A while back I was out running the trail near my home. Part of the trail runs alongside an increasingly busy major north south roadway and a stretch of open-flowing irrigation canal. On the far side of the canal a field and remnant forest including a number of huge several hundred-year-old Ponderosa Pines, usually teem with ducks, geese, hawks, and a couple of resident Kingfishers. The place was likely an old homestead as you could see the remains of low rock walls and even one patch of flowering crab apple and lilac trees. The flowering trees out in the midst of the big pines and junipers always made me smile and I wondered at the story behind how they grew there. This past summer the place was home to flocks of lesser goldfinch and cedar waxwings. A few weeks ago, I took a little different route through the field and noticed a large four-point buck deer lying in the tall grass. He had already seen me. I stopped. Then Freya, my large enthusiastic hound dog, noticed and took off like a shot toward him. The magnificent creature quickly stood up and shook his antlers at her and my dog veered off like she’d hit a force field. I laughed and we quickly gave the big deer his space.
A week ago, I went out for a run and found that the field and forest were gone. The huge old trees gone. The birds gone. No deer in sight. Instead, just bulldozers and a giant track hoe leveling and flattening the earth, no doubt preparing it for a bunch of new houses. We call this development. In fact, we call all human construction development. It’s a misnomer. There is a qualitative difference between development and growth. Development is about making things better not just bigger. Growth is just growth.
I live in one of those areas in the U.S. that is mushrooming right now due to its high quality of life and abundant outdoor recreation opportunities. The expansion and construction rate is staggering. I realize that in some ways this adds prosperity and opportunity to these communities. Even the increasing diversity of people moving into all those new homes is beneficial. However, the negative trade-offs are rarely taken seriously.
There are two layers to the expansion of the human built environment that we should be very concerned about. The more obvious is the erosion of quality of life as traffic mushrooms, urban wildlife vanish, noise pollution ratchets ever higher and the very outdoor recreation opportunities we loved are no longer available. That’s all happening in my home town as I type.
The much bigger, and more serious issue, is the scale of human spread, and impact, on the planet as a whole. There is a staggering trend under way that few people know about, though every single one of us should, if we want to have a livable, vibrant planet. According to a landmark 2018 study by the National Academy of Sciences, by weight humans and our livestock species now make up 96 percent of all mammal life on the planet. Humans ourselves account for about 36 percent of the biomass of all mammals and our domesticated livestock, mostly cows and pigs, account for the other 60 percent. This means that human expansion and our mass cultivation of livestock has reduced wild mammals to only 4 percent of all mammalian life on Earth. Similarly, the biomass of poultry is about three times higher than that of wild birds. This is a profound reshaping of the composition of living creatures on our planet. We tell children’s stories filled with lions and deer and frogs and hedgehogs but a more accurate depiction would be stories populated with caged cows, pigs and chickens. Is this really how we want our world to look and function?
Between our cities and suburbs, livestock facilities, grazing lands and agricultural sites, fisheries and fishing vessels and off-shore oil platforms, the human built environment has pushed wild creatures and habitats to the margins of the planet.
At some point humanity has to stop expanding our consumption and displacement of non-human and wild nature. After all, physical space on this planet is a finite resource.
Of course, there are many places in the world where humans are living in very poor, even unsanitary conditions, and improvement in those built environments is a must. That means, in some respects, the burden of responsibility to voluntarily check unbridled growth lies on the shoulders and hearts of wealthier communities. These are the communities that must ask the questions, “How much is enough?” and “What does actual qualitative community development look, sound, and feel like?”.
Are we made better when another patch of important urban habitat is razed to set up more cookie-cutter McMansions that pump money toward the “developer?” Are we made better when our neighborhoods become less walkable and bikeable due to never-ending streams of cars and trucks? Are we made richer when bird song can no longer be heard over the sound of rock-crushers, back-up alarms, and bulldozers?
I wonder where the waxwings will go now and if the big buck will find a quiet place to rest. To paraphrase western author Edward Abby, growth for the sake of growth or greed is the ideology of the cancer cell. Earth is not going to be a great place for humans if there’s no place on it for non-humans. How much is enough?
The first crisis point of the COVID-19 disaster was figuring out how to respond, after being caught flat-footed, to the immediate health threat. Now that the death curve in many places has begun to flatten and the scope of economic disaster is hitting home, we are approaching crisis point two, which is all about how we move toward “reopening” the economy.
In the next weeks, as the economic pain and fear increases, the clamor to “get back to normal” is going to ramp up. Some politicians, sensing political opportunity, are already stoking that foment. The outcry for normalcy will certainly gain momentum.
The point that must be recognized and discussed, that begs our attention, is the fact that “normal” was killing us.
Most of our politicians and the for-profit media portray the economic disaster we are currently facing as strictly Covid-caused. It’s not. For many, many Americans the “normal” economy was already broken long before the first patients fell ill. C-19 is merely revealing fundamental flaws in societal and economic norms that have been eroding upward mobility, impoverishing entire communities and devastating the environment.
Before the onset of the pandemic more than fifty percent of all Americans were living paycheck to paycheck with little or no savings. In other words more than half of us were already living below or near the poverty line – half! Most at that marginal level were working long hours and multiple jobs just to pay monthly expenses, stay slightly above water and do their part to keep the economy growing. You could certainly make the argument the economy wasn’t really working for them; rather they were working their hearts out to feed the status quo economy.
At the same time, Income inequality in the U.S. was off the charts. Over the past fifty years, the highest earning twenty percent of households have steadily brought in a greater portion of overall income in the country. In 2018, the top twenty percent captured more than half of all income in the country. Income inequality in the U.S. is higher than any other G-7 country including the UK, Japan, Italy, Canada, Germany and France. Now more than ever before achieving the American Dream depends upon your zip code. Due to imbedded biases toward the wealthy and privileged, “upward mobility” in this country is constrained, as never before, by income, race, and where we currently live. We have accepted as normal a Robin Hood society, in which wealth is systematically distributed upward from the poor to the rich.
Meanwhile, this same economic system that was failing millions of Americans, relied upon chewing up natural resources and ecosystems at a relentless, rapacious pace. The large-scale sacrifice of environmental health for economic growth was also accepted as normal. It should serve as a stunning existential wake-up call that the only real winner in the COVID-19 crisis at this point is the planet. Air pollution is down; climate change emissions have dropped precipitously; water pollution is down. Even wildlife trafficking and consumption is down. All of this is happening because we’ve been forced to push pause on an economic system that is fundamentally unsustainable in that it grows by destroying natural systems and our planetary life support structures.
Here’s yet another aspect of normal that should give us serious pause. COVID-19 shows that our status quo economic system is devastatingly fragile. For the massive numbers of people at or near the poverty line loss of a job means immediate crisis. The public support programs being pushed out now, while essential, are adding to a level of national debt already unprecedented and which we have no real idea how to deal with. In fact, the bulk of economic growth over the past couple of decades has largely been debt driven, and that was viewed as normal. Add to this, the U.S. pharmaceutical industry stopped manufacturing antibiotics because they don’t turn as much profit as other, less universally necessary drugs; we now get 97 of our antibiotics from China. Meanwhile Big Pharma, artificially hikes rates of certain life-saving drugs and, like big Oil, gobbles up millions in federal subsidies each year. Our seemingly robust U.S. economy was a house made of cards and COVID-19 blew in a mighty wind. It was a stress test for our current economic system and the system failed; this economy of, by and for the ultra-wealthy was eviscerated by a virus.
In a powerful cautionary tale, remember that after the great recession of 2008, for the most part, we did just go back to normal; we got the economic engine churning again and through hard labor, escalating environmental destruction, propping up Wall Street and the finance industry, blowing open oil and gas drilling, and mushrooming the chasm between the ultra-wealthy and all the rest of us. And, well, that led us to where we are today.
Just because a thing is normal doesn’t mean it’s good.
We have before us a decision of epic magnitude. We can let the discomfort and fear overwhelm us and put all of our energy into getting things back to the way they were, or, we can take a stand for creating a new normal. This is the biggest challenge and opportunity of our era.
Right now, as we are still, mostly, in this abnormal space of relative stillness, with life-as-we-have-known-it on pause, is the perfect time to ask what would we like “normal” to look like?
What kind of work would we like to do?
How much would we like to work?
Do we really need to drive to work everyday?
What kind of businesses would we like to see in our community?
How and how much would we like to travel?
Are we really OK with so much wealth in the hands of so few?
Are we really OK with the ecological destruction that has been normalized?
What actually makes us happy?
It is so critically important to remember the economy is not an act of God or a force of Nature. It is a human-made construct. We invented it and groom and redirect it all the time. That means we can reinvent it, now.
Let’s not waste this crisis. Let’s not let all the lives and livelihoods lost just be collateral damage of a broken system but rather the impetus to create anew a world that works better for all of us.
We need a new normal and there has never been a better chance to create one.
So this is the week of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and it is historic in many ways. I’ll be posting about various aspects all week, but today the focus is on the historic eighth anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf Coast, the biggest single event environmental disaster in U.S. history. The ecosystem and the region still have not recovered.
Today, also, for the first time in history, oil futures went negative, meaning traders who buy and sell oil were paying others to take the stuff off their hands. The knee-jerk reaction is to blame this on COVID-19 and the resulting reduction in driving, air travel, etc. as most of us are adhering to the stay at home recommendations. But this problem was set up long before C-19. Due to fracking, massive subsidization of the oil industry and geopolitics there was a world glut of oil long before the pandemic. In fact, well before the onset of the pandemic, the oil industry in the U.S. was running into challenges finding storage space. And yet, as the pandemic spread, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Russia, Canada and Brazil continued to drill and pump.
