Radical Confidence: Thinking Differently to Create a Greener Planet

Radical Confidence: Thinking Differently to Create a Greener Planet

So we are counting down the top four most effective ways to transform markets to green buildings as I wind down my weekly column to make time for developing a book based on the concept of market transformation. The framework for these articles has been Donella Meadows' seminal piece "Leverage Points -- Places to Intervene in a System," which describes in ascending order the most effective ways to transform a system.

Two weeks ago I talked about changing the structure of the system and last week about changing the goals. But where do goals come from?

Bear with me, I know the air is getting a bit thin up here, but the source of the system's goals comes from peoples' general mind-set, usually expressed by the unbearably wonky word "paradigm." Einstein recognized that everything we create emanates from our worldview; he understood that without changing our thinking, we won't be able to truly solve the big problems.

Our mindset reflects how we think things "should" be. For example, in the West, the mindset is that individual freedom is paramount, while in the East, the good of the whole trumps individual concerns. This is one reason why new cities are being built in record time in Asia: All domain is eminent.

Another mindset that is adeptly putting our species on the road to ruin is that Nature is somehow subordinate to Man. It is this paradigm that allows us to put profit above the continued existence of many species.

Ego-nomics has at least one foot firmly planted in this mindset. The human-centric mindset allows for the principal system of human interaction to be essentially divorced from any physical reality of the consequences of those interactions. Thus, natural or human exploitation (as distinct from utilization) is "off the balance sheet," in accounting terms, or in normal parlance, free.

Ego-nomics allows us to build rude buildings -- buildings that consume excessive resources either in their construction or operation, or both. There's no price or consequence for this rudeness, unless it's imposed politically. And because the exploited generally don't wield much or any power, we cover the indignities with a fig leaf and crow about our emperor's clothing.

By and large, green buildings are about beginning to civilize this rude and ultimately self-destructive mindset. At least we are now acknowledging that wasting energy, water, materials, land is bad. We are still belching at the dinner table, but we are saying excuse me. Now, we need to stop overeating.

Our mindset allows us as individuals to own land, a concept alien to indigenous cultures. Since it is ours, we can do whatever we want with it, within the limits of the law. Garrett Hardin wrote about the "Tragedy of the Commons," which is an inevitable consequence of our short-term human-dominant mindset. Our individual wealth is enhanced by developing land to its maximum human potential, never mind the loss in planetary wealth -- wealth, ironically, that ultimately supports our ability to exist. The entire accounting system is rigged against properly valuating these efforts because why should it waste time on unimportant (so we think) things.

So what does this new mindset look like? Well, it took us almost 2,000 years for humans to give up the idea that the Earth was the center of the universe, but we really need to give up the idea that humans are the center of the Earth.

The notion of caretaking might be a starting point. Not caretaking from a paternalistic perspective, but one that recognizes the inextricability of the relationship between humans and the natural systems (or natural capital for those needing a lifeline to old thinking). We are of the Earth, not above it.

A good caretaker understands what is being cared for, and works with and enhances the natural flows, just like a good passively-designed building. Although it's in dispiritingly short supply these days, this concept might be similar to the notion of human leadership as interpreting and supporting the law, but not being above it; a Taoist leadership model, if you will.

It's sort of cute how people in the world of finance and capital look at themselves as being hardcore realists. Compared to the diamond-hard certainty of chemistry, biology and physics, the so-called "reality" of economics is about as substantial as tissue paper. When human law runs up against the laws of the planet, humans lose big time, every time. We will need all of our innate resources to avoid a hard landing; we cannot afford to rely on a flawed fantasy based on 18th century thinking.

I am radically confident that with our creativity, intelligence and will, we can change our thinking to be citizens of the planet, not some elite class that mistakenly thinks the planet works for us. Indeed, the only true way to develop and create abundance is to work with natural laws.

Image CC licensed by Flickr users The Cleveland Kid and Photo Extremist.