Act: Inspiration

What Could Possibly Go Right?: Episode 92 Per Espen Stoknes

November 15, 2022

Show Notes

Per Espen Stoknes is a psychologist with a PhD in economics, a TED Global speaker, and also serves as the director of Centre for Green Growth at the Norwegian Business School. An experienced foresight facilitator and academic, he’s also a serial entrepreneur, including co-founding clean-tech company GasPlas. He is the author of several books, among them Learning from the Future (2004, in Norwegian), Money & Soul (2009) and the “Outstanding Academic Title of 2015” award winning book: What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming (2015). Per Espen has also served as member of Norwegian Parliament.

He answers the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” with thoughts including:

  • The work of Earth4All in encouraging a change to systems thinking to address the multiple threats to our survival
  • The need to shift our identity beyond self-interested individuals, to earthlings sharing a commons in need of preservation
  • The call to let go of American exceptionalism and recognize the innovation taking place across the globe


Connect with Per Espen Stoknes





Vicki Robin: Welcome to What Could Possibly Go Right?, a project of the Post Carbon Institute. We interview cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good, and social artists, people who feel deeply and inspire.

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For regular what could possibly go right listeners and viewers, this one is a bit different. First, my studio was my converted sprinter at midnight. The night before I had attended a concert across the water from where I live. It went so late I brought my van to camp overnight, booking an 11 AM ferry the next morning, but at 10:30, all ferries were canceled due to gale force winds. I had no computer, only my phone. A friend invited me to camp by her house and borrow her computer, wifi, headphones, but I couldn’t come in due to a COVID scare. No nice clothes. No make up. But 11 PM was the one hour my guest had for me. I was not at my best, but this is what I had.

Second, our guest, Per Espen Stoknes, is coauthor of Earth4All, a new book about an elegant model of earth systems that can help activists, politicians, business leaders, and all people who care, pinpoint their strategic next steps for climate stability in a world fraught with social and environmental challenges. One of the authors was one of the original 1972 Club of Rome report, Limits to Growth, and Beyond the Limits in 1992. Their original MIT computer model showed the world, that business as usual – consumption, production, population, extraction – would destabilize our world… just about now. The world however – stuck its fingers in its figurative ears and carried on.

People like me, you, Post Carbon Institute readers and hundreds of thousands of others took note and have spent the last 50 years shouting from the rooftops.

Into this moment comes Earth4All with a message. It’s not too late, but each year we need to make specific incremental changes that can add up to planetary stability by 2050.

Crucial to our perilous, 11th hour journey are 5 areas of change, which Per outlines in the beginning of our conversation, and several changes in worldview… three of which I’ve pulled out for you.

First worldview shift, Earth4All is a systems perspective on multiple threats to our survival. It’s an effort to see how they interact, not enumerate them in those endless frightening lists that cause our eyes to glaze over.

Our simplistic binary either or competitive thinking is killing us. Even movements for change vie for eyeballs, converts, and funding. The best we can now do is string them like beads, the recitation of which takes too long. Per suggests that extreme inequality is a major driver; without it most of the rest cannot be changed because those who own the power and money can’t hear us.

Second, we need to achieve at least a both/and sense of identity. Yes we are self-interested individuals, but we are also Earthlings; preservation of the commons – be it ecological or social – is as crucial to our well being as personal health or  financial security. If the commons is sick, we are all sick.

Third is letting go of American exceptionalism. I found it so refreshing to hear him say that nations in the 2/3 world have abandoned expectations that help will come from our fracturing county or the global superpowers. They are innovating and building back better for themselves.

Per Espen Stoknes is a TED Global speaker, a psychologist with PhD in economics, and serves as the director of Centre for Sustainability and Energy at the Norwegian Business School in Oslo. An experienced foresight facilitator and academic, he’s also serial entrepreneur, including co-founding clean-tech company GasPlas. Author of several books, among them Money & Soul (2009) and the award-winning book: What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming (2015).

His latest books are Tomorrow’s Economy (2021) on MITPress, and Earth For All (2022) with the Club of Rome. Per Espen has served as member of Norwegian Parliament, and on the EU Commission’s mission board on Horizon Europe’s Climate Change and Societal Adaptation. He has been a central contributor to the Club of Rome’s project. Now here’s Per.

Vicki Robin: Welcome, Per Espen, to What Could Possibly Go Right? I am thrilled to have you join me. I was a very close friend of Donella Meadows. I used to be part of the Roman group, The Club of Rome report. I’ve been tracking the trends for 40 years and, as many people, trying to do my best to nudge things in a better direction.

And here we are. You’ve written, with your colleagues, Earth for All, which is a reconsideration, not of the data of the Club of Rome report, but a reconsideration of our prospects and the system’s perspective of where we can nudge things to make a difference.

I think it’s important for our audience, since I’ve been studying your work, that rather than just dive into your personal perspectives, I’d love to have you just give us the brief narrative of what is Earth for All? What are your conclusions? What are you seeing that’s expressed in that book?

Per Espen Stoknes: So first, thanks for having me, Vicki. Pleasure to be with you and looking forward to diving into this incredibly fascinating area topic with you. Anybody who’s been following the long term economics and planetary boundaries over our earth knows that we’re in a dire place and that the economy is a pathological system that no longer creates well-being for people, but more concentrates wealth on a few while trashing a lot of earth’s resources, hence, transformational economics.

This is a book that harvests from a number of different thinkers and systems analysts and financial people. What are the most effective ways of intervening in the current system to put it in another direction?

So we could use the phrase transformational economics as an umbrella term. Based on that, we go back to the Limits to Growth report in 1972, and the model that was in there, it was called World Three. That’s exactly 50 years ago now, 1972 to 2022. We’ve made a new model, building on some of the same principles, but also of course, the vast accumulation of knowledge and experience and data that is available.

So taking the best from everybody who’s working hard at transforming economics, then picking up the best from the traditional Club of Rome, the Limits to Growth; putting this together, both a model and a deep dive analyst network we call the Transformational Economics Commission, and then finally, creating a movement.

So our project is threefold; new modeling, new economic thinking and new way to connect people that is enabling, with advice and concretization, which makes it into plausible change, a story of how we are capable of turning the economic system around in a way that’s attractive and that is plausible.

So the vision is creating more wellbeing for most of the world within planetary boundaries before 2050.

Vicki Robin: Yes, maybe so. Okay. So let’s dive into that a little bit, because when you said your third aspect is to create a movement and in fact, you’re building on years of movement building in relationship to this multiprong crisis that climate crisis is just a strand in at the moment. It’s sort of the current freak out, but basically it’s a complex crisis of interconnected systems, the planetary boundaries.

So, I’m interested in what new are you bringing? And this is said with a warm heart. What new are you bringing in terms of movement building that isn’t already in process?

Per Espen Stoknes: As you mentioned, the set of crises we’re in goes across a number of domains. We’re just coming out of the pandemic, with that inflation and setback in terms of poverty. We have the climate crisis, of course, along with the nature crisis. There is the war going on, and below it all is the inequality crisis.

This, in a way, goes some way to answering your question about the movement because for a number of years, we’ve had the climate movement and you had the people fighting poverty and you’ve had the people fighting for women’s rights. Accordingly, there are people writing reports on just the food sector, on the women’s gender equality issue, and of course endless reports and climate, then other people writing on energy.

So what’s been lacking in a way, is a fragmentation of the movements, where the original vision from Dana Meadows and the Limits to Growth about a systemic approach has somewhat been lost along the way. So now we’re thinking, we hope to contribute.

We’re, of course, humble here and we acknowledge all the incredible work that these movements have done. But might it not be better that we see how food systems interconnect with gender systems, which interconnect with inequality. We again, of course, connect with the climate issue. When we say interconnect and these things are related, that’s kind of a nice thing to say, but what does it mean analytically and practically?

