Economy

30 Years of RSF Social Finance

April 7, 2014

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RSF_30th_purpleWe are thrilled to kick off our 30th anniversary celebration this month with the latest RSF Quarterly, which reflects on RSF’s transformation since 1984. Read insights from John Bloom, RSF’s Senior Director of Organizational Culture, on what it means to be inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner and how we remain committed to transformation. Guest essayist and author Charles Eisenstein expounds on investing in the ecological age and how such investment could be rethought of as gift. RSF community members share how they’ve transformed the way they work with money. Also, take a look at how we have grown over the last 30 years in a History of RSF timeline.

We would like to thank all of our clients, partners, and friends who have been a part of reaching this exciting milestone as a leader in the growing field of social finance. Keep an eye out for more 30th celebration news, here, on the Reimagine Money blog.

To download an electronic copy of the Quarterly, click here.

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Sustainable Economies Law Center

February 25, 2014

by Alex Haber

Building the next economy will take work in many sectors. RSF focuses on work with investors, donors, and entrepreneurs to build the direct, transparent relationships necessary to make economic renewal a reality. But as all these groups move their money and conduct their business with deep values, ossified legal structures will have to adapt and become more flexible to meet the needs of new economic relationships.

Sustainable Economies Law Center 1RSF Seed Fund grantee, Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), works precisely at this intersection. SELC provides essential legal tools – education, research, advice, and advocacy – to support a transition to local, resilient economies. It focuses in many areas, including cooperatives, community-owned enterprises, co-housing, urban agriculture, barter, and local currencies.

Last year, SELC received a grant from the Seed Fund to support a new project that helps farmers interested in sustaining and growing their businesses through community-based or crowd-sourced financing methods. These methods allow local, small-scale investors to become financial stakeholders in an enterprise, and allow enterprises to seek capital from friends, family, and community members instead of high net-worth individuals or banks. With RSF’s funding, SELC was able to run an outreach campaign and application process for this new service to assess interest among farmers, and the response was very strong.

South Central Farmers 1One of the most promising candidates was the South Central Farmers’ Cooperative (SCF), a worker-owned farm in California’s Central Valley. The coop grew around South Central Farm, a former fourteen-acre urban farm in South Central Los Angeles. After ten years of cultivating the land and building the community around it, the farmers were evicted in 2004 when the plot was slated for development. This eviction led to significant protests and civil disobedience, as well as an Academy Award nominated documentary, The Garden.

Since then, the South Central Farmers have been cultivating land in the Central Valley, and are currently looking to expand and help start other worker-owned farms. In order to do this, and to avoid the threat of eviction, SCF is looking to form a non-profit organization that could purchase land it could lease to worker-owned agricultural cooperatives, and to finance these land purchases through a public offering, so small investors, potentially from all over the state, could invest in these farms.

South Central Farmers 3

SELC and SCF hope to continue working together on this project as it evolves, and SELC is looking for funding to continue the work and develop a how-to guide for other farms interested in community-based and crowd-sourced funding.

Click here to learn more about how you can get involved with the Seed Fund to support great organizations like Sustainable Economies Law Center.

Alex Haber is Program Manager of Philanthropic Services

Heart’s Guidance: An Economic Imagination, Part II

January 21, 2014

Click here for Part I


by John Bloom


As an organ, the human heart plays leading role in maintaining human life forces. And, it works in a fully integrated system. It is an arbiter between the intense circulatory exchange in the fine capillaries at the extremities and need for constant vortical movement as the blood moves through the heart’s chambers. Blood, exhausted after delivering its nutrients along the way to the periphery, returns to the heart-lung center to be revitalized—a systolic, diastolic rhythm of constant exchange. There is no part of the human organism that is not permeated through circulation, and just about any stoppage in that circulation has significant health consequences. I am certainly not the first to use the circulation of blood as simile for the circulation of money. This is an illuminating but partial picture. Circulation is meaningless without the management capacities of the heart, its sensitivity to our inner and outer-facing nerve-sense system, and the forces of our metabolic system. Simply put, the heart embodies interdependence, serves as guide and guardian, harmonizer for human life, and thus supports our capacities to think and act. This complete and unalterable interdependence has much to tell us about economic life.

