Sunday, December 11, 2011

Closing the Ambition Gap

“Let us draw a lesson from nature, which always works by short ways. When the fruit is ripe, it falls. When the fruit is dispatched, the leaf falls. The circuit of the waters is mere falling. The walking of man and all animals is a falling forward.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841

Connie Hedegaard, EU Head of Delegation, by Rogan Ward/Reuters
By now no veteran delegate to the UN climate talks would be so foolish as to book a flight home before the first Monday afterwards, knowing that the reason these Conferences of the Parties (COPs) are always scheduled to end on Fridays is so that they can continue working through the weekend to salvage a last-minute deal and avert utter shame. Those veterans with the most experience — Christina Figueres (UNFCCC), Connie Hedegaard (EU) or Todd Stern (USA), for instance — begin, by the end of the second week, to physically resemble zombies, the walking dead. And well they should! They have only two raw cravings: to kick the can a little farther down the road, and for no-one to shoot them in the head.

Marcin Korolec had one of the toughest sleep deprivations. Only three weeks before COP-17 began, Poland ascended to the 6-month rotating presidency of the EU and he had gone from being named, in quick succession, Environmental Minister of Poland to being named EU Council Environmental Minister and a representative for the 27 member countries to the Durban climate talks. Some 90 per cent of Poland’s electricity is generated from coal. Being Environmental Minister of Poland was hard enough.

The EU Council is beset by a string of crises, to which Korolec will be flying back after Durban. While he was away an emergency EU meeting failed to summon more than a few weeks’ funding for failing banks, putting the Eurozone banking system at the edge of collapse. At the end of the 8-9 December EU summit in Brussels, only 17 of the 27 EU countries were ready to participate in a new fiscal compact. EU’s major lenders have themselves begun to run out of assets. Even bedrock German banks are now showing stark deterioration in their core capital ratios. Banks and sovereigns are having fire sales of assets, including gold, but even if they could raise €1 trillion of funding it would only meet the needs of averting Italian and Spanish defaults. After Italy and Spain, there are 25 more dominoes to fall. Is it any wonder that banks are using bailout money to buy credit default swaps against the sovereigns who are bailing them out?

Todd Stern, USA, with Chinese Head of Delegation,
Xie Zhenhua, vice director of China's National
Development and Reform Commission
The monster the Eurozone is dueling is the exponential function, which was driven up on cheap, abundant high-quality energy, and is now declining, just as those supplies are. Peak Money may have been hit in mid-2007. Total bank holdings worldwide are around 10 to 11 trillion, down from 31 trillion in that year. The lending power of banks is halving about every 3 years now.

The total face value of world money — including over-the-counter derivatives, like hedge funds and credit default swaps, is about $708 trillion. The U.S. has total debt and liabilities of over $116 trillion, although much is hidden, so these numbers are very sketchy. What we know of amounts to $1 million per taxpayer. Marked to market, guessing who will get haircuts and who will be paid, those claims are probably worth less than $20 trillion, or about $175,000 per taxpayer. Compared to the Eurozone, which will have to issue $16 trillion in bonds to bridge its current crisis, the US looks like a safe haven.

Familiarity with the exponential function served Korolec well in his COP-17 role. Consumption of fossil fuels and concentrations of greenhouse gases have tracked an exponential curve over the past 150 years. CO2 is responsible for 7 of the 33 degrees of the greenhouse effect that keeps Earth habitable for life. Burning half of all mined hydrocarbons caused a 40 percent increase in CO2 (from 280 ppm to 390 ppm). Burning the other half, drawn from inhospitable places like the tar sands, oil shales, deep water and Arctic basins would increase the temperature by well over 9°F, even without cascading tipping points like permafrost and methane clathrates. That’s well beyond a margin that could shelter most terrestrial life-forms, to say nothing of warm-blooded mammals such as ourselves.

While it is by no means certain that Korolec gets this yet, the connections between the collapse of the global financial system and the collapse of the global ecological system may dawn on him sooner than most. The tone in Durban was existential. The lack of ambition in the EU agenda was criticized by Bolivia, Venezuela and others in terms that resonated like a funeral dirge for humankind.

The bright spot in Durban was an array of fresh faces of youth, from all over the world, who, miraculously by the standards of most international governmental fora, were welcomed as full Civil Society participants with delegate badges and the opportunity to make a presentation at the meeting of ministers. It came as no surprise that in her address, Youth’s representative, Anjali Appadurai from Coquitlam, BC and The College of the Atlantic, brought the house down, not the least because when she finished a very moving and well-delivered speech to the assembled nations and was receiving a standing ovation, she called “Mic Check” and received a further standing reply from her colleagues and others so moved, in which she led chants of “We’re running out of time!” and “Get it done!”

Ironically, some things Ms. Appadurai said in her address showed in sharp relief the fault lines running through the talks and why no deal had yet been reached to steer the world away from its head-long lurch to oblivion. “Common but differentiated and historical responsibility are not up for debate,” she said.

Breaking that down from the UN-speak that infects such meetings, “common but differentiated” responsibility derives from the wording of the original Kyoto treaty, which effected a compromise between South and North, the developing versus industrially developed stakeholders.

Indian Delegate Jayanthi Natarajan
For the North, who had to own up to “historic responsibility” of purchasing century-long industrialization at the expense of the atmospheric commons (not to mention soil and mineral degradation, exhaustion of fossil fuels, ruinous destruction of habitat and biodiversity, and the socially devastating effects of capitalism and globalization), emissions reductions were a hair-shirt, worn to atone for their sins. 
Under the Kyoto regime, each “developed” nation was prescribed a target percentage reduction of its greenhouse gas pollution based on its 1995 emissions level and its capacity to effect reductions. “Developing” nations were essentially given a pass. Since they were not responsible for the problem to begin with, they pleaded with the growth junkies at the UN that they required the methamphetamine-like injections of pure stuff – coal, gas and oil – to “catch up” with Europe and the USA in consumer culture and its spendthrift, glamorous lifestyles as seen on TV. Their “common but differentiated” burden would be a free pass to pollute. Instead of having targets of reducing their actual emissions, they would have targets based on percentages of what their emissions might one day become, were they as wasteful as say, the United States, Australia or Canada.

