The New Moral Imperative of Holism

Glen T. Martin

 

There has been a fundamental paradigm shift taking place in the sciences since physicist Max Planck published his “quantum hypothesis” in 1900 and Einstein published his “special theory of relativity” in 1905. Both theories have flourished since that time with ever more corroboration and depth of insight into the nature of our cosmos. The world of the very small (quantum physics) and the vast universe as a whole (relativity physics) together reveal a world integrated at all levels as a dynamic and integrated cosmic whole. The result is that we now understand the universe to be fundamentally different from the paradigm developed by Isaac Newton and early modern science.

This paradigm shift corresponds to an emergent encounter with the reality of the cosmos and our growth toward true human maturity. The astonishing coherence of the cosmos demands a corresponding coherence from us. From this encounter arises a renewed understanding of what it means to be a human being, and a new understanding of the fundamental moral (categorical) imperative that arises from our common human situation. This article attempts to express, as concisely as possible, the nature and origins of this moral imperative and its implications for action in the form of ratification of the Earth Constitution.

Mind and Body

Traditional philosophy, going back to Plato, attempted to understand the relations between mind (capable of discerning intelligible order in the world) from the sensuous experiences of the world around us. What was the relation of mind and matter, inner consciousness and external world? Descartes in the 17th century declared that there were two kinds of finite realities—mind and matter. Mind was non-physical and matter was extended and physical. Subsequent early modern philosophy attempted to define these features of our common experience, or define one of them in terms of the other.

In 20th century thought, this dualism (or reductionism of one into terms of the other) begins to disappear. The holism that emerged from 20th century sciences recognized that mind and matter are just two aspects of one emergent world of pure energy manifesting itself in intelligible patterns. By the mid-twentieth century, major scholarly books began to appear challenging the dualism between consciousness (mind) and unconsciousness (matter). Physicist Amit Goswami affirms that “mental phenomena—such as self-consciousness, free will, creativity…—find simple, satisfying explanations when the mind-body problem is reformulated in an overall context of… [holistic coherence] and quantum theory” (1995, p.11).

Today, such volumes have become commonplace. In the philosophical discourse of the most advanced thinkers, we have moved beyond the early modern mind-matter dilemmas to comprehensive insights into the structure and functioning of the whole of the cosmos—the emergent, evolving dynamic wholeness of all things. The early modern paradigm tended to be atomistic, mechanistic, and deterministic, looking at the universe and human experience in terms of “bodies in motion.”  The contemporary paradigm has abandoned all three of these features attributed to the world.

Mind is no longer a stranger that finds itself self-aware within an alien mechanistic cosmos.  Mind is now an integral dimension of the cosmos itself and our human minds are emergent reflections of the cosmic phenomenon of mind. Quantum physicist Henry P. Stapp concludes: “Thus a radical shift in the physics-based conception of man from that of an isolated mechanical automaton to that of an integral participant in a non-local holistic process that gives form and meaning to the evolving universe is a seismic event of potentially momentous proportions” (2011, p. 140).

Just as the early modern distinction between mind and matter breaks down, so the early modern distinction between the “is” and the “ought” (emphasized by 18th century thinker David Hume and others) breaks down. Mind is teleological. Mind posits values and pursues them according to an “ought.” If mind is now inseparable from the reality of the world studied by science, then so are values.

What is and what ought to be now interface as part of the same, dynamic cosmic reality. Philosopher and cosmologist Errol E. Harris declares: “So far from excluding man and his mind, so far from standing over and against and opposing humanity, as something to be subdued and exploited, nature and mind are to be seen as one—matter and mind fused into a single reality, as body and mind form one person.” (1987, p. 262). Values (moral imperatives) he concludes, emerge from this dynamic holistic reality (ibid. Chap. 14).

Under the quantum theory that has emerged since the early 20th century, not only is mind understood as an emergent aspect of the holistic energy matrix that is our cosmos, mind also plays a role in the “unfolding of reality” (Stapp 2011, p. 6). We are in a reciprocal relationship with the cosmic process—that is, with the evolution of the whole from the Big Bang to the present. Physicist David Bohm writes: “Consciousness and matter in general are basically the same order…. This order is what makes a relationship between the two possible” (1980, p. 264). Pioneer of consciousness-studies Jean Houston concludes that we are “stewards of the earth’s well-being and conscious participants in the cosmic epic of evolution” (in Laszlo, Houston, Dossey 2016, pp. 6-7).

Human Beings Focus the Cosmos

The universe changes us and we change the universe in mutual interaction and coherence. Suddenly human beings are shifted back to the center, a center from which we were seemingly shifted by the Copernican Revolution that declared us peripheral to the center and spinning on a tiny planet going around the true center, at that time thought to be the sun. But with the progress of science, we all but disappeared into an ever-expanding, unimaginably vast cosmos. By the 19th century, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche pointed out that this shift called into question all previous human value systems: “Since Copernicus, man seems to have got himself on an inclined plane—now he is slipping faster and faster away from the center into—what? Into nothingness? Into a penetrating sense of his nothingness?” (1969, p. 155).

Today, we are back at the center. We understand that we embody the holism of the cosmos, a holism that both animates our consciousness and functions as an intelligible good for human values. In Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence, I wrote:

Holism functions not only as the new paradigm emerging from an entire range of twentieth century scientific discoveries, creative holism also arises from our futurity as an intelligible good, functioning as an ideal of human organization and relationships. As we have seen, our capacity for self-transcendence inherent within our temporal existence allows us to discern intelligible goods and motivates us to seek their realization. Holism as an intelligible good promises the unity of our human project, a cooperative, sustainable world of peace and prosperity, the end to all wars, to hatred, needless fears, and most violence. The oneness of genuine unity in diversity calls to us in the form of a transformed future. (2018, p. 233)

Today, we are beginning to understand that we are co-creators within the process of cosmic evolution. We discern the intelligible good of holism. We are now responsible for that evolution on our planet. Physicist Henry P. Stapp writes: “Thus contemporary orthodox physics delegates some of the responsibilities formerly assigned to an inscrutable God, acting in the distant past, to our present knowable conscious actions” (2011, p. 9). Our conscious actions can counteract the law of entropy which says that all things run down and die. We can enhance the emergent coherence at the heart of the evolutionary process.

The emergent complexity of the world reveals an anti-entropic movement at work. The anti-entropic movement of the evolutionary universe has been to actualize, at ever-higher levels of complexity and consciousness, what physicist David Bohm (1980) calls the “implicate order” of holism implicit in all existent things, what scientist-philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called the emergent noösphere (mind-sphere).

If this is so, then it would appear that we are called upon to consciously assimilate that holism (that is also at the awakening core of our being)—act on it, enhance it, develop it, and coordinate it. Here I am using this great metaphor arising from western religions: We are called: “God’s call.” Teilhard writes: “this will open to an advance of all together, in a direction in which all together can join and find completion in a spiritual renovation of the earth” (1959, p.244).

Errol E. Harris declares: “If the implications of the scientific revolution and the new paradigm it introduces are taken seriously, holism should be the dominating concept in all our thinking…. Atomism, individualism, separatism, and reductionism have become obsolete, are no longer tolerable and must be given up” (2000, p. 90). Indeed, as Bohm also points out, “fragmentation” is precisely our problem. This fragmentation (atomism, mechanism, reductionism, and causal determinism) is derived from the early modern paradigm that continues to condition our thinking and our institutions. It lies at the root of our on-going destruction of the planetary environment and our on-going potential for destroying ourselves through weapons of mass destruction possessed by so-called “sovereign” states.

Albert Einstein wrote that our egoism and individualism is “a kind of optical illusion,” a “kind of prison” that “restricts us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.”  However, the awakening to the holism of which we are conscious expressions can allow us to “widen our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty” (in Kafatos and Nadau, p. 113). The values that follow from the realization that we are conscious manifestations of the Whole (or God non-anthropomorphically understood) are those of compassion, reconciliation, harmony, coherence, integration, and emergent wholeness.

The reality of the world, come to self-awareness in us, demands of us an “ought,” a “Categorical Imperative,” to promote and create wholeness through actualization of the unity in diversity of all humankind. We discern that we lack coherence among our human species. We are in conflict with the emergent evolutionary universe and with God. Our human situation implies an absolute moral command that admits of no exceptions—a new Categorical Imperative.

The great Indian sage Sri Aurobindo wrote: “The universe and the individual are necessary to each other in their ascent. Always indeed they exist for each other and profit by each other…. [The Universe] creates in itself a self-conscious concentration of the All through which it can aspire” (1973, p. 49). Contemporary Indian thinker Swami Agnivesh speaks of the Vedic insight as “a holistic vision in which all the parts dwell organically within the whole and the whole dwells within the parts” (2015, pp. 13-14). Jean Houston declares that “the infrastructure of the mind mirrors the structures of the universe” (in Laszlo, Houston, Dossey 2016, p. 7).

Harris writes: “The universal principle [God] is necessarily immanent in every part and every phase of the system. It is the alpha and omega of the universe, and without it nothing could be what it is, or happen as it does. Bringing itself to consciousness in our minds, it determines the essential nature of our thinking….” (1992, p. 99). Contemporary interpreter of scientific cosmology Ervin Laszlo writes: ““Through us, the beyond-spacetime intelligence of the cosmos enters the spacetime domain of the universe” (2017, p. 45).

The Fundamental Moral Imperative and Human Maturity

What moral imperatives derive from the discovery of the deep holism of our cosmos, manifest in self-conscious form in us?  We see that the emergent evolutionary universe is creative, whereas, as Stapp declares, under the early modern reductionism the “creative aspect of nature exhausted itself in the first instant.” The classical conception of humans was profoundly “egoistic,” seeing them as self-interested atoms struggling within a mechanical universe for self-interested success. The new image of the self, Stapp writes, is “not as a local isolated automation but rather as a nonlocalizable integrated aspect of the creative impulse of the universe” (in Kitchener 1988, pp. 56-57).

Scholar of transpersonal psychology Ken Wilber (2007) has developed a “psychograph” of human development that sees human moral and cognitive growth proceeding through four main stages (with which many other contemporary thinkers agree). Our proper human development is to grow out of the egocentric orientation of childhood, continue through the ethnocentric orientation of youth, and emerge into the worldcentric orientation of mature adults. Yet the worldcentric orientation itself needs to be transcended into the cosmocentric awareness characteristic of spiritually, morally, and cognitively awake human beings.

Our first task is to grow out of the immature levels into our true human destiny. The full self-actualization of our moral and cognitive potential requires that we become aware of ourselves as conscious embodiments of the cosmic whole. However unique each of us may be within the concrete circumstances of our lives, we share a common humanity and common imperative deriving from the very foundations of existence. Immanuel Kant (1964) called the fundamental moral imperative a “categorical” imperative because it admits of no exceptions.

An immense responsibility emerges from realization of the insight expressed by these thinkers, a new Categorical Imperative, incumbent on us all without exceptions. If our consciousness embodies an “integrated aspect of the creative impulse of the universe,” then how should we be acting in harmony with that impulse? We are tasked to establish the deep reality of true holism everywhere on our tiny home planet. The foundations of existence that have come to focus in our evolving consciousness are neither atomistic, nor mechanistic, nor deterministic. Each of us expresses the creative power of the deep unity in diversity of the whole.

Errol E. Harris has analyzed the concept of holism at length, showing that there cannot be wholes without diversity (1991, Chap. 2). Holism means uniting the parts in a unity that protects their respective diversities and integrates their unique functions within the whole. Our present world is one of immense fragmentation, a fragmentation so extreme it has threatened us for 70 years with nuclear holocaust and for the past 60 years with emerging climate disaster.

We begin to understand that the dominant institutions of our planet are founded on human immaturity, on an outdated paradigm that was atomistic, mechanistic, and deterministic. Capitalism is premised on an egocentric view of human beings as atoms of personal greed and self-interest.  The system of militarized sovereign nation-states is premised on an ethnocentric view of human beings as divided into nearly 200 atomistic and competing national societies. Both views are deeply immature and deeply wrong.

A number of scholars writing on today’s climate disaster have pointed out the role that the atomism and fragmentation of capitalism has had in the creation of climate disaster.  For example,

Joel Kovel. The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?

Ian Angus. Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System.

Naomi Klein. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate.

James Gustave Speth. The Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability.

But few scholars have pointed out the tragic role of the system of sovereign nation-states in threatening the end of the world and possible human extinction. One of the few deep thinkers who has done this extensively is professor Errol E. Harris. He first published his analysis of the tragically flawed system of sovereign nation-states as early as 1950 in The Survival of Political Man and has since expanded and developed this analysis in books like Apocalypse and Paradigm (2000), Earth Federation Now: Tomorrow is Too Late (Second Edition, 2014), and Twenty-First Century Democratic Renaissance (2008).  In Apocalypse and Paradigm, he writes:

The most dangerous effects of atomistic and separatist thinking are to be seen in the theory and practice of international affairs. Here the dominating concept is national sovereign independence, a status demanded by every ethnic group and cherished by every national state. The claim of independent national states to sovereignty creates an impasse in world affairs that is seldom diagnosed and presents so serious a problem that discussion of it merits a chapter to itself. Like everything that has been detailed earlier, this persistent way of thinking that independent sovereign states are the only possible and natural political structure for the nations of the world is a hangover in the twentieth century of the world view typical of the seventeenth and succeeding centuries. (2000, p. 52)

The Categorical Imperative is to unite humanity, to promote real unity in diversity, to eliminate war, and to restore and promote the ecological holism of our planetary ecosystem. The present system of sovereign nation-states makes this effectively impossible. It embodies the fragmentation of the early modern paradigm. Nevertheless, a minority of thinkers going back to Immanuel Kant and beyond have already maintained this imperative, and a significant minority of social activists have maintained this since the time of the First World War. However, even many within this movement have not understood the immense Categorical Imperative that defines our human situation.

The majority of these activists who maintained that we need to federate the Earth have often been called “world federalists.” Like the rest of humanity, they have abdicated their responsibility under this Categorical Imperative. They have deferred uniting until some unspecified future date, some date that will almost inevitably postdate the ever-present nuclear holocaust and the cascading collapse of a habitable climate (see Wallace-Wells, 2017). However, you cannot legitimately postpone a Categorical Imperative. It requires effective action in the here and now, without exceptions.

The New Moral (Categorical) Imperative

The new Categorical Imperative is very clear: we must unite NOW, within a binding holistic economic and political framework, for we are facing extinction and the consequent total abdication of our God-given mission to actualize holism on our planet. The new Categorical Imperative demands that we overcome our fragmentation and UNITE as one common humanity and universal civilization. The original Categorical Imperative, formulated by Immanuel Kant in the 18th century, remains valid. However, in the 18th century it was impossible to discern the true depth and force of the imperative that would emerge in the 20th century.

