Does American Business Get Climate Change?

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” John Muir

I posted a response recently to a paper posted by the [American based] Institute for Cultural Evolution on their website. The paper has to do with how to progress awareness on Climate Change in America. I found it somehow offensive and realised whilst I might have agreed with it many years ago, I could no longer relate to it.  Admittedly by one of the founders the paper is at least four years old, but still they sent a link recently, I guess looking for some feedback. The paper is posted here. In a really brief summary, they argue that the environmental movement should really learn to appreciate the incredible gift that [Orange] business brings to the world, and they should play down their attacks on capitalism as they demand action and change.

My response follows. I’d be interested in any responses people have. There is much more nuance possible in my responses, but this is a starting place for my own exploration.

awerbach_coverWhen Adam Werbach, then the youngest president of the Sierra Club, famously gave a talk titled “The Death of Environmentalism and the Birth of the Commons Movement” to the Commonwealth Club of California over two decades ago, he argued that environmentalists and conservationists hadn’t cottoned on yet to the inextricable connections between environmental and social issues – they were all human issues. In other language I’d paraphrase John Muir with this quote: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” It’s impossible to speak of the ecological movement, or the economy, as somehow two distinct issues. Both are inherently related.

Do Americans GET Climate Change?

Personally I think it’s premature to even begin talking about climate change in America. Whilst some get it, the majority doesn’t. What is IT? To me climate change isn’t about reducing CO2. It’s not a goal to meet or a project we can engineer ourselves out of. It’s a different way of looking at our selves, the projection of ‘other’, our very relationship to nature and the world. It’s a realisation that can’t be forced on anyone. We can plainly see the incredible racial polarity in America as an example. How can you begin to face ecological problems whilst the civil war continues in the social fabric of a nation? Or the ongoing philosophical tensions between Adams and Jefferson as they continue to inflame debate between big government vs self-determination and autonomy?

Instead I would concentrate their efforts on promoting and invigorating healthy and ethical businesses, and helping hold them as examples to critique unhealthy orange-meme companies.

Where Does Change Come From?

TogetherI’ve often wondered where the conscience comes from for a CEO to suddenly wake up and radically shift their business. Look at Ray Andersen from Interface Carpets, or Visa, or perhaps Cradle to Cradle companies. What makes the companies notice that they urgently HAVE to do business differently? The new book on Rethinking Organisations by Frederic Laloux gives many emergent examples.

I’m also interested in their paper that the authors speak of the positive side of globalisation, as if it were just economic benefits. Actually I think that the Green Movement, and post-modernism, is empowered by globalisation – though on a social and environmental and relational level. We suddenly have a greater awareness of our shared humanity, so much so that global moves to prevent sweat shops and deforestation as well as promote human rights have increased in countries most of us have never physically been. Green’s empathy has greatly increased. The shadow side of global capitalism is immensely evident nowadays due to technology, and it makes me wonder if Orange has actually realised the philosophical importance of globalisation (beyond profits and potential for growth) in order to let in the interconnectedness they have themselves helped create?

A Different Perspective

I have three further thoughts. One is the images seen from our space pioneers of our fragile planet. Has Orange begun to let in the spiritual or religious revelatory nature of those images? At the end of Al Gore’s famous film, he says that what we need now is a spiritual shift, and its so true in my own experience; having been an environmental campaigner for more than 2 decades, I recognised that taking a hard and fixed position was preventing me from actually engaging with people about matters that concern us all on a deeply human level. I also discovered the incredible joy in letting go of what I thought I know in order to re-examine and discuss with others assumptions about reality and where we go next. Einstein’s quote that we cant fix a problem from the same mentality that created it in the first place applies very much in the ecological arena, as scientists and people like Stewart Brand advocate geo-engineering technologies.

Secondly I return to their paper where they uphold the economy as being pretty much paramount – almost as if business and the economy is synonymous with democracy, freedom and liberation of the individual. On reflection, and rather naively I admit, I see that trade used to be in servitude to social relationships; between people, families, tribes. Increasingly it seems to be that trade (and business) has become about rights to exploit. Trade deals are set up to colonise and exploit emerging nations in the name of increasing ‘democracy’ and development. I would argue again that without a healthy mature perspective that expansion of Orange is doing more harm than good. We can look to Iraq and the middle east to see the fallout from the West’s economic (and political) foreign policy.

