An Introduction to “Catalysing mass commitment to transformational change”

Andrew Gaines | August 15, 2019 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

Image courtesy of author.

We are in an ecological emergency. Our challenge is to inspire mainstream commitment to turning things around.  Therefore, I’d like to ask you to do something unusual: talk to your friends and business colleagues about systemic change.

This article introduces a tool for one-to-one conversations called Kitchen Table Conversations, and shows a way to take it to scale.

Child on phone


Extinction Rebellion and the School Strike for Climate are great at raising the alarm. Kitchen Table Conversations are a natural complement. They enable people to come to terms with what we need to do to turn things around.

Engaging in Kitchen Table Conversations prepares people mentally and emotionally to support leadership for large-scale transformative change when it arises. Without such support, transformative leadership can go nowhere. Indeed, I think that a major reason why progressive candidates don’t do better politically is because their messages reach unprepared minds

However, there is much more to transformative change than politics. Collectively we must change the operation of our entire society to operate within planetary boundaries. 

People’s behaviour is based on their way of thinking. So, I’m not talking about just casual talk. The new idea here is to communicate in a in a way that improve people’s thinking.

Although we may be skilled at arguing, the idea of communicating to help people to think better is novel. This article shows a way. 

One more thing. If just a few of us do this, it won’t amount to much. So let’s catalyse a mass movement to inspire mainstream commitment to doing everything required to pull out of our ecological nosedive

I appeal to you to lend your influence to this. Just doing our own thing, our communication is fragmented. Aligned (while still pursuing our major projects) we can be more powerful than we ever imagined. Or so I suppose – let’s put it to the test!

We have set up a support platform. It is called the Great Transition Initiative. Our strategy is to engage the members of the millions of groups that care about environmental and social well-being as citizen-educators, and provide ready-to-use communication tools.

Read Andrew’s full text on Catalysing mass commitment to transformational change here.

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  • Christopher Johnson

    That is a beautifully elegant point. People need to come to terms with something before they can respond to it.

  • Arnold Byron

    Mr. Gaines.

    Everything you have said in the Great Transition Initiative is absolutely true and it needs to be said everywhere including around the kitchen table. All of the various points you make have been said over and over again for the last several years. Yet these all need to be said over and over again, and saying them at the kitchen table makes them real. But, even so, you have outlined only half the problem. You say nothing about the fact that there are too many people in the world.

    Think of the following sequence. The growing frequency of mega storms, floods and wild fires are the consequence of climate change; which is the consequence of global warming; which is the consequence of overpopulation. If you agree with that sequence then you will agree that the kitchen table conversation has to be about reducing the population in a nonviolent, non-eugenic, fair safe and humane way.

    The kitchen table conversation you outline encourages respect between partners. I agree that that is a step in the right direction to encouraging smaller families. But we need to do more than merely encourage smaller families. The United Nations Governmental Panel on Climate Change has spoken. The time of oblivion is short. We need to concentrate our kitchen table talk on reducing the population. Nobody wants to talk about giving up the right to have as many children as they want. That right was available to everyone until the population reached overshoot. Reaching overshoot changes the rules of the game forever: until Earth is wiped out by an asteroid or until the sun goes nova in a billion years or so.

    Contact your partners in The Great Transition Initiative and figure out how to add this part of the conversation to your work. The work you have done is thorough and without blemish except that you left out the part of the conversation that nobody wants to talk about. Yet, this part of the conversation is the most important part. Reducing the population will make everything else easier.

    Look at my writings on this blog site. The links are shown below. My writings tell of A Plan for the Nations to reduce the population and ameliorate if not solve the crises humanity is facing.

    • Andrew Gaines

      Hi Arnold,

      Yes, we have come to the brink of nonexistence, as you so eloquently put it, and population growth amplifies all the adverse trends.

      FYI, the first module in Kitchen Table Conversations is an enquiry into the question: What factors in the way our society operates tend to increase CO2 emissions? Both population growth and economic growth are there as major drivers.

      You suggest setting up an academically based alternative to the United Nations, because in the UN members of the Security Council have veto power.

      So far as I can tell the UN arose from the same goodhearted impulse that drives your own thinking. The majority of the founders wanted the UN to be a forum for collaboration for the common good, and thus provide an alternative to war.
      Similarly, the International Monetary Fund was set up to reduce the stress on local populations when a country’s international balance of payments got too out of whack. And the World Bank was set up to help impoverished countries develop.

      The IMF and the World Bank were quickly co-opted by American business interests, and became tools of oppression. The American negotiators (and Russia?) when the UN was being formed insisted on having the right to veto because they did not want to surrender power.

