It is my distinct privilege to introduce our second speaker, Greg Watson. This is a challenge because Greg is such an iconoclastic thinker and doer and such an accomplished polymath and pioneer that it is difficult to distill his eclectic career and journeys into a short introduction. Maybe I should just make an illusion to his favorite musician, Bob Dylan, who like Greg is a self-directed visionary and a serial collaborator on all sorts of projects. I’m sure Greg would appreciate that plug for Bob.
But let’s start with the basic facts. Greg is director of policy and system design at the Schumacher Center, and his work focuses chiefly on community food systems and the dynamics between local and geo-economic systems. Many of you might say, “Geo-economics, what’s that?”
Well, it’s not a term that one hears often, but you can quickly deduce that it points to the linkage between eco- logical systems and the human economy known as market capitalism. As the looming catastrophe of climate change and so many other environmental problems continue to advance, this is a field of inquiry that we humans, and especially we activists, need to learn much more about. Fortunately, Greg has been immersed in this topic for nearly 40 years. He is just the person to help us under- stand systems thinking and apply that understanding to how we can build a more just and sustainable world.
His great early mentor in this project was Buckminster Fuller, the legendary architect, systems theorist, designer, and futurist. “Bucky” was famous for probing deep design principles of nature and then using them to build, among many other things, electrical grids and housing in ways that are efficient, resilient, and socially equitable. Greg got to know Bucky through the New Alchemy Institute on Cape Cod, an ecological design incubator where Greg worked as education director and then as executive director in the 1980s. The twelve acres of New Alchemy had organic gardens and sail windmills, solar algae ponds, a passive-solar greenhouse that host- ed one of the first-generation aquaponic systems, along with, of course, the signature geodesic domes that Bucky was famous for.
It was the kind of place where one’s imagination could run wild, and that’s exactly what Greg has done in the intervening years with food and agriculture, ur- ban neighborhoods, ecological design, renewable energy, climate change, and social justice. One of his boldest adventures was to help in reviving a troubled inner-city neighborhood of Roxbury, Massachusetts, serving as the executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. Instead of pursuing the usual models of economics by, say, bringing in a Walmart, he helped catalyze and lead a multicultural, grassroots project that established a community land trust to help reclaim some 1,300 largely abandoned lots filled with rubble. The initiative helped bring the area back to life as a thriving, sustainable neighborhood in the Boston area through agricultural projects and affordable housing, among other things.
I could go on and on about Greg’s amazing career, but let me mention only a few other notable facts. He served as Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture under three governors: Dukakis, Weld, and Patrick, during which time he helped launch a state-wide agricultural program and oversaw the planning and construction of the Boston Public Market. He’s organized a network of urban farmers markets in the Greater Boston Metropolitan area. As the first executive director of the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, he’s been involved in offshore wind-energy development. He helped promote agro-ecology in Cuba to help enrich and reclaim agri- cultural soil. Here’s an amazing fact: in 1988, more than 30 years ago, Greg presented a paper preparing policy makers to address the problems of climate change. This was at the second annual conference of the North American Conference of Preparing for Climate Change, so he’s been in the vanguard for quite some time.
Much of his time today is devoted to developing the World Game Workshop, an idea first proposed by Buckminster Fuller in the 1960s that proposes a great logistical, non-zero-sum world peace game used as a tool to help solve governance problems. This is a tantalizing strategy if you’re trying to move us beyond some of the limitations of the nation state in dealing with these problems. The point, I think, is that Greg has been consistently ahead of his times, in the vanguard, and on the cusp of finding solutions to major societal problems, which is why I’m so eager to hear what he has to share with us today. I’m thrilled to present Greg Watson.