Presidents Message Part 3

Seeking Real Solutions, Part III:
Arriving at Better

I ended my last opinion piece saying I would describe another way of seeing the world, building on Annie Leonard's "Story of Solutions," which describes our current economy measured only by 'More' vs. a wholistic vision of a 'better' economy. 

The goal of the ‘Better’ game is quite different from the ‘More’ game.  While the end vision of the ‘More’ game is a Los Vegas style Shangri-La, the end vision of the ‘Better’ game is a world where all earths inhabitants and natural systems live in determined harmony.  ‘Better’ rejects organizing society around the well-worn pursuit of material gratification, greed, violence and social disfunction for one that actively pursues cooperation, compassion, thoughtfulness, love and environmental harmony.   Rather than immediate satisfaction from creating faceless "jobs," economic growth, and personal attainment at any price, 'Better' seeks to create meaningful, fulfilling livelihoods.  The Guild and our Members embody this approach in their businesses and daily lives.

But how do we get there.  I think there’s a pretty simple answer. 

First, a defining thought to keep in mind:  Sustainability is a journey, not a destination. Like working for justice, sustainability is an endeavor with no end, an iterative process, or kaizen.  Kaizen is the Japanese term for continual improvement - trial, error, analysis, and trial again, a familiar process, exercised consciously.  Understanding that ‘finished’ will never occur in any one person’s lifetime is key.  But we have to have a vision, and a plan for getting there. If we don't, someone else will.  We must promote the possible within our current reality while avoiding unattainable ideals.  Most important, we have to overcome inertia and get started.  A Chinese proverb states, ‘the longest journey begins with the first step.’

Over the past ten years, I have engaged in extensive educational opportunities in ‘Better’ ways of understanding our world.  Subjects were permaculture, biomimicry, mycoremediation, regenerative design, and living architecture.  I attended many courses, lectures, and conferences on building science and Passive House construction, and "cradle to cradle" thinking.  I initially thought these subjects pertained mostly to our natural world, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn many of them are applicable to social challenges as well. This education led me to intensely question the path our modern world has taken, and reject much of the thinking that has brought us to this environmental tipping point.   

For instance, when studying biomimicry, permaculture and mycoremediation, instructors had us exploring social traits of earth’s flora and fauna.  Exploring flora, we studied the transmission information by mushrooms with their root systems, and pollen distribution of various plants. Researching fauna had us studying bee and ant kingdoms.  In one exercise we chose to model a solution around pollen distribution of certain plants. Since pollen is distributed in myriad ways, we explored plants that had evolved symbiotic methods of attracting very specific pollinators in a way that was beneficial to both the plant and pollinator.  Then we applied that model to solve a specific social issue.

In most of these topics I discovered a common thread of cooperation, restoration and compatibility with nature’s laws.  The life of this planet evolved and survived by following these laws, and our species came from the same origin.  Thus, if we can begin to see all life on Earth as our “elders,” imagine how much we could learn from these elders about how to survive, thrive and innovate? There is really no distinction between us and the rest of life on this planet, except that our "civilized" society is but a toddler compared to our earthly “elders”. 

With this anchor understanding that environmental and social harmony are inextricably tied together, seeking real solutions takes on a different context.  Rather than "what's in it for me?" we begin to ask ‘what do we wish to honor?"  In that context, solutions arise from an attitude of celebration rather than obligation, making it possible to address such serious threats to planetary life like habitat destruction, pollution and social injustice with enthusiasm and pleasure. 

I have been greatly influenced by a couple of books by Michael Braungart and William McDonough: Cradle to Cradle and The Upcycle.  Their vision of environmental design influenced by green chemistry has been as inspiring as Biomimicry.  The vision and logic behind it, once grasped, is impossible to shake loose from. But I’ve also found it somewhat depressing when I see we are so distant from this vision of the possible.  

These authors' proposed solution is essentially to rethink how we create stuff within our earthly closed system.  An amalgam of biomimicry, permaculture and green chemistry, Braungart and McDonough insist that upcycling not just recycling of goods, is a pathway that could lead to a world of abundance and environmental harmony. Upcycling is predicated on retaining the purity of what they refer to as technical and biological nutrients, i.e. pure aluminum, high grade steel, food grade plastics etc. In contrast, chemical hybrids create products that lose their integrity as technical or biological nutrients, making it nearly impossible to extract them for re-use. Upcycling eliminates the concept of waste. When designers and manufacturers learn to identify earth’s natural wealth as ‘nutrients’ that must be kept pure, we can all enjoy the abundance of that wealth as all such 'nutrients' are simply recaptured at the end of a products usefulness - a process with no end.

Another goal would the idea of net-zero or positive impact: At the end of a manufacturing process, the water and air leaving its’ premises would be as clean, or better yet, cleaner then when it entered. Processes such as these would require no further regulatory bureaucracies, just intelligent thinking. By placing filters on our minds rather than on exhaust pipes, we must acknowledge there is no externalizing any cost or impact, for the simple reason there is no external.  Our planet is a closed system.

In the final analysis, for real solutions we must seek new industrial processes, born of holistic environmental thinking.  We need a re-evolution of industry if you will, that honors earth and all its inhabitants.  Such processes will be very difficult or impossible to achieve under our 'more' economic system, we must have 'better' economic vision to propel us forward.

I believe we can build an economy that is both limitless and effortless, where economics is used to create a good life for all.  We need a vision powerful enough to supplant the one that guides our policy and institutions now, one that causes pollution and disease; physically, socially and emotionally.  

In my opinion, our current economic model is little more than a dysfunctional vision of a supposed good life.  I don’t mean to imply all traditional economic thinking is wrong, passé or irrelevant. What I do mean is a redefinition of economy is needed, one that defines growth quite different from one constructed around extractive thinking.  Yet current indications are the powers-that-be are determined to accelerate towards the abyss.  

We are at a time when courage and exploration are required. There are a lot of us doing this in many ways.  I believe we can do it.  But I’m under no illusions it will be easy or painless. We just need to step it up. Now that’s an inspiring world to work toward.

To read the earlier articles in this series click here:
Seeking Real Solutions, Part I
Seeking Real Solutions, Part II

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