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What's No Longer Impossible?
Sarah Kuck, 14 Apr 08


With new ideas about sustainability and responsibility rapidly moving to the forefront of the discussion, things that once seemed implausible are quickly becoming a reality.

We caught up with some Worldchangers at the Seattle Green Festival to ask them about what's possible now that they once thought impossible.

So, what's possible now that you once thought impossible?

Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff
Annie%20Leonard.jpgOne of the things that I have learned from the response to The Story of Stuff is -- in a way we took a temperature of the world -- and I found out that there are thousands, and thousands and thousands, and thousands of us who share a growing dis-ease about the way our society is going. I sort of thought I was a little on the fringe, but what I’m realizing is that there are masses of us, which is so exciting to me. The diversity of responses we have gotten is very interesting...if we can reach a Midwestern fourth grader, a republican, SUV-driving, Texas housewife, and an Oxford economics professor, then that’s not a niche, that’s not like a little special interest group, that’s our community. So I’m very inspired by how ready people are for this conversation. I worked for environmental groups from 20 years and I think sometimes environmental groups baby talk to people. They talk about easy stuff, you know, changing your light bulbs, which is very important but not enough. I always tell people, change your light bulbs then change your paradigm. But I think people are ready for the harder discussion.

Francis Moore Lappe, founder of the Small Planet Institute
Francis%20Moore%20Lappe.jpg One of the things that is so dramatic to me is the shift in my perception of the cooperative movement. From the days in San Francisco in the 1970s in the food co-opswhere all the hippies got their grain and whole foods, to (seeing) places like the Mondragon Cooperative in Spain and the network of cooperatives across Northern Italy, and learning that there are more people in the world who are members of cooperatives than who own shares of publicly traded companies. Just that shift of really seeing cooperatives becoming an incredibly powerful tool of democratic social empowerment….In the late ‘80s I sat down with some dairy farmers in Western Wisconsin. There was a real break-down; In the 1980s farmers were going out of business even worse that today. And they wanted to organize a dairy cooperative. And I though, oh how sweet, this is really going to help some farmers in Western Wisconsin. And now, of course, this is Organic Valley , with more than 1,200 farms and $400 million in sales and still democratically run.

Madeline Ostrander, 32, Editor for Yes! Magazine
Madeline%20Ostrander.jpg The change in consciousness about climate change. Just within a couple of years there has been a major tipping point in the media coverage of climate change -- part of that had to do with Al Gore and part of it had to do with Hurricane Katrina. Also, during the Live Earth Live Earth concerts, I realized the trendiness of being green – almost a faddishness, which is dangerous because of green washing, but on a deeper level it’s a response from people who really want a change.

Joel Mog, 37, Social Worker
Joel%20Mog.jpg Something that came to mind is that people can stop driving. They had the (Interstate) 5 construction last summer (in Seattle), and it was very well published that it was coming. And everybody just assumed that there was going to be terrible traffic jams, it came and the traffic was fantastic (because) a large percentage of people actually stopped driving to work. They found other ways to get there – carpooling, taking the train, and it just happened instantly, it was amazing. I didn’t think that kind of change could happen that quickly. I thought that once that it becomes more inconvenient or expensive to drive it’s going to be a slow and gradual process over many, many years, but obviously people are very ready and flexible to make changes when it works for them. I hope people will feel that motivation again.

Richard Conlin, Council President of the City of Seattle
Richard%20Conlin.jpg I think the possible that I once thought impossible is the kind of change where people have incorporated sustainability -- long term cultural, economic, environmental and social health and vitality -- into their way of thinking. When we started working on sustainability 15 years ago, nobody wanted to talk about it. I was advised ‘don’t even tell people about that word because nobody understands what it means.’ And now to find it is getting into common language, and people are thinking about it and imagining it into the way we should evaluate things.

