This article first appeared in our COP26 issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 05 November 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
Right now, humanity is being invited to a global collective initiation: an invitation offered to all of us, which each and every one of us is required to accept.
Put simply, the invitation is to transcend the current dominant paradigm in our relationship with the planet and each other, and enter an astonishing new era in the journey of our species.
The consequences of the growth paradigm on a finite planetary ecosystem are increasingly apparent. It’s simple logic that a species of our number and collective impact cannot continue to engage in resource use at the current scale.
The conversation we are consequently having often centres around climate change: the degree to which the climate is observably changing, how much of this change is due to anthropogenic inputs and how we can reach agreement on how to mitigate the impacts.
The issue with using climate change as a frame is that we end up discussing the symptoms and their mitigation, not their cause and how to address that.
What is it that ails our current relationship with the Earth, each other and all the other species that share this beautiful miracle of a planet, and what is its cause?
The origin of the word ‘economy’ can be traced back to the Greek word oikonomia – oikos, which is usually translated as ‘household’, and nemein, which is best translated as ‘management and dispensation’. The literal translation is therefore ‘household management’.
Are we managing our household, the Earth, well? Are the management practices we employ sustainable? In short, is our economic system fit for purpose? Is it a fixture of the natural world, like the seasons or the tides, or is it a construct of human design – created by us and therefore changeable?
It soon becomes clear that our current operating system, global market capitalism, needs to be reimagined with a more appropriate design for sustainably managing our global household.
We need a system that takes care of the place for future generations and that enshrines the golden rule, ‘treat others as you would be treated yourself’. Under this moral imperative, people – and indeed other species – live comfortably, with dignity and happiness, as civilised, conscious beings.
Happily many examples of such systems lie in our past. As a species we have already repeatedly demonstrated some of the behaviours that enable the long-term, stable, abundant, peaceful qualities to which any flourishing global civilisation would aspire.
Various pre-contact cultures of the Americas, for example – in the Andes, the Amazon and the Great Plains – suggest a world view that understood how to look after the environment for the long term. Multi-generational ecosystems combined with economic management on a truly regional – or even continental – scale.
In the modern context this suggests at the very least that we can achieve a system of trusts – at local, national and global levels – that meets the needs of people and planet through principles of sustainability and fairness. It can be done because we’ve done it before.
How we arrive at this new system, which is fit for purpose for the long term and serves the interests of all our relations, is of course a vast, complex and challenging problem. However, we have no choice: we are all here to address it as a first-order priority.
Humanity has all the creativity and inspiration necessary to set out on and complete this epic journey to an economy that is both truly fair and truly sustainable. It is beholden upon us as both an existential and moral imperative.
Moreover it is a challenge and an invitation of which we are worthy: we are amazing creatures fit for the task at hand, and it is exciting to set about crafting solutions as a global civilisational endeavour.
The invitation is therefore that we collectively make this journey: an epic undertaking that will be shared by future generations in myth and story.
It’s a magnificent invitation that we can all accept on behalf of our ancestors and future generations. Are we ready to place life at the centre of all we do?
Benjamin is part of a collective hosting honoured guests from indigenous traditions, the global south and the British Isles at Kelburn Castle during COP26, helping Earth honouring voices to be heard. For details visit wisdomkeepers.earth
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