Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lunar Eclipse

Last weeks lunar eclipse reminded me of the movie Moon and how our corporations of today try to hide the impacts of their profit motives.  In the movie, it is the near future and astronaut Sam Bell works a solitary job on the far side of the moon.  His cooperate employer Lunar Industries is mining the answer to earths energy problems – Helium-3.  As he nears the end of his three-year contract to keep the operations running, he experiences an accident while trying to conduct repairs to the mining equipment.  

Waking up in the sickbay of the moon station, he is confronted by a clone of himself.  Sam and his clone discover that the corporation has stockpiled a multitude of incubating clones each one waiting to be woken in turn to replace the acting clone when their bodies are worn out by the end of their three-year contract.  By simply replacing the workers with clones, the corporation can avoid the high costs of sending new recruits to the moon and the extensive training that would be required to replace them every three years.

The corporations of today may not have reached the levels of unethical behavior portrayed by Lunar Industries, but they are driven by the same motive that fueled it – profit.  Robert Greenleaf understood well the consequences of corporations driven by profit, or money above and beyond that needed to meet their needs.  

In his essay “Spirituality As Leadership” from the book SEEKER AND SERVANT, he wrote, “Another aspect of money that concerns the quest for spirituality as leadership is the problem of those who have more money then their legitimate needs require, thus giving them power over those who have less money than they think they need, including those at or below the poverty level.  The power exists whether they loan the money at interest, invest it for the return of rent or dividends, speculate in some venture, hide it in a mattress, or give it away.

For Greenleaf, the only bottom line that mattered in an organization that practiced servant leadership was his best test of the servant-leader from the essay “The Servant As Leader” in the book SERVANT LEADERSHIP – “Do those served grow as persons?  Do they, while being served become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants.  And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society?  Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?
Where this best test becomes a true test and where our current corporations fail is when you expand the concept of who is served by the organization.  Who is served is not just the shareholders, it is not just the CEO’s, it is not just the management, it is not just the workers, nor is it just the customers of the corporation.  Those that are served needs to include all those who are touched by the consequences of the corporation’s actions and operating principles.        

The key question “what is the effect on the least privileged?” really gets at the need to be aware of who is served and who and what are the impacts. These consequences need to include those from the supply chain, the environmental impacts on the ecosystem and our planet, and the social and cultural impacts on the community. 

It is the complex global nature of today's corporations that makes determining who is served and what the impacts are nearly impossible, which is not an accident.  Avoiding consequences and maximizing profits are the main reasons our corporations of today move operations to areas with low labor costs and lack of environmental regulations.

As we become more aware of the consequences of these motives on our people and our planet, moving corporate operations off earth and to the moon does not seem so far fetched. To avoid an even worse future, it is time to stop cloning the profit driven motive of our corporate world and it is time to stop trying to eclipse their effects with terms like “corporate social responsibility” or “the triple bottom line of profit – people – and planet”.   

Instead, we need to create new models of operation where we can truly be aware of our actions and truly test the resulting servant-leader institutions.  And local production to meet local needs is a key to unmasking the consequences of our production and consumptive driven lives.             

Friday, December 24, 2010

Loving The World

As we come to the end of another year, we naturally tend to reflect on the past, and look for hope for the future.  Looking back at the past year, it reveals much opportunity for growth in our world – we have to find better ways to get along with the people we share our planet with then going to war with them, we have to find better ways to share our material wealth, we have find ways to help the ecosystems that sustain us to thrive, we need to find ways to scale back our obsession with possession and live more simply, more sustainably. 

In his 1970 essay “The Servant As Leader” Robert Greenleaf pointed out that “the only way to change a society (or just make it go) is to produce people, enough people, who will change it (or make it go).  The urgent problems of our day – a senseless war, destruction of the environment, poverty, alienation, discrimination, overpopulation – are here because of human failure, individual failures, one person, one action at a time failures.  (…).  We will recover from this by growing people, one person at a time, people who have the goals, competence, values, and spirit to turn us about.  (…).  But at the base it will be one person and one action at a time because there isn’t anything else to work with.” (Page 72, THE SERVANT LEADER WITHIN ). 

Things haven’t changed much in the forty years since Greenleaf first wrote that essay, and his suggested solution to the problems of his day is also the solution to the problems that remain with us today – we as individuals need to take our individual actions to get the ball rolling.  In his parable “Teacher As Servant”, Greenleaf pointed out what I believe is a key factor for individuals to grasp if they have any hope of being successful in taking the actions that are needed to turn our society towards a better path:  “I can only urge that you ponder those wonderful lines from Hermann Hess (but I cannot tell you where they are in his writing): ‘It is only important to love the world,’ he said, ‘… to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration, and respect.’”  (Page 138, THE SERVANT LEADER WITHIN )

And so as our world make begins another circuit around our Sun,  I would encourage you to reflect on the question and some other thoughts posed by Margaret Wheatley in her book TURNING TO ONE ANOTHER, that can lead us towards becoming more loving toward our world, so that we can take actions to make our society more loving. 

What is the relationship I want with the earth?  Other species don’t have the same challenge as we humans.  They participate with their environment, they watch, they react.  We humans, in contrast, dream, plan, figure things out.  Because we have consciousness, we create our own set of rules rather then submitting to the laws of nature that govern all life.  We use consciousness to try and bend the world to our own purposes.”

“There’s a principle in ecology that nature always has the last word.  And that’s what’s happening now.  We believe waste could just accumulate, but polluted air and poisoned water are teaching us this is not true.  We believed we could grow as large as we dreamed, but the ungovernable nature of huge organizations and the devastated lives of those in mega-cities are teaching us this is not true.  We’ve invested in science to manufacture life to suit ourselves, hoping we might even overcome death, but frightening pandemics and new diseases are teaching us that we live in a web of interconnectedness, and that death is a part of life.”  

