The World Business Academy recently established The Elisabet Sahtouris Chair in Living Economies. Visit the page to read about the Chair and to see more of Dr. Sahtouris’s work.
Humanity, like all other species of Earth before and with us, is evolving—and evolution, for humans as for all species, is neither predictably linear nor solely Darwinian. Earth’s nearly four billion years of evolutionary experience reveals reliable patterns that give us hope, inspiration and valuable guidance for getting ourselves through the unprecedented confluence of enormous crises in which we humans quite suddenly find ourselves. Here we see the evolutionary Big Picture, including the amazingly complex lives of our remotest bacterial ancestors, who had Earth to themselves for fully half of evolution, and much of whose experience we seem to be mirroring now. They engaged in hostilities, generated global crises of hunger and pollution as great as ours today, and solved them without benefit of brain! Along the way they invented electric motors, atomic piles and the first World Wide Web of DNA exchange; then, in the greatest of all evolutionary ventures, formed cooperatives that became nucleated cells. These cooperatives were the basis for the evolution of our own hundred-trillion-celled human bodies, which role model amazingly sustainable economies. Learning from newly revealed problems and solutions in biological evolution, we too are finding out how to survive and even thrive into a better future despite—perhaps because of—our greatest challenges. That would indeed be cause for celebration.
Why the Celebration?
We have reason to celebrate at least three major crises— in energy, economy and climate — that may yet save us. Confronting us simultaneously and globally, they add up to the greatest challenge in all human history. That challenge itself is cause for celebration. Why? Because nothing short of a fundamental review, revisioning and revising of our entire way of life on planet Earth is required to face these three interrelated challenges successfully. They tell us we cannot go on doing what we are doing, that we must change our way of life, and so make this an amazing time of opportunity to create the world we all deeply want.
Is this an idle dream, an airy-fairy ‘create your own reality’ pitch? Guess what?
We humans created the reality we have now. It was not imposed on us by fate or any other outside agency. While some may still claim we had nothing to do with global warming, few would deny we have ravaged our planet’s ecosystems and loaded our air with pollutants. How many would claim we had no choice in how to produce our energy, or insist that Mother Nature inflicted our money system on us? We humans dreamed up and then realized our economic systems, including our technological path via the exploitation of nature and our focus on consumerism to keep ever expanding production profitable.
Some human systems were created such that they remained sustainable over thousands of years, while our currently dominant one has proven unsustainable in only a few hundred years. The recognition that our current way of life is unsustainable is a new and vital insight, without which we could not see any need to change the way we live on our astonishingly provident planet, now ravaged to a critical point.
So I celebrate our recognition of our unsustainability together with the enormous creativity of our species, which has already proven itself resourceful again and again in its relatively brief evolutionary/ historic trajectory. In that regard, we follow in the footsteps of many a biological ancestor species, as we will see, and as I hope, will give us inspiration and guidance on the road ahead of us.
What is an economy? I will venture to define the essence of an economy as the relationships involved in the acquisition of raw materials, their transformation into useful products, their distribution and use or consumption, and the disposal and/or recycling of what is not consumed. This definition — and this is very important to understand — is as applicable to our human economies as to nature’s ecosystemic economies, as well as to the astonishingly complex economies operating within our own bodies.
Earth has four billion years of experience in economics and may well have something to teach us. Just for starters, nature recycles everything not consumed, which is why it has managed to create endless diversity and resilience, with ever greater complexity, using virtually the same set of finite raw materials for all that time. Furthermore, with us or without us, she is likely to continue doing so for as long as our benevolent sun shines upon her, despite — or perhaps because — she suffers periodic crises that drive her creativity.
Let’s look at how Earth faces these crises. But before we do, let me point out that Earth’s economy is a truly global economy, composed of many and diverse interconnected local ecosystemic economies woven together by global systems of air, water, climate/weather, tectonics, migrations and — not least important — a single biological gene pool. While most of the history of biology and biological evolution has been about ‘rabbits in habitats,’ we are finally coming to understand ‘rhabitats’ — the holistic economies of nature embedded within each other all the way up to its global economy.
