What Are You For?

February 1, 2010

Michelle Knapik, Environment Program Director


It is easy to scan headlines, press releases and the like to see what people are against, but how often do we read statements of and perhaps even blueprints about what people are for? Yesterday’s teen temperatures made it easy to stay indoors and curl up with my laptop for some less than light reading on what needs to happen if “human and natural communities” are going to find a harmonious path to a sustainable future. If you are ready to dive into 19 “What we are for” visions of a sustainable future, then the new book The Coming Transformation: Values to Sustain Human and Natural Communities is for you.

This publication comes from the Yale School of Forestry and it builds on their 2007 conference: “Toward a New Consciousness: Creating a Society in Harmony with Nature.” The event brought more than 100 leaders in science, business, policy, the arts, philosophy, religion, and other areas to “to explore the necessity of a fundamental transformation in human values toward the natural world as a necessary and neglected component of arresting the linked environmental and social crises of our time.”


Did I mentioned that Dodge’s David Grant was a conference participant and that one of the book’s chapters is based on David’s essay, In Pursuit of Sustainability (also the substance of Dodge’s 2006/2007 biennial report)? I should also say that chapter after chapter brought me closer to an array of other modern day sustainability superheroes: Gus Speth, Steve Kellert, Jonathan F. P. Rose, Peter Brown, Paul Raskin, John Ehrenfeld, Peter Forbes, Ray Anderson, and so on.

Here are a few excerpts to entice the dreamers and the policy geeks:

“It is my deep conviction that the only option is a change in the sphere of the spirit, in the sphere of human conscience. It’s not enough to invent new machines, new regulations, new institutions. We must develop a new understanding of the true purpose of our existence on this Earth” Gus Speth

“If the future is going to be different, we have to go far beyond these little piecemeal gestures and begin to see the systems in which we’re embedded.… What would it take to shift the whole?… When all is said and done, the only change that will make a difference is the transformation of the human heart’” Peter Senge et al.

The emergence of a new suite of values is the foundation of the entire edifice of our planetary society. Consumerism, individualism, and domination of nature — the dominant values of yesteryear – have given way to a new triad: quality of life, human solidarity, and ecological sensibility.”  – Paul Raskin, the Great Transition Initiative and the Tellus Institute.

How would schooling change if it were completely overhauled so as to educate students to observe, assess, and interpret environmental change? What if our most prominent educators and scientists developed an approach to K-16 schooling in which an under-standing of the biosphere – a Gaian approach – became the foundation of an entire curriculum?Mitchell Thomashow

These new conservation leaders have moved beyond “staying on mission” to lead by responding to what’s actually happening in the world right now. They are regularly speaking their vision for the future, finding the language and story that reaches more Americans, recognizing and speaking aloud past mistakes and injustices. – Peter Forbes, Center for Whole Communities

I believe that this “what are you for” crowd is comprised of entrepreneurial thinkers – people who are “searchers” (as opposed to planners or supporters);  people who make the impossible (sustainable future) possible.   I see David Grant as a “searcher” in the philanthropic community. He has turned “In Pursuit of Sustainability” into a “community conversation” and expanded the conversation to include Dodge’s newly framed grantmaking themes of “creativity and sustainability” (also see David’s related blog entry). It has also been written that “entrepreneurial thinking is not just a passing fad and it does not lead to quick success. In order to be effective, the entrepreneurial spirit should be incorporated into goals, strategies and values of the organization.”  How do you describe “what you are for” and how it is showing up in your organization’s goals, strategies and values?