A Clash of Paradigms

Rarely have two visions of the future stood in sharper contrast than those represented by two recent publishing projects.

Project Drawdown is an ambitious new research and marketing campaign that is founded on the premise that climate change can be “solved” with a combination of smart technology and social engineering. Launched in April 2017, the project is the brainchild of business writer and environmental entrepreneur Paul Hawken, (Natural Capitalism, The Ecology of Commerce, Blessed Unrest), and outlined in his latest book Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming (Penguin Random House).

The drawdown.org website states that it may be possible to “reverse global climate change” by rolling out and scaling up 100 existing solutions … The solutions are technological, like renewable energy and energy efficiency measures, social … like food choices and educating girls, and ecological, like restoring forests, grasslands, and soil to sequester carbon dioxide.”

Hawken defines “drawdown” as “the point in time when greenhouse gases in the atmosphere begin to decline on a year-to-year basis.” He says it’ll take about 30 years, and that in doing so we will, “improve well-being, create jobs, restore the environment, enhance security, generate resilience, and advance human health.”

A few years ago I’d have been excited about Project Drawdown. But Drawdown is heavy on the techno fix, and does little to challenge the logic of the market economy and the compulsion for growth that drives it. Nor does it question techno-industrialism, or consumerism, or the myth of “progress,” or the centrality of human beings over nature. And it doesn’t ask the reader to do much at all.

Compare Hawken’s techno-utopian vision to what I consider the more compelling future envisioned by David Fleming in his two books Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It, and Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival, and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy (Chelsea Green). Fleming is the spiritual and conceptual godfather of the Transition Town movement. Though Fleming died in 2010, his colleague Shaun Chamberlin edited the books and Chelsea Green published them in late 2016. Fleming believed that the global market economy is doomed, and he shouts “Good riddance!” from nearly every page. The market economy, with its energy hungry machines, and its imperative to get the lowest price, got us into the mess we’re in, Fleming says. It’s certainly not going to get us out.

Instead, Fleming argues with clarity and wit that we need to segue now from the market economy to its sequel, i.e., much smaller scale, less energy-intensive, more localized communities of “reciprocity and freedom,” communities that prize food growing, knowledge-sharing, myth-making, musical celebrations, and convivial neighborliness. These are the basis of a society that can survive and thrive in the rocky “climacteric” that may already be upon us.

According to Chamberlin, Fleming’s true passion and genius was for that mysterious thing called ‘community,’ in all its disparate forms. He admired tradition and ceremony for their ability to engender cultural stability, and he was a passionate advocate for the critical importance of pubs.

Here’s a brief extract of Fleming’s definition of “Carnival” from Lean Logic:

Carnival: Celebrations of music, dance, torchlight, mime, games, feast and folly have been central to the life of community for all times other than those when the pretensions of large-scale civilization descended like a frost on public joy. … The decline of carnival in the West began in earnest alongside the transition from a rural-centered culture to a city-centered one. The early stirrings of capitalism encouraged habits of soberness, and it has this fixation about people turning up for work on Monday morning. … Carnival has been subdued, and its loss is serious. The modern market economy suffers from play-deprivation. … The consequences are various, no doubt, but among them may be loneliness, boredom, anxiety, and depression. …

I’m all for Project Drawdown. But I don’t believe it will “solve” the climate crisis. For that, I’ll see you at the pub.

Eric Utne is the founder of Utne Reader. He is writing a memoir, to be published by Random House. For Paul Hawken’s response to Eric’s column, visit
Climate Crisis: Eric Utne and Paul Hawken Debate Path Forward.

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