The connective commons : helping our economy align with nature

 

Figuring out how ecology and economics integrate is an important issue for our society to address ; we currently have a capitalistic system on steroids that is extracting from and polluting the earth at increasing rates.

Economic systems come in different forms. Coachella for instance is more capitalistic than Burning Man which runs on a more peer production commons economy. Economic systems are defined by the rule sets people use to exchange services and products to meet needs. Capitalism is one rule set. Peer production commons (where people work without money) is another rule set. These rule sets lead to emergent collective behaviour. Peer production commons has other types of emergent behavior. When the collective behavior is coherent and harmonious humanity begins to look like a superorganism.

What we seek is for the natural ecosystem and the human collective to work in synergy together. There are certain businesses and community activities that embody a lifestyle more resonant with nature – local organic farms, farmers markets, home food growing, community food forests and gardens, community meals, communal living, organic restaurants and cafes, health food stores, solar companies, ecobuilders , eco-friendly cleaners, eco product companies, second hand stores, clothing swaps, holistic health centers, nature education, yoga, tool sharing, neighborhood generated entertainment, outdoor dance events, biking, local production, biodegradable products, eco restoration activities, depaving, permaculture etc…. These things are competing with big box stores, and extraction based multinational corporations.

How do we enable the healthier businesses and activities to grow and emerge more coherent behavior with the ecosystem? And to be resilient against other types of capitalistic forces

One of the keys is to look at the economy at the bioregional scale. In addition we can look at how to synergize the capitalistic systems with the commons to create a super organism. Capitalism runs more on people motivated by.money to help others. Its primary unit is the business. Peer production commons, is partly run on altruism, but even more so, research has shown, by social norms, and by the social rewards it brings. People work for the commons because they like the community it brings them, and the friendships it creates. The primary unit of the commons is the community, the collective.

I’d like to introduce the idea of a connective commons. Different business can be linked by a connective commons. So for instance a yoga center and organic restaurant could be linked with this commons connective tissue. Lets say, in addition to their normal monetized activities, the yoga center and organic restaurant also have volunteers that teach yoga classes and volunteers that wait or cook at the restaurant. The volunteers can then have access to both free yoga classes, and a certain number of free meals. This builds synergy between the two businesses.

This connective commons could act as connective tissue for a bioregional collective of businesses that includes small farms, organic restaurants, yoga centers, nature school, holistic health centers and also non business activities, like food growing and home cooked community meals, home for-working, organizing clothing swaps and tool libraries. People can volunteer for any of the businesses or community projects. In return they can get a certain amount of free meals, CSA boxes, yoga classes, massages, free or more affordable rooms in other community members houses to live in etc. A community council can oversee that the volunteer- service balance is in harmony. (There’s a movement to get a small town to run on this connective commons by having everyone volunteer for 3 hours a week. It’s called the Ubuntu small town project. They call this kind of economy contributionism. The money businesses save can be used to purchase self sufficient clean energy supply for the town)

This collection of business and community can act as a super organism. This hybrid is a new type of complex adaptive system. It has behaviors that neither a purely capitalistic system nor a purely commons would have. Volunteers can shift to where they are most needed that week. So if a small farm had some crisis and needed a lot of help, the volunteers can shift from other businesses to work there during the crisis. the volunteer force is an organic marketing force for the more monetized activities. There is more sharing or resources. The businesses become more resilient. Incentives increase to start community projects (putting on a clothing swap might get you free restaurant food). There is a lot more community and friendships in this system. People work as a support system for each other. Consumption of extractive products is less.

Because this super organism is so vibrant over time, it will grow. People will flow to become part of, and spend more time in this super organism. Engagement less with big box stores and environmentally-unfriendly multinational corporations would become less. People would be more enriched by being part of a community, that would not have to depend on a consumerist lifestyle for fulfillment so much.

An economy to rewild the earth

How do we get to a culture and economy of sustainability?

I suggest it involves these design qualities:

1. DECONSTRUCTION AND REWILDING :

The earth has a layer of asphalt, concrete, and brick on it that reflects heat back into the atmosphere, causes desertification, and enables floods. It has inhabitants on it producing products that cannot biodegrade back into earths normal cycles, and becoming so attached to these products they have forgotten their true wild self that is deeply connected to the earth.

A deconstruction economy can begin by having its citizens start to have their concrete driveways and concrete backyards depaved and replaced with permaculture greenery. It will have schools, campuses (especially the environment/biology departments) , and businesses depaving the concrete around their buildings. It will lead to road segments in our neighborhoods being depaved and replaced with food forests.

