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Northwoods Alchemy III: Speed Kills, Slow Kills – Lost in Time in Camden, Maine

I’m rushing to try to put something down for a blog…

Partly because we face big issues. Because we don’t have time to wait. But also because I’m only at Pop!Tech for a while. And because unlike many bloggers, it seems to take me a long time to crank out a piece. Time is short, and I’m on deadline, after all. So quickly to the work at hand…

Again this morning we heard about the planet in crisis, that we need to take action, now, today, immediately, if we’re going to save the earth. And if yesterday’s news was fairly optimistic – we have some of the tools to solve our problems – then today’s news gave me pause.

If you follow the first speaker Dan Gilbert, then we humans are uniquely, biologically unqualified to see a crisis like global warming coming up in our collective rear view mirrors. Thus, while I may be perfectly hardwired to see a baseball coming at my head and know to duck, say, or to identify the danger in an approaching man with a gun I may not be able to really “get” global warming.

To put it differently, global warming is like that big, heavy semi on the highway.

Slowly, slowly it creeps up on you – a gradual, non-philosophic, un-anthropomorphic tidal wave, one that flies under our biological radar. And then wham, like the semi, it will be upon us. And if you follow the metaphor, it won’t matter whether we’re driving a Mini or Hummer – since by the time we feel this as a real threat, we’re toast, or roadkill if you want

We face a slow killer, that because of its slowness, we can barely see. But here’s the paradox – we’re being asked to take fast action.

Naturally, the next session stood this first session on its head. The inside out of Pop!Tech.

Swiftly, almost breathlessly, the next speaker Carl Honoré talked about the slow movement around the world. Starting mostly in Italy, there’s this counter model emerging – in medicine, food and exercise, and my favorite, Honoré’s personal story, in child rearing – built around going slower and appreciating more.

It makes sense. Eating fast gives you indigestion. And as Honoré’s son taught him, reading Snow White as a bedtime story, it turns out, is better with no blackberry interruptions, when told as an interactive tale, told slowly enough to include all seven dwarves, leaving room for audience (ok, kid) participation.

So as I put the two together – the need to see and truly absorb the onset of a slow crisis (while trying to combat it) and the need to slow down to create richness in life – it got me thinking. There’s a slow food movement, a slow education movement, even a slow cities movement.

Perhaps the only real approach that will allow us to organize around an issue as big and yet as gradual as global warming is not a rapid, screaming “we must do something” – it just doesn’t compute for us humans – but instead a different way to organize our fast action through slow thought.

Can you become a Slow Warrior?

Perhaps to combat global warming what we need next is the creation of a kind of “slow activism” – one that would teach us to recognize the truck as it comes upon us, noticing the subtle changes in the brightness of the approaching headlights. Perhaps with this slow activism we could build the kind of broad-based coalitions we will need across sectors and around the world, without which all of our efforts will be in vain. Perhaps our slow activism will make our fast action work.

It sounds like a good idea. But I gotta go. No time to write more. Busy, busy, busy…

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