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The Great Disruption and the Need for Meaning
Alex Steffen, 9 Mar 09

Thomas Friedman makes his play to popularize the coinage "the Great Disruption" for the combined ecological and economic crisis we're seeing:

Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”

We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese ...

We can’t do this anymore.

This general sentiment is not unique these days, and I suspect many Worldchanging readers would agree. Certainly most of us would agree that we need a realignment of our material civilization with the physical realities of our planet:

One of those who has been warning me of this for a long time is Paul Gilding, the Australian environmental business expert. He has a name for this moment — when both Mother Nature and Father Greed have hit the wall at once — “The Great Disruption.”

“We are taking a system operating past its capacity and driving it faster and harder,” he wrote me. “No matter how wonderful the system is, the laws of physics and biology still apply.” We must have growth, but we must grow in a different way. For starters, economies need to transition to the concept of net-zero, whereby buildings, cars, factories and homes are designed not only to generate as much energy as they use but to be infinitely recyclable in as many parts as possible. Let’s grow by creating flows rather than plundering more stocks.

But the crisis we face is more than a merely ecological or economic crisis. It's also a geo-political crisis, one which is demanding that older concepts of national sovereignty and international law stretch in new directions to accommodate the need for global responses our truly global problems; it is a social crisis, which itself demands new understandings of our interconnectedness, and of the stake each of us has in the lives of one another's children; it is, as well, a cultural crisis, where we are being forced to confront the emptiness that is so often found at the core of our new prosperity.

I increasingly think that the crisis we face can't be solved by tinkering with the parts of the systems on which we depend. It is going to take, instead, a fundamental rethinking and redesign of those systems -- and that process is going to demand that we start to ask ourselves what, exactly, it is that we want from the life those systems will be designed to deliver. I think we will find that, at its core, our crisis today represents above all else a need for greater meaning, for purpose, for depth.

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"Cultural Fugue" was the name Samuel R. Delany gave this phenomena in his book "Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand". It is the process whereby a planet destroys itself --mostly due to the human inhabitants. No matter what the name given, it is clear that the process must be reversed.

Posted by: Justin Patrick on 10 Mar 09

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