A Few Thoughts on Studying the Most Radical Social Movement of the Twenty-first Century

First published by John Foran, on Resilience.org  | MAR 14, 2016



We are living through an unprecedented crisis, in a world beset by massive social problems – the obscene poverty and inequality that neoliberal capitalist globalization has wreaked on at least two-thirds of humanity, the immobility of the political elite almost everywhere, and cultures of violence that poison our lives from the most intimate relations to the mass murder of the world’s wars.

These interconnected problems are rooted in long-standing processes of inequality – patriarchy, racism, colonialism, capitalism, and now corporate-controlled globalization – whose ongoing, overlapping legacies are making the early twenty-first century a crucial hinge of history.

And now, with climate change, we are facing a perfect storm of suffering. In fact, given the timeline that climate science is screaming at us, we confront a crisis of humanity and of all species that must be resolved for better or worse by those living on this precarious planet today.  We are called by the urgency of the crisis to “change everything” as Naomi Klein puts it, and to do so in something like the next two decades.

With other observers, activists, and scholars I believe that only the assembling of the broadest, most powerful social movement the world has ever seen has a chance of doing this in the narrow window the science imposes on us. The movements for environmental, climate, and social justice that I have spent my life studying and now participate in must become much stronger than at present.  But my reading of world history leads me to believe that they can succeed.  They must, if we are to safely navigate the present crisis and even come out of it living in ways that are far more egalitarian, deeply democratic, and fulfilling than the world we presently inhabit.

Those of us who are academics (or journalists, or writers and creators of culture of every kind) need to focus our minds now, I think, on the “wicked” problem of climate change, to reinvigorate our own disciplines and work on our interdisciplinary skills (another way of saying learning how to connect the dots) and bring all this into a wide open dialogue, in ways that are consistent with the first principle of sociology, of ecology, of systems thinking, and, ironically enough, of Buddhism, as I understand it (and of Gaia theory, for that matter):  everything is connected.

How Strong is the Climate Justice Movement?

The movement I study and am part of is growing, getting bigger, stronger, smarter, more diverse, and more creative with every passing year – and that’s important.

But it’s still not enough.

The task – and the question on every scholar-activist’s mind – is how do we get from where we are to where we need to be?  And how do we do that thoughtfully, quickly, and for the long haul?

If I had to try to sum up the broad outlines of what the climate justice movement is planning going into 2016, it would be something like Resist, Rethink, Retool, Re-imagine…

What Happened in Paris at the UN Climate Summit?

Let’s do a global stock take – as the UNFCCC [United Framework Convention on Climate Change, which oversees the annual climate summits] likes to call it – of the recent “Paris Agreement.”  I’ve thought about this a fair amount, gathering into a bundle some of the fascinatingly divergent analyses, and as Paris recedes into the rear view mirror, more and more I’m coming to the view that that’s where it belongs – behind us.  Paris comes down to a cynical joke played on the peoples of the world.

The Paris Agreement calls on the world to keep global warming “well under 2 degrees, and as close to 1.5 degrees as possible.” That is useful, but like the rest of the high-minded words in this non-binding agreement, it is merely “voluntary” and “aspirational,” and at the rate these negotiations have been going for two decades, it will take at least the next ten COPs for them to get any traction (the COP refers to the Conferences of the Parties, as the climate negotiations are called, followed by the number of years since the first in 1995, making Paris COP 21).

We can’t let them delay that long, or the window for two degrees will close…

I titled my blog post on the day of the treaty “Paper Heroes.”  I think I may have stumbled onto one of the deep truths of what went down.  Paris was so triumphalist and so flimsy that it bears comparison to the shrillness of the know nothing/do nothing crowing of the Trump campaign. 

Will the movement use it against its architects (the well-meaning capitalist reformists of the UNFCCC and the enlightened wing of the one percent) and against our enemies – the fossil fuel industry, the political elites, the rich, the banks, and all the rest?  That’s a certainty.

Will we throw the cynical references to indigenous rights, a gender perspective, vulnerable nations, human rights, and intergenerational equity into their faces?  Yes, we will.

Will we seize on the phrase “climate justice, as some call it” they so patronizingly let appear in the text – yes, we intend to make them come to rue the day they wrote them, and force them to understand these words, if we can.

To hold the line on climate change to “dangerous” levels (that is the best we can do, and we are headed for “extremely dangerous” – in all probability catastrophic – at present), we would need something akin to a radical climate moonshot, an ecosocialist World War II-type war effort, a great transformation of everything that is so wrong about the world we live in.  Everything.

How do we do it? Or “What I’ve learned about how to change society radically (in a good sense, of course!) in the last thirty-six years…”

Revolutions – and other movements for radical social change[1] – require broadly-based alliances of people from multiple classes, both (or more) genders, and cross-racial/ethnic alliances to succeed.

People get involved in such movements when one or more political cultures of opposition and resistance gain adherents (Foran 2014).  The origins of such political cultures start with the experiences of people, in the grievances they endure and the emotional and political responses they fashion using every available cultural tool and historical memory they possess. For example, when collective discourses like environmentalism or feminism are available in the form of consciously articulated ideologies, would-be social actors take them up and put them to work locally, and in this way they tend to diffuse through activist groups into local settings and circulate among social movements. Perhaps more importantly, popular idioms or folk understandings – what student of revolutions Eric Selbin calls “rich stories,” or cross-generational political imaginaries in the language of my research partner Richard Widick – are also available for use, providing new social actors as well as seasoned activists with locally understood, everyday terms such as fairness, justice, or democracy. In the case of climate activism, this might mean justice, buen vivir, historical responsibility, or intergenerational equity.

When these take hold in a large enough social group or wider society, often through the work of some kind of radical/progressive organization or network, a social movement can gain enough committed followers to take decisive action. The forging of a strong and vibrant political culture of opposition is thus a collective accomplishment, carried through by the actions of many people.

In any given society, there usually exist multiple political cultures of opposition, for people do not necessarily share the same experiences, speak similar idioms, or respond as one to the call of formal ideologies. The most effective social movements find ways of bridging the differences through the skillful creation of a common goal, such as the concise demand for “System change, not climate change!” raised at COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009. When this happens, a movement’s chances of growth and success are considerably increased.

Such alliances, and the political cultures of opposition that motivate them, are an indispensable factor in the making and success of revolutions.

There are, of course, also political and economic factors involved in a revolution’s success.  I explored these in depth, and developed a model of the causes of revolutions in Taking Power:  On the Origins of Third World Revolutions.

Unfortunately, all twentieth-century and anti-colonial social revolutions fell short of the achieving the dreams of those who made them.  The reasons for this include:

~ fragmentation of the broad revolutionary alliance after it came to power

~ intense outside pressures, usually from the First World, often from the U.S.

~ pre-existing inequalities, both within and between countries

~ lack of popular participation in governing (related to the first factor)

But 21st-century movements for radical social change – recall that my definitions is not restricted to revolutions – look different from their 20th-century counterparts because:

~ they are mostly non-violent

~ they are more horizontally organized

~ they are even more diverse

~ they have dynamic new political cultures of opposition and resistance

They also feature exciting political cultures of creation…  Movements become even stronger when to a widely felt culture of opposition and resistance they add a positive vision of a better world, an alternative to strive for that might improve or replace what exists. As David Pellow  has put it: “Many movements begin with a grievance or a critique, but what sustains them and pushes people out into the streets (or underground) is often a vision, a dream of something better.”

These movements are coming to power or attempting to do so, in some strikingly new ways: through elections, as in the case of the “Pink Tide” governments in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela (and now attempting this in Europe, or even with the Bernie Sanders campaign);  through occupations of public spaces, as in the wave of the Occupy movements of 2011 and others since;  through regional or local power-taking, or of re-making the nature of power altogether, as the Zapatistas have been doing in Chiapas since 1994; and through global networks such as the global justice movement of the 2000s, and now the global climate justice movement.

All of these movements are increasingly intersectional in terms of both their social make-up (crossing race/ethnic, gender, and class lines) and the issues they are connecting the dots of.

The movements that are most likely to succeed will feature some new combination of 1) stronger social movements and political cultures of opposition and creation, and 2) new kinds of parties, joined in 3) some new kind of networked structure, and 4) operating locally, nationally, and globally.

In a nutshell, the sum of my study of revolutions and movements for radical social change in the 20th and 21st centuries so far is this:

We may need a combination of both a dense network of movements and a totally new type of political party to achieve anything like deep radical social change.

These movements will have to develop both powerful political cultures of opposition, and compelling political cultures of creation.

At least these are hypotheses for scholar-activists to debate!

Conclusion:  What is to be done?

As for the global climate justice movement, might it prove to be the most radical social movement of the twenty-first century?

It could if we make it so.  We need to operate on all levels:  local to global, and from short-range defensive action against every fossil fuel project and electoral ploy, to medium-range reforms (like the Bernie Sanders campaign perhaps?  Come to think of it, the Sanders campaign is pretty short range at the moment, isn’t it?), to long-range radical (anti- or post- capitalist?) change.

With the added challenge that definition of “medium-range” in our critical present moment has been shortened to something like “from now to the next four years” and “long-range” “from now to the next 10-15 years” because that’s all we’ve got to bend the arc of climate justice.

But it can be done.  We will not “save” the world.  My reading of climate science makes me agree with ecosocialist scholar-activist Brad Hornick on this point:

All thinking clearly about climate and political realities can do is change the nature of the struggle.

It’s not an easy prospect as it requires heart-wrenching personal and collective existential crisis (questioning meaning in all facets of life and work).

I’ll say it now: there is conclusive evidence-based scientific determination of irreversible physical changes that will by necessity cause catastrophic destruction to civilization in the coming decades. Full stop.

We are at the point where we need to acknowledge these truths. It will come now or later – and if it comes later it will hit us much harder, and will mean deterioration in the relevance of certain life/work/political strategies.

It’s hard to say it better than that.  Consider this essay a wake-up call, colleagues.  A call to arms, comrades.  The time is now.  We are the available ones.  All of us.


[1] Radical social change means, for me, “a deep transformation of a society (or other entity such as a community, region, or the whole world) in the direction of greater economic equality and political participation, accomplished by the actions of a strong and diverse popular movement.”

The Curious Case of the Antidepressant, Anti-Anxiety Backyard Garden

Whether it’s microbes in the dirt or fresh air—or both—researchers do know this: Gardening is strong medicine

Originally written by: posted Nov 12, 2015 for YES Magazine.


Daphne Miller in her backyard garden in Berkeley, California. YES! photo by Kristin Little

Gardening is my Prozac. The time I dedicate to training tomato vines or hacking at berry bushes seems to help me stave off feelings of sadness or dread and calm the chatter in my mind. My vegetable beds have even buoyed me through more acute stressors, such as my medical internship, my daughter’s departure for college, and a loved one’s cancer treatment. I’m not alone in appreciating the antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects of gardening—countless blogs are dedicated to this very subject, and a rash of new studies has documented that spending time around greenery can lead to improved mental

The idea that microbes in our environment might impact our health was not new to me. It’s well-established that the microbes in soil enhance the nutritional value of food and, as found in studies of farm children in Bavaria and among the Indiana Amish, improve immune function. (Researchers were finding that exposure to a diversity of microbes early in life led to fewer allergies.) But garden microbes acting as mood enhancers—well, this was news to me.“How does this work?” I asked Jill Litt several years ago when I first became interested in what I call gardening’s “bio-euphoric” effect and was wondering whether to prescribe this activity to my depressed patients. Litt, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Public Health, was studying gardening’s impact on a variety of health outcomes—including mood disorders. She rattled off a list of possible explanations, including that gardens create community, encourage physical activity, offer a bounty of nutrient-rich food, and expose one to Vitamin D-producing sunshine, which helps regulate serotonin, the “happiness” neurotransmitter. But then Litt surprised me by adding, “Also there are the microbes themselves. We have no idea what they are doing.”
I soon discovered that there is, in fact, evidence to back up this idea. It’s a smattering of data, and most of it has been collected on our distant cousins, the mice, but it is still compelling.

This investigation into the soil-mood connection began, like much of science, quite serendipitously. British researchers were testing whether immune stimulation with Mycobacterium vaccae, a harmless microbe found in soil and water and potentially on unwashed vegetables, might help treat lung cancer in humans. While they discovered unchanged life expectancy in the subjects treated with the M. vaccae, they were surprised that these patients scored much higher on a standard quality-of-life questionnaire than the controls. Somehow the bug had enhanced their mood.

This finding inspired another researcher, Chris Lowry, a behavioral endocrinologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, to inject heat-killed M. vaccae into the bronchi of mice. The rodents, like the cancer patients, seemed to derive a psychological benefit from the treatment, exhibiting less depression and anxiety on a stressful “forced swim test.” In their article in Neuroscience, Lowry and his colleagues hypothesize that the immune reaction to M. vaccae activates the release of brain serotonin leading to reduced stress-related behavior.

Building on Lowry’s work, Susan Jenks and Dorothy Matthews, two researchers at Sage Colleges in Troy, New York, decided to administer M. vaccae to their mice and perform a new set of behavioral tests. Instead of using the heat-killed M. vaccae used in previous experiments, they cultured the live organism and fed it to the mice via a concoction of Wonderbread and peanut butter. It occurred to me that this exposure method most closely mirrored how I might come in contact with M. vaccae: by eating the casually washed greens that I regularly harvest from my backyard.

“It was just amazing,” Jenks said, discussing a maze test designed to expose rodents to stressful new situations. “We would place them in the maze and could clearly see that there were some mice doing better than others. We would think: ‘Is that the M. vaccae [mouse]?’ And sure enough it was.”

Forever in search of safe, low-tech solutions that I can offer my patients, I asked Jenks whether her experiment was essentially suggesting that M. vaccae exposure by eating backyard veggies or digging with glove-free hands could be a potential new antidepressant therapy.

Daphne Miller collecting late-season parsley, tomatoes, and pineapple guavas for her backyard compost in Berkeley, California.

“What our research suggests is that eating, touching, and breathing a soil organism may be tied to the development of our immune system and our nervous system. But you have to understand that we fed our mice much more of that organism than you are likely to find in a peck of dirt—it was more like a drug dose.”

In fact, an entire raised bed in my garden is unlikely to contain as much M. vaccae as what Jenks was serving her mice.

Still wanting a treatment I could offer my patients, I called Jack Gilbert, a marine microbial ecologist by training, who teaches at the University of Chicago. Gilbert co-founded the Earth Microbiome Project and American Gut, two ambitious collaborative projects seeking to understand how humans and other animals interact with their microbial environments. Gilbert had previously shared with me that his son’s autism diagnosis had prompted his interest in the potential neuroregulatory effects of microbes.

When I asked him what I might advise my patients based on these findings, he sighed.

“Every talk I give, there are parents that want something. I totally get it. We want that thing that will help our kids feel better.

“All this research is really fascinating, but we don’t have enough information to make any claims. If I were to say to everyone, ‘Move to a farm, buy a dog, and eat more raw veggies,’ those statements would be vacuous from an experimental or clinical perspective.”

Speaking with Jenks and Gilbert reminded me that M. vaccae is not an isolated therapy. In fact, it is just one of an enormous palette of microbes that have been interacting and coevolving with us since our earliest days. Our immunological and psychological well-being likely depends on more early and frequent exposure to a diverse group of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and worms than it does on any one organism.

These creatures, which interact with us through our skin, lungs, and gut, are what Graham Rook, physician, microbiologist, and professor emeritus at University College London, refers to as “Old Friends.” I met Rook last year at an evolutionary medicine meeting at the University of Arizona where he presented a series of compelling studies in support of his “Old Friend” theory of immune dysregulation: that a mismatch between our DNA and our modern microbe-depleted environment is responsible for a recent increase in chronic health problems, including autoimmune diseases and depression.

So what to advise my patients? I agree with Jenks and Gilbert. Microbiome research is still in its infancy, and there is much to discover before we can make definitive prescriptions. But there is compelling evidence that we need a diversity of organisms found in animals, plants, soil, water, and air for optimal functioning of our immune and nervous systems. I now equate preserving ecological diversity in our surroundings with protecting our own health.

On a large scale, we can begin to do this by increasing the diversity of what we grow on our farms because agriculture, covering more than a third of the earth’s land surface, is an obvious reservoir for biodiversity. Our prevailing system of crop monoculture has severely limited the variety of organisms hiding beneath the soil, lying on the plants, and roaming the fields. The herbicides and pesticides used in monocultures narrow this spectrum further. We can start to shift to a more diversified system of farming by patronizing farms that grow a range of crops and by educating friends, neighbors, medical providers, and lawmakers about the health importance of this type of agriculture.

Even closer to home, perhaps the best place for us each to begin is with our own backyard plot or window box. Planting a rainbow of seeds, avoiding the use of garden chemicals, nourishing the soil with plant matter, digging with our hands, and eating the bounty—while not guaranteed to replace a pharmaceutical grade antidepressant—is a wonderful chance to hang out with “Old Friends.”


Dr. Daphne Miller wrote this article for How to Create a Culture of Good Health, the Winter 2016 issue of YES! Magazine. Daphne is a practicing family physician, associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, senior adviser at the Prevention Institute, and author of Farmacology and The Jungle Effect.

Borrow, Save, Share: 3 Ways Seeds Can Democratize Our Food System

Originally published on Yes Magazine authored by Neil Thapar.