Where in those systems do you intervene in order to influence the other systems? Bringing along scientists and economists, analysts, and not only systems dynamics thinkers and the tradition from Meadows has enabled us to make a new model that actually specifies how and how much these systems are interrelated.

How far can you get if you replace fossil energy with renewable energy, but do nothing in terms of poverty or inequality? How far can you get if you fix the food system, but don’t address the issues in terms of gender and gender equity? Our model enables people to test that, and we’re currently working on bringing up a simulator on the web, which would make it easy for anybody to try it.

But we don’t really believe in just people sitting around on the computer or iPhone and fiddling with a screen. We want to provide an extended simulator that can be used in citizens assemblies, in town halls, in labor meetings, in any of the other people working on their movement; how they can test and play with not just their own area, whether it’s food or labor unions or energy, but connect that to global poverty or regional poverty and inequality.

How much would it help our field if we’d reduced inequality, because that increases the speed by which we could have transition towards electric mobility? And if you have increased access to electric energy, how would that impact the food system in low income countries, particularly where there is no access to good refrigeration? So the high amounts of food waste, food loss.

This is the kind of thinking and the opportunity we would like to reach out to the existing movements with, assist them each in their own way in terms of how they want to expand their system’s thinking. Does that make sense to you, Vicki?

Vicki Robin: Totally. It totally makes sense to me because one of the transformations we’re going through right now is from linear to systems thinking.

I almost can feel in this world that there’s a pressure. The pressure of the events in this world are pressing us for a breakthrough and, precisely what you’re talking about, which is the capacity to think in systems rather than in pet ideas.

Per Espen Stoknes: Yeah, of course. So in the absence of systems thinking, you get more polarization and you get more populism because then the attractiveness of an easy linear one lever change, which seems emotionally to address the problems you’re in, becomes ever more attractive and more prevalent and broader.

On the other hand, if you run around speaking about systems all the time, but don’t make it specific, you’re equally fluffy, in terms of holistic, slippery, whatever. For instance, personally, I felt the challenge when Greta and the kids went out on the streets before the pandemic, millions of people marching. The banner that kind of collected most people was: We want systems change, not climate change.

Systems change. If you actually went up to those people and said, okay, exactly what is the system, how is it put together and what is systems change? Which part of that system do you want to change and which way and how much by when? You would probably get blank stares. Of course you shouldn’t expect a 17 year old to know the world’s socioeconomic system and how it’s been constructed over the last 40, 50 years. That’s not reasonable to expect that of people who want systems change.

So here comes we then, with an attempt to specify exactly what are the main drivers in the system? How are they interconnected? How strong are the relative impacts of one part of the system on the other? And we made that numeric and it’s transparent and it’s available to anybody who wants to know how, for instance, the education level impacts the birth rate.

If anybody wants to know how much social unrest comes out of declining wellbeing, which is caused by declining inequality or worsening inequality; well, you find that in the model. So you can educate yourself, by looking at the way that we learn from Donella Meadows and others. You need to be explicit on which part of the system connects to what other part, and then you can go looking for the levers of change.

And that’s what we did. We ended up with the five main levers of change that became key to their giant leap scenario where we do transform the economic system, which is also the core of what we would like to share with the different movements, five interconnected turnarounds that actually will deliver real systems change, in time.

Vicki Robin: Right. So I’m understanding better what the project is, the movement, what are you trying to move and how you’re trying to move it.

Now I have another question. I have a lot of ’em actually. and I don’t normally do this. I don’t normally do an interview, but I do have a lot of questions. Number one, you wrote another book as you well know, called What We Think About When We Try to Not Think about Global Warming, right? There’s a layer of this, which is human psychology, that is sort of very resistant.

There’s points of resistance, psychologically. There’s fear of change. There’s need for status. There’s the fact that we still have reptilian brains. We have all this stuff that is psychological, even if we had the best energy system and the best this and the best that. Human psychology. What do you think about that? The role of interventions in human psychology that will allow us to open to this precise systems strategy.

