Everywhere we look today destructive floods, windstorms, heat waves, and other extreme weather events seem to be on the rise. Joblessness continues to haunt us. And, economic inequity remains excessive. Will new policies solve these problems? Are new technologies the ticket? Does the answer lie in conclusive victories for conservative or liberal political ideologies?
Actually, none of the above will do the trick. More of the same type of technologies and policies, no matter what their ideological bent, will only make things worse.
To resolve a problem you must first understand its cause. The roots of our troubles are simple, yet for most of us they are completely hidden from view. We have been living in a dream world. Our behavior, and the actions of society as a whole, has been shaped by fundamental misjudgments about how the planet functions and what it means to live a good and decent life. To address today’s escalating suite of challenges, we must overcome the erroneous perspectives that have led us to this predicament. At the most fundamental level, this requires a shift from responding to the world exclusively through the perspective of extreme individualism–which includes acting only to satisfy our personal and organizational goals and desires–to meeting our needs by caring for an expansive “we”–the many people, organisms, and natural processes that make life possible and worthwhile. Five interrelated commitments can help us make the shift from “Me” to “We.”
One of the reasons things seem to be falling apart is that many people pursue their individual self-interest without considering the context in which they exist. An indisputable fact of life is that our survival, and the survival of all other life-forms on Earth, is possible only because we are enmeshed within a complex web of interdependent ecological and social systems. The air you breathe, the water you drink, and the food you eat are created by complex ecological processes that are driven by the Earth’s climate system. Your mental health and personal well-being are determined by your social relationships. Yet, too often we ignore or deny this reality. This always leads to trouble. The first commitment each of us must make is to undertake the shift from “me-focused” to “we-focused.” What is required to stabilize and eventually restore the climate, economy, and social well-being is to see the systems that we are part of.
Given the precarious conditions of the planet today, almost every action we take affects the interlocking systems we are part of in some way, now or in the future. However, few of us spend much time considering the many ways in which our actions might affect the systems we depend on for life. Instead we pursue our own self-interests without regard to their direct or indirect, immediate or long-term impacts. But climate disruption, economic collapse, and growing inequity have unequivocally shown this cultural belief to be wrong. We must always acknowledge the law of cause and effect and work hard to account for all of the possible consequences of our actions on the systems of which we are a part.
3: Clarify the moral principles you will abide by when responding to the impacts on the systems of which you are a part.
As your awareness expands of how your actions might affect the social and ecological systems that make life possible, you must decide how to respond. What do you stand for and how do you want to live your life from this point forward? Answering these questions requires the adoption of a clear set of moral principles. Morality isn’t about sanctimonious preachy stuff. It involves real-world decisions about what your duties and responsibilities are to other people, which behaviors are fair and unfair, and which are just and unjust. One of the most universally held moral precepts is to “do no harm.” This means that any action that causes unjustifiable human suffering and death is morally wrong.
4: Realize that you are a trustee of the planet and take responsibility for the continuation of all life.
The pressures on the planet today are so extensive that many scientists believe humanity has entered a new geological era called the Anthropocene. This is the first epoch in history when human activities, not natural processes, will determine the fate of the Earth. If our actions will now decide the future of our planet, like it or not, we are each a trustee with the responsibility to ensure the continuation of all life on Earth.
5: Break free from the false beliefs that control your life and your organization and choose your own destiny.
Even though your perceptions and behaviors are strongly influenced by your upbringing and today’s dominant cultural worldview, it is important to realize that you have the capacity to change your thinking and behavior at any time. You are not forever committed to outdated, harmful beliefs and habits. This is incredibly empowering knowledge. It means you can start to do no harm to the social and ecological systems you are part of any time you like.
All social change happens one person at a time. This means the place to start to address climate change, the economic downturn, and growing inequity is with you. As many other people make a similar pledge, the tide will turn, and effective practices, technologies, and policies will emerge that will set the world on a more stable, secure, and sustainable path.