30 December 2006

The Seas are Rising

For the first time, an inhabited island has disappeared beneath rising seas.

Rising seas, caused by global warming, have for the first time washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth. The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India's part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true.

Read the whole article by The Independent

28 December 2006

A community bank with its own currency

See here a video from Brazil, of a small community that created its own bank and currency:

13 December 2006

Sustainability Background Papers

(picture by sillygwailo)

I'd like to point you to a series of interesting papers, posted at the website of the Parliamentary Commissioner of the Environment. They are background papers on a series of issues. They are all important, yet I'd like to emphasise a few:

by Anew NZ
Significant work on progress indicators is taking place in New Zealand but the challenge is to achieve integration and comparability of the diverse indicator sets. Gross Domestic Product should no longer be used as a key indicator of society's well-being. Six action steps are recommended.

* Corporate sustainability reporting in New Zealand (0.3 MB pdf)
by Kerry Griffiths and Julia Lindesay
The emergence of triple bottom line (TBL) reporting in New Zealand, where stakeholder demands for information and transparency are not as strong as they are internationally.

* Lyttelton working towards sustainability: A case study of Project Port Lyttelton, a community group acting as catalyst (4.1 MB pdf)
by Margaret Jefferies and Wendy Everingham
Project Port Lyttelton is a grass roots community group that works to bring about a sustainable world locally. An exploration of aspects including communication, values, networking, and taking risks, and a review of several Lyttelton projects.

* Sustainability in New Zealand - Lifting the game (0.5 MB pdf)
by John Peet
Our economy's relationships with the natural environment, society and our institutional framework are not sustainable. To move forward we need a national strategy for sustainable development and policy tools including ecotaxes and tradeable permits.

by Robert Vale and Charles Eason
Sustainability seen in terms of self-reliant, resilient, and resource efficient housing, of which few New Zealand examples exist. Sustainable housing means new buildings and neighbourhoods with zero non-renewable energy consumption to suit a range of tastes and incomes.

Novye Atagi, 10 years on

In a few days there will be the 10th anniversary of the massacre of international Red Cross aid workers in the small chechen town of Novye Atagi. Six aid workers, 5 nurses and a construction engineer, were killed in the early morning hours of the 17 December 1996, in a premeditated attack on their sleeping quarters. The expatriates were workers in a small war-surgical hospital. This was the single worst incident that ICRC ever experienced in its entire history. The people who lost their lives were:

Fernanda Calado, an ICRC nurse of Spanish nationality
Ingeborg Foss, a nurse from the Norwegian Red Cross
Nancy Malloy, a medical administrator from the Canadian Red Cross
Gunnhild Myklebust, a nurse from the Norwegian Red Cross
Sheryl Thayer, a nurse from the New Zealand Red Cross
Hans Elkerbout, a construction technician from the Netherlands Red Cross.


- Statement by ICRC

- CRIMINAL CASE NO. 96620018, GlobalSecurity.org


On the 17th and 18th December commemorative events will be held at ICRC in Geneva, Switzerland. Also at this occassion, medals will be given to those who died working for ICRC recently:

Mrs. Jeannette Waddell Fournier (who died on 2.9.2006 in Senegal)
Mr. Salih Ibrahim Hassan (who died on 16.8.2006 in Soudan)
Mr. Samir Kadhum Jwad Al-Karady (who died on 13.1.2005 in Irak)

02 December 2006

More on Local Currencies

An earlier posting on complementary currencies and its importance in a local economy created some discussions. I'd like to comment further on that. This is also in response to two messages that went over the Living Economies mailing list. You can read them here and here.

Giving it some deeper thought, it is not the actually the circulation of money locally that is ultimately important, but the CREATION of money locally.

There are several different ways that money can be created. It depends if a particular currency is cash-based or if it is wealth-based. Mutual credit currencies like LETS are created as a debt – and there is nothing wrong with that. In LETS, the debt incurred by currency creation is a debt to a community of people. In the conventional money system, the debt is incurred to a (often international) bank. The process used by banks to create money is called fractional reserve banking. This process has an additional twist: the payment of interest. It is the involvement of interest in the money creation process which is at the core of the problem, which contributes to the constant redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich, the redistribution from the fringes to the centre and, I believe, it is also ultimately responsible for our environmentally destructive economics.

Therefore the best way to address those problems is to issue money locally, in a healthy way. Give the power to issue money to the people instead of businesses.

(picture: 10 slices of Burlington Bread, USA, issued interest free)

The second posting sounded to me a bit like neo-liberal propaganda. The writer shows little or no understanding of complementary currency and how it might be applied to local economics.

It is a common misconception that when we say 'interest-free', we mean that money shouldn't give any return when invested. We may debate if getting an income without work (that is what returns on investments are), especially when little or no risks are involved, is ethical or not. The writer himself wrote that “The core problem is the human desire to get more of something for less work on their part.”

However, the real issue around interest-free money is how this money is created. He writes that 'creating alternative currencies which do not permit interest are complicated' – the actual fact is that virtually all complementary currencies are created without interest.

Again, any discussion of this topic is only meaningful if the process of fractional reserve banking is understood. When licensed banks create money by loaning it to their customers with interest, then scarcity is created, together with all the resulting negative effects. It is key to understand that more than 98% of the money supply is created by loans incurring interest (Reserve Bank of New Zealand figures). If all that money is due to be paid back, plus interest – where does the additional money for the interest come from? Fractional reserve banking has an influence on the money supply. Here in NZ we have the additional twist to the story that any reserve ratio has been abolished in 1985; monetary policy is entirely conducted by the setting of interest rates.

When credit unions loan money to their members against interest, then no new money is created, and therefore the interest charged has no influence on the money supply as a whole. Neither does interest returned on investments influence the money supply. While it is possible to issue a complementary currency without interest, it would also be possible to invest it with interest returned on investments. However, where interest is involved, one always creates a redistribution mechanism that funnels money from the poor to the rich ...

That is why it is important to note that ancient religious prohibitions against usury (interest) applied to all kinds of interest taking. From that arose the principles of islamic banking for example, which prohibits interest taking, and promotes among other things the sharing of profit and loss and joint-venture.

01 December 2006

Breaking Ice

Climate change and its effects on our planet is still high on my mind. Yesterday and today I came across a number of articles dealing with the effects of climate change.

The first one was an article in The Press reporting on the findings of a New Zealand-led drilling team in Antarctica, who has recovered three million year of climate history. The conclude that the Ross Ice Shelf, a raft of ice the size of France, could collapse quickly, triggering a dramatic rise in sea levels. History indicates that if the ice shelf collapses, it will do so suddenly and quickly. That was also proven in 2002 when the Larsen Ice Shelf extremely quickly collapsed.

In January, British Antarctic Survey researchers predicted that its collapse would make sea levels rise by at least 5m, with other estimates predicting a rise of up to 17m.

At the same time, James Lovelock, who is famous for the Gaia hypothesis, depicting the planet as a living being, predicted that large parts of the planet will become uninhabitable. He estimates that only about one tenth of Earth's population will be able to survive. He estimates that the temperatures on Earth will rise up to 8C, and that our current efforts will be mostly meaningless. Warming will be driven by a feedback loop that we cannot influence anymore. (see http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/1129-05.htm)

Maybe a prospect too depressing to contemplate ...

(Photo by Yukon White Light)

19 November 2006

Why do we need Complementary Currencies?

A few days ago I got confronted with the following statement:
If a conventional currency turns enough times in a local economy, it has much the same effect as a complimentary currency.
I think that there is some truth to this statement - and at the same time it serves to illustrate why we need to use complementary currencies.

Local circulation is indeed the main purpose of complementary currency. This is best exemplified by a type of currency that is called 'Regio', mainly implemented in Germany. There, the local currency is a cash-based extension of the national currency. People by intention can only spend it locally, and participating businesses in turn can only use it to source goods and services locally. The consumer who intends to 'buy local' will find it is easy to do. It might be more challenging for participating businesses, as they consciously have to 'buy local', too. It might not matter much what coins and pieces of paper currency look like, but if they look differently, they are a constant reminder of our commitment to local economy and community. Something we can easily forget when we go shopping in our 'local' supermarket.

(The Chiemgauer, the most famous of German Regio currencies!)

As for other types of complementary currency, like LETS/Green Dollars/Timebanks, even more ties to the local community come into play. A cash-based currency is still a commodity, issued by an organisation. Green Dollars however are obligations and commitments between people in a community. They resemble a relationship, and the 'promises' behind those relationships are backed by the people who participate. A promise from one person to other people within a community is something very personal. This is entirely different from an anonymous piece of commodity that is handed from person to person, signifying some sort of 'value'.