Per Espen Stoknes: Incredibly spot on question. So I think the rational part of science, speaking about climate scientists and earth system scientists and also economists, have to let go at some point of their idea of the enlightened, rational individual, which is basic to their theory and their work.

In what we call the science of science communication, how do you address that reptilian brain with advanced facts, et cetera? There is this very clear finding of what we call the information deficit approach, which is the idea that… I know as a scientist, an educator, I have a PhD, I published in leading journals. The people out there? Not so much.

They’re lacking information, they’re lacking facts, they’re lacking in their rationality. So now I need to tell them what to do because I have the best facts. I have the best charts, I have the best uncertainty and margin calculations, and I have the best, shall we say, long term projections.

What we do know, of course, from psychology is that this doesn’t really work. It doesn’t create engagement. So what we need is to shift from that enlightenment, information deficit approach to something that’s more realistic in terms of the human brain as being thoroughly social, somewhat lazy, limited broad bandwidth.

We need storytelling in order for things to come alive in us, and we need to have frequent feedbacks. If I’m doing some change, I need to hear immediately. Yes, I can’t wait like 20 years before I get feedback from the climate system that now actually the rate of change in the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has declined by 0.5%.

That doesn’t motivate real humans in flesh and blood. So we need to package all that in a way that is brain friendly or body friendly, if you will. And that’s what I worked on in the book. what we think about when we’re trying not to think about global warming.

It equally applies to system’s thinking because you know, you have brainy people out there who have been working on their systems model for 12 years and they know systems, know how the system is connected. Now sit back and I’ll tell you how the system really works, right? And then afterwards you’ll be educated and now you can go out and be an effective changemaker.

Again, no, it doesn’t work that way. We need a community. We need to have a personified messages so I can see actually what a human life looks like inside that system. We need to bring the system alive. We need to be very specific and make it simple to start to take action so we can use nudging or psychological mechanisms that we know appeals to the reptile brain, such as greed, status or envy, let’s say, and then work with the way the human brain is and tailor our tools to create engagement and not kill it.

That’s my previous approach, which is more or less individual, and this Earth4All is very much more macro. Now we try to bring these together because we do know that individual action is not sufficient to solve all the crises we have. We do know we need community action, collective action, structural change, policy change in addition; but individual change is the driver that when spread like rings in water, we will eventually have changes in structural systems and policies.

So to use one example, if nobody in Norway or Europe had bought a lot of electric cars, would it be impossible for the EU to ban fossil engines by 2035? And going specifically to the city of Oslo, if it hasn’t been that electric cars became more and more popular and people liked it and discussed them and talked about them with their uncle and their colleagues in a positive way, it would’ve been impossible for the politicians to yesterday propose that we will ban fossil cars in Oslo by 2030.

Now politicians are getting to the point where they can see that if we do this, then people will support us rather than kick us out. That’s the kind of systems change we need. Individuals and companies start transitioning along the lines we know from earth system science, but making it attractive, making it fun, making it cool and glossy, and whatever you want to get your attention from your peers and your neighbors. Then eventually you get that confirmation from the top down when the politicians say that, Oh wow, I want to ride this wave. I won’t lose that right now. Now I can get votes actually by doing these things.

So that’s our theory of change. Individual change is necessary, but not sufficient. Eventually we will need structural policy support from the bottom and businesses can help both happen, both by making products and services easily available, but also by lobbying and telling politicians that actually this can increase our competitiveness, and our city or our state will be better off if we do it than if we do not do it. So hopefully our turnaround strategies could feed into that, so we really get systems change.

Vicki Robin: Yeah, I do understand that. How are you factoring into your work right now, the tendency toward authoritarianism that’s happening in our world? Because as you said earlier, if you keep on with linear thinking, you get into us then polarization, projection of the devil onto other people, somebody else is ruining my life. What have you and your team thought about that?

