Paul Hawken is an environmentalist, entrepreneur, bestselling author, and a renowned lecturer who has keynoted conferences and led workshops on the impact of commerce upon the environment. Hawken has consulted with governments and corporations throughout the world and has appeared in numerous media including the Today Show, Bill Maher, Larry King, Talk of the Nation, and has been profiled or featured in hundreds of articles including the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Washington Post, Business Week, Esquire, and US News and World Report.
He addresses the question of “What Could Possibly Go Right?” with thoughts including:
- The dysfunction of capitalism, and its distinction from the ancient human values of commerce
- “People’s beliefs are determined by our culture, and our culture is now determined by money. Money is what controls media, money controls advertisements, money controls social media. It’s a machine that skews our values.”
- That the climate conversation is often exclusive and uses “othering language” and concepts that are not easily understood
- By contrast, “regeneration is innate to being a human being” and “provides a sense of purpose, meaning and dignity to people’s lives everywhere in the world”
- Regeneration is about falling in love with the world; “As a way of understanding and seeing the world, it gives you a much broader, more detailed, more granular, more beautiful, more mysterious, more complex way of understanding what’s possible, and what your role can be in this possibility.”
- That the living system of Earth is giving us feedback, which is a gift and call to action
Connect with Paul Hawken
What Could Possibly Go Right? Hosted by Vicki Robin for Post Carbon Institute
Hi, Vicki Robin here, host of What Could Possibly Go Right?, a project of the Post Carbon Institute, in which we interview cultural scouts, people who see far and serve the common good, asking them each our one question. With all that seems to be going awry, what could possibly go right? My guest today is Paul Hawken, who is an environmentalist and entrepreneur, a best selling author of eight books that have been published in 30 languages in more than 50 countries, and have sold more than 2 million copies. Hawken is a renowned lecturer, was keynote at conferences and led workshops on the impact of commerce on the environment, and has consulted with governments and corporations throughout the world. So here’s Paul Hawken.
Hey Paul, so good to see you. I’ve known you since I discovered the book, Seven Tomorrows, in the 1980s. We met around the time that you wrote Natural Capitalism, and you invited me to speak at the Natural Step Conference. Again and again, you’ve offered us a context we can live into. You point the way, you don’t tell us the right way. So, 40 years, we’ve each been on long journey to turn the tide away from degeneration through regeneration. I think this whole time has been sort of like Dickens; it’s the best of times and the worst of times. Now we are in this narrow shoot of halving fossil fuel burning, the feedstuff of our way of life, by 2030 and then halving it again in a decade and then again and again, until we get off this source of energy for our civilization. I will admit that my confidence that we can turn the tide in time to save all that we love has dwindled, even though I know it’s possible and doable if everyone, every institution, every level of scale, had a change of mind and heart. I think this is what your energizing through, getting us all to focus on and fall in love with and believe in life’s persistent strategy of regeneration.
I’m going to throw out some questions that are on my mind that I grapple with. You can speak to them or not, you can just completely blow them off, you’re free to go where you will. So there’s about five of them. Your book came out nearly six months ago. So what has surprised you since? Can the systems we have like capitalism and political capture by corporate interests, step up or step aside, so that reason and regeneration can prevail? Or how do these impediments that have a deep bench and a lot of money, actually get out of our way?
Then another one is, is regeneration inherently local and place based? Is it more like the Via Campesina than the Farm Bill or a managed economy like China? Your ground seems to be that it’s a networked world, where everyone has influence in all the nested context of their lives. This may be sort of out of my despair, but this bottom up add up, that’s a question.
Another one is, how does mitigation and adaptation fit into your thought? Accepting what we cannot change? Or is it more like we are changing over time, not changing in time? And in the years since we’ve known each other, windows have opened and closed, so what windows are opening now that you see, even at this late date? So my friend, thanks for sitting through my questions and over to you. What could possibly go right?
Well, thank you. Good questions. Thank you for those. Some of those are what I call Wizard of Oz questions, which is that if I had the temerity to answer them in a way that demonstrates that I think I know, you should run, because they’re not really answerable. They’re good questions. Just because something is not answerable, doesn’t mean it’s not a good question, by the way. What is life? I mean, it’s a really, really good question. No one’s answered that one yet. So, I’m complimenting the questions.
I would say that I’m going to the title, what could go right? I’m more interested in what is going right, not what could go right. Because what could go right is determined by what is, not what we imagined could be. Now imagination is definitive in terms of what we do and what we choose, what we purpose, what we orient our lives towards. If the imagination is not there, then it’s too bad. I have said, what we face is a problem of imagination, not skill, not technique, not tools, not engineering, not practice. It’s actually imagination is what’s lacking. So it’s very, very important. But what I’m more interested in what is going right, and looking to see if that is an augury, if those are indicators of possibilities that are going to scale or not, and in time or not. Those are the things that I often ponder.
The question about systems comes up again and again. These huge overloading systems like capitalism, these have deep, deep, deep histories and legacies. I have several attitudes about that. One is that capitalism doesn’t really exist, it’s just a word. It came after the fact. The economic system that it describes was already here, nobody had a name for it. Just because we give it a name doesn’t mean that everything we do economically fits within that name. I make a distinction between commerce and capitalism. Commerce is ancient, and I would dare say, sacred. It goes back thousands and tens of thousands of years between human beings. It’s extraordinary. There’s so many examples of us finding artefacts in archaeological digs and so forth, for cultures that are long gone, that did not arise from that place. They came from thousands of miles away, and they got there by commerce, by trade, by barter, by people meeting. The core of commerce is things like credit, which is to believe and trust. That ‘s the core values are commerce. Capitalism is something different altogether and that is the pursuit to try to basically increase capitalism. What I say about capitalism is that, I kind of paraphrase GK Chesterton, who was once asked the same question about Christianity. He said, I think it’s a great idea. No one’s tried it yet.
When I think about capitalism, I think you’re talking about financialism. You’re talking about moneyism, not capitalism. Otherwise you’d include natural capital, social capital, intellectual capital, all the forms of capital that exist on this planet, not just fiat money. We are in a system that unquestionably where according to Thomas Piketty, the great French economist and scholar who wrote the book Capital, which is too long to read, but very, very important to get the point from, which is that capital split off from productivity 200 years ago. In other words, capital was increased by people doing more work, and they did more work, they could produce more; they produce more, the price went down, and then income went up. That’s the spiral of industrialism. But 20 years ago, capital started to just do those things that make capital grow, not productivity. That is quintessentially where we are now, where you look at the markets, the New York Stock Exchange and other markets, and you see the valuations are what things are worth, and it’s just hysterically funny if it wasn’t tragic. In those creations, the money then has to go somewhere, and what’s going to is housing. People buying up tracts of suburban housing, speculating, and then the rents go up. As capital concentrates, the poor get poorer. This is what’s happening and it’s really, really heinous in a way and yet, that’s the system we’re in.
But I don’t see that as just black and white. I’ll give an example. We’re talking about Regeneration, the book and what I’m focused on. One of the biggest companies in the world is devoted to regenerating their whole supply chain. And that’d be Nestle, the biggest food company in the world, who certainly have had their share of doing things in the past that were basically, I don’t know what the right description is, but really, really harmful – there’s no other word for it now – to African women on baby formula. They’ve made mistakes. This is three, four CEOs later now, today. They know what they did, and how unfortunate it was, and what a terrible mistake in judgment, all that sort of stuff. As they say themselves, mud sticks, and so it still sticks to them.
If you really look at what they’re doing right now, as opposed to what was done 20 years ago, where they’re moving to is fascinating. They’re moving to ancient ingredients, nutrition, the selling off the plastic water bottle companies. You still see Nestle water, but then somebody got the brand name for a while, then the brand goes off. They’re selling off their candy bar companies, Babe Ruth and Butterfingers and things like that. They are committed to transitioning all one million farms that are in their supply chain to regenerative agriculture, the real deal too. They budgeted a billion and a half dollars to help the farmers make that transition. 600,000 of them are smallholders and the other are more row crops like corn, soy, wheat, etc. What’s interesting about that to me is that they discovered it because they looked at their carbon commitments in 2040, their net zero commitments, and they’re committed to net zero by 2040. Then they looked at that and said, well, over 60% of them come from farms. We do know that farm, ag and food together are 35% of global emissions. So they looked at the farming practices.
As they looked at it, they also looked at it from the point of view of the future, which is a climate where there’s too much water, too little water, too hot, too cold. In other words, a more disruptive climate landscape. So what they’re doing is very pragmatic, which is, they’ve been around 150 years, they want to be around for another 150 years. That’s their job, that’s management, they serve their shareholders. So the idea is like, well, let’s stick around, that would be a good idea. So to do that, they’re working with a million farmers, and they have everything from cacao and coffee, to regular row crops. I don’t know how many countries; 80 countries where they have farming operations? They don’t own them. They just buy from those farms.