A deconstruction economy will transition our commerce stores to being in nature – products displayed on rocks and branches, and their stock now second hand goods. It will transition our gyms to ecogyms – where different size rocks to lift, sticks to lever rocks, boulders to do dips on, trees to hang , dirt to dig, forms natural exercise equipment.

A deconstruction economy would involve less and less consumption. A network of coaches and workshops support people to consume less.

There will also be a network of coaches and workshops that help connect with nature.

2. NEIGHBORHOOD=COMMUNITY

Our neighborhoods can become the center of civic activity, activity happens in our yards, in our living rooms, and neighborhood commons spaces. It involves sharing clubs, gift circles, babysitting coops, tool libraries, supper clubs , open mic nights, homeproduced shows, mens circles, womens circles, massage jams, coworking spaces, free office hours. gardening groups etc.

……..

How would this economy of deconstruction, rewilding, and neighborhood community work? It can happen with
commons based peer production and with new ways of economic signalling on the blockchain.

3. PEER PRODUCTION AND THE COMMONS

Peer production is (from Wikipedia), “a way of producing goods and services that relies on self-organizing communities of individuals. In such communities, the labor of a large number of people is coordinated towards a shared outcome…. Commons-based projects generally have less rigid hierarchical structures than those under more traditional business models. Often—but not always—commons-based projects are designed without a need for financial compensation for contributors.”

The Beekeeper model is one particular way of doing where in large part the community collectively works for free, with a smaller subset being paid to more fulltime faciltiators of the process. The product and services are free for the whole community. So for instance at Burning Man, the community produces entertainment, and shares foods to each other for free, while there a much smaller subset organizers, who work year round who are paid. Another example of this peer production model is Wikipedia there is a large community that writes the articles for free, and that also gets to read them for free. People are asked for donations, and these donations help support certain key Wikipedia personnel who help keep the whole operation running.

The way this would work is this sustainable, rewilding, community-based economy is that the community has free access to communal meals to the tool libraries, to babysitting help, to editing help, to massage, to food forest, to deconsumption workshops, to sharing circles, to nature connection events, to second hand clothes, to ecogyms, to music entertainment, to communal meals, to rooms in neighbors houses, and tent spaces in backyards. The community is providing these services to itself. Its a vibrant self-organizing system. Neighborhood lawns can also be converted to vegetable gardens, with the help of volunteers who are perhaps sleeping in these backyards (like WOOFers), These vegetables are then made into communal meals.

In addition the community is working to spreading the word,with pamphlets, by word of mouth, on social media, about why we need to eat hyperlocally from our backyards, to connect with nature, to depave, to consume less. That leads to more clients for depaving work, new people coming to the nature connnection and deconsumption workshops, more people eating hyperlocally. It leads to more people using the ecogyms. The community can exponentially grow into a movement.

Some of the services in this sustainable economy will involve donations. For instance clients can have an option to donate money or cryptocurrency for depaving work. In a normal capitalistic environment, each driveway might cost two thousand to depave. Five thousand driveways in a city would lead to ten million dollars. With donations, the amount fluctuates more, but it could lead to several million dollars being donated. If there are say 100 cities involved in this movement there can be hundred of millions of dollars donated.

(In coastal cities there are especially reasons to green the roads as they can then act as bioswales to stop floods from flowing. Also when coastal cities reflect less heat into atmosphere then inland area get more ocean humidity and are less vulnerable to fires. In hot desert cities depaving the roads and putting in trees provides shade. Replacing the road wth soil helps hold the infrequent rainwater.)

A subset of the ecogyms could also bring in money in a similar way that 24 hour fitness does, except it would be with donations

The money from the depaving jobs and networks of ecogyms could be collected by a nonprofit.

The money can then be used to buy up real estate that is turned into intentional communities that volunteers can live at for free. The money can also be used to communal meal food, communal cars, communal tools etc. And it can go to key community facilitators and workers as a stipend/salary, in similar way to how key Burning Man or Wikipedia editors get some money.

4. NEW ECONOMIC SIGNALS

Money is a way of signalling in our economy of what to product. But because we have society that is addicted to nonbio-degradable and extractive products, and because we have a moneyed class that often made their money from extractive industries, then the money will signal for us the economy to produce and consume more of these extractive products.

So we need a new signalling system. Time banks and local currencies are useful in this regards. And so is cryptocurrencies that are used mainly in the deconstruction, rewilding, and neighborhood=community economy because if the value of people using the currencies is more sustainable that it will signal to itself to do more of those activities that are complementary with the earth. Holochain is a cryptocurrency, one of a number, particularly suited for this endeavor.