How the heart models service is in stark contrast to dominance of self-interest, a concept intractably nestled in the modern evolution of economic thinking. Self-interest as currently fostered and practiced has become debased from the moral, and I would say religious, framework that says that it is in your self-interest to be interested in and help others. As economic experience has become ever-more embedded in the materialism and consumerism of the marketplace, interest in the other has converted into competitive fear of the other. Money is the measure of man; thus, I am better the more I can extract from the system for myself. This is a powerfully destructive thought.

It is fascinating to me to consider that the heart is naturally moral. It does not deny one part of the body over another unless it needs to allocate healing resources for an interim period. It does not judge, it simply recognizes need and responds. It seeks sufficiency, and its actions are all guided by the impulse to restore balance—all for the purposes of circulation and meeting the needs of the whole throughout a very diverse organic system. Many natural systems are like this. Nature is moral, but somehow we have allowed the anti-social power of money to corrupt this moral element in human nature. It doesn’t feel right. Just as self-interest gives the lie to how truly interdependent we are, money supports the illusion of independence and serves as a measure of fittest in the Darwinian notion of survival. If the money was won through competition, what was lost along the way? These are not propositions of the heart. They are propositions of the head; rationalizations for historical patterns, and cynically, justifications for essentially immoral behavior in the financial marketplace. The heart does not speculate, it anticipates and regulates, not as an exercise in control, but rather in service to the whole.

So what is capital, and how does it serve in the heart imagination? One could say that capital is the materialization of spirit, spirit brought into matter through economic activity. This may seem a stretch, but consider the following. Economic life evolves from the work it takes to transform natural resources into practical goods. Of course, the transformation is not magical, rather it is often hard won through trial and error, through the application of physical and mental creative powers. The invention and evolution of the plow, or any machine for that matter, demonstrates the additive, transformative power of applied consciousness across generations and geography. A second development is how these powers are harnessed and organized for efficiency and production through the further application of intelligence. This applied intelligence in combination with the production of goods and services is what gives rise to capital.* Capital is to the economic realm what intelligence is to the individual. Since intelligence is not material, that is, it has no physical substance, it is by its nature non-objective. Its value appears as practical activity in the world. Capital is spiritual, while its value, its measure, derives from its application at a specific time and place.

The role of capital in the heart economy is like that of oxygen to the human heart. Oxygen is carried through the blood even as that stream is also collecting the carbon dioxide waste, which it returns to the world through breath. This self-regenerative system is the key to the imagination of a heart-centered economy.

I offer this imagination as a starting point for changing how we think about and live our economic life through our daily transactions. Can we see that we are part of a great circulation? Can we see that we are part of both the destruction and regeneration of natural systems, and that in our economic world we are never separate from each other, from wealth or poverty of resources, even though we have been conditioned to think that way? If, in our own body system, we were to establish “political” boundaries and protect them as we do, we would die an instant death. Boundaries are important, just as cell membranes are important. They are permeable; they protect, and contain, but in the end it is the circulation that is the most vital. And it is the workings of human heart, the servant of the circulatory system that demonstrates the wisdom we need to transform money, the financial system, and economic life. Not only by, but also from the heart we can learn how the world can support our lives as we work consciously to support others’.

* This essay is inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s insights into economics. In his 1922 lecture cycle, now published under the title Rethinking Economics: Lectures and Seminars on World Economics, he goes into great depth on how these two essential capacities, labor and intelligence, create value.

John Bloom is Senior Director of Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.

Heart’s Guidance: An Economic Imagination, Part I

January 16, 2014

by John Bloom

The mind thinks it loves; the heart loves before the thought.

In our current stage of materialist economy, we are entranced with capital and disconnected from our hearts. This discord is a result of the inherent nature of capital, so centered as it is in the head, as the origin of the word indicates. In the visible world discord looks like a widening gap between wealth and poverty, and in the inner world like a disintegration of beliefs, values, and behavioral decisions. Make no mistake, we need capital in one form or another, and we need those who work with capital to be in the world in a way that values each human being and supports the regeneration of nature. This inner integrity might then begin to heal social and ecological wounds.

So, how might the imagination of economic life change from where we currently are— dependence on growth that is heading toward the demise of nature and increased suffering—to one that is instead life affirming and regenerative? The purpose of this essay is to focus on a guiding framework for systemic change. Real change never happens without a guiding imagination.

Let’s start with the basics. As I remember, the things that I needed to know or commit to memory, I learned by heart—a poem, a lifeline phone number, a lover’s birthday. I suspect this is true for others as well, though ever-present reference technology has helped us grow lazy about such matters. Long before textbooks, encyclopedias, and wikipedias, the heart is what we had by way of stored knowledge, even while it was the head’s task to process that knowledge. Thus, consciousness has been as much if not more a product of the heart than of the head, though modern industrial culture has come to prize intellect over character. We have learned how to perceive and transform nature, while also learning from each other in order to survive as individuals and in communities.

As we evolved, our relationships were practical as well as spiritual; that is to say that trust catalyzed community action, whether the trust was a result of blood connection or common cause. Each individual discovers and develops her or his own capacities or gifts. And, it is when those capacities begin to serve both self and others that the glimmerings of economic life emerge. Fast forward and you get the industrialized version of economic efficiencies in the division of labor. When I am contributing my capacities and in return receiving what I need back from the community, I feel engaged, recognized, and valued—supported both materially and through a sense of fulfillment. While this is a somewhat simplistic framing, I believe this feeling is one desired not only by me, but also by a significant number of individuals open to reflecting on the nature of vocation and economic life.

What I am describing is a heart-centered economy, one motivated by continuous circulation, connection, caring, and cognizant of each person’s dignity and destiny. And most important, an economy in which the rediscovery of trust becomes the vital element supporting the circulation and regeneration of resources as common, co-produced wealth, including but certainly not limited to money. After all, money emerged primarily as an economic convenience, as a portable way to store value. By agreement its value was established through the exchange of goods and services. It was a means. But, as money has become more a valued commodity in and of itself, it has been disconnected from its purpose of accounting for economic flow, disconnected from real needs and human activity. In this sense, the more money is valued as an accumulated object attached to an individual, the more anti-social it becomes. In contrast, economics is deeply social as we are fully dependent upon one another’s capacities to meet our material needs.

Click here for Part II

John Bloom is Senior Director of Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.

Economics for the Seventh Generation – Part II

November 1, 2013

This essay was originally published in the Fall 2013 RSF Quarterly

Click here for Part I

Winona LaDuke by Winona LaDuke

We did a study on the White Earth Reservation in 2008 where we interviewed about 200 households, and asked people where they shopped, when they did. We found that our community spent around eight million dollars a year on food purchases for households and tribal programs.  Seven million of those dollars went off reservation to companies like Walmart, Food Service of America, and Sysco. On top of that, the money we spent on reservation was largely sucked up by convenience stores, where we purchased really cool stuff like pop, chips, microwavable pizzas, and baked goods.

So, what are the consequences of this?

First, we end up with a hole in our economy, the size of seven million dollars. This is a drain, well, actually a hemorrhage to be honest. The figure represents about a quarter of a tribal economy.  Add to that the fact that we do the same thing with energy, representing another quarter of our economy exported, and furthermore a health services budget, which is, frankly, fed on dietary related illnesses (one-third of the Indian Health Service client population has diabetes). The hemorrhage grows. This situation means that we don’t have the local value multiplier effect, and we have little to no control over capital or the circulation of money in our community. The circumstances become worse as prices rise for the food we have to bring in. After all, that food has to move on average 1500 miles from farmer to table, and requires a whole bunch of oil from fertilizer additives to packaging.  This results in more and more food insecurity, energy insecurity, and health insecurity.  And, more climate change—maybe a quarter of the climate change is associated with unsustainable agriculture.

So, what is the solution?

This is the happy part. It turns out that our ancestors and my father had it right. My father used to say to me, “Winona, I don’t want to hear your philosophy, if you can’t grow corn.”  Now that’s an interesting thing to say to your child.   Well, I thought about it, and thought about it some more. And then, I decided to grow corn. Along the way, I became an economist who wanted to look at the systems that support sovereignty and self-determination, namely our economic system.

