sustainablogging from Greenfest: Paul Hawken Wows the Crowd

paulhawken.jpgActually wrote this post on Saturday, but the wireless connection, and my ability to concentrate, were both a bit spotty last night…

Busy, busy day at the San Francisco Green Festival, but, wow, what a rush! We’re all having a great time meeting people who come to the booth, and making the rounds of other green businesses and organizations that are participating in the festival. One of our team members overheard someone referring to the event as a “hippie convention,” but that’s quite an oversimplification. Rather, Greenfest is a wonderfully diverse mingling of the crunchy, the crusading, and the corporate: activists, deal-makers and thought leaders all gathered together to celebrate the work we’re all doing on different fronts, and to show the world that “green” can mean tie-dyed or tie-wearing…

By having a good-sized team at the festival, we’ve all had the opportunity to get out and enjoy some of the activities going on while keeping the booth staffed. I made sure to put in my request for time away at 1 this afternoon, when Paul Hawken was scheduled to speak. Hawken’s a personal hero of mine, but that’s hardly unique among sustainability advocates: that fact was underscored by the standing room only crowd that had gathered by the time Ryan and I made it over for the talk.

Hawken’s best known for his innovative thinking and writing on green business, but his latest book, Blessed Unrest, explores the many communities and organizations that have formed in recent decades to “rethink what it means to be human,” and to challenge the status quo not only on environmental issues, but also on those related to human rights, social justice and political equality. Hawken describes the growth of such groups as a movement, one that’s gone largely unrecognized by the mainstream media, the political establishment, and even itself. In his talk today, Hawken traced the historical and intellectual roots of such movements, and argued for organic interconnections between environmentalism, the Abolition and civil rights movements, and philosophies of freedom and justice from both Western and Eastern traditions. He compared the outgrowth of such movements to the body’s immune system: the degradation of civil culture and government elicit a response from the body politic that attempts to identify these threats, and react in a manner that preserves the health and integrity of the larger community.

Hawken’s speaking is as engaging as his writing, and various points in the talk drew enthusiastic applause from the audience. That’s no surprise: while Hawken never dances around the environmental challenges we face, he always manages to present options for change that are both practical and inspiring. No doom and gloom here… sober truths, no doubt, but also plenty of reason to remain hopeful… and keep working!

  1. MichaelK

    Have you heard about WiserEarth.org? Paul and his team at the Natural Capital Institute have been working on it in the past 2 years. It’s an online directory and tool for social and environmental justice organizations around the world. It’s a way to connect this movement he’s describing as an immune system reacting against the degradation of society and the environment. Did Paul mention it?

  2. Mark Roest

    (This rather long note comes around, at the end, to the value and potential use of this blogging platform to help save Life on Earth. If you get bogged down in the writing, please jump to the ‘punch line’, which is the last two paragraphs; either way, I hope you will be inspired to contribute to the blogs that will be started here in coming weeks and months. It ties in with Paul’s WiserEarth in multiple places.)

    Paul’s talk was even more inspiring than the last one I heard at Kepler’s Books! Along with his immune system analogy, he said that the sages and teachers for thousands of years have been starting social movements, not religions. And that all of them have had two fundamental things to remind us: the Golden Rule (never do something to anyone else that you wouldn’t want done to you), and All Life Is Sacred! Another way of understanding this is that the experience we call holy or sacred is also the experience that we are all One; that All is One; it is tapping into that Oneness with the Universe. (Uni means One in Latin)

    What Paul does in his talks is bridge from the holy Unity to the actions we can and need to take to protect it. WiserEarth is designed to enable us to find the people who we can work with on the part we are trying to protect. Paul’s message is designed to help us understand that we are all ‘right’ in what we choose to protect; it is essentially that ‘part of the elephant’ that we can see! So, I would add that our Planet, all of humanity, all of Life, and the myriad seen and unseen Universes are ‘the whole elephant’ that we are moved to protect by our experience of love in and with life.

    Paul talked about the immune system of humanity. There is also an idea of a nervous system of humanity, and global consciousness (Tielhard de Chardin’s noosphere, and most mystical and shamanic traditions). This can be practical, as well as ethereal: it is possible to act on it. Paul’s (and now all of ours!) WiserEarth database is just like the classified telephone directory, but it is a powerful tool that we can use to act as both Life’s immune system, identifying threats, and as its pro-active nervous system, enabling us to individually and collectively use all our capacity to act, in a united and powerful way, simultaneously on all of the threats.

