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“Presidents are only presidents”

Our election night here in France was febrile. As I listened to the results (and finished Sharon Astyk’s book during the dull bits on the box) a tremendous storm raged outside and the power went down several times. That has has not happened here in seven years. All very Macbeth-like.
I don’t suppose you need more punditry right now – but if you can’t get enough, World Changing has just published a bunch of answers to this question: “In 100 words or less, what should the next president do in his first 100 days to address the planet’s most pressing problems?”
Answers from the likes of Hunter Lovins, Bill McKibben, Bruce Sterling, Cameron Sinclair, Howard Rheingold, Pierre Omidyar, Mathis Wackernagel, Jacqueline Novogratz, Paul Hawken, Robert Neuwirth (et moi) are here.
“There ain’t no cure, and I’m not sure he knows”. Illargi’s take is darker than the generally can-do comments of the the World Changing group. “Whatever hope a new administration may evoke in the hearts and minds of Americans and people across the globe”, Illargi writes, “one thing still stands…millions upon millions of jobs will be lost in the US alone within the next 12 months. Obama’s task will not, because it can not, be to lead his nation back into prosperous times”.
If prosperity means returning to a world of perpetual, inequitable, resource-intensive growth, then for me at least it’s not a desirable destination.
A better word than Prosperous, for me, would be Prepared.
That’s why my advice to the President would be to tell the truth about the likely consequences of peak energy, food and water and the like. This truth will confront people with the need to prepare for hard times, yes – but also to regenerate, and mend.
He should ask each U.S. region to map its ecosystems and human resources; identify any gaps; and then hold Transition Meetings to draw up Living Economy Action Plans.
In other words, he should delegate the whole thing to the people and re-cast the President’s role as Co-ordinator in Chief.
“I am a firm believer in the people”, said Abraham Lincoln; “If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”
Or as Sharon Astyk puts it in her pre-election comment: “Presidents are only Presidents – the people, well, that’s something else”
So much, so portentous, I know. I’m off to buy candles – and then to eat rosti for lunch with our friend up the hill.

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2 Comments

  1. justin
    Posted November 7, 2008 at 14:43 | Permalink

    Forgive me if this might be a stupid question. You have written the following:
    ‘He should ask each U.S. region to map its ecosystems and human resources; identify any gaps…’
    How is that done? Are there examples of regions that have done this? Are there any books about this? What is involved in actually mapping out an ecosystem? And what exactly are ‘gaps’ (what to look for) in this context?

  2. John T
    Posted November 11, 2008 at 16:55 | Permalink

    Justin, That’s not a stupid question, it’s a highly pertinent one. if you Google mapping + ecosystems you’ll find some fascinating examples. The challenge we face is that this kind of information does not yet drive planning and development processes.
    But it’s coming. Check out: The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity — TEEB — which is an economist’s attempt to set out a “comprehensive and compelling economic case for the conservation of biodiversity”.

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