Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Poverty - How Much Longer Shall We Stand For It?

Earlier this morning I curled up with the late Senator George McGovern's  What It Means to Be  a Democrat written shortly before his death last year. In it he writes about his life-long commitment to end hunger through the many roles he played - from post war humanitarian aid to war ravaged Europe, as Congressman, Food for Peace Program director, Senator, and US Representative to FAO. In a word it was a commitment to his Methodist embrace of compassion.

Noted philosopher, Thomas Pogge presents a 20 minute synopsis of world poverty and how to end it in this video recorded a couple of months ago. He has helped form an international organization called Academics Stand Against Poverty. Given McGovern's and Pogge's call to action how is it there is almost no discussion of this topic on our campuses, in our newspapers, at our kitchen tables?

Perhaps some more pearls of wisdom from Wendell Berry as quoted in a New York Times article last fall from an interview he did with them from Wes Jackson's annual Prairie Festival.

“It seems to me that it’s a bad move to get into a contest between optimism and pessimism,” he said of the current political tug-of-war over agriculture and the environment. “The steadying requirement is for hope.”
And the last hope, he said, is this: “That no matter how bad things get, a person of good will and some ability can always do something to make it a little better.”

Monday, February 25, 2013

Irony and a Resurgence

The entry posted a few minutes ago urged readers to subscribe to Resurgence. So time for a brief confession and a decision. When I chose to cut our income in half to pursue what I felt more compelled to do with the remaining time I have left, we've cut back on some things. In January I let my subscription to Resurgence lapse, thinking I would simply utilize the library's copy. That's how I came upon the piece by Charles Eisenstein in the previous entry. But most of Resurgence' material is not freely available on the web. But upon going back this afternoon I see a new issue has been added over the weekend (March/April).

issue cover 277

In it, and freely available is the editor's column by Satish Kumar. Satish celebrates his 40th year of editing this journal, and his column "Reaching Out" that I just read inspired me to re-subscribe. I hosted Satish's visit to MSU to celebrate Gandhi's birthday a number of years ago, and he is truly one incredible, genuine, peaceful human being. Read his column which describes the magazine and his involvement with it and I also highly recommend his memoir, You Are, Therefore I am .

 Resurgence has been perhaps the key connector for me with ideas that have deepened how I think about sustainability over the past 20 years. If you want to feed your better wolf, there isn't a better regular read than this one from my experience.

Buy one for yourself, buy one as a gift or maybe even buy one for your local library.

all good things,


Real Names of Global Warming Are Waste and Greed

"The real names of global warming are waste and greed'" is a line from the first sentence of the second paragraph of Wendell Berry's essay, Faustian Economics, originally published in Harper's, but reproduced in Front Cover edited by Mary Oliver.  Berry, arguably one of the best American essayists of ou r time, weaves his precise and insightful prose touching many dimensions of the current human dilemma but has our economic system in his sight. In it Berry discusses what he names the 'national insanity' of 'assumed limitlessness'...

This "credo of limitlessness clearly implies a principled wish not only for limitless possessions but also for limitless knowledge, limitless science, limitless technology, and limitless progress.... The normalization of the doctrine of limitlessness has produced a sort of moral minimalism: the desire to be efficient at any cost, to be unencumbered by complexity. The minimization of neighborliness, respect, reverence, responsibility, accountability and self subordination -  this is the culture of which our present leaders and heroes are the spoiled children."

Berry dissects this psychosis, "our human and earthly limits, properly understood, are not confinements but rather inducements to formal elaboration and elegance, to fullness of relationship and meaning. Perhaps our most serious cultural loss in recent centuries is the knowledge that some things though limited, are inexhaustible. For example, and ecosystem, even that of a working farm or forest, so long as it remains ecologically intact, is inexhaustible."

While Berry's critical eye lays bare some truths we might like to look away from he doesn't leave the reader drained of hope or direction. He offers a number of insights that hint on possibilities including..
"To deal with the problems, which after all are inescapable, of living with limited intelligence in  a  limited world, I suggest that we may have to remove some of the emphasis we have lately placed on science and technology and have a new look at the arts. For an art does not propose to enlarge itself by limitless extension but rather to enrich itself within bounds that are accepted prior to the work."

