Commented on by Larry/nuet  July 14, 2016

Understanding Whole System Change

Andrew Gaines
original doc

As you are probably aware, we live in a global civilization that is ecologically self-destructing. To avoid the worst of the disaster we need to change the operating character of our whole society. The needed changes are so comprehensive that we speak of whole system change, or whole system transformation. We have the design skills and technical means to totally revamp how our society operates and live well within the ecological carrying capacity of the Earth. What is required is the public will. And for this people need to grasp whole system change. What follows is a framework for making sense of whole system change. It covers the ground of large-scale transformative change without getting caught up in the detail. The approach is consistent with leading thinkers such as David Korten, Joanna Macy, Riane Eisler, and Paul Raskin. Although you may have differences in emphasis, you might assess whether overall this framework makes sense to you.

We are in the midst of a Great Transition

The current “transition” has many different outcomes, from extinction to glorious recovery. Do not give the impression that we are now transiting to a better world, we only have to join in and do our part.

There are millions of groups working for environmental and social well-being. You may be active in one or more such groups yourself. In Blessed Unrest Paul Hawken described us a vast and largely unseen movement. If things go well, historians in the future will look back and say that ours was the time of the Great Transition to a life-sustaining civilisation. Some call it the Great Turning to a life-sustaining civilisation. In my view, the key point of change for success is that a critical mass of ordinary people and influential decision-makers grasp the need for transformative change, and passionately commit to making it happen. Since mainstream media will not touch this, our success, if we achieve it, depends on devising imaginative ways to ‘engage the unengaged’. That is, we need to find ways to
engage those who have not thought deeply about our current global situation. We need to inspire the millions of people who are concerned, but who do not yet see how they can step up to the collaborative leadership that will really make a difference. The most significant thing we can do is to engage other people in the conversation. Without informed committed public will and action we cannot possibly turn things around. So we are talking about devising imaginative approaches to education that operate outside of formal institutions.

Above in blue, attempts to define the measure of whether we have yet launched The Great Transition.

I see now that we can talk about many concurrent transitions, each progressing along at different rates and within different stages.

You define your tipping point by our reaching a CRITICAL POPULATION  of people and influential decision-makers grasp the need for TRANSFORMATIVE change.

Another necessary distinction:

(1) Objective, real process happening not; or projected to be really happening in the future.

(2) Conceptual Schemes some humans have formulated to interpret today’s data or would be useful for future data.

(2) is mostly what we have today, and really is all that we ever can have. Relationships in our hypothetical conceptual schemes that continue to meet a minimum criteria of accuracy are claimed to represent REAL, OBJECTIVE phenomena.

There is no question about increasing numbers of persons with concerned views about the future. They do vary as to the degree of criticality and time frames, and even to “causes”. It is acknowledged that much remains unknown and that we are dealing in crude probabilities. However the inability to give precise numbers, the danger is very, very real – and there is increasing evidence that Earth Changes are happening at increasingly destructive rates. Only some of these changes are Climate Changes.

In my other comments I have mentioned the enormous, exponential increase in knowledge, competencies, and technologies – all potentially relevant to TGT.  There is much dialog underway in more and more useful forums.

Are we building towards threshold or have we passed can’t be answered today, and depends on many assumptions. IMA the odds are so great that we are not only not yet to threshold, but things are missing that imply we might not ever meet threshold for TGT. For that reason, I work to find out what is blocking us from accessing our vast conceptual resources and what we can do.

I am puzzled that I can’t motivate others to share my concern, as I can’t make much of a difference myself.

Later I will attempt to propose what you and I might do to improve your action model for TGT (Blitz project leading to Blitz event and followup).  I don’t yet have a first stage action model for UPLIFT.

 Whole system change

The needed changes are so comprehensive – and so good-hearted – that we may speak of whole system change. They include changes in personal psychology, economics, industrial design and agriculture. Whole system change means doing everything required to actually become ecologically sustainable. Nothing less will do. The idea of whole system change can seem overwhelming to people. This article shows an approach to making it mentally manageable in a way that supports real-world changes. It uses a somewhat different logic than many of us are used to. We start with core principles and work out their applications. Although there are many ways to slice the cake, I have boiled the core operating principles down to just two:  See what you think. A viable society will · Operate for community and natural wellbeing · And it will be ecologically sustainable I also include a ‘big picture’ map that highlights the major drivers of environmental destruction and therefore indicates the major elements that need to change. This map enables people to see how all the major factors are functionally interconnected, and that none of them can be neglected if we are to actually achieve sustainability.

Images of whole system change

What is a whole system change? It may be helpful to start with a few impressionistic images. We all changed profoundly as we moved from infancy into childhood and from childhood into adulthood.  So much about us changed and yet we are ‘the same’ people.

The shift from water to ice and from chrysalis to butterfly are whole system changes – as is the shift from a temperate climate to an ice age on the one hand, or to runaway global warming on the other. The shift from war to peace is a whole system change. If we make it, our metamorphosis to a healthy sustainable society will be the springtime of humanity – a new flowering of wellbeing after a millennia-long period of darkness. This flowering is what I think of as healthy whole system change – our proper goal at this time.

As you may be now aware, the confusion between metaphor and practical process analog for metamorphosis has been a five decade struggle – continuing; and I believe the distinction may be critical for our survival/thrival.

Metamorphosis for humankind (to the Societal Butterfly Humanity I call NU) involves galaxies more than reforming our contemporary societal systems as outlined for TGT.

UPLIFT to Societal Metamorphosis to NU evolving/emerging for many millennia is COSMIC relative to the simply “planetary” for TGT. But, at the start, there will be many similarities.  TGT will be one of many projects for UPLIFT. The goals and methods for the future will not be determined by us, but by the nu humans emergent in the process.

Critical to the success of UPLIFT is to fully recognize, research, and utilize our awesome cognitive diversity. Cognitively, humankind may be as diverse as the mammals in their variety of food procurement processes. Humans, I hope to demonstrate, are phenomenally unique among all life on Earth. We may be an experiment of Gaia. This could be presented as a new “religious” belief support system to replace the contemporary religions that have outlived their utility. Human arrogance in claims for TRUTH of Ultimate Realities astounds me.

More on this later ….

Thinking through whole system change

Creating a viable society will involve millions of us forming a thoughtful understanding of what needs to change – and then getting on with making the changes. So both education and practical action are crucial.  Our practical projects become more meaningful when we place them in the context of co-creating a sustainable, fair and prosperous society. What follows is an approach to making whole system change intellectually manageable in a way that supports practical real world changes. It is based on four questions:

  What are the core values of a healthy society – and how can we embody them more in society?

These we have yet to determine, and in our confused state we can’t do this adequately. We can list some values that appear universal – and some variation on them will probably survive.  Our current conflict about abortion is a situation of value conflict – that can’t be avoided. The life and death of individual persons in the future will not be as simple as humanists anticipate.

2   What is the essence of ecological sustainability – and what do current ecological trends show?

There are those who contrast sustainability with resilience. At this point of our Earth Crisis, “sustainability” is a far, far off dream. Survival and Recovery is much more complex than sustainability.

And for longer term, really good sustainability would block further evolution.

Our near future actions with respect to Gaia and how we relate to her must be pragmatic. To be serious about eliminating all eliminatable greenhouse gases will require humans to cease eating the flesh of dead animals.  We might be able to eat animals muscle cells grown outside the animals. Consider: humans, pets, and cattle comprise 98% of Earth’s terrestrial vertebrate biomass (the actual number is in debate).

3  How does the operation of our society as a whole operate tend to make environmental issues worse, and what are the crucial leverage points for change?

Society “as a whole” is not global and major institutions, but “whole” in the sense of the fractal-like nested/networked systems from persons to planetary humankind.  It cannot be summarized.

4   How can we catalyze a movement to shift the aspiration and practical operation of our society so that we actually become a sustainable global civilization?

Catalysis is a process we need, but we must better understand the systems to which the catalyst will be applied.  In my proposal for SEAF, I offer an enzymatic process to accelerate and even permit some kinds of personal and social change.

A natural follow through from exploring these questions is to ask what (if anything) are you moved to do within your sphere of interest and influence to contribute to the transformative shift? Are there ways to make a bridge between what you are already doing and whole system change?

Do not propose that persons will quickly master the conceptual schemes and practical processes involved in whole systems change. At 81 I am still learning and there remain many significant issues to unravel.

From earlier thinking: we need to help persons change their ideas about knowledge and belief, about evidence and proof, about human limitations and human diversity. Indeed, there is a cosmology of human myths that must be dismantled – and these serve as the unconscious context for learning about Climate Change. This call applied to PhDs as well as those without any formal education.

I believe that when people think through these topics they will come to very similar conclusions about why and how we need to change. Why? Because these are not ideological questions but questions about how environmental and social reality work.   The above four questions enable people to create a systemic framework that includes all relevant factors. Such a mental model points the way to a viable future. It equips people to intelligently assess the pronouncements of major business leaders and politicians, and to support constructive leadership. It also positions us to exert leadership ourselves within our sphere of influence. The questions can be answered using frameworks other than the ones I offer here.

There are some things that all humans must come to agree up – in analogy to the common DNA in each of our cells. But, a viable human society depends on a wide diversity of basic differences in much potential. We can’t expect all humans to directly relate to all others, as your bone cells don’t relate to your neurons.  How we marry our similarities and differences will determine how we survive/thrive.

Humankind isn’t an example of a mature species. Indeed, I analogy humankind as an embryo, probably about to be born. Our old/mammalian/fast/intuitive/emotional minds have not yet fully integrated with our new/human/slow/conceptual/rational minds.  Our messy history reflects this attempt to bring harmony between the new and the old.

There is a vast, vast difference between what we can do to moderate dysfunction and violence in our highly inadequate social/societal systems, bring enough stability to slow collapse so – concurrently we can begin the self design of  humanity – the birth of NU, the Societal Caterpillar (which will continue to evolve/emerge, contrary to its biological analog.

For example, I use ‘The Natural Step’ as a basis for understanding the essence of ecological sustainability, but the concept of ‘Ecological Footprint’ can also do the job.

Question 1: What are the core values of a healthy society?

There are many ways to describe positive core values. In this section we are looking for an inclusive framework that makes them mentally manageable. Because it is so useful, I and others have adopted the framework put forward by futurist Riane Eisler. Eisler notes the distinction between what she calls partnership/respect relating and domination/control relating.

In The Power of Partnership Riane Eisler observes:

In the domination model, somebody has to be on top and somebody has to be on the bottom. Those on top control those below them. People learn, starting in early childhood, to obey orders without question. They learn to carry a harsh voice in their heads telling them they are no good, they don’t deserve love, they need to be punished.

Families and societies are based on control that is explicitly or implicitly backed up by guilt, fear, and force. The world is divided into in-groups and out-groups, with those who are different seen as enemies to be conquered or destroyed. In contrast, the partnership model supports mutually respectful and caring relations. Because there’s no need to maintain rigid rankings of control, there is also no built-in need for abuse or violence.

Partnership relations free our innate capacity to feel joy, to play. They enable us to grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. This is true for individuals, families, and whole societies. Conflict is an opportunity to learn and to be creative, and power is exercised in ways that empower rather than disempower others.

Partnership relating is oriented towards the wellbeing of the community (as well as being mindful of one’s own self interest). Partnership values find expression in
democracy, in the caring aspects of organised religion, and in the growing concern to protect ecological systems.

The archetypal form is a mother working for the wellbeing of each member of her family. Dominator relating uses force and intimidation to establish one’s own advantage over others at the expense of the community. It is oriented more towards conquering than towards collaborating. The archetypal forms of dominator relating are patriarchal: fathers dominating their families and emperors dominating vast territories. This distinction is useful because it operates at every level, from human relationships through to business, education and global governance. We can look at any human institution and ask whether it is operating in a partnership mode or in a dominator mode. Eisler’s Partnership-Dominator contrast is also appealing because it describes not only values, but also ways of organising our behaviour. I believe that a healthy society will operate on partnership/respect values; this means that we can work out how to transform schools and the internal operations of businesses to embody those values.  Thus we can imagine an organisation shifting from an authoritarian style to a collaborative, empowering style of management.

This operational aspect is important because there is reason to believe that our current dominator style – as expressed in the aggressive expansion of fracking, GM crops, and the American invasion of Iraq – is a major driver of ecological deterioration. Likewise, corporate lobbying and disinformation are a major impediment to transitioning to environmentally sustainable practices. The dominator pattern is also a major contributor to the inner unhappiness that produces retail therapy and other forms of excess consumption.

Partnership and dominator are two contrasting approaches to life that operate on every level of human endeavour, from child-rearing to global governance. Many aspects of dominator behaviour are truly horrific, both historically and in terms of current events. Therefore it is important for people to know that in important respects some parts of humanity are becoming healthier and more balanced, and that there is a strong positive trend that may ultimately set the tone for a positive future.

Different scales of the Partnership-Dominator contrast

A healthy society will operate on good willed partnership/respect values at every level.   It can be useful to see how both partnership and dominator play out at different levels. We have well-proven practical examples of how to apply a partnership style at the concrete levels of birth, parenting practices, education, and business operations.  We also have well thought out conceptual approaches at the more abstract levels of economics and global governance.  We know in principle, and to a great degree in practice, how to make partnership/respect relating work.

Partner & Dominator are but two of many types of relationships among persons and groups.  Eisler has explored but one of many very interdependent factors effecting human interpersonal and collective behavior.

This distinction cannot be a primary factor in the immediate future. The variety of roles are already deeply conditioned and reinforced by their environment.

I would fully expect a dominator system NOT to be part of UPLIFT.  But, there would be a variety of different relationship patterns that are not dominator.

I am sensitive to the total shift to networks because networks can’t do more than the sum of what is done by the nodes.  By constraining relationships in networks, they become systems, which can do more than the sum of components.  Systems can often become frozen, ineffective and even oppressive.  In systems there may be variations of “leadership” (which is not dominant).

The brain of a tribal human, which we possess, has many limitations for working with groups of humans larger than 150.  How we attempt to organize 8 billion of a great variety (not cultural uniform in tribes) is our ultimate challenge.  Also, never really needing to consider environments beyond their sensory immediate, it is a miraculous wonder than humans have the abstract abilities to do what we do do.  But, individual human persons, no matter the IQ or enhanced education, cannot function as decision-maker on major societal issues. I believe seafed human crews in communities – facilitated by our miraculous intelligent technologies (also only beginning, in spite of their magnificence today). How we will live in the future will need to be worked out by an uplifted global population – and it will take many generations and centuries for some changes to be finally accomplished.

We need to help ourselves and others adjust to a wide range of time frames – to avoid the near instantaneous that has so corrupted our investment markets to what will take generations. This is not new to humans, when we look at the construction of cathedrals and major roads of older times.

We must carefully assess WHO WE ARE at this time, a relevant, global census. What percent are disturbed, have learning disabilities. What are the distributions of needs and available resources?  We will need to train many with new competencies to do what we need to do.

My assessment of the climate challenge is that it will require a much more competent, aware, and knowledgeable global population to be willing to drastically change lifestyle.  In metaphor, all of humankind must migrate on a low consumption camping trip for a few decades. It can be fun and rewarding, but the so-called “standard of consumption living” of the industrialized West cannot continue, let alone spread to the whole population,

Two paths to the future

This diagram shows real-world consequences of partnership and dominator relating.

Making partnership/respect values operational


If it is true that a viable society will operate on positive values, how can we embed partnership values throughout society? There are many ways.  Here are some examples.

  • At an individual level, there are many methods of training that enable us to become more skilful at partnership relating. They include well-known disciplines such as Conflict Resolution, Non-Violent Communication and Crucial Conversations. Some that you might not ordinarily think of include the Feldenkrais method of body awareness, Aikido and improvisational acting. By acquiring these skills we can enjoy our lives more.
  • There are also breakthrough techniques in the new field of energy psychology that enable people to rapidly resolve emotional distress and cultivate emotional resilience. EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) is one of them ( Resolving our emotional stuff makes us less prone to move into dominator mode.
  • Cultivating emotional resilience can reduce our desire to compensate for not feeling good in ourselves by e.g. shopping. So cultivating emotional resilience is a crucial aspect of transitioning to a viable society.
  • Organisationally, the paper Simply the Best: Workplaces in Australia
    ( shows that in the best performing workplaces (as identified by the Australian Business Council) managers use a partnership/respect style of relating. The connection is obvious: happier people spontaneously work better .
  • Unconditional respect is a pre-condition for students being able to learn. John Corrigan’s Group 8 makes the concept of unconditional respect both theoretically and experientially real to the senior leadership of schools; this flows through to the way teachers in the classroom relate to their students.
  • Ricardo Semler’s Maverick describes how he changed his Brazilian pump manufacturing company from an authoritarian style to a style that supports individual initiative from workers. There are many other examples of highly successful companies that operate on good willed partnership/respect values.
  • Internationally, after World War II, the United Nations was set up to be a community of nations. The World Bank was established to help Third World countries develop. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) was established to provide loans when countries got too economically out of balance. The idea behind the IMF was to reduce the stress on local populations that would tend to lead to war.

So initially the World Bank and the IMF were meant to be partnership organisations. They were quickly co-opted to serve the interests of money and power (C/F The World Bank and the Poverty of Nations, Catherine Caulfield, Macmillan, London1997).

Question 2: What is the essence of environmental sustainability?

The essence of environmental sustainability is that overall we do not destroy nature faster than it can regenerate, and that we do not introduce into the environment toxins that living cells cannot handle. Suppose you have a forest.

 And you log part of it.

But an equivalent amount grows back somewhere else.

As long as the amount that grows back equals the amount that was logged, in principle the forest is sustainable. You destroy part of the forest, but it can regenerate.

However, if you destroy the forest faster than it can regenerate, the forest gets thinner and thinner (or smaller and smaller) and eventually turns into grassland and then desert.

The progressive reduction of the forest is unsustainable.
So what we are looking at is cumulative environmental damage – damage that accrues over time. In the long run cumulative environmental damage is unsustainable.

This way of looking at the essence of environmental sustainability comes from The Natural Step, developed by Swedish scientist Karl-Henrik Robèrt. He puts it more formally, however.

The Natural Step – Four System Conditions for environmental sustainability

In a sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing… …concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust,  …concentrations of substances produced by society, …degradation by physical means, and in that society …people are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their needs. These are real-world conditions, not theoretical ideals. If we extract substances such as lead and mercury from the Earth and introduce them into the natural environment they act as poisons because living cells are not adapted to them.

Similarly with substances produced by society-industrial toxins. If we progressively reduce the physical basis for nature’s productivity we will destroy the ecological basis of our food supply. These processes are currently occurring on a large scale e.g. in the form of fracking, the release of industrial toxins into the environment and soil depletion. The requirement to meet basic human needs is not simply an idealistic wish. When basic human needs are not met people behave in ways that are environmentally damaging on a large scale.

The Natural Step System Conditions provide a way of working out whether a business, a country or our global civilisation is operating in a way that is ecologically sustainable or not. For example, we may ask: are the fish in a given fishing ground repopulating as fast as we take them out, or are the fish stocks declining over time (e.g., currently tuna stocks are down 90% from former numbers). Thus, instead of arguing over absolute numbers (e.g., at what point will the fishery collapse?), for policy purposes we can simply note the trend line. Is a given environmental indicator getting worse? If so, it is time to change course. Is a critical environmental indicator getting worse faster? It is therefore time to go into emergency mode. The Centre for Integrated Sustainability Analysis at the University of Sydney works out numerically the embedded energy and material flows in entire supply chains. So we have the techniques and resources to measure whether the production of a given product is ecologically sustainable or not.

Our Crisis-of-Crisis, unfortunately, is not the lack of ideas and processes we could use for sustainability, as you cite two here: The Natural Step and Footprints.  True, we could have more persons and resourced devoted to research on the implementation of proper practices.

Our difficulty is strictly human-to-human, not human-to-Gaia. Contemporary humankind CAN’T do what is needed.  And it is NOT that they lack the knowledge to do what is needed – which is true that most do lack the knowledge. It are the elites and persons with distorted realities who intentionally block populations learning & organizing.  Persons are conditioned to believe the only way to get something done is to get their leaders to make it so they do what is needed.

Even the most self-organizing models I have seen from activists end up proposing system reform and replacement of politicians.  The power elites control the decision-making systems and even within the USA constitution, created a system to explicitly keep the majority of Americans docile and obedient.  The USA’s so-called 3 branches of governments with “checks and balances” is designed to keep the elite in power.

To really be effective in making a GREAT transition, this whole system (now, globally) must be REPLACED not transformed.  We have two primary expeditions: to create the replacement and to make the transition with least suffering.  AND, to do it in time before runaway global heating is triggered.

A number of businesses now do annual sustainability audits to assess how they are functioning against these criteria. Perhaps the most famous is Interface Carpets; Founder Ray Anderson tells the story in Mid-Course Correction.  Two major breakthroughs occurred after Ray Anderson had Karl-Henrik Robèrt train his staff in The Natural Step principles. Interface realised that they could shift from selling carpets to selling carpet services. In practice this means they only replace worn out carpet tiles, rather than whole carpets. And they keep the used carpet tiles instead of throwing them into landfill. This is profitable, because Interface engineers invented
a way to reconstitute the used carpet back into oil for manufacturing the carpet tiles – a huge economic as well as environmental gain.

How are we doing?

Will Steffen of Australia National University produced a set of diagrams that show how population, economic increase and environmental damage in various sectors are all rapidly increasing simultaneously. In 2008 New Scientist summarized them in a special report called The facts about overconsumption.


For an expanded view of this graph, go to see graph in detail. These graphs show gradual growth in areas such as water use and species extinction accelerating hand-in-hand with increasing economic growth – the classic ‘hockey stick’ curve. The graphs tell a story. They are indicators of a dysfunctional global civilisation that must change radically if it is to survive its own success.

If we don’t, the implications are clear: even in the developed countries there will be starvation, disease and violence when there is insufficient food and water as the environment unravels.

There are many exemplar systems, that do prove the case. But, humans are diagram illiterate – as evidenced by the very low use of diagrams in MSM, in spite of the potential for digital graphs and diagrams for decades. Many humans’ minds FREEZE when they see diagrams or graphs – a variation of math phobia.


I use a botanical metaphor. We need SSS: viable SEEDS, fertile SOILS, and nurturing SCAFFOLDING. These new successful ventures are seeds falling on the unfertile soils of a “capitalist” economy. Your and my docs are also seeds falling on unfertile minds – and if we do engage a few, the silos of cyberspace block synergy.

I don’t mean to be depressing. All of this negativity vanishes when we take the UPLIFT route; whose success is neither guaranteed or will be easy – but, to me, at least possible. I believe MORE than possible. Our pent up potentials are so vast, as our burgeoning knowledge, competencies, and  technologies.  I label this a Synergistic Emergent Eruption .

Peak Oil

Peak Oil is that point in global oil production when oil prices inevitably increase because the availability of oil that is cheap to extract begins to decline. Some analysts assert that we have already reached peak oil. Our currently rising petrol prices are consistent with this view.

They have temporarily become lower, because of many reasons, one including fracking. A new “peak” is when we no longer have sufficient fossil fuel required for a rapid replacement by renewable energy sources. Building a new energy infrastructure requires much energy. Renewable could be achieved by bootstrapping, but it would be too slow and many things needing energy would no longer function; including agriculture.

From the perspective of climate change, Peak Oil is good news. It will reduce the amount of oil we burn. However, from the perspective of an economy unprepared for Peak Oil we are in for a rough ride. As Joseph Tainter shows in The Collapse of Complex Societies, the historical record shows that when societies reach the limit of resources they depend upon, and those resources decline, their leadership typically pushes harder to extract the remaining resources. Thus they accelerate their society’s decline by trying to amplify business as usual. Globally our current version of this is to extract oil from sources where extraction is increasingly difficult, such as coal tar sands and deep offshore drilling, and to rapidly push the expansion of coal seam gas extraction (fracking).

Fracking destroys both prime farmland and aquifers, and can only provide a short-term energy respite in any case. Thus we are caught in what might be called Tainter’s Dilemma.  We feel that we need both the energy and the income to keep our economy going. But the harder we push the sooner our demise will come. The way out is to accept reality and aim for a planned descent – descent by design, not by disaster.

Our wake-up call

In 2008 a Russian research ship discovered methane plumes bubbling up from the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. The permafrost vault that covers vast tracts of frozen methane (gas hydrates) is developing cracks. It was thought that this deep permafrost could not thaw for a long time. The prestigious United States National Science Foundation issued a warning paper about it. Since methane is a potent greenhouse gas, arguably this is beginning of uncontrollable global warming.  This may be still reversible.   The implication for public policy is that it is no longer realistic to plan to allow atmospheric CO2 to rise.  Scenarios suggesting stabilizing CO2 at 450-550ppm are George Bush senior famously said at the first Rio Earth Summit on Environmental Sustainability. “The American way of life is not negotiable.”

“Yes dear,” affirms Mother Nature, knowing what is coming, “it is not negotiable.”

Runaway Global Heating with methane is, to me, the most critical item, and one which we can’t easily shut off, even if we suddenly agreed to, as the cause for today’s methane emissions (excluding animal farts) is from PAST emissions.  This should be closely watched everywhere and transparently reported. I speculate the news is so bad that there is MSM censorship.

I have mixed assessment on Geo-Engineering. They shouldn’t be an excuse for quickly cutting emissions, some may not work and may do damage. But, if we could seal the methane sources in the Arctic, it could make the difference between survival or not.

Making the global public aware of the Methane crisis is a good topic for TGT.  They might focus on eliminating the methane from agriculture, primarily cows. Short of slaughtering herds we might make them all wear diapers and face masks! Good employment opportunities hanging diapers in the Pampa, or develop diaper changing robots.

Project: R&D and rapid production with small automated plants globally distributed to grow animals muscle tissue in climate controlled factories, primarily automated. Include ways of processing to simulate various cuts of meat. Develop processes for transition living adjustments for those losing employment in animal agriculture. This would be done in our current economy only if profits would continue. Transfer investment in herds to muscle growth factories.

My proposing these types of projects in not in conflict with my belief in the impossibility of significant WHOLE SYSTEM transformation. Some may be needed to ready us for Metamorphosis.

out of date.  Merely stabilizing at current concentrations of CO2 will be insufficient. A responsible policy response requires going all out to not only reduce fossil fuel emissions; but also paying farmers directly to sequester carbon into the soil – and publicizing the need for this to our population at large. (Farmers can withdraw CO2 from the atmosphere through farming techniques that build up the amount of humus in the soil.) We have just considered the two core principles of a viable society.

Alternative economists can design transition strategies for the phase shift from fossil fuels to green. Unless fully fearing collapse unless they do it, Big Business won’t fund or support the Turning. And maybe it can’t – are there adequate information & decision-making processes to work with the types of persons needed to make such top-down decisions. Taking into account their varied and weird psychologies and social pressure silos – it may be impossible.

Obviously a viable society will be ecologically sustainable. It will also operate on positive values that support individual and community wellbeing, rather than on aggressively competitive values that destroy the environment, communities and individual wellbeing. Our next step is to develop a big picture map of how our society works as a whole, so that we become clear about what needs to change. It is not enough to see parts of what needs to change; we need to bring the whole picture into view, so that nothing important is neglected. Skilled practitioners in every discipline take account of the whole situation before they intervene. They don’t just jump to solutions; they take the time to work out precisely what is needed. That way they do not miss important factors, and they can identify the most effective places to intervene.

This approach is especially important in terms of catalyzing large-scale healthy social change. Here I will show a way of mapping the big picture that gives a systemic overview.

When do we know we have the “whole” picture. In our current scientific perspectives we have many nested “wholes”.

The use of visual metaphors may cause us difficulty. I am aware of this because I lack visual imagery in both remembrances and imagination.  The Big Picture is not a picture, and even if it could be diagramed, one could never view it as a whole.  Even phrases like “I see” for “I comprehend” or “vision” for “imagined future” bias our unconscious context and limit our understanding.

Question 3: How does the operation of our society as a whole tend to make environmental issues worse?

YES, this is a key issue, which I have mentioned before. But, we must be careful that our map is accurate, or we will try to change the wrong things.

The “OPERATION OF OUR SOCIETY AS A WHOLE” is very, very complex and with much controversy as witnessed by BREXIT and the USA elections. .  For example, professional economists have a grossly inaccurate and false view of societal reality as a whole. Many even admit it, realize they assumptions are faulty, delegate more accurate economic theories to the margins, and continue their practice.

We are going to develop a map of the major elements that need to shift in order for our global civilisation to become ecologically sustainable. Our starting point is to ask:
How does our society as a whole operate in ways that make global warming and other environmental and social issues worse?

Our procedure is to develop step-by-step a diagram that maps the major elements of our current industrial civilisation. The Ecological Equation is our foundation. It shows the connection between consumerism and environmental degradation.  Annie Leonard’s brilliant The Story of Stuff starts in the same way.

Consumerism is a symptom, not a cause.


The Ecological Equation

The process of extracting raw materials through mining, industrial agriculture and cutting down forests produces environmental degradation.  The raw materials are processed in factories, which produce their own environmental damage through chemical toxins, acid rain and the greenhouse gasses that accelerate climate change. All of these are involved in the production of the ordinary things that we use.

As this diagram shows, there is a direct connection between the amount of ‘stuff’ we produce and associated environmental damage. The more things we produce and
consume, the more environmental damage is produced − vastly more than most of us imagine.

In the following diagram, as the red arrow on the right representing increasing consumption goes up, the red arrow on the left representing environmental deterioration goes up even more.  So you can see how this diagram works as a visual equation. It is clear that if we are to become environmentally sustainable, we must reduce the cumulative environmental impact of the process of making and consuming things. By how much? we may ask. To what numerical value should the arrow on the left representing cumulative environmental damage fall in order to be sustainable?

If we cut trees from a forest, but trees in other parts of the forest grow back at an equal rate, then in principle the forest is sustainable. However, if we cut down trees faster than they regrow, gradually the forest will get smaller and smaller until it is gone. This is an example of cumulative damage. It adds up over time. If we intend to be ecologically sustainable, our goal must be to reduce our cumulative rate of environmental degradation in key areas such as topsoil, forests, fish stocks, water and biological diversity, to zero.   Zero! This rigorous demand comes from the nature of reality itself. It has nothing to do with political opinions. If the overall trend is of increasing deterioration, we will end up producing a desert and causing overwhelming species extinction.

Integrated industrial design as a hopeful line of solution

The technical hope is to reduce environmental degradation through improved design.
A great deal can be done in this direction. Lovins and Hawken’s Natural Capitalism
shows that in every area from agriculture to architecture and manufacturing we can reduce the amount of energy and materials we use by ninety percent or more. This is an exciting realisation, and more of us should know about it. It is crucial to our future well-being. But we may wonder if improved design will be sufficient by itself. Sometimes improved design means that things are produced more cheaply, making it easier for more people to buy more of them, so there is still a large ecological footprint. And as affluence increases, many people tend to buy more things.

Reducing overall consumption

Therefore I suggest that we must set as our goal reducing overall consumption.   This requires a whole system change, based on profound changes in attitudes, and not just changes in specific behaviours such as recycling. Note that this is not about reducing basic necessities. Nor is it about living bleak
poverty-stricken lifestyles. It is about reducing excess consumption – consumption that is wasteful through poor design (e.g. built in obsolescence), and consumption of excess stuff that we do not necessarily need or enjoy. It is about elegant design that is satisfying.   Simultaneously, it is about increasing social connectedness and personal wellbeing.
We can live better with less – exquisite sufficiency!


conflicts the sacred GROWTH goal
OF DEVINE capitalism and FREE enterprise.

This cannot be an early objective,
But one of our longer-term goals.

 I seriously question the tactic of telling average persons that by their one by one changing their behaviors to Green, they contribute significantly to our survival.  Where this can be done without cost to time, energy, and resources given to efforts to STOP emissions AND  dethrone those in power, we may contribute to our own failure.

Identifying factors that tend to increase consumption

To understand the nature of the needed whole system change let’s consider factors
that tend to increase consumption. These will generate a catalogue of things that collectively we need to change.

Obviously advertising plays a major role in increasing consumption – especially excess consumption of things we don’t necessarily need or enjoy.

But advertising per se does not compel us to buy things. There are psychological drivers that affect our desire to purchase things. At a surface level, many of us are attracted by the ready availability of relatively inexpensive interesting looking things. We are attracted – and we may not be aware of the associated ecological damage. So we may include both attraction and ignorance of environmental effects as factors in excess consumption. At a deeper level, many people lack a feeling of inner well being. Many of us have unresolved trauma from child abuse of various sorts, or we may have a sense of an empty hole inside of us associated with parental neglect. If these feelings of trauma or emptiness were to be directly experienced they would be extremely painful. Properly done, contacting and resolving such feelings is healing, and opens us to authentic pleasure and more fulfilling relationships. However, many people avoid or compensate for painful feelings by over-consumption.
Some stuff themselves with chocolates or indulge in ‘retail therapy’; others buy mansions.   Desire for status can drive excess consumption. There is healthy status and pathological status.  Healthy status is earned; it arises because of one’s contribution to the community based on competence and caring. Pathological status is based on attempting to feel good about oneself by appearing to be superior, or at least not inferior. This manifests as conspicuous consumption and ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.  In addition, many people have a sense of entitlement. ‘You deserve it’ the advertisements proclaim.   All of these psychological factors contribute to excess consumption, and hence increased environmental degradation. Let’s add them to our map.

Many people, based on their experience, hold the view that the ultimate nature of the universe is consciousness, and that the quality of this consciousness is love. Words that are sometimes used to indicate this aspect of reality include presence, divinity, God, and Being. It has been suggested that many of us, because of trauma and cultural denial, have organised our minds in ways that prevent us from experiencing the bliss and love associated with deeper levels of Being. Being disconnected from these levels of awareness is in itself painful, and we compensate with the surface pleasures of materialism. Accepting this view for the moment, we will add disconnection from our deeper BEING or authentic self to our map of factors that tend to increase excess consumption. As you know, our economic system is oriented around continual economic increase for the sake of increasing shareholder value. A great deal of financial capital is in superannuation funds, which means that ordinary people have an investment in keeping the current growth system going. However, the majority of shares are owned by a relatively small number of extremely wealthy people.   So we may say that our economic system is set up to help the wealthy get wealthier. They are assisted in this through government policies that they themselves have influenced – policies that emphasise increasing the Gross National Product. Money enters the system as debt with interest, and paying off the interest requires ever-increasing economic growth. Trade is the engine of growth, and organisations such as the World Trade Organisation are specifically designed to increase international trade. So let’s add three more aspects to our map: devotion to economic increase, devotion to shareholder value, and institutions that support global trade in ways that increase shareholder value.

The attitudes that underlie the drive to increase shareholder value, even when there is obvious damage to communities and the environment, are far from benign. Sometimes there is a link between the willingness to hurt others and one’s own experience of being hurt in childhood. It is well known that people who have been physically abused in childhood tend to repeat or ‘act out’ that abuse when they
become adults. This acting out finds expression at many levels, including abusing one’s own children or spouse, workplace bullying, willingly damaging the environment, and adopting policies that hurt groups of people or entire countries. The behaviour of people directing the large transnationals is at times malicious, even to the extent of being closely aligned with initiating wars, such as the invasion of Iraq.    We may also wonder why some people, who have more money than they could ever dream of spending, work so aggressively to accumulate more. So let’s add irrational aggression to our diagram of factors that tend to increase environmental degradation.

If we are to focus on changing individual persons knowledge. beliefs, attitudes and behaviors there are many more topics than consumption and investment to be considered.  Primarily, we need far better methods for changing persons that we currently have in our tool chest. Each as a few favorite methods they devoted time to learn. But NO SINGLE METHOD will work!!

The basic issue with seafing human change is we grossly underestimate the MSC of the challenge and grossly overestimate our competencies and knowledge.

Mammals & humans are possibly the most complex sys/net/eco/hol in the universe. [System/Network /Ecology/Holarchy.  Except for their assemblages into social units, ecologies, and biomes. Top this physical reality with the meta realities of mind and possibly spirit and you have Magnitude/Scope/Complexity far, far off the chart!  Their arrogance astounds: that parents can know best how to raise children to function among 8 billion diverse others, or the arrogance of educators believing they can design institutions /practices that focus on attempting to control but a few variables, they can succeed in optimally actualizing the potentials of each human person.

I am not saying that person-to-person mentoring may not be the best process AT THAT MOMENT.  Again, in reality, it may be that the pattern of relationships between nodes is as important as the properties of each node.


In the developed world, and in the pockets of affluence in other parts of the world, the more people there are the more the dynamics of environmental degradation are exacerbated. Population increase amplifies all the adverse trends.  Even in Third World countries with really small ecological footprints, increasing population puts stress on food, fresh water supplies and other local resources such as wood for cooking. So population increase is yet another driver of environmental degradation.

The map that we have developed – and the grim prognosis that goes with it – is a picture of a dominator society combined with affluence and population increase. Putting this label on the map completes our big picture orientation.

Whole system change & leverage points

We have talked about inner emptiness and lack of felt wellbeing. We have also talked about responses to childhood abuse finding expression as large-scale corporate aggression.  These psychological aspects, although they are rarely discussed, are actually key drivers of environmental deterioration in developed countries. It boils down to this: in the developed world environmental deterioration is driven by people who are not happy in themselves.

It follows that a key point of change for creating a positive future is that as individuals and as a culture we devote time and energy to cultivating inner well-being. Improved parenting, strong social networks, personal development, and organising business, education and government to operate on partnership values can all contribute to genuine happiness and wellbeing. Other important points of change include improved industrial design, modifying the WTO or withdrawing from it, and reducing the advertising that fuels excess consumption.

In UPLIFT “key point of change for creating a positive future is that as individuals and as a culture we devote time and energy to cultivating inner well-being.” is but a given, an assumption to be well attended to fulfilling as an essential to attract and keep attention.  It is upon this essential base that the process of uplifting will occur.  To attend first or only to the base is to guarantee the emergence of systems to maintain the status quo.

Single-issue solutions are insufficient

Now we see why single-issue solutions are insufficient. It is this entire system that must transform – starting with core values, and finding expression through the many points of change that we can identify from the diagram.

YES, but how BIG, how MSC is the “system”, and are we really aware of the WHOLE system, and adequately knowledgeable of how systems function and change?

We can influence some of the leverage points as individuals. For example, we can do personal development to improve our own emotional wellbeing, and hence reduce the anxiety that might lead us to buy stuff we don’t need. Perhaps we can change a school culture from authoritarian command and control to one that supports kids’ curiosity and initiative, and enables their gifts and talents to unfold.   If we are business leaders we can work out how to run the business in ways that reduce stress on employees, and hence reduce their tendency to excess consumption. We can also invest directly in industrial redesign that eliminates waste and toxins.

Obviously large-scale national and global policies are not within our personal ability to directly change. But it is not that these things cannot change. The pre-condition for change is that a critical mass of people intelligently and passionately embrace the need for large-scale transformation.

 And that they be well organized and continuing in their learning and organizing. Critical MASS implies only a population count; and what is CRITICAL is relative to the challenges and initial actions projects. Blessed Unrest may have had more than a critical population, but they lacked the knowledge and competencies required to become an Activist Organ.

Since this is unlikely to be championed by mainstream media, we need ways to bypass the media.    A way to bypass the media is for those of us who have become knowledgeable and who care to initiate conversations about whole system change with friends and neighbours.

