The Phoenix Conversations Edit

Emerging Crises as Opportunities to Catalyze the Conscious Evolution of Increasingly Conscious Social Systems

Tom Atlee

Peggy Holman

Susan Cannon

November 2007


The confluence of abrupt climate change, peak oil, and the potential collapse of the American economy and world dominance is sparking progressively dire forecasts, a broad sense of urgency, and a deep unease with the perceived level of uncertainty and threat. While these increasingly unsettling realities cause many to check out, we intend to convene people who are ready to engage with them as opportunities for new possibilities and social evolution.

Evolution tends to take leaps in crises and catastrophes, and there will be a lot of evolution going on during this time, regardless. How conscious that evolution is will influence the extent to which these crises lead to the ruin of civilization, the extinction of humanity, or to a whole new wisdom culture.

We propose to hold strategic conversations designed to increase the systemic capacity to address these potential catastrophes in ways that stimulate the conscious evolution of the whole society. Our intention is to engage highly diverse players from research, activism, business, government, community work, technology, psycho-spiritual practices, human development and culture, etc., seeded with conscious evolutionary agents, in a series of conversations that articulate the range of possible scenarios and how they might best be handled. We propose a pattern that begins with an open space process to stir the pot, to generate new perspectives, questions, and energies. Those energies will be channeled into scenario thinking activities to explore the range of possibilities and what we might do about them. More open space will further deepen the explorations, the formation of new and innovative collaborations, and provide direction for where to engage for the greatest evolutionary potential. Online technologies will enable the emerging network of participants to continue their work together between their face-to-face gatherings.

These ongoing strategic conversations will be designed to:

..1. enhance the evolutionary potential of existing activities;

..2. increase the number of collaborations among disparate initiatives to amplify their effectiveness;

..3. uncover emergent potential by bringing together diverse players in stimulating interactions;

..4. strengthen the sense of clarity and solidarity among all those working towards similar ends; and

..5. expand the understanding of evolutionary dynamics, how they apply, and what the role of conscious evolutionary agents is and might be -- understandings that can be applied iteratively to this initiative.

We will seek to develop an evolving and expanding program to involve more and more players in increasingly powerful ways, so that they are serving the conscious evolution of humanity and civilization, whether they realize it or not.



The New York Times reported on the latest, more urgent IPCC report: <> But there are serious questions whether it goes far enough. There is increasing evidence that climate change is now upon us, that more extreme climate change is inevitable <>, and that it is happening faster than expected -- involving reinforcing (positive) feedback loops previously unknown or inadequately considered -- presenting us with steeper challenges than is being acknowledged in time by most mainstream scientific, media, and political sources. For example, see <,2933,304272,00.html>, <> and <>

Furthermore, some proposed solutions could make things worse -- e.g.,


The current unfolding impact of Peak Oil -- including geopolitical -- is explored in <>, while future scenarios are explored in <> and <,,2196435,00.html>.


Aspects of the economic tipping point on which we currently sit -- involving housing, trade, debt, the dollar, and more -- is explored in such articles as <>, <>, <>, <,0,987590.column>, <>, and <>

Given all this, there is a good possibility that these crises will combine (with each other and others) to have a more profound impact, sooner, and be more resistant to "solution" than most people expect. With hurricanes, giant wildfires, drought, heat waves, rivers drying up, and weird weather, climate change is already rapidly moving up the scale from concern to crisis to catastrophe. The same goes for the ripples of higher oil prices and scarcity as they ripple through the economy and the world -- and the giant credit bubbles beginning to pop. The powerful emerging energy for change -- among activists, business, and government -- often arising from diverse motivations -- has a disturbing "too little, too late" feel to it. Climate change initiatives, for example, currently focus on reducing carbon emissions, usually through targets and credit-trading. This approach is inadequate in ways that get little public attention:

..1. This approach takes into account neither the complexity of the human and natural systems involved nor the seriousness of the situation, and so probably will not work, even within its own frame of reference (preventing serious climate change: see, for example, the Kyoto article above).

