Blog Archive

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Blessed Unrest" by Paul Hawken: book review by Laurie Dougherty of the "Climate Tuva or Bust" blog

Dear Readers,

Please feel free to make comments on this review at the Climate Tuva or Bust blog -- a new blog being set up by a group of people who have been discussing their ideas about our situation as concerned human beings on this planet who feel the need to talk about these ideas with others of like mind, hoping to increase the flow of conversation about where society might go in the coming years.  We are all in this together and there is a need to maintain connections and dialogue because in the coming years things are likely to become more chaotic.  I know I am not expressing this very well, but the more we remain connected and less isolated, even though we are in many different geographic locations, the better things will be in uncertain times.

We look forward to discussions, not of the science, but of ideas for moving forward.  We are not going to be arguing -- we are going to talk respectfully about our ideas and your ideas. 

Climate Tuva or Bust is brand new, so we imagine that it will take a while to catch on, but let me just say that it is not going to be wonky or heavy, but yes, it will be thoughtful.

Please do not be shy.  We are all having thoughts about the future and what it will look like -- let's talk about them because talking exercises the mind, brings clarity to some things, and provides the foundation for developing ideas, and you all know we need this.

btw, I am the admin for that blog.  Comments are not moderated before posting, but don't worry, I will be filtering out later what needs to be filtered, so that we can have a comfortable space together.


p.s.  to express your thoughts directly on this book review, go to:

Book review: Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken

It's fitting to be posting this review on the eve of Thanksgiving
because the book portrays many things I am thankful for.
The review is dedicated to my friend Carol Thomas
whose life is truly one of blessed unrest.*

Blessed Unrest  How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice and Beauty to the World. Paul Hawken. Penguin Books (paperback) 2008.

Blessed Unrest website (The website, hardcover book and linked video of a speech by Paul Hawken at the 2006 Bioneers conference have a different subtitle than the paperback edition reviewed here.)

WiserEarth website – interactive database of 110,000+ NGOs

Blessed Unrest originated in a motley assortment of business cards collected by Paul Hawken during hundreds of speaking engagements over the course of 15 years. As a businessman, environmentalist, author, and founder and executive director of the Natural Capital Institute, Hawken is a widely respected spokesperson for socially and environmentally responsible business. After his speeches, small groups would gather to ask questions, share their own insights and experiences – and exchange business cards. In the course of many years and many miles and many, many business cards, Hawken realized that truly there was a movement of unrecognized proportions functioning under the radar screen of general consciousness, unacknowledged by the mainstream media except in isolated reporting on this or that group, this or that issue; a movement just beginning to become conscious of itself, to link up kindred efforts through networking and ever-shifting alliances.

At the Natural Capital Institute Hawken brought together a team of researchers to create a digital database of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and CBOs (community-based organizations) in an attempt to scope out the nature and extent of this civil society movement. Now online with search capabilities on a wide array of categories and keywords, built-in networking and user-enabled interaction similar to Wikipedia, the database WiserEarth contains at this time over 110,000 organizations and thousands of participating individuals. Hawken considers WiserEarth to be the tip of a much greater iceberg.

Blessed Unrest the book is also a result of that research, an attempt not to catalog, but to characterize and place this movement in context. Hawken first defines three broad sectors of activity: social justice, environmentalism, and indigenous culture. (A very large Appendix defines dozens of subcategories.) Throughout the book Hawken draws on images and metaphors of organic life. The movement is an amalgam of cell-like entities, each with a unique function, each seeking to link its efforts to a larger purpose. The movement evolves, adapts, filling in niches of need and opportunity. The movement is an immune system for the planet, complex, responsive, vigilant and protective of earth and its inhabitants in the face of the corporate global juggernaut marauding across the world without accountability, without any ethic except maximizing profit.