Just six companies control 63 percent of the commercial seed market. But seed libraries offer us an opportunity to reclaim the seed commons and create our own community food systems.

Seed library

Our food system is broken and needs to be fixed, many say. But it isn’t broken. In fact, I think it’s working exactly how it was intended. The current food system, and the legal rules that govern it, have been built by and for only the largest producers, retailers, and manufacturers. The bigger the better, the logic goes, which is why our food economy is dominated by large, increasingly consolidated, vertically integrated corporations.

An especially consolidated sector of our food system is the seed economy; for example, just six companies control 63 percent of the commercial seed market. Because most of our food starts off as seed, instead of trying to fix a system that isn’t intended to work for the vast majority of people, animals, or the planet, we should try to create our own.

 If we want more equitable access to healthy, affordable food grown locally by small farmers who steward natural resources responsibly, this is exactly what we need to do. The task is tall, but so achievable, especially if we all commit to working together in the right direction. Here are three simple steps we can take to reintroduce democracy back into our seed system and into our neighborhoods.

1. Borrow

If you haven’t been to your local library recently, you might be surprised to find a seed library there. Across the United States, there are about 400 of these community-based seed sharing initiatives, which allow neighbors to share seeds with one another. It basically works like this: You borrow seeds, grow the plant, harvest almost all of the fruit (which you eat!), and save and return some of the seeds back to the library, where others will repeat the process. Seed librarian extraordinaire Rebecca Newburn, cofounder of Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, says it like this: “It’s like checking out a book, except that you’ve added a chapter when you return it.”

Seed libraries make seeds freely available to its members or the public, relying on reciprocity and a sense of interdependence to ensure that its stock is continually replenished. By treating seeds as a common resource to be stewarded for the public benefit, libraries create what is called the seed commons. The commons reframes our role in relationship to seeds as that of caretakers instead of owners. While owners only have a responsibility to themselves, caretakers have a responsibility to the seeds and to the community that placed them under their care. By bringing seeds into the commons, we have the power to democratize access to, and control over, one of our basic necessities: food.

2. Save

Seed saving is nothing new. If anything, it’s likely one of the oldest continuous human traditions, going back some 10,000 years. Just in the last century or so, we as a society have lost—and been removed from—our connection to seed. In this time, seeds have been transformed from a common resource into a commodity, bought and sold and owned by fewer and fewer companies.

But saving seed is not necessarily simple. That’s why libraries exist as educational resources to help us rediscover the art and skill involved with it. Re-skilling ourselves means that we will be able to provide healthy foods to ourselves and our families, build community resilience in the face of climate change, and rediscover the cultural history and significance attached to the seeds we save.

In practice, it also means growing food for ourselves and our communities. The more food we grow ourselves, the less we rely on a global food system that prioritizes profit over environmental, human, or animal welfare. It also means that we are buying and selling food locally, circulating our dollars in our communities, and generating local wealth. Seed saving is at once an act of resistance and renewal.

3. Share

The success of our new food system relies equally on our independence from the current system as it does on our interdependence on each other. What that simply means is that we should share more and sharemore equitably. We should share both the risk and the reward, the profits and the losses, the efforts and the outcomes. By sharing, we also begin to take part in an alternative economy, one not based on transacting money for goods or services, but on relationships, gift giving, and mutual aid. At a time when dollars in our economy are increasingly scarce and consolidated in the hands of the wealthy few, sharing gives us the means to provide for ourselves.

In particular, sharing seeds is an easy place to start, because seeds by their nature almost beg to be shared. One tomato plant might produce upwards of 500 seeds, which, in theory, could be planted in 500 different gardens the next season. Now, imagine that 100 households grow five crops each to share their seeds. It’s not difficult to picture the multiplying effect community-based seed sharing could have on the total amount of local food production!

Yet no good deed goes unpunished. Right now, seed libraries across the country are struggling to protect their ability to facilitate local sharing. In partnership with others, Sustainable Economies Law Center, where I work, has been leading a campaign to raise public awareness of this struggle and to advocate on behalf of seed sharing organizations. You can learn more about it at our Save Seed Sharing website.

Creating a true bottom-up democracy means that we need to envision democracy not just in our government but in all aspects of our lives. Civic engagement is not just about choosing who to vote for—it’s also about choosing how and where to spend a dollar. Seed libraries offer us an opportunity to become more civically engaged by reintroducing democracy into the food economy, reclaiming the seed commons, and empowering communities to begin creating their own local food systems.


Neil Thapar wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Neil is a staff attorney at Sustainable Economies Law Center and leads its Food and Farmland programs. He is passionate about building collective power to recreate healthy, just, and resilient food systems. Follow him on Twitter @NeilThapar.

Boston Coworking Collective Prioritizes Community Over Profit

Originally Published by Cat Johnson on Shareable.net


In 2008, Boston-based user experience designer Benji Mauer was feeling the isolation of working from home. He and his friend Benjamin Spear decided to rent an office together, but they couldn’t find one small enough. Rather than give up, they decided to get a few more people onboard and rent a larger one. They found an old industrial space with “a lot of character.” They opened the doors and started working there two months later. They called it Ad Hoc Boston. It was the precursor to Make Shift Boston, a coworking space run by a member collective of 10-15 people with a strong focus on creativity and social justice.

Initially, the space was just shared office space, with the handful of people working there making decisions about the space needed. After two years, the roughness of the building was “getting old”; the ceiling was falling in and there was brick dust everywhere. The officemates found a new location nearby, but conflict about the direction of the space emerged. Some in the core group were focused on entrepreneurial ventures while others, including Mauer, were more interested in working on social justice projects. The group eventually disbanded and the social justice crew created Make Shift Boston.


Make Shift Boston’s members focus on social justice issues

Members of Make Shift Boston, which is located in a former radical bookstore in the South End neighborhood, now include writers, filmmakers, developers, designers, playwrights, artists, and more. Among the social justice issues they’re working on are net neutrality, food insecurity, the prison industrial complex, capital punishment, supporting local fisherman in sustainable practices, black radical projects, political plays, and supporting nonprofits.

