Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Living the Eco-Design Dream

Earth Odyssey Crew
Creating zero-waste systems is more than a job
by Suzanne Lindgren, UTNE Reader: http://www.utne.com/invisible-ink/living-the-eco-design-dream.aspx

A little inspiration from someone who decided she didn’t want to play the nine to five game and stuck with that decision.

We first encountered Shayna Gladstone through her essay, “From College to Reality: A Radical Transition,” in which she explains her reasons for deciding against the cubical life.

Naysayers might’ve called her musings idealistic, but Gladstone has proven herself by helping to organize Project Nuevo Mundo.

The online network connects people who want to build living, ecological design systems with organizations who want those systems installed.


GLOCAL-Project Nuevo Mundo's Earth Odyssey-Vision 3 from Project Nuevo Mundo on Vimeo.

Now, Project Nuevo Mundo is deep into its Earth Odyssey, as seen in the video above, building homes with natural materials, turning human “waste” into fertilizer with composting toilets, and regenerating soil with mycelium (mushroom roots).

Also by Shayna Gladstone: “How to Get Ready for the Global Eco-Village Movement

Monday, 26 May 2014

BOOK REVIEW: "The Divide" by Matt Taibbi

by , The Cranky Sociologists: http://thecrankysociologists.com/2014/05/25/book-review-the-divide/

Matt Taibbi’s The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of The Wealth Gap is not technically a sociology book, but it is an important piece of reporting on a topic that, I think, is central to the discipline as a whole.

After all, sociologist have been harping about increasing inequality and its consequences long before it was cool (that is, long before Occupy, and Picketty-mania).

Overall, the book is organized along a “compare and contrast” format, alternating chapters of the way “the system”, and especially the social structures of social control deal with the powerful and wealthy v. the powerless and poor or near-poor.

For people who follow the news, none of what is in the book will be entirely surprising, but the contrasting structure of gentle handling of the powerful by their regulatory agencies compared to the kafkaesque nightmares of stop-and-frisk, and border policies, and welfare present a powerful picture of grotesque inequalities at the individual level.

And quite frankly, even cynical me was horrified at the ways these structures used by, or imposed upon, the poor and powerless actually work (or don’t work). 

In effect, these chapters are a perfect reflection of what Frances Fox Pivens depicted decades ago regarding the welfare system: a system designed to NOT provide its prescribed services, and that would crumble if it had to (exposing the real levels of social precarity). 

In addition, what all three systems have in common, whether it’s stop-and-frisk, the border / private prison system, or the welfare system is that they are designed to discipline the poor and minorities, more than anything else (paging Foucault).

Of course, it is neither innocent nor coincidental that each of these systems deal with minorities: African Americans, undocumented migrants, and single mothers. 

By contrast, the chapters on the powerful deal with massive scale mismanagement and fraud, including on public money, committed by powerful, white men, who almost never see any kind of accountability.

Taibbi’s main issue is this:
“We’ve become numb to the idea that rights aren’t absolute but are enjoyed on a kind of sliding scale” (Loc. 80).
And how we got to this point. These are both cultural and structural issues:
“Finding the answer to some of this turns out to be easy, just simple math. Big companies have big lawyers, most street criminals do not, and prosecutors dread waging long wars against bottomless-pocketed megabanks when they can score win after easy win against common drug dealers, car thieves, and the like. After winning enough of these blowout victories, the justice bureaucracy starts drifting inexorably toward the no-sweat ten-second convictions and away from the expensive years-long battles of courtroom attrition. Unquestionably, however, something else is at work, something that cuts deeper into the American psyche. We have a profound hatred of the weak and the poor, and a corresponding groveling terror before the rich and successful, and we’re building a bureaucracy to match those feelings (…). It’s come around to that point of view at the end of a long evolutionary process, in which the rule of law has slowly been replaced by giant idiosyncratic bureaucracies that are designed to criminalize failure, poverty, and weakness on the one hand, and to immunize strength, wealth, and success on the other” (Loc. 141).
And that is the point, for Taibbi, is that one cannot understand what is going on in the United States without both sides of that picture: more than ever, and to an even greater extent, the rich do get richer, and the poor get prison (the 10th edition!).
“We’re creating a dystopia, where the mania of the state isn’t secrecy or censorship but unfairness. Obsessed with success and wealth and despising failure and poverty, our society is systematically dividing the population into winners and losers, using institutions like the courts to speed the process. Winners get rich and get off. Losers go broke and go to jail. It isn’t just that some clever crook on Wall Street can steal a billion dollars and never see the inside of a courtroom; it’s that, plus the fact that some black teenager a few miles away can go to jail just for standing on a street corner, that makes the whole picture complete” (Loc. 316).
This, for Taibbi, is a perfect illustration of the state of inequality in the US. And as we all know, what we witness today, and is described at length by Taibbi, is the culmination of trends that started in the 80s and led us to the 2008 recession. 

It is a combination of deregulation that let companies grow bigger and stronger, and therefore harder to prosecute, dismantling of the regulatory tools (Glass-Steagall), globalization and technological innovation that gave us stateless corporations.

And there is also a change in attitude towards prosecuting the corporate powerful that is encapsulated by the 1999 “collateral damage” memo penned by Eric Holder that started the idea that prosecuting corporations might lead to the collateral damage of job loss and community damages, and that these collateral damages should figure in prosecuting decisions. 

Funny how we never asked the question of collateral damages when government drafted the War on Drugs legislation that would devastate entire communities through the massive incarceration of young African-American men.
“From abandoning criminal prosecutions in favor of deferred prosecutions and non-prosecution agreements, the state now began to emphasize fines as a new means of settling with white-collar criminals” (29).
And gloating about the imposition of what looks like heavy fines to us mortals, but are mere pennies to the corporations that have to pay them. This change also has to do with a mechanism that C. Wright Mills would have recognized very well: the power elite revolving door:
“The same process was now about to transform the federal law enforcement system, thanks in large part to new president Obama, who ushered in a herd of Ivy Leaguers and high-powered corporate defense lawyers to be his top crime-fighting officials. This new crowd of bookish lawyers was headlined by the Columbia University/ Covington & Burling duo of Holder as attorney general and Lanny Breuer as head of Justice’s Criminal Division, essentially the top crime-fighting job in the country” (31).
And indeed, Taibbi devotes a few chapters explaining how the recession of 2008 was neither a technical screw-up, or a few bad apples, or reckless borrowers, but corporate crime on a massive scale:
“Not mere technical violations, mind you, not just a thumb on a scale here and there, but crime, real crime, the kind of thing people once went to jail for. Specifically, this was a massive criminal fraud scheme, something akin to a giant counterfeiting operation, in which banks mass-produced extremely risky, low-quality sub-prime mortgages and with lightning-quick efficiency sold them off to institutional sucker-investors as highly rated AAA bonds. The hot potato game targeted unions, pension funds, and government-backed mortgage companies like Fannie Mae on the secondary market” (38).
Time and time again, the evidence is there for law enforcement to see and yet, nothing happens. Part of the reason is collateral damage (a version of Davis/ Moore explanation for stratification: some people are just more functionally necessary than others): just a whiff of possible job loss is enough to make prosecutors back off. 