This nukespeak has developed its own set of code-words, like the atmospheric parking lot analogy, used so fondly by India. In the parking lot analogy, there are a fixed set of spaces in the sky for us to park smoke. India reckons we have 75% of the spaces taken and 25% remain. This is of course, utter nonsense, because if the atmospheric garage were not already oversmoked by 150 to 200%, we would not be losing so much ice in the Arctic and experiencing such extreme weather everywhere else. But, under India’s rationale, the question is who gets to use the last 25% and can we not agree to apportion that added pollution more fairly, such as by population size or GDP, for instance? In UN-speak, this is called “equity.”

The crippled Kyoto treaty, which is what Ms. Appadurai was so passionate about saving, would only reduce emissions by developed countries by 12-17% in a best-case scenario. Even under the rosiest scientific scenarios the world needs immediate 25 to 30% reductions and 80% by mid-century to have a chance to stay below 2 degrees Celsius of warming this century. That’s crucial because beyond 2 degrees we very likely would pass tipping points to 3 degrees and at 3 degrees pass more tipping points leading us to 4 degrees, and so on, all irreversible, all totally catastrophic. Kyoto, as it was structured with common but differentiated and historical responsibilities, gives a free pass to developing countries, including rapidly industrializing Brazil, South Africa, India and China (the BASIC group), to continue enlarging emissions, which, as we have seen in the past few years, quickly wipes out all gains in the developed world and jams yet more smoke into the crammed atmospheric parking lot, every year.

As the final days’ showdown approached, most observers said that Durban would be a bust. We were already labeling it the COP-out of COPs. The EU insisted on a legally binding treaty to follow a brief renewal of Kyoto — one that would bind both North and South to reductions. India and its allies insisted on including the “equity” issue; more passes to pollute. China was ready to concede it had become an industrial country, but it rightly pointed to all the other developed countries and asked, poignantly, which of them had done as much to go green in its development planning? Which of them had found as many new ways to reduce their own carbon footprints as China had?

Venezuela's Claudia Solerno stands on a table to be heard
Friday’s closing sessions gave way to an all-night session, which gave way to meetings throughout the day on Saturday. The South African airline announced it would add more flights on Sunday afternoon to accommodate rebookings, taking away the excuses of those who said they had to leave. As evening approached on Saturday, statements by delegates became more passionate. Claudia Salerno of Venezuela, one of the most eloquent speakers at the conference, stood on a table and waved at the chair to be heard. She spoke in defense of extending Kyoto.

For readers who did not follow our blow-by-blow posts from Copenhagen and Cancún, the background of this is that the United States under George W. Bush had wanted to get rid of Al Gore’s Kyoto climate treaty entirely and did whatever it could to subvert UN efforts to strengthen or extend it. In Copenhagen, President Obama succeeded where Bush had failed, getting COP-15 to sign off on a one-page voluntary pledge system in lieu of legally binding caps. Hillary Clinton had sweetened the deal a week earlier by going to Copenhagen with a promise of $100 billion in public and private money to promote “green” development in the two-thirds world. This bought off a lot of the opposition.

This is actually standard diplomatic procedure for the United States going back to at least the Second World War. Pay any price to get what you want. Money is not the problem.

Norway pointed out that Ethopia would develop without CO2
In Cancún the extortion was formalized into the Green Climate Fund, to be initially managed by the Global Environmental Facility, an arm of the World Bank, which is very experienced at extorting whole countries, just ask Argentina. One of the tasks for Durban, which was never resolved but was kicked down the road, was how to fund the Green Climate Fund and who would succeed GEF as manager. In principle, the Fund is a great idea, because it takes away the rationale for “common but differentiated” passes to pollute. Ethiopia, for example, has said it will effect its development entirely without benefit of fossil fuels. Such a fund could pay for that to happen everywhere. The problem is that GEF is not perceived as a neutral manager, and what Ms. Solerno said seemed to confirm that.

Speaking with stern resolve, tinged with angry indignation, Ms. Solerno said that outside the plenary chamber, during a break, she had been threatened by someone who had told her she needed to abandon support of Kyoto or Venezuela would lose any access to the Green Climate Fund. She did not say who had made this threat, but she said, “Mr. Chairman, I will be heard. I am not less party than parties that are not parties to some issues.” The United States is not a party to the Kyoto Protocol, never having ratified the treaty.

“Mr .Chairman, we are a peaceful country but we do not like threats. We do not like threats from countries that have shown to the world that they are not ready to do anything or to anything else but give money. In the corridor I have received two threats. One, that if Venezuela does not adopt the text, they will not give us the second commitment period. Mr. Chairman, the second commitment period is not for Venezuela, it is for the world. It is to preserve and sustain the rule system. If they threaten me with this fake trade — that we need to actually adopt a weaker regime for the world — they are actually not threatening me, but the world.

“Secondly, and the most pathetic, and the most lowest threat, if we don’t give them their comfort zone, with no rules, flexible, in which they’re going to do whatever they want, when they want — to take us to four degrees — we are not going to have the Green Climate Fund….

“Mr. Chairman, the issue on your text is how do we see the future. My country has made all these efforts to resist this merchantilist vision that pretends to save us, putting a price on the most sacred, which is our future, and the future of our children, and the future of our world. And I believe that future as many think, some believe it costs $100 billion dollars. Here we are not selling Kyoto for $100 billion dollars. The fate of this world is not worth it. $100 billion dollars…. The ethical position and the integrity of the completely flooded Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is not going to be sold for $100 billion dollars. We need to stop this farce, this lack of shame by some delegates.”

In the evening, hoping to salvage some deal from the year-long negotiations, President of COP-17 Maite Nkoana-Mashabane convened an informal “listening session.” “It is your choice what history you want to make,” she said.

Huddle in final Indaba
She reminded delegates of the ways that the Zulu people came together in a spirit of Ubuntu, compromise for the betterment of the whole, in sessions called indaba, gatherings with the purpose of debating a matter of grave importance in an attempt to find common mind or a common story that all the participants can take home with them. After hours of statements from delegates, ranging from impassioned pleas from island countries to outrage over equity issues by India’s Jayanthi Natarajan, at 2:40 AM on Sunday, she asked for a 10-minute “huddle” to permit delegates who seemed the farthest apart to meet and attempt to resolve their differences. That huddle continued for close to an hour, but then, remarkably, it did produce results. India, which had vowed to block consensus, was persuaded to rejoin by a change of wording from “a legal outcome” to “an agreed outcome with legal force.” Venezuela was given both a renewal of the Kyoto Protocol and the Green Climate Fund. The US, hoping desperately to kick the can past the current election year, was saddled with a new framework that would eventually, by no later than 2020, bind both it and China to a common reduction regimen.

