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The Green Life: Ecology and Economy at West Coast Green

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September 26, 2008

Ecology and Economy at West Coast Green

"We've got to put the 'eco' back into economics." That was the thrust of David Suzuki's keynote address today at the West Coast Green conference in San Jose, California. If we don't understand where our resources come from and where our waste goes, he said, "it becomes easy to accept what our so-called leaders tell us." What are we told? That it's the economy--not the earth--that sustains us. "Trees take carbon dioxide out of the air and turn it into oxygen. That's not a bad service for an animal like us." 

Fast forward 20 minutes or so to a keynote by Hunter Lovins, president and founder of Natural Capitalism, Inc. "It is the economy," she said, before presenting a series of companies (Wal-Mart and DuPont among them) that have begun conserving energy, improving efficiency, reducing waste, and generally shrinking their environmental impact with an eye trained squarely on the bottom line. "The economy is going to drive the sorts of changes we need f we have even a little of that foresight," she said, referring to insight that helps you recognize "predictable surprises," or what bestselling author Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls black swans.

What gives Lovins such confidence? Nonrenewable resources, by definition, will run out, and business as usual will have to change. "The future is not possible," she said. "And when the future is not possible, you know you're staring a driver of change in the face." There's just one hangup: "We have this little problem with rate and magnitude. The problems are coming faster than we thought and the solutions are coming way too slow."

Finding solutions with as much urgency as our carbon burn-rate demands requires a different mindset, Suzuki said. He described the final weeks of his father's life, spent with Suzuki and his sisters. "Never once did we say, 'Gee, Dad, do you remember that great car you bought back in 1957? Remember those clothes you had?' It was all about family and friends," he said. "Life is not about money or stuff. It's about the kinds of things we do together in a joyful way."

All well and good, said Lovins--but not enough. "I don't care what's in your heart. I care what you do." To get started, she suggested looking to The Lord of the Rings. "In the end, it was these two fun loving, unassuming little hobbits who took on this task. The little people saved the world."

Share your thoughts: What do you think about the relationship between ecology and the economy? Do you agree with David Suzuki, Hunter Lovins, both, or neither? Where do you find inspiration to go green?

Update: Check out this Triple Pundit post by Clara Kuo to find out what Al Gore and former California Governor Jerry Brown had to say about the two ecos at West Coast Green.

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