Unpacking Extinction Rebellion — Part II: Goals and Tactics

27 09 2019

Kim Hill

Kim Hill, Sep 19 · 16 min read

In Part I, the rebellion’s goal of transitioning to net-zero emissions was exposed as a campaign to save the capitalist economy and the fossil fuel industry. In Part II, we look into Extinction Rebellion’s demands for truth from government and a Citizens’ Assembly, their tactics, and the proposed solutions to the climate and ecological crisis.

Demand 1: that the government tell the truth about the climate crisis

What is the truth about the climate crisis? There are so many theories, debates and agendas regarding the significance of climate change, what caused it, and where it could lead, that it isn’t possible for anyone to make any claim to truth. Demanding truth from any government about such an abstract issue could lead to a propaganda campaign presenting only one side of the story, and the shutting down of debates and discussions that don’t align with the government’s version of the truth.

Governments don’t exist to serve the people and tell the truth. They exist to serve those in power, and lie. If elected representatives genuinely represented the people, the conditions that led to this point would never have happened, and there would be no need to make demands.

XR makes no demand to tell the truth about the causes of climate change and ecological collapse: endless economic growth, industrial agriculture, empire, wars, the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. It’s as though climate is a completely separate issue, which can be solved with some truth-telling and new technology that will allow all these industries to continue unabated.

Demanding “tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency” doesn’t make sense. Simply stating there is an emergency going on doesn’t lead to a spontaneous outburst of truth. More likely the opposite is the case: giving governments emergency powers leads to repression, and the silencing of inconvenient questions and truths.

This demand was changed in April, to include declaring a climate emergency, at around the same time the declaration was made in the UK. This suggests that the demands are fluid and can be adapted according to outside circumstances, and are being influenced by government policies. The core goals are not clear.

“Communicate the urgency for change” doesn’t specify what change. Again, the demand is vague and can easily be re-directed to mean anything at all. If the demand is to stop extracting fossil fuels, and stop land clearing, then it needs to say that. Communicating the urgency of reaching an unspecified goal sounds like an invitation for governments (and the corporate lobbyists in ‘the media’ and ‘other institutions’) to manufacture a crisis, create a state of panic in the populace, and take advantage of the chaos for profit. A well-documented tactic known as disaster capitalism, or the shock doctrine. As we’ve seen in Part I, this is exactly what has happened. The question of enabling the shock doctrine is raised, but not adequately addressed, on XR’s FAQ page. (The FAQ page has since been updated, with this question removed. The earlier version can be accessed at archive.org and some of the questions included, and the less-than-reassuring responses given, are quite revealing as to the true nature of the rebellion).

In a political environment where telling the truth about the government, or the ecological crisis, can get you thrown in jail, tortured or killed, demanding truth from government is naïve at best.

My main concern with this demand is that it is directed at the government. Is this really who we want to put our faith in as the authority on truth? This worldview, that we need to trust the government, rather than our own direct experience, leads to learned helplessness, disempowerment, total dependence on some higher authority. Given the lengths that governments are willing to go to hold on to power — violent repression of protests, unnecessary wars as a show of force — surely we’d be better off finding our own truths, through inquiry and discussion, rather than depend on any government to guide us.

There’s something Orwellian about this, it’s like a demand for a Ministry of Truth, that can give a government such power over our beliefs about ourselves and the world that we can really be convinced that Big Brother loves us, that net-zero emissions will save the planet, and that 2+2=5.

Virtue ethics

XR’s FAQ states: “Ultimately though, we are doing this because it is the right thing to do, in part we remain unattached to outcomes, meaning that although we hope we can save something of life on earth we try to stay motivated by action being the right thing to do (virtue ethics) rather than taking action because we think it will work (utilitarian ethics).”

So there is no goal, and no belief that the actions will be effective. Basically a way for people to feel like they’ve expressed their concerns, without actually changing anything. Compare the above quote to this one from Stratfor, a consultancy firm that advises governments on how to quell social movements: “Most authorities will tolerate a certain amount of activism because it is seen as a way to let off steam. They appease the protesters by letting them think that they are making a difference — as long as the protesters do not pose a threat. But as protest movements grow, authorities will act more aggressively to neutralize the organizers.” XR’s leaders have studied social movements, so should be well aware of this strategy. It’s almost as if the rebellion has been intentionally designed to be ineffective.

The decision to hold the largest protests, supposedly intended to disrupt business as usual in London, over Easter weekend, when absolutely no government business was taking place, further demonstrates the virtuousness of creating a spectacle rather than engaging in targeted and decisive actions.

Check out this grab from a live interview with XR founder Gail Bradbrook, on Sky News during the Easter weekend protests:

Bradbrook: “…the politicians, behind the scenes, including this current government, tell us that they need a social movement like ours to get social permission to do the necessary… We need people to focus on this emergency, and we need really big action.”

Interviewer: “Let’s be clear, you say that government politicians are saying to you, we need you to come to London [to protest]? You’ve got government ministers telling you that’s what they want?”

Bradbrook: “…I’ve met a couple of people who’ve talked with Theresa May’s advisors, and they’ve said, they do know how bad it is, and they need you guys to help. So, basically, we’re doing the job…”

So we have the government making demands that the rebels make demands of the government. The government leading a rebellion against itself. Is this a rebellion, or a government propaganda campaign? Who’s pulling the strings here?

Lack of goals might be virtuous, but it leaves the movement wide open to be used for the goals of whoever has the most power.

Proposed solutions

XR’s website offers a number of possible solutions to the ecological crisis. Let’s unpack what they each entail.

The Climate Mobilization (TCM, based in the US) advocates “an emergency restructuring of a modern industrial economy, accomplished at rapid speed. It involves the vast majority of citizens, the utilization of a very high proportion of available resources, and impacts all areas of society. It is nothing less than a government-coordinated social and industrial revolution.” This is a plan to expand the industrial system and increase resource use, requiring the government to give money to private interests, and clearly not planning to shut down the industries that are causing extinction. There’s nothing here about protecting nature, reversing economic growth, defending human rights, reducing consumption, or breaking corporate dominance. Everything TCM advocates is the exact opposite of what’s needed.

This plan will likely require people to work longer hours for less pay, accept higher taxes, reduced services, and increased government control of citizens, leading to a greatly reduced quality of life. The level of austerity inherent in “the use of World War II–type policy instruments to transform the economy on an emergency basis, including a substantially increased federal government role in planning and steering industrial investment, providing jobs, allocating energy and materials, and managing demand” when a large part of the population are already suffering unbearable levels of poverty, trauma, ill-health, violence, repression, and soul-crushing bureaucracy, could lead to a complete collapse of the social order, to the point of civil war.

If I’m going to live through a revolution, I’d prefer one that overturned the entire political and economic system that the US empire stands for, and definitely not one that has the faceless bureaucracy of the US government leading it. I can’t imagine anything worse. This is the same government that is on track to achieve ‘full spectrum dominance’, meaning total military control of the entire planet — land, sea, air and space — in service to corporate profits, by 2020.

TCM’s report Leading the Public into Emergency Mode claims that “The climate crisis is, far and away, our top national security threat, top public health threat, and top threat to the global economy.” So the US military, one of the most environmentally destructive forces on the planet, which burns through more than 10 million gallons of oil every day, and $1.7million every minute, and the economy, which is the process of converting the living world into disposable commodities, are apparently under threat from the devastation they caused. The Climate Mobilization takes the side of the military and the economy, and advocates economic and military expansionas an appropriate response. Instead of acknowledging that industrial activity is damaging the natural environment, we’re redirected to believe that natural forces in the form of changing weather patterns are damaging the economy. Nature becomes the feared and hated enemy. This is the opposite of environmentalism.

The rhetoric seems to be calling for war, but war on who, or what? Clearly not on the industries that are burning the planet. And the changing condition of the atmosphere does not make for a tangible adversary. Given that the military and economy exist to maintain the power and control of the wealthy, at the expense of the poor and the natural world, this leaves the victims of imperial wars and the capitalist system, and the living world itself, as the enemies to be defeated. Analysis presented in the video Selling Extinction suggests that initiating wars to maintain the global economic dominance of the US is indeed the goal of TCM.

“We are calling on America to lead the world in heroic, world-saving action!” Given the history of what happens when the US claims to be heroically leading and saving the world, I’d really rather you didn’t.

The parallels between TCM’s rhetoric and this definition of fascism are alarming. “Fascism is a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.” (Merriam Webster)

Extinction Rebellion distributes a proportion of the money it receives in donations to The Climate Mobilization.

Beyond Zero Emissions claims that “all sectors of the Australian economy can decarbonise, repower and benefit from the transition to zero emissions.” Economic benefits again. No environmental benefits. Again.

“Manufacturers can replace fossil fuels with renewable electricity and eliminate up to 8% of Australian emissions,” which seems hardly worth the effort, given the emissions from manufacturing the new infrastructure required for the transition probably more than makes up for the reduction. Even if it was possible to eliminate emissions from the process entirely, the manufacturing of cement, plastics, chemicals, and all the other unnecessary toxic crap continues, and continues polluting and driving extinction.

A shift to 100% electric vehicles would eliminate at least 6% of Australia’s greenhouse emissions.” Or just stop making cars.

And also, why is a rebellion against the UK government that claims to be concerned about extinction, endorsing a think-tank associated with the Australian manufacturing industry? How is that even connected? Of course it’s not going to state the obvious solution to the problem, which is to stop manufacturing stuff.

Green New Deal Group lists as its first principle “A massive environmental transformation of the economy to tackle the triple crunch of the financial crisis, climate change and insecure energy supplies.” The primary concern here is saving the economy, and supplying more energy to industry. Not about protecting the natural world. Rapid Transition Alliance and One Million Climate Jobs also promote the economic growth agenda, and also have nothing to say about reversing the trend of environmental destruction.

The Breakthrough Institute is where the proposed solutions get even more disturbing. “The Breakthrough Institute is a global research center that identifies and promotes technological solutions to environmental and human development challenges.” It advocates for nuclear power, fracking, and increasing gas extraction (collectively referred to as ‘clean energy’), genetic modification, lab-grown food, “significantly higher levels of energy consumption,” urbanization, and economic growth. It promotes technology-dependent, large-scale industrial food systems, increased use of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, and moving rural people off their land and into service and manufacturing jobs (where I guess they’d be making the chemicals to poison the land that’s been stolen from them). Basically severing humans from any relationship with the natural world. And accelerating the process of destroying every living being. And no I’m not making any of this up. It’s all listed on their website.

This is the future that Extinction Rebellion is envisioning. These are the solutions that millions of people around the world have been marching in the streets to demand of their governments. Not to cut back on fossil fuel use. Not to protect wild nature. Not to repair and regenerate the land. Not to do anything at all to address the causes of climate change and extinction. Instead to save the very system that continues to wreak havoc on the land, sea, and air, and kill us off at a rate of 200 species a day.

You might want to take a moment to let that sink in. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling the need to go outside, and scream.

Not one of these proposed solutions contains any mention of the causes of extinction and climate change, or any plan to address these issues at all. The main drivers of extinction are war, forest destruction, pesticide use, toxic chemicals, plastics, mining, road building, synthetic fertilisers, broad-scale agriculture, industrial fishing, dams, and urban sprawl. In the plan for economic transformation, decarbonisation, and green growth, these processes are not just allowed to continue, but ramped up. There’s no mention of indigenous sovereignty, rights of nature, human or environmental health, resilience, autonomy, democracy, community. These concepts have no place in the New Climate Economy.

