Michael Dowd: Standing for the Future, Part 2

As a follow-up from last week’s post, I share with you Part 2 of Michael Dowd’s video series, “Standing for the Future.” You can view Part 1 here.  The text right above the video is just copied and pasted from Dowd’s website.

There are two quotes from this video that I found especially important and meaningful. First on The Importance of Personification.

The words ‘God’ and ‘evolution’ are both pointing to the same divine creative process. Both answer the question ‘How did we get here?’ One uses the mythic language of religion, the other uses the literal language of science.  Arguing whether it was God or evolution that created everything is like debating whether it’s Uncle Sam or the U.S. government that insists we pay taxes every year, or like quarreling over whether it was Gaia or plate tectonics that created the oceans and mountains. Such silly and largely unnecessary confusion will remain the norm until we get and celebrate what I think is the single most important scientific discovery about religion in the last 500 years: personification. – Michael Dowd

The second quote is in support of Michael Dowd’s conviction that Ecology is the new Theology

Every characteristic that we attribute to the divine derives from our experience of Nature. If we imagine God as beautiful, gracious, loving, awesome, powerful, majestic, or faithful, it is because we have known or experienced beauty, grace, love, awe, power, majesty, or trustworthiness in the world. – Michael Dowd

“If we lived on the moon and that’s all we and our ancestors had ever known, all of our concepts and experience of the divine would reflect the barrenness of the lunar landscape.” – Thomas Berry

Standing for the Future (2/3) — “Reality Is Lord: A Scientific View of God on a Rapidly Overheating Planet”

“We each have experienced times of trouble that threaten to overwhelm our individual lives. In such times, a vision of possibility is essential. The same holds for the punctuations in history when whole societies face troubles of an immense and uncharted variety. Truly, we have arrived at such a time. Humans, unwittingly, have become a planetary force. We are irreversibly changing the very climate of our world. Henceforth, any actions we take as individuals and societies will be done in the new light of climate change.

What vision will carry us forward through such times and inspire us to work together? How shall we frame the need to shed our business-as-usual outlook on life and take on a new vision of possibility that can unite us as a species in joyful self-sacrifice and service? What vision will charge us with a sense of heroic purpose that the future is, indeed, calling us to greatness?”

In the video above, Dowd includes some of the amazing examples of nature personified that have been created by Conservation International in collaboration with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, all available at the Nature is Speaking website, which emphases the point that nature doesn’t need people, but people need nature. Here is Kevin Spacey as the Rainforest:



You Say You Want a Revolution

Naomi Klein’s recent article posted at New Statesman has been generating a bit of a buzz. The title is “Why Science is Telling All of Us to Revolt and Change Our Lives.” She begins with a story discussing a presentation by complex systems researcher Brad Werner, who  “is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability.”

Klein writes further:

There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it “resistance” – movements of “people or groups of people” who “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture”. According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups”.

I’m no expert, but as someone interested in systems theory, I find it a bit odd that there is only one dynamic mentioned that appears to offer hope.  Renowned systems thinker Donella Meadows identified at least 12 leverage points, or places to intervene in systems, and PatternDynamics™ founder Tim Winton has identified 56 patterns in systems that all need to be balanced and integrated if we want to achieve a sustainable system.  [I’m studying PatternDynamics now – Join me January 26th for a workshop in Bellingham, WA]

Transition U.S. blogger Joanne Poyourow, in her response to the Klein article (Revolt and Change Our Lives), points out that systems thinker Joanna Macy has outlined 3 Dimensions of The Great Turning.

Macy’s first is Stopping action, stopping further destruction, which is all that Klein talks about or labels as “appropriate.” Stopping action is noisy campaigning, it is Julia Butterfly Hill sitting in old-growth trees, it is Tim DeChristopher bidding on land parcels, it is the activists who lie down in front of the pipeline trucks.

