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From Changing the Strategic Game to Changing the Strategic Frame

Missing cognitive possibility in changing the system not the planet (Part #1)


Introduction
Vital learning experiences
Changing the system?
Practical questions
Missing conceptual link?
Enabling stories: "only stories make sense" ?
Radical engagement with the environment: beyond tinkering?
References

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Introduction

This is a commentary on the argument of Mexican activist Gustavo Esteva following the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Mexico, 2010 (The Arrogance of Cancún, The Guardian, 16 December 2010; Spanish version). He concludes that the lesson of this feeble climate deal is that "governments have played God and failed. It is up to the activists now". He cites the alternative Cancún Declaration by the International Forum for Climate Justice -- The People's Dialogue (Foro Internacional de la Justicia Climática -- Diálogo de la Pueblos) with its slogan: Let's change the system, not the planet. Specifically the text of the alternative declaration [original Spanish versions: Declaración de Cancún Foro Internacional de Justicia Climática; Declaración del Foro Alternativo por la Justicia Climática Cancún 2010; Foro Mundial de Alternativas: Declaración de Cancún; Declaración de Cancún - Foro Internacional de Justicia Climática] includes the phrase:

A systemic crisis will only be solved by a systemic approach. It is thus necessary to bring about a fundamental systemic change with real urgency. Neither market-based mechanisms nor their technological fixes can be trusted to deal with these crises because they prioritise profit before the planet and its people. Hence, we strongly reject all false solutions!

The declaration revealed the true counter-productive nature of the official proposals, which are trapped in 'market environmentalism'. It argues that we should abandon developmentalism, establish limits, concentrate in local spaces, and reclaim valid traditions. However Esteva argues that all this falls into the intellectual and political trap of the dominant mentality by still hanging on to institutions and their abstract slogans.

Specifically he argues:

To affirm or to deny climate change supposes that we understand our planet well, that we know how it reacts - both now and for the next hundred years - and that we have the appropriate technological fix. This is plain and simple nonsense, and intolerably arrogant. To continue putting our trust and hope in institutions to put things right goes against all our experience and focuses our energy in the wrong place....

We must look down and to the left... to the people, and what we can do ourselves.... Just as we strive to eat and drink sensibly, let us live our whole lives in a different way. If we define the issues in those terms, dealing with them will be in our own hands, not in those of global institutional creatures that will never do what is needed. They cannot play God, no matter how much they pretend to.

The time has come to change the system, not the planet. That depends on us, not on those who gain status and income from the system....activists leaving Cancún were very disappointed with the outcome; but they are determined to finally take control of the whole issue and to live their lives their own way, not in the way dictated by the market or the state.

A possible "missing link" can usefully be identified to render more practical the alternative Cancún Declaration: Let's change the system of thinking, not the planet. Efforts to "change the system" have not proven to be strategically viable or sustainable. The possibility explored here is whether changing patterns of thinking may enable fruitful change in the manner of engagement with global strategic issues.


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