My thanks to Helen Guthrie for printing the following inspiring article in the Far North Organic Networker that I received on Wednesday in the library. Read this. There is plenty of hope for our future as people begin to realize we can do so much more in terms of growing our own food locally than we presently are. It’s as inspiring as the Cuban example of organoponicos. Enjoy, John

By Vincent Graff

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2072383/Eccentric-town-Todmorden-growing-ALL-veg.html#ixzz1mcxB7bHC

Admittedly, it sounds like the most foolhardy of criminal capers, and one of the cheekiest, too.

Outside the police station in the small Victorian mill town of Todmorden, West Yorkshire, there are three large raised flower beds.

If you’d visited a few months ago, you’d have found them overflowing with curly kale, carrot plants, lettuces, spring onions — all manner of vegetables and salad leaves.

Today the beds are bare. Why? Because people have been wandering up to the police station forecourt in broad daylight and digging up the vegetables. And what are the cops doing about this brazen theft from right under their noses? Nothing.

 

Food for thought: Todmorden resident Estelle Brown, a former interior designer, with a basket of home-grown veg

Well, that’s not quite correct.

‘I watch ’em on camera as they come up and pick them,’ says desk officer Janet Scott, with a huge grin. It’s the smile that explains everything.

For the vegetable-swipers are not thieves. The police station carrots — and thousands of vegetables in 70 large beds around the town — are there for the taking. Locals are encouraged to help themselves. A few tomatoes here, a handful of broccoli there. If they’re in season, they’re yours. Free.

So there are (or were) raspberries, apricots and apples on the canal towpath; blackcurrants, redcurrants and strawberries beside the doctor’s surgery; beans and peas outside the college; cherries in the supermarket car park; and mint, rosemary, thyme and fennel by the health centre.

The vegetable plots are the most visible sign of an amazing plan: to make Todmorden the first town in the country that is self-sufficient in food.

‘And we want to do it by 2018,’ says Mary Clear, 56, a grandmother of ten and co-founder of Incredible Edible, as the scheme is called.

‘It’s a very ambitious aim. But if you don’t aim high, you might as well stay in bed, mightn’t you?’

So what’s to stop me turning up with a huge carrier bag and grabbing all the rosemary in the town?

‘Nothing,’ says Mary.

What’s to stop me nabbing all the apples?

‘Nothing.’

All your raspberries?

‘Nothing.’

It just doesn’t happen like that, she says. ‘We trust people. We truly believe — we are witness to it — that people are decent.’

When she sees the Big Issue seller gathering fruit for his lunch, she feels only pleasure. What does it matter, argues Mary, if once in a while she turns up with her margarine tub to find that all the strawberries are gone?

‘This is a revolution,’ she says. ‘But we are gentle revolutionaries. Everything we do is underpinned by kindness.’

The idea came about after she and co-founder Pam Warhurst, the former owner of the town’s Bear Cafe, began fretting about the state of the world and wondered what they could do.

They reasoned that all they could do is start locally, so they got a group of people, mostly women, together in the cafe.

Incredible Edible is about more than plots of veg. It’s about educating people about food, and stimulating the local economy (pictured Vincent Graff and Estelle)

‘Wars come about by men having drinks in bars, good things come about when women drink coffee together,’ says Mary.

‘Our thinking was: there’s so much blame in the world — blame local government, blame politicians, blame bankers, blame technology — we thought, let’s just do something positive instead.’

We’re standing by a car park in the town centre. Mary points to a housing estate up the hill. Her face lights up.

‘The children walk past here on the way to school. We’ve filled the flower beds with fennel and they’ve all been taught that if you bite fennel, it tastes like a liquorice gobstopper. When I see the children popping little bits of herb into their mouths, I just think it’s brilliant.’

She takes me over to the front garden of her own house, a few yards away.

Three years ago, when Incredible Edible was launched, she did a very unusual thing: she lowered her front wall, in order to encourage passers-by to walk into her garden and help themselves to whatever vegetables took their fancy.

There were signs asking people to take something but it took six months for folk to ‘get it’, she says.

They get it now. Obviously a few town-centre vegetable plants — even thousands of them — are not going to feed a community of 15,000 by themselves.

But the police station potatoes act as a recruiting sergeant — to encourage residents to grow their own food at home.

Today, hundreds of townspeople who began by helping themselves to the communal veg are now well on the way to self-sufficiency.

But out on the street, what gets planted where? There’s kindness even in that.

‘The ticket man at the railway station, who was very much loved, was unwell. Before he died, we asked him: “What’s your favourite vegetable, Reg?” It was broccoli. So we planted memorial beds with broccoli at the station. One stop up the line, at Hebden Bridge, they loved Reg, too — and they’ve also planted broccoli in his memory.’

Not that all the plots are — how does one put this delicately? — ‘official’.

Take the herb bushes by the canal. Owners British Waterways had no idea locals had been sowing plants there until an official inspected the area ahead of a visit by the Prince of Wales last year (Charles is a huge Incredible Edible fan).

Estelle Brown, a 67-year-old former interior designer who tended the plot, received an email from British Waterways.

‘I was a bit worried to open it,’ she says. ‘But it said: “How do you build a raised bed? Because my boss wants one outside his office window.”’

Incredible Edible is also about much more than plots of veg. It’s about educating people about food, and stimulating the local economy.

There are lessons in pickling and preserving fruits, courses on bread-making, and the local college is to offer a BTEC in horticulture. The thinking is that young people who have grown up among the street veg may make a career in food.

Crucially, the scheme is also about helping local businesses. The Bear, a wonderful shop and cafe with a magnificent original Victorian frontage, sources all its ingredients from farmers within a 30-mile radius.

There’s a brilliant daily market. People here can eat well on local produce, and thousands now do.

Meanwhile, the local school was recently awarded a £500,000 Lottery grant to set up a fish farm in order to provide food for the locals and to teach useful skills to young people.

Jenny Coleman, 62, who retired here from London, explains: ‘We need something for our young people to do. If you’re an 18-year-old, there’s got to be a good answer to the question: why would I want to stay in Todmorden?’

The day I visit, the town is battered by a bitterly-cold rain storm.  Yet the place radiates warmth. People speak to each other in the street, wave as neighbours drive past, smile.

If the phrase hadn’t been hijacked, the words ‘we’re all in this together’ would spring to mind.

So what sort of place is Todmorden (known locally, without exception, as ‘Tod’)? If you’re assuming it’s largely peopled by middle-class grandmothers, think again. Nor is this place a mecca for the gin-and-Jag golf club set.

Set in a Pennine valley — once, the road through the town served as the border between Yorkshire and Lancashire — it is a vibrant mix of age, class and ethnicity.

A third of households do not own a car; a fifth do not have central heating.

You can snap up a terrace house for £50,000 — or spend close to £1 million on a handsome stone villa with seven bedrooms.

And the scheme has brought this varied community closer together, according to Pam Warhurst.

Take one example. ‘The police have told us that, year on year, there has been a reduction in vandalism since we started,’ she says. ‘We weren’t expecting this.’

So why has it happened?

Pam says: ‘If you take a grass verge that was used as a litter bin and a dog toilet and turn it into a place full of herbs and fruit trees, people won’t vandalise it. I think we are hard-wired not to damage food.’

Pam reckons a project like Incredible Edible could thrive in all sorts of places. ‘If the population is very transient, it’s difficult. But if you’ve got schools, shops, back gardens and verges, you can do it.’

Similar schemes are being piloted in 21 other towns in the UK, and there’s been interest shown from as far afield as Spain, Germany, Hong Kong and Canada. And, this week, Mary Clear gave a talk to an all-party group of MPs at Westminster.

Todmorden was visited by a planner from New Zealand, working on the rebuilding of his country after February’s earthquake.

Mary says: ‘He went back saying: “Why wouldn’t we rebuild the railway station with pick-your-own herbs? Why wouldn’t we rebuild the health centre with apple trees?”

‘What we’ve done is not clever. It just wasn’t being done.’

The final word goes to an outsider. Joe Strachan is a wealthy U.S. former sales director who decided to settle in Tod with his Scottish wife, after many years in California.

He is 61 but looks 41. He became active with Incredible Edible six months ago, and couldn’t be happier digging, sowing and juicing fruit.

I find myself next to him, sheltering from the driving rain. Why, I ask, would someone forsake the sunshine of California for all this?

His answer sums up what the people around here have achieved.

‘There’s a nobility to growing food and allowing people to share it. There’s a feeling we’re doing something significant rather than just moaning that the state can’t take care of us.

‘Maybe we all need to learn to take care of ourselves.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2072383/Eccentric-town-Todmorden-growing-ALL-veg.html#ixzz1mcxB7bHC

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Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.com

 

“In Search of Simplicity is a unique and awe-inspiring way to re-visit and even answer some of the gnawing questions we all intrinsically have about the meaning of life and our true, individual purpose on the planet. I love this book.”

 

Barbara Cronin, Circles of Light. For the complete review visit: http://www.circlesoflight.com/blog/in-search-of-simplicity/

 

“In Search of Simplicity is one of those rare literary jewels with the ability to completely and simultaneously ingratiate itself into the mind, heart and soul of the reader.”

 

Heather Slocumb, Apex Reviews

 

Hunua Falls

Late yesterday afternoon we arrived home to a moist and lush Far North. Asha had been away on a two week school trip to Vietnam and Lucia and I took ten days to tramp in the bush and swim in the streams near Lake Taupo and at Hunua Falls south of Auckland before picking Asha up from the Auckland Airport in the wee hours of yesterday morning (I managed three hours of sleep and Lucia two). As soon as we got home I jumped in the ocean for a swim to revive me enough to attend a vibrant ‘holiday-feeling’ ceili in a Mangonui Hall packed with all ages dancing and having fun together. 

This morning I looked at my inbox for the first time in close to two weeks ( I certainly don’t miss the computer when it’s not around!) and found the following information I thought I’d share with you. With a few slight editorial modifications the note is just as Laurence Boomert of The Bank of Real Solutions wrote it.

As for me, I’ll be singing carols at a nearby church tonight and we look forward to hosting our annual summer solstice celebration on Tuesday, December 21st. That will be a special evening as it also corresponds with a full moon lunar eclipse.

Have a wonderful holiday season and a great and meaningful 2011!.

John

If you want to focus on the positive – give yourself some cheer by checking out all the recently posted Kiwi Can Do community success stories on our website www.realsolutions.org.nz    

If you are tough enough to face the upcoming realities of 2011 then you probably already know that the globalized Wall St system of economic, social and environmental fraud is fast imploding. Along with the economic collapse, Peak Oil and climate mayhem are set to show us just how non-negotiable, food and fuel supplies are to our modern world. New Zealand cannot escape the dramatic economic consequences that are impacting the rest of the Western world. Even Bill English has now suddenly moved from gibbering on about some implausible recovery to admitting that at best any recovery is 10 years off.  His government’s $15 billion deficit for the year puts us on track for the same kind of massive austerity measures and bankruptcies sweeping the countries we look up to and depend upon. 20% unemployment is not uncommon in those countries, their social services are being decimated and money is hard to find while rampant inflation is hitting the basic necessities of life.

You can get scared and despondent but you can also wake up and realise that  ‘WHERE YOU LIVE IS WHERE IT’S AT’; that you and your neighbours and other aware and motivated members of your community can make your part of the planet more secure, more friendly, healthier and more resilient. That simpler more localized lifestyles and economies are achievable and that the empowerment and sense of security and satisfaction you will get, will put you on track for a Happy New Year what ever the world throws at us – so bring it on – We are on our feet with our sleeves rolled up – and we are sharing how we are doing it – right here at the Bank of Real Solutions www.realsolutions.org.nz   

Check out the Bank’s coverage on National Radio on Chris Laidlaw’s Sunday morning show:

http://podcast.radionz.co.nz/ideas/ideas-20101121-1105-Ideas_for_21_November_2010-048.mp3   (50 minutes)

Be strong ….but be kind too

Best wishes,

Laurence Boomert

 The Bank of Real Solutions

 

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Subscribe to In Search of Simplicity by Email

Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.

“In Search of Simplicity is a unique and awe-inspiring way to re-visit and even answer some of the gnawing questions we all intrinsically have about the meaning of life and our true, individual purpose on the planet. I love this book.”

Barbara Cronin, Circles of Light. For the complete review visit: http://www.circlesoflight.com/blog/in-search-of-simplicity/

“In Search of Simplicity is one of those rare literary jewels with the ability to completely and simultaneously ingratiate itself into the mind, heart and soul of the reader.”

Heather Slocumb, Apex Reviews

As many of you know, I’m a firm believer of thinking globally while acting locally. I’ve interviewed a number of proponents of the Transition Town Concept. There are a number of Transition Initiatives here in New Zealand’s Far North. It is all about creating local resiliency. The following post arrived in my inbox. Please read the following words from Richard K. Moore if you want to see the direction the real world of real little people (as opposed to the centralized world government the ‘elite’ would like to see) is going. It’s about community bonds in all areas – from growing food to banking. It’s the way of the future and people like Rob Hopkins, the founder of Transition Towns, are energetically and practically building that future now.

I believe localism is here to stay. Krishnamurti (see the above video) once said that there is no freedom in ‘isms’. There may be one exception to that—localism. Happy reading

Cheers, John

This document continues to evolve, based on continuing research. The latest version is always maintained at this URL:
http://rkmdocs. blogspot. com/2010/ 03/localism. html


This chapter is under construction. Previewers invited to send in suggestions. 


Always darkest before the dawn
Our global society is in crisis, and the core of the crisis seems to be about resources: resource limits, overuse and misuse of resources, resource-related conflicts, and the resulting destruction of our natural life-support systems. The crisis is at an extreme stage, as we are approaching the final hard limits of a finite earth. This is all the more frightening because our governments seem powerless to respond effectively to the crisis. We can all see the rocks ahead, and yet the crew steams straight on, as the ship-of-state carries us toward destruction.

Some people saw the crisis coming years ago. A worldwide environmental movement has been active since at least 1962, after Rachael Carson’s The Silent Spring was published to wide acclaim. This movement has focused on lobbying for environmental protections, and for stronger regulation of corporations. The movement has had a number of successes, as when the Environmental Protection Agency was first established in the USA. But over time the movement has become less effective, the regulatory agencies have been corrupted by corporate influence, and the dark clouds of crisis loom ever larger.

But hark! At this darkest time, promising new initiatives are emerging. While the environmental movement may have faltered, environmental consciousness has spread throughout the society. And in the face of government ineffectiveness, activists are turning their attention toward grassroots solutions to the crisis. 

From the early days of the environmental movement, we have had the notion of ‘think globally and act locally’. This translated mostly into individual life-style choices, such as driving and consuming less, recycling and bicycling, installing double-glazed windows, etc. The new wave of activists are interpreting ‘act locally’ in a more empowered way: they are working to mobilize whole communities around the goal of achieving sustainability at the local level. 

This new wave of environmentalism is non-confrontational and more or less apolitical, unlike the feisty old wave, and yet the new wave represents a much more radical response to the resource crisis. These activists realize that environmental regulations are simply not enough, even if they could be achieved. A total transformation is needed in the way we use resources and in the way we run our economies. If every community could go through a transition process, and achieve sustainability locally, then the whole society would be transformed. 

The total economic transformation of our societies is a very radical agenda indeed. If we look back in history for movements with equally radical agendas, we find only violent revolutionary movements, and mass political movements. Our new wave of environmental activists are not at all radically minded, in that traditional political sense, and yet they find themselves on a very radical path, a path toward social transformation. How do we account for this novel emergence of politically innocent, and yet potentially effective, radicalism?

I suggest that this new kind of radicalism comes from a fundamental shift in consciousness on the part of leading-edge activists. That shift is not toward radicalism itself, rather it is a shift from ‘asking government to solve our problems’, to ‘figuring out what we can do for ourselves’. Activists were drawn toward this new consciousness, as it became increasingly clear that governments were simply not facing up to the crisis, and that no amount of political activism was going to wake them up.

As long as activist energy is directed towards influencing governments, only small things will be asked for. In order for initiatives to have any hope of success, they must be framed within the context of overall government policy, and they must not be making ‘unrealistic demands’. Thus stifled in their options, the very imagination of activists ends up being constrained to incremental hopes and proposals. 

But once activists turn their attention to grassroots solutions, their imagination, their visions, and their creativity are unleashed. Instead of limiting their thinking to ‘achievable reforms’, they begin to ask, ‘How can the problem actually be solved?’ Once that bold question is asked, sensible people can often find answers, even if governments can’t. 

The community is the natural place to pursue grassroots initiatives, and the techniques of sustainability have been pioneered by intentional communities, ecovillages, permaculture farms, etc. This new wave of environmental localism is simply bringing the available tools to bear in a place where they can make a real difference in mainstream society. While governments aren’t listening, communities might be persuaded to pay attention — to ideas that can benefit them. This seems to be a quite sensible strategy for moving toward sustainability, one community at a time.

