I don't think I am alone in feeling both anxious and excited as our species wakes up to the enormity of the task that lies before us. My despair as climate change denialists in America move into power is offset by the way this is mobilising those of us who have been too quiet for too long. The great disruption we can expect from the tsunami-size waves of change over the next couple of decades will also bring unprecedented possibility. Now that we know our choices have evolutionary implications, what choices will we make now? What kind of intention and attention is needed in our leadership and organisation to reinvent our lives, and our work, in answer to nature's persistent and urgent calls for care?
Nature as mirror
It's worth watching Johan Rockstrom's ,TED talk(http://www.ted.com/talks/johan_rockstrom_let_the_environment_guide_our_development), Let the environment guide our development, where he powerfully articulates the precipice at which we have placed ourselves. As we leave the Holocene Age, a stable interglacial period that began 10 000 years ago that allowed for the development of agriculture and complex human society, the planet is holding a mirror up to us. What we see, if we are courageous enough to look, is both painful and profound.
In 1950 we entered a period now known as the Great Acceleration where the activities of human civilization accelerated sharply, aided by inexpensive fossil fuel, science and techonology and promotion of consumerism. Graphs with their hockey stick curves measuring water use, population, damming of rivers, motor vehicles, foreign investment, international tourism and so on, have parallel curves in the biophysical responses in the earth's system. We see a concurrent steep rise in concentrates of Greenhouse Gases, ozone depletion, surface temperature, frequency of floods, fully exploited fisheries, loss of forest, domestication of land and species extinction. We have exceeded four of nine identified 'planetary boundaries' (www.stockholmresilience.com) within which humanity can operate safely - climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land system change, and altered biogeochemical cycles.
So we enter the Age of the Anthropocene, an era in which the natural resilience of our earth's system established over thousands of years, is being profoundly altered by a single species – and we are that species. The good news is, that as we wake up to our impact, we also wake up to the inherent creativity of consciousness, however limited or expanded it might be. Whether or not we are aware of our thoughts, feelings and actions, we individually and collectively shape life and our experience of it, in every moment.
Coming back to Life
Our work lies in all four of Wilber's quadrants. Can I explore my own consciousness, what it excludes, and therefore limits in my thinking and way of being, how it intangibly shapes and is shaped by others, and more tangibly acts and is party to a larger system? Can we not only see but know at some deep primal and essential level, that we are intricately and exquisitely embedded in a biotic community? Then, as Joanna Macy says, 'I am protecting the rainforest' becomes 'I am part of the rainforest protecting itself'. Ecology shatters the misconception ego gives us, of a limited, separate, individual entity. We are of the earth, not on it. Can we fall back in love with every river, stone and creature and know that we are them and they us?
From this place, how might we act?
Can our organisations function as living systems as well as in harmony with the greater ecology that sustains them? 'Eco-efficiency', (minimising resource use and reducing waste primarily in the interests of cost savings and efficiency) is replacing the 'take, make, waste' action logic of our industry but it doesn't go far enough. 'Eco-systemic' organisations are aware of their dependence on the reliability of environmental services, and their own impact on the life-sustaining functionality of the ecosystem. Parts of the operation start to operate in cyclical and closed-loop processes where concepts like 'cradle to cradle' find their expression in products and processes that like nature, create no waste at all.
An 'Ecological' or planet centric world view, knows systems to be changeable, dynamic and prone to disturbance, yet also highly interconnected and resilient. Ecological businesses think systemically, replacing notions of cause-and-effect with complex flow charts representing numerous inputs and a bewildering array of interconnections, a kind of 'neural net'. These organisations:
- understand that people and relationships are the primary means by which they build network capacity and create value
- allow for self-organizing, self-management and distributed leadership inside a natural hierarchy
- optimise their use of physical resources by 'closing the loop' so the waste of one process becomes food for another
- are exceptionally open in the ways they share information with employees and in their desire for stakeholder feedback
- nurture the larger living systems of which they are a part (nature, society, markets) because they understand the inherent connection of all life
We stand at the edge of an ecological turning point and for the first time, conscious evolution is within our reach. We can attend more deeply to the processes, patterns and power in the dance of life and make wiser choices that not only do no harm, but in Joanna Macy's words, bring us 'back to life'.