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