When I first mention Bright Future Now to people, one of the responses I sometimes get is along the lines of “Yes, that’s all very nice but what about climate change?”
The implication being “How can you be thinking about a bright future in the face of the looming disaster of climate change?” I’d like to use this issue of CI News to fill in the picture.
The short answer is that we see climate change as a symptom of a complex set of human/cultural problems. A real solution needs to be as systemic as this set of problems. My experience is also that a systemic, multi-level approach is actually faster than a more single-focus approach when dealing with complex problems. The sustained motivation needed to support such a systemic approach comes from a positive sense of possibilities – thus the focus on a bright future.
Bright Future Now and the Bright Future Network are carefully considered system-interventions aimed at addressing the underlying cultural issues. The overall program is designed to help evolve the culture forward in fundamental ways that, as a consequences of these foundational changes, can address climate change as well as nuclear arms, environmental toxins, vast income inequality plus numerous other issues, including those we don’t recognize yet.
What follows is the longer answer, beginning with some personal context.
As a young astronomy student back in the 1960s, I became aware of the physics of the greenhouse effect and evidence of rising CO2. Since then, I’ve been tracking it and working to address it. All of Context Institute’s work has been focused on the underlying cultural issues which have, among other things, gotten the climate to this point. We’ve also addressed climate change directly, notably in the whole In Context issue devoted to Global Climate Change.
I’d like to share some key things I feel I’ve learned, having now lived with this issue for more than 50 years.
The causes are many and complex
… and so are the opportunities
When you go beyond the symptom (changes in the climate) to look at the causes, you find they are many and complex. Direct human actions that impact the climate include
- greenhouse gas emissions (four major gases)
- land use changes (which affect the absorption of CO2 and sunlight)
- particulate emissions (which affect cloud formation).
Each of these can be subdivided into a large number of specific human activities. It quickly becomes overwhelming and the sheer complexity tempts people on all sides to oversimplify.
While I understand the temptation, I feel it leads to missed opportunities. The best way I know to get a sense of those opportunities is through Project Drawdown. I highly recommend that you look at that site if you aren’t familiar with it. You’ll discover there the 80 most significant proven ways to reverse climate change plus another 20 promising but not yet proven approaches. This isn’t just a nice set of ideas (like our 101 Ways To Heal The Earth from 1989). These are chosen and ranked on the basis of their potential contribution to reversing the buildup of greenhouse gases by 2050.
The top 10, ranked by their potential impacts, are (including their sector):
- Refrigerant Management (Materials)
- Wind Turbines (Onshore) (Electricity Generation)
- Reduced Food Waste (Food)
- Plant-Rich Diet (Food)
- Tropical Forests (Land Use
- Educating Girls (Women and Girls)
- Family Planning (Women and Girls)
- Solar Farms (Electricity Generation)
- Silvopasture (Food)
- Rooftop Solar (Electricity Generation)
Many of the 100 Project Drawdown solutions have significant benefits in addition to their impact on climate change. There are thousands of ways todayto connect with these solutions and make a difference. Many of the members of the Bright Future Network, in their on-the-ground activities, are doing just that. Working at this immediate, practical level is a major key to solving climate change.
Bottom line: We already know what to do. A huge amount is already being done all over the world. It’s not yet as much as it should be but that’s not for lack of opportunity.
The causes of the causes are in the culture
Given that we know what to do (and generally have known for decades), we have to wonder “Why haven’t we responded more quickly and fully?” There are lots of immediate places to blame, like the fossil fuel industry, but these kinds of answers have never felt deep enough to me. Over the past 50 years as I’ve lived with this issue, I’ve kept peeling back the causes to find a level that felt foundational enough to offer real insight and leverage.
The Bright Future program operates at this more foundational level.
I’ve come to see climate change – and numerous other issues – as symptoms of dysfunctional cultural patterns. Whatever their value at one time, these patterns have outlived their usefulness. They continue based on cultural inertia but are ripe for change because they no longer fit the needs of the times and viable alternatives are available that fit better.