It is not only environmentalists who have turned their attention to the local, as a focus for effective activism. The crisis is multi-faceted, extending to economic collapse, unemployment, homelessness, etc. And in every such area of crisis, governments show the same inability to respond effectively. 

Activists who have ideas for creating employment, or responding to some other area of crisis, are increasingly seeing the community as the best place to apply their ideas and their energies. As these energies converge on the community, we are beginning to see the emergence of a generalized localization movement.

Around the world, there is a growing movement to pull back from the relentless march of corporate globalisation by re-rooting economic and social activities at the community level. From the burgeoning popularity of farmers’ markets and food co-ops to the revitalisation of community banking, people are organising themselves to reclaim the economy from large profit-driven corporations and instead build sustainable, local alternatives.
— Anna White, “Why Local Economies Matter

Anna White talks about a ‘growing movement’, but unfortunately the growth is horizontal rather than vertical. More and more activists are getting involved, in a growing number of communities and a variety of initiatives, but in each community the actual benefit of the initiatives has remained marginal. 

There might be a weekly farmer’s market, for example, and it might be crowded with happy farmers and happy customers. But in terms of the overall food business in the community, the farmer’s market usually handles only a negligible percentage. The early adopters get on board, for some percentage of their food purchases, and the program never grows much beyond that. 

Localization activists are motivated by a vision of transformation, and their intiatives do have transformational potential. However none of these initiatives has found a way to escape from marginalism and really begin to have a significant effect on any community’s economy, or to move any community significantly closer to sustainability.

Let us now take a closer look at the various initatives, in order to understand the nature of the obstacles preventing greater progress. In the next chapter, we will then take on the challenge of figuring out how these obstacles can be overcome.

Reviewing the threads of localism
The various localization initiatives can be categorized under three primary threads of activity:

  • Achieving self-sufficiency
  • Revitalizing the local economy
  • Harmonizing community concerns

• Achieving self-sufficiency
These initiatives are oriented around making the most of local resources, reducing consumption of resources generally, and seeking to minimize dependence on goods and services sourced outside the community. To the extent these efforts succeed, the community could be shielded from disruption by global resource scarcities, or by a collapse in society’s supply chains. 

Among the specific initiatives are campaigns to encourage certain individual lifestyle choices, such as buying from local shops, riding bicycles, installing better insulation, and all those other things that environmentally- minded people have been doing for quite some time, on the basis of the principle, ‘think globally and act locally’. 

The new-wave activists have extended the initiatives to group undertakings, such as urban gardens, farmer’s markets, local energy production, and local currencies to encourage local shopping.

As regards the lifestyle-choice initiatives, the obstacle to greater progress is clear. The immediate benefits to the individual from making such choices are marginal, there are costs and sacrifices involved, and only a limited number of people are sufficiently motivated by long-term concerns to join in. 

In the case of the group undertakings, there are two different obstacles preventing the initiatives from having a more significant impact on the local economy. In some cases, as with Farmer’s markets, the obstacle is the same as above: not enough immediate benefits to attract widespread participation.

In other cases, we see a different kind of obstacle. In these cases activists have found a way to generate widespread participation. But in doing so they have narrowed the scope of their initiatives to the point where even widespread participation has only a marginal impact on the local economy. Examples of this are Berkshares and the Transition Towns movement.

Berkshares are a community currency that has been introduced into the Bershire region of Massachusetts. Local residents can purchase Berkshares at a discount, 100 Berkshares for $95. They can then spend those Berkshares as if they were dollars, at merchants who have chosen to participate. Such a merchant can trade in 100 Berkshares and get back $95. The net effect is that merchants are offering a 5% discount to local residents, in order to increase their business volume, and in order to encourage a community spirit of ‘shop locally’.

This is an attractive enough proposition that many local businesses and residents are participating. This has succeeded in increasing the percentage of local shopping, and the local residents are benefiting from the 5% discount. Those are certainly good outcomes, but in terms of moving toward local self-sufficiency or sustainability, the net result is marginal.

The Transition Towns movement is focused specifically on the need to reduce energy consumption, based on the belief that oil is getting scarce and that society’s supply chains are going to break down. The movement has a step-by-step plan for communities, based on educating the people in the community about the need to reduce energy usage, working with local authorities, and developing a multi-year Energy Descent Action Plan, with the overall support of the community. 

The town of Totnes, in the UK, seems to be the most advanced of the Transition Towns, having launched their project in 2006. They have an Energy Descent Action Plan, with 39 projects on the go, and the activity has generated more than £8,000 income for the community. They also have a local currency, the ‘Totnes Pound’, and out of a population of less than 8,000, over 3,000 have signed up as supporters of the project.

These are impressive achievements in terms of community organizing, and yet, with all that local support and activity, and four years of effort, the income generated has amounted to only about £1 per resident.. And the Action Plan, at this point, is actually just a plan to create a plan, which in turn will hopefully outline a path to becoming somewhat more sustainable by the year 2030. 

This has been an admirable effort by the activists and the community, and in many ways the project is an ongoing success story. But again, in terms of moving toward local self-sufficiency or sustainability, the net result is marginal. 

• Revitalizing the local economy
These initiatives are oriented around stimulating the local economy, putting people to work, and seeking to create local prosperity — while minimizing dependence on the outside economy or outside investment. These objectives are complementary to the self-sufficiency objectives above, but the emphasis is on stimulating economic activity, rather than on reducing imports to the community. 

The primary revitalization initiatives have to do with local currencies, local funding entities, and co-ops

Local currencies
In the previous section, local currencies were seen as a way to encourage buying from local businesses. Here we are emphasizing something else: the ability of local currencies to enable a greater level of local economic activity, than can be supported by the locally available dollars. 