“We need to learn how to be good neighbors.  I believe the easiest way to become partners with life is to get outside, to be in nature and let her teach us.  About half of us no longer have this option.  Half the world’s population live in large cities, breathing polluted air, unable to see the stars, never knowing peace or quiet.  I grieve for those of us who cannot know the feel of wild places, the sound of the small stream, the shade of a grove of trees.  But for those of us who still have nature available to us, it is even more important that we get outside.  We need to experience the power and beauty of life on behalf of all humans who no longer can do this themselves.”  

“If we can do these things, we will fall in love with life again.  We will become serious about sustaining life rather than destroying it.”

“We have to take care of everything, because it’s all part of the same thing.”    

A peaceful holiday to all.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


In his essay titled “The Servant As Leader”, Robert Greenleaf spelled out his ideas on a type of leadership that he believed was needed to address the urgent problems of his day – “the disposition to venture into immoral and senseless wars, destruction of the environment, poverty, alienation, discrimination, [and] overpopulation (…).”  Greenleaf’s essay put out a call for servant-leaders to step forward and take on these issues.  He defined the servant-leader as follows.

The servant-leader is servant first (…).  It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.  Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.  That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possession.  For such, it will be a later choice to serve – after leadership is established.  The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types.  Between them are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.  

The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure other peoples highest priority needs are being served.  The best test, and difficult to administer, is this:  Do those served grow as persons?  Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society?  Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?

Forty years have passed since Greenleaf first put out his call, and unfortunately not many servant-leaders have stepped up to face the challenges.  Our world continues to be ravaged by senseless wars, the wealthy get wealthier and the poor poorer, and our world continues to be destroyed at own our hands.  These problems continue to occur just as they did in 1970, “because of human failures, individual failures, one person at a time, one action at a time failures”.  So now, more then ever servant-leaders need to step up and take action, one servant-leader at a time and begin to “Create dangerously”.  

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Post “Black Friday” Thanks

How does thanks-giving relate to leadership?  Being thankful is definitely a key to being a good leader, without this “attitude of gratitude” it becomes to easy to become mired down in wanting more; forgetting that more often then not we have all that we really need.  Satisfying the most important needs is really what leadership is all about, for it is in helping others to meet their own needs that we become more whole ourselves.  I believe that a key to being successful as a leader is to be able to discern what an important need is, and what is a want for more.  

Yesterday was  called “Black Friday”, one of the biggest shopping days of the year.  A day that is really not about meeting needs, but mostly about wanting more.   So how to we remember to be thankful after this day of meeting wants? 

 I came across a few articles that helped remind me what I need to be thankful for. 

An article on Wikipedia discusses the alternative to the “Black Friday” consumption celebration of “Buy Nothing Day.”   For me this is a good reminder that everyday should be about becoming more aware of what it is I buy, and what my motives are for buying it.  Do I buy because I really need something or just because I want to buy something?

An article by Robert Jensen titled "No Thanks to Thanksgiving points out that we often forget about some of the real costs of the pilgrims and other settlers coming to American, namely the genocide of the native peoples that occurred in the aftermath of the first thanksgiving. 

The essay titled “Thanksgiving: A Native American View” by Jacqueline Keeler is a reminder that many native people believe in the importance of giving rather then the concept of selling. She writes, “Among many of our peoples, showing that you can give without holding back is the way to earn respect. Among the Dakota, my father's people, they say, when asked to give, ‘Are we not Dakota and alive?’ It was believed that by giving there would be enough for all -- the exact opposite of the system we live in now, which is based on selling, not giving.

So perhaps it is time to be thankful for our needs being met, to remember atrocities that have been committed in the name of greed, to learn to grow to be more accepting of all people, and to share the gifts that have been bestowed upon us.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Twelve Traditions: Foundations For Community Sustainability.

If we want to create a sustainable society, we have to overcome many dysfunctional practices that dominate our existing organizations.  We will need to create healthy organizations that have new focuses.  A proven model for creating a healthy organization was developed by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).  AA and other Twelve Step groups have a history of demonstrating a power to help their members to become healthier.  They also have a history of sustenance, they have been around for many generations, and most likely they will be around for many more.  Typically, these groups utilize some form of the Twelve Traditions    written by the founding members of AA as operating guidelines for the groups.  Practicing the Traditions keeps the groups healthy and functioning to achieve their purpose, in the same way that the Twelve Steps keep the individual members of the group healthy.

The traditions embody a number of universal concepts that are requirements for any healthy community to embrace.  These concepts include 1 - common good, 2 - deeper meaning, 3 -  inclusiveness, 4 - autonomy, 5 - purpose, 6 - respect, 7 - self-sufficiency, 8 – cooperation, 9 -creativity, 10 - focus, 11 - attraction, and 12 - anonymity.  The Traditions can be refined, combined, or better defined to fit the specific needs of the community, but their core concepts need to be retained for community to be sustained.   What follows is a suggested generic version of the Twelve Traditions that could be used as a starting point for guidelines for any community or organization.  The Traditions described below are based on writings contained in the Alcoholic Anonymous publication Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (PDF Version of the book available here )and the Al-Anon Family Groups publication How Al-Anon Works.
Tradition One:  Our common good should come first; personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity. 

