With New Zealand is entering its 3rd consecutive week with no reported Corona-19 cases, conversations around the island nation are rising about how to use this time as a spring-board into a better and more just society.
Since April 15, young local councillors Tamatha Paul (Wellington City Councillor) and Thomas Nash (Greater Wellington
Region Councillor) have been convening panel discussions with some of New Zealand leading researchers, thinkers and politicians covering a range of topics, which all have Ti Tiriti o Waitangi* at its heart, (*the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding
As the Covid-19 lockdown closed everything in NZ down, the inspiring meetings and conversations that Tamatha and Thomas were having in real
life ground to halt. They decided to regenerate those conversations in the digital world, creating a weekly panel called “The Aotearoa Town Hall”.
“Being on council means that you hear from awesome people all the time, locals with deep knowledge, high-level experts, people working hard
in the community. We wanted everyone to be able to access the korero” says Tamatha.
“We know there can be no change without constitutional transformation, and this only comes from spreading the knowledge and having conversations”.
Conscious that only a certain type of people engage with the current political system, they wanted to find other ways to share about how change can come through leveraging off Ti Tiriti o Waitangi, as it is the foundational document that NZ laws can give effect through.
Some panel topics have covered Economics (with guest Kate Raworth author of Doughnut Economics), Universal Education and Income, Public Health,
Whanau (Family) Focussed Responses, Climate Justice and Transportation and Urban Design.
“These conversations show how Ti Tiriti o Waitangi is relevant across all different topics and spaces, and the Town Halls show an alternative
reality if it underpinned everything. These conversations are keeping people motivated and pushing for change”.
A hot topic at this moment, Bloom Network’s Community Call about Future Economies was well attended this month. With guests, Shavaun Evans from New Economics Coalition, Nathan Schneider from Media Enterprise Design Lab (Colorado), and Manuel Maqueda from KUMU Labs it was a high level, but heart-filled discussion. All guests and their work were grounded in deep democracy and cooperative ownership and a culture for mutual aid and respect for the earth.
Our first guest, Shavaun Evans, spoke about the work of from New Economy Coalition. NEC is a coalition of 200+ organizations and works on small to large scales, building new systems or new economies that put people and planet first. It is doing an “important job of bringing together the economic models and the intersectional analysis we need that recognizes how the crimes of our current system are not equally distributed” (Nathan Schneider).
NEC has a website full of resources to help the transition of different groups to cooperatives, land trusts, mutual aid networks, time banks, intentional communities, revolving loan funds and public banks. NEC has policy tool kits on “Pathway to a People’s Economy”, climate justice policy, finance policy, worker ownership, community controlled housing.
“In thinking about what the new economy is… so much of the new economy and that next system that we’re trying to build is already embedded in many of our ancestries and much of our culture. It’s something I saw my father doing, bartering his okra for our neighbor’s strawberries, or my mother doing childcare swaps with her sisters or others in our communities. That consideration of community, that mutual aid and respect for one another and care for each other and the earth… So much of that is already a part of our cultures and a part of what folks have been doing and are continuing to do, especially in these moments of crisis. So much of that is embedded in what we call the ‘new economy’,” says Evans.
When commenting on NEC’s great successes, Evans talked of how last year USA saw federal legislation pass that supports worker cooperatives and increased energy around public banks, with public banking legislation in California. And in this COVID-19 moment there have been successful campaigns to cancel rent or mortgages.
“The system that we’re currently living under is not the system that we have to be in in the future. There are lots of options for us to move forward by putting people over profits. People have been doing it better and will continue to do it better, and this is rising between the cracks and [will] start to solidify into our next system.”
Nathan highlighted the crisis of accountability and data in the online economy, and the common issues around labour and persistent patterns of abuse, which the labour markets of online communities have exacerbated.
Like Shavaun, Nathan reflected on
the cooperative businesses his ancestors were part of, which were owned and
governed by the people they serve. The only way his
grandfather got electricity on his farm was through a rural electric
cooperative, because investor-owned companies had no interest in bringing
electricity to farms.
