Creating a World that Works

“A World That Works” is a design for a conversation about shifting the paradigm for human culture on the planet. It brings together our knowledge of human transformation with our urgent necessity for ecological reintegration. It could lead to a video, a book or monograph, a theatrical presentation, and/or a series of educational opportunities and programs. The goal of the initial project is to explore these possibilities and opportunities with a selected group of innovators, educators, thought leaders, and scholars from around the world, through a web site or series of sites that represent points of convergence for thinking about the paradigm shift. The anticipated cost of phase I of the project is _____. Contributors will have access to protected areas of the web site, and the opportunity to participate in the dialog and development of the project.


Here’s some background thinking on the project focus.

If “a world that works for all” is possible, what will it take to create it? Most people do not think very much about this. They’d ideally like the world to be a better place, but cannot imagine a world that actually does work for everyone. So the challenge, as Werner laid it out — that “Each of us has the opportunity, the privilege, to make a difference in creating a world that works for all of us” — is one that takes us on a journey to the unknown.

It’s not even necessary to agree that such a world is possible. It’s simply useful to try it on, as a notion, and see if it provides some new insights and values. At the very least, we can agree that it’s possible to envision a world that works better, and that working towards it with others is perhaps the highest calling we can imagine. People are happiest when they can see a way to improve their lives even by a little. It’s not necessary to change everything, only to see everyday things getting better.

So how can we achieve this for everyone? Clearly, the first step is to have people become grounded in the context or paradigm of a world that works. This is the first goal of this site: it’s to establish a foundation for a new way of thinking about ourselves and the world, that embraces the realities of the past and the present while freeing us to invent “break-through” futures that address the challenges we face and the opportunities that these challenges present to us.

We’re not talking about a “utopia” (which literally means a world that’s nowhere and impossible to create), because we start from the way the world is today. The opportunity is not to build an idealized reality; it’s to transform our actual reality, and to do so in very large part through the power of our ideas.

It matters what we are doing. Mostly we worry about whether what we’re doing really matters — and by that we probably mean “matters to others” — when the question ought to be the other way around. What we’re doing matters if we think it matters that we’re doing what we’re doing. We may not always be conscious of this on a moment-by-moment basis, but whenever we pull back we have to decide if we’re on the right track.

By “decide” I don’t mean here the kind of decision that cuts off alternatives (though I think we need to make those sometimes as well), but rather the choice to examine our lives, to weigh the alternatives, and to choose the way forward because that’s what makes sense and will have the greatest impact on meeting the challenges of the 21st century. The future literally does hang in the balance.

It may be that the most important part of what we do is in the service of getting people to think differently — to think holistically about our place in the universe — and to transform their behaviors, societies, cultures, economies, and enterprises in ways that serve everyone. The first rule might be that of the medical profession: do no harm. The next step is seek to ensure that humanity causes to further harm, since it’s clear that we are continuing to place an unsustainable burden on nature and on the climate by expanding the wrong kinds of production, instead of basing ourselves on ways of meeting human needs sustainably.

But meeting human needs sustainably is in fact the next great economic opportunity that is in front of us. The industrial era, for all its flaws, has brought an enormous number of people out of poverty and oppression; but we are far from finishing this job, and must now take into account the significance of diminishing resources per capita as we continue to design our real economic future. Coming of age in the post-industrial era has to include a recognition of our responsibility for managing the resources, the waste, the pollution and the energy in ways that can continue indefinitely into the future.

This does not necessarily mean more “government control.” It really is a matter of changing our thinking around sustainable economic and ecological outcomes for the world. Altering the climate of ideas is in many ways more powerful than seeking to change everything from political institutions to individual behaviors directly, because those things will change “by themselves” if they are framed differently and understood differently by everyone involved.

To give just one concrete example: shifting the mindset that we have around investing in a sustainable infrastructure today, in order to benefit the environment tomorrow. Nature, left to its own devices, is intrinsically regenerative. Apparently, this is something that as a species we need to learn to do, and learn how to do.

Buckminster Fuller was one of the first to point this out, in terms of technology and design science and a metaphysical understanding of our role in regenerating the world and the universe. He suggested some principles for designing a world that worked, on a Spaceship Earth level. These principles may need to be re-examined and restated for our times, but they are essentially on the right track. We’re already pretty far out in space, and traveling at roughly 871,000 miles per hour into the future. We have access to an enormous amount of energy, enough to create prosperity for everyone on the planet. And unless we choose to do this, we risk conflict, irreparable damage to the habitat and the web of life, and increasing extremes of weather, sea level rise, and other costly and self-damaging outcomes. As Fuller put it, in 1969, our choice is between utopia and oblivion.

We’ve managed to hold off the latter a little longer than he forecast, but we’ve also been a lot slower to move in the direction of a world that works for everyone than he believed was possible. While large parts of humanity have now risen above famine levels, hunger and malnutrition have not been overcome, even in the U.S. To work toward ensuring that everyone has at a minimum what they need is an enormous opportunity; there is, as others have pointed out, a fortune to be made at the bottom of the pyramid.

But we don’t even need to go that far from home. Transforming our built and natural environment into one that is highly efficient, largely self-sufficient, and wholly regenerative is one that offers almost unlimited economic opportunities in every community. In some cases realizing these opportunities may require more innovative business models than the ones commonly in use today; but they can essentially be accomplished using today’s already existing technologies. We can draw a line directly from Bucky Fuller to Jigar Shah, whose goal is “creating climate wealth.”

So the question is, are we sufficient, will we wake up to the possibilities in time — and will we be smart enough to figure out that make repairing and enhancing the ecosphere might be profitable? But if it were that obvious, why aren’t we already doing it?

It seems that many if not most humans remain prisoners of their past, of their childhood traumas, of their fears, ambitions, and misconceptions. This is where the technology of human transformation, of awareness and empowerment and acceptance comes into play. Who we are as humans, ontologically speaking, is not our past; it’s who we say we are today, and who we choose to be. And we can choose to accept our responsibility, as the crew and passengers of Spaceship Earth, to make it work and continue working. It’s as if we are able to wake up into a world of possibility, and embrace both our freedom and our accountability for the way things turn out.

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