The original imperative correctly combined universality and human dignity. It insisted that all valid moral actions in any situation be universalizable, that any rational person should also act as I am about to act. And it insisted that in any situation we should always treat persons as ends in themselves (i.e. as having intrinsic dignity), never merely as a means. Implicit within these principles was the moral goal for society of establishing our human world as a “Kingdom of Ends” in which all people everywhere treated each other morally, as ends in themselves. Kant may have gone as far in the direction of holism and its Categorical Imperative as was possible in the 18th century.

Kant applied this original Categorical Imperative to the system of sovereign nation-states (1957). They did not operate by the Imperative but rather through lawless power-based, “might makes right” relationships. The system of sovereign states was, therefore, immoral and illegitimate. It needed to be replaced by all states joining under a world constitution, “similar to a civil constitution,” in which their relationships became based on the universal laws of humanity and respect for human dignity (hence, ending all war). Kant was clearly on the mark to the extent possible under the fragmentation of the early modern paradigm.

Kant’s understanding, great as it was, remained limited by a paradigm that viewed nature as atomistic, mechanistic, and causally determined, and by the fragmented economic and political institutions deriving from that paradigm. For example, Kant was forced to posit human freedom and reason (necessary if there was to be a Categorical Imperative and the responsibility to live according to its principles) as breaking into the causally determined world from the unknowable ultimate reality of things (which he called the “noumenal” dimension). There was no freedom nor responsibility to be found in the causally determined physical world as he understood it.

Today, with the scientific breakthrough to holism and the revelations of quantum theory, we no long require the positing of a mysterious “noumenal” source of freedom to account for the new Categorical Imperative and our responsibility to fulfill it. Today we know what Kant could not have known. First, we know that everything evolves toward coherence. The world is not a static, fixed reality created deterministically by God as a “giant clockwork” that just keeps deterministically operating until the end of time.

Today, we know that character of the world shortly after the Big Bang was vastly different than later developments, and that subsequently, with each succeeding billion years of its existence, the world has continued to evolve. This process, according to the “Anthropic Principle,” intrinsically led to self-conscious creatures capable of comprehending the whole (see Harris 1991). The universe has emerged into self-consciousness in us. From the very beginning, the development of self-conscious creatures was inherent within the telos of the universal evolutionary process.

Second, today we know that the mind-matter paradox has dissolved, that mind and all other things are vibrations of energy rooted in a quantum matrix of such incredible unity that space and time are transcended. Human freedom is therefore immediately comprehensible, and is integral to the reality investigated by science. Quantum physics has even shown that human decisions influence the reality that emerges in the events we are investigating. Our actions impact everyone and everything around us, like waves on the sea. We become participants (or as now impediments) in the evolutionary upsurge of the cosmos.

Third, today we understand that the deep holism and unity of the universe remain at the root of all things including the immediate mind-body reality of each of us. We are living embodiments of the whole and our emergent freedom is not some cosmic accident to be indulged by immature egos in the service of pleasure, wealth, and power. Our emergent freedom is the culmination of a 13.7 billion-year evolutionary process in which the evolving energy matrix of the cosmos becomes self-aware in us. Evolution now goes beyond the apparently naturalistic mechanisms that produced life. It is now delegated to free beings who have emerged as a self-aware community on the Earth.

We are responsible to continue the anti-entropic process of emergent unity in diversity and produce a holistic “kingdom of God” here on our beautiful home-planet called Earth. The earthly goal of Kant’s first Categorical Imperative to create a Kingdom of Ends on our planet is now magnified ten-fold in the light of the discovery of the holism at the root of all things. We now understand the Imperative to actualize the reality that continues to emerge from the heart of the Cosmos. That holistic principle is focused like a laser beam in human consciousness, waiting to be fully actualized on a planetary scale.

Kant’s Categorical Imperative commanded universality. The new Categorical Imperative, ten-fold more powerful and urgent, commands unity within diversity. It commands us to create a dynamic, holistic reality of unity in diversity that includes the ecological integrity of our planet’s biosphere and the mutual actualization of all the planet’s diverse peoples and nations. We are everywhere the same in our wonderful diversity. Ervin Laszlo concludes that “I am an irreducible and coherent whole with the community of humans on this planet” (2016, p. 122). We are in a position to actualize this Imperative through ratification of The Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

The Constitution for the Federation of Earth

The Preamble to the Earth Constitution is itself a concise statement of the new Categorical Imperative and the action that it demands. It outlines the fact that the old, immature paradigm has brought us to “the brink of ecological and social catastrophe.” It articulates the features of the new holistic paradigm on which the Constitution is based “aware of the interdependence of people, nations and all life.”

The Preamble describes the movement of the new Categorical Imperative from awareness to action:

Conscious that Humanity is One despite the existence of diverse nations, races, creeds, ideologies and cultures and that the principle of unity in diversity is the basis for a new age when war shall be outlawed and peace prevail; when the earth’s total resources shall be equitably used for human welfare; and when basic human rights and responsibilities shall be shared by all without discrimination;…We, citizens of the world, hereby resolve to establish a world federation to be governed in accordance with this Constitution for the Federation of Earth. (2016, p. 70)

Consciousness of the holistic principle at the heart of our human condition declares that we UNITE. We citizens of the world “resolve” to unite. It requires concrete action to establish a world federation to be governed in accordance with the Earth Constitution. At present, we are whole only in potentia, and we become fully whole in actu upon embracing a worldwide constitutional unity. The moral imperative is to become whole.

Moral imperatives are worth little as abstract ideals unless they result in concrete human actions. Even though there are, of course, other options for uniting humanity, there are none so available, widely known in a variety of languages, and already backed by a worldwide organization as the Earth Constitution. There are also no other constitutions so brilliantly designed to unite humanity into a harmonious and effective federation for addressing the entire range of global problems.

 It is a truly amazing document, democratically empowering the people of Earth to address the multiple threats of extinction engendered by the immature capitalist and sovereign nation-state paradigm. It provides a manual for operating Spaceship Earth. And the very act of uniting under this common framework impels human consciousness forward to its higher levels, to a cosmocentric awareness of our common human destiny and responsibility.

Our cosmic destiny is to be the vanguard and stewards of holism on our planet, to foster peace, integration, coherence, sustainability, balance, synergy and fulfillment everywhere on Earth. Our responsibility is to dedicate our lives to the ratification and implementation of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. It embodies the holism that Errol E. Harris declared “should be the dominating concept in all our thinking.” It’s ratification directly manifests that effective and concrete action to UNITE humanity demanded by the new Categorical Imperative.

 

 

Works Cited

Agnivesh, Swami (2015). Applied Spirituality: A Spiritual Vision for the Dialogue of Religions. New York: Harper Element Books.

Angus, Ian (2016).  Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Aurobindo, Sri (1973). The Essential Aurobindo. Ed. Robert McDermott. New York: Schocken Books.

Bohm, David (1980). Wholeness and the Implicate Order. New York: Routledge Publisher.

Constitution for the Federation of Earth. Introduction by Glen T. Martin (2016). Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.  On-line at www.earth-constitution.org and other locations.

Davies, Paul (1983). God and the New Physics. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Goswami, Amit (1993). The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World. New York: Penguin Putnam Books.

Harris, Errol E. (1987). Formal, Transcendental & Dialectical Thinking: Logic & Reality. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Harris, Errol E. (1991). Cosmos and Anthropos: A Philosophical Interpretation of the Anthropic Cosmological Principle. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International.

Harris, Errol E. (2000). Apocalypse and Paradigm: Science and Everyday Thinking. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Harris, Errol E. (2008). Twenty-First Century Democratic Renaissance. With a Foreword by Glen T. Martin. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Democracy Press.

Harris, Errol E. (2014). Earth Federation Now! Tomorrow is Too Late. Second Edition. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Kitchener, Richard F., ed. (1988). The World View of Contemporary Physics: Does It Need a New Metaphysics? Albany: State University of New York Press.

Klein, Naomi (2014). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kovel, Joel (2007). The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World. London: Zed Books.

Kafatos, Menas and Robert Nadeau (1990). The Conscious Universe: Part and Whole in Modern Physical Theory. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Kant, Immanuel (1957, originally published 1795). Perpetual Peace. Ed. Lewis White Beck. New York: Macmillan.

Kitchener, Richard F., ed. (1988). The World View of Contemporary Physics: Does It Need a New Metaphysics?

Laszlo, Ervin, Jean Houston & Larry Dossey (2016). What is Consciousness? Three Sages Look Behind the Veil. Ed. Kingsley L. Dennis. New York: Select Books.

Laszlo, Ervin (2017). The Intelligence of the Cosmos. Why Are We Here? New Answers from the Frontiers of Science. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.

Martin, Glen T. (2018). Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence: The Power of the Future for Planetary Transformation. London: Cambridge Scholars Publisher.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (1969). On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo. Walter Kaufmann, trans. New York: Vintage Books.

Speth, James Gustave (2008). The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Stapp, Henry P. (2011). Mindful Universe: Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer. Second Edition. New York: Springer Publishers.

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre (1959). The Phenomenon of Man. Trans. Bernard Wall. New York: Harper Torchbooks.

Wallace-Wells, David (2019). The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. New York: Duggan Books.

Wilber, Ken (1984). Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World’s Great Physicists. Boulder, CO: Shambala Publications.

Wilber, Ken (2007). Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World. Boston: Integral Books.

Book Review of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells

Glen T. Martin

This is an extraordinary book that has deservedly been a best seller. David Wallace-Wells writes beautifully, clearly, and with an impressive knowledge of wide ranges of relevant literature. He details all the ways in which the Earth will be (and is) rapidly becoming uninhabitable. He calls these “elements of chaos.” He discusses the crisis of capitalism and resistance to change, as well as the “politics of consumption,” two central impediments to addressing the climate crisis.

In Part One of this review, I will describe some of the main themes of the book. I also want to point out here that the text of this book contains no footnotes. Notes are given at the end of the book using boldface key phrases in relation to page numbers where these are found. This is not a positive feature, leaving the reader wondering whether each topic covered has some corresponding note. In Part Two, I will discuss Wallace-Wells’ ideas about the crisis, addressed in his final chapters, and his thoughts about how we should respond and what we might specifically do. I will show how he leaves out our most significant and hopeful option, which is ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

 

PART ONE

 

David Wallace-Wells opens the book by reflecting on “cascades,” that is, all the ways in which the present state of the world’s climate is already foreordained to make things worse, much worse. Each day that passes in which we do little or nothing address the climate crisis means another degree of serious impact that is necessarily going to happen. Lack of action cascades into the future. We are passing one tipping point, one point of no return, after another.

In his second part of the book, “Elements of Chaos,” he reviews the forms of destruction that are hitting us now and will inevitably increase. The only real question is whether they will increase to the point of human extinction or will we act in time to salvage a livable planet. First there is “Heat Death.” Wallace-Wells reviews what scientists tell us it will be like at and increase of 2 degrees Celsius, 4 degrees, 6 degrees, etc. The consequences multiply and the prospect of the higher temperatures means an uninhabitable Earth.

Next there is “Hunger,” already a world problem and inevitably getting much worse. The yield of staple cereal crops declines by 10% for every degree of warming: “Which means that if the planet is five degrees warmer by the end of the century, when projections suggest we may have as many as 50% more people to feed, we may also have 50% less grain to give them” (p. 49). Third, we face “Drowning.” Without a major reduction of emissions, standard scientific predictions give us “at least four feet of sea-level rise and possibly eight by the end of the century” (p. 59). This chapter describes the dynamics of melting polar caps as well as the vast land areas that will be inundated by the rising oceans.

The next chapter, “Wildfire” presents a detailed chronicle of the thousands of wildfires that have been consuming the Earth during the past few years. Drying out and drought help precipitate these enormous fires: “it is the cascading chaos that reveals the true cruelty of climate change—it can upend and turn violently against us everything we have ever thought to be stable” (p. 77). The following chapter is on “Freshwater Drain.” He describes the huge inland freshwater lakes that have been disappearing or have disappeared around the world from overuse. He chronicles the shrinking underground aquifers that are losing water faster than the rate of recharge. Also, half the world’s population depends on snow melts from glaciers in the Himalayas and elsewhere, all of which are rapidly melting.

Next we have the chapter on “Unbreathable Air” in which he describes the immense particle content and polluted air of many major cities around the world. Medical studies have shown the high increase in respiratory infection and many other ailments when the air is polluted to this degree. The following chapter, called “Plagues of Warming,” describes the increase of diseases, some of which have emerged from melting ice where they have been locked away for hundreds of years. Others are becoming more common due to global warming, from yellow fever to malaria to Lyme disease.

In the chapter called “Economic Collapse,” Wallace-Wells points out that some contemporary economists are not attributing the history of swift economic growth throughout the 19th and 20th centuries to the wonders of a “free market” but rather to the discovery of the fossil fuels that powered this growth from then to the present. Some are predicting a great depression that will dwarf the one of 1929. The world is drowning in debt (as Ellen Brown, 2007, and many others have pointed out), but with serious flooding, immense wildfires, droughts, and water shortages, is it possible for capitalism to continue its growth mantra? Again, there is the theme of “cascade.” The enormous losses from climate disasters are “cascading through the world system,” portending serious economic consequences: “Every day we do not act, those costs accumulate, and the numbers quickly compound” (pp. 112-23).

The final chapters under “Elements of Chaos” are “Climate Conflict” and “Systems.” The facts of climate conflict, he says, are there in the obsession of the US military with climate change. And climate shocks around the world are indeed causing instability, collapse of governments, major movements of refugees, and social instability. Under the chapter “Systems,” we encounter studies that have been done of those experiencing climate disasters: people experience PTSD, “climate depression,” and “environmental grief.” Some get angry and harbor “vengeful thoughts” (pp.136-37). When, he asks, are we going to wake up: “At what point will the climate crisis grow undeniable, un-compartmentalizable? How much damage will have already been selfishly done? How quickly will we act to save ourselves and preserve as much of the way of life we know today as possible?” (p. 140).

In his third section of the book, called “The Climate Kaleidoscope,” Wallace-Wells considers the problem of capitalism, the option of technological solutions to the climate crisis, and the issue of limitless consumption. All three of these phenomena are major impediments to effective change, and technology is not likely to be the answer. Wallace-Wells reviews some of the dramas, the stories, that we tell about ourselves and our human condition that can bear on how we might respond. However, whatever stories we invent, we are still clearly living in the Anthropocene, and a major theme of the book is that if we had the power to create climate crisis, then we humans must recognize that we also have the power to respond effectively.

