A series of systemic shifts has brought us to this time in which human beings are overwhelming the carrying capacity of the planet, and it will take nothing less than a global systemic shift for us to avoid completing earth’s sixth great extinction, which our actions have already begun. Systemic shifts in agriculture, science, technology, economics, energy use, transportation, and global politics have all contributed to the unsustainable present we now experience, and systemic shifts in all these aspects of our global community will be necessary for creating a sustainable future.
While it is true that each of us as individuals has a responsibility to reduce our personal ecological footprint, it will be impossible for us to reduce our collective ecological footprint unless we find the social, spiritual, and political will to make systemic changes that will put sustainable living within the reach of the vast majority of human beings on the planet. As it stands, it is quite difficult to live as persons within our current systems in a sustainable way. We are dependent on social, economic, and political systems that are not conducive to the long-term survival and flourishing of our species. Our energy sources, food production practices, and transportation systems make it difficult to function and flourish in today’s world without cutting into the corpus of our ecological endowment. There might be some among us with the skills, knowledge, and commitment to significantly lessen their individual ecological footprints, but the vast majority of us will never get there without major systemic help.
Living in Oklahoma City in my home state of Oklahoma in the United States reminds me daily of the importance of systems for sustainable community. I live in one of the largest cities in the United States in terms of land area, and the sprawl makes the creation of a sustainable city extremely challenging. The vast majority of Oklahoma City’s citizens are dependent on cars for transportation. Mass transportation is neither widespread nor convenient, and it is non-existent later in the evenings and on Sundays. City ordinances curtail many sustainable urban farming practices, and our state’s environmental laws and practices are influenced greatly by oil and gas companies and by corporate agriculture. No matter how much I or others do as individuals, our city will never be sustainable without systemic change.
Oklahoma City’s unsustainability is but one of countless examples in our world in which the current systems hinder ways of living that allow us to live within the carrying capacity of our one world house. If the systemic unsustainability we currently experience continues even a few more decades, we will have likely missed the window of opportunity for systemic shift to avoid both economic and ecological collapse, a collapse that will be exacerbated by and accelerated by the effects of global climate change. Will we be present enough to the energy and power of compassion to make the systemic shift that will allow life to flourish? I believe we can be, but the challenges are great. Precisely at the time in which we need greater political participation by all of the people for systemic change, we find ourselves at a point when corporate influence and control of political and economic practices are waxing rather than waning. The challenge of our time will be to quickly move to just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable systems that enable us to live on the abundant interest of our planet’s ecological endowment. This is the most important task of our brief time as a species on this wondrous planet. We must see the importance and the complexity of the task before us and act with urgency, hope, and wisdom. There is no other time but now, and we are the people to do it.