As she gaveled the COP to a close, Nkoana-Mashabane said “Climate change is the common problem which affects all of us and the Durban Platform is the story we will take home with us. Our intention with indaba was to restore trust in the multilateral system and to enshrine transparency and facility within our party-driven process. The decisions we have taken here are truly historical and include the following: amendments to the Kyoto Protocol, decisions on the LCA, the Green Climate Fund and the future of the climate change regime…. At the outset we asked you to show leadership in action and to think beyond your national position. You have clearly demonstrated your commitment and resolve to achieve the broad and balanced result that we can all be proud of…. We have once again saved tomorrow today.”

Whether tomorrow was really saved today or whether that was mere rhetorical flourish is a judgment we can leave to historians. Among the accomplishments however, was creation of a process to address the “ambition gap.” This is UN-speak for the willingness of the major polluters to take halfway measures — the United States is sticking to the 3% reduction goal by 2020 over 1990 levels Mr. Obama proposed in Copenhagen — while lacking the spine to raise ambitions higher. Lots of side events, meetings and studies have outlined abundant economic and social benefits waiting for those who devote the final hours of their dwindling fossil sunlight to making the transition to 100% renewables, but few outside China, Iceland and Denmark are really displaying any such ambition. The critique most heard of the Kyoto renewal was that it locked in this “ambition gap” for at least another 5 years.

So it was that the most remarkable document emerging from Durban was FCCC/CP/2011/l.10-GE.11-71657, Establishment of an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.

The Conference of the Parties,

Recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires to be urgently addressed by all Parties, and acknowledging that the global nature of climate change calls for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, with a view to accelerating the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions,

Noting with grave concern the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with having a likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels,

Recognizing that fulfilling the ultimate objective of the Convention will require strengthening the multilateral, rules-based regime under the Convention,


Further decides that the process shall raise the level of ambition and shall be informed, inter alia, by the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the outcomes of the 2013–2015 review and the work of the subsidiary bodies;

Decides to launch a workplan on enhancing mitigation ambition to identify and to explore options for a range of actions that can close the ambition gap with a view to ensuring the highest possible mitigation efforts by all Parties;

Requests Parties and observer organizations to submit by 28 February 2012 their views on options and ways for further increasing the level of ambition and decides to hold an in-session workshop at the first negotiating session in 2012 to consider options and ways for increasing ambition and possible further actions.

The heavy rainstorms that blocked view of the full moon over Durban gave way to sunrise as the delegates wended their weary way back from the final plenary this morning. A mere 24-hours earlier it had seemed most probable that COP-17 would be a total bust. Whether the can could be kicked down the road for even another year was in considerable doubt, because with an impending failure of resolve, even the multilateral process itself was threatened. Now, with the rays of the sun, came fresh rays of hope. There is no legally binding regime in place yet, but the resolve has been taken to create that, and to raise the global level of ambition.

“The good news is we avoided a train wreck,” said Alden Meyer for Union of Concerned Scientists, who only a day earlier had been forecasting a likely failure. “The bad news is that we did very little here to affect the emissions curve.”

That is something for Marcin Korolec to think about on his flight back to Poland this afternoon. So far, the EU has been plagued with half-measures that lack the ambition of a debt jubilee, cap and share, local currencies backed by carbon credits, or even serious regulation of multinational vulture banksters that exploit vulnerabilities in the system to feather their own nests. Might it be possible to get all the stakeholders into an indaba, huddle up, and with the spirit of Ubuntu, raise the EU Council’s level of ambition?

Nelson Mandela once explained Ubuntu this way: “A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”

------ Remarks of Anjali Appadura, Youth Delegate ------ 

“I speak for more than half the world’s population. We are the silent majority. You’ve giving us a seat in this hall but our interests are not on the table. What is it take to get a stake in this game? Lobbies, corporate influence, money?

You’ve been negotiating all my life. In that time you failed to meet pledges, you’ve missed targets and you’ve broken promises. But you’ve heard this all before.

We’re in Africa, home to communities on the front line of climate change. The world’s poor’s countries need funding for adaptation NOW. The horn of Africa and those nearby in India needed it YESTERDAY. But as 2012 comes the green climate fund remains empty.

The International Energy Agency tells us we have five years until the window to avoid irreversible climate change closes. The science tells us that we have 5 years maximum. You’re saying: ‘give us ten’. We must stop betrayal of your generation’s responsibility to ours. It’s that you call this: ambition. Where is the courage in these rooms?

Now is not the time for incremental action. In the long run these will be seen as the defining moments of an era in which narrow self-interest prevailed over science, reason and common compassion.

There is real ambition in this room. But it’s being dismissed as radical, deemed not ‘politically possible’. Stand with Africa. Long-term thinking is not radical. What’s radical is to completely alter the planet climate to betray the future of my generation and to condemn millions to death by climate change. What’s radical is to write off the fact that change is within our reach.

2011 was the year in which the silent majority found their voice. The year when the bottom shook the top. 2011 was the year when the radical became reality. Common but differentiated and historical responsibility are not up for debate.

Respect the foundational principles of this convention. Respect the integral values of humanity. Respect the future of your descendants.

Mandela said: ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’. So, distinguished delegates, and governments around the world, governments of the developed world: Deep cuts now!!



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Durban Dollars: TckTckTck Money

A century from now social analysts will look back with angry astonishment at the extent our generation accepted the economists’ fantasy — happiness requires perpetual economic growth. This may have been true once; definitely now it is false.”
— Dennis Meadows, preface to Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies

In the classic novel, Ishmael, Daniel Quinn opined, through a telepathic ape in the title role, that our descent from paradise began when they locked up the food. This week finds us back in the Yucatec Mayan world, where Ishmael’s premise seems self-evident. Food has not yet been locked up, nor, by and large, is it stored. People live simply, quite by intention. They do not preserve, neither do they hoard. Three to five generations live together in compounds of thatched houses with dirt floors. Their roofs last 5 to 10 years, depending on tropical storm intensity in those years. The softwood walls last perhaps 20, and if there are doors and windows, they are typically from tropical hardwoods, maybe centuries old already, and will be reused whenever the rest of the building is renewed.