…Macy’s second type of action is Creating New Structures, creating that which will be in place to replace the old. Sound familiar? To those of us working with different facets of the international Transition movement it sure does. This is the “change our lives” part of the equation. It’s a much quieter type of action, in that it doesn’t necessarily mean noisy crowds with plackards out on the streets, and it doesn’t necessarily grab the notice of the news cameras. But it’s no less of a revolution. And it’s happening all around you right now.

Which brings me to Macy’s third type of action to help further The Great Turning: Change in Consciousness. Joanna Macy describes this as changing the stories we tell each other, our cultural stories, our inner stories. Redefining who we are, and how humanity fits into the cycles of this small planet. Within the international Transition movement, this is addressed as “inner transition.” Changing our inner selves, our inner paradigm, our ways of relating to each other is another huge part of creating the world we want to live in.


Rob Hopkins also mentions the Klein article, in his own excellent post on Austerity (Imagination: Antidote to the Plague of Austerity).

I don’t agree with Klein and Werner’s analysis that “resistance” should be only taken to refer to the same tools that oppositional politics has always used. For me, Werner’s “certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture” needs to be viewed more broadly…And that’s where Transition comes in, with its core focus on imagination and the telling of different stories.

……In order to be able to create something, first we have to imagine it.  That applies as much to the supper you’ll cook when you get home tonight as to social change.  While there is much that Transition initiatives can, and are, doing to respond to austerity, it is the holding of spaces where people, their political representatives and others, can come together to imagine the kind of future they want to see, and modelling this in practical ways, which may be one of the most powerful things we can do in these difficult times.  It could prove to be, as the world seemingly steps from arguing that climate change isn’t a problem to arguing that it’s too late to do anything about it, missing out that vital piece in the middle, you know, the doing something about it bit, that the “poverty of life without dreams” may turn out in the long run to be the wickedest form of poverty.

Hopkins’ thinking is reminiscent of thoughts expressed by David Holmgren (also a systems thinker) in late 2011 (David Holmgren Talks Strategy):

I think that, while the big political movement stuff is always going to be in some ways more exciting – and there’s certainly some exciting aspects of that emerging in the world now around the notion of demanding that someone do something, I don’t think those things really help change the structure much, unless people are also making the changes themselves.  Because the changes people make themselves are double insurance – they are insurance against dysfunctional or anti-social behavior by elites (and there’s certainly plenty of evidence for that), but they’re also the way we model the world that we’re actually wanting to be, because in a lot of ways it’s a matter of being able to crawl before you walk. The sort of world we’re trying to construct, I think it’s actually impossible to construct that top-down. It has to actually be rebuilt bottom up, in parallel with the crumbling system. And then as those models become more real, it’s possible to get some degree of top-down reform/support for those things. But if they don’t actually exist, if we don’t have the working, living solutions, then it’s very hard for policymakers to say “Yes, we’ll have more of that, and less of that.” They can’t actually create the things we need. The things we need are all very small, localized, particular, and large scale systems just can’t do that.


I’m saving the best for last. If we say we want a revolution, who better to check in with than someone who’s been at the forefront, and working on revolution for over 7 decades? Her name is Grace Lee Boggs, and she published a book last year called The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century (read the review by WWU’s Molly Lawrence).

As an activist for over seventy years, and involved in movements including the civil rights movement, labor movement, women’s movement, Black Power movement, Asian American movement, anti-war movement, and environmental justice movement, Boggs has some wisdom to share.

Over these many years, her keen mind has continued to think about “how to bring about radical social change,” which has become all the more urgent, because, as she says, “I cannot recall any previous period when the issues were so basic, so interconnected, and so demanding of everyone.”  “What is going to motivate us,” she asks, “to start caring for our biosphere instead of using our mastery of technology to increase the volume and speed at which we are making our planet uninhabitable…?”

Interestingly, she believes that, though they were effective in the late 1960s, “it becomes clearer every day that organizing or joining massive protests and demanding new policies fail to sufficiently  address the crisis we face.”  She tells us that we need to “come out of our culturally defined identities,” and she claims that mass protests “do not change the cultural images or the symbols that play such a pivotal role in molding us into who we are. “

Boggs also makes a crucial distinction between rebellion and revolution.  Rebels see themselves as victims and do not go beyond protesting injustices.  Revolutionaries go beyond anger, protest, and opposition, and instead concentrate on involving people on a grassroots level with assuming responsibility for creating the values and infrastructures needed for a new society.