This is the tradition that requires that the purpose of the group needs to come before the individual desires of the group members.  It is about working for the common good.  Diversions often times prevent healthy growth or productivity in organizations. This roadblock to real productivity can come from dominating leaders or members.   The First Tradition reminds us to stay focused on what the group is really about, and to avoid diversions by personal agenda’s.  Private agenda’s may have a place in our personal lives, but when we choose to participate in a community, it needs to be because we believe in the power of working together.  The synergistic power of the group can accomplish exponential results as compared to one-person agendas.  Consensus builds unity.  A clear mission and focus as defined in the Fifth Tradition is required in order to implement this and the other Traditions.    

Second Tradition: We are called to a higher meaning or purpose in life - expressed in our group conscience.  Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.

This tradition could simply say, “We practice servant leadership guided by meaning.”  What makes this Tradition different from many other groups is the focus on being led a higher meaning or purpose, and the freedom individuals have to express what it is they hear their higher calling to be.  What is important is not how you define the source of this calling, but simply that you acknowledge its existence.  This purpose as expressed through the individual members is the group conscious.  All members are equal, junior members and senior members bring equal value to the group; all are capable of expressing wisdom to inspire.  Rotation of leadership roles occurs throughout the membership.  The primary role of leadership is to carry out the group conscience, not to dictate it.  There is no dictator; there is cooperation.     

Tradition Three - The only requirement for membership is a desire to participate in the purpose of the community.

Only an individual member has the authority to decide if that individual will belong to the group.  If the individual wants to belong, they belong.  There are no requirements, credentials, gender limitations, income limitations, ethnicity restrictions, religious preferences, or any other restrictions.  No applications are filled out, no dues are paid, no membership lists are kept, and no attendance is taken.  Participation is equivalent to membership.

Tradition Four:  Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting the community as a whole.

For individuals to achieve autonomy, the groups to which they belong must also be autonomous. Real change in organizations occurs through self-governance, not outside control.  Restrictions, rules, dictations, and governance from outside the community restrict creativity.  Autonomy empowers the individuals that make up a group to speak their mind and participate in the creative process.  This is the tradition that grants freedom of choice to the groups to meet their own needs.  This tradition also links back to the first tradition in that the only time group autonomy is overruled is when the common welfare that guides the whole community is threatened. 

Tradition Five – Each community has but one purpose: to help the members to reach their full potential.

There needs to be clarity about why the group has come together and what it is the group hopes to accomplish. This Tradition is the glue that holds the community together. This is the tradition that reminds us that neglecting those who still suffer is a threat to our own sanity and that the essence of all healing is compassion; compassion of not only others, but also ourselves.  Compassion is about respect, tolerance, and acceptance of ourselves, others, and those who may have wronged us.  Carrying the message of healing to others (who are receptive to hearing it) allows us to hear the message ourselves as we see it reflected in others.  When we help others to reach their potential, we in essence reach our own. 

Tradition Six:  A community ought never endorse, finance, or lend the community name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

Affiliation with outside groups can lead to distraction from the primary purpose of the group.  Staying focused on the goal of the group is what makes accomplishments possible.  Group supports of external organizations can be the downfall of purpose.  It can also be a form of manipulation or control of these outside groups.  Respect for others and focus on the group’s goals are required.           

Tradition Seven:  Every community ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

A self-supporting organization, one that relies on its members for sustenance, will be self-sustaining and self-sufficient.  It will exist as long as its membership exists.  Funding provided from outside the community cannot distract the community from its primary purpose.  The corrupting power of excessive wealth, beyond what is needed to meet essential needs, does not come into play in organizations that practice self-support.  Self-supporting organizations create interdependence amongst the members, not dependence on outside influences. This tradition also goes beyond the monetary aspects of support in that the membership also takes responsibility for the service work that is needed to keep a community functioning.  The members step up to perform duties needed to keep the community intact.  The members are the organization.  

Tradition Eight:  The work of the community should be done by the community, not outside professionals or organizations.  At times special workers may be needed to assist.  
The work of the community is the glue to holds it together and that gives it its meaning.  Therefore, it needs to be done by the community members, not outsiders.  There may be times when specialized knowledge or assistance is needed to help reach the goal of the community, and in these cases it is alright to utilize outside help.  Cooperation is what is needed to form community.   

Tradition Nine:  The community as such, ought never be organized: but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve. 
This is the tradition that prevents the implementation of rules and regulations that restrict creativity and community building, and that place the power of control into the hands of a few.  Instead, the group needs to be empowered to accomplish great things.  Creation from the heart cannot occur with hampering restrictions.  This does not mean there is no guidance or order that guides the group.  The Traditions are examples of guidelines that encourage meaningful creation to occur through nourishing creativity. Dis-organizing is what allows organization to evolve.

Tradition Ten – The community has no opinion on outside issues; hence, the community ought never be drawn into public controversy.

Like Tradition Six, this tradition is designed to avoid diverting attention to issues that are not directly related to the group purpose.  It helps avoid the self-righteousness that can overcome groups that try to take on other issues, or force their views on others outside the organization. And it can help to avoid the trap of symptom chasing - trying to deal with the symptoms of what is wrong with society, rather then helping the community (and the membership) to become all that it can be.  This Tradition requires neutrality on controversial topics like religion and politics; for focusing on these charged issues can alienate those, we hope to serve, and divert us from our common cause.  This does not mean that individual members give up their rights and responsibilities to act on issues or causes that they believe in.  The group does not have the answers for everyone; the path we choose to follow is one that works for us.   

Tradition Eleven – Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather then promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity in the media.     

Organizations need to be able to share what they have to offer.  A successful community does not need to sell itself; its success speaks for it. As the members of the community find meaning through participation in the organization, that meaning reflects in their interactions with others.  No one member of a successful community can speak for the whole organization.  The community is not about one person; it is about the whole.  The failures or actions of one individual acting as a spokesperson for the community can bring down the whole organization.  Charismatic leaders do not build successful organizations; cooperation among the membership does.  

