James Gustave Speth

Working in the city has it's benefits beyond the two year-round farmers' markets within walking distance. Today I walked to the World Affairs Council and listened to James Gustave Speth discuss his new book, The Bridge At The Edge of the World, Capitalism, the Environment and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability.

Mr. Speth is the Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale, the Co-Founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council and before today I'd never heard of him. He's been in the environmental movement since the 70's and the man is bursting at the seams with information and urgency.

There were a couple of synchronicities about his talk that got my attention. The first was he discussed our nations unsustainable consumerism and that studies show it hasn't made us happier. He went on to say that we aren't paying the true cost of goods in terms of the toll to the environment and our health. And if he hadn't already won me over he would have with his support of local food economies.

On the way there I'd been considering my own buying habits as I'd read a new challenge circulating the blogs from Crunchy Chicken to not buy anything new for the month of April. A hundred people had signed on. Great idea, I thought. I couldn't do it.

But walking back to the office I was wavering. It seemed impossible to hear what Mr. Speth had to say and consider buying anything new ever again. There needs to be a million people not buying anything for a month, I thought. Another block and I was at ten million. And then I worried about the people who make the stuff and sell the stuff and my heart was bleeding all over the place. Somewhere in there was a sustainable solution.

The second synchronicity was Mr. Speth ended his talk by advocating civic unreasonableness. And then he said, "Don't be predictable."

I got goose bumps. It was deja vu. Saturday night Diane Wilson, the high school educated shrimp farmer that wrangled zero emissions out of a multi-billion dollar chemical plant and wrote a book about it, ended her talk in Pt. Reyes in nearly the exact same way. "Be unreasonable," she said, and "Don't be predictable."

Maybe people have been saying those two things for years and I've never heard it. But I've heard it now And so have you.

So what are we going to do?

Here's an audio link of the interview Mr. Speth did earlier in the day with Michael Krasney. It's good.


Anonymous said...

I heard him on Diane Rehm's show last week (go to http://www.wamu.org/programs/dr/ for all recorded interviews) and I was really impressed with the guy, too. I think what really needs to be beaten in to our brains is the whole interconnectedness of our decisions. A Dean of forestry from Yale has such a pulpit, but so does a single shrimper!

I think everyone needs to do a little of something, and not a lot of nothing, as is the case now.

Theresa said...

Do you have a sense of what was meant by being unreasonable? I can thing of a lot of unreasonable things to do, but they wouldn't necessarily be a good idea. Do you think they mean un-reasonable, as in, less rational/logical and more emotional/compassionate/connected? By unpredictable do they mean creative? Unconventional?

I would love to break out of my predictable and civil reasonableness and quit my job, grow all my own food, stop coloring my hair, and maybe move into the collective/intentional community housing arrangement. But, truth be told, I'm afraid to do those things, at least right now. It's hard to know what to do, and what to do first.

Green Bean said...

I don't have an answer but I like the question and I think it's a question we should all be asking ourselves. To change, we must not be predictable - we must think outside the box, view things from a different angle, change who we are as an entire culture.

It needs to be cool to use less, hip to shop at thrift stores, a badge of honor (to everyone) to line dry our clothes or to make our own yogurt. Sure, there would be an impact on the people who make all the crap we consume but being unpredictable, I guess, means finding a new and different solution. Perhaps those people will switch to a different industry, raise crops or livestock or make products that are needed closer to home. That's predictable, maybe? I don't know.

Kale for Sale said...

el - I know I've said this before but all I wanted to do was eat local foods and talk about them but it's impossible to look at the issues affecting our food systems and not see how everything else is connected. You know. You said it.

An interesting thing about Diane Wilson, the shrimper, is that she wouldn't talk until she was five or six. And now people fill big rooms to hear her.

theresa - Good questions. My sense from both of them is that unreasonable is subject to each individual. Neither put a box around it or attempted to define it beyond you can't work with in a system that doesn't work which is our current situation. And not that we don't have good people working hard for good solutions. JGS's image of the enviromental movement is that we are walking upstream and the more headway made the stronger the current becomes until progress is no longer possible. I think the answer to all your questions is yes. And I'm with you. It is hard to know what to do. What I can do is to continue to support local farmers and a local economy. And have fun doing it.

Thank you for the questions. It helped me clarify things.

green bean - You go girl! Maybe that's one center of one wheel- the center of fashion. I don't know anyone (that I can think of) who doesn't want to be cool to some degree or another. And if they aren't cool they want their not cool to be cool. So we've got to get cool all together. We need an all encompassing cool shift. It's funny and seems superficial but there's something there.

And yes, we have to invent and reintroduce solutions for sustainability that leave no one out. Or it's not really sustainable.

And green bean - you aren't predictable!

Theresa said...

Yes, it needs to be cool to be moderate, kind and compassionate, instead of cool to be angry, greedy and mean. In a world where the latter is predictable, I guess the former would be unpredictable! Hmmm...got to ponder that for a while...

Charlie said...

About four weeks ago I lost my credit card. I cancelled it, never got another one. Well, what do you know. They don't take credit cards at the farmer's markets. And I'm just not buying as much stuff in general.

I'll probably decide to get one at some point for my travels, though I could probably wean myself from dependence.

And they are handy for buying books.

Anonymous said...

That was me leaving that last comment, not my husband!

Kale for Sale said...

Theresa - We've all got a lot of pondering to do.

Audrey - It is a different reality spending cash for food. I used to swipe the card and never even look at the total. Now I know the price of a bunch of radishes and once my pocket is empty it's time to go home.

You are right though that cards are good for books and traveling. I would hate to pass up a good book because I didn't have enough money in my pocket.

Anonymous said...

Good post.