Highlights from How Soon is Now? From Personal Initiation to Global Transformation by Daniel Pinchbeck

At some long-ago point in our history, Judaeo-Christian civilization abandoned the techniques of initiation, which allowed each person to reach self-knowledge or gnosis, in favour of indoctrination. Spiritual knowledge was no longer available to everyone. It was controlled, 624 The Middle Ages, the Church stamped out the European remnants of plant shamanism with the Inquisition, where those who possessed second sight, who used substances like belladonna and henbane to undertake visionary flights, were burnt at the stake as witches. 629  A civilization developed that promoted only one kind of consciousness – a rational, day-lit form of awareness, denigrating the intuitive, the visionary and the mystical. These forms of holistic rightbrain awareness can also be considered feminine. Modern civilization not only repressed women and demonized female sexuality; it also suppressed the feminine, intuitive aspects of consciousness. It only considered the left-brain or masculine aspect to be valuable. As this patriarchal civilization developed science, logic and military discipline, it was able to extend its reach across the world, constructing a global empire. Because it is innate to us, the yearning for transcendence and 630 we should seek to master our mechanical and virtual tools for humane, regenerative purposes. 644

Our governing elites and educated classes have known for over a half-century that we are charging towards ecological collapse. Abundant data, the Club of Rome reports, books like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring made this clear decades ago. But we have been unable to change our direction and, in fact, we have continued to accelerate towards disaster. Underlying the momentum of post-industrial civilization is a deep well of suppressed grief over our assault on the biosphere. This also must be brought into our awareness, and acknowledged. We see the same pattern occurring in ourselves and in the lives of the people around us. People will persist in addictive and self-destructive patterns until they find themselves forced to choose between a path of self-knowledge or disintegration and death. 648

Collectively, the human species is revealing the same pattern of self-destructive impulsion – suppressed yearning leading to heedless abandon – that we see on the individual level. We are pushing against the boundaries of ego-based individualism, seeking to reach the next expression of our human being-ness. In order to evolve, we have to recognize the pattern. 655

Anthropologists have noted that rites of passage invariably pass through a series of stages. In the first stage, the candidates are taken away from their homes. They are forced to undergo a process that is shrouded in mystery, considered life-threatening as well as sacred. During this stage of separation, they undergo certain ordeals that force them into an altered state of consciousness, where they receive visions. The elders help them to understand and interpret what the spiritual world has revealed to them. In the final stage of reunion, they are welcomed back into the community, which celebrates their return. 660 For the most part, these ceremonies are comparatively sedate. They do not force people to risk their lives, undergo personal transformation, face their fear of death and the unknown, or access a visionary trance. A diploma rather than any threshold of inner realization tells us we have reached adulthood. We seem to be subconsciously impelling ourselves towards planetary catastrophe to break our alienation and ego-centrism, to reach a new intensity of communion. 672

Collectively, humanity can realize love – universal, unconditional love – as the root of our solidarity, the basis for healing our world. Through a shared experience of catastrophe as well as the witnessing of mass suffering, we may be forcing ourselves to open our hearts individually and collectively. 677

For the most part, people go out of their way to help each other when catastrophe strikes. ‘In the wake of an earthquake, a bombing, or a major storm, most people are altruistic, urgently engaged in caring for themselves and those around them, strangers and neighbours as well as friends and loved ones,’ she writes. Years after a disaster, many people recall their experiences as the best time of their lives, when they briefly felt a sense of belonging and togetherness. Ironically, before modern civilization, this was our natural state, going back tens of thousands of years. ‘Disasters, in returning their sufferers to public and collaborative life, undo some of this privatization, which is a slower, subtler disaster all its own,’ Solnit writes. ‘In a society in which participation, agency, purposefulness and freedom are all adequately present, a disaster would be only a disaster.’ Our current civilization artificially keeps us alienated and isolated, in competition with each other. 681

We require a breakthrough to a new system to express the full range of our humanity – our innate altruism, our empathy for one another. 690  The oncoming emergency will force us to access the deep reserves of intelligence, compassion and creativity that we need to bring about this metamorphosis. 691 – to reach our full potential. 703

When society thwarts our innate drive to find meaning and transcendence through inner experience, the deepest, most sensitive parts of ourselves go numb. With no access to transcendent states, people are trapped by constant cravings, seeking empty gratifications. They try to solidify their sense of personal identity through material possessions or by seeking power over others. They cannot reach maturity, which, for a member of a tribe, means taking responsibility for your community, revering and caring for the natural world, and accepting also the place assigned to you in the cosmic order. 713  My experiences convinced me that consciousness is not ultimately brainbased but a fundamental property of the universe.

Biocentrism. Reductive scientific materialism is unproven and therefore a kind of religious faith. The belief that consciousness is brain-based – an epiphenomenon of evolution, caused randomly by neurological wiring – remains a hypothesis. For scientists like Robert Lanza and Amit Goswami, the last decades of experiment support the opposite view: consciousness is the underlying reality. The universe – all matter – gives transitory expression to its infinite, ever-changing potential. In Biocentrism, Lanza notes that space and time have no reality outside of our awareness of them. They are, finally, ‘tools of our animal understanding’. He believes the universe has been fine-tuned for our emergence and that it exists in order for living beings – we ourselves – to experience and participate in it. Consciousness – the ‘I Am That’ of Eastern mysticism – has devised this adventure for itself, and we are its expressions. According to quantum physics, the existence of a material world depends on an observing consciousness, which collapses the incessant quavering of energy waves into a definitive, perceivable state. We have also discovered that electrons, once connected, maintain their link no matter how far they travel away from each other. Time, it would seem, does not exist for these subatomic particles. This fact subverts our conventional understanding of time. In The Self-Aware Universe, Goswami, a physicist, theorizes that principles of quantum theory allow for the existence of subtle bodies and aspects of an immortal soul. What mystics call spirits or souls could be energetic complexes bound together, as quantum waves, via Action at a Distance. Such complexes may remain connected after the death of an individual. 783 Such energy-clusters eventually fulfil their potential, Goswami suggests, when they realize their self-identity with the underlying spaceless and timeless reality. This would be what various traditions call enlightenment, illumination, attainment or realization. 799

The system – industrial, social and ideological – we have inherited is destroying the biosphere upon which all life depends. What I learned from my own journey is that initiation is not a single threshold experience. Even after one accepts the existence of a spiritual world, there are many levels of initiation and development to undergo. 807  If we are brave, I believe we can come to see it as a necessary and even positive threshold in the life of our species. It is only by embracing this crisis in all of its mind-bending complexity that we can find the will and the incentive to change ourselves and our world. 839

This collective voyage of initiation can’t be completed, however, until those who have taken their personal vision quests are able to bring their new knowledge back into our society – to have it fully absorbed, welcomed and integrated. The best option is that we undertake a peaceful, deliberately designed and non-destructive system change. 843

We can think of our current civilization – its technical and sociopolitical infrastructure, its ideology and beliefs – as an operating system, much like the software that runs our computers. Now we need to reboot and install a new system software. A new social design could, eventually, give every human being the opportunity to flourish and thrive, to live creatively, without fear for their future. Accomplishing this is a great mission that will require a truly rational, empathic application of our technical and creative powers. We must build this new programme – engineer this global reboot – within the next decades. If we can accomplish this, we will have passed the test that the universe has set for us. 845

We have already been socially engineered. As Terence McKenna noted, culture is our operating system. We have been conditioned since birth to accept a system of global control, elite privilege and military domination. Identity is, to a great extent, a social construction. ‘The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes’, Oscar Wilde wrote. ‘Change is the one quality we can predicate of it. The systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development. 851

To deal with our rapidly changing circumstances, we need more than a reform – we need, I think, a new political-economic operating system. 883

According to biologist Lynn Margulis, the author of Microcosmos, who developed the Gaia hypothesis with scientist James Lovelock, ‘The trip from greedy gluttony, from instant satisfaction to long-term mutualism, has been made many times in the microcosm. While destructive species may come and go, cooperation itself increases through time.’ We can find the most accessible example of cooperation and symbiosis as the pattern of evolution in our own bodies. Our bodies are made out of a hundred trillion cells and vast colonies of microorganisms that work together seamlessly. In a previous stage of the Earth’s evolution, these organisms were fighting against each other for scarce resources. During a period of crisis, they figured out ways to collaborate to construct more complex structures – organs, like skin, eyes and lungs. In a way, all human technologies are just recapitulations of technological feats we already find in the microcosm. Long before the Internet, viruses exchanged information – genetic code – around the world at high speed. When humans cooperate to build a satellite dish, it is not that dissimilar to the communities of specialized cells and microorganisms that assemble an eye or an ear. ‘As tiny parts of a huge biosphere whose essence is basically bacterial, we – with other life forms – must add up to a sort of symbiotic brain which it is beyond our capacity to comprehend or truly 894

Individual cells in our bodies do not hoard wealth – excess energy – but store it in deposits of fat that are freely available to the cellular community as a whole. Cells contribute their efforts to the collective body without seeking more for themselves, as energy flows seamlessly, going wherever it is needed. 905

Without any competition, cells as well as organs work with maximum efficiency for the success of the whole. 907

I look at this transition differently, believing that we will eventually transcend national governments by establishing a harmonic planetary orchestration, where local communities will function like the cells and organs in an efficient, selfregulating body. Once we evolve, we will have governance – planetary self-regulation – without governments. 917

Teilhard De Chardin believed humanity’s realization of the noosphere to be a mystical process through which we will discover, and celebrate, our inherent communion with the cosmos: ‘Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire,’ he wrote. 924

Our socio-political reality would no longer be distorted by greed. Our world would be shaped by wisdom, encompassing a long-term vision for human beings to live in healthy communion with our shared sister Earth. If we were to consider love – what Sigmund Freud called Eros – as a biological drive, we might define it as the instinct that binds separate entities into greater aggregates. For de Chardin – as well as Wright and a number of other thinkers – humanity’s social and technical development, seen as an extension of the Earth’s biological processes, suggest that our evolution has an underlying purpose and direction. Just as a plant flowers or a caterpillar morphs into a butterfly, we are inexorably, whether we like it or not, undergoing a metamorphosis into a harmonized collective – a superorganism. As we attain that state, we may find that our interests and capacities change profoundly, just as a butterfly, no longer crawling or devouring leaves, gains an added dimension of flight and starts to pollinate. Rather than fearing what is coming, we can welcome it and rejoice in an opportunity to create a new world. 928

One barrel of oil holds the equivalent of 23,200 hours of manpower – humans went from biospheric nonentity to the catalysts of a geological event. 957

As modern society became increasingly severed from nature, our science-based culture propagated an ideology of materialism, dismissing any mystical or religious belief system as antiquated and false. We rejected the natural, the feminine and the intuitive, replacing them with the masculine ideals of order, logic and rationality. Faith in science and technology replaced religion for many people. This technological worldview has revealed its own internal contradictions and is reaching the point where it is starting to self-destruct. 959

Rather than forfeiting our future to robots, we must learn to master our projections of technology, applying our genius for innovation to humane and benevolent pursuits. We can then define a new trajectory for our species, where we use our technologies to emancipate humanity, establish societies of sustainable abundance and explore the creative capacities of the liberated imagination – not a zero-sum game, but an infinite one. We are at the start of a fantastic adventure – the plot we are in is just as dramatic as anything we have seen in films like Star Wars, 967

When we fully accept and realize that this crisis is our invitation to undergo a collective metamorphosis – to establish something much better than we have now – then we can find the will and courage to handle the distressing specifics. Deepening global crisis is going to force transformation, one way or another. The best thing we can do is seize this chance to leverage a mass awakening. 982

When we feel helpless to change something, we push it out of our minds. We treat it as a joke. Paradoxically, many people also believe that technology is going to develop so quickly that it will save us without them needing to lift a finger. Both of these ideas – that we are doomed and can’t do anything, so there is no reason to try, and that technological innovation will save the day – are popular memes, spread through the media. Although they are contradictory, many people think both of these things at the same time. One theme the two ideas share is a rejection of any sense of agency or responsibility: any possibility that we can, and must, change ourselves. 988

We can protest these things all we want and it won’t change anything as long as we are still using way too much energy and squandering our natural resources. We might stop a pipeline in one area, but the energy companies will simply build one someplace else. Ultimately, the system is responding to consumer demand. If we are going to avoid the most catastrophic outcome, social behaviour – as well as the beliefs propelling it – needs to change. 995

On the one hand, we’ve used financial pressure and biased trade agreements to force developing regions to adopt our values and conform to our agenda. On the other, we have bombarded these cultures with shallow, seductive, hypnotizing media – Dallas, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Sex and the City, the Kardashians – which have made it seem that everyone should aspire to the same standards of material wealth and glamour. 1001

As our postmodern society undergoes a transformation of values and practices, we will apply the same genius we use to sell innumerable gaudy, useless, breakable things to promote and distribute a different way of living and being across the world. We now know from many studies that our commercial, self-centred lifestyle does not produce real contentment. Many commentators note that people in traditional societies, living within ecological limits, seem far happier than those who have adopted the Western consumer mindset. In traditional societies, we find far less crime, a deeper connection to nature, and vital spiritual traditions. In these cultures, most people live in villages or small communities. They trust and care about each other. I believe that the only way we can engineer a rapid turnaround is to repurpose the mass media and communications infrastructure the capitalist system has bequeathed to us. 1005

Instead of marketing consumerism and keeping people fearful, our networks of media and social tools can promote different values – responsible, Earth-honouring ones – and solution-based approaches to our current problems. We can provide people with tangible tools for changing their lifestyles in major and minor ways – sharing resources, conserving energy, building communities and so on. We can shift people away from dependence on distant authorities towards local autonomy and resilience. Because human beings are extremely adaptive, this transformation could happen surprisingly quickly. It requires, first, an imaginative leap. 1011

Modern society traps us in alienation. People continue to act as if the increasingly obvious changes in climate and environment have no connection to their lives or our collective future. If we are going to address our critical situation, we need to develop a wide-ranging vision, a systems-level perspective. Individuals must step into leadership roles, not to amass power and wealth, but because they truly want to help. One big problem is that our brains evolved to deal with short-term dangers, like being stalked by a lion. We are not used to responding to threats that unfold slowly, over a matter of decades. Doing so requires an act of will, intellectual apprehension and courage. We have been told there are experts in every field, with specialized, technical knowledge far beyond what we can fathom. We count on these experts to handle those problems that seem beyond the scope of our abilities. Immersed in their daily lives, most people don’t entertain the prospect that these experts and specialists may themselves be mistaken. They may be operating with such fragmentary knowledge that they lack the ability to comprehend the whole picture, or to envision, let alone institute, the level of systemic transformation that will be needed. 1016

For the sake of future generations and the greater community of life on Earth, we must find ways to overcome distractions, building a wave of collective action that will gather enough strength to overcome the resistance of those entrenched and powerful forces that stand in our way. Such a movement can only be effective if we possess a clear idea of the positive outcome we seek as well as the methods we must apply to attain it.

Because we are afraid of what’s coming, because we feel it is not our responsibility, and because the mass media doesn’t focus our attention properly, most people lack even the most rudimentary knowledge about what we are doing to the Earth. I have spoken to graduate students studying sustainability and design at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and even they didn’t know the most basic information about species extinction, ocean acidification, climate change and so on. In America, the typical adult can name over a thousand corporate logos but fewer than ten species of native plants. 1032

People find themselves disconnected, detached from what is taking place, watching it like a movie. Conditioned and indoctrinated by a system designed to disempower them, many feel cynical about any possibility of changing the status quo. This needs to change. We can educate ourselves about our situation and then share that information in a productive way. We can’t galvanize people into action by making them scared or miserable. The only thing that will inspire people to act, I believe, is a compelling and beautiful vision of the future – a future they want to see for their children and grandchildren. ‘Restoring the earth will take an enormous international effort, one far larger and more demanding than the often-cited Marshall Plan that helped rebuild war-torn Europe and Japan,’ writes Lester Brown, the founder of Worldwatch Institute, in Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. ‘And such an initiative must be undertaken at wartime speed lest environmental deterioration translate into economic decline and state failure, just as it did for earlier civilizations that violated nature’s thresholds and ignored its deadlines.’ Brown notes that the US industrial economy was able entirely to restructure itself in just a few months, following the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This required a three-year ban on the sale of automobiles, as factories shifted to producing planes, tanks, guns and other forms of military hardware. A similar, rapid redirection of our industrial system, globally, is necessary to transition energy production and other areas. This has happened in the past, during wartime, but never during peacetime and never on a planetary scale. What will it take to bring this about? That, dear reader, is a crucial question. 1040

Each day, an estimated 150 to 200 species disappear forever out of a total number of roughly 8.7 million. Doing the maths, this means we are losing something like 10 per cent of the remaining biodiversity every 10 to 15 years. The number is so high because we are currently polluting, over-settling, burning down and clear-cutting many of the most biodiverse places on Earth. It can be difficult to explain to people why maintaining biodiversity is crucial for our own near-term survival. We have learned that ecosystems function as complex networks in which the different forms and varieties of life support each other – when any tier is taken away, the entire system may change dramatically. It may rearrange itself or become radically simplified, with only one or a handful of species proliferating. People became alarmed, 1079

It didn’t occur to us, even twenty or thirty years ago, that we could empty the entire ocean of large fish – but that is what has happened. More than 90 per cent of the large fish are gone, and the massive trawlers which spread their nets in the seas have to go further and deeper out, collecting types of fish that would have been rejected as inedible a few years ago. 1087

When too many species are removed, an entire ecosystem may collapse. This can happen on a local or global level. The danger is that there is an unforeseen tipping point beyond which a rapid planetary shift could take place, and this could happen faster than we are able to react to it. 1092

We are now beyond 400 ppm of atmospheric CO2. The last time there was this much CO2 in the air, sea levels were 100 feet higher than they are today and temperatures were four degrees C warmer 1102

Through studying the climate record preserved in ice-core samples, geologists have learned that the climate generally doesn’t make a slow, incremental transition from one steady state to another. Instead, it tends to make a drastic lurch in a short timeframe. Glaciologists found that ‘roughly half of the entire warming between the ice ages and the postglacial world took place in only a decade’, writes Fred Pearce in With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change, with a temperature increase of nine degrees Celsius during that time. In the past two centuries, humanity has increased levels of carbon in the atmosphere by about a third. Our continued tinkering runs the risk ‘of producing a runaway change – the climactic equivalent of a squawk on a sound system’. 1103

As Ramez Naam writes in The Infinite Resource: In Europe, half the mountain glacier cover seen a century ago in the Alps is now gone. In Switzerland, 20 per cent has disappeared in the last fifteen years. In Britain, researchers looking at the flowering of plants and the migration of animals find that spring is coming eleven days earlier than it did in the middle of the twentieth century. In the United States, researchers see spring plant and animal behaviour creeping three days earlier each decade, around twelve days earlier since 1970. Sea levels around the world have risen seven inches in the last century, and their rate of rise has doubled in the last ten years. According to climate scientist James Hansen, humanity already faces the ‘near certainty’ of an eventual sea-level rise of five to nine metres. As subsurface warming causes the melting of the Arctic ice sheets, sea levels will increase by much as three metres by 2050. He notes it is ‘unlikely that coastal cities or low-lying areas such as Bangladesh, European lowlands and large portions of the United States eastern coast and northeast China plains could be protected against such large sea level rise’. 1112

It has been estimated that the entire human population could be settled in an area the size of Texas, and each family would still have room for a backyard garden. Similarly, the entire human population could stand, shoulder to shoulder, on an area the size of New York City. This shows it is not the size of the human population that is the problem. It is our massively wasteful use of resources. As we will discuss, we have the ability to design, build, even mass-manufacture, new urban areas and villages that are entirely self-sufficient, with food and energy produced on-site. 1122

We have known for decades that our continued inaction on CO2 emissions is a form of passive genocide committed against the most vulnerable populations of the Earth, but we remain wilfully unconscious about our impacts. There is nothing we can do to change the past, but we can face the present. As practitioners of Huna, the spiritual discipline associated with Hawaii, put it: ‘Now is the moment of power.’ Now is the only moment – in other words – when we can accept our personal responsibility for the fate of our shared, imperilled world. Now is also the moment when we can choose to put aside petty concerns and to act, instead, as biospheric agents, conceiving our own lives as catalytic processes, applying our energies and intellect for the greater good.

Feedback Loops Ecological disaster is being accelerated by a large number of feedback loops that amplify climate change and other problems as they are set into motion. 1136

The Arctic is currently warming four times faster than the rest of the planet. Incredibly, in the winter of 2015, the Arctic reached a temperature that was over 30 degrees Celsius above its usual average – essentially, briefly reaching the melting point of zero degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit. 1150

Somehow, we must rally humanity to protect the remaining forests, in particular our tropical rainforests, and engage in a cooperative process to reforest the planet. The tropical rainforests are estimated to produce as much as 20 per cent of the oxygen we breathe. Most of us would, I believe, like to keep breathing 1168

There are 1,600 billion tons of carbon trapped beneath the oceans and locked in Siberian permafrost. Although it only stays in the atmosphere for ten years, methane is more than twenty times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. If methane erupts in large quantities, this will accelerate the warming cycle, releasing more methane. ‘If such a runaway event were to take place, it could occur within forty years or less, and would transform the earth into a biological desert,’ notes Paul Hawken. In 2007, ‘atmospheric levels of methane began to spike’, according to Bill McKibben. In 2011, Russian researchers found spumes of methane as much as a kilometre in diameter releasing from the Arctic. Scientists now understand that, in previous epochs, eruptions of thawing methane from under the Arctic induced mass extinctions. Unfortunately, a rise in temperature of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels may pass the threshold at which the methane releases in vast quantities. Some scientists now believe a 1.5-degree temperature rise is the maximum we can handle. 1173

Roof or sidewalk with reflective surfaces. Retrofitting all urban roofs and pavements in the world would yield emissions reductions equivalent to taking all the world’s cars off the road for eighteen years.’ As a global initiative, we could engineer mass plantings of forests, trees and gardens. ‘The earth’s plants and soils are not yet removing enough CO2 to halt rising temperatures, but they could do much more with proper stewardship,’ Hertsgaard notes. Within the next few decades, assuming we want a future for humanity, we need to bring about a drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, along with a global transition to renewable energies and low-carbon fuel sources. Since we have waited too long, this reduction must be as much as 8–10 per cent annually, for a number of years. Luckily, a great deal of our CO2-producing activity is wasteful and unnecessary, and could be quickly eliminated once we find the will to do so. 1187

The inconvenient truth is that overpopulation is not our major problem. In fact, across the developing world, at least until recently, most people lived within sustainable limits, with a tiny ecological footprint. They farmed locally and ate their own produce. They didn’t drive cars, waste polystyrene, wear clothes produced in Cambodian sweatshops, fly somewhere warm to relax for a spring break, or buy new computers and smart phones every few years. The reason we are rapidly approaching total ecological collapse is the consumerist lifestyle of America and Europe, which we have spread across the planet. I cannot deny that it would be a good idea to taper off the rising population – I think this can and should be done in a humane and empathic way. Birth rates actually decline naturally as women attain a higher status, approaching equality with men, having more access to education and work opportunities. In other words, if we elevate the status of women everywhere, the global population will, gently and naturally, decline. While 80 per cent of emissions are produced by just 20 per cent of the world’s population, probably 50 per cent of emissions come from as little as 1 per cent of the population – the wealthy people of the developed world. But the prospect that this 1 per cent will voluntarily reduce their consumption – or be forced to do so – is never proposed or considered. 1200

It runs counter to our intrinsic sense of privilege and the cult of wealth that underlies the capitalist game. Or, in other words, it goes against everything our globalized society – our technophiliac New World Order – believes or stands for. ‘We don’t require the whole world to do something’, notes Kevin Anderson, a UK climate scientist from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, ‘we require a small proportion of the world to change what they do today for the next ten or twenty years while we put low carbon supply in place. Then we can go back to our old profligate lifestyles.’ Unfortunately, the longer we wait, the amount of rapid reductions of emissions that we need to accomplish will increase, until the goal is out of reach. 1210 I want to hold your attention, for a heartbeat or two, on that last comment Anderson makes about the need for a small proportion of the world to change their behaviour. 1217 What he is talking about requires that you and I change our behaviour and lifestyle. Let’s be brutally honest with ourselves: we can continue as we are now and watch our planet burn out, or we can change ourselves to change the world. If we prefer the second option, we must commit ourselves to a necessary task – a redemptive, spiritual mission. Our mission, if we choose to accept it, is that we work together to build a regenerative society, restoring the health of our biosphere for the long term. This project will be the work of future generations, also. What we can accomplish in our lives – the beginning of a great turning – will be our legacy to them. 1221

Unfortunately, the wealthier people on the planet believe themselves likely to be the least affected by ecological catastrophe, figuring they can always fly off to some new still somewhat unspoiled place. While understandable from their perspective, this is stupid, short-term thinking. As I mentioned above, 20% of the oxygen that we all, collectively, including the 1 per cent and the .001 per cent breathe, is emitted by the forests which are being slashed, burnt, mowed down to create more profit centres. If we lose too much biodiversity, the intricately interdependent web of life will crumble to dust, taking all of us down with it. Also, even the super-rich are running out of unspoiled places. 1229

The interesting thing about social behaviour is that it is extremely contagious. People tend to do what their peers do – and they can switch their beliefs and habits quickly, even immediately, when the reward structure changes around them. Malcolm Gladwell called this the tipping point. The maverick scientist Rupert Sheldrake proposes a more sophisticated model, based on something he calls morphic resonance, or the hundredth monkey principle. His idea is that when a certain small percentage of a species learns a new skill, that ability becomes easier to transfer to others – and can even transfer instantly, without direct contact, through some unknown mechanism, perhaps quantum nonlocality. Patterns of thought and action may create new fields of resonant potential that can become species-wide traits. When you or I make a change in our behaviour, this affects and impacts upon the people around us directly and then the people around them, adding up to many more people. According to the morphic resonance theory, it may not be as difficult to effect large-scale change as we tend to think it is – particularly now, when we are so tightly linked together through networks. 1246

Investment bankers, corporate lawyers, CEOs – highly intelligent people who tend to be motivated by personal reward more than abstract principles of ecological ethics – come to Burning Man and, in less than a day, they conform to a new set of social norms, responding to the cues around them. Their new behaviour patterns include ‘leaving no trace’, giving away stuff, hugging, smiling, building community structures, helping strangers put up their tents, sharing their drugs and so on. At Burning Man, wandering around in a pink tutu, saying ‘namaste’, talking about your chakras, and picking up trash will gain you community acceptance and love. If being friendly, thoughtful and caring suddenly increases your status, gets you laid, brings you better drugs and makes you popular, then that is what you will do. 1256

Today, for instance, many people live alone in small apartments, separated from their families and close friends. Bringing people together again to live communally in multi-generational compounds – as our tribal ancestors did – would be a powerful way to reduce consumption and waste. It would also make people happier, healthier and calmer. 1264

I remember visiting Havana, Cuba, in 1999, where cars were rare, and people ride-shared and hitchhiked. This created a feeling of social cohesion and camaraderie – a sense that ‘we are all in this together’. If ride sharing, and other forms of sharing, were encouraged or even (dare I say it?) enforced – systemically implemented using geolocating apps – it would have the same effect. Given a new incentive, life could become much better, not worse. People would have to learn to trust and care for each other once again. 1266