      Which brings us to the nub of the problem: power. How do we generate enough power to turn things around in a world ruled by psychopaths?

      Jefferson believed in democracy, and making democracy work requires an informed and committed citizenry. And in today’s world, Greta Thunberg will have reason to hope when she sees that mainstream society is committed to turning things around.

      Let’s make it happen!

      • Arnold Byron

        Hi Andrew.

        I will lay out my thoughts in an order that I hope makes sense.

        The problems are global. Nations acting independently of other nations can do a lot but all countries need to be working together to coordinate all of the work that needs to be done. Somehow we must figure out how to cause the nations of the world to create a global office with the limited authority to solve the issues of overpopulation; climate change; the hazards of atomic armaments and atomic energy; and the new issue of plastics degradation.

        Such an office can be organized but it must not be allowed to become autocratic. There will no doubt be sociopaths who will want to be king of the world. The office must be organized in such a way as to prevent that from happening.

        What I will be describing will be a new paradigm for humanity. Reaching overshoot changes everything. The old paradigm must go to be replaced by a new paradigm. Please note that nothing will happen if the colleges and universities of the world do not step up to the plate.

        My design for a global office will ensure that such a global office will not be autocratic. It will be a committee of twelve people with terms of office. These twelve people will always be elected, six each, from the comparative religion and the science departments of the colleges and universities worldwide. I lay out the election procedures in my writing, A Plan for the Nations. The make up of the global office needs to be the physical nature represented by science and the human nature represented by non fundamentalist, open minded people.

        The global office committee will have two subcommittees. One subcommittee will be in charge of running hundreds or thousands of local offices everywhere in the world. These offices will bring the global office to the local level. The local level is where the work ordered by the global office will be done. Workers at these local offices will deal with programs ordered by the global office. Such programs will deal with everything from using agriculture to extract carbon dioxide to medical staff involved in family planning.

        The global office will have a second committee made up of the people who are the most highly respected leaders from throughout the world. These people will lend their expertise, presence, dialog and good will to the entire effort stretching from global office to local office. Since these peerless people cannot be expected to do more than they can, they will be assigned emissaries of their choosing to speak for them. They and their emissaries will spend a lot of time jawboning with business leaders, political leaders, religious leaders and others to raise money and keep the nations from usurping authority.

        The writing of constitutions, agreements, rules and new mores will all be done by law departments of colleges and universities. The nations will agree to and ratify the agreements so that a confederation of nations, with all nations being equal, will exist. The agreements will give a confederation of nations authority limited to deal only with population, global warming and related issues. The nations will be able to change the authority of the global office by changing the constitution and agreements that were ratified when the global office was authorized.

        Because there are enough protections built into the design the new paradigm will not devolve into a kingdom. A global office will allow new inventions and new processes — that will result in ameliorating or solving current problems — to be deployed on a global scale with the expectation that the work will be done.

        The people of the world will have to accept the new paradigm. If the colleges and universities or the nations do not buy into a program such as this, then nothing will change. So far as I am concerned, humanity is headed to oblivion and for humanity to not bother to take a look at programs such as the one I have outlined in my writings and to simply sit on their hands expecting everything to go on as it always has shows shortsightedness. There is enough expertise, creativity and money in the world to ensure that a program such as I have laid out in my writings can be made to work. And I believe it can be made to work in time to prevent socio-economic collapse or human extinction.

        Let me reiterate. As soon as humanity reached overshoot everything changed. Nothing can be the same as it was in the past. Kitchen table conversations need to include discussions of new paradigms and a new way forward.

        • Andrew Gaines

          Regretfully, Arnold, you have not responded to the problem I highlighted: How might we generate the political power to make your vision – or any such vision – real?

          • Arnold Byron

            Hello Andrew.

            How we can generate political power? How much political power will we need? Where will the political power come from? Who has enough political power to do us any good? To whom do we apply the political power to meet our goals? These are the questions you are asking.

            The world is divided into nations. Some nations are democracies and some are autocracies. All have some form of governance. None are anarchistic. All are led by politicians. Keeping these simple notions in mind, I think I have it right when I say: Politicians are not leaders; they are opportunists. They wait until they see a need or feel a threat. Such needs or threats can benefit or disrupt their constituents or themselves. It is only then that they begin working to fulfill the need or to erase the threat. Politicians react to political power in much the same way regardless if they are in a democracy or an autocracy. Our job is to help the politicians see how overpopulation is a threat and to help the politician see how our program will alleviate the threat, make things better; solve the problem; and not create harm to the government, the people or the politician.