What does Boggs recommend on a practical level?  Working from the ground up to transform individuals and to rebuild community. This revolutionary sounds very much like Hopkins, Holmgren, and Poyourow:  Living radically differently by rejecting consumerism and the ideas around unending economic growth.  It can begin with simple actions such as “planting community gardens, recycling waste, rehabbing houses ,… and organizing neighborhood festivals.”  It can then develop into “a solidarity economy whose foundation is the production and exchange of goods and services that our communities  really need.  It’s about “remaking this nation block by block, brick by brick,” pledging to look after not only ourselves but also each other.

Fortunately, there are many working on various pieces of this puzzle we call “sustainability.” Are we doing enough, fast enough to avert crisis? No. That’s why we need all hands on deck. Stopping Actions, Creating New Structures, and Changing Consciousness are all significant.

In terms of changing consciousness, the theme Boggs returns to over and over in her book is that “these are the times to grow our souls.” It’s easy to neglect this important element. In Bellingham there are two upcoming events that address this work of inner transition from two perspectives:

1. Rabbi Michael Lerner: The Spiritual Transformation and Healing of the World: Building a Spiritually Progressive Political Party. On Thursday, November 14th at 7:00 pm, Rabbi Michael Lerner, “the most prophetic public speaker and intellectual of our time” according to professor and author, Cornel West, will share his vision on how to build a spiritually progressive political movement so we can move American politics from a perspective that hurts the poor and middle-class and undermines the rights and protections won by women, gays and minorities, toward a perspective that builds love, generosity and corporate environmental and social responsibility. More info.

2. The Holy Universe: A New Story of Creation For The Heart, Soul, and Spirit breathes life into the cold, mechanistic worldview of the Universe, transforming our physical history into a living story—and provides us with powerful insights into navigating the global ecological, social, and spiritual crises now facing our world, and provocatively argues the crises we face today just might be the best thing that ever happened to humanity. Author David Christopher 
will be here in person to present.
November 21st, 7pm at the Fairhaven Library, presented by the Bellingham Institute of Noetic Science.

Related Article:
JoAnna Macy On the Three Pillars of the Great Turning

Could Our Obscure Whatcom County Council Election Change the Planet?

A couple of months ago there was a piece in the National Journal that put a spotlight on our humble county, and caught some local attention: The Obscure County Election That Could Change the Planet by Carol Davenport.  The tagline says “A little watched race in Washington State will determine how America uses its coal – and the future of the global climate.” (in addition to the article, you can watch an interview NBC did with the author).

The issue of concern is the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, a $600 million project that, if approved, is projected to ship 48 million tons of coal annually to Asia, which would make it the largest coal export terminal in North America.  This is said to be enough fuel to power 15 to 20 new coal fired plants a year – taking us in exactly the opposite direction in which we need to go. With carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere now reaching past 400 parts per million – the highest levels ever recorded in history – many of us believe it is a very high priority to do all we can to discourage the burning of coal anywhere and everywhere.

Richards Bay Coal Port

The Richards Bay Coal Terminal, the largest coal export terminal in Africa exports 66 million tons annually.

The site for the proposed coal port is Cherry Point, just north of Bellingham, in Whatcom County, WA, with coal from Wyoming and Montana arriving here via rail – up to 18 coal trains per day. And this is where our County Council comes in. According to Davenport’s article:

Over the next two years, the seven-member board will play an outsized role in Gateway’s fate, voting on two crucial siting permits which, if approved, will pave the way for the terminal’s construction. If the council rejects the permits, it could freeze the project for years, if not permanently. This November, voters will determine the makeup of the council that will make those crucial permit decisions, electing four of the seven members.

Hence, this year’s election is extremely important. And there’s big potential for special interests to have a large influence. Apparently the world’s largest public relations lobbying firm has already been hired to help promote the project.

The problem is that the candidates are not allowed to directly address the issue with their opinion, lest they jeapardize their role in being able to participate in the decision.  It is set up as a “quasi-judicial” system, requiring the council to remain neutral and base their decision only on the “facts” that are presented to the council at a future date.

So what is a voter to do? For one, you want to consider the candidates who believe in climate change, and who acknowledge that human activity is the cause for much of the warming we’re seeing today.  Two, examine how the candidates relate to other sustainability related or resilience related issues.  What are their positions on protecting the Lake Whatcom watershed, or handling the GMA related issues, or the slaughterhouse regulations?

The GMA? Growth Management Act.  This is huge, and has been a thorn in Whatcom County’s side for more than a decade.  More about that next time.

How can you learn more about where the candidates stand on these issues? Attend the Candidate Forum on Growth and the Environment, Thursday Aug. 1, 2013, at Bellingham High School, from 5 to 7:30pm.

Candidate Forum Flyer_small_for_web

Attend the Growth and Environment forum to hear comments and opinions from Whatcom County Council candidates regarding  important growth, land use and environmental issues facing Whatcom County.  By answering a series of questions from forum moderators with audience input on topic selection, candidates will  discuss pivotal issues in the upcoming elections, such as new industrial development, growth management, the proposed jail, Lake Whatcom, Critical Areas protection and shoreline protection.

We have invited every candidate to attend and represent his or her views, and are hopeful for full participation from all eight candidates.

Out of respect for the quasi-judicial role that council members inhabit during major project land use permit evaluation, moderators will not ask direct questions related to support of or opposition to Gateway Pacific Terminal or other similar projects.

Also, please join us from 5:00 to 5:30pm for a pre-forum information fair. Representatives from local organizations working on county-wide (including Bellingham) issues will be available to answer your questions (stop by the Transition Whatcom table).

For more information, visitwww.re-sources.org or contact Matt Krogh at

(360) 733.8307, or



Related: See the excellent article in Whatcom Watch by Terry Wechsler: GPT and County Council Elections

Foundations of PatternDynamics – Tim Winton

Tim Winton recently posted an audio recording on his thepatternguy blog.

Click to listen to audio file:  Foundations of PatternDynamics

He writes, “This talk was recorded as part of the Certificate 4 and Diploma programs in Accredited Permaculture Training I taught at Permaforest Trust. This was recorded at the beginning of the second semester in 2006, probably in late July or August. It is interesting to go back and listen to how I was thinking about PD at the time now that it has developed into something more tangible 6 years later.”

As I was listening, I decided I wanted to transcribe a short section.  That short section got longer and longer.  I hope you find this as interesting as I do.

“…I am wholly uninterested now, after having witnessed lots of failures, in ‘sustainability’; because there was no attempt at working with self or culture. It was just a focus on nature – those failed. I don’t really have an interest in perpetuating that failure. I will not introduce you to that failure.

I would like to integrate acting on nature through Permaculture and other practices with acting in culture – that’s about storytelling, it’s about framing worldviews, it’s about collective understanding – that’s story and myth. And also introducing practices on self – that’s about developing awareness. Opening up this space where everything you thought was not you becomes you. The only way to do that is to sit in awareness and witness all this stuff. Then, all of a sudden, the boundary fades. That’s human development.

Integrating all those things is a very cool thing to do, and is very powerful. I think that’s what we can offer, and in developing PatternDynamics as a discipline or a modality, what I’m hoping to do is to give you a tool to develop your own integral capacity for sustainability. If you can understand the dynamics in integrated whole systems, you can understand where to intervene to create health where it will have the most effect – how to relieve disease, how to open up the flow. There’s no rational way to understand it- it’s too complex. You can’t understand this by learning ‘A’, learning ‘B’, learning ‘C’, learning ‘D’ and then coming out the other end. You don’t just have A,B,C, and D, you have the whole alphabet, and they’re all swirling around in this great interconnected dynamic play. There’s no way to comprehend that holistic dynamic one bit at a time. You have to develop the capacity to understand the dynamics.

The only way to do that is to stand back in awareness and see the patterns. Patterns are the only way to really understand fluid dynamic integral wholes. And that’s what the universe is, and that’s what we have to get a grasp on.

Both David Holmgren and Bill Mollison [co-founders of Permaculture] have keyed in on this. They know that patterns are how you understand wholes. Ken Wilber also keyed in on this. He calls Integral “The pattern that connects” [a phrase borrowed from Gregory Bateson – another pioneer of pattern literacy]. He’s just taken that natural step beyond ‘if everything’s connected,’ that means my awareness is connected to the awareness of the universe. There’s not such a separation between my experience and the experience full stop – you know, ‘out there’. It’s a natural extension.

So we’ve got a natural resonance between Integral and Permaculture through their understanding that patterns are important to understand integrated wholes.

…PatternDynamics is a base pattern set for understanding – it’s a tool, it’s not reality, it’s just a tool. It’s an educational discipline to help you gain an integral capacity for understanding integral dynamic systems.”


Tim Winton just finished a PatternDynamics™ One Day Workshop in San Francisco earlier today.  He’ll give an evening workshop in Bellingham, WA on Tuesday Jan. 29th, and another One Day Workshop in Vancouver, B.C. on Saturday, Feb. 2nd.

Lessons From the Ages for 2013, Part 2

Mayan Calendar

Read Part 1 here.

The Maya Civilization has earned a great deal of respect. Beginning sometime around 2000 B.C., they had a fully developed written language, as well as well developed art, architecture, mathematical, and astronomical systems. They seemed to be pretty danged smart and sophisticated.

And yet, they did themselves in by over-consuming their available resources. They had an amazing rainforest, and they cut it down. Why would they do such a thing?

If we look at human history in terms of the major stages of technological-economic development, we see periods moving from foraging to horticultural to agrarian to industrial, to informational.  American philosopher Ken Wilber sees each of these stages as signs of the advancing evolution of human consciousness, and he associates them with changes in worldview of the various epochs of human development, using terminology from Jean Gebser: archaic, magic, mythic, rational, and pluralistic.


The Mayans were firmly in the agrarian period, with the mythic worldview, and their accomplishments were quite amazing for their time. Having moved beyond foraging, and beyond horticulture (based on usage of a hoe), the agrarian period made use of heavy animal drawn plows. This advance provided other opportunities for some of the privileged men in these societies, due to a huge surplus of food that was made possible from the new technology. And so highly specialized classes arose, which made possible the development of things like mathematics and written language, and astronomy, and many cultural endeavors. Warring small tribes came together into larger wholes of social organization, beginning to pave the way for nation-states to eventually develop. Ken Wilber points out that it was during this agrarian period that a class of individuals arose that had enough time freed up to be able to contemplate in depth their own existence.  It was during this period that the great sages existed, including Gautama Buddha, Lao Tzu, Parmenides, Socrates, Plato, Patanjali, and Confucius.

The first point being, that the agrarian period brought some pretty major advances that I am quite thankful for. And the second point is that these advances were made possible by the conditions that had changed, and would be extremely unlikely if we had not moved beyond the foraging and horticultural stages.

Brief History

However…Ken Wilber also points out that every new stage always brings with it a new set of problems.

Q: You refer often to “the dialectic of progress.”
KW: Yes, the idea is that every stage of evolution eventually runs into its own inherent limitations, and these may act as triggers for the self-transcending drive. The inherent limitations create a type of turmoil, even chaos, and the system either breaks down (self-dissolution) or escapes this chaos by evolving to a higher degree of order (self-transcendence) – so called order out of chaos. This new and higher order escapes the limitations of its predecessor, but then introduces its own limitations and problems that cannot be solved on its own level.

In other words, there is a price to be paid for every evolutionary step forward. Old problems are solved or defused, only to introduce new and sometimes more complex difficulties.

