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Earth Day Voices: Jennifer Leonard
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Earth Everyday
By Jennifer Leonard

I recently (barely) watched the film Idiocracy, starring Luke Wilson. It was one of those late weeknights at home, with laptop in bed and lights low, so I didn’t get through it. I fell asleep before it really got going. And I have to say that I think it was a blessing in disguise. I nodded off shortly after a clip where Luke’s character (who was frozen by the military for a set number of years for some kooky cryogenic experiment) awoke disastrously past due to a world gone idiotic. It was a future where landfills over-stuffed skyscrapers, ER rooms were operated by buffoons who couldn’t differentiate one orifice from another, and belching slobs sat in Lazy-boys watching TV shows like “Oh My Balls” on their in-home Jumbotrons.

My generous guess is that Idiocracy was intended to be a worst-case trajectory of American culture today; and certainly, a good reminder of the sort of tomorrow we don’t want for ourselves and the generations to come. Call me an idealist, but we do not want an Idiocracy. We want a Brilliantocracy. Or Enlightenedocracy. Or Awesomocracy. Whatever it’s called, the point is that we want the sort of today and tomorrow where eco-consciousness, emotional intelligence, and exuberant human creativity rule our days – not the day.

Comedian Jon Stewart, at the end of February, announced on his Daily Show that “Black History month is now officially over.” And then, wryly, “But you do know, people, that black history continues, right?” Likewise, as I see it, Earth Day is an ongoing event. We want to toot Earth’s horn daily.

Which brings to mind our modern storytellers – the news media – which, on the whole, aren’t living up to this standard. The problem here is not that there are no stories to tell that lift us up and move us forward in a more sustainable way. There are! The problem is that these stories are not being reported broadly enough, often enough, and with sufficient gusto. (Worldchanging is one of a few exceptions to the rule, where storytelling of the non-idiotic, or “brilliant-enlightened-awesome”, variety is supported.) We need more powerful positive storytelling, each and every day. We also need more powerful story-making – I believe these dynamics are mutually supportive, and generative. At the very least, we need a shift in what counts as “story worthy.”

This media makeover would facilitate what I'd propose to call Earth Everyday. The new face of media would be replete with stories that matter: stories that offer a deep sense of possibility and hope. It’s not technological innovations and their capacities to solve problems that excite me most. It is the human stories that underlie them. It’s the human dance with life and how we take action on our imaginative urges. Rather than lauding the rich and famous, Earth Everyday’s story gathering focuses on the everyday people that make up its heartbeat. Daily, stories come out about the people who in small and big ways are working in areas they’re passionate about in an effort to be all that they can be in the context of a mission that’s bigger than the individual self. By living up to what positively drives them, they are doing their part to make the world a better place. And their stories give readers and listeners and watchers hope. These are the people we should give a damn about and brag about and give airtime to. These are Earth Everyday’s foot soldiers.

Enthused by their charge, Earth Everyday is a movement of movements where the internal and external fighting stops long enough for everyone -- even those who agree to disagree -- to recognize that without our planet Earth, there will be nothing to fight about, period. No urban space, no transportation, no energy grid, no data banks, no markets, no farms, no global relations. Regardless of one’s political or faith-based affiliation, we have within us the potential as human beings to look around the Earth we share and appreciate the sky, the fields, the trees, the oceans -- the free assets it daily provides us with. We can all acknowledge the astonishing beauty in natural events like a blooming rose, a lightening storm, metamorphosis; and the irreplaceable value inherent in all these things.

The evolution of Earth Day into Earth Everyday goes hand in hand with our human evolution. We can choose to push it to a greener, richer, more luminous level as we, too, evolve as residents of Earth. We are the DJs of the earth jams, so to speak – in the sense that “we are all designers” – and we are also in the mix. In the spirit of iteration, I’d like to build on past work I’ve done and offer up a new way of thinking about storytelling, below.

What would the impact be if categories of human explorations were seen not as “economies” – or systems of exchange – but ecologies, in which we played a rightful part? What if, in place of technological categorizations of human activities, we reflected on our lives through a social lens?

For instance, in the Massive Change project, the “urban economy” was about documenting a wave of new innovations in housing, shelter, and urban space. It was about relaying the fact that sprawl and density are both true and that all space, per Rem Koolhaas’s inspiration, is now “city” and we must consider it as such. It was about green building technologies and manufactured housing materials. The urban ecology, however, is about the new urbanists – guerrilla gardeners and home gardeners and all those aspiring green thumbs out there taking baby steps to turn dead urban space into living, breathing, life-giving experiments. It’s made up of people around the world who are changing their behaviors (and their light bulbs) to make less of an imprint on the path they trod.

The “movement economy” was about collecting evidence of congested highways and bi-ways from all corners of the globe, and showcasing innovative vehicles and transporters whose fuel source was alternative, renewable or entirely electric. The movement ecology is about the new mobilists, who are in transit in a diversity of ways. They’re moving and shaking in carpools and smart cars; on buses, trains, scooters, and skateboards. Collectively, they’re walking and biking their way to understanding new ways of moving, in relation to each other.

The “energy economy” was about trying to understand what was being developed at both small and large scales, so to technically respond to an impending crisis. It was about wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, hydroelectric and coal. It was a landscape of all activity in electrification. The new energy ecology is about the new energizers, the champions of fresh air, blankets, wool socks and hand fans. They’re cognizant of turning the lights off, powering-down their PCs and switching over to CFLs. These folks are unafraid to use human power to get their motor runnin’. And they know that this is in no way about giving up what we’ve got. It’s about knowing there’s so much more that we can still do, with less.

The “information economy" was about information overload, grid computing and complex data mapping. The new information ecology is about the new informers, the courageous professional media and citizen reporters the world over; the witty observers of our ways, with a message; the poets, the artists, the real rock stars.

The “market economy” becomes an ecology of new marketers, who value holistic thinking over numbers and stats. The “manufacturing economy” becomes an ecology of new cyclers of life, who see the journey of a product through its lifespan and treasure first and foremost what we already have. The list goes on, and the power here is in how we talk about what we do. There’s great force in phrasing: from technology to people; from passive change to active change. It frames how we view what we do.

Earth Everyday, in the end, is less about describing a solid, stagnant state and more about setting up a vibrant set of sustainable conditions around which like-spirited people can align and get a move on.

Jennifer Leonard is a writer, designer, curator, radio broadcaster and co-author of Massive Change: The Future of Global Design (Phaidon, 2004) with Bruce Mau. She now lives in California and works with the design community at world-renowned IDEO. Her personal website can be found at www.renegademedia.info

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