The embargo has had profound effects upon Cuba, not all of them bad. Watch this for a hint.
You can get a more complete picture by watching the documentary, The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil
The embargo has had profound effects upon Cuba, not all of them bad. Watch this for a hint.
You can get a more complete picture by watching the documentary, The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil
Michael Brownlee’s presentation on The Local Food and Farming Revolution is a “must read.” In it, he clearly outlines the things we must do to assure our future food security and sustainability (along with the reasons why). Here below I have excerpted his conclusions.–t.h.g.
Clearly, the food and agricultural revolution is already getting underway. Fundamentally, it’s not about simply about lifestyle choices or mere differences in values. It’s arising in response to a growing predicament that is at the heart of our industrial agriculture system and the heart of our globalized economy.
This transition is coming whether we like it or not, whether we’re ready or not.
I know there’s a lot of controversy around all this, and a lot of emotions. I suspect a lot of dust is going to get kicked up along the way.
Much of the debate seems to hinge around the goals of sustainability seemingly interfering with farmers’ and industry’s goals of profitability. But sustainable agriculture must of course include economic viability. And that doesn’t necessarily mean “big.”
We sometimes hear “small farming” used as a pejorative term. Small organic farmers often get pigeonholed and tossed aside as a probable relic of the past.
But at the 19th annual Farming for the Future conference in Pennsylvania earlier this month, Bryan Snyder, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture said something very significant, and I want to close with his words. He said:
“People like to hear about lots of acres or large numbers of animals and bushels of corn per acre measured in the hundreds. But models of farming that can gross $50,000 to $100,000 on a single acre—or CSA programs that, in some cases and on relatively small acreage, are able to count their customers in the thousands and bank $1 million or more in the spring before even planting a seed—are anything but small!”
Snyder’s conclusion is exactly what we have come to at Transition Colorado:
“We must encourage everyone, wherever they are and as a priority, to eat food produced as near to their own homes as possible. Secondly, feed thy neighbor as thyself. From this perspective, local food not only can feed the world, it may be the only way to ever feed the world in a healthy and just manner.”
Tom Atlee is a leading scholar and promoter of actions related to co-intelligence and group wisdom. In his recent newsletter below, he expresses some important insights regarding the role of punishment in changing individual behavior. His conclusions are entirely consistent with my own beliefs and research findings that behavior is determined not only by personal predisposition, but also by the situational context and systems in which people find themselves embedded. Please consider the points that Tom makes in this posting. – t.h.g.
In my post yesterday I noted that punishing people who do bad things is a form of low-leverage intervention. Here I want to add some nuance and perspective to that statement.
I still believe that punishment BY ITSELF will not, in most cases, make a significant difference in whatever social, economic or environmental problem we think it will solve. One person or group is seldom the cause of what’s wrong. They are usually part of a larger picture — a system, a culture, a worldview, a way of doing business — that enables or encourages people to behave in the ways that they do. If we don’t change such larger dynamics, those dynamics will just continue to generate more problematic perpetrators.
Reading the article below about the coming investigation of bankers and other financial titans, I realized that punishment can, in significant ways, be part of a solution. It just has to be be done in a way that serves the transformation of those larger social dynamics. It can be used to drum up public support for systemic changes that confused citizens otherwise wouldn’t appreciate. It can rouse a sense of “Never Again!” in the larger public, leading to deep reform or transformation.
Punishment can also be embedded in the systemic changes, themselves. The systemic logic of punishment is its deterrent effect (as contrasted with its psychological logic, which may look more like revenge or self-righteousness). If you set things up such that the prospect of punishment causes potential perpetrators to think twice and thus significantly reduces the number of anti-social acts, then the prospect of punishment has served its systemic purpose. Furthermore, if the punishment includes efforts to reform the perpetrator — to expand their awareness, to change their behavior, to set them on a new, more socially benign course in life — that, too, has a systemic impact.
The evolutionary purpose of rewards, punishments and other incentives of all kinds is to help align the self-interest of the individual, group, corporation, or country to the needs and well-being of the larger whole — the whole society, the whole world, the whole of life. The pleasures of food and sex, and the pain of poisons and predators, have had an obvious impact on the evolutionary ability of species to sustain themselves over time. Moral codes and legal systems, social status and myths of heaven and hell, all play roles in aligning the behavior of individuals to the needs of the larger societies they are part of.
