Ervin László is a philosopher of science, systems theorist, integral theorist, and classical pianist. He has published about 75 books and over 400 papers, and is editor of World Futures: The Journal of General Evolution. He underscores the importance of developing a holistic perspective on the world and man, an outlook he refers to as "quantum consciousness." We are grateful for his contribution.

Towards a Planetary Education: For a Sustainable Future

Author: Ervin László, Philosopher of Science, Systems Theorist, Integral Theorist

Verso un'educazione planetaria is a book designed to guide teachers Towards a Planetary Education: For a Sustainable Future includes a preface written by Prof. Ervin Laszlo.

portada book cover

Verso un'educazione planetaria is the result of a joint effort by a small, highly motivated group of teachers (all volunteers), coordinated by Carlo Baroncelli, supported by Fondazione Cogeme.


The world we have created over the past several decades is not sustainable. It will change, because it has to change. It will not change at the end of 2012 all at once, but at that critical point change will become irreversible. We should know what is at stake, and what we can do about it. This means knowing the basic parameters that make today's world unsustainable, and knowing the perspectives that open to us when a critical mass of people realize that change is necessary as well as unavoidable. This is why we need to read, ponder, and discuss the contents of the small but essential book published by Fondazione Cogeme.

A sustainable world is not achievable by following the principle of "business as usual." The kind of "business" we had made our own during the 20th century leads to systemic overshoot and consequent collapse. This could have been recognized at least since the end of World War II, but the earliest warning voices were raised only when Rachel Carson wrote her seminal study Silent Spring (1962) and the Club of Rome published the report The Limits to Growth (1972). And they were not taken seriously until the dawn of the 21st century. Now, in 2012, the unsustainability of the world can no longer be doubted—although it can still be ignored, even if not for long.

Parallel with the danger of the unsustainable condition of our world comes the opportunity of creating a new world. Crisis, as the Chinese word Wei-Ji indicates, is both danger (Wei) and opportunity (Ji). The danger is becoming more and more evident. Climate change, manifested in rapidly increasing periods of drought, violent storms, and rising sea levels, threatens the wellbeing and even the survival of hundreds of millions. The pollution of air, water, and land poses critical threats worldwide, and so does the spread of poverty and the massive migration triggered by people searching for a place to live, or just survive. The thousands of migrants who reach Lampedusa, the Italian island closest to the African coast, is but the advance wave of a veritable tsunami made up of destitute human beings. Originating in Africa, it is a social and economic threat for Europe, and originating in Latin America, the same kind of threat for North America.

The cataclysm that started in Japan on March 11, 2011 with the tsunami and the consequent Fukushima reactor meltdown is a further indication that the way we live on the planet is vulnerable and needs to be changed. We cannot control the movement of the tectonic plates that create earthquakes along the fault-lines, but we could organize our existence in ways that these and other natural events do not produce catastrophic consequences. In coastal regions we could prepare for the rise of the sea both in the sudden and violent form of a tsunami and in the slower but just as lethal form of a steady rise of the sea-level, flooding the homes and destroying the livelihood of hundreds of millions.

We could organize our patterns of habitation and our systems of production for more resilience. Every other species is inserted in its natural environment in a relatively self-reliant and sustainable way; only human society is detached from its natural environment and its natural resources. Our world is driven by artificial sources of energy in ever more gigantic conglomerations: in urban and industrial megacomplexes such as the Tokyo-Yokohama area of Japan, the region of Shanghai in China, San Paolo in Brazil, and New York-New Jersey in the United States. With the earthquake off the coast of Japan, nature reminded us that such demographic concentrations, while economically advantageous in the short term, are inherently vulnerable to unexpected events, whether they are earthquakes, droughts, floods, or hurricanes produced by nature, or unrest and violence created by hungry, jobless and life-threatened masses of human beings.

