My Speech at the Teen Eco Summit 2022

my speech at the Teen Eco Summit 2022
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals

This is a semi-transcript of my speech at the Teen Eco Summit 2022 at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium today. I didn’t actually write it beforehand, I just gave it. So now I am recording it, here it goes.

  1. No Poverty
  2. Zero Hunger
  3. Good Health and Well-Being
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  9. Industry Innovation and Infrastructure
  10. Reduce Inequity
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  12. Responsible Production and Consumption
  13. Climate Action
  14. Life Below the Water
  15. Life on Land
  16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  17. Partnerships Towards the Goals

Good morning! I am Jim Bruner, Sultan of Systems at The PAST Foundation and Alpha Animal at Mezzacello Urban Farm in Columbus Ohio. I am very excited to be here and speaking to you about the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals and what they mean to our society, and to each of you. So here we go.

During the day I work at the PAST Foundation as the Sultan of Systems. Yes, that is my actual title. I got to choose it and I love it.

The PAST Foundation is an amazing #AppliedSTEM and hands-on learning center here in Columbus. PAST develops unique ways for teachers, students, communities, families and business and industry leaders to learn together. PAST advocates teaching and learning the way humans actually learn to create new ways of teaching and learning through the Design Cycle and problem-based learning.

I love my job and I love our impact.

The rest of my time is spent at Mezzacello, my house and urban farm in downtown Columbus, Ohio and the center of all my research and dedication. The PAST Foundation sponsors Mezzacello and what I learn at PAST, I adapt at Mezzacello. So My urban farm is packed with problem-based learning, sensors, robots, and innovation.

If you’d like to know more about either PAST Foundation or Mezzacello, just go online, type either PASTFoundation or Mezzacello in a browser and add a “.org”. I help maintain the website at PAST and I built the website for Mezzacello. In fact, that knowledge is what I am here today to talk to you about: Multi-tasking and impact and the role of sustainability.

My Background

I started out my career in the military. It taught me inclusion, discipline, and gave me a way of looking for and applying order to the world. I finished my career there, but kept those attributes in my next career pivot.

After the military I studied industrial design and soon pivoted to a degree in data science and computer programming. Now I work with an amazing team of anthropologists, ethnographers, researchers, teachers, artists, and engineers at the PAST Foundation. With this in mind, let’s discuss the impacts and scales of the SDG premise, shall we?

Breaking Down the UN 17 SDG Framework

NOTE: I should state here that the way I see this is entirely my own perception. Upon analysis I thought it resonates better with individuals if we can find a way to relate the 17 SDGs to the culture we are addressing as well as the age groups.

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals inform every decision I make at Mezzacello. It is easy to tie all my camps, workshops, and lesson plans to these 17 Goals because I picture them as a spectrum that range from the individual to the family unit, to the village to the state, region and ultimately to a global scale. Let’s explore this spectrum.

Let’s look at SDG #1: END POVERTY. Tell me is that an individual or a global scale goal? You tell me.

NOTE: The answers were mixed, individual and global.

For the Time being, let’s assume that this first goal is an individual scale. In fact let’s focus on the first five goals as individual scale goals altogether. That is:

  • 1. End Poverty
  • 2. Zero Hunger
  • 3. Good Health and Well Being
  • 4. Quality Education
  • 5. Gender Equality.

It’s easy to make a case that these five are in fact individual scale items. In fact when we make these goals global, they quickly overwhelm us and we are paralyzed. That doesn’t mean that is not true, but it does mean it is worthwhile to start at the scale of the individual, we’ll come back to this.

Obviously, poverty is NOT a choice, it is a situation. It can be countered. Hunger is also a situational construct. And it is related often to poverty.

Poverty or wealth can ameliorate or diminish hunger, but it does not do this by itself. Each of these Sustainable Development Goals builds upon the last.

In fact these SDGs are an algorithm. An algorithm is just a well-defined sequence of steps, explained clearly enough that even a computer could do them. So this way of thinking about the individual all the way through to the planet scale has a pattern that builds on the impact of that previous goal and is more focused as we climb through them.

Take Good Health and Well Being. It cannot exist without the previous two goals being addressed.
The same is true for Quality Education.

