Economics of Happiness Conference: One Week Until Early Bird Registration Ends

Let the countdown begin! Don’t miss the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions’ annual conference, The Economics of Happiness, on Friday, October 20, and Saturday, October 21, 2017, at Antioch University Midwest, in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Early Bird registration ($200 for Community Solutions members, $250 for non-members) ends on October 6, one week from today! Tickets are also available for individual sessions and keynote talks.  

This year’s conference offers a host of opportunities to redefine what is possible and explore the creation of vibrant local economies that focus on meeting real human needs through our ties to community and nature. It will feature internationally recognized speakers, including Charles Eisenstein, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Michael Shuman, and Anthony Flaccavento, with presentations and workshops on a range of topics :

●        Globalization v. localization

●        Mutual aid networks and cooperatives

●        Revitalizing rural communities

●        Creating self reliant communities

●        Building local food systems

●        Local and social impact investing, community banking, and local currencies

●        Screening and discussion of the film trailer for Jim Merkel’s film Saving Walden’s World

●        Tours of Agraria, Community Solutions’ recently purchased 128-acre farm, which is being developed as a center for research and education on regenerative agriculture

●        Pre and post conference workshops on tree identification and a tree survey of Agraria; installing mini-split heat pumps; and slow money and land conservation

Please join us for this insightful, inspirational and transformational gathering! For more information and to register, click here

A More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible: A Book Review

Written by Community Solutions fellow Carolyn Baker

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For nearly a year before the publication of my book Collapsing Consciously: Transformative Truths For Turbulent Times, I was aware that it was going to be part of Andrew Harvey’s Sacred Activism Series to be published by North Atlantic Books. I was also aware that Charles Eisenstein’s book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible would be included in the series, being published at approximately the same time as my book.  As a colleague and friend of Andrew Harvey, I was more than excited about the series, having followed his passion for the concept of Sacred Activism since the publication of his first book addressing the topic in 2009.

For decades I had realized the necessity of integrating activism and the sacred, but no one had yet articulated the deeper meaning of both concepts or demonstrated why one cannot flourish without the other. As a huge fan of Eisenstein’s work and Andrew’s mission, I was thrilled to be included in the book series, and the burgeoning of that enthusiasm compels me these many months after publication to review The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. And at the same time, I must note a few discrepancies in my perspective as I journey alongside Charles and his phenomenal body of work with which I deeply resonate.

Not only do I resonate with Charles’s frame of reference, but like him, I have frequently been accused of being naïve and idealistic. Some responses to A More Beautiful World have reverberated with this indictment which is likely to be leveled at any body of writing that invites us to “feel good.” After all, the title is charged with three volatile words: Beautiful, hearts, possible. These are likely to draw cynical critiques like a magnet draws iron filings. However, I personally do not believe that feel-good writing is entirely suspect—as long as the author is capable of taking a cold, hard look at the inescapable realities of our predicament, and of course, from my perspective, Charles is adept in doing just that. Moreover, he repeatedly empathizes with how challenged both we and he are in embracing a new paradigm as a result of the old story embedded in our psyches, products that we are of industrial civilization. As I read his incisive commentary on our predicament, naïve is not a word that leaps to mind, yet all of us, including myself, navigate a dying planet with myriad blind spots only because we are fallible humans.

Hospitality toward divergent opinions is a skill that must be cultivated in a binary culture that insists on “this” or “that,” “right” or “wrong” as a result of the legacy of Cartesian dualism. Perhaps the most onerous challenge for any of us is consciously forging a perspective sufficiently humble so that we can utter what in this culture are possibly the most difficult words: “I don’t know with certainty, and I could be wrong.”

I note this because A More Beautiful World posits in a number of places that if we can’t imagine a more beautiful world, it is due to our wounding. On the one hand, this may be valid, yet conversely, the plethora of research that is now coming to the fore on mass extinction and catastrophic climate change reinforces the possibility that in addition to our wounding, we may be reaping the terminal consequences of having created the ugliest of worlds which will result in the extermination of most of life on earth. Certainly, our wounding as inhabitants of industrial civilization has created human beings that have a great deal of difficulty imagining a more beautiful world and many of whom hold all things visionary with contempt. This is the reality of our inner world, but the external one we have participated in shaping may imminently silence forever our banter about “wounding.” I do not say this lightly, but rather as a student of the wonder and wounding of the human psyche for my entire adult life. We stand on exceedingly precarious ground, I believe, when we essentially declare that if others resist our perspective, it is due to their wounding.

Correspondingly, A More Beautiful World asserts that we are at a transition between stories. On the one hand, this may be so, yet I must also wonder if we are only at the end of a particular age. The anthropocene in which we may now abide may or may not ultimately include humans. I certainly do not believe that all life on earth will become extinct, but rather that most human life will within the next century. I can only wonder how any surviving humans might respond to the notion of A More Beautiful World That Our Hearts Know Is Possible. Will the horror they have endured make them terminally cynical, or will they long for and imagine a new story?

Eisenstein writes: “Many speak of ‘hospicing a dying civilization.’ This book argues that their despair arises from the same source as the crises themselves, and that as we transition to a new Story of the World, things become possible that had seemed miraculous before.” (257) Again, we are told that this kind of perception results from our wounding. But more debatable is the implication that despair serves no useful purpose when in fact, one could argue that despair serves us exquisitely in a number of ways. I have never met anyone who is awake to the collapse of industrial civilization and the collapse of ecosystems who has not experienced some form of despair over long or short periods of time. Despair is often a lightning rod that quickly transports us out of the old and into the new. Moreover, despair is an antidote to hubris and the illusion that business as usual can continue. Thoroughly metabolizing the trite statement “You can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet without consequences” is an utterance filled with despair—and yet, it is inexorably true, and the level of despair it evokes is a necessary midwife of our awakened rebirthing.

It appears that Charles is polarizing an attitude of emotionally and spiritually admitting oneself to hospice willingly, with creating a more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible. On the one hand, these perspectives may be inimical, but on yet another level, they are absolutely congruous. I can do everything in my power to create a more beautiful world even as I accept that I am probably in the process of exiting this planet. In fact, that may be the supreme purpose of adopting a hospice perspective. In summary, despair may lead to acceptance of the full extent of our predicament which may inspire us to become radically compassionate, creative, connected Interbeings. Those indeed are the ingredients necessary for creating a more beautiful world.

In order for this to happen, we must, as Charles asserts, “get to the bottom of the ecological crisis” which catapults us to the fundamental issues of our existence.

“And what, exactly, is at the bottom?” he asks….“At the bottom of our civilization lies a story, a mythology…a matrix of narratives, agreements, and symbolic systems that comprises the answers our culture offers to life’s most basic questions:

  • Who am I?
  • Who do things happen?
  • What is the purpose of life?
  • What is human nature?
  • What is sacred?
  • Who are we as a people?
  • Where did we come from and where are we going?” (4)

From my perspective, whether we are in hospice or merely transitioning to a new story or both, these questions constitute our overarching assignment in the time we have left, and they form the crux of my work in the wake of our predicament. The pivotal task, I believe is an invitation offered on Page 66: “Imagine yourself on your deathbed, looking back on your life. What moments seem the most precious? What choices will you be the most grateful for?” This is hard-core hospice work.

Throughout the book we are asked to consider, as we are in all of Eisenstein’s work, that we are not separate from the natural world, not separate from each other, not separate from other species, not separate from anything or anyone in the universe, but rather that we are part of “Interbeing,” to which he devotes an entire chapter. He specifically names the characteristics of Interbeing in this chapter and summarizes the fundamental precept which is: “…that we are inseparable from the universe, and our being partakes in the being of everyone and everything else. Why should we believe this? Let’s start with the obvious: This Interbeing is something we can feel. Why does it hurt when we hear of another person coming to harm? Why, when we read of mass die-offs of the coral reefs and see their bleached skeletons, do we feel like we’ve sustained a blow?…The reason it hurts is it is literally happening to ourselves.” (16-17)

As with the bullet points enumerating what is at the bottom of the ecological crisis, Charles continues to illumine the spiritual nature of our predicament:

Cut off from nature, cut off from community, financially insecure, alienated from our own bodies, immersed in scarcity, trapped in a tiny, separate self that hungers constantly for its lost beingness, we can do no other than perpetuate the behavior and systems that cause climate change. Our response to the problem must touch on this fundamental level that we might call spirituality. (46-47)

Thus, according to Charles, the primary technology of Interbeing, in my opinion whether in hospice or elsewhere, is service—service to something greater than oneself.

This is what we must emulate if we are to cocreate the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. It is also a way to transcend the separate self, since to bow into service is to merge with something greater, something whose power to precipitate change extends beyond our understanding of causality. (218)

In addition to metabolizing Interbeing and expressing it through service, we are also invited to pay very close attention to what hurts us. In other words, to work consciously with the emotions—a cornerstone of my work for several decades. At the beginning of a chapter entitled “Attention,” we find a quote by Dan Emmons: “What most needs attention is the part of us that we seek to avoid feeling. When we have tended to that, we are changed, and the world changes with us.”

We cannot pretend to prepare for societal and ecological collapse while ignoring the emotions that surface as we do so. In fact, according to Eisenstein:

Just as attention, by itself, has a power to heal beyond any remedial action one might take, so also does telling the truth about what is happening on Earth have a power to alter the course of events. Again, it is not that no action will result. It is that when we digest the information, who we are changes, and therefore what we do. (150)

As I have argued throughout the course of my work regarding the need for joy, pleasure, creativity, humor, and the celebration of beauty, Charles describes the more beautiful world his heart knows is possible which is a far cry from the permissible forms of “happiness” this culture offers by way of consuming, escaping, and mindlessly ignoring the death of our planet.

The more beautiful world my heart knows is possible is a world with a lot more pleasure: a lot more touch, a lot more lovemaking, a lot more hugging, a lot more deep gazing into each other’s eyes, a lot more fresh-ground tortillas and just-harvested tomatoes still warm from the sun, a lot more singing, a lot more dancing, a lot more timelessness, a lot more beauty in the built environment, a lot more pristine views, a lot more water fresh from the spring. (154)

As you read this, pay attention to what you feel in your body. Nice, right? And so it is and should be. Personally, I love it, and at every point on this journey of collapse, transition, Great Turning, or hospice living—whatever we may prefer to name it, I discover the urgency of holding in my heart and my body two things that feel at times almost impossible to contain there, namely the more beautiful world my heart knows is possible and a planet that is barely on life-support.

Nowhere in the book does Eisenstein mention the human shadow—a part of us that is unconscious and the opposite of all that we claim to value as decent, compassionate, caring, and just. He argues consistently for the inherent goodness of humans and vigorously against anything resembling inherent evil. For me, this is a precarious position which underestimates the complexity of the human psyche and sets the stage for enormous sabotage of a more beautiful world. Perhaps Charles would argue that my insistence on including the shadow in any vision of what is possible is a result of my own wounding. And so it may be, but in fact, Carl Jung declared that 80% of the shadow is pure gold. That is to say that if one is willing to own it and work consciously with it, the shadow has the power to transform as well as destroy because the shadow is a strategic energetic apparatus in the human psyche which has the capacity to both destroy and sustain as the poet Czeslaw Milosz asserted: “What has no shadow has no strength to live.”

Declaring that humans are inherently good or inherently evil confines us to an untenable polarity—a polarity mirrored on the one hand by purveyors of New Age thinking and a “Bright-Sided” world as Barbara Ehrenreich names it, or on the other hand, the world of fundamentalist Christianity marinated in “original sin.” As with most polarities, wholeheartedly embracing either side is astonishingly effortless. No tension, no conflict, no problem. But what remains is yet another binary story. Much more agonizingly difficult is holding the maddening tension of the opposites: the possibility of realizing a more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible alongside the possibility that we are inhabiting the last hours of life on Earth. No one I know is able to hold that tension consistently without alternating from one side to the other. We incessantly waver: The optimist succumbs to the doldrums while the pessimist insists that despair and cynicism have eliminated from them any vision of possibility. Ah yes, but they are still breathing air, and as long as they do so, somevision lives in the psyche and body.

The complexity of the human psyche must be honored, and the shadow must be made conscious. I believe this is an essential part of the change that Charles asserts must happen when he states that “something has to happen in us in order to initiate us into our full power as changemakers.” In other words, changemakers can’t make radical and lasting change unless they are changed themselves, and for me, this involves tending the shadow.

Perhaps you are asking how I could defend Eisenstein’s vision of a more beautiful world when I invite humans to embrace a hospice perspective. Isn’t such a vision a waste of time and energy for beings on the brink of extinction? In fact, I would argue that it is precisely because our condition is terminal that we must imagine a more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible. We take this vision with us into hospice, not because there is any guarantee or even possibility that it will come to fruition, but we embrace it because it will instruct and fortify us as we navigate our demise. On the one hand, we do everything humanly possible to manifest the vision, acting as if we have all the time in the world, and on the other hand, we savor every new day as sacred because it may be our very last. The vision, you see, is for the world, yes, but it is also for each of us. It may be an integral aspect of the dying process, and one must ask oneself: How do I want to die? What image(s) do I wish to hold in consciousness as I breathe my last breath?

A More Beautiful World That Our Hearts Know Is Possible offers the most urgent question we must ask in this moment—whether it is a hospice moment or a visionary moment. That question is: Who am I? When we deeply, heartfully, mindfully devote our lives to answering that question, it will be easier to hold both hospice and heaven in the same body. In fact, it will be impossible not to.

What's Different About the New Economy?

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While there is no one definition for the “new economy”, most folks working in this field would probably agree on a few basic elements that distinguish this economic approach from the current dominant economic model.  I’ve attempted to summarize those below.

Six Elements of Emerging New Economies, Contrasted with the Dominant Economy

1) New economies are more just, work better for people.

The dominant economy has used tax, trade and patent policy to greatly favor huge corporations and the very wealthy over small businesses and working people, leading to extreme levels of wealth concentration at the top alongside stagnant wages for working and middle class people, and growing poverty.  The very wealthy pay lower taxes on much of their income than do teachers and truck drivers; giant corporations pay an effective tax rate that is 6 – 8% less than what small businesses pay.  Trade policy grants corporations the right to sue nations, states and communities over health and environmental protections. You can’t make this stuff up.

In the new economy, small businesses and family farms create more jobs per dollar of sales; by purchasing from other local businesses, they create ‘economic multipliers’ that add much more value to the local economy than do chains and big boxes.  New corporate forms, such as the Benefit Corporation, which commits a business to positive social and environmental outcomes as well as financial profit, are also emerging in the new economy, with over 1000 nationwide.  Some localities have begun to use Community Benefit Agreements to hold big corporations legally accountable for the promises they make.  These and many other creative measures ensure that economies work for people, not the other way around.

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Project Seeks to Put End to "Food Desert"

Economics of Happiness Conference speaker Lela Klein was interviewed in last Sunday's Dayton Daily News...

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Q: What is the Gem City Market project all about?

Klein: The Gem City Market will be a vibrant worker- and community-owned full-service grocery store on lower Salem Avenue, just across the river from downtown Dayton. The incubation of the market has been a community-driven effort aimed at addressing the needs of Daytonians who live in what the United States Department of Agriculture considers a food desert. The Market will be a vital community asset that provides much-needed access healthy and fresh food. It will also include on-site health and nutrition classes and programming to encourage healthy choices and teach cooking techniques.

Q: What is GDUCI?

Klein: The Greater Dayton Union Co-op Initiative is a non-profit organization committed to incubating worker owned businesses that bring good jobs to Dayton. GDUCI incubates worker-owned startups, and provides technical support to existing businesses converting into cooperatives. GDUCI builds financing and management models and business plans to launch cooperatives with the highest chance of success, and we build ownership culture within our co-ops through training and leadership development.

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Screening: Economics of Happiness, We the People 2.0

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Community Solutions is co-organizing our fall conference, The Economics of Happiness, with Local Futures and Helena-Norberg Hodge. In anticipation of this exciting gathering of international, national, and local people experienced at creating regenerative and resilient local economies, the Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs will be showing two documentaries on Monday, October 2, starting at 7 pm—The Economics of Happiness, from Local Futures, and We the People 2.0 about creating community rights. Both Helena Norberg-Hodge, from Local Futures, and Tish O’Dell, from CELDF (the subject of We the People 2.0) will hold workshops and discussions during the conference.

The Economics of Happiness:

An award-winning documentary film, The Economics of Happiness, which spells out the social, spiritual, and ecological costs of today’s global economy.  Importantly, the film also highlights the many benefits of a shift towards the local and showcases some of the steps people are already taking worldwide.

We the People 2.0:

We the People is a visual essay about the loss of democracy in the United States.  The film utilizes both original footage as well as found footage to describe a profound change in thinking at the grassroots level. The story unfolds through the eyes of rural people who have faced decades of toxic dumping, drilling and mining in their communities.  We learn with them that the reason why, in spite of all their efforts, they “get what they don’t want, again and again,” is because they are, by law, truly powerless in spite of propaganda that says they live in the “best democracy in the world.”   These people come to understand that the reason they can’t stop the destruction is that the US has become an oligarchy, run by the corporate few who ignore the rights and will of the people.  These people are frontally challenging our corporate state; thereby saving nature and themselves. Thomas Linzey, a nonprofit attorney’s inspiring words shows how, we, the people, can turn this around and lay claim to our democracy. This movement is building as you read this, not just in this country but around the world; our film shows how and where it all began.

Click here to register for the Economics of Happiness Conference!

Globalization's Blowback

Originally posted on localfutures.org, co-sponsor of our upcoming Economics of Happiness Conference

Written by Alex Jensen

A recent study of air pollution in the western United States made a startling finding: despite a 50 percent drop over the past 25 years in US emissions of smog-producing chemicals like nitrogen oxides (NOx), smog actually increased during that period in the rural US West – even in such ‘pristine’ environments as Yellowstone National Park. Most of this increase was traced to “the influx of pollution from Asian countries, including China, North and South Korea, Japan, India, and other South Asian countries.”[1] That’s because over the same period that NOx emissions declined in the US, they tripled in Asia as a whole.[2] In media reports of the study, China and India are described as the “worst offenders” of this fugitive “Asian pollution”.[3]

Left only with these findings, a reasonable conclusion would be that the US has become more environmentally enlightened in recent decades, while Asia – particularly ‘developing’ Asia – is a veritable eco-reprobate, sacrificing not only its own but global airsheds to choking pollution. The new, anti-environmental EPA director, Scott Pruitt, recently expressed this view in explaining why the US should exit the Paris Climate Accord: “[China and India] are polluting far more than we are.”[4]

What’s missing?

A similar study of global air pollution drift in 2014, focusing on China and the US, made comparable findings, but included an important factor missing from the more recent study: production for export. Among other things, the scholars of the older study asked how much of the Chinese air pollution drifting to the Western US was occasioned specifically in the production of exports for world markets (including the top destination for Chinese manufactures, the US.)

The answer? In 2006, up to 24% of sulfate concentrations over the western United States were generated in the Chinese production of goods for export to the US.[5] Applying these findings to the more recent study, it’s likely that a significant percentage of the Asian nitrogen oxides now choking the US West were also emitted in the production of goods destined for the US.

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Hate to Love, and a few updates

Charles Eisenstein has been keeping in touch ahead of his coming speaking engagements, including our Economics of Happiness Conference! Here is an email he sent out to friends with some updates:

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"Hey everyone,

I want to tell you about a conversation I recorded with Joanna Harcourt-Smith for my podcast. You may have already heard it since we put it up a week ago. She has an incredible life story that has brought her deep wisdom through great pain. She is one of the most joyful people I know.  

Aside from that, my energy has been absorbed in the final push to finish the first draft of my book before I head off to Orcas Island in a few days to speak at the Imagine Festival. (Consider coming if you live in the Pacific Northwest. It's a small festival with a wonderful loving vibe.)

I wish I could tell you the title of the book, but it keeps changing. When people ask what it is about, I hesitate to tell them "climate change" even though that is the central topic, because then people think they know what it will say. But it is totally off the spectrum. Here is a tiny excerpt:

"What you will see as I deconstruct the conventional spectrum of opinion on climate change is that the dynamics of the debate obscure something more important than which side is right. As with many polarizing issues, it is the hidden assumptions, shared by both sides and questioned by neither, that are most significant and most potent in taking us into new territory."