Per Espen Stoknes: I’m not an expert in American politics, but I do know enough about it that you’re speaking from a position of pain, with the elections coming up and a 40 year history of increasing inequality and rapidly escalating polarization over the last 20-25 years.

So yes, we are worried about these things and particularly we are very worried about the United States, the state of United States. The key is really that we, I think all movements, whatever you topic you work on, should focus more on the inequality issue. We have ample evidence that inequality is not just correlated with social tension, mental health problems, polarization, and even teenage pregnancies, and violence.

So when inequality goes up, so do social problems. On our Transformational Economics Commission, we have some of the leading researchers in this area, Picket and Wilkinson, which have a deep dive on our website for free that everybody can look into, where the strength of that causality, how inequality causes polarization, causes total tension, and makes it more and more difficult to coordinate and agree on shared solutions.

My answer to your question is that, with or without social media, we need to address rapidly the ever-increasing inequality issue. If we want stable societies, we need inequality to decline towards what we call a Palmer ratio of one, which seems to be an optimal level. It means that the top 10% incomes take no more than the sum of the 40% low lowest incomes per person.

So that means that we do accept there is inequality because the commonest idea of something that it should be equal exactly, equally would never work. But on the other hand, if the top 10% take maybe 10 or 7 times what the bottom 40% have, then you don’t have a society, you have a constant state of conflict and maybe even civil war violence, and that’s not good even for the top 10%.

US now is in the area of maybe Palmer ratio of three, which means that the top 10% takes as much as 12 of the bottom 40% on average. This is not something that can give well-being for a society or most people. They need to get together all the different movements in terms of demanding that the top 10% pay more from their wealth and income for the majority.

And it’s not a lot we’re speaking about, since they already have 50-60% of the national incomes. Just relocating a few percent of that, in terms of funding better jobs, opportunities, retraining, unemployment benefits, whatever for those people who are at the bottom. Then, also having even more progressive, maybe even a negative tax, on low incomes. And then, working with reimagining trade unions and strengthening worker rights, and finally, using something that the US already has, the Alaska Permanent Fund, which is actually a way to redistribute wealth created from the commons to everybody.

We used the phrase universal basic dividend, rather than universal basic income, because really, US is the most wealthy country in the world. There’s so much wealth that everybody should have a little share. I’m part of this society, I’m a citizen too. Why don’t I get my fair share of the wealth of this country?

So building that sentiment that this is not, what you call it? What’s the word the conservatives use?

Vicki Robin: They call it socialism.

Per Espen Stoknes: Okay, socialism, That’s one word. But also, if you give someone, throw money at people who don’t deserve it, it’s a special word for that. But you know what I mean. I think they’re using socialism, but it’ll come to me eventually.

But this is actually a key to having a stable society where there is well-being and less violence and less division and less polarization. This is not wishful thinking. This is deeply grounded social science research showing that these things are very powerfully connected. The combination of more progressive taxation, both on wealth and incomes, combined with strengthening worker rights along with a universal basic dividend, enable the US to improve on gender equity, on food systems, on energy systems, and fighting poverty.

These things are deeply interconnected and we have, as I mentioned, done that explicitly. So if you go and look into the model, you can see how this will actually increase the rate of change in the other systems. The point is that if we don’t address inequality, the transformation on food will go slower, the transformation of energy will go slower, and the transformation of gender equity also is dramatically reduced. So inequality is a key to achieving the other turnarounds and accelerating them. Hopefully that’s a novel message.

Vicki Robin: It is a novel message. Yeah. I’m sorry to interrupt. It is novel. It’s the thing that, I hate saying it’s the elephant in the room because it disparages elephants, who are beautiful creatures. But it is really the thing that we refuse to talk about. it is the byproduct of the sort of the basic meme of, especially of North America, which is generating, the sort of forms for the rest of the world in many ways.

So I wanna, this is sort of personal thing, but I wanna dive into this citizen dividend because in my own work, my book, Your Money Your Life, is sort of one of the bibles of a global movement. Called FIRE, financial independence, retire early. There’s many, many, many, many, many people who are trying to get out of the system by saving as much as possible, lowering consumption and saving, and they’re not being virtuous, they’re buying their freedom.

