Introducing Evolution-Local

Welcome to Evolution-Local, a community hub for activating our individual and collective evolutionary potential! The living planet extends to you an invitation: to pause, to contemplate, to extend your roots, and to blossom into your fullness, your radiance. Why? Because the planet and the place where you live need the gifts of your infinitely creative mind, your full heart, your rich soulfulness, even your sense of humor.
To all, welcome.

The tasks at hand:

  • To evolve, not merely as individuals, but as groups, as communities, and as a species;
  • Shifting our consciousness, our priorities, and our aspirations;
  • Transitioning away from being a species that devours and despoils the biosphere as fast as possible;
  • Instead, reinhabiting the places where we live in ways that are intelligent, sustainable, beautiful, and healing to the entire ecosystem, people included.

This piece will give a brief overview of the Evolution-Local concept, and future posts will cover the background ideas in more detail.

The starting point: Getting real about our situation

At times it seems we are living in the age of seriously bad news, and it can get overwhelming. With that in mind, this part will be brief – but there’s no use sugar-coating it. Living in denial and pretending that the planet can sustain anything resembling our current lifestyles is not a viable survival strategy. If we are to evolve, we need to start by getting real.

Humanity has a little, shall we call it… existence problem. What happens when you combine near exponential population growth, wasteful consumption, and a finite planet? No one knows for sure, but we are just starting to find out.

If you live in a lovely place with a high standard of living this may seem like an exaggeration, but as a species we are in effect, eating and burning everything in our path – imagine a plague of locusts. We are busy clearing forests, stripping soils, overexploiting fisheries and depleting freshwater supplies. Over the past century we have been squandering the one-time gift of stored fossil energy that took hundreds of millions of years to accumulate.

In the process we are altering the planetary chemistry and climate, causing droughts, forest fires, crop failures, superstorms, floods, ocean acidification, coral reef bleaching, Arctic melting, sea level rise, conflict, and refugee crises. Rather than being a concern that is safely off on the horizon, abrupt climate change and ecological overshoot are upon us now. Yet we are only seeing glimpses of what lies ahead.

Similar to an asteroid strike, our actions are also causing a mass extinction event. Through habitat destruction and other impacts we are driving dozens of species extinct every day. The combined effects of climate change, resource depletion, and disruption of the planetary ecology are threatening Earth’s capacity to support higher life forms -- humans included.

In the meantime, our ability to change course is constrained by the hijacking of the political process by the economic elite. Due to the corporate-government-financial sector alliance, wealth and political power have become concentrated like never before. Policies put in place to enable this transfer of wealth, combined with our dependence on fossil fuels and debt, have left the global economy in an unstable situation.

All of the factors above suggest that the coming years will be shaped by cascading ecological, economic, and social crises, a situation that has been described as the “Long Emergency”. Unless radical changes are made to the way we live, within a few short decades a great unraveling will take place like humanity has never known before.

Western cultural narratives: So successful they have failed.

In the long list of challenges that confront us, the most formidable of all may be our own minds. Our situation is an outgrowth of our worldview, the narratives or set of beliefs that shape our notions of who we are and where we fit into the scheme of things. These views underlie everything we do: how we organize our family and community life, how we earn our livelihood, how we relate to the living world we are a part of. Among the most influential beliefs of Western culture are the following:

  1. Humans are separate from the rest of the natural world, and “nature” is a storehouse of goods waiting to be exploited.
  2. Limitless economic growth is possible and desirable. It should be the basis for assessing the health of our economy and society.
  3. Consumption and acquiring the latest goods are the primary sources of happiness.
  4. Western-style corporate capitalism is the best type of economic system.
  5. We are morally superior and are justified in our use of military force whenever and wherever we see fit.
  6. It is sane to maintain an arsenal of weapons capable of quickly extinguishing life on the planet.
  7. It doesn’t matter much what we do to the planet because a supernatural being will rescue us and then it will be better.
  8. Things will remain pretty much as they are now for the foreseeable future, or at least for our lifetimes.
  9. New technologies or colonizing space will rescue humanity.
  10. If we are merely hopeful and optimistic, and don’t dwell on problems, things will work out fine.

