28 Jan 2014
Lipkis on Holmgren: "Our job is to make viable the alternative and have it ready"
You know how sometimes someone will just put something you were thinking far more eloquently and clearly than you would have been able to? On Thursday we’ll be posting an interview with Andy Lipkis of TreePeople in Los Angeles. When I talked to Andy last week, it was 80°F, and a state of drought emergency had just been declared (in LA, not Totnes, it was raining here, as usual). At the end of the interview, I asked for his thoughts on the recent debate sparked by David Holmgren’s Crash on Demand article. I asked him “Can we achieve the action on climate change that we need within the existing paradigm, or do we need to deliberately bring the economy down, to deliberately crash it?”. Here’s what he told me.
“This system is so armoured to defend itself from a deliberate crash that much of our resources and intelligence networks are focused on exactly stopping that. On the flip side, the crash is already happening. We don’t have to engineer it: it’s already been engineered into the system. Check it out: Infrastructure systems are in breakdown in major cities around the world, with severe climate exceeding the designed capacity for storms, floods, water shortages, heat events resulting in increasing numbers of people being dislocated, injured or killed. In the US, taxpayers are unwilling or unable to pay for the rapidly inflating costs for upgrading and climate-proofing the outmoded infrastructure systems, all the while, climate change denial campaigns prevent communities from preparing for and protecting themselves from the impacts.
I think our job is to make viable the alternative and have it ready. If we’ve really done our homework, we could scale this thing in a flash in California right now because this crash is upon us. And I hope we’re going to be able, perhaps within months…I invented a cistern that could replace the backyard fence or wall, that could hold 5,000 – 20,000 gallons and could be manufactured locally. The City’s going “hey, maybe we should do that now”. Now. Because it’s going to rain again, even if this drought lasts some years, we could deploy them quickly, just as they did in Australia’s 12 year drought.
I think we’ve been trained to spend time on these battles, on the negativity, and we lose people. We’ve lost precious decades. The crash is on its way. We don’t have to do anything. We need the time to convert people and move people. We need to use examples of Australia and what’s happening now in California to tell those stories, because I agree, denial, defending the system is keeping it pumping. But as you saw from Snowden and all the evidence, for those of us who went through the ‘60s and ‘70s in protest, I don’t think that’s going to succeed. If we focus on that our best leaders are going to end up in jail for too long.
When you look at how fast people change when you add inspiration, when you add attraction, people change on a dime! When we were growing up, there were – I don’t know if you had The Munsters? One of the only people who we all knew who was doing yoga and eating yoghurt was Uncle Fester. But when we started seeing beautiful, sexy male and female bodies doing that, it started selling, moving people by the millions and then billions to choose these lifestyles.
I’m not saying the marketplace is the only answer, I’m just saying that if we choose attraction and inclusion we can create those markets, as you’re starting to do. Your stories over and over again on what’s happening with local currency – it’s time to tell the stories better and use those market forces, because people will choose those because they’re less painful and more attractive. And to be smart, to say wow, yeah.
The Bush administration was ready for all Americans to be protesting to try to stop the Iraq war. They expected that, they built that into their design. I was so amazed that they could say they didn’t care what the people said, that I had to think through why they did not care about that. How did they make it resilient? Because all they cared about was as long as people kept consuming, especially petroleum, their objective was being met. They were counting on no-one changing lifestyles.
The most radical thing sometimes that you can do is actually vote with your feet and vote with your dollars. I was going – “wow, yeah, they’re counting on people complaining”. Protesting and not changing. I started thinking that even the Obama administration is still using the same metrics as the Bush administration was, saying people won’t change on energy. “It’s going to take 35 years to reduce our energy use by 30%”. Well that’s bullshit, because we can choose to do that in a week.
So, I decided that I was going to show that that’s possible even in my own lifestyle. I drive a Prius which is especially fuel efficient, but I’m going to stop driving that car two or three days a week. I told my secretary to book meetings downtown where I could get the bus to. I got out of the car, took the bus, and it actually became a really cool thing. I started investing my dollars in the local bus system. I did it for over two years. I blogged about it. A lot of other people stopped full time car use, and right at the right time as gasoline prices were spiking, a proposal came out to build a new transit system. It’s always been rejected in LA, but the voters at that moment chose to fund 40 billion dollars to build a new subway system in Los Angeles so we could get out of our cars. It’s a radical move, but it’s starting to happen.
So maybe that’s a long complicated answer, but we’ve built the right foundation. Our happiness, our health is the answer. It’s infectious. Our job is to be that much more infectious and inclusive. And don’t put up barriers of titles. Don’t put up barriers of shame and blame. Be open to learning fast and welcoming people in. We’re hacking the system and making it so much better. If we invite that kind of creativity, the generation that’s inheriting this right now is really ready to take this home.