Two thought starter tools have been developed to facilitate such conversations: Tabletop Presentations Guide and the Kitchen Table Conversations Manual, and the Inspiring Transition initiative is a support platform for communicating about whole system change. Hosting just a few conversations will not be sufficient. We need to engage millions of people – a critical mass. Question 4: How can we catalyse a movement to shift the aspiration and practical operation of our society? outlines a strategy for working with groups to take citizen led mass communication to scale. However, before we go there let’s prepare the ground.

As I have commented elsewhere, dialog and communication – no matter how well facilitated – will not move participants into collective action if a strategy to accomplish this is not an explicit part of the behavior of the gathering. What to do is another story.

Design thinking and an action path to success

When people become enthusiastic about whole system change, they typically have one of two responses. Some people resonate strongly at the level of aspiration. This is what and Earth Hour are about.

Other people want to jump immediately into campaigns and practical projects. Many people in the Transition Towns and permaculture movements operate at this practical level. Both levels are valid and necessary.  But in terms of whole system change they are incomplete.

Neither aspiration by itself nor projects and campaigns as currently conceived are sufficient to achieve the large-scale changes we need. An extra step is necessary, and that is to think through what is actually involved in whole system change, and how to carry it out. This is the step we are engaged in now. To make whole system change work, we need to apply what some people call design thinking. This means creating a complete action path from aspiration to on the ground changes  plus, in our case, adding outreach and education components. We start with aspiration.

We fill in the gap by thinking through what is involved in whole system change.

NOW, you are acknowledging the need which led me to UPLIFT and my concern about the almost total absence of long-term strategy work among activists.

Those who do consider strategy, such as Joe Brewer and Michel Bauwens, are not working in the WHOLE that nuet encompasses, but working in a very large sub-whole.  I have a hypothesis on this: the energy supply to our brains is limited, as many studies show. Most top futurists activists are probably working at maximum, getting more and more efficient – with the use of intelligent tools. But, with attention to details within their domains, they lack energy for linking with and exploring other domains in the WHOLE.

Larry/nuet doesn’t use energy in mental imagery, which enables him to explore more sub-domains. And, in each domain in the fractal hierarchy, Larry/nuet distinguishes those aspects relevant to relationships in the WHOLE from those specific to the domain and where other variations are possible so long as those related to relationships are not changed.  Larry/nuet relegates much of knowledge he encounters to his archive of IGNORANCE: knowing OF what I don’t yet know or comprehend, or can’t yet do or appreciate.

The “whole” of Larry/nuet is not the whole/holistic/Whole, as evidenced by frequent discoveries of other sub- or sub-sub domains of relevance.

I interpret that the early process of The Apollo Program used this methodology. Each sub-group only had to be concerned with how, what they did effected other sub-groups. They were free to explore options within their sub-group that didn’t affect others. They must have been an overall manager to this process. UPLIFT will need to employ this assignment of responsibilities to teams and projects.

This generates a big picture understanding of what is needed for successful transformative change, and leads to a number of possibilities for contributing to the needed transformation. Some people will go to campaigns and projects. Other people will go to outreach and education. If we start with projects, we may move up to thinking about whole system change, and go on to include outreach and education as a component of our brief.   From a systems point of view, among the many elements that need to change, the crucial point of change to actually achieving a viable society is mobilising informed passionate desire for change. Therefore the step of outreach and education is crucial for success.  Every organisation and individual needs to develop a portion of time to this. However, it is not that everybody needs to devote themselves full-time to communicating about whole system change. We still have our own lives to lead.

All that is required is that many of us spend a small portion of our time engaging other people. One rule of thumb is to assign 95% of our time to the projects we are already doing, and 5% to championing whole system change. This mode of thinking through the whole action path from aspiration to practical results is common in architecture and engineering. You start with an initial concept, work out how to make it work, and follow through with actually doing it.

You remind me that I postponed deep thinking about as you saymobilising informed passionate desire for changeas I designed it into the one-on-one structure of recruitment/orientation. That members in UpMov would “naturally” provide for basic needs, using alternative technologies I relegated to my IGNORANCE archive. I believe that the high attention to personal needs and our diversity, will build bonds of support, enablement, augmentation, and facilitation to generate deeping roots in UpMov.  How much and how quickly each person becomes involve in WHOLE SYSTEM ANALYSIS is an empirical issue.  I believe that many are simply not equipped for such thinking, and that is OK. I am very poorly equipped for thinking in many domains. The meta domain of “whole system analysis” is not an elite domain. It is critical, as growing food and providing health care are critical. Having everyone learn to respect the need for people in meta-domains an in domains they can’t comprehend is a challenge – that can be met.

Question 4: How can we catalyse a movement to shift the aspiration and practical operation of our whole society?

The knowledge and skills necessary to transform to a viable society already exist. In every sphere we have the technical, economic, social and psychological techniques that will lead to a life-sustaining society. There is a powerful wave of technical innovation for sustainability. We also have potent techniques for cultivating systems thinking and creativity, resolving emotional disturbance, and improving our ability to work collaboratively with others. In short, we know in principle how to create a viable society. Our challenge is that the aspiration for transformation is not widely distributed in the population, and relatively few of us are engaged in the learning needed to change the operating style of our society. So we need a new educational movement that will ultimately engage millions of us. I call people who are actively engaged in education for whole system change

I would modify the above. We NOW have the resources to quickly acquire what we need to know and do to accomplish our objectives and seaf our goals to manifestation.

Like in The Apollo Program, we started lacking the ability to put a man in orbit, and the Russians beat us to that objective. [Later: my distinction between objectives and goals.], but we had the competencies to learn-to-learn and learn-to-learn-to –learn.

Where we lack knowledge and skills the most is with human-systems. And here we may face a problem, as many experts in our current level of human-system change will be defensive when their “wholeness” is critiqued.

Fortunately, there is in rapid emergence a growing archive of excellent research curated over decades around the topic, LEARNING  CHANGE, organized by Giorgio Bertini:  . This most, highly valuable resource is in my IGNORANCE archive. For two years I skim his contributions that come to my email inbox and bookmark them. I occasional peek at a full doc – but have actually read only a few. Also, I have yet to personally contact Giorgio or join his website. Yet, if UPLIFT were securely underway, this is one place I would focus my limited attention and energy.

Transition Leaders’.  I would like to think that you would consider acting as a Transition Leader yourself. Perhaps you already recognise yourself as a Transition Leader. Engaging other people need not take a lot of your time; the vision is for millions of us to each do a little bit.   Educating ourselves to be Transition Leaders can be thought of as evolving in two phases.

· The first phase is forming a working understanding of whole system change. That is what this article is about.
· The second phase is immediately starting to ‘teach’ by engaging people in focused conversations that enable people to think through whole system change for themselves.   The Inspiring Transition has an innovative teaching tool, Tabletop Presentations, for conducting such conversations. It uses physical models to enable people to keep track of the conversation. People find these models engaging. Conducting conversations about transformative change helps us to integrate the material for ourselves. We develop the skills needed for conducting such conversations effectively in the usual way: by practice. The more we do it, the better we get.

What you suggest above are a small part of the processes I would seaf through the app/platform BUS: Bootstrap UPLIFT Scaffolding. Revisions and variations to BUS-1.0 would be made by UpMove participants, with guidance from the initial sysnet that designed and distributed BUS-1.0.

Inspiring Transition

To take this idea to scale we are instigating the Inspiring Transition initiative. Inspiring Transition is a platform for supporting people who communicate about whole system change to a life-sustaining society.

There are now millions of organisations working on aspects of healthy change. What if the members of such organisations – people who currently mainly pay dues and sign petitions – increase their level of engagement and begin to act as Transition Leaders?

Then, by empowering the members of existing organisations we will have a way of bypassing the media and catalysing the necessary thinking in the larger society.

A very valuable insight. Enlisting minimally active members of different orgs to themselves organize within TGT and work to move their respective orgs to greater Communication/ Cooperation /Coordination building to viable synergy.

