Blessed Unrest


Over the holidays I read Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming by Paul Hawken. This is a book that is more a reference than a story and what will serve me well after reading the book is the extensive appendix, which is about 1/3 of the book. Hawken covers many themes familiar to readers of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth or Thomas Homer-Dixon’s The Upside of Down.

The approach taken by “the movement” to address problems, noticed by Hawken, is one that makes sense to me, given my own consulting business as well as some local initiatives that I’m involved with, such as our Commons.

The term solving for pattern was coined by Wendall Berry, and refers to a solution that addresses multiple problems instead of one. Solving for pattern arises naturally when one perceives problems as symptoms of systemic failure, rather than random errors requiring anodynes. For example, sustainable agriculture addresses a number of issues simultaneously: It reduces agricultural runoff, which is a main cause of eutrophication and dead zones in lakes, estuaries and oceans; it reduces use of energy-intensive nitrogen-based fertilizers; it ameliorates climate change, because organic soil sequesters carbon, whereas industrial farming releases carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and is the second-greatest cause of climate change after fossil fuel combustion; it improves worker health because of the absence of pesticide; it enables soil to retain more moisture and is thus less reliant on irrigation and outside sources of water; it is more productive than conventional agriculture; it is less susceptible to erosion; and it provides habitat for pollinators, birds, and beneficial insects, which promotes biodiversity. On top of all that, the resulting food commands a premium in the market, making small farms economically more viable. Solving for pattern is the de facto approach of the movement because it is resource constrained. It cannot afford “fixes”, only solutions.

This evening, I’m off to an executive meeting of the Sackville Community Supported Agriculture group, as we plan for this year’s challenge of supplying 60 families with good, locally-grown produce; up from 20 families last year.

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