About: The whole earth vision has been lost. We no longer live (if we ever did) in a world where humans live in harmony with other species in the biosphere and all have access to what we need to live healthy, safe and purposeful lives. Perhaps this can be achieved by a civil, global movement from the bottom-up.
The Whole Earth Catalog – a revolution
Over 50 years ago, Stewart Brand launched the Whole Earth Catalog. Steve Jobs, at a commencement speech at Stanford, described it like this: “It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along. It was idealistic and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.” It was indeed a valuable reference tool for people looking for information, tools, ideas around self-sufficiency and DIY (do it yourself) ways of life. Jobs closed his speech with the words quoted on the back cover of the 1974 final edition of the Whole Earth Catalog: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
Going back to the beginning, one of the early editions of the catalog had one of the first color photos of earth from space. Appropriate! The photo above is not the cover photo but is from the same 1968 Apollo 8 mission.
Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, involved in several Apollo missions, says that in seeing the photo:
“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch’.”
The Whole Earth Discipline, a renewed dimension
Grabbing politicians by the scruff of their necks is tempting, especially today when we see the abuse of power in many countries around the world and the damage inflicted on the majority of humans in the world. More on that later.
In the meantime, in 2009, Stewart Brand wrote Whole Earth Discipline and explained “the Whole Earth Catalog encouraged individual power; Whole Earth Discipline is more about aggregate power.”
The whole earth vision, unfortunately, has been lost. We need a new whole earth vision on planet Earth, one where people have access to what they need to live healthy, safe and purposeful lives. One where humans live in harmony with other species in the biosphere.
Baby steps in the right direction
My interest in the whole earth dimension started with the emergence of the “gig mindset” I observed several years ago during my research about the organization in the digital age. (See The long story on my website netjmc.) In my book – The Gig Mindset Advantage, a Bold New Breed – I talk about how gig mindsetters, bold employees who question the status quo, propose radically new ways of working and are evolving while mobilizing others to join them in a new way of working. For them, the whole earth perspective means the internal organization and the external environment are no longer two separate worlds.
In Whole Earth Discipline published in 2009, Stewart Brand says “the Whole Earth Catalog encouraged individual power; Whole Earth Discipline is more about aggregate power.” My concept of gig mindsetters working together is a starting point to building this reality.
The whole earth needs people standing up for it: corporations, national governments and NGOs are not doing it
Corporations are not reliable whole earth leaders because they are trapped between conflicting shareholder and stakeholder goals.
To be clear, shareholders invest financially in the company and are usually focused on short term goals. Stakeholders are not necessarily invested financially but are impacted by the actions of the company and tend to have a longer-term perspective. Examples include employees, customers, partners, communities and the environment, the latter being the focus of this article.
CEOs and Boards are trapped in the shareholder vs stakeholder balancing act. Most companies act in favor of the shareholders. The Danone story illustrates this conflict.
National governments cannot be counted on because of conflicting history, geographies and priorities.
Rich developed countries and poor less-developed countries have conflicting perspectives. The former acquired wealth in part through actions over years that, inadvertently or through willful blindess, harmed the environment. The latter now say: “You had your chance, now let us have ours”.
The less-developed countries actually make up the majority of the world when it comes to population, but a minority when it comes to power and influence.
Corporations also face multi-country challenge.
Many companies operate in multiple countries and are thus subject to varying environmental laws defined by a given country’s priorities, geography and needs. Based on organizational power structures such as location of headquarters, country divisions, sales, manufacturing and so on, decisions are made that are not based on the well-being of everyone.
Even NGOs, non-transparent, are not the answer
Non-governmental organizations should be neutral, able to offer guidance to overcoming the many challenges we face trying to reach the whole earth perspective. However, some of our largest richest NGOs are not transparent in their work. Lack of transparency leads to lack of trust. Examples I recently read about are The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Wellcome Trust and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI, all of whom have been at the center of the global response to Covid-19.
Full article by Politico: How Bill Gates and partners used their clout to control the global Covid response — with little oversight
“Four health organizations, working closely together, spent almost $10 billion on responding to Covid across the world. But they lacked the scrutiny of governments, and fell short of their own goals, a POLITICO and WELT (a German newspaper) investigation found.”
So, we are left with the need for real global agreements
Today we have some groups attempting to act as a global guide for the whole earth, but the ones I know do not work for two reasons:
(1) Consensus. They operate on the need for consensus, which usually results in agreeing on the lowest common denominator rather than the original stated goal.
Initiatives such as the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP) have been a disappointment. Kim Stanley Robinson, author of science fiction work “The Ministry for the Future” attended COP 26. On a virtual talk he gave for the Long Now Foundation, he reported that in the negotiating rooms he saw that COP is consensus-driven, meaning there are no final decisions unless they are unanimous. He gave the example of how eliminating fossil fuels became diminishing fossil fuels. Listen to one of his talks: Climate Futures: Beyond 02022 (YouTube link)
(2) Show. The lack of concrete results has been a major criticism of the Business Roundtable. 180 major companies had agreed that part of the corporate mission is to “deliver value to all stakeholders”. But this did not happen in many cases. In addition, it appeared that many of the members, all CEOs, did not raise the issue of joining the BRT to their Boards. Was it because their board members would have disapproved?
Looking to Hawken’s Blessed Unrest for a new model
I discovered Paul Hawken’s work in The Whole Earth Discipline. In 2007, Hawken wrote Blessed Unrest, describing what he called the largest “social movement in all of human history”. The full title is Blessed Unrest. How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. The movement is made up of thousands of organizations around the world: small non-profit, communities, social justice groups and more. None of which are governments or “official organizations”.
These organizations are not aware of each other, and he learned about them when, giving talks around the world over 15 years about the environment – his specialty, people came up to him afterwards telling him what they were doing and giving him their cards. He ended up with over one thousand cards, then decided to do more research and concluded there were over one million of these small, unrecognized organizations working towards ecological sustainability and social justice.
A Native American taught me that the division between ecology and human rights was an artificial one, that the environmental and social justice movements addressed two sides of a single larger dilemma. The way we harm the earth affects all people, and how we treat one another is reflected in how we treat the earth.
Nature, a world we do not know, and should
We live and work disconnected from nature. We spend more time inside, working with artificial light, air cooled or heated, than in green spaces. Some weekend activities such as hiking, gardening are an exception – but that’s the point, exceptions. Worse still, we do not consider humans and nature to all be part of the same thing. We feel that humans are superior to animals and plants and have for centuries.
Our thinking is (mistakenly although well-meaningly) limited to focusing on the resources we extract from the earth and the damage they do.
We need to also become “nature positive”
Whether we join a group like those described by Paul Hawken, or join the movement unofficially in our own minds and actions, we need to change our mindsets and work to influence those around us, while advancing step by step.
The photo, Earthrise, is the first color image of the earth from the moon taken by astronaut William Anders on December 24, 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission.