Paul Hawken Interview With Grant Makers Association 2003 | Sustainability | Natural Environment


In January 2003, NCG hosted its annual meeting on the “Interdependence of Nature and People” at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Two of our featured speakers were prominent local figures Paul Hawken and Michael Lerner who shared their insights and wisdom with the Northern California philanthropic community. That was over six months ago. Today, through this interview, we hope to revisit the issues raised by Paul, deepen our understanding of the connection between these issues and what we do through our grant making, and get an update on the evolution of his own work on the “interdependence of people and nature” since he spoke with us earlier this year. 1. What are some of the new, exciting developments in the arena of the “interdependence of nature and people” that you are currently witnessing? There are several areas. One, teachers around the world are bringing nature, food, gardens, and the living world back into the classroom. The State of Vermont teaches sustainability every year from K-12. This augurs well for the future. The second is the rise of regional and local food webs, the slow food movement started by Carlo Petrini in Italy, and the extraordinary demand and increase for organically grown food throughout North America, Europe, and Japan. Third is the specific application of biomimicry principles in dozens of new enterprises and research projects. Literally, people are using nature to reimagine the world. Fourth, is climate change. It is no longer an abstraction to people. Weird weather is going global. And that is radicalizing whole countries. 2. How would you make the case for supporting the "interdependence of nature and people" to those who say, “We don’t fund the environment”? It is amazing that people walked out of the NCG meeting saying, “ We don’t fund the environment.” It is like saying we don’t fund mothers, or life. This ghettoization of disciplines is a western trait that ill serves us in these times. Sustainability is about the relationship between the two most complex systems on earth— human and living systems. Show me anything—art, music, medicine, economic development—that isn’t about the relationship between human beings and nature. The interrelationship between these two systems marks every person’s existence and underlines the rise and fall of every civilization. While the word sustainability is relatively new, every culture has confronted this relationship for better or ill. Historically, no civilization has reversed its tracks with respect to the environment but rather has declined and disappeared because it forfeited its own habitat. For the first time in history, a civilization—its people, companies, and governments—are trying to arrest this slide and understand how to live

on earth. This is a watershed in human existence. To walk out of the room is impossible. The environment is the room and every that happens to it affects the welfare of human beings. It is not hyperbole to say that the world is turning inside out, shedding its life, and dying. A once familiar world is transforming into the unwanted and unimagined. As I write, European glaciers are melting like ice cream cones, London baked like a pizza in 101 degree summer days and thousands of people died in heat waves in France. Disturbing new forms of life are being created by corporations and released into the environment. Human clones are rumored. Food has been reduced to molecular nutrients and patented. Water rights are bought and sold like oil reserves. We are at war on the basis of a wink, a nod, and a smirk. All of these events, political and environmental, are the result of consuming life instead of considering it. In each instance, large corporations benefit hugely from the loss of ecological stability and living systems. 3. What advice would you give to funders about making grants to organizations that are leading the charge for a sustainable and just world? Start funding people and ideas, not just programs and in so doing take a hint from the right wing. Fund Fritjof Capra, Paulo Lugari, Janine Benyus, Anuradha Mittal, the Bioneers conference, and other brilliance. Create a hundred small think tanks. Fund a large progressive think tank in the beltway. Fund innovation. Trust your grantees more, and make longer-term grants. Fund the environment as if we are going to win, not simply put our fingers in the dike. Try to create more turnover of grant officers. Mix it up and don’t become grant-giving professionals. Stop meeting in fancy hotels like the EGA and COF do and cut the expense accounts. Have a funders' meeting in Nogales for three days and study trade, or South Central and focus on sustainable economic development. Stay in a roach motel and eat at the local Denny’s. Make the process more accountable and transparent. Stop being so conservative, take off the power ties, roll up the sleeves, get out of the office and celebrate nature by getting in it. Get the fuddy-duddies off the board. Old money doesn’t have to mean old rigid minds. Get youth on boards of directors. Get America on the boards of directors. You can’t solve the problems of America if America is outside the window. No more token people-of-color appointments. Make 30-40 percent of foundation boards people of color. In California, make it 50 percent. This century is all we have. Stop pretending that nothing is wrong. Belly up to the bar and give away more than 5% (not counting your overhead). Stop saving for rainy days; these are the rainy days. 4. What are some of your latest efforts/projects designed to move us closer toward a live sustaining future? I am working on creating a series of companies involving an innovative principle of fluid dynamics (it is pure biomimicry) that we will apply to turbine, marine, water, and electronics that will save significant amounts of energy. All fluidic and energy gradients in nature follow the path of least resistance. Industry does the opposite. These technologies, when applied ubiquitously can save nearly 20% of the world’s energy. So it is a great sandbox to play in. I am writing a book with a working title We Interrupt This Empire that is about the growing resistance to corporatization. We are doing two research projects at the Natural Capital Institute. One of them is about creating the first database of all socially responsible (SRI) mutual funds in the world. And using different criteria than is used by the SRI funds, we are compiling a list of the 100 best companies

