Honey, I Changed the Climate

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New PlanetEaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My comments on David Orr’s book apply here. McKibben is unsparing in giving it to us straight in the first half. Despite my long work history in sustainability, I was still stuck in prevention mode. It was very hard for me to face the facts: climate change is not just real, it’s here and it’s time for us to rethink how we live and get ready for some big adjustments. I found his history of the last 20 years to be fascinating and have a much better understanding of how we went so quickly from “might be of concern in 50 to 100 years” straight to “honey, I changed the climate.” The second half of the book is full of great examples of good people rolling up their sleeves and doing the work of shifting to small, decentralized, local, practical, cooperative and aligned with nature. I wish everyone would just stop arguing and shopping at WalMart and read this book.

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What is Restorying?

Restorying blog









“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”  ~ Albert Einstein

After over 15 years teaching and practicing green architecture and sustainability, I had to ask: why haven’t things gotten better? Why are we still on a collision course with the climate, poverty, suffering, inequity, violence, war, and mental illness? We have the technology and the know-how to be far more efficient, so why aren’t we? How did we let it get to be too late for the climate?

I started wondering if all the emphasis on “what to do” was distracting us from the real work, which is to consider “who we are.”

I realized that, being part of this culture I wished to change, I was falling under its spell of separation. Restorying is not about saving the earth or being less bad. It’s about waking up to who we really are and why we are here. Which, at its core, is a mystery and always has been.

Our culture has trained us to believe that we are separate from and superior to the rest of the community of life.

. . . and, by extension, each other. We may agree and embrace this way of thinking, or we may be unaware that it is part of our operating system. Either way, until we discard that inaccurate and damaging notion, we can never heal ourselves, each other, or our world. We will remain stuck.

Throughout our history, humans have always lived by stories that told us how we got here, why we are here, and what God and the Universe were up to. The great playwright David Mamet says that drama comes from “our impulse to structure cause and effect in order to increase our store of practical knowledge about the universe.”

Our modern-day stories rely on abstractions like Growth and Progress, Family Values, Technology, and Change. Abstractions paint an incomplete and inaccurate picture of who we are in the world. We are taught that, unless you can measure, analyze or describe a phenomenon rationally, it doesn’t exist. Intuition, emotion, myth and the imagination have been treated as inferior, the realm of children best discarded once we reach adulthood.

In a Restorying retreat, we open ourselves to new messages that are germinating deep in our individual and collective consciousness.

Story-based practices draw from a deep well of imagination to receive the guidance and encouragement available to all of us. Exercises may bring numinous experiences of the joy of connection and welcome.  We explore practices like:

  • Letting go of old stories that no longer serve us
  • Tell and listen to stories – memoir, fable, myth, parable, hero’s journey
  • Imaginative journaling
  • Music, art and movement
  • Letting the body and senses listen and converse with our brothers and sisters, the trees, mountains, animals, meadows and streams

While a single unifying story is unlikely, a new way of being is taking shape that calls upon connection and belonging and is profoundly creative. Rather than struggle against what we don’t want, we can instead turn towards what energizes and inspires us. It is our birthright to live this way, to turn towards what is calling, what we love and long for. What are these emerging new stories?

For a current list of upcoming Restorying Retreats, check this page

“Children jump around at the end of the day, to expend the last of that day’s energy. The adult equivalent, when the sun goes down, is to create or witness drama – which is to say, to order the universe into a comprehensive form. Our sundown play/film/gossip is the day’s last exercise of that survival mechanism. In it we attempt to discharge any residual perceptive energies in order to sleep. We will have drama in that spot, and if it’s not forthcoming we will cobble it together out of nothing.”  ~ David Mamet, “Three Uses of the Knife,” pg. 8

Dancing with spirit and matter

Im Montage

“Seek the real practical life,
but seek it in a way that does not blind you
to the Spirit working in it.
“Seek the Spirit, but do not seek it
in Spiritual greed, from Spiritual egoism,
but look for it because you want to apply it unselfishly
in practical life in the material world.
“Make use of the ancient principle:
Spirit is never without matter, matter never without Spirit.”

