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What's Next: Paul Hawken

Because of increased intensity of feedback loops from climate change, resource conflicts, and failed economic paradigms, we will see an exponential rise in every aspect of transformation detailed in WorldChanging. It will be a hold-onto-your-hat decade and beyond. Increases in innovation and possibilities (along with green- and poorwashing) will occur along with tragic damage to the earth and its carrying capacity, which in turn will further accelerate change and adaptation. From biological farming to corporate rights, from fisheries to localization, traditional institutions will be make about faces and embrace ideas that they scorned not long ago.

This sounds like good news and it is. However, the only thing harder than failure is success. The rapid growth in interest and adoption of green practices worldwide will place great stress on organizations and people. Although it is a time to plan for success, not failure, this doesn’t mean becoming a charismatic organization or a media hero. And it does not mean we will succeed. It will be the stroke of midnight for the rest of our lives. Rapid growth in this movement requires cooperation, collaboration, and sublimation. It is too late for heroes. We need an accelerated intertwining of the over one million non-profits and 100 million people who daily work for the preservation and restoration of life on earth. TV, magazines, and Hollywood must join in but cannot set the tone for what is the most crucial period in the history of humanity. The movement is fundamentally a bottom up movement. It arose from people, communities, the oppressed, biologists, and activists. We are experiencing something greater than “greening.? A community created world is replacing a world fostered by wealth and privilege. That can only happen if we stay in community and embody kindness and inclusivity in everything we do. The language of sustainability is about ideas that never end: growth without inequality, wealth without plunder, work without exploitation, a future without fear. To honor all cultures, creatures, and children requires us to become far more than an environmental movement. A green movement fails unless there’s a black, brown, and copper colored movement, and that can only exist if the movement to change the world touches the needs and suffering of every single person on earth.

Paul Hawken is an environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist, and author. Starting at age 20, he dedicated his life to sustainability and changing the relationship between business and the environment. His practice has included starting and running ecological businesses, writing and teaching about the impact of commerce on living systems, and consulting with governments and corporations on economic development, industrial ecology, and environmental policy.

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"It will be the stroke of midnight for the rest of our lives."

Sobering thought. But I appreciate your realistic assessment and encouragement to continue working together.

Posted by: Tina Kreminski on 26 Dec 06

Yes Tina, that's the one comment that summed it up for me as well.

First we face peak oil, then a decade later peak gas, then maybe mid century we face peak coal! (Coal-to-liquids consumption will rise exponentially as oil production starts to drop off.)

That's just the fossil fuels. Will fisheries survive? Will there be enough topsoil to feed 8 billion people?
Is humanity already in severe overshoot?
After "peak fossil fuels" what rarer metals peak in quality, and then decline in production? (Especially as we upgrade the electricity grid to cope with extra trams and electric rail).

Should not this century be called "Peak RESOURCES?"
There are simply too many of us, using too many resources, too quickly. We are living it up baby, and the party really is over. It will be one minute before midnight for the rest of our lives simply because we are moving from one resource crisis to the next.

Millions of farmers in Kenya are already feeling the pain from the lack of one of our most critical resources, water.

What potential interactions are there between systemic collapses as a result of one resource peaking leading into an accelerated consumption and peak & decline for the next resource?

Will people eventually refer to their groceries cupboards as "Hubberting"? "Yeah, my career Hubbert-ed a few years ago, and I'm on the downslope now to retirement...."

The very language we use is going to change due to the manifold crisis we will face, and it all starts with oil in just a few short years.

"Eat, drink and be merry..."

Posted by: Dave Lankshear on 27 Dec 06

I'm dissapointed in Mr. Hawken's rather extremist doomsdayer shift in language from earlier works and books. If anything sustainable commerce is on the rise and on the rise fast. Businesses across the World are answering the call for sustainably minded goods and services. Green technology is making great strides in increasing food yields and decreasing new pollution. Food is more abundant, forested land is increasing, and quality of life is going up across the World. While there is still much to do, and many people and species at risk, this article and follow up posts show the same pessimistic foul cries that the environmental movement has been (incorrectly) spewing for 40 years.

