Saturday, May 03, 2008

Blessed Unrest

Since I started this blog, I’ve been meaning to include short little recaps of the books I read (that are worth recapping)… I’m finally going to give it a shot and get in the habit, starting out with one that definitely needs to be recapped: Blessed Unrest, by Paul Hawken.

Paul Hawken has written some of the most influential books in the sustainability movement – clearly articulating the latest thinking and usually driving it further. Among his big ones are The Ecology of Commerce – which changed the lives of many people, including Ray Anderson, founder of Interface carpet, who has since become an incredible role-model for sustainable business, and went on to write his own very influential book, which has also changed many lives: Mid-Course Correction. He was also a co-author of Natural Capitalism, which was the one that really did it for me.

So, Blessed Unrest – the subtitle pretty much sums it up: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. The largest movement doesn’t have a name. It’s been referred to as the “movement of movements.” It consists of 1-2 million environmental, social justice, and indigenous people’s rights organizations, and hundreds of millions of people.

People have been noticing this phenomenon in various ways for years. I first really consciously recognized its existence in 2005, but hadn’t really seen it articulated. We talked about it in various ways in Sweden. Manfred Max-Neef referred to its participants as the “mosquitoes.” Pestering the deeply entrenched, established, and powerful interests of unfettered self-interest in order to protect the (very large) segments of global human society and the ecological systems (upon which we all depend) that so often bear the brunt of that self-interest – in essence working to stop unsustainable activity and create a sustainable society. The workings of this entrenched self-interest is well articulated in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man – particularly the eloquence with which the author describes how the negative – mostly unintended – consequences are less the result of diabolical, immoral, individuals (although there are some driving these processes) and more the result of outdated worldviews and dogmatic, oversimplified ideas about economic development and the best ways to design our society to meet human needs.

Back to the book – in addition to exploring this movement, and attempting to enhance it by facilitating its interconnections, primarily through the social networking site WiserEarth (go sign-up and join, and connect to the Stratleade organization!) – Blessed Unrest does a great job of driving home a central point of sustainability, and one I try to convey on this blog. That is that sustainability is not merely environmentalism, and it is as much about social systems and social justice. He closes with a great line while talking about how it makes sense that the environmental movement is getting on the social justice bus, and the social justice movement is getting on the environmental bus, “because in the end, there is only one bus.”

The bus:


A great example of this concept that has been exploding is the green collar jobs phenomenon – an immensely powerful, and important message, and a exciting vehicle for creating a sustainable society. Van Jones has emerged as a great spokesman for this movement, and it is one we should all look for ways to support in our communities, businesses, personal lives, etc. Fast Company recently ran a great piece on Van and green collar jobs – worth the read.

Blessed Unrest provides a good background on the environmental and social justice movements and does a good job setting the historical context. It covers globalization and its discontents and the importance of Seattle, the rights of business (see previous post for a related discussion on the burden of proof), the inherent interconnectedness of all of us, and our common ancestry of the single cell, and much more, in a coherent storyline. It shows how in many ways this movement is emerging to serve as the collective immune system for the ‘organism’ that is humanity in the biosphere. The increased communication and partnership between NGOs, social entrepreneurs, and change agents is a big part of this. I’ve been experiencing some of the effectiveness of those kinds of partnership through the ambassador program we’ve been developing to help grow the ACUPCC.

All around, exciting stuff, and one to put on the ‘must read’ list. Stay going…