Review of Paul Hanley's new book "Eleven"

Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 21. November 2014 - 0:10

Review of Paul Hanley's new book Eleven

by Arthur Dahl

Eleven by Paul Hanley. Friesen Press, Victoria, BC, Canada, 2014. 400 p.


"Eleven billion people will populate this marvelous planet by the end of this century. Adding almost 4 billion to an already overburdened world will force everyone to change everything. The sweeping changes that make an 11 billion-world work will wholly transform humankind, reshaping its inner life and external conditions. This process will result in the emergence of a new culture, a new agriculture, and ultimately a new human race." This is how Paul Hanley introduces his new book and explains the title "Eleven".

Hanley, a Canadian environmental journalist and long-time member of the International Environment Forum, has written a remarkable book that addresses the question of how, on a planet already subjected to the unsustainable impact of 7 plus billion people, we can manage the 11 billion population now projected for 2100. Recent research suggests that even a third world war would do little to reduce that figure, which is already locked into our demographic distribution. He is well placed to produce such a well-researched and profound book, having written over a thousand environmental articles for Canadian newspapers, and edited an earlier book "The Spirit of Agriculture" in 2005. He has consulted and distilled the wisdom of many researchers and thinkers into a coherent reflection on our society and our future with a surprisingly positive message.

The first part of the book is a deep critique of the consumer society and the present world economy founded on the growth paradigm. The opening chapter demonstrates how we are becoming accustomed to having access to everything, everywhere, always available. Starting with Canadian examples of the agrifood business, he explains the invention of the coffee break, addictive fast foods and snacks, and that “adding value” to natural foods through processing actually reduces every value except profits, with cascading impacts on health, health costs, high stress, and our ecological footprint. Business interests engineered the consumer society and manufactured mass consent to this particular social-ecological model, while further growth is making us poorer and the top 1% richer. We are addicted to automobiles, urban sprawl, cheap energy, and even debt. The total debt in the United States is above $60 trillion, or $189,000 per person. Consumption is all about identity, affiliation, aspiration, and self-expression, on a continuum between the unnecessary and the destructive. Our contemporary culture has been consciously engineered by the corporate class to mold the masses into Pavlovian consumers, so we need a cultural transformation.

He documents in some detain the materialists’ crusade to build the growth paradigm that makes consumption our way of life, and converts the buying and use of goods into rituals, spiritual and ego satisfactions, even inventing the individual with a personal future, the workday, time, mobility, productivity, industrial schooling, and the concept of infinite work. Work and money become ends instead of means. We have become a society of spectacle, passive spectators of celebrity and representative reality, consumers of illusions in a new dependency, maintaining our unconsciousness. The mass media are not neutral, but provide unilateral communication with the illusion of diversity. He estimates the total cost of the spectacle dimension of modern society at $11 trillion or 15% of global GDP.

While conventional warfare has been shown to be useless, and politically, economically, ecologically, and morally, all combatants lose, we continue conflicts for political advantage or national identity, out of inertia, from fear of the other, pushed by the military-industrial complex or entrenched political ideology, and supported by public opinion. Conflict and insecurity are manipulated by vested interests to justify investments in defense, policing and prisons, while imposing a great burden of defense expenditures, $3 trillion at the world level, causing inflation, disrupted growth and increased inequality, not to mention loss of life. Yet there has been an historical decline in violence, led by a pacification and civilizing process, and the humanitarian and rights revolutions. Change is possible, as demonstrated by the transformation of Germany and the building of cooperation in Europe.

He explains why change is so challenging, since people are typically unaware of the lifeworlds or paradigms that shape the culture in which they are immersed. While the poor need to increase consumption, the 1.2 billion established consumers account for 70% of consumer spending, and could easily reduce their consumption by 65%. The 85 richest people have more wealth than poorest half of the world population (3.6 billion people). A super-entity controls the global economy, a ruling class whose mode of domination demands denial of its own existence. 146 players control 40% of transnational corporation value. Our ecological footprint must be reduced by 60 percent, notwithstanding the 50 percent increase in population by 2100. This can be achieved by reducing personal consumption of the rich, demilitarization, and removing perverse subsidies, among other things. In fact, reducing consumption triggers virtuous cycles of social-ecological renewal, as demonstrated by the Cuban experience. "The new culture will place meaning and value in non-material pursuits; turn our attention to higher goals in the areas of education, health, and the enhancement of relationships, both with our fellow human beings and the ecosphere; and reorient us from an unequal culture of power to an equal culture of service."

He concludes the first section by describing the seeds of this new culture, based on our understanding of the adaptive cycle of complex systems. All such systems go through a cycle of growth leading to stability and conservation of capital, but followed inevitably by a crisis that releases capital and leads to a reorganization and renewed growth. The cycle provides for both growth and stability, change and variety. Our society is a hierarchy of nested adaptive cycles: ecological systems, cultures, economies, governments, etc. Humankind, including all social and ecological interactions and all flows of materials, energy and information, is one immense social-ecological system. Our attempts to prolong the growth phase are unsustainable and will lead to a major breakdown and transformation on the scale of the agricultural, industrial, and technological revolutions. The breakdown in the existing order will happen anyway, but the raising up of a new order requires effort, adopting a posture of learning and building moral capacity. "We need to increase our moral capacity so we can choose between self-interest and the public good. Our capacity for reason and forward planning, our ability to make moral judgements, our compassion for people and other species, must prevail." Drawing inspiration from the recent experience of the Baha'i community around the world, he calls for a participatory and experiential education model such as that of the Ruhi Institute, that aims for fundamental cultural changes providing an alternative to the materialistic world view.

The second part of the book looks at the new agriculture that will be needed to feed 11 billion people, and this is Paul Hanley's specialty. He sites the success of micro-food production during the collapse of the former Soviet Union, showing that even people living in virtually impossible circumstances can mobilize to solve their problems. In fact, social-ecological systems are more important than soil or climate for successful agriculture. By eliminating inefficiencies and waste, it would not actually be necessary to increase agricultural inputs to feed 11 billion people. It is the present socio-economic system that denies food access to poor.

Modern agriculture is based on a weak ecological foundation and will implode. We have reached the limits of geographical expansion, and technologies for increasing production with mechanization, fertilizers, and chemicals have significant ecological impact. We are faced with deteriorating land resources (40% of arable land is degraded), shrinking water resources (water deficit and salinization), pollution from agricultural chemicals, genetic erosion, climate change and overfishing. We need a different mindset for producers and consumers.

The future will need to emphasize reclaiming damaged resources. Ecosystem function is vastly more valuable than the production and consumption of goods and services. Hanley cites a Chinese watershed restoration project on the Loess Plateau, and an example in Burkina Faso stopping desertification in the Sahel. There are 2 billion hectares of depleted land suitable for restoration through better land management, restoring vegetation and increasing soil organic carbon. Climate change can be addressed by soil sequestration of carbon, reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus conservation (REDD+), afforestation and expanding the use of wood as a building material. The incentive could come from a reasonable price for carbon.

Hanley mentions six promising alternatives for agroecosystems:
- agroecology, reducing fossil fuel inputs, encouraging carbon sequestration in soils;
- regenerative agriculture like organic farming, which can be more productive where production is low and capital hard to obtain;
- the biochar option;
- a brown revolution in animal agriculture on grasslands, with holistic management to improve soil quality;
- improved water efficiency in irrigation, with tree shelter belts; and
- urban agriculture using intensive growing techniques, and recycling compostable urban wastes.

Hanley identifies some of the features of the new agriculture, with a new ethical framework and goals of social equity. This responds to the moral bankruptcy of present order, where there is enough food but over 800 million hungry, and a lack of political will to do anything about it. "Humanity’s childhood has ended; our future is being determined not by natural selection, the force that shaped us, but by our own decisions. Consequently, we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become." He defines meta-economic values for an ethically mature agrifood system:
a. enlightenment, the goal of combined scientific and spiritual enquiry
b. health as a leading value for agriculture, people and the ecosphere
c. unity and social equity, with the oneness of humanity replacing the fundamental inequities built into the global economic order;
d. centrality, acknowledging that agriculture is the basis of civilization, and putting farmers first.

He suggests that transferring less than 5 percent of current subsidies for fossil fuels to ecological payments to small farmers for ecosystem services and soil restoration would be among the most cost effective ways to mitigate climate change, reduce extreme poverty, and increase food production in low-income countries.

We also need to address the consumption problem, to stop wasting food, eat less of it, switch to different foods, and become much more efficient in our use of food producing resources. It will take an ethical transformation to be willing to change. This will allow agriculture to again become the basis of an emerging world civilization. This is not just theory, but based on projects that are already showing the practicality of his recommendations.

The third part of the book shows that ethics are everything. Hanley first explains that social equality and ecological sustainability go hand in hand. The most equal societies—those where the disparities in average incomes are lowest—are better in almost every way than societies with large income disparities, and their ecological footprint is generally lower. There are limitations to the benefits that wealth can deliver. Once basic needs are met, more consumption causes more harm than good, socially and environmentally. He shows that a unified, sustainable society is not only possible, it is successful. Rather than assuming we are stuck with levels of self-interested consumerism, individualism, and materialism which must defeat any attempts to develop sustainable economic systems, we need to recognize that these are not fixed expressions of human nature. Striving for unity is a virtuous cycle. It is possible to increase the supply of virtues through education and social design. We can build social contracts that make communities of different kinds possible. The rapidly increasing human population demands an unprecedented increase in moral capacity. We have no other choice.

He acknowledges that the personal and intergenerational trauma people carry as a result of oppression and abuse are a significant obstacle in the way of building a positive vision of the future, but people can be resilient under extreme duress. The real problem we face in meeting the needs of a full world has less to do with physical capacity and more to do with human moral capacity. We will have to become socially unified; to govern ourselves in a new, non-partisan way; to be more egalitarian and service-oriented; to be less materialistic; to adopt a vision that is global, not confined to ourselves or our class, religion, or nation; and to learn how to mobilize for change.

In contrast with the materialism based on science, which claims that human life is insignificant and free will is just an illusion, he cites physicists who show that a quantum universe better explains the human mind and influence than classical physics, with consciousness as a creative force, correcting the currently widespread notion that science shows us to be mechanical automata. Knowledge, alongside mass and electrical charge, is a fundamental physical quality, and the physical universe is fundamentally informational. Our thought is our reality. Our mental realm has characteristic qualities unlike anything else found in nature: thoughts, beliefs, values, purposes, feelings. He concludes that everything that needs to be done to make the world just and sustainable is being done somewhere, successfully, already. We can change the world, but must change the conceptual framework.

He then explores the relationship between humanity and nature. Untouched wilderness is gone, and our species has taken control of the ecosphere, launching a new geological epoch now called the anthropocene. Our present conceptualization that the ecosphere is an external environment that surrounds us, who are its centre, which exists to be exploited for maximum economic gain by our species, or more precisely its elites, must and will change. The current logic of world civilization runs counter to the well-being of the ecosphere. We need to reexamine the values and assumptions that determine our basic understanding of how we fit into the universe. The two main models of human-nature relations: ecocentrism (valuing the ecosphere above humanity) and anthropocentrism (the human-centric model of materialism and consumerism) are both associated with the notion that all life is motivated and dominated by a self-interested struggle for survival. Yet cooperation was the principal architect of four billion years of evolution, constructed humanity, and makes evolution constructive and open-ended. A new worldview has to protect the ecological balance of the planet but also has to accommodate 11 billion people. We need to jettison the notion of environment as a thing separate from the people it surrounds, and acknowledge that the human reality encompasses and contains the physical world. The interests of humanity and the ecosphere, their mutual sustainability and well-being, are one and the same. Power in this model is not about dominance or subservience, it is about the capacity to collaborate and serve. Humanity may be in a superior position to other species, yet the only intelligent way it can express this power is to assume a position of service. "We will get the future we imagine. We bring about a sustainable future by seeing ourselves as an interconnected human reality whose inner experience transforms the outer world. Our inner world must manifest the qualities we want in the outer world." The human being is a highly complex system with a unique capacity to model, understand, and transform itself and the world. Our sense of unity allows us to mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and even physically encompass our extended body, the ecosphere, Earth—which is very much like us.

We also have to change how we conceive of change, which cannot be through the political system as it operates today. The political order is morally bankrupt, paralyzed by the failure of partisan politics, the influence of vested interests and political lobbying. Driven by the lust for power and money, corruption is the single greatest obstacle to economic and social development around the world and a major impediment to protecting the ecosphere. Climate change denial is one recent example of this. Transformation cannot be achieved using traditional political means that feed on the pursuit of power. In the future, leadership will be synonymous with service, not power. We need to identify the principles and processes that can guide transformation at the levels of the individual, of communities, and of institutions. We should start small, with a humble posture of learning, to move forward, reflect on what we have done, and adapt the processes as we go, as we develop new forms of governance. As Buckminster Fuller put it: “To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” The new model will value humility, service, self-sacrifice, self-control, moderation, detachment, generosity, trustworthiness, compassion, cooperation, and truth seeking.

Taking this logic further, Hanley explores intelligent idealism, combining intelligence—the capacity to understand reality, the world as it is—and idealism—the capacity to imagine something thought to be better, the world as it should be. A sustainable civilization will be one wherein the participants—individuals, institutions, communities—have developed the capacity and skills to think in terms of a sustained transformational process: continuously assessing reality, envisioning a better future, acting to achieve it, and reflecting on results, with ever-increasing sophistication.

Authentic relationships are reciprocal connections based on a mutual recognition of the universal value that each shares as a human being. A relationship with any given category of existence is authentic to the degree that it is based on an accurate perception of a shared reality. But to gain an accurate understanding of reality and to form authentic, common ideals, we have to be open to multiple ways of knowing. Hanley reviews the multiple approaches to reality:
- the empirical method of science (observation and experiment, sense perception) with no meaning or purpose to reality beyond that which we arbitrarily assign to it, subject to bias;
- reason, which aims to make our assumptions totally explicit, acknowledge the relativity of one’s point of view, apply logic to assumptions and predict long-term consequences;
- emotion and intuition;
- the authority of an expert or elder;
- cultural knowledge and language, including accumulated wisdom, meaning, story and myth;
- art, identifying, penetrating, synthesizing, and representing natural and cultural phenomena, mind and emotions;
- contemplation/meditation/prayer (elevating human consciousness);
- non-rational knowing, such as through dreams or intuition;
- religion, through which a non-material supreme being communicates with humankind through revelation and example, with an emphasis on ultimate meaning and moral value;
- consultation, a process that combines the knowledge and insights of a range of diverse participants.

There are thus a variety of ways of knowing, all prone to error, but which together can yield a more reliable model of reality. This includes a non-material, spiritual reality. Non-material things are often most important to us, including the intangible properties of human relationships, such as love, trust, and compassion.

Science and religion are both evolving complementary approaches to understanding reality. Science is linear, minimalist, precise, applicable, verifiable, exact but incomplete, lacking global vision. It cannot explain why? Religious revelation begins with general, universal principles and moves toward specific applications. It is non-linear, maximalist, provides vision and offers moral direction, but is complex and lacks clarity and exactness. Science goes from meaning to truth, religion from truth to meaning; they are complementary ways of knowing. Together, authentic religion and authentic science can be conducive to human progress in ways neither could alone.

