The Great Transformation: From Epoch A to Epoch B
Evolutionary Systemic Crisis: EPOCH A
Human beings are facing a systemic crisis and a choice of what to do about it. We can continue along the path of our industrialized world, focusing on quantitative growth and short-term visions while ignoring the negative externalities that will affect the next generations to come. Or, we can develop a systemic perspective that can see both the negative outcomes as well as the positive outcomes of the modern world and try to limit the collateral damage of our enterprises, realizing that as we abuse one element in our world (exploiting natural resources, for example), we are affecting other elements (population health, for example). We are slowly learning that there is no “away” – as in, we can just throw by-products of our production away. We live within larger systems and when we negatively impact those systems, we negatively impact ourselves. We can no longer afford to ignore this systemic reality.
As an American citizen and world citizen, I feel the urgency to admit that our current economic growth models are unsustainable in their current practice. I believe that we must begin to develop a social paradigm that brings forth a new epoch for humanity; a socially just, environmentally sustainable, prosperity for all people.
Sustainability professor John Ehrenfeld points out in his book “Sustainability by Design,” there is a looming difference between sustainable development and sustainability. And most of what is being done by people, business, and governments can be described as sustainable development. This means that they are changing some of the external problems, products, and processes, but do not tackle the root of the problem :our worldview, our culture and our institutions. Without a shift at this deeper and systemic level, even the most ‘green’ companies’ still operate with a focus on quantitative growth and assume that we live on a planet without limits to growth. According to Ehrenfeld, sustainability requires a shift toward a new worldview, new cultural values, and a new societal paradigm. Making small changes or tweaking the systems within the current mindset of quantitative growth and sustainable development will only delay our trajectory toward collapse and possibly, the ‘sixth extinction’. Humans have a real choice to build a sustainable world.
James Gustave Speth, an environmental leader, explains his involvement with the environmental movement , and offers a path toward a better future for all. In his book “The Bridge at the Edge of the World-Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability”, Speth, points to the systemic environmental destruction and the negative impact of capitalism, while also inviting us, to redesign our economics, and our way of life to be more sustainable and flourishing for all. While Speth offers us a road map to a better future, I invite you to be the leaders and builders of that better future. There are hundreds of books that offer us better ideas and visions for a sustainable future , however what they often lack is the leadership element to translate great ideas into action.
There are sixteen systems that Speth selected for his book, to show us how these systems individually and collectively are taking us toward environmental catastrophe.
These sixteen systems as well as other global problems ( See the UNDP’s 17 Sustainable development Goals as a list of key global problems) together contribute toward an unsustainable civilization ( Epoch A).
As I write this paper, I would add three other global problems : The increased use of plastic and plastic waste, the increased production and consumption of meat in our global diet and the global pandemic of COVID-19 that has shown the incompetence of leadership in some countries and the lack of coordination in our world health system. All of these problems lead us toward what Speth calls the abyss.
The Great Transformation: From Epoch A to Epoch B
The great transformation to a just, sustainable, and flourishing civilization /planetary era requires evolutionary leaders taking action in seven key systems. Once you recognize that our modern world is unsustainable and having a negative impact on human and ecological well-being, we can choose to become evolutionary agents to design and direct a better path –a transition to a better future that supports the well –beings of humans and ecology.
Given the systemic nature of our unsustainable world, such as climate change, which will impact everyone on this planet, we as designers and leaders of a great transition, need to understand the seven key systems that need to be redesigned and transformed in order to achieve a better sustainable future, that is to cross from crisis to sustainability. Each of these seven systems present us with big challenges. The good news is that there are plenty of theories and alternative models and projects around the world that serve us as evolutionary guides. As evolutionary designers, we can take the best knowledge, technology, science, from the Industrial era-Epoch A, and integrate them into the design of a sustainable future. Some of the people mentioned in this paper, have produced amazing work that can be used as maps toward a better future. There are many great visionaries and evolutionary thinkers, like Edgar Morin, Riane Eisler and many others. We are lucky to have more knowledge, science, and ideas about the world, than ever before, so we are not short of alternative and better models for building better communities, societies, and civilization. However, we are short of evolutionary leaders.
Some of us will focus and have passion for engaging with one or more of those seven systems, and together in a collective, network of evolutionary leaders around the world, can collaborate and support each other in our own evolutionary projects.
Here are the seven systems that need to be transformed- redesigned:
- Understanding the power and propensities of our old mind, our biological human natures for good and evil. Consciously and intentionally influencing our human natures toward the good, ethical, collaborative and sustainable ways of behaving. Switching off the evolutionary biological autopilot for survival, and redirecting it toward a force for good.
- Transforming our modern Worldview, from separation to interdependency, from ego to being, from separation from nature to connection to nature. We human beings have the freedom to change-evolve our minds and expand our consciousness.
- A Cultural Evolution of new values and narratives that transform our ways of living with each other and nature. We can create cultures that are rich in diversity and also share common values across a planetary civilization. Values like freedom, community, sustainability, cooperation, democracy.
- An Institutional Evolution for systemic sustainability, including education for life, institutions that have as their purpose, the care and well being of people and planet. Institutions that focus on implementing the UNDP’s 17 Sustainable development goals in their countries and around the world.
- The evolution of global capitalism as an economic system. The evolution of capitalism toward a natural capitalism, conscious capitalism, and regenerative economics. There are many alternative economic models around the world, that can be implemented locally and globally to create an economic systems based on systemic and sustainable principles. An economic system that focuses on qualitative growth, not quantitative growth.
- The redesign of science and technology to contribute toward a just , sustainable and flourishing civilization. The need to redesign our transportation systems, our cities, our buildings, our production of goods “From Cradle to Cradle” as Bill McDonough explains to produce almost zero waste and design with sustainability principles. Implementing the “Green New Deal” in the USA and other countries, will be an evolutionary step toward a sustainable future.
- We need to transform our relationship with the earth and its ecological systems. We need to evolve our modern worldview that sees us as separate from our earth and ecological systems, to see us as interdependent with our ecological systems, food, water, air, forests, fauna. We need to implement the “Half Earth Project” that biologist Edward. O. Wilson has undertaken, to conserve at least half of our planet for the survival of biodiversity, and in that way support our own survival as a species.
These are the leverage points to be used in the design of a conscious evolution toward sustainability. Our world already has enough knowledge, technology, and resources to support us living a good life, sustainable lives, including for the three billion people living in poverty at the bottom of the social pyramid. We do not have to wait for all the technologies to be invented to begin this transformation, though more innovation would indeed continue to support this great shift. We need to embrace our challenges and lead one another forward.