In the First World War, the first tanks appear on the battlefield. They were fearsome things in their day, able to repel machine guns and straddle trenches to fire down on the occupants. No matter they were slow and easily picked off by artillery.
Their biggest weakness was their means of communication: carrier pigeons. Business-as-usual was to write a short message and attach it to the leg of a bird that may or may not make its way back to base, a none too helpful one-way message.
In the Second World War, tanks had moved on. Radios replaced the pigeons but they had no off switch and so the entire brigade heard the screams of the crews consumed by fire when their coffin on tracks was hit. It must have been horrendous.
Modern tanks all have GPS, are tracked to the millimetre and second, carry multiple comms backups and yet are still vulnerable to anti-tank grenades delivered old-school.
Soon enough drone tanks will become business-as-usual. Unmanned killing machines without feelings or fear.
What worked yesterday may not today.
There are two reasons for this.
The first is that there is a good chance that something better, more fit for purpose, has appeared through the human addiction to innovation and being smart. A new way of doing whatever it is gets invented out of curiosity or profit that is way better than business-as-usual.
The second reason is that there is no such thing as usual. If you have been around long enough you know what I mean. Nature, people, commerce, tanks, whatever it is, today’s circumstances are not the same as yesterday’s and tomorrow is yesterday today.
When change is everywhere and inevitable, business-as-usual is the least effective idiom we have.
It should be business-as-change.
Instead, we latch onto BAU believing in it. It is the system that works right now so why change it. This is the common paradigm of ‘if it ain’t broke’ and is actually fine if it ain’t. The problem is that we don’t always know if the system is broken or not, especially when usual activities are slowly changing the conditions, as happens in agriculture.
In a few instances, business-as-usual may be the only option because it is not possible to change.
Those early tanks had pigeons because there was nothing else. In a famous example, the tanks won a battle and punched a hole in the enemy lines but the infantry commanders didn’t know and by the time they found out the enemy had regrouped. At the time there was no better way to communicate.
Modernity has a few of these scenarios still where we actually are stuck because there is, as yet, nothing better.
Alloporus contends that this is actually quite rare. More often business-as-usual is our mantra because it is the easiest path or the path that is familiar. And so we stick with it instead of asking for change towards something better.
Herein is the challenge.
A lot of what we do today under the guise of commerce for profit justified by its familiarity is actually killing the goose. We are mining our soils, clearing vegetation that provides services, changing the climate and simplifying nature every chance we get to the extent that business-as-usual in our agricultural systems will send us broke and starve half the world.
Fortunately, there are better ways already available. Most of the environmental challenges we face can either be fixed, mitigated or adapted to but not, repeat not, under BAU.
When to change business-as-usual is right now.
Since this post was first drafted more than 5 million hectares of forest in NSW have been burned in large and voracious bushfires.
The extent and severity of this disturbance to mostly wild forest systems is new, at least to the historical record. It might have happened in the distant past but nothing like it recently.
The fires will have knocked back animal pests and weeds to levels not imagined under business-as-usual control.
It is a challenge with many native animals lost but also a massive opportunity to create a better place for the survivors.
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