We have been deluded by the momentum of our post-industrial society. We are taught to believe that progress only moves in one direction. The retreat revealed that many of the things our civilization believes to be necessary are actually just impediments that keep us cluttered and distracted. In the future, masses of people may realize that living with friends and family, in beautiful communities close to nature, where life is as self-sufficient and sustainable as possible, with minimal electronic interference, would be the ultimate lifestyle – and it is one that we can attain. In any event, one essential point to grasp is that all of the changes in lifestyle and behaviour that we need collectively to adapt for our survival will have this side benefit: they will make the world kinder, gentler, happier, more cooperative, more loving. Living altruistically and cooperatively is closer to our basic nature as human beings than continuing our current state of alienation and competition. It is, after all, what we did for many thousands of years, as nomadic tribal people. Now we have to realize humanity as one unified tribe. You may notice how all the solutions proposed in this book imply that we will be forced to live in a more responsible, truly adult fashion. In other words, there is something more in these practical solutions than just ‘saving the world’ – the same behaviours that support flourishing ecosystems will also force us to behave more wisely, carefully and compassionately – to act, ironically, as we’ve often wished we could, if we had the time or inner motivation to try. 1273

We must reduce the amount of nitrogen released into the environment by two-thirds, from 100 million to 35 million tons annually, even though this will be difficult, considering that the current food production system depends upon huge inputs of artificial, fossil-fuel-based fertilizer for agriculture. However, as we will discuss, we need to change our approach to producing food in any case. 1298

Currently, an estimated 12 per cent of the Earth’s surface is used for arable farming, while as much as 30 per cent of all land is used for animal grazing. Scientists believe that 15 per cent is the maximum amount of arable farmland the Earth can tolerate. We haven’t reached that level yet, but as drought conditions intensify because of global warming, the issue of land use is going to become a major one. This will be especially true if populations expand to an estimated 9 billion by mid-century, and if developing countries like China and India continue to demand more meat, which requires intensive inputs of water and grain

The greatest species diversity – more than 40 per cent of plants and 30 per cent of animals – is found in a few dozen small areas that account for a little over 1 per cent of total landmass. We should seek to protect these areas, in particular. But many of them are under threat. Malaysia, for instance, loses more than 5 per cent of its remaining forests every decade. Reasons for deforestation include demands for palm oil, urbanization, and various forms of clearing for agriculture. Mining is another factor as are hydropower and irrigation projects. Only about a fifth of Malaysia’s original rainforest covering now remains, scattered in fragments across the region. Many developing countries are in similar straits. The biologist Edward O Wilson proposes that humanity should set aside as much as 50 per cent of the Earth’s surface area as a nature preserve. Although that sounds a bit extreme and unlikely, it is worth noting that, in the past, in many areas of the Earth, humans were actually caretakers and stewards of their natural environment. Evolution weeded out the ones who couldn’t manage their local habitat – like the Easter Islanders, who left behind a number of enormous stone heads but no trees and few people. A good plan for the future might include reducing animal grazing lands significantly for reforestation, establishing larger nature preserves, and re-educating people so they become stewards and gardeners of their home rather than despoilers and extractors. 1302

Patterns of rainfall are changing around the world, as some areas suffer increasing monsoons while others enter permanent drought conditions. Global warming causes more ferocious floods as well as disastrous droughts. ‘Drought is especially punishing for the hundreds of millions of subsistence farmers around the world for whom rain is the only source of water,’ Hertsgaard notes. Within the next decade, it is estimated that the number of people living in water-stressed countries will increase from 800 million to 3 billion. We are already seeing ‘water wars’, although they are not generally billed as such. 1318

15,000 litres of water are required to produce one pound of beef. 1326

Mountaintop glaciers feed rivers, streams and aquifers in India, Tibet and Peru, as well as California, sustaining billions of people who settled in the valleys below these sources, which have flowed reliably for tens of thousands of years. Their disappearance will cause social dislocations on a scale we cannot yet imagine. There is potential for a rapid scaling up of desalinization plants, particularly if this technology is improved, and if it can be powered by renewables. In that case, we might be able to have as much abundant fresh water as we need. However, we are still far from prepared for the water scarcity we are confronting globally. 1333

We know that plastic polymers and other industrial compounds have infiltrated every ecosystem on the planet. They also concentrate through the food chain, and in our tissues, where they cause cancers, reproductive disorders and other adverse health effects. Chris Jordan has photographed dead birds on Midway Island – 2,000 miles away from the nearest continent – with their gullets full of plastic. Perhaps evolution – or future technologies – will find ways to make use of our synthetic polymers, but the process of breaking them down naturally will take millions of years. Even so, industries continue to create new compounds, willy-nilly, and add them to the exotic bouquet of chemicals that is impacting on our fragile environment. Even where there have been studies of how individual compounds affect human health, there are no studies of the potential impact of multiple new chemicals when combined. A 2009 study of US drinking water, testing for pharmaceuticals and endocrine-disrupting chemicals, found 34 contaminants in just one sample, including atrazine (a herbicide), diazepam (Valium), risperidone (an anti-psychotic) and fluoxetine (Prozac). 1354

The past breakthroughs that were supposed to make everything great had tremendous negative consequences that were unanticipated. 1388

The new technologies – interacting with the processes of life and matter at a deeper level – could have even more destructive impacts. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t develop new technologies, but we must do so within an ethical framework and an ecological worldview that considers long-term consequences rather than prioritizing short-term comforts and immediate profits. 1389

What Do We Do?

Living in New York City, I see new buildings going up all the time. I don’t see these buildings covered in solar panels feeding energy back to the grid, or vegetable gardens on their rooftops. We keep building luxury condominiums and hotels, not earth ships and vertical farms. 1392

If people understood what was coming, we would be applying our intelligence differently. Young people would pursue careers in ecosystem management, permaculture, wetland restoration, carbon sequestration. The best and brightest would be learning how to share and conserve resources, how to organize local communities to maximize resilience, practices of active nonviolence and so on. Our system doesn’t reward all of the work that desperately needs to be done now, and it over-rewards everything that shouldn’t be done – such as using financial tools to extract money from the poor and middle class and funnel it to the wealthy, or marketing new trends that seduce people into buying more clothes, cars and gadgets. Financial world predators, unleashing global chaos from their computer terminals, make exponentially more than primary school teachers or nurses who take care of the old and sick. And we are all caught in this system. A major problem is our culture’s entrenched ideal of individualism. This is something we must supersede, 1397

In reality, our independence as individuals depends on our interdependence – with each other and all of life. Our current social and economic system obscures this basic truth. We should, instead, devise systems, in alignment with nature’s principles, that help us realize it. 1405

There are many amazing solutions already within our reach. Others are just on the edge of becoming feasible. Actually, the technical solutions are kind of the easy part, as we will see. The more difficult struggle will be to change our political and economic system so that we can implement the technical solutions rapidly. 1408

After all, we built a global communications infrastructure over the last decades that is like a central nervous system. The multitude can trade ideas and adapt new social tools instantly. 1411

We now know that renewable energy technologies can be exponentially scaled up in a few decades to supply the entire world’s population with non-polluting energy. If we coordinate a global transition to regenerative, organic and no-till agriculture, we will be able to put a great deal of excess CO2 back in the soil. That transition can also be combined with the rapid distribution of regenerative technologies, like biochar gasifiers and biodigestors that convert organic waste into fuel while sequestering CO2. We can stop all unnecessary forms of industrial manufacturing while we establish networks for sharing and conserving our remaining resources. All of this, in fact, is what we need to do. But how can we do it? 1413

just one gallon of petrol equals 500 hours of human work output. Granted this largesse, it is not surprising we became utterly dependent on cheap fuel. ‘Cheap oil is not a useful part of our economy,’ writes Bill McKibben, ‘It is our economy.’ The availability of cheap energy allowed for the production of inessential goods, impelling the growth of a mass consumer society over the last 200 years. ‘Oil provides 40 per cent of all energy used by human beings on Earth, and it powers nearly all transportation in the industrial world. It’s also the most important raw material for plastics, agricultural and industrial chemicals, lubricants, and asphalt roads,’ writes John Michael Greer. According to Peak Everything author Richard Heinberg: ‘Without petrochemicals, medical science, information technology, modern cityscapes, and countless other aspects of our modern technology-intensive lifestyles would simply not exist. In all, oil represents the essence of modern life.’ As predicted by the oil company geologist M King Hubbert, we have passed the critical threshold, known as peak oil, when most of the easily available oil has been extracted from the Earth. We have entered a new phase in which fossil fuels become more difficult and expensive to extract, following the downward decline of a bell curve. However, as I write this, the fact that oil has become more costly to extract is not reflected in market pricing – in fact, energy prices have been going down, and the market is glutted. There are many reasons for this. It is possible that oil-producing countries are keeping prices low to stall the development of renewables. There is also the fact that we are now extracting more fuel from non-traditional sources. But this is not a good thing. As we run out of 1426

The depletion of traditional sources also explains the recent initiative to mass-produce ethanol out of corn. A global rush towards biofuels resulted in global famines, as well as food riots in 37 countries, in 2008. In the future, the depletion of fossil fuel supplies, as well as the limits of our ‘carbon budget’, could make large-scale projects, requiring intensive development of new technology and infrastructure, increasingly difficult to achieve. That is another reason – besides accelerating warming – that we should be seeking to switch to renewables now, when energy is still readily available. 1442

Leggett reports that many experts and insiders ‘think there will be a drop in production within just a few years, and we are in danger of that drop being so steep as to merit description as a collapse’. This collapse would affect not only manufacturing and transportation, but our food system, which requires massive inputs of petroleum to make fertilizer, and for long-distance transport. The average morsel of food in the US travels over 1,500 miles. 1449

In the 1960s, Buckminster Fuller realized we needed to use our resources of fossil fuels to switch to unlimited, renewable sources. ‘The fossil fuel deposits of our Spaceship Earth correspond to our automobile’s storage battery which must be conserved to turn over our main engine’s self-starter,’ he noted. ‘Thereafter, our “main engine”, the life regenerative processes, must operate exclusively on our vast daily energy income from the powers of wind, tide, water, and the direct Sun radiation energy.’ Unfortunately, society went in the opposite direction, burning massive reserves of fossil fuel without establishing a new infrastructure based on renewable energy. 1453

As a side benefit, if we make a global transition to renewable energy sources, we will eliminate air pollution. 1458

We have the technical ability to make this energy transition, but our time for accomplishing it is short. Whatever it takes, we must force our global civilization to put the brakes on its current momentum, and change its course. This requires a realistic reckoning with the urgency of our situation – far beyond the voluntary limits set by the 2105 Paris Climate Conference, also known as the 21st Annual Cooperation of Parties (COP-21), where 195 countries came together but were unable to make the UN Framework on Climate Change legally binding – and a rejection of meaningless half-measures. Let’s take a look at some of the admittedly wonky details. How Do We Transition? The likelihood that we can make a rapid energy transition keeps growing due to technical innovations – such as Tesla’s recent development of the Powerwall, a storage battery for renewable sources usable in private homes, or the ongoing development of the infrastructure for an ‘Internet of Energy’, maximizing efficiency, and allowing people to send extra power back to the grid. Germany is leading the way, particularly with solar. Solar now satisfies around 7 per cent of Germany’s electricity needs – but on bright summer days this goes up to above 50 per cent. 1462

in the UK, a report from the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth, Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future (2010), proposes that Britain could completely eliminate fossil fuels in twenty years, through a systemic transition in energy use, production, agriculture and land-use patterns. 1479

Through a coordinated effort and strategy, Britain could decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 95 per cent in two decades. Reductions would be made in every area, including households, business, industry and waste management. These reductions would depend on significant changes to industrial processes and patterns of personal use, as well as the diversion of waste from landfill, and the conversion of landfill sites to storage silos. The report estimates that Britain could cut its demand for energy by about 60 per cent through energy-saving and conservation measures. Without a skilful marketing campaign that unites the population behind a common purpose, many of the proposed measures would be extremely unpopular – such as reducing the amount that people travel, as well as limiting the transport and manufacture of unnecessary goods. Within two decades, the authors point out, all power could be generated from renewable sources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector to zero. 1484

The plan calls for reductions in the consumption of meat and dairy, plus changes in land-management practices, dropping CO2 emissions from agriculture by more than 70 per cent. Another significant change in the British landscape would be a doubling of the area of forest. A larger proportion of this – almost a third – would be left unharvested, enhancing biodiversity and sequestering carbon. ‘These changes to the way we use land, the increased area of forest, the restoration of 50 per cent of our peatlands, and the use of more plant-based products made mainly from harvest wood’ would allow Britain to capture about 45 million tons of greenhouse pollution every year. According to the report, this systemic transition would produce millions of new jobs, as the country ‘powers down’ from fossil fuels such as oil and coal and ‘powers up’ on renewables. 1491

In 2011, two American experts, Peter Schwartzman and David Schwartzman, at the Institute for Policy Research and Development issued a report entitled A Solar Transition is Possible. The Schwartzmans believe that, using current resources and known technologies, the world can engineer a complete transition to renewables over the next two or three decades. To achieve this, world governments would have to cooperate to build a new infrastructure that would focus on conservation. Developed countries like the US would agree to reduce energy usage as much as 25–35 per cent within a matter of years, not decades – a far greater level of reduction than that proposed by COP-21. The Schwartzmans’ plan would require demilitarization, since industries related to defence are huge energy wasters. They propose the construction of a ‘new direct-current (DC) distribution network, as a means for moving solar-generated electricity around the country’. They believe this could be ‘achievable and economically feasible’ by ‘using geothermal as base supply, wind at night, solar during the day, and hydropower at peak hours of need’. Solar, we know, is an intermittent power source. However, this can be compensated for by distributing wind farms and solar arrays across a wide area, while increasing storage. As the amount of financial capital required to extract energy from the remaining supplies of fossil fuel continues to increase, the Schwartzmans predict that renewable energy will become more attractive as an option. The rise of solar power in the next decades will drastically decrease the demand for petroleum in the global economy. Joining a chorus of academic voices, the Schwartzmans conclude that shifting to renewables is achievable, can fulfil the energy needs of humanity and can provide a higher quality of life for all. 1497

2014 report, Pathways to Deep Decarbonization, led by the economist Jeffrey Sachs, focused on 15 countries, including the US, UK, Brazil, Japan, China and South Africa. According to the authors, ‘deeply reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving socioeconomic development are not mutually exclusive. Robust economic growth and rising prosperity are consistent with the objective of deep decarbonization. They form two sides of the same coin and must be pursued together as part of sustainable development.’ While I like the bold outlines of the deep decarbonization approach, I disagree with the authors in one crucial area. I don’t believe that we can reduce global emissions – and avert catastrophic climate change – while continuing rapid economic growth. When the United Nations issued its Sustainable Development Goals recently, it forecast a 7 per cent annual growth rate, measured by gross domestic product, or GDP, for developing countries. This seems impossible, if not suicidal. At the moment, GDP is increasing at about 2 per cent annually, while global debt is increasing at 7 per cent. Even though a transition to a renewable energy infrastructure can create hundreds of thousands – even millions – of new jobs, a rapid reduction of CO2 emissions to avert climate catastrophe will require strict limits on industrial production and development, at least during a transition period. Sachs is well known as a neoliberal economist, a proponent of corporate globalization. I think he wants to avoid the politically unpalatable realization that ‘deep decarbonization’ is only possible if we transition away from the current model of economic growth. 1513

replacing all of the existing fossil fuel plants to generate energy from renewable sources, and then we can save an enormous amount of energy through conservation, applying the most efficient technologies in areas like urban design, home construction, transport, industry and so on. 1531

Our energy infrastructure, including ‘coal mines, oil and gas fields, refineries, pipelines, trains, trucks, tankers, filling stations, power plants, transformers, transmission and distribution lines, and hundreds of millions of gasoline, kerosene, diesel and fuel oil engines – constitutes the costliest and most extensive set of installations, networks, and machines that the world has ever built, one that has taken generations and tens of trillions of dollars to put in place’. The annual throughputs include ‘more than 7 billion metric tons of hard coal and lignite, 4 billion metric tons of crude oil, and more than 3 billion cubic meters of natural gas’. 1536

The difficulties in making a rapid systemic transition are financial and ideological. There are no physical constraints preventing us from doing it. If this transition became a central focus of collective human activity over the next few years, we would accomplish it. We do know from the past that ideologies, beliefs, social behaviour – as well as the economic systems that underlie them – can change quickly. 1544

Unfortunately, recent scientific projections have reduced that 2°C limit to 1.5°C as the maximum before large-scale release of the methane from the Arctic becomes inevitable. This only serves to highlight the severity of our current emergency, and how quickly we must work together to avert the worst possible results. 1550

According to Deutsche Bank, 80 per cent of the world will reach grid parity by 2017. ‘I call the next big step for solar after grid parity, the point at which solar power becomes the default new power source in a majority of jurisdictions around the world, the “solar singularity”. 1561

source relatively quickly,’ Hunt writes. It is entirely feasible for solar to undergo a very rapid acceleration. One precedent for this is the rapid dissemination and penetration of cell phones and smart phones, which became ubiquitous more quickly than any past technology in history. In the US, the transition from horses to automobiles, early last century, took little more than a decade. If governments support the solar singularity with new subsidies and policies, solar could indeed become the world’s dominant energy source within the next decades. The potential for a rapid scaling up of solar power and other renewable sources has existed for a while now. Unfortunately, it has been blocked and subverted by governments, particularly the US and China. These super-powers have committed to fossil fuels due to entrenched interests and fixed ideologies. But for China, at least, this is now changing. In 2000, the entire global market for solar 1564

Leggett saw the future when he visited a new factory in Shanghai, which can produce a thousand megawatts of solar panels annually. ‘The machines stretch in ordered rows many football pitches into the distance’, he writes in The Winning of the Carbon War. ‘Hundreds of workers, dressed just like the touring party, attend them. A thousand people work under this roof, in alternating shifts, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.’ In 2012, the total capacity of solar photovoltaic panels crossed 100 gigawatts: ‘This is equivalent to . . . 65 full-size 1.3 gigawatt nuclear reactors,’ Leggett notes – and solar is continuing to grow, exponentially. While China’s totalitarian political system is not enviable as a social model, the Chinese might force a rapid conversion to regenerative practices in many areas. Instead of making disposable gadgets for the West, factories could be repurposed to produce rainwater harvesters, biochar units, storage batteries for renewable energy sources and so on. Similarly, China could undertake a large-scale retraining of its population to adopt conservation as well as permaculture practices. It could force its population to become essentially vegetarian. The massive transition we need to ensure our continuity may be easier to manage under an authoritarian regime than under a liberal democracy, corrupted by special interests. The happiest outcome would be a worldwide metamorphosis, over a few decades, to both decentralized power grids and decentralized democracies. 1573

in his book, The Third Industrial Revolution. Rifkin believes this revolution will be based on a number of factors. Obviously, first and most pressing, is the transition to solar, wind, geothermal, hydro and other renewable sources. Second, we must transform our approach to building, so that we construct new buildings and retrofit old ones to act as micro-power plants, collecting energy on-site. The third is developing and deploying hydrogen batteries and other storage technologies to capture the intermittent power produced from renewable sources. Then, we must develop network technologies that transform the power grid of every continent and country into an ‘energy internet’ able to transmit power efficiently. This would require a decentralized infrastructure, like the Internet itself. Lastly, we must transition our transportation system – cars, trucks, trains, boats, planes – to run on renewable sources of fuel. We can replace the current fleet of cars with electric plug-in and fuel cell vehicles – even though this would require a tremendous expenditure of energy. There are over a billion cars and trucks currently on the planet. Retrofitting them to run on electricity – or salt-water hydrolysis – might be less wasteful than junking them. We also might want to rethink the private automobile as our principal mode of transport. A ton of steel, raw materials and precious metals to move around one or two human beings is not very efficient. Cars are difficult to recycle. Once they cease working, they end up in dumps, leaking toxins into the Earth. Rifkin, by the way, followed up his extremely optimistic book, The Third Industrial Revolution, with an even more optimistic one. In The Zero-Margin Cost Society, he argues that humanity may be reaching a threshold where super-abundance becomes our natural state. We will avert the ecological crisis by rapid innovations, spreading sustainable solutions across the Earth through distributed manufacturing and open-source, peer-to-peer forms of collaborative production. We will be able to ‘print out’ solar panels and desalinization kits, for instance, ending our dependence on scarce water. 1587

Paul Mason realizes, in Postcapitalism, ‘Knowledge-driven production tends towards the unlimited creation of wealth, independent of the labour expended.’ Mason believes we are approaching the potential for a post-capitalist civilization where a basic income or universal subsidy gives everyone the means to live decently, where we achieve ‘freedom from work’. Once again, as Buckminster Fuller predicted, we seem to be on a seesaw teetering between polar opposites of utopia or oblivion. 1604

It takes an enormous amount of fuel to power the world’s current fleet of jet planes as well as giant cargo ships. ‘One round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person,’ states the New York Times. ‘The average American generates about 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year; the average European, 10. So if you take five long flights a year, they may well account for three-quarters of the emissions you create.’ For someone like myself, who doesn’t drive a car, air travel is my biggest single contribution to warming. 1611

For those of us in the privileged classes – not only defined by wealth, which I lack, but access to other forms of capital, such as ‘culture capital’ – our ability to travel freely around the globe, whenever we like, is considered an inalienable right, not something to be judged, censured or questioned. Every other week, friends of mine jet off to Nepal, Bali, South Africa, Indonesia, Japan, Siberia, Berlin, Costa Rica, Gstaad, expelling several tons of CO2 with each puddle jump. 1618

Many of us believe that our ability to descend on distant cultures – whenever we feel like it – is, somehow, beneficial for the world. We don’t see it as a form of colonialist entitlement, or another addiction. One by-product of this incessant travel is that wealthy people don’t develop a deeper connection with any particular place. They don’t feel the need to deepen community where they are. Why should they, when they can always jet off to the next spot, as soon as things feel dull for them and they desire more stimulation? Perhaps we could start with a commitment to travel less, to invest in building community at home? For instance, if one million or ten million or one hundred million people agreed to restrict their air travel to once a year, or less, that could be shown to have measurable impacts in the amount of CO2 and other waste produced. 1622

One tantalizing prospect for a new energy source for air travel and other forms of transportation is the use of algae as a source of biofuel. Algae is a non-flowering plant that uses photosynthesis to convert carbon and light into lipids and carbohydrates that can be turned into ethanol. Perhaps the most important organism on Earth, it is a major contributor to the stability, health and regenerative capacities of the biosphere, producing more than half of the oxygen that we breathe. Algae can be commercially grown in mass quantities, and then pressed – much the way olives are pressed into olive oil – to produce fuel, which, in theory, can power jet planes, ocean liners, as well as cars and home heating systems. The path to a regenerative transformation of human society will require harnessing the restorative capacities of the oldest organisms on Earth, and applying our industrial techniques to scale up production and distribution. This will include working with plants and fungi, as well as anaerobic microorganisms called Archaea, ancient one-celled organisms with no nucleus, which can be utilized to transmute our waste products into fuel. A number of companies are currently working on the commercial production of algae-based biofuels – and when they perfect the process, it presumably can be scaled up rapidly to be a replacement for fossil fuels on a large level. One of these companies, Algae Systems, based in Nevada, makes ‘diesel fuel from algae by simultaneously performing three other tasks: making clean water from municipal sewage (which it uses to fertilize the algae), using the carbon-heavy residue as fertilizer and generating valuable credits for advanced biofuels’. The technology, according to the company, is carbon negative, removing more CO2 from the atmosphere than it releases, but it is still a work in progress. 1634

‘Bottom line: building enough conventional nuclear reactors to eliminate a tenth of the threat of global warming would cost about $8 trillion,’ McKibben notes, and would run electricity prices ‘through the roof’. 1659

The construction of a nuclear reactor not only costs several billion dollars, but also adds an estimated 20 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. Energy companies are in the process of developing fourth-generation nuclear reactors – including some able to use already existing radioactive waste as fuel – but the technology remains untested and unproven. These new kinds of reactors, according to Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, could be ‘so-called backyard nukes. These selfcontained small-scale modular generation IV nuclear reactors are built in factories (for cheaper construction), sealed completely, and designed to run for decades without maintenance.’ The timetable for these new reactors is vague, with the potential for a demonstration model of one kind to be running by 2020. 1665

we still don’t know what the long-term, even multi-generational, impacts of this radiation will be. Nuclear reactors cost a fortune to build and require a massive security infrastructure to protect. They reinforce the current model of centralized government and corporate control. On the other hand, we know that both solar and wind work. These energy sources are getting cheaper faster and they are available now. Solar power has already reached grid parity, and will soon be far more cost-effective than fossil fuels. Renewable energy does not require a huge security apparatus, does not produce dangerous waste and can be installed in a decentralized manner. The only question, in fact, is how do we bring about their immediate adoption? 1673

cold fusion, also called Low Energy Nuclear Reactors, whose viability is still being studied. According to promoters, cold fusion technology is on the verge of producing ‘zero carbon dioxide emissions, zero noise, zero radiation and zero toxins of any sort. In addition to being powerful and efficient, the technology is completely safe. It uses no radioactive materials, produces no nuclear waste, emits no radioactivity into the environment, and releases no pollution.’ On the scientific fringe, a number of other researchers believe we can draw an essentially unlimited amount of power by tapping quantum fluctuations from the vacuum, or the zero point field (ZPF). ‘Zero point energy is the sea of energy that pervades all of space and every atom, often called the physical vacuum,’ writes Thomas Valone. A tremendous amount of potential energy exists in every atom of space. According to Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, ‘the energy density of the ZPF would be ten raised to the 108th power joules per cubic centimeter’. This translates into the theoretical ability to access enough energy to power the world – more than we will ever need – by accessing zero point in a tiny region of space. Valone, among others, claims that engines applying zero point are almost ready for mass release. These engines would make use of the Casimir effect – the repulsion between metal plates at a micro-scale – to produce energy. ‘Analysis of the Casimir engine cycle demonstrates its departure from hydroelectric, gaseous or gravitational systems’, Valone writes. 1681

The essential takeaway is that we have a realistic capacity to make a complete overhaul of our global energy system away from fossil fuels, towards renewables. This doesn’t have to take us a century. We can accomplish it in a few decades. This is not a pie-in-the-sky fantasy. It is something that can happen. As quickly as we can, we must impel our society in this direction. In fact, nobody can say how fast we might bring this transformation about, once our focus shifts in this direction. Globally, civilization must break through political obstructions to engineer a rapid transition to solar and other renewable sources, focusing on conservation 1702

What humanity needs, as Lester Brown realized, is something like a Marshall Plan for the planet. We must act together as if we are facing a threat as dangerous as Soviet totalitarianism. The threat comes not only from the entrenched power of the fossil fuel companies, but also from social complacency – as well as consumerism and hyper-individuality. Roy Scranton writes in Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: The problem with our response to climate change isn’t a problem of passing the right laws or finding the right price for carbon or changing people’s minds or raising awareness. Everybody already knows. The problem is that the problem is too big. The problem is that different people want different things. The problem is that the problem is us. 1709

