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.