Responding to the Global Emergency – aka ‘Megacrisis’

For those who are alert to global ‘signals of change’ what I call the ‘global emergency’ (and what others refer to as the ‘megacrisis’) has not sprung upon the world unannounced.* It has been building steadily since at least the 1980s. In fact one of the first attempts to pull together a systematic overview of global change was published in 1972. As some readers will realise I’m referring here to the Limits to Growth study presented to the Club of Rome that year. It was subjected to determined abuse that, in the light of subsequent work, looks increasingly wrong-headed and bizarre. It can be quite shocking to realise that forty years have passed since then. Over that time a great deal of collective intelligence has been devoted to understanding global change, where it is tending and what it means for humanity. For example one of the most significant works was published in 2003. Edited by Will Steffen, and with dozens of contributors from numerous countries, Global Change and the Earth System provided a panoramic and scientifically coherent summary of our knowledge at that point. Its conclusions are worth pondering and included the following:

  • The impact of human activities on the global atmosphere is unmistakable and profound;
  • Human-driven changes are pushing the Earth System well outside its normal operating range; and,
  • The last 50 years have without doubt seen the most rapid transformation of the human relationship with the natural world in the history of humankind.

One cannot deny that these are challenging and difficult messages to hear. Moreover they have been clarified and extended by a significant body of literature and research from many different fields. (See other items on this weblog, including the section on ‘Action Resources.’) The central issue and dilemma of our time is that by far the greater part of humanity remains in a state of uncompromising denial. Broadly speaking we simply do not want to know about the great global changes that are already exerting significant costs upon people, other species, natural systems and, indeed, the planet itself. Instead of mobilising to protect ourselves and to secure a viable world for future generations we’ve squandered another decade in fruitless evasion. Ignoring signals of change seems to come naturally to human beings who, as has been pointed out many times, evolved under very different conditions. But in passively accepting that fact we become complicit in constructing the very trap within which our civilisation now stands. I, like a number of others, have written at some length about this – not merely to describe but also to explore a variety of responses. One of these deals with ‘descent pathways’ which will be discussed here at a later date.

Meanwhile, what to do?

In July 2012 I took part in a special session on the topic of the global emergency, or ‘megacrisis,’ at a World Future Society conference in Toronto, Canada. Four speakers provided an overview of their thinking and outlined a variety of suggestions for ways forward: Michael Marien, William Halal, myself and Thomas Homer-Dixon. A robust discussion followed. Here are five clips of the session. Have a look at them yourself and make up your own mind.

Part 1 Michael Marien and William Halal  –

Part 2 Richard Slaughter –

Part 3 Michael Marien –

Part 4 William Halal –

Part 5 Thomas Homer Dixon –

*For some specific examples see section above on Missed and mis-used signals of change.