Hawken is a businessman. He is not anti-business, but he staunchly opposes corporate recklessness and exploitation, whether of people or the environment, and applauds those who demand – and practice – corporate responsibility and respect for human and ecological diversity and well-being. If organic life is a metaphor for the NGO movement, it also provides a model for how to do business. Drawing on several threads in ecosystem research, in the final chapter “Restoration” Hawken identifies three core principles that mimic natural ecosystems and which, practiced together, can generate clean, green eco-industrial systems: 1) “cradle to cradle” – recycling end products into new production rather than using up virgin resources; 2) “waste is food” – using the waste and byproducts from one process as source material for another process; 3) operating on current solar income.
Blessed Unrest nourishes hope, encourages connection and shines a well-deserved light on the intertwined movements for social justice, environmental sustainability, and cultural diversity. It challenges ideological rigidity with its picture of grassroots self-organizing activity. Paraphrasing an email he received from Wolfgang Sachs, Hawken says: “Some people think the movement is defined primarily by what it is against, but the language of the movement is first and foremost about keeping the conversation going, because ideas that inform it never end:  growth without inequality, wealth without plunder, work without exploitation, a future without fear.”

I’ve been an activist off and on since the late 1960s. I’ve been involved in my share of struggling non-profits, small collectives and committees from PTA bake sales to Car-Free Day and 350.orgevents. I’ve seen – and sometimes been a part of – more factional discord and broken alliances than is comfortable to recollect. Sometimes I get tired of a tendency toward dogmatism on one hand or lack of coherent purpose on the other; sometimes I get depressed by the scale of the problems we face or terrified by what the future may portend; sometimes I get lazy or overwhelmed by life’s circumstances and just don’t do much. As Hawken puts it, “...I am not questioning whether the human condition permeates the movement. It does so, most surely. Clay feet march in all protests.”

But sometimes – at a meeting or a conference or a march or a rally – I look around and see what else Paul Hawken sees: all kinds of people, young and old, men and women, kids and babies, from a myriad of racial and ethnic groups and walks of life. Turtles and Teamsters united at the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle (at which thousands of people participated peacefully). Banners for all kinds of causes and two little girls with a handmade sign “George you are soooooooo embarrassing us” at a peace march in DC. Scientists, writers, politicians and other citizens gathered on Boston Common to express concern about climate change. I hear people speaking out, in a multitude of accents, with polished eloquence and with heartfelt sincerity. I meet urban farmers who teach women from a homeless shelter and inner city kids to grow healthy food on remediated vacant lots; advocates for sustainable transportation who tirelessly attend hearings and planning meetings; members of community land trusts that provide affordable housing; and conservation land trusts that preserve ecosystems and habitats acre by acre, stream by stream.

These moments are magic, not in any supernatural sense, but for the connection with the deep and vibrant harmony this movement embodies. There is a fundamental truth in the currently popular slogan: “This is what democracy looks like.” In his introduction to the book’s Appendix Hawken says: “It is axiomatic that we are at a threshold in human existence, a fundamental change in our relationship to nature and each other. We are moving from a world created by privilege to a world created by community... The world is a system, and it will soon be a very different world, driven by millions of communities who believe that democracy and restoration are grassroots movements that connect us to values that we hold in common.”

I read this book during the final days of the 2008 presidential campaign. I couldn’t help but think that there is something very fitting and resonant in the fact that Barack Obama cut his political teeth as a community organizer in the blessed unrest of the movement for social justice. The administration’s progress has not been smooth. President Obama inherited many intractable problems. His organizer’s instinct to reach across partisan divides has been rebuffed and counter-movements have erupted. This too is what democracy looks like – a clash and clamor of ideas and interests. In this climate of crisis and shifting political winds it is all the more important to keep faith with those who share our values and our visions and who strive and struggle to build that different world created by community rather than privilege.

*In this spirit I lovingly dedicate this review to Carol Thomas whose life is truly one of blessed unrest. I just learned that Carol will receive the Quiet Courage Award on Sunday 11/29/2009 from the Gainesville, FL, Rosa Parks Quiet Courage Committee. This award is richly deserved, although I don’t really think of Carol as quiet. Her life has been a whirlwind of meetings and rallies and picket lines, a houseful of family and friends, mixed with some jail time for non-violent resistance to injustice. This award comes 40 years after Carol left Gainesville because of threats against her life for her civil rights activities. Now retired she is back in Florida, living near Gainesville and still going strong at 75 years old. In between Carol lived in Louisville, KY, and Boston, MA. I knew her in both cities. I could never begin to keep up with her energy or match her unflagging commitment, but she is one of those people with whom I must keep faith to keep my soul intact.

No comments: