Picturing a Greener Future with ‘Beautiful and Abundant’ Author Bryan Welch
July 4, 2011
Bryan Welch’s history as a green media mogul dates back to his start as an environmental journalist, long before he purchased Mother Earth News a few years back. Fueled by the magazine’s success, Welch wrote Beautiful and Abundant in 2010 as a means of providing readers green inspiration to work toward in the future.
Welch geared the book toward people from all walks of life — social, economic and otherwise — with simple ideas of how we must unite to create the kind of earth that future generations can be proud of. As Welch asks, “That’s something we all have in common. Who disagrees about this?
“The book is an effort to engage people in the discussion, and in the process, the visualization,” he explains. “The only way it happens is through a process of billions of human imaginations.”
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and today we’re so honored to have with us today Bryan Welch. He’s not only an author, he’s a farmer, but even more importantly, he’s a green media mogul. Welcome to Green is Good, Bryan Welch.
BRYAN WELCH: Thanks, John. Thanks very much. Thanks, Mike.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Bryan, first of all, we’re going to talk about your new book, your amazing book, Beautiful and Abundant. For our readers out there, they could look it up at beautifulandabundant.com and buy it, of course, anywhere on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and all the great bookstores out there. But before we get to that, I want to share with our listeners that you are the publisher of the Mother Earth News, Natural Home and Garden, The Utne Reader; truly a green media mogul. Share, Bryan, with our listeners a little bit about your amazing journey. How did you get here? What inspired you to take this sustainability journey?
BRYAN WELCH: How I got here, I think, was a lot of really good fortune. I was inspired over the decades. I was a journalist covering environmental issues for a long time, and I was always inspired by some of these publications. Over the years, I became a newspaper publisher and then knew I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial. Some people who I’d worked for in the newspaper business were willing to back me as we started a publishing company that covered things in a more entrepreneurial way and had magazines and other kinds of media associated with it. Our great good luck was about 10 years ago with the opportunity to buy Mother Earth News. Mother Earth News now, for the past two years, has been the fastest-growing magazine in North America. It certainly has underwritten and funded and supported so much of what we wanted to do. It’s our flagship, and has been for some time. Mother Earth News has made it all possible over the years, really.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, you made it possible because you bought it, and now, obviously, you’ve added your magic green pixie dust and you’ve done something great with it to make it so relevant and make everybody want to buy it. I buy it, and I love it. I subscribe to it online. Tell us why Mother Earth News has so much velocity behind it now.
BRYAN WELCH: I think Mother Earth News has always been about cool stuff you can do, and it still is. The stuff that we’re doing may be slightly different than it was 40 years ago when the magazine was getting started, but it’s still about cool stuff you can do. The main that I think discourages people from engaging with environmental issues and issues of sustainability is this feeling of helplessness that can come over people when they look at the scale of some of the obstacles. The antidote for hopelessness, of course, is taking control and doing some small thing in your own life, some small, cool thing that you can do on your own scale. Suddenly, of course, you’re not helpless anymore because you’ve actually done something, you’ve actually made a difference. From the very start back in 1970, Mother Earth News has always been about that kind of engagement. I think it’s more and more popular as it becomes more and more obvious to people that we need to tackle the sustainability question. We need to start working towards something like real sustainability for our species on this planet.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Bryan, you are so busy with all the amazing things you’re doing, as we discussed earlier, farmer, green media mogul. Why a book? What inspired you to write this new, amazing book? Thank you for sending us an advanced copy, Beautiful and Abundant. For our listeners out there, please support Bryan’s amazing journey here. This book is very important. If you’re interested in sustainability, if you’re interested in the green revolution and becoming part of it, this is a must read. Explain what made you say, “I want to also write now. I have something I want to say in a book.”
BRYAN WELCH: I always had an opportunity to write, and that’s part of the great fun of my job. Although I’m primarily a businessman, I write in the magazine and I’ve stayed involved in the dialogue as a journalist, as a writer, as well as being a businessperson. Some ideas just cannot be crammed into a magazine article; they just can’t really be expressed in a blog or in an interview. So, I thought this idea that we need a vision for a beautiful and abundant future for our species, that we need to inspire people with something that they can move towards, rather than just a bunch of things that we want to avoid, the idea that we’re capable of visualizing and then realizing a really great future for our children and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren. That idea captured my imagination, and I asked myself how can I best engage other people in this process of visualization? How can I best encourage, maybe inspire, people to think along these lines? I thought it’s a book-sized idea. Why don’t I put it in a book, and that will give me a lot to talk about for the next few years, and we’ll be able to spread these ideas around and we’ll have them all encapsulated between these covers, in a way that just kind of worked, I think, as a format. So, that’s why a book. It was a great process, too, John, because a guy like me, who’s spent his whole life writing 2,000- to 5,000-word pieces, it was a great process of discovery for me as I dug into some of these issues and became more deeply entrenched in the thinking about some of these concepts. It was a great exercise for me. It’s informed a lot of what I do in the business and at home. The book kind of fulfilled my expectations as a vehicle for the ideas, as well. I’m happy with it.
MIKE BRADY: You know, it sounds really, really good, Bryan. What it sounds like to me, just listening to you talk, in a book form, is an ongoing invitation for all of us to take part in a brighter and greener and more bountiful future.
BRYAN WELCH: Gosh, that’s a great way to put it, Mike. I’m really glad you said it that way. I absolutely meant it to be an invitation to people from all walks of life, with all sorts of backgrounds and ideas, to engage with the notion that we really want a great planet for future generations of human beings to live on. That’s something we all have in common, pretty much. Who disagrees about this? The book is really an effort to engage people from all backgrounds in the discussion, and then the process of visualization, putting their own stamp or making their own contribution to the vision for the future, which I think is the only way it happens, is through a process that engages billions of human imaginations.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Bryan, you’re so great. In your book, you proposed four queries to shape the vision of the future. How did you do that? You have, obviously, tremendous visibility. You get to touch and see a lot with regards to the sustainability movement, the green revolution. How did you get down to four queries and make that the basis of your book?
BRYAN WELCH: I wanted to give people a way of thinking about sustainability in their own lives, in their own daily decisions. I feel like, to me, that’s a source of constant energy. I get to do something creative every time I decide to grocery shopping, every time I buy a piece of clothing or a pair of shoes. I get to engage in this kind of exciting and fun process of trying to figure out how my decisions impact the planet and our species’ future. I find it exciting. I find it engaging. I was just thinking how does somebody who is not in the habit of this begin? How do you begin shaping your own decisions in your own life in ways that are creative, meaningful, and productive that make a positive contribution to the future? I thought I am a Quaker, and the Quakers, they’re real careful not to state doctrine that might alienate other people, so they ask questions about behavior and practices. The we thing kind of keeps us on the right path. I thought the queries are great that way. They work great for that. What would I ask about my practices, my decisions, that would move them in a direction towards sustainability? What I came up with was is it beautiful? Is it going to create a future that’s more beautiful, that will engage the human imagination and attract people’s attention? Will it help create abundance, which I think is so important to creativity, so important to making something desirable? We need surplus resources the way a business needs a little extra capital to be creative. Is it fair? It’s just a question of how are we going to get everybody involved? Sustainability is not achieved by a bunch of people in North America talking among themselves. It’s going to have to involve people on every continent, and that means we have to fairness in mind, and we have to address some of the issues of huge inequity between one country and another. Is it contagious? This is where, I think, I and my peers, who’ve been part of this environmental discussion for the past 40 or 50 years, I think we’ve kind of gone astray often. We’ve gotten involved in conversations strictly between us. We’ve given into this notion that we’re somehow holier than other people, more pure than other people, and it’s put the tone of the conversation in a place that’s very unattractive on a lot of occasions. When I ask is it contagious, I’m asking are the ideas contagious? Do they engage a lot of people’s imagination, get a lot of different people involved with the process of visualization? And I think, in a way, that might be the most important question of all.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: They definitely relate together. Talk about their dependence. Are they dependent on each, or are they interdependent on each other?
