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  • Writer's pictureFred Guerin

On Possible Paths to the Future

What’s needed now is neither fatalism nor utopianism, but a suite of practical pathways for families and communities that lead to a real and sustainable renewable future. We need inspiring examples, engaging stories, and opportunities for learning in depth”. [Richard Heinberg, The Anthropocene: It’s Not All About Us]

Although the daily snapshot of Earth Island is indeed bleak, from isolated villages to major urban centres there are beacons of hope from thousands of large and small initiatives taking place. [Andres Edwards, The Heart of Sustainability]

“I always come to the conclusion that salvation can only come through a profound awakening of man to his own personal responsibility, which is at the same time a global responsibility. Thus, the only way to save our world, as I see it, lies in a democracy that recalls its ancient Greek roots: democracy based on an integral human personality personally answering for the fate of the community.” [Vaclav Havel]

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” [Arundhati Roy]

We live in an unprecedented time of great change and potential calamity on a global scale. We seem to have both knowingly and unknowingly discovered ways to compromise the habitability of our precious planet—climate change, pollution, over-population, mass extinction of animal species. Is environmental catastrophe inevitable?

Many believe it to be so and adopt an attitude of indifference. Others think that we can save the world through technological innovations such as quantum computing, geo-engineering, fusion energy, artificial intelligence, trans-humanism, or the discovery of habitable planets beyond our solar system. Still others would claim that technological fixes only help us to avoid rather than confront the truth: namely, that if we really want to change the world, we must first change ourselves. Can we be the leaders we have been waiting for?

The political philosopher Karl Marx did not seem to think philosophy would help us change the world: Philosopher’s he said “have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it”. But how do we go about changing the world or even ourselves without thinking differently and telling new stories about ‘who we are’ and ‘where we want to be’? Do we not have to see the world differently--perhaps as a living entity in need of care rather than simple resource to be exploited and profited from?

Instead of appealing to complex social, political or economic theories, or arguing over philosophical riddles are we not now at a point where we need to simply act our way into different ways of thinking, understanding and being?

Frances Moore Lappé described six human traits that might help us in our transformation: cooperation, empathy, fairness, efficacy, meaning, imagination and creativity. We might add one more ingredient: a few real-life examples!

Are there such examples? Are there practical solutions, hopeful emerging trends, concrete suggestions for actions and achievable visions being undertaken right now?

I think there are--many of them. Unfortunately there is also the inertia that follows from a sense that 'I can do very little as an individual to change the way things are'. Social complacency regarding inequality, climate change and plutocratic governance exists and it is understandable. However, it is not thorough-going. Many individuals and communities around the world refuse to stand by and let their world go up in flames. They are actively trying out new ways of local farming, new ways to power their communities and more democratic modes of governance. Communities are the place where change is first imagined and where things can happen. In community we are allied with others in common cause. Here's how change happens...

Begin by imagining you are sitting together with friends and neighbors, farmers and environmentalists, politicians and economists, philosophers and scientists. You begin thinking and talking about what an ideal community might look like. What are the specific practices that would be needed to cultivate in order to make your community, a good community? What general policies, political and institutional arrangements would you have to be put in place in order for communities to reclaim the commons (from private for-profit corporate ownership), realize a good life and promote a caring community? What sort of community would best be able to meet the challenges of climate change, of pandemics, of pollution, of homelessness, of wealth and income fairness, of environmentally sustainable living and development?

As Hannah Arendt said, let your imagination go visiting--and then get up and 'together acting as one', bring your new vision to life.

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