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VERGE SF 2013: One Marine's grand mission to refine America's DNA

SAN FRANCISCO -- “What the hell is our strategy in America today?” Former Marine Colonel Mark “Puck” Mykleby certainly got the attention of VERGE 2013 attendees with the opening line of his talk.

The problem is that America lacks a strategic plan for moving forward in the 21st century. Rather, we’re focused on being the source of status quo, he said. And that’s not much of a strategy at all, considering that "monocultures wither and die."

To keep that from happening, we must come up with something else to remain competitive. The concept that makes the most sense, Mykleby insists, is sustainability -- which as he points out, may seem contradictory coming from a former Marine. Mykleby aims to further sustainability as the only path forward not only to keep America secure but to foster prosperity.

“We’ve got to shed this manic focus on threat and risk that informs our nation’s activities today,” he said. “We’ve got to refine our DNA. We’re supposed to be land of stinking opportunity; we’re not the land of threat and risk.”

To that end, Mykleby works as a senior fellow at the New America Foundation along with Patrick Doherty, director of the Smart Strategy Initiative. They believe more of the same won't work for the United States going forward. Namely, there’s going to be a 300 percent increase in resource use over the next 20 years and there’s simply not enough food, water, minerals and energy to go around. Plus, commodity prices are already at or near all-time highs, climates are changing, and infrastructures lack resilience.

It all sounds rather doomsday, and it could very well be. But the team on the Smart Strategy Initiative intends to change gears and get America back on the right track. They're defining a vision they hope the nation's leaders will eventually adopt from the top down.

Sustainability maps directly to our enduring national interest of prosperity and resiliency, and it provides a path to productivity and growth, they say. It also fits with our unique way of approaching strategy, aligning our economic engine, governing institutions and foreign policy to solve the challenges we face today, Mykleby said.

The key to approaching sustainability boils down to three things, starting with walkable neighborhoods. Next come regenerative agriculture and a productivity revolution. Mykleby asserts that attaining these goals will lead to happier people, reduced government spending, and increased availability of resources.

"It’s not just wonky fluff stuff," said. "It translates to the mainstream. If you put a dollar on it, those three bins translate to the highest bang for the buck we’ve got now."

But we have to design it ourselves. "There’s no elf on a moonbeam that’s going to come down and make it happen," Mykleby said. "And once we do, maybe we’ll start measuring success in terms of happiness."

Mykleby spoke at VERGE Boston earlier this year, and also details more in a GreenBiz Studio C interview earlier this year.

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