Wired News chats with environmental economist Paul Hawken about his latest book, how PBS is turning another into a 17-part TV series, and how he is organizing the environmental movement through a collection of wikis. We've excerpted some choice bits.
On defending Rachel Carson:
WN: Can you say more about Carson? The reaction to 1962's Silent Spring set the stage for how multinationals react to environmental and social justice issues today.
Hawken: Rachel Carson was the first person who used science and nature as a basis to question the rights of business. You almost have to say it again to get the meaning. She did not do it overtly, but in elucidating the persistent long-term damage of a new family of pesticides made from chlorinated hydrocarbons, she questioned the assumption that business has greater rights than the environment.
When business realized how responsive the public was to her logic, they went after her with extraordinary vengeance, perfecting techniques that are used to this day, like greenwashing—the creation of industry front groups funded by corporations, the use of paid scientists to attack academic scientists, the manipulation of the media to sow doubt in people's minds about complex issues. The person behind the defaming of Rachel Carson, E. Bruce Harrison, was the same person who helped create the Global Climate Coalition, a so-called nonprofit funded by Chevron, Exxon, General Motors, the American Petroleum Institute and other companies. Its purpose was to undermine the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol and any other legislation or policy that would limit greenhouse gas emissions.
On centralized power:
WN: So what's the answer? Power remains centralized in these multinationals and in the federal government.
Hawken: I would like to see a lot of power revert to states and city-states because I think that's where the action is now. Just as economic globalization has been the biggest game in the world, we are moving into an era where economic localization is going to be the biggest game in our towns and regions. Governing, whether in business, government or non-profits, is observably more effective when decisions and information are co-located, an insight first made by Friederich Hayek. This is why the internet is so crucial to both the movement and governance—it can provide the transparency that has been missing in large-scale systems.
On how the Internet can help the environmental movement:
WN: Do you have a metaphor or a description of how the internet can serve the movement?
Hawken: I think this is a movement that doesn't know it is a movement, and that would be fine if the issues being addressed weren't so pressing. We want to help change that but it is not our purpose to become another hub or pivot point.
WiserEarth is trying to create an information commons if you will, a baseline series of templates for organizations, groups, people, and resources, which can be re-purposed and used by any other organization. We are designing it so that other organizations can sit on top of our data and pull it up, and hopefully at the same time, refreshing and adding to it. Robert Metcalfe 10—the more people that use it the more valuable it becomes. What we are not trying to do is create another "green social networking" site with ads for bamboo shirts.