I’ve talked with people, what about this citizen dividend, universal basic income? What would it be like if, if everybody had like a basic check? You knew a check was coming, you knew you weren’t gonna starve. What would that be like?

And it’s very hard to get through the mentality of, Wait a second, I worked hard for my money and I don’t wanna… Giving it away to other people. People feel that that’s unfair because they’re the workers and then the other people are gonna be the beneficiaries.

But then I said like, what if we connected it with universal service? Like, your universal basic income kicks in after you’ve done 16 months of basic service. And it doesn’t have to be military, it could be reforestation, it could be social welfare, it could be any form of service.

As soon as I say that, everybody loves it. They said, Oh yeah, well, of course. And if you did it that way, then the people who choose to do the service will get the benefit and the people who choose to not do the service, people who think, Oh well I don’t need that extra $500 a month, then they don’t get it.

So that’s part of the psychology part. It’s like getting buy-in for what really must happen to reduce inequality. There’s an induced or, in the human psychology, induced oft felt sense that, Wait a second, I paid my dues. It’s like with what’s happening right now with the student loan forgiveness? Because people say, Well, wait a second. I took time. I paid off my debt. Why should other people have a benefit?

So how do we message this? How do we get it through that? It’s almost like you have to say at some point, Just believe me. Just believe me. Just believe me. We’re gonna just do this one thing and see how it works. How do we like turn this corner around this very important and crucial issue of inequality because it really is killing us. So over to you.

Per Espen Stoknes: Yeah. And it’s eating us. One metaphor I heard about it is, from 1945 to about 1981, the level of inequality was declining in the US. So the top 10% were contributing and the bottom 40% were catching up. It was a time that even Donald Trump refers back to with, what do you call it, nostalgia.

Since then we’ve had more like a crocodile jaw. It just keeps widening. And that jaw is what is eating us, where the top 10% and, particularly the top 0.1% is the sharpest tooth at the top. You address this deep, shall we say individualistic, cultural assumption in the US that’s been, that the country was built on freedom, individualism, on the rugged individual.

People resist other people get UBI because I perceive them as a free rider. I paid my dues I did my hard work. I sweated, I deserved it. But these guys, and if they’re brown in the skin particularly, they don’t deserve it, or if they have strange eyes, whatever, then they’re not really one of us that created this great country. So I want that for myself.

Of course, perhaps that is unavoidable, as long as you see yourself as an optimistic individual, I think. However, if we think about us at Earthlings, like this bird here, another Earthling, we’re both Earthlings. We live on this land. I’m a citizen, meaning I belong to this city. I belong to this place.

I would probably be more open for considering that others are earthlings than others are citizens as well. They’re part of the city. I am part of the city. We are here. So if we then look at, the amount of wealth that is available in the state, in the city, in the country, and we see that, a lot of the dividend from that wealth goes disproportionally just to a few people, not because they’ve done their fair dues, not because they worked hard, but be simply because they controlled some capital or were able to capture some part of the commons, whether it’s real estate or extraction areas or patents, and they have got an exclusive right to gather that wealth from that area while the others get zero, that is the issue. So in terms of, patents, yes, patents are important. but they disproportionally go to those people who have the financial means by which to make them and defend them and get the best lawyers.

So it’s a way of extracting wealth from a shared set of knowledge that we have been co-creating. Same thing with real estate. those who control the few acres that really are in the city attractive areas, and a kind of disproportional amount of wealth goes to exactly those few individuals.

Extraction of coal go oil, gas, minerals, whatever. Same thing, dumping the costs onto society and taking only the profits. Big data, the same thing. We leave lots of big data, which is really something we create together, whether it’s social media or electronic traces, whatever, everything goes to a very few people and CO2 emissions.

