Over the years my thinking has been shaped by an essay I first read at least 7 years ago, possibly longer, when its clarity and urgency really resonated with my heart and mind.
The essay is Great Transition, by Paul Raskin of the Tellus Institute. If you haven’t read it, I urge you to do so, and I’ve added downloadable pdfs at the bottom of this blog post – or please at least read the summary I’m about to share with you.
Raskin envisages six possible scenario types emerging as we head into the future:
Conventional Worlds: more or less business as usual, these two scenarios arise gradually from the dominant forces of globalization—economic interdependence grows, dominant values spread, and developing regions converge toward rich-country patterns of production and consumption.
Market Forces: economic growth continues to be a priority, through neoliberal policies such as free trade, privatization, deregulation, and the modernization and integration of developing regions into the global market.
Policy Reform: as for Market Forces, plus comprehensive governmental initiatives to harmonize economic growth with a broad set of social and environmental goals.
These two scenarios might sound reassuringly normal and predictable, but are they possible? They must reverse destabilizing global trends—social polarization, environmental degradation, and economic instability—even as they advance the consumerist values, economic growth, and cultural homogenization that drive such trends. There are many who doubt that sustainability can be reconciled with the conventional development paradigm, in which case these scenarios could veer off towards….
Fortress World: elites in protected enclaves defend themselves against an impoverished majority outside (some parts of the world already look like this), or….
Breakdown: in which conflict spirals out of control, waves of disorder spread, and institutions collapse.
At the more optimistic end of the spectrum we have two Great Transitions scenarios; transformative futures in which a new suite of values ascend— human solidarity, quality-of-life, and respect for nature—that revise the very meaning of development and the goal of the “good life”. In this vision, solidarity is the foundation for a more egalitarian social contract, poverty eradication, and democratic political engagement at all levels. Human fulfilment in all its dimensions is the measure of development, displacing consumerism and the misleading metric of GDP. There emerges an ecological sensibility that understands humanity as part of a wider community of life is the basis for true sustainability and the healing of the Earth.
One possibility is Eco-communalism, a highly localist vision favoured by some environmental subcultures. But the plausibility and stability of radically detached communities in the planetary phase are problematic. So Raskin comes down in favour of…
New Sustainability Paradigm: this recognises an opportunity for forging new categories of consciousness—global citizenship, humanity-as-whole, the wider web of life, and sustainability and the well-being of future generations. The new paradigm would change the character of global civilization rather than retreat into localism. It validates global solidarity, cultural cross-fertilization and economic connectedness, while seeking a humanistic and ecological transition. It celebrates diverse regional forms of development and multiple pathways to modernity.
How do we make this happen? Raskin sees the force for change being a Global Citizens Movement (GCM), which has “a shared vision for the global future, a common identity as global citizens, and a sophisticated strategy for change. It would coalesce around a global vision that is both hopeful and rigorously grounded. It would evolve an integrated framework for mutually supportive action. It would balance the needs for unity and coherence with respect for diversity and autonomy, rejecting both the stultifying top-down movements of the past and the incoherent bottom- up politics of the present. The GCM would be a broad cultural and political project, a popular harbinger of a new planetary civilization.”
This could emerge from our existing global civil society, once it transcends its current “significant limits—fragmentation around a thousand separate issues, organizational entrenchment, and the negative politics of protest”. What is needed is a “diverse and plural process of people from every corner of the world, across cultures, classes, and places. It would be an expanding arena of popular participation, cultural ferment, and political activism. It would engage the full spectrum of issues. It would cluster this diversity under the umbrella of an inspiring and inclusive global vision, rooted in a rigorous understanding of global conditions. It would practice a politics of trust, seeking to reconcile proximate differences on the path to a common global future.“
This may seem like a tall order, but Raskin seems optimistic. He concludes: “The systemic framework clarifies Margaret Mead’s dictum: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”. At transitional moments, such as ours, small actions can have big impacts. The efforts of an engaged few can ripple through the cultural field, amplifying and influencing the global trajectory.“
So this is our work. This idea of a GCM has informed my concept for the Sisters – a GCM that starts with the female half of humanity. An essential part of the Sisters vision is to join forces with existing organisations to form a movement for change.
What about you? Are you ready to be part of a Global Citizens Movement? Are you ready to add your voice to the many who are already clamouring for positive, conscious transformation? This is no time to be a bystander. This is the time to be a global citizen.
Links to downloadable pdf files:
Many thanks to all of you who responded to my request for additional speaking engagements while I am in the US in October/November. Miriam has been busy handling all the enquiries, and jigsaw-piecing them into my schedule. I hope to see many of you very soon!
My sister, Tanya, and her boyfriend, Neil, are on the final stretch of the Continental Divide Trail. It has been an epic 5-month journey, from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, and it’s exciting to see the end in sight. Also a joy to see the gorgeous photos they post on their blog. Please cheer them on for their final leg!