A Great Transition. In the Planetary Phase of Civilization, humanity and Earth have become a single community of fate. We are in the midst of a turbulent transition from the world that was to some form of global society, with no exit and no separate solutions for individuals, communities, or countries. The transition is generating a host of ominous transnational problems – climate change and ecosystem degradation, economic instability and geopolitical conflict, oppression and mass migration – that left unattended might well pull us toward a bleak tomorrow.
In these times, it is easy to fall prey to the three D’s of an anxious culture: denial, despair, and distraction. Still, as the world rushes helter-skelter towards an uncertain future, growing numbers of people are becoming concerned global citizens. Their engagement makes possible a Great Transition to a future of enriched lives, human solidarity, and environmental sustainability.
The increasing connectivity of globalization is an opportunity to construct new categories of consciousness – global citizenship, humanity-as-whole, the wider web of life, and the well-being of future generations – alongside a governance architecture that balances the twin goals of global unity and regional pluralism.
Charting passage to a happier outcome demands rapid emergence of ways of thinking and acting matched to the profound challenge posed by global transition. Our concern and accountability, indeed, our very sense of self, must expand across the barriers of space and time to embrace the whole human family, the ecosphere, and the unborn. We stand at an inflection point of history full of peril, but also promise, if we can come together in a joint venture: creating a culture of solidarity and politics of trust within a movement to build democratic institutions for peace, justice, and sustainability.
A Values Shift. The vision of a Great Transition is a planetary civilization rooted in a new suite of values – quality-of-life, human solidarity and reverence for nature – for the twenty-first century.
While most of human history was dominated by scarcity and the challenge of survival, today's huge economies have created the conditions for a post-scarcity society. Attention can turn now to quality-of-life: human fulfillment rather than wealth as the primary measure of success and well-being. The sense of solidarity – social connectedness, responsibility, and loyalty – can begin to extend beyond nation and tribe to people of distant places, the unborn of distant futures, and the other creatures of the earth. Reverence for nature, an ecological sensibility of wonder and enjoyment in the natural world, is nourished by the growing appreciation of humanity’s place in the web of life and our dependence on a bountiful earth.
While these values may be essential in averting catastrophe, a new civilization rooted in these values is by no means inevitable. It requires and depends on an upsurge of public awareness and engagement, a development that the evolving conditions of our planetary phase of history make possible.
One World, Many Places. The planetary phase interweaves the fates of rich and poor, human and non-human, living and unborn. We are, like it or not, one human family and one earth sharing a common fate. The reality of greater interconnectedness can encourage a corresponding enlargement of our identity as global citizens. Globalism today is putting down deep roots, just as nationalism once did. From outer space, we see not artificial national boundaries, but an integral planet, the natural political unit for sustaining the biosphere, managing interdependent economies, and keeping the peace. At the same time, ours is a pluralistic world, with regions and countries of astonishing diversity. The governance of a Great Transition would need to be an intricate web of local, regional, and global nodes and connections. Three broad principles would guide the balance of one world and many places: decision-making should be channeled to the most local level feasible (subsidiarity); some issues are necessarily and properly addressed at the global level (irreducibility); regions can fashion diverse approaches to development, so long as they meet environmental, human rights, and other global responsibilities (plurality).
A Pathway Forward. The growing chasm between the obsolete institutions of the twentieth century and the de-stabilizing trends of the twenty-first is portentous. Which social actors can tilt history toward a Great Transition? Multilateral bodies are enfeebled by the myopia of nationalism, the private sector is subject to the tyranny of the bottom line, and civil society organizations are limited by organizational and philosophical fragmentation. Collectively, actions for a sustainable and just global society remain too dispersed, diffused, and small-scale to change the pathway of global development. Thus, progress painstakingly won here and there is overwhelmed by systemic deterioration. While the public’s awareness of emerging dangers grows, apprehension breeds fear and resignation in the absence of a compelling alternative vision.
To create an alternative vision and effective strategy for realizing it, consciousness and action must rise to the level of a unified global society. Dominant institutions have proved too timorous or too venal for meeting the environmental and social challenges of our time. Instead, an adequate response requires us to imagine the awakening of a new social actor: a coordinated global citizens movement (GCM) struggling on all fronts toward a just and sustainable planetary civilization.
We propose a new organizing campaign with the explicit aim of catalyzing this historic agency. This effort would expand and diversify in a “widening circle,” adapting to changing circumstances as it evolves. From the onset, such a project must foster a politics of trust, committed to balancing unity and pluralism on the road to our common future.
The popular movements that forged nation-states over the last few centuries developed overarching national identities that encompassed preexisting communities. In the Planetary Phase, we need a still more inclusive form of consciousness and association: a worldwide cultural and political awakening united under the banner Earth.