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Guiding Principles for the New Economy

Scott Cooney | Friday November 13th, 2009 | 3 Comments

gbconfAs the Green Business Conference wraps up its second and final day before giving way to the world’s largest green event (San Francisco’s Green Festival, also put on by Green America), Bryan Welch, Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications, lent his weight to the festivities, giving the keynote address.  In it, he laid out four guiding principles for the new economy and how these questions can help us create a three dimensional vision for the future of business, species, and planet.

Welch’s resume is impressive.  Ogden Publications publishes Utne Reader, Mother Earth News, Herb Companion, and Natural Home magazines.

Welch challenged attendees to visualize a sustainable society.  If we could simply imagine the kind of society we want to live in, we can backcast in order to arrive at a plan to get there.

There are three mountains we need to climb.  The first is the conservation issue we see today.  Climate change is likely the most pressing issue facing us today.  The second is the human population.  At some point, we have to manage our own population.  As Thomas Friedman points out, deforestation and the burning of forest land in order to clear land for cattle grazing puts out more carbon emissions than all the transportation systems on the planet.  This, of course, is as closely tied to human population growth as any other environmental issue.  The third mountain is the challenge of keeping the economy going if and when the human population starts to level out.

Welch describes a turning point in his life: when he wrecked a motorcycle going around a curve.  The accident didn’t happen because he was going too fast or because the road was wet.  It was because he lost his confidence and concentration on his destination.  As anyone who has ridden a motorcycle (or a mountain bike, for that matter) knows, if you look at something and focus on it too much, you’ll hit it.  He had lost confidence, then turned his focus on the guardrail that was the only thing keeping him and a cliff apart.   It’s this “destination fascination” that begs the question:  can we keep our focus on the road ahead, or will we hit a guardrail (or a rock, if you’re a mountain biker) because we lose our confidence and focus?

Welch suggests four questions to guide us as we head down this path.

1.  Is it fair?  It’s a consensus between all parties involved in any process.

2.  Is it repeatable?  Anything that can’t be repeated is not going to help pave the path to sustainability.

3.  Is it beautiful?  Perhaps the biggest reason Marxism didn’t work…arguably, as Welch suggests, because it did not create beauty.

4.  Does it create abundance?  Abundance is inherent in everything we do.  We need to plan for abundance and work toward it.  Otherwise, we’ll spend our entire lives on the margin.

Welch closed by saying that before we can create, we should aspire.  One of his aspirations is to see areas, wide open wilderness areas, where we can go camping and…be eaten.  He, in fact, would like to start a magazine for people who like to camp in places where they can be eaten.  Now that’s an aspiration I can get on board with.  Without ever having thought about it before, it’s exactly why I surf at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.  Something inside me likes the fact that every time I surf, I can be eaten.  In some strange, masochisti-buddhist way, it makes me feel more connected to Mother Earth.  It’s fair.  I enter the water freely, with full knowledge that I may look like a seal from underneath.  Is it repeatable?  You bet.  As often as humanly possible.  Is it beautiful?  If only in my own head, yes.  Does it create abundance?  Like nothing else I do.

Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business:  Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and is reporting live from day 2 of Green America’s Green Business Conference in beautiful San Francisco, CA.

Twitter:  scottcooney


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  • Jahrn

    I can’t tell what’s worse, Welch’s four questions or Cooney’s crappy article. Marxism “didn’t work” because power corrupts. Oh, but don’t tell China they aren’t working or they might call in America’s debt. These guys should put down their dog-eared copies of “Ecotopia” and discover economics. Absolute rubbish, 3P.

  • Dave MC

    I think I understand what the guy means when he talks about going places where you can be “eaten”, but still a little bit of a dopey analogy.

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  • Bryan Welch

    Thanks for the mention, Scott. Well done. I notice a previous commenter believes the economic gospels currently enshrined contain all the wisdom we will ever need. I could almost wish that it were true.