Monday, August 6, 2007

Blessed Unrest

Are you a member of "the movement"? If you are reading this words, then you probably are. What movement am I talking about? The New York Times has a review of the new book, "Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming" by Paul Hawken. Here is an excerpt of the review:

“The movement,” as Paul Hawken calls it, is made up of an unknowable number of citizens and mostly ragtag organizations that come and go. But when you do see it, you understand it to include NGOs, nonprofit agencies and a seemingly disparate range of people who might describe themselves as environmental activists, as well as people who might not describe themselves as anything at all but are protesting labor injustices, monitoring estuaries, supporting local farming or defending native people from being robbed of the last forests. There are a few billionaires, working hard to give their wealth away, and there are even some Christian evangelicals, who have decided the earth is not theirs to trash, but the movement is mostly about shared beliefs, even if those beliefs are unproclaimed. “Life is the most fundamental human right,” Hawken writes, “and all of the movements within the movement are dedicated to creating the conditions for life, conditions that include livelihood, food, security, peace, a stable environment and freedom from external tyranny.”
Still confused? Skip to the 100-plus-page appendix, a list of movement-oriented concerns from child labor to “green banking” to climate change, reflecting years of post-lecture business-card collecting on the author’s part. Hawken, the ecologically conscious founder of the gardening chain Smith & Hawken as well as a number of other enterprises involving things like sustainable agriculture and energy-saving technologies, makes the movement’s disparateness seem not so disparate — in its critique of markets, for example. “If there is a pervasive criticism of global capitalism that is shared by all actors in the movement, it is this observation: goods seem to have become more important, and are treated better, than people. What would a world look like if that emphasis were reversed?” The movement, most importantly, is very lowercase, its sensitivity being its great strength and, naturally, its tactical weakness. Do-gooding will always have a perception problem. Mountaintop-removal mining rarely risks seeming behind the times, even though it is; Amazonian tribesmen’s marching on a World Trade Organization meeting seems futile and quixotic, even though it’s not.
The rationale for the movement is sprinkled through the book like smelling salts. By the middle of the century, Hawken writes, resources per person on the globe will drop by half. Pesticide residues are prevalent in soft drinks in India. The
World Bank helps pay for an oil pipeline through the Mindo Nabillo Cloudforest in Ecuador. Species extinction and poverty abound while profits soar. “The world’s top 200 companies have twice the assets of 80 percent of the world’s people, and that asset base is growing 50 times faster than the income of the world’s majority,” Hawken notes. According to Hawken, the movement’s modus operandi is to work at the edges, on lower levels. The movement is an alternative to the old choice of Communism or capitalism, and the current one of freedom versus terror. “Instead of isms it offers processes, concerns and compassion,” he writes. “The movement demonstrates a pliable, resonant and generous side of humanity. It does not aim for the utopian ... but is eminently pragmatic.”
Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 22 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at

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