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#727 - The Importance Of Vision -- Part I, 20-Jun-2001

In recent decades, the natural environment has deteriorated and
human poverty has increased, worldwide.[1] As a result, huge
numbers of people have concluded that "business as usual" is not
sustainable. People everywhere are devoting time and energy to
questions of sustainability, but we still lack consensus on
alternatives to the limitless growth of material consumption.

With its high per-person use of energy and materials and its
relentless commitment to growth, the U.S. is probably among the
least sustainable of human societies. Many people in the U.S.
sense this, and they worry about the future for their children
and their children's children. But so far we have not been able
to focus our efforts and work together toward a different future.
What we are missing is a shared vision of what "sustainability"
entails for the U.S. Without a coherent, relatively detailed,
shared vision of what a sustainable society would look like, we
cannot generate the political will or united effort to carry us
from here to there.

As Donella Meadows has written, "Vision is necessary to the
policy process. If we have not specified where we want to go, it
is hard to set our compass, to muster enthusiasm, or to measure
progress. But vision is not only generally missing from policy
discussions; it is missing from our culture. We talk easily and
endlessly about our frustrations, doubts, and complaints, but we
speak only rarely and with difficulty about our dreams and

Robert Costanza of the Institute for Ecological Economics
(University of Maryland) has emphasized the central importance of
a shared vision: "The most critical task facing humanity today is
the creation of a shared vision of a sustainable and desirable
society, one that can provide permanent prosperity within the
biophysical constraints of the real world in a way that is fair
and equitable to all of humanity, to other species, and to future
generations. Recent work with businesses and communities
indicates that creating a shared vision is the most effective
engine for change in the desired direction...."[3]

At the urging of Costanza and others, in January, 2001, a group
of 45 individuals met in Oberlin, Ohio to begin to create a
shared vision of a sustainable U.S. in the year 2100 -- 100 years
in the future.[4] The meeting was facilitated by a technique
called Future Search, which is a structured way of creating
cooperative projects across the boundaries of geography,
organization, culture, class, race, age, and gender.[5] After
three intense days of work and some follow-up work by E-mail the
Oberlin participants pulled together a consensus statement,
agreed to stay in touch and to invite others to offer opinions
and ideas about what life might be like in a sustainable U.S. We
urge Rachel's readers to take this invitation seriously; see
http://iee.umces.edu/ESDA/. (At the last minute, the Oberlin
participants tentatively identified themselves as the ESDA
Network -- ESDA being short for Envisioning a Sustainable and
Desirable America -- but this name seems likely to change because
the group is focused only on the U.S. and not on other parts of
North, Central or South America. What do YOU think the name
should be?)

Here and in the next few issues of RACHEL'S, we offer the first
draft of the vision statement that emerged from the Oberlin
future search conference; this draft was written mainly by Josh
Farley of the Institute for Ecological Economics at University of
Maryland, with some help from other participants. We emphasize
that it is a first draft needing your critique:


The most important outcome of the first ESDA future search
conference was the creation of a shared vision of a sustainable
and desirable America in the year 2100. Creating such a vision is
an enormous undertaking, and what we produced is really only a
rough sketch. An important part of our work will be to flesh out
this vision, and make sure that it is a desirable vision to a
representative majority of Americans. We hope you can take the
time to read our vision, and offer us your comments. Would you
like to live in this world? Are there elements of our vision with
which you disagree? Are important pieces missing? When you are
done, please send your feedback to farley@cbl.umces.edu.

We have organized our vision into five separate components:
Worldviews, Built Capital, Natural Capital, Human Capital and
Social Capital.


Worldview plays a very important role in creating a sustainable
and desirable America. What is worldview? Worldview is a belief
system held by an individual, community or society that explains
the world around us and our experiences and role in that world.
Our worldview tells us who we are and what is the purpose of our
existence. It tells us where we are: what kind of world and
environment do we live in? It also tells us what is right and
wrong about the world, and how to preserve what is right and fix
what is wrong. Worldview is determined largely by the culture in
which we are raised.

A worldview that is appropriate under one set of conditions may
not be under another. This only makes sense. Worldview tells us
what kind of world we live in, and the kind of world we live in
is continually changing. Worldview is also intimately linked to
culture and circumstance. Two hundred years ago, European
Americans lived in a sparsely populated world of vast frontiers
and untamed wilderness. Natural resources were limitless and
humans, civilization, machinery and basic consumer goods were
scarce. The rest of the world was far away and unimportant.
Native Americans lived in a full world, surrounded by neighbors,
both enemies and friends. Humans were part of a harmonious
natural system that provided all of their needs under careful
stewardship. African Americans lived under cruel bondage in a
grossly unfair world. Different cultures viewed the same world in
dramatically different ways. Over time American culture has
converged somewhat, as has our worldview. Enormous differences
still remain, but perhaps none as great as divided us in the 18th
century. Now however, our world is dramatically different.
Natural resources have become scarce, and humans and their
accoutrements are now super-abundant. In today's age of rapid
technological advance, population growth and resource
consumption, the world appears to be changing faster than our
worldview. Many components of our worldview are no longer in
harmony with today's physically different world. In many cases,
what was once reasonably viewed as a solution to our problems has
now become a part of the problem.

The America we envision in 2100 is based on a very different way
of viewing the world than is common today, one that is more in
harmony with the physical constraints imposed by a finite planet.

Humans will re-establish a spiritual connection to nature. Our
worldview will no longer divide the planet into humans vs.
nature. People will recognize that humans are part of nature, one
species among many, and must obey the laws imposed by nature. We
will recognize that nature is not something to be subjugated, but
instead is something we depend upon absolutely to meet both
physical and spiritual needs. We will recognize that natural
resources are scarce and must be invested in. Our goal will be to
create conditions conducive to life in the broadest sense.

For centuries the worldview of mechanistic physics dominated
Western society. Within this worldview, each action has an equal
and opposite reaction, and only by studying systems at smaller
and smaller scales, can we come to fully understand these
reactions. As more and more people come to understand the
inherent complexity of ecosystems and human systems, we will come
to realize that results cannot always be predicted, and that
irreducible uncertainty dominates the provision of life support
services by healthy ecosystems. An ecological worldview of
complexity and indeterminacy, inspired by nature as mentor --holistic,
integrated and flexible -- will replace the worldview
of mechanical physics.

Individualism is appropriate and perhaps even necessary in a
world of vast frontiers and unlimited elbowroom. Individualism
will still be extremely important in 2100, but will be far more
tempered by a concern for the common good. This will lead to a
system where communities promote total individual liberty as long
as individual actions do not have a negative impact on the
community. Individuals in return will accept that they are a part
of society, and it is unfair to impose costs on society for
private gain. This attitude will be necessary if we are to wean
ourselves of our dependence on heavily polluting single occupancy
vehicles, for example.

Further, ever increasing consumption will no longer be considered
an integral component of human needs as it is today. People will
pay attention to their other needs and desires, such as joy,
beauty, affection, participation, creativity, freedom, and
understanding. Building strong community can help us meet these
needs, while working ever harder to pay for more consumption
deprives us of the time and energy required to fulfill them.

Thus, status will not be conferred by high incomes and high
consumption (individual ends) but rather by contribution to civil
society and community ends.

With the recognition that consumption beyond limit is not only
physically unsustainable but also does little to improve our
quality of life, we will understand that a steady state economy
is our goal. A steady state economy does not mean an end to
development, it simply means that we limit the input of raw
materials into our economic system and their inevitable return to
the ecosystem as waste to a level compatible with the ecological
constraints imposed by a finite planet with finite resources. We
must live within the carrying capacity of our planet. We do not
know the carrying capacity, and the carrying capacity is subject
to change. Therefore, adaptive management must be a guiding
principle. The economy will be solar powered. Economic production
will focus on quality, not quantity. Rather than focus on the
production of goods, we will focus on the production of the
services provided by goods. We do not need cars, we need
transportation. We do not need televisions, we need
entertainment. Goods are only a means to an end, and by
recognizing this our economy can develop as never before without
growing in physical terms.