Something worth noting about these proposed solutions is that they are completely out of touch with the reality of the world we live in. None of them address any of the predicaments that are interconnected with the climate issue they claim to solve (and they’re not even addressing that one). Millions of refugees are fleeing conflict zones. Factory farming and animal testing enslave living beings. Propaganda, surveillance and censorship are instilling fear and unravelling our communities, our autonomy, and our ability to think. Addiction, violence, household debt, homelessness and chronic illness impact more and more people, disproportionately affecting women, people of colour and the poor. 45 million people are in slavery. Free trade agreements give corporations power over sovereign nations. Six men have as much wealth as half the world’s population. Indigenous people continue to be massacred and forced to leave their homelands. Many people in Western society are so severely traumatised by this culture that the resulting anxiety and depression leave them barely able to function.

Under XR’s proposed plan, all of this, all of us, the entirety of life on this planet, is nothing but carbon, nothing more than a business opportunity, a resource to be traded, and converted into money.

Demand 3: A Citizens’ Assembly

A citizens’ assembly. A way to bypass the democratic process so the net-zero plan can be enacted without deliberation by our elected representatives. Extinction Rebellion claims that we can’t trust the democratic process because it is corrupted by corporate influence. Yet they want to keep it in place, and allow the corporate corruption to continue.

A Citizens’ Assembly is no less corruptible than the current system. The assembled citizens are not a blank slate, open to all possibilities. They don’t have magic powers that can solve all the world’s problems. They have been exposed to as much propaganda and marketing as everyone else. And they definitely won’t be given the opportunity to discuss any possibilities that aren’t in keeping with the corporate-led plan that is already unfolding.

The experts advising the citizens will quite likely be the same people who have already been advising the government on the transition. They are engineers, energy industry experts, economists, and representatives of the fossil fuel and finance industries. Not conservationists, farmers, land defenders, community activists, or people who will be affected by the new industries. Definitely not anyone who speaks on behalf of nonhuman life and future generations. This is because the transition to net-zero is all about expanding the economy and the energy industry. It’s not about addressing ecological collapse. The assembly won’t be advised by experts in land regeneration, human ecology, indigenous lifeways, permaculture design, decolonisation, de-growth, mutual aid, alternative economic and political systems, autonomous development, or participatory democracy.

The plan on how the UK will achieve the transition to net-zero has already been set, and was discussed in Part I of this series. You can read all 277 pages of it here. It makes no mention of being thrown out so these decisions can instead be made by a bunch of randos. The Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Committee has suggested that this plan “is likely to form the basis of the Citizens’ Assembly discussions,” which doesn’t give the citizens any space to suggest anything outside of these parameters. And yes, the Citizens’ Assembly is led by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, because, yes, it’s all about business, energy and industry. Not climate. Not extinction.

“The BEIS Committee has recently held evidence sessions (on Tuesday 18 June and Wednesday 8 May) with witnesses including Extinction Rebellion, WWF, Committee on Climate Change and other stakeholders on the net zero target and actions needed to achieve net zero emissions. The hearings are part of the Committee’s ongoing work on the Clean Growth Strategy and complement its current inquiries on financing energy infrastructureand on energy efficiency. The Committee has also carried out inquiries on Carbon Capture Usage and Storage and on Electric Vehicles.”

In case you weren’t clear on what all this rebelling is for, it’s growth, finance, infrastructure, efficiency, carbon capture, and cars. The XR representatives are more than happy to be consulted and included in these plans. So much for ‘rebel for life’.

The only concerns expressed by XR leadership about this proposal are that it isn’t legally binding, and doesn’t let the citizens set the timeline for the transition. They have made no objections to what the plan actually involves.

It’s remarkable that XR’s website goes to great lengths to describe the sortition process, and their vision for how the assembly will be run, but says absolutely nothing about what net-zero means or how it might be achieved. What isn’t said tells you a whole lot more that what is.

A mass movement of this scale has the capacity to overthrow the existing system and create a genuinely equitable, sustainable and eco-centric society in its place. But it’s not doing that. It’s instead handing over more power to governments and corporations, with the small concession of giving citizens some limited say in how this happens.

An outcome of the Citizens’ Assembly will be general public acceptance of the decisions made. This will effectively shut down any further debate on the issue, or any consideration of alternative plans, as the citizen delegates represent all of us. Resistance is neutralised.

Demanding government leadership and co-ordination takes away power from communities to make their own decisions and plans. The rebels could, if they chose, hold their own Citizens’ Assembly, or many regional assemblies, with no input from the government, and implement their own plans. This would take back power from government and corporations, and put it in the hands of the people. Yet XR has made a statement actively discouraging regional assemblies, wanting to instead focus on the national assembly.

The rebels could be engaging in prefigurative politics and municipalism, and working towards secession for regional independence, building the local structures of participatory democracy, mutual aid and local economies that can take the place of the global capitalist system. The rebellion could join forces with Symbiosis, “a confederation of community organizations across North America, building a democratic and ecological society from the ground up.”

This brings us to the aim of rebellion: to gain concessions from those in power, rather than to overthrow the entire system. A movement that aims to keep the economic system in place can never address the root cause of ecological collapse, because it is the economy itself that needs to go. A transition to a new structure, that allows business as usual to continue under a new banner of decarbonisation, has about as much effect as covering the industrial system in a layer of green paint and calling it eco-friendly.

Here’s a couple quotes from old dead dudes to help guide the rebels into doing something more useful.

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.” — Abraham Lincoln

“We need a revolution every 200 years, because all governments become stale and corrupt after 200 years.” — Ben Franklin

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Part III will explore the history and corporate manipulation of the climate movement, and the endgame of climate action: The Fourth Industrial Revolution.





How collective intelligence can change your world, right now

21 09 2019

Published by INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, and written by my favourite journalist Nafeez Ahmed, a crowdfunded investigative journalism project for people and planet. Please support them to keep digging where others fear to tread.

INSURGE INTELLIGENCE is the only newsfeed I actually pay for, so hopefully they won’t get upset with me republishing this outstanding article…

So you want to change the world. Then grab a drink, sit down, and buckle up for a deep dive into the dynamics of system transformation. The system out there that you’re fighting is inside you. We cannot defeat it in the world until we rewire ourselves from the ground up. It’s not easy. It’s the hardest thing we’ve ever done, because it cuts across all dimensions of our life, and to the deepest recesses of our being. Because we are products of the system, until we choose not to be. But that choice, that red pill, is a lot more difficult to swallow than we might assume. It requires becoming more than what we think we are; and empowering others to do the same. The trajectory of this document is not an easy journey, not least because it’s one I’m still on. It’s dense, demanding and disciplining. Think of it as a collection of field notes attempting to distill some of the most important tools I’ve stumbled upon. The concepts, ideas and narrative that unfold below develop the foundations of a knowledge framework, a way of being, and a practice that draws on everything I’ve learned and developed as a journalist, an academic, a systems theorist, a social entrepreneur, an organisational strategist, a communications executive, a change activist, a husband, a dad, a brother, a son, a friend, an enemy, and a human being who along with some successes makes many mistakes and fails numerous times, but endeavours to learn from my mistakes and failings. This is still merely a preliminary work, which of course draws widely on and integrates the pioneering works of others. There are also gaps, and so it goes without saying that any errors, mistakes or oversights are mine and mine alone. I hope that it can help you in your own journey as a fellow traveller on spaceship earth, even if only in some small way.


We face a convergence of escalating, interlinked crises. Every day, as these crises accelerate, the capacity to address them meaningfully seems to diminish. Not only are our institutions largely incapable of understanding how these crises fit together as symptoms of a deeper overarching systemic crisis, they are increasingly overwhelmed by their impacts.

We find ourselves at the threshold of a civilisational crisis – an evolutionary crisis – the likes of which we have never experienced before, one which potentially threatens the very survival of the human species. Even without that, the mounting pressures in the form of environmental destruction, the prevalence of war, the risks of nuclear annihilation, escalating inequalities, rising xenophobia, increasing authoritarianism, dangers to supply chains, volatile markets, epidemics of mental illness, gun violence, violence against women, all represent at once flaws in our current paradigm, and opportunities to move beyond it.

These crises escalate and deepen at all scales – global, regional, national, local. They impact on us through myriad ways, on our governments, our intergovernmental organisations, our nations, our societies, our communities, our cultures, our businesses, our companies, our nonprofits, our social enterprises, our selves, our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our spirits.

And so we face an evolutionary moment: we either succumb to the converging catastrophes of civilisational decline, or we grasp an opportunity to transcend them by adapting new capacities and behaviours, that allow us to become more than what we were.

In order to respond effectively, we need an entirely different approach. This document offers a systems approach derived from my own work and experiences to articulate a way of approaching these crises through the lens of ‘collective intelligence’. It sets out a fresh way of seeing things, and an accompanying set of processes and practices, which can be adopted by any person or group, whether an individual, a family, company or organisation. It is an applied toolkit, written as a foundational resource and roadmap for anyone who is truly serious about wanting to work for a better world. If you’re not into that, this document is not for you.

Many of the themes explored here could be explained and elaborated further – and I’ll be doing exactly that in future. Many of them can be implemented in different ways – through innovative approaches to digital platforms, through journalism, through entrepreneurship, through charity and philanthropy, through organisational strategy, through mindfulness, self-development and beyond. But the upshot is that they revolve around human practice – at root, this is something that at core you have to do in your own life.

I begin by mapping out a broad systems paradigm for how we can make sense of the world around us anew in a way that captures the complexity of what is happening. I will then move into how this systems paradigm provides useful insights into the nature of intelligence and wisdom, and how those insights can be distilled into a new way of cultivating intelligence and translating that intelligence into concrete transformative actions.

1. Who we are

We are systems. To be more precise, we are complex adaptive systems.

system exists whenever multiple things exist in some sort of interrelationship with the others.

complex system exists when the relations between these things lead the system as a whole to display patterns of behaviour that are qualitatively beyond and can’t be reduced to the properties of its component parts.

complex adaptive system exists when the system as a whole is able to restructure, change – adapt – by changing the behaviour of its component parts, in order to survive.

A biological organism is a complex adaptive system. Millions of years of evolution have taken place because complex living systems were able to adapt to their environment. One of the ways they did this is by processing information from their environment and translating it through genetic mutations. The organisms that did this successfully had the greatest chance of adapting to their environment and surviving. The survival and evolution of the human species — of human civilisation — is, of course, more than just a case of generating the right set of genetic mutations. That’s because we make choices about how we organise our societies.

When a complex adaptive system is particularly challenged by its environmental conditions, it enters a stage of crisis. The crisis challenges the existing structures, the existing relationships, and patterns of behavior in a system.

If the crisis intensifies, it can reach a threshold that can undermine the integrity of the whole system. Eventually, either the system adapts by restructuring, leading to a ‘phase-shift’ into a new system, a new stable equilibrium — or it regresses.

One of the important things we do as living organisms is extract energy from our environment, which is then processed to fuel our activity. An important distinction we have with most other biological organisms is that due to our intelligence, we are capable of engaging with our environment in a quite unique way. This involves manipulating things in our environment to develop new tools which provide more efficient ways of extracting and harnessing energy to develop various structures and activities that serve our needs and wants.

