The Green Gap

In the Cold War, we feared a Missile Gap was a strategic weakness. Nowadays, we must awaken to the fact that the Green Gap is true strategic weakness: the nations whose economies will thrive in the coming years will not be those with the biggest factories, but those with the most sustainable, efficient, and ecological markets. What we require is a Strategic "Green Reserve" of ecological design to weather the coming changes that both climate and resource scarcity will force on the international economy.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Who Will Save the World?

Well, in naming this article, I have to admit I hope the reader - in her or his own mind - is saying "ME! ME!", but failing that, for those of you who are concerned about the state of affairs in the world but don't know how to help, I wanted to introduce you to some people who might be your key to becoming a superhero instead of just a concerned bystander. Here are nine groups that we should all help to save the world:

Who might fit in this group: people who like to tinker, who are good with their hands, prefer doing to talking, like to show not tell, and love the smell of freshly extruded thermoplastic.
Whether you're in one of the several groups currently working on open-source fabrication technology, a subscriber to the magazine MAKE, or determined to be able to build your own techno-farm, you might fall into the Maker camp. These are the people democratising technology and making building fun (and cool) again.
Why I think they're important: because you should know how to "prototype early, and prototype often". I remember reading about an experiment where groups of people were asked to build a simple structure out of straws. Kids typically performed better than MBAs and very close to CEOs. Why? They get in and tinker right off the bat. They try. They don't sit there planning for half the allotted time they get out and do something. That spark of intrepid and adventurous inventiveness is fanned to a flame in the Maker movement, and we're going to need that creativity and impetuous embrace of mechanical challenge to solve the problems that are coming at us now.

Who might fit in this group: people who like design-intensive (but less work-intensive) activities. People who like to be out-of-doors, who love thinking about how plants work together in an ecology rather than how to plant your tomatoes in a nice, neat row. People who want to tend a forest of diverse species and be inclusive of all the services the ecosystem provides, from the trees and shrubs to the insects and animals. If you prefer to be a steward of your garden and not a slaver, you're likely on the path to Permaculture.
Why I think they're important: because they are the antithesis of taming Nature and bringing Her to man - they take man to Nature, and meet Her half-way.

Who might fit in this group: anyone who feels that design should serve the whole of society and not benefit a corporation. People who understand that patents don't encourage invention, they actively throttle it. People who have used and benefited from wikipedia, firefox, linux, or any number of other free services provided by the open source movement for the good of all.
Why I think they're important: Open-source is living, breathing proof that not only can collaboration exist without remuneration, it can compete with corporate design and development. Partisans of the old economy would prefer to think that money is the only thing that can give an object or effort value, but open-source kicks sand in that idea's face. The fact is that informal economies - economies not based on money transactions - are eminently possible and even desirable when compared against the alternative. Open source isn't simply a greater way to innovate, it's proof positive that money isn't everything.

Who might fit in this group: you read The End of Growth (or perhaps just a short article about it), or understand the realities behind Hubbert's Peak, or perhaps read that the armies of the United States and Germany are both basing their long-term strategic planning on resource scarcity. You want to do something about this scarcity, and you want to take your whole town with you into a post-scarcity world with a resilient and renewable local economy. Welcome to the transition movement!
Why I think they're important: These guys are action-oriented and collaborative. They advocate, involve, build consensus, and motivate. Instead of whining about the state of a local economy, they actively promote economic improvement of a town based on locally-available renewable resources. They focus on down-to-earth value-building proposals and real job creation - not efficiency. This is the exact opposite of the soup-kitchen Depression mentality. Transitionistas make their own damn soup, or buy it locally with the town's own currency. Sustainability dudes have got their soups planned for the next 25 years.

Who might fit in this group: 99% of all people, and anyone else who gives a damn. You'll notice there are no links in this section, I recommend you simply write "occupy" in your favourite search engine and follow the rabbit hole.
Why I think they're important: Quite frankly, because most people still don't understand that we're participating in a system that is exploitative by nature. Occupiers are the educators of the age, the people who understand that the global economy is built to create concentrations of wealth, not distribution of wealth. The concerns and issues raised by the Occupiers are many, but perhaps this one phrase encapsulates most of them: banks may be able to create money, but they sure as hell don't create value. Only people can do that.

Who might fit in this group: people who look at the decisions other people make, and realise that almost nobody takes the consequences of their actions into account when they make those decisions. Systems thinkers are a rare new breed of human that perceives things in cycles and flows rather than linear processes of cause and effect. People who would like their idea to last generations, not years.
Why I think they're important: We can't keep thinking of the universe in the old terms of make, eat, poop; extract, consume, dispose; or creation, judgement, rapture. This is a world where actions have consequences - and consequences have consequences. Using systems theory, we can build systems that can sustain themselves based on the intelligence of their own design. The world is not a place inhabited by cause and effect, it is a place ruled by incalculable interoperating systems, where cause and effect are difficult to calculate. Systems thinkers get it.

Who might fit in this group: people who understand that the market isn't truly free. Economy is a subset of ecology, not the other way around. People who see that subsidies are simply externalities paid for by the taxpayer; that when a government gives preferential treatment, they make an economy weaker. People who know that the doing the right thing by the environment should - due simply to the laws of physics - be the right thing to do economically, as well. In short, you believe that profit and environmental stewardship are not only not mutually exclusive, they're practically intertwined.
Why I think they're important: Green economics is the great Capitalist hope for the coming economy. The belief that the market can - with an even playing field - do right by the planet. If you read Amory Lovins and anything from the Rocky Mountain Institute, you'll understand just how infuriatingly simple it would be to make an economy that not only creates jobs but protects the environment.

Who might fit in this group: people who realise that the energy buck stops with the sun; who see that incredible non-polluting chemical processes occur at room temperature throughout the world; who understand that nature has a 4-billion year head start on us for trying out the solutions to things, well, you might be a biomimic. Perhaps you've been inspired by John Todd's Living Machines or follow the work of Ocean Arks International. One way or another, you've been inspired by great thinkers who prefer to learn from Nature than enslave her. She's already solved these problems... why reinvent the wheel?
Why I think they're important: I'm a lazy guy, really. The less work I do, the better. I also like stuff that's closed-loop and easy to manage, and pays for itself after an initial investment. That's a good deal better than sewage systems that pollute. Why can't we have sewage systems that heal, instead? Why can't we simply listen to Mother Nature, and do stuff smarter, cheaper, and cleaner?

Who might fit in this group: well, it's rather obvious from the title... but people who learn from, study, and aid their local Indigenous Peoples groups are all part of this network.
Why I think they are important: well, there is a reason we call them First Nations peoples. They were around before us, and learned to live at peace with the land before anyone thought to take it away from them. Now, after all these years of neglect,we realise too late that  the knowledge that colonising powers have sought to eradicate is exactly the knowledge we need to aid us in our survival in the coming generations. We are realising our folly at having destroyed so much of the treasure trove of indigenous wisdom. Thanks to the efforts of indigenous groups, that knowledge is being preserved, recovered, and revitalised. I'm in no position to speak for the First Peoples, but I am in a position to say this: we need to be quiet and start listening rather than speaking. We've a lot to learn, and there's not much time.

That's just a few, and I know I've missed many, so I encourage you to add more in comments. We've a lot of work to do, but the work as already started. It's not a matter of where to start - it's a matter of picking who you want to help.

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