Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011
by Graeme Taylor
Almost every government has signed agreements to help develop a peaceful, sustainable, and socially just world. But what does this mean? When most politicians and business leaders talk about sustainable development, they do not mean sustaining life on earth but maintaining profits; when they talk about peace, they do not mean ending violence but winning wars.
It is not enough to say "Change you can believe in." For real change to occur, we must first articulate a viable vision of a better alternative. The myths and power structures that now dominate and divide humanity also need to be exposed and challenged. We can do this through clearly differentiating constructive and destructive actions; ethical and unethical values; and sustainable and suicidal paths to the future.
Here are some thoughts on what distinguishes transformational change from business as usual:
Sustainable. A sustainable global system is not an option, it's a requirement for the survival of complex human civilizations. This cannot be created by making adjustments to the current industrial growth system: a new culture and economic system is needed that prioritizes the health and wholeness of ecosystems and human societies (i.e. makes wellness more important than profits) and operates within ecologically sustainable limits.
Just. Our global system is socially and environmentally destructive because it is driven by a consumer culture that values individual greed over social needs. We will not be able to create a sustainable system without changing the culture from one based on the exploitation of nature and other humans to one based on respect and mutual benefit. Our collective survival requires a paradigm shift from unethical to ethical; from careless to caring; from win-lose to win-win; from unjust social structures that increase inequity to just institutions that meet the essential needs of all humans and all species.
Spiritually fulfilling. Our global system is based on a rationalist, mechanistic worldview that sees the universe as made up of separate objects rather than interrelated systems. This view produces a global economy that values inanimate objects but not living beings; that values abstract wealth but not love, trust, justice, happiness, health, faith, or the future. The result is a world where everything -- including people and nature -- is disposable. For our collective survival, sanity, and happiness, we must now transform our views and behaviors from isolation to interdependence, from ownership to relationship, from consuming to creating, from quantity to quality, from alienation to transcendence. This shift is not about eliminating individuality, but about understanding that we can only flourish as individuals when we are members of vibrant societies embedded in healthy environments.
Abundant. Because people will never accept a global system that consigns them to lives of deprivation, a sustainable system must provide everyone with access to all essential material, social, and spiritual needs. Since this is impossible with current methods of production and consumption (five planets would be needed to provide everyone in the world with an American standard of living), the transformation to a global system that is both sustainable and abundant will require a paradigm shift in manufacturing processes (through biomimicry, nanotechnologies, use of renewable energies, closed-loop manufacturing, etc.).
Peaceful. Physical and emotional security is a requirement not only for the survival and health of individuals, but also for the survival and health of communities and nations. A crowded world awash with weapons of mass destruction cannot afford institutions that encourage inequality and exploitation, corruption and violence. Peace requires a shift from paranoia to trust, from mutual assured destruction to mutual assured survival -- to a system of collective security that guarantees the safety and the fulfilment of essential material and cultural needs of every community and every nation. People who feel secure and content don't start wars. A happy world is a safe world.
Holistic. The current rationalist, mechanistic worldview sees parts but not wholes; trees but not forests. As a result individuals, corporations, and countries take a fragmented approach to problem solving and frequently make trade-offs that benefit one group at the expense of others. In contrast, a holistic (whole-systems) approach seeks to create win-win sustainable solutions to problems through eliminating their underlying causes.
Transformational. Our global system cannot solve the world's problems because the current system is the problem. A system that values profits over people will never end war, poverty, and ecological destruction. A system designed to support endless growth on a finite planet is a cancer that will inevitably kill its host. Systemic transformation is necessary: a consumer society cannot evolve into a conserver society without structural change.
Urgent. We are rapidly approaching dangerous tipping points. Increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon are making oceans more acidic, and within a few decades most marine life will start to die. Melting permafrost is beginning to release methane -- a powerful greenhouse gas. If this continues, global warming will become irreversible and the planet will grow hotter year after year, killing most life on earth. Our species is also using resources at an unsustainable, ever-increasing rate. If present trends continue, growing shortages of water, food, energy, and other critical resources will cause the global economy to collapse by mid-century. This is a pressing problem: within a few years we must begin to reverse global warming; within a few decades we must create an environmentally sustainable global system.
Historic We have reached a critical time in human history, a time of both great danger and great opportunity. On one hand our species is rapidly destroying the biophysical systems that support all life on earth; on the other hand we now have the knowledge and resources to create a vibrant, peaceful world. Before us are two paths to the future: the continued unsustainable growth of the consumer society, or its transformation into a regenerative society in which the focus is not on having more, but on being more. Because these paths lead in opposite directions, the choice is clear: between destruction and creation, between collapse and survival. There is no third option: societies and species that are not environmentally sustainable go extinct. Our fate is in our hands: the choice we make is our future.
Evolving. Our species has not failed -- rather we risk being the victims of our own success. The Industrial Age has been a necessary stage in human development. It has encouraged the growth of science and technology; it has given most people better and longer lives. However, these benefits have come with enormous environmental and social costs, and the industrial system has now outlived its usefulness. Humanity must now make a rapid evolutionary leap from a mechanistic to a holistic societal system, from competing nation-states to a cooperating planetary civilization. This leap is possible; all the essential views, values, social structures, and technologies of a sustainable system have already begun to emerge.
Our role is to accelerate constructive change through helping the emerging elements of the new sustainable system join together. Societal evolution is magical because it is a self-organizing process involving billions of people. It is too vast and complex a process to be either directed or controlled, but it can be supported. And at this critical juncture, the evolution of our species needs all the protection and support that we can give.
Dr. Graeme Taylor is the coordinator of BEST Futures (www.bestfutures.org), an adjunct reader at the School of Integrative Systems at the University of Queensland, and the author of Evolution's Edge: the Coming Collapse and Transformation of Our World, which won the Independent Publisher's 2009 Gold Medal for the book "most likely to save the planet."
Source Citation: Taylor, Graeme. 2011. Real Change. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive.