Sunday, January 22, 2012

Elaborating eCOOLnomics

"Voluntary simplicity must be extolled for the ineffable quality of life it bestows, to the point where it becomes a viral meme that infects teenagers and sticks with them for life."

Humorist historian Sarah Vowell, in her book on the rise and fall of Hawaii, Unfamiliar Fishes, writes that “expecting capitalists to refrain from gobbling up the Earth is like blaming PacMan for gulping down PacDots.” She hastily adds that the experience with implementing the Marxist vision at a continental scale didn’t work out all that well either. With presidential politics polarizing the US electorate between laissez faire libertarians and lean-to-the-point-of-mean social welfare conservatives, the issue over raw versus moderated capitalism would seem joined. Only capitalism goes unchallenged.

Naomi Klein, in a piece for TheNation and separately in an interview with New York Times’ AndrewRevkin last month in Durban, hung some inconvenient climate truths around the neck of capitalists.

She urged the Left to embrace a reality identified by nutcase climate skeptics — that a meaningful response to global warming would be a fatal blow to free markets and capitalism. This is the trench line the United States has plowed through the UN climate talks and is using to machine gun well-meaning Europeans, small island states, developing world juggernauts and others who seem to think that modest changes in shopping habits can decarbonize or de-crowd a planet on the verge of systemic disintegration and lead us to a bright new green economy. Klein told Revkin:
“If you really do believe that freedom means governments getting out of the way of corporations and that any regulation leads us down Hayek’s road to serfdom, then climate science is going to be kryptonite to you. After all, the reality that humans are causing the climate to warm, with potentially catastrophic results, really does demand radical government intervention in the market, as well as collective action on an unprecedented scale.”

Revkin challenged Klein’s hypothesis that the only strategy that can work is “radical government intervention,” saying that more modest approaches like incentives and disincentives might tip the playing field. Klein replied that Revkin sounded just like the Big Environmental Groups and marginalized NGOs at the Durban talks, taking whatever crumbs of reform fall from the capitalist table. Light bulbs and hybrid cars won’t get us to 350, she argued. Liberals need to confront the reality that an 80 percent reduction — which is all that stands between green Earth and the landscape of Mars — really is a deathblow to capitalism. The stark choice is between aggressive regulation/refashioning of consumer culture or rushing straight over the cliff’s edge.

Are we as buffalo being stampeded by herd instinct — in this case our consumerist DNA? Or are we as monkeys with our paws caught in a trap fashioned by our reptilian brain, unwilling to let go of all the goodies we have so recently latched onto? Or, do we have yet some freedom of movement here? Can we, as Klein suggests, refashion the whole setup from something glaringly dysfunctional to something offering a scintilla of hope that survival of mammalian bipeds with outsized cerebral cortices might yet have a place in the greater scheme of things?

If we are getting back to those basic assumptions that need to be refashioned, we might start with one of the favorite keywords on Occupy street placards — capitalism.

Going to graduate school will teach you to challenge your assumptions. One assumption that accredited online masters degree programs may cause people to reconsider is that capitalism can coexist with meaningful response to climate change. Not even the best students have specific answers to these challenges right now. But online graduate schools provide a great forum for sharing ideas.

Capitalism is, like money, a relatively recent global phenomenon. It arrived with the comfortable climate following the Medieval Maximum (which we now suspect to have been driven, at least in part, by the monumental city states of the Americas and their carbon-intensive land-use policies) and the trade empires that needed large dollops of up-front cash to back risky sea voyages. A few florins risked on a tall ship’s captain might be lost in the nearest local public house, or on an uncharted reef, or it might return a hundredfold in profits. The system paid off often enough to put an end to feudalism.

Feudalism had its own variety of JudeoChristian/Moslem/Hindu/Buddhist socialism; pledge allegiance to a hereditary lord’s flag and your basic needs (land, water, protection) can be met. No money need change hands. Amongst the broad population of serfs, social strata was minimal, and life happened. Amongst the sparser noble born, there was always someone higher up who had it a little better, but your life was reassuringly always better than the serfs, and so the game played on. Having gold coins, land or other hoardable forms of wealth raised your stakes.

The feudal system had to assume a minimal level of social welfare for the serfs or there would be neither food on the manor table nor soldiers at the manor’s ramparts. A foolish libertarian nobleman who thought that cutting away at the “waste” of benefits for the serfs to feather his bed could find himself soon starving.

At the edges and interstices of this system was theocracy, which set up hierarchies of priests, monks and acolytes that lived off whatever could be squeezed from the wealth of the lords’ economy. Within the theocratic matrix was yet another form of economic organization, after the style of Jesus’s twelve apostles — “All who believed were together and had everything in common, sold property and possessions to give to each as they had need.” (Acts 2:44-45).

