After decades of big business interests and beholden governments rolling back the positive environmental protection initiatives of the 1970s, it is time for those of us who care about a positive future to go on the offensive. We should aim to win – to change the direction of society so profoundly that we successfully transition from a course of sure ecological self-destruction to a life sustaining future.

To win we have to affect people’s thinking

The most influential point of change in any human system is in people’s ‘paradigms’, meaning their way of understanding the world, their appreciation of the implications of current trends, the sense of connection or disconnection to the larger web of life, and their feelings and aspirations. In other words, we should be aiming to profoundly affect how mainstream people think and feel.

Psychologically manipulative marketers have been affecting how people think and feel in an adverse way since the 1930’s. They devote enormous imagination and financial resources to playing on people’s insecurities and desire to appear important, all for the sake of selling more goods. They aim to have their ‘brand’ appear everywhere. They devise clever slogans that stick in people’s minds.

Likewise, economic rationalists keep the mantra of economic growth, economic growth in the foreground of our attention as the defining feature of what our times are about.

It is time for a massive push back. Our proper goal, collectively, is to transition to a life-sustaining society. Communication to affect mainstream consciousness is key.

The environmental and progressive movements need innovation

To succeed, we need massive innovation in the strategy, tactics and execution of how the progressive movement communicates. Most of all we need the intention to win, and the willingness to go beyond our own business-as-usual and do whatever it takes to succeed, even if this is not necessarily comfortable for us personally.

If we intend to succeed, we may well ask: what will it take to succeed? To answer this profound question, we are going to have to stretch our thinking. I propose three levels of answer.

First, most powerfully, is the intention itself. ‘Moving towards sustainability’ or ‘just doing my bit’ won’t cut it. Our proper intention, both individually and as a society, is to succeed in transitioning to a life-sustaining society.

From this intention two kinds of activity follow.

·        At a practical level, becoming ecologically sustainable involves changing all the major factors that drive environmental deterioration. These include the institutional factors that increase industrial production and its attendant environmental destruction: advertising, trade agreements, devotion to economic increase, corporate control of government policy, and poor industrial design.

·        In addition, there are also psychological drivers of ecological deterioration, as suggested by the phrase retail therapy. It seems that often people by excess stuff because they are unhappy and don’t know of anything better to do. It follows that cultivating emotional resilience and inner well-being are critical factors in transitioning to a life-sustaining society. There is more to it than just technological change.

Pulling these strands together, we are talking about a whole system change to a life-sustaining society.

The idea of changing the direction of our whole society can be mentally and emotionally daunting. My paper Understanding Whole System Change makes the idea of a whole system change mentally manageable in a way that supports real-world transformative actions.

There are other authors and organisations that talk comprehensively about whole system change as well. They include Paul Raskin’s Great Transition: the promise and lure of the times ahead, David Korten’s The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community,the Pachamama Alliance’s Game Changer Intensive, and Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff Project, among others.

The reach of all organisations is limited

However, it is important to note that the reach of each of these authors and organisations is limited. Like a drop of ink falling on a napkin, their growth expands and then saturates. Each individual or organisation has only limited ability to reach a mainstream audience. Miniscule, actually. And at this point only a few are talking about large-scale transformative change.

So our challenge is this: how can we communicate to seed the understanding of the need for rapid large-scale transformational change and its hopeful possibilities so powerfully into mainstream culture that we inspire passionate commitment to transitioning to a life-sustaining society? Communicating to affect mainstream consciousness is the second kind of activity that follows from the intention to succeed.

A communication strategy to align thousands of organisations

The Inspiring Transition  initiative has a communication strategy that can involve thousands of organisations and their members. See what you think of it.

We start with the recognition that there are already literally millions of businesses and organisations who are actively concerned about environmental and social issues. Through our networks we are all part of mainstream culture. It is unlikely that all of these groups will align around one or two specific projects, because each group thinks its own project is important, and they are correct.

But at a meta-level, perhaps many of us can readily agree that we have common cause in aiming to transition to a life-sustaining society, and that inspiring mainstream commitment to that transition is essential for success.

If so, our strategy can be quite simple. We can aim to inspire as many groups and their members as possible to spread the memewe are transitioning to a life-sustaining society, and we need to greatly accelerate it as widely as possible, through as many means as possible.

This meme, transitioning to a life-sustaining society, is our equivalent of a brand. It is an encompassing goal that points to a new direction for society. We want people to hear and see our meme everywhere – in email signatures, blog posts, flyers and short videos in professional offices, opinion pieces in newspapers, talkback radio and personal conversations, and in lectures and panel discussions at conferences.

This meme will replace, and finally supplant, economic growth as the definition of what our global civilisation is about.

This strategy is described in more detail in our article Accelerating the Great Transition - Engaging mainstream commitment to a life-sustaining society. It includes a set of imaginative communication tacticsthat range from high level think tanks for business, government and civil society to inexpensive guerrilla marketing tactics.

From silo to comprehensive systems thinking

Of course people need to understand and act on what is involved in transitioning to a life-sustaining society. We can cultivate this understanding through blogs, articles, lectures, You Tube videos, conferences and events.

We have an innovative communication tool called Kitchen Table Conversations. Kitchen Table Conversations use physical models to enable people to keep track of complex ideas. Through these conversations people develop a comprehensive framework that equips them mentally and emotionally to support constructive leadership when it arises, and to exert such leadership themselves within their sphere of influence.

If we succeed in changing the aspiration and practical action of our whole society, our local actions will gain much more traction. Environmental protest will become a thing of the past because informed policymakers will make wise policy. And children will grow up without the angst that the world they will inherit is self-destructing. Future generations will look back at us with gratitude. Let’s make it happen!

Andrew Gaines

andrew.gaines [@] inspiringtransition.net
We are in a Great Transition to a life-sustaining society!