Envisioning World Sustainability: Master Essay

Summary: This document provides a working synopsis of my project. The envisioning of the Noosphere is underway here. The project involves spelling all this out in some detail. This charts a path from the Anthropocene, through the Technosphere, to the Noosphere.

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Hacking World Sustainability as a Three Act Play ^

Think of this project as a play in three acts. The story line is this:

  1. We are living in the Anthropocene, an epoch in Earth history in which humans have become the predominant force within nature that actively but perversely shapes the biosphere. This extends the original idea behind the Brundtland Commission Report that invented Sustainable Development from a United Nations report to a project encompassing of all humanity.
  2. The Technosphere defines human domination and hierarchy as the engine of destruction of the Anthropocene. The dramatic climax culminates in the resolution of the crisis of the Technosphere. Physical growth and economic globalization intensify that tendency and require a critical analysis of the political economics of globalization. The nation-state, the international economic system, and trans-national corporations control this process of globalization largely to benefit economic elites.
  3. The evolutionary potential of the Noosphere emerges out of the spontaneous networking of collective human intelligence and through popular social learning on a global scale --- thus defining an alterntive path toward globalization. Within the context of the Noosphere, we expore such issues as
    • the Social Ecology that offers an alternative to growth and to centralized systems of rule
    • a strategic sustainability that charts a feasible course that heads toward world sustainability that defines an holistic human/nature evolution.

The Anthropocene

The Anthropocene is the name for the period of Earth history that humanity has entered, acknowledging the sheer force of humanity on the planet. The Anthropocene provides the setting for the action depicted here and opens up to thinking at the level of humanity, the Earth, and their intertwined history. Thus, Earth history and social history converge, setting up the underlying dynamic posed within social ecology.

The Technosphere

The Technosphere comes straight from The Question Concerning Technology by Martin Heidegger, Technics and Civilization by Lewis Mumford, and The Ecology of Freedom by Murray Bookchin. The Technosphere identifies human domination as the engine of destruction of the Anthropocene. Operationally, this puts the critique of the imperative for economic growth compelled by globalization up front from here on. The potential for human development in harmony with nature as second nature (Bookchin in Biehl) clashes with the politics, economics, and ideology of growth. (On the other hand, globalization offers attractive and immediate opportunities for widespread networking and universal open communications.)

The Noosphere

Resolution is most likely the collapse of the carrying capacity of Earth (now well underway), with a severe restriction in human numbers and erosion in the quality of life. But this crisis opens up the potential for more than the technical streamlining advocated by sustainability: The Noosphere emerges out of the networking of collective human intelligence and social learning on a global scale (Hardt and Negri, Multitiude). Within the context of the Noosphere we can discuss such topics as (1) the possibilities of a political economics that supports rather than undermines world sustainability; (2) a Social Ecology that offers an alternative to growth and to centralized systems of rule; (3) a strategic sustainability that charts a feasible course that heads toward world sustainability. Otherwise, the lights dim: utopia or oblivion, the ultimate existential choice.

Strategic Sustainability

The stage moves toward the political economics introduced in the Technosphere. The growth obsession inherent within economic globalization drives the planet into crisis and humanity into horrid conditions, resource wars, and stark inequities. Efforts for world sustainability will be thwarted by the control exercised over the economic agencies of growth, transnational corporations (TNCs) and their agents derived from Bretton Woods in 1944. Political institutions have been usurped and media outlets bought out. However, within the emerging network society, the opposition solidifies: Communication is power.

Public Policy for World Sustainability

Public Policy serves to ameliorate and deceive the public into complacency, a tactic that is soon exhausted as conditions on the ground worsen. The realization that neither political institutions nor even the most enlightened public policy will prevent collapse evokes a more fundamental response within the diverse cultures and regions of the world.

As TNC's forfeit legitimacy, the last bastion of global capitalism, the USA, becomes the test case for the future of humanity and the biosphere. Dysfunctional, gridlocked, and hopelessly corrupted by aggrandized wealth, the USA becomes a world pariah. China and the EU assume a light mantle leadership as Africa deteriorates and coastal regions sink. Civilization crumbles like icebergs. The situation, however, remains fluid.

The best hope for public policy is that it supports the decentralization required for cultural, bioregional, and communitarian reinhabitation and rolls back the appropriation of the vital global commons, the oceans and atmosphere for example, recently sold at auction to TNCs. The nation state is contested and, until resolved, will at best only set a general framework that allows authentic sustainability to emerge from below.

Economics of Sustainability

The principle challenge here is the operationality of an economics of sustainability. This must invert economics through an alchemy that transforms this engine of destruction into authentic generative enterprises and processes. An authentic green economy now hides underneath the corporate greenwashing of what passes as a Triple Bottom Line of profit, people, and planet.

Countless, diverse, and spontaneous experiments emerge and thrive, both within localized markets and a burgeoning cooperative sector . Most of these efforts are small in scale and remain invisible except to each other. They generate impressive innovation and experimentation in energy, food and agriculture, shelter, communications, transportation, and "waste" management. These industry-specific solutions are based on radical business models that are built on expansive and authentically productive networks rather than the manufacture of artificial scarcity to gain profit. Heavy industries, such as mining (lead by a coal moratorium) and nuclear power (financially disabled), falter. Large TNCs, historically constructed around large-scale capital appropriation subsidized by the state, prove brittle and cumbersome. They have a diminshing role in the emerging sustainable economy and work best when decentralized into small, nimble, often ephemeral organizational units.

(Note how naive the paragraph above, if not the entirety of the argument, appears.Please see the author's article on the Economic Strategies for Sustainability and the syllabus for Economics of Sustainability, a required course in the Master of Arts in Sustainability Studies at Ramapo College. Also, the author served for ten years as the founding Trustee of the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation. The rough and tumble of this experience has proven as indelible as fourteen years as a labor leader in New Jersey.)

Social Ecology and Reinhabitation

Largely ignored now, social ecology emerges as a beacon for renewal, integrating Earth history with social history, nature with society. Small in scale, highly decentralized, transparent and democratic, an ensemble of networked complexes generated within the detritus of contemporary decay a bevy of smart, flexible, dynamic incubators that generate innovation and interact supportively with the nascent green economy. Sustainability is not simply endurance, but the means to support from below, that requires a solid foundation.

The end result includes:

  1. A hotbed of cultural renewal and activity based on a highly localized, regionalized, and communitarian associations
  2. A matching and reinforcing green economic wave based on the molting of the TNCs into flexible and disaggregated organizational forms that collaborate with the communitarian sector
  3. An inversion of the centralized state into far more open and federated districts built on accessible political jurisdictions accompanied by a variety of ephemeral special-purpose agencies
  4. A governing structure along the lines of the ancient Greek polis in which citizenship thrives within highly informed and responsive organizations.

The mission, defined by its inherent social ecology, is nothing short of a rapidly emerging reinhabitation of bioregions and communities re-settled along ecological and democratic lines.

The culmination of this process redefines civilization as a vibrant, pulsating enterprise energized by humanity in a partnership with nature (Aristotelian poesis and physis) that does not timidly live within limits but actively generates thriving complex societies, burgeoning ecologies, and creative human achievement not imaginable in these darkest days of decline. Thus, the Noosphere emerges and reinforces itself within its own dynamism. The upwelling vibrance emanates from below as hierarchy melts away. A peaceful, dynamic, diverse society invigorates nature, which reciprocates.

©Wayne Hayes, Ph.D. | Initialized: 9/29/2010 | Last Update: 07/18/2011 | V. 1.2 Build #7