Cultural Vision: What is the Slow Movement?

Wendi Pickerel

 “Is it possible in today’s superfast world to live slow? Would I be able to keep my job? Provide a good living for my family? Does being ‘slow’ mean low efficiency, low effectiveness?”
– G. Berthelsen

“…perhaps, the most powerful reason — why we find it hard to slow down is the cultural taboo that we’ve erected against slowing down. ‘Slow’ is a dirty word in our culture. It’s a byword for ‘lazy,’ ‘slacker,’ for being somebody who gives up. You know, ‘he’s a bit slow.’ It’s actually synonymous with being stupid.”
– C. Honore

The Slow Movement advocates a cultural shift toward slowing down life’s pace. A cultural movement in favor of slowing down in a world obsessed with speed is a useful prequel to any debate about prosperity and macroeconomic policy. By considering the Slow Movement, we can contemplate one of the fundamental societal values that inform our current economic policy: how is time best used or spent.

Out There

Fast and slow are physical attributes. But they are also adjectives that convey societal values. In our economic culture, someone who is fast is generally judged to accomplish more in less time. The faster you can produce, the further ahead you are of the person or company alongside you. Whereas, often, slow is judged as accomplishing less. More and faster are highly valued characteristics in our growth based economy and in the majority, viewed as positive and desirable attributes.

All of us are challenged to consider, “How can I possibly slow down if I ever want to get anywhere? How can I go slow if I want my career, company, product, or idea to triumph in the market place? What race is ever won by slowing down?”But are more and fast universally positive?

Proponents of the slow movement would answer that in each case, taking more time to accomplish tasks can improve your ability to reach your goal, problem solve, and engage.

Background and growth

The Slow Movement’s roots are traced back to the original slow movement, Slow Food. During the late 1980’s in a restaurant in Bra, Northern Italy, a group of passionate food lovers and social activists would meet and share ideas. When they heard that a US food franchise outlet was opening in one of Rome’s historic squares, they asked, almost as a joke, “If there exists a philosophy of fast food, why not promote the idea of slow food?”

From there, in 1989, the manifesto for the international Slow Food Movement was written. In it, Slow Food opposed globalization and voiced the fears of communities around the world who were feeling the impact on their farming and food traditions. Slow Food’s initial goal was to defend regional traditions, gastronomic pleasure, and a slow pace of life.

From its origin as a joke, Slow Food has grown to be recognized and respected worldwide. Every two years in Turin, Italy, food producers congregate to showcase the rich diversity of food from around the world. In 2002, Carlo Petrini, President of Slow Food and one of the original activists at the Bra dinner table, explained that, “Gastronomic richness must be maintained, biodiversity must be defended and the concept of time must be respectful of our individual rhythms.”[1] It is Slow Food’s mission to protect and support people dedicated to preserving this diversity.

Since Petrini and his fellow activists began the Slow Food Movement in the 1980s, the idea to slow down has caught on in other areas: Cittaslow (Slow Cities), Slow Money, and Slow Design.

New vocal proponents of Slow have emerged. Geir Berthelsen created a think tank called The World Institute of Slowness and in 1999, articulated a vision for a whole Slow Planet. Carl Honoré‘s 2004 book, In Praise of Slowness, explored how the Slow philosophy could be impressed upon every field of human endeavor and in doing so, coined the phrase Slow Movement. In his book, Honore traces the history of our increasingly accelerated relationship with time and then tackles the consequences of living in this fast-tracked culture. Honre considers how a decelerated pace can improve results across a variety of experiences: for individuals, medical professionals, and even city planners who are designing communities that are conducive to slowing down urban spaces.

Advocating quality over quantity

Overall, more than just the physical pace of our passing days, the Slow Movement is concerned with how the industrial revolution changed the relationship between the individual human and the macroeconomic system. In our current macroeconomic system, we are valued primarily as consumers. In labor, production, and consumer functions, individuals and companies are rewarded for the consumption and production of quantity over quality.

The Slow Movement questions this emphasis and asks that we place a renewed focus on the benefits of quality over quantity. It asks us to consider that by focusing on quality over quantity, we may need to slow down how we eat, how we travel, how we consume, how we produce, and how we live. But The Slow Movement also promotes that in adopting a slow approach to activities: making time to sit still, to reflect, to relax, to spend time with loved ones, and generally permit our minds and interactions to rove without the constraint of time — we will greatly benefit as individuals and communities: greater feelings of belonging, family, success in career, quality of community, environmental security, and social welfare.