But there is also the fact that large banks and corporations can marshall armies of well-paid, private attorneys to drag their cases for years, at great costs to underfunded government agencies that do not have the manpower to deal with such complicated cases, and with the risk of losing in the end. 

It’s better just to slap a fine that will look big to the public and will spare everybody else. And as the quote above notes, most of Obama’s top Justice department officials come from corporate law firms. There is a certain amount of empathy and thinking that, really, these are not “real” crimes.

But go to the other end of the social ladder and one can observe the legacy of another awesome gift from the 80s: the broken windows theory of law enforcement. 

This is a version of the slippery slope trope: if you let petty crime go unpunished (broken windows), then, you open the door to more serious criminality. So, the solution is to crack down on petty crime to prevent said slippery slope. Stop-and-frisk is an avatar of that idea, with extra dose of racism on top.
“These were programs like the infamous CompStat system and other lesser-known outgrowths of the celebrated “broken windows” urban policing strategies, programs whose effectiveness depended upon massive numbers of low-level arrests for minor violations. All over America, indigents or the merely poor were being hauled in in ridiculous numbers, often detained even if just for a short time, given tickets, and searched. These cast-a-wide-net street-policing strategies were ostensibly designed to snag illegal guns or serious criminals with outstanding warrants, but they didn’t always work out that way. At exactly the time Holder was penning his famous memo in the late 1990s, the abjectly purposeless arrest was becoming more and more common, even as, perversely, the numbers of actual violent crimes committed had begun to drop precipitously. And as every individual who’s ever been charged with a crime knows, anyone facing criminal arrest can expect collateral consequences. A single drug charge can ruin a person’s chances for obtaining a student loan or a government job. It can nix his or her chances of getting housing aid or a whole range of services - even innocent members of your family may lose access to government benefits. You can lose your right to vote and your access to financial aid. You can even have your children taken away. But no police anywhere were officially asked to weigh the collateral consequences of arrests for prostitution, stealing cars, assault, selling weed, jumping turnstiles, even the simple offense of being homeless. There’s no memo in the Justice Department that wonders aloud what happens to the families of those sorts of arrestees. Instead, the new trend in policing is and has been to aggressively no longer care about any of it” (52).
An additional consequences of the application of this kind of criminology (if you can call it that), in addition to its failure, is that it shatters any kind of legitimacy the police might have in poor and minority neighborhoods

And, so, for Taibbi, the divide in the United States today is between the arrestable and non-arrestable classes. 

The arrestable classes are the poor, the minorities, the single mothers, the undocumented migrants, for such crimes as standing on the street (if you don’t believe that black men are being arrested for standing on the sidewalk and talking to people - loitering - you need to get out more).

The chapter that Taibbi devotes to stop-and-frisk is a kafkaesque nightmare where black men can be arrested 50, 60 times for just being there, not charged, but detained for days (hello, job loss), then having to deal with the court system (having to show up multiple times, whether it works with one’s job or not or be convicted in absentia), being represented by overburdened public defenders (when they’re not incompetent), and finally, being pushed to accept a deal that might leave one free, but with a criminal record. 

Don’t even think about fighting back against baseless charges. Justice by attrition.

Of course, the mechanism is well-known: after having pushed countless African-American men to agree to plea agreements, the criminal justice system then uses these aggregated masses of conviction to declare African-Americans as a criminal class to be subjected to more law enforcement, and the cycle repeats itself.

The power of Taibbi’s book is in these stories: of being arrested while coming home from work and not being able to show up for work the next day because one has not yet been processed, being caught in a dragnet where what matters is the stats (can anyone say “big data”?), and they have to be big. 

And the people caught in this nightmarish “logic” do not have the armies of well-paid private attorneys to fight back against it. So, they agree to plea just so they can go home and not have to show up for court again, but now, they have a record. And then, they get arrested again, and again, and again … and now they have a record.
“There are two important concepts here that work hand in hand. One, there’s the idea that failure to follow a police order, no matter how stupid or unreasonable, is cause for an arrest or a summons. The second idea is that the prosecutor can essentially turn any misdemeanor case against almost anyone into a de facto conviction, simply by filing charges and following through long enough with pretrial pressure to wrest a plea out of the accused. These two concepts operating together have resulted in a new policing method, one that relies upon thousands of arrests for trivial offenses, real and imagined” (130).
On the other hand, when it comes to corporate crime, it’s all different.
“What’s happened now, in this new era of settlements and non-prosecutions, is that the state has formally surrendered to its own excuses. It has decided just to punt from the start and take the money, which doesn’t become really wrong until it turns around the next day and decides to double down on the less-defended, flooring it all the way to trial against a welfare mom or some joker who sold a brick of dope in the projects (…). That’s what nobody gets, that the two approaches to justice may individually make a kind of sense, but side by side they’re a dystopia, where common city courts become factories for turning poor people into prisoners, while federal prosecutors on the white-collar beat turn into overpriced garbage men, who behind closed doors quietly dispose of the sins of the rich for a fee” (84).
Emphasis mine. This quote is quintessential Taibbi.

Taibbi then moves on to re-telling the story of the Lehman Brothers collapse but the point is the opposite as with stop-and-frisk: high crime, committed by people in high places, no criminal accountability.

Taibbi is pretty good at explaining the complex machinations involved with securitization. That could be a tedious topic but it is not. 

But actually, prosecutors do count on the fact that this stuff is boring and complicated so, the public will not be clamoring for prosecution, especially when the party line on the media is that what happens might be unethical (it is) but not illegal (though it is). Taibbi does a good job of explaining the illegal nature of it all.

Taibbi then turns to his second case of the powerless getting the book thrown at them when the powerful get off scot-free: Gainesville, Florida:
“A ferocious federal immigration rule called 287(g) that essentially deputizes any and all state and local law enforcement officials to arrest undocumented aliens on behalf of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Today every local official with a badge - every cop, sheriff, ranger, or even game warden - has the power to instantly separate children from mothers, husbands from wives. All America, from the smallest town on up, has become a dragnet” (199).
And here again, people arrested are thrown into a bureaucratic mess that also now involves private prisons, that Taibbi describes as such:
“A giant legal purgatory in which detainees don’t have any real rights or enjoy any real due process. People disappear into it, hundreds of thousands a year, and become less like prisoners with rights than like objects or packages to be crated and shipped out like cargo. ICE even has a UPS-style tracking system that allows immigrant families to punch in a number and see where their deported relative is in his or her serpentine journey through the detention system. In the real justice system, you get habeas corpus; in the shadow system, you get a tracking number to see where your familial “package” is" (201).
Similarly, the power of this is in the individual stories of people actually caught up in this system. The ICE system is described in gruesome details, with immigration judges that are actually employees of the Department of Homeland security, the pushing of stipulations (the ICE equivalent of plea bargains whereby migrants get deported fast, before they get to see an attorney), etc.

And there is a class divide here as well:
“There’s a new class of people whose goal is to become above citizenship. Live in America, conduct your trades in the weaker regulatory arena in London, pay your taxes in Antigua or the Isle of Man. Keep the rights but offshore the responsibilities. The flip side is that there is a growing subset of people, like undocumented immigrants, who live below the level of full citizenship. If the first group is stateless by choice, these people are involuntarily stateless and have virtually no rights at all” (206).
And with private prisons in the mix, as Taibbi puts it, migrants are the new cash crop. And the consequences are also far-reaching. Basically, the whole arrest/ deportation system puts its victims in the hands of cartels in Mexico as this is who meets them when they get thrown across the border. And this is all very profitable:
“Overall, the corrections industry is one of the soundest stock/ equity bets in the world, with soaring revenues - the industry as a whole pulled in more than $5 billion in America in 2011. The jailing-Hispanics business is the perfect mix of politics and profit. Companies like CCA donate generously to politicians everywhere, particularly at the state level. The firm has spent as much as $3.4 million lobbying in a single year and on average spends between $1 million and $2 million a year (…) local police forces go along because the federal government compensates them for their detention of immigrants. A program called the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) pays local police forces out of the federal kitty for any detained immigrants who meet certain criteria (they’re undocumented, they stayed for at least four days, and they’ve been convicted of at least two misdemeanors). According to the GAO, states received about $1.6 billion annually in SCAAP payments through the end of the 2000s, and the numbers are likely to rise in this decade” (215).
And this where this connects to corporate crimes of massive scale:
“In many states across the country still, immigrants from south of the border have to take taxis and bicycles everywhere they go, because the law enforcement presence is so massive that traveling any other way is a huge risk. Capture can mean the loss of everything, from never seeing a spouse again to being kidnapped, in addition to being thrust into debt for years. And this is for crimes that are essentially administrative in nature, immigrating in a proscribed way, trying to live without the right papers. But on the flip side, there are certain kinds of crimes a native-born American can commit without any risk of arrest at all. It turns out that we prosecute administrative/ political violations like serious crimes, and serious crimes like administrative violations” (241).
Probably because he could not resist, Taibbi also includes in the book the story of a Canadian company, Fairfax, to illustrate that not only were Wall Street people criminals, but also insane and malevolent and yet, get away with it.

Finally, Taibbi gets to its 3rd case of the way the powerless are handled by governmental bureaucratic systems: the welfare system. Here again, the stories are powerful. 

The amount of humiliation and degradation one has to endure to get measly benefits in the US, or, as is shown in the book, in California, is enormous. And here as well, that system is a nightmare:
“Today, every single person who applies for aid and is accepted has to be preemptively searched. These people are almost all non-white. And while in L.A. in the late 1980s, the person visiting the home of someone like Maria Espinosa was just a social worker from the local welfare office, the state has since upgraded. In San Diego now it’s a law enforcement official, a representative of the district attorney’s office, who comes in to look through your underwear drawer” (316).
Because, you see, one has to be sure that the sluts are not living with a man as that would automatically be considered fraud. 

So, you apply for welfare, and then, you have to sit at home, sometimes for weeks, waiting for some guy to show up and go through all your stuff, while he insults you throughout the entire ordeal. These guys really seem to get off on that power. 

Too bad if you have a job though or if you need to go to the doctor. If you are not home when the official shows up, no benefits. The idea is that if you request aid, then, you have to be willing to endure all kinds of abuse without protesting.
“In those tens of thousands of searches over the years, P100 investigators have looked in every nook and cranny, finding sins everywhere. They rejected an applicant who shared an apartment with a roommate for failing to properly label her food in the refrigerator - how could the state be sure, after all, that the applicant wasn’t illegally sharing food with her roommate? They rejected a woman for having a Victoria’s Secret bra (“How can you afford this?” the investigator asked, again holding up the item with the favored pencil eraser end), for having too big a jacket in the closet (it must be a man’s!), for having a teenage son whose pants were too ghetto (too baggy - again, it must be a man’s clothes). Searchers looked in dresser drawers, in bathrooms, in freezers and refrigerators, under and behind couches, everywhere” (317).
And so, if you need public assistance, your basic rights are forfeit. Protection against illegal search and seizure? You have to give that up. Oh, and never mind the bureaucratic mistakes that are made within the system and leave people without benefits. These are practically impossible to correct. 

And the way the system works, you never get to talk to the same caseworker twice. Every call or every visit to a welfare office will land you a different person that has to start from scratch and may have a different opinion on your case (that’s of course, after the several weeks it takes to get into the system in the first place).
“The entire world becomes a legal minefield. If you’re poor and on public assistance, just about anything you do that defines you as a living human being can turn into the basis of a fraud case. Getting laid can be fraud. Getting sick can be fraud. Putting your kids in day care can be fraud. Not “sounding poor” can be fraud (…) I spent a year following a few people in different parts of the country and watched as they tried to receive their benefits on the one hand and avoid being prosecuted for fraud on the other. Both activities turn out to be essentially full-time jobs” (329).
And in this case, it all started with Bill Clinton and welfare reform. As banks and corporations became more and more deregulated, the lives of the poor and minority became more and more regulated. Corporate fraud is massive, but it is welfare fraud that is massively investigated. Oh, and here’s the kicker:
“For instance, in 2011, the state of Ohio - the same state that lost tens of millions in the early 2000s when its pension fund bought severely overpriced mortgage-backed securities from a Lehman Brothers banker named John Kasich, who would later become governor - tried to recoup some of its losses by sending out 22,000 notices to Ohioans seeking “overpayments” in either welfare or food stamps. Many if not most of these “overpayments” were actually the state’s own errors, but they went as far back as 1986 anyway, seeking checks as small as $78” (341).
Taibbi’s chapter on robo-signing and the epidemic of illegal foreclosures is also horrifying regarding the way deregulation led to rampant criminality. And the pity the poor whistle-blower who ends up living in a trailer for her conscience.

For credit card debt, the game is even more rigged:
“Once a bank like Chase “serves” its delinquent customer, there are just three paths on the flowchart of outcomes. They are:
The customer doesn’t show up in court and loses by default judgment.
The customer answers the summons and settles with the bank.
The customer answers the summons and contests the case.
In the first two cases - and this is a crucial part of this entire scheme, and the key reason that Linda’s bosses were so unconcerned about the absence of good paperwork in the debt sale - the collector typically does not come into court with any supporting documentary evidence. “They almost never have [evidence] on the first appearance,” says Straniere. All the collectors have, typically, is a complaint and the assertion of an owed balance. But in the vast majority of cases, that’s enough. Two-thirds of the time, the defendant doesn’t show and loses automatically” (374).
And defendants don’t show up because collectors only have to say they delivered the summons, no signature or receipt needed. Too bad if you changed address and the summons never reached you. But if the defendant shows up and contests the case, collectors usually simply drop the case. But the bottom line is this:
“What all this means is that the bulk of the credit card collection business is conducted without any supporting documentation showing up or being seen by human eyes at any part of the process. The meat of the business is collecting unopposed default judgments from defendants who either never receive a summons or receive one and never appear in court. For debt buyers like DebtOne, the whole game is a bluff. If they buy a pile of open accounts or already-won judgments, what they’re banking on is collecting from delinquent customers who don’t fight back” (376).
So, what does this amount to? None of this is dysfunctional or a system of justice gone wrong. It is all by design and the designers might even convince themselves that this is the way things should be.
“There’s a concrete difference between how we treat an individual who commits fraud within the structure of a giant multinational company with a lot of settlement money lying around, and how we treat, say, an ordinary broke person who commits welfare or unemployment fraud. If you choose to take the money over and over again from the Wall Street crowd while the welfare moms keep getting jail and community service, now suddenly you’ve institutionalized the imbalance. From there, it’s not long before the tail starts wagging the dog. A massive, unconscious tendency toward reverse profiling occurs. Because, thanks to all these various factors, executives from giant multinationals simply don’t end up in the prison population, law enforcement soon starts to operate on the reverse principle, that those huge companies are not the places where jailable crimes take place. So even white-collar investigators start to look for targets elsewhere, like at smaller businesses” (408).
Again, emphasis mine.

So, obviously, this is a very rich, well-researched, detailed book, but very well-written narratives and stories that will make your blood boil more than once.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

HS2 and the Myth That Wealth Will Trickle Down From London

Global north-south divide (Bramfab, CC BY-SA)
by Tony Payne, University of Sheffield

Over the years I’ve written a lot about global north-south issues.

Yet until now, I’ve never said a word about the same divide within England, my own country of birth and residence. But the two overlap.

Theories of global development can help us understand regional divides closer to home.

In the global context “north” and “south” have always been contested concepts. They sought to capture what has long been deemed to be an important binary distinction between modernising and backward areas, between developed and developing parts of the world, between rich and poor countries.

The language has altered over the years, but the core idea has persisted and was given its “north-south” expression most famously on the cover of the Pan edition of the Brandt Commission report of 1983.

This depicted a Peters Projection of the globe with a red wavy line running along the US-Mexican border, through the Mediterranean, across the southern perimeter of the USSR and then dropping sharply downwards to sweep up Australia and New Zealand with the USA, Europe and the USSR into the developed, so-called “north”.

In Sheffield, we know that we are located in the north of England. This is a matter of geography. You can argue, as Owen Jones has recently done, that “the north-south divide is a myth - and a distraction”, highlighting the obvious reality that the divisions of power and wealth in England actually play out in much more complicated ways.

But no-one can deny that northern England is a different part of the country from southern England and that sometimes you have to travel between the north and the south. This is what brings us to trains and the vexed matter of the HS2 project.

A once-in-a-century chance

On March 28 The Guardian published a letter signed by the political leaders of eight major northern cities - York, Liverpool, Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield, Newcastle, Manchester and Leeds.

It called upon all the main political parties to commit definitively to the HS2 project, to champion it and to focus on its delivery. What’s really interesting, though, is the reasoning the leaders advanced.

HS2, they wrote, is “a once-in-a-century chance for our cities to realise their enormous potential and to make an ever greater contribution to the wider prosperity of the UK”. HS2 offered “growth”, “jobs”, “prosperity”, “a step-change in productivity”, all of which had to be grasped “at the earliest opportunity if our country is to remain a global leader”.

In short, the big city northern leaders take the view that HS2 will bring hugely significant economic advantages not only to their cities but also to the north of England as a whole.

Indeed, their support is now widely proclaimed by proponents of HS2 and presented as a key argument in its favour. The key questions therefore become: why do these northern leaders think this and are they right?

I’ve been looking since at some of the official representations made by the HS2 lobby and can’t actually find much said in an explicit way about the political economy supposedly underpinning the project. But, even so, I think I can see what the unspoken argument is.

I recognise it as the spatial equivalent, if you like, of the “trickle down” notion that has long sat at the heart of theories of development.

The idea is essentially that wealth and prosperity will somehow just “spread out” from core centres of economic production, however defined, to other geographic zones that are - and this is critical - well connected to the cores.

The problem is that this generally does not happen as easily and as automatically as supposed.

Even the pro-free-market Institute of Economic Affairs is not convinced, as it has recently released a report that looked at East Kent (as a beneficiary of HS1) and Doncaster (as the possessor of a fast rail link to London for several decades) and showed that these places have hardly witnessed extensive economic regeneration as a consequence.

What’s more, this is not surprising from the perspective of development theory.

As long ago as 1957 the eminent Swedish economist, Gunnar Myrdal, argued that when fast growth occurs in one part of an economy, it is just as likely - in fact more likely - to “suck out” enterprise, investment, people and ideas from less fast-growing regions with which it is connected. He described these as “backwash effects”, not “spread effects”.

Myrdal himself was quite an orthodox economist, but his argument about the potential draining effect of growth on some regions linked up powerfully with a whole school of more radical development theorists who went on to argue throughout the 1970s and 1980s that core-periphery relationships in the global economy benefited cores, not peripheries, and were in fact designed precisely to do so.

But what about South Korea?

You may ask whether these various theories of dependency and forced underdevelopment have not been undermined by the fast growth and development of so much of East Asia over the past few decades.

The answer is yes, in the sense that many of the theories exaggerated the periphery effect by asserting that it determined development, rather than simply being a necessary condition; but also no, as many of these countries managed to engineer their own development and re-orient their ties with the Western core.

They did so by setting up “developmental states” to plan their various routes to growth and development in strategic and sustained ways over several decades. They didn’t just seek to improve their connections to the core parts of the global economy.

The lesson for the leaders of England’s northern cities is surely clear enough. Even the IEA got it partly right in arguing that they should focus on improving infrastructural links between northern cities, rather than to London.

More broadly, they should work together to think through and insist upon the establishment of a Northern Development Agency with the capacity to plan the integrated development of the North of England as a coherent regional economy.

They ought also to be moving on with this with urgency, because, whatever happens in the Scottish referendum in September, the political position of the north within England will thereafter be even more exposed and vulnerable than it is at present.

A version of this article also appears on SPERI’s website.
The Conversation

Tony Payne does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Playing Lasarus: Gaming the Path to Resilience or the Next Unused Toolkit?

Dr. Luis Garcia-Barrios presents Lasarus : an interactive farming game. Photo: Nilar Chit Tun
Lasarus: an interactive farming game (Pic: Nilar Chit Tun)
by , Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog: http://wle.cgiar.org/blogs/2014/05/23/playing-lasarus-gaming-path-resilience-next-unused-toolkit-2/ 

This post is part of the Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog’s month-long series on Resilience.

During the recent Resilience 2014: Resilience and Development Conference in Montpellier, one clear trend was evident: everyone has a game to play.

