Tuesday, September 30, 2008

With All Eyes on the 700 Billion Bailout, House Passes Trillion-Dollar Defense Bill

I'll bet y'all could think of many better ways to spend a few trillion dollars....

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet. Posted September 26, 2008.

It's 'empire spending,' not 'defense spending.'

More stories by Joshua Holland

On Wednesday, the House passed a mammoth defense bill by a 392-39 vote. It's expected to clear the Senate with little difficulty next week.

It was part of a trillion-dollar stop-gap measure to keep programs running through next March, allowing lawmakers to skip town without passing a final budget. The Associated Press reports, "The legislation came together in a remarkably secret process that concentrated decision-making power in the hands of a few lawmakers."

In keeping with the tradition of recent years, Bush held a gun to his own head and threatened to pull the trigger if his demands weren't met. According to the AP, "To earn President Bush's signature rather than a veto, House and Senate negotiators dropped several provisions he opposed. They include a ban on private interrogators in U.S. military detention facilities and what would have amounted to congressional veto power over a security pact with Iraq."

In other words, Congress also maintained recent tradition, swearing not to give Bush a blank check and then whipping out their pens and signing a blank check.

The number that the House sent to the Senate for "defense" -- $612 billion for the coming year -- is eye-popping. Imagine a stack of 612,000 million-dollar bills. Quite a pile.

That number's a sham, however. The budget calls for $68.6 billion for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2009. War costs this year totaled $182 billion, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

The House passed the Brobdingnagian spending measure 11 months after George W. Bush vetoed a bill -- one passed with a lot of bipartisan support -- that would have added $7 billion measly dollars per year to the State Children's Health Insurance Program, covering 4 million more uninsured children. You'd be hard-pressed to find a clearer sign of national psychosis.

Here's what "defense" spending looks like in the era of Bush's "War on Terror," according to official figures:

Click for larger version
(click for larger version)

But that's just the cash to feed the gaping maw of the Department of Defense. Throw in a bit more than $50 billion for Homeland Security, around $20 billion for the nuclear arsenal in the Department of Energy's budget, about $10 billion for the Coast Guard, a similar number for foreign "security assistance" and maybe another $125 billion -- according to one estimate -- in other defense-related programs scattered throughout the federal budget.

Bush also requested $91 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2009, up from $72 billion just three years ago. A generation of damaged young men and women are going to cost more and more as the years go by -- many post-traumatic injuries, for example, don't manifest themselves for 10 or more years after people get out of combat. In 2000, nine years after the first Gulf War, 56 percent of those who had served in that conflict were receiving disability payments.

But wait, as they say on late-night infomercials, there's more!

All of this only finances our current military adventures. We're still paying for Korea and Vietnam and Grenada and Panama and the first Gulf War and Somalia and the Balkans and on and on. Estimates of just how much of our national debt payments are from past military spending vary wildly. Economist Robert Higgs calculated it like this:

I added up all past deficits (minus surpluses) since 1916 (when the debt was nearly zero), prorated according to each year's ratio of narrowly defined national security spending--military, veterans, and international affairs--to total federal spending, expressing everything in dollars of constant purchasing power. This sum is equal to 91.2 percent of the value of the national debt held by the public at the end of 2006. Therefore, I attribute that same percentage of the government's net interest outlays in that year to past debt-financed defense spending.

In 2006, he came up with a figure of $206.7 billion for interest payments on past militarism. Add it all up, and we're talking about at least a trillion dollars in military and homeland security spending. If there were a million-dollar bill, you'd have to stack a million of them to reach a trillion dollars.

Of course, very little of this is "defense." This is empire spending, pure and simple ...

What's that? You want health care, education, affordable housing, 21st-century infrastructure?

Sorry, we've got other priorities.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth

Written in 1998, the Incomplete Manifesto is an articulation of statements exemplifying Bruce Mau’s (of Bruce Mau Design) beliefs, strategies and motivations.

