Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Archive for September, 2014

Future lines of debate and action on climate

Posted by jembendell on September 28, 2014

Last week’s climate summit and week of side events in New York got people talking about climate change. But I looked at the 400,000 person march with a heavy heart. The climate science has moved on. It was hinted at by Leonardo DiCaprio in his speech to the UN, when he mentioned the plumes of methane rising from the ocean floor. What’s been happening in the Arctic the last few years is far beyond even the worst case predictions. It amounts to localised 5 degree warming already, and the summer pack ice disappearing in the next few years, when just 7 years ago we were told by scientific consensus that might happen in the 22nd century. The warming in the Arctic has been exponential. There are signs that this is already affecting the frozen methane on the sea floor, leading to methane release into the atmosphere. Over 20 years, methane is 84 times more potent than CO2 in greenhouse effect. Mass release of methane is a mechanism that scientists have known for years was the cause of the last mass extinction, the Permian, which ended 95% of species on Earth. (For videos on this, see Last Hours, or 10 minutes of this)

Given this information, the future debate about climate will be very different to what was considered appropriate in either the conference centres or on the streets of Manhattan last week. It is this future debate that we need to explore ourselves, urgently, even if politicians, businesses, and mainstream environmental groups are not ready to yet.

On the sidelines, I’m seeing four future lines of debate and action on climate: profound change, emergency response, local resilience, and transcendence.

Profound Change is the theme we heard from Naomi Klein, Leonardo DiCaprio and others in recent weeks. The argument is that the efforts to incorporate climate concerns into current economic systems has failed to have any significant impact on aggregate carbon emissions. The arguments that such approaches are “pragmatic” and “non-ideological” no longer have any evidence to support them. Instead, the only intellectually or morally sound environmentalism is now an explicitly revolutionary one, that seeks to change our political economic systems. Ideally, peacefully – I’ve not heard of any one calling for armed struggle! Klein’s new book (This Changes Everything) explores this Profound Change analysis.

Emergency is another approach to the latest climate science, whereby people think that a Profound Change in political or economic system is not sufficient, as we are now on course to experience abrupt climate change within the lifetimes of humans already borne. Therefore, such as emergency paradigm starts with calls for urgent geoengineering to cool the arctic to save our civilisation and even our species. The argument is that the risks are now so great that we have to take the risk to geo-engineer. The call becomes one not only of scientific research and experimentation, but also for intergovernmental frameworks for implementing such an approach and dealing with possible damaging consequences for some peoples and regions. This emergency approach can also trigger discussion about how to deal with climate-induced collapses in societies, including humanitarian responses and security responses. For instance, this could include new roles for atomic energy agencies to bring nuclear plants to cold shut down in situations of social and economic collapse. Authors exploring these ideas include Mark Lynas (The God Species) and several writers in The Ecologist. While people thinking within the emergency paradigm are often talking about physical adaptation, such as higher sea walls, they are not often discussing deeper psychological adaptation to climate change, which is where two other lines of debate come in.

Local Resilience is a third approach I have been hearing on the sidelines. This is when people consider that it is too late to avert a collapse in the current civilisation due to catastrophic climate change, even if profound change occurs in our economic systems and geoengineering is underway. A belief in near-term collapse leads to people focusing on what forms of life could be sustained, what values and aspirations might help up in a transition to that different way of life. This isn’t the well-known agenda of transition to a post carbon world, but a transition to a way of life where basic facets of our current societies no longer exist, such as the nation state, industrial agriculture, pharmaceutical drugs, and so on. The film Collapse introduced the world to the late Michael Ruppert, who expressed this view quite eloquently. Some of the more radical elements of the Transition Towns movement give space to this line of argument, as do authors like John Foster (After Sustainability), Charles Eisenstein (The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible), and projects like Dark Mountain, that encourage new cultures to emerge to help in this traumatic transition ahead. A key insight from this approach is how to not make things worse through attachments to ways of life and values. Are brands, properties, or nationalities so important? There are many things that we hold to be true and important in our societies which we need to be better at letting go of.

Transcendence is the name I’ll offer for a fourth line in the emerging debate on climate. It is when one allows oneself to consider that near-term extinction of the human race is now probable. Obviously to most people that is a harrowing and saddening thought. In my experience most people, like myself, attempt various forms of denial when faced with this idea. Many consider it would imply fatalism and risk states of despair, depression and inaction. However, those who do accept this analysis, at least for reasons of intellectual and emotional exploration, are finding a range of different insights result. For people like me, who since 15 years of age defined self-worth in terms of contributing towards sustainability and protecting the climate, this process can be extremely destabilising, involving some grief. Yet despair can be transformative. It can lead you to transcend your previous sense of self, and allow a new one to emerge, less framed by attachment to notions of self-worth or progress. Others may find they stop working on sustainability altogether. Others may enter depression, especially if they cannot cope without a story of self-efficacy. This line of debate is difficult for me to describe at this time, but appears to emphasise that we reflect on fundamental questions about the meaning of our lives and the meaning of life itself. Some will turn to religion for answers, and yet others will find existing religious explanations as fundamentally limited in how they address such dilemmas. The writings of Carolyn Baker (Collapsing Consciously) explore these issues, by deriving insights from hospice care. I think the writings of others who study what we learn from suffering will also be helpful in this line of thinking, such as those of Mark Matousek.

