Here is an end-of-summer letter from Alan AtKisson reflecting on a couple of big transitions happening in our world, and also explaining how, and why, he started Sustainable Facebook. There are also lots of useful links to recent articles, on a wide range of topics, included below.
Alan has two books coming out soon (see the end of the letter), and specially invites WaveFront readers to reserve personally signed copies if they would like them … now, read on to find out about the “end of the world …”
As the Swedish summer winds down, I start to come out of hibernation (in work terms) and re-engage with the professional world. The intense Swedish summer vacation is also a reflective, even philosophical period. One has time to think.
This summer, quite a few thoughts emerged while lying in the hammock, building a fort for my daughter, and walking the beaches of Gotland, a Swedish island. On Gotland, you can reach down and casually pick up a 400 million-year-old fossil, evidence of an ancient, teeming sea. It’s a contradiction: that sea is gone, but it’s still here.
Here is another contradiction: The world is about to end … and the world is just starting.
Let’s start with the part of the world that is just starting: social media.
In a few short years, our world has suddenly found ways to wire a billion of us up together, via social networking websites. We are no longer limited to “electronic mail.” We can share thoughts instantly, with hundreds or thousands of people we know, via social media. These thought-sharing technologies currently go under brand names like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. They are very primitive. And they are certainly just the beginning of something truly revolutionary, a massive change in how humans relate to each other. What that change is, I don’t know, but I’m reading everything I can to try to understand what’s coming.
To learn more directly, I have started spending more time in social media. I was slow to realize that these “virtual spaces” are real communities. People live there. So, like any community, they could do with some serious reflection, analysis, and action on sustainability.
Once I realized that, I started Sustainable Facebook. [My assistant reminded me that not everyone reading this uses Facebook, or even knows what it is, so: "Sustainable Facebook" is an open group on the world's most popular social networking site. Anyone can join to discuss and comment on issues, online. The purpose of the group is to explore and discuss the sustainability of Facebook itself.]
Amazingly, until a few days ago, there was no group — real or online — that called itself Sustainable Facebook. So I created one. To get things started, I invited a few dozen of my Facebook “friends” to join.
And just 24 hours later, that group had over 500 people in it, from all over the world. And it’s still growing, of course.
It’s an open group, so you can join too. We’re trying to cover all the usual Compass dimensions: examples of topics so far include the carbon footprints of FB users (Nature), the launch of gambling on FB (Wellbeing), the competition among social media firms on sustainability (Economy), what other sustainability groups are doing on FB (Society), etc. We’re also looking at other services, like LinkedIn. And basically, all these new social media companies appear to be serious laggards in the sustainability department, receiving failing grades from sites like rankabrand.org.
So, I’ve learned a lot already. Plus, doing sustainability on Facebook, instead of just looking at people’s silly cat pictures, feels worthwhile: after all, over 900 million people use that service, it is claimed. Maybe we can have a little influence on a few of them, and maybe even on the company itself. Doing the kind of work I care about there, in that community (and doing something very similar to what we did with Sustainable Seattle years ago) helps me feel more at home as well.
And these days, we need to enjoy that feeling of home, real or virtual, because the world is about to end. Maybe.
By “the world,” I mean of course the stability or even viability of market-based economies in the industrialized parts of the world. And by “end,” I mean plunge deeper into a serious period of disruption and transition, caused by peak oil, peak everything else, and the falling-off-a-cliff effect that overshoot-and-collapse in our use of resources and ecosystems is causing. We are doomed by the dynamics of exponential growth to unleash havoc upon the human race.
Or maybe not. The thing is, we really don’t know what is going to happen. Certainly I don’t know. But quite a number of people are pretty sure they do know. And they appear to divide equally, between wildly opposite views.
One group is proclaiming a new era of abundance, including even the end of worries about Peak Oil, because of new breakthroughs in technology. If you want a very optimistic view, consider this Time Magazine article about oil’s new abundance, or this TED talk by the founder of the X Prize. (He is also one of the people behind the new multi-billion-dollar plan to go hunting for metals in space and to mine near-Earth asteroids. Seriously.)
On the pessimistic, glass-half-empty-and-falling-fast side, I just went through (at the request of a friend) the transcript of a very scary video about how exponential growth dynamics are leading inevitably to financial, ecological, and every other kind of global collapse. Of course, I was a little annoyed when I got to the end and discovered that this trio of internationally known experts was actually selling investment advice. The video, with all its frightening exponential growth curves, was their infomercial. (Okay, there is some useful information in that video transcript, including trend curves on the increasing amoung of energy it takes to get new energy out of the ground … but don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
Extremes of future optimism and pessimism aside, something serious is of course happening in this world, today. Fish are really and truly in danger, for example, and we just continue scraping them out of the sea. (Some people still prefer to look on the bright side, but the overall global trend is clear, says the UN.) The global financial system seems to be held together with spit and chewing gum. The Arctic ice keeps melting — shockingly fast, says the most recent satellite data. Even some global warming skeptics are doing about-faces. (Did you see Richard Muller’s recent piece in the New York Times? That was a major turning point: a scientific skeptic, partly financed by the far-right Koch brothers and Heartland Institute, was convinced by his own data that humans are causing global warming.) [Note: requires logging in.]
So … is the “Great Collapse” coming, or not? To my mind, this is the wrong question.
The more interesting question is: are we ready for whatever happens?
And: will we be able to see what is actually happening, when it happens? Or will we each be so convinced by our own beliefs about the future — global collapse, universal abundance, or something else — that we fail to notice the true and complex shape of reality, when it arrives?
I’ve been a social media skeptic, but hey, Facebook is reality — or at least, one aspect of it. So I’ve dived in. Also, I have long preached (and even sung) the dangers of exponential growth. But hey, we really don’t know where this rocket ship of accelerating growth and change is ultimately taking us. So I did not click “Like” on the scary video about the end of civilization.
For me, sustainability work today means at least two things: continuing to move as fast as possible to change the course of that exponential growth rocket, to avoid or reduce as much collapse as possible, indeed create something better …
But we also need to be preparing for, and engaging in — from a whole-system, sustainability perspective — the world that actually is emerging.
Whatever that world is.
P.S. I’ve got a lot of new stuff coming out this Fall, including two new books. One place to track this is (of course) at my public page on Facebook:
But you can read more about the new sustainability book, “Because We Believe in the Future,” and a reserve a personal signed copy, at my blog:
… or my company website:
Please share, like, link, etc.!
That’s it for WaveFront this time! The Northern hemisphere summer is a slow period, especially in Europe … which we think is very healthy and sustainable. But we’ll send another WaveFront out soon with more info on Fall activities, and on what’s happening in sustainability more generally, with a special look at the aftermath of the Rio+20 summit. Stay tuned!