We’ve inherited these patterns from both the past 5,000 years of agrarian empires and from the past few hundred years, especially the Age of Enlightenment, which gave us our modern institutions of representative government, market economy and Western science.
Key dysfunctional patterns include:
Social dominance as the basis of social organization – While this has softened somewhat in some cultures relative to the totalitarian violence of ancient empires, it’s still very present within organizations and between genders, ethnic groups, races and ages. It also spills into our relationship with nature, which we treat as subservient. As those in dominant positions at every scale in society (from families to nations to the world) optimize their own benefits, they do so at the expense of the whole. Climate is just one place where this shows up.
This ancient pattern is now being undercut by vastly expanded choice, peer-to-peer communications and network-based social organization in the lives of people around the world. We are approaching, but haven’t yet reached, a major tipping point in how we perceive and implement social organization.
The monopoly of categorical thinking – Categorical thinking is so pervasive that most people don’t even realize it’s an issue. It gives us a low-resolution view of the world, devoid of context, uniqueness and nuance. It’s handy in everyday life but simply not up to the task of dealing with complex issues like climate change. We need other tools for the big issues we face.
We can’t get there through language, which is essentially labels on categories and thus inherently categorical. Written language during the past 5,000 years heightened this categorical-ness and then the Age of Enlightenment doubled down on it.
To break out of the monopoly, we need to get good at visual and body-based thinking and use them to see the world as interconnected systems with unique parts and relationships rather than just objects with categorical properties. Categorical thinking is crude compared to visual and systems thinking and thus blinds us to a vast array of win-win solutions.
Psychological cluelessness – The Age of Enlightenment wanted everything to be rational and objective. It was an interesting attempt but we now know that the non-rational and subjective parts of our minds are involved in everything we do. The quest for the rational and objective unfortunately lead to disinterest in and even suppression of basic psychological skills and awareness. The result is an immaturity and cluelessness throughout Western culture that burdens everyone.
Fortunately, a great deal has been learned in the past few decades about developing the psychological self-awareness and practical life-skills that can enable us to reach a greater wholeness and maturity. From there, it’s much easier to deal constructively with large-scale, slow-moving issues like climate change.
Mechanistic worldview – Age-of-Enlightenment thinkers were enthralled with the success of Newton’s laws in explaining the then-known universe as if it were a big clockworks. As the 1800s and the Industrial Revolution progressed, the image of the world as one big machine got more and more entrenched. Even though quantum mechanics pulled the philosophical rug out from Newtonian physics in the early 20th century, a hundred years later the mechanistic worldview is still very much with us.
While the machine metaphor had many successful applications, it’s a poor fit for living systems, social systems and our minds, all places where the current culture is dysfunctional. When we try to apply it to nature, it blinds us to nature’s dynamic, highly-interconnected wholeness. It makes the trashing of the atmosphere all too easy.
Ecosystems and, more generally, complex adaptive systems now provide us with rich alternative metaphors much more suited to the needs of the times that can help us re-establish our sense of connection to all life. If you think in terms of feedback loops and co-evolution, you will recognize how your well-being is deeply connected to the well-being of the environment.
Isolated individualism – In keeping with our culture’s psychological cluelessness and mechanistic worldview, we’ve come to see ourselves as isolated individuals – skin-encapsulated egos – with purely transactional relationships with others. Short-term, narrow-focused, what’s-in-it-for-me thinking is a poor match for dealing with big systemic issues like climate change.
Modern attachment psychology and neuroscience are making it clear that we are built for empathetic connection. We just need to clear away old ideologies and traumas. We then feel our interconnectedness with others and with nature in a profound way.
Deep cultural solutions lead to a bright future
I’ve described all of these issues in intellectual terms but the Bright Future Nowcourse and the Bright Future Network deal with them in practical and embodied ways. In both, we are living into a new way of being and starting to experience what an achievable bright future might actually feel like.
And whether or not you ever take the course and join the network, we want to share with you our experience that a bright future may just be closer and more attainable than many people imagine.
May you expand your own sense of what’s possible during this holiday season.
December 14, 2018