As more people become involved in this movement, then the cryptocurrency will gain in value, and help the movement become richer.

The more purely gifting system described in section 3 maybe harder to get to at first so we may need the crytocurrenies to scaffold us there.

The time banks, and cryptocurrencies can work as complementary systems to gifting in this peer production economy. Some of the services could involve donations involving the cryptocurrency.

How to integrate the social justice movement with the environmental movement

How can we integrate the social justice movement with the environmental movement?

One of the primary causes of environmental destruction is that our economic system is built on producing more stuff. People’s livelihoods depend on jobs that are based on producing stuff. Half the world’s monetary wealth is based on pumping money into stocks, which are often for companies making money from producing more stuff. Money is created by banks loaning out money which means more money than exists in system needs to be paid back. And the only way this can work is if more there is more monetized economic activity. There is a growth imperative driving economic activity.

So the solution to ever increasing growth is to shift to a community centric commons. To shift ourselves partly out from the capitalistic system and more into a self organing community that shares resources. We move out of the exponentially increasing monetization cycle. Childcare, eldercare, sickcare, cooked meals moves back into the commons. Tools, toys, books, rides are shared cutting down on resources used. Communities can band together, and at times with the help of local government and foundations buy up land for community land trusts so rent can be kept low, and lessening the amount of money flowing into the real estate machine.

The feminist movement relevant to the environmental movement would then be to help men especially , and women also , to learn to relate, to care for each other. It would involve bringing an adult , man or woman, from each household back into being more involved with the domestic life during the day, where they can spend time with family and grow neighborhood connections during the day. This domestic, neighborhood centric emphasis helps shift the economic system into the nonmonetized community commons

The racial justice movements can be about learning from minorities how to build community and live richly outside moneyed systems. For instance in the USA it can be about learning from the Hispanic populace how they build these rich family and community networks that support each other even with little money.

Design thinking challenges for economics

I thought it would be helpful to come up with a list of DesignThinking Challenges for Economics (similar to the X prizes or Millienial Problems). Just like permaculture has design challenges, so does economics/social permaculture have design challenges.

Heres an initial list.

DESIGN THINKING PROBLEMS OF ECONOMICS:

1. What is the design of an economic system where 1/3 of the food is not thrown away?

2.a What is the design of an economic system where the number of empty houses is not signficantly more than the number of homeless?

2b. How to design a system where the cost of rent and housing does not rise significantly rise faster than the general price of inflation

3a. How to design a system where the cost of repairs is not often more than the cost of the product.

3b. How to design a system that values reuse of products more highly.

4. How to design a economic system where a significant percentage of peoples livelihoods does not depend on producing more stuff in the world.

5. How to design an economic system which does not incentivize artificial chemicals over natural herbs for medical treatment a priori.

6. How to design an economic system that values the preservation of nature?

How to make organic food go viral; and help stop climate change

How can we sequester global carbon emissions on a large scale? How can we help stop rainforest destruction? How do we reduce food waste? How do we feed more people? How do we increase the populace’s health? How do we make organic food cheaper than processed GMO foods? How do we transition chemically fertilized, mono-cropped farmland to permaculture farms on a large scale?

We can tackle all these problems by changing the basic infrastructure of our food system. And such large systemic changes is possible these days because our new informational systems allow our societies to reorganize en masse . See for example how Airbnb disrupted the hotel industry, or how Lyft and Uber disrupted the taxi industry.

Imagine a collectively owned and run app. ( A platform coop practicing open cooperativism)

This app
A. Connects Individual and Communities food buyers with organic permacultural farms.

Consumers can find farmers on this app. It allows for various forms of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), from people ordering preset boxes delivered at regular intervals, to people having the ability to vary their order.

Right now Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is usually cheaper than organic food. If CSA’s scale to much larger numbers organic food grown in permacultural ways can become cheaper than mainstream processed food.

This is because CSA’s cuts out a lot of the middlemen. It cuts out the unnecessary costs of chemical fertilizers, GMO fees, global food transport, mass refrigeration, packaging, branding, marketing, supermarket infrastructure and multinational corporation executive salaries.

The key here is to get a lot more people signed up to this than is currently happening. Airbnb, Lyft, and Uber spent profusely on marketing. In the case of this food app it can leverage the power of the environmental and social justice movements. We have seen these movements activate millions of people. Tapping into this similar energy, the food app can sign up a lot of people. If say smaller cities sign up 50,000 people and larger cities sign up a million people, that becomes a significant amount of the food system that are using this new food network.