Crisis as Opportunity in Nature
We are facing an onrushing Hot Age. Around fifty-five million years ago, Earth had its last Hot Age. In between, since the advent of humanity, our species faced and survived at least a dozen Ice Ages. Only since the last Ice Age has there been the long (from a human perspective) benign, stable climate in which known human civilizations evolved. It was possible because the last Hot Age plus an Earth-rocking meteor, extinguished the massive reptiles and kicked off a creative wave of mammalian evolution. Crisis for some was opportunity for others in nature’s resourceful ways.
In the much older 520-million-year-old Cambrian era Burgess Shale, found between two peaks in the Canadian Rockies near Banff, Canada, lies fossil testimony to one of the greatest ‘opportunity’ responses to crisis in all Earth’s history. Interesting that it, too, happened during a time of warm seas and no polar ice — such as we ourselves may be facing — occurring relatively shortly after a ‘snowball Earth’ climate.
In this Cambrian period before land plants and animals appeared, marine invertebrate life reached a fully modern range of basic anatomical variety that more than 500 million years of subsequent evolution has not enlarged. The fossil record of this ‘Cambrian Explosion’ shows a radiation of animals to fill in vacant niches, left empty as an extinction had cleared out the pre-existing fauna. Once again, crisis for some; opportunity for others.
Let’s continue deeper yet into the past. By the Cambrian era, Earthlife had already been through well over half its evolutionary trajectory in years. In fact, for the first half of Earth’s biological evolution — for roughly two billion years — archaebacteria, now called simply archaea, had the whole world to themselves. They evolved amazing lifestyle diversity in their massive proliferation from the depths of the oceans to the highest mountain peaks and even the highest life ever reached in the air, dramatically changing whole landscapes and shallow seafloors as well as the chemical composition of the atmosphere.
Their impact is yet to be truly understood outside the halls of science, although they pioneered economic situations and technologies such as harnessing solar energy, building electric motors and developing the first World Wide Web of information exchange we claim as human firsts, as I will describe. My point here is that the archaea, at the beginning of Earthlife’s evolution, were first to make extraordinary responses to global crises — crises of their own making, we should note, unlike the later great extinctions.
The first major such response was to a global food shortage that occurred because the archaea, after spreading all over Earth, were eating up all the free food — the sugars and acids chemically produced via solar UV radiation. Their amazing response was to draw on their own gene pool to change their metabolic pathways such that they could harness solar energy to produce food in the process well known to us as photosynthesis. According to Daniel Nocera at M.I.T., if we could do it at a human scale—and why shouldn’t we if bacteria did it at theirs?—it could fill all our energy needs as long as Earth and we ourselves live.
Before photosynthesis, the archaea had to dwell in seawater or underground, away from burning sunlight. To function in sunlight, the new photosynthesizers were driven to invent enzymes functioning as sunscreens to protect themselves as they lived off the sun’s rays and the plentiful minerals and water available to them. Unfortunately, while they did extremely well, they inadvertently created the next big global crisis of atmospheric pollution, leading to the next notable example of taking crisis as opportunity.
Like today’s plants that inherited their lifestyle, the photosynthesizing archaea gave off oxygen as their waste gas. There were, as yet, no oxygen-needy creatures, so the highly corrosive oxygen, after as much of it as possible was absorbed by seas and rocks and soil reddened by its rusting effects, piled up in the atmosphere in highly significant and dangerous quantities. Along with its direct dangers of killing corrosion, this pollution created the ozone layer which caused further diminution of the old sugar and acid food supply requiring the free passage of UV through the atmosphere.
Once again, life responded with a stunning new lifestyle invention — a whole new way of living using oxygen itself to smash food molecules in the most hi-tech biological lifestyle thus far invented — the one we ourselves inherited from them and call ‘breathing’. Archaea that breathed in oxygen gave off the carbon dioxide needed by the photosynthesizers, thereby completing a give and take exchange in which their plant and animal heirs, including us, still engage.
Life has a dynamic way of oscillating between problems and solutions, which seems to keep evolution happening. The ‘breathers’ needed food molecules to smash while food was becoming scarcer. Solution: they invented electric motors built into their cell membranes, vastly more efficient than human-designed motors up to the present, attaching flagella to them as propellers. These hi-tech breathers drilled their way into big sluggish fermenting archaea, which I have called ‘bubblers’ (Sahtouris 2000). This initiated the era of bacterial colonialism in which the breathers invaded the bubblers for their ‘raw material’ molecules. Reproducing by division within the bubblers, they literally occupied them as they exploited and drained away their resources, leaving them weakened or dead.
In this primeval Earth world, we can imagine the many conflicts over scarce food and overcrowding that wreaked havoc, yet simultaneously drove innovation. Eventually, in their encounters with each other, archaea somehow discovered the advantages of cooperation over competition: that feeding your enemy is more energy efficient (read: less costly) than killing them off. Take note, as this is the essential step in species maturation from competition to cooperation throughout the rest of evolution right up to our own in the present.
All along, in evolving different lifestyles, the archaea had freely traded DNA genes with each other across all the different types in a great World Wide Web of information exchange giving any bacterium—to this day—access to the DNA information of any other with which it came or comes into contact. It may even be the case that they devised the DNA packets we call viruses as a way of sending genetic information across space and time. Thus they refined a myriad particular body shapes and lifestyles or roles, such as fixing nitrogen or moving by whiplash propulsion or living in mats of millions.
The crowning glory of all their achievements was the evolution of gigantic collectives with highly sophisticated divisions of labour that became the only other type of cell ever to grace the evolutionary scene: the nucleated cells of which we ourselves are composed. This may have begun, as microbiologist Lynn Margulis and others worked it out, when invading breathers felt their bubbler hosts weakening and took on some ‘bluegreens’ (photosynthesizers) to make food for the entire colony. The breathers’ motors provided transportation by working in unison on the bubblers’ cell membrane to drive the colony into sunlight where the bluegreens could work as needed (Margulis 1998).
In such cooperatives, apparently each specialized archaeon donated the DNA it did not need to fulfil its special function into a common gene library that became the new cell’s nucleus. To this day our cells and those of plants, animals and fungi, contain the descendants of these archaea in the form of mitochondria (breathers) and chloroplasts (bluegreens), and our gut bacteria include descendants of bubbler fermentor archaea as well.
Nucleated cells went through another billion years repeating the cycle of youthful competition and creativity to mature cooperation in the form of multi-celled creatures — the last great leap in evolution — around one billion years ago, bringing us closer to that Cambrian era when this evolutionary model really took off as described earlier.
The Brink of Maturity
If indeed the universe evolves within a source field of consciousness as I, among increasingly many other scientists, have come to believe, then the most likely single operating principle of such a self-organizing living universe is: anything that can happen will happen. In such a wide open creative universe, what is of greatest interest to me is what is sustainable — what lasts — especially under disruptive conditions. Taking this as a thought experiment, I concluded that the sustainability of any entity depends on its coming into harmony with whatever surrounds it in a mutual give and take that makes it more or less indispensable to the whole in which it is embedded.
Thus it has become clear to me that the very essence of Earth’s biological evolution lies in the repeating cycles of maturation from competition to cooperation I have so often described: the mature cooperative phases often driven into existence by crises, most dramatically in global extinctions.
Consider how the majority of humans tend to become highly cooperative in times of disaster, surviving predations of the few to create wellbeing for the many. Interesting to note here that in Japan’s Fukushima disaster the cooperation was 100%. So much for the socio-economic Darwinian model of greed as our inescapable human nature.
Species that become sustainable — that survive a really long time — get to their mature collaborative phase while others, stuck in youthful behaviours that no longer serve them, die out. Humanity now stands on the brink of such maturity in the midst of disasters of our own making. Let us take heart from our most ancient Earth ancestors, the archaea — the only other creatures of Earth to create global disasters through their own behaviour and solve them — to see if we can do as well as they did. Let a mature and cooperative global economy be our goal and let us make it as successful, as efficient and resilient, as our own nucleated cells.
According to ecologists, in Type I ‘pioneer’ ecosystems, species duke it out in hostile competition for territory and resources. Type III ‘climax’ ecosystems, such as old coral reefs and old growth forests or prairies, on the contrary, are composed of a rich assortment of species each of which cooperatively contributes something valuable to the whole as it consumes its fair share of resources in the efficient energy exchange of the whole system. Mature cooperative efficiency, however, is not enough to make a species or an ecosystem sustainable. Energy efficiency must be balanced by elasticity — by resilience to disturbances from within or from without. Ecologists long concerned only with the efficiency now begin to recognize this vital balancing act (see Korhonen and Seager 2008).
