Monday, December 24, 2012

Multiplicity Merged To Oneness

I would like always to point with delight at the many-splendored multiplicity of the world, and just as constantly utter a reminder that oneness underlies this multiplicity; I would like always to show that the beautiful and the ugly, the bright and the dark, sin and holiness are always opposites just for the moment, that they constantly merge into each other.  

Hermann Hess, “A Guest at the Spa”, from the book AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL WRITINGS

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Join me on a walk to the edge of my neighborhood, where the open space is being sold out.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Crisis Response

A recent response I received to my post Civilization Crisis follows: 

Cheers to dire predictions! In the next 100 years, at least 10-billion people here on Earth will die (most of natural causes). Only 10,000 years ago, there was a sheet of ice 5,000 feet thick in St. Paul (yes, global warming has been around that long). From time to time, asteroids periodically strike the Earth. Some of these impacts dramatically change the dominant species and the course of life on Earth. Relative to the most dramatic changes over the last 100 million years, I suspect that our current problems are relatively small (except maybe for those who chose to ride out a hurricane in a house they built on sand dunes on the seashores of New York/New Jersey). Have a good weekend. I’m pretty sure we’ll be around to do our jobs next week.

And my response to the response:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.  It sounds like you are much more of an optimist than I am when it comes to the events playing out on the planet.  Although I agree with most of what you said, the one thing I take issue with is regarding your suspicion that “Relative to the most dramatic changes over the last 100 million years, I suspect that our current problems are relatively small (except maybe for those who chose to ride out a hurricane in a house they built on sand dunes on the seashores of New York/New Jersey).”

It’s easy to ignore the wake up calls when they are happening on other folk’s front doors, but it might be time for us to realize we all share the same planet and none of us live in isolation.  We also need accept the reality that we live on a finite planet, and that our outdated unscientific economic system (which operates on foolish assumption that the planet provides unlimited resources and a bottomless sink to dump the wastes that result from our productions) has some serious consequences (in the short term relative scale) on the life’s of the humans, animals, and plants we currently share the planet with.  

So I suppose one option is to shrug it all off as another example of “nature happens”, and “I feel fine” so let’s not worry about this latest symptom of our foolish lifestyle.  But for me I am at point in my life where I don’t feel too good about myself when I take that attitude and I am getting tired of sitting back and watching the foolishness play out.  So I am starting to ask myself (and others), is this the best we can do?  I think we can do better, and I think it is time for us to start taking responsibility for our actions.  And that is why I take hurricanes, droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events that are happening today as a good sign that it is time for us to wake up and find a better way to treat the planet, our fellow human beings, and the rest of the life that suffers because of our way of life.      

So yes, we and our jobs probably will be around next week, and my plan is to keep thinking about how can we do them better, instead of just mindlessly doing them.  Thanks again for sharing your thoughts; it is good to know that someone is reading my ramblings, even if they don’t agree with them.  It also gives me a reason to refine my ramblings on a relative basis.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

Civilization Crisis

Came across a relevant film that does a great job summarizing the state of our planet and how we got into the mess we are in. As we wrap up a year dominated by floods, droughts, and hurricanes, it might be time for us to start paying attention to the messages contained in films like THE CRISIS OF CIVILIZATION, which can be viewed via the link here.
According to the website the 77 minute film “is a remix documentary feature film investigating how global crises like ecological disaster, financial meltdown, dwindling oil reserves, terrorism and food shortages are converging symptoms of a single, failed global system.” Until we admit the problem, we won’t find a solution, and instead will keep focusing on the symptoms and repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

If you get a chance to watch it, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Viewing Our Place

The problem is the way we see our place in the world is what shapes the way we act. If you look at our history as a species, for 95 per cent of our existence, we were nomadic hunter-gatherers. And as a hunter-gatherer, you know damn well that you're absolutely embedded in, and utterly dependent on, nature for your survival and well-being. 10,000 years ago – the last five per cent of our existence – we discovered agriculture; if you're a farmer, you know very well that the seasons, weather, climate directly affect your ability to survive or not. They know that winter snow is directly related to how much moisture you have in the soil in the summer; that insects – yes, some are pests – but they're absolutely crucial for pollinating flowering plants; that certain trees and plant species can take nitrogen and fix it as fertilizer in the soil. Farmers know that we are part of nature.

What's happened is a fundamental shift in the last 100 years that now blinds us from being able to see our place on the planet. 85 per cent of us in Canada now live in big cities. We've been utterly transformed in 100 years from being a farming animal to a big city dweller. And in the big city, people think, “As long as we have parks out there, where we can go camping and playing in, well who needs nature? My important thing is my job; I need a job in order to be able to go out and buy the things I want.”

