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The Great Transition

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

Marcus asks if we accept the implications of climate change and look at our society; what comes next? What should we do to prepare for the next steps in our cultural evolution?


Glyn & Greta are going beyond panicking to motivate others to take action: Glyn with The Wandsworth Borough Council Climate Emergency Declaration Petition – The 10000, and Greta in many places. Copyright: Glyn Goodwin, The 10 000

So, I am worried and so are you. Beyond the idea of getting a job or paying off a student loan, we have been reliably informed by those who have reliably investigated the most reliable science we can find that all is not well on the farm (1,2,3). In fact, it is a climate emergency that could run away and kill us all and… we have to change everything

Some tell us there is nothing to be done, no bullshit will get us out of this.

Panic! We’re doomed Captain Mainwaring! Some magical scheme of a network of large carbon sucking machines won’t work. And we cannot build fast enough, to build enough of the techno-eutopian thorium nuclear power plants EVEN if they would allow us to transition to a low carbon economy – that is for the 20 years which there is enough fuel to run them. These techno-fixes are based on the myth that we can engineer our way out of any problem. They are within climate change mitigation efforts subsumed under the term Bio-energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). Small scale demo projects are not the same as global implementation and even those making them say they are not the answer to climate change.

Others say it’s not our problem (or rather we must ask the politicians or the people to ask the experts) – and they’ll know, participative democracy will work through citizens assemblies and the experts after all. Ireland has actually held a citizens’ assembly on climate change and the UK has held them on other topics.


Keith Garrett explains what the Citizens Assembly is, in an XR & Sortition Foundation Citizens Assembly Workshop Webinar. Copyright: Rise Up! & Sortition Foundation and Marcus Petz

Others turn to the right (reluctantly or not) and say well that is it fascism is a-coming in, and we will have to force people to meet some dystopian societal transformation for our own sakes. But will the politics and systems that have failed us so far really work in the next decade (by 2030), or even by 2020 – if you believe the Guardian’s warning of several years back?

But not everyone is willing to roll-over kick their legs in the air and just die. Hand-wringing and despair will only lead to inaction. To move forward, we need to accept that the current paradigms and ways of being have not served the planet and all who dwell within her atmosphere well. The Stockholm Resilience Centre who look at how we can live sustainably on the Earth, have mapped in a rose diagram 9 planetary boundaries and show those which we have crossed or will, if present trends continue, cross very soon.


The Planetary Boundaries according to the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University Copyright: Ninjatacoshell[CC BY-SA 4.0]

The planetary boundary concept is that for sustainable human development the planet as a whole can only be stressed so far, more stress will make it so we cannot be sure of safely living on it. It seems to some that we have crossed the biosphere integrity, climate change and biochemical flows boundaries already and that all we can do now is limit the future damage and not prevent it.

When looking in more detail it appears that a major source of our problems began with the Neolithic Revolution when we moved from foraging cultures, such as seen with the Natufians, towards agriculture and thence to modern industrial agriculture which has led to a Silent Spring and the death of beesbirds and many other animals if we even consider them. The Natufians lasted about 2 500 years and lived where the Levant is nowadays in a forest-based existence. Think of our own culture – a similar length of time – where in history as written history has existed.

Could we be called “the Mechanicals”? Imagine that after the Mechanicals another society arose that did not value technology as we do and did not value writing – instead wanted a low impact relationship with the Earth – we might now look upon them in a certain way – backward. But how would they see us? And what would they take from the Mechanical culture? Surely not our endless time spent doing bore-ocracy? How about our infatuation with phones, laptops etc. or even social networks or the news? I think it would make an intriguing view how us Mechanicals view things and how my futurist putative Wandering-spiritualists might see things.

We are weak in the west in spirituality and emotional knowledge. These do not fit neatly into any of the disciplines we have, not psychology, not theology and not philosophy nor art theory. As a result, we try and fit them into our little boxes and end up with a hodgepodge that fails badly at serving this human need. This rational reductionism is at odds with a connected holistic understanding or what Fraser Clark called an innerstanding (Clark 2006) which is encapsulated in the BOOM Festival and slogan “We are one” which goes beyond system theory emergent properties and attempts to bound or limit for understandings perspectives in an atomized world to just being within.

Like the 2D being in Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (trying to understand the 3D) it is hard to explain further dimensions within this paradigm. As regards to natural resource management, consider what Bernard Freyer champions, when he feels that organic agriculture is the only system that seems to offer an integrated answer. I challenged this view, in a lecture he gave, and know that permaculture and going even further towards foraging culture (or hunter gathering) which is not agricultural at all but totally living with nature rather than mediating, are possibilities for healing the nature deficit disorder that separates us from the rest of the biodiversity. Are they systems? Not from a Mechanicals’ point of view perhaps, but they were and have been viable for millions of years for many (hominin) animals on the planet Earth.