B. Connects Neighborhood Cooks with people who want a Community Meal.

The organic farms can deliver food to households who are interested in cooking for their neighborhood. Neighbors can find out about these community meals through the app.

Community meals build community. And community can share knowledge and tools, provide friends to do activities with, help each other with babysitting and elder care, tend to each other when people get sick, help when there are financial difficulties etc. It creates a neighborhood commons – which is an economic system that used to function more efficiently until the forces of globalization destroyed much of it. Its a place for people to make friends, get help, share tools, help with babysitting and eldercare, help each other when sick etc… As a neighborhood commons extends its reach it can also help people who are having trouble affording food.

The farms can offer food at a cheaper price to households which will cook community meals for the neighborhood as a way to incentivize community meals. And the farms as a result will get more food being bought. It is in a way a viral community way of marketing the food.

If a farm sells to 5000 customers who will cook community meals, they are helping grow communities in 5000 neighborhoods in a city. If we see this happening all across the world, it’s a significant step to regrowing our neighborhood commons.

A neighborhood commons also shifts the locus of societal life back to the neighborhood. People will no longer need to drive as far to get services and community needs met. This can lead to a significant decrease in the worldwide usage of oil.

C. Connect Backyard Gardens and Urban Hydroponics with people cooking Community Meals

Backyard and frontyard gardens can grow a decent amount of food once people understand how. This food can be funneled to be cooked for neighborhood community meals. A hyperlocal food cycle that builds neighborhood resilience and connects the neighborhood closer with the food.
The app can integrate with projects like the Food Not Lawns network. The app can give metrics of how much a neighborhood is feeding itself through yard gardens, and metrics is a good tool to use when inspiring a movement of neighborhood growing.

D. Buy future food as a form of investment. The money you put up for it is used to fund either i. transition of a farm to regenerative permacultural practices ii. buying farmland to put into a community land trust.

i. Transitioning a farm from monocropping, chemical fertilizer, tilling methods to regenerative permaculture methods can take 2 years before the permaculture method begins to yield more than the monocropping methods. So farms need support during this transition. People can do this by buying ‘shares’ in the form of food. So you could put down $1000, then in 2 years you could begin to start receiving a larger value in food (say $2000) when the permaculture transition kicks in. (In addition to the ability of the people to raise money to help transition and buy farms, the government can also invest in this.)

The transition to permaculture methods on a large scale can help significantly with climate change. Healthy soil is a way of sequestering the carbon in the atmosphere. Current forms of agriculture destroy the health of the soil. Regenerative agriculture brings this ability back. The worlds soil, if healthy, can sequester the amount of carbon the transportation industry puts into the air. Thats huge!! And significantly undersold in the environmental movement (although it was good to see some candidates begin to bring this up in the democratic presidential debates and climate town hall).

ii. People can also put down money to buy the organic farms collectively. And in a similar way, if you put down $1000 to help buy the farm, you can get back a few years that value in food plus a large amount extra. Currently as agricultural price volatility affects farmers, they lose their land to multinational corporations. We can reverse this trend and buy back land for community land trusts.
Multinational corporate farming can also degrade the land, which means after they farm it, they leave it and move onto other lands. This land can be bought back and regenerated so it can grow food plentifully. Black Sheep in Costa Rica has been doing this, buying back land that pine companies and timber companies have destroyed and using permacultural methods to regenerate it.
Non-profits and local governments can also help with investment funds. Even health insurance companies might decide its worthwhile to invest, because if there is a mass transition to locally delivered grown organic food the health of the populace would significantly increase.

E. Create farmwork and other services commons.

People can sign up to volunteer to work on the farm. They can also sign up to help with various other businesses in the local area like yoga centers and community centers. Others can put services they will offer – massage, editing, dogwalking, a room in their house etc, without monetary prices. People who are volunteering or offering services can then also use each others services or get free organic food. It allows people to get food and services outside the monetary system, something which is especially useful for poorer people. A food and services commons creates economic diversity. Just as biodiversity is good for the environment, economic diversity is good for the city.

This is what I call a Connective Commons. It creates a communal connective tissue between all these services and businesses to create a collective intelligence. The volunteers can shift from area to area when needed. So say the farm needs more hands on deck temporarily because of some climate induced problem, volunteers can shift to go work on the farm that week . Permaculture Design Courses can funnel graduates to work on these farms and help grow neighborhood gardens in people’s yards and get room and board in the form of the community meals in return. The farm becomes a part of the local people, as opposed to a more separate corporate entity.