“We really care about who we share space with,” says Mauer. “The culture we have right now is pretty precious and awesome.”

To become a member of Make Shift Boston you have to be admitted by full consensus of the current members through an application, an interview process, and a free trial month. Once admitted, members join one of the various committees, have full decision-making power in the space, and can host events and “do a lot of other cool stuff.” For Mauer, this is what coworking is all about.

“The spirit of coworking, to me,” he says, “is people who want to work with other folks in a coworking-style situation—coming together, of their own volition, to make a space that is their own and supports the work they want to do in the world.”


Make shift Boston member meeting

At Make Shift Boston, members all have a say in management of the space and financial issues. It’s a consensus-based organization that everyone has an equal financial stake in. At this point, Make Shift Boston is financially flush, and they “don’t need to be a whole lot more than flush” to continue.

“Once you take the profit motive out of it and [are focused] on creating a space that works for the members and works for the community, that isn’t really needing to scale in any way to fill anyone else’s pockets,” says Mauer, “what you end up having this really dynamic space that is at this equilibrium and isn’t extracting anything from anybody who’s involved with it.”

In addition to being a coworking space for members, Make Shift Boston is a lively community hub for artists, performers, organizations, and groups. It’s an alternative, neighborhood space where people can connect, gather, celebrate, and work.

“Boston’s a really expensive city,” says Mauer, “and there aren’t a lot of third spaces—spaces that fit in-between stores and coffee shops, and home. Make Shift Boston, in a lot of ways, exemplifies that, because it’s so affordable as a rental space and because we have such an amazing network of people that come through it either for work or for events.”

He adds that people see Make Shift Boston as an option for making something happen that they couldn’t do in their house because they don’t have enough room. Because of the members’ radical values, the space is a better fit for some community projects than public spaces, such as public libraries, which may have issues around political content.

The biggest challenge in collectively running Make Shift Boston is that the members are busy and don’t have as much time as they might like to put into the space. This means that sometimes things are left undone. But, where consensus decision-making can sometimes devolve into lengthy discussions the members of Make Shift Boston have a good track record for working together to make decisions.

“Consensus decision-making with 13 or 14 other people doesn’t always go well,” says Mauer with a laugh. “But, incredibly, so far, it’s been totally amazing… Even if there is disagreement, “there’s not some guy in an office over there who’s going to say, ‘We’re going to do it like this and there’s nothing you can do about it.’”

For those thinking about creating a similar space, Mauer says, go for it.

“I hope that more people who feel dissatisfied with the coworking options in their area consider starting their own space in this way because it wasn’t really that hard,” he says. “Say rent is $3000, you divide it between 15 people. Don’t sweat it. Then, once you’re in it, you’ve got this cool space and you get to do all this amazing shit with it that you might not be able to do in a space you don’t own.”


Follow @CatJohnson on Twitter

MakeShift Boston Co-working Space from Helen Matthews on Vimeo

Sweden to become the world’s first nation to end reliance on fossil fuels

First Published on : http://www.thealternative.in/lifestyle/sweden-become-worlds-first-nation-end-reliance-fossil-fuels/

The Scandinavian nation already meets two-thirds of its electricity requirements from non-fossil fuels energy sources, mainly hydroelectric and nuclear.


City of Stockholm, picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Swedish government announced that they plan on spending an extra 546 million USD as a part of their climate change action in 2016. It would be too soon to put a ceiling on the time-frame within which this mission will be completed.


Wind energy in Sweden

What you may not know is that this Scandinavian nation already meets two-thirds of its electricity requirements from non-fossil fuels energy sources which are predominately hydroelectric and nuclear. The focus will now shift to increasing the solar and wind energy potential, and at the same time, making its transport industry more sustainable. In order to suffice the budget increase, heavier taxes will be levied on petrol and diesel.

The budget will also cover the manufacture of smarter grids, electric bus fleets, subsidies for green cars and on renewable energy storage technology. This quantum leap should come as no surprise since Sweden already has quite an impressive track record when it comes to climate change action. Several cities across the globe are already in the process of making this switch and are eliminating fossil fuels with huge success.


Originally Published by: http://blogs.worldwatch.org/5-eye-opening-global-trends-you-should-know-about/

5eyeopening_1It’s not easy to keep track of the complex ways in which our everyday choices have an impact on a global scale. But as the world’s population surpasses 7 billion, each of our actions—positive or negative—gets multiplied. Read on to learn about five global trends from our latest publication, Vital Signs: The Trends That Are Shaping Our Future, that show that our consumption choices affect more than ourselves—they affect the environment and the lives and livelihoods of millions.



    Since 1800, the rate of meat production has outpaced human population growth by a factor of over three. In 2013, we produced an estimated 308.5 million tons of meat, more than ever before in a single year. That year, people worldwide ate an average of nearly 43 kilograms of meat each.

    Who’s driving the trend? Asia leads the world in meat production, generating close to 43 percent of the 2013 global output. Europe, North America, and South America follow far behind. People in industrial countries continue to eat much larger quantities (76 kilograms per person in 2013) than those in developing nations (34 kilos per person).

    What does this trend mean? The livestock sector uses industrial methods that consume large quantities of water, feed, grazing land, synthetic fertilizers, and antibiotics. Beef is by far the most intensive of meats, requiring more than 15,000 liters of water per kilogram of meat produced. Beef production also uses three fifths of global farmland despite its yield of less than 5 percent of the world’s protein and less than 2 percent of its calories.

