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

planetb

Introduction

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.

mckibben

[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.”

Advertisements

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.

Dapne

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.

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.

sweden1

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.

sweden2

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.

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

By: Chunichi Shimbun Originally published in Japan Times

japan_1

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.

It’s Time to Think Boldly About Building a New American System

First published on Yes Magazine here

The inability of politics to address poverty, climate change, and other basic challenges has fueled extraordinary experimentation in American communities. Welcome to a new conversation on how we make change happen.

Editor’s note: This video and statement are part of the Next System Project, a multi-year initiative to spark deep conversations on how to deal with systemic change in the coming decades.

It’s time for everyone who cares about our troubled country to face the depth of the systemic crisis we now confront as a nation. We must step back from the daily fray and ask: How do we actually get on a path to the kind of society—and world—we’d like now and for future generations? We must begin a real conversation—locally, nationally, and at all levels in between—on how to respond to the profound challenge of our time in history.

It is possible to build a new and better America beyond the failed systems of the past and present.

“If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending,” Lincoln said, “we could better judge what to do.” Today’s answer to Lincoln’s charge is grim. If one looks at “where we are” among advanced democracies across more than a score of key indicators of national well-being—including relative poverty, inequality, education, social mobility, health, environment, militarization, democracy, and more—we find ourselves exactly where we don’t want to be: at or near the bottom.

We face a systemic crisis

The challenging realities of growing inequality, political stalemate, and climate disruption prompt an important insight. When big problems emerge across the entire spectrum of national life, it cannot be due to small reasons. When the old ways no longer produce the outcomes we are looking for, something deeper is occurring. We have fundamental problems because of fundamental flaws in our economic and political system. The crisis now unfolding in so many ways across our country amounts to a systemic crisis.

Today’s political economic system is not programmed to secure the well being of people, place and planet. Instead, its priorities are corporate profits, the growth of GDP, and the projection of national power. If we are to address the manifold challenges we face in a serious way, we need to think through and then build a new political economy that takes us beyond the current system that is failing all around us. However difficult the task, however long it may take, systemic problems require systemic solutions.

We need systemic solutions

The social pain arising from the economic crisis, the steady unfolding of the climate calamity, and many other deeply troubling developments have made it possible to pose the question of large-scale system change in a serious fashion in the United States. Yet, despite this new space for a debate about fundamental change, challenges to the system have until recently been constrained by a continuing lack of imagination concerning social, economic and political alternatives. It is said that the existing system is the only possibility, one we must accept and work with—that, as Margaret Thatcher famously insisted, “There is no alternative.” But she had it wrong.

There are real alternatives

The good news is that the inability of traditional politics and policies to address fundamental challenges has fueled an extraordinary amount of experimentation in communities across the United States—and around the world. It has also generated an increasing number of sophisticated and thoughtful proposals for transformative change. Together these developments suggest that it is possible to build a new and better America beyond the failed systems of the past and present.

We have fundamental problems because of fundamental flaws in our economic and political system.

Indeed, new terms have begun to gain currency among diverse social movements and activist communities—an indication that the domination of traditional thinking has already started to weaken. Thus we encounter the sharing economy, the caring economy, the solidarity economy, the restorative economy, the regenerative economy, the sustaining economy, the resilient economy, and, of course, the new economy. There is talk of the need for a great transition. Several of these approaches already have significant networks and thoughtful research efforts underway. New thinking by creative scholars and members of the labor movement and community-oriented advocates is also contributing to the ferment.

Time for a national debate

It is time for Americans to think boldly about what is required to deal with the systemic difficulties facing the United States. It is time to explore genuine alternatives and new models—”the next system.” It is time to debate what it will take to move our country to a very different place, one where outcomes that are truly sustainable, equitable, and democratic are commonplace.

Those of us signing this statement are committed to working towards these ends.

Sign on at http://thenextsystem.org.

