Tag Archives: activism

Homegrown subversive plots to feed the hungry and save the world!

It is passing strange to think that growing your own food in your own garden can be considered a subversive act! How did we come to this state, especially in the developed world, but also many cities in the developed world, that we are so alienated from the food on our own tables? Roger Doiron (see his TEDx talk below), founder of Kitchen Gardens International is correct though, in asserting that in our current industrialized global food production system, growing your own fruits and vegetables in your yard or balcony garden has become a subversive act. Because in doing so, we can take back some of the power over our own foods and lives that we have ceded to multinational corporations who control most aspects of global food production now: the policies, the money, much of the land, and the means of food production.

It is remarkable that we have lost power over something so fundamental as the food we must consume daily to survive. It was a mere 10,000 years or so ago that we invented agriculture, a huge step in humanity’s gaining power and control over our foods, and therefore our lives, by freeing ourselves from the vagaries of nature. That initial revolution fueled much of the growth of civilization and has brought us to where we are now – heavily dependent upon the industrial food production and supply system, and often with very little control over the quality of what we can put on our plates or how it is produced, or at what environmental and social costs. Yet this is one area where it should not be too hard for most of us to take back some of this power, some of the means of production: by growing our own little subversive garden plots! Doiron explains how we can do this and what we stand to gain through this subversion:

Hard to think of a downside to this, isn’t it? We need not stop with just our own little gardens in the small bits of urban space we may control – we can, and must, also work collectively to subvert public spaces towards food production, converting vacant lots and even lawns in public parks into edible landscapes that can feed the thousands of urban dwellers who may not have the space or the means to grow their own gardens. The city of Irvine in southern California (yes, the city in conservative Orange County) has done just that: opened up some effectively vacant land to growing vegetables, which apparently feed up to 200,000 people! Here’s a video tour:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXLx0D9YkKA?wmode=transparent]

To put it in terms of the activist metaphor of the moment, gardening for food is an effective way to occupy the global food system, begin to wrest it back from the corporations (even though they still control it through the sales of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and all the other paraphernalia that goes with gardening) – while simultaneously improving our health and building community. In the process, we may even begin to help heal some of the wounds we have caused in natural ecosystems, and restore some parts of local biodiversity, as is being shown by recent work on the ecology of urban gardens.

So – how would you like a little healthy homegrown subversion on your dinner plate? Give me a double helping, please!

Will the world’s leaders finally “Get It Done” after Anjali Appadurai’s mic-check at the UN Climate Change Conference?

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ko3e6G_7GY4?wmode=transparent]

Powerful call to act from the young woman which ought to shame the world’s leaders into doing what they must, for her and future generations. But, we all know, don’t we? Most of the world’s so-called “leaders” (especially those from the US and other wealthy and high carbon footprint nations) have no shame! They will continue to bow down to immediate political expediency and pressure from their corporate overlords to keep selling those future generations down the river (and the rising seas) to protect short-term profits.

So it is up to us, to carry forward Anjali’s mic-check and take up her call to ask our “leaders” to “GET IT DONE”!! Or get it done ourselves – starting with throwing these bums and their corporations out of the positions of power they currently wield!

gaon chodab nahi: an anthem for the global #occupy movements

There have been other occupations. There have been other #occupy movements.

Occupation has for long been the name of the game for the colonists. Occupying far corners of the planet. Monopolizing the riches yielded by the earth. Displacing the indigenous inhabitants, the original occupants. Colonizing not just the lands and the bodies, but even the very minds of the peoples of the earth. This is how the global transnational corporate oligarchy has been built. At a faster pace in recent decades, yes, but it has for long been thus.

And long have the colonized, the occupied, sought, and often found, creative ways to resist the occupation. To refuse to be displaced, colonized, overrun, forgotten. To leave behind at least a voice of conscience that echoes through the ages. This is one such powerful voice, from the folk traditions of the indigenous peoples of the Deccan plateau in India, not far from the rocks that gave ancient Gondwanaland its name. Singing this time about dams and mines. Of pepsi and bisleri. Of the never-quenching thirst of the rulers of the first worlds for the lifeblood of the earth, drained from her every vein. Even of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries which displace indigenous people in the name of wildlife they’ve scarcely threatened. A voice that refuses to be silenced, displaced, occupied. A voice urging its people, us, to occupy, reclaim that which was rightfully ours, liberate the earth from the nexus of the money-changers and the politicians with their dogs wielding guns (and pepper-spray). A call to resist that is itself hard to resist.

