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Chief Editor
Dr Mike Ellis
Email: mindquest@
ozemail.com.au

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Lesley Pocock

Contact details
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Great Transition The Promise and Lure of the Times Ahead
by Paulraskin Tariqbanuri
http://www.tellus.org/publications/

 


A science of sustainability would highlight integration, uncertainty and the normative content of socio-ecological problems (Kates et al., 2001). Sustainability science proceeds along parallel lines of analysis, action, participation, policy and monitoring in an adaptive real-world experiment. To be trustworthy, knowledge must be rooted in scientific rigor. To be trusted, it must reflect social understanding. The peculiar nature of sustainability problems requires that diverse perspectives and goals be brought to the scientific process. This requires the cooperation of scientists and stakeholders, the incorporation of relevant traditional knowledge, and the free diffusion of information.

The social transition would focus on the well-being of the poor, sustainable livelihoods and greater equity. The foundation for a Great Transition is a world where human deprivation is vanishing and extremes of wealth are moderating. Then the promise of the twentieth century for universal access to freedom, respect and decent lives may be fulfilled in the twenty-first. As new values and priorities reduce the schism between the included and excluded, the space opens for solidarity and peace to flourish. Poverty reduction and greater equity would feed back to amplify the process of transition

New institutions The governance transition is about building institutions to advance the new sustainability paradigm through partnerships between diverse stakeholders and polities at local, national and global levels. While specific structures will remain a matter of adaptation and debate, a proliferation of new forms of participation can be expected to complement and challenge the traditional governmental system. In the new paradigm, the state is embedded in civil society and the nation is embedded in planetary society.

The market is a social institution to be harnessed by society for ecology and equity, not simply wealth generation. The individual is the locus of a web of social relationships, not simply an atom of pain and pleasure.

It has been two decades since the notion of "sustainable development"entered the lexicon of international jargon, inspiring countless international meetings and even some action. But it is our conviction that the first wave of sustainability activity, in progress since the Earth Summit of 1992, is insufficient to alter alarming global developments. A new wave must begin to transcend the palliatives and reforms that until now may have muted the symptoms of unsustainability, but cannot cure the disease. A new sustainability
paradigm would challenge both the viability and desirability of conventional values, economic structures and social arrangements.
It would offer a positive vision of a civilized form of globalization for the whole human family.

With the emergence of proto-humans some 5 million years ago, and especially Homo sapiens about 200,000 years ago, a powerful new factor-cultural development-accelerated the process of change on the planet. Cultural change moves at warp speed relative1 to the gradual processes of biological evolution and the still slower processes of geophysical change. A new phenomenon-human history-entered the scene in which innovation and cultural information, the DNA of evolving societies, drove a cumulative and accelerating process of development. With the advent of historical time came a new type of transition, that between the phases of human history that demarcate important transformations in knowledge, technology and the organization of society.

Table 1. Characteristics of Historical Eras
Stone Age
Early
Modern Era
Planetary

Civilization Phase

Organization
Tribe/village
City-state,
Nation-state
Global
kingdom governance
Economy

Hunting and Settled
Industrial
Globalization
gathering

agriculture system
Communications
Language
Writing
Printing
Internet


The Planetary Phase

Scanning the broad contours of historical change suggests a long process of increasing social complexity, accelerating change and expanding spatial scale. A premise of much of the contemporary globalization discourse is that humanity is in the midst of a new historical transition with implications no less profound than the emergence of settled agriculture and the industrial system (Harris, 1992).

The changing global scene can be viewed through alternative windows of perception-disruption of the planetary environment, economic interdependence, revolution in information technology, increasing hegemony of dominant cultural paradigms and new social and geopolitical fissures.