So, from an urban perspective, then, the economy becomes the source of everything that matters to us. And when you're living in that world – where the economy is elevated above everything else – then of course you'll say, “We can't stop clear-cutting – it'll destroy the economy. We can't stop dragging huge nets across the bottom of the ocean, because it's bad for the fisheries. And we can't stop injecting carbon into the atmosphere, because that'll shut down the fossil fuel industry.” The economy, then, trumps everything else because that's our highest priority in the city. It becomes very, very difficult to see the real world. And it's becoming increasingly more difficult as children spend less and less time outside.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sustainable Consumption - Lessons from Oregon

The US EPA is hosting a series of Webinars on Sustainable Consumption.  More information on these seminars can be found here.  In the first Webinar, David Allaway spoke about some of the opportunities and barriers regarding sustainable consumption he has observed in his work with the State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.  In his talk, he reviewed a couple of papers that he authored that provided more details about the issue.  What follows are some excerpts from these papers that might be relevant to folks interested in sustainability.  

“To achieve sustainable development and higher quality of life for all people, States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption . . .”

The Commission on Sustainable Development defines sustainable consumption as “the use of services and related products which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations.”

Current global consumption patterns are unsustainable... efficiency gains and technological advances alone will not be sufficient to bring global consumption to a sustainable level; changes will also be required to consumer lifestyles, including the ways in which consumers choose and use products and services.

Business, governments and society (including consumers) must work together to define sustainable products and lifestyles.

[…] “we are living beyond our ecological means” and “an economic model that overshoots natural resource constraints while failing to meet peoples’ basic needs is, quite literally, unsustainable. What’s needed, therefore, is a new model of economic development in which all people can meet their basic needs without disrupting healthy ecosystems, which serve as the foundation for sound economies, sustaining and enhancing human life.”

Waste prevention represents an effort to be “less bad,” as opposed to a vision that is healthy and/or restorative. Another way of thinking about this is that waste prevention, as commonly interpreted, is only about “consuming less.” In contrast, sustainable consumption involves both “consuming less” and “consuming differently.”

Creating stronger momentum toward sustainable consumption patterns will be challenging and may require approaches outside of DEQ’s[Oregon Department of Environmental Quality] historic (and traditional) roles, but doing so is consistent with the broad goals of conserving energy and natural resources and protecting the environment and human health.

[…] governments traditionally advocate for providing more and better information to consumers (via labeling schemes, outreach, etc.), under the belief that if consumers just had access to better information, or were extorted to change, they would make more sustainable decisions. […] consumer decisions are in fact driven by emotional and even biochemical forces, underlying values, force of habit and a variety of external factors including availability, affordability, convenience and social norms. […] information by itself often has limited effectiveness in changing consumer behavior.

[…] gains in reducing unsustainable consumption leads to unanticipated increases in consumption in other areas.

[…] fiscal incentives and information campaigns are helpful if part of a larger strategy, but on their own are insufficient to spark pro-environmental behavior change of the kind and scale required to meet existing challenges.

[…] material goods and services are deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of our lives. Through them we not only satisfy our needs and desires, we also communicate with each other and negotiate important social relationships. […] motivating sustainable consumption has to be as much about building supportive communities, promoting inclusive societies, providing meaningful work and encouraging purposeful lives as it is about awareness raising, fiscal policy and persuasion.

Individual behaviors are guided as much by what others around us say and do, and by the “rules of the game,” as they are by personal choice. We often find ourselves “locked in” to unsustainable behaviors in spite of our own best intentions. Policymakers sometimes express ambivalence about intervening in these behaviors. […] policymakers are not innocent bystanders in the negotiation of consumer choice. Policy intervenes continually in consumer behavior both directly (e.g., through regulation and taxes) and more importantly through its extensive influence over the social and institutional context within which people act.

[…] social survey evidence shows that although people strive for financial security and to live in material comfort, their deepest aspirations are nonmaterial. Material consumption is needed but by itself does not contribute significantly to personal happiness or subjective well-being beyond a relatively modest threshold. […] needs are few and finite, the most prominent being subsistence, protection, affection, identity, creation and freedom. These needs can be met in different ways with varying ecological footprints.

Motivational strategies to create supportive social environments, to foster a sense of community, and to impart shared values offer better prospects than moralizing or appealing to individual altruism. But motivational techniques must go hand in hand with creation of alternative behavioral opportunities for fulfilling needs that are comparable to preexisting alternatives.