And now, the oil industry and those who invest in it are panicked and clamoring for governmental bail-outs. Many of these folks are likely those who worship at the altar of neoclassical economics which espouses the absolute wisdom of the free market. Well, if free market is what they want, here they go. The market is flooded, demand is down and prices are below zero. Suck it up snowflakes, suffer your losses, rest on your wealth rather than government bailouts and stop drilling. The real economic losers here will be the thousands of on-the-ground oil industry workers who will now be laid off due to mismanagement by their industry decision-makers.
Back in 2010, I traveled to the Gulf Coast to witness and report on the devastating oil spill and, as possible, to help out where I could. I held a woman who collapsed in my arms outside a food bank. I spoke with fishermen who were unsure when or if they would ever be able to restart their businesses and din’t know how they were going to feed their families. I listened as a smiling clean up consultant for BP spun a tale about how the beaches would be much better than before the spill due to all the chemical and mechanical sand washing.
I also worked to help with environmental protection. One of the most profound experiences was relocating a nest of sea turtle eggs from an oil-covered beach.
Forty-two nights earlier, a three foot wide loggerhead turtle had dragged herself up onto the sand, labored to dig a flat, deep, round hole and deposited into it 122 ping-pong ball sized eggs. She then covered the nest and returned to the oiled water.
Over time the eggs had hardened and due to the oil spill they had to be moved from the perfectly prepared nest. Kneeling beside the nest, wearing surgical gloves to protect himself from oil and dispersants, the lead wildlife rehab worker began using his large hands, like turtle flippers, to excavate the nest. After ten minutes of gentle digging and clearing, the first eggs were unearthed, bright white orbs against the dark sand. Over the next hour and a half each egg was carefully lifted and placed into one of three small Styrofoam coolers.
One of the big unknowns in the unprecedented egg relocation effort was how it would effect the homing instinct. At about 15 years of age, the female sea turtles reach sexual maturity, mate and head toward the very beach upon which they had been hatched years before. The exact method of their extraordinary homing beacon is not thoroughly understood. There was no way to know if the hatchlings that survived the relocation project would know how to return to the Gulf Shores region. As the volunteers placed them into the nest boxes the locals softly chanted, “Gulf Shores. Gulf Shores. Come back little ones.” They had tears in their eyes, so did I.
Filled with eggs, the boxes were strapped to frames by shock-absorbing rubber bungee cords. Two people carried each box toward an awaiting vehicle. Tourists walked along with us watching the process. A powerful sense of responsibility and awe washed over me. I held in my hands 42 members of a species that was disappearing from the Earth. I walked very carefully and held very tightly to my precious cargo.
To this day I have no idea if any of those turtles survived or made it back to their birth beach.
The COVID-19 crisis is a reminder that humanity is inextricably connected to one another and the other species that share this planet with us. As the virus tears across the globe, nations are helping other nations and states helping other states. This is both an act of compassion and wise self-interest since the virus is no respecter of race, walls or national borders. Conflicts between nations have fallen into the background as we gather around a common enemy. It’s a bit as if space aliens have shown up and all the sudden we have a bigger problem than fighting with one another.
At the local level, there is an incredible outpouring of compassion and huge uptick in reaching out to and helping our neighbors. Being suddenly shut off from one another we realize how much we actually value other members of our community. I even heard a BBC report that in some places in Africa gangsters have switched from distributing drugs to distributing food in neighborhoods they normally terrorize.
If we’re lucky, and smart, some of these new ways of being with and toward one another will stick once we’ve made it to the other side of this particular global crisis.
There’s another layer of connectedness this pandemic reveals and that is the direct connection between humans, other species and the planet that sustains us all. Scientists now believe COVID-19 originated in Wuhan China from bats that transferred the virus to another species that then transferred it to humans. The place this likely happened is a place of commerce called a “wet market” because live animals are held there, often stacked on top of each other, to be purchased for human consumption. The most probable intermediary host was a pangolin, otherwise known as a scaly anteater. The pangolin is consumed in many Asian countries for its meat and the scales are consumed for their “medicinal value” believed to cure such maladies as excessive nervousness, excessive crying in children, cancer and sluggish breast milk production in women. The scales are also used to make everything from jewelry to high-end cowboy boots. Pangolins are now the most trafficked wild animal in the world and are critically endangered.
Wet markets are places of torture and terror. Wild and domesticated animals are kept in horrific conditions until selected for slaughter. The cat-sized pangolins are often force fed gravel to increase their weight and then kept balled up hanging or piled in nets. It might not be politically correct to say so, but the practice of consuming wild species due to some myth that it will cure your ills or make you more sexually potent is immoral. Period.