The fact is that our economically stupendously successful technological civilization is stupendously vulnerable. In our best joint interest we need to replace it with a system that offers more resilience and sustainability to its people. We could achieve this transformation: we could rely more on the resources of our natural environment, and on the natural endowment of the planet, instead of on artificial substances, artificially modified foods, and artificial sources of energy.

The events that shook the Middle and the Far East, though different from nature-induced calamities, are not unrelated. They are more directly due to the way we manage ourselves, and our environment. We need to find new ways to manage our lives and our economies. This is urgent, because the dangers of persisting with the current system are increasing and are less and less tolerant of delay. Fortunately, also the opportunities to create an effective transformation grow at the same time. Resistance to change in business and politics is less strong, and in society at large the will to try alternatives is growing. There are unmistakable indications that humanity is beginning to rise to the challenge. Electoral surprises in Germany and elsewhere, the rise of suppressed masses in the Arab countries, movements such as "occupy Wall Street" are unmistakable indications that new thinking is on the way.

New thinking needs to focus on concrete and practicable measures to create a sustainable and peaceful world. This means not only making others change: it means changing ourselves. It means evolving the kind of consciousness that, when spreading in the world, could lead us toward a world where all people can live; a world that we can leave with good conscience to our children. Every change, no matter how large or how small, starts at home. It starts with each and every one of us. And it is essential that it now starts without delay.

This is why an urgent message needs to be addressed to the young people of the world—the people who can still change themselves so they could change the world. In the conviction that it is the young people who now hold the fate of our civilization in their hand, I have written a "message to the young people of the world" from which I cite some passages below.

You, the young people of the world the most privileged people who ever walked the Earth. For the first time in history, one generation—your generation—holds the key to the greatest challenge our species has faced since it proudly named itself homo sapiens. This is the challenge of change—of profound, timely, and conscious change.

Privilege entails responsibility. You have the privilege to meet the challenge of timely and conscious change, but you also have the responsibility that goes with the privilege: the responsibility of taking an active part in promoting this change.

To live up to this responsibility you need to understand the nature of the problem and its possible solution. Why do we, the human family, face the challenge of change? And what can you, your generation, do about meeting the challenge? There is a straightforward answer to both these questions.

We face the challenge of profound and timely change because the world your fathers and forefathers have created is not sustainable. "Unsustainable" means that if the world doesn't change, it will break down. It cannot keep going as it is.

Take a look around you. Summers are getting hotter, winters milder, storms more violent, the extremes more pronounced, the variations more unpredictable. A little less cold could be a good thing in many climes, except that global warming also means that less rain is falling on productive lands; that forests are dying; that water-tables are dropping, and that, because ice is constantly melting into the Arctic and Antarctic oceans, sea levels are rising the world over.

How long before thousands of millions will be pressed below the level of bare subsistence? Before hundreds of millions will be driven from their homelands by hurricanes and floods? Before whole cities and entire islands will be submerged?

Global warming and the resulting climate change are just one of several "unsustainabilities" in today's world. Urban overcrowding, the breakdown of the health of vast populations, violence born of intolerance, and war waged to secure short-term economic interests are among the many threats to life and wellbeing on this planet. We of the older generations have impaired the vital balances of nature; balances that are needed to sustain your life, and the life of myriad other species. Now you, the younger generation, must correct our errors and repair the damage.

We are now seven billion humans on the planet. How many of us will survive the next ten years? The next five years, or the next three? And if some of us go under, how will the rest manage, given our interdependence and our proneness to resort to violence to assure our short-term interests? If the world continues its downhill slide, and if the mindset of the rich and powerful doesn't change while there is time, there will be a holocaust from which no one will emerge unscathed.

The answer to the question of why we must have timely and profound change in the world should be clear. We either change, or we go under.

But what can you, today's young generation, do to create the required change?

The answer to this question is straightforward as well. You need to take to heart two wise sayings, by two of the wisest people who ever lived on this planet. Albert Einstein said, you can't solve a problem with the kind of consciousness that gave rise to the problem. And Mahatma Gandhi said, be the change you want to see in the world.

