Stable Planet Alliance's founding CEO, Phoebe Barnard, and media advisor, Transmediavision USA director John Bowey, wrote this piece as a letter to The Guardian following the publication of "World Scientists' Warning: the Behavioural Crisis Driving Ecological Overshoot." The Guardian didn't publish the letter, but it did commission climate corruption journalist Rachel Donald to interview Phoebe and the paper's lead author Joseph Merz on the subject - to be published soon.
Most of us already see the deep dysfunction of our civilization - from super-carbon-emitting wildfires and floods to retrogressive autocracy, political dysfunction, health instability and economic hostage-taking. Many would say - inevitably rightly - that it’s in its death throes.
Why is this inevitable? Because the hard growth core of western civilization - progress, entitlement, extraction, inequity, competition - is eventually incompatible with a civilized future.
We’ve known this for decades. We just hoped it wasn’t really so.
Civilizations around the world have brought us so much - not least stability, predictability, structure, services and trade. So it’d be the greatest travesty of our species not to recognize when it’s time to move on, and to reshape them - hopefully peacefully, not violently. These kinds of crossroads have already been navigated before at smaller scales. Every post-colonial nation has asked itself ‘what kind of a society do we want from now on, and how do we get there?’
To retain a civilization, we must face our demons: our human and livestock numbers, our appetites, our waste, and our mindsets. Can we do that? Our paper this week on human behaviours at the dark underbelly of ecological overshoot suggests that we can - even if we need to use the same tools (global marketing) that manipulated our weaknesses for profit.
A future civilization needs a clean break from the past: reckoning with our failure to balance cleverness with wisdom, the present with the future, self-interest with the common good. If we can do that, we might just be able to take the good elements of our past with us into a less certain future. It’s time to look in the mirror.
Phoebe Barnard, founding CEO and advisor, Stable Planet Alliance and professor of environmental futures, University of Washington
John Bowey, film director, Transmediavision USA