What's Right with the Youth Today?

Written by Community Solutions Miller Fellow Scott Montgomery

I have been disheartened lately because of the messages I have been hearing about my generation. As a Millennial, I have been bombarded with messages describing us as cry-bullies, narcissists, lacking grit, and  having a poor work ethic. Millennials are thought of as the unfortunate result of participation trophies and the self-esteem movement. I find myself internalizing these criticisms and wondering if we are all doomed. As Millennials have reached adulthood, this narrative describing them as a self-obsessed, social-media generation has persisted. This ignores the fact that Millennials created the revolution that is social media and have rewritten the rules of marketing, politics, community organizing and countless institutions. In fact, Millennials have disrupted the majority of the institutions they have come into contact with. As Joel Stein wrote in Time magazine:

 "They are the most threatening and exciting generation since the baby boomers brought about social revolution, not because they’re trying to take over the Establishment but because they’re growing up without one.”

 While the fight to stop climate change has begun already, Millennials and Generation Z will lead the charge, and if people judged these generations by media representations, they could expect some awesome selfies of the apocalypse.

However, on a trip to Hayward Middle School in Springfield, OH, I was blown away by the capabilities of the youth I encountered who turned these stereotypes upside-down. Through the Energy Navigators Program, Community Solutions assists Springfield Promise Neighborhood in administering an after school program at HMS. On this afternoon I had been invited to film a Yellow Springs High School student presenting a working prototype of a Stirling Engine he had built. A Stirling Engine is a motor with a piston pushed by air pressure. He walked me through how a solar concentrator could be attached to make the engine carbon free. The design process was indeed complicated and his first effort did not succeed. The second iteration worked beautifully.

Stirling Engine

Stirling Engine

As the engine whirred, this bright young engineer elaborated on how he perfected his design by watching YouTube videos. The confluence of technology and young inquisitive minds has the potential to be the recipe for reversing climate change. The icing on this proverbial cake was the ease in which this young man communicated what he had created to his middle school audience. In turn, these middle school students were a captive audience and asked insightful questions. 

After listening to the demonstration of the Stirling engine, the middle schoolers moved on to building rocket stoves, a super-efficient heating source for cooking. After this, they showed off a compost pile they had built and explained the composting process. These youth were not only interested in the project, but they were actively creating a more sustainable environment around them. With a solid educational foundation and room to be creative, these students are thriving. As they reach adulthood, Millennials and Generation Z will create a new culture, one that could mitigate climate change.

Rocket Stove

Rocket Stove

Rather than observe and wonder what's wrong with kids these days, we might  ask a different question: What's right with these kids? Different questions lead to different answers. Millennials are sometimes disparagingly referred to as Generation Why. While intended to be a dig, I take pride in this designation. As a group Millennials are asking Why? and when they find the answers inadequate, they take responsibility for finding solutions.

See a clip of the Stirling Engine in action!

We need Regenerative Farming Not Geoengineering

Originally posted on charleseisenstein.org

Written by Charles Eisentstein

Geoengineering has been back in the news recently after the US National Research Council endorsed a proposal to envelop the planet in a layer of sulphate aerosols to reduce solar radiation and cool the atmosphere.

The proposal has been widely criticised for possible unintended consequences, such as ozone depletion, ocean acidification and reduced rainfall in the tropics. Perhaps even more troubling, geoengineering is a technological fix that leaves the economic and industrial system causing climate change untouched.

The mindset behind geoengineering stands in sharp contrast to an emerging ecological, systems approach taking shape in the form of regenerative agriculture. More than a mere alternative strategy, regenerative agriculture represents a fundamental shift in our culture’s relationship to nature.

Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralises soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertiliser runoff.

But these methods are slow, expensive and impractical in feeding a growing population, right?

Wrong. While comprehensive statistics are hard to come by, yields from regenerative methods often exceed conventional yields (see here and here for scientific research, and here and here for anecdotal examples). Likewise, since these methods build soil, crowd out weeds and retain moisture, fertiliser and herbicide inputs can be reduced or eliminated entirely, resulting in higher profits for farmers. No-till methods can sequester as much as a ton of carbon per acre annually (2.5 tons/hectare). In the US alone, that could amount to nearly a quarter of current emissions.

Estimates of the total potential impact vary. Rattan Lal of Ohio State University argues that desertified and otherwise degraded soils could sequester up to 3bn tons of carbon per year (equal to 11bn tons of CO2, or nearly one third of current emissions). Other experts foresee even greater potential. According to research at the Rodale Institute, if instituted universally, organic regenerative techniques practiced on cultivated land could offset over 40% of global emissions, while practicing them on pasture land could offset 71%.

That adds up to land-based CO2 reduction of over 100% of current emissions – and that doesn’t even include reforestation and afforestation, which could offset another 10-15%, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Of course, none of this is license to perpetuate a fossil fuel infrastructure, since there is an eventual limit to the amount of carbon that soil and biomass can store.

Read More on the Guardian's Website

Why You Can't Argue With a Modern

Originally posted on resource.insights.blogspot.com

Written by Community Solutions Fellow Kurt Cobb

The modern world is filled with things many of us regard as antiquated and old-fashioned. Modern people often say that ancient rituals are mere superstition, that science tells us what is real and what is not, and that we are now free from ideas including untestable ideas from religion that have slowed continual improvement in the lot of average humans.

That the modern outlook has all the hallmarks of a religion never occurs to a thoroughly modern person (whom I'll refer to merely as a "modern"). A modern believes that the modern outlook is above and outside all superstition and groundless belief. In effect, the modern outlook is a myth that does not believe it is a myth.

In using the word "myth," I do not mean to label the modern outlook false. In this context myth is simply a narrative that outlines a worldview. It turns out that a myth of any vintage, ancient or modern, can be a powerful tool in motivating behavior, in explaining and manipulating the world, and in assigning meaning to human existence. And any myth of any vintage can turn out simply to be mistaken in some or all of its details.

The modern myth has some unique characteristics that make it particularly powerful and particularly dangerous at the same time. The modern myth tells us the following about the world and our place in it:

  1. Humans are in one category and nature is in another.
  2. Scale doesn't matter.
  3. History can be safely ignored since modern society has seen through the delusions of the past.
  4. Science is a unified, coherent field that explains the rational principles by which we can manage the physical world.

Let me take these claims one at a time.

First, let's see whether, in fact, humans are in one category and nature in another.

A key element of the modern narrative separates humans from nature. We humans are different for many reasons. We have speech. We use tools. We use abstractions to order the world. We plan for the future.

These presumed advantages have allowed us to become the dominant species in the biosphere. One measure of that dominance is what is called global human appropriation of net primary production (HANPP). Net primary production refers to the "net amount of biomass produced each year by plants." Humans appropriate biomass directly through their use of plants for food and fiber. They appropriate it indirectly through the consumption of domestic livestock and wild animals (mostly fish) which must, of course, feed on plants or other animals that in turn feed on plants.

Estimates of HANPP vary widely depending on who is counting and how. The most recent estimates range from 14 percent to 55 percent. But no matter how one estimates HANPP, the portion of the Earth's net primary production devoted to humans is truly remarkable for one species when we consider that there are an estimated 8.7 million species on Earth.

Still, just because one species is dominant does not mean that it is outside the natural world. And, in fact, the modern does not put the human body outside the natural world. The human body is the subject of rigorous scientific investigation through the discipline of biology and its many subdisciplines such as physiology, anatomy, and pharmacology to name just a few.

So, if our bodies are not in a category outside nature, then what part of humans separates them from nature? Well, our minds, of course. While no one can say precisely what it means to say humans have minds, we all know we have thoughts because we experience them. Extreme materialists will say that our thoughts are merely our perception of brain chemistry at work. Thoughts have no independent existence. If that's true, then the distinction between humans and nature falls apart.

Now, nature is a loaded word with a long history. We speak of "human nature," but don't mean necessarily our bodies so much as our social character. And, we usually mean it in a negative way.

Nature can be holy. It was and is to followers of nature religions. It can be something fallen and evil. It is in Christian tradition though that view has softened with the advent of the modern environmental movement. It has also changed as Christian teaching has evolved on human sexuality, long viewed as an evil part of human nature.

The adjective "natural" often signifies the property of not being man-made. It is getting harder to distinguish the two states as humans take over more and more of the biosphere. Humans raise livestock in specific ways and yet the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides a category for "natural" products from livestock. The climate is changing almost certainly because of human activities. Is the climate no longer a natural phenomenon?

Bruno Latour, the French sociologist of science, suggests that humans and nonhuman entities are all part of a connected network which he loosely refers to as the collective. In any case, those things which we thought distinguished us from the other animals are gradually falling away.

It turns out animal calls now appear to have characteristics of what we regard as language. And, elephants communicate with sophisticated sign language. Dolphins apparently have a "sono-pictorial" language of communication. And, they appear capable of using nouns and verbs to form intelligible sentences.

We now know that many animals use tools. Primates use tools. But so do non-primates such as sea otters which use rocks to crack the shells of edible seafood.

Crows have convincingly shown their ability to think abstractly. Primates and dogs can think abstractly, too.

And, it turns out some animals can plan for the future just like humans including apes and birds.

I am not making the case that humans are exactly like other animals in every respect, only that our oft-cited defining differences aren't differences after all. We share so many abilities and characteristics with other animals that it is difficult to conclude that we belong in a separate category. As such, we have no vantage point outside of the natural world from which we can hope to observe it objectively and know it completely. We are stuck inside that world and faced with the limitations of a participant/observer.

So, if we humans don't belong in a separate category, then we may very well be subject to many of the same constraints as animals. We humans are adapted to our environment in ways that have allowed us to become the dominate species; but the fossil record suggests that our dominance is likely to be a temporary phenomenon.

Whatever we call the category that includes humans and everything else, in an age of ecological understanding we would be foolish to pretend that we are separate from what we call the natural world and not subject to its laws.

Second, while our success as a species is undeniable, we conclude from this success a notion that may turn out to be fatal to us or at least to modern technical civilization.

The faulty conclusion we draw is that scale doesn't matter. Many modern readers have been dazzled by the analysis of writers such as Charles Mann, author of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, who argue that the presumption of a pristine landscape described by Europeans landing for the first time in the Americas is overdrawn. By that time indigenous peoples had altered the landscape in thoroughgoing and profound ways. From this Mann and others conclude that humans can continue this alteration without fear of taxing the physical environment in ways that might lead to civilizational collapse.

What Mann and others seem not to grasp is the problem of scale. Native populations in the Americas might well have been higher than previously estimated (about 25 million instead of 1 million) and their alteration of the landscape might have been greater than previously believed. But that does not mean that the more than 7 billion people now on Earth with their highly intensive extractive ways can continue live as we do indefinitely without risking systemic collapse. As a group we humans today put pressures on the environment that are orders of magnitude greater than those of the much smaller and less resource-intensive world population of the pre-Columbian era.

The scale of human exploitation of the biosphere already has altered the climate in ways which are believed to be potentially catastrophic to human civilization. In addition, fisheries are being depleted. Soil is being eroded as never before. Forests are being felled at unprecedented rates. And, all this is being done without a comprehensive understanding of the systemic effects on the environment and by extension on the viability of human civilization as it is currently constituted.

