Breakthrough periods for social movements are usually characterized by significant social unrest, including nonviolent civil disobedience, armed insurrections, strikes, protests, and uprisings of all kinds. Great social movements, by definition, disrupt entrenched interests and those interests do not go away quietly. — Paul Hawken
Most people know Paul Hawken from his most recent book, Drawdown, but in 2007 he wrote a book in which he coined the term Blessed Unrest. It’s about a movement of ragtag organizations and individuals and interests that weren’t even aware they were a movement but that together, in his view, comprised a nascent grassroots force. The book was ahead of its time, as the world is only just now realizing how much broader (integrated, Green New Dealy) a solution is needed. From the NYT review:
“Blessed Unrest” attempts the next step: to link the environment to issues of social justice and even culture. The death of languages, he writes, is tantamount to a blow against human diversity—diversity being the engine of a species’ biology and, in turn, our ecosystem’s health. “For the developed world,” Hawken writes, “there is a choice to be made: to promote economic policies that despoil indigenous lands or to support cultures and the remaining biological sanctuaries.”
The idea of Blessed Unrest has been on my mind more lately as we are experiencing a heightened amount of it here in Canada. It’s as if a valve has been opened, and the unrest is pouring out across the country (is it a liquid or a gas or a liquified natural gas?), as we grapple with pipelines and reconciliation. Racism and idiocy is everywhere, but at least we are having this conversation. Sample dinnertime conversations across this chill land: Mom, am I a settler?
(dance break: be the Kevin!)
Much was made of this poll about attitudes toward Indigenous issues here in Canada, but most of it missed the point. While a majority do oppose the train blockades that have put a minimal dent in the shipment of goods across this large country, there have been much more positive changes since 2013:
Shrinking Proportion of Canadians (55%, down 7 points) Believe Indigenous Peoples Treated Well by Government; Most (75%, up 12 points) Say Feds Should Act Now to Help Raise Quality of Life for Aboriginal Communities
More globally, Blessed Unrest is gaining traction. No less an authority than former U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres calls for it in her new book, saying “civil disobedience is not only a moral choice, it is also the most powerful way of shaping world politics.”
What I like about Blessed Unrest is that it’s holistic—it doesn’t look at single issues, but at the system, the interwoven, unironic Kumbayaness of it all. Reconciliation and the climate crisis and inequality are connected, and the idea that groups are co-opting each other is unhelpful at best, and nefarious at worst. (Sidenote: I can’t wait to get my hands on this book about Indigenous climate solutions).
No one wants their cause (reconciliation, poverty-reduction, inequality, hunger, synchronized swimming) to be swallowed up by the climate crisis, despite the fact that the grave enormity of climate reckoning may indeed gulp relatively more human-scale issues and burp them out like yesterday’s avocado toast. Blessed Unrest somehow unites these pressing causes instead of suppressing them. We are stronger together. What has gotten into me? (lights incense, puts on tie-dyed shirt she made in grade 9)
“Sustainability, ensuring the future of life on earth, is an infinite game, the endless expression of generosity on behalf of all,” writes Hawken. I like this so much. Let’s be generous with each other. Let’s bless this unrest.
What’s got you unrested? LMK!
There are so many amaaaazzzzziiiinnnnngggg humans doing really cool stuff who read this newsletter and send me notes. I want to highlight all their writing and work, starting this week.
On the topic of the current Blessed Unrest, Chloé Germain-Thérien does smart and beautiful illustrations about what the protests are all about. Check out her beautiful comic explainers. Thank you for sharing, Chloé!
• I’ve long suspected that ride-sharing apps put more cars on the road, but hadn’t found conclusive research. This Axios piece backs me up AND introduces a term that explains perfectly what it is that takes up all that extra carbon: Deadhead Miles—when ride-hailing cars move without passengers, while listening to Jerry Garcia.
• My recent Yes! comic is on anchor institutions, which I think can do a lot for climate.
And, your regular reminder to:
TELL ME HOW TO MAKE THIS BETTER!
And apparently you can comment on these posts, now. Thank you Substack for this ever-improving platform.
Have a beautiful weekend!
P.S. I’m always curious to know what you think. This is my newsletter for the week of February 28, 2020, published in partnership with YES! Media. You can sign up to get Minimum Viable Planet newsletter emailed directly to you at https://mvp.substack.com/.
Sarah Lazarovic is an award-winning artist, creative director, freelance animator and filmmaker, and journalist, covering news and cultural events in comic form. She is the author of A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy.