Truth to Power

I sing with a local community group called Sing United. One of our key characteristics is that we sing “songs with meaning”. Each concert is dedicated to a local cause and the songs are grouped around a central theme that relates to that cause. In April 2020, we were due to sing a concert called Emergency Planet Earth but – ironically – due to a real planet-wide emergency, we never got to sing that concert.

At long last in early November 2021, we’re going to present a new concert. Some of the songs from the cancelled April 2020 concert also features in our November 2021 show. One of those songs is “Truth to Power” by OneRepublic. Like most of the songs we’ve sung, the lyrics haunt me every time I sing them with my friends in Sing United. This particular song has more power than usual to move me because it relates to a theme that’s been running round my mind for more than a year now. So, finally, I’m writing this to try and get what’s in my mind out on paper.

“Truth to Power” is written as a plea from the Earth to humanity that it’s fragile and needs looking after. The climatic line, for me, is “I could tell you I’m immune to everything but that’s a lie”. This clearly refers to the now well-publicised global environmental threat that faces us in the 21st century.

I’m confident that you’ll have heard of “climate change”. If you follow the news at all, you’ll know about the COP26 Conference in Glasgow that starts today. You might have come across the Earthshot initiative that Sir David Attenborough, Prince William and others launched to galvanise communities and innovative people across the globe to participate towards a common set of goals – all in connection with “saving the planet”.

Most people reading this probably understand the underlying issue as something like this: There’s increasingly too much carbon in the atmosphere causing Earth to heat up and, in turn, causing sea levels to rise potentially creating chaos in many coastal cities and impacting global weather in ways that will cause loss of life on a potentially huge scale.”

While this is true, my worry is that the media and politicians focus only on “climate change” and that they’re missing the bigger picture that offers a more complete understanding of the situation we’re in, coupled with a hopeful and positive model for society’s future. As well as tackling the full range of environmental issues, this model addresses the inequalities we see and experience today. There’s no question that it’s ambitious and huge and unimaginably complex but it’s also the best model I’ve ever seen for a hopeful future for my grandchildren. And for yours.

The model is called The Doughnut. It was created by combining a Planetary Boundaries environment model with a Social Foundation model. Here it is:

The 9 outer processes (“climate change” etc) comprise the so-called Planetary Boundaries model. Developed by a global team of environmental experts over many years and led by Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, it presents a set of 9 global processes that we depend on to have a planet that can sustain life.

The team has defined a set of measurable boundaries for each process and is now tracking our actual global status against those boundaries. Beyond each boundary, the Earth’s environment is at high risk of “tumbling” into a chaotic state or, just as worrying, a new equilibrium that locks us into an environment that is potentially uninhabitable.

The 12 inner processes are the key factors for a fair Social Foundation; that is, in short, a society in which all humans can have a decent life. So this covers food, water, energy, education and so on.

So this model offers a holistic view of the factors that we (“humanity”) need to manage in order to both preserve the planetary environment and create and sustain a fair and equitable existence for future generations.

The science behind this is complex but very clear. I may address that another day. For now, I wanted to provide a simple and short explanation of The Doughnut model in the hope that it sparks some interest in some readers. There really is a genuine global crisis looming and there really are a bunch of clever people working to address it. So for me there is both high danger and a lot of hope.

So this is all a part of a response to the plea expressed in that song Truth to Power. The weak and fragile Earth needs help that can only come from the species that has both done the most damage and has the most potential to intervene in a positive way to “fix the planet”

On a personal level, I struggle to see how I – or you – can help with any of this. This will form the purpose of my next article. Watch this space!

Comments welcome.


  • Dipak Patel

    At school (Geography) I was told that the seas & the oceans had an “assimilative capacity”
    That is is the ability for pollutants to be absorbed by an environment without detrimental effects to the environment or those who use it. Natural absorption into an environment is achieved through dilution, dispersion and removal through chemical or biological processes.
    So I grew up thinking nature took care of all the rubbish, toxic chemicals, and plastics that I would ever produce and more critically that I didn’t need to do anything at all to continue to live on a nice, clean safe, non toxic planet. The notion of preserving it never even entered my small brain. How could it with that mindset.
    It framed my thinking on the environment, our short stay on this planet and what we do on it, up until a couple of years ago .
    It was a fundamental perspective of mine , that you could say underpinned the 12 inner processes of the Fair Social Foundation that you have shown us.
    I have slowly come to realise that one of the few things I actually learned at school and remember to this day, (assimilative capacity) is probably just (excuse the pun) pure rubbish !!!
    I can’t expect my existence to have no impact on the planet. I will leave a thumb print/ carbon footprint that will disrupt the planet, no matter how small.
    Do I know what to do about it ? No.
    Will I do anything about it. Yes, hopefully something, but it will be small in comparison.
    I am not an advocate for being an eco warrior, I will never be one or hope to be one. But I am so glad, happy and comforted that the generations that come after us will not and do not believe in the theory of “assimilative capacity”.
    That will be the framework that defines their 12 inner processes for a fair social foundation that will protect the ecological ceiling, and hopefully will help save the planet in a much more meaningful way.
    Thx Pete, your article made me think, even more than when I learned about assimilative capacity at school in 1979. My geography teacher (Mr Scranage) would be proud of me remembering it.
    I always hoped I could answer a quiz question on assimilative capacity, (I am a bit if a show off ) , very few would know the term, that’s probably why I remembered it.
    I can now say I have used what I learned at school. Box ticked.Algebra was never my strong point.
    I’m looking forward to reading your next article on what I can do about it all.

    • Peter Berrie

      Hi Dipak. Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I think the concept of “assimilative capacity” is probably true for some aspects of the ocean’s properties but only, of course, in relation to the introduction of substances of natural origins, such as plant material washed in from a river or fish carcasses. It’s reasonable to conclude that anything manmade that is not biodegradable could never be reabsorbed and recycled by nature.

      I do think Mr Scranage would be proud of you for remembering the concept though!

      Thanks again