Resilience is something that “comes from within rather than without,” emphasized David Nabarro, United Nations Secretary-General Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition, delivered his opening remarks at the 2020 Resilience conference.

“If our resilience building efforts are to be successful, they must enable and empower people, societies, and institutions to strengthen their own livelihood systems and make them more resilient to shocks,” he said.

Shocks are something that most farmers are too familiar with: droughts, storms, and natural disasters can devastate decades of work. As such, most researchers have found through their work, many farmers are risk averse to new methods and technologies that could affect their crop yields.

In an attempt to demonstrate options and possibilities beyond the complex crop models and coding structures - researchers have come up with games to help role-play the possibilities and options.

There is a potential for behavior change through the use of games. In fact, many presenters at the conferences presented success stories on how these games permitted the very same farmers who were reticent to use the advice based on models to actually consider different ways of improving their daily work.

In the NonCropShare Coordination Game, currently being employed by farmers in Cambodia through IFPRI, the game investigates how choices to maintain non-crop habitat or employ pesticides shift in response to changes in incentives. To play the experimental field game, it requires four players and works as a coordination game.

During the panel on ecosystem services and sustainable intensification, several agricultural games targeting farmers and land owners were featured in different areas of the world.

Luis Garcia-Barrios presented gaming and simulation to explore collaborative land use decision-making in complex social ecological systems called Lasarus.

The game reveals the cascading effects of resource collapse. The game revolves around local land use planning; the players (6) act as farmers and can choose revolving land use and resource management tools. Personal income is chosen in each round. The game continues until no further change is desirable.

Clearly, success stories are going to be featured in a major international conference - but this begs two main questions:

1. How effective are the games in the long term? Or is the goal simply to create a safe platform for discussion?

2. What does success look like in the long term? Is it linear to the point that the farmer uses a game - the farmer changes behavior - the farmer gets better yields?

An oversimplification surely - but the research and gaming effects remain to be seen.

Failed attempts at behavior change in the form of onsite workshops, toolkits and mobile applications are plentiful in the world of agriculture - many of these knowledge dissemination tools employ one-way communication - the expert gives the information and the audience absorbs. Games can open the door to two-way communication.

It is important to note that many of these games arise from failed attempts at modeling and decision-support systems, which were to solve our problems with the touch of a button.

Unfortunately, they often require experts to input and output the information, which was often not useful for decision-makers. Games may be one approach that can lead to the gap where many previous predecessors have fallen short: human contact and stakeholder participation.

About the Author

Nilar Andrea Chit Tun is a Communications Specialist at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), headquartered in Washington DC. She has an MA in International Communications from the American University School of International Service.

Previous to IFPRI she has worked in Communications and Knowledge Management with the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund.

Her field experience includes assignments in Haiti and Myanmar. She is originally from Washington DC and speaks English, French, Burmese and Italian.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Building Local Economic Resilience: Three Innovative Strategies that Build on Local Strengths and Create New Economic Futures for Municipalities

centreforwelfarereform.org
No 1055, posted by fw, Citizen Action Monitor: http://citizenactionmonitor.wordpress.com/2014/05/18/building-local-economic-resilience-three-innovative-strategies-that-build-on-local-strengths-and-create-new-economic-futures-for-municipalities/

“True economic resilience isn’t about just weathering tough times or capitalizing on new technologies for external investment - it’s about building community capacity. Innovations that incentivize the kind of local pride that keeps dollars local, turn community leaders into business leaders, and increase access to information and communication are critical practices that help communities find their own power. Sustainable cities use innovation to steward this power, working bottom-up and cross-sector to channel hyper-local strength into city-wide opportunity” - Russon-Gilman, McCann, and Bullen.

Is your city or community building “true economic resilience” through strategic “local first” innovation? Or has it returned to the same old, unsustainable “business as usual” model?

The following article may help you to gauge where your community ranks along a continuum of “same old, business as usual” approach at one end of the scale, to a “resilience-based, strategic, local first” innovation model at the opposite end.

Think Local First: 3 Innovation Strategies for City Economies by Hollie Russon-Gilman, Laurenellen McCann and Georgia Bullen, New American Foundation: Open Technology Institute, May 12, 2014

 

This post from OTI’s Civic Innovation Team is part of the Meeting of the Minds Blog Event, posing the question - How could cities better connect all their residents to economic opportunity?

Every day in our cities, we interact with layers of social, technical and political systems. At the Open Technology Institute (OTI), we research, analyze, and experiment around the ways in which people interact with these layers and how that impacts equitable access to information, freedom to communicate, and economic and community development. 

One area of our work focuses on “Civic Innovation.” We believe civic innovations aren’t necessarily new city apps, but rather include processes and practices that re-imagine how cities can support and engage residents. 

As cities capitalize on these emerging innovations - both born locally and from peers - they pioneer a new frontier for sustainable community networks, social structures that have huge implications for the trajectory, strength, and inclusivity of economic growth.

Unlike the federal government, cities have more flexibility to fail forward and iterate. At the same time, cities also increasingly play the role of direct service providers, a position that comes with extra responsibility to ensure that economic opportunities are equitable. 

This tension, between risk and responsibility, can be a healthy incubator for innovation - demanding attention be paid to the entire local economic ecosystem and favoring multi-sector and multi-stakeholder approaches.

Below, we’ve rounded up three examples of economic innovation strategies wielded by municipalities and communities that attempt to address this tension: Incentives, Engagement, and Access. 

Although no innovation is perfect, these examples are useful inspiration for the kinds of community practices that integrate government, constituent, and business contributions to build on local strengths and create new economic futures.

Incentives: to bolster local business, encourage communities to think local first

When the question of economic stimulus arises, too often municipal governments turn their attention to entrepreneurs themselves, seeking either to attract new investment from external businesses or to bolster seedling local enterprises through tax incentives. What’s missing? 

Incentives for locals to steward local economic growth.

In early 2014, coffee shops within Washington, DC introduced a “Disloyalty Card” to incentivize customers to frequent locally-owned businesses, explore different neighborhoods, and meet members of the local coffee community. 

Similar cards are in use around the country, scaled to a particular industry or wielded state-wide, with incentives ranging from a free cup of joe for customers to special partnerships with local Chambers of Commerce and discounted advertising deals for participating businesses

Loyalty cards and their kin, Cash Mobs - “happenings” where dozens to hundreds of residents spend money at local establishments - aren’t local economic cure-alls, but their thoughtful implementation could do wonders for incentivizing the movement of people and dollars within a community - and for encouraging local business to create jobs and hire locally. 

Imagine if a tax incentive program for women- and minority-owned businesses came paired with a loyalty card to ground these businesses as city staples and a Cash Mob, organized by a public-/private-partnership, to welcome these organizations into the community. 

Community resilience starts with local pride.

Engagement:  Generate community investment by tapping into local expertise

Governments can engage residents to be actively involved in collaborative governance.

For example Philly’s Ambassador program taps into citizens’ energy. The program equips citizens with tools to serve as “Ambassadors” to incentivize business into Philadelphia. 