But let’s not fool ourselves that these horrendous and dangerous practices only occur in some far off place. As horrific as wet markets are, they really are no worse than commercial factory farms in the West. Those places are equal in terms of terrible conditions, suffering and terror (and by the way, I’m an old farm girl – I’ve seen it first hand). They are also equally dangerous to human health. The deadly flu pandemic of 1918 is believed to have originated in a massive chicken farm in Kansas. The swine flu pandemic originated in a crowded factory pig farm in Veracruz Mexico.
Forcing animals to live their lives in the torturous conditions inherent to factory farms is immoral. Period. It’s also dangerous to human health.
Not only are these animal factories the original source of pandemic diseases, but they also greatly imperil the people who work in them and the surrounding communities. Right now COVID-19 infections are exploding in these plants and they are finally being forced to shut down. The Smithfield Foods Meatpacking Plant in Sioux Falls Idaho alone is now one of the leading hotspots for infection in the United States. Half of Idaho’s total infections are in workers from that one plant.
To get a peak at the magnitude of this issue, consider this truly staggering current condition. According to a landmark 2018 study by the National Academy of Sciences, by weight humans and our livestock species now make up 96 percent of all mammal life on the planet. Humans ourselves account for about 36 percent of the biomass of all mammals and our domesticated livestock, mostly cows and pigs, account for the other 60 percent. This means that human expansion and our mass cultivation of livestock has reduced wild mammals to only 4 percent of all mammalian life on Earth. Similarly, the biomass of poultry is about three times higher than that of wild birds. This is a profound reshaping of the composition of living creatures on our planet. We tell children’s stories filled with lions and deer and frogs and hedgehogs but a more accurate depiction would be stories populated with caged cows, pigs and chickens. Is this really how we want our world to look and function?
One of the many profound learning opportunities the coronavirus is presenting is rethinking our relationship to animals, particularly those we “harvest” for food, materials and so-called medicines — the billions of creatures every year that suffer to meet the demand of human consumption at massive scale.
Perhaps there is an opportunity here to repair the bond we share with so many of the creatures that co-inhabit our world. Perhaps these pandemics are the pigs and the pangolins fighting back, Nature saying no more. If we’re lucky, and smart, we’ll listen.
We are after all inextricably connected to one another whether we realize it or not. The root of the word crisis traces back to the Greek word meaning “to decide,” many monumental decision points are before us at this historic time.
So now that the spread of coronavirus is slowing a bit in China, the Chinese government is beginning to ramp back up its manufacturing facilities. However, given the shutdowns in the largest exports markets in Europe and U.S., the demand for Chinese products is still way down.
Right now, while factories have slowed or shut down in China, Europe, the U.S. and other places, would be a perfect time to put a lot of people to work upgrading and improving energy efficiency and pollution control measures, and installing renewable energy options in the furloughed factories around the world. This should be a component in any economic stimulus package and it should be acted on right now while people desperately need jobs and the factories are in time out.
In addition, though we are still in the acute crisis and that must be the primary focus of action just now, it would make immanent sense to begin very thoughtful, visionary yet practical strategic planning effort for how we might be able to come out the other side of this with much healthier, saner and resilient economic systems.
It should serve as a stunning existential wake up call that the only real winner in this crisis at this point is the planet. Air pollution is down, climate change emissions have dropped precipitously, water pollution is down – the canals of Venice actually look like water again! Even wildlife trafficking and consumption is down. All of this is happening because we’ve been forced to push pause on an economic system that “creates” stuff at the price of destroying natural systems and our planetary life support structures. The respite being delivered by the pandemic-induced time-out could be no clearer evidence that we have built a global economy that is dependent upon the destruction of our planetary life-support systems.
The Coronavirus is the most immediate, but it is not the biggest threat before us. The bigger issue, and far greater challenge and opportunity, is what the COVID-19 crisis reveals about our fundamentally unsustainable, consumption-driven global economic system. If we really open up to taking a hard look at that, we have the potential to shift from crisis to evolution.
As nations begin to think through how to ramp up economic activity in the wake of the pandemic we will likely hear the dangerous but familiar rallying cry of “buy, buy, buy, grow, grow, grow.” If the sole focus is to just get things going like they were before we will simply return to the perilous delusion that economic growth trumps the health of the planet. We must get very clear and innovative in considering the type of economic growth we want and the type we do not want, such as highly polluting, poor paying industries and disposable plastic widgets.
I’ll be posting a more detailed piece of growth of what and for what in days to come. In the meantime, I see four major steps and opportunities in handling this crisis.
First, put everything into controlling the virus and protecting front-line workers and directly supporting people who have lost jobs and income. . The Trump administration failed us disastrously by, once again ignoring science and the advice of advisors who were urging major action as early as January – now we need a full-court press to catch up. At the same time we need aggressive, non-pork economic support and stimulus. Congress just passed a massive and essential economic stimulus package. It remains to be seen exactly what is in it but it does include direct payments to citizens and I am delighted to note, it does not include bailout of the cruise ship industry.
As soon as we can get better access to testing and masks, etc., there should be a massive retraining of workers from currently devastated industries like restaurant and hospitality into health care and elder care support positions.
Given that President Trump finally listened to scientific advisors and acknowledged that the health threat will require the social distancing policies for at least another month, the economic implications for the record number of laid off workers is going to be very severe. We will need a number of additional stimulus packages just to help people meet basic shelter and food needs. As I wrote in an earlier post, this is a time we should be seriously considered a Guaranteed Basic Income approach.
There will likely also need to be measures to try to prevent implosion of the banking and financial transaction systems. We must not let this implode to the point where banks lock people out of accounts, ATMs are shut down, etc. as has happened in the collapse in Greece in 2015.
Second, as I noted above, while industry is at a slow down this is the time to put people to work upgrading, cleaning up and reducing carbon footprints of manufacturing facilities. Funding for these measures would be a smart component of governmental economic stimulus packages.
Third, develop and invest in a massive workforce transformation campaign. This should include some of the lasting changes that are likely to result from this unprecedented time such as the shift to remote working, the increase in online shopping and associated delivery options. Another aspect of this should be an aggressive shift from employment in non-essential, highly polluting industries to employment that is productive for society.
Fourth, as we clear the immediate crisis, gain control of the virus, develop a vaccine, we need to be very strategic about the kind of economic growth we pursue. This would be the perfect time to implement some version a Green New Deal that would provide jobs, business opportunities by tackling climate change, income inequality and the poverty pandemic.
Some areas to consider. The coal industry continues to clamor for governmental aid to overcome a steep decline in demand due to growth in renewables and the natural gas boom. The coal industry makes the claim that it absolutely critical to securing a domestic supply of affordable electricity and providing jobs. Based on this claim, as reported by Reuters, the industry has requested executive action from the President to suspend or reduce royalties and reduce its legal obligations for environmental clean up of mining sites and health assistance to victims of black lung disease.
Meanwhile the renewable energy industry is facing severe downturns as a result of the pandemic. The Solar Energy Industries Association has reported it’s the solar industry could lose up to half its workforce due to the virus because a significant share of solar jobs is dependent on large projects being built that are likely to be out on hold. Similarly, the wind industry was set to have a record-breaking year this year but is now facing massive scale backs due to the virus.
As we think through how to keep people employed and get them back to work here’s an interesting comparison. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the coal industry employed 50,600 people in February, down 35 percent from ten years ago. According to the Energy Information Administration coal-fired power plants generated 23.5 percent of U.S. electricity last year, down from over 44 percent ten years earlier.
By contrast renewable energy has been growing steadily. It produced 17.5 percent of U.S. electricity last year. According to the Solar Foundation, solar alone employed over 249,800 people in 2019. Add wind, geothermal, etc. and it is clear renewables dwarfs coal in employment. An another fossil fuel note, the oil industry has been massively subsidized by the federal government for decades and with new technologies in drilling there is now a global glut of oil and prices have plummeted. Not even accounting for the environmental damage caused by fossil fuel extraction and consumption, the economics don’t add up.
It seems to me a solid plan to add stimulus to industries of the future and to support people currently employed in industries that are in decline to transition into new, more needed and secure career tracks.
Another aspect of Green New Deal type of stimulus package could include attaching strong climate, environmental and fair labor requirements to industries that do get bail outs and stimulus funding. After the 2008 financial crisis, President Obama required General Motors and Chrysler to implement stringent new fuel economy standards in exchange for the bail-out money they received. This was a huge step forward in auto efficiency and competitive strength for the U.S. auto industry.
Make no mistake, this current economic time-out is going to have lasting effects and it is going to require massive public investment and rethinking to recover. Now it the time not just to try to go back to normal, but to stimulate economic growth that will benefit all of society. This is the time to create jobs doing what society needs to have done – rebuilding our infrastructure in a way that reduces global warming pollution, cleans our air and water and increases resiliency to the environmental changes already underway, building and repairing affordable housing, restoring wetlands, rivers, forests and beaches, strengthening local agriculture and community businesses, caring for our elderly populations.
If this seems too big to take on remember, the coronavirus pandemic is a force of Nature; the economy is not! The economy is a human construct. We created it and we change and shape it all the time. We invented it so we can reinvent it. The goal should not be to restart the economy but to reset it.
A final note: down the road a ways we are going to need to figure out how to deal with a staggering amount of national debt by most major nations. Prior to the pandemic crisis a vast percentage of the much-touted growth in GDP has been accomplished through unprecedented increases in debt. Debt is now growing at a skyrocketing scale with the various stimulus and bailout measures that nations of the world are implementing to deal with the coronavirus situation. On the other side of the crisis the debt burden will be a truly unmanageable and unstable situation, which, though tricky, is yet another potential lever for fundamental economic reset. I will be doing an article about the need to shift past GDP, and especially debt-driven growth, as a metric of economic success in my next article.
