that better shared future for which we all yearn and strive. Our framework for this is called, aptly, Be The Future. It was developed, by Ian Kendrick – Management Consultant FSTC UK in rapidly changing environments and is a way of helping us all, as individuals and groups, get attuned to the ecosystem of which we are a part. The research behind BtF focused on what it is that remarkable people and organisations do to stay attuned with all of these things. It starts with an ability to see things afresh and differently when things change – to ‘re-perceive’, to shift our attitude. Attitude is something which can be chosen, rather than something that just happens to us. Once we become conscious of this, we can change far more rapidly and dissolve entrenched positions and barriers. From here we need to communicate our new understanding in a way that includes everyone involved and helps to align them and attune them to the situation. Only then can we start to organize in new ways. BtF is what we call a meta model – it is a guiding framework that includes a range of tools to help us be better at working together. FSTC provides leadership courses that use BtF to help the attendees develop these skills very quickly – the skills of remarkable people.

Here is a picture of the core of the BtF framework; the full framework is much bigger than this (alongside is a picture of two of our students in Turkey using the framework in one of our courses – they were identifying remarkable people they could use as role models, from their own culture and history):

BtF is our starting point. From there we can deploy advanced tools focused on specific topics. I would like to touch on two of these.

The World Model and Game

BtF helps us open up and understand why and how we might start to think differently. We then need tools that enable us to transform our thinking about the future of our cities, institutions and organisations, see figure showing a ‘Meta Bridge’ of tools relevant to future city planning (courtesy Tony Hodgson). They should enable us cross a bridge from the present (Business as usual state), to breaking the mold and reaching the new horizon and conforming to what we might think of as one planet living. By this I mean that we only have one planet and we need to use its resources very wisely if we are not to ruin it for future generations. We don’t have a spare planet with more resources we can use when this one is spent.

No major project, such as city or urban zone, can be planned or modified without considering a host of complex interactions between a large number of factors and interdependencies. Many mistakes are frequently made due to “unintended consequences” and “emergent properties“, which were originally thought to be insignificant but turn out to be devastating.

I would like to introduce a New World Systemic Model, developed from multi-dimensional systems by Tony Hodgson-Decision Integrity. This model (which can be used in a game) enables government leaders such as city planners and decision makers to handle transformation from their present paradigm to their required future one.

The World Model consists of looking at a set of 12 interlinked dependencies that we all have to balance and work with when we try to make our villages, towns, cities, countries work and be in harmony with their environments. These include: Health & Wellbeing, Food & Agriculture, Business & Trade, Energy & Earth Resources, Climate Change Intensity, Ecosystems Services, Water Availability, Habitat & Infrastructure, Economy Wealth, Governance & Institutions, Community & Resilience and Cultural Values & Worldviews.

The reason it is also usable as a ‘game’ is that it has been designed as such so that anyone can use it without much prior training and to break down the barriers when we interact. It shows not just those 12 dependencies, but how they are linked together and affect each other. The World Model/Game has been used around the globe.


So, it is possible to renew our approach to working together in the present moment to build a better shared future? We can apply our new knowledge of innovation and entrepreneurialism combined with the values and wisdom of the past to that most important of common causes, our future. The first thing we must do is to choose our attitude to the future and to our environment and then to act to achieve attunement with one planet living. Thank you.

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