I recently brought these hidden debates on climate science into the classroom with our mature students at IFLAS. Most have been engaged for years on matters of social and environmental progress. None of the four perspectives I outline above suggest that “progress” has a future. As such, these ideas can destabilise one’s sense of self. I’ve always believed that real education is of the heart and soul as well as the mind… I just didn’t think it would have to involve such a difficult topic. I’m informed that the potential trauma from certain perspectives on climate science is not something that therapists have been widely discussing or have experience with treating. The climate category on “Therapy Today” indicate something of the state of the debate in this profession. I realise many people will shy away from this debate, and instead return to positive things such as the price of solar falling below that of coal. At a subconsious level people who do that will know they are simply changing the subject from what the latest climate science is suggesting about the changes we are already locked in to. Denial may be tenacious, but wont last.

I’ve mapped out here 4 lines of debate on climate science and action that were largely hidden during last week’s events on climate change in New York because I find them bubbling up in more and more conversations, and after broaching this subject I feel a responsibility to provide further information. There will likely be more lines of debate. There are also insights that can be blended from each. For instance, perhaps some forms of geoengineering could be supported by those who think that it’s too late to save this civilisation or the human race. One thing I am convinced about already is that many of our current institutions, including things as basic as our monetary institutions, are not designed to help us address this tragic new agenda. I am also convinced the more that senior decision-makers are attached to the idea of being good and self-efficacious, and being seen to be such, the more they will make things worse for humanity. Instead, we need people to approach this difficult time with greater humility, equanimity, gratitude, inquisitiveness, compassion, love, playfulness and hope. I am also convinced that the institutions we have created in our political, economic and social sphere have not promoted such qualities within them or to the top roles. So the greatest leadership challenge I see today is therefore one of unlearning a lot of deluded notions about self, success, and progress.

If this stuff is new to you, I recommend you talk to someone about it.

Im not a therapist.. If you think you might benefit from talking to one, here are a couple of links relevant to UK readers:

http://www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk/therapists/

http://www.emdrassociation.org.uk/home/index.htm

 

 

Posted in Sustainable Development, United Nations | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Funded PhD on Sustainability in the UK Lake District

Posted by jembendell on September 19, 2014

Full Time Postgraduate Research Studentship, University of Cumbria, England

Deadline for submission 12 noon Friday 24 October 2014.

The Faculty of Education, Arts and Business is pleased to invite applications for one full-time PhD student scholarship. The research student will be based in either the Institute of Education or in the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability.

13.5K stipend per year, PhD fees paid up, and a £500 field costs allowance per year.

To commence January 2015 for three years. UK and EU applicants only.

The Institute for Leadership and Sustainability welcomes applications for research in either of two fields in which we are actively engaged via research, teaching, conferences and advocacy.

  • Sustainable leadership development – which we understand as the practice of enabling people to development their ability to lead change in organisations and society towards greater social fairness, personal wellbeing and environmental sustainability
  • Currency innovation for sustainable development – The University became known worldwide in early 2014 for becoming the first public University to accept bitcoin. This relates to our research on how new thinking on currencies and exchange systems can provide opportunities for economic resilience and sustainability.

In both areas we particularly welcome action research or similar approaches, that draw upon both sociology and management studies. Your supervisor for either topic would be Dr Jem Bendell, a Professor of Sustainability Leadership, who teaches, researches and advises on both topics. With over 300 senior managers from circa 100 countries attending our sustainable leadership development programmes each year, we have good networks for both research and dissemination.

Notes for Guidance

The research outline is indicative of your scholarly aptitude and should provide sufficient evidence to convince the interview panel that your proposal is soundly based and that you are able to develop an appropriate research study with supervisory support. The outline should not exceed six pages of A4 double-spaced typescript and should comprise the following sections:

  • rationale;
  • aims;
  • summary of relevant published studies;
  • tentative research question;
  • proposed design and methodology including time-scale of study and indications of feasibility;
  • bibliography;
  • expected outcomes or implications of the proposed research.

In considering the proposal the admissions panel will be looking for evidence that an applicant has sufficient grasp of current research in the field to allow the formulation of a feasible research question. The proposal is not expected to be definitive.

Candidates for research degrees must be good honours degree graduates of a recognised university in the UK or comparable university overseas, or persons with equivalent qualifications who show evidence of exceptional ability, or who have demonstrated their ability in graduate studies. The successful candidate is also likely to have completed a masters degree.

