Highlights from How to Thrive in the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow’s World Today by John Thackara

How to Thrive in the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow’s World Today by John Thackara

Communities the world over are growing a replacement economy from the ground up.93

For most of the people I write about in this book, the changes they are making are driven by necessity; they are not a lifestyle choice. Few of them are fighting directly for political power, or standing for election. They cluster, instead, under the umbrella of a social and solidarity economy. Different groups and movements have names like Transition Towns, Shareable, Peer to Peer, Degrowth, or Buen Vivir. Their number includes FabLabs, hacker spaces, and the maker movement. Some have taken over neglected buildings – from castles and car parks, to ports, piers, hospitals, and former military sites. There are campaigning organizations, too – for slow food, the rights of nature, and seed saving – not to mention bioregionalism, and commoning. And our number is growing. Up to 12 per cent of economically active citizens in Sweden, Belgium, France, Holland, and Italy work in some kind of social enterprise – and that’s in addition to the vast amounts of unpaid work already being done in the household and caring economy. Although these projects are wondrously diverse they are all, for the Spanish writer Amador Fernández-Savater, ‘message-bearers of a new story of the world’.3 A green thread runs through this story: a growing recognition that our lives are codependent with the plants, animals, air, water, and soils that surround us. The philosopher Joanna Macy describes the appearance of this new story as the ‘Great Turning’ – a profound shift in our perception of who we are, and a reawakening to the fact that we are not separate from the Earth as a complex of living systems.4 From sub-microscopic viruses, to the vast subsoil networks that support trees, this new story goes, the entire Earth is animated by complex interactions between its life forms, rocks, atmosphere, and water. Explained in this way – by science, as much as by philosophy – the Earth no longer looks like a repository of inert resources. On the contrary: healthy soils, living systems, and the ways we can help them regenerate supply the ‘why’ of economic activity that’s missing from the mainstream story. The one kind of growth that makes sense, in this new story, is the regeneration of life on Earth. The notion of a living economy can sound poetic, but vague.99

The account given by Macy – of a quietly unfolding transformation – is consistent with the way scientists, too, explain how complex systems change. By their account, a variety of changes, interventions, and disruptions accumulate across time until the system reaches a tipping point: then, at a moment that cannot be predicted, a small release of energy triggers a much larger release, or phase shift, and the system as a whole transforms. Sustainability, in other words, is not something to be engineered, or demanded from politicians; it’s a condition that emerges through incremental as well as abrupt change at many different scales. ‘All the great transformations have been unthinkable until they actually came to pass,’ confirms the French philosopher Edgar Morin. ‘The fact that a belief system is deeply rooted does not mean it cannot change.’5118

a New Yorker or Londoner today ‘needs’ about sixty times more energy and resources per person than a hunter-gatherer. To put it another way: American citizens today use more energy and physical resources in a month than our great-grandparents used during their whole lifetime.133

we’ve burned our way through the easy-to-access fuels and extracting energy gets harder and more expensive every year. To make matters worse, the man-made world has become so much more complicated – think of all those computer networks, aviation systems, and fancy hospitals – that it now takes far more energy just to keep ‘the system’ going than would have been needed, just a generation ago, to deliver a simple but effective product or service to you and me.150

Most of the energy solutions being trumpeted today, Hall continued – from tar sands in Alberta to solar arrays in Spain – fall well below the 15:1 threshold below which the investment never pays for itself.161

it takes astronomical amounts of fossil-fuel energy, and money, to deploy ‘green’ energy systems – 200 km (125 miles) of copper in one wind turbine, to give just one example. There would be far fewer wind turbines, for example, if they had to be manufactured, installed, and maintained using wind energy. Retrofitting energy systems on a large enough scale to run today’s industrial society would require vast investment of materials, money, and organizational effort that, in today’s deflationary global crisis, will not be available. Gail Tverberg, an actuary and blogger, puts it bluntly: ‘Quite apart from the math, or the thermodynamics, or the simple logic, a lack of cash flow for investment in infrastructure will eventually bring the system down.’8171

Although bankers describe their core business as ‘lending’ money, it should really be described as creating money. When you or I borrow money from a bank, and the bank tells you it is ‘transferring’ funds into your account, that money is not taken out of a vault, nor even sent down a wire from somewhere else. It is newly created, there and then. Only a small fraction of the money they create is backed up by assets – such as the deeds to a house, or a bar of gold – lodged safely in their vaults. For the most part, they just make the loan at will. And it gets curiouser. Even though you and I now have new money to spend, these loans are recorded on the banks’ balance sheets as assets. The rationale seems to be that the interest on the loan that you and I will pay to the bank represents a steady flow of profit to them. And because many bankers are paid by commissions on new loans issued, there’s a built-in incentive to lend as much as possible. When an economy is growing, this peculiar dynamic does not much matter: as people buy more goods, often using credit from the bank, and as businesses take out loans to increase their production of goods, then interest on existing loans is repaid. But when economic growth stalls – for example, because there is less cheap energy to power growth – new money stops entering the system and a destructive feedback loop kicks in. Interest on existing loans is not paid; defaults multiply; jobs are lost; people spend less money; businesses take out fewer loans; less new money enters the economy – and the crisis of debt intensifies.191

As professors Murphy and Hall explained above, money gets work done in the real world. When a system must grow in order to survive, but the work it enables is destructive, the consequences are catastrophic.213

The committed and gifted people I met in Sweden — along with sustainability teams in hundreds of the world’s major companies – are confronted by an awful dilemma: however hard they work, however many leaks they plug in production cycles, the net negative impact of their firm’s activities on the world’s living systems will be greater in the years ahead than it is today. And all because of compound growth. It doesn’t matter how many brands proclaim that their products are verified, accredited, or certified as being sustainable; so long as growth remains a company’s prime directive, any promise to leave the world ‘as unspoilt as possible’ will remain an empty one. If a lack of data were the main problem, help would be at hand. Following a large international effort, a set of accounting tools known as The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) puts a price on the services provided to industry by nature; and many governments and companies have signed up to its framework.11 Unfortunately, TEEB has only made things worse. The theory was that knowing the value of ecosystems would cause companies to look after them better – but TEEB’s numbers, acting like blood in the water, have also attracted the attention of predatory investors. Living systems – watersheds, minerals, food, and land – are now being converted into ‘financialized’ assets which, having been rendered abstract, have become new tokens for speculation.12 By design, these financial products contain powerful incentives for their owners to ‘sweat’ the underlying assets at an accelerating rate. This commodification of nature has spawned a related but no less baleful phenomenon called ‘biodiversity offsetting’. This is the idea that the destruction of an ecosystem by mining, greenfield development, or a large infrastructure project can be ‘offset’ by the creation of a new patch of nature somewhere else.13 This scheme is great for the companies digging the mines or pouring the concrete; it also creates new work for an army of intermediaries; but the result on the ground is an acceleration of environmental destruction. Nature is unique and complex. Some ecosystems take hundreds of years to reach their current state. The promise that the habitat can be recreated at will is another false one.14227

WEF is not alone in its sombre outlook. What its Global Risks does for the economy, Global Trends 2030 does for geopolitics and security.16 The latter report, published by the US National Intelligence Council, warns that ‘we are at a critical juncture in human history…natural disasters might cause governments to collapse’. Climate scientists and ecologists reinforce these warnings. The Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC), for example, has delineated nine ‘planetary boundaries’ – the limits, for essential planetary living systems, beyond which we must not go.17 The SRC’s map is alarming enough – we are already beyond the red line on three of its nine systems – but it only plots the known risks.252

a transformational change, in one or more natural or man-made systems, that could be sudden, non-linear, and catastrophic. As complex systems researcher Noah Raford explains it, too much interconnectivity makes systems vulnerable to ‘phase transition’ – a word that sounds more benign than it probably is. When a system reaches a critical state, Raford explains, ‘even a tiny change can lead to massive fluctuation and collapse’.18 We know these events can happen, but we don’t know when; they cannot be predicted.259

The trouble is that a lot of people perceive resilience – dynamic or otherwise – to be a new variety of risk management that affords them the opportunity to carry on with business as usual. ‘We can’t avoid shocks in an increasingly complex world,’ said one commentator, ‘we can only build better shock absorbers.’ This metaphor would just about work if the world around us were indeed a tarmac road disfigured by potholes – but it’s not. Those ‘bumps’ we’re driving over are better understood as the bodies, metaphorical or otherwise, of living systems.274

his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Thomas Kuhn introduced the term ‘paradigm shift’ to describe the ways that scientific worldviews periodically undergo radical change in what appears at the time to be a sudden leap.25 These ‘sudden’ paradigm shifts in worldview follow years, sometimes decades, in which scientists have encountered anomalies that don’t fit in with the dominant paradigm.285

the chapters that follow I propose that a new story is indeed emerging. This new story describes an economy based on social energy, using 5 per cent of today’s resources, that is not only feasible but will leave the world a better place. This story is not about an imagined future utopia; it’s based on actions being taken today that are enabling this new narrative to emerge. According to the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WGBU), the heavyweight scientific body that advises the German Federal Government on ‘Earth System Megatrends’, a ‘global transformation of values’ along these lines has already begun.26 This post-materialist thinking is not limited to rich-world greens. In South Korea, Mexico, Brazil, India, and China, the WGBU found, a significant majority ‘supports ambitious climate protection measures’ and would ‘welcome a new economic system’ to achieve that.27 Although the values described by the WGBU are ‘latent’ – and numerous laws, and institutional inertia, remain an obstacle – its conclusion is that political and social change on the ground is real, and growing.291

If, in an age of networks, even the smallest actions can contribute to transformation of the system as a whole, then our passionate but puny efforts so far may not have been in vain. It’s like the picture in a jigsaw puzzle that slowly emerges as we add each piece.304

chemical communication between plants stimulates their defence against parasites; plants that are not under attack themselves have shown an increased resistance to insects attacking other plants a good distance away. The mycologist Paul Stamets, who describes these networks as ‘nature’s internet’, speculates that fungi may participate in some form of planetary interspecies communication in which we, too, may one day learn to take part.3 Left to itself, this immense but invisible network is not only self-sustaining, it also determines the metabolic health of all terrestrial ecosystems, including our own. Ninety-nine per cent of all food comes from our soils.322

The truer story is that industrial agriculture is an extractive industry: it mines the soils for nutrients that are not replaced. We’ve ruined an area the size of India since the Second World War7 and, right now, we’re losing 3.4 tons of healthy soil a year for every person on the planet.8 When the first Norwegians came to Goodhue County, Minnesota, the black topsoil was 2 m (7 ft) deep in some places; now, it is only 30–90 cm (1–3 ft) deep.9 In the UK, scientists have warned that Britain has only 100 harvests left in its farm soil as a result of intense over-farming.10343

HEALING THE SOIL What will it take to heal the soil? On its own, soil formation is an extremely slow process – sometimes taking thousands of years – but a growing band of visionaries have discovered that the process can be speeded up dramatically if the right approach is followed. One such pioneer, the Australian soil scientist Dr Christine Jones, has demonstrated that new topsoil will form rapidly, and naturally, with the right combination of biomass and turnover of plant roots. In what she calls her ‘Rules of the Kitchen’, Jones lists six essential ingredients for soil formation: minerals; air; water; living things in the soil – such as plants and animals, and their by-products; living things on the soil, ditto; and what she describes as ‘intermittent and patchy disturbance regimes’.350

‘In order for new soil to form, it must be living,’ Jones explains; ‘life in the soil provides the structure for more life, and the formation of more soil. That’s why healthy groundcover, high root biomass, and high levels of associated microbial activity, are fundamental to building new topsoil.’ Farmers using cover crops as green manure can produce 1 cm (½ in.) of topsoil in three to four years. Even better: when the value of the crops used in this approach is factored in, the net cost of restoring soil is negative.11 These principles have been shown to work on a large scale in a project in Zimbabwe called Operation Hope.12 More than 2,600 hectares (6,500 acres) of parched and degraded grasslands have been transformed into lush pastures replete with ponds and flowing streams – even during periods of drought. Surprisingly, this was accomplished through a dramatic increase in the number of herd animals on the land. Behind Operation Hope is an approach called holistic management, applied to rangeland practice, that has been developed over fifty years by Allan Savory, a former wildlife biologist, farmer, and politician. Savory’s method is based on a singular insight: grasses can’t graze themselves. Before man came along, herbivores co-evolved with perennial grasses. When a large herd moved around freely – accompanied, that is, only by pack-hunting predators – they dunged and urinated with very high concentration on the grass. No animals like to feed on their own faeces, so they had to move off of their own faeces within one to three days and they could not return until the dung had weathered and was clean again. Moving across the land in large herds, the herbivores trample and compact soils while also fertilizing the soil with concentrated levels of nutrient-rich animal wastes. This approach aligns itself with nature in a comprehensive way; it increases plant growth and also re-establishes livelihoods through additional livestock, while increasing wildlife populations through holistic management. Grasses depend on herbivores to help them with their decay process. When large herbivores such as kudu and Cape buffalo disappear, grasses begin to decay far more slowly through oxidation. When millions of tons of vegetation are left standing, dying upright, light cannot reach growth buds; the next year, the entire plant dies. The death of grass leads to bare ground, and the desert spreads. Savory was not alone in understanding the importance of compacting on the health of vegetation. In the early 1970s, agricultural institutes in Texas and Arizona designed machines to simulate the physical effects of once prevalent vast herbivore herds such as the millions of bison that roamed North America. Machines with names like the Dixon Imprinter were used on thousands of acres of the western US to break soil crusts and cause indentations and irregularities, while laying down plant material as soil-covering litter vital to soil health. Imprinting, as the technique is called, is still practised; agriculture labs in various countries have developed rollers that imitate the hoofprints of passing buffalo and trample green manures and old stalks into the ground.13 Trouble is, these approaches do not heal the soil. Their machines are too heavy. Although a big buffalo weighed about a metric ton (2,200 lbs), the monster tractors used in mega-agriculture can weigh 45 metric tons (over 100,000 lbs). Machines this large do terrible damage to the soil underground in a single pass. For Allan Savory, the hooves, mouths, and digestive systems of real animals do this same task more effectively. The process consumes no fossil fuels, and can be repeated continuously at no cost. Large herbivores break soil crusts, but without damaging the subsoil, and the broken crust allows soil to absorb water and to breathe; this enables more plants to germinate and establish. The effect is more pronounced when animals are concentrated in large herds – which is how they behave when under threat from pack-hunting predators. Operation Hope therefore…356