Third and lastly their paper admittedly is American-centric. As an expat living abroad for two decades I see there are many cultural assumptions made in the paper. Rightly or wrongly I’d point out that untethered optimism that is so rich in the US (and so lacking here in the UK) also prevents humility and deep reflection, let alone compromise. It’s a double edged sword that needs to be used carefully and with increasing maturity. Progress and the thrill and freedom in abandoning the past leads also to severing vital connections and knowledge that are also an essential part of who we are. They have stated [in the paper] that growth is good, and I’d challenge that basic assumption. I’d say reflection is good right now.

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Are you Happy to Eat ‘Edible Food-like Substances’?

whole-food-shopping-list-Food just isn’t what it used to be. Back in the old days, you could buy food from the corner shop, or you’d grow it yourself. You were lucky if you had a refrigerator, so food was something you purchased every few days and ate as soon as possible before it went off. Now we buy food mostly from mega supermarkets, or perhaps fast-food takeaways, without really knowing where our food comes from, let alone what’s in it. Luckily, the resurgence in farmers markets over the years has helped many of us reconnect to the people actually growing our food, as well as help to remember what real food tastes like.

What is natural?Much of what we get in the supermarket today has either been picked and shipped a week ago, often gassed with chemicals to ripen while in transit, re-constituted from last years frozen crop, or radiated, preserved, frozen, pasturised or processed – using ‘food science’ to give the products as long a shelf life as possible. Unfortunately most of these methods takes away the aliveness, taste and nutritional quality of the food. As a consequence, much of our processed food has added ingredients to try and reintroduce more taste, colour and ‘nutrition’. Continue reading

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The Truth of Uncertainty

It’s True, Isn’t it?

TruthHave you ever had an experience like this? Something peculiar started happening to me during my last year at university. Course by course, I suddenly began to realise that the things I was being taught were not inherently true. Up until that point I naively thought that somehow, through attending a major American University, I was being taught the hard facts, but it started to dawn on me one day that what I was being presented with were merely conceived working models of reality that weren’t, in a deeper sense, True.

It started one day in my archaeology class. My passionate and well-regarded professor one afternoon had us pass around a rock – a smooth stone that had been discovered in a nearby stream adjacent to an ‘archaeological dig’ where ancient human fossils had been discovered. Not only had the team accepted that this stone had been used as a tool – to me it just looked like a smooth stone – but also and more importantly, a lot of the historical theory of the evolution of mankind had been based on shared agreement that the stone was in fact a tool. Like an avalanche I suddenly glimpsed how precariously the theoretical timeline of our human ascension was based on conjecture and agreement – truth, as I believed I was being taught, wasn’t really that steadfast.
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Can you Hear Me Major Tom?

Chris HadfieldColonel Chris Hadfield became famous recently for a YouTube clip he made; what made his video so extraordinary was where he filmed it. Set against the planet Earth in the background, he played guitar and sang David Bowie’s Space Oddity from the weightless confines of the International Space Station 200 miles above. He’s also been the first astronaut to regularly tweet from space, including daily pictures. He’s provided us a unique access to his perspective looking out at our delicate planet whilst hurtling through space.

He’s also done a great PR job to humanise life in the space station. Through his entertaining youtube clips he taught us how to make peanut butter sandwiches in zero gravity (use tortillas), showed us how they clean up spills when liquids float away and answered questions like, ‘what does space smell like’?
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What can Mandela teach us?

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela 3In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s passing, there have been so many eulogies to the life and achievements of a great and inspiring leader and a deeply human being. What stood out to me during the many speeches at his state memorial last week was President Barack Obama asking if, rather than putting Madiba and his life on a pedestal, could we learn from how he lived his life, and could we all aspire to be like him in the way we lived our own lives? Could we all become better persons?

“The value of our shared reward will and must be measured by the joyful peace which will triumph, because the common humanity that bonds both black and white into one human race, will have said to each one of us that we shall all live like the children of paradise.” – Nelson Mandela, Notes to the Future

What was Nelson Mandela’s deeper underlying philosophical belief? Through all of his challenges, how did he manage to remain such a humble human being with such compassion that he could turn a nation away from a bloody civil war and towards building a new future together? How did he always manage to keep on smiling?
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This Revolution will not be Televised

To quote Albert Einstein, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” This truth has stayed with me as I’ve questioned how we create a new way forward. I’ve noticed particularly in the environmental world, but also in politics – we seem to be going in circles while things just get worse, and no amount of yelling louder seems to help. So I was particularly thrilled to hear Charles Eisenstein speak the other evening. What I immediately noticed was his vulnerability and the attention he gave to setting out the context for his own authentic exploration.

Charles Eisenstein and our dysfunctional shared sense of Self

eisensteinCharles Eisenstein is rightly considered ‘one of the up and coming great minds of our time’. Teacher, public speaker and writer, he’s an astute philosopher of our generation. He has delved deeply into the roots of the economic, social and environmental challenges we face and explored the myriad threads of our cultural consciousness to produce a stirring postmodern critique of the dominant worldview that has led us to a precipice.