Scranton is correct. We therefore must seek to engineer a collective shift in values and behaviour, based on the understanding that individual and collective consciousness are, in the end, socially produced. In the short term, we must radically reduce our use of energy and design and implement a system based on conservation, cooperation and efficient sharing of resources. As we will discuss, a ‘carbon tax’ – financially penalizing the production of CO2 – might help. However, it won’t be enough. We must engineer a structural transition in our socioeconomic paradigm, away from growth. 1715

this daunting task can be accomplished. The multitude must demand it, forcing the hands of corporations and governments. This will require a global movement of civil society, beyond anything we have seen to date. How such a movement develops – how it organizes itself to overcome the existing power relationships – is a question that I don’t think anyone can answer fully at this point. 1722

a coordinated global transition from industrial agriculture back to ecological or organic farming. To do this, we have to reconnect people with an ecologically advanced, locally based, food system. In the US, this means accelerating the ongoing movement away from supermarkets, back to farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture projects, where people buy directly from local farms. In some respects we need to return to older ways and traditions. More of us need to start growing our own food. As the authors of ‘Climate Change or System Change?’, a paper produced by the Local Futures Institute, directed by Helena Norbert Hodge, notes, a lot of trade today is redundant, with goods ‘sourced from thousands of miles away when an identical product is available next door’. Huge supermarket chains contract with massive industrial farms to stock their stores, ignoring local sources. Britain, for example, ‘imports and exports 15,000 tons of waffles annually, and exchanges 20 tons of bottled water with Australia’, while ‘supermarkets on the Citrus Coast of Spain carry imported lemons while local lemons rot on the ground’. To save on labour costs, companies will transport produce across the world to be processed. For instance, the US company Trident ‘ships about 30 million pounds of fish annually to China for filleting, and then ships the fish back to the US for sale’. 1730

The growth of the organic sector – seen in the rising popularity of Whole Foods and farmers’ markets – is problematic. Food has become another area where the divide between ‘Haves’ and ‘Have Nots’ keeps widening. Organic food is generally much higher priced, targeting a well-heeled clientele, while ghettos and poorer suburbs remain ‘food deserts’ where the only available food is cheap and low quality. Worldwide, food is a battleground in the struggle between the developed and developing worlds. Advancing corporate globalization, the World Bank, under US control, has used subsidies and unfair trade policies that force poor countries to accept subsidized produce from industrial farms, decimating healthy local industries. According to estimates, commercial agriculture is one of the main contributors to climate change. The food industry as a whole generates an estimated 30 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, while the agricultural sector accounts for 14 per cent of total global emissions, most of which stem from the meat production industry alone. Livestock cultivation is also responsible for deforestation, nitrogen runoff and other ills. Much evidence suggests that, if we return to earlier ways of farming, like no-till agriculture, this will substantially reduce CO2 emissions. Traditionally, farmers will plough, disc or harrow land to form a seedbed for rows of crops, then use a mechanical cultivator to cull weeds. Turning the soil over and over in this way releases carbon dioxide. With no-till agriculture, farmers plant seeds into undisturbed soil. This kind of farming minimizes soil erosion and energy use while retaining water and carbon. According to a 30-year study by the Rodale Institute, ‘Organic farming is far superior to conventional systems when it comes to building, maintaining and replenishing the health of the soil.’ The study estimates that conventional agriculture produces 40 per cent more greenhouse gases than its organic equivalent. One 2007 study, commissioned by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, concluded that organic agriculture had the potential to sequester 11 per cent of the emissions for that year if put into practice globally. If it is true that organic, ecological and no-till farming, where appropriate, can be more productive than industrial farming, requiring less artificial fertilizer and polluting pesticides, while sequestering carbon and having benefits for human health, then society should make a systemic return to these practices. Returning to older, more human-scaled systems will require a great deal of retraining, but it can be done. We have the tool we need for it – a planetary nervous system, in the Internet, that allows for immediate transmission of new ideas and traditional techniques. As a basic principle of the new planetary culture, we will reconnect people to their local ecosystems. We will support them to become gardeners, stewards of the commons (our land and watersheds), caring for biodiversity and for one another. 1746

Meat There is no doubt that we need a steep reduction of meat consumption to reduce CO2 pollution. Humans kill, process and consume 100 billion creatures per year. Animal farming on this scale depends upon a vast global infrastructure of factory farms and soybean plantations. The amount of grain grown for animal feed is one of the largest contributors to the deforestation that erodes biodiversity and accelerates climate change. Consumption of meat is highly inefficient in terms of energy and water use. It requires an estimated 28 calories of energy to produce one calorie of meat. The meat-based diet of the average person in the United States requires an estimated 4,200 gallons of water per day, compared to 300 gallons a day for a vegan diet. Thirty per cent of the Earth’s land surface is used for animal grazing. A great proportion of this land should be converted back into carbon-sequestering forests and wetlands. A 2006 report prepared by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization found that our meat-based diets are responsible for emissions of more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than either transportation or industry. According to estimates, the meat produced in factory farms around the world contributes between 14 and 22 per cent of the 36 billion tons of CO2, or its equivalent, that is emitted every year by our industrial and agricultural systems. According to the Worldwatch Institute, ‘Serious action on climate change will almost certainly require reductions in the global consumption of meat and dairy by today’s major consumers in industrial countries, as well as slowing the growth of demand in developing countries.’ One way to bring about this reduction, they propose, is to put ‘a price on livestock-related greenhouse gases, so that producers treat them as a business cost and thus have a direct incentive to reduce them’. Beyond enforcement through financial or legal means, an engineered shift in mass consciousness will be necessary to reduce or temporarily eliminate meat consumption. 1768

A ‘global meat fast’ would be one of the fastest ways for us to make a significant dent in emissions, quickly. 1785

As Jack Forbes writes of Native American culture, in Columbus and the Cannibals: When a plant, tree or animal is to be killed, first, the need must be great; second, permission is asked for, if time allows; third, the creature is thanked; and, fourth, dances, prayers and ceremonies are used to further thank the creatures so killed and to help those that are alive to grow and prosper. Indigenous people ask for permission to take an animal’s life, and express gratitude for its sacrifice. Our meat comes from mass, mindless slaughter. I admit I also find something off-putting about our potential for creating bio-engineered vat-grown meat, although I can see why people would consider it an ethical advance over this endless global genocide. We can all agree that animal farming is a multi-dimensional ecological nightmare. It causes deforestation, nitrogen runoff, CO2 pollution and the overuse of antibiotics and so on. It is mass torture and degradation. 1796

we need a broad-based social movement promoting vegetarianism and veganism. A global campaign, using cutting-edge techniques of advertising and marketing, could educate people, asking them to give up meat for our children’s future. Can we imagine the world’s advertising, marketing and branding agencies joining forces for this project? I don’t see why not: our future depends on it. We then must consider how such a project could be funded and supported. 1808

been promoting best practices for decades. Permaculture and gardening techniques can be taught through the Internet and even on mainstream TV shows, telling people what’s happening while giving them the tools to help the world as well as themselves. Sustainable technologies could be deployed on a global scale to accelerate soil regeneration and carbon sequestration. One of these technologies is biochar, which scientists learned about when they studied the ecological practices of tribal people in the Amazon jungle. 1818

According to Mark Hertsgaard, ‘If Biochar were added to 10 percent of global cropland . . . it would store 20 billion tons of CO2 equivalent’ – that is more than 50 per cent of humanity’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. I don’t know why we are not doing this already. To break through current obstacles to changes in farming, a movement of civil society must build global alliances. The progressive and environmental community must partner with global institutions – for example, with the Catholic Church. 1823

there should be a way to follow through on his principles and use the global network of Catholic churches as a ready-made social infrastructure for the transformation of farming. The community of the faithful could be trained in ecologically restorative and permaculture techniques, rooted in local conditions. Tangible ways to ‘Care for the Earth’ could be taught after the Sunday sermon, and in Catholic schools. 1828

Over the last century, farm work became devalued as rural populations were forced to relocate to urban areas and find jobs in industrial manufacturing or the growing service sector. Where most people in the US were farmers a century ago, now only a small fraction of people work on farms. A great deal of our food is produced through industrialized agriculture, by big companies. We need to restore social prestige to farming and gardening and support people in growing on urban rooftops and in suburban yards at least some of the food they eat. Designing agricultural systems that are decentralized and specialized would help to maintain and enhance the ecological and genetic diversity that is essential to the health of an ecosystem. Current megafarms could, in theory, be divided into smaller, specially designed ecological, permaculture and agroforestry projects built around the contours, water availability and environmental quality of their sites. Smaller farms could be integrated into larger cooperatives, where social support, hardware and labour could be shared by the farmers. 1831

Cuba’s forced transition, in the 1990s, to a regenerative agricultural system in the face of crisis offers an encouraging model. After 1989, the country was forced to produce its own food due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which cut off Cuba’s main subsidies and supplies. Under great pressure to innovate, the Cubans developed a local food system that incorporated urban gardening and made it mandatory for most of the population to grow some of their own produce. Inadvertently, they created a model for self-sufficiency that could be replicated, particularly in the global South. 1839

permaculture, agroforestry, poly-cropping and so on. There are many ways we can assist nature in regenerating damaged and despoiled lands. The mycologist Paul Stamets uses mushrooms – fungus – to leach toxins out of the soil. Allan Savory’s method of cattle grazing reverses desertification on grasslands. Many other techniques of bioremediation can be applied, depending on circumstances. Permaculture was developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the late 1970s. The name stands for ‘permanent agriculture’ or ‘permanent culture’ – I have to admit, I’m not crazy about the term because nothing in nature is permanent. 1846

permaculture offers many crucial ideas and insights. One central principle of permaculture is to observe the land before interacting with it. Studying the local ecology and water sources, permaculturists seek to understand what kind of development meshes with a site’s innate contours and requirements, rather than making it conform to an abstract model. Instead of immediate profit, the objective is longterm resilience. A permaculture designer will ideally observe an area of land for a year before making any interventions or changes to it. Permaculture is based on a number of beautiful and sensible principles. These include: ‘Observe and interact’; ‘use and value diversity’; ‘creatively use and respond to change’; and ‘use edges and value the marginal’. Implementing permaculture requires a long-range investment of attention, effort and care, along with significant training. Permaculture advocates say that, given time, they can produce a much greater yield of food – several times as much – than commercial farms, while building topsoil; they can accomplish all this without using chemical poisons. Once again, it is important to realize that this approach – which seeks to build enduring reciprocity between human beings and their environment – requires a good deal of education, patience and careful attention. Even so, it is entirely feasible for our society to shift its focus in this direction; our future survival depends on supporting and enabling people to replenish the health of the Earth’s ecosystems. 1852

Some version of agroforestry has been practised by traditional societies for thousands of years. These cultures grow crops in a manner that mimics the interacting layers of a diverse, healthy forest. Examples can still be seen in the Western Ghats of rural India, on small-scale farms in Indonesia, and throughout the tropics. While agroforestry does not sequester as much carbon as old-growth forests, it helps to preserve forests by creating a buffer around them. Like permaculture, agroforestry is based on deep local knowledge and artisanal attention, rather than chemicals or 1864

Mark Hertsgaard visited one of these farming communities in the western Sahel of Africa. The Sahel is a strip of savanna south of the Sahara desert which ‘stretches like a belt across the width of the African landmass’, marked by relentless heat. Hertsgaard learned that farmers in the region had begun to adapt their practices to deal with climate change. He was amazed by what he discovered: Using simple techniques that cost them nothing, millions of small farmers throughout the region have begun protecting themselves against the scorching heat and withering drought of climate change. Their methods amount to a poor man’s version of organic farming: fortifying soil with manure rather than chemical fertilizer, growing different crops on the same piece of land (known as intercropping), relying on natural predators to counter pests rather than applying pesticides. In the process, farmers in the western Sahel have rehabilitated millions of acres of degraded savanna that was on the verge of becoming desert, thus increasing the amount of land available to grow food. 1869

The success of this enterprise depends on the straightforward solution of planting and growing more trees in the fields. The practice of mixing trees and crops is called farmer-managed natural regeneration. ‘The trees’ shade and bulk offer crops relief from the overwhelming heat and gusting winds . . . Leaves serve other purposes. After they fall to the ground, they act as mulch, boosting soil fertility; they also provide fodder for livestock in a season when little other food is available.’ In emergency famine conditions, people can also eat the leaves to stave off starvation. Due to tree-planting initiatives in the region, water reserves have increased locally, to the surprise of scientists. According to one agriculture scientist, with the propagation of these simple techniques since the late 1980s, ‘water tables in many villages have risen by at least five meters, despite a growing population’. If this is possible in the extreme conditions of sub-Saharan Africa, similar initiatives might have tremendous benefits in other water-scarce regions, such as, for example, California. 1877

vertical farms. Inventor Dickson Despommier has developed the concept of vertical farms for cities. He envisions the construction of 30-storey towers able to feed 50,000 people, in climate-controlled, pest-free environments requiring minimal use of water. One acre of a vertical farm could yield as much produce as 10 or 20 acres of land, he believes, through optimizing conditions and careful monitoring. Benefits of vertical farming would include year-round crop production, elimination of agricultural runoff from fertilizers, promotion of urban sustainability, and returning farmland to nature. Why don’t we try this? We can also reduce food waste significantly. According to Anna Lappe, of the Small Planet Institute, we waste as much as 30 per cent of all food that we process, because the current system is inefficient. When food waste is not composted, it releases methane as it decays. ‘We know how to grow food in ways that cut emissions, create more resilient landscapes and ensure ample yields, all while reducing the use of non-renewable resources, fossil fuels, and land,’ Lappe writes. To make a systemic transition in farming practices worldwide, we would have to search out the most successful local initiatives, isolate the principles and techniques that make them work, then turn them into design templates that other localities can use and duplicate, in ways appropriate for their particular conditions. The Internet project Open Source Ecology provides one example. The project is ‘developing a set of open source blueprints for the Global Village Construction Set – a set of the 50 most important machines that it takes for modern life to exist – everything from a tractor, to an oven, to a circuit maker’. Conceived by Marcin Jakubowski, a fusion physicist turned farmer, Open Source Ecology offers detailed blueprints and plans for building farm machinery such as tractors and mechanical ploughs. The designs of these machines are available, copyright free, to anybody who wants to build their own versions in their workshop. 1886

I love projects like this one, where knowledge and expertise is freely shared. Another one is Windowfarm. Windowfarm’s website defines it as ‘An Open Source Community Developing Hydroponic Edible Gardens for Urban Windows’. Windowfarm builds systems for growing plants and vegetables out of plastic water bottles and other household objects. They share the blueprints for their systems on the website, so that other people can copy and improve on their designs. Another model that can be copied is the ‘polyface’ agriculture system, designed by Virginia farmer Joel Salatin. Salatin developed ‘a symbiotic, multi-speciated synergistic relationship-dense production model that yields far more per acre than industrial models’, while ‘being aromatically and aesthetically romantic’. According to Salatin, ‘We haven’t bought a bag of chemical fertilizer in half a century, never planted a seed, own no plow or disk or silo – we call those bankruptcy tubes.’ Salatin’s farm proves it is possible to develop closed-loop farming methods that are innately regenerative and resilient. Such methods could become widely distributed. 1901

there are ways that farms benefit from integrating livestock, on a small scale. This includes making use of animal waste. Manure can be transformed into compost, on-site. Methane can be harvested from cow manure and turned into electricity, fuel and heat. Compost from manure can also be spread on grazing land to sequester carbon and enhance soil fertility. According to the Marin Carbon Project (2013), adding a half-inch-thick layer of compost to half of the current cattlegrazing land in California would mitigate an amount of carbon equal to the region’s entire emissions of greenhouse gases. 1910

One major problem with GE, under the current system, is that its commercial development and application is controlled by a few forprofit corporations, who gain by increasing the sales of chemicals and ‘terminator seeds’ (seeds that must be bought anew each season, because they don’t germinate), making farmers dependent on biotechnology. These companies also profit by being able to copyright genetic material and gain monopoly control over seed stocks. 1924

The global community of biotechnology entrepreneurs recently launched a Kickstarter campaign ‘to develop plants that glow, potentially leading the way for trees that can replace electric street lamps and potted flowers luminous enough to read by’, noted the New York Times. GE seems to be a genie that has got out of the bottle. When I consider the unforeseen consequences of previous technological advances, I find this truly frightening. 1929

Paul Kingsnorth, founder of the Dark Ecology movement in the UK, believes our dependence on increasingly advanced technologies has created what he calls a progress trap: ‘Each improvement in our knowledge or in our technology will create new problems, which require new improvements. Each of these improvements tends to make society bigger, more complex, less human-scale, more destructive of nonhuman life, and more likely to collapse under its own weight.’ More troubling than the foreseeable problems are the unforeseeable ones. We have already seen examples of this with GMOs. Some GE crops produce higher yields at first, but this leads the insect population to mutate as well, and within less than a decade, those gains can be eliminated or even reversed. This is similar to what the medical field has experienced with antibiotics, which are becoming less and less effective over time. If we keep trying to wage an arms race against nature, we will lose, because nature has been at this for billions of years longer than us. We currently have an irrational system driven by market imperatives. The world overproduces food but wastes a great deal of it, while some countries face malnutrition and famine. It would be far more sensible to address the inefficiencies of the current system, which causes so much unnecessary suffering, before we seek to engineer new life forms which may degrade ecosystems – and have negative consequences that we can’t 1934

even foresee – generations into the future. GE may be contributing to the increase 1944

of allergies, food intolerances and drug resistances, which seem epidemic. Is there a correlation between these syndromes, as well as proliferating cancers and other maladies, with GMOs, as well as herbicides such as glyphosate that saturate genetically engineered plants? It may be so – but it might take decades, or more, to establish a scientific consensus. Millions of people may suffer and die in the interim, as we continue to degrade the health of our ecosystems. It took decades to link cancer to tobacco use. During that time, millions of people died from lung cancer and emphysema. 1945

We are falling prey to the blind hubris of scientists and profit-seeking corporations. In its fixation on linear growth, our industrial techno-culture – the technological society – makes the mistake of separating the world into separate, atomized parts, rather than seeking to understand, and enhance, the hidden connections between them. By altering the basic material of life, biotechnology has the potential to damage the complex ecosystems upon which we rely. Ecosystems developed over millions of years. Profit-seeking corporations think in terms of decades at the most. On the other hand, we are facing a global ecological emergency, and if temperatures rise quickly, we may need rapid innovations in agriculture. If geneticists could engineer new heat- and droughtresistant crops, as well as vegetables able to store nitrogen in their roots (something that only a handful of legumes and beans do naturally), we might need these breakthroughs, as climate change intensifies. Ideally, civil society as a whole should take control of genetic research out of the hands of publicly traded corporations. This research should be conducted transparently, as a public trust, based on an ongoing exchange. This would require a systemic change in the relationship of public policy and science. A people’s movement is needed to take the initiative to learn about subjects impacting on all of our lives that we have mistakenly left to the ‘experts’. Biologists now recognize that life is characterized, at all levels, by web-like networks of organization. An organism cannot exist in a vacuum, but depends upon its environment. Any living being is, essentially, the organism plus the environment which sustains it. 1954

Transforming the Food System Just as we must build a decentralized system for producing energy from renewable sources that will make local communities more selfsufficient and less wasteful, we should establish a new global model for agriculture which is locally based, distributed, cooperative, and healthier for people and the planet. While farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture programmes take root and flourish, urban gardens could, theoretically, be established in every city, using vacant lots, suitable rooftops, parks and greenways. I have interviewed experts who believe that 80 per cent of the food needed by New York City could be grown on the rooftops using 1970

aquaponic methods. Multinational corporations like Monsanto, as well as ‘philanthrocapitalist’ organizations like the Gates Foundation, promote the rapid scaling up of the Green Revolution. They believe the answer to feeding the world’s still-growing global populace is to amp up industrial agriculture while we double down our bets on still-experimental technologies like GE. What we can do, instead, is make an intentional shift to local, ecological farming, using organic, no-till and permaculture techniques, as appropriate. A drastic curtailing of meat eating will reduce emissions, and return grazing lands to forests. A global campaign could educate and inspire people to change their behaviour for future generations. We can change our approach to agriculture by subsidizing farmers to embrace methods such as permaculture; we can retrain the public to become part-time gardeners, to see themselves as stewards of their local bioregions. While it may sound difficult to bring about an evolution of cultural values, as well as a paradigm shift in how society operates, the result would be incredibly beneficial for humanity, on all levels. 1976

What we now call ‘poverty’ is essentially a result of modern industrial civilization and colonialism. Before the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most indigenous and traditional societies knew how to operate within the limits imposed by their local environment. Then capitalism, with its developing technology, shattered the integrity of intact cultures, forcing them to grow beyond their means, to become dependent on foreign powers and industries. Take Hawaii, for instance: it was once a fertile, self-sufficient paradise. Now Hawaii imports something like 90 per cent of its food and exports nearly all of its waste. The same process has taken place all over the planet. We must reverse it. In our current economic system, profit is generated by everincreasing commercial activity. Because it is based on debt and inherently unstable, our economic system must grow constantly just to maintain itself. Our industrial system has a parasitic relationship with the Earth’s natural systems. In essence, we generate wealth by subtracting from the Earth’s natural capital. Over the last decades, vast areas of the developing world, such as China and India, have adopted the Western model of industrial growth. These huge societies are beginning to come up against hard limits on their natural resources, much like the rest of the world. The challenge for us – the privileged elite in the highly industrialized societies, who have the leisure time to think about this stuff – is to develop a new model of industrial production, based on regenerative principles, then distribute it globally. 1986

Corporations For a corporation to survive, it must keep selling more and more goods and services, increasing its market share and profit margins. Therefore, its products – from electronic goods to sneakers to IKEA furniture – must be disposable and replaceable. They must be designed to last just long enough so that the consumer will be willing to replace them with the next new models, without getting so annoyed that they change brands. The system forces excessive over-production – and not just for corporations. For individual entrepreneurs, creative artists or designers to survive in this system, we must constantly produce new things – books, jewellery, toys, snazzy clothes, DVDs – that only add to the burden under which the Earth is already groaning. We find ourselves in a bind created by our economic system. While some corporations actively promote initiatives aimed at sustainability and social responsibility, these efforts inevitability fall short of what is actually needed for real resilience. Publicly traded corporations, even the ones with good intentions, are programmed to generate waste and externalize environmental costs. The rapid development of a world-encompassing ‘technosphere’ appears to have been a natural extension of the potential of our species – a necessary stage in our evolution. In fact, most people believe that our industrial system has provided extraordinary benefits, improvements in health and lifestyle, for billions of people. When it works properly, the technosphere functions like a hyper-organic extension of our bodies. What do I mean by this? Let’s take an example. 1997

The invisibility of these vast networks that produce the objects of our daily lives is akin to the invisible cellular mechanisms that operate all of the time within our bodies, that maintain us in good working order. 2014

We are continuously sustained in our existences by vast realms of the invisible and the unseen, by networks of coordination all around us and by cellular processes within, although we generally only consciously recognize our dependence on these processes when they break down. 2016

we must also think of corporations in a different way – as the most powerful creations we have woven out of our social technologies. A corporation is constructed of legal code, financial data, branding insignia, mission and vision statements. In the abstract, a corporation is a streamlined, hyper-efficient engine for taking ideas and transforming them into material form, then distributing those tools, products and services across the world, at high speed. The world-spanning successes of companies like Apple, Nike, IKEA and Samsung are a testament to that power. Corporations can be seen as the nascent organs in the collective body of humanity. An energy company functions like the circulatory system, spreading blood – fuel, electrical power – through the body. A sanitation company is like the liver or kidney. A media company is like the organs of perception which take in sense data, decode it and transmit it to the brain, so it can make decisions. Corporations are artificial life forms that human beings have created and programmed, giving them sets of rules they must follow. We have built these artificial life forms to compete in a game that we also concocted, called the stock market. Like the sorcerer’s apprentice in Fantasia, whose misuse of a spell creates a situation where he has to fight off brooms multiplying to infinity, we have lost control over our creations. 2019

The problem is that we made mistakes, errors of design, in the way we defined the rules of our game. We gave the corporations one prime directive: to increase shareholder value, to maximize profit, which they will try to accomplish, no matter what. In this sense, you can’t totally blame a company like British Petroleum for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill (although we can still hold its managers culpable), or Occidental for the atrocities it has committed in the Ecuadorean Amazon, or Dupont for the Bhopal disaster, or Apple for using conflict minerals that unleashed African genocide, or H&M for its exploitation of adolescent girls and young women in Asian sweatshops. When you give the corporation the single directive to maximize profit, then that is what it will seek to do, even if it means undermining ecological restrictions, condemning workers to slave conditions, or buying armies of lobbyists to corrupt the legislative process to its advantage. We programmed its underlying system, its game machinery, so that it must seek to dominate and grow. This often requires cutthroat tactics. It leads naturally to monopolization, cronyism and patterns of behaviour that make sense for a corporation’s balance sheet but are destructive, sociopathic, for society as a whole. Glaring examples include the ways that tobacco companies obscured the evidence on lung cancer, or how energy companies have used massive campaigns of disinformation to hide the link between climate change and CO2, which they may have known about for a number of decades. Now, for the sake of our survival, we must change the underlying rules of the game. 2030

If we conceive of humanity as a planetary super-organism, then we must consider how the organs of a body work with maximum efficiency to support the health of the whole. If corporations are the organs of the super-organism, then they should be reinvented as transparent orchestrations, responding to ecological necessity as well as human desire. 2041

I tend to think we will need to abandon the distinctions between a public and private sector, eventually. There is no private interest within an organism: it must function efficiently, according to a unified intention. As a superorganism, we must do the same. It is possible that the ongoing movement towards collaborative production that is open-source and peer-to-peer could provide the new social model for our future. 2044

As Paul Mason writes in Postcapitalism, we are experiencing an increasing tension between ‘non-market forms of production’ and traditional capitalism. ‘Technologically, we are headed for zero-price goods, unmeasurable work, an exponential takeoff in productivity and the extensive automation of processes. Socially, we are trapped in a world of monopolies, inefficiency, the ruins of a finance-dominated free market and a proliferation of “bullshit jobs”.’ The potential, Mason believes, is for ‘the abolition of the market and its replacement by postcapitalism’. If this is going to happen without massive dislocation and mass violence, it requires a designed transition. 2047

People will always require goods and services, but these could be provided for them by a new social infrastructure, based on peer-to-peer systems for distributed manufacturing and resource sharing. Through an intentional redesign of our financial system, corporations could ‘evolve’ into self-governing systems based on open cooperation and resource sharing, designed to bring universal abundance. They would maximize our potential as a species, while minimizing waste and internalizing externalities, such as CO2 emissions. 2052