One only has to flip through the channels to find these themes woven throughout our mainstream cultural discourse. It is true that in the short-term these beliefs have brought a small percentage of humanity unprecedented levels of material wealth, convenience, and comfort. These same ideas, however, are rapidly leading humanity toward an evolutionary dead end.

We need new ways of seeing that give rise to new ways of being.

A new worldview: The Epic of Evolution.

In recent decades a story has taken shape that holds the potential to realign humanity with the planet. It is rooted in science, but also resonates with the wisdom of indigenous peoples and spiritual traditions. It is based in observable reality, but does not present a sterile view of the world. It is a dynamic tale of cosmic grandeur, and humanity plays an important role.

The story begins around 13.8 billion years ago with a great flaring forth of energy from a single point, and continues as an uninterrupted process all the way up to you reading these words. Along the way, clouds of dust and gas coalesced into billions upon billions of shining galaxies, stars, and planets. And there in a common-looking galaxy, tucked away in one of the arms that spirals slowly around the galactic pinwheel, burns an unobtrusive star. Around that star, the life-enabling Sun, orbits our favorite blue and green planet, and we along with it.

Earth’s 4.6 billion year history has been a wild adventure full of catastrophe and surprise, from molten Earth and snowball Earth to the great Cambrian ‘explosion’ of lifeforms. Since then life has demonstrated seemingly infinite creativity, an unfolding evolutionary kaleidoscope of jellyfish, pteradactyls, apple trees, butterflies, tigers, whales, hummingbirds, lobsters (have you ever looked closely at a lobster!?), and us, the big-brained walking talking apes.

Our most unique contribution may be our human form of consciousness. We are the Earth’s and even the Universe’s means to look upon itself and wonder. To contemplate the story and the mystery. To find meaning and delight. To celebrate the vast and the intricate. To experience awe at the unspeakably perfect miracle of it all.

A little perspective: There are estimated to be over 100 billion galaxies in our universe, and 40 billion or more Earth-sized planets in our galaxy alone. Playing with numbers like those, astronomers have calculated that the odds of Earth being the only life-bearing planet in the universe are infinitesimally small -- 1 in 6 sextillion or so. As awesome as that news may sound to those who would like to meet our distant relatives, the closest confirmed exoplanet that might possibly harbor higher life is 4.5 light years away (or around 26 trillion miles). The planet Proxima b in the Proxima Centauri system is quite close in the context of our galaxy, but very very far in practical terms. Traveling at the speed of the only spacecraft humans have sent into interstellar space up to now, reaching that nearby part of the Milky Way would take around 79,000 years.

In light of the above, hoping to “jump ship” for another habitable planet is not a great strategy. Earth is our everything, our precious home, and not to be taken for granted. There is no backup plan.

The bittersweet irony is that just as we are beginning to comprehend the totality and the magnificence of the Epic we are a part of, we also see that our own future and the biosphere we depend on are gravely imperiled.

What are the lessons? You and I are evolutionary beings, part of the living Epic. We are the embodiment of wonder in a vibrant, shimmering, and creative universe. Rooted in the Earth and the places we inhabit, we are organic beings – interconnected with the living matrix by breath, water, nutrients, energy, motion, sensation, and awareness. Abuse Earth and we perish; create a mutually-enhancing relationship with Earth and we thrive.

The time is upon us to recognize and let go of the cultural narratives that lead to an evolutionary dead end. It is time instead to internalize the new story, letting it sink into our brains and our bones, informing our next steps as a species. The time is upon us to activate our untapped creativity, come together, and get busy with the great work of our age.

The Great Work of Our Age

In times past, humans have shown an amazing ability to channel their collective sense of purpose and their labor toward common goals. Examples include building physical structures: monumental stoneworks of Gobekli Tepe, Machu Picchu, Rapa Nui, and ancient Egypt, the massive irrigation works of Mesopotamia, the cathedrals of Europe; and social movements like the women’s suffrage, labor, and civil rights movements.