Savory’s use of increased livestock to reverse desertification is a profound challenge to mainstream approaches to land use and agricultural development. For although the Green Revolution increased global food production tremendously, its reliance on fertilizers, intense watering, and heavy machinery degraded its ecological base, and its associated social systems, in the process. In the pursuit of efficiency and increased output, so-called production agriculture relied on massive inputs of petrochemicals and herbicides, focused on just one crop at a time, and confined large numbers of animal into grim ‘feedlots’. The good news, according to Savory, is that this damage can all be reversed by what he calls a ‘Brown Revolution’ based on the regeneration of covered, organically rich, biologically thriving soil, and brought to fruition via millions of human beings returning to the land and the production of food. ‘Viewed holistically biodiversity loss, desertification, and climate change, are not three issues, they are one,’ Savory says. ‘Without reversing desertification, climate change cannot adequately be addressed.’ The more humid and biologically productive regions of the world need to develop agricultural models based on small, biodiverse farms that imitate the natural, multi-tiered vegetation structures of those environments. This is where most of tomorrow’s grain, fruits, nuts, and vegetables will be produced, as well as most of the dairy products, and some of the meat. Savory’s approach has big social benefits, too. Globally, small-scale livestock production employs 1.3 billion people and sustains livelihoods for about 900 million of the world’s poorest people – many of them women. They will have a vital role to play in the restoration of degraded soils.403

At Windhorse Farm in Nova Scotia, James W. Drescher is the latest custodian of an experiment called ‘enrichment forestry’ that has been in progress for four generations – just a blink of the eye in the life of a forest. ‘Windhorse is on the leading edge of something very old,’ says Drescher; ‘wealth, from the forest’s point of view, is biological material.’ Because a healthy forest is rich in biodiversity and heavy with stored carbon, the key to its long-term health is the retention of wealth after it has been created. Conserving that wealth, Drescher has learned, is dependent on the very slow decomposition of huge volumes of dead wood. Dead wood is the life of the forest, Drescher explains; almost half the animals in an old-growth forest live in or on or from it. Foresters who act as land stewards, rather than like factory managers, are therefore selective in deciding which trees to harvest and remove. Most dead trees, or trees that have fallen naturally, are left where they are. By harvesting only the slowest-growing trees in a stand, the forest’s overall vitality is increased. In a similar spirit, the tallest trees are never cut; this increases canopy height. Species of tree that are under-represented in a particular stand are left alone to conserve species diversity. Pathways in the forest are lined with sawdust and bark, not with concrete; animals and plants travel and disperse along these corridors of connectivity. Remarkably, this ‘forest health first’ approach is economically viable – more so, in fact, than the clear-cutting approach of mainstream commercial forestry. If a 40-hectare (100-acre) lot in the Acadian Forest had been clear-cut in 1840, and again in 1890, 1940, and 1990, Drescher explains, the total harvest would have been much lower than the wood harvested by the annual selection methods; and, of course, there would be no standing merchantable timber at all today. In today’s culture of short-term profits, the wisdom and skills needed to maximize the yield from a forest over a period of a century or more are rare. But looking forwards, the Windhorse Farm experiment is proof that it’s possible to make a living in ways that respect, and not harm, other life forms that are also trying to make a living there. The forest itself – not the timber that’s sold – is the primary product. In that sense Windhorse forestry is a set of principles rather than a model to be replicated at will. It’s a practice that demands diligent study, keen observation, insightful analysis, and resourceful generosity. Drescher describes as ‘deep stillness’ the everyday practice in which foresters, woodlot owners, and other workers simply hang out in the forest a lot more: studying, observing, reflecting, working, and, as Drescher puts it, ‘investing lots of time doing as close to nothing as possible’.14 If holistic rangeland management and do-little forestry sound fringe – well, they are, for now. But in a growing number of real-world contexts, the respectful interdependence of people and living systems is coming back to life.426

At the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, Per Olsson and his colleagues are amassing a growing number of stories in which groups of interested parties inhabit their land in healthy ways.15 Olsson describes these examples as ‘social-ecological systems’ in which often diverse communities are finding ways to share rights, responsibilities, and power in ways that put the interests of the land and its soils first.450

What’s emerging now is an approach to the governance of cities and their region, based on place, that enables the regeneration of soils, watersheds, and biodiversity. A bioregion is literally and etymologically a ‘life-place’, in Robert Thayer’s words, that is definable by natural rather than political or economic boundaries. Its geographic, climatic, hydrological, and ecological qualities – its metabolism – are complex, and unique.16 A bioregional approach reimagines the man-made world as being one element among a complex of interacting, codependent ecologies: energy, water, food, production, information. It attends to flows, biocorridors, and interactions. It thinks about metabolic cycles and the ‘capillarity’ of the metropolis wherein rivers and biocorridors are given pride of place.17 A growing worldwide movement is looking at cities through this fresh lens – but the lens is not a rose-tinted one. Modern bioregionalism does not seek a return to pristine nature or an unspoiled ‘before’ – as if ecological change could be reversed. The sense, instead, is our wellbeing is intimately connected to the vitality of living systems; we should make them – and the interactions between them – the focus of our efforts. Bioregions are not a form of wildlife park; they embrace the urban landscape itself as an ecology with the potential to support us.461

in Turkey, hundreds of teachers across the country are being certified as ecoliteracy instructors in a programme that spans subjects from soil erosion to ethical forestry. Their classroom is an arboretum.20482

In Scotland, where a Centre for Stewardship has been established on the Falkland Estate, Ninian Stewart is convinced that the time is ripe for a new model of stewardship that, in his words, ‘draws from the past and seizes our day to leave a sustainable legacy for the future’. Stewart’s approach widens what he calls the ‘circle of consideration’ further into the future and away from self-interest than is typical in today’s stewardship regimes. We need, he says, to ‘restrain our present-day kings from headlong exploitation, depletion and destruction of our social and biological capital’.23 ‘The world is calling out for more responsible long-term thinking,’ Stewart told me when we corresponded; ‘in an age when speed, profit-taking and consumption are undermining the sustainability of the world as we know it, we would be wise to adopt more of the mindfulness, longterm ethical investment and care for the wider community that are the hallmarks of stewardship.’497

By putting the health of the land, and the people who live on it, at the centre of the story, a bioregion frames the next economy, not the dying one we have now.506

Because its core value is stewardship, not perpetual growth, a bioregion turns the global system on its head. Rather than drive the land endlessly to yield more food or fibre per acre, production is determined by the health and carrying capacity of the land through time – a factor which is constantly monitored. Decisions are made by the people who work the land, and know it best. Prices are based on yields the land can bear, and on revenues that assure security to the farmer. ‘Growth’ is measured in terms of land, soil, and water getting healthier, and communities more resilient.507

A bioregion cannot be divided neatly into the planning categories of a city: Centre, Periphery, Rural; Work, Rest, Play. Bioregions are a mosaic of both natural and human-modified ecosystems that change constantly as ecological, historical, economic, and cultural processes interact.24 Their size can vary enormously, too – from hundreds to tens of thousands of square kilometres. No rule books exist for the governance of a bioregion: each community has to write its own.25 The tools for bioregional governance are in development. Colleges across the north-western United States have developed a Curriculum for the Bioregion that transforms the ways in which tomorrow’s professionals will approach place-based development. The curriculum, which is taught by experts from across the Puget Sound and Cascadia bioregions, is divided into such topics as Ecosystem Health; Water and Watersheds; Sense of Place; Biodiversity; Food Systems and Agriculture; Ethics and Values; Cultures and Religions; Cycles and Systems; and Civic Engagement.26 A treasure trove of completed projects is further evidence that these are not just academic subjects. Multidisciplinary teams have evaluated water-quality data as indicators of the health of an ecosystem; mapped stream channels in a local watershed; learned about the geology, hydrology, soils, and slope stability of a local town; analysed the environmental costs of metal mining; studied how indigenous peoples used to inhabit their region – and discussed how best to integrate this wisdom into new models of development. The thinking behind bioregions, if not yet the name, is now shaping top-down policy, too. More than fifty governments and major institutions – from the African Wildlife Foundation, to the World Bank – have committed to pursue a so-called ‘whole landscape approach’ in their approaches to sustainable development.27516

Systems thinking, I concluded, becomes truly transformational when combined with systems feeling – which is something we all crave. ‘We yearn for connection with one another, and with the soul,’ writes Alastair McIntosh, ‘but we forget that, like the earthworm, we too are an organism of the soil. We too need grounding.’28545

we’ve built dams – 48,000 large ones, and counting1 – that displace whole populations and disrupt the hydrogeological balance of watersheds, estuaries, and lagoons. Our extractive use of water on an industrial scale has accelerated climate change, too. When water is moved from where nature put it, in watersheds and aquifers, rivers no longer reach the ocean, aquifers run dry, and deserts expand. And when vegetation is removed from the land, so, too, is the green biomass that once absorbed the rain; cloud vapours blow away and deserts replace living ecosystems.555

Imagine emptying 500 1-litre (34-fl oz) bottles of water into a huge pot and carrying it 50 miles (80 km) – every day of the year. Does moving all that water around sound hard? It is hard – but that’s how much water is moved every day for a US citizen, and how far, once her share of the agriculture, manufacturing, car washes, window cleaning, laundries, ornamental ponds, health clubs, swimming pools, and golf courses are added together. A vacationer at a tropical resort uses as much water in one day as local people do in 100. It takes 2,700 litres (700 US gallons) of water to grow the cotton used in my T-shirt; 10 litres (2½ gallons) to manufacture one sheet of office paper;2 1,500 litres (400 gallons) to grow enough biofuels to move one car 10 km (6 miles); 140 litres (37 gallons) to grow enough beans for a cup of coffee; 1,455 litres (384 gallons) to make a pizza margherita;3 and 4 litres (1 gallon) to produce one single almond in California’s Central Valley – and, as I’ll explain in Chapter 5, 85 per cent of those almonds are exported to China and India.563

The Romans were the first to design rapid-transit water conveyance systems, integrated into the built environment, that kept land relatively dry, provided a supply of drinkable water, and carried away human waste for disposal. Over centuries, these hard solutions – sewers, drains, treatment plants, and the like – have steadily disappeared from sight under growing areas of what ecologists today call Impervious Surface Area (ISA) – all those roads, car parks, airports, buildings, driveways, and sidewalks. China has more ISA in total than any other country, but US citizens have the highest amount per person: 297 square m (3,200 square ft).582

This total matters less than its location: most ISA occurs in primary drainage basins where its greatest man-made impact on watersheds has occurred.587

In India, they say that rivers are the birthplace of civilization – and civilization the graveyard for rivers.588

after a thousand years of civil and water engineering efforts to obliterate them, we are now discovering that ponds and vegetation, natural stream courses, buffers, and floodplains are as a sign of urban health.594

One pioneering non-profit, the Watershed Management Group (WMG), started as a tiny seedling of an idea in the minds of five students graduating from the University of Arizona’s Watershed Management programme.8 They noticed that much of the focus of environmental programmes was directed at rural areas, protected parks, and wilderness areas – but not at the city streets where they all lived. The urban landscape became their focus. Through its co-op programme, WMG helps homeowners harvest rainwater on their own properties at minimal cost. The way it works is that a homeowner joins the co-op, volunteers time on other water-harvesting projects, and accrues a set number of hours. When enough hours have accumulated, the volunteer gets to host a workshop at his or her own house and reap the benefits of the team’s labour. Between six and fifteen people are involved in a typical workshop, including at least one expert staff member. WMG now has twelve demonstration sites across Arizona where citizens can see water-harvesting practices in real-life contexts. The group has also developed its own training scheme: its Water Harvesting Design Certificate covers green infrastructure, advanced cistern applications, advanced greywater applications, and small-scale erosion control and riverbank restoration. With its emphasis on integrated and sustainable design, a growing number of architects, landscapers, planners, entrepreneurs, and community organizers have acquired this know-how to retrofit residential and commercial sites.609

They use the visible result of their initial action to start conversations – ‘Look how clean our street could be!’ – and ask people who are part of the problem (which is pretty much everyone) to imagine themselves as co-owners of a clean street, not a filthy one. Ugly Indians don’t blame their fellow citizens, or politicians, or ‘the system’. They act first, and then they talk. They make it ‘our’ problem, not ‘your’ problem. This combination of social skills with systems thinking is remarkable. The Ugly Indian movement has spread to a dozen Indian cities, and a similar project has started in Karachi.629

In China, for example, plants are being used to clean up watersheds polluted by China’s heavy industry. Professor Peter Saunders describes clusters of such plants as a waterway’s ‘green liver’.16 Many of the pesticides, solvents, dyes, and other by-products emitted by agriculture and industry are eventually transported to natural vegetation and cultivated crops; if people eat the plants, these toxins can accumulate in their organs with dire effects on health. But plants can also metabolize harmful substances, in a process called rhizofiltration, and in China alone more than 400 species have been identified as having potential for soil and water remediation.663

In Kunming, in south-west China, water hyacinths are the favoured plant for this task. In their voracious quest for nutrients, water hyacinths absorb a good amount of the nitrogen and phosphorus found in domestic sewage; these wastes accumulate in the plant’s roots, which then become valuable compost or organic fertilizer. Because water hyacinths thrive on sewage, they have exciting promise as a natural water-purification system at a fraction of the cost of a conventional sewage treatment facility. In Uzbekistan, the favoured plant for water treatment is liquorice.17 In the country’s north-west, hundreds of farming communities were forced in recent times to abandon 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of land degraded by over-irrigation in the Aral Sea Basin. (As you will read in Chapter 6, this ecocidal practice was carried out to produce the cotton in my two-wash-two-wear T-shirt.) The same farmers have now started to cultivate wild liquorice on salt-ridden soils near drainage canals. The tops of the shrubs, established either from roots or seed, are cut for livestock fodder; by the third year, some farmers dig up the roots to export for profit to Japan, South Korea, and the Ukraine. Extract from liquorice roots is used in medicines, candy, food, alcohol, and even cosmetics. As explained by soil scientist Andrew Noble, the key is the deep-rooted nature of liquorice; its ability to lower the water table prevents salt from rising to the surface of the soil. In effect, salt collected in the soil is gradually flushed out, enabling the land to be irrigated again for new crops.669

remarkable programme called Articulação no Semiárido Brasileiro (ASA), 22 million people – in a region as big as Texas and California combined – are being helped to harvest the 750 mm (29½ in.) of rain that fall on this vast semi-arid region each year.19 The idea is to store water for the nearly eight months of the dry season, make optimum use of the limited supply available, and prevent evaporation. Hundreds of community and religious institutions, cooperatives, churches, NGOs, and rural worker federations have helped local residents build 350,000 household water tanks and 9,000 irrigation tanks since 1999; the target is one million cisterns by 2020.20 ASA is another example of a social and ecological approach in which artefacts are constructed by a process designed to help communities adapt to challenging climate conditions, while respecting the bioregion’s ecosystems and traditional cultures. The way the project is governed is as important as the design of the cisterns: groups of installation projects are implemented by ‘micro-regional management units’, which bring together several municipalities selected by public process.692