Innovation or Transformation? In The Big Pivot: Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World, Andrew Winston looks at climate change and resource depletion as opportunities for businesses to evolve their practices without sacrificing their bottom line. Optimistically quoting billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, who has described climate change as ‘one of the greatest wealth-generating opportunities of our generation’, Winston sees the ecological limits as new stimuli that will ‘propel innovation, new thinking, and new business models, which make a lot of money for the fast movers’. This is true, up to a point. Winston outlines a number of strategies that will enable companies to navigate in a rapidly warming and ecologically deteriorating world. These include ‘fight short-termism’, ‘set science-based goals’ and ‘inspire customers to use less’. He reviews the ecological data honestly, and advises companies to build in resilience, redundancy and other safeguards against increasing instability, making it clear that the landscape for industry will be radically transformed in the coming decades: ‘Most companies and industrial sectors will change profoundly, or they will disappear. Without a “clean-coal” technological miracle, for example, the coal sector will be gone.’ The Great Pivot seeks to assure corporations that they can reinvent themselves for increasing profitability, even in a time of tumultuous transformation. ‘Revamping our built environment, our transportation infrastructure, and our energy systems – as well as reworking consumption and what defines a good quality of life – will be multitrillion- dollar endeavours with huge pots of gold for those who find the greenest ways to do it.’ Some corporations, like Unilever, portray themselves as leaders in this new transitional space. They study patterns of consumer behaviour, and build models on how these habits can be changed. However, the reality is that we require more than innovation in how businesses function. Fundamentally to transform the corporate system, mass consumerism and planned obsolescence must be replaced by different models. Eventually, we can generate abundance for all through regenerative technologies and cradle-to-cradle industries. This metamorphosis requires a paradigm shift in how value is exchanged, not just in how business operates. 2056

there is a problem. One of the goals is ‘sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all’, hopefully resulting in a 7 per cent annual growth in the economies of the developing world. Unfortunately, considering our maxed-out resources and accelerating climate catastrophe, this seems impossible and even suicidal. When I rack my brain for solutions to our current crisis, I keep returning to the belief that we must give up on the current model of sustainable development, based on ever-increasing GDP. At the same time, we can’t give up the project of enhancing the lives of people in poor countries and regions. Our goal should be to establish human beings in healthy regional communities that will be as selfreplenishing, resilient and autonomous as possible. Rather than seeking to fix a broken system, we need to design the transition to a postcapitalist society based on open-source, peer-to-peer collaboration, where everyone receives a basic income and shares scarce resources intelligently. 2075

how can we implement the model of degrowth? How do we reach a form of postcapitalism that completely contradicts the current political-economic system? The Story of Stuff In Capitalism and the Destruction of Life on Earth, originally published on Alternet, the left-wing critic Roger Smith argues persuasively that our capitalist industrial system is in a doom-spiral: The engine that has powered three centuries of accelerating economic development revolutionizing technology, science, culture and human life itself is today a roaring, out-of-control locomotive mowing down continents of forests, sweeping oceans of life, clawing out mountains of minerals, drilling, pumping out lakes of fuels, devouring the planet’s last accessible resources to turn them all into ‘product’ while destroying fragile global ecologies built up over eons. Smith sees our technical infrastructure as directly responsible for the crisis we have unleashed. It is hard to argue with him. This much seems obvious: we are mortgaging our future to maintain an unsustainable, suicidal system, hyper-focused on maximizing shortterm gains for shareholders. Even the best companies are guilty. Take IKEA, for instance. The Swedish company recently earmarked one billion dollars for climate change initiatives, which seems to suggest that they care. But IKEA’s practices are, in themselves, environmentally destructive, and this massive bequest is also PR for them. IKEA is the third-largest consumer of wood in the world, logging out forests from East Europe and Siberia. IKEA clear-cuts 1,400 acres per year of 200- to 600-year-old forest near the Finnish border, despite the protests of conservancy groups. IKEA succeeds by using the cheapest means of mass production, building disposable furniture out of particle-board, rather than durable, long-lasting items. Its business model – like that of almost every major corporation – is based on the ideal of producing disposable goods that must be frequently replaced. Planned obsolescence and extreme waste is built into the logic of their system. As you may already know, the mining of rare materials for our smart phones and other disposable electronic goods has caused ecological and social disaster in West Africa, in the Congo and neighbouring countries. An estimated three million have died in wars and genocides fought over control of ‘conflict minerals’, to satiate the world’s lust for these seductive gadgets. 2085

Taxpayers rather than corporations generally end up paying the bills, as the health of the planet deteriorates. The alternative is to make planned obsolescence obsolete. All goods should be made as durable, as long lasting, as possible. They should be designed so they can be easily repaired, not thrown out. Electronic devices should be made from components that can be replaced when necessary, when an upgrade comes along. All products should also be made in such a way that they don’t contaminate the Earth. After reducing toxic emissions to a minimum, we will seek to eliminate them entirely. Companies can be made responsible for their products over their entire life cycle and be legally bound to recycle and reuse all of their elements. 2118

What Do We Do? An economy is, fundamentally, a way of shaping matter, energy and time, according to human intention. If we are going to survive our current predicament, we must redirect our intention, and reshape our financial system to move in a new direction. We need to stop overuse of natural resources, limit pollution, enforce an ethos of conservation and sequester carbon, and we need to do it now, before the situation becomes any more dire or irrevocable. As Roger Smith notes, we confront a stark choice between ‘emergency contraction’ and ‘ecological collapse’. This means quickly cutting back on manufacturing, distribution, unnecessary consumption, pointless trends in fashion and gadgetry. We should comprehensively refocus our industrial powers, only supporting innovation that helps to salvage, reclaim, restore, replenish, regenerate, degrow and downshift. 2124

The billionaire entrepreneur Manoj Bhargava, who invented the 5-Hour Energy drink, is one of many innovators currently pointing the way forward. Taking the profits from his company, Bhargava built a research centre near Detroit, designing new sustainable products to address current world problems. These products that could be distributed across the developing world include a stationary bicycle that generates energy – one hour of pedalling produces enough energy to power a house for 24 hours. Bhargava has also constructed a smallscale desalination machine, the Rain Maker, which can be placed next to wastewater treatment facilities. The Rain Maker might provide a partial solution to mega-droughts in California, Iran and India. ‘The purpose of business, in the end, is to serve society,’ he has said. ‘I want to redistribute wealth in an intelligent way.’ 2131

‘Late summer 2015, we have joined forces in a stunning French castle to prototype the fossil free, zero-waste society. Our ultimate goal was to overcome the destructive consumer culture and make open-source, sustainable products the new normal.’ A collaboration between the OuiShare network based in Paris and OpenState from Berlin, they called it ‘Eco-Hacking the Future’. Over five weeks, they developed 12 separate projects: new modular systems to provide solar power to remote events, zero-waste kitchens and easyto- build wind turbines. Among their projects was ‘snap-fit kits for urban agriculture’. The developers envision ‘a city where grey walls, rooftops and balconies are transformed into living ecosystems’. Their kits include ‘a chicken coop, vermicomposter, three plant beds, and two sorts of beehives’. The great opportunity is to repurpose corporations, give them new goals, and use the incredible expertise and engineering genius they have amassed to address the social and ecological crises that may soon overwhelm us. One way to do this is to create innovations in corporate structures. The B Corp is a triple-bottom-line company that seeks to benefit people and planet while generating profit. Another new model is the flexible-purpose corporation, which is driven by its mission and doesn’t need to generate profit at all. That mission could be to find, develop and implement solutions that can be scaled rapidly as we confront the ecological emergency. 2139

The possibility of a society where technology would free humanity to cultivate its creative powers and individuality was foreseen by visionaries like Oscar Wilde and Buckminster Fuller. The stunning prospect is that, even as we confront the potential for our own extinction, we also have the prospect of engineering a rapid transition to a planetary civilization able to create universal abundance for all. In The Zero-Margin Cost Society, Jeremy Rifkin explores how the Internet has reduced the actual cost of reproducing non-material goods such as books, music, films and online education to zero. The same metamorphosis could take place with material goods and also energy. Renewable power could be reliably transmitted and stored through an Internet of Energy. Objects could be produced locally, via 3D printers, enabled by distributed manufacturing. At the same time, all industrial production could transition to a closed-loop model, where inputs lead to non-toxic outputs and all waste is recycled, following nature’s principles. 2150

In Cradle to Cradle, William McDonough and Michael Braungart, an environmental designer and a chemist, explore the necessary steps we would need to take to redirect our industrial system. The authors ‘see a world of abundance, not limits’. They ask, ‘What if humans design products and systems that celebrate an abundance of human creativity, culture, and productivity? That are so intelligent and safe that our species leaves an ecological footprint to delight in, not lament?’ 2158

If we were to establish a worldwide industrial system that harmonized with nature, enhancing biodiversity and resilience, the super-organism of humanity would become a kind of ‘supernature’. We should make it our mission to create a hyper-complex planetary civilization perfectly integrated with the Earth’s ecology. If this seems impossible to achieve, perhaps that is because we are only now turning our focus in this direction. Many things that once seemed impossible have been accomplished by human willpower and imagination. 2164

Inventing the Future The prospect that we redesign all of our industrial systems following principles of biomimicry, imitating nature’s zero-waste manufacturing, is a new idea – and a great challenge for our immediate future. Biomimicry seeks to learn from the methods that nature uses to overcome challenges, and replicate its systems and principles, in ways that support healthy ecosystems. For example, while the silk that spiders make is stronger than steel, it is manufactured in a ‘biofactory’ without the need for smelting or gigantic vats of boiling sulphuric acid. According to Janine Benyus, author and founder of the Biomimicry Institute, nature can be copied, by human designers, on the level of form and function, as well as on the level of process. ‘The truth is, natural organisms have managed to do everything we want to do without guzzling fossil fuels, polluting the planet or mortgaging the future,’ Benyus writes. Velcro, for instance, copies the burrs of the burdock plant, which sticks to fabric. A new moisture-catching materia used in dry regions of Africa to trap early morning fog, took its design from the shell of the local beetle, containing hydrophilic bumps and furrows that concentrate moisture from the air. In every area of industry, we can learn from nature’s four billion years of research and development. The mycologist Paul Stamets has pioneered the use of mushrooms for bioremediation, repairing the damage and pollution from industrial processes. Stamets calls mycelia ‘the Earth’s natural internet’, because of its ability to exchange information over long distances. He believes that vast underground fungal networks function like the liver in the human body, recognizing toxins and learning, through trial and error, how to neutralize them, break them down and ultimately convert them to food. Stamets has demonstrated the ability of mycelium to break down contamination from petroleum, pesticides, alkaloids and polychlorinated biphenyls. ‘Tomorrow’s industry will eat, digest, and secrete the things we need not just in imitation of living beings, but through the actual cells of living beings,’ write Alex Steffen and Jeremy Falludi in Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century. ‘With the help of biotechnology, we can create pools of hacked bacteria that spit out hydrogen, tanks of tweaked fungus that convert garbage into methane, and vats of tame microbes that allow us to design machines and structures with natural materials that resemble shells and spider silk.’ 2168

we will construct new ‘eco-cities’, to use the term of architect Richard Register. The cities of the future will have to be conceived as ‘scaffoldings for living systems’, according to ecological designer John Todd. Eco-cities will function as biodigestors and composters, places of self-sufficiency and abundance, where food is grown, energy is produced and waste is recycled on-site. Like coral reefs or beehives, the cities of the future should enhance the health, beauty and biodiversity of the local ecosystem. They should be designed for multi-generational communities, for bicycles and walking, for creative expression and participatory democracy. We will face an ever-growing global refugee crisis in the next decades. We need to apply the hyper-efficiency of capitalist manufacturing and distribution – mastered by companies like IKEA, Walmart and Amazon – to an ecologically regenerative, systemic approach. We have the capacity to build durable, modular, carbon-negative housing units that can be shipped across the world, or potentially manufactured in each locality using 3D printers. In these instant settlements, people will need to grow their own food and produce energy on-site. A number of initiatives are already testing prototypes for modular houses that can be quickly assembled and easily shipped. One such project is ReGen Villages, pioneered by James Ehrlich, an engineer at Stanford. ReGen Villages are self-sufficient communities. The houses come with renewable energy systems, battery storage units, composting toilets, rainwater catchments and insulation built into them. Food can be grown using aquaponic methods that preserve up to 85 per cent of water in a closed-loop system where ‘ammonia created from fish waste is converted from nitrites to nitrates through bacterial interaction’. Such ready-made, self-sufficient towns could be mass-produced and shipped across the developing world, or produced on-site via distributed manufacturing. They could be supplied to refugees as populations find themselves forced to settle further inland. 2198

Water and Waste Much of the world is already suffering from a crisis of fresh water. Drought will become far more prevalent, and dangerous, in the next decades, as mountaintop glaciers cease to provide reliable sources of water for billions of people. Water use has tripled in the last halfcentury, and aquifers are running dry. To meet this crisis, we will require globally orchestrated efforts in water management plus a massive increase in desalination. 2213

The two main techniques – thermal desalination and reverse osmosis – require excessive energy and create toxic waste. Thermal desalination boils water, and then condenses the vapour. In reverse osmosis, water passes through permeable membranes. ‘Neither is the solution we need’, note the authors. Thermal desalination consumes too much energy for largescale deployment (about 80 megawatt hours per megalitre) and the brine by-product fouls aquifers and is devastating to aquatic populations. Reverse osmosis, on the other hand, uses comparatively less energy, but toxins such as boron and arsenic can still sneak through, and membranes clog frequently, reducing the lifetime of the filter. Diamandis and Kotler look towards future developments of nanotechnology – such as devices that will use nanoparticles to filter out toxic materials in water and make the desalination process less destructive. As a new development in the conservation of water, Diamandis and Kotler point to a new computer-assisted irrigation system installed in Spain, ‘designed to save farmers 20 percent of the nine hundred billion gallons of water they annually use’. The world is no longer unexplored territory; we now have the ability to follow the flows of raw materials and energy on a global scale. 2219

Organic waste has a bright future. We have the capacity to develop nowaste processes based on nature’s template. Regenerative technologies that can be industrially scaled include the conversion of organic waste into biogas, which can be used for energy. This conversion process happens through anaerobic digestion, in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. Technologies based on anaerobic digestion convert manure, municipal wastewater solids, fats, oils and grease and so on into energy, burnt to generate electricity and heat, as well as natural gas and fuels for cars, trucks and planes. The residue includes nutrients that can be used for agriculture, as fertilizer. Sub-tropical countries – like Jamaica, and Haiti, where fast-growing vegetation produces large amounts of bio-mass – could generate their transportation fuels from wasted organic materials, without producing excess CO2. Industrial Design and Aesthetics The noble mission of design, now and in the future, will be to package the rapid transition we need, at all levels. We must collectively conceive of this social and technological transformation as a seductive, hip, glamorous adventure for us as individuals and for human society as a whole. We can use our industrial systems to produce circulating, selfregenerating systems for transportation, energy, water and nutriments, for clothing bodies and building homes, for converting our waste back into energy and food. In order for humanity to graduate from parasitic pariah to planetary partner, we must not only learn to consume better, but consume far less. 2230

We still find ourselves hampered by the moral blindness and self-serving cowardice of political leaders, finance capitalists, fundamentalist despots and other power brokers. We also have to confront our own expectations of what the future is meant to bring us, and accept that we are in a new situation. This requires a willingness to surrender some of our cherished hopes and dreams. Personally, I don’t think we can make effective changes until we understand how ‘subjectivity’ – the inner domain of human consciousness – is not something freely determined. Consciousness, identity, subjectivity are mass-produced by the corporate-industrial megamachine. Those who are designers and media-makers must be willing to intercede in this process and produce new ‘subjectivities’, shaping new patterns of behaviour and new values for the multitudes. Design and aesthetics will be crucial tools for accomplishing this. Aesthetics and ethics have a functional relationship which influences consumer choice and impacts on the direction of industrial manufacturing. Design creates objects of desire. Advertising assimilates humanity’s collective yearnings for status, sex and success, and points them towards particular products and industries. The only way I can envision the type of systemic change of values, beliefs and habits that we need in a short timeframe is through the creation of a global marketing campaign coupled with, as Buckminster Fuller foresaw, a ‘design revolution’. A massive media blitz can give people a new vision of the good, the true and the beautiful. We have to make conservation, degrowth, post-capitalism, self-sufficiency, sharing resources, food growing, generosity and the virtue of necessity glamorous and fun. 2243

We are faced with a difficult, intricate, seemingly close-to-impossible mission. So let’s accept it as our initiation, and even enjoy it in that sense. For a few decades, until we have converted to a regenerative society running on renewable fuels and closed-loop industries, people will have to find joy in self-sacrifice and contentment in having less. We must be willing to undertake difficult tasks for the benefit of the collective. To accomplish this transition, we need to overcome social inertia, break apart stagnant thought structures, and inspire the masses with new desires, values, habits and behaviours. 2256

Summing Up We find ourselves in a cliff-hanger. As the methane erupts and sea levels rise, a mass die-off could happen soon. On the other hand, if we change direction rapidly, the human family can reach a state of shared abundance. The goal is to build, distribute, scale exponentially and share new social and industrial technologies supporting resilience and local autonomy. Within a century, we could have rebuilt eco-cities and redesigned industries for future generations to live in harmony and in holistic communion with the planet. I realize that many thinkers have argued passionately that our technological society has reached its apex – that it must give way to a new, more humane form of civilization that is, once again, smaller scale. ‘The high-entropy journey humanity has undertaken under the illusion of growth and progress does not have a future,’ writes Vandana Shiva, an activist who crusades against GMOs and for the rights of farmers in India. ‘We will have to change the road we are on, and we will have to change our goals. The goals cannot be set by reductionist science, industrial technologies and neoliberal economies. The goals cannot be narrowly defined as economic growth or consumerism. The goals have to be the preservation of the earth, her diverse species, and future generations.’ 2261

Wendell Berry, like many deep and dark ecologists, believes that technologists are feeding a cultural delusion when they argue that ever-more advanced technology can save us from the ecological crisis that technology has unleashed: There is now a growing perception, and not just among a few experts, that we are entering a time of inescapable limits. We are not likely to be granted another world to plunder in compensation for our pillage of this one. Nor are we likely to believe much longer in our ability to outsmart, by means of science and technology, our economic stupidity. The hope that we can cure the ills of industrialism by the homeopathy of more technology seems at last to be losing status. We are, in short, coming under pressure to understand ourselves as limited creatures in a limited world. 2271

I think the only way we can deal with the mass scale of the problems industrial civilization has created is to redirect and repurpose the infrastructure of manufacturing and industry which now spans the world, as well as make use of the power of media, design and social technology to transform ourselves as a species. In the same way that corporations and media apply many psychological techniques to create ‘false needs’ in the population, we can use the media and elements of the corporate system to create and then spread replicable models of community, alternative economic systems and local forms of participatory democracy. Factories can mass-produce and distribute regenerative technologies and techniques in agriculture, energy production and so on. My vision is that we resolve the antithesis between indigenous cultures that were small scale and Earth-honouring and postmodern civilization, defined by corporate globalization, in a new creative synthesis, where traditional values and holistic principles are mass-distributed using the efficient supply chains of global capitalism. We can apply our technology to support ecologically regenerative practices on all levels and in all areas. For example, if we improve desalinization technology, and have these plants powered by solar, we can create enough fresh water for everyone on Earth. We can do this, even as the mountaintop glaciers disappear and as sea levels rise to make a great deal of ground water undrinkable. 2279

Our mission is to engineer a transition to a post-capitalist society in which everyone on Earth receives a basic subsidy. This requires redesigning our factories so that the by-products of manufacturing are no longer toxic but feed back positively into the ecosystems, just as all the products of nature do. We can rebuild coastal cities as inland ‘eco-cities’, designed to be models of self-sufficiency. We can relocate and resettle large refugee populations in self-sufficient communities where they produce their own food and energy. The Internet and mass media become tools to train the global population in direct democracy, permaculture and bioremediation, so we become stewards of our local ecology. If we want to maximize our chances for near-term survival, we must undertake a systemic transition towards renewable power distributed through a globally decentralized grid. We also must shift our agriculture system away from industrial farming that depletes soil and is dependent on fossil fuels. We must relocalize a great deal of our food production, and resettle some urbanites in rural areas, retraining them to be farmers – small-scale farming can be improved by digital technology which helps organize supply chains and distribution systems. No matter what we do, we will confront increasingly severe ecological crises over the rest of this century. Realizing that our world is becoming more precarious, we can transition to a system that enhances local autonomy, resilience and self-sufficiency. This will be the best way to protect our human family from intensifying crises. At the same time, we need to develop a healthy scepticism and probably reject many types of futuristic technologies that could cause more damage to our already damaged world, such as nuclear energy and genetic engineering. 2290

we have the opportunity to take a different direction. We can establish a regenerative society that produces authentic security and is truly utopian, compared to what we have now. Increasingly, many thinkers see our potential to establish a new planetary culture based on ethically and ecologically viable principles, combining elements of capitalism, socialism and anarchism in a new political-economic operating system. This potential remains latent until we realize 2309

Mythology One of my personal beliefs is that the kind of transition that may save us is only possible if it is accompanied by a transformation of planetary consciousness – a shift in worldviews. The secular materialism that pervades postmodern society is, in the end, a form of nihilism. People are told to believe that their lives are accidental, that consciousness is a peculiar epiphenomenon and that the universe is meaningless. In many sectors of our culture, to question that viewpoint is to open yourself to ridicule. I agree with Albert Camus that, in the end, only two worlds can exist for the human mind. We must choose between the world of rebellion and the world of the sacred. I know it seems unlikely, but I think our civilization may be approaching a turning point – a polar reversal – where we break free of the consciousness of rebellion and return to the sacred. This shift is indicated by many long-term trends – some continuing for more than a half-century – that include the integration of Eastern mysticism and indigenous shamanic practices into our technological society. If we are going to find the will, courage and tenacity to confront this oncoming catastrophe, we need to reconnect with a sacred, transcendent dimension. I believe we can build a bridge between the mainstream religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – with their billions of devotees and the cutting-edge ideas of contemporary explorers who use psychedelics, yoga, meditation, seeking heightened awareness. Ultimately, as the Dalai Lama has said, everybody wants a better life. If they are shown a way to get there, they will take it. 2315

We lack a moral centre in our society as we rapidly plunge towards the abyss. It is extraordinary – in itself, miraculous – that the new Pope, Pope Francis, has shown up as one of the only people in our entire planetary culture able to speak directly to the needs of our moment – he calls for an ‘ecological conversion’, for shared sacrifice on the part of the wealthy elite, a new mode of empathic and compassionate action for us all. In the encyclical, On Care for Our Common Home, Francis writes: All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty. Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes. Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Pope Francis could rehabilitate the Catholic tradition, which seemed utterly hopeless – corrupt and antiquated – and turn it into a progressive force for good. In fact, we are going to need a number of miraculous conversions and reversals such as this one if we are going to survive as a species, and learn to flourish together with nature in the short time before it is too late to do anything but undergo a universal, horrific meltdown – a Chod ritual, on a planetary scale. 2333

With an accelerated warming cycle like the one that caused the Permian Mass Extinction, 250 million years ago, another 95 per cent of species will die out, including Homo sapiens. That is why we have to learn to touch eternity with our in breath and out breath. Extinction of species has happened several times. Mass extinction has already happened five times and this one is the sixth. According to the Buddhist tradition there is no birth and no death. After extinction things will reappear in other forms, so you have to breathe very deeply in order to acknowledge the fact that we humans may disappear in just 100 years on earth. 2347

Personally, I find myself resonating far more deeply with the Pope’s call for a new spiritual mission that unifies humanity behind protecting life and nature than I do with Hanh’s view, although I recognize the validity of his statement. We possess creative, empathic and imaginative capacities which seem be a divine power and dispensation. Instead of succumbing to Eastern fatalism or Western nihilism, we can choose to make use of our abilities to reverse the current direction of our civilization – to confront the ecological mega-crisis as a true initiation. Realizing what is at stake and what is possible, we can offer ourselves as vessels of this transformation. 2353

As human beings, we are always forming mythologies. We can’t speak, or even think, without building narratives, stories and interpretative frameworks. The problem is that we come to believe in the stories we create, or the ones that have already been created for us. We forget that an original, formless awareness precedes any words or ideas. Meaning is always something we make; 2360

Earlier, we explored the idea that the ecological crisis is actually a rite of passage for humanity, an initiation that will force us to become more compassionate, adult, decent, responsible, attentive and cooperative as a species – to spread our butterfly wings. Part of this metamorphosis will, I believe, be a mystical as well as a psychic unfolding or realization. 2365

According to the emergent discipline of epigenetics, consciousness – awareness – is present at the boundary of the cell, which chooses what molecules it will incorporate into its metabolism, and which will pass through it. As its chemical sensors make this decision, the cell can produce one of many thousands of variants of genetic material. Consciousness attains more complex expression, as life evolves into increasingly sophisticated forms. I think it makes most sense to see human beings – with our more developed sense of self-awareness, our larger brains allowing for more creativity and intelligence – as an expression of the total web of life on Earth, from which we are inseparable. We are less a single species than we are the cutting-edge of this planet’s evolutionary process – our bodies and the structure of our brains encompass the entire history of life on this planet. Humanity is part of nature, and nature wastes nothing as it continuously evolves. We are, most probably, undergoing a process with an underlying purpose and intention, just as foetal development leads to birth. We have woven a technical infrastructure around the planet – a sheath of industrial machinery and toxic waste – like a chrysalis or cocoon. We can use this cocoon of the technosphere to create a collective metamorphosis. The planetary mega-crisis is both material and spiritual, physical and psychic. In fact, it supersedes those dualisms, revealing them to be false. 2369

The New Age spirituality that has permeated our culture since the 1960s is tainted by self-serving values. Its proponents directly or indirectly condone the privileged lifestyle of the developed world, which is responsible for the destruction of the Earth’s ecosystems and the immiseration of the developed world. 2380

The Kogi call themselves the elder brother, and the modern culture of the West, younger brother. They only became known to the outside world a few decades ago, when they began to issue warnings about the potentially catastrophic consequences of our continued mistreatment of the Earth. The heirs of a pre-Incan civilization, they express a living philosophy that unites the physical and spiritual worlds. The future leaders and shamans of the Kogi – called Mamas because they identify with the mother, the feminine principle of fertility, soul and soil – are recognized in early childhood. As children, these future teachers spend as long as nine years in dark retreats, never directly exposed to the light of day. They believe that the origin of everything that happens on Earth begins in the spiritual realm, which is darkness. Before they can become Mamas, wisdom keepers, they must know the darkness, the formless, and learn its ways. 2389

Rooted in an ancient oral tradition, the Kogi and Aruak Mamas project great dignity, rarely wasting a word. According to ethnobotanist Wade Davis: When the priests, or Mamas, speak, they immediately reveal that their reference points are not of our world. They refer to the Spanish conquest as if it were a recent event. They talk openly of the force of creation, or Se, the spiritual core of all existence, and aluna, human thought, soul, and imagination. What is important, what has ultimate value, is not what is measured and seen but what exists in the many realms of meanings and connections that lie beneath the tangible realities of the world, linking all things. 2396

They meditatively scrape the stick which they use to extract the white, chalky powder around the outside of the gourd. The gourd has a womb-like shape and represents the universe. The coca leaf, they say, helps them to speak the word of truth. When the Kogi brought together the men in our group to try it for the first time, we sat together in darkness for over an hour. They asked us to contemplate its effects. Over time, I found that chewing the leaves induced a state of clarity and calm. I felt it connected my mind with my heart – so different from cocaine, which extracts the coca from the leaf and synthetically binds it with sulphuric acid to maximize a reptilian, robotic rush. Over the course of a number of days, I listened attentively to the teachings of the Mamas, often conveyed through stories and allegories. I wanted to grasp the essence of what they came to teach us. ‘Nature is a book that we learn to read by understanding its signs,’ Don Leonardo, the Kogi Mama told us. By interpreting the signs, the Kogi communicate directly with the cosmos. 2404

