Barbara Marx HubbardAuthor, Futurist, Social Innovator and Educator
Daniel Pinchbeck (DP) Barbara Max Hubbard (BMH)
DP: So what is conscious evolution?
BMH: Conscious evolution is the evolution of evolution from unconscious to conscious choice.
I really think it’s as major as the origin of life, or animal life or human life. Human life being intelligent enough to understand nature, to understand the process of evolution and to suddenly wake up that it could destroy its own life support system by its own knowledge like with the atomic bombs, and on and on.. with the environmental crisis.
So, we’ve woken up to the fact that we’re affecting evolution, we could destroy our own life, and there’s also the glimmer at the edges that we could evolve our own life. We could cooperate with nature, we could align ourselves with the process that seems to lead to higher consciousness and more intelligence so we could begin to have a positive view of how we could use the crisis as evolutionary drivers toward innovation, creativity and emergence.
So conscious evolution would be a help to all of those endeavors that want to involve healthcare, want to involve economics, want to involve politics, want to involve energy systems and if you see that as a whole, that would be the field of conscious evolution. That field has not yet been mapped as a whole system emergent. And so the challenge and work of the field of conscious evolution would be to create an integral framework to map, connect, and communicate to the human species not only what’s breaking down but what’s breaking through. And on the personal level, what is my calling within it. I feel that I always think of it like this, this spiral of evolution goes up inside me, it awakens my heart, it connects me to the world and then it awakens me to my creative aspect of your creative aspect of it. So conscious evolution is not only just the big story, it’s the evolution of the person, of the self, toward identifying with the process of evolution. My impulse to create is the creative process of evolution localized. And I think Andrew Collins says it very well, it’s like the internal Big Bang, it’s subjective. So conscious evolution had a subjective quality of being conscious that you are yourself, wanting to emerge.
It has a social aspect. Society is breaking down so have a yearning to create a society that is viable that is evolvable, that is compassionate, that is social in evolution. Scientific and technological really goes off the charts. If you put together biotech, nanotech, robotics, space development, zero point. You see we are a new species. The creature human phase is coming into the co-creative human phase. If we don’t blow ourselves up or destroy our life support system. Ultimately, conscious evolution would be the entire field of educating ourselves in order to evolve consciously, you know, solving immediate problems, which is just like the baby having to learn to breath and nurse. Its really the beginning. And then it moves on to how do you evolve a planetary system. How do you create life support systems in the solar systems. And then is it possible that we’re a galactic, that earth is giving birth to a galactic species. And that we are not alone in the universe.
So conscious evolution to me is a field of fields. Its popping up everywhere and I’ve been one of its mothers, one of its champions. Cause I caught hold early on.
DP: What are the biggest blockages to the process of conscious evolution?
BMH: That’s a really good question. What are the blockages to conscious evolution? I think the most fundamental one is the idea that we don’t know its happening. That we don’t have a sense that these are leading to a possible, desirable future. That we are very problem oriented, very immediate oriented, so we don’t have enough means or ideas or people able to express what’s emerging. In order for the average person to even be attracted to what’s coming forward. So the worldview doesn’t fully exist.
And for me it’s like the difference between the medieval worldview and the Enlightenment. It took a while for the Enlightenment worldview to come into forum and then it changed everything. I think we’re getting post-enlightenment into the evolutionary worldview.
The conscious evolution worldview and you need that framework for people to get it.
Secondly, there are real invested interests in the way it is. The financial interest, the power interest, the dominating structure of almost every organization, nations state, organized religion, academic institutions, and corporations are not designed for conscious evolution. They are designed for holding on to the power.
So if I have, I know there are a lot of things that oppose our evolutionary potential, the greatest challenge is really something in our power, which is how do we connect what’s emergent and that won't be even through a good President of the United States. It won’t be through the United Nations. It will be through the social networks.
And the timing is really delicate here because the collapse scenarios are going fast toward a perfect storm, so the evolutionary scenarios, if they’re going to work in time would have to go non-linear. There has to be a speed up. And that’s what I think the Internet, and the connectivity of creative innovations and solutions is about to happen.
DP: And it seems that some of these ideas have been around for a while. Especially in West coast culture. From my perspective on the east coast there’s been a sort of insularity to them. Do you feel there are any reasons why awareness around these subjects hasn’t permeated more into the mainstream discourse?
BMH: That another good question. I grew up, I went to Paris in 1947,48,49, my junior year abroad. I remember later thinking there were two great French men. There was Sarte and _______. And Sarte the existentialism thought there was no specific meaning unless we could give it.
And there was not a universe of direction or progress or internalization of the devine. De Charin saw a different worldview. And the one caught hold in the popular arts in the culture was existentialism. My husband was an artist. And when you were in NY in the late sixties, the theatre of the absurd the expressionists, the whole art form picked up the disintegration aspect which was true, but the arts and the culture, and even the scientific materialists and fundamentalists did not take up the direction of the evolutionary potential until we got the study of cosmogenesis. I mean it just began to dawn on us. That the universe has been evolving for billions of years. No theology has that built in. No political science has that built in. No philosophy has that built in.
DP: So your existential-disintegrate model became more the mainstream current. And, why would that support, what kind of behavior patterns self reinforce?
BMH: First of all, I think it was a lot more obvious. I mean we had two world wars. The United States dropped the atomic bombs and burned people alive with this great intelligence of Einstein, and there was a feeling, a real genuine feeling that something was deeply wrong with the human species, that the most sophisticated, intelligent nations could have done this. And then we became aware that we also had an environmental problem. And I think those problems are far more obvious than the possibility of some radical positive future.
Now I was an east coast person. I grew up in NYC and then I was in Washington, DC for 12 years founding the committee for the future and when I met Buckminster Fuller, Abraham Lazlo. I read De Chardin, that was all East Coast. It really didn’t start on the West Coast. And there was in DC, in the seventies, the World Future Society got started and there was a real sense, still a small group, but when you got into that group, it was very hopeful. Marshal Mcluhan, the sense that we were a global species. That we had the resources and the technology to make the world work for everyone. We had the Apollo program. All of these were from the East Coast. And they didn’t catch hold as a pattern, the art, and we had of course a social movement. A peace movement, a civil rights movement, a women’s movement. They didn’t catch light of the evolutionary component of those movements.
And then I think we had the awareness with the collapse of the Soviet Union and all of that enormous type of violence within the human species itself and the environmental threat. So, I think, I can’t explain why it didn’t catch hold. It certainly caught hold in some of us. It caught hold in me and a small band of us. Maybe it's that the crisis is deep enough now, particularly the environmental, and financial. To have people searching.. is there a way through?
DP: Of course a lot of the world has been experiencing a mega-crisis of horrific proportions for decades or longer and then we’ve inflicted, you know, apparently 1 to 2 millioin deaths in Iraq. We’ve used depleted uranium to permanently irradiate big swaths in that country. Why hasn’t there been any kind of more permanent effort to counteract that? Why haven’t people been willing to put their ideals on the line and go and do sit-ins and protest and just do whatever it takes to break that, that you know, dominator process?
BMH: Its another good question. I don’t know if we know what the positive social alternatives are. And we’ve had some terrible social experiments in the 20th century such as Communism and Fascism and Nazism and democracy does not have a vision of what can move beyond it, and we then became the corporate power and so we inflicted our power and our empire on the rest of the world. But the rest of the world was actually struggling to get to the place of more material well being--Look at India, look at China. So there wasn’t another vision and I wouldn’t be at all surprised that in the USA, as we see the failures of our culture, that the rising up post-material integrative evolutionary is coming from here. But that’s how long it took. And I remember, I have a friend, FM Esfandiari, years ago, and he’s no longer with us. I was frustrated because I was way off in my timing. I caught all of this in the sixties, seventies, and eighties. I thought it would be happening right then, then it went almost the other way, conservatives, problems, violence. And this person pointed out.
It takes a while for a new worldview to take hold and the factors that we have now are certain problems that can’t be resolved by the power structure. Not just that the poor can’t resolve it, or the oppressed can’t resolve it, it’s the power structure that can’t resolve it. I think that’s important in the evolution of these ideas that we’ve been holding. I think there’s a failure in fundamentalist religions that have come in there because at least they have a transcendent vision.
DP: Fundamental religions are a postmodern phenomenon. They kind of take this idea of a pre-modern state, then they kind of idealize it. Tha earlier state didn’t exist in the way they conceptualize it. Fundamentalism is a way to bind identity together I guess.
BMH: Not only that, but it seems to have like there’s an Armageddon scenario in the Christian fundamentalist that leads to heaven, leads to the new Jerusalem: the chosen few. That’s a transcendent leap that powers the fundamental religions. Not only identity within the tribe, but your life is going somewhere. Certainly the Muslim fundamentalists that believe, as suicide bombers, that they are going to go to paradise. If that’s what they believe, that’s a transcendent vision. And I think that what’s been missing in the evolutionary liberal movement is a transcendent vision equal to our scientific, social, and spiritual capacity.
DP: But couldn’t some of the problem the problem of transcendence within its self. I mean, I really like that native cultures seem to be more based in imminence, not transcendence, and that the spiritual is somehow separate from the physical or material.
BMH: When I use the word transcendent vision in this particular thing I meant a vision that transcends current reality. Like the new Jerusalem or paradise.
DP: So you think we need to have more modeling of desirable states that we need to move towards.
BMH: I believe that if you really put together the evolutionary potential of humanity; spiritually, socially, and technologically, and imagine that there is a direction of evolution…
DP: What about sexually?
BMH: We’ll get to that. Spiritually, socially, scientifically, and then I’ll talk about super sexually…That you will see that we have the possibility of being born as a universal species. Extended intelligence, extended space, extended lifespan, and I think that’s imminent.
DP: Do you think people are actually scared of confronting the reality of that possibility?
BMH: Yes, for one thing we’ve…
DP: Somebody was telling me, most people fear success more than they fear failure.
BMH: Well we haven’t got good images again. See science fiction, except for star trek and a few of them, a disaster, war like species clashing. So nobody can become attracted to being that. And I started out my whole career asking what are positive images of the future equal to our new power. And actually we don’t have them and without vision people perish. So I’ve spent my life finding the means and the possibilities to what’s imminent but not necessarily going to happen. When you are attracted to them you start moving in that direction. And one of them was the Apollo program. I mean I suddenly saw that we could be a universal species physically.
DP: I guess the psychedelic experience opened me to a different worldview.
BMH: Then after that it was psychedelic and then after that it was women. And then there was the uprising of the peace movements and the civil rights movements. But to take hold of a dominator culture that actually a thousand year tradition of pyramid dominant structures, we’re really re-patterning civilization here. So I think we can give ourselves some slack. You know, this is not just a quick thing. This is the transformation of our species.
