Saturday, May 19, 2007

Paul Hawken 

Gobsmacked doesn’t begin to describe my state of mind five minutes after I’d come downstairs and switched on the computer this morning.

Remember a couple of weeks ago I wrote about WiserEarth, Paul Hawken, and his new book Blessed Unrest? It was his name on the screen this morning which drew my eye like a magnet, there in the ‘name’ column of the Haloscan ‘Manage Comments’ page. He’d left me a message of thanks in return for my post.

In a way, I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised; surreal as it seems, it’s all entirely logical and consistent. WiserEarth is still in beta; if the originator of the idea wanted to gauge how word of its existence and purpose is spreading, wouldn’t the obvious thing be to Google it and see what people are saying? And if you do that, what do you find? There on the second page of search results, amongst the references from magazine articles, lies a link from an unheard of blog. This blog.

Fine so far, but how many authors go to the trouble of leaving a comment when their work gets a mention in such an out-of-the-way place? In the conventional world, the focus would be on the book, the author, the organisation, the message. What’s one acolyte among ten thousand? But this isn’t the conventional mass media world.

Blessed Unrest (which Borders told me when I went looking for it this morning isn’t due to be published until 31st May), if I understand the previews correctly, is about a bottom-up swell of concern and activity. Not a top-down, organised “movement”, but characterised by movement nonetheless; ripples which added together may yet make a tidal wave; a common drive by individuals and groups worldwide all of whom have said “Enough! I cannot any longer see poverty, social injustice, environmental damage continue unheeded. I must act.” Hawken likens this to an immune system reaction, where we ourselves are the planet’s white blood cells who, cell-to-cell, fight the infection which threatens to engulf us and our world.

It’s in this context that a comment from a world player to a minor blogger makes complete sense. Hawken’s latest work, and that of the WiserEarth team, has been to catalogue thousand upon thousand of grass-roots organisations, creating the framework for a support network through which help, ecouragement, ideas and knowledge may spread.

And what am I, if not a grass root? So the focus returns from the global perspective to the place where the action is – or could be. And that is where I start to feel uncomfortable.

When I first came across WiserEarth, I could have signed up immediately, but I didn’t. Not because I don’t agree wholeheartedly with their hopes and their purpose - I hope it goes without saying that I do. But because I couldn’t see what I could offer, practically. I may share my vision (on the good days when I have one), my fears, my hopes with many of that community, but my skills, my experience seem so irrelevant. In the way I live my daily life I’m no different to millions of others in the developed world - I drive a car, live off supermarket food, consume as much energy in the running of my home as any typical suburbanite. About the best I can say is that I use local recycling facilities and drink fair trade coffee. Big deal; that’s not going to change the world.

Yet I can’t help but feel that Paul’s comment is a good omen; an indication – tangible proof even – that there can be a real connection between an emerging global conscience and an individual struggling to make sense of the contradictions between his supposed ideals and his daily living.

I’ll leave the last word for the moment with Paul Hawken:

“Any and all ideas are welcome and needed to make [WiserEarth] something that can connect and serve us all.”

I’m in the market for ideas…

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