Ecologists almost universally assume that Type I and Type III ecosystems are composed of different types of species in an almost mechanical replacement process, with Type II’s being a mix of I’s and III’s. Because their basic assumptions about nature include that evolution only happens via genetic accidents and selective adaptation, they cannot entertain notions of intelligent systemic learning or even maturation in nature, however obvious it may appear. To me this is like aliens studying humans on a short visit, noting the smallest crawling on all fours, the mid-sized running and playing, the more sedate tall ones going about their business and the stooped white-haired as four different species.
Eshel Ben Jacob, a scientist studying bacterial colonies responding to stress in his Tel Aviv University laboratory for many years now, concluded that bacterial colonies function like group minds able to respond intelligently to stress. Before he reached this conclusion, he tried every possible explanation in terms of mindless chemical signalling, ‘machine intelligence,’ etc., finding them inadequate to describe the creative problem-solving of his bacterial colonies. Eventually he began using the terminology of social networking and was invited to present their intelligent behaviour at Google headquarters! If even bacteria can demonstrate such intelligent creativity and learning, surely later species evolved from them should as well.
Nature, on the whole, does not fix what isn’t broken. It is profoundly conservative when things are working well, and radically creative when they don’t. Recall that in Arnold Toynbee’s classic study of civilizations that failed, the two critical factors proved to be the extreme concentration of wealth and the failure to change when change was called for (Toynbee 1946). More recent studies, such as Jared Diamond’s Collapse, spell out more detail in the very issues we have identified as current crises, such as as resource depletion, climate change, population explosion, globalization and bad political choices, all of which can be subsumed under Toynbee’s refusal to change when things become unsustainable. We could also call that lack of resilience or failure to mature!
Resilience permits positive responses to crises, trying out all possible solutions to see what works. Thus I prefer the metaphor of improvisational dance for evolution. Life, in its autopoietic, self-creating and self-maintaining evolution dances between chaos and perfect order without ever losing itself in chaos or getting stuck in rigid order. Nature is improvisational, endlessly weaving old steps into new configurations, new moves or sequences appearing as the dance evolves. It remains to be seen whether our human species will dance its way creatively to true maturity as global family.
Your Body Economy
Before I move from these lessons of biology into our human way of playing out our own evolutionary trajectory, let me try to inspire awe in you for your own wondrous body economy. Consider that the DNA that codes for the proteins you are largely made of is finely packed into the nucleus of each of your invisibly small cells in a two-meter length, along with proteins and water. As you contain some fifty to one hundred trillion cells, putting these two-meter lengths end to end, your DNA would reach so far into space that a jet pilot flying day and night would be flying well over ten thousand years to reach the end of your personal DNA string.
When the human genome project results came out, the scientists expressed surprise at how few genes we actually had, how much ‘biological activity’ goes on in our genomes, and at bacterial genomes incorporated in our own. Protein-coding genes, including duplicates, account for less than five percent of our genome. Much of the genome is devoted to TEs — transposable elements known since Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock’s pioneering work half a century ago that showed TEs not only moving about but doing so in response to stress from outside the organism. Her results have been supported by many later researchers (Fox Keller 1983).
Genes contain stored information or blueprints that must be read, copied and put to use, as DNA can no more do anything on its own than can the books on library shelves. The vital job of putting genes to use is performed by your proteins, which include countless catalyzing enzymes as well as building block materials. Further, your own feelings, thoughts and mental habits can affect the whole process (Lipton 2005).
The weight of a half century of evidence indicates that evolution does not proceed on the basis of ‘selected’ random mutations. Rather, proteins associated with genomes have the capacity — and no doubt the imperative — to detect and repair such accidental mutations, while selecting appropriate genes from the well-organized gene banks available as needed to respond to stressful as well as normal requirements and challenges. It seems reasonable to suppose that our human genomic system is behaving as an intelligent hive of activity, part of the vaster intelligent hive of activity that is the whole cell including its superbly complex membrane — its interface with its world. This intricate system likely even has access to genes or other DNA sequences from external sources such as bacteria, viruses, plasmids, etc. that get by our blood leucocytes and lymph nodes.