21 In Hawaii, where populations of rare tropical fish were threatened by overfishing by the aquarium industry, a ‘lost fish coalition’ was able to designate over 30 per cent of coastal waters as off limits to aquarium collection. The success of this against-the-odds agreement was attributed by Silverman to the traditional ahupua’a system of land division and community responsibility – an ancient custom that has proved far more appropriate for modern times than anyone would have imagined in advance. It seems to work because resources are divided into smaller areas among local people who know the region and have a stake in working together. This kind of integrated approach, which improves the governance of land, water, forests, and grasslands, is called ‘Multi-Actor Ecosystem Participation’.22 HANDS-ON WATER STEWARDSHIP In drought-affected parts of Andra Pradesh, in India, a proliferation of illegal boreholes threatened the long-term viability of aquifers across the whole region. When regulations imposed from afar proved ineffective, smallholder farmers in more than 600 villages learned how to manage local watersheds as a common resource. Some 20,000 farmers now double as barefoot water technicians in a social practice described by resilience researchers as Participatory Groundwater Management (PGM).23 The PGM approach is based on small ‘hydrological units’ – a unit being a cluster of micro-watersheds. Hydrological data is collected for each hydrological unit – daily rainfall, water levels, borewell discharge, and daily stream flows. Being on the spot, smallholders are well placed to use this data to improve their understanding of how well groundwater resources are recharging at a local scale. In addition to on-the-spot measurements, farmers have also started to use GPS to collect data remotely from wells, rain gauge stations, and artificial groundwater recharge structures. The information is shared communally; rain gauge stations display the amount of rainfall received on a day-to-day basis. These display boards act as village discussion points on issues such as drought, floods, water levels, and agriculture practices. Trusted and independent information is a key to the success of PGM. Before the new system was introduced, farmers had to rely on data provided by so-called ‘input dealers’ – fertilizer, seed, and pesticide companies; these sources tended to downplay the huge wealth of grounded knowledge. Community-based institutions occupy a central position in this smallholder-centred approach. In Farmer Water Schools, for example, farmers and scientists explore different management options on an equal basis. Data analysis is continuous, multi-dimensional, and multi-scalar. For each hydrological unit a so-called ‘base document’ serves as a reference point for farmers and support agencies as they plan future activities. Water resources are described at an ecosystem level: climate, rainfall, drainage, groundwater, land use, and so on. The document also records soil conservation activities, the range of crops being used, which livestock are being reared, their yields and net returns, and so on.703

graduate landscape and architecture students from TU Graz and the University of Wuppertal, led by Professor Klaus K. Loenhart. Their contribution to Aquilon has been to develop a series of social-ecological scenarios for the watershed as a whole. These include novel forms of agriculture, sustainable forestry, land-based municipal sewage treatment, rainwater harvesting — even the settlement of beavers as ecologically valuable animals.733

The TU Graz project has two phases. The first is an investigation and mapping of the region’s biodiversity, cultural practices, and patterns of local production; this creates an initial schematic of the various economic flows and ecosystems. The second phase involves looking for ways in which these different resources could be developed, and complement each other, in a future metropolitan regional system. The guiding principle here is that natural processes and human activity, connected by enabling technologies, will interact in ways that regenerate and reconnect, rather than extract and degrade.736

These projects do not portend a U-turn back to premodern ways; new technologies and materials are an important part of the picture. But the main difference between this new course and the hard approach to infrastructure it replaces is that the health of living systems is the main inspiration behind the actions these people are taking.749

By 2020, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, two-thirds of all the workers of the world will be employed in the informal economy. In his book Stealth of Nations, the American writer Robert Neuwirth describes in vivid detail how this shadow economy is reshaping our cities as the formal economy stagnates.8 The shadow system is most dramatically visible in places most of us never see: in the vast open markets underneath the Superhighway between Shenzhen and Guangzhou; in the tri-border area of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina; among the derelict remains of a once popular resort on the fringes of Buenos Aires; in a former container depot outside Odessa; on no-man’s-land along the former Iron Curtain. In each of these areas informal markets occupy a shifting mosaic of small locations. For Helge Mooshammer, who is also researching the phenomenon, these informal zones mark a radical shift in urban organization – ‘from geographically fixed territories to a networked ecology of filters and channels’.9872

the industrial system that keeps cities fed consumes ten times more energy running itself than it delivers as nutrition that you and I can eat. These food systems are only viable when fossil fuels are abundant. In a visceral response to this fragility, informal food and water systems are sprouting up everywhere, too.883

few cities have already adapted their approach to planning to accommodate these developments. In the US, the city of Portland commissioned a report called The Diggable City to determine which of its properties might be suitable as community gardens or other kinds of agricultural uses.10 Having identified 289 locations, the report yielded an action plan for the modification of land tenure, access to water, level grade, site security, and other considerations. Chicago set up a project called NeighborSpace to serve as a land management intermediary between the city and community groups seeking to develop projects on vacant public land.11 Social practices are a key part of this urban transformation. Urban farming is as much about the design of ways to share and collaborate, as it is about what to put in the beds. New services, policies, and infrastructures are needed to support food co-ops, collective kitchens and dining rooms, community gardens, cooperative distribution platforms, seed banks, hothouses, nurseries, and other enhancements of community food systems.890

Because the cost of rebuilding an asphalt road has more than doubled over the past ten years (largely because asphalt cement is a petroleum-based material) some US counties are opting to pay about $2,600 per 1.6 km (1 mile) annually to maintain depaved roads as against about $75,000 per 1.6 km (1 mile) to reconstruct them using asphalt.16922

Fits van Dongen, state architect of The Netherlands, the answer is: none. Van Dongen stunned his colleagues and the construction world in 2013 when he called for an end to all new building. ‘We have half a million square metres of office and industrial space, and 30,000 homes standing empty,’ explained van Dongen, before proposing that soft green infrastructures, such as spaces for urban agriculture, were a better priority.19 The940

A Deconstruction Curriculum in the US trains people to be ‘green workforce ready’. Eight-week decon courses may be taken in Fort Dodge, Sioux City, Spirit Lake, and Cedar Rapids.24 In Savannah, Georgia, building materials reclaimed from a public housing demolition project are being diverted to a Girl Scouts eco-camp, public school playgrounds, and community gardens.25 In the UK, more than 60,000 people have joined a decon resource hub called Bricks and Bread that opened in 2009. Its founder, Trudy Thompson, went on to create a social franchise model to replicate its systems and know-how; more than 300 franchisees are now using her innovative methods.26 For its part, the UK’s Asset Transfer Unit helps communities take over underused land or buildings – and do so legitimately.27967

The lesson of the decon boom is that rewilding cities is not much about the creation of wide open spaces; it’s more about patchworks, mosaics, and archipelagos. When parks were built in past centuries they were called the ‘green lungs’ of towns. Decades of oil-fuelled overdevelopment has put an end to those expansive days – but a new generation of ‘greening designers’ have abundant man-made assets to work with. There are parks, cemeteries, watercourses, avenues, gardens, and yards to adapt. There are roadside verges, green roofs, and facades to plant. Sports fields, vacant lots, abandoned sites, and landfills can be repurposed. There are large and growing numbers of abandoned buildings and ruins, empty malls, and disused airports to modify – not to mention the abandoned aircraft that, before too long, will be parked there. In Vienna, a design firm called Biotope City develops ‘micro green spaces’ to transform neighbourhoods. In the densely developed Haslingergasse district, for example, the group covered the walls, balconies, and ledges of 150 social housing blocks with greenery.28 Thanks to the participation of local schoolchildren, nesting boxes for birds and insects were also added. A similar patchwork approach is emerging in the Jæren region of Norway whose landscape has been battered by the footprint of the oil economy. Undeterred, the architect Knut Erik Dahl teaches young designers to look for and appreciate the tiniest examples of biological life: solitary plants, rare lichen, and insects in among the people, goods, and buildings. Students make large-scale maps of each location on paper, by hand. It’s low-cost, hands-on work. They call it ‘dirty sustainability’.29976

In France, several cities are working to establish ‘ecoquartiers’, or eco-neighbourhoods, in otherwise gritty urban contexts. The idea is to ‘seed’ functions such as rainwater capture, or Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS), in the hope that they will propagate and spread without ongoing support from city authorities – or budgets.997

economist’ Teodor Shanin, who reckons that the informal economy supports three-quarters of the world’s population, reminds us that 80 per cent of all farms in the world – 445 million of them – occupy 2 hectares (5 acres) or less – many in or near cities. From Lima in Peru, to Kinshasha in Zaire, a lot of expertise has accumulated on how to manage the complex social-ecological networks of urban and suburban agriculture. The main lesson: necessity, more than aesthetic reverie, is the mother of urban transformation. Does city-grown food make a meaningful difference? A recent US study suggests that it does – or at least can. Researchers explored what it would take for Cleveland – a Rust Belt city with lots of potential green space – to feed itself. The results were startling: in one scenario, the use of 80 per cent of every vacant lot generated 22–48 per cent of the city’s fruits and vegetables, 25 per cent of its poultry and eggs, and 100 per cent of its honey. If commercial and industrial roofs were added to the equation, the city could provide up to 100 per cent of its needed fresh produce, 94 per cent of its poultry and eggs – and 100 per cent of its honey.33 Growing food is one thing; storing it is another. Awareness of energy descent is reviving interest in the ways we preserved food in the past. For thousands of years, people in different cultures have preserved foods and vegetables using lacto-fermentation; in this fossil-fuel-free process, lactic acid acts as a natural preservative to inhibit putrefying bacteria. What began as a foodie fad is fast becoming mainstream as more people seek out practical ways to conserve food without resort to refrigeration or chemicals.1003

A pioneer in urban forestry projects, and of novel forms of social organization to create them, is Andy Lipkis, founder of TreePeople in Los Angeles in 1973. TreePeople’s Citizen Forester programme organizes volunteer tree plantings and tree care events along city streets and in neighbourhoods throughout Los Angeles County. TreePeople has also distributed thousands of fruit trees to low-income communities; these become functioning community forests – in backyards, on school campuses, and in community gardens. Planting trees is just one aspect of the group’s work. For at least five years after a tree is planted, its progress is monitored by Tree Care Coordinators who organize tree care events as needed; this dramatically increases the chance of the tree’s survival to maturity.41 Lipkis’s pioneering work depaved the way for the creation, in 2005, of a Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition. This platform brings together city planners, educators, landscape architects, non-profit leaders, scientists, arborists, foresters, nurserymen and women, and many other professionals who care for, monitor, and advocate for trees and our urban forests as a whole.42 The American Forestry Service then established an Urban and Community Forestry website whose pages are filled with happy-making stories. A manual filled with best-practice case studies has been distributed to more than a thousand planning agencies.43 In Europe, a Forum on Urban Forestry collates discussions on how best to manage old urban forests, parks, and cemeteries. The island state of Singapore plans to transform itself from a ‘garden city’ to a ‘city in a garden’ by reforesting the entire city state. Tai Lee Siang, president of the Singapore Green Building Council, laments the fact that town planners, when they start drawing, almost inevitably draw the roads first. Siang plans to reverse that sequence. Quoting a NASA estimate that there are about 57 trees to each person on Earth, he announces a new target for Singapore: a ratio of 100:1.1043

As people get reacquainted with real physical work in our cities, we are learning a special respect for solutions evolved by nature over the last 3.8 billion years. As Janine Benyus reminds us, other life forms than our own are able, expertly, to move water, capture the Sun’s energy, provide shelter, store food, recycle nutrients, share resources, build communities, control population, and manage ecosystems – all without human intervention. We’ve exhausted ourselves trying to control our environment using fossil-fuel force – only to be reminded that ecosystems can manage this effortlessly on their own. This prompts an interesting question:1060

among 20,000 species of edible plants in the world that we know about, fewer than 20 species now provide 90 per cent of our food. Some cityscapes, in contrast, are far more diverse. Urban biologist Claudia Biemans, a local naturalist and edible plants researcher in The Hague, has identified about 300 different species in 1 square km (1⁄3 square mile) of her city; this compares to 50 different species found in the same area of managed countryside nearby. ‘Bees know this very well, and are more to be found in cities these days,’ she points out. On walks called ‘Stalking the Wild’, Biemans guides people to ecological niches in the city where plants don’t just survive, but thrive.44 Much of this urban nature is edible. Herbal fruits, leaves, and edible flowers grow on walls and roadsides, between paving stones, and in other untended spaces. Lynn Shore in Amsterdam, trading as Urban Herbology, is among a growing band of urban foragers who help citizens find herbs, use them in cooking, and learn about medicinal preparations. Shore’s activities include seed and plant swaps, urban herb walks, and ‘gatherings for urban herbies’. In Los Angeles, a so-called ‘rock star of foraging’ called Pascal Baudar has turned his passion into a thriving business; Angelinos pay $100 a session each to join his ‘Gourmet Foraging Sunset Experiences’ on which they learn about the culinary uses of weeds found in the local landscape. Baudar’s wild food classes sell out weeks ahead.451069

a free mobile phone app called Boskoi to map the edible landscape; in an activity called ‘augmented foraging’ they share the location of wild food in public space.1081

cities support about 20 per cent of the world’s bird species and 5 per cent of its plants,47 a growing number of city fathers now realize that their cities are dynamic nodes of biological activity in their own right, and that ecosystems in ‘their’ bioregions are a source of value.48 In the UK, brownfield sites contain more rare insects than do ancient woodlands and chalk downlands.49 And the US Forest Service, once sceptical that anything urban could be wild, now supports a growing urban forest programme.50 In China, too, 600 million volunteers planted 64 billion trees in 2012.51 Urban ecology and urban wildlife programmes are proliferating on university campuses.52 Boasting that ‘my city has more wildlife1085

Manhattan was once home to twenty-one native species of orchids assumed to be extinct due to the replacement of woodland by open urban spaces.53 Or are they really extinct? Their seeds may still be there. The notion that older ecologies lie beneath our cities, waiting to self-resurrect, has long fascinated artists – and now scientists, too. Paleobotanists have discovered that 1 square m (10 square ft) of urban soil can contain tens of thousands of seeds that persist in a state of suspended animation, waiting to be woken from their slumber. In his essay ‘City of Seeds’, the writer Daniel Mason reflects that a two-and-a-half centuries old tradition of urban botany has yielded a startling insight: the flora of the city ‘is essentially a flora of the city’s destruction’.54 Unlike the managed green of parks and gardens, which only grow in pockets of protected isolation, the wild plants of a city need ‘the cracks, the pavement split, the palace abandoned’. Beyond the managed gardens and the wild invaders of our roads. Mason concludes, is ‘a hidden, potential flora, an idea of a forest, not in competition with the city but existing alongside it, patiently, waiting to become manifest’.1098

Shambala, a summer festival in England. On the wall is the street plan of what looks like a mid-sized town. Fifteen thousand people have indeed filled a vast field with tents, yurts, sound stages, composting toilets, drinking water tanks, hot tubs, food vans, charging stations, yoga enclosures, a barber shop, a meadow filled with aromatherapists, vending machines in a caravan, and pagan circles around wood-burning stoves. Surrounding Shambala’s central core is a densely packed suburbia of tents; in these the sleeping area per person – a couple of square metres – is similar to the space available to billions of people in the world’s other favelas. Most of Shambala’s prosperous urban tribe will return to a world of concrete and media when the festivities end – but, for two-thirds of the world’s population, nomadism and contingency are now everyday conditions of life. Most of the world’s 800 million urban farmers, for example, grow food because they need to eat1116

