A Common Sense of Care for the Hudson River

The Institute’s first initiative applying the power of contemplation to real-world challenges was Transformational Ecology, which began in 2003 with the Hudson River Project. It brought religious and spiritual leaders, scientists, and elected officials together for the first time in a contemplative environment to discuss a common sense of care for the Hudson. They collaborated to drive engagement with New York State’s agenda for protecting the River and its watershed, and articulated the idea, as The New York Times put it, “that what the movement needs now is vision, spirit, not just bloodless science and impassioned advocacy.” Outcomes included the development of The Hudson River Compact: Our Shared Nature signed by nearly 200 signatories including diverse faith leaders, environmental and civic groups, and even municipal and state government entities. 

In 2007-2008, the Hudson River Project held quarterly consultations for Hudson Valley faith leaders working on greening initiatives. These by-invitation events attracted hundreds of leaders of diverse faiths from throughout the region. They explored practical and spiritual dimensions of environmental work with faith groups, from theology to New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) grants; from switching to more efficient light bulbs to fighting sprawl and advancing sustainable town planning. 

Observing the competitive state of the US environmental NGO landscape, we held a retreat in 2007 bringing  together a diverse  group of U.S. climate leaders, using contemplative techniques to help find common vision and an agreement to work together on Climate Change. The result was 1Sky, a national coalition of dozens of environmental groups, working to ignite a movement for climate solutions, which later merged with 350.org.

Our 2008 Satyagraha Project explored what the climate movement could learn from Gandhi, King, and the lineage of nonviolent thought. Gandhi’s term satyagraha or “truth force” connotes the idea that if we transform our own personal relationship with the world around us, shifting it from violence to love, from extraction and exploitation to interdependence, we tap the power to transform the world itself. Our retreat and our public forum in New York City on this theme attracted inheritors of Gandhi’s work from around the world and diverse climate leaders and activists, young and old.  Together they articulated a kind of personal, inner dimension of climate work.

Also, in 2008, Van Jones brought together a diverse group of community based environmental leaders to the Garrison Institute to imagine and launch Green for All, a cornerstone in building the green jobs movement in the US.

Climate, Mind, and Behavior

Founded in 2009 our Climate, Mind and Behavior project explored connected emerging work in neuroscience, behavioral economics, and psychology with new thinking about behavior change and people-centered climate solutions to enrich the range of possible climate solutions. The Initiative was launched by a study, done with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)  showing personal behavior change could cut emissions by 1 billion metric tons in a decade, putting behavior change on the map of climate solutions. Our Climate, Cities and Behavior program developed and shared innovative behavior-based climate strategies with sustainability leaders from over 100 US cities, creating national-scale impacts.  And Climate, Buildings and Behavior introduced building level behavior changes, including a partnership with Enterprise Community Partners to develop a behavior change guide for affordable housing, translated into the four most prevalent immigrant languages.

From Transformational Ecology to Planetary Health

In 2018, we launched the Pathways to Planetary Health initiative, which explores four pathways to addressing global environmental issues- the preservation of biodiversity, the creation of ecological cultures, regenerative economics, and the revalorization of the commons and the common good.  The Pathways program builds on over 20 years of experience developing practical, scalable solutions to global environmental issues by integrating scientific research and the relational worldview inherent in contemplative and indigenous traditions.  We convene leaders, strategically engage to develop edge of new fields of thought and action and develop leadership programs to create conditions for transformation and to build agency, confidence, and relational thinking among the next generation of future leaders in society.

Pathways symposia assemble diverse thought and action leaders – scientists, new economists, Indigenous leaders, wisdom keepers, contemplatives, ethicists,  philosophers, journalists, artists, advocates, financial professionals, and on-the-ground changemakers – to deeply explore new frameworks and launch partnerships. The first symposia defined the Initiative’s four pathways, the second explored ideas of deep relationality, expressed by Hopi participant Victor Masayesva as seeing the world as interdependent verbs rather than as separate nouns, and the third, inspired by Nobel prize winner Ilya Prigogine’s statement about Islands of coherence, explored ways of thinking about and expanding the commons and the common good.

“When a complex system is far from equilibrium, small islands of coherence in a sea of chaos have the capacity to shift the entire system to a higher order.” Ilya Prigogine, Nobel Laureate 

We are advancing ways to apply these integrative world views, imbued with ethical frameworks to ground technical, policy, and economic approaches to galvanize the shift from extractive, exploitive systems to regenerative ones. Drawing from the Institute’s previous environmental initiatives, Pathways seeks to apply these ideas in the Hudson River Valley and develop new approaches and partnerships with key organizations addressing the polycrisis globally. All these activities serve to grow and deepen networks of people and organizations exploring the connection between the inner and outer dimensions of planetary health work, who intentionally aim at mindset shift and systems change, and who collaborate to design and scale new solutions.  As the Pathways initiative expands and evolves, we continue to shape thinking, discourse, and action for the planet.