With the last three years the hottest on record, it seems safe to say the Earth has passed a critical threshold for accelerating global warming. Just recently, in one week in early July, we broke temperature records around the world, leading to sidewalks melting, scores of deaths, mudslides, and power outages. While it would be nice to blame the GOP for the ecological meltdown, the fact is that temperatures would be skyrocketing even if we didn’t have an orange-haired Twittler running the country. Tepid Democrats, beholden to Wall Street and the military industrial complex, helped make this mess. Under Clinton and Obama, we failed to act with the requisite level of urgency — by a long shot.
Humanity can still address runaway climate change and other aspects of the ecological mega-crisis which are equally critical. These include species extinction, atmospheric pollution, ocean acidification, nitrogen runoff, and so on. At this point, it should be obvious that we can’t make this change under the current political and economic system. For the sake of our children’s survival, we need system change at all levels.
I tried to define this system change in my book How Soon Is Now?, now out in paperback. I undertook this task without any particular qualifications. I agree with the designer Buckminster Fuller that this is a task for generalists. When specialists master particular fields, they often lose the ability to see the whole picture. As painful as it is, it may be good — or at least necessary — that the Trumpocalypse wipes out the shared social agreements we have inherited. We need radically different ones, moving forward.
It took me years to develop a model for how to redesign our civilization to answer the ecological threat. In the end, I explore three main areas that function like gigantic gears or wheels turning each other: Technical infrastructure (energy, agriculture, industry); social systems (governance, finance); consciousness (media, education and culture produce beliefs and values that become habits and practices). These three wheels all interact — when you change one, they all change.
The first wheel, the technical infrastructure, is actually the easiest to handle. We know what we need to do. According to various sources, we must undertake, globally, a rapid transition to regenerative farming, renewable energy, cradle-to-cradle industry, and so on. The second wheel — social systems — is far more difficult to address. In theory, blockchain technologies could provide the basis for a new social operating system that transforms how we make agreements and how we share value. We will need to reduce wealth inequality, refocus on local utopias, and create participatory systems that scale from the local to the bioregional to the planetary. The third area, consciousness, requires a media revolution: We need global media networks that are solution-focused and pro-active, giving people the tools to understand complex problems and immediately act on their understanding.
We already have all of the tools, ideas, and technologies we need to make this transition now. What we lack is the collective will and also the coordination. In How Soon Is Now?, I propose we can accept the ecological emergency as a kind of spiritual initiation — a rite of passage — for each of us. Instead of getting caught in projects focused on personal gain or self-expression, we can redefine ourselves as “imaginal cells” — the small group of cells within the dying caterpillar that reorient the organism toward its metamorphosis into a butterfly. We can then figure out how we use our precious time and life energy in the most impactful way to accelerate this transition.