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This page will showcase selected ways in which people and communities are experimenting with life-friendly technologies, economic models and forms of governance, and building social and eco-logical resilience. If you are involved in or know about such projects please use this form to share the details. Remember to provide links and/or contacts.
Crowd Sourcing the Art of Urban Evolution
Nordic Business Models for a Circular Economy
Towards an Economics for the Anthropocene
Joshua Farley: Economics of the Anthropocene
Culture is a society's shared way of making sense of the world: of what is real, what is knowable, and what has value. It conditions our ways of being, seeing and doing. It determines what we consider appropriate action in and on the world. It defines the taken-for-granted limits of the possible and the acceptable.
Changing our shared culture — “the way we do things around here” — involves more than "sustainable" business models, low carbon economies, and appropriate technologies. All these are vitally important areas of innovation in this age of transition, but in themselves they are not sufficient. Our challenge is ultimately to rethink our core cultural values and how they translate into action in the world.
Breaking the growth nexus
Living in the Anthropocene requires us to find a new symbiosis between human societies and the matrix of life on the planet. To do this we must make a shift from the mindset of industrial consumer capitalism to a holistic approach to technology and economics that focuses on the complex relationship between humans and the rest of nature.
Our goal must be to devise technologies and economies that are conducive to life. Our commitment must be to the integrity and resilience of the whole and to wholeness.
Decoupling economic activity from the conveyor belt of unending growth is fundamental to a viable future. The design criteria for truly sustainable economies must include closed-loop industrial ecologies that reuse waste, are based on renewable energy, build resilience through diversity, prioritise social rather than individual consumption, maintain a balance between scale and community, and are open to stakeholder participation.
Replacing environmentally destructive technologies with “greener” alternatives — like heavily polluting coal-fired power stations with low carbon wind farms — may deliver valuable incremental gains, but will prove incapable of achieving the longer-term goal of sustainable and healthy eco-social systems.
Nature's brilliant solutions
Many of the technologies and processes born of the scientific and industrial revolutions are a perfect manifestation of human hubris, designed to enhance our ability to dominate, manipulate and exploit the natural environment. Their logic is that of mass production: standardisation, centralisation, and economies of scale.
Thus, when so-called alternative technologies are applied on the scale required to conform to existing infrastructure and business models, they too dominate and alienate both humans and nature.
Our only way through this conundrum is to turn to nature for inspiration and instruction. As the Biomimicry Institute observes, nature provides us with an inventory of “brilliant solutions” drawn from 3.8 billion years of trial and error experimentation.
While the concept of biomimicry has inspired some important breakthroughs and encouraged a fundamentally new approach to systems design, many biomimicry designers have themselves pursued a substitutionist approach, using models from nature to deliver enhanced products and materials into the mass consumption marketplace. Biomimicry pioneer, Janine Benyus (2008), reminds us that “a full emulation of nature
engages at least three levels of mimicry: form, process and ecosystem”.
Resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb and utilise disturbances. A resilient ecosystem, human community, or economy can withstand unexpected upheavals by reorganising itself to preserve its basic structure and functions.
In times of environmental, social and economic disruption and uncertainty, the resilience of local communities and the critical bio-regional systems on which they depend will be of paramount importance — particularly the reliability of local energy, water and food sources, communications and trading systems.
Resilience is a key to eco-social sustainability. It is significantly a product of a community's deep relationship to a unique place. Sharing ecological, cultural, and historical knowledge of the local environment and valuing this as the basis for social partnerships and stakeholder alliances can build strong bonds of respect and mutual responsibility.
This is an area in which settler societies have much to learn from the responsible custodianship traditions of indigenous cultures — what the first Australians call “caring for country”. When a community shares a strong sense of responsibility for its environment, respects the limits it mandates, and develops inclusive cultural expressions of this consciousness, it will exhibit a corresponding depth of sustainability.
Inventing deep democracy
Just as important is building robust social capital and more responsive and adaptable systems of local governance. Thus local resilience is closely related to social innovation and adaptive social learning. We need a better understanding of the conditions for such resilience at every scale of human activity from local to global.
Transition times require innovation in the way we govern ourselves at all levels. The outmoded institutions of industrial consumer society and their moribund ways of encountering the world must give way to more dynamic social forms with permeable boundaries that can readily experiment with new approaches and speedily adapt to emerging needs and opportunities.
The plasticity of the human brain is a model for the organisational forms we need to invent. As neurologist Elkhonon Goldberg (2009) has observed: "The evolution of the brain teaches us the lesson that a high degree of complexity cannot be handled by rigidly organised systems. It requires distributed responsibilities and local autonomy.”
This involves moving away from the rigidities of centralised bureaucratic power and the hollowed out political theatre of representative democracy to invent new forms of deep democracy.
There are good reasons to believe that such social innovation is most likely to flourish in local communities, small workplaces, and networks of practice. In these settings institutional inertia is weakest, resistance by vested interests less, the risks of failure manageable, and the bonds of human solidarity strongest.
Surviving the Anthropocene will require the basic redesign of core societal systems, grounded in principles of eco-mutuality.