An important feature of human civilisation is that its growth has been enabled by this capacity to extract increasing quantities of surplus energy – energy that is not needed to extract energy itself, but which can therefore be used for other services.

We are biological organisms which, simultaneously, are coextensive with psychological, social and spiritual experiences – that is, carrying mental lives, thoughts and memories in a social context where we make decisions and judgements based on our interpretation of the ‘values’ of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

We are also integrally interconnected with each other and other species through a complex web of life that comprises, in its entirety, the Earth System – or, drawing on chemist James Lovelock, Gaia, an amazing self-regulatory natural system which is finely-tuned for the support of life as we know it.

Going further, we also now know that on the level of fundamental particles, we and the entire universe are (meta?)physically interconnected across spacetime through quantum entanglement in a way that we still do not fully understand; and that the act of observation by measurement plays a fundamental role in the manifestation of what is real. In short, there has already been a paradigm shift in our scientific understanding of the world but relatively few are aware of it, let alone have explored its ramifications.

Evolutionary biology and the life-cycles of multiple human civilisations through history teach us that at the core of the capacity to survive is a fundamental capability: the capability to evolve on the basis of accurate sensing-making toward the environment.

While we have many disagreements about the behavioural component of moral values, we generally are incapable of operating without reference to them in some way. We tend to make decisions based on what we consider to be ‘right’ or ‘good’.

It is now clear, however, that dominant moral behavioural categories associated with the prevailing paradigm of social organisation are dysfunctional. They are in fact reflective of behavioural patterns which are contributing directly not just to the destabilisation and destruction of civilisation, along with the extinction of multiple species, but potentially to the very annihilation of the human species itself.

If we take a moral or ethical value to be indicative of a particular mode or pattern of behaviour, we can conclude from our current civilisational predicament that the predominant value-system premised on self-maximisation through endless material accumulation is fundamentally flawed, out of sync with reality, and objectively counterproductive. Conversely, values we might associate with more collaborative and cooperative behaviours appearing to recognise living beings as interconnected, such as love, generosity and compassion (entailing behavioural patterns in which self-maximisation and concern for the whole are seen as complementary rather than conflictual), would appear to have an objective evolutionary function for the human species.

This gives us a clue as to how more optimal behavioural patterns would appear to align with ethical values. More specifically, though, the key to evolutionary adaptation through new more ethical behavioural patterns is accessing information about our environment with direct ramifications for our behaviour.

Evolutionary adaptations occur on the basis of new behaviours and capacities that emerge from new genetic mutations. Genetic mutations are carriers of highly complex new information. But they can only produce the most useful information for adaptations if they reflect and adapt to challenges that emerge in the natural environment.

An organism that fails to coherently translate complex information about its environment into appropriate physical adaptations cannot evolve to meet circumstances, and will therefore be unable to survive as pressure escalates.

The first insight we can take away from this is that successful evolution cannot occur without processing accurate information from and about one’s relationship with the natural environment.

This has particularly profound implications when applied to human beings.

The human species is the only one on the planet capable of consciously adopting entirely different modes and patterns of behaviour based on our understanding of ourselves and the natural world. This conscious capability, which we might see as a core feature of human intelligence, has allowed human beings to develop a wide array of tools which extract and apply surplus energy to rapidly exert increasing dominion over the natural world over centuries, culminating in the civilisational system that exists today.

This in turn leads to the following insight: the goal of behavioural adaptation requires us to remain open to relevant new information – information that is relevant to our evolution, which can aid in our adaptations and help us avoid catastrophes that hinder our evolution.

Just as each human being is a complex adaptive system on a micro scale, different collectives of the human species whether groups, institutions and organisations are wider complex adaptive systems, all of which function as sub-systems of the macro complex adaptive system that is global human civilisation as a whole.

There is therefore an indelible interconnection between each human being and the wider global system of which they are part. Macro structures in the global civilisational system emerge from the patterns of behaviour that occur at sub-systemic (regional and national) and micro (individual) scales. In turn, those macro structures constrain and configure those patterns.

In a very real sense, then, what happens in the world ‘out there’ is not entirely separate and distinct from what happens ‘in here’ within the individual. To some extent, what is going on ‘out there’ no matter how seemingly distant or abhorrent is likely to be reflective of processes that individuals experience in themselves and in their own lives – and vice versa. Incoherencies at the global level are likely to find counterparts at regional, national and individual levels.

When we see incoherence in the world, it may well reflect or refract in some way our own incoherencies – no matter how much we might ostensibly dislike or be opposed to them.

2. Intelligence and decision-making

In order to survive and thrive, human beings need to be able to adapt to environmental change. In today’s complex global civilisation, adapting to environmental change entails adapting a wide range of social, economic, political and cultural processes, all of which are embedded in a deeper context of energy and environmental systems.

This, further, requires that we develop analytical and empathic capabilities to process information in such a way that we can separate out inaccurate, useless, dysfunctional and maladaptive information, from accurate, useful, functional and adaptive information.

In short, making sound, healthy decisions is impossible without being able to process information relevant to those decisions.

The key lesson is that full, accurate and holistic information is critical for any individual, organisation or society in order to adapt to its changing environment, survive, and thrive. The function of intelligence here is clear: wisdom – to engage with one’s environment in all its stunning complexity; to enable decision-making that underpins behavioural adaptations to that environment.

2.1 The prevalent cognitive-behavioural model: closed loops

In the twenty-first century context of modern industrial civilisation, the volume of data being produced and shared has dramatically increased, but little of this is translated into meaningful knowledge about the world that is useful and actionable.

The inability to process this avalanche of complex information into insights about the world with clear implications for action is potentially fatal, as it means the ability to adapt to real-world conditions is greatly diminished.

In the twentieth century, information flows were far more centralised, largely dominated by media and publishing conglomerates. Information flows were primarily top-down and hierarchical. While quality standards were often more stringent, well-defined and consistently applied, information was often biased by being indelibly configured by dominant structures of power.

In the twenty-first century model that has emerged in the era of Big Data and social platforms, the information playing field has transformed. While centralised fulcrums of information production still exist, they are weakening in their reach. Simultaneously, new decentralised mechanisms for the production and dissemination of information have become ubiquitous. Although decentralised in their reach, these platforms are also still subject to tightly networked concentric circles of power.

Overwhelmed by cognitive biases, humans tend to gravitate toward information flows which confirm their existing beliefs and practices. Consequently, information flows have become increasingly polarised as communities form around disparate bubbles of self-reinforcing ideological opinion, and there is no mechanism to integrate the insights across these different ideology sub-sets.

This has created festering bubbles of polarised ideology, undermining any capacity for collective intelligence. Often we like to think that we are beyond such limitations, but this is a delusion. Avoiding the constraints of ideological bias is a practice that requires constant vigilance and a strategic approach to information.

It is becoming more widely recognised that the prevailing model of information perpetuates closed loops of information that are often mutually-exclusive. This actually inhibits the capacity to receive new information.

Large incoming volumes of new information end up being processed through pre-existing closed loops, thus reinforcing the same longstanding biases and preconceptions. With no new information coming in, the ability to understand the real complexity of the world as a whole system largely evaporates.

Most media outlets do not really understand the world because they see it through a specific set of lenses, biases, or perspectives. As such the information they produce is either fragmented, confusing and overwhelming; or it is sifted through the slant of an ideological framework which consistently prefigures the outlook into the same suite of beliefs and values.

There is, consequently, a diminished capacity to grasp how particular events or incidents can have indelible impacts on other issues; on how they emerge from deeper forces and trends; and on how they are likely to impact in terms of new forces and trends.

In the end, rather than empowering people, organisations, companies or governments to take productive action in the world, the prevailing information model tends to swamp them with a sense of only two cognitive states: complete disorientation or ideological bias.

Often, the cognitive state will switch between these modes, back and forth, in a self-reinforcing fashion. Disorientation is met with a reliance on old, comfortable ideological attachments tied to familiar behavioural responses. When those fail, disorientation sets in again, until those attachments can be brought to the surface or reconstructed in a repackaged way.

News consumers often have little choice but to react in the short-term to news stimuli framed by narrow ideology or opinion. This leaves policy makers, business leaders, citizens and change activists on the perpetual back-foot, always reacting, always struggling to catch up, always behind the curve.

Reading this, you might be tempted to focus on seeing how these negative dynamics play out in organisations, consultative agencies, political parties, governments, nonprofits and companies that you believe are problematic. But while important, that’s easy. More immediately impactful, and essential before doing the former, is to discern how these dynamics play out in organisations, networks and groups that you support, or with which you’re affiliated.

If you do this properly, you will begin to see how not only those you support, but you yourself, engage in practices and behavioural patterns which reinforce closed information loops.

In turn, you will be able to see that it is such closed information loops that are responsible for negative and self-defeating cycles of behaviour which do not change, and are incapable of change.

These closed loops of information and fixed behavioural patterns are part of the same matrix of dysfunction – whether in your own mind, family, community, business or society.

3. The evolutionary model: open nodes of engagement

Those of us who retain some commitment to being the best that we can be, to the human species, and all species on earth surviving and thriving together, are required to explore different approaches.

Those approaches, to succeed, will need to involve the following features.

3.1 Discerning the known

We require from the outset a rigorous sense-making system designed to discern fact from falsehood. This requires grounding all our sense-making efforts quite consciously in an axiomatic logic system. This doesn’t have to be an explicit, visible process, though that might help – but it does need to be systematic.

An axiomatic logic system entails applying a logico-deductive method to test our own assumptions and beliefs against our experiences of the world. That requires establishing a clear sense of what our incoming data-points are, both internally and externally, to set out the factual basis and assumptions that underlie our beliefs. Behind every argument or position we hold, are the assumptions we make. By bringing them to the surface, we demand of ourselves that we do our best to validate these assumptions in real data, so that our assumptions are either irrefutably true in a logical sense or empirically-validated; and if we can’t validate them, then we become empowered to acknowledge this and respond accordingly. Ideally, we want to get to a point where our core assumptions about the world are irrefutably true from a logical point of view or empirically-validated.

In the past, we have found it helpful to refer to these data-points as ‘axioms’ (drawing on the work of early Greek mathematicians); to refer to the new information that emerges from analysis of these axioms as ‘insights’; and to then draw on these insights to scope out the possibilities for ‘actions’.

This tripartite structure in short seeks to identify what we really know, separate it out from what we don’t know or realise to be false; leverage this knowledge across the whole ‘system of systems’ to develop new insights into the system; and leverage these new insights – new knowledge – to develop a new framework to support sound decisions for adaptive action in the world.

In the same vein, we want to ensure that we develop new information about the world on the basis of systemic and holistic analysis of these axioms. That requires an approach that seeks to avoid common cognitive errors, such as making generalisations, false inferences, unjustified analogies, and other fallacies often associated with cognitive bias. As much as possible, we will want to ensure that our new insights about the world are framed so that they fit as closely as possible the axiomatic data-points that we are collecting.

Does a theory or inference have real backing in empirical data?

Does the data specifically and wholly back the inference or only partially?

Is there added speculation and assumption in deriving the inference, assumption that is not fully grounded in the available data?

Is the inference genuinely coherent, or does it contain contradictions and tensions?

How does it cohere with other areas of knowledge?

When our beliefs can no longer be directly derived from our axioms, then they have ceased to be insights at all and instead have become ideology. In that case, we need to ask ourselves where exactly these ideas are coming from, and why we insist on believing them.