    What can be done? Supporting the switch of feed from grains to grass or other plants (to reduce direct competition with crops that otherwise could be used directly as food); using natural instead of synthetic fertilizers; and ending factory-style livestock operations could reduce environmental and health impacts. Dietary choices, such as eating less meat or choosing less resource-intensive meats, also make a difference.5eyeopening_3

    Since 1950, the amount of coal consumed worldwide has nearly quadrupled (from just over 1 billion tons of oil equivalent to 3.8 billion tons in 2013). Because of strong demand and low prices, the coal supply also is getting “dirtier.” That means that the coal we’re paying for has a lower energy content than before, resulting in more coal being burned (and more pollution generated) for the same amount of heat.

    Who’s driving the trend? The Asia-Pacific region accounted for 70 percent of global coal consumption in 2013, although the country is quickly diversifying its energy sources through solar technologies and natural gas. In the United States, coal consumption has been decreasing, despite the continued growth in demand for electricity, in large part due to the switch to domestic shale gas. In the European Union, coal consumption has been decreasing since 1990, thanks to reduced energy intensity and growing reliance on renewables.

    What does this trend mean? Coal is the dirtiest energy source we use today. Without curbing consumption and related emissions, we likely will fail to keep global warming below the 2 degree Celsius threshold.

    What can be done? Supporting meaningful, binding multilateral agreements on climate change would help stop the rise of coal. Decreasing our energy intensity and promoting lower costs for renewables would further reduce coal’s share within global energy production.5eyeopening5

    The world’s fleet of light-duty vehicles (such as passenger cars and light trucks) has grown so much that there is now one car for every seven people on the planet. Of these, only about 400,000 were electric vehicles at the start of 2014—or only 1 out of every 2,500 cars.

    Who’s driving the trend? The United States and Japan have the world’s largest vehicle fleets. China, now in third place, skyrocketed the size of its fleet over the last decade, growing over 10-fold from 2000 (3.8 million) to 2011 (43.2 million). Most electric cars are in the United States (144,000), Japan (68,000), and China (45,000).

    What does this trend mean? Today’s light-duty vehicles consume on average 7.2 liters of fuel for every 100 kilometers and contribute to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

    What can be done? Higher fuel efficiency is needed to limit automobiles’ contribution to environmental problems. Alternative vehicles—such as hybrids and electric cars—help reduce local air pollution, but will only make a difference with regard to greenhouse gas emissions if the electricity they use is produced with renewable energy.5eyeopening_6

    Even though most plastic is recyclable, between 22 and 43 percent of plastic worldwide is disposed of in landfills. And each year, 10–20 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans.

    Who’s driving the trend? Western Europeans and North Americans consume the most plastic per person, using 100 kilograms of plastic per person each year. Asia currently uses just 20 kilograms per person, but this figure is expected to grow. In Europe, about a quarter of plastic was recycled and a third was burned for energy in 2012. In the United States, only 9 percent of plastic was recycled in 2012.

    What does this trend mean? When plastic is not recycled, it is often sent to a landfill where its resources are wasted, it takes up valuable space, and it blights communities. Plastic in oceans can entangle seabirds, whales, and dolphins or get transferred up the food chain as small particles get ingested, carrying chemical pollutants from prey to predator. Some toxic additives in plastic products—such as colorings, flame retardants, and plasticizers—have been linked to health issues.

    What can be done? Along with reducing unnecessary plastics consumption, finding more environmentally friendly packaging alternatives, and improving product and packaging design to use less plastic, many challenges associated with plastic could be addressed by improving management of the material across its life cycle. Governments, companies, and consumers can work together to encourage recycling.5eyeopening_7

    Since they were first commercialized in the early 1990s, genetically modified (GM) crops have reached a global plantation area of 181 million hectares (2014). The most commonly planted GM crops were soybeans (used for animal feed and oil), maize (used for animal feed), cotton, and canola (used for oil).

    Who’s driving the trend? North America and South America accounted for 87 percent of the global GM plantation area in 2014. A small handful of companies that develop and market GM crops have a near-monopoly on the US$15.7 billion industry (as of 2014).

    What does this trend mean? While GM crops often result in saved time and effort in farming, they also can result in loss of land and livelihoods when less resourceful and less protected farmers are taken over by those with more assets. Growing more crops for animal feed is driving numerous environmental problems, from pollution to deforestation. Finally, crops that are modified to be herbicide-tolerant may be losing their advantage as herbicide resistance develops in weeds.

    What can be done? In the next 5–10 years, GM crops likely will continue to expand, as 71 new GM strains have undergone field trials. Rigorous regulatory frameworks based on case-by-case assessments will be needed to protect farmers and the environment.

As consumers, we influence the landscapes and lives of those who live near the extraction, manufacturing, disposal, and other impacts of the products we use every day. Once we see ourselves as part of the larger puzzle, we are better able to choose what we buy, how we eat, and for whom we cast our ballot.

A journey with the San

By: JAY NAIDOO Originally published at: http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2015-06-29-a-journey-with-the-san

South Africa’s coat of arms makes a special recognition of the San way of life. There’s a reason for this, which becomes all too clear when one spends any length of time living with the San people.

Writer’s note: !Gubi’s beloved wife, Oma, died just as I was finishing this column. I wish to dedicate it to her gentle grace and grand spirit.

I am deep in the Kalahari Desert in Namibia in a San village. I am here with Pops Mohamed, an iconic, world-renowned South African musician, who has spent much of his life studying the San music, culture, ceremonies and way of life. He is welcomed with open arms, which are graciously extended to all of us. I watch his seamless transition into their world. He finds a deep connection here with the San. It fills a void and connects him to the source.

I am here to learn about this and what the San ancient wisdoms have for our modern times. After all, we all come from here. The San, the earliest hunter-gatherers in southern Africa may hold the key to our future survival. Science has now proved that the Khoe-San are the descendants of the original Homo sapiens (modern day man) who occupied Southern Africa for at least 150,000 years. Geneticists say that the oldest gene pattern amongst modern humans is that of the Khoe-San. It dates back to about 80,000 years ago.

