Last Thursday, before a packed house at the Commonwealth Club in downtown San Francisco, Adam Werbach fulfilled his promise to return after declaring Environmentalism dead and share a vision for what might emerge from the ashes of Green. Friends of Roy G. Biv will not be surprised.
The last few years, controversy has followed around Adam Werbach like a shadow. From his landmark “Is Environmentalism Dead?” speech to the work with Wal*Mart that’s left even his supporters scratching their heads, all along he’s promised that answers were coming. Answers have finally come… and in a form no less substantial than a total re-imagining of “sustainability” and a model for organizing how we tackle it as a planet.
Instead of spending the rest of this post explaining exactly what that is, here’s a full transcript of his speech and more about the platform from which he’s planning on doing his part. Yeah, it’s an advertising company—get over it. Now that we’re on the same page…
Though he namechecks Switzerland for the name Blue, it’s clear that this vision is the thoughtful and considered construct of one who has faced his demons—the IPCC reports things are worse than we’ve feared even as carbon emissions continue to rise, all the while Werbach’s been a leader in the Green movement—and emerged a wiser man. Environmentalism, despite all the dire warnings and alarm bells, has succeeded in little more than everyone feeling scared, guilty, or just angry. Now he’s ready to stop saying “the world is ending” and move from crisis to possibility.
In this way, he aligns himself with similar transformative thinkers—notably Van Jones (unfortunately, no relation). Though I haven’t heard yet if Jones endorses a “Blue” re-framing, he’s certainly been wary to define Green as limited to the organic foodfest or Prius-equals-redemption model popular among the gatekeepers of Green. His anxiety around the Eco-Apartheid that we seem determined to create and the consequences it would have on lasting sustainability are addressed by Blue in ways Green pays only lip service.
Also sharing this vision might be Alex Steffan of Worldchanging, who recently declared that “optimism is a political act.” Indeed, Blue is accepting and positive on a scale that makes even Bright Green (which “forgoes the bleakness of protest and dissent for the energizing confidence of constructive solutions”) seem a bit dim. Blue will likely mean saying yes enthusiastically to things to which we’ve been trained as activists to say no.
I remember the conversation with Jan when she told me that her new PSP was a diet. “Really?” I asked, obviously disappointed that this born leader had chosen to go with something so…ordinary.
“What do you mean, ‘Really?’” she snapped back.
“Well, I just figured that sustainability—I said it slowly this time—has to have something to do with protecting the earth.”
Jan gave me a kind sigh. “Where do you think all that food is coming from?”
This letting go will be absolutely necessary to reach the most startling aspect of Adam’s plan. We have five years to grow Blue to one billion people (for reference, that’s about the size of the Internet). If we’re going to move at the speed necessary to address climate change, that’s the number of people we need to reach. That means we have to talk about things that address the concerns of more that just “Mac users… coastal states and college towns”. The impossible mass of the American Midwest, land of strip malls and big box stores, must in turn be joined by the waking giants of India and China and all feel as much a part of Blue as I now do.
I have to admit I think the name is unfortunate. Yes, it’s next on the spectrum but that wavelength is already well-tread by the U.S. Democratic party and yet another color name makes the “Blue is the New Green” jokes unavoidable.