Tradition Twelve – Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

The work produced by the community is important, personal ambitions are not.  Successful organizations outlast the personalities that make them up.  Anonymity is what keeps us humble; it is what keeps us equal; and it is what reminds us who we are.  Giving up personal desires for the common good is the foundation of all the traditions.  Depending on the type of organization, there may also be a need to protect the anonymity of the membership, in order to allow the membership to thrive.   

Sunday, October 31, 2010


“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
Proverbs 29:18 as quoted in SEEKER AND SERVANT by Robert Greenleaf

I have been able to attend a number of conferences recently where the major topic has been the state of the world around us, particularly the natural state of the world.  If you have looked at this state lately, it is not a good one.  The consequences of a warming planet pose serious threats, our water is polluted and in many areas scarce, and the quality of our air makes it dangerous to breath at times, and our world is filling up with more and more people.

I have gone to these conferences hoping to find some good news, some hope for the future, but instead I only learn more about the details of how badly we our treating our planet.  The only hope I heard was that our technology would solve our problems -- that we could all install low flow toilets, or use energy more efficiently via such technological advances as the compact fluorescent light bulb, or that we could all drive hybrid cars.  Unfortunately, I believe it will take much more than simply buying new fangled merchandise to clean up our mess.  

What I finally realized that what was missing from these talks was a hopeful vision for our future.  There seemed to be little if any talk or description for what our world could look like if we decided to treat it with respect, instead of treating it like a limitless garbage dump. We need vision. When I mistakenly shared my disappointment with my wife about the lack of vision in the speakers, she reminded me that perhaps it was me who needed a vision.   

The dictionary defines vision in several ways: “something seen in a dream, trance, or ecstasy; and object of imagination; a manifestation to the senses of something immaterial” to name a few of the more unflattering definitions.  It might be the focus on  that fantasy quality or the un-achievability of the vision that has resulted in our being a very blind society when it comes to describing a future we would like to inhabit.   

At least that has been my experience lately as I view the world through my own cynical eyes.  So after moping around for several weeks, I came across a presentation by Donella Meadows titled ENVISIONING A SUSTAINABLE WORLD.  Her discussion on what keeps us from being a visionary and how to overcome it is a worthwhile read.  

Robert Greenleaf asks in his essay Towards a Gentle RevolutionFar too many of our institutions – and of course, far too many people – are failing to serve at a level that is reasonable and possible for them.  If the main reason for this deficiency in both people and institutions is, as I believe, that they are not inspired by a sufficient vision of greatness, then what is the remedy?

It seems our task for the short-term future is to begin work on coming up with our own vision for the future.    

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


What is now proved was once only imagin’d.  
William Blake,  Proverbs of Hell 

When asked by Jeffrey Brown on the PBS Newshour why he accepted the position as the new United States Poet Laureate, W.S. Merwin responded:   (…) I wanted to talk in an official situation, in a very public place, as public as I'm ever likely to be, about the -- what I think of as the one thing, the one talent, the one gift of human nature that does distinguish us from every other form of life.

And I don't mean intelligence. I'm not sure that we're the most intelligent of species. We use our intelligence differently. Nor am I sure that language is a good definition, because we define language. And, in fact, there are forms of language among all species, or they wouldn't survive, communication.

But I think what does distinguish us -- what distinguishes us really is imagination.

When Brown probed him to speak more on what he meant by imagination Merwin responded:  Yes, the ability to sit here in Arlington and feel distressed by the homeless people in Darfur, or by the starvation of the whales in the Pacific, or by the species that are being snuffed out as we talk, or by the people who are suffering in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Brown summarized his take on this by saying:  And you have to take that sense of imagination and turn it into poetry that connects with people.

We need to use our gift of imagination and our ability to turn that imagination into art.  This creative process will inspire us to find and follow new paths.     

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Leadership in the Biotic Community

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

One of my favorite ecological leaders is Aldo Leopold.     In his classic book A Sand County Almanac, Leopold wrote the essay “The Land Ethic”, . 

The quote above, which comes from the section titled The Outlook, is a powerful guide for how we can operate in an ecological leadership mode.  Failure to follow that ethic is likely the main reason humanity continues to plunder the planet with wars, pollution, and consumption.  Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten that we are indeed simply a part of the “biotic community” and not somehow separated from or perched on top of it.  Leopold also wrote, "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.

It is the separation from the land and the rest of planet that also allows us to separate ourselves from other groups of people and develop hierarchical organizations that are designed to primarily benefit those sitting on the top, and use the people below in the same manner as we have treated the land, namely as a commodity.  It seems that sooner or later when you do not take care of the community that supports you, the support will eventually collapse, and down will come the leader.  At least that is what happens in the biotic community.   

Following Leopold’s land ethic can make what often seem like complex decisions on how to live our lives, relatively simple. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dreams of Children

Drawing by Jordan

Children have much to tell us adults about our world.  They have dreams for a better world, a world where people get along with each other, a world where we appreciate and respect the natural world, and a world of opportunity for everyone.  

