Part Two of a three-part series
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 Fritjof Capra
Fritjof Capra


Physicist and philosopher, internationally famous author and co-author of a dozen publications and a screen play, Fritjof Capra is also a teacher and an environmental activist.

He is one of the founders of Berkeley, California's Center for Ecoliteracy, a non-profit organization that develops and funds environmental education programs at elementary, secondary and high schools. He also frequently conducts environmental management seminars for top executives of international corporations and business schools.

Frijtof lives with his wife and daughter in Berkeley, California.

Center for Ecoliteracy
Fritjof Capra Seminars


ECOTECTURE: In The Web of Life and in The Hidden Connections, especially in Hidden Connections, you describe a continuing development of a system originating or embedded in inorganic matter and culminating in human social systems. The material manifestation of preconscious systems are not designed in the ordinary sense of that word, but are rather the result of the interactions between the system and the environment. Human systems, however, are designed in accordance with values, meaning interacting with process, matter and form to manifest a new expression. What happens when values that do not lead to good systems design predominate over those that do and are imposed on the design?

CAPRA: Well, this is exactly what we have now. We have designs that incorporate values that are not sustainable. For instance, one of the biggest design successes in the United States in recent years have been the SUVs (Sport's Utility Vehicles—large personal automobiles). The SUV is designed to make people feel comfortable, make them feel important, give them a sense of power. They want to ride their cars a little bit like trucks in the sense that they're higher, above the other people. It gives them a sense of security because they're big and bulky. And you know they get about—I don't know—eight to ten miles per gallon. They're extremely wasteful, extremely polluting, they use up natural resources, they clog the streets and they're really a bad design. For the values for which they were designed, they were good and they have been a booming business so that, I don't know, it was recently 40% and now it's maybe more than half of all cars sold in the US are SUVs. But they are a disaster and they are an ecological disaster because they increase the dramatic effects of climate change.

Systems thinking recognizes these connections. This is why I called my book The Hidden Connections, (because it identifies connections) which are generally not recognized. For instance, when you hear in the media about new catastrophes, like the flooding in Europe—in recent months Prague was flooded, northern Italy was flooded, Germany was flooded, like never before, not in hundreds of years — well, this is courtesy of the American SUVs because of the exhausts and the resultant climate change. So they are a bad design for humanity as a whole. They are also a bad design for our security because they run on oil and they gobble up massive amounts of petroleum which we need to import from the Middle East, among other places, with all the political turmoil and so on that that involves. It has been estimated that if we increased the fuel efficiency of our light vehicles, which includes the SUVs, but only the light vehicles, not the heavy trucks and buses, by 2.7 miles per gallon, which is nothing with available technologies—that would free us completely from Persian Gulf oil. We wouldn't need any Persian Gulf oil. Now just imagine what that would do to our foreign policy and our military policy. Just a simple technological change in our cars.

the things that we
value at the deepest
level . . . the simple
pleasures of life
that really make us
human are the most
endangered today
and are the most
difficult to get.


I came to this interview in my Toyota Prius, which gets 40 to 45 miles per gallon, as opposed to 10 to 15 or 20 to 25, which is the average of the American cars. So 2.7 miles per gallon is nothing. It could be done very easily. Instead, the Bush administration plans to spend maybe $200 billion in just the first year on war against Iraq, which is completely uncalled for, but because the leaders of this country at the moment are all oil men, they all come from the petroleum industry, they have these blinders, they see the world in terms of petroleum, they can't think of anything else. But we don't need petroleum. We need some, but we don't need the amounts we have now. We can run an economy on hydrogen and solar energy without needing any imported oil. We will always need some oil, but we don't need to import it.

ECOTECTURE: When I was giving a talk last summer, I made an analogy between the oil people and a guy in a village who he sells bread. You come into the village and you say, "I have an idea that people can eat only half as much bread and still be fine, everything will be fine."The guy who sells bread is going to think that you're trying to take something away from him because he'll only be selling half as much bread. My feeling about the oil people is that they're stuck in that mentality, so that they think that when you try to replace the money that comes from that continuous flow of oil with an alternative technology, they're looking at their income, their power being taken away. How would you answer them?

CAPRA: Well, I can speak from some experience here because about half a year ago I went to Brazil to give a three-day seminar to the national Brazilian oil company, which is called Petrobras from petroleum and Brazil. It's a nationalized company which is huge and Brazil, of course, is a very big economy. I told them, "you guys should not focus on oil as the product. You should think, 'why do we need oil? Well, we need oil as a source of energy.' So you should shift from being an oil company to being an energy company, and you should look into all possible energy sources and find out which is the smartest energy source, which is environmentally the best energy source, and you should say, you know, we are selling energy.

You could even go further and ask why do we need energy? Well, to run our processes, to make our life comfortable. And you could say, we are selling comfort to our customers by keeping their homes warm or by keeping them mobile and so on.

Similarly, a car company should not think that it's in the car business but should think it's in the mobility business. The mobility business may very often involve cars, but in other circumstances it may be a redesign of our cities so that we work closer to home, for instance, so that we don't need to commute for two hours but can just walk to work. Now General Motors or Ford could be the company that redesigns the cities in such a way that people can walk to work, because they are the mobility company. This kind of thinking is systemic thinking. But that's very hard to get across. In Brazil, I was able to talk to middle managers and convince them of the advantage of this kind of thinking. But I didn't get through to the top managers. They were really too stuck in their thinking.