Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Archive for the ‘Sustainable Development’ Category

environment, environmentalism, development, poverty, human rights, etc

Engaging the Climate Tragedy

Posted by jembendell on November 26, 2016

When discussing the sorry state of efforts to address climate change with professionals working on this topic, across sectors, I often hear a reluctance to question whether it is too late to avert catastrophic climate change, or what such a view might mean for the focus of our work. Various objections to this view are raised and prevent open discussion or an evolution of work. Therefore, I decided to deliver a speech at a leading climate business and finance event in Australia, at Griffith University, to seek feedback on my argument that we must now shift focus.

In my keynote, Nov 29th, I’m outlining the following:

  1. There has been some progress on environmental issues in past decades, from reducing pollution, to habitat preservation, to waste management.
  2. Much valiant effort has been made to reduce carbon emissions over the last twenty years.
  3. There have been many steps forward on climate and carbon management, from awareness, to policies, to innovations.
  4. Larger and quicker steps must be taken and can be now that there is COP21 and major Chinese engagement on the issue.
  5. To support the maintenance and scaling of these efforts is essential.
  6. Small steps have been taken on adaptation to climate changes, such as flood defences and planning laws.
  7. Yet these steps on climate mitigation and adaptation are like walking up a landslide. If the landslide had not already begun, then quicker and bigger steps would get us to the top of where we want to be. But the latest climate data, emissions data and data on the spread of carbon-intensive lifestyles tell us that the landslide has already begun.

That the ground is already moving beneath our feet is summarised thus:

  1. The politically permissible scientific consensus is that we need to stay beneath 2 degrees warming of global ambient temperatures to avoid dangerous and uncontrollable levels of climate change, with impacts such as mass starvation, disease, flooding, storm destruction, migration and war
  2. If the world does not keep further anthropogenic emissions below a total of 1,300 billion tonnes we won’t keep average temperatures below that 2 degrees warming.
  3. If we are not already on the path to dramatic reductions we will not keep within this limit.
  4. We are not on such a path, with emissions still at around 50 million tonnes of CO2 a year and the decoupling of growth from emissions minimal.
  5. The uncertainties on the edge of scientific consensus do not suggest a respite, with some increased carbon sequestration through increased vegetation not as significant as the methane emissions not factored into most models, and where Arctic warming is already progressing beyond even the most extreme predictions.
  6. Therefore, we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war.
  7. The implication is that we need to expand our climate work into a deep adaptation agenda, including resilience, relinquishment and restoration while learning why this tragedy is occurring.

I will explain more about that deep adaptation agenda in a moment. I realise that at this point the reader, or listener, might feeling a bit affronted, disturbed, or saddened. In the past few years, many people have said to me that “it can’t be too late to stop climate change, because if it was, how would we find the energy to keep on striving for change?” With such views, a possible reality is denied to permit a continued striving which has its rationale, therefore, not in serving the expressed goal but in maintaining self-identities related to espoused values. This form of denial is different from outright climate denial, but is also unhelpful, as John Foster argues well in his book After Sustainability (2015).

It is emotionally difficult at first, but we need to move beyond that pretence if we are to remain relevant. In doing so, we open ourselves up to discuss a ‘deep adaption’ agenda as well as exploring why this tragedy has begun and why we have been so poor at responding effectively. I will make some brief comments on these topics before concluding with some thoughts on how we evolve our research accordingly.

A deep adaption agenda will involve increasing resilience, relinquishment and restoration Resilience involves people and communities better coping with disruptions. Examples include how river catchments can better cope with rains, or how buildings can better cope with floods. What I’m calling relinquishment, involves people and communities letting go of certain assets, behaviours and beliefs where retaining them could make matters worse. Examples include withdrawing from coastlines or giving up expectations for certain types of consumption. Restoration involves people and communities rediscovering attitudes and approaches to life and organisation that the hydrocarbon-fuelled civilisation eroded. Examples include re-wilding landscapes so they provide more ecological benefits and require less management, or increased community-level productivity and support.

There will be increasing discussion about what is to be learned from the tragedy of climate change, and honest inquiry existing alongside strategic attempts at framing disruption, degradation and loss to maintain one’s relative power in society.  Disruption, degradation and collapse will be framed by different people as a resulting from foreigners, capitalism, industrialism, individualism, consumerism, patriarchy, anthropomorphism, secularism, liberalism, progressivism, and atomism (where we see things as separate). We are even seeing framing of disruption by religious fundamentalists, who, to my knowledge, don’t discuss climate but seek to respond to the disruption it has already caused. One study by Columbia University argues that in Syria, the worst drought in 100s of years, made worse by climate change, led to 1.5 million people being displaced from their lives in rural areas and increased food prices in cities. Some radical Islamists were able to thrive in this situation with their explanations of cause and solution, replacement stories of personal identity and purpose, and offers of sustenance.

