in Orson Scott Cards science-fiction classic Enders
Game, a character says, There are times when the world is
rearranging itself, and at times like that, the right words can
change the world.
Hes right, and this is one of those times. You may have heard
of the butterfly effectit seems things are so
interconnected that when a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon,
it can produce effects in Alaska. Well, words are like butterflies,
too. Release them into the air and amazing things happen. They flutter
about and rewrite reality.
Words are hugely important. We live today in a war of words, although
its probably more accurate to say were in a war of reality
tunnels whose walls are built with words. One reality tunnel
says the sustainability crisis isnt anything we cant
handle. Then there are those (okay, us) who say, Hold on,
wait a moment. Were tumbling toward social chaos and ecological
catastrophe and this is a very big deal.
The sustainability community has to win this war of words. Its
that simple. And this requires us to paint word-pictures that describe
simply and evocativelydramatically, even!what our situation
is and what we must do about it.
For some time now, Ive been on the lookout for powerful word-pictures;
in fact a couple of months back I asked some colleagues to share
their favorite says-it-all phrases. Here is some of
what came back to me. Ill start with the tough stuff.
* Pollution-based prosperity.
This reframes our economic system as something that doesnt
merely create pollution as a byproduct, but whose very success depends
on pollution. Theres a radical implication here, that we have
to re-design things at a very basic level if were going to
reverse our current downward spiral.
* The suicide economy. An economy
that needs pollution to flourish is an economy with a death wish.
Thats what this phrase, which I first heard from the writer
David Korten, tells us. The current economic structure is doomed,
folks. And when the death throes come, itll be ugly.
* The industrial-age bubble. Remember the tulip craze
of the 17th century? Or the more recent dot-com bubble? Now think
back on the last two centuries in western industrialized society,
and imagine it as the longest-running bout of economic mania ever.
* Species holocaust. This one
really gives me the shivers. Ever since the second World War, the
word holocaust has conjured up images of death camps.
Species holocaust suggests were doing something
similar to the natural world. And it suggests something mighty distasteful
about our moral culpability.
* Dark enchantment. This phrase suggests weve been
entranced by mainstream culture. Weve been turned into zombies
by all the hucksterism coming at us 24/7, by the endless voices
telling us to Buy this! and See that! Theres
a world out there and were destroying it. We need to wake
up from our spell and realize this.
Now for some more positive visioning.
* Responsible globalization.
Todays globalization is a giant without a brain. It does its
juggernaut thing, for better or for worse. Responsible globalization
suggests things dont have to be that way. The phrase doesnt
actually make globalization responsible so much as it makes us responsible.
Responsible globalization is globalization shaped by
humanitys collective conscience.
* A world that works for all. Lets face it, sustainable
development and sustainability have done a pretty
pathetic job of capturing the publics imagination. Can the
vision of what were all striving for be captured simply and
straightforwardly? I think it already has been, with the phrase
A world that works for all, which is derived from language
by the visionary design scientist R. Buckminster Fuller. I love
this vision statement, not least of all because its in plain
And thats critically important. Plain English. Clear and catchy
slogans, thats what were looking for. And if this sounds
too much like Madison Avenue, so be it. Were in a battle for
hearts and minds here. We need word magic, and lots of it. Words
that can change the world.
P.S. If youve got some word-magic youd care to share,
please send it to me at
cfrankel @aol.com. Maybe
for a future column?
Carl Frankel (email@example.com)
is a writer, journalist and consultant specializing in business and
His next book, The Integral Way: A Path for the 21st Century,
will be published this year.