Archive for December, 2008


Slow Money Musings on the Last Day of 2008

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

As this is to be the last official post of the year, we thought we’d leave you with some thoughts from our Slow Money guru, author and “nurture capitalist” Woody Tasch (Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered). Guest-blogging at Powells.com this week, Woody Tasch goes John Lennon, imagining a world where we choose “soil over oil,” and where “no economic rabbit never” needs “to be pulled out of no hat.”

Let us imagine an earthworm protesting before the advancing blade of the plow.

Let us imagine a farmer conscientiously objecting before the commodifying prow of the market.

Let us imagine a poet slamming before the ferociously fiduciary lowest-common-denominatorness of the Dow.

Let us imagine a consumer putting down the purse.

Let us imagine a thrower-outer choosing better over worse.

Let us imagine Carlo in the Piemonte sipping Nebbiolo.

Let us imagine Fritz breaking bread with Wendell.

Let us imagine money swimming up the Mattole to spawn.

Let us imagine a sycophant with no one over whom to fawn.

Let us imagine a broker who has given up his pawn.

Let us imagine an Obama tending vegetables on the White House lawn.

Let us imagine an Osama genuflecting towards the dawn of non-violence.

Let us imagine that Wall Street is Plato’s cave.

Let us imagine that the wave of toxics is receding.

Let us imagine that the global fever is breaking.

Let us imagine a beautiful future of our making.

Let us imagine preservation and restoration over consumption and extraction.

Let us imagine percolation over circulation.

Let us imagine relationship over transaction.

Let us imagine diversity over monoculture.

Let us imagine fertility over profitability.

Let us imagine making a living over making a killing.

Let us imagine a carrot in the hand over a futures contract in the bush.

Let us imagine the horse before the cart.

Let us imagine home over house.

Let us imagine soil over oil.

Let us imagine neither fundamentalism nor befuddlement.

Let us imagine a bumper sticker that is better than, “My karma ran over your dogma.”

Let us imagine the opposite of colony collapse disorder.

Let us imagine first the ends of philanthropy and then the end of philanthropy.

Let us imagine money as a healing agent.

Let us imagine something called nurture capital. (And let us imagine that it becomes as recognizable as, but far more ubiquitous than, its industrial strength cousin, venture capital. Where is its “non-Silicon Valley?” Madison? Bellingham? Pioneer Valley? Capay Valley? Organic Valley? Hardwick? The boys in Las Trampas? Butterworks Farm? Four Season Farm? Swanton Berry Farm? The White Dog Cafe? The Kitchen? The Guerilla Cafe? Urban gardens? 2,000 CSAs and 5,000 farmers markets? 10,000 edible schoolyards? 100,000 green roofs?)

Let us imagine our pension funds in the hands of individuals who have taken to heart the words, “A man is wealthy to the extent he can afford to leave things alone.” (Proceed to your Walden.)

And remember, you only get one life—don’t squander one leap second of it!

Read the whole article at Powells.com.

100 Days to Restore the Constitution

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

What do you think President Obama must do in the first 100 days of his presidency? The Center for Constitutional Rights wants to know.

Earlier this year, we blogged about how shockingly far America has traveled toward becoming a police state with concerns only for monied interests. Dismantling the Patriot Act and shutting down Guantánamo are definitely high on my list, but the list of abuses perpetrated by Bush and Cheney are too numerous to pick just one. How about getting the ball rolling by filing criminal charges against Bush and key members of his administration? Sigh. In a better world, maybe…

[If he'd lied about the justifications for the illegal, unnecessary, and immoral Iraq invasion and slept with an intern, maybe his own party would have impeached him. That would have been something.]

Over the last eight years, the Bush administration has systematically dismantled some of the most important rights and protections in the United States Constitution. In the first 100 days of office, the next president can, often with the stroke of a pen, restore, protect, and expand the fundamental rights on which our nation was founded. It is up to all of us to see that he does.

The Center for Constitutional Rights’ 100 Days Campaign focuses on the harm done by previous administrations and the hopes we have for making the country a better place for all.

Join us in telling the next administration what you want to see in the first 100 days. Look for a series of white papers, videos, speaking tours and online activism that will bring these issues front and center in the public debate.

To submit your own 60-second video, visit ccrjustice.org.

Disruptive Innovation: The Natural Entrepreneur’s Competitive Advantage

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

The following excerpt from Finding the Sweet Spot: The Natural Entrepreneur’s Guide to Responsible, Sustainable, Joyful Work by Dave Pollard has been adapted for the Web.

The culture of Natural Enterprises tends to differ dramatically from that of traditional corporations. Much of this cultural difference stems from the fact that Natural Enterprises are flat, nonhierarchical, independent cooperative organizations with a shared Purpose, complementary Gifts and Passions, uncommon core capacities, and a shared vision.

Most large corporations are anything but innovative. Because they are risk-averse and driven to sustain large annual increases in profit to keep shareholders happy, they are unwilling to invest in anything with a significant risk of failure, or anything that will take more than a year or so to start generating revenues and profits.

So their idea of “innovation” is often a redesigned, repackaged, function-added, or “sequel” product, the exaggerated “new and improved” model that often turns out to be neither.

This inability to innovate is largely a cultural phenomenon. What you will find in many large corporations are these behaviors, all of which impede innovation:

  • Employees hoarding rather than sharing knowledge, including knowledge that could yield innovation, to protect their positions and ranks in the company.
  • Employees rarely volunteering new ideas, fearing ridicule, retribution, being ignored, or having credit for the idea stolen by their bosses if it succeeds.
  • Managers safely and instinctively squelching innovative “crazy ideas” of subordinates.
  • Managers, fearing the wrath of shareholders (absentee owners), are risk averse, preferring to buy ideas once they have been successfully developed by others, rather than incubating the company’s own ideas, even though the latter is cheaper and more effective.
  • Employees competing for credit rather than sharing it.
  • Employees, since they are rated on their individual performance, considering teamwork and collaborative activities less important than individual, solitary ones.
  • Managers instinctively delegating tasks in a project to individuals rather than teams (since it’s easier that way to place blame if something goes wrong), and individuals usually preferring individual rather than team assignments as well.

By contrast, Natural Enterprises exhibit the following innovation-friendly behaviors:

  • Decisions are made by democratic consensus rather than by fiat.
  • Persuasion and change occurs by engaging decision-makers in thought processes and finding shared mental models, rather than the wielding of power and authority.
  • Problem-solving teams self-form and self-manage, and select (and when necessary, change) their own leader(s) rather than having leaders imposed on them.
  • Rather than formal permanent roles, positions, and “up-or-out” career paths, individuals move laterally from project to project, wherever their skills and experiences are best suited, and often wear multiple hats on simultaneously running projects, rather than having a single role.
  • Recognition and appreciation are based on the depth of developed skills, experiences, learning, and networks, the things that have value to the enterprise in the future, rather than on past performance or on one’s seniority or title.
  • “Management” from the top down is replaced by “improvisation” throughout the organization.

Anderson: Corporations are Present Day Instruments of Destruction

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Ray Anderson, author of Mid-Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise–The Interface Model, was quoted by Chris Hedges in an article recently posted to TruthDig.org titled, “Why I Am a Socialist.” The article itself makes chilling points about the corporatization of our federal government.

From the article:

The corporate forces that are looting the Treasury and have plunged us into a depression will not be contained by the two main political parties. The Democratic and Republican parties have become little more than squalid clubs of privilege and wealth, whores to money and corporate interests, hostage to a massive arms industry, and so adept at deception and self-delusion they no longer know truth from lies. We will either find our way out of this mess by embracing an uncompromising democratic socialism—one that will insist on massive government relief and work programs, the nationalization of electricity and gas companies, a universal, not-for-profit government health care program, the outlawing of hedge funds, a radical reduction of our bloated military budget and an end to imperial wars—or we will continue to be fleeced and impoverished by our bankrupt elite and shackled and chained by our surveillance state.

[...]

The corporation is designed to make money without regard to human life, the social good or impact on the environment. Corporate laws impose a legal duty on corporate executives to make as much money as possible for shareholders, although many have moved on to fleece shareholders as well. In the 2003 documentary film “The Corporation” the management guru Peter Drucker says: “If you find an executive who wants to take on social responsibilities, fire him. Fast.”

