November 2015
How Paris Changes Our Work
Berlin's Brandenburg Gate lit up with the French flag in solidarity
(Image courtesy of
It doesn't.

Proximity amplifies the terror. And the fear. I learned that on 9-11.

I agonize as I mourn those lost in Paris, and mourn for their families, their friends and colleagues. I am saddened to consider the now indelible line between what came before and what comes after that horrific evening of Friday the 13th. A fresh scar seared into our collective psyche. They say one man's terrorism is another man's war of independence. I'm not so sure.

Proximity -  and, let's acknowledge, a shared culture - also amplifies the solidarity. The crowd gathered in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin Saturday evening, with that iconic symbol of freedom aglow in the red white and blue stripes of the French flag, communicated that unique solidarity among the Germans and the French. Berlin felt very close to Paris that night as I walked the streets. And the same colors lit up the French Embassy in Copenhagen on Sunday night, a serene setting filled with candles and flowers I happened across on my way to dinner. Again, very moving. It was a privilege and a comfort merely to be present, notwithstanding the visible Uzis serving as a reminder that barbarism has consequences.

Paris of course is the location for the upcoming 21st session of the Congress of the Parties to negotiate a comprehensive climate change treaty. Millions if not billions who represent humanity's best impulses are united and determined to see our leaders find a way to put aside parochial interests and to achieve quantum progress - essential but of course on its own insufficient. The hour is recklessly late.

While the thousands of us from business and civil society who have planned to participate in the multitude of side meetings await direction from officials in Paris, our work must carry on with heightened urgency, unbowed in the face of terror.

No single initiative or even comprehensive treaty will win the real struggle addressing root causes: the struggle to transform our economic system to one that is just and operates within planetary boundaries. We are already transforming - albeit far too slowly - in direct response to the literally millions of initiatives all working in harmony toward the "Common Good."

Economic transition is underway directly in response to the pressures - social, economic, and ecological. That's the way all systems evolve. Events in Paris serve to heighten that pressure. We need to arrest the cancer that manifested in Paris last Friday of course. Above my pay grade, but history holds important lessons for our leaders. More importantly, if we keep our heads clear we can also determine its root cause and deal with it wisely and forthrightly.

This is where the work of systems design comes in. Our work at Capital Institute is part of a larger movement as evidenced by the recently launched  Next System Project. In the human body, cancers result from the failure of our immune system to cleanse ever-present toxins. True health means investing in and healing our immune system, even if we need to sever a threatening tumor in the short run.

To a large degree, the many societal cancers multiplying around us are interconnected, often in ways we fail to understand, and are the result, directly or indirectly, of flawed political economy system design. Severe poverty and hopelessness affecting nearly half the human race in the face of grotesque inequality within the developed world, financial market crashes, and climate change are leading to health and social crises previously unimaginable. In talking about Syria last summer, Thomas Friedman linked climate change to terrorism, and the struggle over limited natural resources...(con't.)     

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