One Possible Pathway at the Fork in the Road

Written by: Terry Link

Primary Source : Possibilitator, November 13, 2016

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We are two weeks away from the fourth anniversary of this blog. I had no idea I would continue to pass along some ideas that I continually bump into, for this long. In fact, this post is number 227 over that span. I have no clue who reads what. Although I do get notes or sometimes people I meet say they have read some piece or another. I suspect a few individuals read many. The website data tells me I average 150+ readers per post, but I know nothing about them or whether what they have read has propelled them to pick up one of the books or articles I reference in most posts.

Today, I want to try a little different track — one more closely in line with the title of the blog, Possibilitator. While I hope all my posts offer some possibility of viewing or understanding our world a little better, this one is aimed more specifically to directions and actions we might consider as we seek to re-balance from the outcome of this week’s election results.

I have no intention of reanalyzing why the election resulted the way it did on any level. I like to believe that I would have written this same piece regardless of the outcome. Although, the specific income has been a spur to move ahead with ideas that have invading my head for awhile. For regardless of who sits it which seats of government that have some impact on my life, my responsibility is push for justice and peace and speak the truth as I know it. That last sentence should paint clearly my own fallibility in knowing completely this world we share. Acknowledging from the outset the incompleteness of my understanding can allow me to learn. Where I can’t acknowledge that imperfection, I will not be able to learn.

So the following is offered with that humility, but with assertions that I will try to support by noting their origins.

1)     The planet we share is increasingly destabilizing from that which has allowed us to emerge as a species. We know this not only from the rigorous scientific work and consensus process of the International Panel on Climate Change, but on the similarly rigorous work of the 2003 UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Subsequent reports tend show that the ecological unraveling is accelerating faster than most projected.

2)     Income inequality, both nationally and internationally is also at it’s highest level in a hundred years. We know this from reports from our own census data and that data from countries around the planet. Research also shows that with growing income inequality we tend to see higher levels of societal ills, including increasing child mortality, more crime, more violence, more poverty, less life expectancy.

3)     Political power is concentrating more and more in the hands of the wealthy few. There are numerous serious studies that indicate that as noted by three highly regarded political scientists in comprehensive research on the topic.

4)     Women and people of color, as our own nation’s history demonstrates, have not had equal opportunity. While progress has been made, we are a long way from a society where discrimination by gender and race is an anachronism.

These issues confronted us before the election last Tuesday, and they confront us today. It would be a foolish mistake to assume that those elected to govern this week have all the answers to these complex challenges. No one does. If we are concerned with any or all of these challenges it becomes our responsibility to learn more and to advocate for changes we believe, based on what evidence we can unearth, to effectively address these challenges.

We are constrained in many ways. Principally we are constrained by the fact that there are no quick solutions that we are certain will work. Even if we are wise enough to select and apply the options that lead to reducing the threats of these challenges, we likely won’t know that from one two-year Congressional term or one six year Senate term. Note how long it took us to end slavery or for women to get the vote? These challenges will take dedicated effort for generations. Yet our culture looks for quick fixes – the corporate quarterly report, the daily stock price, or monthly unemployment or housing figures. As we speed our lives up we have moved from hand written letters to telephone calls, to emails, to now 140 word character messages, the preferred medium of our new president. Such a constricted environment can have no room for nuance or complexity, let alone the interdependence of multiple systems.

So how might we move forward under these circumstances?

I offer the recently globally agreed upon Sustainable Development Goals. These 17 goals cover all of the challenges I mentioned above plus a few more. 193 nations of the world agreed on these goals a year ago. The United States agreed to these goals. These goals have actual measures that have been produced and for each nation state to be measured against. They have a deadline, 2030. The agreed upon penalty is that our planet will be in even worse shape in 2030 if we don’t meet these goals together.

As an individual those seventeen goals might seem beyond our ability to effect them. Different individuals looking over the goals will be drawn more strongly towards some than others, based largely on one’s own circumstances. It is indeed hard to focus on all of them at the same time, but that is a weak excuse for doing nothing. For those reading this far and who are struggling on how to engage with the world under the new regime, I suggest you look over those goals and find one or two that call to you most deeply. Find organizations, government agencies, businesses that are concentrating on them and get involved. Speak up, write letters, suggest policies, volunteer. See how the issue dovetails with the other 16 goals. Does your work assist accomplishing other goals, or does it hinder?

Let’s have companies and nonprofits provide annual reviews of their own operations and how they contribute to or hinder accomplishment of the 17 goals. There is already a few scorecards that approximate an SDG scorecard. B-Corporations have a certification process that covers most of the goals. More recently, Austrian economist, Christian Felber has developed a Common Good Balance Sheet that addresses many of the same challenges. These scorecards could assist consumers and other businesses and organizations when choosing which entities to support. There could be provided, as Felber suggests, incentives for those companies and organizations which receive higher scores for the common good – preferred purchasing contracts from governments, reduced loan interest rates, quicker review of regulatory requirements, etc..

No doubt in the weeks and months ahead, there will be plenty of need to use our citizen voices and power to halt actions we deem harmful to our brothers and sisters and our planetary health. But we need also voices committed to providing positive alternatives. This election shows the harm caused with so many voters voting more against one candidate than for another. We need candidates and others to provide us we new ideas, based on best evidence we can muster, to try and meet the goals that the human family through our global governance system have agreed to. Such a pursuit should not be about winning, but about bringing our collective intelligence together to devise policies that better than any single-party could devise alone.

We’re all in this together, and until we get the majority of people realizing this fundamental truth and working together, those goals for 2030 and our ability to thrive beyond that are in jeopardy.

Richard Falk, noted international relations scholar, offers a powerful serum for needed citizenship in Citizens v. Subjects in a Democratic Society.


The moral substance at the core of genuine citizenship only exists if the political structure        allows opposition without imposing a severe punishment. If citizenship is possible, then it automatically gives rise to responsibility to act accordingly, that is, by honoring the imperatives of conscience. Unfortunately, considerations of prudence, career, and social propriety make it more attractive these days for most Americans to behave as subjects living within a rigid set of constraints. Citizens are those who not only proclaim the virtues of freedom, but act responsively to the vectors of conscience even if these go against the established public order and prevailing cultural norms.

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Terry Link
Terry Link is a retired MSU librarian, former founding director of the MSU Office of Campus Sustainability, and co-founder and former chair of the American Library Association’s Task Force on the Environment. He recently served as associate editor for the two-volume encyclopedia, Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices(Gale/Cengage 2014). He has also served as executive director of a regional food bank and as a county commissioner. Currently he is president of Starting Now, LLC, a sustainability consulting firm, a Senior Fellow for the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and serves on numerous non-profit organization boards.
Terry Link

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