    In our own nervous systems we create mental maps of the part of the world that we experience. These maps enable us to find our way and meet the challenges we face individually and as family and community. By talking with each other, we share our mental maps, and empower each other. In order to solve global problems, we need to do the same thing, but the maps are bigger. Google Earth and The Carbon Project are maps and mapping tools. Using them and similar maps and tools, we can share our own knowledge, our internal maps, with others of the Blessed Unrest who we have never seen; and using Wiser Earth, we can find committed groups of people with whom to share in depth, and partner in action.

    We also have the opportunity to go beyond this initial form of global human nervous system. There is a movement of people who build and use tools like Google Earth and The Carbon Project professionally, and who are committed to finding ways to meet the gravest challenges that face us today: global warming, mass extinctions of the Life forms with whom we have shared the planet since before we were ‘human’, human suffering in all its forms, and human hubris and alienation from Life, expressed in war on other humans (and on all forms of life that get within range of our weapons and machines).

    Their way to help the rest of us is to be professional mappers and imagers, so we can see and understand things in a virtual, digital world that are too big, or too spread out, to see all at once in the physical world. This movement came together in June at U.C. Berkeley; over 350 people came to the 5th International Symposium for Digital Earth (check out http://www.isde5.org). One thing that many of them shared was that almost everyone who sees well-done earth imaging understands the information content that it presents — even though they would be totally unable to understand a lecture about it!

    The people in this movement need a common platform to do their work — a Digital Earth Portal, and many of them will help if one gets started. They also need all of our knowledge and awareness of the natural and economic world around us to be shared, and entered into the immense digital maps (called Geographic Information Systems, or GIS) they work with. In this way we can all find the kind of detailed knowledge of what has happened, and what needs to be done, where, that we get about our personal worlds by talking with the people we share them with. Many of these scientists also want to work with the people in communities who are dealing with what has happened to Nature, and what needs to be done, and to share the answers that science has found so that what needs to be done, can be.

    Many of the one or two million groups that Paul writes about, and categorized for WiserEarth, are gathering knowledge and distilling it to wisdom about how to heal our planet and heal our Selves, from hunger, from HIV/AIDS, from poisoning the environment, from isolation. One of these groups, which started as the AIDS Relief Foundation, now works under the name of oneVillage Foundation. It has developed strategies for community-building through sharing stories and nurturing hope, while building sustainable local economies, and for bridging the digital divide through a process we now call the Open Digital Village. Now, oneVillage is working on demonstration programs to see how it all works together, and to show that it does work.

    The key components of these programs are:
    1. Eco-Living Zones – encourage communities to value their agricultural heritage for its intimate relationship to the nature around them and thus to their own health and well-being; to grow diverse, intensive, organic gardens; and to support wildlife and preserve its natural habitat, including wildland corridors that enable animals to move among the resources that they require to thrive.
    2. Open Digital Villages – ensure people in marginalized regions are prepared to compete in the global economy by educating them in the use of computers and the Internet, promoting low cost internet access through wireless local area networks, entrepreneurial training, and an understanding of how to build sustainable businesses;
    3. Back to the Root – travel for social and ecological engagement – create spaces for people to experience and interact with indigenous cultures, and support them in building sustainable economies.

    OneVillage welcomes participation and support for these efforts. Whether it is skill in gardening or health care, technology resources, starting businesses, or donating money or time, the result can be a beacon to the world. We also call for other groups of the Blessed Unrest to join us, and to work with each other, to spread the model, adapting it to local ecologies and cultures, as well as to individuals’ needs and opportunities to maximize their human potential.

    I wrote above that by using WiserEarth, we can find committed groups of people with whom to share in depth, and partner in action. Also, by using Digital Earth, we can learn what we need to know, and share what we know, about how to heal our relationship with the rest of Life, each in our own Places. Now (finally) we come to the role of this blog site!

    Going back full circle, remember that we share our local mental maps with each other by talking with each other, in our families, jobs and communities. A blog site dedicated to sustainability is a place where we can share what we know in detail, and we can focus on exactly what we have in common, and on what we are working on together. By doing this, we bring the richness (and organizing power!) of personal relationships to our partnerships with the people we found in the ‘classifieds’ (WiserEarth), and in the living maps of our larger world (like Google Earth and The Carbon Project, and hopefully soon, in the Digital Earth Portal).

    In other words, we can use this blog space to do a lot of the work of saving our world and what remains of the wonderful diversity of Life for our children and our children’s children for the rest of time.

    Design Earth will be contributing to this blog space. Part of that contribution will be helping to create a system of blog pages for all the different ecosystems of the world we live in, and the cultures we evolved in them over thousands of generations. By communicating within and among these pages, people will be able to truly focus their actions on the places they live in, and the places they love.

    That’s the punch line!

    Ashay’!, and Namaste’.

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