My own analysis is that the West’s response as restricted by the dominance of neoliberal economics since the 1970s. That led to hyper-individualist, market fundamentalist, incremental and atomistic approaches. By hyper-individualist, I mean a focus on individual action as consumers, switching light bulbs or buying sustainable furniture, rather than promoting political action as engaged citizens. By market fundamentalist, I mean a focus on market mechanisms like the complex, costly and largely useless carbon cap and trade systems, rather than exploring what more government intervention could achieve. By incremental, I mean a focus on celebrating small steps forward such as a company publishing a sustainability report, rather than strategies designed for a speed and scale of change suggested by the science. By atomistic, I mean a focus on seeing climate action as a separate issue from the governance of markets, finance and banking, rather than exploring what kind of economic system could permit or enable sustainability.

Given this context, while the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the culture they reflect are helpful for non-climate related matters, given the systemic nature of the impacts of global warming, they may be ill-focused. Instead “minimum survival goals” would be more appropriate, to reduce the rate of increase in starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war. We don’t need consensus on that, but a shift right now from those who have a professional income, skill set and network to work on matters broadly related to climate change and its effects.

The implications for researchers working on climate issues, whether on campaigning, policy, business, finance, include asking the following questions:

On other’s research:

“How might these findings inform efforts for a more massive & urgent transformation to resilience & relinquishment in face of collapse?”

On one’s own research:

“If I didn’t believe in incremental incorporation of climate concerns into current organisations and systems, what might I want to know more about?”

“How might neglected theories of political economy suggest I inquire into this or related topics?”

To explore some of these ideas further, my recent writings may be of interest, on implications for the future of the climate debate, on what sustainability leadership involves, on how we need to heal capitalism, and how we need to ask ourselves tough questions if we consider ourselves climate activists. Better still, these publications will help you explore this emerging “post-sustainability” paradigm:

Benson, M. and Craig, R. (2014) ‘The End of Sustainability’, Society and Natural Resources 27; 777-782

Foster, J. (2015) After Sustainability (Abingdon: Earthscan from Routledge)

Hamilton, C. (2010) Requiem for a Species (London: Earthscan)

Hamilton, C. et al. (eds.) (2015) The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis (Abingdon: Routledge)

Jamieson, D. (2014)  Reason in a Dark Time (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Mulgan, T. (2011) Ethics for a Broken World  (Durham: Acumen)

As the point of no return can’t be fully known until after the event, ambitious work on reducing carbon must increase. But a new front of work on deep adaptation is as important today. Understandable emotional traumas from realising the tragedy that is coming, and in many ways upon us already, shouldn’t prevent us from exploring what this probable reality could mean for our choices now. Moreover, from social psychology, there is some evidence to suggest that by focusing on impacts now, it makes climate change more proximate, which increases support for mitigation.

In my talk at Griffith I explore more about the nature and future of leadership in light of this assessment of the climate tragedy.

More on the event is here.

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Posted in Academia and Research, Sustainable Development, Talks | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Do a PhD part-time from anywhere with me: Jem’s Quarterly #7

Posted by jembendell on September 22, 2016

Studying for a PhD can seem like a terrible idea. All that isolated reading and writing, and for what: to disappear into your own world of abstraction? Well it doesn’t have to be that way. Three or more years to explore questions that are deeply important to you, in ways that draw upon a range of scholarship, is an incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So I look for people who are less concerned about a career in academia or getting the  letters PhD, and more interested in inquiry. I am seeking 2 new PhD students to start next year in the general field of “leadership” or “leadership development” or methods by which individuals can support social change through organisations or networks.

TALKING ABOUT MY BOOK

TALKING ABOUT MY BOOK

I will say more about the PhD in a moment. In the past quarter the future of money and investment was a significant theme of my work. 60 people completed the 4th cohort of our free course on Money and Society. Alumnus of this online course are gathering in Indonesia in December. The next cohort starts in February and you can enrol here. Back home, this summer we hosted retreats for the Finance Innovation Lab and the Positive Money campaign, two initiatives that share our view that the financial system must be transformed to enable more fair and environmentally friendly economies.

The impact investment group I work with has made a significant move forward with a 100 million dollar investment for one of its ventures, to bring a tech smart approach to the Australian superannuation (pension) sector. The potential to enhance business analytics and engagement on environmental, social and governance factors is large. Trimantium also plans an IPO for a business that helps incumbent firms to embrace the disruptive potential of digital technology.

I published a few articles on spirituality, leadership and politics in the Huffington Post. My next keynote is in November, at Griffith University in Brisbane, on the topic of the kinds of leadership we won’t need to stop making the climate crisis worse. You might need to read that sentence again.

