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Transforming Governance

An essential first step is creating a vision of what a governance system for an ecologically viable human society in the twenty-first century might look like. However, because governance systems are so fundamental to a society and reflect its worldview, values, and aspirations, transforming a governance system requires transforming the society, and vice versa. Fundamental social change may be catalyzed by a small group of determined people and inspired by new ideas, but history teaches us that achieving lasting structural changes in society requires the combined actions of many people acting in concert. How much impact the idea of Earth-centric governance will have is likely to be determined by whether it is adopted by enough people who are sufficiently organized to be able to sustain collective action over a long period of time. Change must be both fundamental and rapid because of the speed with which phenomena such as climate change are closing the window of opportunity.

Historically, widespread and fundamental changes in societal values have occurred within relatively short periods of time, but usually by means that we would not wish to emulate. For example, religious and cultural values have been changed by conquering armies and expanding empires (such as the spread of Islam after the seventh century), the disintegration of governance systems (the collapse of the Soviet Union), and traumatic events (the Black Death plague, which killed 30–50 percent of Europe's population). Yet significant changes in societal values and practices also have been

achieved by social movements such as the U.S. civil rights movement.

The prospect of conquest or empire-building spreading ecocentric values during the twenty-first century appears remote. Disasters (such as the predicted avian flu pandemics or climate change-related natural disasters) may well play a role in changing values; however, trauma-driven change usually involves massive loss of human life and often causes negative changes in values, such as the persecution and killing of minority groups identified as scapegoats for the plague in Europe. A fear-based response is unlikely to increase empathy and to shift values toward the more inclusive and cooperative values that are central to an integral Earth-oriented approach.

It is also unlikely that such a transformation will be led by national governments, international institutions, businesses, or religious organizations, although all may play a role.

So far, only a few governments (Bhutan, Bolivia, Ecuador) have shown an appetite for fundamentally reconceptualizing their governance systems in order to steer their country toward ecological sustainability. Even in Ecuador and Bolivia, which recognize the rights of “Mother Earth” and profess a commitment to living well in harmony with nature, the governments have continued to authorize mining and infrastructural development projects that are difficult to reconcile with that commitment. Furthermore, the “Law of Mother Earth and Integral Development for Living Well,” promulgated by Bolivian President Evo Morales in October 2012, reflects a retreat from key elements of the philosophy that informed the declaratory “short law” adopted by the Bolivian congress in December 2010.

At the international level, the ability of the United Nations or similar institutions to drive any such transformation will be limited until member states adopt these ideas on a broad scale. Moreover, experience shows that

The Secretary of the Bhutan Ministry of Information & Communications (left) inspects a low-cost XO computer.

such organizations have consistently failed to act decisively and effectively in response to phenomena such as climate change and the loss of biological diversity.

Corporations, too, are unlikely to drive the transformation of governance systems. Corporate laws and internal corporate governance systems create significant practical obstacles to corporate leadership in this area. Although addressing climate change would be in the commercial interests of some companies (such as insurers), most of the largest global companies derive the bulk of their income from the exploitation of oil, coal, gas, and minerals and are likely to oppose governance systems that would inevitably lead to restrictions on the activities of extractive industries. (See Chapter 20.)

This means that if any widespread shift in values and worldviews—and significant reorientation of governance systems—is to occur, it is most likely to be driven by civil society organizations. There is now some evidence that this is beginning to happen.

 
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