Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bryan Welch (of Utne & Mother Earth News)

At the New Life Eco Fest last weekend I caught the Saturday talk by Bryan Welch, publisher of magazines Mother Earth News, Utne Reader (e.g.: Get the Koch Brothers Out of Your Gear ), & Natural Home and Garden. Welch is also the author of Beautiful and Abundant: Building the World We Want. His talk was interesting, since it challenged my priorities; and he's a good speaker.

He made the argument for a positive focus on sustainability, & skirting around the consequences if we don't act - or as he said in motorcyclist parlance, "don't focus on the guardrail".
(which ties into a comment Ken Caldeira made, several days back, on how metaphors can help understanding or hinder it.)

Here's how it went:

Like the rest of the sustainability folk, he's a "carrot" man - his view is, to build a movement you need to cut out the doom & gloom, and make it fun. You don't build subscribership for a magazine by focusing on doom & gloom; Mother Earth News flourishes because it gives its readers a resource that helps them take positive personal action toward helping the world.

"This [creating the positive vision] is not trivial";
"You start walking...start climbing the hill to get a perspective on a world we want our grandchildren to live in"; "idealize the destination; don't be realistic";

His Quaker Queries - to guide activities toward a positive future -
  • is it beautiful?
  • does it create abundance? (you need a surplus to be truly creative; if a business is undercapitalized, it can't afford to innovate)
  • is it fair?
  • is it contagious?
He did seem to concur that government policy changes were needed, & that the carrots were about building political will - in saying that politicians are part of a machine that has no will of its own, the only will they have is to get elected; & when people change their minds, governments turn over; and that we need to create positive incentives to move the public will in this direction.

"we've allowed ourselves to become a tribe with limited membership"; "we need joyful messages".

Critiques of the talk - back here (plus Orlov's & Ruppert in same thread); also the following:

...these Quaker queries are all well & good - especially the last - but the problem, IMO, is that a fifth query - "is it effective?" - is missing; and while you might think effectiveness is covered by "is it contagious?", it's really not: contagion won't generate effectiveness, if that contagion is limited to particular groups.

And Welch's experience as a magazine publisher may be leading him astray: a publisher or author can have astounding success when even a small proportion of the population becomes a customer; but that small proportion isn't enough, for reducing greenhouse gases - we need essentially everyone participating. And the only way to get that, is with government policy.

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