(HANDS: A New Zealand example of a LETS also using vouchers!)

While it is absolutely correct that if national money circulating 10 times in the local community would do the job, we are not aware of how pervasive the leaks in our local economy really are. A complementary currency will help us to be aware, it will also help us remedy the situation.

15 November 2006

Is Maslow's Pyramid upside down?

When I first time came across Maslow's Pyramid many years ago I intuitively felt it was not correct - it seemed upside down. But who am I to argue with a respected scientist?

Recently I saw that others must be thinking the same way as me:

Maslow's upside down world is not surprising, given that modern western science doesn't perceive and recognise the metaphysical - how would it ever guess that self-realisation is actually the at the core of human experience, and not just a comfortable add-on once we have satisfied all our physical needs.

Satisfying physical needs is only a means to get to the core of what it means to be human: self-realisation. Once having understood this, we need to ask ourselves to what extent we need to reorganise our culture and civilisation, and put the real needs into the centre and not the physical (consumer) needs and wants.

11 November 2006

How do we change the system?

Catherine Austin Fitts made some very pertinent remarks in her review of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Mainly she pointed out that Gore didn't mention a word of why we got there at the first place, and who would be responsible for driving the current system. She rightly points out that in order to be able to effectively do something about climate change we need to understand what causes it, and she points the finger at our current economic system which she calls "The Tapeworm".

I agree that our economic system is as unsustainable as it can get, driven by a money system that absolutely requires endless (and exponential) growth. It needs change!

The big question is: How do we change the system?

Well, what if the only thing that is needed is a better system that people could adopt?

What if we set up a network of a multitude of complementary currencies which will serve the purpose of an economy for people and the environment?

And what if we then personally just make this small decision and take this small step of not using the conventional dollar anymore in favour of using those new currencies to conduct our business(es)?

Maybe we don't need more than just countless individuals making a decision to change the way they do things. It happens all the time - new things are invented, and old things become obsolete. That is really the only thing that needs to happen with the current money system. Uruguay was the most recent country to pay back all its debts to the IMF, ahead of schedule. If all countries do that, then the IMF will soon be obsolete, too ...

09 November 2006

7 Questions for the Winners of the American Elections

- When will you make peace in the Middle East?
- What are you going to do about your president and those who design, support and execute his policies?
- When will you stop being the biggest rogue state on the planet?
- Are you going to stop using 'terrorism' as a political tool to scare people and justify un-democratic policies?
- Will you finally submit yourselves to the International Court of Justice and the Geneva Conventions?

But much more important:
- When do you intend to address the huge and bloated ecological footprint of the American life-style?
- When will you finally be joining the rest of the world in their efforts to curb climate change?

And I'm sure there are lots more questions that need asking ...

08 November 2006

New Zealand's Cult of Cold

Yesterday, the Parliamentary Commissioner of the Environment published its latest report 'Healthy, Wealthy and Wise', claiming that up to one third of New Zealand's homes, housing more than 1 million people, are cold, damp, causing sickness and keeping people in poverty. The report call s on government to take radical action.

This reminds me of a report I wrote at the end of July this year. It is reproduced below:

(The temperature measured in our bedroom, on 28 Jul at 7.57am: 6.5 degrees!)

It is not that the winter is especially cold in New Zealand. But it is a rather nasty experience! More so since we are experiencing one of the coldest winters for a longtime this year. Where we come from, the winter is much colder than here, but so much easier to experience ... Residential housing elsewhere is nice, warm and cosy – but not so in New Zealand. Buildings have wafer thin walls, no double glazing and construction that seems to be designed to let as much heat escape as possible.

In New Zealand, many people worship a cult of cold. One can see people walking around in t-shirts in the middle of the winter. With 5 degrees Celsius, many children go to school in shorts. The other day, a frosty morning, an 11 year old even boarded the bus with bare feet.

According to the MetService, this year is the coldest since 1972, and some people told me that they didn't remember anything as cold as that since 1951 when they moved here. This chill highlights some uncomfortable facts: cold homes may be killing hundreds of people each year. A staggering 500 more people over 80 die in July than in February, and death from respiratory disease in children is three times more likely to occur in July than January. Compare this with the country's road toll of 366 for the past year. Also, compare this to colder countries like Sweden and Russia, where the jump in deaths during winter is much less severe.

