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Towards Cooperative Commonwealth: Transition in a Perilous Century

restored prairie
image credit: Restored prairie at the West Eugene Wetlands in Eugene, Oregon. By Bureau of Land Management – Restored Prairie at the West Eugene Wetlands, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28064458

System Change, not Climate Change, is a common refrain among climate justice activists. It makes sense. My 13-year-old niece, daughter of a hereditary chief, and her aging uncle (me) shouted this chant along with 10,000 others. Led by the drumming and songs of indigenous people, we climbed Burnaby mountain with one purpose: to declare the pipeline to bring Alberta Tar Sands oil to export abroad from the Vancouver harbour was the wrong path. Respecting the rights of nature and indigenous territories and the vital need to politically commit to a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels was elevated as a Declaration to Choose Life.

That said, the news is discouraging. Despite the largest-ever increase in wind and solar power in 2022, fossil fuel accounted for 82% of global energy consumption, 1.8% higher than the 2009-2019 period of 80.2%. Solar and wind, despite exponential growth thus far, have made no dent in fossil fuel consumption.

It is little wonder UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is so strident in his warnings.

“We continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction, emissions continue to rise, and our collective negligence radically alters human and natural systems……
We have a choice – collective action or collective suicide. It’s in our hands.”

Yet alternatives like renewable energy remain a minuscule percentage of total energy generation, and world leaders continue to promote economic growth as a viable response to climate change.

Can we Navigate to a Safe Space for All Beings???

Inspiring and regenerative innovations to meet basic needs exist, and we have some understanding of what it takes to hasten their spread and scale their impacts.

The Synergia Institute seeks to elevate basic needs innovations that are democratic, decentralized, distributed, diversified, and tend toward regenerative priorities and projects. Most are tailored to strengthen the capacity and resilience of local/regional spaces and places to meet more basic needs closer to home. Ranging in size and scale, efforts are imbued with the values of reciprocity, solidarity, and sustainability.

There is much to inspire, but none of it is easy. There are no cookie-cutter approaches. Organizing and weaving together the connections, partnerships, and capacity to challenge the status quo is never simple. Agreeing on the priorities to elevate, the policies to formulate, and practices to propagate is challenging. And even where agreement is reached, investment too often falls far below what is required, and the challenges are mounting.

Meanwhile, six of the nine planetary systems enabling all that alive to thrive are in serious trouble. In 2023, fresh water was the 6th to be breached.

Since the dawn of fossil fuels, our assumptions and the systems they foster have been radically out of sync with reality. Centrally important is economic growth, a concept that did not exist before the advent of fossil fuels and is now the cultural icon of ‘progress.” Tethered to fossil energy & financed by profit-seeking capital and compound interest-bearing debt, we widely hold to the belief we can grow our way out of the mess we are in, a view that is biophysically nonsense on a finite planet. So why can we not let go of this self-destructive frame? Consider this.

  • Eight hours of physical work equals 0.6 kWh (kilowatt hours) of energy.
  • One barrel of oil generates = 1700 kWh = 4.5 years of physical work by one person.
  • In September 2022, oil hit $97, its highest price since 2014.

Do the math, and the depth of our addiction becomes apparent. One human working 4.5 years (2000 hrs/year at a starvation wage of $10/hr U.S.) yields $90,000 in wages, enough to buy 928 barrels at $97/barrel. Based on a rough average of 100 million barrels/day at present consumption, humanity has 93 billion energy slaves working for us 24-7.

Little wonder we are addicted. And, like all addictions, life-damaging consequences just keep compounding unless we heal. Climatically speaking, the 2015 Paris Agreement to do all we can to keep the average temperature below 1.5C was a celebrated step. One had a sense we were waking up. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In 2023, we blew the roof off; the average global temperature exceeded the safe benchmark for 86 days. In September, the hottest month ever, the hottest temperature ever was reached – 1.8C, a full 0.5 degrees higher than ever measured.

Reducing Emissions is Important: Every 10th of a Degree Matters.

It is self-evident that resistance to fossil fuel expansion must be deepened and broadened. It is a practical and moral imperative if one is to Choose Life. Unfortunately, the evidence of impact is bleak. The 2023 Production Gap Report, a collaboration of two U.N. Agencies and the Stockholm Environment Institute, yields a grim projection.

“Top fossil fuel producers plan even more extraction despite climate promises”… and governments plan to produce around 110% more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C and 69% more than would be consistent with 2°C.”

This is discouraging, to say the least. Such trends reject any notion of intergenerational solidarity, acceptance of limits, or recognition of all life’s interdependence. What becomes of our emotional and spiritual capacity for sensemaking, for living meaningful lives should we reject resistance: is it not central to deepening our solidarity with the whole round of life?

