Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Summer of Sustainability, Part I

Sometimes all roads seem to point in one direction. This summer I've been having that experience with the concept of sustainability: assessing where we are now, what will be possible in 30 years, and how do we get from here to there.

The basic premise I'm working with is that humans are rapidly exhausting our supply of accessible resources, such that something has to give. That is, it is not even remotely possible that we can continue for another generation the materialistic lifestyle we're become accustomed to in the US—unless we're willing to forcibly deny the
equitable distribution of what's left and to tolerate massive suffering elsewhere in service to the status quo. Rather than continuing the charade that underlies the bumper sticker "How did our oil get under their sand?", I've started looking at two questions: a) How to create a vibrant, satisfying lifestyle that uses only 10% of the resources that the average American is currently consuming; and b) How to peacefully navigate the social challenges that such a massive shift will require.

These questions affect me both on the personal level (how will I live, and what am I called to do to help society to a softer landing in the decades ahead) and on the professional level (what role should FIC play in education and preparation; what is my role as a process consultant to better prepare groups to handle what's coming).

When thinking about sustainability, I like the metaphor of a three-legged stool: there's a ecological leg, a social leg, and an economic leg—and you won't have a very stable piece of furniture unless you have three stout legs. I am interested in what it takes to develop strong legs, and also the integration of the whole, so that the stool will be a tool.

As this is a big, all-encompassing topic, I'm going to tackle it in a six-part series, roughly in the order in which I've been bumping into this conversation over the past two months. Here's the outline:

Proposal to build a working model of sustainability
II. The Transition to a Sustainable and Just World by Ted Trainer
III. Sustainability and Cohousing
IV. EDE Course at Dancing Rabbit in 2012
V. Increasing sustainability offerings on campus
VI. Transition Towns

• • •
Proposal to build a working model of sustainability

Toward the end of May, FIC received an unsolicited communication from a guy with big plans. Inspired to help fund a grand experiment in sustainability, he hopes to create something that is big enough to be noticed—by the media, by academics, and by a curious public—and big enough to be fully featured and therefore inspiring as a replicable unit of a workable future. Appropriately enough, he's from Texas.

He has already pulled together nearly $1 million and is committed to generating five times that amount to underwrite his dream. He was approaching FIC as a potential partner to help clarify the vision, and to help with the nuts and bolts of manifesting it. After receiving his introductory email, we set up a phone date. Based on my subsequent report, the FIC Board is definitely intrigue by the possibilities, but it's early days and we're still at the draw-it-up-on-the-back-of-a-napkin phase.

FIC's strength is on the social side of sustainability, and I made a pitch for the Fellowship being given the job of creating the criteria by which candidates would be measured once an RFP was posted (one can only imagine how many proposals will crawl out of the woodwork with $4 million on the table), overseeing the selection process, and perhaps training the group selected in community living skills—aimed at thriving, not just surviving.

If we form a partnership, this project will give FIC a chance to showcase what it can do, and also a somewhat rare opportunity to be compensated for what we've largely been doing on a volunteer basis the past quarter century. (In other words, the administrative aspects of this project might be economically sustainable, not just nourishing to our psyches. It doesn't get any better than getting paid to do what you're passionate about.)

Fortunately, the benefactor is open to having this model be located anywhere in the US (it needn't be built in the Lone Star State). He wants something that could attract both rural and urban participants, and is close by a well-regarded university (so that their research and chronicling will carry weight). Fortunately, community is needed everywhere, so I'm not worried about the location. I'm more concerned with finding the right group.

As the conversations mature, I'll keep you posted on what happens.

1 comment:

Johnny said...

It seems this will attract a lot of people and bring them out. Hopefully with the best intentions. I look forward to seeing the turnout, and hearing how they progress.

If we were past the paper stage, I would love to contact this person, as the land I have been discussing with my group the exact same figure over the past few weeks as being our 'optimal' goal.

I wish we were at the stage to request a contact with him, as our choice of locations is somewhat close to a major university and he sounds like the optimal 'Angel Investor' we will be needing.

Sadly, we wont be starting up our fund drive for another few months. We just got some more volunteers on our business end of things, yay!

With best wishes for all,