So, all these things draw their value for being able to take wealth from the commons. and. I think the key here is to see that as an citizen, as an earthling, I have a right to a fair share of that because it’s part of the city, it’s part of the earth, part of the land on which we all live. And I don’t really agree with you that I should have to pay my dues because let’s say I am, disabled or I have, I was submitted to unfair growing up conditions, I have, the life I’ve had, not all of that is due to what I did, and I, as we have, human basic rights, I think we also have human basic responsibilities and we should also have a basic human dividend to the shared wealth.

And, coming from that, if you look at how wealth is extracted from the commons, getting some of that into a citizen’s fund and from that citizen fund an equal payout to everybody. The fifth, 80% lowest incomes, that would be a clear reversal, a true turnaround, which would then have spinoff effects in terms of gender equity, food and energy transformation.

Again, everything will not happen at once. and this is some cool things about exponential growth and mathematics, that if you do like four, 5% improvement every year, then by 15 year you’ve doubled it and by 30 years you quadrupled it. So in 30 years, one generation with a 5% rate of change in these systems, we would totally transform the economic system by 2050. So that’s possible. That’s plausible. It’s doable. And the main barrier is that, we have been stuck in that individualistic, thinking, that we’re separate. and we do not have a universal basic right to the wealth, upon which society is built. So if we could change that mindset, then also, food, energy and gender issues, would benefit immensely.

Vicki Robin: I’m there. Count on me. So we’ve explored a lot about your model and your thoughts, and so now I wanna like actually go over to what I always ask my guests on this podcast.

You’re not infected as I am with the centrality of North America and of the United States. In this story, it’s harder for me to see than it is for you to see because I’m inside this beast. So given all that setup, what do you see emerging in this world? What do you notice on the horizon, that, bodes well?

You know that what could, well, it says, there is, as things are falling apart, there’s things coming together. Where do you see that? What do you see?

Per Espen Stoknes: So let’s start in a specific place. I see a lot of countries now that have been stuck in destitution and poverty countries such as Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Nepal, are rising up. They are aware of the challenges they’re getting real about not expecting aid from, the rich world. They’re pulling together towards creating resilient economics.

Despite poverty, getting tigers and forest back, they are building their own energy systems. They are supporting indigenous peoples in forest areas such as to stop palm oil expansion. So I see a rising awareness, whether it’s Latin America, India, or Indonesia, which goes completely unreported and parts of Africa too, doing the same kind of rapid transition.

I see girls getting educated everywhere at rates that we didn’t see just a few years ago. Actually now, we are very close to one to one, that as many girls get through education as boys do. I see a declining birth rate coming from that because girls are able to get education and jobs and have more power over their own lives.

So, a lot of things are going in the right direction and not least, with Putin’s insane war and all the cruelty and violence that goes into it, he has highlighted how incredibly independent we are on fossil fuel in the hands of the wrong people, fossil resources. So the issue of freedom for energy, freedom of movement and freedom of thought has become clear again, in such a way that people will never go back to that dependency on a dictator’s fossil energy.

But we have to invest in freedom energy. And energy security, which is eminently available now from the new renewable energy technologies at a much lower cost and a much lower price to the planet. And of course, also cleaning up the air we breathe. So we, out of these five interconnected crisis, the inequality, the climate, the pandemic, the war, and the nature crisis, a new system is arising where these five turnarounds are accelerating. We didn’t take them out of thin air. It’s not just our invention, as you said, there are movements working on it there. we need to see how these converge and how to accelerate that convergence. if we do so, I think we can do a giant leap as the scenario we call it.

It’s not a giant leap that’s just like, from one year to the next. That will never happen. But if you look at it over a 30 year period, five to 7% rates of change accumulate to a giant leap over a couple of decades. And that’s the power of long term thinking. That’s the power of systems thinking.

If you go to the book, read our scenarios, you can see how these things come together. We are not utopians, we’re not socialists, we’re not kind of imagining some nirvana, these are actually within the economic system to change, and we are just looking at how quickly do you have to pull these levers every year.