The Great Work of our age is like no other, in that it is a global species-wide calling where the future of humanity and the biosphere are at stake. What could be more compelling than that?! The current endeavor is also different in that anyone may choose to participate, however they want. The necessary revolution has to occur everywhere, and at all levels of human organization, the individual, family, community, and government. It all starts with an intention, and a few basic questions: Is what I am doing good for the Earth? Is what I am doing good for future generations?

This work has many names: the Great Work, the Great Turning, the Great Transition. Others use terms like transformation, relocalization, sustainability, resilience, permaculture, degrowth, voluntary simplicity, power-down, controlled collapse, regeneration, and reinhabitation. The essence of our Great Work is to reintegrate humanity with the rest of the web of life, maintaining a viable planet for humans and all species.

This work will entail redefining ourselves and reinhabiting the places where we live, creating resilient cultures that are fine-tuned to Earth’s diversity of bioregions. By doing so we can transition from being an extractive civilization to regenerative cultures, where our actions restore ecosystems and natural diversity, build fertile soils, and actually remove carbon from the atmosphere. This will entail transforming all spheres of human activity, including our energy use, food production, transportation, education, and health care.

 

On an individual level, the Great Work has two interwoven aspects:

  1. Internal work. The work of head and heart. Shifting consciousness. Transforming one’s identity from a disempowered individual to an activated evolutionary being. Pursuing self-knowledge and inner growth. Healing personal and collective wounds and letting go of unhealthy beliefs and habits. Unplugging and deprogramming from mass consumer culture. Continually studying, learning, skill-building, deepening one’s connection to others and to nature. Learning from natives, elders, and each other. Discovering one’s gifts, finding passion, purpose, and meaning. Becoming a wise and compassionate person grounded in community and place. Meditating on: “What is my role in the Epic of Evolution?”, and “How can I contribute to the Great Work?”
  2. Work in the world. Getting one’s hands dirty, metaphorically and literally. Translating the inner work into meaningful action. Getting involved in something larger than oneself. Whether through one’s lifestyle choices, professional work, or one’s family and community life there are infinite ways to contribute. Growing healthy food, supporting local businesses, finding ways to use less energy and fewer resources in all areas of life, encouraging community emergency preparedness. Defending land and other species. Teaching, leading, helping others who are in need. Engaging and organizing politically at local and higher levels. Creating community events, artwork, classes, discussions, and celebrations.

One might ask: Is this all intended to prevent social and environmental collapse? Or is it more about preparing to deal with changes that are already inevitable? Or is the emphasis on creating positive alternatives for a viable future? The answer is “YES, all of the above!” The Great Work is about stopping the ongoing destruction caused by industrial civilization, and preparing for an uncertain future, while simultaneously creating the new culture of reinhabiting the places where we live.

By relocalizing our cultures and our economic activities, we can more clearly see and take responsibility for our actions and their impacts. Locally-sourcing our food, water, and energy encourages us to understand, protect, and invest in the ecosystems we are part of and rely on. This is in sharp contrast to being dependent on imperialist governments and massive corporations that extract wealth from and export pollution to distant unseen peoples and lands that we feel no accountability to.

While the emphasis here is on identifying with and taking action at the local level, this by no means is meant to promote a sense of isolation and division between peoples and locales. The issues facing us require that our local actions connect with national and global movements. The emerging vision is one of celebrating our differences while realizing we are also one people, all children of the Earth, all closely related. We are united by the common cause of healing our relationship with the planet, and each other. This can only be achieved by recognizing histories of colonialism and oppression and addressing the acute inequalities that exist today more than ever. Beyond the local level, a vital part of our transition is to cultivate an ethic of cooperation, collaboration, and solidarity between peoples and regions.