So, I caught hold of the possibility of us being born as a universal humanity. I got attracted and then I started to research what might possibly lead to a species able to restore the earth, to free ourselves from hunger and poverty and actually be attracted towards… I think realizing our spiritual, our creative potential personally and throughout the world, and throughout the solar system. I think the next social level is social synergy. Like nature itself creates these vast cooperative organisms. I think that force is at work in society now.
DP: So what are some of the practical ways we might get to this social synergy?
BMH: Well, social networking is certainly happening.
DP: Social networking like Facebook and Myspace? Or what do you mean exactly.
BMH: I actually mean, and I'll tell you the image I have and it actually came from my work with Buckminster Fuller, running for vice president and all of that. I see that the social planetary body is like a living system. And it has basic functions. Environmental functions, health, politics, governance, and so on; I see that as a wheel-like structure. And at different fractal levels, locally, socially all the way on up. We would find that there are now innovations and breakthroughs in every sector and every function. While there are break downs, there are break throughs.
I think the next level of social synergy would be the connecting of the best practices, social innovations at work across functions so that you begin to see the emerging world and that that emerging world is more positive than the world that is now threatened. It's not that we want to save the existing world as it is, it's too unjust, there's too much suffering--not what we’re aiming at. So the emerging world is all emergent and it would come from connecting that which is creative. And when I ran for vice president, I suggested a peace room as sophisticated as a war room in the office of the presidency, and it would scan for, map, connect what is creative. Not only in one sector but in each sector connected. And when you do that, even conceptually, you get the feeling of an emergent world.
DP: When you talk about putting that in the office of the presidency--that’s still to me a centralized, or pyramid-like model. Do you believe that the social networks point toward a new social structure that could be more collaborative, a distributed system of power, without rigid hierarchies?
BMH: I do, and when I was with Buckminster Fuller (this was way back in the seventies), he urged me to bring these ideas into the political arena, simply to lodge them there. That’s all. I mean, I was an idea candidate, but the idea was good enough to get over 200 delegates to sign a petition. Now when I got up to make my speech, the democratic party had to move up the whole convention so I wouldn’t get on national TV. They were horrified. I actually walked in there and got 200 delegates with the idea of finding out what works in America. And I made my speech, and the guy took me up to the platform and said, "honey, now they won’t pay any attention to you, they never do, you’re saying it for the universe." So I said it like a declaration. The USA will build a peace room as sophisticated as the war room and it will be in the Kremlin and it will be all over the world and we will see the emerging world. It more or less lay dormant. I did certain things with it, but not a lot. Only recently I was invited to the Democratic National Convention to present at the big tent where progressive voices are heard. And we pulled together a team to create the Citizens Solutions Council, locally for grassroots people for many kinds of social networks to see what’s working, and what’s creative at the local level, with an office in the presidency so there could be a connection. Between the social networking and the expression of our government, not that the government is controlling it or even has to implement it, but if it knows it, and this is the vision, and it takes the very same structure integrative model and places it within the office of the presidency, where citizens could feed it up and it could be communicated out and it doesn’t control the social networks but it creates that conduit. Because its really ridiculous to have all the citizen activity going on and have it disconnected.
DP: The progressive community has a lot of disconnections. It seems to me that a lot of the community gets caught in these individuation traps where people create their little thing with a name and foundation or institute or company. Then they’re very attached to those boundaries that they’ve created. This is my perception of that…
BMH: I see exactly the same thing, Daniel. I think that we’re not quite there yet. So people could realize that they’re actually doing it themselves or that they have enough energy to get their teams together or that they’re part of an environmental movement or a health movement. But the idea of integrating all of that into a whole system is the next step of social evolution.
So, I would say, when you asked what would be the next practical steps, it would be to build these integrated models locally, to connect the social networks, to see the pattern of the whole; to bring it up into the level of governor, the level of city council, the level of mayor, the level of president, and beyond--throughout the world, so that we could have a more graceful path to the next stage of evolution. ...llya Pregogine, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his study of dissipative structures and the question is how does nature evolve up the chain of complexity when the law of thermodynamics leans toward disorder, and evidently this tendency to higher order eats disorder. You need disorder to create higher order. If there’s a very stable situation you’re not going to get a higher order so when you get evolution interpretation of the disequilibrium of modern society, out of equilibrium of the whole global society, what you see is that there’s enough disorder for new patterns, mutations, and innovations to emerge.
I was actually here to write a book in Santa Barbara, and I got lost one day, and I found myself up a mountain here and I came to Mount Calvary Monastery. It’s a beautiful monastery here and there was a group of hang gliders jumping off the mountain, in butterfly colored wings above the cross at Mount Calvary. And I had a flashing experience over the presence of the Risen Christ. And the presence was not something I saw and it certainly wasn’t a man in flowing.. But it was a field of intelligence that said.. it didn’t look like anything… It said, the presence, the field said, 'when you combine the love of God above all else (meaning to be the great creating process), your neighbor as yourself, yourself as me--as a natural expression of the divine combined with science and technology, you will all be changed.' And I thought, oh my God, that’s true.
So the way you would possibly get to a future like Bucky was seeing or I saw like a mystery was not about dominating power. It was about completely transforming your consciousness. Loving one another as yourself, loving that diving process of creation above all else and orienting technology toward the good.
We’re just beginning to experience our possible failure and collapse.
There are a couple of things, just in the simplest way Bucky did, and the one that got me was one in a little book called “Utopia or Oblivion” and it was this phrase: “we now have the resources, technology and know-how to make the world a 100% physical success for everyone without taking it away or destroying our environment.” Just that idea shifts the worldview. When I read that--basically the world will work for everyone, the world could work for everyone. Just that idea, shifts the worldview. Then the design science revolution and the world game and trying to see it as a whole; it had a purpose, which was to make the world work for everyone. We didn’t have that as a purpose. I mean, certainly in the religious world, you’re not trying to make this world work for everyone. The liberal world wasn’t even dreaming of making the world work for everyone. So Bucky had a vision that this could happen and saw that we had the resources and technology then we had a design science revolution that attracted architects and students of great intellect. But it was premature. It couldn’t get applied yet.
And one of the things I’ve learned about being part of this movement for the last forty years is that we have seed ideas and we plant them, and sometimes it looks like they’re not going to work, but they’re growing behind your back, sort-of-speak. And I sometimes feel, for myself, like I’ve been planting little seeds and they’ve been in a greenhouse--and I thought they didn’t amount to much and then the top came off the greenhouse and suddenly, just like that peace room in the White House: the idea of going to the Democratic National Convention and proposing with Obama as president, it’s not that I think getting the president to do that is the most important thing, but that was a seed idea. I caught early on the importance of the space program as an Earth, space, human development program leading to a fact of us becoming a universal species. Well that’s still not quite what the space program is about but its potential is there.
I believe that many of us in the 60s, 70s, 80s and so on, have planted these viable seeds. Maybe the conditions have to be that there is a breakdown of old structures; that the danger is real for the top to come off this greenhouse and there you've got the seeds. Now, will they grow fast enough to prevent the collapse that makes it very hard for anything to grow because if you’re in a completely destroyed infrastructure, it’s really hard. So my hope is that these seedlings that have been planted in every field, get connected in a non-linear way through social interactive networking, which leads towards a vision not only of just a world that works for everyone, but an emerging world.
It makes me happy to say this. You know I actually feel a certain joy inside me to think this could be true. Its invigorating. But the thought here is its even more than a world that works for everyone the way the world is. Like middle income housing for everyone and enough, that’s good. But the minute you get it,you get restless. Look at the materialistic world.
DP: I agree with an idea that Buckminster Fuller and Herbert Marcuse shared: That getting everyone to work is the wrong objective. Fuller proposed that most people shouldn’t work. What is the work doing for the planet? You're going into offices and using toner cartridges, you're using fossil fuels, what are you making? Fuller thought that most people would be better suited living in there home communities growing food, being educated through interactive media, exploring their creative and spiritual potential.
BMH: That maybe exactly what is going to happen. We’re re-localizing our currency, we’re re-localizing our food. The whole system breaks down.
DP: What do you know about alternative currencies and timesharing systems?
BMH: ...I wish I could quote them to you but there are timesharing systems being used…
DP: There are many initiatives, but they tend to be quite small.
BMH: ...The Ithaca dollar.. That’s a seed link: the alternative currencies--what they call 'free currencies,' seedlings.... They won’t come up unless the climate is right for them. But when they start coming up in every field and you add to it, you start to think about people like Jim Gardner and the intelligent universe and the idea that we’re going to put forward silicon-based intelligence. Maybe there’s a lot of intelligence throughout the whole universe; maybe when it gets born from its planetary womb it has to be more intelligent or it won’t get out of the womb. And there’s a convergence of intelligence here that goes way beyond anything we’ve seen. I hold that there is a tremendous progressive tendency in nature that leads to ever-more creative life. I think the universe is a developmental process. Its pretty obvious from cosmogenesis. That we’re early in the universal story still. 13.7 billion years, according to what I’ve been told there are maybe a hundred or more billion years ahead and so the universe got started and it took Earth.
DP: Could be a good movie.
BMH: And it took the universe all this time to create human life and animal life. And a species intelligent enough to realize it's evolving or dying by its own action. Boy, is that an achievement of evolution. And I feel that we are just on the cusp of becoming aware that we are evolving: that we could destroy or create, and I don’t know how many millions are waking up to that. But the worst the crisis gets more people to start looking, and then here’s the cosmic drama. Does the connecting of that which is creative and sustainable go fast enough or do you have to go--how far down do you have to go. I use the birth image. Nobody really knows when a baby is going to be born, how it will come out. Not the doctor, not the mother, and probably not the baby. Because it's dangerous.
We’re in a very dangerous transition. Nobody on this planet has been through a high-tech, overpopulating, polluting, warring species toward a sustainable, evolving, regenerative world. We don’t have elders who’ve done that. We don’t even have youngsters who’ve been there. So, we’re in an evolutionary gap and the only way that I have managed to imagine that gap is to look at past jumps. You know: from pre-life to life; from animal to human.
And then you get into the experience that nature has been taking jumps through crisis for billions of years. In different eras--I’m putting us in the story. And then I’m assuming the tendency to higher intelligence won’t stop here and I see, actually, it’s not stopping. But it’s not mature, so I have a motherly approach to the situation. We’re a mess.
But mothers are really used to giving birth to messes. And the baby is a mess. But you know it has growth potential and you really don’t know what it's going to be. It's unknown; I would say we know we have growth potential. I know we have spiritual, social, scientific genius everywhere.
And I wanna give you information about my favorite theory called supra-sex. There have been two great human drives: Self preservation and self reproduction. And, starting in the mid sixties, we began to be aware that if we doubled the population once more we would destroy all life. So the drive to procreate is expanding past the drive to create, to express our uniqueness, and in order to get anything done, you probably have to join other people's uniqueness. And I call that supra-sexual co-creation.
I feel it all the time. I have a creative urge, I’m looking for partners, for teammates. In order to express more of it, and if they are expressing more of their creativity by joining with me than we have an energy of expanded sexuality. And if sexuality was so attractive and pleasurable, it gets us to reproduce up to a maximum--I think supra-sexual, co-creation is pleasurable. I know because I feel it.
DP: Are you talking about something that’s a little bit like Freudian sublimation of the sex drive into creativity, or are you talking about erotic intimate relationships also?
BMH: I’m talking much more in Abraham Maslow terms then in Freudian terms. I think Maslow put his finger on it when he studied healthy people over sick people. He discovered that all of them had one trait in common: chosen work that they found intrinsically self-rewarding and of service, at least, to one other person. In other words, we’re wired to create and express our potential. And if you want to be a fulfilled, joyful person--you almost have to find that once you’re not starving or in a war zone, you've got to find what it is you want to express. So when I was the mother of five and felt depressed I went to a Freudian analyst and he talked about the sublimation of the sexual drive and I felt even more depressed when I thought that was it.
When I read Maslow, I realized I wasn’t neurotic, I realized I had not found my vocation. I loved my children, but it wasn’t my vocation. And once I began to see I had a vocation as a communicator--as a student of evolution--I became self actualizing. I became happy. I reached out on and on, I became the person I am today. That is not sublimation.
DP: Do you see a shift in human society today also leading to a change in relationship patterns? You know we’ve had a monogamous based relationship model, do you see other patterns emerging, and what do you think those might look like, or be like?
BMH: First of all, those are already emerging. You don’t have to get married to live together in this culture. Its quite different. When I was, you know, 17 or 18, if you did have sex with somebody you didn’t tell anyone and you certainly didn’t overtly live together. Now…
DP: It is true how amazingly fast that transition has been. In the fifties or forties--or many people watching this film don’t realize we’ve had such a rapid transition in relationship patterns.
BMH: And then the whole Betty Friedan feminine-mystique book was very interesting for me because she interviewed many woman in the fifties and found that many women were sad, that they had this nameless problem.
And the problem was they had no self image beyond 21. No sense of identity beyond wife, and mother, and culturally, it was imprisonment of the feminine potential. So then we have the whole feminist movement and we start to become, not just equal, but what is the feminine, authentic feminine self outside the patriarchy. We don’t fully know yet because it's--we’ve been in a cultural structure of patriarchy and I found that the drive in me as a woman, beyond my reproducing the species and loving my children, was expressing my own creativity through joining. So what does that do to couples? In my case it broke up my marriage. Because my marriage was completely in the old structure. Because I was the wife, and mother, and editor, and helper, and my husband was the genius…
DP: I was asking where relationship patterns were transitioning too.
BMH: So in my case I wasn’t able to navigate that. Then for a while I had a wonderful co-creator relationship with a partner but we didn’t get married. I felt that the bonds of marriage, wedding vows, wedding bonds, wedlock...
DP: It had been unlocked.
BMH: I had broken through… that partner died, and now I’m with another partner. We’ve been together for 20 years and we say we’re permanently engaged. He’s 85. But He was an Episcopal priest and he basically saw the feminine co-creator, the goddess needed to come forward. And he felt that it was his vocation to love such a woman so that I wouldn’t have to be aggressive or press against a dominator pattern, however its very hard for the man when the woman becomes vocationally aroused, and she’s totally passionate about her creativity .There’s something that happens in the masculine, maybe not in the young men, I don’t really know. I think that what’s happening is that we’re moving towards coupling. Not in the point of view of procreating and having maximum babies, but maybe chosen children, purposefully, but then to give birth to more of our potential by joining. I think the purpose of couples, marriage, and partnership will be a more regenerated sexuality rather than a procreative sexuality, and it will be moving up into how we release each other's potential. And if we do, the marriage, the partnership will grow, but it doesn’t have to be a legal contract. In fact it doesn’t really make any difference if it’s a legal contract or not, if it's an evolving group.
DP: What do you think of 2012? Do you see it as a legitimate prophetic date? That intuitively we’re moving at this accelerating process that is going to peak at this structure?
BMH: Well it is interesting that the Mayans came up with that from a galactic, intuitive perspective. And then it somehow relates to exactly the situation we find ourselves in: where we’re heading for a perfect storm which could be a negative aspect of the dissipater structure. It could just go down fast. Is it possible that it could quickly be non-linear in its jump. The timeframe towards 2012--I don’t know--but I do believe that there is a very short time frame here. And I think that on a mass-collective scale we’re going to take a jump by mass-resonance, by mass-consciousness shift, a mass-connection of what's creative could make the difference. So I say lets go for it.
DP: Use it as a mean or signifier.
BMH: I would, and let's say there is a higher dimension to this that can’t be proved, it gives it mystique, it makes sense to me because we are a part of, not only a solar system, but a galaxy. And I know from my studies with Nassim Haramein and others, that a shift in the galactic core, and why would there not be? And so I would like to intend in the direction that there will be a positive jump, and I love the idea of December 22nd, 2012 – it happens to be my birthday so I’m not taking that personally. But I thought that I would love to part of a very big planetary birthday party for planet Earth. And I have a wonderful planetary phrase that we could have our first motherly smile which could be, “hey, we could make it.” Its not that we made it, or we solved it, but oh, there’s enough of us. Like with Obama. Oh, oh, you know the amazement. That we both have a woman candidate and a black American candidate and the man won beyond his race is oh, how amazing. If that could happen in 2008, there is no doubt in my mind that in 2012 we could connect the positive, personally, through Internet and at a global scale.
DP: Is there any practical advice that you’re giving people these days? I’ve been more and more feeling that when I write articles and stuff to suggest people even think about, well how would you live without money, and also thinking about maybe learning how to grow food. I don’t know how to grow anything--not even a potato--but it seems good advice to offer people. You ever feel like as a public figure, now’s the time one has to give more tangible and practical advice about maybe we are about to hit this massive destabilizing crisis, and just to say that there are certain ideas that are gelling and developing isn’t enough anymore. Do you think there are absolutely practical things you want to tell people to do?
BMH: Well, there are a couple. One is in a self-evolution piece, the other is social evolution. Self-evolution is to do the best that you can to shift your identity from your egoist-separated self to that essence of who you are and what it is you want to create yourself. What is your drive to express? Seek out others who share that creativity and join. And create ever more expanding arenas of community, whether they be locally or in cyberspace, and then really draw on the sophisticated knowledge of how to grow food and how to do it right, it’s everywhere but you have to call it in. So, I think the building of community, based on a sort of survival, but more than that, affirming the creative potential of the people we’re joining with to make it into a positive, rather than just a danger signal is what I would suggest.
Jo?o Amorim: You talked about that Christ experience you had. A big focus of this film is how personal change can lead to societal change. Was that a moment, or was there such a moment where you actually had an "ah ha" kind of experience that shifted your viewpoint.
BMH: When I had the Christ experience, and I saw that it could be a forecast of the evolutionary potential of humanity, I got a very personal commandment, which was, 'Barbara I want a demonstration right now, which means you.' So I set on a personal path of what it would feel like to incarnate within myself that Christ consciousness. And there’s a lot of teaching about that and so I started to shift my identity from the person who was striving to get things done, to the one who was already there internally, and then it means, reach out and love. So I began a practice, it's in my book Emergence on how to do that. And then as the futures creator I began to see I have a role to help realize the collective potential of humanity and so I got turned on to feeling the Christ energy within me, not as a religion but as a living, creating potential. That I would say has transformed my life.
JA: As far as Bucky is concerned, do you have any more experience, do you think he had, like, a--we were asking BFI Director Elizabeth Thompson about it, if he had this kind of notion of other realms and like a collective consciousness, a spiritual essence…
BMH: With Bucky I didn’t go into the esoteric at all, but into the evolutionary. And so when he said there’s only god, there’s nothing but God, he meant the entire universe is intelligent. And the universe can’t know less, it’s a constant learning and he felt personally responsible for doing what he could about that. And so he got that impulse that made him so strong. And so when he embraced me and said there is only God and he put his forehead against mine, I actually thought he zapped me with the design science revolution in some of its aspects, because when I went out to run for vice president and said lets build within the white house a way of identifying what’s creative, I was going on that. And the fact that 200 delegates signed a petition, I was going to go see Buckminster Fuller two days before he died and I was going to ask him, I would like to know the critical path exactly as you see it. What should I be promoting exactly a 1984 to shift the tide? And I said is there anybody else that I should go talk to other than you and he said no, you come to me. So I had the date, the whole thing and he died.
So, I felt there is a critical path and that part of it is self-evolution, part of it is social synergy, part of it is vision, and part of it is the nature of the divine, intelligent, universal process of creation and embody all of that to me.
JA: One more thing actually. Um, because a lot these people are not used to these ideas, could you give your best definition of design science maybe.
BMH: Design science would be the science of understanding the design of nature well enough to work with it, to restore our environment, to be able to generate enough abundance without destroying the environment that it could sustain the life of the people on this earth and evolve our species toward its next stage. That’s a combination of design and science. The current movement is called Bright Green. And the Bright Green movement is bio-mimicry where you try to understand how nature works and instead of working against nature, you’re working as nature to grow that which can sustain human life without destroying the rest of life. That’s veery intelligent. Its an intelligent universe and we have to become more intelligent rather than less. And the design science revolution, as far as I can see, has not yet come together collectively.
JA: What do we need to do to have that come together?
BMH: What we need to is build those wheels of co-creation, and start bringing innovative and creative people from different functions together to look at the synergy of what we already find we can do because it’s coming together as a whole that we can take the jump. And I feel in the world of the foundation for conscious evolution that we want to contribute to social synergy and the design science revolution at that level.
DP: So a lot of it is about people learning how to collaborate.
BMH: Yes, the whole system, not just in small groups. What you need is an overall effect or a whole optical, like the whole site, how the astronauts saw earth. The astronauts did not see the people as the systems. I see the ___sphere, the thinking layer as the people and the systems that are now connecting in huge power to destroy and create. And that system hasn’t yet become self aware, that’s the work of conscious evolution.
JA: Maybe something about time…
DP: Any questions when you read 2012 do you have for me?
BMH: I did, I do have a question for you…What’s the Queztacoatl.. The name of the book. Cause you were such a seeker of something substantially meaningful for you. Has anything broken through that you feel you could hold onto in your quest?
DP: You didn’t feel like that from the book at all?
BMH: I felt that you were tentative.
DP: Well, tentatively certain. Well that there is a set of psychic dimensions to reality. Um..that there is a kind of an evolutionary process that’s going. That things are getting more and more fascinating. Synchronicities are becoming more and more concentrated. That there is some sort of process under way, that goes way beyond the rigid secular materialism that I was brought up in.
BMH: I think that is the same thing with me, slightly different language, that the hour of evolution is intrinsic and its in me and you and it is directional and the crisis, so I felt…you were so intelligent in your observations that I didn’t quite catch hold of passionate, I don’t mean certainty, but maybe its just your temperament is um, somewhat not skeptical, but --
DP: I also felt for the book to be sort of a work of art and not a treatise. I feel if you leave some things open, the reader has to fill them in and there are definitely questions left open by the book. You know, those were really my questions, but I felt that by being honest about I was still in this journey; I wasn’t saying that I had the answer, I had the scoop. I hope it allowed readers to connect with the material at a deeper level actually, than if I pretended I had the whole shtick worked out. I actually get unnerved by thinkers of 2012 who think they have it all worked out. Someone like David Wilcock. If there is too much certainty it begins to seems like an ego projection to me.
BMH: Yes. Well that’s exactly what I felt. I felt you were holding back a little bit. But not zealous certainty, but certain inspirational zeitgeist in you , that you were holding back maybe for the exact reason you said.
DP: Maybe, I think also at a certain point I was just a writer who got interested in these ideas that seemed more and more important, and I became invested in the responsibility of the subject matter. And in a way I then couldn’t go as deeply into certain imaginative speculative realms. You know or literary realms that I might of gone before I had those experiences.
BMH: Yes, I respect that a lot and I would say its also a temperamental quality. Like in my temperament, when I had certain expanded reality experiences and felt we were being born a universal humanity I became overjoyed. Not so much zealous, like I knew the way, but I became excited. Then I became called to go tell the story. That was basically my vocation. So then I had to learn the story. But I felt there is a story that was an intrinsic narrative based on cosmo-genesis. I couldn’t see it stopping here so I became actually pretty enthusiastic and still am for that matter.
Daniel Pinchbeck (DP) Richard Register (RR) Jo?o Amorim (JA)
RR –I think, in terms of compact pedestrian and streetcar and bicycle-oriented solutions, you can really do some wonderful building.
DP – So do people adapt those solutions there?
RR – No, absolutely not, no. What people are doing there is very reactive and going back to the same old pattern. Basically, New Orleans spread out and sprawled over a vast area out from the French Quarter and most of that happened early this century and they’re going back to the same old pattern.
What were you asking about – the automobiles impacts and all that? Oh, you were asking about the economy. The opportunity of the economy right now is really there. I mean people could wake up, but it could also re-trench; things could get a lot more severe,which is what I think might happen. I’m really happy Obama won, because it’s such a fresh perspective compared to what we’ve had with Bush and the Republicans; it's an opportunity to look at what really did happen in the last big depression…and the reality is, I mean, what Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried was to build out of the problem, not to bail out. He infused money, but he didn’t just give it to the loaners to just loan out to society willy-nilly. There was a scheme behind it, something to build. He was building highways and bridges and schools and post-offices and recruiting artists and engineers and architects and farmers. He was reviving the soil; he was reforesting the forests, all sorts of things. All really good things to do.
And I think if we think about building an ecological city and reforestation, if we think about sequestering Co2 in forests and high bio-diversity, if we start building cities that really make sense for the long haul…and transform existing cities in that direction, then I think we’ll be, at least, building a foundation for an economic recovery; but I don’t see recovery happening unless we actually do those things.
I think it’s getting to be a very, very late hour, vis-?-vis the climate situation and biodiversity on this planet. By the way, I think that, you know, ecological cities are a large part of the solution, but they’re not the only part. I think we need to deal with population; we need to deal with too much meat eating; it takes up too much land, massive amounts of land; and I think we have to deal with actually pushing ourselves to become much more generous people. I think we have to accept taxes. We have to spend them on the above three – those three being (1) building ecological cities, (2) dealing with the population situation, and (3) dealing with our agriculture and our diets. If we do that, and we generously invest in it, then we’re headed in the right direction.
DP – One aspect of our film has been the sense that, besides any technical fixes, there’s a consciousness shift that needs to take place like, an awareness shift. Most people are maybe not aware of how their actions are impacting the planet. So what kind of blockages and experiences have you had trying to bring these ideas to the public and to planners and architects and so on?
RR – Probably the largest problem is a desire to keep things really comfortable, especially among people who are well off. They are very well organized to prevent changes in neighborhoods, to prevent buildings from being too tall where maybe they should be tall. Here, in Berkeley, where we’re doing this filming right now, my organization brought forward an idea for restoring the creeks by having developers get a bonus if they could engineer buildings a little bit higher if they were downtown, another story or two higher, and create housing in the right place where transit works really well…if they put money into a fund to actually remove buildings that prevent the bringing of creeks back and the expanding of community gardens and the creating of bicycle and foot paths around the city and so on, in willing seller deals. In other words, if somebody wants to sell their house, then developers put some money into a fund that could be matched by taxes or matched by foundations or fundraising schemes or whatever. But the money would be there so you could remove buildings in one part of the town and shift towards a transit-oriented city, not just neighborhoods, but cities.
DP – You’re saying part of the need would be to remove a bunch of the existing structures.
RR – Oh, yeah. I mean right now, the city probably covers 3 or 4 times the area that it needs to cover and that’s because we drive around in cars and have parking structures and parking lots and freeway interchanges and it goes on and on. And the houses themselves, most of them are 1 or 2 stories high in most cities in the United States, so it’s scattered out over a vast area.
So, we had this idea in Berkeley, and it relates to your previous question about resistance, to put people in their right place, to work with transit and energy conservation. Everyone is concerned about climate change here and energy conservation to open up the landscapes, everybody likes biodiversity and gardening…but they wouldn’t go for it, because it actually would mean some kind of significant change in the land use pattern. And people would get very nervous about their investments and their property values and any kind of change in their environment. So, when this is the case, you say, "Well, wait a minute. Here you say that you’re very concerned about climate change and that energy is a big problem…. Well, here’s the solution. Let’s go for it." And then you say, "Well, but not that solution." So I think what happens very frequently is that people just don’t really want to sacrifice; they don’t want to face really difficult changes…and I don’t know what it takes to get people ready to do that.
In my mind, change is exciting and fun. I’m an artist type. I like creating new stuff. I like seeing buildings go up if they’re good buildings. I don’t like ugly buildings going up, you know, that’s a matter of some aesthetic taste or something, but if buildings are going up that’s the right kind of building in the right place and it, you know, replaces the need to commute long distances, then it’s pretty good. If you restore a creek and bring it back into the city and it brings more life into the city, natural life, and the kids can see it, that’s good. So, I like those kind of changes, but a lot of people are very worried about any kind of substantial change, especially in real estate land use patterns. I think that’s a very big problem.
DP – What do you see in terms of like new technologies that are being developed? Do you see projects that could be really helpful for retooling society, and what kind of techniques would those be?
RR – I think they’re probably some new technologies that will come along that will be helpful. I don’t see any gigantic breakthroughs being necessary, I think solar energy is ready to go at the quantity of energy that could be delivered economically. It will probably be more expensive than the energy resources that we have now, but it would be a very good clean energy source, same for wind. But, the main idea in ecological city design, or one of the main ideas, is to just cut the demand way, way, way down and it can be done by designing right. And then if you come up with maybe some new technologies, I’m not sure what they would be, I haven’t seen any breakthroughs, I mean there’s information technology, but strangely enough, good ideas floated around pretty well before we had all this information technology, too. So, I’m not expecting any kind of technological breakthrough to solve these problems, but we will need a breakthrough to get to the point where we wish to work on redesigning and rebuilding our built environment.
DP – It sounds to me from what you were saying, and once again this is a theme in our film, that part of what’s lacking is a coherent positive vision that people would have a sense of what they’re moving towards, because you know they don’t want to think about what they’re giving up. You know, if they have to give up comfort, and the car, and all that stuff, that’s just negatives. So how do you present this as like, what’s the super positive new life pattern that people would be having if they followed this kind of path?
RR – Well, there’s different notions of prosperity. For example, you can have pretty bohemian people that live in what looks like poverty, but they have sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll; essentially, you know, they have poetry, art and dance. They have music and sculpture, you know. There’s so many things in life that can be enjoyed – humor, and discussion, and conversation, and friendships, and all these sort of things. So, that’s one version of prosperity. What if prosperity is very flamboyant, exciting buildings with rooftop gardens, and solar greenhouses and cafes on rooftops and…you know, being able to see your friends within a short distance if you want to, walking out of the building and in 15 minutes finding yourself in the wilderness, in a beautiful agricultural zone or something. I mean this is one form of prosperity.
The kind of prosperity that we see now is just a bunch of things that we’ve collected in our lives and being able to drive, sort of, impulsively from place to place if we just happen to want to. I think that’s a prosperity that has an extremely high price. So if we can think through a prosperity that enriches our own lives, that's rich in biodiversity, that has butterflies and hummingbirds coming back and things like that; that has real significance. It’s part of a real prosperous way to live. And you can have good food; I mean, you can have more land for food growing if you reshape towards ecological cities…so many more options. There’s a whole other kind of prosperity.
In fact, one interesting thing is to think about economics in a different way. The economics we have now is you grow, grow, grow, grow, grow and that’s how capitalism defines health. And if you aren’t always growing, you think there’s a big problem, and then people go unemployed and so on. Well, another way of looking at it is the fewer people there are, the more there is for the people that are there. You know, if you have enough production, but you have fewer people, you don’t have to share with as many people. I mean, it seems like a strange notion in a capitalist world to say – well, maybe you could have a shrinking for prosperity. It’s a little slogan that, I think, is an intriguing one. To actually shrink for prosperity.
DP – Once again, that makes sense in a way, but then what you are actually saying to people tangibly is that one of the greatest pleasures that many people look forward to is raising a family and having children and you’re saying that that’s not ecologically feasible at this point in time – what’s that?
RR – Why not?
DP – Well, I mean, if you want to have less people.
RR – Well, no, I mean, you can have two kids. You can have other people have two kids around you, they can play with your kids. I mean, and they can have plenty of friends and so on.
DP – I guess another point you were talking about the build out, rather than bail out. You know, Buckminster Fuller, for instance, had talked about like a post-work society, you know, where maybe the type of work that most people are engaged in is actually not of benefit to the planetary environment anyway, so why not just allow them to grow their own food and not work …
RR – I think part of that was an illusion of the times, which was that we were going to have energy that was so cheap that you wouldn’t even have to meter it anymore. You might remember that’s what they talked about in the fifties when nuclear was coming on strong. The head of the AEC, the Atomic Energy Commission, was saying that pretty soon energy would be so cheap we wouldn’t even have to meter it and so this is the cauldron in which some of these ideas came forward, including a lot of Buckminster Fuller’s.