At least that seems to be the common theme in essays from third, fourth, and fifth graders from around the Minneapolis-St Paul area published in today’s Star Tribune.  My hope is that we adults can remember these dreams ourselves and make them a reality.  Some edited excerpts from their dreams for the future follow.   
People of all different cultures and religions come together creating a great collage of many colors.  Hope and fear is overcome by joy.  Collaboration is valued, and everyone is an equal contributor.  My children will be able to walk streets with no litter and play on grass that isn't sautéed in chemicals.  Winston

Remember to always help others out and don't be afraid to stand up for what's right.  Mackenzie

Start a new garden. Let's dig some dirt!  Cuyler

Everyone should love each other, and have a house, food, and water. Everyone should be kind to nature.  Ellen

Kids that have special needs will feel accepted. They are just like everybody else. They want to have fun, laugh and be included.  I am proud of who I am.  Sam

Live in community where kids ride bikes without worrying about anything dangerous happening.   Cut down on the use of electronics like TV, phones, computers and video games. This would get more people outside and meeting each other.  Chase

Share your hopes and dreams with others. By doing this we can work together to make our hopes and dreams come true.  Olivia
I want to know the people in my neighborhood. I want to meet new friends. Then I want to help each other.  I want my neighborhood not to be dangerous. Amy

My dream for my community is for there to be less pollution. I really want the environment to be a cleaner and safer place. I wish everybody would be happy and friendly to others and the environment. I also want our community to be more fun. Regan

People should start being more helpful for the planet and other people, too.   Live close to school, ride your bike not a car to school.  Simple things, like caring about other people's worries. You could even smile. That might make their day better.  Hannah

Thursday, October 14, 2010

 The myth of growth has failed us. It has failed the two billion people who still live on less than $2 a day. It has failed the fragile ecological systems on which we depend for survival. It has failed, spectacularly, in its own terms, to provide economic stability and secure people’s livelihoods.”


The United Kingdom’s Sustainable Development Commission  has put out a document that should be on the required reading list of everyone who is interested in what is wrong with our world and how we can make it better. PROSPERITY WITHOUT GROWTH spells out how growth, the driving force behind our economy, is responsible for not only destroying our planet, but also destroying our humanity.  As long as our institutions continue to use our current economic model as the foundations of our policies, sustainability by individuals will remain a fantasy, despite our best intentions.  So click here and download and read what could be one of the most important documents of the decade.  The authors have given me hope that we can find a better way.       

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Climate Misinformation Campaign

I attended a talk last night by Naomi Oreskes, Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and coauthor of the book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.  The talk was titled The Climate Misinformation Campaign that Confused America and was sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and the Will Steger Foundation.

Oreskes was introduced by Minnesota’s famed polar explorer and global warming fighter Will Steger.  Steger talked about how the consequences of global warming are real and happening today.  He focused on what he knows best, the melting ice of Greenland, and reminded the audience that we Americans need to step up to the plate and use the same innovation we used to win World War II and land a man on the moon, to switch over to clean energy like solar, wind, Minnesota grown biofuels, and cellulosic ethanol.  And he reminded the audience that a big reason we aren’t taking on the challenge is because of the campaign of confusion that is cloaking the realities of global warming as uncovered in Oreskes book.   

Oreskes then took the stage and shared with us her five bullet points of what she thinks people need to be aware of about global warming.
  • Global warming is a scientific fact, it is happening, and our nation has been aware of it at least as far back on the Johnson administration in 1965.   
  • Global warming is not caused by changes in the sun.  Only two things are known to create changes in global temperatures, one is changes in solar radiation and the second is changes in greenhouse gases, i.e. carbon dioxide.  If it was the sun causing the increased temperatures as many greenhouse gas skeptics claim, there would be changes in solar radiation levels on the earth, and data indicates the levels have not been changing in the past fifteen years.  There have however been documented increases in carbon dioxide levels.  
  • Global warming is not just a passing fad, the concept of carbon dioxide level increases caused by the burning of fossil fuels raising global temperatures was first theorized in the early 1900’s.  
  • Global warming matters and it matters today.  Meteorological data indicates we are currently experiencing record high and low temperatures, record precipitation levels, and as Will Steger pointed out, melting glaciers.  These effects will affect not only our children or our children’s children, but also us.  And things are going to get worse.  
  • Her final bullet point revolved around the need for people to be aware of why there is so much doubt and so much confusion by so many people about the realities of global warming.  
And with that she lead into a reading of the introduction to her book.  In this reading, she revealed how research they did indicated that some of the same scientists who were employed by the tobacco companies to challenge the science that indicated tobacco smoking caused lung cancer were employed by the anti-global warming lobby to challenge the science of global warming.  The same tactics of lies told by supposedly reputable scientists attacking the reputations of honest scientists helped to put a cloud over the reality of global warming.

She concluded her talk by reading from the conclusion of the book, where she points out why people buy into the sales pitch of the anti-global warming folk.  She told a story about a bunch of people attending a feast.  The people gorged themselves on fancy food and drink and enjoyed their gluttony thoroughly.  Then when the meal was over and the waiter showed up with the bill, the people denied responsibility for paying for the meal.  Our feast has been our run of cheap energy, and our bill is the consequences of global warming.  It is our denial of being responsible for the bill that allows us to deny the realities of global warming.     

With that, Oreskes fielded some questions.  Some of the highlights from her responses follow.

In response to a question about how to respond to an often-heard critique of global warming that we need more data, she responded that all scientific data or knowledge is incomplete, but that does not give us an excuse to ignore what we do know.

A question was posed on what scientists need to do to address the skepticism surrounding global warming.  One suggestion she poised was that scientists often times are caught up in the scientific process, and as a result do a poor job of sharing the knowledge they have learned in that process.  She mentioned that science consists of two parts - one is the research process and the second is the knowledge that is gained by the process.  Scientists need to be able to speak to people in their own language about what they have learned in their research, not explain how much more they need to research, or tell questioners that what they know is too complicated to explain.  

Polling data was presented that indicated that a similar percentage of the public who doubts the reality of global warming also question the reality of evolution.  The question was then asked if there was a relationship between the two groups.  Oreskes indicated that she purposely avoided this topic in her book in order to avoid the criticism that the topic would likely invite.  She shared that on a personal basis, she did have a belief in God, and she could not understand how religious faith could justify anyone to knowingly destroy or harm Creation or portray science as evil or an enemy.

