Alex Steffen's breadth of understanding, when it comes to transforming our world for sustainability, in Introductory Letter 0.3, is impressive. Speaking about Climate Destabilization, he says

To acknowledge that we are living in a world dangerously destabilized by our own way of life is something most Americans are not yet willing to do.

”Reality” as too many of us understand it is at odds with the facts and their implications.

This presents a cultural crisis, because most people have no other way of looking at what unfolds around them, having left behind our traditional ways of seeing when we went through industrialization. (And we have left the old ways behind, for the fundamental characteristic of those ways is their unity and holism; to be forced see through an industrial lens on the world is actually to never be able to look through traditional eyes again. This is a wound fundamentalisms of all sorts attempt to salve by re-insisting on the primacy of their traditions—an insistence that of course can only be made, only needs to be made, when those traditions are no longer unitary or all-encompassing, when they have lost their central claim to authority.)

And now, in the face of painful facts, we are losing the myths of industrialization in the same way, and being forced to step into a new world whose meaning is not at all clear to us. ... it’s the kind of strain that rocks societies off their foundations.

At a planetary scale, the central ideas of the Industrial Era simply don’t match reality.

  • First and foremost, it is a place of limits, in which we must recognize that the planet is fundamentally singular, finite and balanced.... It is finite because what’s here is all there is. We know this now, but we have not absorbed it yet. We have not yet begun to think in truly modern terms about our situation, which is this: We already have everything we will ever have, at least for the meaningfully imaginable future.
  • Finally, this new reality is balanced. The systems on which humanity depends are themselves a web of interconnected systems, with complex relationships and non-intuitive processes of change. ... right now our grasp of those systems is still rudimentary and our ability to mimic them primitive.


The belief most divorced from reality is the one we believe most deeply: that we can meet every crisis created by industrialization with more of the same brute force industrialization.

We are exceeding the limits of the planet’s systems, and that, in turn, is destabilizing the balance of earthly systems on which our very lives depend.

Every day, the rift between the world we must make and the world we have made yawns larger. Those just grasping the difference often experience a profound psychological dislocation, a sort of “planet shock.”

We have no choice but to face the future together with a world full of planet-shocked people. Which means planetary thinking must be able to respond to the profound disorientation it creates—we need new ways to understand and reorient our political systems, our cultures as peoples, our natures as human beings.

Planetary thinking must mean not only to think new things, but to feel new ways.

How we build our cities and suburbs, how we manufacture and sell our goods, how we grow food and harvest resources, how we debate long-term problems, how we educate our children, how we structure our civic life, how we describe the destinations towards which humanity itself might be moving—all of the old ways of doing things are being washed away by a flood of new insights.

Which obliges us to come to know ourselves in new ways. ... we regularly work with aspects of ourselves we do not fully understand— through the arts, literature, spirituality, ritual, politics and all the intangible skills we have inherited and created. These human skills mean more to our task of survival, ultimately, than all the formidable science and technology at our disposal— indeed, it is the acknowledgement of ourselves as full, complex, mysterious beings whose systems often operate in ways that are still beyond quantification that I believe will bring science and technology into their full maturity.

... everything we understand about “how things are” needs to be tested against new realities. Many of our beliefs will need to be replaced with something new. We will not remain unchanged while everything around us changes.

Planetary thinking must mean not only to think new things, but to feel new ways. [emphasis mine]

Thinking in the future tense, in short, must be an extraordinarily rapid reinvention of our entire culture and our selves -- as profound as replacing pre-industrial perceptions of reality with an industrial "lens". This will be what we must do to survive. Reverting back to a primitive way of making sense won't work. Those of us who have evaded the salve of fundamentalism should be better equipped to imagine the way.

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Replies to This Discussion

Ruth! Exactly what I want to read. Where did you find it and are there other authors? As you know, Ed Lindaman, president of Whitworth University, author of "Thinking in the Future Tense, who helped me profoundly with my Master's thesis, was a futurist and gave me a whole new way of thinking about my challenges and how to get through them. This author appears to be at a more mature level on this same line of thinking. He is pulling together climate crisis and destabilization and planetary thinking, things we were not even thinking about in 1979. 

In my opinion, we are going through a very important shift, not only in climate, but in economics, politics and the role of religion in our political and economic life. Talk about CONVERGENCE! 

What is it E.O. Wilson talked about? Consilience? Yes, the coming together of science and the humanities in ways that enriched both. We do live in interesting times!

Thanks Ruth. 

Alex Steffen: The shareable future of cities

Green projects expand our access to things we want and need and reduce the use of cars. Perfect concept! Now, let me think, where do I start?




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