Signatories:

Gar Alperovitz—The Next System Project
James Gustave Speth—The Next System Project
Annie Leonard—Greenpeace USA
Robert B. Reich—University of California at Berkeley
Barbara Ehrenreich—Author
Bill McKibben—350.org
Oliver Stone—Academy Award-winning Filmmaker
Sarita Gupta—Jobs With Justice
Noam Chomsky—Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Daniel Ellsberg—Author, Whistleblower
Ralph Nader—Consumer Advocate, Author, Former Presidential Candidate
Ai-jen Poo—National Domestic Workers Alliance
Danny Glover—Actor, Social Activist, YES! Magazine board member
Kali Akuno—Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
Seymour Hersh—Journalist
Saru Jayaraman—Food Labor Research Center University of California, Berkeley
David Korten—Living Economies Forum, YES! Magazine co-founder and board member
Stacy Mitchell—Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Raj Patel—University of Texas, Austin
Sarah van Gelder—Editor in Chief at YES! Magazine

Plus hundreds more—view them here!

Greece’s solidarity movement: ‘it’s a whole new model – and it’s working’

Greece Debt in Doubt?

 

“A long time ago, when I was a student,” said Olga Kesidou, sunk low in the single, somewhat clapped-out sofa of the waiting room at the Peristeri Solidarity Clinic, “I’d see myself volunteering. You know, in Africa somewhere, treating sick people in a poor developing country. I never once imagined I’d be doing it in a suburb of Athens.”

Few in Greece, even five years ago, would have imagined their recession- and austerity-ravaged country as it is now: 1.3 million people – 26% of the workforce – without a job (and most of them without benefits); wages down by 38% on 2009, pensions by 45%, GDP by a quarter; 18% of the country’s population unable to meet their food needs; 32% below the poverty line.

And just under 3.1 million people, 33% of the population, without national health insurance.

So, along with a dozen other medics including a GP, a brace of pharmacists, a paediatrician, a psychologist, an orthopaedic surgeon, a gynaecologist, a cardiologist and a dentist or two, Kesidou, an ear, nose and throat specialist, spends a day a week at this busy but cheerful clinic half an hour’s drive from central Athens, treating patients who otherwise would not get to see a doctor. Others in the group accept uninsured patients in their private surgeries.

Greek elections: young, broke and voting for change

“We couldn’t just stand by and watch so many people, whole families, being excluded from public healthcare,” Kesidou said. “In Greece now, if you’re out of work for a year you lose your social security. That’s an awful lot of people without access to what should be a basic right. If we didn’t react we couldn’t look at ourselves in the mirror. It’s solidarity.”

The Peristeri health centre is one of 40 that have sprung up around Greece since the end of mass anti-austerity protests in 2011. Using donated drugs – state medicine reimbursements have been slashed by half, so even patients with insurance are now paying 70% more for their drugs – and medical equipment (Peristeri’s ultrasound scanner came from a German aid group, its children’s vaccines from France), the 16 clinics in the Greater Athens area alone treat more than 30,000 patients a month.

The clinics in turn are part of a far larger and avowedly political movement of well over 400 citizen-run groups – food solidarity centres, social kitchens, cooperatives, “without middlemen” distribution networks for fresh produce, legal aid hubs, education classes – that has emerged in response to the near-collapse of Greece’s welfare state, and has more than doubled in size in the past three years.

“Because in the end, you know,” said Christos Giovanopoulos in the scruffy, poster-strewn seventh-floor central Athens offices of Solidarity for All, which provides logistical and administrative support to the movement, “politics comes down to individual people’s stories. Does this family have enough to eat? Has this child got the right book he needs for school? Are this couple about to be evicted?”

As well as helping people in difficulty, Giovanopoulos said, Greece’s solidarity movement was fostering “almost a different sense of what politics should be – a politics from the bottom up, that starts with real people’s needs. It’s a practical critique of the empty, top-down, representational politics our traditional parties practise. It’s kind of a whole new model, actually. And it’s working.”

It also looks set to play a more formalised role in Greece’s future under what polls predict will be a Syriza-led government from next week. When they were first elected in 2012 the radical left party’s 72 MPs voted to give 20% of their monthly salary to a solidarity fund that would help finance Solidarity for All. (Many help further; several have transferred their entitlement to free telephone calls to a local project.) The party says the movement can serve as an example and a platform for the social change it wants to bring about.

Syriza supporters in Athens

In the sleek open plan, blonde-wood office she used when she was a successful architect, Theano Fotiou, a member of Syriza’s central committee, was packing leaflets for the last day of campaigning, with the help of a dozen or so exceedingly enthusiastic young volunteers. She is seeking re-election in the capital’s second electoral district. “The only real way out of this crisis is people doing it for themselves,” she said. “If people don’t participate, we will be lost as a country. This is practice, not theory, a new social ideology, a new paradigm – the opposite of the old passive, dependent, consumerist, individualist model. And the solidarity projects we have now are its incubators.”

Fotiou said a large part of the first stage of a Syriza’s government’s programme – ensuring no family is without water or electricity (in nine months of 2013, 240,000 households had their power cut because of unpaid bills); that no one can be made homeless; that the very lowest pensions are raised and that urgent steps are taken to relieve child poverty, now standing at 40% in Greece – was largely inspired by what the party had learned from its involvement in the solidarity movement.

“We’ve gained so much from people’s innovation,” she said. “We’ve acquired a knowhow of poverty, actually. We know more about people’s real needs, about the distribution of affordable food, about how not to waste things like medicines. We’ve gained a huge amount of information about how to work in a country in a state of humanitarian crisis and economic collapse. Greece is poor; this is vital knowhow.”

If the first instinct of many involved in the movement was simply to help, most also believe it has done much to politicise Greece’s crisis. In Egalio, west of Athens, Flora Toutountzi, a housekeeper, Antonis Mavronikolas, a packager, and Theofilos Moustakas, a primary school teacher, are part of a group that collects food donations from shoppers outside supermarkets and delivers basic survival packages – rice, sugar, long-life milk, dried beans – to 50 local families twice a month.

“One family, there are six people surviving on the grandmother’s pension of €400 a month,” said Mavronikolas. “Another, they’ve lived without running water for two months. We help them, yes, but now they are also involved in our campaign, helping others. People have become activated in this crisis. They are less isolated.”

In the central Athens district of Exarchia, Tonia Katerini, another now largely unemployed architect (“There’s not a lot of work for architects right now,” she said), is one of 15 people running a cooperative social grocery that opened a year ago and now sells 300 products, from flour to oranges, olive oil to bread, pasta to dried herbs. The business has grown rapidly and the collective’s members can now pay themselves an hourly wage of €3

supermarket

The local “without middlemen” market, one of 30-odd to have sprouted in Athens and several hundred around Greece, where farmers sell their produce for 25% more than they would get from the supermarkets and consumers pay 25% less, takes place only once a month, and the group wanted to set up a small neighbourhood grocery offering similarly good value, high quality foodstuffs directly from small producers.

Ninety per cent of the products the store sold were “without middlemen”, Katerini said, and about 60% were significantly cheaper than in the supermarket. Several come from other solidarity projects – the store’s soap, for example, is made by a collective of 10 unemployed people in Galatsi.

“All these projects, it’s very important to me, are not just helping people who need it, but they represent almost the start of a new kind of society,” Katerini said. “They are run as direct democracies, with no hierarchy. They are about people taking responsibility for their lives, putting their skills to use, becoming productive again.”

Katerina Knitou has devoted the past few years to preventing people from losing their homes. Part of a group of lawyers formed to fight a much hated “emergency house tax”, her focus has switched to the one in three Greek households fearing repossession or eviction – either because they are among the 320,000 families behind on mortgage or other debt repayments to their bank, or one of the 2.45 million Greeks who have been unable to pay a recent tax bill.

Knitou, a Syriza member like almost all those involved in the movement, gives free legal advice on how to avoid foreclosure and eviction. In the first half of last year 700 homes were either repossessed by the banks or foreclosed on by the Greek state over unpaid tax or social security bills. (With colleagues, Knitou also occasionally takes more direct action, disrupting – and preventing – planned auctions of repossessed and foreclosed homes.)

“This whole thing,” she said, “has made a lot of people very aware, not just of what they face, but also of what they can – and must – do. Expectations are going to be high after Sunday, but there are of course limits to what even a Syriza government will be able to do. It’s up to us, all of us, to change things. And honestly? This feels like a good start.”

First Published: The Guardian by Jon Henley in Athens