The new challenge of bringing cooperative governance into the online economy has old answers, Schneider says. At this moment, the economic structure of the tech economy is oriented against a cooperative model, as the policy framework is not there. A farm can go to a coop bank, but if you’re doing a tech startup for a marginalized community, access to the same capital is not available.
Nathan listed a number of organisations that have been trying new models and approaches which are available on our wiki here. He also spoke to how there is the option of ‘exiting to community’. Rather than starting as a coop from the beginning, companies can start as conventional start-ups and as they become things that people rely on, they can become owned and governed by that community. So he’s trying to make it an available option for founders and investors to build companies that their users will become the stewards for. It’s a work in progress that is not yet resolved. This was confirmed during recent work with the founder of Meetup, Scott Hyperman, in trying to turn Meetup into a coop instead of turn it over to another set of investors. They couldn’t figure it out.
Successful examples of a transition to a cooperative can be seen in local USA newspapers such as in Ohio, recently the Salt Lake Tribune converted to a nonprofit. “A mission-centric, community-centered approach is the healthy outcome for [a news organization]”, says Schneider. He also touched on the power of spiritual and religious communities for building these kinds of models based on cooperation. The North American credit union system and worker cooperatives in Europe were often motivated through religious communities. “In a very hard entrepreneurial sense, these communities were able to imagine and achieve things that others around them were not able to access”.
In response to COVID-19 questions, Schneider says there’s a craving for building what comes after this. “There will be many opportunities to introduce models of community-based entrepreneurship that we really need, but there really needs to be a society-wide commitment to say, ‘We’re going to support this because we know it’s important, even if it’s not going to be profitable.'”
In summing up, Schneider says that this shift to
more coopertative, democratic platforms are essential if we claim to live in a
democratic society. We should expect as a norm that the institutions we depend
on are democratic in their practice and structure.
“The idea that we tolerate anything else is baffling to me… I’d hope it would be baffling to other storytellers who are broadcasting our stories. Instead of seeing these options as ‘alternative’, we should see democracy as the norm and look at capitalism as the odd alternative we’ve dead ended ourselves into”.
The good news is, there are ways out, and that is what Future Economies is all about.
Manuel Maqueda started his section of the call bringing into context to the brutal pandemic that is happening, a big shock and shared trauma spanning the world. Sending our hearts out in love, we paused for a moment in silence before Maqueda posed the question, “What does this mean in the transition to a new economy?”
“In terms of impact and likelihood, pandemics are a lot less significant than climate-related events. World Economic Forum does a risk assessment each year, and extreme weather events caused by climate have the highest impact and likelihood. Declining biodiversity and weapons of mass destruction have greater impact than a pandemic.”
On the day of the call, the price of oil dropped to negative value and Maqueda observed that the dangerous solution to the excess could be making more plastics. It takes some courage and skill to expand, explained Maqueda. The transformation of the economy is going to require a change of perspective with more vision and courage, moving from reactive to creative.
Maqueda moved into speaking about circular economies, which he is teaching world leaders in both Spanish and English.
“By making our linear economy more sustainable, we’re just extending its runway. Sooner or later, an economy that is tied to resource extraction, generation of waste and social injustice will implode when it rubs against the natural limits of the planet.”
“Waste is money wasted”.
“What we need to be aiming for is an economy that no longer requires extraction of resources and creation of waste to produce economic benefits to people. A circular economy means that you design out pollution, toxicity, and waste”.
Circular economy goes for effectiveness not efficiency. “It’s an economy for the next 10,000 years”, he says, and it requires a lot of systems thinking – or more specifically “ecosystem thinking”. A later discussion talked through how concepts of resources and language have been a limiting factor in valuing the environment and resources correctly. For example, the forest had only be valued as “lumber” for most of economic history instead of valuing the full scope and life of what happens in a forest. Uncovering the hidden costs that capitalism has ignored is a big step towards stronger future economies.
