Our world is at a turning point, humanity is at a crossroads. We can choose to live self-servingly, by which we try to command and control the biological and cultural heritage of the biosphere solely for our self-serving benefit. Or, we can co-create symbiotic systems through which we relate to and work with our living world and one another in life-affirming ways. Given the increasing characteristics of complex interconnection we face moving forward in our global context, it is only through the cultivation of a symbiotic approach to life and living that humanity can hope to evolve with the rest of the biosphere into the long distant future.
Widening social and economic inequality, climate change, biodiversity loss, resource use that exceeds planetary boundaries, democratic backsliding and disruptive technological convergencies are the hallmarks of our current historical juncture. These multiple overlapping crises and challenges constrain our individual and collective human rights and have resulted in damage to much of life on Earth.
The biosphere in which we live is comprised of all of the biological life and the physical environment wherein life exists on Earth. Our biosphere with all its many elements together comprises an amazingly complex, interconnected, and evolving system. The multitude of unique parts — from organisms to oceans, rivers, deserts, plants, and animals — all are connected and collectively contribute to the character and quality of life on Earth as a whole.
Similarly to the biosphere, an ecosystem is a biological community in which organisms interact with each other and their physical environment; it is the plants, animals, microorganisms, elements, and the physical environment, all of the parts of the system that together as a whole make up the functioning ecosystem. In essence, ecosystems are complex interrelated living systems in which all of the parts contribute toward the dynamics of that given ecosystem. Energy from the sun, plants and photosynthesis, animals both prey and predators, and the life cycles that are part of ecosystem functions; all of the parts are related in a complex web of interconnection.
At the same time, humanity now lives at such a scale that we contribute to the character and quality of the systems within which we live and those that we create at a scale never seen before in our history. We as a species are creating a Technosphere, enveloping the Earth – the sum total of humans redistribution of Earth’s resources to fit our needs through such things as our global transport systems, agriculture and food systems, digital communication systems, etc. through which we are literally reshaping what it means to be alive at this time on Earth and for generations to come.
The very idea that the dignity of each person is precious; the commitment that all people have basic rights; the health of the Earth, our singular home – all are at risk. To change course and imagine alternative futures, we urgently need to rebalance our relationships with each other, with the living planet, and with technology. We must relearn our interdependencies and our human place and agency in a more-than-human world.
Looking to the future it is all too easy to paint an even darker picture. It is possible to imagine an exhausted planet with fewer spaces for human habitation. We face an existential choice: continue on an unsustainable path or radically change course.
To continue on the current path is to accept unconscionable inequalities and exploitation, the spiraling of multiple forms of violence, the erosion of social cohesion and human freedoms, continued environmental destruction, and dangerous and perhaps catastrophic biodiversity loss. To continue on the current path is to fail to anticipate and address the risks that accompany the technological and digital transformations of our societies.
The convergence of forces spans multiple domains including science, technology, society, geopolitics, economics, business, environment, and philosophy. As a species, humanity has a unique capability to be consciously aware of our individual and our collective impact on the world around us; our actions shape the future by how we live today and we can observe these impacts in real-time. We have the capacity to make sense of our place and time in history, to reflect on where we are today in the evolution of our society and where we may be heading. This requires us to think deeply about the future, with a focus on advancing human development and an emphasis on human characteristics such as creativity, imagination, and reasoning. Convergence has a profound effect as purpose, structure, institutions, value, ethics, and beliefs are challenged, re-examined and reimagined.
We all have an obligation to current and future generations – to ensure that our world is one of abundance not scarcity, and that everyone enjoys human rights to the fullest. Despite the urgency of action, and in conditions of great uncertainty, we have reason to be full of hope. As a species, we are at the point in our collective history where we have the greatest access ever to knowledge and to tools that enable us to collaborate. The potential for engaging humanity in creating futures together has never been greater.
No trend is destiny. There is the emergence of a complex meta-systemic future in which multiple alternative futures are possible, the choices we collectively make today will determine our shared future. Whether we survive or perish, whether we live in peace or we allow violence to define our lives, whether we relate to the Earth in ways that are sustainable or not, are questions that will be profoundly shaped and decided by the choices we make today and by our capabilities to achieve our common goals. We have the opportunity to re-imagine our human communities, our future in such a way that they foster our cultural, creative, and collective potential through intentional and collaborative systems change. Together, we can change course. We got started with students and Future Minds.