Application Submission

Your application which should comprise the application form and a research proposal should be sent electronically to linda.shore@cumbria.ac.uk. You should also ask your referees to complete the reference form and return it to linda.shore@cumbria.ac.uk by the same date. Also copy jem dot bendell @ cumbria dot ac dot uk

Deadline for submission 12 noon Friday 24 October 2014. Late applications will not be considered.

Posted in Academia and Research | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

Ecuador’s helpful knee in the balls of the Bitcoin boys

Posted by jembendell on September 9, 2014

So its confirmed Ecuador will be launching their own digital currency. In the meantime, they have banned other forms of private digital currency like Bitcoin.

On the one hand, it is brilliant that the fame of bitcoin, and its distributed ledger technology, has helped Ecuador’s government consider not only the issuing of a digital currency, but the concept that economies can have multiple currencies. I have always thought the power of Bitcoin is in opening minds to the field of currency innovation for the common good, rather than the specific properties of the Bitcoin currency itself.

What should we make of Ecuador’s move? The best starting point is for a government’s central bank and treasury to have a clear public purpose, to serve the long term interests of people. Ecuador is ahead of most in making its Central Bank have to innovate to deliver “buen vivir” i.e. wellbeing. Other central banks simply assume that managing inflation and interest rates within certain levels is what’s key, with some secondary attention to employment and government deficits. That maintains the delusion that monetary policy isnt innately political and shaping all aspects of social and political life. But I digress…

Some bitcoin enthusiasts are upset with Ecuador’s move as they like to pretend that computer software can replace matters of governance, and that a pre-defined algorythym for currency issuance means we dont need to question whether issuance is either fair or useful. It is simply ridiculous to think that issuance to those with the most powerful computers is a valid form of issuance. It is equally ridiculous to ignore this question of issuance, and the resulting inequities in bitcoin distribution, because it might be inconvenient to one’s libertarian views, a rush to get rich, technotopian obsession or desire to smash the system and be proven right afterall (all of which are rather immature adolescent attitudes, which correlates with the pioneers of this space – sorry chaps!).

The main problem with the bitcoin boys is they dont base their enthusiasm on a coherent view of what’s wrong with money and what’s needed for socially useful currency innovation. To recap: currently national currencies are not issued by governments or central banks but by private banks when they issue loans. In most countries this is circa 97% of money in circulation. Think of the dollar, pound, euro and so on, and they are all predominantely issued for profit by private banks, not by either govenments or treasuries. Thats nuts for many reasons, environmental, social and economic (as my various talks and writings on this blog have explained). This simple fact is so stupidly overlooked by mainstream economists, financial journalists, its bizarre. Thankfully some like Martin Wolfe at the FT have now started breaking this taboo subject, as has the Bank of England’s own publications.

In response, we shouldnt see assets like precious metals as the answer, as this leads to contraction of economic activity and the cornering of the currency by the powerful, as it did in the past. A gold standard would be a disaster. Gold bugs have always struck me as a little odd in wanting to assert their personal power against a dangerous world.

But non-commodity currencies and non-state currencies should be issued not-for-profit far more than is the case today. Otherwise, we risk creating the same problems with our current systems where the ability to make money from money has led to an over-financialised economy that extracts wealth from the real economy and leads to gross inequality and unsustainable debt levels. That’s not controversial, as the UN has been describing this over-financialisation problem for the past decade.

Not-for-profit currencies can be issued by national or local governments or privately. So I am in favour of governments issuing their own digital currencies. For instance, state or city governments could issue a currency that they would offer to pay as wages, and could request tax be paid in it, or limit certain services to payments in such currency (e.g. business rates or car park fees etc). The power of a government to demand tax in a certain currency is a key way it maintains the value of national currencies at present. This tax-power could be used to enable an ecology of currencies that aren’t controlled by the banks.

It is clear that Ecuador will seek to spend the new currency into circulation, as wages for socially useful work. It is unclear what services or taxes they will price in this currency, or whether they will restrict payment options for some items in the new currency. To do so would be the simplest way to uphold the value of the currency, as it would mean there would be a market for people to buy it in order to pay for certain services or taxes.

Banning private currencies is compromising freedom but is Ecuador’s response to the potential for abuse and a concern they might lose further control of monetary policy and their tax base. Regulation rather than prohibition is the answer. I hope that after launching their own digital currency, Ecuador will revisit its digital currency ban and instead introduce rules for private digital currencies and related payment service firms.  Any prohibitions on private currencies should not be applied to nonprofit community currencies or b2b credit systems, which are really useful coping systems for communities and businesses with cash flow problems.

Ecuador will face great technological challenges in protecting their new digital currency from attack by both financial and ideological interests. They had best get the best coders and also create paper records! Maybe some maturing bitcoin boys could help.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »