A week ago, I was privileged to participate in a strategic greening initiative called OneMaryland, sponsored by the state’s Department of Natural Resources and the Governor’s office. The task is for 30 or so of us, pulled from many diverse segments of Maryland’s citizenry, to devise, over the course of three day-long conversations, a vision and strategy for moving Maryland toward a more sustainable future. Our intrepid guide on this journey is the notable Paul Hawken, a tough, inspirational leader in the field of strategic sustainable development. (The Ecology of Commerce; Natural Capitalism: creating the next industrial revolution, etc.) Sustainable development is the art of marrying progress and preservation; healthy growth and healthy natural systems; a hearty civilization and a hearty eco-system.
The first meeting was a warm-up, a centering into the issue and a bit of getting to know the fullness of the personalities and wisdom in the room. We had everyone from John Griffin, Maryland Secretary of the Dept of Natural Resources; Shari Wilson, Maryland Secretary of the Environment; Paul Allen, the Chief Environmental Officer at Constellation Energy, to a local farmer and me.
What I learned that first meeting are lessons that should not surprise but need to be constantly re-learned:
1. Do not be timid in your dreaming, for you can’t get there if you don’t dream it.
2. We are often constrained in our dreaming not only by our experience and character, but by our professional allegiance (to our business, discipline, corporation or political office)
3. Human enterprise and technological development have gone way beyond what most of us even imagine; and 25 years from now, they will outstrip even today’s wildest imaginings
1. Do not be timid in your dreaming.
Paul Hawken had us imagine what a sustainable Maryland would look like. He essentially asked us to imagine, ignoring financial or technological constraints, what an ideal sustainable Maryland would be. Sadly, most of us pushed the vision only to what we imagined are current levels of compliance or feasibility (eg, meeting platinum LEED standards). What about exceeding those levels? he challenged us. What about a thriving downtown - with economic, cultural and residential centers - which is also quiet, safe, and so dark at night above the street lights that you can see the stars. What about no waste? No poverty? Healthy industry and a healthy bay?
Truly, many of our dreams that we were pushed to imagine will most likely not happen until mashiahzeit, the coming of the messiah. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Remember the talmudic story: Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai used to say, ‘If you have a sapling in your hand and you are told that the Messiah has come, first plant the sapling and then go welcome the Messiah.’
We can debate all that Rabbi Yohanan meant to teach with that story, but one thing seems certain: We should both dream about the messiah, and what the world will be like should that time come, AND work to bring it about ourselves. We plant the tree to make the world a better place in response to our vision of a messianic time. We need to dream big, and then act in ways that match our dreams.
2. We are often constrained by our position. Not because we are fearful of who might overhear us, but because of our sense of allegiance and protection. If we are going to transcend the hurdles of today, it became clear in our very first meeting that we will need to shed our formal affiliations, ignore issues of turf and boundaries, and bring the best of our wisdom, imaginations and daring to the table.
3. So much is already happening that we should not despair about our ability to truly make a difference. Science, technology, and human imaginations are moving us forward at speeds hidden to most of us. Scientists are inventing house paint that can pluck solar energy from the air and convert it into energy. A scientist has discovered a bacterium that can turn sand into rock-solid stone. He is imagining using this bio-engineering to create 6,000 kilometer sandstone wall across the southern edge of the Sahara to contain its growing desertification. Whether wise or ill-founded, the ideas flow.
It was exciting to see the breaking of boundaries, the opening of minds and the glimpse of a possibility that Maryland could craft a shared vision of health, growth, equity and sustainability, and the mechanisms that will take us there. We next meet in October. More to come.