[To be continued.]

--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)


[1] Lester R. Brown and others, STATE OF THE WORLD 2001 (New
York: W.W. Norton, 2001). ISBN 0-393-32082-0.

[2] Donella Meadows, "Envisioning a Sustainable World," in Robert
Costanza and others, editors, GETTING DOWN TO EARTH (Washington,
D.C.: Island Press, 1996), pgs. 117-128. ISBN 1-55963-503-7.

[3] Robert Costanza, "Visions of Alternative (Unpredictable)
Futures and Their Use in Policy Analysis," CONSERVATION ECOLOGY
Vol. 4, No. 1 (February 28, 2000), pgs. 5 and following pages.
Available at http://www.consecol.org/Journal/vol4/iss1/art5/inline.html.

[4] Conference facilitators: Sandra Janoff, co-director, Future
Search Network (http://www.futuresearch.net/) and Ralph Copleman,
consultant (http://www.earthdreams.net/). Conference
participants: Audra Abt, senior, environmental studies, Oberlin
College; Gar Alperovitz, professor of political economy,
University of Maryland; Mary Barber, executive director,
Sustainable Biosphere Initiative, Ecological Society of America;
Seaton Baxter, professor, University of Dundee, Scotland; Janine
Benyus, writer; Paul W. Bierman-Lytle, environmental architect
and planner; Grace Boggs, activist, scholar, writer, community
organizer and speaker; William Browning, senior consultant, Rocky
Mountain Institute; Diana Bustamante, executive director,
Colonias Development Council; Warren W. Byrne, managing director,
Foresight Energy Company; Mark Clevey, vice-president, Small
Business Association of Michigan (SBAM); Jane Ellen Clougherty,
research analyst, Center for Neighborhood Technology; Robert
Costanza, director, University of Maryland Institute for
Ecological Economics; Tanya Dawkins, senior vice-president,
United Way; James Embry, board president, Boggs Center for
Nuturing Community Leadership (Detroit); Jon Farley, President
and CEO, Zarn Enterprises; Josh Farley, Executive Director,
University of Maryland Institute for Ecological Economics; Harold
Glasser, assistant professor (environmental studies), Western
Michigan University; Becky Grella, executive director and
president, Aiza Biby; Elaine Gross, executive director,
Sustainable America; Gerald Hairston, urban gardener; Sarah
Karpanty, co-director and secretary, Aiza Biby; Carol Kuhre,
executive director, Rural Action; George McQuitty, professor
(law/environmental education), University of St. Andrews
(Scotland); Peter Montague, director, Environmental Research
Foundation; Dondohn Namesling, Aiza Biby; David Orr, professor
(environmental studies and politics), Oberlin College; John
Petersen, assistant professor (environmental studies and biology)
Oberlin College; William Prindle, Alliance to Save Energy; Tom
Prugh, writer, consultant to Energy Information Administration;
Jack Santa-Barbara, M.D.; Claudine Schneider, co-chair, U.S.
Committee for the United Nations Development Program; Ben
Shepherd, Rocky Mountain Institute; Megan Snedden, economic
development coordinator, Colonias Development Council; Karl
Steyaert, The Center for a New American Dream; Theodore Steck,
M.D., professor (biochemistry and molecular biology), University
of Chicago; Harvey Stone, vice president of marketing, BizBots;
Paul Templet, professor (environmental studies), Louisiana State
University; Mary Evelyn Tucker, professor, the Center for the
Study of the World's Religions, Bucknell University; Sarah van
Gelder, executive editor, YES! magazine; Rafael Vargas, Aiza
Biby; Verlene Wilder, King County (Washington) Labor Council.

[5] Sandra Janoff and Marvin Weisbord, FUTURE SEARCH: AN ACTION
(San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, revised edition, 2000; ISBN
1-57675-081-7) See http://www.futuresearch.net.