Enabling change in our Society, Environment and Economy (SEE)

A new narrative

three people talking round a table

by Mark Spain, Chair, SEE-Change

Mark Spain says that in order to change our community and environment we need a new way of talking about the world we want. We need a new narrative to plan our collective future. It’s a narrative different from ‘business as usual’. 

SEE-Change is about voluntary community based action – where individuals and families commit to take action in their neighbourhoods and communities. This is a big commitment in a neoliberal (free market) economy where our time is a commodity measured by its capacity to be exchanged for money in the marketplace.

Volunteer Minna, oversees a clothes swap at a community event at the Downer Shops, October 2017.

By volunteering, people are making a decision to donate their time to a common good.

This is an attempt to co-create a new economy. The values driving this new economy are: regeneration, abundance, connection and belonging.

By volunteering, people are making a decision to donate their time to a common good.

SEE-Change provides practical, hopeful pathways to engage with transformation to build a regenerative economy in our homes, local communities, workplaces and across the ACT.

Strategic theme – incubate and connect

In 2016 our focus was to continue strengthening and supporting local groups’ capacity for action, learning and resilience, build and sustain more collaborations and partnerships with other sustainability groups and provide a governance structure and support systems for social entrepreneurs to initiate and sustain change projects in Canberra.

Our plan focuses SEE-Change on two strategic themes of Incubate and Connect.

The need for a new narrative

To incubate and connect we need to be open to new narratives or stories because people don’t hear the answer to questions they don’t ask themselves.

George Monbiot in ‘How do we get out of this mess?’ says we need a new overarching narrative. We need to experiment with new ways of story-telling about our lives and collective future.

Monbiot – How do we get out of this mess?

I would like to explore four ideas for narratives, moving from less bad to good, and  how to initiate deep personal conversations. More on this later.

Four narrative ideas:

  1. Project Drawdown
  2. Doughnut Economics
  3. The Old World Died. Here’s How to Build a New One: Tiny Steps Towards a New Purpose
  4. Pillars of Regenerative Economy – Movement Generation

In a neoliberal world all we can do is make individual choices in our shopping. We can choose to buy less and buy quality items with a low impact. We know this is not enough but we can’t change neoliberalism acting as individuals. We need collective action that creates well-being for all.

We now know that we need a regenerative economy that values people and nature. We can take action and share learning in our community as we move from an old paradigm to a new paradigm. We also need to see more of what is around us as a Commons where a community manages a resource for the common good by devising its own rules, traditions and values.

1. Project drawdown

Project drawdown is the most comprehensive plan to reverse global warming. The goal of humanity is to bring the carbon back home in 30 years. This project bridges the divide between urgency and agency (being able to take action). Editor, Paul Hawken says that climate change is not happening to us it is happening for us.

There are 100 solutions and each solution is modelled over the next 30 years against three scenarios:

  1. Plausible Scenario: the case in which solutions on the Drawdown list are adopted at a realistically vigorous rate, adjusting for estimated economic and population growth.
  2. Drawdown Scenario: the case in which the adoption of solutions is optimized to achieve drawdown by 2050.
  3. Optimum Scenario: the case in which solutions achieve their maximum potential, fully replacing conventional technologies and practices within a limited, competitive market.

The 100 solutions, with costs and savings over 30 years, are able to be grouped into sectors including Electricity GenerationFoodBuildings and CitiesLand UseTransportMaterials

Air-conditioners. Photo: Wikimedia

The top 12 solutions are:

  1. Refrigerant Management (for refrigerators and air-conditioners)
  2. Wind turbines (Onshore)
  3. Reduced Food Waste
  4. Plant-Rich Diet
  5. Tropical Forests
  6. Educating Girls
  7. Family Planning
  8. Solar Farms
  9. Silvopasture (combining grazing animals and forests)
  10. Rooftop Solar
  11. Regenerative Agriculture
  12. Temperate Forests

The goal of the research that informs Project Drawdown is to determine if we can reverse the build-up of atmospheric carbon within 30 years. All solutions modelled are already in place, well understood, analyzed based on peer-reviewed science and are expanding around the world.

