I’m originally from the UK and this year have taken the opportunity to travel back there to visit family. I haven’t spent much time in the UK recently, what with Covid travel restrictions and the dissonance I feel in terms of my own carbon footprint when I travel by air. As a result the changes that have taken place in the UK to move towards a more ‘eco-friendly’ way of living were very noticeable to me: A huge interest in electric vehicles; plant-based alternatives to meat diets available everywhere; more sustainable packaging options; significant growth in renewable energy (nearly 50% of the UK’s power is now generated from renewable sources, up from just 20% in 2010). While the changes I’ve seen here are truly necessary, at the same time I find myself still asking the question of whether these changes truly have the potential to go to the depths we need in order to ensure a life-affirming future for all, one that regenerates our natural and cultural systems, or are we simply trying to find ways to perpetuate ‘business as usual’, albeit with a green tinge? Things are never simple, and the devil is always in the detail. It feels like we are moving towards ‘less bad’, within the context of the consumer-conformist society we live in, rather than a truly regenerative culture.
It feels that we urgently need to reframe our actions and responses within a new context: One that moves beyond the story of separation that we have been operating within, towards one of interconnection and regeneration.
Our economic systems have been built on a paradigm of separation, essentially extractive both in terms of ecology and wealth distribution. This sense of separateness from nature began over 500 years ago with the advent of civilisation and the increasing rationalistic portrayal of nature as a resource to be used for human betterment.
While we hear businesses telling customers and investors what they are doing in terms of social and environmental responsibility for most (with a few notable exceptions – check out the incredibly inspiring Patagonia story), this is mainly about minimizing risk in order to maximize profits (business as usual). The fundamental question remains of whether it is possible to shift business models sufficiently in order to meet the culture and nature crisis we find ourselves in, or do we actually need to entirely rethink our economic models? It seems to me that as long as we continue to see the environment as a subset of the economy, and nature as ‘natural resources’ to be used for economic gain, nothing substantial will ever change.
Otto Scharmer’s work is helpful here. Scharmer states that in order to meet the challenges of this century we need to update our economic logic and operating system from an obsolete “ego-system” focused entirely on the well-being of oneself to an eco-system awareness that emphasizes the well-being of the whole. This sounds very much like the African cultural concept of ‘Ubuntu’, an African Nguni word that means ‘humanity to others’ and has a correlated meaning of ‘I am who I am because of others’.
If applied in the operations of business, Ubuntu has the potential to create strong collaboration and business that has a focus on community development. The social enterprise movement provides some hope of genuine alternatives. The gift economy is another way of conceptualising an emergent economic system whose focus is not on profit and growth. However, while gaining significant momentum, both of these are still emergent especially in the South African context. And yet for all of us no matter where we are, we have the opportunity to actively use our economic power to support these alternatives, organisations who are proactively operating in support of a better world.
A shift from the ‘business as usual’ paradigm requires a shift in consciousness. This shift can neatly be articulated as a shift from separateness to interconnectedness. This is about seeing the core truth of who we really are, spiritual beings having a human experience, connected to all other beings – human and non-human – on this home planet Earth. From this place, our decisions look very different from those that are taken within a ‘business as usual’ story.
As Einstein so famously said ‘ If we want to change the world we have to change our thinking…no problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it’ We are not going to solve the problems created by the industrial growth culture using the rules, methods and mindsets of that same culture.
Reversing climate damage has to do with the creation of a new human story. The role for each and every one of us revolves squarely around the courage to step into this – a story of reconnection and interbeing, a story of regeneration, a story that recognises we are nature and it is us.
If we want things to really change, it will happen because we give ourselves the opportunity to connect with our beautiful home planet, and we acknowledge that the true solutions to the climate crisis are also the solutions that create a profoundly different and better world for everyone.
Ideas and examples of what you can do as part of this emerging consciousness to follow in part 2 of this blog.