Scientists were writing about the threats from a warming planet for a long time. They considered global warming one of the two “existential” threats of our time (in addition to nuclear weapons), spreading a collective dread of the future as it disrupts the living systems that support human life. Conventional approaches to mitigating the effects of global warming have yet to demonstrate any major reversal, and despite the actions pledged under the 2015 Paris Agreement, progress continues to fall short.
A Systems View of Life
We approach our work with a “systems lens”, based on an awareness of the integral interdependence of all physical, biological, psychological, social, and cultural phenomena. This holistic view of life is necessarily transdisciplinary, requiring a whole new Western scientific discipline known as the theory of Complex Adaptive Systems. We combine this new theory with Indigenous ways of knowing that have always been holistic, helping to co-create the new and safer world to come. Professor of “Native Science” Gregory Cajete, writes, “A new scientific cultural metaphor has begun to take hold. The insights of this new science parallel the vision of the world long held in Indigenous spiritual traditions.” We honor both Native Science and Western Science and integrate practices from Indigenous peoples into our work. For instance, we often address impasse by convening face-to-face circles, sharing stories in addition to data, and above all privileging listening above the need to respond.
Interdependence and Connection with Nature:
Weather and ecosystems are Complex Adaptive Systems. Indigenous wisdom recognizes that we are an intimate part of the flow of nature’s life-giving forces. We are in relationship with the non-linear (uncertain) give and take of dynamic evolutionary change. On the other hand, linear (sequential) causal thinking (Newton’s “clockwork universe”), while important to basic engineering and technology, often leads to the false assumption that man can control the energetic, restless adaptive flow that defines the natural world. We do all of our work from the basic understanding that we ARE nature, not separate from, challenging the destructive ideology that for too long has separated us from our home in the universe.
Beyond Industrial Civilization
There is at present no such thing as “clean energy.” Renewable energy sources such as wind or solar and alternative transportation options such as electric vehicles incorporate fossil fuel based materials that are mined, designed using earth metals, transported to consumers, and leave behind toxic waste. These processes all “embody” energy-producing levels of greenhouse gases. There is no free lunch! Navigating the transition to new sources of energy as technology continues to ramp up our need for electricity, it is important for societies around the globe to learn about the social and ecological impacts that occur from cradle (initial step in the creation of any material) to grave (the end of life of a material/ where it ends up) of any and all renewables. In current discussions and deliberation around transitioning to renewable energy and alternative transportation options, the focus only on emissions during product use dangerously leaves out most of the greenhouse gas emissions from renewables, those produced during mining, design, transportation, and waste disposal. This is an important and overlooked reason, among others, why we must think even more creatively about how we can live in the near and far future in a way that moves us away from our present reliance on fossil-fuel driven electricity.
In a world with finite resources and generation-defining challenges like global warming, we must move beyond the concept of sustainability to a philosophy of regeneration. Sustainability can be defined as sustaining current activity or seeking to maintain stability, whereas the principle of regeneration offers an exponential renewal, adaptation, and generation of new ways of living in times of rapid change. Close to the word and intention of rejuvenation and restoration, regeneration gives us a way to create the ideal environment for people and ideas to thrive.
Hope for the “Adjacent Possible”
Our human need for hope forces us to promote solutions like “The Green New Deal” that attempt to preserve our present privileged lives on a largely flourishing planet of the past. But these attempts do not hold the keys that unlock the doors to the adjacent possibilities hidden in the unknowable future. These future possibilities might offer an escape from the present collapsing systems in which we are all implicated and perhaps fatally stuck. The Center is developing a methodology (“The Adjacent Possible: TAP”) that will train a commonwealth of practitioners with special skills in facilitating community-building dialogues specifically designed to help people prepare for, adapt to, and strengthen resilience. In the face of rapidly occurring shocks coming from a planet that is heating up, we are committed to a facilitative dialogue process that enables communities to have hope for the future while coming to grips with uncertainty and planning actions to co-create “The Good Future”: communities that self-organize new ways of living on earth and with nature. In this work, we acknowledge the importance of centering a diverse cohort of women, girls, and youth in facilitation of dialogue and decision-making.
Emerging Young Voices
We involve the voices and concerns of a diversity of youth in any and all efforts to mitigate and adapt to global warming as the youth of today will fully inherit the world of ‘tomorrow.’ They are our future leaders, farmers, politicians, luminaries, and community organizers. Our partnership with the Youth Forum at the U.N. creates the opportunity to insure that emerging leadership is woven into the fabric of our work. Not only is it our responsibility to bring young people into the spaces and places where important decisions are made, it is our responsibility to respect and adopt their unique perspectives. We believe that involving youth in conversations that count leads to more innovative and creative solutions to the complex challenges we will be embracing.