BRYAN WELCH: I think that each of them can work alone, but if you don’t weigh them against each other, then you can still wander off in the wrong direction. If you just go around asking if it’s beautiful all the time, you come up with something very beautiful that might, in fact, be very destructive. And so I think they are interdependent. If you don’t have all four queries in the discussion, your vision may not have the balance that you want it to have.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Talk about balance. Bryan, we’re so lucky to have you today. For our listeners who just joined us, we are so honored and lucky to have Bryan Welch, author, farmer, green media mogul, the author of his recent book, Beautiful and Abundant, and you can check it out at beautifulandabundant.com. Talk about your vision. How would you describe a beautiful and abundant world of the future? Because you have, again, a tremendous insight into this that most of us don’t.
BRYAN WELCH: Yeah. Well, I appreciate your saying that. I think everybody’s insight is, in a way, equal, but in my particular case, nature has been my inspiration for getting involved and staying involved in sustainability and talking about these questions and writing about them. If we don’t leave a lot of space for nature to be natural, if we don’t have a planet that is as diverse and fruitful and fertile as it has been historically, then I think we will have failed to create, certainly, the world where I want my great-grandchildren to live. Part of my personal vision is that there’s space on the planet for nature to be as nature was intended by God to be. For me, the diversity of species is really important. It seems to me that if God created this mind-boggling natural diversity on the planet, for us to undermine that diversity is, in a way, a kind of profound sin. I really want the planet of the future to be as diverse and as beautiful in diverse ways, as it has been historically. I want my great-grandchildren to live on a planet where people are discussing and negotiating the topic of fairness on an ongoing basis. I don’t think it ever gets settled. I don’t think there’s anything like perfect fairness, but I think that putting it in the discussion and considering fairness an important part of, let’s say, every product that’s built. Did we create this product in a fair way? That should be part of its value. That should be part of the quality discussion. How was it created and what were the impacts on the people who created it and who lived where it was created? Fair, abundance, and beautiful, for sure, all those things are part of my vision. I have my own peculiar approach to it. I think lots of people should raise their own food, but not everybody feels that way, and that’s cool. For me, that’s a source of inspiration and part of what keeps me going every day.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Bryan, you have a tremendous education in your background with the University of Denver and a Master’s degree from Harvard University. Talk about your journey and your background a little bit in terms of how has your education, but also your upbringing, affected your view on sustainability and the future?
BRYAN WELCH: Well, that’s a great question, John, and kind of a complicated question. I grew up in the desert in southern New Mexico with a lot of poverty around us. We lived fine. We were very comfortable and felt prosperous. The desert is a place where not a lot of things can live. It’s not a very fertile place. A neighbor hired me when I was I think about nine years old to take care of his dairy goats. I would take them out in the desert and herd them around and watch them eat little clumps of grass and mesquite pods and this and that, and then we came back in. In the evening, we’d create this rich, astonishing milk from the tufts of dry grass and the bean pods. That miracle really blew my mind, and that particular miracle, watching my own animals eat grass and create food for us, rich, astonishing food for my family, is a miracle that continues to impress me every day and inspire me. I think it connects me to some sort of fundamental miracle about being alive. That was my main inspiration. I had a grandfather who was very into these ideas, and spent a lot of time with me talking about them, showing me stuff. That was important. And then I got lucky in my schooling to go to a couple of institutions of higher learning where I met people who were not only motivated by conscientiousness and idealism, but also people who understood the necessity of visualizing success. Necessity, if you’re going to be successful, of seeing yourself as fully successful. There are no great businesses out there that weren’t once a completely unrealistic dream. If you don’t start with a completely unrealistic dream, if you don’t shoot for the best possible thing you can accomplish, you’re not going to accomplish that thing and you’re not going to come as close to that thing as you would have come if you were shooting for the moon, I think. I think one of the most important things I learned in school was meeting people who had been successful. I met a lot of people who said, “Yeah, almost everybody thought that we’d be unsuccessful in doing this thing we did, but we believed we would be successful, and that confidence, that positive vision, was probably the most important ingredient in creating the success.” I took that message to heart. It’s certainly proven out in my own life and in my own business, and I think it’s probably the most important ingredient in getting us from here to that place where we want our species to be in 100 years.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: We live in interesting times, and that’s just not an old adage. It’s really true with regards to the green revolution right now. Talk a little bit about what you see right now with regards to eco-innovation and what’s going on right now. You are so can-do-based. Your publications and your attitude, Bryan, is all about doing and being part of the solution instead of complaining about the problem. Explain the interrelationship between the can-do attitude of your publications and your belief with regards to innovation in the green revolution.
BRYAN WELCH: Isn’t this a great time to be a human being? I mean, as far as we know, there’s one species in the whole universe that can conceptualize its own impact on its habitat, and that species is us. One species in the universe that we know of, and we’re here, you and I are here at the point in history where we’re really grappling with that capability and that responsibility for the first time. In a way, it’s the watershed human moment. It’s our chance to be all we can be to achieve the thing we were designed to achieve, really, long-term sustainability for our species, accomplished in a conscious way. And the fact that we’ve never been here is one of my pieces of evidence for why we should all be optimistic. After all, there’s no evidence that the odds are good or bad because it’s an unprecedented moment. You cannot calculate an equation that says we will or will not succeed and these are our odds of success or failure because it’s unprecedented. There’s no evidence one way or the other. Our idea is that if that’s so, if there’s no real evidence for pessimism or optimism on the table, then optimism creates more energy, it creates more motion, it contributes to the creativity of our species, and so optimism is definitely the mindset we need. Furthermore, when I look at stuff we accomplished in the past, really between about 1890 and 1903, we invented the chain-driven bicycle, the automobile, and the airplane in roughly 15 years. Doesn’t that blow your mind? What kind of species is capable of that kind of creativity? And then by 1913, just 10 years after the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, we actually had airliners selling tickets and hauling people around. In 1969, 66 years after Kitty Hawk, we went to the moon. If we’re capable of that kind of creativity, if we’re capable of that kind of accomplishment, why would I be pessimistic about the odds of us simply figuring out a way to live a long-term sustainable life on this planet? I think the evidence is humanity is perfectly capable of accomplishing that goal. Negative thinking doesn’t contribute to that contribution, to that accomplishment.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Great analysis. Mike and I are here shaking our heads. We have never heard it summed up that way. Our listeners, I am sure, are blown away by your analysis. It’s tremendous.
MIKE BRADY: Bryan, don’t be surprised if all of a sudden there is a Draft Bryan Welch campaign groundswell, a grassroots movement to have you run for President of the United States.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: I think we’re the first two that are going to start, right, Mike? You’re President and I’m Vice?
MIKE BRADY: There you go.
BRYAN WELCH: Well, there are places in the Cabinet for both of you guys. Keep that in mind.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re in if you’re going to lead this parade. Green business initiatives. We’re winding down to the last three or four minutes here. Obviously, you’re optimistic and, obviously, we all should be optimistic. What are some of the more hopeful green business initiatives that you see now that are driving the green revolution and the sustainability movement?
BRYAN WELCH: Here’s the big one. It’s consumers. When you talk about political change, when you talk about business change, it’s always down to the voter and the consumer. That’s where it’s at. What I find most inspiring is that more and more every day, when people go to the store, they look for the story attached to the product. Where was it made? Who made it? What was the environmental impact of that process? If they’re buying food, where was it grown? Who grew it? How did they grow it? What was the environmental impact of that process? It’s becoming part of the quality paradigm. Today, a product of true high quality has to have a healthy provenance, a sustainable provenance attached to it more and more. I think that that’s going to gain momentum in the future, so that every product’s value is heavily influenced by the conscientiousness of the process and of the people who contributed to its creation. For me, that’s the big one. It’s the consumer’s activism that’s going to change the world. It’s the voter’s change of mind that’s going to change governments and change laws, change regulations. My source of inspiration is looking out across the landscape of humanity and seeing people talking about these things at a level where they’ve never been talked about. Once in a while, some of my peers say, “Isn’t green washing terrible? There are so many companies saying things about their environmental that are untrue.” Well, OK, be that as it may, nearly all the companies out there are talking about these issues, and as you guys know and as I know perfectly well, it was just a few years ago where there was no discussion whatsoever. This is a symptom of something profoundly positive going on in the world. There’s a million beautiful, green innovations happening in business. They’re all inspired by the consumers who buy those products and pay for those services.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Bryan, you’re just an amazing guest. We’re going to ask you to come back again. Unfortunately, we’re out of time today. I want to ask our listeners again, please go and buy Bryan’s truly inspirational book, www.beautifulandabundant.com. Bryan Welch, you are wonderfully optimistic, an author, farmer, and a green media mogul, and truly living proof that green is good.