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The UN, People & Politics

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The Widening Circle: Toward a Global Citizens Movement
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The idea and practice of global citizenship is spreading, but a coherent global citizens movement that engages masses of people remains latent, ready to be born. Giving life to this critical actor, now missing from the world stage, stands as the next phase in the evolution of civil society activism. An initiative by Kosmos.


20th January 2012 - Published by Kosmos

Our Vision

A Great Transition. In the Planetary Phase of Civilization, humanity and Earth have become a single community of fate. We are in the midst of a turbulent transition from the world that was to some form of global society, with no exit and no separate solutions for individuals, communities, or countries. The transition is generating a host of ominous transnational problems – climate change and ecosystem degradation, economic instability and geopolitical conflict, oppression and mass migration – that left unattended might well pull us toward a bleak tomorrow.

In these times, it is easy to fall prey to the three D’s of an anxious culture: denial, despair and distraction. Still, as the world rushes helter-skelter towards an uncertain future, growing numbers of people are becoming concerned global citizens. Their engagement makes possible a Great Transition to a future of enriched lives, human solidarity, and environmental sustainability.

The increasing connectivity of globalization is an opportunity to construct new categories of consciousness – global citizenship, humanity-as-whole, the wider web of life, and the well-being of future generations – alongside a governance architecture that balances the twin goals of global unity and regional pluralism. 

Charting passage to a happier outcome demands rapid emergence of ways of thinking and acting matched to the profound challenge posed by global transition. Our concern and accountability, indeed, our very sense of self, must expand across the barriers of space and time to embrace the whole human family, the ecosphere, and the unborn. We stand at an inflection point of history full of peril, but also promise, if we can come together in a joint venture: creating a culture of solidarity and politics of trust within a movement to build democratic institutions for peace, justice, and sustainability. 

A Values Shift. The vision of a Great Transition is a planetary civilization rooted in a new suite of values – quality-of-life, human solidarity and reverence for nature – for the twenty-first century. 

While most of human history was dominated by scarcity and the challenge of survival, today's huge economies have created the conditions for a post-scarcity society. Attention can turn now to quality-of-life: human fulfillment rather than wealth as the primary measure of success and well-being. The sense of solidarity – social connectedness, responsibility and loyalty – can begin to extend beyond nation and tribe to people of distant places, the unborn of distant futures, and the other creatures of the earth. Reverence for nature, an ecological sensibility of wonder and enjoyment in the natural world, is nourished by the growing appreciation of humanity’s place in the web of life and our dependence on a bountiful earth.

While these values may be essential in averting catastrophe, a new civilization rooted in these values is by no means inevitable. It requires and depends on an upsurge of public awareness and engagement, a development that the evolving conditions of our planetary phase of history make possible.

One World, Many Places. The planetary phase interweaves the fates of rich and poor, human and non-human, living and unborn. We are, like it or not, one human family and one earth sharing a common fate. The reality of greater interconnectedness can encourage a corresponding enlargement of our identity as global citizens. Globalism today is putting down deep roots, just as nationalism once did. From outer space, we see not artificial national boundaries, but an integral planet, the natural political unit for sustaining the biosphere, managing interdependent economies and keeping the peace. At the same time, ours is a pluralistic world, with regions and countries of astonishing diversity. The governance of a Great Transition would need to be an intricate web of local, regional and global nodes and connections. Three broad principles would guide the balance of one world and many places: decision-making should be channeled to the most local level feasible (subsidiarity); some issues are necessarily and properly addressed at the global level (irreducibility); regions can fashion diverse approaches to development, so long as they meet environmental, human rights, and other global responsibilities (plurality).

A Pathway Forward. The growing chasm between the obsolete institutions of the twentieth century and the de-stabilizing trends of the twenty-first is portentous. Which social actors can tilt history toward a Great Transition? Multilateral bodies are enfeebled by the myopia of nationalism, the private sector is subject to the tyranny of the bottom line, and civil society organizations are limited by organizational and philosophical fragmentation. Collectively, actions for a sustainable and just global society remain too dispersed, diffused, and small scale to change the pathway of global development. Thus, progress painstakingly won here and there is overwhelmed by systemic deterioration. While the public’s awareness of emerging dangers grows, apprehension breeds fear and resignation in the absence of a compelling alternative vision.

To create an alternative vision and effective strategy for realizing it, consciousness and action must rise to the level of a unified global society. Dominant institutions have proved too timorous or too venal for meeting the environmental and social challenges of our time. Instead, an adequate response requires us to imagine the awakening of a new social actor: a coordinated global citizens movement (GCM) struggling on all fronts toward a just and sustainable planetary civilization.

We propose a new organizing campaign with the explicit aim of catalyzing this historic agency. This effort would expand and diversify in a “widening circle”, adapting to changing circumstances as it evolves. From the onset, such a project must foster a politics of trust, committed to balancing unity and pluralism on the road to our common future.