In megacities across the Global South, informal settlements are also filled with the pop-up retail, food trucks, street traders, guerrilla gardening, and informal parks, that – at Shambala – are celebrated as fashionable novelties. In the world’s refugee camps and post-disaster settlements, too, a dynamic variety of social micro-economies enables people to share energy, materials, time, skill, software, space, or food. These activities depend more on social energy, and trust, than on fixed assets and real estate. There’s an emphasis on collaboration and sharing, on person-to-person interactions, on the adaptation and reuse of materials and buildings. These resource-light ways to meet daily life needs are usually described as poverty, or a lack of development. But in thirty-five years as a guest in what used to be called the ‘developing’ world, I’ve realized that people who are poor in material terms are highly accomplished at the creation of value in ways that do not destroy natural and human assets.1124

DIY-urbanism, in other words, is second nature for people who cannot depend on the high-entropy support systems of the industrial world. This is not to trivialize the extreme challenges faced by poor people on a daily basis; but, to the extent that a regenerative economy is based on local production, human labour, and natural energy, the poor people of the world are further along the learning curve than the rest of us.1131

What the Earth needs, and what the Real Estate Industrial Complex needs, are two different things. The world is overbuilt. As our measure of economic progress shifts to health of the soils, and biodiversity, the practical focus of our efforts is shifting to a city’s inhabitants – including non-human ones – and to ways of improving habitat for them all. The writer Thomas Berry described as the ecozoic this ‘reintegration of human endeavours into a larger ecological consciousness’. It’s the right way to think about, and act, in our cities.1135

agriculture and food now account for nearly 30 per cent of goods transported on Europe’s roads; in the UK, 25 per cent of car journeys are to get food. We increasingly eat food while moving, too: 70 per cent of fast-food sales in the US are at the drive-through window. Faster, fatter, fatal. If food sounds bad, it probably is bad – but it’s the silent and unseen costs of industrial food that do the most damage. Poor diet and physical inactivity account for 35 per cent and rising of avoidable causes of deaths in the US,1 but the food-driven obesity pandemic is not confined to the North. In New Delhi, a third of school-age children are obese – mainly because the sugar content of their diet has risen 40 per cent during the last half-century, and its fat content by 20 per cent. That’s ‘development’ for1148

processed food does not just clog our own arteries, it clogs our cities, too: fat deposits poured into drains by fast-food outlets are blocking sewers in cities across the United States.21156

The refrigerated cold chain, Twilley explains, is a key enabler of so-called ‘production agriculture’, with the grim consequences for poor farmers and ecosystem that we hear about every day. Noise also means wasted energy, which is why an American farm in the early 1800s would have been a much quieter place than that pavement in London. Back then, the balance between calories expended in food production and calories that we ended up eating, was about even: 1:1. Under today’s system, that ratio is more like 12:1.1164

Hunger is a distribution problem – not scarcity of food, nor surplus of people.1185

the world’s family farmers who, after all, produce 80 per cent of the world’s food on just 24 per cent of the world’s farmland.7 According to one respected non-profit, Grain, if the yields achieved by Kenya’s small farmers were matched by the country’s large-scale operations, the country’s agricultural output would double; in Central America, the region’s food production would triple; and if Russia’s big farms were as productive as its small ones, output would increase by a factor of six.8 For Olivier de Schutter, Special Reporter on food for the United Nations, the eradication of hunger and malnutrition is an achievable goal if we help small-scale food grow in ways that leave the land healthy, and sell most of the produce locally without having to be dependent on large buyers.91186

Turning the tide will be tough; the share of productive land held by small-scale farmers is shrinking fast. From Kenya and Brazil to Ethiopia and Spain, rural people are being displaced, threatened, beaten, and even killed by a variety of powerful actors who want their land for large-scale production. In the last fifty years, Grain reports, a staggering 140 million hectares (346 million acres) – the size of almost all India’s farmland – have been taken over by four industrial crops: soya bean, oil palm, rapeseed, and sugar cane. Experts predict that the global area planted with oil palm will double in the next decade, and the soya bean area will grow by a third, if the productivist system remains unchecked. These crops don’t even feed people; they feed our cars with agrofuels. Finance, not a lack of production, is another major cause of food insecurity: in a Western food shop, for every $10 that you or I spend at the checkout, only 60 cents end up with the farmer. The remaining $9.40 – the ‘added value’ – represents turnover and profit for the industries involved. After that noisy truck in Carlisle first started me writing about food, the horror stories quickly piled up. I discovered that China exports billions of pounds of tomato pulp – to Italy;10 that Europe exports planeloads of frozen chicken to chicken-filled Africa;11 that a single ‘cut and kill’ meat factory may now process ten thousand factory-reared pigs in just one day;12 and that Coca Cola and Pepsi spend more on advertising in a year than the entire budget of the World Health Organization. But bad news stories on their own are dispiriting. Noise is a symptom, not the cause, of our food worries. So, too, is obesity. A shed filled with five-weeks-of-living-hell chickens is a symptom, too. To1194

The Food Commons, the building is on their shortlist for a hub and retail store that will make fresh food available to some of Fresno’s 500,000 poorest citizens.13 Within a few years they plan to open a retail hub in each of the city’s food deserts – and this will be the first.1214

This is where The Food Commons comes in. Their approach marks a radical shift from a narrow focus on the production of food on its own, towards a whole-system approach in which the interests of farm communities and local people, the land, watersheds, and biodiversity are all considered together. The Food Commons is conceived as a kind of connective tissue that links together food-producing land, ideally held in common by community trusts; support infrastructure – such as distribution and retail centres; and support services, whether legal, financial, communications, or organizational. Its co-founder, Larry Yee, describes The Food Commons as ‘a whole new cloth’. Each Food Commons consists of three components. The first is a non-profit Food Commons Trust that will acquire and steward food-growing assets such as land and physical infrastructure. These commonly held assets will be leased to participating small farms and businesses at affordable rates; and because these assets are held in perpetual trust, they will benefit everyone. A second component, a Food Commons Fund, is a community-owned financial entity that will provide affordable capital and financial services to all parties in the regional food system; this will ease the cash flow problems that cripple so many small farmers. Each region will also contain, thirdly, a Food Commons Community Corporation, a locally owned and cooperatively run hub that will connect myriad small enterprises: farms, food processors, distributors, and retailers. Support services provided at each hub will include administration, marketing, scientific knowledge about sustainable agriculture, technical assistance, and specialized vocational training. Fresno, where I visited, is the first working implementation of The Food Commons; it already has the active support of the city’s business, academic, and social justice communities.19 Two other prototype Food Commons are in development in Atlanta and New Zealand. Once these initial proof-of-concept prototypes are up and running, Larry Yee is confident the model can be adapted in many places around the world. ‘The biggest constraint right now is investment money,’ Larry told me, ‘but we know the money is out there.’ For now, his priority is to recruit local and regional banks that are already active in the agricultural credit and mortgage business; he’s telling them one regional Food Commons can be started for US$100–150 million.1261

as a global average, 25 to 30 per cent of all city dwellers grow food in cities today.20 In Havana, Cuba, 12 per cent of urban land is dedicated to agriculture; 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) of Jakarta, in Indonesia, are used to grow food; and Shanghai is not far behind: more than 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of that super-modern city are used to grow vegetables. These examples are in ‘developing’ countries, it’s true – but the North is catching up. In Cleveland, Ohio, for example, two university researchers set out to determine if their city of 400,000 hungry souls could feasibly achieve self-reliance in the provision of several key foods. In a street-by-street survey, the researchers first identified more than 18,000 vacant lots that could potentially be put to work and then, with a focus on foods suited to urban production (vegetables, fruits, chickens, and honey), they calculated likely yields. Their conclusion: if three-quarters of Cleveland’s currently available vacant land were to be utilized – together with a modest number of industrial and commercial rooftops – then the city could provide nearly all the vegetables it needs, more than 90 per cent of poultry and eggs, and all of its honey.211286

These positive results in Cleveland were confirmed by a project in England that I was involved with. In Middlesbrough – like Cleveland, a rust-belt city intent on self-renewal – I commissioned a large urban agriculture project as part of a social innovation biennial called Designs of the Time. As with Cleveland, we first identified locations for productive growing across town, and then helped community groups, volunteer organizations, school students, public health workers, and even preschoolers to grow food on these sites. Locations ranged from school playgrounds and hospital car parks, to seedbeds outside a hairdresser, the lawn outside an art gallery, and a university campus. It took little encouragement to persuade more than one thousand people in sixty community groups to take part. As their different crops ripened – butternut squash, tomatoes, and other produce – our urban farmers took them to meal assembly centres, in different locations, where they learned how to cook what they had grown. The project culminated in a celebratory ‘Meal for Middlesbrough’ in the city centre; seven thousand people came to lunch.221297

Running through the stories in this chapter is a green thread: the efforts of people in diverse contexts to reconnect to their food – where it is grown, by whom, and under what conditions. These practical, local, and human-scaled activities are the seedlings of an alternative to an industrial food system that, as an extractive industry, is as cruel to people as it is to animals, and the land. The right approach is well enough understood: plough the soil as little as possible; keep the soil covered; increase biodiversity. These are more than instructions – they are values. The new food systems are as much social as they are technical experiments; they’re happening wherever people organize together in new ways – not just to grow or obtain food, but also how to live on and steward the land. Community land trusts, for example, are a welcome innovation in the legal basis of social farming. The Food Commons in Fresno has just such a plan; so, too, does the Fordhall Community Land Initiative,43 in England, where one small farm now has eight thousand landlords. This commons-based approach to food is about cooperation, sharing, and stewardship.1441

Connect the people who make things, here, I pleaded, with people who need clothes and would love to have a direct relationship with the person who makes them.1470

I learned from Kate Fletcher’s landmark study, Sustainable Fashion and Textiles, that it took 2,700 litres (700 US gallons) of fresh water to make my cotton T-shirt – and much of that water ends up saturated with pesticides; a quarter of all the insecticides in the world are used on cotton crops.2 It’s partly down to me that 85 per cent of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan has disappeared – because its water is used to grow cotton in a desert. Transport costs are also a big issue – the average T-shirt travels the equivalent distance of once round the globe during its production – so now we have to worry about fabric miles as well as food miles. Buckets of hazardous sludge are generated during the coating process used for the metal buttons on my jeans. White is energy-intensive because of all the bleaching. I’ll use six times more energy washing my favourite shirt than was needed to make it. Nearly all the textiles in my life will end up in landfill – garments, household textiles, carpets, the lot. Being clean, and wearing white to prove it, has weakened my immune system.1472

Over 90 per cent of resources entering the system of discount stores like Primark are discarded as waste within three months. Even if firms like Primark were to use only bamboo and soya bean fibres, grow 100 per cent organically, and produce only locally, their T-shirts would still not be sustainable because of what happens when we get a garment home. The average piece of clothing is washed and dried twenty times in its life: 82 per cent of its lifetime energy use, and over half the solid waste, emissions to air, and water effluents it generates, occur during laundering.1486

Another surprise: natural textiles can be more harmful than synthetic ones. Although polyester fibre, to take one example, is made from non-renewable petroleum and requires large energy inputs to produce, it is not so environmentally damaging when its whole life cycle is calculated – from sourcing the raw materials, through the use phase, to the disposal phase. Polyester has lower energy impacts than cotton during the washing and cleaning phase, for example; it is also completely recyclable at the end of its life.1497

it takes 16,600 litres (4,385 gallons) of water to produce 1 kg (2¼ lbs) of leather.1511

Tanning also has one of the highest levels of toxic intensity, per unit of output, of any industrial process.5 During the different procedures used for hide preparation, tanning, and finishing, at least 300 kg (660 lbs) of chemicals are added per ton of hides. The huge discharges of air, liquid, and solid waste pollution generated by tanning contain chromium, copper, cadmium, and other toxic by-products. Effluents released on the land, or dumped into the surface water, are associated with skin blisters, diarrhoea, gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections, and liver diseases among workers and their families living near tanneries.61512

For thousands of years before the oil age, textiles were carefully looked after; the repair, alteration, and maintenance of clothes was a normal part of daily life. Can we not combine the beauty of that culture with peer-to-peer production?1542

A solution is not hard to describe. If one of the big fashion conglomerates, such as Kering, were so minded, it would require its managers to optimize a different kind of margin: instead of the margin being between two abstract numbers – cost and sale – the company would measure the difference between the health of the land before and after each turn of the business cycle. Operating at a bioregional scale, such a big group could surely find ways for the lands where its materials originate to be put in some kind of trust, of the kind pioneered by The Food Commons in the USA; this trust would lease the land to small herders subject to various mutually agreed conditions. Each bioregion would be governed collaboratively to the same end: the regeneration of its living systems. Kering would still get its materials, but its products would have a higher value. By helping its customers feel connected with everyone involved in an item’s making, and the unique skills and resources of a particular bioregion, the group’s brands would transcend the impersonal and anonymous transactions associated with the industrial model.1631

Until now, their attention has not extended to the social and ecological health of the bioregions their materials come from. The next step, surely, is for the global ecosystem of sustainable fashion pioneers to put the health of the land, and the people who live on it, at the centre of their story. Alternatives to the global commodity food and fibre systems are now emerging in myriad diverse experiments. Ranging from farmers using non-genetically modified cottonseed, to artisan makers who access markets and coordinate supply webs using web-based platforms, these are the harbinger of a ‘leave things better’ and regenerative economy. As Lynda Grose describes it, these experiments turn the global system on its head.1642

Rather than constantly driving the land to yield more fibre per acre, production is determined by the land’s health and carrying capacity, which is constantly monitored. Decisions are made by the people who work the land and know it best. Fibre prices are based on yields the land can bear, and on revenues that assure security for the farmer. ‘Growth’ is measured in terms of land, soil, and water getting healthier, and communities more resilient. ‘The commons approach provides a way out of the polarized squabbling between companies and activists,’ says Grose. ‘It removes the need for complex – and for the most part misleading – accreditation and labelling systems.’ Social patterns of organization coevolve with this diversification of material flows. Some regions form cooperatives, others farmer/worker-owned entities; some function as food-and-fibre commons. These community forms of social solidarity pave the way for new terrains for fashion practice. And citizens, instead of being treated as passive consumers whose task is to speed the flow of materials through the fashion system, are recast as collaborators.1648

At the scale of a fibreshed, textile production can, for the first time, be monitored against the health of soils and watersheds. Regional-scale production cannot supply as many cheap clothes as the global system does – but is an ultra-cheap T-shirt a more important ‘need’ than keeping the land healthy? I don’t think so. Besides, for the many millions of people already active in maker networks like Ravelry, a regional fashion ecosystem, and knowing everyone involved in a garment’s making, can transcend the impersonal and anonymous transactions associated with the industrial model. Keeping our stuff alive means keeping the land alive.1672

Considering that 40 per cent of the time we spend travelling, across all cultures, is spent walking or waiting, the conclusion was stark: that the car is complicit in a wildly inequitable use of space.31697

