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How to Win
Alex Steffen, 6 Nov 07

"Only a crisis produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around." --Milton Friedman

What are we up to, we bright greens? It might be said that we know there's a crisis coming and we're trying to make sure that when that hits, people find the transformative solutions they need waiting for them.

We're approaching a threshold moment. For the first time, the gravity of having built an unsustainable civilization is beginning to tug at the public mind. This is the end of the beginning, and a very good thing.

But we haven't stepped across that threshold yet. When we do, it will be because people suddenly confront two large, heavy and interlocked ideas. First, that more than just polar bears and penguins are at stake here -- the catastrophes that loom ahead threaten our homes and families, our well-being and security as well. These catastrophes will be unfolding in our lives, not on our TVs. Second, that the changes we need to make to avoid these catastrophes will not stop at small steps, but will demand the rapid redesign of our entire material civilization.

When hundreds of millions of people wake up feeling like someone took a sledgehammer to their understanding of the world, you'd better believe that huge upheavals will follow. It's not easy for people to realize that they are poised on the brink of an unthinkable future, and that self-preservation demands a leap into the unimaginable. That moment will be the real crisis.

That moment may arrive sooner than we think. When it comes, we'll all be glad for the work of the kinds of people we here at Worldchanging write about, work with and admire from afar.

Because if we all keep doing our jobs right, when our friends and neighbors and coworkers and countrymen recover from their initial shock, and begin to look around for some practical tools for fixing the problem, they'll find them. Better still, they'll find tools for making their own tools.

Indeed, these might be our victory conditions:

That when that hour of need comes, we have already realistically and compellingly envisioned the planet's future as both bright and green.

That we can offer working models of how to deliver dynamic and prosperous lives to everyone, allowing us to thrive within the planet's very real limits.

That we've assembled a toolbox of the best existing solutions for rapidly building out those models using new systems, new approaches and new thinking.

That we can widely share the techniques for making your own built-to-fit tools for solving your own unique local problems.

That we've learned how to talk with people about the changes we face, and the capacities we have, in such a way that they understand that they must be the ones who act to solve this crisis... they have some sense of how one might go about doing it, and some confidence in their success. That we replace fear (and fear-mongering) with intentional optimism.

We get there fast enough, it seems to me, and we win.

But what about you? How would you like to mass-produce the change? What ideas would you like to leave lying around for when the crisis hits?

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Comments

"That we replace fear (and fear-mongering) with intentional optimism."

This strikes me as the key element in helping people get going on this. Fear causes panic and paralysis of thought. (and yes, there are certain types all too willing to take advantage of that). Panic arises, in this instance, from coming face to face with an urgent problem that is just too vast to know where to even begin.

Ironically, the very open-endedness of the last question is, in itself, conducive to panic. So, that is the angle I'd like to deal with first: how to get people over the 'omigod' stage, and encourage a frame of mind conducive to 'bright green' tool evaluation and use.

Until you do that, the WorldChanging 'toolshed' will stand idle.

More later.


Posted by: Tony Fisk on 6 Nov 07

I'm working as hard as I can to share my ideas and my optimism. Above all I would like to share the spirit of collaboration, the one and only tool that will see us through the century of peak population.


Posted by: Mike Simons on 7 Nov 07

Great article Alex!
As usual :)

My answer will not be "ideas", but about how we can make sure everyone can have access to those "idea".

I always imagined a universal internet access and a robust global internet infrastructure as a must for our collective survival and progress. It don't need to be broadband, but it need to be stable. This would ensure that anyone can acquire the necessary knowledge in rebuilding their lives and communities when crisis hits hard.

When a pc (like Asus' recently released Eee PC or OLPC's XO) will still be too expensive for every household to have, I imagine a "community learning center" for every 200 households with progressive books and internet access as a minimum.

I'm learning loads of stuff over a US$10/month GPRS (50kbps) with a 250MB bandwidth cap. It certainly is not enough for a multimedia-kind of learning (podcasts, youtube, etc) but more than enough for text&image-kind of learning.

I also believe that this would also be more than enough for our global collaboration need. I'm testing this assumption on the new WiserEarth site.

Another thing about "ideas" is the ironic confinement of the best ones we have by the copyright system we use. They are limited in their reach by the number of copies, by the geographical distribution of the medium (books, dvds, etc.) and by the price tag that's on the medium. This is especially keeping in mind that, the best of our "ideas" are mostly written in english (as it needs to be so to be global), which means the price tag would be in US$, translating to about a quarter of the monthly minimum wage level of developing countries for each medium (book/dvd). At least, that is so for my country Indonesia.

Thus, I believe in setting free the best "ideas" we have into the public domain so everyone can access them for free. We just have to figure out a way to support (read:financially, at least in this time where money still counts so much) the work of our authors and publishers in producing our best "ideas". A global fund to finance the release of those "ideas" into the public domain, similar to the kind of global fund to produce cheap/free malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS medicine comes to mind. But other financing options are thinkable.

I started an initiative on this two weeks ago in a WiserEarth group: Wings for Wisdom, which aims to release the best "ideas" into the public domain. This would also be my attempt at online collaboration over "non-broadband" connection.

Another initiative on "a community learning center for every 200 households" is on the way. I plan to combine social entrepreneurship, opensource style collaboration, and the concept of participatory democracy into the design of the business model. I hope I can make a working and scalable model.

Anyway, that's my take on your great article. Hope this help advance our conversation a bit.


Posted by: Wibowo Sulistio on 7 Nov 07

Oh yes, I forgot to add another important ingredient: that everyone need to have a functional english communication skill.

This would bypass so many "linguistic" bottlenecks of information our world have and help global communication be truly "global" and "communication" at the same time. We'd be less dependent on translation work of our best "ideas" to appear.

To sum up, we need three ingredients to assure global accessibility to our best "ideas":

1. Universal internet access (this includes ofcourse, basic ICT literacy)

2. The release of our best "ideas" into the public domain (as quickly as possible after their inception)

3. Universal english communication skill. The attainment of this point could greatly be facilitated by point no.1 and no.2 (the public domain release of english learning materials for every spoken language).

This is how I imagine we may have a better chance at winning.


Posted by: Wibowo Sulistio on 7 Nov 07

Appropedia.org + traduwiki.org are just two tools in condensing and translating ideas ... and there are more coming.

What we're learning about preparing IN PRACTICE for the next pandemic may be useful for other challenges: http://www.newfluwiki2.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=1826

ReadyMoms are serious about their children.


Posted by: lugon on 7 Nov 07

Quote overheard at the Seattle Car Show this last weekend as we were looking at a hybrid car rotating on a display. "This green stuff is such bullshit."

My family doesn't understand why I'm trying to make my lifestyle more sustainable. These are the types of attitudes we're up against.

Rather than apocalyptic fearmongering, it's going to take patient education, and more importantly, vision and market incentives. Unfortunately, I'm a brand new convert to the cause, so am I in a position yet to paint a vision of the way the new world should be run? Not yet. :)


Posted by: Brave New Leaf on 8 Nov 07



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