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Transitioning to the Solar Age

By Hazel Henderson

This essay has been excerpted as a chapter in WorldShift 2020: The New Vision – Exploring the Evolving Horizons; section ‘From Vision To Reality: Contributions From The Worldshifting Community’ forthcoming from Inner Traditions Publishing (Rochester, VT).

The multiple crises human societies experienced in the first decade of the 21st century must be acknowledged as results of our limited perceptions and occluded vision.  Thus, these crises we experience are mirroring back to us the need to expand our awareness of the planet which hosts us, one among over 30 million other species that constitute its living biosphere.  Stress is evolution’s tool, feedback to expand our consciousness which is now accelerating human learning processes far beyond traditional education and acculturation.

Thus we see the crises and breakdowns all around us as driving the necessary breakthroughs: in art, culture, science, technology, governance, politics, communications, production, services, awareness of ecological systems and the place humans occupy in the web of life.  We have seen in the various financial crises the inadequacy of conventional economics and the tools of finance it spawned based on the most unattractive human traits.  These faulty economic models of human behavior almost mirror the “seven deadly sins” described in many spiritual traditions: envy, gluttony, greed (selfishness), lust (acquisitiveness), pride (competition), sloth, wrath!  No wonder our financial systems morphed into an unstable, error-prone global casino.  Economics and its theories and models are rooted in the concept of scarcity, based on early human experiencing of the natural world as dangerous and unforgiving and life as “nasty, brutish and short.”

 

Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature presents massive historical evidence that in fact violence has declined within our human family over many centuries.[1]  Pinker points to six deep trends in our human evolution toward less violence: 1. the transition from nomadic hunting-gathering to settled agriculture; 2. the ten-to-fiftyfold reduction in homicide in Europe from the Middle Ages to the 20th century; 3. the Age of Reason of the 17th and 18th centuries; 4. the transition after World War II which historians refer to as the Long Peace; 5. since the end of the Cold War in 1989 organized conflicts have declined worldwide; and 6. since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, spearheaded by Eleanor Roosevelt, the growing social revulsion for violence against ethnic minorities, women, children, homosexuals and animals.

 

Pinker cautions that these historical trends could be reversed; we must be vigilant in consolidating progress achieved so far.  We humans are learning why our efforts at human development often fail, as shown in Why Nations Fail (2012) by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, when competition and greed re-assert control by selfish elites.  Mercifully, these kind of dictatorships are in decline as social media in our Information Age makes such control and secrecy less possible.  Pinker sees our “better angels” fostered by five deeper macro-trends in our societies: feminization, “since violence is largely a male pastime”; cosmopolitization as all human communities are more deeply interconnected; the application of our widening knowledge and reason to human affairs; the growth of “gentle commerce” (rather than the depredations of uncontrolled markets) and the development of the state with judiciary branches and human rights.

 

The Earth Charter is another sign of humanity’s maturation.  Its 16 Principles (www.earthcharter.org) take us beyond human rights to human responsibilities: toward each other, our communities, all species and for maintaining the Earth and its ecosystems.  This Earth Charter, launched at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, has travelled the world and been ratified by NGOs, academies, city governments and businesses in most countries.  I was honored to witness its presentation at the Peace Palace in The Hague in 2000.  These Earth Charter Principles are in stark contrast to conventional economics and finance.  This economic model based on scarcity produces fear, competition, hoarding, envy and the pathologies of gambling and risk-taking we see in traders and stock exchanges worldwide.  All is based on maximizing a single metric: money, which is equated with the real wealth of human potential and ecological riches it was designed to merely measure.  Money is a useful human invention – a good servant but a terrible master.

 

The promise of the 21st century is that many scales have now fallen from human eyes, along with the blinders of narrow perception and theorizing that psychologist Daniel Kahneman terms “theory-induced blindness.”[2]  The uprisings of ordinary people in 2011 and 2012 threw off the shackles of many such earlier belief systems.  The mysteries of money and economics are revealed as politics in disguise, as we see money being printed by the billions on our TV screens.  Financiers do not provide capital, but are intermediaries between real producers who save money and the investors or borrowers who hope to use it well.  Financiers claim that they could not have known the fatal weaknesses in their complex “financial engineering” and illusory models.  Yet those with more expansive awareness (including this author) had warned for decades about their inevitable failures.  These were not “black swans” or “perfect storms.”  They were the consequence of self-induced blindness and economic textbooks still taught in business schools.  They teach that social and environmental costs can be “externalized” from financial and company balance sheets and passed on to taxpayers, future generations and the environment.

 

Today, humanity’s collective awareness of the true conditions for our survival is continuing to expand exponentially due to our globe-girdling communications tools and the new connectivity we have at our disposal.  The window of opportunity is opened wide!  Our new scientific understanding grows: of our home planet Earth, and of ourselves, our behaviors, potentials of our brains, endocrine systems.  We are not the lone individuals as we assumed, but all interconnected and interdependent – one human family sharing similar DNA, beyond any surface differences of skin tone, ethnicity, gender or culture.[3]

 

As quantum physics and genetic research confirm this truth that we are all one, we embrace new visions and opportunities to grow in consciousness and compassion, as I describe in “Transitioning to the Future We Want” (forthcoming monograph).  We discover that we are wired for altruism and empathy by our hormones and mirror cells.  All this is now apparent, and a more peaceful, harmonious future is seen as viable and indeed the basics of our survival.  The work of biologist Charles Darwin has been re-evaluated by the research of scientists (theDarwinProject.com).  Among other findings, it shows that Darwin did not invent the poisonous phrase “the survival of the fittest” upon which the false concepts of “social Darwinism” were constructed.  The editors of The Economist, still published in London, admitted that this phrase came from Herbert Spencer writing in their journal who used Darwin to justify the position of the Victorian elites.  In Darwin’s Lost Theory of Love (2000), psychologist David Loye explores Darwin’s theories that human survival skills were in our ability to bond with each other, care and share, which he believed would lead to the evolution of altruism.

 

The caring, sharing, cooperative gift economy was always about the unpaid 50% of all productive work mostly by women in all countries, including raising children, caring for households, serving on school boards, growing your own food, building your own houses, etc.  The contributions of this Love Economy never appeared on balance sheets and, thus, were also missing from GDP national scorecards.  This problem became central to today’s reforms of the GDP (www.beyond-gdp.eu).[4]  In villages in developing countries, economists and analysts finally realized that the official GDP figures ignored the Love Economy which could total as much as 90% of all productive work and livelihoods.  Some economists learned that this inspiring reciprocity was the basis of sound societies and  avoided many problems of the developed world.  Videos about these better options now are broadcast widely online.  Such TV programs have been aired on the internet since 2005 by Ethical Markets Media, still available at www.ethicalmarkets.tv.  Global coalitions including the World Social Forum, since 2000, the Great Transition Initiative, the Green Economy Coalition and others were followed by alternative media like OtherWorldsArePossible.org.  As the world’s women take leadership, populations in many democratic countries stabilize or decline.  Official projections of 9 billion members of the human family by 2050 are challenged.  Women’s own preferences for fewer children lead to new projections of up to 3 billion avoided births by 2050.[5]

 

As early as 2011, people came to understand that money is simply a useful form of  information, so that we don’t have to carry a pig to market and lead back a cow.  Money was a wonderful human innovation but is not “wealth,” rather a metric to track and keep score of human transactions.  Ever more people trapped in “bankers’ austerity” policies realized there is no shortage of money as they have seen how it is printed every day by compliant central banks and lent out at interest.  Compound interest is a mathematical illusion that counters the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, as I discussed in Politics of the Solar Age (1981) (see also The Money Fix on www.ethicalmarkets.tv).   Traditional societies have known this for centuries.  As un-repayable debts built up in societies throughout history, religious leaders and kings cancelled them in “Jubilees.”  The Jubilee 2000 movement caused the World Bank to cancel the debts of the highly indebted HIPC countries in Africa.  Awareness of the corruption and inflation of money circuits spurred the strong growth of local love economies and the sharing and bartering that is standard in villages around the world.  Money-creation and credit-allocation simply based on the trust of banks and governments was exposed as corrupt and is leading to the reforms and widespread currency innovations at all levels still evolving today.

 

Planetary leaders including Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, Martin Luther King, Jr., Wangari Maathai, Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. Elise Boulding inspired people, along with today’s visionaries Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama, Vandana Shiva, Dr. Michelle Bachelet, Daisaku Ikeda, Ervin Laszlo, Deepak Chopra, Jean Houston, Barbara Marx Hubbard and many more from all spiritual traditions.  The Mayan Calendar sparked erroneous fears among populations that the world was ending.  Instead, humanity is becoming conscious that ‘we are all one,’ as taught in most religious traditions and books, including The Ways and Power of Love  by Pitirim Sorokin (1954, 2002).  This orchestration of innovation and higher consciousness, together with countless movements of compassionate action can help humanity to endure the rigors and painful adjustments of the transition.  All these efforts can manifest fairer, more ethical global green economies envisioned for decades and are now becoming a reality.

 

These possibilities were explored by Sorokin who formed his Center for Creative Altruism at Harvard University.  I have explored elsewhere the extent of the “Love Economy,” that fundamental base of human survival in the unpaid “women’s” work of caring, sharing, volunteering and community service.  All this is now joined by the open-source and peer-to-peer movements growing out of digital technology’s opportunities and described by Don Tapscott in Wikinomics (2007).  Just as these unpaid sectors are excluded from GDP, so is the productive work of Nature which supports all life.  Today, these unpaid sectors of direct information-based trading, together with the Love Economies, are larger than the official money-using, GDP-measured sectors of the world.[6]

 

As we expand on awareness of our true productive capabilities and the daily influx of free photons from our Mother Star, the Sun, we see that we live not in conditions of scarcity but of abundance!  In our Information Age, we experience this abundance in sharing: for example, if you give me information, you have gained and I have lost nothing.  We are both richer!

 

For centuries, and accelerating throughout the past 300 years of the Industrial Revolution, humans have been digging in the earth for their energy, extracting coal, oil, natural gas and uranium to fuel their growing economies, as our numbers grew to today’s 7 billion members of our human family.  All the while, the Earth provided us and all species with our life-giving resources.  Our Mother Star, the Sun, showers us with trillions of photons freely every day.  Enough sunlight falls on the earth in just one hour to meet world energy demands for a whole year.[7] Green plants innovated methods of capturing these photons and turning them into food.  Their technology is photosynthesis, using the chloroplasts in their cells to turn sunlight into forms of sugar and other carbohydrates – which form the basis of our human food supply.  Bees and other insects helped by flitting among flowers, looking for nectar, and spreading pollen while fertilizing our crops, fruits, nuts and seeds.

 

As coal, oil, gas and uranium began to pollute our planet and its combustion polluted the atmosphere, we humans began looking up – and appreciating our life-giving Sun, which actually powers our planet and sustains all life in our biosphere.  Humans began to look at plants, learning from their successes at capturing the Sun’s rays.  The best human scientists began asking Nature how our millions of life forms have learned how to survive over 3 billion years, coexisting and thriving on the Sun’s abundant free energy.  Today, a revolution in science is learning to respect Nature as the great innovator.  We are harvesting the Sun’s rays in many ways, from wind, from water, from direct capture of solar rays on rooftops and in central power towers – creating steam to drive turbines and create electricity for our transport and factories.  We are learning how Nature maximizes efficiency, recycling and re-using all energy and materials – leaving no waste or pollution.

 

As we humans learn to mimic Nature’s billion years of experimentation and innovation, we are progressing!  Our future prospects are looking up!  Since 2007, our Green Transition Scoreboard has tracked individual and private investments in creating greener, cleaner economies globally, now at US $3.3 trillion!  If we continue to invest at least $1 trillion per year until 2020, we will be leaving the fossil-fueled Industrial Era and entering the Solar Age!  The green transition is happening!

 

This is why Ethical Markets Media produces our Green Transition Scoreboard® mapping the shift from the fossil-fueled Industrial Era to the Solar Age.  As investors realize the nature of real wealth, they are moving their money tokens to invest in the cleaner, greener, information-rich green sectors worldwide.  The first wave of venture capitalists rushed into “green” investments.  They wasted billions in corn-based ethanol to fill the fuel tanks of our gas-guzzling cars while the farm lobby won billions in subsidies.  Food prices soared, and millions around the world went hungry.  After battles between lobbyists, research proved that corn-based biofuels were even worse for the environment than diesel or gasoline.  Some subsidies in the US were repealed as it became clearer that the future of transport would likely be fueled by electricity generated by wind and solar power – together with more bicycling and healthy walking in more compact, redesigned cities.  The $20 billion of biofuels subsidies globally should be returned to taxpayers.

 

This story of mass learning, planetary awareness and systems thinking was the theme of Rio+20 and moved companies and its 193 UN member countries toward greener, cleaner, information-rich economies.  This UN summit on the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit in 1992 followed the 40th anniversary of the first one in Stockholm in 1972.  I participated in all three summits and witnessed member nations of the UN learning together in these seemingly chaotic events, with thousands of NGOs teaching bureaucrats about global and local issues yet to reach media or governments’ attention.

 

Building on those earlier summits, Rio+20 followed those on climate, health, cities, population, oceans and social inclusion (www.un.org).   They have led to treaties on protecting human rights, children, women, migrating birds, endangered species, forests, promoting access to communications, education and health for all, reducing poverty and, in 2000, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

 

Cynics and media editors delight in ridiculing the UN and all humanity’s painful efforts at learning how Earth’s Systems actually function.  The past 50 years of official global conferences, and hundreds of thousands more meetings by NGOs, concerned business and investor groups, environmentalists and social justice networks of the World Social Forum nevertheless helped produce the new systems thinking and curriculum now entering academia, governments and the new media.  The human family is awakening everywhere to our potentials and awareness of how we and 30 million species sharing planet Earth have innovated, thrived and survived for 3.8 billion years.  Education has burst out from academia into real-time learning online, such as Kahn Academy and Worldshift University, apprenticeships, social sharing and experimentation.  The insanity of burdening children with un-repayable debt to acquire often obsolete information has been exposed in the USA where student debt has reached an un-repayable $1 trillion in an economy with widespread unemployment.

 

Enter the science of biomimicry, invented by Janine Benyus, whose 1997 book Biomimicry is a perennial best-seller.  Her Biomimicry 3.8 group of scientists around the world teach how our living biosphere maintains itself and evolves.  Biomimicry consultants help companies, governments and academia, with Biomimicry workshops, Janine’s TED talk and lectures, explaining how Nature uses energy, creates materials, produces food and fibers without combustion, toxic catalysts or the wasteful methods and pollution of the past 300 years of our fossil-fueled Industrial Era.  As industries and governments catch on, they often rush to biosubstitution, thoughtlessly substituting petroleum with food-based biofuels and plastics.

 

Rio+20 provided many learning experiences, together with over 55 thousand NGOs and scientific groups teaching the official delegations of those 193 countries participating.  We are witnessing everywhere the acceleration of global learning – speeded up by all the new communications tools we have invented.  Since I wrote Creating Alternative Futures in 1978, I have tracked this human story and our race between expanding our awareness and the destructive forces threatening our common future.  The Politics of the Solar Age I foresaw in 1981 is now upon us!  The good news is that we are connecting the dots.  Janine Benyus and I and our companies have joined forces and are creating our new Principles for Ethical Biomimicry Finance© for future responsible investing.