This is how it is playing out. Take my house for example. We’re an extended family of ten or so people at various times. This is a two deer, one pig, 100 hundred fish, ten duck household.  This is complemented by 300 pounds of wild rice and corn, 200 pounds of potatoes, berries, maple syrup, squash, and a lot of canned goods.  We grow, harvest, and trade this.  I don’t grow potatoes because I know someone who grows them way better than I do. And, I don’t mess with chickens because the Amish are good at that.

Now, this means a lot of hard work. But, it also means I can keep my waistline somewhere I might be able to find it, on a good day.  It turns out, these foods are roughly twice as high in protein, and two to three times more nutritious than anything you can get at the store. This has, in short, immense positive health implications.

Now apply that to 9,000 tribal members hanging around White Earth, and you’ve got a bustling local economy, if you work it right. Our plan is to grow as much traditional food as our ancestors grew. Over the past ten years, we’ve worked to restore Anishinaabe agriculture growing 800 year old varieties of squash, northern corn varieties (hominy or flint corn, with twice the protein and half the calories of market corn) and doing so, this year and next year, increasingly with horse power. Yes, horse power.

We sell these goods locally to create a multiplier, and then sell surplus to people who value Native food. This is what we are working on at Native Harvest.

What I know is that we are good at localized agriculture. While the paradigm of a “war on poverty” is creating a labor force focused on training and retraining my community for jobs which do not exist, or linking us to a dysfunctional economic system, we are intent upon shoring up that which we know can last for another thousand years: a self-reliant economic system that does not require massive inputs of fossil fuels, because, we all know that fossil fuels belong in the ground, not in our food system, and not in our air.

So, what is the value of this?

Well start with this, it’s intangible. Health is awesome. It’s also awesome to grow a squash that’s been around for 800 years or so, or some corn that might last in a time of climate change, because it’s not a mono crop, it’s short of stalk, and drought and frost resistant.  Not bad, those ancestors. Then, think about how we are restoring some things which are sacred, and hopefully keeping them from getting genetically altered (like our battles to protect wild rice and corn, our mother grain).   We’re building some sense of economic stability for the future, while we get some control over our health, food, and energy systems—these are all interrelated.

Food sovereignty is an affirmation of who we are as Indigenous peoples and one of the most sure-footed ways to restore our relationship with the world around us.

In this millennium, our people are told that we have a choice between two paths—one that is well worn but scorched, or one that is green. Our community is choosing the green path. That is the work of restoring Indigenous ways of living and land-based economics for the seventh generation. What will your community choose?

Winona LaDuke is an internationally acclaimed author, orator and activist. A graduate of Harvard and Antioch Universities with advanced degrees in rural economic development, LaDuke has devoted her life to protecting the lands and life ways of Native communities. In 1994, Time magazine named her one of America’s fifty most promising leaders under forty years of age, and in 1997 she was named Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year. She is Founding Director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project and Executive Director of Honor the Earth.

Economics for the Seventh Generation – Part I

October 30, 2013

This essay was originally published in the Fall 2013 RSF Quarterly

Winona LaDuke by Winona LaDuke

“Seems like people don’t want to stick around another thousand years.”    —Mike Wiggins, Tribal Chairman of the Bad River Band of Anishinaabe, on the proposed GTAC taconite mine, which will impact the watershed of the Bad River.

Let’s say that is not true.  Let’s say that we are people who want to live in a way that restores our relationship with Mother Earth. We want to live in small, medium, and large communities, with a low fossil fuel impact on the world.

Ji misawaabandaaming, or how we envision our future, is a worldview of positive thinking.  It’s an Anishinaabe worldview, coming from a place and a cultural way of life that has been here, on the same land, for 10,000 years.  To transform modern society into one based on survival, not conquest, we need to make some changes.  We need to actualize an economic and social transformation. Restoring an economics, which makes sense for upcoming generations, needs to be a priority. In our community, we think of this as economics for the seventh generation.

