Friday, May 28, 2010

Duck and Cover – Your Desk Will Save You

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that a bunch of toxins in the air, water, food supply and earth are adversely impacting life on a geospatial and species level. Let us further assume that, through resolute actions, humanity could do something about it. And finally, let us assume that there’s a linear sense of time in most peoples’ heads where failure to animate will lead to considerable adversity and death. These arguments, stated with varying degrees of hyperbole and passion, were constant companions at the Brasil 2020 Climate Leadership Campaign meeting in Praia do Forte, Bahia, Brazil. Rivers will dry. The Amazon will become a savanna. Polar caps will be doffed favoring a balmy, tropical look. Over one billion people will become refugees from flooded coastlines. The apocalypse of our consumption will consume us and we will die. People need to know this so that they do something…

So what are we going to do? How are we going to respond?

Stop. When was the last time that this sales pitch led to change? I’m not talking about the infinitesimal half-life change of post conference resolutions where you go and pump the tires of your bike and promise that, the next sunny day, you’ll ride it. I’m not talking about the New Year’s resolution in which exercise and moderation are going to ready your bulging frame for the summer’s sun. And I’m not talking about the change which, like the cigarette or drug addictions, are pushed towards eradication through taxes and criminalization (neither of which effectuate systemic change).

Here’s one scenario. We could convene a conference. In the conference, we could bring together activists, some of whom are already convinced that we’re probably already doomed. We could make sure the conference is at a comfortable, adequate distance from an airport to insure that we can discuss changing consumption in air conditioned bliss while we avoid any contact with the tropical sun and the annoying, incessant distraction of waves and wind. We could find sponsors for our budget in companies who persist in increases in production for consumption – but want to do it cleaner. And then, we could have honest dialogue about the fact that over-consumption is killing us. And then, we could puzzle over why we don’t see change. But, no worries, we can convene another conference to celebrate our macabre fascination with the closer we get to falling into the abyss of our own delusional creations.

Alternatively, we could take the same group of passionate activists and actually DO SOMETHING. We could have them spend a week in a school interacting with children and parents on equipping them with tools to see value in energy efficiency (like Tom Feegel’s “Green My Parents” program and Isaac Edington’s Instituto EcoD). We could take a group of companies and audit their current energy utilization showing them public domain, established technologies which would greatly reduce their effluent (like Jigar Shah’s Carbon War Room). We could spend three days in the favelas and then see how much we long for running water, water heaters, fans, air conditioners and other energy consumers to which our Edison / Westinghouse addiction blinds us. We could, actually take action which would allow us the humility to see that it is us that persists in behaviors that we have no interest in changing.

Or we could look fear and apocalypse in the face and surprise it by providing it no quarter. As a kid in Southern California, I remember the civil defense drills in school where Mr. Kirkland, a Korean War veteran, taught us to be prepared for a Soviet nuclear attack by crawling under our desks and holding our clasped hands over our neck to avoid flying glass. I remember our earthquake drills where we’d go out on the playground and watch as “the big one” opened a crack imperceptibly wider in the blacktop confirming that we really were going to fall into the sea. Civil defense 40 years ago gave rise to a population of 300 million who acquiesce to a Department of Homeland Security and to a President for Change who persists in a war to rid the world of a threat of terror. A desk won’t block nuclear fallout. Watching cracks in blacktop won’t keep California from keeping its date with the sea. And the weapons we use to defend ourselves from terror one day will be used by those we’ve armed against us. If we are going to defuse fear, we’re going to have to choose a path based on its attraction, not based on a reflexive response to apocalyptic prophecies.

How about this? What if we start an enterprise embodying 100% of the principles which we’d like to see in a world worth saving? That enterprise could take on several characteristics which are corollaries to last week’s post.

Rather than focusing on the ARTIFACT of production or consumption, we could facilitate manifesting the ESSENCE of a thing. Rather than chasing the planned obsolescence of the “next” whatever, we could facilitate time limited experiences in which EXPERIENCE is valued over ACQUISITION.

Rather than seeing ourselves as the arbiters of value when we manipulate a RESOURCE for refinement or manufacture, we could actually focus on minimal state UTILIZATION. Using one of the examples from a few weeks ago, create appliances which are energized with SAME STATE ENERGY – heat for heat, pressure for cooling or animation, light for luminescence, fluid dynamics of water and wind for movement, etc. By rewarding “same state energy” engineering, carbon dioxide would rapidly become as inert as the Soviet threat.

You see, I’m not advocating for an indigenous hunter gatherer subsistence. To the contrary, I’m proposing true innovation in which we emancipate creativity to be, well, creative. Rather than imposing constraints that make things fit into the “grid” – our matrix of self- and species destruction – let’s engage in radical experiments that put all assumptions up for consideration. Our enterprises require no corporate protection from liability as we embrace trusteeship and accountability. Our value exchanges can trade multi-dimensional credits and debits. By learning from our neighboring life, we can photosynthesize. By understanding schooling fish and migrating birds, we can expand our sensitivity to energy fields. By looking into our own physiology, we can awaken the intelligence that chooses to live and signals the conditions of expiration. This is going to be really cool, high tech, stuff. It’s going to radically change our experience as humans on this Earth.

And, are you ready for this. If we’re really up against a carbon dioxide, 2012 Mayan Calendar, White Rider with fiery swords, Armageddon, we’ll hop in our photosynthetic amphibious biosphere with our neighbors, roll into the raging sea and have a front row seat for the sunrise on the day after this mess ended.

Kevin summed it up nicely in his impassioned statement, “We’ve had enough conferences – I’m done with conferences. What we need to understand is why we don’t actually implement what we say we desire.” Kevin, let’s start now. Rather than another trip through the looking glass chasing the illusive rabbit in Wonderland, let’s actually build a human experience worthy of this place we call home. And once built, let’s learn, share our experiences, and build another. And one last note. Jigar Shah described his “Creating Climate Wealth” conference innovation where those in attendance were those passionately committed to doing rather than talking. He described a venue where design and engineering using the assembled intelligence and experience was the convening impulse. I look forward to exercising this convening model and seeing communities of action formed to create possibility. I hope the next one is held outside at the location calculated to require the least movement of the most people for the greatest impact…

... now off to Mongolia so stay tuned

1 comment:

  1. If our citizens really want to make a difference, we first need to admit that as individual consumers we are able to make a difference. We need to understand and accept that changing our behavior of consumption will directly impact our environment. As consumers, we are more likely to want/expect other people/entities to change their behavior and accept responsibility for the environmental health of our planet than to accept this responsibility individually. When confronted with our own behavior of consumption, most will defend the inability or resistance to personal change, challenging the necessity and/or the value or claiming the slipper sloap of change leading to spartan cave dwelling. In summation, as long as our citizens do not represent change by their consumption demands, the market will continue to supply the demand. Thanks, Guy


Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave