Sunday, May 31, 2009

"You are brilliant, and the earth is hiring."

"You are brilliant, and the earth is hiring."

-Paul Hawken, University of Portland, May 3rd, 2009

The Commencement Address to the Class of 2009, University of Portland,
May 3rd, 2009 - By Paul Hawken

When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a
simple short talk that was "direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate,
lean, shivering, startling, and graceful." Boy, no pressure there.

But let's begin with the startling part. Hey, Class of 2009: you are
going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth
at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline
is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation - but not one
peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that

Basically, the earth needs a new operating system, you are the
programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

This planet came with a set of operating instructions, but we seem to
have misplaced them. Important rules like don't poison the water, soil,
or air, and don't let the earth get overcrowded, and don't touch the
thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship
earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on
one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no
need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food - but
all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive,
and in case you didn't bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you
couldn't afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent
you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that
unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here's the
deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time

Don't be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs
to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer
is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening
on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand data. But if you
meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of
the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't got a pulse. What I see
everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair,
power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of
grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote,
"So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after
age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world."
There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is
reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms,
farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts,
fisheries, and slums.

You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and
organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate
change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation,
human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever

Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it
strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works
behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows
the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning
to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in
force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople,
rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk,
engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned
mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street
musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the
writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us
all in such a huge way.

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the
Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true.
Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it
resides in humanity's willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild,
recover, reimagine, and reconsider. "One day you finally knew what you
had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their
bad advice," is Mary Oliver's description of moving away from the
profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world.

Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the
evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of
strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific
eighteenth-century roots.

Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global
movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that
time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The
founders of this movement were largely unknown - Granville Clark, Thomas
Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood - and their goal was ridiculous on the face of
it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved.

Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the
abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative
spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives,
do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the
economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in
history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would
never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect
benefit.. And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is
called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social
entrepreneurship, and non-governmental organizations, of companies who
place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic
goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history.

The living world is not "out there" somewhere, but in your heart. What
do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life
creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no
better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of
abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people
without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how
to save failed assets. Think about this: we are the only species on this
planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells
us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time than to renew,
restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you
can't print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the
future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic
product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing
the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the
future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and
the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit
people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to
get rich, it is a way to be rich.

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago,
and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you
are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses,
Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are

We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. In
each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human
cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms
you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules
conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total
cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion
actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a
millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there
are stars in the universe

- exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would
discover that each living creature was a "little universe, formed of a
host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous
as the stars of heaven."

So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop
for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on
simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore
it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. Second question: who
is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully
not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are
conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. What I want you
to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate
wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came
out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course.
The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic,
delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come
out every night, and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the
multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a
thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and
beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things
and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are
graduating to the most amazing, challenging, stupefying challenge ever
bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They
didn't stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact
that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons
you to be on her side. You couldn't ask for a better boss. The most
unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer.
Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn't make sense to be hopeful.

This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.

Paul Hawken is a renowned entrepreneur, visionary environmental activist,
and author of many books, most recently Blessed Unrest: Howthe Largest
Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw ItComing. He
was presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters by University
president Father Bill Beauchamp, C.S.C., in May, when he delivered this
superb speech. Our thanks especially to Erica Linson for her help making
that moment possible.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

more Sam cuteness

"I don't know why you think my ears are so funny."
"Hey, you don't mind if I crawl over from the couch to give you a kiss, do you?"

"How about it I lick your nostrils?"

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

more pictures of Sam

Sam will be up for adoption soon, so I need to get pictures while I can:
He'd like you to believe that he's a serious fellow but he's just proudly showing off his mastery of "Sit!" He is a goofy, sweet dog. Those ears crack me up.

a walk through downtown Seattle

Not the entrance to the Dragon's Lair but to the I-5 Reversible Lanes. 
First Congregational Church. This was one of Seattle oldest churches, and was used as a church until last year before the building was sold. Obviously, it's being renovated for business but I'm very pleased that the building's character remains intact.
The Seattle Public Library, designed by Rem Koolhaas. People love it or hate it. I love it. This view is from 5th Avenue. 

Water pipes on the side of the Virginia Mason Medical Center building. Reminds me of a hand.
A secret garden! The garden is a full story below street level, so you can only see it from the sidewalk. 
There are some really frakkin' steep streets in Seattle. Hope your brakes are good.

Chinese temple gate in the International District. This was built about a year ago. 

a walk through First Hill, Seattle.

Looking at the Columbia Tower from First Hill. Look, I know that skyscrapers are inherently phallic but I think this one is really goes overboard. That rounded head! That vein!

Unused red door in old stone building. 
Stone building, looking down the hill.
Two types of stone. From the second floor up the building is covered with asphalt shingles. I didn't take a photo of those. Ugly. 

Window in stone building. Notice the deep sash. 

Old brick roadway, exposed for some roadwork being done. I don't know if it is going to be covered up with asphalt again. Hope not.
First Hill is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Seattle. Narrow streets, stone buildings, and mature trees.

I-5 forms the boundary between First Hill and downtown Seattle. It doesn't physically cut off the neighborhoods; city streets and sidewalks go underneath the structure.

More camera phone pics

The view from the conference room on the 24th floor. Looking west toward Elliot Bay in Seattle.
The view looking down from the conference room on the 24th floor. Second Ave is on the left. Seattle.
I work in the Wells Fargo Building, and there's a bank branch in the lobby. Along with this half size stagecoach. Or perhaps it's a full sized replica and 19th century folks were just really short.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The soundtrack for my life

My friend Stones recently sent me a mix CD created for her and her husband's recent trip to New Mexico. I popped in my CD player at work; road trip mixes are great to listen to at work. It's a good mix, thoughtful and thematic (unlike any of my mixes which just tend to be a random glob of songs that I happen to like thrown together without any rhyme or reason.)

Anyway, after grooving out to the Talking Heads and Eagles, among others, this song came up and I collapsed in a fit of hysterical giggles. Not because the song is in anyway funny, but I have a gallows sense of humor and this song so perfectly sums up my new job:

Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands your hands together for AC/DC's "Highway to Hell"!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why I'm not posting much lately

This is a stack of engineering plans I'm supposed to read and comment on by, um, tomorrow. Starbucks Grande cup for scale. 

A close up with ruler. Yes, that stack of paper is nearly 7 inches (18cm) thick. 

Sunday, May 03, 2009

a random selection of pictures taken with my cell phone

Clothing is inexpensive in Tacoma! Mural in downtown Tacoma in the theater district.

The Glass sculpture in front of the Hotel Murano in downtown Tacoma. It's about 25 feet tall.

A close up. An intense green.
View from the train. This is between Sumner and Puyallup; that's Mt Rainier in the background.

View from the train. Green River, near Sumner.

Two cats squeezed into one cat bed at Next To Nature's Pet Shop in Tacoma.