The average temperature in New Zealand homes lies just below the point the World Health Organisation warns can threaten health (16 degrees). The recommendation is that homes be heated to 18 degrees. Most New Zealanders put up with such conditions without complaints. They seem to consider insulating and heating their homes a waste of money. Never mind the consequences. This is an aspect of local culture I don't think we ever will adapt to!

We, for our part, have huge electricity bills. Even though we only heat our daughter's room, and sometimes put on an electrical oil column heater beside the breakfast table, as eating breakfast there with 10 degrees is neither enjoyable or acceptable. The only fixed installed heating in the building is a logburner in the kitchen. Burning enough wood, it will heat the kitchen and the dining area nicely, but not the rest of the house. We have abandoned the master bedroom during the winter, as we regularly measure 5 or 6 degrees there at the end of the night. Who wants to get up in the morning in such freezing cold conditions?

06 November 2006

Urban Development Strategies

At the end of last week I wrote about the threat of rising sea-levels to our city because of climate change. A map shows that possibly large areas of the city could be underwater as soon as 30 years from now, maybe a little bit further down the line. Most scientists seem to agree that climate change is inevitable, though there are always a few sceptics. At least it looks like climate change has finally become a mainstream political issue.

Yet it was rather odd to read in the paper today that the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy, which is now open for the next round of submissions, seems to completely ignore climate change. Somebody must be dreaming: is it those who predict rising sea-levels or is it those who are planning high-density developments in New Brighton, right at the coast?

04 November 2006

What can YOU do about climate change?

Not quite convinced yet? Maybe watch this short contribution by Leonardo Di Caprio! (Click here!)

Do you want to get some solid scientific explanation? I certainly recommend watching Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth'. There is no doubt: Climate Change is happening.

Today is the Global Day for Action on Climate Change. http://www.globalclimatecampaign.org/ gives you an overview of what is happening around the world, to coincide with the UN Climate Talks in Nairobi, Kenya.

The time to wait for government and big business to act has passed. Now it is up to us to take action. There is a list of things we can do that goes with the movie 'An Inconvenient Truth'. Those things are simple, however, they are helping us change our habits.

To have a real impact, we need to re-evaluate many of our actions, in the economic, political and cultural spheres of our society. George Monbiot sets out a plan for drastic action by government, with 10 affordable measures that can be taken fairly quickly to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 90% by 2030. It starts with simply using the latest science when talking about greenhouse-gas emissions. Then it goes from adapting building code regulations, to redirecting defence spending, to supporting public transport, to the closure of out-of-town superstores, etc.

Here in New Zealand you can support the Greens who have just announced a 6-pack of bills that could reduce NZ's greenhouse gas emissions. Both of the ruling mainstream parties (Labour and National) haven't been very proactive in acknowledging climate change or doing something about it.

Dont' forget: Political will is a renewable resource! And we will need lots of it!

03 November 2006

Climate Change for real

Tomorrow is the International Day of Climate Change

It seems that now almost everyone agrees that climate change is an issue. The question is now what and how much we need to do about it. In the UK, the Stern Report concluded that climate change is bad for business. However, climate activists warn that this 700-page analysis offers a dangerously inadequate and deceptive plan that will lead to inevitable global warming catastrophe if its recommendations are followed. Instead an international commitment to a drastic eg 60 - 90% reduction in emissions would be required.

As this picture shows, half of the city of Christchurch, including the area where I'm currently living, would be submerged if the sea rises 7m above the current level. Given that Greenland ice and large parts of Antarctica are melting (because in those areas now already higher than normal temperatures are making themselves felt), seven meters is probably no exaggeration. Did you want to know how your area might look like? Go here: http://flood.firetree.net/

One of the solutions that is talked about a lot is called 'Contraction and Convergence', however, I'm having my doubts that we will be able to reach an international consensus that will achieve such a feat.

My conclusion: Move to higher grounds! The major (and minor) governments of this world will probably not do anything before it is too late (and many say it is too late already). Maybe this is just basic human nature, the need to feel our personal lives threatened before we act. The majority (nor even a sizeable minority) has risen yet to a consciousness that cares for the globe and Life as a whole and that would make us do something NOW.

Money is still the holy cow, and valued way above Life. No wonder, most people still don't know the inner workings of our money system and what its core responsibility for the climate change disaster is we are approaching.

02 November 2006

'Second Life' – what happened to the First Life?

