Are radical ideas becoming mainstream?

Will our global civilization still be around centuries from now?  Only if some of the more radical ideas currently being discussed can become the mainstream thinking of people around the world.  That’s the only way in which the global forces currently pushing us towards environmental catastrophe can shift direction and offer humanity a hopeful future.

A remarkable report published by the German Advisory Council on Global Change called “World in Transition, 2012” suggests this is already happening.  The  authors believe that a global consensus is forming that supports a sustainable approach to our environment and is willing to prioritize choices that enhance the quality of life rather than economic growth and increased consumption.  Here’s what they say:

There is ample evidence… to suggest that the core values of a large part of the world population include the protection of the natural environment…. There appears to be a relatively wide, cross-cultural consensus that the prevalent way of doing business should be embedded in higher-ranking goals of sustainability, environmental conservation, and climate protection, or generally in aspects of a more caring and careful resource management. To put it another way: anyone supporting sustainability is not, or no longer, swimming against the tide.

If this were true, this would be one of the most important shifts in global history.  It would imply that the overwhelming force in the world that has propelled globalized capitalism and ever-increasing economic growth at the expense of our natural environment and sustainability is being subsumed by a force for hope that’s pushing in the other direction.

Environmental degradation: scrutinized rigorously in the report

Environmental degradation: scrutinized rigorously in the report

Not that the report is already claiming victory for a sustainable future for our world.  They carefully scrutinize all the different factors that are driving us towards the cliff: climate change, environmental degradation, ocean acidification, lack of freshwater, and lack of any agreement among governing bodies that could keep our global warming to less than 2 degrees.

What we need, they say, is nothing less than a Great Transformation – a new, revised social contract where the nation state is no longer the “sole basis for the contractual relationship,” recognizing the “disproportionate distribution of resources” in our world today, and giving increased consideration to the natural environment.

How will we get there?  We need “a new storyline,” to further develop human civilization, with changed narratives, guiding principles and meta-narrations, including a radically different relationship with the natural world.  Instead of the old paradigm of “conquering nature,” we need to recognize that we ARE nature – we are only conquering ourselves.

It is my hope that liology can help by offering a framework for this new storyline – a framework that integrates both science and spiritual wisdom to recognize that the deepest spiritual fulfillment a human being can experience arises from the understanding of our intrinsic connectivity with the natural world – both within ourselves and all around us.

One of the more astonishing things about this report is that it’s coming from an “independent, scientific advisory body to the German Federal Government.”  It’s heartening to realize that this is the kind of advice that the German government, responsible for the fourth largest economy in the world, is hearing from its appointed advisors.

Click here to download a copy of the report.

And here’s a presentation I gave last year on Humanity’s Changing Metaphors of Nature, which includes a suggestion for a new metaphor of nature as “integrally connected organism.”

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Genuine economic welfare has been declining since 1978

An important principle of liology is that we humans can live sustainably on the earth only when we begin to harmonize with the natural world rather than seeing it as a resource to be utilized.  But, of course, that’s not what our global economic system measures.  Instead, countries measure their success by their increase in gross domestic product (GDP).

But GDP was never meant as a measurement of economic success.  Instead, GDP measures only the marketed economic activity of a country and ignores everything else.  This means that an oil spill that costs billions of dollars to clean up adds to a country’s GDP, whereas if millions of people are growing their own vegetables in their backyard, not a single cent’s worth of those vegetables get measured in a country’s GDP.

Oil spills add to our GDP…

… while homegrown vegetables aren’t counted

The problem is, there is a natural dynamic to human society that You Get What You Measure (or YGWYM for short.)  If a corporation starts measuring revenues as its standard of success, you can be sure those revenues will rise, even if its profits fall.  And presidents around the world get voted in and out of office based on what’s happening to their country’s GDP.

People are becoming increasingly aware of this mismatch, and have been developing different measurements to give a more accurate idea of a country’s welfare.  One of these is called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) which factors in negative aspects such as income inequality, environmental pollution and crime, as well as positive aspects such as volunteer work and household work.

In a fascinating new study, called “Beyond GDP: Measuring and achieving global genuine progress” some researchers have looked at how different countries in the world have done in their GPI all the way back to 1950.  What did they find?  In contrast to GDP, which has been soaring for the past 70 years, they found that GPI peaked worldwide in 1978 and has been falling ever since.  This seems to confirm what many of us have been feeling instinctively for some time – that while our politicians and promoters of the global capitalist economy tell us that we’ve “never had it so good,” the real welfare of people worldwide has been in a state of decline.

Kubiszewsky_-_Beyond_GDP.pdf

Click on the graph to see a larger version

This is important news.  As more people around the world recognize that measures like GPI, rather than GDP, offer a more accurate assessment of their welfare, it makes it more feasible that the world can begin to move towards a more sustainable way of life, before it gets too late.