Drawdown gives humans agency in taking collective action whereas our current economic paradigm of neoliberalism (free markets) just encourages us as individuals to change our buying habits.

2. Doughnut economics

Dougnhut economics developed by Kate Raworth combines environmental sustainability and social justice. Raworth proposes to replace the last century goal of endless growth with a 21st century goal of thriving in balance.

The new goal is “meeting the needs of all within the means of the planet”. It ensures no one falls short on life’s essentials (from food and housing to healthcare and political voice), while ensuring collectively we do not overshoot our pressure on Earth’s life support systems.

We have to relearn to run an economy that thrives in balance between two rings of a doughnut.

The inner ring represents the social foundation limits where we have to increase the shortfall on: Water, Food, Health, Education, Income and Work, Peace and Justice, Political voice, Social equity, Gender equality, Housing, Networks, Energy.

The outer ring represents the ecological ceiling where we have to pull back the overshoots: Climate change, Ocean acidification, Chemical pollution, Nitrogen and phosphorous loading, Freshwater withdrawals, Land conversion, Biodiversity loss, Air pollution, Ozone layer depletion.

Between the two rings is a Regenerative and Distributive Economy with a Safe and Just place for humanity.

Doughnut Economics

1min video

3. The Old World Died. Here’s How to Build a New One: Tiny Steps Towards a New Purpose by Umair Haque

 The old social contract isn’t working

The old social contract was designed to maximize Gross Domestic Product. But the price was that it didn’t create enough wellbeing. People’s lives began to feel stuck. Economies were growing while human wellbeing declined.

Next-generation social contracts should target real gains in well-being.

“They should say: here is the well-being people enjoy now. Financial, social, civic, human, natural and so on. The levels of savings, income, trust, happiness, democracy, and so on. They should build a comprehensive picture of human life. And then set concrete, yearly targets to elevate it.”

Next-generation social contracts should reward real innovation.

“Innovation, if the word means anything, is stuff that genuinely elevates our quality of life. That really expands the boundaries of wellbeing. If we target, measure, and strategize for well-being, then we can reward those who create it, too. Instead of merely shovelling bonuses at people who aren’t really contributing much to our societies or companies.”


4. Pillars of Regenerative Economy – Movement Generation

Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project is a US based social movement that inspires and engages in transformative action towards the liberation and restoration of land, labour and culture.

A Strategy Framework for Just Transition

Extractive Economy Regenerative Economy
Worldview Consumerism and Colonial Mindset Caring & Sacredness
Purpose Enclosure of Wealth & Power Ecological & Social Well-being
Governance Militarism Deep Democracy
Resources Extraction Dig, Burn, Dump Regeneration
Work Exploitation Cooperation

This movement advocates to shift economic control to communities and to:

  • Democratize wealth and the workplace
  • Advance ecological restoration
    Drive racial justice and social equity
  • Relocalize most production and consumption
  • Retain and restore cultures and traditions

Movement Generation

And finally,

How to talk with people over a cup of tea about things that are important


  1. Introduce your personal story with one or two formative experiences that shaped the person you are.
  2. Where do you experience a world that is ending/dying, and where do you experience a world that is beginning/wanting to be born?
  3. What do you consider to be the root causes and issues of our current situation?
  4. What do you personally feel is going to happen over the next ten to twenty years?
  5. What would you like to do right now in order to make a difference going forward?

The key message is to focus on well-being of people and the planet as a measure of success.

Which narrative/s will you explore?




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With thanks to our


  • ACT Government Environment and Planning
  • The Association of Independent Schools of the ACT (AISACT)
  • Catholic Education Office (Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn)
  • Education and Training Directorate
  • ACT Government