  1. Allow events to change you.You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.
  2. Forget about good.Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you'll never have real growth.
  3. Process is more important than outcome.When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we've already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.
  4. Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child).Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.
  5. Go deep.The deeper you go the more likely you will discover something of value.
  6. Capture accidents.The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.
  7. Study.A studio is a place of study. Use the necessity of production as an excuse to study. Everyone will benefit.
  8. Drift.Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.
  9. Begin anywhere.John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.
  10. Everyone is a leader.Growth happens. Whenever it does, allow it to emerge. Learn to follow when it makes sense. Let anyone lead.
  11. Harvest ideas.Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.
  12. Keep moving.The market and its operations have a tendency to reinforce success. Resist it. Allow failure and migration to be part of your practice.
  13. Slow down.Desynchronize from standard time frames and surprising opportunities may present themselves.
  14. Don’t be cool.Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.
  15. Ask stupid questions.Growth is fueled by desire and innocence. Assess the answer, not the question. Imagine learning throughout your life at the rate of an infant.
  16. Collaborate.The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.
  17. ____________________.Intentionally left blank. Allow space for the ideas you haven’t had yet, and for the ideas of others.
  18. Stay up late.Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you're separated from the rest of the world.
  19. Work the metaphor.Every object has the capacity to stand for something other than what is apparent. Work on what it stands for.
  20. Be careful to take risks.Time is genetic. Today is the child of yesterday and the parent of tomorrow. The work you produce today will create your future.
  21. Repeat yourself.If you like it, do it again. If you don’t like it, do it again.
  22. Make your own tools.Hybridize your tools in order to build unique things. Even simple tools that are your own can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. Remember, tools amplify our capacities, so even a small tool can make a big difference.
  23. Stand on someone’s shoulders.You can travel farther carried on the accomplishments of those who came before you. And the view is so much better.
  24. Avoid software.The problem with software is that everyone has it.
  25. Don’t clean your desk.You might find something in the morning that you can’t see tonight.
  26. Don’t enter awards competitions.Just don’t. It’s not good for you.
  27. Read only left-hand pages.Marshall McLuhan did this. By decreasing the amount of information, we leave room for what he called our "noodle."
  28. Make new words.Expand the lexicon. The new conditions demand a new way of thinking. The thinking demands new forms of expression. The expression generates new conditions.
  29. Think with your mind.Forget technology. Creativity is not device-dependent.
  30. Organization = Liberty.Real innovation in design, or any other field, happens in context. That context is usually some form of cooperatively managed enterprise. Frank Gehry, for instance, is only able to realize Bilbao because his studio can deliver it on budget. The myth of a split between "creatives" and "suits" is what Leonard Cohen calls a 'charming artifact of the past.'
  31. Don’t borrow money.Once again, Frank Gehry’s advice. By maintaining financial control, we maintain creative control. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s surprising how hard it is to maintain this discipline, and how many have failed.
  32. Listen carefully.Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same.
  33. Take field trips.The bandwidth of the world is greater than that of your TV set, or the Internet, or even a totally immersive, interactive, dynamically rendered, object-oriented, real-time, computer graphic–simulated environment.
  34. Make mistakes faster.This isn’t my idea -- I borrowed it. I think it belongs to Andy Grove.
  35. Imitate.Don’t be shy about it. Try to get as close as you can. You'll never get all the way, and the separation might be truly remarkable. We have only to look to Richard Hamilton and his version of Marcel Duchamp’s large glass to see how rich, discredited, and underused imitation is as a technique.
  36. Scat.When you forget the words, do what Ella did: make up something else ... but not words.
  37. Break it, stretch it, bend it, crush it, crack it, fold it.
  38. Explore the other edge.Great liberty exists when we avoid trying to run with the technological pack. We can’t find the leading edge because it’s trampled underfoot. Try using old-tech equipment made obsolete by an economic cycle but still rich with potential.
  39. Coffee breaks, cab rides, green rooms.Real growth often happens outside of where we intend it to, in the interstitial spaces -- what Dr. Seuss calls "the waiting place." Hans Ulrich Obrist once organized a science and art conference with all of the infrastructure of a conference -- the parties, chats, lunches, airport arrivals — but with no actual conference. Apparently it was hugely successful and spawned many ongoing collaborations.
  40. Avoid fields.Jump fences. Disciplinary boundaries and regulatory regimes are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are often understandable efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump the fences and cross the fields.
  41. Laugh.People visiting the studio often comment on how much we laugh. Since I've become aware of this, I use it as a barometer of how comfortably we are expressing ourselves.
  42. Remember.Growth is only possible as a product of history. Without memory, innovation is merely novelty. History gives growth a direction. But a memory is never perfect. Every memory is a degraded or composite image of a previous moment or event. That’s what makes us aware of its quality as a past and not a present. It means that every memory is new, a partial construct different from its source, and, as such, a potential for growth itself.
  43. Power to the people.Play can only happen when people feel they have control over their lives. We can't be free agents if we’re not free.