Second Life (SL) is a privately owned, partly subscription-based 3-D virtual world. SL is one of several virtual world, only existing in cyberspace. It is a user-defined world of general use in which people can interact, play, do business, and otherwise communicate.

Second Life is also called a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG or MMO) is a computer game which is capable of supporting hundreds or thousands of players simultaneously, playing on the Internet. In SL players are called 'residents', and recently the population of Second Life hit 1 million.

Second Life has its own economy and a currency referred to as Linden Dollars (L$). Residents receive an amount of L$ when they open an account if they supply credit/debit card details. Additional L$ are acquired by selling objects or services within the environment. L$ can also be used to purchase (virtual) real estate. Linden Dollars can be purchased against USD. The ratio of USD to L$ fluctuates daily as residents set the buy and sell price of L$ offered on the exchange, and it has fluctuated between L$240/USD and L$350/USD over the past 12 months (October 2005 to September 2006).

Since this artificial space creates an enormous economy (US$583,496 spent over 24 hours on 1 Nov), it has drawn the attention of a U.S. congressional committee, which is investigating how virtual assets and incomes should be taxed.

It is obvious that with increasing information technology we would sooner or later create artificial worlds, where we are supposedly freed from our earthly restraints. I wonder what is happening to our Frist Life – what most of us consider to be the 'real world'? Creating 'second lives' in virtual worlds looks like an escape from the real issues we are facing in our physical world. Why are we afraid of slaying the dragons we are facing here? Maybe because it would need a real commitment to change one's habits? In a virtual world, when things get too hard, we just log out, or create a new player and restart...

I wonder if our virtual worlds will turn out to be that different from the First Life world anyway? When things get as real as in Second Life, then economic stress and other social pressures like in the culture we've created here will not be that far away ...

Second Life: http://secondlife.com/
Reuters: US Congress launches probe into virtual economies
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_life

31 October 2006

A new child born

A few days ago, my second child was born – a daughter. What can she expect from life on this planet? I suspect she will be in a privileged position compared to the vast majority of (boys and) girls born on this planet this year.

According to Statistics New Zealand she's got a life-expectancy of over 81 years. The average of the over 2 billion children on the planet can only expect to live for 67 years.

According to UNICEF she'll live in a world

  • where on 58% of the population has access to adequate sanitation facilities,

  • where 21% of the population lives on less than 1 US$ a day

  • where 5% of government expenditure goes to education and 11% to defence

Even in New Zealand, 24% of the population are condemned to live a life characterised as having some level of 'hardship'!

She'll live in a world where she soon will be the prime target of the advertising industry, that will attempt to instill 'brand loyalty' at an age as early as 2 or 3. They'll try to make her feel like a loser if they'll lack an advertised product and cannot indulge in material excess. The average American child is exposed to more than 40,000 television commercials every year. (And incidentally it is generally the American culture that we all strive to emulate!)

I'm not even talking about how many murders and other violent acts she will have witnessed on TV by the time she turns 18.

What to do about this? Besides throwing out the television from my home, I'm concerned how I can help her achieve a level of conscious awareness that will prevent her from being trapped by the artificially created needs and wants of our consumer society. I also hope that she will not ever experience the fear most people share today that prompts them to spend more on armaments and weaponry than on the education of our future generations.

25 October 2006

Eco-Credits and Eco-Debits

Eco-debt and Eco-credit - this looks a little bit like a mutual credit system. Some take more, some take less and in the end it all balances, right? I wish! We look pretty green here in New Zealand and Australia, but that is certainly an illusion. In a true mutual credit system all accounts add up to Zero and to a perfect balance - our use of the environment doesn't. Only recently we celebrated the day when we went into ecological debt for this year.

As the lastest Living Planet Report 2006 points out, the ecological footprint increases and the living planet index decreases steadily. According to the report "Terrestrial species declined by 31 per cent, freshwater species by 28 per cent, and marine species by 27 per cent".

New Zealand is also right up there with the countries that have the largest footprint per capita:
Countries of over a million people with the largest footprint, in global hectares per person, are the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, Finland, Canada, Kuwait, Australia, Estonia, Sweden, New Zealand and Norway. China comes mid-way in world rankings, at number 69, but its growing economy and rapid development mean it has a key role in keeping the world on the path to sustainability.

How about if we and the politicians running this country (and the planet!) would pay more attention to this kind of indicators, instead of only worshiping a growing GDP!