Their philosophy resembles Taoism, where the true man, who acts through non-action, maintains the balance between Heaven and Earth. The human being, in the worldview of the Kogi as in the Tao, is not accidental or contingent. We have an essential function in the cosmos; our role is to reflect its equilibrium and harmony, thus maintaining order. We support nature’s continuity through our action and intentions – also through our prayers and meditations. Over the course of a week, the Kogi instructed us in ways to make ‘payments’ to the Earth. We imprinted the energy of our prayers and intentions into cotton balls, which they then buried in hidden, sacred places. Through our translator, I asked if the Kogi and Aruak believe that the physical world is a direct reflection of our level of consciousness, or spirituality. Don Leonardo smiled. ‘That is why we walked 25 hours down from our home in the mountain – to tell you that,’ he said. 2413

Industrial waste is a result of our low level of spiritual development; pollution reflects our lack of awareness of our interdependence with nature and cosmos. The world is in turmoil because we have failed to maintain a sacred, reciprocal relationship with Mother Earth: we lost our way. The nihilism of our culture reflects this. The Kogi and Aruak see nature and man as a continuum. They believe our actions, and even our thoughts, influence the invisible spiritual worlds that express themselves in all natural phenomena, through the weave of synchronicity in which we are enmeshed. Our technological society perceives nature and the physical world as resources, devoid of spirit, which we can consume however we want. 2422

we have not integrated the humility and reverence for the creative forces of nature that we find in cultures like that of the Kogi. We have not yet understood that life itself is the prayer and the ceremony. 2428

We have no choice but to create myths – it is part of who we are. We do it constantly. But we have a choice in what kinds of stories we create and choose to follow. We can live experiential mythologies that empower us to be great, or we can passively conform to cultural narratives that enforce cynicism, futility and apathy. Our civilization has a number of myths and stories about the world which many people, unfortunately, believe are true. For instance, many people now believe that life is senseless and empty, that human consciousness is a meaningless blip in an accidental universe, that it doesn’t matter whether we continue as a species or destroy ourselves, because the Earth can create a more intelligent species after us. Many people believe we have no power to change our situation, and it is pointless to try. Another idea is that we are incubating the robots who will take over. These myths reinforce the fatalistic view of man and the cosmos that has become prevalent. They provide us with excuses for inaction. Personally, I believe we live in a multi-dimensional cosmos, inhabited by many levels of consciousness, and various forms of spiritual beings. There may be infinite dimensions, vast spider webs spanning subtle sub-quantum realms of consciousness, which we can discover and explore. In fact, I believe that the exploration of the psyche is part of our human birthright. It is one of the reasons we have been woven into this creation. According to the mystical philosopher G I Gurdjieff, the universe follows the principle of ‘reciprocal maintenance’, where all beings consume and also provide sustenance to other beings. Human beings take in food, water and air, as well as the perceptions and sensations registered by our bodies. We transform these forms of energy into thoughts and feelings. Gurdjieff proposes that the subtle energy of our thoughts and emotions are also ‘food’ for spiritual beings who exist in subtler realms or other dimensions. Prayer and devotion are one kind of sustenance we can offer them. As we evolve in consciousness and sensitivity, the energy we provide also becomes more nourishing to the beings of the spiritual worlds. As an emergent property of biological evolution, and of matter itself, human consciousness provides the necessary basis – the stable ground – for these spiritual and occult realms to make themselves tangible. 2431

According to Kabbala, our existence is necessary so that God can learn about Himself and give substance to His values. Without human beings, these values and principles remain purely abstract. According to these mystical ideas, our existence is not meaningless. Our work here on Earth is connected to vast realms and myriad dimensions of spirit. As we evolve ourselves, the cosmos evolves. According to Rudolf Steiner, we inherited a ‘cosmos of wisdom’, where everything was perfectly formed. Our bodies, for instance, woven together from trillions of microorganisms, are masterpieces of design. 2449

and allow us to experience different aspects of time. They remind us that the universe is a dreamemanation of an infinite consciousness – an incredible art piece – of which we are all expressions and aspects. They reveal our separation as a temporary illusion. We overly emphasize a particular kind of rational and analytical thought, with destructive consequences for our world. At the same time, this is all inevitable as part of our journey. 2462

I felt great joy. In this limited Möbius strip of space-time that is life – my life, to be precise – I feel rushed, always fighting a deadline, unable to accomplish more than a fraction of what I would like. But I suddenly knew there will be time – endless no-time – for everything to happen, for every possibility to ripen, for every missed opportunity to be taken, in parallel dimensions and multiplex worlds. 2480

All of my ideas of what I would do seemed pathetic. I felt trapped between the mediocrity of my ego, which I desperately wanted to cling to, and that pristine Absolute where ‘I’ no longer existed, but all was totally safe, entirely at peace. In The Transcendent Unity of Religions, the Sufi philosopher Frithjof Schuon draws a distinction between religion and mysticism, or the exoteric and esoteric paths to God. Religions, with their ornate rituals and hierarchical power structures, seek to indoctrinate – mind-control – mass populations. The priests establish a code of beliefs and moral laws for the faithful to follow. On the mystical path, priests have no authority. The goal is direct experience, which can be reached through many different techniques. 2490

The Cosmic Illusion Religions, exoteric cults, can’t handle the more difficult revelations, the paradoxes, known to mystical philosophy. One of these, Schuon writes, is ‘the doctrine of the cosmic illusion’, the realization that ‘the world is not only more or less imperfect or ephemeral, but cannot even be said to “be” at all in relation to absolute Reality, since the reality of the world would limit God’s reality and He alone “is”.’ When mystics encounter a personal God in their visions, they are only accessing one level of manifestation: ‘Being Itself, which is none other than the Personal God, is in its turn surpassed by the Impersonal or Supra-Personal Divinity, Non-Being, of which the Personal God or Being is simply the first determination from which flow all the secondary determinations that make up cosmic Existence.’ The experience of taking 5-meO-DMT supports Schuon’s view on the ‘Divine Impersonality’, as well as Buddhist and Eastern thought. 2496

worlds or dimensions. Each Bardo is inhabited by different types of beings who are dominated by particular emotions. There is a Bardo of the gods, the demi-gods, the Hungry Ghosts, animals, and so on. Our human realm is one of the Bardo Realms. All of the Bardos are, ultimately, illusions. In a negative sense, they can be seen as traps. For the Tibetans, even the god realm is a trap – a god can live for many eons, have orgasms that last for untold kalpas, but gods eventually die. Even a god will have to be reincarnated in one of the lower Bardos, and undergo the whole cycle again. Only humans, according to Buddhists, have the potential to attain enlightenment and exit the otherwise interminable cycle of rebirth. Our opportunity to do this comes after we die, when either we will reincarnate into one of the Bardo Realms, or we can choose to enter the Clear Light and merge with the infinite. Taking 5-meO-DMT, secreted from the glands of a homely desert toad, allows us to experience the Clear Light, Nirvana or the void for a few minutes of clock time that seem relatively endless, while we are still alive. Perhaps our evolutionary impetus is to merge with that infinite spaciousness while remaining embodied and individual. We also find descriptions of the Clear Light, or Nirvana, in other traditions. Kabbalists use the term Ein Sof, ‘the fullness of being and absolute nothingness’: God prior to His manifestation as the universe – as anything tangible. 2505

Everything we experience as time has already occurred, from the perspective of a higher dimension. Physicists postulate ten dimensions of space-time. As humans, we are embedded in the fourth dimension. We know one dimension of time – duration – and three spatial ones. It is difficult to conceive – the recent film Interstellar tried to depict it – but a being in a higher dimension would be able to pass through time as we walk through space. Our entire space-time – this universe – would be perceived as a sculptural object, which could be observed, played with, manipulated, from different angles. 2521

Whether positive or negative, all experiences are embedded in absolute joy, the great delight (maha-sukha) of Reality. When we have understood that what we dread the most – be it loss of health, property, relationships, or life itself – is not occurring to us but within our larger being, we begin to see the tremendous humor of embodiment. This insight is truly liberating. When we integrate this Tantric insight, we will be able to face the ecological nightmare and embrace the political and social mission our world needs from us now as our initiatory path. We keep running away from the heaviness and sadness of this world – the senseless suffering and unnecessary misery of multitudes, the global sex trade, the destruction of rainforests to produce McDonald’s cheeseburgers and Doritos, the cynicism of CEOs and hedge-fund managers. We must turn towards it and confront it. But we must also realize – as DMT and other mystical experiences show us – that the entire drama is designed to bring about our illumination and awakening. We can find the joy and lightness, the divine play, in all of it. We find ourselves now at the start of the spiralling return, from separation to unity, from unconscious ignorance to superconscious awareness, from all forms of physical, mental and spiritual constraint to the unobstructed liberation that we know in the deepest part of ourselves to be our original state. Humanity may undergo further transformations and mutations, as consciousness evolves. We might, ultimately, transition out of physical incarnation altogether, becoming multi-dimensional beings, self-created, formed from akasha, astral light or quantum substance. Anything is possible, really. Most likely, what lies ahead of us is more incredible than we can possibly imagine. But we are not ready to celebrate yet. 2530

philosophies can be counterpoised against each other, like musical compositions, themes and variations, to reveal underlying patterns and resonances. An esoteric Christian, Steiner believed that Christ’s life had great significance – Christ didn’t ‘save our souls’ through his sacrifice. He provided a model, a template, for how we must live, if we want our species to evolve and transcend its current condition. Steiner deconstructed the biblical postulate of a singular devil. Instead, he proposed there were various occult forces working on us all the time, drawing energy from us and using us for their own purposes. He described two forces – necessary for our development but also dangerous, as they can pull us into deviation – as Lucifer and Ahriman. Lucifer means ‘light bringer’; Luciferic spirits pull us up and away from the Earth, towards artistic beauty, genius, romantic illumination, but can also lead us into arrogance, hubris and pride. Ahriman represents the opposing force, or being, which drags us downwards, towards materialism and materiality, soulless mechanization, sterile technologies, nihilistic oblivion. In Steiner’s cosmology, there are also spiritual hierarchies, angelic and divine powers. We can commune with them through our higher cognitive faculties – intuition, imagination and inspiration – and align with them. As human beings, we are meant to work with the spiritual hierarchies to take a creative and participatory role in the cosmic unfolding. Steiner foresaw that the twenty-first century would see the rise of Ahriman. Today, many occult thinkers believe that our current faith in technological progress – the Singularity theology expressed by Ray Kurzweil and others – represents Ahriman’s attempt to make humanity deviate from its proper path of spiritual development. Ahriman seeks to make the human ego immortal through biotechnology and nanotechnology, ultimately merging it with computer-based artificial intelligence to construct a synthetic, simulated universe that would be like an isolation chamber – a hell realm, an infinite hall of mirrors – cut off from divinity, from access to our spiritual source. 2552

As a tool-using and tool-making species, we constantly experiment and invent new technologies. These reveal new aspects of our being to us, and lead us to create, and iterate, the next set of tools. Technology and consciousness are so intimately related that they could be considered synonymous. We currently hover on the brink of manifesting extraordinary as well as frightening possibilities, through science and technology, that may radically transform our species’ capacities. 2584

The only way to handle the deepening contradictions of our situation is to develop moral willpower, a core ethos of empathy and responsibility, strengthened through initiatory discipline and inner work. Before humanity can make the jump to any new condition of being, we must address the ecological and social catastrophes we have unleashed on our Earth. We must take care of all of our brothers and sisters who have been consigned to lives of squalor and ignorance, making a commitment to lift them up as equals and love them. 2604

From where we are now, it feels, subjectively, like we have accelerated over the last decades. Things used to move in slow motion, now they are lifting off towards hyper-speed. 2607

Whether we like it or not or feel ready for it or not, humanity appears to be evolving from a childlike relationship with the cosmos to a partnership with creation itself. As science opens to integrate the reality of the psyche, we may find new ways to express our connection to the sacred. 2621

our human family will realize the essential truth – the core – of all traditions. 2623

Some indigenous cultures talk about this age as the time when humanity ‘dreams the world awake’. Where the reality we experience once seemed hard and unyielding, the world is becoming, incrementally, more mutable, mercurial – more responsive to our intentions. The gap between thought and manifestation is shrinking. This is a subtle phenomenon – hard to discuss without sounding crazy – but it is also something many people know to be true. 2627

without negating the reality that our actions as a species are tearing the world apart – threatening us with civilizational collapse and even extinction. It is the collective burden of our unsustainable lifestyles that has unleashed this catastrophe on the Earth. The only way we can address this situation is to accept it as an initiation – choosing to go against the flow and fight the inertia, because that will strengthen and toughen our spirit. As we undergo initiation, we discover that reality becomes, in gradations, increasingly psychic, translucent, malleable. William Blake wrote, ‘The Eternal body of Man is The Imagination, that is, God himself.’ 2631

As we realize we are the agents who create meaning for ourselves and each other, we discover we have the sacred, joyful task of defining a new mythology for our future unfolding together. 2638

We must accept from the outset that constructing a regenerative society will in all likelihood be a multi-generational task. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can leave it to our children. We must undertake this mission ourselves – out of devotion, reverence and universal compassion. Learning how to operate Spaceship Earth, Buckminster Fuller noted, is humanity’s final exam. 2641

Civilization constructed the institution of marriage, and enforced monogamy, to protect property rights, under a patriarchal regime which demonized female sexuality. The force of our repressed sexual instinct was channelled – or sublimated, in Sigmund Freud’s term – into building civilization, creating culture and making war. The curious fact about human nature is that it is not fixed, but changeable. 2665

Just as we lack rites of passage to introduce us to transpersonal or visionary experiences when we are young – when we long, with our whole being, to experience a deeper intensity of communion, to access something greater than ourselves – we also lack for cultural traditions that would help young people to embrace their sexuality as something wonderful, as a great gift they can explore and share responsibly. 2710

satiation. This energy that people expend in the incessant pursuit of sexual fulfilment is exactly the energy that we, the human community, need to redirect, channelling it towards our awakening, using it to enact social change and regenerate our planet’s ecosystems. Sex itself is not the problem. In our culture, for many people, the act of sex only consumes a tiny fraction of the energy expended in the pursuit of it. Also, sex can be nourishing, physically and emotionally. If there was no need to pursue erotic connections, to compete for mates, we could use that squandered energy to confront the ecological crisis we have unleashed as a species, and bring about a rapid cultural evolution. If we can understand, and then fix, the flaws in our social design, our stale ideology and antiquated cultural programming, we will liberate a huge amount of productive energy for building a regenerative society. We will take a massive leap forward as a species. And we will do it quickly. 2771

I believe the solution is to consciously liberate Eros – not just Eros as it gets expressed through sexuality and romantic love, but also the various forms of love that bind communities together, including caring for children and old people. We must understand that the Eros that gets expressed through sexuality is not just an individual problem, but has a very large-scale social and political dimension. Men and women must be willing to cooperate for each other’s happiness if humanity is going to have a long-term future on Earth. 2779

When individuals merge into couples, and particularly when these couples have children, they tend to direct all their energy and resources towards themselves. They lose interest – if they ever had any – in helping the collective. Instead, they seek to amass resources, playing the competitive capitalist game. 2783

When people find themselves forced to lie to or deceive the person closest to them – their partner – about their desires, they are conditioned to accept corruption and hypocrisy in society at large. They can accept the half-truths of politicians and pundits because they are compromised themselves. We fail to care for the world as a consequence of our inauthenticity. After all, why would we want to protect and safeguard a world that has betrayed us at its core? 2801

We need a new approach to community and, ultimately, a new social design that is holistic, comprehensive and secure. A truly liberated society must support longterm care for children. It must take care of old people. ‘Free love’, it turns out, requires a great deal of discipline. 2825

Many aspects of Tamera amaze me. Duhm, 2845

humanity will need something like a miraculous healing through the coalescence of a new vision, a new consciousness, defined by regenerative practices and social habits. Rather than taking incremental steps, we may make a rapid evolutionary leap from our current suicide system to one that honours life 2905

when we look back through history, we have seen movements arise that took everyone by surprise. This was the case with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Arab Spring, the civil rights movement, the French and American Revolutions, and so on. We never know what is possible – and we are more than observers. We are evolutionary catalysts who continuously influence what can and will occur. 2910

Contemporary society has the ability to absorb, assimilate and neutralize almost anything that seems to threaten it. Media critic Thomas de Zengotita calls the method through which any potential alternative or threatening idea gets ‘covered’, swallowed up, by the mass media, the Blob: ‘What must be covered is any event or person or deed that might challenge the Blob with something like a limit, something the Blob cannot absorb, something that could, in resistance or escape, become the one thing the omni-tolerant Blob cannot allow, something outside it, something unmediated – something real,’ he writes in Mediated. When we understand the mechanisms of post-industrial capitalism, we can use its techniques to potentially subvert it or accelerate its metamorphosis. If we apply our cunning and creativity effectively, it is quite possible we can transform this system peacefully from within. We don’t have to ‘smash the state’. We can supersede it. We can feed the Blob the antidote that will force it to dissolve. Although I consider the contemporary art world is a nightmare, a black hole of ego and pretension that sucks a huge amount of excess capital and intellect into it, I believe art has a crucial role to play in our post-capitalist future. The German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys came up with the term ‘social sculpture’. ‘Only art is capable of dismantling the repressive effects of a senile social system to build a SOCIAL ORGANISM AS A WORK OF ART,’ Beuys wrote. We can consider many human-made constructs – financial systems, festivals like Burning Man, intentional communities, even governments – as social sculptures, which we can intentionally design to change ourselves or enhance our powers. 2935

For David Graeber, an anarchist and anthropology professor who helped inspire the movement, Occupy was the local expression of a ‘wave of resistance sweeping the planet’, part of a global response to imperial control and financial corruption. The plan, he writes in The Democracy Project, was to create the model for a ‘genuine direct democracy’ which would expose the charade of the current representational system. The Occupiers did this by launching the General Assembly. Meeting at the front of the park every day, by a tall orange metal sculpture, they made all their decisions transparently and collectively. Anyone who turned up could immediately participate. Occupy applied Gandhi’s tactics of nonviolent activism. 2973

talk about what they were learning by living in Zuccotti Park. They called it a process of internal ‘decolonization’. They were freeing their minds, step by step, from the trance of empire. They said there were no experts in what they were experiencing, as they lived in the thick of it. Many Occupiers had a deep understanding of our political-economic system, and the planetary crisis. They knew the situation required a seismic shift and were willing to risk their lives for it. Graeber notes that Occupy was, at its heart, a ‘forward-looking youth movement’. Its primary constituents were young people who had tried to make it in the mainstream, only to find the system rigged against them. They ‘watched the financial class completely fail to play by the rules, destroy the world economy through fraudulent speculation, get rescued by prompt and massive government intervention, and, as a result, wield even greater power and be treated with even greater honour than before, while they are relegated to a life of apparently permanent humiliation’. 2989

Reform or Revolution? The handling of the 2008 crash radicalized a generation of young people smart enough to realize the current system is in a doomspiral. They are willing to transform what we have – to replace it with something truly humane, just and ecologically sustainable. During the 2016 US Presidential Campaign, the Occupy demographic emerged, for the first time, as a political force, impelling Bernie Sanders to prominence. Despite the efforts of the government, the media and the financial sector to confuse the matter, millions upon millions are awakening to realize that the system we have is not working for them but is engineered to serve the interests of a small, elite group. We will probably see increasing polarization in the next years, as authoritarian movements also gain traction. 2997

Graeber believes the distinction between reform and revolution has vanished in the United States over the last decades. Since the 1960s, the US has transitioned from a manufacturing-based economy to one based primarily on the sale of financial products and services. Financial products and services have no intrinsic or tangible value, since nothing is produced by them. Products like bonds, as well as ‘junk bonds’, can yield tremendous rewards – but these rewards actually amount to a re-appropriation of resources. Wealth is extracted from the poor and middle class and transferred to the elite group of speculators and hedge-fund managers at the top of the pyramid, who control the money supply through the Federal Reserve and other central banks. As a result of this systemic transition, the US economy became ‘little more than an elaborate system of extraction, ultimately backed up by the power of the courts, prisons, and police and the government’s willingness to grant to corporations the power to create money’, writes Graeber. At the top of the pyramid, financial, corporate and government interests collude to maintain a rigid, centralized system that works against the interests of the debt-burdened multitude. ‘In America, challenging the role of money in politics is by definition a revolutionary act because bribery has become the organizing principle of public life.’ 3003

In 2008, we witnessed the meltdown of the global financial system due to the collapse of mortgage-backed securities. While millions lost their homes, the US government bailed out the banks and financial institutions, creating an ever-ballooning burden of debt that can never be repaid. But rather than addressing the underlying flaws in the system, the government committed ‘American taxpayers to permanent, blind support of an ungovernable, unregulatable, hyperconcentrated new financial system that exacerbates the greed and inequality that caused the crash, and forces Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to increase risk rather than reduce it’,’ journalist Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone. Virtually none of the money given to the banks in the various stimulus packages and bailouts went to the homeowners or small businesses who were impacted by the system’s malfeasance. ‘Instead of liquidating and prosecuting the insolvent institutions that took us all down with them in a giant Ponzi scheme,’ Taibbi points out, ‘we have showered them with money and guarantees and all sorts of other enabling gestures.’ The initial $800 billion bailout was only the beginning. Up until recently, the Federal Reserve has created, ex nihilo – out of nothing – $85 billion a month, using this credit to buy Treasury Bonds and mortgage-backed securities. What this amounts to, according to journalist Chris Hedges, is the failure of the constitutional state – the checks and balances which were part of the original government of the United States have been overridden by financial interests, who control the levers of power. ‘The collapse of the constitutional state, presaged by the death of the liberal class, has created a power vacuum that a new class of speculators, war profiteers, gangsters and killers, historically led by charismatic demagogues, will enthusiastically fill,’ Hedges writes. ‘It opens the door to overtly authoritarian and fascist movements.’ 3013

What has money become in our day and age? Money is a collective agreement that money is worth what the banks say it is worth. It has no intrinsic value, nor is it linked to anything tangible. The bankers and the administrators of the Federal Reserve and other central banks speak a complex technical language, difficult for most people to understand or follow. This is intentional. If the situation was made clear, people would, in all likelihood, rise up against it. 3028

Friends from various stages of my life in New York and my years at Burning Man resurfaced as regulars at Occupy, working in the kitchen, running the library or cheerfully pedalling the bicycle generators that powered the media centre’s laptops and cameras. Some friends went out at night to project anti-capitalist slogans on skyscrapers or joined in morning actions where dozens of protestors, dressed as janitors, brought brooms down to Wall Street and swept it out. 3042

Democracy and Anarchy When commentators criticized the movement for lacking clear demands, they were missing the point. Occupy was not, in its essence, a protest movement. It was a process movement. The Occupiers were seeking to build a new political system, based in direct participation, to supersede and replace the twisted version of pseudo-democracy we have now. Their goal was not reform. It was revolution – an anarchist revolution, giving power to the people. As Graeber and other writers note, anarchy tends to be misunderstood. Anarchy is actually the most direct and egalitarian form of democracy, based on building consensus without coercion, recognizing the autonomy of everyone involved. Anarchist writers are often brilliant at summoning up their vision of a truly liberated society, what it would feel like and how it would operate. Instead of supporting institutions that become rigid, hierarchic and corrupt, anarchism would inspire continuous flux and immediate participation. What’s interesting is that our new communications tools could facilitate such a system in a way that was never possible before. 3046

The commonly held belief is that we need government and the state to prevent terror and chaos. Do we really know this to be the case any more? History reveals the state to be guilty of endless dark deeds and scorched-earth policies. The US government has laid waste to whole nations, causing the death and dislocation of large populations in Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq, using napalm, Agent Orange and shells of depleted uranium to further its geopolitical aims. Could no government do any worse? 3064

Today, the radical reinvention of society – by global insurgency, mass awakening, spiritual intervention – seems necessary. It is something we must demand and enact. If we don’t, there may be no future for humanity. But the models provided by past revolutions are outmoded, old hat. They won’t serve us any more. So what can we do? 3072

I don’t think we can simply dissolve the governments we have now, as that would create chaos. But is it possible that we might engineer a peaceful step-by-step transition from governments controlled by wealthy elites where participation is limited, to a peer-to-peer system where local communities have autonomy, where power is decentralized, where we peacefully dissolve nation-state borders, where the people are free to be? I know this seems impossible. But so did a smart phone, 3D printer or neutron bomb until somebody built the thing. 3075

In the Declaration of Independence, America is not defined as a democracy, but, explicitly, as a republic. James Madison wrote: ‘In a democracy the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, must be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.’ The US government became the model for other nation-states to follow over the next centuries. 3089

As Rebecca Solnit discovered when she visited former disaster zones, when governments collapse the vast majority of people act more altruistically and compassionately towards others. They come together organically in communities and local democracies. This pattern is repeated again and again. We seem to be quickly approaching that threshold where, as the social ecologist Murray Bookchin warned, our world ‘will either undergo revolutionary changes, so far-reaching in character that humanity will totally transform its social relations and its very conception of life, or it will suffer an apocalypse that may well end humanity’s tenure on the planet’. This process will only be finished when humanity no longer exists on Earth, or when we have established a just and humane society, liberated from artificial scarcity and free of domination. 3098

Spontaneous Evolution is a collaboration between Bruce Lipton, a cell biologist, and Steve Bhaerman, a political philosopher. They believe we are being impelled towards our next stage of planetary civilization, marked by interdependence. We will learn to coordinate our functions within the symbiotic super-organism made up of humanity as a whole in a harmonic relationship with the Earth’s ecology. As an analogy, they consider the process of the caterpillar becoming a butterfly. In the chrysalis, the caterpillar doesn’t just sprout wings. After it has devoured all of the food surrounding it, the caterpillar’s entire body melts down into a biotic goop. The code for the transmutation of the organism is held by a handful of ‘imaginal cells’ that begin to propagate as the caterpillar dissolves. At first, the dying caterpillar’s immune system attacks the imaginal cells, but this only strengthens them. As they multiply, they install the operating code for the transforming organism. ‘When provided with a new awareness,’ write Lipton and Bhaerman, ‘the cellular population that comprises the deteriorating larva collaborates to restructure their society in order to experience the next highest level of their evolution.’ We have to hope that at the inevitable end of the metamorphosis of human society, we will have a live butterfly, not a dead moth – or an army of robot flies. 3118

Biology reveals a pattern of fractal self-similarity on different scales and levels of complexity. Immature ecosystems are characterized by competition and aggression, while mature ecosystems are based on cooperation and sharing: our own bodies provide an example of this. They follow the same principle defined by the United States’ original slogan: ‘e pluribus unum’ – ‘from the many, one’. Evolution does not happen incrementally. Crises induce sudden mutations and rapid leaps. These leaps represent ‘an evolution of increasing levels of communal complexity and interrelationships’. Theoretically, humans are on the verge of making a jump to collective harmony, modelled on the coordinated activity that happens within our bodies, which work together to support the success of the whole without wasting or hoarding energy. That is what the pattern of evolution suggests. Unless we wipe ourselves out entirely, I think it is inevitable. The only question, actually, is the time-scale and the amount of destruction that will occur before we make this transition. 3128

A better option is that we use our current infrastructure to bring about this change in our current lifespans, sparing our human family untold misery and suffering. What we will see in the future is not a further biological evolution of individual humans – we won’t suddenly mutate to be able to breathe methane and eat plastic – but a social evolution, facilitated by technologies and social technologies. Breaking through the current obstacles posed by governments, the financial system, the cult of profit and hyper-individuality, we will learn to build durable communities. A community is an assembly of individuals sharing the same interests and seeking the same goals – which can be as simple as a peaceful, happy life. Just like the microorganisms in our bodies, which gave up some degree of autonomy to become integrated within a greater whole, we will form communities to gain increased self-awareness and resilience – to enhance our happiness. In Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny, Robert Wright similarly proposes that evolution reveals a direction, pointing towards humanity becoming a harmonic planetary super-organism, 3138

