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GTI Forum

Short-Term Action for Long-Term Change
Contribution to GTI Forum Which Future Are We Living In?

Gus Speth

Moving the telescope across the landscape, one sees today a mix of all six futures detailed in the 2002 Great Transition essay essay almost everywhere one looks, in varying degrees. But there does seem to be one dominant "present," and that is Market Forces. Certainly, that is true in the United States, where Policy Reform struggles to get a foothold. That foothold is present yet quite weak nationally, albeit stronger in some states like California and New York. With varying degrees of nation-state involvement around the globe, market capitalism is today's dominant system of political economy. The Conventional Worlds scenarios rule the day. We have not escaped it.

But where we are is, of course, not necessarily where we are headed. The "we" here becomes important. Blessed are those who can assess far-away developments, but even after a spell in the United Nations and visits to 115 countries, I cannot.

I will focus here on the United States. Here, we must look at the first and second derivatives: which futures are growing in likelihood and which are picking up speed.

One clear feature of the US landscape, as I have recounted elsewhere, is the increasing probability of a combination of Fortress World and social, environmental, and political Breakdowns. It would be straightforward to add the evidence for this—a catalogue of many dispiriting things happening in this country since, say, 1980.

Naomi Klein, Thomas Homer-Dixon, and others have urged us to get crisis-ready, given that big shocks are surely coming, but there is not much evidence that that preparation is happening. Even on one of the most visible of these crises, climate change, there is precious little real planning. The US has no national plan of action on either the mitigation or adaptation fronts. Forewarned certainly does not mean forearmed.

Another and more hopeful alternative gaining strength on the American ground is Eco-communalism, at least if that label can be used for the remarkable array of neighborhood, community, city, state, and regional initiatives now underway across the country. Many of these initiatives are marching under the banner of the Solidarity Economy. My impression is that this version of Eco-Communalism is more advanced in a number of places around the world than it is in the United States.

If this is correct, what seems to be emerging is a foot race: can Policy Reform (from the top) and Eco-communalism (from the bottom) move fast enough to head off the emerging crises and system failures leading to Fortress World and Breakdowns? Despite the ways in which fast-evolving crises like the climate emergency can severely curtail positive possibilities, I believe there is still hope for the prospect of system change to a New Paradigm future, but we must make huge greenhouse gas reductions now through Policy Reform for that to remain feasible.

Gus Speth

Gus Speth is an Associate Fellow at Tellus Institute, co-chair of the Next System Project at the Democracy Collaborative, and author of America the Possible.

Cite as Gus Speth, "Short-Term Action for Long-Term Change," contribution to GTI Forum "Which Future Are We Living In?," Great Transition Initiative (November 2022),

As an initiative 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.

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