Read more on BBC Online: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6077798.stm

23 October 2006

What is Abundance?

1 : an ample quantity : PROFUSION

While I was writing the previous post about the display of reckless consumerism in a recent new age film, I was wondering how many people really do understand the concept of 'abundance'? This seems to be one of most difficult concepts to grasp, more so since we live in a civilisation that has at the core of its defining story the concept of scarcity.

Our minds are constantly exposed to the message of there is 'not enough', daily reinforce by mass media, advertising and political propaganda. The definition of economics “is the study of human choice behavior and how it effects the production, distribution, and consumption of scarce resources.” We are trained from a young age that we need to compete, otherwise we lose out in this world. And if you don't believe that there isn't enough, just look at those between 1 and 2 billion people on this planet who are unfortunate enough to be forced to live on 1 Dollar or less a day ...

How would one ever be able to grasp (and trust!) the concept of abundance? How can we get out of our collective trance of 'scarcity'? Bernard Lietaer believes that there are archetypal forces at work: of all the major archetypes at least one is thoroughly suppressed in western thought and culture - the one he calls the 'Great Mother', the unconditional provider of nurturing. Instead we experience it's shadow instead: fear of scarcity and greed.

How can we change our cultural story of prosperity from one of fear of scarcity to one of abundance where everyone is cared for? It is not the carrying capacity of our planet that is in question here. Even today, if all resources were distributed equitably, everyone would have enough. Poverty and deprivation are first of all signs and indicators of failure of a capitalist neo-liberal market economy.

How would we characterise an economic story that provides for all? The biological systems of life work constantly in an abundance mode. For one thing: nothing is wasted, every thing is recycled and of use and value for somebody/something else. Furthermore, abundance is when we have the ability to both share and conserve energy and matter, and when we freely share information in order to grow the potential of the whole.

True abundance depends on frugality, mutuality, and sharing. True abundance is possible if we recognize that we are all part of a community and that healthy communities depend on healthy individuals, and vice versa.

21 October 2006

"The Secret" - New Age Economics of Abundance

"This is 'The Secret' to everything - the secret to unlimited joy, health, money, relationships, love, youth: everything you have ever wanted."

"The Secret" is the latest hit-movie sweeping the New Age-community. It comes hot on the heels of “What the Bleep” which introduced us to what was long known to science, that our universe is not a static construct that works according to the Newtonian laws of cause and effect only. The Secret now takes us into the area of personal success, and how one can achieve it using the universal Law of Attraction.

It is telling that we still see 'success' mostly in terms consumerism and of how much stuff we can buy. Watching that movie, I several times felt I was watching a long and extended commercial for luxury cars or real estate.

I'm all for applying the Law of Attraction and working with Intentions set to achieve personal goals in life: I myself have experienced incredible results with it. However, I wonder: When do we move away from individual desires and reckless consumerism to a planetary family with a concern for a collective welfare that is ecologically sustainable?

I always felt that the new age 'economics of abundance' is a bit one-sided and naive. Just 'attracting' (monetary) wealth to a particular person does nothing to change the much deeper problems of a flawed money system and economic ideology that prevents goods and services to be distributed fairly among the people at the first place.

20 October 2006

The Nobel Prize

Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi banker and economist and founder of the Grameen Bank, won this years Nobel Peace Prize (together with the Grameen Bank) "for their efforts to create economic and social development from below."

Yunus is said to be the developer of the concept of microcredit, giving small loans to entrepreneurs who are too poor to qualify for a conventional bank loan. The Grameen Bank (literally, "Bank of the Villages", was founded in 1976 and has issued more than US$ 5.1 billion to 5.3 million borrowers.

His stated vision is to reduce world poverty by 50 percent by 2015.

“Poverty is not created by poor people,” advocates Yunus. “It is created by the concepts and institutional arrangements under which people live.”

It is interesting that he received the Nobel Peace Prize, and not the Nobel Prize for Economics. Might this be because this person has actually done something concrete and helped real human beings - and not just formulated yet another theory based on some abstract concepts that are totally divorced from most people's reality - as most economic theories and concepts invariably seem to be ....?

17 October 2006

Our current impact on Planet Earth

One way of looking at the devastating effect our civilisation is having on Earth is to look at it in terms of what would happen if we did suddenly disappear from this place.

This timeline gives a visual view of how long it takes for nature to regenerate. Within 3 months the air would be mostly clean again. Within 250 years most buildings collapse. Within 1000 years most buildings are gone.

