This article summarizes the author’s forthcoming book, Quantum Shift in the Global Brain, to be published by Inner Traditions.
The production of essential biological and physical resources has already peaked. Forests, species of fish, and coral reefs are damaged and disappearing, soils are impoverished by overcropping and by chemicals; diversity is reduced by genetic manipulation. More than half the world’s population faces water shortages whilst climate change threatens to make much of the planet unsuited for food production and habitation.
With this comes growing insecurity within and between countries, and greater propensity to resort to terrorism and war. Fundamentalism and fanaticism are spreading and the gap is widening between rich and poor. Eighty percent of the world’s wealth belongs to one billion people while the rest is shared by five-and-a-half billion. One in three urban dwellers live in slums, shantytowns and urban ghettoes.
We have consumed more of the planet’s resources in the six decades since World War II than in all of history before. We produce more waste than the environment can absorb, and extract more resources than the biosphere can regenerate. This is not sustainable. In regard to food, for example, we know how much is sustainable: it is the produce of 4.2 acres of land for each person. But the average today is seven acres (and would be far more if the poorest countries would not have an untenably small footprint).
If we continue in this way famine and frustration will fuel terrorism and trigger wars. The delicate balance of our global interdependence will be torn apart. In the ensuing global collapse no country, no population will be spared. Hamlet’s famous question, to be or not to be, has become extremely timely. The question is not whether we need to change in order to be. To survive on this planet we need to change. Sooner or later we will want to change. But when we do, will there still be time to change?
Gandhi said: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’. How can you do that? First of all, get rid of old thinking and the values and beliefs that support it. As Einstein said, you can’t solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that produced the problem. When we shed obsolete beliefs and adopt new thinking, we change our values and our thinking and change ourselves. In these critical times that change can be the “butterfly” that triggers a storm. It could spread far and wide, and in the end it could change the world.
New thinking is not utopian or unprecedented; it is already emerging at the creative edge of society. In a number of “alternative cultures” people think and act in a more positive way. They share two fundamental beliefs. One is that the ancient saying “we are all one” is not just fiction but has roots in reality. This is borne out in the latest developments in the sciences: subtle but real signals and energies connect all particles in the cosmos and all living things in the biosphere. The second belief regards the sphere of human responsibility. If we are truly connected with each other and with nature, our responsibilities do not end with ourselves, our family, our country and our company; they encompass the entire human community and the whole of the biosphere. Living up to these wider responsibilities is not charity; it is solid common sense. If we are part of humanity, and humanity is part of life on the planet, what we do to others and to nature we do also to ourselves.
A living species can cope with changes in its environment—up to a point. When those changes accumulate, the stress reaches a critical point and the species dies out unless, of course, it mutates. In relatively simple systems critical points lead to breakdown. In more complex systems these critical points are tipping points: they can go one way or another. They do not lead inevitably to breakdown, they can also lead to breakthrough.
In 1989 a group of East German refugees crossed the iron curtain to Austria. For the communist world of Eastern Europe that was the tipping point. In a matter of weeks the Communist-bloc countries seceded from the Soviet Union, and less than a year later the Soviet Union and its Republics had ceased to exist, transforming—not without crisis and turbulence—into more open societies.
Modern civilization itself arose out of the cultural mutations of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The new culture was shaped by the belief in the power of reason and the development of a materialistic and mechanistic view of the world. Today, however, in our age of global information, communication, interdependence and social and environmental stress, the mechanistic-materialistic worldview has become obsolete and counterproductive. Its view of the world has been transcended in the sciences, but the technologies it generates and the behaviours it inspires are with us still.
The civilization that dominates the contemporary world is no longer sustainable: if it is not to breakdown, it must transform. We must create a civilization that enables six-and-a-half billion people to live with dignity, in harmony with each other and with nature. The Worldshift from a civilization based on materialistical and mechanistic short-term thinking to one based on integral thinking and longer and wider horizons is possible. We have the knowledge, the technologies, and the necessary human and financial resources. The presently marginal global-thinking alternative cultures could become the mainstream. When a critical mass of people changes its values and priorities, the leadership catches on, and the world itself will change.
It may well be that the global tipping point will come as soon as the end of 2012, the much prophesied watershed in humanity’s tenure on the planet. It will certainly come within the lifetime of most of us. Whenever it comes, we must begin to change now, to ensure that it is not a prelude to breakdown, but a breakthrough to a truly peaceful and sustainable world.