The newest in scientific discovery is the importance of the myriad bacteria (now calculated as about ten per body cell, i.e. up to a quadrillion, residing in our guts and coating our skins and orifices, protecting us from invaders, digesting our food, running most of our immune system functions, attenuating infections and who knows what all else. The DNA in the nuclei of our cells are therefore only a small fraction of the total DNA in the great colonies of bacterial and nucleated cells that we are. And until now we have treated these resident bacteria as dispensible, dumping all manner of toxic food and medications onto them in the name of health!
It turns out that, in fact, a full 90% of our DNA is not what the Human Genome Project decoded with such great fanfare, but that we must now decode the far larger amount of DNA in the new Human Microbiome Project. More and more metabolic diseases are found related to imbalances and other disturbances of healthy gut ecosystems. The best key to good health appears to lie in what we eat, what we feed our invaluable gut residents! If this does not argue for the end of genetically modified foods, much of them used to produce junk foods, all riddled with toxic herbicides and pesticides, what will?
Whatever happens inside our cells — remember each is as complex as a large human city, so plenty is happening 24/7 — is actually not determined by genes, but primarily by signals from the cells’ environments that activate proteins to do the work of responding appropriately, which may or may not involve drawing on and copying genetic information (Bhaerman & Lipton 2009).
Each of your cells, along with that DNA library nucleus, has a fleet of proteins and larger structures for recycling proteins to keep you healthy. Ubiquitin proteins run around the cell identifying and catching proteins that are damaged or no longer needed, taking them to lysosomes and proteosomes that reduce them to individual amino acids, which in turn are taken to ribosomes to be assembled into healthy new proteins. This amounts to our inventing a chipper machine system that finds dead trees, chops them up and makes new living trees out of the parts!
All this exists in each cell along with a thousand mitochondrial banks giving out free ATP stored-value debit cards 24/7 with no interest, not even pay-back of what is spent. Money, in other words, serves its natural role in keeping the economy running, while banks control the amount in circulation to prevent inflation or deflation. We would do well to take note of this at a time when we have allowed interest-demanding currency issue to threaten our entire global economy with destruction from within the financial system.
There is no more amazing economy to learn from as we design our own future than the bodies in which each and every one of us, regardless of political persuasion, is walking around—bodies in which no organ either exploits the rest for its own benefit or interferes with diversity by trying to make the others be like itself.; bodies evolved to feed their vast array of microbial ‘resident guests’ first, knowing they will run interference on anything dangerous we put into our guts and on our skins, before they pass the vital nutrients on to our cells! In short, our bodies literally embody the best practices of mature cooperative natural economies in their most highly evolved form.
Freedom: The Human Dilemma
We humans have vast freedom of choice compared with other animals. Fish, birds and mammals all have to find mates, establish territories to gain adequate resources and have space to raise their young. Their ways of going about these necessary acquisitions and protecting them show what biologists call ‘fixed action patterns,’,meaning patterns built into them that do not have to be learned. These include ritual courtship and ritual fights that stop short of killing. We humans alone must choose how to get mates, how to govern ourselves, how to negotiate with each other, how to run our economies. We paid for all that freedom of choice by losing the built-in knowledge of those who evolved before us. Whether we use that free choice well remains to be seen.
We also have the great gift of our perceived time: the hindsight and foresight to help us make choices. We can know where we came from, what we have tried in the past; we can project where we will go if we keep doing what we are doing, as well as try out possible scenarios of change in imagination before we commit any of them to practice. In short, we have the great gift of foresight to help us forestall crises of our own making — and yet, we do not.
We have been warned by scientists for decades that our pollution is reaching devastating proportions and that we are using far too many of Earth’s resources for her to keep up in replenishing them. Now, we can no longer stop global warming, are running out of the cheap oil that led our numbers to explode and face the predicted disasters of debt money coupled with greed. We could not be faced with more serious evidence that for all our brash young species’ spectacular achievements, we have gone woefully and dramatically astray. It is all very scary … until we notice that new doors are opening to us with fresh, new choices available, grand new opportunities to build the world of our dreams, even on a hotter planet, even without oil, even with a broken financial economy. We can rouse the proverbial Phoenix from the very ashes of all that no longer works; beter yet, we can build a butterfly world before the voracious caterpillar disintegrates.
