An Alien looking down on Earth from the comfort of her spaceship sent the following report back to the mother-ship: “Earth will be ready for occupation round about 2050 as predicted after our 1965 survey. The behaviour patterns of the dominant species, Homo economicus, are resulting in the rapid erosion of conditions conducive to their own survival within the biosphere. Homo economicus, or “economic man”, is a highly evolved form of Homo sapiens which, since the beginning of what they call the “Industrial Revolution”has developed an extra-ordinary consumption-based society.
Organised into nation-states, they measure their success purely in terms of the primitive notion of economic activity. Using a metric of GDP, they seek to grow their economies constantly without any real effort to use the abundant surpluses they have to address key challenges like poverty, terrorism, climate change and many others.
With this focus, their command of technology and relentless extractive processes have enabled their numbers to grow from under one billion to 6.5 billion in only 300 years. They are on track to peak at some 9 billion by 2030.
By that time, runaway climate change driven by greenhouse gas emissions from their use of fossil fuels as an energy source will be in full swing. Over the following thirty years, there will be an unstoppable collapse in their numbers.”
Our Alien’s report continued:
“We recommend occupation plans are set in motion for implementaion on January 1, 2050. By that time, the remnant hominid population (estimated at a few million) will be unable to counter our colonisation fleets as they will have returned to a predominantly subsistence-based existence in small groups.
That is, of course, if they have not already wiped themselves out completely in the cycle of war, famine and pestilence that we have observed on a more localised scale in numerous of their societies over the past five thousand years.”
But our Alien in an addendum noted the following:
“A cause for concern remains their capacity for rapid evolution of consciousness and there is a risk that the next decade will see the emergence to dominance of a higher order of primate which is already observable in growing numbers. This group we have named Homo integralis in reference to their capacity to operate at levels of integrated understanding which are more familiar to us in the core value systems of most of the dominant species across the universe.
Further research is required to understand their potential growth rate and capacity to reshape human society on a path that allows them to live in balance within the biosphere and halt, if not reverse, the destruction of conditions conducive to life.”
What is it that our Alien friend was observing?
On the one hand, she could see the dominant behaviours of our species sending us hurtling towards self destruction. The ecological footprint of modern man (Homo economicus) is 1.2 earths. In other words we are consuming natural resources at a rate 20% above a theoretically sustainable level. We are set to grow our population 1.5 times in the next generation or so. And to uplift the peoples of the world so we all consume as much as the average Sandton household, we plan to increase our total economic activity by 300%. Here is the maths: 1.2 × 1.5 × 3 = 5.4
In simpler terms H. economicus has a global business plan that needs 5.4 earths worth of resources to make it work. As any eleven year old will tell you (even in our embarassingly poor public education system), the maths, physics and basic chemistry of this just doesn’t add up to what is possible. Executive summary? We live in an interconnected, integrated global politico-eco(nomic) system which is failing and is unsustainable.
OK, so we have a stupid and unachievable plan, albeit the one we still elect governments in every country on earth to carry out.
Enter Homo integralis, the new variant of hominid who has worked this out and is now evolved enough to want to do something about it. And what is really exciting is that he/she doesn’t have to rely on the invention of anything new to be able to do so.
H. integralis is the new consumer, voter, parent, community member, employee, learner, and dare I say it, even politician of the 21st century. H. integralis lives in a global, interconnected single world system. They really want to live in a way that will not result in the extinction of their children. They want to live in something called World 2.0.
World 2.0 is of course a play on Web 2.0, the latter being a buzz phrase that computer geeks have coined to describe how the changing trends in the use of the internet and web design are enhancing creativity, communications, secure information sharing, collaboration and the functionality of the web. It is not actually a new web, it’s just really intelligent use of the existing one.
Similarly World 2.0 is not actually a post-capitalist system. It’s the existing one pointed in the right direction and given the correct signals to do the right things. The right things are what H. integralis actually wants.
First on the list is a low carbon future for everything. That means a rapid transition away from petrol driven cars and coal/oil fired power stations. In World 2.0 there is lots of renewable energy, localized power generation and energy efficiency. Of course our friendly Alien has read the business plan of Eskom and that is one of the reasons she thinks that World 2.0 is unlikely to catch on.
But as more H. integralis appear, there are two scenarios for the Eskoms of this world, if they don’t rapidly change their strategy from within: the first is that they will be forced to change by internal pressure within South Africa or external pressure from other nations who just won’t buy anything we make from our toxic, carbon-riddled economy; the second is that they will just wither and die as new energy companies emerge which satisfy the demands of the customer and voter in World 2.0.
On a wider scale, the latter scenario of corporate extinction is likely for many of the worlds greatest corporations. The observable experience of history tells us that successful businesses rarely fail because they suddenly stop doing the things they have done well in the past. They fail because the world moves forward and they either don’t move in tandem or, more commonly, at all.
If you don’t believe this, just look at how few of the top companies that dominated South Africa in the 1980s exist today. And notice all the exciting new businesses that have grown up to dominate our landscape in the meantime.
Would it be hard to wean South Africa off big coal energy sources quickly? “Without a doubt!” say the owners and managers of big coal energy and their political overlords.
“Impossible!” they say. “We need a thirty-year programme and even then, renewable energy will still not be the bulk supply source, it will have to be nuclear.”
But remember this, folks: a year ago, anyone who said that George W. Bush would effectively nationalize the US banking system would have been derided as a lunatic. And when push comes to shove it’s amazing what we can get done – it took Detroit just three months to re-tool the entire automobile industry to make war machines and that was nearly seventy years ago when no one had rapid-prototyping, computer-aided-design, just-in-time supply chains or internet-based-knowledge-management-systems.
Personally, I like the way that Jim Hansen (the world’s leading climate scientist and head of NASA’s Goddard Institute puts it:
“The most difficult task, phase-out over the next 20-25 years of coal use that does not capture CO2, is Herculean, yet feasible when compared with the efforts that went into World War II. The stakes, for all life on the planet, surpass those of any previous crisis. The greatest danger is continued ignorance and denial, which could make tragic consequences unavoidable.”
Australian public intellectual Paul Gilding puts the probability of us doing the right thing to avoid our extinction as high. “We are slow, but we aren’t stupid”, he said in Cape Town in May this year.
Incremental change works in a steadily evolving system but the world today is not steadily evolving. It is at the beginning of a major transition in which low carbon is just one element. H. integralis is working out what its ancestors always knew, but which H. economicus has forgotten in its endless pursuit of GDP.
Research shows that there are three things which make you happy: great relationships (love), being part of a community and doing meaningful work. In World 2.0 there is exploding demand for organisations, goods, and services which contribute to that.
Need examples? Try the explosion of the global mind, body and spirit industry; think FaceBook and text messaging on cell phones. Then there’s electric and hybrid cars, ideas festivals and a million other things like companies which are entirely focussed on using the market mechanism to solve social problems. They are created by a new phenomenon called social entrepreneurs for whom Nobel Prize winner Muhammed Yunus is the poster boy. His Grameen Bank has found a way to lend money to the poorest of the poor. Not so they can buy more Coke and get fat, but so they can start businesses and bring dignity, a sustainable livelihood and employment for others into their communities.
In World 2.0 the sense of purpose which drives H. integralis is to ascend and conquer the twin peaks environmental stustainability and social justice. They are of course two sides of the same coin.
Most of the leaders of the H. economicus era grew up believing that living in an environmentally-friendly way is in direct contradiction with surrounding oneself with the luxuries that our 20th — and now 21st century — technology has created for us; that a “green home” means discomfort because of it means abandoning air conditioning; that “green transport” means sweating along on a bicycle instead of gliding effortlessly through the traffic in the leather-trimmed comfort of a luxury automobile; that organic vegetables go rotten after a day in the fridge; that environmentally-friendly clothes are a design desert; and that being in touch with nature means dropping out and becoming some kind of hippy – learning a new language that involves a lot of sentences punctuated with the words “wow”and “cool”.
All that was true. But not any more. Now entrepreneurs, designers and inventors are using the very best of what emerges when we put our creative genius and technological expertise together. They are creating eco-abundance and all sorts of exciting sexy products, ways of living, ways of self expression, gorgeous design, unimaginable experiences, new ways of working, life-long-learning journeys, extra-ordinary medical advances, clean technology, long lives, happy lives, the end of poverty and best of all, the fastest, quietest, coolest cars with handling and road-holding that will make any petrolhead’s eyes pop. And best of all, it’s only just beginning. We have hardly started re-designing our cities for World 2.0 – just think of all the business opportunities that will come with that.
That’s why our Alien analyst has every right to be concerned. World 2.0 is evolving out of the primaeval swamp created by H. economicus as, one by one, he is being replaced by H. integralis.
If you look around you, you will see a million ways in which every aspect of human life is beginning to change. It is a world of exciting opportunity.
Once again we turn to the insights of Paul Hawken to express its great sense of hope, freedom and potential. In the billiant Leonardo di Caprio movie The Eleventh Hour he says:
“The great thing about the dilemma we are in is that we get to re-imagine every single thing we do. There isn’t one single thing we make, or one single system we have, that doesn’t require a complete remake. What a great time to be born, what a great time to be alive because this generation gets to essentially completely change the world.”
Let the magic begin, and may our Alien analyst’s concerns be proven correct.