Another question dealt with how to respond to a common claim that global warming is a natural event, similar to previous swings in global temperature swings that have resulted in the coming and going of ice ages in the past.  She responded that these previous natural changes in planet temperatures have occurred over much longer periods of thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of years.  The current human caused global warming changes are occurring over periods of decades or hundreds of years.

Another question was asked on how to respond to the anti-global warming lobby, should they be publicly debated?  She again talked about the importance of focusing on the two parts of science, the scientific process and the knowledge gained parts.  She indicated that lies told by the lobby need to be confronted head on as simply not true and not based on science.  She did not believe that debate worked, that it just plays into the agenda of the lobby.

She also discussed how public opinion is easily swayed.  Polls indicate that the public’s opinion on the topic changes with current events.  Believe in global warming went up after hurricane Katrina, after the recent gulf oil spill, and went down after the recent “global warming-gate” news stories where emails between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientists were used to try and discredit the work of the Panel.  Her hope was that with good science those opinions could be swayed again.

She concluded by answering what can we do about global warming.  Her suggestions were that women play a key role in addressing global warming as they often control the purse strings.  She had drafted an article on the ten things women could do to address global warming, but with editorial critism that she was being sexist, changed it to things people could do.   One thing she suggested was to buy local and brought up an example of a woman who lived in New Hampshire who would drive to Boston once a month to get her hair cut.  She talked about the power consumers have on influencing large corporations, and used the example of Wal-Mart selling organic foods as a result of consumer demands. She also used Minnesota’s Best Buy as an example of a company trying to be more sustainable.

One other suggestion was regarding a question she is asked often about what kind of car people should drive.  Her answer is the same one you are currently driving, as making a new car uses much more energy then what would be saved by getting rid of your old one to buy something more efficient.    

Although Oreskes brought out a lot of good information about why global warming is doubted, I left the talk feeling a bit discouraged.  It seems like so many talks I have attended on this and related topics, the speakers really don’t do a good job of inspiring people to really look at what it is we need to do to address the state of our world.  Her story on the feasters not wanting to pay the bill, could be applied to many of us who really get the idea that global warming or climate change is a real phenomenon, but we want to duck out, jump in our old car, and drive back to our big house.

I am hoping to come across a speaker who can inspire me to take the leap of getting rid of the car, and finding or creating a community where I don’t need to drive, where I don’t need to rely on corporations to sell me organic food – rather we grow it ourselves, and where we don’t use the analogy of going to war as a model to find a peaceful way to coexist with the rest of the planet.  So for now I think I will skip buying her book and keep up the search for inspiration or one of these days stop waiting around and simply inspire myself.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Humane Power

The wind blows across your face, sunshine warms you,  people standing by the road look you in the eyes and say hello,  when you reach your destination you feel like you have accomplished something, and you don't feel obligated to go to the fitness center after work to get some exercise – that was my experience biking to work yesterday in honor of Bike Walk Week.   This type of experience doesn’t just have to happen once a year in honor of a special week, it can happen anytime you leave your car at home and take an opportunity to spend some time outside, using the ultimate clean energy machine – our own bodies – to get to work.  

There a several reasons I don’t use this energy source every day.  The biggest is the time it takes me to make my commute this way, an hour and forty-five minutes or so to cover the 23-mile trip.  The other is the weather, when the temperature drops below 40 degrees, or when it snows or rains, the bike commute brings on some less pleasurable experiences.  These obstacles can be overcome through planning - by finding a place to live closer to work, or to design our communities to locate the places we work near the places we live, and through dressing for the weather.      

So the once or twice a week I decide to give up the bus for the bike, I am reminded what a future might be like when we design our communities for people, and not for cars.  That will be a future where we won’t hear another days worth of news filled with stories on the consequences of failed oil wells contaminating our oceans, the latest death tolls from wars fought to secure oil supplies, or people killed in car accidents on highways filled with traffic.  These humane powered commutes give me hope for our future.   

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Petrochemical Age

In honor of the one year anniversary of the passing  of geologian Thomas Berry from the Earth, I thought I would share some quotes from his book EVENING THOUGHTS.  With the ongoing events related to the oil leaking from the damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico, it seemed appropriated to revisit Berry’s essay “The Petrochemical Age”.

The influence of the petrochemical industry on the human-Earth process is so significant that the period from the end of World War II  until the end of the twentieth century might be designated as the Petrochemical Age.  

In this period, much of the planet, including the land, water, and air, has become toxic due to petrochemicals.

Petroleum is used to make fertilizers and pesticides for the agricultural industry.  It is made into preservatives, varnishes, waxes, solvents, glues, and dyes.  Petroleum is also used in the production of electrical power.  As gasoline it is used in the internal combustion engine to drive our automobiles and power our jet engines.  Petroleum can be spun into fibers to be used in making fabrics for clothing.  (…).  Things as delicate as optical lenses and dentures, as well as machine parts could be made from a petroleum base.  Integrated with fiberglass, plastics could be shaped into boats, automobile bodies, even furniture.

Without the abundance of petroleum and its transformations through chemical processes, our energy systems would be severely diminished.  Our modes of transportation would largely cease.  Agriculture would be profoundly affected.  Our fabrics would be altered in their composition.  The scientific and medical profession would be radically altered.  

The use of this resource in the twenty-first century is such that, within a hundred years or less, some 80 percent of all the petroleum readily available will be exhausted.

(…), learning a way of life independent of petroleum may well be the most urgent issue before the human community at present.

(...), unrestrained commercialism, unlimited technological drive, and unbounded political expediency have been drawn together in the myth of progress that drives industrial societies.  