[…] the core challenge to sustainable consumption is that the current economic system is inherently flawed: “...for businesses as well as governments, incentives point us in the direction of consuming resources that will become ever more scarce and expensive. In effect, our current system is inherently flawed, with the very human quest for better lives in conflict with the maintenance of a healthy planet.”

Making consumption more sustainable, […], will require changes to the systems in which businesses and government operate: a change to much longer time horizons than most businesses and governments currently consider; changing accounting systems to account for externalized costs; and changing accounting systems to capture measures of human well being and the degree to which society’s goals are met through economic activity, as opposed to merely measuring the volume of economic activity.

[…] “green consumption” is unhelpful. Individual consumption choices are important, but control over these choices is constrained, shaped and framed by institutions and political forces that can be remade only through collective citizen action. […], emphasis on individual consumer action – a mentality of “plant a tree, ride a bike, do your part,” – is not merely ineffectual, but detrimental, because it crowds out activity that would have real impact.

[…] green consumption may simply relieve individuals of their duty to do something really substantial and more difficult. Further, green consumption might also just become a less noxious form of conspicuous consumption.

If organizations or individuals are attempting to change the behaviors of others, be they firms, institutions or individuals, they must themselves live up to the values they are espousing.

[…] meeting needs through social relationships and community ties rather than commodities decreases material consumption and increases well-being.

[…] humanity has reached a fundamental turning point in its economic history. The expansionary trajectory of industrial civilization is colliding with non-negotiable natural limits; consumption will decline regardless of whether individuals and institutions want it to or not. […], government (and civil society) should play a role in managing this transition: “economic contraction need not entail catastrophe and sorrow if the process is managed well.”

Sunday, October 7, 2012

We Are Our Enemy

In 1970, Robert K. Greenleaf wrote an essay titled THE SERVANT AS LEADER.  (A copy of the essay can be found here.)    After spending a good portion of his life working for AT&T studying and implementing leadership into that organization, he began a career in the 1960’s as a leadership consultant.  It was during those turbulent years that he came to really understand that the problems the world was facing were the result of leadership failures.   Greenleaf’s essay was the culmination of his lifetime of lessons in leadership failures and successes.  

I bring the essay up here because I find the servant-leader as the  method of leadership that we need today as much as if not more than we did in the 1970’s when Greenleaf synthesized his ideas on leadership.  And I am finding that the struggles I face in my life are the result of poor leadership.  It is easy for me to blame my bosses or coworkers, the politicians, or anyone else I can slap the blame on.  But ultimately, as Greenleaf reminds me in his essay, the problems I face need to be dealt with by me.  And becoming a servant-leader myself is where solutions will be found.   
And with that I would like to share some excerpts from the last three sections of Greenleaf’s essay titled:  “In Here, Not out There”, “Who is the Enemy”, and “Implications” that are helping me to remember that I am responsible for who I follow and that I need to step up and lead. 

And if a flaw in the world is to be remedied, to the servant the process of change starts in here, in the servant, not out there.

Who is the enemy?  Who is holding back more rapid movement to the better society that is reasonable and possible with available resources?

Not evil people.  Not stupid people.  Not apathetic people.  Not the “system.”  Not the protesters, the disrupters, the revolutionaries, the reactionaries.

The better society will come, if it comes with plenty of evil, stupid, apathetic people around and with an imperfect, ponderous, inertia-charged “system” as the vehicle for change.   Liquidate the offending people, radically alter or destroy the system, and in less than a generation they will all be back.  

The real enemy is fuzzy thinking on the part of good, intelligent, vital people, and their failure to lead, and to follow servants as leaders.  Too many settle for being critics and experts.  There is too much intellectual wheel spinning, too much retreating into “research”, too little preparation for and willingness to undertake the hard and high risk tasks of building better institutions in a n imperfect world, too little disposition to see “the problem” as residing in here and not out there.

In short, the enemy is strong natural servants who have the potential to lead but do not lead, or who choose to follow a non-servant.   They suffer.  Society suffers. 
[…] 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, an immoral and senseless war, destruction of the environment, poverty, alienation, discrimination, overpopulation, are here because of human failures; individual failures; one man at a time, one action at a time failures.  

“How do we get the right things done?” will be the watchword of the day, every day.  And the context of those who bring it off will be:  men (all men and women who are touched by the effort) grow taller, and become healthier, stronger, more autonomous, and more disposed to serve. 
Greenleaf concludes the essay with a reminder from the writer Albert Camus to go out and “create dangerously!