In our teachings we have some clear direction: our intention is Minobimaatisiiwin, a spiritual, mental, physical and emotional happiness—sort of an Anishinaabe version of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index.  Within our cultural teachings lie these Indigenous Economic Principles: intergenerational thinking and equity (thinking for the seventh generation); inter- and intra-species equity (respect); and valuing those spiritual and intangible facets of the natural world and cultural practice (not all values and things can be monetized).

After I graduated from college in 1981, I returned to my own community, the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota (the reservation on which the federal government recognizes I am a Native person), and began a journey of working towards building this restorative economics.

Our work at the White Earth Land Recovery Project and Native Harvest begins from a cultural premise. We need to restore our relationship to place (we now hold 1400 acres of land as a land trust) and we need to determine what an economy looks like which is Indigenous.  Our focus has been in the traditional economy, that which involves extensive subsistence agriculture and falls outside the definition of market economies. Food is at the center of this system.

Food Sovereignty

“I don’t think we can call ourselves sovereign if we can’t feed ourselves.” This is what Paul “Sugarbear” Smith told me a few years ago when I went to visit him in Oneida Territory, Wisconsin.  I think he’s got something here and it’s worth looking into.

What is food sovereignty? The ability to feed your people. Let’s say that.  This could be through your own growing and harvesting, or this could be through trade, if you’re happy with it and it’s working out for you.  This is where we need to be, but certainly aren’t there now.

Let’s review how we got to our current situation.

When the Europeans came to America, they had no land, and brought very little food with them. The incidence of scurvy, diphtheria, and a whole litany of diseases, many of them linked to malnutrition, was overwhelming.  We fed them, and taught them how to eat, here on this land, omaa akiing. For the record, Native people gave the world some big food.  Corn and potatoes, for instance, make up a huge percentage of world food calories and nutrition, and represent immense value per acre. Not bad. We were good at this stuff.  As an example, we Anishinaabe were the northern most corn growers in the world, pushing corn about a hundred miles north of Winnipeg, and our agro-biodiversity abounded. Overall, Indigenous peoples developed some 8000 varieties of corn, not to mention everything from pumpkins to chocolate.  All pretty cool stuff.

Fast-forward post-colonialism and we are now a terribly dependent people, or peoples.  By and large, we have ceased to farm our own foods and lands, all part of a logical consequence of theft, genocide, allotment, boarding schools, land alienation, and the lack of access to basic capital for even small-scale farming. We are net importers of food, and it’s costly. And even some of our largest tribal food enterprises like the Navajo Agricultural Products, Inc. and Gila River, produce food, not for Navajos, but for markets elsewhere. Thousands of acres of our tribal lands are leased out to non-Indian producers who ship across the world.  And, in the meantime, we’re not looking good.

Click here for Part II

Winona LaDuke is an internationally acclaimed author, orator and activist. A graduate of Harvard and Antioch Universities with advanced degrees in rural economic development, LaDuke has devoted her life to protecting the lands and life ways of Native communities. In 1994, Time magazine named her one of America’s fifty most promising leaders under forty years of age, and in 1997 she was named Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year. She is Founding Director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project and Executive Director of Honor the Earth.

Off-the-Grid Investing: Perspectives and Voices of a Transforming Financial System

September 6, 2013

Don-ShafferOriginally published in Green Money Journal

by Don Shaffer

When you are looking for the new or emergent, you usually have to look off-the-grid. In many ways as RSF Social Finance has grown, we too have had to go off-the-grid to develop our unique approach to finance.

In 1984, a school burned down in New Hampshire. RSF organized a group of investors to rebuild it. Since then, we have made over $275 million in direct loans to social enterprises. Our track record has been excellent, with just 2 percent in cumulative loan losses over 29 years, and a 100 percent repayment rate to investors.

The key: bringing investors and borrowers closer together. We have found that if the individual investors who are providing capital and the social entrepreneurs who are borrowing capital can be more visible to each other – if they can understand each others’ needs and intentions, and sustain a personal connection whenever possible – then risk decreases and fulfillment increases.

Participants in a transaction become participants in a relationship. We believe this is nothing less than the antidote to modern finance, and can be applied on a substantial scale. It is the opposite of high frequency trading.

