Blessed Unrest: A Story of What’s Right about a Wronged World

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by H. Bruce Rinker, Ph.D.

During my recent attendance at the COP16 U.N. Global Climate Change Conference in Cancún, I learned from a friend and colleague about a soul-filled book published in 2007 by environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken brilliantly titled “Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming.”  It is a visionary prescription for healthy ways of living that honor Earth and its inhabitants.  A summary of Hawken’s overall message can also be viewed at http://www.blessedunrest.com/video.html.  The book has been endorsed by Jane Goodall, Bill McKibben, Terry Tempest Williams, David Suzuki, and numerous other scientists and activists.  For the life of me, I don’t know why I had not heard about this incredible book until the Cancún conference.

“Blessed Unrest” is a field guide of hope-filled creative possibilities for social and environmental action in a wounded world.  And we are its wounded healers.

Hawken’s arresting title refers to the emergence of a million nonprofits around the world that work toward interconnected, intertwined issues like ecological sustainability, economic justice, human rights protection, political accountability, and peace.  Many of these organizations can be found via an online commercial-free database at www.wiserearth.org.  I located 33 groups listed within 10 miles or so of Roanoke including the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the National Organization of Women, the Blue Ridge Orchid Society, Total Action against Poverty, and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.  These global nonprofits are the keepers of the flame, so to speak, for right action in our world of nearly 7 billion souls.  Representing thousands of disciplines or practices, they do not share a charismatic leader or unifying ideology.  As Hawken declares plainly in his book, these nonprofits are “humanity’s immune response to toxins like political corruption, economic disease, and ecological degradation.”  Their diverse emergence identifies what is humane and not humane in a wounded world, just as our immune system recognizes self and non-self.

For a moment, let me return to the idea of three interacting factors that promote sustainable development: environmental soundness, economic viability, and social equity.  In response to one of my recent columns, one reader accused me of being a “thumb-sucking socialist” for my call for sustainable development (see “How to Make a Cow,” http://theroano.wwwmi3-ss14.a2hosted.com/?p=8162).  In a world of 7 billion people, we simply must learn to share our resources in common purpose as a single species on an ancient planet.  Call such an estimable goal whatever you wish.

In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, informally known as the Earth Summit, convened in Brazil with nearly 20,000 attendees to produce a comprehensive action plan called “Agenda 21.”  The plan is divided into four major sections with more than 2500 specific actions to deal with our most urgent global problems:

• Social and economic dimensions (including ways to combat poverty and promote human health)

• Conservation and management of resources for development (including chapters on the atmosphere, deforestation, agriculture and rural development, freshwater resources, and hazardous wastes)

• Strengthening the role of major groups (including NGO’s, local authorities, trade unions, farmers, business and industry, and the scientific and technological communities)

• Means of implementation (including financial resources, education, international cooperation, and capacity-building strategies)

A quick online search for “Agenda 21 follow-up” yields millions of hits to show how governments and agencies around the world have responded through the past two decades to the  clarion call of the United Nations for action.  Humanity imparts a substantial and relentless footprint on Earth’s column of life: from atmosphere to bedrock.  “Agenda 21” provides a clear blueprint for local, national, and global action in just about every area of governance that affects our environment.  Despite the lack of significant change at the international level since 1992, important environmental and social progress has been made by individuals, corporations, and local governments around the world with billions of dollars invested in sustainable development projects.  Certain change is happening from the bottom up across the planet.

Indeed, a “Blessed Unrest” confronts us daily with its drive toward equity and sustainability.  The movement has emerged time and again throughout our recent history, each time widening the context beyond ourselves to include the world around us.  Now, thankfully, it has a holistic view of the human condition.  It embraces our species within its broad social and ecological contexts with an eye toward the distant future.

I heartily recommend Hawken’s book, “Blessed Unrest,” to my readers here in the Roanoke Valley and beyond.  In this new year, let us all vow never to rest until we have achieved environmental soundness, economic viability, and social equity across the globe.  That is my blessed hope in 2011.