Did You Know You Missed Out If You Didn’t Go To Seattle’s Green Festival?

I’ve spent the last couple days at the Seattle Green Festival, a celebration of sustainability and, simultaneously, a call for change. The festival consists of a wide variety of speakers, an exhibit hall, and a number of activities and vendors all centered around the philosophy of living green. An interesting tidbit: all of the vendors at the Festival were screened and certified to adhere to specific green practices (though what these are, exactly, were never disclosed). This is a unique event, co-sponsored by Global Exchange, a human rights organization, and Co-op America, which focuses on economic action for sustainability.

I attended five sessions over the two days, in addition to wandering around the exhibition hall. Below are my notes from each presentation, followed by my general commentary on the entire thing. I don’t guarantee that these notes represent the entire presentation, just what I got out of it.

11AM Saturday: What’s the Economy for Anyway? (John de Graaf)
John de Graaf, co-author of Affluenza and creator of the PBS documentary by the same name, is someone whose work I’ve been familiar with since my freshman year in college. I’ve seen the film, and I think I’ve even heard him speak at least once before. He’s a fantastic, witty speaker who really knows his stuff, and it was fun to hear him again. Here are my notes:

  • 48% of Americans think that the market should take over from the government
  • What is the purpose of our economic system?
  • Gifford Pinchot stated that the purpose of the economy was the greatest good for the greatest number over the longest run
  • A bit of historical background on our current economy..
    • 1920s: big economic boom!
    • October 1929: stock market crashes, Great Depression
    • Then: A slow increase in economic benefits for all between the ’40s and the ’80s
    • 1980s: Reaganomics: the “trickle down” theory of economics
    • Now: What Bush calls the ownership society and de Graaf calls the “You’re On Your Own”ership society
  • Today, Europeans work about 80% of the time compared to the American work week
  • The US is one of four countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee maternity leave
  • Health: in the 1980s, the US ranked 11th worldwide in longevity; now, we rank, depending on when you check, somewhere between 45th and 47th!
  • The US has 25% of the world’s prisoners
  • The US pays the highest prices for health care and yet gets the worst results out of the system
  • Americans take up 25 acres/person of space; realistically, the world can only support 5 acres/person.
  • Question from de Graaf – and this is a fundamental question: what is the working definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same result. Americans are encouraged to do this – in fact, we’re encouraged to do more and more of this.
  • Last year, only 14% of Americans took a two week vacation from work.
  • de Graaf’s point was that, for all of our supposed success, as a country, we have a long way to go. There are inherent contradictions in who we think we are as a nation and who we actually are, and these contradictions need to be vocalized and discussed.

Referenced web sites: Global Working Families, Take Back Your Time

12PM Saturday: Climate Change as a Moral Issue (LeeAnne Beres)
This session was one I just walked into without really knowing what to expect. I hadn’t done any research on the speakers beforehand, so I really wasn’t sure who was speaking. As it turns out, LeeAnne Beres is executive director of Earth Ministry, a program trying to bring sustainability and religion together.This was unexpected, but an interesting talk nonetheless, despite my lack of a religious background (some of the Biblical references escaped me).

  • Imagine: a religions conference in Japan in 1997 brings together religious leaders from several different religions and draws attention to climate change
  • Belief drives action!
  • Climate change needs to be framed as a moral/social justice issue, not just an environmental issue.
  • Why argue about the origin of the species and not pay any attention to the extinction of the species?
  • The Vatican was the first carbon neutral state in the world.
  • Working for justice means sharing knowledge and imagination for good.
  • Focus on values and why things happen.

Beres also plugged an upcoming exhibit at the Burke Museum in July: The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World, featuring photography by Steven Kazlowski.

1PM Saturday: The Living Building: Integrating Technology with Nature (Jason McLennan)
Jason McLennan is one of the nationally recognized leaders of the green building revolution and is part of the Cascadia Region Green Building Council. If nothing else, he may have convinced me that I need to pester my parents about their upcoming remodel and potentially making it greener (something I’ve held off on thus far).

  • The GBC provides leadership at all levels of the building industry: want to buy a chair? Go to them. Want architectural plans? Go to them. Want to build something? Well… go to them!
  • The average house is twice as efficient as in the 1960s, but these houses have also doubled in size. In addition, the average family size per household has declined.
  • If we don’t make the leap towards green buildings (and sustainability in general), what kind of a leap do we force on the next generation?
  • The active metaphor in this presentation: the flower as a building of the future
  • The goal of the building should be positive net impact
  • The Cascadia GBC has set forth a Living Building Challenge, in which they want buildings to meet requirements defined by six core “petals” (going again with the flower metaphor).
  • The first petal: site. Create compact, connected communities without using new site locations (we MUST reuse land that we’ve already claimed rather than simply claiming more land). In addition, we must set aside an amount of land for preservation equal to the amount of land developed in the project.
  • The second petal: energy. The goal should be net zero energy impact; all energy should be provided for on site.
  • The third petal: materials. Use reusable materials that are safe for human consumption and interaction.
  • The fourth petal: water. Harvest enough water for the needs of the building.
  • The fifth petal: indoor environmental quality.
  • The sixth petal: beauty and inspiration.
  • Buildings that quality for the Living Building Challenge must have already been built and have stood for a year before applying for the program. The program assesses based on real rather than theoretical numbers and estimates of use.
  • This is not an architectural style, it’s a building philosophy!
  • It took 30 years for drastic community change with the introduction of the interstate system between the 1960s and the 1980s. Fast change in our communities is possible, it merely has to be done.

12PM Sunday: The Great Turning (David Korten)
David Korten is the Founder and President of the People-Centered Development Forum.

  • The big picture of the world as we know it today: a confrontation with Earth’s elements
  • First element of the big picture: environmental collapse
  • In 1970, our rate of consumption of materials and as a lifestyle became unsustainable
  • Korten draws some inspiration from the original Star Trek, wherein Kirk would often call for Scotty to divert all power to life support (this routinely happened about once an episode, it seems): this is the message we should be heeding today – divert all power to life support!
  • Second element: poverty/inequality
  • We have to redistribute riches from the rich to the poor and convert nonessential uses of things to essential uses
  • Equity of resources can be defended as a property right
  • The world is ruled by financial institutions whose role is to increase the inequality worldwide
  • “Tinkering in the margins” is not enough for sustainability
  • The idea that it is an unbearable hardship to change our way of life to support the planet is a myth
  • Our problem is really a bad story! The story we grew up with was to control and to subjugate things to human control because we are superior. We organize ourselves into what Korten calls “hierarchies of domination and abuse”. We have to change the story so that we care about one another and the earth, breaking the cycle of domination.
  • The Internet provides the means to change the story.
  • Korten notes that stories have changed already: the establishment of democracy changed the story of how nations can be run, women’s rights and the civil rights movement changed the story of equality
  • For the environment, we must change the story from domination to symbiosis. This transition is in progress.
  • The stories we tell are forms of power – in fact, they’re foundations for power.
  • Korten quotes Hartmann, who describes this as “walking away from the king” (I’m not clear on which Hartmann he refers to, however).

The thing I noticed in this presentation is that while Korten calls the Internet the medium for changing the story, he completely ignored the idea that the technology itself runs counter to the ideas of sustainability. I noticed this to a certain extent in John de Graaf’s presentation as well, but not nearly as much, since he made no explicit reference to the Internet other than the web sites he referred people to.

1PM Sunday: Building the Green Economy (Shannon Biggs, Kevin Danaher, Jason Mark)
These are all co-writers of a book by the same name.

  • The presentation opened with an exercise which I thought was brilliant: the presenter asked the audience to identify three different types of plants, then three different industrial logos. Almost nobody in the audience identified the plants, while everyone identified the logos.
  • Martin Luther King’s speech was not titled “I Have a Nightmare” – he called it “I Have A Dream” for good reason, and this is the message we need to send.
  • The current economy is something like the Titanic, band playing and all.
  • Start from where we are with change!

Web sites mentioned: Global Citizen Center

Exhibition Hall
There was a wide variety of exhibitions, including Third Place Books, Bainbridge Graduate Institute (also a sponsor of the event), the Presidio School of Management, ChicoBag, Annie’s, and Batdorf and Bronson (heck, one of the companies I did a project with in my undergraduate work in Olympia, Fish Tale Ales, was even there). This was an interesting chance to walk around and see what kind of things are already being done sustainably. There was a children’s card game that I didn’t learn much about that was tied into the topic, people pedaling furiously on bikes to power one booth, and a whole slew of people wandering around at any given time. Alas, I had to feed the bookworm part of me and buy more books to toss onto the rather long list of books that I want to read someday.

General Festival Comments
Throughout this entire event, I couldn’t help but notice two things:

  1. Preaching to the choir. It seemed like the people who attended were those who already spoke the talk and walked the walk, to a certain extent. There were a lot of times, particularly in the Korten presentation, where I got the strong sense of a minister preaching to the choir (and Korten, by the way, really embodied this, and got a standing ovation at the end). This is fine, but the problem is that we need to reach out to people who aren’t in the choir, and in some ways, it seems like we might have missed the mark.
  2. It’s not deep enough. Both Amanda and I found ourselves saying “yes, yes, we know this already, we want more.” I didn’t feel that way quite so much in some of the presentations, since they all had good ideas (LeeAnne Beres’ presentation in particular was an eye opener, since I hadn’t thought about Biblical support for the sustainable cause before). There needs to be support for those who want to dive deeper than the people who are only there to regurgitate the content of their latest book, and I felt like that was lacking strongly.

Videos of all the presentations will supposedly be made available on the Green Festivals web site within a couple weeks. There’s another Seattle Green Festival planned for the last weekend of March 2009.