Tag: Transition Network

Towards a new world.

A republication of a fascinating essay.

When I posted yesterday about a ‘growing’ awareness, I had no idea that earlier this morning, Oregon time, I would read an essay over on Rob Hopkin’s Transition Network blog that just had to be shared with you. But such is the wonder of our wired-up world.  The essay is called From dismal science to language of beauty – Towards a new story of economics and is authored by Inex Aponte and is republished in full. (The emboldening is mine.)

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Inez Aponte: From dismal science to language of beauty – Towards a new story of economics

Humans are storytelling beings. In fact one could argue that it is impossible to make sense of the world without story. Storytelling is how we piece together kite1-620x260facts, beliefs, feelings and history to form something of a coherent whole connecting us to our individual and collective past, present and future. The stories that help make meaning of our lives inform how we shape and re-shape our environment. This re-created world, through its felt presence in structures and systems as well as its cultural expressions, in turn tells us its story.

We live in a time of powerful globalised narratives. We no longer (or rarely) sit and listen to tales that were born of places we know intimately and told by people deeply connected to these places. Ours is a world saturated with information from every corner of the planet, voiced by ‘storytellers’ on television, radio, the internet, mobile phones, newspapers, billboards, books and magazines. It would appear that we now have access to a multitude of perspectives and, with that, more understanding of the different options open to human beings to live fulfilling lives. In reality however, the majority of us have to conform to a narrow set of rules not of our own making: the rules of economics.

The way in which our lives have become dominated by the pursuit of financial gain is full of contradictions. We may not be driven by the ‘love of money’ but we still have to ‘make a living’. The fluctuations in the economy have a profound effect on our everyday lives, but very few of us understand how it works, let alone feel we have the power to influence it. This lack of agency fills most of us with a degree of ‘background anxiety’ that drives many of our decisions, consciously or unconsciously. The economic story is possibly the most powerful story being told at this very moment.

So how is this story being told (and sold) to us? How is it being framed?

1- The work/life balance

This term has become so ubiquitous that it is often used in its English form even in non-English speaking countries. It seems to be a concept that needs no translation; it can easily be swallowed whole. But hidden inside this seemingly innocuous phrase are some powerful assumptions.

On one side of the scales we place work, not just any work, but paid labour. On the other side we place life. By life we don’t mean the actual fact of being alive, but our aliveness, our joy, our pleasures. Placing work and life on opposite sides of the balance we are tacitly agreeing that paid work is worth sacrificing our aliveness for, that it is ok to be a little bit ‘dead’ in your job. If you are lucky enough to have a job you love the concept may seem irrelevant, but for people whose work is tedious, soul-destroying or even dangerous this is the perfect frame to diffuse any discontent: ‘We agree that having a degree of aliveness is important, but you cannot have all of it. You have to sacrifice some of your aliveness just to stay alive.’ The framing of paid work as a necessity for ‘earning’ one’s existence remains unquestioned.

2- The economy must grow

Having determined the necessity of jobs it’s no surprise to hear world leaders repeating the growth mantra over and over. The story goes like this: we need growth so we can create jobs so we can pay people money to buy stuff that creates more jobs. Nobody questions whether the jobs that are created are worth giving up their aliveness for or even whether what is being produced or provided adds any further joy or satisfaction to society. The frame of ‘employment for all’ is so sacred that anyone pointing out how many of the businesses providing these jobs destroy the planet we depend upon for our survival is presented with another false dichotomy: people against nature.

When George Bush sr, at the time of the Kyoto protocol, told Americans “I am the one that is burdened with finding the balance between sound environmental practice on the one hand and jobs for American families on the other.” he was setting up a frame that continues to be echoed by world leaders today. Even if in our heart of hearts we know we need the earth more than we need the artificial constructs of jobs and money, by now we have become so dependent on money to stay alive that this kind of language stifles our capacity to imagine a different solution. Fearing for the survival and safety of our loved ones we accept the war declared on nature in our name.

3- Humans are selfish

This experience of fearing for our survival dovetails neatly with our third and perhaps most powerful economic frame: the rational, utility maximising individual – Homo Economicus. This story tells us that given the choice humans will seek to get the most for themselves with the least amount of effort. It’s simply a ‘dog eat dog’ world.

Funnily enough it looks like the people who most fit the stereotype of the selfish utility maximiser are economists themselves. Various studies have repeatedly shown that non-economists are not as selfish or rational as economic theory would have us believe and that economists, or students of economics, consistently score higher on selfishness than ‘ordinary’ people. Despite these insights, the story that humans are by nature selfish and competitive persists.

But are any of these frames telling us the truth about ourselves and the world? Do we have to accept work as a necessary burden? Do we have no choice but to destroy the planet in order to survive? Are we really as selfish as economic textbooks suggest?

Perhaps the first thing we need to ask is: Is any of this about true economics in the first place?

To answer this question we need to travel back to ancient Greece where Aristotle was musing on two distinct practices: Oikonomia and Khrematistika. Oikonomia is where we get the word economics from and is described as ‘the management of the household so as to increase its use value to all members over the long term’. Khrematistika on the other hand (from khrema, meaning money) refers to ‘the branch of political economy relating to the manipulation of property and wealth so as to maximize short-term monetary exchange value to the owner’.