The popular movements that forged nation-states over the last few centuries developed overarching national identities that encompassed preexisting communities. In the Planetary Phase, we need a still more inclusive form of consciousness and association: a worldwide cultural and political awakening united under the banner Earth.

Our Strategy

Advancing the Global Citizens Movement. The global transformation will require the awakening of a new social actor: a vast movement of global citizens expressing a supranational identity and building new institutions for a planetary age. Such a global citizens movement (GCM) would work on all fronts, comprehending the various struggles for the environment and justice as different expressions of a common project. It would understand itself as an explicit and proactive advocate for a planetary civilization worthy of the name. Unlike national citizenship that excludes the disenfranchised, all people, by dint of their humanity, are citizens of the planetary community we must imagine as an ideal and build as a collective project. The idea and practice of global citizenship is spreading, but a coherent GCM that engages masses of people remains latent, ready to be born. Giving life to this critical actor, now missing from the world stage, stands as the next phase in the evolution of civil society activism.

Rooted in principles elaborated in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Agenda 21, the Earth Charter, the Great Transition, and scores of other documents, a vital GCM would promote a culture of peace and non-violence, nurturing ascendant values of human solidarity, ecological resilience, and quality of life. With adherents united by a shared identity as citizens of a nascent global culture and polity, the GCM is best envisioned as a polycentric political and cultural rising, rather than as a single organized entity.

Can the Global Citizens Movement crystallize with sufficient speed and scale? It would be comforting to believe that the necessary coherence will emerge spontaneously, with little proactive direction. But there are hardly guarantees – and misplaced faith in the potential for bottom-up self-organization carries the tragic risk of opportunity lost. Indeed, past movements for systemic change, such as those that forged modern states or struggled for the rights of labor, spawned efforts to consciously weave together disparate grievances and component movements into an overarching formation. 

More than ever, we need the ongoing efforts of civil society – campaigns for rights, peace, and environment; scientific research on global change; educational and public awareness projects; local efforts to live sustainably. All this is necessary, but not sufficient for the systemic shift to a just and sustainable mode of global development. We urgently need, as well, the coalescence of a diverse popular movement of global citizens, a movement that weaves together civil society's many themes and projects into a holistic vision and strategy for global democracy rooted in ecological sustainability and social justice. The global citizens movement would be the self-conscious agency for making the change to a civilization worthy of the name, an answer to the question posed by tremulous lips everywhere: what can I do?

The Coordinating Circle for Phase 1 of TWC currently comprises individuals from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, South America and North America. The Coordinating Circle meets at least once per month via teleconference to design, implement, and monitor the work program.

Current Members of the Coordinating Circle

Kiran Chhokar (Center for Environment Education) is Programme Director of Higher Education at Center for Environment Education, and editor of the international, peer-reviewed Journal of Education for Sustainable Development.

Rick Clugston (Earth Charter US) is the Executive Director of Earth Charter US.

Salomeh Dastyari (Be The Change - Australia) is Founder of Sacred Minds Consulting for organizational development, leadership and culture, and Board Director of Be The Change Australia.

Raven Gray (Transition US) is the co-founder and President of Transition US, and a pioneer of the Transition Towns movement in the UK.

Candido Grzybowski (IBASE) is Director of the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis (IBASE) and a member of the Brazilian committee that launched the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2001.

Orion Kriegman (Great Transition Initiative) serves as Facilitator for the Coordinating Circle for Phase 1 of TWC, and is Coordinator of the Great Transition Initiative.

Rasigan Maharajh (Tshwane University of Technology) is Chief Director of the Institute for Economic Research on Innovation (IERI) based at the Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa.

Gustavo Marin (Forum for a new World Governance) is a founding member of the International Council of the World Social Forum and Director of the Forum for a new World Governance (FnWG).

Michael Narberhaus (WWF-UK) is currently leading the Smart CSOs Initiative, a global partnership between civil society leaders, funders and researchers aiming to build effective civil society strategies for the Great Transition.

Robert Paehlke is a founding editor of the journal Alternatives: Perspectives on Society and Environment and is the author of Democracy's Dilemma: Environment, Social Equity and the Global Economy (MIT Press). He is presently writing on climate change and global citizenship.

Paul Raskin (Tellus Institute, Great Transition Initiative) is the President and co-founder of the Tellus Institute, and founder of the Global Scenario Group and Great Transition Initiative.

Nancy Roof (Kosmos Journal) is Founding Director of Kosmos Associates Inc. and Founding Editor of Kosmos: The Journal for Global Citizens Creating the New Civilization.

Jon Symes (Pachamama Alliance, Awakening the Dreamer) is Program Director for Awakening the Dreamer and author of "Your Planet Needs You".

Uchita de Zoysa (Global Sustainability Solutions) is a thinker, writer, speaker and activist in mobilizing civil society for stakeholder alliances and shaping policy dialogue of the global sustainability movement since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. He is the author of several books including the “It has to be CLIMATE SUSTAINABILITY”. He is the Chairman of Global Sustainability Solutions, Executive Director of the Centre for Environment and Development, and Convener of the Climate Sustainability PLATFORM.

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