This also serves as a business development leadership training that citizens can effectively use in their daily lives. Residents, with local expertise, can serve as critical connectors and translators. 

This program is an example of how city government can empower citizens with skills, information, and resources to support and promote economic development. 

Citizens want to do meaningful work. Diverse platforms, not limited to only government, can provide critical venues and pathways for meaningful citizen engagement.

Access: Develop a healthy digital ecosystem by building shared community infrastructures

New digital systems for communication and collaboration don’t always require large, up-front investments from local governments. 

Communities themselves can pool resources and build local infrastructure to provide last mile access to the Internet - or even just a neighborhood information platform. 

In Red Hook, Brooklyn, a community-based non-profit, the Red Hook Initiative runs a Digital Stewards program for whom the main activity is to plan, build, and maintain a community wireless network. 

The wireless network serves multiple purposes for different people. For young adults it is a job training program, funded through workforce development funds from the New York City government. For many residents, it provides open internet access.  Local businesses use it to participate as active community members and offer local deals. 

On the local wireless network (before messages reach the internet), there is an information hub where residents can find out when the next bus is, upcoming community events, jobs available at local businesses, and talk to each other about resource and skill sharing. 

By building technical infrastructure that matches the social infrastructure, communities can support themselves and develop healthy digital and community ecosystems.

These three strategies are but a few examples of how cities can effectively wield community-centric approaches to invigorate local economies. 

True economic resilience isn’t about just weathering tough times or capitalizing on new technologies for external investment - it’s about building community capacity. Innovations that incentivize the kind of local pride that keeps dollars local, turn community leaders into business leaders, and increase access to information and communication are critical practices that help communities find their own power. 

Sustainable cities use innovation to steward this power, working bottom-up and cross-sector to channel hyper-local strength into city-wide opportunity.

SEE ALSO

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Resilience 2014: Multiple Pathways for Resilient Social-Ecological Systems

embracethefuture.org.au
by Rebecca Jarvis and Carina Wyborn, International Network of Next-Generation Ecologists: http://innge.net/node/363

Rebecca Jarvis is a PhD candidate studying interdisciplinary conservation science at the Institute for Applied Ecology New Zealand at AUT University. 

Rebecca’s research explores the role of social-ecological systems, governance, networks and public participation in conservation decision-making and collective action.

Carina Wyborn is a postdoc and interdisciplinary social scientist at the University of Montana researching knowledge co-production in climate adaptation.

Carina’s current research seeks to integrate knowledge social-ecological-climate change into decision-making to in the context of uncertainty.

Last week, we (Rebecca Jarvis (@rebecca_jarvis) and Carina Wyborn (@rini_rants)) attended Resilience 2014. This is the third conference sponsored by the Resilience Alliance, with the theme “Resilience and Development: Mobilizing for Transformation”.

The conference brought together a diversity of over 900 participants from universities, national and international research institutions, practitioners and students from around the world.

Resilience 2014 provided the incredible opportunity to be a part of the highly interdisciplinary conversation around resilience, transformation, development and conservation.

Resilience as a concept and a community of scholars focuses on the feedbacks and connections between social-ecological systems and the ways in which individuals, communities and institutions cope with social, political and environmental change.

The conference highlighted case studies and new methodologies to navigate change and support decision-making that will enable society to transition towards a sustainable future while attending to social and ecological considerations (you can read more on resilience here and here).

Session highlights

Session formats varied from more traditional talk format to speed talks, panels and interactive role play games. These approaches facilitated different conversations and greater dialogue between the audience and the presenters.

In particular, we found that sessions on co-production of knowledge were excellent, with many people thinking critically about what it actually means to bring together different knowledge systems in a coherent way that attends to diverse knowledges and concerns.

Natural resource management games out on the plaza threw conference participants against each other and the public in negotiating trade-offs between managing the land to feed families, and protecting the land for wildlife.

Together we explored the roles of conflict and negotiation, co-management and social learning in time-limited scenarios of uncertain and imperfect information, where the rules were not clear.

These games demonstrated how trade-off negotiations impact different stakeholders in natural resource decision-making in the real world, and also make for great learning tools in the field and classroom.

A wicked problem

Conservation is increasingly being viewed as a ‘wicked problem’, whereby a single optimal intervention or outcome is often not possible due to changing contexts, complexity, and uncertainty.

Resilience 2014 really embraced this framing with several speakers discussing how we should consider multiple pathways in a variety of contexts that are able to respond to challenges across local, regional, national and global scales.

Brian Walker of the Resilience Alliance hit the nail on the head when he explained how we should not try to choose one optimal trajectory for the future, as context will change. Instead, we should consider where we don’t want to go and try to steer social-ecological systems in trajectories that will avoid what he called ‘undesirable states’.

Participants picked up on this point, with plenty of discussion throughout the conference asking who gets to define what is desirable or undesirable and the appropriate steering mechanism.

For what and for whom?

In her thought-provoking plenary, Melissa Leach discussed how a diversity of sustainability and resilience pathways are needed to integrate ecological integrity and social equality with human rights, wellbeing and security.

Melissa highlighted how we need to account for contestations, tensions and trade-offs in human development and conservation planning, and participants continued to facilitate strong discussions around the role of equity, opportunity, power, justice and action throughout the conference.

An excellent rundown of the plenary can be found here. This was further elaborated upon when many began asking questions concerning “resilience of what, and for whom?”.

A first step towards addressing these questions starts with more open conversation about how people define resilience within their different contexts.

There was wide acknowledgement at the conference that the different disciplinary perspectives approach resilience in different ways, yet few of the speakers defined what it meant for their research or how they were applying the concept in research design, analysis, or practice.

Although tricky in a 10-15 minute talk, transparency around the multiple definitions of resilience will only facilitate more inclusive deliberation and debate.

The next generation

As early career researchers, it was brilliant to see the Student Organising Committee (SOC) so active throughout the conference.

A particular highlight was the interactive roleplaying session involving the audience in a discussion around whether we are moving from specialist to interdisciplinary to undisciplinary research, and ultimately emphasising the importance of needing young scholars who specialise AND those who connect the dots across disciplines.

SOC were an integral part of the conference, organising student activities, providing support and insight into their own experiences, as well as voicing (largely female) student feedback and opinion in the closing ceremony (in response to the presence of only one female plenary speaker of eleven).

#Resilience2014

SOC also convinced us to hop up on stage to discuss the power of twitter at the ceremony, and how it had been used to facilitate dialogue and disseminate key findings of the conference to those that could not be there (see for yourself via the twitter hashtag: #Resilience2014).

With over 300 twitter users reaching over 350,000 readers, many non-twitter users soon began setting up their own accounts and we are sure we will see many more familiar faces in the twitterverse!

What’s next?

Resilience 2014 provided the opportunity to eat lots of cheese and drink lots of wine catch up with old colleagues, meet new ones, and showcase our work to an interdisciplinary audience across science, policy, and practice.