In UPLIFT, I propose this technique when UpMov launches BUS into a different culture not “ready” for the original uplift material and ideas. They would search & recruit members of the culture, bring them into UpMove, and seaf their work within their home culture. I see this initially for the favelas around many cities.

In the early 1970, in New England, centered at Yale, Seymour Sarason ran a Resourse Exchange Network – REN, which has many similarities to your process.

I recently wrote a paragraph item on this:

My poor memory brought up that Seymour Sarason wrote deeply on the conflict between nets and systems in his two volumes reporting on his experimentation with Resource Exchange Networks.

 Reading his Wikipedia bio and other more current reports of his great productivity, I am very disappointed that there is no mention (other than a listing in his full list of publications) of his work on REN. Sarason’s lifetime work on educational reform is truly outstanding, as his work Community Psychology and other topics.  His analysis of why organizations that rose in the 1960s so often failed was my introduction to him. 

 Unfortunately, I never met him when I was a Yale.  Googling him now, I am shocked to learn he lived to 91, dying in 2010.  I don’t know why I thought he had died much earlier, or I would have tried to dialog with him.

Why can’t I locate what I have written on REN?

The Inspiring Transition Launch will be throughout September 2015. Organisations around the world will simultaneously communicate about vision of a Great Transition to a life-sustaining future. They will use blogs, articles, lectures, workshops, and guerrilla marketing tactics, along with personal conversations, presentations and live workshops. Championing the Great Transition will augment what they are already doing. The purpose of the Launch is to

1 Make the idea of the Great Transition to a life-sustaining future prominent in the global sustainability conversation.

2 Cultivate an informal network of individuals and organisations championing the Great Transition.

3 Catalyse the thinking necessary for people to know what is involved in a whole system change to a life-sustaining society, and to see how they can contribute to it through their own sphere of influence.

The reach of any one individual or organisation is limited. However, if thousands of us – even millions – focus on communicating through our networks about transformative change to a life-sustaining society, together we can be a potent force for affecting mainstream consciousness. After all, most of us live and do business in the context of mainstream culture.

We can communicate with friends, colleagues and people in our networks. During the Inspiring Transition Launch organisations can post blogs and articles in their newsletters. They may assert that what they are doing is part of the Great Transition to a life-sustaining society.

They may offer presentations and trainings to equip people as Transition Leaders. We envision a spreading ferment of informal education, analogous to the self-organised consciousness-raising groups of the feminist movement and the each-one-teach-one initiatives of the American civil rights movement. Administrative support for Inspiring Transition is provided by Be The Change Australia. When organisations agree to participate, they do not come under the Be The Change Australia ‘umbrella’. They continue to be completely autonomous; Be The Change does not direct what they do.

The Baylor First International Informatics Conference in 1988 was a unique processes in both design and implementation – with successes and failures.  EXPAND

Teaching Tools

The ideas in this article have been translated into an innovative communication tool to support personal conversations about transformative change. Tabletop Presentations provides an integrated overview to enable people to make sense of transformative change.

Obviously there is much more to learn. But it can be tempting to devote so much time to learning that we avoid the main task: talking with people about transformative change.

That said, in parallel with engaging people in the whole system change conversation, it makes sense for us to deepen our own understanding in six key areas.
· Economic reform · Building soil carbon · Industrial design · Organisational change to partnership/respect relating · Cultivating emotional resilience · And, darkly, seeing the many ways that the pattern of corporate injury to communities and the environment so vividly portrayed in the movie Avatar affects us all.

The Pachamama Alliance has developed an Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream Symposium and other programs which bring people to a moving felt sense that this Earth is our Home, and we should take care of her. Be The Change Australia ( conducts these programs in Australia. The Transition Leader Network website ( has links to several other communication tools as well, such as The Story of Stuff.

Personal development

In parallel with engaging people in the whole system change conversation, it makes sense for us to pursue our own personal development, and to encourage others to do so as well. By training to become more embodied, more creative, and more emotionally resilient people can become happier in themselves. With a strong inner sense of self, and through experiencing more genuine pleasure in their relationships, people may be less subject to the urge to ‘keep up with the Jones’, and feel less need for excess consumption. In the past disciplines that contribute to our personal growth were sometimes derided as ‘fringe’.  Now the positive psychology movement has made the connections between inner well-being, workplace productivity and social responsibility evident, and personal growth has become mainstream. Yoga, meditation, counselling and executive coaching are examples. Overall the various personal growth disciplines are an important part of our path to a socially healthy and ecologically viable society.

There is an appendix on personal development at the end of this article. It goes into more depth about readily applicable techniques for fostering creativity, collaborative communication skills and emotional resilience. Summary: To achieve sustainability, collectively we must become the kind of people who can create and enjoy a viable society.

Becoming leaders

The template for our modern educational systems was developed in authoritarian Prussia in the 1700s. The Prussian leadership recognised that in a developing industrial society they needed people with technical and verbal skills. However, they did not want people to connect-the-dots, to see how oppressed they were, and to potentially rebel against it, the ruling elite. So schools were intentionally designed to prevent people from connecting the dots. Academic subjects were taught as isolated disciplines, and students were indoctrinated to be subservient to authority. Today we need self-initiated citizen leadership.  We need many more people to move from being passive bystanders to being active participants in creating a sustainable society. This is the promise of democracy.

However, I observe that many people have what I call a ‘glass wall of participation’. It is as though the devastating environmental and social news we see on television is ‘out there’ – not quite real, not something affecting us, not something we should actively respond to. Isn’t signing petitions enough? Obviously not. I have mentioned conducting Tabletop Presentations and Kitchen Table Conversations as a means of engaging other people in thinking. Some people may be interested, but also reluctant.   They may have reservations such as: I don’t know enough. People will think I am weird I don’t want to proselytise.

Sometimes simply acknowledging and reflecting on these reservations shifts them. We do not have to be experts. We can engage in co-learning with the people we talk to; and think it through together. As you may have experienced, off-the-cuff conversations about global warming or environmental issues tend to quickly polarise. The solution is to invite people for coffee with the understanding that this is a time dedicated to a serious conversation.

Inviting people to thoughtful conversations is not proselytising. We are not enrolling people in a party line or ideology. We are inviting people to think realistically about the major issues of our time and come to their own conclusions. True, we offer frameworks, ideas, and an overall approach. But we are asking them to be responsible thinkers, not conformists. If you have engaged someone in conversations about transformative change, the next step is to ask if they would be willing to engage somebody they know in similar conversations. By doing so they are participating in catalysing the thinking necessary for our global civilisation to have a chance. They / we are part of a global initiative for healthy change, and our future depends on this initiative increasing rapidly.


We are among the most important people who ever lived.
We will determine whether humankind will grow or die, evolve or perish.

Yes, if we keep faith to the only quotation I ever give:

If I may conclude with a micro-riddle within the macro-riddle, I will just add that
what we all need at this point in human evolution is
to learn what it takes to learn what we should learn
— and learn it

— Aurelio Peccei in his 1979 foreword to the Club of Rome’s little book: No Limits To Learning: Bridging the Human Gap, A report to the Club of Rome,  by Botkin, Elmandjra, Malitza.. 

So let’s get on with it!
Andrew Gaines +612 8005-8382 0416 489 809
Skype: andrewgoodhumour
We are in a Great Transition to a life-sustaining society!

Appendix: Personal Development

[only one short comment follows] This appendix goes into more depth about emotional and mental development.  I bring it in as part of a conversation about whole system change because currently most of the conversation in the sustainability space is about technical changes.  Some of the ideas here may be new to you. Personal development is a crucial aspect of evolving a healthy society, because both our unresolved emotional issues and our, at times aggressive, communication patterns are part of the social malaise that drives our unsustainable society.   None of us is perfect, and few of us operate at anywhere near our full capacity. Therefore we would do well to continue our own personal development. Investments we make in our own personal development now pay off later as greatly increased joy of living.  They also make us more capable in our personal and business lives, and as social change agents. Likewise, to the extent that we can, we do well to champion personal development in the larger culture. We are about becoming the kind of people who can create and enjoy a viable society. There are six areas that are especially relevant: · Developing enhanced partnership relating skills · Systems thinking · Resolving emotional disturbances · Creativity and play · Body awareness · The capacity to conduct conversations about whole system change and leadershipDeveloping enhanced partnership relating skills

From a neurological point of view, all skills are functional patterns of coordination in the nervous system.  This is important to note, because skills are not acquired by reading, but by experiential practice.  In learning to crawl a baby is training his brain to direct his muscles. We all have the capacity for both partnership and for dominator style of relating.  However, in many areas our culture emphasises dominator relating, either in the form of exerting power over other people, or in the form of
being subservient to other people’s power. So, by and large, many of us are not as skilled at partnership/respect relating as we might be.

There are forms of training that can help us increase our capacity for partnership/respect relating.  Experiential training that involves movement forms ‘templates of coordination’ in the motor system of the brain.  Sometimes these are applied spontaneously in other situations.  Thus there can be carryover from the training to spontaneous real-life applications outside the training room. Top of the list I would put improvisational acting.  Through improvisation we learn how to be in the moment, accept and build on initiatives that come from our partner, and activate our own creativity. The Japanese martial art Aikido trains us to blend with an incoming attack rather than trying to block it, while maintaining our own centre.  Like improvisation acting, it is about going with rather than blocking.  We help the attacker go where they are already going (while getting out of the way ourselves), but we guide them in such a way that finally the attacker falls down. Techniques such as Conflict Resolution, Non-Violent Communication, Crucial Conversations and assertiveness training also help us develop partnership-relating skills.

Systems thinking and improving human functioning

The Ecological Equation and our Big Picture Map are natural forms of systems thinking.  They are ways of connecting the dots to see how things work. In The Fifth Discipline Peter Senge presents a form of systems thinking based on identifying feedback loops that either amplify or dampen a trend.  Understanding feedback loops is important, because when restraining limits are removed from a living dynamic system the system will inevitably amplify certain behaviours to the point where the system self-destructs.  This is occurring both environmentally and economically at the present, but few people are equipped to see it. Peter Senge’s work, and Donella Meadows’ Thinking in Systems, provide analytical approaches to systems thinking. This is valuable. They enable us to see patterns of connection that we might otherwise not have noticed.

At quite a different level, the Awareness Through Movement (ATM) lessons developed by Moshe Feldenkrais provide a way of learning systems thinking through the body.  ATM lessons look a bit like yoga, but their inner logic is different. By doing a short series of ATM lessons we discover that our body works as a whole. Releasing something in the shoulder helps the hips move better. This sensory discovery that things are interconnected creates a neurological template for seeing the world as integrated rather than as fragmented.
The Feldenkrais approach goes beyond analysis. It is about improving function – making things work better. A key Feldenkrais question is how does this system operate in a way that produces the difficulty we experience?  At a body level this question might show up as how does this person organise their whole body in such a way that they put painful stress on their left knee, but not on the right?  We might see that it has something to do with an imbalance in the way they hold their shoulders, or what they do with their hips. The Feldenkrais practitioner then helps the client discover how to mobilise their shoulders and hips in a way that allows their overall body movement to become more coordinated, thus removing the stress from the left knee. This Feldenkrais question was the basis for our approach to the big picture map. Starting with the Ecological Equation, which shows the connections between the production of stuff and associated ecological damage, we asked how does our system operate in ways that make environmental damage worse?  This translates into: what factors in our society tend to increase the amount of stuff we produce and consume?  By answering these questions we are exploring one of the Senge/Meadows amplifying loops.  Dampening influences, which we sorely need, are increased financial regulation, more inner wellbeing (and hence less compulsive consumption), and a culture-wide aspiration for materially modest lifestyles instead of pursuing ever-increasing economic growth.

Resolving emotional disturbances

Most of us have unresolved emotional issues from childhood, or from events that happened later. They affect our adult relationships both at home and in business. Regretfully, even in the world of NGOs there can be dysfunctional relationships. Emotional dysfunction is stressful and counter-productive. It reduces our effectiveness as activists, and in the larger culture it is a driver of compensatory excess consumption. Therefore both personally and culturally it serves us well to resolve any emotional baggage or reactivity we may still have. In the West the classic way to resolve emotions is through counseling and psychotherapy. Buddhism has introduced Insight Meditation, where by clearly attending to our emotional reactions we can resolve them. We observe them, but do not put any additional energy into them. In time their power diminishes or disappears. This approach is advocated by Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now. There is a new discipline of energy psychology that speeds up the process of resolving our emotional reactions. It works by rebalancing the flow of acupuncture energy (chi) in the body. One of the more accessible energy psychology techniques is Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT).  EFT is a do-it-yourself technique. You can go through a (free) well-crafted on-line course at After the first lesson you will be equipped to try it on a minor issue and see if it works for you. Emotional insight and resilience are too important to be left only to psychologists and other mental health professionals. I would like to see EFT and other psychological self-help techniques used widely by ordinary people.

Creativity and play

Creativity, play, impassioned learning, enquiry and sheer pleasure are antithetical to authoritarian rule. Authoritarians sense that it is better to keep people emotionally depressed than to allow enough enthusiasm to arise that people might wake up and rebel against their oppression. Our goal, of course, is to take the high ground and create a healthy culture. Playing with ideas creatively can take us out of narrowly focused thinking and enable us to see more patterns of connection. There are techniques that are spontaneously used by great innovators, and they are easy to learn. Two books for cultivating creative thinking skills are George Prince’s The Practice of Creativity and my own Creative Conversations. Viola Spolin’s Improvisation for the Theater and Keith Johnston’s Impro open up the world of improvisational acting. Each of these books has games and exercises that are interesting and fun to do.

Cultivating body awareness

This may seem like an odd one to put on our list. But it is profound. Ultimately wellbeing is a set of pleasurable body states-inner feelings that feel good, not transiently, as with enjoying an ice cream cone, but as deeper ongoing body states that include calm aliveness, joy in life, and bliss. When people experience such feelings they no longer ask what is the meaning of life? Life is already meaningful to them. Likewise there is no need for antidepressants or other compensatory mood altering substances-or indeed for excess consumption.  Hence there is a connection between body awareness and achieving environmental sustainability.

At another level, when people lack a strong sense of connection to their interior life they do not have a strong sense of self. They compensate by gaining their sense of self through giving their allegiance to people and institutions outside themselves.  Loyalty to such institutions or to the larger mainstream culture prevents them from initiating responsible action for change based on their own thinking and feeling. Instead they conform to authority, and at times behave mechanically towards other people and the environment. To some degree developing an interior sense of self may happen simply as a process of maturing well.  Better yet it may be a result of having been loved and well nurtured in childhood. Observers comment that people who went to Summerhill, a non-coercive school in England, seem to exude quiet calm.

Ideally a feeling of inner wellbeing should be our natural state. There are a number of approaches to becoming grounded in ongoing pleasurable body states. A simple beginning point is the ‘inner smile’. Just as we can send a smile outward, so we can send a smile inward to our own body. This is a direct technique for accessing what Eckhart Tolle calls our energy body. Clearing emotional disturbances through EFT, as described above, is an approach to taking ourselves out of negative states. Somatic psychotherapy can release muscular holding that impedes energy flows in the body; so can acupuncture.

Body awareness is deeply related to mental imagery in proprioceptive and kinetic modalities. I am actually very weak in perception of in these modes. I can’t learn to ski because I don’t experience the direction my feet are pointing.

The Feldenkrais method of body awareness and Thomas Hannah’s Somatics, along with martial arts such as Tai Chi and Aikido, also cultivate body awareness. I find that people who have done inner work of some kind are generally more pleasurable to deal with than those who have limited access to their insides or inner self, as it were. Some people are cut off from their feelings, and therefore tend to be purely practical and even mechanical. I spent years in such a cut off condition myself; I now experience the rewards of having done the work to become embodied. Another area of personal development is developing our ‘ecological self’.  Many of us are disconnected from the reality that we are part of the living Earth. Joanna Macy’s Coming Back to Life gives exercises that can help us open up to a larger experience of being connected with life.