Instead of more corporate globalization, we can choose to reinvent our political and social systems to support local autonomy and bioregionalism within a truly planetary framework. According to the postmodern worldview, as alienated individuals, we fight to maximize our personal advantage in a cutthroat world. The reductive scientific paradigm sees the universe as mechanistic, with genes as the master molecules determining our fate, but the new vision from biology is one of interdependence and symbiosis instead of cutthroat competition. Much like single-celled organisms hundreds of millions of years ago, we find ourselves at a threshold where we must overcome our sense of separate identity to evolve new social organs. To survive, we must overcome limited self-interest and learn to cooperate for the benefit of the whole. This requires a change in our social nature. 3149

If we are going to make a leap to a new state of consciousness and social system, we must overcome the subconscious beliefs that distort our perceptions of our world and ourselves. At the moment, a great proportion of our behaviour is controlled by invisible ghosts, phantoms from the past. These ghosts limit people’s awareness of their innate potential – their capacity to see their world clearly, heal themselves and work together for humanity’s collective benefit. This is another reason that our self-transformation requires a spiritual evolution, an opening of consciousness, not just a political change. 3162

According to Lash, the Gnostics recognized the rise of Christianity as a deviation from spiritual truth. They believed it was devised by the Archons, who wanted to maintain control of humanity. When the Gnostics tried to educate the people and sound the alarm, they were killed – brutally assassinated, burnt at the stake. The priests used methods of indoctrination to control the 3180

Patrick Harpur looks at our situation differently. He questions the basis of modern, mental–rational consciousness. We have an inveterate tendency to believe that things must be either literal or imaginary, true or false. We are trapped in either–or dualism. Traditional and aboriginal cultures don’t share this bias. ‘Traditional societies do not distinguish between myth and history in the way that we do. Mythical events were not thought to have literally happened; yet in another sense they were true, as if they had,’ Harpur writes. He quoted an ancient author, Sallust (86–34 bc), who wrote: ‘These things never happened; they are always.’ I believe we will attain the next level of consciousness as a species – overcoming the limits of mental–rational postmodernity – when we integrate the scientific worldview with this traditional perspective. We will transition from a dualistic viewpoint to an integral realization, accepting the paradoxical nature of reality. Even our belief in a linear cause 3187

What some left-wing critics call ‘empire’ is a projection of our collective ego. The ego seeks control and solidity and can’t admit these are illusions. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy discovers that a frightening spectacle of omnipotence is created by a little man hidden behind a curtain. We are in that situation today. The little man represents all of our fears and inadequacies, our lack of faith in our own powers. 3215

In our society, a tiny group – the ruling elite, dubbed the 1 per cent by Occupiers – run the financial institutions, the mass media, the energy corporations. Seeking to maintain their power and control, this group employs experts in persuasion and propaganda, neurolinguistic programming and social psychology. It has inherited a whole structure of empire that is based on indoctrinating people, controlling them through artificial scarcity and violence, and keeping them ignorant, divided, disempowered, acting against their own interests. Now this control system is reaching its limit, confronting an obstacle which it can’t control or assimilate. 3218

it doesn’t mean we can avoid our responsibility or abdicate our agency. 3228

Mesoamerican cultures had temples dedicated to Quetzalcoatl or Kukulkan – a creator deity who protected life – as well as places to worship Tezcatlipoca, the god of black magic and the jaguar. In this way, those with innately destructive or sociopathic tendencies were integrated into the social order. By denying this polarity, monotheistic religions like Christianity actually empowered those with sociopathic tendencies to become leaders of society as a whole. If we are going to restore the sacred dimension to post-postmodern civilization, we will have to find a way to acknowledge the power of darkness, but place it within a system that allows the benevolent forces of light to guide, guard and rule. 3237

‘Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains,’ Jean-Jacques Rousseau observed, back in the eighteenth century. ‘One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.’ Rousseau’s ideas ended up shaping the French Revolution. The cry for freedom has been the persistent undertone in the music of the oppressed, those who sing for Kingdom Come, the rising of the new sun, for whom history is an unfinished melody or a call that awaits its response. 3250

Social outrage is turned into cultural product, more distractions to assimilate. The energy of dissidence and rebellion feeds the system and keeps it running. The incessant onslaught of pop culture kitsch confuses and entrances people. We forget society is broken, that it needs to be changed, and we are the only ones who can change it. Made to believe we are powerless, we forfeit our power. It is easy to forget – until some problem leads to a crisis, and the crisis reveals a design flaw in the operating system that cannot be addressed by any reform. Our society has revealed a number of severe design flaws that cannot be fixed within its current operating system. One is the grotesque, evergrowing increase in wealth inequality. Economists like Thomas Piketty have shown that the accelerated accumulation of capital by a few is built into the system. As the middle class collapses, we are experiencing something like the return of the ancien régime, a regression to a twotier society of serfs and overlords. Bill Gates and other billionaires promulgate their belief that the world is getting better for everyone. Depending on how we look at the evidence, this belief seems hard to sustain. For instance, in the US the number of children living in poverty has increased in the last decades, to almost one-third of all children. Corporate rulers and financier plutocrats are the new aristocrats, floating above the rule of law, 3275

It is true that living standards and life expectancy have gone up in some areas of the world, while poverty has increased in others. We’ve managed significant gains in some areas, but this has come at quite a cost in others. We’ve managed only a few centuries of rapid industrial progress and we’ve accomplished this feat by over-exploiting the natural world, squandering finite resources that accrued over millions of years. At the same time, the advantages of our global industrial monoculture are somewhat ambiguous, at best. The desperate poverty we continue to see around the world is a direct result of industrial civilization and corporate globalization. The second problem, of course, is that we are careering towards ecological meltdown. These design flaws are, I believe, linked. We can’t solve one without addressing the other. I agree with the social ecologist Murray Bookchin that ‘The private ownership of the planet by elite strata must be brought to an end if we are to survive the afflictions it has imposed on the biotic world, particularly as a result of a society structured around limitless growth,’ as he wrote in The Ecology of Freedom. 3287

We need one, to quote Dieter Duhm again, ‘whose victory will create no losers because it will achieve a state that benefits all’. We must also make it a peaceful revolution – a gentle superseding of the current political-economic system, not an explosive insurrection against it. We need a revolution that is, at the same time, evolution and revelation. The United States – guarding the global empire of disorder – has turned into a massive surveillance society, armed to the teeth, looking for opportunities to flex its police and military might. It has killer drones, biological weapons, neutron bombs, FlexiCuffs, Guantanamo Bay, ‘extraordinary rendition’, and myriad other forms of intimidation, torture and death at its disposal. Any effort to oppose this kind of force directly will only end in failure. With hindsight, we can see that many of the protest and radical movements that fought ‘against’ the system only ended up feeding and energizing it. A different approach is called for. 3297

In her work, Arendt sought to rehabilitate the idea of political action as something that gives dignity and value to human life – action that is necessary, if we wish to have an ethical society. Arendt changed my understanding of politics. She noted that the word ‘politics’ derives from the word ‘polis’, the city-state in Ancient Greece. In a polis free citizens gathered to deliberate, debate and make decisions together. Arendt believes that democracy – human freedom – needs a public place where it can be practised, as the Occupiers demonstrated with the General Assembly in Zuccotti Park. ‘Without a politically guaranteed public realm, freedom lacks the worldly space to make its appearance,’ Arendt wrote: To be sure it may still dwell in men’s hearts as desire or will or hope or yearning; but the human heart, as we all know, is a very dark place, and whatever goes on in its obscurity can hardly be called a demonstrable fact. Freedom as a demonstrable fact and politics coincide and are related to each other like two sides of the same matter. By seeming to separate freedom from politics, modern society plays a trick on us. As long as we think of freedom as a purely private and personal concern, we remain unfree. Arendt realized that Western philosophy denigrated and rejected political thought and action. Over 2,000 years ago, Western thinking turned away from politics – from action in the world – when Socrates was accused of ‘corrupting’ the youth of Athens and executed because of his constant inquiry. The impact of this was profound for Western civilization. It was like an original trauma, causing the split between thought and action that continues. Today, we still conceive of personal liberty as freedom from politics, rather than freedom to participate as authentic political beings. 3315

the promise of human freedom, whether proffered sincerely or hypocritically as the end of politics, is realized by plural human beings when and only when they act politically. Philosophy became its own specialized realm, while politics became the path for those seeking power in the world. What Arendt called the promise of politics begins when we understand that our power as political beings is a living force, rooted in our solidarity with one another. Electoral politics tends to be a sad spectacle of compromise and capitulation. But that is not the real essence of politics. It is a corrupt aberration. We are inherently political beings. Freedom is something we create, in collaboration and communion with each other. When she studied the history of revolutions across the modern world, Arendt discovered, over and over again, ‘the amazing formation of a new power structure which owed its existence to nothing but the organizational impulse of the people themselves’. Once centralized authority disintegrates, the people establish assemblies, neighbourhood councils, cooperatives and working groups. They take over factories and schools and run them themselves, without bosses. They practise the direct, consensus-based decision-making found in many indigenous cultures. The disintegration of state power inspires the immediate creation of local democracies. Arendt called them ‘spontaneous organs of the people, not only outside of all revolutionary parties but entirely unexpected by them and their leaders’. Decisions are made by public referendums, arrived at through consensus. The people suddenly demonstrate ‘an enormous appetite for debate, for instruction, for mutual enlightenment and exchange of opinion’. The first time I felt this electric surge of possibility was during the General Assemblies at Occupy Wall Street. Recently the United States witnessed the promise of a redeemed politics, based on candour and compassion, in the campaign of Bernie Sanders. His campaign has proven that the energy expressed by Occupy is still vital, seeking new outlets. 3332

Revolution is not the cause of social and political disintegration, Arendt noted, but a consequence of it. This was true in the socialist and communist revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and even in the neoliberal ‘counter-revolutions’ of the 1990s, which helped Putin gain ascendency in Russia. In On Revolution, she wrote, ‘The outbreak of most revolutions has surprised the revolutionist groups and parties no less than all others, and there exists hardly a revolution whose outbreak could be blamed upon their activities.’ The revolutionaries would be hanging out in the demi-monde, skulking in the cafes of Zurich or Paris, writing their manifestos and screeds. Suddenly, social breakdown would start in their home country. They would return – Lenin was actually transported on a private train through Europe, to help accelerate Russia’s collapse – to foment, infiltrate and take over. The professional revolutionaries’ great advantage, Arendt noted, was not their intellectual theories or organizational talents, but ‘the simple fact that their names are the only ones which are publicly known’. Arendt believed that the professional revolutionaries, full of ideological zeal, often destroyed the rapid evolution of participatory democracy that had started, as if it were a natural phenomenon, as soon as government was gone. Given power, the revolutionaries immediately established new forms of authoritarian rule or dictatorship, following abstract principles from Marx, Rousseau or Mao. When they gained control, they crushed the new assemblies established by the people. They identified these democratic organs quickly as the greatest threat to their control. When ‘the people in the sections were made only to listen to party speeches and to obey’, Arendt wrote, ‘they simply ceased to show up’. 3348

Historians before Arendt ‘failed to understand to what an extent the council systems confronted them with a new public space for freedom which was constituted and organized during the course of the revolution itself’. This pattern has recurred, again and again, in modern and postmodern times. In France, a citizen’s government formed during the Paris Commune of 1871. In Russia, local councils emerged across the country during the early days of the revolution in 1917. For Arendt, councils and workers’ assemblies were the embryonic forms of an entirely new system of government based on continuous, passionate participation that could have made the gains of revolution permanent. When the Argentinian currency collapsed in 2001, the people gathered in schools and factories to organize their neighbourhoods. Workers took over the factories and continued production, forming cooperatives without overseers. Roughly a third of the Argentinian populace participated in General Assemblies, organizing locally to maintain systems for healthcare and food distribution. Most recently, in Iceland, after the financial crisis of 2008, the people rejected the draconian dictates of the International Monetary Fund, choosing instead to evict the bankers responsible for the country’s financial crisis. Using the Internet to hold a public referendum, they wrote a new, open-source constitution, declaring their country a haven for free information. 3362

Although we are in a massive, out-of-control civilization barrelling towards ecological breakdown, the current system is also intricately interdependent and hyper-defended. While the underlying mechanism of the global financial system is broken, while shadowy webs of conspiracy and corruption extend everywhere, while billionaire financiers toast their own cleverness as millions lose their homes, while the planet’s ecosystems buckle and collapse, it may be the case that our global oligarchy will manage to hold it all together for a while yet – like Major Kong in Doctor Strangelove, with a final ‘Yee haw!’, riding the bomb all the way down. On the other hand, some series of unforeseeable events may create an opportunity for a massive, sudden change. Social experiments currently proliferate all over the world. They are happening in many countries, often as a result of the extractive practices and domination of empire. In southern Europe, where countries like Greece, Spain and Italy have undergone financial collapse, new political parties are emerging, based on grassroots activism. Finland is testing out a basic income. Many movements around the world, from La Via Campesina (the landless peasant movement in Brazil) to the Zapatistas in Chiapas, are starting innumerable local actions, from time-banking systems and worker-owned cooperatives to community farms. The hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of small-scale actions, occupations and resistance movements around the world could weave themselves together, causing the spontaneous emergence of a new social being. 3373

We therefore need to understand what is at stake, and what is possible – even at the furthest edges of possibilities. If we don’t have a plan or a new model ready, a social breakdown or series of disasters may only lead to new forms of despotic control and intensified repression, which will ensure further ecological breakdown. Milton Friedman, the leading neoliberal economist, understood this. ‘Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change,’ he wrote. ‘When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.’ In the 1970s and 80s, Friedman and his fellow economists developed their model of intensive privatization, arguing that ‘free markets’ created the greatest benefit for all. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed, economists and advisers from the US rushed into the void. Inspired by Friedman’s ideas, they enforced privatization on a mass scale, convincing governments in eastern Europe and Russia to sell off stateowned resources and institutions to the highest bidder. A tiny elite appropriated the shared wealth of the commons, creating an oligarchy that led to the dictatorial rise of Vladimir Putin. 3385

Radicals can learn from the Pyrrhic victory of Friedman and the neoliberals. Rather than stumbling blindly forward, we must define, in advance, the outcomes we desire – much as the Wright Brothers worked towards an aeroplane, or Steve Jobs organized Apple to produce the iPhone. Then we must define a strategic plan to attain our goal. What we want, I believe, is to launch a social infrastructure that supports participatory democracy to grow and take root organically, without getting snuffed out by ideologues of the right or left. We also want to devise a system where resources are shared far more equitably. The goal should be a post-capitalist society where distributed manufacturing, renewable energy, participatory democracy, efficient cooperation and conservation combine with a universal subsidy or basic income to guarantee everyone on Earth – our human family as a whole – the opportunity for a good life, free of unnecessary insecurity and pointless suffering. 3395

As it widens the ‘metabolic rift’ between humanity and nature in its insatiable quest for more profit, for endless growth, capitalism has revealed a fatal design flaw. There is nothing in its internal logic to interrupt its momentum – to stop it eating its way through our planet, and ultimately collapsing our global ecosystems. Therefore, we must intervene and redirect it. The only way to do this is to make the global population aware of the dilemma, while those with the technical and creative capability design, field-test and distribute a functional alternative. 3403

When designers want to make something new, they expect they will have to build and field-test a series of versions and prototypes. When the first model breaks down, they build a second version. When that version fails, they create another. They keep iterating until they get it right. Artists similarly experiment in their studio, destroying or painting over their failed attempts until their vision emerges. When it comes to building a social, or a political-economic, system, humanity has followed these steps – experimenting, building a prototype, field-testing it, discovering where the model breaks down, developing a new prototype, experimenting, field-testing, watching it fail and so on – over and over. Unfortunately, however, when the current version of society crashes, it doesn’t happen in the laboratory or studio. It takes place across the much broader canvas of nation-states and civilizations. It tragically utilizes human beings – swarms, masses of them – as its Jackson Pollock-like splatters and drips. Perhaps the greatest systems thinker of the twentieth century was the design scientist Buckminster Fuller. Fuller combined two strains of American thought, transcendental idealism and pragmatism, in a long career. He was a prolific inventor, mathematician and visionary. He passed through his own initiation as a young man, contemplating suicide at the age of 32, after the death of a beloved child. He decided that, rather than kill himself, he would dedicate his life to accomplishing the greatest good for humanity, without thought or consideration for personal gain. Fuller wrote many books expounding his philosophy, including Synergetics, Critical Path, Operation Spaceship Earth, and Utopia and Oblivion – they remain very relevant today. In the 1960s, Fuller foresaw only two possible outcomes for humanity: we would either continue our current social and political arrangements and soon destroy ourselves, or we would undergo a design revolution in every arena. As part of this design revolution, we would apply our technical powers to allocate resources efficiently, working together to elevate everyone on Earth to a high standard of living and education. Even a half-century ago, he saw that we already possessed the technical means as well as the resources to do this. But the opportunity has been blocked by the inertia of our out-of-date political and financial arrangements, as well by as the ideology behind this antiquated system. ‘All who are really dedicated to the earliest possible attainment of economic and physical success for all humanity – and thereby realistically to eliminate work – will have to shift their focus from the political arena to participation in the design revolution,’ he wrote. 3409

Deep down, nobody wants a job to occupy so much of their time. People want a mission that inspires them – that compels them to dig deep to apply their reserves of creativity, cunning, compassion and courage. Fuller noted that most of the work people do is a drain on the Earth’s resources. All around the world, people are driving in cars to offices, using computers, toner cartridges and polystyrene packages. All of this is costly from the perspective of the planet’s ecology (apparently the words ‘ecology’ and ‘economy’ have the same root). It would be much more economical and efficient, Fuller reasoned, to subsidize people so they could live in self-sufficient communities where they produced their own food and energy. He proposed giving everyone on Earth who didn’t already have a mission, a ‘research grant for life’, in whatever subject interested them. I love this idea. Oscar Wilde, who was also a brilliant social thinker, arrived at the same conclusion over a half-century before Fuller. Instead of the current system, Wilde believed, we need some form of socialism, where people share property and reduce government to its most basic utilitarian functions. He thought that attaining a liberated society required developing our machines so that they could do all of the depressing and miserable labour – the drudgery – freeing people to develop their unique individuality. Wilde saw ‘cultivated leisure’, not work, as the ultimate purpose of human existence. 3429

Buckminster Fuller made one error: he believed that the design revolution could happen without a major transformation in the political arena, forgetting that social systems are also artefacts of human design. As Arendt recognized, Western thinkers have tended to ignore our political and social system, which has developed through trial and error, experiment, failure and innovation. Also, it seems obvious that the only way we can address these areas is by changing the underlying beliefs, values and ideology that make up the consciousness of the collective. In this book, we are exploring three areas: the technical infrastructure, which includes agriculture, energy, industry and so on; the social or political-economic system; and consciousness – the beliefs, values and ideology that are reinforced and reiterated through media, laws and education. These three main areas all work together, like three wheels with intermeshed gears that turn each other. When our technology changes, for instance, it opens new possibilities, which can change the social system as well as the collective consciousness. 3443

Karl Marx developed a model of how the technical, social and ideological areas supported each other as part of a whole system. He named them base, structure and super-structure. Marx also realized that the eighteenth-century revolutions had been incomplete, because they supported a false mode of individuality, protecting each person’s rights (including the right to property) against those of other people. The revolutions of the eighteenth century degraded ‘the sphere in which man conducts himself as a communal being’. They enshrined ‘the freedom of egoistic man . . . Man was therefore not freed from religion; he received religious freedom. He was not freed from property. He received freedom of property. He was not freed from the egoism of trade, but received freedom to trade.’ The revolutions therefore led to the commercial society we have today, where people protect their interests against each other. ‘Workers unite: you have nothing to lose but your chains,’ Marx and his collaborator Friedrich Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto. They wanted a worldwide revolution to liberate the proletariat – the urban workers, the industrial underclass – which they romanticized as the true subject of history. Their goal was to establish a stateless, classless society without privilege, private property or hierarchy, where the workers would own the means of production, and all aspects of social life would be centrally controlled. Marx and his followers believed a worker-owned society would mean liberation from domination and servitude – it would be the end of history. In practice, it didn’t work out that way. Communist revolutions led to totalitarian regimes and dictatorships. Communism became a disgraced philosophy in the West. To give Marx credit, he believed the communist revolution could only succeed if it started in a highly developed, fully industrialized society. Once a country like the US or UK developed a successful model, he believed, it would spread across the world. Instead, communism took root in underdeveloped countries like China and Russia, where ironically it accelerated a brutal transition from agrarian neo-feudalism to modern industrial societies. In the future, humanity may still choose to build a global civilization essentially without classes, states or private property – even if the system that results has a different name or no name at all. 3456

agree instead with Hannah Arendt that political expression is part of our human essence. Politics doesn’t have to be a corrupt puppet show. In an authentic society, the activity of politics – debate, discussion, decisionmaking – would be part of the fun. We would engage with it as something beautiful and true, an expressive form that combines art and ethics. We don’t want to surrender our political agency – not to the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, and certainly not to a super-computer or silicon AI. 3498

As Arendt saw it, the French Revolution was, in the end, a failure. It led to mass guillotining, the rise 3504

perspective, the failures of the American Revolution are as glaring as its achievements. The new government not only perpetuated slavery, denigrating Africans to subhuman status, it treated the native people on the continent as nonhumans, who could be removed or killed without compunction. At the same time, for the white settlers, the new system of government represented progress over the system of monarchy it replaced. The people were given some voice in their government, through the right to vote, and other rights were protected. Before the Enlightenment and the revolutions of the eighteenth century, the idea that ‘All men are created equal’ did not exist. 3510

The Founding Fathers discovered an intoxicating joy in designing the new social system that their descendants would follow. They realized, however, that this delightful ‘public freedom’ they had found would not be passed down to future generations, who would be forced to follow the rules they made. Late in his life, Thomas Jefferson realized that it had been a mistake, a design flaw, to end the revolution – to establish, in other words, permanent and fixed institutions. An ongoing insurrection would have been preferable. During the revolution, local townships had tremendous autonomy – Jefferson called them ‘elementary republics’. But this autonomy was taken from them once the federal government was established. He realized, too late, that he actually wanted a system where everybody is ‘a participator in the government of affairs, not merely at an election one day a year, but every day; where there shall not be a man in the State who will not be a member of some one of its councils, great or small, he will let the heart be torn out of his body sooner than his power be wrested from him by a Caesar or a Bonaparte’. Arendt discovered that, between the fall of an old regime and the rise of a new state, something new was always seeking to be born. This self-organizing had gone on time after time, as soon as government disintegrated. Worker’s assemblies and neighbourhood councils had been, as Jonathan Schell also points out, ‘the embryos of what might become an entirely new form of government whose lifeblood would be the kind of continuous, active participation in politics exhibited in the revolutions’. 3519

The continuous revolution Jefferson wanted would have liberated each person to the highest degree, requiring their active participation. It would have been based on ‘elementary republics’ that were autonomous, regenerative and self-determining. It is similar to the kind of anarchism that Kropotkin and others imagined as ‘an everchanging and fugitive equilibrium between a multitude of varied forces and influences’. Postmodern society thwarts our innate desire to participate politically. Just voting in an election every few years, marching once in a while, or signing petitions on Avaaz or MoveOn doesn’t count for much. We need new avenues for passionate participation – not just in elections every few years, but continuously. The desire for this is so effectively masked and covered up that most people don’t even feel it as something they have forfeited. Today’s communications infrastructure could support a permanent revolution. In fact, I think this would be its logical endpoint. It seems possible – let’s try a thought experiment – to design and launch a social networking infrastructure, via the Internet, that seamlessly supports political collaboration, direct democracy and resource sharing, based on transparent exchanges. Along with launching such a global platform, we would need to undertake a mass educational initiative through the media. We would have to disseminate the values and principles of a cooperative, trust-based society to people across the world. 3531

Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud and the founder of the modern discipline of public relations, put it plainly: ‘The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.’ Bernays applied techniques of social psychology to reach into the subconscious of the public and change their behaviour. He famously organized ‘freedom parades’ in the 1920s, where glamorous young flappers would smoke cigarettes, inspiring other women to pick up the habit. These techniques have been refined in the decades since. How people should relate to authority, what kinds of relationships they consider appropriate, what they should buy, and many other cues are given to them through advertisements, television shows and film. The primary function of media, as I understand it, is not to entertain or educate, but to coordinate behaviour on a mass scale, syncopating modern society around patterns of consumption, work and leisure. The positive side of this is that it suggests how a new form of subjectivity, a new level of consciousness, could be transmitted and imprinted quickly, if the mass media expressed a different intention. 3567

Most people don’t realize that the internal landscape of their thoughts and feelings has been constructed for them, produced by an extremely powerful and supple corporate-industrial entertainment system. This system has been brilliant at integrating rebellion and dissent, absorbing and nullifying it. I tend to think, in fact, that the battle for our future will be conducted through the media, which mass-manufactures and programmes human subjectivity. People have been programmed – but they can also be deprogrammed, and this can happen quickly. 3579

The 1960s and its aftermath provide a useful case study. Back then, a political counterculture seemed to pose a threat to the dominant power structure. What Negri and Hardt call empire fought this menace in two different ways: the police and security services ferociously clamped down on the radical political aspects of the counterculture. Many leaders of the black liberation movement in the US – Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton – were assassinated. White movement leaders were also put in prison, often on trumped-up drug charges. Nonviolent anti-war protestors at Kent State were shot and killed, sending a clear signal that dissent, past a certain point, would not be tolerated. At the same time, the cultural ambience of rebellion was assimilated seamlessly into the machinery of immaterial production, feeding the consumerist system that the countercultural pioneers sought to resist and undermine. Rebellion – being ‘cool’ – was cut off from politics, ecological or social issues. It became merely a stance or a pose, used to sell products 3583

Since we are now in the Information Age, the multitude are ‘immaterial workers who become a new kind of combatant, cosmopolitan bricoleurs of resistance and cooperation. They are the ones who can throw the surplus of their knowledges and skills into the construction of a common struggle against imperial power.’ The software designer, the media maker, the hacker become foot soldiers in Negri and Hardt’s revolution – neo-romantic, postmodern superheroes. According to Multitude, revolutions follow a pattern of ‘resistance, exodus, the emptying out of the enemy’s power, and the multitude’s construction of a new society’. In the past, this sequence took many years or even decades to unfold. But because our new social tools allow for instantaneous global communication and coordination, Negri and Hardt believe that ‘insurrectional activity is no longer divided into such stages but develops simultaneously’. I find this a crucial insight – an amazing and also a hopeful prospect. In the past, when news travelled slower than it does today, insurrections and revolutions were generally local affairs, confined to a single region or nation. Because humanity is now linked together through instantaneous networks of electronic communications, new social movements can spread rapidly, in a nonlinear way. They can become global phenomena, suddenly, without prelude or build-up. When it succeeds, a local initiative, a new idea, can be distributed everywhere, all at once, as we saw with the sudden global emergence of the Occupy movement or, on a technological level, the rapid spread of smart phones. It is therefore possible to conceive of how a global ‘revolution’ – a new set of values, beliefs and behaviours, transforming our relationship to Earth – could become accessible, on a planetary scale. The ecological mega-crisis could be the lever that causes this sudden shift. Our immediate mission, then, is to be ready with working, peaceful, sustainable alternatives that can be scaled up when the time is right. 3593

saw the entire concrete, steel and glass edifice of postmodern civilization as an artifice, a pompous fraud. We had imposed an abstract order over nature. By comparison, every tree, shrub and rock radiated patience, humility and good-humoured wisdom. By briefly detaching my awareness from my ego, the mushrooms showed me that we live in a society based on layers of collective delusion. I saw how our system constantly tries to convince us of its importance and permanence – to intimidate us – while it suppresses those subjects that are most worthy of our interest, 3620