The old saw that "we will figure something out" is merely a statement of faith. And, any statement of absolute certainty about the future is religious by its very nature since in the realm of practical and scientific knowledge we cannot be absolutely certain of anything about the future.

Which brings us to supposition three of the modern: History can be safely ignored since modern society has seen through the delusions of the past. Here I am less concerned with recorded history than I am with archeology. Joseph Tainter, author of The Collapse of Complex Societies, shows us that highly advanced societies of the past make mistakes that lead to collapse.

His thesis is that while the proximate cause of some collapses has to do with climate change and/or resource depletion, the ultimate cause is the inability of complex societies to respond effectively to such challenges. Complexity, which initially is highly adaptive and successful, ultimately becomes a cause of collapse as societal systems become so complex that they are no longer capable of processing the information they receive from the environment effectively in order to take the necessary actions to avoid collapse.

The modern doesn't know this history or dismisses it as irrelevant since "we know better now." He or she asserts this even as complexity is piled upon complexity without solving our most urgent and perilous problem, climate change.

In the realm of political affairs, we had a passing fancy that history was ending when Francis Fukuyama told us in his book, The End of History and the Last Man, that liberal democracy would be the final form of governance for all humankind. The breakup of the Soviet Union and the fall of communism made some people believe that the end of ideology had arrived, that politics was no longer politics, but now a kind of science with one method, the liberal democratic method as currently defined.

And this brings us to the fourth claim of the modern that science is a unified, coherent field that explains the rational principles by which we can manage the physical world. Of course, science is no such thing. It is a loose set of disciplines employing widely varying techniques for various ends. It is true that the so-called scientific method has proven to be a powerful tool for harnessing the forces of nature for our purposes.

But the range of what we call science shows it to be a highly differentiated set of disciplines--sciences rather than science--with inconsistent and in some cases irreconcilable theories and practices. Field biology is science, but is it the same kind of science as the study of quantum mechanics? And quantum mechanics, a subdiscipline of physics dealing with the very small, continues to be at odds with general relativity, another subdiscipline of physics that describes gravity and thus the world of the very large. As it turns out, no one has been able to find a theory that would unify the two. They seem to work in very different ways.

Science by its very nature is open-ended. It draws conclusions from observations and from experiment. But it does not claim that any theories developed by scientists are the end of all theories. Quite the contrary, science in practice is about continual testing of hypotheses and theories. And, it is about altering our theories to match new observations.

As the tools of scientists reach farther into space, deeper into the oceans, and more minutely into the life of the cell and into the very basis of human life, the soil, scientists are realizing how little they know about the universe around us. The fact that we are finding so much more to study tells us that we only know the tiniest fraction of all there is.

The extent to which we have altered the biosphere without realizing it by using the technology that has flowed from our scientific understanding tells us how little we understand the complex systems around us.

The modern cannot find humility in the face of our ignorance and therefore cannot understand that in large part the scale of our human enterprises explains our current predicament.

The modern always has a "solution" to every big problem. It can be technological or it can be merely an appeal to faith in what he or she calls "progress." Somehow, modern humans are Houdinis who can collectively extract themselves from every fix before time runs out. Even if we have no answers to our major problems today, those answers will show up soon. Just wait!

This begs the question: If humans are so clever and if they've known about our major environmental problems for decades, then why do the indices by which we measure these problems keep getting worse? Why haven't humans solved these problems already with their cleverness?

Of course, there were those who four and even five decades ago called for rapid deployment of renewable energy, control of and even decline in human population, a move toward more sustainable agricultural and forestry methods, and an end to our consumerist culture. But their voices were drowned out by the moderns and their allies who could not accept the idea that there might be limits on what humans could take from the biosphere and dump into it.

And, to say that human welfare has improved over this period only speaks to our ability to extract ever more resources from the biosphere for our own use (HANPP mentioned above) and dump whatever we choose back into it. The question is not our ability to do this, but the sustainability of exponential growth in this extraction and dumping and the stability of the biosphere which supports us under the pressure of these trends.

It is a mere mathematical fact that exponential growth in the use of resources cannot go on indefinitely on a finite planet. But this mathematical truism is one that a well-propagandized modern either knows nothing about or responds to with that ever present article of faith: "We'll figure something out."

And, now at last we arrive at why you cannot argue with a modern. It is because you are not ultimately arguing about data, facts or observations, but about faith. The modern has a religion-like faith that all human endeavors from here on out will not fail to avert the downfall of civilization and the extinction of humankind. It is my experience that it is very, very difficult to argue anyone out of their religion,* and that's what such a belief amounts to.

To ask someone to reject their own religion is asking them to leave behind beliefs that anchor their lives in the world, that are the very framework for their daily conduct. To abandon one's religion means abandoning an entire way of living and painstakingly building up a new way.

My point is that moderns cannot be convinced of the narrowness of their vision and the folly of their uncritical optimism even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Rather than arguing with those with whom argument is futile, it is better to remember what every political candidate knows about voters: There are those who will always vote for you and those who will never vote for you, and those who are persuadable.

It is for the persuadable that we need to learn the weaknesses of the modern outlook. The persuadable are open to understanding the world in new ways because something in their experience has shown them that mere belief is not enough to assure that things will turn out all right. It takes action.

And, it is personal action, especially action designed to change the current dangerous trajectory of humankind, which the modern seeks to avert. Far from being a change agent, the modern is now the most reactionary of all thinkers, believing that stability and progress are compatible and inevitable and that therefore individual action seeking to alter our current trajectory is not merely misguided but dangerously misguided. With the rise of environmentalism the modern now parades as a clever contrarian while actually being the quintessential representative of the status quo.

The modern's outlook is actually quite restful. It demands nothing of us except acquiescence to the current power structure and its prescribed trajectory for the human endeavor. The modern's message soothes our worries and calms our fears about our future and that of our descendants...until the day comes when it doesn't.

Why the Economy Should Stop Growing—And Just Grow Up

Originally posted on yesmagazine.org

Written by David Korten

Listen to the political candidates as they put forward their economic solutions. You will hear a well-established and rarely challenged narrative. “We must grow the economy to produce jobs so people will have the money to grow their consumption, which will grow more jobs…” Grow. Grow. Grow.

But children and adolescents grow. Adultsmature. It is time to reframe the debate to recognize that we have pushed growth in material consumption beyond Earth’s environmental limits. We must now shift our economic priority from growth to maturity—meeting the needs of all within the limits of what Earth can provide.

Global GDP is currently growing 3 to 4 percent annually. Contrary to the promises of politicians and economists, this growth is not eliminating poverty and creating a better life for all. It is instead creating increasingly grotesque and unsustainable imbalances in our relationship to Earth and to each other.

Specifics differ by country, but the U.S. experience characterizes the broader trend. Corporate profits as a percentage of GDP are at a record high. The U.S. middle class is shrinking as most people work longer hours and struggle harder to put food on the table and maintain a roof over their heads. Families are collapsing, and suicide rates are increasing.

The assets of the world’s 62 richest individuals equal those of the poorest half of humanity—3.6 billion people. In the United States, the 2015 bonus pool for 172,400 Wall Street employees was $25 billion—just short of the $28 billion required to give 4.2 million minimum wage restaurant and health care workers a raise to $15 an hour.

Humans now consume at a rate 1.6 times what Earth can provide. Weather becomes more severe and erratic, and critical environmental systems are in decline.

These distortions are a predictable consequence of an economic system designed to extract Earth’s natural wealth for the purpose of maximizing financial returns to those who already have more than they need.

On the plus side, as this system has created the imperative for deep change, it has also positioned us to take the step toward a life-centered planetary civilization. It has:

  • Globalized awareness of humans’ interdependence with one another and Earth,
  • Produced a system of global communications that allows us to think and act as a global species,
  • Highlighted racism, sexism, and other forms of xenophobia as threats to the well-being of all, and
  • Turned millennials into a revolutionary political force by denying them the economic opportunities their parents took for granted.

We cannot, however, look to the economic institutions that created the imbalances to now create an economy that meets the essential needs of all in balanced relationship to a living Earth. Global financial markets value life only for its market price. And the legal structures of global corporations centralize power and delink it from the realities of people’s daily lives.

Restoring balance is necessarily the work of living communities, of people who care about one another, the health of their environment, and the future of their children.

The step to maturity depends on rebuilding caring, place-based communities and economies and restoring to them the power that global corporations and financial markets have usurped. Local initiatives toward this end are already underway throughout the world.

“How do we grow the economy?” is an obsolete question. The questions relevant to this moment in history are “How do we navigate the step to a mature economy that meets the needs of all within the limits of a finite living Earth?” How do we rebuild the strength and power of living communities? How do we create a culture of mutual caring and responsibility? How do we assure that the legal rights of people and communities take priority over those of government-created artificial persons called corporations?

Living organisms have learned to self-organize as bioregional communities that create and maintain the conditions essential to a living Earth community. We humans must take the step to maturity as we learn to live as responsible members of that community.

Introducing Turn 21

by Craig Litwin

Originally published by resilience.org

As part of Launch Turn21, we were recently interviewed for the University of Hawaii’s student paper, Ke Kalahea. Here are the answers to their questions, useful in conveying what Turn21 is about. 
What is Turn 21?
Turn21 is a group of committed and concerned citizens of the planet dedicated to preserving the only world we have, here in the 21st Century.  Our goal is to educate, inform, and exponentially grow in number those individuals who share this vision in order that we may take action as fast as possible to preserve the planet’s ability to sustain life.
What is Turn 21 trying to achieve?
We have put out a massive call to action every month, every 21st, urging all concerned people to be activists at least one day a month. Our hope is that this effort will spread like mycelium. 
Launch Turn21, our call to action for April 21st (the day before Earth Day) urges everyone to take action now and be involved every month on the 21st in protecting our planet from further destruction, preserving it for the future. 
As part of Launch Turn21 we are showcasing 7 amazing groups that are doing incredible work around the world. But mainly, our underlying purpose is to stoke the flames of activism because “business as usual” is morally unacceptable, given the challenges we are facing as a planet.
How can someone join Turn 21?
It’s not really an organization you can “join” in the sense that there are fees or membership dues. Of course, we have a website and people can sign up to receive our newsletter via email, but mainly we see ourselves as a resource—that catalyst--for getting individuals to commit to the collective action that real transformation is going to require.
How did Turn 21 form, and by whom?
It started with a group of like-minded individuals—a network of brainiacs with hearts, you might say--who were interested in articulating the realities of the situation we find ourselves in and finding ways to educate and promote radical action. Where did it start? Where did Rosa Parks start, or Darwin, folks who demanded we view things for what they are? Our culture was born from the industrial revolution and is heading towards a cliff full steam ahead. It is fair to say that our dire predicament as a human species is where this was born.
How did it get its name?
It was a catchy name that brought together the new, 21st century and the idea that it was time for each one of us to grow up, to act like we care about our home and future generations. We then tied it to the 21st of each month as an easy trigger to remember to consistently take action.
How is Turn 21 different from other advocacy programs?
The main difference is that it is not driven by membership numbers. We are advocating for action every 21st of the month, as an individual, in an affinity group, or by joining groups and organizations that are already doing great work, often in one’s own community. Being a paid activist is a job, and many live, sleep and dream about their work. We are not suggesting people quit their day-job, but take at least one day a month to be part of the movement if you are not  already a full-time activist. 
What are Turn 21's plans for 21st of this month? Next Month?
As mentioned earlier, this month—the day before Earth Day, which seemed appropriate—is our huge effort, Launch Turn21. Our website Turn21.org is showcasing 7 organizations that have joined Turn21 as Affiliates and we will be doing cross-promotional work with them for the month of April and beyond, encouraging folks to plug in and help out wherever they can. In May we will be expanding and showcasing new Affiliates as they join us and we will have a special focus on the Resiliency Challenge, a project of Daily Acts, during the month of May
How wide is Turn 21's reach? Small groups here and there, statewide, national, global? If it isn't widespread, are there any plans for promotion?
We are in a global crisis. We’ve been involved with groups and actions in places like Kenya and Greece, but because the U.S. is such a major polluter and believer in growth above all costs, our efforts have initially centered on U.S. organizations and actions. Actions speak louder than words, and through increased collective action we can promote this globally. 


Policies for a Post-Growth Economy

Written By Community Solutions fellow Samuel Alexander

Originally posted on simplicitycollective.com 


The 1972 publication of Limits to Growth sparked a controversy that has yet to subside. This book argued that if population, resource use, and pollution kept increasing on our finite planet, eventually economies would face environmental ‘limits to growth’ – with potentially dire consequences. Although evidence is mounting in support of this position (Turner, 2014; Steffan et al, 2015), any suggestion that nations might have to give up economic growth, or even embrace a ‘degrowth’ process of planned economic contraction, is typically met with fierce resistance, especially by mainstream economists. In response to such arguments, most economists tend to insist that technological innovation, better design, and market mechanisms will mean that economies can and should continue growing indefinitely.

Those counter-arguments have shaped the cultural understanding of this debate, meaning that the ‘limits to growth’ perspective is widely and casually dismissed as flawed. Most people, including most politicians, still believe that sustained economic growth, in terms of GDP, is necessary for societal progress, and that such growth is consistent with environmental sustainability. For example, questioning economic growth never entered the key discussions at the Paris Climate Summit in December 2015, which implies that mainstream political and economic discourse still deems continuous GDP growth not just consistent with a safe climate, but a precondition for it.

The main political implication of the growth paradigm is that governments shape policies and institutions with the aim of promoting economic growth, giving society a pro-growth structure. This is supported by consumerist cultures that seek and indeed expect ever-rising material living standards. On the flip side, any policies and institutions that would inhibit economic growth are presumptively rejected or not even given a serious hearing.

This paper provides a summary case for why there are, in fact, limits to growth, and outlines a range of bold policy interventions that would be required to produce a stable and flourishing post-growth economy. The analysis draws on and attempts to develop a rich array of thinking from literatures including ecological economics, eco-socialism, degrowth, and sustainable consumption. For decades a huge amount has been written in critique of growth economics, but the literature on what a post-growth economy would look like, or how to get there, is far less developed. This is inhibiting the movement for change. I acknowledge that most people do not recognise the need for a post-growth economy and therefore would reject my policy proposals as unacceptable. But as the limits to growth tighten their grip on economies in coming years and decades, I believe the debate will inevitably evolve, and the question will not be whether a post-growth economy is required, but rather how to create one – by design rather than disaster.


The Hundred-Year Plan

The Hundred-Year Plan

Written by Jim Merkel

Pedro Martin and I hopped off a trailer pulled by an old Russian tractor, paid the farmer and set off down a dirt track.  We headed toward a windmill and a green oasis on a gentle hillside outside Sancti Spiritus, Cuba. The track became muddy and rutted through a cool hollow then rose into a sunny field of tomatoes. We trekked past a small clapboard home then met the friendly couple harvesting their February crop and confirmed we were headed in the right direction. “See that gate up ahead?  The Casimiro farm.”  Through strings of contacts of empowered Cuban women, we were directed here to one of Cuba’s own permaculture giants, Leidy Casimiro Rodríguez, who returned to her family’s degraded tobacco fields at the age of ten during Cuba’s deepest recession known as the “special period.”

Through the gate in a living fence of thorns and coppiced trees, we entered the shade of a tropical food forest. Leidy’s younger sister, Chavely Casimiro, greeted us and called off the pack of barking dogs.  We walked past banana and mango trees up to the family compound of vine covered whitewashed domes amongst a permaculture playground including a large open cistern fed by a windmill-powered water pump, two biogas digesters and a rabbit house.  We entered the dome used as a kitchen and dining area and met Leidy, now 35, who was working on her PhD in agro ecology in Columbia.

In securing an invitation to their “finca” or family farm, I explained that our film “The Hundred-Year Plan” tells the story of empowered educated women around the world who are leading society toward a more sustainable future by having fewer children and learning to live well with small ecological footprints. Leidy, with two siblings and mother to one boy, Darío, let me know that almost any Cuban women from her generation would have something to say about this topic.

According to Cuban demographer, Marisol Alfonso de Armas, the demographic transition in Cuba began in the 1930s--ahead of Latin America. An influx of immigrants, contraception and public health initiatives dealing with mosquito born illnesses, alongside the depression of the 30’s, are thought to have instigated declining birth rates. By 1978, fertility was below replacement levels and by 2008 stood at 1.59, a rate comparable to the most developed social democracies in Europe. For over 50 years, Cuban women have had universal access to education, healthcare, contraception and safe, legal abortion. These are the leading conditions demographers suggest improve the health and survivability of children, improve women’s health and lower birth rates.  

Leidy’s father and mother, Caridad and José were raising two young children in 1989 as Cuba faced its toughest test. The dissolution of the Soviet Union amplified the impact of the U.S. embargo. Cuba had lost its primary trading partners in the Eastern block. Without markets for its sugar and without imports of fuel, pesticides, raw materials, and food, all sectors of the economy screeched to a halt. During this “special period” the average Cuban lost 20 pounds.

After Leidy’s father, José Antonio Casimiro González took a permaculture course, the shortage of energy and pesticides was now seen as an opportunity. José left his job as a traffic cop and returned to their abused tobacco land. With few tools but new skills he set to work with a deep commitment to not see his family go to bed hungry.  The systems of permaculture originated in indigenous and pre-green revolution agrarian societies around the world.  Dozens of fruits and vegetables are inter-planted and assisted by intelligent interaction into a food forest that restores soil and ecological health.  As José deconstructed the former extractive practices, the land slowly responded. Harnessing neighborly support with bulldozers, they built a sizable pond below the old clapboard home site and installed a homemade hydraulic ram that pumps water without fossil energy to the top of their site.

Leidy walked us down to the pond, a human-made natural paradise budding with wildlife and Tilapia. After reveling in the stillness, Chavely led us further down the spillway and switched on the ram pump.  With sprays of water and rhythmic clicks, the diaphragms began miraculously pulsing water uphill.  Chavely explained that the water is piped to the land’s height into a giant tank that overflows into a deep round cistern, that Chavely, the family mason, help build while in her teens. As we walked back up the hill, the keyline design, which slows and directs the water flow laterally across the slope, was apparent, with gently terraced fields alternating with fruit trees and annual crops all watered from above.

Before heading to Cuba on this “scouting” trip, my last visit was in 2009.  I was nervous about how my topic of small footprints would be perceived and received. After all, billboards around Cuba then and now show a hangers noose, with the caption, “Blockade, the longest genocide in history" calling for an end to the U.S. embargo. The intent of this policy has been to make ordinary citizens suffer to such a point as to call for a regime change toward free market capitalism.  I intellectually get the severity of the strongest and longest embargo in history. And, having had a top-secret clearance in the 1980’s, I’m not naïve to the hundreds of covert assassination attempts and terrorist acts on Cuban soil funded and supported by the U.S.  So, to be from the U.S. and making a film about their small footprints, seems thorny. Just as the developed nations complete their most consumptive and destructive 50-year period in all of human history, of which Cuba was left out, a North American comes to Cuba to glamorize their suffering.

My 25-year exploration of “Radical Simplicity” inspired by my travels to Kerala, India was voluntary -- a reaction against our imperialism and ecological exploitation. It was also around action – creating and living inside my wildest dream of a sustainable future. Now, after weeks of hitch hiking, making friends and experiencing real people’s lives, homes and daily decisions, I see the embargo’s effects up close. Personal. Their involuntary simplicity, with all its creativity and austerity, might, after 50 years, feel “normal” to them, but to me, the sheer scarcity of income and availability of goods is shocking.  Like a thorn in a sock, the irritation and frustration of the noose comes and goes. None-the-less, a rural generosity and hospitality is present, similar to Kerala or Mexico or rural Maine.  Most know that our incomes are 20 times theirs, and when in popular tourist areas, a gringo like me can become a walking dollar sign. This radical inequity is painful to witness and takes time to digest.  

The night I left Havana for the countryside, I visited the home of Mabis Dora Álvarez, one of 300,000 literacy volunteers, who trekked off to the countryside armed with a backpack filled with pencils and notebooks in 1962, on the eve of the US invasion at the Bay of Pigs.  As the US stood up for the rights of the United Fruit Company to exploit another nation, Castro was delivering on his promise of education and health care for the most underserved. Now in her 80’s Mabis tends her ailing cat and dozens of vibrant plants covering her veranda in the Vedado district of Havana.  I ask about her plants.  She explained that she was trained in Russia as an agronomist and spent her life working with women farmers across Cuba from the time the first agrarian reforms were signed into law on May 17, 1959. When I explained my film project to Mabis, she responded that the agrarian reforms of Cuba were, in her mind, the most important beginning to improving the lives of women and children.  

The Agrarian Reform Law limited land holdings to 993 acres and distributed the expropriated lands to the peasant farmers and the government. Families were encouraged to grow food for their family and produce for the market. Expropriated lands were to be compensated by bonds based upon assessed values used for taxes. The U.S. was not happy. Fidel Castro commented, "They (the United-States) are practically telling us that if we go ahead with agrarian reform, they will strangle us economically... No country can have political independence if, when it issues a law, it is told it will starve to death"

The Casimiro’s returned to their 17-acre farm determined not to starve. They had a vision of building a beautiful and sustainable subsistence life swearing off growing sugar cane and tobacco or using chemicals. We regroup in the communal kitchen as Leidy’s brother, José, now 34, comes in from his work with a bunch of ripe bananas and quietly joins the conversation.  Behind him, stacked on the counter are sacks of rice and dried beans--several hundred pounds. Behind the counter, the hiss of the pressure cooker and the quiet preparing of dinner goes on while we sit down and describe our documentary film project to the family.

As we explained the small footprint part of the film, they began to tell us about their twenty-five years of work and transformation and break out the before and after pictures -- from a barren grassland to a food jungle.  As they described their process, the father José strays quickly from the practical to the philosophical and global providing a context for the diverse motivations and contributions they see their lives offering Cubans and the world. Subsistence farms offer tremendous food security, but also healthy and creative work when done sustainably.

My worries around the small footprints topic being thorny evaporated as we discovered our shared synthesis and understanding of humanity’s peril and the power of putting forward a practical demonstration of the possible. Pedro Martin, the young filmmaker who hitched hiked around Cuba with me, insisted that I show them some of my slides of building my home from the trees on site in Belfast, Maine and my own permaculture gardens. He translated my story of limiting my income to world average at the same time they were entering the special period.  As we recognized our kinship at a deeper level, we dove deeper into the tougher conversations, doubts and opportunities for creating a sustainable future.  

After 25 years of working to promote small footprints in North America, in the last five years I’ve noticed a heightened recognition that we must create the alternative reality, both in our families and communities.  The Casimro family clearly conveys agency.  Against all odds, their resourcefulness, artful functionality, serious research and dexterity unite this family. Their biogas digester, built by young Chavely, produces methane to cook their food, provides light and refrigeration and the effluent fertilizes the crops. Where locavores in the US argue over favorite “wildcards” of coffee, chocolate, bananas and olive oil, I wondered what this family was not able to produce.  They had dozens of fruits and vegetables, sacks of rice and beans, raised chickens, pigs, rabbits, fish and dairy cows, pressed their own oil, made soap, and yes, ground their own coffee.  

The Casimiro family was one of a half-a-dozen families we were invited to share rice, beans, and yes, homegrown coffee with, who might contribute to our documentary film.  Osmany’s family were peasant sharecrop farmers before the revolution. They now live in an extended family compound and grow the bulk of the family’s food. Their daughter Madaysi is studying medicine in the nearby city.  

Marielys Dias Simon is a 26-year-old family doctor in a clinic in the Republic of Chile, one of the first cooperative communities formed by the revolution under Castro. The families she serves all live within several kilometers and they have free and easy access to her services.  

Yeny works in a health clinic conducting tests during pregnancies in Playa Larga, deep into the Bay of Pigs.  She couldn’t recall when the last child or mother died in the birthing process. Her daughter Roxanna competes in national math competitions and enjoys time with her friends.  The younger daughter Rosaly loves art and dance. Rosaly’s teachers, Lazaro and Suzana, work as popular educators teaching art, song and dance in the school. Rosaly is among the many children they feel lucky to learn from.

Yuliet lives in La Conchita, a town centered around a food processing facility.  She forgoes jewelry to purchase bricks and mortar for the house she is building while teaching at a university.  Speaking of her relationship with her 17 year-old daughter Alexandra, she says they share everything. Then emphasizes, “everything.” Alexandra has gotten national attention for the documentary and fiction films she makes along with a team of neighborhood friends that delve into social issues of their community.      

Each family is ordinary and extraordinary.  Each graciously opened their life to me, a stranger from the “evil empire.”  Each held no grudge. Each offered a sacred piece of their humanity to my consciousness. My most profound moments in Cuba were being on the receiving end of generosity and hospitality by warm people with a fraction of the income, assets, diversions, and stuff that my country folk and I take for “normal.”  What is most clear as I am back and again swimming in a sea of excess, is that this excess isn’t making us any happier.

What else is clear, is that the 1001 ways that the U.S. is attempting to dominate the world is truly upsetting and hurts real people.  I could analyze and critique Cuban policy, systems and culture, its shortcomings and mistakes; however, I’ll leave that for the Cuban people.  Don’t worry, they actively discuss all that and more and get on with their lives. The biggest fear I heard from the tourists I met in Cuba, is that the island will quickly be spoiled by consumerism and the decadence of modernity.  My biggest hope would be that the tourists return home inspired to live more simply, play more music, and lighten up.

I’d hope too that they’d return home and work for the embargo to be lifted and for Guantanamo Base to be returned to Cuba. Let the Cubans direct their own destiny. When I asked people if they thought Cuba could avoid the mistakes of the “developed” world’s last 50 years, many could visualize that path, but also internalize the complexity and uncertainty of our moment in time.  

One thing the embargo did teach Cubans is how to live well at a fraction of the footprint of the developed world. If the world’s people birthed at the Cuban rate of 1.5 children on average, in 100 years, world population would retreat to 3.8 billion.  And if the world’s people consumed at the Cuban 4-acre ecological footprint, humanity would consume 15.2 billion bioproductive acres of the 30 billion acres available worldwide, leaving half the planet for nature.  Currently humanity consumes 1.5 planets. Those in Africa, Asia and Latin America stuck in the grips of poverty could glean a few ideas around universal education and healthcare from Cuba -- healthy educated people on a shoestring.  Those whose stomachs ache from too much and whose spirits sag from not enough of what matters, might find Cuba offers a breather, along with 1001 practical ways to live lightly and still have fun.  

The film, the Hundred-Year Plan lays out the essentials for diffusing the population bomb, easing climate change and averting the "sixth great extinction." It tells the quietly dramatic story of educated and empowered women around the world who choose small families while creatively living with small ecological footprints. These two conditions played out over one hundred years could return a healthy balance between humans and nature.

Biologist E.O. Wilson explains, it is not an asteroid or volcano this time, rather human impact -- “a death of a thousand cuts—a little bit taken here, a little bit ceded to an oil company there.” Added together, we are loosing about 30,000 species a year where fossil records indicate background rates of 10 per year. On the side of hope, Wilson adds, “Our species might just luck out, with enough dropping population, improved production, and shrinking ecological footprint that we can win the race to save the rest of life.”  Wilson’s new book, Half Earth, suggests that by leaving at least half of the earth’s areas intact, we could avert the 6th great extinction. The Hundred-Year Plan seeks to show how Wilson’s “Half Earth” solution could come about by taking control of two things that you and I actually have control over: How much we take and how many children we make.

Jim Merkel is the author of Radical Simplicity and founder of the Global Living Project. He lives in Maine, volunteers, writes, lectures and consults with campuses and municipalities on sustainability initiatives. www.radicalsimplicity.org

Corruption, Resources, Climate and Systematic Risk

Originally posted on resourceinsights.blogspot.com

Written by Community Solutions fellow Kurt Cobb

Corruption is a loaded word. One person's corruption is another's sound social policy. Some people believe providing unemployment benefits to laid-off workers corrupts them by making them "lazy." Many others think such benefits are sound social policy in an economic system that is prone to major cyclical ups and downs.

Fewer people agree that bailing out major U.S. banks at taxpayer expense in the aftermath of the 2008 crash was a good use of public money. An alternative would have been for the U.S. government to seize the banks, inject funds to stabilize them, and then resell them to investors, perhaps at a profit.

Was it corruption that led to the bailout instead of a takeover? Or was it an honest difference of opinion about what would work best under emergency circumstances?

We can argue whether these examples of transfers of funds from one group to another are fair. But by themselves they do not constitute a systemic risk to the stability of the entire economic and social system. In fact, some would argue that such transfers enhance that stability. However one evaluates these transfers, I would contend that a much worse corruption is to subject our society knowingly to systemic failures such as severe climate change and widespread crop failures.

To understand this contention, we must review the material basis for our modern society. Despite all the hype about the service economy, the activities which make the service economy even possible are agriculture, fishing, forestry, mining and manufacturing. These sectors create the surplus food and fiber, the surplus energy and minerals, and the surplus goods that allow so many of us to do something other than farm, fish, log, mine or manufacture goods.

By "surplus" I mean that those engaged in the five essential underlying activities of the modern economy provide more food and fiber, extract more energy and other mineral resources, and make more things than they themselves will use. In fact, in so-called developed societies, the people in these occupations create surpluses in their respective areas that are nothing short of astonishing.

In the United States for example, those working in agriculture, fishing and forestry number 2.4 million or about 1.6 percent of the working population of 149 million as of 2015 according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those working in mining including oil and natural gas production (which, after all, is really just another type of mining) number 917,000 or about 0.6 percent of the working population. These two groups provide most of the raw materials for the rest of the economy while constituting just 2.2 percent of the workforce. Some raw materials, notably oil and metal ores, are supplemented with imports. But that is counterbalanced in part by agricultural exports that are about one-third of all crops grown.

Those working in manufacturing number 15.3 million, dwarfing the number who actually provide the feedstocks for that manufacturing. But manufacturing workers still only constitute 10.3 percent of the total U.S. workforce. We also supplement our manufactured goods with imports. But we export high-value goods such as airplanes, pharmaceuticals and advanced machinery.

So, the percentage of the U.S. workforce that provides the actual material basis for the economy amounts to only 12.5 percent.

Even though American agricultural, fishing, forestry, mining and manufacturing systems are exceedingly efficient, this doesn't mean that they are sustainable in the long run. Our agricultural practices by and large erode the soil and undermine its fertility, a process that ultimately will lead to a decline in food and fiber production if unaltered. Our fishing practices empty out fisheries faster than they can regenerate. Our forestry practices may be called sustainable, but removing vast carbon stores from the forest and merely replanting is unlikely to be sustainable in the long run.

When it comes to mining, we already know that mining nonrenewable sources of energy (oil, coal, natural gas) and other raw materials is by definition not sustainable in the long run. For fossil fuels, climate change makes this doubly true. We will ultimately have to find renewable substitutes or go without. Recycling is important, but we cannot recycle oil, coal and natural gas that have already been burned. And, a significant portion of metals that we mine are not recycled but scattered in landfills and in countless other places.

Now I finally return to the idea of corruption. We don't normally think of unsustainable practices as corrupt. Corruption normally implies that the corrupt actor knows that what he or she is doing is ethically wrong or contrary to law. Most unsustainable practices are not contrary to law, and people will argue about whether they are even unsustainable. An act is not normally considered corrupt if the actor is acting in good faith and believes honestly that he or she is behaving ethically and legally. The person might be mistaken. But we don't put people in jail very often for making honest mistakes (as opposed to negligence).

In the absence of definitive answers on sustainability--which we won't have them until it's too late to do anything--we surely face systemic risks. The failure of one or more of these five basic economic sectors to deliver the resources and goods upon which our society depends could be catastrophic--think: worldwide crop failure, decline in available fossil fuels, a shortage of critical metals needed for electronics (which are crucial to the functioning of modern society).

At the very least it is corrupt to subject society knowingly to potential catastrophic failures merely to enrich oneself or one's associates. I am reminded of a cartoon in The New Yorker many years ago depicting a financial presentation for which the caption read:

And so, while the end-of-the-world scenario will be rife with unimaginable horrors, we believe that the pre-end period will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for profit.

While we are being entertained with the exploits of corrupt politicians and businesspeople who hid their money from taxation using dummy corporations concocted by Panamanian lawyers, we should try to remember that, while despicable, this kind of corruption pales in comparison to the kind that threatens to undermine the very material underpinnings of our society.

Capitalism or Socialism? There’s an Even Better Option

Originally posted on commondreams.org

Written by David Korten

Politics and polling data reveal a remarkable shift in American attitudes toward socialism. More Democrats now view socialism favorably (42 percent) than unfavorably (34 percent). Among young adults, socialism does even better with a 43 percent favorable view vs. only 26 percent unfavorable. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist, has surprised the establishment with the strength of his campaign. He is especially popular among Millennials, the generation positioned to define America’s future.

So is the United States turning to socialism?

Proponents of capitalism assure us we have only two choices: capitalism (big business) or socialism (big government). As we see the self-proclaimed capitalist regime’s incapacity to address growing economic desperation and accelerating social breakdown and environmental collapse, socialism, for all its own evident faults, becomes the only option.

I grew up in a prosperous small town in Washington state. Our main street was populated by thriving, mostly local, businesses. My dad owned and managed a successful retail music and appliance store located in the heart of the business district in the heart of a vibrant community. He loved making money but often said, “If you are not in business to serve your customers and community, you have no business being in business.”

I assumed that my life growing up was the result of the happy confluence of capitalism, democracy, and a market economy. Given that socialism was represented as the antithesis of these things, I accepted the view that socialism is anti-American and a threat to freedom and democracy.

Of course, my early hometown experience bears little relationship to the capitalism we know today. Over time, I realized that it’s not so simple.

Debating the relative merits of two failed and ill-defined ideologies is a diversion from the real issues. In the United States, we face the inherent disabilities of both big government and big business. And the unholy alliance between the two that renders democracy—the voice of the people—mute.

Assuming that capitalism is about the economy and democracy is about governance, we fail to recognize an essential truth: There is no political democracy without economic democracy.

In any economic system, power resides with the owners of the means by which people make their living. The power of kings resided in their ownership of the lands and waters from which their subjects harvested their food and quenched their thirst. Under socialism, government owns these assets in the name, but not necessarily the interest, of the people.

"There is no political democracy without economic democracy."

Under contemporary capitalism, the rights and powers of ownership reside with global corporations that control jobs, resources, and markets. They own land, water, intellectual property, mining concessions, manufacturing, banks, schools, prisons, health care facilities, media—and politicians. They lavishly reward their board members and top executives for maximizing short-term profit without regard to social and environmental consequences—and replace them if they don’t.

Capitalism cultivates an illusion of freedom while consigning all but the few at the top to lives of wage and debt slavery. It is a far cry from either democracy or Adam Smith’s vision of local markets governed by a shared moral code and populated by local farmers, artisans, and merchants who own their own land and tools, care about their neighbors, and come to the market to exchange goods and services. Thomas Jefferson recognized Smith’s economic vision as an essential foundation of democracy.

Democracy is a governance system in which power resides in the people. That power cannot be limited to voting for political representatives every few years. It must be rooted in economic structures that distribute power equitably and link it to the interests of communities of place. Such structures can come in many forms: Individual and family enterprises, community-owned enterprises, cooperatives–large and small—and even governmental and quasi-governmental bodies.

Democracy is the life-serving alternative we seek to the life-destroying capitalist tyranny under which we now live. Democracy, not the false dichotomy of capitalism or socialism, should be the election’s framing issue.

The Goldilocks question: How much economic growth is just right?

Originally posted on simplicitycollective.com

Global economic growth is slowing, with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development now forecasting the world economy will expand by three percent in 2016 – the slowest pace in five years. But how much growth is optimal?

Dr. Samuel Alexander, a Community Solutions fellow, debates the merits of economic growth on ABC’s Radio National, with several leading Australian economists. Listen to the debate here.

Play Life More Beautifully In The Age of Extinction

Originally posted on  carolynbaker.net

Written by Community Solutions fellow  Carolyn Baker

One day I called my friend Andrew Harvey who told me that he couldn’t talk at the moment because he was on his way to Maine to spend a week working on a book entitled Play Life More Beautifully with piano virtuoso, Seymour Bernstein. I had never heard of Seymour, but I quickly learned more as I also discovered that his life was the focus of a new documentary produced by Ethan Hawke, “Seymour: An Introduction”. A few weeks later Andrew gave me a copy of his book of conversations with Seymour, and I wasted no time devouring it. Meanwhile, Andrew and I began working together on a book on joy, and much to my surprise, I soon found Seymour to be one of the most remarkable examples of a life lived joyfully that I have ever known.

When I speak of a life lived joyfully, I do not mean that Seymour’s life has been a bowl of cherries with whipped cream topping. Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1927, he endured a childhood and adolescence overshadowed by many forms of abuse at the hands of his father. Seymour knew early on that his destiny was inextricably connected with music. Enduring an immigrant father whose values were shaped by the Great Depression and who sought to mould Seymour into his image of a successful macho entrepreneur, Seymour’s early life was a mishmash of torturous rejection and discipline by his father alongside glorious moments of delight in music and the beginning of piano teaching at the age of 15. His induction into the Korean War seemed like the end of his world because he could not pursue a career in music, but even in such a drastically opposite milieu, Seymour was able to play and give piano concerts.

Upon returning from the war, Seymour studied with such notable musicians as Alexander Brailowsky, Sir Clifford Curzon, Jan Gorbaty, Nadia Boulanger, and Georges Enesco, but he himself became one of the greats and at the age of 88, is not only a phenomenal musician and composer, but a purveyor of deep wisdom and joy in a mad and joyless culture. I bow to Seymour, not simply because he is a survivor of incredible pain and abuse in his early life, but because he has learned how to “play” life, or rather, allow life to “play” him:

But I have to tell you that I consider myself blessed because when I sight-read music and confront it for the first time, it’s analogous to love at first sight when you meet certain people. You don’t know anything about that person, but something triggers that love. There are certain pieces that I instantly fall I love with. As I play them, my vocal chords get activated. It’s as though I’m exhaling the music through singing. Somehow the music takes hold of me. I have the feeling that there is a special body part inside of me. And this body part gets permeated with music and plays me. It’s telling me what to do. It’s analogous to someone whispering secrets in your ear: “Now go softer, now go louder, now move ahead, now take a little time.” In short I have the feeling that I’m being played. It’s one of the most satisfying, beneficial, inspirational, and, at the same time, mysterious experiences that I can think of. It makes me exceedingly joyful. And when I realize what the music is telling me, I can’t wait to share it with my pupils. They sense that I’m telling them something sacred that they didn’t know. Imbued with this new information, my pupils are elated. The circle is completed.

Throughout his conversations with Andrew, Seymour speaks of his “spiritual reservoir,” —a place inside him that was never touched by the abuse and from which pours forth his gorgeous creativity.

Andrew speaks of his own upbringing in India where the greatest image of the sacred is the one in which the sacred is represented as a dancer with the flame of destruction in one hand and the drum of creation in the other. “Life itself is a dance of opposites,” says Andrew, “light and dark, the universe is a constant dance of matter and light.” So descriptive of Seymour’s life, Andrew tells Seymour: “So why I love this image is because dancing requires the whole of you. And if you’re going to truly live an awake life, it requires the whole of you being lit up by love, passion, courage, and intelligence…So let’s go back to your teaching. You’re helping people to become dancers in this way, dancers with music.”

I listen to Seymour’s music as I write, and I allow the totality of his emotional history to pierce me—the anguish, the darkness, the sweet tenderness, the poignancy, the beauty, the humor, and the horror. It’s all there in the music and in the man—and it’s all there in everyone reading these words as well as the person writing them.

From a very early age, Seymour was consciously connected with “something greater” than his rational mind and ego—something mysterious, profound, and glorious which he came to call his “spiritual reservoir.” But he was more than connected because he allowed that “something” to infuse him with passion, beauty, and creativity, even in the face of what seemed to a young child like death and which he literally approaches at the current age of 88.

In this moment, countless species on Earth, including humans, are approaching the end of their existence. While scientific data continues to suggest extinction events occurring sooner, rather than later, no one knows with certainty when or how these will occur. The only thing we know with certainty is that each of us has a choice about how we will meet our demise. While it is crucial to know the facts, it is equally crucial to live as if there were no tomorrow because tomorrow doesn’t exist. The only moment that does exist is this one.

Will we spend the rest of our days either dining on doom or drowning in denial or like Seymour, feast on what lights us up?

The rational mind, scientific data, and the human ego are pathetically limited in their capacity to reveal our deeper humanity. They cannot begin to guide us in our encounters with the “Big Five,” namely: Love, death, suffering, the sacred, and eternity. These are the stuff of mystery, and nothing could be more important in the process of our demise than extracting from them every drop of healing medicine they hold for us. The trajectory of reason as sovereign in industrial civilization has come to a dead end. We are now called to the journey of “playing life more beautifully,” and the life and work of Seymour Bernstein is an extraordinary guiding light. From the final moments of his conversation with Andrew, Seymour concludes:

When I contemplate the miracle of life, and the fact that the universe continues to expand, I fall on my knees in awe and wonderment. Certainly something is responsible for this. Yet, I consider it an affront when people give this force a name. For me, it transcends names. As I humble myself before it, I firmly believe that it is not given to me too know the answer to such a profound mystery. To accept this, to know unequivocally that there are no answers to certain questions, defines, in my estimation, the essence of humility.

Oregon says yes to coal-free electricity

Originally posted on resourceinsights.blogspot.com

Written by Community Solutions fellow Kurt Cobb

The Oregon legislature has adopted a first-in-the-nation plan to phase out electricity from coal, a major source of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

The state's environmental community had been gearing up for a ballot initiative this year that would have forced the state's utilities to abandon coal as a fuel for electricity. But negotiations between the two groups resulted in a legislative compromise--dubbed the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan--that will wean the state off coal-fired electricity no later than 2030 except for one out-of-state power plant that is partly owned by an Oregon-based utility. That plant will be retired no later than 2035.

The plan also calls for an increase in the percentage of energy that electric utilities must get from renewable sources such as wind and solar from 25 percent by 2025 to 50 percent by 2040.

Coal currently provides almost 34 percent of the state's electricity. Hydroelectric generation provides almost 43 percent. Natural gas and wind account for 13.5 percent and 5.6 percent, respectively. Regarding Oregon's renewable energy targets, for context California and New York have mandated the same percentage as Oregon but by 2030. Vermont has targeted 75 percent by 2032, and Hawaii has mandated 100 percent renewable energy for electricity by 2045.

Ontario became the first province in Canada to become coal-free in electricity generation as of 2014, a year earlier than anticipated when Ontario's premier pledged in 2002 to end all coal-fired power in the province. It was the first jurisdiction in North America to declare such a goal. Ontario's hydropower, the growth of renewable energy and the province's access to natural gas and nuclear power helped to make the transition from 25 percent coal-fired electricity to zero possible.

Oregon's Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan targets the state's two large investor-owned utilities, Pacific Power and Portland General Electric, which together provided 65 percent of all electricity to the state as of 2014 according to the Oregon Department of Energy.

Municipal utilities, cooperatives and public utility districts are not covered by the plan. These entities currently get a large portion of their electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). BPA derives 83 percent of its power from federally-owned hydroelectric dams dotting the Northwest and 10 percent from nuclear power stations. BPA does not generate coal-fired electricity though a small portion of its purchased electricity may come from coal-fired plants.