Note: for simplicity, I’m using the term ‘dollars’ for the local official currency, but of course this might really be Euros, Pounds, or whatever, depending on where the community is located

In discount-based local currencies, such as Berkshares, some degree of increased economic activity can be generated, but that is limited to a small percentage increase over what could be supported by available dollars. In order to move beyond that, another kind of local currency is needed, a complementary currency, such as Ithaca HoursTime Dollars, or LETS.

Complementary currencies are separate currencies in their own right. Units are not purchased for dollars, but are issued on some other basis. And units are not exchangeable for dollars; their value is defined only by the goods and services that can be accessed with them. Complementary currencies have the potential to support a vibrant local economy, even in a dollar-impoverished community.

Discount-based currencies and complementary currencies each appeal to different constituencies, and for different kinds of transactions. As we saw with Berkshares, discount-based currencies are appealing to established merchants, as a way of increasing their business volume. However established merchants are not likely to be interested in accepting complementary currencies, because they are unlikely to be able to buy their supplies of goods using such a currency. 

Complementary currencies are appealing to ordinary people, as a way to exchange goods and services among one another. Someone might earn units by giving haircuts, and then use those units to buy bread from someone who bakes. For these kinds of transactions, a discount-based currency offers no benefits over using dollars directly.

The reason discount-based currencies have only a marginal effect on the local economy — despite widespread participation — is that discounts are inherently limited as regards the the benefits they can provide. In the case of complementary currencies, the benefits have been marginal because not enough people have participated thus far, and the transactions involved have tended to be of marginal value.

Local funding entities
A local funding entity could be a local bank, a local credit union, or some kind of local entity that is able to invest in local projects and enterprises. In order to serve the purpose of revitalizing the local economy, the funding entity needs to have a certain ethic about its operations. In particular, the entity needs to be dedicated to revitalizing the local economy, rather than dedicated to maximizing its own return on investment.

Credit unions are very beneficial to communities. They are owned by their members, and their mission is to serve their members rather than maximize their profits. They tend to offer better terms on both loans and savings accounts than banks do. And since credit unions don’t make speculative investments, they survived the recent financial collapse relatively unscathed.

Banks, if they are established on an appropriate basis, can also be very beneficial to their communities. If we consider the state of North Dakota to be a ‘community’, then the Bank of North Dakota demonstrates the ability of a bank to insulate its community from external financial problems. 

This bank is owned by the state of North Dakota, rather than by private investors, and it is dedicated to promoting the economic welfare of its citizens and businesses, rather than maximizing profits. As with credit unions, this bank came through the financial collapse in very good shape: How the Nation’s Only State-Owned Bank Became the Envy of Wall Street.

Perhaps the most impressive example of how a bank can benefit its community can be found in Mondragon, Spain, as explained in the excellent documentary film, The Mondragon Experiment. This bank was created for the specific purpose of developing the local economy, and in particular to fund and launch worker-owned production co-ops. 

The bank not only provides funding, but it helps people with entrepreneurial ideas to develop a business plan, and to set up a sound management team. The bank then stays in touch with the enterprise, providing counselling, and making additional funding available, when that makes good business sense. The bank acts as a friendly partner and mentor in such enterprises, and the economic success of the Mondragon system has been remarkable. 

The Grameen Bank demonstrates another way that local communities can benefit, using the mechanism of microcredit. Grameen makes small loans to people in poverty, creating self-employment for income-generating activities and housing for the poor. Prof. Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank, received the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work. Grameen has shown that people are not poor due to a lack of talent or enterprise, but because of a lack of opportunities.

One of the most promising proposals for a local funding entity is the Common Good Bank. This bank has been designed from the very beginning as a vehicle to support democratically- managed community development. The plan is to have local divisions of the bank in participating communities, and in each community the depositors would decide what the bank should invest in. Bank profits are to go to schools and suitable non-profit organizations, and some loans will be micro-loans, as with the Grameen Bank.

The most remarkable element of this banking scheme is a very special kind of local currency, called Local Money. This is a kind of complementary currency, in that it can be issued for free, but it has the virtues of a discount currency, as it can be exchanged for dollars — and there isn’t even a discount. Such a currency would be appealing to everyone in the community, including the local merchants.

Local Money is an extension of the principle of fractional reserve banking. All banks, under this principle, can issue loans in excess of their actual reserves, on the theory that most loans get repaid, and the bank won’t be caught short. In essence, money is created when a loan is issued, and the bank profits from the interest on this newly created money. It’s a very profitable scam for the banks. Local Money transforms that scam into something beneficial to communities.

Units of Local Money can be issued as loans, or as grants to community projects, or as part of the remuneration for bank workers. These units can then be used to buy things from local merchants, or exchanged for services. The value of a Local Money unit is based on the stable, inflation-free value of some basic local commodities, benchmarked regularly against the dollar. The bank will accept units and exchange them for dollars, based on the current valuation.

Needless to say, the stability of this scheme depends on fiscal prudence in the issuing of Local Money. Just as with national currencies, careful control of the local money supply is called for. The money supply must be kept in balance with the volume of trading taking place in the community. If the money supply is too great, inflation results; if the money supply is too small, the operation of the local economy is unnecessarily restrained. In addition, the amount of Local Money in circulation must be kept in balance with the bank’s dollar reserves, because of the convertiblity guarantee.

Provided that Local Money is prudently managed, the scheme has great potential for stimulating development and prosperity in the community. Wherever there are untapped talents, or undeveloped economic potential, Local Money can be made available to put that talent to work and realize that economic potential. 

We might recall here that, according to Benjamin Franklin, the main reason for the Revolutionary War was the fact that Britain outlawed the issuance of local currency by the Colonies. Local currencies had enabled prosperity in the Colonies, and the Bank of England was not benefiting. It’s not nice to mess with central bankers.

There is one pitfall for the Common Good Bank’s scheme. If severe inflation occurs in the dollar economy, the convertibility guarantee cannot be maintained. If the value of the official currency plummets, and Local Money retains its value, the bank wouldn’t have sufficient reserves to handle exchanges, particularly if people panicked and started a dollar-exchange run on the bank.

If such inflation did happen, it would be a good idea for the bank to sponsor a public viewing of Jimmy Stewart’s, It’s a Good Life

I say that only partly in jest. The fact is that in a period of severe dollar inflation, assuming that Local Money has been in use for a reasonable length of time, local people would be happy they have a currency that is working for them. They would have every reason to continue to honor it, and little incentive to exchange for a national currency that is in trouble. They would be likely to accept a change of policy, where exchanges for dollars would be limited based on need, and on the dollar reserves available to the bank.

To sum up this section on local funding entities, we can see that the effect of such entities has gone far beyond the marginal in many cases. With Mondragon, the Grameen Bank, and the Bank of North Dakota, we have seen that a well-managed and well-conceived local funding mechanism can provide very significant benefits to its ‘community’.

In the Common Good Bank’s scheme, we see a very well thought out synthesis, bringing together proven elements into a package designed specifically for facilitating community empowerment. With their Local Money, they have combined the virtues of a complementary currency with the powerful monetary model that is routinely abused by central banks, but that can also be a potent enabler of community prosperity, if used wisely. 

My only reservation regarding the Common Good model is that the local entities are not fully autonomous. Presumably the intent was not central control, but rather a matter of efficiency, reducing the overhead for a community in adopting the model. Nonetheless, autonomy is an essential principle of community empowerment, and there is no reason why the Common Good design cannot be adapted to local circumstances and implemented autonomously by communities.

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Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.

In Search of Simplicity is a unique and awe-inspiring way to re-visit and even answer some of the gnawing questions we all intrinsically have about the meaning of life and our true, individual purpose on the planet. I love this book.”

Barbara Cronin, Circles of Light. For the complete review visit: http://www.circlesoflight.com/blog/in-search-of-simplicity/

In Search of Simplicity is one of those rare literary jewels with the ability to completely and simultaneously ingratiate itself into the mind, heart and soul of the reader.”

Heather Slocumb, Apex Reviews

From share trader and financial advisor to a strong and informed advocate for local resilience, Trevor Houghton has married his wealth of experience into a comprehensive whole. In this Voices from the North interview he shares some of the many transition initiatives already underway in Nelson that are bringing hope and strength to their community and readying themselves for the potential changes related to the post-oil world. The hour contains a clip from Transition Town founder, Rob Hopkins and part of Celine Dion’s awesome rendition of ‘‘Where is the Love?’

Al Gore had more than thirty years of experience with climate change. His message was simple. There are more than enough commercial solutions to solve this crisis. What’s lacking is the political will and the public focus. It’s up to the constituents to insisting on appropriate legislative support from their political representatives.

Trevor mentioned the idea of hunter/gatherer potluck feasts. All the food must be locally sourced through hunting or gathering it from gardens.

Trevor discussed micro-finance and the great benefit this has brought to third world people embroiled in generation slavery. For a site where you can help go to: www.kiva.org

We looked at the present position and direction of Fontera and the New Zealand dairy industry as an example of an industrial agricultural model with globalisation problems.

The complete interview is found below:

Click Below to:

Subscribe to In Search of Simplicity by Email

Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.

In Search of Simplicity is a unique and awe-inspiring way to re-visit and even answer some of the gnawing questions we all intrinsically have about the meaning of life and our true, individual purpose on the planet. I love this book.”

Barbara Cronin, Circles of Light. For the complete review visit: http://www.circlesoflight.com/blog/in-search-of-simplicity/

In Search of Simplicity is one of those rare literary jewels with the ability to completely and simultaneously ingratiate itself into the mind, heart and soul of the reader.”

Heather Slocumb, Apex Reviews

I’m passing on this article by Jan Lundberg that I received from the New Zealand Transition Town Movement. What does it take for us to change our mindset of massive consumption and addiction to oil and technology?

Insightful reading!

John

http://culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=267&Itemid=1

 

Dissolve the U.S.: an Option for Proactive Change before Collapse

 

by Jan Lundberg    19 December 2008

 

Will Obama be a Greater Gorbachev?

 

Culture Change Letter #221 – Housing starts in the U.S. are down 47% as of 13 months ago. Prices of commodities, not just oil, are falling because of job losses unseen since 1947. Oil is still very costly when subsidies are included. The prior recoveries from recessions were from bubbles: dot com and housing speculation — when oil extraction was still rising. Now peak money has come and gone. Climate disasters have barely begun. So to deny we’re slipping on a downward slope is getting harder, and more of us are wondering about the uncertain outcome.

 

Another bubble is highly unlikely, so we’re having to face the music. With nothing to reverse the trends, and with mounting effects of ecological degradation and overpopulation, we see things are headed in a terrible direction. Still, people don’t want to explore collapse, or they place a comforting limit on what it means and what might happen. “No one knows” passes for wisdom and even action.

 

Whether we have been hit mainly by crippling energy costs as part of peak oil and petrocollapse, or clobbered more by Wall Street greed, the state of the global corporate economy is sick and maybe terminal. It’s reasonable to expect — or get caught up in — food riots on a broader scale than ever. Same for the fall of governments. Fortunately, there’s something we can do to avoid the worst of the fallout if we act proactively.

 

Meanwhile, we are looking at the near certainty that the depression — “the Final Depression” or “Grand Collapse” or “Darkness before the Dawn” — will intensify. And, since we have to consider there’s no longer “unlimited” cheap energy to rebuild the infrastructure for rail, it is time to (1) anticipate what can happen to the nation in the throes of petro-collapse and the bursting of peak money, and (2) steer our megaship away from the iceberg in hopes of a glancing blow and launching all possible bioregional lifeboats.

