As the twenty-first century further unfolds, the issues of climate change, the impact upon the biosphere, biodiversity loss, societal inequalities persistently increase. All this against the backdrop of technological advance, the growth of the culture of sustainability, the circular economy, Environmental Social Governance, and many others. This suggests a rather toxic paradox. Something must change in the immediate term as we rapidly burn the IPCC carbon budget.

For this publication, the Paddy Ashdown Forum and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation Europe have joined forces to tackle the dilemma of complexity attached to so many problems related to climate change. An uncertain future marked by the effects of shifting environmental baselines, although nobody can say for sure who will be hit the hardest, and when. A seeming lack of capability to develop truly durable, holistic political solutions to what seems a multitude of fragmented single problems. The process of becoming aware that everybody’s daily choices and actions are in some way directly related to bigger problems, while at the same time realizing that the single individual is utterly unable to mitigate any issues surrounding climate change by themselves. The realization that not even an entire society can resolve any of the issues we are facing on its own. Climate change reveals all the inequalities, development speeds, social philosophies, legal systems, political goals, distributions of power, ecosystems, geo-climatic particularities, and natural preconditions for a good life that exist around the globe in all their contradictions and harsh realities. Ultimately, the topic is personal to everybody, yet so difficult to grasp.

Besides facing a climate dilemma, we are also facing a dilemma of thinking. The human brain seems utterly underequipped to handle the immense complexity of problems that climate change brings about. Unable to even grasp the problem, how are we supposed to think of solutions? Clearly, we need to change perspectives and train our brains to become familiar with this level of complexity. Thankfully, there are already tools that help us do just that, mental concepts that we can use to expand our problem solving beyond the single, one-directional issue, which we are currently still tackling one at a time. It is now on us to introduce such tools into our education system – hence, five out of eight essays in this publication focus on education – and help institutions put multifaceted solutions into practice. This process is exemplified here by three essays on applying systems thinking to a real-world situation important to us all, that of mass movement in a globalised society, made up of interconnected district, regional, or national hubs that are metro to rural. Advance transport to being not just sustainable, but viable, that sections of society are not left behind.

Thus, the essays in this collection represent a serious and thoughtful attempt to address questions of the paradox. They are written by a highly diverse panel of experienced and knowledgeable colleagues. There is a range of perspectives among them: you will see different approaches and given those differences it would be reasonable to expect some variation in how they believe the here and now, and the future, needs to be governed. Yet you will find little dissent in the authors’ overall judgment on the principles of problem-solving.

This essay collection will not give you simple answers to the important questions of humankind’s impact upon the planet, and the relationship of humankind between itself and with its freedom of choice to change life on this planet for everyone and everything living on it in this way or the other. But it will inform you of the complexity of a systems thinking approach that will affect all of us, and more especially, our children and grandchildren.

Consequently, we ask you, our dear reader, to read and understand this collection of essays in the whole. View them holistically. Taken as a whole, the essays attempt to advance thinking and actions within our relationship with each other and the natural world. To show that each and every action has a consequence that may appear distant, that traditional analytical tools and problem-solving methods do not account for, is the message we would like to convey.

And, since, today, we all find ourselves at a time of crisis – and once again witnessed a Conference Of the Parties, which, in 2021 was the 26th meeting of talking and decision-making: siloed from the COP15 for biodiversity - no coherent plan for practical action was, once again, the outcome. Thus, this collection of essays is timely as it seeks to remove the lid on sound bites, disinformation, and clever headlines to create a platform of dialogue for all ages and levels of knowledge and experience. From the enthusiastic student to the most hardened and experienced diplomat – we are all concerned in this.

This collection is an excellent sign that a highly diverse group of leading thinkers from a diverse range of backgrounds and training have taken up the challenge of tackling the climate paradox, and we trust that you will be rewarded by making time to learn from them.

Christopher Gleadle (CEO, PAF) and Dr. Nele Fabian (European Affairs Manager, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom Europe)

“If you can’t imagine it, your model can’t capture it, and that means the evidence won’t reflect it.”