Maqueda reminded us that all around the world there are people showing up and interested, engaged and passionate.
“It important to remember that we are not alone at all in our desires to create something more just and regenerative. We’re absolutely surrounded by allies and we must keep that in mind.”
This Community Call on Future Economies is so rich in deep knowledge, this blog only highlights some important parts of the discussion!
For full minutes of the call, and video of the call, head here.
In New Zealand, in the small town of Whangarei (“Farn-ga-ray”) fabric rescuers are taking on the waste headed for landfill from second-hand stores.
The local Salvation Army Op-shop* receives roughly 3 wool bales of donated clothing a day. Even with a good crew of volunteers it’s impossible for them to process and sell everything, so the staff are selective with what will go to the shop floor.
Any item that needs to be ironed, washed or mended generally does not make the grade and is assigned to landfill. This means that good quality fabric is being dumped because it is too time consuming to work with. This store alone currently sends a skip to the landfill every few days – most of it textiles. This one store spends tens of thousands a year in dumping fees!
Intercept to the rescue! ‘Intercept’ volunteers literally intercept the skips heading to landfill and rescues fabric and clothing that is good quality, but needs attention.
With a small band of sorters, and seamstresses these items are reworked into spectacular garments or made into ‘t-shirt yarn’ for XL-crochet which will be sold within the Salvation Army store. Other clothing with life still in them are gifted out into the community, .
Cooperation between the store and Intercept is going well. The store has given a work room within the building and space and shelving on the dock for rescues and sorting to happen.
“Anything that I can do to help reduce our spending on landfill is good for everyone,” says store manager, Nick Garforth.
“We want your fingers!” says Jenny Hill, at the first official Intercept meeting. 17 volunteers are there. Jenny is a founder of Intercept and is referring to the ability of knowing quality fabric by touch. This is a skill I personally have, passed on through the mothers of my maternal line (my great-great-grandmother worked the cotton mills in the Manchester area at the end of the 18th Century). Until now, I didn’t appreciate this knowledge is not common. I’m proud to be a sorter for Intercept!
Watch: video sharing work of Intercept
In the weekend I joined a fellow Intercepter at the local “Children’s Day”. We set up a stall to give intercepted clothes away. We took 18 banana boxes and by pack up time, three hours later, all but one were empty. All of these clothes would have gone to landfill, but instead have been recirculated in the community.
We definitely encourage you to think about starting something similar in your town, to slow fast fashion and become more regenerative in our clothing choices. Also, it’s really smart to check in with charity shops what they accept (generally clothing that can go straight on to a hanger to sell), as sending them items which contribute to landfill costs is doing the opposite of helping people.
This wiki article lists regenerative methods people are using to reduce the severity of climate-related disasters. It also links to specific projects that can be replicated or referenced in local actions.
These resources are compiled through Bloom’s recurring community call on the topic. To read a detailed recap of each call or watch the video recording, visit:
February 2020: (featuring Kyle Leach from Sierra Streams Institute in California, Sister Pat Bergen from the Mirabeau Water Garden in New Orleans, and participants from Burners Without Borders and Emerald Ecovillage)
Traditional Ecological Knowledge – First Nations’ ecological practices include knowledge of how to manage wildfire cycles and craft abundant ecosystems for life and healthy water.
Mirabeau Water Garden in New Orleans – a replicable urban wetland to absorb storm surges and prevent flooding. – Press Article – Project PDF
In New Zealand, it is compulsory for all new builds to have flood retention built into them. For the past 20 years, all infrastructure has been built to withstand climate change, upon scientific recommendation. For example, all new storm water pipes have also been built to withstand floods
Elemental Ecosystems – water retention landscapes – Podcast Episode on the Investing in Regenerative Agriculture podcast: “Climate change is a symptom of water cycle disturbance and we can fix it
Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe. This book reexamines colonial accounts of Aboriginal people in Australia, and cites evidence of pre-colonial agriculture, engineering and building construction by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
A message from David Holmgren following Australian bush fires:
A strategic focus on the urban/bushland interface and rural residential areas where bushfires create the greatest economic and social havoc demands a much broader suit of land management practices than increasing already problematic fuel reduction burning:
A return to indigenous cultural burning practices where canopy and soil organic matter are left intact
Greater use of grazing animals combined with farming systems that use native pasture species, fire-retardant shelterbelts and silvopasture systems to build soil water- and nutrient-holding capacity
Managing fuels with chippers, slashers and groomers as well as livestock trampling.
