At the Omega Institute Conference on Sustainable Living, “Where We Go From Here,” President Bill Clinton in his Keynote Address maintained that genetically, we are 99% alike. Our differences amount to less than 1 %. Yet, he affirmed that politically, materially, socially and culturally, we concentrate on disparity, raising the level of argument to a cacophonous reservoir of bitterness and rancor when clearly, we should be driving toward consensus for the betterment of humankind for the long haul. In light of what has been happening with the U.S. Congress, his points were apropos.
They are particularly telling if one acknowledges the looming threat of global warming. If we admit we have a problem with carbon, methane, etc. emissions creating a devastating negative impact on our environment for future generations, rich or poor globally, his comments are especially important. To at least begin to deal with such a problem, it will take a consensus of nations, ethnic groups and cultures, emphasizing our common needs for water, shelter, clean food, clean air, energy. It will take a collective effort of all of the citizens of the world to confront the problem of global warming in order to be part of the solution.
If all of this sounds like pie in the sky wishful thinking, the EU is already devoted to dealing with carbon emissions and creating sustainable living environments that have a beneficial impact on the environment through the collective and collaborative efforts of citizens. Germany is in the forefront of a movement toward becoming a sustainable and green country. In the U.S. there are initiatives that are up and running successfully (The Oberlin Project). Many of them can be viewed online, but they have not gained critical mass because of the political rhetoric and fear mongering of stake holders who cannot get beyond the vision of their own agendas to understand there is nothing to lose but much to gain, including their own profitability.
The conference provided information and encouragement despite the climate changes that are ongoing and possibly starker than have been reported. Speakers like Jeremy Rifken who has been instrumental in opening the eyes of various heads of state in EU countries and around the world, did paint a dire picture but countered it with his discussion about the Third Industrial Revolution and how it is unfolding despite the resistance of global corporations who have been seeking out unrenewable energy sources in tar sands, oil, natural gas and coal, none of which are limitless or efficiently, cheaply extracted, processed and brought to market without destroying the environment.
Rifken who has written extensively about the topic remains hopeful that there is time for corporations to understand and innovate toward the wisdom of a decentralized system that allows citizens to participate collaboratively in a horizontal share model whereby they are able to use energy created in their own back yards. It is a model that requires a change in thinking, an openness for innovation and collaborative distribution and it is being implemented in Germany where Rifken has been a consultant.
Other speakers each present at the conference are also leaders in the movement to get off fossil fuel energy sources and transition to renewable energy. They highlighted their area of expertise and provided a fascinating and uplifting account of the forward momentum of business enterprise and non profits working collaboratively. Janine Benyus, David W. Orr (The Oberlin Project) Majora Carter and Paul Hawken provided information and shared their experience, knowledge and efforts in providing renewable energy and making sustainable, green living environments. Each encouraged that the first toddling steps in the right direction make all the difference in factoring the time to move off unrenewables. It is late in the carbon, methane, etc. emission debacle, but there is hope.
Michael Reynolds and Bob Berkebile shared their green building innovations. Michael Reynolds with precision, pin- point clarity and great humor shared the ingenuity of his innovative green, sustainable building designs. Using recycled materials like rubber tires, glass bottles and other items, these structures can be built in any part of the world and require little upkeep or costly maintenance once constructed. The “radically sustainable buildings” provide electricity, potable water, contained sewage treatment and even sustainable food production.
Bob Berkebile shared his work with communities after destruction by storms, for example the work being done to redevelop a community in Kansas City, Missouri. Like others, his design and community planning is centered around green and sustainable with the collective input and participation of community members focusing on their needs and desires. This is participatory redevelopment in its finest moment of wisdom, not accomplished by developers who rush in with poor design and function to make their “killing” with little consideration for the long haul, especially with regard for the environment and the humans who have to live in their structures.
Global warming is not a matter of belief. There are facts and figures which scientists point to and there are facts and figures which global corporations and their sub rosa PACs point to. It is understandable that these are not the same facts and figures. Nevertheless, the conference speakers pointed out that consensus can be reached and doing something now is better than arguing about doing something. Germany is doing something. It is benefiting economically because of the cost savings. Fossil fuels are very expensive and the likelihood is that the expense of using them will not decrease in the future. Certainly, continuing their use will be far more costly than using sustainable, renewable energy. In fact the cost to the planet will be incalculable.
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