The Slow Movement is not a movement that advocates something as simplistic as physically slowing down our pace or actions, but is instead a movement that places a new value on the benefit of taking more time to achieve outcomes or meet our needs.

What do you think?

  1. Could slowing down the pace of life open up spaces to consider new values and ideas about prosperity?
  2. Have you worked on a project or a goal that would have benefited from slowing down the process, creating more time to contemplate next steps, outcomes, or solutions?
  3. All over the world levels of extreme poverty beg to be addressed. Is it naïve or narrow minded to talk about a Slow Movement when so many people are struggling to gain individual economic empowerment? Is there anything about Slow Movement that could benefit poverty elevation?

[1]“Slow Food Revolution” CMusca (New York, NY: Filmakers Library, 2002), 52:15 mins


The Growth of Geothermal Power

Collin Syfert

The growth of global renewable power capacities over the last decade has been staggering. In the United States the total installed capacity of wind power has grown tenfold over the last decade. Global solar power capacity has similarly jumped from 4 gigawatts in 2004 to 40 gigawatts in 2014. Growth has been seen in all renewables, including hydropower, biomass, and biofuel. Yet geothermal energy has not experienced the same degree of growth. In 2013 the world geothermal power capacity grew just 3 percent, reaching 11,700 megawatts. In comparison, wind and solar power have grown at an annual 21% and 53% respectively since the 2007-08 financial crisis.

Interestingly, the strong growth of some renewable power sources and not others has little to do with the amount of potential energy on tap. The Earth Policy Institute, an independent non-profit environmental think tank, estimates that the upper six miles of the earth’s crust holds 50,000 times the energy embodied in the world’s oil and gas reserves. Test-drilling to assess heat resources, however, is more costly and fraught with an uncertainty not found in wind and solar assessments. This high upfront cost and no guarantee of finding a viable site often dissuades the development of geothermal plants despite their potential for 24 hour energy production irregardless of weather and low operation and maintenance costs.

The Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant in Þing...

Thirty percent of global geothermal energy production comes from the United States, nearly all of which is produced in California and Nevada. The Philippines and Indonesia produce another 30 percent of the global total, with 21 other nations making up the remainder of the 12,000 megawatt global capacity.

Despite so much of the global geothermal capacity being produced within the United States, our 3440 megawatts of geothermal energy account for less than 1 percent of our energy consumption. Iceland leads in geothermal share of electrical energy generation, with 29 percent of consumed energy being produced from the Earth’s heat. El Salvador follows in a close second, where 25 percent of its electricity comes from geothermal plants.

The development of geothermal plants has the potential to be an important and lasting answer to growing energy needs, particularly in equatorial and developing counties. Indonesia, for example,  is looking to develop 10,000 megawatts of geothermal energy by 2025. The Earth Policy Institute has listed nearly 40 countries that could get all their electricity from indigenous geothermal power, including: Ecuador, Ethiopia, Iceland, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, and Tanzania. The problem is the high upfront costs that prohibit geothermal development for many developing countries.

However, some governments and organizations have begun stepping up to address this issue. The Indonesian government passed a law in August that increases the guaranteed purchasing price of geothermal energy. The World Bank launched its Global Geothermal Development Plan early last year which is raising funds to identify and test-drill promising geothermal projects in the developing world. In doing so, they hope to lower the costs for the geothermal industry overall.

The state of California has a renewable energy portfolio standard that requires its incumbent utilities to provide at least a third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Utilities, however, are more inclined to buy wind and solar energies that have more tax advantages. Would the requirement of utilities to procure more geothermal energy distort the energy marketplace? Similarly, access to the water required to produce the steam necessary to run geothermal plants may be an issue in the arid regions of the United States and elsewhere that have the most geothermal potential.

Geothermal energy may be limited to a nominal share of electricity production in the United States, but that doesn’t have to be so elsewhere. Paving the way for geothermal energy production does more than reduce energy poverty. This vastly untapped resource simultaneously reduces air pollution, carbon emissions, and costly fossil fuel imports. Further consideration of geothermal energy production is necessary when governments incentivize renewable energy sources and when industries begin to look for alternatives to high energy prices and carbon constraints.

Envisioning Prosperity: A Series on Possibilities

Wendi Pickerel

“If you can’t discover what’s keeping you in, the will to get out soon becomes confused and ineffectual.” – Ishmael, D. Quinn


How do you reach for astonishing outcomes? You begin with imagination, a vision, or an abstract narrative that eventually helps you to manifest seemingly impossible goals: the Burj Khalifa – a 2,722 ft (829.8 m) tall sky scraper with 163 floors, Opportunity – a ten-year running mars exploration rover expected to last only 3 months, or a quarter-mile long container ship.

