Episode 4: Science Fiction in Action - Michael Gosney and Califia, the new Bay-Area Based, Radical Urban Laboratory Project, The Digital Be-In and the Birth of Biomimicry
Science Fiction in Action - Michael Gosney and Califia, the new Bay-Area Based, Radical Urban Laboratory Project, The Digital Be-In and the Birth of Biomimicry.
Announcer: This program is brought to you by PersonalLifeMedia.com.
Meredith Medland: Welcome to Living Green, this is your host Meredith Medland. Today we are going to learn about the role that green plays in the world of media. Sitting right in front of me right here in Mill Valley, California is Michael Gosney.
Michael Gosney: I feel that the only way we're going to get out of the current paradigm, the system that we're all embedded in, is to create a new layer on top of the existing system. I'm talking about new kinds of settlements, human settlements, eco-cities, defining the term in a more radical way.
You don't bulldoze and build streets and build a thousand little homes or apartment buildings; rather, you leave the land natural and you build a complex multi-use structure.
The encouraging news is the world is waking up, and it's waking up very much through the function of our mass media.
Meredith Medland: Michael Gosney is the cofounder of the Green Century Institute, which is devoted to sustainable communities. He's also a very well known event producer in the transformative space, and has also been leading the edge with a proposed model for a radical Bay Area eco-city called Califia. We're going to learn about each of those things in today's show. Michael, welcome to the show.
Michael Gosney: Thanks Meredith, it's great to be here.
Meredith Medland: So you are known for being a digital innovator. For those people who don't know you, you produced the first multimedia CD-ROM in 1991, you've also been producing the annual Digital Be-In since 1989, which was the birthplace of cyber-culture. And lastly, if that's not enough, you also have a conscious record label and the artists that you bring on to your label promote sustainable culture through entertainment. So these are some great things.
I want to know what is the most invigorating thing that's happening with you right now.
Michael Gosney: Wow, that's quite a question. Well, there is so much going on, but I guess the most invigorating thing is the rising public awareness and the changing sentiments towards this overarching goal of building a sustainable culture. That's really what I think is pushing my buttons right now, just seeing the response of the public, the change in the political climate. People are starting to get real with what our situation is and what our definition of human reality can be, versus what it is now.
Meredith Medland: Let's learn about that definition. So many of my guests have differing opinions. So, lay it out for me, how do you see the world and what's happening right now, and what's the direction that we're moving toward without intervention?
Michael Gosney: Well, you know. I mean, on one hand I think we're all generally aware of people that are tuning in to this show are probably pretty well informed about the statistics and the trends and what we're seeing about human impact in the biosphere, okay.
But the encouraging news is that--even though we're kind of 30 years late, and many people feel that we're almost really too late in coming to grips with the data and really understanding our relationship to the planet--the encouraging news is the world is waking up. And it's waking up very much through the function of our mass media, more specifically, the democratization of media that's been going on since the early '90s. Not only the internet, which of course is in some ways a miraculous birth of a global mind; the manifestation, perhaps, in the early stage of what Teilhard de Chardin envisioned as the noosphere--the sphere of mind--emerging out of the biosphere. I think that's what's happening.
We have a global exterior collective brain emerging, and it's allowing us to communicate with each other, find each other, all the different affinity interests, and specifically the causes that are making a difference. And of course the range of causes that people can now access thanks to the new media paradigm that's continuing to emerge, people can make a difference now, they can reach out and not only support different causes and join different groups that are having an impact, but they also can educate themselves and find access to new ways to finance their lifestyle and define their lifestyle. And this has to do with changing values, how you spend your money.
We all have heard, maybe not all of us, but those of us who see some sense in looking at culture according to values and understanding, that we and the mainstream American public have conflicting value systems existing simultaneously. It's too bad I have to use the word "conflicting", but in many cases they seem to be that.
The modern value system as it's defined in Paul Ray's well-known book The Cultural Creatives says that to be a successful human implies the acquisition of things, it implies certain kinds of status in society generally linked to financial or power scales. Cultural creatives find less value in that kind of definition of status, they find less value in the acquisition of things versus experience for instance. And there's also the social conscious, the sphere of social consciousness and how much one responds to the needs of society and our culture's relationship with the environment.