  • 4. Quality Education
  • 5. Gender Equality

Humans do not learn well in crisis or hunger nor in a state of fear. So Quality Education relies on the first three and enlightens the minds of the planet to the necessity of Gender Equality. In fact, quality education is fundamental to almost every one of the following Sustainable Development Goals, especially Gender Equality.

No glory or goal is worth it if it requires diminishing the power and wisdom of half a planet’s population. This one really resonates with me as I have two daughters-in-law and five granddaughters set to inherit this world. They are my heart and in addition to a quality education, they need me to believe in them and fight for them.

UN SDG 5 is the first place where the scale and scope of this algorithm as a personal, individual construct starts to shift. Is any one brain, talent, genius, or empathy more valuable than another due to its’ gender? Do we really dare to believe this to be true?

I say no. I am wise and empathetic enough to know that Genius has no Gender. A great mind is a great mind.

Gender Equality is even more valuable if the first four goals are met. I know humans with amazing skill, talent, genius, kindness, looks, and passion, they, them, he, she, those. I promise you that to me their gender or method of reproducing is entirely irrelevant to their impact on my world — and so should it be for all of us.

Genius has no gender, no boundaries, no limits. But in order for that genius to blossom we need no poverty, zero hunger, health and wellness and a quality education. And this brings us to SDG 6 and the first true shift from the personal to more social structures: Access to clean water and sanitation. A river runs through it and it is shared by all along it.

The First Shift in Perspective

  • 6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  • 7. Affordable and Clean Energy

Yes, Clean Water and Sanitation and Affordable and Clean Energy are shifts in structure as they deal with resources shared by groups. These are also goals I spend a great deal of time speaking on and and researching at both the PAST Foundation and Mezzacello. In fact, at Mezzacello I have multiple inventions, sensors and robots that do just these two SDGs!

It’s important to remember that the majority of the water on this planet is locked up in oceans and that less than 1% of that total volume of water is fresh water. All of that fresh water passes through our atmosphere and returns as rain. When it rains down through a polluted sky, those pollutants come back into the water – the fresh water we drink – as well.

And what else is passing through that atmosphere? Energy in the form of wind, clouds, and sunlight. Free sunlight that heats the air and causes the wind and water cycles to activate all across the paper-thin atmosphere that cloaks this planet.

We do not OWN this atmosphere, this water, this wind, sunlight, we SHARE it. But we do own the pollutants, and we do have the knowledge, thanks to a quality education, to interact with and improve these resources and tools. We can improve them, but not if we think it’s someone else’s problem. Who do we think we are? Hermits?

The Hermit and the Environment

  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth

A hermit is a human who lives alone in a cave and never leaves that cave and never deals with anyone. What does Decent Work and Economic Growth have to do with this hermit? He needs nothing, sees no one, trades nothing.

This is a myth and it is a dangerous myth. In a lot of ways this simple idea of a hermit, all alone and not really interacting with anyone is like the life of a child. While children are not alone, they are similar to the hermit with very little access or interaction.

That hermit off the grid not interacting still has the agency to act in the world if he needs it. So do the young people in our world. In fact with access to quality education and gender equality they – you – are empowered, encouraged and enabled to act.

No human, animal, plant, bacteria, archaea or virus exists as an island or in a vacuum. It is simply impossible. This reality requires cooperation and compromise and so does the hermit – and the children – who will one day inherit this world.

Every human alive desires and deserves to have purpose and dignity. This is what Decent Work and Economic Growth is addressing: Purpose. Does any one of us really want to live in a world of all take and no give?

Is this leadership? Or is this foolish entitlement? We want to know we matter in the world and to do that requires dignity, goals, cooperation, and trade.

This is true in the natural world! Here at this zoo for example, there are animals coexisting and depending on one another. It is true in the human world, here in this room for example! Everything has purpose and meaning — even the hermit alone in his cave, surrounded in his biome, or the kid with his future ahead of them has a role to play.

This is where Leadership begins to emerge. We watched that video together of how to start a movement. It was the second follower that gave meaning and validity to the movement and allowed the leader to lead through inspiration.

I am here to be the crazy man in search of followers to help me build a movement within your ranks! What I say next is the pivot point of the Sustainable Development Goals. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure.

