THE BLOG
11/08/2013 04:22 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

The Biggest Thing in the Way of Progress

At the Clinton Global Initiative this year, we were reminded that although people are multiplying, resources are not. Local African elephants populations will become extinct within the next ten years if current poaching trends continue. Bangkok could be underwater in twenty-five years due to climate change. And more people in the world have cell phones than toilets.

We could organize a global, collective response to these global issues. Instead, we're stuck arguing inane things like "Is Obama a Nazi?"

What is wrong with us? Why do we consistently favor rhetoric over facts, and vision over collaboration?

Scientists say it may be human nature. A study in Robert Keagan's recent book, Immunity to Change, showed that "when doctors tell heart patients they will die if they don't change their habits, only one in seven will be able to follow through successfully. Desire and motivation aren't enough; even when it's literally a matter of life or death."

In other words, the events in our lives have no meaning in and of themselves: it is the stories we make up to explain those events that give them meaning. For example, the story created by those patients likely became "If I take this medicine, I'm an old man like my father" instead of, "This medicine or habit will keep me from dying." Is this also true of our collective problems?

Another study at the Yale Infant Cognition Center suggests that humans naturally have two major (and often conflicting) motivations: one, to do the right thing; two, to favor people or objects relatable to their own personal worldview. We're biologically favoring people that don't take us outside our comfort zones.

But we're going to have to step out of our collective comfort zone and truly work together, or we're not going to survive as a species. "We need a new social technology -- a whole new way of being.We need to upgrade our operating system" (Source: Holacracy).

As a species, we're smart enough to come to research-based conclusions about how we function and recognize the limitations of our own existence. For example, we know that the highest safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million (ppm) but scientists currently measure it to be 392 ppm. In other words, we know that we're slowly poisoning ourselves. What could possibly be a more important agenda item to address?

Meanwhile, we're not even happy! The United States has the largest economy in the world, but ranks #105 out of 151 countries on the Happy Planet Index. Costa Rica ranks #1, and the Ticos don't even have an army. Instead, they strengthened their quality of life by investing heavily in healthcare and education.

Author Colin Beavan digs deeper: "The question isn't just, 'Are we consuming too many of the world's resources?' The question is, 'Are we using these resources in a way that actually provides for optimal human health, happiness, and security?' And I'd say the answer to that question is, 'No.'"

It's going to take more than just a small group of people wanting things to change for us to pivot in the right direction. It's going to require all of us to upgrade the way we interact with each other and ourselves, noticing and challenging the stories we create around the events of our lives. It's buying that new earth-friendly t-shirt, not with the lazy story of, "This is too expensive," but, "I am a part of this Earth and the Earth is a part of me." It's choosing to continuously learn, experience, and spread revolutionary ways of organizing ourselves with an economic system that's calibrated with a future we can live in. It's going to be all of those choices together, that we make together -- hopefully.

Let's not forget how small we are, that pale blue dot, and how easily we could become artifacts of what once was. As far as we know, there is no life on any other planet except this one and "there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere, to save us from ourselves."

Physicist Dr. Michio Kaku often speaks about a theory called the Kardashev Scale that proposes three levels of consciousness that label civilizations in the universe as we know it. The Earth is self-described to be at Level Zero of Three Levels. Level Zero means we're locked on this planet to fight it out. We don't have a Star Trek Enterprise. I can't leave and neither can you.

I believe we're capable of overcoming the realities of human nature and the issues we collectively face. But we'll need less hyperbole and more truth. We'll need an unprecedented level of global collaboration that calls each other out and is grounded in an enlightened self-interest to survive.

We must learn to calibrate our lifestyles with the planet. We cannot allow human nature to overshadow the truth. And the truth is, we're running out of time...