Crystal clear to me is the idea that our collective talents and problem solving will overcome the most pressing of our earthly crises. I’d like to borrow – and turn on its head a bit – the famous Margaret Mead quote that goes
“never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”
I propose that, in fact, only our collective efforts will determine our success, and this is particularly true regarding climate change. What I hadn’t imagined was the idea that we could create an integrated narrative and use scenario planning in order to recognize the plot and therefore, the plot’s subsequent outcomes. Meeting Douglas Cohen last Wednesday during a Marylhurst University Sustainability Council (MUSAC) “experiment” crystallized this idea of examining alternative futures.
I was lucky enough to take part in what is the beginning of a very interesting conversation on how to create sustainable communities. Simply by attending this small get-together, Mr. Cohen, who graciously acted as facilitator of this learning experience, informed us that we were all now part of the “culture of the committed.” The sense that I get from this statement reminds me heavily of positive workplace leadership strategies focused around alignment and engagement in order to have a committed group working towards common goals. Doug’s proclamation that turned me into one of the “committed” proved a successful invitation to be a part of the narrative (which we are all a part of whether we accept the invitation or not) and reminded me of my social responsibility to step up to the proverbial plate.
Doug began the meeting with a rapid-fire backdrop of the myriad organizations he is involved with, as well as mention of the Boston based think tank called the Tellus Institute. A quick Google search reveals that Tellus gathers data from teams of thought leaders hailing from varying disciplines who conduct research “to advance the transition to a sustainable, equitable, and humane global civilization.” From this work, Tellus has created a toolkit of scenario planning frameworks that allow the “user to create, evaluate, and compare alternative futures based on current data and hypothetical trends.” One of the results of this work is an impressive roster of what seems to be various action committees, one of which is called the Great Transition Initiative. It is here that the use of envisioning an alternative future, and – to me – the use of story and narrative, act as real forces in scaleable change.
How, though, do we transition from the narrative to implementation? Apparently, from the beginning by creating the narrative. Our exercise for the hour was to gather around one of four quotes* that Doug provided for us. Choices included the great quote from Paul Hawken that says:
“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.”
Another quote by William Gibson says:
“The Future is here, it’s just not widely distributed yet.”
The quote that drew me in was:
“We are a Society in search of a good post-capitalist model.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but Doug himself created this last quote. As four of us gathered around the “post-capitalist” model, others congregated around the idea that resonated with them the most and we began generating discussion. It dawned on me after the fact that we were in the process of envisioning alternative futures by discussing these various quotes, and I’d be interested to hear some of what came forth in the other groups. Our group talked about localized economic systems, shared resources, and behavioral paradigm shifts needed to realign the manner in which we share resources (or don’t) within our communities.
Like with any self-governing group working towards common goals, it proves to be especially difficult to implement some of the great thinking that comes from these collaborative efforts. To go from conversation to action is a often a daunting task, and one that seems to often stall the forward motion of committed and compassionate people. And while I’m not yet clear on how Mayrlhurst and MUSAC will use the beginning of this interesting narrative thread to get from here to there, continuing the experiment in order to collectively create the overall University fabric is an exciting endeavor.
Douglas Cohen has been described in many ways, from “sustainability leadership specialist” and “catalyst for a regenerative future” to “facilitator” and “trainer.” Doug is a revered change agent and leading thinker, and his bio celebrates his “leadership development, sustainability literacy, and systemic change literacy, especially for tomorrow’s leaders.”
But above all, he proved to be a generous connector of plot; specifically of our own human story in which our combined narrative proposes the leading questions to help us get on track with our trajectory in solving the climate change crisis. In creating this story together, we create our own opportunities to also become the actors in a regenerative future, which I imagine is embedded in the forthcoming continued conversation.
*There was also a longer quote by David Orr which I’ll update this post with in the near future