In their book ‘For the Common Good’ economist Herman Daly and theologian John Cobb, Jr distinguish between the two as follows:

Oikonomia differs from chrematistics in three ways. First, it takes the long-run rather than the short-run view. Second, it considers costs and benefits to the whole community, not just to the parties to the transaction. Third, it focuses on concrete use value and the limited accumulation thereof, rather than on an abstract exchange value and its impetus towards unlimited accumulation…. For oikonomia, there is such a thing as enough. For chrematistics, more is always better…

By now you might recognise our current economic system in this description of chrematistics. No wonder we are confused. We believe we are practising economics when we are in fact practising chrematistics. This has far reaching consequences for both the practice of economics and its perception. By allowing chrematistics to masquerade as economics the owning classes have perpetuated the illusion that increasing their financial wealth will be good for all of us and we, in our own misunderstanding of the proper function of an economy, have accepted chrematistics as the dominant form of resource management.

But what if there was another way of thinking and speaking about the economy, one that was in line with the true meaning of the word: the ability to manage the home for all, the art of living? What if we were able to redeem the language of economics so that it might liberate our imaginations and creativity and tell a beautiful story that expresses what we truly value?

Human Scale Development

In the 1970s, after many years of researching poverty in Latin America, Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef came to the conclusion that conventional economics, in practising chrematistics, did not have the tools to adequately address the experience of poverty and could not serve to alleviate it. What was needed was a language that allowed poverty and wealth to be understood in much broader terms. Together with his colleagues he developed what is now commonly known as Human Scale Development (HSD) or ‘barefoot economics’.

HSD proposes that there are nine fundamental human needs which are universal across time and place (as opposed to wants which are subject to cultural and historical trends). These fundamental needs are: Subsistence, Protection, Identity, Understanding, Participation, Creation, Freedom, Affection and Idleness.

Needs are not the same as the strategies or satisfiers we use to meet those needs. Needs are finite; satisfiers are culturally determined and infinite. In HSD each satisfier is valuated according to its impact on the rest of our own needs, the needs of others and, most importantly, on the conditions for life itself: a living thriving planet.

In this model of economics, you are wealthy when your needs are satisfied and if one or more of your needs are not met you are poor. Whereas our current model has conventionally defined wealth as how much money you possess and poverty as a lack of money – expressed as a poverty of subsistence – in HSD you may suffer from any number of poverties if one or more of your needs are not adequately satisfied. So you may have a full belly and suffer from poverties of affection, understanding or identity. Or you may feel safe and protected by having a secure well-paid job, but work so much you suffer from poverties of creation, participation and idleness. When enough members of a community suffer a particular poverty for prolonged periods it develops into a pathology. It becomes a sickness that is often hard to recognise because it has been normalised. We may ask whether our tendencies towards addictive behaviours, whether they be addictions to work, alcohol, gaming or sex, are expressions of such pathologies.

In HSD the key to living well, and therefore the purpose of a true economy, is to adequately satisfy our fundamental human needs within the Earth’s natural limits. Our role within such an economy is not only to seek to get our needs met, but to use our gifts to meet the needs of others.

This is good news, because here the time you spend playing with your child and meeting their need for creation, affection and participation creates a positive balance in the economy. As does the meal you made for your elderly neighbour, (meeting the needs of subsistence, affection, understanding, and protection) as does joining a community garden, learning a new skill, lying in the grass watching the clouds go by. Framing economics in this manner tells us that we are economic participants regardless of whether we are making financial gains. Other skills, gifts or abilities become our ‘currency’. In fact most things that the conventional (chrematistic) economy ignores create wealth in a Human Scale Economy.

The reverse is also true. Actions that are now considered beneficial for the chrematistic economy – for example, cutting down forests to build roads – soon appear uneconomical through an HSD lens. The destruction of the natural world also destroys opportunities to meet many of our fundamental needs: for idleness (going for walks in nature) identity (these places hold meaning that stretches back over centuries) participation and creation (it is where the community gathers, connects, plays) and understanding (the opportunity to connect with and learn from the more-than-human world).

Economies are created by the people

Economies, large or small, local or global, are created by the people. They depend on our collective efforts, labour and entrepreneurship as well as our songs, our dances, our poetry, our joy, our curiosity, our dreams. The macro economy must be reformed from the inside out, it must start with an understanding of who we are, what is dear to our hearts and from that place radiate our values outwards in order to truly meet our needs. A ‘barefoot’ economy is an economy where people – liberated from wage slavery, and with access to the means by which they can satisfy their fundamental needs – are able to choose adequate satisfiers suitable to their region and culture. It is one where we acknowledge and respect our dependence on a thriving earth. It is a place where we have once again understood the meaning of ‘enough’.

If we are looking for insurance against want and oppression, we will find it only in our neighbors’ prosperity and goodwill and, beyond that, in the good health of our worldly places, our homelands. If we were sincerely looking for a place of safety, (…) then we would begin to turn to our communities – and not the communities simply of our human neighbors but also of the water, earth, and air, the plants and animals, all the creatures with whom our local life is shared.”

