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To Remake the World
Something Earth-changing is afoot among civil society

Paul Hawken, Orion Magazine
I HAVE GIVEN NEARLY ONE THOUSAND TALKS ABOUT the environment in the past fifteen years, and after every speech a smaller crowd gathered to talk, ask questions, and exchange business cards. The people offering their cards were working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. They were from the nonprofit and nongovernmental world, also known as civil society. They looked after rivers and bays, educated consumers about sustainable agriculture, retrofitted houses with solar panels, lobbied state legislatures about pollution, fought against corporate-weighted trade policies, worked to green inner cities, or taught children about the environment. Quite simply, they were trying to safeguard nature and ensure justice.

After being on the road for a week or two, I would return with a couple hundred cards stuffed into various pockets. I would lay them out on the table in my kitchen, read the names, look at the logos, envisage the missions, and marvel at what groups do on behalf of others. Later, I would put them into drawers or paper bags, keepsakes of the journey. I couldn’t throw them away.

Over the years the cards mounted into the thousands, and whenever I glanced at the bags in my closet, I kept coming back to one question: did anyone know how many groups there were? At first, this was a matter of curiosity, but it slowly grew into a hunch that something larger was afoot, a significant social movement that was eluding the radar of mainstream culture.

…I now believe there are over one million organizations working toward ecological sustainability and social justice. Maybe two.

By conventional definition, this is not a movement. Movements have leaders and ideologies. You join movements, study tracts, and identify yourself with a group. You read the biography of the founder(s) or listen to them perorate on tape or in person. Movements have followers, but this movement doesn’t work that way. It is dispersed, inchoate, and fiercely independent. There is no manifesto or doctrine, no authority to check with.

I sought a name for it, but there isn’t one.

Historically, social movements have arisen primarily because of injustice, inequalities, and corruption. Those woes remain legion, but a new condition exists that has no precedent: the planet has a life-threatening disease that is marked by massive ecological degradation and rapid climate change. It crossed my mind that perhaps I was seeing something organic, if not biologic.

…This is the first time in history that a large social movement is not bound together by an “ism.” What binds it together is ideas, not ideologies. This unnamed movement’s big contribution is the absence of one big idea; in its stead it offers thousands of practical and useful ideas. In place of isms are processes, concerns, and compassion. The movement demonstrates a pliable, resonant, and generous side of humanity.

…And I believe it will prevail. I don’t mean defeat, conquer, or cause harm to someone else. And I don’t tender the claim in an oracular sense. I mean the thinking that informs the movement’s goal-to create a just society conducive to life on Earth-will reign. It will soon suffuse and permeate most institutions. But before then, it will change a sufficient number of people so as to begin the reversal of centuries of frenzied self-destruction.

Paul Hawken is an entrepreneur and social activist living in California. His article in this issue is adapted from Blessed Unrest, to be published by Viking Press and used by permission.
(May/June 2007 issue)
David Roberts posted another excerpt from Hawken’s book at Gristmill.

Nuncio says by living simply Catholics can help protect the earth

Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service
Every Catholic can do something about climate change by adopting a life of voluntary simplicity, the Vatican’s U.N. nuncio believes.

It can come down to what is commonly referred to in the United States as voluntary simplicity, or “working less, wanting less, spending less,” thus reducing the impact each person has on the environment, Archbishop Celestino Migliore told participants gathered in Columbus for the second in a series of regional Catholic conversations on climate change April 14.

Citing Genesis’ call to humanity to oversee creation while protecting it and the church’s social doctrine, the Vatican diplomat outlined the Holy See’s position on the need for Catholics to heed the environmental dangers the planet faces.

“The degradation of the environment has become an inescapable reality,” the archbishop said.

“There is no doubt that the latest assessment has established a strong connection between human activity and climate change,” he said, referring to a February statement by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Archbishop Migliore acknowledged that although not all scientists agree that climate change is occurring other environmental threats, such as indiscriminate deforestation, water pollution, the lack of potable water in many parts of the world and the depletion of fish stocks, demand action from the world community and individual Catholics alike.
(7May 2007)
Related links at Whispers in the Loggia

The Ecology of Work

Curtis White, Orion Magazine
Environmentalism can’t succeed until it confronts the destructive nature of modern work-and supplants it
ENVIRONMENTALISTS SEE THE ASPHALTING of the country as a sin against the world of nature, but we should also see in it a kind of damage that has been done to humans, for what precedes environmental degradation is the debasement of the human world. I would go so far as to say that there is no solution for environmental destruction that isn’t first a healing of the damage that has been done to the human community. As I argued in the first part of this essay, the damage to the human world has been done through work, through our jobs, and through the world of money.

We are not the creators of our own world; we merely perform functions in a system into which we were born. The most destructive aspect of our jobs is that in them we are mere “functionaries,” to borrow Josef Pieper’s term. Just as important, we have a function outside of work: consumption. Money in hand, we go into the market to buy the goods we no longer know how to make (we don’t even know how to grow and preserve our own food) and services we no longer know how to perform (frame a house? might as well ask us to design a spaceship).

Challenging our place in this system as mere isolated functions (whether as workers or consumers) is a daunting task, especially for environmentalists, who tend to think that human problems are the concern of somebody else (labor unions, the ACLU, Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, etc.). We’re about the “Earth first.” My argument is simply that the threats to humans and the threats to the environment are not even two parts of the same problem. They are the same problem.

Curtis White’s essays have appeared in Harper’s magazine, the Village Voice, and In These Times. His most recent book is The Spirit of Disobedience. He teaches at Illinois State University.
(May/June 2007 issue)
Second in a two-part series. The first was The Idols of Environmentalism.

Transition Towns In Italian (and Mexican).

Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture
It’s not every day that Transition Towns stuff is translated into Italian, but with the recent coverage in the Guardian, foreign papers are getting in touch and running articles. Here is one, in Italian, and seemingly quite balanced.
(16 May 2007)
Original article (in Italian) is posted at Corriere Della Sera (April 20).

Waste Equals Food
SBS Australia via IndyBay
Waste Equals Food, an optimistic documentary about the ways in which industry might mitigate environmental degradation. It caused a bit of a stir in Australia. Big business CAN be be environmental warriors if they try. Show this to your local industrialist.

1 hour documentary in wmv format (63 Mb), captured from SBS Australia, 8 th May.
(15 May 2007)