I think the idea of a lot of leisure and time for arts and so on is fine, you know, to a certain degree. But, I think it’s much more important to think in terms of really productive, creative, contributing work. You know, to actually be able to build stuff. To actually harvest food and make clothes, things like that.
I just got back from China a few days ago, and over there people were saying, "Well, can you tell us not only how we can make our city different, but more importantly how to get richer faster? How do we get richer faster?" And I was saying, "Well, you know, there’s something to the idea of, and you know it sounds kind of puritanical but, do good work…to actually work hard with your muscles and your brain and accomplish something. And then relax and have fun. But, you know, don’t think you’re gonna get there just by having fun and relaxing and being impetuous or, you know, dancing and singing all the time. You know, you have to actually produce something.
DP – To me, that sounds a little bit on the puritanical side. I think about like when the colonialists came to the New World and they found the Native American people sitting around like dancing, doing ritual, not really, they didn’t even have a concept of work, they would hunt and gather a few hours a day –
RR – It’s really hard.
DP – No, not actually at all. Actually a few hours a day, two to three hours a day is what anthropologists have figured out is how long it took the indigenous people to do any behavior we would consider work.
RR – I’ve read those. I have some doubts about it at that extreme. You know, if you wanted to live in a way where you have that much, where you don’t have that much in terms of material wealth, maybe it would work out in a place that isn’t overpopulated, in a place that does have high biodiversity. We don’t have that anymore. It doesn’t exist anymore. We’d have to recreate that. We’d have to shrink our population back. We’d have to, you know, repopulate massive numbers of animals around the world. You know, there’s a hundred times the body mass of human beings of any other species in our size range that ever existed on the planet.
DP – There’s definitely a bunch of us right now.
RR – There’s a lot of us. I mean, it is absolutely gargantuan.
RR – You know, Wilson said, I think his figure is that only seven percent of all the animals, by weight, on the planet now are wild. All the rest are either human beings or our food animals, our pets, or our pests.
DP I think there are a lot of beetles–.
RR – Well, I’m talking about, you know, mammals and birds and things. <both laugh> Probably more beetles and ants and termites than people.
DP – Do you see a spiritual dimension in this transformation process?
RR – Yeah, but I think the spirit is – well, Paolo Soleri had an interesting comment. He has a book called The Bridge between matter and spirit is matter becoming spirit. In other words, I think spirit is as the spirit does largely. Spirit is becoming something that has some really powerful essence to it, some kind of recognition of where we are in the Universe, of who we are and what it means to be alive…these sort of larger philosophical questions, and the sense of being one at home on the planet and so on. I don’t think you get there just by wanting to be there and by meditating. I think meditating can help. I think many things can help to enhance, as a discipline, your recognition of where you are and who you are and when you are in the world. But I think it ultimately comes down to are you going to do something about it?
I see a lot of very wealthy people that spend a lot of time never sharing but who are all on spiritual quests. Then, I see other people who don’t seem to be on a spiritual quest at all that are always helping other people. In my mind, they make more of an actual impact than other people's spiritual journeys, because what they do actually helps. So I think that spiritual advancement takes work. It takes an understanding of where you are and that life is pleasurable, too, and creative. One of the things that I thought is interesting about so much of the psychological studies is the dearth of the information on the creative personality. You have a lot on the abnormal personality, you have a lot of people that are seeking success in their life and getting comfortable and having the luxury to be introspective. But what about the creative personality?
What kind of essence does the creative amount to? I mean here God is supposed to be the Creator of the Universe or the Creator of forces seen as the deity of some sort and I think that’s really meaningful. So why don’t we talk more about how you create something like an ecological city? Like a future where people are really happy and the other plants and animals can co-exist; this, to me. is a spiritual quest.
DP – I think there’s always a tension though between imposing any model or trying to impose any vision or model onto social reality and some kind of self-organizing process that is taking place.
RR – Well, you can just sit back when you have what you think of as something that’s worth teaching somebody or that you think is true but a lot of people will say, "Well, who are you to say that cities should be organized like that?" Well, I’m just a person that studied it; that’s all. Maybe I’m wrong. You decide yourself. So I offer these things and if people want to do something about it, they can. I certainly can’t do it alone. But the issue has come up and I’ve had people from the spiritual angle and also from the angle of the academic say to me, "How can you architecture types, how can you architects" – I’m not an architect, I just draw architecture – but, "How can you architects feel so certain that you can do this stuff? Why are you so self-assured?"
And it’s because I know I can! I build houses. I’m a carpenter. I know how to lay the things out. I know how to dig the ditches and pour the concrete and do the framing and the finish work and everything. I just know how to do it. Now, if the client isn’t there, if the money isn’t there, you don’t get to do it. If the rest of the crew isn’t there, you don’t get to do it. Same thing with building ecological cities.
But that creative possibility needs the discipline to come together. Now, I can put it out there but if other people don’t want to do it, it’s not going to happen. The signs are it’s not going to happen, actually, because we haven’t gotten enough support. Among all the people I know who are doing ecological cities, the support is very small. In the meantime, the suburbs sprawl; in the meantime, the Chinese are crazy for cars.
I was in a cab in China a couple of days ago and the fellow in the cab with me who spoke both Chinese and English says, “Well if I can’t get a car how can I get a wife?” I mean you have things going on in the world now that need major change. Now when I come say, "Hey, we need major change;" it’s up to you to say, "Okay, well, maybe, maybe not." But, I’m gonna keep saying it, because I think we do need it.
DP – How do you factor in, I mean, I assume, you were talking about reading about peak oil studies and I assume you’re looking at the accelerating effects of climate change and how, potentially, you know, life anywhere on the earth is gonna get far more unpredictable in the next few years. I mean like, so I saw your model of rebuilding New Orleans, but what if New Orleans is just hit by a series of these cataclysmic weather events? Should we even be thinking about rebuilding New Orleans? Should we be thinking more in terms of either nomadic encampments or, you know, structures on the high grounds? I’m just wondering…
RR – Well, structures on high ground, you know. That’s better. <Both laugh> I agree with that. No, I think that, well, there’s a problem here, which I’ve been dealing with my whole life, which is a lot of people say well, that’s impossible; you just can’t do that, because people aren’t going to go for it. I talk to the politicians, they say "Politics is the art of the possible; we do what’s possible." I say, "Wait a minute. There’s two kinds of possible: (1) is it physically possible and (2) can you actually design it and build it? The answer to both is yes. Can you actually design and build a world where maybe you could even start reducing the temperature of the planet?
If you really thought it through and if you had people who got behind it, well maybe they’re never gonna get behind it, but let’s not say that right now. Let’s say, could it actually be done? Could we actually institute a whole series of changes that could actually start cooling the planet? Why isn’t anybody suggesting that we actually think that way? We could say we could do several things at once. We could deal with the population, we could deal with the built environment, we could deal with our diet, we could deal with our spiritual things, which I think is the essence of generosity, which I think we need to have.
We need to invest in not just ourselves, but the future. So if we pull all these things together, I think we might be able to make it. Now when the peak oil people hear the ideas of ecological cities and ignore them, which they’ve been doing, I mean, I know a lot of the peak oil people, and they never talk about ecological cities. And yet it’s something that’s viable, that you can design and build.
DP – Could they see things moving more to a township level and do they see the cities being abandoned?
RR – Most of them are very vague on what exactly to do except get basic skills.
DP – Are you talking about people like Richard Heinberg and so on?
RR – Yeah, Richard Heinberg, in particular. He never mentions ecological city design. I was at the 1st National Symposium on Peak Oil, which was held in Yellow Springs, Ohio, was it, near Antioch, about four years ago. They keep having them, you know, they keep saying the same thing. They never talk about ecological city design. They talk about little communities, small communities, going back out on a farm. I think you can’t support the number of people we have on the planet doing that now.
DP – Well, a lot of people think that we may not have this many people on the planet for much longer.
RR- Right, well, they think there’s gonna be a big dieback, but I think that’s – I think to acquiesce to that, like…a friend of mine by the name of Jan Lundberg, he says we must embrace the dieback and then after we learn our hard lesson, then we can move forward. I say, wait a minute, that’s like saying let’s endorse the Nazis and their extermination of people in Europe or the Jews and everybody else. I can’t go for that, learn our negative lesson that way. I mean, you try to learn from –
DP – I guess most people who say that don’t expect to be one of the ones who are diebacks –
RR – They don’t. You always sort of imagine they’re going to be the ones that survive for some reason, but I don’t think it works like that. I think it’s highly irresponsible to give up on trying to design a way of living that’s really healthy.
DP – Clearly at the moment we have an irrationally designed global system that is supporting massive unsustainable and inequitable behavior. And yet, we see that we have 6 billion plus people on the planet, stumbling by in the dark, getting along…so I agree with you that if there was a huge emphasis on the kind of more rational sharing, equitable sharing of resources, really re-thinking how food is produced and energy is produced, maybe there wouldn’t have to be that kind of traumatic diebeck.
RR – I think so. I think, I’m not –
DP – So, it’s like a failure of the cultural imagination in some sense.
RR – I’m not really that hopeful that people will catch on, but I’ll continue working as if they could, because maybe they can, you know? I’m not ready to give up. I think that –
DP – Well, you were saying that you just had this eco-cities conference, you had people from 73 different countries, 223 speakers, so obviously, there is some kind of growing groundswell or movement that could lead to what they call a tipping point. And I think a lot of fields that, to me, are complementary to what you’re talking about, are experiencing the same thing. So as this crisis deepens there might be almost like – we were talking with Barbara Marx Hubbard – it’s almost like a non-linear transition point where these ideas that have been gelling for so long, are able to transmit.
RR – Yeah. There’s many analogies. You can say you go through, you go over the threshold into a new territory like the Myth of Sisyphus where you’re pushing the rock up the hill and once you finally get to the top and it starts taking off down the other side; those kind of moments are possible -
DP – I thought he never gets to the top.
RR – Well, but, yeah okay. <both laugh> Okay, so the myth of Sisyphus’ son who’s triumphant. Let’s call it Sisyphus’ son. That’s a mouthful.
But anyway, no. We might be right at the edge of things right now. People are saying finally, “solar energy!" Let’s all do solar energy. Almost everybody thinks it’s a great idea now. I was writing about solar energy in 1971 along with the ecological city design and planning and that sort of thing. This was a long time ago and nobody did anything about it. They started, and they just backed off and it faded away, but now it’s coming on really strong and it’s looking really good and finally people are saying, which we all knew back then, too, that oil is a limited resource, that fossil fuels are gonna go away.
Well, now people are beginning to catch on to solar energy and so what’s the environment that fits with solar energy? It’s a city that requests less energy. If solar energy ends up being a little bit more expensive, and I’m sure it will be – I’m almost positive of that – then, make a city that doesn’t require that much energy; and it can be done. So the two go together. And then there’s this other possibility, finally people will start catching on in a bigger way…
For example last year at the Bali conference on climate, nobody talked about city design or city structure at all. It just didn’t come up. It's the biggest thing human beings create. I mean to me, this is an amazing puzzle that we could not see this gigantic thing that we live in. I mean look out here, all you see is city. We’re surrounded by city for miles and miles. They don’t even talk about it, and yet, a European city averages about 1/3 the land area for the same lifestyle about 1/3 the energy consumption … That’s big.
You’re talking 66% savings in energy just by going into a European mode of a city. And they’re stuffed with cars anyway. So, what if you came out to a city that wasn’t stuffed with cars…you’re talking about saving maybe 80 % or 90% of your energy. You get into thinking like that, you say, hey, it can be designed and why not start getting serious about it, and maybe we’ll start doing that.
DP – It seems to me, what I keep hearing and what you’re saying, which I’m reacting to in some sense and what I see as an emergent property of a global transformation process, is this open source model that’s coming from the software development. You know, so that now there’s like Firefox or something, which is such a better Internet browser than Internet Explorer or the one that Microsoft created. And nobody got paid to do it; it emerged out of a collaborative network of designers or Drupal or whatever…
Is there a way to mesh what you're talking about with a kind of open source collaborative approach where you have people actively engaged in a design re-conceptualization process?
RR – Sure. Well this is, there’s something like the Churet process where architects and people who are interested in designing their environments, whether they’re clients or just people in a community get together; and they do almost what you call an open source design process. I mean they all come together and share their ideas that’s usually directed towards a particular piece of property and somebody has the investment money to actually make something happen, so it gets kind of real and practical. But, these ideas are out there, I mean, I’m just one of the number of people who are proposing them. There aren’t a lot of us, but they’re out there. If anybody wants them, they can take these free ideas. We have a non-profit corporation, we put them out on the Internet and so on, so we definitely use those tools you talk about.
But, it’s up to people somewhere in their, deep in their heart to say, ‘I want to build a different world, and I’m willing to face some serious change, I’m willing to work hard for it, and I’m willing to put money into it, and I’m willing to’, you know – it’s not necessarily going to be comfortable.
DP – George Orwell said that he thought that the purpose of technology shouldn’t be to make life softer and more complex, but simpler and harder.
RR – Not like that, because I think evolution heads towards the more complex. It’s another interesting discussion here, because a lot of people that are friends of mine that talk about simple living. But if you get into perma-culture and ecological city design and how you actually live in a complex, very rich biological environment, there’s nothing simple about it. Ecology is very complex. But, if you work with whole systems , if you can imagine a whole city working 3-dimensionally, it becomes comprehensible. It’s complex, but it’s comprehensible.
I think that’s an important concept. For example, you look at a bird, all the way down to the DNA and its cells, and it is an incredibly complex organism. It has wings, and you know what the wing are for, and its beak is for eating, and its legs are for landing and so on. And you get the gestalt of a bird after knowing little about and what the bird actually is and from then on, you kind of got it. You understand the whole system, even though it’s extraordinarily complex. So, when you deal with whole systems, they’re more easily comprehensible than the out-of-control mass we have of this sprawling city that seems to make so little sense.
It’s hard to understand, because it’s hard to understand. It doesn’t make any sense. But, if you redesign it so it’s an ecologically healthy organism like other living organisms, it starts to make sense. Then it becomes much more comprehensible. So, I don’t believe the ideas that we’re heading, that we should head towards simplicity, but rather whole systems understanding, which orders your thinking and makes it much easier. It makes thinking easier, but not less complex.
DP – Isn’t there a city in Brazil that’s kind of an eco-city model? What’s the one?
RR – You’re thinking of Curitiba.
DP – I’m curious to see your reactions to that project and if you feel they manage to some of the parameters that interest you.
RR – I think Curitiba especially in the early days was well on its way and still very good. It’s about as good as it’s getting so far, but it hasn’t moved much in basic design in twenty years or more. One of the first things they did was discipline the transportation system to work with a high-density development. So they have five long arms of high-density development that go along with the dedicated bus route, which means the buses move up to 40 miles an hour down this route and there’s no cars.
…it’s dedicated to buses only and emergency vehicles. And that becomes a sort of a skeleton for organizing a city that works really well. You have a lot of open space; you have good recycling. They’ve given people the option to move out of areas where used to be flooding and into the higher-density areas with good deals. There’s many things they’ve done in Curitiba that are really good. But, they are also swamped in automobiles.
There’s still quite a few cars down in Curitiba. So, my feeling about that city was that it should have continued pushing on in the same manner that it started. It’s kind of ceased up a bit. And, as it’s been growing it’s become more automobile-dependent and into the future. It’s still pretty good, though. It’s still one of the best cities around.
DP – I keep wanting to come back to this sense of how deep the consciousness shift would have to be to create a thrivable future for humanity. And I wonder, what flashed in my mind, something like homeless people, street children, but I was also thinking of the whole question of private property in and of itself. If you go to indigenous communities, they don’t have private property in the same way we do. You know, people can sleep anywhere, move around, they invite you into their home. I mean, do you think that with our kind of ego-based mentality around possessing goods and structures and land that we could have an ecologically-thrivable future?
RR – Well, it’s very complex. You’re putting out a range of different scales where people have different types of relationships, radically different types of relationships. Village life and life of migratory bands and so in is just so radically different from what you get in a city or a large town or something…Just talk about disbanding all ownership and you know somehow sharing everything in an idealized sort of way, I don’t think makes too much sense unless you actually are willing to live in a situation where people used to live and do that sort of thing.
For example, bartering, I think, is absolutely impossible. I mean, who’s going to want me to come give them a lecture and then feed me and do my dentistry because I gave them a lecture about ecological cities? I’d have nothing to offer people for bread. I couldn’t go down and get bread all the time and trade them one book for a lifetime. I’ve got one book they might like to read. I mean, you’d have to – I think economics demands people to be fair with one another and to be compassionate and to share. I think you can do that with ownership, but you can’t do that with massive ownership that’s greedy.
DP – We are planning to interview Bernard Lietaer. Have you heard of him?
RR – No.
DP – He wrote a book called The Future of Money; he’s a European currency trader who’s one of the architects of the Euro, and he basically believes that the monetary system that we’ve constituted in itself is an insoluble disaster, because it enshrines competitive rather than collaborative behavior. People want to horde it, because it’s this virtual abstraction, and keep as much of it as possible.
So he’s come up with an idea of negative-interest currency, called the Terra, that would actually loses value as you hold on to it like natural goods. It’s indexed to natural goods that also degrade in value over time. So rather than horde it, you’re emphasis would be on sharing it. Like, if you had 100 cupcakes, you’d want to give them out to us, because they’re going to go bad in two days, but if you share them, then we’re happy that you shared them, we’d remember next time we have 100 cupcakes we would want to share back with you.
So I’m just curious how this resonates with you in terms of whole-systems thinking about how things might change?
RR – Well, that has to depend upon social trust that one another is going to do that sort of thing. Otherwise, you wouldn’t want to deal with that kind of currency in the first place. So, you have a leap of faith that you’re having social trust.
DP – Well, don’t we have social trust in our currency now? I mean, isn’t that part of the problem that’s happening.
RR – Absolutely. I mean, socialism is more social trust than capitalist hording. I mean, there’s a difference there.
I think when you talk about sharing, when you talk about investing in the future, there’s many different ways you can do that. And, one is to build ecological cities. One is for gratification: save, so you can give more to your kids, things like that. I mean there’s many, many ways you can share. You can share if you have ownership, but if you’re massively greedy and if you want it all for yourself, there’s a problem there. I mean, this is a spiritual problem. This is an economic problem. This is a problem for survival of humanity now, on the planet.
So, I don’t know about these little economic systems and how they would really work, because it seems like whenever one of them is constructed it has the assumption, like I have an assumption that maybe people will like ecological cities and want to build it. Well, their assumption is everyone will want to have a more equitable world and so they’ll join in on this, but a lot of people, of course, don’t want to do that, just like a lot of people don’t want to build an ecological city. So, we’re putting the ideas out there and these monetary systems, to me, seem somewhat beside the point, maybe not, maybe I’m just not educated enough about the way money works. But, I think –
DP – So he would probably say that your ecological cities are beside the point until you reform and transform the monetary system.
RR – Well, I don’t think that’s true, because, you know, you could go out and build anything with your hands. You could build a cob house, they’re really popular now in certain circles, perma-culture circles and so on. You could just make things with a knife and a piece of wood. You don’t have to wait for a monetary system that makes some kind of ecological sense. And, there’s money lying around that isn’t that much a part of a system that’s you know you get in oddball ways.
You could borrow money and build a house on the basis of your friends. You can charm someone into loaning you money. A lot of developers are really good at weaving fantasies and charming people and that is how they get their money in many cases. It’s very complex. But, just to get down to what I think is physically needed is to build an infrastructure that runs on 1/10th the energy that we build and live in now. And, that would make an enormous amount of difference.
How you get there – by socialist investment, by capitalist investment, by using money that’s declining in value as time goes on – I don’t know. Whatever it takes.
DP – Do you want to ask some questions, Joao?
JO – Do you want to go through your projects a little bit?
RR – Okay, so in this particular design, the idea is that people have their residences on the outside of the structure, and they look out past little gardens into the natural, or agricultural landscape. Then, on the inside of the structure are social spaces and you have big beams of light coming down from above like this, swimming pools up on the roof and other social spaces up there. So, that’s one design… A fellow named Gene Zelmer has been promoting this idea, kind of a little town on a hill…Let’s see…
JO – Is that a natural hill or re-sculpted?
RR – No, it’s an artificial hill…Let me get to one that’s kind of a basic set of ideas here. Where’s the really basic one? This one’s really basic. This one kind of gets you the general idea.
Here you have the international style of towers, or slabs, it could be sliced in this manner, pretty much single use with, sometimes, restaurants on the roofs, shops on ground level, and so on, but the ecological city idea is more to bring together all those pieces in real diversity and so you can put warehousing in the lower section, and storage and so on. And they do have storage in the bottom of most buildings, but, right now, warehousing is usually outside of town at a truck’s distance, so it takes millions of gallons of energy to get the warehouse goods back and forth from the warehouses to the city.
For example, in the San Francisco area, it’s 40-50 miles out into the Central Valley where most of the warehousing is. That requires the trucks, the freeways, and so on. But, if you have a train that simply goes into your little town like that, leaves off the warehouse goods temporarily, they go up to the various shops and then they go out to the public, all you need to do is have skip loaders going back and forth, those forklifts and things like that, and elevators to deliver in a matter of feet instead of many, many miles that you’re dealing with warehousing in the current city.