The Rise of Culture and Social Structures

  • 9. Industry innovation and Infrastructure

It is worth noting that this goal and its call for Innovation lies right at the middle of these 17 Goals. Innovation is where leadership and culture begin to take shape. As a futurist, farmer, and Sultan of Systems at The PAST Foundation, and as Alpha Animal at Mezzacello, innovation is near and dear to my heart.

Innovation is a form of culture. Industry is a system. But Infrastructure is how all of us are tied together as a society.

When we ignore innovation we stagnate. When we value industry over our wellbeing, or natural resources, we pollute. When we ignore infrastructure is when we all fail.


That last piece of Industry Innovation and Infrastructure is what we balance upon. We can see the effects of ignoring infrastructure for too long right here in our community. As a farmer, ignoring infrastructure is the fastest route to failure.

This innovation and infrastructure mandate is followed closely by the next two scales of the 17 SDGs

  • 10. Reduced Inequality
  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities.

These goals flow naturally from the 11 previous Sustainability and Development Goals. We want each human – all humans – to have access to dignity, kindness, respect, quality education and we want our villages, towns, cities to be healthy and prosperous and capable to succeed on their own. But with SDG 12 we approach the dangerous rapids of this moment in time:

  • 12. Responsible Production and Consumption.

The Moment When I Mention Plastic

As I was driving through the fog to get here this morning, I was listening to a story on the radio that the EU and the UN were both considering drafting a framework for holding companies that ruthlessly produce plastic without giving any thought to recycling that plastic to account.

You saw in the previous ecological presentation that recycling alone is NOT keeping plastics out of the oceans, out of the mountains, out of the streams or even from our bodies. We need to do more. But we need insight and quality education to do it.

The news story went on to acknowledge that plastic recyclability is a myth. The majority of plastic manufactured over the last 70 years has not been recycled. We all of us KNOW where it is now and where the micro-plastics are as well.

Does anyone have any idea of why plastic recycling is not only a bad idea but why it is inadequate? Or why the exponential growth in the use of plastics by this society has been a really bad idea? This is another reason access to quality education is so critical.

Keep in mind, that I studied Industrial Design with a focus on design for recyclability and disassembly. I thought it was a genius plan to design things to be easily recycled, but as you can see in Responsible Production and Consumption job prospects did not. So why is plastic so hard to recycle?

NOTE: Several answers were called out. It’s not, or that it melts or that it’s all floating in our oceans.

Where are my physics people? Recycling plastic is hard because of a simple fact in physics: entropy. Every time you melt and reuse plastic (or any polymer) it’s quality and energy diminishes. Just like when you break a bone and it heals it heals weaker, so the same is true of plastic.

And “plastic” is a funny word, and English is a lazy language. Plastic can be a noun, a verb, or an adjective. It can mean an oil-based polymer, in which case it is a noun, or it can be a verb for something malleable, like neuro-plasticity. It can even mean not quite real where plastic is an adjective.

The over-reliance on producing whatever fresh plastic we need is an obvious problem with severe environmental implications. It is also a problem that becomes apparent earlier through quality education, clean water, energy production and consumption, positive economic growth and sustainable cities and communities.

All of this is readily apparent if we scaffold through these 17 SDGs with just an ounce of critical thought. This is where we are – all of us – in the world right now. On the cusp of Climate Change and into Climate Reality.

Seven Birds Dancing or the Seven Steps to a Sustainable You

Here we stop for a minute and discuss the weight and impact of where we are and what we are doing here today in relationship to these 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. We are in a zoo, with ostriches, zebras, and giraffes literally just outside the windows. Now is when we talk about mysterious natural processes and how we become sustainable.

It can be overwhelming to think we have to change the entire world. That is impossible. I did not change my entire world when I started living on a farm; I changed my relationship to how I think about the world.

We know it takes 7 people – roughly – to get a movement started. A leader who inspires, a group of people who are willing followers and evangelists, and a third tier to make that change possible, social, and attractive. This makes me think of the mystery of flocking birds in flight.

This phenomenon is called a murmuration. It was a deeply mysterious and profound feature of nature until it wasn’t. It happens in the air, it happens underwater with fish, and it all comes down to physics, math, and social behavior.