3.2 An ecosystem of shared knowledge

The next thing we require from the outset is a new framework of looking at reality – whatever that reality is from our perspective – through a complex systems framework explicitly designed to engage with the reality of the world as a ‘system of systems’.

An axiomatic logic system will be of little use if applied in a closed information context – in that case it would not even be open to new information, genuinely new data outside the circumference of one’s own knowledge-loop, and even if that data came in, it would simply self-selected out of relevance. An open node of information requires, by its very nature, a multidisciplinary lens that can navigate information outside of the comfort zone of one’s own ‘expertise’ or disciplinary focus.

So our first goal is to develop our cognitive capacities to begin to sense the world as a complex system of open, interconnected systems. This framework unearths the inherent systemic interconnections between and across multiple social, economic, political, psychological, cultural, energy, ecological, technological, industrial, and other domains; as well as between key problems/challenges and relevant stakeholders.

This requires an upgrading effort to build our cognitive capacities in our own contexts. First and foremost, that means training ourselves as individuals. Secondarily, that means looking at how this can be achieved in the organisational context of the institutions we work and play in.

Developing the multidisciplinary lens to see the world as a ‘system of systems’ will have inevitable limitations on an individual level, and therefore requires constant engagement with cross-sector disciplinary expertise. It also requires holistic frameworks that are capable of actually doing cross-sector engagement in a way that works, by being grounded in an empirically-validated understanding of real world systems.

The next goal is to do the very opposite of what we do within closed loops of information. Closed loops of information are reinforced by active behaviours of individuals to self-select information according to their preconceived biases. This tends to reinforce polarised narratives. It also reinforces closed internal information loops that uphold favoured and familiar beliefs and values; blocks the capacity to accept and process new insights about the world; and locks one into a cycle of dysfunctional behavioural patterns which cannot be escaped.

The opposite approach would be to leverage and integrate multiple, dissonant perspectives as the core mechanism by which to explore disparate and often confusing streams of information about particular issues. Instead of avoiding, opposing, vilifying and excommunicating contradictory points of view, this approach requires engaging those points of view to leverage their respective insights.

This approach is premised on a fundamental axiom: that our point of view, no matter how ‘right’ we think it to be, is ultimately fallible, limited and derived from a limited data-set. No matter how much we do to correct for this, our perspective will always be limited. This means that at any time, our perspective will always be exactly that: a perspective on the world, not a true, full and accurate picture. Correcting for this requires an ongoing strategic approach to information that engages with multiple contradictory perspectives on a perpetual basis.

Therefore, we need to build in a process – whether as individuals or organisations – to navigate the dissonance between opposing points of view. Real insights can only be developed by applying an axiomatic logic system to discern fact from fakery in a way that has to be consistent across all perspectives.

In today’s model, it has become a prevailing trend for people who situate themselves within particular closed loops of information whether ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘centre’ or whatever to only call out falsehood among other closed loops of information that oppose their own. In this case, it is often even seen as disloyal to call out falsehood or lack of integrity among information producers that one is attached to. This is a symptom of deep civilisational decline in our collective capacity for information integrity.

This approach guarantees that failures and flaws within one’s own ideological framework will be systematically ignored and underplayed. Apart from anything else, this is a strategy for internal cognitive collapse whose inevitable result will be an increasing dislocation from the complex system of systems that is the real world. It will, simultaneously, represent a moral decline of the highest order, in which obsessing over the wrongs of the ‘Other’ becomes a convenient substitute for holding one’s own cognitive practices and biases to account by scrutinising the integrity of one’s own closed information loop.

The alternative approach, and the only one which can sustain the possibility of adaptive evolution while averting cognitive and moral collapse, is an open node of information engagement that specifically cultivates an authentic openness to other sense-making information loops, including those with which it fundamentally disagrees. This openness is not unconditional. It can only retain epistemological authenticity by exercising an axiomatic logic system which permits access to valid insights from other loops of information while rejecting their flaws, failures and incoherencies. Equally, this openness has to be capable of leveraging external insights to excise flaws, failures and incoherencies within its own framework.

So instead of closed, polarised and mutually-exclusive loops of information which service self-reinforcing pre-existing biases, we cultivate open, intersecting nodes of humble, critical, self-reflective engagement in which new information is able to come in from multiple perspectives, to every perspective.

3.3 Finding your power in the here and now

This enables deep, context-rich engagement across multiple disciplinary domains, across multiple issues, connecting dots. This endeavour seeks to navigate, using an axiomatic approach, the whole landscape of available data and experience to develop a whole systems body of insights that can be understood in their wider systemic context, rather than simply as disparate or haphazard issues or incidents.

The resulting body of insights is, then, held across multiple perspectives, with different insights being generated by different open nodes of information and sense-making. This total body of insights across multiple nodes and perspectives can then be leveraged to support the development of whole systems collective intelligence, underpinning the capacity for healthy decision-making and coherent action in the world that drives adaptive, evolutionary behaviours.

The imperative is to identify focal points where meaningful action can actually be taken – to work on those areas where we do retain power, rather than lamenting areas where we lack power. By leveraging insights to create change here and now, in our own bodies, minds, contexts and communities, we find our true power.

4. The ethical and spiritual dynamics of collective intelligence

Examining these contrasting approaches to closed loops and open nodes of cognition-behaviour unearths a number of critical insights. Noting that ethical values are ultimately signifiers of favourable and unfavourable behavioural patterns, and that these would reflect our ‘spiritual’ orientation, we can abstract some key ethical insights.

4.1 Inner and outer

Firstly, we remind ourselves that incoherencies at the macro scale are ultimately emergent from incoherencies at the micro scale. This means that when we see and are outraged at evil in the world – forms of deep incoherence which cause extensive suffering to other beings – these incoherencies are not simply monstrosities out there.

A major cognitive flaw is to see those incoherencies as fundamentally separate to ourselves. While they are to some extent, they also represent tendencies and traits deep within our own behaviours. While confronting and attempting to change those incoherencies out there in the world is important, doing so without simultaneously addressing our own personal parallel incoherencies, which we may well manifest in our own lives in quite different interpersonal and social contexts, would ultimately fail to produce real change.

4.2 Power in humility

The second insight we take on regards the necessity of humility. By recognising that we are deeply fallible human beings with fundamental cognitive limitations we accept and embrace the reality that we are always situated from a particular vantage point on reality that however ‘right’ in its own right, is never ‘the truth’. We are required then to resist the pull of arrogance in wanting to uphold our own certainty. Arrogance and certitude reinforce closed loops of information on the assumption that we are now acquainted with ‘the whole truth’ and no longer need to seek or engage with sources of information we are unfamiliar with.

By adopting this radical humility we become open to engaging with the unfamiliar, and seek out that which might even make us uncomfortable.

Rather than insulating ourselves in a cocoon of familiar and comfortable ideas, we seek to constantly challenge ourselves, to test our assumptions and frameworks.

Rather than simply seeking to test and refute others, our priority is to learn from others’ insights and shed the skin of our own fallacies.

If we do not adopt this radical humility, we are not really interested in what is real. We are committed, instead, to ‘being right’. This is, in fact, a form of insecure egoism. It guarantees being ultimately disconnected from what is real.

4.3 The greater struggle

A third insight is that the closed loops of information we see metastasising around the world closely parallel the internal neurophysiology of the individual. These closed loops are ultimately collective extensions of our own group thinking, communication and behavioural patterns. As such, to a large extent we can find them rooted in internal cognitive processes we often take for granted and rarely subject to scrutiny (no matter how capable we are at scrutinising the incoherencies of powerful structures in the world).

The most direct parallel is the internal endless thought stream of the inner voice that we identify with, the ‘I’. Yes, that inner voice which you call ‘me’ that never stops talking, commenting, feeling, judging, reacting and so on.

Exert a modicum of mindfulness for a few moments, watch and listen to that internal voice for a while, and you’ll notice that the endless thought stream runs like a ceaseless machine, a mental ‘Duracell bunny’ on steroids. It doesn’t stop or shut up. When you try to make it so, to focus, to direct it, it usually slithers around the obstacle and finds a way to resurface with its own internal momentum.

Welcome to your own internal closed loop of information.

The thought/emotion stream, which we usually identify with, is not ‘you’ – it’s of course a part of you but the fact that you can be conscious of it in a way that allows some degree of distance and control illustrates that you, your consciousness and sense-making capacity, are more than just the sum of your thoughts and feelings.

In any case, this internal closed loop of information essentially consists of neurophysiological output from a combination of inputs: your genetic inheritance, your mother’s experiences while you were in her womb, your social and environmental stimuli since birth, your upbringing as a child, your interactions with parents, siblings and family, and later with teachers and friends, your various life-experiences throughout these processes.

Much of how we behave and respond to relationships in the world as adults comes from learned behavioural patterns which we develop in this way. They become engrained habits. These behavioural patterns in turn are rooted in engrained patterns of thought and emotion that become established based on early responses to the specific environmental and social stimuli we experience. And so, how we related to our parents and siblings can develop deep-seated unconscious frameworks of belief and emotion about ourselves and the world, which go on to frame our behaviour for years to come, if not the rest of our lives.

Anxieties and insecurities from a young age end up determining how we behave at work, or with our partners, or in social situations, decades on – something someone says today is unconsciously interpreted in our head through the lens of a child who has experienced some form of trauma or negativity. Despite the situation being completely different, we end up bringing all that trauma and negativity from the past, into our present.

In short, we spend much of our lives living in closed loops of information, emotion and action that are dysfunctional, from which we are unable to escape. That’s often because we are rarely conscious of how our reactions are not necessarily rational, but are triggered in the context of being driven by old closed loops of thought and behaviour.

(One of the features of external closed information loops we saw previously was the tendency to see flaws in other information loops than our own really easily, while conveniently refusing to subject our own closed loops of information to similar scrutiny. We do this in our own lives routinely.)

This bundle of mental activity, which I sometimes call ‘thought-trains’, tend to function with their own unceasing volition. Propelled by their own logic, they shoot forward without stopping, driving on and on. When we identify with these ‘thought-trains’, we are no longer in control. Instead we become slaves to our own neurophysiologies, puppets of our own history, automatons whose actions unfold the same patterns and loops of behaviour time and time again. In effect, we are like zombies trapped in a familiar sequence of actions and reactions.

4.4 Becoming the Driver

The bundle of ‘thought-trains’ is widely studied across religious and spiritual traditions as well as psychological and psychoanalytic theories. It is sometimes identified as a complex structure – Freud saw it as a tripartite entity made up of the id (unconscious drives), the superego (moral consciousness) and the ego which mediates in between and which we identify with.

Those concepts are in some ways valid, but a more useful approach would be to recognise that the bundle of thought-trains represents the intersection of the ego, the consciousness we identify as ‘I’, with the internal voice that manifests a continually running train of thoughts bundled with emotions. We are conscious of the thought-trains and we usually identify with them and take them for granted as representing the ‘I’, usually without recognising their deeper drivers.

Freud’s great insight in that respect was that we have little conscious input into the making of our thought-trains – they simply keep driving, responding to external stimuli on the basis of programming that is hard-coded into us over years of genetic, social and environmental stimuli.