And, of course, you have here the darker interior areas, which would be things like movie theaters and clean industry, and labs and so on as well as the storage. Then you can raise the city up into the sun a little bit more, you get beautiful views, you can have solar greenhouses facing the sunny side, street systems that are way up in the air. You can link building by bridges, all these design possibilities are there to be explored.
There’s one little pattern that I like a lot, which I call a “Keyhole Plaza” or “View Plaza” and the idea here is that you celebrate the view of the nature. Something of nature is of importance to you, you value that, so you save the view and in this case, you ‘re looking up a curving beach like, maybe, Santa Monica, California, where I used to live, and so, instead of having a plaza that’s just closed in with buildings all the way around it, you have a view because you are open to nature and celebrate both nature and agriculture, I mean nature and your city at the same time.
DP – What do you think about what’s happened to public spaces in cities in the last hundred years or whatever?
RR – Well, public spaces in the last hundred years, that’s a wide-ranging variety of things.
DP – Well, there’s been a sense of privatization. There’s less and less public space. There’s less and less –
RR – There’s more and more malls and things. Yeah, privately-controlled space and so on. I think it’s very negative. We need public space. Public space is wonderful. We should have more public spaces and fewer sequestered private malls.
DP – Of civilizations in the past, who do you think had the most interesting city designs?
RR – Well, Europeans certainly had some interesting designs. They’re still there. You know they’re usually surrounded by and largely suffocated by automobiles, but they’re still there. I like Katmandu, pedestrian areas in Katmandu. Old medieval cities I think are pretty neat.
DP – Katmandu is an amazing place.
RR – It really is. Have you been there?
DP – Yeah, I have.
RR – This drawing here is representing a new neighborhood in New Orleans – what to do after the floods. And the idea is that you elevate the landscape, maybe 20 feet, and that should take care of a few decades, maybe a century or more of global warming and sea rise, as well as the hurricanes that come in there. So, if you did that, you’d be doing what they did in the first cities that ever existed – Eer and the Sumerian civilization, other cities in the Tigres and Euphrates Valley.
When the floods came, the floods simply didn’t get high enough to damage the cities, and they could do that in New Orleans. You could have compact areas that are dense like this picture, you could have street cars that go through the city. They love street cars there anyway, so they should build like the French Quarter is built which is compact and works with street cars and pedestrians.
DP – I’m not seeing in these designs a kind of urban perma-culture, agriculture element. Would you still see agriculture outlying the city, would that be redesigned in some way?
RR – First of all, the ecologically redesigned city, the city that would take up one quarter of the land probably, so you’re liberating an enormous amount of actual dirt where you could grow stuff very, very effectively right next to the city. So, that’s the big thing. Putting rooftop gardens onto your city, that’s fun, that’s nice. You can get a little bit of production. Not a lot. The denser the city gets, the less rooftop there is per person, of course. So that means you get less and less.
And rooftops, like the one we’re on right now, for example, have other interesting functions. For example, people get married up here. It’s a beautiful view. I have some pictures of a marriage ceremony that faces exactly the view that you see in the background right now. So there’s more things than just food that you can do on the rooftop. One of them is solar energy. But, the thing about agriculture and about solar energy is the energy to drive that - the solar energy from the sun - lands on a large area and has to get collected. The energy has to be gathered together…and then where it’s concentrated in small points, which are your cities and your towns and where the people live, then it’s concentrated enough that you get some real effect out of it. You can really warm things, you can power your electrical devices and so on, because you gather the energy over a large area. That implies the energy to produce food as well. So the big thing in terms of ecological city design is to take up a lot less space in the first place.
And you get that possibility when you move away from cars and sprawl development and paving and so on. Also, one of the interesting things to notice there is that if you power your cars with an alternative energy source, you get almost nothing out of it in terms of the form of the city, because you perpetuate the same old city that covers that vast landscape. So, the more energy-efficient car is not a very long step in the right direction. In fact, if you take that seriously and really spend time investing energy, you’ve wasted your time and money when the time is very, very important. And we really have to solve some of these problems quickly.
DP – Well, we were looking at a friend of ours in L.A. now; we had him do a prototype of a water electrolysis engine that runs on electricity that would be powered by these battery cells he’s creating called i-cells; they’re working on…so they could be powered by solar, so you would have like a closed loop process where you wouldn’t need carbon fuels to motor people around in their cars and vehicles. Wouldn’t something like that be a solution?
RR – No. It wouldn’t be a solution, because you still have the cars. You still have the sprawl. You still have the paving the surface of the landscape and so on. So, it’s only a very partial solution. It’s only a temporary solution. It’s one that if you spend a lot of your time and energy dealing with it, you’re wasting time when you really should be investing time and figuring out how to redesign the city that doesn’t have the cars. Why agonize over better cars when you can have bicycles and streetcars and walk around in your city?
DP – What do you want to do with the 300 million vehicles we have in the U.S. right now?
RR – Scrap them and turn them into building materials. <laughs> That’s exactly what you should do with them. Make bicycles and streetcars out of them and rail systems. It’s a very, very damaging system right now.
JO – Well, the cities themselves. You’re talking about actually bringing a lot of stuff down…
RR – Yeah. Well the city –
JO – How much of that would really –
RR – You can. You can recycle a lot.
Another thing that’s going on is that – people don’t think much about this, but – every year – I don’t know if it’s one, two, or three percent of the city – goes down. Termites and dry rot and earthquakes and fires and things like that. Don’t rebuild in the same place. You know, it’s going to take decades to rebuild your city. So, work on it for decades. You’re not going to tear it all down and waste all that energy of all the embodied materials, you can let it decay at its own rate. But when you do replace it, replace it in the right place.
You know, put the new buildings where it works with transit. Don’t put them out in the suburbs someplace. That’s a really bad idea. Don’t be building cars that keep going on to the suburbs, you know, start building streetcars and moving towards the centers. You can move towards the centers of small towns and villages, as well as big cities. You don’t have to be hung up on big cities only, I’m not at all. I think you can have all sorts of scales that work well.
DP – Do you think that humanity’s gonna make it as a species on this planet?
RR – I mean it’s hard for me to make any guess, because of so many variables, but I would think that human beings would be among one of the last things to go, because we’re so clever and manipulative and, you know, we’re survivors.
But, we might end up with a very poverty-stricken planet where there’s very little else other than our food supply and animals there alive with us. I doubt very much that we will eliminate all life on the planet. I think that’s almost an ego-trip in its own right. But, I think that we could thrive with lots of the other plants and animals that are still with us. We don’t have to exterminate them. We don’t have to change the climate in a very major degree. We could turn that thing around.
We have to actually try it. We have to systematize our thinking. We have to look at ecological cities. We have to look honestly at population. We have to look honestly at diet and agricultural systems. We have to make a very strong effort and be willing to invest in it and sacrifice for it. It’s like a war schedule, you know. We’re in the Third World War right now. It’s the war with the world. And it’s mainly because of the cities we've built; there’s so many of us living in them and they’re so badly designed, and it goes on and on. But, if you actually face up to those things and if you actually try to think about it as a whole, I think that the solutions can start coming up.
I think you also have to say, though, that I’m going to face this discussion. I’m not going to run from it. In political situations where I’ve been talking about ecological cities, I’ve never really been shot down for the content of the ideas. It’s always shut down by people turning their backs and they say things dismissive like, “Oh, Richard, get a horse”, you know, just to change the subject. They just won’t deal with it. But if you actually deal with it their answer is there. There really are answers there.
DP – What about a high-density city like New York City where you already have about a maximum density of people living together?
RR – Well, an interesting thing about New York City is that it runs on about half the energy of the average American city, because they don’t have so many cars and everybody gets around on transit and it is compact and it is fairly diverse. It’s pretty intense, though, I mean, I would guess it’s probably somewhat wasteful in terms of materials, because it is so dense.
I think it might have gone over some limits there, but unless we actually think through how to really try to work this set of ideas out, I don’t think we’re gonna come up with answers like how can you make New York a little bit better. And maybe the answer is, you know, you have a Downtown, an Uptown, a few things, you begin spreading Central Park around, in between it. I don’t know. But, I know that you can certainly radically alter suburbia right away.
DP – What about ideas like a lot of the bioneers type of ideas like John Todd’s living machines?
RR – I think they’re very good. I mean, the living machine idea, that’s simply using biology in a way that’s extremely reasonable. I think it fits right into the ecological city planning.
DP – What about the idea of creating sort of wilderness corridors, do you think that’s a good one?
RR – Oh yeah, sure. I planned that. In fact, we have a mapping system – I didn’t show the whole system in here, but – these corridors become whole zones in this particular way of looking at the way you can reshape cities. One of the things I do that I like doing more than anything else is restoring creeks. That is restoring corridors and existing cities, or little pieces of them. I’d like to systematize it. Most people that I’ve run into politically don’t want to do it. They don’t want to have a system by which you can actually remove buildings systematically, because they think maybe you’ll apply it to their neighborhood or something.
Even if you say, here’s the zoning map we’re gonna deal with, we’re dedicated to it, this is our recommendation. They say, oh no, it’ll spread all over town and you’ll be eliminating my house. I mean I’ve had this argument many, many times. But, no. The answer to your question is yes.
Corridors are a very good idea.
DP – What are some of the most exciting new concepts and ideas that came out of your last eco-city conference?
RR – Let’s see…Thing guy named Andy Koontz had a really good slideshow on just how bad cars are and how good rail is. And, having the experience of high-speed rail in China just last week was pretty amazing. 150 miles an hour and you have glasses of whatever you’re drinking, you know, on a tabletop, and you can barely see any ripples whatsoever. You’re going 150 miles an hour. It’s not like Amtrak. So, seeing that a high-speed rail system can really work and learning about it at our conference was important.
Marcia McNutt was speaking there, she’s the, I don’t know if it’s called a director or president, but she’s the head of the Monterey Aquarium Institute, which does studies down in the Monterey Aquarium. And she spoke about the acidification of the ocean. She said if CO2 looks like a problem for the atmosphere, it’s an even worse problem for the ocean, because the CO2 is acidifying the water, which is beginning to affect shellfish now and corals. And, she had a graph that showed the whole earth and how much of it is covered with water, which is sixty-something percent. And then she says, but the volume, the living volume is much larger than that. So she showed another graph where it was more like 85-90 percent of the volume that is occupied by life is in the ocean and that is all being affected by CO2 in a way I hadn’t realized before so that was very interesting to learn about that.
