Life as an experiment

We are living through a terrifying global experiment, where we are contributing to climate change risks that have profound implications for both natural and human systems. Sea-level rise, ocean acidification, species extinctions, reduced food, water and livelihood security, more extreme weather events. The list of observed and potential climate change impacts is long, and likely to include many unfortunate surprises.

It is not a well-planned experiment, nor has it been subject to the rigorous ethical reviews that are now standard for legitimate scientific experiments. If it were proposed as a deliberate experiment, there is no doubt that it would be deemed too risky, too costly, too unethical, and too foolish. Proposing a “greenhouse” experiment that could lead to severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally would never be taken seriously by research funders. Yet it is an experiment that is underway, and we are starting to see the results every day, all over the world.

Now it is time for a new and better experiment: An experiment about global social transformations. This is an experiment where humans take responsibility for creating a world with minimum climate change and maximum well-being for everyone. It is an experiment where each individual dares to make a difference in the world by contributing to rapid, positive impacts on a planetary scale.

The idea is not new. In 1927, R. Buckminster Fuller made the decision to treat his life as an experiment to see what difference an individual could make in the world. He wanted to create a world that worked for everyone, and his accomplishments toward that goal were remarkable. Fuller’s research showed that it is possible to end poverty and the use of fossil and nuclear fuels, and his architectural designs and inventions included the geodesic dome, and practical, inexpensive housing and transportation. R. Buckminster Fuller is recognized as one of the greatest thinkers of all time, and is an inspiration to many because he dared to show what is possible.

cCHALLENGE takes on the biggest conscious experiment in human history – the challenge of generating social transformations at an unprecedented rate and scale to create a thrivable world. Thrivability goes beyond sustainability. Jean Russell, author of Thrivability, describes the term as “our path out of unsustainable practices toward a world where all people have a high quality of life, a voice, and a nurturing earth supporting them.”

How do we generate social transformations in an ethical, equitable, and sustainable manner? Where do we begin? The cCHALLENGE starts with a straightforward hypothesis: Social change is a non-linear process that can be scaled up quickly and easily when enough individuals consciously engage with change. To test this hypothesis, we challenge individuals to experiment with one small change for 30 days, reflecting on the impact that this change has on one’s own attitude towards change, on the attitudes of others, on individual and shared behaviors, and on systems. The reflection process is critical, for it can trigger important insights on the visible and invisible connections among people and groups, on the relationship between personal change and political change, on systems change, and not the least, on power.

The experiment is starting in Norway, a Scandinavian country with a population of about five million. Twenty individuals have been invited to participate in the first 30-day cCHALLENGE, starting January 18, 2016. Examples of personal challenges include not eating meat, spend one hour in nature every day, set aside more time for friends, limiting personal spending and being active outdoors three times a week. Reflections, frustrations, insights and photos will be posted on individual pages throughout the month, and some will be shared on Facebook and Twitter. The cCHALLENGE will communicate and spread what conscious social change is all about.

If we each follow in the footsteps of Buckminster Fuller and treat our life as a conscious experiment, we are likely to realize that we can indeed transform the world – but perhaps not in the ways that we expect. Throughout the month, each participant will reflect on whether, where and how their small changes made a difference. What was lost, and what was gained? To be clear, the participants recognize that their experiments alone will not change the world. But what these small actions may do is change the way that they ‘see’ change. The experiments may lead to important insights on systems change, and they may influence conversations and interactions with family, friends and neighbors. They may even change the way that participants relate to politics. Most important, however, is that they may have a better understanding of power, especially their own.

(Previously published on cCHANGE website)