A corporation that attempts to engage in social responsibility, that tries to pay workers a decent wage with benefits, that invests its profits to protect the environment and limit pollution, that gives consumers fair deals, can be sued by shareholders. Robert Monks, the investment manager, says in the film: “The corporation is an externalizing machine, in the same way that a shark is a killing machine. There isn’t any question of malevolence or of will. The enterprise has within it, and the shark has within it, those characteristics that enable it to do that for which it was designed.” Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface Corp., the world’s largest commercial carpet manufacturer, calls the corporation a “present day instrument of destruction” because of its compulsion to “externalize any cost that an unwary or uncaring public will allow it to externalize.”

“The notion that we can take and take and take and take, waste and waste, without consequences, is driving the biosphere to destruction,” Anderson says.

Read the full article here.

Get involved! Join our Facebook Group here: One Million Strong for the Separation of Corporation and State.

Confessions of an Evangelical Treehugger

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Matthew Sleeth is the author of Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action.

From AlterNet:

This essay is reprinted from Holy Ground: A Gathering if Voices on Caring for Creation, recently published by Sierra Club Books.

Sometimes we must lose ourselves in order to find our way.

I live in a small college town near Lexington, Kentucky. One summer, my wife and I and a couple of friends were invited to share the evening with a group of families who dwell together in an intentional manner, about sixty miles from our home.

The road there narrows from four to two to even fewer lanes. A blue mailbox comes up on the right. Make a left, and then proceed up the drive, whose high spots are blazed by the low-hanging undercarriage of cars like mine.

A dog comes up to greet us. Overdressed for these hot evenings, he pants and accepts a rub on the brow and a scratching behind the ears. I watch his tail sweep arcs of canine fellowship on the dusty ground.

Adults come out to greet us, and their children appear from places in the yard and barn. These children are different. Their point of intersection with life is not a touchpad or a screen. Because the adults in their lives are worried about the death of nature, they are raising their children close to it.

It quickly becomes clear that these families spend much of their days in the woods, meadows, and gardens that surround this small cluster of homes. Children cannot protect what they do not know; they will not give up their convenience, much less their way of life, for what they do not love. I realize that these children are being raised as the guardians of tomorrow.

Before we break bread, Margie (one of the adults) takes us on a tour. She points to the roof of their home. Its long axis points south. The sun riseth, and goeth down, and hastens towards its zenith in the summer. In winter, when the sun is lower in the sky, it comes in their south-facing windows and provides free heat.

The term eavesdrop comes from hiding under the eaves of the house to listen surreptitiously to conversation. This is an eavesdropping home, but the conversation to be overheard is the chatter of rain. It flows from gutter to downspout to a cistern under the back porch. It is pumped up into the kitchen sink to wash dishes and then flows to the gray-water tank. Then the rain continues its journey downhill to the garden, where it hydrates the interstitial spaces in the lettuce of our salad, which we wash in the sink before dinner.

“How do you do it? How do you keep things going?” I ask this group of young and old, married and single, Catholic and Protestant people. The Lutheran pastor among them understands: I’m not asking about technology, or the lack of it.

“We pray.”

Prayer: it is what has brought them through the beginning years of adjustment to living in community; through the illnesses, the job changes, and the roller-coaster ride of children entering their teen years.

“We share the legacy of the people raised to live alone but needing each other.”

“How?” I press.

“We’ll show you, if you’d like to join us,” they offer.

After dinner we retire to a room set aside as a chapel for vespers—one prayer book for every two people, a “novice” partnered with a community member. Hands slip back and forth between pages. Our collective voices sing songs written by French monks. We close with a period of free-form prayer, giving thanks, praying for mercy, and asking for help.

Outside, the children run about capturing grasshoppers, crickets, and other jumping things between cupped hands. Those creatures do not escape by the explosive movements of muscles coiled in their legs, but by quietly crawling through the whistle gap between the children’s thumbs.

Inside the chapel there is a moment of quiet. We sit with God and tilt the ears of our souls toward the eternal voice of reason. On the wall hang a crucifix bearing Christ’s body and a simple, unadorned cross, both symbols of suffering and triumph. For my part, I accept both. It is not by accident that Christ died on a tree, nor that he worked with wood in his father’s shop. Nor is it a coincidence that the word tree is mentioned more than five hundred times in the Bible. The human story begins with the tree of life in the garden. The last chapter of the Bible tells of two trees of life and an unpolluted river that flows between them. The leaves of these trees, we are told, will heal the nations.