Charles Eisenstein, whom I have cited frequently might be Berry's heir apparent for conceiving and scribing insights on our condition. In the January/February 2013 issue of Resurgence, he offers his own twist on the imperative to change the economic system. In Value Beyond Measure, Eisenstein critiques the well-intentioned efforts to quantify and thus include, the economic benefits of ecosystem services into our economic model.

"How then to deal with these problems? Clearly we cannot persist in upholding a system in which profit and ecology are opposed."

 He worries that "We can only measure what we can see, so anything outside of our cultural blinders will escape our accounting. Moreover, we unwittingly import our invisible biases into our choice of what to measure and how to measure it. And these biases will tend to perpetuate the social systems that privilege and validate the people creating the metrics, and rebound to the financial interests of the institutions and systems that embed them." He goes on to assert that 'there is another , deeper problem. Underlying ecosystem services valuation is the belief that everything has its price; that there is a finite measure of the value of all things. There is no room for the infinite, the sacred, that which is beyond price. "

He shares an example of how that plays out - "This is no mere philosophical quibble; it has profound practical consequences. If we value a certain forest at say $1 billion, then if we can make $1.1 billion chopping it down the implication is that we should do it....and if the value of all ecosystem services is $100 trillion , then if we can earn $200 trillion by liquidating Earth, we should do it.
         Does that sound preposterous?  It would be, except that is what we are doing already (though not purposely) abetted by the ideology of value.

Eisenstein goes on in this essay to offer a realm of healthier and more sustainable alternatives. At the foundation he suggests "Money after all, is an expression of what society values. As what we value shifts towards ecological healing, we need to change the economic system to reflect that."

Subscribing to the journal Resurgence and reading its thoughtful authors on a regular basis might nudge us towards that healing. It's better than reading these poor abstractions of  these insightful thinkers.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

It's Not About You

It's Not About You is the punchline in my pal Dave Newport's recent blog "The Department of Change". That phrase has been resurfacing in my consciousness several times a day since I read it. Dave is one of the early, ongoing, and vigorous leaders of the higher ed sustainability movement. Now at the University of Colorado, Dave's blog is about the necessary attitude for successful interviewing. But I'm thinking it's an attitude that could use adoption into our daily lives.

It's moving away from an 'ego' centered approach and response to every impulse, every interaction. It's an orientation towards sharing, empathy, and all the positive relationship building qualities we'll need to muster if we are to prevent more suffering, more ecological unraveling,  and build a more realistic hope for a better future. Our minds play tricks on us all the time. Oliver Sacks writes in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books about our memory's fallibility (an ego humbling reflection). Author Maria Konnikova  reveals how Sherlock Holmes way of thinking about things can teach us to optimize not only our own everyday existence, but our broader contributions to society and the lives of those around us in this brief talk

Jeremy Rifkin, who will be speaking here at MSU in a month, paints an optimistic picture in this brief RSA Animated lecture and overview of his book on the Empathetic Civilization. I think Dave Newport has caught all of this wisdom up in a singular short phrase that we could all try to apply in our daily lives. Of course, the rub is trying to  live a life that aligns our highest aspirations with our human frailties. Oh that so elusive integrity, where art thou.

This is where we might take some of the good medicine offered by Meg Wheatley, in her recent So Far From Home: Lost and Found in a Brave New World.  Or perhaps from Rebecca Solnit, whose recent piece in The Progressive, "Everyday Subversion: Quotidian acts of kindness transcend the market system" helps put the ego in its proper place, as I suspect she has done in her recent book "A Paradise Built in Hell".

Dave's call for us to recognize "It's not about you" might hopefully become a mantra that guides us through the day towards a better world. For the moment, I can't think of a better way. It reminds me of my favorite A.J. Muste quote: "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way." And that maybe is about us, at least it's in our hands.

