Transition, the Great Turning, and New Definitions of Community

As I mentioned in my last post, 20th century science has contributed to ideas that maybe our understanding of “community” should include a lot more than just people.  I’ll give you two examples, but we could list millions.  Honeybees need healthy pollen to gather for their sustenance, and humans need honeybees to pollinate the large percentage of our food that will grow only after it’s pollinated.  We’re now finding that pesticides and herbicides we use are hurting bees.  While most people didn’t realize that a lot of our food supply is dependent on bee health, it is.  Now that the bees are sick, our food supply may be threatened.  The bees are part of our life community and our food system, and we need to live in mutually healthy interdependence with them if we want to eat.

Here’s another example: it seemed bad enough that fish and frogs throughout the world were being discovered to have malformations of their sexual organs, but now scientists are pointing to evidence that the same chemicals that are hurting fish and amphibians appear to be responsible for low sperm count in human males, and various reproductive disorders in human females.  Mutual flourishing for both human and amphibian reproductive health is likely going to require a cessation in our use of many toxic chemicals.

If you thought that what’s going on in the natural world isn’t closely related to you and your well-being, think again!  All life forms need clean air, clean water, clean food, and an otherwise healthy ecosystem.  It’s starting to look like my life community isn’t just composed of my human family, neighbors, friends, and colleagues, but of the trees that give me oxygen, the insects that pollinate my plum tree, and the beneficial soil bacteria that help everything to grow.

We can also turn to genetic arguments.  Harvard entomologist and ecologist E.O. Wilson is one of many who remind us that if we look back across billions of years, every creature or plant alive today shares common ancestry.  Wilson and other scholars such as cosmologist Brian Swimme have even suggested that since all life descended from common ancestors and continues to be deeply inter-related, humanity can be thought of as the mind of the biosphere.  Evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis agreed, postulating that humanity may be like the brain of the gigantic organism that is the Earth.  If indeed we’re the Earth’s brain, maybe it’s time to use our smarts to stop our life-threatening ways.

Thinking about the life community from an economic perspective, Jeremy Rifkin describes what he believes is a developing empathic civilization whose members possess a large-scale biosphere consciousness and engage in the Third Industrial Revolution in order to achieve a clean-energy transition.  If you aren’t yet buying renewably generated electricity, start now and be a part of the Third Industrial Revolution.

Scholar-activists in the area of religion have a lot to say about new definitions of community, too.  Joanna Macy suggests that a “Great Turning” is occurring in which people are shifting in consciousness to create a society that is life-sustaining rather than life-damaging.  She believes the process is visible in three parts: actions that slow the damage to the planet and its systems; creation of new ways of living; and shifts in worldviews and values.  Macy and colleagues point out that as we develop a clearer sense of the “interbeing” of all life forms, “what’s catching on is commitment to act for the sake of life on Earth as well as the vision, courage, and solidarity to do so.”

In very practical terms, the worldwide Transition movement is mentoring communities in changing their social interactions, energy use, means of transportation, and food production in ways that are friendlier to people, lower-carbon, are gentler on the Earth.  Check out Transition online, or better yet, join a Transition Towns endeavor in your local community, and be inspired!

In movements such as Transition, we seem to be seeing changes in human culture that benefit individuals, human culture, the human species, and the comprehensive life community of Earth with all its other-than-human life forms.  As more people and groups talk about the interconnectedness and interdependency that characterize life on Earth, we may be reforming and renewing human culture in order to achieve Earth renewal.  Do you see signs of this happening?  Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Comments 4

  1. Holly Hoffmann

    People are waking up to water quality issues as well. Realizing that decreasing the number of pollutants we allow into the watersheds (through chemical use/disposal, pet waste, snow deicers, etc.) increases the health and affordability of our drinking water– in addition to protecting wildlife and beneficial plant life. We are having to come together and work collaboratively in our neighborhoods to manage and handle storm water effectively, in response to rising sea levels and increasing storms. I am inspired to live in “mutually healthy interdependence” with this larger view of Earth community!

  2. Post

    Yes, great point. And we can admire the city of Philadelphia for becoming a national leader in natural stormwater management, using rain gardens, rain barrels, and other similar strategies, to treat and manage stormwater. These methods also add beauty to the city, cool the urban heat island effect, and create habitat for wildlife! An outstanding example of mutual flourishing. Read more about green stormwater infrastructure at

  3. Deborah Shipley

    I grew up without a lot outdoor appreciation beyond some general camping and hiking and enjoyment of the beach. The older I get, the more I see how getting out to connect with nature, noticing the natural life all around me, helping a struggling bug on its back, putting out water in the backyard for any animal that may need it, and consideration of everything around me brings a deep feeling of contentment and peace. I am still learning to notice & appreciate which is an ongoing process. Thank you for this website and the connections that you are weaving together on this very important topic.

  4. Post

    Thanks for adding this aspect of the peace we experience through contact with the natural world of which we are a part! I also appreciate your mention of your own process here–I think many of us in modern culture may not grow up with a significant relationship to the natural world, yet we can still build it as adults.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ten + six =