Read the whole article here.

Is Cheap Gas the Death of the Green Movement?

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Former Chelsea Greener and editor of AirAmerica.com, Beau Friedlander posted an article on The Huffington Post recently that ponders whether the plummeting of oil ($37/barrel) and gas prices ($1.50/gallon) will be the death of the green movement. Are we so economically motivated that we can’t bring ourselves to conserve when not economically forced to do so?

From the article:

We’re hearing a lot about the connection between weak gas prices and weaker green technology. The connection is more concrete with each passing day, and yet the reality here is that our shared future of energy independence is being held hostage by a bunch of half-wit Wall Street suits with attention deficit disorder — the sort of dolts who are probably this very moment in a Cadillac showroom shopping for an Escalade because a gallon of gas costs about the same as a gallon of water.

Does anyone seriously think that gasoline prices are going to hold at a buck and change? Let’s face it my dear Shlubbos of the Economic Binge, as soon as we get around the sharp-edged threat of deflation (if we do) these prices are going to shoot up again. The planet is still running out of oil. Remember peak oil? What happens then?

While pundits talk about investment dollars mouse-tailing along the moulding of economic decline, there is a shortsighted feature to the conversation that makes me want to scream. Yes, there are people on the business side of life who are truly capable of being in the moment (no matter how much that moment is characterized by panic and disorder) to fill their pockets at the expense of everyone and everything else. There are bad people out there who need to be cornered by a watchdog 24/7. Bush was not much for watchdogs, and we’re paying for that now, but to look at this easy breath coming out of the dying beast of our oil economy and to say because of it that we don’t need to invest in green energy is 100% ant-and-grasshopper insanity.

Read the whole article here.

GreenProphet Review: Whole Foods Companion

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Hamutal Dotan from GreenProphet.com (Cleantech and Green Living from the Land of the Prophets) has recently reviewed Dianne Onstad’s Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers, and Lovers of Natural Foods.

Here’s a snippet:

Whole Foods Companion is a dip-your-toe-in book rather than a cover-to-cover book: it’s great for delving into when you need a quick hit of information, and like any good reference or guidebook, once you’ve got a page open you’ll inevitably be delighted by the other random bits and pieces you find on the page.

It’s set up like a dictionary or encyclopedia – an alphabetical listing of ingredients, organized into groups by type (fruits, grains, spices, etc.).

While that description may lead you to believe this volume is dry and staid, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s charmingly written and chock-full of helpful and interesting information.

Thanks! We love reading reviews. Read the full review here.

Washington Post: Inventors Find Inspiration in Natural Phenomena

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Gunter Pauli, author of Upsizing: The Road to Zero Emissions, More Jobs, More Income, and No Pollution, was profiled by The Washington Post this week. His support for biomimicry in technological innovation is beginning to make waves around the world.

From the article:

For some, whale watching is a tourist activity. For Gunter Pauli, it is a source of technological inspiration.

“I see a whale, I see a six-to-12-volt electric generator that is able to pump 1,000 liters per pulse through more than 108 miles of veins and arteries,” he said. The intricate wiring of the whale’s heart is being studied as a model for a device called a nanoscale atrioventricular bridge, which will undergo animal testing next year and could replace pacemakers for the millions of people whose diseased hearts need help to beat steadily.

Pauli — who directs the Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives (ZERI) Foundation in Geneva — is an unabashed promoter of biomimicry, the science of making technological and commercial advances by copying natural processes. At a time when many are looking for a way to protect Earth’s biodiversity and reduce the ecological impact of industrial products and processes, a growing number of business leaders and environmental activists alike are looking to biomimicry as a way to achieve both ends.

“The idea behind biomimicry is that life has already solved the challenges that we’re trying to solve,” said Janine Benyus, who leads the Biomimicry Guild, a Helena, Mont.-based consulting group. “There are literally as many ideas as there are organisms.”

Read the full article here.

Tennessee Learns the Hard Way: Coal Can Never Be Clean

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Last Tuesday, a coal-fired power plant in Kingston, Tennessee disastrously revealed to the world a secret that the recent “Clean Coal” public relations campaign was hoping we’d never find out: coal will never be clean.