A journey to the timeless expanse of the Kalahari Desert, a large semi-arid sandy savannah in southern Africa, covering much of Botswana, parts of Namibia and South Africa, to live and learn about the San culture, has always been on my bucket list.

All of us in the world, with our different colours and races; physical characteristics from eye colour, hair type, nose shape on the planet, are descendants from this original gene type. In fact we are all 99.9% identical as the human race.

So if we are to understand our present and how to solve many of the interconnected crises we face because of human activity, it would be instructive to go back as far as we could in living human history; to attempt to understand how the wisdom of the San and other indigenous peoples could help us think about the future choices we need to make to save both the human species and our planet. After all, the San revere Mother Nature as their god and leave virtually no carbon footprint.

I was not disappointed. Travelling with Pops Mohammed is both educational and inspiring.

The !Gubi family homestead is bare, its simple mud and wood frame dwarfed by the immense solitude of the “great thirsty” red-sanded Kalahari. The goats, chickens and the famed Kalahari dogs saunter around searching for those scraps of food that rarely fall. The main means of transport still remain the donkey cart. It is winter, a fire burns continuously and the temperature plunges as the star studded night sky unveils a dazzling spectacle of the vast universe.

!Gubi is a shaman and one of the last remaining San knowledge holders. Now a wizened 86 years, he feels that the San traditions and culture are disappearing, “We are the First People of God. Humanity is losing its way. We do not hold each other together and feel that we share one human race. God is sad that we do not respect Nature, the forests, our land, water, the wild animals and our plants.”

I reflect on this. It is true. We have divorced ourselves from Nature. We feel alone even when we are in a crowd. We feel disconnected even when technology makes us the most connected generation in the history of humanity. Something is missing and we keep trying to replace it with materialistic consumption. But we still continue with emptiness in our lives.


Photo: San Elder !Gubi with his wife Oma in their home. Oma, sadly, died since this photograph was taken.

Even here deep in the Kalahari Desert the onslaught of our modernism is manifest. Plastic and glass bottles are strewn around and the local trading store does a roaring business in beer and junk food. Blaring music drowns out the melodies and sounds of this deep San ancestry of Africa.

!Gubi worries that the San way of life is being rapidly eroded, pushed back in the name of progress and civilisation. Private companies and governments wanting to commercially exploit the space for cattle ranching and mining, encroach their ancestral hunting lands they freely traversed. Pushed more into the arid grasslands of the Kalahari into reservations they share with the more dominant tribes of Herero and the Tswana, barred from hunting and cut off from their sources of food, they find themselves in desperate circumstances.

!Gubi was born in Botswana in 1929, and is a highly respected traditional healer who learnt his crafts as a young man studying medicinal plants. His family is today separated across Namibia and Botswana and he feels that culture, dance, music and the traditional folklore stories that binds them together as a family is threatened.

One of the nights I witness a trance dance ritual in which !Gubi and his grandson John, clad in leopard skins, circle a burning log fire as the women clap to the rhythm and sing special medicine songs. It is a visceral connection between human and Nature, and creates an altered state where communications with the divine and ancestors becomes possible.

I ask !Gubi later what the trance dance means. “God is in our dreams. We communicate with God through the trance dance. We enter the spirit world. As the intensity increases of the chanting and dancing a powerful energy takes over the mind and trance state is achieved. We talk to our ancestors during that time. We heal the ill and fight off the bad spirits. They show us the good medicine. They lead us to the right plants. The experience brings about a healing energy that restores peace and harmony.”

Living in harmony with Nature is the key theme of our conversations. !Gubi explains, “We use a hand bow and arrow to hunt. It is a sacred act; talking to the animal being hunted; running with it for hours until it wears down. It is assured that no part will be wasted; that its sacrifice will give life to the San community. A holy prayer is recited and a poison dart guarantees painless and quick death.”

I can see his pain. They are prosecuted today for hunting. He has seen all the radical changes in his life. Borders, fences, passports, nationalities and notion of private property do not exist in San culture. Yet we have imposed our laws and norms of modern civilisation on them. We have taken the freedom away and his travel, even to his sons who live in Botswana, is restricted today.

I offer to cook for the crew and the community while I am there. It seems that this is the only regular meals they have while we are there. It is simple and rewarding and such a joy cooking communally with the San. And they loved the subtle taste of Indian spices. I was able to catch a glimpse of the intimate lives of our most distant living relatives as a human species. It was sobering microcosm of the struggles of indigenous peoples across the world.


Photo: !Gubi also examined the potjie I cooked for the family.

Experiencing the deep love between !Gubi and his wife, the regal and stately Oma, as he patiently massages her feet to reduce the swelling and pain; the love kisses and hugs he regularly showers on her; seeing him chastising his grandchildren, and chasing the hungry goats keen to nibble on the wood of his home with his stick. I felt privileged to be here.

Teaching our children how to live of the land, building an unbending respect for each other, our environment and respecting our diversity of languages and culture is a good start. I watch the growing youth anger, frustration and discontent at the marginalisation they face and know the values of San – simplicity, empathy and harmony – are missing in our world. Here we see the San perilously holding on to values.

As my son Kami (22) said, “I felt the Earth connection the San have with the land. While we need expand the tools of our modern-day world; especially in health and education we should see the reciprocal value of these ancient wisdoms for our modern times.”

As our world population grows and our human activities exceed our planetary boundaries and threaten the future of our human species, I feel that we will have to return to villages like these to learn how to live in peace again. Africa remains the “storehouse” of humanity. Everything that makes us human, from walking upright, cognitive thinking, language, art and even the earliest technologies in fire, tools and even agriculture.

South Africa’s motto, written on the SA coat of arms, is a /Xam phrase: !ke e: /xarra //ke, literally meaning: diverse people unite. Perhaps it time we understood why we have made this profound recognition of the San way of life. DM

Jay Naidoo

Aichi family free of utility bills after turning to firewood, solar power

By: Chunichi Shimbun Originally published in Japan Times


A family in the city of Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, is experimenting with self-sufficient living by using solar energy to generate their own electricity instead of purchasing it from a utility.

Since moving to the mountainous area of the Asahi district nine months ago, the family has adopted various energy-conservation methods, including using firewood, and has successfully managed to avoid utility costs.

The project was started by professor Masao Takano from Nagoya University’s Graduate School of Environmental Studies.

He began contemplating the feasibility of living only on natural energy after experiencing rolling blackouts in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011.

Yuji Shimono, 45, a regular office worker, and his wife, Tomoko, 38, volunteered to take part in the experiment in November.

The couple relocated to Toyota from the Aichi city of Chiryu, along with their two children, 7-year-old Kako and 5-year-old Masataka.

“In summer, daytime is longer so it’s easier to prepare dinner. In winter, I have to start at 4 p.m.,” Tomoko explained while firing up some food.

In the background, the natural sound of birds fill the air as she prepares dinner.

Tomoko cooks in front of the bright entrance area of the house in order to save electricity.

The Shimono family does not own a refrigerator, rice cooker or stove. Instead, Tomoko uses a nukakudo, a portable stove often used for camping, to cook rice by burning Japanese cedar tree leaves and chaff.

“Nukakudo and firewood are the two most essential items in our lives now,” she said.japan_2

She stores vegetables on a shelf near the kitchen door, away from the sunlight.

The family considered getting an environmentally friendly refrigerator, but decided against it in the end.

“For perishable food with a short expiry date like meat and fish, we eat them on the same day we purchase them,” Tomoko explained.

The family also uses firewood for heating and for hot water.japan_3

Since the temperature is cool in the mountains, they do not need an air conditioner in summer.

They only use electricity for the washing machine, to charge their cellphones and laptops, for lighting, the rice huller and iron.

Their one-story house is made of Japanese cedar and cypress and is not connected to any power lines.

In addition to six solar panels installed on the roof, generating up to 145 watts each, they also reserve about 10 kilowatts per hour for rainy days.

Like any other household, the Shimonos had been using a refrigerator and air conditioner prior to beginning this experiment. However, they were conscious of self-sufficiency as well, preferring to sew some of their own clothes and grow their own vegetables.

“It’s just a matter of getting used to (this lifestyle),” Tomoko said.

The amount of electricity that can be stored in reserve is the equivalent of turning on air conditioning for the entire day in a normal household.

The Shimono family managed to survive the rainy season by waiting for sunny days to do household chores that take up a large amount of electricity, such as ironing and washing clothes.

They consume an average of 300 watts per hour of electricity each day, which is 5 percent of a normal household in Japan and less than half of the energy generated by their solar panels.

“Those who want to relocate to the mountains have to be (cognizant) of an environmentally friendly lifestyle. Through this project we have proved that people can grow their own vegetables and rice, and even generate their own electricity if they want to,” said Takano.

It all depends on how people want to live their life, the couple said.

The number of people who want to generate their own electricity has increased in recent years.

According to Shokan Otsuka, architect and chairman of Okayama-based Jienegumi (Natural Energy Group), which offers consultations on energy self-sufficiency, 42 households across Japan have achieved self-sufficiency with their help since the group was established in March 2013, with 13 more in the works.

Otsuka moved to Okayama Prefecture from Fukushima Prefecture after the earthquake in 2011 and has been promoting energy self-sufficiency to his clients ever since.

Most of the people who accepted his pitch are those who have high awareness of environmental issues and “do not want to use electricity from nuclear power plants or power utility companies”.

Half of his clients live in major cities.

“Self-sufficiency is not limited to those living in the countryside. Anybody can achieve it as long as they have an area to install the equipment and enough sunlight,” explained Otsuka.

Plan C for Advancing the Commons Transition in Greece


Plan A is the name for the capitulation towards the demands of the creditors, now the most realistic possibility; plan B is the Grexit which offers Greece an independent path within the same economic logic, but with basic sovereign powers to protect and advance their own interests; plan C stands for a Commons Transition, which can take place either under conditions laid out by Plan A or Plan B, but which could become the main strategy under conditions of a revival of popular power and democracy.

Read More here

Dutch city of Utrecht to experiment with a universal, unconditional ‘basic income’

Original Article published at :


The University College Utrecht has paired with the city to see if a system of welfare without requirements will produce an efficient society

The Dutch city of Utrecht will start an experiment which hopes to determine whether society works effectively with universal, unconditional income introduced.

The city has paired up with the local university to establish whether the concept of ‘basic income’ can work in real life, and plans to begin the experiment at the end of the summer holidays.

Basic income is a universal, unconditional form of payment to individuals, which covers their living costs. The concept is to allow people to choose to work more flexible hours in a less regimented society, allowing more time for care, volunteering and study.

University College Utrecht has paired with the city to place people on welfare on a living income, to see if a system of welfare without requirements will be successful.

The Netherlands as a country is no stranger to less traditional work environments – it has the highest proportion of part time workers in the EU, 46.1 per cent. However, Utrecht’s experiment with welfare is expected to be the first of its kind in the country.


Alderman for Work and Income Victor Everhardt told DeStad Utrecht: “One group is will have compensation and consideration for an allowance, another group with a basic income without rules and of course a control group which adhere to the current rules.”

“Our data shows that less than 1.5 percent abuse the welfare, but, before we get into all kinds of principled debate about whether we should or should not enter, we need to first examine if basic income even really works.

Read more:
Dutch court orders government to cut country’s emissions
Utrecht features third in top 20 bike friendly cities
Working poor set to face cut in tax credits

“What happens if someone gets a monthly amount without rules and controls? Will someone sitting passively at home or do people develop themselves and provide a meaningful contribution to our society?”

The city is also planning to talk to other municipalities about setting up similar experiments, including Nijmegen, Wageningen, Tilburg and Groningen, awaiting permission from The Hague in order to do so.

Next month the city will host the start of the Tour de France 2015, the Grand Départ.