Specifically, four years ago RSF adopted a new approach to loan pricing for our $100 million flagship senior-debt fund. Each quarter, we convene representatives from our staff, our investors, and our borrowers to decide what annualized return rate investors will receive the following quarter, and what interest rate borrowers will pay – a radical form of transparency.

We call it community-based pricing. The response from participants has been overwhelmingly positive – and our interest rate, referred to as RSF Prime, has been very stable. We are now off-the-grid of the global financial interest rate system and no longer directly affected by the vagaries of Wall Street.

But of course the vast majority of all 401(k) programs, pension funds, and endowments are tethered to Wall Street, so it is naïve to believe we are fully off-the-grid.

This circumstance leads to questions many of us in the social finance field think about:

  • What is it going to take for the number of socially and environmentally-focused investors to grow substantially?
  • Can it happen fast enough for those of us who acknowledge the urgency of climate change and natural resource depletion?
  • Are there enough sound investment opportunities for investors who want to go off-the-grid?
  • How will we address the perennial issues of risk, return, and liquidity when there are so few established intermediaries in which to place funds?
  • What are the long-term implications for those of us who anticipate needing funds for retirement and who want to embrace off-the-grid investing?

Click here to read the full story

Don Shaffer is President & CEO at RSF Social Finance

We Make the Road by Walking – Part II

August 26, 2013

Kenny AusubelThis essay was originally published in the Summer 2013 RSF Quarterly.

Click here for Part I

By Kenny Ausubel

Climate change compounded by the concentration of wealth (and subsequent distribution of poverty) is pushing natural and humans systems to a perfect storm of tipping points. Nature does not favor centralization because one shock can crash the whole system all at once.

One key is to build resilience from the ground up through a radical decentralization of our infrastructure, energy and food systems. It means a greater devolution of political power to local and regional levels. It means democratizing wealth and access to capital and it’s do-able based largely on what we already know.

Using off-the-shelf clean technologies, we can radically increase energy conservation and rapidly ramp up distributed renewable energy. We know how to feed the world using ecological agriculture that sequesters carbon, restores natural capital, and builds local economies. We have a good idea how to begin to restore ecosystems on a large scale—fairly quickly in some cases. We’re rapidly learning how to deploy biomimicry to emulate nature’s designs and recipes with green chemistry, cradle-to-cradle industry, living buildings, and smart growth. We can conserve and use water wisely. We’re reinventing finance as well as governance, instituting rights for nature and revoking corporate constitutional rights.

In this Age of Nature, we’re looking to nature as mentor and model, rather than physical resource.

The vanguard of the banking industry, including the Bank of England, is studying ecological networks and disease patterns to understand how nature avoids cataclysmic systemic shocks. One conclusion is simple: Too big to fail means too big. Break up the big banks, as the conservative Chicago School of Economics originally proposed.

A 2012 study funded by the Rockefeller Foundation compared the performance of 17 values-based banks against 29 banks considered too big to fail. The study showed the values-based banks outperformed traditional mainstream banks in return on assets, growth in loans and deposits, and capital strength. The smaller banks delivered better returns. The report concludes their success is precisely their values, and they’re smaller.

Twenty states are now studying how to create a state public bank based on the Bank of North Dakota, a major success story. This publicly owned bank receives all state revenues and promotes local commerce and industry, makes student loans, and supports new farmers. It was largely unaffected by the banking crisis.

Business also appears to be reaching a tipping point. Two thirds of companies are turning to sustainability for a competitive edge and higher profits. For the first time in 2010, investment in renewables exceeded that in fossil fuels. According to McKinsey & Company, solar energy will come back strong after 2015, driven by the rapid spread of distributed energy with miniature community power stations and home solar. Google has capitalized two solar residential funds of $365 million apiece.

The hardest thing to change in a system is the paradigm, yet that’s exactly what we’re seeing. Emergence in an emergency. Breakdowns to breakthroughs.

As Naomi Klein wrote, “The real solutions to the climate crisis are also our best hope of building a much more enlightened economic system — one that closes deep inequalities, strengthens and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work, and radically reins in corporate power. It demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal —and acutely sensitive to natural limits.”

