American Culture

Awareness – the Green Constitutional Congress, part 1

Monday night, Dialog:City held the poorly attended Green Constitutional Congress with the intent to open a democratic dialog between the attendees and the panelists. Instead, what the attendees got was nearly 30 minutes of rambling monologue by organizer and moderator Bruce Mau followed by six additional monologues by the panelists and wrapping up with nearly no discussion of any kind between the panelists. So much for dialog.

However, what the Green Constitutional Congress lacked in focus it generally compensated for with interesting information coming from the panelists themselves. And in some way, nearly everything said during the congress was tied back to three main ideas – awareness, externalities, and imagination.

Bruce Mau first brought the idea of awareness to the audience in his long, rambling, and unfortunately monotonous opening monologue. Specifically, Mau said that spin and advertising have become obsolete in this era of instant verification. Mere message control is no longer sufficient, a fact that our elected politicians and businesspeople are only now coming to realize. Instead, the only way to control your own message about your actions is to actually perform those actions in the way you say are going to – anything less will be picked up by critics and distributed around the world for everyone to see. Panelists Charlie Cannon, David W. Orr, and Bill Becker talked at some length about awareness regarding their particular areas of expertise.

Most people in the United States don’t want to be aware of the systems that they rely upon to make their lives possible. Collectively, these systems are usually called infrastructure, a word that provides no clues as to the importance of its subject matter. Infrastructure include the roads, rail links, and bridges we use to transport ourselves and our goods around the country. It includes the dams, water treatment facilities, water mains, and sewer connection that bring us our water and carry away our wastes to be treated. It includes the power plants and electricity transmission lines and natural gas pipelines that we need to keep our homes heated and cooled, our heavy industry productive. Industrial designer and educator Charlie Cannon, however, wants us to drag infrastructure into our awareness instead of leaving it to languish in the collective unconscious until the flooding of farmland and productive neighborhoods becomes commonplace, until the loss of lives and economic productivity due to the collapse of a major bridge becomes a regular disruption. These “invisible” systems are facing a crisis and will need to be rebuilt over the next few decades, but the first necessary step toward getting them rebuilt is to make all of us aware of them.

Education was once a high priority topic, but has languished and been pushed off to the back burner more times than it should have. Hot pans on the back burner tend to burn or burst into flame unexpectedly, and in recent years, the problems in education have led to a plethora of solutions, some actually effective, others entirely counterproductive. According to former principle and Oberlin College education professor David Orr, however, there’s a general lack of awareness that all the solutions are addressing the wrong problem. Instead of solving the problems in education, educators, administrators, unions, and policy makers should instead be tackling the problem of education. Orr believes that too much time and money are being spent tackling problems with an Enlightenment-era educational system instead of retooling the educational system from the ground up for a post-Enlightenment, eve post-Modern, world.

In the last two years, the dangers of global heating have been illustrated to the American people in ways that are difficult to ignore. Accurately or otherwise, the floods in the Midwest this spring, the giant wildfires that have plagued San Diego in recent years, and the pine forests of the Rocky Mountains succumbing to an insect pest that once was kept under control by harsh winters that have turned mild by comparison are all held up as visible examples of how global heating is already affecting the United States. But even as awareness has grown, Bill Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Program, still thinks that the public isn’t yet aware enough of the dangers. Multiple organizations have declared that global heating is national security issues that the country will face over the next few decades, yet the public perception is that “Drill here, drill now, pay less” is actually a viable national security strategy. Instead, Becker said, we’ve reached a point where “a photovoltaic panel is as important to national security as an M-16 rifle, and a plug-in hybrid vehicle is as important to national defense as a tank.” Similarly, Americans are unaware that even oil executives believe that we’ve hit peak oil production and that oil prices will trend dramatically upward (with occasional short-term price corrections, as we’ve seen over the last few weeks) from now on.

Next: Part 2, Externalities