I have worked for twenty-five years as a sustainable economy strategist, trying to raise awareness about the need to shift to a saner economic system. With the COVID-19 crisis it is time to get very serious about not just bailing out the current economy but harnessing this upheaval to fundamentally redesign an economic system that is currently destroying the planet and failing millions, even billions of people.
Here are some components of redesign we should be considering right now. Warning these ideas are not for those with hidebound thinking who can’t see past status quo.
First, individuals and families need immediate assistance. Send the first round of checks immediately but don’t stop there. This is a time to get serious about considering a Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) program. Basic Income is a regular monthly payment from the government to every citizen to meet basic survival needs. The goal is to stabilize people financially and, over time, downsize the many, many stop-gap poverty relief programs currently in place for people in lower income brackets.
Guaranteed Basic Income is not a brand new idea nor is it completely untested. In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. urged that a guaranteed income would abolish poverty and reduce skyrocketing income inequality (which is higher now that when King was alive by the way).
In 2018, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes argued that U.S. workers, students, and caregivers making $50,000 or less a year should receive a guaranteed income of $500 a month. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates agree, arguing that automation has fundamentally changed the structure of the U.S. economy. Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk are also on record saying automation, Artificial Intelligence and robotics have so changed the workforce situation that a Guaranteed Basic Income is the only solution.
The State of Florida has implemented a GBI since 1982. Canada, Finland and Kenya are running GBI pilot programs. Several U.S. cities are developing GBI type programs.
When I was serving as First Lady of Oregon, heading the Oregon Prosperity Initiative, we ran some numbers on the possibility of some form of statewide Basic Income and found that it was cost competitive with the many poverty relief programs already in place in the state. If ever there was a time for such innovation that time is now.
The second key piece of upcoming stimulus packages needs to be an extreme focus on Main Street not Wall Street. The Trump Administration is pushing for the bail out of airlines, cruise ship lines, casinos and even big oil. Come on people! Do we really need fossil fuel powered mega cruise ships and casinos in our world right now?!
The airline industry is a particularly interesting case. Unlike cruise ship companies, airlines do provide some essential services to society and commerce. However, bear in mind, according to The Guardian, over the past five years, the major airlines spent $45 billion in payouts and bonuses to CEOs and shareholders! Reports show that the four big ones – Delta, Southwest, American Airlines Group, and United Airlines Holdings — together bought back $39 billion worth of their own stock over the past five years, much of it since passage of massive corporate tax cuts in 2017 pushed through by Trump and Republicans. Any assistance given the airline industry must be in the form of loans, with aggressive claw back measures and must forbid payouts of executive bonuses, pay raises or stock purchases. The investment needs to rescue workers who have been laid off not fat cat CEOs. One would think this would be obvious but lobbyists are fighting hard right now to get a stimulus package that would allow these greedy, gauging measures.
Instead of propping up megalithic, and in many cases, superfluous industries, we need to focus on small and mid-size businesses and the creation of aggressive retraining programs to help people currently employed in non-essential, environmentally destructive industries transition into more societally beneficial sectors.
It is the local, communal business structures that should be the focus of stimulus efforts. Local stores and restaurants are a source of jobs and critical threads in the fabric of society. They connect us to people like and unlike ourselves. They provide a sense of communal identity and connectivity.
Our nation is already sitting with an unprecedented amount of debt due in part to corporate bailouts and tax cuts for the wealthy. That debt is going to truly become atmospheric with the current COVID-19 crisis. What we need is not just stimulus for business as usual but as stimulus to a saner economy and way of living and doing business. We can’t just throw money at old status quo industries and measures that are digging us further into the hole. A Guaranteed Basic Income and an intense program of support for small and mid-size businesses provides bottom up versus trickle down support.
The coronavirus pandemic is a force of Nature; the economy is not! The economy is human construct. We invented it and we change and shape and tweak it all the time. We created it, which means we can recreate it. This is the time to do exactly that.
Here’s to harnessing opportunity while navigating the danger.
I just got back from delivering a Sacred Activism workshop at the Unity Worldwide Annual People’s Convention in Kansas City, Missouri. Unity is one of many spiritual paths known as New Thought that are totally non-denominational, inclusive, and believe we are all one with the Divine Source that created us and everything else. I have been a Unity member for nearly twenty years but haven’t really gotten all that involved until the past several years.
Now among other things, I serve on the Unity Worldwide EarthCare Team: EarthCare is the program that helps Unity congregations adopt more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. The EarthCare team had been asked to present a workshop on Sacred Activism and I was one of the presenters.
Sacred Activism is an approach that blends both social action and spiritual groundings. It aims to take concrete action on difficult social issues without falling into the level of consciousness that created the problems in the first place. Sacred Activism works to find a balance between the meditation mat and marching. It acknowledges that we will only be our most effective in the work we do for the outer environment when we also do the work to clean up our own inner environments.
