Utne Reader Visionary: Randy Hayes

We need an age of implementation

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Anyone who thinks environmentalists are utopian tree-huggers out of touch with economic realities will have a hard time with Randy Hayes. The founder and executive director of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) is as practical-minded and action-oriented as any executive—but Hayes’ sense of responsibility extends across a planetary community and half a millennium ahead, not just to the next stockholders’ meeting. RAN does more than defend rainforests; under Hayes’ leadership it has made trenchant analyses of the impact of globalization on the world economy and advocated measures—like including environmental impact as a part of the cost of commerce—that would transform business in measurable ways. Currently, he’s calling for a 75 percent reduction in wood use over the next 10 years and supplying the business and environmental communities with lots of data and point-by-point guidance on how it could happen.

“The basic ideas of what constitutes a sustainable society are known. Now we need every sector of society from the business realm to the citizens’ watchdog realm to the government realm to really put the ideas in place and implement them. Hence what I call the 75 percent solution. Let’s implement a 75 percent reduction of wood and wood paper use. Then let’s assess what’s needed after that. But at least in that 10-year period we will have done something of a deep systemic nature. It wouldn’t be a drop in the bucket.

“Jesse Jackson used to say that people change from either inspiration or desperation. I fear it’s going to take a few more spasms, more Chernobyls and Mexican economic crises and Ethiopian droughts, to get people to realize the degree of change necessary to build a sustainable society.

“The ecological security of the biosphere is a national security issue. The UN is projecting that the main causes of refugee migration in the upcoming decades will be ecological—floods in Bangladesh, et cetera. If global warming gets to the point where the ocean rises—well, there are plenty of statistics on how much of the world’s population lives on coasts. Where are they going to go? What kind of political and national security threat is that going to cause? People are going to have to accept that old cliché from the ‘70s: Nature bats last.”