Joanna Macy outlines a three-dimensional model as a guiding tool for how we can achieve “The Great Turning”: essentially, the “transition from the “industrial growth” society to a “life-sustaining” society.
Macy frames this as the third great revolution in history after the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions, and as one that will be occurring much more quickly than the previous two, with an active and conscious participation on the part of humanity as a whole.
The model imagines work in three distinct areas: holding actions (or what we normally call activism or direct action); structural change (where we actively work to build new societal forms, new economies, new ways of being together and organizing); and shifting consciousness (the work of inner spiritual and psychological transformation).
The Great Turning is the essential revolution of our time. It is impelled by the fact that the industrial growth society is now out of control and destroying the bases of life itself. Our globalizing political economy, driven by its need to accelerate growth and measuring success by its rate of growth, is what systems theorists call a ‘runaway’ system.
It is, in effect, a suicide economy. We’re all part of it.
Life, however, wants to go on and continue to unfold its 14-billion year story of dazzling creativity. It is virtually inevitable that a transition is underway toward a life-sustaining civilisation.
Pursuing reform within the system can help, but what is now desperately needed is transformative change in the system itself. To deal successfully with all the challenges America now faces, we must therefore complement reform with at least equal efforts aimed at transformative change to create a new operating system that routinely delivers good results for people and planet.
At the core of this new operating system must be a sustaining economy based on new economic thinking and driven forward by a new politics. The purpose and goal of a sustaining economy is to provide broadly shared prosperity that meets human needs while preserving the earth’s ecological integrity and resilience—in short, a flourishing people and a flourishing nature.
That is the paradigm shift we must now seek.
Permission to Transition: Zoning and the Transition Movement
Communities are taking responsibility for their own economic futures. In response to a growing consensus that the days of cheap oil are numbered due to any combination of declining production, environmental constraints, political instability, or increasing demand, these communities are seeking to buffer themselves from economic shocks by strengthening local economic ties and reducing costs of living.
Much of their work is focused on unlocking the existing value of yards, homes, and rooftops by using them more efficiently. As part of that effort, these communities are generating efficiencies by allowing residents to share anything from cars to kitchens.
However, these innovative projects can be blocked by existing local regulations, primarily zoning.
Despite decades of hardening evidence, mainstream global society nevertheless remains in policy paralysis, stymied by cognitive and behavioural barriers to change that have deep roots in both human nature and global society’s culturally constructed economic growth fetish.
But what if mounting public pressure (think Occupy Wall Street) or a series of miniclimate catastrophes finally overwhelms these barriers?
Assume the world community becomes fully motivated to deal effectively with biophysical reality. Now the question becomes, What would truly intelligent, forward-thinking, morally compassionate individuals do in response to available data, the historical record, and ongoing trends?
Stuff. We all accumulate it and eventually form all kinds of emotional attachments to it. (Arguably, because the marketing machine of the 20th century has conditioned us to do so.)
But digital platforms and cloud-based tools are making it increasingly easy to have all the things we want without actually owning them. Because, as Wired founder and notable futurist Kevin Kelly once put it, “access is better than ownership.”
Here are seven services that help shrink your carbon footprint, lighten your economic load and generally liberate you from the shackles of stuff through the power of sharing.
At last week’s inaugural conference of the New Economics Institute, Gar Alperovitz was optimistic about the future. Stagnation, stalemate and decay is paradoxically a moment of opportunity, when ideas can become important, he said.
“We may actually have a possibility of a process building over time to lay down the foundations, institutionally, culturally and as a movement, that overcomes – and does so in our time in history. But the price is decades of your life: those are the chips that you have to lay on your table if you want to reform the system. But what I see is that there are a lot of people getting ready to throw the chips onto the table.”
As resistance has grown to America’s widening gulf between the “1 percent” and the rest of the population, something new has exploded in America’s communities; “community wealth building” is an explicit strategy to democratize the ownership of wealth from the ground up.
With traditional regulatory and tax-and-spend approaches faltering at every level, the notion that we should create new democratic economic institutions to build wealth, community by community, is quietly gaining traction.
We now have the potential for larger and longer-term transformation.
There are signs of a new, alternative economy building around us, such as the growth of local currencies like the Totnes or Bristol Pound, community skill-sharing projects or time-banking networks, and businesses that are reinvesting their profits in ways that benefit local people.
The same is happening in many countries, with progressive groups around the world working to build a more sustainable economy from the ground up.
UK thinktank the New Economics Foundation (nef), along with a group of partners, has created an interactive online map where these initiatives can be shared to provide inspiration to others and give a clearer global picture of how a new economy is unfolding.
The skills, resources, and lifeways needed to get by in a disintegrating industrial society are radically different from those that made for a successful and comfortable life in the prosperous world of the recent past, and a great many of the requirements of an age of decline come with prolonged learning curves and a high price for failure.
Starting right away to practice the skills, assemble the resources, and follow the lifeways that will be the key to survival in a deindustrializing world offers the best hope of getting through the difficult years ahead with some degree of dignity and grace.
Collapse now, in other words, and avoid the rush.