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Sierra Magazine
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Sierra's September/October 2007 Let's Talk selection:
Blessed Unrest
A book by Paul Hawken
Review by Joan Hamilton

What it's about
Smith & Hawken's founder didn't set out to pen a hopeful book. "Optimism," writes Paul Hawken, "discovered me." By his count, more than a million groups around the world are fighting for the environment, social justice, and indigenous rights--what he terms a decentralized "immune system" response to the planet's troubles. Visiting Hawken's Web site, wiserearth.org, a collaborative tool for 100,000 such groups, might cheer you too.

Where to get it
Blessed Unrest is widely available at libraries and bookstores.

About the author
Environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken is the author of seven books, including Natural Capitalism (coauthored with Amory Lovins); The Ecology of Commerce; and Growing a Business, which was the basis of a 17-part PBS series. Hawken is also the founder and executive director of the Natural Capital Institute, a research and social-change organization in Sausalito, California.

Discussion questions

  • Hawken discusses various grassroots efforts around the globe to achieve social justice and protect the environment. Which one did you find most memorable?

  • Could the work in the example you described above be replicated in your community?

  • Hawken writes that "the shared activity of hundreds of thousands of nonprofit organizations can be seen as humanity's immune response to toxins like political corruption, economic disease, and ecological degradation." Does this metaphor apply to the role of nonprofits today?

  • Do you buy Hawken's notion that the very existence of these groups is a hopeful sign?

  • What additional steps need to be taken to ensure that the "largest movement in human history" can effectively meet the challenges of the 21st century?

  • What leadership qualities are required to direct the efforts of such a movement? Can it even be led or directed?

  • Hawken contends that the environmental and social-justice movements "address two sides of a single larger dilemma," writing that "the way we harm the earth affects all people, and how we treat one another is reflected in how we treat the earth." Do you think social and environmental groups are working toward the same goals?

  • Hawken writes that "large organizations don't need networks; small ones thrive on them.... Webs are complex systems of interconnected elements that link individual actions to larger grids of knowledge and movement. Web sites link to other sites with more links to other sites ad infinitum, creating a critical, fluid mass of information that evolves and grows as needed.... At the heart of all this is not technology but relationships, tens of millions of people working toward restoration and social justice." Do you agree with his assessment that digital tools such as computers and cell phones "amplify smallness more effectively than largeness"?

  • What's your relationship to the World Wide Web? Can you think of ways that you could use it more effectively to accomplish your own goals?

  • Are you a member of any large social-networking site, such as Facebook or MySpace? How could those sites be used to work for social and environmental change?

Links

TAKE ACTION Visit wiserearth.org and look over the organizations working on an issue that interests you. Pick a group, go to its Web site, and see what you can do to help.


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