Rudolf Steiner, 9.24.19

Recently, I had occasion to consider what matters most to me as an architect, and this was my answer: I like to play with the balance of spirit and matter. The Steiner verse above has been my guiding light for the past three years or so, helping me to navigate our overly materialistic culture so it doesn’t drive me absolutely crazy. By “materialistic,” I don’t mean only that we Americans buy and have a lot of stuff and spend more time shopping than reading with our kids. I also mean that our dominant cultural story is that something is only “real” if it can be measured, scientifically described, and known by the rational mind.

I have come to accept that one of my roles – and this is not easy to admit – is to challenge that assumption and to put forth my own version of the reintegration of spirit and matter. So far, I’ve worked with this as an architect and professor. Lately, I’m also exploring other media, including writing essays and fiction and offering Restorying workshops.

In my architecture master’s thesis, I identified three aspects or stages of designing a building: idea, form, and material. In the diagram below, idea belongs in the “spirit” circle and materials (wood, brick, stone, metal) in the “matter” circle. In the overlap is “form,” which refers to all aspects of the shape of the building, including orientation, windows, heights of rooms, roofline.


Idea is not bound by time or budget because spirit is free: it is everywhere. Form is partly bound by time and budget. A little forethought will give you the window that frames a view to the garden or lets in the sunrise. That’s what I get paid to think about. Builders are necessarily focused on material – and thank god for that. They also have input on form, because being human they too have insight and ideas.

To get a delightful result, my role is to balance out spirit. If we focus only on matter, the resulting building tends to be rather soulless. We can all recognize it when we are in a good place. It is beautiful and uplifting and moving. It makes us smile, dance, sing. As Mrs. Leighey, who lived in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey house in northern Virginia, said to my friend during a tour: “Living here has made me a better person.”

I always ask my clients what they want for their project. If anything poetic or cryptic is part of the answer, that’s a good sign I can be helpful. Even if it’s not overt, if it’s just a feeling or a collection of photographs, I know what questions to ask to tease out the vision and court delightful solutions.

Designing a building, whether a new church or a house remodel, depends on the participation and trust of everyone involved. It’s an iterative process, which sometimes feels like one step forward and two steps back. There is ambiguity and paradox – which is always a good sign, because it means that Spirit is in the room.

Since we all live in the real world of schedules and budgets, it’s helpful to remember that budget and delight are NOT mutually exclusive. It’s all in the intention and the forethought.

Shock and Awe and a Failure of the Imagination

Odds Against TomorrowOdds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

In the coming apocalypse, millions will suffer and there’s not much we can do about it. That’s the message of “Odds Against Tomorrow,” Nathaniel Rich’s exquisitely detailed story of the inundation of New York City by category 4 hurricane Tammy. It’s being hailed as the finest novel of climate change, in the vanguard of a new category of fiction: “cli-fi.”

True, it is a relatively entertaining story – if you like your heroes nerdy, fearful and swept away by circumstance. Yet by the end, I was unchanged, unmoved and uninspired. Maybe I’m a demanding reader, but if I invest time in reading a novel, I want something to happen to me.

Rich’s book doesn’t offer much to answer the inevitable question, “okay, now what?” It may be that “Odds Against Tomorrow” performs the service of painting such a vivid picture of what’s coming that people are moved to make changes in their lives. But what changes? For that, we’ll have to read another book, such as James Howard Kunstler’s “World Made by Hand.”

It has been said that the hero, Mitchell Zukor, undergoes a transformation from an intellectual parasite in the Wall Street financial industry to a “man of action.” Since he chooses to retreat from the world in a self-built fortress, plant a garden, loot a local variety store and never again shower or shave, it leaves the reader wondering – is this humanity’s fate? A kind of de-evolution into solitude and madness?

Not since Ian McEwan’s “Solar” has there been a less likeable protagonist in a climate change novel. This is not necessarily a weakness so much as it asks him to shoulder a burden he simply cannot carry. Once we’ve seen the horrors we hath wrought with our wasteful, carbon-drenched ways, we’re going to need leaders capable of inspiring us to carry forth in new ways. The cynicism of modern-day New York (and, by extension, America) will not provide the necessary vision to rethink our relationships with each other and with the living earth.

In this book, the earth is presented as an Old Testament enemy, hurling devastating earthquakes and hurricanes at the unsuspecting but deserving general public. “Odds Against Tomorrow” is indeed a vivid wake-up call, but once the writer has yanked his audience out of our electronics-fueled stupor of denial, it’s frustrating that there isn’t a more compelling or hopeful alternative. One storm and we either hang by our fingernails to a pathological status quo or devolve into hermitude?

I felt the same way after seeing Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Yeah, we’ve screwed things up and yeah, some devastating consequences are already starting to show themselves. We’ve had the warnings, now where are the novels and films that question our assumptions about who we are and how we might better fit in to this living planet? It seems to me that those would be more helpful as we rethink our assumptions and re-envision the future we want.

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Creating Good Jobs


#6 in a series of previews for our film, currently in production.



Eli Allen has a passion for connecting people with opportunities.

As founder of Civic Works’ Retrofit Baltimore program, he sees opportunities of all sorts: to save energy and money; to learn new skills; and to have a fulfilling job that pays a living wage.

To Eli, the American Dream means access to meaningful jobs that allow people to provide for their families. Access means connecting people with opportunities that may previously have been unavailable to them.

Spread the good by sharing this story with some friends.

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“We the People 2.0″ shows the power of new stories – real people who are creating a better world every day.

Stop by and “like” the project on our Facebook Page.

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A Mosaic of Connection


#5 in a series of previews for our film, currently in production.


Jackie Carrera’s organization, Parks and People Foundation, brings people together around shared accomplishments.

to create a stronger social fabric and improve our city’s ability to take on difficult challenges.

Whether planting trees, cleaning up a stream or helping children tend a garden, Baltimoreans experience that precious connection with one another and with the earth. We feel a sense of belonging, here, amongst each other and in this place.

Spread the good by sharing this story with some friends.

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“We the People 2.0″ shows the power of new stories – real people who are creating a better world every day.

Stop by and “like” the project on our Facebook Page.

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Return on Investment


Fourth in a series of previews for our film, currently in production.


Keith Losoya, founder of Waste Neutral Group, shows a whole new way of thinking about “return on investment.”

His business expands people’s ideas about food waste, helps children participate in the cycles of life, and pays dividends for future generations.

Celebrate Earth Day by sharing this story with some friends.

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“We the People 2.0″ shows the power of new stories – real people who are creating a better world every day.

Special shout out to the Johns Hopkins University student team behind the Leftover project. Their goal is to make a short film about the issues of food waste and compost in Baltimore restaurants. It’s a thorough, fascinating and (yes) light-hearted look at the waste scene in our city.

Stop by and “like” the project on our Facebook Page.

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A Faithful Friend


Third in a series of previews for our film, currently in production.


We the People take care of each other.

That’s how it is at this addiction treatment and community center in Baltimore.

“What makes Penn North so special is we’re a community, we’re a group of friends, we’re a family, doing whatever we can to provide whatever’s needed for individuals and families who show up. We’re all in it together. . . . It’s often very hard to explain or put labels on it. We just do what we do.” (Blaize Connelly-Duggan, program director)

See how the folks at Penn North are renewing the American Dream and share this story with a friend today.

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Stop by and “like” the project on our Facebook Page.

View the first preview clip here and the second clip here.

Who are “we the people”?


Second in a series of previews for our film, currently in production.


How would you answer the question, Who are “We the people”?

There’s a lot of hand-wringing these days about the loss of a sense of community in America.  Does “we” mean only ourselves and our immediate families? Or does it extend to our neighbors, our region, and even the world as a whole?

Three people whose work is helping to renew the American Dream give their take on “we the people.”

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Stop by and “like” the project on our Facebook Page.

View the first preview clip here and the third clip here.

The Times We Live In


First in a series of previews for our film, currently in production.


If you could go back in time, what time period would you go back to?

In this clip, Thibault Manekin of Seawall Development, relates what happened when he put this question to the 12-year-old boy next to him on a long airplane flight.

The boy’s surprising answer opens up a whole new perspective on who we are in the times we live in – and what we are being called to do now.

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View the next preview clip here.