Thursday, October 31, 2013

Serving Your Community

by Madisyn Taylor

Being of service to our community is part of being a good citizen of the planet earth.

To live harmoniously, we need to be supportive and helpful to all people, creatures, and plant life that share this earth with us. While “being of service” is part of being a good citizen of the world, it also feels good to help others. When we do something for others in service, without the expectation of anything in return, we are turning our actions into offerings.

There are many ways to be of service to our community. There are the obvious and much needed volunteer opportunities, such as serving Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter, mentoring our youth, or cleaning up a beach. Then, there is the kind of service that we may not even think of as being acts of service. Learning a new language (perhaps sign language) so that you can talk to more people is a way to reach out to others. Inviting someone who isn’t motivated enough to exercise on their own to join you on your daily walk is a way to give of yourself. Sharing flowers or vegetables from your garden, organizing a poetry reading, offering to babysit for a busy parent, or donating pet food to an animal shelter all are simple ways to offer your services to your community.

There are many ways that you can serve the world. Imagine the impact we would have on the environment if we picked up one piece of trash off the street everyday and chose not to drive our car once a week. Even gardening tactics such as throwing wildflower seeds onto a vacant lot can brighten the lives of others – including the lives of birds and insects. Everyday, you can do something to make this world a better place. During meditation, ask for guidance on what you can do to be of service. This can be a wonderful way to start your day. Smiling at a stranger who looks down in the dumps or teaching your neighborhood kids how to whistle will impact someone’s day or even their life. Giving of yourself is the best gift that you can give.

Beyond Consumerism: Replacing the Value of "More" with "Enough"

by Rob Dietz & Dan O'Neill, October 11, 2013 at 3:20pm

[The following essay is adapted from the book Enough Is Enough by Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill.]

Given how deeply consumerism has become embedded in everyday life (despite the way it coaxes people to chase fulfillment in ineffective ways), it's going to take a revolutionary change in values to overcome the prevailing orthodoxy.

The change is unlikely to happen quickly or easily because of the anxieties that will inevitably arise in response to such a transformation. In addition, plenty of powerful forces benefit from consumer spending, and they won't give up their positions of power without a fight. Advertisers, credit card companies, soft drink makers, banks, car companies, computer manufacturers, and government stimulus programs are but a few of the institutions aligned with consumerism.

Successfully fighting these forces will require a sustained and coordinated effort to curtail the power of large corporations and the media, both of which exercise substantial influence over people's lives. It is important not to underestimate these entities and the often subtle methods they use to influence consumers. But bankers, advertisers, and manufacturers are simply responding to consumer demand (although they're complicit in creating some of that demand). So perhaps the shift needs to originate from people's personal values, and a grassroots rejection of the "mass infantilization" program that promotes mindless consumption.

Here are some ideas for getting the transition under way:

(Photo via Anti-Advertising Agency and Packard Jennings)

Turn marketing on its ear. Markets have been honing their techniques for many years. These techniques could be used to "sell" sound cultural values instead of copious quantities of consumer goods. Imagine if Victor Lebow had said, "We need to make well-being our way of life." Now imagine if the full force of the Coca-Cola and McDonald's marketing teams went to work on this change instead of selling more fizzy drinks.

Harness the power of art. The arts, from music to dance to visual media, can feed the soul far more effectively than shopping trips and excessive consumption. Art inspires people and helps them imagine a better world than the one we live in today. By participating in the creative and often collaborative processes that produce art, people can play a direct role in bringing about that better world.

Be the change. Individuals who understand the downsides of consumerism can reject unnecessary consumer items and set a positive example by "living their values." They can participate in local initiatives and develop alternatives to mass consumption by buying less, producing locally, and boycotting mass consumer outlets. Much of the self-serving behavior inherent in consumerism derives from a trend away from community-based values and toward individualistic ones. People who set a nonmaterialistic example can help reverse this trend.

Recruit influential individuals. Influential individuals occupy pivotal positions in social networks and are key figures in the processes by which new social norms emerge. Such individuals, if they understood the downsides of consumerism and the upsides of less materialistic lifestyles, could be potent agents of change toward sustainability.

Juxtapose "zombie consumerism" with the nonmaterialistic good life. A materialistic lifestyle can be shallow, boring, and deadening. A nonmaterialistic, sustainable lifestyle, on the other hand, can be dynamic and refreshing, but people must be able to visualize it. The Transition Towns movement has captured many people's imaginations and begun the daunting process of demonstrating ways to live simpler and more purposeful lives. If politicians see Transition Towns and similar movements emerging on a sufficient scale, they will feel pressure to get on board.

Eliminate planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence has become a widespread strategy in products ranging from sweaters to semiconductors, and some marketing practitioners (who probably haven't been keeping up with certain environmental and social trends) even praise it as a positive development. But in a world with 7 billion people, finite resources, and serious environmental problems, "durable" needs to become the watchword of consumers, not "disposable." Refusal to buy short-lived products is a sure way to influence companies to stop designing for the dump.

(Image via Adbusters)

Limit advertising. Lawmakers have restricted advertising that promotes unhealthy behavior (e.g. tobacco and alcohol use), so there is a precedent for tempering the excesses of marketing departments. A ban on advertising aimed at children took effect in the Canadian province of Quebec in 1980, and it has helped children maintain healthier consumption habits. When it comes to stigma-based advertising, Dan and Chip Heath suggest that the marketing community has a responsibility to self-regulate. Whether through self-regulation or other means, it would be healthy to put a stop to stigma-based advertising and other toxic marketing practices.

Cultivate nonconsumerist institutions. Government and communities can play an important role by creating and empowering organizations that de-emphasize consumerism. Such organizations would focus on meeting needs rather than selling stuff. They would manage assets for the purpose of delivering long-term well-being to asset owners, rather than delivering short-term financial returns to managers. Example include cooperatives, land trusts, and even community workshops.

The ideas described above offer some intriguing ways to abate the flood of materialism, but a true turning of the cultural tide will require people to accept a basic truth: the spoils of shopping provide little support for a long life of fulfillment. Some people easily grasp this wisdom; they seem naturally immune to the onslaught of markets. Others take time to develop such immunity—they have to experience the emptiness of consumer culture, sometimes over the course of decades.

It has become a cliché, at least in American consumer society, for people to turn over a new leaf after suffering through a midlife crisis. Following a fruitless attempt to quell such a crisis through conspicuous consumption (think of a forty-five-year-old man buying a bright red Ferrari of some other gas-guzzling sports car), they end up finding peace by refocusing their lives on relationships, well-being, and the search for deeper meaning. It's inspiring that pockets of people, no matter at what stage of life, are acting on their nonconsumerist instincts. Transition Towns, voluntary simplicity, economic localiziation, and ecovillages are all positive signs that people are striving to live happy, but less materially intensive lives.

People from all walks of life are establishing creative models of living well, but for such models to diffuse more broadly throughout society, communities will have to oppose the corporate forces that promote the consumer culture. These forces, which exert an undue influence on politicians and the media, ignore the finite nature of resources, entice people into chasing fulfillment in ineffective ways, and drive inequality. Through concerted and persistent action, we can overcome them. Then we can replace the culture of consumerism and the value of more with the culture of sustainability and the value of enough.

This excerpt was adapted from Enough Is Enough: Building A Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill. In the book, Dietz and O'Neill lay out a visionary but realistic alternative to the perpetual pursuit of economic growth—an economy where the goal is enough, not more. Learn more here.



In True Wealth (titled Plenitude in hardcover), economist and New Dream board co-chair Juliet Schor offers a groundbreaking intellectual statement about the economics and sociology of ecological decline, suggesting a radical change in how we think about consumer goods, value, and ways to live: a plenitude economy.

Responding to our current moment, True Wealth puts sustainability at its core. But it is not a paradigm of sacrifice. Instead it’s an argument that through a major shift to new sources of wealth, green technologies, and different ways of living, individuals and the country as a whole can actually be better off and more economically secure.

As Schor observes, plenitude is already emerging. In pockets around the country and the world, people are busy creating lifestyles that offer a way out of the work-and-spend cycle. These pioneers’ lives are scarce in conventional consumer goods and rich in the newly abundant resources of time, information, creativity, and community. Urban farmers, D.I.Y renovators, Craigslist users, cob builders—all are spreading their risk and establishing novel sources of income and outlets for procuring consumer goods. Taken together, these trends represent a movement away from the conventional market and offer a way toward an efficient, rewarding life in an era of high prices and traditional resource scarcity.

Learn more

The Video: A New Dream Exclusive!

Visualizing a Plenitude Economy is a beautifully drawn 5-minute video based on Juliet Schor's book. Produced by New Dream in 2011 and narrated by Schor, it is the first installment of the New Dream Mini-Views series. This fun animation provides a vision of what a post-consumer society could look like, with people working fewer hours and pursuing re-skilling, homesteading, and small-scale enterprises that can help reduce the overall size and impact of the consumer economy.

Watch it, enjoy it, and share it!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Voluntary Simplicity


--by Duane Elgin, syndicated from

What kind of "stewardship" fits our emerging world? When we consider the powerful forces transforming our world — climate change, peak oil, water and food shortages, species extinction, and more — we require far more than either crude or cosmetic changes in our manner of living. If we are to maintain the integ­rity of the Earth as a living system, we require deep and creative changes in our overall levels and patterns of living and consum­ing. Simplicity is not an alternative lifestyle for a marginal few. It is a creative choice for the mainstream majority, particularly in developed nations. If we are to pull together as a human commu­nity, it will be crucial for people in affluent nations to embrace a deep and sophisticated simplicity as a foundation for sustainabil­ity. Simplicity is simultaneously a personal choice, a community choice, a national choice, and a species choice.