Adaptation, Resilience: Restoring the Foundations for Life while Navigating Decline

Meeting basic needs in ways that draw down carbon from the atmosphere, conserve energy, and restore ecosystem health can be taken where we live. We also know that with proper resources and support, ecosystem restoration on a grand scale is possible. On the other hand, as the crises deepen, cultural and personal bandwidth narrows. Strengthening the capacity to meet basic needs closer to home will become a preoccupation for many and require a significant investment of time, energy, and resources. Strengthening personal, community, and ecological resilience close to home will only grow in importance.

Demanding the Top 1% Pay Their Share: Transition without Justice is Systemic Slavery

The IMF estimates $483 billion in annual direct tax losses due to avoidance and triple that amount ($1.5 trillion) in indirect losses due to multinational corporation tax abuse and fraud. Meanwhile, the 2009 $100 billion/year commitment made by ‘developed’ countries to support adaptation in the south has never been met. Meanwhile, the estimated investment need has risen to $387 billion annually.

Rendering the gross inequities even more visible and disgusting are the ecological costs they continue to foist on all living beings. International Energy Agency research indicates the top 10% of the population emitted over 50% of the global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels (22 tons per person), 200 times the average of the bottom 10% (0.2% per person)

Education: Collaborating to Connect the Dots

The values driving the effort of Synergia Institute’s efforts to educate, animate, agitate, and collaborate are deeply rooted in several core values that resonate with the key ‘transition challenges’ we are all confronted with:

  • resilience over economic growth
  • co-operation over competition
  • sufficiency over efficiency
  • well-being over the right to possess
  • fairness and equity over the primacy of markets, trade, and capital
  • decentralized and democratic ownership over centralized power and private ownership
  • climate justice and just transition
  • the commons over the rights of private property, and
  • our dependence upon nature over our right to dominate it.

These are not merely theoretical propositions. They are themes and choices, touchstones that, if kept in sight, might help us navigate the profound uncertainties embedded in the transition journey we are embarking on, believe it or not. They also help frame some of the key questions that frame Synergia’s educational efforts.

  • How can we meet our basic needs in ways that advance fairness and resilience where we live and contribute to the restoration of ecosystems and GHG reduction?
  • How do we shift the narrative from the mantra of endless growth to one of well-being, sufficiency, solidarity, and living within the natural limits of the planet?
  • How can citizens, communities, organizations, institutions, movements, and progressive enterprises cooperate to craft and execute strategies that affirm life and resist the status quo addiction to the pathways to death?
  • How do we diffuse and amplify the pathways that are generating durable results? With whom and around what priorities might we collaborate to educate, animate, agitate, and propagate their spread and the scaling of their impacts?

If you have read this far, and if what you have read resonates with you, challenges you, and/or intrigues you, consider registering for the 6th edition of Towards Cooperative Commonwealth: Transition in a Perilous Century.

In 2023, 1060 people registered from 50+ countries. Even if you are only curious, take a look at www.synergiainstitute.org. The website has a lot to consider that will help you decide. The fee schedule runs from $0 to whatever you decide to $140.

One last thing to know. We have developed a means to support group formation inside of the MOOC. We were super excited with the results in 2023 and have redesigned it to make it super easy to meet up within reasonably adjacent time zones. Interestingly, some groups from the 2023 cohort are still meeting.

Here are just a few of the scores of comments from the 2023 participants.

Sense of Community

“Thanks to the real sense of community the MOOC provided me, I no longer feel as though I am just a voice in the wilderness when speaking out to support those whose voice has been muffled, ignored, and marginalized. This course has given me the confidence to converse with others regarding finding solutions for complex issues. … I feel I can see new avenues towards making real and sustainable change in my neck of the woods thanks to looking at things from a systems theory lens.”

An Amazing Resource

“I felt the authors and speakers were often the most highly respected and sought-after voices. …I teach college students, so I will integrate some of what I learned in my own teaching. It was excellent – such an amazing resource.”

Peer-to-Peer Learning

“The richness of this MOOC lies in the diverse knowledge and experiences of the community, comprised of practitioners, academics, activists, and students, who come together to share and exchange knowledge in the forums. Reading and engaging with these experiences and contributions … will allow you to gain perspective on your own experiences before presenting them.”

Tangible Alternatives

“I’ve been exposed to tangible alternative models & tools that have the power to enact systemic changes towards a regenerative economy. From agriculture, energy, healthcare, and finance, the threads of how these sectors can be interwoven have become much clearer. I can better see the whole picture, which gives me the ability to act on a select area and find my role tangibly.”

Study Circles

“The local study circles organized helped to deepen knowledge and bring it into the local context… I especially loved the small group sharing, as it allowed us to be in the questions together. The interaction was key for me. And I loved that we all brought our stories. It was deepening, for sure. I had done this course a few years back and hadn’t been part of a small group. It made a big difference for me in terms of impact.”

Reflection

“The MOOC provided the time and space to have reflective conversations about systems that I encounter constantly and examples of how people have tried to change or move away from these systems.”

Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis
  Michael Lewis is the Executive Director of the Center for Community Enterprise and is well-known internationally as a practitioner, author, educator and leader in the field of Community Economic Development and the Social Economy.
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