Saturday, March 1, 2008

The original invitation to the Phoenix Gathering:

Montesueños, Vilcabamba, Ecuador – June 8-15, 2008
seeking wise and intelligent responses to the crisis of civilization

The purpose of this gathering is to bring together a microcosm of humanity – to explore together how we might most effectively respond to the crisis that faces us. Each of will be bringing our life experiences and wisdom to the group, and we will be including a very broad diversity of expertise and perspectives.
A civilization heedless of its own impending doom
Ever since civilization began, some 6,000 years ago, it has been based on the paradigms of growth and the exploitation of Earth’s resources. Over the past two centuries of industrialization, the appetite of civilization has grown exponentially – putting our life support systems under increasing stress. As our consumption of resources continues to accelerate upwards, the capacity of the Earth to produce resources is declining evermore downwards. Global warming and peak oil are only early symptoms of the inevitable total collapse that awaits us – if we continue as we have for the past six millennia.
       As a civilization we are in denial of the fact that the Earth is finite. It may have seemed infinite to us when we first left the Garden of Eden, going forth to take dominion over all things, but we should know better by now. Nonetheless, governments all over the world show no signs whatever of responding to this imminent crisis. The fixation on growth and the denial of finiteness are so deeply embedded in how our societies operate, that governments cannot conceive of any other way to proceed. Asking them to change how our society does things – due to environmental concerns – is like asking a pilot to turn off his engines in mid flight because they are too noisy.
       People at the grassroots level, however, are generally not in denial. All over the world people are recycling, changing their light bulbs, installing solar cells, turning their heat down, bicycling, car-pooling, using public transport, and in general trying to adjust their lifestyles in order to use resources more wisely. Unfortunately, these kinds of life-style changes – even if everyone joined in and did their best – can make very little difference. Most of civilization’s waste is built into the infrastructures: the production, processing, distribution, and transportation systems. It is the very systems we depend on to live that are the problem.

Our challenge: to identify wise and intelligent responses
If humanity is to survive, we must somehow begin transforming our societies so that they operate sustainably. In order to understand how that might happen, there are three major problem areas to be faced, three questions to be explored.
       First of all, we need to understand what we are aiming for: What would a modern sustainable society look like, and how would it operate? What kinds of infrastructures? What energy sources? What agricultural methods? Would cities shrink as rural areas are rejuvenated? Would we become less globalized and more localized?
       Second, we need to get a handle on a transition strategy: What would be a good conversion approach, technically speaking, to begin moving toward sustainable systems? Which projects would it make sense to undertake first? Which yield the greatest resource savings the soonest? What is the scope of the conversion project?
       Finally comes the most difficult question: What would it take to make a beginning on the conversion project? Is there some form of political organizing that might wake up our governments? Do we need a rejuvenated Green Party or environmental movement? Would some kind of public education program help? We do know that there is massive grassroots energy in support of sustainability, as evidenced by the efforts millions of people are making at a personal level. If governments are unmovable, would it make sense to explore a grassroots strategy for moving toward sustainability? Could people organize at the local level and begin transforming their infrastructures from the bottom up? Is the localization movement, for example, on the right track, with their agenda of ‘produce locally for local consumption’?
       These are all challenging questions, but there is no reason why we cannot make a good start on seeking answers to them. And we will by no means be starting from scratch. Many of us who will be in the gathering have been thinking about various of these questions for years, and have published books and given lectures presenting our vision and analysis of how the problems might be addressed. A wide spectrum of expertise and perspectives will be in residence, so that wherever our discussions may roam, our dialog will be well informed by the ‘latest good thinking’. Those of us who think we have all the answers will find out that we have only a piece of the answer, but an all-important piece. Each of our perspectives will be broadened in the course of our dialog. We will begin to identify synergies among our visions, and I fully expect us to come up with breakthrough outcomes that surprise us all.

The nature of the gathering
Our gathering will be more like a workshop than a conference. We won’t be sitting around listening to talks, rather we’ll be engaging in dialog and we’ll be solving problems together. Sometimes we’ll all be together, and sometimes we’ll split into teams to explore specific issues – whatever best supports our progress.
       One of the most important aspects of the event will be the process support that will be available. There will be a skilled team of facilitators on hand, and their job is to help us achieve our maximum potential as a group. The value of appropriate process cannot be over-emphasized. A group of people can spend an afternoon in debate and ‘interesting conversation’, coming up with no concrete results, or the same group can spend the same afternoon getting productive work done.
       If you’ve never participated in facilitated dialog, you’ll be amazed at what a difference it can make. Particularly in the early part of the week, when there’s likely to be considerable disagreement about what we should be focusing on, appropriate facilitation can help us sort through our differences and move into a space where fruitful collaboration becomes possible.
       The gathering will last a full week, with people arriving on a Sunday and leaving the following Monday. It will be essential that people agree to be there for the full time, no dropping in and out, no arriving late or leaving early. It will be an intense affair, and continuity is important.

Sharing our results
Our goal for the week is to come up with new breakthrough ideas – new initiatives of one kind or another – that show promise of beginning a transition toward sustainability. I have every confidence we will succeed in achieving our goal. We will be doing important work on behalf of humanity, and it is essential that what we come up with gets 'out there' into the real world.
       For that reason, we’ll be capturing the event on film and producing DVDs and online film clips for various audiences. We'll also be organizing a larger follow-on conference with more of an activist focus.