Toward a Paradigm Shift.

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise to the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew.”

Abraham Lincoln
Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862

A paradigm shift represents a fundamental change in our underlying assumptions. And, respecting our current global crisis, Lincoln’s words are apt. We must indeed “think anew and act anew.”

Drawing on what you’ve learned about our environmental challenges, let’s consider some paths to a sustainable future. We must first distinguish between sustainable and non-sustainable uses of technology (material culture). We must then recognize and confront changes we need to make in nonmaterial culture. Without changes to both material and nonmaterial culture, our efforts will be inadequate. We won’t be able to deal with rising sea levels rise, loss of forest to burning, and ever-increasing temperature of warm seasons.

Global Paradigm Shift

Our social order can only survive if it’s both sustainable and adaptive. That means it must be maintainable and flexible.

The template for this idea is built into Earth’s natural systems. Think about the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, and photosynthesis. To the extent that humans haven’t overly disrupted these cycles, they’re both sustainable and adaptive. For example, the nitrogen cycle adapts to changes in ecosystems such as different ratios of producers to consumers. (Producers are the life forms that draw on sunlight energy to produce oxygen, carbon dioxide, and glucose through photosynthesis. Producers form the very foundation of the global food chain. Consumers are the life forms that rely, directly or indirectly, on producers for energy.)

Due to the burgeoning population growth of humans, we’ve become ravenous life-energy consumers. Our demand for resources already exceeds the planet’s finite resource limits, as illustrated by the energy and water crises already discussed. Thus, our most important objective at the present time is to figure out how to establish an appropriate balance of human population to Earth’s resources. That’s a daunting challenge. Nevertheless, meeting it is our only option. The alternative is the end of human civilization—and quite possibly our life on this planet.

To avoid global catastrophe, we must address three major issues, namely,

  • We      should reconsider global capitalism in favor of alternative social and      economic systems. These should be based on the well-being of humans and      equitable sharing of resources with the natural world.
  • We      must allow ethical norms and practices to guide developments in science      and technology.
  • We      must discover and acquire a balance between head and heart. The key to      this issue is to establish gender and other types of equality across the      globe.

These perspectives are idealistic and interconnected. Together they represent a radical paradigm shift.

Consequences of Globalization

The painful consequences of the neoliberal agenda have been covered earlier in the course. It should be clear to you that if our goal is global distributive justice, we must abandon that agenda. We must suffer through the pain and discomfort involved in transitioning to more humane social and economic systems.

Here are a few initial thoughts regarding an eventual economic transition.

Economic transitions require changes to governance and modes of resource distribution. These must become more harmonious with the natural world. Digital and electronic communications might serve as an international information grid of sorts. People could share problems and solutions. Nations and localities could establish a common ground for limited trade and technological transfer.

Humans across the globe must share a common goal. We must address climate change by transitioning to renewable sources of energy. We must find ways to address water scarcity. The heaviest burden in these transitions will fall on developed nations, particularly the United States. At both national and international levels, we must reverse the flow of capital. It must be directed to flow mainly to the public to engineer a renewable power grid as well as provide basic human services like healthcare and education.

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