Saving Earth

We cannot expect our dominant institutions to lead us to the transformation on which a viable human future depends, writes David Korten.

(Minnesota DFL/RawPixel)

By David Korten
Yes! Magazine

In his message launching the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on April 4, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres offered the following chilling observation:


“Climate scientists warn that we are already perilously close to tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate impacts.

But high emitting governments and corporations are not just turning a blind eye; they are adding fuel to the flames.

They are choking our planet, based on their vested interests and historic investments in fossil fuels, when cheaper, renewable solutions provide green jobs, energy security, and greater price stability.”

The institutions he cited are also blocking efforts to protect Earth’s natural environment, end poverty and extreme and growing inequality, and prevent further deaths from weapons of war.

There are many good and committed people working within these institutions, but their structures are relics of an era of imperial rule in which their function was to secure the absolute rule of kings and queens on the pretext that they ruled by the will of God.

Much has since changed. We are no longer ruled by kings and queens, but we are not free of the top-down structures designed to enable their rule. Power now rests in the hands of global financiers who rule by their control of our access to money. They enjoy the support of economists who assure us that the lust for power through wealth is inherent to human nature, and that maximizing our individual financial return ultimately maximizes the well-being of everyone.

Perverse Premise 

We have tested this perverse premise on a global scale and are now bearing its devastating consequences: The destruction of Earth’s capacity to sustain life, an unprecedented concentration of wealth and power, and billions of people leading lives of daily desperation.

The deeply flawed economic theory that drives this disaster ignores or denies three foundational truths:

  1. Money has no intrinsic value. It will buy only that which is for sale. It will be useless on a dead Earth.
  2. Science now confirms what thoughtful humans have long recognized: Life exists only in communities of living beings that self-organize to create and maintain the conditions on which life depends. The Indigenous peoples of South Africa call it ubuntu: “I am because you are.”
  3. While we know from daily experience that there are demented souls among us who gain pleasure from harming other people, most people derive their greatest pleasure from caring for and sharing with others.

Over the span of my 85 years, I have had the joy and privilege of working with and celebrating people of widely varied cultures, genders, religions and races. This includes living for 21 years in Africa, Latin America, and Asia working initially for the foreign aid establishment and later for civil society organizations on a mission to end global poverty. It also included periods of residence in Washington state, California, Florida, Virginia, New York and Massachusetts. Of all the many people I have encountered, most, by far, were kind, caring, and ready — even eager — to help others, including strangers, in need.

But we are being failed by the society we built. We cannot expect our dominant institutions to lead us to the transformation on which a viable human future depends.

Change will come, and can only come from committed people mobilizing in common cause as a powerful social movement. Together, we can transform the institutions of global society to distribute power and organize from the bottom up. Critical elements are in place, but we have yet to acknowledge our common purpose.

Fifteen years ago, Paul Hawken, environmentalist, entrepreneur, author and activist, wrote Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. He set out to collect the names of all the organizations around the world working to achieve ecological sustainability and social justice. He first estimated that the number of such organizations exceeded 100,000. As his research progressed, he found that there were actually at least 1 million, and possibly 2 million.

Blessed Unrest devotes more than 100 pages to listing and defining the categories of organizations engaged with issues of peace, justice, equality, governance, environment, Indigenous rights, and related issues foundational to the well-being of people and Earth. Together, they constitute all the varied elements of what we can call an ecological civilization.

In his book — and countless presentations, interviews, and articles that followed — Hawken suggested that, together, these organizations potentially constitute the largest social movement in human history. But it was not evident that these various organizations saw themselves as part of a larger movement, nor recognized the interdependent nature of the causes they sought to advance.

Since the publication of Blessed Unrest in 2007, the continued deepening of humanity’s environmental, social and political crises has drawn ever more people to active engagement in one or more of the many elements of the essential human transformation. These forces are most visible in local communities that are committed to reducing dependence on fossil fuels; supporting local organic farms; forming unions and cooperatives; working for racial, gender, and religious justice; supporting local businesses; providing housing for the homeless; aiding refugees; assuring clean water and sanitation for everyone; and much more.