One of my favorite definitions of Sacred Activism comes from Andrew Harvey in his book, The Hope. He writes,
“Sacred Activism is the fusion of a mystic’s passion for God with the activist’s passion for justice, creating a third fire, which is the burning sacred heart which longs to help, preserve and nurture every living thing.”
I certainly feel that burning fire and I suspected a number of people in the room did as well but I did not know how they would respond to information about the insanity of a limitless growth economic system and how GDP is a flawed metric for economic success.
However, the point of the Sacred Activism workshop was to help spiritually awakened people become more effective activists on behalf of protecting our planet and improving people’s lives. I believe nearly every single big, gnarly issue facing us today – climate change, poverty, the massive gap between the uber-wealthy and everyone else, even institutionalized racism – is a symptom of an insane and dangerously flawed economic system. And so, that’s what I said.
I briefly explained that GDP simply measures the amount of money flowing through the economy and not whether that money is making us better or worse off. For example, the GDP registers the money spent to keep a child in juvenile jail as exactly as positive as the same amount of money spent to give a child an education. I explained how virtually all the global rise in GDP over the past decade has been debt-based and is completely unsustainable.
The crowd was totally engrossed and we had a rich conversation about steps individuals and faith congregations can take to begin to disengage from the insane, status quo, consumption-crazed story we are all caught up in.
Earlier in the day, from the main stage, Unity Worldwide (the Mother Ship if you will) made a strong commitment to the EarthCare program, encouraging congregations across the globe to step up their sustainability programs and remember the sacred covenant we all have with our planet. At the conference itself, held at a very nice hotel, Unity conference organizers even went so far as to remove the use of plastic straws and provide reusable, washable bamboo straws in the swag bags attendees received. It was a pretty great thing to be part of.
More importantly, given the tremendous level of dysfunction in our political systems and the media, faith-based organizations are positioned to play a significant role in taking peaceful, powerful action toward a healthier planet and culture.
To my amazement, I am two years into the program to become an ordained Unity Minister (sure didn’t see that one coming and man is it fun). I am honored and excited to be able to play a role in bringing New Economy concepts and actions to New Thought spiritual communities.
I’m not going to lie, the recent report that climate change is moving far faster than scientists had expected hit me in the gut. It breaks my heart to think of our world without coral reefs, polar bears and so many of the amazing creatures who share the world with us now. It sickens me to know that lives and lands are going to be savaged by bigger, more frequent storms. And my heart bleeds for those, mostly in poor parts of the world, who are going to get hit the hardest.
So yes, it hurts. And it makes me furious. It just flat out pisses me off that the pure greed, ego and boneheadedness at the helm of the U.S. is putting us on a course to accelerate climate change even faster.
I know I’m not alone. Heartbreak and anger are part and parcel of caring deeply about this planet and what we’re leaving behind for our kids and grandkids. I have such deep respect for our environmental and climate action movements. We have the courage not to just pretend the problem isn’t there and the toughness to keep working for solutions despite the pain and frustration. To put it bluntly environmentalists are Bad Asses! And we’ve never been more important. No matter the pain we have to stay in the fight.
So here are a few tips and tools to help build our Resiliency Muscles and make our efforts even more effective:
Never waste a good crisis. The IPCC report is a crisis moment. There has never been such a dire statement supported by the world’s leading scientists that we need to act NOW. The good news is news is paying attention to it. I was pleasantly amazed at how much media coverage the report has been receiving. Climate action groups and grass roots activists all over the world are taking their voices and actions to new levels. Let’s all use our voices, communications platforms and direct actions to keep accelerating this momentum.
Get on a balanced news diet. As advocates we like to stay informed. Many of us are news junkies. I confess I fall into that category. But I’ve learned to be selective in which sources I plug into. I watch plenty of CNN, MSNBC and even FOX to see what’s being put forward there. However, I turn off the shows that have several talking heads talking over one another, hyper-sensationalizing everything. That does not help the issue or our own wellbeing. I also plug into certain positive news outlets and solutions journalism outlets like NationSwell, Media Matters, Positive News, Yes Magazine.
Take care of your inner environment. I learned the hard way that despite our best intentions we activists are often at the same level of consciousness that created the problems in the first place. We are often stressed out, burned out, more focused on blaming the bad guys than loving what we’re trying to save. Sometimes being stressed out and exhausted is even worn as a badge of honor in advocacy causes. But I assure you, you are not your most effective if this is your state of being. Learning how to step out of stress and fear and hate, becoming a more peaceful centered warrior is a profound act of power. Developing a presencing and mindfulness practice, simple regular meditation, unplugged time in Nature should be top priorities on every social changemakers’ Do List. Cleaning up our inner environment is critical to doing our best work for our planet’s environment. Here’s a recent post with some tips for how to go about it.