Most families have neither refrigerators nor root cellars. A ham or a rack of fish may hang, slowly smoking, in the rafters, but that day’s chicken or turkey is pecking the ground just outside, next month’s pig is rooting in a nearby mud wallow, and some chocolate is in the cacao nib stage, drying on some pieces of tin in the sun, probably next to some corn that will become masa flour. Less than an hour’s time spent in the forest or on the river yields a rich meal for the whole family for that day. When evening falls, they will climb into their hammocks and sleep while the smoke from the fire keeps mosquitoes at bay.

This is a non-monetary economy. Fractional reserve banking, currency exchanges and debt are alien concepts. Of course in today’s world those things are not entirely avoidable. Mayan family men might earn something taking tourists into the bromeliad corchal in a canoe, mother will weave baskets to sell in the market, and the children will help carry her corn and woven jewelry to trade for some cooking oil, salt, and other supplies. They will be paid in government money, and that they may store and hoard, although seldom more than a month’s worth. Granted, this affords them the opportunity to buy televisions, cars, and home appliances, but they have rejected that path, observing that it leads to a world they would not want for their children.
In Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies (New Society Publishers 2011), Gwendolyn Hallsmith and Bernard Lietaer point out that it was not very long ago that most of the world operated this way. The example they use is the !Kung people of Botswana, made famous by their depiction in The Gods Must Be Crazy! In their example, !Kung society gave way to the lure of consumerism, modifying ancient social practices to the modern monetary exchange system. The !Kung went from a sharing people to a hoarding people.

Choices made by any society enable members to attain well-being or to be cast into misery. The choice is always that of an individual, but the social norms and guiding philosophy can conduce towards one result or the other.

For the rural Maya, the community being considered was not merely a single group of humans denoted by geography and culture, but rather the ecological community of all life forms, and generations still to come. What sane economic system would even consider forgetting these, a Mayan might ask. An economist might call what the Mayans are acquiring social, cultural, and ecological capital. To these people, and many others in the intentionally pre-industrial world, they are just good sense.

At the recent Local Future conference in Michigan, Australian economist Steve Keen was asked by the audience, “What should individuals be doing with their savings to build local resilience?” Keen began by giving similar advice to another panelist, Nicole Foss, namely, hold cash, use opportunities to buy distressed assets, and worry more about deflation — “debt deleveraging” — than inflation. He then went on to say that while that might be the best strategy for individuals, it was totally counterproductive for communities, which should be investing in innovation and local green businesses with an eye towards a future of changed circumstances. Individuals taking their money out of circulation and hoarding cash makes a bad situation worse for the greater community. To square those two opposing views, he suggested local currencies.

Jubilee and Currency Change

Steve Keen told the assembly, “When local currency is formed, what you’ve then got is a form of circulation that can supplant the collapse in the credit-based system.”
“At an overall social level, you are in a debt crisis caused by the finance sector convincing you that being in debt is a good thing. It isn’t really individual fault in taking on too much debt, it’s the finance sector convincing us that debt’s a good idea. Economic theory played a huge role in that. So, I’d see two things as being very useful to do at a social level. One is to organize a modern jubilee, abolishing the debt. [The other, not discussed here, is to Occupy Economics Departments – Ed.].
“There are two ways to go about abolishing debt. One is to actually write it off and say 80% shouldn’t have been lent, we’re writing off 80% of the debt and force the banks to a restructuring and reorganization. It would be quite a bloody process.

“The other is … to give everyone a million dollars, or a large amount of money, and say, ‘If you are in debt, you have to pay your debt down using this million. If you’re not in debt you can hang onto it.’ … Now what that would mean is the banks don’t lose any assets because what goes down in loans goes up in their reserves, so the banks’ solvency wouldn’t necessarily be destroyed. What would happen is their liquidity would drop drastically because they rely on large amounts of debt to get their revenue. So if you suddenly give them money instead of debt, their cash flows will decline dramatically.
“The old way of doing a jubilee used to be behead the money lender and free the slaves. We can’t quite do that any more, as tempting as it might be… Economists really caused this crisis.”
[This whole talk is available online in episode 284 of the C-realm podcast ]

Replacing Debt-based Money

Hallsmith and Lietaer say, “We don’t really need money. We need the things that money can buy. We don’t need financial capital for its own sake if we can obtain the things it buys. The exchange capacity of money is now, and hopefully in the future, one of the key reasons we need it. Money helps us exchange things that are of value to us—like our time and labor —for things that are of value to someone else.”

The problem that both Keen and Hallsmith/Lietaer put their fingers on is that debt-based money has only very marginal utility — for building hydroelectric dams, photovoltaic cell factories, or some other very large, long-term project, for instance. When debt becomes the medium of exchange, however, it takes on a life of its own and infuses every aspect of our lives. It becomes a monster — a juggernaut of cruel mathematics. 

Money is, after all, only a means, not an end. Once we endow it with special characteristics, such as the power over your child’s life or death at the entrance to the hospital’s Emergency Room, what you have to have to pay taxes or tuition, or all that stands between you and your next meal, it becomes something far more sinister. When you add in the necessity for growth to offset the arithmetic of debt service, and you tie national currencies to the interest-and-inflation bandwagon and everyone who handles money finds themselves owing their soul to the company store. Whole nations — Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Iceland to take the most recent examples — find themselves enslaved to debts as ridiculous and unforgiving as subprime mortgages or student loans.

Durban Dollars

Right now, it is illegal in the United States for any individual, group or government to issue any currency that would compete with Federal Reserve notes. So-called “complimentary currencies,” the community money systems invented by Lietaer decades ago, are forced to fly under the radar by disguising themselves to look like something other than currency: PayPal; airline frequent flyer miles; discount coupons; Time Banks; Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS); and similar non-threatening exchange media.

The easiest way for the Federal (and/or State) government to force people out of these systems or otherwise maintain its lock on the food has been to require taxes to be paid in dollars. But therein lies a great opening for the change we all want to see.

What if taxes were required to be paid in, say, carbon credits, not dollars?

Well, the first thing that would happen is that people and institutions (airlines, manufacturers, mine-operators, garbage collectors, hospitals) would have to scramble around in search of carbon credits to meet their tax obligations. Those who could not acquire them by reducing actual emissions would have to purchase the surplus emission reductions of others on a carbon exchange. The value of credits would likely appreciate, considerably. It would quickly become much easier to find additional reductions than to have to purchase credits.

Not to be too severe or to price carbon credits out of the reach of most, the program could be phased in, say by 10 percent per year for 10 years. Bank accounts could be allowed to store carbon credits and to electronically pay them to the government each quarter, which would turn around and issue more, awarding them to anyone who can demonstrate greenhouse gas reductions. Tree planting or other land use changes that sequester carbon — organic no-till, holistic management, biochar, etc. — could also qualify to receive fresh government issue.

Hallsmith and Lietaer, while not going quite this far, propose backing national currencies with voluntary carbon reductions. They are sort of like Obama in Copenhagen, except taking another step. In their plan, consumers could make purchases from participating green businesses and receive electronic credits for anything that contributes to verifiable carbon drops. They can either keep their credits (for later tax payment purchases, or as an investment) or sell their credits to the carbon market and pocket the profit. Participating businesses that sell carbon-reducing goods or services gather the necessary data — the amount of carbon reduction achieved with each purchase— to be stored in a national data bank.

“For example, a consumer could earn a CCU when they take a bus to work in the morning instead of driving their car. They would pay for the trip in dollars, and would swipe their CCU debit card for the carbon currency credit. The transit company would have a standard carbon value for bus riders.”

Whatever the variation, the common elements are these: retire fractional reserve (debt based) Federal currency; open the floodgates to local currencies in all their shades and colors; require taxes to be paid in that which we most wish to encourage; and reconsider what constitutes real wealth. Is it what you see advertised in the corporate media, or is it what most rural Maya just call good sense?


Monday, November 28, 2011

Come to Belize

Travel far south; to the back of beyond; to a remote
valley accessible only by dugout canoe.  Study
permaculture surrounded by a lush, productive
forest of edibles, medicinals and tropical
hardwoods.  Eat organic food, sleep in dorms
powered by renewable energy, bathe in a sparkling
pure river....

in 2012, in the heart of the Mayan world, where the Crystal Skull was found...

Permaculture Design Certificate Course
Instructors: Albert Bates, Andrew Leslie Phillips, Cliff Davis, Chris Nesbitt and special guests
Dates Feb 20 to Mar 2, 2012
Place: Maya Mountain Research Farm
San Pedro Columbia, Belize

For Details, or to register, please contact Christopher.

Ven a Belice...

20 Febrero de 2 Marzo 2012
Curso de Diseño en Permacultura
Montaña Maya Research Farm

Our certificate course (USD $1250), with an all-star cast, tracks the standard 72 hour curriculum, and is followed by an Advanced Design Course in eco-agriculture with Jono Neiger and Eric Toensmeier March 4-10 for an additional USD $700. The venue is one of Central America's oldest permaculture farms, a lush tropical food forest. Our solar-powered dormitories and campsites limit admission to the first 40 applicants. Please register early to assure a place.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Thanksgiving Prayer

“In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions, leading to statistical errors. Confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias and represents an error of inductive inference toward confirmation of the hypothesis under study. Confirmation bias is a phenomenon wherein decision makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or underweigh evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis.”
— Science Daily

At Thanksgiving in the USA everyone gets a few days vacation from work to celebrate the colonial beachhead from Europe on the North American continent, landing at Plymouth, and the near-starvation and loss of the entire first colony, but for their rescue by generous albeit naive natives.
The tale is seldom continued in its telling that the colonists afterwards conspired to slaughter the natives and steal their lands, or that what had been revealed to them as a land of plenty, seemingly empty and naturally bounteous, was in actuality a meticulously cultivated ecosystem with human inhabitants, nutrient cycles and carrying capacity in delicate balance.
In addition to exterminating the natives, the Pilgrims and their successors hunted to extinction the Heath Hen, Eastern Elk, Sea Mink, Passenger Pigeon, and Carolina Parakeet. The American bison, now only a DNA remnant in a popular cattle breed, suffered a range reduction that makes it effectively extinct. 

We don’t tell ourselves these stories, choosing instead a more heroic myth of rugged individualists breaking free of tyranny, overcoming adversity, and taming a savage land. It plays well with children, especially young boys.

Original Buffalo Range

Harvested Buffalo Skulls

Current Remnant Herds

Albert Bates and KMO on the road.
Not shown: the lovely Olga K.
Back from a long road trip up the BosWash Corridor, to the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO-USA); the Keystone XL Pipeline ring-around-the-White-House; Occupy DC; Occupy Wall Street; and then west by northwest to the Local Future International Conference on Sustainability, Transition and Culture Change in Michigan, we are imbued with a sense of the public sentiment at this historic Thanksgiving. Ours was not a scientific expedition. We gathered very little new information. All told, we merely confirmed our extant hypotheses.

Or did we?
KMO and Albert Bates, ASPO book table
The ASPO meeting was a star-studded affair: William Catton, author of Overshoot; Richard Heinberg, author of The Party's Over, Peak Everything, and End of Growth; Wes Jackson of The Land Institute; Chris Martenson, creator of The Crash Course; financial analysts Charles Maxwell, Andy Buckingham and Jeff Rubin; energy predictors David Murphy, Robert Hirsch and Roger Bedzek; oil-patch experts Chris Skrebowski, Kjell Aleklett, Arthur Berman, and Jean Laherrère; and popular collapsenik writers and bloggers Nicole (Stoneleigh) Foss, Sharon Astyk, Dmitry Orlov, John Michael Greer, Kurt Cobb, Gail Tverberg, Tom Whipple, Aaron Newton and Guy Dauncey. 

Oil Addiction slide by Wes Jackson
ASPO’s Beltway audience was even more interesting — former TVA Chairman S. David Freeman, Limits to Growth author Dennis Meadows, EROIE creator Charles A.S. Hall, Songs of Petroleum author Jan Lundberg, and congressional committee investigator John Darnell. The gab in the corridors and over meals was almost as interesting as what went on in the main hall.

With all this brainpower one might expect new flashes of insight to beam like a mirrored ball in the grasp of colored spotlights. Actually, the 7th Annual Meeting was little improved from the 6th, or 5th, or any of the others of its ilk — ASPO International, Petrocollapse, or, for that matter, Local Future in Michigan. Rapid collapse, and soon, seems to have more adherents now than gradual collapse, some unspecified distance out. What we found ourselves rotating around was our own confirmatory bias.

Granted, there were bits and pieces we had not known before. Who knew before the after-dinner presentations by Anthony Ingraffea, Rob Jackson, Robert Howarth, and Amy Mall that natural gas, the new darling of America’s Energy Independence and lately subject of much hyped-up advertising by oil companies, is currently responsible for 44 percent of US greenhouse impact? Factoring in the 20:1 advantage of methane over carbon dioxide as a heat-stroking molecule, fracking shale gas already contributes about 11 percent — 677 Tg CO2-equivalent, according to EPA — of the climate chaos we are endowing to future generations, and is growing far faster than coal.

Who knew?

Who knew that while petroleum may have spared the sperm whale for a century, the climate change it brought may have doomed not just marine mammals but all ocean life? 

Keystone Protests Ring the White House
Or that increasing technological efficiency brings more energy use, not less? Energy efficiency now allows every man, woman and child in the United States to use 100 times more energy than is required to live happily. Indeed, as Herman Daly is fond of reminding us, once we pass a threshold of sufficiency, each ounce of added wealth diminishes our happiness and well-being.

Or that 4.5 billion of Earth’s present human inhabitants owe their food supply, antibiotics and prescriptions — their longevity and fecundity — nearly entirely to petrochemical processes that are about to become unavailable at an affordable price? 

Secret Service Eye-View of Protesters
Or that governments and international agencies have treasonously conspired for half a century to obscure and conceal vital facts that would allow populations and markets to prepare for a very different future, one based on daily solar income, rather than an overdrawn savings account of ancient sunlight? 

Well, actually we have, here and in our books, articles, lectures and interviews. For 40 years, more or less. Sorry to nag.

So why don’t more people seek shelter from the coming storm? Why don’t election year debates get real? Two reasons: confirmation bias and normalcy bias. 

Jan Lundberg at Zucotti Park library,
shortly before it was destroyed by NYPD
In the case of the former, we sentient bipeds with tripartite brains actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms our views of the world — views we mostly formed as children as we “aped” our parents and teachers or our inspiring leaders and celebrities. Our fondness towards normalcy lets us box out things that make us feel uncomfortable and allows us to focus on ways to blend into the crowd. If the crowd thinks peak oil, climate change, JFK’s assassination or the inside job at the World Trade Center are just weird conspiracy theories by crazies at the fringe of our society, we ape the crowd. That’s just Sapiens’ Social Software.

“Paranoia? Of course not. It’s alternative scholarship. What’s wrong with teaching alternative theories in our schools? What are liberals so afraid of? … Why this dictatorial approach to learning anyway? What gives teachers the right to say what things are? Who’s to say that flat-earthers are wrong? Or that the Church was wrong to silence Galileo, with his absurd theory (actually written by his proctologist) that the earth moves around the sun. Citing ‘evidence’ is so snobbish and élitist. I think we all know what lawyers can do with evidence.”
— Eric Idle, Who Wrote Shakespeare


In Drilling Down: The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma, (New York: Springer, 2012) Joseph Tainter and Tad Patzek describe the lifestyle of a wealthy family in ancient Rome. Work, such as it was, ended by mid-day and afternoons were spent at the baths, evenings in social banquets. The diet was well-balanced, children well-educated, and all of it was accomplished with about 6 slaves per family. The Tawantinsuyu (Inca) were even more efficient, their whole pre-Columbian society spending about 65 days per year to meet basic needs. Slavery, while not unknown in the Andes, played a much smaller — principally military — role. 

Occupy DC
Our “norm” now is to use 400 energy slaves per USAnian family, or 200 in Europe and 40 in China. Moreover, those slaves are actually much more reliable than human slaves ever were. They work 24/7, never get sick, don’t get married and have children or entanglements, and require almost no space for housing. Right now they cost much less to acquire and maintain than human slaves ever did. 

So, if the Tawantinsuyu could get by with almost no domestic slaves, the Romans with only a handful per wealthy family, how is it that we need 36 billion of them in the United States to take our kids to soccer practice and pop popcorn? Tainter and Patzek say it in a single word: complexity.

We have become inured to complexity. Today we can barely fathom getting around in a strange city without a smart phone. We think nothing of flying a thousand miles for a business meeting or a week at the beach. This energy-enslaved world is our insular cocoon, the norm that we have been socialized into, and with confirmatory bias and normalcy bias we defend it from any “abnormal” opinion that it is immoral, wrongheaded, or doomed. Like an advertisement for cigarettes or one-ton automobiles, we do not imagine our slaves could make us unhappy or unhealthy. Quite the opposite. We confer on our outsized, outmoded, profligate lifestyle an absolute, inviolate authoritativeness. “The American way of life,” George H.W. Bush whorishly opined, “is not up for negotiation.” The War on Terror, Donald Rumsfeld told us, is to persuade the world that Americans must be allowed to continue their way of life.

This is the reflex that keeps the majority of us frozen in the headlights as collapse rushes at us from all sides — militarily, environmentally, financially, and socially. We are Romans with the barbarians at the gates — we just keep sending our slaves out to pick more fruit and bring us wine.

Protesters Return to Zuccotti Park
Those of us who read the tea leaves and deduce the inevitable are better prepared, but even collapseniks are trapped in confirmatory bias — subscribing to RSS feeds or podcasts from favored web news sources; reading the latest books from Lundberg, Heinberg, Kunstler, Astyk and Orlov; or attending conferences like ASPO and Local Future. If the crash and plunge that was predicted for 2006 did not appear, maybe it will have arrived by 2010. If not then, then perhaps 2012, or 2015. We are waiting for Godot, are we not? Ah, but the conversation is good.

Let us stop looking for confirmation of our views or trying to conform to “normal,” whatever that is. This Thanksgiving let us give thanks that what we have been bequeathed by generations before us — less the avaricious colonists than the generous natives, less the hybrid buffalo than the ecology of the forest, less our myths than the hard realities — have brought us benefit beyond measure. Let us resolve to squander it no more. Gaia grant us clear eyes and ears to see through the fog of our own self-deceptions.

On this day let us resolve not just to thank the natives but to free our slaves. Addiction to slavery is the same as any other addiction. First it feels good, then it destroys you. Just ask a wealthy Roman.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and FDR’s Four Freedoms

At the beginning of November, when it was getting colder, we had the opportunity to visit Zucotti Park and sit in with the Occupy Wall Street crowds. We had been concerned that colder weather might dampen spirits but those fears proved unfounded, and our patriots’ spirits now are much higher than at Valley Forge.

Our citizens have learned a great deal about democracy in 235 years, and it shows. One of the chants taken up as they march on Bank of America, City Hall, a reception for Henry Kissinger, or wherever they might be going that day, is “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!”

The loose agglomeration that meets in daily General Assembly (GA) is really good at framing and hardly needed advice from George Lakoff, although he was thoughtful enough to provide some. Don’t make specific demands, he said, be a moral focus. Be patriotic. Be the public, standing up. Be citizens. Make it about rights, not privilege. He didn’t need to give that advice, but it was good to put it out there. These people at the GA already have it in their DNA.