A quality education will even allow you to see the beautiful equations that describe this phenomenon or the hexagonal geometry of the shape of the 7-unit cells of this murmuration activity structure. And it happens everywhere, in our skies, on our land, in our oceans, in our cities, in our insect and bacteria populations, literally everywhere but it remains a mystery?

In swallows, and in most flocking and migrating birds the ability to begin and sustain a murmuration event comes down to the tiny magnetic, neural, and quantum effects in the brain of the animal. Each animal has a mental map of the six animals around it. That is the hexagon. The animal at the center of the hexagon is the seventh point.

Each swallow uses this node in its brain to keep track of those six animals (a hexagon) around it with itself at the center. Each animal in turn does the same thing. All animals are part of a simple feedback loop that allows for spectacular and perfectly timed movement.

That is how a murmuration happens. It is not conscious per se, but it becomes clear with a quality education and is understood as an emergent fact of the neurosensory, and social structures of birds, fish, and insects, even bacteria. Humans do the same thing, it’s just not as sophisticated.

Don’t believe me? Watch aerial video of crowds in Tokyo, Buenos Ares, Delhi, or even New York City or Columbus who are all crossing a street. We saw in the last presentation that humans are social animals and that when a few people (probably around seven) started looking up – everyone around us did do too.

This emergent behavior exists in humans too. You will not see crowds of humans in streets crashing into each other. Why is that?

It is because this is a natural phenomenon. Mother nature (that’s what I call the idea of life as an emergent property of the physical universe) does not seek to reinvent the wheel. She uses the same 8 basic laws to create astounding diversity and similarities within diverse populations. In the air, under the sea, in the streets of our cities.

This Teen Eco Summit is a great chance for you – all of you to become the six points for someone else, and for them to be part of your ever expanding hexagon of influence. If we all of us are willing to be the center of our hexagon AND a point in someone else’s hexagon… It’s amazing to think how much we could accomplish in seeking to change the world and starting a TRUE movement – a murmuration in fact.

Start Linking It Back Now

And this is where we stop and reflect on the truths about sustainability and these 12 Goals we have discussed so far and what they have to do with you. Then we will close out with the ecosystems, the cultures and civilizations and the planet itself. Let’s talk about manure.

Stinky Sulphur and Chemistry

One of the big modifications I had to make in my worldview as an urban farmer was to accept that things smell. It’s the cost of life. Nature creates with both destruction and rebirth and it will have an odor.

I didn’t have to make a a lot of other adjustments to my daily routine to be sustainable. I did need to reframe how I think about nature and my role in bringing balance, discipline, dignity and harmony into my immediate world. I recycle everything I can – from manure to compost, to my clothes, to my water.

What if just like the starlings, swallows, fish, or insects we focused on being the leader to get six other people to consider change? What if we commit to be there for each other? All of you working knowing the next person, group, school or team was there pivoting as well?

What would the world look like if we took a leadership and inspirational role in just six others by leading with example and grace? What if we all did that everywhere? Would it be perfect, no, but it would be something.

Don’t set out to BE the entire flock. Just BE the example and an inspiring change agent and have the courage to do the work. All of it up to this point.

Be patient and kind. Expect the best for others as you would yourself. Believe in inclusion and diversity.

Closing this Out

  • 13. Climate Action

And now we get to Climate Action. We know we MUST do something. We would not be here if we didn’t agree on that. We would not be willing to do this work if we didn’t believe it needs to be done.

What will we do? We will do what we can. We will do our best and not waiver in our belief that this will be enough.

We are well beyond climate change. We are well into Climate Reality. Do not let this deter or frighten you.

Nature has systems for a reason. Learn to leverage them and respect that we don’t get to take shortcuts. It was great to believe in the myths that there were shortcuts.

  • 14. Life Below Water
  • 15. Life on Land

Life Below Water Life on Land are so much bigger than we are first willing to believe. What do we mean by Life Under Water? Is that just the oceans?

NOTE: Audience calls out other forms of water, lakes, rivers, streams, puddles, rain, ice caps

Yes! Water is everywhere! As above so below! There is almost as much water in our atmosphere as there are in the oceans! That water is cycle on this planet.