What does a life of conscious simplicity look like? There is no cookbook we can turn to with easy recipes for the simple life. The world is moving into new territory and we are all inventing as we go. For more than thirty years I've explored contemporary expressions of the simple life and I've found such diversity that the most useful and accurate way of describing this approach to living may be with the metaphor of a garden.

A Garden of Simplicity

To portray the richness of simplicity, here are eight different flow­erings that I see growing in the "garden of simplicity." Although there is overlap among them, each expression of simplicity seems sufficiently distinct to warrant a separate category. These are pre­sented in no particular order, as all are important.

1. Uncluttered Simplicity: Simplicity means taking charge of lives that are too busy, too stressed, and too fragmented. Simplicity means cutting back on clut­ter, complications, and trivial distractions, both mate­rial and nonmaterial, and focusing on the essentials — whatever those may be for each of our unique lives. As Thoreau said, "Our life is frittered away by detail…. Simplify, simplify." Or, as Plato wrote, "In order to seek one's own direction, one must simplify the mechanics of ordinary, everyday life."

2. Ecological Simplicity: Simplicity means choosing ways of living that touch the Earth more lightly and that reduce our ecological impact on the web of life. This life-path remembers our deep roots with the soil, air, and water. It encourages us to connect with na­ture, the seasons, and the cosmos. An ecological sim­plicity feels a deep reverence for the community of life on Earth and accepts that the nonhuman realms of plants and animals have their dignity and rights as well.

3. Family Simplicity: Simplicity means placing the well-being of one's family ahead of materialism and the acquisition of things. This expression of green liv­ing puts an emphasis on providing children with healthy role models living balanced lives that are not distorted by consumerism. Family simplicity affirms that what matters most in life is often invisible — the quality and integrity of our relationships with one an­other. Family simplicity is also intergenerational — it looks ahead and seeks to live with restraint so as to leave a healthy Earth for future generations.

4. Compassionate Simplicity: Simplicity means feel­ing such a strong sense of kinship with others that, as Gandhi said, we "choose to live simply so that oth­ers may simply live." A compassionate simplicity means feeling a bond with the community of life and being drawn toward a path of cooperation and fair­ness that seeks a future of mutually assured develop­ment for all.

5. Soulful Simplicity: Simplicity means approaching life as a meditation and cultivating our experience of direct connection with all that exists. By living simply, we can more easily awaken to the living universe that surrounds and sustains us, moment by moment. Soul­ful simplicity is more concerned with consciously tasting life in its unadorned richness than with a par­ticular standard or manner of material living. In culti­vating a soulful connection with life, we tend to look beyond surface appearances and bring our interior aliveness into relationships of all kinds.

6. Business Simplicity: Simplicity means that a new kind of economy is growing in the world, with healthy and sustainable products and services of all kinds (home-building materials, energy systems, food pro­duction, transportation). As the need for a sustainable infrastructure in developing nations is being com­bined with the need to retrofit and redesign the homes, cities, workplaces, and transportation systems of developed nations, it is generating an enormous wave of green business innovation and employment.

7. Civic Simplicity: Simplicity means that living more lightly and sustainably on the Earth requires changes in every area of public life — from public transporta­tion and education to the design of our cities and workplaces. The politics of simplicity is also a media politics, as the mass media are the primary vehicle for reinforcing — or transforming — the mass consciousness of consumerism. To realize the magnitude of changes required in such a brief time will require new approaches to governing ourselves at every scale.

8. Frugal Simplicity: Simplicity means that, by cutting back on spending that is not truly serving our lives, and by practicing skillful management of our per­sonal finances, we can achieve greater financial inde­pendence. Frugality and careful financial management bring increased financial freedom and the opportu­nity to more consciously choose our path through life. Living with less also decreases the impact of our consumption upon the Earth and frees resources for others.

As these eight approaches illustrate, the growing culture of simplicity contains a flourishing garden of expressions whose great diversity — and intertwined unity — are creating a resilient and hardy ecology of learning about how to live more sustainable and meaningful lives. As with other ecosystems, it is the diversity of expressions that fosters flexibility, adaptability, and resilience. Because there are so many pathways into the garden of simplic­ity, this self-organizing movement has enormous potential to grow....

The Choice for Simplicity

The circle has closed. The Earth is a single system and we humans have reached beyond its regenerative capacity. It is of the highest urgency that we invent new ways of living that are sus­tainable. The starting gun of history has already gone off and the time for creative action has arrived. With lifestyles of conscious simplicity, we can seek our riches in caring families and friend­ships, reverence for nature, meaningful work, exuberant play, social contribution, collaboration across generations, local com­munity, and creative arts. With conscious simplicity, we can seek lives that are rich with experiences, satisfaction, and learning rather than packed with things. With these new ingredients in the lives of our civilizations, we can redefine progress, awaken a new social consciousness, and establish a realistic foundation for a sustainable and promising future.

Reprinted with permission. The Center for Ecoliteracy where this article originally appeared, supports and advances education for sustainable living. You can follow its work at Duane Elgin is an internationally recognized speaker and author. His books include The Living Universe, Promise Ahead, and Awakening Earth. He received the international Goi Peace Award in recognition of his contribution to a global "vision, consciousness, and lifestyle" that fosters a "more sustainable and spiritual culture."

Hot spots: Global temperature rise

On average, global temperatures will exceed historical norms as soon as 2047 and no later than 2069, according to new research by scientists at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. In some places, it will happen a lot sooner: 2020 in Manokwari, Indonesia, and 2023 in Kingston, Jamaica, the researchers predict. For Washington, it will be 2047. If concerted steps are taken to rapidly mitigate carbon dioxide emissions, the warmup will be slowed by decades.

*Using temperature data from 1860 to 2005 as a baseline, climate departure describes the point in time that the average temperature of the coolest year after 2005 becomes warmer than the historic average temperature of the hottest year, for a specific location.


What's It Like to Ride in the World's Number 1 Cycling City?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent last week in the Netherlands working on an exciting new project which you'll be hearing a lot about over the next few months.  This week I'm back in the UK, and missing the incredible cycling conditions that you find just over the North Sea with our Dutch neighbours.

So imagine my pleasure to see that the newest Streetfilms is all about the city of Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands.  I was there just last week too, meeting city authority officials, and riding with infrastructure guru and blog editor David Hembrow of "A View from the Cycle Path" fame.  My experience was just the same as Streetfilm's, that is to say, cycling in the city was almost unbelievable such was its intensity, and it is fantastic to be able to re-live the moment through this brilliant new film.

Groningen is the world's number 1 cycling city; some 50% of all journeys there are conducted by bicycle, going up to a massive 60% in the city core.  And yet, like air, the residents of Groningen don't even seem to realise how essential their cycling culture is - it's just part of their everyday experience.  To give you an idea of how much 60% of all journeys by bicycle is, Hackney - "London's cycling suburb" - hovers around a comparatively paltry 10%.

Clearly there is lots still to do in London, and lots that we can learn from those who have had the most success (because you would, wouldn't you?).  In the meantime, enjoy the view from Groningen's cycle paths, and let's hope this latest Streetfilms can help to inspire us to think REALLY big!


Sustenance for the Soul

by Madisyn Taylor

Modern life compels us to rush. Because we feel pressured to make the most of our time each day, the activities that sustain us, rejuvenate us, and help us evolve are often the first to be sacrificed when we are in a hurry or faced with a new obligation. It is important we remember that there is more to life than achieving success, making money, and even caring for others.

Your spiritual needs should occupy an important spot on your list of priorities. Each task you undertake and each relationship you nurture draws from the wellspring of your spiritual vitality. Taking the time to engage in spiritually fulfilling activities replenishes that well and readies you to face another day. Making time for the activities that contribute to your spiritual growth has little to do with being selfish and everything to do with your well-being. Regularly taking the time to focus on your soul’s needs ensures that you are able to nurture yourself, spend time with your thoughts, experience t! ranquility, and expand your spiritual boundaries.

It is easy to avoid using our free moments for spiritual enrichment. There is always something seemingly more pressing that needs to be done. Many people feel guilty when they use their free time to engage in pursuits where they are focusing on themselves because they feel as if they are neglecting their family or their work. To make time for yourself, it may be necessary to say no to people’s requests or refuse to take on extra responsibilities. Scheduling fifteen or thirty minutes of time each day for your spiritual needs can make you feel tranquil, give you more energy and allows you to feel more in touch with the universe. Writing in a journal, meditating, studying the words of wise women and men, and engaging in other spiritual practices can help you make the most of this time.

Making time to nurture your spirit may require that you sacrifice other, less vital activities. The more time you commit to soul-nurturing activities, the happier and more relaxed you will become. The time you devote to enriching your spirit will rejuvenate you and help you create a more restful life.

Daily OM

A Guide To Life's Turning Points

by Brian Browne-Walker

[Listen to Audio!]

Progress is made in steps, not in leaps. Move only as far as the opening allows. Remain neutral and tolerant of adversity. When in doubt, remain still.

By accepting things as they are and not making fruitless comparisons to the situations of others, or some imagined ideal, one engages the power of the Creative.

Though outer conditions appear unpromising, success is possible if you look faithfully for the good in others, yourself, and the situation.

It is a time for moderation in everything. Moderation of enthusiasm keeps you balanced.
Moderation of despair deepens your understanding.

Accept natural limitations. When there is an opening, go forward with balance.

When the way is closed, withdraw willingly into stillness.

Do not enter rashly into a conflict, stand quietly in the center and keep your balance.  This enables a true and lasting resolution to be found.

Shock frightens us, and at first we are convinced that it is bad. When we learn the lesson that it has come to teach, we are thankful for it.

Restless effort undermines one’s interests. It is unwise to charge repeatedly at a closed door. Withdraw into stillness and accept both the challenges and the blessings of the day.

The difficulty is coming to a close, but only if one is firm against harshness, doubt, and despair. Help only comes when there is room for it to enter.

One who gives up a stubborn and harsh way of acting will not regret it. No harm comes if you soften now.

Abandon ambitions, anxieties, and agendas. What is necessary and worthwhile arises from the stillness within.

A true change of heart is possible when we accept the necessity of adversity. Peace comes when we discontinue the strivings of the ego.

Look not at the outward situation, but at the effects of your own thoughts and actions.

Through self-contemplation and self-correction, you arrive at a proper understanding.

Remain patient until the Creative does its work. Modesty will bring greater rewards than the aggressive maneuverings of the ego.

The solution to every situation is always available. By remaining open, innocent, and moderate, you allow the Creative to aid you. Do less, not more.

-- Brian Browne-Walker, excerpted from, "The I Ching or Book of Changes: A Guide to Life's Turning Points"

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sustainable Everyday - Scenarios of urban life


E. Manzini, F. Jégou

with contributions from: F. Butera, B. de Leeuw, G. Mojoli, W. Sachs, A. Seassaro, J. Thackara and from A. Formentini, J., A. Meroni, P. Rosa


What might everyday life be like in a sustainable society? How do you take care of yourself and other people? How do you work, study, move around? How do you cultivate a network of personal and social relationships and create an undistorted relationship with the environment?
What do the sustainable societies we are able to imagine today have in common? How wide a range of options do we have open to us on the basis of these common elements?

Sustainable Everyday offers us a state-of-the-art picture based on the answers we are in a position to give to these questions today. It goes on to outline possible scenarios and workable alternatives applicable in the wide, though not all inclusive, field of the everyday dimension of existence (the world as we, its inhabitants, see it). Particular reference is made to the urban environment (whether historical cities or the up-and-coming new conurbations). It deals with the future of our domestic lives, but it does so in a very different perspective from the many examples of “future homes” we are used to imagining. The focus is not on the technology which is to reshape traditional functions, but rather on emerging “living strategies” which are becoming possible and, at least for some, desirable today; different ways of living that arise more from social and systemic innovation than from technological development.

The book, which is also the catalogue for an exhibition of the same name, is the result of an international research programme and a series of 15 design workshops in 10 different countries. They lay out a detailed scenario of sustainable everyday life: a scenario which sets limits and opens possibilities; which raises new questions, offers new solutions and reveals possible, different ways of living. It leaves the reader, and the visitor to the exhibition, space to form his own opinion and make his own choices.

Sustainable Everyday talks about the future using the tools of design: design which, in this case, does not prefigure tomorrow but takes part in shaping it.

(Septembre 2003)


Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Power of Young People to Change the World

by T.A. Barron


If I could give today’s young people three wishes, they would be:

More hugs.

More time outside in nature.

More belief in their own power to change the world.

While most people understand the importance of the first two wishes, the third one leaves some folks scratching their heads, wondering why young people’s belief in their own power is so essential.

Let’s start with the notion that all of us—especially young people—need heroes. We need them to be our guides on the twisting, sometimes difficult trail we call life. To show us just how far we can go, to help us know just how high we can climb.

And we need heroes today more than ever. Our modern society is terribly confused about the difference between a hero and a celebrity. And the difference is crucial.

A celebrity is all about fame—temporary, superficial fame, usually for qualities that are easy to see: a pretty face, a good hook shot, a great dance move. A hero, by contrast, is about character—qualities beneath the surface that aren’t visible until they prompt action. Qualities like courage, hope, compassion and perseverance.

Heroes, real heroes, are all around us. They truly hold our world together, through their unselfish devotion to helping others, supporting families, teaching children, protecting the environment. They don’t want fame, or glory, or even credit; they just want to help.

In so many ways, these unsung heroes steer the boat in which all of us sail.

Yet young people hear a lot more about celebrities than about heroes, in every form of media. Worse yet, young people are treated too often as just another target market by advertisers. The underlying message they get from all this is that their self-worth comes from what they buy—which drink, which shoes, which cellphone—not who they are down inside.

What gets lost in this? Young people’s sense of their own potential for heroic qualities—their own power to make a positive difference in the world.

Truth is, there is a potential hero, a future difference maker, in every young person. Each of them, from whatever background, is a bundle of untapped energy—a positive force who can do something to steer that communal boat that carries us all.

All it takes for that to be true is belief. For if young people believe in their own power, they will use it.

And they will discover that any person—regardless of gender, age, race, cultural background or economic circumstance—can make a genuine, lasting impact. How do we help skeptical young people believe in their own power?

The best way by far is simply to share examples of other young people who have made a difference. Those stories carry real inspiration, and they speak for themselves.

To turn the spotlight on such amazing young people and share their stories, I founded a national award, the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. Named after my mom, who was a quiet hero in my own life, this award, now in its tenth year, honors 25 young people annually. They come from every background, and they are as diverse as the youth of America. The one thing they all have in common is a belief in their own power to make a difference—and the dedication to make it happen.

This prize is really just a small thing, but its winners are shining examples of what young people can achieve. And I hope that those examples might inspire other young people to discover their own power to make a difference.



Friday, October 11, 2013

The man who lives without money


Mark Boyle

Mark Boyle has a cuppa out the front of his caravan. He has forgone money and says he has found happiness.

by Mark Boyle

Irishman Mark Boyle tried to live life with no income, no bank balance and no spending. Here's how he finds it.

If someone told me seven years ago, in my final year of a business and economics degree, that I'd now be living without money, I'd have probably choked on my microwaved ready meal. The plan back then was to get a 'good' job, make as much money as possible, and buy the stuff that would show society I was successful.

For a while I did it - I had a fantastic job managing a big organic food company; had myself a yacht on the harbour. If it hadn't been for the chance purchase of a video called Gandhi, I'd still be doing it today. Instead, for the last fifteen months, I haven't spent or received a single penny. Zilch.

The change in life path came one evening on the yacht whilst philosophising with a friend over a glass of merlot. Whilst I had been significantly influenced by the Mahatma's quote "be the change you want to see in the world", I had no idea what that change was up until then. We began talking about all major issues in the world - environmental destruction, resource wars, factory farms, sweatshop labour - and wondering which of these we would be best devoting our time to. Not that we felt we could make any difference, being two small drops in a highly polluted ocean.

But that evening I had a realisation. These issues weren't as unrelated as I had previously thought - they had a common root cause. I believe the fact that we no longer see the direct repercussions our purchases have on the people, environment and animals they affect is the factor that unites these problems. The degrees of separation between the consumer and the consumed have increased so much that it now means we're completely unaware of the levels of destruction and suffering embodied in the 'stuff' we buy.

Very few people actually want to cause suffering to others; most just don't have any idea that they directly are. The tool that has enabled this separation is money, especially in its globalised format.

Take this for an example: if we grew our own food, we wouldn't waste a third of it as we do today.

If we made our own tables and chairs, we wouldn't throw them out the moment we changed the interior décor.

If we had to clean our own drinking water, we probably wouldn't shit in it.

So to be the change I wanted to see in the world, it unfortunately meant I was going to have to give up money, which I decided to do for a year initially. So I made a list of the basics I'd need to survive. I adore food, so it was at the top. There are four legs to the food-for-free table: foraging wild food, growing your own, bartering and using waste grub, of which there far too much.

On my first day I fed 150 people a three course meal with waste and foraged food. Most of the year I ate my own crops though and waste only made up about five per cent my diet. I cooked outside - rain or shine - on a rocket stove.

Next up was shelter. So I got myself a caravan from Freecycle, parked it on an organic farm I was volunteering with, and kitted it out to be off the electricity grid. I'd use wood I either coppiced or scavenged to heat my humble abode in a woodburner made from an old gas bottle, and I had a compost loo to make 'humanure' for my veggies.

I bathed in a river, and for toothpaste I used washed up cuttlefish bone with wild fennel seeds, an oddity for a vegan. For loo roll I'd relieve the local newsagents of its papers (I once wiped my arse with a story about myself); it wasn't double quilted but it quickly became normal. To get around I had a bike and trailer, and the 55 km commute to the city doubled up as my gym subscription. For lighting I'd use beeswax candles.

Many people label me an anti-capitalist. Whilst I do believe capitalism is fundamentally flawed, requiring infinite growth on a finite planet, I am not anti anything. I am pro-nature, pro-community and pro-happiness. And that's the thing I don't get - if all this consumerism and environmental destruction brought happiness, it would make some sense. But all the key indicators of unhappiness - depression, crime, mental illness, obesity, suicide and so on are on the increase. More money it seems, does not equate to more happiness.

Ironically, I have found this year to be the happiest of my life. I've more friends in my community than ever, I haven't been ill since I began, and I've never been fitter. I've found that friendship, not money, is real security. That most western poverty is spiritual. And that independence is really interdependence.

Could we all live like this tomorrow? No. It would be a catastrophe, we are too addicted to both it and cheap energy, and have managed to build an entire global infrastructure around the abundance of both. But if we devolved decision making and re-localised down to communities of no larger than 150 people, then why not? For over 90 per cent of our time on this planet, a period when we lived much more ecologically, we lived without money. Now we are the only species to use it, probably because we are the species most out of touch with nature.

People now often ask me what is missing compared to my old world of lucre and business. Stress. Traffic-jams. Bank statements. Utility bills. Oh yeah, and the odd pint of organic ale with my mates down the local.

Mark Boyle is the founder of the Freeconomy Community 'The Moneyless Man', a book about his year without money, is out in June.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Why the Sharing Economy is a Big Opportunity for Cities

by Joe Peach


Our friends at Shareable recently published Policies for Shareable Cities - a report on how urban leaders can encourage a shareable economy through policy changes. We got the chance to put a few questions via email to Shareable co-founder and report co-author Neal Gorenflo about the project, and how embracing the sharing economy is a logical next step for cities.

This Big City: Could you start by telling the readers of This Big City a little about the sharing economy, and why you think it represents such a big opportunity for cities?

Neal Gorenflo: For us, the sharing economy is a people’s economy. It’s financed, owned, and controlled democratically by the people it serves. It’s a third way of provisioning life situated in relation to and in between the market and state.

However, It inverts the normal state of affairs where the economy is the end of all ends in society. Instead, a sharing economy is a means to an end. It has the potential to increase our freedom by reducing the resources need to provision our lives. The end being that people are free to pursue whatever gives them the most satisfaction most of the time.

That typically revolves around family, community, spirituality, health, art, learning, civic life, etc. In other words, those activities that offers increasing returns to satisfaction over time. In contrast, accumulating goods offers decreasing returns over time. That’s why consumer culture is a dead end. So the bottom line is this — the big opportunity for cities is to empower citizens to create a new, more liberating and celebratory experience in cities.

For us, the sharing economy begs the question, “what would life in cities be like if we we’re largely freed from what we know as work today?” I think we’d spend our time doing what we love with the people we love in the places we love. We’d spend our time contributing to our communities. I can’t think of anything better. What else should cities be for?

Anyway, that Shareable’s vision. Some would define the sharing economy as a technological thing, as access over ownership. That’s a part of it, but again, technology and access are a means, not an end.

The report looks at four areas – transport, food, housing and jobs. Are there any other areas where the sharing economy could change the way people live?

Yes, definitely, this was just a beginning. Food, housing, and transportation are the three biggest household expenses in the US. And jobs are how most people earn income. These are good places to start.

We could look at other industries like energy, telecommunication, and finance. There are sharing economy solutions for those too. We need a section on how to open up the political process. For instance, we advocate for participatory budgeting, where citizens decide how the city budget is spent in their neighborhoods. And for culture and leisure, we could look at the enabling infrastructure like policies for expanding public space.

Your report mentions that legal barriers are holding back the sharing economy. How, if at all, can people get around this?

The report is a guide, but it’s also a call to action. Sharing is a big opportunity for positive change. For example, take carsharing. Every shared car replaces 13 owned cars. 50% of new carsharing members join to get access to a car who didn’t already have access to a car. And for every 15,000 cars taken off of the ownership rolls, a city can keep an estimated $127 million in the local economy annually.

What if most of the economy operated this way? We could radically decrease resource consumption while radically increasing access to resources, and strengthen the local economy. There’s no other strategy that can address society’s two biggest challenges — poverty and climate change — at the same time. We can pursue prosperity through sharing instead of growth.

And here’s the thing, most of our recommendations are uncontroversial, nonpartisan, practical solutions. Despite the high profile regulatory battles of home and ride sharing companies like Airbnb and Sidecar, the path to a sharing economy is largely open. Shareable just launched The Sharing Cities Network to bring people together around this vision.


Many laws are set on a local level, and you mention that US cities such as Cleveland, Austin, Chicago, New York and San Francisco are doing a good job of encouraging urban-scale sharing. What can other cities learn from them?

We might learn the most from Seoul, South Korea, where Mayor Park has kicked off an impressive initiative, “Seoul, The Sharing City.” It’s a comprehensive plan to help Seoul residents share. One of the big motivations is to build community in Seoul and reduce suicides. South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the 30 OECD countries. The suicide rate is linked to the increasingly competitive, Western-style economy. Mayor Park’s plan includes funding sharing startups, promoting sharing enterprises, and a lot more.

We could also learn a lot from regions like Emilia-Romagna in Italy and Basque Spain, which committed to an economic development model based on cooperatives. Huge portions of these regional economies are comprised of worker owned and managed cooperatives (30% and 60% respectively). It’s leads to more stable employment and wages, and a more resilient local economy in general.

Cleveland is adapting this model to their local economy, tying cooperative development to “anchor institutions” like universities and hospitals. The Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland are serving local anchor institutions with alternative energy, green laundry, and organic food services.

Which projects featured in the report are your favourites?

In the transportation section, I like the free parking for carsharing. It’s so simple, the impact of carsharing is huge as outlined above, and it’s what carsharing companies in San Francisco want the most from the city, which I bet is true elsewhere.

In the food section, I like the policies that help strengthen the local food economy, like allowing certain types of food products to be produced in home kitchens, supporting shared commercial kitchens, and making city land available for urban agriculture. These policies can create local jobs and increase the availability of healthy food.

In housing, supporting cooperative housing is hands down my favorite because it may be the best solution to affordable housing in cities. New York City has a big history with housing cooperatives, but we could probably learn even more from European cities like Vienna that have nearly a hundred years of experience with modern public and cooperative housing.

In jobs, it’s also about cooperatives. The cooperative model has been used successfully to develop rural areas in the US since the 1930s. It’s time to use the cooperative model in cities. Cooperatives stay local, pay better wages, and whether economic downturns better. History shows it’s a great long-term investment for cities.

Images via bengrey and Steven Vance


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sharing the Idea of Collaborative Consumption


The idea of Collaborative Consumption is gaining traction throughout the world, and would be of great relevance to Asia as our consumption level rises.

Collaborative Consumption refers to sharing that is empowered by technology and social or peer-to-peer networks. It has the potential to change how we consume and the way businesses operate.

Sharing also covers renting, swapping, lending, trading, exchanging, bartering, and gifting. The advantages of sharing are that fewer resources are used to make and ship stuff, and less waste are generated and disposed.

The term Collaborative Consumption was first described in 2010 in the book What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers. Other resources with similar ideas on sharing include the book The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing by Lisa Gansky and the Shareable website.

At Asia is Green, we believe that Collaborative Consumption is an important and emerging idea because consumers are starting to realise that they can share rather than buy more stuff. This is motivated by greater environmental awareness and cost consciousness, the proliferation of mobile peer-to-peer technologies and social networks, and the need to be part of a community.

In the book What’s Mine Is Yours, the authors describe three systems of Collaborative Consumption – Product Service Systems, Redistribution Markets and Collaborative Lifestyles.

Collaborative Consumption Graphics - The Complete Picture

Product Service Systems

Product Service Systems is where you pay for and enjoy the benefit of using a product without having to own the product.

Local examples in Singapore include, which rents movie DVDs to customers who receive and return the DVDs via post; Maternity Exchange, which offers maternity and nursing wear rental for mums-to-be; and smove, which provides an electric vehicle sharing scheme.

Another example of Product Service Systems is MyRideBuddy, a dynamic and real time carpooling solution in Singapore, which matches users near common start and end points so that they can share a car ride together according to their convenience and preferences.

It allows individuals to benefit from the convenience of the car without owning one, while reducing costs and the problems of congestion and air pollution.

Redistribution Markets

The second system of Collaborative Consumption is Redistribution Markets, where you transfer used or unwanted stuff to somewhere or someone where they are wanted.

Local examples in Singapore include SG Freecycle, where anyone can post their unwanted items or request for stuff that they want; Offstock, where companies can buy or sell excess stocks of chemicals and raw materials; and Pass It On, which allows the public to donate used furniture and appliances, which are given to needy families and charities.

Another example of Redistribution Markets is, an online platform for neighbours to lend, borrow or sell unused items within the community. This reduces waste and keeps valuable resources out of the incineration plants and landfills while helping residents save time, money and reduce their environmental impacts.

Collaborative Lifestyles

The third system of Collaborative Consumption is Collaborative Lifestyles, where you share and exchange less tangible assets such as time, space and money with people of similar interests.

Local examples in Singapore include Ecosystem, which provides a collaborative and coworking space for the green community to work and collaborate;, which allows anyone to organize their own fundraising campaigns; and SG Cares, which matches volunteers with volunteer groups and opportunities.

Another example of Collaborative Lifestyles is Milaap, a social enterprise providing a microfinance platform that enables individuals to make microloans that help villagers in India gain access to basic services, such as education, healthcare, electricity, and clean water.

While Collaborative Consumption is still in its infancy in Singapore and Asia, we believe that this idea would gain more interest in the coming years and more companies would start to explore the business opportunities of sharing.

The above-mentioned business examples show elements of sharing, but they have not really made full use of technology and social or peer-to-peer networks to better enhance sharing. Companies have to work with the green and tech community, and maximise the use of technology to come up with better and more sustainable ways of sharing.

For consumers in Asia, it’s time to get ready for Collaborative Consumption.

Images: Hands by michelini; Collaborative Consumption Graphics – The Complete Picture by Rachel Botsman under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license


A Zero Waste Hierarchy for Developing Countries in Asia

Developing countries in Asia are struggling with the increasing amounts of waste generated and disposed. Those countries without the proper waste infrastructure and collection services often resort to open dumping or burning, thus causing environmental pollution and health problems.

What is Zero Waste?

Zero Waste is a concept that could be adopted in these developing countries in Asia. Zero Waste challenges the old way of thinking about waste as something that has no value and to be thrown away.