The commons is a powerful economic force because it provides a way for information about peoples needs to flow. Capitalism’s information flow can skew towards putting more import on rich people’s needs The commons helps to balance the informational ecosystem.

The worlds wealth is currently becoming more unequally distributed. The reason for this is described in Thomas Piketty’s worldwide bestseller. The profit rate on capital investments like in land and stocks is greater than the increase in GDP, or in his words r>g. So the rich get richer faster than the increase in economy. The way to deal with this is to transfer our wealth to the commons… This neighborhood commons is a big step towards this.

………….

Why is the relocalization of our food systems important?

Rob Hopkins of the Transition Town movement brings up a useful analogy that of two watchmakers. One makes a watch which is organized into modular parts, and one who doest. When the person whose watch is ordered into modular parts breaks down, they can take out that part, find whats wrong with it, and then get the watch going again. The persons watch who isnt modular, cannot do the same thing, the whole watch is wrong, so its harder to diagnose what is going wrong.

The problem is that our neighborhoods and our cities have lost some of their autonomy. They no longer function
as fully self-organizing systems as they are overly dependent on multinational corporations for their functions. The multinational corporations don’t have enough capability for fully dealing with all the complexities of a neighborhood or a city, and in fact have been in part responsible for the destroying of our communities.

Heres how food globalization can lead to rainforest destruction. Currently 1 in 6 people depends on food imported from other countries. The connection of the food economies leads to global volatility. As an example China, which loves eating pork, recently experienced the swine flu, and its pig population was decimated. So suddenly it bought 3 millions tonnes less soybeans from Brazil, which is a significant loss for Brazil, because a large percentage of Brazilian export income comes from the soy industry. So there ensues financial pressure on the whole economic system in Brazil, which leads to all kinds of pressurized behavioral responses, with farmers probably the burning down rainforests to grow pigs for China, and cattle for general profit, to make up for the loss of soy income.

When food supply and prices become volatile, farmers are often hurt, and may sometimes lose their farms. Populace in poorer countries especially may go hungry. One reason for this volatility is because our food systems have become dependent on oil. It used to be our food system was fueled only by the sun. Now our globalized food system is not so much. For example the USA’s agricultural sector uses up 17% of the nation’s total oil consumption . A fifth of that is used to produce chemical fertilizer. Oil is also used for transport, processing, packaging, marketing, food preparation, and storage. The Brookings Institute, one of the most well known think tanks in Washington DC, writes “Food price volatility starts with the characteristics of food markets… Today we have..supply shocks.. due to the higher costs of inputs (fertilizer, pesticides and transport over long distances) linked to oil prices…. So what can be done? First and foremost, break the link between food prices and oil prices”. It is somewhat astonishing to see a DC think tank come to a permaculturist-like conclusion “the answer must be to change the food system to adapt to the new economics of energy. That probably means more localized and more diversified production and consumption, less use of fertilizer and less wastage (20 % of all food gets spoiled in storage and transport today). Ironically, the organic, slow-food, go-local cooperative movement may find that market forces are their new friend.”

The worlds global food system is at the mercy of all sorts of local phenomena. Oil prices and swine flu are two of the many things that can set up farming panic all over the world. Its due to this problem of non-modularity of the food systems in the world. Mass relocalization of our food systems will help with this problem.

We have seen the environmental movement lead to a recycling consciousness and an ongoing transition to electric cars. Next up we can have a local organic permacultural food movement. And just as the Airbnb and Uber movement happened through the signing up lots and lots of users, so this environmental food movement can happen through a concerted mass push to sign up lots and lots of users.

How to prepare for climate change

With possible major climate change happening in the future we can be more prepared by organizing locally into resilience hubs…

This can be done by
1. Connecting locally – invite your neighbors for dinner, have regular potlucks , games nights, connection games, block parties etc

2. Growing food locally – encouraging everyone to grow food in their gardens

3 Sharing resources – map out resources in neighborhood, have gift circles where you share what needs you have like dogwalking or editing ,and help each other, create tool libraries, crop swaps where you share food from each others gardens. The more you share, the easier it is to work together if disaster hits.

4. Storing up emergency supplies

 

For more info check out

Gift Circles https://opencollaboration.wordpress.com/2009/11/28/gift-circle-faq/
.resilience circles

localcircles.org
.Transition streets http://www.transitionus.org/transitionstreets
.Shareable.net