Five working hypotheses

(This post follows Who Are The Foundation Stones For? in the FS Main Thread.)

The material on this website is written within the framework of five basic assumptions about humanity and the Earth at this time in history:

  • Business-as-usual is not sustainable
  • The culture is not changing fast enough
  • A thriving sustainable society is possible
  • A pathway to get there is possible
  • These four are all reflections of the major cultural transition that humanity is in the midst of now, a transition as profound as the shift out of hunting and gathering and into agriculture and cities that happened 5,000 to 10,000 years ago.

In this post I want to make these working hypotheses explicit and provide a brief introduction to each, so that together they can provide a meaningful context for the more detailed material in other posts and articles.

The first four are widely held throughout the sustainability movement. The fifth, while hardly unique to Context Institute, is not as familiar. These five provide a framework for both In Context and the Foundation Stones and serve to link Context Institute’s older and newer work together.

Business-as-usual is not sustainable

Humanity’s overall way of life since World War II is showing many signs that it can’t continue as-is throughout the 21st century. Here are a few of these signs:

  • Climate change
  • Humanity’s ecological footprint at 1.5 times the Earth’s biocapacity and still growing
  • Our primary energy sources, especially oil, no longer cheap to find and produce
  • Long-term decline in global economic growth per person
  • Unsustainable government and private debt levels
  • Continuing loss of farmland, topsoil and groundwater

These are issues with which you are likely familiar, since many of them get a fair bit of exposure in the mainstream media. I touched on some of them in The Core Challenge of our Times and I will go into them in more detail within What Time Is It? (Foundation Stone #1).

The culture is not changing fast enough

The areas in which business-as-usual is not sustainable — such as the economy, energy systems and food production — are major components of society with well developed institutions and infrastructure that have been built up over many, many decades if not centuries. Changing to different systems, such as renewable energy, would likely take further decades to accomplish even if there were broad political support and a full commitment to make the change. Yet so far the political steps that have been taken, such as treaties related to climate change, have been weak and half-hearted. Each year brings steadily increasing damage to the environment, the economy and society, and brings us closer to tipping points that could set off an irreversible downward spiral. Each step forward seems to be matched by two or more steps back.

There is cultural change going on — actually quite a bit of it compared to much of human history. Most of this change is happening in a broad, decentralized way while the centers of power remain stuck in old ways of being.

What Time Is It? (Foundation Stone #1) will provide access to articles that deal with this issue in more detail.

A thriving sustainable society is possible

There is so much to be said about the possibilities but this post is not the place for details. Suffice it to say that after more than three decades of immersing myself in this topic, I am as convinced as ever. Many of the articles in In Context describe seed-examples of such a society and, since those articles were written, there has been a lot of good work, both theoretical and on-the-ground, by people all over the world showing that a thriving sustainable society is realistically possible.

This topic weaves throughout all of the Foundation Stones and will be especially strong in Whole System Economics (Foundation Stone #5) and Whole System Governance (Foundation Stone #6).

A pathway to get there is possible

There are those who feel that a thriving sustainable society may be theoretically possible but that by now it is too late, that we have used up so much in the way of resources and done so much damage to the Earth that we simply can’t get there from here. I am not one of those people. Most of the issues of In Context include material on “how to get there” and I look forward to freshly describing the pathways I see now.

These pathways will be a major theme throughout the Foundation Stones and especially in Street Smarts For Change Agents (Foundation Stone #7).

These first four working hypotheses respond to four basic questions that need to be addressed before you go to work on any problem:

  • Is there a problem? Yes, business-as-usual is not sustainable.
  • Is the problem already being dealt with adequately? No, the culture is not changing fast enough
  • Is a solution possible? Yes, a thriving sustainable society is possible.
  • Is a solution reachable? Yes, a pathway to get there is possible.

Together these hypotheses provide good reasons both to work hard and to be encouraged.

Humanity is in the midst of a major cultural transition

This last working hypothesis provides a long-term historical perspective that adds a whole new level of meaning to the first four. In The Human Story (In Context #12, Winter 1985), I described human history as comprised of three major cultural eras, separated by two transitions:

I won’t go into details on this perspective in this post, but you can find a good introduction here.

What I do want to say now is that I have lived with this perspective for over 27 years and have found it to be enormously helpful — for the puzzles it solves, the dots it connects and the encouragement it provides. What I have learned through this perspective motivates and informs my work every day.

So as you look at the rest of the material on this site, know that it is fundamentally about the transition to the Planetary Era and how we can make that transition be as graceful as possible.

Countless generations of our ancestors have longed for what the Planetary Era has to offer. Those of us alive today have the remarkable opportunity to play a role in making it happen. May we all make the most of it.

(The next piece in the FS Main Thread is The Dynamic Planetary Context.)