Globalization is each of these and all of these, and cannot be reduced to any single phenomenon. It is a unitary phenomenon with an array of reinforcing economic, cultural, technological, social and


Figure 2. Acceleration of History environmental aspects.
At the root of the diverse discourse and debate on globalization, and transcending the differences between
those who celebrate it and those who resist it, one theme is common.
The hallmark of our time is that the increasing complexity and scale of the human project has reached a planetary scale.
Of course human activity has always transformed the earth

But the primary phenomena that constitute globalization emerged as a cluster over the last two decades.
Critical developments between 1980 and the present are seen in: Where Are We?7

  • The global environment. The world becomes aware of climate change, the ozone hole and threats to biodiversity, and holds its first Earth Summit.
  • Technology. The personal computer appears at the beginning of the period and the Internet at the end. A manifold communications and information revolution is launched and biotechnology is commercialized for global markets.
  • Geo-politics. The USSR collapses, the Cold War ends and a major barrier to a hegemonic world capitalist system is removed. New concerns appear on the geo-political agenda including environmental security, rogue states and global crime and terrorism.
  • Economic integration. All markets-commodity, finance, labor and consumer-are increasingly globalized.
  • Institutions. New global actors, such as the WTO, transnational corporations and an internationally connected civil society-and global terrorists, the dialectical negation of planetary modernism-become prominent.


Global Scenarios
What global futures could emerge from the turbulent changes shaping our world? To organize thinking, we must reduce the immense range of possibilities to a few stylized story lines that represent the main branches. To that end, we consider three classes of scenarios-

Conventional Worlds,
Barbarization and
Great Transitions.

These scenarios are distinguished by, respectively, essential continuity, fundamental but undesirable social change, and fundamental and favorable social transformation.

Conventional Worlds assume the global system in the twentyfirst century evolves without major surprise, sharp discontinuity, or fundamental transformation in the basis of human civilization. The dominant forces and values currently driving globalization shape the future.

Incremental market and policy adjustments are able to cope with social, economic and environmental problems as they arise.

Barbarization foresees the possibilities that these problems are not managed. Instead, they cascade into self-amplifying crises that overwhelm the coping capacity of conventional institutions. Civilization descends into anarchy or tyranny.

Great Transitions, the focus of this essay, envision profound historical transformations in the fundamental
values and organizing principles of society.

New values and development paradigms ascend that emphasize the quality of life and material sufficiency, human solidarity and global equity, and affinity with nature and environmental sustainability.

For each of these three scenario classes, we define two variants, for a total of six scenarios. In order to sharpen an important distinction in the contemporary debate, we divide the evolutionary Conventional Worlds into Market Forces and Policy Reform.

In Market Forces, competitive, open and integrated global markets drive world development. Social and environmental concerns are secondary.
By contrast, Policy Reform assumes that comprehensive and coordinated government action is initiated for poverty reduction and environmental sustainability.

The pessimistic Barbarization perspective also is partitioned into two important variants,

Breakdown and Fortress World

In Breakdown, conflict and crises spiral out of control and institutions collapse.
Fortress World features an authoritarian response to the threat of breakdown, as the world divides into a kind of global apartheid with the elite in interconnected, protected enclaves and an impoverished majority outside.

The two Great Transitions variants are referred to as Eco-communalism and New Sustainability Paradigm.

Eco-communalism is a vision of bio-regionalism, localism, face-to-face democracy and economic autarky. While popular among some environmental and anarchistic subcultures, it is difficult to visualize a plausible path from the globalizing trends of today to Eco-communalism, that does not pass through some form of Barbarization.

In this essay, Great Transition is identified with the New Sustainability Paradigm, Where fundamental transformation in the basis of human civilization. The dominant forces and values currently driving globalization shape the future. Incremental market and policy adjustments are able to cope with social, economic and environmental problems as they arise.

Barbarization foresees the possibilities that these problems are not managed. Instead, they cascade into self-amplifying crises that overwhelm the coping capacity of conventional institutions. Civilization descends into anarchy or tyranny.

Great Transitions, the focus of this essay, envision profound historical transformations in the fundamental
values and organizing principles of society. New values and development paradigms ascend that emphasize the quality of life and material sufficiency, human solidarity and global equity, and affinity with nature and environmental sustainability.
For each of these three scenario classes, we define two variants, for a total of six scenarios.


Among the projections in the Market Forces scenario:

  • Between 1995 and 2050, world population increases by more than 50 percent, average income grows over 2.5 times and economic output more than quadruples.
  • Food requirements almost double, driven by growth in population and income.
  • Nearly a billion people remain hungry as growing populations and continuing inequity in the sharing of wealth counterbalance the poverty-reducing effects of general economic growth.