“The Earth is what we all have in common.” (Wendell Berry)

I look forward to a time when students of economics are required to study the work of artists, poets and makers. When economic text books, as well as addressing how we manage the earth to provide food, homes, clothing and jobs, also speak of the need for beauty, intimacy, community and love.

The Art of Economics (and may it one day become an art) needs a new story and a new language that doesn’t require us to choose between self and others, work and aliveness, our own lives and the lives of fellow humans or the health of the planet. A language that has the potential to re-frame the story, re-educate our thinking and get us back on the side of community, on the side of the earth and on the side of life.

Inez Aponte is a facilitator, storyteller and activist, and co-founder of the Well & Good Project. You can contact her about talks and workshops on HSD and the Fundamental Human Needs framework at inez_aponte@hotmail.com.

www.somesmallholding.wordpress.com
www.wellandgoodproject.wordpress.com

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This article was written based on a talk given in Bonn within a series of REconomy-Events organised by the Bonn Transition-Town Initiative “Bonn-im-Wandel” and supported by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and was originally published on the website of the recent Degrowth conference in Leipzig.

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 Don’t know about you but I found this both fascinating and very informative.

How to stop drowning in a sea of gloom!

A fascinating essay courtesy of Transition Network in the UK

I have very little doubt that I share with the majority of ‘common folk’ out there a feeling of these being dark and desperate times. I’m not even going to list the things that, on an almost daily basis, come along under the category of ‘doom and gloom’.

Yet it is also pretty widely known that change is embraced much more easily through reward.  In other words, we commit to change, in a thousand different ways, from the expectation of reward: reward in many varied and numerous ways, many of them non-financial, of course.

The challenge for us all is that the negative has great pulling power. If we read news websites, watch television, read newspapers, and more, we are exposed essentially to wall-to-wall bad news.

So how on earth do we keep our spirits up?  How on earth do we maintain hope in there being a positive way forward? Whatever ‘way forward’ translates to in terms of the individual?

Over in the UK there is the website of the Transition Network.  From that home page one can link across to a number of blogs.  Anyway, recently on Rob Hopkins’ blog there was a very interesting essay by Chris Johnstone about the power of celebration. Read it and reward yourself for so doing! 😉

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Without celebration, we wither away

An interview of Chris Johnstone by Rob Hopkins

Chris Johnstone
Chris Johnstone

Chris Johnstone works in the area of the psychology of resilience, sustainable happiness and is co-author, with Joanna Macy, of Active Hope: how to face the mess we’re in without going crazy. [1.] Chris appeared at both the Unleashing of Transition Town’s Totnes and Lewes, and has interacted with different Transition groups ever since. He’s also an accomplished musician (you can hear him playing briefly at the end of the podcast of our interview). I started by asking him why celebration matters:

“I’m just thinking about how important food is. Without food, we wither away. Food is nourishment. We also have needs for psychological nourishment or psycho-spiritual nourishment, emotional nourishment. I see celebration as one of those things that nourishes us psychologically, emotionally, spiritually. I was thinking about this also in terms of how important celebration is in keeping us going.

One of the thought blocks that people bump into sometimes is the voice that says “well what’s the point of doing this?” What celebration does is it gives us an answer to that. I think of it as helping shifting us from a going nowhere story where we feel we’re making no progress and have no direction to what I think of as a going somewhere story, where we feel that we’re on the way somewhere because we’re celebrating and marking important steps along the way.

What are the risks of not pausing to celebrate, do you think?

If you don’t pause to first of all notice that you’ve made any progress, it’s very easy to feel that you’re not making any progress. If you’re not making any progress, one of the risks for burnout is that loss of meaning where you lose the sense that there’s a point to what you do. Basically you run dry.

I see one of the parallels here as sustainable agriculture. One of the keys of sustainable agriculture is to nourish the soil. If you look after the soil, you get good crops. In terms of personal productivity, I think it would be to have sustainable activism. The parallel to topsoil is, I guess, our enthusiasm. We need to look after our enthusiasm for something. If we don’t, our enthusiasm gets thin like thin topsoil and you can get to a point where there’s no enthusiasm left and you just have that sense of, well what’s the point. You lose the oomph, you lose the energy, and you lose the plot.

What does good celebration look like? What for you would be the ingredients of a good celebration?

You can do it alone. It’s good to have ways where we notice the steps that we’re taking by ourselves and find some way of marking those and reinforcing those, but I’d say that celebration generally is much better in company. It’s also socially bonding and there’s very interesting research here about what really makes a difference in relationships.

There’s a psychologist called Shelley Gable who worked at the University of California, Los Angeles, and she was trying to work out what are the vital things that really make a difference and she recorded lots and lots of relationships. One area of communication that seemed to make a key difference in relationships was the response to good news.

If one person had good news and shared it with the other and the other person responded to the good news by being ‘joy in the joy of another’, by celebrating the good news, that deepened trust, that deepened the sense of satisfaction in the relationship. But if somebody shared good news and it passed by without notice or even worse, the person tried to persuade them that really it was bad news, that led to a drop in the level of satisfaction in the relationship that was so strong that Shelley Gable found that she could work who was at higher risk of breaking up over the next 12 months just by looking at their response to good news, whether somebody celebrated the good news when it was shared, or whether somebody passed it by or poured cold water on it.