Climate denial is not a legitimate option. The scientists writing the 2018 report of the IPCC (the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), speak in a note that is no longer merely “objective” and dispassionate sounding (p. 157). There is a serious crisis, they are saying, and it must be addressed with major immediate changes. At the same time, this book has chronicled the many possible responses to the coming uninhabitable Earth that evade the issue and try to find ways to escape, both physically and psychologically.

PART TWO

The last two chapters of this book address “Ethics at the End of the World” and “The Anthropic Principle.” Wallace-Wells clearly does not want the foreboding possibility of human extinction to happen. In “Ethics at the End of the World,” he surveys a range of responses to climate collapse and the impending demise of the human project. This chapter is not about ethics as the discipline reflecting on how human beings should act, but rather it is about the responses of groups and writers to the “toxic knowledge” of what is happening to all of us and our planet.

These responses range from a “hedonistic quietism” that withdraws from the world into private satisfactions in a kind of Stoic renunciation of hope, to the response (that he associates with the Dalai Lama) that we should be living as fully as possible with compassion, wonderment, and love. Indeed, it evokes wonder just reading in this book about some of the ways people and groups have responded to the prospect of the demise of civilization. On the negative side there has been widespread “climate nihilism” with synonyms like “climate fatalism” or “human futilitarianism.” There are writers like Roy Scranton who declare that “civilization is already dead” (p. 215).

We are in danger, he writes, of a “climate apathy” in which we are “drawing our circles of empathy smaller and smaller, or by simply turning a blind eye” and finding “ways to engineer a new indifference” (pp. 215-16). Or there is the movement toward a “new inhumanism” that rejects human self-focus and apparent narcissism for the primacy of what is “not man,” the world apart from human egoism in its “transhuman magnificence.” So what if human beings go extinct, these responses proclaim, the magnificence of the natural world will simply continue without us.

I wonder if Wallace-Wells believes that the traditions of ethics in both eastern and western thought have been merely symptoms of such a human narcissism? It is difficult to tell from what he writes, and from the way that he appears to ignore these traditions. In the final chapter, called “The Anthropic Principle,” he attempts to make a comeback from the varieties of denial and despair to a positive response to climate crisis. But his response is a weak one.

He recalls those physicists who have wondered why we appear to be alone in the universe. Is it because human-like civilizations have appeared many times in the vastness of the universe but have all burnt themselves out in climate suicide? But he opposes this pessimism by appealing to the Anthropic Principle in which physicists have pointed out that the initial conditions of the universe in the Big Bang were precisely such that human beings would eventually develop and self-consciously ask questions about the mystery of existence (p. 225, see Harris 1991).

Out of the ambiguity about who and what we are, and out of the variety of possible responses to the “tragic knowledge” of our imminent demise (unless serious world-wide action is taken immediately), Wallace-Wells comes down on the side of “thinking like a planet.” Or better, he says, we must “be thinking like a people, one people, whose fate is shared by all” (p. 226). He says that the very fact that we had the effective power to place ourselves in this terrible danger should awaken us to the fact that we have the power to save it. It should serve as a call to action. We must choose to protect our planet, which is also the only home human beings will ever have.

One wonders if this is the proper fruit of all the admirable erudition manifested in this book. If a person reads too much, perhaps there is the danger of having too many possible perspectives on every issue, leading to paralysis. Where are the great ethical traditions of both western and eastern thought that see human beings as having an “infinite” dignity and worth, beyond all price and calculation? Where is the great Upanishad principle of vasudhaiva kutumbakam, the world is one family, with its Vedic presupposition that human life is sacred? Where is the great Kantian principle that every person is an end in his or herself, having infinite dignity and incalculable worth, or the principles of universal love taught by Jesus?

Moving from this great traditional wisdom to contemporary science, we should ask how the breakthroughs of the past 80 years in quantum physics bear on our responses to the coming uninhabitable Earth? The great Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo declared that the Universe becomes conscious of itself in us (1973, p. 49). Contemporary interpreter of quantum physics, Ervin Laszlo, concludes that “Through us, the beyond-spacetime intelligence of the cosmos enters the spacetime domain of the universe” (2017, p. 45).

20th century philosopher Errol E. Harris writes: “The universal principle [God] is necessarily immanent in every part and every phase of the system. It is the alpha and omega of the universe, and without it nothing could be what it is, or happen as it does. Bringing itself to consciousness in our minds, it determines the essential nature of our thinking….” (1992, p. 99). This is what science has been discovering since Einstein first published his principle of relativity in 1905. The telos of the universe gives us the mission of holism, harmony, and unity with nature in the service of a loving consciousness of the whole. Surely this bears directly on how we should respond to climate change and the threat of extinction?

Wallace-Wells’ good instincts steer him away from climate nihilism and despair. But he appears to miss the nature-transcending dignity and worth of humanity and the human project. He is tempted to look at this tradition in both the East and the West through the lens of those environmental fatalists who see our special place in nature as a narcissistic illusion. To transcend nature as free, rational beings, to recognize that the universe has become conscious of itself in us, is not to claim the right to dominate and destroy nature. It is a realization of humility, of Buddhistic “no-self” (anatta), rather than one of arrogance. It opens us to our deeper self, what Marx called our “species-being,” what Swami Agnivesh calls “a holistic vision in which all the parts dwell organically within the whole and the whole dwells within the parts” (2015, pp. 13-14).

We are clearly part of nature and should be living in harmony with it. At the same time, we are inevitably custodians of nature and need to protect its balance and integrity. The great insight of both East and West is the incredible dignity and responsibility of being human. We need to connect with the transcendent foundations of our humanity and manifest this connection in active lives of love, justice, and compassion. The “great-souled” one, Mahatma Gandhi, declared that “non-cooperation with evil is a duty,” and it should be clear that the destruction of the ecological balances of our planet is evil.

Wallace-Wells calls us to action in the name of our common humanity, but it is a weak call, diluted by the plethora of possible (false) responses to our climate crisis. We have the duty to act because we are one world, one human family, and one civilizational project—all transcendently valuable as a manifestation of the deep foundations of the universe. There is something sacred about a human being within whom “Atman is Brahman.” There is something divine about a human being who is “made in the image of God.”

Climate response involves acting from the deepest sources of our being, not the superficial egoism of capitalist competition, nor the puerile self-centeredness of nationalistic pride, nor from some weak-kneed promise that if we made the mess, then we can also clean it up. It requires a waking up to who we really are as children of the Kosmos, as manifestations so deep that the voice of Being could proclaim: “let there be light.” Many thinkers have pointed out the danger of the emerging one-dimensional “cosmopolitanism” or “everydayness” of the modern world.

Theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich (1987) worried that modern man was trapped in a horizontal dimension that reduced everything to a manifestation of the same, ignoring the “deep dimension” of human existence. Psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm (1981) observed that mass society had reduced our capacity to respond fully and creatively to the holism of the world in a perpetual rebirth. Philosopher Karl Jaspers observed that modern man was losing the sense of the depths of being, he is “undergoing absorption into that which is nothing more than a means to an end, into that which is devoid of purpose or significance…. he would seem to be sacrificing the being in which he realizes his own selfhood” (1957, p. 83).

Wallace-Wells has no concrete suggestions about how we should be responding to climate crisis. And in this respect his book is less valuable than books like Speth’s The Bridge at the Edge of the World, Heinberg’s The End of Growth, Romm’s Climate Change, or Raworth’s Doughnut Economics. Nevertheless, all these authors have the insight that humanity is one and should act as one. But none of them draw the true implications of this insight that the best way that we can act to address climate change is through uniting the nations through ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. That is, we must actualize our oneness and not just wax poetic about it.

The Constitution is not a document deriving from any particular religious tradition. Its only reference to religion is in the Bill of Rights, which gives every person the equal freedom to either practice religion or no religion. However, the Constitution is founded on the gigantic truth of human unity and dignity. It is directed to addressing climate crisis with the holistic force of human beings working collectively together. If we are a human family, then it is time we began acting like one. The Constitution ends war and addresses the problem of poverty in the same way: through the synergistic force of the united whole of humanity.

This is the only reasonable and effective way that we can deal with climate crisis. The egoistic competition and nationalistic fragmentation that created it (along with the discovery of fossil fuels) must be overcome by human unity, solidarity, compassion, and love. These qualities are manifested as we join in global democracy under the Earth Constitution. There is no other credible alternative. G.F.W. Hegel declared that “universals” are worth little until they become “concrete universals;” ideals are worth little until they become “objectified” and actualized in history. And Karl Marx applied these insights to our real economic and political conditions.

The threat of collapse, the collapse that is already happening all around us, can only be effectively addressed through the united action of humanity, bound together in that unity by a Constitution that gives us an effective tool for taking action. Without that tool, all the idealistic slogans in the world about our common humanity remain ineffective and largely hot air. The Earth Constitution joins us together in democratic equality, and legally empowers us to take effective action.

Under the Earth Constitution, effective action addressing climate change is identified as one of the “broad functions” of the entire Earth Federation government in Article 1. The government is granted “specific powers” to protect the fresh waters, oceans, and atmosphere of the planet in Article 4. A protected and healthy environment for the planet is one of the human rights declared in Article 13, and a specific action oriented global program or addressing all aspects of climate change is outlined in Article 17.

Here is the powerful and effective way that human beings can respond to climate crisis. Not weak, disconnected responses here and there such as recycling, promoting solar, or a carbon tax. But a worldwide effort to address the multidimensional aspects of the crisis in a comprehensive and integrated fashion. Wallace-Wells does an excellent job of identifying the multifaceted crisis we are facing, currently leading toward an “uninhabitable Earth.” But the answer is not a weak “we should work together” but rather a concrete and real joining together, legally, economically, and morally. This effective action can only be achieved through ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

Works Cited

Swami Agnivesh (2015). Applied Spirituality: A Spiritual Vision for the Dialogue of Religions. New York: Harper Element Books.

Sri Aurobindo (1973). The Essential Aurobindo. Ed. Robert A. McDermott. New York: Schocken Books.

Ellen Brown (2007). Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth About Our Money System. Baton Rouge, Louisana: Third Millennium Press.

Constitution for the Federation of Earth, with an Introduction by Glen T. Martin. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press. Also on-line at www.earth-consitution.org and other places.

Erich Fromm (1981). On Disobedience and Other Essays. New York: The Seabury Press.

Errol E. Harris (1991). Cosmos and Anthropos: A Philosophical Interpretation of the Anthropic Cosmological Principle. London: Humanities Press International. See also Harris’ 1992 book Cosmos and Theos: Ethical and Theological Implications of the Anthropic Cosmological Principle (London: Humanities Press) in which he shows the relationship between this principle, the holism of the cosmos, and the depth-reality of God.

Heinberg, Richard (2011). The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

Karl Jaspers (1957). Man in the Modern Age. Trans. Eden and Cedar Paul. New York: Anchor Books.

Ervin Laszlo (2017). The Intelligence of the Cosmos. Why Are We Here? New Answers from the Frontiers of Science. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.

James Gustave Speth (2008). The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing the Crisis to Sustainability. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Paul Tillich (1987). The Essential Tillich. Ed. F. Forrester Church. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kate Raworth (2017). Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Joseph Romm (2018). Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know. Second Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

David Wallace-Wells (2019). The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. New York: Tim Duggan Books.

The Tragedy of Our Planetary Commons: Climbing Out of the Abyss

Glen T. Martin

Our “planetary commons” is a description of the spaceship Earth on which we all live. Our planet has a common ecosystem, a common atmosphere, and common ocean-system, circulating in gigantic currents around a common set of continents, whose mountains and forests have long modulated the planetary climate to make it stable, moderate, and hospitable for human and other forms of life. The whole of the Earth is our planetary commons. It belongs to all of us because it takes the stability and proper functioning of that whole to support each of us and our communities.

The tragedy of the Earth is that we are destroying our planetary commons in multiple ways as I will describe momentarily. I argue that the destruction of our planetary commons is directly related to the fragmentation by which we have operated on our planet for the past several centuries. Politically, we have divided our planet into nearly 200 fragments with absolute borders—militarized, sovereign, and autonomous—all working on the basis of national self-interest, without much thought for the commons.

Economically, we have divided our planet into competing corporations, businesses, communities, and individuals all working for individual self-interest without serious thought for the commons. This chaotic system functions as (what one social scientist calls) “a headless horseman, this driverless…behemoth which is almost certainly hurtling us all toward the precipice.”[1]  I argue that we can only climb out of the abyss of planetary destruction through humanity uniting under the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.[2]

Tragedy of Our Planetary Commons

For half a century people of intelligence and intellectual integrity have known of the climate crisis happening everywhere around the Earth. They have even named the age in which we now live the Anthropocene, indicating that the geophysical processes of the Earth that produced the stable Holocene Age have now been replaced by human activity as the central driver of planetary climate change and its immense dangers for all living organisms on our planet.

The predictions and warnings of 50 years ago have gone unheeded and no major changes in the global political-economic system have taken place to address the accelerating disaster of climate change. This change is already transforming life everywhere on Earth. This paper will not go deeply into these interacting modes of disaster because they are well-known and well documented in book after book, including many of the books in the endnotes below. I will simply mention 12 disasters befalling the Earth (as we speak) that have been growing rapidly in intensity over that past half century.

(1)  Killer heat waves.  Summer seasons have brought repeated, record heat waves that only very rarely occurred during the previous centuries of the Holocene period. Entire regions within every continent have experienced prolonged heat waves that have made being out of doors unbearable, that have stopped all work outside for any reason, and that have resulted in the deaths of many within these regions. These are repeated every year with increasing record-breaking heat and with no prospect of a future that will not continue this same pattern.

(2) Droughts. Secondly, these killer heat waves are often accompanied by droughts, sometimes multiple-year droughts, effectively destroying agriculture and leading to food shortages, malnourishment, hunger, and death. Major agricultural regions on all continents are threatened with the end of their food productivity and the world’s population is threatened with growing food shortages that negatively interface with a rapidly growing planetary population—ever more mouths to feed and ever-less food production with which to feed them.

(3)  Running out of fresh water. Some of these areas affected by drought may rely ever more heavily on irrigation, but this may only delay disaster and exacerbate our problems, because the world is running out of fresh water on every continent, a process stemming from climate change and the Anthropocene impact on the world’s natural processes. The glaciers and snows that provide fresh water for half the world’s population are melting faster than they are refreezing.  The giant underground aquifers that much of the world draws upon for irrigation and fresh water are rapidly declining, the rate of withdrawal is faster than the rate of recharge provided by nature. Cities are rationing the water use of their citizens and people in poor, rural country-sides are often walking miles to find a little fresh water to bring home for their families.

(4)  Floods and superstorms. The warming atmosphere of the planet holds more moisture than a cooler atmosphere. The oceans themselves expand in volume as they become warmer, and the combination of these factors leads to more storms and often superstorms. Every continent is being battered by hurricanes, typhoons, or monsoons of increasing frequency and severity, leading to billions of dollars in damages annually, millions of displaced persons, and many deaths. Floods from tidal surges and storms that were once “100 year” phenomena, now happen regularly.  Coastal lines are eroding as the oceans rise both from expansion and from the melting of the planet’s ice caps, producing ever more refugees or permanently displaced persons. While many experience drought and water deprivation, many others are flooded out and drown. All these phenomena are the direct result of climate change.

(5)  Our planet is burning up with wildfires. As the planet warms and dries out, the vegetation becomes dryer and more suspectable to fire caused by lightning or some human activity.  Thousands of fires around the world annually burn out of control, themselves pouring ever more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and thereby increasing the warming properties of the thickened atmospheric blanket covering the Earth. These fires contribute to deforestation, thereby exacerbating the carbon in the atmosphere and diminishing the ability of forests to absorb carbon and modulate the climate.  Every year the fires become worse as the world gets hotter and dryer.

(6)  Air pollution. These fires, like the widespread cooking of food by burning wood, cause major air pollution.  The complex air quality index for many cities around the world finds that the air quality is dangerous and damaging, full of particulates and other poisons. Yet, of course, the residents have no choice but to breathe that damaging air, while driving fossil fuel burning cars by the millions that contribute to the air pollution and while using products produced in fossil fuel driven factories that contribute to that same hazardous air quality.

(7)  Epidemics and Plagues. The respiratory illnesses, cancer cases, and cognitive damage caused by air pollution are compounded by the spread of dangerous disease organisms that flourish in warmer environments, flooded areas, and polluted water systems. Yellow fever, Typhus, Malaria, Ebola, Zika virus and many other known and unknown diseases are rapidly spreading into ever larger areas of the Earth and threatening the public health systems set up by countries to protect their populations. Plagues and epidemics are becoming more common as the totality of the planetary climate changes makes human protective measures inadequate and vulnerable to collapse.

(8)  The Oceans of our planet are dying.  If they die, we die.  A large part of the carbon dioxide that we pour into the atmosphere annually is absorbed by the oceans, causing ocean acidification: they are becoming more acidic.  We know this is damaging to creatures that form shells but there are likely other immense consequences for the one third of the Earth’s population that draws on the oceans for food. Vast dead zones are appearing in the oceans around the world, zones starved of oxygen, without which most ocean creatures cannot survive. 75% of the ocean’s fisheries are already being fished at or above capacity.  Fish harvests are rapidly declining, mirroring the agricultural harvests on land that are also rapidly declining. Meanwhile the planet’s population continues to explode.

(9)  Militarism destroys the environment and wastes resources. Militarism remains rampant on the Earth, pouring one and a half trillion US dollars per year down a global toilet while all these other crises continue to mount. More and more this militarism (itself highly destructive of the environment in both the manufacture of weapons and in their deployment and use) is directed toward conflicts caused by climate disasters.  A drought within one country may destabilize the government and radicalize groups leading to civil war.  Foreign military aid pours in depending on which side the military powers take. These conflicts spell disaster for the environment, produce innumerable refugees, and waste the world’s resources that should be directed toward addressing climate collapse.

(10)  Refugees. The mounting millions of climate refugees and climate-related war refuges is increasing annually, causing major refugee problems and immigration problems for nearly every country on Earth.  As ocean levels continue to rise, as super-storms continue to devastate entire regions, as wars erupt everywhere, the world is awash with persons needing to survive.  The global climate crisis becomes everyone’s crisis.[3]

(11)  Economic collapse. Finally, there is the pending and on-going collapse of the global economic system.  As sustainability economists have been saying for half a century: You cannot have unending growth on a finite planet.  The economy is a subset of the interdependent, holistic planetary ecosystem and not separate from it.  Yet traditional capitalism has always operated as if these ecosystem limits simply did not exist. It was predicated on endless growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as if the Earth had endless resources and a limitless capacity to absorb our wastes.[4]

Yet at the end of the second decade of the 21st century this relentless growth pattern is beginning to falter. There are some who argue that the collapse of 2008 was the last economic bubble to burst before a steady planetary decline of GDP becomes inevitable (as well as necessary if we want to survive). Under the ideology of capitalism, all problems were supposed to be addressed by growth.  Global poverty was to be addressed by growth; even environmental problems were said to be insoluble unless there were “free market solutions” to these problems.

Mainstream economists ignored the fact that the nexus of problems described above have been mostly caused by the planet wide fossil fuel driven economy and its ideology of limitless capitalist growth. We now realize that fossil fuels must stay in the ground and that economics must focus on the quality of life rather than on increasing quantity of consumer goods, industrial growth, and increasing profits.

(12) Negative Synergistic Explosion. The final and unspeakably huge disaster befalling the Earth is the synergistic effect of the first 11 disasters.  Each of these disasters and their causes, terrible as they are, intensifies and exacerbates all the others to produce a near absolute tragedy for our planetary home and commons. Our future will inevitably be scarred by the immense on-going destruction that is the synergistic effect of all these climate disasters and their interlocking causes. The only real question is: Can we transform ourselves and our world system in time to prevent the extinction of humanity and all higher life forms? There is an immense momentum in the causal nexus that created these disasters.[5]

Tipping point after tipping point is being passed. We are regularly exceeding points of no return within the whole interlocking momentum of destruction. CO2 in the atmosphere is not going to go away, and its effects will continue to cascade into the future.  The melting of the polar caps cannot be stopped and will continue to cascade into the future. The same is true of all the other phenomena discussed above. How do we climb out of this abyss?   What is our most promising course of action that can possibly obviate the pending tragedy of the extinction of all higher forms of life?  The answer to that question involves the ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.[6]

Climbing Out of The Abyss

This is not at all a “simplistic” solution to an immensely complex problem, because the Earth Constitution is the key means to solving the problem. The fact that it is a deeply green constitution mandating across the board action on climate change is perhaps not the most fundamental factor here. The fundamental factor is that the Constitution provides human beings with a tool for uniting and taking action in the face of climate change.  No such tool is available now because the dominant institutions of the world have divided humanity into nearly two hundred sovereign fragments and into thousands of economically competing units.

Unless we truly unite against climate collapse, the immense synergistic cloud of destruction will continue to grow and engulf us all to the point of extinction. The Earth is rapidly becoming uninhabitable. The government of the Earth Federation is designed for action. It was designed for bringing together the great diversity of human beings into an effective focal point whereby we can take effective collective action to save our planet. It does not abolish the nations but joins the nations together with the grassroots people of Earth to form a truly democratic, unified and effective global momentum for saving our planetary climate to the extent this is still possible.

The six functions of the world government in Article 1 reveal an alternative synergy at the heart of the Constitution. These six functions end war and disarm the nations, protect human rights, diminish social inequality, regulate the global economy, directly address climate change, and address all global problems beyond the scope of the nations. The Earth Federation is built on the understanding that the whole must be transformed. You cannot address climate collapse in isolation from these other functions. Together this focusing of the whole of humanity into the process of transformation of our planet to a livable home for everyone produces a human synergy (as Buckminster Fuller pointed out a half century ago), giving humanity the effective capacity to deal with the most extreme threat to human existence ever in history.

The Constitution is not only a tool for action. It is not only designed for bringing us all together in a dynamic unity within diversity. It is also a crucible through which to unite humanity and move our entire species to a higher level of holistic consciousness.  Climate change will be addressed by the combined force of humanity working together on behalf of the common good of all.  There is no other effective option for addressing this monster at our doorstep. The very fact of this unified undertaking will raise the level of human consciousness significantly. Without taking this crucial step, today’s humanity under a fragmented world system will inevitably fail. Like our global institutions, our consciousness also remains deeply fragmented.

As a green document designed for action, the Constitution directly responds to our planetary tragedy of the commons.  Article 4.18 directs the organs of the world government to address the whole problem in a comprehensive and synergistic manner:

4.18.  Plan for and regulate the development, use, conservation and recycling of the natural resources of Earth as the common heritage of Humanity; protect the environment in every way for the benefit of both present and future generations.

Here we see the focus of the immense collective authority of the people of Earth. The commons of the planet belong to us all, and the central function of the Earth Federation is to protect and preserve that commons. Following from Article 4.18 are specific powers of the planetary government to protect and govern the commons. For example:

Article 4.21. “Develop and implement means to control population growth in relation to the life-support capacities of Earth.”

Article 4.22. “Develop, protect, regulate and conserve the water supplies of Earth.”

Article 4.23. “Own, administer and supervise the development and conservation of the oceans and sea-beds of Earth.” 

Article 4.24. “Protect from damage, and control and supervise the uses of the atmosphere of Earth.”

The UN system is predicated on the “sovereign independence of its member states.” That means that all environmental agreements are substantially voluntary on the part of the world’s nearly 200 autonomous fragments. The UN has developed a new agenda for “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) to be accomplished by the world between 2015 and 2030. These replace the failed “Millennium Development Goals” that were in place from 2000-2015, which in turn replaced the failed “Agenda 21 Goals” that were promoted from 1992 to 2000.

The Sustainable Development Goals document uncritically assumes both capitalism with its economic growth obsession and autonomous militarized nation-states. One of its 17 main goals is “peace.” However, the description of peace there entirely omits the immense militarism of the planet pouring some 1.5 trillion US dollars down this sewer annually. The document assumes the present fragmented world system and poses a holistic goal (sustainability) that it magically pretends can somehow emerge from a fragmented system.

Part of this fragmentation embedded in the UN Charter is the idea that each sovereign nation somehow “owns” the resources that happen to exist within its absolute borders. Item 18 of the SDG document states that “We reaffirm that every State has, and shall freely exercise, full permanent sovereignty over all its wealth, natural resources and economic activity. We will implement the Agenda for the full benefit of all, for today’s generation and for future generations.” [7]

Here we have the planetary tragedy of the commons embedded at the heart of so-called “international law.” Does the atmosphere of the Earth belong to all of us or is it the right of China or the US to pour billions of tons of greenhouse gasses into their skies annually? Article 4.24 of the Earth Constitution cited above says, “no,” the people of Earth have rights to a clean atmosphere everywhere on Earth.  Brazil happens to harbor the “lungs of the Earth,” the gigantic Amazon rain forest that oxygenates and moderates much of the global climate and captures much of its excess carbon. Does Brazil have a right to “develop,” cut down, and destroy the lungs of the Earth?

According to the SDG document and the UN Charter, Brazil has the legal right to destroy the lungs of the Earth. According to the Earth Constitution, Article 4.18, cited above, the people of Earth have the right to protect resources vital to their global common good. In addition, Article 4.30 states that the Earth Federation government will “Place under world controls essential natural resources which may be limited or unevenly distributed about the Earth.”  The lungs of the Earth belong to the people of Earth.

Does Saudi Arabia have the right to pump unlimited quantities of fossil fuels to the surface and sell these worldwide without regard for the climate change that burning these fuels engenders?  According to the UN Charter and Sustainable Development Goals, it has this right. But the Earth Federation government under Article 4.28 (representing the common good of all) has the authority to “Control the mining, production, transportation and use of fossil sources of energy to the extent necessary to reduce and prevent damages to the environment and ecology.”  Those fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. Any use of them needs to be regulated, a course of action that is blatantly impossible under the current world system of sovereign nation-states.

Buckminster Fuller foresaw that the entire world, working together, could create a global power grid in which the sunlight and other sources of clean energy could supply ample power for everyone.[8] The Earth Constitution affirms this same insight. Its mandate to the world government is as follows:

Article 4.27. Develop, operate, and/or coordinate transnational power systems, or networks of small units, integrating into the systems or networks power derived from the sun, wind, water, tides, heat differentials, magnetic forces, and any other source of safe, ecologically sound and continuing energy supply.

The planetary tragedy of the commons is overcome through uniting the world to holistically work together to combat climate change. It is only by institutionally focusing the common knowledge, technological know-how, and sovereign authority of humanity together under the Earth Constitution can this powerful synergy occur.  That is why this Constitution is the key to human survival.

The brilliant unity in diversity design for all organs of the world government created by the Constitution gives humanity the power of holistic, synergistic effectiveness.  The authority over the global commons for the common good of all and the preservation of our planetary ecology is found in the mandates and authority given to the people of Earth, especially in Articles 1, 4, 13, and 17.  Ratification of the Earth Constitution joins humanity into a united front against climate collapse.

Article 17 sets forth the process of ratification for the Earth Constitution and outlines the mandates for the emerging Earth Federation government. Hence, the broad functions given in Article 1, including the grant of powers given in Article 4, as well as the human rights to clean air, water, and a safe environment given in Article 13, are not just passive features Earth Federation institutions. All of them demand action, and Article 13 gives people an “inalienable” human right to a protected environment. All people have the right to:

13.9. Protection of the natural environment which is the common heritage of humanity against pollution, ecological disruption or damage which could imperil life or lower the quality of life.

Based on the dynamic nexus of the broad functions , the specific powers, and the inalienable rights, Article 17, on the founding and first stages of the Earth Federation Government, demands comprehensive action.

Article 17 defines three stages in the ratification process. First, when some 25 nations have ratified. Second, when 50% or more of the nations have ratified, and the final stage when 90% have ratified. But the emerging Earth Federation government is action oriented and mandated to take emergency action to address climate change. Under the first operative stage the government must:

17.3.12.1. Expedite the organization and work of an Emergency Earth Rescue Administration, concerned with all aspects of climate change and climate crises;

17.3.12.2. Expedite the new finance, credit, and monetary system, to serve human needs;

17.3.12.3. Expedite an integrated global energy system, utilizing solar energy, hydrogen energy, and other save and sustainable sources of energy;

17.3.12.4. Push forward a global program for agricultural production to achieve maximum sustainable yield under conditions which are ecologically sound;

17.3.12.8. Push forward programs to assure adequate and non-polluted water supplies and clean air supplies for everybody on Earth;

17.3.12.9. Push forward a global program to conserve and recycle the resources of Earth.

17.3.12.10. Develop an acceptable program to bring population growth under control, especially by raising standards of living.

These are the central initiatives of the very first operative stage of the Earth Federation government. They propose an integrated package of initiatives to be addressed all at once, since climate change demands a coordinated, multi-dimensional action of the whole. The resources and sovereign authority of the people of Earth establish an Emergency Earth Rescue Administration, using a new public (not exploitative) finance and credit regime to create a global clean energy system, a global non-polluting agricultural system, a system protecting our planetary water and air in both quantity and quality, a global system of recycling and conservation, and a global program of population control.

