There have been some memorable commencement speeches: Stanford's 2005 address comes to mind. But Paul Hawken’s 2009 University of Portland’s address might have set the bar even higher. In it, Hawken describes how every living system is declining, at an accelerating rate: “Spaceship Earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food—but all that is changing”.
We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. We are the only species on the planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy Earth in real time rather than renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the Earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the Earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.
There are good reasons to be pessimistic, but Hawken thinks the world is coalescing around the largest movement the world has ever seen, the movement of ideas. To U of P freshmen, Hawken had a striking message: “You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. The Earth couldn’t afford to send recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint”.
The Movement of Ideas
“In evolutionary terms, usually giantism is the end of the line--it's not the beginning. It’s not power--it’s the end of power. I think we’re seeing the sunset effect of power in many manifestations. I believe that neo-conservatism and other types of quasi-populist movements are really the deathroes of the ideological movements, and what we’re seeing is a movement arising that is not ideological, it’s really about ideas. It’s a very important distinction because ideologies really constrain and dictate. If you’re part of an ideological movement, you can’t stray far before you’re rapped on the knuckles. You stray further than that and you’re excommunicated; like if you’re a liberation theologist in the Catholic Church. In a movement of ideas, ideas are welcomed. Ideas you try out--if they work you keep them and if they don’t you toss them, it’s like evolution. Ideas open up and liberate because ideas breed ideas. Ideologies do not breed ideologies. Ideologies breed schisms and conflict and violence. Every ism in the world has ended up a schism. What’s so marvelous about this new movement is that the very thing that people would keynote as being powerless, that is to say, “Oh, there are a million organisations, they’re atomized, most of them are grassroots, most of them are small, how can they possibly stand up to, or have any effect on, the powers that be?”, what is so lovely about this movement, is that it can’t be divided because it started that way. What it can do is, due to modern technologies—smartphones, texting, internet—it can start to link up and hook up, connect and collaborate, and coalesce in ways unimaginable. And because it’s under-resourced and underfunded it’s actually much more agile and effective and efficient.”