When we allow water to rain down through pollution we are accepting that we are not wise enough, equitable enough, or brave enough to demand more and better for our fragile sources of water across the entire planet. And yes, there is life in that rain. There is life everywhere there is water.

What about on land? What do we mean when we say in Life on Land? Is that just us in Ohio on a continent in a hemisphere?

NOTE: Audience calls out continents, islands, polar ice caps, coasts.

No, Life on Land is everywhere on this planet that is above sea level. All land, from continent to tiny Pacific Island and those massive ice sheets on our northern and southern poles. And all of this beneath the massive oceans of water vapor – trillions of tons of water – that floats above us and we call the sky, the atmosphere and the clouds.

Just as it has so far, the algorithmic nature of the UN 17 SDGs is still in place. The life below water has a direct impact on the Life on Land. Entire populations and our atmosphere itself is wholly dependent on Life Below Water. As Our Life on Land begins to heat up, we know that this massive ice sheets are going to melt and water levels will rise.

Reflect that there is nothing we can do to stop nature from making this happen. We cannot stop those schools of fish flocking beneath the water or those starlings above the land. We cannot, but we can take our duty to both of them – all of them – seriously and strive to understand them.

  • 16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions is a necessary compromise we must take to effect real and meaningful change in the scales of an entire planet. We don’t have to take personal responsibility, but we do need to know we are a part of that process and we can interact and guide these institutions to move towards responsible and sustainable solutions.

The Beginning and End of a Circle

  • 17. Parterships For The Goals

And that brings us to that final goal, Partnerships For The Goals. This is curious thing when you look at this list of goals projected here like a table. Where one things begin with clarity and definition and then it ends with the same clarity.

This is not at all, I think, what the framers had in mind when they built this construct. I think it is designed to be viewed as a circle. You can see it in the logo, where on a circle do you start and where do you end?

We started this conversation with the question of whether the first five Sustainable Development Goals were for the individual or for the society at large. A case could be made for both and so this is the case with how SDG 17: Partnerships For The Goals ties back to the rest of the SDGs.

Imagine for a moment the sunlight on our planet as viewed from space. In one place it is day and in yet another distant place it is night. But depending on where you are, the light on this planet is actually a hazy shifting of day, twilight and darkness.

This is a natural truth about nature: She prefers cycles to chaotic fits and starts. When I present the idea of a ring or of infinity your mind goes naturally towards this truth. The same is true of nature at her most small and sublime.

Picture for a moment the periodic table of the elements. On the left side we have a lone atom. What is it?

NOTE: Audience calls out, Hydrogen!

Correct! and On the other side another lone element, Number two on Mendeleev’s famous flat table of periodic elements! What is it?!

NOTE: Audience calls out, Helium?

Correct! Now we shift our head back like a typewriter to the left again where nature conveniently has listed Lithium. Wait! This is not how nature sees here elements at all!

NOTE: The audience could not see these images, but I referenced them and I can show them to you here.

Mendeleev’s Original Vision
How Mendeleev’s Vision was Formatted Originally
How We Think of the Periodic Table Still To This Day

What if I told you to cut out the periodic table and bend it into a cone and connect Hydrogen and Helium and the Inert or Noble Gasses to the Alkali Metals would be right next to each other? Then you would see a cone or a webbed spiral of elements. Elegant and related effortlessly to one another with the six fundamental elements of life at the tip of the cone in green and the more volatile and dangerous ones far away at the fringes?

Periodic table of life
When you reframe the periodic table around life, a spiders web appears.

We have ways to do things that are not in harmony with sustainable and natural processes. This is the lesson of the cone of the periodic elements. Thinking in one way – the way we’ve always done it – is not always the best solution.

The most dangerous phrase in all of the English Language is, “We’ve always done it this way.”

Admiral Grace Hopper

This is what we must take away from the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We must reframe our way of looking at the world to better support ourselves, our family, our neighbors, communities, nations, and our planet while also staying true to nature. This is the goal.

As you get together to map out how you will adapt your work to the UN 17 SDGs keep that in mind. Be the change you want to see. More importantly, be the change you want as a leader, focus on your core six and soar together!

Then be willing to lead, inspire, and most importantly, act! Be there for all of us. Thank you very much!

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