According to the Zero Waste Alliance: “Zero waste suggests that the entire concept of waste should be eliminated. Instead, waste should be thought of as a “residual product” or simply a “potential resource” to counter our basic acceptance of waste as a normal course of events. Opportunities such as reduced costs, increased profits, and reduced environmental impacts are found when returning these “residual products” or “resources” as food to either natural and industrial systems.”

Zero Waste is a whole system approach that changes the way materials flow through society and ultimately results in no waste. It involves reducing consumption, minimising wastage, maximising recycling and composting, and ensuring that products and materials are designed to use less resources and made to be reused, recycled or biodegradable.

Nature is the best Zero Waste model. There is no waste in nature and by-products produced become resources for others or are assimilated harmlessly back to the surroundings.

The Zero Waste Hierarchy

The Zero Waste hierarchy refers to the following options for managing waste (in order of priority):

1. Right in the beginning, waste should be prevented or reduced through redesign, reduced packaging and material use, and less consumption.

2. Waste should be reused, repaired or refurbished for their original use or for another purpose.

3. Waste should be recycled, reprocessed or composted into raw materials and useful resources.

4. Waste should be recovered for their energy content through waste-to-energy or incineration facilities.

5. After all of the above have been done, waste should be landfilled in a safe and sustainable manner.

Developing countries in Asia could adopt this Zero Waste hierarchy when planning and implementing waste policies, instead of focusing mainly on landfilling or incineration. Infrastructure, services, technologies and funding should be sourced and put in place to fulfill this hierarchy.

Benefits of Zero Waste

The benefits of Zero Waste is that it helps to conserve resources, reduce pollution, create jobs in waste management, reduce waste costs, increase the lifespan of landfills and incineration plants, and mitigate climate change.

Environmentalist and author, Paul Hawken, said that: “Zero Waste is an extraordinary concept that can lead society, business, and cities to innovative breakthroughs that can save the environment, lives, and money. Through the lens of Zero Waste, an entirely new relationship between humans and systems is envisaged, the only one that can create more security and well being for people while reducing dramatically our impact upon planet earth. The excitement is on two levels: it provides a broad and far-reaching vision, and yet it is practical and applicable today.”

Can Asia Achieve Zero Waste?

Zero is the goal but it is important not to be over-focused on the word ‘zero’. What matters is the concept behind Zero Waste. The road to Zero Waste for Asia is a long journey and it requires the efforts of individuals, communities, organisations, businesses and governments, working closely together towards Zero Waste.

Image credit: Recycle 1 by jaylopez

- See more at:


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sharing Power: Learning by Doing in Co-Management Throughout the World

By Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend, Michel Pimbert, M. Taghi Farvar, Ashish Kothari and Yves Renard; with Hanna Jaireth, Marshall Murphree, Vicki Pattemore, Ricardo Ramirez and Patrizio Warren

Download entire Book (10 MB), or download by sections:


Foreword by Juan Mayr Maldonado
Preface and acknowledgements


Chapter 1. Managing natural resources: a struggle between politics and culture

1.1 From local livelihood strategies to global agro-industrial markets
1.2 The interface between indigenous/ local NRM systems and the modern/ a-local agro-industrial market system: five field examples
1.3 Contemporary indigenous NRM systems and co-management

Chapter 2. Actors, entitlements and equity in natural resource management

2.1 Management actors
2.2 Entitlements to manage natural resources
2.3 Equity in managing natural resources

Chapter 3. Co-management of natural resources

3.1 What is in a name?
3.2 Practising co-management
3.3 The characteristics of co-management systems


Chapter 4. A point of departure

4.1 What is to be managed? Who is to be involved?
4.2 Is co-management needed? Is co-management feasible?
4.3 Gathering resources and creating a Start-up Team
4.4 The special case of indigenous peoples: can co-management help them assert their rights to land and natural resources?

Chapter 5. Preparing for the partnership

5.1 Gathering relevant information and tools and promoting social communication
5.2 Engaging the partners in participatory action research
5.3 Assisting local communities to organise
5.4 Preparing for the negotiation meetings: procedures, rules, logistics and equity considerations

Chapter 6. Negotiating the co-management agreement and organisation

6.1 Agreeing on the rules and procedures of negotiation
6.2 Developing and "ritualising" a common vision of the desired future
6.3 Developing a strategy to approach the common vision
6.4 Negotiating and legitimising the co-management agreement and organisation


Chapter 7. Co-management agreements

7.1 Customary and non-notarised agreements
7.2 Formal legal agreements
7.3 The components of a co-management agreement
7.4 Recognition of efforts and commitment
7.5 Crucial issues for indigenous peoples and local communities
7.6 Crucial issues for government agencies

Chapter 8. Co-management organisations

8.1 Types and characteristics of co-management organisations
8.2 Examples of co-management agreements and organisations

Chapter 9. Learning-by-doing in co-management institutions

9.1 Making the agreement functional
9.2 "Learning by doing" through monitoring and evaluation
9.3 Promoting effective and sustainable co-management institutions


Chapter 10. Natural resource policy and instruments

10.1 Enabling policies at the national level
10.2 Enabling policies at the international level

Chapter 11. Empowering civil society for policy change

11.1 The politics of policy
11.2 Methods and approaches for participatory policy processes
11.3 Strengthening civil society
11.4 The challenge of participatory democracy

Concluding remarks



Monday, October 7, 2013

Empowerment Works - Global collaboration to catalyze local solution

Philosophy - What Guides our Work

With roots in international development, policy making and human security research, Empowerment WORKS (EW) began in 2001 with a 7 Stage, local asset-based approach to community development. As a Global Betterment "Think-Tank in Action" (learning while doing), EW soon realized that "development" - and all that drives it - is part of an interdependent, whole-system, which can neither exist nor transform in a vacuum. Also understanding the need to change thinking before anything else will change, EW embraces a much deeper imperative to advance the philosophy of "asset based community-driven development" well beyond the "donor/non-profit/beneficiary" silo.

While making an immediate impact to create thriving communities; in all it does, EW represents a global paradigm shift from "linear and top down" to "Whole-System Empowerment through Collaboration" -- embracing the full potential of our planet's social, economic & ecological systems.

Philosophy in Action

  • Knowing that no one empowers anyone else, EW is a catalyst for whole-system collaborations, educational tools and a paradigm of self-determination, whereby people empower themselves to co-create a better world.

  • Recognizing that those who are most vulnerable to critical issues are the most effective agents of change, EW advances public policies and civic engagement platforms where they have a real voice in the decisions affecting their lives.

  • Understanding that 100% of Humanity is required to build a world that works for 100% Humanity, EW creates multi-sector frameworks and outreach events inspiring all sectors of society to build it from the ground up.
  • The genius of nature is EW's supreme guide and thus integrates its synergistic principals into ecologically-inspired program systems, processes and social technology for a thriving, empowered future.

5 Key Tenets of our Work

1. Collaboration: Build upon the efforts of other agents of change

Just about every initiative EW is involved in is a partnership or collaboration. Rather than acting alone or in competition, EW acts as a uniting force, and strategically engages optimal expertise, experience, and implementing capacity of complimentary local and global partners. EW leverages the power of like minded groups in synergistic action to achieve comprehensive solutions which none could accomplish alone. 

2. Positive Alternatives to Globalization

The awareness raising work revealing unjust economic policies of WTO, provide the foundation for EW to take corporate social responsibility to the next level. EW engages businesses in Public-Private Partnerships that reverse the effects of economic globalization through the creation of livelihoods that protect indigenous heritage and promote cultural diversity. EW's growing Partners in Empowerment (PIE) network and forums build the critical mass to make this viable. 

3. Comprehensive Solutions vs. Single Issue (Band-Aid)

Rather than specializing in one issue or creating one program for all communities, EW specializes in an integrative process  (7 Stages to Sustainability) helping diverse communities resolve their most critical challenge to a healthier future, building a better world for all. By staying focused on the big picture in each community we are able mobilize limited resources in integrative social, economic & environmental action to address the root causes of poverty.

4. Local Empowerment vs. Top Down

When people are empowered, they find creative ways to resolve their own problems and better contribute to society and the world. EW empowers those most affected by critical challenges (AIDS, Economic Poverty, Drought/ Hunger caused by Climate Change), as primary agents of change in their communities.  Local citizens are accountable to the communities they live in for the long-term and have a deeper investment in project success. 

5. Investing in Economic Opportunities vs. Hand outs

Each community we work with has unique human and natural resources that when invested in, with appropriate technology, access to markets, and capital, can resolve many issues at once. To this end, programs are developed in concert with economic opportunities empowering local stakeholders to become self-reliant in meeting their needs.

7 Stages to Sustainability (7SS)

Building sustainable futures from the ground up

At the foundation of Empowerment WORKS, 7 Stages to Sustainability (7SS) is a collaboration road map, an Asset Based Community-driven Development (ABCD) framework, philosophy of self-determination and an educational curriculum empowering communities to build sustainable futures from the ground up.

In short, 7 Stages to Sustainability is a tool to transform poverty into prosperity in the world's most economically challenged communities.  

And, modeling the way nature creates, the 7SS pattern is universal and used world-wide to catalyze innovation in business, technology, music and even movies. Although those using it have little or no awareness of one another, the widely distributed 7SS pattern, termed 'monomyth' by author Joseph Campbell (a.k.a. Hero's Journey), is inherent in most (if not all) other functional systems.

Therefore, to strengthen coherence and meaningful collaboration across all sectors of society - and thus unite much more of humanity in local solutions, Empowerment WORKS is dedicated to scaling this approach through Partners in Empowerment (PIE) and related tools.  .