How could anything be clearer?  This synergistic, unified response is the way to climb out of the abyss of planetary tragedy. The Earth Constitution is not an additional proposal within the range of possible climate change actions.  And it is not just another proposal within the failed UN system of militarized sovereign nation-states interfaced with global exploitative capitalism.

Its ratification is the key to the entire business. It does not abolish the UN but incorporates the UN into the agencies and departments of the Earth Federation Government. It focuses the immense intellectual and moral power of the united people of Earth to engage the greatest threat to human existence of all time.

It alone provides the fulcrum that can tip the scales on our planetary tragedy of the commons.  If we want to protect our planetary environment, the most effective action we can take is working and organizing to ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

 

Endnotes

[1]  Christopher Chase-Dunn, Global Formation: Structures of World Economy. Updated Edition (New York: Roman & Littlefield, 1998), p. 297.

[2]   www.earth-constitution.org.  The World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA), founded in 1958 by Philip and Margaret Isely, organized citizens around the world to write the Constitution for the Federation of Earth through a series of four Constituent Assemblies, held in 1968 in Interlaken, Switzerland, 1977 in Innsbruck, Austria, 1979 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and 1991 in Troia, Portugal.  Since 1991, the Earth Constitution has been considered finished and ready for ratification under the criteria set forth in Article 17.  In addition, Article 19 empowers the people of Earth to begin the functions of the government prior to ratification. Functions initiated so far include the Provisional World Parliament, the Collegium of World Judges, and the Ministry of the Environment.  See also:  www.worldparliament-gov.org     www.worldproblems.net  A recent development has been creation of the World Parliament University (WPU) on-line: www.worldparliamentuniversity.org

[3] There are many books that have detailed and documented these crises in a variety of ways. For example, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells (2019), Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know. Second Edition by Joseph Romm (2018), This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs the Climate by Naomi Klein (2014), Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? by Bill McKibben (2019). James Gustave Speth has written two highly informed and deeply disturbing books documenting the dynamics behind these 10 crises: Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment (2004) and The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing the Crisis to Sustainability (2008).

[4] There are a growing number of books exposing the ideology of endless growth capitalism and proposing alternatives.  See, for example, The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality (2011) by Richard Heinberg and Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (2004) by Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows.  For credible alternatives to endless growth capitalism see From Uneconomic Growth to a Steady-State Economy (2014) by Herman E. Daly and Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist (2017) by Kate Raworth.

[5] One criticism I have of the above listed books on our climate crisis is that this synergistic effect is not often strongly emphasized.  Similarly, in none of the above books on the environment or on economics do the authors call for a real holistic transformation of our fragmented world system. But the synergistic impact of total climate crisis cries out for a similar synergistic transformation of our fragmented human institutions.  My own books have been calling for this holistic transformation since my 2005 book Millennium Dawn: The Philosophy of Planetary Crisis and Human Liberation up to my most recent book Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence: The Power of the Future for Planetary Transformation (2018).

[6] See Glen T. Martin, ed. A Constitution for the Federation of Earth. With Historical Introduction, Commentary, and Conclusion (2011). See also the Pocket version of The Constitution for the Federation of Earth (2016). The Constitution is found on-line at www.earth-constitution.org and many other locations.

[7]   See my forthcoming article, “Deep Sustainability: Really Addressing Our Endangered Human Future” in the volume, Struggles and Successes in the Pursuit of Sustainable Development. Routledge Publishers.  The SDG quote is found at:

https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld

[8] See my review of Fuller’s Critical Path at:

https://www.academia.edu/40161553/Book_Review_of_R._Buckminster_Fullers_Critical_Path_

 

 

 

Book Review of Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist by Kate Raworth

Glen T. Martin

This is an extraordinary book. Among all the books I have read on climate change and our common human future, this book counts as one of the best. It provides a deeply informed and knowledgeable positive vision of how human beings can move beyond climate crisis and create a decent world for all human beings and a credible future for our planet. It is a vision filled out by hundreds of examples of what is being done right now worldwide to make these changes happen. The book reviews both the history and dynamics of economics, written by an informed economist and creative thinker. It is one of the few must-reads for all who care about the future of humanity.

In Part One of this review, I will describe the main points made by the book: that is, the seven ways that we need to be thinking like 21st century economists. The book is divided into chapters corresponding to the seven ways to think like a 21st century economist, and I will follow this order. In Part Two, I will critically relate the book to our corresponding need for political transformation of the world system and ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

Part One

 First principle: Change the Goal from GDP to the Doughnut. In her introductory section Kate Raworth quotes Buckminster Fuller as saying “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” (p. 4). The introduction reviews the history of economics and the ways that it was built around one story, one image, and essentially one visual diagram of the way economies worked (or were supposed to work).

This worldview (this frame, this paradigm) became fixed in textbooks and the minds of economists worldwide. It was built around a linear model that essentially ignored our rootedness in the planetary biosphere and focused on growth. Growth became measured worldwide in terms of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). It ignored human rights as well as our planet’s ecology and focused single mindedly on worldwide growth.

It became institutionalized in immense systems like the World Bank and the World Trade Organization right down to the present. It either accepted or ignored ever widening inequality, vast poverty, and growing evidence of climate change. Raworth shows that economics cannot any longer be framed on a linear growth model of extraction to production to distribution to consumption to waste disposal, because this model ignores nature and our planetary boundaries. She records a recent declaration that states:

We are the first generation to know that we are undermining the ability of the Earth system to support human development. This is a profound new insight, and it is potentially very, very scary . . . It is also an enormous privilege because it means that we are the first generation to know that we now need to navigate a transformation to a globally sustainable future. (p. 47)

We need to change this dominant visual and theoretical model of GDP to a doughnut shape. The outer ring of the doughnut is composed of the “ecological ceiling” that can be expressed in terms of the nine planetary boundaries that climate scientists have identified as crucial not to violate if we want conditions on our planet to remain hospitable for future life. The nine, known worldwide today, are climate change, ozone layer depletion, air pollution, biodiversity loss, land conservation, freshwater withdrawals, nitrogen & phosphorus loading, chemical pollution and ocean acidification. Beyond these limits constitutes environmental overshoot. They form the “ecological ceiling” for doughnut economics. Economics focuses on how human beings can flourish within that inviolable ceiling.

The inner ring of the doughnut is comprised by the “social foundation” that provides the “safe and just space for humanity.” Just as economics fails when it goes beyond the ecological boundaries of the outer ring, it also fails when it does not provide for the well-being of human beings: when human beings go hungry or fall into poverty and homelessness. The inner ring of the doughnut is the social foundation comprised of income and work, education, health, food, water, energy, networks, housing, gender equality, social equity, political voice, as well as peace & justice. Economics must expand its mission from merely monetary wealth creation to concern for all these elements of human well-being.

Raworth links this social foundation with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, “agreed to by 193 member countries in 2015—and the vast majority of these goals are to be achieved by 2030” (p. 39). “Together,” she writes, “the social foundation of human rights and the ecological ceiling of planetary boundaries create the inner and outer boundaries of the Doughnut” (p.42). We need to change the goal of economics from “the Cuckoo model” of endless growth of GDP to the model of thriving in balance: “human prosperity in a flourishing web of life” (p. 47).

Second principle: See the Big Picture—from self-contained market to embedded economy. The big picture. This chapter contrasts the “drama” of traditional economics with the new drama and new players of Doughnut Economics, illustrating the narrowness of the traditional model. Economics impacts everything, all dimensions of human life as well as the Earth that sustains us. She shows the multiple ways in which traditional economics simply ignored most of these dimensions and operated as a self-contained theoretical model that led to today’s disastrous consequences.

The Doughnut model brings in the whole of our human situation beginning with the Earth whose planetary boundaries must be respected. It includes:

Society, which is foundational—so nurture its connections

The Economy, which is diverse—so support all its systems

The Household, which is core—so embed it wisely

The Commons, which is creative—so unleash their potential

The State, which is essential—so make it serve wisely

Business, which is innovative—so give it purpose

Trade, which is double-edged—so make it fair

Power, which is purposive—so check its abuse (p. 63)

This chapter examines each of these dimensions, showing the ways in which each of them was either ignored or falsely conceived by traditional GDP economics. Traditional economics never spoke of “nurturing.” It never spoke of “wisdom,” nor of purpose (since economics was modeled on early-modern ideas of mechanistic science), nor of purposes for business and trade (beyond the mindless accumulation of wealth), nor of the abuse of power. She declares that “the Circular Flow diagram instead transforms the starting point of economic analysis. It ends the myth of the self-contained, self-sustaining market, replacing it by provisioning by the household, market, commons and state—all embedded within and dependent upon society, which in turn is embedded within the living world” (p. 79).

Third Principle: Nurture Human Nature—from rational economic man to social adaptable humans. This chapter examines the model of human nature embedded within traditional economic assumptions, the model of homo economicus in which each person (and by extension each business or company) was conceived atomistically as a rational calculator of individual self-interest and advantage. Not only was this a fundamental distortion of our complex human nature but it served as a social model for people in trade, banking, Wall Street, and business.

But the twenty-first century portrait of human nature is very different, making us realize that this classic model (simplistic assumptions necessary to make economic formulas mathematical and hence apparently scientific) was a major distortion, leading economists astray into their disastrous endless growth models. In the new model of human nature, we are “social and reciprocating” rather than narrowly self-interested. We have “fluid values” rather than a fixed economic nature. We are “interdependent,” not isolated atoms of self-interest. We act on “approximations,” not narrow calculations. And we are embedded in the web of life, “far from having dominion over nature” (p. 88).

The chapter explores the many ways that we can “nurture” and “nudge” people to do the right thing. Right behavior can be encouraged by the state, by communities, and economists. These include proper tax programs and other economic incentives, empowering cooperatives, making legally possible associations that work together for the common good, educating for ecological sensitivity and understanding, creating alternative currencies, recognizing the role of households in the economy, empowering women, promoting “generosity and public spirit” (p. 110). There are dozens of ways we can overcome the destructive stereotype of homo economicus and empower our ability to work together for the common good of humanity and our planetary biosphere.

Fourth Principle: Get Savvy with Systems—from mechanistic equilibrium to dynamic complexity. Under systems theory and “complexity science” that have emerged worldwide since the 1970s, systems theorists study “how relationships between the many parts of a system shape the behavior of the whole” (p. 117).  (I would add the corollary, which Raworth also recognizes, that the whole (the structure of a system) also shapes the behavior of the parts.)

Systems scientists are now understanding the ways in which natural systems, with their feedback loops and integration of many dynamic factors, operate according to complexity designs of dynamic balance and mutual integration. This chapter shows the ways in which traditional economics, by not including systems theory, created boom and bust bubbles and on-going financial instability, unable to move economic history out of “a rolling cycle of dynamic disequilibrium” (p. 126).

A similar failure has led to “the dynamics of inequality,” in which a tiny few individuals now own more than 50% of the world’s wealth, and the similar feedback loops that have allowed governments to be taken over by an “oligopoly” of the rich and powerful who direct law and institutions toward their own interests. She also recalls “the damage wrought by the shock policies of privatization and market liberalization implemented in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and the former Soviet Union during the 1980s and 1990s” (p. 137).

Similarly, today’s economy has ignored pollution and is bringing the world to the brink of ecological collapse: “pollution, which—unlike metals, minerals, and fossil fuels—typically carries no price and so generates no direct market feedback.” She concludes that “Today’s economy is divisive and degenerative by default. Tomorrow’s economy must be distributive and regenerative by design” (p. 133).

Economics can create “nested systems” that “serve the whole of which they are a part.” It can promote diversity and create a healthy resilience that can bound back from storms. It can create “open-source” design business models, find “leverage points” that help balance an entire system. And finally, if it is to be truly holistic, it can bring ethics into economics.

Traditionally, economics pretended to be a “science” and hence abjured ethics, but today we recognize our responsibilities to the common good and future generations. Ethically, an economist must act in the service of “prosperity within a flourishing web of life.” Secondly, economists should “respect autonomy” in the communities they serve. Third, we all need to “be prudential in policy-making,” minimizing risk and attending to the most vulnerable. Finally, we all should “work with humility,” recognizing the limitations and shortcomings of our models (p. 138).

Principle Five: Design to Distribute—from ‘growth will even it up again’ to distributive by design. A fundamental model of traditional economics, found in many textbooks, was the “Kuznets Curve,” a simple chart that showed increasing economic inequality (linked to endless GDP growth) that peaks at a certain point and then begins to descend toward ever more equality. She states, “It was a clever theory but it was wrong” (p. 142). This chapter reviews some of the data and leading economists showing that it was wrong.

Inequality was seen as an inescapable side-effect of the endless growth model, but its many negative effects were ignored, including the fact that it is destructive of democracy. It allows the few to distort not only the market but also politics. It does not help developing poor economies grow faster, and it promotes economic instability leading to recessions and depressions. Designing to distribute, on the other hand, looks at the economic world as a network of flows (just as ecology looks at the world as a dynamic network of interdependent flows of energy, air and water, nutrients, interdependent systems, etc.). A systems thinker will see the world as “a distributed network whose many nodes, larger and smaller, are interconnected in a web of flows” (p. 148).

This approach must re-examine wealth, how it is owned and distributed, and find ways to establish dynamic flows that benefit everyone, ways such as a wealth tax, maximum and minimum income rules, democratizing of ownership, reexamining property and land ownership laws, low-cost loans, fair intellectual property rules, or land-value taxes as were proposed by economist Henry George. We can also re-examine banking and money-creation which, until now, have largely been monopolies of private, profit making banks that create money as interest-bearing debt. In addition, we can ask why the lion’s share of money or created value should go to “investors” who most like never produce, manage, or even participate in the enterprises in which they invest.

But what determined each group’s respective share of earnings? Economic theory says that it is their relative productivity, but in practice, it has largely turned out to be their relative power. The rise of shareholder capitalism entrenched the culture of shareholder primacy, with the belief that the company’s primary obligation is to maximize returns for those for those who own its shares…. Employees, who turn up for work, day-in and day-out, are essentially cast as outsiders…. Shareholders, meanwhile, who probably never set foot on the company premises, are treated as the ultimate insiders. (p. 160)

This chapter cites many interesting examples of communities that have devised alternative ways of dealing with income, trade, and distribution, using such innovations as block-chain currencies to track and distribute value widely. Or by using “time-care credits” in which people accumulate credits for helping a community’s more needy elderly residents, thereby combining networking care with income distribution and community solidarity. Not for profit enterprises are spreading; community interest companies and cooperatives are thriving. In addition, the super profitable digital companies are being reexamined with an eye to how we can create a truly distributive knowledge commons for the world. Every person should have a stake in owning the robot technology (p. 164).

