Encouraging developments in sustainable economies/ecologies

Amidst news of escalating and intrusive abuses of political power in all areas of the globe and particularly by the current hegemonic state, the USA, it is refreshing and heartening to review some very positive developments at the grassroots level of economy and ecology. Though not as dramatic and spectacular as the daily headline news, these developments are the slowly growing seedlings of new and healthier communities and societies.  All are worthy of our interest and support.

(1) The Public Banking conference and movement.

The Public Banking Institute held a conference recently in San Rafael, CA, attended by several hundreds seriously absorbed in consideration and discussion of the obscure and complex issues of banking reform. Stimulated by the writings and talks by Ellen Brown, author of The Web of Debt (2007) and The Public Bank Solution (2013), a growing number of people have quietly been exploring the values and virtues of banks being owned and run by the state, where profits are retained and recycled  to support in-state farms and businesses, instead of being siphoned off by Wall Street multinational financial conglomerates. At present the only state-owned bank in the US is the Bank of North Dakota –apparently the only state in the Union not laboring under an enormous public debt. Other countries, for example Germany, have a thriving mix of private and public banks (Landesbanken). You can find the ongoing blogs by Ellen Brown here (webofdebt.wordpress.com)

In a review of the conference by  Matt J. Stannard, in his blog/site Political Context (politicalcontext.org), he writes –

In its simplest manifestation, a public bank is a democratically-run, fiscally transparent bank designed to serve community stakeholders rather than capital shareholders. The profits of public banks are returned to the public, whereas privately owned banks increase taxpayer costs through compound interest and are compelled to return profits to shareholders. Public banks issue credit at low-cost or no-cost to cities and states. Public banks can offer “bridges” to residential, agricultural, and public works financing, as the BND (Bank of North Dakota) did during the Great Depression. BND also partners with the private sector, encouraging entrepreneurial startups and providing check-clearing, liquidity, and bond account safekeeping to private banks. PBI President Ellen Brown adds:

A new publicly owned bank would have a clean set of books, untainted by the Wall Street addiction to gambling in complex derivatives; and its profits would go back to the local government and community, rather than being siphoned off in exorbitant salaries, bonuses, and dividends. A publicly-owned bank could funnel credit where it is needed most, directly into the local economy.

 

(2) Movement for local currencies and new economic systems

The nature and function of currency is another topic so built into the taken-for-granted furniture of our public world and social exchanges, that it is easy to overlook how profoundly it affects us – and that alternative models exist. In particular, regional and community currencies, as a complement to (not instead of), existing national ones have had a long history both in Europe and the US. A highly articulate spokesperson for this movement is German architect and regional planner Margrit Kennedy, whose most recent, very readable and understandable booklet (100 pp) on this topic is Occupy Money – Creating an Economy Where Everybody Wins (2012). From the cover:

Inflation and compound interest have caused our monetary system to balloon to the point where bailing out banks, large corporations, and even entire countries will not prevent a complete breakdown of the global economy. It’s time for a grassroots movement to knock conventional money off its pedestal and replace it with a fresh paradigm that puts people before profits.

Occupy Money  makes the case for a stable and sustainable monetary system that reflects real wealth instead of the smoke and mirrors of speculative profit. This hopeful vision can be realized through such creative initiatives as: eliminating interest through interest-free loans and “demurrage,” which rewards currency circulation; re-localizing economies through regional currencies; establishing time banks and complimentary currencies geared to specific services such as health and education.

For many years financial insiders have hidden economic truths by describing them in arcane terms that no layperson can understand. Occupy Money  cuts through the confusion and clearly and succinctly explains how, rather than favoring the 1% at the expense of the 99%, we can restructure our monetary system to meet the needs of us all.

As Charles  Eisenstein writes in his Foreword to this book – “These are hands-on solutions that are available to every citizen, without having to wait for those in power to make changes from above.”

Another strong advocate for new approaches using multiple local currencies is Bernard Lietaer, a Belgian economist and finance expert, who was instrumental in the design of the Euro currency system and has written several books on alternative/complementary currencies, including People Money: The Promise of Regional Currencies, co-authored with Margrit Kennedy and John Rogers; and Rethinking Money: How New Currencies Turn Scarcity into Prosperity, co-authored with Jacqui Dunne.

Finally, I’ll mention in this connection the ground-breaking book by Ross Jackson, Occupy World Street – A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and Political Reform. Praised by people as diverse and influential as Maurice Strong, Dennis Meadows, John Perkins, Hazel Henderson, David Korten, Duane Elgin, Helena Norberg-Hodge and others,  is a powerful manifesto for the kind of political economy needed in our time of global collapse.

 

(3) Local Food Movements and Locavore

In line with the above developments, the local food movement is defined by a Wikipedia entry as

“collaborative effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food economies – one in which sustainable food production, processing, distribution, and consumption is integrated to enhance the economic, environmental and social health of a particular place.” It is part of the concept of local purchasing and local economies; a preference to buy locally produced goods and services rather than those produced by corporatized institutions.

