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April 3, 2013

No Excuses

, April 3, 2013

by John Henson

I took away several lessons from David Orr’s recent visit.  The first was that everyone must commit to thinking, acting and buying locally because the creation of resilient and sustaining communities depends on this type of behavior. This hyper-local focus has been the subject of several other blog posts so I won’t belabor it other than to echo Ash Nichols’ post by suggesting that it does tend to shrink down the scale of the problems that we face (at least in the developed world). My sense is that Orr’s view is that we need to emphasize “localization” over “globalization” in terms of where to put our immediate attention and effort – the “you are here” approach that Emily Eckhardt points out in her post.

The second take home lesson was that lack of expertise is no excuse for inaction in the face of the huge challenges that we face.  Orr clearly has very little formal education in many of the wide range of enterprises he is involved in from city planning, to renewable energy generation to sustainable agriculture and wood product plot development.  However this has not prevented him from getting involved in these areas, training himself, reading widely and seeking out opportunities for new learning and new experiences.  His basic question all along has seemed to be “what can I do” and his answer has been much more ambitious and optimistic than the way this question is typically answered.  Most individuals answer this question with the phrase “I can’t do anything” because they feel a lack of the appropriate education, knowledge, skills, funding, influence, etc. necessary to effect change.  However Orr’s approach is that we can educate ourselves to do a great deal we just need to concentrate on local and solvable problems and we need to seek out expertise in the form of knowledge from others.

I also got the sense that Orr believes that each of us has special strengths and that we need to devote these strengths to the cause.  His strengths include written and oral advocacy as well as serving as a protagonist and leader. As he mentioned, it is easy to be right but difficult to be effective and my view is that Orr has evolved into an effective leader and communicator in the climate change adaptation movement.  Finally, I also like how Orr argues for an expansion of the idea of sustainability to include aspects of decency, justice, civility and celebration.  I think that the only way for the anti-climate change movement to gain traction with a majority of the US population is to frame the issue in this all-inclusive way.  Ultimately we need to build a justification for the development of sustainable communities that transcends the climate change issue and earns the status of an inherent good – something that must be pursued even if the negative impacts of climate change were not on the horizon.

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