We live in extraordinary times

We are living in extraordinary times and transformation is already happening and accelerating all around us. In almost every area of our lives old structures are breaking down as we witness the unfolding impacts of unprecedented technological innovation. All of this is happening within the context of an expanding human population, profound societal and economic transformation on all continents, and — most urgent of all — a dangerous destabilization of global and local climate patterns.

There is a scientific consensus that we need to take immediate action if we are to avoid catastrophic climate effects on the future of humankind, the diversity of life and the entire planet. Already hundreds of thousands of people die every year due to climate change-related extreme weather events and millions lose their homes, go hungry or are forced to migrate. Ecosystems everywhere, and the biosphere as a whole, are reaching dangerous tipping points. The prolonged impact of an industrial growth society addicted to fossil fuels and the rapid extraction of non-renewable resources is pushing against planetary boundaries.

Our current economic system is structurally committed to ever-increasing economic growth and intertwined with a financial system based on debt, and currencies that are not backed up by real material value. Attempts to resuscitate this structurally dysfunctional system are getting more and more expensive, as the cycles of economic crisis and costly (temporary) recovery are getting shorter and shorter.

Continuing economic crisis, along with fear of war and terrorism have effectively kept climate and environmental issues at too low a level of political priority. Whether our structurally dysfunctional economic system can ever deliver sustainability is being questioned more and more. Not just anti-globalization activists but people in institutions such as the World Bank (Soubbotina, 2000), government think tanks (Jackson, 2009a), academia (e.g. Victor, 2010, Jackson 2009b) and the World Economic Forum (2012) are questioning the economic growth paradigm.

At the same time, the evidence that inequality has devastating social and health impacts is mounting (Wilkinson, 1996, 2005, Wilkinson & Pickett 2011, Stiglitz, 2013); yet the gap keeps widening globally. Demographic changes are challenging some countries, such as Germany and Japan, with the effects of over-ageing populations, while other countries in South America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East have a growing population of disenfranchised youth with poor economic prospects and inadequate education, facing a century of potential turmoil.

Rising fundamentalism and resource conflicts over oil, water and land have led to a series of wars which have caused humanitarian crises in the Middle East, Africa and Europe as rising numbers of refugees herald another era of mass migration. Environmentally, politically and economically induced migration are on the rise, driving potential conflicts between immigrant and resident populations, and adding to a resurgence of xenophobia just at the time when humanity has to pull together in order to successfully chart the turbulent waters ahead.

Food, water and energy supply issues are already leading to localized scarcities, famine and conflict in many parts of the world. Nevertheless, some predatory multinational corporations are still actively exacerbating these problems in the interests of a few, rather than helping to find solutions that protect the global commons and ensure basic access to essential needs for all of humanity. The root cause of this misguided behaviour is the narrative of separation that justifies aggressive competitive behaviour and generates artificial scarcity. This ‘old story’ still fundamentally informs our culture.

Education and health systems the world over are stretched to their limits as they are forced to reinvent and restructure themselves while at the same time maintaining and improving their services in a difficult economic climate. Even in the privileged and wealthy nations most education systems have not been able to come to grips yet with the profound reorganization of their mandate since information and knowledge is now more accessible than ever due to new information technology. Most university graduates are equipped with outdated knowledge and skills by the time they graduate, and are unable to grasp the big picture connections of the world they inhabit. Overspecialization has limited their capacity for integrative, lateral and holistic thinking.

It is true that many generations before us have thought of themselves as ‘living in extraordinary times’, yet never before in human history have there been so many of us on Earth, nor have we ever been in possession of such powerful technologies capable of affecting large scale catastrophic change based on only a very few ill-fated and misinformed decisions.

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[This article is an excerpt from the conclusion of Designing Regenerative Cultures, published by Triarchy Press, 2016.]

Daniel Christian Wahl works internationally as a consultant and educator in regenerative development, whole systems design, and transformative innovation. He holds degrees in biology (Univ. of Edinburgh / Univ. of California) and Holistic Science (Schumacher College) and his 2006 doctoral thesis (Univ. of Dundee) was on Design for Human and Planetary Health. He was director of Findhorn College between 2007 and 2010, and is a member of the International Futures Forum, a fellow of the RSA, a Findhorn Foundation Fellow and on the advisory council of the Ojai Foundation and the Ecosystem Restoration Camps Foundation. Daniel’s clients have included UNITAR (with CIFAL Scotland), UK Foresight (with Decision Integrity Ltd), Ecover (with Forum for the Future), Bioneers (with the Progressio Foundation, and with the Findhorn Foundation), the Dubai Futures Foundation (with Tellart), The Commonwealth Secretariat (with Cloudburst Foundation), Gaia Education, the Global Ecovillage Network, the State of the World Forum, Balears.t, Camper, LUSH and many educational NGOs, universities, and design schools. He is co-founder of Biomimicry Iberia (2012), and has been collaborating with ‘SmartUIB’ at the University of the Balearic Islands since 2014, and works part-time as Gaia Education’s ‘Head of Design & Innovation’ since 2015. His recent book Designing Regenerative Cultures, published by Triarchy Press in the UK in May 2016, has already gained international acclaim, and his blog on Medium has a large international readership.