What's Next? (Pt. 1)

06/10/2015 01:21 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2016

We know the ocean as a natural system. We know too that beneath that surface lies the challenge of governance. Like the land, the ocean too is a political system, equally complex and vital. But, penultimately, is not the ocean an economic system as well? A place of infinite value that can be parsed and understood for its invaluable contribution in goods and services toward global sustainability and survival? Let's assume here that the superimposition of these three systems creates an even larger social system that is the true scape of change and betterment for our future. Let's postulate this equation: Nature + Politics + Economics = Social Vitality and Viability in a growing, evolving world.

In her provocative new book, the New York Times bestselling This Changes Everything, journalist Naomi Klein introduces her argument with the words of science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson with this quote:

... I've imagined people salting the Gulf Stream, damming the glaciers sliding off the Greenland Ice Cap, pumping ocean water into the dry basins of the Sahara and Asia to create salt seas, pumping melted ice from Antarctica north to provide fresh water, genetically engineering bacteria to sequester more carbon in the roots of trees, raising Florida 30 feet to get it back above water, and (hardest of all) comprehensively changing capitalism.

Klein's book is a well-researched, challenging, compelling analysis of the climate situation, the interests resistant to change, the extraction industry, and the fall-out that has so paralyzed a coherent global response. Why? She asks.

I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis.

We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe -- and would benefit the vast majority -- are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.

So, there it is, the tyranny of short-term gain, profit now, and the indifference to the consequence in any place or generational time. Toward the end of her book, Klein points to "the moral imperative of economic alternatives." She lists any number of projects that suggest different values and approaches; she points to specific hopeful populist movements; she foresees a critical moment when "suddenly, everyone" will understand the need for revolutionary action. How will we react? She concludes:

Because these moments when the impossible seems suddenly possible are excruciatingly rare and precious...The next time one arises, it must be harnessed not only to denounce the world as it is, and build fleeting pockets of liberating space.

It must be the catalyst to actually build the world that will keep us all safe. The stakes are simply too high, and the time to short, to settle for anything less.

So, what is next? What is the possibility of a post-capitalism economic model that might evolve to support the new values and behaviors in a new era of alternative technology, political action, and finance? Enter The Next System Project, an initiative to explore "new political-economic possibilities for the 21st century," an initiative of the Democracy Collaborative, with the goal to change the prevailing paradigm of economic development -- and of the economy as a whole -- toward a new emphasis and system based on:

• Broadening ownership and stewardship over capital
• Democracy at the workplace
• Stabilizing community and emphasizing locality
• Equitable and inclusive growth
• Environmental, social, and institutional sustainability

The project is directed by Gar Alperovitz, James Gustav Speth, and Joe Guinan, who are recognized for their work in environmental history and economics and their engagement in addressing our future needs across the full systemic spectrum. "...we believe," they declare:

By defining issues systemically, we can begin to move the political conversation beyond the current limits with the aim of catalyzing a substantive debate about the need for a radially different system and how we might go about its construction...

There are real alternatives. Arising from the unforgiving logic of dead ends, the steadily building array of promising new proposals and alternative institutions and experiments, together with an exploration of ideas and new activism, offer a powerful basis for hope.

The ocean cries out for "the next system." We must move to the new paradigm with urgency, in time to oppose and reverse the forces that are rapidly affecting the global water cycle in the so many ways we have discussed here before. What are the alternative economic approaches? How will they work?