Solving Problems

“The significant problems of the world cannot be solved at the level at which they were created.” Albert Einstein


In case you haven’t noticed, I am a bit obsessed with the issue of climate change, particularly with the question–as climate instability continues to worsen, everything that has gotten us here continues unabated, and the powers that be continue to frack, burn, trash and destroy what’s left of the viable ecosystem–of what is worth doing now. What is a viable action worth taking? I liked this article because I think it looks squarely in the face one of the truths of this time–it’s not going to be possible for us to stop climate change, and maybe not even going to be possible for us to halt the maniacal destruction of the planet which is certainly threatening life for human and other beings.

What I like about this article is that it doesn’t fight for human life at all costs — and it has given rise to the question in me: what’s worth fighting for, civilization or the web of life? The answer is clear to me, even if it means my own death–it’s the web of life that matters, not civilization

Wave of Action

This moving appeal from Daniel Pinchbeck — another call to do anything we can to respond to the urgency of this moment.


DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 23JAN08 - Rajendra K. Pacha...

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 23JAN08 – Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),  Davos, Switzerland, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)




“We are running out of time to change the direction of our civilization. The evidence on climate change paints a truly terrifying picture of what lies ahead for humanity if we don’t make a seemingly impossible transition. Through a worldwide movement, we can rally to change our fate and chart a new direction, but we need to act quickly. We must overcome the current paradigm and launch a new operating system for global society, based on principles of regenerative design. As individuals, we must choose to make this unfolding catastrophe the focus of our future lives – of our actions in the world.

According to new projections from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by the end of this century, the climate will be 6 degrees Celsius hotter than it is now – and large sections of the Earth will be unlivable for human beings. Alas, the IPPC’s projections may be conservative. We are discovering that the climate system is very complex, and warming can accelerate rapidly due to positive feedback effects. For instance, melting Arctic ice means that less sunlight is reflected back into space, while warming forests become drier and more prone to fires. We could easily see a 4 – 6 degree Celsius rise by 2050, unless we stop and reverse our momentum.

The scientist James Lovelock once predicted that the human population could be reduced to a few hundred thousand people by the end of this century, living close to the Arctic Circle. Without a rapid metamorphosis of global civilization, time may prove him right. It is also possible that humanity will drive itself to extinction, as sea levels rise and agriculture becomes impossible, leading to hundreds of millions of environmental refugees, acts of bioterrorism, and wars of desperation. These kinds of scenarios are no longer distant or faraway: They are likely in the next twenty to thirty years, within our lifespans.

Some people continue to believe that climate change is not caused by CO2 emissions, or that it is some kind of conspiracy. The evidence is truly unassailable at this point. The oceans, for instance, have become 30% more acidic over the last 40 years, as they absorb a large proportion of the excess carbon emitted by our cars, refineries, and factories. This is leading to the disintegration of the coral reefs and the collapse of huge chains of undersea life – a threat to our future almost as dangerous as what is happening to our atmosphere.

The majority of people simply avoid thinking about what is taking place. They have been indoctrinated and programmed by the media and our education system to be cynical, passive, distracted, and self-centered. They vaguely believe that some super-technology will appear to save the day. We must find a way to awaken the sleeping multitudes, explaining why change is necessary, while giving them hope and a new vision for the future.

We currently possess the technical capability to transform our civilization rapidly, reducing and then eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels while we undertake global initiatives and distribute sustainable technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Through the Internet, we could organize global initiatives to plant trees and  urban gardens, paint all the rooftops of our cities white to reflect the Sun, reduce people’s dependence on consumer goods by developing cooperative systems based on sharing and conserving resources. Through a global project, we could transition to renewable energy, algae-based biofuels, and use Biochar, among other techniques, to sequester carbon. We could build eco-cities on higher elevations, designed as scaffolding for living systems, with food, energy, and industry on site.

However, we cannot accomplish the deep, structural changes that need to happen under the current paradigm of Neoliberal economics and corporate capitalism, which has caused this crisis. The movement for a post carbon world finds solidarity with the movements for social justice, against economic inequality. The private possession of the Earths’ resources, concentrated in the hands of the few, makes it impossible to build true sustainability, or resilience. This system requires constant economic growth to perpetuate itself. It threatens the future of our biosphere. We must transition from a model of ownership to one of stewardship, protecting our threatened resources for future generations.

