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Gus Speth


My hat is off to our fearless leader, Paul Raskin, for his gem of a little but big book. For a decade, I assigned the 2002 precursor, Great Transition, to my students at Yale and at the Vermont Law School, and our formal debate using the scenarios was always a high point of the semester. The original was great. Journey to Earthland is greater.

I can only guess how a theoretical physicist came to write like an angel, but I am confident that Raskin's extended essay deserves a serious and very large audience. It is an accessible, well-honed, and brilliant synthesis of possible human futures and the paths to them. There's nothing else that I know of that says so much so well and so briefly.

Raskin and his colleagues at Tellus and the many people with whom they have worked over the decades (myself included) have used all manner of approaches, from mathematical models to bull sessions, to explore these issues and strengthen the analysis. In Raskin’s hands, the result is a stirring guide to a world that works.

I believe it was Dee Hock who first said that things are much too bad for pessimism. Raskin is not a pessimist, but neither, I think, is he an optimist. Earthland is not a prediction; it is a possibility. It happens because an ever-larger number of people not only come to see themselves as global citizens but also come together to struggle for a future in which people and planet can thrive and flourish. Huge numbers of people put it all on the line, and succeed.

Journey to Earthland reflects the two key ingredients: brutal honesty about our condition, and hope that a positive future can be built beyond all the destruction and plunder.

The key agent of change, of course, is the global citizens movement. It is a globe-wide movement of citizens as well as a movement of global citizens. Raskin asks several times whether such a thing is possible, whether it can “take shape at the requisite speed, scale and coherence.” “The race for the soul of Earthland is on,” he writes, but the “palpable vulnerability” of a system that is “incompetent and rigged for the few” contrasts sharply with the underdevelopment of the other factors needed to generate the movement, “strong mobilizing organizations and a cohesive oppositional community.”

I know most readers will be attracted to Journey to Earthland’s magisterial Part III, the history of a possible future. But I keep returning to the immediately preceding section on the Global Citizens Movement (GCM), for it is with the GCM that the door to that future either opens or it does not. I think Raskin is right that the GCM offers the potential agency for deep transformation. It follows, I believe, that the hard job of building a GCM should move rapidly to the top of our collective priority list. It is not there now.

You may be wondering who won the debates mentioned earlier. Usually, there were four teams: Fortress World (a Barbarization scenario), Policy Reform, Eco-Communalism, and New Paradigm. After each debate, the students voted on which scenario was most likely and which was most attractive. More often than not, Fortress World was seen as most likely, and I have to agree that, of the four, it has the most hard evidence going for it today. And most attractive? New Paradigm, now Earthland, was the regular winner—except for a few times in Vermont when Eco-Communalism won out by a slight margin. Ah, Vermont!

Eco-Communalism is the other Great Transition scenario, and its name does have an attractive ring to it. In Raskin’s view, though, Eco-Communalism's autarkic communities, bereft of planetary consciousness, are best thought of as the product of a post-Breakdown evolution.

Recall Raskin's three archetypal “regions” in Earthland: Agoria (the Nordic countries times ten), Ecodemia (economic democracy and a socialized political economy), and Arcadia (local communities with self-reliant economies and face-to-face democracy). Here is some good news: we can now see a new economy combining features of Ecodemia and Arcadia emerging in many places. As Emily Kawano documents in a forthcoming essay for the Next System Project, an extraordinary flourishing of real-world social and solidarity economy initiatives is underway around the world from the ground up. Kawano sees the solidarity economy as seeking “to transform the dominant capitalist system, as well as authoritarian and other state-dominated systems into one that puts people and planet at its core.”1

What has great power for me is to see these extensive efforts to bring the future into the present locally complementing the emergence of a powerful GCM, building from both the ground up and the top down and struggling to erode away and render obsolete the systems of plunder in between.


Endnotes

1. Emily Kawano, "Solidarity Economy: Building an Economy for People & Planet," The Next System Project, forthcoming 2017.


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Gus Speth

Gus Speth is an Associate Fellow at the Tellus Institute and co-chair of the Next System Project at the Democracy Collaborative. Previously, he was the Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, and chairman of the US Council on Environmental Quality. He is the founder of the World Resources Institute and the co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council. His latest book is a memoir, Angels by the River, published in October 2014.




Cite as Gus Speth, "Reflection on Journey to Earthland: The Great Transition to Planetary Civilization," Great Transition Initiative (November 2016), http://www.greattransition.org/reflection/jte-gus-speth.




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As a forum for collectively understanding and shaping the global future, GTI welcomes diverse ideas. Thus, the opinions expressed in our publications do not necessarily reflect the views of GTI or the Tellus Institute.