The Way to Go and Why/How We Can Get There
In creating our global economy as a resource-rapacious, competitive monopoly game based on debt money and powered by fossil fuels, we not only created an unprecedented wealth/poverty divide in the misleading name of democracy, but pushed Earth herself to a tipping point where it becomes clear that we had better begin respecting and more humbly learning from our Big Mama, rather than seeing ourselves as her ever-so-clever masters.
Our choice now is whether to sit mourning the demise of easy credit, fast food, year-round Christmas glitter shopping malls and failed promises of happy retirements, or whether to recognize and act on these failures in positive ways. Can we see how our world neighbours paid the price of our conveniences while we ignored the real responsibilities of democracy, letting our wealth be misused, while health care, education and real security eroded under our noses? Will we declare our solidarity with each other around the globe, roll up our sleeves, and do the positive work needed to develop clean energy sources, move coastal cities uphill, reinvent money, green deserts, and cooperate in all our cultural and religious diversity to build a world that works for all, whether or not our governments follow our lead?
It took no more than a few human lifespans to get ourselves into the deep trouble we are in. If we truly search out what went wrong, and take advantage of what went right, in another single lifespan we can undo the damage and create a happier lifestyle for all surviving humans and all other surviving species.
While many people find the confluence of current crises so overwhelming that they see little hope for humanity, I continue to be optimistic and excited about the wonderful opportunities at hand for building a thriving future for a number of reasons. First and foremost, more and more scientists are recognizing that the creation story science brought us turns out not to be valid! The universe we thought to be non-living, meaningless matter running down to its own destruction by entropy has been seriously called into question. Under that bleak story we comforted ourselves by building a materialistic consumer culture on cut-throat competition so the ‘haves’ could get what we could and enjoy life as our universe crumbled.
The good news of a happier and more inspiring story comes from information that science itself produced. No small number of theoretical physicists trained in quantum theory came to the conclusion that ancient consciousness-based Eastern cosmologies are more accurately descriptive of our universe than the Western science story — that the universe is not meaningless matter but rooted in living consciousness, not running down but recreating itself instant by instant from that ‘implicate order,’ to use the term David Bohm introduced. Best of all, we are co-creators in this scheme, neither its remote observers, nor victims of its blind and fateful forces (Sahtouris 2008).
We can now see that Earth’s species can and do learn how inefficient and expensive the youthful phase of mutually destructive and hostile competition becomes, and reap the rewards of collaboration that is mutually beneficial, as clearly seen in mature ecosystems. Every crisis on our planet created the stress that became an opportunity for further evolution, with Nature on our side in a grand learning process.
Our own bodies brilliantly model win-win living economies, as do mature ecosystems such as rainforests and prairies that create endless abundance through sharing and recycling. We have the information, insight, and power required to create a human world every bit as cooperative as these.
The Internet is perhaps the largest self-organizing living system on the planet, composed of living people using computers as tools for connection in distributed networks without central control. Thus it provides the practical possibility of its use for global cooperation, information sharing and distributed network governance, even for non-debt currencies. All of these are showing up more and more rapidly and extensively as our situation becomes more dire.
Years ago, the King of Bhutan decreed that his economy would be measured in the happiness of his people, rather than in the usual measure of cash flow. It seemed a shockingly radical, if not laughable, idea, yet for nearly half a century, pioneers led by Hazel Henderson have crusaded for quality of life indicators as far more sensible measures of an economy’s health than GDP/GNP money measures (Flynn, Lickerman & Henderson 2000). In the past few years alone, Henderson’s Ethical Markets has tracked the investment of over three trillion dollars in green businesses.
Even the greatest threat looming over humanity right now is a positive opportunity. Facing the onrushing Hot Age adaptively is far more important than arguing about its precise causes. A positive feedback loop is well underway: the warmer it gets, the more ice melts; the more ice melts, the warmer it gets. ‘Proactive, proactive, proactive’ must be our call. Think Katrina, or the Asian tsunami, or Fukushima, where proactive solutions would have been far cheaper than repairing damage and would have saved so many lives.
Remember, too, that some human cultures from ancient times on have lived well and comfortably in deserts, inventing appropriate low-cost technologies from canyon-like medina streets and cooling towers to shaded courtyards, fountains and reservoirs to do so.