Principle Six: Create to Regenerate—from ‘growth will clean it up again’ to regenerative by design.

This chapter emphasizes so rightly that we should not be thinking only in terms of not exceeding environmental limits, for the world that we live in here and now, the one we have created from two centuries of industrial expansion, is a mess. Simply shifting around the present system does not solve any real problems. Individual countries may claim progress in reducing greenhouse gasses, but this is an illusion. They need to think in truly regenerative terms.

Raworth states that: “Recently complied international data reveal that when a nation’s global material footprint is taken into account—by adding up all of the biomass, fossil fuels, metal ores and construction minerals used worldwide to create the products that the country imports—then the success story seems to evaporate” (p. 179). Instead, we need paradigm-shift. A new, circular, regenerative paradigm will give rise to new goals.

All this requires that we reexamine both the role of the state and the idea of the commons. The famous image of the “tragedy of the commons” has been discredited. We can share the commons in multiple efficient and complementary ways, just as we can reexamine intellectual property rights laws with the goal of enhancing the knowledge commons. Business needs to move from a “do nothing” and “do what pays” orientation to a “do your fair share, do no harm,” and, ultimately, “be generous” model, helping us achieve a “circular economy” in which we restore (repair, reuse, refurbish, recycle) and regenerate (capturing value at each stage of decomposition) all the while using renewable materials and energy in harmony with ecosystem limits and minimizing lost matter and heat (p. 188).

Contemporary capitalism is still focused on attitudes that are “the opposite of generous.” They focus only on creating financial value “for just one interest group: shareholders” (p. 193). On the other hand, we have the Open Source Circular Economy (OSCE) movement striving the “unleash the full potential of circular manufacturing.” Such movements emphasize “modularity (making products with parts that are easy to assemble, disassemble, and rearrange); open standards (designing components to a common shape and size); open source (full information on the composition of materials and how to use them); and open data (documenting the location and availability of materials). In all this, transparency is the key” (pp. 195-96). We need a world of transparency in which human beings work together to create a decent planetary home for all. Such common practices will be the key to any economy that can truly regenerate and restore.

“The business of business is to contribute to a thriving world” (p. 198).  We need to understand that the economic system itself is causing the environmental crisis. “The global financial system as we know it needs to shrink, simplify, diversify and deleverage” (p. 199). And in all this, the state must act as a partner within the same new paradigm and its goals. Much of traditional economics claimed that the state must get out of the way of the “free market,” but now we know there is no such thing as a free market. Various regulations or incentives in the law give rise to a variety of results. The state must work with businesses, the market, the commons, and the citizens to establish a planetary network that regenerates and restores, inclusive of the common good of everyone.

Principle Seven: Be Agnostic About Growth—from growth addicted to growth agnostic.

This chapter involves an extended critique of the growth dogma (a critique that was also expressed in less sustained fashion in each of the previous chapters).  We must be agnostic about growth not only because the growth dogma is destroying the planet, creating ever greater inequality and ruining democracy everywhere on Earth.  But this does not mean that growth in certain sectors cannot be helpful, nor does it mean that we cannot redefine growth to include a wider definition of well-being and “progress” than traditional economics embodied.

But growth must clearly “decouple” from “resource use” as well as pollution and other damaging “externalities” of classical economics.  Raworth calls this “sufficient absolute decoupling” in which our planetary system moves back within the nine planetary boundaries established by climate scientists. The rapid growth of the past two centuries was largely due to the supply of cheap fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas). Even though we live on a planet daily flooded with clean solar, wind and water energy, the global economy is directly dependent on fossil fuels.  We must decouple the economy from this dependence. “Growth” can no longer mean using fossil fuels for producing more and more products—endless manufacturing, globalized transport, and ever-growing waste.

At present, “GDP brings both global market power and global military power.”  But we need “innovative thinkers in international relations to turn their attention to strategies that could help usher in a future of growth-agnostic global governance” (p. 238). The world, like economists, needs something to aspire to. Public relations, instead of focusing on getting people to by ever more of things they do not need, or on targeting children’s immature needs and wants, should be helping to nurture what is best in us toward a vision of a new human community.

The New Economics Foundation, for example, summarizes findings that are proven to promote human well-being: “connecting to people around us, being active in our bodies, taking notice of the world, learning new skills, and giving to others” (p. 240). In her conclusion, Kate Raworth declares: “Ours is the first generation to deeply understand the damage we have been doing to our planetary household, and probably the last generation with the chance to do something transformative about it. . . . Once we accept the economy’s inherent complexity, we can shape its ever-evolving dynamics through smart stewardship” (pp. 243-44).  We can frame a new story. Just as Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world,” we also need to draw the change we want to see in the world. Frame things differently. Change our paradigm and our corresponding goals.

Part Two

I think there is an important first point to be made. While I appreciate the fact that this is a book written with a positive vision and affirmative spirit (“we can do it”), the book does minimize the severity of the climate collapse that is happening all around us. Previous books that I have reviewed on climate crisis (all found on my blog at www.oneworldrenaissance.com) focus on a severe crisis happening now.

For example, James Gustave Speth says we need a “bridge at the edge of the world” (because we are literally teetering on a cliff of disaster). Richard Heinberg says, not that we should be “agnostic” about growth, but that growth is effectively over and we need to deal with this fact immediately. David Wallace-Wells describes our rapidly approaching “uninhabitable Earth.” Bill McKibben sees our civilization at the point of “faltering.” Joseph Romm describes a rapidly approaching world significantly inhospitable to human life.

But my second point is the really fundamental one. As with the other thinkers cited in the preceding paragraph, Kate Raworth has made a great step forward with the Doughnut Model of economics, but she has not really followed Buckminster Fuller’s advice to change the model. Changing the model in economic textbooks is not going to succeed unless we concomitantly change the global political-economic system in fundamental ways that go far beyond these textbooks and beyond economics.

She declares that we have ignored the emerging science of systems thinking and systems analysis. But perhaps sitting in her cushy first world setting in the UK, surrounded by similarly caring well-educated, comfortable colleagues, distracts from the fact that the present world system is designed to defeat Doughnut Economics. This design of the global political system has put us in perpetual danger of nuclear holocaust wiping out civilization for the past 70 years. Here and there Raworth hints at this truth (of imperialism, nation-state warring, the secrecy and the corruption that this system breeds). However, she fails to recognize that these facts require changing the global political system along with its economic system.

Above we saw her state that, “Beyond merely rewriting macroeconomic models, however, this lock-in highlights the need for innovative thinkers in international relations to turn their attention to strategies that could help to usher in a future of growth-agnostic global governance” (p. 238).  International relations? Relations between militarized sovereign states recognizing no effective law above themselves? Not uniting humanity in a regenerative and restorative democratic world system?

Apparently, we are supposed to “get savvy about systems” but not that savvy. Buckminster Fuller, whom she quotes as saying we need a new model rather than fighting the old one, advocated a truly new model: “The synergistic effectiveness of a world-around integrated industrial process is inherently vastly greater than the confined synergistic effect of sovereignly operating separate systems. Ergo, only complete world desovereignization can permit the realization of an all humanity high standard support” (1972, p. 88).

Fuller advocated democratic world government. The world system goes way beyond a global economic system predicated on growth of GDP.  She appears to recognize this and says that we must integrate the market, the state, the commons, and the household as a regenerative and restorative community. However, this appears to mean that we can retain some 193 mostly militarized planetary nation-states with absolute territorial boundaries. Clearly we need more than “creative international relations” if we want to survive on this planet. This book is systematically (and I think intentionally) vague on this issue so as not to offend the powers that be and so as to appear affirmative and positive in its outlook.

She points out that we “nurture human nature” for better or worse through the kind of systems we create. She apparently wants to nurture human nature while retaining the system of militarized sovereign nation-states that overtly attempts to “nurture” their citizens into nationalism, patriotism, militarism, national competitive spirit, national security regimes, borders blocking immigration, and an “us versus them” orientation. It should be obvious that if we join the world join together politically, then human nature will be vastly more “nurtured” toward the common good of the entire planet than if they remain fragmented in waring, militarized nation-states.

In systems theory, the parts influence the character of the whole and the whole influences the behavior and character of the parts. A politically united Earth (the whole) would change the thinking and behavior of the parts sufficiently for Doughnut Economics to have a chance to save the planet. On the other hand, today’s world system is structured for economic and military rivalry among nations, economic rivalry among corporations, secrecy, manipulation and propaganda among rival religious and national ideologies, and entertainment-style non-news among gigantic profit-making news corporations, much of which is designed to cover up the planetary crisis and promote the existence and success of the profit-making, winner take all capitalist world system.

The alternative holistic and integrative economic thinking that the world needs so badly cannot succeed unless we take systems science seriously enough to realize that we must necessarily change the entire world system. Capitalism and the fragmented system of territorially bound, militarized nation-states are internally linked. You cannot change the one unless you also transform the other.

Despite the many fascinating examples that Raworth gives of groups and entrepreneurs thinking in these new terms, the immense trajectory of the present omnicidal world system appears unstoppable. It cannot be converted to a regenerative, non-growth, distributive, worldwide system through attempting to reform thought and practice within the framework of the present world system.

 The only thing that makes possible a total transformation of our planet from unsustainable disaster to truly creative and life-affirming sustainability is by uniting humanity under the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.  The combined trajectory of the global momentum is too immense to allow the “butterfly” of a transformed economic model to emerge from the “caterpillar” of destruction now engulfing the Earth.

She claims that the new system must be based on “transparency,” while the current world system is directly based on massive secrecy. However, the Earth Constitution puts transparency first.  It provides the necessary global medium for open standards, open source, and open data. It unites all humanity within a common legal framework dedicated to fostering the planetary common good of peace, reasonable equality, and sustainability.

It does not imagine (as Raworth appears to do) that somehow human beings will become suddenly like herself (caring, humanistic, generous, loving).  She correctly says we must “nurture human nature,” but ignores that the present system is designed to bring out the worst in human nature: competition, hate, fear, nationalism, exploitation, enforced inequality, corruption, endless weapons, secrecy, and the criminal malfeasance that secrecy engenders. It is the logic of the system, of the present world system, that brings out these horrible consequences. If we truly change the system, entirely different consequences will follow.

Ratifying the Earth Constitution is the only practical means that can make possible a Doughnut Economics orientation practiced everywhere on Earth with transparency, fairness, openness, and solidarity. As long as the present fragmented and fragmenting world system predominates, the wonderful vision of people like Raworth will remain unfulfilled.  She cites concerned financial experts who declare that “the global financial system as we know it needs to shrink, simplify, diversify and deleverage” (p. 199).

But that is exactly what Articles 4, 8, and many other articles of the Earth Constitution do for the planet.  What else is going provide this unity and vision for the planet when the present privatized global financial system is bigger and independent of any nation from Wall Street to Hong Kong to London?  The Earth Financial System under the Constitution establishes the simplicity of global public banking directed to humanity’s common good of sustainability, reasonable equality, and world peace.  It finances with minimal cost (without profit-making interest) all creative projects for a better, regenerative world, requiring no collateral or prior wealth to finance these projects.

There is no need to attract private investors to finance worthwhile regenerative projects. The “global financial system” now belongs to the people of Earth, not private, profit obsessed entrepreneurs who are often simply criminals dressed in suit and tie. The present global financial system attracts and encourages such people because it is structured for private monetary profit.  The one thing that could bring Doughnut Economics truly and rapidly to our world, Kate Raworth ignores.

She argues that state taxes and regulations must phase in the “use of life-friendly chemistry only, along with net-zero and net-positive industrial standards” (p. 202). How could this possibly be done without enforceable, democratic world laws? Twenty-five percent of the world’s nations today are not democracies, and an additional thirty-five percent protect only some of their citizens’ human rights. Even so-called “democratic” states are controlled by special interests.  In the USA, this is clearly the case, with an industrial-military-academic complex hell bent to dominate the world through wars, subversion, and economic exploitation. The world’s most powerful nation is an oligarchy run by special interests. Doughnut Economics does not have a chance unless we can unite the world within global democracy.

How is “the state” going to support a regenerative and restorative financial system and system of laws?  The sovereign nation-state cannot. If imperialism and empire were not the role of the USA, it will be some other power-hungry, oligarchic empire. “Sovereign” states can never represent the people of Earth, but only their own portion of the world’s citizens.  Only the Earth Constitution can give us a world where all nations are working for a living, equitable, and sustainable global economy. If we want a future for humanity on this planet, let us take our Doughnut Economics to the World Parliament!

Brief Bibliography

 Constitution for the Federation of Earth. Found on-line at www.earth-constitution.org.  Found at many website and in many editions, e.g. Constitution for the Federation of Earth: With an Introduction by Glen T. Martin. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.

Daly, Herman E. (2014). From Uneconomic Growth to a Steady-State Economy. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Fuller, Buckminster (1972). Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. New York: Pocket Books.

Heinberg, Richard (2011). The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

Martin, Glen T. (2018). Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence: The Power of the Future for Planetary Transformation. London: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

McKibben, Bill (2019). Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? New York: Henry Holt Publisher.

 Raworth, Kate (2017). Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Romm, Joseph (2018). Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Speth, James Gustave (2008). The Bridge at the Edge of the World. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Wallace-Wells, David (2019). The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. Crown Publishing Group.

Book Review of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? by Bill McKibben

Glen T. Martin

(This article is also posted at www.oneworldrenaissance.com)

This thoughtful and very interesting book by a leading environmental activist is well worth reading. Besides accurately describing the climate crisis leading to a likely pending collapse of human civilization, Bill McKibben introduces important themes not much found in the literature on the environmental crisis. These themes include the cult of Ayn Rand individualism among the superrich, the development of super-intelligent computers that might replace humans, and the breakthroughs in genetic engineering that may point to actually designing future human beings.

Part One of this review will discuss what I take to be the main points of McKibben’s well-written book. It will necessarily omit much of the rich detail that makes this book so interesting and will focus on the main points brought up in each section of the book. Part Two will attempt a critical assessment of the book with an eye to the question of paradigm-shift and its relation to the need to ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

Part One

McKibben divides his book into four parts relating to his overall theme of “the human game” which may at present be playing itself out. Part One is called “The Size of the Board.” Part Two is called “Leverage.” Part Three: “The Name of the Game,” and Part Four: “An Outside Chance.” In the first part, he describes some of the many horrific disasters that are happening around the world. While the dominant idea continues to be the “idea of progress”: thinking that the size of the board on which the human game is played can be continually increased. Reality has it that the board is in fact shrinking:

In November 2017, fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issued a stark “warning to humanity.” [Like the proponents of progress] they had charts, but theirs depicted everything from the decline in freshwater per person to the spread of anaerobic “dead zones” in the world’s seas. As a result, the scientists predicted, we face “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss”; soon, they added, “it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.” A third of the planet’s land is now severely degraded, with “persistent declining trends in productivity”…. There are half as many wild animals on the planet as there were in 1970…. The planet’s oldest and largest trees are dying fast. (pp. 11-12)

The list of the calamities depicted here, of course, goes on and on, and the next several chapters of this book mention many of them. We are threatened not only by large scale nuclear war, or destruction of the ozone layer, but also by relentless climate change: “perhaps the greatest of all these challenges” (p. 21).  The planet’s hydrology is changing, vastly drying up some regions while massive flooding and torrential rains occur in others.