CONSCIOUS evolution involves, among other things, setting things up so that when we do the “right” thing we experience pleasure and when we do the “wrong” thing we experience discomfort or pain. “Artificial” incentives are needed to the extent that intrinsic impacts are not sufficiently clear and compelling. When we fill up the gas tank or turn on the light, there is no direct link in our experience to our degradation of the climate. So we may need a “carbon tax” to help us “feel” the negative impacts of our fossil fuel use.
However, the proof of punishment’s value is in the actual impact on behavior. If we see an endless stream of perpetrators being punished — as we do with the drug war — then punishment is not serving its systemic role. If we see the worst perpetrators avoiding punishment because they can buy powerful lawyers or politicians or find loopholes or otherwise undermine enforcement, then punishment is not serving its systemic role. This is not all bad. From a social change perspective, each instance of avoiding deserved punishment gives us more data about what ELSE in the system needs to change in order to support the ongoing health of the larger society and world.
If the identification, publicizing and punishment of perpetrators of the financial meltdown described below reaches deep enough to not only send them to prison BUT ALSO to reform the financial system AND ALSO to change the political/governmental system so that those with undue wealth and political leverage cannot undo those financial reforms (as happened with the New Deal reforms during Clinton’s term), then the punishment would have served its highest systemic purpose. Gigantic concentrations of wealth, the “personhood” of corporations, campaign financing, the “revolving door” of powerful government and corporate positions, the adversarial vote-based system of majoritarian democracy itself — these are just a few of the hot targets for reform at the level that it is needed.
If change is not AT LEAST that deep, the punishment of financial titans will simply discharge some of the public’s energy of upset, and we shall see renewed financial crises over and over, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow because the earth keep spinning, because that’s the way things are set up to play out.
Coheartedly, Tom PS: And of course this applies to every other issue where punishment is proposed or in place as part of the solution. Tom Atlee, the Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440 http://www.co-intelligence.org / http://www.democracyinnovations.org Tom Atlee’s blog – http://tom-atlee.posterous.com
In my recent lectures, interviews and presentations, I’ve been talking about the inevitable transition to “The Butterfly Economy.” I define this roughly as an economy that does not require continuous overall growth in output and consumption, that maximizes the use-value obtained from each unit of resources, and which is both more equitable and provides a better quality of life for all.
The challenge now is to develop strategies and behaviors that move things in the right direction. In my view, this must include the stimulation of creativity, better methods of decision making, and new structures for collaboration.
This video by Andrea Saveri provides some insights and examples that may be helpful.
This video was featured on the NLab website.
To my knowledge, no one has a better handle on that than Richard Flyer. He has been working effectively in his own community around Reno, Nevada for the past several years. Listen to his story in this recent interview.
In October 2008 Sergio Lub visited Mondragon, Spain as part of a group organized by Georgia Kelly of Praxis Peace Institute. Sergio’s report and comment posted on the Webofdebt Wiki is well worth reading. – t.h.g.
This comes to me by way of Steve Moyer. Some excellent suggestions for reducing our dependence on conventional money while at the same time making friends and building community. I might add that there are some very good social networks that enable hospitality and accommodations for travelers. I have positive personal experience with couchsurfing.com. I’ve also joined Hospitality Club, but have not made use of it yet. – t.h.g.
by Beverly Feldman and Charles Gray
You don’t have to participate in a local currency or service exchange to be part of the cooperative gift economy. Any time you do a favor for a family member, neighbor, colleague, or stranger you’re part of it. Here are some ways you can spend time in the gift economy, where you’ll find fun, freedom, and connection.
1. Start a dinner co-op. Rotate among the homes of friends and neighbors for weekly or monthly potlucks.
2. Help a local farmer with the harvest in exchange for some of the crop.
3. Put up a traveler.
4. Hold twice-yearly sport supply exchanges so kids can acquire new skis and baseball mitts and everyone can try out a new sport.
5. Harvest wild or unwanted fruits and vegetables.
6. Grow your own, and give some of it away.
7. Share seeds and clippings from your garden – especially native and “heritage” species. Hold an annual plant exchange.
8. Organize a “non-consumption booth” at a farmers’ market or street fair. At the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market, the Environmental Chat Corner hosts discussions of environmental issues, sustainable building and landscaping, ecotourism, and community development.
9. Buy food or supplies in bulk and share with friends.
10. Form a home-repair team to fix your own place and others’.
11. Request help of someone usually regarded as needy.
12. Create your own rainy-day fund with your friends. One group pooled $1,000 each, which they lent to any in the group who needed it. The fund helped members survive a lost job, a stolen bicycle, and a broken arm.
13. Make space available to other people to grow food on your land.
14. Borrow garden space from someone who has extra land; give them, or a food bank, some of the produce.
15. Give co-workers neck and shoulder massages.
16. Offer to mentor a young person.
17. Ask a 12-year-old to show you how to get onto the Worldwide Web.
18. Throw a block party.
19. Show up at a soup kitchen and ask for volunteer help.
20. Rent out extra space to people needing a place to sleep, work, or just to get away, or exchange the space for yard work or baby-sitting.
21. Convert a duplex, apartment building, old nursing home, or seminary into a co-housing community.
22. Convert a barn or warehouse into a space for artists and start-up businesses.
23. Create a space for neighbors to keep and share infrequently used tools and extra garden supplies.
24. Start a baby-sitting or child care co-op.
25. Hold a monthly clean-up of a beach, park, roadway, river bank; get coffee houses to donate goodies.
26. Plant trees. Get the city to select and donate them.
27. Find a person on each block who will help neighbors get assistance when needed – from other neighbors when possible.
28. Share a car.
29. Or start a car co-op with various vehicles for different uses. Share expenses based on mileage.
30. Paint donated bicycles and place them in downtown areas with signs indicating they’re for anyone to use.
31. Become a foster parent, a ‘big brother’ or ‘big sister.’ Notice the ways everyone benefits!
32. Exchange lessons, for example, cooking for carpentry.
33. Teach a skill, like carpentry, and ask your students to donate time to others.
34. Adopt a stream or a highway to restore, maintain, and beautify.
35. Work with your neighbors to develop a vision for your neighborhood’s future.
36. Hold talent shows. Give kids lots of recognition, and everyone opportunity to discover their hidden talents.
37. Create your own money. Use ideas from YES! to start a community currency or skills exchange.
Special thanks to Beverly Feldman, Charles Gray, Sandra L. Kettle, Linda Pierce, and Steven Rauchman, for contributions to this section.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
It’s been raining almost continuously for the past 24 hours and shows no sign of stopping. September began with occasional showers and a few heavy rain storms. Now, I’m told, the monsoons here in Penang will intensify and continue throughout October. Last night’s deluge kept people indoors and put a damper on the first evening’s celebration of the Nine Gods Festival. Too bad for the hawkers and street vendors — shopkeepers, too. When the weather keeps people inside, their business gets washed out along with the streets and sewers. By dinner time many of the streets were flooded. As I ventured out to find a bite to eat I donned my poncho and grabbed my umbrella then walked and waded down to Little India for some curried chicken, rice, and cabbage.
The Indians, and most Malays, eat with their hands – I should say, hand. They use the right hand only. I’ve not quite mastered the technique of one-handed tearing, mixing, and stuffing. Separating chicken meat from the bone has been a particular challenge. I either cheat by using both hands, or opt for spoon and fork (knives are never seen). The latter is readily accepted, but touching your food with the left hand seems offensive to them.
One day early in the month, I took a walk along the sea wall that lies between the bay and the park. It’s a pleasant place to be, having some big shade trees and a cooling breeze that blows in off the water. I spent some time watching a handful of anglers fishing from the sea wall. The spinning reels and rods they used were familiar enough from my own sport fishing days, but I noticed that one fisherman was using a spark plug as a sinker.
That’s the kind of improvisation I can admire and Fritz Schumacher would be proud of. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “appropriate technology.” I have to wonder – are we really entering a post-industrial era? And if we are, what new ways of using familiar high tech items will people come up
with? Has anyone ever come up with a list of the ten most useful items? My friend, the late Jim Corbett (Goatwalking), noted that the most important item for him to carry on his excursions into the desert wilderness was a metal cook pot because it was durable and could serve a number of different
functions in addition to cooking.
Want to take a cruise? Try the ferry that shuttles between the Georgetown jetty and Butterworth on the mainland side. Brief as it is – twelve minutes from one side to the other – the twenty knot breeze provides a pleasant respite on a hot and muggy afternoon. Penang’s answer to the Staten Island ferry may not be as scenic — it has nothing to compare to the Statue of Liberty — but it sure is cheap enough: 1.2 Ringgit (about 40 cents, US) for the round trip. You only pay heading onto the island; the return to the mainland is free.
Human unity is, in my opinion, the requisite step at this stage in our evolution as a species. Richard Flyer is one of those visionary activists who is doing a fine job in leading us toward it. A recent message from him reminded me of the work he has been doing for the past several years in his home community around Reno, Nevada. Under the rubric of Conscious Community Weavers, Richard has been bringing together people of diverse backgrounds, faiths, and political ideologies. Here is their stated intention:
I am here for mutual support to practice the universal Virtues of Love,
Integrity, Courage, Service, and Respect as a way to grow spiritually and to
become a catalyst for the emergence of a new society. Get more details at
Many such groups appear to be forming in various places, but we have a very long way to go. As Richard observes, “Because of our human nature, group identification sometimes leads us to hang around people who think like us or who have the same beliefs. Unwittingly, we participate in dividing our society and community into those who believe like us and those who don’t.”
“When we get comfortable around people who think as we do, especially in religious and spiritual groups, we can actually hinder our spiritual growth because we are not challenged by the “other”–people who are different than us in some way. We hang out in our own “ghettos”–it could be a Christian, New Spiritual, democratic or republican, social activist, or other ghettos— all the while believing that our way is the best. This false sense of superiority (spiritual pride) is like a cancer within the society and unless we consciously try to overcome it, we are part of the problem and not part of the solution.”
Ethnic Diversity and State Religion
Malaysia provides a little different perspective on this than does America. It is ethnically and religiously diverse in a way that presents somewhat greater challenges than Americans have had to face in recent years. While peaceful and harmonious on the surface, I’ve begun to see that there are significant racial and religious tensions here, which a few politicians try to incite. One of the things about Malaysia that is different from the U.S. is that Malaysia has an official state religion. It happens to be Muslim. While other religions are tolerated and freely practiced, Islam is favored. From an American perspective that seems rather odd. Americans take for granted the “separation of church and state,” and it’s hard for us to
conceive of a reason why it should be otherwise. One’s religion, after all, seems for the most part to be an accident of birth. I happen to have been born into a Catholic family, so my religious training and early belief was Catholic. I was well into adulthood before I began to think for myself and to question what I was taught. If my parents had been, Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist, I would have held and espoused the beliefs of that particular faith and practiced its rituals instead. The quest for the “one true religion,” therefore is vain. Ultimately, any thinking person must come to their own conclusions regarding the mysteries of existence, and make their own choices about their behavior based on that internal compass we call
Americans can be grateful for the fact that the Founding Fathers were, for the most part free thinkers and NOT religious fundamentalists, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or any other brand. One of our greatest freedoms is the freedom to believe what we want, to practice the rituals we want – or NOT, provided we don’t injure anyone, infringe their rights, or disturb their peace. There are many in the United States today who would like to impose their Christian fundamentalist beliefs and practices upon everyone else, and unfortunately the Republican Party has been pandering to them as a way of gaining support to win close elections.
What does it mean for a country to have an official religion? It means that the government supports financially that particular religious establishment, using public funds to build places of worship for that faith only, and basing civil laws upon its particular religious laws. In a country where the population comprises a diversity of ethnic and religious traditions, that’s bound to cause resentments and trouble sooner or later. Being forced to support someone else’s religious organization is patently unfair, and having to live with laws that may be in opposition to ones beliefs invites lawlessness and breeds corruption. One interesting observation I made a couple weeks ago was a sign posted outside a massage studio. It says,
“Public Notice: Male Muslims are prohibited from getting the services of female masseurs. Offenders will be prosecuted.”
