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Navigating Change

While change is constant, we are not always clear about how change happens in society and what we can do to bring about the change we want. So where do we start? One way is by adopting new ways of doing things ourselves, "being the change we want to see in the world". So how about 'green consumerism', changing people's habits one purchase and one product at a time? This might be akin to evolution which implies slow progressive changes, not noticeable in the short term but evident in the long, some times very, very long term. For the challenges we face, we surely don't have that much time to play with. While fine in its own terms, one can see that green consumerism just obscures the deeper issues and only tinkers with the status quo.

Sensing the urgency of the times, we question whether this will be enough to persuade enough people to make sufficient changes in time to cope with the pressing energy, climate and economic challenges we face. Won't just ploughing our own furrow run the risk of being daunted by the slow pace of our change? Indeed looking at the state of  play of the main challenges we face, climate change, peak oil and global economics, it would be easy to be dispirited. With climate change we don't seem to be persuading more people to take action. While a 2007 Harris poll found that 71 percent of Americans believed that the continued burning of fossil fuels would cause the climate to change, that dropped to 51% by 2009, falling to 44% in June 2011. With the economy, the news media is mostly full of talk about how to get back to growth. While "denying the fact of systemic crisis.., our rulers are making a cataclysmic collapse more likely."

Likewise with Peak Oil, the government prefers to believe BP that it is some way off, as Solar Century Chairman Jeremy Leggett pointed out last week at our Transition Forest Row Energy Fair in a debate with Energy Minister and our MP Charles Hendry.

'The beginning is near'We could easily make a very long list of how things are getting worse. So is all this an indication that we are losing, or as a number of signs at #Occupy events around the world hint at, and Shaun Chamberlin noted last week, they are an indication that “The beginning is near”?

It's important that we engage with the story that we have about what is happening because the stories we tell ourselves can either be liberating or limiting. For example Burmese loggers know that an elephant never forgets. As soon as a baby elephant can walk, by securing it to a stake with a thin piece of rope, they can train it for life to believe that even a small string around its leg prevents it from wandering off. Likewise the placebo effect, which creates healing with inert drugs where our beliefs literally create our biology, is said to work in one third of treatments. This also operates in reverse; if 'patients mistrust their doctor's chosen course of action, the nocebo effect can cause a treatment to fail before it has begun'.

So it is important to imagine, to paraphrase Arundati Roy, that not only is another world possible, but that she is being born. However giving birth can be a messy and painful experience, but the result is a whole new being. If a mother did not know what was happening it would be a truly terrifying experience, and one more likely to end in tragedy. In The Transition Companion, Rob Hopkins points to David Holmgren's model of future scenarios as Techno-explosion, green-tech stability, Earth stewardship and Atlantis (collapse). Hopkins sees the "first two as unfeasible and the last as avoidably pessimistic". He sees the only viable course of action, and one taken by Transition, as an intentional powering down. It's an approach I fully support, but it's unlikley things will work out according to such a smooth plan. At least by having a plan, the timeline can always be shortened as circumstances demand, without a plan at all we are left to the mercy of other people's plans.

Along with evolution, there is another change process in nature: mutation. Mutation implies a radical and rather sudden change, we could liken to a revolution in society. While the history of revolution is to say the least somewhat mixed, it is the instability of the existing order that provides the opportunity for change. Described as "one of the greatest childhood classics of all time", most parents know the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The caterpillar consumes and consumes until it undergoes a metamorphosis from 'hungry caterpillar' to 'beautiful butterfly'.

"The genesis of the caterpillar’s transformation begins with the appearance of what scientists have termed 'imaginal' cells. Researchers have no idea where these cells come from, or why they appear. They are termed ‘imaginals’ because scientists can only hypothesize that their purpose is to ‘imagine’ something incredible that is about to happen. At first, the imaginals are fought off and destroyed by the intelligence of the caterpillar organism. But the imaginals keep coming back and eventually form clusters of cells to strengthen their domain. At a certain point in time, the long string of clumping and clustering imaginal cells switches gears from simply being a group of like-minded cells into the programming cells of the butterfly. They literally reach a critical mass of influence where the caterpillar’s destiny is altered to become a butterfly."

So could it be that the signs of impending financial, energy and climatic chaos are not just the signs of collapse, but are signs of the unravelling of the industrial growth society? Is the emerging Occupy movement, Transition Initiatves and many others, actually clusters of imaginal cells emerging and organising into stronger groups? It has been suggested that this year will go down in history as one of those that redefined global politics like 1968 and 1989. Tariq Ali sees what is happening around the world as "the first signs – not of a unified  movement, but of different movements in different countries that are searching for something. And that process of searching is extremely important. We're in a period of transition" he said. Likewise in his 2004 Bioneers speech on 'the other superpower', Paul Hawkin described this movement as humanity's immune response. "Rather than control, it seeks connection" he said.

With the 5 billion mobile phone connections and the internet, we are more connected globally than at any time in humanity's history. In addition the idea of six degrees of separation is that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet by a chain of no more than five acquaintances.

As Charles Eisenstein, author of 'Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition' says in this inspiring video, The Revolution Is Love, points out, "It's really hard to create community if the underlying knowledge is 'we don't need each other'. Joint consumption doesn't create intimacy. Only joint creativity and gifts create intimacy and connection. Love is the felt experience of connection to another being. An economist says ‘more for you is less for me.’ But the lover knows that more for you is more for me too. It's a different kind of revolution - there is no one to fight. There is no evil to fight. There is no other. Everybody has a unique calling. And it's really time to listen to that. That's what the future is going to be. It's time to get ready for it and to help contribute to it and help make it happen."

Participation shapes our world and is an incredible opportunity, especially now that there are 7 billion potentially creative beings on the planet. But this potential participation is also a responsibility for each one of us to recognise that we need to be participating in both our families, our communities, our regions and our family of the world.

In The Transition Companion, Rob explores 'Why Transition Initiatives do what they do'. As well as the usual reasons such as Peak Oil, Climate change, even fear, is a section called 'Because it feels like the most appropriate thing to do'. In it Rob says that "Transition is an invitation to be part of changing the place you live." He goes on to ask "Do we make change happen by striving to shock or depress everyone into action, or by creating a thrilling, fascinating process that people can put their shoulders to if they wish?" As Paul Hawken said, "It is up to us to decide - how will we be, who will we be. This is what we are bulding - the capacity to respond. It is about possibilities and solutions. Humankind knows what to do." Mike Grenville

How Does Change Happen? poem by Jennifer Corriero

Video link


Catriona Ross's picture

Great start to the week

 Thanks for getting the week off to such a great start Mike.  The allusion to The Hungry Caterpillar and explanation of imaginal cells was enjoyable and really effective.  I am learning loads from this series of blogs and can't keep up with all the reading I want to follow up on from the links and comments.



Martin Grimshaw's picture


Hey Mike

I just came across this again when searching for a short video telling the story about imaginal cells. I didn't find one; anyone out there into making short videos, documentaries or even better a cool cartoon fancy having a go?

Anyway, it was great to read your peice again; lovely, inspiring. Good work.

Here's one link, I'd love to find something even more colourful and inspiring about imaginal cells.... if anyone reading knows of anything seriously cool, please do post a link here.

Thanks :)