7SS as a Framework for Participatory Community Development


1. Build a team around your ideal future. Find Partners In Empowerment - community members, local organizations, businesses & others dedicated to positive change. 

2. Assess local assets = economic opportunities. Explore the richness of human (talents, skills, cultural gifts) and sustainable natural resources right in your backyard. Take inventory of your village, city, region. (Asset-Based Community Development).

3. Make a plan (co-create solutions). Work with your team to find the root causes of local challenges. Outline local needs, your mission, goals, how you will measure success, and then actions. Agree who will do what and how you will share responsibilities.


4. Educate Yourself and Learn from Others. Get the basic education and skills you, your team need to make an impact. Help train those who are going to carry on the work. Identify the training & technical support local teams will need to deliver what is needed.

5. Identify, exchange & invest in LOCALLY appropriate technologies & critical information in health, energy, transportation, construction, agriculture, water, IT, education, etc. - How can you ADD GREATEST VALUE to your LOCAL ASSETS (Stage 2)?

6. Harness the power of the private sector to deliver what's needed & create livelihoods for people in need. Link existing resources (Stage 1 & 2) with skills & technologies (Stage 4 & 5) to develop products and services that value and protect local heritage. 


7. Reinvest in Impact & Deepen Sustainability. Build Public-Private Partnerships for Self-Reliance. As projects need to run on their own, ensure that the community support systems are regenerative & self-repairing.  Develop, reinforce, refine and deepen the mutually supportive  multi-sector exchanges yielding long-term income streams to sustain local impact.

Uniting complimentary resources of local and global communities

*See & Co-create 7SS outcomes with Partners in Empowerment (PIE)

Whole System Co-Creation

Bringing the WHO, HOW & WHAT together to catalyze locally-led solutions

In the field of collaboration, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of frameworks, methods and impact tools

To facilitate coordination across geographic, cultural and political boundaries, we offer two frameworks that integrate business, community and technology development: 7 Stages to Sustainability (7SS) and Partners in Empowerment (PIE).

Through identifying the "who, how & what" frameworks within this growing web, understanding the primary functions of each, and how they work with others in a whole-system, we foster coherence and transparency:


  • WHAT: Goals, issues, actions & impact needed for a  thriving world

Mirroring the inherently repeatable and scalable (aka Meta) patterns found in nature, 7SS & PIE are complete systems on their own and also reflect the larger system which they are part of.

Thereby, 7SS is a process itself, and also encompasses and thus serves to aggregate the many more "who and how" parts (the diverse players and relevant methods used). And, as it is universal, it allows for the variable of "WHAT" (needs, issues & solutions) to be integrated and decided by those on the ground.

One global example of "What" is the 8 Millennium Development Goals (see right) which 189 members of the United Nations agreed to achieve, and emphasizes measurable targets including halving poverty, increasing gender equity, and ensuring universal primary education by 2015.

Another list of needs & issues is  the Wheel of Co-Creation (below/right) which was pioneered by renowned Social Architect & Futurist, Barbara Marx-Hubbard with the purpose of identifying WHAT works.

NOTE: While recommended as a way to categorize and thus more effectively share solutions, there are many options.  When combining the WHAT with WHO & HOW (6 Sectors and 7 Stages), we create a SCALE-ABLE system honoring the gifts of all partners.

Whole System Impact

Working in synergy with other tools, 7SS and PIE work to co-create a collaborative space that recognizes key functions, human needs and resources of humankind and the planet.

Through advancing such a universal whole system, Empowerment WORKS aims to facilitate collaboration and sharing of solutions across the environmental sustainability, international economic development, social change, and human potential movements.

PIE Participatory Framework

6 sectors of Partners In Empowerment (PIE) & the unique roles we play

Why PIE?

  • Empowering all voices to be heard, PIE can be used as needed by government agencies for civic engagement or by community members as a self-organizing tool.
  • Rather than focusing on target issues such as health, economics, or technology, PIE emphasizes peoples', organizations', and businesses' ROLES based on what each has to contribute based on locally determined needs;
  • PIE roles are universal and can be applied to any challenge a community or region faces, advancing a whole-system approach to a sustainable world;
  • As it is complimentary to issue or needs oriented wheels, such as the 12 point Peace Room model forth by  Barbara Marx-Hubbard; PIE promotes collaboration across social & environmental movements.

The following six sectors are the foundation of the PIE Framework, Network &

Partners in Empowerment

  • For-Impact Organizations – Who: Community based and international nonprofits, Foundations, Govt. Service Agencies dedicated to Social, Economic, and Environmental impact.
  • Educational Institutions – Who: Private, Govt. & Nonprofit educators, researchers, scientists advancing evidence based knowledge, technologies and tools for a sustainable world.
  • Sustainable Businesses - Who: Aspiring and established private sector entrepreneurs, fund managers, investors & advocacy groups harnessing market forces to build a sustainable world.
  • Responsible Media Groups – Who: Journalists, Print Media, Radio, Web, Event Producers & Communications Agencies who uphold truth in journalism to support an informed public.
  • Social Entrepreneurs – Who: Visionary citizen, non-profit & governmental innovators who create solutions dedicated to SOCIAL PROFIT i.e. benefiting people & the planet as top priority.
  • Artists in Action - Who: Musicians, visual and performing artists, actors, and celebrities. “Whether through visual art, music or poetry, Artists speak with integrity and the world listens".

Uniting PIE from the ground up is the foundation of EW's 7 Stages to Sustainability approach & community development education tools.


Governance of Protected Areas–From Understanding to Action

IUCN Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines Series No.20 in collaboration with the ICCA Consortium, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (via GIZ) and the CBD Secretariat

Best Practice Guidelines Governance of Protected Areas

Photo: IUCN

Over the past decades there has been a dramatic change in understanding about how governance of protected areas impacts on the achievement of their conservation goals. IUCN has issued a typology of four different forms of governance of protected areas. Along with the familiar state-run protected areas, there are those established and managed by indigenous peoples or local communities, there are privately managed protected areas as well as a wealth of shared-governance arrangements. Finding the right mix of governance types within a protected area system and improving the quality of governance of individual sites remains one of the key challenges for bridging the implementation gap in CBD’s Programme of Work on Protected Areas.

This publication is an important tool to help enhance governance diversity and quality for the world’s protected area systems. Part 1 provides an overview of the four different protected area governance types recognised by IUCN, featuring numerous examples from all over the world. It also addresses the complex question of what constitutes good governance in various circumstances. Part 2 offers practical guidance for countries willing to embark on the process of assessing, evaluating and improving governance for their systems of protected areas or for individual protected area sites.

Further information and additional material related to governance of protected areas can be found here.

Related Downloads

Related Link


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Webinar: ESD and Transformative Learning

On Tuesday, October 15th, Earth Charter International is offering a free webinar on Education for Sustainable Development and Transformative Learning. In this webinar, panelists will talk about transformative learning and how education for sustainable development promotes cultural transformations. The expert panelists are Daniella Tilbury (University of Gloucestershire), Mark Hathaway (writer and researcher from OISE/Toronto University), and Dr. Sam Crowell (California State University in San Bernardino). The session will be moderated by Earth Charter International Executive Director Mirian Vilela.

This webinar is a prelude to the January 2014 executive program: Education and Values for Sustainable Development with the Earth Charter. This program and this webinar are organized by the Earth Charter Center for Education for Sustainable Development and fall under the aegis of the UNESCO Chair on Education for Sustainable Development and the Earth Charter.
You can access the webinar at 4PM UTC/GMT on October 15th through the following link (Please remember to check your local time):

Then click on the "Launch Class" button, type your name and country (e.g. MaryCanada) and then enter the virtual room. Requirements: Have Adobe Flashplayer installed, audio input and output, and a good internet connection.

We look forward to welcoming you to this special webinar and please feel free to pass the message along.

About the panelists:
Professor Daniella Tilbury is internationally recognized for her research in the areas of sustainability leadership and organizational change as well as in education and learning for sustainability. Her PhD research undertaken at the University of Cambridge was the first to look at institutional development for sustainability within higher education (1993). In 2012, Daniella led the development of the 'Rio+20 Sustainability in Higher Education Treaty' which was signed by over 80 higher education agencies and organizations and informed dialogues at the UN Summit. Daniella serves as Chair of the UNESCO's Global Monitoring and Evaluation Expert's Group which advises on the assessment of global progress during the UN Decade in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). In this capacity, she framed the first and second UN Global Reports on ESD. She led the IUCN-UNESCO Asia Pacific ESD Indicators Project and the UNESCO research into Good Practices in Cultural Diversity and ESD. Daniella is the UK government nominated member of the UNECE Expert Group on ESD Competences. Daniella has over 100 books and refereed articles and has given keynote addresses in conferences across the globe. Most significantly, she was a keynote speaker at the UN World Conference in ESD (Bonn 2009);the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg 2002) and Rio+20 (Brazil 2012). She is a University Director at the University of Gloucestershire and holds a Chair in Sustainability. Professor Tilbury has received numerous awards and recognitions for her work and dedication in the field of ESD.

Mark Hathaway
is an author and adult educator who researches, writes, and speaks about the interconnections between ecology, economics, social justice, spirituality, and cosmology. Together with Leonardo Boff, he is the author of The Tao of Liberation: Exploring the Ecology of Transformation. Mark has extensive experience in ecumenical justice work and has studied mathematics, physics, spirituality, and transformative education. He holds a Masters Degree in Adult Education from The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (University of Toronto) and has published a wide variety of articles related to ecology, spirituality, and social justice in books and periodicals. He is currently completing a PhD at the University of Toronto. Mark's current research, supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, explores the processes of transformative learning involved in developing an ecological worldview and in cultivating ecological wisdom.

