Complete Society

Ideas and strategies for a sustainable world

Canvassing Day 2: Inspiration becomes action

The theme of day 2 for me was ‘inspiration’.  I’ve said all along that the President doesn’t need just the intelligence to make the tough decisions; he needs to inspire the country to come together and empower everyone to tackle the tough challenges facing us.  For a great contrast of the two campaigns’ ability to inspire volunteers, read this at  The Big Empty

Since there are so many little interesting tidbits today, this post is going to be more a stream of consciousness than my normal writing.
•    Arrived in Ashburn to find 40+ volunteers ready to hit the sidewalks – 90+% of them were from out of state.
•    Local campaign vice-chair confirmed that this is THE battleground county of this battleground state – says the McCain campaign doesn’t have people like us, he’s *paying* his small canvassing force here
•    Here’s our smallest supporter.  Her mother was singing the bit from SNL: “Solid…solid as Barack!”

My canvassing team is 3 people, so we take on some big packets.  These are clustered so one can coordinate and drive while the other 2 zip down a street, but even though I’m the driver I get out to do a fair amount of knocking myself.
•    On my 2nd house, a woman actually trips down the stairs coming to the door!  I see it happen through the clear storm door and open it to help, but her husband comes and helps her up.  Luckily, she’s not hurt.  Rough start to the day!
•    I see some McCain canvassers for the first time, driving by and I consider how little presence the McCain campaign has here even though we’re still seeing the dueling yard-signs everywhere.
•    Here’s a picture from the Democratic precinct captain’s house:

“Veterans for Obama” seems so powerful since McCain’s war “hero” status is supposed to gain him the military vote (and Virginia has a long military tradition).
•    We encounter two young women canvassing for Judy Feder, local Democratic candidate for Congress.  We’re amazed to find out they are Columbia University students, part of a group of 130 who came down from NYC to knock on doors for Democrats.
•    I actually talk to an undecided young voter (he’s 25).  The most interesting thing he said was that I was probably the 4th Obama supporter who’s visited him vs. zero McCain supporters.
•    My favorite quote from a voter today: “We’re voting the Democratic ticket.  He’s 65 years old and this is the first presidential election he’s voting in.  That tells you something.”

Before coming to VA, I’d heard that northern VA was full of minorities who’d moved out to the suburbs from DC.  This afternoon, we found these fascinating “pockets” – mini neighborhoods of a 1-2 dozen houses that were all Asian last names. This is common in CA but I wasn’t expecting it here. I tried to go for the East Asian houses and it was interesting to note that the Columbia students had assigned a young Indian-American to cover the neighborhood that was literally 75+% Indian.

The one “negative” part of the day was getting into an argument with an elderly woman who’d already voted for McCain.  She wouldn’t leave us alone and got progressively nastier, crossing the line when she told one of my partners that he must not love his 3 kids if he’s supporting Obama.   This is an extreme case, but one can connect a campaign’s attitude to the attitude of its supporters.  As with McCain/Palin, this woman had nothing positive to say, not even anything good to say about her candidate – just nasty attacks.

Ending tally for the day – approx 170 doors knocked.  Enough useful conversations to feel successful.  Back at it again tomorrow!


November 2, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Toto, we’re not in California anymore

Today was my first ever experience knocking on doors for a political campaign.

For those who haven’t heard, I’ve flown out from SF to Arlington, VA to make the biggest difference I can in a place where every single vote is critical.  Because Arlington is  close to DC  ( i.e. abundant with volunteers), the  campaign has assigned me to the Ashburn office in Loudoun County, about 40 minutes west near the Dulles Airport.

Loudoun County is not just another county in a major battleground state, its ground zero for the fight.  It’s a microcosm of the statewide drama and according to one of my canvassing partners today (a volunteer who drives 1 hr+ from DC every day), it’s THE swing county.  Take all the other counties in VA and they’ll split dead even.  As Loudoun County swings, so does the state apparently.

