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Guest: Paul Hawken

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Listen Now

 We are witnessing an enormous transition from a world created by and for privilege to a world created by and for community, says environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken. Small actions and big ideas are at the heart of what Mr. Hawken describes as a movement that has no name. It is bottom-up because, he says simply, the top-down world is corrupt and this is the only way to prevent the end of life on earth. Yes, crises abound. Add fundamentalisms, especially free market fundamentalism, to peak oil, peak water, peak soil, peak fish, peak everything. But he says, in response, people are beginning to realize that our friends and solutions lie close by and are on all sides of us, among our neighbors and our communities; that in order to be resilient, durable, strong, meaningful and able to absorb the shocks that may be coming in the future, we need to re-organize. Stop importing our lives. Recognize what we have always known -- our lives and all meaningful culture are homegrown. Create a world without inequality, wealth without plunder and a future without fear. He calls this response a social movement because it involves people and society, but it is like no other and he’s seen many. So he has reached for biological metaphors like “quickening” to describe what is happening -- the largest movement the world has ever seen. He’s certain it exceeds one million organizations and may be as large as two million -- that’s organizations -- people in every culture and city and country in the world addressing mega-problems and confronting mega-institutions while recreating life the way nature does: from the bottom up, and using information. This movement is about dispersing power, not concentrating it, Mr. Hawken says. He’s convinced this is why corporate mass media has neither seen nor reported this massive movement. Instead of a few rigid ideologies like those that consumed the 20th century and cost 120 million lives, he says, this movement is fueled by many ideas which in turn are open to more ideas. It is arising, recreating and reimagining what true democratic process is. Today’s moribund top-down stories have Americans grappling with helplessness, hopelessness, depression, oppression and suppression of self, Mr. Hawken knows. He offers new stories of individuals and groups controlling the only thing any of us can control – our own intentions, guiding our own actions, in our own lives. Seemingly inconsequential acts piling on top of each other over time, he reminds us, are part of the many, many, many, many, many, many small acts that do change history. It works the same way biological evolution does, he says -- tiny shifts culminating in great changes. Consider how slavery was abolished in the British Empire. It began when 12 people gathered in 1787, convinced it was time, in spite of the fact that 3 out of 4 people on earth at that moment were either slaves or indentured servants. Or think of Joanne Robinson. Few know her name, but this Alabama college teacher created the context from which the pivotal Montgomery Bus Boycott launched the great civil revolution in America, eventually bringing the Jim Crow era to an end. We are now at the end of an age of giants, he concludes, citing mega-statistics from Big Oil’s Exxon-Mobil to Wal-Mart to neo-conservatives. Remember, he says. In evolutionary terms, giantism usually is the end of the line, the end of power and not its beginning. 


 Life on earth is indebeted to Paul Hawken. His strong and compassionate voice, his willingness to put into action his passion for justice, his life are shining examples of what we can -- and must -- be and do to sustain life on earth. Amory Lovins, with whom Mr. Hawken wrote Natural Capitalism is another example of putting our best selves forward on behalf of all. Yet another splendid example of the "little things" that add up to a lot -- many years ago, Jeff Gates put us in touch with Paul Hawken and from that day forward, we have all worked to bring this Conversation to you. We deeply appreciation Jeff’s own continuing commitment to a better world, wish him well and look forward to reconnecting with him when the time is right. While doing a semi-routine update of this page, we came across the following item from 2003:  Paul Hawken Resigns from Green Business Network over McDonald's Issue. Seems to us a principled response to the flood of greenwash now threatening to undermine or diminished the work of people and organizations genuinely acting to preserve the liveability of Earth. 

Related Links

 Blessed Unrest:  How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming is published by Viking. For more on Paul Hawken, visit his website. He cordially invites you to visit the website for Wiser Earth and for the organization he now heads, Natural Capital InstituteJames Carse is the author of Finite and Infinite Games:  a Vision of Life as Play and Possibility and, in 2008, The Religious Case Against Belief.Ray Anderson, the founder of Interface, Inc., is working to make his company, not only sustainable, but restorative ... and to serve as an example to all industrialists and business people. Philosopher Frederick Ferré provides a solid philosophical basis for Paul Hawkins assestment of the direction we must choose if the species is to survive. Videos are here. The eminent scientist Edward O. Wilson speaks of one of our species' finer attributes:  biophilia, a profound love and respect for life. 

This Program was recorded on Wednesday, May 23, 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia, US

Tags: Blessed Unrest bottom up diffuse power disperse ecology emancipation environmental fundamentalism giantism Paul Hawken power social movement