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Peak Moment 158: A New Paradigm for Development (transcript added)



The corporate capitalist system is destroying people and the planet. Can we imagine alternatives? Ravi Logan and Jason Schreiner’s model is based on valuing our interrelatedness and interdependency within the natural world. It replaces profit-driven with cooperative enterprises, and emphasizes a balance between local self-reliance and bioregional networks, with some global structures to meet global needs like telecommunications. They describe applying permaculture principles like the zone approach in on-the-ground projects in Eugene, Oregon. (www.proutinstitute.org)

Listen to the audio for this episode here.

Transcribed by Keith Mac Cuish

Narrator: This is peak moment. We are living at a peak of human innovation, information, wealth and health. But we are also at a peak of population and consumption with rising temperatures and declining resources fueled by cheap oil and gas. Peak moment – television bringing you examples of positive responses to energy decline and climate change through local community action.

Janaia Donaldson: Hi, welcome to Peak Moment. I’m Janaia Donaldson and I’m in Eugene Oregon with my guests Ronald Logan and Jason Schreiner who are doing some thinking and action practice around living systems that will be with us – we hope – for a long time. Start us out, you’ve written a book, what does it tell us?

Ronald “Ravi” Logan: It tells us that we need a new paradigm of development. We need a full scale alternative to neo-liberalism, to economic globalism, to the current model of development that dominates the plant. That would be the core thesis.

JD: What is that new paradigm – what is that like?

RL: The major emphasis is on the need for economic decentralization and economic democracy. There needs to be a shift in the locus of economic power, from one that is highly centralized to one that is decentralized. There also needs to be a shift in the motivation behind economic development; a focus around maximization of profit that serves shareholders to a system of development that emphasizes meeting the full range of needs that exists in complex living systems.

JD: How is that decentralization different from localization – is that the same?

JS: I think that they are two separate things in the sense that localization tends to focus only on the locale. It’s where you completely separate yourself from a larger system and try to do everything within that community. A decentralized system again tries to delink from a large central power but it recognizes the need that different communities and different regions must work together in some cases at certain levels. I can give you an example for instance.

JD: Sure, sure.

JS: for instance, in telecommunications no single community can provide all its telecommunications needs. There needs to be some kind of system that links between and among different communities. But who is going to administer that system if it is all localized. There needs to be some kind of larger scale that can oversee that type of industry.

JD: What I hear you saying is that we are in a globalized village/planet and we have structures in place like our planetary communications that we do not want to lose – we want to keep that connection.

RL: Not only that but there are materials that are used in our developed economy that are concentrated in some parts of the planet and not others, whereas all of humanity has need for these materials. So there is need for a certain amount of trade to go on in materials as well as maintaining these global links of communication and transportation.

JD: What is the title of your book and what is the basis for it?

RL: The title of the book is PROUT which is the name of the theory of development that we are articulating. P-R-O-U-T. It is an acronym for the Progressive Utilization Theory. It is subtitled An Introduction to a Solution Oriented Paradigm of Development.

JD: Solution oriented. We’re not just talking theory here. You can turn upside down what globalization is doing. Is that an aspect of this paradigm shift you’re saying we need – in part?

RL: In part; in major part. Globalization is more complex than just economic globalization. Globalization also involves, as Jason was talking about, the globalization of communications and transportation; a globalization of certain facets of culture. So there is a linking together, a kind of planeterization of consciousness that is going on; a growing conception that we are one humanity on one plant. Certain facets of that are that development is irrepressible – it will move forward, the problematic aspect…

JD: I am so heartened to hear you say that it is irrepressible, thank you for that. I don’t mean to interrupt you, but that globalization of consciousness that we are connected; that we a part of the whole planet; I think that level of compassion that is needed so that we know the effects of our consumerist world is really making a difference to people on the other side.

RL: And this is the core value base of this theory. It is grounded in a conception of interdependency; of interrelatedness. Once there is a full recognition of that then there is an understanding that the welfare of one cannot be separated from the welfare of others; from the welfare of the whole. We need to develop in a way that is equitable and that also maintains a balance with the larger living systems of the world.

JS: That is a key term: balance. There is a tendency to want to turn our back to globalization as if it is all inherently bad without realizing some of the many progressive aspects of it like cultural exchange, new ideas that come into regions, awareness and consciousness of what’s going on in other areas and how what we do here effects those regions and vice-versa. So rather than turning our back upon this growth of consciousness and this sharing amongst communities, we want to try to balance that with the need to provide our more basic needs at a local level where we have intimacy with the land, with the water. It is an historical fact that regions traded amongst each other, they would meet on the borders, you would find materials that would come from Central America for instance. So this kind of thing has happened in the past.

JD: This has been happening for centuries and centuries. We wouldn’t have pepper and chilies if we didn’t have the spice trade.

RL: This balance can only take place if there is a shift in the locus of economic power from one that is globally centralized to one that resides primarily in local communities and bioregions.

JD: How do we do this? We have a hugely centralized money system, economic system supported by the corporate capitalistic world. How do we shift?

RL: The corporate capitalistic world is the problem. It is the core problem. It is not so simplistic, but it is at the core. That is where the shift needs to take place. You ask how we do that. Fortunately it is not just we because the model of development that is the logical extension of corporate capitalism is one that is in fundamental contradiction with the natural world and the balances that are maintained by the natural world. Eventually there are limits to growth and we’re rapidly coming up against them. We talk about depletion of oil, passing peak, but that has already happened with timbre in most places in the world, with fisheries it’s been surpassed, with grain production, with many strategic metals. There is massive deterioration and depletion of the bio-systems that support life on the planet and with global warming, if you layer that on and other things, it’s not just us, it’s a bigger sphere of life that is going to come crashing down on this out of control, cancerous growth on the planet.

JD: Growth, that is the key. Growth must always keep happening in our economic system which keeps eating and eating and now we are running on this decline.

JS: I think the key term here is cancerous growth. It’s not growth that is inherently the problem. If you look around at natural systems they grow: they live, they develop, they grow, they die, they decay, they return. It’s a cyclical kind of process. In a healthy functioning ecosystem for instance which can include people or maybe not in some cases, but in most cases yes, a functioning system allows for a system of checks and balances within that system so that it functions properly. So the type of growth that we want to work towards is one where you have reciprocity, a kind of balance where you use that intimate knowledge that people have to see when certain kinds of systems are overloaded; when you need a shift in what you’re producing in that particular time of year, etcetera. So I think the key is that we want to find a balance system of growth, one that allows for natural processes to go through that cycle and we are a part of natural processes as well.

JD: Now, you listed in those processes that included decay and death and regeneration from those raw materials. The system we have says to keep growing bigger, bigger, bigger there is no cancer. But you’re talking about learning what the limits are and respecting those.

RL: We’re talking about a paradigmatic shift that puts balance at the centre. Once there is a sophisticated understanding how balance evolves within a social, environmental, ecological, economic system. Then there is development that occurs that maintains balances. It may mean certain kind of understandings of restrictions of availability of materials, but it may mean a shift in the way those materials are utilized. We can do so much more with the materials we have available to us. There are so many new kinds of technologies that can be brought online. But there are huge irrationalities in corporate globalism.

JD: When profit is the only motive then that ignores a great deal. I want to get back to what you were saying about the money system having to be decentralized. Help me with a picture of that. What does that look like?

RL: The control of the economy needs to be decentralized and democratized. So democratization means that the primary form of enterprise should be cooperative enterprise, not state controlled enterprise, not privately controlled enterprise, but that enterprises that are owned by the people. In the present model, capital hires labour. In the model we are proposing, labour hires capital. The workers own and control the enterprise. When they need capital for the development then they’ll issue bonds or they’ll take developmental loans from developmental agencies. That core control of the enterprise is democratically held by the workers. That is the democratic aspect of the economy that is being envisioned here. Would you like to elaborate?

JS: A couple of other points is that this is not a kind of communistic system where everything is cooperatized. There is still room for entrepreneurship and in fact that is a key element. We need to have innovators, we need to have visionaries who come up with ideas who have an inclination for a particular kind of focus and to allow them and to empower them to have that focus within the larger community context of cooperation. Furthermore, there are certain key industries we talked about earlier: telecommunications, certain minerals. These need to be administered on a planet wide basis of some kind of centralized authority that doesn’t allow one region to have dictatorial control over that resource. So you have tiers: you have some private entrepreneurship where appropriate and you have some kind of centralized control, but in the mass of basic goods – food, fibres, water and these kinds of systems, you have cooperative enterprise.

JD: It is the essentials that we need to live that are cooperative, democratically owned: our energy, our water, our food and probably some form of land use.

RL: Your staples items, yes. Those staple items should also be primarily produced by the local economy. Your staple foods, your basic building materials, your basic fibres, many of your basic medicines so much as much as possible you want to have self-reliance of those commodities within the local economy.

JD: When you say local, I’m going to make a distinction between locally produced and the local raw materials because I can imagine that if my locality is in the desert and homes should be coming from the local rock and sand and so on that they originally were.

RL: You want a comprehensive model of decentralization; of localization. It involves use and control of local materials; it involves the use of a local labour force; it involves production for local markets. All factors that are central to your economy need to have this decentralized focus and another one that is fundamental is that planning should be decentralized.

JD: So you have a local area planning…There is some place where the locals meet: my locality and your locality. There has got to be some bigger picture here. For example, my locality might decide to keep growing out into the farmland because that is not Eugene, it’s the county or some other part that we do not have jurisdiction over. So I would imagine that there’s got to be some kinds of balances here so that there is regional oversight here.

JS: Most of the planning would be at a bioregional level with the understanding that these materials – water, soil, etc. – don’t just exist in an isolated little area, they flow across. So that is where you have a kind of bioregional planning and where you have these little locales like Eugene and other surrounding communities where they are working cooperatively you have a kind of coordination of that cooperation at the regional level.

RL: You also have coordination of the bioregions. Those bioregions come together in larger federations of bioregions. So Turtle Island North America would constitute a federation of bioregions, in some ways as it is emerging in Europe now. You have cultural autonomy, but you have in areas where it makes sense you have a federated structure though it is problematic there because this is allowing for flow of capital and control to extend across the continent. Except for that, there are many progressive tendencies in what is evolving there. And then you need, as Jason was saying, to bring together these federated bioregions into a larger global structure – a federation.

JD: You’re looking a different level of governance, of production, of finance, a different level of approaching our planet; the old forms are not working. Where does one start? How do we make that kind of change? Certainly, the first place is conceiving it with our minds; with the ideas. How do we begin seems like a daunting task.

RL: Conceiving, collectively discussing and developing the network of people who are working with new models and then building new models and communicating about models. Just as much as what your project is about. People need to see constructive alternatives. It is not our core task right now to fret about regime change. That is very problematic. I have huge sympathy for all the living beings that are being affected by those who control power on the planet. But it is not enough just to critique, just to bring forward a new administration. There may be some mitigation, some attenuation of the rate of deterioration on the planet but the same dynamics will be there.

JD: We learned in the corporate world when we worked in it is that you can change who is at the head, you can change the personnel but the system itself is running amok.

JS: The underlying paradigm that drives that system is a logic of accumulation – profit that drives the system. So no matter who the personnel are, you can shuffle them around all you want, but the institutional structure and logic that drives the system is fundamentally at the core of the problem. What that ultimately means is that it’s a problem of consciousness. It’s a problem of changing people’s perceptions about the world around them, their place within that world, and how they fit within it. When we can start to change and shift that consciousness, to see our landscapes and cityscapes in a different kind of light – that’s when you start to have that light flicker on. That is why Robbie’s mention of models is so vitally important because that allows people to see and most importantly to get their hands dirty – to work in a collective, cooperative kind of fashion to experience it themselves.

JD: So what are you doing to help create some of those models for the rest of us?

[Laughter]

RL: In the permaculture model there is a system of zone planning where you look at what is most intimate to you as being zone zero and then you move out to things that are further out in your landscape – that is metaphorical for what we do. With Zone Zero we are working with development of consciousness. With Zone one we have a model here of permaculture site development, sustainability training here at this site which is the base of the Cascadia Commonwealth Institute.

JD: Cascadia Commonwealth Institute, here in Eugene?

RL: Here in Eugene and there’s an acre of land that Jason lives at just down the street that is becoming an extension of that. So Jason has started the development of that site along these same principles. So that is Zone One. Then you go up from there, you need projects at neighbourhood level, at an enterprise level. You go up from there and you need to start bringing together your re-localized economy. So we’re working with networks around that. The next level up is the bioregional level. This will be the site that many of us are intimately involved planning for a bioregional congress which will take place in late August which I believe you are invited to, are you not?