The longer I stay in Georgetown, the more I like it. Although whole blocks are being cleared and rebuilt, much of the city, especially the areas close to the jetty, remains as it must have been a hundred or more years ago. In my walking explorations I see whole streets lined with old buildings pressed against one another that house various kinds of shops and warehouses. These are mostly Chinese neighborhoods that retain their ethnic character and old ways. One interesting fact that I discovered is that the Chinese in Penang and Malacca, because of their origins, speak the Hokkien dialect rather than Mandarin. Both of these cities have been designated as UN World Heritage Sites.
In bahasa Malaysia (the Malaysian language), pulau means “island” and tikus means “rat,” but the Pulau Tikus neighborhood is neither an island nor rat infested. In fact it’s a rather modern and pleasant middle-class area with apartments, shops, restaurants and cafes situated just a few blocks inland
from the luxurious hotels and condos that overlook the bay along trendy and expensive Gurney Drive.
Staying in Penang for several weeks now, I’ve had the good fortune of making several friends among the locals, besides socializing with a steady stream of foreign visitors. Last year, someone told me about a social network for travelers called CouchSurfing.com. It provides opportunities for people who like to travel to make friends around the world, and maybe save a little money by offering and accepting hospitality to/from one another. There is a fairly active CS community here in Penang and I’ve enjoyed meeting many of them. A couple weekends ago, one local CS member hosted a party at his Gurney Drive condo, which was well attended and lots of fun. You can see pictures at my photo gallery.
I have a preference for the food offered at the Indian restaurants here over that provided by most of the Chinese eateries. Even the Chinese themselves jokingly claim that “the Chinese will eat everything with four legs except the table,” and that’s not to mention most everything that swims, crawls, slithers or flies. Although I was a vegetarian for many years, I’ve long since added fish (with fin and scales) and poultry (mainly chicken) back into my diet. I try to avoid red meat, pork, and shellfish, which disqualifies most of the Chinese restaurants and food stalls around these parts, but one of the other guests here told me about a couple vegetarian Chinese restaurants up in Pulau Tikus. These are places where the food is good and nutritious. It only takes about 15 minutes by bus, so now I make it a point to go there to eat at least once a week. There are also a number of Chinese Chicken Rice specialty shops that I frequent, usually for lunches. These serve a few slices of roast chicken or duck on a bed of rice accompanied by a bit of plum sauce and hot pepper sauce, plus a bowl of thin broth, all for three or four Ringgit.
One thing I do miss here is popcorn. It’s my favorite snack and I eat it frequently when I’m back home,. I’ve not seen it anywhere since leaving California. I use an air popper, then drizzle the popcorn with olive oil,
add a bit of salt and grated Italian cheese or nutritional yeast. Yum. Other than peanuts, nuts are also not easy to find here. The 7-Eleven and a few other vendors do sell some roasted cashews in small packets but I don’t like the taste. I think it may have to do with the kind of oil they use in the roasting process.
I’m getting good advice from my editor at Chelsea Green, and am making good progress with the revisions to my book manuscript, which I hope to complete within a couple weeks. I plan to remain in Penang until then. In any case, I’ll have to leave Malaysia when my visa expires around the end of October. That may mean a month or two stay in Thailand, or I may decide to come right back.
Many people are asking what’s going to happen with the economy and the US dollar.
Near-term, I have no idea; long-term, I’ve been saying that the global elitist system of money, banking and finance is unsustainable, not to mention unfair and corrupt.
I see it as a good thing that Congress has refused to pass the bailout bill, but that may be just a temporary setback for the powers that be. We could be in for a wild ride.
Just remember, whatever happens in the realm of human structures, like money and finance, does not necessarily need to disrupt our ability to feed, clothe and shelter ourselves if we do not allow fear to separate us.
Sharing and cooperation will be the way toward survival and a better world.
# # #
Here is an excellent visionary presentation by Michel Bauwens about the emerging phenomena of networks, peer production, social design and innovation, and peer-to-peer (P2P) alternatives.
