A Turnaround in the Operating System of Human Civilization

The state of the world suggests we are at a crossroad – the next 15 to 20 years will have a decisive impact – more than in any period before – on the conditions of life on Earth. As many scientists predict, we need to rise up to our capacity for Earth Stewardship, if we want to stabilize the trajectories of our planet. In a short-term perspective we need to collectively step-up to damage control and voluntarily air obligatorily simply comply with the targets that have been set so many times. But there is much more to a sustainable future. The situation we have maneuvered us in calls for a turnaround in the operating system of human civilization. If we take the idea of sustainability transformations seriously we must think and act far beyond damage control and compliance with environmental and social regulations. This should be self-evident, but the shift is deeper: it is so close to so many people’s hearts and yet, it is so difficult to enact in the reality we have created. Human responsibility in the era of the Anthropocene would mean to partner with life’s evolutionary processes and learn from them for the future of human civilization.

If we saw ourselves as part of life, we would become a caring partner of the planet. We would not extract, what could not be regenerated. We would not destroy what could not be enlivened. We would ask entirely different questions in business and industry, in government and communities. We would be humble enough to acknowledged that despite our scientific and technological advancement we are only at the beginning of understanding how life processes work in favor of patterns of aliveness. We would create an economy in service of life. We would improve democracies’ mechanisms for balance of power. We would teach from grade one to grade twelve the discoveries of life on Earth and beyond. We would enhance students aspiration to serve life. And above all, we would invest into our most precious assets – people. Because it is human agency that took us to the crossroads, and it is human agency that can change trajectories – and history.

Aurelio Peccei, in his 1977 book on „The Human Quality“ (for a brief abstract look here ) said it wisely:
„The present global crisis, in which everything in the human system seems to be out of balance with practically everything else, is a direct consequence of man’s inability to rise to the level of understanding and responsibility demanded by his new power role in the world. The problem is within men, not outside him, and so is any possible solution.“ (P.22)

With steady awareness of the danger, in which humankind has maneuvered the planet, it is also possible to learn from the past and the present. The history of human civilization also shows positive examples that suggest the assumption that even under the most severe condi-tions of destruction humankind can foster the reconstruction of systems aliveness. Life can be severely damaged, or even destroyed. Disturb-ances are not always creative, but can also be destructive.
The example of large industrialized agriculture shows that soil fertility, a natural pattern of aliveness, deteriorates over time as its industrialized maintenance does not take into account the complex natural pattern of aliveness. Not surprisingly, over time, it takes its toll on the overall pattern of aliveness not only of the soil, but also of a region and the people living there. Yet, soil fertility is an entirely underestimated contribution to our conditions on Earth, and we only begin to know how it really needs to be composed to support the vast variety of life on the planet. But even degraded soli with severely compromised systems aliveness can develop back into a full pattern of aliveness with careful human intervention in a collective leadership approach.

While we need to alert each other to the incredible dangers and push for decisive shifts in action, let us gather the many example where human agency actually do make a difference, and restored, re-created, safeguarded or maintained patterns of aliveness. Let us learn from these examples for a revolutionary approach to stewarding sustainability transformations collectively.


Find out more about how best to steward sustainability transformations or read Collective Leadership Studies.