Jon Ramer, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Interra Project
Jon%20Ramer.jpg The notion that survival is a collective act and therefore we need to find new ways of aligning all of our efforts. So, new ways of thinking about sharing…We really are looking for new models of giving to each other and sharing with each other. Open source is an example of that. People put things forward with the best interest of everybody. Taking care of the commons together, looking for new ways to make it possible for us – the only way we are going to accomplish things we’ve never done before is if we do things we’ve never done before. So we are all realizing that we need to get out of our comfort zone. Not pseudo community, but a really community -- where we really listen and learn from each other, understand what we need, to really create a more sustainable way of living, but also a more peaceful, compassionate, loving way…We are all realizing that as an individual, we are just a drop; Together we are an ocean. It’s that hope that we see the realization of more levels of sharing and caring, creating a loving economy.

Melissa Young, co-founder of Moving Images Video Project
Melissa%20Young.jpg New ideas about farming don’t mean going back to the old ways, but using new and innovative ways of farming, raising animals and extending the growing season.

JP Kemmick, 23, AmeriCorp -- Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department for community garden issues and member of the Cascade Climate Network
JP%20Kemmick.jpg To have a shit load of fun while kicking ass in the climate change movement. I used to do this stuff and it was so tiring and I was burning out at least twice every campaign. I think the thing that is remarkable is how cool youth are and how much fun we can have while doing amazing things. I think if you are going to actually solve the entire thing, it’s about that -- that sense of community and finding other people who are going to have a ton of fun and are going to be amazing individuals. To a degree it’s that there is a movement and that it’s full of really, really cool fun people and that we are going to make it happen.

Peter Greenberg, President of Energy Wise Lighting, Inc. Peter%20Greenberg.jpg
I don’t think I ever thought anything was impossible.

SK: Where has that philosophy gotten you?

PG: We’ll probably do $5 million this year in energy efficient lighting, saving people $2 or $3 million (on their energy bills).

John deGraaf, national coordinator of Take Back Your Time Day
John%20deGraaf.jpg I think it’s possible now that we can begin to turn around the last 30 some years of anti-environmental, anti-social justice, anti-quality of life policy that has been predominant in this country since the so-called conservative revolution. Since we had the idea that the answer to every problem is to cut taxes for the rich and deregulate. I think the result of that, and what I talk about a lot, is the comparison between the United States in terms of health and life satisfaction and all kinds of aspects of quality of life and Europe, (which) makes it clear that we (here in the U.S.) have declined precipitously in the last generation of this kind of right wing policy. And what I think is possible is that it’s coming to an end. That the Bush disaster has been enough of a disaster that Americans are starting to see that we need to go in another direction. I was first hopeful in the 2006 elections, now I’m hopeful that we’ll have a new president and a new congress that will move us in the direction of a policy that says we are all in this together instead of you are on your own.

SK: So what does this ‘all in this together’ policy look like?

JdG: We’re going to start out by giving kids a chance in life by giving their parents some sort of paid leave to take care of them when they are born, and it begins there. We’re going to begin to have universal health care for people, we’re going to begin to say, hey we need a nation vacation law in this country so that people have some vacation time like every other country has, we need to have people getting paid sick leave when they are sick, we need to have policies that reduce the gap between the rich and the poor instead of making that wider and wider all the time. We need to promote strong communities and we need strong policies that ensure that we are not the leading polluter in the world, and leading contributor of green house gases and all the other things that we do. I think that we can do that. I don’t mean that that’s going to happen over night. I don’t think so, it took us 30 years to get in the mess we are in and it may take us that long to get out of it, but I think that we are headed in the right direction. We are facing some big challenges…but maybe we are ready to take our heads out of the sand and say hey there is a role for public policy, there is a role for all of us. We have got to get beyond this attitude that it’s all about me, it’s all about how much money I can make, my right to get rich, that that’s what life’s all about and that’s what our economics ought to be about. Our economic really needs to be about fairness, a healthy life, a happy life, a just life and a sustainable life.

So, Worldchangers, what's your take? What's possible now that you once thought impossible?

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to live a nice, homely life with good people -- in an energetic mass culture paradigm. i feel like new ways of sharing costs and resources can give us back our own time. i'm particularly excited at how a mindset of taylorist precision can become more like the toyota model, the euro model -- get things done, but reversed, with quality of life determining the mechanisms -- yes, please.

to sequester enough carbon to de-acidify the ocean, without mechanical storage. it looks like farmers can really do it.

to talk ourselves out of fighting so we don't waste precious anything.

to wrestle down the rabid speculators so we can think.