For the wealthy, this means they face a choice: They can maintain the status quo for a few decades more, at maximum, or they can reduce their lifestyles and liberate their capital resources to feed the global movement of transformation necessary for the future survival of our species. The poor, of course, have less choice: As climate change accelerates, vast populations, particularly across the developing world, will face drought, floods, and famine. According to the Environmental Justice Foundation, in 2012 alone, 31.7 million people were driven from their homes due to extreme weather events. That number will, no doubt, grow exponentially in the years ahead.

As the author of a book on indigenous prophecies about this time, I also understand what is taking place on another level. I see it as a spiritual initiation for the human species, as a whole. We are being forced to shift from an individualistic and egocentric worldview to one that recognizes our interdependence and solidarity with one another and with all of life. I think it is possible that the sooner we, as individuals, make this shift, the more tragedy and trauma can be averted on a planetary scale. Such a change requires a breaking open of the global heart chakra, a revelation of empathy and compassion for all the beings who share this world with us.

While the changes we need, in a short time frame, may seem inconceivable, we find that transformations often take place in sudden and unexpected ways. Nobody predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or the 2011 Arab Spring. A change of consciousness can happen invisibly at first, before something new erupts. Unfortunately, the collapse of the Soviet Union or the uprisings across the Middle East did not lead to happy outcomes. A positive transformation needs a new social model and a defined infrastructure. We won’t have time to recover after a social breakdown; therefore, we must find a way to rapidly supersede the current political and economic system. We must use the system we have to build a new one from within it.

I think there is a great evidence that this can be done, when we look at what has happened with the Internet over the last decades. Facebook is only ten years old, and it unites 1.2 billion people. Google has an even greater reach. Facebook and Twitter helped the uprisings across the Middle East, as the people realized their solidarity.

New social technologies could give people the means to make group decisions, build cooperative, decentralized, and autonomous organizations together, and share their resources as well as ideas efficiently. We could create new virtual currencies that support different behavior patterns and social values. Every new media technology profoundly impacts society. We are only at the beginning of the Internet revolution.

At the same time, we need to interrogate and dismantle the mainstream faith of Neoliberalism and neo-environmentalism – the belief that rapid innovation in technology can solve all of the problems created by past technologies. This ideology is pervasive and influential. It is what we find at TED talks, in Silicon Valley, corporate boardrooms, and the world of mega-philanthropy, such as the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations.

Neo-environmentalists argue that we must continue economic growth. They would build thousands of new nuclear power plants, feed the world’s population through genetic engineering, create carbon trading markets to reduce CO2 emissions, and address climate change through gigantic geo-engineering projects, such as pouring sulfur particles into the atmosphere or putting reflectors in space to deflect the Sun’s rays. All of these initiatives have, potentially, traumatic and terrible consequences.

The arguments for and against these technologies require a bit of nuance and complexity. From where we are now, considering the severe threats that humanity faces, we must be careful to remain flexible and openminded and resist orthodoxies, whether of the Green Movement, or any other. For instance, I find myself strongly, intuitively against genetically engineered food, and when I have researched it, I find that the benefits have been over-stated while the risks ignored by profit-driven corporations, who conduct research in secrecy and have corrupted the regulatory process.

It seems quite possible that organic agriculture and permaculture could satisfy the nutritional needs of the world’s population in a less risky fashion, as studies have surmised. Cuba provides one model. However, I can imagine that the potential to create drought-resistant crops able to grow in rapidly heating climates, or vegetables that can fix their own nitrogen in the soil without needing industrial fertilizer, could become critical in the next decades. Such research needs to be taken out of the hands of private corporations. It should be conducted carefully and conscientiously, publicly and transparently, for the collective good.

The block in the minds of Neoliberals and neo-environmentalists is that they cannot imagine that society could change significantly. They believe that human nature is fixed. My argument would be that “human nature” is, largely, a social construction, as the potential range of human values and beliefs is incredibly vast. In fact, the hyper-individualism and hyper-consumerism of contemporary society is an aberration. For over a hundred thousand years, human beings lived nomadically, with few, if any, possessions, where each person deeply identified themselves as part of a tribe.

We are all members of the single tribe of humanity, and humanity, as well, is an expression of the living biosphere, a planetary super-organism. We are that aspect of the biosphere that has become self-reflective, capable of directing our own evolution. We have the potential to transform ourselves in almost any way we choose. I think we can recognize the rapid development of technology as a semi-autonomous process, which is happening through us. It may be that humans are incubating technology, on behalf of the Gaian matrix of life. It is possible that our destiny is to bring the living biosphere to other worlds. But first we must overcome our shortsightedness.

We have tremendous potential – yet we are approaching a threshold of runaway climate change that threatens the existence of all life on Earth. This really is the “final exam” for our species, as the design scientist Buckminster Fuller foresaw. How much of the carbon spewed by our cars and industries supports wasteful, senseless activities? Can we imagine that, in a few years time, none of it will? Can we imagine centering human thought and activity on what will ensure our future flourishing, along with the Earth?

I support the Worldwide Wave of Action because I believe we can – we must – rise to this challenge by building a planetary movement of civil society toward rapid, systemic change. I hope and I pray that you will join us.


Exploring How Living Systems Change

last year, I was exposed to a series of group facilitation and participatory democracy strategies that go forth into the world under the name of “The Art of Hosting.” Some were familiar to me – some not. I am sharing here an article that comes from the work of Chris Corrigan, one of the movers and shakers in the Hosting community, about a process known as the “Two Loops”. It gives us an opportunity to look at how the old order is dying and the new order is struggling to be born. Each one of us lives and works on at least one part of this spectrum. My work as a therapist lives in the “hospice” spot in the upper loop, but the work of urban homesteading lands squarely in the spot of  Nourishment, on the lower loop. I think it’s important to do work in both places — stewarding the death of the old, and bringing to life the new order.


The Two Loops are a context-setting piece, not a roadmap of ‘change management’. I’ll touch on some of the core skeleton and not all the flesh and bones  and as we walk through it think about the systems you are connected to.

Today, we are living with strong remnants of the Newtonian world view – the mechanistic view. Where the prevailing view of change was to separate the system into its parts, analyze them, find the ‘faulty part’ and switch it out for a new better one. Except that rarely resulted in the kind of changed leaders hoped for. Instead, they were confronted by eight new problems caused by their initial solution (and the original problem might be back, only bigger this time). We can never do sufficient planning to avoid these unintended consequences, because we can’t possibly see all the connections that are truly there. When we take a step or make a decision, we are tugging at webs of relationships that are seldom visible but always present.

The irony is that our struggles for how to create change – change in our organizations, communities and personal lives – takes place in a world that changes constantly and is quite adept at change. In the last 100 years we have learned different ways about how the world works, and that living things operate differently than mechanical things. It isn’t that Newton was wrong, but that the story didn’t end there.

A map or model that is helpful in describing a living systems view of change comes from the work of Margaret Wheatley and the Berkana Institute. Margaret suggested our metaphors for organizing and leadership are outdated, and if we treat humans like machines we are in big trouble. She looked to the new science of chaos, quantum physics and living systems, and began applying those metaphors to ways of working in the world.

This map – or model – is called the Two Loops. It tells the story of how systems die and new systems emerge. It happens at every scale – can easily be a map of ideas, a map of life, of a family, of a community, and organization or large systems like the fossil fuel economy. It works on all kinds of levels.

It has two lines – but it isn’t a linear timeline. More like a top map. Here is the story of the two loops….

As systems ascend and become the dominant system, they become more powerful and more entrenched. At the top of their game – life is great!  Using fossil fuel economy as an example… oil was discovered, we found we could use it as an energy source, and then over time all of our world economy was structured around fossil fuels as an energy source.

The system begins to teeter… starts to lose its significance and influence over time… it peeters out.  But right around when it’s at it’s peak, there are some people that drop out – or walk out – and the new system starts being born. They can see that the system curves down! (Oil is a non-renewable resource!) People drop out and walk out, innovating something new. The look at the way things are – those deeply held beliefs that underpin the current system and see that something else might be possible. This is a radical act – stepping out. Not everyone walks out of the current system, not everyone can. Some are needed to stay behind and maintain as best as they can because the new system isn’t ready yet.

The leadership action here is to name what is going on with the walk outs – what they are doing… so they can find each other (then they can Google each other!). What are you working on? Green economy… hey I know someone else who is looking into that! This generates energy. It can be very lonely as an innovator. They might be working on their idea and be unaware that there are others working on the same thing.

The next leadership role in nurturing the emergence of the new system is to connect; to network and build social capital. What we have learned from living systems is to create a healthier community, connect it to more of itself.  To make a system stronger, we need to create stronger relationships. So once we’ve named the walk-outs, they can find each other (or be connected) and begin to learn from each other in networks.

So the leadership move here is to help the walk-outs, the innovators find each other – help those connections happen. This may mean creating gathering spaces—both real and virtual—so that people can meet, exchange ideas and resources, and develop relationships. These gatherings are a rich source of ideas, inspiration, consolation and confidence. They infuse pathfinders with clarity and motivation to keep experimenting and discovering solutions to their most pressing issues.