The response of the Istanbul team was an online loyalty platform called Park. This would harness the power of social networks to increase the use of shared transport. Reduce the presence of parked private cars, their thinking went, and space would be freed up for shared social and cultural activities. The US design team proposed to bundle all systems of transport into a highly technical, optimized, and continually flowing main artery for mobility.1700

In the event, the jury selected Höweler + Yoon Architecture’s Shareway as its overall winner because its concept of ‘opportunity without ownership’ involved both social as well as technical innovation at a system-wide level.51708

The entries in the Audi Award, I concluded, were constrained by two questionable assumptions: first, that mobility is a universal need; and second, that mobility is a technical problem amenable to being solved by engineering means. The proposition that mobility is a fundamental human need sounds uncontroversial, but think of it this way: one could also say that locusts have a universal need for lunch. Which they do. But when locusts fulfil all their needs, the land is stripped bare – and the locusts, having eaten their last lunch, expire. The consensus in archaeology and anthropology is that mobility, far from being an innate feature of human behaviour, is determined by the needs of communities at a particular place and time.6 Individuals, households, and larger groups move around a lot – or not – depending on patterns of land tenure and their access to land, the capacity of the commons to support them (or not), and other socio-economic factors. Mobility, in other words, is a second-order ‘need’. We move as much as we have to in order to obtain food, shelter, security, and the opportunity to connect and transact with each other.7 The more those amenities are present in our immediate surroundings, the less we tend to move. This is why economic localization and sustainability are subtexts of the same story.1714

This story is a challenge for promoters of ‘smart cities’ and ‘intelligent transportation systems’. Excited by the potential of cars to communicate with us and with each other in amazing new ways, they cite experiments such as Google’s auto-piloted cars, or ‘smart’ sensor-encrusted roadways, as evidence that coordinated communication will soon make car blight a thing of the past. But these promises will end in costly disappointment as long as cars, and their owners, think only about themselves – and by themselves. More data for its own sake will not make a city ‘smart’ if all that computational power is misdirected. On the contrary, it’s likely that high-tech complexification will make things worse. Throughout history, each new transport revolution has proved far more expensive to maintain and operate than was anticipated – and the ‘smart’ schemes being floated now will not be an exception to that rule.1726

John Whitelegg, a transport ecologist, worked out that in Switzerland the land allocation for road transport is 113 square m (1,200 square ft) per person – and for all other living purposes, such as houses, gardens, and yards, it’s 20–25 square m (215–270 square ft) per person.1734

To a car company, replacing the chrome wing mirror on an SUV with one made of carbon fibre is a step towards sustainable transportation. To a radical ecologist, all motorized movement is unsustainable. So when is transportation sustainable, and when is it not? Chris Bradshaw, a transport economist, wants planners and designers to respect what he calls ‘the scalar hierarchy’.11 This is when trips taken most frequently are short enough to be made by walking (even if pulling a small cart), while the next more frequent trips require a bike or bus, and so on. If one adheres to this, Bradshaw points out, then there are so few trips to be made by car that owning one is foolish. This lesson seems to have sunk into young people in a big way. In the USA, new car purchases by 18- to 34-year-olds fell 30 per cent between 2007 and 2012.121745

My take has that ‘high-speed railways, yes or no?’ is a second-order question. First-order questions concern the kind of society Norway – or California, or India – aspires to become in the decades ahead. In the case of HSTs, three first-order questions therefore stand out in particular: do the true system-wide costs of an HST network justify the investment? Is it sustainable to spend energy on the compression of space and time? And is it really just empty space out there?1767

When researchers at Martin Luther University studied the construction, use, and disposal of Germany’s high-speed rail infrastructure, they found that 48 kg (105 lbs) of solid primary resources is needed for one passenger to travel 100 km (62 miles). A1782

an HST system is more than the sum of its tracks. Among the other resource-intensive system footprints that necessarily accompany an HST line are: Space: land is a finite resource, but we consume it as if it were limitless – especially for mobility. Space has to be consumed in large quantities to provide the infrastructure for high-speed travel – just as it does for new motorways and airports. Energy supply: even if high-speed travel were not a climate change or social problem, high-entropy transport systems depend on finite energy sources. Whether oil and gas are at a peak, or on a plateau, can be debated – but they are finite and no commercially viable renewable alternative offers the same volume and performance. How resilient is that? First mile/last mile: before a passenger boards a train, she has to get to the station using other means of transportation – the so-called first-mile element. And HST stations are rarely the end-point of her trip; more infrastructure is needed to complete the ‘last mile’. Station and parking infrastructure: many HST stations are multi-modal hubs entailing complex and energy-intensive walkways, doors, escalators, lifts and the like to connect with local public transport and parking lots. HST terminals and stations also contain shopping malls, restaurants, and other service centres not linked with the core service of transporting passengers. Security costs: enormous and growing material and human resources must be deployed to reduce the vulnerabilities of these complex systems to malfunctioning or attack.1794

SPACE-TIME COMPRESSION Although time savings provide the principal economic justification for HST schemes, the expansion of these networks does not, in the long run, give us more free time. On the contrary: we spend the same amount of time travelling today as we did fifty years ago – but we use that time to travel longer distances. The fundamental problem with the HST is not that it burns too much of the wrong kind of fuel. The problem – as with the interstate highway systems that came before – is that it perpetuates patterns of land use, transport intensity, and the separation of functions in space and time that render the whole way we live unsupportable. Something similar has happened in Norway before. When oil was first discovered in 1969, it spawned a generation of sprawling developments. The suburbanization of Jæren swallowed numberless small rural conglomerations. ‘Oilville’ now stretches more or less continuously from Stavanger in the north to Egersund in the south. Are there new ways to think about the space-time geography of countries with lots of space? Might we reimagine wide spaces and long distances as assets rather than as obstacles to be overcome? Space, like oil, is a finite resource. Worldwide, space is at a premium. If a country such as Norway has lots of space, doesn’t this make it rich? Why try to compress this valuable national resource? Why try to make it smaller? Maximum dispersal is the settlement pattern of the natural state of nature. As Stone Age economist Marshall Sahlins has pointed out, dispersal is the best protector of persons and possessions in terms of minimizing conflict over resources, goods, and women.17 In Oslo, we discussed whether to think of Norway as a mosaic of semi-autonomous zones. Could so-called peripheral cities be reconceived as new centres in their own right? By re-examining what makes the regions of Norway distinctive, could new forms of value be discovered as the basis for establishing settlements?1809

an International Commission on Land Use Change and Ecosystems published a framework for the valuation of undeveloped land, woodland, rivers, and marshes. Researchers had concluded that the global economy was losing more money from the disappearance of forests alone – US$2–5 trillion per year – than through the banking crisis. (The figure came from adding the value of the various services that forests perform, such as providing clean water and absorbing carbon dioxide.) That study, and others like it, placed a question mark on the assumption that the world is full of empty space that we should aspire to fill, at will, with things like HSTs. As we learn that ‘empty space’ is not empty, it follows that many supposedly clean transport or energy systems are not inherently clean at all – but only somewhat less dirty than the fossil-fuelled systems they are purported to replace.1826

In parallel with this enquiry in Norway, then learned some enlightened cities, such as Toronto, have already started to put the interests of these natural assets ahead of traditional planning priorities such as transportation infrastructures. For Toronto, the practical way to reorder priorities is to put foodsheds and watersheds at the top of the agenda – a focus in design terms on ‘reactivating the existing’ – adapting and enhancing what is already there rather than continuing to accelerate capital and resource intensity. One of the Norwegian team’s researchers, Alex Walls, calls this approach ‘dirty’ sustainability – giving priority to low-cost, hands-on solutions rather than high-tech ones. I asked, a bit earlier, which country – Norway or India – has the most advanced and resilient infrastructure. As you may have guessed, my conclusion is that high-speed, high-entropy transportation systems take a country back to the past. They are not the way of the future. This is not to deny that there are many ways in which use of existing infrastructure, such as India’s amazing train network – or, for that matter, the trip from Oslo to Stavanger – can be enhanced. But, looking elsewhere, I discovered that truly transformational changes in transport ecologies are already emerging. In India, showing the way to other cities, Chennai has embarked on a major programme to pedestrianize its roads; 60 per cent of the city’s transport budget will be dedicated to non-motorized transport. Its municipal corporation, the oldest in India, is creating a network of footpaths, cycle tracks, and greenways to encourage residents to walk or cycle and to ease the passage of human-powered transport like cycle rickshaws and pushcarts. Critically, the new policy prohibits the construction of flyovers that could prevent parallel pedestrian infrastructure from meeting the right standards. It’s a major shift in emphasis; big Indian cities typically allocate about 2 per cent of their budget to non-motorized transport.211843

WILL IT MAKE ME SWEAT? At a workshop in Delhi, during the UnBox Festival, I posed the following question to a group of twenty design, transport, and city development professionals: what new products, services, or ingredients are needed to help a cycle commerce ecosystem flourish in India’s cities, towns, and villages?22 The answer was: a lot – and it’s not just about the bikes. We discussed the need for an online catalogue of products and business models to aid decision support. We learned that micro-finance for independent vendors should be a priority. Traffic architectures, hygiene regulations, and the disinterest of municipal authorities were an obstacle. Opposition from place-based retailers was also an issue. Topography and climate could not be ignored. As the to-do list grew, the scale of the challenge seemed ever more daunting – but a strange thing has happened. The obstacles we identified in Delhi seem less daunting today than they did a short while ago. In China, ‘battery-bikes’ are outselling cars by four to one. Their sudden popularity has confounded planners who thought China was set to become the next automobile powerhouse. In Europe, too, e-bike sales are escalating. Sales have been growing by 50 per cent a year since 2008, with forecasts of at least three million sales in 2015.23 Is this the start of a system-wide phase shift in transportation? I have the strong impression that a cloud of discrete but related developments is converging. In the background, a combination of energy costs and economic insecurity adds urgency to the need for change. At street level, myriad innovations in hardware, systems, and business models are giving us the component parts of the ecosystem we yearned for in Delhi. A profound transformation to the mobility profile of modern cities no longer feels like a dream.1858

CALORIE-COUNTING CITIES A small project in Vienna confirmed my intuition that something big is afoot. I heard by chance about a piece of software that answers the question: will riding my bike from point A to point G make me sweat? A small firm called Komobile has developed a decision-support tool that will calculate the amount of nutritional energy the human body will need for a prospective trip by regular bike or e-bike. Its project is part of a broader drive in Austria to promote e-bikes as ‘range-extenders’ to conventional bikes and increase two-wheeled commuting. The idea is to combine information about the mass of the vehicle – including its cargo and the mass of the rider – with data about the inclines, detours, and headwinds that increase the rider’s body energy consumption. With this information to hand, riders can determine in advance whether the external energy provided by the electric motor on a pedelec is needed. The topographical data needed already exists in many digital maps. As one of Komobile’s designers, Martin Niegl, explained it to me, isohypses are points of equal altitude that, when joined together, become the wavy black lines on maps we use when walking across country. Transport planners also use isochrones to denote lines of equal travel time. Komobile’s innovation is to add isoenergetes – lines that plot units of equal energy consumption into a geographical information system (GIS) for metropolitan Vienna. The idea is to inform a rider how much effort will be needed to climb steep hills in the western part of the city, for example. For an unassisted cargo bike, this is crucial information. Komobile then discovered a missing piece of information – headwind speeds, which on a heavy bike can be just as taxing as inclines. In Vienna, Komobile located a source of real-time wind speeds in the city’s meteorological office, only to learn that such measurement devices are located 10 m (33 ft) above the road surface. To be accurate, real-time wind speeds at surface level are needed. Adding a platform that can collect windspeed data in real-time from small devices around the city has been added to the to-do list.1874

MASS TRANSIT Komobile’s next task is to persuade city managers to embrace calorie-planning with the same confidence that they now plan time and space. Lightening up the movement of cargo around cities is the ideal place to start. Enormous amounts of energy are wasted shipping objects from place to place. An example from The Netherlands:24 of the 1,900 vans and trucks that enter the city of Breda (pop: 320,000) each day, less than 10 per cent of the cargo being delivered really needs to be delivered in a van or truck, and 40 per cent of van-based deliveries involve just one package. An EU-funded project called CycleLogistics calculates that 50 per cent of all parcels delivered in EU cities could be delivered by cargo bike. Germany’s Institute of Transport Research is even more ambitious: it reckons 85 per cent of all deliveries in a city like Berlin could be made by e-bike. Its finding was based on the experimental deployment of a so-called ‘Bentobox’ approach in which additional city hubs were able to coordinate distribution of goods. Cargo bikes need not be limited to lightweight packages. As the Belgian journalist Kris De Decker has discovered, fast two-wheeled cargo cycles have a load capacity of up to 180 kg (396 lbs); slower vehicles with three or four wheels can easily take 250 kg (550 lbs). Using a tandem configuration and/ or electric power assistance can raise the load capacity even further, to about half a ton. As Ivan Illich pointed out in Energy and Equity in 1973, the metabolic efficiency of a human on a bicycle is remarkably good. Measured in terms of calories expended by the traveller, the conventional bicycle is by far the most efficient means of human locomotion. To travel 1 km (½ mile) by bike requires approximately 5–15 watt-hours (w-h) of energy; the same distance requires 15–20 w-h by foot, 30–40 w-h by train, and over 400 w-h in a car with one occupant. According to ExtraEnergy’s tests over several years, an average pedelec uses an average of 1 kilowatt-hour (kW-h) per 100 km (62 miles) in electricity. A car with an internal combustion engine uses fifty times more – at least 50 kW-h per 100 km (62 miles). Translated into money, the difference is astonishing. It costs less than 1 US cent per 1.6 km (1 mile) to ride an electric bike or scooter. A car, by comparison, costs fifty times more – 54 cents per 1.6 km (1 mile) according to the American Automobile Association once licence costs, insurance, registration, maintenance, and other costs are factored in. Kris De Decker reckons that, once all system costs are included, a cargo cycle can be up to 98 per cent cheaper per 1 km (½ mile) than four-wheeled motorized alternatives. Some e-bikers reckon that electric bikes can have a smaller environmental footprint even than pedal-only bicycles when the energy costs of the food needed to power the rider are added. If the rider eats a typical Western diet, about ten times more primary energy goes into the production of her food than is absorbed by the body when the food is eaten. Our metabolisms convert food energy into work with a conversion efficiency of about 25 per cent. The net result? For every unit of human energy used to pedal a bike, about forty times as much was expended upstream. Even including the energy needed to manufacture and recycle the batteries, e-bikes can end up consuming from two to ten times less fossil fuel energy than their human-powered equivalents. THEY MAY BE CHEAP – BUT ARE THEY CLEAN? Even if e-bikes are fifty times more efficient than a car per kilometre travelled, is the energy used to power an e-bike clean? Critics argue that if hundreds of millions of pedelecs were to be charged from the grid, the result will be more emissions because such a large proportion of the energy comes originally from dirty power stations. Policymakers in Austria are addressing this very real difficulty, too. They are deploying fiscal measures that incentivize pedelec users to use only renewable energy. In 2011, for example, a national subsidy for the purchase of company…1890