Dr. Sam Crowell is professor emeritus of education at California State University–San Bernardino and a founder and co-director of the MA in Holistic and Integrative Education and the Center for Holistic and Integrative Learning. He has worked as an elementary school teacher, a principal, an administrator, and a university professor. He considers himself a holistic educator and an advocate of the artistry of teaching. He has been actively engaged with Education for Sustainable Development and the Earth Charter and co-authored the book, “The Re-Enchantment of Learning: A Manual for Teacher Renewal and Classroom Transformation” published by Corwin Press, and just released his new book, "Emergent Teaching: A Path of Creativity, Significance, and Transformation".


Friday, October 4, 2013

Building Cities that Think Like Planets

Marina Alberti

by Marina Alberti

Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning
University of Washington
Seattle, WA USA

Marina Alberti is professor of Urban and Environmental Planning in the Department of Urban Design and Planning in the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments. She directs the Urban Ecology Research Laboratory and the UW Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Urban Design and Planning Her research focuses on Coupled Natural and Human Systems and Urban Resilience. She has led as a Principal Investigator a number large interdisciplinary research projects, the most recent studying the emergent properties of coupled human nature systems in two metro regions: Seattle, WA and Phoenix, AZ. Alberti’s work is grounded in complex system theory, system modeling and scenario planning. Dr. Alberti has authored or co-authored seven books and more than 50 peer-reviewed publications. Her most recent book Advances in Urban Ecology (Springer 2008) synthesizes the state of knowledge on the complex interactions between of urbanization and ecological function and articulates the challenges and opportunities for scholars of urban ecosystems.

This essay is adapted from Marina Alberti Cities as Hybrid Ecosystems (Forthcoming) and from Marina Alberti “Anthropocene City”, forthcoming in The Anthropocene Project by the Deutsche Museum Special Exhibit 2014-1015

Cities face an important challenge: they must rethink themselves in the context of planetary change. What role do cities play in the evolution of Earth? From a planetary perspective, the emergence and rapid expansion of cities across the globe may represent another turning point in the life of our planet. Earth’s atmosphere, on which we all depend, emerged from the metabolic process of vast numbers of single-celled algae and bacteria living in the seas 2.3 billion years ago. These organisms transformed the environment into a place where human life could develop. Adam Frank, an Astrophysicist at the University of Rochesters, reminds us that the evolution of life has completely changed big important characteristics of the planet (NPR 13.7: Cosmos & Culture, 2012). Can humans now change the course of Earth’s evolution? Can the way we build cities determine the probability of crossing thresholds that will trigger non-linear, abrupt change on a planetary scale (Rockström et al 2009)?

For most of its history, Earth has been relatively stable, and dominated primarily by negative feedbacks that have kept it from getting into extreme states (Lenton and Williams 2013). Rarely has the earth experienced planetary-scale tipping points or system shifts. But the recent increase in positive feedback (i.e., climate change), and the emergence of evolutionary innovations (i.e. novel metabolisms), could trigger transformations on the scale of the Great Oxidation (Lenton and Williams 2013). Will we drive Earth’s ecosystems to unintentional collapse? Or will we consciously steer the Earth towards a resilient new era?

In my forthcoming book, Cities as Hybrid Ecosystems, I propose a co-evolutionary paradigm for building a science of cities that “think like planets” (see the Note at the bottom)— a view that focuses both on unpredictable dynamics and experimental learning and innovation in urban ecosystems. In the book I elaborate on some concepts and principles of design and planning that can emerge from such a perspective: self-organization, heterogeneity, modularity, feedback, and transformation.

How can thinking on a planetary scale help us understand the place of humans in the evolution of Earth and guide us in building a human habitat of the “long now”?

Planetary Scales

Humans make decisions simultaneously at multiple time and spatial scales, depending on the perceived scale of a given problem and scale of influence of their decision. Yet it is unlikely that this scale extends beyond one generation or includes the entire globe. The human experience of space and time has profound implications for our understanding of world phenomena and for making long- and short-term decisions. In his book What time is this place, Kevin Lynch (1972) eloquently told us that time is embedded in the physical world that we inhabit and build. Cities reflect our experience of time, and the way we experience time affects the way we view and change the environment. Thus our experience of time plays a crucial role in whether we succeed in managing environmental change. If we are to think like a planet, the challenge will be to deal with scales and events far removed from everyday human experience. Earth is 4.6 billion years old. That’s a big number to conceptualize and account for in our individual and collective decisions.

Thinking like a planet implies expanding the time and spatial scales of city design and planning, but not simply from local to global and from a few decades to a few centuries. Instead, we will have to include the scales of the geological and biological processes on which our planet operates. Thinking on a planetary scale implies expanding the idea of change. Lynch (1972) reminds us that “the arguments of planning all come down to the management of change.” But what is change?

Human experience of change is often confined to fluctuations within a relatively stable domain. However Planet Earth has displayed rare but abrupt changes and regime shifts in the past. Human experience of abrupt change is limited to marked changes in regional system dynamics, such as altered fire regimes, and extinctions of species. Yet, since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been pushing the planet outside a stability domain. Will human activities trigger such a global event? We can’t answer that, as we don’t understand enough about how regime shifts propagate across scales, but emerging evidence does suggest that if we continue to disrupt ecosystems and climate we face an increasing risk of crossing those thresholds that keep the earth in a relatively stable domain. Until recently our individual behaviors and collective institutions have been shaped primarily by change that we can envision relatively easily on a human time scale. Our behaviors are not tuned to the slow and imperceptible but systematic changes that can drive dramatic shifts in Earth’s systems.

Planetary shifts can be rapid: the glaciation of the Younger Dryas (abrupt climatic change resulting in severe cold and drought) occurred roughly 11,500 years ago, apparently over only a few decades. Or, it can unfold slowly: the Himalayas took over a million years to form. Shifts can emerge as the results of extreme events like volcanic eruptions, or relatively slow processes, like the movement of tectonic plates. Though we still don’t completely understand the subtle relationship between local and global stability in complex systems, several scientists hypothesize that the increasing complexity and interdependence of socio-economic networks can produce ‘tipping cascades’ and ‘domino dynamics’ in the Earth’s system, leading to unexpected regime shifts (Helbing 2013, Hughes et al 2013).

Planetary Challenges and Opportunities

A planetary perspective for envisioning and building cities that we would like to live in—cities that are livable, resilient, and exciting—provides many challenges and opportunities. To begin, it requires that we expand the spectrum of imaginary archetypes. Current archetypes reflect skewed and often extreme simplifications of how the universe works, ranging from biological determinism to techno-scientific optimism. At best they represent accurate but incomplete accounts of how the world works. How can we reconcile the messages contained in the catastrophic versus optimistic views of the future of Earth? And, how can we hold divergent explanations and arguments as plausibly true? Can we imagine a place where humans have co-evolved with natural systems? What does that world look like? How can we create that place in the face of limited knowledge and uncertainty, holding all these possible futures as plausible options?

Futures Archetypes

Futures Archetypes. Credits: Upper left: 17th street canal, David Grunfeld Landov Media; Upper right: Qunli National Urban Wetland, Turenscape; Lower left: Hurricane Katrina – NOAA; Lower right: EDITT tower, Hamzah & Yeang

The concept of “planetary boundaries” offers a framework for humanity to operate safely on a planetary scale. Rockström et al (2009) developed the concept of planetary boundaries to inform us about the levels of anthropogenic change that can be sustained so we can avoid potential planetary regime shifts that would dramatically affect human wellbeing. The concept does not imply, and neither rules out, planetary-scale tipping points associated with human drivers. Hughes et al (2013) do address some the misconception surrounding planetary-scale tipping points that confuses a system’s rate of change with the presence or absence of a tipping point. To avoid the potential consequences of unpredictable planetary-scale regime shifts we will have to shift our attention towards the drivers and feedbacks rather than focus exclusively on the detectable system responses. Rockström et al (2009) identify nine areas that are most in need of set planetary boundaries: climate change; biodiversity loss; input of nitrogen and phosphorus in soils and waters; stratospheric ozone depletion; ocean acidification; global consumption of freshwater; changes in land use for agriculture; air pollution; and chemical pollution.

A different emphasis is proposed by those scientists who have advanced the concept of planetary opportunities: solution-oriented research to provide realistic, context-specific pathways to a sustainable future (DeFries et al. 2012). The idea is to shift our attention to how human ingenuity can expand the ability to enhance human wellbeing (i.e. food security, human health), while minimizing and reversing environmental impacts. The concept is grounded in human innovation and the human capacity to develop alternative technologies, implement “green” infrastructure, and reconfigure institutional frameworks. The potential opportunities to explore solution-oriented research and policy strategies are amplified in an urbanizing planet, where such solutions can be replicated and can transform the way we build and inhabit the Earth.

Imagining a Resilient Urban Planet

While these different images of the future are both plausible and informative, they speak about the present more than the future. They all represent an extension of the current trajectory as if the future would unfold along the path of our current way of asking questions, and our way of understanding and solving problems. Yes, these perspectives do account for uncertainty but it is defined by the confidence intervals around this trajectory. Both stories are grounded in the inevitable dichotomies of humans and nature, and technology vs. ecology. These views are at best an incomplete account of what is possible: they reflect a limited ability to imagine the future beyond such archetypes. Why can we imagine smart technologies and not smart behaviors, smart institutions, and smart societies? Why think only of technology and not of humans and their societies that co-evolve with Earth?