To go beyond the existing Mechanical culture towards a more integral one with nature do we have to suffer a collapse, or can we undergo a transformation? If we look at cultural evolution as a discipline, we can see the idea of cultural change as being a possible one and has happened in what was called by Karl Polanyi The Great Transformation. Polanyi described how England and the modern world had moved from a reciprocal culture, based on sharing social relationships, in a process to a market based capitalistic one where everything became based on price.


Lasse Nordlundwho lived for a year in the Finnish forest mainly from berries. The wisdom he gained from this is expounded in his booklet The Foundations of Our Life. Copyright: Marko Ulvila[CC BY-SA 4.0]

Now we must recognise that The Foundations of Our Life depend on being closer to the land in where we live and how we live. We need to undergo a Great Transition to move to this more resilient way of existence. This does not mean we must abandon everything we have up to now, nor to go back to an imagined past. However, we must look at ancient wisdom and indigenous knowledge in how to do this. And share this through praxis, to rural and urban areas.


Oshi Jowaluof the Lazy Man College in Chiang Mai imparts traditional Karen Wisdom of Harmonious Living with the Forest. Copyright: Marcus Petz

This praxis is found in a number of developing networks. There are the UnaVision Learning Journeys, which mind us of pilgrimages or quests like going walkabout to reconnect and discover ways to proceed. UnaVision started in Europe and aims to manifest UnaVillages which will connect into UnaVillage Regions. They plan for a UnaVersity where innovative, people oriented transformative learning processes can arise. There are concrete plans for prototyping inclusive, holistic and resilient eco-social living. UnaVision has now led to a network of locations, one for example is Mt Parnassos in Greece where the Meraki People are inspired by the concept of The Blue Economy of Günter Pauli. The Blue Economy relies on nature for inspiration.


UnaVision Learning Journey near Karítaina, Greece


UnaVision Learning Journey – perhaps a reading circle!


UnaVision Learning Journey and the deadly flipcharts. Copyright: Franz Nahrada

Another place we see the change is in the Transition Towns Network where there is a conscious desire to create resilience within resource limits in a way that is considerate of balance, synergy and collaboration described as head, heart and hands.


Transition City Vienna starts connecting Urban Farming with Co-Working. Copyright: Franz Nahrada Global Villages Network

An example of such a town is Stroud, Mercia, England who want “to influence key local organisations by promoting wider actions for a sustainable future”. The Transition Towns were started by a sustainability activist Rob Hopkins who had run permaculture courses and been involved in ecovillages amongst other things. Inspired by the peak oil concept, Rob initiated it in Totnes, a town with a strong new age culture and explicitly “exists to strengthen the local economy, reduce our environmental impact, and build our resilience for a future with less cheap energy and a changing climate”.

The most climate emergency conscious of these movements was told to me by Joe Brewer who is now based at Rancho Margot, Costa Rica and is running workshops there on Managing Planetary Collapse, Bioregional Design and Regenerating Humans. This is the Regenerative Communities Network which seeks to “drive significant amounts of aligned capital towards regenerative initiatives”. Capital must be understood here in green economics terms which includes not just money, but human capital, cultural and environmental capital as being important parts of the economic thinking. Rather than thinking at a national accounts level, the community level or even the household should be considered as the starting point. All three movements have something in common that is distinctive and exciting. They are seeking not just to create an intentional community that would be open to a few local people or those embedded and focused only in a small location. Instead they are thinking at a regional and even a global level. They all aim to help humanity transition, a great transition which will affect all of us via the concept of hubs which can demonstrate, prototype and show the way forwards through action. Together all of these connections and individuals and communities are helping to create a regen culture, that is a regenerative one. They go beyond the idea of an individual downsizing, recycling or making personal changes in their lives, to fundamentally altering how society functions. They change culture at a deeper level, and they are our best shot for the great transition which the imperative nature of climate change means we have to go through anyway.

If you would like to activate a regenerative hub contact:

2. To be involved with UnaVision as a trainee: Johannes Pfister

3. Or to connect with Joe Brewer

About the author: Marcus Petz is a British student, completing a PhD at the University of Jyväskyläin, Finland on rural resilience and community financing. He has also been the Finnish National Coordinator for Extinction Rebellion, and is creating a climate change campaign for the Green Party of England and Wales – all over the last year.

Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy, Opinkivi, Keskussairaalantie 2, PO Box 35, FI-40014 University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

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