The “split county” profile was evident right away. Just on the drive over, the number and size of the McCain/Palin signs was a wake up call.  I think I’ve seen one of those in the whole Bay Area.
The Ashburn office is small and lightly staffed compared to the SF Obama office where I’ve spent many hours these last weeks.  Granted, it’s a Friday morning but Monday afternoon in SF was *packed*, requiring at least 3 phone bank captains to handle the load.

In a split county, note that there’s going to be a lot fewer volunteers available and many of the ones that were there were from out of state.  *But remember*, this is one of probably 6 Obama offices in Loudoun County.  And the suburban commuter demographics would mean far fewer people around during a weekday.

That’s why our canvassing today only targeted 65 and older  folks, people who might be home  in the middle of  a Friday.

To keep this reasonably short, let’s just say the area really represented the demographic forces and political divide in Virginia.  Just about every Obama/Biden yard sign was matched by a McCain/Palin sign.  Often “dueling” across the street from each other.  And in this surprising case, fighting on the same front lawn:

By demographic forces, I mean the newer, younger suburban communities vs the older, more “rural” areas.  Just in our small canvassing area we saw the range: McMansions with large yards, more “middle class” townhomes, and small ranch homes tucked away down a gravel road.  It’s the  huge growth in these suburbs in northern VA that’s cited as the reason VA may go blue this year.
Overall, the day went quickly and pleasantly – most people weren’t home but the ones who were home were always friendly.  I’ll cut this post short with the woman who really made my day:

I ended up catching a spry, 81 years young woman as she was heading to her car.  (slight paraphrasing) “Our whole family is voting for Obama.  That’s 16 votes for him!   My granddaughter is volunteering for Obama over in Fairfax.  We tried to go to his rally in Leesburg but never even got to security.  So we sat up on the lawn.  When we hear him speak, it sounds like what FDR wanted to do for the country.  We remember FDR.  You’re too young to know FDR.”  (emphasis mine)

November 1, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A leader that inspires millions

This message from an Obama Regional Field Director is powerful and inspiring.  This country (and the world) needs nothing less than a leader that can inspire this kind of emotion and energy from millions of people.

(Thanks to for posting this)


Stay calm – and BE RELENTLESS today. Get everyone motivated, educated, and into the field as quickly and as often as possible…

GET THEM COMFORTABLE WITH A BREAK-NECK PACE. They need to be the cool heads by the time GOTV rolls around…

Report your numbers like clock-work. Call me if you need me. Don’t stop until your last shift is confirmed for Sunday…

Barack really is expecting a lot out us – and there isn’t much else for him to do. He has placed this election in our hands at this point. It’s up to us now. We may never again have our hands on history quite like this again for as long as we live. That makes each hour so so precious. We can slack off, sleep in, and make excuses for the rest of our lives. But today – and for the next 3 weeks… whether we knew what we were getting into or not… we have ended up with people’s lives, livelihoods, and dreams for their children – all dependent on our performance day in and day out. This is our one chance at history… our one chance at perfection. Our one chance to live forever. So today – breathe this in… realize that your grandkids will be reading about you… realize that you will miss this feeling very very soon… and win every single hour.

Proud of you in advance for a big day…

October 22, 2008 Posted by | Politics and Governance, Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

The leader we need: Intelligence, Integrity, Inspiration

Over the last several weeks, the combination of all the economic and political events with my (sometimes frightening) readings on peak oil and climate change has crystallized the connection between this election and our sustainable future.

The person who we want/need as President is the same one the world needs to avert societal collapse caused by hitting the limits of our natural resources. The most important criteria we use to choose this person is the same for both roles.

Broadly, I feel like these criteria fall into three areas:  Intelligence, Integrity, and Inspiration.  I’ll go into more detail on these in upcoming posts but for a quick summary:

  • Intelligence:  The problems and decisions for a President and for sustainability are complex.  These aren’t yes/no questions or simple preferences like white car vs silver car.  The leader we need has to have the sheer brianpower to handle complex questions, balance dozens of competing factors, weigh multiple interlocking tradeoffs, weave subtle nuances together.
  • Integrity: Our country and the world needs someone who is fundamentally dedicated to the common good and sticks to that principle with honesty and transparency.  With the power this person wields comes great responsibility and our only hope is for this leader to have equally great integrity.
  • Inspiration:  The issues facing America and the world aren’t going to be solved top down.  The issues are too big for prescriptive measures from a chosen few.  We need large scale participation in the solution and the only way we get that is if our leader can inspire millions to engage.