Now back to that PhD opportunity. At the University of Cumbria, it doesn’t cost a fortune, you engage a contrarian intellectual tradition of the Lake District, and can come on our great leadership courses but don’t have to be based here all the time, nor do it full time. You also receive a PhD accredited by Lancaster University (a top research Uni). We don’t have funding to offer at this moment. If interested, please write one page only on what issue you are interested in, what literature you know of that relates to that, and why you want to do a PhD. Before that, please read some of my thoughts on “sustainability leadership” here.

In Q4 I will be focusing on a new research project on perceptions of world leaders on what forms of leadership, and leadership development, are necessary to address global challenges. We are seeking an additional sponsor for the report launch at a high level event next year, so if you can help, do get in touch. Below follows a box of info on what is happening at Cumbria Uni which may be relevant if you are based nearby or passing through.

Thanks for reading, Jem

Professor of Sustainability Leadership, Institute For Leadership And Sustainability (IFLAS) and Non-Executive Director, Trimantium Capital. Next update is in 3 months.

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Some relevant offerings from the University of Cumbria

The intersection of governance, ethics and investment – Julie Hutchison IFLAS Open Lecture 4th October, 530pm, Ambleside Lake District Campus, Cumbria University, Ambleside, UK. Info here.
Leading Wellbeing in Rural Contexts – One Day Conference by the Brathay Trust and University of Cumbria. 1st November 2016, Ambleside, UK Info here.
Participatory Mapping as a research Method – Dr Chris Loynes lunchtime research seminar 30th November, 12.00-13.00 Kitching Room, Ambleside Lake District Campus, University of Cumbria, UK Participatory mapping is an approach to collecting, interpreting and analysing data about the places people inhabit. Come and make your own maps of your landscapes and see how they can work as a research tool. Register: Letty.Ashworth@cumbria.ac.uk

The University of Cumbria is always taking applications for its suite of MBA programmes which involve specialisms in sustainability, delivered in partnership with the Robert Kennedy College. Info here.

Posted in Academia and Research, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Wild Over Algorithms: Jem’s Quarterly 5

Posted by jembendell on March 14, 2016

I ignored it for a while. But as a Prof, it was time to submit to Google Scholar and let their algorithms pass judgement on my work. So I’ve an h-index of 20 and an i10-index of 35, from over 2000 citations. Have I lost you yet? Well at least most of my publications are now in one place. My latest thoughts are on the “Impasse in Western Leadership” which I presented at a conference on leadership in Asia in January.

I continue to work with Dr Neil Sutherland and Richard Little on a collection on leadership and sustainability that arose from the Leading Wellbeing Research Festival last summer. On April 9 the team at IFLAS are hosting a reunion in Ambleside, which will be a great weekend to share relevant initiatives. These ideas relate to our new MA in Sustainable Leadership Development, which is designed to fit around the work of busy leaders. It kicks off with a week in the Lake District this September.

I now work part time with the University of Cumbria, and am adapting what I know to offer wilderness retreats for leadership development. Working with Georgia Wingfield Hayes, our first Leading Wild retreat is in Costa Rica in January next year. We conceived the Leading Wild retreats because we know the most powerful learning is difficult to enable in typical corporate formats. I like hosting learning where we are ready to let go of what brought us success and think afresh about the situation we face. A wilderness retreat invites that approach. 25% of revenues will go into forest conservation. It’s also 25% off if you book now!

Somewhat sooner, if you are in London on April 13th, please join us near the Docklands for a lecture by the founder of the Positive Money campaign, Ben Dyson. At 530pm he will talk about how government issuance of digital cash could kick start the UK economy and pay down the debt. It’s an opportunity for participants in our free online course on Money and Society to gather. Over 120 are currently completing this MOOC that I developed with Matthew Slater (Global Ecovillage Network) and 8+ will study our Certificate of Achievement in Sustainable Exchange in April. This will be co-tutored by Leander Bindewald, whose PhD at IFLAS on the (misleading) discourses of money is getting interesting. I’ll be sharing some of our ideas in a keynote at the Guild of Independent Currencies conference in Liverpool on April 20th.

In February I visited Melbourne to work with my colleagues at Trimantium Capital. They ran an event at Parliament House on the future of superannuation (pension) investments for a more sustainable Australia, and introduced tech investors from Silicon Valley to a range of Australian start-ups. En route back to the UK, I visited the Indian Institute of Directors, to discuss with board directors how we can encourage cultures and systems for firms to seek disruptive innovation for sustainable development. In 2016 I will be doing more work on “impact investing”, to promote the necessary transition to a better economy.

At the Indian Institute of Directors course for non executive directors, where I lectured

At the Indian Institute of Directors course for non executive directors, where I lectured

I’ve listed my future event attendance below… maybe see you in London, Lancaster, Lake District, Kuala Lumpur, Geneva, Tokyo, Brisbane, Melbourne, or Boston?