            But it doesn’t do any good for us to talk directly to a politician. I have tried that. I have sent letters. In return I get nicely worded letters; but no action. Politicians listen to others when they see the other as having as much or more standing than they. [I will continue to use standing in place of authority.] It appears to me that the key to gaining political power (access) is to gain standing. This is where we must put our focus.

            I began thinking: If I do not have standing; who does? Politicians reach out to people who have lots of money. Some politicians will listen to family members. Others may listen to their local clergy or to comments from national or international religious leaders. Still others may listen to think tanks, corporation heads, labor union leaders or the many personalities found on the world wide web and on the more conventional news and news magazine outlets. Different politicians respond to different stimuli.

            Because this is a global problem, the question then becomes: Where among all of the constituencies in the world are the constituencies that are homogeneous enough so that they can join together and act together? Surly such a group would have enough standing to cause politicians to pay attention.

            The first constituency I thought of was all of the places of worship that make up all of the religious influence in global society. I quickly dropped this idea because the active religions, taken as a whole, are not homogeneous enough to work together. But I also realized that, for the people of the world, religion is super important. Politicians recognize that religion is somewhat important to almost everyone. My next thought was that the problem of global warming is a science problem. So, my next question was: Where can we find scientific expertise to deal with global warming on a global scale?

            This brought me to consider that there are only two real facets to life on Earth, the physical and the spiritual. I have always thought of colleges and universities as the places where humanity has maintained its storehouse of intellect and creativity. I came to the conclusion that colleges and universities worldwide have expertise and creativity not only in science and comparative religion but in law, government, business and the arts.
            I decided that colleges and universities worldwide was the constituency that, when joined together as one unit, will have the standing to confront politicians and bring them around to putting global needs at the forefront of their governance. I then realized that the idea of colleges and universities being joined together meant that an association of colleges and universities will have to be established. There is no worldwide association of colleges and universities, so this will be something new.

            Your original question was: How might we generate the political power to make your vision – or any such vision – real? Creating a worldwide association of colleges and universities is the answer. The political power will come from Boards of Regents; the highly respected presidents of highly respected colleges and universities; the chancellors; the professors; and activism by student organizations. An association of colleges and universities will be able to control the message. The politicians of the nations, worldwide, will get the same message at the same time: now is the time for the nations to begin working together to help each other, if we are to survive.

            But first, we must build an association of colleges and universities. It will need a constitution, a chair and a board of directors. Departments within the colleges and universities such as law and government will have the expertise to create an association; to describe its mission; and to delineate its powers and its limits. After the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed the colleges and universities will ratify the end result and the association will be formed. I don’t know how smooth the process will be or how much danger the college and university participants will be subjected to; but I am certain that once done the association will be a strong voice with standing. This is the political power that will make the difference.

            I cannot think of any other constituency that has the expertise and creativity that our colleges and universities have. I do understand that our colleges and universities exist because humanity put them into place. I do understand that all of the people associated with colleges and universities – from the prestige of being a professor or an administrator or on a board of directors, to the proud achievements of the graduates, to the excitement of the newly enrolled student – have benefited and are owing to humanity for the opportunity for success. Colleges and universities throughout the world ought to be screaming words that depict their responsibilities. “Let us help!” “Humanity is in trouble!” “These crises are ours to solve!” “It is our job to help the nations!”

            Once an association of colleges and universities has been ratified it will claim the authority to develop all of the documentation needed to establish a special association of nations that we might call a confederation of nations. When ratified, the nations would agree that the special confederation would be given limited and perhaps temporary powers to work on solving the problems facing humanity. The confederation could then, with the help of the association of colleges and universities, create a global office so that the wishes of the nations as stated through the confederation of nations will be coordinated by an office. A global office would have the authority to coordinate and oversee the work being done by hundreds or perhaps thousands of local offices that will do the work of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; of increasing the global power supply by increasing renewable energy sources; of dealing with the hazards of atomic energy and plastics degradation; of ending the use of fossil fuel and of reducing the population in a nonviolent, non-eugenic, fair, safe and humane manner.

            The trick will be to establish an association of colleges and universities. The colleges and universities of the world need to do this without first asking permission from the nations. It will not be an easy task but in the end it will be the source of political power that will help the nations on the right path.

            My belief is as follows. Without an association of colleges and universities, humanity will be subject to socio economic collapse and will be doomed. An association of colleges and universities will have standing. Our job is to create an association of colleges and universities and put it to work.

            Please know that in April/May of this year I wrote to the Boards of Regents of the ten western states in the United States. I asked that discuss and authorize a project to begin contacting colleges and universities, worldwide, for the purpose of establishing an association of colleges and universities for the purposes stated above. I received a communication back from two of the boards. There was no indication of action from any of the ten boards.

  • Wishing all well and hoping for resounding success in September.