On the creative, positive side, I’ve known all the people for quite some time, or almost all of them, that came there who are working on ecological city ideas, so it was more of the same. A lot of these ideas are not new. Compact, mixed-use development is not new. It is traditional. It’s been there thousands of years in cities. We just have to run with it.
JO – You keep on talking about diets and how we need to change our diets. Why do you think we need to change our diets and what the impact –
RR – Right now, for example, in Brazil a lot of the forests are coming down for meat-raising and this is happening all over the planet. A lot of the forests are coming down to run our vehicles, for raising bio-fuels at this point and I think that’s a very dangerous thing. But, I think when it comes to diet, it’s one of those things, we really have our strong tastes, we really enjoy what we eat, we’ve really gotten used to it and it’s a very hard thing to deal with, but raising meat requires anywhere from 5 to 10 times the land area than raising greens, vegetables and so on, and fruits, and so with a ratio like that simply the raw land area that’s required is enormous.
I think we have a responsibility to try to work with bio-diversity and reforest lots of the world and reforest the world in high biodiversity not just plantations and oil pumps for example but to actually do a real job of reintroducing biodiversity in the forest. Well, if we’re eating the kind of meat we’re eating and if we’re gonna be eating more of it into the future and if our population is going up at the same time and we’re requiring that much more land, that’s that much less land for biodiversity, that’s that much less land for the other forms of agriculture and for soaking up CO2. Let’s get effective about that, too.
If you have land that’s just grazing cattle and that doesn’t have much biodiversity anymore, I mean, you wonder why there aren’t any condors around. Well, there’s no dead animals that are left over from normal predation. You don’t have mountain lions killing deer, we don’t have condors coming down to eat what’s left over, things like that. So, we have a biodiversity that’s kind of scant, because everything’s in cows out there.
JO – What about the whole bio-fuels? How do you feel about that?
RR – I think bio-fuels – it’s really odd and interesting, because if we had a reasonable population on the planet and if we had very efficient ways of living in our cities, then bio-fuels wouldn’t be such a bad idea and you would cut a certain small fraction of the forests and so on and have your bio-fuels. But, we have such a gigantic population, we have such a gigantic appetite for running so many machines, bio-fuels are about as disastrous as it can get.
To run the automobiles of the United States, this is according to a lot of different statistics I’ve seen, but, let’s see, Lester Brown has quoted this statistic that to run the cars of the United States on bio-fuels would require all the agricultural land of the entire United States, actually a little more than all the agricultural land –
JO – Is that based on corn?
RR – No, any kind. I mean, well, different, but, what do they really represent? For example, oil pumps are much better than corn in terms of the amount of energy delivered. And I’ve flown over Malaysia and I’ve looked down, it looks like astro-turf.
You’re up at 30,000 feet and you look down at Malaysia and the whole thing looks like a plane of astro-turf from horizon to horizon. It’s all one plant. It’s all oil pumps. And, Indonesia’s going the same way. Malaysia’s about 50% oil pumps now. Indonesia is changing very rapidly and the forests are going, you know, for bio-fuels. If we had a very small appetite, it might be okay. But we have an absolutely gigantic appetite. So, put bio-fuels out of your mind for a while, go for solar and wind that don’t have any of those kind of negative connotations or almost none in comparison and build a city that requires not as much energy.
JO – Do you think we can actually generate enough energy from the sun?
RR – If we build right, yeah. And if we don’t keep growing our population, if we can actually have a little negative population growth for a while, which doesn’t mean killing off people, but it means reproducing more slowly.
JO – Do you think there should be a population control?
RR – Sure.
JO – Like in China?
RR – No. But I think people, individuals, should pick up on the idea. It’s interesting that the most Catholic country in the world, Italy, where the Vatican’s located right in the middle of it, has negative population growth right now. So, you know, there are ways to deal with it, other than the ways the Chinese have tried to deal with it for a while, Indians, too, for a matter of fact. But it’s a problem and I think it’s a consciousness problem more than anything else, people have to understand the whole thing. In fact, if there’s one lesson from what I think you might learn from my experience is that whole-systems thinking really accounts for a lot.
You can think of the whole system of the city and the way that all the parts fit together, the land use, the transportation, and so on, you come up with the ecological city. If you look at the problem of human’s surviving on the planet physically with the other plants and animals you can see there’s a whole system there. There’s all the people doing what we’re doing. But, the system is…there’s a population…we’re building the wrong kind of thing, we’re powering it with the wrong kind of power, we’re eating too much meat, we’re not conservative in terms of our demands from nature. So, if you look at this whole pattern, then I think you begin to see a wholeness there that begins to make sense and then you can have ways to deal with it that are much clearer. Maybe I’m wrong, but <laughs>
JO – Where do you see this type of project advancing the most?
RR – Where are the ecological city projects doing the best? They’re little bits and pieces everywhere. There’s no place where it’s all coming together. Chicago, they’re building on rooftops, I mean, they’re putting nice gardens on rooftops, green roofs, and things like that. Some cities have really good transportation. Portland downtown has –
DP – I think a much larger meta-question –
RR – What’s that?
DP – What should be the ultimate purpose of human society?
RR – Human society? I think compassion and creativity. You know, if we could create a society that furthers our own compassionate creativity, I think that’s it. I mean, I’ve thought about that a lot. How does an ecological city serve people? First of all it’s a creation. It’s something people create. And, it’s something that can be created well. It’s something that can even be created beautifully. What’s that all about? Well, you can create atomic bombs. You can create weapons to slice people up. You can create game plans to abuse other people. You can plot. You can have creative plots that do destructive stuff. Well, you have to differentiate creativity on a band that goes from the creative to the destructive, as well as just so you are actually able to create something new and different.
So, if you really understand creativity and you tune that up with what it means to be compassionate part of life on Earth, if you really appreciate the other life forms, if you really appreciate the other people, then you might have a chance of creating a more compassionate and creative world, and you’d be creating it. So, how do you be creative? As I was saying earlier, there’s almost no studies in psychology about the creative personality compared to the abnormal personality or the inquisitive person or the somebody who is extremely successful and self-seeking and who has a strong ego, you know, all sorts of stuff, but…I think creative compassion is either our destiny, or lack of it our doom.
JO – In your own life, did you always have these ideas or is there something that compelled you, because obviously your concern is the greater good of humanity, was there something that led you to that?
RR – Well, maybe. I grew up in a beautiful place, which is New Mexico, around Santa Fe. One of the things I was rather obsessed on was the fact that we were about to be exterminated any minute by the Soviets. I grew up in the Cold War era and I grew up right across the valley from Los Alamos, New Mexico where they were making the atomic bomb. I thought a lot about that and I thought a lot about us creating the tools of our own destruction, and I knew the people who were doing it, people designing hydrogen bombs, that’s what they did.
I had Thanksgiving with them, talked with them, they were my parents’ friends and that sort of thing. I was pretty nervous about life on Earth. I thought it was pretty beautiful and I grew up in a place that was really beautiful. I think that’s where my concerns about protecting life come from. And, I think you can have a city that not only protects life, but when you started this little interview, I was saying we could have a city that actually enhances biodiversity and creates rich soil. It’s a matter of designing it that way.
DP – What about like, I mean, even a state like New Mexico. Like somebody told me that the water within the state could support maybe like 30,000 people.
RR – It could support a lot more than that.
DP – Okay. But, I mean, much less than the people that are there right now.
RR – Much less than are there now, sure. It’s right. Like I said, population can be a problem in its own right, plus the demands. You can look at it with a very small population, you can have a very well-tuned society.
In very primitive circumstances, you could design a society that recycles water and uses it in productive greenhouses for example. There are many solutions out there that are healthy. I think the bottom line is maintaining planetary biodiversity, almost more than anything else. To get there, you need compassion and creativity. You need to be compassionate and you need to be creative. You need to be somewhat fearless, too. I mean, I have people – I have to say, in all honesty, it’s a harsh word, but I see a lot of intellectual cowardice. You know, people really being afraid to engage an idea.
DP – Where does that fear come from?
RR – I don’t know where it comes from. To me, it’s a little bit mysterious. I think it comes from fear of death or something really basic. And that people have fears that I don’t understand really. I think some fears are inculcated by religions…they make you fearful. Some politicians make you fearful…so they can manipulate you. I don’t know. There’s natural fear of pain and your own death, anyway. I mean you’re not gonna get around some base, residual, existential fear of your life going away, you know, that’s there.
DP – That’s one thing that we’re talking about in the film in terms of looking at shamanism and this kind of initiatory process where if you have kind of visionary experiences you have a sense of your life extending into other worlds and other dimensions even…you know, maybe less attached to this life.
RR – Maybe, I don’t know. It’s not my personality. I see the artistic personality as one that takes visions from the head into reality by way of whatever it is: poetry, music, art, city-building, it can be beautiful. So, you have these visions. They’re not real. They’re not out there.
But, they become real, because of the agency of your own activity and your own knowledge and your own skills, whatever. So, I think that the sort of the shamanistic thing, you know, you can have exciting hallucinations or experiences you think are very real that are very definitely not on the every day plane, but I think it’s particularly exciting if you can take those sort of things and posit futures that don’t exist and make them healthy and actually then head out to try to create them…and some people do that. I mean, a lot of people work with that actually.
JO – What is there here that you think would be worthwhile for us to look at?
RR – Well, just the fact that we’re up on the roof. That’s one thing that’s sort of unusual. It’s the first building that he’s done with a rooftop garden. I convinced him to do it and he built five more afterwards. It gets people up into the views and, I mean, I would’ve liked to have the guy have real gardens up here, not just decorative plants, but it’s too much, who knows, too much trouble, investment, and time.
To garden on a roof is more difficult than to garden on the ground surface. You have to elevate everything, you have to make containers, you have to deal with overflow, you have to deal with stains, deal with leaves getting in gutters, and all sorts of stuff. So, when you hear people talking about buildings full of plants or rooftop gardens –
DP – Vertical farms?
RR – Vertical farms, that doesn’t make any sense. It really doesn’t. In fact, do I have my little notebook with me here? No, I don’t.
I run that little vertical farm scene. I have a picture of a tube like that, you’ve probably seen it on the little solar collector up here. Okay, first of all, you’re only gonna get 1/5th the energy transferred from solar to electric. Okay, so, and then, when you take that 1/5th and you change it from electric to light you lose about half that, so you’re down to a 1/10th. Say it’s a ten-story building, you’re down to 1/100th the solar energy that you’d get on a flat surface outside arriving through the system in the building. It doesn’t make any sense.
Now, how it does make sense, if you want to be really, massively invested in it you could have 1,000 acres out there gathering solar energy to run your electricity and have electricity come into the building and run up there and running all those lights. You could do that. But if you planted that surface, you’d probably get 50 times the production, just by planting where you put your solar collectors, so it doesn’t make any sense.
DP – Thank you.
JO – Thank you.