My enthusiasm and hope for the prospects for the growing Extinction Rebellion to raise awareness of the converging Earth Systems crises got me to read its founder Roger Hallam’s book, Common Sense for the 21st Century. I had been studying what I call “The New Great Transformation” for my own book, At the Edge of Illusion, based in part on some implications of Karl Polanyi’s great work on the industrial revolution reported in his 1944 book, The Great Transformation.
I had concluded that we have already begun to experience a new great transformation of the Earth System itself as we approach the end of the industrial era into the Anthropocene. However, while the whole Earth System is going through a systemic destabilizing process directly caused by the global corporate industrial-consumer economy, humanity has not responded in kind with the societal transformation necessary to avoid both ecological and climate collapse. In fact, nobody is even discussing the fact that we cannot rapidly reduce carbon emissions to avoid catastrophic climate collapse and the societal collapse that would inevitably follow, without transforming society itself.
Resisting the Headlong Rush to Extinction
The probability of human extinction, as well as that of many other species, grows rapidly with virtually no human intervention at the necessary scale, beyond elite international meetings over unenforceable ‘commitments’ and empty promises. Let’s hope that the powers that be, meeting in Glasgow, Scotland for the IPCC’s COP26 this week can commit to starting some explicit actions now to rapidly reduce carbon emissions in this decade rather than just affirm vague plans to reach some global temperature targets by 2050 when an unlivable planet will be certain without major action now.
So, you can see why I find the Extinction Rebellion so important. Its members explicitly assert the inevitability of chaos and collapse without immediate and extreme actions to severely reduce carbon emissions now. The scientific evidence is overwhelmingly clear. That is why I have similar high regard for Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future global climate strike and the Sunshine Movement, which both call for immediate international climate action. The more resistance in the form of nonviolent rebellion that the world’s people can muster, the better. It is urgently necessary to force political leaders to wake up from their utopian-industrial dreams and act now.
Resistance is Not Enough
However, resistance to the continuation of the globalized industrial-consumer economy of perpetual growth on a finite planet needs another component. I have concluded that even the most valiant efforts to build a global process to reduce carbon emissions to stop planetary overheating have not considered one very important but extremely complicated collective action.
While we have all the technology needed to transform economies to low or no carbon, the missing element is HOW to organize the escape of societies from their current subordination to the global corporate economy of unlimited growth. We will not be able to rein in carbon emissions enough unless we re-embed all economic activity within the parameters of ecologically harmonious societies.
All that has brought me to the conclusion that rebellion must include not only resistance. It must also intentionally work to replace the existing global-economy-dominated societal structures with a web of ecological communities whose focus is to restore local-regional ecosystems. By turning away from the corporate state and its industrial-consumer culture, humanity can force that system to ‘wither away’ by losing its customers, who have turned away from industrial-consumerism to salvage a livable habitat on the only planet we have.
Communicate and Organize
How to organize people in communities to transform society from below remains the big question. Collective action to resist the corporate state is important but not enough. The evidence is clear that traditional strategies of persuasion do not easily lead to viral adaptation of new beliefs or behaviors, especially when people are highly dependent on existing economic hierarchies.
However, recent research in social network science demonstrates that people change both beliefs and behaviors far more easily in response to changes by other members of their strongly connected network clusters (neighborhoods, social/professional groups, extended families, etc.) than in response to mass appeals alone.
I am currently investigating how these findings might be applied to extent the efforts that movements like Extinction Rebellion, Fridays for Future, and other related movements are making. I have written a book, At the Edge of Illusion: Facing the New Great Transformation, describing the range of institutional and cultural obstacles involved and pointing to science grounded strategies for achieving the extreme societal transformation necessary to make the changes we must to avoid global chaos and possible extinction. (I’m looking for a publisher willing to take the risk of supporting such an unconventional analysis.) I am now working on the question of how social movements can apply the recent findings of social network science to mobilize effectively large numbers of communities to self-organize to execute the necessary changes democratically.
In any case, we must keep up the fight, if only for our own survival!