It is only when we begin bringing some of that programming to the focus of our consciousness, when we allow ourselves to see how our thought-trains are being unconsciously driven, that we develop the capability to be free from the old closed loops of information and behaviour, and to choose truly novel courses of action undetermined by the suffocating learned behaviours, fears, negative thought cycles and cognitive dysfunctions wired into us from our past.

For Freud, the moral consciousness of the superego simply comprised learned concepts from socialisation. The ego, he thought, ends up as the inflection point and battle ground between unconscious drives (the id) propelling an intersecting bundle of thought-trains (the ego) and the moral imperatives of society (refracted through the super ego).

4.5 Conscience and the intuitive cognition of the Real

But Freud was somewhat incorrect. While interpretations of moral precepts and categories are certainly open to socialisation, the categories themselves – of rightness and wrongness, of justice, of compassion, of generosity, and so on, are universally recognised by all human beings, throughout recorded human history, across all cultures, faiths and non-faith.

We are faced with overwhelming empirical evidence that moral consciousness — and the values of cooperation, love, compassion, kindness and so on it encompasses — reflect collaborative, synchronistic patterns of behaviour which entail a paradigm of human unity and stewardship toward the earth that is in direct contradiction to the prevailing paradigm.

The latter consists of behavioural patterns, associated political, economic and cultural structures, and a coextensive value-system and ideological assumptions which edify individualistic self-maximisation through endless material accumulation and gratification. While the ultimate business-as-usual trajectory of the latter is civilisational collapse and extinction, the former represents the only way to avert the latter.

This indicates that ethical action does indeed have an objective evolutionary function coextensive with the survival of the human species. Ethical values therefore are not merely products of socialisation.

Ethical values are reflections of a deeper ontological structure that encompasses the relationship between human beings and the natural order.

What Freud called the super ego is in fact the deeper self of the human spirit, which is inherently and intuitively cognisant of her or his direct relationship with the earth, all life, life itself and the cosmos, a cognisance partially intuited through that latent function of consciousness known as the conscience, a faculty for the apprehension of ethical value.

By allowing oneself to see one’s thought-trains for what they truly are, one sees their true drivers. The act of seeing that ‘programming’ of learned behaviour, thoughts, emotions, reactions and counter-reactions is the precondition to becoming free of that programming.

This in turn allows the self to become aware of the deeper self, whose latent conscience is aligned with the earth, life and the cosmos, and to embark on truly free action through ethical self-actualisation that is in alignment with the earth, life and the cosmos.

This of course requires more than just internal seeing, but external openness – by letting go of the old dysfunctional beliefs and habits, one is now open to a regenerative engagement with what is real: and to engage with what is real, requires a renewed, vigorous attention to what is real, that includes recognition of the individual’s deep physical and metaphysical interconnection with the earth, life and the cosmos.

The failure to see these thought-trains for what they are, conversely, leads to internal crisis and collapse.

Thought-trains are often incapable of reacting meaningfully to the real world because they respond not to the world as it is but to limited constructs and perceptions and emotions about the world rooted in past experiences. The result is that they entail behavioural patterns that do not engage with what is real, and are thus destructive and dysfunctional.

This can lead to breakdowns of all kinds – internal psychological issues, depression, other mental health challenges, as well as breakdowns in relationships, whether at home or work, with partners, parents, siblings of children.

5. No social liberation without self-liberation

You can’t free the world when your spirit, mind and body are in chains woven by your own delusions. What happens at the scale of the microcosm of the individual extends to the scale of the macrocosm of society.

When we look at the dominant apparatus of mass communications today within the human species, we can see very clearly how it operates essentially as an extension of our internal dysfunctions at the ego-level.

The closed loops of self-referential information sharing on social media are extensions of the closed, insular vortex of self-reinforcing thought-trains that comprise the ego.

Just as internally, closed information loops tend to involve repeat cycles of dysfunction, often involving crisis and collapse, externally they have similar correlates. In societies and communities, in organisations and institutions, closed loops tend to involve self-reinforcing ideological assumptions. This in turn leads to fixed patterns of behaviour in organisations and groups; and dysfunctional dynamics that tend to exclude ideas and behaviours that challenge or undermine the legitimacy of those fixed patterns and the limited frames of thought they are based on.

Closed loops offer limited opportunities for real organisational learning as anything outside what is already assumed to be ‘known’ is largely excluded. This sets up the organisation for failure when it comes up against new challenges in the real world, as it is then incapable of adapting – there is no capacity to adapt to change when the organisation lacks the fundamental cognitive openness required to understand the nature of that change and its dynamics.

Closed loops thus have a cancerous quality. They tend to lead to institutional fossilisation and stagnation. When change comes, it can lead to institutional crisis and collapse, and can also trigger the resort to familiar but limited and flawed mental and behavioural models which may well be integrally related to the causes of the crisis, but are pursued anyway. The outcome of that might be kicking the can down the road – if the real issues of deep adaptation are not addressed, this guarantees a resurgence of crisis.

An open nodal approach, in contrast, entails organisational self-awareness – a critical introspection capable of seeing the structures, interests, processes and assumptions driving status quo organisational behaviours, seeing them for what they are.

The act of seeing that structural ‘programming’ of learned organisational behaviour, thoughts, emotions, reactions, unconscious bias, unconscious trauma, and counter-reactions is the precondition to key agents in the organisation becoming free of that structural programming, and thus enabling the organisation as a collection of those agents becoming free to choose a truly new, regenerative path.

It’s not enough to simply see introspectively in this way. It’s also critical to engage with the wider environment and to truly see it and understand it, beyond the stale broken paradigm of the old organisational ideology, but now for what it is. That requires an axiomatic approach that intentionally adapts to what is real – the earth, life and the cosmos – by engaging with multiple perspectives, disciplines, lenses, paradigms, in order to see what is real as a whole system, a system of systems.

On this basis, a new regenerative capability emerges: this capability involves a renewed capacity for understanding what is real that is continually improving on the basis of disciplined and compassionate self-critique and critical external engagement; an understanding that underpins the development of new adaptive values and behaviours designed for greater alignment with what is real.

This in turn allows the organisation to become aware of its potential to manifest a deeper constitution as an expression of collective intelligence, whose latent conscience is aligned with the earth, life and the cosmos, and to thereby embark on truly free action through ethical self-actualisation that is in alignment with the earth, life and the cosmos.

5.1 A new paradigm

Adaptive responses require making new, radical commitments in thought and deed, and following through with them. This is the foundational bedrock of human integrity.

In the old closed loop paradigm, we might have all sorts of conscious commitments and intentions, but these are frequently foiled due to the runaway momentum of learned thought patterns and behavioural cycles. These can surface unexpectedly and drive our actual behaviour in ways we are not always fully aware of, even when we make conscious decisions to the contrary. Unless we become aware of those internal drivers, we cannot become free to see how we are impacted by them, and cannot then become free of them.

When we subject them to the light of awareness, we become free to rise above them. But truly rising above them is only possible by creating adaptive new thought pathways and new behavioural patterns which are aligned with what is real. This requires making new commitments to what is real. By following through with those commitments we create new conceptual pathways which reflect reality, and new behavioural patterns or habits which adapt to reality.

The precondition for this is becoming awake to the closed loop of thought-trains driving behaviour. That involves seeing and letting go of one’s delusions by recognising the commitments we have really (often unconsciously) made through our behavioural patterns and their consequences in our and other lives.

We may find that the ideals we like to believe we are committed to are part of a mask we present to others and even ourselves, a shield for internal insecurities developed from a host of past traumas. Our actual behavioural commitments might well be to simply being ‘right’; or to being powerful; to being ‘smart’ or ‘cool’; to being ‘liked’ and ‘accepted’; to being ‘safe’; or to the very opposite of these, depending on how our pasts have wired our neurophysiological make-up.

When we realise that these subliminal commitments tied to our closed loops of thought and action are in fact causing us and others destruction in numerous ways, we are empowered to let them go.

It is critical to see these for what they are and in that process to let them go. On that foundation we can be ready to freely take up genuinely new, adaptive commitments.

For organisations, the process is much the same – organisational strategy and vision needs to be recalibrated and redefined on the basis of a renewed set of goals, commitments and values which define a new mission. That mission in turn has to be grounded in a whole systems assessment that goes beyond traditional abstract SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat) analysis into an approach that canvasses multidisciplinary data to make such an analysis systemic and holistic.

The foundation of integrity points to how adaptive responses require a transcending and transformation of egoism.

The ego is not abolished, but transformed into a vehicle to birth a higher and better self more attuned to that which is beyond it, and in which it is embedded.

We move from reductionism to holism, from self-absorption to mutual interconnection, from the affliction of separation and alienation to the abundance of synchronicity and cooperation, from fragmented discordant and conflictual information warfare to inclusive, synergistic and co-creative communication. We move from degenerative dynamics of chaotic collapse into complex flows of regenerative revitalisation.

The action pathways opened up through this process will need to translate a transformation in value orientation into deep structural changes.

The practice of extracting and accumulating energy to concentrate material wealth and power in the hands of a few is bound to destroy us all before century is out.

So these metabolic changes will need to reorient us from an exploitative, predatory relationship with our environment and each other, to one based on parity; from overaccumulation and centralisation of wealth and power, toward a set of clean, mutualistic, regenerative and distributive forms of resource consumption, production, ownership, and labour which move us into human-earth system energy flows that are sustainable, and which enrich all constituents.

Fundamentally, meaningful system change is about transforming our deep collective metabolic relationship with the earth, the way we extract and mobilise energy for all areas of our life through our economic, social, political, and cultural structures. If we are not talking that language, we are merely tinkering.

6. System change strategies

When systems experience a crisis due to the failure to adapt to environmental change, the crisis is existential. The system either evolves through adaptation requiring accurate environmental sense-making which mobilises behavioural adaptations; or it regresses and eventually collapses.

This stage of indeterminacy involves a phase-shift into what could become a new system, but one that either evolves or regresses. Evolution in this case consists of individual, organisational or civilisational renewal; the alternative is a form of individual, organisational or civilisational regression that comprises a step toward protracted collapse.

We are currently in the midst of a global phase-shift signalling that the prevailing order, paradigm and value-system are outmoded and unsustainable. The breakdown of the global system has led to a heightened state and speed of indeterminacy across political, economic, cultural and ideological structures and sub-systems. We experience this in the increasing confusion across all these systems, particularly expressed in the ‘post-truth’ dislocation of our prevailing information systems.

An adaptive response requires as many components of the global system as possible to embrace our evolutionary mission as individuals, families, organisations, communities, societies, nations, international institutions, and as a civilisation and species.

That entails the necessity of a multi-pronged approach involving the coordination of actors at different scales – both external ‘resistance’ pressure from below combined with high-level engagement action, calibrated with the specific goals of moving key agents toward whole systems awareness. That also entails targeting specific structures as well as aiming to shift the cognitive orientation of people whose thoughts and behaviours are the microcosmic foundations of those structures.

When a particular organisation or structure reaches a tipping point in terms of the cognitive shifting of the people that comprise it, only at that point will the wider organisational structure become vulnerable to authentic change.

A few further insights emerge here.

Firstly, the tightly coupled nature of social structures, the interconnected nature of systems, entails that the power of individual action is far more significant than often assumed.

Of course, on the one hand it’s important to adopt a pragmatic approach that accepts the limitations of one’s own power. A single individual cannot singlehandedly change the entire system. However, a single individual can act in a way that contributes to and catalyses system change, whether in the near term or, most likely, the longer term.