A greater focus on fuel reduction through decomposition; research is needed on the role of microbes in speeding decomposition, and the effects of lost soil calcium.
Rehydration of landscapes, using Natural Sequence Farming and Keyline techniques, especially along water courses receiving urban storm water.
Protecting and managing dense areas of fire-retardant ‘novel ecosystems’ near towns and urban fringes, including non-native species such as willow.
The ecologically sensitive thinning of forests utilising the resultant biomass can also reduce our fossil fuel dependence through: – Carbon neutral Combined Heat and Power systems to generate dispatchable power at multiple scales, especially local scale. – As biochar – a soil amendment providing long term carbon sequestration and improving soil water- and nutrient-holding capacity and microbial activity.
Most of these strategies are more labour-intensive than industrial-scale clearing or fuel-reduction burning so are less appealing to government decision makers but have potential to reform and reenergise community-based activity with government support.
Soil carbon sequestration – industrial agriculture has released carbon into the atmosphere not just from fossil fuels, but from depleting topsoil and deep root systems. Healthy soil systems have the ability to draw down and capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and are a recommended way to reverse global warming.
Kiss the Ground – helping farmers transition to regenerative agriculture to build soil health to draw down carbon from the atmosphere and increase food nutrition quality
Fungi play a large role in soil carbon sequestration
Mangrove restoration – Mangroves are a type of tree. Their ecosystems help buffer coastal areas from storms, and they are an efficient carbon sink for pulling carbon out of the atmosphere. They also present sustainable economic opportunities for local communities who might otherwise adopt more extractive forms of agriculture and trade.
Focusing on climate-related disaster mitigation and adaptation, our Feb 2020 Community Call featured Kyle Leach from Sierra Streams Institute (old mining shafts clean-ups and watershed restoration) and Sister Pat Bergen from Sisters of St. Joseph’s with the amazing Mirabeau Water Garden Project in New Orleans.
KYLE LEACH – Sierra Streams Institute
Kyle talked through how Sierra Streams works with abandoned mines with a risk-based clean up plan, that aims to neutralise and nourish the soil back to health. The worst waste is usually dug up and placed in hazardous waste landfills. The rest of the contamination is minimised by ‘activating and consolidating’, followed by being buried onsite. Stabilising and restoring the mine tailings is important so that poisoned sediment eroding into waterways is minimised. Sierra Streams then restore the surface area, to make it erosion-proof, and revegetate it.
Through this work Kyle has been expanding to restoring whole watersheds, where all climate disaster mitigation factors are considered (wildfires, landslides, floods). The low bio-matter status of the mining land means that restoring the soil health is essential to improving wildlife habitats. Bio-solids, a by-product of wastewater treatment plants, are added which increase carbon uptake, improves soil stability and reduces the bioavailability of the metals. Sierra Streams have also started to use ‘biochar’, a by-product of wood-powered plants. Biochar is a higher carbon sink and binds metals like mercury into the matrix of the biochar. The soil is inoculated with soil microbes to increase the biological activity, and the soil is hydro-seeded to stabilise it initially.
