Michael Dowd: Standing for the Future, Part 2

As a follow-up from last week’s post, I share with you Part 2 of Michael Dowd’s video series, “Standing for the Future.” You can view Part 1 here.  The text right above the video is just copied and pasted from Dowd’s website.

There are two quotes from this video that I found especially important and meaningful. First on The Importance of Personification.

The words ‘God’ and ‘evolution’ are both pointing to the same divine creative process. Both answer the question ‘How did we get here?’ One uses the mythic language of religion, the other uses the literal language of science.  Arguing whether it was God or evolution that created everything is like debating whether it’s Uncle Sam or the U.S. government that insists we pay taxes every year, or like quarreling over whether it was Gaia or plate tectonics that created the oceans and mountains. Such silly and largely unnecessary confusion will remain the norm until we get and celebrate what I think is the single most important scientific discovery about religion in the last 500 years: personification. – Michael Dowd

The second quote is in support of Michael Dowd’s conviction that Ecology is the new Theology

Every characteristic that we attribute to the divine derives from our experience of Nature. If we imagine God as beautiful, gracious, loving, awesome, powerful, majestic, or faithful, it is because we have known or experienced beauty, grace, love, awe, power, majesty, or trustworthiness in the world. – Michael Dowd

“If we lived on the moon and that’s all we and our ancestors had ever known, all of our concepts and experience of the divine would reflect the barrenness of the lunar landscape.” – Thomas Berry

Standing for the Future (2/3) — “Reality Is Lord: A Scientific View of God on a Rapidly Overheating Planet”

“We each have experienced times of trouble that threaten to overwhelm our individual lives. In such times, a vision of possibility is essential. The same holds for the punctuations in history when whole societies face troubles of an immense and uncharted variety. Truly, we have arrived at such a time. Humans, unwittingly, have become a planetary force. We are irreversibly changing the very climate of our world. Henceforth, any actions we take as individuals and societies will be done in the new light of climate change.

What vision will carry us forward through such times and inspire us to work together? How shall we frame the need to shed our business-as-usual outlook on life and take on a new vision of possibility that can unite us as a species in joyful self-sacrifice and service? What vision will charge us with a sense of heroic purpose that the future is, indeed, calling us to greatness?”

In the video above, Dowd includes some of the amazing examples of nature personified that have been created by Conservation International in collaboration with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, all available at the Nature is Speaking website, which emphases the point that nature doesn’t need people, but people need nature. Here is Kevin Spacey as the Rainforest:

 

 

In Praise of Peter Paul Pogany, an Integral Economist

I’ve just completed a new page on my website dedicated to promoting the work of Peter Pogany, which you can find here, and I’d like to use this post as a way of alerting everyone to this new page, and to provide a brief summary of what you’ll find there.

Peter Paul Pogany (1936-2014) was born in Budapest, Hungary, and later moved to the U.S. to continue his education and begin his career. He worked as an Economist for the U.S. International Trade Commission (where he contributed to many high-profile U.S. government studies on foreign economic issues), and was an Adjunct Professor at George Washington University.

My impression is that it may have been after his retirement that he felt free to more deeply explore and begin writing, relating his expertise in economics to thermodynamics, history, philosophy, and other big picture ideas.

It is my belief that Pogany’s work is essential for anyone wanting to grasp the implications of integral economics, of which I’ll be writing more about in the future.

In 2006 Pogany’s major work was published: Rethinking the World, “the result of several years of full-time, independent, transdisciplinary research.”Rethinking the World

In Rethinking the World, Pogany delved deep into his understanding of history as a thermodynamic process.

From the  blurb about Pogany’s book:

“The still expanding human biomass and mindlessly pursued economic expansion are straining against the planet’s physical limits. Oil! Energy! Ecology! Growing vulnerabilities in hyperlinked national economies! The transformation of the current global system, “mixed economy/weak multilateralism,” into a radically new one, “two-level economy/strong multilateralism,” looks like the only way to avoid drifting toward extinction…

His 2006 book does not once mention Jean Gebser, but from 2009 to 2013, Pogany wrote a number of insightful articles and essays relating ideas from Gebser’s magnum opus, The Ever-Present Origin, to the predicament the world is now facing, and the ways in which Gebser’s ideas about stages of consciousness, especially the yet to come stage of the integral structure of consciousness (a universal “intensified awareness”), support Pogany’s own program of New Historical Materialism.  Many of these essays were prepared for presentation to the International Gebser Society at their annual conference.

HavocSadly, Peter Pogany passed away on May 25, 2014. His final book, Havoc, Thy Name is Twenty-First Century! Thermodynamic Isolation and the New World Order was published posthumously in 2015.  This work is a slight alteration and expansion of a paper published in 2013 (see below).

Here is the blurb for this book:

“Just to maintain our standard of living, we need to grow the worldwide economy at an unsustainable rate.

As we seek to hit such lofty targets, we’re bound to deplete our resources and cause environmental crises on a scale that we have never seen before. Revolutions, terrorism, and wars will follow.

Peter Pogany examines the problems we face and argues that human culture is governed by thermodynamic cycles of steady states interrupted by chaotic transitions. Specifically, he postulates that a steady state was interrupted by World War I, with a chaotic transition following World War II, which has led us to the current world order.

His theory predicts that global society is drifting toward a new form of self-organization that will recognize limits to demographic-economic expansion – but only after we go through a new chaotic transition that will start sometime between now and the 2030s.

Havoc, They Name is Twenty-First Century, delivers sobering thoughts on where the world is headed, but it also offers a glimpse of a bright future that we can embrace once we get through the darkness to come.”

With the two books above, and the essays linked below, you’ll obtain a good understanding of Peter Pogany’s ideas, which I believe are unique, timely, insightful, important, broadly considered, and with wide application. Even better if you can read this material alongside Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin, and other works and ideas presented on this website (see here and here).

Below are a list of important essays and longer papers that I would like to highlight. Check the Pogany Page if you’d like to see descriptive summaries for each essay. 

Presentations to the International Gebser Society Conference:

“Fifth Structure” – emergence in economics: Observations through the thermodynamic lens of world history (presented October 2009) [Download pdf]

New scientific evidence confirms Gebser’s concerns about technological overreach (presented October 2010) [Download pdf]

Gebser’s relevance to the global crisis (presented October 2011) [Download pdf]

Reprinted as chapter 6 in “Filling the Credibility Gap” edited by Algis Mickunas and John Murphy

An Aperspectival Opinion on the Future of “Smart Money” (presented October 2012) [Download pdf]

Tributaries to Gebser’s Social Thought (presented October 2013) [Download pdf]

  • Longer Papers at Munich Personal RePEc Archive (MPRA):

What’s Wrong with the World? Rationality! A Critique of Economic Anthropology in the Spirit of Jean Gebser (2010)
[Available here: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/27221/]

Value and Utility in a Historical Perspective (2012)
[Available here: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/43477/]

Thermodynamic Isolation and the New World Order (2013)
[Available here: http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/49924/]

[This is the paper that the book Havoc, Thy Name is Twenty-First Century! is based upon.]

Responding to Crisis – Henry Nelson Wieman

“It is a time of danger and suffering; but there is glory in it for him who will face it alert, fearless, and with capacity for transformation of his own personality and all the ways of his life.”


Dorothea Lange Country filling station owned by tobacco farmer, Granville County, NC Jul 1939
From Shorpy Historic Pictures, which I discovered at Automatic Earth

It’s not hard to find evidence that we’ve entered a period of crisis. See for example John Michael Greer’s post on Heading Toward the Sidewalk or Ilargi’s post on Oil, Solar, Dollars and Fairy Tales.

It’s time we start preparing ourselves for understanding and handling Crisis (esp. if it’s going to be long and sustained). I’ve recently become enamored with the writing of the mid-twentieth century philosopher of theology, Henry Nelson Wieman, whose influences include John Dewey and A.N. Whitehead.  Here’s what he had to say on the topic:

A crisis is an experience which we have never had before. It throws us into a state of disorganization. An experience which affects us deeply, and is different from all that has previously befallen us, must inevitably throw us into a state of disorganization, for we cannot react to it in any other way. The only other alternative is to be wholly unaware of it and insensitive to it. An experience of sensitivity and disorganization is a necessary stage to a more inclusive organization of our world and of ourselves as functioning members of that larger world. Without it we could never enter so deeply into that progressive integration of more significant and unified worlds, which is the work of God.

Our habits constitute one condition determining the kind of world we live in. When our habits are disorganized that condition is removed. In so far as disintegration of all habits is a state out of which any kind of habits might emerge, it is a state out of which any kind of world might arise in so far as the emergence of any kind of a world is dependent upon a certain system of habits. Therefore crisis offers the golden opportunity for creativity. It is the call of God to join with Him in the making of a better world. It is a time of danger and suffering; but there is glory in it for him who will face it alert, fearless, and with capacity for transformation of his own personality and all the ways of his life.

Crisis shatters the little dome of daily life. Can we find a vaster dome above? We have tried to sketch a method by which it may be done.

 

– Henry Nelson Wieman, Methods for Private Religious Living (The Macmillan Company, 1929), pp. 114-115.

Wieman points out that crisis can be an opportunity for “the progressive integration of more significant and unified worlds,” and “a golden opportunity for creativity.”  May it be so.

 

 

 

 

In PatternDynamics, this is the Order/Chaos polarity pattern:

The Order/Chaos Pattern represents the oppositional dynamics at work in the creative process. Order/Chaos demonstrates the relationship and interplay between states of orderly functionality and states of breakdown and irregularity. Orderly states must be balanced against periods of breakdown that allow the rearrangement of previously fixed elements into new, more appropriate forms. The role of Order/Chaos is to facilitate adaptation and evolution. – See more at: http://www.patterndynamics.com.au/patterns/polarity/orderchaos/#sthash.ym0L87jF.dpuf

New Energy Report from I.E.A. Forecasts Decline in North American Oil Supply

National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” reported this morning:

NPR’s Business News starts with the outlook for oil. This is a change of course – the International Energy Agency has released a report on global energy investment. And this group predicts the United States will have to rely more heavily on Middle East oil in the coming years, as North American sources start to dry up a little bit. U.S. energy production has boomed recently, much of it coming from oil and gas extracted from shale. But the IEA says U.S. production will start to lose steam around 2020, and that would put more bargaining power back in the hands of OPEC countries, such as Saudi Arabia.