Many of these key players now recognize the inherent interdependence of their initiatives. It is that recognition that holds the potential for millions to see themselves a part of a transformational social movement that can bring about the change we so desperately need.

The current failed system dehumanizes us all — including the rich — and threatens the future of all our children. Our viability as a species depends on reshaping our relationships with one another and Earth. This requires new ethically grounded choices relating to culture, institutions, technology and infrastructure consistent with the well-being of all people and the living Earth.

The institutions responsible for the current crisis will not transform themselves. A redistribution of wealth and localization of power can only come through bottom-up initiatives in which individual leaders see their work connecting with others as part of a larger transformation.

We are living beings born of and nurtured by a living Earth. There will be no winners on a dead Earth. We will survive and thrive together, or we will perish together.

What we humans have created, we can change. That change must be dramatic, rapid, and grounded in love and ethical sensibility. Can we achieve it within the time available? We will know only if we try.

David Korten is co-founder of YES! Media, president of the Living Economies Forum, a member of the Club of Rome, and the author of influential books, including When Corporations Rule the World and Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth. His work builds on lessons from the 21 years he and his wife, Fran, lived and worked in Africa, Asia and Latin America on a quest to end global poverty.

This article is from Yes! Magazine

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

24 comments for “Saving Earth

  1. Rex
    August 21, 2022 at 23:17

    Ive been wondering for over 30 years what this time would look like. What the person on the street might say, what the scientist and economists and the generals and the politicians . . . . . . . . When it finally dawns on the populations that we are in the 9th inning, And who decides who will live and who will not. When the panic begins to creep onto the front page. When the end is coming into view, the grim reaper smiles his ugly sneer. No place left to run, so many people in a dying planet. That time is just around the corner If you havent sorted out your relationship with your Creator, it might be time to give it some thought.

  2. Bob M
    August 21, 2022 at 18:00

    Thank you. A beautiful piece that should be read by all. And thank you, David Korten, for all your hard work over the years for the health of humans, other creatures and the biosphere. We need millions more like you.

  3. Robert
    August 21, 2022 at 07:10

    Bad headline, because the Earth itself will be just fine in the end. Yes, there will be a mass extinction event that wipes out much of life that exists now, but as long as a cell of bacteria or a scrap of algae remains, life and evolution will continue for billions of years to come. Indeed, we’ve created quite a mess, and it will take Earth about 100K years or so to flush out all of our toxic leavings, but in the end it will all be subsumed into the mantle and Earth will continue her cosmic journey. Continents will still drift and collide, and new set of plants and animals will come and go.
    Humanity is doomed, of course, but it is egoistic and human-centric to equate this with the destruction of the planet itself.

    • Rex
      August 21, 2022 at 22:53

      Robert, such a gloomy summary. I suggest you reverse the “direction” of your cosmic unfolding, back to a time and place before the bigbang, before there was anything, and tell me what you see.

  4. August 20, 2022 at 18:12

    It sounds nice, but “localization of power” is an oxymoron.

    The “sustainable” and anti-authoritarian folks (from Libertarians to Anarchists) have to recognize the positive functions and necessary aspects of participatory but essentially currently taboo “top down” “command and control” “government “planning” and “regulation”.

    Not all government is the Neoliberal police state, military industrial complex, or captured by corporate power. Not all planning and regulatory functions ar authoritarian, repressive social control.

  5. August 20, 2022 at 13:51

    How? Alarms keep being sounded, but conversation about what to do is nowhere to be found. We are boxed in and no one knows how to think outside the box.

    What to do? We need a voice that everyone would listen to so it isn’t just gadflies all the way down. Collect the rich and powerful who care about humanity — like Clooney and Madonna and Oprah and MacKenzie Philips and Greta and Chris Hedges and Robert Reich and Noam Chomsky and Thom Hartman and Michael Moore and John Perkins and Heather Cox Richardson — let them deliberate on what they would do and everyone would listen. David you could start: you pick one, the two of you pick the third, the three pick the fourth, and so on. Also we could create a Human Survival Party so we can collect ourselves into a force. Get people rocking and rolling with what is so much more satisfying than killing each other.