Nature was a sink assumed to have the infinite ability to absorb and renew any of the refuse of our industrial development.  The ultimate effect not only on nature, but also on human health has been disastrous.

With little concern for these natural processes, we have discovered how to take petroleum and use it for human purposes with insufficient concern for the limited abilities of nature to process the residue of these petrochemical products into natural systems.  Thus the toxins accumulate.

We do not hear the voices – the voices of the surrounding world, the voices of the entire range of natural phenomena.

The problem is how to terminate industrial plundering in such a way that we can go into a completely new sense of how humans should be present to the Earth.

What is available to us is the emerging Ecozoic era, a period of the integral Earth community when humans become present to the powers of the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.  For humans to do this will require that we appreciate and honor the principle that the Earth is primary and that humans are derivative.  In our economics, in our healing, in our legal and political practices, and in our religious sensitivities, we need to recognize the primacy of the earth community.  

A vast new orientation to the universe and to the Earth will be needed to reorient the human community toward a viable future.  

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Snapping Turtles and Gopher Snakes

We need to learn how to be good neighbors.  I believe the easiest way to become partners with life is to get outside, to be in nature and let her teach us.  

(…), we need to feel the power of a storm against our faces, the fury of the wind, the cycles of destruction and creation that are always occurring.  We need to experience sunlight shining off the swamp grasses, to sit with the sunset, to rest under a tree, to go out in the dark and look up at the stars.  If we can do these things, we will fall in love with life again.  We will become serious about sustaining life rather than destroying it.   

If we spent more time outside, letting life teach us, I know we would change our relationship to the earth.  We would remember what it feels like to be part of life, rather than trying to play god with it.  

From: “What is the relationship I want with the earth?”, by Margaret J. Wheatley, in TURNING TO ONE ANOTHER.

I came across two teachers today, a gopher snake and a snapping turtle.  I happened upon them while out for a bike ride this morning.  I decided to take the path least traveled and headed off on a side trail that leads out of the park I normally bike in.  I opted to follow an unpaved cross-country ski trail that meandered through some prairie area and all of a sudden came across the four to five foot long snake, slowly winding its way across my path.  

I stopped my peddling and jumped off my bike to watch the shimmering behemoth for a moment.  As soon as the snake sensed me, it picked up its pace and disappeared into the taller grasses along side the path.  Catching a glimpse of Minnesota’s largest snake was my reward for deciding to get off the pavement.  

Being in somewhat of a hurry to get home, I wound my way back to the paved trail and followed it to the road, which took me to the paved trail that follows Sand Creek.  The Creek valley eventually leads back to my neighborhood where the Creek was long ago confined to ditches that were put in to drain the peat-filled wetlands that used to be my neighborhood.  Peddling along the tree lined path through the valley, I came across a woman, walking her small white dog, who had stopped to observe a large snapping turtle.  

The turtle was likely a female who had come out of the creek to find a place to lay her eggs.  The turtle had pulled its head and legs into its over one foot diameter shell to avoid the woman and her curious dog.  The woman was encouraging her dog to look at the turtle, and obviously wasn’t aware of how the turtle got its name, as she and the dog jumped back when the turtle lunged out at the little dogs nose with its snapping jaws.  Fortunately, for the dog, the turtle missed, and pulled back into its shell, and the woman and her little white dog walked on with the woman reminding her dog to “watch out, he might bite you!”         

What I learned from these encounters, is that nature can be a source of awe and amazement when we get out and spend time in it, and respect it.  When we disrespect it, it has a way of snapping out at us to remind us that it is not simply there for our amusement.  My hope is that our recent encounters with the oil well in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana will remind us that our current lifestyles of consuming oil with little regard for what the impact is on the earth cannot continue.  We have been snapped at, but have we learned anything; or will we simply move on to drill more oil wells to feed our glut for petroleum, continuing to play god in the ocean depths.  

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Good Society

In his essay “Religious Leaders As Seekers And Servants” Robert Greenleaf spells out that “A ‘good’ society is seen as one in which there is widespread faith as trust that encourages and sustains ordinary good people to become constructive influences in the world as it is:  violent, striving, unjust, as well as beautiful, caring, and supportive."  We encourage our children to become the servants of this society when “we encourage good health, protect the environment, and care for the needy, the aged, and the disabled”.

As I see it the key to this is the protecting the environment, for without a healthy environment, all the other tasks become pointless and it is our disregard for the environment that is what allows us to transfer this disregard to the needy, the aged, and the disabled.  In other words, care for the earth needs to be primary for without the earth, we have nothing.  The secondary needs for caring for our fellow human beings will naturally fall into place once we relearn caring for the earth.

So how do we relearn caring for the earth?  The first step is to get outside and spend some time in nature.  To be effective at leading others to care for the earth, leaders need to nurture their own ability to find compassion for the ecosystem that sustains us and our neighbors.  Go outside, plant a garden, take a walk, listen to the birds sing, or open your windows at night and listen to the frogs.

One of the challenges I find in taking this step myself is that I too often experience the violence we reap on the earth.  For example, earlier this evening I observed a young mother spraying herbicide on her lawn while her toddler played next to her,  I breathed in the exhaust fumes from my neighbors riding lawn mower as I sat with my family outside trying eat our supper, and the engine noise from the airplanes flying over head made it difficult to hear the quiet songs of the birds.

But working through the violence, I also watched my neighbor turn off his lawn mower and talk with his new neighbor, I noticed how green the leaves on the trees had become as a result of the recent rain and warm temperatures and  sunshine, and I felt the cooling air blow across my face as the sun set for the evening.  It is experiencing that beauty and compassion that will guide us towards the good society we seek.     