Obviously, going into this election year, I was already biased towards the Democratic Party.  But learning what I have about the candidates in the last 6 months and evaluating against these three I’s has really convinced me that Obama is the leader we need.

Notice that the 4th ‘I’ isn’t there: Issues.  More on this later, but first ask yourself, does one or several specific issues matter in the overall global scheme, or is it more important what a candidate’s position on issues says about their character, the other I’s ?

October 11, 2008 Posted by | Politics and Governance, Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

What does natural capitalism have to do with politics?

(We’re currently reading Natural Capitalism in one of my Presidio classes)

Natural Capitalism makes a great, rational case for what’s possible. With example after example, it shows that sustainable society can exist if the world system is designed and encouraged to thrive based on some fundamental principles.

As I read each chapter, I keep coming back to the idea that we can’t achieve what’s possible without the government providing the right ground for it to grow.   And that ground needs to rest on systems thinking founded in reason, fact, and science.

Chap. 10 – Agriculture – showed how critical a scientific approach is to growing sustainability
Chap. 11 – Water – could be summed up with the inescapable logic of the bathtub analogy
Chap. 12 – Climate – declared this theme as a section title “In God we Trust; All others bring Data”

So, essentially, we can’t hope to achieve the next Industrial Revolution without a government that makes intelligent, rational decisions for the overall, long term good of the system.

As I’ve said elsewhere, this then becomes a major criterion for choosing who leads the government.  Has a candidate for President shown himself to be a pragmatic, reasonable man who carefully examines the science/facts of a decision and can handle complex, nuanced issues?

The fact that we haven’t had such a leader for 8 years may go a long way in explaining why much of what Natural Capitalism said was possible hasn’t been achieved.

September 24, 2008 Posted by | Politics and Governance, Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

43 Day Blog shift

43 Days.

That’s how much time we have to make sure the US makes one of the most important decisions ever for the future of not just our country, but also for the world.  My passion is in helping humanity achieve the complete society and right here, right now, there’s nothing that’ll make a bigger difference than who we elect for the next President.

Some may say this is exaggeration or melodrama.  That the President by himself doesn’t determine whether the whole world is living sustainably.  But in fact, the leader of the country responsible for the most climate change and wielding the most influence around the world has more power to determine our future than any other human being on the planet.

Financial crisis notwithstanding, the US economy and its endless consumption mentality determines much of the world’s economic activity and thus conducts or drives most of the world’s global warming activity.

So, while this is a blog about a sustainable green future, for the next 43 days, I’ll be focusing on the immediate present reality: the imperative to put Obama in the White House.

I haven’t dug into the candidates respective energy or climate change plans and I likely won’t for two reasons. The first, most obvious, reason is that these plans likely won’t survive past the first 100 days of either candidate’s Presidency.  The second is that its not plans that matter – its the mental approach.

Does the candidate approach decisions with rational, logic/science based facts and choose what’s best for the country?  This has been fundamentally missing for the last 8 years.  I trust Obama to bring that back in to the White House and trust McCain not one bit in this regard.

So, for the next 6 weeks, this’ll be the topic.  I’ll return to the primary focus for the Complete Society after November 4th.

September 22, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Complete Politics – Beneath the noise, look at character

While anyone who knows me knows I’m a liberal voter and a strong supporter of Obama, I’ve mostly tried to resist mixing politics in to the Complete Society blog.  But with the importance of this presidential election and the pivotal role government plays in our hopes for a sustainable future, it seems that separating out politics means I’m not discussing the whole picture that I tell everyone to look at.

So, from now on, you’ll see politics, govt policy and related topics discussed here, but, as with all my posts, I’m going to try a different take, going either bigger picture or deeper dive into the meanings and implications behind the rhetoric and issue positions.