The Roles of Evolution-Local

The intention behind the network of Evolution-Local websites is to help catalyze and support the Great Work of our age, one person, one community, one place at a time. Each participating locale will have its own Evolution-Local website, with each site having a consistent format (think Craigslist). Each site will serve as a local hub, a home base for sharing, learning, and plugging in. The site will provide a place for people to go when they are tired of the empty calories of the consumer culture and are ready for something more nutritious and delicious. Something real, meaningful, and alive – an experiment in collective creativity, at the leading edge of the unfolding Epic.

By highlighting the inspiring work that is already happening, people will see what the Great Transition can look like, and will know that it is already underway. It will embolden and encourage people, letting them know they are not alone, and that there are already others right there in the neighborhood who share their concern for place and planet.

For those who have already found your passion, Evolution-Local is a place where others can see what you or your organization are doing, get inspired, lend support, and get involved. For you, Evolution-Local can be used as an organizing tool for finding allies and amplifying your impact. For evolutionary leaders, thinkers, teachers, artists, musicians, writers, it is a forum to express yourself and reshape reality.

Finally, each Evolution-Local website will serve as an open source learning center and archive, where valuable information can be stored and organized. Someday the Internet will be a thing of the past, but until then let’s use it as a tool for rapid cultural evolution.

Beyond the website, who knows what Evolution-Local will become? It can be used as a springboard for organizing events, classes, meet-ups, teach-ins, working groups, and otherwise planting seeds and seedlings for a healthy future.

Overview of the Evolution-Local website sections

Blog/Features. Highlighting all things and ideas relevant to reinhabitation and the Great Transition. Blog posts profiling local events, issues, organizations, farms. wild places and more. A place where featured local artists, writers, and activists can share their work.

Community Forum.  Providing an open community forum to discuss important issues, share notes, and learn from each other.

Local Issues section. This is the place to get up-to-speed on important local issues like water protection, land-use and development, energy, and sustainable food systems.   

Activate! section. Whether you have an hour to spare or you are ready to find your life’s purpose, there are infinite ways to get involved.

Local Political Tracker.  A tool for countering apathy, disempowerment, and cynicism. Promoting transparency, accountability, and an informed populace that takes responsibility for the democratic process.

Evolutionary Toolkit.  Building the knowledge base for reinhabitation and thriving locally. A compilation of visions for the future with models for how to get there.

Local Nature Almanac.  A collaborative tool for deepening our sense of place and kinship with the local bioregion. Co-creating a seasonal archive of nature observations: plants, animals, weather, events in the garden.

Beyond Local. Provides an overview of national and planetary issues that affect the local level: climate, corporate power, and more.

Competing Invitations

As Mary Oliver asked, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

The consumer culture tells you that you are lacking, and implores you to feed the insatiable hole in your soul with ever more goods, passivity, entertainment, addictions, and distractions.

The Sun overhead, the living soil underfoot, the breeze on your skin, the laughter of a child, all invite you to activate as an evolutionary being, dedicating your life to the Great Work of our age.

For every significant human achievement there has been opposition to overcome, including changing the collective idea of what is possible and worth striving for. We have now reached a point where there is no time to worry about whether the Great Transition is possible, no time to waste stuck in cynicism or arguing with deniers. Better to co-create a shared vision, and have fun doing something meaningful. Then not only will the Transition become possible, it will already be happening.

 

Notes/References

I first encountered the concepts of the Universe Story (aka the Epic of Evolution) and the Great Work in the writings of Thomas Berry  including The Dream of the Earth (1988) and The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future (1999). As well as The Universe Story : From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era--A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos. (1994) by Berry and Brian Swimme.

Other versions of this concept include the Great Turning in the work of Joanna Macy (see her books and site here), and in David Korten's 2007 book: The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community.

There are also the Great Transition Initiative and Great Transition Stories

Mary Oliver, from Summer Day, New and Selected Poems (1992)

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1856)

Other influences are the bioregional movement (including authors such as Peter Berg and Gary Snyder); the Transition Towns movement; and writings by Richard Heinberg and many others at Resilience.org

It has also become clear that Barbara Marx-Hubbard has already anticipated and articulated much of what this website is all about! More on Barbara's work soon.

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