    One way to see our situation is that perhaps all we lack for is good ideas. Let’s look for some!

    • Rex
      August 21, 2022 at 22:57

      Suzanne, maby you could all have a tea party, smoke a little herb, and so on, Im sure you come up with something

  6. Westley
    August 20, 2022 at 08:15

    There is a war going on which at root will stop the domination of the planet by a failed globalist ideology.
    There have been a few globalist “end of history” ideologies, as Prof. A. Dugin explains, that have tried and failed. This battle is a ray of hope to stop the current globalist agenda.

  7. WillD
    August 20, 2022 at 00:13

    “Change will come, and can only come from committed people mobilizing in common cause as a powerful social movement.”

    My reaction to this statement is that ONLY a determined rising up (revolution, if you like) of large numbers of people around the world can force the changes needed. Movements like Extinction Rebellion unfortunately do not have enough ‘overwhelming’ power to force the necessary changes.

    I use the word ‘force’ deliberately, since persuasion rarely works, and when it does it usually only results in poor compromises. History shows us that really important change only comes when the pressure on governments & rulers is very high – high enough to threaten their existence. And, in the past, that has usually involved large numbers of people actively moving forcefully to convince their governments and rulers that they had no alternative but to consent.

  8. doris
    August 19, 2022 at 15:52

    Sadly, I never hear any climate solutions related to industrial hemp, which could go a long way to healing the planet better than any other single thing. Replacing all products made from petroleum, cotton, logs, and corn with industrial hemp is a viable solution, but until We the People get on board and get the word out, we’ll continue down the path of planetary destruction.
    Imagine just making all buildings out of hempcrete, none of which would need heating or air-conditioning! Imagine a world of homes that would stay at livable temps year round with minimal use of energy to heat/cool them! Imagine plastic that was biodegradable! Imagine all paper products being made from a plant that produces four times the amount of (SUPERIOR, and less toxic!) paper than trees that grows in 20 weeks instead of 20 years.
    Industrial hemp should be mentioned in every climate change article. It’s a freakin weed that can save the planet!

  9. Scared Person
    August 19, 2022 at 15:40

    “The institutions responsible for the current crisis will not transform themselves.”

    They will propagandize, co-opt, legislate against, criminalize and shoot people who’s movements want change and bring an actual threat of transformation. We’re ruled by psychopaths, and it is they who made this place the way it is. “Our” world is not allowed to be “ours” whilst it remains “theirs”. When they think they might lose their game of domination, they may well flip the table in atomic violence, rather than have to live on the same level, as mere peers to actual human beings. They will turn one portion of humanity against another, and those willing to be violent against the non-violent will genuinely think they are doing good.

    It is only through collapse of their system, by their own hands as they keep doing exactly what they want, that something new and better can emerge. If some of us live through the process that is. Mournful comfort is that I didn’t do this, “they” did this to “us”, and “we” cannot resist effectively precisely because we are not violent psychopaths. They know this.

    We can do our best to build resilience in community, local food production, hiding good books, and meeting in person rather than online, but this is all practice for a time after the rule of the mad, if there is one.

    • Dr. Hujjatullah M.H.B. Sahib
      August 20, 2022 at 22:18

      You are truely a sanely spiritual person in a great world, unfortunately, totally misruled by the mad getting MADDER by the hour !

  10. Red Green
    August 19, 2022 at 13:37

    Believing that the same people who created the problem can now fix the problem is usually a foolish notion.

    It will take different thinking to address these problems. Certainly different thinking from the now departing Fossil Fuel Era. Organizations and people tend to be hidebound, and ‘go with what they know’. The people who think different from the accepted culture of the organization tend not to advance. This makes it rather unlikely that the new thinking that is required for a new situation will develop from the people and organizations who caused the problem.