However, it takes 50,000 years for plastics to degrade, many man-made chemicals will disappear only after about 200,000 years, and nuclear waste will grace our planet for up to two million years. Quite a legacy!

Well, here is the challenge: develop and live a sustainable life-style that doesn't bequest a toxic legacy for the next two million years into the future! One that allows us and our decendants to live here indefinitely!

Read more in the New Scientist!

16 October 2006

Bicycling in the City

The city where I live is flat and really perfect for cycling. However, I'm not doing it. Why? because I haven't found a bicycle that is comfortable to ride. Because what I would like is a city bike for 'utility' cycling. The only bicycles that are available for sale in the city are racing and mountain bikes.

I enjoy slow biking. I'd like to sit upright in the saddle and enjoy the view. I don't need 25 gears, I'm not interested in being an athletic hi-speed cyclist - I like to be able to use a cycle to go to work ... very simple one would think. But all this is really quite outside of our local cultural frame of reference. We seem to be geared towards speed only, and therefore also city council planning for bicycle lanes, etc. is only geared towards speed cycling.

Unfortunately, cycling will never be what it could be: a great, healthy and non-polluting way of moving around in urban areas. What a shame! Unless, we start changing our cultural obsession with speed and start appreciating slow modes of transport ...

There are some great city bicycling cultures, like in the Netherlands or Japan. See a great website on utility cyclism at http://utilitycyclism.blogspot.com/.

14 October 2006

The Day when we started eating into the planet

It was on Monday this week, 9 October, when we human beings started to eat into the capital of this planet. When we started using more resources than than the planet can replenish.

This is a disturbing situation. Who do we borrow this capital from? Who is ultimately going to pay for our over-expenditure? This is not like in finance, where money is mostly credit as a matter of fact. Here we are talking about the world of our children we are consuming, ahead of time! It is going to be our children and their children who will be paying the bill...

As the New Economics Foundation reports
The day that we begin living beyond our environmental means is creeping ever earlier in the year as human consumption grows:
* humanity first went into global ecological debt in 1987, with the first ecological debt day on 19 December that year;
* by 1995 it had jumped a month forward to 21 November;
* now, new estimates based on the latest available data indicate that in 2006, we run out of ecological resources today, Monday 9 October.
It has been called the ‘the biggest issue you’ve never heard of’.

What can one do about it? Become aware of the Ecological Footprint you are producing and readjust your consumption patterns. And, start doing things in ways that are in accordance with the natural patterns of the planet, not against it ...

12 October 2006


The New Zealand Social Report 2006 reports that in 2005 3.7% of the labour force were unemployed and actively seeking work. Sounds really good, eh?

But what does that really mean?

On the next page of the same report it says that in 2005, 74.6% of 15-64 year olds were employed for one hour or more per week. Wouldn't that mean that effectively 25,4% of all 15-64 year olds were unemployed?

Measuring unemployment seems to be a very dodgy thing. It is only indirectly connected with the number of people who are actually not working at all or working without pay. Many people seem to fall through the cracks of this statistic, like:

  • Those who have lost their jobs and have become discouraged over time from actively looking for work.
  • Those who are self-employed or wish to become self-employed, such as tradesmen or building contractors or IT consultants.
  • Those who have retired before the official retirement age but would still like to work.
  • Those on disability pensions who, while not possessing full health, still wish to work in occupations suitable for their medical conditions.
  • Those who work for payment for as little as one hour per week but would like to work full-time. These people are "involuntary part-time" workers.
  • Those who are underemployed, e.g., a computer programmer who is working in a retail store until he can find a permanent job.
And what about those people who do essential community work, like raising children, helping their neighbours and volunteering for a local not-for-profit organisation? This kind of activities are completely igonored by our social and economic reporting methods.

08 October 2006

Solidarity Economics

But what exactly is this "solidarity economy approach"? For some theorists of the movement, it begins with a redefinition of economic space itself. The dominant neoclassical story paints the economy as a singular space in which market actors (firms or individuals) seek to maximize their gain in a context of scarce resources. These actors play out their profit-seeking dramas on a stage wholly defined by the dynamics of the market and the state. Countering this narrow approach, solidarity economics embraces a plural and cultural view of the economy as a complex space of social relationship in which individuals, communities, and organizations generate livelihoods through many different means and with many different motivations and aspirations—not just the maximization of individual gain. The economic activity validated by neoclassical economists represents, in this view, only a tiny fraction of human efforts to meet needs and fulfill desires.