CARING: FROM CURE TO CARE, FROM ME TO WE I was emboldened, upon arriving at the Mayo Clinic’s Centre for Innovation, to learn from the conference host that ‘people with deep domain knowledge do not make the best innovators’. I concluded that I was therefore well qualified to warn one of the top academic medical centres in the world, each of whose 60,000 staff knows more about medicine than I do, about the risk of catabolic collapse in the US health system – and what to do about it. My core proposition at the Mayo event was that peak oil, and peak fat, are transforming the logic that currently shapes the global biomedical system. Firstly, because the energy transition that’s upon us will render one of the world’s most energy-intensive systems unsustainable. And second, because until the medical system addresses the causes of illness with the same brilliance with which it addresses the effects, the population will continue to get sicker. The main Mayo Clinic building is a vast silver facility that shouts two things: authority and energy intensity. If one Googles ‘health’ and ‘energy efficiency’, most results are about hospital buildings and attempts to render them ‘greener’. But hospital buildings are just one element within a vast distributed system that is both materially heavy and energy-guzzlingly complex. At a practical level, most of the consumables within any hospital are oil-based – from analgesics and antihistamines, through heart valves, implants, and prosthetics, to ambulances and helicopters. But energy that you can measure, such as that used by buildings and suppositories, is only one part of the picture; the total energy demand of any business operation, including health ones, is four or five times more than is ever measured. A recent UK study, for example, found that 5 per cent of all vehicle movements on British roads are health-related. This energy blindness is significant; because the true costs of so many activities is neither perceived nor counted, no thought is given to their possible replacement. My sombre words at the Mayo conference were met by a sea of blank stares. I was not offended: the medical world is preoccupied by other issues than the consequences of energy transition. The danger facing complex organizations such as the Mayo Clinic, nonetheless, is that, by postponing consideration of energy issues, it risks ‘catabolic collapse’ down the line. This is the situation, as described by John Michael Greer, in which, by the time a system realizes that its energy regime is not sustainable, the money, energy, and resources to do anything about it are no longer available. PEAK FAT From catabolic collapse I moved on in my talk to peak fat. I was perplexed at this fascinating conference by a weird imbalance. I saw several case studies about innovative ways to deal with consequences of the diabetes pandemic; by 2030, it’s forecast that 438 million people will have diabetes worldwide – a 54 per cent increase on today’s total.1 The response of designers and doctors present was an array of Personal Health Planning tools, ‘high-end wellness’ services, superfoods, remote diagnostics, and more. But I heard almost nothing about tackling the causes of this grim disease. That oversight is system-wide in medicine. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), for example, in a briefing about obesity, explains that these killer conditions ‘result from an energy imbalance. Behaviour and environment play a large role…these are the greatest areas for prevention and treatment actions’. This is a bizarre statement. ‘The environment’ makes you fat? I was under the impression that fat makes you fat – and the correlation between the growth of fats in the food system and the growth of obesity and diabetes in the population, is not hard to spot There’s even a word for it: the ‘obesogenic environment’. Neither is it a secret that the producers and distributors of this killer fat are the junk food and soft drinks industries. The medical system – from the CDC to the…2066

new word, precariat, to describe the growing proportion of citizens in rich northern countries for whom insecurity and relative poverty is the new normal.3 In contrast to many of our parents, who enjoyed secure careers, health benefits, and pensions, the new normal for members of the precariat is agency work, zero-hours contracts, and uncertainty. I’m not talking about a marginal underclass here. The OECD calculates that half the world’s workers – almost 1.8 billion people – already subsist in the precarious economy; by 2020, they project, two-thirds of all adults in the world will be economically informal. Even that startling percentage may be an underestimate. If one adds in all the people who do have ‘proper jobs’, but worry that they may not last, then the true membership of the precariat will soon be three-quarters of all working-age adults in the world.42357

Eighty per cent of all farms in the world – 445 million of them – occupy 2 hectares (5 acres) or less8 and in most cases these small-scale operations are living examples of the ecological agriculture that needs to take over from the ‘production’ kind. Yes, many of the farmers I’ve met face real and growing threats to their livelihoods – but 40 per cent of global food production still comes from diverse smallholder agricultural systems in so-called multifunctional landscapes, and an estimated 1.6 billion people still use woodlands as sources of livelihoods and income. Even2387

in sub-Saharan cities, 40 per cent of households are also urban farmers.10 Whether it’s inside cities or outside, this bottom-of-the-pyramid agriculture is more sustainable than our own: their ratio of energy inputs to the food ingested is about even compared to our ‘production agriculture’, where, as we saw in Chapter 5, the ratio is more like 12:1.2394

Health care is another necessity of life in which the South is ahead of us – by example, if not by choice. Because poor countries cannot afford the doctor-focused, pay-per-procedure, treat-the-symptoms-not-the-causes medical systems that are on course to bankrupt rich countries, they focus – because they have to – on community-based health and prevention. Physicians are based in neighbourhoods, not in clinics or hospitals. Community health care is carried out by trained local people, not only by doctors. A lot of this social medicine is self-replicating, too; in countries such as Venezuela, doctor-teachers recruit and train health workers from among peasants and workers. The goal is to empower local people to provide 90 per cent of their own health-care needs. This is 5 per cent health in practice.2406

Local energy, as described by Kevin Carson, is ‘the world’s biggest coordinated DIY effort’.122416

The Open Money Manifesto explains the challenge well: The problems with money stem entirely from how conventional money is normally issued. It is created by central banks in limited supply. It’s scarce, and hard to get. And we know where it’s from: it’s from ‘them’, not ‘us’.182449

With the birth of capitalism, that meaning and purpose of ‘economy’ was lost – and money became an end in itself. Speculation for its own sake replaced provision for family and community2455

diverse practices of cooperation, mutual aid, reciprocity, and generosity have evolved to meet basic needs in conditions of often extreme resource scarcity: raising children, offering advice or comfort, resolving relational conflicts, teaching basic life skills, cooking, sewing, building the house, farming, raising animals. Although few of these economic activities are integrated within formal economic structures, these parallel systems support a complex ecosystem of small-scale businesses, family farms, local traditions, and extended social and regional networks. Robert Neuwirth, who spent four years among the unregistered markets and roadside kiosks in Lagos, discovered that what happens in this intense world is not simply haphazard; it is a product of intelligence, resilience, self-organization, and group solidarity. The solidarity economy is an economic system – and a dynamic one at that.23 The informal economy is incredibly diverse and this is a source of strength. In Africa alone, the variety of different systems of collective self-reliance, and mutual assistance, is stunning; it contains a vast number of ad hoc cooperatives, micro-lending clubs, and group savings and purchasing schemes. My friend Mugendi M’Rithaa, a designer in South Africa, taught me that Africa’s parallel economy is based on deeply interpersonal relationships and mutual trust. These voluntary groups are known variously as stokvels (cooperative societies) and boipelogo (self-reliance) in South Africa; Bataka kwegaita (communal solidarity) in Uganda; nobwa (reciprocal assistance) in Ghana; harambee (pulling together) in Kenya; ujamaa (familyhood) in Tanzania; molaletsa (collective labour sharing systems) and motshelo (group credit unions) in Botswana. Many African cultures, Mugendi told me, are also expert in the arts of communal dialogue, public debate, and consensus-building; they gain additional strength, he told me, from the pivotal role played by women. Latin America, too, is blessed with diverse forms of solidarity and sharing that are unknown in the North. One of these, described by Walter Mignolo, an Argentine professor, is the ayllu – a kind of extended familial community that collectively works a common territory.24 ‘It’s akin to the Greek oikos, which provides the etymological root for “economy”,’ Mignolo explains. ‘Each ayllu is defined by a territory that includes not just a piece of land, but the ecosystem of which that land is one component’; the territory is not considered to be private property but the home of all of those living in and from it. In another commons-based system in Latin America, marka, individuals work for one another around the year; one provides labour, the other accommodation and food. The arrangement is reciprocal: after somebody has come to your common to help you work it, you must reciprocate by working on their common. Although the marka system dates back to agrarian societies in the Andes, incarnations of the practice are found in modern cities, too. In the Tequio system in Mexico, which dates back to pre-Columbian times, community members pool materials and labour to construct schools, wells, and roads. In Brazil, collective mobilizations called mutirão harness unpaid work for the construction of community houses where everyone who contributes is a beneficiary. In Mexico’s Chihuahua mountains, the word córima describes an act of solidarity with someone who’s having trouble; it resembles potlach, in the Pacific Northwestern United States, where indigenous peoples distributed food and wealth to other tribes who have had a bad season. In the indigenous Amazon region of Colombia and Brazil, a maloca is a communal house cohabited by different families; workspaces are shared; at night, the maloca becomes a knowledge centre where stories, myths, and legends are told.252485

One of its advocates, Eduardo Gudynas, explains that ‘Buen Vivir rejects the modern stance that nature is a means to our ends.’ Guided by that principle, Buen Vivir campaigners are actively promoting legal and tax reforms, the introduction of environmental accounting, and alternative forms of regional governance. ‘Buen Vivir will not stop people building bridges, and it does not reject the use of Western physics and engineering to build them,’ explains Gudynas; ‘but any bridges we do propose are likely to be placed in locations that serve local and regional needs, and not the needs of global markets.’262522

Thirty per cent of the world’s total investment in mining is in Latin America, and dozens of ecologically damaging open-cut mining projects are under way. In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa argues that his country has no alternative to mining and resource extraction because ‘we need this money to end poverty’. His counterpart in Argentina, Cristina Fernández, takes a similar line: ‘it is noble to defend flora and fauna, but it’s more important to take care of the human species so it has work, water, and sewers’.27 These contradictory positions have to be faced. Although there will be no jobs, no welfare, and no education on a dead planet, a more positive narrative is needed to counter the toxic allure of extractivism. Although millions of people are busy with projects to meet practical needs in these precarious times, we’ve been lacking an umbrella concept, a coordinating idea, to make sense of the work we do as individuals in the swarm. COMMONING That something – that new story – is the story of the commons. The commons is an idea, and a practice, that generates meaning and hope. In The Commons: A New Narrative for Our Times, Silke Helfrich and Jörg Haas talk about the commons as ‘all the things that we inherit from past generations that enable our livelihoods’. Seen through that lens, the commons can include land, watersheds, biodiversity, common knowledge, software, skills, or public buildings and spaces. The maintenance, health, and sustainability of these resources are in our shared interest, as they have always been. No individual, company, or government created these common goods; therefore, none has a right to claim them as private property. On the contrary: we inherited them from previous generations and have a moral obligation to look after them for future generations.28 Along with the other kinds of solidarity I’ve described in this chapter, the commons as a social practice dates back many centuries. The original meaning of the term comes from the way that communities managed shared land in medieval Europe, but history is filled with similar systems in which communities managed common resources sustainably over the long term. The shared management of water, for example dates back eight thousand years; the earliest records of collectively managed irrigation have been found in regions of the Middle East that we now know as Iraq and Iran. In Bali, as I described in Chapter 4, a complex irrigation society that dates back a thousand years is still alive today, and evolving. The era of globalization is no exception; millions of commoners have organized in recent times to defend their forests and fisheries, reinvent local food systems, organize productive online communities, reclaim public spaces, improve environmental stewardship, and, as David Bollier puts it, to ‘re-imagine the very meaning of “progress”’.292530

No simple formula or rule book exists for commons governance but, in her 1990 book Governing the Commons, which was based on a systematic study of fisheries, irrigation, groundwater, and forestry systems, Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom identified a number of design principles that she had discovered were common in successful examples of self-governance: ▶ the principle that use value trumps exchange value: commons that are useful to our everyday life shall not be turned into commodities to be sold for money; ▶ the principle of reciprocity: anyone who takes from the commons has to contribute to the commons; ▶ the principle of free knowledge: all commoners must protect the right to share and contribute shared skills and technologies; ▶ the principle of self-organization: ways to resolve problems are sought for collectively rather than imposed from above.32 In the years since Ostrom’s pioneering work, a new generation of commoners has added clarity and detail to these broad principles. Among recent additions are: ▶ the need for collaborative monitoring of biophysical conditions; ▶ the principle of graduated sanctions to be applied to citizens who violate agreed rules; ▶ the need for conflict-resolution mechanisms.33 For my own work, which often involves connecting designers with communities in transition, I have added a number of Rules of Engagement to complement the principles articulated by Elinor Ostrom and her successors. Among these: ▶ respect what’s already there: most designers are trained to change things first and ask questions afterwards. A better use of a designer’s fresh eyes is to reveal hidden value and thus mobilize hidden local resources; ▶ empower local people: any design action that rearranges places and relationships is an exercise of power. A good test for the sensitivity of a design proposal is whether it enables people to increase control over their own territory and resources. ▶ think whole systems: when designing an improvement to a common resource, such as a river, the design of the device, such as a pump, will seldom be more than 10 per cent of the complete solution; the other 90 per cent – and the rest of the system – involves distribution, training, maintenance and service arrangements, and partnership and business models. These are just as important.2560

An important lesson has emerged from study of these diverse kinds of commoning: the How is as important as the What. Paying attention to the process by which groups work together is just as important as deciding what needs to be done, if not more so. It’s not enough simply to proclaim the moral superiority of sharing, for example, and then expect everyone to fall in line. Tough questions must be confronted, and not brushed under the carpet. Among these: how to define, map, and name the resources to be shared; determining who is entitled to what; designing rules and sanctions; designing how to make the rules. For one long-time advocate of commoning, Massimo De Angelis, how to deal with difference is the most important of these issues by far. ‘We have to go beyond the idea that democracy means: “here is my view, there is yours, let’s see who wins”,’ he asserts; ‘we need to acknowledge differences, allow those who don’t want to share with us, or with whom we do not want to share, to be heard.’34 Dealing with difference involves a lot of consensus building, active participation, and collective decision-making. All this takes time, and a politics that involves endless meetings is neither attractive nor practicable for most people. New ways of doing politics are therefore needed that are shaped by the ways people live now – not the other way round. For David Bollier, another insightful advocate, commoning is more of an art than a science. ‘We all know that the commons is about the stewardship of resources,’ he has written, ‘but we may not realize that it is also about hosting people. Not “managing” them or “organizing” them, but unleashing their capacity to self-organize themselves in creative, constructive, humane ways.’2589

Adam Kahane, one of the pioneers of conflict resolution and collaboration design. ‘What might seem at first glance to be abstract theory has proved incredibly instructive,’ says Dahle. ‘When we convene any group – fishers, processors, or financiers – we set up the conversation so there’s something in it for them. We acknowledge the interests of everyone in the room, and we never ask anyone to sacrifice their self-interest. We work to show – to prove – that there is a reason for them to shift their thinking and behaviour.’382620