…Wherever there is the possibility of transcendence, there is, by the very same token, the possibility of repression. The higher might not just transcend and include, it might transcend and repress, exclude, alienate, dissociate.

– Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything

Some of the inherent and complex difficulties that were quite common during the agrarian period include: dominator hierarchies, with Empires at the top of that hierarchy, and overshoot (exceeding the carrying capacity of the environment and resource base).

What about those Mayans? Where did they go wrong?  Again, Ken Wilber:

The Mayans had already moved from foraging to horticulture, and that meant not only that they could begin to bind various contentious tribes into a larger and solidified social structure -–and not only that they could, via farming, free a class of priests to begin developing mathematics and astronomy and a sophisticated calendar – but also that they, in a way foragers never could, begin to deplete the rain forests. They transcended mere foraging, only to go too far and dissociate themselves in certain crucial ways from the biosphere, which was altogether suicidal.

They didn’t differentiate and integrate, they dissociated and alienated. They didn’t transcend and include, they repressed and denied. Since the biosphere is an internal component of the human holon, they secured their own destruction.

So this theme – transcendence versus repression – is an altogether crucial theme of historical development, and we want to watch carefully for signs of repression at each stage of human evolution, individual and collective.

“Transcend and Include” is one of the mantras of Ken Wilber’s Integral model, and in this context it refers to the idea that as each period Transcends the previous period and moves to a higher level, if it does not Include the best aspects of the levels that came before it, there will be big problems. Foraging and horticulture had a closer symbiosis with the rhythms of the natural world, and as human society moved beyond those structures, we become more and more distant from those processes. And the replacement processes as technologies advance allow increasing amounts of destruction to our biosphere.

It is important to understand what Wilber is not saying here about the Mayans. When he says that they went too far and dissociated from the biosphere, that they “repressed and denied,”  he is NOT saying that this was a conscious decision, or that they somehow should have known better. He explains:

The primary cause of any ecological devastation is, as we were saying, simple ignorance. It is only with scientific knowledge of the biosphere, of the precise ways in which all holons in the biosphere are interrelated, including the biological holons of the human being – it is only with that knowledge that men and women can actually attune their actions with the biosphere. A simple or sacred respect for nature will not do. A sacred outlook on nature did not prevent numerous tribes from despoiling the environment out of simple and innocent ignorance, and did not prevent the Mayans from devastating the rain forests, and it will not prevent us from doing the same thing, again out of ignorance.

Roszak points out that it is modern science, and modern science alone – the ecological sciences and systems sciences, for example – that can directly show us how and why our actions are corroding the biosphere. If the primal tribes knew that by cut and burn they would ruin their habitat and endanger their own lives – if they actually knew that with a scientific certainty – then they would at least have thought about it a little more carefully before they began their bio-destruction. If the Mayans knew that in killing the rain forests they were killing themselves, they would have stopped immediately, or at least paused considerably. But ignorance is ignorance; whether innocent or greedy, sacred or profane, ignorance destroys the biosphere.

They know not what they do. As advanced as they were, they didn’t have systems ecology to give them the understanding that what they were doing was going to bring destruction in the long run….and neither did the preceding stages.

In fact, some argue that the earlier stages also had the tendency to over-consume resources. Ken Wilber makes a very important point: To dissociate with the biosphere is suicidal, because “the biosphere is an internal component of the human holon.”  However, in general Wilber  tends to put more emphasis on the “technological-economic” structural base behind the periods of human history than he does on the biosphere that supports and makes that technological-economic structure possible.

David Holmgren

David Holmgren

On the other hand, Permaculture co-founder David Holmgren brings more attention to the ecological framework that makes possible different technological-economic structures.

The broad processes of human history can be understood using an ecological framework that recognises primary energy sources as the strongest factors determining the general structure of human economy, politics and culture. The transition from a hunter-gatherer way of life to that of settled agriculture made possible the expansion of human numbers, denser settlement patterns and surplus resources. Those surplus resources were the foundations for what we call civilisation including the development of more advanced technologies, cities, social class structures, standing armies and written language. Archaeology records a series of civilisations that rose and fell as they depleted their bioregional resource base. Lower density simple agrarian and hunter-gatherer cultures took over the territory of collapsed civilisations and allowed the resources of forests, soils and water to regenerate. That in turn, gave rise to new cycles of growth in cultural complexity.

– David Holmgren, Future Scenarios

Future Scenarios

As populations grew, hunter-gatherers perhaps over-hunted some areas and over-gathered others, and thus found the need for domestication of plants and animals because of a now less abundant landscape. They had to develop the new technology of horticulture in order to maintain surplus resources, and so the “cycles of growth in cultural complexity” began. As mentioned above, each period had its problems. “Old problems are solved or defused, only to introduce new and sometimes more complex difficulties.” (Wilber)

In Part 3, we’ll be looking at the Industrial period with the rational worldview.

For more along the lines outlined in this post, see Permaculture teacher Graham Strouts  helpful series on “Back To Nature”. He discusses humans’ relationship to the natural world and explores the major periods in the evolution of human consciousness, as outlined by Wilber and Don Beck (Spiral Dynamics), but within the context of ecology:


Lessons From the Ages for 2013, Part 1

Brand Spanking New
Brand Spankin’ New (Zony Mash)

Well, here we are in the brand-spankin’ new year of 2013, with all of its rich possibilities before us, as well as all of the potential problems and risks.

The Mayan calendar was, of course, the subject of much discussion in 2012, especially so as the year wound down. Some used it to predict ‘the end of the world as we know it’, and others claimed it was about a huge leap in human consciousness and an entry into a glorious new age. I would argue that both of these statements are true…in some sense, but not as either a cataclysmic ending, nor a brilliant new beginning with a dramatic and immediate end to the evils that occur in the material world.

What we do know is that the Mayan calendar has completed its cycle. Dec. 21, 2012 marked the end of the “Long Count” calendar, a calendar system used by the Mayan civilization of Central America.

Things do end. And new beginnings are possible each and every day.

We have a tendency sometimes to fall under the illusion that our world is stable, and that the living arrangements we live under have a solid footing and are pretty much here to stay. And the more material possessions we accrue, we feel both more secure and more attached.

…it is not thinkable among us that our public institutions should collapse and we must engage in deception and self-deception about our alienation…Ultimately, we are incapable of facing our own death. All these denials about endings are necessary…because it is too costly to face and embrace them. It would suggest that we are not in charge, that things will not forever stay the manageable way they are, and that things will not finally work out.
– Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination

In our heart of hearts, however, we all know that nothing lasts forever. “No epoch is finally privileged,” Ken Wilber has written. “We are all tomorrow’s food. The process continues. And Spirit is found in the process itself, not in any particular epoch or time or place.”

One of the “funnies” circulating on the internet recently was this image:


Some have pointed out that the image on the left is not actually the Mayan calendar, but is instead the Aztec calendar – the Aztec civilization came after that of the Mayan.


Now, after having the laugh about the similarity of the Oreo cookie to the circular calendar, and after correctly identifying the calendar images, another thought came to me.

The Oreo Cookie actually is a tolerably good representation of our current consumer culture.  The Oreo has come to be known as the world’s favorite cookie, and is made by Nabisco, a division of Kraft Foods, Inc.  (which recently changed its name to Mondelēz International, Inc.)

Kraft is an international foods conglomerate, known for its highly processed and chemically laden foodstuffs, such as Oscar Mayar hotdogs, Velveeta Cheesefoods, as well as Oreo cookies.

And our consumer culture has an unhealthy addiction, which tends to devour as quickly as possible.  And so we have the Kooky Cookie Calendar as a reminder of where we are.  Consuming our resources at an ever expanding rate.


