Tip O’Neill, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives in the 1980s, famously remarked “all politics is local.” Significant change rarely starts at the top and moves down, mainly because the powerful do very well out of the current situation and seldom have any incentive to change it. Instead, change usually comes from the bottom up.
Occasionally — when faced with intransigence — that change has to come through violence and revolution, but more often, it happens relatively peacefully and in an evolutionary manner, although not without the need for anger, determination and confrontation on occasion — witness the Black Lives Matter movement.
Other recent examples include the growing acceptance of gay marriage and the youth climate strikes.
The concept of Conversations for a One Planet Region — a non-profit community organization we established in November 2019 after almost three years of working as a loose network — is rooted in this understanding that all politics is local. We believe that before we can take effective action we need to learn about, discuss and understand both the global and — importantly — the local level implications of the massive and rapid global ecological changes we have created.
The word “conversation” is key: We believe our discussions about these issues must be local and in person, face-to-face to the extent that is possible in the present circumstances. A second important reason for keeping the conversations local is that it is an important form of community building.
Thus, we use only local speakers/conversation leaders, because we believe we have more than enough knowledge, expertise and experience right here in the Greater Victoria Region to create a One Planet region.
Local change and local action are important, indeed vital, but they need to be rooted in a very different set of values to those that drive decision-making today, not just in our own Western democratic society, but globally. In our work, we have come to see what we are doing as encouraging a form of cultural evolution, looking for ways to accelerate the change in the deep cultural values that lie at the heart of our problems.
In his recent book, The Patterning Instinct, which explores “the deep historical foundations of our modern worldview,” Jeremy Lent identifies what he calls root metaphors.
They include the notion of “nature as machine” and our belief in “conquering nature”; the idea that indefinite growth is both possible and desirable, and the idea that it is normal to be selfish and pursue our own self-interest rather than the welfare of the group or community.
Lent is clear that if we are to achieve the deep transformation of civilization that is needed, we must change these root metaphors and establish new core values. He has identified three sets of values as “foundational principles for our major decisions”: An emphasis on quality of life rather than just how much wealth and “stuff” we have; a sense of shared humanity where we are part of and have responsibilities to other people; and a commitment to environmental sustainability rooted in a sense of connection to nature and other species.
So in our next series of monthly Conversations starting in September — necessarily online at present — we will begin by exploring how values shift, how we can identify or stimulate key social tipping points and accelerate social and cultural evolution locally toward a commitment to becoming a One Planet Region.
Then, in the following three months up to the end of the year, we will explore in turn each of the three core values that Jeremy Lent has identified.
Clearly, understanding our situation and recognizing the values shift that is necessary has to be widespread, and not confined to a small group who get it already.
So we are committed to both broadening and deepening the rather narrow base of those who have been engaged in the Conversations we have been having. We urgently need a region-wide Conversation about the core values that are required and their implications for the individual and collective decisions we must make if we are to successfully make the transition to a healthier, more just and sustainable future for our children and the generations beyond them.