Appreciative Inquiry (AI). In AI, rather than compile lists of all the problems that need to be fixed, and all the wicked things that have been done, the group focuses first on what’s working; it then explores how successful ingredients might be improved, and how. A number of next-generation institutes will teach you skills that are similar to AI. At the Presencing Institute, for example, founder Otto Scharmer runs Theory U workshops that teach people how to ‘co-sense and co-create positive change’. The Alia Institute, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, offers skill-building courses with names like Change Lab and Human Systems Dynamics. Another network, Art of Hosting, teaches people ‘how to be successful in complex circumstances when we can’t predict what ten, five or even two years down the road will look like’. In Brazil, the Elos Institute, founded in 2000 by young architects, runs a collaborative game called Oasis that’s designed ‘to awake and give impulse to communities through fast actions with high impact’. A cross between an architectural design project and an Amish-style barn-raising, Oasis games typically end with a square, a park, or a daycare centre being built there and then.2626

For the South African lawyer Cormac Cullinan, the answer is yes. A pioneer in Earth Jurisprudence, Cullinan compares our situation now with the abolition of slavery: even when American public opinion came to regard slavery as morally abhorrent, he explains, the concept of slaves as property remained hardwired into the legal system. It took a tremendous political effort – not to mention a civil war – before laws were changed and slavery was finally abolished.41 Changes to the legal status of living systems are now emerging in a wide variety of legal systems around the world – including unexpected ones. In 1996, for example, a celebrated legal text in the United States called Should Trees Have Standing? gave serious consideration to the proposition that trees might be given legal rights – in the same way that minors, or corporations, are given artificial legal personalities.42 To most people’s surprise the Supreme Court, although it voted against the proposal, also found that there was some merit to these arguments. More recently, a dozen US municipalities have introduced ordinances that grant equal rights to human and natural communities. In 2009 the city of Spokane became one of the first cities in the world to legislate for the rights of nature.43 ‘Ecosystems, including but not limited to, all groundwater systems, surface water systems, and aquifers, have the right to exist and flourish,’ the measure declared. ‘River systems have the right to flow, and to contain water of a quality necessary to provide habitat for native plants and animals, and to provide clean drinking water. Aquifers have the right to sustainable recharge, flow, and water quality.’ Then, in 2013, Santa Monica passed a Sustainability Rights Ordinance which recognizes that ‘natural communities and ecosystems possess fundamental and inalienable rights to exist and flourish in the City’;44 the Ordinance includes protections for this right from acts by corporate entities which, it states, ‘do not enjoy special privileges or powers under the law that subordinate the community’s rights to their private interests’. The Ordinance also articulates the rights of people – to self-governance, a healthy environment, and sustainable living. State and Federal authorities have retained the right to veto such measures – but the political lesson is that they are being passed at an increasing rate. At the scale of the nation state, radical legal expressions of a new worldview are also beginning to emerge. In Latin America, as I mentioned above, Ecuador’s national constitution was revised in 2009 to recognize and protect rights of nature.45 Indigenous elders played a critical part in the revision of the new constitution, which grants to Mother Earth ‘the right to exist, persist, maintain, and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions, and restoration’. Ecuador’s new constitution is not a one-off. In 2010, when Bolivia hosted a World People’s Conference on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth, it was attended by 30,000 people from 100 countries. One outcome, a Universal Declaration on Rights of Mother Earth, was presented to the UN. And a Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature has been founded with an initial sixty member organizations from around the world. Bolivia itself went on to introduce its own new legislation, an ‘Act of the Rights of Mother Earth’, and created a new ministry to oversee the Act.46 A shift away from seeing Earth solely in terms of ‘resources’, and the extension of civil rights to the natural world, is beginning to appear in international law and governance, too. An Earth Charter along these lines has been formally recognized by many transnational organizations,47 and a large number of universities are involved in the Earth System Governance Project, which was launched in 2009. This multidisciplinary network of scholars and practitioners, working across the Global North and South, is forging new connections between the social and natural sciences in exploring new models of…2648

Scientists at Harvard have reported, with great fanfare, that the human mind runs on less energy than a household light bulb.2693

Our cool-running brains perceive it as normal to consume non-renewable resources, at an accelerating rate, in a finite world. Even when informed of the grave environmental and social costs of this behaviour, our brains remain unperturbed. In the absence of direct experience to the contrary, they habitually believe that things will turn out for the best. It’s not that our brains lack processing capacity – more that they’re processing incomplete data. As I explained in Chapter 1, our whole society has been rendered cognitively blind by a metabolic rift between man and the Earth. Paved surfaces and pervasive media shield us from direct experience of the damage we’re inflicting on soils, oceans, and forests. The metabolic rift explains how we’re able to put the health of ‘the economy’ above all other concerns. Its very existence demonstrates that, to repeat Timothy Morton’s memorable phrase, ‘the ecological catastrophe has already occurred’.2 Out of sight, out of mind. Even people whose job it is to think about consequences reason in curious ways. Many intelligent business and money people, for example, are aware intellectually that we live in a finite world – but still believe passionately that growth is a good thing in and of itself. Despite being adepts in a world of numbers, they are curiously unconcerned by the implications of exponential growth. They are also remarkably sanguine about the possibility of unpredictable, non-linear change; they accept intellectually that so-called black swan events can happen – but at some other time, in some other place. Besides, as a senior money guy once told me, that’s why they have risk managers. Although some financial actors are indeed using the debt crisis, and austerity, as an excuse to grab publicly owned assets, they are not set on crashing the economy completely.2696

we are living in a ‘desert of the real’,2713

the National Security Agency (NSA), whose task is to achieve Total Information Awareness. The machine room for this project, a vast server farm, has been built in the middle of a desert, in Utah, where it needs 11 million litres (3 million US gallons) of fresh water daily just to keep cool. Not terribly smart.2718

According to Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, the amount of data in the world has doubled in the last two years and we apparently create as much information in two days now as we did from the dawn of man until 2003.3 With so much data available, the argument goes, Big Data represents ‘the next frontier for innovation’.2724

For the Financial Times, Big Data signifies nothing less than the arrival of a ‘postmodern economy’. Under the headline ‘Welcome to the Desert of the Real’, the paper stated in 2012 that ‘today’s market is the most infinitely complex and impossible object ever imagined’.6 In order to prosper, the FT opined, the modern investor must be ‘adaptable to changing modes of acuity’; be able ‘to imagine different realistic states of the world’; and be able to think as ‘both the mathematician and the artist’. If frothy prose like this appeared in an undergraduate’s cultural studies paper, one would not blink an eye – but these words adorned the house journal of global finance. It is surely alarming that the world’s economy is being shaped by people who are mesmerized by all things digital but blind to a much larger reality: the analogue knowledge accumulated in nature during 3.5 billion years of evolution. In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond argues that one reason societies fail is that their elites are insulated from the negative impact of their own actions.7 Diamond focuses on Easter Island, where the overuse of wood products eventually destroyed its inhabitants’ survival prospects, but the lesson applies equally to us today. We lust for speed, perfection, and control but, because we inhabit an abstract, digitally diminished world, we’re blind to the true costs of what we wish for. I do not pretend to be a cognitively superior observer, here; I spend too much time myself in environments, such as airport lounges, that are just as insulated from reality as the FT’s news room or a risk trader’s console. But I also spend enough time outside the digital bubble to know that the environmental impacts of the economy are no less devastating just because they are out of sight. The desert of the real isolates from literally vital knowledge in four ways: because it’s invisible; because it’s somewhere else; because our sensory bandwidth is too narrow; and because we’re ‘educated’. Of the life-critical phenomena we don’t see because they’re invisible, the most important is energy intensity. As I explained in Chapter 1, we need sixty times more energy per person to meet our daily life ‘needs’ than pre-modern men and women – and that gap is widening. When you think about it, that sixty-fold-and-rising difference should be terrifying – but we don’t think about it, or not clearly.2734

Another deadly feature of the desert of the real is that we think too much, and sense too little. Think back to that brain and its billions of neurons. We only use a tiny fraction of those neurons for conscious observation and rational thought: we use the rest to experience the world unconsciously – but these other ways of knowing the world have been suppressed in modern society. For the philosopher John Zerzan, this is where our problems began – when we embraced symbolic culture and placed language, art, and number above other ways of knowing the world. Because every abstraction both simplifies, and distances, earthly reality, it underpins a concept of progress in which the globe is perceived to be a repository of resources to fuel endless growth.82758

Abstract thought is deeply embedded in the fourth defining feature of the desert of the real: the fact that we’ve been ‘educated’. Time was, not so long ago, when children didn’t go to school: school surrounded them. As Ellen Haas describes it, ‘nature was a living teacher. Every relative – and every plant and animal – was a mentor. People soaked up the language of plants and animals by immersion.’9 We are born with an inherited aesthetic tendency to appreciate this intimate connection with the world, and for thousands of years this form of learning served us well – but nowadays we go to school. There, an unremitting focus on science and technology exacerbates our dislocation from the Earth. We become expert in the manipulation of symbols, abstractions, and concepts – but to what end? To earn money? To consume? We are also mistaught in school that competition between individuals, and survival of the fittest, is the dominant framework of life on Earth. The more up-to-date theory of symbiogenesis suggests that evolution takes place in communities of interacting entities and that, as Donna Haraway puts it, ‘our environment is us’.10 School-based education separates children physically, and therefore cognitively, from this reality. By promulgating a way of knowing that assumes an external world of objects and facts, it invalidates local systems of knowledge and local ways of knowing as well.112764

‘Doomer porn’, as some call it, stubbornly resists empathy. It produces guilt and denial rather than transformational change. As an alternative to doomer porn, more recent campaigns to change our behaviour have accentuated the positive and feature real people helping to make the world healthier. The aim is to make green behaviour more normal, more ‘sticky’.2780

However positive and uplifting their stories may be, they leave untouched the underlying narrative that we can have our cake and eat it – where ‘cake’ means a perpetual growth economy. To be blunt: a focus on the individual’s personal contribution to a problem – and how to change that – is an example of what cynical politicians call bait and switch. Two simple examples: if you or I take our shopping home in a reused disposable plastic bag, and feel good about doing so, the bag is typically responsible for about one-thousandth of the footprint of the food it contains.12 Or if I turn off my phone charger, on the principle that every little helps, the energy saved in switching off for one day is used up in one second of driving a car.13 Reusing a bag or turning off a charger may be an easier thing to ask than something huge and abstract, like reshaping a food system – but campaigns to make us feel good about ourselves deflect attention from the underlying values and structures that shape our behaviour in the first place. If accentuating the positive is not, of itself, an answer, we are left with a dilemma: what are we to do if, when people are exposed to shocking stories and images, nothing seems to change in the system as a whole? What are we to do as designers if we create a powerful piece of communication – and it has no impact? How do we reach a TL;DR generation (textspeak for Too Long: Didn’t Read) that survives the media blitz by filtering most of it out? In my search for guidance on this topic, I’ve discovered these are not new questions. St Augustine, in City of God, attacked ‘scenic games’ as being responsible for the death of the soul – and that was more than 1,500 years ago. A century ago, in 1908, the American philosopher John Dewey decried the emergence of what he called a ‘Kodak fixation’14 – a photographic attitude that reduces the citizen’s role to that of a spectator, detached from that which is experienced. Ivan Illich, writing in 1971, believed that our culture started to go off the rails when monks stopped reading texts aloud to each other and became solitary scholars – in 1120.15 Twenty years ago, Susan Sontag’s classic text Regarding the Pain of Others raised similar issues – with particular reference to war photography.16 ‘Why is it’, she asked, ‘that even when we are exposed to shocking stories and images, nothing seems to change?’ Sontag memorably alerted us to the danger that photographs – and by implication all visualizations – have a tendency, in her words, to ‘shrivel sympathy’. Images shown on television, she wrote, are, by definition, images of which one sooner or later tires. Image-glut keeps attention light, mobile, relatively indifferent to content. ‘Compassion’, Sontag concluded, ‘is an unstable emotion… it needs to be translated into action, or it withers.… It is passivity that dulls feeling.’ If it’s passivity that dulls feeling, as Susan Sontag concluded, if emitting messages – however clever or evocative they may be – is ineffective without some kind of follow-up action, then it follows that the actions we need to take are those that reconnect us – viscerally and emotionally – with the living systems we’ve lost touch with. These actions should create space for people to experience relationships with living systems no matter how small the scale; they should facilitate a sense of belonging and being at home in the world as it is now, in Roger Scruton’s words, and focus attention on the positive qualities of often small, humble, living things that surround us.172784

NEW WAYS OF KNOWING In today’s world we learn to perceive the things around us as stuff that is lifeless, brute, and inert. Nature, if we think about it at all, is a nice place to go for a picnic. With this picture of the world in mind, we fill up our lives, lands, and oceans with junk without a second thought. But we used to think quite differently. The idea that things might be ‘vital’ was first expounded formally by Greek philosophers known as ‘hylozoists’ – ‘those who think that matter is alive’; they made no distinction between animate and inanimate, spirit and matter.2814

For Roman sages, likewise: in his epic work On the Nature of Things, the poet Lucretius argued that everything is connected, deep down, in a world of matter and energy. Ancient Chinese philosophers also believed that the ultimate reality of the world is intrinsically dynamic; in the Tao, everything in the universe, whether animate or inanimate, is embedded in the continuous flow and change. In Buddhist texts, images of ‘stream’ and ‘flow’ appear repeatedly; they evoke a universe that’s in a state of impermanence, of ceaseless movement. In seventeenth-century Europe, the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza conceived of existence as a continuum, an inseparable tangle of body, mind, ideas, and matter. And just seventy years ago, Maurice Merleau-Ponty was an advocate not only of being in the world but also of belonging to it, having a relationship with it, interacting with it, perceiving it in all dimensions. Our long-held belief that matter matters, so to speak, was obscured by the fire and smoke of the thermo-industrial economy – but it never really went away, and many of these ideas are resurfacing today. For thinkers in the ‘new materialism’ movement, our relationship with the material world would be more respectful and joyful, if only we realized that we are part of the world of things, not separate from it.2819

our education does not equip us to grasp these hidden connections, but for thinkers such as Fritjof Capra, this knowledge is literally vital. The greatest challenge of our time, he believes, is to foster widespread awareness of the hidden connections among living and non-living things.23 In a powerful response to Capra’s challenge, Stephan Harding, in his book Animate Earth, describes how the world works not only at the macro level – the atmosphere, oceans, or Earth’s crust – but also on a micro level: the way plankton and bacteria contribute to the formation of clouds (by acting as nuclei for water droplets); how mycorrhizal fungi team up with plants that grow in poor soils; how chemical signals called pheromones allow ant colonies to behave like a super-organism. Co-evolution – the formation of biocultural partnerships – is how our fertile planet thrives, says Harding. Although we have ruptured these relationships, it is not too late to build bridges so that Earth can become healthy and self-regulating once again.242849

Until recently, we tended to think of the nervous system as a glorified set of message cables connecting the body to the brain – but from a scientific perspective, the boundary between mind and world turns out to be a porous one. The human mind is hormonal, as well as neural. Our thoughts and experiences are not limited to brain activity in the skull, nor are they enclosed by the skin. Our metabolism, and nature’s, are interconnected on a molecular, atomic, and viral level. Mental phenomena – our thoughts – emerge not merely from brain activity, but from what Teed Rockwell describes as ‘a single unified system embracing the nervous system, body, and environment’.25 The importance of this new perspective is profound. If our minds are shaped by our physical environments – and not just by synapses clicking away inside our box-like skulls – then the division between the thinking self and the natural world – a division that underpins the whole of modern thought – begins to dissolve. Having worked hard throughout the modern era to lift ourselves ‘above’ nature, we are now being told by modern science that man and nature are one, after all.2859

