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That’ll be the Day

Who are you calling a dying city Newsweek?

Couldn’t be Grand Rapids Michigan! These guys were none too pleased to be included in a recent Newsweek piece on the bleakest cities in the land and decided to send a message to the media giant and their fellow Americans. Their medium of choice? A 9 minute, $40,000 music video set to “American Pie” featuring more than 5,000 of their citizens and a production that all but shut down downtown.

With almost 3,000,000 views on youtube as of this posting, it looks like they’re having no trouble showing the world how un-dead they really are. And really, it’s an important reminder that media outlets are in it to generate a profit like any other business. Bad news sells, even if it isn’t always the whole truth. Aren’t things tough enough without inventing more reasons to keep us up at night Newsweek?

Down but not Out! From Grand Rapids to America to the World!

It is vitally important to remember to be grateful for people like Bill Mckibben, the brave leader of the movement, who not only keeps shining the bright light of truth at us whether we like it or not, but does it with wit, eloquence and even occasional irony.

This video is a narration of Mckibben’s recent piece in the Washington Post set to the astonishing imagery of climate disruptions over the past year masterfully constructed by Stephen Thomson of

And if you didn’t think it was possible to laugh about climate change, there’s always The Onion!

Air Force veteran Tim Goodrich understands better than almost anyone else the perils of a policy of endless wars to secure precious resources. After his three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s come home to a new start and a new perspective on how to achieve the oft discussed “National Security”.

He loves his new Nissan Leaf, the latest electric vehicle to hit the consumer market and the first one to be widely available since the oil and auto makers vanquished the very promising EV1 back in the late ’90’s, not just because his days of $100 tanks of gas are over, but because electric vehicles and any other path toward decreasing our dependence on oil make us safer globally and environmentally.

Goodrich says the military is even looking into using electric vehicles in combat since they have lower heat signatures making them harder to track, and they are obviously not an explosion risk since there is no combustion taking place.

As for common complaints about the 100 mile range and availability of charging stations, Goodrich has an app for that.

Ninety percent of Americans drive less than 100 miles a day, and to me it just means doing a bit more planning before I set out. I was recently concerned about the amount of driving I had to do, so I consulted the map on my Leaf iPhone app and found a station right near the UCS campus. When I pulled up there, they were just dedicating the station, and I became the first customer.

From a soldier on the field of battle to a soldier for a sustainable future, it looks like Tim Goodrich won’t be giving up the fight any time soon.

A phoenix from the ashes.

We need to stop trying to measure progress by calculating the worst our society has to offer.

Extensive research has revealed that the dramatically escalating consumption of the last half century has brought no increase in the satisfaction levels of Americans. According to Manfred Max-Neef’s “Threshold Hypothesis” when macroeconomic systems expand beyond a certain size, the additional benefits of growth are exceeded by the attendant costs. (Max-Neef 1995.)

And as Elizabeth Kolbert eloquently illuminates in the New Yorker:

But let’s imagine, for a moment, that we had enjoyed ourselves for the past fifty years. Surely, trashing the planet is just as wrong if people take pleasure in the process as it is if they don’t. The same holds true for leaving future generations in hock and for exploiting the poor and for shrugging off inequality. Happiness is a good thing; it’s just not the only thing.

And this is all to say nothing of the actual dollars and cents value of the contributions of nature to our fiscal progress. Whether you’re using the GDP or something more realistic, you can’t discount the $33 trillion per year (in the 1990’s) that nature contributes to our economy (as calculated by Robert Costanza and other theorists of natural capital). Researchers arrived at the figure by analyzing 17 specific areas of contribution by the natural environment, including water filtration, pest control, pollination and erosion control among others.

So what are the alternatives? Measuring and evaluating our progress as a society is important work and we don’t want to “throw the baby out with the bath water”. Enter the Genuine Progress Indicator or GPI. Developed in 1995 by a few geniuses in California, it was promptly and whole heartedly endorsed by about 400 other geniuses (Nobel laureates, economists, business leaders etc) in the following joint statement:
Since the GDP measures only the quantity of market activity without accounting for the social and ecological costs involved, it is both inadequate and misleading as a measure of true prosperity. Policy-makers, economists, the media, and international agencies should cease using the GDP as a measure of progress and publicly acknowledge its shortcomings. New indicators of progress are urgently needed to guide our society…The GPI is an important step in this direction.
The creator of the GDP himself even warned of its limitations:
The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income… Goals for “more” growth should specify of what and for what.
A group in Nova Scotia currently working towards a shift to the GPI astutely observes
The things we measure and count — quite literally — tell us what we value as a society and determine the policy agendas of governments.
The GPI may not be the last word in progress measurement, but it is certainly a more complete indicator than what we’re currently working with. The group in Nova Scotia has this to say about the scope of the GPI
The GPI system and framework is based on a capital accounting framework, in which the value of human, social, and natural capital are recognized along with the manufactured and financial capital that are currently measured. Like conventional capital, this human, social, and natural capital is seen as subject to depreciation, and requiring re-investment in the event of depletion or degradation. Based on this approach, the GPI assesses the economic costs of liabilities like crime, pollution, sickness, and natural resource depletion, rather than counting defensive expenditures in these areas as contributions to prosperity (as current measures do).
At this point, it’s safe to assume that as the GDP increases the actual quality of life will be decreasing. What does that say about the relevance of financial capital to social capital?

