Act: Inspiration

Towards cooperative commonwealth: Transition in a perilous century

January 30, 2023

System Change, not Climate Change, is a common refrain among climate justice activists. It makes sense. My 13-year-old niece, daughter of a hereditary chief, and her aging uncle shouted this chant along with 10,000 others. Led by indigenous leadership, drums, songs, and chants, we climbed Burnaby mountain with one purpose: to declare the pipeline to bring Alberta Tar Sands oil to the Vancouver harbor was the wrong path. Instead, the demonstrators called for a path that would respect the rights of nature and indigenous territories while committing to a rapid and ‘just transition‘ away from fossil fuels. That was six years ago, but the pipeline moved forward and is due to be completed later this year.

We are stuck. A decade ago, 80% of our total energy was from fossil fuels. Today it is the same. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres does not mince words.

“We continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction, emissions continue to rise, and our collective negligence radically alters human and natural systems. Yet alternatives like renewable energy remain a minuscule percentage of total energy generation, and world leaders continue to promote economic growth as a viable response to climate change. We have a choice – collective action or collective suicide. It’s in our hands.”

Can we navigate to a cooperative commonwealth with a safe space for all beings?

Inspiring and regenerative innovations to meet basic needs already exist, and we know quite a bit about what it takes to spread and scale them. The Synergia Institute elevates ‘transition innovations’ that are democratic, decentralized, distributed, diversified, and tailored to place, all of which are key features of resilient communities and regions. Likewise, we know the regeneration of dead soil and ecosystem health is possible on both small and large scales. This is the good news featured in Towards Cooperative Commonwealth: Transition in a Perilous Century, the 5th edition of a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

Doughnut Economics "Weave" Image - Towards Cooperative Commonwealth: Transition in a Perilous Century

Adapted from tool derived from DEAL – and licensed under Creative Commons BY SA 4.0 license.

With that said, the transition isn’t gonna be easy. There are no cookie-cutter approaches. It will require focused attention over time to organize and make connections, challenge the status quo, and build partnerships. Changing the priorities, policies, and rules to preserve the commonwealth of all beings of the earth rather than the private wealth of the few is possible, but it is not guaranteed.

However, innovations to meet basic needs are becoming ever more complex. We depend on the health of the earth. We know the climate system is in crisis. However, five others of the 9 planetary systems that keep us safe have transgressed the ecological ceiling.

Our way of being in the world is out of sync with reality

Economic growth is tethered to fossil fuels, profit-seeking investment capital, and loans with compound interest rates which presumably must be paid back. But it is not likely they will be. Why? We depend on fossil fuels for a reason, there is no other powerful, dense and flexible energy source on the planet. Consider this: eight hours of physical work generates 0.6 kWh. One barrel of oil generates 1700 kWh, equivalent to 4.5 years of work. In September 2022, oil hit $97, its highest price since 2014. One human working 4.5 years (2000 hours at $10/hr U.S.) costs  $90,000, enough to buy 928 barrels of oil. Do the math, and it turns out the 100 million barrels we consume yearly is equivalent to having  93 billion energy slaves working for us 24-7.

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It is not hard to see the dilemma we are in. What is very challenging is to take this physics-based fact and work as if our lives depend on it. At Synergia, we’re focussed on three broad fronts:

Reducing Emissions is Important: Every 10th of a Degree Matters

As your read this, the consequences of a 1.2-degree rise in average global temperature are careening around our planetary home. Organizing and supporting resistance to fossil fuel expansion is one front that must be sustained and strengthened. This is a practical and moral imperative, a commitment to intergenerational solidarity.

Adaptation and Resilience

There is no turning back to ‘normal’, every 1/10th of a degree of warming means greater challenges for adaptation to climate disruptions. Meeting basic needs in ways that draw down carbon from the atmosphere, conserve energy, and restore ecosystem health are measures that can be taken where we live. With proper resources and support, large ecosystems can be regenerated.

Demanding the Top 1% Pay their Share

The top 1% globally emit 70% as much carbon as the bottom 50%. According to an estimate by the IMF, there are direct annual tax losses of $483 billion, and triple that amount in indirect losses from multinational corporation tax abuse and fraud. This, while the 2009 $100 billion/year commitment made by ‘developed’ countries to support climate action in poorer countries, has never been met.

If you have read this far, I want to invite you to join an international team of excellent facilitators for a collaborative learning journey. As I write this, 700 people from 40 countries have already registered through the website of the Synergia Institute. I invite you to do the same.

Our hope, in turn, is to nourish and strengthen your individual and collective capacities to contribute meaningfully to our common and troubled home.

Towards Cooperative Commonwealth: Transition in a Perilous Century comprises seven modules (plus an eighth bonus module focussed on “constructing your synthesis”) that runs for 21 weeks from February-June.

Each module runs for three weeks requiring a minimum commitment of only 2 hours a week.

  • Week 1 of each module is devoted to reviewing video and text resources and an initial discussion of the module topic.
  • In week 2 of each module, we explore forum topics in more depth with participants across the world and also invite small groups to meet to develop a collective grasp of the issues, strengthen their capacity to think about how to effect systems change, and explore specific ways to apply ideas and frameworks in their work.
  • Week 3 is guided by you. We provide a reflection prompt that will help you deepen your learning.

Certificates and Masters’s level university credits for participating inTowards Cooperative Commonwealth: Transition in a Perilous Century are available through Athabasca University for a small fee.

If you are serious or only curious, take a look at


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Teaser photo credit: Author: Supercraft99 Source: Family Photo This photo is of the view from Burnaby Mountain. By Supercraft99 (talk) (Uploads) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis is the Executive Director of the Center for Community Enterprise and is well-known internationally as a practitioner, author, educator and leader in the field of Community Economic Development and the Social Economy.

Tags: building resilient economies, common wealth, cooperative structures