In the next to last chapter, Hanley summarizes the key points he has developed throughout the book. The pressures from a rising population and increasing affluence will bring down the current social-ecological order. This awakening will necessarily lead to an ethical revolution. We will survive the threat and seize the opportunity.
1. It’s not how many but what kind of people, altruists and Earth healers.
2. We are waking up and there is a movement for social and environmental change.
3. We can re-model our minds to replace our indoctrination in the consumer culture.
4. Consciousness is a powerful force, that will allow us to shape a future of our choosing, using multiple ways of knowing.
5. The outer world reflects the inner world, which we can change.
6. Human unity is a powerful force that will change the world.
7. Ethics are everything: humility, self-sacrifice, self-control, moderation, detachment, service, generosity, trustworthiness, compassion, cooperation, and truth-seeking can be developed through moral education.
8. Placing ecosystem function first produces more wealth than resource extraction.
9. Growth is uneconomic, so dissatisfaction and demand for alternatives will mount.
10. Alternatives work, including avoid and shift policies, demand-side management, resource efficiencies, full cost accounting, carbon charges, renewable energy, sustainable farming, urban agriculture, land reclamation, cooperative ventures, social investing, progressive taxation.
11. There is a meaning deficit, and the myth of affluence is being exposed.
12. The bad forms of wealth can become regenerative wealth, and the wealthy can make prosocial investments.
13. Change triggers virtuous circles, such as the poor restoring degraded land, rural farmers adopting sustainable methods, urban dwellers abandoning junk food.
14. Progress is evident in human rights, gender equality, decreasing violence, energy efficiency.
15. Change is inevitable, following a cycle of release and reorganization.

There will be terrifying disintegration and transformation, which will be complex and long term, but the problems have solutions. This requires a different kind of human being with a deeply moral character, which we can achieve if we educate the innate moral capacity of human beings and engage the whole community at the neighbourhood and village level. We need a grassroots participatory educational program that actively engages its participants in community development, with a holistic, community-led approach to sustainable development that addresses the challenges of extreme poverty in many overlapping areas: agriculture, education, health, infrastructure, gender equality, and business development. This can create a community of support that provides family stability, opportunities for employment, decent and affordable housing, a quality education, and youth development activities.

We also need a transformational model for the affluent that confronts the materialistic worldview, the problem of overconsumption and resource depletion, the privilege of the plutocracy, and the myth of eternal growth.

The final chapter responds to this need for a transformational model by describing the comprehensive community development programme created by the Ruhi Institute in Colombia. Based on principles such as the oneness of humankind, the equality of women and men, and consultation, the institute aims for a deep-change process that can address the underlying cultural causes of the social-ecological problems. The components of the institute process include study circles for the spiritual empowerment of individuals, who come to see themselves as active agents of their own learning; children's classes; a junior youth empowerment programme; devotional gatherings; and reflection meetings. Hanley describes the history of the Ruhi Institute and its roots in the Baha'i Faith, aiming for an organic, grassroots process of cultural transformation and community building that local people can learn from and apply according to their needs and capacities. Changing a village or neighbourhood, let alone the world, requires a compelling vision and tremendous capacity for self-sacrifice. With reference to developing new governance models, he describes the Baha'i system of administration as contrasted with traditional politics. Material and spiritual progress go hand in hand, thus de-emphasizing the material side of human development. Restoring the ecosphere will logically follow. This local collective learning contributes to grassroots solutions that can be put into effect everywhere, building a new, enlightened social-ecological order at a global as well as the personal and local levels.

Throughout the book, Hanley explores the deep relationship between our inner and outer worlds, finding support in science for perspectives that are compatible with the Baha'i view of the world. This is a wide-ranging book, alternating personal anecdotes, concrete examples, and the deep reflections of current thinkers, challenging our assumptions and proposing ways ahead. Do not let my summary dissuade you from reading the book; it has much more to support his strong and ultimately hopeful message. You are certain to find much in it that will motivate you to dedicate your life in service to the coming 11 billion people and to the planet on which they will be building an ever-advancing world civilization.

Paul Hanley

Paul Hanley has published 1500 articles on the environment, sustainable development, agriculture, and other topics. He is editor and co-author of Earthcare: Ecological Agriculture in Saskatchewan (Earthcare 1980) and The Spirit of Agriculture (George Ronald 2005). Paul is a recipient of the Canadian Environment Award and the Meewasin Conservation Award. He has been environment columnist with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix since 1989. Paul lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in Canada, with his wife and the youngest of three sons--plus two dogs. For more information, blogs posts and events go to>

Last updated 20 November 2014

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