May 4, 2009

An MTV Greeneration?

How is this Green Generation going to effect Meaningful Change—and Fast?

{Taking Stock: elephant journal at 6.95 years old.}

Where’s the leverage? Where’s the acupressure point? How are we going to effect big, needed change in a world “distracted” by the pursuit of happiness (making a living, sex, family, travel)?

By we I mean the gajillions of inspired green-ies, spiritual/religious folks, educators, politicos, artists, mommies—anyone dedicated to 1) living a good life that 2) also happens to be good for others, and 3) good for our planet.

By this merit may all attain harmony
May my actions defeat the enemy: confusion
From the stormy waves of growing up, aging, sickness and dying
From the ocean of suffering may I free all sentient beings.

~ the Buddhist dedication of merit. Said after every meal, and at the end of every day. 

I’m not working my butt off—a twitter-happy Facebooker chained to my heroic, long-broken (the screen is cracked, doesn’t close) Mac laptop—just for the fun of it. Well, my work is sometimes fun, often fulfilling…but…I’m actually trying to be of meaningful benefit. With signs of climate change everywhere, with said climate change largely effecting the poor and vulnerable, with the clock ticking…well I’m ready to jump ship, or at least change course.

Yesterday I sat down with my ex-colleague Heather Mueller and then prAna’s Dave Kennedy {DK} in Boulder’s historic Trident cafe and asked, frustrated,

hey, if things keep going the way they are—I work my butt off for elephant, it grows over five years to the size that Treehugger is now, well what good is that? Treehugger’s huuuuge, yet it’s hardly known even in Boulder. Walk around any cafe, ask the more or less active, green, web-savvy, well-educated citizens of Boulder what Treehugger is, you’ll get a lot of blank stares. Boing Boing makes Treehugger look small, and yet hardly anyone I know, including me, knows what Boing Boing is. I just found out last week. So how are we, this ‘mindful’ movement and so-called green generation, gonna effect big change, and fast? Time’s running out—or, if you listen to Yvon Chouinard, it’s already up.

Heather, who’s now working with Simran Sethi—who was on Oprah last week discussing more or less the same green stuff she was five years ago—commiserated. Even for stars like Simran, it’s hard to see real change. Heather said it’s tough, considering that I hold myself to a high bar (in comparison with my skills and resources, at least!), to be satisfied with what’s happened. I told her about my Hills idea (see below), and she dug it.

DK, ever the spiritually-minded ecopreneur-optimist, said maybe big/wide change isn’t as important as inner, subtle, community-driven change. He gave me the example of a man in NYC frustrated at the (lack of) progress with his weedy backyard garden who, without knowing it, inspires a suicidal neighbor to keep living thanks to a lovely little rose. So sure, elephant’s having some small worthwhile effect. And that’s great. But it’s not enough for the species and people who are and will be effected by climate change wrought by a lack of our ability to live in harmony, within and without.

Last night, watching Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World (which includes Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, Van Jones—promising signs for our greeneration)‚ I watched part of Bono’s interview with Clooney. That’s it, I said to myself. We need famous figures, as famous as Coldplay, Portman, Leo, Clooney or LeBron—we need more than modest Hollywood celebs like the kind, charming Ed Begley Jr…star of a green show on Planet Green, the go-to famous guy for the green movement. And yet ask anyone at any kitchen table around the US who he is and you’ll get…more…blank…stares. That’s not a criticism of Mr. Ed…he’s doing far more than myself, or the rest of us green communicators. But it’s not enough—he needs help from folks on the fame level of Gore/Bono/Bill Clinton/Madonna/Brangelina if we’re gonna inject pop culture with a passion for fighting Climate Change. God Bless America that we have Mr. Obama, but he’s in the political-reality world of ideas vs. compromise, and needs avid popular backing.

Right now, he doesn’t have it (Climate Change ranked last in a poll of public priorities, recently).

I’ve been trying, in my own way, to effect big change. Whether I’m talented enough, who knows. But I’m trying.

Over the last year, inspired by the example set by Jon Stewart, I’ve been feebly (I’m broke, and already busy running a business) pushing a LOHASgreen talk show. It got popular in Boulder, selling out on a weekly basis (it helped that tickets, as with The Daily Show, were free). I’d interview a few famous or infamous or not-at-all-famous persons doing great things, we’d have some live music, then we’d drink some (organic) vodka or (wind-powered) beer, ask for a few phone numbers if we were feeling happy, and that was that. My “Walk the Talk Show” got big enough that we’re now charging, and have now done four or five at the Boulder Theater, an 800-seat historic theater downtown. And I’ve been pitching the show, still feebly (until recently, I didn’t know any agents) to Planet Green, MTV, etc. While folks seemed vaguely interested, we didn’t have a production company, and last year I was still overwhelmed with publishing a national magazine that I sold all ads for, designed, edited and HR’d.

