Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Paul Hawken

American Environmentalist, Entrepreneur, Journalist and Author, Heads the Natural Capital Institute (NCI), a founder of WISE (World Index for Social and Environmental Responsibility), and WiserEarth - an online community directory and networking forum for 1.5 million-plus groups around the world that are working on environmental and social justice issues

"As a small business-person, you have no greater leverage than truth."

"Always leave enough time in your life to do something that makes you happy, satisfied, even joyous. That has more of an effect on economic well-being than any other single factor."

"Everything is connected …no one thing can change by itself."

"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."

"Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them."

"The bottom line is down where it belongs – at the bottom. Far above it in importance are the infinite number of events that produce the profit or loss. "

"I believe this movement will prevail. I don’t mean it will defeat, conquer, or create harm to someone else. Quite the opposite. I don’t tender the claim in an oracular sense. I mean that the thinking that informs the movement’s goals will reign. It will soon suffuse most institutions, but before then, it will change a sufficient number of people so as to begin the reversal of centuries of frenzied self-destructive behavior. Some say it is too late, but people never change when they are comfortable. Helen Keller threw aside the gnawing fears of chronic bad news when she declared, “I rejoice to live in such a splendidly disturbing time!” In such a time, history is suspended and thus unfinished. It will be the stroke of midnight for the rest of our lives. My hopefulness about the resilience of human nature is matched by the gravity of our environmental and social condition. If we squander all our attention on what is wrong, we will miss the prize: In the chaos engulfing the world, a hopeful future resides because the past is disintegrating before us. If that is difficult to believe, take a winter off and calculate what it requires to create a single springtime. It’s not too late for the world’s largest institutions and corporations to join in saving the planet, but cooperation must be on the planet’s terms. The “Help Wanted” signs are everywhere. All people and institutions including commerce, governments, schools, churches and cities, need to learn from life and reimagine the world from the bottom up, based on the first principles if justice and ecology. Ecological restoration is extraordinarily simple: You remove whatever prevents the system from healing itself. Social restoration is no different. We have the heart, knowledge, money and sense to optimize out social and ecological fabric. It is time for all that is harmful to leave. One million escorts are here to transform the nightmares of empire and the disgrace of war on people and place. We are the transgressors and we are the forgivers. “We” means all of us, everyone. There can be no green movement unless there is also a black, brown and copper movement. What is more harmful resides within is, the accumulated wounds of the past, the sorrow, shame, deceit, and ignominy shared by every culture, passed down to every person, as surely as DNA, as history of violence and greed. There is not question that the environmental movement is most critical to our survival. Our house is literally burning, and it is only logical that environmentalists expect the social justice movement to get on the environmental bus. But is actually the other way around; the only way we are going to put out this fire is to get on the social justice bus and heal our wounds, because in the end, there is only one bus. Armed with that growing realization, we can address all that is harmful externally. What will guide us is a living intelligence that creates miracles every second, carried forth by a movement with no name."

" Well, one of the things we’ve done at my institute is we’ve created a website called wiserearth.org precisely to create, in a sense, an information commons for this unnamed movement that is also the fastest-growing movement in the world, and where you can put in your organization profiles, events and so forth, and a website, Democracy Now! or any other, can sit right on top of the data and pull it up, so that we’re trying to create more or less something that feeds these NGOs and the ability for them to recognize, contact, connect and collaborate or coalesce in different ways. That is missing right now."

"The first rule of sustainability is to align with natural forces, or at least not try to defy them."

"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."

"We had this fantasy that somehow the powers that be can meet somewhere, agree, sign something, and that it’s all going to change. But the forces that have been unleashed, the feedback loops in the environment, require participation from everybody in the world in order to make a change that’s going to be effective. And we certainly need the participation of corporations, but that in itself is not enough. It’s going to take all of us. I mean, it’s going to be the stroke of midnight for the rest of our lives in this century, and we just have to cop to that. And that means two things: we can either separate, become more violent, we can, you know, shrink into our bastions of ignorance, or like what we do in an emergency, in an accident, is really reach out to other and open ourselves up other and realize that the distinctions we make about what separates us are really unimportant, and what unites us are values which are universal and common and have existed here for thousands of years."

"Businesses who are members of Businesses for Social Responsibility or the Social Venture Network are internalizing costs on a voluntary basis and therefore raising their costs of doing business, but their competitors are not required to."

"All is connected... no one thing can change by itself."

"If, as is natural, you focus on the corruption and on those threatened institutions that are trying to prevent change - even though they don't really know what they're trying to prevent - then you can get pessimistic."

"Interestingly, the oil companies know very well that in less than 30 years they will not only be charging very high prices, but that they will be uncompetitive with renewables."

"Information from destructive activities going back a hundred years right up until today is being incorporated into the system. And as that happens the underlying framework of industrialism is collapsing and causing disintegration."

"In short, industrialism is over. "

"People are naming it the Third Wave, the Information Age, etc. but I would say those are basically technological descriptions, and this next shift is not about technology - although obviously it will be influenced and in some cases expressed by technologies."

"The future belongs to those who understand that doing more with less is compassionate, prosperous and enduring, and thus more intelligent, even competetive."

"We are losing our living systems, social systems, cultural systems, governing systems, stability, and our constitutional health, and we're surrendering it all at the same time."

"That inefficiency is masked because growth and progress are measured in money, and money does not give us information about ecological systems, it only gives information about financial systems."

"We are now heading down a centuries-long path toward increasing the productivity of our natural capital - the resource systems upon which we depend to live - instead of our human capital."

"We assume that everything's becoming more efficient, and in an immediate sense that's true; our lives are better in many ways. But that improvement has been gained through a massively inefficient use of natural resources."

"We can no longer prosper by increasing human productivity. The more we try to do, the more poverty we will create."

"Healing the wounds of the Earth and its people does not require saintliness or a political party. It is not a liberal or conservative activity. It is a sacred act."

"What we are missing, utterly and completely, in this government is accountability."

"Natural capitalism is not about making sudden changes, uprooting institutions, or fomenting upheaval for a new social order. Natural capitalism is about making small, critical choices that can tip economic and social factors in positive ways."

" My hopefulness about the resilience of human nature is matched by the gravity of our environmental and social condition. If we squander all our attention on what is wrong, we will miss the prize: In the chaos engulfing the world, a hopeful future resides because the past is disintegrating before us. If that is difficult to believe, take a winter off and calculate what it requires to create a single springtime. It's not too late for the world's largest institutions and corporations to join in saving he planet, but cooperation must be on the planet's terms."

"The "Help Wanted" signs are everywhere. All people and institutions, including commerce, governments, schools, churches, and cities, need to learn from life and reimagine the world from the bottom up, based on first principles of justice and ecology. Ecological restoration is extraordinarily simple: You remove whatever prevents the systems from healing itself. Social restoration is no different. We have the heart, knowledge, money, and sense to optimize our social and ecological fabric. It is time for all that is harmful to leave. One million escorts are here to transform the nightmares of empire and the disgrace of war on people and place. We are the transgressors and we are the forgivers. "We" means all of us, everyone. There can be no green movement unless there is also a black, brown, and copper movement. What is most harmful resides within us, the accumulated wounds of the past, the sorrow, shame , deceit, and ignominy shared by every culture, passed down to every person, as surely as DNA, a history of violence, and greed. There is no question that the environmental movement is critical to our survival. Our house is literally burning, and it is only logical that environmentalists expect the social justice movement to get on the environmental bus. But it is the other way around; the only way we are going to put out the fire is to get on the social justice bus and heal our wounds, because in the end, there is only one bus"

"One statistic makes clear the demand placed on the earth by our economic system: every day the worldwide economy burns an amount of energy the planet required 10,000 days (27 years) to create."

"None of the producers (of coal) are held accountable for the effect coal is having on the atmosphere--the prospect of global warming. The result? Planet Earth is having a once-in-a-billion-year carbon blow-out sale, all fossil fuels priced to move, no reasonable offer refused. And when this eon's hydrocarbons are sold, they're gone, never to be seen again. Another way of imagining the scale of the carbon dioxide problem is by removing its two oxygen molecules. Looked at that way, every time you fill up... you are depositing into the atmosphere the equivalent of a 100-pound sack of pure carbon. It stands to reason that coal should be the most expensive form of energy, not the least expensive. The only reason that it is now the cheapest is that the newer technologies (solar, biomass, etc), ...more accurately internalize their costs to the environment and future generations"

"Because the restorative economy inverts ingrained beliefs about how business functions, it may precipitate unusual changes in the economy...the restorative economy will be one in which some businesses get smaller but hire more people, where money can be made by selling the absence of a product or sevice, as is the case where public utilities sell efficiency rather than additional power, and where profits increase when productivity is lowered. Corporations can compete to conserve and increase resources rather than deplete them. Complex and onerous regulations will be replaced by motivating standards." (This is exactly the situation where we are now at with R2000 and masonry heaters. We have the option of adopting an enlightened approach to change, favouring collaborative efforts to redesign codes and standards for everyone's benefit)."

"People really do know what is fair and what is just. And so what you're seeing is a movement that is not only bottom up but it shares a common set of values that wasn't imposed upon it. That didn't come from some leader, some place else, it's not based on ideologies. It's really based on heart and it espouses ideas. So it's a movement of ideas, it's growing. It can't be schismed, it can't break apart because it started that way. The only thing you can do now is start to connect and collaborate and come together in more powerful ways. And that's what we're starting to see."

"Biologic diversity, in the end, is the source of all wealth, and with a developed and practiced knowledge of nature, it could be even more so."

"Markets are superb at setting prices, but incapable of recognizing costs... The answer cuts right through abstract political philosophy: We cannot return to the era of local markets, but we can regain control of the larger markets by enforcing the payment of costs--total costs...The incentive to lower costs is the same as the one that presently operates in all businesses, but in this case the producer's most efficient means to lower them is not externalizing these costs onto society, but implementing better design."

"Germany, formerly the most wasteful nation in Europe, now (is) the leader in recycling. (But they still have a ways to go, still averaging yearly 824 pounds of waste per household. At 1900 pounds per household, we Americans have even farther to go; we're the world's worst wasters. With just 5 percent of the world's population, we produce 50 percent of its solid waste.)"

"I think people in their own ways have come to a very simple and clear conclusion that the only way we're going to save ourselves is to love our world and that that's really the only thing we can do that's effective because everything else intentionally or unintentionally turns out to be harmful. And that understanding I think is growing. I don't think it's necessarily expressed how I'm expressing it, but when you go out and meet the people in these organizations around the world they are loving the world, they are loving people. They are expressing love, love in action."

"These timeless ways of being human are threatened by global forces that do not consider people’s deepest longings... For most people, to understand something new requires a cognitive antecedent... What we already know frames what we see, and what we see frames what we understand... ideas question and liberate, while ideologies justify and dictate. Ecologists and biologists know that systems achieve stability and health through diversity, not uniformity. Ideologues take the opposite view. Neoconservatives believe that ordinary citizens cannot be entrusted with the reins of power, that a small group of superior individuals should rule over the majority of inferiors, using religion and the perpetual threat of war to create a Potemkin village of populism. "

"The movement can’t be divided because it is so atomized – a collection of small pieces, loosely joined. It forms, dissipates, and then regathers quickly, without central leadership, command, or control. Rather than seeking dominance, this unnamed movement strives to disperse concentrations of power. It has been capable of bringing down governments, companies, and leaders through witnessing, informing, and massing. The quickening of the movement in recent years has come about through information technologies becoming increasingly accessible and affordable to people everywhere. Its clout resides in its ideas, not in force... The movement has three basic roots: environmental activism, social justice initiatives, and indigenous cultures’ resistance to globalization, all of which have become intertwined... The movement for equity and environmental sustainability comes as global conditions are changing dramatically and becoming more demanding. We are the first generation to live on earth to witness a doubling of population in our lifetime."

"The twentieth century saw the greatest rate of destruction to the environment in all recorded history. It was also the bloodiest century in history. Eighty million were slaughtered from the beginning of the century through World War II; since then, more than 23 million people (mostly civilians) have been killed in more than 149 wars... For every dollar spent on U.N. peacekeeping, $2,000 is expended for war-making by member nations. Four of the five members of the U.N. Security Council, which has veto power over all U.N. resolutions, are the top weapons dealers in the world: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Russia. "

"Supporters of corporate-led globalization want to impose their market-based rules and precepts on the entire planet, regardless of place, history, or culture, in the belief that economic growth is an unalloyed good, and that it is best accomplished with the minimization or elimination of interference from government."

"Slaves, serfs, and the poor are the forests, soils, and oceans of society; each constitutes surplus value that has been exploited repeatedly by those in power, whether governments or multinational corporations."

"If you look at the science that describes what is happening on earth today and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t have the correct data. If you meet people in this unnamed movement and aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a heart... What I see are ordinary and some-not so-ordinary individuals willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in an attempt to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world."

"Food has always been at the heart of cultural history. The loss of its traditional foods is just as devastating to a culture as the loss of its language... We can engage in the virtual world of iPod music and TV drama, but there is no virtual world of taste. It is in our mouth, and every day our mouth connects us to place."

"You cannot describe possibilities for the future unless the present problem is accurately defined."

"Fixing the intractable problems besetting the world will require a convergence of social intelligence and natural science, two qualities traditional politics lack... The world seems to be looking for the big solution, which is itself part of the problem, since the most effective solutions are both local and systemic... Although the movement may appear inchoate or naively ambitious, its underlying structure and communication techniques can, at times, create a collective social response that can challenge any institution in the world... What its members do share is a basic set of fundamental understandings about the earth, how it functions, and the necessity of fairness and equity for all people dependent on the planet’s life-giving systems."

"A Native American taught me that the division between ecology and human rights was an artificial one, that the environmental and social justice movements addressed two sides of a single larger dilemma... The way we harm the earth affects all people, and how we treat one another is reflected in how we treat the earth."

"The question that continues to reverberate to this day is whether human rights trump the rights of business, or vice versa, a conflict that has been ongoing for more than three hundred years... From an economic viewpoint, what citizens have been trying to do for two hundred years is to force business to pay full freight, to internalize their costs to society instead of externalizing them onto a river, a town, a single patient, or a whole generation."

"For indigenous people, in the time that defines one’s life, the relationship one has to the earth is the constant and true gauge that determines the integrity of one’s culture, the meaning of one’s existence, and the peacefulness of one’s heart."

"When events slip beyond the horizon of media coverage, they disappear from public discourse: abuse of power thrives in silence, shrinks in the light."