During the devastating mid-eighties drought in the Ansokia Valley of Ethiopia, John McMillin helped people develop vegetable gardens surrounding fish ponds that produced high protein diets at very low cost in extreme desert conditions. Death-dealing conditions gave way to a lush valley with eight million trees, schools, health clinics and the ability to export food. He has since demonstrated this seemingly miraculous desert food production and social development in more than twenty other desert locations.
Another way to green deserts that once were the abundant grasslands of the world, now burning faster than rainforests, is Allan Savory´s restoration of free-range cattle to these wastelands in Africa, the US and Asia. He has proved that cattle, far from being bad for the planet, are indispensible to its health when in their appropriate habitats.
In 2011 the UN delivered, in the words of the Huffington Post, a ‘whopper of a report’ while the rest of the media remained silent. That report declared that the only way to feed the world now, even double the food supply, is with small family farms using natural methods. Just think of the fossil fuel savings in herbicides, pesticides, irrigation, planting and harvesting, storage and transport, not to mention the attendant restoration of ravaged soils and water tables.
Deep recessions happen when a financial system based on debt concentrates wealth unreasonably, the destruction compounded by other bad banking practices such as deceptively cheap credit, repeated ‘thin air’ derivatives and unholy gambling on peoples and nations’ debts. As banks require borrowing nations and businesses to shut down their economies, they cause massive unemployment and the reduction of services, while forcing them to sell off, to the already wealthy, vast amounts of infrastructure, from transportation systems to energy production to hospitals and natural land that should be commons. Alternative currencies modeled on that ATP debit card system used in our bodies could restimulate economies overnight and build the safety net we desperately need before the financial house of cards collapses, as clearly laid out in Lietaer et al Money and Sustainability.
The post industrial economy, ever in need of expanding markets, has commodified almost everything people used to do for each other in community, from food preparation and preservation to home building and repair, from child and elder care and nursing to arranging marriages, giving hair care, trading used things, sharing tools, making compost and tending gardens and so on ad infinitum. All is now buyable as goods and services. We are proudly ‘independent’ and no longer need each other. Young people grow up with credit cards and are expected to be good citizens by being good consumers and thus keeping the economy ‘healthy.’
Living the future we dream of now is the solution! Eat the healthy food you want people to eat in a better world; treat each other as you want people to treat each other in a better world; grow the green businesses that are accountable to their stakeholders—i.e. that are needed by and in service to their human communities. Build local community that is as self-sufficient as possible as more and more people all around the world are doing; design technologies that mimic nature in using no toxics and being fully recyclable; design and use money that does not become a commodity in its own right, but simply greases economic transactions…and, wherever possible, move beyond such barter to gifting! On that score, young people themselves are coming to the rescue, reviving notions of gifting economies as does Nipun Mehta and similar more far reaching Sacred Economics, as does Charles Eisenstein.
Living the Future NOW!
I have gained and sustained my optimism as a humble student of our living universe, our living Earth, which clearly shows us the way out of our adolescent crisis into a mature global human future. The sooner we create our vision of all we desire in lifestyles of 100% recyclable and non-toxic elegant simplicity, set our intention to implement it together, and put our individual capacities into collective action, the greater our chances of success. Poverty can be erased in this process, as new winwin economics are implemented and we all thrive.
In short, we humans have all the intelligence and knowledge we need to create clean, sustainable economies that work for everyone, even on a hotter Earth. Now for the confidence, determination and grit to get the job done, and to the discovery that it can even be the most rewarding and enjoyable task we ever took on! I often say that each of us must do our part in this in a way that makes our own heart sing, in order to become an attractor to others. I believe strongly that we were meant to enjoy this life…now, more than ever, that as world changers we can role-model that for everyone else.
And so I repeat that the greatest crises we face are our most wonderful challenges and our greatest opportunities to build the world of which we dream. All that is required is that we change our story of How Things Are in the universe Einstein suspected was truly friendly, to adopt the truly inspiring story of a co-creative living universe, and to live that happier future right NOW in every way we possibly can.
As Rumi said, so simpy, so eloquently, so truly:
WHY DO YOU STAY IN PRISON WHEN THE DOOR IS SO WIDE OPEN?
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Lipton, Bruce (2005) The Biology of Belief, Hay House, Inc.
Margulis, Lynn (1998) Symbiotic Planet: A New Look At Evolution, Basic Books, NY.
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