A slightly different, though obviously related,  approach to sustainable food economies, is the Locavore (“eat locally”) movement, According to one website –

Locavores are usually defined as people who practice eating foods harvested from within an area most commonly bound by a 100 mile radius.  Some define the concept as utilizing a concentric circle; utilizing the most local area, such as the backyard garden, for common food items, buying from regional farmers’ markets for harder to locate local items, and then reaching outside of the local community for those items that are unable to grow outside of the immediate community.

Most people assume that the best reason to join the local food movement, as known as becoming a locavore, is to reduce the carbon footprint of food production and transport as part of a sustainable lifestyle

1) Visit a farmers’ market. Farmers’ markets keep small farms in business through direct sales. Rather than going through a middleman, the farmer takes home nearly all of the money that you hand him or her for a delectable apple or a wonderful bunch of grapes. Need to find a market in your area? Try the USDA’s farmers’ market guide.

2) Lobby your supermarket. Ask your supermarket manager where your meat, produce and dairy is coming from. Remember that market managers are trained to realize that for each person actually asking the question, several others want to know the same answer. Let the market managers know what’s important to you! Your show of interest is crucial to help the supermarket change its purchasing practices.

3) Choose 5 foods in your house that you can buy locally. Rather than trying to source everything locally all at once, try swapping out just 5 local foods. Fruits and vegetables that can be grown throughout the continental U.S. include apples, root vegetables, lettuce, herbs and greens. In most areas, it’s also possible to find meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and cheese—all grown, harvested and produced close to your home.

4) Find a local CSA and sign-up! Through a CSA—Community Supported Agriculture—program you invest in a local farm in exchange for a weekly box of assorted vegetables and other farm products. Most CSA programs provide a discount if you pre-pay for your share on a quarterly or yearly basis because a pre-payment allows the farm to use the cash in the springtime when money is needed for farm equipment or investment in the farm. CSA programs take the work out of buying local food, as the farmer does the worrying for you.

5) Preserve a local food for the winter. There’s still time! Though we are headed into winter, many areas still have preservable fruits and vegetables available. Try your hand at making applesauce, apple butter and quince paste. To learn about safe preserving techniques, go to the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

6) Find out what restaurants in your area support local farmers. You can do this by asking the restaurants about their ingredients directly, or by asking your favorite farmers what restaurant accounts they have. Frequent the businesses that support your farmers.

7) Host a local Thanksgiving. Participate in the 100-mile Thanksgiving project by making a dish or an entire meal from local foods.

8) Buy from local vendors. Can’t find locally grown? How about locally produced? Many areas have locally produced jams, jellies and breads as well as locally roasted coffee and locally created confections. While these businesses may not always use strictly local ingredients in their products, by purchasing them you are supporting the local economy.

9) Ask about origins. Not locally grown? Then where is it from? Call the producer of your favorite foods to see where the ingredients are from. You’ll be amazed how many large processed food companies are unable to tell you where your food came from. By continuing to ask the questions we are sending a message to the companies that consumers want to know the origin of ingredients.

10) Visit a farm. Find a farm in your area and call to make an appointment to see the farm. When time allows, the farmers are usually happy to show a family or a group around the farm. When you visit, ask the farmers what challenges they have had and why they choose to grow what they are growing. Be sure to take the kids along on this journey! Children need to know where their food is coming from in order to feel a sense of connection to their dinner.

(4) The Pachamama Alliance

This is an international organization, founded by Bay Area activists, who are also friends and supporters of the Green Earth Foundation,  that supports local economies and local ecologies in the Amazon region.

We empower indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest to preserve their lands and culture and, using insights gained from that work, educate and inspire individuals everywhere to bring forth a thriving, just and sustainable world.  Generating a Critical Mass of Conscious Commitment

The Pachamama Alliance was created at the invitation of the Achuar, an indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest.  Having made their home in the rainforests of Ecuador and Peru for centuries, they have much wisdom to offer about living in harmony with the natural world and with one another.

In the 1990’s, facing oil development on their ancestral lands, Achuar elders decided to reach out to the modern world that was threatening their very existence. They issued a call for allies who would work to “change the dream of the modern world” and transform the culture of overconsumption driving the destruction of the rainforest.

We believe that the solutions to the challenges we’re facing as a human family already exist. What we’re missing is the popular will to implement those solutions now. To generate the critical mass of conscious commitment that can create a positive future, we deliver transformative experiences that:

  • Weave together indigenous and modern world views.
  • Connect human beings with their inherent dignity.
  • Reveal the magnificence and opportunity of this moment in human history.
  • Transform human relationships – with ourselves, with one another, and with the natural world.

Together, we can shift the human systems and structures that keep us separate, becoming each other’s strongest allies in ensuring a vibrant future.

The staff of the Pachamama Alliance offer Awakening the Dreamer workshops in the US  – whose purpose is to bring forth an environmentally sustainable, socially just, and spiritually fulfilling world. They also offer educational tours, the Pachamama Journeys to the Amazon region to learn from the Achuar people and support their efforts to live sustainably in their environment  – protecting their lands from oil development, establishing the legal basis for protecting their environment, teaching mapping and land titling to equip the indigenous communities to protect their communities from exploitation, and helping to preserve indigenous life with new sustainable economic strategies.