Let’s start with character.  Step past all the surface stuff: race, gender, upbringing, age, religion.  Then step past even the issues: stated positions, experience in specific topics such as foreign policy, years at different levels of government, etc.

Then the first question that goes to the heart of whether this candidate will move our country towards a complete society is: “Will this candidate act for the greater good of our nation and the world?”

To quote Michael Douglas from “The American President”, “It’s entirely about character”.

Wherever they are on whatever issue your care so passionately about, it comes down to whether they authentically put humanity ahead of themselves.  This, fundamentally, is what we need in a President and is a given for anyone working for a sustainable future.

That’s why I came to dislike Hillary Clinton.  Before the primaries, I was neutral on her.  Respected her valiant attempt to fix healthcare in the early 90’s.  Hadn’t tracked her record as a Senator.   But the 2008 primaries showed she would say anything and take whatever position she needed in order to get elected, whether or not it would be good for the country.  The gas tax holiday idiocy was probably the most visible example of this.

This is also at the core of why I hate G W Bush.  I don’t use the word “hate” lightly since there’s almost nobody in the world I hate.  In 2000, I mostly disliked him because he stood for almost everything I was against in govt and I cringed in pain every time I heard him speak.  But over the last 8 years, he made decision after decision that was about him, his religious faith, and his interests instead of what would clearly be the greater good.

Think about this core idea when looking at the current candidates.  My opinions on Obama vs McCain will fill up some upcoming posts.

September 10, 2008 Posted by | Politics and Governance, Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

Definitions of Sustainability – 4 types

One of my Presidio classes kicked off some good conversations by asking each student to post their definition of sustainabilit to the class’ online discussion forum. There’s a wealth of ideas and commentary being produced that would be too much to summarize in one blog post. Here’s the post I put up. The rest of my ideas and things I get from the discussion will probably come out in futre blog entries


My approach to defining sustainability keys off something Hunter Lovins said to the effect “it’s only as useful as you can communicate it”. I agree that the reason to go through this exercise is to come up with something useful, but I think communicating your definition is only one of the uses.

Here’s what I think are 4 possible definition types based on what the definition is useful for:

1) Personal Definition. Useful if it inspires you and you can evaluate your own choices, actions, projects against it
2) Public Definition. Useful for people who want to learn about who you are
3) Helpful Definition. Useful if it helps someone else refine or improve their own Personal Definition
4) Academic Definition. Useful in adding to a conversation converging on a practical consensus, e.g. contributes to setting policies, standards, metrics.

So, I went through the exercise of defining my Personal Definition some years ago because I really needed something useful to frame my choices and opinions. I needed a framework to measure whether something was “good” or “bad”.

What I came up with was the following. It’s not wordsmithed for using in a bar because it only needs to be “Personal” or potentially “Helpful”.
As Hunter mentioned, I don’t actually like the word sustainable because it begs the question of what you’re sustaining that can’t be included in the definition.

So, I use the word “Complete”

Dictionary Main Entry: com·plete
1 a : having all necessary parts, elements, or steps
3 : highly proficient <a complete artist>

The Complete Society has all the necessary institutions, organizations, resources and processes to sustainably provide a diverse, healthy, just and beautiful world to every individual in this and future generations.

Drill down:

  • clean water, air, soil and power are elements of a healthy world. Safe is also an element of healthy.
  • “economically” and “ecologically” capture financial and environmental.
  • “beautiful” captures the value of beauty, art, delightful intangibles.
  • “this and future” provides for today’s people but also accounts for growth in human population

A corollary goes toward defining businesses:

The Complete Business/Organization is highly proficient at generating economic and social value with all products, services, and operations fulfilling Complete Society requirements.
– manufactured products deplete no limited resources. All resources are biologically derived from recent solar income or infinitely re-usable (i.e. zero waste)
– no operations harm the healthy sustainability of the environment (e.g. pollution, climate change emissions) and operations result in zero waste
– all energy consumed by operations is renewable energy
– all employees are provided equitable economic support
– all employees are provided a healthy and fair workplace that encourages a complete life and promotes personal growth
– overall operations generate an economic profit for sustainable return on investment and continuous growth in value generated

Whew, if you got this far, bravo.


August 27, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Save the little guys – everything is connected

During Presidio orientation Hunter Lovins made a simple statement that sounded at first like just another in a series of climate change warnings but thinking about it a little more, I think it does a good job of capturing how the whole world is an interconnected system:

“If we kill the phytoplankton, all life ends”

Take the first part of the this sentence and focus on the “we”. If you just hear that the phytoplankton are dying, you might say, that I’ve got nothing to do with that, let the marine biologists and oceanographers figure out who’s doing that and get it fixed.

But, by saying “we”, this actually states that everyone is responsible in some way. The phytoplankton are probably dying from a variety of causes, including climate change, fresh water mixing in the oceans, temparature drop in the Atlantic current, toxic chemical releases, etc. Since all of us in our current way of living contribute to these effects, we all take ownership of consequences. And remember that’s its not just the effects we know about – its likely that that cup of coffee you’re drinking is killing phytoplankton halfway across the world in some way you don’t understand.

And btw, notice the active verb “kill”. It’s not just that the phytoplankton are dying, we are actively killing them.

Now, look at the second part of the statement, “all life ends”. The fact that the phytoplankton are dying off is more than just an isolated event, it impacts everything living.   This emphasizes again that everything is connected, that even the smallest living organism that you may never have even heard of before can make the difference between life and death for human beings.

Now for me this doesn’t mean you have to think of everything in the world for anything you do every day – that’s an approach that keeps you from getting stuff done.  But I think it’s important to keep that awareness and understand that nothing happens in isolation.

Again, whole systems thinking and when it comes to a biology and life, the whole system is the whole planet.

Exercise for the reader:  Pick anything you did today.  Think about it’s effects at one or two levels of bigger scope than just your life.

August 23, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Walmart & seafood: 2 very big pictures

One of the amazing things to appreciate in my first moments at Presidio is the breadth of incredible experiences my classmates bring to the program and the community. Just one example – a spontaneous conversation during a walk to Starbucks revealed that one classmate knows almost everything about sustainable seafood. Recounting a meeting he had with the CEO of Walmart’s seafood division, he gave two different examples of what the big picture really means starting from Walmart’s commitment to sell only seafood that have been sustainably fished or farmed.

Start with the shrimp industry. Right away, you realize that there aren’t enough suppliers *in the world* with sustainable practices to provide all the shrimp that Walmart sells. So, Walmart could have just said, we’ll take what we can get and that’s the best we can do. Reasonable approach that no one would really fault them for.

But, the power of commitment (and seeing the big picture) can result in step changes that move the world forward. What Walmart actually did was buy up just about every shrimp farming operation in Thailand and convert them all to sustainable practices. That’s using their power and commitment to make a big difference but it’s also business savvy: getting ahead of the curve on anticipated demand for sustainable shrimp and opening up a whole new level of competition with the likes of Whole Foods.

The second story shows some of the perils of huge scale. Walmart also wants all of its wild fish to be sustainably “harvested”. But, scientific experts have told them that its ecologically impossible to sustainably fish the amount that Walmart needs each year. In other words, the demand just from Walmart customers already exceeds the “peak fish” amount the planet can provide ongoing. (Note: see update below)

When asked about this, the Walmart executive actually gave a shortsighted answer: These fisheries are certified sustainable now. Ignoring the big picture realization that the whole system can’t support their objective as is.

Thinking about these stories provides an interesting challenge/exercise for anyone working on sustainability. Consider what your commitment/project/objective looks like at Walmart scale. Does what you’re trying to accomplish work at the global level, for hundreds of millions of people?

Update:  See the comment from the Marine Stewardship council below.  I”ve updated the blog post above to correct the mistake about shrimp farming being MSC certified.  My classmate likely never said that – my mistake.  The statement above about ‘peak fish’ may be wrong also – I haven’t done any deeper research on that

August 21, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 2 Comments