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Book review

Blessed Unrest
by Paul Hawken (Viking, 2007)

Paul Hawken is an environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist, and best-selling author, whose work includes starting and running ecological businesses, writing and teaching about the impact of commerce upon the environment, and consulting with governments and corporations on economic development, industrial ecology, and environmental policy1. In his latest book, Blessed Unrest, he explores the undetected emergence of what he describes as “the largest movement in the world”. As he describes it, this movement is not what is conventionally thought of as such: it has no central organiser or leader, and no overarching ideology. It is conditioned not so much by ideologies as ideas. It consists of myriads of groups within civil society with overlapping and interlocking agendas. Its twin preoccupations are environmental sustainability and social justice, themes that have traditionally been seen as distinct, but which are revealed through the movement’s actions as two aspects of one whole. It remains largely “beneath the radar”, and hence beyond the understanding, of the mainstream media, who only recognise non-governmental organisations of a certain scale. Hawken sets this movement in historical context, citing as its inspiration well-known figures such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Rachel Carson, along with others less celebrated, such as Carleton Watkins, Mrs. Lovell White, and R. E. Johannes. He reflects on the importance of indigenous peoples’ experience, remarking, “Living within the biological constraints of the earth may be the most civilized activity a person can pursue”; and stresses the commonality of interest between indigenous peoples and environmentalists. As a prime example of an occasion where the movement first became visible, Hawken considers the controversial protests at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Seattle in 1999, where the version of globalization of WTO’s macroeconomists came into conflict with the version held by “[m]ore than seven hundred groups, and between forty thousand and sixty thousand individuals”. He likens this “movement with no name” to the immune system, suggesting that, “[j]ust as the immune system recognizes self and not-self, the movement identifies what is humane and not humane.” And he proposes that the movement is so diverse because it has evolved to cope with a wide variety of threats to ecological and social justice. This diversity gives the movement resilience, and means that, even though each group on its own is dwarfed by the huge problems humanity faces, the combination of groups, working to “solve for pattern”, can be successful. Hawken further suggests that the emergence of the movement is a collective spiritual awakening akin to that experienced during the “Axial Age” from 900 to 200 BCE, an awakening that, as before, has kindness and compassion at its heart. He believes that, in spite of the seriousness of the problems facing it, the movement will prevail in healing the world, and that everyone has a part they can play. An extensive Appendix gives details of some of the vast number of groups working within this movement, and is linked to an online initiative composed of three websites: wiserearth.org ; wiserbusiness.org ; and wisergovernment.org .

1.Biographical information from Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Hawken), accessed 8 June 2007.