..2. It takes energy away from urgently needed action to adapt our societies to changed climate conditions and their likely impacts, or risk massively destructive social and environmental disruption. It further distracts us from the disturbing possibility that vast disruption and death may be inevitable, and how to address that in ultimately life-serving ways.

..3. It does not view the climate change imperative as an evolutionary opportunity for a depth of transformation which will not only address climate change but many other social and environmental ills as well, by calling forth a much better culture and civilization than we have now.

In addition, few of the scenarios we have seen adequately address the possible and likely "side-effects" of various solutions. For example, when Lovelock envisions 6 billion people dying from climate disruption and 500 million more fortunate souls migrating to hole up in megacities near the Arctic, he doesn't acknowledge the power of activists/terrorists among those abandoned 6 billion to successfully attack those concentrated centers of elite population with high-tech weapons. Nor does he acknowledge the global impact of rising seas and extreme weather impinging on the (often abandoned) nuclear power plants he advocates building, the radiation from which would likely impinge on those elite enclaves. We see few scenarios that wrestle with the full range of possibilities.

There are similar inadequacies in approaches to peak oil and the economic edge we are on, which clearly call for systemic change and much more courageous, inclusive, holistic approaches, but are met with denial and band aids.


Part of conscious evolution is doing our best to address our own blind spots and the side-effects and unintended consequences of our solutions and preferred scenarios -- usually by investing adequate collective reflection time, and engaging real or role-played devil's advocates to help us see outside our boxes.

Einstein famously said that "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." Contrary to popular opinion, this is not fundamentally a critique of problem-creators who have insufficient consciousness, nor does it state that higher levels of consciousness are required. The fact is that every level of consciousness has problems special to that level -- problems that look very different from both "lower" and "higher" levels of consciousness. Wilber and others have noted that frustrated energies emerging around problems at a particular stage of consciousness are a major driver for the developmental leaps that take us to new levels of consciousness.

The problems of climate change, peak oil, and credit bubbles are generated primarily by the consciousness that has shaped the growth-oriented industrial-technological cultures of the last 200 years. Prior stages of consciousness would not nor could not have achieved this global level of intricately complex systemic destructiveness. Dealing with these problems will require many levels of consciousness simultaneously, and a consequent expansion and evolution of them all. We suggest that such engagement and transformation of consciousness can best be stimulated by leading-edge dialogue among significantly diverse players, sectors, and populations.

We propose to initiate strategic conversations among two groups:

...a. highly diverse players in promoting all sorts of understanding, action, and vision around climate change, peak oil, and the economy

...b. conscious evolutionary agents seeking evolutionary leverage through emerging crises and extinction-level issues like these.

Our initial conversations will focus on 50-200 issue-oriented players (a, above) -- including as many well-networked or influential ones as we can attract -- with a smattering of conscious evolutionary agents (b, above).

It will start with two days of open space for the self-organized conversations of the participants, followed by two days of scenario planning explorations. These scenario exercises will clarify the range of futures that we face, expanding from the range of expectations held by the attendees. This will be followed by further open space sessions in which those interested in exploring specific scenarios or related issues and initiatives in more depth can do so with others of like mind. The group will harvest insights in plenary sessions, and there will be plenty of time for networking and individual reflection.

In addition to the usual professionals and authors, we expect to have a significant youth, minority, and indigenous presence. The intention will be to shake up and expand everyone's thinking and to surface a deeper range of issues than has previously been widely (or wisely) acknowledged.

We will explore, among other things, the links between, implications of, and issues raised by these converging crises and

  • technology development
  • justice / human rights
  • peace/war
  • species extinction
  • the economy
  • youth
  • religion
  • migration
  • construction
  • transportation
  • trade
  • agriculture / food
  • water
  • forestry
  • democracy
  • education
  • forestry
  • journalism
  • philanthropy
  • manufacturing
  • energy policy
  • population
  • health care / disease
  • "place" (various locations and types of locations)
  • class
  • entertainment
  • culture
  • weather conditions, and their consequences

The initial conversation will be followed by a gathering of conscious evolutionary agents who attended the open space and scenario work conference. Togther, they will pursue inquiries like these:

  • What did we learn from what just happened that can guide us in our next conscious evolutionary action re these crises?
  • What other kinds of conversation and action are needed?
  • Who else should be involved?