Posted by: hapa on 15 Apr 08

The trouble with a lot of impossible things is that you don't even think about them because they're impossible, and therefore a waste of time.

Meanwhile, the rules change while you're not thinking...

So, at a personal level? Riding to work (too far, too long, too exhausting) I am now aiming to do it once a week. With an elation bike motor on order ('scuse the plug), I should be able to justify doing it more frequently, and so should others (weather permitting!).

Nationally? That people would ever have a greater say in the running of their country than five minutes every 3-4 years (if that). Australia is about to have its 2020 summit where people from all walks will make suggestions (we'll see how it goes)

Globally? Seeing the world in near real time. The notion that you can not only listen in on world affairs, but talk back, and be listened to in turn.

Universally? Looking over the shoulders of space mission staff while they cruise Mars and surf Titan and Enceladus.

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 15 Apr 08

Taking a wider view, having the long-term in mind. Without being overwhelmed, because many others are seeing this way also, individuals and groups are thinking before they act; "How will this affect the climate, what can I do to improve the situations of others?"

Posted by: leiela on 15 Apr 08

Taking a wider view, having the long-term in mind. Without being overwhelmed, because many others are seeing this way also, individuals and groups are thinking before they act; "How will this affect the climate, what can I do to improve the situations of others?"

Posted by: leiela on 16 Apr 08

I'm currently at a gig in a company that makes a product for retail sale. Before working here I would have thought that a place like this would be totally separated from concerns about sustainability -- that all they want to do is to make a cheap product in China and push it on as many people as possible. But now that I'm here I find the individuals do care. They do want it to use less energy and to be of greater utility. They do want to help their customers be greener, whether the customers want it or not.

I think they have a long way to go, but I no longer think it's impossible to change the mind of manufacturers.

Posted by: Anne on 16 Apr 08

I will see our species progress to the point that we will, once again, see ourselves as a part of, not apart from nature.

Posted by: Daniel Smith on 17 Apr 08

I think Rodgers and Hammerstein summed it up gracefully...
But the world is full of zanies and fools who don't believe in 'sensible' rules
and won't believe what 'sensible people' say..
and because these daft and dewey eyed dopes keep building up impossible
hopes impossible things are happening every day!

Posted by: khrisk on 18 Apr 08

Dear Friends,

I am imagining that the following questions are rhetorical ones to many people in the Worldchanging community.

“Why are politicians and skeptics so willing to risk their future and everyone else’s future on blindly clinging to a course of action that has a high probability of leading to a seriously crippled future? If you even suspect that global warming represents a serious risk to your survival (and we have far more than suspicion these days), why wouldn’t you do everything protect and conserve your planet?”

It would please me to hear from others; but from my humble perspective the “answers” to these questions are all-too-obvious.

The leaders in my generation of elders wish to live without having to accept limits to growth of seemingly endless economic globalization, of increasing per capita consumption and skyrocketing human population numbers; our desires are evidently insatiable. We choose to believe anything that is politically convenient, economically expedient and socially agreeable; our way of life is not negotiable. We dare anyone to question our values or behaviors.

We religiously promote our shared fantasies of endless economic growth and soon to be unsustainable overconsumption, overproduction oand overpopulation activities, and in so doing deny that Earth has limited resources upon which the survival of life as we know it depends.

My not-so-great generation appears to be doing a disservice to everything and everyone but ourselves. We are the “what’s in it for me?” generation. We demonstrate precious little regard for the maintenance of the integrity of Earth; shallow willingness to actually protect the environment from crippling degradation; lack of serious consideration for the preservation of biodiversity, wilderness, and a good enough future for our children and coming generations; and no appreciation of the understanding that we are no more or less than human beings with “feet of clay.”

We live idolatrously in a soon to be unsustainable way in our planetary home and are proud of it, thank you very much. Certainly, we will “have our cake and eat it, too.” We will fly around in thousands of private jets, own fleets of cars, live in McMansions, exchange secret handshakes, go to our exclusive clubs and distant hideouts, and risk nothing of value to us. Please do not bother us with the problems of the world. We choose not to hear, see or speak of them. We are the economic powerbrokers, their bought-and-paid-for politicians and the many minions in the mass media. We hold most of the Earth's wealth and control the power it purchases. If left to our own devices, we will continue in the exercise of our ‘rights’ to ravenously consume Earth’s limited resources; to expand economic globalization unto every corner of our natural world and, guess what, beyond; to encourage the unbridled growth of the human species so that where there are now 6+ billion people, by 2050 we will have 9+ billion members of the human community and, guess what, even more people, perhaps billions more in the distant future, if that is what we desire.

We are the reigning, self-proclaimed masters of the universe. We have no regard for human limits or Earth’s limitations, thank you very much. We are idolaters of the global political economy. Please understand that we do not want anyone to present us with scientific evidence that we could be living unsustainably in an artificially designed, temporary world of our own making…… a manmade world filling up with distinctly human enterprises which appear to be approaching a point in human history when global consumption, production and propagation activities of the human species become unsustainable on the tiny planet God has blessed us to inhabit........and not to overwhelm, I suppose.



Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony on 18 Apr 08


Rather than inventing responses for your "enemies" perhaps you ought to ask them what they honestly think. I know I find it pointless to talk to anyone who has predecided what my responses are going to be, since they are no longer interested in listening.

The irony in proclaiming others to be self-righteous is that it is a very self-righteous act, no?

Posted by: Michael E on 18 Apr 08

Dear Michael E,

My advanced age and waning faculties are likely producing some erosion of my communication skills. Please bear with me.

Let me try again to communicate more clearly.

If we keep doing what we are doing, it appears to me that we will keep getting what we are getting now.

At the moment, humankind is not taking care of our planetary home. Scientific evidence is everywhere for the human-induced precipitation of the extirpation of biodiversity, dissipation of resources, degradation of the environment and diminution of the integrity of Earth.

The family of humanity is ravaging the Earth due to our woefully inadequate understanding of “the nature” of the world we inhabit. The predominant presence of the human species on the surface of a tiny planet with the size and make-up of Earth appears to be approaching the point of unsustainability. Continuously growing at an already leviathan-like scale the unrestrained consumption, unbridled production and unregulated propagation activities of the human species cannot continue much longer, I suppose.

Perhaps we will choose to do things differently. Who knows, change could be in the offing.

I hope this email clarifies my point of view a bit more.



Posted by: stevenearlsalmony on 19 Apr 08


A particularly pernicious disturbance exists in the human community. ELECTIVE MUTISM is one of the great, clear and present dangers to human and environmental health. It is a worldwide “plague” in our time from which many too many in the vast community of science suffer egregiously. That elective mutism has afflicted so many in the social sciences is one thing. The family of humanity can understand, I suppose, how social scientists do not possess the most adequate expertise to speak out loudly and clearly regarding the emerging and converging global challenges derived from the human overpopulation of Earth.

On the other hand, what I find reprehensible and unbelievable is the way scientists with appropriate expertise in the physical and biological sciences, whatever their excuses, are choosing not to fullfil their professional responsibilities and not to discharge duties only they can perform. Their willful refusal to comment on good scientific evidence of the human species’ overpopulation of the planetary home God blesses us to inhabit is as unacceptable as it is perverse.



Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
established 2001

Posted by: stevenearlsalmony on 20 Apr 08

Let me go for the big one: It is no longer impossible to see global peace.

Yes, it is possible to see an increase in war, and a new global "energy order" in which new military-political alliances form to protect energy resources (as they are quietly forming now).

But it is also possible to see that the necessity to work together to address our common, shared global ecological situation, and the new tools such as the Internet that allow us to connect in a global Convivium, at least has the chance of leading us toward world peace.

Global peace seemed impossible when it was an "option" based on one's spiritual, moral, or political convictions. But global peace seems finally possible - not definite, perhaps not even likely, but POSSIBLE because of climate change. It may end up being the great gift of the catastrophe -- at least, it could be, and that is the question, what now seems possible that did not before.

Mimi K

Posted by: Mimi K on 20 Apr 08

Dear Mimi K,

Yours is a wonderful perspective and I think it is more real a likelihood than many believe because conflict and terrorism mark our time so dramatically and egregiously.

A question about my comments above on ELECTIVE MUTISM has been raised. If you will bear with me, I will provide you with the question and my response to it.

begin -----

Thanks so much for responding to my post.

Absolute global human population numbers are not coming down nearly fast enough. Even with a substantial decrease of the population growth rate in some countries, the total population of the human species has been skyrocketing and is continuing to increase much too rapidly.

Perhaps the widely shared and consensually-validated "demographic transition" that is anticipated in the middle of Century XXI is an example of specious preternatural thinking and theorizing, borne of political convenience and economic expediency.

You have asked a wonderful question,

"Assuming you are right for the moment, do you have any concrete policy proposals which we might consider to enable us to think about what we might do?"

Perhaps we could follow what we already know from good science, reasoning and common sense. We can choose to respond ably and much differently, in a more reality-oriented way, to the global challenges before humanity, challenges we can certainly manage because we have induced them by our spectacular unrestrained overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities, the ones now threatening to engulf the surface of Earth.

Of course, it is fair to ask what the family of humanity could choose to do "ably and differently." Several ideas come to mind.

1) Implement universal, voluntary and humane programs that encourage people to limit the number of offspring to one child per family.

2) Establish an upper limit on the growth of the individual human footprint.

3) Restrict immediately the reckless dissipation of limited natural resources so that the Earth is given time to replenish them for human benefit.

4) Substitute clean, renewable sources of energy, through the use of substantial economic incentives, for the fossil fuels we rely upon now.

5) Recognize that everything human beings do on the surface of our tiny planet utterly depend on the finite resources of Earth. One consequence of this realization is understanding that there can be no such thing as an endlessly expanding global economy, given its current leviathan-like scale and anticipated growth rate, on a relatively small and noticeably frangible planet with the size and make-up of Earth.

The family of humanity has huge global challenges to address and overcome. Our leaders appear much too contented with arguing about which country will take the first step forward. Meanwhile, as reasonable and sensible actions are not taken, the threats to human and environmental health grow more daunting day by day.

As I see it, many leaders understand quite well the precarious status of the natural world we inhabit; nonetheless, they adamantly refuse to acknowledge or speak openly about the distinctly human-induced predicament that looms ominously before the family of humanity in our time.

Billions of human beings–- some overconsuming, others overproducing and still others overpopulating the Earth –-are ruining our planetary home as a fit place for human habitation and life as we know it. At least to me, what is incomprehensible and tragic is this: our leaders know what all of us are doing that is destructive of human and environmental health and still they remain resolute in their reckless pursuit of a “primrose path” to the future.

Tory, for a moment please consider that our top rank scientists have not found adequate ways of communicating to the family of humanity what people somehow need to hear, see and understand: the unregulated increase of human population numbers, the unbridled growth of per-capita consumption, the reckless dissipation of Earth’s limited resources and the relentless degradation of the planet’s frangible environment could result in the destruction of our celestial orb as a fit place for habitation by humankind and life as we know it. When taken together, these distinctly human activities appear to be growing at a breakneck pace toward the precipitation of a catastrophic ecological wreckage of some sort unless, of course, the world’s colossal, ever expanding, artificially designed, manmade global economy continues to speed headlong toward the monolithic 'wall' called "unsustainability" at which point the runaway economy crashes before Earth’s ecology is collapsed.

end -----



Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony on 21 Apr 08

It's interesting to place these observations in the context of the latest Gallup survey on green living:

The shift described by the people you interviewed may be more a perception than reality. We greenies tend to talk to ourselves.

This being said, the thirty or so percent of people in the Gallup survey who say they have made significant changes represent a huge chunk to work from. All potential evangelists.

Last point. Women are leading the way of the green revolution, let us make no mistake. Although many of the leaders of the sustainable movement are male, the crowds that are making a difference have a definite feminine skew, as shown by the Gallup survey and other prior studies.

Posted by: marguerite manteau-rao on 25 Apr 08



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