Next comes the role of communities of practice, of experiments and rapid learning. Failing forward and upwards as the new system continues to emerge. The leadership role here is to nourish. If pathfinders are to persevere and be successful, they need to be nourished with many different kinds of resources –things like time, space, money, expertise, skill building, mentorship. It’s also about weaving loose connections – not spend two years trying to nail down terms of reference. There is a time and place for that kind of structure, and its not here.

To help turn the corner and begin the upward journey as the new system, the leadership role is to illuminate, to make visible and share the stories.  Illuminate what is possible, illuminate what you are learning. Tell the story – this is useful! You can come over here… there is a bridge that is created. It is Compelling enough they are willing to jump and go there.

Many times, efforts that are based on new ways of thinking are either ignored, misperceived or even invisible. When they are noticed, they are often labeled as inspiring anomalies that do not cause people to change their basic beliefs, worldviews and practices. It takes time, attention and a consistent focus for people to see them for what they are: examples of what’s possible, of what our new world could be like.

There is also a leadership role here of protecting what is emerging so the current system doesn’t oust it; like antibodies forcing out a perceived threat – an autoimmune reaction. When, how, and to whom to illuminate is a careful dance. Sometimes when illumination might be TOO early and instead what is needed is a cloak of invisibility.

The old is dying, the new is struggling… a leadership move up here is the graceful use of power. Are you hanging on to the old in a way that is completely toxic? Or might you be able to support both the people trying to maintain the current system with duct tape and bandaids long enough until the new system is ready, and be funnelling some resources, connections, support and more to the innovators below?

Naming fear and shadow is also important work here. What are we afraid of? Leaving these unspoken does incredible damage. And we will cart these fears into the new system and build our structures from them.

There is also the important work of hospicing the dying system. And grieving, letting go of the old. It’s a leadership role to host both the hospice and the grieving. The old system dies a dispersive death, and all parts of the system get recycled (we aren’t starting from scratch every time!). This is the compost heap: decomposed, restructured material and energy that is released into the environment for the new system to build from.

This is a powerful skill – not to just walk away, but to harvest what we have learned, relationships, people; what do we want to remember? Everything is used. What is still needed in the new that will serve us well?

As both systems are on the down-ward direction, can host a conversation between those in with power and resources in the old system and those innovating the new – where might resources be freed up? What’s needed?

It’s important to note that we absolutely need people who are working on different parts of the two loops.  The work of creating the new is absolutely dependent on someone being willing to hold together the existing.  Bridges are built in both directions from the old to the new and from the new back to the old.

When I was preparing this for us today, I thought about another important leadership move – less of a move and more of a capacity: to sit in uncertainty. To be able to sit in the swamp of uncertainty for a LONG time – maybe far longer than you ever imagined. How to stay there, gracefully, on that edge…. Using your personal leadership practices to work with your fears and limiting beliefs around uncertainty, of not knowing, of attaching to outcomes, of not be able to control.


So think about your system and come and stand where your work is on these two loops.

Make a little constellation with some folks around you and talk about what it is like for you on this part of the loop.

Church of Latter Day Saints — Closet Ecologists Come Out

True or false: Ecological statement below written by conservative Christians.

(Hint: It’s not what’s you’d think)

The Earth flag is not an official flag, since ...


All humankind are stewards over the earth and should gratefully use what God has given, avoid wasting life and resources and use the bounty of the earth to care for the poor and needy.

God created the earth to provide a place for the human family to learn, progress and improve. God first created the earth and all living things spiritually, and all living things have great worth in His [sic] eyes.

The earth and all things on it should be used responsibly to sustain the human family. However, all are stewards — not owners — over this earth and its bounty and will be accountable before God for what they do with His creations.

Approaches to the environment must be prudent, realistic, balanced and consistent with the needs of the earth and of current and future generations, rather than pursuing the immediate vindication of personal desires or avowed rights. The earth and all life upon it are much more than items to be consumed or conserved. God intends His creations to be aesthetically pleasing to enliven the mind and spirit, and some portions are to be preserved. Making the earth ugly offends Him.

The state of the human soul and the environment are interconnected, with each affecting and influencing the other. The earth, all living things and the expanse of the universe all eloquently witness of God.

And thus, deep ecology, Buddhism and the Church of Latter Day Saints walk arm in arm into the 21st century. Awesome!



Urban Farm Tour 2013












New Dimensions

This radio interview with Justine Toms took place in her disorderly basement studio where other cultural creatives have sat and talked over the years – it was an inspiring place to be, and a wonderful conversation about the power of dirt, community and the spiritual life of the homestead.

new dimensions