There was a thing that I wrote for this month’s framing editorial that was my attempt at what some of the ingredients of good group celebrations might look like. What does celebration on a more day to day basis in a group like a Transition group – how can we design it into our meetings, our everyday rather than having something we just do once a year?

I’d say there’s something here about celebration needing to be meaningful. It’s asking yourself “what exactly is it that we are celebrating?” What we’re doing with celebration is celebrating the things we appreciate, the things that we value. By having a shared celebration, what you’re doing is reinforcing the system of values, the shared system of values within that group. In terms of what keeps us going, it’s really important to celebrate success. So what comes up there is we need to look at how do we notice success, how do we notice progress and how do we define that?

It’s particularly important when working for social change, for social and ecological justice, that we can often have a lot of disappointment and frustration along the way. If we only celebrate the really big things, the really big victories, we can have long gaps between the celebrations which makes us feel that we’re losing, that we’re not making progress. And so therefore I think what’s really important is to look at the mini victories along the way, and to both celebrate the positive outcomes that happen, but also to celebrate the effort put in, and one way of doing that is just to find some way of appreciating what has been done, so for example research on our mood shows that one of the things that improves mood is both the experience and also the expression of gratitude.

One of the ways that you can build celebration into everyday meetings and things is just finding some way to appreciate each other, appreciate the steps that we’ve been taking. If you’ve noticed that someone’s worked really hard on something, to have some gap in a meeting, some agenda item in the meeting where you just notice the things that have been done and the effort put in, and find some way of valuing them, marking them, noting them.

It might be first of all there’s a slot for anyone who’s got any good news to share and then to celebrate that, but also has anyone got any appreciations of gratitude to express. To actually build that into part of a group culture that we take time to notice and celebrate the steps we notice each other taking, and also if somebody has noticed a step that we’ve taken, for it to be completely more than fine, I’d say brilliant, for us to step forward and say – one thing I’m pleased about, you may not have seen this but one thing I’ve done is… where we take time to notice and to celebrate the steps we’ve taken ourselves.

It’s great when other people can notice it, but we don’t want to end up feeling resentful because no one cheered for this hard piece of work I did. We actually get better at stepping out there and saying – yes, I’m really pleased that I did this, I’m really pleased that I did that, because when we mark the steps that we’re taking, we reinforce that in a way that helps us keep taking those steps.

The environmental movement, in as much as I’ve been around it for the last 25 years or so, feels to be fairly spectacularly bad at stopping and celebrating. The culture is like a marathon, “got to keep going, got to keep going”, so there’s lots of burnout. Why do you think the environmental movement has been so poor at that?

Partly it’s the scale of the tasks that we face. We can’t have a party to celebrate climate change being sorted out, because that’s probably not going to happen in our lifetime. There’s already problems in the post, as it were, from the carbon that’s already been released into the atmosphere. The task is so huge that we could be working, well, there’s 168 hours in the week and we could be working all of those for a whole year and still feel that there’s more and more to do. There’s two things here.

There’s the to-date thinking which is where we look at what we’ve done so far, but there’s also to-go thinking where we look at what we’ve still got to go, the distance we’ve still got to cover. When we look at the distance we’ve still got to cover, it’s further than we can get in our lifetime, so that’s the trouble as I see it. We can just be working, working, working, and feel that there’s always more to go.

But also if we only focus on the work that’s still to be done, the danger is we just get exhausted. We become like what we’re doing to the fields of wheat around the world – we harvest them unsustainably and end up depleting the soil. I’d say that activist enthusiasm is a vital renewable resource, and we need to get much more skilful about how we treasure it. How we look after it in a way that can help it grow.

My last question is, can you think of one celebratory event that you were particularly moved by or inspired by which could be a story that might be useful for Transition groups to hear?

I’ve shared a number with you that I really delight in. One that comes to mind is when the two of us spoke together at the launch of Transition Town Totnes. It was the official unleashing of Transition Town Totnes and that was years ago now. But I think that was in 2006, so eight years ago now. What we do is celebrate launches of things in a way that we’re marking them and saying – hey, this is the beginning of something. We don’t know what will happen, but we’re marking our very clear intention.

There’s a form of energy, I call it ACACI which means A Clear and Committed Intention. It’s like a form of psychological energy. When you have strong, clear and committed intention, it drives you on. One of the ways of building that up is to have a launching celebration. I really enjoyed that event with you. We spoke together at the unleashing of Transition Town Lewes as well and we’ve both been back there since then. You wrote recently in your July 1st blog about being at their 7 year celebration and I was there at their 5 year celebration.

If you have a party to begin something, then you can also revisit that point some years on. So they become markers in time. We can say yes, we were here when this began, we celebrated the launch of this. And now here we are meeting again, this number of years later and we also celebrate the effort put in and the steps taken and the distance covered in that between time.

What you do there is build in the journey approach to change. This sense that we’re on a cultural migration. That’s why I love the term Transition. Transition is about moving from one place to another and we mark the steps along the way. So we celebrate when we begin this journey with the unleashing, the launch, but we keep coming back to that at periodic intervals and say – hey, we’re still on this journey. It’s still important to us.

While there might be some steps forward and some steps back and frustrations and disappointments along the way, there will always be things that we can look at and say yeah, that’s what we did and I feel really good about that.

When you mark the things that you feel good about, you get something which I call afterglow. This is the warm feeling of satisfaction after you’ve done something or noticed something that you feel good about. That’s what keeps us going, it’s fuel for the journey. So back to that original idea that celebration is a form of psychological nourishment and it’s absolutely vital to keep ourselves going.

You’re a very gifted musician and you managed to weave music and getting everybody moving and joining in as well. What’s the role of music in that, do you think?

It’s so interesting, because they’ve found bits of bone that have been turned into flutes that are 20,000 years old. I see music as a form of social glue. It draws people together. There’s something very remarkable that can happen when people move rhythmically together. It’s where we shift out of just seeing ourselves as separate individuals to where we sing and dance together it reinforces our connectivity, our sense of being part of something larger.

That’s great – actually ‘great’ is an understatement. I talked about psychological nourishment, also how do we reinforce and grow social capital? Social capital is the wealth that comes out of relationships. Shared music and dance is one of the ways that happens.

Here is the podcast of our interview with Chris.

Published on July 15, 2014, by Rob Hopkins

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I wanted to know more about Chris and very quickly came to this place, from where I read:

Chris Johnstone
Chris Johnstone

Chris Johnstone is a medical doctor, author, and coach who worked for nearly twenty years as an addictions specialist in the UK National Health Service. A former Senior Teaching Fellow at Bristol University Medical School, he trains health professionals in behavioral medicine and gives courses exploring the psychological dimensions of planetary crisis. Chris is known for his work pioneering the role of resilience training in promoting positive mental health, developing self-help resources and setting up the Bristol Happiness Lectures. He is author of Find Your Power: A Toolkit for Resilience and Positive Change (2nd Ed, 2010) and co-presenter of The Happiness Training Plan CD (2010).

Chris has been a trainer in the Work That Reconnects for more than two decades, working with Joanna on many occasions and running facilitator trainings in the United Kingdom. In 2004 he set up the free email newsletter [2.]  The Great Turning Times, which is now read by thousands of people throughout the world. He has been active in the Transition movement since its very beginnings and contributed to a chapter on the psychology of change in The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins.

After many years living in Bristol, Chris recently moved to the North of Scotland, where he lives with his wife, Kirsty, their dogs and chickens, pursuing his love of growing fruit in their evolving forest garden. He continues his coaching and training work, as well as his writing and music. His website is at www.chrisjohnstone.info
He runs workshops and a facilitator training in the Work That Reconnects in the UK. Details at: www.facilitationforlifeonearth.org.
He also offers online courses in Active Hope, Resilience, Sustainable Happiness and Change-Making Skills at www.resiliencehappinesschange.com.

[1.] The following video is from the Active Hope theme.

[2.] If you wish to subscribe to the newsletter, then the link may be found on this page. (I have just done so.)

 

Synchronocity!

Funny how things go around!

According to the online version of the Merriam Webster dictionary, one of the two definitions of synchronicity is:

:  the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality —used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung

That seems sufficiently apt to warrant the choice of title for today’s post.

Here’s why!

Yesterday, Chris Snuggs left a comment to my post Unconditional love. Essentially, Chris made the argument that much of what we see as wrong with the world is not new; not new at all [my insertion of the image of and link to the Great Fire of London].

Great Fire of London. September 2nd-5th, 1666.
Great Fire of London. September 2nd-5th, 1666.

What I mean is, the danger of thinking that today’s events are somehow special and different in kind than throughout history, a feeling generated by the fact that WE are living NOW. However, is it not true that ALL ages of Mankind have seen disasters, wars, dangers, catastrophes, including natural ones? How must those have felt who lived through the 30 Years War, the plague, the Great Fire of London, Stalin’s purges and of course the holocaust?

Even in these present times, Chris doubted that mankind had not been here before [my emphasis]:

WHAT then is special about OUR era? Well, Patrice is and rightly very concerned about the kleptocracy. The staggering statistic that emerged the other day about 85 individuals having as much wealth as 3,5 BILLION people was yet another wake-up call, especially as history seems to tell us that A) there have ALWAYS been kleptocracies and B) they ALWAYS end in revolution, dictatorship or social collapse. But the point is, this is nothing NEW. On the contrary, it has in many societies been the normal progression of things for millenia.

So what about Global Warming, as in man-caused? Chris wrote:

No, all my uncertainties lie in the area of GW. It’s pretty clear that there Is global warming, but A) Is it our fault? B) What should we DO about it? and C) Is it too late anyway?

The notion that it is too late to prevent widespread, major consequences from the heating of our planet is widely shared; I sing the siren’s song myself.

So when an item came along yesterday from Transition Network’s blog courtesy of Rob Hopkins pointing out that Chris, me and many others may be wrong to sing the ‘doom and gloom’ song, it naturally caught my eye.  A quick call to the Transition Network team in Totnes, Devon gave me permission to republish on Learning from Dogs, so here it is. Thanks TN team.  (My thoughts follow the TN piece.)

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Lipkis on Holmgren: “Our job is to make viable the alternative and have it ready”

You know how sometimes someone will just put something you were thinking far more eloquently and clearly than you would have been able to? On Thursday we’ll be posting an interview with Andy Lipkis of TreePeople in Los Angeles. When I talked to Andy last week, it was 80°F, and a state of drought emergency had just been declared (in LA, not Totnes, it was raining here, as usual). At the end of the interview, I asked for his thoughts on the recent debate sparked by David Holmgren’s Crash on Demand article. I asked him “Can we achieve the action on climate change that we need within the existing paradigm, or do we need to deliberately bring the economy down, to deliberately crash it?”.  Here’s what he told me.

Andy Lipkis
Andy Lipkis

“This system is so armoured to defend itself from a deliberate crash that much of our resources and intelligence networks are focused on exactly stopping that. On the flip side, the crash is already happening. We don’t have to engineer it: it’s already been engineered into the system. Check it out: Infrastructure systems are in breakdown in major cities around the world, with severe climate exceeding the designed capacity for storms, floods, water shortages, heat events resulting in increasing numbers of people being dislocated, injured or killed.  In the US, taxpayers are unwilling or unable to pay for the rapidly inflating costs for upgrading and climate-proofing the outmoded infrastructure systems, all the while, climate change denial campaigns prevent communities from preparing for and protecting themselves from the impacts.

I think our job is to make viable the alternative and have it ready. If we’ve really done our homework, we could scale this thing in a flash in California right now because this crash is upon us. And I hope we’re going to be able, perhaps within months…I invented a cistern that could replace the backyard fence or wall, that could hold 5,000 – 20,000 gallons and could be manufactured locally. The City’s going “hey, maybe we should do that now”. Now. Because it’s going to rain again, even if this drought lasts some years, we could deploy them quickly, just as they did in Australia’s 12 year drought.

I think we’ve been trained to spend time on these battles, on the negativity, and we lose people.  We’ve lost precious decades. The crash is on its way. We don’t have to do anything. We need the time to convert people and move people. We need to use examples of Australia and what’s happening now in California to tell those stories, because I agree, denial, defending the system is keeping it pumping.  But as you saw from Snowden and all the evidence, for those of us who went through the ‘60s and ‘70s in protest, I don’t think that’s going to succeed. If we focus on that our best leaders are going to end up in jail for too long.

When you look at how fast people change when you add inspiration, when you add attraction, people change on a dime! When we were growing up, there were – I don’t know if you had The Munsters?  One of the only people who we all knew who was doing yoga and eating yoghurt was Uncle Fester. But when we started seeing beautiful, sexy male and female bodies doing that, it started selling, moving people by the millions and then billions to choose these lifestyles.

I’m not saying the marketplace is the only answer, I’m just saying that if we choose attraction and inclusion we can create those markets, as you’re starting to do. Your stories over and over again on what’s happening with local currency – it’s time to tell the stories better and use those market forces, because people will choose those because they’re less painful and more attractive. And to be smart, to say wow, yeah.

The Bush administration was ready for all Americans to be protesting to try to stop the Iraq war. They expected that, they built that into their design. I was so amazed that they could say they didn’t care what the people said, that I had to think through why they did not care about that. How did they make it resilient?  Because all they cared about was as long as people kept consuming, especially petroleum, their objective was being met. They were counting on no-one changing lifestyles.

The most radical thing sometimes that you can do is actually vote with your feet and vote with your dollars. I was going – “wow, yeah, they’re counting on people complaining”. Protesting and not changing. I started thinking that even the Obama administration is still using the same metrics as the Bush administration was, saying people won’t change on energy. “It’s going to take 35 years to reduce our energy use by 30%”. Well that’s bullshit, because we can choose to do that in a week.

So, I decided that I was going to show that that’s possible even in my own lifestyle. I drive a Prius which is especially fuel efficient, but I’m going to stop driving that car two or three days a week. I told my secretary to book meetings downtown where I could get the bus to. I got out of the car, took the bus, and it actually became a really cool thing. I started investing my dollars in the local bus system. I did it for over two years.  I blogged about it. A lot of other people stopped full time car use,  and right at the right time as gasoline prices were spiking, a proposal came out to build a new transit system. It’s always been rejected in LA, but the voters at that moment chose to fund 40 billion dollars to build a new subway system in Los Angeles so we could get out of our cars. It’s a radical move, but it’s starting to happen.

So maybe that’s a long complicated answer, but we’ve built the right foundation. Our happiness, our health is the answer. It’s infectious. Our job is to be that much more infectious and inclusive. And don’t put up barriers of titles. Don’t put up barriers of shame and blame. Be open to learning fast and welcoming people in. We’re hacking the system and making it so much better. If we invite that kind of creativity, the generation that’s inheriting this right now is really ready to take this home.

ooOOoo

Don’t know about you but I find that compelling. It’s far too easy to wait for others to fix the problems. Too easy to see the issues as insurmountable. Each of us has the ability and the common-sense to make a change in our lives. Whether it is a small, medium or large change in your behaviour, you will make a difference.

So if you have been inspired by this, as Jeannie and I have been, commit to making a difference.

The loss of self?

Trying to find a balance in these strange times.