The following op-ed by a Minnesota farmer appeared in the New York Times. It is a prime example of how virtually everything in this country has been politicized and rigged to favor corporate interests. Despite the pervasive “free market” rhetoric, the reality is clear — corporations hate competition and will do most anything to eliminate it. Your health, your food security, and you family finances are all adversely affected by this one. – t.h.g.
IF you’ve stood in line at a farmers´ market recently, you know that the local food movement is thriving, to the point that small farmers are having a tough time keeping up with the demand.
But consumers who would like to be able to buy local fruits and vegetables not just at farmers´ markets, but also in the produce aisle of their supermarket, will be dismayed to learn that the federal government works deliberately and forcefully to prevent the local food movement from expanding. And the barriers that the United States Department of Agriculture has put in place will be extended when the farm bill that House and Senate negotiators are working on now goes into effect.
As a small organic vegetable producer in southern Minnesota, I know this because my efforts to expand production to meet regional demand have been severely hampered by the Agriculture Department´s commodity farm program. As I´ve looked into the politics behind those restrictions, I´ve come to understand that this is precisely the outcome that the program´s backers in California and Florida have in mind: they want to snuff out the local competition before it even gets started.
Last year, knowing that my own 100 acres wouldn´t be enough to meet demand, I rented 25 acres on two nearby corn farms. I plowed under the alfalfa hay that was established there, and planted watermelons, tomatoes and vegetables for natural-food stores and a community-supported agriculture program.
All went well until early July. That´s when the two landowners discovered that there was a problem with the local office of the Farm Service Administration, the Agriculture Department branch that runs the commodity farm program, and it was going to be expensive to fix.
The commodity farm program effectively forbids farmers who usually grow corn or the other four federally subsidized commodity crops (soybeans, rice, wheat and cotton) from trying fruit and vegetables. Because my watermelons and tomatoes had been planted on “corn base” acres, the Farm Service said, my landlords were out of compliance with the commodity program.
I´ve discovered that typically, a farmer who grows the forbidden fruits and vegetables on corn acreage not only has to give up his subsidy for the year on that acreage, he is also penalized the market value of the illicit crop, and runs the risk that those acres will be permanently ineligible for any subsidies in the future. (The penalties apply only to fruits and vegetables – if the farmer decides to grow another commodity crop, or even nothing at all, there´s no problem.)
In my case, that meant I paid my landlords $8,771 – for one season alone! And this was in a year when the high price of grain meant that only one of the government´s three crop-support programs was in effect; the total bill might be much worse in the future.
In addition, the bureaucratic entanglements that these two farmers faced at the Farm Service office were substantial. The federal farm program is making it next to impossible for farmers to rent land to me to grow fresh organic vegetables.
Why? Because national fruit and vegetable growers based in California, Florida and Texas fear competition from regional producers like myself. Through their control of Congressional delegations from those states, they have been able to virtually monopolize the country´s fresh produce markets.
That´s unfortunate, because small producers will have to expand on a significant scale across the nation if local foods are to continue to enter the mainstream as the public demands. My problems are just the tip of the iceberg.
Last year, Midwestern lawmakers proposed an amendment to the farm bill that would provide some farmers, though only those who supply processors, with some relief from the penalties that I´ve faced – for example, a soybean farmer who wanted to grow tomatoes would give up his usual subsidy on those acres but suffer none of the other penalties. However, the Congressional delegations from the big produce states made the death of what is known as Farm Flex their
highest farm bill priority, and so it appears to be going nowhere, except perhaps as a tiny pilot program.
Who pays the price for this senselessness? Certainly I do, as a Midwestern vegetable farmer. But anyone trying to do what I do on, say, wheat acreage in the Dakotas, or rice acreage in Arkansas would face the same penalties. Local and regional fruit and vegetable production will languish anywhere that the commodity program has influence.
Ultimately of course, it is the consumer who will pay the greatest price for this – whether it is in the form of higher prices I will have to charge to absorb the government´s fines, or in the form of less access to the kind of fresh, local produce that the country is crying out for.
Farmers need the choice of what to plant on their farms, and consumers need more farms like mine producing high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables to meet increasing demand from local markets – without the federal government actively discouraging them.
Jack Hedin is a farmer.