So there’s an example of a company, and their motto right now is Generation Regeneration. They’re serious about this. I know the people, I work with them, and they get it, they understand it and they’re not going to toot their horn, but that’s exactly what they’re doing. So that’s quote capitalism, but to me, it’s just a 150-year-old company that is changing and adapting to a new landscape, a new social landscape, a new climatic landscape, and a new landscape in terms of people’s values. The head of the company came from health care, so there’s an interesting sense of change in their direction to nutrition, in the truest sense of the words, as opposed to ultra-processed foods, which is 60% of the American diet is ultra-processed foods, which are basically chemical experiments on humankind, because they’re not food at all.
I can give you many other examples of companies that are doing extraordinary things. They function within an existing capitalist system, if you want to call it that, the financial system and markets and pension funds and investors and all that sort of stuff. I think the change that I see is, you have CEOs who up until relatively recently, would espouse green things or sustainability or say the right things, have a department. But in a sense, they were just getting their social licence renewed from a changing customer base. They knew that if they didn’t do X and Y and Z, that customers would complain or move away to another product, or out them publicly on social media and things like that. So you see a lot of corporations that have been moving or saying the right things, and not really doing it.
What you see now today, and I’ve seen it, literally, and that is you have CEOs, women and men who get it. What I mean by that is, they get it. They have children, or nieces and nephews or grandchildren or whatever. They see the writing on the wall, the climate wall if you will. You see it in their eyes. I mean, it’s not conceptual, like, oh, yeah, we got to do this and this. They find themselves at that point of realization at being the head of a company of consumer goods or production or manufacturing or service company, and going, Wait a minute, I can’t responsibly stay here in this role and not move this company for which I am responsible, in a way that isn’t amenable to what we know about the future, that doesn’t comport and conform to what needs to be done by this institution. Scope one, scope two, scope three emissions, as they’re known. So you’re seeing that, and they know they have to work within an existing system. They have these completely huge, gnarly, amazing supply chains. It’s complex, but what’s good about them is they’re not leaving. They’re not saying, Oh man, this company sucks. Or, I don’t know what to do with this thing, it’s a behemoth, it’s too big. They’re staying, and they’re working, and they’re doing. And they’re not crowing about it, they’re not doing public service announcements or not trying to get brownie points from the public or youth or whatever. They’re actually doing it. You don’t hear much about them, because they know that to do is the most important thing, not to say.
That’s something I’d say about capitalism. Is that a functional system? No, it is quintessentially dysfunctional. Its value orientation is upside down and backwards, and the results show in everywhere in the world today. It is also I think, skewing human beings in terms of their values, because in a sense, there’s kind of a roulette wheel out there – maybe a lottery is a better word – where maybe if I do this and this and this, I can make enough money, I’ll be safe. Or from the future, I’ll have enough property or big enough house or big enough portfolio. I don’t know what people are thinking. And you see that with crypto now too, cryptocurrency. You’re seeing the same mindset even though it’s about defi in a sense, decentralize finance, getting out of fiat money and the control that central banks have and that’s the promise of cryptocurrency. But you’re seeing the same mindset. People making tonnes of money and so forth, and being super rich. So it has nothing to do really with a change in core values as to what is valuable in and what is a way for humanity to work together, in such a way that everybody’s needs are supported, in a way that allows them to be fully human, as mothers, fathers, children, uncles, aunts, whatever. We are moving further away from that, and so I don’t see crypto doing anything about that either.
The impediments are in people’s minds. And people’s beliefs are determined by our culture. Our culture is now determined by money. Money is what controls media, money controls the advertisements, money controls social media. People can say whatever they want and think whatever they want on social media, but the ads don’t. Basically, that adage: if it’s free, you’re the product. So whether it’s Facebook or whatever else, you’re being sold. You’re being sold to others. Every little iota of information that you unintentionally offer basically goes to people who parse it, and then come back and try to sell you something. So it’s really a consumption machine. And also, it’s a machine that skews our values, as to what is valuable.
The lionization of influencers – oh, this influencer’s making 10 million a year, doing what? Nothing, except dancing on Tik Tok, and basically showing different clothing or dresses and so forth. Basically, abetting fast fashion. It’s out this week, this is in next week. Again, if it wasn’t so tragic, it’d be hilarious. Accepting that has a huge impact on young people, has a huge impact on the environment. Clothing now is at least 8 percent of global emissions. And 30% of fast fashion is thrown away, to keep the prices high. They make the clothing and the purses, and then they throw them away if they don’t sell. They don’t sell them, they don’t go into secondary markets, because that would ruin the price, that would ruin the perception of value. You have a whole industry, even H&M, I think, burned a bunch of clothes until they got caught out in the local incinerator in Sweden to produce power for the city. They were burning 10s and 10s of millions of dollars of clothing that didn’t sell.
Then you have Twitter, which is to me, it’s not a Twitter-verse, it’s a ridiculous-verse of opinion, belief and outing and sarcastic, stiletto things taken out to skew other people’s beliefs, and all that sort of stuff. Again, all these things really are the digitization of our minds and so forth. It produces sort of fracturing and splintering. I saw a preview for a movie that’s coming out, it’s called Moon Fall, where the moon explodes and falls down on Earth. Okay, that’s as much as I got the plot. But I mean, you can see that in our media like that, we’re projecting our darker self, or self at all. I mean, it’s hard to say what it is, but you see it being projected out, like the moon’s gonna explode. What an interesting, interesting archetype for a movie, but it’s emblematic of what’s happening to our spirit, our souls, our hearts, our minds, our communities, and they are exploding and fracturing and dividing.
So the biggest impediment I see in terms of regeneration, regenerating the world and so forth, is both a torment and a gift, if you will; an offering. That is that we’re producing a world that’s meaningless. We strive to cover that up, with all sorts of news stories and social media and products, and this and that, and stars like Kanye and Kardashians. Just an onslaught of things that are distractions, and take us away from ourselves. But the good thing about all that is that it is creating a sense of meaninglessness and purposelessness. We know that 70% of the 16 to 23-24 year old cohort in United States is depressed. Clinically? No, because they haven’t all been to clinics. But depressed. The number one cause of depression is lack of purpose, that my life has no purpose. They look at the world, if they have just basic intelligence, they look at it, and the only conclusion you could draw from that is that this world is mad, and it has no purpose, has no meaning. It’s not dignified. It’s not kind, it’s not compassionate. It’s not inclusive. It’s not supportive. And that just reifies that sense of lack of meaning that people have, that children have, that young people have. I’m not saying there aren’t some amazingly brave, wonderful young people marching, acting, doing something. They’re incredible. But I’m just saying overall, that’s where we are.
I think the thing about regeneration, regeneration is really about restoring life on Earth, which in itself sounds like an overwhelming task, but I’ll get back to that. But the fact is that regeneration is what provides a sense of purpose, meaning and dignity to people’s lives everywhere in the world. The climate conversation is, I read it here and watch it, is still a conversation amongst the privileged to the privileged. The 1 or 2% talking to each other, with some outliers lobbing in some grenades and books and things. But basically what you can do depends on you having a lot to do with, that is that you’re well off. That you’re secure, you have a home, you have a mortgage, maybe you don’t even have a mortgage, maybe you own your own. And “I want to get rid of one of my cars.” One of your cars? Most people don’t have a car. “I’m gonna buy a Tesla.” This is a conversation that is exclusive of most of the people in the world.
What’s interesting about regeneration is that it’s innate to being a human being. It’s not a concept. The word may be a concept for people, granted, no question about that. But it’s not like sustainability was a concept, which still is. Define it? What does it mean? When do you achieve it? How do you know? Who’s to say? Good questions. So it’s a concept.
Climate science, if you will, has been a conceptual matter for the overwhelming number of people in the world. If you’re gonna do a woman or man in the street thing, with a fake microphone, and saying: I’m just doing a survey. Hi, my name is Vicki Robin, and so forth. What does 1.5C mean to you? And they’ll look at you like, Who is this woman? And they’ll say, Oh yeah, maybe I’ve heard of that. What’s C? Centigrade. Oh, is that the way other people do temperature, because we don’t do that here, we do F. And 1.5C of what? And where and when? People have no idea. That’s just jargon and it’s just climate speak, and it has no meaning for people. We continue to use climate speak as a way to talk about decarbonization. Oh, that really works. How about negative emissions? Oh, fabulous. I’m an English major, and when people say negative emissions, I’m going, what’s a negative tree? There’s no such thing as a negative emission. It’s an impossibility. That’s like saying, it’s a negative rock. Well, it doesn’t exist, as a negative rock.