    And, we can not forget the role of the “environmental organizations” over the last 50 years in helping to create this problem. The thinking part of human kind has known that this was coming for a long time. One can’t exactly say that these environmental organizations have a stellar track record in solving the problem. So, even if they have meant well, it is probably likely that it is time to try some different approaches. And again, organizations do not change easily, and frequently it is both necessary and easier to build something new.

  11. LeoSun
    August 19, 2022 at 12:22

    “The institutions’” currency is hate & war.

    The Peoples’ priorities are 1) “Rescue the One in Most Need,” JULIAN ASSANGE; 2) “Save The Planet.” (BRICS. BRI. Multipolarity. 3) A new currency NOT the USD-that’s the rub that roils “the institution.”

    Effective, yesterday, “A PLAN to SAVE The PLANET” LIVES!!!

    HEAR! HEAR!! “A Plan to Save the Planet,” developed by Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and the Network of Research Institutes.” TY!

    “A Plan to Save the Planet is a provisional text, a draft built out of the analyses and demands of our people’s movements and governments. It asks to be read and discussed, to be criticised and developed further. This is a first draft of many drafts to come. Please contact us at plan[@] with your criticisms and your suggestions, since this is a living document. This document will eventually advance through our movements and our institutions, building towards a resolution at the United Nations to SAVE The PLANET.”

    “The institutions responsible for the current crisis will not transform themselves,” (David Korten)

    NO Kidding!!! “The institution” who selected Biden-Harris to pose as POTUS, masquerade as Human, is the same institution that purports Joey R. Biden is physically fit & dementia is “normal.” Like “The Rona,” eventually, “the herd’s,” gonna be infected. “Row. Row. Row your boat” simply roll along. No dissent. No resistance. Just accept “the instituion’s” bull$hit.

    “The institution” shows US, dementia is “normal.” Like “The Rona,” POTUS got twice, eventually, the herd’s, gonna be infected. Moronic is regardless of how many vaccines, boosters, other man-made chemicals one ingests, Omicron, lives!

    “Critical elements are in place, but we have yet to acknowledge our common purpose.” (David Koreten)

    “Our common purpose?” To Protest & Survive?!?…the duopoly….an extreme decline in L I F E……

    Imo, it’s all by design. The Funeral Director’s & his Board of Executioners’ agenda is deception, destruction, death i.e., By November, the Voters will have moved further away from the truth, i.e., “More so, than any other event, the pandemic has made clear that the capitalist ruling elites are willing to accept any level of death in the population.. The acceptance and even promotion of mass sickness and death from COVID-19 indicate that a certain psychological barrier has been crossed in ruling circles in relationship to the use of nuclear war. If they are willing to sacrifice the lives of 1 million Americans, what qualms do they have about the deaths of millions abroad?”

  12. Trisha
    August 19, 2022 at 12:20

    “Climate scientists warn that we are already perilously close to tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate impacts.”

    This statement is indicative of the hopium being served up here. Climate scientists are presenting proof that we have ALREADY passed several tipping points (Arctic warming being a case in point) and that in fact we are in cascading and irreversible climate chaos.

    For all the talk of “drawn[ing] ever more people to active engagement in one or more of the many elements of the essential human transformation” there is little evidence of significant impact on any of the ecological processes underway nor any dimunition of the power of the social institutions running the planet into the furnace, quite the opposite.

    Better buckle up, buttercup, it’s going to be a rough ride out for the human species which – despite posturing to the alternative – is rushing down the path taken by 99% of all other species so far: to extinction.

  13. C. Kent
    August 19, 2022 at 11:41

    Just as a thought experiment; Given a time sensitive problem like climate change, if you had all the power to effect any policy with respect to adjusting human-Earth relationship, which would you do, in what order? The reality is, the single fastest and most effective policy is not only never mentioned by woke loons, it’s completely disdained by them because of their held prejudices:

    Job #1 – incentivize the one child family.

    It will seem a tautology: population is the cause of human activity. Yes kids are the problem, and people can decide tomorrow to have less kids, with no currently unobtainable technology or dire tradeoff in suffering involved. As this is an imposition on liberty, the standard method that respects liberty is to entice, lure, or as we like to say to be clear, “pay” people to make a one child decision for themselves. And you can still work job #2 etc. – all the more complex goals like forcing ranchers in Texas to hate cows & live on tofu.

