Environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken told students and faculty attending the Speak Your Mind discussion at the University Student Union on March 13 that connectivity between people is the key element in achieving environmental and social change on a worldwide level.
Hawken spoke in depth about how main components of history have been changed through directly and indirectly connected events, and that making an impact environmentally or socially works on the same level.
Human beings organized are what Hawken said is the solution to making change.
Hawken said there are between one and two million organizations in the world advocating for environmental and social change, and to unify all those causes into one cohesive movement takes a connectivity that he relates to the immune system of the human body. Through innovations in technology like the Internet, video technology and cellular phones, people and these organizations can attain that kind of connectivity.
“The interesting thing about the immune system is that it identifies all the organisms coming in and?first tries to integrate and incorporate before it destroys,” Hawken said. “What makes a really powerful, resilient immune system is connectivity. The less connected an immune system is, the more susceptible it is to disease.”
Hawken said the philosophies and ideologies of these groups and the massive environmental movements are similar in approach to the abolitionists who were protesting slavery in the 1700s. The abolitionists, Hawken said, were the first people in America to openly act on one another person’s behalf without the promise of anything in return. The abolitionists and the groups today still adhere to the same two rules that Hawken said portray what it is to be human in this time, to treat others at you would want to be treated and treat all life as sacred.
“(This philosophy) is what is missing in the national media, missing in almost all of our leaders. This is the movement of the ‘nons,’ non-profits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs),” Hawken said. “These NGOs are coming up all over the world and fashioning and hand-making democracy from the ground up and it is not a winner-take-all system because you cannot be effective and stay a neighboring community if you make losers.” Working together is what Hawken stressed as the important piece in the effectiveness of a global environmental movement.
Hawken explained his emphasis on the importance of human connection by showing how a string of events seemingly small directed history and connects key figures of the last 100 years together.
“If you go back, you will find all these inconsequential events that changed the course of history,” Hawken said. “We make choices every single second that accumulate into differences that make a difference that make a difference. This is the way it works, this is the way nature works. It comes from the bottom up, not from the top down.”
During the discussion, led by sociology professor Herman Dubose, CSUN biology senior Nicole Kalinowsky asked if his approach or message about people working together was too idealistic, not taking into consideration the “selfish side of human beings,” saying that it could potentially take only a few “bad people” to offset positive efforts toward environmental and social change.
“I am not saying, ‘This is the right thing that will march us all the way to the promise land,’ but I think what is best about us is not noted and what is worst about is in the media every single day,” Hawken said. “When people are fed a constant diet of their lowest self, they can’t help but take it on to a certain extent and become fearful. Fear then becomes the tool and means to where you become controlled.”
But Hawkens said people in the organizations; while they are still just people who are not perfect philanthropists, do more to emphasize the good rather than the bad in human beings.
Before posing his question to Hawken during the discussion, English professor Robert Chianese said he tried to get the Humanities Program at CSUN to consider incorporating environmental sustainability into the curriculum, though it proved to be problematic. He asked whether the NGOs and small organizations were as far as the environmental movement, or whether larger institutions such as CSU are taking notice of how the smaller organizations deal with the environmental issues first.
“I don’t quite know how to answer that?large institutions are slow,” Hawken said. “That is the nature of them?but I think that the external shock will create the internal change in the institutions?we are still in a state of denial at what is going on in the environment.”
Another problem facing the public in regard to effectively addressing environmental and social issues that Hawken pointed out is that people are always looking for someone to lead them, rather than take the initiative to individually act. As Hawken put it, “We are looking for love in all the wrong places.”
“I am not saying that we don’t welcome or need truly great leaders, we do,” Hawken said. “But we are still so programmed by the media with the idea that there is going to be some top-down solution that something will happen in government, in business, in religion, in science, that will come and save the day.”
“What is happening right now is that most of us feel powerless. Most of us feel like we have no ability to influence the course of history. That the events that bind us? are so overwhelming things that, well, what can you do, you are just one person? ” said Hawken in regard to why many take an apathetic approach to addressing environmental and social problems. But Hawken said he feels that people still have a great amount of power and influence in their actions, whether big and small.
The event was well received by those in attendance, with many, such as Chianese and Kalinowsky, saying that it was very inspiring and informative and that appreciated that he would come to CSUN to share his views. Hawken said he felt the same way.
“My only regret is that I come and go,” Hawken said. “There is a part?that wants to have the continuity with other people so that the interaction of ideas goes into deeper and deeper levels and not just talking from a stage, but listening as well, because I learn an awful lot from my audience.”