We are using language which is so contorted and guaranteed to turn people off and to make them oblivious to the content. We have expected people to act or to do something or to become responsible with that kind of dialogue. And then not to mention acronyms, Oh, the IPCC, a function of the UNFCC has come up. I was like, Whoa, wait, stop what do you mean? And so the conversation is not inclusive.
So you go back to regeneration. I say it’s innate to being human being, is that all 30-40 trillion cells, there’s different numbers for the number of cells we have in our body, are regenerating every millisecond. Right now, yours are, mine are, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It’s what the cells do to live, it is the default mode of life. Life regenerates. It started 3 billion years ago with something coming out of the ocean, basically a bacteria in the ocean and combining with a bit of speckle, lichen, and forming the basis for soil. You look at 3 billion years and also in that time, I say, just notwithstanding, in terms of the periodicity and the pulsing of it, life has created life. We have the Cenozoic, we have the meteor, life was wiped out. Look what happened in 65 million years, we had 10 million species.
So this is what life does. And we’re life, so our natural proclivity is to generate life. And we know this, because everything we do in a day, including to ourselves, is about we care for things. We care for ourselves, of course. We take a shower, brush our teeth, we make our bed. But we keep care of our children, our friends, our elderly parents, our neighbours, our congregants at the church or temple or synagogue or where we celebrate. If we’re teachers, we take care of our students. We take care, and then we do other things are stupid, but we always take care. Even the most right-wing angry, armed-to-the-teeth person in Idaho, is taking care of his dogs. You can’t get rid of that quality. That’s regeneration, caring for life, in all its manifestations.
We do understand that, as you said, that we have to decrease our fossil fuel dependence and usage, our combustion really of coal, gas and oil by 45-50% by 2030, and again in 2040, and then really zero out by 2050. That’s so true. 85% of our greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide are from combustion of coal, gas and oil. But what’s happened is that, we kind of think that if we do that, we get a hall pass to the 22nd century. And it’s not true, because we have to look at where are we consuming that. What are we doing with it? Why are we combusting it at all? And then you go to fast fashion or clothing being 8%, you go to ag and food, that’s 35% of global emissions and greenhouses, is how we farm and what we eat, and how we make what we eat.
Then you have to also look at the fact that every living system on Earth is declining, and the declining is speeding up. We have to step back and look at the fact that we could be zero emissions today. In other words, we could have no more fossil fuels, but the way we’re acting, the way we are producing, the way we are interacting with the environment, is destroying life on Earth. You can run a chainsaw in the Amazon on renewable energy with batteries just as easily as with gasoline, or a two-cycle motor. So we have to step back and say, Wait a minute, wait a minute. It’s not like we just have the wrong fuel source. We do. No question. We got to address that. It’s unquestionable. But in a sense, we’ve narrowed down the idea of where the leverage is to the exclusion of so many other things.
Regeneration, the book certainly and the website and so forth, is the complete listing and network of climate solutions in the world. But it’s how to do them. Use the list, take a pick. It’s still in development on the website. The books out, as you said, six months. But the website is, and it’s wiki-curated and you’ll see a nexus. Take degraded land restoration, which is a huge, huge area of potential carbon sequestration and bringing back life to areas that have been deforested or overgrazed or burnt, or industrially farmed and abandoned. It’s 2 billion hectares, a lot of land. That’s 5 billion acres, and it’s just sitting there waiting to be regenerated, to be restored, to be renewed, to be rejuvenated. We know how to do it, we know how to do it. And it brings back creatures and insects and biodiversity and water and fertility and food. It employs people and gives them, again, a sense of purpose and meaning to see a land return from being a desert to return back to what it once was. It’s an amazing job, if you call that even a job at all.
So we have a way of looking at climate and regeneration that’s completely different than this idea that somehow we have to get an EV. Now EVs are fine. I’m not decrying them at all. But I’m just saying is that there’s so much more. It’s possible, it’s relevant, it’s germane. So if you step back, and you look at the solutions and the challenges, by the way, that are in our website, Regeneration.org. You look at them. And now imagine that there isn’t a climatologist alive in the world. We don’t have climate science. We have no idea what’s causing extreme weather. Hurricane Otto was just like a super bummer, like Whoa, more people drowned in New Jersey than Louisiana? Gosh, who knew that would ever happen? We have no idea that it was amplified by the warming waters in the Gulf. Okay, we just don’t make those connections. You look at every one of those solutions, and we would want to do them, we do want to do them, we are doing them because they absolutely make everyone’s lives better. Hello? As opposed to, I’m gonna do something because I feel like if I don’t do it, we’re screwed, which, if you look at it from that logic, may be true, but it’s not a good entry point. It’s not good motivation.
