Some years ago I heard Lynne Twist talk about “changing the dream of the North”. It was an invocation given to her by the Achuar people of the upper Amazon. When I heard this story, it made my spine tingle as I grokked that this intention had powers to embrace my own work.

These last few weeks, it has been the cities in the south – the tropics and the sub-tropics that have grabbed the headline news with the revolutions and rebellions that are ripping across North Africa and the Middle East. I am wondering how the changes that they are experiencing will impact the “dream of the north”?

What is the “dream of the north” anyway?  Is it the old colonial (pre-modern) dream of accessing the rich resources of the south? Is it the related dream of using the massive populations of the south to access these resources and send those raw materials to the north for manufacture and re-distribution to the south? Is it a more modern dream of reaching out to the south and exporting our manual labour jobs so that manufacture itself can be outsourced at low labour rates? Is it the more post-modern dream of offering to the south the knowledge worker professional jobs that they can now fulfil through high-tech communications and IT at low contract fees?

Through this lens, it would appear that the “dream of the north” is one that is largely focused on the economy, with a strong assumption that environmental resources are available to whoever has the economic power.

But when we look at today’s rebellious cities in North Africa and the Middle East, the dreams their citizens are demanding to be changed are social/cultural realities. They are overthrowing autocracies, theocracies and military overlords. And as the conflicts ripple around Gaia’s sub-tropical girth we are witnessing the impacts the social/cultural disruptions are having on the economy (and by extension the environment).

Looking at the human hives of the south – I am now beginning to wonder, if they hold the key to changing the “dream of the north”??  It appears that we are witnessing the great intersecting elements of the sustainability equation – the environment, the economy, the social systems and cultural worldviews – at play in the cities of the south and all the ripple effects they are having on the city dreams of the north. And when the outcomes of all these shifts become more apparent, we may wake up one day to find that the “dream of the north” has been changed by the cities of the south.