Meredith Medland: Now when you're talking about those things--I know that you're very well known for your philosophy about the role that the media plays in the Green movement, can you tell us a little bit about that?
Michael Gosney: Well, yes. I mean, I suppose I am known for that. I basically, having been involved in the early genesis of the digital media world, specifically the tools for artists with our early Verbum magazine, then through the '90s I was involved in producing books on how to use digital media tools and so forth. But, certainly having been involved in the invention of the new media, I was always interested in putting my activities using new media into the Green space.
And having been involved with Paolo Soleri's Arcosanti project for many years--the model eco-city project in Arizona. And I held conferences out there called Paradox. What we learned, and I encouraged through the late '90s, was the value of the new media for these various nonprofit initiatives, and also just for our overall knowledge gathering and understanding of the whole system of the planet. That's really the thing that is for me right now my overarching mission.
The meme that I'm most interested in promoting right now is the bio-mimicry approach to design. Not only technology design but also other aspects of our culture and society.
Meredith Medland: When you say bio-mimicry, I know that word because that's one of the titles of the Digital Be-In on April 21, isn't that right?
Michael Gosney: Well, that's right. The Digital Be-In, which has been a cyber-culture event over the years--originally held in January with MacWorld Expo--was a tip-of-the-hat to the Human Be-In that occurred on January 14, 1967 in San Francisco. It became the Be-In of the '90s. It was where the early inventors of the digital media revolution and the artists and the entrepreneurs and the journalists and the artists all got together. Over the years it became increasingly a public event and had Tim Leary and Allen Cohen and Chet Helms--the folks involved with the early Be-In--involved.
We've had themes each year, such as freedom of speech on the internet, cultural diversity in cyberspace, and so forth. The last two years the Be-In has been held on Earth Day.
The Digital Be-In 14, last year on April 22, was called PlanetCode. And that was really focusing on information technologies and the blogosphere and the importance of getting information out; and as I say, gathering our global knowledge and applying it basically in what the information systems allow us to do.
Meredith Medland: So let's go back to bio-mimicry. Tell us what that is.
Michael Gosney: Well, yeah. That's really the point. Sorry about being kind of long-winded here.
This year's Digital Be-In has a theme of bio-mimicry. So we've adopted Janine Benyus' concept of looking at nature as a mentor and a model and a measure--as they say, the three different ways of learning from nature. The simple example is if you are going to design a solar cell, reverse engineer a plant leaf.
But to me the most important lesson to learn from the bio-mimicry methodology--looking at nature, looking to nature for solutions--is to think in terms of systems. It really is very much a world of systems that we live in and it's very important that we quickly, with the incredible emergence of a global sustainability movement and hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into green tech right now, it's important that we don't continue to do what we've done in the early evolution of our use of technology--of high technology.
We've been kind of thrashing around like Neanderthals playing with fire, and not knowing quite how to use it. We've been making mistakes that we didn't need to make, and we also as a society continue to have the problem of reinventing the wheel and not learning from our collective experiences, continuing to operate in isolated cells. And that's the importance of, again, of the media. It allows us to see the big picture and learn from, as I say, from our collective experiences and collaborate more.
We don't have room in the world of sustainable development and the technologies that will support this movement, we don't have room for conflicting standards; we don’t have an extra 5 or 10 years for industries to work out their problems. So there is an inherent conflict with capitalism, and the systems approach that's essential for sustainable development. We have to have common standards, we have to work together, and it's on all levels--it's political, it's technology standards, it's economic systems.
Meredith Medland: I love the conversation of systems, because I feel it relates precisely to living green and what it means to be living green. Each of our guests always has different things that they do in their life that are living green. Can you share some of them that you do--some of your cycles, some of your patterns?
Michael Gosney: Well, I must say that like a lot of people who are active in the broader sustainability movement, my personal lifestyle--my carbon footprint, my buying habits--they are not where my ideal is. I'm embedded in the same culture that we all are. It's a challenge, but it's increasingly doable to modify one's buying patterns and one's lifestyle. I mean, I already--I think a lot of the basic modifications in one's lifestyle I kind of take for granted. You know, that I've made. But I'm not where I want to be. So my answer...