Feedback across multiple paradigms was invaluable to inform the interdisciplinary nature of our work and to further bridge social and ecological systems thinking.

But the resilience conversation didn’t end there. Calls from participants included a need for greater inclusion of economics and the differences of scale in future resilience thinking, and of course, in how we consider the “resilience of what, and for whom?”.

The Resilience2014 discussion continues across the 16 social and ecological pathways outlined by the conference on the online forum: www.resilience2014.org/forum - sign up and be a part of the conversation!

For other blog wraps of the conference check out:

Ideas for Sustainability:
The Pacific Exchange:
Resilience Science:
Reflections on Nature and Culture:
Steps Centre:

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Is Conserving Biodiversity the Key to Good Mental Health?

Naturally uplifting (Varuna/Shutterstock)
by Natalie Clark, University of Reading and Rebecca Lovell, University of Exeter

The biodiversity of our planet sustains us.

From the air we breathe and the water we drink, to the soil we sow and the fuel we use.

But Earth does more than provide the basic necessities that allow humans to survive and prosper.

Our ability to experience nature could have the capacity to improve our well-being and consequently mental health.

We readily spend our hard-earned money and time on a variety of pursuits to experience nature’s wonders: from expensive safaris to sedate bird watching in the garden.

And we have good reason to - a number of studies show that by engaging with the earth’s natural diversity there are health benefits to be had. But, with the earth’s biodiversity in decline, it’s worth taking a look at how this will in turn affect human well-being and health.

In a recent study of ours we argue that biodiversity loss could threaten the well-being benefits we get from nature, with potential repercussions for human mental health.

Mental health disorders already affect nearly nine million people in the UK and are projected to cost £88.5 billion by 2026. So, if biodiversity loss does impact on mental health, it could be even more costly than previously thought.

Cultural value

Biodiversity has cultural value, which is evident across the globe. Specific species of flora and fauna are often central to our cultural identity.

Most countries have an adopted animal or plant for a national symbol: the oak tree and the lion, for example, are strongly associated with British identity. Further afield, New Zealand has the kiwi bird, the resplendent quetzal is a bird of legend in Guatemala and Lebanon has its cedars.

Many people enjoy experiencing nature and are willing to contribute towards its future conservation through charities and public spending.

Plus, many of us regularly devote our time to biodiversity conservation projects, such as the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch in the UK and the Audubon Society’s Great Backyard Bird Count in the USA.

Ecotourism is also hugely popular and international organisations use the cultural values we place on enigmatic species to encourage our donations.

Declining biodiversity means fewer opportunities to appreciate and value it. This could have a significant effect on our well-being and subsequently our mental health.

Although we are still learning about these complex relationships, evidence from other aspects of health research, as highlighted below, suggests that health may well be negatively impacted by biodiversity loss.

Sensitive to change

We know that people are sensitive to apparently trivial changes because of existing cultural associations.

The colour of a tablet, for example, can affect our reported health outcomes: blue tablets are more effective as depressants, as the colour blue is culturally associated with calm and quietness; and red tablets are more effective as stimulants, as the colour red is associated with energy and excitement.

Being aware of environmental problems can affect our mental health. Episodes of drought and flooding have been associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress within communities.

There is also a growing body of evidence to suggest that people who spend less time in high quality natural environments report greater health problems, higher levels of stress and slower recovery from illness than those who are exposed to nature more frequently.

All the evidence points to biodiversity loss having a negative impact on human well-being and health.

If we continue to lose species at current extinction rates (which are estimated at 100-1000 times the natural rate) there is a real threat that not only will we continue to degrade global ecosystems, but we will also add to the burden of non-communicable disease, such as mental health illnesses.

We still know relatively little about the relationship between biodiversity and human well-being and health. However, it is clear that we need to better understand the mechanisms and how to best conserve biodiversity to reduce the occurrence and costs of ill health.

If change to our planet’s biodiversity plays even a minor role in contributing to mental ill-health, the economic and health costs to society could be enormous.
The Conversation

Natalie Clark receives funding from the Natural Environment Research Council.

Rebecca Lovell receives funding from the Economic and Social Research Council for the 'Beyond Greenspace' project (ES/K002872/1). The European Centre for Environment and Human Health is funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund Convergence Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, 16 May 2014

About The Community Resilience Challenge

getlocalfoods.com
by Daily Acts: http://www.dailyacts.org/crc/about

The Community Resilience Challenge (the Challenge) is a collaboration of non-profits, municipalities, businesses and individuals working together to bring awareness to the need for community-based local solutions to the pivotal issues facing our planet, from our drought to food insecurity to climate change.

Together we are creating a more resilient local food system, economy, and community while reducing our use of water and energy.

During the month of May and culminating in an inspiring weekend of action on May 17th and 18th, Challenge participants are playing their part to Save Water, Grow Food, Conserve Energy and Build Community.

Participants register their action pledges online and all actions are aggregated on a map to build a picture of the growing resilience movement.

The Challenge is a program of Daily Acts, whose mission is to transform our communities through inspired action and education that builds leadership and local self-reliance. Learn more about us here.

The 2014 Challenge (formerly known as the 350 Home & Garden Challenge) marks Daily Acts’ 5 years of engaging individuals, schools, organizations, municipalities and businesses to take practical action for a more healthy, just and resilient future.

The Challenge is a great way to demonstrate your commitment to sustainability and community, as well as to engage others in this movement.

When you register your actions today, you’ll be helping us get closer to our goal of 3,500 actions for Sonoma County, and 6,500 total actions across the United States. In addition to helping us reach our goal, you’ll be joining thousands of other participants who are creating more connected, vibrant and resilient households, neighborhoods, towns and cities.

Check out our Tools to access outreach materials and information, and help spread the word! Below are answers to some of the frequently asked questions about the Challenge, but please don’t hesitate to email us at thechallenge@dailyacts.org if you have other questions.

Daily Acts is ready to help YOU make a lasting impact this May and beyond - one that will strengthen and enrich our communities and local economy. Thank you for rising to the Challenge.

Frequently Asked Questions:
What is the Community Resilience Challenge?

The Community Resilience Challenge (the Challenge) is a free, fun, sustainability program that encourages people to pledge to take action to Save Water, Grow Food, Conserve Energy and Build Community.

Participants register their pledges online and all actions are aggregated on a map to build a picture of the growing resilience movement. The Challenge will culminate with an awe-inspiring weekend of activities on May 17 and 18, 2014.

The success of the Challenge will be determined by our collective capacity to inspire individuals and groups to register their actions.

All actions registered will count toward our 2014 goal of inspiring 3,500 actions for Sonoma County and 6,500 total actions across the United States in collaboration with our partner organizations Transition US, Sustainable Contra Costa, Marin Garden Challenge, and Victory Garden Foundation.

What is the history of the Community Resilience Challenge?

In 2010, the first 350 Garden Challenge was launched with the goal of creating and/or retrofitting 350 gardens in a single weekend. The Challenge was an overwhelming success and resulted in 628 garden actions being taken including both the creation of new gardens, as well as the expansion of existing gardens.