This is quite interesting, given that in 2012, the IEA forecast that the U.S. would overtake Saudia Arabia in oil production by 2020, and that North America would be a net oil exporter by 2030.  The International Energy Agency (I.E.A.) is a watchdog organization considered the world’s leading energy analyzing institution.  This new stance coincides with a similar about-face from the U.S. government’s EIA (Energy Information Administration), which suddenly downgraded its assessment of the Montery Shale “tight oil” fields by 96%.

Well, that Shale bubble, didn’t last long, did it? As Sylvia says, “we told you so!”  One of the best recent analysis of the current energy situation, I believe, was done by Steven Kopits, which I wrote about here. and with a follow-up here.

The focus of the new report released by the IEA today is on how much investment in the energy sector is going to be needed in the next 20 years (World Energy Investment Outlook). The numbers are sobering. They estimate that $48 trillion dollars needs to be invested to meet energy needs…but really it needs to be closer to $53 trillion if we want to address climate change.  They don’t even bother talking about a 350 parts per million target, but rather 450 parts per million to limit global warming to 2 degrees C.

I am extremely skeptical that even these levels of investments would provide the levels of energy the world is expecting. The IEA is becoming increasingly more realistic as they move beyond demand driven scenarios, and acknowledge that the era of easy oil is over. The alternatives we are left with are becoming increasingly expensive – from unconventional fossil fuels like tar sands and shale plays, to renewables. However, at some point (a point we may have already passed), geology responds less and less to the human construct we call money.  We’re currently living at the high point of the fossil fuel Pulse, and I don’t believe we can negotiate an avoidance of the backside of the pulse’s decline – but we can take measures to make a graceful descent if we begin early enough (ten years ago).

Hubbert+curve

The report itself (disclaimer: so far I’ve only looked at the accompanied introduction, fact sheet, and powerpoint) notes many risks and difficult achievements that will be necessary. To note just a few:

  • The middle east may or may not increase oil supply.
  • Depletion of conventional fossil fuels force reliance on more challenging fields which puts pressure on upstream costs.
  • The larger share of the trillions in investment would go just toward replacing existing production that is in decline, and not toward demand growth.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the investment will take place in emerging economies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
  • There are many political and regulatory uncertainties that will be difficult to navigate.
  • Financing the transition to a low carbon energy system is a major challenge (to put it mildly).
  • Getting the world to a 2 degree emissions path would mean a different investment landscape (and a breakthrough at the Paris 2015 COP).
  • Households need to make about half of the investment, with 40% coming from business, and 11% from government.
  • “The supply of long term financing on suitable terms is still far from guaranteed” – “the banking sector…may be constrained…in the wake of the financial crisis.” (to put it mildly)

This last bullet point above reminds us of the difficult bind we are in. Many of us believe we are teetering on the edge of an even bigger financial crisis, which would not only make the above investments impossible, but will lead to a steep decline in existing investments. Even now we are seeing signs of this.

On that happy note, below is IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven’s remarks at the launch of the report.

To read an introduction to the World Energy Investment Outlook, please click here.

To download World Energy Investment Outlook, please click here.

To download Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven’s remarks at the launch of the report, please click here.

To download the presentation at the launch of the report, please click here.

To download fact sheets related to the report, please click here.

 

David Holmgren 2011 Interview: Strategies for the Transition

The peak oil blogosphere is currently awash with responses to David Holmgren’s latest essay Crash on Demand (which I wrote about here on December 17th).  The distortion of his views seems to be increasing with each post, in my view.

In my reply to Dimitry Orlov, I wrote:

No one seems to be noticing that he [Holmgren] did not propose a new approach at all. He is still advocating for the same approach he’s written about for the last 30 years: reduce consumption and be domestically responsible. I don’t agree with the huge shift in [Holmgren’s] position that Albert  [Bates] has put on his chart. The only difference is that this time he has associated his suggested strategies with the idea that if enough people put them into practice, it just might tip the already fragile global finance system over the edge. I think he’s throwing this idea out there primarily to attract what he calls “the disillusioned social and political activists who are just starting to recognize Permaculture as a potentially effective pathway for social change.”

Stay tuned – I’ll have more to say very soon, as I’m preparing  a new post on the subject.  In the meantime, I thought I’d share an interview with Holmgren that took place in 2011.  Below the video are my notes…I call them “notes” rather than a transcript, because they are not 100% verbatum.

Interview of David Holmgren by Luke Miller Callahan at Groaction.com.

The Upcoming Transition Away From a Fossil Fuel Based Society: David Holmgren Talks Strategy

2011 GroAction Interview with Luke Miller Callahan
http://groaction.com/discover/3110/david-holmgren-interview-permaculture-principles/

How Do You Spend Your Time?

1/3 time spent on home based self-reliance and local community
1/3 time spent speaking and teaching
1/3 time spent on research, especially “over the horizon” research on the world we are moving into.
Enjoys the balance of doing hands on work and conveying the big picture of where we’re heading in the world to people, to empower them to do things with their hands.

Empowering People to Do the Small, Local, Bottom Up Actions

I think that, while the big political movement stuff is always going to be in some ways more exciting – and there’s certainly some exciting aspects of that emerging in the world now around the notion of demanding that someone do something, I don’t think those things really help change the structure much, unless people are also making the changes themselves.  Because the changes people make themselves are double insurance – they are insurance against dysfunctional or anti-social behavior by elites (and there’s certainly plenty of evidence for that), but they’re also the way we model the world that we’re actually wanting to be, because in a lot of ways it’s a matter of being able to crawl before you walk. The sort of world we’re trying to construct, I think it’s actually impossible to construct that top-down. It has to actually be rebuilt bottom up, in parallel with the crumbling system. And then as those models become more real, it’s possible to get some degree of top-down reform/support for those things. But if they don’t actually exist, if we don’t have the working, living solutions, then it’s very hard for policymakers to say “Yes, we’ll have more of that, and less of that.” They can’t actually create the things we need. The things we need are all very small, localized, particular, and large scale systems just can’t do that.

Do the systems in place now need to come down?

Things develop in parallel to a fair degree and there’s an ambiguity between how much needs to be rebuilt from scratch, and how much is a matter of reform. The old debate between reform or revolution. Permaculture comes from the premise that you’ve got to design from first principles. A whole lot of the ground design principles built into our society, which have been functional in the past, aren’t functional in the future, and you can’t necessarily just modify them beyond certain limits. Example: material growth is very much built into the foundations of the system we’ve got. In regards to climate change, we know that a proven strategy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to contract the economy, but no one ever discusses it as a serious strategy. That tells us how deeply committed our system is to perpetual growth. So it’s hard to know at what point that could actually be part of a serious discussion at the levels of policy. I suspect it’s not really possible. There’s always got to be this fabrication – oh yes, we’re going to reduce our impact on the environment by all sorts of means, but we’re not going to question growth…even when the evidence is that that growth is not occurring…

Faith in People

It doesn’t mean that the situation is hopeless for the possibility of positive things coming out of a national level or an international level.  But the assumption is, that because those are big and powerful systems, and because we need positive change very fast, that that is the predominant place we have to have faith in. I think the reverse is true. The predominant place we have to have faith in is for the ability of people, as like fast moving intelligent new life forms, like the early mammals replacing the dinosaurs. That humans individually and collectively without rigid institutional structures can think on their feet, and can incorporate both the long term vision stuff that we associate with big institutions and long term planning – that humans are actually capable of that… We’re capable of responding to the immediate environment around us in ways that institutions can never be capable of, but we’re also capable of some of those things that we associate with institutional capacity – the long term wisdom and ability to understand complexity. And maybe that’s part of the inheritance of the modern world, because people in the past didn’t necessarily  have that on an individual basis. But it is possible now if people want to look and learn for humans as individuals and communities and families to have virtually the intelligence that we previously associated with institutions and societies.

Crisis as an Opportunity

Any system that has rigidity in its structure around past, proven ways of doing things is obviously reluctant to change out of those patterns. It takes a big shock break that apart. We know that occurs in nature, we know that occurs in our own lives, the way a health crisis can trigger a reorganization of our lives, and we can see that happening in society around us… The crisis becomes an opportunity to leverage the system in certain ways…Interest in things like Permaculture is counter-cyclical to the economy…focus changes to family, connection to nature, basic needs…It’s not that they run and change, but they turn their heads in a different direction.

Effects of Peak Oil

Of course, crises can unfold in different ways. You mentioned peak oil. A lot of peak oil researchers tended to think that that would come through astronomical prices for oil. Recent evidence suggests the current economy can’t cope with oil prices much higher than they are now, because it produces recession if not depression. Rather than seeing astronomical oil prices – which is imaginable in a world structured very differently from ours – our current economy depends on oil being very cheap. It is quite surprising the way that comes about. People think energy and food will become more expensive, and therefore those things won’t be available…What’s often missed is that long before there’s no food in the supermarket, all of the discretionary, luxury, service parts of the economy have contracted back, and energy and food are still available, because you’ve gotten rid of all the other stuff. When things contract, you dispense with the luxuries, the extras. And of course, that’s what most of our economy is.

…Although the strategies of people growing their own food are important, they’re not important in the way that some simple survivalist motivation that might drive some people to do that. They’re really around a reconnection around a more frugal, simple way of living where you can provide for some of your own needs and reserve the money you have for the things you can’t produce yourself. Historically, people growing their own veggies is one of the things people can do for themselves. Beyond food, it’s about having some skill that you can trade with some other person. Whereas a lot of people have skills that can only be bought by a large institution like a bank or a corporation or government department…Whereas, if you know how to fix cars – and that might be counter-intuitive, because you think there are going to be less cars driving around – that might be true, but there might be more old cars that need to be repaired, rather than new cars that don’t need repair. So skills as a mechanic is a tradable skill for self-reliance, maybe almost as much as being able to grow food and have a surplus to provide for others.

Retrofitting the Suburbs for Sustainability

There is an assumption that modern life is about movement from one place to another each day, and that it is a completely natural experience…and that to be a member of society, that’s what you have to do. Whereas, a normal society operating with limited energy will have most things done where people live.  Some people will move each day, but a much, much smaller proportion. What that really means is that the places where people are living, and especially in our car based societies with their extensive suburbs – that is, these spread out areas of suburban development and small towns – that’s where we have to re-create the economic activity so that we don’t need to move, rather than the notion that we just need efficient forms of transport. Efficient forms of public transport would be lovely to have, but we are moving into the crisis so fast that a lot of what we’ll have to do is adapt in place of where we are.

I’ve been for many years an advocate of the idea that the suburbs, rather coming to an end, as suggested in the pioneering peak oil movie “The End of Suburbia,” is a place that is adaptable (in a counter-intuitive way) to a low energy future. This is partly because of an accident of history – certainly not  to do with sensible planning and forethought, but I don’t think the prognosis for suburbia are as bad as people suggest; on the contrary, the idea that dense urban cities are more efficient, is, I think, questionable, if not dangerous in a world of serious energy descent.

What Will the Transition to Self-Sufficient Suburbs Look Like?

It will happen at a number of levels. Firstly, because it can be started incrementally, you can start with one household garden within the limits or under the radar of regulations and social censure from neighbors – without having to get the whole of society to agree. When you’re in a multi-story apartment, there’s a very limited number of things you can do until everyone in that apartment or whoever owns it agrees.  So the piecemeal nature of suburbia allows models to develop ahead of when society understands it needs to do this…Secondly, the level of space that exists give a lot of opportunities to start productive activities…Thirdly, shared households and having boarders can create economies of scale in the household economy…

The Biggest Barriers to Retrofitting the Suburbs

A lot of people have moved beyond the obvious barriers, such as pride of individual ownership, and always wanting the better and bigger for themselves. But other barriers remain:

1)      The degree of disconnection between neighbors and the regulatory structure of sharing households, mother-in-law apartments, etc.

2)      The sense of privacy and psycho-social aspects of sharing housing. We are uncomfortable in exercising power – what if I have to ask my tenant to leave?

Indebtedness

In a counter-intuitive way, the loss of asset-values is actually what is needed to bring the values of real estate down to where it’s possible for people to actually live in those places without enormous debt. Some of that, of course, is tragedy for current owners, but might actually be opportunities for others who currently don’t own. In a world where houses might end up at 20% of their past values, then people might be able to contemplate very frugal living with minimal income to support being a…[?]

Suburbia is not just going to disappear overnight…it’s going to be sitting there, and somethings going to be done with it, people are going to be living there some way or other. We’re not going to transform our cities overnight, we’re going to transform our behavior overnight.

Agriculture

The current industrial food supply will not be abandoned soon. To build the parallel system, the backyard garden agriculture to provide a part of people’s food needs is the breeding ground for a new generation of farmers – that is one of its prime functions, where a small percentage of people learn to become quite good at it, and start to do it commercially, and then the open space in our cities starts to become converted into urban agriculture. Managed animals will be used in urban areas for landscape management and dairy products. There is a big opportunity in the tree crop realm – much more of our diet could come from tree crops rather than field crops.

Preparing Society

What we need most is examples of surviving and thriving doing these things, so that other people can see that those people are doing well. And those people need to be organized enough so that they can pass on something of value – “here are some seeds, here’s a garden fork.” Being able to offer what is needed to replicate the success. You can’t get replication unless you have lots of local, working examples. They need to be local examples – nature changes from one place to another very, very fast – you can’t just download all the standardized information off the internet as a global set of information.

The Transition Movement and the Permablitz

The Transition movement is very much founded and based on Permaculture design principles, and is an attempt to do this in a more organized way. There’s been a lot of criticisms about the weakness of those efforts compared with the scale of the problem, but it also has been more than an attempt to actually bring these issues beyond arm-chair discussions to active engagement in the community.

The Permablitz idea started locally, and this concept has spread around the world informally, and locally more formally with funding… The positive, “get in and do it” stuff is one of the strongest motivators for a lot of people, rather than “The Grand Plan.”

Energy Descent Action Planning

But I think there’s also been efforts, and I’ve been involved myself locally, with the idea that’s come through Transition, with the idea of what’s called the Energy Descent Action Plan, or Energy Descent Action Planning, where we could do this in a slightly less chaotic and more planned way. But, my comment on that is that what that requires is a very, very different sort of thinking than what is characterized as local government or community planning in the past. Not just because the things we need to do are different, but because we have to give up that idea that we can lay it all out as a plan, and we have the resources and the budgeting and then we will just implement it. It’s much more chaotic than that.

We’ve suggested there are three broad levels in the process. The first is what we call the No Regrets Actions.  Things like “why don’t we plan a garden?”  Good idea anyway, not a big investment or cost or difficulty, and maybe really useful.

Then there is the Long Term Investment Actions. It might be putting photovoltaics on the roofs or planting food trees in the public streets. Something that does involve more substantial investment and a deferred benefit in the future mostly.

Third, the Responding to Crisis Actions. The opportunities that come from chaotic and unpredictable change, whether natural disasters, financial disruptions, or shortages of oil – whatever it is, those things that break the system.

Chaotic Change

Environmental activists have been very polite and not pointing out when natural disasters are immediately happening (“well, this is what climate change looks like”). Big disasters are also an opportunity to leverage change in the way people see things. That’s when people do change. Most people don’t change when things are just trickling along, getting slowly a bit more difficult.

It’s about society reading signs around it that it needs to change, and that change is coming. We have all sorts of interpretations about why that might be. I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone to believe in climate change or peak oil to start to behave sensibly, to look after their own interests and the interests of their children and grandchildren.  An understanding of peak oil and climate change certainly helps to understand the complexities that are unraveling in the world, but I’ve argued quite strongly that it doesn’t really matter whether these crises are caused by geological climatic realities, or whether they’re caused by evil actors, or whether they’re caused by a God who is punishing us for our sins. It all means we’ve actually got to change what we’re doing.

So I’m sort of ambivalent about that issue of the first thing is to hammer into people that they’ve got to accept a particular explanation of what’s going on in the world. I don’t think that is necessary.

Tom Atlee on TPP: Act Now

This is a “reblog” of Tom Atlee’s latest post, “Act now re TPP and Fast Track (toxic to democracy).

I’m not sure that “clicktivism” is a very effective form of activism, but it can be helpful when a quick response is needed. As noted at the end of this article, both Credo and MoveOn have petition campaigns going that you can support.   Now here’s Tom…

Dear friends,

In my blog post The rapid growth of serious responses to climate disruption, I mentioned the movement to protest the secretly negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) that could have profound impacts on democracy, on public health and welfare, and on the fate of the planet.

This issue has now become urgent. On January 9, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Rep. Camp (R-MI) introduced the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014 to promote the President’s “fast track” authority. This bill would facilitate passage of deeply flawed trade agreements such as the TPP with little deliberation or even input from the public and Congress. This issue is important right now because a vote on this bill is expected before the end of the month.

“Fast track” means that the President would sign an international agreement and then send it to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote within 3 months with no room for amendments and a maximum of 20 hours of floor debate.

This hasty approach to trade agreements may have been a bit more reasonable when it was first used in 1974 when trade pacts only involved traditional trade issues like tariffs and quotas.

But today it just doesn’t make democratic sense. It is promoted by the corporations and investors who profit from these agreements – and by public officials and media who they support or who share their monetized worldview. But the lack of debate doesn’t help the vast majority of us because today’s big trade pacts cover a broad range of issues that impact us every day, including the environment, investment policy, labor, government procurement, consumer protections and many more things. These things need to be considered very carefully. It is therefore critical for Congress to maintain its constitutional authority to oversee trade policy – and for us in the grassroots to ensure that Congress approves only trade pacts that protect communities, workers, consumers, and the environment BEFORE such pacts get finalized.

TPP is an alarming case in point. It contains clauses allowing foreign companies to directly sue national governments in private trade tribunals to either nullify laws and policies that might reduce their corporate profits or to suffer very steep financial penalties. This makes companies more powerful than democratically elected governments. It would devastate the ability of citizens and national, state, and local governments to pass environmental, labor, and consumer protection laws that protect our communities and our children.

To make matters worse, we’re being blocked from discussing all this in an intelligent, informed manner. Except for a few leaks from WikiLeaks and others, most legislators, the public, and the press have no access to the evolving content of this agreement. To a remarkable extent, that privilege has been reserved for a select few trade representatives and corporations who will benefit from the TPP, with the periodic negotiations continuing in secret. A few Congresspeople on key committees have access to the draft agreement in a guarded room where they cannot take notes and are forbidden to communicate what they might read in its many hundreds of detailed, complex pages. What’s going on here?

Senator Elizabeth Warren says “I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the Trade Representative’s policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant. In other words, if people knew what was going on, they would stop it. This argument is exactly backwards. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.” (I appreciate Sen. Warren’s straightforward articulation, rare in among politicians.)

