Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Blessed Unrest -- Paul Hawken-- Review

Blessed Unrest How The Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming by Paul Hawken seems messianic at times. The idea that there is a convergence of indigenous, social, and environmental movements into a single worldwide worldchanging movement is a very interesting idea. It does not seem that plausible, but it is interesting. Above all, it is message of hope on how small groups can reach out to save the world.

Paul Hawken describes that there several million small NGOs-- nongovernmental organizations working to bring change. Often they are not even recognized as groups. They come about as spontaneous generation in the face of small issues; everything from organic gardening to pesticides to permaculture to living wages. He even has attempted to create a worldwide database of social and environmental NGOs representing 243 countries and territories. This can be viewed at http://www.wiserearth.org/. It is the largest database of its kind.

He begins the book with a history of the environmental movement starting with the environment and social movements focusing on Thoreau and Emerson then moving to Rachel Carson and others. He posits that social and environmental movements could not have started without the movement to abolish slavery in 1787. Human rights and the environment are completely intertwined.

There is a battle between the rights of busines versus the protection of nature and human rights. The current alliance between social, environmental, and indigenous groups is a reaction to globalization. Globalization creates a uniformity of services to everyone in the world and eliminates sovereignty of economic choices in business. It is based on a laissez faire model of capitalism which often ignores child labor, the right to form unions, and other basic human rights.

Everyday, I see the fruits of globalism in my neighborhood. We have a 99 cent store, a Colombian chicken fast food place, and if you take a drive, a giant big box store with cheap products from all over the world. You can hear customer service from India on the phone and see migrants from India, the Philippines, Ireland, Mexico, and Pakistan on the streets of Manhattan. They are providing everything from cheap labor, child care, construction and nursing. They are surrogates much of the time for jobs which many Americans do not want to do.

I agree with Paul Hawken's assessment that globalism brings homogenity; mcdonalds, generic shopping malls, fast food, and an endless stream of cheap products. Part of the reason I react so strongly against it is the loss of humanity and quality it brings. Paul Hawken exalts slow food instead of fast food, fair trade instead of multinationals, green buildings instead of cheap cookie cutter skyscrapers and malls.

It is often as I have said before a battle between quality and quantity. Many countries have realized that universally accepting globalism brings a severe loss in basic quality of life. The benefits we are given from globalism are not the benefits of improved quality of life, a better society, or a better environment. It is the message that more is better. Maybe we have enough and want something better.

When we look at people and call them savages we are reacting with our western history. Americans have this tendency to exalt dead cultures; the Romans are dead so are the ancient Egyptians. Unlike Paul Hawken, I don't hold the past against people. I hold hope for the future that people will respect other cultures. Local people know more about their environments than visitors. It is up to us to make available managed forestry, agroecology, and other sciences for a sustainable future.

Paul Hawken touches on the importance of ethnobotany, ecotourism, and agroecology. However, he does not go far enough. I understand what it means to bring in a specialist to manipulate a culture. For a while I thought I would go into applied anthropology. Then I woke up and saw what it did to people. We must make people valuable in the eyes of the west. The history of the west is a pattern of destroying anyone who we cannot place an immediate value on in the financial sense.

While Paul Hawken focuses on the idea that NGOs will save the world through an immune network of many little organizations focusing on a variety of local issues. I do not agree with him here. I think social entrepreneurship and social business will do more to change the world than non governmental organizations. Pure charity has not worked well in the past to solve many of the worlds ills.

Paul Hawken talks about Muhammad Yunus, the creator of Grameen bank, David Gottfield, founder of the USGBC-- United States Green Building Council, and Daniel Ben-Hurin founderof the Well. I think it is social entrepreneurship, SRI-- social responsible investment, and the willingness for the rich to give back to society that will ultimately matter. It is when I see Bill Gates and Warren Buffett turning over their fortunes to make the world right, that I see hope.

Global warming is creeping into the mainstream. Paul Hawken writes how the christianity is starting to embrace environmentalism. The Economist magazine has done two things which show a change in mentality that is spreading, they have talked about how to combatting global warming and they have created a world wide quality of life index. http://www.economist.com/media/pdf/QUALITY_OF_LIFE.pdf

Hopefully, quality of life will become a better accepted metric for the well being of a country than GDP-- Gross Domestic Product. It is GDP which people turn to when they see how well a country is doing in the world. This is the metric of the World Bank and the IMF-- International Monetary Fund, it has very little to do with income disparity, pollution, and educational attainment.

This is one of the reasons we see so many people protesting at the WTO-- World Trade Organization meetings. They want the benefits of the products they are selling, whether it be oil, bananas, or t-shirts. I do not agree with Paul Hawken's statement that the WTO protests were not riots. The image of peaceful demonstrations does not move people to want change.

I think this is a fascinating read with an interesting premise. Nongovernmental organizations will bring hope to the world from the bottom up. I do not agree with the assessment, however, I think there is a lot to be learned from this book. This book is quite hopeful. If you are interested in environmental and social issues you will probably want to read this book.


globalgirl said...

Great review of Paul Hawkin's latest book; I placed it on my must-read list. I've read two other books Hawkins authored and appreciate his call to "green living" and sustainability. Regarding WiserEarth.org, I have an account there but don't do much with it. Have you ever checked out Omidyar.net? I am also registered with them but, as with WiserEarth, have not made it a priority. However, both sites are noble and interesting for networking with like-minded people interested in improving the world in one shape or another.

Book Calendar said...

The Omidyar.net site looks very interesting. It looks like a microfinance network which is really interesting.

My main interest in these books is as an investor in a way. I am waiting for a turn in the United States. Things are bad in a way right now. I listen very carefully for the word "Green Collar" with patience.

I am interested in the concept of SRI-- Socially Responsible Investing. It has quite literally in a small way saved me from the poorhouse of deep debt. Also, I am interested in the concept of social business.

All of these things are connected in a way. A lot of it is a matter of patience. I may register with omidyar.net.