Background and references

Why go to the effort of organizing a Think Tank on Innovative Communication for Social Change? Because colleagues and I have the view that current ecological trends, including climate, bode ill for the well-being of present and coming generations, and as a globalized civilization we need to change direction.

I am committed, with others, to doing what I can to turn things around – or, more realistically, to soften our descent to a steady state economy that operates within the Earth’s capacity to support us.

Our ecological emergency includes climate. I happen to think that much climate thinking is severely limited or misguided. (Well, how’s that for arrogance!)

What follows here is a long (possibly boring) process of thinking through our situation. It is a cross between an essay and a bibliography. Some aspects of it you will likely be familiar with already. There may well be some aspects which are novel to you, especially in the areas of mindset change (improving thinking skills) and improving emotional functioning.

We start with reasons to suppose that climate change is real. I know, most folks have accepted the reality of climate change – but still, the question can come up.

But now it gets dicey. I suggest that most commonly pursued solutions, such as renewable energy, Net Zero Emissions, and electrifying everything, while goodhearted, are by themselves inadequate to the task of reducing emissions within any timeframe that matters.

It gets worse. The emphasis on climate change misses the larger context, which is that we are in a condition of severe ‘overshoot’. We are using far more resources than the Earth can provide long-term. Currently our economic system requires increasing resource depletion, and of course our enormous population makes things worse.

It is not much use to change one aspect – however important – if the larger system is self-destructing.

So we will explore a few rabbit holes. This will lead to redefining our immediate climate problem from ‘reducing emissions’ to ‘cooling the planet’ (even though reducing emissions is critical in the long run, and the sooner the better).

The good news is that there is a biological solution to cooling the Earth. It is to reforest arid and desert land. The dynamics of this are complicated and fascinating – and it is feasible… provided there is public will. (Everything comes down to mobilising public will. I would like to think that Think Tank will generate ways to act on this.)

Our starting point for these considerations has been that all of us do well to ground our thinking in physical reality. If the ecology goes, we go.

However, in terms of evolving a viable society, psychological and social factors are more important than technological changes. People’s behavior is driven by their emotions, by their ways of thinking, and by their understanding (or lack of understanding) of what’s going on in the world. So it is critical that we improve people’s mental and emotional functioning.

There is a large amount of trauma in our society. Unresolved trauma can make it difficult to feel compassion – i.e., to care for our community, for nature, or for the larger world. Arguably unresolved trauma underlies domestic violence and willingness to destroy the environment. It also underlies public willingness to go to war, and the international geopolitical policies that have taken us to the brink of nuclear war.

Our challenge, I suggest is evolutionary. It is about helping people think more comprehensively and realistically about our physical situation (diminishing resources and so on). This is a very different approach to social change than campaigning on specific issues.

And on the emotional level it is about helping people resolve trauma (and better yet, prevent trauma). An outcome, in addition to the general improvement in well-being, may be having such an inner sense of well-being that we are content with materially modest lifestyles. Another outcome, ideally, will be that the general populace no longer supports the machineries of war.

Institutionally, our challenge is to evolve institutions that support human well-being. Politically our challenge is to make democracy work the well-being of all.

All these are aspects of an overarching goal: to evolve a compassionate ecologically sustainable society (aka life-affirming culture or ecological civilization… there are a number of ways of phrasing a positive overarching goal).

Acting on such a vision requires engaging the general public as well as influential decision makers. The question naturally arises: How might we reach the general public?

The good news in this space is that there are millions of groups that care about social and environmental well-being. Millions. The bad news is that they are fragmented, and each preaches to its own choir.

A new possibility, which is why we are organizing the Think Tank, is that groups can align to inspire public will to doing everything required to pull out of our ecological nosedive to the extent possible, and indeed evolve a compassionate ecologically sustainable society. The members of established groups – of which there are millions – are an underutilized resource for communicating for social change.

Andrew Gaines FRSA
Inspiring Transition
League of Evolutionary Catalysts

Physical reality

There are millions of us who care about a positive future, given our ecological decline and social distress. How might we orient ourselves?

Let’s begin by considering physical reality.

Global warming

For more than 30 years Spencer Weart was the director of the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. He provides a detailed historical account of how, contentiously, many scientists came to accept the reality of human induced global warming.