    If you run this idea past typical woke & worried thinkers, their minds jam, why? They invoke post-modern philosophy to declare, “It would be white oppression!” (Personally I sense that a lot of women in the 3rd world see their husbands knocking them up every year as oppression.)

    You see we all tend to have an agenda behind our altruism. Priests in Medieval Europe liked their power over others, a nurse is well paid, teachers have a union. For the woke planet saving demographic a good part of the agenda is payback in the form of “disciplining the people who got us here!” As such they clamor for power, to roll back what is in their eyes material injustice, in favor of what they dream should be. They seem to overlook how much people resist being told how wrong they are in their daily lives, or how much enforcement power you need to force people to behave in the best interests of others all day.

    You get farther giving a house and a retirement fund to some poor woman in exchange for having a tubal ligation than you do screaming at 20 somethings in Minnesota for driving trucks to the supermarket.

  14. Bushrod Lake
    August 19, 2022 at 10:42

    The new institutions will have to be global because the climate is global and so are other critical problems. This sometimes leads to the fear of total despotism but there is room, I think, for individual nations with in the overall cooperation of globalism. We absolutely need both.
    We will need to keep an eye on any excesses leading to dictatorial power, and proceed.

    • August 20, 2022 at 12:09

      Yes “We absolutely need both” There is hope that both national movementds (Costa Rica now at 98% green energy and rapidly introducing electric vehicles) and international cooperation are emerging (Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation CAREC). One of the most hopeful signs is emerging in Chile where a political movement combines many issues. See CN article Chilis Constitution on knife edge

  15. Richard A. Pelto
    August 19, 2022 at 10:42

    As an also 85-year-0ld I remember experiencing rich diversity in forest ecosystems, and in waterways.
    But in this country even the environmental groups ignore what is now destroying the enabling of life throughout this globe—the population “footprint.” In the USA Biden does provide lip service to global warming but he ignores the increased impact on it our absorbing millions of people has on it by not just opening the borders but making clear many rewards are there for anyone coming here, whether legally or illegally.
    Try finding a non-polluted river, or an area of ocean not polluted.
    Experience the deadness of forests. and take into account the horrific disappearance of species and flora everywhere.
    Global warming has made this more real, but it has been going on for decades. It’s well past time to think of what just might enable our children and grandchildren to experience at least some of what gave us quality of life.

  16. Georges Olivier Daudelin
    August 19, 2022 at 09:30




  17. J Anthony
    August 19, 2022 at 08:02

    Shouldn’t this piece be called “Saving Our Species” instead? I mean, for all the abuse humans are heaping onto the planet, it will likely be here long after we are.

    • susansiens
      August 19, 2022 at 14:04

      Yes, try as we might we cannot destroy all life. A second premise of the author I take issue with is “all genders.” There are two sexes, Mr Korten, and the notion of 100 genders is something created by the very people who are destroying the planet.

      • Gordon Kallenberg
        August 21, 2022 at 08:21

        I agree that there are only 2 genders. In my opinion, you cannot change your gender, either. Mother nature selects your gender before you are born, and that information is contained in your DNA, Since you cant change your DNA, you cant change your gender. The underlying problem is the issue why anyone would want to change their gender. That issue is real and should be addressed. Why would someone who has never been a woman want to be one? Why would someone who has never been a man want to be one?

  18. mgr
    August 19, 2022 at 07:30

    Spot on in all regards. Interdependence and cooperation; survival and prosperity. Life. The forces that oppose this are self-centered, pathological egoism. This is what lies at the heart of psychopathy and the urge to destroy. So as not to be properly institutionalized, the standard ploy is to dress up this self-serving pathology as patriotism; always willing to sacrifice someone else for their cause; everyone else is just a means to their ends. Never themselves though. Note the little flag pins that are so popular with America’s elected officials and look at who feeds them. Makes the enablers of destruction easy to spot. And they are certainly on a roll.

Comments are closed.