In 2011, the Challenge was expanded to include other actions (in addition to installing gardens) and a whopping 1,044 home and garden actions were registered. In 2012 and the 2013, the number of actions grew exponentially (2,300 and 3,558 actions respectively) with other groups such as Transition US and Sustainable Contra Costa successfully replicating the Challenge in other communities.

For 2014, we have set our sights on registering 3,500 actions, engaging 1,200 individuals and 20 businesses.

We have also changed the name to the Community Resilience Challenge to more accurately reflect the spirit of the event and the breadth of ways to get involved. The event will be replicated on a local, regional and national scale in collaboration with our partner organizations.

Beyond Sonoma County

We didn’t know when we started that the Challenge would inspire creative action from other organizations too! In 2012 Sustainable Contra Costa held a Challenge of their own and had 997 registered actions. In 2013, they registered 2,000 from all across the East Bay region of San Francisco!

Today, we’re seeing the ripple of the Challenge beyond our Sonoma County borders and both regional and national Challenges are underway with partners such as Transition US and others.

Interested in implementing a Challenge in your community? Email us to get the conversation going at thechallenge@dailyacts.org.

What is “Resilience”?

In short, when faced with adversity, resilience is the ability to adapt and spring back, be it a person, a community, an economy or an ecosystem. Given the urgency of California’s worst drought on record and a growing confluence of social and environmental challenges, now is the time to act.

Communities are at risk of running out of water, farms have had water allocations cut off and ten times the normal number of wildfires were recorded in California in January.

The growing resilience movement utilizes local networks of people, information and resources to create solutions that address our modern day challenges.  

Together we can adapt and spring forward by catalyzing significant action towards becoming more food, water and energy independent, and building our communities stronger, healthier, more beautiful and resilient!

What does a resilient community look like?

The Challenge’s four themes (Save Water, Grow Food, Conserve Energy, and Build Community) are the pillars of resilient communities.

For example, when faced with drought, resilient communities will have access to water from rain catchment systems and will be irrigating with greywater from showers and washing machines.

A resilient community will be able to feed itself and its members will have access to fresh, local and chemical-free foods produced by workers that are paid a fair, living wage.

A resilient community will generate energy from alternative sources such as sun, wind and hydro and supports neighborhood and local groups through a web of connection that strengthens and builds community during both prosperous and challenging times.

I already live sustainably, why would I sign up to take the Challenge?

There are a number of fantastic reasons why you would take the Challenge pledge even if you’re a seasoned sustainability aficionado!
  • When you sign up you’ll be joining thousands of others who are also taking action. Our collective effort makes our work visible and engages others in transforming our communities to make them more resilient.
  • It’s free and encourages you to do things that might not get done otherwise. When you sign up, you might even decide to do some things that you haven’t thought of before!
  • If you live in Sonoma County, you’ll have access to special incentives donated by locally owned businesses for the purpose of helping you reach your goals.
  • You’ll help Daily Acts reach our Sonoma County goal of 3,500 actions and our national goal of 6,500 actions. Reaching our goal paints an inspiring story of resilience that we can use to inspire individuals, municipalities, businesses, and organizations in creating healthier, resilient communities everywhere.

Do I have to live in Sonoma County to participate in the Challenge and take advantage of the incentives program?

No and yes ... in collaboration with our partners you can register for the Challenge from anywhere in the United States! However, you have to be a resident of Sonoma County to receive Sonoma County incentives.

When you register make sure to check the box next to the organization that best represents you. If you live in Sonoma County make sure to check the Daily Acts box!

The box you check will determine which organization you receive information from. After you register you receive a list of incentives via email. If you have any questions about registration and incentives, just email us at thechallenge@dailyacts.org

I’m a local business and would like to help promote the Challenge and/or provide an incentive. How do I participate?

Please email us at thechallenge@dailyacts.org and we’ll set you up! Additionally, you can view our Business Toolkit for more ideas on how to engage your company and your customers in the Challenge.

Why the name change?

The new name makes the Challenge more comprehensive, relevant and replicable while more deeply embodying the bold and inspired spirit that the event has always encouraged. Through its community-based approach and by offering a diversity of solutions, the Challenge is inclusive of the many sustainability collaborators that are taking this movement to the next level.

If I can’t complete my action(s) on the weekend of May 17th & 18th do they still count?

Absolutely! The weekend is an opportunity to build enthusiasm, integrate actions, and bolster cooperative efforts, but actions completed outside of the weekend also count.

Ideally, the Challenge is a catalyst for habitual behavior change, prompting permanent positive upgrades to your life going forward - undertake your actions when it works best for you but make sure you register for the Challenge by May 31st so that your actions can be counted!  Registration is now open!

If the goal is 3,500 actions, how are “actions” counted?

When you register for the Challenge, you register your action(s) and then each individual action is counted toward the goal of 3,500 actions.

For example, if you plant a garden as your action you wouldn’t count each plant planted as an action, but if you plant a garden and also install drip irrigation (or fix-up old, leaky drip-irrigation), make sure to register both actions separately (plant a garden and install drip irrigation). Integrating multiple actions into one big project is encouraged and we want to be sure that all your actions are counted!!

How do you measure success?

After the Challenge wraps up, we’ll report back on the total number of people that registered for the Challenge, as well as the total number of actions registered. For our Challenge Business Partners and Challenge Sponsors, we’ll analyze data specific to each partner or sponsor and will compile reports for them to share with their employees and customers.

We'll also be quantifying actions in relation to each theme such as gallons of water saved, amount of energy conserved, number of fruit trees planted, square feet of turf transformed, etc.

While the annual Challenge and its outcomes alone are inspiring, our dream is that this initiative becomes a positive catalyst that will transform participants’ relationship to water, energy, food and community throughout the entire year. After all, daily acts do matter and they really do add up!

Do I have to supply my own materials?

Yes. You will need to supply all the materials required to complete your actions or project. We are actively working with our sponsors and local business community to provide incentives to Challenge participants and will be notifying registrants via email as soon as these become available.

We highly encourage you to support local hardware stores, nurseries and purchase heirloom seeds and organic plants whenever possible.

Who do I contact for advice and project guidance?

If you can’t find what you’re looking for on the Challenge Toolkit or Resources pages, please contact us and we’ll work to help out! thechallenge@dailyacts.org.

Can I engage others in joining the Challenge?

Yes! By becoming a Resilience Organizer, you can engage your community by organizing a local project, by getting people to sign up for the Challenge, by helping us distribute outreach materials or by tabling at local events to promote the Challenge. We would be thrilled to work with you to make an even bigger impact this year! Please email thechallenge@dailyacts.org for more information.

What if I don’t have a project in mind? Can I volunteer on a project?

Yes, we will be posting a list of community projects that are looking for volunteers on the Challenge home page.

Can I contribute financially to the Challenge?

Yes, please! Donations make the Community Resilience Challenge possible. Just click on the Donate button to support this great event.