All good things,


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Design Attributes for Michigan's Energy Future

There are some basic assumptions underlying my view for addressing our energy future. I would hope that readers share these assumptions, but you may not. My proposals follow from those assumptions, although one might be able to accept the proposals on their own merit without agreeing with my underlying assumptions.

1)      We are one human family
2)      We share one finite planet
3)      We have one common future
These are basic assumptions, based upon the realities that I and many others see. There are other assumptions that many people accept without question that should be challenged. The first, and perhaps primary one, is that we need economic ‘growth’. There is a increasing chorus of economists and thinkers who see ‘economic growth’, especially in developed countries as toxic (Victor, 2008; Jackson, 2011; Schor 2010, etc.). This is not to be confused with ‘development’ for which we do need more or with the reality that some developing nations need some economic growth. A difference between ‘growth’ and ‘development’ might best be articulated as the difference between ‘quantitative’  and ‘qualitative’ improvement.

But if we’re focusing here on Michigan’s energy future and policies to optimize the sustainability of our state we must confront these realities. Proposed solutions must simultaneously address quality of life today as well as the quality of life today’s choices leave for our grandchildren and their grandchildren. Proposals and policies must also concurrently enable energy development that provides right livelihoods while maintaining or improving the ability of ecosystems to provide the necessary ingredients for human life and development into the future. These constraints must be front and center on every decision we make. Given the growing uncertainties we face with climate change and our economic and political systems we would be wise to seek more resilient, more adaptive, and thus smaller scale and diverse solutions as opposed to seeking the silver bullet or centralized grand solution to our energy challenges.

Given these underlying assumptions here are what I believe some fundamental areas of opportunity. If we are one human family, on one finite planet with a shared future we should not be building solutions based upon profit for some. We’re either all in this together, in which case we want to share what we learn so others can utilize our knowledge and apply it to their unique circumstances. Or we are a profit maximizing society that proclaims winners as those who  can accumulate greater wealth. I believe that structuring systems where maximizing profit is the driver is antithetical to what is need in a constrained world with increasing population.  If we share the same atmosphere (chemists argue that each of us shares about four molecules of Caesar’s last breath then reducing the amount of pollutants going into it anywhere, help all of us, now and for centuries into the future.

First, we need to emphasize waste reduction. We have huge opportunity costs lost to energy wasted due to inefficiencies, personal behavior, and the production, transportation, and disposal of stuff we use very briefly, i.e. chopsticks, soda straws, etc. Every kw or btu not consumed saves us dollars and reduces pollution now and gives us longer to figure out more effective ways to use energy in the future.

Second, while one of my basic assumptions is that we are a globalized human family, it is neither necessary, nor optimal that we expend so much energy moving material and people great distances. In fact, there are great savings and increased development opportunities to develop and support more local self-reliance, especially around the fundamental necessities of life – food, shelter, water, energy, and health care. This ‘import substitution’ model of local community development can be applied anywhere. In fact, a development program that begins there with surpluses being shared between communities, bioregions and nation states has better long-term prospects than a model that chases profit wherever and however it can be found. Such operational design builds stronger local communities, allows for more citizen voice and control, and reduces the threats that concentrated power – whether in corporate/private or government hands - might abuse. We know that Michigan exports in excess of $20 billion annually to purchase energy resources from beyond our borders. Recapturing those exported funds for use locally would greatly benefit the communities we live in.

Third, technology will hold some of our answers and we should support learning that enables creative designs to be tested. But emphasis should be on ‘appropriate technology’,  that which is scalable and that can be produced affirming ecological integrity and social and economic justice. We want technologies that are repairable and are durable but that can also be disassembled when no longer functioning and then re-utilized, reused or recycled into some other useful item.

Fourth, taking this orientation will help shift behaviors toward a deeper culture of ‘sharing’ which is perhaps the greatest energy saver and producer available to us. Just as our public libraries allow us to share in the huge knowledge base of both current and past generations so might we also continue to develop other models of shared prosperity, shared knowledge, and shared culture. 

So what kinds of policies fit under this approach to our energy future:
1)      Expand year-round production of food in unheated hoop-houses made in Michigan in part from recycled materials. This utilizes a waste stream, creates local jobs, stimulates more local agricultural production, and reduces the energy used to import food. Fund interest free loans to existing growers who are growing for local markets to add hoophouses to their operations.
2)      Renovate existing homes and businesses for energy conservation and efficiency. Train returning vets, recently released prisoners and others who need work in assessing structures for renovation and doing the renovation work including adding insulation, replacing windows, and upgrading HVAC and lighting systems.
3)      Offer free training sessions on do it yourself home energy improvements. Fund tool distribution to neighborhood associations, rural townships, and/or public libraries that commit to sharing the tools and know-how with residents in their neighborhoods.
4)      Fund research into small scale, simple, appropriate technologies that align with these assumptions and can be applied or adapted to many environments.
5)      Support efficient renewable energy production systems, prefer small scale, decentralized applications. E.g., Use of solar tubes for natural lighting, solar hot water, small wind and hydro generators.

These suggestions align with the recent legislation proposed by Senators Sanders and Boxer, at the moment the only sane and comprehensive proposal dealing with a sustainable energy future I've seen.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Growth and Peace

“We are called to integrate the instinctual intelligence of the gut, the spacious inclusiveness of the heart, and the lucidity of the mind.” James O'Dea, Cultivating Peace

The confluence of two forces on this peripatetic mind, economic growth and peace, emerged this morning from two books retrieved from the shelves of 5 million yesterday.
Searching For Peace - Johan Galtung, Carl G. Jacobsen, and Kai-Frithjof Brand-Jacobsen Was a title referenced in Cultivating Peace that I finished yesterday. Johan Galtung one of the authors and arguably the foremost scholar of peace research joined with Carl and Kai Fritjof Brand Jacobsen to lay out 14 approaches to a peaceful world:

1.  Peace movement: extend this concept to include commitment to peace on the part of all states and corporations, accountable to peace programmes.
2.  Abolition of war: treating offensive arms like hard drugs, outlawing research, development, production, distribution, possession, use of them.
3.  Global governance: democratizing the United nations through direct elections to a People's Assembly, and abolition of the veto power.
4.  Peace education: to be introduced at all school levels like civics, hygiene, sex education,, knowledge of one's own culture.
5.  Peace journalism: that all decent media focus on ways out of conflicts, building a solution culture, not a violent culture.
6.  Non-violence: that non-violent ways of fighting for a cause and defending own integrity = basic needs become part of common skills.
7.  Peacemaking/conflict transformation: that conflict handling knowledge and skills become parts of civic education anywhere, like hygiene.
8.  Peace culture: that people start exploring their own culture, what can be done to make it more conducive to peace, and then do it.
9.  Basic needs: that respect for the basic needs of everybody, and especially the most needy, become a basic guideline of politics.
10.  Peace structure: from exploitative and repressive structures with nature, genders, races, classes, nations, states to equity, parity.
11.  Peace-building: develop good and bad rather than good or bad images of the world's actors, and positive links in all directions.
12.  Peacekeeping: with minimum violence becomes protection for the defenseless, and a protective barrier against the violent.
13.  Peace zones: starting with yourself as a peace zone of one person based upon ideas above, constructing archipelagos of peace.
14: Reconciliation: learning to apologize and to accept apologies, to ask for forgiveness and to forgive, to heal and to close conflicts.

The authors suggest four pillars of activity: action, education/training, dissemination and research with action "always the most important pillar." They offer some guidance to the conflict worker via a 'code of conduct' that focuses on :
  • Peace by peaceful means
  • Relation between the conflict worker and him/herself
  • Relation between the conflict worker and the parties
  • Relations between the conflict worker and society
I'll highlight the four points they make for the relation between the conflict worker and him/herself as they stimulated this blog and resonate with O'Dea's work that led me to their work.

