A New Story for New Times

By Nelson Stover

The Climate Change Conference in Paris highlighted the widespread awareness of humanity’s intensified relationship to the environment. For many at the local level, the question was “what can I do?”  While practical actions are required relative to energy usage and resource consumption, a much deeper and more pervasive response involves the overall image that individuals and societies have about their place on the Planet.

One writer who sheds light on this issue is “Earth Scholar” Thomas Berry (1914-2009). The single most illuminating phrase in his published writings may well be his insight that: “The historical mission of our times is to reinvent the human – at the species level, with critical reflection, within the community of life-systems, in a time-developmental context, by means of story and shared dream experience.” 

This challenging task outlined by Thomas in The Great Work sets the climate change discussion in the largest possible context. It calls for a response at the most fundamental level, the realm of humans’ self-understanding of their place and role on the planet and in the cosmos. To reinvent the human at the species level, a new set of stories, songs and images is required. They must spell out the 14 billion-year emergence of the cosmos and point to the human species’ role as the essential mode of reflection for the planet. Such a story would inform daily actions and provides meaning and significance to individual and societal endeavors toward building mutually enhancing relationships between the human and non-human realms.

In his book, Thomas describes, in detail, the complex forces that have brought human civilization into the unique position of actively participating in shaping the entire future of the planet. Civilization’s current situation is filled with immense opportunities, fraught with unforeseen dangers and requires an in-depth reconsideration of the values, understandings and assumptions that have carried the human species up to this point. By outlining types of changes required by the major institutions that shape human society, Thomas provides the seeds for individuals and groups to chart their personal and collective ways into the ever-emerging future.

Emerging Ecology (, an ICAI associate member based in Greensboro, North Carolina, the US, has produced a study guide on The Great Work for groups looking for fresh ways to understand how to respond appropriately to the challenges of the 21st Century. It is available at  Those who need help using or accessing the materials can contact

Emerging Ecology strives to develop and promote a worldview that fosters creative action at the grassroots level through contextual programs, artistic presentations and collaborative efforts. People interested in working with Emerging Ecology can like our Facebook page – or follow our newly established blog at  Additional downloadable resources are available on our website.

Nelson Stover is president of Emerging Ecology’s board of directors

This article first appeared in our December 2015 issue

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