Developing region economies grow more rapidly than the average, but the absolute difference in incomes between industrialized and other countries increases from an average:

  • of about $20,000 per capita now to $55,000 in 2050, as incomes soar in rich countries.
  • Requirements for energy and water increase substantially.
  • Carbon dioxide emissions continue to grow rapidly, further undermining global climate stability, and risking serious ecological, economic and human health impacts.
  • o Forests are lost to the expansion of agriculture and human settlement areas and other land-use changes.

A Market Forces future would be a risky bequest to our twenty-first century descendants. Such a scenario is not likely to be either sustainable or desirable. Significant environmental and social obstacles lie along this path of development. The combined effects of growth in the number of people, the scale of the economy and the throughput of natural resources increase the pressure that human activity imposes on the environment. Rather than abating, the unsustainable process of environmental degradation that we observe in today's world would intensify. The danger of crossing critical thresholds in global systems would increase, triggering events that could radically transform the planet's climate and ecosystems

Policy Reform is the realm of necessity-it seeks to minimize environmental and social disruption, while the quality of life remains unexamined.

The new sustainability paradigm transcends reform to ask anew the question that Socrates posed long ago: how shall we live?

This is the Great Transitions path, the realm of desirability.
The new paradigm would revise the concept of progress. Much of human history was dominated by the struggle for survival under harsh and meager conditions. Only in the long journey from tool making to modern technology did human want gradually give way to plenty. Progress meant solving the economic problem of scarcity.

Now that problem has been-or rather, could be-solved. The precondition for a new paradigm is the historic possibility of a post-scarcity world.


A Great Transition is galvanized by the search for a deeper basis for human happiness and fulfillment. This has been expressed through diverse cultural traditions. In the new sustainability paradigm,
it becomes a central theme of human development. Sustainability is the imperative that pushes the new agenda.

Desire for a rich quality of life, strong human ties and a resonant connection to nature is the lure that pulls it toward the future.

Is such a vision possible? It does not seem promising judging by the global scene today, so full of antagonism, inequity and the degradation of nature and the human spirit. Yet, the cunning of history is sure to bring surprises. Some may not be welcome. But favorable possibilities are also plausible.

Later we offer a "history of the future," a hypothetical account of the initial stages of a Great Transition. It is written from the perspective of the year 2068 as the transition continues to unfold. What lies beyond this process of change? More change, no doubt. Though an ideal planetary society can never be reached, we can imagine good ones. Distant visions guide the journey. One possibility is sketched in the following box.


Change Agent


In truth, all social actors shape-and are shaped by-world development. The play is difficult to distinguish from the players. The prospects for a Great Transition depend on the adaptations of all institutions-government, labor, business, education, media and civil society. But three emerging global actors-intergovernmental organizations, transnational corporations and non-governmental organizations-move to center stage. The fourth essential agency is less tangible-public awareness and values, especially as manifested in youth culture. Meanwhile, other powerful global players-criminal organizations, terrorist rings and special interest groups-lurk in the wings, threatening to steal the show.
The formation of global and regional intergovernmental organizations has tracked the emergence of the Planetary Phase.

Non-governmental organizations-the organizational expression of civil society-are critical new social actors in global, regional and local arenas (Florini, 2000).

NGO success stories include micro credit, social forestry, environmental advocacy, community development and appropriate technology programs. These activities enable communities to participate more effectively in economic and social decisions, and give poor populations access to skills and financial resources. They influence business practices through monitoring, direct action and boycotts.

They promote alternative lifestyles. More recently, global public policy networks have begun to link individuals and organizations from multiple countries and stakeholder groups. These networks engage in research, public outreach, advocacy and organized protest on a range of sustainability issues (Reinicke et al., 2000; Banuri et al., 2001).

A critical uncertainty for a Great Transition is whether civil society can unify into a coherent force for redirecting global development. This would require a coalescence of seemingly unrelated bottom-up initiatives and diverse global initiatives into a joint project for change. Such a force would entail a common framework of broad principles based on shared values fostered through the activities of educational, spiritual and scientific communities.