We currently expect that we would then organize the next strategic conversation, much like the first, revised according to whatever learnings emerged from the evolutionary reflections just mentioned.

We will plan for an initial series of, say, 3-6 rounds like this -- strategic conversation followed by evolutionary reflection -- spaced about 2 months apart, with either a major player strategic conversation or evolutionary agent reflection happening every month. We would seek an overlap of participation -- i.e. many individuals who participated in one conversation would be present at subsequent conversations, and bring associates. If there were stuck places, we might try experiments with Dynamic Facilitation or other methods to release the stuck energy. Process would be as much a subject of reflection as the content of these conversations.

This program concentrates a very intense process into very short time-frames. It may be that this density of interaction is too ambitious, but we believe the potential intensity of crises warrants attempting to do what we believe is necessary in order to maximize the options for life-serving responses and positive conscious evolution. From our initial "high bar", we will downshift as necessary for tactical success. As people experience the value of participating, we expect that more will participate longer.

To the extent this model proves successful, it becomes a pattern to be expanded and built upon. Learnings and inspirations from this process will be carried into other realms and activities by evolutionary agents -- both conscious and unconscious -- especially those drawn into Michael Dowd's evolutionary spirituality network <> who feel called to action that can transform cultures and social systems. We expect them to be attracted to this effort to scale up our sense of conscious evolutionary opportunities, using these crises to make evolutionary headway in the world.


We have observed in gatherings like this that the life energy manifests in a variety of ways which we can consciously facilitate:

  • People feel affirmed in following their passions, pursuing their perspectives and projects.
  • People attune to, are inspired by, or experience themselves as manifestations of something larger than themselves that guides and energizes their work.
  • People connect up with others for synergistic collaborations.
  • Diverse people interact -- with delight and/or dissonance -- in ways that evolve into richer relationships, understandings, and possibilities, birthing unexpected and innovative initiatives.
  • A sense of community, solidarity, and shared vision emerges that sustains and inspires participants individually and collectively to engage with greater clarity, confidence, and courage.
  • A growing collective sense of being a vibrant social organism unfolds in which each participant is an arm or a heart or an eye, all acting -- in all their juicy diversity -- as a complex, productive whole.

We believe conscious evolution involves supporting all these complementary manifestations of life energy in conversations that matter, for together they generate profound shifts and breakthroughs in evolutionary potential.


There are other existing impact studies and scenario work, such as <> and we plan to explore them further as a complement to what we will be doing here.

But the fact is that no one really knows what will happen as these crises unfold. There is a bias in mainstream models (e.g., IPCC) towards "conservative" estimates since the implications of more extreme assumptions are towards radical and therefore disruptive and expensive change -- and because governments are involved in vetting the reports of the scientists. While some independent mainstream scientists and activists skew their impact estimates towards the extreme to generate attention and action, many others fear that predicting extreme impact will inspire more fear and denial than action.

Our purpose is not to compete with mainstream modeling and scenario work or the many well-intended initiatives already working on the issues involved in these crises. Most of them have no idea of their evolutionary role. Rather, we seek to provide a context in which these often isolated initiatives can better realize (both see and actualize) their interconnectedness and evolutionary potential. In particular, we seek to replace the fear and denial associated with the more extreme impacts with

..a. clear, courageous, and creative collaborative thinking;

..b. better understanding of the range of evolutionary opportunities presented by such impacts, and

..c. engagement of an increasingly wide variety of players in activities that further the conscious evolution of consciousness, culture, and social systems.


We seek partners in this ambitious undertaking. We recognize there may be other ways to approach these crises from an evolutionary perspective. We seek to create a program conceived to be of comparable magnitude to the challenges and opportunities we face. We seek thinking partners to improve the ability of this (or other such) program to achieve its stated objectives. We seek action partners in convening strategic conversations. Finally, we seek sponsors to fund and support the program in whatever form it finally takes.

We welcome your engagement.

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