Take Einstein's insight first. You need to develop a new consciousness, adopt new thinking. This means not just acquiring more data, more information, mere additions to the current kinds of knowledge. It means new knowledge, a new way of thinking. Some call it a new paradigm.

The new paradigm is in active development. It is variously called the holistic paradigm, the integral mode of thinking, or the systemic view of the world. Its main and decisive feature is that it doesn't fragment the world in order to understand it. It doesn't reduce the diversity we experience to one or two factors for the convenience of analyzing it. The "analytic approach" can provide sound technical knowledge, but not true understanding. It's the knowledge of the specialist, who knows more and more about less and less. Specialized knowledge, the knowledge of the technician, while good for specific applications, fails when it comes to coping with the whole in which that application occurs. It cures the illness, but loses the patient.

The knowledge of mainstream society is fragmented, and it is not only fundamentally incomplete, it is fundamentally misleading. Things in the world are not separate, independent of one another. As cutting edge scientists now realize, all things in nature are connected; and in the final count all things are what they are because of and through their connections.

Sound knowledge takes into account the connections. It perceives the forest and not only the trees. Trees are an organic part of the forest, and you cannot truly know a single tree in the absence of having an idea of the forest in which that tree is growing.

We live in an organic world, and our knowledge must be organic: whole and integral. Such knowledge is available. It is the knowledge you need to live up to the challenge of consciously changing today's unsustainable, moribund world into a sustainable and viable world.

Consider next Gandhi's advice. Why is it important to "be" the change you want to see in the world? Is changing yourself the way to consciously change the world around you?

The answer is that it is indeed. In a critically unstable system even small "fluctuations" can provoke major transformations. You have heard of the "butterfly effect." The popular story is that when a monarch butterfly flaps its wings in Southern California a storm develops in Outer Mongolia. The tiny air current created by the butterfly grows and grows, until it changes the pattern of weather on the other side of the globe. This is entirely possible, although the actual origin of the term is different. It refers to the shape of the "chaotic attractor" that meteorologist Edward Lorenz discovered in the 1960s when he tried to model the world's weather. This attractor, a mathematically generated modeling device, has two "wings" where each wing models one path in the evolution of the world's weather. Lorenz found that even tiny alterations in the factors that influence the weather can make for a sudden, and initially unpredictable, shift from one of the wings of the "butterfly" to the other—from one global weather-pattern to another.

A chaotic system—and the world's weather is such a system—is supersensitive and inherently unpredictable. But not only the world's weather is chaotic: so is the world's economy, the world's financial system, and the world's natural environment. All these systems have now been pushed to the edge of chaos, and as a result they have all become supersensitive. Butterfly effects are coming about in them.

You, the next generation of people in our chaotic times to grow into adulthood and into adult responsibility, are precisely positioned to be the butterflies that create the crucial effect.

The bottom line is this. The world needs timely and effective change: a global shift. You and your peers in the new generation are uniquely positioned to bring about this shift.

The book edited by Fondazione Cogeme is an essential resource in guiding the aspirations of young people, and of all people who are willing and able to change. Based on the wisdom contained in the Earth Charter and in various related United Nations and independently published documents, it points out that the new world can only be an intercultural world, based on the diversity of religions, social and political systems, and cultures. It tells us that we need to strive above all for a global citizenship, and that this means creating a system of education by which young people can access the information and the knowledge they need to become effective global citizens. This is precisely the objective I have been pursuing these last several decades, first as founder of the Club of Budapest, and then as Chancellor of the Giordano Bruno Globalshift University.

The message of this book is a crucial message. It should be read, shared, and acted upon by every thinking and responsible person in Italy, in Europe, and throughout the world.

Ervin Laszlo — February 2012 Learning Center ↵ Back to Top ↑