Well, here goes. I was a Denver Post columnist for a brief time, but this is my first journey as a writer into the blogosphere. I hope it’s mutually beneficial. I stand to gain some discipline and momentum in a period when there’s no book deadline hanging over me, and readers may benefit from in-the-moment thoughts that I keep having – kind of like a leaky faucet that occasionally drips fine wine. (Or at least it tastes like wine to me.)
So, at least a few times a month I’ll put on my blogging cap (with the letter “B” on it) and pour and lay out little glasses of wine, compiled from entries in my daily journal (which exists mostly in my head.) What’s up for me now – right around New Year, 2011, is a book that’s just being born. My standard quip is that publishing a book is like having a baby, except you don’t have to go out and sell a baby. I do feel intimidated and a little embarrassed about having to sell labors of love and commitment. On the other hand, there’s useful and urgent information in The New Normal: An Agenda for Responsible Living. I drew on the brilliant ideas, insights, and carefully-compiled data of people like Lester Brown (Earth Policy Institute), Christopher Flavin (Worldwatch Institute), Alex Steffens (Worldchanging Bright Green), Amory Lovins (Rocky Mountain Institute), the editors of YES! Magazine, and many other pioneers of a more sensible way of being in the world.
The book contrasts “Old Perspectives” and “New Perspectives” in each chapter to make the case that we need to reprogram the software of our industrial civilization. This is a mission far more critical than going to the moon, and it’s more about conquering inner space – the final frontier. It’s about a resurgent ethic that will steer our policies, technologies, and everyday routines in a completely different direction. As Gandhi once said, “Speed is irrelevant if you’re traveling in the wrong direction.” As a culture, we’re idiotically sawing off the scaffolding that supports us to have what? – a brief moment in the sun. It’s not physically or biologically possible for our way of life to continue. The New Normal’s underlying theme is that normality and sanity are not necessarily synonymous. In other words, our culture is crazy, and it is there that we need to create fundamental changes.
Like Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz, we’re living in the shadow of a wicked worldview that forces us to destroy our communities, our personal health, and the health of the natural world. The instructions – that we consent to – in effect direct us to swing wrecking balls against our own homes, wild areas, and places of worship. Why is this okay?
It’s time for us to confess that we are addicted to a worldview whose systems and assumptions are broken and irrelevant. And to celebrate the fact that we do have effective tools to overcome addiction. Addicts publicly acknowledge their addiction, seek support, and define a new, healthier identity. So must our addicted, wayward culture, which promotes so many backward assumptions. For example, we collectively assume that the environment is inside the economy. That technology should define human behavior. That people who are paid less are worth less. That convenience and reduced physical activity are primary goals. That growth is always good – that it’s okay to destroy natural systems and permanently warp the minds of children in the name of profit. That it’s possible to teach other people how not to kill, by killing them.
Our civilization seems to have agreed it’s a good idea to use more and more of what we have less and less of (resources); and less and less of what we have more of (people) as we substitute technology for humans.
In the emerging era, production and consumption will no longer be the defining features of our civilization; cultural richness, ecological design, and biological restoration will be. We’ll focus on health and wellness rather than wealth and “hellness.” Our overall direction will shift from “Destroy nature, make money” to “Restore nature, save money.” If nature and culture are abundant – providing security and freedom – we won’t need or want as much material wealth, individually or collectively. For example, for two-thirds of the cost of a massive flood event in 1993, the restoration of thirteen million acres of wetlands along the Mississippi River and its tributaries would permanently prevent catastrophic flooding. Similarly, by preventing a catastrophic rise in global temperature, we will save more money than we have spent so far in the history of the world.
In a sustainable future, we’ll ask key questions like, “What’s the purpose of a company?” We should feel ashamed that in our times, companies have a single, dogmatic mission – to make money. When we experience a cultural epiphany, a collective flash of insight, we’ll know that, of course, companies should be vehicles of service. They should exist to make money AND provide stimulating, creative work; to be good neighbors in their communities; to make products that glow and resonate with quality; to be centers of social abundance and creativity. Places where the human spirit thrives and the goal of innovation is to fit human and natural systems the way well made gloves fit our hands.
“What’s the purpose of nature?” will once again be self-evident. Far from being a just warehouse of booty for an over-productive economy, nature expresses life on Earth, providing and sharing everything it needs to perfect itself as an experiment: clean air, pollination, natural defenses against infestation, climatic stability, species diversity, and on and on. In a more mature phase of our own evolution, we’ll realize that what’s bad for the beehive can’t be good for the bee. Products will flow from and through nature the way honey does: without harming the flower.
In the new normal, we’ll realize at last that political polarization is self-defeating; that our basic goals are universal, and that policies should simply be devices for achieving goals like these:
- Healthy, low-stress lives, with more leisure time
- Happy kids
- Real security in our neighborhoods
- An environment with a stable, sustainable “immune system”
- Places we can go to experience and be renewed by nature
- Genuine, non-pretentious connections with friends
- Contentedness rather than anxiety as a starting point for each day
- A sense that life has purpose and meaning.
So now, along with my “B” cap, let me conclude for the moment by pulling on a New Normal T-shirt. My new book is worthy of being parentally defended because it presents 33 high-leverage shifts in direction, including specific policies, technologies, and behavioral changes in these essential areas:
- Where we live and how we build
- What we eat and how we grow
- How we interact with, and protect, nature
- What we buy, and how we design and make it
- How we provide power, mobility, and access
- How we prioritize and budget both private and public capital
Be well, my friends, and as the copy on the new book’s cover suggests, “Let’s work together to keep the planet healthy.” Enough of this hyper-individuality we’ve been stuck with. Let’s create a new way of being that actually satisfies our needs rather than relying on a huge machine that’s programmed to leave us hungry for more.