I suspect that it will be disturbing or possibly infuriating to people on the conventional spectrum, whether they are skeptics, mainstream climate activists, or catastrophists (is that even a word?) Also it is a step back into engaging more in current issues and policies, as in Sacred Economics, whereas The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible was more personal, psychological, or spiritual. So I feel a little apologetic toward those who found such nourishment in the latter book and want more. Still, the new book has some of that too. As you know, the personal and the political, the social and the ecological, the spiritual and the material are inseparable.

Several months of editing and rewriting remain, and then it goes through the publishing pipeline. If all goes smoothly it will come out next May. Thanks to everyone who has supported me on Patreon and through other gifts to write this book -- nearly two years now. I'm really looking forward to finishing it so I can reengage with other issues. Lord knows there is a lot to engage with these days! That statement above regarding polarizing issues applies to most political questions, and I'm going to invoke it quite often in coming years."

--- Charles

If you want to read more from Charles, start at his website: charleseisenstein.net

In media res: Houston, Harvey and the catastrophe of climate change

Originally posted on resourceinsights.blogspot.com

Written by Community Solutions fellow Kurt Cobb

In media res" is Latin for "in the middle of things." Frequently, it refers to the literary device of plunging readers into some central action of a story (often an epic) and then filling in the details and background later.

The residents of Houston must have felt that they were plunged into the middle of some epic story as Hurricane Harvey dumped up to 50 inches of rain on them and flooded much of the city. Early estimates suggest that this hurricane could end up being the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Hurricane Harvey is almost certainly an epic story unfolding before our eyes. That means the significance of events and outcomes surrounding the hurricane will only be filled in later--creating analysis, folklore and perhaps even a cultural output on par with that which followed Hurricane Katrina (think: the television series "Tremé").

There will be stories about the failure or success of the emergency response effort. There will be denunciations of those officials who recommended staying put and recriminations of those doing the denouncing. There will be riveting accounts of suffering and also of heroic rescues and exceptional kindness. And, there will be stories of lawlessness and cruelty.

Harvey will almost certainly be styled as a tragedy. The storm is undoubtedly a colossal misfortune, and we should have compassion for those affected. But from a literary standpoint, it is not a tragedy at all. A genuine tragedy requires that the main players be unaware of how their own flawed character is leading them to self-destruction. A genuine tragedy depicts an ineluctable course of events. Nothing and no one could have prevented them. Greek tragedians relied on Ananke, the goddess of fate, to drive the action of their plays.

But humans do know that their actions are leading to climate change--which many climate scientists foretold would result in increasingly destructive storms. Denial of such a link is not the same as ignorance. Denial means the message has been received and recorded, just not accepted.

It is, of course, an irony that the city most associated with the oil and natural gas industry should be struck so fiercely by a climate-change enhanced hurricane. But this should NOT be read as some kind of divine retribution either in the literary or the religious sense. The discovery and use of fossil fuels has long been hailed as the basis for modern prosperity and advances in human well-being the world over. Those involved in such discoveries and the refining and distribution of the output have until relatively recently often been cast as heroes in history, in literature and in film.

More energy--to those who have access to its benefits--has meant longer, healthier lives and rapid development of wondrous technologies which rely on abundant energy supplies for their deployment and operation. The modern technical civilization in which we live relies on continuous high-grade energy inputs in order to function. Without those inputs our society would quickly collapse. If we rail against those who have extracted and refined those fuels for us, we are only railing against ourselves for using them. (On the other hand, if we rail against those who have systematically lied about the climate effects of burning fossil fuels to the public and policymakers, that is another matter.)

It is true that the ravages of climate change have to date fallen disproportionately on those least responsible and least capable of protecting themselves such as island nations now being inundated by rising sea levels and the poor in drought-stricken areas of the world. What Hurricane Harvey is showing us is that climate change will spare no one.

The sadness and destruction inflicted on residents of the Gulf Coast will flicker on television and computer screens for weeks to come. Their misfortune is truly our misfortune--even if we are only capable of feeling it in the price and availability of gasoline.

But we should not mistake misfortune for tragedy--which many of our leaders will almost surely want us to do. They will want to paint Hurricane Harvey as a tragedy. They will use that word again and again, wittingly or unwittingly making Harvey out to be an unforeseen and unforeseeable event for which we humans have no culpability (or at most only a little and therefore hardly worth mentioning).

That takes them and us off the hook for neglecting the causes behind the great misfortune which this storm has become. And, it would encourage us and them to do little to try to mitigate future misfortunes as the catastrophe of climate change descends upon us.

Compendium of Scientific and Practical Findings Supporting Eco-Restoration to Address Global Warming

Originally posted on bio4climate.org

This Compendium of Scientific and Practical Findings Supporting Eco-Restoration to Address Global Warming (the “Compendium”) is a fully referenced compilation of the evidence outlining the power, benefits and necessity of eco-restoration to address global warming.  Bringing together findings from the scientific literature, government and industry reports, and journalistic investigations, it is a public, open-access document that is housed on the website of Biodiversity for a Livable Climate.

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Building the Next System from Emerging Next Systems

Originally posted on neweconomy.net

Written by Economics of Happiness Conference speaker Anthony Flaccavento

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What if the Big Question were not “Where will the jobs come from?” but “What is the work that needs to be done?”

The work that needs to be done is enormous in scope, fantastically varied across our nation. It includes work to restore our land, forests and fisheries, revitalize our towns and cities, repair and update our infrastructure, vastly improve our health, reduce our energy, water and material use, accelerate the development of clean energy and dramatically reduce our carbon emissions, and so much more. Putting this body of work at the center of our economic thinking would begin to put the economy back where it belongs, at the service of people and communities.

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Miami Valley Community Organizing Conference

by Jonna Johnson

The Miami Valley Community Organizing Conference was held March 18 at the Central State University (CSU) Dayton Center. Sixty activists gathered from Dayton and the wider region to share experiences and reflect on ways of being more effective organizers. This was a collaboration of Community Solutions, CSU, and the Dayton Community Action Network that began a year ago with a brown bag lunch, followed by sessions on organizing at the Community Solutions fall 2016 conference.

Clay Dixon, former Dayton Mayor, full of wonderful observations, finished the conference day with a few of his signature observations, including that community organizing efforts often look similar to the conference -- the day begins with a full house, eager eyes, steady hands; as the day wears on a few people duck out, a fresh face joins in, our eyes are less sprightly and our hands are tired. And yet, we fight on.

Reece Freeman, who announced that she is moving to New Orleans for a prodigious chef gig, explained that evaluation, real-life data-based reflection, is habitually under-utilized and therefore becomes the key piece of the puzzle – why do we ignore this piece? – and she fervently advises that we do not ignore systematic and meaningful reflection of our efforts, throughout the whole process (beginning, middle, later that night, re-beginning, and so on).

Darryl Fairchild’s deep experience in organizing Dayton showed through, particularly when he was asked the questions everyone asks but rarely get answered with the incisive know-how that deep experience and honest reflection can offer.  Such as, how?  Sure, we should build relationships, but how?  Sure, we need to strategize, but how?  Sure, we want to take considered action, but how?  It takes a lot of gumption, intelligence (emotional and otherwise), and wherewithal to build, reflect upon, and share (accessibly) relevant experiences like his.  

Karil Sampson presented one of my favorite tools – the why game.  Young people are so right to ask why.  And we are doing them, and the planet, a disservice when we shut down that impulse.  Getting to the core, the root, the crux is key to most if not all of life’s wonders – including organizing efforts, healing historic wounds, moving forward down healthy and just paths.  Keep asking why!!!

Amaha Sellassie delved into my absolute favorite piece of this puzzle, my absolute favorite piece of life on earth --- Relationship.  Trust.  Connection.  I wonder, are we able to reframe the grand narrative, can we get to the place where we are building just relationships, making healthy connections, striving for trust as ends unto themselves?  It is my hope.  It keeps me going.  It is that possibility that keeps me fighting on.  

Naim Edwards began our day with a reflection on the immense sacrifice that it takes to be successful advocates, allies, accomplices for peace on earth.  I want to include a special note of appreciation for Naim’s sacrifice.  While it was not 381 agonizing days, the sacrifices that helped make the Montgomery Bus Boycott a success as Naim highlighted that morning, he was willing to ride a bus [wonder what seat he sat in?] from Detroit, put up with a Community Solutions gathering, sleep in unknown quarters, prepare a talk, facilitate four small group discussions, and more, without monetary compensation.  Hopefully he was able to gather other forms of compensation; I know I am enhanced for his sacrifices.  

Our all-volunteer force included:

Basim Blunt, WYSO Community Voices Program
Isaac DeLamatre, Antioch College Kitchens
Clay Dixon, Dayton Mayor 1987-1993 and Organizing Collaborative
Naim Edwards, Voices for Earth Justice in Detroit
Darryl Fairchild, Chaplain Services at Dayton Children’s Hospital
Reece Freeman, former Sinclair Community College Professor of Sociology
Michael Gaines, Central State University Dayton
Jonna Johnson, Community Solutions and former Highlander Center staff
Brian Keith, Educator and Organizer in Springfield, OH
Karil Sampson, Dayton Community Action Network
Amaha Sellassie, Center for Applied Social Issues at Sinclair and Dayton Human Relations Council
Eric Smith, Rural Action
Arlinda Vaughn, Dayton Community Action Network
Kat Walter, Yellow Springs Resilience Network

A follow up lunch is planned for May 17 and plans have begun for a second Miami Valley community organizing conference in 2018.

Agraria: A Community Land Trust and Regenerative Agriculture Research Center

There is no clearer demonstration of the universe as a self-organizing system than the synchronistic process that led Community Solutions to be the sudden owner of Agraria, a farm on the western outskirts of Yellow Springs.

We learned on the Saturday afternoon of our February soils symposium that a property that included a sensitive local watershed—Jacoby Creek—had unexpectedly gone up for auction. The watershed is a source of drinking water for Xenia and Yellow Springs, and protecting it has been a goal of the village for over 40 years.

Throughout that weekend, and before, we’d been exploring ways to put our new soils work into practice.

Our Healthy Soils Symposium focused on active hope, highlighted by keynote, Didi Pershouse. Didi is the author of The Ecology of Care: Medicine, Agriculture, Money, and the Quiet Power of Human and Microbial Communities. She writes and teaches about how our ‘sterile’ model of care—killing everything that we see as pests—needs to be replaced by a ‘fertile’ model of care that builds healthy communities of soil, cells, and people.   

Symposium presenter Peter Bane enchanted us with his drawings of water and carbon cycles, helping us to visually and viscerally link our care of the soil to larger water and climate systems. We also heard from many local farmers, gardeners, and researchers about their ongoing relationships with their land.

By Saturday afternoon, the conference room at Antioch College was abuzz with ideas of how we might move forward as a region to demonstrate what we were learning.

The farm that the Jacoby traversed was a demonstration opportunity on a grand scale. But it was not until one of our members stepped up with an early promise of investment that the dream of bidding on the property began to take hold. Two weeks later—with the incredible support of an entrepreneurial board of directors; a hard-working and flexible staff; investment promises from several friends and members; commitments of conservation monies from the Village of Yellow Springs and the Tecumseh Land Trust; and the knowledge of our historical organizational weight—we took the leap and purchased 128 acres of the Jacoby property. It came complete with house, barn, workshop, fields, streams, and brambly copses threaded throughout.

While the purchase of the farm feels like an unexpected leap into the future, it is clear that we have been preparing for this for the past 75 years. Arthur Morgan was a philosophical and practical father of the Community Land Trust model and was recently inducted into the Community Land Trust Hall of Fame. His son, Griscom, founded the Vale and Celo Intentional Communities, both of which continue to flourish. And Griscom’s daughter, Faith Morgan, and Pat Murphy dreamed of a place—Agraria—where residents could do small-scale farming and live in community in energy-efficient homes.  

More recently, our board and membership settled on five strategic focus areas, with Regenerative Land Use front and center. For the past few years, we have been educating ourselves about healthy soils through workshops and trainings across the country and in Yellow Springs. We have also built up partnerships with local and national colleagues around soil health and regenerative soils practices.

As part of our Community Economics focus, we had convened a group of colleagues from the village, local foundations, and the Yellow Springs Credit Union, to explore how to build the community's capacity to invest locally. It was the connections made through this group that enabled us to partner with the Credit Union on a linked deposit strategy—a strategy that is enabling our supporters to use their funds as surety for a line of credit for the farm purchase and early expenses.

All these preparations were in place, but we still could not have predicted how they might manifest into such a grand vision. Now that we are on the other side of closing on the property, and on the cusp of a new organizational future, it is obvious that our agrarian community land trust has been made possible by the 77-year-old community of trust that’s been built within the organization, within Yellow Springs, and within our organizational membership.

Why Soil?

Across the planet, farmers, researchers, economists, activists, and community members are linking global crises like hunger, climate change, refugees, and war, to the degradation of soil. Historically, many if not all of civilizational collapses can be linked to soil degradation.

Locally and nationally, depleted soils add to the economic challenges of conventional farmers. On Agraria, 75% of our topsoil has been lost, with erosion and depleted nutrients adding to the challenge. Soil and nutrient run-off lead to widespread algal blooms and dead zones in lakes, rivers, and water basins, contributing to water woes. Many researchers also link exponential growth in some chronic diseases to pesticide residues and nutrient-poor soils.  

Yet, new understanding about soil biology and the incredible capacity of regenerated soils to heal ecosystems are sparking hope—again on a planetary scale. In Australia, China, across Africa and other continents, small and massive regeneration projects are demonstrating the possibilities inherent in healthy soil biology.

This hope underlay the United Nations declaration of 2015 as “The International Year of Soils,” as well as the inclusion of carbon-rich soil as an important climate mitigation strategy in recent international climate accords. Twelve of the eighteen most promising tools to reduce atmospheric carbon are land based.

Regionally, many farmers are taking the lead in practices that build carbon and healthy soil biology. David Brandt, a carbon farmer, Community Solutions conference presenter, and Agraria adviser, has been experimenting with cover crops for over forty years, and has built his Eastern Ohio soil carbon content from 1% to 8%. Other strategies like rotational grazing, perennial pastures, silvopasture, and agroforestry are being studied in farms and research plots across the country and the globe.

Agraria

Agraria is 128 acres of rolling farmland. Now that spring is here, the trees and bushes are sprouting yellow and green, wildflowers line the paths, and birdsong and the tracks of wildlife remind us of our fellow residents. On the property frontage on E. Dayton-Yellow Springs Road, there’s a wooden Banker’s Barn circa 1920 with approximately 7000 square feet of space on two floors and a loft. There is also a home and a workshop, and yards with lilac and blackberry bushes.

Our overarching vision of Agraria is that it will serve as a multi-functional teaching and research farm that models best practices in soil regeneration.   

The land has been farmed conventionally, most recently planted in corn. We have just conducted an extensive series of soil tests—including for nutrient levels, soil respiration, and the presence of heavy metals and oil. In the next few weeks, we will be planting cover crops in partnership with David and Ann Brandt of Walnut Creek Seeds, and local farmers Jim and Brian Clem. We’ll also be planting a tree/hedge barrier on some of the property edges. We hope to graze animals late this summer on about half of the land.  

Much of the next several months will be spent developing plans for the farm, including: Heritage and perennial grains

  • Biodynamic vegetable gardens

  • Hedgerows and edge planting

  • Silvopasture

  • Pastured animals.

We also plan to develop a small community of homes for resident farmers. Concurrently, the Nature Conservancy, in partnership with the Tecumseh Land Trust, will be developing a restoration plan for Jacoby Creek that includes removing honeysuckle, allowing the stream to find its natural meandering state, and planting native species in the riparian barrier.

Education, research, and community outreach are woven throughout our project plans. In addition to the partnerships mentioned below, we are documenting our interests in Agraria and soil restoration in a soil podcast series, and in Peter Bane’s book on soils and water cycling. Dennie Eagleson, a local photographer, is recording the transformation of the soils and the landscape through a longitudinal photographic series. Further soils conference presentations and field days are in the works.

This summer and fall we are visiting several possible models for Agraria—including Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in Virginia, Mark Shepard’s New Forest Farm in Wisconsin, and the Land Institute in Kansas.

Collaborative Opportunities

We are fortunate to live in a rich agricultural and educational landscape. We have been working with Central State University, an Historically Black University and recent land grant institution, Antioch College, and regional farmers, on grants related to organic transition and farming internships.

We are also exploring research and educational activities with the Yellow Springs Schools, a national leader in Project Based learning (PBL). This spring we partnered with a third-grade Mills Lawn class on a soil PBL activity—planting underpants (yes, underpants) in the schoolyard to assess soil microbial activity. We have also partnered with schools and organizations in Springfield on school gardens and urban farm education, and look forward to expanding these connections.

OEFFA—the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association—has served in an advisory and cheerleading role in our soils work, and we look forward to research, education, and grant partnerships with this visionary organization.

With funding from the William Beale family, a biochar pilot project could find its culmination in the use of biochar-infused compost on Agraria and partnering farms.   

We also look forward to collaborations with the Soil Carbon Coalition, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, Healthy Soils Australia, and citizen scientists.

Our research into soil fertility, perennial crops, and agroecosystems also interweaves with larger questions of community economics—creating strategies to help conventional farmers transition to healthier practices, and urban gardeners to build healthy soil. We’ll be exploring ways that our work on Agraria can inform and support our Springfield food system work, for which we were recently awarded two Americorps VISTAS.

Getting Involved

Buying Agraria is just the first step of our multi-faceted journey, and we would love to share next steps with you. A charrette on May 20th was an opportunity for friends and neighbors to share their ideas about educational, research, and outreach opportunities.

We will also be hosting volunteer days throughout the summer and fall—and could use your help with trail clearing, tree planting, yardwork and painting.  

We are hosting a celebration dinner with music and storytelling on Saturday, August 19th, you can find the Facebook Event here.  And we will be hosting farm tours and workshops during our Economics of Happiness Conference on October 20th-21st.

Donations of all shapes and sizes are welcome! We need a slew of shovels, a tractor, other farm and garden equipment, small and large investments, etc. Our Generosity campaign is designed to raise funds for early farm expenses, including our second cover crop planting, our second round of soil testing, and farm fencing.  

Please consider an investment in Agraria. Early funding will enable us to plan for the long term. For more information on how you can help, please call or email us, or visit the Agraria link on the Community Solutions website. We look forward to growing this dream with you.

Regional Resilience

Written by Community Solutions Senior Fellow Don Hollister

At Community Solutions we have begun to inventory examples of regional collaboration, multi-community initiatives in our Greater Miami Valley region of Ohio. How are organizations helping communities cope with change? This information will be shared on a Regional Resilience website that is under construction. We have found interest in convening a periodic Regional Community Roundtable to share our stories of success and challenges.

This undertaking seems historically fitting as our organization name, the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions, identifies us with Morgan’s ambitious regional work as director of the Miami Conservancy District. However, our concern is broader than preventing physical floods. We see shifts in the climate, the economy and social health that threaten the region.

We suspect that the worst is yet to come and just as no individual stands alone, no community can survive and thrive on its own. Colleges and universities in the region, county soil and water conservation districts and a small network of conservation advocacy non-profits have begun the work of connecting stewardship of the physical region with the social and economic changes that are underway.

By buying a farm to serve as the home for a Center for Regenerative Agriculture, Community Solutions has taken a dramatic step in its service to the region. In addition to research on soils, the Center will be a facility for research, education about and demonstration of best practices in land use, community economy, decentralized generation of electricity and social resilience. This will be an educational resource for SW Ohio, in particular..

[Establishing a land base for our research and education mission makes Community Solutions more like our sister organization Mitraniketan that Arthur Morgan encouraged and supported starting in 1956. Mitraniketan school and People’s College now has Indian government status as the Farm Science Centre for their region of Kerala state.]

Our new farm Center puts a land based emphasis on our regional resilience work. Regional foodshed analysis, local food production, issues of storm runoff, distributed energy and energy efficient buildings now will be less abstract. We will continue to develop relationships with area universities, non-profits and local agencies, looking for stories of their successes to share with others. This networking will inevitably develop with a connection to our projects at the farm Center.

So many towns across America have been like the legendary frog in a pot of water slowly heating up until cooked. Circumstances have changed slowly enough that there was not a broad sense of crisis. Different regions have faced varying circumstances, yet now there is a wide spread sense of malaise. In our corner of the Rust Belt, the Dayton and Springfield, Ohio, metropolitan region, the news headlines are full of deaths from drug overdoses. That is the extreme, a symptom of widespread hopelessness.

There are many factors at play here. Automation and global competition have reduced the number of manufacturing jobs. Agriculture has been consolidated and focused on commodity production for a national and international market. A century of industrial land use has begun to show chemical residues in all of our surface water and increasingly in our groundwater. A widely mobile population no longer shares decades or generations of memories and experiences that provide the basis of neighborly trust.

Yet most people in this region, as most people in the world, are coping in their daily lives. It is just that so many are not. We have an elaborate sophisticated economy that supports social interactions at the workplace, in sports and other recreation, at church and, yes, on the internet. And those who do not have a job or a supporting network of friends and family are struggling.

Step back and examine our daily system. It is very fragile, dependent on transport of materials and energy over great distances. Most people drive a car to work. We drive to see family and friends. We tend to forget or ignore the times when there was a regional power outage, a gas shortage or spike in cost, the hundred year flood, the devastating tornado.

Where our energy sources are close by, where food is produced locally, our communities will be more likely to survive the unexpected crisis.

In the long run those more dramatic crises may be less threatening than the slow longer term changes. Just as the frog in a pot of water would jump out if the heat spiked, it enjoys swimming in the gently warming water. Wake up. Our temperature is slowly rising. You do not have to drive far to see blocks of boarded up houses. There are people dying of hopelessness. Although these are not all from the same direct causes we will better be able to cope together.

One Earth, One Home

Written by Audrey Hackett

Originally posted on ysnews.com

Summers as a child I played in a stream. A creek, trickling through the edge of a park in my neighborhood, bearing all the marks of human disturbance: tin cans, bottles, paper trash, even for a time an overturned shopping cart. Also algae, stagnation, funky smells. It was the 70s, early 80s. There wasn’t so much plastic then. At the grocery store, the baggers packed our comestibles into brown paper bags.

A stream: polluted but still beautiful, still mesmerizing to a child.

I thought of my childhood stream/creek on Saturday, crossing and recrossing the Jacoby Creek on a portion of the former Arnovitz farm, now home to Community Solutions’ regenerative farming project and stream conservation effort. Tecumseh Land Trust’s annual meeting was held there Saturday afternoon, in a magnificent cathedral-barn, after which attendees split into two groups for a tour of the land. I tagged along with Devin Schenk from the Nature Conservancy, the organization partnering with Community Solutions and Tecumseh Land Trust to restore the stream and its riparian environment. About 80 acres of Community Solutions’ total 128-acre parcel may ultimately be put under conservation easement for this purpose. The proposed conservation area includes the creek, its immediate wooded banks and generous swaths of land where wetlands wait, just beneath the surface of farm fields, to return.

Village money is helping to purchase the easement, so all villagers have a stake in the beauty and future of this land.

I was amazed, but shouldn’t have been amazed, to learn that the creek’s smooth arc through the property was humanmade. A stream, like the best of thoughts and conversations, naturally meanders. And so one of the tasks of the Nature Conservancy wizards is to re-meander the stream. Re-meander! That was the actual term Devin used. 

They’ll also be improving the creek’s shade, depth and flow — more magic. They’ll plant trees near the fords, the shallow areas where the stream is exposed to direct sun. All that sun exposure overheats the water, creating dead zones, breaking up the continuous ribbon of life that a river should be. They’ll create pools in some areas and riffles in others, distinct habitats where different creatures dwell. Riffles are those places where water runs fast and turbulent, adding oxygen to a stream. Plus personality, plus a silver voice.

Our final crossing brought us into the ooze, the best part, I thought. We were all pretty hot by then, and I won’t speak for the rest of the group, but I was prepared to lie down in the muck and let it and the long sloppy grass swallow me up. 

**

Last week the U.S. pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, a pact with 194 signatory nations, and two, now three, dissenters. When I first heard the news, I found it hard not to smash something, to weep. The world’s industrial behemoth and number-two polluter: going its own way.

Does it have to be said? There is only one way. Only one Earth, only one home. A blue-green marble spinning in space. A reclaimed farm, a re-meandered stream. A deeply grooved old cottonwood growing up from the middle of a marsh. An Ohio field, expectant, on a June afternoon. A childhood summer. A childhood of summers, long past yet flowing on and on.

I came home Saturday dirty and a little tired. I wished I’d been able to join the second group as well, which walked the property talking about soils. Community Solutions has big plans for soil remediation. What I saw of the current fields, conventionally farmed for decades, was discouraging: the ground was dry, cracked, weed-ridden, with last year’s broken corn cobs and stalks crunching in a grisly rubble underfoot. But soon the fields will be planted with cover crops, a small step toward rebuilding soils, then farmed sustainably using different and ingenious methods to produce food and enrich, not deplete, the earth.

Such farming is an act of love, I think. 

On Saturday I felt that love, which as much as the day’s heat made me to want to sink deep into the earth’s ooze. I didn’t, at least not literally. But my heart, clenched since last Thursday’s climate agreement news, became less stone, more bird. I watched the slow creek, the grass and trees, the faces of my fellow walkers and the daytime stars of cottonwood seeds, drifting over all of us.

Wherever we were going, we were already home.

Make Our Soil Great Again

Written by David R. Montgomery

Originally posted on theconversation.com

Most of us don’t think much about soil, let alone its health. But as Earth Day approaches, it’s time to recommend some skin care for Mother Nature. Restoring soil fertility is one of humanity’s best options for making progress on three daunting challenges: Feeding everyone, weathering climate change and conserving biodiversity. 

Widespread mechanization and adoption of chemical fertilizers and pesticides revolutionized agriculture. But it took a hidden toll on the soil. Farmers around the world have already degraded and abandoned one-third of the world’s cropland. In the United States, our soils have already lost about half of the organic matter content that helped make them fertile.

What is at stake if we don’t reverse this trend? Impoverished trouble spots like Syria, Libya and Iraq are among the societies living with a legacy of degraded soil. And if the world keeps losing productive farmland, it will only make it harder to feed a growing global population.

But it is possible to restore soil fertility, as I learned traveling the world to meet farmers who had adopted regenerative practices on large commercial and small subsistence farms while researching my new book, Growing A Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life. From Pennsylvania to the Dakotas and from Africa to Latin America, I saw compelling evidence of how a new way of farming can restore health to the soil, and do so remarkably fast. 

Workshop on cover crops, weed management and no-till practices at the Stark Ranch in Gainesville, Texas. Noble Foundation /Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Workshop on cover crops, weed management and no-till practices at the Stark Ranch in Gainesville, Texas. Noble Foundation /Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

These farmers adopted practices that cultivate beneficial soil life. They stopped plowing and minimized ground disturbance. They planted cover crops, especially legumes, as well as commercial crops. And they didn’t just plant the same thing over and over again. Instead they planted a greater diversity of crops in more complex rotations. Combining these techniques cultivates a diversity of beneficial microbial and soil life that enhances nutrient cycling, increases soil organic matter, and improves soil structure and thereby reduces erosive runoff. 

Farmers who implemented all three techniques began regenerating fertile soil and after several years ended up with more money in their pocket. Crop yields and soil organic matter increased while their fuel, fertilizer, and pesticide use fell. Their fields consistently had more pollinators — butterflies and bees — than neighboring conventional farms. Using less insecticide and retaining native plants around their fields translated into more predatory species that managed insect pests. 

Innovative ranchers likewise showed me methods that left their soil better off. Cows on their farms grazed the way buffalo once did, concentrating in a small area for a short period followed by a long recovery time. This pattern stimulates plants to push sugary substances out of their roots. And this feeds soil life that in return provides the plants with things like growth-promoting hormones and mineral nutrients. Letting cows graze also builds soil organic matter by dispersing manure across the land, rather than concentrating it in feedlot sewage lagoons. 

USDA/Wikipedia

USDA/Wikipedia

Soil organic matter is the foundation of the soil food web, and the consensus among scientists I talked with was that soil organic matter is the single best indicator of soil health. How much carbon could the world’s farmers and ranchers park underground through soil building practices that incorporate plant residue and stimulate microbial activity? Estimates vary widely, but farmers I visited had more than doubled the carbon content of their soil over a decade or two. If farmers around the world did this, it could help partially offset fossil fuel emissions for decades to come. 

Soil restoration will not solve world hunger, stop climate change, or prevent further loss of biodiversity. No single thing can solve these problems. But the innovative farmers I met showed me that adopting the full suite of conservation agriculture practices can provide a better livelihood and significant environmental benefits on conventional and organic farms alike. 

Restoring fertility to degraded agricultural soils is one of humanity’s most pressing and under-recognized natural infrastructure projects, and would pay dividends for generations to come. It’s time for a moonshot-like effort to restore the root of all prosperous civilizations: Our soil, the skin of the Earth.

Tough Thinking for Urgent Action

Climate Cooling Front and Center

Written by Community Solutions Fellow Peter Bane

 

Climate change looms before us an existential threat dwarfing by several orders of magnitude the change of government recently enacted by an enfeebled political system in the United States. Stable climate has given rise to agriculture and human civilization, and the climate, along with the atmosphere, oceans, and biosphere that together regulate it, are the greatest global commons, one we must protect at all costs.

As concerned citizens of the world, and as permaculture designers, we are obliged to think systematically about the problems we face, the resources we can bring to bear on them, and the outcomes we seek. To begin a conversation on strategic objectives, I propose an inverted variation of the familiar SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. We will find it much more clarifying to put Threats first, as these are daunting, and to take the sequence in reverse.

The Threats are to world peace, contemporary civilization, and the health and well-being of the human population. Also under threat are most forms of higher life on the planet, along with the ecosystems that sustain them. The deep cause is human activity, both its extent and its nature. The proximate cause is massive disruption of the climate, rising sea levels, and consequent displacement of human and other populations.

 

    The Threats take three specific forms, which I will discuss below, and a fourth is implied.

1. Extreme climate events are increasing in frequency and intensity.

    Anthropogenic heating of the globe is underway, initiated 7,000 years ago during the expansion of agriculture by early Eurasian civilizations and massively accelerated during the industrial era. (1) Fire, drought, and crop failures in Russia; record temperatures of 129°F in Pakistan followed by immense flooding. Fires alternating with biblical-scale floods in the Amazon. The Western Hemisphere’s largest city, Sao Paolo, running out of water for 23 million. These are markers on the road toward a world we can scarcely imagine and may not survive.