The interconnected nature of systems means that the consequences of one’s decisions in a social context will have a ramifying ripple of consequences with the inherent potential to impact a whole system.

How significant this impact will be depends on a number of factors:

To what extent does the action form part of a new paradigm from a systemic perspective?

To what extent does it enlist and mobilise other components of the system and nudge them into paradigm-breaking and new-paradigm modalities – and not just piecemeal actions, but wholesale transformation in conscious intent, envisioning, and behavioural pattern?

To what extent do those new, emerging patterns of thought and behaviour contribute to the emergence of new structures – new collective patterns of thought and behaviour oriented around life, the earth and the cosmos?

Having exercised the processes described so far, the task is to choose — based on the wide systemic and holistic assessment of oneself, one’s socio-organisational context, and the wider whole systems (political, cultural, economic, etc) context — the path of adaptive, transformative action.

The direction of action one chooses will be different for different people and will be entirely contingent on who one is, and the full context of environmental, social, political, cultural, economic, family and other relationships in which one is embedded.

Based on that assessment, variable paths and opportunities for action will become clear. The path chosen should be designed to mobilise the best of your skills, experiences, available resources and networks to transform (to the extent possible) your self and to then leverage that internal movement in your specific context to pursue ways to create (to the extent possible) paradigm-shifting intentions and behavioural patterns that can lay the foundation for the emergence of new-paradigm structures and systems in your particular context.

The preceding discussion illustrates a certain logic to this process, however. The groundwork requires an action pathway in pursuit of the transformation of sense-making and harnessing of information in your targeted social context as the first step. This naturally requires moving beyond abstract generalisations and focusing concretely on your existing, actual situation in a place-based context.

The next step is to leverage this to create a generative dialogue across multiple perspectives within your social, organisational or institutional context to generate an authentic awakening of whole systems awareness relevant to that place-based context.

The final step is to cast this awareness on the existing system-structure and its failures in that specific context, with a view to unearth pressure-points and opportunities for transformative action through scenario analysis:

What would a new system, a new structure, a new way of living and working and relating that is in parity with life, the earth and the cosmos look like in this locality, for this family or this community?

How do we take concrete steps to get there, to build that new paradigm through the construction and enactment of new forms of intention, reflection and behaviour?

What would happen if we fail to adopt these steps?

Among the insights that emerge from this is that system change is not possible through disengaging from said system. While applying pressure to the system can sometimes work, this too can often be counterproductive and produce unintended results in which powerful agents who benefit from the system simply react by attempting to squeeze out and neutralise the power of these ‘resistance’ efforts. Often, by triggering such militarised responses, traditional ‘resistance’ approaches alone end up in a self-defeating cycle in which they cannot win – given that ‘resistance’ can never match the overwhelming power of the militarised responses they invariably invoke.

This does not mean traditional ‘resistance’ is not without value, but it does show that as a sole strategy for change, it is likely to fail.

System change requires a full range of strategic approaches at multiple levels. Applying ‘resistance’ pressure may be one useful and appropriate lever at certain times. More broadly, also required are strategies of critical engagement. This entails moving into the structures and systems one wishes to change and applying the new patterns of intention and action within them; finding opportunities to apply our multi-staged process of sense-making, information-gathering, communicating and dialoguing, waking up (to the recognition of the need for transformation); and finally embarking on the pathway of paradigm-shifting action to move that system into a new adaptive configuration.

System change efforts need to be undertaken by people and organisations in explicit recognition that we are currently experiencing a global phase-shift, wherein exists an unprecedented opportunity to engage in the act of planting microcosmic seeds for macrocosmic change.

The goal of these efforts should be to pursue activities that reach threshold tipping point levels of impact that can push key sections in the system over into a new stable state.

That requires the likeminded to forge new levels of coordination across the system between multiple groups, organisations, institutions, classes – to plant the seeds of a new network cutting across societies and communities through which new channels of communication, sharing and learning can be developed to transmit revitalised cognitive awareness based on whole systems sense-making. On that foundation, emergent adaptive structures, institutions, practices and behavioural patterns can be shared, explored and prototyped in multiple place-based contexts.

Every single individual, group and organisation that is committed to a better world needs to build in a process for this adaptive, evolutionary practice into its internal constitution. If this is not a priority at some level, you’re committed to something else (unconsciously or otherwise) and need to do some work to find out what and why.

Needless to say, systems and structures which insist on resisting such change efforts will ultimately break-down during the phase-shift.

Another fundamental insight that emerges here is that it is utterly pointless to embark on an effort to change the world, the system, or any other social context external to you, without having begun with yourself.

This is a continual process, a constant discipline. Because the microcosm and the macrocosm are ultimately reflections of each other. The world without is a construct and projection of the worlds within.

More concretely, if you have not even begun the process of comprehending how your own self, thoughts, behavioural patterns and neurophysiology are wired by the wider system, in order to become truly free to manifest the self of your own true choosing, you will never be equipped to engage in a meaningful effort to change the system.

Instead your battle to change externalities will become a projection-field for your internal dysfunctions and instead of contributing to system change, you will unwittingly bring regressive egoic tendencies into the reinforcement of entrenched prevailing system dynamics in the name of ‘resistance’. Having unconsciously internalised the external regressive system values and dynamics you resent, you will end up promoting those very same dynamics in your ‘activism’.

Efforts to call out power are meaningless if you have not toppled the tyrant within. This requires intensive and ongoing self-training, alongside continued external engagement in your socio-organisational context.

Relinquish the closed loops to become an open node. Embrace your ontological interconnection with all life, the earth and the cosmos and discover your self as a conscious expression of them; and in that discovery, take on your existential responsibility to life, the earth and the cosmos, thereby becoming who you truly are. Hold yourself accountable. Grow up and show up in your own life and context. Accept your responsibility for the broken relationships around you, acknowledge the breakdowns in integrity in your commitments, make amends and resolve new authentic commitments. And bring that emerging integrity, humility and clear-sightedness into a renewed effort to build paradigm-shifting visions and practices within the context that you can actually reach. And you will plant a seed whose only destiny will be to inexorably blossom.

Perhaps the most immediate challenge ahead is to face up to the inevitable demise of the old paradigm, internally and externally, and to accept what that means. At first, this may appear to be something that induces tremendous grief. And indeed, the demise of the old will inevitably bring immense devastation and suffering— the dangers of this recognition are that it leads to either of two extreme emotional reactions, optimistic denialism or fatalistic pessimism. Neither is useful, nor justified by the available data, and both reinforce apathy. They are devoid of life. When properly grounded in life itself, acceptance of the demise of the old paradigm is the precondition for moving into a new life, a new way of working, playing and being that is attuned to life, the earth and the cosmos; it is the precondition for finding the power to begin co-creating new paradigms.

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Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is the founding editor of INSURGE intelligence. Nafeez is a 17-year investigative journalist, formerly of The Guardian where he reported on the geopolitics of social, economic and environmental crises. Nafeez reports on ‘global system change’ for VICE’s Motherboard. He has bylines in The Independent on Sunday, The Independent, The Scotsman, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, New York Observer, The New Statesman, Prospect, Le Monde diplomatique, among other places. He has twice won the Project Censored Award for his investigative reporting; twice been featured in the Evening Standard’s top 1,000 list of most influential Londoners; and won the Naples Prize, Italy’s most prestigious literary award created by the President of the Republic. Nafeez is also a widely-published and cited interdisciplinary academic applying complex systems analysis to ecological and political violence. He is a Research Fellow at the Schumacher Institute.





After capitalism, what comes next? For a start, ethics

31 07 2015

Jenny Cameron, University of Newcastle; Katherine Gibson, University of Western Sydney, and Stephen Healy, University of Western Sydney

If the comments generated by the recent publication of excerpts from Paul Mason’s forthcoming book, Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future, are anything to go by, its release at the end of the month should kick up a storm.

Mason’s book is about a seismic economic shift already underway, one that is as profound as the transformation from feudalism to capitalism. In the excerpts, Mason observes that:

… whole swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm.

The shift is evidenced by developments such as collaborative production and the sharing economy. Mason attributes this economic transformation to advances in information technology, particularly the global networks of people and ideas that are now possible.

Such large-scale pronouncements inevitably generate an equally strong pushback, albeit in very different ways. For example, some comments on the published excerpts align with Fredric Jameson’s observation that sometimes for the Left:

… it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.

Other comments are more aligned with climate-change denialism and the sentiment that “it is easier to desire the end of the world than to desire the end of capitalism”.

For those of us who research and practise in the area of what might be called “diverse economies”, Mason’s provocations are welcome. They help to shed light on the array of economic activities that are usually ignored in discussions about economics and they provide an opportunity to debate our economic future.

Enabling but not guaranteeing a better future

Mason’s is a technologically focused vision of transformation. Information technology provides both the catalyst and the means for transitioning from capitalism to a new post-capitalist world. This world will be characterised by “a new way of living” and “new values and behaviours” as unrecognisable to us today as the gritty world of belching factories and waged work would have been to the landed gentry and tenant farmers of pre-industrial Europe.

But there is one important difference between Mason’s post-capitalism and the capitalist and feudal systems that preceded it. The reshaped economic system will, according to Mason, offer hitherto unrealised economic freedoms and liberties with:

… the whole of human intelligence one thumb-swipe away.

There is no doubt that information technology is transforming the lives we can now lead. But technology does not in and of itself guarantee a better future. The much-vaunted “successes” of the sharing economy do not necessarily improve the precarious and exploitative working conditions of those who sign up. For instance, drivers are finding this with Uber, the app-based ride-service that is networked across 58 countries and had, in December 2014, an estimated value of US$41 billion.

Where information technology is generating better futures it seems to rest on explicit ethical commitments that are developed independent of online apps and cyber networks.

For example, in Japan, Fureai Kippu (literally “ticket for a caring relationship”) is based on a commitment to caring for the elderly. Volunteers earn “time credits” by providing care to elderly people. They can transfer these credits to relatives or friends who need care, or they can save the credits for their own future use.

Fureai Kippu emerged in the 1980s, building on a tradition of volunteerism and reciprocal assistance. Technological advances have enabled the network to spread geographically. There are now schemes in London, Los Angeles and Switzerland, and credits earned in these locations can be transferred to relatives or friends elsewhere, including Japan.

Mayumi Hayashi talks about the successes of Fureai Kippu in providing elderly care in Japan.

Technology is augmenting relations of care for others. Technology does not bring these relations into being.

The ethics of the new economies

In our research on the diverse economic practices that exist outside the purview of mainstream economics, we find people are forging new types of economies around six ethical concerns:

  • What do we need to survive well?
  • What happens to surplus, or what is left over after our survival needs have been met?
  • How do we act responsibly to those whose inputs help us to survive well (whether other people or the environment)?
  • How much and what do we consume in order to survive well?
  • How do we care for the commons – the gifts of nature and intellect that we rely on?
  • How do we invest so that future generations can also live well?

For us, these are the different rhythms around which new forms of economic life are taking shape. Like Mason we see these new forms as the building blocks of a “post-capitalist” world (as we wrote about almost ten years ago in A Postcapitalist Politics). Unlike Mason, we see innovations in information technology and networking as supporting rather than driving the economic changes that will be needed.

Our route to post-capitalism foregrounds the ethical dimensions of economic life, and how technologies and regimes of governance might:

  1. Foster less “me”- and “now”-focused subjects of history;
  2. Support more responsible interactions with the ecologies in which we live.