In this Time of No Time, what we don’t have is time. Can we dodge the point of no return by ramping up the emergent shadow civilization fast enough?

In this Time of No Time, what we need to get past the wall of mirrors is a strong heart. Andy Lipkis of TreePeople sees it this way: “I believe every single one of us has a scanner on board that’s operating in our body that nature must have installed. It’s our heart, and it’s asking the question, ‘Where am I needed? How can I help?’

“When something hits your frequency, my frequency, it converts to adrenaline, a biochemical response. It might be a drip. It might be a shot. When we’re given a shot of adrenaline, like when we see a car accident, it gives us the power to go help lift a car off the injured person. It looks like a miracle, but it’s nature’s gift to us. When the ecosystem is hurting, we get the drip. We’re hardwired for this. The love that’s there can sustain us. It’s what really feeds us.

“I’ve come to believe nature has adapted us to be its healers. It has raised us from being infants that were helpless to brilliant, powerful, compassionate beings. We’ve got to take care of the mom, Earth, because she has given us everything to raise us to this point — not so we can kill ourselves.

“Where am I needed? How can I help? Your heart will answer. You’re big enough. We can do this.”

At no time have we ever before faced what we face today. Can we muster the healing forces fast enough? Can we convert what lives in our hearts and conversations into new social forms—live out the renewal that nature and the Earth are calling for?

We make the road by walking. It’s an honor to walk this road with you.

Kenny Ausubel is Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Bioneers, along with his business partner and wife Nina Simons. He is an award-winning social entrepreneur, filmmaker, radio producer, and author. His recent book, Dreaming the Future: Reimagining Civilization in the Age of Nature, won the Grand Gold Nautilus prize for Ecology/Environment. He co-founded Seeds of Change in 1989. He was a central advisor to and appears in Leonardo DiCaprio’s feature documentary The 11th Hour.

We Make the Road by Walking – Part I

August 22, 2013

This essay was originally published in the Summer 2013 RSF Quarterly.

Kenny Ausubel

By Kenny Ausubel

In this moment of radical environmental and social disruption, the world is experiencing the dawn of a necessary and revolutionary transformation to becoming an ecologically literate and socially just civilization. The existential gauntlet is to make the shift fast enough to outrun global cataclysm. The next five to six years will be the once-in-a-civilization window to change course. We can move from breakdown to breakthrough.

The Mayan people call this the “Time of No Time.” From here on, we’re on Earth time. Mother Earth is shaking to her core. It’s a time of madness, disconnection, and hyper-individualism. It’s also a time when new energies are coming into the world—when people are growing a new skin. The Mayan vision says we in the West will find safe harbor only if we can journey past a wall of mirrors. The mirrors will drive us mad, unless we have a strong heart. Some mirrors delude us with infinite reflections of our vanity and shadows. Others paralyze us with our terror and rage, feeding an empire that manufactures  fear and benefits from resignation. But the empire has no roots and it’s toppling all around us. In this time, everyone is called to take a stand. Everyone is called to be a leader.

To get beyond the wall of mirrors, the final challenge is to pass through a tiny door. To do this, we must make ourselves very, very small. To be very humble. Then we must burrow down into the Earth, where indigenous consciousness lives. On the other side is a clear pond. There, for the first time, we’ll be able to see our true reflection.

We’re re-imagining a civilization in the Age of Nature that honors the web of life, each other and future generations. It’s a revolution from the heart of nature. For decades, brilliant scientific and social innovators such as the bioneers have been in the shadows patiently creating the systems for how we will live on Earth for the long haul. For the most part, the solutions are present, or we know what directions to head in. It’s not that we need more solutions—we need to rapidly spread and scale, where possible, what we’ve already got. We need to mobilize in a way historically done in times of war. It’s emergence in an emergency.

In 2012, two highly problematic rude awakenings are pointing to the need to open the floodgates of transformation and they are not unrelated.