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bridges From Profit

Capitalism as we know it today encompasses the core economic concept of private employers hiring workers to produce products and services that the employers own and then sell with the intention of making a profit.  But it also includes competitive markets, the price mechanism, the modern corporation as its principle institution, the consumer society and the materialistic values that sustain it, and the administrative state activity promoting economic strength and growth for a variety of reasons.  

Inherent in the dynamics of capitalism is a  powerful drive to earn profits, invest them, innovate, and thus grow the economy, typically at exponential rates, with the result that the capitalist era has in fact been characterized by a remarkable exponential expansion of the world economy.  (…).

These features of capitalism, as they are constituted today, work together to produce an economic and political reality that is highly destructive to the environment.   

The excerpt from James Gustave Speth book, THE BRIDGE AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD,  has been instrumental in helping me to understand the frustration I have had in trying to protect our environment through environmental regulations.  The root of this frustration comes from the reality that no matter how well the regulated community complies with environmental regulations, economic growth eventually results in more and more pollution being dumped into our ecosystems.  As long as the profit motive and materialism dominate us, we pretty much seem doomed.  Most days lately, this domination makes it tough to be motivated to do my work.

Once in a while though, I receive some hope, that not everyone has succumbed to these drives of destruction.  Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk with a woman about environmental air regulations that affect the auto body shop her husband and son operate.  I informed her that based on their current paint usage; they would not need to get a permit to cover their air pollutant emissions.  I advised her that if they planned to increase business in the coming years and therefore use more paint, that they would likely need to get a permit.  The woman said she did not think that that would be an issue, because their goal in operating the business was not to make more money, but rather to simply do enough business to make a living.  

It is that attitude of working to live that gives me hope that we can find a better way to do business that doesn’t have to result in the destruction of our environment – it is the prophets like this woman, who give me hope that there is more to motivating people then simple profit.   

Monday, May 10, 2010

Economic System versus Ecosystem

In the ecological world, survival depends on finding ways to coexist with your surroundings.  I was reminded of that coexistence this morning while riding my bike to a bus stop.  

I was peddling along at a good pace, when I saw an osprey hovering over one of the stormwater ponds the bike trail weaves around.  That voice in my head that reminds me to pay attention now and then told me I had plenty of time to catch my bus, and stop and watch the osprey for a moment, so I did.  

I was rewarded by seeing the osprey dive down one hundred feet or so through the air into the water with a splash.  Within seconds, the bird was back in the air, shaking the water from its feathers, and its talons void of a fish.  The bird took up a hovering position again, and then repeated the dive, but this time rose from the pond with what looked like a small pan fish clutched in his talons.  The bird shook the water from its feathers and flew off, presumably to feed its nest of young osprey.  Over their likely millions of years of existence, ospreys have mastered the fine art of survival in their ecosystem.  

The ongoing ecological disaster of crude oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana demonstrates unfortunately, how much we petroleum-fueled human beings have forgotten about how to coexist with our ecosystem in the past several hundred years of our experiments with industrialism.  The ongoing hundreds of thousands of gallons per day of leaking oil covering the gulf has essentially shut down the fishing industry in the impacted area, eliminating jobs and food for many people, and creating toxic conditions for many birds, fish, and other life that once thrived in that Gulf environment.  The total cost and impact of this disaster will likely never really be known or understood.

Edward Lotterman’s REAL WORLD ECONOMICS column  this week points out some of the major reason why we are able to forget about the importance of coexisting with our ecosystem in our free market economic system.  In that system, economic decisions are based on human beings weighing the monetary costs and benefits of decisions, with little if any regard for what the impact is on the ecosystem, and then acting accordingly.  Unfortunately, it has become too easy for us to forget the huge costs that our mistakes from the past have dealt us, and take on the rally cry of “drill-baby-drill” rather then the less macho “bike-baby-bike”.  Lotterman reminds us that “human nature is such that we probably will continue to re-surprise ourselves with the inevitable throughout the rest of human existence”, unless we can find a way to remind ourselves to remember our mistakes from the past.

I am not sure it is human nature that is the cause of our stupidity, but rather the stupidity of our economic system that allows us to continue to destroy our ecosystem.  

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Save The World Today?

I sat down to eat supper with my seventeen-year-old daughter tonight and she asked me, “what did you do to save the world today?

Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with anything of real substance to tell her.  I did tell her about talking on the phone with several people who I tried to help them answer their questions respectfully and to try and bring some humor into their day as I talked with them.  Nothing that seemed too earth saving to me.    

She shared with me a story she had heard about a man who decided to commit suicide and before he did, he wrote a suicide note and stuck it in his pocket.  He then left his house and began walking to the bridge he planned to jump from.  On the way he passed many people, and then came to the bridge, and jumped, ending his life.  His body was recovered from the river, and the rescuers found the note in his pocket.  The note said “I plan to kill myself today, unless at least one person smiles at me”.  Obviously, no one smiled at him, or if they did, he didn’t see it.   

A good reminder from my daughter on the importance of acknowledging and smiling at the people who cross our paths.  I am not sure if her story is true, but our newspapers are full of stories on people who likely didn’t get many smiles in their life’s, and unfortunately much of the neglect happens to them while they are children.  Here are examples from today’s paper here and here.   

So how is it we can ignore our children, and what are the consequences when we do?  Robert Greenleaf’s version of leadership that he called servant leadership reminds us to always check the consequences of our actions with his best test “what is the effect on the least privileged in society?  Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”  Our children definitely fit the least privileged category in our world today, and as I look around many of them are being deprived and harmed by the results of our leadership.  

This is a good reminder for me to pay attention to the children in the world, and when I do, they have much they can teach me.