This is an anthem, surely, for the current occupy movements worldwide. Even if their flames were lit from sparks within the heart of the global empires. For, it turns out, there are third worlds, and colonized peoples, within Manhattan and California as surely as the first world reaches deep within the jungles of central India and the Amazon. We may tweet and facebook our way towards new communities linking arms (violently) across the earth, to begin reoccupying what was/is ours. Let us not forget, however, that there have been, there continue to be, other occupations, other arms linked together, other fists and voices raised in defiance of the very empire some of us helped build. Or, at least, acquiesced in because we got our sips of the pepsi and the bauxite. Until the oligarchs got a bit too greedy even at home, leaving fertile ground thirsting for revolution in their own backyards.

And so, Bhaghwan Maaji’s powerful words and spiritedly plaintive elemental voice echo through the ether(net), and proclaim on behalf of us all: we will not leave our village! We will (re-)occupy our villages.


Gaon Chodab nahi!!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M5aeMpzOLU?wmode=transparent]


How do we get our global economy off the endless “growth” express and on to a human-scale path of plenitude?

An image I found and shared on Facebook this week, featuring a quote from the Dalai Lama, seems to have hit a nerve among my circle of friends there:
I’m not surprised, given the kinds of circles I hang out in, that this thought had such resonance. Most of us concerned about what we are doing to our environment and our own wellbeing and future appreciate and find much to ponder in that observation. Of course, it is nice of the Lama to share his profound insight from on high (so to speak) in his role as spiritual leader and a monk observing the rest of humanity with his cultivated sense of detachment. Would that the rest of us could also detach ourselves from the daily grind and engage in more meaningful quests for our lives. Most of us, of course, don’t really have that luxury—or have a terrible time finding a way towards that serenity. So we pause, briefly, at this poster, and share it among our friends (stepping lightly over the irony of doing so on these hyper-social online networks which may seem the very antithesis of what the Lama is talking about), file it away for contemplation, and hope we get the chance to do something about it in some small way in our own lives. And for that, we must be grateful to the Dalai Lama, for pulling us up short in our headlong rush of a life, even if for a brief moment of contemplation.
A bigger question, though, is how do we—those of us not able to immediately extricate ourselves from the larger economy which pushes us into the endless pursuit of ever elusive wealth—begin to challenge and change the system? The dominant economic paradigm of our time is completely wedded to this pursuit of wealth, for individuals, corporations, and entire nations chasing endless growth. Even people who talk about sustainability within this paradigm talk about “sustainable growth“, an oxymoronic concept if there ever was one, given the natural resource constraints on this only planet we inhabit. More radical environmentalists and leftists have a deeper critique (e.g., read John Bellamy Foster’s “The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth“) of the growth economy paradigm—but reading them often leads to more despair at the scale of the revolution we seemingly need to overthrow that paradigm.
The growth paradigm so dominates our entire public discourse that even moderately centre-leaning right-wing capitalists like Obama get labelled as communists who want to socialize everything! How then can we push the system onto a completely different path, one that may actually be sustainable in a truer sense of the word?
The burgeoning movement to Occupy Wall Street seems to have lit a spark across the US, creating opportunities to challenge at least parts of the capitalist finance-driven system. Breaking through the media narrative about how we must only “grow” our way out of the current economic crises, is an accomplishment worthy of note. The real challenge for this excitingly amorphous movement though is to present not only a coherent set of demands but actually offer alternative models (e.g. at steadystate.org) for recovering the economy, alternatives which can redress the vast social inequities of the present as well as begin healing our ecosystems. We also need models that don’t call for radical / violent overthrow of the system with alternatives that are also imposed from the top-down (putting environmentalists and ecological economists in charge, for example)—but offer instead more distributed, diverse, grassroots alternatives that have a better chance of sustaining us in the long haul; models that build upon stuff many of us are already doing in our daily lives to break free of the dominant growth paradigm and take control of our lives in more meaningful ways. 
One such alternative is seen in this video from the Center for a New American Dream, visualizing economist Juliet Schor’s alternative model of a Plenitude Economy:
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/26573848 w=500&h=283]

