Securing the Future: A Grand Strategy for Sustainability

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Doherty (L) and Mykleby (R) share their ideas at a Santa Barbara University Club luncheon hosted by the Center for Global Dialogue.

A sustainable future – a concept that ecologists, conservationists, preservationists and other environmentally inclined individuals have pursued for years, and now, with increasing focus. But what happens when businesses, economists, politicians, and even the military begin to apply this concept as a significant function of their own future prospects? As described by some, it becomes a grand strategy that paves the way for a prosperous, secure and sustainable future for our country and the rest of the world.

Patrick Doherty, Senior Fellow of the International Security Program at New America Foundation, and Mark Mykleby, Senior Fellow of the Smart Strategy Initiative at the New America Foundation, are developing exactly this – The National Grand Strategy for a Sustainable Future. Both believe that the economic focus of the United States should shift away from defending ourselves from outside enemies to defending ourselves from an even bigger threat – resource depletion related to climate change and other major environmental issues.

With a background in war and conflict, Doherty’s original focus was looking at infrastructure for the long-term transformation to peace. During the course of his work, he began to realize that the largest conflicts are triggered by climate change, and that in many war-intensive countries there is a direct connection between environmental stress and human conflict.

Doherty talks sustainability to attendees of the luncheon

Doherty talks sustainability with Richard Falk (R) and other attendees of the luncheon.

“Two-thirds of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital reserves are already depleted or are being over-consumed on a per annual basis,” explains Doherty. “This fact serves as an anchor point for understanding that it is not only climate change, but a much broader destruction of the environment…causing these human conflicts.”

With this in mind, Doherty began to consider our future and well being in a rapidly changing 21st century world. He looked to redesign our fragile system. In March of 2010, he had the opportunity to come together with Mykleby to fully develop an idea for a strategic system that will address this new reality.

Mykleby, a retiree from the US Marine Corps, spent many years co-authoring, with Navy Captain Wayne Porter, a National Strategic Narrative that addressed similar concerns as Doherty’s. Mykleby and Porter had written that our nation’s role in the 21st century inter-connected global system requires increased investment in sustainable initiatives and decreased investment in defense. “Our other strategies have always focused on threat and risk, but we wanted to make a strategy focused on opportunity,” says Mykleby. “Our nation is an organism, and we need to sustain its ecosystem and endure interest, security and prosperity.”

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Mykleby speaks on past strategies and future possibilities.

Together, Mykleby and Doherty’s ideas have brought together the National Grand Strategy for a Sustainable Future. In short, it is a strategy that would allow America to shift from laggard to leader in implementing principles of sustainability. The environment and climate change are linked issues, and the strategy sets guidelines to address this eco-system as a whole.

The strategy addresses four global challenges that Doherty identifies as a threat to our environment and society. These are inclusion, depletion, depression and resilience – all of which are fundamentally coupled yet which contain individual seeds of opportunity.

And what are these seeds of opportunity? They are the new pools of demand that have emerged, including a demand for walkable communities, or “five-minute-lifestyles”, rather than the past isolation of suburbia; regenerative agriculture that includes regional food systems; and a revolution in resource productivity that drives down energy consumption.

These pools of demand are just one factor that will push the success of the National Grand Strategy. Doherty and Mykleby believe that businesses will also play a direct role. For environmentally responsible businesses, they must continue to do what they are doing. For other types of business, Doherty believes that “they must step up and recognize that their individual corporate efforts alone are insufficient to meet our global challenge,” and that all businesses must work together to form a partnership nationally and globally to create the political space for our leaders to update the current economic laws and structures.

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Sigrid Wright (L) and Jordan BenShea.

At an individual level, Americans and other global societies must step out of their comfort zones and above the level of individual issues and take responsibility for the system as a whole. “I’m seeing everything lined and up and I’m seeing the pressure starting to build,” says Doherty. “So it’s just about really thoughtful people coming together, taking responsibility and saying ‘I want this to happen,’ thereby creating the parade, and then asking the politicians to lead it.”

Doherty and Mykleby hope to push this strategy through Washington very soon, and in an effort to do this they have set up their next piece of work – The Strategic Innovation Lab. A partnership with a number of universities and business organizations, the Strategic Innovation Lab will act as a vehicle pushing their agenda forward while helping to mobilize people from all walks of life.

“Whether conservative or liberal, freedom-loving or order-loving, we are going to be creating the vehicle that people can get engaged in with the formation of this new agenda.” It will not be an expert driven process, but instead, an engagement from all people. “We live in a resource constrained environment, but we can give our children a fate worth having,” says Mykleby hopefully.

Keep an eye out for the Strategic Innovation Lab to find out how you can help put the National Grand Strategy for a Sustainable Future into action!

To read Patrick Doherty’s article on why we need a National Grand Strategy for Sustainability, click here.

Written by Meagan Hanna. Photos courtesy of Erica Mesker from the Center for Global Dialogue.

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