And the Mayans? Well, they do have a few lessons for us. More about that in Part 2.  Until then, this quote from James Howard Kunstler, written in 2007 (before the burst of the housing bubble):

The key to understanding the challenge we face is admitting that we have to comprehensively make other arrangements for all the normal activities of everyday life…

If you really want to understand the U.S. public’s penchant for wishful thinking, consider this: We invested most of our late twentieth-century wealth in a living arrangement with no future. American suburbia represents the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. The far-flung housing subdivisions, commercial highway strips, big-box stores, and all the other furnishings and accessories of extreme car dependence will function poorly, if at all, in an oil-scarce future. Period. This dilemma now entails a powerful psychology of previous investment, which is prompting us to defend our misinvestments desperately, or, at least, preventing us from letting go of our assumptions about their future value. Compounding the disaster is the unfortunate fact that the manic construction of ever more futureless suburbs (a.k.a. the “housing bubble”) has insidiously replaced manufacturing as the basis of our economy.

Meanwhile, the outsourcing of manufacturing to other nations has spurred the development of a “global economy,” which media opinion-leaders such as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman (author of The World Is Flat) say is a permanent state of affairs that we had better get used to. It is probably more accurate to say that the global economy is a set of transient economic relations that have come about because of two fundamental (and transient) conditions: a half century of relative peace between great powers and a half century of cheap and abundant fossil-fuel energy. These two mutually dependent conditions are now liable to come to an end as the great powers enter a bitter contest over the world’s remaining energy resources, and the world is actually apt to become a lot larger and less flat as these economic relations unravel.

– James Howard Kunstler, Making Other Arrangements

The Importance of Good Communication Skills

I’ve said this before:

I think one of the biggest challenges for Transition groups is to learn the skills of how to work effectively as a group in terms of having efficient meetings that are inclusive, enjoyable, and get a lot accomplished. Learning to work together effectively may be one of the most important things we do to prepare for peak oil, climate change, and economic instability.

I’ve also said:

…when we think of “Reskilling” in Transition, we tend to focus on the “practical” hands on skills, like how to grow a garden, or retrofit your home, or graft fruit trees.  How often do we think about the importance of learning skills like how to become more skillful in our communication, or how to keep a working group together, or learning tools for building consensus? I’ve often wished that we at Transition Whatcom would find more time to make this kind of skill building more of a priority.

and so…I’m now excited to announce that my friend and colleague Alan Seid, founder of Cascadia Workshops and the Blackbelt Communication Skills Coaching Program – has put out some excellent free training videos, and I am now an affiliate.

Alan Seid

I have attended Alan’s Empowered Communication workshops and found them to be powerful and extremely helpful and applicable in my everyday life, as well as in my volunteer work in groups, such as Sustainable Bellingham and Transition Whatcom. For a period of time my wife Angela and I helped Alan produce these local workshops because we were convinced this material needs to be more widely shared. Now I’m excited that this material has been refined and more widely and conveniently available online as the Blackbelt Communication Skills Coaching Program.

These videos were created for people who want to make a difference in the world, and who are committed working on themselves AND to improving their relationships through clear and powerful communication skills. (Alan also happens to be a Certified Trainer in Nonviolent CommunicationTM having studied directly with Dr. Marshall Rosenberg starting in 1995.)

These videos are for you if:

– you want the people in your life to appreciate you as a present & compassionate listener

– you want to learn a formula for speaking with clarity and power consistently

– you’re looking for a proven method for transforming and more fully enjoy ing all your personal and professional relationships

– you want to know exactly what to do about conflicts and lack of harmony since they get in the way of a team’s or an individual’s ability to have the positive impact they could be having

– interpersonal conflict is something you’ve shied away from but you yearn to be skilled and confident at handling it masterfully

– you want to show up in the world in a bigger way, all the while creating interpersonal connection and effectiveness

– you’ve seen how powerful and positive interpersonal relationships are the foundation for teams working well together and for individuals making a bigger difference, and you’re ready to take your knowledge and skills to the next level.

Again, this is a FREE video training series, and I think you will really enjoy Alan’s teaching style.

Check it out here: Free Videos from the Blackbelt Communication Skills Coaching Program