“I was always consumed by questions like, “Where did I come from?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” so of course, embedded as I was in a culture that sees science and reason as the source of truth, I tried to “figure out” the answers…but my development of reason and intellect brought me no closer to any truth I really cared about.” – Charles Eisenstein

We feel that the world is not supposed to be like this – that it could be better, but instead it seems to be getting worse. He concludes that our sense of helplessness in the face of the overwhelming global crises facing humanity is an illusion created by our culture’s dysfunctional sense of self which is becoming obsolete: we live as separate beings in a world of separate beings in a universe that is separate from our self, and as a consequence we struggle to control life through force and power over nature and each other. You can see this in politics, in corporations, in physics; you can also see it in the environmental movement. Continue reading

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Can a Skyscraper Feed People?

Can we construct not only another skyscraper, but a sustainable urban environment that grows food for the 21st century city dweller?

Green8_1Normally when I look at the new skyscrapers crowding the London skyline, I see clever design, perhaps even the use of new materials,  but also something built upon the foundations of old modern values; built for the rich and powerful elite, they often exude exclusivity, prestige and pride of place – the new glass Shard is a case in point. There’s too often a huge disconnect between the building and the community below.

So I was pleasantly surprised to come across this cool-looking futuristic ecological urban skyscraper concept designed by German architects Agnieskzka Preibisz and Peter Sandhaus. Called Green8, the design is a vertical garden residential tower built in a twisted figure-8 curving around elevated gardens and orchards, and is planned for the eastern quarter of Berlin, at Alexanderplatz. Continue reading

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Can Fungi Save our Agriculture Systems from Collapse?

Intensive FarmingIt should come as no surprise that our current industrialised agricultural system is in crisis. Huge monoculture farming methods and the use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilisers leave the soil gasping for life, often depleted of nutrients and unusable after a few generations. As part of this intensive farming system, chemical nutrients have to be added to the soil before each crop is sown. One of those nutrients is phosphorus, an essential chemical in the production of the building blocks of life – DNA, RNA and ATP – as well as the phospholipids which form the membrane walls of cells. Gardeners will be used to scattering bone ash as a fertilizer on their home gardens, but large concentrations come from phosphate rocks.

Symbiosis, Funghi and Plants

“Symbiosis is a close association between two types of organisms belonging to different species with usually beneficial consequences for both or at least one of the organisms. The mycorrhiza symbiosis is the best example and consists of an association between the plant roots and soil fungi. The arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis is so far the most common and widespread symbiotic associations on earth, and concerns more than 80% of vascular plants.” Mohamed Hijri

In the TED presentation below, biologist and associate professor Mohamed Hijri discusses how dependent plants are on finding phosphorus in the soil, and how we are facing a crisis in the availability of phosphorus worldwide. Continue reading

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Audio: Designing a Resilient Transport System

We Are Futureproof PodcastsIn 2009, I made a series of podcasts for We Are Futureproof, a campaign group I helped create to explore the future of sustainable transport systems.

In this podcast I interviewed Patrick Andrews from Riversimple all about resilience and how it applies to peak oil & climate change, and what happens to transport when there are power cuts, or fuel shortages and why does hydrogen present a resilient way to store energy for the future.

We took the conversation deeper. Patrick also discusses how they believe open source is the way we will all design cars in the future. Together we explore the benefits of cooperation and collaboration versus competition, and why the emerging field known as group think and collective intelligence might be the only way we will create the solutions we need to tackle climate change.

I hope you enjoy this recording as it provides a lot of food for thought on how we can transition this world together.

>>Click here to listen to “Designing a Resilient Transport System”

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Newsnight Interviews Elon Musk

“Life has to be about more than just solving problems”. – Elon Musk, Newsnight 2013

I so LOVE Elon Musk. He so matter of factly states what the future will look like.  While we’d most likely listen to anyone else with a large pinch of salt and a bit of skepticism, Musk has a track record of making the seemingly impossible into fact.

“SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. The company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.”

For him it’s not enough just to problem solve. Projects should be inspiring and make people excited about the future. His project with Space X has already sent a privately financed rocket to dock with the international Space Station. Musk firmly believes we will be traveling to Mars in our lifetime, even inhabiting Mars and other planets. Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, his new fully-electric Tesla S Sedan, able to accelerate from 0-60 in 4 seconds and a range of over 200 miles, will be able to charge up all over the UK soon at supercharge locations – for FREE – from solar energy. Continue reading

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