Sunday, July 02, 2006

toward a manifesto of sustainable human community

"the time has come," the Walrus said, "to talk of many things...."

I alternate between feelings of doom-and-gloom and an almost euphoric urge to agitate for, promote, and produce positive change toward a sustainable new world order. I sometimes believe that "everything unfolds exactly as it should"--- that there is nothing I can do to increase the speed or alter the course of change (unless my part is and always was to do so through my actions!). and sometimes I feel that the universe itself (or at least our little blue planet corner of it) is calling upon us to do just that. today is a day of the latter stripe.

I would begin by saying that my ignorance on the subject of manifestos is remarkably vast. all I know is that karl marx wrote one and the word sounds intelligent and cool and a bit revolutionary. since I'm after something intelligent and cool and more than a little revolutionary, seems like a good place to begin. further, I suspect there may already be in existence such a manifesto as I am proposing. well, I suppose I can swallow my embarrassment yet again! chalk it up to convergent evolution: the better and more timely an idea, the more it will tend to pop up.

I believe the world is calling upon us--- even through our own biology--- to make change. the natural history of this planet is one of constant change, of comings and goings of species, of changing environments, of the cyclic and non-cyclic flux of nested cybernetic systems. many biologists cogently argue that we're presently amid the 6th catastrophic mass extinction of species in earth's history. and this time around, the cause appears to be human alteration of the natural environment. I'm not a biologist, nor have a read extensively on the subject, but I suspect this mass extinction is occurring at a far more rapid pace than most previous extinctions (exceptions might include those caused by cataclysmic events such as the supposed Cretaceous asteroid collision). for the first (?) time, the causative factor is the activities of a single species: us.

the salient difference between this and previous such events is that the earth, for the first (?) time, is aware of the situation through the agency of the sentience of the human species--- the causative agent itself. (pause for nod of irony.) I think that puts us in a unique position consciously to alter the long-term course of planetary events in such a way as to produce beneficial change in the best interest of the living (and perhaps non-living) systems involved. it is doubtful that such a situation has yet arisen on this planet. what an opportunity!

in my more positive moods I suspect that the planet, through us, is organizing itself toward just such an objective: saving itself from needless and preventable disaster. is it a mere tautology to say that conscious awareness is a prerequisite for conscious change? and consciousness, I would argue, is rising. we are moving toward a level of awareness that will permit the redirection of planetary events toward desired outcomes.

but obstacles are legion. for one, awareness may not be spreading fast enough to permit timely change. some scientific evidence suggests that the greenhouse effect currently thought to be under way operates on such a vast scale as to be essentially unstoppable, that temperature rises now in effect cannot be interrupted before the polar and world-glacial ice melts and raises ocean levels dramatically. for another, our present (first world) consumer-culture lifestyle resists, to a large extent, consciousness-raising of this very sort--- that is, of a sort that would tend to lead toward the cessation of that lifestyle. while modern mass media and global communications systems (arguably by-products of the lifestyle) have a tendency to integrate disparate human communities, their control and operation tend to discourage and subvert such integration, leading them to become tools of the furtherance of destruction rather than of healing.

yet, in my view, consciousness continues to rise. on that assumption, I propose the drafting of a global manifesto of sustainability for human living systems.

fancy-schmancy. call it instead a road map to the new eden. a simple set of rules anyone can use to test, at any "quantum" (scalar or organizational) level, the sustainable value of an action or event, with an eye toward offering guidance to people and communities who wish to promote healing change and divert us from our present disastrous course.

it might, for example, contain an item like this:

- given that all events involve transactions of energy, let it be calculated how much energy is transacted (and from what form to what other form) in a given event. then answer whether that energy transaction is sustainable in itself or will lead to or promote a longer-term sustainability at this, or any higher or lower, quantum level.

gobbledy-gook. how about something simpler:

Let our goals include long-term sustainability with awareness of present and long-term energy transaction costs; maintenance and promotion of biodiversity; dissemination of information related to bio- and cultural-diversity; etc.

given that the goal is a usable and relatively simple guide and credo for humans and their human systems, perhaps I shouldn't be writing it! but I would like it also to offer some clear, meaningful, precise language that will permit testing of proposed events and transactions. perhaps a preamble could contain the philosophy and concepts, while a codified body could contain the specifics.

what do you think?


At 7/03/2006 11:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 7/03/2006 11:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Indeed, there is a published manifesto out there with a similar flavor: "The Natural Step for Communities," by Sarah James and Torbjorn Lahti. The Natural Step is a framework of sustainability principles codified by a group of Swedish scientists. This book is a how-to of sorts, outlining a specific approach to changing the way we are conducting ourselves around the globe as human societies. It cites examples of Swedish eco-municipalities that have adopted the Natural Step framework and its four system conditions for sustainability:

1. In the sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth's crust.

2. In the sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing concentrations of substances produced by society.

3. In the sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing degredation by physical means.

4. And, in the sustainable society, human needs are met worldwide.

The goal of human societies, then, should be to develop policies and adopt practices with the following guiding objectives:

1. Eliminate our community's contribution to fossil fuel dependence and to wasteful use of scarce metals and minerals.

2. Eliminate our community's contribution to dependence upon persistent chemicals and wasteful use of synthetic substances.

3. Eliminate our community's contribution to encroachment upon nature (e.g., land, water, wildlife, forests, soil, ecosystems).

4. Meet human needs fairly and efficiently.

This book changed the way I think about the future of life on earth - if you can find it, READ IT. Copyright 2004, New Society Publishers (


At 7/16/2006 10:53 AM, Blogger Algernon said...

There it is! I knew something along these lines had to be out there. I've begun to read The Natural Step for Communities and am so far pleased with it. More comments later....


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