The Happy Planet Index is economics at its most basic: Input vs Output of a system. With one small difference. It’s focus is on efficiency or true economy. The New Economics Foundation, a “think-and-do-tank” that breathes some life into the musty theories of economics, has taken on the considerable task of demonstrating and then communicating that our lives can be rich and fulfilling without destroying the planet through their Happy Planet Index. It seems like they’ve succeeded in creating something imminently understandable yet profound.

The HPI reflects the average years of happy life produced by a given society, nation or group of nations, per unit of planetary resources consumed. Put another way, it represents the efficiency with which countries convert the earth’s finite resources into well-being experienced by their citizens.

Attempting to quantify and measure the happiness level of a group of people is a daunting and controversial task whose very feasibility has been debated since the beginning of time. With a clear understanding of the complexities at play, here’s what the HPI team has to say:

In recent years, the debate has moved from philosophy to the realm of science, with a growing body of research identifying what it means to be happy, what drives it and how to measure it. For us, being ‘happy’ is more than just having a smile on your face – we use the term subjective well-being to capture its complexity. Aside from feeling ‘good’, it also incorporates a sense of individual vitality, opportunities to undertake meaningful, engaging activities which confer feelings of competence and autonomy, and the possession of a stock of inner resources that helps one cope when things go wrong. Well-being is also about feelings of relatedness to other people – both in terms of close relationships with friends and family, and belonging to a wider community.

Understanding the ecological footprint of an individual or group is relatively straightforward by comparison, but their attempt to break it down is still worth a read.

From here it’s just a matter of plugging the data into their elegant equation and making sense of the results.

The HPI shows that around the world, high levels of resource consumption do not reliably produce high levels of well-being, and that it is possible to produce high well-being without excessive consumption of the Earth’s resources. It also reveals that there are different routes to achieving comparable levels of well-being. The model followed by the West can provide widespread longevity and variable life satisfaction, but it does so only at a vast and ultimately counter-productive cost in terms of resource consumption.

The complete results for over 140 countries can be found here. You probably won’t be surprised to see that the US falls into the “blood red” footprint category and shares the crown with most of Africa, Cambodia and Iraq.

And why is this measurement not only relevant but critically important? Once again the near religious worship of Growth as the means to any end is proving to be no more than an academic concept that becomes incredibly destructive when put into practice.

Biologists talk about physical growth as a process which has an optimum level beyond which further growth is not beneficial, and can indeed turn malignant. Economic growth can be subjected to the same analysis. Aside from the obvious environmental impacts which we have already discussed, there is gathering evidence that an obsession with growth may have led us to ignore other aspects of life critical to our well-being. This is where the HPI has a crucial role: pointing us towards a new vision of progress which does not depend on ever-increasing growth.

During an economic crisis, it may seem inopportune to question the centrality of economic growth. Now more than ever, governments around the world are desperate to restart growth by any means possible. And yet we should not lose sight of the fact that economic growth is just one strategy to achieve well-being and, in terms of natural resources, a demonstrably inefficient one. Rather than pursuing growth at all costs, even if detrimental to well-being or sustainability, leaders should be striving to foster well-being and pursue sustainability, even if detrimental to growth. The horse and the cart need to be returned to their rightful places.


She’s an anthropologist who examined the intersection between culture and behavior, a study that’s only become more crucial as time has gone on. Although she has many choice words of inspiration for us, one in particular stuck out as something that must be said and understood more often by everyone on a Net Positive path. The end of the current form of civilization we have been experimenting with is only that. It does not signal the end for man kind but a new beginning.

Even though the ship may go down, the journey goes on.


Don’t forget to return the favor!

Here’s a few of Edward Burtynsky’s hypnotic portraits of the oil industry. Deeply moving and often unsettling.

His website is full of more oil shots and a few other essays on the decay of industrialization. The pictures of ship breaking are other-worldly.

One of our favorite Pioneering spirits here at Net Positive, Douglas Rushkoff, has recently launched the Contact Summit. Just about 6 months away, this counter-conference as Rushkoff lovingly refers to it, will take place in the big apple on October 20th. Our favorite part is the non-heirarchical structure. All attendants are also presenters if they so choose. The whole event is designed with collaboration in mind and all are welcome to bring their projects to the table. Sounds like a priceless opportunity to mix it up with people who are walking the walk. Here’s the intro from Rushkoff:

We might open with some short “provocations” from people in the field sharing their greatest challenges, but the object of the game is to spawn, share, and develop our hopes and dreams. What will come out of this process is anyone’s guess. At at the very least, we’ll convene meetings about the ideas we care about, and vote on the ideas we want to pursue and push forward. We’ll have a giant Bazaar where everyone can demo their works in progress for one another and seek help, customers, or collaborators. We’ll have the chance to get the advice of leading technologists, entrepreneurs, and theorists on our work, and to educate ourselves about what everyone else is doing.

More than that, we will have planted a flag in the sand that social media is evolutionary in spirit, and capable of addressing the greatest challenges facing humanity at the brink of economic, ecological, and cultural crisis. And to celebrate this fact.

Social media is about more than socializing or creating affinity groups around consumption preferences. If you want to counter the commercialization of this incredible part of the commons, this seems like the chance to do it.