A majority people accept the reality of global warming. However, for some it is still contentious. The resources below make the case that the Earth is in fact warming in a significant way.

For more than 30 years Spencer Weart was the director of the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. He provides a detailed historical account of how, contentiously, many scientists came to accept the reality of human induced global warming.

However, there are also those who argue that what we are observing is simply normal climate variability.

This book is a polemic – a one-sided argument with an axe to grind. The above resources may be useful in evaluating its claims.

How environmental protection became a topic of concern

The modern environmental movement was sparked by Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring.

Carson described how pesticides were killing songbirds. It struck a chord with Americans and led to Environmental Protection Agencies being established around the world. (Oil spills and polluted rivers were also part of the story.)

  • Rachel Carson Silent Spring

‘Environmental protection’ was the language of the day. However, business interests at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972 got the language changed to ‘sustainable development’.

The rationale was that underdeveloped countries need economic development. Folks living on a few dollars a day with polluted water and poor healthcare do indeed need economic development.

However, I think that was not the point. I think the point was to make sure that business interests trump the environment when important decisions are made – and in practice this has largely happened ever since.

We even have economic growth as Sustainable Development Goal 8, and currently most people accept ‘sustainable development’ without batting an eye. This was an extremely successful marketing ploy. Language matters.

There is more to be concerned about besides global warming

In addition to climate change, we have what I call a ‘grim litany’ of additional ecological issues.

  • Falling freshwater tables
  • Topsoil loss
  • Declining fish stocks
  • The destruction of tropical rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia
  • Biodiversity loss and loss of pollinators such as bees.
  • Industrial toxins and plastic particles everywhere.

Peak Oil

Oil wells are like underground buckets. They deplete our time, and if they are pumped long enough they run dry. This is true for entire oil fields, and ultimately for our global oil supply.

Peak Oil is the point where the Earth’s supply of oil begins to decline. It’s not that we suddenly run out of oil, but most of the readily available cheap oil has been pumped. What remains is harder (and more costly) to get, and there is less of it. Ultimately, if oil continues to be pumped, we will run out.

  • Richard Heinberg The Party’s Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Modern Industrial Societies.

 How are we doing? Opinions vary, but petroleum geologist Art Burman suggests that we reached peak conventional oil in 2017.

  • Arthur Berman Peak Oil
    Reviews the history of peak oil thinking.

 Will fracking take up the slack? Fracking, too, is finite.

Fracking produces oil that is less dense than the conventional oil used to make diesel fuel. Currently shipping and truck transportation for our globalized economy require diesel. We are not prepared for a sudden decline in oil availability. We would be wise and realistic to prepare for it!

  • Posted in Medium Peak oil gets admitted
    Quotes industry sources that peak oil is now an accepted part of the energy conversation.


We are destroying resources faster than they can regenerate. Ecologists call this a condition of overshoot.

Just like drawing down our bank account, we can get away with overshoot for a while because we are using stored resources. But when the well runs dry, to shift metaphors, that’s it. No more water. Agriculture stops. Food is no longer available. Cities are abandoned. Civilizations collapse.

This has happened many times in the past.

  • Jared Diamond Collapse

  • Joseph Tainter The Collapse of Complex Societies

In our time the drivers of impending ecological collapse include economic growth, population growth, expectations of affluence, and ignorance – not knowing the consequences of the system that we are all part of.


Population is a sensitive topic.

Some business interests and others advocate for increasing population.

Some people feel, perhaps correctly, that abortion is murder. Abortions are traumatic for women who have them. Not easy.

The physical reality is that increasing the mouths we have to feed (and how long they live, and how affluently they live) increases our demand on the natural world.

As noted, we are in overshoot in many parts of the world already, and seemingly headed for ecological collapse. Increasing population is a major driver of our destruction.

Population is below natural replacement rate in many developed countries. Some pronatalists argue that we should work to keep our population up. They foresee a situation where we have too many aged people, and too few working people to both take care of the aging population and also do the farming, manufacturing and other work necessary to keep society going. Others are concerned about lack of innovation.

However it plays out, humanity is going through a squeeze. On the one hand, we will have decreased resource availability, increasing climate mayhem, and possibly ecological collapse (not to mention war and maybe nuclear annihilation).

On the other hand, we will have a temporary age imbalance.

It’s far better for folks to deal with the challenge of young people having to take care of older people than to increase population and therefore accelerate ecological collapse.

Barbara Williams, an independent thinker who is clear about these issues, suggests a 5-year birth strike. Others suggest that young couples make the decision to have only one child. No doubt many have already made this choice.

Williams also straightforwardly suggests that when we feel that we are no longer contributing, we should settle our affairs and arrange to die.

On a more positive note, Carter Dillard points out that by delaying having children women have time to mature in ways that enable them to be more empathic with their children. And with fewer children each child is likely to get more individual attention. The children have a better start in life.

Responses to global warming

Let’s review various responses to global warming, with a view to considering whether they are adequate to our challenge.


  • School Strike for Climate
  • Extinction Rebellion

These folks raise the alarm – an important first step. But raising the alarm does not change the system.

Some call for dramatically reducing or stopping using fossil fuels

This is logistically naïve. A rapid reduction in fossil fuel use would not only collapse our economic system, it would collapse our industrial system, including transportation, medical supplies, food and heating, and many people in the developed world, as well as globally, would soon die.

So we are caught between a rock and a hard place: We do need to reduce emissions, but how to do it without collapsing the system?

Renewable energy?

Many people hope that we can keep our globalized civilization going (i.e. economic growth) – and our current comfortable way of life – by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.

Some energy researchers think this is not possible.

Some environmentalists think that even if we could, we shouldn’t, because our techno-industrial system is so damaging to the rest of life.

And some researchers think that like it or not we are entering a phase of steadily reducing available energy overall, and we would be wise to plan for it.

Currently renewable energy does not reduce fossil fuel use; it only adds to the energy used for manufacturing.

 This graphic tells the story: it shows that as wind and solar increased, so did fuel use globally, at least as of 2021. Regretfully, there has been no significant change in the trend.

Can renewable energy replace fossil fuels and keep our modern industrial economy going? These analysts, coming from very different viewpoints, have concluded that we have neither the material resources (i.e., critical minerals such as manganese, graphite and even copper) nor the finances to rapidly shift to 100 percent renewable energy while still keeping our current economy going.


  • Simon Michaux Assessment of the Extra Capacity Required of Alternative Energy Electrical Power Systems to Completely Replace Fossil Fuels
    Simon Michaux is a researcher with the Geological Survey of Finland.
  • Mark Mills The energy transition delusion: inescapable mineral realities
    Mark Mills is an analyst with the Manhattan Institute.

Technical solutions

Some folks champion technical solutions.

Improved energy efficiency

  • Amory Lovins et al Natural Capitalism

Brilliantly makes the case for how much can be done by improving energy efficiency. Gives both the theory and practical examples in areas as diverse as manufacturing, automobiles, housing and agriculture.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS)

The idea is to capture CO2 and store it underground. 

Fossil fuels are essential for industrial production and transportation

While it is easy to call for ‘reducing fossil fuels’, this is a tough call in practice. Not only our globalized economy, but indeed the supply chains that we depend on for food, clothing and ordinary household items currently depend on fossil fuels. An abrupt drop in fossil fuel use would be disastrous. (And yet, we do indeed need to reduce fossil fuel use.)

This diagram illustrates the links between coal mining, industrial production and fossil fuel emissions.

Coal, oil and gas are used for manufacturing and transporting consumer products, for heating and cooling, and for agriculture and roadbuilding, along with the many plastics made from oil. We depend on them, and as I mentioned earlier it is naïve to think we can just turn off the spigot.

It is logistically impossible to completely and quickly replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. And the plain fact is that despite decades of COP meetings and optimistic pledges, the way things stand now fossil fuel use is not about to be reduced, because that would slow (collapse?) the economy.

Of course, when oil shortages kick in, interrupting global supply chains, manufacturing will reduce and the economy will slow. But this is descent by disaster rather than by design. We will end up with a slower economy. Collectively, we would be wise to plan for it.

Capitalism and environmental destruction

This cartoon by Tony Biddle illustrates the destructive nature of our current industrial-economic system.

Our system is driven by devotion to economic growth. Economic growth is mandated by debt-based economics that require people to pay back more money than they borrowed (which is to say, interest on loans).

Criticizing capitalism can seem abstract and ideological. These books bring the effects of capitalism as it currently operates home in down-to-earth terms.

  • Jason Moore and Raj Patel A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things
    Describes in detail the destructiveness of massive amounts of money moving around the world in search of profit.
  • Brian Czeck Supply Shock: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution

As we have seen, is not obvious that carbon emissions are going to come down soon or quickly. Fossil fuels are essential for industrial production and transportation (as well as agriculture), and there are reasons to doubt that renewable energy can rapidly replace them.

Therefore, unless we try other approaches, global heating will continue to escalate.

I have asserted that completely replacing fossil fuels with renewables is unrealistic. So it makes sense to ask, “Well, what will reduce fossil fuel use?” Because we definitely need to.

What will reduce fossil fuel use?

The two most obvious ways to reduce fossil fuel use (albeit uncomfortable) are to reduce industrial production and reduce population. In other words, reduce demand.

As mentioned, reducing industrial production will slow the economy. But people feel, correctly, that their livelihoods depend on the current system continuing. My job, my mortgage, my superannuation!

And yet, it’s essential that we slow industrial production system. We have a dilemma.

My thought is that there are two preconditions for intentionally slowing the economy in countries such as the United States, England and Australia (perhaps there are more, but bear with me).

First, both the general public and influential decision-makers need to recognize that continuing economic growth will destroy us.

Secondly, people need to feel that they will be okay economically even if the economy will slow. In other words, we need adequate social safety nets.

Two approaches may be helpful here: a Jobs Guarantee and what are called ‘Universal Basic Services’.

 A Jobs Guarantee simply means that if the economy slows and unemployment picks up, the government of the day will provide a job that enables people to get by.

Universal Basic Services include things such as healthcare, low-cost transportation, and education. When basic services are provided, people need less money to get by.

Mark Diesendorf spells out these ideas in more detail:

  • Mark Diesendorf The Path to a Sustainable Civilization

How might this be funded, especially in a contracting economy? Some suggest taxing billionaires more. And reduce military expenditures?

Proponents of Modern Monetary Theory suggests that within limits countries such as the United States and Australia can simply issue the needed money.


  • Stephanie Kelton Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy

Cooling the Earth

The approach I find the most hopeful is the idea of reforesting arid lands. Plant trees and then let nature do the work. Let’s rethink how the greenhouse effect works.

Scientist Walter Jehne’s suggestion (which he and others are working on) begins by asking Where does the heat come from that greenhouse gases trap? Well, it comes from land that has been heated by the sun. This is well-known.

Indeed, much of the heat globally comes from land that has been made arid or desert through human intervention over millennia. This aspect has been largely overlooked.

The amount of land is massive.

Arid land is like a burner on a stove, with CO2 acting like the lid on a boiling pot. Bare soil gets hotter than soil with vegetation, and therefore radiates more heat back into the atmosphere.

So the first aspect of the approach Jehne and others champion is to turn down the burner by reforesting arid land.

  • Walter Jehne How Healing Water Cycles Can Cool the Climate
    An in-depth description of how regenerating arid lands and deserts can not only reduce the amount of heat going than the atmosphere, but also reestablish cloud cover and the larger planetary water circulation system – thus cooling the planet. Complex! Fascinating!

The second aspect is that reforesting arid lands at scale would also increase cloud cover and restore the Earth’s natural cooling system.

Rob de Laet’s short video is a quick explainer.

Drawing down atmospheric CO2

The goal of Net Zero Emissions means allowing atmospheric CO2 to remain at present disastrous levels. This is not good enough.

In parallel with cooling the planet through reforestation, we need to reduce atmospheric CO2.

Drawing down carbon through agricultural regeneration

Plants have the capacity to transfer carbon through their roots into the soil. Farming practices that build up so carbon, if taken to scale, can not only absorb emissions, they can draw down atmospheric CO2.

Lovins asserts that this must be done in conjunction with reducing fossil fuel emissions, not as a substitute.

This is encouraging!

Ocean iron fertilization

Ocean iron fertilisation is like adding fertilizer to a field.

Physicist Peter Fiekowski researched various ways of reducing atmospheric CO2. Three he finds promising are synthetic limestone manufacture; seaweed permaculture; and methane oxidation.