The first is the onset of conspicuous climate disruption. As Bill McKibben points out, scientists have underestimated the speed and scale of early climate disruption, at a rise of just 0.8 degrees Celsius. Even if we stopped pumping carbon right now, the temperature will rise by another 0.8 degrees Celsius. But we’re not stopping—we’re putting record amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. At this rate, in 16 years, the planet could become uninhabitable. Meanwhile the major oil corporations hold reserves five times higher than the amounts of carbon we can burn to keep below the hopefully “safe” threshold of 2 degrees Celsius of warming. They’re planning to burn it all. As McKibben warns, rapid transformative change is the only way through—picture the civil rights movement in fast forward. The key is stopping the fossil fuel oligarchs before they poach the planet.

The second indicator of the need for transformation is the reality of the greatest extremes of wealth ever seen in human civilization. While the following may seem judgmental, I use it to make my point. As the International Forum on Globalization observes in its report Outing the Oligarchy, “Today’s single biggest threat to our global climate commons is the group of billionaires who profit most from its pollution and, in turn, push government policies that promote more fossil fuels… Cooperative global action to address the most daunting challenge humanity has ever faced is being held hostage by a handful of profiteers who wield decisive power over our governments.” Globalization has triggered a tectonic shift of financial wealth and political power upward to a group of multi-billionaires. According to Jeffrey Winters, the author of Oligarchy, wealth in the U.S. today is “two times as concentrated as imperial Rome, which was a slave-and-farmer society.” But we know this is not the way. As Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz points out, more equal societies are better for everyone, including the wealthy.

Jeremy Grantham, the far-seeing Chairman of the $100 billion GMO Capital fund, asserts that global warming will be the most important investment issue for the foreseeable future, and advocates very large immediate investments in renewables and smart grids. He says humanity’s vexed relationship with the planet is the great economic story of our time. He concludes that, “If we maintain our desperate focus on growth, we will run out of everything and crash – Peak Everything Else.” That’s the nub – Boom and Doom –the final throes of an oligarchic economic system bedeviled by its original sin of unlimited growth on a finite planet.

Click here for Part II.

Kenny Ausubel is Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Bioneers, along with his business partner and wife Nina Simons. He is an award-winning social entrepreneur, filmmaker, radio producer, and author. His recent book, Dreaming the Future: Reimagining Civilization in the Age of Nature, won the Grand Gold Nautilus prize for Ecology/Environment. He co-founded Seeds of Change in 1989. He was a central advisor to and appears in Leonardo DiCaprio’s feature documentary The 11th Hour.

An End to the Age of Entitlement: Part III

August 13, 2013

This is the third and final post in a series by John Bloom challenging the modern economic approach to land. Here, Bloom proposes a new approach that views land as resource rather than commodity and focuses on stewardship rather than consumption.

In my last post, I proposed a threefold picture of the human relationship to land: ownership, use, and community.

Land is the foundation of economic life. The boundaries we impose upon land, the rights we confer to ourselves, are a reflection of our political life. Who we are and how we bring our labor to work on the land is a matter of culture and vocational destiny. It is important to understand that each aspect of this threefold framework must be given equal recognition and weight and yet be worked with in mindful integration with the other two—land as economic source governed by community determined rights and right use, ownership as a path to realize stewardship responsibility as well as initiative on and from the land. If we work with this threefold framework as background to finding a renewed purpose in stewarding land rather than consuming it, economic life will shift into a more stable and sustaining modality—one of sufficiency. If we recognize and value the human community, which depends upon the land, then that community needs to have a voice in how the land is best used and renewed. The community may even have a say in who is best suited to bring their capacities to the land, whether farming, manufacturing, or development.

Such approaches exist. But to get there, the connection between ownership, use, and community has to change, to be brought into a balanced yet dynamic relationship. The age of entitlement, which gives primacy to private landownership through policies and laws that trump use and community, has to change. In such a skewed system, a distorted, unjust, and unsustainable system has emerged driven by extreme self-interested behavior. The world is full of evidence for this. The challenge is to develop a way of being with land that brings ownership, use, and community into dynamic equilibrium so that human nature and nature itself thrive in reciprocal nurturance.

Land trusts, the high integrity sustainable farming movement, enlightened land owners, the landless workers movement, the rise of the new peasantry, and those practicing true social finance are all striving to find this renewed relationship to land that is supportive of life, human destiny, and the collaborative community we could call the world economy.

John Bloom is Senior Director, Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.

Economy

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