The western power grid is too interconnected to keep every electron generated by coal out of Oregon. Occasional purchases of out-of-state electricity after 2035 may include some that is generated by coal, especially purchases made by those providers not covered by the plan. But Oregon ratepayers will no longer be on the hook for the financing of upgrades or new construction of coal-fired plants. That will make it harder for those generators serving western states to justify new investments in coal-fired facilities. In addition, rising requirements for renewable energy will shift demand away from coal, reducing investment in this source of electricity.

The opponents of the plan believe it will raise utility rates while failing to reduce carbon emissions. Supporters admit that rates will rise, but they believe rates will actually rise less if coal-fired electricity is eliminated from Oregon's energy mix. Greenhouse gas emissions will almost certainly be regulated ever more stringently over time, the supporters argue. Therefore, it is prudent to move away from carbon-intensive energy sources that are bound to become more expensive because of increasingly costly regulations.

Just in case, however, the plan allows for a temporary suspension of renewable energy targets if the cost of compliance exceeds a certain threshold for any one year or when other narrow conditions apply. Under the previous renewable energy targets, utilities never came close to exceeding the threshold.

As for reducing carbon emissions, it is possible that some out-of-state coal-fired generating plants that currently supply electricity to Oregon may continue to operate after 2035 by rerouting their electricity elsewhere. (Oregon has only one coal-fired power station within its borders, and that one is scheduled to close in 2020.)

But, Oregon's adoption of an aggressive target for renewable electricity generation necessarily implies a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from what would otherwise have been the case. The Oregon Global Warming Commission estimates that emissions would be cut by nearly half for the Oregon customers of the state's two large investor-owned utilities covered by the plan. That assumes coal is replaced by a mix of 50 percent renewables and 50 percent natural-gas-fired electricity.

Moreover, the rest of the country will not simply stand still between now and 2030. It is likely that over time other states will adopt higher renewable energy targets. Some utilities may even choose to close coal-fired plants for economic reasons. That's because the cost of renewable energy has plummeted and in many cases is competitive with fossil fuel- and nuclear-generated electricity. The expectation is that renewable sources will continue to get cheaper to install and operate becoming ever more competitive. And, of course, renewable sources such as wind and solar do not face uncertainties over the cost of fuel. The wind and the sun are free.

As a result one long-standing criticism of renewable energy may no longer apply, namely that mandating increased use of renewable energy for electricity generation will be more costly in the long run than sticking with fossil fuel energy. What used to be labeled a competitive disadvantage may quickly be turning into a competitive advantage for those who move first to deploy low-carbon sources of electricity generation.

Major wind and solar companies already have operations in renewables-friendly Oregon. The rising requirement for electricity from renewables will only cement Oregon's reputation as a leader in renewable energy. That will make the state more likely to attract additional investment including investment in manufacturing that could increase the state's exports of wind and solar equipment to countries and states that are laggards.

The passage of the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan may mark just the first step toward a more comprehensive approach to regulating carbon emissions in Oregon. In its recently ended one-month session, the state legislature considered but did not vote on a so-called cap-and-trade bill which would create a system similar to California's.

The Oregon bill would set a gradually declining limit on total carbon emissions in the state from large emitters and auction emissions permits to affected entities. Those entities which subsequently can reduce their emissions easily and cheaply would be free to sell their excess permits to those who have more difficulty. The bill or one similar to it is likely to be introduced in next year's full legislative session.

It is a sign of the times that the public debate among major players over Oregon's coal-free future saw little contention regarding the reality of climate change and focused mostly on the best way to address it. Given the rancor which has previously marked public exchanges about climate change in the United States, that's remarkable progress all by itself.

The (Bigger) Garden of Eden

Written by Community Solutions fellow wimbi

(As inspired by E.O. Wilson's new book - Half-Earth)

It’s garden- starting time, and my wife and all our gardening friends are enjoying the early spring, pouring their usual intense attention into their gardens, big and small, flowers, veggies,  trees, shrubs or you name it.

“A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot--”

So I got to thinking of how unfortunately narrowly we usually define the word garden- a little patch maybe in the back yard -  when in fact the right definition, it seemed certain to me, is the whole planet. Our definition of the place where we put so much care and personal interest should be all of everything, not just tiny bits of it here and there.

“Annihilating all that’s made to a green thought in a green shade.”

Why don’t we do that?  A big question.  That got me to thinking about all the stories in the old testament, in which, when people had big questions, they didn’t waste time with the local soothsayer or the internet, they just went right straight to God.  Makes sense to us simple results-oriented engineers; I should do the same.

A little research got me the proper methods, and thus prepared, I went out into the right sort of place, lifted up my arms, and atoned, in a properly humble sort of way -

“God, why don’t people recognize their planet, all of it, as their own precious garden, from which they get all they will ever need, if they just take care of it as intently as they do all their little tiny gardens now?

I was surprised to get an almost immediate answer. Sort of.

The voice of God, very brief, and a little peeved:

“Ok, that one’s fixed,  on to the next.”

And that was all!

What to make of it?  So, being in a pleasant spot and not seeing anything else to do,  I sat back, relaxed, and,  trying to make my mind as receptive to messages from on high as I could,  waited.

Not for long, it more or less immediately popped into my head that what I had heard was God's talking to himself as he beavered away correcting the HomoSapiens code.

Since, God had realized,  a slight error early on had allowed HS to misinterpret the whole garden of Eden story as some sort of punishment, when instead he intended it to be an EXAMPLE of what HS was being instructed to do with the whole planet.

“Here’s what a proper planet should look like, a paradise.  Now, get out there and keep it that way.” 

Direct quote.

 Our job is to note, admire and keep a paradise Simple enough! Sounds like nice work, let's do it.

But in the beginning, HS had not got it at all.  Instead, misinterpreting the whole thing, they went out and made a goddawful mess of our holy planet, while at the same time retaining a mere remnant of the real message in working so diligently all weekends on all those little tiny patches of paradise scattered all over people’s back yards.

All this sounded to me like the right interpretation of the message.  But was it? There has to be measurable evidence before any assurance of anything. So I looked around for evidence. After all, everybody should have got the message at the same time as I did, and I should be seeing things starting to happen right now.

And sure enough, when I looked, I saw. People were suing the oil companies for lying, and working hard on improving solar and wind power,and putting aside fish reefs for breeding grounds, putting carbon back into the ground by highly promising biological processes, and, above all, reading the new gospel according to E.O Wilson, “Half-Earth”, in which he presents a clear and compelling case, and how to do it, for returning a big bit of the original garden for us to care for and admire like God had intended in the first place.



“-- on to the next.” ??  Uh-oh, what might that be about?

Groups Striving for a Local Economy of Resilence, Equity

Originally posted in the Yellow Springs News
Written by Audrey Hacket

These are a few of the many ideas and projects that villagers will be discussing this month at a series of free events, organized by Community Solutions and the YS Resilience Network, that focus on the local economy. The goal, said Community Solutions Executive Director Susan Jennings on Monday, “is to build an economy that provides for as many goods and services locally as nationally — to move us to greater self-sufficiency, greater resilience and greater equity.”

The local economy events are part of a months-long series tackling topics ranging from local food to waste reduction to housing. Community Solutions and the YS Resilience Network are the organizers of the series, in collaboration with other local groups and with financial support from the Yellow Springs Community Foundation. Two more months remain in the series: April events will focus on renewable energy, and May will address transportation.

But in a sense, said Jennings, this month’s focus encompasses all the topics. “The emphasis on the local, and the impact of local initiatives in all these different areas on our local economy, really ties the whole series together,” she said.

There are lots of reasons why a local economy is a resilient economy, she added. “When you can meet your needs locally, you’re less susceptible to supply chain shocks or turmoil in the international financial system,” she said. And when you buy and invest locally, the impact of dollars spent and invested is concentrated.

“Studies have shown that if you shop locally, three times more of your money stays in the local community,” she said.

Local economic activity also builds a sense of community and people’s skill sets. “People working together have an opportunity to interact, to bond,” said Jennings. Not to mention the compelling environmental reasons for meeting a community’s needs within the community, rather than relying on goods and services from afar.

One example of an innovative local economy initiative that’s already underway is the Yellow Springs Time Exchange. Coordinated by villager Kat Walter, the time exchange, also known as a time bank, is a mechanism for connecting a community’s needs and skills without the exchange of money.

“These are just popping up all over the world,” Walter noted on Monday.

The local time bank was launched in November, following an earlier iteration developed by Antioch College students last June. The current Yellow Springs Time Exchange is a merge between the two groups, and currently has around 70 members. Services offered and requested range from piano lessons to dog walking to elder care to house weatherization to transportation to simple companionship, said Walter.

“We’re still getting off the ground, but we’ve seen more offers and requests in the past month,” she said. A potluck to bring together existing members and those interested in the time exchange was held on Wednesday, March 9, to kick off the local economy series.

Walter will discuss the time exchange in more detail this Thursday, March 10, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Antioch College Arts & Sciences Building, room 219, as part of a panel called “Regional Examples of the Sharing Economy.” The title refers to alternative forms of economic activity that rely on the sharing of access to goods and services, according to Jennings. The second panelist is Brett Joseph, a Cleveland-based educator and organizational systems consultant, speaking on the Cleveland Evergreen Cooperatives, a connected group of worker-owned cooperatives that provide goods and services to major Cleveland institutions. And the third panelist is Lisa Daris, chapter coordinator for Slow Money Central Ohio, an organization that connects local investors with local food systems.

Jennings said on Monday that there are many ideas bubbling up, locally and around the county, about new and more democratic forms of economy. The concept of a worker-owned cooperative food hub in Yellow Springs is one such idea, and it’s smart and doable, according to both Jennings and Walter.

“We already have a wonderful local food base,” said Jennings. We can expand this into a food hub.”

Such a hub could offer shared facilities (such as a commercial kitchen), shared services (such as distribution and marketing, perhaps even a “local brand”) and access to local financing and business consulting. Working groups at the YS Resilience Network and Antioch College are already deep in discussions of how such a hub would work, said Jennings.

Villagers interested in a food hub and other cooperative economic models are invited to attend a workshop tackling these topics, held Saturday, March 19, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the United Methodist Church. “Toward a Democratic Economy” will begin with a keynote from Peter Block of Cincinnati, an expert in community building and empowerment, and will feature sessions on developing local financing and investing, a cooperative entrepreneurial hub and a cooperative food hub.

Jennings noted that this month’s conversations build on earlier brainstorming and planning sessions. In 2009, Community Solutions brought local economy pioneer Michael Shuman to the village for a workshop on strengthening the local economy by capitalizing on local assets, including time, talent and money, and reducing “leakages” of investment and spending. A number of the ideas that got expressed during those discussions have borne fruit, Jennings said, highlighting Antioch’s Wellness Center, the construction of the Mills Park Hotel and the college’s solar array, as well as recent movement toward a municipal solar array on the Glass Farm property.

“It’s important that people know we have these conversations, and they have a long-term impact in terms of actions and projects in the community,” she said.

The final event of the month is a free screening of the documentary “Money and Life,” by director Katie Teague, on Sunday, March 20, at 1 p.m. at the Little Art Theatre. The film — a look at the origins and meanings of money and a call to revise our relationship to it — touches on some of the deepest implications of the term “local economy,” according to Jennings.

“We’ve been mesmerized into thinking wealth is the same thing as money,” she said, when in fact it is much more: the relationships in a community; the sharing of skills, time and talents; the physical forms a community takes. Underlying the many experiments in new and more democratic forms of economy is a fundamental shift in our concept of wealth and ownership.

“We’re moving away from a sense of abundance that comes from what we [individually] own to what we have in common as a community,” said Jennings.

All local economy events are free. See the Facebook pages of Community Solutions and YS Resilience Network for details.

Fracked to Death

Written by, Community Solutions fellow, wimbi


I have an unhappy tendency to invent troubled dreams. Instead of letting me sleep pleasantly like a normal human, my brain grabs the sleep opportunity to get down to serious work and crank out a big bother. Here’s an example:

I am driving a bus full of kids. The kids are horsing around like kids, paying no attention to me.  All is hotsy-totsy.

The radio, tuned to the bus advisory,  suddenly blinks my code and says “There’s a big blockage across the road half a mile ahead, better slow down.”

I speed up..  The radio says “ That boulder is really big, and you had better SLOW DOWN or you are gonna hit it.”

I speed up a lot more.   Radio yells “Hit those brakes HARD,  NOW!”

I slam the pedal to the metal.  I mean the accelerator pedal, not the brake pedal.

A couple of the kids immediately behind me glance out the window, see what is about to happen, and let out a big scream.    They rush forward to try to stop the bus.  Way too late.  The bus slams into the boulder , throttle wide open . Huge noise, slowly dying away to dead silence.   

And I mean DEAD.

I wake up all sweaty and breathing hard.  Why do I do this kind of thing to myself? Anyhow, like most of my dreams, this one is simple to decipher.

the bus is the planet

I am the people in charge

the kids are the kids

the boulder is global warming

the radio is the scientists

the gas pedal is CO2 production

dead is dead.

I get up, trying to put my wits back together again, and go down to breakfast. My wife takes one glance at my frazzled features and exclaims “Goodness, what’s the matter this time!”.  

At that moment the phone rings. I pick it up.

Cheery voice - “ We have some really good news for you! Looks like your land might have a lot of natural gas on it and we are able to offer you--” I cut him off, “No”! 

The voice gets a little testy - “Hey, do you understand what we are saying-”  I cut him again;  “YES”, and slam down the phone.

Wife -  “My Goodness! What in the world was THAT about?”.

Good question.  Now you tell me what it’s all about, folks. And remember, the kids are listening.

You can say no to fracking and such like, which slows down the bus, or you can say yes and speed it up. In the first case some of your kids might survive that certain crash, in the second, they are all dead, along with most of god’s creatures great and small.

You think that is an extreme statement? It sure is! And the truth, according to atmospheric scientists, is even more extreme. They all agree to the warming part but afew can’t explain it to their entire satisfaction.  But the great majority say warming is real, very possibly catastrophic, andwe are causing it by burning fossil fuel, and we MUST quit right now or we are dead.  And even if we do quit right now, we are on track to be mighty badly hurt by what we have already put into the air.

So there we are, people. This one is no mere quibble about money or jobs.  It’s really truly important. And tell your kids what you decide--they have the bigger interest.  After all, it’s gonna be their planet, dead or alive.

(wimbi is an engineer who likes to write stories with a little fun in them.  He says this one is not funny at all.)

100% Renewable Energy: What We Can Do in 10 Years

Originally posted on: http://www.yesmagazine.org

Written by, Richard Heinberg

If our transition to renewable energy is successful, we will achieve savings in the ongoing energy expenditures needed for economic production. We will be rewarded with a quality of life that is acceptable—and, perhaps, preferable to our current one (even though, for most Americans, material consumption will be scaled back from its current unsustainable level). We will have a much more stable climate than would otherwise be the case. And we will see greatly reduced health and environmental impacts from energy production activities.

But the transition will entail costs—not just money and regulation, but also changes in our behavior and expectations. It will probably take at least three or four decades, and will fundamentally change the way we live.

Nobody knows how to accomplish the transition in detail, because this has never been done before. Most previous energy transitions were driven by opportunity, not policy. And they were usually additive, with new energy resources piling onto old ones (we still use firewood, even though we’ve added coal, hydro, oil, natural gas, and nuclear to the mix).

Since the renewable energy revolution will require trading our currently dominant energy sources (fossil fuels) for alternative ones (mostly wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, and biomass) that have different characteristics, there are likely to be some hefty challenges along the way.

Therefore, it makes sense to start with the low-hanging fruit and with a plan in place, then revise our plan frequently as we gain practical experience. Several organizations have already formulated plans for transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy. David Fridley, staff scientist of the energy analysis program at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and I have been working for the past few months to analyze and assess those plans and have a book in the works titled Our Renewable Future. Here’s a very short summary, tailored mostly to the United States, of what we’ve found.

Level One: The Easy Stuff

Nearly everyone agrees that the easiest way to kick-start the transition would be to replace coal with solar and wind power for electricity generation. That would require building lots of panels and turbines while regulating coal out of existence. Distributed generation and storage (rooftop solar panels with home- or business-scale battery packs) will help. Replacing natural gas will be harder, because gas-fired “peaking” plants are often used to buffer the intermittency of industrial-scale wind and solar inputs to the grid (see Level Two).

Electricity accounts for less than a quarter of all final energy used in the United States. What about the rest of the energy we depend on? Since solar and wind produce electricity, it makes sense to electrify as much of our energy usage as we can. For example, we could heat and cool most buildings with electric air-source heat pumps, replacing natural gas- or oil-fueled furnaces. We could also begin switching out all our gas cooking stoves for electric stoves.

Nearly everyone agrees that the easiest way to kick-start the transition would be to replace coal with solar and wind power.

Transportation represents a large swath of energy consumption, and personal automobiles account for most of that. We could reduce oil consumption substantially if we all drove electric cars (replacing 250 million gasoline-fueled automobiles will take time and money, but will eventually result in energy and financial savings). Promoting walking, bicycling, and public transit will take much less time and investment.

Buildings will require substantial retrofitting for energy efficiency (this will again take time and investment, but will offer still more opportunities for savings). Building codes should be strengthened to require net-zero-energy or near-net-zero-energy performance for new construction. More energy-efficient appliances will also help.

The food system is a big energy consumer, with fossil fuels used in the manufacture of fertilizers, food processing, and transportation. We could reduce a lot of that fuel consumption by increasing the market share of organic local foods. While we’re at it, we could begin sequestering enormous amounts of atmospheric carbon in topsoil by promoting farming practices that build soil rather than deplete it—as is being done, for example, in the Marin Carbon Project.

If we got a good start in all these areas, we could achieve at least a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions in 10 to 20 years.

Level Two: The Harder Stuff

Solar and wind technologies have a drawback: They provide energy intermittently. When they become dominant in our overall energy mix, we will have to accommodate that intermittency in various ways. We’ll need substantial amounts of grid-level energy storage as well as a major grid overhaul to get the electricity sector close to 100 percent renewables (replacing natural gas in electricity generation). We’ll also need to start timing our energy usage to coincide with the availability of sunlight and wind energy. That in itself will present both technological and behavioral hurdles.

We could achieve at least a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions in 10 to 20 years.

After we switch to electric cars, the rest of the transport sector will require longer-term and sometimes more expensive substitutions. We could reduce our need for cars (which require a lot of energy for their manufacture and decommissioning) by increasing the density of our cities and suburbs and reorienting them to public transit, bicycling, and walking. We could electrify all motorized human transport by building more electrified public transit and intercity passenger rail lines. Heavy trucks could run on fuel cells, but it would be better to minimize trucking by expanding freight rail. Transport by ship could employ sails to increase fuel efficiency (this is already being done on a tiny scale by the MS Beluga Skysails, a commercial container cargo ship partially powered by a 1,700-square-foot, computer-controlled kite), but relocalization or deglobalization of manufacturing would be a necessary co-strategy to reduce the need for shipping.

Much of the manufacturing sector already runs on electricity, but there are exceptions—and some of these will offer significant challenges. Many raw materials for manufacturing processes either are fossil fuels (feedstocks for plastics and other petrochemical-based materials) or require fossil fuels for mining or transformation (e.g., most metals). Considerable effort will be needed to replace fossil-fuel-based industrial materials and to recycle non-renewable materials more completely, significantly reducing the need for mining.

Doing away with the last 20 percent of our current fossil-fuel consumption is going to take still more time, research, and investment—as well as much more behavioral adaptation.

Just one example: We currently use enormous amounts of concrete for all kinds of construction. The crucial ingredient in concrete is cement. Cement-making requires high heat, which could theoretically be supplied by sunlight, electricity, or hydrogen—but that will entail a nearly complete redesign of the process.

While with Level One we began a shift in food systems by promoting local organic food, driving carbon emissions down further will require finishing that job by making all food production organic, and requiring all agriculture to build topsoil rather than deplete it. Eliminating all fossil fuels in food systems will also entail a substantial redesign of those systems to minimize processing, packaging, and transport.

The communications sector—which uses mining and high-heat processes for the production of phones, computers, servers, wires, photo-optic cables, cell towers, and more—presents some really knotty problems. The only good long-term solution in this sector is to make devices that are built to last a very long time and then to repair them and fully recycle and remanufacture them when absolutely needed. The Internet could be maintained via the kinds of low-tech, asynchronous networks now being pioneered in poor nations, using relatively little power. An example might be the AirJaldi networks in India, which provide Internet access to about 20,000 remote users in six states, using mostly solar power.

Back in the transport sector: We’ve already made shipping more efficient with sails, but doing away with petroleum altogether will require costly substitutes (fuel cells or biofuels). One way or another, global trade will have to shrink.

We may have to write off aviation as anything but a specialty transport mode.

There is no good drop-in substitute for aviation fuels; we may have to write off aviation as anything but a specialty transport mode. Planes running on hydrogen or biofuels are an expensive possibility, as are dirigibles filled with (non-renewable) helium, any of which could help us maintain vestiges of air travel. Paving and repairing roads without oil-based asphalt is possible, but will require an almost complete redesign of processes and equipment.

Great attention will have to be given to the interdependent linkages and supply chains connecting various sectors (communications, mining, and transport knit together most of what we do in industrial societies). Some links in supply chains will be hard to substitute, and chains can be brittle: A problem with even one link can imperil the entire chain.

The good news is that if we do all these things, we can get beyond zero carbon emissions; that is, with sequestration of carbon in soils and forests, we could actually reduce atmospheric carbon with each passing year.

Doing Our Level Best

This plan features “levels”; the more obvious word choice would have been “stages.” The latter implies a sequence—starting with Stage One, ending with Stage Three—yet accomplishing the energy transition quickly will require accelerating research and development to address many Level Two and Three issues at the same time we’re moving rapidly forward on Level One tasks. For planning purposes, it’s useful to know what can be done relatively quickly and cheaply, and what will take long, expensive, sustained effort.

How much energy will be available to us at the end of the transition? It’s hard to say, as there are many variables, including rates of investment and the capabilities of renewable energy technology without fossil fuels to back them up and to power their manufacture, at least in the early stages. This “how much” question reflects the understandable concern to maintain current levels of comfort and convenience as we switch energy sources. But in this regard, it is good to keep ecological footprint analysis in mind.

According to the Global Footprint Network’s Living Planet Report 2014, the amount of productive land and sea available to each person on Earth in order to live in a way that’s ecologically sustainable is 1.7 global hectares. The current per capita ecological footprint in the United States is 6.8 global hectares. Asking whether renewable energy could enable Americans to maintain their current lifestyle is therefore equivalent to asking whether renewable energy can keep us living unsustainably. The clear answer is: only temporarily, if at all. So why bother trying? We should aim for a sustainable level of energy and material consumption, which on average is significantly lower than at present.

One way or another, the energy transition will represent an enormous societal shift. During past shifts, there were winners and losers. In the current instance, if we don’t pay great attention to equity issues, it is entirely possible that only the rich will have access to renewable energy, and therefore, ultimately, to any substantial amounts of energy at all.

A truly all-renewable economy may be very different from the American economy we know today.

The collective weight of these challenges and opportunities suggests that a truly all-renewable economy may be very different from the American economy we know today. The renewable economy will likely be slower and more local; it will probably be a conserver economy rather than a consumer economy. It will also likely feature far less economic inequality. Economic growth may reverse itself as per capita consumption shrinks; if we are to avert a financial crash and perhaps a revolution as well, we may need a different economic organizing principle. In her recent book on climate change, This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein asks whether capitalism can be preserved in the era of climate change. While it probably can (capitalism needs profit more than growth), that may not be a good idea because, in the absence of overall growth, profits for some will have to come at a cost to everyone else.

This short article only addresses the energy transition in the United States; other nations will face different challenges and opportunities. Poor nations will have to find ways to provide all their energy from renewable sources while advancing in terms of the U.N. Human Development Index. Nations especially vulnerable to sea level rise may have other immediate priorities to deal with. And nations with low populations but very large solar or wind resources may find themselves in an advantageous position if they are able to obtain foreign investment capital without too many strings attached.

The most important thing to understand about the energy transition is that it’s not optional. Delay would be fatal. It’s time to make a plan—however sketchy, however challenging—and run with it, revising it as we go.

Paris Accord

Written by, Community Solutions, Thomas Princen

The ink was hardly dry on the Paris accord when critics pointed out that it’s not a binding treaty. Implementation, they say, is the key. Without enforcement, without “teeth,” real progress is doubtful. There are three problems with this interpretation. 

One, changes in international relations occur not when treaties are enforced, as when laws are enforced domestically, but when a consensus, or near consensus, is achieved. Consensus is hard enough among members of a household, a business, a community of like-minded residents. It is mind-bogglingly hard among some 200 nations, especially when the task is to change the course of industrial history—namely, get off fossil fuels. Paris represents a couple of decades of concerted effort to shift the normative structure of modern economies. To expect more is to misunderstand diplomatic practice.

Two, shifts in well-entrenched social norms — domestic and international — start slowly, seem to drag on forever and then pick up momentum. Think abolition, women’s suffrage, human rights, smoking, bans on ozone-depleting substances, trade in the products of endangered species (e.g., ivory and rhino horn), persistent organic pollutants, mile-long drift nets and land mines, and, maybe some day, the elimination of nuclear weapons. Paris is one push on a flywheel that is, oh so slowly, gathering momentum. That flywheel will continue to pick up speed not just because scientists and diplomats do their work but because biophysical conditions are, as much as anything, pushing it too. 

While the agreement did not directly challenge the dominant social organizing principle of growth, nor growth’s enabling principles of efficiency and consumer sovereignty, it did implicitly say that endless material expansion cannot continue. After a couple centuries of fabulously-increasing wealth, much driven by cheap fossil fuels, that shift is no mean feat. And it is far from complete. Paris is a nudge in the right direction.

 Three, it is an open question as to whether the financing needed to implement the agreement can be obtained while simultaneously reducing fossil fuel extraction. Much of the economic wealth of the past century or so can be attributed simply to the ready availability of cheap fossil fuels—cheap economically (price at the pump), cheap energetically (it took little energy to get energy) and cheap environmentally (so many true costs could be externalized with no consequence). That cheapness, energy analysts from industry, government and intergovernmental agencies, not to mention environmental scientists, all seem to agree is coming to an end. With it arguably is the easy wealth, the surplus capital, the extractable revenues that Paris negotiators are relying on to reduce emissions. With the slowing, possibly end, of worldwide economic growth, capital constraint will need to be on the table soon enough.

 What the Paris agreement represents culturally and politically is a dawning realization that fossil fuels themselves, not just emissions, not just impacts, are “the problem.” That is, just as humans have learned that they cannot handle slavery (and be democratic), and ozone-depleting substances (and protect ourselves from ultraviolet radiation), and land mines and so much more, they are learning, again oh so slowly, that they cannot handle fossil fuels, not at these rates. Fossil fuels are not “bad”; they are, after all, perfectly “natural.” We just can’t restrain our use of fossil fuels. 

To avert catastrophic outcomes humanity must start stopping fossil fuel use. Paris is such a start.


Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

The writer is co-editor of Ending the Fossil Fuel Era, author of Treading Softly and The Logic of Sufficiency  (all MIT Press) and a professor of natural resource policy at the University of Michigan.

Three Brilliant Short Videos

originally posted on, turn21.org

Evolution, which tends to build organisms that are “just good enough” to get by, has left us ill-equipped to deal with spans of time longer than a human lifetime. We need some help in this visualization exercise, and help is just a click, or three clicks, away.

First up, this 3-minute animation maps the 4.54 billion year history of our planet onto a great circle arc from Los Angeles to New York City. Hat tip to Rob for this one!

Next, Population Connection brings us this 5.5-minute video with a dramatic rendering of the last 2000 years of human population growth.

And finally, 300 Years of Fossil Fuels in 300 Seconds talks and sketches us through the last 200 years of our incredible journey—the industrial revolution—and asks us to think about what’s next. Created by Post Carbon Institute.

Open House

We are grateful for the excellent turnout at our open house yesterday! Moving to a new office home after 75 years in one place has been momentous. We were excited to celebrate our new space with friends, neighbors, members, trustees and former staff.

We had so many good conversations.

    The correct pronunciation of “Mitraniketan.”

    Who was “Griscom"

    Forest genetics in the Tennessee Valley.

Many stopped in, nibbled, sipped, chatted and moved on. Others stayed for long discussions, sitting in a side office, or browsing in the library.

    New economic structures...

    Partnerships with local organizations...

    Why Kerala, Cuba and Slovenia?

Hey, we had fun. 

Community Solutions needs your engagement and support. The new offices symbolize the changes in our program emphasis.  The anniversary magazine that we distributed, 75 Years of Pragmatic Idealism, reviews our history and describes the reweaving of our current work on climate and energy issues with our fundamental commitment to community and cultural redesign. Get your own copy, or download a free PDF, in our bookstore. We have always been a tiny organization with a big influence. 

The 100 Year Plan is more than the name of our next film. The CS board is developing a program structure to combine staff, interested members and Fellows, to work on our areas of concern in a manner that assures continuity through the ups and downs of funding and staffing. The enthusiasm of our open house indicates that there are local members who would participate in this model.

Please take time to read in the magazine about our current projects. Perhaps you would like to take part in a work group or contribute expertise in one of our areas of focus. Your local involvement can have global impact. Each area of Program focus has a working group led by a Community Solutions Board member. The working groups will guide and inform grant funded projects, collaboration with partner organizations and independent Fellows in Resilient Community, Regenerative Agriculture, Energy Democracy, Restorative Economics and Being the Change.

For the new office we would welcome donations of plants, books on our areas of concern, and materials for our Children’s Corner: natural art supplies, books that address community or environmental stewardship themes, and ecological toys. For inquiries about the Children’s Corner, contact Rose Hardesty at rhardesty@antiochcollege.org.

There are other ways to help. We need editors, writers, and other volunteers for special projects and events.

To see pictures click here. If you attended and have photos of your own to share, please submit them for inclusion in our gallery.

In cooperation,

Your Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions Staff Members

Wimbi's Wedges

(apologies to friend Robert Socolow)

Written by, Community Solutions fellow, wimbi

Now, class, please note the  editorial in the NYT  to the effect that -We can’t get there from here -to a low carbon world -  with what we know how to do, even if we do our very best, not just those nibbly littleefforts we are doing now.

This is quite obviously not true, for the simple reason I am about to show you- (draws big circle on the blackboard).  Here is our gross national effort of everything, we do.  It shows what energy, materials, brain-power, and so on, that we use for this and that, 

I start with the straight up line noon, and go clockwise around to about 1:20, that’s the wedge, or the slice of the pie, or whatever you like to label it, that represents what we REALLY HAVE TO DO.  You know what I mean, like, eat, breath, drink, not freeze, and that sort of thing,  If we don’t do all of that, we die.  This one we gotta have, no matter what, But you see it’s a pretty small piece of the whole pie.

Then, from 1:20 to maybe 3:40, we have the stuff that’s very nice to have but we could get along without much of, like education, communication, trade, and all that.  This wedge is bigger than the first one, and important, but none of it is absolutely necessary to stay alive, as is evident from the fact on the ground that lots of people now alive don't have it.

So you get where I am going -  next slice, we mark off as “great to have but could get along without”, just gripe a little.  Things like bananas, cars, rare earth magnets,  haircuts, AC, trips to Paris, things like that.  This one is big.  Goes from 3:40 to about 7:10. Notice how really big this one is compared to the first,vastly more important one, and you will start thinking the obvious before I tell you.

Then, the next wedge, or slice, the really big one, uses up most  of  everything we do, and is labeled "frivolous, harmful, evil or just plain stupid”  This one goes from 7:10 right around to straight up noon again.  I don’t need to tell you what’s in it.  My personal favorites are soda pop, lawns, on-impulse flights to Pago-Pago, and nuclear submarines.

Well, so when the NYT says we can’t get (you put in your favorite, like eliminating CO2), from here to there, it is same as saying - we  refuse to slide the bounds of those bad wedges around even a little bit.

Easy to see why.  All we have to do in orderto get a good wedge bigger than it is, and not change the more important one behind it, is to slide the less important wedge boundary farther around clockwise.

Like, we slide the boundary of the wrong, evil, stupid wedge around from 7:10 to 9:30, and we get a big slice to putwherever we want among the previous, more important wedges, like the first one, which includes a continuation of life on the planet, that is to say, no CO2 runaway to Venus-like temperatures.  When we do that, we have got there from here.  QED.

Now, your assignment, class, is to go home and write summaries of  all the specious, tricky, irrational, diversionary editorials to the effect“all this is well and good, but (condescending pat on the head ) you, wimbi, don’t seem to understand how the real world works, and why we really, truly can’t get to there, where we want to be, from here where we are.”

And, after you have done that, You can then show us how creative you are in cooking up absolutely deadly counter- arguments to all those empty ones.  

Bravo!  And Have Fun.