Six months ago, on Labor Day (ironically), I pulled the plug on the magazine, and took it paperless. Why? Mainly, we couldn’t distribute in an eco-responsible manner (no magazine in America—elephant journal, Sports Illustrated, Vanity Fair, Cosmo, GOOD, Ode—can be eco-responsible, given that after all that shipping, then milling, ink leaching, reshipping, rereshipping, rerereshipping…only 3 or 4 out of 10 are sold, the rest rererecycled, which is yet another big energy drain).

So, for the last six months, I’ve essentially been in start-up mode again—gone was my staff, my offices, my paychecks, my car, my house on the market…I call it the eco version of a cowboy song (you know, “I lost my dog, my girl left me, my truck broke”). But all that is well worth it if, as I have done, I could build a web site with traffic I could sell ads off of, and once again have a sustainable vehicle for mass communicatin’.

But then it hit me. Five years from now, I’ll be 39…and say elephant continues to grow its readership…well at best we’ll be the size of Treehugger. Huge from ele’s point of view, puny from a national pov, largely preaching to the green/LOHAS choir—and not even big enough to have strong name recognition within that choir.

So, what’s the point? 

So maybe the thing to do is to chase after the boob tube. Get a hit show in front of the 12 – 35 year olds, you can effect some real change with a generation still forming their values and interests.

Maybe we need a green version of The Hills or The City on MTV, something hip and fun to hit America’s youth where they live. Dazzle ’em with beauty, romance, intrigue, and show said characters drinking and bitching and moaning and being lovely…while cycling around, doing yoga, climbing, remembering their to-go coffee mugs, eating sustainable sushi. We don’t have to highlight any of those “mindful” actions, just have ’em be an “organic” part of the show. Recently, I proposed such a show to the an agent, one who had been underwhelmed by my green/LOHAS talk show idea—and he loved it. Show “A Boulder Life,” with all its photogenic peeps running around our photogenic town doing photogenic activities and getting into photogenic trouble.

I talked this over with my buddy, techpreneur Dave Rogers yesterday at Hapa Sushi (all the while watching him do little things like make sure his wrongly-ordered sushi wouldn’t get trashed, make sure his to-go box was compostable, returning the plastic bag it came in…and thinking…you could show this stuff without saying anything about it, Dave and my other boy and girl pals are hot and cool enough that kids would imitate ’em). Dave loved the idea of a green Hills. “You’re already 5280‘s bachelor boy. Boulder’s a great college town. The show should begin and end with your campaign for City Council—whether you win or lose there’s a great built-in timeline, drama, sites and personalities.”

I nodded, and added, “Yah, and the Boulder show [which Dave thought should just be called “Boulder;” I like “”A Boulder Life” or “Bouldering”]…well it would also include my interviewees, ecofashion shows, talk show, folks like Sister Prejean (of Dead Man Walking) last week and Michael Pollan next month.” And so, over edamame, green tea, unsustainably harvested sushi and tofu we rapped. He ended the lunch by saying,

“If you’re serious about this show, push it. Now.”

So, maybe the thing to do is let elephant drift…

And focus on putting together Boulder, a well-produced reality show tracing the daily lives of mindful fun hip lovely citizens.

Or let elephant drift…and maybe focus on a product-driven business, like Threadless or TOMS (two leading business model inspirations). Make my millions, then campaign for Congress in 10 years.

Or maybe the thing to do is get involved in politics on a grassroots level, and earn my way in—starting this Fall, as I campaign to serve the local good as a member of Boulder City Council.

So I ask you? What acupressure points have you found for effecting real, big, meaningful change, inner and outer? Where are you all finding success, or frustration? I don’t know about you, but I’m not harnessed to spending this short life behind my MacBook Pro tweeting and blogging and selling ads if there’s no green light at the end of this dark tunnel.

If I can’t find a way to be of some benefit, I might as well give up and really enjoy life—get married, start a little ranch somewhere, and make babies. I’m not just pushing myself out there, putting my neck on the chopping block for the ego-gratification—my ego would do bigger and better, matter of fact, without the occasional trolls popping my balloon with meanie little comments.

And so I say again: there are a few people—Ben. Arianna. RedfordSimranSaraOliviaSROGlatzerGraham—already in a position to effect real change in the fight against climate change. Please do so. We need, it, and fast.

For the rest of us, let’s keep trying—but let’s make sure we’re not just spinning our hamster wheels, as I have done, now, for 6.9 years of the only life I ever get to live.


Bonus videos.

Imagine a green version of The Hills:

…or, The City:

I interviewed Lester Brown a year ago. At the time he said media was key, and that we had maybe 2 years before it was too late to turn things around. Not only have we not turned things around, things are still getting worse, faster.

Lester Brown: The Man With the Eco Plan from Alex King & Mito Media.

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