The difference between this group and the framers meeting in Continental Congress is more than the two centuries of experience gained and prophesies fulfilled (Washington, Jefferson, Madison and others expressly warned of political parties and bankers). It is also a difference in method. The colonists, intoxicated with the idea of popular democracy but sobered by a fear of power usurpers, were stuck with Robert’s Rules of Order.

The GA, and the break-out groups that meet in the Atrium at 60 Wall Street are blessed with the Quaker tools now refined by waves of protest movements: the Suffragettes, Satyagraha, Lunch Counter Sit-Ins, No-nukes Affinity Groups, and Battle in Seattle. What doesn’t work? Violence. Power Trips. Hierarchies. What works? Good facilitation, timekeeping, note-taking, hand-signs, open agenda, global café, conflict transformation, consensus. What came out of the conventions at the turn of the 18th to 19th Century was protection of slavery, disenfranchisement of women, ethnic cleansing of Native Americans and the preservation of an elite ruling class, especially the banksters. What will emerge from this process may also be flawed when seen in hindsight centuries hence, but it will be progressively less so.

At the Atrium sessions, weeks and months of meeting on Vision and Goals, sometimes with the same people, or sometimes with nearly all new people, had so far only gotten as far as a draft preliminary vision statement. Two versions were offered at the meeting we attended with about a dozen people, including an elderly bearded rabbi and a First Nations pipe-bearer from Canada. The first was a single page that had already been read aloud in the GA, the other a much longer document that gathered in many more threads that had been woven together in the breakout group. In this meeting, 10 minutes was allocated to the former and 30 to the latter. Those who had taken on responsibility for a redraft would listen to the voices of this group on this night and take that back to revise the next draft for the next night. Only when the document fully expressed the wishes of the whole ad hoc committee, by consensus, would it be returned to the GA for re-reading and offered for consensus there.

These committee meetings allow themselves only about 2 hours per day, so the agenda had to be condensed and consensed quickly at the start of each session. New offers to present, in writing or verbally, were received and voted upon. Six final choices were narrowed to 3 agenda items with pre-assigned duration times. In this way the meetings went smoothly, and people remained fresh and eager to meet again the next day. Democracy is not quick. There is a learning curve for many activists who have conceived such polities but never had to practice them. It may take a while to come to appreciate the skills of “unelected” facilitators and the liberty of time.

Where did the Atrium space come from, one might ask. The Atrium is public space that was guaranteed by the real estate developer to be open for public use, in exchange for New York City raising their height restriction and rental occupancy limits. There are more than 500 such places in New York City, including Zucotti Park, although the 1% Press has been carefully obscuring this point and making the occupation seem like trespass, and the developers have been pressuring the 1% Mayor to evict. Confronted by a court ordering him to allow the protesters to remain in the public spaces they were given by law, the Mayor has relented and provided port-a-potties, food vendor access, and other accommodations to basic needs. Rumor has it he will even be providing some heated tents soon.

From what we saw, the Occupiers in New York are in no hurry, have really good process and facilitation, and their Open Space format allows all ideas to come in and be heard. They have plenty of donations for needed supplies. Of course there are the usual crazies and street people who also occupy the space and the juice, but the Zucotti camp itself is not threatened by cold weather, rain, snow, or disinterest. Their biggest challenge is coping with their own numbers, which are growing every day. They may soon have to add another park, so watch for that.

The longer vision draft document contained a passage worth repeating here.
“The question of freedom must be posed afresh — in its most profound sense — so that it might be retrieved. For in the answer to that question alone resides the secret of the revolution. The cry of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité! still rings through the ages, but it has fallen on deaf ears. Humanity must be awakened from its comatose state, its long ahistorical torpor, so that freedom can at last be realized.

“By ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty’ is understood at least the following:

Freedom from oppression
Freedom from want
Freedom from fear
Freedom from war (Kant’s ‘perpetual peace;’ faedus pacificum)
Freedom from disease
Freedom from ignorance
Freedom from apathy (the anomie described by Darkheim)
Freedom from boredom (the colorless tedium of daily life, Baudelarian ennui)
Freedom from imposed necessity
Freedom without borders (liberté sans frontiers)"

These ten points draw into focus both the intellectual strength of the Occupy movement and its naiveté. Perhaps the rigor of the process will shave off some of the rough edges before it is complete, but as it stands, the document takes a giant step beyond Franklin Roosevelt’s four freedoms:
“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.” (Address to Congress, January 6, 1941)

Roosevelt’s freedoms, which did not reach for impossible social goals like freedom from boredom (although, in truth, that should be afforded prisoners as a fundamental right), were really bedrock needs. Its amazing to us today how broadly they were accepted in 1941. They were used as set pieces for Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post covers. After the war, they were incorporated into the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But can you imagine Obama calling for a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor? Or hearing it from any of the Republican candidates for President?

The gap between the Roosevelt four freedoms and the Occupy ten freedoms is one of realities versus perceptions. While it is realistic to ask for societies to so organize themselves that the least of us is protected from hunger and fear, it may not be reasonable to expect that a population of 7 billion can be liberated from ignorance and apathy, or that a free liberal arts college education or high-tech extensions of life for the terminally ill should be guaranteed. We are at peak extraction, peak energy and peak population, and beyond this point lies a Great Change.

In our view, if the Occupy Wall Street GA just got the United States back to championing Roosevelt’s four freedoms, that would be significant.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

What Occupy Wall Street can learn from the Singing Revolution

In lower Manhattan, they have been out there in the street for more than a month and winter is starting to approach. Last night it was 48°F (8°C) and drizzling. Surely it must warm some of those huddled under grimy blankets to hear they have been adopted by the President, the Tea Party, Baby Boomers and Birchers, but whether tepid and self-serving endorsements, or grueling vigils, can sustain their movement a year from now is still anyone’s guess.

Drawing strength from the rage of the masses is not a formula for longevity, especially in a consumer culture, where rage shifts seasonally.

Tom Hayden and Mark Rudd in 2007
 Just ask the veterans of the great uprisings of 1968. We still wonder, what became of our revolution? Rather than being adopted by everyone, it unified the opposition, and while it made some milestones, especially in the popular culture, it missed its political mark by a wide mile. Some of the heroes of the Strawberry Rebellion went on to become politicians and pundits, and while they could lay claim to some modest, incremental gains, the dragon they tilted against grew exponentially more horrific, and now looms over us like a scene from Revelations.

In a recent piece for CounterPunch, Mark Rudd wrote:
While reading I’ve Got the Light of Freedom (Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: the organizing tradition and the Mississippi freedom struggle, University of California Press, 1995), I realized that much of what we had practiced in SDS was derived from SNCC and this developmental organizing tradition, up to and including the vision of “participatory democracy,” which was incorporated in the 1962 SDS founding document, “The Port Huron Statement.” Columbia SDS’s work was patient, strategic, base-building, using both confrontation and education.  I myself had been nurtured and developed into a leadership position through years of close friendship with older organizers.   
However, my clique’s downfall came post-1968, when, under the spell of the illusion of revolution, we abandoned organizing, first for militant confrontation (Weatherman and the Days of Rage, Oct. 1969) and then armed urban guerilla warfare (the Weather Underground, 1970-1976). We had, in effect, moved backwards from organizing to self-expression, believing, ridiculously, that that would build the movement. At the moment when more organizing was needed, in order to build a permanent anti-imperialist mass movement, we abandoned organizing.  
This is the story I tell in my book, Underground. It’s about good organizing (Columbia), leading to worse (Weatherman), leading to horrible (the Weather Underground).  I hope it’s useful to contemporary organizers as they contemplate how to build the coming mass movement(s).
We came across Rudd’s retrospective in the midst of teaching a Permaculture Design Course in Estonia last week and it occurred to us that Rudd’s lessons were well grasped in important — though perhaps least expected — places. An October 13th AP interview with Poland's former President and Nobel laureate, shipyard striker Lech Walesa, touched on some of those lessons learned.  If political communism could be toppled by strategic protest, is capitalism immune? "We need to change, reform the capitalist system," he said, because we need "more justice, more people's interests, and less money for money's sake." Walesa said he supported the Occupy Wall Street movement and intended to join the protesters.

Lech Walesa
Walesa, looking today like a cross between Captain Kangaroo and the Monopoly oligarch, founded the Solidarnosc labor party in 1980, inflicting fatal wounds upon both the Soviet Empire and on communism as a political system. He found himself thrust onto the world stage but was smart and humble enough to recognize that it was the moment, not him personally, that was the pivot point for the brewing revolution.

As we described in our post of May, 2010, White Nights and Chicken Skin, the Estonians seized on Solidarnosc’s momentum in 1991, with The Singing Revolution. As Soviet tanks attempted to roll back Estonian progress towards independence, the Estonian Supreme Soviet together with the Congress of Estonia proclaimed the restoration of the independent state of Estonia and repudiated Soviet anti-freedom legislation. Surrounding the Parliament building in Tallinn, Estonians of all walks, using the social networking tools of the day, spontaneously dropped their activities and converged, linked arms, sang and forced the hardliners out. By serving as human shields to protect radio and TV stations from the Russian tanks, these singing revolutionaries brought Estonia its independence without bloodshed. A counter-coup attempt failed amid mass pro-democracy demonstrations in Moscow.

Teaching permaculture at a newly formed ecovillage outside Tallinn, one cannot help but be struck by how creative and fully engaged Estonian young people are now. In one session we related to them how the Wall Street protesters had circumvented the New York City police ban on loudspeakers to keep an open dialog going between thousands of people engaged in reinventing civilization. Henrick Hertzberg, writing for The New Yorker, described the process:
[T]he General Assembly [is] a daily mass meeting, open to all, which is the closest thing OWES has to a governing body. Because any kind of amplified sound in forbidden, bullhorns included, the meetings are conducted in an ingenious way. A speaker says a few words, then pauses; the audience repeats them, loudly and in unison; the speaker says a few more; the chorus repeats; and so on. If the group is unusually large, the repetitions radiate out, like a mountain echo. The listeners register their reactions silently, with their hands. Four fingers up, palms outward: Yay! Four fingers down, palms inward: Boo! Both hands rolling: Wrap it up! Clench fists crossed at the wrists: No way, José! There is something oddly moving about a crowd of smart-phone-addicted, computer-savvy people coöperating to create such an utterly low-tech, strikingly human, curiously tribal means of amplification—a literal loudspeaker.
Something equally creative happened amongst our hip translators who were struggling to keep up with the unusual words our teaching cadre was using. There is already a term in Estonian for permaculture. It is the onomatopoeia, 'Permakultuur.' That didn’t really cut it for these inventive youth. They came up with a new word that more expressed the essence, instead of the English-sound. It was Jåtkuloomine – literally, evolving nature; continuing creation. The example sentence the translators offered was “The key for the survival of Estonia is creation of the continuous creation.”

Other words they coined to capture deeper meanings:
Toidusalu — food forest; literally, a more beautiful forest. Example: My table is abundant and it is provided for by my food forest, that does not feel hurt by my pruning.

Metsaviljelus – agroforestry; literally: a cultivated forest – holistic forest farming.

Lohmu — swale, but not just a contour ditch. Literally: hollow-bump; empty and fill; scoop and mound. Example: Its cool to pick the strawberries on the hollow-bump and listen to the frogs singing.

Åkk — humanure, literally: “the good stuff;” pure organic. Example: The most convenient way to dig out the åkk is with a pillkopp, but alas! it is missing from the toolkit of continuous creation! Perhaps this is an Estonian contribution to Jåtkuloomine (a pillkopp is a bucket used to clean outhouses, having a 2 meter handle, sometimes with a rope)!
To the stalwarts in Zucotti Park and around the world, the Singing Revolution, and the veterans of other freedom movements, might provide this advice:
  • Have a vision of a positive, compelling, realistic future.
  • Work towards cultural sustainability, resilience, and regeneration. The politics will follow.
  • Educate others, especially your oppressors, in the need for fundamental change in the face of peak energy, climate chaos, environmental degradation, overpopulation and the economic upheaval and restructuring that is merely a symptom of all those converging crises. It ain’t about the rising cost of tuition, or your rent or groceries. It’s much deeper that that.
  • Tell the stories of your vision, and your willing sacrifices, to anyone who will listen, and do it colorfully, with poetry, art and music.
  • Motivate, inspire, organize, and network among all the youth, using open space technology, social media, and any other tools you can muster or invent.
Above all, choose peace and non-violence and let the world be your witness. The key for the survival of not only Estonia, but Jeffersonian democracy, is creation of the continuous creation. 




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