Coal is toxic. Burning coal produces two main byproducts: carbon (which is released into the atmosphere) and ash (which is captured and held in a sludge pond to prevent it from becoming airborne). The argument that coal would be a “clean” source of energy if the carbon emissions were  captured and sequestered underground ignores the issues of dealing with the toxic ash and the increasingly destructive coal extraction methods.

In a devastating blow to the community of Kingston (and to the coal industry’s PR campaign) the retaining wall that held back over a billion gallons of toxic coal ash sludge collapsed on Tuesday burying 15 homes, polluting the valley’s groundwater, leeching toxins into the Emory River, and endangering the lives and health of local residents.

Many news outlets are covering the story. Here’s a snippet from the AP:

“It will look like a blizzard in the Arctic,” said Dickman, who moved to the area in 1975 and said he always suspected such a flood could happen. Tennessee Valley Authority head Tom Kilgore fielded questions from more than 200 residents at a meeting Sunday — people like Dickman, worried about everything from property values to livestock that could ingest contaminated water or grass.

Some carried anti-coal industry signs, including one that said “Clean Coal is a myth.”

Officials at the utility have said the water is safe to drink after a neighborhood flooded Dec. 22 with more than a billion gallons of water and fly ash, a byproduct of burning coal. The spill coated 300 acres after a dike burst at a retention pond used to store the ash at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant, about 35 miles west of Knoxville. Some also was dumped into the Emory River.

“This is not a time when TVA holds its head high. I’m here to say we are going to clean it up and we are going to clean it up right,” Kilgore said. He said TVA would pay for the water and air tests, but could not say how long cleanup would take.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is the country’s largest utility. They are making promises to clean up the spill, compensate victims for their losses, and operate more responsibly in the future. Unfortunately, we’ve heard this drumbeat before after the Exxon Valdez disaster. It is impossible to calculate the “cost” of the damage done: to the environment, to the community, and to the lasting health of the local residents. If the toxins flow into the Emory River, Tennessee River, and eventually the Mississippi River (as this article from the Public News Service suggests it is already doing), then the damage could spread to affect millions of people and millions of acres.

From the Public News Service article:

Matt Landon is with United Mountain Defense, one of several groups going door-to-door to check on people immediately affected and warn them about the ash. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it contains mercury, arsenic, lead and toxins that can cause cancer. He says millions of people living downstream eventually could be affected.

“There have been reports of the ash piling up on top of the water that’s going down in the Tennessee River –- it’s going all the way to the Mississippi River.”

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) owns the coal plant where the ash was stored. TVA officials have issued an apology for the spill, along with promises to make everything right for those who lost their homes. Rock fill has been placed in river tributaries to try to stop the movement of the sludge.

Landon says this spill unveils one of the “dirty little secrets” about coal — one that he says proves coal can never be a “clean” energy source.

“Everybody thinks that if you just cap the emissions, you can burn coal cleanly. But you’re still going to have the leftover burnt stuff, no matter how the smokestack pollution is controlled.”

The only responsible course of action now is for Tennessee to plot its transition off coal-powered energy entirely. This moment of crisis should be used to solidify public support for alternative, sustainable, clean energy systems. History has proven that we cannot trust the Exxons and TVAs of the world to begin the transition on their own.

LISTEN NOW: Public News Service Coverage
LISTEN NOW: Democracy Now! Coverage

Kuttner in the Globe: Don’t Let the Naysayers Block Stimulus Plan

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Robert Kuttner, author of the New York Times Bestseller Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency, recently publishing an op-ed in The Boston Globe explaining the hurdles that Obama faces in passing a new economic stimulus package and all the good it could do if he’s successful.

From the article:

“It’s . . . hard to spend $700 billion quickly,” says New York Times columnist David Brooks. “If you’ve got a tiddlywinks hall of fame, they’re going to fund that thing.”

Excuse me, but state and local governments and school districts are likely to suffer a revenue shortfall approaching $200 billion by next year. All the federal government has to do is write a check to cover that amount, and not a single policeman, firefighter, teacher, or first-responder need be laid off; not a single human service office closed; and not a single public project deferred.

These are not new projects that take time to conceive and plan. This is about preventing layoffs and shutdowns of existing public services. And while Washington is at it, the feds could help nonprofit social service agencies that are reeling from cuts in charitable giving and foundation endowment losses.

Read the whole op-ed here.


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