In 2014, war, poverty, environmental destruction, repression, disparity, racism, and economic havoc are all major characters in our social narrative.  Every day we consume stories about how these challenges predispose us to a dire future. So I’ve been wondering — are we consuming so many narratives of failure and fear that one of our key problem solving skills, imagination, is hampered? Is there a grand narrative of failure hobbling our personal and collective responses to these threats? Do we need more inspiring narratives in order to find our way to an astonishing, equitable, and sustainable future?

In the coming months I will post summaries of philosophies, solutions, alternative visions, and narratives of prosperity reimagined, prosperity based on more humane and sustainable systems and solutions than those we depend on now. I don’t believe blogging about possibilities will solve our big, complex problems but it might add something to the conversation on how we meet our challenges. Pete Seeger said, “…any one of us might be the grain of sand to make the scales go the right way, instead of the wrong way.”[1] So here’s to hopping over to one side of the scale rather than plunked down in the middle, dismayed.



Economic vision: What is a Steady State Economy?

Wendi Pickerel

“The freethinking of one age is the common sense of the next.” – Matthew Arnold (1827-1888)



Currently, our global economy is shaped by neoclassical economic theories. Economic growth is the principal macroeconomic policy goal of neoclassical economics.

The World Bank defines economic growth as:

“(The) quantitative change or expansion in a country’s economy. Economic growth is conventionally measured as the percentage increase in gross domestic product (GDP) or gross national product (GNP) during one year. Economic growth comes in two forms: an economy can either grow “extensively” by using more resources (such as physical, human, or natural capital) or “intensively” by using the same amount of resources more efficiently (productively). When economic growth is achieved by using more labor, it does not result in per capita income growth…. But when economic growth is achieved through more productive use of all resources, including labor, it results in higher per capita income and improvement in people’s average standard of living. Intensive economic growth requires economic development.”[1]

More simply defined, economic growth is an increase in the production and consumption of goods and services.[2]

Where economic growth is the predominant macroeconomic policy goal identified in neoclassical economics, ecological economics has a different policy goal. Ecological economics is a transdisciplinary field of study. It addresses the relationships between ecosystems and economic systems. In their 1989 Introduction to Ecological Economics, Costanza, Daly and Bartholomew explain that:

“…ecological economics goes beyond our normal conceptions of scientific disciplines and tries to integrate and synthesize many different disciplinary perspectives. One way it does this is by focusing more directly on the problems, rather than the particular intellectual tools and models used to solve them, and by ignoring arbitrary intellectual turf boundaries. No discipline has intellectual precedence in an endeavor as important as achieving sustainability. While the intellectual tools we use in this quest are important, they are secondary to the goal of solving the critical problems of managing our use of the planet.”[3]

In addressing its concern for, “managing the use of our planet,” ecological economics has three primary goals: sustainability, equity, and efficiency. Therefore ecological economics considers economic growth and economic recession as unsustainable.

Lester Brown of The Worldwatch Institute presents at The Smithsonian’s 2012 series, Perspectives on the Limits to Growth

Instead, ecological economics proposes an alternative macroeconomic policy goal: a steady state economy. In a steady state economy there is a state (as in a political unit) where a constant population of people (or “labor”), constant stocks of capital, and a constant rate of energy and materials used to produce goods and services (or “throughput”), is maintained. The Green Party of The United States, who advocate for a steady state economy, explains it as follows:

“Economic growth, as gauged by increasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is a dangerous and anachronistic American goal. The most viable and sustainable alternative is a steady-state economy. A steady-state economy has a stable or mildly fluctuating product of population and per capita consumption, and is generally indicated by stable or mildly fluctuating GDP. The steady-state economy has become a more appropriate goal than economic growth in the United States and other large, wealthy economies. A steady-state economy precludes ever-expanding production and consumption of goods and services. However, a steady-state economy does not preclude economic development – a qualitative process not gauged by GDP growth and other measures that overlook ecological effects.”[4]

The Center for the Advancement of Steady State Economy (CASSE) simplifies the definition by stating that, “A steady state economy…aims for stable or mildly fluctuating levels in population and consumption of energy and materials. Birth rates equal death rates, and production rates equal depreciation rates.” Achieving a steady state economy would require adherence to four main rules:

  1. Maintain the health of ecosystems and the life-support services they provide.
  2. Extract renewable resources like fish and timber at a rate no faster than they can be regenerated.
  3. Consume non-renewable resources like fossil fuels and minerals at a rate no faster than they can be replaced by the discovery of renewable substitutes.
  4. Deposit wastes in the environment at a rate no faster than they can safely be assimilated.[5]

Like The Green Party of The United States, CASSE is dedicated to advocating for the implementation of a steady state economy and therefore is an excellent source to begin a deeper study of the philosophy, historic roots, advantages, and how it can be implemented.