Thanks, Jem

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Upcoming Lectures, Panels and Event Attendance

Leading Wellbeing: from theory to practice, Co-host of workshop on sustainable currencies, Ambleside, April 9. Link.

The Guild of Independent Currencies Annual Conference, Keynote, Liverpool, April 20th, Link.

Global Prosperity Institute, UCL, Participant, London, May 10. Link.

The World Economic Forum on ASEAN, in Kuala Lumpur, June 1-2. Link.

HELP University, Lecture on “Leadership Lessons from WEF”, Kuala Lumpur, June 3 (tbc)

University of Geneva, CSR Leadership lecture, CSR Summer School, June 30. Link.

Finance Innovation Lab, Fellows Retreat, Ambleside July 1-3.

Cumbria Research and Enterprise Conference, Lecture on Sustainable Enterprise Zones, Lancaster, 8 July.

Positive Money Leaders Retreat, Lectures on Leadership and Currency Innovation, Ambleside, September 9-10.

Forum of Young Global Leaders Annual Summit, Tokyo, October 18-21 Link.

Griffith Centre for Sustainable Enterprise, Open Lecture on “Leadership for Sustainability”, Brisbane, last week of October (date tbc). Link.

The New Metrics Conference, Keynote on “Sustainable Impact Investing,” Boston, November 15-16  Link.

Leading Wild, Retreat Co-Host, Corcovado, Costa Rica, Jan 3-8, 2017 Link.

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Sustainable Development | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Cutting Love – 4th Quarterly

Posted by jembendell on December 14, 2015

Every 3 months I send an update. In my 4th I focus on listing some links for resources and events, before a few thoughts on “cutting love.” You can sign up to receive this Quarterly Bulletin.

First up, the culmination of a year’s efforts, today the UN publishes a paper I co-wrote on how Ewtonterprise Zones can contribute to the new Global Goals for sustainable development. These zones are popular with some governments, from India to the UK, but they aren’t without criticism, in terms of what they achieve. Now with changes in trade rules, Zones are going to have to come up with new ways of staying competitive. We argue that embracing social and environmental excellence is a clever response. I explained this in my article for the World Economic Forum. I was pleased to present the preliminary findings at the public forum of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva in October, and the report is launched this week in Nairobi at the ministerial. You can read it here (pdf). I’m grateful to Dr Tony Miller at UNCTAD and also for colleagues at the University of Cumbria for supporting me to do this work.

In September I stepped back from Director of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) so I can focus on my research and teaching as a Professor of Sustainability Leadership (as part time) as well as new role with an impact investing fund. I’m pleased Dr Caroline Rouncefield is the Acting Director and joins an Institute with 5 MBAs growing well (over 2000 international students), as well as co-delivery of an MSc in Strategic Policing and a new MA in Sustainable Leadership Development. One of the last projects I worked on was to initiate a partnership with the National Trust, to promote innovation in the heritage and conservation sectors, which was recently launched with some fanfare. Our Deputy Director Dr David Murphy will lead on the project for IFLAS.

Trimantium Capital are the Impact Investors that I’ve joined the board of. Headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, it is making waves for attracting hundreds of millions of dollars into a fund directed at financial services and health technology with a clear social and environmental purpose. As the Paris climate summit started, I shared what some of us impact investors are thinking about the future of fossil fuels, in a WEF article.

Looking ahead from the winter, at IFLAS we will turn our efforts towards to the IFLAS Spring School, for two weeks in both London and the Lake District. It kicks off our new MA, but can also be attended as a stand-alone course. Lots of mid-career execs do our courses and become co-conspirators on future projects. The Spring School will also involve a reunion of participants in the Leading Wellbeing Festival, on April 9th in Ambleside, which will also be the annual meeting of the Cumbria Environmental Network. If you are interested in the new MA or the Spring School, please fire off an email to iflas@cumbria.ac.uk

Some of the ideas behind the MA are contained in a co-authored paper just published by the Journal of Corporate Citizenship (JCC). I’m grateful to Richard Little at Impact International for having schooled me in critical leadership thinking these past 3 years. I also presented the paper at the International Leadership Association in October and will share some similar ideas at the ‘Lead in Asia’ conference in Bali on the 21st January.

The 2nd cohort of our Mass Open Online Course (MOOC) on Money and Society went well, with around 100 people completing all 4 assignments over the month. That means they can now progress to the Certificate of Achievement in Sustainable Exchange, with the 5 day residential happening in our London Docklands Campus in April (as part of that spring school I mentioned). This labour-of-love for me and course co-tutor Matthew Slater, this free course is “bloody brilliant” and “mind bending”. The next cohort starts on Feb 14th and runs for a month online. Read more and sign up here.

Since my last update I was pleased to receive an award for my past work on cross-sector collaboration for sustainable development. The award made the local news, and my paper on the future of such partnerships (think disruption and revolution) is available here.

That’s nothing compared to being made an honorary fellow of the University of Cumbria. In November, my friend Funmi Iyanda became the first African Woman to be recognised in this way by the University and gave a powerful speech in Carlisle Cathedral. Her talk really reflected our ‘transmodern’ times, where we purposefully and playfully mix old and new ideas from all corners of the world to discover ways of rethinking progress today. Read her super speech here on the IFLAS blog, which is now also home to a regular series of articles on leadership themes.

In October I was pleased to host Professor James Wilsdon’s at our Lancaster Campus to discuss the future of how we are going to be assessed as academics. James is the chair of the Campaign for Social Science. As the University sector has been blasted by austerity measures over the past years and will continue be, James does important work reminding everyone why it’s good that we do what we do and how to do it better. Britain has an incredible heritage of intellectual leadership of international importance, based on the country’s love of learning and its institutions of research and education. Sadly we have now become the most expensive place in the world to get a degree, while many Universities cash in on their heritage in the form of sponsored buildings and uninspiring pack-em-in courses.

Unfortunately just the week after the celebrations in the Cathedral, a large part of Carlisle went underwater due to a storm that damaged many towns, villages and roads in Cumbria. The increased frequency and intensity of extremes of weather is in line with predictions from climate models. The events in Cumbria made climate change that much more personal, as explained in a first hand account by IFLAS Advisory Board member Becky Willis. The beginning of climate chaos is already upon us, with weird weather fuelled by a raised global ambient temperature of 0.8 degrees Celsius over the past century, along with seas warmer by 0.7 agrees and higher by 8 cm, on worldwide averages. The most concerning thing is the extremes, with the north-pole being about 5 degrees warmer than hundred years ago. After the floods people have begun to ask why the investment in flood defences and watershed management wasn’t increased in line with the known growing threat from a disturbed climate. The answer, again, is austerity. The floods are a reminder that you can’t ignore nature because of your politics.

Looking across the country, the cuts in government spending can be seen as cuts in a nation’s commitment to its shared assets. Whether it is flood defences, education or care for the disabled, all the things being cut are the things that reflect a country’s capacity to love itself: to care for its towns, its people, its culture and its future. When a government is cutting back on love, people must fill the void, as has been the case in Cumbria, with a wonderful community spirit emerging. If you want to help support people who have been flooded, please see the Cumbria Foundation or Spirit of Cumbria.

Although an agreement in Paris is important, the key is implementation. To make changes quickly, finance and trade ministers will need to shift incentives, hence the reason for my WEF blog. Ultimately we will need to redesign of our monetary systems, to allow us to thrive without requiring exponential economic growth, as I explain in the free intro to my last book.  A COP21 climate agreement is a piece of the puzzle; but the puzzle is already burning. We will have to live with the weather that’s coming and that calls for us to go deeper in our discussions and planning, as I described for Open Democracy earlier this year.

If any of these topics interest you, then do engage in the Sustainable Leaders linked in group, or see my latest musings at www.jembendell.com

I hope you have a good holiday wherever you are,
Jem Bendell

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Towards a Multi-Currency Eurozone

Posted by jembendell on July 6, 2015

The New Scientist magazine has published my views on the creation, in Greece ,of parallel currencies to the Euro, at both local and national levels. Unfortunately the mainstream financial press continue to mislead the public about the potential for a multi-currency system.

Even the basics are poorly reported, such as how the major bailouts for Greece were for the creditors, mostly German and French banks, not for the Greek government or citizens (as even the IMF recognises). But when it comes to the possibility of governments issuing their own parallel currencies, mainstream journalists move into a mode of lampooning and scaremongering.

Typically we see reports of banking analysts scoffing at proposals for new Government-issued currencies as ‘extreme measures’ of ‘money printing’ that are ‘liable to devaluation.’ It is only possible for such views to sound credible because most of us do not understand the way the banks currently create our money. In advanced economies, well over 90 percent of money is issued by commercial banks when they make loans. As the Bank of England had to correct economists last year: new loans are effectively new money. This process is difficult to justify when a bank’s privilege to create money from nothing and lend it to government for a nice profit starts to clash with democracy, as it may now be doing, given the protests against austerity. The mainstream media continues to avoid representing the informed views of those who completely reject a system where banks create money from nothing and use it to buy government bonds and charge interest on them, even at a 44% interest rate, as happened in 2012. It is why in 2011 at a European Broadcasting Union organised TEDx event I called on over 300 people in media to offer more insight on monetary issues.

In the last few years, the fame of the digital currency Bitcoin has helped people to see that there are alternatives to official money. However, the answer for Greece and other countries facing austerity is not Bitcoin, or any currency that the average citizen has to buy with their scarce funds of official money. Instead, what is needed are new currencies that turn the future value that citizens can produce into a form of IOU today: the types I mention in the New Scientist article. There are many such innovations around the world, with particularly exciting initiatives in Kenya, as I explained at the United Nations recently.

The former finance minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, is aware of some of these innovations. He told the Telegraph “If necessary, we will issue parallel liquidity and California-style IOU’s, in an electronic form. We should have done it a week ago.” Better still, he should have done that on Day 1 in office. But it seems the mainstream financial press cant deal with such imaginative ideas. Immediately the Wall Street Journal reported various unnamed sources as guessing the government sacked him for that idea. That’s strange, when previous (less left-wing) Greek governments DID EXACTLY THAT IN 2010, when they issued IOUs for payments of medical supplies as I explain in the New Scientist article. Instead, it seems he stepped aside for the reasons he implied, to stop personality issues being the cause for, or excuse for, a lack of agreement.

Why are the mainstream media so allergic to currency innovation, especially if led by a government? Is it

a) they haven’t got a clue about monetary economics or the history of currency

b) they are so immersed in the delusion that money is wealth that to consider how communities and governments can create their own money threatens their whole world view of how society should function

c) they are deliberately trying to undermine government and community currency innovation in order to please some in the banking sector who do not want nations to escape the debt-enforced transfer of wealth to the few, via austerity and privatisation

d) all of the above

I hope Yannis now has some more time to work on alternative currencies. It is important way beyond the borders of Greece. As I say in the New Scientist:

Although people are focused on what to do in Greece and the Eurozone now, the implications are far wider, inviting all of us to think about the kind of monetary systems we want in a 21st century where humanity seeks to transition to a fairer, more sustainable world….

…Once the Greek government joins their citizens and entrepreneurs in creating alternative currencies that can exist alongside the euro, we will see the emergence of truly multi-currency societies. It would be apt as the birthplace of money, with the drachma over 2500 years ago, for Greece to lead the way into this future.”

In preparing the article I’m indebted to my friend and colleague Tom Greco, who has been in Greece for the past month working with communities, business networks, local governments and some members of the national administration to create a circulating exchange medium on the basis of future tax revenues. He calls them “Tax Anticipation Warrants” but I prefer to dub them The Greco, The idea is this currency:

1. Be spent into circulation by the government,

2. In a form that can be circulated,

3. As payment at par with the euro,

4. To employees, pensioners, contractors, and suppliers,

5. In amounts no greater than anticipated tax and other revenues in a six month period.

6. That they not be given legal tender status,

7. Nor be redeemable for euros,

8. But only in payment to the government for any taxes and dues, at par.

9. That they carry an expiration date to be one or two years after their first issuance.

10. But be exchangeable at par, prior to expiration, for any new warrants that the government might issue in the future.

Godspeed to Tom and other volunteer alternative currency designers in Greece and elsewhere.

Excited? Bamboozled? Take our free course starting 23rd August. www.ho.io/mooc

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Occupy, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

An immigrant walks into a bar…

Posted by jembendell on April 23, 2015

An Eastern European Immigrant to the UK (aka: human) walks into a bar: “A key reason I came to the UK was because of education for my kids. I grew up in communist Hungary but the education was so much better than the values they are teaching now.”

Me (slightly pissed human): Why do you say “but”? Why not “so”?

Immigrant: …… (Silence, maybe confused.)

Me, point maybe made: “So you like the UK for its schools?”

Immigrant: “Yes, but it was tough at first with my different landladies in Oxford. I realise they don’t differentiate between types of foreign residents. Its crazy foreigners can get benefits. But most of us don’t. I don’t think people know that EU migrants to the UK are a net economic benefit to the UK. I think its crazy you have a system that funds people to not work and have babies, that can be taken advantage of by foreigners, so then we all get the blame.”

Me: “Why isn’t it something to celebrate about Britain that we look after the basic needs of vulnerable people and all babies?”

Immigrant: “Well its impossible to pay for everything”

Me: ” Where did you get the idea we can’t afford that? We afford to give billions more to bankers, including many foreigners, for bail outs, than to single mums. I don’t think your landladies have considered Eastern European bankers in London having been a net drain on the economy. So where are they getting their bad impressions from? They’ve been given a narrative of blame. Are you joining that?”

Immigrant: “But don’t you think you need to tighten up as Britain is an island with only so much space. You can’t have all these people coming for benefits”

Me: “Ah, space. You means house prices and rents? UK population growth in the past decades was less than the amount of new housing built. The cost of housing is driven by our banking system where about 80 percent of new money is created as loans for property purchases. Immigration is a not a significant factor for the systemic problem of cost of housing in the UK. The fact you haven’t heard much about that reflects the mass corporate media and BBC agenda to ignore systemic political issues.”