The fact is that the way we talk about climate, first of all, is incorrect. It’s incorrect in the sense we talk about addressing climate change, and use the word mitigate. I don’t think people know what mitigate means when it comes to climate. It’s in common parlance. I’ve asked people in audiences, can somebody define mitigate for me? And they won’t. It’s just, well, mitigate. Mitigate means reduce the pain and seriousness of something. Well, is that what we want to do? Do we want to mitigate the pain and seriousness of, here’s the thing, climate change? And there’s another mistake, which is that somehow we think we can stop change. How fascinating. You cannot, you never will be able to and you’re not supposed to. Furthermore, the climate is supposed to change. It changes every nanosecond. If it didn’t change, we wouldn’t have seasons. If we didn’t have seasons, we wouldn’t have rivers, glaciers, fish, hummingbirds, honey, dragonflies. We wouldn’t have life as we know it, if the climate wasn’t changing constantly, and so forth.
And furthermore, climate is perfect. It’s always perfect, just as it is this moment, because it’s responding to what we’re doing down here. That’s what’s going on. So what we have to change is what we do, not trying to change the climate. The problem with that language also is it’s using othering language, in other words, is othering the climate. Othering is the mental disease that infects the whole world right now in terms of racism and sexism, in terms of anti-semitism and Islamophobia, selfishness, greed, the Republican Party. I mean, othering the world is the cause of global warming, not the cure. The idea that that things are separate and distinct, and we can act in a way that is basically beneficial to us, but not to anything else, is othering. So the language we’re using around it is that – well, here we go again – that is, that all this means nothing.
There’s 4.3 billion people who are institutionally classified as living in impoverished conditions. Okay, that’s World Bank. But there’s a heck of a lot more than that. What we’ve been talking about, Vicki, is like, we have to address this future existential threat, that’s a term is used constantly. Well, first of all, it’s not a future existential threat anymore. But even if it was, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of people in the world wake up every morning with current existential threat. They wake up, and that’s what’s on their mind and that is, their children getting to school, food security, security period, paying their rent, warm enough in their home and their clothing, getting things for the children. I mean, this is the plight of most people in the world. It’s the plight of probably 60 million plus people in the United States right now, where do they even have a home next month? And will they be homeless? Will they be this, will they be that? And they have a child or two children, and their car broke down, they don’t have money, they can’t get… I mean, this is this is the bulk of humanity.
So, we have to understand that if we are not addressing current human need, then we will not reverse global warming. Again, this conversation has to become much more inclusive. Regeneration has big, big, big arms, whereas sustainability, mitigating, combating, tackling, fighting climate change is such a narrow way to see the world, to be in the world, to understand the world. First of all, it’s incorrect. But it’s using war and sports metaphors to describe something that we’ve created. This is why I think regeneration is a way of understanding oneself, and oneself in oneself’s relationships, that is so helpful.
When I ask people, people say to me, Well, what should I do? And I say, Good question. I used to be very disingenuous, I thought about it when Drawdown came out, and I’d say, Well, I don’t know you, so I don’t know what you should do. But actually, should is the wrong verb – not a verb, but it’s part of the conjugation of the verb, do. And it’s, what do you want to do? That’s the question. What lights you up? What did you want or are doing, where you wake up in the morning going, Amazing, it’s another day and I can go out and do what I love? You know?
I’ll tell you a story about this, because I just wrote a piece on insects, which for most people, insects are bother. They don’t want them around, they bite, they sting, they infest. Argentinian ants are crawling across your counter in the kitchen, whatever. That’s what they think of insects. Okay, understandable. But what I’ve tried to show, is that first of all, they’re a miracle. There’s 1.4 billion insects for every human being on the planet. There’s about 1000 pounds of biomass for every person of insects. They’re the base of the food pyramid of the planet, in terms of trophic cascades, they’re the base. You take away the base, the whole thing falls apart; there is no trophic cascade, there is no ecosystems, there are no wetlands, there are no forests, there are no grasslands, they’re gone and we’re gone for sure. So just looking at insects from that point of view.
So there was a really interesting study that was done by the Creffield Society in Germany, in the Rhineland, and they had been studying amateurs. These are amateurs who just love bugs and insects, and they’ve been studying them since 1905. They have data they collect and they put them with pins in them and formaldehyde in these boxes, and stuff like that. As a kid I remember well. And they’re good, they’re good at it. They also trap insects, and what they do is they put this big net on a car, and then they drive the car down the highway for so many minutes or a day at certain times the day. They do on the same highway or the same road, year after year after year and then they weigh everything that’s in them and they calculate it and write it down in their society books and this and that. They’re scientists, but they’re not. They’re amateurs, but they’re doing it scientifically.
So they came out in 2017, and said actually, the mass of flying insects is declined by 40 to 72% in the last 30 years. And it shocked, that scientists looked at all their data and what they did and their methodology and thought, Oh my god, this is true. This is true. And they called that the insect apocalypse and insect apocalypse and went around the world on the media says, a curious phrase. And then people came out from all over in Asia or South America and Canada, saying, Oh, yeah, here’s our study, here’s our data. These are amateurs too. And it’s a worldwide phenomena. I remember as a child, I lived with my grandparents and then later my uncle, but I live with him in the San Joaquin Valley in California. We could not drive at night without having to stop every hour or so and scrape off all the gooey insect protein off the windshield that was just splattered. And you can drive down that road now, even 10 years ago or more, and your windshield is clear all night long. So it’s called the windshield effect. The windshield effect is reported everywhere in the world.
Okay, so there’s the apocalyptic, this will scare the shit out of you, kind of thing. But when I wrote it, it is like, wait a minute, let’s go back. These are amateurs. What does amateur mean? An amateur is “one who loves”. That’s an amateur. In Latin, amatory. I spent four years in tortured Latin classes, but I remember that word. So the people who love. These people did these studies because they loved insects. They loved to identify them, they love the diversity. There’s a million species of insects that are identified. Another seven million, they believe, who are not identified yet.
So it goes back to regeneration, which is really what we’re talking about, is loving the world. This is definitely an amateur hour thing. We are all amateurs at planet saving, and the way we do it is by falling in love. That’s how we do it and finding that thing that we love so much. It could be a person, could be a place, it could be an inner city. It can be butterflies, it can be water quality, it can be seaweed, it can be restoring the beautiful, beautiful marine forest. We’re off shore from British Columbia, all the way down to Northern California, that Blake called one of the eighth wonder of the world when he got there. There’s so much kelp and macro algae. So for restoring those, restoring the balance to the CO2 population that’s destroying them. I mean, it’s out there somewhere, something’s out there for you, you know? And you find that. That’s what you should do, because it lights you up. And you do it. You’re learning, you’re sharing, and it grows what we know.
A neurologist at Stanford, really brilliant, he said, our beliefs do not change our actions. And we’re trying to change people’s beliefs about how the planet works. Is it really a warming? Is it this? All this type of stuff. Of course, the overwhelming majority of people do understand that it is anthropocentric; that is, we’re causing it, it is not just happenstance. We’re still thinking if we make people believe enough that they’ll do something different. It’s not true. 2% of the world is doing something. 98% is totally disengaged from doing anything at all about global warming. Half of those people understand very well that it needs to be done, and that the end of it, we’re the cause, or we’re the main cause. And why is that? The reason for that is that we haven’t really created a playground big enough or fun enough and expansive enough for them to want to do something. They just still think, Oh, it’s a car, it’s plastic, it’s cold water in my washing machine. It’s like, okay, I shouldn’t fly as much. Or all that sort of stuff, all things that don’t light them up. They say they’re going to do it. They know how to do it, or want to do it, or care to do it. We have to think about the other 98% of the people and why aren’t they lit up? Why aren’t they turned on?
So the regenerative solutions that we outline, and as we add one almost every week for other people who help us, are the things that everybody needs, the world needs, that benefits everybody. It creates cleaner water, better food, more nutritious foods, food security, creates better schools, better education and creates better school houses, reduces disease. As I said at the beginning of it, these things create purpose and meaning and dignity. Most people now, their jobs, with all due respect, don’t provide that. I mean, Amazon, that is not really a job that gives you purpose and meaning in your life. So you look at the way we have, basically, the supply chains of the world to produce the things you buy at Target and Walmart and everything like that, people down the supply chain, people doing very tedious, meaningless, repetitive work, that is going to be roboticized, no question, and make them even less valuable.
And there is a planet to be restored, individually regenerated, just sitting as an offering. The climate and global warming, the climate disruption, global warming is not a curse, it’s an offering. Nature never makes a mistake. So in a sense, what we’re getting from global warming, and from extreme weather and all the different impacts that has, is basically a nudge from this beautiful thing we know is Earth, that acts like a living system, and may be a living system. We may never know, one way or the other. It doesn’t matter. We know it acts like one response when it is one system, we know that. And as a system it’s giving us feedback. Any system that ignores feedback – your body’s a system – you ignore feedback, and you’re going to die, or die sooner. So any feedback that comes in is a gift. It’s an offering. It’s the system talking to itself saying, this isn’t really working. I’m not trying to personify the Earth as a system. I’m just saying, but in language, that’s what feedback is saying, which is you want to pay attention to this thing because it’s causing that thing.
When you go back to regeneration as a way of understanding and seeing the world, it just gives you, like I said, a much broader, more detailed, more granular, more beautiful, more mysterious, more complex way of understanding what’s possible, and what your role can be in this possibility. Because the probabilities or climate have been just beaten into us. Every day you read the Guardian, you read this, read that, whatever you read, Times, Pulse is: Okay, there’s another bummer. There’s another bummer. There’s another one. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh. Okay. So those probabilities are good science. I don’t question that. But the thing is that what we need to do is provide the what those probabilities point to, and they point to possibility.
Every problem is a solution in disguise in disguise. So the problems we need to know. And as we learn more, we need to get that information as well, but we need to also set them aside. Say, Thank you very much, Science. Wow, amazing. But now, I woke up today. This is what I’m going to do. I’m not going to wallow in the science, I’m not going to grab 3-4 cups of coffee, just because I’m so depressed. I’m actually go out and do things, and do it with people I love and do it with doing something I love. I’m going to give my life meaning because I’m only here for a short time. No matter how old you are, it’s a short time. So how am I going to spend the rest of my life, and with whom am I going to spend it? And that can be not just humans, but with creatures and things that fly and buzz and burrow and swarm and run on four feet, all that sort of stuff is insane. So this is our family, and our family wants us to come home.
That’s like an aria. Not just a song, it’s a symphony. It’s just a total symphony. I have many, many notes, but I just gave up taking notes. Really, I thank you so so much. It’s very inspiring at the moment, because I’m working with a subset of the FIRE community. I don’t know if you ever heard of Financial Independence Retire Early. And we’re re-categorizing it as Financial Independence Regenerate Everything. The insight is that people don’t want to not work. They want to work for something that’s meaningful. For me, that’s totally revived my interest in that work and that community. This is a group of people who’ve done the adulting work of examining their relationship with money and digging themselves out of the system that’s deadening them. But they don’t see what you’re talking about. They don’t see the work ahead as a, let me at it, you can’t stop me. So I’m really excited to share your words with that community, because the FIRE community is very, very large. It’s global, it’s just an amazing phenomenon. So I’m totally with you.
The only other thing I’d say is that when I was writing my book on local food, I realized that there was no such thing as local food, there was only relationship. There was only, like, food wasn’t in the store. It was in my garden. It was that I was an animal that had forgotten how to eat. One of my mottos for my tombstone: It’s a relational world. I think we’ve forgotten that. And it’s a great, terrible loneliness, just like the bugs on the windshield. It’s a terrible loneliness that we’re not having to scrape them off.
But basically the other part of it is that humans are part of the living system. The living systems of this earth are speaking through us as well. We’re migrating, we’re circling up, and that’s what I have derived from this part of your work, is that we can not sit back and trust, but we can trust that that which is alive in the world is alive in us. And that we can allow it to move us, as you’re saying, out of love, but also physically move us. I mean, we’re part of that climate change, we’re part of the changing Earth. There are people who are, whether they’re financially self sufficient, or smart or adult or not, they are people who are moving. Jason McLennan of the Living Building Challenge uses the term Zugunruhe, which is that moment when in a herd of animals, enough heads have turned in the direction away from danger or toward food, then the whole herd moves. I think what you’re saying is that we can have faith in ourselves as well. That doesn’t mean to sit back and have faith, or have faith in Nestle or whoever, but we can have faith that whatever it is that’s alive in everything is alive in us. So that’s my superfluous coda to your aria.
I really want to thank you for this. I find it immensely inspiring as usual, provides a context for us to live into, that seems both possible and impossible. It just seems obvious, but like, Wait a second. How do we do it? But it’s just obvious that it can be done.
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