Radical Innovation, Relocalization and Sustainability
Brian O’Leary, February 2011
One of the most vexing and urgent question of our time is, how can we achieve sustainabiity? That was the question twenty-seven of us souls mulled over for a week during the Phoenix Gathering here at Montesueños in June 2008 and re-localization was surely a central theme throughout the meeting and afterwards. But would re-localization in and of itself be enough to solve the sustainability problem? I don’t think so. Surely innovation must also play a part in creating the new world.
The technology piece is more elusive to many of us because of a collective lack of awareness of transcendent possibilities that also threaten the status quo, especially the “free” energy technologies that have shown proofs-of-concept but have been violently suppressed ever since the time of Nikola Tesla. But many of us are skeptical of even its possibility because we don’t have it now and we don’t understand the complex process of research and development of bold new technologies, which in this case has not at all been supported. I’m certain we could have it through further development if we so choose, in spite of all the scientific naysaying. My essay The Turquoise Revolution posted on my website addresses the nagging question of why most scientists, environmentalists and progressives deny the possibility of a future with breakthrough clean energy and water technologies.
This is quite analogous to the development of aviation. The Wrights had been flying for about two years, with thousands witnessing this, yet the journalist covering the first flights was fired and Scientific American wrote an editorial saying aviation was a fraud. Well, on the energy question, the Wrights have been flying many times and while we can’t project exactly which specific technology(ies) will be the one(s) we’ll adopt, we are learning the principles that will make it work after further development. The results can be elegant by imposing the requirement of sustainability throughout the process–unlike the development of nuclear power.
I completely agree that 1950s sci-fi style technology, i.e., monorails, etc, will not do the trick. But newer, more sustainable technologies could be researched. When combined with re-localized governance and monetary systems, radical innovation will be necessary for us to have a prayer of achieving a truly sustainable future. Unfortunately, the earlier Zeitgeist films did not represent these possibilities (I haven’t seen the latest one), and restricts the visionary part of the film to the work of Jacques Fresco of the Venus Project, which is a very limited vision (e.g., monorails) of what we can actually create.
The caveat in doing the research and introducing the technologies is IF they can be responsibly implemented. This goes back to the question of social/economic/political responsibility at all levels of action, from local to regional to global. In other words, from my perspective, having seen experimental devices actually work in many laboratories in many countries but where these researchers have been stymied, I can vouch with high confidence that the technology piece can be established and a truly sustainable future can be designed, the hard parts being to undo the suppression and to implement the new projects ethically.
To achieve our shared desire for sustainability, I believe we’re going to need to have protected R&D centers worldwide, or “innovation sanctuaries” (an idea we introduced in one of our breakout groups during the Phoenix Gathering) and a very careful management for the implementation. I’m talking principally about breakthrough clean energy, water purification/restructuring, and some of the excellent ideas now coming out in restoration ecology and other nature-friendly ideas (e.g., Gunter Pauli’s The Blue Economy). The state-of-the-art of sustainable innovation needs to be much better understood by all of us so we can make intelligent choices rather than flying blind as we are now, where by default, the important decisions are being made at the corporate/government level with no regard to sustainability. But technology can serve us well if we’re wise about how it should be applied; we needn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
So I see re-localization as a promising social innovation, with a cross-cut of sustainable R&D carefully introduced into a distributed culture. Our imperiled planetary environment is a physical situation that calls out for physical solutions that only deeper awareness, knowledge and wisdom can solve.