It might be a different story if most trade agreements like TPP actually enhanced the quality of life for citizens and our prospects for future generations. But they don’t. They are most often broadly damaging to all ordinary people concerned and to the natural and social commons we share. As a Popular Resistance newsletter notes, “The TPP is an issue that unites the movement because it affects not just workers but the environment, regulation of finance, Internet freedom, food safety, and healthcare and gives corporations control of virtually every aspect of our lives.”

If you find yourself concerned about the implications of all this, please get better informed and take appropriate action soon.

Coheartedly,
Tom

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IMPORTANT PS

THE BIGGER-PICTURE REASON FOR OPPOSING TPP AND FAST TRACK

The message above and the links below come largely from a progressive populist perspective – protecting US jobs, democratic governance, and the environment. However, many on the Right are also upset about TPP and Fast Track, particularly because those initiatives involve a significant loss of US sovereignty. On the other hand, some commentators favor TPP because, while jobs are lost in the US, employment and middle class life in other countries may improve. All these arguments are worth discussing. But none of them addresses the most important and least discussed argument: Society’s urgent need for rapid transformation toward sustainability.

I believe that TPP represents a societal “tipping point” in our ability to shift civilization from self-destruction to sustainability. Most immediately it would gut our capacity to protect people and nature from ruinous exploitation and to ameliorate runaway climate change. But that is only one way that TPP – and most other proposals and arguments from both the Left and the Right – fail to turn our civilizational TItanic from its fatal course to collapse and possible extinction.

Truly addressing climate change – AND peak oil AND many other emerging crises – requires that we shift our global economy away from consumption (especially emissions-generating consumption) towards a low impact, high quality way of life. This involves a shift from wasteful material production and trade to enhancing people’s ability to live healthy enjoyable lives together without lots of stuff.

Part of that would include REDUCING employment – in ways that would actually make life better. Imagine if we used technology not so much to increase productivity for profit but to make employment one option among many — to “de-job” the economy into something more sustainable and enjoyable. What if we applied our technological wizardry to do the following:

▪ to take over more and more jobs (remember the old term “labor saving devices”?) in a way that made 50% unemployment and a 20 hour work week actually attractive norms, augmented by a lot of passion-driven small entrepreneurship and simple living;
▪ to enable more do-it-yourself, collaborative, and local production – from 3D printers and high-tech gardens to crowdsourced games and modular, long-lasting designs for products;
▪ to encourage and enable bartering and sharing (especially locally) of most physical resources – car shares, tool shares, book shares, garden produce shares – so that we all don’t need to produce, store, and transport so much stuff in the first place; and
▪ to enable gifting, sharing, and co-creating more of what really makes life good – learning, thinking, loving, appreciating, dreaming, accomplishing, feeling secure, pursuing our personal interests and passions, and just having fun together. These are exactly the kinds of things that today we don’t have much time for because we need to work and shop and consume lots of “stuff” that actually doesn’t make us so happy.

If our national and global economic policies were designed to move towards THAT sort of economy, the loss of jobs in the US would become an asset, while global trade could be about increasing the ability of people in “developing” nations to have enough of the right kinds of stuff to reduce struggle and suffering while not drawing them into the profit-driven, anxiety-ridden, unsustainable consumption rat-race that Western civilization desperately needs to recover from.

This brief description only hints at the tip of a vast sense of possibility that is emerging among alternative economists and others (including us here, see http://co-intelligence.org/Economics.html). Pursuing those remarkable possibilities will take a focused and sustained effort. In the meantime, it is urgent that we head off developments like the TPP and Fast Track that would make it even more difficult – if not impossible – to change the course of civilization towards a world that truly works for all of us, in a truly deep, wonderful, and sustainable way.

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RESOURCES

Here are some links if you wish to find out more and act with some knowledge under your belt…

Wikipedia covers fast track and TPP from a non-advocacy perspective with some coverage of the controversy…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_track_(trade)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Pacific_Strategic_Economic_Partnership

Information on TPP and Fast Track from a protest perspective. Any of these will prove eye-opening.
http://www.flushthetpp.org/ (contains a short educational slide show)
http://www.eugeneweekly.com/20140102/news-briefs/secretive-trans-pacific-partnership-revealed
http://www.progressive.org/naftas-harms-show-why-tpp-deal-must-be-stopped
http://www.popularresistance.org/tag/tpp/
https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/11/tpp-leak-confirms-worst-us-negotiators-still-trying-trade-away-internet-freedoms
http://www.opednews.com/articles/Use-This-Innovative-Action-by-Joan-Brunwasser-Action_Action-Pages_Activism_Agreement-140105-266.html
http://wikileaks.org/IMG/pdf/tpp-salt-lake-extracts-.pdf
http://wikileaks.org/IMG/pdf/tpp-salt-lake-positions.pdf
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article37073.htm – 10 minute video
http://billmoyers.com/segment/yves-smith-and-dean-baker-on-secrets-in-trade/ – 33 minute video
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/11/fast-track-trade-democrats_n_4580720.html

