Hi, I’m Espen. I explore, communicate, and work on ways we may ensure a thriving future for all life.
Former co-founder and president of the communications research nonprofit Andre Tanker and with an educational background in cognitive and cultural science—now immersed in an attempt to make sense of and meaningfully act on the complex challenges facing Earth and its inhabitants. In particular, I deal with the necessary and urgent deep shift towards human cultures characterized by truly sustainable worldviews and practices.
Want to learn more about my current perspective? Explore it here.
Effects of climate change, species extinction, increasing global inequality, rising waves of fundamentalism and polarization. The list goes on.
We’re currently living through intensifying collapse dynamics in human society and beyond; the surface manifestations of several converging crises with a core set of underlying drivers. These drivers are essentially of a cultural kind and consist not least of all-pervasive principles of separation and unilateral value extraction that over millennia have become increasingly entrenched as the narratives and practices that make up dominant human culture. As such, these are principles that have thoroughly affected how we understand ourselves as human beings, how we relate to each other and our surroundings, and how we act on that understanding.
The unsustainable quality of this non-systemic worldview that is inherently resistant to factor in the stability of the larger whole in which it operates becomes particularly evident when taking into account the explosive growth in technological capability and that, for the first time in history, we’re living in a truly global and quite brittle civilizational setup.
While the beginning large-scale effects of our way of life have been noticeable for quite some time, any real alternative to the deeper setup remains pretty much invisible to most people, meaning, for example, that there’s a tendency to approach even the challenges of, say, climate breakdown with the same old separation-based mindset that helped create the problem in the first place. This, it seems, often amounts to symptomatic treatment, which may postpone some unfortunate effects of the situation, but not, by itself at least, propel the deep cultural transformation that might be necessary in order to create some degree of long-term stability and flourishing.
In short, we’ve come to a place where a set of basic design flaws of the human experiment have guided us to a pretty obvious conclusion. It may not be hyperbolic to suggest that mentioned interrelated crises are now in a runaway state and that not so far-fetched scenarios include breakdown of entire societies and even the existential-level risk such as the bleak prospect of human extinction.
At any rate and almost no matter how you look at this, it’s becoming hard to argue against the idea that we’re immersed in the challenging effects of what could be considered planetary-scale collapse dynamics, the future trajectories of which are to some degree out of our hands.
Difficult as we’ve made it for ourselves, the situation perhaps just emphasizes that it’s high time to question our deepest assumptions and act with great ambition. So, while in some ways it might now be less about avoiding collapse and more about adapting to it, the overarching quality of a meaningful path forward remains the same. In order to secure the future thriving of both the biosphere at large and humanity in particular, there’s an urgent need for a significant collective step in a direction that challenges some of our most deeply held beliefs.
Central to the responsibility and ambitious work we must now take upon us, I’d suggest, is to live into a new story about what it means to be human; the establishment of a mature worldview that acknowledges the complex and intimate relations between all life—human and non-human alike—and the life-supporting systems of Earth.
Letting go of any monolithic belief in separation and reductionism, this cultivation of a systemic, regenerative consciousness is an integral part of our broader mandate to take a global and long-term perspective toward the intentional design of more appropriate cultural practices. Practices that let us reintegrate into the life systems we emerge from and depend on, contributing from there as participants, co-creators, responsible stewards, not masters, in loving and learning relation that builds capacity for qualitative growth. While accepting the inherent unpredictability of our complex world, designing for human impact to support already existing natural tendencies towards whole systems wealth and health will heighten the chances that future generations of life, including humans, may thrive on abundance in a richer world.
Based in part on my university studies, concerned not least with the cultural and cognitive dimensions of social movement framing, and my professional experience from the communications world, my own journey towards dealing with these questions really began in 2014, when I co-founded the nonprofit Andre Tanker (“different thoughts”). Through a collaboration with the US-based think tank FrameWorks Institute, our goal was to develop research-based framing recommendations that would help interest organizations within various issue fields educate the Danish public in order to provide people with the appropriate cognitive models for them to be more likely to act in an evidence-based way on a given societal issue. Say, by pressing for legislation that would prevent crime instead of supporting “quick fix”, “individualist” solutions that would focus on sending more people to jail.
However, while the work was guided by a quasi-systemic perspective, I—along with the other partners—slowly started to realize that what was essentially a silo-and-reform approach to social issues wasn’t usefully coupled to the urgent needs of the real world and the planetary-scale collapse happening around us. We then dissolved the project.
More recently, I’ve begun exploring more directly the need for deep transformational culture change as discussed above. Just in recent history, a significant number of people around the world in each their way have dedicated their lives to channelling the understanding and action related to such ambitious questions head on, and one of my main entry points to this kind of thinking has been the inspiring work of contemporaries such as, for example, Joe Brewer, Daniel Christian Wahl, and Daniel Schmachtenberger.
Drawing from a broad body of knowledge, spanning everything from contemporary systems thinking to ancient, but far from outdated indigenous wisdom, these and other visionaries, synthesizers, and weavers are developing more or less overlapping perspectives concerning change in the deep structures of our cultural fabric; a transformation of the innermost core of the reality we live by. Perspectives and conceptual frameworks that are also mirrored in attempts at practical initiative.
Now, while this deep transformative change toward regenerative human practices must ideally be birthed from all corners of society and happen at all scales, as hinted at earlier, mainstream societal institutions and practices, including even approaches to the existential challenges we face, are often severely entrenched in the old, degenerative paradigm. One pretty obvious consequence of this is that any ambitious attempt to change basic tenets of that paradigm will be met with great friction. As such, we can’t expect this to happen in any meaningful way through those institutions and frameworks—by themselves, at least. So, to get to that level of transformational change at also the concrete, pratical level, in my eyes we at least need additional forms of action that essentially live at the border of or beyond the existing system.
While a lot can be said about the phenomenon, the kind of disruptive public mobilization we’ve lately witnessed in the context of particularly climate breakdown and species extinction could prove a central part of the total equation in that it may provoke greater general awareness and even help open up “spaces of emergence” within the existing structures, e.g. in the political arena, where slightly altered perceptions lead to cascading effects of concrete change of practice. Another fringe approach that appears promising is the kind of bioregional-scale regenerative development that both Brewer and Wahl are exploring. Here, we’re essentially talking the potential for full-fledged, locally manifested instances of regenerative thinking and doing, and prototyping of such concepts are already taking place around the world. Besides being a perhaps useful model for how to approach the globally scalable design of truly sustainable human economies, it’s also something that, even in its early conception, might help create local resilience in what is bound to be a challenging time of transition.
One of my current main interests concerns mentioned worldview dimensions and the question of how to facilitate regenerative consciousness at various scales of existence and across societal sectors; everything from how we set up meta discussion on societal transformation between various stakeholders to educational processes within organizations and entire communities. I here find it potentially crucial to explore narratives of interconnectedness and the popularization of systems thinking in general as something that’s ideally organized not primarily as, say, detached, universal, linguistic “entities”, but instead as organic, contextualized processes that are supported also by, e.g., emotional, social, and physical structures that are conducive to regenerative qualities. Perhaps a consequence of this would be that such future-proof consciousness, even in its conception, could and perhaps necessarily must form part of holistically envisioned local, living, learning ecosystems because living systems learning and practice is, by definition, embedded in context and multimodal.
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