“Whatever it is that’s aroused by these cues, isn’t put off by any lack of originality.”
Robert Pirsig


Compound Interest


This article paints Sandy as a wake-up call to the fact that we (the human race) are facing global climate change together. It outlines two phases of response to the situation. Phase one is a superficial fix – stopping the bleeding:

“… we’ll begin, for real, to do all the things we know we need to do, we know how to do, we have the technology and intelligence to do, but until now we’ve lacked the will to do.”

Phase 2 is a more complex effort aimed at the root of the problem – establishing health:

“Phase Two is the hard part. Phase Two recognizes that Sandy and the historic heat and drought are mere symptoms of a systems design failure. That is, an economic system design failure, a system designed for a set of circumstances that applied in the past – huge planet, small economy – but are no longer relevant … Other symptoms of this systemic crisis include our cascading global fresh water crises, desertification, deforestation, chemicals poisoning our soils and food system, a nitrogen cycle out of balance, and an accelerating loss in biodiversity now called “the great extinction.” We’ll also see the connection to rising inequality now on a par with medieval times, the obesity epidemic, rising depression and suicide, and a host of other social problems.”

While I greatly enjoyed the clear and penetrating overview the article provided, I did not agree with the five strategic challenges outlined in Phase2:

“We will need an ethics grounded in what Albert Schweitzer called a “Reverence for Life” (for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952), and what scholar Peter Brown calls a “Right Relationship” between humanity, economy and ecology;”

In my opinion such an ethics exists. If I recall correctly it was published in 1992 – which means it has been available for 20 years. Robert Pirsig in his book Lila outlines a metaphysics which is the most elaborate and practical ethical tool I have available to me in my life.

“We will need institutions that provide vital, scientifically derived data on the relative health of all core ecosystems, which will become the basis for global policy-making and governance;”

Here I see three rotten seeds planted:

  1. “Scientifically derived data” is a huge part of the mentality that got us where we are and I believe clinging to it will inhibit forward movement. Science needs to be present but in a much less deterministic and much more humble role.
  2. “Institutions” and their systemic mindset have also played a key role in where we are. Change needs more chaos and less organization.
  3. “We” is the biggest trap of all. “We” do not yet exist so calling upon it to do anything is delusional. There are “we”‘s that need to be abolished – countries come to mind. There are “we”‘s that need to be invented before they can come into play. Many of the existing “we”‘s are obstructing the birth and creation of new and better “we”‘s. It seems to me that the most valuable “we” there is, is a growing group of individual “I”‘s that are slowly, softly and gently coming together.

“We will need to mobilize a war-like effort to preserve and regenerate the world’s natural carbon sinks – the oceans, grasslands, forests, and peat bogs – whose health or continued decay hold the future of humanity in the balance even if we manage to stop burning fossil fuels;”

Please no more “war-like efforts” … how about more peace-like efforts. Peace towards ourselves, peace towards each other and peace towards the natural world in which we live?

“We will need to reimagine products and services, business models, supply chains, indeed entire local and regional economies, and the global economic system, using nature’s holistic design principles that we know create resiliency;”

Yes I do believe we will need to re-imagine many things but we will also need to face a more  daunting task of un-imagining some things too. Over-doing is a sign of-our-times and I for one am looking for an existence of not just doing differently but also undoing and even some not-doing. We need to surrender some things for new things to appear. There needs to be space for energy to move and substance to appear.

“We will need an economy of sufficiency that does not demand exponential growth of material throughput from finite resources on a planet that is fixed in scale, served by financial theory and practice that does not demand exponential growth of aggregate financial capital, irrespective of qualitative factors.”

We will need to move into a more natural life where ecology rules and economy serves. We have been swept away by a deceitful mythology that money has value or existence when it is actually worthless and imaginary. When you erect and embrace a science around something that does not exist you falter through life and in the world – that is what economy has achieved. Money is a tool … not unlike a broom or a saw and should be treated as such. No “theory of aggregate capital and qualitative factors” can appreciate “finite resources” like a peasant who’s well has run dry or who’s field has succumbed to drought.

I don’t think there are nor can there be two distinct phases. Phase 1 is an obvious social effort (because obvious is all social can accommodate). Phase 2 is, I believe, in the hands of individuals changing their own lives and radiating those changes out to their communities (and praying that the phase 1 folks don’t get in their way). Both, I believe, are already taking place.

At the end of the article I found this:

“When Einstein said that compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe, he was apparently both joking and serious. How prescient.”

What if we could extract the phrase ‘compound interest’ from the clutches of economy and economists? What if we were to apply it to individuals who take a literal “interest” in their lives instead of loans or mortgages? What if such individual interests were to accumulate like compound interest? Isn’t this already happening? Aren’t we having this conversation because we have already moved beyond critical mass into inevitable change? Is dramatic revolution really called for? Can we afford to push less and embrace more? Less urgency and more patience? Is there any other sustainable way to invite substantial change into our lives?



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