Immigrant: “Something is wrong when my husband finds its easier to sign on for unemployment benefit than open a joint account to access our own money. Your benefits system is too easy.”

Me: “Maybe banks should be more efficient: it sounds like they could learn from job centres! We might improve the benefits system but its a secondary or non issue for the state of the UK right now. You sound like you tried to find common ground with your landladies but end up blaming others less fortunate than yourself. It seems there’s a cascade of blame on every one lower than them on the power ladder. I remember there was a kid at school who was bullied and who tortured insects”

 

Reflections

This was a very educated lady, works at a top University. My reflection is that once narratives of blame are maintained by mass media then a spirit of wanting to connect to people living in societies with such narratives can then lead us to find complementary narratives to the power structure that those main narratives of blame protect. We all peck the smaller bird.

My speech at the UN on the housing crisis:

https://www.opendemocracy.net/jem-bendell/from-castle-to-cage-what-to-do-about-housing-crisis

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Upcoming talks and workshops in 2015

Posted by jembendell on February 13, 2015

Ive finalised my calendar for talks and workshops for the first half of 2015. To find out more information or book a place, follow the links provided.

March 18th-21st London, UK: Lecturing on Sustainable Exchange masters module.

A talk in 2014

A talk in 2014

March 19th London, UK: Panellist at Tomorrow’s Transactions Forum.March 30th Geneva, Switzerland: Disruptive Leadership, talk at Hub Geneva.

May 16th-17th Copenhagen, Denmark: Keynote on Leadership, Transition World opening summit.

June 7th New York, USA: Transforming Money, speech at the Global University of the Entrepreneur’s Organisation.

June 16th Ambleside, UK: Disruptive Leadership: Innovating major changes for sustainability, Open Lecture at Institute for Leadership and Sustainability, University of Cumbria.

June 17th and 18th Carlisle and Lancaster, UK. Engagement and Influence: How to Communicate Your Work, a workshop at the University of Cumbria. Request attendance via iflas@cumbria.ac.uk

July 10th-15th Lecturing on the Certificate of Achievement in Sustainable Leadership.

July 16th Ambleside, UK: Opening Address at Leading Wellbeing Research Festival, July 16-18.

Sept 7th to 11th Ambleside, UK: Workshop on Values-Inspired Leadership, at Impact International.

If you would like me to keynote or run a workshop from September onwards, let me know with an email to jb [at] jembendell dot com.

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Why are the British Museum and BBC misinforming us about money?

Posted by jembendell on February 5, 2015

I love the British Museum. An awe inspiring collection of amazing cultural artifacts housed in a wonderful building.

Could anything better ever come from mass theft?

In researching my Institute’s forthcoming free online course on Money and Society, I visited the Museum’s exhibition on the history of money, that is sponsored by Citibank. I was pleased to see that the Museum presents clay tablets from ancient Sumeria as the first examples of money. Over a few thousand years old, these tablets show the earliest known accounts, with promises of beer and other crucial daily items! Despite this, my Museum guide moved swiftly on, to suggest that ancient coins from Lydia were the first forms of money. Was this just one misinformed volunteer? I searched online and found two videos made by the museum and the BBC (see below). They show that the British Museum staff and BBC editors are probably misguided, and definitely misguiding their publics.

They assume money has to be a thing, a precious metal, rather than an agreement about a unit that can enable exchange.

The Sumerian tablets show to us that records of promises are the first forms of money we have on record; that doesn’t mean the commodities that were being promised were the money. Promises, i.e. credit, is the first form of money we can discover from digging things up!

The BBC video for schools also invents another fictional story when they say that Emperors put their faces on coins for ego reasons. Maybe they had egos but that isn’t reason. The origin of coins is that the Emperors made a certain object a currency that they then required as taxes/tribute in order to force a population(s) to provide real good and services to soldiers, who would be given the coins as the armies/authorities controlled the mines and the mints. Unless the coins were then demanded as taxes from the population, the population probably wouldn’t bother wanting them and therefore might not give the soldiers any food, drink or hospitality. So coins were born through war and oppression. The practice continued through the European empires, where colonial powers demanded taxes from Africans, Asians and others be paid in a currency the Europeans invented and controlled.

In a few thousand years people wont be able to dig up the trillions of credit there is in our current economy, but they may find some 20 pence coins. Will they conclude we all traded with 20 pence pieces?

In my research for the course, I’ve discovered how much nonsense is presented about the history and nature of money, by our professional economists, business and finance journalists. One key nonsense is the idea that money was invented to cope with the difficulties of bartering goods. That was a story invented by economists like Adam Smith, who simply invented this history of money emerging from barter as it suited the emerging discipline of economics.

What might the avoidance of the real history of money and banking be about? Do we not want our kids, or the general public, to understand how money and banking evolved, with a lot of push, secrecy, squabble and shove?

The problem is that the projection of current assumptions onto the past, combined with the limits of what we can dig up, and the self-convenient fictions of orthodox economists, collectively maintains a view of money that restricts our sense of what money is or what it could be. At a time when we are ravaging our communities and planet in service of these things we call “money” and “debt” this is delusion that must be exploded now.

It’s why I think our free course is important. After taking it you might wonder if the British Museum and Citibank are distant cousins. Our course starts next week!

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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

 

 

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Financial Freedom: Text of Speech at Guardian Activate Conference

Posted by jembendell on July 17, 2014

Today I spoke at the Guardian newspaper’s Activate conference in London. The audience was mostly comprised of VCs, Financial Tech specialists, Sharing Economy start ups, and others interested in the potential of tech to disrupt the way we pay and co-rent. Here, below, is the text of the speech.

guardian

“Thanks for the introduction, Stephen. Yes, I founded at an institute for leadership and sustainability, in the Lake District. A land known for hiking, sheep, poetry, rabbits… and bitcoin. Earlier this year we became the first public university to accept the crypto currency. We decided to accept bitcoin to learn by doing, as we teach a Masters-level course on currency innovation. In the course we explore how currency systems and sharing platforms might help sustain our communities and environment. But what Ive come to understand is that if we want to shape the future of money then first we must understand the present nature of money. So before I tell you what I’m excited about, let me explain what I’m grumpy about.

About 97% of money we use is created by private bank lending, which comes with interest. When we borrow, the money is created by the bank, not taken from savings. The amount owed to banks, which is the amount borrowed plus the interest, is always more than the amount borrowed. It means that collectively we are in debt forever, so inequality is inevitable.

With this system of money creation, banks decide who gets the new money and for what. So about 80% of new money is created for property loans. That inflates the price of property, so house prices are 8000% higher than in 1950. That’s not market forces, but the result of our monetary system. I know many people who are in jobs they hate, or who have ignored a vocational calling, because of the mortgage. Some people I know have got ill because their mortgage locks them into a certain lifestyle. Unless we start out with a lot of capital, it’s less a property ladder than a property prison.

But what to do about it?

I take inspiration from a South African anti-apartheid campaigner. In the 1970s Tim Jenkin was imprisoned for 12 years for his activism, to be served in a high security jail in Pretoria. Given the injustice of the system Tim considered it his duty to try to break out of jail. Which he did after 18 months, and fled the country. Fast forward to 2003, Tim had returned to South Africa. He saw that people are oppressed by the current monetary system, and he wanted to free them.

He created Community Exchange Systems with free open source software. They now have 50,000 users, in over 700 locations worldwide. Instead of units of ‘money’ being issued into circulation according to a policy or algorithm, peers extend credit to each other. It means people who have little money but have time, skills and resources, can start helping each other and trading with each other, without official money. This is “collaborative credit” as it involves members of a network trusting each other rather than a bank. Collaborative credit doesn’t come with interest demands or create asset price inflation. There are over a thousand such systems worldwide, but they are largely under the radar of the media, VCs or philanthropists.

Bitcoin has opened minds the idea that fintech can help us transact in alternative currencies, but there’s a long way to go. Now we need to understand how currencies can be designed to support communities and the environment. Bitcoin fans often speak of financial freedom, yet the issuance and distribution of bitcoin makes Thatcher look like a communist. Moreover, it is delusional to believe that money should be a thing of value, rather than a way of keeping score amongst people and organisations doing useful things for each other. We can’t eat money, we can’t eat gold, we can’t eat bitcoin. The real wealth is our lives, communities and environment. We need currency systems that support such wealth, not undermine it. We need positive transformation of our monetary systems, not just disruption.

People like Tim Jenkin have launched collaborative credit systems without financial backing. Now fintech and sharing economy start-ups have a role to play, but to do so they need to design business models that will empower people not make them captive. I hear some people in fintech and the collaborative economy looking to exit to a major multinational. That might let their founders and shareholders escape the prison of the mainstream monetary system, but leave that prison with new walls and stronger guards.

We need a considered dialogue about how to prevent monopolistic practices, protect users, and involve them in the governance of new systems for sharing, currency and payment. It starts with recognising our purpose here is greater than feel-good projects, funky start-ups, or getting rich. We have the potential to design systems that will shape economies, societies and environments for decades to come. So why not make that issue our business?”

 

To read more about Collaborative Credit, see my article on the Guardian website. Ill tweet the video of the talk when its available (@jembendell)

You can download the introduction to Healing Capitalism for free.

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