Meredith Medland: Where do you want to be?
Michael Gosney: Well, where I want to be is I want to be living in a sustainable community that I have contributed to and that can support the kind of values that I'd like to see in my whole systems approach to living. I'd like to live within my local ecology in a balanced way. I feel that the only way we're going to get out of the current paradigm, the system that we're all embedded in, is to create a new layer on top of the existing system. I'm talking about new kinds of settlement, of human settlements, eco-cities, defining the term in a more radical way.
The only way that we are going to spark the development of the whole movement of this kind of development is to create some workable models. So that's why I've dedicated my activity with the Green Century Institute to the development of a model eco-city. And we've called it Califia, is the name.
Meredith Medland: When we come back after the break I'm going to ask you a lot of questions about Califia and have you explain it. I'd also like you to spend a little more time before we go to break telling us about Arcosanti in Arizona, and let our listeners know what the website is, where they can go, and how they can find more information.
Michael Gosney: Great, yeah. Arcosanti, like it sounds, arcosanti.org is the website. Arcosanti is a model arcology, which is a term that Paolo Soleri coined, and it means architecture-ecology. It's looking at architecture and the development of the city and its integration with the surrounding ecosystem as the kind of unified design process. That's arcology. Arcosanti is a model arcology designed for 3,000-5,000 people. There are only a few hundred there now. The structures that exist, while they are very impressive, and it is a very active center out in Arizona 60 mile north of Phoenix, Arcosanti is only a fraction of its finished design, what's been completed. But nonetheless, it's been a very influential center for conveying these ideas of integrated green architecture, eco-city design, eco-village.
You know, there's a whole movement around the world of eco-villages and there's a trend towards designing eco-cities, although that term is still very much being defined. Meanwhile, Paolo Soleri is kind of the purist. He's an incredible visionary, I must say. He's influenced on one hand by Teilhard de Chardin and his evolutionary philosophy, and on the other hand he's very much an architect who worked at Taliesin with Frank Lloyd Wright and has taken a lot of his vision from the world of green architecture and those that went before him.
Meredith Medland: I encourage our listeners to go there, check out the website. We're going to take a short break to thank our sponsors. When we come back we will be learning more about Califia, which is the radical Bay Area eco-city that Michael is involved in. My name is Meredith Medland, I'm the host of Living Green and we are with Michael Gosney. We'll be back right after this.
[commercial break--the Life Coach]
Meredith Medland: We're back. My name is Meredith Medland, you are listening to Living Green and I'm talking to Michael Gosney who is a transformative event producer as well as the cofounder of the Green Century Institute, which is devoted to sustainable communities. Before the break we were speaking about Arcosanti, which is in Arizona. And I promised you we would be talking about the radical Bay Area eco-city called Califia after the break, but first we want to give you a picture and a walkthrough of Arcosanti. Michael?
Michael Gosney: Oh, okay. Thanks, Meredith. Arcosanti is sitting on about 900 acres out in Central Arizona, about 60 miles north of Phoenix right off Highway 17 at Cortez Junction. I encourage anyone who is interested in visiting to do so. Take a look at the website. They are very accommodating to visitors there and there's a lot to learn and experience at Arcosanti. To just paint a picture, well, it's a beautiful desert landscape, and the Arcosanti complex--and this is what arcology is all about, is you take 900 acres and you don't bulldoze and build streets and build a thousand little homes or apartment buildings; rather, you leave the land natural and you build a complex multi-use structure that houses residents and businesses.
It's a mixed-use complex and it has ecological design features in the meta-complex, and it also has carefully thought out design features that encourage a very livable lifestyle. But the point is that you have access to the land. In an arcology, in an eco-city, you may give up what one feels to be the freedom of different buildings and driving back and forth between open spaces to different structures for a mega-structure that you live in. But this mega-structure has features, it's not like a big box, like a big skyscraper, it's bringing air and light in and very spacious environments and communal kind of spaces and absolutely private dwellings, but everyone shares the access to the land and the land is used in different ways.
You can build an arcology for instance over a river and the river is irrigating the land around the arcology and it's turning turbines generating electricity for the arcology and so forth. It's an integrated design that's really integrated with the natural environment and it depends on the natural environment as to the design features.
But anyway, Arcosanti is sitting on a beautiful site, and the structures are kind of a science fiction hobbit environment you might say, a lot of curved architecture, the buildings have been built out of the local materials using Soleri's unique silt casting technique. What's there--and there are very beautiful structures--it's all been built by workshops, by students, over 30 years.
Arcosanti is a learning project; it's meant to be as Soleri early positioned it, an urban laboratory. It has spawned many ideas and there have been some efforts to provide larger funding and build the whole arcology model out there, and it's been stymied. These efforts to complete Arcosanti, so to speak, have been stymied for various reasons.
Meredith Medland: So, one of the connections that I make is it has spawned a lot of great ideas. In fact, the proposed model that you have for the eco-city called Califia is one of those ideas. So rather than telling us where you're at now with it, what I'd like you to do is project forward into a year from now and describe a scenario of exactly where you'd like to be with it.
Michael Gosney: Well, a year from now we'd like to be working with a site and developing architectural models of the project and talking with various partners and financers of the project. But I perhaps should define the idea a little bit more because I was just speaking about how difficult it's been to give Arcosanti a true solid financial development environment. I think that it's a consequence of where it is and the culture that is supporting it there outside of Phoenix. I don't think there is enough juice there basically. I think the juice--and I found this when I was holding the Paradox conferences at Arcosanti, and you can search the Arcosanti site for the Paradox conference to see about those. But those were held in '97, '99, and 2001, and I learned in bringing speakers and attendees out there for this amazing visionary summit meetings, that the Bay Area was really the center of the green universe in so many ways, and that this is really where I needed to concentrate my efforts more. So that's why we started the Green Century Institute.
Marc Kasky, who is the long-time director of the Fort Mason Center and a real innovator in community development--Fort Mason Center is San Francisco's very successful conversion of a military base into a cultural center that is one of the real gems of San Francisco actually.
So we started the Green Century Institute to encourage to do research and hold events and educate and so forth, all along the lines of sustainable communities. Whether that means wholly new communities being developed, or perhaps more importantly, in-fill developments as they call them, new developments within metropolitan areas. How to encourage not only sustainable design as it's currently defined, but a more radical look, a more arcological look at how to design our built environments.
So anyway, Califia is a proposed model Bay Area eco-city that we feel can become the center of green tech, clean tech that can be the business foundation. The industry support can come from this arena, which is the new wave of investment going into green tech that's coming out of Silicon Valley. It's no longer a world of software demos at conferences. The demos for green tech products and services and systems will be built projects. So I see Califia as an opportunity to rally this industry behind a project that will have a green tech campus and be itself a huge demo of these new products and design methodologies.
Meredith Medland: And that model has been successful. If we look at Intel's Digital Living Room, they've brought that along to many trade shows and done builds in houses. This is a familiar concept, that you would put together not necessarily a whole city but an environment for manufacturers to show their products.
Michael Gosney: Well that's right. I think that's an interesting reference and a relevant one that people are used to when it comes to high-tech gear--tangible products versus software--innovations are shown in a demo environment. And yes, the Digital Home is a built environment. So we're just extrapolating from there when we're talking about new kinds of solar arrays, new kinds of power systems, hydrogen refilling stations for the community transport fleet, and these kinds of things. You are going to see large-scale demos.
Meredith Medland: Large-scale. Living green is about illuminating the psychology of ecology. So you're here with me, and I'd love to know more about what's happening with you on a daily basis as it relates to the choices that you make that are green.
Michael Gosney: Well, I think on a daily I basis undergo the same kind of underlying series of conflicts as anyone who comes into a broader awareness of how we're living in the world, and again, looking at things according to the whole system. All these products that we buy, these various energy expenditures, our carbon footprint, we're all coming into awareness of our impact and our relationship with the biosphere, right? So the more you come into that awareness, you realize the daily conflict you have in the culture that you are embedded in. So my energy usage in my home, the materials that the products that I buy are made of, these things are all kind of in my subconscious because you can't keep this stuff conscious all the time.
I always have a kind of underlying feeling of conflict. So I would like my psychological state five years from now to have less underlying conflict. I'd like to know. And hopefully thanks to the choices that are given me, I will have more choices to exercise the values that I know are fitting, and not constantly feeling I'm living in paradox.
Meredith Medland: So you are doing that by creating a community that can sustain you in that ecology and psychology process.
Michael Gosney: Well, yes. I mean we all make our contributions in different ways. And those who have already--and many of my young friends it's amazing how they have modified their lifestyles so radically. They really are walking their talk in a way that I admire and wish that I could.
But, for me to participate in the mainstream culture to a level of doing these kinds of meta-projects, which is what I feel really need juice on--this meta-level, how we build cities, how we build homes--that is the area that I think has been underestimated in the importance of it, and the impact of cars and our car lifestyle, that's the area that I'm really dedicated to. I feel that's the big picture area that I can support and help. On a daily basis maybe I'm not doing as much as many of my friends and our listeners are doing.
Meredith Medland: We're going to take a short break here in just a moment, and when we come back we are going to learn about the Digital Be-In that is on April 21 here in San Francisco. But before we go to the break what I'd like to ask you is how you got into the green movement, why do you care? There are so many other places to put your attention and your energy, what made that difference?
Michael Gosney: I was fortunate to be in an academic environment, at the University of Kansas of all places, back in the early '70s. This was 30 years ago plus, when the data was all first coming out, right? Rachel Carson's book and various sources of information were becoming popularized, but it was still a rarefied environment, the mainstream wasn't picking up on it. But I was fed the data back then, I had some professors, and I got involved in Arcosanti early on in the early '70s, so I was really turned on early to what was going on.
I also ended up publishing a book. My first company was Avant books, it was a small press, and I published a book called The Life and Adventures of John Muir in 1985. And that changed my view of the world, seeing how John Muir saw the world. Then I later went on with Michael Tobias to publish Deep Ecology, also right around that same time actually. And Deep Ecology was where I really got my inspiration, understanding what deep ecology meant.
So, yeah, from early on I felt that the clock is ticking and we have to do something. And I have to admit, I feel like I haven't done enough, I kind of wish that I maybe early on would have been a little more devoted, because I think we're all conscious, again, of the ticking clock.
Meredith Medland: The ticking clock. Well you certainly are devoted today. When we come back after the break we're going to learn about the biggest piece of that devotion. That's coming up right on April 21 here in San Francisco. My name is Meredith Medland, I'm your host of Living green and I'm with Michael Gosney who is the cofounder of the Green Century Institute, which is devoted to sustainable communities. We are going to learn more about the Digital Be-In right after this. Thank you.
[commercial break--Living Dialogues]
Meredith Medland: Welcome back from the break. My name is Meredith Medland, and I'm here with Michael Gosney who is the cofounder of the Green Century Institute, devoted to sustainable communities. Michael, before the break we were talking to you about how you got involved in the ecology movement, and you referenced that when you learned what "deep ecology" meant that it made a difference to you. Tell us what it means.
Michael Gosney: Well, deep ecology just basically implies the human's position in nature as nature, not as something outside of the natural world. That's basically the simple definition of it. And it has come, by the way, to characterize a kind of a more radical arm of the ecology movement in some ways.
But Arnie Naess, who coined the term, and others who subscribe to the movement in Europe and in the United States, basically were just putting forth the idea that we need to understand nature and act as nature would act. And I must say that yes, deep ecology I think implies the bio-mimicry approach to technology and design. But yeah, that was a great influence on me back in the mid '80s, coming into contact with some of those real thinkers and visionaries that were seeing the trends.
Meredith Medland: And in 1989 that's when you started taking a lot of those visionaries and putting them together with the first Digital Be-In, right?
Michael Gosney: Well, yes. Actually that's like a few years later around the same time. The early digital media revolution was in the makings with the Macintosh computer and the desktop publishing technology. And our magazine Verbum, which was out at the time--one of the first desktop published magazines--and it was for creative professionals and so it carried the seeds of kind of the early cyber-culture movement.
And our digital Be-In party held during MacWorld Expo was kind of the realtime embodiment of that early industry and culture. These were the artists, as I said earlier, and the programmers who were creating the tools for the creative applications--Adobe Illustrator; Macromedia's early Director, which is the program for creating multimedia titles; all of this was going on back then. So the visionaries that I was putting onstage at the Be-In were more the technology visionaries--John Barlow and these kinds of folks; Ted Nelson, who coined the term "hypermedia"; and so forth.
Meredith Medland: So let's fast-forward to April 21 here in San Francisco. Who is going to be at the Digital Be-In, what's it going to be like, and where is it going to be broadcast?
Michael Gosney: Okay. Well, the Digital Be-In is going to be held on April 21, which is Earth Day eve. It's held in San Francisco here at a venue called Mezzanine. The information is at be-in.com. be-in.com, that's the website for the Digital Be-In. It's produced by Cyberset and Green Century Institute. Also, the Urban Alliance for Sustainability here in San Francisco is supporting us in various ways, helping us with this event.
It is basically a combination of symposium and exposition and presentation-- a series of presentations going on--a lot of art installations, and music and dance. It's an eight-hour happening and it starts at 7:00, we have the symposium--the bio-mimicry symposium--for two hours from 7:00 to 9:00. And we're very honored to have Janine Benyus giving us a keynote. She's going to be down in Costa Rica, but she's going to join us long-distance and run her PowerPoints and give us a great overview of bio-mimicry.
Then Paul Hawken, who many know as the author of Natural Capitalism, co-author and one of our great philosophers really, of the green movement. Paul's book Blessed Unrest is coming out in early May and so we're going to be celebrating the release of that book and he's going to speak.
We have a number of other distinguished speakers addressing the theme of bio-mimicry during this two-hour symposium. We'll have a theatric performance piece about species extinction and the new film that is coming out on this. A number of different initiatives are being launched at the event.
Meredith Medland: This is going to be really, really, really exciting. Thank you for this contribution. I want to remind our listeners that if you have any questions for me you can email me at [email protected] You've also probably found this podcast either through iTunes or looking at it on our episode page. If you look at Michael's picture and his bio you'll see links below there, so you can find out more about all the information that we spoke about today.
Michael, I'd like to thank you and ask you just a few last questions here. If you could create three outcomes--specific measurable outcomes, real ones here--within the next three months, what would they be?
Michael Gosney: Outcomes of my activities?
Meredith Medland: Anything that you can create, that you will create. If we sit here in three months and I interview you again and I say, "Hey, how's it going? What are three outcomes you've created?" and you'd come back and you'd say, "I did this, this, and this," and they were things that you mentioned in this podcast today, what would they be?
Michael Gosney: Well, three outcomes: I would like to see the Digital Be-In be a great success, and in particular the media extensions that we are working with earthTV and Second Life, and we have some exciting experiments going on. So the idea that this event can reach a much broader audience and kind of evolve, I'd like to see a successful outcome with the media program, the event in general and the media program.
I guess I would also like to have a couple of radical steps forward for Califia. I'm going to be reaching out to some of the leaders of the green tech investment community, and without naming names, if I could get one of these key individuals to the table at the Concord Naval Weapons Center in the city of Concord and talk about building an eco-city on the former military base where they stored nuclear weapons and was a center of protest for years here in the Bay Area, that would be a wonderful outcome if I could move that forward. And I didn't mention that, but that was an exploratory discussion that we have going on with this incredible 5,000 acre naval base out there in Concord.
I guess the third outcome: I'd like to see some breakthroughs in the world of conscious entertainment. And whether that happens with some of our own artists and our activities with Cyberset, or some of those other artists that are working in a similar space, I think that the world of art entertainment has a lot more to offer the public, and I'd like to see some recognition for some of these artists who have really been working hard in this space.
Meredith Medland: Thank you. Well the recognition starts right here. Michael Gosney, thank you so much for a lifetime of contribution to healing and sustaining and developing and waking up the planet.
Michael Gosney: Thanks so much Meredith.
Meredith Medland: That brings us to the end of our show. Thank you for listening. For text and transcripts of this show and other shows on the Personal Life Media Network, please visit our website at personallifemedia.com. This is your host Meredith Medland illuminating the psychology of ecology for you right here on Living Green.
Announcer: Find more great shows like this on personallifemedia.com.
[end of audio]