Sustainable Industries Economic Forum with Paul Hawken

by: EJ on 09/29/2009
Posted in: Events

I recently attended the Seattle Sustainable Industries Economic Forum and had the pleasure of listening to Paul Hawken, environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist, and author. The forum was attended by 330 of Seattle's leading business and civic leaders and Paul Hawken's speech was tailored to their interests. You can see the complete video of his presentation on the Sustainable Industries website.

The speech was a mix of doom and optimism - quite like Hawken himself. Hawken spoke about his "doomer" tendencies and said that it is not always easy to get up in the morning. "I usually head straight to the garden, the plants always have good news for me.' But he praised doomers for creating the conditions in which designers thrive. Brilliant designers, engineers and physicists are what we need to solve the complex physical challenges we are facing. He then proceeded to explain these in a series of very understandable parables and metaphors.

In order to explain EROI (Energy Return on Investment), he talked about the Red Queen's dilemma from Alice in Wonderland - you run faster and faster to get nowhere. As Alice herself says, the Red Queen is plainly crazy. So, says Hawken, is our economic system. Supply and demand is just not working. As we get increasingly less return for each dollar invested per barrel of oil, Hawken says it is time to redirect our human ingenuity. It is time for someone to stop and say, "This is just a bad idea," rather than investing our precious oil, research dollars and best scientists in finding ways to get oil out of more and more difficult sources. Instead, we need to get that incredible human ingenuity on the right path - developing future technology that does not rely on petrochemicals.

He then explained, in rather chilling terms, just how much needs to be done and how little time we have to make the transition. "We don't have the feedstock to make the transition in 2050." We need to use the oil we still have to make the transitions now.

He called on ShoreBank Pacific, one of the event sponsors, to create a green banking council along the same lines as the US Green Building Council. He also suggested a green chemical council and a green agriculture council, to set standards for industry that will become models of best practice and will be required for credibility in business.

Rather depressingly, his second solution was to focus on demand. I say depressingly, because I wonder how many years it will take for this resource to be truly grasped. My 70+ year old parents have been educating people about this for over 50 years.

Thirdly, he called for increasing localization. "We need to make small bigger by expanding local industries like chemical production, transportation and services which leads to a no import economy." The technologies for doing this already exist and are profitable.

The future we can move towards, he says, is not one of deprivation, loss and suffering but one of abundance, if, and only if, we make the changes and transitions required now. We need to do more. Hawken ended his speech with a call to the members of the sustainable industry movement to move forward drawing strength from their commitment to each other and to the universal values that link all human beings; that of one person caring for another.

You can read more about moving toward a future of abundance in Sharon Astyk's Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front.

Depletion and Abundance


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