In the words of environmentalist and author, Paul Hawken:
“LET'S BEGIN with the startling part. People of 2015: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation … but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement.
Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.
This planet came with a set of instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken.
Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seat belts, lots of room in coach, and really good food—but all that is changing.
You are brilliant, and the Earth is hiring. The earth couldn’t afford to send recruiters or limos. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine ... Take the hint."
Right now, ACF is looking for bright and enthusiastic members to join our volunteer leadership council – our core representative group. Are you an environmental leader or do you know someone who'd make a great contribution? Nominations close on 31 July.
"Here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.
When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.
What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, “So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.” There could be no better description.
Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.
You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen.
Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. It works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement.
It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders."
As an ACF councillor, you will shape our strategic direction, appoint our board, develop ACF policy and engage with our members. To reconstitute the world, our council should be diverse and vibrant and represent all of the Australian community – with the diversity of youth, wisdom, gender and ethnicity.
"Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots.
Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown — Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood — and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages.
And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit.
And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, non-governmental organizations, and companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history."
"The living world is not “out there” somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy.
We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. We are the only species on the planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time rather than renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet.
At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.
This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilisation has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years.
Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honouring creation.
You have the most amazing, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation.
The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence.
Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer.
Hope only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful.
This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it."
Nominations close on 31 July. Find out more about ACF council, get a nomination kit and nominate by post or online >> www.acfonline.org.au/council-election
Any questions? Email us or call 1800 223 669
We're so grateful to environmentalist and author Paul Hawken for allowing us to share his amazing call to action, 'You are brilliant, and the Earth is hiring'.
Will you step up? Join our council or share this witho a friend you think might be interested.
PS. To nominate as a candidate for ACF’s council, you must be an ACF member and be proposed and seconded by ACF members. New members are welcome to join and be part of the council elections — join here for $10.
The above text is an edited extract from Paul Hawken's Commencement Address to the Class of 2009, University of Portland, May 3, 2009, reproduced with kind permission.