 

In a very real way, the space programs since the 1960s had set the stage for humanity’s growing awareness of our blue planet, seen for the first time floating in the blackness of space.  US astronaut Sally Ride launched Mission to Planet Earth in the 1980s which birthed the new inter-disciplinary Earth Systems Science and its satellite views of polluted estuaries and growing deserts.  This led to GPS, Google Earth and the first UN agreements on climate change in Rio in 1992 and Kyoto in 1998.  The Millennium Development Goals and the UN Global Compact followed in 2000 spurred by WWF’s Living Planet Index, the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessments and the Ecological Footprint, now used widely and in product labeling.  In 2009, UNEP, ILO and UNDP launched the Green Economy Initiative and the General Assembly endorsed the Global Green New Deal.  By 2010, the UN and the European Union’s program of reforming obsolete asset valuation produced TEEB: The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, so that Nature’s productivity could be calculated and included in financial accounting.  This helped deflate the carbon finance bubble exposed in 2011 by the Carbon Tracker report.  It is now recognized that carbon is best sequestered in properly managed land and forests (www.savoryinstitute.org)  – rather than costly mechanical efforts patched onto fossilized industrial facilities.  Nature’s billions of years of innovation and optimal designs were recognized in the shift toward biomimicry led by Buckminster Fuller, Janine Benyus’ Biomimicry Institute, Allan Savory, John and Nancy Todd, Wes Jackson, the Bioneers, Gunter Pauli’s ZERI, Bill Mollison’s Permaculture and many unsung traditional practitioners worldwide.

 

Once global entities, led by UNEP-FI, UNDP, ILO’s Green Jobs Programme, GRI and UN-PRI, joined with national entities, the SRI industry, venture investors and entrepreneurs, all working together collaboratively, people started re-investing in their own communities.  Partly driven by distrust of Wall Street, mega banks and central  bank money printing and bailouts, people created local currencies, flocked to local credit unions, farmers’ markets and time banks.  The love and gift economies and innumerable other initiatives combined to manifest the thriving local living economies we can rely on as safety nets in likely future global meltdowns.  These, together with the re-localizing of banks and investing can again become the mainstay of national economies.  E. F. Schumacher, whose Small is Beautiful was published in 1973, and who wrote the foreword to my first book, would be proud of his legacy.  Microcredit had blossomed worldwide since the 1970s with pioneering efforts by the Grameen Bank and the BRAC in Bangladesh, Women’s World Banking network in many African, Asian and other countries, ACCION and others in Latin America.  By the 1990s, women-owned businesses were growing rapidly, especially in North America and Europe, tracked by NAWBO, the National Association of Women Business Owners in Washington, DC.  In our new century, women have at last been recognized as peace makers and included in peace negotiations as the main actors in conflict-resolution worldwide.

 

My vision is that we humans, with women and men in partnership, can become fully conscious and will continue to co-evolve with other life on this planet as we have done successfully for the past 3.8 billion years.  The key, as my Buddhist friends say is “waking up” to our fullest consciousness.

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Pinker, Steven. The Better Angels of Our Nature, Viking, 2011.

[2] Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking Fast and Slow, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

[3] See for example, Sykes, Bryan, DNA USA, Liveright, 2012.

[4] See for example, Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators, eds. Hazel Henderson, Jon Lickerman, Patrice Flynn, Calvert Group, 2000, updated at www.calvert-henderson.com.

[5] Khosla, Ashok, Worlds to Dream About, Tallberg Forum, 2009; video available at www.ethicalmarkets.tv.

[6] Henderson, Hazel. “Transitioning to the Future We Want,” ICAEW and Tomorrow’s Company, London, UK, forthcoming.

[7] Green Transition Scoreboard® video – http://www.youtube.com/user/EthicalMarketsMedia/featured

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