Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Master & the Emissary: How the Structure of the Human Brain has Influenced the Development of Western Civilization

Iain McGilchrist's book "The Master and the Emissary" looks at how the structure of the human brain has influenced the development of Western civilization. He suggests that the health of individuals and civilizations depends on a strong reciprocal connection between the right hemisphere (which connects us to the world, "wholeness," and the mysteriously "unknowable") and the left hemisphere (which narrows our focus to "parts" and assumes it knows more than it does). Perhaps many of the problems we are now facing can be traced to a growing separation between the functions of each brain, and an over-reliance on the left hemisphere, which projects its limited vision onto an essentially ambiguous reality.

Jeremy Rifkin: How the 99% Are Using Lateral Power to Create a Global Revolution

It's happened before, in 1848 and in 1968. The youth of the world took to the streets to protest the injustices of autocratic political regimes and rapacious business interests and to demand the most basic human right to participate as equal citizens in the affairs of society.

On October 15th, millions of young people -- and their parents and grandparents -- swarmed onto the streets in large cities and small towns around the world, decrying an economic system that favors the rich 1% at the expense of 99% of the people. The protesters are frustrated by a lack of jobs. They are angry over governments giving bailouts to global banks and subsidizing corporate giants while cutting vital public services to the middle class and poor. And they are worried over the steady rise in the earth's climate from industrial-induced carbon dioxide emissions that now threatens to disrupt the world's ecosystems and trigger a mass extinction of life on the planet.

I recently spent time with many of the October 15th organizers in Spain and Italy -- the countries that hosted the largest street protests. I came away with the clear impression that the young people in these countries, and on Wall Street and around the world, are interested in more than just reforms of existing political and economic policies and practices. They sense there is something fundamentally wrong with the very way the political and economic system is set up and are beginning to search for a new economic vision that can put people back to work, establish a more responsive governing framework and protect the biosphere of the earth. Finding that new vision requires an understanding of the technological forces that precipitate the profound transformations in society.

The great economic revolutions in history occur when new communication technologies converge with new energy systems. New energy revolutions make possible more expansive and integrated trade. Accompanying communication revolutions manage the new complex commercial activities made possible by the new energy flows. In the 19th century, cheap print technology and the introduction of public schools gave rise to a print-literate work force with the communication skills to manage the increased flow of commercial activity made possible by coal and steam power technology, ushering in the First Industrial Revolution. In the 20th century, centralized electricity communication -- the telephone, and later radio and television -- became the communication medium to manage a more complex and dispersed oil, auto, and suburban era, and the mass consumer culture of the Second Industrial Revolution.

The Old Power Elite

Communication/energy regimes largely determine the way societies are organized, and, particularly, how the fruits of commerce and trade are distributed, how political power is exercised, and how social relations are conducted. The First and Second Industrial Revolutions were built atop the most centralized energy regimes every conceived. Fossil fuels -- coal, oil, and natural gas -- are elite energies because they are found only in select places. They require a significant military investment to secure them and continual geopolitical management to assure their availability. They also require centralized, command and control systems, and massive concentrations of capital to move them from underground to end users. The ability to concentrate capital -- the essence of modern capitalism -- is critical to the effective performance of the system as a whole. The centralized energy infrastructure, in turn, sets the conditions for the rest of the economy, encouraging similar business models across every sector.

The oil business is one of the largest industries in the world. It's also the most costly enterprise for collecting, processing, and distributing energy ever conceived. Virtually all of the other critical industries that emerged from the oil culture and feed off of the fossil fuel spigot -- modern finance, automotive, power and utilities, and telecommunications -- were, in one way or another, similarly predisposed to bigness in order to achieve their own economies of scale. And, like the oil industry, they require huge sums of capital to operate and are organized in a centralized fashion.

Three of the four largest companies in the world today are oil companies -- Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, and BP. Underneath these giant energy companies are five hundred global companies representing every sector and industry -- with a combined revenue of $22.5 trillion, which is the equivalent of one-third of the world's $62 trillion GDP -- that are inseparably connected to and dependent on fossil fuels for their very survival.

It goes without saying that the beneficiaries of the oil era, for the most part, have been the men and women in the energy and financial sectors and those strategically positioned across the First and Second Industrial Revolution supply chain. They have reaped extraordinary fortunes.

By the year 2001, the CEOs of the largest American companies earned, on average, 531 times as much as the average worker, up from 1980 when that figure was only forty-two times greater. Even more startling, between1980 and 2005, over 80 percent of the increase in income in the United States went into the pockets of the wealthiest 1 percent of the population.