Anti-Fast-Track petitions (parentheses show number of signers as of this message) – all of which include educational materials:
MoveOn (16,941): http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/congress-dont-renew-fast
Credo (170,000): http://act.credoaction.com/sign/fast_track?nosig=1%3Fsource%3Dchaser&rd=1
Public Citizen (11,934): http://action.citizen.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=12263

Media organizing (letters to the editor, etc.)
http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/1987/letter/?letter_KEY=1515

Protest action organizing site (includes upcoming actions and past actions)
http://www.flushthetpp.org/category/local-actions/

PatternDynamics: Following The Way Nature Organizes Itself to Deal with Complexity

The natural world is staggeringly complex, and yet amazingly elegant in how it manages the multitude of interconnected parts into organized, unified wholes that thrive.  What is the secret for harnessing this elegance for use in human systems? Tim Winton found that observation of the most common patterns found in the natural world led to the development of high level principles which can then be used to address the most complex challenges that human systems face.

After learning some of the common patterns found in all natural systems, we can then begin to recognize these patterns in human systems , and learn how to balance the ones that are skewed, and to integrate in the ones might add a greater level of enduring health. We can “make a deeper difference by changing the system!”

change the system

PatternDynamics is a systems thinking tool for creating systems level change that Winton has been developing over 20 years as he’s worked in diverse fields, including: environmental services contractor, organic farmer, sustainability educator, designer, project manager, consultant, executive leadership, and corporate governance.

What is unique about PatternDynamics is that it combines the patterns of nature with the power of language, to produce a sustainability pattern language.

In a recent paper by Barrett Brown, referring to a study he had done in 2012 of top performing organizational leaders, he observed that these top leaders “use three powerful thinking tools to design their initiatives and guide execution. They are (a) Integral theory, (b) Complexity theory, and (c) Systems theory. These models help them to step back from the project, get up on to the balcony, and take a broad view of the whole situation. They use these tools to make sense of complex, rapidly changing situations and navigate through them securely.”

And famed Permaculture teacher Toby Hemenway (author of Gaia’s Garden) recently posted on his blog the following recommendation:  “To enrich our ability to use recipes and put them into context, without engaging in a full-blown design analysis from scratch, we can use pattern languages. The term was coined by architect Christopher Alexander to mean a structured grammar of good design examples and practices in a given field—architecture, software design, urban planning, and so forth— that allow people with only modest training to solve complex problems in design. … Like recipes, pattern languages are plug-and-play rather than original designs, but they allow plenty of improvisation and flexibility in implementation, and can result in rich, detailed solutions that fit. A handbook of pattern languages for the basic human needs and societal functions, structured along permaculture principles, would be a worthy project for a generation of designers.”[my emphasis]

PatternDynamics is firmly rooted in Integral theory, Complexity theory, and Systems theory, and as well contains Permaculture’s emphasis on patterns and principles (PatternDynamics was developed during Tim’s time as Director of the Permaforest Trust, a 170 acre Permaculture education center in New South Wales, Australia). In addition a fifth strong influence was Alexander’s ideas on pattern languaging. These five robust theories and practical application tools provide a very firm foundation that will continue to support PatternDynamics long into the future as it continues to evolve. It is probably not the recipe book that Hemenway envisions, rather the patterns are more like a set of key ingredients from which we are invited to collaborate to c0-create the needed recipes for a given context.  The goal is to facilitate collective intelligence.

Tim Winton“The key to complexity is systems thinking, and the key to systems thinking is patterns. The key to patterns is using them as a language – an idea I borrowed from architect and mathematician Christopher Alexander’s book ‘Notes on the Synthesis of Form’.”
– Tim Winton

Systems thinking itself is complex and difficult to learn, which is why the series of Patterns in PatternDynamics can be so helpful in simplifying that complexity – “If we don’t have a symbol for something, it does not become enacted in our reality” Winton says.

order_chart

Secondly, as these Patterns become part of a shared language, this gives us the ability to collaborate with others –hence the facilitation of collective intelligence.  Noting the increased complexity in our human systems, Winton states that “No longer is any one person brilliant enough to solve the complex problems we face; we really have to use our collective intelligence.”  This innovative method of facilitating collective intelligence is proposed as an essential 21st century skill.

Speaking for myself, after completing the Level II training in PatternDynamics, I notice that I am starting to see “wholes” much more often, in extremely diverse systems.  Everything from systems at work in my own body, to systems in organizations I’m involved with, to the systemic problems facing our world, and all the way up to long term processes going on in our universe.  Being able to see these wholes then helps the next step – ideas are flowing more easily on how to balance and integrate to improve the health of the systems I am involved with.

Therefore, it is with some excitement that I am preparing to host a One Day PatternDynamics Workshop on January 26, 2014 here in Bellingham, Washington.  Click Here for more information about this event. A workshop is also being held in Oakland, CA on January18th – more info here.

Related:

To read a longer article I co-wrote about an introductory workshop I attended last year, go here: Integral Leadership Review

And here is a 23 minute introductory slide show with audio by Tim Winton:


Much more info can be found at the PatternDynamics website here:

http://www.patterndynamics.com.au/