Communism was the foundational economic system not just of Christian monastics, but of the early Mormons under Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, the youthful sanghas circled around Gautama Buddha, and in the ashrams of India, China and Japan. Curiously, communism finds scant history in Islam. Why is that? Apparently, unlike Jesus and Buddha, Mohammed believed in separation of church and purse. “Trust in Allah but tie up your camel,” as they say.

In Islam, good works towards needy neighbors are a duty of the faithful, but the idea of a shared purse extends only to a small tithe to the mosque or community. While compounding interest is forbidden by the Holy Koran — the founders of arithmetic understood why — free enterprise is extolled and, as in all the other religions, the founding texts assume there will always be rich and poor. The question of whether who is rich and who is poor is to be decided by fate or by moxie is finessed. To followers of Ayn Rand, including all the current Republican contenders, its never about fate.

Timur Kuran observes:
“In a technologically primitive and static world, where family background determines one's career, where one plants and sells crops in the ways of one's grandparents, where one has little to spend on nonsubsistence goods, and where markets offer little variety, economics may be vital to physical survival but economic decision making does not absorb much attention. By contrast, in a technologically advanced world, where job choices have to be made, where women pursue and interrupt careers outside the home, where investment choices require monitoring, and where markets offer abundant choice, economic decision making absorbs considerable time.”
The Genesis of Islamic Economics: A Chapter in the Politics of Muslim Identity, Social Research, Vol. 64, no. 2 (Summer 1997) 

This tension between capitalism, socialism, and theocracy is bound to be heightened in the coming years, because fates — whether climate, energy resources, or ticking cultural time bombs — will now conspire to reset the game to the start and at the same time absorb much more attention. Great! At the start of the game all strategies are possible. So what future economic strategy optimizes our prospects?

First and foremost, it needs to be something that both mitigates and adapts to climate change. For many years we have been talking about carbon-negative ecovillage designs that heat and cool our buildings while building soil fertility and drought resistance. Our concept of eCOOLnomics seeks to nurture an appropriate reward and punishment system to drive that.

Second, while showing mercy and giving opportunity to the poor and dispossessed, it needs to cool down consumerist expectations, including power-hungry electronic varieties that are so greatly appreciated today. Voluntary simplicity must be extolled for the ineffable quality of life it bestows, to the point where it becomes a viral meme that infects teenagers and sticks with them for life.

Thirdly, trade and commerce have to fall into step with the new world order of decroissance. Sail powered transport, bike-to-rail, and market relocalization are all ascendant.

Since we published our Financial Collapse Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times (Amazon Kindle: 2007), a spate of serious treatises have hit print and should be considered important resources for eCOOLnomists. Here are some of our favorites.

Peak Everything: Waking Up to a Century of Declines and End of Growth by Richard Heinberg. We have loved everything Heinberg has written, and among a cacophony of prophetic voices, his predictions stand the test of time. These books put plateau dates and decline curves to a host of natural resources — arable land, coal production, uranium, water withdrawals, grain production, fish catch, and more — but are remarkable for (in keeping with our nagging theme here) also asking whether there might yet be some good things that are not going to peak. He suggests community, personal autonomy, satisfaction from honest work well done, intergenerational solidarity, cooperation, leisure time, happiness, ingenuity, artistry, and beauty of the built environment. Buy long and invest in all of that.

ZeroCarbonBritain 2030 by the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT). In 1972 a group of young idealists colonized a derelict slate quarry on the edge of Snowdonia National Park in Wales. Inspired by the notion of creating a community to test alternatives to mainstream technology, they aimed to research, develop and implement new approaches to sustainable technologies and lifestyles. Today, the Centre receives 70,000 visitors each year, has a world class research division and offers a master’s degree program. This book shows how the island of Great Britain could meet all its food, water, energy, housing and transportation needs on a completely renewable basis, with an affordable price tag even in a Depression, by 2030.

The Long Descent and Wealth of Nature by John Michael Greer. The Archdruid has become celebrated in collapsnik circles for describing a new shape to the civilizational decline curve — stair-step, or what he terms, “catabolic collapse.” Rather than the sudden plunge that Heinberg, Lundberg and others have been intimating, Greer sees built-in feedback loops in the global economy that will dampen and extend the crash so that it evolves over decades or centuries, although still be impossible to reverse.  Greer is another writer who is hard to put down once he has you in his fold. Even if you disagree with some of his conclusions, his logic is impeccable and his grasp of the human historic sweep enthralling.

Occupy World Street by Ross Jackson. Jackson provides a much needed nuts and bolts approach to all of these issues through an insider’s knowledge of the government and corporate power circles in Europe and North America. Dennis Meadows, who wrote the computer programs for the Club of Rome that produced the seminal Limits to Growth study, calls Jackson’s strategy “the first plausible, constructive scenario I have seen; an excellent text, even amazing.” We don’t find it all that amazing, but then we have been in active partnership with the author for the past two decades. Any formula will have to involve some kind of collaboration between communities and governments with the goal of promoting diversity, localism, and sustainable development. The questions are, what is the vehicle for that collaboration and how does it come into being. Jackson proposes a Gaian Resource Board, sort of like the Texas Railroad Commission for the world’s non-renewable resources. In progressive countries like Denmark, where Canadian-born Jackson lives, government structures like this are wholesome and clever. Whole islands are now off-grid and thriving on their own microeconomies. Can the same kind of transformation come to the Russian kleptocracy or Sarah Palen’s back yard? One wonders. Still, it is nice to have a map when you are lost and trying to get some bearings.

The End of Money and the Future of Civilization by Thomas H. Greco. Seeing a revolution at the horizon, Greco puts our choices at this critical moment in direct terms. We have to shift from elite, national “command and control” hierarchies backed by military brute force to something far more decentralized and local. This will happen on its own, driven by Hubbert’s Curve, but the devil is in the details. In a succession of books over the past decade, Greco has moved from incremental changes through policy steps to a radical (meaning “back to the root”) reversal of global power; top down to bottom up. The End of Money urges bottomdwellers to “reclaim the credit commons,” by simply withdrawing from national and continental currencies and changing the ways their transactions are mediated. To us, this seems to have a better shot in the current street scene than Jackson’s new world regulatory authorities. The problem is interest-glomming Big Money, which is an impossibly unsustainable Ponzi scheme when one considers we live on a finite planet. Greco’s proposal is for local credit clearing unions and, if those are shut down, then local voucher systems, which could be entirely digital and personally encrypted, to rapidly suck the air out of Big Money. If we can steer away from our past pattern of corrupting every successful revolution, what lies beyond the Great Change is more inclusive, participatory, just, harmonious and ecologically sustainable.

The Web of Debt by  Ellen Hodgson Brown. Ellen Brown is a fine speaker and storyteller and her book takes you through a history of “money for dummies” using the Wizard of Oz as a recurrent theme. Describing Benjamin Franklin’s handiwork in creating the colonial dollar, she noted that Franklin’s press took away the power of the British bankers’ gold, which could be hoarded, manipulated and lent only at usurious interest rates. It gave the colonial government the power to finance essential services and functions without taxing anyone. Indeed, the whole rationale for taxation, once governments began printing paper money, is a wealth-leveling one. That seems not to have escaped the notice of Republicans, who would get rid of government (along with the essential services and functions) for that very reason. The best quote in the book, however, goes to Hjalmar Schacht, head of the German central bank in the early 1930s. Told by a Wall Street banker “Dr. Schacht, you should come to America. We’ve lots of money and that’s real banking,” Schacht replied, “You should come to Berlin. We don’t have money. That’s real banking.”

Songs of Petroleum by Jan Lundberg. This very personal narrative takes you along in the life story of Culture Change founder and activist Jan Lundberg as he leaves behind his petrochemical industrial insider status and fortune to pursue a vision of what the world can still be if we can be of like mind. Thomas Hardy said, “If a path to the better there be, it begins with a full look at the worst.” Lundberg is unflinching. But then he delivers a path to the better, and it starts with permaculture, holistic health care, sail power, local economy, and unstinting hope.

Monday, January 16, 2012


A few years ago we were speaking at a peak oil conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan and our assigned topic was ecovillages, although at that time, having published The Post Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times (New Society, 2006), we were well equipped to provide advice across a range of topics. Then the conference management threw a curveball at us.

“Could you do the breakout session on finance?” they asked. They had bought the hype about our being some kind of polymath. But we do teach permaculture, and understanding how systems and patterns function, including the financial system, is part of that curriculum.

In the permaculture certificate course we usually let that financial story be rendered by Andrew Goodheart Brown, an Appalachian storyteller, who weaves a spell about an island culture where dried fish starts just needing better storage and winds up getting commoditized into paper, then warrants, and eventually collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, and other secondary and tertiary derivatives. The point, often reiterated in the 72-hour Design Course, is that the map is not the territory. You can eat fish but you can’t eat paper.

We gave the talk and illustrated some of the major points — that currency is a relatively new invention in human affairs and that money equals debt, or an obligation against something or by someone — showing clips like The Goldsmith’s Tale  from the documentary Money As Debt by Paul Grignon, and talking about fractional reserve banking and interest rate manipulation.

The thing is, we don’t usually spend a lot of time talking about economics precisely because it is so derivative. We prefer teaching people how to store rainwater, build a perennial food supply in unforgiving terrain, and enjoy life in ways that improve the future for our children. The first rule of money, we remind students, is not to think about it. Just do it — money will come.

Alan Watts, in his lecture series on The Nature of Consciousness, said “Being able to represent what goes on fundamentally in terms of a system of symbols, such as words, such as numbers, you put, as it were, two lives together at once, one representing the other. The symbols represent the reality, the money representing the wealth, and if you don't realize that the symbol is really secondary, it doesn't have the same value. People go to the supermarket, and they get a whole cartload of goodies and they drive it through, then the clerk [punches] up the counter and this long tape comes out, and he'll say '$30, please,' and everybody feels depressed, because they give away $30 worth of paper, but they've got a cartload of goodies. They don't think about that, they think they've just lost $30. But you've got the real wealth in the cart, all you've parted with is the paper. Because the paper in our system has become more valuable than the wealth. It represents power, potentiality, whereas the wealth, you think oh well, that's just necessary; you've got to eat. That's to be really mixed up. So then, if you awaken from this illusion, and you understand that black implies white, self implies other, life implies death — or shall I say, death implies life — you can conceive yourself. Not conceive, but FEEL yourself, not as a stranger in the world, not as someone here on sufferance, on probation, not as something that has arrived here by fluke, but you can begin to feel your own existence as absolutely fundamental.”

Understood this way, the financial crisis begins to take shape as just another misallocation of our limited attention. Watts, in a separate talk said that the Great Depression was caused by a shortage of dollars, not by a shortage of labor or natural resources. It was like carpenters arriving at a construction site and being told that even though there was plenty of wood and nails, there was a shortage of inches. Until more inches could be manufactured, work had to cease.

Today’s so-called crisis is another shortage of inches. Inflation (an excess of money in relation to available goods, which raises the prices of goods) is less of a near-term threat because, being a representation of debt — what we call “money” — it is rapidly going out of existence as governments and banking institutions fail and their obligations are liquidated at a small fraction of previously assigned worth.

Deflation (a shortage of money in relation to available goods, which lowers the price of goods) is held in check only by the shrinking availability of goods and services — because the limits to growth on a finite planet have been reached and exceeded and a retreat, not to say rout, is underway. We would need three or four planets to honor the debt obligations that back the global quadrillion-dollar financial bubble. That the system is flat bankrupt is squarely the fault of classical economics, and those trained in it, that neglected to insert a part about living on a finite planet and assumed that demand would always create supply. For them we have a bridge for sale in Brooklyn.

Once you have a grasp of this equation: money equals debt; nature is making a margin call — the era of growth is over; notions that we are in a transitory recession are insane; and the reckoning includes  meltdowns like Fukushima, cascading climate catastrophes, regional famines and population collapse — then you can begin to once more think and plan clearly for your own future and the future of your friends, family and community. You can give up notions of missions to Mars, an Aquarian awakening, or some other Deus ex Machina. Just do what you need to do to prepare.

For the past several years we have been pondering the way forward that kills and maims the least number of people, repairs the damage to the fabric of the natural world that we will desparately need to sustain our grandchildren, and might even return the prospect of hope for a better future. False solutions are unhelpful and need to be out-ed and discarded. Anything that assuages political guilt but doesn’t stop a runaway greenhouse effect or de-nuclearize our future needs to be discarded. Any scheme that diminishes soil, fresh water, phosphate, potassium, whales, coral or rainforests needs to be discarded. Flagrant abuses of human rights, torture, and usurpation of tyrannical power need to be not only prohibited but punished.

Rant Alert. Obama-fans cover your ears.

Yes, you Mr. Obama. We are talking to you. Consider the 1,717 and 2,680 individuals whose lives you have taken with your expanded, unmanned predator drone program that has more operators in the field than the entire employment roster of the Central Intelligence Agency. Consider just the young life of Tariq Aziz, age 16, along with his 12-year-old cousin, Waheed Khan. The two of them had been dispatched, with Tariq driving, to pick up their aunt and bring her home to the village of Norak, when their short lives were ended by a Hellfire missile. Malia Obama is turning 14 this year, her sister Sasha will be 11. Do they ever look up at the sky and wonder what might be up there, looking back at them? How do you define terrorism, Mr. Obama?

Rant Alert All Clear. Obama-fans you can uncover your ears.

So, thinking about solutions, we need to address finance, climate change, renewable energy and human security. What can move us in that direction most rapidly, as a whole global society?

What we came up with was eCOOL.

The design science of eCOOLnomics combines the Ecovillage and Transition Towns movements (seeking changes in patterns of land use and creating local resilience with community food systems, green incubators and carbon-negative micro-enterprise) with permaculture, carbon farming and popular culture to seed culture change multipliers.

The eCOOL meme draws upon cool hunting, viral propagation and creative volunteerism to accomplish what so far has eluded the UN climate, population, food security and sustainable development negotiations: a way down from overblown expectations, gracefully; a way back from the precipice; a way forward into a steady-state future that is ecologically sustainable.

We can imagine eCOOLnomics driving the launch of carbon-minus rural and urban eCOOLvillages and transitional eCOOLtowns on six continents. We think this idea has the potential to infect the world with a viral meme — that living in a sustainable way is way eCOOL. It is also more fun than any of the alternatives.

The scientific consensus of climate change is unequivocal. We must cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 80 to 90 percent within the next decade in order to avoid catastrophic warming.

The drivers of climate change are embedded in our global culture — population expansion, which depends on carbon-producing buildings, transportation and workplaces; broadscale industrial agriculture that generates greenhouse gases (both by transforming fossil energy into food, and by emissions from land use change, irrigation and the plow); deforestation and desertification (that removes the light-and-carbon-absorbing capacity of forests and vegetation); and addiction to energy-intensive production and consumption patterns (particularly in the North). No amount of haggling will address these real problems without deep and dramatic cultural change. That change can be positive, however, and eCOOLnomics explores the potential transition paths and modalities.

The Global Ecovillage Network has been pointing the way in this direction for the past 20 years. Launched formally at the UN Habitat-II conference in Istanbul in 1995, GEN existed as an informal network for some years earlier, with at least one of its member ecovillages having been around for 75 years, and other founding members for 40 years or more.

The idea of an ecovillage is that people who share a vision of living lightly on the Earth come together to found settlements that embody a whole-systems approach. Renewable energy, natural building, organic no-till and biodynamic agriculture, holistic medicine, egalitarian governance, gender, ethnic and race neutrality, consensus and conflict-transformation, and progressive education all come together in the ecovillage living matrix. The challenge then becomes, how can we make all this also carbon-negative? How can we sequester more — by our lifestyles and cultural choices — than we emit? How can we better preserve biodiversity in the oceans, reseed great rainforests, and protect the fragile Arctic while meeting our human needs?

Fortunately there are recent examples that show us the way. Take the Satoyama restoration movement in Japan. Forty percent of the land area of Japan is called satoyama, the area between human habitat, fields and wilderness. It is a mosaic of minimal intervention, where farmers, foragers, hunters, and others foray, take a little out, then leave it alone to regrow. Literally, satoyama translates as “Secondary Nature.” It is a management practice that has been around since the beginning of the 17th century.

The satoyama model is promoted by the UN Satoyama Initiative as a model of sustainable living that is increasingly under threat from urbanization, industrialization, and aging of rural populations. Their disappearance leads to increasing poverty of linguistic and cultural diversity as well as biodiversity.

But in 2009, the Hozu Farmers Co-op came up with a new idea.

In the 1990s, global agri-business and forestry conglomerates undercut local markets. In rural Japan, farming families dropped from 9.7 million in 1970 to 2.85 million in 2000 (a 69% decrease). The chances that a given rural mountain community will vanish in the next ten years are 83.2%.

Working with Kameoka City Groceries, Hozu Farmers Co-op started growing cabbages in biochar made from satoyama bamboo and branding "cool vegetables."

No Chemicals + Biochar = Cool Food

The Kameoka Carbon Minus Project said that if biochar was applied at 2.5t/ha over the entire area of Kameoka’s agricultural land (2,100 ha), the carbon equivalent of 154,000 tons of CO2 emissions could be sequestered. That offsets a third of the yearly CO2 emissions from Kameoka. In the process, 570 million yen ($6.2 million) could be gained through the sale of carbon credits (roughly 3,700 yen or $40 per ton CO2).

COOL Vegetables were a great success! People liked the idea of buying healthy food that cooled the planet!

The origin of the cool foods revolution was not in the bamboo forests of Japan, however, but rather from the practices of soil management discovered more than 8000 years earlier, as described in our book, The Biochar Solution. In pre-Columbian times, American peoples took the refuse from their kitchens — fish and animal bones, broken pottery, nut husks, turtle and oyster shells, and cinders from their fires — and built dark earths. Millennia later, those soils provide triple soil productivity over “parent” soils only meters away. So powerful is the soil fertility effect that when the populations of the Americas were decimated by Spanish contact in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, their fields and fine cities returned to forest and vine,  pulling so much carbon from the atmosphere that Europe literally froze!

For nearly 300 years, soil scientists — following the work of Bettendorff, Hartt, Katzer, Sombroek, Glazer, Neves, Steiner, Lehmann and many others — have known that the Amazonian dark earths were man-made. With the discovery of biochar, it finally became possible to duplicate the process. In addition to soil fertility, biochar’s benefits include waste recycling, reduced fertilizer use, nutrient capture, water retention, capture of nitrates, lead, and radionuclides, reduced N2O and methane emissions, job creation, and rural economic development. Part of the secret lies in the micropores that are formed in cellular plant structures when they are burned in the absence of oxygen. Those pores become habitat for soil microbes much the same way a coral reef provides beneficial coastal habitat. A strong soil food web builds fertile soils, rapidly.

If you add in a mix of good carbon farming practices — composting, manuring, microbial teas and seed microfauna, organic no-till, holistic pasture management, keyline water management, and selective agro-forestry — you can build meter-deep soils in a decade or less. The effects are most dramatic in areas with the poorest soils, such as regions on the verge of desertification.

Burning without oxygen can also mean burning without smoke, which leads to the idea of replacing home heating and cooking stoves with pyrolizing kilns that provide the same functions but are clean-burning, inexpensive and easy to use, and instead of generating smoke and ash, make biochar for farming, gardening, and reforestation.

Replacing "three stone" stoves with pyrolytic stoves provides a health dividend equal the eradication of malaria & AIDs combined.

That is precisely what is being done by, whose small biochar stove manufacturing enterprises are now springing up all over Africa, and by the Toledo Cacao Growers Coop in Punta Gorda, Belize, thanks to a grant from Craig Sams, founder of Green & Black's, and Kraft industries. Watch for cool charcolate bars in your neighborhood store in the future! They will have been grown in biochar-enhanced cacao groves, sustainably grown and harvested by Fair Trade cooperatives. While you eat your chocolate, you are locking carbon into the soil for a thousand years. That’s eCOOL!

eCOOLnomics is about building a carbon-negative economy. It requires integration of cultural and scientific goals through a holistic, eCOOL branding approach; rebalancing global eco-stasis by ecoagroforestry, permaculture, pyrolytic energy, ecovillages and cool living. As ecovillages around the world are already demonstrating, it is possible to derive your energy, grow your food, build your buildings, and provide for all your other needs — communication, transportation, governance, etc. — while steadily removing carbon from the atmosphere and oceans and putting it into the soil. We could be annually switching 10 gigatons of carbon from labile forms (carbon-dioxide and methane — rotating through the atmosphere on decadal time-scales) to carbon in recalcitrant forms (biochar — rotating through on millennial time scales). eCOOLnomics is how we can get back to 350 parts per million carbon concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere this century, while at the same time living better, not worse, than we are right now. eCOOLnomics could buy Mother Nature the time she needs to heal.

Building sustainability into human economic systems requires us to construct overlapping and complementary spheres of action — construction, agriculture, manufacture, inhabitation, commerce — that together change the operating instructions for human civilization.

One new financial system for this might be something suggested by the late Richard Douthwaite: soil credit finance. An international fund could be established to deposit and lend soil-carbon based currency. The basis for its grants and loans would be soil fertility. If a nation improves its soil carbon quality (measured by both remote sensing and ground surveys), it would receive credit at the Soil Bank. If a nation degraded soil carbon quality by misguided land use practices or other shenanigans, it would lose credit or even be fined. Another extension, proposed by Herman Daly, would be to implement carbon-like trading for all of Earth’s non-renewable stores. If an industry like agribusiness wrecks the nitrogen cycle and pollutes waterways, it must pay into the fund. Those payments can then be employed to make the switch away from agribusiness and into sustainable agriculture. Likewise for cement manufacturing, fracking the tar sands, or overfishing the oceans. Price non-renewables by the unsustainability of their depletion rates and charge accordingly.

The tipping point — why eCOOL will be more successful than negotiating international regulatory frameworks (although that would help too) — is the stickiness of the idea and allure of the meme: cool living. For individuals, is all carrot, no stick. What are needed now are a combination of grassroots demonstrations — proof of concept — pop celebrity endorsements, and the viral power of the internet.

We recently made a proposal to the BRAC for a pilot program to transform existing ecovillages — one in the North, one in the South — in to eCOOLvillages. BRAC is a development organization dedicated to alleviating poverty by empowering the poor to bring about change in their own lives. It was founded in Bangladesh by Fazle Hasan Abed in 1972. BRAC now operates in ten countries in Asia and Africa, with offices in the U.S. and the U.K. If adopted, our program would bring BRAC into Latin America for the first time.

You, dear reader, can help support this proposal by going to the Facebook BRAC page and scrolling down to our proposal, then hitting the LIKE icon. The ten most liked proposals by the end of this month advance to the finals.

Granted, spinning out a new, world-changing meme and hoping it gains traction is a long-shot. Fail, and we continue on a path to ecological catastrophe combining climate change, drought, floods, famine, epidemics, financial collapse, mass migration of the desperate, and resource wars for food and water in a world armed with weapons of mass destruction. Succeed, and we have the opportunity to enter a new golden age, rebalancing Mother Nature’s cycles. eCOOLnomics describes the elements of that transition path.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Muddling Towards Theocracy

"The logic that prevents legislators from dealing with economically suicidal problems like overpopulation, consumer addiction, climate change, peak oil, and the Federal Reserve is the selection of convenient myth, usually religious, over provable fact,"

 “In no instance have the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people.”

— James Madison
“A firehouse is more useful than a church.”

— Benjamin Franklin

Julian Assange at Occupy London (mic check):

What is happening here today
CROWD: What is happening here today

is a culmination of dreams
CROWD: is a culmination of dreams

that many people all over the world
CROWD: that many people all over the world

have worked towards:
CROWD: have worked towards:

the (unintelligible) of London.
CROWD: the (mumble) of London.

What we face today
CROWD: What we face today

is the systematized destruction
CROWD: is the systematized destruction

of the rule of law.
CROWD: of the rule of law.

When we first listened to this, casually from a podcast while we were distracted with other things, what grabbed our ear was “… is epistemization of the rule of law,” which struck us as brilliant. Did he just say that? Then we rewound and heard the actual statement. Sigh. We liked “epistemization” better and suspect it would have worked well for Assange, who is known for elevating the discussion by deft — albeit oblique — parry, in the style of Bob Dylan or John Lennon.

Epistemology is the study of how we know if we know what we think we know.

To an epistemologist, the construction of the rule of law might be a worthy undertaking. It would begin by asking some deeper questions.

Going back to Socrates, we can posit that “knowledge is an evidence-justified belief.” In order to know that a given proposition is true, one must not only believe the proposition, but one must also have a good reasons supporting that belief. Made-up reasons don’t count. Faith-derived reasons don’t count.

Do you know that “knowledge is an evidence-justified belief.” No. Do you think you could find evidence to justify it?

Question authority. This causes a nearly infinite loop for epistemologists, because whether reasons are made up or self-evidently true regresses back to the core of your beliefs and how they were formed. The more we learn about neuroscience and inherited responses to our environment the more we have to question how, when and by what means our core beliefs are derived.

The process that produces law, be it national or local, is flawed in that it derives from a very thin and suspect consensus about the nature of reality. There is scant scientific or logical basis for punishing people who are following the instincts of their reptilian brains as informed by whatever socialization processes might have been thrown at them when they were children. We now have nearly 2 million people behind bars in the United States, the majority for victimless or “status” crimes. At least 10 million are imprisoned worldwide. What an enormous waste of resource!

“Men do not learn much from the lessons of history and that is the biggest lesson of history.”
— Aldous Huxley

The global prison gulag only dates back 200 years, to William Penn, who abolished the Duke of York’s criminal code in the Pennsylvania colony after having been imprisoned for his Quaker beliefs. Under the old system, jails were usually just holding tanks while awaiting sentence, although a rare sentence might be imprisonment in a dungeon. Under Penn’s system crimes like "defiling the marriage bed" were punished by public whipping plus a one-year sentence for the first offense, life imprisonment for the second. Mercifully, the death penalty was lifted from denying "the true God" (a charge used against Quakers) and homosexuality. Under later revisions by Benjamin Franklin, Jeremy Bentham and others, dungeons became monastic cells and prisoners received useful trade instruction in workshops. This notion of criminal or psychological rehabilitation is now only practiced in a few smaller countries. The largest gulags are strictly punitive and torture, especially sensory deprivation, is undergoing a revival.

Rationally, there is no reason to punish gay people by making them hide their sexuality or denying them marriage benefits, any more than there is reason to apply the same to people of color, or to short people. But we hear presidential candidates saying:

“They can get married. They can marry a man if they’re a woman. Or they can marry a woman if they’re a man.”

— Michele Bachmann

 “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. [Sex] is supposed to be within marriage. It’s supposed to be for purposes that are yes, conjugal…but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen…This is special and it needs to be seen as special.”

— Rick Santorum

“The more toppings a man has on his pizza, I believe the more manly he is. A manly man don’t want it piled high with vegetables! He would call that a sissy pizza.”

— Herman Cain

Why does the President of the United States seek the death penalty for Time’s Man of the Year Bradley Manning, who should be getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom for risking his life to uphold the Code of Military Conduct and the U.S. Constitution (which he had sworn an oath to preserve and obey when he enlisted)? Perhaps he should get the Nobel Peace Prize for having revealed war crimes and high misdemeanors that precipitated the Arab Spring and Occupy movements around the globe. Answer: because Manning (as surrogate for Assange), broke the faith that keeps Black Ops operating in the light of day — under color of law. He pulled the veil on the Wizard of Oz.

There is no logic that informs a decision to send teenage first offenders off to prison for most of their adult lives because they possess or sell spiritual medicines. There is no benefit to the offender by doing that. The premises of the elected representatives of the offended society — that such punishments deter, that those individuals need to be kept segregated from “normal” people, from the potential for further crime, or that society must punish such activity or suffer moral decline — are all nonsense by any rational empirical test.

Ten Commandments of the Energy Ethic for Survival of Man in Nature 
1. Thou shall not waste potential energy.
2. Thou shall know what is right by its part in survival of thy system.
3. Thou shall do unto others as best benefits the energy flows of thy system. 

4. Thou shall revel in thy systems work rejoicing in happiness that only finds thee in this good service.
5. Thou shall treasure the other life of thy natural system as thine own, for only together shall thee all survive.
6. Thou shall judge value by the energies spent, the energies stored, and the energy flow which is possible, turning not to the incomplete measure of money.
7. Thou shall not unnecessarily cultivate high power, for error, destruction, noise, and excess vigilence are its evil wastes.
8. Thou shall not take from man or nature without returning service of equal value, for only then are thee one. 

9. Thou shall treasure thy heritage of information, and in the uniqueness of thy good works and complex roles will thy system reap that which is new and immortal in thee.
10. Thou must find in thy religion, stability over growth, organization over competition, diversity over uniformity, system over self, and survival process over individual peace.
Howard T. Odum, Environment, Power, and Society (1971) 244.

The logic that prevents legislators from dealing with economically suicidal problems like overpopulation, consumer addiction, climate change, peak oil, and the Federal Reserve is the same logic that pushes them to enact impossible voter ID requirements, ban imports from Cuba, support Israel’s indefensible outrages against Palestinians, or shut down birth control funding to the United Nations. It is the selection of convenient myth, usually religious, over provable fact, as the foundation of most, if not all, of our body of law. It might be the terminal disease of our civilization, and our species, although there are many other viable candidates for that position.

“I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time [his grandchildren are] my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

— Newt Gingrich

Canadian physician Gabor Maté says that we are systematically destroying children by the faith-based systems we have enshrined in our laws and culture. He describes the impact of 'adverse childhood experiences' or ACEs (e.g. a child being abused, violence in the family, a jailed parent, extreme stress of poverty, a rancorous divorce, an addict parent, etc.) on how a person lives their lives and their risk of addiction and mental and physical illnesses; as seen in a number of U.S.-based ACE studies. Having a number of ACEs exponentially increases a person's chances of becoming an addict later on e.g. a male child with six ACEs has a 4,600% or 46-fold increase in risk. ACEs also exponentially increase the risk of diseases e.g. cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc. and also suicide and early death. Maté explained it to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!:

“The human brain, unlike any other mammal, for the most part develops under the influence of the environment. And that’s because, from an evolutionary point of view, we developed these large heads to house our large forebrains, and to walk on two legs we developed a narrow pelvis. That means — large head, narrow pelvis — we have to be born prematurely. Otherwise we’d never get born. The head is the biggest part of the body.

“Now the horse can run on the first day of life. Human beings aren’t that developed for two years. That means that much of our brain development, that for other animals occurs safely in the uterus, for us has to occur out there in the environment. Which circuits develop and which don’t depend very much on our mental input. When people are mistreated, stressed or abused, their brains don’t develop they way they ought to. It’s that simple.

“And unfortunately, my profession, the medical profession, puts all the emphasis on genetics, rather than on the environment. Which, of course, is a simple explanation that also takes everyone off the hook.

“If people’s behaviors and dysfunctions are regulated, controlled and determined by genes, we don’t have to look at child welfare policies. We don’t have to look at the kind of support that we give to pregnant women. We don’t have to look at the kind of non-support that we give to families, or that most children in North America now have to be away from their parents from an early age because of economic considerations. And especially in the States, because of welfare laws, women are forced to go find low-paying jobs far away from home, often single women, and not see their kids for most of the day.

“Under those conditions, kids’ brains don’t develop they way they need to. If all that is caused by genetics we don’t have to look at those social policies. We don’t have to look at our politics that disadvantage certain minority groups, cause them more stress, cause them more pain, set them up for addictions and economic inequalities. If it is all genes, than we are all innocent and society doesn’t have to take a hard look at its own attitudes and policies."

“As a Congressman, I’ve never voted for any budget that includes funding for Planned Parenthood. Instead, I’ve introduced the Taxpayers’ Freedom of Conscience Act to cut off all taxpayer funding of abortions, so-called “family planning” services and international abortionists.”

—  Ron Paul, on Planned Parenthood and the medical services it provides to the poor.

“Our nation needs to stop doing for people what they can and should do for themselves. Self reliance means, if anyone will not work, neither should he eat.”

— Michele Bachmann

“Yes, but not overnight. As a matter of fact, my program’s the only one that is going to be able to take care of the elderly. I’d like to get the young people out of it, just the younger generation.”

— Ron Paul, after being asked if he favors abolishing Social Security.

Maté continues:
"The first point is that if people who become severe addicts, as shown by all the studies, were for the most part abused children, then we realize that the war on drugs is actually waged on people that were abused from the moment they were born, or from an early age on. In other words, we are punishing people for having been abused.

“The second point is that research clearly shows that the biggest driver of addictive relapse and addictive behavior is actually stress. In North America right now, because of the economic crisis, a lot of people are eating junk food because junk foods release endorphins and dopamine in the brain. So stress drives addiction.

“Imagine we were trying to come up with a system that tries to help addicts. Would we come up with a system that stresses them to the max? Who would design a system that ostracizes, marginalizes, impoverishes and insures the disease among the addicts and hopes through that system to rehabilitate large numbers? It can’t be done.

“In other words, the so-called War on Drugs — actually a war on people — actually entrenches addiction deeply. It institutionalizes people in a system where there is no care. We call it a correctional system but it doesn’t correct anything. It is a punitive system. So people suffer more.”

If Assange had actually said what we heard him say, “What we face today… is epistemization of the rule of law,” we would be cheering. THAT is the discussion we need to have.




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