What I particularly like about this vision is that it draws its strengths from stuff we ordinary people are already doing in the US (and elsewhere) to find our own ways out of the ravages of the collapsed economy during this current great depression. Unlike the last great depression of the 1930s in the US, this time around we don’t have the political leadership or will to create and offer solutions from above, unfortunately. That does not mean, however, that people are simply standing still in despair (although there is plenty of that to go around), waiting for handouts from the government or from charities. We are, in small ways, taking charge of some of the means of production (urban farming and homesteading being great examples) and creating/reviving alternative means of sharing what we produce, away from the globalized economic mainstream. These smaller scale actions offer a good antidote against despair at the ever increasingly gloomy global picture. This is how we can really start rebuilding our world, one garden, one rooftop, one school, one swap-meet, one community at a time, each with its own local adaptation to find its own unique solution. Who needs a world revolution from above when we can have a multitude of these smaller revolutions growing from below?

Life on this planet has always thrived on diversity and local adaptation; it is time for us environmentalists to also truly embrace that truth, and participate in these many movements within our own neighborhoods, even as we seek to change the overarching paradigm globally. As that seemingly forgotten early prophet of ecological economics, E. F. Schumacher, observed a few decades ago: Small is Beautiful, after all! It is useful to remember that.

As a friend remarked upon reading the Dalai Lama’s words: not all of us sacrifice our health in order to make money; some of us do so in pursuit of environmental and human justice, to help create a better world. But maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to sacrifice our health for that either: instead, let us find the time and space to sink our hands into the soil, get dirt under our fingernails as we grow our own food and create habitats for other species amid our urban sprawl; to chat with our neighbors as we exchange vegetables from each other’s yards or balcony container gardens; to rebuild the social fabric that we worry is fraying under globalization; and take that time to also breathe in the air and simply enjoy living in the present.

I’m sure the Dalai Lama would approve of that (even if we choose to talk about it online)!

Let this not be a eulogy for our pale blue dot…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGeXdv-uPaw?wmode=transparent]

… even though it is a eulogy for several environmentalists who laid their lives down in defending our home, Earth.

This is a non-commercial attempt to highlight the fact that world leaders, irresponsible corporates and mindless ‘consumers’ are combining to destroy life on earth. It is dedicated to all who died fighting for the planet and those whose lives are on the line today. The cut was put together by Vivek Chauhan, a young film maker, together with naturalists working with the Sanctuary Asia network (www.sanctuaryasia.com).

Content credit: The principal source for the footage was Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s incredible film HOME http://www.homethemovie.org/. The music was by Armand´╗┐ Amar. Thank you too Greenpeace and http://timescapes.org/

(Hat-tip: David Inouye and Bittu Sahgal)

Earth+Plastic, the Great Electron, and George Carlin

Having subjected you to my rant for this Earth Day, allow me to share my all-time favorite rant, by that maestro of all ranting, George Carlin, reminding us holier-than-thou environmentalists of our proper place in the grand scheme of things:


Sorry Desert Tortoise. No room for you in Google’s Earth Day paradise.

Today is Earth Day, a once grassroots movement seeking to remind people to pay attention to the earth which has now grown to become a global event apparently “celebrated” by over a billion people – much of it courtesy of your neighborhood multinational corporations who have co-opted the day to urge you to buy more products at special discounts to “celebrate Earth Day”. They must mean “celebrate our collective destruction of this earth for profit and a few fun consumer products and gadgets”. Why, instead of actually going out and planting a tree today, you can enjoy playing Lorax Garden on your iPhone! Download for free today!! After all, why bother getting your hands dirty in an actual garden when you can get virtual karma playing it on your smartphone. Surely that’s what the Lorax wanted us to do, no?