1.  Your motivation should be to help the parties transform the conflict, not your own promotion, materially or non-materially.
2.  You should have the skills or knowledge for the task and use the conflict to develop them further, not acquire them.
3.  Do not have a hidden agenda beyond conflict transformation, for yourself or for others; have nothing to conceal.
4.  Your legitimacy is in your skills, knowledge, creativity, compassion, and perseverance and ability to stimulate the same in conflict parties; not in any mandate or in any organization.

This left me wondering how one might align these ideas when dealing with the 'violence' of the underlying economic system.Now the tie-in with the second book from this morning's reading .

Economist Peter Victor tackles the never questioned assumption that growth, especially in economic terms, is really in our best interests.
"The main value that I want to call into question is the primacy that we in rich countries (he's lives in Canada) give to economic growth as the over riding economic policy objective for government. Sometimes growth comes dressed in other clothes such as 'competitiveness' or 'free trade' or 'productivity', but underneath is a commitment to economic growth. It is the policy objective against which all other proposals must be judged. 

Environmental policy must not be allowed to impede growth, and where possible should be advocated because it will boost growth. Apparently a green economy will be even bigger than a brown one. Education policy must see that students are trained for work in the 'new economy'. Transportation policy should result in the more rapid movement of goods. Immigration policy should attract the most highly educated and wealthiest. Support for the arts is based on the economic contribution of the movies, theatre, television, and arts festivals. All are judged against their contribution to growth." (pp.1-2).

Victor goes on to state that "This is not to say that we should adopt zero growth as an alternative, over arching  objective. Rather that we should not bother with growth as a policy objective at all or only as a subsidiary to more specific objectives that have a clearer more substantiated relation to well being."

So with this confluence I now ponder how to move ahead simultaneously on both fronts. As Victor concludes he prologue he shines this self-reflecting light: "If like me you have been inculcated with the virtues of economic growth, you may have to suspend your belief in this fundamental value of contemporary society as you read on."

Monday, February 11, 2013


Yesterday I sent out to my 'Mindfulness' list readers a link to a powerful piece by the Guardian's Gary Younge, "Barack Obama is Pushing Gun Control at Home, But He's  Killer Abroad" published Sunday. Younge paints an ironic picture of Obama's bifurcation, that dichotomy that plagues us all. I also read last night a group of short essays in the December 2012/January 2013 Progressive that someone had thrown in the magazine bin at our community recycling drive on Saturday. There are many good ones in there by the likes of Terry Tempest Williams, Rebecca Solnit, Scott Russell Sanders,Kathy Kelly, etc. but the one by Rebecca Solnit, "Everyday Subversion" particularly resonated. Perhaps because I am currently reading a number of books but two that specifically speak to aligning one's inner life with the bigger world we are hoping to change.

You wouldn't be surprised that one of them is Gandhi's An Autobiography: My Experiments With Truth
The Story of My Experiments With Truth

The other is a lesser known book I picked up a week ago and have only 20 pages remaining - James O'Dea's Cultivating Peace: Becoming a 21st Century Peace Ambassador

O'Dea'is a former long time Amnesty International Washington Office director and activist. In this work he hopes to cultivate the inner life necessary for the peace work that calls in the larger world we share. As a former president of the Institute for Noetic Sciences he understands the role of consciousness, the new understandings that science brings towards complexity and consciousness. Here's a passage read earlier this morning:

 Trust in your own creativity. This is essential. It is good to be appreciative of other people's creativity but not when it inhibits your own. We can find ourselves worshiping the brilliance of others and putting them on a pedestal in ways that shrink our own sense of capacity.

You don't have to be like those you admire. You are called to be true to yourself. Start with gratitude, which has the power to transform the seed of envy into self-empowerment. Be grateful for who you are and admit that you are a creative being.

