A Tortoise And The Hare's Story For The 21st Century

A Tortoise And The Hare's Story For The 21st Century

We've all heard the story about the tortoise and the hare. How against the odds the tortoise beats the hare in a race.

You have to hand it to the tortoise, they are resourceful creatures. They generally have the longest lifespans of any animal, and some individuals are known to have lived longer than 150 years.

But being as slow as they are, to live that long, takes some feat. And of course having ready-made armour helps.

Yes, the tortoise shell has served its master well, safeguarding it from unwanted predators, right back to its origins over 220 million years ago.

The trouble is, as the years have moved on, the tortoise hasn't. And what was once a reliable defence mechanism, no longer I'm afraid to say, meets the needs for 21st century predators.

I read a bizarre and shocking story recently of how cars have become an issue for tortoises. It concerned experiments in America which showed that people would deliberately try and run them over if they saw them in the road.

Quite why anyone would do this is a mystery. But what is clear is that the defence mechanism that was designed to keep out past predators is ineffective to todays.

The hare also faces a 21st century problem. National Geographic recently stated that North American snowshoe hares need to evolve to cope with climate change, and todays predators.

Traditionally, the snowshoe hares changed coat colour with the seasons so that they blend in with their surroundings.

So in winter you could expect to see - or not see I should say - a white hare to blend in with snow.

And by spring time, they will moult their fur to change to a muddy brown to blend in when the snow melts away.

This has served the hare well over the years. The trouble is that due to climate change, the snowshoe hare can no longer rely on winter snowfalls to blend against.

And as National Geographic put it:

"Gleaming white on a brown background of dirt and leaves, the hares might as well be wearing an "eat me" sign for lynx and other predators."

So the tortoise and the hare find themselves once again in a race. But this time it's a race for survival.

And it's all because the environment around them changed over time, whereas they didn't.

This sentiment is every bit as true to us as individuals at home and employees in the work place.

This is particularly apparent when applied to the way we do business. The one-way model of selling and buying is now an outdated relationship between companies and consumers.

This week is National Storytelling Week, and I'm reminded of the words of Nobel laureate in Literature, Eugene O'Neill, when he said "there is no present or future, only the past happening over and over again now."

I feel this way about how we consume. We make, we use, we throw away, and then we repeat the process again and again.

It neither has to be this way nor can continue to be if we want our children to enjoy the type of lifestyle we have come accustomed to in the West.

Not when we draw three planets worth of resources from our one planet, and on August 12 last year our collective use of natural resources exceeded the planet's ability to replenish them. That date falls earlier in the year each year.

And not with population growth meaning ever more people need to be supplied goods - around another 2,000 more since you started reading this article.

Many of those joining the rising global middle classes, and with it greater consumption.

Yet, this message still does not resonate with enough people, it's like a kind of blissful ignorance which will come back to bite us.

Imagine if the world's resources was money, and we all wilfully spent more than we had, and kept doing it over and over again. We'd be seen as foolish, reckless, and would face economic crisis.

Yet, we give little consideration to our natural resources, the environment. And unlike money, there is no credit, or pay later option.

Once the resources are gone, they're gone forever.

So we need to move away from the linear make-use-throw away economy, to a circular economy, where we use less and we maximise the life of products and materials.

It means we need to re-invent how we design, produce and sell products, re-think how we consume them, and redefine what is possible through re-use and recycling.

Unlike the original The Tortoise and the Hare story, the choices facing us are not stuff of fiction.

We have a shared interest in getting this right, because as novelist Wendell Berry said: "The Earth is what we all have in common."

So let's make this story one with a happy ending.

Before You Go