Camping at Tällberg – Episode 1

TallbergPhoto_1_50Bo Ekman formally opens the 2009 Tällberg Forum in his traditional way — philosophically, and a bit theatrically. He asks us to just listen to the drip-drip-drip of a water drop, shown in video on the big screen. He reflects on the “the change of change” — we used to think of nature as the most stable and slow-changing of the core architectural elements of our planet. On the back of nature, we built what he calls “constitutions,” the legal systems, norms, and traditions. On top of that come things like infrastructure and technology and ultimately the fleeting fashions of our day. But now, he says, nature has moved up in this league. Nature is changing faster than things like infrastructure. It’s no longer stable, reliable. Glaciers on Greenland are moving more than three times faster than they were just ten years ago. (Bo’s been going to Greenland annually for 10 years.)

Bo sits on a stump positioned right in the middle of the stage. He invites us all to sit on stumps like this, positioned around the Tällberg, and just talk with nature, facilitate our intuition during these days of reflection on the impossible tasks of our time, the “fiascos’ as he calls them, the embarrassments of unfulfilled promises like the MDGs, collapse of our ecosystem, the obvious fiasco of the financial crash.

Then we hear from President Mori of Micronesia. His nation will be partially inundated by climate change, perhaps even in our lifetimes. He is moving in his humility and earnestness about the need for a dream. We must launch our dream here, he says. Then he reports on a dream launched by the five presidents or chief executives (two of them head US territories) of the nations in his vast Pacific region. I have to say, it does not strike me as dreamlike: they are pledged to conserve 30% of near-ocean resources, and 20% of land resources, by 2020. This is surely wonderful. But I wonder: if our dreams now consist of saving of small fractional pieces of small pieces of our planet’s natural systems …

There is music, “inter-punctuation,” and now Rwanda’s Foreign Minister is speaking. She pokes Bo Ekman verbally, because he has just invoked the memory of his visit to a Gorilla reserve in Rwanda (slide image behind him: baby gorilla, with the word “vision” under it) and even imitated their sounds very effectively (“I’m very good at gorillas,” he says). “I’ll send you a bill,” says the Foreign Minister, “for using our gorilla sounds without patent rights.”

Rwanda’s president Kagame was meant to be giving this address. When visiting clients in Entebbe, the Nile Basin Initiative, earlier this year, I and my colleague Audace Ndaizeye had thought, “Maybe we could get the Tällberg Forum to invite President Kagame to address the Forum. That would be good for the region, and good for NBI.” So I wrote an email suggesting this. I received a very prompt reply, informing me that Bo Ekman was in Rwanda at that moment and that President Kagame had been invited already and had accepted. Our thoughts had paralleled Tällberg’s, completely independently. The synchronicity was stunning.

But anyway, he is not here — I don’t know exactly why, but I do know that the Swedish government did not exactly roll out the red carpet.

The Foreign Minister is now telling the Rwanda story, which of course is an amazing tale of rebuilding — without forgetting — after the worst of human catastrophes. When traveling there myself recently, I was as struck as most people told me I would be by the cleanliness of Kigali, the capital city. The country is now one of the most stable and corruption free (maybe, the most) in the region.

After this opening session of this annual gathering of this sustainable development tribe, under the big tent in the little village of Tällberg in Sweden, I will go down to Lake Siljan. You see, I’m not staying in one of these lovely hotels this year, enjoying the lovely restaurant dinners, etc. I’m camping by the lake. Eating simply. Reducing my footprint, and increasing my sense of pleasure in being at this lovely place, and this special long-sun, bright-night time of year.

It’s not a “statement.” It’s just … what feels like the right thing to do. I like begin by this lake. The photo of me playing the guitar that is on top of this blog was taken at this lake, Siljan, last year. I intend to be doing a lot of exactly the same thing — working on new songs, by the lake — this year too.

One thought on “Camping at Tällberg – Episode 1

  1. Alan,

    The fundamental challenge facing humanity – as presented at the Tallberg Forum – is expressed in the form of the question “How on earth can we live together, within the planetary boundaries?”

    This question contains two factual errors. And these errors – which create a context mistakenly repeated by a great many of the official speakers – will lead the Tallberg Forum down the wrong path.

    Error Number One:

    Our home planet should be written as “Earth”, not “earth”. When we write Mars, Venus, or any of the other planets, we always capitalize the first letter… just like I would capitalize the first letter of your last name, if I were writing it. When we write “earth”, we are writing a word whose synonym is “dirt” or “soil”.

    This is what I call “sloppy thinking” on the part of Tallberg’s organizers and is symptomatic of the more profound example of sloppy thinking that comprises the second error.

    Error Number Two:

    Suggesting that humanity must live together “within the planetary boundaries” is a failure to understand a basic principle of Systems Thinking: that the solution to a problem is almost always to be found by looking outside of the system which contains the problem.

    Regarding humanity creating a sustainable future for itself, the problem exists in how humanity is organized here on Earth. The solution – one that will dissolve the problem forever – can be found if one looks “beyond the system called Earth”.

    And what does one find when one looks “beyond Earth”?

    One finds **the Sun**, which sends to Earth many thousands of times more energy each day than all of humanity needs!

    The funny thing about this solution is that all the plant life on Earth know this answer already. Earth’s plant life uses the Sun to generate energy through the process of photosynthesis. (No crude oil or batteries required!)

    If a critical mass of humanity’s decision-makers (starting with all of those assembled in Tallberg right now) were to have the intellectual awareness to “think like plants do”, humanity as a whole just might break free of the fear and scarcity-based perception of reality which keeps us stuck in thinking we must create a sustainable future for ourselves in a Zero Sum game.

    (Remember how Tallberg keynoter Paul Gilding said “We must end consumerism!”? That’s such a Zero Sum statement!)

    I wish Janine Benyus (co-founder of the Biomimicry Guild) was a speaker at Tallberg. She knows how to find answers to humanity’s problems by looking at how Mother Nature solves them.

    This failure to accurately use Systems Thinking is incredibly “sloppy thinking” for an organization (a) that explicitly states that it uses Systems Thinking and (b) whose founder – Bo Ekman – is a personal friend of Dr. Russell L. Ackoff, who helped codify the principles of Systems Thinking in the 1950’s. (Russ has been my friend and mentor for the last 10 years as well.)

    I cannot understand why Bo is so unaware that the Sun is sending humanity all this free energy every day. And I cannot understand why he and his staff chose the phrase “withing the planetary boundaries” to constrain their search for solutions.

    When I attended Tallberg last year, the question was simply phrased “How on earth can we live together?” There were still a lot of people at Tallberg last year who hadn’t had this critical breakthrough… who couldn’t intellectually “see” the Sun is part of the Earth – Sun System… who didn’t know that planet Earth is NOT “an island unto itself”.

    But this year, the job of truly “thinking outside the box” (or “thinking outside the Earth”) has been made that much harder.

    I am hopeful that Amory Lovins will raise this point during his remarks. Or perhaps Charles Handy will do so. But – whether they do or don’t say this – I urge you to bring up this critical point… this error in the foundational thinking at Tallberg… with everyone you meet.

    Thanks in advance for giving this matter your full attention… and for blogging on WorldChanging, which gave me the chance to submit this information to you.

    Good luck!

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