Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Gathering: a personal view

by Richard Moore

Twenty-five people from around the world gathered in Vilcabamba, Ecuador from June 8-15, 2008, to seek wise and intelligent responses to the crisis of civilization. Brian O’Leary and Meredith Miller hosted us in their beautiful home, MonteuseƱos. DeAnna Martin and Jean Rough facilitated the event using Dynamic Facilitation, and John Crosbie filmed the proceedings.

Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Many people contributed to the organization of the event, in particular Brian & Meredith, who between them participated in hundreds of email exchanges, made local travel arrangements, and renovated their lovely home to accommodate more-than-expected guests. Sergio Lub, Richard Moore, Carol Dunne, and Leonardo Wild all put in many hours sending out invitations, collaborating on arrangements, maintaining websites and mailing lists, etc. Leonardo also made arrangements for several of us to visit with Ecuadorian Government officials, which was of the highlight events of the week.
       Our vision for the Gathering was presented on our website, as an open invitation for anyone to ask to participate. If we had received a great many requests, we would have had to figure out some equitable way to select people, but as it turned out we got just enough takers to cover our budget.
       The budget, by the way, was minimal. We each paid a sum to our hosts, for which we got excellent food & lodging at cost, and we paid a bit extra to fly in our facilitators and to buy some film supplies. We were each responsible for these fees and for our travel, either out of our own pockets, or perhaps with a little help from our friends.
       See: The Inviation to see the whole invitation. It begins this way:
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.
The invitation offered no preset agenda, and instead said that we would be engaging in facilitated dialog. One might wonder who would respond, or if anyone would respond, to such an unstructured proposition, way down in Ecuador, with no honorariums.
       But people did respond; serious people, all of whom sensed that our problems as a civilization go deep – and that new approaches of one kind or another need to be explored. Everyone who came had positive suggestion to offer and valuable information to share. More than that, each of us, to one degree or another, has oriented our life activities around our concerns for humanity and our environment. See: Roster of Participants (with photos and bios).

The proceedings
In the general spirit of following the energy of the group, we engaged in a variety of processes during the week. Most of the time we met all together using Dynamic Facilitation, and we also met in breakout groups from time to time. For the first few days we were mainly getting to know one another and expressing our various concerns and perspectives. With so much diversity present, it seemed that we might never reach any kind of convergence in our thinking.
       On Wednesday we went off individually and each created a statement of what we saw as the most important problem and what we saw as the solution (See: individual statements). We then each presented our statement to the whole group, and we found that the ideas clustered around these main themes:
Free Energy/Innovation
We then engaged in breakout sessions on these topics, and each of the breakout groups, surprisingly for some of us, achieved a unanimous perspective on their topic. You can click on one of the topics to see what they came up with, and <back to story> will get you back here.
       Interestingly enough, these various perspectives, adopted by different groups, are quite a bit in harmony with one another. The Biosphere group presented the basic thesis that radical measures are necessary to save our environment, and believed that this would call for radical social transformations. The Localization group began by agreeing with these views, and argued for a particular social (and economic) transformation – communities moving toward local self-sufficiency and sustainability in their basic needs.
       The Governance group also focused on the local, the revitalization of community, from the perspective of achieving a more real kind of democracy. the Banking/Finance group did not mention community, or scale at all, but suggested sensible economic principles that could be applied in the context of revitalized communities (eg, community currencies), as well as in other contexts.
       The Free Energy/Innovation group pointed out that radical and open-minded approaches to science and technology should be pursued, as part of the solution to the energy and other crises we face. Perhaps revitalized communities, operating on a sensible economic basis, according to their emergent shared perspetives, could provide the kind of incubation nests needed for such approaches to flourish.
       These harmonious connections among the breakout groups are apparent now that we have nicely edited versions of the outcomes. At the Gathering itself, we also saw connections, but expressed them more in system terms...
       The Earth contains the biosphere, and the two affect one another. Humans are part of the biosphere and human activity impacts the biosphere. Hierarchical civilization constrains human activity and increases the impact of humanity on the biosphere. Changes in our systems of governance would change the nature of civilization, the role of individuals, and the impacts on the biosphere. Localization would move governance closer to the people, enable closer feedback loops between human activity and its effect on the environment, and generally shift the nature of education, innovation, and economics.
       These various connections were represented in a chart:

Report to the community
On Saturday afternoon, as the final part of the gathering, we invited people in from the local community and presented to them the reports from the breakout groups. They were very responsive to what we had done, and they shared with us their own activist endeavors, and their reasons for choosing to live in Vilcabamba. Rather than ‘us the experts’ reporting to ‘them the ordinary people’, it turned out that all of us in the room felt that we were on the same level, engaged in various ways in doing what we could to improve society and repair the biosphere.

Meeting with officials in Quito
On the Monday following the gathering, six of us met in Quito with Finance Minister Pedro Paez and 25 of his staff at the Ministry and the Bank of Ecuador. We summarized what had been discussed at the gathering, and Paez summarized some of the economic difficulties facing Ecuador and how the government was approaching these at both the national and regional levels. There was also discussion of the Yasuni project, which is an attempt to preserve the Yasuni rainforest from petroleum exploitation.

Unanimous outcomes of breakout groups

The Earth is a living biosphere whose natural ecosystems, diversity, and patterned interdependencies remain essential for the survival of all species. Humanity in its current state of industrial expansion and resource depletion is rapidly destroying the biosphere on which our own civilization depends. Mindless over-consumption, industrial degradation and uncontrolled procreation cascade in ever more destructive cycles whose certain outcome will be the end of civilization as we know it and accelerating the annihilation of many species including perhaps our own.
       Massive habitat destruction and cataclysmic climate change have already impacted thousands of species in a way not seen for eons. Our political leaders at all levels of government, the private sector, international collaborative bodies, and other social structures have either persistently ignored these real crises or, at best, failed to act in a timely way, appearing instead disorganized in their response or fixated by inertia. Half measures –essentially band-aid solutions- are promised as bromides to ease the growing concern of the public, but such empty promises are more designed to win votes than affect meaningful changes for how human beings interact with the interconnected species on this planet.
       Only radical social transformations within our civilization, arising from knowledge of the ongoing planetary changes and combined with a profound spiritual evolution, can prevent further destruction and reverse the downward spiral we face.
       Some say our time for action to save the biosphere is short; others say there is more time.  By either measure, the stakes for our generation’s failure to act boldly and decisively may bequeath profound risks of ecological and social bankruptcies to future generations yet unborn.

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The biosphere is made up of millions of local ecosystems, all under threat from the convergent global crises of climate change, per capita peak oil, and economic instability.
       Enticed by economic globalization, cities and local communities have surrendered their ability to meet their own essential needs (water, food, energy, manufacturing, health, transportation, and systems of care). Communities must now rebuild these capacities and develop resilience to the ongoing fluctuations in global/national economies, currencies and energy supplies through a process of “localization”. The process involves transforming existing communities into healthy self-reliant entities complete with localized supply chains for essential resources in order to safeguard the long-range safety of our families, our communities, and our city.
       Local communities, however, also exist in a wider context. While broad solutions to save the biosphere must arise first at local levels, essential issues involving water, food, transportation, biodiversity, and others must be extrapolated from local to global levels, if we hope to be part of the transformation of human civilization. Localization and self-reliance does not require regional walls on knowledge and sharable solutions. By way of example, health equity is a right of all peoples. If one city or region has found solutions by medicines, technique, or lifestyle to health conditions, the information exchange networks of local communities can be used to transmit and deliver such solutions more widely in an actively pursued process of mutual aid. 

<back to story>

The group discussed the overriding notion of “emergent shared perspective” based on self-governance that begins at the lowest possible community level (“local inclusive democracy”). In turn this creates a culture of mutual problem solving that expands to larger levels of decision making, for example, delegations from several communities meeting to achieve emergent shared perspective.  The process continues through as many levels as needed with the key principle being including all who have a stake in the eventual decision.
The principles identified were:
• inclusivity of all
• mutual problem solving
• empowering individuals and communities through identifying and acting on emergent shared perspectives
• transparency of process
• feedback at all levels
This is already happening. Local communities can learn from examples being practiced, such as:
• Puerto Allegre’s “participatory budgeting” process that begins at the family/block level, working upwards to the level of the city itself.
• Wisdom Councils being implemented in places like Victoria, BC; Austria; and Oakland, CA.
• “Panchayat” - the system of decision making in Indian villages.
• Consensus decision making in the anti-globalization movement, amongst others.
Group members recognized that there was no distinct formula to achieve emergent shared perspectives, rather different communities, operating within their own traditions and existing conditions, would choose different paths to the same end state.

<back to story>

A primary disease impacting the sustainability of the Earth is the uncontrolled growth of an out-of-control consumer culture that demands limitless resources while producing endless waste. Economies that depend upon continued exponential exploitation of the Earth are inherently unsustainable.
        Future societies will be required to adopt steady state economies based on the concept of zero growth that redefine acts between buyer and seller, and supply greater information and incentives for all involved in the supply chains and product life cycle choices.
        Money increasingly obscures social and environmental values and the potential for human fairness. Money accumulating in the hands of a few subjugating more people each year, pushing many to the extremes of dire poverty. Money and the banking and financial systems must be radically transformed through transparency in order to provide positive the impacts both locally and globally. 

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Free Energy/Innovation

       “The resistance to a new idea increases as the square of its importance.”
       —Bertrand Russell

Creating a sustainable future requires radical and urgent technological and social innovation. Some of these innovations fall “outside the box” of accepted or understood knowledge. Current examples of sustainable breakthroughs include proofs-of-concept of clean new energy, water systems, educational models and economic solutions, healing and group intention experiments, some of which, if further developed, show great promise but they need to be protected from external pressures. 
        We believe that the innovators should be supported in “incubation nests” housing research at selected locations throughout the world. Preconditions for innovation include:
• Choosing locations that attract scientists and people of great knowledge, wisdom and integrity
• Creating centers that are relaxing, ecologically and economically sustainable
• Finding supportive individuals and institutions
• Obtaining altruistic and unconditional financial support
• Forming repositories of knowledge and wisdom regardless of external conditions
<back to story>