The solution he finds the most promising is ocean iron fertilization.

The idea is to seed barren areas of the ocean with fine particles of iron. This would allow phytoplankton to grow, sequestering CO2 in their shells. When these phytoplankton die and fall to the ocean floor their carbon is sequestered.

  • Peter Fiekowski The cost-effectiveness of carbon dioxide removal methods

The Natural Step System Conditions for Sustainability

Many people have a general feeling that we should ‘become sustainable’. But what does this mean? How do we know if we are sustainable?

The Natural Step System Conditions for Sustainability provide a way to answer this question.

Three of the system conditions are very practical. They assert that it’s not sustainable if we cut down forests and loose topsoil faster than they can regenerate; introduce metals such as lead and mercury and the environment, and introduce industrial toxins. (The Natural Step language is more precise, but this gives you the idea.)

The King of Sweden embraced the idea, and a flyer on the principles of sustainability was distributed to all the households in Sweden. IKEA trained their staff in the principles of sustainability, and other businesses have followed suit.

  • Brian Nattrass and Mary Altomere The Natural Step for Business

Businesses can work out the extent to which their manufacturing processes and supply chains operate within the sustainability principles or not. There are research firms who quantify the energy and environmental cost of each aspect of the supply chain. Businesses can – and have – used these metrics to reduce their ecological footprint… often saving money in the process.

Social dynamics and cultural evolution

Up to this point we have been considering the physical aspects of our reality. I have suggested that we need to profoundly change our current system. You will recall this cartoon:

In terms of actually changing from our destructive course, psychological and social factors are more important than technological ones. Systems thinker Donella Meadows had the insight that our behaviors are based on our mindsets – our understanding of our situation and our goals.

Here is an adaptation of Meadows’ insight.

We could debate the particular order of these and other interventions – but why bother? The key point is that affecting people’s mindsets, along with the goals of the system, are the most influential leverage points. Later we will look at how to act on this.

Psychological and social aspects are perhaps more important than technological changes in terms of pulling out of our ecological nosedive. Without public will for change, nothing will. Hence the importance of mindset change.

To change the system, change the thinking

Our behaviour follows from our thinking. 

The thinking that leads to behaviour has three elements

  • The first is our mental map – how we understand our situation.

If folk’s worldviews are small, they will not understand about population and overshoot.

  • The second is our intention – what we are trying to accomplish.

The predominant intention of our culture is economic growth. Obviously we have to change course.

An appropriate intention for our time is to evolve a compassionate ecologically sustainable society.

Some folks call this a life-affirming culture or an ecological civilization. The point is to have a positive overarching goal to organize our behaviour.

  • The third element is our modus operandi – the way we go about trying to accomplish our intention.

There are different styles of accomplishing our intentions. These two cartoons illustrate two different styles of being crooks.

Our modus operandi is hugely important. Currently the modus operandi of the United States, Australia’s ally, is military threats and proxy wars. 


 War became obsolete with the development of the atomic bomb. We may anticipate that any high-tech civilization that invents nuclear weapons without also developing an ethos of good-willed collaboration for the common good will destroy itself.

We are on the edge. We did not have to be. A bit of history may be helpful for making sense of our present situation.

At the end of World War II the USSR was aggressively expanding under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. NATO was formed in response to this threat.

For their part, the Soviets created the Warsaw Pact, with Poland and other countries enrolled as buffer states between Germany and other European countries. Although the period was called a Cold War, both sides could live with this.

In 1989 the Berlin Wall that divided East Germany in West Germany came down. East and West Germany were reunited.

This amounted to a major expansion of NATO towards the Soviet Union. Even though expanding Germany toward the Soviet Union was threatening to the Soviets (27 million Soviet citizens died when Nazi Germany invaded Russia), they acceded to the integration of East and West Germany.

It is said that there was an informal agreement between the US State Department and the Soviets that NATO would not expand any further towards the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. With Russia economically and militarily weak, the US was the sole remaining superpower. Some people saw this as an opportunity for a ‘peace dividend’. Money formerly spent on the military could now be used for education, hospitals and other domestic purposes.

This did not happen. In the United States military spending remained high.

Why? In 1997 a conservative group formed a think tank in Washington called the Project for the New American Century. They thought that America, which already spent more on the military than the next seven countries combined, should be prepared to exert American dominance by fighting wars on both sides of the United States if necessary. Military spending went up.

In 1999 President Bill Clinton expanded NATO to include Poland, Hungary and the Czech republic. At the time George Kennan, the senior diplomat who originally conceived of NATO, warned that expansion would be destabilizing.

NATO membership requires that NATO countries become heavily armed (often with US-made weapons). After their experience with Germany in World War II, the Russians were understandably wary. And besides, Kennan noted, Russia had changed a great deal since the death of Stalin in 1953. He thought that Russia was now more democratic than some NATO countries.

Why did Clinton allow Poland to join NATO? Apparently it helped him politically with the Midwestern Polish contingent in the United States. And it was good business for American arms manufacturers.

Throughout the 21st century American military spending has increased under both Republican and Democratic presidents. As we know, Americans fought overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as in Vietnam. America has bases that in effect surround both Russia and China. One might think this would make Russia and China nervous.

(This map is out of date, but it gives the idea.)

Fast-forward to the present time. Here is a timeline (with references) of some of the relevant history.

The US and NATO have made it clear that they intend for Ukraine to join NATO. In turn, Putin made it clear that having a heavily armed hostile power on Russia’s southern border was not acceptable.

Although this was not widely reported in Australia or the US, a few months before the Russians went into Ukraine they proposed a treaty that would have defused the situation.

 Two elements of the treaty were that Ukraine not become a member of NATO, and that the United States take all its nuclear weapons back to the continental United States. This would have made the Russians feel much safer.

The US/NATO ignored the treaty… and the Russians went in.

There are usually multiple motivations for dramatic actions, and some say Putin has visions of restoring the czarist Empire. Perhaps. “When mad dogs fight, which is the good guy?”  There are no good guys here. However, by my reading America/NATO provoked this war. America, despite its historically beautiful ideals, is not a benign force in the world today. And it is not a benign friend of Australia.

Now America seems busily provoking China over Taiwan. And America seems to have made Australia an outpost. We have long had an American intelligence gathering facility at Pine Gap. Former American admirals are on the board of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (APSI), a key advisor on Australian foreign policy. There is a Marine air base in the Northern Territory, and the runway is being extended to accommodate US bombers.

The government has committed Australia to buying $360 billion worth of nuclear powered attack submarines. One former Prime Minister asserted they are useless for Australian defence in Australia’s shallow coastal waters.

As one Chinese diplomat quipped, “Surely your submarines are for sightseeing?”

The Americanisation of Australia does not serve Australians. This poignant poster states the case.


To my mind it comes down of this: war became obsolete with the development of the atomic bomb, and as much as possible our foreign policy should be devoted to creating conditions of international well-being.

Equally to the point, we would be wise to devote as many resources as we can to dealing with climate change and ecological deterioration; war is indeed obsolete

Partnership-respect or domination-control?

Systems thinker Riane Eisler introduced the very useful distinction between partnership-respect relating and domination-control relating – two very different modus operandi.

 Much of Western history is a story of wars, empires and patriarchy. This is domination-control control relating – power over others for personal aggrandizement.

Partnership-respect relating is about using our power and influence for the well-being of our family, community, or now our global human community.

  •  Riane Eisler The Chalice and the Blade

  •  Riane Eisler The Partnership Way

  Now that atomic weapons been invented, our challenge is to embody partnership-respect relating at every level from child rearing to global governance.

These apply at every scale from child rearing to global governance.

The best way to learn partnership-respect relating is to be born into a loving respectful family. Fortunately, child rearing is getting better, and many people are raised in this way. 

The next best way to learn partnership-respect relating is to do the hard work of resolving our own unresolved trauma’s. Experiential therapies of the kind described in Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score can be extremely helpful. The do-it-yourself techniques in Inner Work are excellent.

 Disciplines that help us become more skillful at partnership-respect relating include NonViolent Communication, conflict resolution, Parent Effectiveness Training, Aikido and improvisational acting.


The predominant modus operandi in the West has been domination-control relating: Power over others for personal or group aggrandizement (and occasionally plain cruelty).

Given the invention of the atomic bomb and our destruction of the natural world, it is imperative that collectively we embody partnership-respect relating (aka compassion) at every level from child rearing to global governance.

There are ways we can expand people’s mental maps, clarify our intention as a culture, and help people get better at partnership-respect relating

Here are ways to put ‘mindset change’ into practice.

Expanding people’s mental maps

Escalating Disasters is a communications tool for bringing home to people the reality of current disastrous ecological trends and their consequences. This realization provides a reason to accept – indeed embrace – otherwise uncomfortable changes.

Kitchen Table Conversations is a communication tool for enabling people to grasp what needs to change to pull out of our ecological nosedive.

Clarifying our collective intention

As mentioned, the dominant intention of our time is economic growth. A new appropriate intention is to evolve a compassionate ecologically sustainable society.

This could be called a viable society, a life-affirming culture, or an ecological civilization. The point is to have a positive overarching goal.

Modus operandi: shifting from domination control relating to partnership-respect relating

A critical intervention in terms of embodying partnership-respect relating is to help people resolve trauma. Hurt people often (though not always) dominate and hurt others. Approaches to resolving trauma are below.

Prevention is better than cure. Many parents already raise their kids gently.

In addition, groups have been formed to mentor new parents in bringing out more of their nurturing side than their punitive side.

It’s also useful to train to become more skilful at partnership-respect relating. Useful disciplines include NonViolent Communication, Parent Effectiveness Training, Conflict Resolution, Aikido and improvisational acting.

Many organizations are command-and-control. Some organizations embody partnership-respect relating and do very well.

Trauma and healing

There is much unresolved emotional trauma. This is a famous study carried out by a large health insurance company. They discovered that the more adverse events people reported having experienced, the more prone they were to serious diseases.

People who have been hurt often (although not always) tend to hurt other people. People who have been bullied often bully others. This may manifest as domestic violence and child abuse. It may also manifest geopolitically as irrational aggression rather than diplomacy. Ecologically it can show up as attacking nature.

Therefore I suggest that improving emotional functioning is as important as technical solutions in dealing with our ecological and social crisis. One way to put it is that We must become the kind of people who can create and enjoy a compassionate life-affirming culture.

Becoming psychologically savvy

We would do well to become psychologically savvy, even if we are not clinical practitioners. Here is a great place to start:

  • Bessel van der Kolk The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma. 
    Van der Kolk lucidly describes the neurobiology of trauma, and effective experiential techniques for resolving trauma.

Van der Kolk is a research psychiatrist and a great human being. His account is eminently readable.

Good news! Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapists have discovered that underneath our trauma it appears that everybody has a core of compassion, creativity, courage, calm and centeredness. IFS therapists call this the Self.

The Self is nothing esoteric. It is simply people being themselves when their psyche is not disturbed by unresolved trauma.

Importantly, we have techniques to rapidly access the Self. This can aid in our healing journey.

Unresolved trauma plays out on the world stage. Therefor improving child rearing is a critical leverage point for evolving a viable society – and we have useful insights into how to do that in a gentle caring way.

  • Robin Grille Parenting for a Peaceful World

There are many approaches that work for resolving trauma. My book Inner Work introduces the concept of the Witness or Observer Self. Of the many experiential approaches that work, two have been selected because they are effective and straightforward to teach and apply. People can apply them on their own, if they are so motivated.

One technique is EFT, a well-known approach to tapping on acupressure points to resolve emotional imbalances. Another technique is the St. Francis Process, a method of visualizing and communicating with problematic parts of ourselves.

It would be great if such techniques were widely taught to people. Even children can use them effectively.

The forcing current

People with unresolved trauma often have a quality of insistence and inflexibility when they articulate their views about social issues. One manifestation – all too common – is arguing by denigrating your opponent (a recent US president made this his stock in trade).

This quality of insistence can appear no matter where people are on the political spectrum. This insistence could be called a ‘forcing current’.

If you see someone with that quality of insistence (or sense it in yourself), you know that they are not coming from Self. Rather, they are being influenced by unresolved emotional issues. If they happen to be political leaders or public intellectuals, you can suspect that there are aspects of the situation that they are not taking into account, even if some of what they have to say has merit. They have an axe to grind. Folks would be wise to not take such leaders at face value.