And then we are there by 2050, making it fully. It’s not a perfect world. We still have climate change in the second half of the world. We still have inequality, but it is no longer as destructive as it is in the last couple of years because, we are turning the curves we are, we see that population, is slowly stabilizing and declining and education levels and the amount of sustainable infrastructure per person is slowly built up over the last, over the decades from 2020 to 2060. So that world is fully doable. we only have to turn up the rate of change, to full what’s ahead. Not full gas ahead. We have to get that train going now, Now is the time and happily the crisis is out there to motivate us.

Vicki Robin: Yeah, I’m very inspired by what you said and not in some heady way. I can see the possibility very clearly, and I can also see that sitting inside the United States, it’s harder to see what’s going on than it is if you sit elsewhere in the world. We are, we have blinders on here because we have gotten soft being in the heart of the empire.

Then you don’t see as much as people who are on the outside of that, so I really appreciate that perspective very much. My creative juices are going around this idea of, how do we change language, the tipping back, the economic inequality to something that is more equal.

That is, how do we create that narrative that people can see the commons that they’re gonna be, the common pot is their pot. Like if we just put, if we put things into the common pot, then, then we can all get a ladle and, and ladle out of the common pot. And part of our struggle right now is that, is that a lot has been taken out of the common pot and put into silver platters elsewhere. So, and we can imagine that. We can imagine the common pot.

Per Espen Stoknes: Yeah. Right now the costs are externalized from the companies and put into the social, the costs are socialized. Games are private.

Vicki Robin: Totally. So a lot of times it’s like how do we, I think it’s possible to create those narratives without, depending on creating class hatred.

It’s not about class hatred. It’s about, isn’t it wonderful how beautiful this earth is and how generous and abundant it is. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all had at least a fair share of it? We don’t have to have the same share, but if we had a fair share and then we would all prosper, wouldn’t that be great?

Exactly. There’s a way. Speak about this and I think that, we’re so glued to the present moment crises that we’ve lost, we’re losing, some people are losing the ability to speak in that way

Per Espen Stoknes: I mean, there, there would be no value to real estate if I didn’t appreciate this city and everybody wanted to be part of it.

There would be no value to patents if everybody didn’t use them. There would be value to social big data if everybody didn’t contribute. and it wouldn’t be any value. New technologies like even like Tesla or iPhones. If the government hadn’t put money into R&D, so we should all have a share of the collective in effort that we are making these wonderful things be real. And that’s what the issue is really about.

Vicki Robin: Yeah, I think we need to regain our confidence and the beauty of human beings’ creativity blended within natural resources to create well-being. I mean, we could have that story. There’s no question that we could have that story rather than the other story. Okay. I really appreciate this. Thank you so much for taking time with me. I know I’ve spent a lot of time poking around in all your thoughts and thank you for your creative responses.

Per Espen Stoknes: Thanks so much for reaching out, Vicki, and it’s a true pleasure speaking with you about these issues.


Vicki Robin

Vicki Robin is a prolific social innovator, writer, speaker, and host of the What Could Possibly Go Right? podcast. She is coauthor with Joe Dominguez of the international best-seller, Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence (Viking Penguin, 1992, 1998, 2008, 2018). And author of Blessing the Hands that Feed Us; Lessons from a 10-mile diet (Viking Penguin, 2013), which recounts her adventures in hyper-local eating and what she learned about food, farming, belonging, and hope. Vicki has lectured widely and appeared on hundreds of radio and television shows, including “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Good Morning America,” and National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” and “Morning Edition.” She has also been featured in hundreds of magazines including People Magazine, AARP, The Wall Street Journal, Woman’s Day, Newsweek, Utne Magazine, and the New York Times. She currently lives on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound and is active in her community on a range of social and environmental issues including affordable housing, local food, and community investing. For fun, she is a comedy improv actress, sings in a choir, gardens, and nurtures a diverse circle of friends.

Tags: building resilient societies, systems thinking, transformational economics