The Five Sections in This Post:

Introduction Two Similar “Big Picture” Assessments Previous IPCR Initiative Assessment Documents—and What is Different Now Ways to Maximize Citizen Participation and Solution-Oriented Activity Draft “Table of Contents” for “A Ten Point Assessment of the Most Difficult Challenges of Our Times”


This writer [founder and outreach coordinator of The Interfaith Peacebuilding and Community Revitalization (IPCR) Initiative] is currently in the process of updating his assessment of the most difficult challenges ahead. The current “Table of Contents” for this work-in-progress is included below.

There are many other individuals and organizations who have written about some or many of the challenges listed below; however, the list offered below has its own character. The general idea behind making such a list is that the more people understand about the depth and range of the challenges ahead, the better the chances that the solutions we decide upon will be sufficiently relevant to the task at hand.

There are already many relevant statistics and observations from previous IPCR documents which can support the choices made in the draft Table of Contents below (and this writer has reached “second draft” stage in every section). However, as the final version document could be a useful resource for people trying to feel their way forward in this time of great challenges, this writer is hoping that there might be readers who are willing to contribute ideas, statistics, commentary, and suggestions—so that the final version can be as comprehensive an overview as possible.

There will be ten sections to the final version paper (plus an introduction, concluding comments, and a notes and source references section). Each section will have about five to eight pages of statistics, observations, and commentary. The final version is not meant to be a definitive assessment—which might require book length content. Instead, this paper will be something like a “sample” “ten point assessment”—which has the potential to provide

a) new insights for those people who have already done much “big picture” research b) enough content for many people already interested in “big picture” analysis and commentary to become more confirmed in the realization that there are “many danger signs flashing now” c) a starting point for people or organizations who believe that such assessments are helpful to re-framing public discourse, and who may create their own “ten point assessment” d) a resource for local community organizations who are preparing questionnaires as a preliminary to a Community Visioning Initiative (more on this below)

Two Similar “Big Picture” Assessments

Two examples are provided here of other individuals and organizations who have provided similar “big picture” assessments. These examples will help readers of this post who are not already familiar with such assessments understand that many other people have come to similar conclusions. This writer believes that more and more people are coming to the realization that overcoming the challenges of our times will require problem solving on a scale most of us have never known before—and that there is an urgent need to restructure our economic systems and our education systems to respond to these challenges.

1) From the preamble to a 116 page “Ecovillage Design Curriculum”-- the free 161 page “Ecovillage Design Curriculum” document can be downloaded from the Gaia Education website (from the section “Publications”) (specifically at )

“We live in a rapidly changing world that is transforming before our very eyes. Humanity is now being challenged as never before to grow in wisdom, maturity, and understanding. A plethora of deep and pressing concerns is calling for our immediate attention, concerns such as: Earth's environmental degradation, including the loss of precious topsoil and forest cover, the encroachment of deserts, the depletion of fisheries and aquifers, the loss of habitat and the extinction of species, etc.; the glaring and increasing disparity between rich and poor leading to exploitation, poverty, and the associated regimen of malnutrition and over-population; the disintegration of families, communities, even entire cultures; unrestrained urbanization resulting in social alienation, displacement, and feelings of disconnection with the natural world; the dimming of a sense of spiritual awareness and purpose; global warming and ozone depletion; etc. And now, looming on the horizon is “peak oil,” with its coming adjustments and retrofits, including the probability of ongoing conflict over access to the remaining energy reserves.

“All of these problems are quite real and, by now, well-documented; but gaining awareness of the extent of the problems is only half the project of becoming educated these days.

“Amidst these intense challenges, and largely catalyzed by them, lies the prospect for tremendous growth in human potential and consciousness. People and communities all over the globe are coming together to reclaim responsibility for creating their own living situations – at local and regional levels. In the process, they are overcoming prior limitations and developing new talents, skills, knowledge and approaches. Paradoxically, many of the most innovative solutions rely on a timeless, perennial kind of wisdom that seems to have been disregarded recently. The potential for a refreshed, renewed, revitalized humanity goes hand-in-hand with meeting the challenges of our present Age.

2) From “World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse” by Lester R. Brown Earth Policy Institute W.W. Norton and Company New York 2011 Accessible for free at the website of the Earth Policy Institute (see ) (Confirmed July 6, 2011)

“Food price stability now depends on a record or near record world grain harvest every year. And climate change is not the only threat to food security. Spreading water shortages are also a huge, and perhaps even more imminent, threat to food security and political stability. Water-based “food bubbles” that artificially inflate grain production by depleting aquifers are starting to burst, and as they do, irrigation-based harvests are shrinking. The first food bubble to burst is in Saudi Arabia, where the depletion of its fossil aquifer is virtually eliminating its 3- million-ton wheat harvest. And there are at least another 17 countries with food bubbles based on overpumping.” (p. 13-14)

“Further complicating our future, the world may be reaching peak water at more or less the same time that it hits peak oil. Fatih Birol, chief economist with the International Energy Agency, has said, “We should leave oil before it leaves us.” I agree. If we can phase out the use of oil quickly enough to stabilize climate, it will also facilitate an orderly, managed transition to a carbon-free renewable energy economy. Otherwise we face intensifying competition among countries for dwindling oil supplies and continued vulnerability to soaring oil prices.” (p. 14-15)

“Once the world reaches peak oil and peak water, continuing population growth would mean a rapid drop in the per capita supply of both.” (p. 15)

“We are facing issues of near-overwhelming complexity and unprecedented urgency.” (p. 15)

“Among other things, the situation in which we find ourselves pushes us to redefine security in twenty-first century terms. The time when military forces were the prime threat to security has faded into the past. The threats now are climate volatility, spreading water shortages, continuing population growth, spreading hunger, and failing states.” (p. 15)

(from Press Release for “World on the Edge”, at ) (Confirmed July 6, 2011)

“The new reality,” says Brown, “is that the world is only one poor harvest away from chaos. It is time to redefine security. The principal threats to our future are no longer armed aggression but instead climate change, population growth, water shortages, spreading hunger, and failing states. What we now need is a mobilization to reverse these trends on the scale and urgency of the U.S. mobilization for World War II. The challenge is to quickly reduce carbon emissions, stabilize population, and restore the economy’s soils, aquifers, forests, and other natural support systems. This requires not only a redefining of security but a corresponding reallocation of fiscal resources from military budgets to budgets for climate stabilization, population stabilization, water conservation, and other new threats to security.”

Previous IPCR Initiative Assessment Documents—and What is Different Now

There have been three documents from The Interfaith Peacebuilding and Community Revitalization (IPCR) Initiative which either had the goal of providing as an assessement of the most difficult challenges of our times, or included a section which was an assessment….

1) “An Assessment of the Most Difficult Challenges of Our Times” (30 pages) (September, 2007)—provided a ten point list. However, the evidence provided to support what was included on the list was not organized into categories. Useful as a compilation of source material, and for suggesting that there were very significant challenges ahead. 2) “The IPCR Workshop Primer” (428 pages) (February, 2010)—the title of Section 3 of this “Workshop Primer” is “An Assessment of the Most Difficult Challenges of Our Times” and is 18 pages long. The structure in that section was to provide two lists, and include extensive footnotes. 3) “Recalibrating Our Moral Compasses” (29 pages) (April, 2011)—begins with a section titled “Definitions and Premises”, meant to offer a sample “moral compass”. That “Definitions and Premises” section was provided to suggest that we will need to recalibrate our moral compasses to “something” which will be sufficient to overcome the challenges represented by the statistics and observations which make up the rest of the paper.

This writer’s ten point assessment of the most difficult challenges of our times has not changed much from 2007. However, the degree of danger associated with failing to sufficiently respond to such challenges is changing—and mostly towards a higher degree of danger.

