Occupy World Street, A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and Political Reform
Green Books, 2012
Reviewed by Mel Strawn and Clare Strawn (father/daughter)
Some few years ago we were all aware of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and you might yawn with “been there, done that” in response to Jackson’s subsequent book Occupy World Street. But note: This book takes it up a notch to WORLD street and offers “A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and Political Reform.” Economics isn’t a sexy cup of tea. But in Jackson’s book, the treatment of economics is deepened and broadened to an integrated discussion of virtually all that we depend on, care about and can’t escape. We depend, for instance, on a living biome; our lives are an integral part of the natural world. (That’s where the food is.) So it is that runaway global warming is a major background issue addressed throughout the book.
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The book’s introduction starts: “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who can” (Steve Jobs). Ross Jackson, Ph.D., is a Danish citizen, raised in Canada, with degrees in engineering physics, industrial managing and operations research, which is the science of problem solving. He has worked in global finance and founded the Gaia Foundation and the Global Ecovillage Network; in other words, he’s experienced widely diverse positions that inform his analysis and qualify him as “crazy enough to think he can change the world.”
Jackson notes, “Humankind stands at a dangerous crossroads. In the worst case–if an irreversible global warming manifests—we may not survive. Even if this worst case does not materialize, we face a series of other threats–ecosystem overload, over population, extinction of species, and a serious economic overload.”
The first part of the book draws on sound research and theory to demonstrate three converging planetary crises: destruction of the environment, peak oil, and collapse of social and economic systems. While many books expound on these problems, it is instructive to review them all in juxtaposition.
Part Two offers a useful review of dominant economic beliefs. As critical review of the topic is glaringly missing in most formal education curricula (particularly in the US), this section is an important contribution to civic education. It is particularly important to unmask the “Neo Liberal Project” since it is the sea we swim in (particularly in the U.S. where fewer alternative paradigms are in public discourse) and therefore largely invisible. The chapter in Part Two, “The Drivers of Destruction,” provides an understanding of our current financial crises.
In explicating the current world order, Jackson reveals the Kennan doctrine (George Kennan was with the U.S. Dept. of State during the cold war) quoting from a 1948 secret memo, “Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern or relationships, which will allow us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security” (p. 125). This cuts to the chase of what our threats to security are about, which Jackson links to our current loss of democracy to global corporatocracy.
Jackson calls out our failed political leadership. He reiterates the obvious: infinite growth on a finite planet is an impossibility; and clearly states that a radical change in our (largely Western) lifestyles is essential to survival.
Starting with Part Four, the book offers emerging models and examples of possibility with values and worldview that elevate planetary sustainability to the central concern for economic development. Part of this movement involves aligning single issue oriented NGOs to address systemic problems. This is a shift from our current mode, which, like reductionist science, isolates a single factor (cause) and ignores the whole. This no longer matches our understanding of complex systems.
PROUTist thinking has, historically, been in front of this integrated whole-systems analysis. It is not, therefore, surprising that the PROUT Institute finds itself in collaboration with Jackson to support regional development systems.
Jackson proposes a Gaian Confederation, an alternative, community-based way(s) to conduct the human enterprise based on ecological sustainability and human rights. The road map referred to in the book’s title outlines specific concepts for global governance and economic systems that offer an alternative vision to that of the discredited neoliberal paradigm discussed in the first half of the book. “Gaia” is the view that the planet earth is alive, inclusive and interdependent as a single living system. It was developed as a theory by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, evolutionary biologist.
Rather than dumping the reader into nihilism, as so many books of dire warning do, Jackson’s book argues for planting the seed for the coming generations. “There is a world of difference between an abstract vision and one that is on the ground and evolving” (p. 275). And the author, himself, is on the ground and evolving through his engagement with multiple global networks.
In the final chapter, “The Breakaway Strategy,” Jackson identifies nation states that are potential starting points for global federation. PROUTists and many bioregional visionaries recommend regional units that are more aligned with local carrying capacity and development. This may prove to be a more accessible starting point for building on existing alternative models and less constrained by national politics.
These two reviewers (Mel and Clare) question two points. First, does humanity have enough time to turn around? Even Jackson’s terrific analysis and recommendations for mitigating action is vague on the realities of time needed for transformative global turn around on the timetable of rapidly accelerating positive feedbacks that spell across-the-board disaster. If the imminent ecosystem collapse is non-linear (as predicted by Guy McPherson, known for the concept of “near term extinction”) is it possible for human systems to shift in a rapid non-linear trajectory as well?
Secondly, Jackson’s perspective has a Eurocentric bias that fails to adequately consider the movements of colonized people that may be the seeds of global transformation. It may well be that wisdom and action from indigenous peoples are the lever to make the breakaway. This is seen, for example, in current “water protectors” movements in North and Latin America that are blocking oil extraction by raising the banner of sacred values.
There is vastly more to consider in this comprehensive book. It has decisive positive reviews from a wide range of stakeholders, communicators and activists. These include David Korten, cofounder of YES Magazine and author of “The Great Turning” and “Agenda for a New Economy”; Dennis Meadows, co-author of “Limits to Growth” who says: “…Jackson’s proposal for post-collapse strategy is the first plausible, constructive scenario I have seen. An excellent text, even amazing”; and Maurice Strong, Secretary General of the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio, who says: “Never has the kind of ‘breakaway’ Ross Jackson envisages been more necessary to our prospects for survival.”
Occupy World Street at http://proutinstitute.org/bookstore/
Learn more about the AndelsTanken Langeland project: http://proutinstitute.org/projects/andelstanken/
Reviewers: Mel Strawn, Professor Emeritus, University of Denver. Mel has 30 plus years as an educator at the college-university levels and as an environmental student/leader/activist in various ways since the late 1960’s. “I am a designer-artist trying to make sense of a vastly complex world.”
Clare Strawn, Ph.D., is the PROUT Institute’s strategic development and learning officer, and an international education program evaluation consultant.