Understanding the co-evolution of human and natural systems is key to build a resilient society and transform our habitat. One of the greatest questions in biology today is whether natural selection is the only process driving evolution and what the other potential forces might be. To understand how evolution constructs the mechanisms of life, molecular biologists would argue that we also need to understand the self-organization of genes governing the evolution of cellular processes and influencing evolutionary change (Johnson and Kwan Lam 2010).

To function, life on Earth depends on the close cooperation of multiple elements. Biologists are curious about the properties of complex networks that supply resources, process waste, and regulate the system’s functioning at various scales of biological organization. West et al. (2005) propose that natural selection solved this problem by evolving hierarchical fractal-like branching. Other characteristics of evolvable systems are flexibility (i.e. phenotypic plasticity), and novelty. This capacity for innovation is an essential precondition for any system to function. Gunderson and Holling (2002) have noted that if systems lack the capacity for innovation and novelty, they may become over-connected and dynamically locked, unable to adapt. To be resilient and evolve, they must create new structures and undergo dynamic change. Differentiation, modularity, and cross-scale interactions of organizational structures have been described as key characteristics of systems that are capable of simultaneously adapting and innovating (Allen and Holling 2010).

To understand coevolution of human-natural systems will require advancement in the evolution and social theories that explain how complex societies and cooperation have evolved. What role does human ingenuity play? In Cities as Hybrid Ecosystems I propose that coupled human-natural systems are not governed only by either natural selection or human ingenuity alone, but by hybrid processes and mechanisms. It is their hybrid nature that makes them unstable and at the same time able to innovate. This novelty of hybrid systems is key to reorganization and renewal. Urbanization modifies the spatial and temporal variability of resources, creates new disturbances, and generates novel competitive interactions among species. This is particularly important because the distribution of ecological functions within and across scales is key to the system being able to regenerate and renew itself (Peterson et al. 1998).

The city that thinks like a planet: What does it look like?

In this blog article I have ventured to pose this question, but I will not venture to provide an answer. In fact no single individual can do that. The answer resides in the collective imagination and evolving behaviors of people of diverse cultures who inhabit a diversity of places on the planet. Humanity has the capacity to think in the long term. Indeed, throughout history, people in societies faced with the prospect of deforestation, or other environmental changes, have successfully engaged in long-term thinking, as Jared Diamond (2005) reminds us: consider Tokugawa shoguns, Inca emperors, New Guinea highlanders, or 16th-century German landowners. Or, more recently, the Chinese. Many countries in Europe, and the United States, have dramatically reduced their air pollution and meanwhile increased their use of energy and combustion of fossil fuels. Humans have the intellectual and moral capacity to do even more when tuned into challenging problems and engaged in solving them.

A city that thinks like a planet is not built on already set design solutions or planning strategies. Nor can we assume that the best solution would work equally well across the world regardless of place and time. Instead, such a city will be built on principles that expand its drawing board and collaborative action to include planetary processes and scales, to position humanity in the evolution of Earth. Such a view acknowledges the history of the planet in every element or building block of the urban fabric, from the building to the sidewalk, from the back yard to the park, from the residential street to the highway. It is a view that is curious about understanding who we are and about taking advantage of the novel patterns, processes, and feedbacks that emerge from human and natural interactions. It is a city grounded in the here and the now and simultaneously in the different time and spatial scales of human and natural processes that govern the Earth. A city that thinks like a planet is simultaneously resilient and able to change.

How can such a perspective guide decisions in practice? Urban planners and decision makers, making strategic decisions and investments in public infrastructure, want to know whether certain generic properties or qualities of a city’s architecture and governance could predict its capacity to adapt and transform itself. Can such a shift in perspective provide a new lens, a new way to interpret the evolution of human settlements, and to support humans in successfully adapting to change? Evidence emerging from the study of complex systems points to their key properties that expand adaptation capacity while enabling them to change: self organization, heterogeneity, modularity, redundancy, and cross-scale interactions.

A co-evolutionary perspective shifts the focus of planning towards human-natural interactions, adaptive feedback mechanisms, and flexible institutional settings. Instead of predefining “solutions,” that communities must implement, such perspective focuses on understanding the ‘rules of the game’, to facilitate self-organization and careful balance top-down and bottom-up managements strategies (Helbing 2013). Planning will then rely on principles that expand heterogeneity of forms and functions in urban structures and infrastructures that support the city. They support modularity (selected as opposed to generalized connectivity) to create interdependent decentralized systems with some level of autonomy to evolve.

In cities across the world, people are setting great examples that will allow for testing such hypotheses. Human perception of time and experience of change is an emerging key in the shift to a new perspective for building cities. We must develop reverse experiments to explore what works, what shifts the time scale of individual and collective behaviors. Several Northern European cities have adopted successful strategies to cut greenhouse gases, and combined them with innovative approaches that will allow them to adapt to the inevitable consequences of climate change. One example is the Copenhagen 2025 Climate Plan. It lays out a path for the city to become the first carbon-neutral city by 2025 through efficient zero-carbon mobility and building. The city is building a subway project that will place 85 percent of its inhabitants within 650 yards of a Metro station. Nearly three-quarters of the emissions reductions will come as people transition to less carbon-intensive ways of producing heat and electricity through a diverse supply of clean energy: biomass, wind, geothermal, and solar. Copenhagen is also one of the first cities to adopt a climate adaptation plan to reduce its vulnerability to the extreme storm events and rising seas expected in the next 100 years.

In the Netherlands, alternative strategies are being explored to allow people to live with the inevitable floods. These strategies involve building on water to develop floating communities and engineering and implementing adaptive beach protections that take advantage of natural processes. The experimental Sand Motor project uses a combination of wind, waves, tides, and sand to replenish the eroded coasts. The Dutch Rijkswaterstaat and the South Holland provincial authority placed a large amount of sand in an artificial 1 km long and 2 km wide peninsula into the sea, allowing for the wave and currents to redistribute it and build sand dunes and beaches to protect the coast over time.

New York is setting an example for long-term planning by combining adaptation and transformation strategies into its plan to build a resilient city, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has outlined a $19.5 billion plan to defend the city against rising seas. In many rapidly growing cities of the Global South, similar leadership is emerging. For example, Johannesburg which adopted one of the first climate change adaptation plan, and so have Durban and Cape Town, in South Africa and Quito, Equador, along with Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam, where a partnership with the City of Rotterdam Netherlands has been established to develop a resilience strategy.

To think like a planet and explore what is possible we may need to reframe our questions. Instead of asking what is good for the planet, we must ask what is good for a planet inhabited by people. What is a good human habitat on Earth? And instead of seeking optimal solutions, we should identify principles that will inform the diverse communities across the world. The best choices may be temporary, since we do not fully understand the mechanisms of life, nor can we predict the consequences of human action. They may very well vary with place and depend on their own histories. But human action may constrain the choices available for life on earth.

Scenario Planning

Scenario planning offers a systematic and creative approach to thinking about the future by letting scientists and practitioners expand old mindsets of ecological sciences and decision making. It provides a tool we can use to deal with the limited predictability of changes on the planetary scale and to support decision-making under uncertainty. Scenarios help bring the future into present decisions (Schwartz 1996). They broaden perspectives, prompt new questions, and expose the possibilities for surprise.

Scenarios have several great features. We expect that they can shift people’s attention toward resilience, redefine decision frameworks, expand the boundaries of predictive models, highlight the risks and opportunities of alternative future conditions, monitor early warning signals, and identify robust strategies (Alberti et al 2013)

A fundamental objective of scenario planning is to explore the interactions among uncertain trajectories that would otherwise be overlooked. Scenarios highlight the risks and opportunities of plausible future conditions. The hypothesis is that if planners and decision makers look at multiple divergent scenarios, they will engage in a more creative process for imagining solutions that would be invisible otherwise. Scenarios are narratives of plausible futures; they are not predictions. But they are extremely powerful when combined with predictive modeling. They help expand boundary conditions and provide a systematic approach we can use to deal with intractable uncertainties and assess alternative strategic actions. Scenarios can help us modify model assumptions and assess the sensitivities of model outcomes. Building scenarios can help us highlight gaps in our knowledge and identify the data we need to assess future trajectories.

Scenarios can also shine spotlights on warning signals, allowing decision makers to anticipate unexpected regime shifts and to act in a timely and effective way. They can support decision making in uncertain conditions by providing us a systematic way to assess the robustness of alternative strategies under a set of plausible future conditions. Although we do not know the probable impacts of uncertain futures, scenarios will provide us the basis to assess critical sensitivities, and identify both potential thresholds and irreversible impacts so we can maximize the wellbeing of both humans and our environment.

A new ethic for a hybrid planet

More than half a century ago, Aldo Leopold (1949) introduced the concept of “thinking like a mountain”: he wanted to expand the spatial and temporal scale of land conservation by incorporating the dynamics of the mountain. Defining a Land Ethic was a first step in acknowledging that we are all part of larger community hat include soils, waters, plants, and animals, and all the components and processes that govern the land, including the prey and predators. Now, along the same lines, Paul Hirsch and Bryan Norton (2012) In Ethical Adaptation to Climate Change: Human Virtues of the Future, MIT Press, articulates a new environmental ethics by suggesting that we “think like a planet.” Building on Hirsch and Norton’s idea, we need to expand the dimensional space of our mental models of urban design and planning to the planetary scale.

Marina Alberti

On The Nature of Cities

Note: The metaphor of “thinking like a planet” builds on the idea of cognitive transformation proposed by Paul Hirsch and Bryan Norton (2012) In Ethical Adaptation to Climate Change: Human Virtues of the Future, MIT Press.