Ways to Maximize Citizen Participation and Solution-Oriented Activity

Since (as this writer believes) a significant degree of consensus will be needed to resolve the most complex challenges we—collectively—face; there needs to be ways to maximize citizen participation and solution-oriented activity. The IPCR Initiative has given much attention to this need, and there are two four page introductions to the IPCR Initiative which are recommended here: “A Four Page Summary of The IPCR Initiative” ( (also attached to this post) and “The IPCR Initiative and Community Visioning Initiatives: How to Grow Consensus for a Community Narrative—Organically”( (also attached to this post). By processes outlined in those papers, and explored in more depth in other IPCR documents, people can—as they did in the United States at the beginning of World War II—decide to deliberately channel the way they “invest” their time, energy, and money so that these “investments” are in many ways supportive of solution-oriented activity. Yes, most of the challenges in this “Ten Point Assessment….” are very complex, and thus it will be best if people making decisions at the local community level sift through some of the evidence. But their motive for sifting through some of the evidence need not be understood as part of studying for a Ph.D on the subject, and as part of deciding how to “vote” for a particular candidate in elections. From this writer’s point of view, it would be best if their motive was so they can make informed decisions regarding how they invest their time, energy, and money in the everyday circumstances of their daily lives.

Becoming informed in this way needs to be very affordable. (Ex: The IPCR Initiative offers workshops at the rate of $100 for a 2 hour workshop, with 5-15 people as the recommended number of participants for the workshops, and a sliding scale as follows: if there are 5 participants for a 2 hour workshop, the cost would be $20 for each participant; if there are 15 participants for a 3 hour workshop, the cost would be $10 for each participant. See the “Workshops” section of The IPCR Initiative website for more information). Leaders can and should encourage people, neighborhoods, and communities to share resources, and help each other learn. “Community Teaching and Learning Centers” can offer resources and inexpensive workshops… and then during a Community Visioning Initiative such centers can be meeting places where people “vote” to identify challenges, prioritize challenges, identify solutions, prioritize solutions, and decide on local community specific action plans. Questionnaires circulated to 150 key leaders in the first phase of preparing for a Community Visioning Initiative (and a public posting of results) will help residents appreciate the need for the Community Visioning Initiative, for many “Community Teaching and Learning Centers”—and the need for residents to participate as much as they can. People who participate in Community Visioning Initiatives and who make good use of “Community Teaching and Learning Centers” will discover that there are countless numbers of local specific ways to respond to the challenges in this “Ten Point Assessment….”

Draft “Table of Contents” for “A Ten Point Assessment of the Most Difficult Challenges of Our Times”

Table of Contents


  1. Global warming and reducing carbon emissions

  2. “Cultures” of violence, greed, corruption, and overindulgence—which have become so common that many of us accept such as inevitable; which are a significant part of the current crises of confidence in financial markets; and which are in many ways slowing the restructuring of investment priorities needed to respond to an increasing number of other critical challenge.

  3. The end of the era of “cheap energy” (particularly in reference to “peak oil”)

  4. The increasing world population and its implications relating to widespread resource depletion (with special focus on the increasing number of people who are consuming material goods and ecological resources indiscriminately

  5. The depletion of many of the world’s key resources: water, timber, fish, fertile soil, coral reefs; and the expected extinction of 50% of the world’s species

  6. Current trends indicate that we are creating more and more “urban agglomerations” (cities with a population of more than 1 million people—more than 400), which require more and more complex and energy intensive infrastructures, where it is more and more difficult to trace the consequences of our individuals investments of time, energy, and money—and which are the least appropriate models when it comes to implementing resolutions to many of the other challenges in this ten point assessment

  7. The U.S. and many other countries will enter the next 15 to 20 years burdened by substantial public debt, possibly leading to higher interest rates, higher taxes, and tighter credit

  8. A marginalization of the treasured wisdom associated with religious, spiritual, and moral traditions

  9. Global inequities and the tragic cycles of malnutrition, disease, and death

  10. Sorting out what are real challenges and what are sound and practical solutions is becoming more and more difficult, as there are now, in most comunities of the world, a multitude of ideas of all kinds coming to the fore in personal, family, community, and cultural life—all at the same time

Concluding Comments

Notes and Source References

[End of Draft Table of Contents] [End of Post]

For a More Peaceful and Sustainable World,

Stefan Pasti, Founder and Outreach Coordinator The IPCR Initiative


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