Grassroots revolution

Visiting environmentalist sheds light on a movement that’s changing the world

PORTRAIT OF A PIONEER<br>Environmentalist and author Paul Hawken has been involved with sustainability for more than 40 years, long before the movement had a name.

Environmentalist and author Paul Hawken has been involved with sustainability for more than 40 years, long before the movement had a name.

Courtesy Of Paul Hawken

Go see him:
Paul Hawken will be speaking Tuesday (Sept. 25) at 7:30 p.m. at Chico State’s Laxson Auditorium. His appearance is part of the On the Creek lecture series, presented by Chico Performances and the Institute for Sustainable Development. For tickets, visit the University Box Office or call 898-6333.

Don’t you know
They’re talkin’ ’bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
And finally the tables are
starting to turn …

—Tracy Chapman,
“Talkin’ ’Bout a Revolution”

“This is a movement that’s coming from the bottom.”

Bay Area environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist and author Paul Hawken, by phone from his Bay Area home, continued: “People are used to movements coming from the top, as if some charismatic vertebrate will show up and save us. This movement isn’t coming from the right or left, but from the bottom, where people aren’t looking. It’s a huge global shift from a world created by privilege to a world created by community.”

Hawken, for the uninitiated, is a cutting-edge thinker (with no college degree) whose impressive and diverse credits include starting the groundbreaking natural-foods business Erewhon Trading Company at age 20 (with only $500 in start-up money) as well as co-founding the hugely successful gardening supply company Smith & Hawken.

His book published 20 years ago, Growing a Business, which explored the how-tos of running environmentally responsible companies, was turned into a 17-part series on PBS. President Bill Clinton has referred to his 1999 book Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution as one of the five most important books in the world today. In 2003, Hawken received the Green Cross Millennium Award for Individual Environmental Leadership from Mikhail Gorbachev.

He’s made numerous appearances on such socially responsible media as NPR’s Talk of the Nation, PBS’ Charlie Rose, and in the Christian Science Monitor and Mother Jones.

During an upcoming visit to Chico State University, Hawken will be talking about his latest work and his vision from a position on the leading edge of what is happening, and what is possible and necessary, in the growing sustainability movement.

POWER WORDS<br>In his latest book, Paul Hawken examines a worldwide movement for social and environmental change.

In his new book, Blessed Unrest: How The Largest Movement In The World Came Into Being, and Why No One Saw It Coming, Hawken quotes American nature poet Mary Oliver: “One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice.” Hawken uses it to illustrate his point that there is a diverse, decentralized and largely unseen-by-the-powers-that-be crusade afoot.

It’s an officially unrecognized but growing movement of people and organizations around the world from all walks of life, including lots of very poor people, who are highly motivated to address growing global problems such as political corruption, the destruction of the environment, increasing threats to the survival of indigenous cultures, and life-menacing economic practices of corporations and governments.

“It’s a movement consisting of famous people and unknown people,” explained Hawken. “That’s why I wrote the book. So often the media report on a few people—the Sierra Club, NBC, Al Gore, some Hollywood celebrities. … We’re trying to get away from six or seven heroes or ‘she-roes.’ How about 100 million people? Let’s stop trying to be saved by some charismatic leader.”

Hawken matter-of-factly says that the subtitle of his latest book says it all: The growing sustainability movement exists because there is a need for it, and it is thriving for the same reason despite an all-too-common lack of financial resources.

One thing that the players in this decentralized movement wisely rely heavily upon—whether it’s a large nonprofit or just an individual with a blog—is the power of communication via the Internet to get things done.

“What is power in a corrupt age?” Hawken continued, passionately. “I will be talking [in the lecture] about ‘civil society,’ about social justice, about how the social justice and environmental movements are merging and coming together; about how citizen organizations, nonprofit organizations, are forming to combat political corruption, economic disease and environmental degradation; how citizens are organizing themselves to protect themselves, to protect people and place. … In my book, I refer to it as humanity’s ‘immune response’ to the problems of political corruption, economic disease and ecological degradation.”

Hawken does not come across as in-your-face militant, yet his meticulously researched, passionate writings, not to mention his speaking engagements, do seem to end up serving as a kind of rallying cry in defense of the survival of the planet—all of its inhabitants and its resources.

Hawken is the first speaker scheduled during the fall lineup of the “On the Creek” lecture series exploring sustainability issues affecting our planet. Scott McNall, executive director for Chico State’s Institute for Sustainable Development, which co-sponsors the series, said Hawken was identified by a cross section of faculty, staff and community members as someone they would like to see speak at the university. In fact, his approaching appearance is, for many, long awaited.

“We wanted him last year,” said McNall, who has read Blessed Unrest. “He’s hard to get. He’s booked a year out.”

McNall is enthusiastic to hear straight from the source how Hawken, with his business background, has committed himself to environmental issues. He is also excited to think that Hawken will move others to understand that “this is something we should all be committed to—both people in business and every other citizen.

“As far as civil society goes,” McNall added, “there are a number of grassroots movements springing up. We are really tired of political discourse in this country. The movement Paul Hawken talks about really crosscuts political and religious divisions. It’s a way to bring people together to create a civil society.”