Sustainability is now associated with low tech and usually biological aspects of long term survival. The term is often synonymous with ecologically friendly business and development prosesses.
The general concept of sustainability is what I was concerned about in 1977 when I began work on what I later called the MetaCity Concept. In those days I was preoccupied with entrepreneurial ideas and had spent countless hours considering what attributes the ideal business opportunity would have.
I was twenty-nine and had already seen numerous businesses grow old and die. Changing markets and evolving technology treated them as though they were fish flopping in the mud of a drying lake. They were dying because they were designed to do something that was no longer required.
I had seen my stepfather make big money selling staples to lettuce growers so they could close the pasteboard boxes in the fields, a job that had been done for decades by the wire clasps on wooden crates. But within ten years that market evaporated like dew on leaves in the Arizona sun. High strength adhesives could close those cartons and the business of staples to box lettuce disappeared like the morning mist.
Thinking about how a business survived became a social rite and coping with change had become a centerpiece of the business press, with articles offing advice and case studies appearing constantly. Change not only in business but in the environment had become the fodder of the daily news. The Club of Rome report was published in 1976 proclaiming the dire consequences of nearly all the trends examined. Population was growing faster than the supplies of food, water, energy and shelter. Global famine and social despair was a certainty within a few generations. Change was coming and it was a bad thing according them, but I was steeped in the business ethic and saw change as opportunity.
I thought the Rome report was entirely wrong. They had not properly factored in the effect of technology and free markets. I believed that the right idea supported by sincere and dedicated people could solve all the problems associated with continuing population growth. I began to work on a strategy taking all of the issues that I could find into account.
I felt that I had a secret weapon. Three years earlier I had an insight about the physics of consciousness that revolutionized my thinking. I applied two ideas from that insight. First was that an enormous change in our view of ourselves and our relationship with Universe awaited us and the second was that the nature of consciousness made proximity to other people an amplifier and homogenizer of thinking. It meant that nationality and genetics were overlaid by the physical/mental environment in which the individual existed. Simply put, that the population centers were the true basis upon which to organize human society.
I longed to make a difference in the world, not just to succeed in business, but to succeed in business as the driving force to build a permanent and sustainable human society. I saw the entrepreneurial spirit as the force to save the world.
However, caution and uncertainty had already become essential ingredients to my mentality. My brother had been the subject of intense investigations by Nixon's Plumbers when he wrote the letters that exposed the My Lai Massacre. Nixon was confident that character assassination on the messenger would succeed in killing the story, but his plan failed because my brother was wise to their ways and studiously avoided giving them the opportunity that they sought. He studied and worked nights in an ice cream factory, refusing offers to appear as a spokesman for antiwar groups and causes. He demonstrated that he came forward out of moral principle and not because he had some need to be the center of attention. Interest by the intelligence community waned but did not disappear, because moral credibility on the world stage is is a constant threat to professional liars.
My own sense of vulnerability to their efforts was perpetual, as I became aware of the enormous investment in covert activities that surrounded our daily lives. He became an investigative reporter and delved into the efforts of the Nixon people to bring the mechanisms of the Phoenix project back to the states under the guise of the war on crime. The skeleton of the politics of entrenchment was laid bare and it was not a pretty sight. Efforts to discuss this in newspapers were scoffed at as paranoid. My brother moved to New Orleans in 1980 and worked as an investigative reporter for the rest of his life, winning the Polk Prize and numerous local awards for his efforts and even had a law protecting the rights of reporters in Louisiana named for him. His courage and insight continue to guide me in my approach to change and the power structure.
Entrenched interests are always a part of the landscape and dealing with their needs can be straight forward. Understanding the legitimacy of their position can be difficult from the perspective an outsider, but the stability and wealth of the world are due to their efforts,just as the destruction and terror of war is their's also. Just things to keep the outsiders in line. Entrenchment is a fact, not a work in progress. Legitimacy is not a subject that the powerless should question. Power provides its own legitimacy and we who would make a difference in the world must do so with the permission of the powerful.
The process of kissing ass is not one at which I excel. Since I began my quest to devise a sustainable development strategy in 1977, I have made zero presentations to rich and/or influential people about it. Many things that I thought were right in 1977 have been adopted, but the main idea is not under consideration yet. Now is the time to move forward with a comprehensive approach to sustainable development.
The emergence of a new and successful global political economy cannot occur from the top down, it will emerge from solving the problems of everyday people in their everyday lives, where they live. It must be a better way of organizing and living their lives that works everywhere and generalizes globally.
I believe that there are several key ideas that must be embodied.
The first is that it must be presented as a complete strategy from the start - such as an International Treaty Proposal - Using the mechanism of a proposed international treaty to detail what is important and stimulate consideration lifts the discussion to the necessary levels.
Low tech starting point - Offer a low tech starting point that can be adopted by small communities of ten to a hundred individuals and grow to encompass everyone.
Embrace technology - Embrace information technology to save the world. It can lift the weight of drudgery from nearly all the people.
Cities are the Centerpiece - The MetaCity Treaty conceptualizes the city as a dynamic and changing canvas to be painted by both humanity and the natural world.
Environmentally Sustainable - Restoration of the natural environment, rather than preservation is the only real approach
Space Colony Model- The basic model of organization, the "operating system", should be applicable to a orbiting space colony and adaptation to local conditions should function as a shell on that underlying structure.
These ideas are peices to add to the mix within our global culture. It is a system with self-reinforcing components that power each others growth. Each component competes with numerous other technologies in the market, but uses the integration of the system to produce superior results.
By choosing a new statring place for global cooperation we can begin a dynamic social economy that generates its own power with enough left over to rebuild our cities, clean our environment and expand our culture into space.
And we should.
May 20, 2006