    The period during which all of agriculture and civilization arose is a short interval in the much longer but still geologically insignificant lifespan of Homo hubris/sapiens. What few realize is that the past 10,000 years offered temperate and stable climate conditions suitable for the cultivation of crops on a large scale and that most of the previous 3 million years did not. Our agriculture is an artifact of our climate, and without it is likely to fail. Plants may be engineered to resist pesticides, but there is no genetic memory to resist 50°C/122°F temperatures.

    Wild fires, drought, flooding, massive storms, and the dislocation of pollinators and other phenology compound the degradation of soils to threaten widespread crop failures. In 2012, 63% of U.S. counties reached levels of extreme drought by the end of the growing season, leading to a dramatic fall in yields. If this repeats at five-year intervals, famine will spread. Drought has already affected dozens of countries in Africa and Asia, and compounded by run-of-the-mill political ineptitude, led directly to the collapse of a relatively modern society in Syria. While the U.S. media audience sat mesmerized by the rantings of a demagogue during the past year, a billion tons of carbon from dried and burning peat bogs went into the atmosphere across Indonesia where more than 200 million people were barely able to see through the smoke. (2)

    Global heating is also leading to a rise in sea levels that threatens the half of human population living within 50 miles of the ocean. Dislocations are certain to spread as the trickle of refugees we see today becomes a flood.

2. The climate system has momentum that makes action urgent in this decade.

    Ice core data show that the climate can switch directions abruptly, and that despite its apparent robustness, may be vulnerable to rapid change from forcing or positive feedback loops such as methane releases from melting permafrost, Arctic warming due to reduced snow and sea ice cover (lower albedo), and loss of vegetative cover in semi-arid regions. Much of the political questioning about climate change has festered during a period when the oceans have been absorbing both carbon dioxide and much of the heat load imposed by human activity. At some point which we cannot predict, but which might happen soon, this will reverse and the curve of heating may accelerate further. The rate of carbon dioxide additions to the atmosphere is increasing year after year, and biosystems are being degraded. Ecological footprint measurements suggest that humanity is overdrawing natural capital regeneration by at least 50% each year with no suggestion that this will reverse. (3) This clearly cannot continue as the underlying life systems will drop below critical thresholds in extent and vitality, leading directly to rapid collapse. A critical test, which we should not like to witness, will be the conversion of the Amazon basin from a carbon sink (where CO2 is being absorbed at greater rates than released) to a carbon source (from fires and dessication). Ironically, widespread fires may be followed (or preceded) by unprecedented flooding as occurred in Acre state in Brazil in 2012 and 2015. (4) The scale of ecological disruption is increasing.

3. The human response has been achingly slow, and on its present course will remain inadequate for many decades.

    Carbon dioxide emissions (along with methane and other “minor” greenhouse gases) have been targeted as the driver of global heating, yet we have not succeeded in reducing their output globally nor for any major portion of the world for more than a few quarters or years associated with severe economic retrenchment. Russia reduced CO2 output after the Soviet Union collapsed. (5) The US reduced emissions during 2009 and for a short time afterward as deep recession set in. (6) The pressures to continue using fossil fuel are immense, and the conversion to renewable energies, while accelerating, is decades from reaching critical mass.

    Worse, even if carbon dioxide emissions were to end tomorrow, the planet would continue to warm from effects not yet registered by the climate system, and to do so for about 30 more years. (7) We are just now experiencing the climate heating effects of the 1980s, before a full quarter of the fossil fuel ever used by humans was released (1990-2010; thank you very much Mssrs. Bush and Clinton! -8)

3a. We do not have time for an orderly (business-as-usual) retreat from the Growth Economy, so technological “fixes” will be advanced as climate shocks hit hard.

    While hidden in plain sight now, when the implications of the first three threats are made undeniable by events, this threat will emerge as the first three synergize: technocrats and the usual cast of elite terrorists will promote geoengineering openly. At present, 20 years of artificial cloud cover in the form of chemical hazes dispersed by airplanes has introduced a measure of global dimming (supported by the discharge of industrial pollutants into the atmosphere) without either reducing heating or inducing rainfall. It remains a conspiracy of military and political insiders firmly marked “taboo” for the media. (Just look up for the grids in the sky…) When simultaneous climate-linked crises converge and the public’s fear is aroused, worse will be cooked up, and a drumbeat of demands for technological salvation will overwhelm reasonable voices. This cannot have a good outcome.

    Whether the spider pilots are presently releasing aluminum and barium (toxic to soils, implicated in dementia) or coal fly ash (mercury, arsenic, and tiny particulates harmful to the lungs) matters little compared to what will be inflicted upon us if nothing is done to turn the temperature down. Think quack medicine on a planetary scale.

    The conclusion from the Threats we face is that we must think differently about the situation and we must do so with urgent clarity, because these Threats undermine the human future. They certainly hold the prospect of famine and social collapse. The latter will make any kind of orderly response to climate change very difficult. You can be sure that nothing proactive or positive for the environment or society is going on in Syria today. The problems of Syria will metastasize if the climate system is not healed.

    We can also conclude that a different approach than the reduction of carbon emissions must be found and undertaken with all deliberate speed. This is not to say that we should not reduce emissions. There are good reasons enough to continue working on that problem, but we must leap over what is now a roadblock in our thinking to get at what might forestall extreme climate events, runaway change in the climate system, and geoengineering as a maniacal last gasp of self-destruction by Homo economicus.

 

    This points us toward Opportunities.

4. Climate negotiators have accepted a new paradigm.

    The Paris Agreement (Conference of the Parties or COP-21) introduced three simple words, backed by 193 governments, “Net Zero Emissions.” This means that the parties, virtually all of the world’s governments, agree to set goals that converge on eliminating the annual net release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases by their societies. “Net” means that carbon drawdown is now on the table, along with emissions reductions. Though the nominal targets and the mechanisms of CO2 reduction are too little and too slow (for reasons we examined in #3 above), the corner has been turned in our thinking. (9)

    Charles Keeling’s famous rising sawtooth graph of CO2 levels in the atmosphere (from which we get the 350.org campaign, and the current levels of 400 ppm, etc) were generated from readings high atop Mauna Loa in the remote Pacific. They show annual increases of CO2 of about 7ppm each November, and annual decreases of about 5ppm each May. (10) Guess what! The large vegetated land masses of the Northern Hemisphere (the Southern Hemisphere is mostly ocean) draw down carbon by photosynthesis during the spring and summer, and this drawdown exceeds the ongoing rate of emissions by human activity for the period of green growth. Winter brings a ratcheting up of CO2 as vegetation decays, industrial carbon releases accelerate with heating loads, and total photosynthesis wanes, limited to the much smaller land masses of South America, southern Africa, and Australia.

    A major opportunity exists to draw down carbon by extending the area and longevity of green growth across the planet. Furthermore, the world’s governments have agreed that this is part of their covenant with each other, and that such efforts will be advanced and supported.

5. Land degradation is far advanced on historic timescales, and must be dramatically reversed to ensure supplies of food and water, and to prevent fire and flood. This is our invitation to cool the climate simultaneously.

    Land repair can happen quickly and affordably if the right thinking is put to work in the right places. and it offers huge benefits. Many small actions can have a broadscale effect on regional economies, hydrology, and cumulatively on the climate system.

    The regeneration of biosystems will result in accelerated sequestering of carbon from the atmosphere into soils and vegetation where it will have forcing effects on water storage capacity, buffering of rainfall extremes, soil fertility (and thus human nutrition), and net agricultural and forest productivity. The process should also directly address unemployment by creating millions of jobs. At a deeper level, it is likely to reduce conflict and mental illness, while increasing physical and emotional health among human populations as people are put to paid and meaningful work in nature.

    Some 8 billion ha (20 billion acres) of forests grew up in the wake of retreating glaciers within the last 13,000 years, along with 5 billion ha  (12.5 billion acres) of grasslands. These have been degraded by human activities to about 3 billion ha (7.5 billion) of forests, of which about half are primary and the rest poorer regrowth, 5 billion ha of agricultural lands of low primary productivity and impoverished soils, and 5 billion ha of man-made deserts. (11) (For perspective, the area of the continental US is about 2 billion ha or 5 billion acres.) The crisis/opportunity is widespread and massive. Agriculture and urbanization are contributing to drying of the land (through artificial drainage and careless practices) on a scale that significantly impacts sea level rise. Water is increasingly in short supply.

    Needed for its own sake and for its many immediate, local, and practical effects, biosystems regeneration is the one great economic sector able to sustain growth in the coming decades as it does not depend on dwindling resources. By mobilizing under- and unemployed workers applying minimal toolkits and tiny amounts of fossil fuel for some machinery to deploy locally available resources of wood, stone, earth, and brush, land repair can catalyze and support local economic renewal around the world. (12)

6. Large-scale funding is being mobilized for investments in climate mitigation.

    While the big numbers thrown around during the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009 were not substantiated, a quieter move is now underway, growing out of the COP-22 discussion just concluded in Marrakech, Morocco. Funds on the order of $10 billion per year are being lined up for distribution through the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environmental Facility, both U.N.-associated agencies operating under the climate and biosphere regulatory agreements that began to emerge in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. While these mechanisms are imperfect, they have the backing of large numbers of countries, including the British Commonwealth and much of the E.U.

    The Net Zero Emissions provision of the Paris Agreement came forward with the strong support of the Commonwealth countries (53 nations) and France, which hosted the talks. This group’s representatives are now actively seeking consultation and guidance from experienced permaculture designers. (13) It is a valuable door, now opened, to direct funding toward biosystems regeneration with the express aim of locking up and drawing down carbon. It will have the effect of fostering market pricing of carbon, which will in turn make funds available for such initiatives as carbon farming, forest conservation, and land repair.

    In addition, private capital is moving toward climate mitigation in the form of social investments and profit-oriented projects with positive climate spinoffs.

    Though the Threats are grave, new thinking has emerged to enable new and widely distributed action. However, the focus remains directed at carbon targets, with their very slow response time (in human terms and in terms of the climate urgency).

 

    Our Weaknesses should give us pause as we contemplate how to apply ourselves to the dilemmas created by these Threats and Opportunities.

7. Atmospheric carbon reduction is needed, not merely reduced emissions, but more urgent still is mitigation of extreme climate events. A more complete paradigm of environmental stewardship and action is required.

    Despite ample evidence that global warming is leading to weather-related economic disasters with downstream effects that are destabilizing societies, and in the face of numerous careful studies, computer simulations, and a consensus of scientific opinion that the second half of the 21st century will be fraught with enormous problems, governments and the public have remained fixed on carbon emissions reductions (whether in favor or opposed)—and now have just begun to admit that carbon drawdown can help. They fail to see that the dangers lie in extreme events, whether these are single massive storms such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, Hurricane Katrina on the US Gulf Coast in 2005, or Superstorm Sandy in New York in 2012, or seasonal or prolonged droughts (Russia, the Middle East, the Sahel), vast recurring fires as occur in SE Asia, Australia, and the Amazon, or recent catastrophic floods (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia). This comes from a hubris borne of technological power and inculcated over several generations.

    The grinding, disruptive force of nature cannot be stopped by nuclear weapons or fleets of warships, only by millions of human hands and eyes, and by a new thinking that sees nature as our ally. Seawalls to protect coastal infrastructure are unaffordable outside a few globally critical ports, and will soon enough be breached if runaway heating proceeds without interruption. Cloud seeding, desalinization of seawater, and all the madcap schemes to divert distant rivers and lakes or to pump aquifers deeper cannot reverse drought generated by planetary climate conditions so long as the same thinking leading to the same behaviors that have created the problems continues.

    As writers from Sir Albert Howard to J. Russell Smith to Aldo Leopold and Bill Mollison have eloquently argued, we need a new land ethic and a new agriculture. Our farming, forestry, and city building activities are destroying soil carbon, disrupting water cycles, and consuming forests in a seemingly endless downward spiral. The climate dislocations, which began with agriculture 7,000 years ago, are still tied closely to its propagation across ever larger areas.

    The deadly dangers of flood, drought, and fire make headlines, but ongoing soil erosion, which is a precursor of all of these and threatens human survival no less, gets little attention. The lever for moving all these colossal problems lies in the landscape-level management of water to regulate and smooth the flow of runoff from farm, forest, and town lands. A vast array of micro-engineering works are needed to check flood flows, trap sediments, collect and hold biomass, and allow water to infiltrate to soil and water tables to ensure steady, year-round soil moisture for critical revegetation with brush and trees. Big dams are nominally about flood control, but in reality are a chiefly schemes to regulate river levels for shipping and to generate electricity. The flooding of valuable lowlands which they bring can scarcely be tolerated any longer in a world short of cropland. In any case, the answers begin to be found in the upper parts of catchments.

    Restoring water cycles requires deepening of soils, the growth of forests and shelterbelts, and extending and prolonging green growth on millions of barren and degraded acres of crop- and wasteland. This is work for millions of small teams and crews working in local communities everywhere.

    Of critical importance to global climate systems are local actions that restore forest cover continuously from coastlines to continental interiors. While the scientific community continues to test and challenge their findings, the work of two Russian scientists: Makarieva and Gorshkov, published in the last decade, persuasively argues that coastal forests create low pressure by transpiration, which draws in moisture-laden sea air. (14) They have termed this effect ‘the biotic pump.’ This moisture is in turn passed along to the atmosphere and to more interior forests which continue to draw it in, down, and back up again. Addressing drought in continental interiors requires continuous bands of forested land to harvest, re-transpire, and seed the rain.

    Precipitation over land is primarily a result of raindrop and snowflake nucleation around microbes produced in the stomata of tree leaves. Salts and ice crystals contribute as well, especially over the oceans and very cold regions, but we can influence the production of these critical microbial precipitation nuclei over land by planting and nurturing forests. Willie Smits in Borneo has demonstrated this by restoring forest cover to degraded palm oil plantations in Borneo (15), while Stoy at U. of Montana has documented that the spread of cover and cash crops on land that formerly lay fallow in the Dakotas and adjacent territory in Canada has led to long-term increases in soil moisture and rainfall. (16)

    If water is retained on land by building the soil-carbon sponge and restoring forests and grasslands, moisture can move gently up and down in place, reducing runoff peaks and cooling whole regions by increasing high-albedo cloud cover and regular precipitation. This in turn will mitigate the violent movement of large amounts of water from the sea toward the land, dangers that continue to mount in recent years with never-before-seen “atmospheric rivers” (17) and unprecedented storms leading to tidal surges and widescale flooding.

    We will examine some of the tools needed for this work below.

8. Climate science, by emphasizing the effects of CO2, methane, and the minor GHGs, has focused public attention on the wrong targets.

    Disingenous arguments backed by corporate money and advanced by paid shills have muddied the water of climate science too long, but these openly fraudulent efforts have been partly enabled by a failure of scientific consensus to embrace a more complete paradigm of climate science. Faced with evidence of global warming, and pressed for answers by governments, scientists from the 1970s (18), later reified by prestigious research institutions (19), advanced the thesis that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, acting as a greenhouse gas, forced global warming. The relatively minor but increasing contributions of greenhouse gases (GHG) CO2, methane, halocarbons (CFCs, etc.), and nitrous oxides were understood to trigger slight increases in temperature which in turn led to increased capacity of the atmosphere to hold water vapor, itself the primary greenhouse gas. Water in three phases and in continuous circulation, was too complex to model in the 1970s. It’s probably too complex to model via computer simulation today. It was also too complicated and expensive to monitor effectively, while the relatively rare gas CO2, which molecule for molecule has a greater effect than water vapor, was more uniformly distributed, and could, from the right vantage point, be effectively tracked.

    Just as arguments raged for decades about whether human land use might contribute to carbon in the atmosphere, only to be settled scientifically in the last few years (3) and politically in the last 12 months, so the failure to acknowledge human impacts on water in the atmosphere has clouded the picture of global warming. Water vapor, through phase changes, the release of latent heat by evapotranspiration from plants and soils, by convection from the ground to the upper atmosphere, through cloud formation (with albedo or reflective effects on incoming solar radiation), and the ability or failure of ecosystems to condense precipitation nuclei have immense impacts on weather, climate, and global temperatures, to say nothing of water on the 70% of Earth’s surface that is ocean, absorbing vast amounts of heat and distributing it around the planet. Humans have very much affected atmospheric moisture by the dessicating effects of our agriculture and urbanization, and more broadly by our degradation of ecosystems (draining wetlands, cutting forests).

9. We have failed to mobilize the whole of society in the titanic effort to restore balance to Earth’s climate and biosphere.

    The failure to consider adequately the 95% of planetary heat dynamics regulated by water, left the scientific consensus open to sniping criticisms. Carbon dioxide even at double current concentrations is in no way is a dangerous pollutant threatening human health directly, and it may even improve plant photosynthesis under some circumstances. (Of course global warming on its present course is a huge threat to human health and even survival.) Thus, the EPA’s stretch of its statutory authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate power plants has become a political football in part because the logic was limiting.

    If we wish to accelerate action on climate change, we need to engage the critics on viable common ground and argue the case on the strongest practical as well as scientific bases. If we can address climate skeptics with arguments that do not immediately present an existential threat to their interests, we are far likelier to gain support. If business can quantify the costs of using fossil fuels (as carbon offsets that will in fact draw down more than the CO2 released), it can accommodate the needs of climate mitigation within a familiar market framework. Scores of major corporations have already begun such planning, with estimated per-ton costs of carbon mitigation in the range of $62. (20) We need to be ready to provide those services in ways that actually address the Threats.

 

    Our Weaknesses, as so many things considered through the permaculture lens, also point to potential Strengths.

10. We have powerful, simple, and inexpensive solutions available to repair land, stop erosion, build soil, and regenerate water cycles, vegetation, and biodiversity.

    President Franklin Delano Roosevelt put millions to work through the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration to repair landscapes and infrastructure across the United States during the New Deal era of the 30s. Many of the earthen structures: swales, terraces, infiltration pits and ponds, as well as the bridges, culverts, forest trails, and more that these agencies built are still in place, working quietly to regulate stream flow and improve conditions for people and wildlife. More recently, the Slovak Republic undertook a pilot program of waterworks to similar purposes in 2010-2011. (21) Modern documentation of that effort, with color photos, text, and web dissemination makes widely available a dizzying array of creative, low-cost solutions to flooding and erosion in agricultural, forested, and urban landscapes of that small central European country. These are national-scale examples within current and recent historical time. Smaller efforts are ongoing in a multitude of regions, unremarked but no less effective. Bill Mollison and Hugo Schiechtl have described many of the same techniques and methods as used in Slovakia in great detail, and have gone beyond the European context to address dryland and tropical regions too. (22) Permaculture designers have gathered traditional knowledge from East Lansing to Ethiopia about what works to repair damaged lands, restore water supplies, and improve agriculture.

    The demonstrated systems are effective (Slovak installations of 2010 withstood tremendous flooding pressures in 2011 and came through in good shape with obviously mitigating effects on local and downstream areas). They are also cheap, can be made in large measure with local materials, and often do not require machinery—though it can be helpful on large projects. Wood, stone, and bamboo structures, gabions and check dams, earthen dams, dikes, polders, balks, terraces, and contour ditches can be created quickly and without specialized tools or materials. They can endure for generations and so represent excellent investments. Water slowed down and infiltrated to soils and groundwater becomes available to sustain more plant growth for longer each season and to promote better transpiration, cooling, cloud formation, and rainfall. Water retained can grow trees and crops instead of the budgets of drainage engineers and sewer contractors.

    Nor are microengineering works the only approach, though these are directly and progressively restorative in damaged lands, and once installed can work passively for decades where no agriculture is presently sustainable. Where farming is active, cover crops, zero-tillage implements, elimination of fallow, intensive rotational grazing, polycultures, and a suite of agroforestry techniques (sylvopasture, alleycropping, and more) are available to improve yields and nutrition, build soil carbon, eliminate erosion, enhance profit, and support ecosystem services such as pollination, microclimate, and amenity.

    All these methods are proven and available, but are too little adopted because of institutional inertia, resistance by some corporate interests, and a lack of information by land managers.

11. Extensive grassroots networks are familiar with land repair tools and have the capacity to expand these practices rapidly by training teams of local workers.

    The concepts behind restoration waterworks are simple and the engineering required for success can be conveyed with simple models and diagrams. Initial oversight of crews can lead to team self-management within a short time. The diverse solutions implemented in the Slovakian experience testify to the wisdom that there is no one right way—a thousand flowers may bloom, or a thousand check dams, each different, may leak and hold at the same time—and all contribute to the wellbeing of the land. Specialized skills such as the use of earth-moving machinery, chainsaws, and the careful laying of masonry, are either widely distributed or can be organized in most regions. The scale of work supports amateur efforts, which can be both varied and surprisingly capable.

    The knowledge of intensive rotational grazing, of the timing and installation of agroforestry systems, and the specialized equipment needed for zero-tillage cultivation of crops are also well developed and widespread at this point, though still not practiced by enough farmers. A key insight from the Holistic Management movement, inspired by Allan Savory, lies is the development of self-help cells or small groups of practitioners in a region who can provide mutual support and regular learning to each other based on empirical findings of greatest relevance. (24)

    Drawing on these grassroots networks to stimulate the spread of skills and practice is equivalent to the decentralization of operational decisions by the US and British forces during WWII. While the war effort as a whole was directed with great precision from headquarters locations and at the highest strategic level, the solving of logistical problems, which were immense, fell on G.I.s and officers in every imaginable situation on the ground. The ingenuity, resilience, and positive attitude of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and support personnel made possible adaptive responses that were decisive as a whole.

    A similar urgency and reliance on the good sense and goodwill of ordinary people everywhere is now required to mobilize a full effort by humanity to secure its own survival.

12. The rich abundance of the fossil fuel era has enabled millions of ordinary people to learn new ways of thinking outside the box.

    Despite organized efforts over the past several decades to ‘dumb-down’ school students, and the pernicious influence of mass media, relative well-being in many societies since WWII has fostered the growth of free-thinking about environmental issues, science, land-use practice, and the social systems that arise from decisions about them. This freedom to innovate, to solve problems, and to engage the world and other people about matters of shared concern may be be our greatest strength.

    The open, democratic, and universal nature of permaculture design, both as a system of thought rooted in science and empiricism, and as a social movement without borders and with flat hierarchies, connects it to a vast array of parallel and allied movements for social and cultural betterment. It ensures the relatively free flow of information, accelerates learning, rewards useful innovation, and catalyzes internal motivations to organize untapped potentials within the human population. Learning, sharing, and working with others on matters of immediate and visceral concern go to the core of our humanity and our capacity for making culture.

    Centered in its concerns on food, nutrition, health, and the common property resources of the land, permaculture design and allied movements are part of a huge, and ultimately unstoppable movement for the transformation of culture. With strategic intervention and guidance at this point, humanity can limit the damage from climate change, begin immediately cooling the planet, and buy itself time to bring carbon levels in the atmosphere and carbon consumption in the economy down to safe levels.

 

Notes

1. http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Publications/PDF_Papers/Ruddiman2003.pdf

2. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/03/indonesias-forest-fires-what-you-need-to-know

3. http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/footprint_basics_overview/

4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgHpLLmjV5Q, https://robertscribbler.com/2015/06/26/its-not-just-sao-paulo-much-of-south-america-and-caribbean-sweltering-under-extreme-drought/

5. http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/emis/rus.html

6. http://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/pdf/0573%282009%29.pdf

7. https://skepticalscience.com/Climate-Change-The-40-Year-Delay-Between-Cause-and-Effect.html

8. http://www.rmi.org/RFGraph-Fossil_fuels_global_production

9. Bates, Albert K., The Paris Agreement. 2015.

10. https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/full.html

11. http://www.esd.ornl.gov/projects/qen/nerc.html,

12. http://www.bridge.bris.ac.uk/resources/Databases/BIOMES_data

13. http://ecovillage.org/node/9501?utm_source=GEN+Newsletter&utm_campaign=2641e1f61b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2016_12_23&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_bfc230fd5a-2641e1f61b-25464405, accessed 12/23/16.

14. http://www.bioticregulation.ru/pump/pump7.php

15. https://www.ted.com/talks/willie_smits_restores_a_rainforest

16. http://www.northernmag.net/AGNews/AgNewsStories/Tabld/657/

ArtMID/2927/ArticleID/6351/MSU-Researcher-Who-Linked-Farming-Technique-to-Cooler-Temps-Wins-Award.aspx

17. https://weather.com/science/weather-explainers/news/atmospheric-river-explained#/!

18. http://ruby.fgcu.edu/courses/twimberley/EnviroPhilo/ThermalEqu.pdf

19. http://www.geraldbarney.com/Global_2000_Report/G2000-Eng-GPO/G2000_Vol1_GPO.pdf

20. http://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/22Nov2013-CDP-InternalCarbonPriceReprt.pdf, and subsequent reports

21. http://www.ludiaavoda.sk/data/files/44_kravcik-after-us-the-desert-and-the-deluge.pdf (readers may have difficulty in downloading from this link). Kravcik’s work is outlined in this 2007 paper: http://www.waterparadigm.org/indexen.php?web=./home/homeen.html, though the Slovak government’s water programme was funded through the EU in 2010-11. References to it may be found here: http://nwrm.eu/source/after-us-desert-and-deluge

22. Schiechtl, Hugo. Bioengineering for Land Reclamation and Conservation. 1980., Mollison, B. Permaculture Designers Manual. 1988.

All web references accessed 12/23/16.

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Stock hedges, home insurance, and our misunderstanding of risk

Written by Community Solutions Fellow, Kurt Cobb

Originally posted resourceinsights.blogspot.com 

"If you own stocks without a hedge, it's not rational." So says the world's most famous student of risk Nassim Nicholas Taleb in a recent interview with Bloomberg as many of the world's stock markets hover near all-time highs. "It's like buying a house without insurance," he explained. "We have tail risks today that we didn't have before, and every day it gets worse."

"Tail risks" refer to the possibility of unusual, rare, catastrophic events, often of a nature that cannot be anticipated or even imagined. Such events are frequently dubbed black swans, a term made famous by Taleb's book called The Black Swan.

So, what is the perceived difference between houses and stocks and what does that tell us about how we judge risks elsewhere in our lives and societies? First, houses. Houses are very expensive consumer items or investments or both, depending who is buying them and why. Taleb's point is that the value of a house will not track the market if the house burns down.

Every homeowner understands this and buys insurance. In fact, the bank requires insurance if the home has a mortgage. And, that's because, of course, homes don't rebuild themselves if they are destroyed.

The companies underlying stock listings, however, are not obliterated by a market crash. Of course, some companies may disappear if the crash is followed by an economic downturn; but the thousands of companies that make up the exchanges do not all evaporate.

Stocks have historically recovered after losses, even extreme losses. So, the hedging Taleb is suggesting is really about timing. Can an investor afford to wait for the rebound before having to cash in? If Taleb's concerns are borne out in the next few years, many near retirement or already retired may be answering this question.

(The history of stock markets reveals a mixed picture. Some rebounds to previous highs have occurred within months or years. Some have taken decades. The Japanese stock market has yet to revisit the peak of 1989 and currently stands at about half the level of that peak.)

With housing and stocks we have two different kinds of risk, both of which can be hedged so as to prevent a severe loss of net worth. Why do most people only hedge one, namely the home?

Now, most investors diversify their investments. They own some stocks, some bonds, some real estate and perhaps some other investment such as a business they control or an annuity. While diversification, if done properly, can reduce risk, it is not true hedge.

Hedges are designed to go up in value in inverse relation to the decline in value of the instruments they are hedging. Owning gold as a hedge against a stock market crash may or may not work. Gold is not a true hedge in this instance and in the last market crash, it plummeted along with stocks. Stock options that necessarily rise in value as stocks sink are a true hedge.

Of course, homeowners insurance does not insure us against a decline in real estate prices. It turns out that one can actually now hedge that risk with the appropriate financial instruments. But few people do that for their family homes. In fact, people rarely envision having to sell their homes for less than they bought them.

It is this one-way bias that links people's perceptions of both homes and stocks. It is almost inconceivable that any of us might be forced to accept catastrophic losses if only we can hang on long enough. What this view presupposes is that the future will look like the recent past (that is, the last century or so). It will be one of growth, growth, growth. Growth in population. Growth in economic output. Growth in financial wealth. Growth in the energy supplies needed to make all the other growth happen.

It would indeed be a black swan if growth failed to appear or was so stunted that few people obtained any benefits from it. (Has the second scenario already arrived?) But the twin crises of energy depletion and climate change make such a future ever more likely. These crises aren't hidden and they aren't cyclical. They are advancing in such a way that the risks of both are not staying neatly tucked under the "tails" of the bell-shaped distribution curve of possible outcomes. Our current actions make them inevitable.

Things could change. Human societies could revolutionize the way they live so as to avert disastrous climate change or fossil fuel depletion (that is, depletion without adequate alternative energy). But, it seems that such a revolution would be more akin to a black swan than any rendezvous with energy or climate Armageddon.

We've convinced ourselves as a world society that such outcomes are so unlikely that we are making what amount to token efforts to avert them. Renewable energy is being deployed rapidly, but not rapidly enough to replace the current fossil fuel infrastructure soon enough to prevent a climate catastrophe (and perhaps an energy insufficiency).

There is no insurance policy that will protect us against catastrophic climate change. We cannot get our habitable climate back on any time scale that matters to humans once it's gone. The insurance policy is us, that is, changes in our behavior and our technology done quickly enough to matter. There is no other hedge that will help us.

A Conversation with Helena Norberg-Hodge

This audio clip was a conversation between Helena Norberg-Hodge & Charles Eisenstein, both of whom will be speakers at the Community Solutions 2017 Economics of Happiness Conference.

It was originally published on CharlesEisenstein.net

This is a conversation with the political thinker and activist Helena Norberg-Hodge. She had a huge radicalizing influence on my political thinking through her film Ancient Futures. By "radical" I don't mean the usual leftist politics. Helena is a tireless advocate for re-localization, the reclaiming of the commons, and the importance of direct participation in community. She is deeply insightful in linking these to global issues. Having spent decades in Ladakh, she is also one of the first to integrate traditional and indigenous world-views into a coherent critique of techno-industrial society, finance, and politics. Her work has been a great source of nourishment to me in unfolding a vision of a more beautiful world. I hope you enjoy this conversation we recorded in the fall of 2016 in England.

Click here to hear the audio clip