From Alaska to Patagonia, and over millennia, indigenous peoples have had a closer connection with the biosphere than we do. In hundreds of cultures, the belief that non-human entities possess vital or spiritual qualities is commonplace. All manner of ceremonies, arts, participatory ritual, and performance, are used to maintain harmony with animals, plants, objects, and nature. This is not to suggest that indigenous people live in a bubble – still less that they should be excluded from the modern world as museum pieces. But for people who enjoy embodied connection with living systems on a daily basis, the idea of co-evolution with all living things is – well, second nature.2869

Shinto,26 Serer, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism – contain elements of a belief that plants, rocks, mountains, and even thunder, wind, or shadows, are fellow sentient subjects. Plants and fungi are especially revered in Amazonian cultures; for ‘plant teachers’ or ‘vegetalista’, the medicinal and magical properties of plants are a means to see deeper into the spiritual ecology of deep forests.27 To those who live with it, this perspective is not at all exotic; most indigenous people do not even have a word to describe their matter-of-fact belief. The word ‘animism’ was invented by Western anthropologists.2876

transrational perception is cultivated. Altered states of consciousness – meditation, trance, dreams, and imagination – are found in 90 per cent of traditional cultures. The anthropologist Tara Waters Lumpkin, who has immersed herself in the subject first-hand, believes that perceptually diverse cultures are better equipped to practise whole-systems thinking than people trained only in the scientific method; and, because they experience biodiversity in richer and more complex ways, they are better stewards of their environments. Perceptual diversity leads to a higher degree of adaptability and evolutionary competence, Lumpkin concludes, than the monophasic consciousness, embodied in the scientific approach, that is disconnected from richer modes of understanding.282884

Luckily, we probably still have the aptitude. Having spent 99 per cent of our social history in hunting and gathering environments, our sensitivity to landscape is genetically hardwired:2893

‘The knowledge which has developed in a given locality, that is necessary for survival, is the result of collective experience.’30 One reason we’ve damaged our own life places is that we under-value the kinds of socially created knowledge Kropotkin wrote about. Embodied, situated, and unmediated communications were the norm before we invented writing and, later, mass media.2903

Connection is not just about words, he taught, it’s about encounter and community. Literally ‘vital’ conversations need to be embodied, and situated. It follows from Martin Buber’s insights that we need more interactive and less choreographed forms of encounter. Over many thousands of years participatory ritual, and performance, were the main ways in which beliefs were shared within a culture. In indigenous cultures the world over today, too, communities use ceremonies, arts, and stories to maintain harmony between nature and culture, body and mind. The meeting formats we design now, therefore, should enable us, quite simply, to breathe the same air in a natural context. In my own work as an event organizer I call these ‘feral encounters’: they usually takes place outside – or at least, outside the disciplinary tent – and are shaped and energized by their context, not by an abstract agenda. Being outside the tent also brings one closer to people with first-hand experience of social-ecological systems: fishers, farmers, foresters, water stewards, ride-sharers, space reusers. An out-of-the-tent approach enables distracted people to cherish and nurture what’s unique about each place, each moment, each group of people. This is why we call our Doors of Perception encounters ‘xskools’. ‘X’ means: breathing the same air. Shoulder-to-shoulder learning. The opportunity to be still. Only here, only now.2909

HOW CHANGE HAPPENS Getting out of the tent is just the start. Whether inside the tent or out, change doesn’t happen just because you tell people things. Change is not about campaigns to raise awareness, or to change other people’s behaviour; these approaches simply don’t work – or only partially. Change is not much about finely crafted ‘visions’ and the promise of a better reality in some future place and time. In the fine words of Guy McPherson, ‘Nature evolves by paying attention to present needs and opportunities – working piecemeal rather than in grand designs.’32 Above all, change is not about making demands, of telling politicians what they must do. ‘The government must end our dependency on fossil fuels.’ ‘We must end this obsession with perpetual growth.’ ‘They’ won’t do any such thing. They can’t. They’re not captains of a ship. They’re following the wrong script in a dysfunctional system. Change is more likely to happen when people reconnect – with each other, and with the biosphere – in rich, real-world contexts of the kind I have written about in this book. This will strike some readers as being naive and unrealistic. But given what we know about the ways complex systems – including belief systems – change, my confidence in the power of the Small to shape the Big remains undimmed. As we’ve learned from systems thinking, transformation can unfold quietly as a variety of changes and interventions, and often small disruptions accumulate across time. At a certain moment – which is impossible to predict – a tipping point, or phase shift, is reached and the system as a whole transforms. It’s a lesson confirmed repeatedly by history: ‘All the great transformations have been unthinkable until they actually came to pass,’ writes the French philosopher Edgar Morin. ‘The fact that a belief system is deeply rooted does not mean it cannot change.’33 2920

A leave-things-better economy – myriad projects in which people are taking action to close the metabolic rift. 2939

The philosopher Joanna Macy describes the appearance of this new story as the ‘Great Turning’, a profound shift in our perception, a reawakening to the fact that we are not separate or apart from plants, animals, air, water, and the soils. There’s a spiritual dimension to this story – Macy is a Buddhist scholar – but her Great Turning is consistent with recent scientific discoveries, too: the idea, as articulated by Stephan Harding, that the world is ‘far more animate than we ever dared suppose’. Explained in this way – by science, as much as by poetry, art, and philosophy – the Earth no longer appears to us as a repository of inert resources. On the contrary: the interdependence between healthy soils, living systems, and the ways we can help them regenerate, finally addresses the ‘why’ of economic activity that we’ve been lacking. This narrative points to the one kind of growth that makes sense, and that we can afford: the regeneration of life on Earth. The core value of this emerging economy is stewardship, rather than extraction – and the positive feeds on the positive. The more pieces we fit in – each piece a new way to feed, shelter, and heal ourselves in partnership with living processes – the easier it becomes. It’s our genes at work: formed long before the industrial age, they’re helping to reconnect us with our wild side.2940

CHAPTER 1: CHANGING 1 Vidyut, ‘Smart Cities or Cleverly Disguised Corporate Colonies?’, Aam janata, 14 February 2015, https://aamjanata.com/smart-cities-cleverly-disguised-corporate-colonies/ 2 Bardi, Ugo, ‘Tainter’s law: Where is the physics?’, Our Finite World, 27 March 2011, http://ourfiniteworld.com/2011/03/31/tainters-law-where-is-the-physics/ 3 Fernández-Savater, Amador, ‘Strength and Power Reimagining Revolution’, Guerilla Translation, 29 July 2013, http:// guerrillatranslation.com/2013/07/29/strength-and-power-reimagining-revolution/comment-page-1/ 4 Macy, Joanna, ‘The Great Turning’, Ecoliteracy, http://www.ecoliteracy.org/essays/great-turning 5 Morin, Edgar, Homeland Earth: A Manifesto for the New Millennium – Advances in Systems Theory, Complexity and the Human Sciences, New York: Hampton Press, 1999 6 DeLong, Brad, ‘Earl Cook’s Estimates of Energy Capture’, Grasping Reality, 22 January 2012, http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2012/01/earl-cooks-estimates-of-energy-capture.html 7 Murphy, Tom, ‘Can Economic Growth Last?’, Do The Math, 14 July 2011, http:// physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/07/can-economic-growth-last/ 8 Tverberg, Gail, ‘Energy and the Economy – Twelve Basic Principles’, Our Finite World, 14 August 2014, http://ourfiniteworld.com/ 2014/08/14/energy-and-the-economy-twelve-basic-principles/ 9 Glover, John, ‘Global Debt Exceeds $100 Trillion as Governments Binge’, Bloomberg, 9 March 2014 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-09/global-debt-exceeds-100-trillion-as-governments-binge-bis-says.html 10 Tverberg, Gail, ‘WSJ Gets it Wrong on “Why Peak Oil Predictions Haven’t Come True”’, Our Finite World, 6 October 2014, http://ourfiniteworld.com/ 2014/10/06/wsj-gets-it-wrong-on-why-peak-oil-predictions-havent-come-true/ 11 Commons Strategy Group, ‘The Coming Financial Enclosure of the Commons’, Shareable, 11 June 2013, http://www.shareable.net/blog/the-coming-financial-enclosure-of-the-commons 12 ‘The Financialisation of Nature: Linking food, land grabs, climate & mining’, Gaia Foundation, 10 November 2011, http://www.gaiafoundation.org/blog/the-financialisation-of-nature-linking-food-land-grabs-climate-mining 13 http://naturenotforsale.org/declaration/ 14 https://www.foeeurope.org/nature-not-for-sale 15 http://www.weforum.org/reports/global-risks-report-2015 16 http://www.dni.gov/index.php/about/organization/national-intelligence-council-global-trends 17 ‘Planetary Boundaries’, Stockholm Resilience Centre, http://www.stockholmresilience.org/21/research/research-news/1-15-2015-planetary-boundaries-2.0—new-and-improved.html 18 Raford, Noah, ‘Collapse Dynamics: Phase Transitions in Complex Social Systems’, 29 November 2009, http://news.noahraford.com/?p=48 19 Kelly, Kevin, ‘The Post-Productive Economy’, The Technium, 1 January 2013, http://kk.org/thetechnium/2013/01/the-post-produc/ 20 http://www.weforum.org/events/world-economic-forum-annual-meeting-2013 21 Murphy, Tom, ‘Can Economic Growth Last?’, Do The Math, 14 July 2011, http:// physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/07/can-economic-growth-last/ 22 Zolli, Andrew and Ann Marie Healy, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013 23 Foster, John Bellamy, The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009, p. 13 24 Morton, Timothy, ‘The Catastrophe Has Already Occurred’, 13 July 2008, http:// ecologywithoutnature.blogspot.fr/2008/07/ catastrophe-has-already-occurred.html 25 Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, 1962 26 ‘World in Transition: A Social Contract for Sustainability’, German Advisory Council on Global Change (WGBU), http://www.wbgu.de/fileadmin/templates/dateien/veroeffentlichungen/hauptgutachten/jg2011/wbgu_jg2011_en.pdf 27 Kingston, Christopher and Gonzalo Caballero, ‘Comparing Theories of Institutional Change’, Amherst College, 16 June 2008, https://www3.amherst.edu/~cgkingston/Comparing.pdf CHAPTER 2: GROUNDING 1 ‘Les Incroyables Comestibles du…2952

The Light Bulb Conspiracy; David McConville for the Buckminster Fuller Challenge. A good number of the people who appear in this book met first at Doors of Perception 9 in India; I thank Aditya Dev Sood and his team for their invaluable role in that memorable event. Since then our hosts and partners for Doors of Perception xskools, which succeeded the Doors conference, have been a joy and inspiration to work with, especially: Edmund Colville, who hosted the first xskool at West Lexham, England; Michael Toivio, Aija Freimane, Bo Westerlund, Martin Avila, Magnus Lindfors, Petra Lijla, Yngve Gunnarson, and Karina Vissonova for our ongoing xskools in Sweden; Elisabeth Bastian, at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in Katoomba; Christopher Crouch, Sally Holmes, and Brad Pettit in Fremantle; Alan Pert, Gini Lee, and Rory Hyde in Melbourne; Mansi Gupta in Kanpur; Christian Duell and Peter Hall in Brisbane; Klaus K. Loenhart and Michele Savorgnano in Venice; Donna Holford-Lovell and Dawn Campbell in Dundee; Alison Clarke and Michael Kieslinger in Vienna; Jacqueline Otten, Michael Krohn, and Karin Zindel in Zurich; Simon O’Rafferty, Frank O’Connor, and Andrew Goodman in North Wales; Terry Irwin at CMU; Andrew Polaine in Lucerne; Simona Casarotto in Treviso; Andrew Bradley, Linda Doyle, and Barry Sheahan in Dublin; Stuart Walker in Lancaster; Serge Gheldere, Joannes Vandermeulen, and Heleen van Loon in Belgium; Aldo de Jong and Abby Margolis in Barcelona; Barbara Predan in Llubljana; Nurten Meriçer, Tuna Ozkuhadar, Ayhan Ensici, Merve Titiz, and Julie Upmeyer in Istanbul; the late Dori Gislason, Soley Stefansdottir, Andri Magnasson, and Gísli Örn Bjarnhéðinsson in Iceland; Birger Sevaldson, Bjarne Ringstad, Perann Sylvia Stokke, and Jane Pernille in Norway; Peter Krogh in Denmark; Ewa Gołebiowsk in Poland; Julius Oförsagd in Rovaniemi; Carla Mayumi, Cristina Bilsand, Camilo Belchior, and Marcelo Melo in Brazil; Oscar Salinas Flores, Jimena Acosta, Emiliano Godoy, and Desiree Ibinarriaga in Mexico; Alvin Yip in Hong Kong; Banny Banerjee at Stanford; Kati Rubinyi, Mud Baron, Rebeca Mendez, and Adam Eeuwens in Los Angeles; Edward West, Sarah Brooks, Leslie Roberts, and Kirk Bergstrom in the Bay Area; Peter Wünsch and Rachel Deller in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Ben Brangwyn, Isabel Carlisle, and Ed Mitchell in the Transition Network.3971

For keeping mind, body, and soul more or less connected, I thank my teacher Valérie Katz. My wife Kristi, and daughter Kate, have had to tolerate a preoccupied 3998

Precious and Grace: No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (17) (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series) by Alexander McCall Smith

The past was not bad; some of it may have been less than perfect—there had been cruelties then that we had done well to get rid of—but there had also been plenty of good things. There had been the old Botswana ways, the courtesy and the kindness; there had been the attitude that you should find time for other people and not always be in a desperate rush; there had been the belief that you should listen to other people, should talk to them, rather than spend all your time fiddling with your electronic gadgets; there had been the view that it was a good thing to sit under a tree sometimes and look up at the sky and think about cattle or pumpkins or non-electric things like that.283 Even fresh air, the air we breathed each day, had its price tag, it seemed—one we were only now beginning to understand and was all about not destroying the things that gave us that fresh air—the trees, the greenery.1296 “But then I’ve noticed it, Rra: people are very slow to say sorry. I don’t know why this should be, but they do not say sorry easily.” “Perhaps it’s because they think that saying sorry means that they were wrong. Perhaps it makes them feel small. Or look small.” Mma Ramotswe was quick to propose the exact opposite. “Saying sorry does not make you look small—it makes you look big.” “I think so too,” said Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. “But some people are small inside, and if you’re small inside, you can’t be big outside. It just won’t come to you.”1967

She looked down at the earth. We cry over bits of earth; we fight over it; we take our monuments and place them upon the land to assert our claims; we make small patches sacred in some way, as happened here over thirty years ago when a much-loved animal was buried amidst a child’s tears.2077