* * *

At its core, solidarity economics rejects one-size-fits-all solutions and singular economic blueprints, embracing instead a view that economic and social development should occur from the bottom up, diversely and creatively crafted by those who are most affected.

* * *

Unlike many alternative economic projects that have come before, solidarity economics does not seek to build a singular model of how the economy should be structured, but rather pursues a dynamic process of economic organizing in which organizations, communities, and social movements work to identify, strengthen, connect, and create democratic and liberatory means of meeting their needs.

* * *

This is, perhaps, the heart of solidarity economics—the process of networking diverse structures that share common values in ways that strengthen each.

* * *

This, to me, sounds like an approach to economics that allows for a natural evolution of a healthy and diverse society, and that allows for happy people!

If you want to read more about this topic, go here:
- http://dollarsandsense.org/archives/2006/0706emiller.html
- http://www.geo.coop/SolidarityEconomicsEthanMiller.htm
- http://www.jesuit.ie/ijnd/SolidarityEconomics.pdf

06 October 2006

Start asking the right question: "What is the economy for, anyway?"

Maybe we need to start learning to ask the right questions! All that is asked nowadays, is "But what will that do to the economy?" - usually putting us into the defense right away - because of course nobody wants to do anything that is bad for the economy!

However, what "economy" are we talking about? It's the one of unlimited exponential growth and stock market speculation. It's one where the only measure of success is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or stock prices.

What about an economy that would give us health, knowledge, kindness, equality for the greatest numbers, access to opportunity, a healthy democracy, a sustainable environment and happy and fulfilled people?

Read this inspiring article by John de Graaf: What's the Economy for, Anyway?

04 October 2006

The Passive House

What is a 'Passive House'?
A Passive house is a building in which indoor air temperatures above the WHO recommend minimum of 18°C are maintained year round without the need for heating appliances.
This makes sense, in a time of cold winters, rising electricity prices and anti-airpollution measures.

How does it work? Insulate the building well (airtight) and maximise passive heat gain. Install double glazed windows and ventilate your building. To gain heat, align it northfacing. Also appliances and the body heat of the occupants will warm it up. Install solar panels for your hotwater needs.

It all sounds simple, and it probably works, too! At a time of climate change, can we afford not to build in this way?

For more and detailed information, visit http://passivehouse.co.nz

03 October 2006

Grow up, America! - Sept. 11th analyzed in Jungian terms

"A collective problem, if not recognized as such, always appears as a personal problem... [T]he cause of disturbance is ... not to be sought in the personal surroundings, but rather in the collective situation." -- Carl Jung

This article, written by Cal Simone, is maybe the most fundamental analysis of 9/11 I've ever come across. It goes beyond trying to figure out if the terrorists where independently operating or if they were government sponsored. It looks at the event as an invitation and opportunity of initiation of the soul of America.

And sadly, today more than ever, we have to recognize that this opportunity was missed and ignored. Maybe that is only normal for a country that has been "regressing from young adulthood, into adolescence, into childhood, America now teeters between an entitled 3-year-old, expecting to get whatever it wants whenever it wants, and a 2-year-old who sees only its own perspective as valid or important, the only one that matters or even exists."

Such a country will face almost insurmountable problems when it is finally forced to face peak oil, global warming and a few other major cataclysms that are likely headed its way. What is needed is taking ownership of the situation and doing the inner work necessary to develop into a mature and conscious nation.

Read the whole article here: http://culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=71&Itemid=2

Venezuela's Oil Wealth Funds Gusher of Anti-Poverty Projects

While the Venezuelan president has caused international controversy with his angry denunciations of the Bush administration, this is where the rubber meets the road for Chavez's radical rhetoric. He is spending billions of dollars on anti-poverty programs, in what experts say may amount to the largest such effort in a developing nation.

Read the whole article at Commondreams.org!

Will be interesting to see how successfully Venezuela will be able to make good use of the oil millions ...

Our pockets just got so much lighter again ...

Our wallets are suddenly so much lighter. Away from the heavy old 'silver' (which hasn't been silver for a long time), to light little coins. A by-product is that the 5c coin was scrapped. Conveniently prices are now rounded up to the next 10c. Also, the 10c coin now looks like the 1c coins used to look - just shows how money keeps losing its value ...