Ecological Civilization: From Emergency to Emergence

by David Korten

Date: Wednesday, October 20, 9 am PDT

Watch the recording here.

CoverThe painting of David Korten and the biographical sketch, both below, come from the work of Robert Shetterly's series Americans Who Tell the Truth.

David is not necessarily asking us to read any of his books for this Global Read though he considers his work, Change the Story, Change the Future to be appropriate. Instead, he is asking you to read his most recent essay, Ecological Civilization: From Emergency to Emergence. . He is offering the essay free by clicking on the PDF link below.

And so, David Korten introduces his essay in this way: "This is a personal white paper directed to those who seek a future that works for all of Earth’s people and other beings. It weaves together threads of ongoing conversations with global colleagues in which I am privileged to participate.

“These conversations build from a simple, self-evident insight that carries profound implications for all that we do and seek to be.”

“Life exists only in communities of living organisms that self-organize to create and maintain the conditions essential to their individual and mutual existence.”

“Each organism requires a map—partly genetic and partly learned—to guide it in making choices consistent with the territory in which it lives. Most such choices require physical exertion—call it labor. We decide when and what to eat and then act to source it. With whom to mate and then win them over. Whom to protect against and then fight, flee, or hide. When to find shelter and then act to acquire it. And so much more.

“Humans are Earth’s ultimate choice-making species. Our decisions have defining consequences for the whole of Earth’s community of life. Relying on the defective maps of an ego-nomics that denies our true nature, our choices have potentially terminal consequences for ourselves and Earth that we have for too long ignored or actively denied.

“Continued human viability depends on Emergency action to stop the damage, facilitate Earth’s healing, and advance the Emergence of an Ecological Civilization. Successful navigation of the essential transition requires the maps of an eco-nomics to guide us in fulfilling our essential needs while simultaneously fulfilling the distinctive responsibilities of humans within Earth’s community of life.”

About the Author

david kortenDavid Korten is a leading critic of corporate globalization and a visionary proponent of a global system of local economies. His international best seller, When Corporations Rule the World (1995), helped frame the argument for global resistance against corporate globalization. The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community (2006) illuminates the significance of this resistance by placing it in the historical context of 5,000 years of Empire building and the organization of human relationships by "dominator" hierarchies. Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth (2009) offers economic proposals that address the underlying cause of the recent economic collapse, not just its symptoms.

Korten was born in Longview, Washington in 1937. During his professional career, he became increasingly discouraged that the values he learned as a child and believed to be conservative--family, community, peace, justice, and nature-- were ignored or suffered because of policies and directives of the very institutions he served.

Korten, who served in the US Air Force, acquired MBA and PhD degrees from the Stanford Business School and was a professor for five years at Harvard Business School. He also worked for the Ford Foundation as a project specialist and as the Asia regional adviser on development management to the US Agency for International Development. Thirty years working as a development professional in Asia, Africa, and Latin America eventually opened his eyes to the devastating consequences of an economic system designed to make rich people richer without regard for the human and environmental consequences. He left the foreign aid establishment and joined the global resistance against flawed development models.

While many people refer to Korten as an economist, he is by training and inclination a student of psychology and behavioral systems. From the time he began his graduate studies at Stanford in 1959, he has been seeking to deepen his understanding of how cultures and institutional structures shape human behavior and to search for ways by which we humans can do a better job of supporting one another in achieving the higher order potentials of our nature. While at Stanford, Korten met and married his life partner, Fran Korten, who was a Ford Foundation program officer for 20 years in the Philippines, Indonesia, and New York and is now publisher/executive director of YES! magazine.

Korten is co-founder and board chair of the Positive Futures Network, which publishes YES! magazine, founder, and president of the People-Centered Development Forum and founding board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. He is co-chair of the New Economy Working Group which aims to further frame the New Economy Agenda and build support for transformational change through grassroots and media outreach. He is also a founding associate of the International Forum on Globalization and a major contributor to its report on Alternatives to Economic Globalization.

Korten once said to a reporter, "The work that´s involved in creating a new economy and a new human civilization calls us to be our most creative and innovative, and it puts us in contact with the world´s most wonderful people. And it is a whole lot more fun and satisfying than allowing oneself to sink into the depths of despair and cynicism."

Downloadable PDF

About the Host

ChrisOechsliChristopher G. Oechsli is President and CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies and serves on the Board of Directors. He has led Atlantic’s grantmaking through its four program areas and Founding Chairman grants. His responsibilities include working with the Board to complete all of Atlantic’s active grantmaking by 2016 and conclude all operations by 2020.

Mr. Oechsli has over 35 years of experience in international business, law, philanthropy and policy development in the United States, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. He has served as Atlantic’s President and CEO since June 2011. Mr. Oechsli previously served as Counsel to U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, whom he advised on legislation and a range of domestic and international issues.

Mr. Oechsli was a senior staff member at The Atlantic Philanthropies and related companies for 17 years. He previously served as Atlantic’s Population Health Program Director from 2000 to 2005, during which time he developed and directed Atlantic’s work to strengthen the health systems in Viet Nam and South Africa. He led the foundation’s development of higher education and rule-of-law initiatives in Viet Nam, South Africa, Australia, and the United States; and supported the Founding Chairman’s work in health, education and medical research in the U.S., Australia, and Viet Nam. Beginning in 1990, Mr. Oechsli served as a director, counselor chief executive of operating companies within the General Atlantic Group, an international investment subsidiary of the Atlantic Foundation.

Following conclusion of Atlantic’s grant making, Chris now chairs the Governing Board of the Atlantic Institute in Oxford, England.  The Atlantic Institute provides Atlantic Fellows and staff from seven global programs with the networks, architecture and resources to connect, learn and act to address the underlying systemic causes of inequity – locally and globally.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Oechsli worked with private law firms in Seattle, Shanghai, San Francisco, and Taipei. In 1985, he became the first resident visiting law professor from the United States in the People’s Republic of China, where he taught constitutional and commercial law at the East China Law School in Shanghai.
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