Mason rightly points out that post-capitalism calls forth new types of human beings. He looks to:

… young people all over the world breaking down 20th-century barriers around sexuality, work, creativity and the self.

While we too welcome the widespread acceptance of transformations that feminist and queer politics initiated, there is a worrying undertone of hyper-individualism and libertarianism if we limit ourselves to these examples.

We find glimpses of post-capitalist subjects on a wider canvas of how people are transforming the ways they take responsibility for other humans and “earth others” (or what Pope Francis calls our common home). Think, for example, of the workers in Argentina who, after recovering rundown factories in the 2000s, said things such as:

The factory isn’t ours. We are using it, but it belongs to the community … The profits shouldn’t go to us … but to the community.

We find glimpses in how the people of Norway manage their sovereign wealth fund by foregrounding the well-being of future generations. As one Norwegian economist explained:

We cannot spend this money now; it would be stealing from future generations.

Instead funds are invested for the future and increasingly in investments, such as clean-energy technologies, that will also benefit environmental futures.

Technology and networks in themselves are not liberation. But they can serve to sensitise us to the indivisible nature of people and planet, and to amplify our capacities to empathise, work together and find a way forward on a planet that is damaged, but not beyond repair. In our view, this is the post-capitalism our present circumstances require.

The Conversation

Jenny Cameron is Associate Professor, School of Environmental and Life Sciences at University of Newcastle.
Katherine Gibson is Professor of Economic Geography, Institute for Culture and Society at University of Western Sydney.
Stephen Healy is Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society at University of Western Sydney.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.





The End of Endless Growth: Part 2

4 01 2015

THIS is the follow up to part 1 published a little while ago…

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

Written by Nafeez Ahmed

Worried about the shit hitting the fan on climate change and other major crises? Good. Because those crises prove that we have an unprecedented opportunity to change the world.

Yesterday, I ​pointed to the groundbreaking work of University of Turin economist Mauro Bonaiuti on the deeper roots of the ongoing crisis of capitalism in a wider environmental crisis. The ‘endless growth’ model of unlimited material accumulation that we take for granted is increasingly breaching natural and environmental limits of the biosphere, with devastating consequences. 

Yet Bonauiti is hardly a lone voice. He represents a widening ​movement of econo​mists and scient​ists who are pointing to the need to re-e​ngineer capitalism as we know it if we want to sustain prosperity while sav​ing the planet. The pseudo-debate over whether 2015 entails recession or recovery overlooks the bigger picture: that the global economic crisis is simply a stage in the long decline of a paradigm that has outlasted its usefulness.

“Far from being all doom and gloom, continuing global economic fragility is symptomatic of a fundamental shift”

Far from being all doom and gloom, continuing global economic fragility is symptomatic of a fundamental shift in the very nature of civilization itself. The new era of slow growth and austerity has emerged because the biosphere is forcing us to adapt to the consequences of breaching environmental limits.

This fundamental shift has also brought about significant changes that offer profound opportunities for systemic transformation that could benefit humanity and the planet. These five interlinked revolutions in information, food, energy, finance and ethics are opening up opportunities for communities to co-create new ways of being that work for everyone. This year we could discover that the very disruption of capitalism itself is part of a major tipping point in the transition to a new post-industrial, post-capitalist paradigm.

The information revolution

The world is currently, quite clearly, at the dawn of a huge technological revolution in information that has already in the space of a few years transformed the way we do things, and is pitched to trigger ongoing changes in coming decades. A glimpse of some of those changes, and the possibility of weaponizing them, can be found in my article on the Pentagon’s plans for defense reform.

The main impact of the information revolution so far has been the decentralization of communications infrastructure across the world, the increasing interconnection of different countries and communities, and as a consequence, the opening up of myriad sources of information, often for free, to the public.

Of course, this is no global village. Access to the internet remains massively unequal between rich and poor, and new battle-lines have been drawn—illustrated by the impunity and unaccountability of mass surveillance by intelligence agencies in cahoots with corporations, as well as ongoing efforts by telecoms giants and governments to explore ways of controlling and censoring the internet.

But this is largely a regressive response to the increasing inability to control the inherently uncontrollable and decentralized dynamic of the information revolution. We now know that intelligence agencies are playing catch-up as it has become clear that social media is an enabler of radical political messaging and, thus, an amplifier for social movements capable of facilitating the toppling of repressive military regimes that happen to be our closest allies (Egypt, anyone?).

Similarly, the attempt to shut-down Pirate Bay has been futile. The moment legislation was introduced to kill the site, instead of disappearing, hundreds of Pirate Bay mirror sites proliferated in a manner demonstrating the literal impossibility of ever being able to eliminate the flagship pirating portal. The latest raid on the Pirate Bay’s servers in Sweden resulted in the immediate ​launch of a Pirate Bay “clone” site by competitor Isohunt. In 2012, the site had become more portable and easier to clone. Now Bruno Kra​mm, Berlin chairman of the Pirate Party which was founded after the first Pirate Bay shut-down in 2005 to promote online information sharing, promised that the site would simply re-open by multiplying servers. “Basically, each time you shut the Pirate Bay down, we will multiply,” he said.

It is this freedom of information, both in accessibility and cost, that is also eating into the traditional business models of the broadcast and print media.

Those models are walking dead. The members of the next ge​neration do not read newspapers, and they don’t watch TV news. They get their info from YouTube shows, curate their news from across multiple mainstream and alternative digital sources, while sharing and communicating news across social networ​ks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Vine, Tumblr, and so on. And this is a big reason why the conventional business models of the mainstream media are experiencing rapid​ decline.

Despite its pitfalls, the information revolution has thus opened up previously unthinkable opportunities for alternative media, accessibility of information, and interconnections between different people, communities, social movements, and nations. Hence, the rapid​ proliferation in the last decade of alternative news sites and sources such as blogs, community news platforms, and reader-supported models of digital journalism.

This is already undermining the relevance of traditional centralized information highways, and creating sp​ace for public engagement and new digital media models, in a process that will only accelerate and become increasingly unstoppable as encryption and privacy tools become cheaper and more common.

The energy revolution

As I’ve shown ​elsewhere, the fossil fuel system is already in its death throes. Costs of production have rocketed for oil, gas and coal, and the market simply cannot afford to pay prices high enough for the big fossil fuel majors to sustain increasing profits.

Mark Lewis, former head of energy research at Deutsche Bank, points out that the industry is investing “at exponentially higher rates for increasingly small incremental yields of energy.”

This year the US Energy In​formation Administration found that as a consequence of this shift to expensive energy, the world’s leading oil and gas companies were sinking into a debt ​trap even before the latest oil price crash. Their net debt increased by $106 billion in the year up to March, while they sold off $73 billion of assets to cover surging production costs. “Alarm bells are ringing. Investors can see that this is unsustainable,” Lewis recently told the Telegraph. “They are starting to ask whether it wouldn’t be better to return cash to shareholders, and wind down the companies.”

As the fossil fuel empire crumbles, in contrast, the cost of renewable energy technologies (especially solar and wind) is dramatically falling even as efficiency gains are rapidly increasing. According to Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Stanford business studies lecturer Tony Seba, who forecasts the dominance of solar within just 15 years, the Energy Return On Energy Investment or EROEI of solar is far superior over the long-term than fossil fuels.

Seba told me that conventional EROIE calculations are potentially misleading because they ignore critical costs and externalities, especially in land and water usage, waste and pollution. Applying the concept of Energy Payback Time (EPBT) to photovoltaic (PV) solar panels—where EPBT is how long it takes to produce the same quantity of energy that was used to create and install the panels—Seba notes that recent thin film technologies will payback this energy in around just one year. After that point, effectively, energy is generated for free. If a thin film panel produces energy for 25 years, then its EROEI is 25. “This is far higher than the published results for most forms of energy today, including oil, gas, wind, and nuclear,” Seba said.

But Seba also pointed out that PV panels are likely to last many decades after 25 years. Panel performance degrades at around 0.5 percent per year, which means that even after 60 years, they would produce at 70 percent capacity. EROEI would therefore be on the order of 50 or 60. Given that by 2020, PV costs are expected to drop by another two thirds or so, this suggests that by then EROIE for solar would be even higher, potentially as much as 150. And as the efficiency and capacity of PV technology continues to improve (at a rate of 22% every 2-3 years), EROEI of solar PV technology is pitched to reach triple digits and exponentially improve, rather than degrade.

Fossil fuels simply cannot compete with this. As costs continue to drop, businesses and communities are already shifting rapidly to cheaper, decentralized solar, where post-EPBT energy is literally free. When combined with the fast emerging storage solutions diminishing prices, the old model of being dependent on expensive, centralized and dirty oil, gas and coal will be increasingly displaced by the relentless momentum of cheap, distributed clean energy.

The food revolution

As we wean ourselves off fossil fuels, one of the most energy-intensive pursuits ripe for transition is industrial agriculture. In the US alone, 19 percent of fossil fuel consumption goes to the food system for pesticides, fertilizers, on-site machinery, processing, packaging and transport. But as industrial agriculture continues to degrade t​he soil, the productivity of land in key food basket regions is steadily d​eclining.

With global food prices at record levels in the context of these challenges, combined with the pressures of climate-induced extreme weather, volatile oil prices, and speculation by investors, the incentive to develop greater resilience in locally accessible food production is also growing.

In the UK and US, for instance, demand for local​ly grown food production is ris​ing fast. The US Departm​ent of Agriculture reports that between 1992 and 2007, demand for local produce grew twice as fast as total agricultural sales, and the number of local food outlets has quadrupled from 1994 to 2013.

Transition initiatives across the western world are pioneering community efforts to grow their own food, organically and outside of the industrial food system. Preliminary studies show that the reloc​alization of food economies is a viable option that could have huge benefits to local economies and create a wide range of jobs—although this would involve less meat consumption, with greater numbers of people living on and working the land.

Recently, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has been exploring the potential to scale-up agroec​ology—a specialized farming method which combines organic agriculture with an ecologically-conscious social, economic and political structure. Successive UN special rapporteurs on the right to food, drawing on a rich peer-reviewed literature, have endorsed agroecology as a viable solution for increasing crop yields for the small farmers that provide 70 percent of global food production.

A Masters t​hesis in Environment and Planning completed this year by Zainil Zainuddin, a food and agriculture researcher at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, conducted a case study of 15 households doing urban farming on a 1,096 square meter sized collective plot in Melbourne city. Eleven of the participating households farmed using Permaculture design principles, including no-dig, raised beds for food growing, the use of compost and/or worm-farm castings for soil improvement (and the use of animal manure for those engaged in poultry or fowl raising), companion planting for organic pest management and rainwater harvesting. In one year, the project produced a total yield of 388.73 kg worth of fruits, vegetables, nuts, honey and meat, along with a total of 1,015 eggs. The study found that, “All participants register a surplus of between 5 per cent to 75 per cent, depending upon the crops and seasons,” which was shared among immediate family, and local communities” through local swap and share networks.

In ensuing years, more and more food will be pro​duced and consumed locally in both urban and rural environments, as the industrial food system becomes more unsustainable and costly. Real-world cases like Park​ 2020 in the Netherlands show that with the right design principles, large-scale urban agriculture to sustain a community food system and local businesses based on “closed cycles for materials, energy, waste and water,” represents a viable future for converting modern cities into regenerative ecologies.

