Building a New, Healthier Economy

3EStrategies works to accelerate the transition to a clean economy.  A clean economy supports environmental protection and restoration, energy security, and economic opportunities for people across the income spectrum.

Unlike our current economic system, a clean economy functions like a healthy ecosystem, continually renewing, evolving, and innovating.  It grows without destroying the natural or human capital upon which it depends.  There is no “waste” as all materials are continuously recycled into nutrients for other industries.

In the clean economy electricity will come from low-carbon, renewable resources.  Buildings will be so well-designed they actually generate more electricity than they consume.  Vehicles will be profoundly more efficient and will run on clean, renewable electricity, biofuels, fuel cells, and in the short term natural gas.


In the evolution of a species significant change rarely occurs without significant pressure.  As the environment changes what once might have worked well for a species no longer suits.  That species must then either adapt or risk extinction.

One of the classic textbook examples is the peppered moth.  When parts of Britain became heavily polluted following the Industrial Revolution smoke and soot killed lichens growing on trees and blackened their bark.  The mostly white peppered moths had been well camouflaged when they rested on pale tree trunks but once the tree bark darkened the moths were very conspicuous and were easily picked off by birds.  Rare dark moths, which had been conspicuous before, were now well camouflaged in the black background.  As birds switched from eating mainly dark moths to mainly pale moths, the most common moth color changed from pale to dark.  The moths had evolved.  In a fascinating recent turn of events, as Britain has curbed its smoke and soot pollution, the tree bark has once again lightened and an upsurge in the paler peppered moth is underway.  Evolution is ongoing. 

Somewhat similar to species, complex systems also go through evolutionary processes.  The U.S. energy system is a good example.  Over decades the large electricity grids were built out, massive hydro dams installed in rivers across the west, coal plants were developed, then often displaced, as natural gas became an affordable option.  Now renewables, like wind and solar, are adding to the evolutionary mix. 

This ever-changing energy infrastructure is one part of an even more complex system – the economy.   Polls show that most Americans tend to view the economy as something vast and beyond our control.  We tend to think of it as a force of nature that cannot be controlled.  But in fact, it is a set of human-made systems that we have designed and redesigned time and time again – sometimes with better outcomes than others. 

Climate change, environmental damage and many aspects of poverty are all symptoms of a faulty economic system, one that measures the wrong things, that does not account for the true costs of activities that damage the environment and people.  Treating climate change or poverty without addressing the structural flaws in the economy is like putting a Band-Aid over a severed limb.  With that treatment plan the patient, this planet, is going to bleed out. 

We need to fundamentally evolve our economy, to keep pace with the current environmental and demographic conditions.   The very good news is, even though you won’t hear much about this in mainstream media, a whole lot of people are working to do just that.  There is in fact a growing global New Economy Movement. 

The New Economy Coalition describes itself as, “a network of organizations imagining and building a future where people, communities, and ecosystems thrive.”  They are working to create deep change in the economy and politics so that a fundamentally new system can take root.  It is a dynamic organization creating and holding a space to address some of the most important issues of our time. 

A very exciting and hopeful development in the New Economy Movement is the Next System Project which is focusing directly on the systemic challenges the United States is now facing and working to create a vision and tools for building a system better suited to meet those challenges. 

One of the most unlikely, but certainly influential, leaders to step into the new economy space is Pope Francis.  His recently released encyclical on climate and the environment was expected to be an address of climate change but actually went deeper, addressing the root issue of an economic system that is fundamentally flawed and unsustainable.  Here are just two excerpts:

 Today, in view of the common good, there is urgent need for politics and economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life. Saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, foregoing a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming the entire system, only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system, a power which has no future and will only give rise to new crises after a slow, costly and only apparent recovery.   The financial crisis of 2007-08 provided an opportunity to develop a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles, and new ways of regulating speculative financial practices and virtual wealth. But the response to the crisis did not include rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world.


 Here too, it should always be kept in mind that “environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits.  The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safe-guarded or promoted by market forces.   Once more we need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals.  Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations?  Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention.

Pope Francis continued tackling these deep issues in a powerful speech at the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Bolivia.  And, just this week, he met with over 60 mayors from cities around the world at a conference at the Vatican titled Modern Slavery and Climate Change: the Commitment of the Cities.  The mayors signed a final declaration stating that, "human-induced climate change is a scientific reality and its effective control is a moral imperative for humanity."  New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said, “The [pope’s] encyclical is not a call to arms.  It is a call to sanity.”  Unfortunately, as reported in US News, not a single Republican mayor attended.

Pope Francis will be addressing Congress this September.  It is expected he will cover these same deep issues.  One can hope, or perhaps in this case, pray, that some of the U.S. officials will actually open their eyes and hearts to his message. 

An edgy pope advocating for action on climate change may be an Act of God, but the economy is not.  It is a human construct.  We created it and have re-created it many, many times, guided its evolution.  It is time to do so again now.  I urge you to join the New Economy Movement.  

Additional suggested reading:

 The End of Capitalism has Begun

 The Gardens of Democracy

 What’s the Economy for Anyway?

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Cylvia is a speaker, writer and teacher of Economic Evolution.  She is an award winning New Economy leader who is known for speaking truth to power.  

She is faculty in the Sustainability Department, College of Agriculture, Oregon State University and is founder and director of The ReThink.    

She is a smart systems thinker who understands and is able to describe the deeper connections between seemingly unrelated issues. She is also the former First Lady of Oregon.


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