in the world, a list which I think will surprise people because they won’t recognize the names of most companies, and because the old familiar names won’t be on it. We are looking at what a company’s true purpose is. Being the biggest junk food purveyor or being a software robber baron doesn’t qualify (the biggest holding in SRI funds is Microsoft). We think individuals, foundations, and many high net worth individuals really do want their money to make a difference, and we are hoping this map will help point the way. 5. Why do you continue to work on these seemingly intractable issues? (What sustains you/gives you hope?) I have never been so hopeful. Realistically, the planet is going to most likely tank this century due to global warming. Nothing else comes close to the enormity of this threat. The rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheets could very likely shut down the Atlantic gyre and freeze out European agriculture. The predicted warming in this century will be ten times greater than the last hundred years and even now, as Kenny Ausubel has pointed out, the Weather Channel is becoming more like the Adventure Channel. So why be hopeful? Because a crisis is coming. And that is what is needed to rid ourselves of the vapid leadership and musty values that inform corporate and national governance. The solutions are here, both socially and technologically. The leaders are also here. The will is building. Sven Lindqvist, the author of A History of Bombing, wrote, "You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions." More and more people are drawing conclusions. Many modernists think technology will deliver us. Apologists want to go back a few decades or centuries. But an entirely new set of voices is creating a biological know-how that defies the conventional idea of what technology is. If biotechnology is “graffiti in the book of life,” these are the beginnings of illuminated manuscripts, biological strategies that carefully attend to the complexity of life and re-imagine what it means to be a human being on this planet, at this time, given the real constraints. The inventors are pioneers like John Todd, Paulo Lugari, and Paul Stamets. The sages include Janine Benyus, Lynn Margulis, Dave Foreman and David Suzuki. The beneficiaries are potentially all the people on earth. Martha Graham, the great dancer and choreographer, once described the creative process as “a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest keeps us marching and makes us more alive...” The world is becoming blessedly restless. This is a good sign. 6. Is there anything else you would like to share that you did not get a chance to say in this interview? Along with this group of biological pioneers is a stunning grassroots movement addressing sustainability that flies under the radar of the media, a movement the likes of which the world has never seen. It is not centralized or charismatic. It consists of at least 100,000 organizations. It is quiet and real and powerful and it will link up in our lifetime and nothing will ever be the same. The two most complex systems in the world are living and human systems. The study of how human commercial activity is linked to living systems (resources) is consigned primarily to economics. The relationship is starting to be addressed by every discipline and every sector of society. The practice of

sustainability, as nascent and wobbly as it may be, is essentially the study of this relationship from a new perspective. Language is critical because all of us have a responsibility to enlarge the conversation the world is having about what it means to be a human at a time when every living system on earth is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Again, no one can walk out of the room. They can only shutter their perception. The proponents of sustainability do not agree on everything—nor should they—but remarkably, they share a basic set of fundamental understandings about the Earth, how it functions, and the necessity of fairness and equity for all people in partaking and preservation of the Earth's life-giving systems. They believe that water and air belong to us all, not just to the rich. They believe seeds and life itself cannot be owned or patented by corporations. They believe that nature is the basis of true prosperity and must be honored. This shared understanding is arising spontaneously from different economic sectors, cultures, regions, and cohorts. And it is growing and spreading, without exception, throughout this country and worldwide. No one started this worldview, no one is in charge of it, and no orthodoxy is restraining it. It is the fastest and most powerful movement in the world today, unrecognizable to the American media because it is not centralized, based on power, or led by charismatic white, male vertebrates. As external conditions continue to worsen socially, environmentally, and politically, organizations working toward sustainability multiply and gain increasing numbers of supporters. As Václav Havel, writer, dissenter, and first President of the Czech Republic has said, we are at the brink of a new world because the old world is no longer valid. It is no longer valid for America, with 4 -1/2 percent of the world's population, to consume 30 percent of the world's resources. If we are losing our legacy forests, our fossil water, our critical habitat, and the sanctuaries where the wild and untouched can live and thrive, then everything must change. We will not be able to bring back what we have lost. It will take millions of years to restore the diversity of lost species. Nevertheless, in this century we can begin to undertake the very necessary work of restoration. We can begin to reduce carbon in the atmosphere; recharge aquifers; bring back lands that have been taken by deserts; create habitat corridors for buffalo, panthers, and gray wolves; and thicken our paper-thin topsoil. Ironically, the way to save this earth is to focus on its people, and particularly those people who pay the highest price: women, children, communities of color, and the localized poor. The sustainability movement – without forsaking its understanding of living systems, resources, conservation, and biology – is moving from a resource flow model of saving the earth to a model based on human rights, the rights to food, the rights to livelihood, the rights to culture, community and self-sufficiency. Those rights establish carrying capacity and environmental stewardship. Without those rights, corporations seeking the highest return on capital will privatize the commons and scarcity will haunt us to our collective grave. The environmental movement is becoming, albeit slowly, a civil rights movement, a human rights movement. And in so doing, and only in so doing, can we bring out the end of the war on earth that started five hundred years ago. We can and will do this because it is the only way we can be fully human, and it is the only way earth’s grace will sustain us.

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