Paul Hawken's Good News

Paul Hawken is not at all blind to social injustice or the looming threat of environmental catastrophe. And yet he has spent the past five years delivering an inspiringly optimistic message.

Friday night he will deliver it as part of a two day collaboration with Rev. Deborah Johnson at Santa Cruz's Inner Light Ministries.

The author of 2007's Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, Hawken will speak about a worldwide, leaderless movement comprised of millions of small organizations which, with no knowledge of each other's existence, are collaborating to save the world.

"What I see," he says, "are ordinary and some not-so-ordinary individuals willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in an attempt to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world."

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"For the Planet and Her People: The Next Steps in Our Blessed Unrest" takes place Friday, Oct 11, from 7pm-9:30 (Paul Hawken's talk and book-signing) and Saturday from 9am-4pm (workshops with Rev. Deborah Johnson).

An excerpt from Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, by Paul Hawken, reprinted with permission:

By any conventional definition, this vast collection of committed individuals does not constitute a movement. Movements have leaders and ideologies. People join movements, study their tracts, and identify themselves with a group. They read the biography of the founder(s) or listen to them perorate on tape or in person. Movements, in short, have followers. This movement, however, doesn’t fit the standard model.

It is dispersed, inchoate, and fiercely independent. It has no manifesto or doctrine, no overriding authority to check with. It is taking shape in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, companies, deserts, fisheries, slums–and yes, even fancy New York hotels. One of its distinctive features is that it is tentatively emerging as a global humanitarian movement arising from the bottom up.

Historically social movements have arisen primarily in response to injustice, inequities, and corruption. Those woes still remain legion, joined by a new condition that has no precedent: the planet has a life-threatening disease, marked by massive ecological degradation and rapid climate change.

As I counted the vast number of organizations it crossed my mind that perhaps I was witnessing the growth of something organic, if not biologic. Rather than a movement in the conventional sense, could it be an instinctive, collective response to threat? Is it atomized for reasons that are innate to its purpose? How does it function? How fast is it growing? How is it connected? Why is it largely ignored? Does it have a history? Can it successfully address the issues that governments are failing to do: energy, jobs, conservation, poverty, and global warming? Will it become centralized, or will it continue to be dispersed and cede its power to ideologies and fundamentalism? 

I sought a name for the movement, but none exists. I met people who wanted to structure or organize it–a difficult task, since it would easily be the most complex association of human beings ever assembled. Many outside the movement critique it as powerless, but that assessment does not stop its growth. When describing it to politicians, academics, and businesspeople, I found that many believe they are already familiar with this movement, how it works, what it consists of, and its approximate size. They base their conclusion on media reports about Amnesty International, the Sierra Club, Oxfam, or other venerable institutions. They may be directly acquainted with a few smaller organizations and may even sit on the board of a local group.

For them and others the movement is small, known, and circumscribed, a new type of charity, with a sprinkling of ragtag activists who occasionally give it a bad name. People inside the movement can also underestimate it, basing their judgment on only the organizations they are linked to, even though their networks can only encompass a fraction of the whole. But after spending years researching this phenomenon, including creating with my colleagues a global database of its constituent organizations, I have come to these conclusions: this is the largest social movement in all of human history. No one knows its scope, and how it functions is more mysterious than what meets the eye.
What does meet the eye is compelling: coherent, organic, self-organized congregations involving tens of millions of people dedicated to change. When asked at colleges if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science that describes what is happening on earth today and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t have the correct data. If you meet the people in this unnamed movement and aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a heart.

What I see are ordinary and some not-so-ordinary individuals willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in an attempt to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.

In the not-so-ordinary category, contrast ex-president Bill Clinton and sitting president George W. Bush. As I write this, Bush is on TV snarled in a skein of untruths as he tries to keep the lid on a nightmarish war fed by inept and misguided ambition; simultaneously the Clinton Global Initiative (which is a nongovernmental organization) met in New York and raised $7.3 billion in three days to combat global warming, injustice, intolerance, and poverty. Of the two initiatives, war and peace, which addresses root causes? Which has momentum? Which does not offend the world? Which is open to new ideas?

The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, “My heart is moved by all I cannot save. So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.