By 2007, the wealthiest 1 percent of American earners accounted for 23.5 percent of the nation's pretax income, up from 9 percent in 1976. Meanwhile, during the same period, the median income for non-elderly American households declined and the percentage of people living in poverty rose.

Perhaps the most apt description of the top-down organization of economic life that characterized the First and Second Industrial Revolutions is the often-heard "trickle-down theory" -- the idea that when those atop the fossil fuel-based industrial pyramid benefit, enough residual wealth will make its way down to the small businesses and workers at lower levels of the economic ladder to benefit the economy as a whole. While there is no denying that the living standards of millions of people are better at the end of the Second Industrial Revolution than at the beginning of the First Industrial Revolution, it is equally true that those on the top have benefited disproportionately from the Carbon Era, especially in the United States, where few restrictions have been put on the market and little effort made to ensure that the fruits of industrial commerce are broadly shared.

A New Economic Paradigm

Today, Internet technology and renewable energies are beginning to merge to create a new infrastructure for a Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) that will change the way power is distributed in the 21st century. In the coming era, hundreds of millions of people will produce their own green energy in their homes, offices, and factories and share it with each other in an "Energy Internet," just like we now generate and share information online. The creation of a renewable energy regime, loaded by buildings, partially stored in the form of hydrogen, distributed via an energy Internet, and connected to plug-in zero-emission transport, establishes a 5-pillar infrastructure that will spawn thousands of businesses and millions of sustainable jobs.

The Third Industrial Revolution will also bring with it a more democratic economy. The distributed nature of renewable energies necessitates collaborative rather than hierarchical command and control mechanisms. This new lateral energy regime establishes the organizational model for the countless economic activities that multiply from it. A more distributed and collaborative industrial revolution, in turn, invariably leads to a more distributed sharing of the wealth generated.

The new, green energy industries are improving performance and reducing costs at an ever accelerating rate. And just as the generation and distribution of information is becoming nearly free, renewable energies will also. The sun, wind, biomass, geothermal heat and hydropower are available to everyone and, like information, are never used up. The shrinking of transaction costs in the music business and publishing field with the emergence of file sharing of music, e-books, and news blogs, is wreaking havoc on these traditional industries. We can expect similar disruptive impacts as the diminishing transaction costs of green energy allow manufacturers, retailers, and service industries to produce and share goods and services in vast social networks with very little outlay of financial capital.

How the Internet Generation is Using Lateral Power to Transform the Political Landscape

The democratization of the economy goes hand and hand with the democratization of governance. The internet generation is driven by a new political agenda. Their politics has little in common with the right/ left dichotomy that characterized the ideological politics of the First and Second Industrial Revolutions. The young activists of the October 15th movement judge institutional behavior from a new lens. They ask whether the institutions of society -- be they political, economic, educational or social -- behave in a centralized manner and exercise power from the top down in a closed and proprietary fashion, or whether they function in a distributed and collaborative way, and are open and transparent in their dealings. The new political thinking is a game changer that has the potential to re-make the political process and re-shape political institutions in every country.

Lateral power is a new force in the world. Steve Jobs and the other innovators of his generation took us from expensive centralized main-frame computers, owned and controlled by a handful of global companies, to cheap desktop computers and cell phones, allowing billions of people to connect up with one another in peer-to-peer networks in the social spaces of the internet. The democratization of communications has enabled nearly one third of the human population on earth to share music, knowledge, news and social life on an open playing field, marking one of the great evolutionary advances in the history of our species.

But as impressive as this accomplishment is, it is only half of the story. When internet communications manage green energy, every human being on earth becomes his or her own source of power, both literally and figuratively. Billions of human beings sharing their energy in vast social networks, like they now share information online, creates the foundation for the democratization of the global economy and a new beginning for the human race.

The youth protest, that began in the Middle East, Spain and Italy and spread to Wall Street and then the world, is a harbinger of a new era. "Lateral power" has become the battle cry of a new generation, determined to create a more just, equitable, and liveable society.

The youth have shown that they know how to use lateral power via Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other social networks to bring millions of people to the streets to protest the inequities and abuses of the current economic and political system. Now, the looming question is whether they can harness the same lateral power to create a sustainable economy, generate millions of new jobs, transform the political process and restore the earth for future generations.

Friday, September 9, 2011

“Tell me your image of God and I’ll tell you your politics.” - Marcus Borg

The following is from a speech made by David Korten, a man in the forefront of the movement to lead us into a new paradigm, a new economy.

“Some years ago I was privileged to share a conference platform with Jesus scholar Marcus Borg. I will never forget his defining statement: ‘Tell me your image of God, and I will tell you your politics.’ Borg explains that the many scriptural images of God are of two basic types. One is the patriarch with the flowing beard: the God we visualize in human form, the God of Michelangelo’s famous painting in the Sistine Chapel, who lives in a distant place we call Heaven. The other image of God is as a spirit manifest in all being.

“The patriarch image sets up a hierarchy of righteousness and domination running from those closest to God to those most distant. It leads to a competitive individualistic politics of separation, domination, favor seeking, and wealth accumulation. It is the foundation of the Calvinist belief that the rich and powerful are by definition God’s most favored, and that financial success and Earthly power are marks of special righteousness. Within this belief system, the world is whatever God the patriarch wishes it to be, and it is beyond our means to change it for better or worse.

“By contrast, the spirit image-by which we recognize the face of God in every human being, animal, insect, and grain of sand-leads to a politics of community, shared purpose, and mutual service. Everything in creation is both manifestation and agent of a great spiritual intelligence seeking to know itself through the creative exploration of its possibilities. Within this belief system, to do harm to another being is to harm oneself. We see ourselves as agents of that creative journey and find our ultimate fulfillment in devoting ourselves to it.”

This reminds me of a film, the Global Oneness Project produced a while back called "A Thousand Suns: Food, Ecology and Religion in the 21st Century. Worth a watch for sure:

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Now is the time for NauHaus

A radical new building concept coming out of Asheville, North Carolina, has recently wrapped up. The LEED-Platinum pursing NauHaus project used organic hemp bio-masonry materials with some other cutting-edge green building technologies, such as the new Serious Windows---the house aims to be carbon-neutral. The exterior landscaping of the project will be done using permaculture design principles. More builders and homeowners need to be thinking in this direction--it's the future. You could take it one step further and pursue the Living Building Challenge, that would be awesome, any takers???

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Back to the Future - The New Bio Economy

From Hydrocarbon to Carbohydrate Economy

The excitement continues to grow for building a new economy--an economy that as David Korten recently wrote in Yes Magazine “seeks to bring the way we live into alignment with the structure and dynamics of Earth’s biosphere.” This new economy acknowledges the need to move away from non-renewable hydrocarbons towards renewable carbohydrates. The idea of a carbohydrate economy is not a new one; industrialist Henry Ford first talked about it in the early 1930s: “Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making, and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the fields?”

A new carbohydrate-centred industrial design paradigm points to solutions to current environmental problems. For one, harvesting annual bio-material crops reduces the need to use old-growth forests for biomass, or petrochemicals for polymers. Of course, not all carbohydrate-based products are created equal. Consideration must be given to how crops were grown and harvested, whether pesticides and synthetic fertilizers were used, and if top soil was depleted or replenished. There are also legitimate concerns about using food crops for other industries (such as the “food for fuel” issue that has been presented with GMO-corn). Hemp and flax (organically-grown) are two crops that have been shown to have great potential for use in green building. Both crops can be grown quite sustainably in a crop-rotation, and both produce copious amounts of fibre, a by-product of seed production. Hemp is superior to other agricultural crops in terms of biomass; comparing it to wheat, for example, we find hemp yields triple the amount of fibre per hectare (and sequesters 22 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare as well).

Bio-material development is catching on everywhere---Europe has been at the forefront of research over the last 25 years and North America is starting to catch up. Batt insulation made from hemp and flax, Structurally Insulated Panels (SIP) made from straw, and hemp masonry materials are attracting interest and publicity. Studies have also been done on the use of mycelium or mushrooms to produce foam alternatives; one company, based in upstate New York, has produced a styrofoam packaging replacement now being test-marketed by the likes of Dell and Steelcase. The company also intends to produce a SIP for use in green building projects.

More and more attention is being given to the use of hemp masonry materials, produced from using processed hemp fibre and a mineral binder such as natural lime or magnesium cement. This form of construction has been advancing in France and more recently in Ireland and England as well; the technique of using hemp and lime in buildings is centuries old, however. Hemp buildings have been shown to be highly insulative, fire and mold resistant, extremely durable and carbon neutral. In Canada, where the hemp industry is now over 15 years old (growing hemp is still prohibited in the U.S.), several provinces have invested significant amounts of capital in secondary processing for bio-materials, one example being the Alberta Government’s decortication plant in Vegreville (decortication separates the two types of fibre). Other privately owned facilities exist in Manitoba and Ontario. Now pending in the province of British Columbia is a processing plant slated for construction near 100 Mile House, where there is keen interest in developing a hemp fibre industry.