CASSE explains for 13 economic areas how a steady state economy would express itself. For example, in their Jobs and Business sector, CASSE explain, “An end of growth at the national scale means greater economic control at the local scale.” Jobs would be more secure and local businesses would be primary contributors to healthy communities.

Re-localization of services and production would give local communities renewed opportunity to reclaim some of the production and distribution processes that had been managed elsewhere in the global economy. Citizens will become involved in local investing, local entrepreneurship, and local businesses, leading to an economy that CASSE says will be more neighborly, more resilient, and more secure. With a backbone of sustainable local businesses, the economy would be less susceptible to outside disturbances, such as falling stock prices, dwindling oil supplies, or aging power grids. By developing and supporting local cooperative business ventures, citizens will keep wealth circulating in their communities, which CASSE says, “…will be marked by an enhanced sense of place and vitality”. The outcome would be a solid supply of local jobs and an enhanced sense of connectivity resulting from participation in the local economy.

Furthermore, CASSE asserts a steady state economy would have a stabilized population and so not need constant job creation. Because a steady state economy prioritizes efficient and sustainable use of materials and energy, the economy will not seek to replace labor with automated processes unless it is sustainable. People will be able to select from a variety of jobs, and the jobs will not disappear because of too much competition or off-shoring practices.

Read a TED Conversations Debate on The Steady State Economy  

What do you think? Some simple questions to help you begin to consider alternative economic policy goals with less emphasis on growth than our current system:

  1. Is economic growth essential to a state’s prosperity? Is it essential to your prosperity?
  2. How would a state of equilibrium in the rate of production, consumption, and distribution look and feel compared to our current neoclassical state of economic growth? To fire-up your imagination, consider reading CASSE’s exploration of this question.
  3. Is it naïve to believe our economy could function in a state of equilibrium particularly with regards to complex personal and cultural decisions such as population growth?
  4. What topics should, or shouldn’t, fall within the scope of a state’s economic policy?




[3] Costanza, Robert. “What is ecological economics?.” Ecological economics 1.1 (1989): 1-7.



What Do You Think Our Planet Will Look Like After Climate Change?

Arista Burwell-Chen

This past May, the Niels Bugge Cartoon Award created a contest called “Oceans are in our hands” in reference to the rising water levels due to climate change.

Artist Nickolay Lamm also created a montage of photo realistic interpretations showing how the rising tides will impact historical monuments across the nation. For each computer graphic he projects potential renderings for rising sea levels at five feet, twelve feet, and twenty-five feet. While sea level projections from the government are only at a 6.5 foot increase by 2100, the graphics are still astounding. 

Both the comic and computer generated renderings about global warming’s potential effect on our planet drive one point home: We need to take collective action to battle climate change before it is too late.

But how do we do this? Well, for starters, we need to become more informed. Check out Rising Tide, an international grassroots project dedicated to promoting community-based solutions to climate change. Their website addresses ways to battle climate inaction such as unmasking industry greenwash, confronting false solutions, resisting the expansion of the fossil fuel empire and more.

Check out the winning comics from the Bugge Cartoon Award below and Lamm’s sea level projections here.

1st Place: Andrei Popov (Russia)



2nd Place: Bruce Mackinnon (Canada)Image


3rd Place: Pawel Kuczynski (Poland)Image



The Looming Paradox Nobody Wants to Address

The Looming Paradox Nobody Wants to Address

-Max Grinberg

In this day and age you can look at our current economic system in two different ways. You can either choose to ignore climate change, the collapse in biodiversity, or the exponential depletion of the Earth’s water, soil, minerals, or oils… or you don’t. Either way it creates a paradox of salvation: that to succeed we destroy ourselves, to fail we destroy ourselves. Meaning if we continue to deplete the Earth of it’s resources, we will eventually be extinct as a race. Or on the other hand say we do find alternative ways to sustain our energy and consumption needs, the sheer amount of “stuff” we will possess will eventually create a vast lack of space eventually killing ourselves off.


We are beginning to drill in untouched lushly diverse biospheres in our planet in order to sustain the type of demand driven by our over consumption and greed. Whether it be rain forests in South America, or national parks in Africa, or even ice sheets in Antarctica, the human footprint on planet Earth is becoming an issue we can ignore no longer. Unfortunately according to Monboit the tragedy of the stripping our planet has only just begun. Although it feels like the idea of limitting consumption is beginning to gain attention in the public’s eye, iron ore production has risen 180% in the last 10 years, global paper consumption is a a record high.

Because of the the exponential amount of population growth these problems will only get worse. Efficiency of production/consumption will solve nothing as growth continues. We are so consumed with creating a lavish life for ourselves we are killing the materials that we depend on for existence. Distractions to keep our attention off the biggest problem of all… protecting our environment. We need to be aware of problems such as this and not be afraid to bring them up in conversation. Strive for jobs that aim to take society in an alternative direction. And most of all open our eyes to what is really going on.

The One List the University of Washington Does Not Want to Be On

Arista Burwell-Chen 

This past May, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive think tank based in Washington D.C., released The One Percent at State U study. It examines rising debt for university students, part-time adjunct faculty hires, university administration spending and presidential salaries. The study focuses on the top 25 universities with the highest presidential pay, and unfortunately, the University of Washington made the cut.

Key Findings from the study:

  • The student debt crisis is worse at schools with the highest-paid presidents. The sharpest rise in student debt at the top 25 occurred when executive compensation soared the highest.
  • As students went deeper in debt, administrative spending outstripped scholarship spending by more than 2 to 1 at state schools with the highest-paid presidents.
  • At state schools with the highest-paid presidents, part-time adjunct faculty increased 22 percent faster than the national average at all universities.
  • At state schools with the highest-paid presidents, permanent faculty declined dramatically as a percentage of all faculty.
  • Average executive pay at the top 25 rose to nearly $1 million by 2012—increasing more than twice as fast as the national average at public research universities.

Read the original IPS report or check out the infographic below!Image.

Do Societies Evolve?

Patri Friedman proposes that just as flora and fauna evolve, so too do human societies.

Just as we evolved from sea to land, he postulates that societies will start to expand out and evolve on the oceans.

What do you think?

Greenhouse – Showing Where Politicians Get Their Money

David Cubine

Ever wondered where members of congress obtain their campaign funding? Now you can install a basic browser plugin that will tell you immediately.

High school student Nick Rubin recently finished development on a tool that allows users to simply hover their mouse over a member of congress’s name and see what industries their money comes from, along with how many small-dollar contributions they receive and their stance on campaign finance reform. This can make browsing the web an eye-opening experience on a daily basis.

You can download the plugin for free over at

Thanks to Lawrence Lessig’s Mayday SuperPAC newsletter for showing us the plugin.

The Impact of Consumerism on Children

By Jeff Highbarger

Good Life


The Impact of Consumerism on Children

British psychotherapist Graham Music recently released a book that stresses how empathy in children has reached new lows. He pulls from hundreds of academic sources on child development and moral psychology, and decades of his own clinical practice, to explain some of the context for why children today have become meaner and more self-absorbed.

Not surprisingly, Graham argues that an increased focus on materialism and the prizing of possessions has produced narcissistic children who grow up to be adults who never learn the intrinsic rewards of social belonging and interdependence.

 From Music:

How does consumer culture breed narcissism?

The idea of consumer culture is to try to sell us things to make us feel better, and often better than other people. Research shows that people who care more about status symbols, what they look like or being famous, have more mental health problems, and if you are exposed to those values, you are more likely to become unhappy. People who place greater value on being with the people they care about and doing things they believe in, tend to be healthier, both physically and mentally. But consumerism is addictive … Once self-interest wins, it’s hard to get the other side back.

What are the most powerful things parents can do to counteract consumerism?

Live by example, making sure there’s time to help a neighbour, or get involved in community activities. Mindfulness activities can make a huge difference – they really do trigger different parts of our brains – and many can be done with kids, such as being still, concentrating and showing an interest in things such as bird songs. We can learn from our children instead of trying to force them into our pace.

So the next time you’re thinking about buying an ipad for kids just to keep them happy, maybe you should encourage them to engage in some actually valuable human interactions. Not only will you save a couple bucks, but you’ll probably be helping them become better people someday too. And considering all of the problems we need to start solving collectively, a little empathy will go a long way.