Rousseau believed the origin of civilization was private property. ‘The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying “This is mine”, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society.’ Inequality didn’t exist for man in what Rousseau called ‘the state of nature’ – in nomadic, aboriginal societies. Rousseau believed this innovation led, eventually, to a state of collective suffering. In a society based on property rights, people find their positions insecure. They are forced to compete against each other – undermine and attack each other – to gain or protect their wealth. ‘It has indeed cost us not a little trouble to make ourselves as wretched as we are,’ he wrote. While those who hold wealth become vain and self-important, those without it often feel depressed and marginalized. The Problem with Property If we think about it, we can see that private property – a mental construct we protect by laws and police forces – has made our world an unfree world. A pigeon, a rat, a squirrel, has far more freedom of movement than a human being, who confronts fences and walls in most directions he might like to go. These fences and walls also live within us. We internalize them. It is possible that our world will always remain unjust and unfree until we end the system that protects private ownership, above all other rights. As unlikely as it is to imagine, this could be done humanely and benevolently. Eventually, we will supersede property rights through new cooperative arrangements. Three of my favourite social thinkers – Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde and Buckminster Fuller – agree with Rousseau that private property is at the root of our society’s sickness. For Marx, one problem was that property contorted the human personality, making us ‘stupid and one-sided’. We confused the abstract ‘sense of having’ with a real sense. We got lost in this abstraction. Marx wrote, ‘In the place of all physical and mental senses there has therefore come the sheer estrangement of all these senses, the sense of having.’ If humanity abolished private property and collectivized resources, Marx reasoned, people would be free to live in the present again. They would open their senses to the world around them. Like Marx, Oscar Wilde saw that private property damaged human psychology by substituting a removed, abstract relationship to the world for immersion in the present: ‘By confusing a man with what he possesses, it has led Individualism entirely astray. It has made gain not growth its aim. So that man thought that the important thing was to have, and did not know that the important thing is to be. The true perfection of man lies, not in what man has, but in what man is.’ All the world’s mystical traditions tell us that we cannot truly own or possess anything – everything in the universe is energy undergoing processes of transformation. Chief Seattle said, ‘How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?’ Ownership supports the low-frequency delusions of the ego that wants to control, possess, dominate the world. We turned the sense of having into something concrete, forgetting 3633

Wilde similarly believed a new socialist arrangement was necessary. Socialism, Communism, or whatever one chooses to call it, by converting private property into public wealth, and substituting co-operation for competition, will restore society to its proper condition of a thoroughly healthy organism, and insure the material well-being of each member of the community. It will, in fact, give Life its proper basis and its proper environment. Wilde did not see a contradiction between art and individuality – which he prized as the highest ideal – and a socialist or post-capitalist civilization. He thought socialism would allow the people’s individuality to flourish for the first time. He noted that ownership of property ‘has so many duties that its possession to any large extent is a bore. It involves endless claims upon one, endless attention to business, endless bother. If property had simply pleasures, we could stand it; but its duties make it unbearable. In the interest of the rich we must get rid of it.’ I think we need at least to consider the possibility that we can never have a truly regenerative society as long as the basis of it is private property and hoarded capital. I find obvious reasons this is the case. First of all, property (and the rents or interest collected from it) divides the world into two classes of people: Haves and Have Nots. When somebody becomes wealthy, a Have, a huge amount of their intellect and energy gets channelled into protecting the wealth they have gained, rather than working for the comprehensive good of all. Perhaps they originally wanted to create things that helped and improved the human condition. With personal success, however, their focus inexorably shifts to protecting their own assets and their family’s interests against everyone else. Those without property, the Have Nots, feel little incentive to fight for the future of the Earth, because the world is already cut off from them. It is owned – lock, stock and barrel – by the wealthy. They don’t feel the state of the Earth is their problem or responsibility. It is significant that indigenous people around the world have been courageously leading the battle against the extractive industries. Of course, this is partially because their homelands are directly threatened, but it is also because they come from cultures where private property either didn’t exist or had limited value as a construct. 3659

In today’s ‘Brave New 1984’, a gigantic surveillance and security apparatus hangs over us like an invisible spider web. Its main purpose is to protect property rights, both physical and intellectual forms of property. ‘When private property is abolished there will be no necessity for crime, no demand for it; it will cease to exist,’ Wilde wrote. The enormous waste generated by the capitalist system is caused, at the root, by the individual’s thirst to attain personal wealth – the only way to be secure in such a system. Like Wilde, Fuller thought that private property would become a thing of the past once humanity liberated its creative powers through a design revolution. Already in the 1960s, he noted, ‘Possession is becoming progressively burdensome and wasteful and therefore obsolete.’ 3677

This trend could be the start of a large-scale metamorphosis. Ideally, in the future, people will own little – or absolutely nothing – yet live abundantly, joyfully, able to access whatever they need or desire, when they need it. As virtual tools proliferate, property matters less to us than intangible assets, such as time and attention. In The Ecology of Freedom, Murray Bookchin declared that we need to end the ‘private ownership of the planet by elite strata’ if we want to survive. As an alternative, we must establish ‘a fully participatory society literally free of privilege and domination’. Bookchin expressed suspicion of partial ‘solutions to the ecological crisis, like green consumerism, renewable energy, or carbon taxation’. He believed these reformist initiatives only concealed the deep-seated nature of the crisis, and ‘thereby deflect public attention and theoretical insight from an adequate understanding of the depth and scope of the necessary change’. I think Bookchin makes a valid point – although one that will be difficult for many people to accept. The fundamental basis of capitalism – private ownership of physical and intellectual property – may be ecologically unsound. 3686

as Wilde noted, the progress of humanity is based on the progressive realization of utopias. Human nature is not fixed, but changes constantly. We first must realize – as Wilde and Marx did – that our civilization made a mistake in prioritizing having over being. We don’t yet know what might happen to us once we correct that error. Wilde proposed a transition to a system in which humanity was liberated from drudgery through automation and freed from the burden of property by socialism. He admitted he was offering an idealistic, utopian programme – but he did not think it was unattainable, even so. It is unpractical, and it goes against human nature. This is why it is worth carrying out, and that is why one proposes it. For what is a practical scheme? A practical scheme is either a scheme that is already in existence, or a scheme that could be carried out under existing conditions. But it is exactly the existing conditions that one objects to; and any scheme that could accept these conditions is wrong and foolish. The conditions will be done away with, and human nature will change. 3697

We live in a world dominated and controlled by military force. While this is true, I don’t think violent revolt is possible in our current circumstances. The preponderance of military force, surveillance systems, killer drones, biological weapons and other insidious things makes an overthrow of developed world governments pretty much unthinkable. The consequences would be horrific. I also agree with the Gandhi-esque principle that violence can only beget more violence. The alternative, then, is to engineer a peaceful transition of global civilization, superseding the current system of private property and hoarded capital by developing new infrastructures that convert property into cooperatively owned resources or trusts, over time. In order to accomplish this, we would need to establish a global network of early adaptors who have committed to making a transition into a system of open cooperativism and peer-to-peer production. If cooperation and symbiosis are evolutionary advances over competition and domination, then such a system should outperform the old model. Within a few decades or at most a few generations, it should be possible to engineer a global conversion – a planetary reboot of our social operating system. 3707

Stewardship and Usufruct When I try to envision how we might eventually abolish private property, I foresee a new model based on stewardship instead of ownership. Rather than bringing about an abrupt and disruptive change, people could transfer their property over time. There are already many examples of land trusts and worker-owned cooperatives that provide models for this. One possibility is to revive the medieval concept of usufruct. Usufruct means people have the right to continue to use a property or a tool productively, as long as they do not damage it, and particularly if they add value to it. This is how people in many traditional societies still live today. For instance, in Ladakh, a Tibetan Buddhist enclave in India, many families farm the same plot of land for generations. They build their houses without title or legal claim. Another contemporary example is an urban community garden, where citizens cooperate to enhance the beauty of a plot of land or vacant lot, without anyone gaining economic advantage from their efforts. I don’t reject the possibility that we might transition to a regenerative society while perpetuating some forms of private wealth and ownership. Perhaps we can. No doubt we would require, at the least, a redistribution of wealth to create a much fairer and more equitable world. Wealth redistribution through taxation can happen during declared emergencies like wars – there’s no reason we can’t do it as we face global ecological meltdown. 3716

Our goal should be to develop a programme which, over time, dissolves the concept of ownership entirely. People would need to know their basic needs are fulfilled. Guaranteed a basic income, they would not have to prove their worthiness, or work to survive. Rooted in a shared sense of security and social trust, freed from the anxiety of market fluctuations, they would then participate in models based on stewardship and usufruct. I think we need seriously to consider how we can make a peaceful transition to a propertyless society. An open-source, peer-to-peer network designed to facilitate cooperation, democratic decision-making and conservation could spread, much as Google and Facebook did over the last decade. Such a social infrastructure could take over many functions now managed by governments. When humanity becomes more comfortable with sharing rather than ownership as a model, we will convert private assets to commonly held resources. This might take decades or even generations – but we first have to recognize it as our goal. A peer-to-peer network can make surplus or unused resources – a room, a piece of land, a second car – available to those who need them. As now happens on sites like Couchsurfing, eBay and Airbnb, people would have a rating based on past exchanges. Social trust then becomes a new essential currency, on all levels. People will be able to use collectively held resources, as long as they agree to abide by a set of principles, which would include caring for the land and buildings, and sharing with others. When multitudes of people find it to their personal advantage to pool their resources voluntarily in a cooperative network, the movement towards a post-ownership society will be under way. 12 The Money Problem The force that transforms human nature is, ultimately, our desire to find meaning and order in the world. 3731

Most of us will agree that our current system – based on property, privilege, the brutal exploitation of people and nature – is not the best we can do. Apart from leading to ecological ruin, it doesn’t make us truly happy. It induces anxiety, stress and fear, and it creates an insecure and unfree world. The contrast is obvious if you visit a place where people still live in traditional ways, in intact communities. One finds a baseline level of happiness far above that of the middle class or the wealthy of the developed world. People don’t have that disappointed, jaded, suspicious look in their eyes. They don’t innately expect to be ripped off or shafted. My question, again, is how do we transition to a regenerative society in the time available? There is no doubt that this requires a far more equitable sharing of the world’s wealth and resources. There are two ways this can happen: either through social convulsions, or through the construction of a viable alternative supported by some subset of the elite and the privileged – the 1 per cent. We know we need to reduce excess consumption, redesign industry and shift back to organic agriculture. All of this is necessary – but it is utterly impossible within the current economic system. Why is that the case? What’s Wrong with Money? People think of money as a natural phenomenon, similar to air or fire or water. Actually, money is an instrument that was designed by human beings to accomplish certain goals. 3747

The modern form of a debt-based currency, issued by central banks, which are actually private institutions, and decoupled from any tangible resources, is a recent development that has accelerated the global dominance of finance capitalism. The inherent tendency of this system is to convert every natural resource into a profit source and constantly expand markets by privatizing aspects of the commons. Today, the small privileged financial class who control how money is issued literally control the world. Since the 1970s, the financial sector has undergone a rapid, cancerous growth. We now live in a hyper-leveraged, deeply indebted ‘financialized’ society ruled by banks. In 2008, the global economy collapsed when we found that ‘subprime mortgages’, packaged into securities, were the basis of a massive Ponzi scheme. The beneficiaries of this scheme were the financial elite, and the losers were everybody else – the middle-class and working-class people who actually produce value for society. When you think about it logically, it is obvious that those who profit excessively through the financial services industry are parasites. They don’t create wealth. They extract it from the productive classes. The year after three million people lost their homes, Wall Street handed out $36 billion of bonuses. Through the alchemy of the financial system, the loss of assets of those three million people got transmuted into those bonuses. Virtually none of the bankers who created this fiasco were punished – quite the opposite. Today’s monetary system is like a source code that has been thoroughly corrupted. After the subprime meltdown, the governments and central banks worked together to prop up the existing system. They decided to protect the ‘too big to fail’ financial institutions. Rather than fixing the flaws or returning funds to the poor and the shafted, they rewarded the perpetrators. They created vast sums of money and gave them to the corrupt banks and securities firms, to ensure their continuity. In the months after the 2008 collapse, the Federal Reserve bought $1.75 trillion in bonds, including US Treasury Bonds and mortgagebacked securities, and engaged in successive rounds of ‘Quantitative Easing’. In September 2008, with the recovery still weak, the Fed started to buy $85 billion worth of bonds per month, and continued to do so for a number of years. They bought $600 billion worth of bonds in 2010 alone. The amount of US debt is currently $13 trillion, and still growing. People will eventually realize our economic system failed – kicked the bucket – back in 2008. Since then, it has continued as a kind of virtual simulation of itself, a ghost, based on ever-growing debts that everyone knows will never be repaid. Around the world, global debt is increasing at 7 per cent per year, while global gross domestic product lags behind at 2 per cent. Debt forces unsustainable development. The system has only perpetuated itself by artificially inflating the monetary supply. 3759

A major problem we confront in engineering the necessary transformation of our current political-economic system is that the people who currently run the show tend to be greedy and self-serving. Postmodern capitalism fosters winner-take-all competition and treats social and environmental costs as meaningless externalities. It self-selects its leadership from sociopathic character types. Given this system, those who seek to maximize self-interest in any circumstance, with no moral qualms or compunctions, naturally rise to the top. I don’t believe that the political and financial ruling elite, whose short-sighted greed and hypocrisy corralled us into this disaster, will be able to lead us out of it. Lawrence Summers was one of President Obama’s key economic advisers and a former chief economist for the World Bank. Summers – himself worth an estimated $40 million – is on the record as stating, ‘There are no limits . . . to the carrying capacity of the earth that are likely to bind at any time in the foreseeable future . . . The idea that we should put limits on growth because of some natural limit is a profound error.’ Somehow or other, the financial elite who exercise such tremendous power and influence must be displaced. This can be done either by leaders like Bernie Sanders, who respond authentically to the problems they have unleashed, or through a ‘leaderless revolution’ where the people govern themselves via direct democracy, or some hybrid of the two. John Fullerton, founder of the Capital Institute, resigned from JP Morgan in 2001, after a 20-year career. Believing the banking industry had lost any connection with the values and principles of earlier times, he went on a search to find answers to the underlying problems of the global financial system. He discovered that we were facing ‘profound, interlocking crises’, which included the reality that we are ‘destroying the ability of the planet to support life as we know it’. The most startling discovery he made was that ‘the modern scheme of economics and finance – what Wall Street “geniuses” (like me) practiced so well – formed the root cause of these systemic crises’. Fullerton believes our greatest challenge ‘is to address the root cause of our systemic crises – today’s dominant (neoliberal) economic paradigm and the financial system that fuels it and rules it – by transitioning to a more effective form of capitalism that is regenerative and therefore sustainable over the long term’. He considers this to be our economy’s ‘Copernican moment’, requiring the emergence of a new systemic and holistic worldview, embedded in an interlocking set of social and financial institutions. 3790

Money is issued by a country, or, in the case of the euro, a group of countries. It is issued by fiat – in other words, it is not linked to any tangible resource, whether gold or energy. It is created out of nothing. Because our money comes into existence as bank debt, it accrues interest over time. When you get a loan from a bank, the bank doesn’t create that money physically. It credits your account for the amount, which you can then use to buy a mortgage, or for some other purpose. While the bank issues you the initial amount of the loan, it does not create the extra amount you will need to return – in other words, the interest. You have to compete against everyone else in society to bring back that excess. Money is ‘destroyed’ – it disappears – when the loan is repaid. The current financial system is designed to perpetuate artificial scarcity. In such a system, there will always be losers – in other words, bankruptcies. There will always be competition for money, which is artificially maintained as a scarce resource. Central banks control the global money supply by manipulating interest rates, among other means. Such a system is based on fear. It forces excessive, destructive growth. ‘Conventional national currencies and monetary systems are programmed to produce competition and remain scarce,’ Lietaer writes. Over time, interest has the effect of concentrating wealth in fewer and fewer hands. We have seen an extraordinary increase in wealth inequality over the last decades. It is estimated that 50 plutocrats currently control more wealth than that of half of the planet’s 7.2 billion people. The poorest 80 per cent of the world’s population control less than 1.4 per cent of global wealth. 3813

We have released an estimated 1,900 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in the last two centuries. We have raised global temperatures more than a degree. We can only release another 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide, roughly, if we want to stay below the two degrees Celsius limit considered necessary to avoid runaway climate change. At current rates of CO2 emissions, we will release that amount in the next 15 years. This gives us very little time. It underlines the urgency of our situation. Unfortunately, we now know that even two degrees above preindustrial levels is too much. It will produce catastrophic feedback effects. It may make large-scale methane eruption inevitable. Therefore, a massive, globally orchestrated restriction of CO2 emissions must be combined with a comprehensive, global scaling up of renewable energy as well as all practical techniques to remove excess carbon from the atmosphere. This is what we must do – at least I can’t see any alternative – if we decide we want to try to salvage our civilization and protect the world’s children, including our own kids and their kids, along with the integrity of our biosphere. The change will have to happen exponentially, not incrementally. 3830

as long as we maintain a global economic system that forces rapid growth, we will be unable to address the biospheric crisis at its root. We will keep shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic. Left-wing critics argue that creating new markets for CO2 within the existing financial system will not help. The growth imperative underlying our system will simply lead to new forms of harm. The Indian activist Vandana Shiva makes a compelling argument against carbon trading and similar markets. ‘Creating a market in pollution is ethically perverse,’ Shiva writes in Soil Not Oil. ‘Some things should not be tradable – water and biodiversity are too valuable to be reduced to marketable commodities. Other things, like toxic waste and greenhouse gases, should not be generated. To turn them into tradable commodities ensures that they will continue to be produced.’ On the other hand, if we can design a system that protects natural assets using market mechanisms, it would be far preferable to not doing so. Carbon taxation is another strategy. ‘The key to building a global economy that can sustain economic progress is the creation of an honest market, one that tells the ecological truth,’ writes Worldwatch founder Lester Brown. ‘To create an honest market, we need to restructure the tax system by reducing taxes on work and raising them on various environmentally destructive activities to incorporate indirect costs into the market price.’ 3853

a smart phone might cost $5,000 or more – which probably is closer to the actual value of its manufacture and materials. Prices have already been rising on many goods over the last decades. Without a transition to a system that resembles socialism in some ways – that applies technical efficiency rationally to satisfy people’s basic needs – we will see extreme privation and misery, preceding a deeper doom-spiral. Brown proposes a carbon tax of $240 per ton by 2020. He notes that this may seem steep, but it is still far less than petrol taxes in Europe. When he wrote the 2008 version of his book Plan B, Britain’s petrol tax was £3 per gallon, equivalent to a carbon tax of £1,239 per ton. ‘The high gasoline taxes in Europe have contributed to an oil-efficient economy and to far greater investment in high-quality public transportation over the decades, making it less vulnerable to supply disruptions.’ The market bases the valuation of the major energy corporations on the stored reserves of fossil fuel they plan to extract over the next decades, while they still spend $90 million per day searching for hydrocarbons. These reserves also play a major part in national planning. As much as $20 trillion of fossil fuel reserves must be recognized as stranded assets, because extracting them would lead to biospheric collapse. Those trillions of dollars of stranded assets are also structural underpinnings of the global economy. 3869

In Postcapitalism, Paul Mason argues we must nationalize the central banks as well as the energy companies, in the short term. The state would take control of ‘the energy distribution grid, plus all big carbon-based suppliers of energy’. He points out that the energy corporations ‘are already toast, as the majority of their assets cannot be burned without destroying the planet’. Once made public institutions, central banks could focus on ecological goals: ‘In addition to its classic functions – monetary policy and financial stability – a central bank should have a sustainability target: all decisions would be modelled against their climate, demographic and social impacts.’ The options are either that we build a global people’s movement that forces these corporations to capitulate to the public will, or that we disband these destructive corporations, or that we find a way to compel them to change from within. They could, in theory, redirect their immense store of capital – as well as their capacity for technical innovation – to help engineer the global transition to renewable energy and conservation of threatened resources. One way to stop these companies from extracting those resources would be to compensate them financially for leaving them untouched. As painful as this idea is – like rewarding a tobacco company for not promoting smoking to teenagers – it is preferable to planetary meltdown. No matter what tactic we choose, the only hope I can see is that we commit to an evolution of consciousness that must be intentionally engineered. We must somehow use the mass media and social media to provoke a mass awakening. The human populace must willingly accept serious limitations – on wealth, consumption and travel – over the next decades. We must voluntarily enrol ourselves in a worldwide effort to accelerate the systemic transition to a regenerative society based on renewable power, sharing, conservation of scarce resources, local farming and distributed manufacturing. 3882

believe that if the mass media is used as a megaphone – if a chorus of public artists and other public figures use their platforms in an organized way – the people of the world will agree that a period of shared sacrifice is preferable to the end of our species in a universal collapse of the Earth’s life support systems. However I consider it, I can’t see another option. The ecological mega-crisis is destined to unite humanity through either a universal collapse or a global awakening. Systemic Change Buckminster Fuller noted that ‘under lethal emergencies vast new magnitudes of wealth come mysteriously into effective operation’. During the Second World War, for instance, the United States engineered a rapid shift of its industries towards military production within a few short months. Now we need a mobilization, on a planetary scale, beyond what any human society has ever undertaken. We know the techniques and technologies that we need to deploy rapidly. We also know we must conserve our dwindling fossil fuel reserves and extract as little of the remaining hydrocarbon reserves as possible. We must intentionally redesign our political-economic system to bring about this transformation – and this is something that has never been attempted before. Our best approach would be to pursue both solutions – the reformist and the radical – simultaneously. By all means, let’s introduce a carbon tax as quickly as possible, if we can, as well as cap-and-trade agreements that may help limit carbon emissions in the short term and encourage investment in renewable energy. Let’s also put a price tag on ecosystems services, charging industries for their consumption of natural resources. But at the same time, let’s design and launch new instruments for sharing and creating value that will hopefully supersede the current system. 3897

Currencies with a negative interest, or ‘demurrage’ charge, were widely used in Egypt and in medieval Europe. These societies had such an extraordinary excess of social wealth, despite their comparatively low level of technology, that they built enduring monuments like the Pyramids and cathedrals. The simplest way to stop excess hoarding of a currency is to give it a negative interest rate, so it automatically declines in value over time. If you are using a currency that loses value the longer you hold on to it, you will want to get it back into circulation as quickly as you can. If there is nothing productive you can do with it, you will share it with other people and organizations who need it, building up goodwill instead of storing profit. We have recent examples of negative-interest currencies used in Germany and Austria after the First World War, and in the United States during the Great Depression. Currencies such as the Wara in Germany, the Wörgl in Austria, and a number of ‘stamp scrips’ in the US depreciated in value. These alternatives rapidly reduced unemployment and supported the growth of local economies by keeping money flowing within the community. The reason we don’t know about these experiments today is not because they failed but because they were surprisingly effective. The governing elites realized they threatened their central bank’s control over the monetary supply and quickly made them illegal. President Roosevelt, for instance, prohibited these ‘emergency currencies’ in 1934, at the height of the Great Depression. Lietaer proposes a negative-interest currency, the Terra, as a global standard for making trades. The value of the Terra would be linked to a ‘basket’ of commodities sold on the stock market, and therefore would not float in an abstract void, like today’s currencies. The Terra would feature a ‘demurrage’ charge, losing value over time. The way that money currently accrues interest – eternally – has no relationship to nature. In nature, things degrade, break and rot over time. A negativeinterest currency like the Terra could bring human activity more in alignment with natural processes. A trading currency like the Terra could be combined with local currency initiatives, such as Time Banks and Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS). These currencies would be designed to keep value circulating within communities, instead of flowing to distant rentiers or corporations. Instead of only using one type of currency – debt-based, issued by central banks – for everything, we would have an ‘ecosystem’ of currencies used for different purposes, intentionally designed as an interdependent whole that supports ecologically restorative activities. We can develop many different instruments for exchanging value. Local and complementary currencies can be designed to keep value circulating within communities instead of flowing out to corporations. ‘Local currencies work best for locally generated goods and services, or when a commodity’s markup is derived from a locally added value, such as atmosphere or labor,’ writes Doug Rushkoff in Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus. ‘Complementary currency’s purpose, more often than not, is either to kick-start a local economy or to make local transactions less burdened by the cost of currency and thus more competitive with non-local corporate, chain store, or big-box offerings.’ Rushkoff, like many thinkers, believes we need to reprogramme ‘the operating system of money . . . from the ground up to be biased less toward preserving passive wealth for the rich and more toward exchanging value among everyone else’. 3915

TimeRepublik, for instance, people can offer skills to each other on an hour-per-hour basis. A carpenter might come to your house to fix your shelves. You pay them with hours you have accrued, and they then use those hours to get a babysitter. A Time Bank system can be a useful complement to other forms of currency. A time-dollar network makes great sense in areas where traditional employment is scarce. Cities in Italy and Spain are currently working with TimeRepublik to encourage skill sharing locally. In a LETS, local businesses, service providers and manufacturers come together to back their own interest-free currency. ‘Any group of traders can organize to allocate their own collective credit among themselves – according to their own criteria, and interest-free,’ writes Tom Greco, in The End of Money and the Future of Civilization. Such systems can ‘open the way to more harmonious and mutually beneficial trading relationships when done at a large enough scale that includes a sufficiently broad range of goods and services, spanning all levels of the supply chain from retail to wholesale, to manufacturing, to basic commodities’. LETS are a means for local communities to exchange goods and services without debt or interest – without being controlled or influenced by multinational companies and predatory financial institutions. They can also support new initiatives that help build diverse, healthy, mutually supportive enterprises. Utilities that fulfil basic needs – like electricity or water – provide extremely stable foundations for community currencies, as everyone accepts the value they provide. 3943

As draconian as this sounds, I think we need something like a global moratorium on meat eating, excess consumption and exotic vacationing until we bring about a technical and economic transition. Surely, if we expressed it to them properly, the vast majority of our human family would agree that a period of shared sacrifice is preferable to a total breakdown in the planet’s life support systems. The potential also is that we make a shift into a post-capitalist mode of existence where people everywhere work far less and have more opportunity for self-development. One way to do this is, I believe, would be through collective agreements or voluntary social contracts. We merge the breakthroughs we have seen with online crowd-funding like Kickstarter and movementbuilding platforms like Avaaz to ask people to commit to changing their lifestyle for the benefit of the whole. A social network could provide instant support groups for people who wanted to shift to vegetarian diets, form solar energy cooperatives or engage in building wilderness corridors to protect threatened species. What would happen, I wonder, if, through the Internet, 100 million US citizens made an agreement not to pay taxes until the US redirected funds from military weapons programmes to renewable energy? The government might be forced to change its priorities. Globally, through online referendums, the people can ratify a universal code of conduct, agreeing to follow something like the already existing Earth Charter, which seeks to define ‘interdependent principles for a sustainable way of life as a common standard by which the conduct of all individuals, organizations, businesses, governments, and transnational institutions is to be guided and assessed’. In other words, humanity needs to agree on a universal code of ethical behaviour that will align our actions as a species with the limits of our biosphere. 3979