As part of these corporate celebrations of the once-grassroots movement, Google sports this image of an impossibly idyllic edenic paradise as their doodle for the day:


Lovely, isn’t it? Pandas and penguins and tigers living in harmony with the corporate logo tastefully hidden amid the verdant scenery!

Unfortunately, Google’s vision of paradise has no room for the Desert Tortoise, the Joshua Tree, or the ancient mesquites and all the other poor denizens of the Mojave Desert, just a few hundred miles outside Google’s corporate office windows. You see, just last week, Google upped their investment in the “green” solar energy company Brightsource, pouring in another $168 million to support that company’s massive solar projects in the Mojave Desert. Never mind that the project is already killing endangered tortoises, destroying their habitat along with that of all the other denizens of the Mojave’s unique biodiversity. And never mind that this kind of concentrated power generation with associated transmission costs and losses is an outdated model for this century. After all, combating global warming by switching to non-fossil-fuel energy sources is the be-all and end-all of environmental movements these days, we are told. By none other than the Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal, who thinks conserving land is just “boring” compared to using exciting new “green” technologies to destroy habitats! This massive solar power generation technology is so exciting, it seems, that even Science Friday invited Madrigal to celebrate it on their Earth Day broadcast – where Ira Flatow forgot to ask any questions about the ecological impact of putting massive solar plants in the Mojave:


What’s doubly sad this Earth Day is that Madrigal is not alone. Too many environmentalist nonprofits and activists have bought into this model of green technology. One that merely substitutes one kind of power generation for another “greener” one without questioning the whole model! Why must we generate power at such massive scales, entailing land degradation, transmission losses, and a host of other problems, rather than developing smaller-scale technologies for distributed power generation from rooftops and parking lots? Whatever happened to “small is beautiful“? And why not put larger plants, if they’re needed, in brownfields and other land that we’ve already severely degraded through our other uses instead of bulldozing tortoise habitat? After all, there is plenty of such land within California’s urban/agriculture matrix which already covers more of the state than the remaining desert patches. If Germany, not known for its bright sun, can generate a significant amount of its power from rooftops in a distributed model, why must the US have to destroy remnant habitats still containing biodiversity? And why is Google, a company once at the cutting edge of innovation, with a motto “don’t be evil“, a supposed champion of the open-source internet as a force for democracy, i.e., distributed power, now investing in concentrated large-scale power projects mired in the old models of centralized production and distribution?!

Why aren’t more environmental groups raising these questions? Why is it left to a handful of “useful idiots” like Chris Clarke and Solar Done Right?

More importantly, why are we not asking the more fundamental question: WHY ON EARTH DO WE NEED TO KEEP USING SO MUCH DAMN ENERGY??!! Why can’t we cut down on the energy we currently waste, become more efficient, and work on reducing our massive ecological footprint by using less power-hungry products?

Oh, I forgot… how can we ask these questions, when the corporations are dangling all that shiny new magical technology in front of us all the time? Bright shiny smart phones where we can go play the Lorax game… what were you going on about the environment for, mate?

Sorry Lorax. Sorry Desert Tortoise. Sorry Mesquite. And Sorry Earth. We’ve sold you all out for a few shiny baubles. Happy Earth Day.


Our troubled relationship with water (Blog Action Day 2010)

How did we get here, in this parched state, fighting for and over something as basic as water, on this watery blue world? Isn’t water a basic element essential for all life, including humans? Like air? How and why have we lost sight of this fundamental truth?