The finance revolution

The information, food and energy revolutions are being facilitated by a burgeoning revolution in finance. Once again, the emerging trend is for new models that give greater power to the crowd, and undermine the authority and legitimacy—and even necessity—of the traditional, centralized banking infrastructure.

This has been enabled by the information revolution. According to the technology market research firm Forrester, the avalanche of new mechanisms for potential lenders and borrowers, or funders and receivers, to interact online without the intermediation of traditional banks and financial institutions, poses a huge threat to conventional banking. Of these new mechanisms, peer2peer lending has experienced particularly rapid growth.

Forrester Research’s new r​eport shows that since 2005, over $6 billion has been generated in loans. Although peer2peer remains tiny in the context of banks’ larger balance sheets, Forrester forecasts that the long-term trend is for these new forms of social lending—including digital investment management and crowdfunding—to “continue to grow, chipping away at banks’ profits, diverting deposits, and disintermediating banks.”

“Banks have now been brought to the edge of the disruption abyss.”

As the Aust​ralian Business Review recently noted, “banks have now been brought to the edge of the disruption abyss” where “the media, mail and music businesses” are already on the verge of toppling over. These new social lending and finance mechanisms will “break the business of banking into its parts, each with its own set of disrupters.”

This has also opened the way for new digital currencies and new digital wallet systems, which many forecast will disrupt billions of dolla​rs a year in banking, especially in less developed markets where banking infrastructures are not well established. While Bitcoin is often the most hyped, others are quickly emerging which promise greater stability, transparency, and public accountability, such as M​axCoin and St​artCoin.

According to Walter Isa​acson, CEO of the Aspen Institute and former chairman of CNN, “digital currencies and micropayments are likely to be the disruptive innovation of 2015.”

One of the most significant potential developments in finance is in the concept and practice of the “circular economy,” which focuses on the need to recycle resources in an economic system, rather than simply generate escalating quantities of waste in the name of endless growth. A major report to the Club of Rome this year by Ugo Bardi of the University of Florence’s Earth Sciences Department showed that recycling, conservation and efficiency in the management of the planet’s mineral resources could enable a prosperous​ and high technology society, though not one indulging in the sort of mass consumerism we take for granted today.

Corporations are leading the way in exploring the circular economy purely for business reasons. Resource costs have rocketed since 2009 more quickly than global economic output. A r​eport put out earlier this year by the financial consultancy McKinsey noted that businesses are being forced to find “novel ways to reuse products and components” in managing access to “valuable natural resources.” The relative success of these efforts led by companies like Renault evoke the possibility of “an industrial system that is regenerative by design,” which “restores material, energy, and labour inputs.”

In the age of expensive energy, McKinsey points out that the incentives to shift to a circular economy are huge. Savings in materials alone could exceed $1 trillion a year by 2025. While the corporate and business sectors see the circular economy as a necessary means to sustain growth in a new age of resource scarcity, Bardi points out that endless material growth is a simple impossibility. The rise of the circular economy being led by some of the world’s largest compan​ies represents an unwitting but accelerating shift to a post-growth economic system.

The ethical revolution

Perhaps the most profound shift of all, implicit in these seemingly disparate, but inherently interwoven revolutions, is the ethical revolution.

The old paradigm, which is facing increasing disruption by the emerging revolutions described above, is premised on a model of centralized, hierarchical control focused on unlimited material accumulation, and premised on the values of individualism, self-interest, competition, and conflict.

The model that is fast developing and disrupting this paradigm from within, is one premised on open access to information; distributed and effectively free, clean energy; local, community and democratic ownership over planetary resources; and a form of prosperity and well-being that is ultimately decoupled from the imperative for endless material accumulation.

The old and new paradigms can be clearly related to two quite different value systems. The first paradigm, which is currently in decline, is that of egoism, crude materialism, and selfish consumerism. It is a value system that, we now know from our best scientific minds, is on course to potentially lead to an uninhabitable planet, and thus, perhaps even species extinction (with many scientists arguing we appear to be at the dawn of the planet’s six​th mass extinction event). This suggests that this value system is actually dislocated from human nature, our biophysical environment, and the relationship between them.

In contrast, a value system associated with the emerging paradigm is also supremely commensurate with what most of us recognize as ‘good’: love, justice, compassion, generosity. This has the revolutionary implication that ethics, often viewed as ‘subjective’, in fact have a perfectly objective and utilitarian function in the fundamental evolutionary goal of species survival. In some sense, ethics provide us a value-driven benchmark to recognize the flaws in the old paradigm, and glimpse the opportunities for better social forms.

This ethical revolution is ultimately rooted in a profound fundamental shift in our scientific understanding of life and the world, from the old Newtonian/Cartesian paradigm to the n​ew paradigm represented by relativity, quantum physics, evolutionary biology and epigenetics. This shift has on the one hand brought to light curious parallels between Eastern mysticism and Western science which occupied the minds of the very foun​ders of quantum mechanics, and on the other highlighted conc​epts like “nonlocality” and quantum interconnections, the inherent relationship between observer and observed, and the complex irreducibility of mind-body interactions. These point to an emerging scientific worl​dview in which human beings are intimately interwoven with our biophysical environment, and where ethical values therefore in some way provide us a means to objectively navigate this relationship in our day-to-day moral choices, regardless of religious dogma.

As these five revolutions accelerate and disrupt the old paradigm, as they are already doing—resulting in the increasing eruption of social movements that challenge and overthrow states and systems—the phase shift to a new era also accelerates. The birth pangs of this new era are premised on the escalating disruption of the old paradigm, a process that invokes chaos, uncertainty, and violence. Yet it is precisely in the ashes of that great disruption that the opportunities for these revolutions to take flight will become ever greater.​





Musings on the sustainability of meat and dairy

13 11 2014

In ‘my circles’, I know a lot of vegetarians and vegans.  Vegans, in particular, are the most zealous about their ideal, and I often clash with them for reasons I will tease out in this article.  Make no mistake, I find the entire industrial animal husbandry system totally abhorrent.  It is only possible because we still have relatively cheap fossil fuels, and because farming has left the hands of the many into the hands of the few who can only produce enough food for everyone by using hundreds if not thousands of fossil fuel slaves.  The Matrix is making it so easy to ‘work’ in its grip, and spend the returns shopping for food so cheap that what else are you to do?  I could never sell the food I produce, it takes me far too long (but what else have I got to do!?) and I would never get the financial return it merits, yet the satisfaction and the quality I get is worth my while…..

Simon Fairley

Recently, SBS TV here in Australia aired a fascinating doco featuring Michael Mosley titled “The Truth About Meat” (which Expires on 24 November 2014, 8:40pm).  I was already aware of the disturbing practices in the meat industry, but this film left me nonetheless gobsmacked.  The cruelty exercised on some of the animals depicted beggars belief.  Greed rules in the Matrix.  I have to say I was uplifted by the ending where Mosley meets Simon Fairley, an old fashioned dairy farmer who among other things milks his cows by hand.  The farmer explains how nothing else but grass would grow on his farm, and as we can’t eat grass, it makes sense to use cows to convert it into something we can use.  Interestingly, for someone who makes his livelihood from selling milk, he espouses that we should all use meat and dairy less.  A lot less.  Half, or maybe even less…..  I never thought I’d see the day a dairy farmer draws an exponential curve, but this one did!  As we hit the Limits to Growth wall, this will happen anyway.  Plus, if you want to continue eating meat and dairy post crash, you will have to source it locally, or grow your own.

In another doco titled “Should I Eat Meat” (which expires on 17 November ’14 – so be quick!), Mosley searches for whether or not eating meat is good or bad for you.  Many vegetarians take great pleasure in telling me meat eating causes cancer or some other terrifying life ending diseases.  Mosley’s doco actually concludes this too as he yet again experiments with his own body to discover ‘the truth’.  His cholesterol went up while bingeing on meat.  It’s actually debatable whether high cholesterol is bad for you, the jury’s still out on that one; and besides, we’re all different…  I eat a lot of cheese, and I have my share of meat too, yet my cholesterol is very low (3.0 last time it was checked, and it was 2.8 for thirty years before that!) while Glenda, who’s on the same diet (she actually eats way less cheese than me) has hers at a level that worries the doctor…  What to make of this, I do not know.  As far as meat causing cancer goes, eat non organic meat poisoned with hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides at your own peril methinks……

So, can we raise our own animals ethically and sustainably?  The ethical part of it is easily dealt with as far as I am concerned.  We care for our animals,

Zeb, our British Alpine buck, saved from the knackery at one day of age, hand/bottle raised, a real sweety

Zeb, our British Alpine buck, saved from the knackery at one day of age, hand/bottle raised, a real sweety

and those we kill (like the recent four ducks that were born in our incubator) had a great life roaming around the orchard, only locked up at night for their own security and released again at sunrise.  I’ve become an expert at dispatching chickens and ducks painlessly (for both them and me..) and with virtually zero stress on the animal.  Killing a stressed animal simply gives you bad meat tainted with adrenaline.  When we raised the only two pigs we’ve ever kept here, the mobile butcher came with his .22 rifle to do the dispatching for me.  We put some food on the ground a few metres apart for the pair of them, and when he shot the first one at point blank range killing it immediately, the second pig did not even flinch, so quiet and stress free was the whole affair.  The second pig never knew what him either.  The butcher said the animals were of the very best condition, something he can tell immediately by just looking at their livers.  He’d worked in abattoirs and said that after seeing what went on there and how bad the meat quality was, he never buys supermarket meat, and he raises his own meat too.

In the end, the resulting pork meat cost us just the same as buying organic free range pork from the shop (if you can even find some), but we knew where they’d been and what they were fed, and the meat was outstanding……  in fact the quality of the chicken and duck meat we raise leaves supermarket produce for dead (pardon the pun).

Yellow coloured grass fed free range chicken

Yellow coloured grass fed free range chicken

We don’t feed any grains to our chickens at all, instead giving them loads of organic food scraps we are lucky enough to have access to (it was the food we also fed the pigs). We also make sure our chooks eat a lot of grass.  The Muscovy ducks do this naturally, it’s their preferred staple.  A couple of years ago, I saw Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall expose the British chicken industry for what it was really worth, and showed how grass fed free range chickens have twenty times the Omega3 fatty acids of ordinary birds.  The way to tell if a bird is grass fed and truly free range is by the colour of its skin and fat, bright yellow….  you won’t find those on supermarket shelves.

I realise that there is nowhere near enough waste food around for everyone to do this, but it has occurred to me we could easily grow wheat here, as it self seeds easily whenever grain is spilled on the ground, and we’ve had moderate success with sunflowers, which I must plant again soon.  Our biggest concern here for doing all this is that we run the whole show on tank water, and really, we need at least one more tank.  This requires money and resources, and that’s where the sustainability side of things kicks in for me.  Nothing we do is sustainable, really…..

But think about this.  If we did not have the goats, I would have to mow 3/4 of an acre.  I can’t do the maths on that, but there must surely be some greenhouse tradeoff.  Besides, because we recycle all the animals’ manures and turn them into compost, we don’t buy fertilisers made and packaged with fossil fuels.  That alone must save at least as much greenhouse emissions are the goats’ belching….

In the end, there are no silver bullets.  Too many people, wanting too many meals made up of protein is the real problem, and I see no answer to that curly problem.  The Matrix must simply wind down, that’s all there is to it.