Healthy Materials

Developing healthy materials is also a huge imperative for the green building industry. Bio-materials can be developed using non-toxic binders, but unfortunately not all manufacturers are currently choosing them. It is quite common to come across board or sheeting products that were produced using organically grown flax or hemp and subsequently combined with a binder containing formaldehyde. We need to get the word out about the toxic nature of chemical adhesives such as formaldehyde. As the green building industry becomes more transparent, stamping their products with ingredient fact boxes such as the new Declare system from the International Living Future Institute and the Healthy Building Network’s Pharos Lens, more people will hopefully become aware of what is in products and whether or not they contain any toxic and/or carcinogenic compounds.

Luckily, lots of work has been done on developing bio-materials that meet high standards, such as the rigorous Living Building Challenge Red List Ready status. Binders such as magnesium oxide or natural lime pose no risk and have attributes such as fire resistance that are ideal when creating green materials.

Bio-Regional Model

The old economy largely abandoned local manufacturing in favour of exporting jobs overseas because of cheap labour, but now those jobs are starting to come back. Not enough attention has been given in the past to looking at where the materials are coming from and how they are made. The case of imported toxic drywall in 2008 is a perfect example of how something tragic can happen when the manufacturing is sub-contracted out and the company that distributes the product does not oversee what is going into that product---most houses made with the hydrogen-sulfide contaminated drywall had to be demolished. This was a real shame and something we just cannot afford to have happen again. By relocalizing manufacturing, we can have greater control over quality and can ensure the production of non-toxic, healthy building materials. An added bonus will be the creation of many meaningful green jobs. The bio-material industry is perfectly positioned to help bring this new paradigm into fruition. When we keep industries local, carbon emissions are reduced, local farmers are assured demand for their fibre crops and local economies start to emerge. What better way to “grow and build” a new economy, than by growing products we can build with?

How can you get involved?

- Help spread the word through social media about the emerging local living economies and buildings movements. Visit and and follow their Facebook groups, also check out this article by David Korten in Yes Magazine

- If you live in the United States, visit and lobby your congressperson to support industrial hemp legislation that has currently been put forth by Congressman Ron Paul.

- If you’re looking a building a new house or retrofitting an existing one, consider using materials made from local bio-material companies.

- Take a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) and learn how to live more sustainably.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Living Buildings, Living Economies, and a Living Future

David Korten: What we can learn from two of the most exciting emerging movements of our time.

At a recent conference, I saw the potential for blending two of the most exciting emerging movements of our time—the living building and the living economies movements. A vision of the combination of these two movements energized me with renewed hope that we humans can end our isolation from one another and from nature—that we can move forward to achieve a prosperous, secure, and creative human future for all.
The Living Building Challenge

The conference I attended was led by Jason McLennan of the Cascadia Green Building Council and the International Living Future Institute. Ambitiously titled “Living Future 2011,” the conference focused on the “Living Building Challenge,” which takes Green Building standards to a new level. As I listened to the conference presenters, I heard some of the brightest and most tech-savvy minds in architecture, construction, and urban planning spell out the practical possibilities for creating built spaces around integrated energy, water, and nutrition (food) systems. Some of the ideas are still theoretical. Most, however, are already in application or being incorporated into physical structures now under construction.

These innovative proposals eliminate waste, feature natural lighting, and provide for onsite capture of rainwater, energy (wind, solar, and thermal), and organic matter (food scraps and human waste) for recycling and reuse, including for urban gardens (edible roofs and walls and built in green houses).

Water is used in the first cycle for drinking, dish washing, and showering; recycled for laundry and micro-flush composting toilets; and directed from there to onsite gardens from which it filters into the aquifer. Hot water, cooking, and space heating are integrated to optimize overall energy efficiency.

Integrating multi-purpose buildings into a larger multi-building neighborhood or district system adds opportunities to develop public green spaces, community gardens, edible landscaping, and small-scale poultry and livestock production, as well as natural wetlands and living machine water purification to continuously recycle nutrients, water, and energy.

Integrative projects also create opportunities to balance the utility loads of businesses, which generally have greater energy needs during the day, and residences, which have greater needs during nonbusiness hours. Bringing residences, employment, shopping, and recreation together in close proximity minimizes transportation requirements and facilitates the sharing of autos, bicycles, appliances, and tools, and community connections to mass transit, bike trails, and other transportation alternatives.

The Living Economies Connection

The living building framework focuses attention on shelter and nutrition as the basic essentials of a human livelihood. It seeks to remedy the dysfunctions of current infrastructure designs that isolate us from one another and operate in opposition to the biosphere’s natural generative processes. The living economies framework focuses on networks of living enterprises and seeks to remedy the dysfunctions of an economic system that contributes to this same isolation and disconnect.