Intergovernmental organizations, transnational corporations and civil society are key global actors. The underlying engine of a Great Transition, however, is an engaged and aware public, animated by a new suite of values that emphasizes quality of life, human solidarity and environmental sustainability.

In this regard, the international youth culture will be a major force for change, albeit a diffuse one. Connected by the styles and attitudes spread by media, global youth represent a huge demographic cohort whose values and behaviors will influence the culture of the future. If they evolve toward consumerism, individualism and nihilism, the prospects would not be promising. But as globalization and its problems mature, the world's youth could rediscover idealism in a common project to forge a Great Transition.

How Do We Get There?

Finally, it should be noted that some see technology, rather than social agents, as the primary driver of change. Optimists celebrate the potential for information technology, biotechnology and artificial intelligence to entrain a broad web of favorable societal transformation. Pessimists warn of a dehumanized digital, robotic and bio-engineered society. But all scenarios-Market Forces, Policy Reform, Great Transitions and even Fortress World-are compatible with the continuing technological revolution.

Technology is not an autonomous force. The agenda, pace and purpose of innovation is shaped by the institutions, power structure and choices of society. To envision a Great Transition is to imagine the continued evolution of civil society organizations toward formalization and legitimacy, new roles for business and government and, especially, new values and participation by global citizens. With no blueprint, this will be a long project of social learning and discovery, a process of experimentation and adaptation (BSD, 1998).

Where political will is lacking, civil will drives the transition forward. The question is whether change agents will remain fractional and fragmented, or whether they will expand and unify to realize the historic potential for transformation. If the many voices form a global chorus, it will herald a new sustainability paradigm. The story of change in a Great Transition is a tale of how the various actors work in synergy and
with foresight as collective agents for a new paradigm.


Dimensions of Transition

A Great Transition envisions a profound change in the character of civilization in response to planetary challenges. Transitions have happened before at critical moments in history, such as the rise of
cities thousands of years ago and the modern era of the last millennium.

All components of culture change in the context of a holistic shift in the structure of society and its relation to nature. The transition of the whole social system entrains a set of sub-transitions that transform values and knowledge, demography and social relations, economic and governance institutions, and technology and the environment (Speth, 1992). These dimensions reinforce and amplify one another in an accelerating process of transformation.


How Do We Get There?

Individualism, consumerism and accumulation may help the market reach its full potential. But as dominant values in the Planetary Phase, they are shackles on the possibility of humanity reaching its full potential. On the path to a Great Transition, awareness of the connectedness of human beings to one another, to the wider community of life and to the future is the conceptual framework for a new ethic (ECI, 2000). Taking responsibility for the well-being of others, nature and future generations is the basis for action.


An interdisciplinary focus on holistic models must now complement the reductionist program.
The challenge is to develop appropriate methodologies, train a new cadre of sustainability professionals and build institutional

Table 3. Pushes and Pulls Toward a New Paradigm
Pushes Pulls
Anxiety about the future Promise of security and solidarity
Concern that policy adjustments are Ethics of taking responsibility for others,
insufficient to avoid crises nature and the future
Fear of loss of freedom and choice Participation in community, political and
cultural life
Alienation from dominant culture Pursuit of meaning and purpose
Stressful lifestyles Time for personal endeavors and stronger
connection to nature capacity.

A science of sustainability would highlight integration, uncertainty and the normative content of socio-ecological problems (Kates et al., 2001). Sustainability science proceeds along parallel lines of analysis, action, participation, policy and monitoring in an adaptive real-world experiment. To be trustworthy, knowledge must be rooted in scientific rigor. To be trusted, it must reflect social understanding. The peculiar nature of sustainability problems requires that diverse perspectives and goals be brought to the scientific process. This requires the cooperation of scientists and stakeholders, the incorporation of relevant traditional knowledge, and the free diffusion of information.

The social transition would focus on the well-being of the poor, sustainable livelihoods and greater equity. The foundation for a Great Transition is a world where human deprivation is vanishing and extremes of wealth are moderating. Then the promise of the twentieth century for universal access to freedom, respect and decent lives may be fulfilled in the twenty-first. As new values and priorities reduce the schism between the included and excluded, the space opens for solidarity and peace to flourish. Poverty reduction and greater equity would feed back to amplify the process of transition

New institutions The governance transition is about building institutions to advance the new sustainability paradigm through partnerships between diverse stakeholders and polities at local, national and global levels. While specific structures will remain a matter of adaptation and debate, a proliferation of new forms of participation can be expected to complement and challenge the traditional governmental system. In the new paradigm, the state is embedded in civil society and the nation is embedded in planetary society. The market is a social institution to be harnessed by society for ecology and equity, not simply wealth generation. The individual is the locus of a web of social relationships, not simply an atom of
pain and pleasure.


The Yin-Yang Movement

The youth of the world played a critical role throughout the long transition. Young people have always been the first to take to new ways and to dream new dreams. And so it was with communications technology and the exploration of the possibilities for a new global culture. The main manifestation in the first blush of market euphoria was, of course, the promotion of a consumerist youth culture. But other consequences of the digital information revolution were equally important. The pedagogic impacts of accelerated
learning and information access had a great democratizing effect that empowered younger generations to participate fully in the economy and all aspects of society. By 2020, the vast majority of the world's secondary and university students used the Internet as a matter of course, and websites and wireless portals in more than 200 languages catered to them.

The huge surge in Internet-ready young people graduating from schools in the developing world had some unexpected effects. To ease its chronic shortage of skilled workers and take advantage of lower salaries, the burgeoning digital industry increasingly moved its programming, web design, e-learning courseware and other software tasks to India, China and other centers of talent. Leadership of the industry began to follow.
And this new leadership played a major role in providing digital services designed for poor communities.

Even more unexpected were the cultural and political changes that universal access set in motion. Internet-powered awareness of a wider world and access to unlimited information accounted for part of the change. Equally important were the proliferation of ways to communicate across cultures and even-with automatic translation-across language barriers through e-mail, mobile phones and messaging networks, and through swapping music, videos, underground political tracts and calls for protest demonstrations in huge informal networks.

The gradual coalescence of a discernable global youth culture is difficult to date. But certainly by 2010, two broad streams had emerged to challenge the prevailing market paradigm. The YIN (Youth International Network) was a cultural movement that advanced alternative lifestyles, liberatory values and non-materialistic paths to fulfillment.

The YANG (Youth Action for a New Globalization) was a loose political coalition of activist NGOs that eventually were forged into a more cohesive network through a long series of global protests and actions.

Before 2015, there was some tension between the two strands. To many YANGs, the YINs seemed hedonistic, apolitical and complacent, the heirs to the legacy of 1960s hippies and Timothy Leary. For their part, the YINs saw the YANGs as humorless politicos, who were playing the power game. But the rhetoric of the spokespeople for the two tendencies was more polarized than the participants. In fact, the YIN global celebrations and festivals increasingly had a political tonality. At the same time, the huge YANG demonstrations and protests were as much cultural as political events. (During the Crisis of 2015, these distinctions evaporated entirely. The aspirations that each expressed-the search for more fulfilling lifestyles and the quest for a sustainable and just world-became understood as two aspects of a unitary project for a better future. The Yin-Yang Movement was born.

Many activists saw their movement as a global echo of the youth revolution of the 1960s, an explosion of youth culture, idealism and protest. But in truth, it was far more. The Movement was vastly larger and more diverse than its predecessor, and far more globally connected, organizationally adaptive and politically sophisticated. Without it, what would have emerged from the post-2015 world? Perhaps a descent into chaos; perhaps the authoritarian forces for world order, which were waiting anxiously in the wings,
would have triumphed.

While counterfactuals are always speculative, it is certainly clear that in the absence of the Yin-Yangs history would have taken a different turn. The Movement was critical at two key moments in the transition. First it provided a base for the new political leadership that was able to fashion the Global Reform response to the Crisis. Later, throughout the 2020s, it carried forward the spirit of 2015, expressing the new values and activism of civil society, culminating in the landmark changes of 2025, and the consolidation of the Great Transition.