Posted by: Bruce on 27 Dec 06

It's hard to take global warming alarmists seriously when there is never mention of the biggest consumer of energy in the world: The U.S. military. In '03, the Air Force alone burned 3.5 billion gallons of fuel, most of it in the stratosphere, but this gets no mention by Al Gore or anyone else. Instead alarmists and politicians want the power to decide for the average guy trying to get to work.
I challenge you to dig out the U.S. government's fuel consumption stats and report them to the unknowing public, such as yourselves.

Posted by: Marty on 27 Dec 06

Recently resorting my library resulted, additionaly, in rediscovering your "The Ecolgy of Commerce". Thanks again. Did not take as long to read this time around. Many of your observations still 'hold water'. I'm not versed in your current writings. I will say that Ive concluded: despite the overall correctness of your themes, there are and will almost certainly be overarching geopolitical forces which will resign these issues to a kind of subtext for the indefinite future. As much as this 2nd class status may seem unacceptable, it yet will inexorably impose doctrine on the whole. Our flawed but unimprovable system of government still allows; no...anticpates, in the face of unending pressure from interested parties, the last best place on earth to expand on your shared ideas. Lots of room for merit based tinkering with the edges of the imutable but we may well be witnessing the earliest solidification around workable truisms. The improvments we hope for engenders global strides in humankinds betterment. This is attainable. Of course, it wont be without fits and crashes (accidents eg. small wars, interventions and the attendant). The closing point is: the systems environmnet for grand leaps forward is upon us. Thanks for the space. Sincerely Jack
P.S. is there some way you'd sign my copy of above mentioned book?

Posted by: Jack Ian Mayer on 27 Dec 06


Thanks for the eloquent and succinct portrait of the accelerated process that can lead us to “another world? as we hope for at worldchanging. I collect quotations and almost every other line of your essay was making it into my list. Finally I gave up and pasted the whole essay in there – why loose the context? Interestingly enough, the only sentence I had difficulty understanding is “It will be the stroke of midnight for the rest of our lives?. I would love to know your “intent?, because I interpret it as a metaphor of the dreaded knock on the door around that time - Gestapo, soviet gulag and the current patriot-act-facilitated INS, or as symbolizing the perpetual dawn of a sustainable world “just round the corner?.

Noting the statement from the manifesto of worldchanging saying that “plenty of people are working on tools for change, but the fields in which they work remain unconnected? and your statement that “We need an accelerated intertwining of the over one million non-profits and 100 million people who daily work for the preservation and restoration of life on earth?, the question I have been asking myself for a while is - what will it take to intertwine this amorphous and dispersed islands of compassionate, clear thinking, down to earth human activity to form a cohesive organic whole? Only when intertwined can this organic global movement wrought meaningful and accelerated change that will positively touch, as you say, “the needs and suffering of every single person on earth? and nothing less and “honor all cultures, creatures and children?. What is the glue that will bind and hold these millions strong as they drive toward sustainable solutions? How strong should the glue be or should there be any glue at all? I do not have an answer myself, but I believe that the question should be addressed.

The silvery threads of flowing electrons and the wireless waves of the Internet hold out hope and this seed node of worldchanging website is a great starting point for this globally intertwined 100 million do-gooders that surely exist out there. Instead of just hoping that the 100 million people working in myriad spheres of sustainability will somehow organize themselves into a cohesive whole, should we be asking them to sign up somewhere, say, at worldchanging? This will help each to know that others exist and who they are, collaborate and cooperate when necessary, project a quantifiable consensus in important global referendums, encourage and cheer one another and yet continue with their individual endeavors.