I wrote down the title of today’s post a few days back.  Jean and I had just watched the BBC Panorama Special regarding Amazon UK.  It had been screened on the 25th November and was described:

It’s the online retailer that has transformed the way we shop, but how does Amazon treat the workers who retrieve our orders? Working conditions in the company’s giant warehouses have been condemned by unions as among the worst in Britain. Panorama goes undercover to find out what happens after we fill our online shopping basket.

Or more fully reported in a BBC News item, as this extract reveals:

A BBC investigation into a UK-based Amazon warehouse has found conditions that a stress expert said could cause “mental and physical illness”.

Prof Michael Marmot was shown secret filming of night shifts involving up to 11 miles of walking – where an undercover worker was expected to collect orders every 33 seconds.

It comes as the company employs 15,000 extra staff to cater for Christmas.

Amazon said in a statement worker safety was its “number one priority”.

Undercover reporter Adam Littler, 23, got an agency job at Amazon’s Swansea warehouse. He took a hidden camera inside for BBC Panorama to record what happened on his shifts.

He was employed as a “picker”, collecting orders from 800,000 sq ft of storage.

A handset told him what to collect and put on his trolley. It allotted him a set number of seconds to find each product and counted down. If he made a mistake the scanner beeped.

Adam Little undercover Amazon warehouse
Adam Littler went undercover as a “picker” at Amazon’s Swansea warehouse

“We are machines, we are robots, we plug our scanner in, we’re holding it, but we might as well be plugging it into ourselves”, he said.

The 30-minute Panorama programme is on YouTube and is included in this post just below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ta7hTfI69xc

OK, back to my theme for today.

As I started to explain, the reaction to watching the Panorama programme was to feel sickened by the way these workers were being treated.

Not helped when yesterday, the UK Daily Mail newspaper added their own story of another undercover reporting operation at Amazon.   Here’s an extract from the last third of the piece, reported by Carole Cadwalladr:

It is taxes, of course, that pay for the roads on which Amazon’s delivery trucks drive, and the schools in which its employees are educated.

Taxes that all its workers pay, and that, it emerged in 2012, Amazon tends not to pay.

On UK sales of £4.2 billion in 2012, it paid £3.2 million in corporation tax. In 2006, it transferred its UK business to Luxembourg and reclassified its UK operation as simply an ‘order fulfilment’ business.

The Luxembourg office employs 380 people. The UK operation employs 21,000. You do the sums.

Brad Stone tells me that tax avoidance is built into the company’s DNA. From the very beginning it has been ‘constitutionally oriented to securing every possible advantage for its customers, setting the lowest possible prices, taking advantage of every known tax loophole or creating new ones’.

In Swansea I chat to someone called Martin for a while. It’s Saturday, the sun is shining and the warehouse has gone quiet. The orders have been turned off like a tap.

‘It’s the weather,’ he says. ‘When it rains, it can suddenly go mental.’ We clear away boxes and the tax issue comes up.

‘There was a lot of anger here,’ he says. ‘People were very bitter about it. But I’d always say to them: “If someone told you that you could pay less tax, do you honestly think you would volunteer to pay more?”’

He’s right. And the people who were angry were also right. It’s an unignorable fact of modern life that, as Stuart Roper of Manchester Business School tells me, ‘some of these big brands are more powerful than governments. They’re wealthier. If they were countries, they would be pretty large economies.

‘They’re multinational and the global financial situation allows them to ship money all over the world. And the Government is so desperate for jobs that it has given away large elements of control.’

MPs like to attack Amazon and Starbucks and Google for not paying their taxes, but they’ve yet to actually create legislation compelling them to do so.

Then if that wasn’t sufficient to make me want to live on a desert island, along comes George Monbiot pointing out that even the BBC, to me the most respected and trusted news organisation on the planet, has been economical with the truth.

The BBC’s disgraceful failure to reveal who its contributors are speaking for.

By George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website 29th November 2013

Do the BBC’s editorial guidelines count for anything? I ask because it disregards them every day, by failing to reveal the commercial interests of its contributors.

Let me give you an example. Yesterday the Today programme covered the plain packaging of cigarettes. It interviewed Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, an organisation which calls itself a thinktank.

Mishal Husain introduced Mark Littlewood as “the director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, and a smoker himself”.

Fine. But should we not also have been informed that the Institute of Economic Affairs receives funding from tobacco companies?

It’s bad enough when the BBC interviews people about issues of great importance to corporations when it has no idea whether or not they are funded by those companies, and makes no effort to find out.

It’s even worse when those interests have already been exposed, yet the BBC still fails to mention them.

Both the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute have for years been funded by tobacco firms. The IEA has been funded by British American Tobacco since 1963, and is also paid by Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco International. It has never come clean about this funding, and still refuses to say which other corporations sponsor it.

The power of self.

Then along came three items that pulled my back from the brink of despair and disgust.

The first came from the blog of the UK’s Transition Network, Transition Times. Rob Hopkins wrote an article on December 5th called The day I closed my Amazon account.  Please read it if you feel unsettled by the Amazon situation.  The last two paragraphs are:

Me, I resolve to buy less, but better.  Less, but longer-lasting.  Less, but local.  The thought of where we will end up in 5 years time, 10 years time, 20 years time, if companies like Amazon continue as they are, really frightens me. It’s not good, it’s not right.  It’s not about our needs, it’s about the needs of huge investors.  I want a different world for my boys.

I can’t, on my own, do that much about it.  I can’t insist that the UK government legislate so that, as in Holland, the Recommended Retail Price (RRP) is the legal minimum at which any book can be sold, although I think that is grounds for a really timely campaign.  Because of that, Amazon don’t really operate in Holland.  Bring back the RRP for books here, and let’s have a level playing field.  As I say, I can’t do much, but I can withdraw my support. I just have withdrawn my support.  It feels surprisingly unsettling, as one does after ending a relationship, but it was the right thing to do.  It may be a drop in the ocean, but if enough people do it….

The second was coming across something called The Restart Project in London.  I had never heard of them before.  But it gets better because these London folk are part of a global movement.  Which in the words of The Restart Project can be explained thus:

A spontaneous, global, grassroots repair movement

Sitting in London, we at The Restart Project have been inspired by Holland, the US, Australia, and now we realize that there are many more community repair and fixit groups than we ever knew of before… Milan, Barcelona, Finland, the list just grows.

Some groups have regular events in their own spaces and some are pop-up groups.

The most remarkable thing is that we are not just all doing similar things, we are doing them in the same way and with similar motivations

1) learning, skillsharing and community are a premium. No judgment. Openness and inclusivity, all are made to feel welcome.

2) the idea is NOT a freebie fix. The idea is that people get involved in the repair, taking responsibility for their stuff and taking back control. It’s about behaviour change, not just about waste prevention

and

3) importantly – fun!

Please help us map repair groups, to connect people to their local repair gurus and fixit friends – and who knows, inspire the creation of more.

“Just repair, don’t despair!”

Just repair, don’t despair!  That shouted out at me.  The more that the world we live in is consumed by the power-brokers and greed-mongers.  The more that our traditional view of politics is seen to be out-dated and incorrect, then the more we have do within our own lives, within our own communities and with our friends, loved ones and families to show we can repair our world a darn site quicker than the ‘dark forces’ can break it.

My third example of hope is tomorrow in a post called The power of self.

Home, sweet home!

The only one we have, Earth Day or not!

Earthrise.

It was called “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.” Rightly so!

Those words were spoken by the late Galen Rowell, the famous Californian wilderness photographer, commenting about the Earthrise photograph taken from Apollo 8 on December 24th, 1968 during the first manned mission to the Moon.

No one who saw that picture of the planet we all live on could fail to be moved. Indeed, none more so than onboard NASA astronaut Frank Borman who uttered the words as the Earth rose above the horizon of the moon, “Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty.” It was fellow Apollo 8 crew-member, Bill Anders, who then took the ‘unscheduled’ photograph.

Who hasn’t gazed into a night sky and been lost in the beauty above our heads. Or felt the wind, flowing across our ancient lands, kiss our face. We stand so mite-like, so insignificant in all this immensity of creation. Our planet is ‘pretty’. Indeed, Planet Earth is good, beautiful, and so precious to life. Life that arose in just a fraction of time after our Solar System formed 3.7 billion years ago; the oldest traces of life have been found in fossils dating back 3.4 billion years. Our miracle of life.

But the one thing we cannot do is to take that miracle of life for granted. Here’s a perspective on that. Just a couple of months after that famous Earthrise photograph, in February 1969, America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recorded the level of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere as 324.42 parts per million (PPM).

From 43 years ago we fast forward to February of 2012. NOAA now recorded that CO2 level as 393.65 PPM, some 21% higher than the 1969 level, but even more importantly over 12% higher than the figure of 350 PPM which is regarded by climate scientists as the maximum safe level for our Planet. And the trend upwards is steepening. Not just for CO2 but also for Methane and Nitrous Oxide which have the potential to be incredibly more damaging to our beautiful planet than CO2.

Across the face of the world people are waking up to the fact that something has to be done. While some Governments and many industries are providing great leadership, the complexities of these modern institutions means that progress is slow; far too slow. People are now taking action for themselves and for their communities.

The most notable group is the worldwide Transition Movement. It started in the UK in September 2006, indeed started in the town of Totnes, Devon, just three miles from where I used to live.

Less than 6 years later across the world there are 975 initiatives!  Including nearly 500 Transition Communities in Europe and 392 in the UK.

In the USA, there are a staggering 285 initiatives with 26 in California and three here in Arizona: Tucson, Pima and and East Valley in Phoenix ‘mulling’ it over. The ideas behind the Transition concept are powerfully simple and can be easily summarised thus:

  • That it is inevitable that our lives will soon have to adapt to a dramatically lower energy consumption, especially carbon-based energy, and that it’s better to plan for it than to be taken by surprise.
  • That the over-whelming majority of communities, currently lacks resilience.
  • That we have to act now to rebuild our community resilience and prepare for life without fossil fuels.
  • That by tapping into the collective potential of the community, it is possible to develop new ways of living that are nourishing, fulfilling and ecologically sustainable.

Reduce our energy use, increase our resilience, switch away from carbon-based fuels and go back to the strength of communities.  No mystery about what to do!

We do not have another 43 years.  Indeed, some say we are very close to the tipping point of runaway climate consequences.

My message for this Earth Day and, indeed, for every day of the rest of our lives.