Report from Massive Change Global Visionaries Symposium

Just returned from the Massive Change Global Visionaries Symposium in Chicago. The idea was to learn about the event and explore ideas relevant to some our own public event plans. I'm writing as I travel to and through O'Hare and will post this as soon as I can get online.

The Symposium was a eye opening in many ways.

Stewart Brand, futurist and author of the Whole Earth Catalog, The Clock of the Long Now, and How Buildings Learn; Gunter Pauli, founder and director of Zero Emissions Research Initiative of the United Nations University in Tokyo (, and Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia and Mary Czerwinski, cognitive psychologist and principal researcher at Microsoft. Of these, Brand and Pauli were the most dynamic.

Other speakers included Gregg Easterbrook, senior editor of The New Republic and author of The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse; Dayna Baumeister, cofounder of the Biomimicry Guild; Hazel Henderson, futurist, evolutionary economist, and syndicated columnist; John Todd, biologist and ecological designer, and Reginald Modlin, Director of Environmental Affairs for Daimler Chrysler.

The building did not have wifi so I couldn't 'liveblog' the event, however I was able to record Brand's and Pauli's talks on my laptop, using GarageBand and the internal mic, before running out of juice. The recording is noisy but it might be helpful for tapping into the tenor of the event and those particular speakers.

Stewart Brand presented first and he was superb. Soft-spoken, persuasive and utterly confident with his material, he proved himself the master inter-disciplinarian and unromantic humanist. His presentation was the only one with visuals, using Keynote I think, very polished with dense information demographics, many photos, sound clips, transitions, etc. Not as typographically sophisticated as Al Gore's show but equally dense.

Brand focused on the city, its pivotal place in the pantheon of human creativity, its long history and the dynamic economic and demographic forces transforming it worldwide, in every continent and across all income strata. Overall he gave a picture of optimism about the creativity and resourcefulness of human communities to solve problems.

Gunter Pauli is based in Tokyo (good thing for our project!) and described some of his initiatives in designing radically green urban / industrial communities at very large scales. Much of his work is in the developing world, e.g. Gaviotas in Colombia. They can leapfrog past current toxic practices and install new infrastructure that uses closed-loop, "waste=food" principles to achieve high employment, zero emissions, ample food production, etc.

Here's a helpful third party commentary []:
Pauli, in some ways a younger version of [Paolo] Lugari, has some spot-on things to say. He is most definitely on The Right Track. Kind of a permaculturist-social-justice-guy with a penchant to use fairy tales to illustrate his points....
...ZERI's focus is on taking things that are considered "waste" and finding new uses for them.
...The trick to "zero emissions" is to use the "waste" of one of the five kingdoms as food for another.

In person, Pauli is outspoken and imaginative, frequently alludes to his work with children and seems to celebrate these same qualities in them -- that they don't filter their ideas of what's possible. I think he'd be great for Transformations. Not an easy personality, but much better than that. Pauli was on stage with Reginald Modlin, Director of Environmental Affairs for Daimler Chrysler, who was cagey, dry, and sycophantic. No surprises and no big ideas whatsoever.

Next were Dayna Baumeister and John Todd. One very interesting moment of that talk arose through a question afterward by Stewart Brand regarding GMO's -- actually he scooped me as I was going to ask the same question. Brand pointed out that certain bacteria swap genetic material all the time, and that many scientists who understand biology thoroughly, including stellar minds like E.O. Wilson, are less disturbed by GMO than others who are not trained in biology. Todd gave a thoughtful answer that GMOs are a distraction in that he's more interested in the symphony of ecological relationships, rather than the admittedly interesting soloists or featured organisms.

JImmy Wales and Mary Czerwinski offered slightly differing views on emerging digital media. Most telling comment in that session came from Wales who imagined that the open, volunteer-driven model of wikipedia would be a temporary architecture that would soon have to be replaced by a more restricted and conventional model. To his surprise, the need to install controls on the model never materialized. In fact he continually has to explain to the media that the organization's controls are less restrictive than they imagine. Simple rules, like requiring individuals to be members for four days before they can edit, have effectively dampened most of the troll-like behaviour in the system.

In the last session Hazel Henderson held court and Gregg Easterbrook held his own. Henderson captivated the audience with ideas such as unmeasured value creation within the "love economy," and the need for broader alternatives to the money-based economic indices, like triple bottom line and the Calvert Henderson index. Both speakers dealt with notions of wealth and politics, and the overall picture was one in which material prosperity has shown steady increases in recent decades. The passing of Milton Freidman was noted and some audience members noted that we've never really tried pure market economics because of massive subsidies for entire industries, including oil and gas.

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