If you live in the California area, Sierra Streams welcomes volunteers. It is a nonprofit that uses Citizen/Community-based science approaches. There are volunteer days, like clean-ups, invasive plant removal and plantings. They highly value their volunteer team and keep people informed with what their data is contributing to, so they know the work they are doing is making a real difference. To find out more: https://sierrastreamsinstitute.org
SISTER PAT BERGEN – Mirabeau Water Garden Project
Our second guest was Sister Pat Bergen on our Bloom Community Call, and she talked about the Sisters of St. Joseph’s amazing project in New Orleans. Sister Pat is part of a sisterhood of nuns in the USA who had a convent in New Orleans which was badly damaged in the floods after Hurricane Katrina. They needed to decide what to do with the land. They didn’t want to build houses on the 25 acre piece of land because in the next big flood people would lose their houses… so they held the land, and prayed for years. What could the land do that would serve the New Orleans community in the same way the Sisters had served for so many years?
An architect named David Wagner eventually approached them, with an idea. To turn the land into a giant wetland, a ‘Water Garden’ he called it, which would play a major role in stopping the surrounding area from flooding. This was an answer to prayer!
How it works…
The New Orleans levies are only designed to take 2 inches of rain an hour. Any more than that overwhelms the system, the levies fail, and the city gets flooded. So the intention of the Mirabeau Water Garden design is to take the local flood waters into the garden and slow the water down, so the flood waters don’t overwhelm the city system. The water is filtered and released back into the city system when it can handle it.
The Water Garden will keep a surrounding 3780 acres from flooding completely. It will ‘minimise’ the flooding for 6000 acres from flooding, and 9000 acres will experience a ‘diminishment’ of flooding.
This project has not broken ground yet (tenders are out for construction now), but already it has won a Federal government competition for Water Resiliency in Urban Areas. In 2016 Sister Pat was able to present a check of $143 million to the City of New Orleans, and $93 million to the State of Louisiana, for works in those areas. The $10 million needed to create the Mirabeau Water Garden (without the education centre) is additionally allocated from a grant by FEMA.
A good discussion followed, with amazing offers of help being matched. Kyle will work with Nick from EVO on grants to do watershed restoration on their property. Christopher from Burners Without Borders offered to connect Sister Pat with the BWB volunteer base in New Orleans. Bloom offered to use our networks to help share the designs and story of the Mirabeau Water Garden, as it is now known that if NYC and Houston had these water gardens, much less damage would have been endured from hurricane events. These designs could be built in cities across the world if the message is spread far and wide.
The call ended with Sister Pat answering our key question…
If you want to geek out and see the full details of the call –
For the past ten years I’ve been researching the things that people can do to restabilize our climate, soil, and water cycles. Lately I keep smiling at realizing a pattern among many of them – they’re sexy! Let me tell you about the awesome things you can do or support that are great for you, great for love, and great for the planet and all life here:
Oysters. They’re sexy, delicious, and nutritious, yum! Oysters are a profitable farming crop and they create beneficial ecosystems for all life. Humans have destroyed 85% of oyster stands in the world, and resuscitating them will help everyone. Oysters clean water by filtering nitrogen and phosphorus – both problematic byproducts of industrial agriculture that end up in our waterways – and by making water more clear which allows more sunlight through, nurturing plant life. Their shells absorb carbon dioxide, and they provide habitats to many other marine creatures, as well as sheltering them from climate change effects. Oysters also can provide seawalls – sheltering cities from sea level rise and storm surges by reducing erosion and growing natural barriers – more economically positive than building concrete barriers. Talk about stacking functions (a Permaculture term that refers to making gardens or other systems so each element in them provides multiple interconnected benefits)! Zooming out a bit, I recommend reading about vertical ocean farming. Greenwave is one organization that makes open source business/technical models for this that entrepreneurs can adopt. And they call it polyculture vertical farming – that’s sexy :).
Sidenote wonderous thing – oysters can change sexes back and forth! (similar but different to nudibranchs, my favorite sea creature).
Caveats – climate change is also making it riskier to eat oysters. If harvested in brackish waters over 68 degrees, they can contain the deadly bacteria Vibrio vulnificus. Changing ocean temperature and acidification can also degrade the nutritional benefits of oysters, and harm the creatures themselves. Scientists are researching specific species of oysters that are hardy to these changes, to advocate farmers to grow them. (Incidentally, scientists are similarly researching resilient coral species to plant, to stave off the estimated 99% die off of all coral we’re likely to experience.) Lastly, oysters can accumulate copper, some species moreso than others. So…….. if you like oysters, there are some incentives for you to reduce your carbon emissions, contribute to carbon drawdown projects, and go zero waste so you don’t contribute to metals ending up in waterways.
Hemp and cannabis. As more places in the world legalize or decriminalize this plant, more research is being done into its health benefits. From relaxation to introspective insights that help your life, and much more, cannabis can be a friend when used in moderation. I’ve known cancer patients who aggressively used it to beat back their diseases. You can grow it in your backyard again now in many places. Its stalks provide fiber for clothing, paper, and building materials. I’m stoked that in my hometown in Montana, which is mostly an industrial agriculture community, there is going to be a hempcrete processing plant! Check out this gorgeous hempcrete roundhouse the folks at Starseed Creative built – it’s a good building material for people who have chemical sensitivities and allergies. There are cannabis lubes to get your lady bits high, cannabis food helps with chronic pain, and many people find their creativity enhanced through the plant. Yums all around. (Sidenote, concrete building is incredibly carbon intensive.)
My friend Will Kleidon, CEO of Ojai Energetics and former local Bloom organizer, was telling me about his research into the coevolution of humans and hemp. He described that humans tended to eat more cannabis during periods of stress, helping us weather the moment, physically and psychologically. I’m convinced that oppression of plants with psychoactive and healing properties is one of the roots of climate change in a strange way. The social inequalities and disconnection from nature that that form of cultural control / colonization has asserted, traps people in cycles of poverty and disease where they have to work in extractive systems designed for inequality. This is one of my motivations for working on Bloom Network, and supporting decriminalization of all entheogenic plants and fungi.
A side benefit with cannabis legalization that is sexy, is the creative product packaging, and the cultural changes that will come about with its more widespread and open usage. (Also, cannabis packaging is ripe for an ecological overhaul, as so much about it is wasteful. I will blog about this in the future.) I used to live in Grass Valley, CA (haha, I know), one of the capitals of cannabis growing in the U.S. It was really incredible to see what a local cannabis culture engendered in the community there – prior to legalization and the expensive permitting, families had time to explore other arts, healing traditions, and making music. People were more likely to buy clothing that used natural fibers and dyes, participate in local economies, and inspiring approaches to education – there are many public charter schools and options for homeschooling. My neighbor’s daughter was studying ecology and politics in her last two years of high school, including studying abroad. Another neighbor kid was in a wilderness skills afterschool class – he showed me that you can eat blackberry leaves (they grow in delicious abundance all over there) – he was so cute showing me to be careful to check the underside because some of the leaves have spikes. For a time there was a whole store there dedicated to what used to be called witchcraft – herbalism for people to make their own remedies for common problems such as colds, pain, and the transition of menopause.
Similar to what I said about oysters and copper, heads up that hemp is also a bioaccumulator of toxins, absorbing heavy metals and toxic chemicals from soil. If you’re eating CBD for health, it’s wise to check your source’s soil health.
I’m going to toss being gay in here as a sexy thing that’s good for the planet. We (mostly) don’t add babies, and as a broad generalization we make more love around us, if only because we know how much it hurts to not be loved by society for who we are, so we often tend to be gentler and empathic to those around us. And more diverse ways to express sexuality = more love to go around :).
So there you have it, just a few of the sexy things that are good for humans and good for the planet. I sometimes view climate change as an invitation to come into deeper relationship with nature again. While nature can be ferocious, I’ve mostly found that connecting with her brings infinite joy, learning, relaxation to my body, awe, and respect for all the interconnected forms of life that exist here. I hope this article encourages you to walk toward that and connect with nature in the sexy and good feeling ways that you want to.