Sometimes we are blocked and feel a wall of resistance to being creative in expressing ourselves, the blockage is like a cork in a vat. We experience the blockage as being generalized, but is in fact usually quite specific. Feeling that you will be blamed or ridiculed if things go wrong, feeling that you will lose control, feeling that you have no right to led, feeling that you have no idea what you are doing, feeling you will be on your own - all these and more can be blockages to creative action. Find the voice - that specific voice - which is holding you back and say to it, "You do not have the power to kill my creativity. I am a creative being." And whether it is stepping onto a podium, walking into a classroom, posting a video clip on You Tube, unfurling a campaign plan, starting an organization,leaving home to where you feel you are needed most, starting a dialogue with those you are in disagreement with, or simply reinventing and healing your relationship to anything or anyone who has stood in your path - tell yourself that you have made a commitment to liberate your own being. In fact, you are going to get out of the way and let the larger energy of evolutionary change come through you.

I agree with those who say not to take everything so personally. Think of yourself as a conduit for energy that wants to shake up the whole botched-up status quo. Think of energy as collective property owned by all, to be used on behalf of all. Now see that energy not as dangerous but as consciousness eager to serve the emancipation of all. Pure energy is humility and has no ego. So Step into it and surrender to its grace and power.

Like Meg Wheatley's So Far From Home, O'Dea's effort seeks to simultaneously soothe the weary change agent while energizing and empowering us to join in building a more just and prosperous future for all. Surely a worthy consideration for a winter's day.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Chartering a New Course

Great discoverers of the past were successful in many cases if when they realized that the direction they were heading was leading towards danger or peril, they rechartered their course. Of course first you need the awareness that you are on a course that is perilous. And we have plenty of evidence that we are heading into more perilous waters with increased climatic disruptions, extreme inequality, accelerating uprisings of both fundamentalist believers and the oppressed.

Of course not everyone notices the signals, or denies they signal anything of significance. They are secure in their comfort with the status quo and assume that more of the same will make any necessary repairs to whatever minimal fractures in our society exist. For the most part, it is the latter that control the helm of our ship steering us towards our future. If we make enough noise to get their attention they may turn the ship slightly to avoid the most visible obstructions on our journey. But like many of the icebergs that are visible from the helm, most of the danger lies hidden beneath the surface.

A current example in Michigan is the direction of education. The dominant voices (governor, most of the legislature, corporate powers, mass media, etc.) offer solutions to the problem they see with education needing (take your pick) eithermore math and science, or more schools of choice, or more technology, or more virtual learning. The cacophony of these voices is startling. But here is a perfect example of a ship heading in the wrong direction. Those on the helm seem to believe that the purpose of education is to keep growing the economy and finding spots for enough laborers so that they can keep their comfort level at least at their current state, and that the current education system isn't doing that. If you believe in the infinite planet theory, as most neo-liberal economists do this system might have had some merit on a planet with a mere one or two billion inhabitants using appropriate technology. But the infinite planet theory has been pretty clearly debunked.

So if this isn't the direction education should be aiming at, what is education for facing 21st century realities? Well it's not that we haven't been offered some more reasonable alternatives. John Hannah, former MSU president, Chairman of the  U.S.Civil Rights Commission and many other governmental positions argued that "if there is one thing educators agree on,it  is that the primary purpose of education is to develop good citizens." If Hannah and other were right when he said this in 1962, was he considering citizenship as limited by nation-state? Or was he a forerunner of thinking of our need to become citizens of one finite planet - one human family.
Sir Ken Robinson, a world leading educational expert, has given a systems view of  Changing Educational Paradigms that should be viewed and discussed before any further resources are devoted to addressing what we need education to do. Robinson's insights clearly lead to thinking about a redesign of education. Fortunately, we have an architecture for education for global citizenship well crafted in the Earth Charter. We have practitioners, scholars, authors, teachers, and citizens offering us signposts along a possible way. But our mass media and those at the helm are either unaware or oblivious to these possibilities.

Tom Atlee, author and deliberative democracy leader, recently offered up some pearls of wisdom that link the possibilities of a better future with an orientation that blends much of the wisdom emerging from the many struggling to find a better way forward. Those in leadership positions within our political, economic, and educational systems need to explore this growing body of knowledge and wisdom to help shape our common future. Each of us has a voice in this journey and we sit quietly at our own peril. All hands on deck if we want to turn this ship around.