taroists do sustainability despite government

globalization from below

Here’s my thought on how Americans can loosen our fixation with government intransigence and move forward in our own communities toward sustainability. And why this is not only possible, but promising.

Fair warning: There’s some “systems thinking” and shedding of precious thought forms in what follows.

I'm a 'globalization-from-below' guy, yet I see an opportunity now for a community-corporate alliance to tackle our island sustainability challenges.

True, I'm a former local elected official with deep-seated cynicism toward 'representative' government and die-hard enthusiasm for community-based governance.

As background, this is a major theme in my first book. 'Tending the Garden Island' traced a sustainable trajectory for the Hawaiian island of Kaua`i (my home) which could be launched from consensual decisions and cooperation among neighbors. And, in the concluding "Taroist Imperative" chapter, I urged folks with the energy and inclination to contribute to community work:

"Never mind government."

Sure, it would be nice if we had all the right laws and effective enforcement, but I think we can get to sustainability without government leadership…Without tagging sustainability as left or right wing.

This view springs from several decades of intensive participation in community-based organizations throughout the islands.

Indeed, the second half of my book constitutes a 'progress report' on our effectiveness in this community work. And, the most notable aspect of this progress is how little of it has anything to do with government.

It has mostly to do with 'taroist' initiative.. so-called to invoke the metaphor of the taro patch, where we islanders come together for community work. A taroist sees what needs to be done and does it.

Since the book appeared, I have been blessed to work closely with top executives on sustainability issues in Hawaii's corporate sector, and my confidence in the prospects for dramatic sustainability initiatives to emerge from this sector is growing steadily.

And, even with a new Congress and more support for sustainability in our own Kaua`i County Council, I remain highly skeptical of solutions that rely on timely and effective governmental action.

Strategically, IMHO, this recent experience suggests that both the corporate and community sectors have been under-valued (and the government sector over-valued) in our search for solutions.

For this reason, I now advocate more of a community-corporate collaboration as the most likely path to achieve sustainability solutions for our islands.

Now, I know it is a cherished truism of the environmental movement that we need government to protect us from the 'rapacious' corporations. So, calling for a community-corporate alliance (and ignoring government) may seem like blasphemy.

Yet, one aspect of the sustainability challenge that stands out for me--and that augers well for such an alliance--is the direct link between how corporations operate and how consumers pollute. To make a long story short, it will be vastly simpler for us shoppers to get more green if the 'big box' retailers (and their suppliers) do, too.

More than this, there are, IMHO, exciting prospects for community-corporate collaboration in reducing the 'ecological footprint' of our energy and transport consumption...Outcomes that would not be possible with government action alone.

For example, say we (as consumers) agree to alter our energy use patterns as they (the utility companies) alter their energy generating patterns. And say part of this switch entails consumers also becoming producers. Is that a win-win, or what?

Likewise in our transport, we consumers can agree to alter our travel choices as the transport companies alter their footprint.

These two areas alone account for the bulk of our emissions. And, isn't it at least possible that we can do this without government?

But why would the corporations agree to 'green' themselves, you might ask? Because they’re waking up and smelling the roses (or what’s left of them). They see the connections between their operations and the ecosystems in which they operate.

Just as we see a dramatic turnaround now globally in the corporate attitude toward climate change, so in Hawaii our major corporations and landowners are plunging into the task of 'greening' their operations. Why? Because their long-term business success depends on it.

So, what's the point?

For me, the point is to switch our focus of attack away from trying to persuade our government to do the right thing, and toward helping each other do the right thing…including our corporate citizens.

If we have limited time and energy, we might decide that collaborating with corporations (rather than wrangling with government) is most likely to be effective.

Especially now, with such long odds on humans' turning in time, what are the odds we're going to turn government around?

Isn’t there a different path toward sustainability?

I think there is, and some have called this community-based approach a 'Third Force.'
Perhaps this kind of linking arms with our neighbors, forging a community consensus, and engaging the corporations in concrete steps to reduce our 'footprint" constitutes a third way out of this mess.

I say 'perhaps', yet it seems fairly solid to me.

In the days ahead, I’ll be posting examples of how community-corporate collaboration is already making great strides here in our islands' quest for sustainability.

Published by Ken on November 26th, 2006 tagged HI-specific, Systems Thinking

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