Epic Opportunity Born of Existential Emergency

By David Korten, president of the Living Economies Forum, an active member of the Club of Rome, and a long-established author and leader in the search for a new paradigm vision of a possible human future.

22 November 2021

Science tells us that we now have at best 10 years to navigate a significant change of course or trigger tipping points in Earth’s natural systems from which there is no return. We are not dealing with a broken system in need of repair. We are dealing with a failed system in need of replacement.

Humans are a choice making species. Facing the consequences of deeply flawed choices, the most important discussions of our time are those devoted to framing a viable and attractive alternative future. My recent white paper titled Ecological Civilization: From Emergency to Emergence synthesizes insights from a variety of such current conversations.

The paper’s foundational premise is that hope lies in a credible vision of possibility with the power to unite us in creating a world that meets the essential needs of all people while securing the health and beauty of the living Earth that birthed and nurtures us

The emerging vision of possibility rests on a profound convergence of indigenous understanding and the observations of contemporary science around a foundational truth: Life has its competitive aspects but is fundamentally cooperative and depends on diverse communities of living beings that

self-organize to create and maintain the conditions essential to their individual

and mutual existence. The implications run deep and call us to transform how we currently structure and manage our dominant relationships to secure the wellbeing of ourselves and other members of Earth’s community of life.

The pursuit of a unifying vision is gaining increasing traction in thought leader conversations in the Club of Rome and other organizations around the world. The challenge of creating such a vision is daunting, but imperative.

Many of these conversations trace back to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring book in 1962 and the Limits to Growth report to the Club of Rome in 1972. Each of these books briefly focused global attention on the fragility of Earth’s environmental systems and the consequences of their abuse. They spurred significant environmental laws.

But establishment interests quickly mobilized and ultimately prevailed. Chemical companies produced new toxic chemicals, petrol companies pumped more oil, and the world returned to growing GDP as its defining priority. People and Earth continued to bear the consequences.

Hope for change reemerged in the late 1990s when a global citizen movement focused public attention on how global trade agreements were facilitating a socially and environmentally destructive concentration of corporate power. Local communities and even whole nations were stripped of control of their economic lives. A protest action in Seattle in 1999 that disrupted a meeting of the World Trade Organization triggered massive demonstrations around the world disrupting meeting after meeting of the global establishment in a call for people power over corporate power. But this movement was stalled in 2001 when the 9/11 attack and the wars that followed in Iraq and Afghanistan shifted global attention from big money interests to Middle Eastern terrorists as the world’s defining threat.

Now, nearly fifty years after the publication of The Limits to Growth, discussion of how to achieve a viable human future has re-energized. The 2021 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was released in August as floods, drought, record high temperatures, uncontrolled wildfires, and the COVID pandemic disrupted the lives of everyone everywhere.

The reality of what we have done to our planetary home is now too obvious to ignore or deny. The environmental emergency is real. It is not a forecast or a theory. Our home is burning. And humans are the cause.

We must deal with the immediate emergencies to lower the death toll. At the same time, we must take urgent action to secure our human future. The latter requires enacting transformational changes in our priorities and how we organize as a now global society. And we must achieve the transformation within a blink of history’s eye.

We live in a deeply frightening time. One reaction is denial; another is a desperate competition for the dwindling remnants of Earth’s once generous surplus. Both reactions assure a catastrophic future.

A viable human future depends on a unified commitment to the changes needed to secure the wellbeing of all people and the living Earth. That commitment begins with a global conversation framing transformational alternatives that need to happen with lightning speed. The Ecological Civilization white paper is offered to encourage, help frame, and advance these essential conversions.

Ecological Civilization. From Emergency to Emergence, the full paper.

The Living Economies Forum is a a forum for learning and engaging in the transition to a global system of local-rooted, self-organizing, real-wealth living economies that mimic the structure and dynamics of the Earth’s biosphere.

This article gives the views of the author(s), and not the position of The Fifth Element and or its partners.

Share the article