Bitcoins are designed in such a way that only 21 million of them will ever exist. This alone doesn’t limit their potential, however, as a Bitcoin can, in theory, be divided forever. ‘Bitcoin gives us, for the first time, a way for one Internet user to transfer a unique piece of digital property to another Internet user, such that the transfer is guaranteed to be safe and secure, everyone knows that the transfer has taken place, and nobody can challenge the legitimacy of the transfer,’ tech investor Marc Andreessen wrote in the New York Times. ‘The consequences of this breakthrough are hard to overstate.’ I know this is a fairly abstract idea, but since Bitcoins have no tangible value, when you get a Bitcoin what you are actually receiving is a ‘share’ in the greater entity of Bitcoin. Bitcoin is something like a distributed, leaderless and autonomous organization or corporation. This opens up the possibility that we can use the blockchain – the underlying architecture of Bitcoin – to build other kinds of companies and organizations. The blockchain functions as a transparent ledger where all exchanges get stored and can be permanently tracked. In theory, the blockchain could take away the opacity that currently obscures many aspects of our financial system. Compared to the blockchain, the actual Bitcoin currency may be of negligible importance. The blockchain could be the infrastructure for something like the resource-based economy envisioned by the Venus Project. Vitalik Buterin, founder of Ethereum, calls these new enterprises, Distributed Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) or Distributed Autonomous Companies (DACs). DAOs and DACs can be based on selfexecuting contracts, defined by mathematical rules. It is possible to have ‘an organization whose organizational bylaws are 100 per cent crystal clear, embedded in mathematical code’, he writes. This could be a new way to operate a non-profit organization, a trust, a media 3996

La’Zooz, ‘a blockchainmanaged ridesharing app’, where ‘drivers are co-owners of a transportation collective organized through distributed protocols’. It is conceivable that every social function could be reconfigured in such a manner. Rushkoff notes that the potential for such ‘platform cooperatives’ actually answers the original egalitarian dreams promised by the digital revolution: The basic behavior of downloading an app in order to work or rent property has already been anchored in users by Airbnb, Uber, TaskRabbit, Mechanical Turk, and countless others. Using a blockchain is just a small step further, compared to the original leap into digital labor and exchange. It is the disintermediation that all these supposedly disruptive platforms were promising in the first place. I know it is hard to imagine reinventing the global financial system. But I don’t think we have any choice: debt-based currency is inevitably destructive, forcing unsustainable growth. We need to inspire people to become active agents in bringing about this systemic change, providing them with the tools to facilitate it. 4017

As the futurist Peter Russell points out, revolutions in human culture unfold in exponentially shorter timeframes. 4058

In the same way that corporations created consumers continuously seeking to satisfy ‘false needs’, we can create a new model for our collective and individual patterns of behaviour, based on the authentic needs of the Earth. Writing in the 1930s, José Ortega y Gasset proposed that civilization needed to be directed towards a collective mission – a goal that would carry the individual, as well as the masses, beyond their personal concerns. Without such a mission, society degenerates. ‘Human life, by its very nature, has to be dedicated to something, an enterprise glorious or humble, a destiny illustrious or trivial,’ he wrote in Revolt of the Masses. Ortega believed that most people needed to be given goals to believe in and strive towards. A liberal Spanish philosopher who served as a civil deputy in the second Spanish Republic, Ortega thought civilization had lost its direction in modern times, causing a collapse of civic life. Since the Renaissance, Europe had established the ideals and values which the world followed. But in the twentieth century, Europe entered a crisis of nihilism, losing faith in its own principles, leaving a void which Fascism and totalitarian governments rushed in to fill. He argued that some group – some subset of humanity – needed to lead, to establish a moral centre, a vision, for the mass of people to follow and rally around. ‘To command is to give people something to do, to fit them into their destiny, to prevent their wandering aimlessly about in an empty, desolate existence.’ As an elitist, he could be quite caustic in his views. ‘The majority of men have no opinions, and these have to be pumped into them from outside, like lubricants into machinery.’ 4074

I still agree with many of Ortega’s ideas. The mass of people are followers – this is neither good nor bad. It is a neutral fact. Most people simply want to be shown a path to a good and meaningful life. They seek values, ideals and beliefs to give them meaning, hope and inspiration. As the ecological crisis deepens, the value system of capitalism will inevitably give way to something else. We must be ready with an alternative. Those who have integrated the new paradigm, the urgency as well as the great opportunity of our time, must find the courage to lead, despite personal faults and flaws. 4091

One of my basic ideas is that we must learn from the ways tribal or traditional societies organized themselves for long-term resilience. We can use our virtual infrastructure and corporate techniques to scale some of these practices for a global civilization of over 7 billion people. This doesn’t mean regressing to a tribal way of life, but advancing, based on the realization that we are collectively one human tribe. When we look around the world, we find indigenous people, who are among the poorest and the most disenfranchised, on the front lines, fighting against the extractive industries, often at a terrible cost. To take just one example, there is the fight waged by the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta against Shell Oil. In 1993, 300,000 Ogoni staged a massive nonviolent protest against Shell’s ‘ecological wars’. They managed to stop oil production on Ogoniland. In retaliation, the government tortured and killed thousands, eventually executing the leaders of the uprising. Many young people in the developed world – even children – feel the injustice and the weight of the ecological destruction we have unleashed. But they don’t have the connection to the land or the basis in community, or ancient traditions, that would allow them to mobilize effectively. Our culture is also incredibly good at spreading all kinds of distractions and deceptions that keep people from acting effectively, or courageously. 4098

Still, we must admit that if the human community suddenly worked together as efficiently as the cells in an organism, without the obstacles caused by our economic and political system, the current population of the Earth could – in large part or altogether – survive. Resources could be shared and allocated efficiently as we innovated quickly, transitioning to no-waste, carbon-neutral, sustainable practices. Even if we lost 5 per cent of our global landmass to a hundred feet of sealevel rise, as now predicted, populations could be resettled on higher ground, with redesigned towns and urban centres featuring vertical farms and rooftop gardens, powered renewably. We still don’t know what is going to happen. The schizophrenia of our time is extreme – the tension keeps growing. Futurists like Jeremy Rifkin and Peter Diamandis argue we are on the verge of abundance for all through distributed manufacturing, renewable power and nanotechnology. Scientists say we are on the cusp of driving ourselves to extinction. I see the validity in both viewpoints. But I also can’t forget the mystical possibility – expressed by many prophecies and modern visionaries – that we are on the cusp of a phase-transition to a different ‘world’ or ‘dimension 4112

We possess working models for non-hierarchical, non-commercial societies in the blueprint of many indigenous and traditional cultures. The design of tribal societies reflects the wisdom of tens of thousands of years of social innovation, and trial and error. We can rediscover these basic principles. We can look at how various tribal societies handled power dynamics, for instance, while maintaining egalitarian communities. 4124

In Society Against the State (1974), the anthropologist Pierre Clastres contrasted the power relations within the Amazonian tribal cultures he studied with the power politics of modern civilization. Whereas power in modern societies depends on hierarchies, secrecy and centralized control, small-scale tribal cultures reveal an alternative in which power is collectively shared. As he lived with Amazonian tribes, Clastres found himself forced to solve the riddle of a ‘powerless power’. According to Clastres, in tribal societies the chief was unable to command anyone or give orders. ‘In primitive societies, in societies without a State, power is not found on the side of the chief: it follows that his word cannot be the word of power, authority, or command.’ The role of the chief is to mediate conflicts, tell the stories and myths of the past, and maintain the stability of tribal life. In many cases, the elder women of the tribe – the council of grandmothers – had the power to remove the chief, if he abused his position. The authority of the chief depended on his mastery of communication, the power of his speech – not on his capacity for violence. Tribal societies, cultures without hierarchy, are the basic way that humans have organized themselves for tens of thousands of years. They are the most natural and enduring social form. This kind of social system can be contrasted with modern civilization – empire – based on domination, hierarchy and artificial scarcity, requiring constant expansion to exploit more resources. In the same way that we can redesign our economic system so that it supports ecologically viable behaviour, we can reinvent our political system to be based on cooperation and sharing, on principles of nonviolence. 4127

In The Unconquerable World (2003), Jonathan Schell defines, like Clastres, two contrasting forms of power. One is based on mutual aid, and the other on violence: I suggest that the power based on support might be called cooperative power and that the power based on force might be called coercive power. Power is cooperative when it springs from action in concert of people who willingly agree with one another and is coercive when it springs from the threat or use of force. Both kinds of power are real. Both make things happen. Both are present, though in radically different proportions, in all political situations. Yet the two are antithetical. To the extent that the one exists, the other is ruled out. To the degree that a people is forced, it is not free. Gandhi, similarly, distinguished between two kinds of authority: ‘One is obtained by the fear of power, and the other by acts of love.’ 4139

Liquid Democracy To realize the still latent potential of our digital communications networks, we would build decentralized, peer-to-peer systems designed to be perpetually evolving, supporting peer-to-peer production and social cooperation, making it easy and hyper-efficient to share skills and resources. Politically, we would establish something like a functional anarchy, based on nonviolent satyagraha principles, to supersede the current system of military and corporate control. New social technologies would train people to make effective decisions together, based on consensus methods as well as ongoing referendums. Liquid Democracy is one platform for participatory decision-making where people can assign delegates to represent them in different areas. Most people don’t have the time or knowledge to gain expertise on every issue. Using Liquid Democracy, they can pass their votes to the representatives who they feel best represent their interests, in different areas. Instead of a multi-year election cycle, voters can take back their vote, and assign it to a different representative, at any time. The goal is to give all participants equal rights in determining their political destiny. Similarly, DemocracyOS, a web-based platform from Argentina, is designed to allow for participatory decision-making on the scale of municipalities and beyond. ‘We are 21st-century citizens, doing our very, very best to interact with 19th century-designed institutions that are based on an information technology of the 15th century,’ notes Pia Mancini, one of its founders. ‘If Internet is the new printing press, then what is democracy for the Internet era?’ she asks. ‘What institutions do we want to build for the 21st-century society?’ Another platform for democratic decision-making – on smaller scales, based on Occupy principles – is Loomio.org. Loomio is currently being used by Podemos, a grassroots movement in Spain. 4147

Over the next decade, we must make a species-wide effort at selflimitation, conserving oil, restricting our use of resources, until we have made a systemic transition to a regenerative technical infrastructure and social system. I don’t see how this can happen under the current regime of nation-state governments and multinational corporations. I also don’t think a revolutionary overthrow of these inherited systems is conceivable. We therefore need to create new systems and supersede the old system from within – just as the imaginal cells within the dying caterpillar reprogramme the organism to make an astonishing metamorphosis. We can’t look to our current leadership to save us. We therefore need to participate in a broad-based movement of civil society. We need authentic leadership, and this kind of leadership could emerge from a consensus-based, open-source, peer-to-peer process, orchestrated transparently through the Internet. Just as we can devise an ecosystem of currency tools that support ecological restoration, so we can build a scaffold for direct democracy – we can, 4162

in fact, try true democracy for the first time. The Occupy Manifesto of October 2011 states: As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We can use existing legal structures – such as the International Court of Justice, established by the United Nations – to slow down or stop the corporate juggernaut. The destruction of ecosystems could become a prosecutable crime, following the precedent of genocide, which was defined as a legal category after the Second World War. The British barrister Polly Higgins has developed the concept of ‘ecocide’ as a legal framework for protecting our remaining resources. ‘Currently there is no law to prosecute those who are destroying the planet,’ Higgins writes. ‘Instead, climate campaigners do not have the support of the judiciary in preventing the corporate ecocide that is daily occurring under our very noses.’ Higgins argues that ecocide could be recognized as the ‘5th Crime Against Peace’, a category which currently includes Crimes of Aggression, War Crimes, Genocide, and Crimes against Humanity. This is a great idea but, like many great ideas, it seems extremely difficult to pull off, considering the entrenched forces that will fight against it. 4169

When it comes to energy, there are many innovative companies moving into this space, all across the world. One example near me is Brooklyn Microgrid, which is developing ‘a decentralized and sustainable energy management solution that combines the transparency and security offered by blockchain-based “smart contracts” and currencies, in an emerging peer-to-peer economy’. Members and businesses can directly trade energy with each other, buying excess solar power generated locally, reducing their dependence on utility companies. Assuming this system works successfully in Brooklyn, the model could be replicated in many neighbourhoods. Solar entrepreneur Tom Dinwoodie has launched an app, MyDomino, an ‘energy concierge’ that helps individuals and businesses make the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. The service analyses their current energy needs and matches them with products and vendors that can save them money while reducing their burden on the planet. This is one of many new products and services aimed to support the energy transition. • In the digital domain, support the movement away from closed, proprietary platforms that extract value to a small financial elite towards platforms that are open-source, peer-to-peer, cooperatively run and democratic. Tech entrepreneurs are building open-source replacements for mainstream platforms in many areas. Lacking the resources of the corporate platforms, many of them struggle to scale effectively. Two examples of social networks that could become alternatives to Facebook are Diaspora and Minds.com. on Minds.com, all communication is protected from data mining, and content creators are guaranteed to reach all of those who choose to follow their content. • Food: grow some of your own food, if possible. Sprouting is relatively easy to do at home. Windowfarm is an online platform that helps crowd-source creative solutions for urbanites who want to experiment with food growing. You can also participate in community supported agriculture programmes that support local farms. 4216

Join a cooperative or start one. As business ventures, cooperatives are democratically controlled, collectively owned, voluntary associations of people. They are based on common economic, social and cultural needs and shared values. Some friends of mine in the tech world started a cooperative, Enspiral, which now has over 200 members and a larger network of contributors around the world. Individual members voluntarily donate some of their income to support the organization, which is based on the mission of ‘more people working on stuff that matters’. Their model is inspiring, and can be transferred to other fields and types of work. • Create your own media about what inspires you: With our smartphones alone, each of us is now a broadcaster able to spread ideas, stories and so on. In the best-case scenario I can envision, at least a portion of the wealthy elite in the developed world will model the path to self-sufficiency, sacrificing excess, choosing to address the planetary emergency as an initiatory path. Through media, they can explain to the global multitudes – the rest of the world – what they are doing, and why. • Join an already existing, purpose-driven, social change movement. Some examples of ongoing global movements are Transition Town, the Zeitgeist Movement, the Global Eco-Village Network and the World Social Forum. There are also non-profits like Rainforest Action Network and Greenpeace. 4232

Join a community, or start one with your friends. I currently know many groups buying land or buildings together. Some of these communities are in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and elsewhere, Some are scattered around the United States. Some of these communities have business plans seeking to produce exotic superfoods or work with local farmers. Some of them are ‘off the grid’. Depending on your resources and the work that you do, it may be possible to join and support such a community without living there full time. While many of my friends developing communities are relatively affluent, communities can also be started by those with modest means who have perseverance. People can also activate and organize their local communities. For instance, the members of Avalon Village in Detroit, started by low-income residents in an area marked by urban blight, are seeking to transform their neighbourhood by creating an academic support centre for local kids, taking over local water and power services, and building an organic community garden and local cafe. ‘Detroit has always been at the forefront of social change: the cradle of the labor movement, home of the automobile, and now we’re redefining community development in a 21st century economy,’ write the founders of Avalon Village. ‘Urban farmers, start-up technologists, futurists, and visionaries of every kind are descending on Detroit to envision new ways of living and working in a post-industrial economy.’ 4243

Help disenfranchised communities. The science-fiction writer William Gibson quipped, ‘The future already exists – it’s just not very evenly distributed.’ This seems to be the case to an ever more extreme, even schizophrenic degree. A growing community of people in the developed world have integrated ecological ethics. They seek to realize new business models and practices that support progressive goals. They are exploring freedom and spiritual development in their daily lives. At the same time, billions across the planet struggle to survive. Walter Benjamin wrote, ‘For those without hope, hope was given to us.’ There are now 60 million refugees worldwide. That number may skyrocket in the next decade as climate change intensifies. How we choose to understand and embody Benjamin’s idea is, I think, part of our spiritual mission and evolutionary journey, individually and collectively. 4255

Protest or fight against corporate- and government-sanctioned activities that further degrade the planet, impair human health, degrade collective intelligence or hurt vulnerable communities. Sometimes, direct action is the only way to focus attention on the failures of governments and the malfeasance of corporations. However, we must realize that these kinds of actions only make sense as part of a larger strategy seeking to move us towards post-capitalism. • Reckon with yourself honestly. If your work is contributing to the problems we face – exacerbating consumerism, purveying more distraction, extracting wealth from the poor – then change careers. Use your skills and resources to do something that helps address the situation in some way. 4262

While personal sacrifices can be important, the kind of commitment we make must be deeper. We must realize and accept that, while we are individuals with our own desires, we are also catalytic agents, expressions of a living biosphere. We can only enact our responsibility to care for and protect the greater community of life if we work collaboratively. Our indigenous ancestors understood this innately, as native people around the world still do today. We can learn from them, absorbing their values as well as some of their practices, where applicable. The humbling realization that our civilization has failed to protect the most important thing – the Earth itself – could be the basis for a new alliance between post-industrial civilization and those native communities which have preserved the old ways. We need more than ‘social entrepreneurship’, ‘conscious capitalism’, organic sections in supermarkets, and ‘impact investing’ – although all of these are important as part of the transition facing us. Ultimately, we need a structural transformation of our political and economic system, and this requires a unified, global movement of civil society. Considering we are racing against an ecological emergency that could bring about humanity’s extinction, we need to be able to move quickly, without obstruction from outmoded institutions and broken ideologies. As I have suggested, this will require profound shifts in how we exchange value. The money we currently use – issued by central banks which are private institutions – is corrupted source code. We therefore need new forms of currency that support a redistribution of wealth. We also require truly participatory decision-making structures, where people can practise direct democracy in real time. Individually, we can participate in creating, applying and disseminating these alternative structures. 4270

Personally, I think we will need to engineer, eventually, a peaceful transition from ownership and private property to stewardship, trusts and other cooperative models. 4284

The only way to bring this about is through a change of the collective consciousness. Such a change can be designed, or in a sense, engineered. We have to accept – I realize it sounds a bit creepy – that people’s worldview, their ‘subjectivity’, is manufactured by the media. The great mass of people have already been programmed to be consumers and detached spectators. They have been deluded, indoctrinated, to act against their own best interests, instead of being trained to think for themselves. The same tools of media and advertising that have been used so successfully to dominate and control the human mind can be repurposed, transformed into instruments for liberation. A change of global consciousness will be accomplished, quickly, when we can enrol the mass media, social media, social networks and other social tools in accelerating this transition. People can be deprogrammed from their consumer trance, their cynicism. They can be given a new set of values, ideals and habits. I think that many if not most (if not, eventually, everybody) would be happy to embrace a new vision that infuses life with meaning and purpose. If you agree with this thesis, then it is up to you to think about your own life accordingly. Where do you fit into the changes that need to take place? Whether you are an engineer, a lawyer, a pop star, a landscape architect, a chef, a banker, a pot farmer – or whatever – only you can decide how your skills and talents should be applied. Each of us has a role that is appropriate for us. 4286

Imagine if Facebook – reaching a billion people per day – decided to broadcast the urgency of the ecological crisis. They could put a panel on the top of every page, speaking directly to their user base. The panel would say something like: ‘Hey People! We are in an ecological emergency! We are all in this together! Here is what we can do.’ People could be enrolled in an exciting real-time game. Imagine if people were able to vote in Facebook groups. These groups would suddenly be able to function like mini-nations. As an example, I started the Evolver Social Movement page, which currently has 2 million followers who share more or less the same values. If we were able to launch a campaign to boycott a company like Monsanto (for instance), asking everyone to vote on whether or not to join up, probably a huge proportion of our followers would get on board. Currently, we have no way of reaching out to all of them. In this and many other ways, Facebook currently obstructs the movement towards a truly democratic and participatory society that the underlying technology innately supports. 4311

All the latest information on climate change, species extinction, ocean acidification and the other planetary boundaries could be presented and updated in real time. Facebook could build an infrastructure for people to start local community groups, including tools for voting together online. It could use its geolocating capabilities to help people share tools and resources, start local gardens, car pool – anything that would support conservation of fossil fuel use, reduction of CO2 emissions and ecological restoration. If Facebook won’t do this, hopefully another platform will emerge to captivate public imagination – but we only have so much time. Although Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected, the company is limited by its responsibility to its investors, and the vision of its founders. This is yet another example of our current predicament: we have the tools and technologies to bring about a rapid, even sudden evolution of human society in all of the ways I have previously discussed. But our political-economic ‘operating system’ is obstructing our ability to move as swiftly as we must. We need a virtual infrastructure to disseminate a shared understanding and coordinate mass collective actions. Ideally, this infrastructure will be open-source and peer to peer. We need to scale it rapidly, much like Facebook or Google grew exponentially. Alternatively, Facebook or Google could be decommercialized – made into public trusts – and transformed into this infrastructure. 4319

Individually, people are highly susceptible to peer pressure; collectively, the multitude has a powerful herd instinct. If we are going to disseminate a successful alternative to self-destructive overconsumption, we need to leverage what we know of human psychology. We must create a tipping point phenomenon in the opposite direction, away from unconscious consumerism, where making personal sacrifices to help ‘save the planet’ will become trendy, cool – the next thing everybody has to do, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, if they don’t want to lose the respect of their peers. Many organizations make skilful use of the Internet for activism around social and ecological causes. These include Avaaz, Change.org, and MoveOn. But we must go far beyond engagements that end with signing petitions or making monetary contributions. We must find a way to engage people, ever deeper, in an ongoing process of transformation. Through a switch in social and economic priorities, we must make building a regenerative and resilient society our dedicated focus. We also must make it fun, seductive and inspiring. I like the model of launching decentralized, volunteer organizations where local chapters can be started simultaneously in many different cities, towns and regions. MoveOn has organized nationwide phone banks in this way. Transition Town provides a model for autonomous local groups focused on preparing populations for peak resources and climate change. The 12-step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous is an amazing example of a successful decentralized organization which propagates itself through a set of rules that anyone can adopt. 4330

The Zeitgeist Social Movement has launched local chapters globally, where people meet to explore approaches to system change. As mentioned above, I helped start a similar organization, the Evolver Network, which, at its peak, had as many as fifty local groups around the world – mainly in the US, but also in Europe, Latin America and South Africa. 4343

The blockchain offers us the potential to create organizations defined by ‘smart contracts’, where all exchanges are recorded and can be tracked. This could allow us to build the infrastructure for a global direct democracy, in which everyone on Earth has the right to contribute to ongoing decisions about our collective future. Using blockchain, it is theoretically easy to build new platforms – social networks – where masses of people can make collective decisions together, or sign social agreements, like personal pledges to become vegetarian or restrict unnecessary air travel. These pledges can be backed up with money held in escrow or other forms of capital. Realizing the urgency, we must look at all current institutional structures not as obstacles or enemies, but potentially as ready-made social infrastructures that can help transition human society towards resilience. To take one example, we can consider the Catholic Church. In his recent encyclical on the environment, Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis calls for an ‘ecological conversion’ and shared sacrifices – particularly sacrifices on the part of the wealthy, developed nations – to create a sustainable world. 4349

‘Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations,’ Pope Francis writes, ‘we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others.’ If the ‘common good’ includes the health of future generations, then Catholics have a responsibility to make the planet liveable for those to come. This is a new addition to Catholic doctrine. 4360

The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world. The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now. This reframing of Catholic belief provides an opening to make use of the global network of Catholic institutions for ecological restoration. Churches, monasteries and Catholic schools could be used to retrain the 1.2 billion faithful in ecological principles and permaculture practices. 4363

the next level of evolution-as-revolution will free humanity from vacant consumerism and hyper-individualism. As we realize our interdependence, we will establish a global system based on mutual aid, where everyone is guaranteed basic security. As part of this process we will realize authentic individualism. People will be free to be – no longer surfing waves of anxiety, guilt, status envy, fear; no longer driven to compete against each other for survival. We know we possess the technical capability to transform our civilization rapidly. No physical force prevents us from radically reducing our dependence on fossil fuels within a decade or two, and then eliminating their use, as we transition to clean technologies like solar, wind and ecologically sound biofuels. Similarly, the agricultural system can be transformed, and much of the world reforested. Only capitalism – and human greed – stand in the way. As the ground crumbles beneath us, we have the opportunity to create something unforeseen and new – a meta-programme to reinvent human society, combining aspects of a social movement, an advertising campaign, an open-source religion, a conceptual art project, a carnival, a nonviolent uprising. We can use the corporate, commercial and communications infrastructure to propagate cooperation, empathy, flexibility and local autonomy. Every successful resistance movement and counterculture throughout history developed tactics that we can learn and apply. What we need is something like a creative synthesis of extreme corporate efficiency, participatory democracy, socialism and mystical anarchism. 4378

What needs to be communicated is that, if humanity comes together now, we can thrive into the far-distant future. In order to do so, we need to make some immediate changes in how we live. We must also evolve and change some of our beliefs and values. People need a vision of the future that is so inspiring they find the will and desire to sacrifice to attain it. I think we should reject the idea that robots and artificial intelligence are meant to replace us in a monstrously dehumanized world. We should also reject high-tech solutions that could have terrible unforeseen consequences, worsening the mistakes of the past. At the same time, we can make use of technical innovation in fields like biomimicry, renewable energy and ecological farming to make the world comprehensively successful for all. We should seek to master our projections of technology for humane and benevolent purposes. 4391

In April 2016, cutting-edge research on LSD was presented to the Royal Society, the most respected institution for scientific discovery since the seventeenth century, where Isaac Newton was president. Brain scans of subjects under the influence of LSD reveal usually dormant areas of the brain lighting up like a Christmas tree. Subjects ‘experienced images through information drawn from many parts of their brains, and not just the visual cortex at the back of the head that normally processes visual information’, noted the Guardian. ‘Under the drug, regions once segregated spoke to one another.’ According to researchers from Imperial College, London, the evidence revealed ‘the LSD induced experience of “ego-dissolution” results from increased communication and integration across brain systems (networks)’. A great deal of evidence supports the value of psychedelics for creative problem solving and for healing of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other syndromes. I think it is quite natural that the investigation of the psychocosmos – infinite worlds within worlds – will become a central focus in the future. 4433

‘I slept – and dreamed that life was joy. I woke – and saw that life was but service,’ wrote the Indian sage Rabindranath Tagore. ‘I served – and understood that service was joy.’ Beyond denial, cynicism, despair and grief, we have the option to embrace our role as agents of planetary regeneration, helping to redeem and restore our world – to find joy in surrendering limited forms of self-interest for planetary communion. Undergoing metamorphosis means letting go of everything we thought we knew. When we shed the skin of the past, we create the potential for rebirth into a new condition of being, beyond anything we might imagine or conceive. Until it happens, we can never know if an alternative exists that we can realize. Once we free the butterfly from the chrysalis, there is no going back. 4459