Panelist Charles Eisenstein at opening plenary session. Photo credit: Rachael Roth

BRATTLEBORO, Vt.-Equitable, inclusive, just, humane, civil, neighborly, connected, collaborative, globally responsible, environmental sustainable:

These were some of the values discussed during the introductory plenary session of the 2012 Slow Living Summit in Brattleboro’s Latchis Theater. Panelists discussed the desire and the process of transitioning from an economy that values unbridled economic growth to one valuing humans and the Earth.

The evening began with an informal networking reception including food and drinks donated from local and sustainable food manufacturers. At 6:30 p.m. Orly Munzing, the executive director of Strolling Of The Heifers and the Slow Living Summit, welcomed those attending and explained the title of Strolling Of The Heifers as a metaphor for a new economic model–strolling, not running, slow not fast–a greener system mindful of local communities.

Following Munzing’s remarks, Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, the president of Marlboro College, spoke upon the notion of a more mindful economic system before drawing parallels between Marlboro’s vision of a liberal arts education and a slower economic system. According to McCulloch-Lovell, how we treat each other is just as important as economics; common good is as valuable as private gain.

Lori Hanau, the Summit steward, took a more ethereal approach to the conference’s introduction. Hanau invited the audience to meditate and feel the connection between their feet and the Earth; a practice in line with Summit mentality.

Slow Living Banner

Photo Credit: Rachael Roth

Ralph Meima, the director of the managing for sustainability program at Marlboro College, highlighted the three main categories that the conference seeks to address: economics, how to get businesses and money directed towards local sustainable practices; community, and policy, the roles of government and laws.

Three panelists took the stage to discuss their perspectives on issues of economics and community.

Charles Eisenstein, author of “Sacred Economics,” gave a compelling argument on the way in which money and the monetary system have become impediments to personal and community happiness and suggested ways that money could transition to an ally.

The ‘rat race’, as Eisenstein argues, is not an inherent component of society, but rather a product of an increasingly monetized community. The rush of modern life in America and the increasing view of time as a limited commodity is a paradox given the increasing economic efficiency specialization and the division of labor enables. A past prediction suggested that the greatest question of the year 2000 would be, ‘what should we do with all our free time?’

“When given the choice to work less or consume more, we always choose to consume more,” said Eisenstein.
This endless drive towards growth has led to an increase in quantifiable returns at the expense of unquantifiable personal interaction, meaning and community. He likens the need to consume as an addiction.

Woody Tasch, author of “Slow Money,” discussed the economic and community benefits of local sustainable economic growth.

Woody Tasch

Woody Tasch speaks at the Slow Living Summit's Opening Plenary Session. Photo credit: Rachael Roth

“Growth and consumerism run amuck,” said Tasch.

Tasch cites the example of China, where pharmaceutical profits have sky rocketed along with rising diabetes and asthma rates as a direct result of cigarette, fast food, and cars entering China. In the drive for profits money is being made twice – first on death and second on a cure. Tasch offers CSA’s as an alternative model encouraging reinvestment and local growth. A direct feedback loop based on valuable information rich relationships.

John Restakis, author of “Humanizing the Economy,” discussed his work in developing co-ops in Vancouver as a solution to modern economic woes. He cites a disconnect between economics and social values–a view of people as consumers not individuals and competition rather than cooperation. He argues that unless we can democratize our economies we cannot address major concerns about the environment, global warming and inequality. He says many people recognize the problems with our current system, but do not know how to change it. Co-ops offer a resilient starting point.

“ But it’s Wednesday evening,” said Meima, closing tonight’s discussion. “There are other things to do and other discussions to be had.”

Stephen Courage