Shifting the consciousness we bring to our work can be like adding a turbo boost both to our productivity and our peace of mind. And we need to hit turbo. Our political leaders are not going to fix this for us – the systems they operate in and sometimes their own moral codes are just too broken. We activists, advocates and Bad Ass Environmentalists are the solution we’ve been waiting for. This amazing planet deserves our very best. And we deserve a little more peace and empowerment doing our sacred work.
Here’s are some encouraging words from author and rebel, Howard Zinn:
Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society. We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don’t ‘win,’ there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile.
As someone who has been in the New Economy arena for many, many years I can’t believe I hadn’t read this book yet. What I love most about it is that it lays out practical policy change options AND the much more causal cultural and even spiritual aspects of THE MESS we are now dealing with.
It offers some beautiful insights into the spiritual aspect of activism.
“We try not to act from anger or fear. We act because, in this life we have been given, we believe we can help make things better. … Acting out of our compassion to lessen suffering and improve the lives of others is he way we celebrate the spirit. Knowing that each of our acts, however small, builds the vitality of the Web of life, brings us joy, satisfaction, and power.
In the Spirit-driven model, it doesn’t matter whether a person is ‘successful’ in changing the condition. While practical goals are important, the spiritual goal is to awaken the compassion that lies at the root of all change. ‘Success’ doesn’t mean I’ve saved an endangered species or cleaned up a toxic waste dump or fed hungry children. Success means awakening in myself a Spirit that can help make better life for others. Success means I have acted in the world as though I were a part of it, not apart from it. Success means becoming conscious of and faithful to my values and to my soul.”
I LOVE this! This is exactly what I bring in the Resiliency and Empowerment trainings that 3EStrategies offers to activists and change-makers. We do our best work when we are focused on what we’re for and truly about rather than what we oppose and resist.
I would love to hear from those of you who have read or do read this book.
Stressed? Worried? Tired? Having a hard time feeling optimistic given the barrage of bad news on “the news”? Well, you’re not alone. Research shows that 83 percent of American employees are stressed out about their jobs. A majority of self-employed social entrepreneurs report being overwhelmed and overworked. And mountains of evidence show that consuming breaking news, cable news and our own news feeds on social media has negative impacts on our moods, stress levels and overall wellbeing.
And yet, for those of us who are trying to do our part to make the world a better place staying active and informed is important. So how do we find a balance? How do we stay informed without stressing out and stay engaged in a hopeful, empowered way?
As someone who has been an activist, social entrepreneur and political figure and who has been through some rough, rough stuff as a result I’ve put a lot of personal and professional effort into developing resiliency and empowerment strategies.
One of my very favorite things these days is working with fellow social entrepreneurs, activists and leaders to become more resilient and empowered. 3EStrategies offers workshops, webinars, materials and individual/ organizational coaching to help change-makers become healthier, happier and more effective in our important work. We are getting phenomenal response to these services. Here are what a few clients had to say:
“I was feeling so overwhelmed by all that is happening in our country and our world that I’d become sort of paralyzed. After the 3E resiliency training I am so much more balanced. You helped me start seeing hope and new opportunity.”
“I had no idea that adding short times for mindfulness and reflection could make our team so much more effective and motivated. Thank you for that.”
“Our whole office feels lighter and more optimistic.”
“I was having a terrible time dealing with the loss of a position I had put my heart and soul into. Working with you really helped me see that I still have much to offer.”
If you or your organization are interested in learning more about our Empowerment and Resiliency training just drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime here are a few key strategies for shifting from stressed out to empowered.
Breathe deeply. Usually the more stressed we are the shallower we breathe. Just the act of taking deeper, fuller breaths will begin a relaxation response.
Develop a meditation/mindfulness practice. This is easier than it sounds and doesn’t require hours of sitting still or visiting monasteries in the Himalayas (though the latter is pretty cool). This really begins with just practicing becoming fully present and aware of your thoughts. I know for sure this practice will change your life. There is no question that my long-term meditation practice is one of the main reasons I’ve been able to survive and thrive through really difficult challenges.
Get out into Nature. Stopping to smell the flowers really does reduce stress and increase optimism. This is especially true for all you hard-working environmentalists who often are so busy saving the planet you fail to enjoy it! Be sure to leave the devices turned off!
Bring Nature to you. Lots of research shows that having living plants and even cut flowers nearby reduce stress and elevate mood.
Turn off social media notifications. Unplug once in a while! Period.
Be media savvy. Remember in our uber-competitive, clickbait-driven media culture sensationalism is all the rage. Breaking news is scientifically designed to trigger us emotionally. Balance it out with healthy doses of positive news. This 3E blog post shares more tips for healthy media management including good sources of positive news. (In fact, our Change Maker Times newsletter focuses on positive developments in the movement toward a healthier economy. There are more than enough sources of doom and gloom what’s not working – we help spread the word about the under-covered good stuff that’s also taking place.)
These are a few empowerment basics. If you’d like to learn more about developing empowerment and resiliency strategies for yourself or your team just drop a note to email@example.com or call us at (541) 617-9013.