Elephants in the House!

Definition – An Elephant in the Room is:

• A giganticly relevant issue that is ignored by most and not seen by some.  The vast majority know that it is there but can’t come to name or acknowledge it.   In this day of mass media manipulation of the consciousness of the masses, there are many elephants.


Elephant #1 – Sustainability?

Elephant #1 – Sustainability?

Okay – so those of you that know me – or at least think you know me – through my career in solar and renewable energy and promoting and supporting ecovillages – would probably say I’m big on “sustainability”.  Just a quick look at my endorsements on Linkedin and it’s clear – the top endorsement is the “s” word – It appears I’ve been a leader in sustainability.  But for me when I see that “skill” leading the pack – I cringe. It’s clear I have not been speaking enough Elephant!

I’d like to introduce you to probably my favorite elephant – indeed I’m introducing her first out of dozens I’d like you to meet.  Her name is “No Eco-Sustainability without Paradigm Shift in Economics”.  Have some of you met her?  If not I’ll do my best to make her so obvious so she can return to the bush.

For many in the sustainability movement – global warming has become the rallying cry – the central work – the #1 priority.  The logic goes like this.  We have a whole lot to learn as a species – we have a zillion ecological, economic, political and social problems – but none will matter if we don’t reduce our carbon emissions and save the planet before it’s too late.  The carbon loading of the  atmosphere has already reached the point where serious consequences are already showing up and will be increasing to the point of major disruption of business as usual within a time frame of a few generations.  No doubt this is serious.

But are the solutions being put forth dealing with the root of the problem?  And will they result in the reductions in carbon output we need in time?  I’m sad to say I think not.

At the root of our 300 year long spike in historical carbon emissions is an engine that is voracious in it’s appetite – I’m not speaking about the internal combustion engine but the engine of global capitalism.  The inherent structure of our present global economy dictates an intentional and calculated exploitation of two major sources of capital – human beings and Nature.  Basic to the design of our currency system and the laws that dictate how we do business – institutionalized in every aspect of society –  is the very intentional optimization of this engine that turns human labor, human ingenuity and natural resources into profit.   And the operative word here – optimization – is defined in very narrow terms – optimized for corporate monetary profit.  And it does this with drivers that result in an production system whose relationship to the biosphere of Earth is closely analogous to the relationship of cancer to it’s host.

Until these basic workings of the economy are altered – there is little hope for ecological sustainability.   Now I know there are those that feel that if we just tweak the economy here and there – primarily through the pursuit of full-cycle costing – or even just carbon costing – that we can achieve both “economic prosperity” and ecological stability.  I disagree.  Band-aids do not heal cancer.  Losing weight does not heal cancer.  I’m sorry to report that the disease that our economy has unleashed onto the Earth is a bit stronger than those measures.

Here’s a short clip by Bernard Lietaer that hopefully will entice you into learning more:

Now this is not to imply that there are not economic reforms that would result in ecological sustainability – but these reforms would have to go to the root of the problem.  When we achieve this – and we must – we will not have the global oligopoly Capitalism we see today.  The new economy will be fundamentally different.  One where the very design of currency and the basic social contract has been fundamentally altered.

So what does this say about our efforts to curb global climate change, reduce carbon emissions, save energy, transition to solar and other renewables etc.?  This is all excellent work that is needed.  I worked for 30 years on this.  We must work on all fronts.  But the Elephant here is that these measures by themselves are destined to fail if not accompanied by fundamental changes in our economic system.  To learn more of why this is so, study the works of Charles Eisenstein, Bernard Leitaer, Arthur Brock, Eric Harris-Braun, and many others.

What is the essence of what is needed?  I’ll humbly attempt to list some good initial steps.

1)  Currency design (and we are not talking here about the color of our money) must empower the flow of true wealth (not just money) to all.  Centralized currencies must give way to a freely evolving system of open-source currencies where as Arthur Brock and Eric Harris-Braun say we achieve open transport, open rules and open data. This video introduces the concept (and includes my beloved partner Ferananda Ibarra asking the questions).

Metacurrency project from CIRI on Vimeo.

2) A fundamental rethinking of “ownership” in all aspects of the word.  I mean this primarily in terms of the responsibility we take for the things, systems and relationships we interact with. Analogous to the evolution of centralized currencies into an open-source multiplicity of currencies – we must cultivate a social norm characterized by participatory democracy – where people take responsibility for their world through contributing their genius to society – not just through a vocation – but in participating in the design of our political, economic, social and technological systems.  This will require new political forms that are analagous to our open rules, and open data based currencies.  But that is the subject of another writing at a later point.

3)  A fundamental shift of our present civilization’s relationship to Nature.  We must replace the meme of domination and control of Nature to one of harmonious reintegration.  Humans are first and foremost organic mammals living within the powerful but delicate bioshpere of Earth.  To think that technology will solve all our problems is to discard 4 billion years of wisdom embodied in the form of the great ecological  and geologic balances of the bioshere.  Humans may be destined to one day play co-creator with the order of things but only when our wisdom is aligned with – and as great as – the wisdom of Nature as embodied in proven working systems like Earth’s biosphere.  We have clearly not reached there yet.

Now this does not pretend to be even close to a complete formulae.  These 3 things I sense strongly will be essential and they are huge enough as a start.  The good news is that one can feel that “we are onto it”! There are great hearts and minds working on the root cause solutions – Humanity is rising up to meet the challenge at hand.  At least we have a start.

So where does this leave us as to what we do now towards “sustainability”?  I applaud those working for carbon reduction, carbon taxation, energy conservation and the adoption of renewables – but I invite those that focus there to look at the ways that our present economy fundamentally thwarts those efforts and find ways to address these dynamics at a more root level.  Economics is the primary invisible architecture that underlies our technological systems – dictating the choices we are given.  Other forms of invisible architectures have also stacked the deck against ecological sustainability – including social norms, social narratives and of course our political system.  To really address global climate change we will need to tackle all of these – in unison – each solution supporting the other – each strategy resulting in a unified integrated whole – a fundamental transformation of society – an inevitable evolution of Humanity in the great order of all things.

To learn more see my page entitled “New Paradigm Economics”.  Thank you for reading!

Jeff Clearwater, Dec 9th, 2013 and it’s 5º F outside!  Brrrr!