The Water Institute

What Is A Watershed?

The term "watershed" describes a catchment basin that conveys all surface and groundwater that falls within it and runs through it. It is geographically defined by the highest ridgelines, or watershed divides, that encircle it. It is these watershed divides that differentiate it from the adjacent watershed.

The word watershed is used to describe basins, catchments or drainages of varying sizes. For example, The WATER Institute is located in the headwaters of Dutch Bill Watershed, an 11 square mile area nested within its larger watershed, the 1480 square mile Russian River basin. Watersheds can be as small as the property you live on or as large as the Mississippi basin which drains 40% of the North American continent.

It is common for people to focus on the creek, or river, alone when, in fact, it is everything that occurs from the ridgeline to the rivermouth that makes up the watershed. The movement of water over and through the living ecosystem connects us to one another and to all species living in our Basin of Relation. The quality and quantity of this precious liquid, can determine which and how many of each species can sustainably live in each watershed. The better we understand the relationship between our actions and the watershed we live in, the more likely we are to ensure water security for all species that share a watershed.

A true "Watershed Moment." This ridgeline sheds rainwater in
to two distinct watersheds.

© 2006-2008 by The WATER Institute, Occidental Arts and Ecology Center,
All Rights Reserved
15290 Coleman Valley Road, Occidental, CA 95465
(707) 874-1557 x 206

In 2004 the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (OAEC) established the WATER Institute (Watershed Advocacy, Training, Education, & Research) to promote understanding of the importance of healthy watersheds to healthy communities. Building upon OAEC’s many years of work to protect Coastal California’s watersheds, the WATER Institute concentrates on four interrelated and equally strong program components: advocacy and policy development; training and support; education and demonstration; and research.

The WATER Institute staff includes Director Brock Dolman, Associate Director Kate Lundquist, Research Director Jim Coleman and Salmon Safe Pesticide Coordinator Viviana Coloma.

The WATER Institute continues to publish and educate about “Conservation Hydrology,” an applied science being pioneered by OAEC and characterized by the following key concepts:

• Human development decisions must be based on a new “rehydration model” instead of the current “dehydration model.”
• All development must safeguard the health of watersheds and the availability of clean water.
• Land-use management strategies must thoroughly analyze the impact of human activities on the hydrologic cycle, and how these activities affect species, community and ecosystem dynamics.
• Democratic, regionally controlled decision-making processes are essential for the protection of vigorous ecosystems and diverse, resilient hydrological systems.

At local, regional and global levels, we hear ever-increasing demands for ample supplies of high quality water. In response, we must develop accurate means of evaluating the amount of water available for both human appropriation and for the needs of all other life forms and ecosystems. We must defend the perspective that water is common to us all, and we must oppose its privatization.

Asserting that it is “better to be safe than thirsty,” the WATER Institute advocates the use of the Precautionary Principle in decisions about water-use policy. The burden of proof must be on water users to show that their proposed use of our common water can be sustained without damage to the hydrologic cycle. For example, will the new water use adversely affect the infiltration, runoff, creek flows, evaporation, precipitation, condensation, availability, or purity of local water?

The WATER Institute’s initial research project is to better understand the hydrological cycle on the very land and water where we live and work at OAEC. We have installed a computerized weather station and a groundwater well-monitoring system to record water levels and characterize the relationship between surface water and groundwater at the OAEC site.

This monitoring will provide data to develop an OAEC “water budget,” and will help determine our long-term conservation hydrology plan. For instance, a conservation hydrology strategy for OAEC might include increasing the recharge of our groundwater and enhancing potable water quality by slowing surface water runoff and increasing infiltration. This research will be useful as a model for larger projects in the Dutch Bill Creek Watershed and the Russian River Basin. Numerous water policy and educational opportunities will likely flow from this baseline research.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tastes like dark rabbit meat....

(not your pet but a 7lb large Peruvian breed)

The high protein and high concentration of B vitamins found in meat make it an ideal part of the diet, very difficult to replace by plant foods, even with grain legumes that are nutritionally the closest plant foods to meat. Yet production of meat on the small farm almost dictates a way of life with several disadvantages. If small animals are raised in pens they usually require purchased concentrates or grains used for the family, at least as part of the diet. If allowed to roam freely they make it impossible to maintain a dooryard vegetable garden, and make good hygiene difficult. Furthermore, if the family cannot eat the entire animal at one meal, refrigeration is required or other preservation techniques.

The guinea pig or cavy, Cavia porcellus, is a rodent that was domesticated in the Andes as a source of meat. Because it is a small animal it can be eaten by a small family in one meal and does not require refrigeration. It is herbivorous and becomes accustomed to many sorts of feed. The meat is much like rabbit, and is low in fat content. Furthermore, the cavy multiplies rapidly, but not at the rate that folk literature would suggest. With breeding as recommended here, one pair of cavies could produce about 260 new pairs in 2 years. Because of these characteristics the cavy should be tried widely as a source of meat for the household as well as to sell.

Nevertheless, production of cavies requires a year-round source of herbaceous feed. To some extent the feed can be supplied as hay during the dry season or even as purchased alfalfa pellets (rabbit food), or stored roots and tubers can be used. The cavy does not normally eat cooked foods from the table but will eat some of the scraps from uncooked fruits and vegetables. More details of feeds for cavy are given later.

While the cavy is often produced almost by neglect, good housing is highly desirable. This includes provisions for maintaining cavies separated by sex and age (see later). Furthermore, cavies do have their parasites and diseases, best avoided by adequate housing.

Read the rest of the article...
(small PDF)

Read, too, about:

The Great-Granddaddy of Guinea Pigs
...a guinea pig that could eat YOU! (if it weren't vegetarian).

What is the origin of this monstrous machine that chews up beauty and spits out money?

Down with Descartes

For better or worse, the distinction between humans and nature is collapsing

by Charles Eisenstein

Published in the May/June 2008 issue of Orion magazine

THE SHAMAN Martín Prechtel once told me that back in his village, no one would say, “I am healthy but my child is sick.” A person would say, “My family is sick” or “My village is sick.” To think any one individual could be healthy when his or her family, village, or indeed the land, the water, or the planet were not would be as absurd as saying, “I’ve got a fatal liver disease, but that’s just my liver—I am healthy!” Just as my sense of self includes my liver, so theirs included their social and natural community.

The modern self is a discrete and separate subject in a universe that is other. It is the economic man of Adam Smith; it is the skin-encapsulated ego of Alan Watts; it is the embodied soul of religion; it is the selfish gene of biology.

It underlies the converging crises of our time, which are all permutations of the theme of separation—separation from nature, from community, from lost parts of ourselves. It is at the heart of all the usual culprits blamed for the ongoing destruction of ecology and polity, such as human greed and capitalism.

Our sense of self entails that more for me is less for you; hence we have an interest-based money system embodying precisely that principle. In older, gift-based societies, the opposite was true.

When we exclude the world from the self, the tiny, lonely identity that remains naturally seeks to grow and connect through acquisition, building a realm of me and mine to compensate for its lost beingness. Other separate selves do the same, so we live in a world of competition and omnipresent anxiety that is built into our self-definition.

Looking out upon the strip mines and the clearcuts and the dead zones and the genocides and the debased consumer culture, we ask, What is the origin of this monstrous machine that chews up beauty and spits out money? The discrete and separate self, surveying a universe that is fundamentally other, understandably and logically treats the natural and human world as a pile of instrumental, accidental stuff. The rest of the world is fundamentally not-self. Why should we care about it, beyond its potential to be useful to us? So it was that Descartes, a pioneering articulator of the modern sense of self, articulated as well the ambition to become the “lords and possessors” of nature. And so it was that we built the infernal machine.

As above, so below. Having made nature into an adversary, or at best a pile of “resources,” it is no surprise that we manifest the same relationship within our bodies. The defining diseases of our time—autism, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, asthma, arthritis, diabetes—are in whole or in part autoimmune diseases, the somatization of our self/other confusion. What we do to nature, we do to ourselves, inescapably. Just as the village, the forest, and the planet are inseparable parts of ourselves that we mistake as other, so our immune systems reject our own body tissues.

Our rigid, narrow self/other distinction is coming to an end, victim of its own premises. As the mystics have taught, the separate self can be maintained only temporarily, and at great cost. We have maintained it a long time, and built a civilization upon it that seeks the conquest of nature and human nature. The present convergence of crises has laid bare the futility of that goal. It portends the end of civilization as we know it, and the instauration of a new state of human beingness defined by a more fluid, more inclusive sense of self. This convergence of crises is a birth crisis, propelling us from an old world, an old self, into a new.

Bad Hair Day

by Alastair Bland

Published in the May/June 2008 issue of Orion magazine

Nature provides solutions to many problems, no matter how seemingly hopeless and messy. Take for example the November 7, 2007, oil spill in San Francisco Bay, in which fifty-eight thousand gallons of fuel gushed from the Cosco Busan‘s hull and lathered the water’s surface. It was a local disaster, no doubt, but the spill has also inspired environmentalists to begin redesigning the world’s approach to toxic-waste cleanup with two unlikely yet promising tools: human hair and mushrooms.

Coverage of the oil spill produced few remarkable images, just the standard shots of crews on beaches floundering in black sludge and handling soiled birds. But then media caught on to something that no oil spill had seen before: an activist named Lisa Gautier and several hundred volunteers were using mats of human hair to soak up the oil from the sands of Ocean Beach, just south of the Golden Gate Bridge.

As executive director of the environmental nonprofit Matter of Trust, Gautier had been storing the hair mats for just such an occasion. She explained to reporters that the mats, marketed by an Alabama gardening supply company as soil insulators, work far better at soaking up oil than conventional polypropylene mats, which are manufactured and widely used for just that purpose and are, ironically, themselves made from petroleum. Human hair is organic, biodegradable, and almost endlessly available at more than 300,000 hair salons in the United States and abroad. (See the photo gallery)

Around the Bay Area, a total of nineteen thousand gallons of spilled oil were recovered. Gautier mopped up several thousand pounds of ship fuel with her hair mats. Oil reclaimed after spills is regularly incinerated, but Gautier had a better, cleaner idea. She has long followed the work of Seattle biologist Paul Stamets, who has intensively researched the oyster mushroom’s capacity to reconfigure dangerous hydrocarbons into nontoxic—even edible—carbohydrates, and she called Stamets three days after the spill to ask if he would like to help orchestrate a demonstration of mycoremediation. Hearing that Gautier had enough ship fuel to feed an army of oyster mushrooms, Stamets was keen to offer his expertise as well as donate hundreds of pounds of mushroom mycelium, the underground fungal organism from which mushrooms sprout. But as enthusiasm mounted, authorities abruptly announced that the recovered Cosco Busan oil, along with the saturated hair mats, would be withheld as potential evidence in legal proceedings. So Gautier changed course, securing a twenty-gallon sample of ship fuel from an East Bay freighter company, as well as several buckets of used motor oil, and the experiment went forth.

On a small plot of federal land in the Presidio forest near the Golden Gate Bridge, Stamets, Gautier, and volunteers stacked hay bales like building blocks to construct a thirty-by-thirty-foot enclosure, within which they built eight square chambers. After laying a thick, waterproof tarp over the hay bales, the team filled each of the isolated chambers with oil. Two would be left as controls, one containing just motor oil, the other ship fuel. But in the other six the team added mycelium with varying mixtures of straw, sawdust, and grain. The mycelium reacted, and by mid-January, beautiful oyster mushrooms had sprouted from the cubicles of mulch. Subsequent lab analyses showed that the mixtures beneath the sprouted mushrooms were greatly thinned of hydrocarbons, and in the mushrooms themselves there remained not a trace of petroleum. It was magic. (See mycoremediation photo gallery)

Already, the idea is catching on around the world. The tremendous oil spills that struck shorelines in Russia and South Korea in late 2007 have been remedied in part with human hair mats after local activists heard of the drama in San Francisco, and in Valdez, Alaska, where oil still seeps from tide pools nineteen years after the terrible Exxon spill, locals have voiced a renewed interest in finally cleaning up the mess using the combination of hair mats and mycoremediation.

Across the water from San Francisco, too, the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland has partnered with Matter of Trust to launch a local hair-mat manufacturing plant—the first such facility on domestic soil (the current hair-mat supply comes mostly from China). The U.S. Coast Guard is considering signing on as a regular buyer.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Financial Permaculture

In 1989, I was serving as Assistant Secretary of Housing. The housing bubble of the 1980’s had burst, and foreclosures were rising. The mortgage insurance funds of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) were experiencing dramatic losses. We were losing $11 mm a year in the single-family fund. All funds had lost $2 billion in the southwest region the year before.

My staff and I did an analysis of what had caused the losses. What were the actions that we could take?

Fraud aside, the single biggest cause of losses in the FHA portfolio was a falling Popsicle Index – an index that we coined as a rule of thumb to express the health of the living equity within a place.

The Popsicle Index is the percent of people who believe that a child can leave their home, go to the nearest place to buy a popsicle, and come home alone safely. It’s an expression of the sense of intimacy and well being in a place.

Not surprisingly, there is a correlation between the financial equity or wealth in a place and the living equity or human and natural wealth. Where the people, living things and land are happy, businesses thrive, and the value of real estate is good.

Much as I tried, I found it difficult to interest anyone in a rising Popsicle Index. Countless petitioners made their way through my offices – mortgage bankers, homebuilders, realtors, low-income activists, real estate developers, tenants and city officials. Invariably what they wanted was for me to make a decision that would help them make money. Over time, I could tell what government actions would cause the stock market to go up and down by the flow of people and their various petitions. Meantime, I could not interest anyone in a rising Popsicle Index. They did not see how it could make them money.

It took many years of researching to realize what was going on in our financial systems to incentivize this behavior. In most areas of the world, places are organized by government and financed with debt.

Corporations are financed with both debt and equity. The key financial opportunity is in owning the equity. When profits increase or the perception of a company prospects improve, the stock goes up. Senior management and investors sell the shares, generating capital gains. Capital gains on stocks and real estate are primary mechanisms for creating financial wealth in our society.

As a result, corporations can make money exploiting people and places and their stock will go up. The “stock” of the place harmed will not go down; there is no ‘stock’ of the place. By centralizing our investment capital into large corporations, our financial interests are not aligned with the interests of the people and our natural environment

So what do we do? If we are to stop the financial drain on our families and communities we must change how we manage our own finances. Perhaps the way to begin is as permaculture teaches us – to listen and build out from natural systems which are, ultimately, the source of most of our wealth.

In every place, there are thousands of existing financial agreements, including laws and regulations that impact financial values. If we are to nurture and restore places, we are well served to listen to both natural systems and existing financial agreements, looking for ways of building new, fundamental alignments between land, people and their savings that reduce risk and optimize resources on an integrated basis. From years of studying the financing of places, I can assure you that those opportunities exist. Years of continuous learning, patience and collaboration will be fruitful.

In every place, people and local institutions have financial capital, typically retirement capital or various kinds of savings and reserves. Increasingly, this capital is invested through centralized institutions and financial centers.

Developing ways of creating sound investments to finance permaculture developments and the businesses that supply them would serve to spread the adoption of permaculture techniques. The more opportunities locally, or through decentralized networks, the easier it will be for people to withdraw their retirement savings from destructive systems.

The power of financially sustainable alternatives is that they help create a safe haven for billions of dollars that would like to leave more traditional investments but must have a place to go that is respectful of their precious savings and need for retirement income.

I am often told that financial tools are destructive and we should withdraw from them entirely. However, it is important to understand that millions of people have their life savings invested in that system. By choosing to not create sound, reliable alternatives, we ensure that their capital will stay invested in the old paradigm, financing destructive activities. Let’s find a way to welcome and protect their capital. Think of the potential allies we could make.

When we look at the flow of time and resources within a place where are some opportunities?

Small Business: Small business is the engine of a local economy. Look for ways to help local businesses attract and build talent and market products and services that increase local self- sufficiency. With the importance of agriculture increasing, this includes small farms too.

Government Resources: Centralization means that a greater portion of resources in a place are controlled by government, including the federal government. This money - as well as government regulations -often creates incentives out of alignment with the best interest of the local community and local natural resources. Concerted attention to understand government rules and regulations can produce opportunities for reengineering.

Distressed Assets: We are experiencing significant mortgage and other debt defaults as well as bankruptcies. Organizing ways to proactively help people harmed and reposition assets owned by distant financial institutions or government may represent an opportunity. Could these assets be “greened?”

Local Capital: Increasingly local investment capital is invested through Wall Street. Look for angel or other small investors as well as philanthropists who would be interested in creating ways to circulate more equity investment locally.

Strategic Partnerships: Every community can benefit from renewable technology and new skills. Look for ways to build linkages between a community and the enterprises and institutions that help create self- sufficiency. Such partnerships may also provide another opportunity for local capital.

Waste: Just as physical waste presents an opportunity for greening a community, so does financial waste. Study what is causing financial distress and look for opportunities to find solutions. For example, one of the biggest sources of financial waste comes from using a currency that is falling in value. Hence, the growing interest in community currencies and barter.

Align incentives: Increasing local equity investment means that investors can benefit from a wide variety of initiatives to lower costs and consumption, improve local business and markets and the flow of deposits, purchases and investments locally.

The idea of using the term Financial Permaculture to describe our efforts was coined by Thomas Hupp of the Leadership School as he, Jennifer Dauksha-English of the Center for Holistic Ecology, Greg Landau of the Ecovillage Training Institute, Carolyn Betts of Solari and I were brainstorming how to integrate Solari investment strategy with permaculture.

We decided the best way to create an integrated vision of natural and financial health within a place was to invite many more people into the conversation.

From October 24-28, with our colleagues Connie Sharp from the Sonnenschein Festival, Debbie Landers from Leadership Lewis and the team from GAIA University, we will gather with students and experts from across the country in Hohenwald, Tennessee for a five day course and simulation - Financial Permaculture: The Greening of a Rural American Community.

We would love for you to join us in the “invention room.” For more information and to register, see www.holisticecology.org.

Also see: The Farm Blog

Monday, September 8, 2008


Plan C 5.0: Community Solutions to Climate Change and Peak Oil

From Global Climate Solutions http://globalclimatesolutions.org/
2 09 2008

Relocalization—the process of creating sustainable and largely self-reliant communities that are all at once beautiful, prosperous, and meaningful places to live—is perhaps the single greatest step we can take to “decarbonize” our lives and thereby prepare for climate change and peak oil simultaneously.
It’s a shame and a testament to our highly compartmentalized 21st century mindset that many within the “climate change community” and the larger “sustainability community” don’t know about peak oil and the potentially damning effects it could have on our social and economic systems. For example, I take courses from highly, highly educated climate scientists who can speak for hours on, for example, the intricacies of cloud formation as it relates to sulfate particles in the atmosphere and how they are expected to change with a warming atmosphere. But ask them about “peak oil?” They don’t know what it is. Never heard of it.

You might be able to claim ignorance, but you can’t say there wasn’t anybody warning you about it or describing the solutions either. Community Solutions (www.communitysolution.org), a vibrant non-profit organization out of Yellow Springs, Ohio, has been ringing the clarion call for solutions to climate change and peak oil for over half a decade now and are preparing to host their 5
th annual conference on “Plan C: Individual Survival Strategies for the Energy Crisis.” (Conference website available here: www.plancconference.info.)

To say that the list of speakers they have lined up are good would be a gross understatement—it would be worthy to travel to hear any one of the seven amazing visionaries they have scheduled.

Among them John Michael Greer (who has recently been called “the greatest peak oil historian in the English language), Richard Heinberg (easily the most influential and prolific writer on peak oil ), Peter Bane (probably one of the top Permaculture practitioners and teachers in the world, co-editor of Permaculture Activist [www.permacultureactivist.net], and also my PC design course teacher;) and—let us not forget—Megan Quinn Bachman (Outreach director of Community Solutions—young, passionate, articulate, and a global leader—what more could you ask for?!)
The conference is scheduled to take place October 31st-November 2nd in Rochester, Michigan. In order to receive Early Registration prices you have to sign up before September 30th. The cost for the conference is a steal, in my opinion, with extremely low costs . (I should note that I am not affiliated whatsoever with the conference—I am merely a strong supporter of the great work and leadership Community Solutions has been providing over the years.)
It is function of our modernistic society that we believe that all of our problems—energy, climate, and environment—are capable of being solved with techno-fixes. Unfortunately, we may simply be out of time and energy resources to redesign our entire transportation and energy infrastructure. It’s a hard truth that many don’t want to face, but it may well be true.

Peter Bane: Permaculture wizard, activist, and friend!

Personally, I believe we should be actively working to research and develop renewable energy sources (particularly Carbon Negative Energy with biochar production in a process called pyrolysis in addition to wind and solar energy technologies), but the very first place to work on, the lowest-hanging fruit where we can save the most money and energy and where we can simultaneously prepare for peak oil and mitigate the threat of climate change is by relocalizing our communities; weatherizing and retrofitting our buildings; creating local sustainable food systems; generating healthy local economies; and utilizing the inherent wisdom of Permaculture design principles.
We have but one beautiful planet to protect and but precious little time to do it in. What we choose to do—or not to do—in the next five to ten years will make all the difference. Be prepared to work hard and work together—that’s the only way we’re going to win!