Both movements seek to bring the way we live into alignment with the structure and dynamics of Earth’s biosphere, which self-organizes locally everywhere to optimize the sustainable utilization of energy, water, and nutrients in support of life.

The corporate ruled global economy isolates people and communities from the sources of their food, energy, water, materials, and manufactured goods, leaving them dependent on corporate controlled global supply chains that are wasteful, unstable, unaccountable, and environmentally and social destructive. The underlying system structure and dynamics are in most every respect mirror opposites of those of the biosphere.

Working in opposition to the biosphere, the global economy is maintained only by unsustainable dependence on a non-renewable fossil fuels subsidy. It is already failing and its ultimate collapse is only a matter of time.

The living economies movement seeks to displace this failed economic system with a planetary system of resilient, self-reliant local economies comprised of human-scale, locally-owned enterprises that use local resources to meet local needs in cooperative alignment with the structure and dynamics of local ecosystems.

Up to this point in time, the living economies movement has focused on the enterprise as the primary unit of production. The living buildings movement brings in a focus on restoring the household as a unit of food, energy, and water production. Each is an essential contributor to household and community livelihoods in a living future, and each creates opportunities for the other.

Implementing the Living Building Challenge creates many opportunities for local businesses to supply and install locally sourced building materials and technologies for the construction of new buildings and for retrofitting existing ones.

While home production will reduce demand for conventional food, water, and energy services, it will create new opportunities for local businesses to provide relevant expertise and inputs. There will be needs for local food processing and market facilities, as well as for businesses that specialize in creating and maintaining edible walls, roofs, and backyard gardens for households that lack the skills or inclination to do their own planting and maintenance.

Many of these activities require financing from community banks, mutual savings and loans, and credit unions that understand and support the unconventional technologies and ownership arrangements involved. Rebuilding community financial institutions that support all elements of the local living economy is a top priority of the living economies movement.

A Natural Alliance

The leaders of the living economies movement are predominantly entrepreneurs who view the world through the lens of marketing, finance, supply chains, and business value propositions. They are natural doers and risk takers eager to test new ideas, disinclined to spend a lot of time on planning, and impatient with drawn-out conceptual conversations.

The leaders of the living building movement are predominantly architects, with a sprinkling of urban planners, developers, engineers, and contractors. The architects and urban planners view the world through the lens of design and structure, think in terms of systems, and are drawn to conceptual frameworks that deepen understanding of what is required to bring the human species into alignment with the structure and dynamics of Earth’s biosphere.

The living economies movement stands to benefit from the living building movement’s conceptual grounding in ecological systems thinking. The living buildings movement stands to benefit from the living economies movement’s skills in linking local businesses into mutually supportive networks of business relationships. The living building developers and contractors mix easily with the living economy entrepreneurs and are a natural bridge between the two movements. Both movements stand to reap significant benefit from this natural alliance.

The Connected Life

We humans, in a fit of adolescent hubris, have sought to liberate ourselves from the responsibilities of life in community. We are in denial of our fundamental nature as living beings—forgetting that because of the way life manages energy, living beings exist only in active relationships to other living beings.

We have so confused individual autonomy with personal liberty that we have created economies that reduce caring human relationships to soulless financial exchange and structured our physical space around buildings and auto-dependent transportation systems that wall us off from one another and nature. In isolation from nature we have sought to dominate and control rather than work with nature’s natural generative processes. We have paid a terrible price.

As we restructure our physical and economic relationships to achieve true economic efficiency and reduce the human burden on the biosphere, we will see even more clearly our interdependence with one another and the place we live. We will know where our food, water, and energy come from. We will know where our wastes go. And most of all we will be constantly reminded of the extent to which our happiness and well-being depend on our active engagement with the generative living community of which we are a part.

The challenges we face in making the transition are enormous. But so too is the opportunity to create and secure a living future for ourselves and our children for generations to come.

(David Korten is co-founder and board chair of YES! Magazine, co-chair of the New Economy Working Group, president of the Living Economies Forum, and a founding board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). His books include Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and the international best seller When Corporations Rule the World.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Challenge

This short teaser is part of a larger documentary project that the Cascadia Green Building Council/Living Future Institute is hoping to put out in the near future. The International Living Future Institute is leading the way for a bright green living future, but we all need to lend our support and help connect more people to the movement; to support the people and initiatives that are working and successful in articulating the problem with the right solutions. ILFI is one of those many organizations. Check them out!

The Challenge Teaser 2 from FILMTHROPIC on Vimeo.