Ecological Civilization and the New Enlightenment
During the past century, we humans have become a truly global species with both the ability and the imperative to choose our common future by conscious collective choice. Growth in our numbers and the destructive power of our economic and military weapons of mass destruction creates the necessity. Advances in communication technology that link us into a seamless web of global communications and in biological and ecological sciences that deepen our understanding of what life is and how it organizes give us the means.
A Species in Terminal Crisis
The unfolding collapse of three critical systems puts our common future at serious risk.
Environmental Systems. Lead indicators include climate change, loss of fertile soil, diminishing supplies of clean freshwater, disappearing forests, and collapsing fisheries. All are a result of an increasing human burden that human numbers and consumption place on a finite planet. Per the Global Footprint Network, we humans are consuming globally at a rate 1.6 times what Earth can sustain. Everything above 1.0 comes at the cost of diminishing Earth’s ability to sustain life and in turn drives a violent competition for what remains and a growing flow of desperate refugees.
Social Systems. In 2010, the combined wealth of the world’s richest 388 billionaires equaled the combined wealth of the poorest half of humanity—3.5 billion people. Now, just 7 years later, it takes the combined wealth of only the 8 richest billionaires to equal the combined wealth of the world’s poorest 3.6 billion people. The combination of extreme inequality and environmental displacement undermines human well-being, institutional legitimacy, and the social fabric of families and communities. The violence driving massive numbers of refugees from the Middle East is a direct consequence.
Governance Systems. The legitimacy of political and economic institutions that demonstrate their inability to address the above environmental and social crises is disintegrating. This gives rise to political demagogues who exploit the resulting fear and uncertainty.
These three system failures are interlinked, self-imposed, and threaten our species viability. All are a direct consequence of a takeover of our access to the essential means of living by global corporations that value life only for its market price, promote the idolatry of money, and sponsor those politicians who equate the corporate interest with the human interest. Awareness that something is going badly wrong is sweeping global society, but with limited understanding of the nature of and reasons for the cultural and institutional system failure now playing out. Lacking such understanding, we look for solutions that tinker at the margins of a failed system grounded in false assumptions and values in the hope of making it slightly less destructive.
Our hope for a viable human future depends on a deep system transformation supportive of an Ecological Civilization that brings people and planet into balance, nurtures innovation and creative expression, and provides all people an opportunity for material sufficiency and spiritual abundance.
The text above was just an excerpt. The web versions of our print articles are now hosted by Duke University Press, Tikkun’s publisher. Click here to read an HTML version of the article or to download the PDF version.
Tikkun 2017 Volume 32, Number 4:17-23