The event is run by greenfestivals.org which is a joint project of Co-op America and Global Exchange. Any event using the word “festival” makes me a little worried — I told my wife that I expected to see a lot of hemp blue jeans and other earthy-crunch stuff. I was right, but that is far from all there is to offer.
Today, I heard several talks, including one from Lester Brown, and another from Bill McDonough. They were both fabulous.
Lester Brown has written many books; his most recent is Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, which I will read on the train home to Boston. BillMcDonough wrote Cradle to Cradle which I read in 2005, and was one of the drivers of my fuller understanding of “the problem” (and, the solution).
Many vendors have filled a large convention hall, and are selling and promoting many different things. There are lots of makers of hemp, organic and recycled clothing; a lot about free trade; a bunch of companies selling green products and services, and some vendors wanting to help you get in touch with your spiritual self. Yeah, it’s a trade show, but the last few trade shows I have been to have been about website marketing, and computer software and hardware. This one is … different.
In a good way.
No, really: this trade show is an indication of the health and vibrancy of the market for green goods and services. People are finding ways to make a buck by helping consumers go green: solar panel installers, tankless hot water heaters, two guys who sell highly energy efficient computers and even a green roadside assistance company. I’ll check out more tomorrow.
But all of this helps me calibrate what the speakers today said.
Lester Brown joked that his books were the kind that “once you put down, you can never pick them up again”, and his talk was indeed very, very sobering, and just a little hopeful. It is very easy to forget the facts of global warming and energy policy; Brown reminded us of a couple kind of serious ways that it’s real (no, really, it’s real, and it’s not just a coming future annoyance). But he used those facts to show that radical transformation is needed, right now.
Brown talked about glacial melting, and also the degree to which solar and wind can entirely replace our coal (and nuclear) generation plants … and how they are being built right now. What Brown says is not that different from what Al Gore has proposed, Boone Pickens is doing, or what Obama has for a plan. All address the simultaneous issues of energy dependence, financial meltdown, and global warming through the same means: harness the sun, wind and geothermal energy sources. But how?
As Brown closed, he told a story of how quickly and dramatically Franklin D. Roosevelt caused change to happen after Pearl Harbor was bombed in December; by January he FDR had a plan that called on the nation to build huge numbers of tanks, planes and boats to support World War II. Many scoffed at the boldness of the plan, said Brown, but in the end, the objectives were not just met, but exceeded. During this period, there was a ban on the production of personal automobiles (a fact I had not ever heard before) … and this as we were reeling from a Depression. The parallels are both frightening and inspiring. Yes, we can.
William McDonough’s talk was also pretty awesome. Whereas Brown was discussing global geopolitics, McDonough is focused on how we can create buildings, manufacturing, and living spaces that mimic the mechanisms of biology. His main message is that we need to create a design for our direction — we need to say “this is how it should be when we’re done” rather than just following the paths we have taken over and over since the industrial revolution. So he presents a goal, and showed how his business, which is a design firm, has helped countless projects, including the remake of Ford’s River Rouge plant, achieve a goal that is not just a net positive for the environment, but is a net positive for Ford’s bottom line — an outcome they are going to need a lot more of as they navigate the coming financial crisis.
Nothing I heard today was arguing whether there was a problem, or what the nature of the problem is. Neither did what I heard or saw today suggest some earthy-crunchy socialist solution — pretty much everyone agrees that there must be a solution that works with America’s strong free-market foundations. And everyone agrees that there are two things that will allow this to happen:
- Leadership, and President-Elect Obama has certainly got the respect of the people here, and burden of providing strong leadership, and
- Everyone pretty much agrees on what needs to happen: build wind and solar and kill coal, starting right now
I have been inspired again. And this is what happens at a Green Festival.