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Keynote presentation by Ken Stokes at Kauai's first sustainability conference.


  • 1. Kauaian Sustainability: Its Not What You Think Its HowKeynote: Apollo Kaua`i L.E.G.S. Sustainability Conference by Ken Stokes Executive DirectorThe Kauaian Institute13 October 2007

2. Many years ago, a Hawaiian friend(who happened to be a kahuna)blew my mind by showing me how the ancient symbols tattooed on his arm could be used to tell the story of the Big Bangand then saying:This is the story our ancestors told their kids. Trippy, no? This insight from ancient Hawaiian culture has stuck with me.And I think it offers an important clue as we seek to shift toward a more sustainable way of living on our beloved Kaua`i. 3. We need to take the best thinking available today on the most complex challenges weface, and reduce them to childrens stories.We need a new story we can tell our kids about how the world works.If that doesnt help ensure that everyone gets it, at least the next generation will. 4. And, sheesh! Do we ever need to get it. 5. Now, when we say get it, we mean something like Goal #1 in Hawaiis draft Sustainability Plan:So far so good. Yet, what does that mean, in practice? And how do we figure this out? 6. Heres a partial answer gleaned from todays thought-leaders in sustainability practice: Say wot? No, Im serious. Were evolving a whole new way of thinkingBecause we have to. 7. And if you want to know why, just listen to whats gotta be the soundbite of thedecadefrom Amory Lovins;See what I mean? Somehow, the way weve been thinking about thingsthe way wevebeen coming up with solutionsis not working. Were methodically creating more problems than were solving. 8. A good recent example might be ethanol from corn, where in our effort to solve our fuel problem, we may be creating a food problem.Perhaps as we forge this new way of thinking, our solutions will actually solve something. 9. Turns out, were already two decades along in forging this new way of thinkingand its called sustainability. You mean sustainability is a way of thinking?, you ask. 10. Thats exactly what it isBecause sustainability is about wholenessabout the ongoing, inter-looped processes of a whole system. Sustainability is not about permanenceor holding onto something. Its not aboutsomething fixed and controllablegoing on as it always has in a linear fashion. Its about something complex and dynamic and non-linear and reciprocal. 11. Its about a new way of thinking that requires us to hold lots of different things in our headsat the same time, and focus more on the relationships between things rather than the things themselves. Its about whole systems thinking.Go ahead and roll your eyesyet I assure youthis is not brain surgery. Neither is it childs play. It is simply essential to shift the way we think so that we can begin to comprehend howhumans fit in the whole earth system.Notice I said comprehendNOT control. This, too, is a key feature of our new way ofthinking. 12. The good news is: We can dance with systems. This is how my heroine DonellaMeadows describes our challenge to find and move with the rhythm of the system in whichour lives are embedded.We cannot choose the beat, yet we can influence the dance by how we move with it. Sometimes, I like to think of this as the true meaning of the prayer, Thy will be done. Inthis case, Thy will is the music of the universe, and our Free will is the choice of how to dance.So, what is this music of the universe in which were dancing? Well, now that weve agreed that sustainability is not lots of different things to lots ofdifferent peoplenow that we see system sustainability is about one thingthe wholeness of the human support system 13. The first thing were gonna need is a new mental map for how this system works. And, when we start to draw up such a mental map, the first thing we notice is that this one system is actually a set of three inter-related spheresa blue one, a yellow one, and agreen oneeach with their own dynamics. And, the wholeness, the sustainability, of this system is driven by the relationships among these three spheres. So, fundamentally, sustainability thinking is about considering all three spheres simultaneously. 14. We know this is crucial because our modern method of thinking about partsis what has gotten us into trouble in the first place. Sustainability is the sum of the spheres.] 15. You probably already know what these three spheres are, but I want to loop them together in the order in which our new learning has been advancingto include all three.And when we have these three spheres clearly in mind, I want to touch briefly on how this new way of thinking can enrich our discussions here on Kaua`i, as we struggle to comprehend our challenges and shape our choices.Call this the new story of the three spheres.And, when were done, I think youll see how this new mental map could be made into aninteresting tattoo that we could all put on our armsto help tell this storyso our kids willbetter understand how our island world worksAnd mebbe we will, too. 16. In the beginning was the economy We used to think the Economy sphere was the whole thing, and that everything else wasan externality. The Financial Capital at the center of the Economy sphere was thought torule the world. 17. Now, we see that the Economy sphere is inter-looped with and fundamentally shaped bythe sphere of Community. And we now recognize that the Social Capital at the center ofthe Community sphere is at least as important as Financial Capital.Why? Because this is where we manage our housework and community work. And, BTW,as we have learned to measure the true value of this work, we find that it rivals our Economy in size. 18. Yet were not done, because more recently we have come to recognize that both theEconomy and Community spheres are themselves completely embedded in the Ecologysphere and that our Natural Capital is probably more important than anything else.Why? Because our human system would not function at all without the services provided by our ecosystems. This is not to say that we should only focus on Ecology, any more than we can focus exclusively on Community or Economy. We need to think about Economy AND Community AND Ecology all together. 19. Nor is this an abstract conceptual challenge. This is where we are learning about a newform of Governance. This orange arena where the spheres overlap is where we humans are beginning to come together to simultaneously manage all three spheres.Think about that: there is no sphere for Politics. Instead, our Governance arena is defined by the intersection of Economy, Community and Ecology. And in this sense, politics isnot about conflictits about integration. Its not about choosing which sphere will dominatebecause thats not a choice we can make.Its not a balancing act, as we are so often told. Its not about the tradeoffs of one versus the other. Its about integrating our best understanding of the interrelationships between all three spheres all the time. 20. In this sense, its more like juggling with all three aspects of our earths human support systemwith three balls in the air at all times.Our challenge is to integrate all of our human behavior and practice so that it becomes a positive feedback loop for system sustainability.Having come to this realization, we are staggered by the implications: If we need to besimultaneously managing our financial, social and natural capital for system sustainability,then it turns out that most of what we have been doing for the past several hundred years is precisely the wrong approach. By granting primacy to the Economy sphere, we have pretty much shot ourselves in thefoot.We have done this, mind you, not because we are stupid, but because we were ignorant. 21. We did not knowor at least we pretended not to knowthat everything is connected.[Kauai map] The new commonsense is that long-term prosperity and ecological health not only gotogether, they depend on one another. Thanks to our new mental map, we see much more clearly now that just because its complex doesnt mean its incomprehensible. In fact, once we get the hang ofsustainability thinking, its more often like a DUH thing. We go: Sheesh, I knew that!Most important, sustainability thinking helps us cut to the chase and root out the errors in our ways. Rather than simply gnashing our teeth, we change our ways. Much of the way we used to do things becomes simply unthinkable. It doesnt fit on ournew mental map. Got it? Good, then. Lets exercise this new mental map, shall we? Lets look at three ways we can use it tobetter understand our sustainability challenges.First, we want to place on this mental map the major sustainability threats that we face.Then we want to map our new ways of measuring sustainability onto these three spheres. And finally, we want to articulate the new criteria for assessing our sustainability in eachsphere.When were done, I think youll see how this new kind of sustainability thinking can guideus toward a set of three strategic priorities for moving our beloved Kaua`i forward into the world acomin. 22. Ready? Here we go. Heres how we can map onto these three spheres the awesome threats to sustainability that we face today. We can see Peak Oil as the most significant threat to our Economy,and Climate Change as the most significant threat to our Ecology. We can also see that Unrest is the most significant threat in our Community sphere.BTW, if you havent given a lot of thought to this third threat, you might want to take a lookat a new book by Paul Hawken, called Blessed Unrest.What Hawken shows is that, yes there is simmering unrest across the planet in the face ofgross inequity. Yet, everywhere, people are rising up and organizing to address theseinequities, so that, today, the social justice movement is simply stunning in its scope and scale.And the reason Hawken uses the word Blessed in his book title is that, some say,without the social justice moveme