At a late hour on this Blog Action Day 2010, as part of my keyboard action, I want to briefly explore some aspects of our (humanity’s) increasingly troubled relationship with this basic element. (ok, strictly speaking it is a compound, not an element, but you know what I mean here, right?). But first, here’s a brief video highlighting the need for more action on water issues.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/15336764 w=500&h=283]

One obvious reason people are now fighting over water, of course, is that we have more and more people living in places with limited if not dwindling freshwater supplies. It is remarkable that some of the fastest growing cities in the world (Las Vegas, for example) are located in the middle of the desert! (Did you know that?) Remarkably, people face acute shortages of safe drinking water even in far wetter places (Cherrapunji, anyone?), because we have on the one hand stripped bare the watersheds by chopping down formerly dense water-soaking forests, and on the other, failed to develop or deliver appropriate water harvesting / saving / distribution technologies to the poor people living there. Of course, when technology does find its way to such places, it is all too often laced with poison. Throw in changes in rainfall patterns due to global warming, and we’ve got a perfect storm of natural disasters compounded by limitless human stupidity to land us in this situation: we dig deep into aquifers or divert water from remote rivers to support megacities growing in the driest places, even as we neglect the small villages in the wettest places on earth! Gotta love that human ingenuity, for only our species could have conjured up such an unlikely paradoxical pickle in which to land ourselves.

What puzzles me even more is how we have fundamentally changed our relationship with water by turning it into a market commodity! Because that ultimate stupidity is what often lies behind water shortages in most places now. We (i.e., our governments, from Kerala to California to Bolivia) are letting corporations take control of our aquifers and watersheds, so that they can sell the water back to us in bottles and cans, with or without sugar’n’fizz, at exorbitant prices. There’s much profit in that, obviously. But supplying potable water and indoor plumbing to those villagers in Cherrapunji? Surely there can’t be much profit in that! Let them buy the bottles, if they can afford it. Such is the wisdom of the market, of course.

The same logic of the “free” market dictates that municipal water supply agencies be run like self-sustaining (if not for-profit) businesses. Thus do we end up with the paradox of places like Las Vegas, where water departments must, even as they encourage citizens to use less water, keep raising prices on the smaller amount of water they use in order to maintain revenues to keep the department viable in tough budgetary times. Incentivize people to save water by raising prices; see revenues drop as people listen to you and use less water; raise prices again to maintain revenues to keep up the water infrastructure; rinse and repeat! Until people revolt. Or, shrivel up, I suppose. Maybe that is the final solution – wean people completely off of water through this spiraling of costs so we have a dehydrated citizenry that doesn’t need water any more. What a tragicomedy of the commons…

Meanwhile, here in Fresno in the Great Central Valley of California, in one of the richest agricultural counties in this breadbasket of the arid west, we have a growing city that is only just beginning to meter water use! And they are doing it quite tentatively, with a non-tiered rate structure that may not be steep enough to discourage water use. Some of us who have already been trying to reduce water use (without any incentive from the city) may see our water bills go down from the current flat rate. I look forward to that! Yet it is also possible that some of my fellow citizens, upon seeing their bills get lower, may actually increase their water use because that new bill tells them they can use even more without busting their original budgets! So what’s the net result going to be? I hope to be able to tell you as we continue to monitor water use in this city.
It seems to me (non-economist that I am) that it is well nigh impossible to find any free-market solutions to these paradoxes, because it is inherently problematic to charge an industry that relies on profits from selling water to come up with ways to reduce the use of water! Can it really be done, from within this capitalist paradigm? Isn’t it time to reconsider this folly, and start treating water like the public good and human right it really should be? When even the rich societies of the global North / West refuse to invest public funds to ensure a safe and steady water supply for its citizens, what profit is there for corporations to provide such supplies to the poorer peoples of the world?

That surely is a fundamental disconnect in our increasingly troubled relationship with water.

At least 45 beautiful reasons to vote Yes on Prop 21 to save California’s State Parks

I hope my fellow Californians (those who can vote!) will step up to the plate where our legislators have failed, and vote to pass Proposition 21, which seeks to provide a protected independent source of funding for our State Parks. The California State Park network is an excellent example of good use of the commons in this state, for the benefit of all of us – yet it is one of the first things to get cut whenever the state budget feels a pinch. While I generally don’t like this state’s proposition system much at all (why bother pretending at a representative form of government if every citizen has to vote on important matters of governance? How can people busy in the daily grind of making their own ends meet have the time and resources to make informed decisions on everything?), we’re stuck with it, and this is a good one to get behind come November