 

The real danger is in clinging to the status quo. For example, we should not try to build ever-more cars to run on deteriorating roads built with and for oil. To do so is to throw good money after bad, to reward or bail out fat cats taking the whole ship down as we sit by. Given the late hour for cheap energy and rebuilding, we have to think bicycles more than trains to be produced from car-dinosaur factories.

 

Even the most visionary, radical thinkers seem to saying little more than, “Look, there’s a big problem out there!” Yes, we see it. Some of us see more than others. But we need to see what’s next, while visualizing the positive future we need.

 

The positive future that we’d like is basic security, more love, connection to community and healthy nature, and liberation from foolish work. What would you like? How can we get there? First we have to look at where our problems are pushing us. Then we can see how any handles we have on inescapable trends may be seized upon for improved results. Otherwise, it will be just maximum chaos and a doubtful rebuilding from utter collapse.

 

Risking chaos without any attempt to restructure for improvement is the prevailing tendency. Reforming a system of waste, while refusing to slash greenhouse gases and stop unproductive work, offers no hope except for green opportunism. As the recent International Arctic Change conference warned, “The roof of our house is on fire while the leaders of our family sit comfortably in the living room below preoccupied with “political realities” — the message from 1,000 scientists from around the world along with northern indigenous leaders.

 

What’s a real plan today?

 

Beware of sellouts who trick people into thinking their plan is doable and realistic: is it a fantasy in any way, ignoring peak oil’s full effects or climate-change devastation? Is their plan a ruse to keep up the hopeless attempt to reform the dominant system into some green entity it has only resisted and rejected?

 

The denial of reality is about as strong as the trend to recognize it, which means things are getting more intense as the natural world collides with civilization for what’s stacking up to be a final showdown.

 

We may soon see how correct I was when I claimed in 1992, in the quarterly journal Population and Environment, that the Russian people were better off in their imperial collapse than people of the U.S. will be because of petroleum dependence. With the common practice of one out of five Russians growing their own potatoes, unlike U.S. folk who only drive to the supermarket, survival from the short term to long term looked not so bad comparatively. But one reason there was no major die-off, as I predict in the U.S. and elsewhere, is that Russia was in an economic world still “growing.”

 

For more guidance from history, we can look to the work of Dmitry Orlov who decided to compare the Soviet Union’s collapse to what he saw starting to happen in the U.S. His “five stages of collapse” seem to have begun. I don’t believe he sees a good outcome from potential U.S. efforts to turn negatives into a positive future. Perhaps it is the dreamer in me that makes me an activist that says we can imagine, as John Lennon did in his song Imagine, that we can be “sharing all the world.”

 

“What?” you exclaim, “isn’t the U.S. needed as a world leader as times get even tougher!”? Well, the U.S. has been worse than a lumbering giant of idiocy where it matters: standing in the way of climate protection, guzzling oil, and creating terror around the world through militarism and “intelligence” operations. There has been no nation worse, although let us be fair by defending the United States as having many wonderful people and some incomparable scenery.

 

“What about defense against the evil doers?!” With collapse there will be little of today’s overblown “defense”, and little possibility of full scale oil-driven invasion of the former USA. Today the biggest oil consumer in the world is the U.S. Defense Fuel Supply Center. The future bioregional nations will have their own defense, but probably basic and not gold-plated, high-tech or dominated by corporate mercenaries. If one dreams that the U.S., as presently structured, will become a paragon of good sense — somehow thwarting the selfish kleptocracy that calls the shots — this is the height of naivete. So we must get on with proactively dismantling the U.S. before the tsunami of change hits — much like dispersing before a wave crashes. If all are tied together, all drown. If we separate into bioregional local economies, we might survive and even help each other across divides. Manufacturing and crafts have all but disappeared in the U.S., as other countries in Asia usually send us whatever we think we need. So our future will include recreating capabilities to make and repair things, but probably not frivolous toys that use energy.

 

SharonAstyk.com said on Dec. 15 “2009 will be the year we say that things ‘collapsed’…a la the Great Depression.” Is anticipating collapse the best we can do? What about an intelligent restructuring? The word for restructuring in Russian is famous around the world: perestroika. In 1990 I published in the Earth Island Journal my article “Ecostroika.” (Actually, Sharon Astyk has great ideas along such lines.)

 

Mikhail Gorbachev and then Boris Yeltsin presided over the dissolution of the USSR, but had to go with what was already happening: collapse was inevitable, but it did not pose the threat that today’s higher house of cards represents globally.

 

Because the U.S. government is incompetent and cannot be trusted to handle the engineering job of the millennium — mitigating petrocollapse, overpopulation, peak money, and climate collapse — as we saw post-Katrina, local communities need to formulate their own plans with President Obama’s encouragement. He can thus be a greater Gorbachev for posterity. But let us not delude ourselves to imagine he can start telling the citizenry that we must stop population growth and start reducing our numbers. He is, after all, central to the one-party system for haphazard economic growth: the Democrats-and-Republicans.

 

Culturally the U.S. population is hooked on technology that makes them passive. A recent poll published in the Portland Oregonian states that 70% of the nation’s residents’ “favorite way to relax is watching a holiday movie.” Personally I find movies to be one of the greatest justifications for civilization — the new artistic documentary Blind Spot, on peak oil, comes to mind. But without the convenient power and gadgets we’ve enjoyed and been slaves to, we’ll have to become much more convivial, in ways described by Ivan Illich: be more social and interactive.