Psychologically protecting ourselves from horror

In response to the twin horrors of escalating global warming and possibly nuclear annihilation, understandably some people put these prospects into a separate compartment of their mind and seal it off. I have done this myself at times.

This enables us to keep functioning in ordinary life. It may also paralyze us from taking action.

A model for thinking things through: SCAN FOCUS ACT

This may be a bit of a jump, but it is relevant. We need the best thinking we can get!

 I observe that often social change groups have wonderful ideals, but the leaders have not to have thought through how to actually make them work. No blame here; many people have never been exposed to a methodology for thinking things through all the way. A useful model comes from DesignShops.

DesignShops are a method of thinking through complex business issues that require innovative solutions. They have often been done with companies that have such serious problems that if they do not come up with a new approach they may go out of business. So the DesignShop facilitators are after results that work.

  • Gayle Pergamit, Chris Peterson Leaping the Abyss: Putting group genius to work

Typically, faced with challenging problems, people want to jump into solutions.

DesignShop facilitators intentionally prevent this. Instead, they divide the group into teams looking at the different aspects of their situation – new technology, social trends, the competition, the history of the company… Teams report back to the full group, and through this whole group develops a far more nuanced understanding of their situation. DesignShop folks call this SCAN.

At some point someone come up with a really innovative idea. It could be a shop floor foreman or the company CEO. Because the group is been warmed up, they can see the possibility of the new idea, and get excited by it. This becomes their FOCUS.

The process up to now may have taken two days of intense interaction. The final day is spent working through in detail how to make the new FOCUS work.

In brief, the process is SCAN FOCUS ACT.

Act is not about actually doing the actions. It is about designing everything necessary to make the new FOCUS work.



It could be very helpful if the general process of SCAN FOCUS ACT were used by the environmental progressive movement. But in general, it is not. Rather than stepping back and looking at the big picture (SCAN) folks typically jump into action.

Typical actions include climate protest, pushing for solar power and wind, supporting education for girls, and many other actions. All these are indeed relevant – but I suggest that they miss something vitally important: the idea of communicating to change the whole system.

This article puts forward a way of applying SCAN FOCUS ACT to transformative social change:

The key ideas is that the entire environmental-progressive movement can become orders of magnitude more effective by aligning to affect public consciousness – not just about our specific issues, but about changing the system that makes all the issues worse.

It helps to have an overarching goal that includes all of our issues. I propose evolving a compassionate ecologically sustainable society, or, less technically, evolving a life-affirming culture.

The delivery system is to inspire the members of the millions of established groups to act as citizen-educators, and provide communication tools for personal conversations and social media. Tools, including Kitchen Table Conversations, are available through the Resources section of Inspiring Transition.


Summary + The League of Evolutionary Catalysts

Humanity is in an ecological emergency, and we also have the threat of nuclear war. I suggest that our challenge, for those of us who care about a positive future, is to inspire massive public commitment to change the system that drives our destruction.

This is an evolutionary process, in the sense that involves long-term projects such as improving child rearing, profoundly changing our economy to preserve ecological systems, shifting from military confrontation and war to diplomacy… and beyond that affluent nations investing in the well-being of the developed countries.

The key leverage point for making this happen is communicating to affect people’s mindsets – our understanding of our situation, and our collective intention.

The most realistic intention for our time is to evolve a compassionate ecologically sustainable society. This will be a society that embodies partnership-respect relating, and operates within the Earth’s capacity to support us.

A possible way to affect mainstream thinking is for the members of established groups to lift their game and act as citizen-educators. Communication tools such as Kitchen Table Conversations and Inner Work make this feasible.

Ultimately, the question of whether we pull out of our ecological nosedive is a matter of the human spirit. On the one hand, do we have enough of a survival instinct (aka enough fear) to do whatever it takes to stop destroying our life support systems? Alternatively, do we have the greatness of spirit to go beyond what we personally may have thought was possible, and do whatever it takes to mobilise public will to turn things around?

Either motivation will do. If you feel moved to rise to what our times call for, I invite you to consider becoming a colleague in the League of Evolutionary Catalysts.

Andrew Gaines
Inspiring Transition
The challenge of our time is to evolve a compassionate ecologically sustainable society!