And “as land dries out, it often burns” (p. 24).  McKibben cites the astonishing and unprecedented fires in California from 1987 to the present, the burning of vast regions of Siberia (and today, after this book was published, we have reports of hundreds of vast fires in the Amazon basin, threatening the vital “lungs of the Earth”).  These fires, destroying the very forests that we need to survive, like the unspeakable force of torrential rains now falling with the increased super-storms, are impossible to fight.  Melting ice and permafrost activate “feedback loops” that impel the climate past tipping points from which it is impossible to return. “This is our reality right now. It will get worse, but it’s already very, very bad” (pp. 25-33).

McKibben goes on to describe the past massive geological extinctions that have occurred in the billions of years of the existence of life on Earth. The conditions under which ours is happening are worse than most of the previous ones. The difference is that we are the geological force responsible for the current destruction. The Holocene geological period of the past 10,000 years provided humans with a fairly stable climate with which to develop civilization and spread throughout the Earth. But geologists have renamed our current period the “Anthropocene” because we are now the geological force changing the climate.

He goes on to describe the record temperatures now being recorded across the globe, in India, China, the US, Canada, Australia, Iran, the Person Gulf, Pakistan, Egypt, Vietnam—virtually everywhere. He describes the rising oceans and their effects on coastal areas worldwide.  McKibben then turns to the politics of climate change. The basic principle of which is that “We literally don’t want to hear about it” (p. 67).

The entire global economy is based on burning fossil fuels.  President Obama turned to fracking in the US because this increased energy independence and because gas burns cleaner than coal or oil.  But scientists soon found that a certain small portion of the gas inevitably leaked from the processes of mining and transporting methane gas. And this leaked gas “traps heat in the atmosphere about eighty times more efficiently than carbon dioxide” (p. 68). We simply don’t want to hear about it.

Politicians (like President Obama) are “elected to run a political and economic system based on endless growth.” Similarly, Canada contains one of the two largest deposits of tar sands on Earth. “In the spring of 2017, [Canadian Prime Minister] Trudeau told a cheering group of Houston oilmen that “no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there” (p. 70). We simply don’t want to hear about it.

It’s not a good sign that the largest physical structures on our planet, its ice caps and barrier reefs and rain forests, are disappearing before our eyes.  So: problem from hell. Governments prefer to evade it. Human psychology is not designed to cope with it. It’s happening too fast. (p. 70).

 Part Two of the book is called “Leverage.” In this part, the next few chapters go into the cover-up of the problem by multinationals Exxon and Shell and many other powerful corporations. Their scientists told them clearly early on about the effects of fossil fuels on the climate, but they intentionally covered this up and mounted a multi-million dollar campaign designed to emphasize doubt about climate science. “Thus began the most consequential lie in human history” (p. 76).  He describes this process and its influence on governments in the US through the Bush, Obama, and Trump Administrations.

For much of Part Two, McKibben traces the influence of the novels of Ayn Rand on the political, economic, and corporate oligarchs of the United States. The basic principle of Ayn Rand’s writings is simple: “Government is bad. Selfishness is good. Watch out for yourself. Solidarity is a trap. Taxes are theft.” He quotes her as saying “all codes of ethics they’ll try to ram down your throat are just so much paper money put out by swindlers to fleece people” (p. 91-92).

He traces the impact of Rand specifically through a number of these oligarchs such as Tom Perkins (one of the richest men on the planet), to the Koch brothers, Charles and David (heads of a vast economic empire), to US Senator Mitt Romney, to Rupert Murdock (media mogul and owner of the infamous Fox News Corporation), to senior officials in the current Trump administration (including Trump himself), to the CEO billionaires who run the High-tech empires out of Silicon Valley in California.

Part Three is called “The Name of the Game.”  Of the many books coming out on the climate crisis, this book is unique in that it delves into two technological breakthrough phenomena that open possibilities for the future of humanity that are deeply problematic.  These are, first, the super-computer revolution portending future computers that may be smarter than humans and might conceivably replace humans. Second, there are the breakthroughs in genetic engineering that now allow human beings to genetically design new human beings that are being born.

These chapters are very interesting, and they raise the same fundamental question raised by the book itself: what is “humanness”?   How can we find meaning in being human within a sustainable world with maturity, intelligence, and love without destroying what we are through perpetual climate changing economic growth, through attempting to replace ourselves with computer robots, or through attempting to design better human beings by means of genetic engineering.  Part Four, called “An Outside Chance,” asks the question whether we can alter our current trajectory in all three of these areas. The possibilities do not inspire optimism, but there is still some hope.

 Part Two

 Bill McKibben focuses on resistance and maturity at the end of his book. The book describes very well the immense juggernaut impelling civilization forward toward collapse and total human disaster. The movement of resistance has grown, in part due to McKibben’s own efforts and those of the organization he helped found, 350.org.  However, the juggernaut of wealth, power, and institutional inertia has not been slowed and it may not be possible to stop it before the human game falters for good. That is why Part Four of the book is called “an outside chance.”  It does not look good, but there is still a chance: “we have yet to turn the tide” (p. 191).

There are “two new technologies” that might turn the tide and give civilization the chance to survive: “One is the solar panel and the other is the nonviolent movement.”  To make effective use of the nonviolent movement means that we must overcome the libertarian idea that somehow freedom means that only I matter. We must realize, with one thinker he quotes, that “moral enhancement of a person does not restrict freedom” (p. 201). Moral enhancement means we need to stand with others to protect the human game and to reduce inequality and suffering.

The price of solar panels is dropping, and they are being installed in places like Ghana in West Africa, making a huge difference in people’s lives. Clean energy through wind and solar must be an essential factor in avoiding planetary scale climate disaster: “The latest studies, from labs such as Mark Jacobson’s at Stanford, make clear that every major nation on earth could be supplying 80 percent of its power from renewables by 2030, at prices far cheaper than paying the damage for climate change.” We also, of course, need to “eat lower on the food chain, build public transit networks, densify cities, and start farming in ways that restore carbon to soils” (p. 211). We have the technical capacity to make the transition. The only limiting factor is “political will.”

McKibben mentions the legacy of thought about nonviolence from Henry David Thoreau to Tolstoy to Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. He means by “nonviolence” not just acts of resistance but “building mass movements whose goal is to change the zeitgeist and, hence, the course of history.” It is also “the method by which the active many can overcome the ruthless few” for “the fight over climate change is ultimately not an argument about infrared absorption in the atmosphere, but about power and money and justice” (pp. 219-20).

As Naomi Klein has said, if we can’t get a serious carbon tax from a corrupted Congress, we can impose a defacto one with our bodies. And in so doing, we buy time for the renewables industry to expand—maybe even fast enough to catch up a little with the physics of global warming… In the early summer of 2018, Pope Francis used precisely the language we’d pioneered in that fight: most oil, gas, and coal, he said, needed to “stay underground.” We’d begun to change the zeitgeist, which is the reason we’d gone to work in the first place…. Anyone who thinks that time is therefore on the side of the oil companies is reading history wrong. This movement will win (though, as we’ve seen, it many not win in time). (pp. 222-24)

In this closing section on our “outside chance” for having a future on this planet, Bill McKibben speaks of solar energy and nonviolence as “technologies less of expansion than of repair, less of growth than of consolidation, less of disruption than of healing” (p.226).  He goes on to discuss the ideas of maturity, balance, and scale.  We need the maturity of being able to see what we are now doing and understand that we have the amazing power to stop it, and not do it. As Pope Francis said, we can keep it underground. We can also not replace humans with computers and not begin making designer babies.

We need to “balance” our right-wing ideologies with “structures” that make fraternity real: “labor unions, voting rights, and a social safety net” (p. 230). Finally, we need proper scale to counterbalance the obsessions with efficiency and growth.  We need to slow things down: “Taken all together, the results suggest that instead of dreaming about utopia, we should be fixated on keeping dystopia at bay” (p. 235).

McKibben’s “epilogue” contrasts the space program at Cape Canaveral with the surrounding beach and wildlife protection area where it is located.  Instead of shooting for the stars, or other planets, as if this could somehow save us, we need to be protecting this “unbearably beautiful planet.” We should be loving our planet and its people to feed the hungry, to protect sea turtles and sea ice, to welcome newborns into the world and surround the old when they are passing on.  The human game, is, and can be “graceful and compelling,” and it is only our love of it that will allow us to save it (p. 296).

His appeal concerning the ways we can resist and change the course of things is moving and deeply humanistic. But is it really a change in the zeitgeist?   If he means by “zeitgeist” the spirit of radical individualism and the Ayn Rand orientation of power, domination, and egoism, then perhaps these recommendations do somewhat address changing the zeitgeist in this sense. But the outdated zeitgeist that must be changed and the emerging transformed zeitgeist go much deeper.  Solar panels and the nonviolence movement are only two components of fundamental paradigm-shift that must take place from fragmentation to holism. Perhaps, we indeed must envision and work on behalf of a realizable practical utopia.

This book, for example, contains no structural analysis of capitalism. Neither does it contain any systematic critique of the dominant world system of sovereign nation-states interfaced with global capitalism. There is no discussion of “paradigm-shift”—the need to shift from an outdated paradigm from which capitalism and nation-states derived that included atomism, determinism, positivism, and moral nihilism (all features of the Ayn Rand arrogance of today’s superrich oligarchs).  There is no real discussion of the emerging contemporary paradigm of holism, ontological freedom, the reintegration of fact and value, or moral universalism. (Some of the books in the Bibliography below provide a fuller analysis of these phenomena.)

This book, while full of interesting and valuable details and insights, does not give us the tools necessary to develop a truly new zeitgeist, to accomplish the truly deep paradigm shift necessary for human survival and flourishing.  The egoism and destructive individualism of our superrich ruling class is not independent of the system itself, which empowers and produces them. The entire world system, composed of militarized sovereign nations and ruthless multinational capitalist corporations, must be transformed. No combination of the nonviolence movement with economically viable solar panels will suffice.

It is not that maturity, balance, scale, and love are out of place. It is rather that the world system as we now know it defeats these qualities, producing instead nationalism, dogmatism, egoism, and nihilism, even among the marginalized and desperate poor (as the “Trump follower” phenomenon clearly shows). Truly realizing what Mahatma Gandhi called “Truth” or what Buckminster Fuller called “Universal Mind,” that is, truly changing the zeitgeist, requires fundamental world system change. Einstein said we must learn to think in an entirely new way as citizens of “one world.” This is the role of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. Thinkers from Karl Marx to Erich Fromm declared that real change in human institutions would precipitate a corresponding change in human consciousness.

The Earth Constitution is therefore both means and ends. Its holism brings all humans together to solve our truly global problems, something sovereign nation-states find almost impossible to do. It sets up the institutional mechanisms for a democratic global economy that works for everybody, and a comprehensive environmental program in which all nations and persons are on the same page. It inspires loyalty to the Earth and future generations, something that the present system demanding quarterly profits for corporations or “patriotism” toward nation-states cannot possibly accomplish.

The new zeitgeist must be worldcentric, free of dogmatism, selfless in the sense of agape or karuna (Christian love or Buddhist compassion), and it must be grounded in truly universal moral truths.  The Earth Constitution represents the institutional transformation most closely correlated to the transformation of human consciousness. The idea that nonviolent resistance can slow down the juggernaut enough for solar panels to cover the globe will not save our planet. The idea of universal human solidarity under a truly humanistic global political and economic system, one mandated to end war and ensure sustainability for the entire planet, will alone be sufficient to preserve, enhance, and fulfill the human game.

Like so many climate change environmentalists, McKibben appears to accept the nation-state system without question.  Like so many of them, he focuses on politics within the United States as if the rest of the world would simply follow suit if we could only get things right within the US. One of the threats to existence that he identifies is nuclear holocaust, but he never appears to realize that the threat of nuclear holocaust is a consequence of a world divided into competing sovereign states, that it can only really be effectively addressed through enforceable democratic world law.

This book by Bill McKibben appears to have no awareness of these essential features of a truly transformed zeitgeist as embodied in the Earth Constitution. The book represents a thoughtful maturity within the present system but not the new global zeitgeist that is imperative if there is to be a future for humanity. The Earth Constitution protects by enforceable law all the things that Bill McKibben wants, and it gives us the institutional and technological mechanisms to make it happen. If we do not want the human game to falter and fail, ratifying the Earth Constitution should be our fundamental objective.

 

Brief Bibliography

 

Chase-Dunn, Christopher (1998). Global Formation: Structures of World-Economy. Updated Edition. Lanham, Maryland: Roman & Littlefield Publishers.

Chossudovsky, Michel and Andrew Gavin Marshall, eds. Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century. Montreal, Canada: Global Research.

Daly, Herman E. (1996). Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development. Boston: Beacon Press.

Finnis, John (1980). Natural Law and Natural Rights. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Foster, John Bellamy, et. al. (2010). The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Harris, Errol E. (2000). Apocalypse and Paradigm: Science and Everyday Thinking. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Kovel, Joel (2007). The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World. London: Zed Books.

Heinberg, Richard (2011). The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

Martin, Glen T. (2011). The Constitution for the Federation of Earth: With Historical Introduction, Commentary, and Conclusion. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.  The Constitution can be found on-line at www.earth-constitution.org.

Martin, Glen T. (2018). Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence: The Power of the Future for Planetary Transformation.

McKibben, Bill (2019). Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Book Review of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? by Bill McKibben

Glen T. Martin

This thoughtful and very interesting book by a leading environmental activist is well worth reading. Besides accurately describing the climate crisis leading to a likely pending collapse of human civilization, Bill McKibben introduces important themes not much found in the literature on the environmental crisis. These themes include the cult of Ayn Rand individualism among the superrich, the development of super-intelligent computers that might replace humans, and the breakthroughs in genetic engineering that may point to actually designing future human beings.

Part One of this review will discuss what I take to be the main points of McKibben’s well-written book. It will necessarily omit much of the rich detail that makes this book so interesting and will focus on the main points brought up in each section of the book. Part Two will attempt a critical assessment of the book with an eye to the question of paradigm-shift and its relation to the need to ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.

Part One

McKibben divides his book into four parts relating to his overall theme of “the human game” which may at present be playing itself out. Part One is called “The Size of the Board.” Part Two is called “Leverage.” Part Three: “The Name of the Game,” and Part Four: “An Outside Chance.” In the first part, he describes some of the many horrific disasters that are happening around the world. While the dominant idea continues to be the “idea of progress”: thinking that the size of the board on which the human game is played can be continually increased. Reality has it that the board is in fact shrinking:

In November 2017, fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issued a stark “warning to humanity.” [Like the proponents of progress] they had charts, but theirs depicted everything from the decline in freshwater per person to the spread of anaerobic “dead zones” in the world’s seas. As a result, the scientists predicted, we face “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss”; soon, they added, “it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.” A third of the planet’s land is now severely degraded, with “persistent declining trends in productivity”…. There are half as many wild animals on the planet as there were in 1970…. The planet’s oldest and largest trees are dying fast. (pp. 11-12)

The list of the calamities depicted here, of course, goes on and on, and the next several chapters of this book mention many of them. We are threatened not only by large scale nuclear war, or destruction of the ozone layer, but also by relentless climate change: “perhaps the greatest of all these challenges” (p. 21).  The planet’s hydrology is changing, vastly drying up some regions while massive flooding and torrential rains occur in others.

And “as land dries out, it often burns” (p. 24).  McKibben cites the astonishing and unprecedented fires in California from 1987 to the present, the burning of vast regions of Siberia (and today, after this book was published, we have reports of hundreds of vast fires in the Amazon basin, threatening the vital “lungs of the Earth”).  These fires, destroying the very forests that we need to survive, like the unspeakable force of torrential rains now falling with the increased super-storms, are impossible to fight.  Melting ice and permafrost activate “feedback loops” that impel the climate past tipping points from which it is impossible to return. “This is our reality right now. It will get worse, but it’s already very, very bad” (pp. 25-33).

McKibben goes on to describe the past massive geological extinctions that have occurred in the billions of years of the existence of life on Earth. The conditions under which ours is happening are worse than most of the previous ones. The difference is that we are the geological force responsible for the current destruction. The Holocene geological period of the past 10,000 years provided humans with a fairly stable climate with which to develop civilization and spread throughout the Earth. But geologists have renamed our current period the “Anthropocene” because we are now the geological force changing the climate.

He goes on to describe the record temperatures now being recorded across the globe, in India, China, the US, Canada, Australia, Iran, the Person Gulf, Pakistan, Egypt, Vietnam—virtually everywhere. He describes the rising oceans and their effects on coastal areas worldwide.  McKibben then turns to the politics of climate change. The basic principle of which is that “We literally don’t want to hear about it” (p. 67).

The entire global economy is based on burning fossil fuels.  President Obama turned to fracking in the US because this increased energy independence and because gas burns cleaner than coal or oil.  But scientists soon found that a certain small portion of the gas inevitably leaked from the processes of mining and transporting methane gas. And this leaked gas “traps heat in the atmosphere about eighty times more efficiently than carbon dioxide” (p. 68). We simply don’t want to hear about it.

Politicians (like President Obama) are “elected to run a political and economic system based on endless growth.” Similarly, Canada contains one of the two largest deposits of tar sands on Earth. “In the spring of 2017, [Canadian Prime Minister] Trudeau told a cheering group of Houston oilmen that “no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there” (p. 70). We simply don’t want to hear about it.

It’s not a good sign that the largest physical structures on our planet, its ice caps and barrier reefs and rain forests, are disappearing before our eyes.  So: problem from hell. Governments prefer to evade it. Human psychology is not designed to cope with it. It’s happening too fast. (p. 70). 

Part Two of the book is called “Leverage.” In this part, the next few chapters go into the cover-up of the problem by multinationals Exxon and Shell and many other powerful corporations. Their scientists told them clearly early on about the effects of fossil fuels on the climate, but they intentionally covered this up and mounted a multi-million dollar campaign designed to emphasize doubt about climate science. “Thus began the most consequential lie in human history” (p. 76).  He describes this process and its influence on governments in the US through the Bush, Obama, and Trump Administrations.

For much of Part Two, McKibben traces the influence of the novels of Ayn Rand on the political, economic, and corporate oligarchs of the United States. The basic principle of Ayn Rand’s writings is simple: “Government is bad. Selfishness is good. Watch out for yourself. Solidarity is a trap. Taxes are theft.” He quotes her as saying “all codes of ethics they’ll try to ram down your throat are just so much paper money put out by swindlers to fleece people” (p. 91-92).

He traces the impact of Rand specifically through a number of these oligarchs such as Tom Perkins (one of the richest men on the planet), to the Koch brothers, Charles and David (heads of a vast economic empire), to US Senator Mitt Romney, to Rupert Murdock (media mogul and owner of the infamous Fox News Corporation), to senior officials in the current Trump administration (including Trump himself), to the CEO billionaires who run the High-tech empires out of Silicon Valley in California.

Part Three is called “The Name of the Game.”  Of the many books coming out on the climate crisis, this book is unique in that it delves into two technological breakthrough phenomena that open possibilities for the future of humanity that are deeply problematic.  These are, first, the super-computer revolution portending future computers that may be smarter than humans and might conceivably replace humans. Second, there are the breakthroughs in genetic engineering that now allow human beings to genetically design new human beings that are being born.

These chapters are very interesting, and they raise the same fundamental question raised by the book itself: what is “humanness”?   How can we find meaning in being human within a sustainable world with maturity, intelligence, and love without destroying what we are through perpetual climate changing economic growth, through attempting to replace ourselves with computer robots, or through attempting to design better human beings by means of genetic engineering.  Part Four, called “An Outside Chance,” asks the question whether we can alter our current trajectory in all three of these areas. The possibilities do not inspire optimism, but there is still some hope.

Part Two

Bill McKibben focuses on resistance and maturity at the end of his book. The book describes very well the immense juggernaut impelling civilization forward toward collapse and total human disaster. The movement of resistance has grown, in part due to McKibben’s own efforts and those of the organization he helped found, 350.org.  However, the juggernaut of wealth, power, and institutional inertia has not been slowed and it may not be possible to stop it before the human game falters for good. That is why Part Four of the book is called “an outside chance.”  It does not look good, but there is still a chance: “we have yet to turn the tide” (p. 191).

There are “two new technologies” that might turn the tide and give civilization the chance to survive: “One is the solar panel and the other is the nonviolent movement.”  To make effective use of the nonviolent movement means that we must overcome the libertarian idea that somehow freedom means that only I matter. We must realize, with one thinker he quotes, that “moral enhancement of a person does not restrict freedom” (p. 201). Moral enhancement means we need to stand with others to protect the human game and to reduce inequality and suffering.

The price of solar panels is dropping, and they are being installed in places like Ghana in West Africa, making a huge difference in people’s lives. Clean energy through wind and solar must be an essential factor in avoiding planetary scale climate disaster: “The latest studies, from labs such as Mark Jacobson’s at Stanford, make clear that every major nation on earth could be supplying 80 percent of its power from renewables by 2030, at prices far cheaper than paying the damage for climate change.” We also, of course, need to “eat lower on the food chain, build public transit networks, densify cities, and start farming in ways that restore carbon to soils” (p. 211). We have the technical capacity to make the transition. The only limiting factor is “political will.”

McKibben mentions the legacy of thought about nonviolence from Henry David Thoreau to Tolstoy to Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. He means by “nonviolence” not just acts of resistance but “building mass movements whose goal is to change the zeitgeist and, hence, the course of history.” It is also “the method by which the active many can overcome the ruthless few” for “the fight over climate change is ultimately not an argument about infrared absorption in the atmosphere, but about power and money and justice” (pp. 219-20).

As Naomi Klein has said, if we can’t get a serious carbon tax from a corrupted Congress, we can impose a defacto one with our bodies. And in so doing, we buy time for the renewables industry to expand—maybe even fast enough to catch up a little with the physics of global warming… In the early summer of 2018, Pope Francis used precisely the language we’d pioneered in that fight: most oil, gas, and coal, he said, needed to “stay underground.” We’d begun to change the zeitgeist, which is the reason we’d gone to work in the first place…. Anyone who thinks that time is therefore on the side of the oil companies is reading history wrong. This movement will win (though, as we’ve seen, it many not win in time). (pp. 222-24)

In this closing section on our “outside chance” for having a future on this planet, Bill McKibben speaks of solar energy and nonviolence as “technologies less of expansion than of repair, less of growth than of consolidation, less of disruption than of healing” (p.226).  He goes on to discuss the ideas of maturity, balance, and scale.  We need the maturity of being able to see what we are now doing and understand that we have the amazing power to stop it, and not do it. As Pope Francis said, we can keep it underground. We can also not replace humans with computers and not begin making designer babies.

We need to “balance” our right-wing ideologies with “structures” that make fraternity real: “labor unions, voting rights, and a social safety net” (p. 230). Finally, we need proper scale to counterbalance the obsessions with efficiency and growth.  We need to slow things down: “Taken all together, the results suggest that instead of dreaming about utopia, we should be fixated on keeping dystopia at bay” (p. 235).

McKibben’s “epilogue” contrasts the space program at Cape Canaveral with the surrounding beach and wildlife protection area where it is located.  Instead of shooting for the stars, or other planets, as if this could somehow save us, we need to be protecting this “unbearably beautiful planet.” We should be loving our planet and its people to feed the hungry, to protect sea turtles and sea ice, to welcome newborns into the world and surround the old when they are passing on.  The human game, is, and can be “graceful and compelling,” and it is only our love of it that will allow us to save it (p. 296).

His appeal concerning the ways we can resist and change the course of things is moving and deeply humanistic. But is it really a change in the zeitgeist?   If he means by “zeitgeist” the spirit of radical individualism and the Ayn Rand orientation of power, domination, and egoism, then perhaps these recommendations do somewhat address changing the zeitgeist in this sense. But the outdated zeitgeist that must be changed and the emerging transformed zeitgeist go much deeper.  Solar panels and the nonviolence movement are only two components of fundamental paradigm-shift that must take place from fragmentation to holism. Perhaps, we indeed must envision and work on behalf of a realizable practical utopia.

This book, for example, contains no structural analysis of capitalism. Neither does it contain any systematic critique of the dominant world system of sovereign nation-states interfaced with global capitalism. There is no discussion of “paradigm-shift”—the need to shift from an outdated paradigm from which capitalism and nation-states derived that included atomism, determinism, positivism, and moral nihilism (all features of the Ayn Rand arrogance of today’s superrich oligarchs).  There is no real discussion of the emerging contemporary paradigm of holism, ontological freedom, the reintegration of fact and value, or moral universalism. (Some of the books in the Bibliography below provide a fuller analysis of these phenomena.)

This book, while full of interesting and valuable details and insights, does not give us the tools necessary to develop a truly new zeitgeist, to accomplish the truly deep paradigm shift necessary for human survival and flourishing.  The egoism and destructive individualism of our superrich ruling class is not independent of the system itself, which empowers and produces them. The entire world system, composed of militarized sovereign nations and ruthless multinational capitalist corporations, must be transformed. No combination of the nonviolence movement with economically viable solar panels will suffice.

It is not that maturity, balance, scale, and love are out of place. It is rather that the world system as we now know it defeats these qualities, producing instead nationalism, dogmatism, egoism, and nihilism, even among the marginalized and desperate poor (as the “Trump follower” phenomenon clearly shows). Truly realizing what Mahatma Gandhi called “Truth” or what Buckminster Fuller called “Universal Mind,” that is, truly changing the zeitgeist, requires fundamental world system change. Einstein said we must learn to think in an entirely new way as citizens of “one world.” This is the role of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. Thinkers from Karl Marx to Erich Fromm declared that real change in human institutions would precipitate a corresponding change in human consciousness.

The Earth Constitution is therefore both means and ends. Its holism brings all humans together to solve our truly global problems, something sovereign nation-states find almost impossible to do. It sets up the institutional mechanisms for a democratic global economy that works for everybody, and a comprehensive environmental program in which all nations and persons are on the same page. It inspires loyalty to the Earth and future generations, something that the present system demanding quarterly profits for corporations or “patriotism” toward nation-states cannot possibly accomplish.

The new zeitgeist must be worldcentric, free of dogmatism, selfless in the sense of agape or karuna (Christian love or Buddhist compassion), and it must be grounded in truly universal moral truths.  The Earth Constitution represents the institutional transformation most closely correlated to the transformation of human consciousness. The idea that nonviolent resistance can slow down the juggernaut enough for solar panels to cover the globe will not save our planet. The idea of universal human solidarity under a truly humanistic global political and economic system, one mandated to end war and ensure sustainability for the entire planet, will alone be sufficient to preserve, enhance, and fulfill the human game.

Like so many climate change environmentalists, McKibben appears to accept the nation-state system without question.  Like so many of them, he focuses on politics within the United States as if the rest of the world would simply follow suit if we could only get things right within the US. One of the threats to existence that he identifies is nuclear holocaust, but he never appears to realize that the threat of nuclear holocaust is a consequence of a world divided into competing sovereign states, that it can only really be effectively addressed through enforceable democratic world law.

This book by Bill McKibben appears to have no awareness of these essential features of a truly transformed zeitgeist as embodied in the Earth Constitution. The book represents a thoughtful maturity within the present system but not the new global zeitgeist that is imperative if there is to be a future for humanity. The Earth Constitution protects by enforceable law all the things that Bill McKibben wants, and it gives us the institutional and technological mechanisms to make it happen. If we do not want the human game to falter and fail, ratifying the Earth Constitution should be our fundamental objective.

 

Brief Bibliography

 

Chase-Dunn, Christopher (1998). Global Formation: Structures of World-Economy. Updated Edition. Lanham, Maryland: Roman & Littlefield Publishers.

Chossudovsky, Michel and Andrew Gavin Marshall, eds. Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century. Montreal, Canada: Global Research.

Daly, Herman E. (1996). Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development. Boston: Beacon Press.

Finnis, John (1980). Natural Law and Natural Rights. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Foster, John Bellamy, et. al. (2010). The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Harris, Errol E. (2000). Apocalypse and Paradigm: Science and Everyday Thinking. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Kovel, Joel (2007). The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World. London: Zed Books.

Heinberg, Richard (2011). The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

Martin, Glen T. (2011). The Constitution for the Federation of Earth: With Historical Introduction, Commentary, and Conclusion. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.  The Constitution can be found on-line at www.earth-constitution.org.

Martin, Glen T. (2018). Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence: The Power of the Future for Planetary Transformation.

McKibben, Bill (2019). Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? New York: Henry Holt and Company.