JD: Right, the permaculture congress?

RL: It is permaculture in a broad sense of permaculture meaning permanent or sustainable culture. We’ve recognized that there are different guilds or facets to this emerging, sustainable culture and we’re trying to bring all dimensions of it together so people are more conscious of their place within a whole emerging synthetic culture. And from there it’s a bioregions connecting up. Your journey here is a connecting of bioregions.

JD: That’s true, even though we’re from the Shasta bioregion are we still on the same…The fir trees are still here.

[Laughter]

RL: You’re a sister bioregion. You’ve got the oranges down there that we’ll be trading for. JD: Well, not in my bioregion. Well, maybe in the valley we have the oranges.

RL: You supply the water for the oranges, maybe.

JD: That’s true, we supply the water. We’re up the slopes like you we have the fir trees. We’re the water shed for the growing region. I’m going to go back to Zones One and Two. What are you doing here on your site that’s part of that model on a practical level and Jason what are you doing on your site that is part of that practical modeling for your neghbourhood.

RL: [turns to Jason] You want to start on your site?

JS: Sure, just real simply, transforming the landscape having a lot more perennials, making it an edible landscape that can feed four or more people with an acre of land – working towards this. I want to speak a little more about the fact that it could be a site for a food cooperative or a food collective where you have drying, canning, teaching workshops on how to prepare or store food. These are some of the projects evolving on that site.

RL: We’re being powered right now by photovoltaic electricity; we’ve got panels on the roof of this building; we have two solar hot water heaters; all our water is kept on site in bioswales – the rain water that comes doesn’t go into the draining system but recharges the ground water; we have a constructive wetlands grey water system; we have radiant floor heat; the building is a straw bale building, it makes use of local materials.

JD: Back to the radiant heating for a second, you’re getting that heat from solar?

RL: We’re getting that heat from solar and it heats water and circulates through the tubing in the system.

JD: So your energy use is going to be real low?

RL: Our energy use is real low. We have multiple strategies for reducing energy demand as well as multiple strategies for making use of local energy resources, local water resources and local organic materials. There are no organic materials that leave this site, they all get recycled back into this system here and there are multiple strategies for this. There are materials that are immediately available to all people and we’re trying to model how those can be used on site to reduce the demands from larger systems because we will need to make these adaptations very quickly in the times ahead.

JD: Very quickly, in the times ahead. We have about two minutes left, give me your picture of the times ahead – how quickly are we going to have to move?

RL: We are approaching tipping points and there’s so many variables that we cannot say but our perception is that there is huge instabilities in the world right now. Hurricane Katrina is the metaphor for this. The hurricane was the proximate cause of the disaster that took place there, but there was layer upon layer of other things that contributed to the human disaster, the ecological disaster that took place. This will be rid large on the planet. It’s hard to say what will trigger it, whether it will be the money system, peak oil, climate change, other earth changes, geopolitical tensions or whether some convergence of these peak events that will then rapidly precipitate a loss of stability in the global system. It is close. Everybody knows it’s close.

JD: Everybody who is watching knows that. That’s true.

JS: I want to iterate that for the majority of people on this planet, they already live this reality in many respects. And they’ve been living it for a long time.

JD: Living the state within your ecosystem.

JS: No, the reality of collapse – what we call ‘collapse’. It’s not something that is on the horizon for them, it’s something that is an everyday experience. It’s through imperialism, globalization, colonization, etc. that this has been occurring. The great lesson we have to learn is the sheer amount of courage and heart and perseverance that these people have maintained throughout this process. They’ve lived through it and they’ve created amazing models. We can look to Cuba, to South America, to India for instance and find these models of existence. For many of these people there, they are just biding and waiting for their time when this great weight is lifted off and they can move from just barely persevering and surviving, not just sustaining themselves, but being able to thrive – to have vibrant cultures, balanced human and community development. We can learn so much from them and look at what they’re doing and let them be our teachers at this time.

JD: It will be humbling for empire, will it not?

JS: Absolutely.

JD: Thank you, thank you. This has been a wonderful conversation, carry on. We will be back and we will want to see the models that you’re doing in another year. This is peak moment – community responses for a changing energy future. I’m Janaia Donaldson, thanks for joining us.
Editorial Notes: Thanks so much to Keith for transcribing this significant interview! -KS

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