 

Nuts and Bolts/Nitty Gritty of Dissolution

 

Responsibility for the nuclear waste, weapons, superfund sites, and brownfields must be taken seriously — whereas today the byword is growth, growth, growth (i.e., profits, profits, profits for the few). Where has growth gotten the average person? Lower real wages and more working hours. Honest assessments of our predicament can be more easily made if we recognize our false system of values. We need to flush down our propaganda and national delusions brought to us by television and gossip magazines. Or, just wait for some plum job so we can get back to consuming like the global hogs and zombies we have been.

 

Dissolving the United States consciously is an actual proposal for a workable future, more clear than the “relocalization” that dissolution would automatically cause. Most analysis and speculation about the effects of peak oil and climate chaos are exercises in hand-wringing and waiting around for a vaguely anticipated involuntary dissolution of the nation and global economy.

 

Much like a marriage is better dissolved earlier rather than later, dissolution of the U.S. empire (domestic especially) will minimize pain and chaos that can take over completely — as anyone knows who went through a tough divorce long after the love and respect went splitsville.

 

Vermont has had a serious, although tiny, secession movement. Great things have come from that state, I mean nation, and will continue. Whereas there once were Committees of Correspondence for the American Revolution, revisited by the Green Party in the 1990s, there needs to be Committees for Dissolution in every state and local community too.

 

The idea of dissolution is not in any way meant as disrespect to God-fearing, my-country-right-or-wrong, anti-abortion, pro-war ways of living in our unraveling society of haves and have nots. Indeed, diversity is healthy, and no doubt there will be after dissolution strongholds of homophobic, patriarchal, gun-loving bible-toting whites, just as there will be nations or tribes of feministic, pagan vegans. Or, to bypass the ridiculous stereotyping and labeling, people everywhere will be adopting local survival strategies to suit their surroundings.

 

There may be acorns in abundance here, wild rice there, seaweed here, rats there, permaculture gardens everywhere — connected not through fossil fuels and steel/asphalt infrastructure ‘a crumbling, but through sail boats, bicycles, horses, and other means. The important feature for future economics and trade will be local resources that are renewable. By definition, with the passing of the Petroleum Age underway already, we will not have long-distance trade through jets and trucks and rail as we know it.

Let us not be bested by the Russians: steer our collapse as proactively as possible, applying available petroleum energy and society’s still-intact services to cushion the fall of our petroleum civilization.

 

For example, create millions of Victory Gardens for local food production. Make community barter networks, and call neighbors together for Citizen Petroleum Councils and Transition Town programs. Bicycle and bike-trailer facilities. Depaving. Ecological restoration for clean water and fish habitat.

 

If done later by hand and animal power, when petroleum power may be down forever, little would be accomplished, as little energy will be available and applied to the above measures — such that the enormous rubble that falls will stay there and hinder the survivors who will lack means. If these measures were undertaken before the U.S. and the global economy falls flat, available energy will make the tasks to a large extent doable, and we could see a transition to Balkanization or Ecotopiazation.

 

Conclusion

 

Dissolution is our future, so let’s get started proactively. Raise the issue with someone you know and watch the tension rise — touching a nerve means you’re close to the truth.

 

* * * * *

 

Further reading:

 

“End time for USA upon oil collapse: A scenario for a sustainable future”, by Jan Lundberg, 2005, in the newsletter of Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) and www.culturechange.org  

 

“The Five Stages of Collapse” by Dmitry Orlov, are

 

- Financial Collapse

- Commercial Collapse

- Political Collapse

- Social Collapse

- Cultural Collapse

 

as appeared on Nov. 11 2008 in the online Energy Bulletin:www.energybulletin.net   

 

 

 

 

 

 

My special guests on this Voices from the North interview are Ken Ross and John Kenderdine. Ken is Ken’s current position is as Community Development Advisor with the Far North District Council. Ken’s work and educational background has all been associated with ecology and biology. Ken summarizes some of the guiding lights in the new paradigm of human thought like Fritjof Capra. Ken speaks about the influence Rachel Carson has had on Capra’s perspective.

 

Oil is a finite resource that has been used as if it has been an infinite resource. This is also how we’ve treated other resources like copper and phosphates. Peak Oil is explained—how the easy, cheaper oil is available early and how the heavier oil that most oil fields are tapping now are more expensive to extract. America’s oil fields reached their peaks in the early 70s. The same stands true today for the rest of the world’s oil. Even George Bush has said we are addicted to oil. Ken describes how Americans use roughly 10 kilo-calories of energy to produce one kilo-calorie of food. Obviously this is not sustainable. Other Western nations are almost as frivolous in their use of energy. Ken also talks about how for 150-200 years we’ve made decisions based first on economics, then on people and, finally, on the environment. This is in the reverse order to what it should be. The first question should be, “Is it good for the environment?”

 

Ken describes New Zealanders as living in a fool’s paradise. New Zealand is only behind Iceland in terms of the amount of chemical fertilizer used on their farms. Ken teaches about the importance of bacteria in the soil to minimize the leaching of nitrogen from our farms. He lucidly explains what the ecological footprint means. We are today experiencing the 6th greatest mass extinction in the earth’s history, and this is a human-exacerbated event. Earth Watch Institute recently indicated that in 2006 China used more cement than all other countries combined. They are in catch-up mode. Ken speaks passionately about social justice. He says we have no right to live with our Jacuzzis and other extravagances when 40,000 people die of starvation in the world daily. We are all in this together.

 

The song in the middle of the program is Antipodean icon John Clarke’s, We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are.

 

John Kenderdine describes the Transition Town movement initiated by Irishman Rob Hopkins, a movement designed to restore a vibrant resilience in local communities. Transition town groups are mushrooming all over the world in response to these times in which cheap oil is no longer available. Local communities are taking initiatives rather than waiting for our politicians to lead us to greener pastures; in other words it’s a bottom-up approach. John speaks of how he can live like a king below the poverty line by distinguishing between true wants and needs.  

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