If we look hard enough, there are sufficient number of globally neutral and globally recognizable compassionate thinkers who might agree to serve as the faces and spokespersons for the 100 million organic whole. The Nobel committee has been doing a reasonably good job of identifying the likes of Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Harold Pintor, and Yannus etc. With these globally neutral and compassionate stars at the helm occupying honorary positions and with the 100 million strong themselves being leaders in their own right, the intertwined sustainability movement can become a force to reckon with rather quickly, and hopefully in time, to reverse the pressing problems of climate change, the oppression of wars and the foolish and diabolical accumulation of nuclear arsenal.

I am ready to sign up. Is anyone else game?

Posted by: Subbarao Seethamsetty on 27 Dec 06

To all respondents, thank you. I will try to respond to all, at least the main points.

The quote about the stroke of midnight refers to the inertia and time lags entailed in biological and climatic feedback loops. Even if we were to go to carbon neutrality today, the momentum of climate change would march on inexorably for decades to come. This is not "spewing" gloom as Bruce implies, it is science. I firmly believe that it is only when we accept the breadth and depth of the task (and problems) at hand, do we find the true solutions.

Climate change is portrayed as gradual warming that will cause a series of adverse affects: rising sea levels, loss of some species, the movement of tropical disease into temperate zones, more droughts, more intense rainfall and floods, more powerful hurricanes, and shifts in agricultural productivity. In other words, tough stuff, but something we can adapt to and live with as we shift to a post-carbon world. New science suggests that current climate models greatly understate the rate and magnitude of change (for example, see BBC report on Global Dimming We may have broken the thermostat, and if we do not get the thermal genie back in, all other activities dim in relevance. The greatest warming occurs at the poles, not the equator, and rising temperatures there are releasing another gas, methane, from permafrost where it has been locked up for millions of years. Methane is 24 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and its release into the atmosphere would create a dramatic increase in warming, a positive feedback loop that would accelerate methane release. If such a runaway event were to occur, it could occur within forty years or less, and would transform the planet into biological desert. Once that event is precipitated, no change in energy use will affect the outcome. While the predictions became more chilling, the weather became more Biblical and perhaps that is why 2006 was the year that many die-hard skeptics dropped their objections and urged action on climate.

So this what I am referring to with respect to the stroke of midnight. As our understanding of climate dynamics and experience of extreme weather converge, we act. And that is the good news. There have been big shifts in 2006. There has been no tilt in my language towards extremism. But there certainly has been a shift in the science and only some of that change in understanding is reported.

To Jack, would be glad to sign the book. Send to the Natural Capital Institute, 3 Gate Five Road, Sausalito, CA 94965

To Subbarao, thank you and let me tell you a bit more of what I am up to. My next book is called Blessed Unrest, How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being, and Why No One Saw it Coming. It will be published by Viking/Penguin on Earth Day. The goal of WorldChanging and NCI are similar. For nearly three years, we have been building a platform called WiserEarth, and a sister site WiserBusiness, to connect "the largest movement in the world." WISER stands for World Index of Social and Environmentally Responsible ...organizations, or businesses, etc. What the book says, essentially, is that a global humanitarian movement is rising from the bottom up to address the environment, social justice, poverty, and indigenous rights, and that this movement is the largest social movement in the history of humanity, over one million organizations, over 100 million people working actively every day. These data are from my research for the book. WiserEarth is a database and platform that allows connectivity. It is already the largest database of these organizations in the world with over 100,000 non-profits in 243 countries, sovereign islands, or territories. When released this spring (February), WiserEarth will be open source, and unlike any relational database before it, editable like a Wiki by the community. There is nothing like it out there. Once launched, it will take on a life of its own. It is not a blog; it is live, editable, mutable, and can evolve. WiserBusiness does the same for socially responsible businesses. Eventually there will be WiserGoverment.

Finally, the information in WiserEarth is community owned. It can be re-purposed and redirected. It can do much of what you want because you can refashion it in myriad ways. I would have written about this in my short piece, but WorldChanging had strict limits on word count. That is the kind of thing WiserEarth will not have. Community owned makes a big difference. Subbarao: perhaps you would like to join the team of editors and creators at WiserEarth?

If you want an early peak at the site, send me an email at



Posted by: Paul Hawken on 29 Dec 06



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