Agenda: Create a planetary system of regionally self-reliant, energy-efficient, locally rooted living economies that function as balanced, innovative, and productive subsystems of their local and regional ecosystems, share information and technology, and trade their surplus with their neighbors for goods and services they cannot reasonably produce for themselves.
It requires reorienting land use patterns and transportation systems, retrofitting buildings, concentrating population in walkable, energy-efficient, compact, multi-strata living communities, and nurturing the formation, growth, and interlinking of living enterprises to form the building blocks of prosperous, locally rooted, self-reliant, zero-waste regional economies supportive of ecological balance, shared prosperity, and living democracy. When every bioregional economy is in balance with its supporting ecosystem, the human species will be in balance with Earth’s biosphere.
Living with the Biosphere
A borderless casino economy engaged in unbridled competition for markets, resources, and jobs by global corporations to enrich financial speculators is inherently unstable, fuels resource wars, and is prone to economic, social, and environmental breakdown. It presents a stark contrast to the organization of Earth’s biosphere, which is rooted everywhere in largely cooperative, self-organizing, locally self-reliant ecosystems.
Earth’s biosphere has an extraordinary capacity to self-organize through a creative dance of continuous adaptation as trillions upon trillions of cells, organisms, and communities of organisms engage in continuing dynamic exchange with their living neighbors. All the while, each organism at each level of organization from the individual cell, to the multi-cell organism, to the regional ecosystem, to the planetary biosphere, maintains its own identity and health while balancing its own needs against the needs of others in ways that optimize the well-being of the whole.
In this unending exchange, life is both frugal and reciprocal. The waste of one species is the food of another in a continuing process of recycling and reuse.
Utilizing life’s capacity for adaptive self-organization, each of countless local ecosystems optimize the capture and utilization of locally available resources, including sunlight, through continuous adaptation to the most intricate features of their distinctive physical micro-environments. The greater the local self-reliance of each micro-ecosystem, the greater the ability of higher system levels and ultimately the biosphere to absorb and contain the shock of a local fire, drought, or meteor crash. So long as each self-reliant local ecosystem self-manages to keep its consumption and reproduction in balance with its local resource stocks, balance is maintained in higher system levels without need for centralized control.
It is inherent in the underlying nature of life that each living entity from the single cell to Earth’s biosphere must capture energy from some source in its immediate environment and then maintain it in an active state of continuous flow within itself and between itself and its neighbors. The very existence of life depends on its ability to form and maintain permeable managed membranes or boundaries at every level of organization—the cell wall, the skin of the multi-celled organism, the oceans and mountains that bound multi-species ecosystems, and ultimately the atmosphere that mediates the boundary between Earth’s biosphere and outer space to contain this continuous controlled sharing and recycling of energy.
In managing its exchange with its neighbors, each organism must maintain a delicate balance. If its bounding membrane is too open, the organism’s embodied energy will dissipate or it will be invaded by predators that sup on its energies while offering no compensating service in return. If too closed it shuts off the essential energy exchange with its neighbors. Either way, it dies. Managed balanced exchange is essential to prosperity and survival.
Local self-reliance in living economies is not about isolation or putting up walls. It is about living responsibly within one’s own means, adapting to local conditions to optimize efficiency and security in the use of energy and material, maintaining overall system stability, and creating relationships of trust and individual security that make it easy and natural to cooperate and share with one’s neighbors.
Local living economies naturally and appropriately reach out to their neighbors to form a planetary web of cooperation in which ideas, culture, information, and technology are freely shared and in which each community trades its surpluses with its neighbors to the mutual benefit of all — fair trade, not free trade. In a properly functioning international system, democratically accountable governing institutions at national and global levels will facilitate cooperative exchanges among local and regional living economies and secure them against predatory assaults that threaten their integrity.
As with any healthy market economy, a living economy requires a framework of rules democratically agreed to by its participants to maintain the essential conditions of equitable, efficient, and sustainable function. Since under the best of circumstances there will be those who seek unfair advantage at the expense of their neighbors, there must be provisions for enforcement. The living economy’s primary source of coherence and integrity, however, is cultural: the mindful sense of mutual respect, responsibility, and accountability integral to an awakened cultural and planetary consciousness.
Because life thrives on diversity and depends on continuous exchange, it exists only in community. An individual organism cannot survive in isolation from other organisms or in a monoculture exclusive to its own species. The greater the diversity of the bio-community and the greater the cooperation among its diverse species, the greater the community’s resilience in times of crisis, potential for creativity in the pursuit of new possibilities, and capacity to adapt to diverse and changing local conditions.
Biologists at the cutting edge of their field tell us that underlying the competition that biologists have long assumed to be the key to evolutionary progress, life is a fundamentally cooperative enterprise. In a healthy living system the species that prosper are not the most brutally aggressive, but rather those that find a niche in which they meet their own needs in ways that simultaneously serve the needs of others. The unrestrained growth and colonization of a cancer or invasive species is a sign of a pathological system breakdown. Healthy ecosystems maintain a creative tension and dynamic balance between innovation and stability and between competition for available resources and cooperation to share and optimize resource use to the benefit of the whole.
We humans must now take the step beyond the individualistic, competitive, and often violent ways of our species adolescence and embrace the responsibilities of adulthood by reorganizing our human economies to function as self-organizing subsystems of the diverse local ecosystems that comprise Earth’s biosphere. The product of 3.9 billion years of evolutionary learning, Earth’s living systems have much to teach us about organizing human economies to optimize the beneficial and sustainable use of Earth’s resources.
Living economies organize to function as subsystems of these local ecosystems, seeking to optimize local self-reliance and resilience in balanced relationship with the larger community of life on which human viability ultimately depends. Though rarely framed in these specific terms, growing numbers of people, businesses, nonprofits, and local governments the world over are coming together to restore community and ecosystem health by rebuilding their local economies on the living economies model.
Wall Street Takeover
Under the sway of Wall Street political influence, public policies even at regional and local levels have for several decades favored Wall Street corporations and investors over local enterprises and ownership. In the name of attracting jobs, many local jurisdictions offer special subsidies and tax breaks to Wall Street corporations and their global counterparts not offered to well-established locally owned businesses.
Local businesses that have served their communities for generations are driven out of business by subsidized big box stores. Local manufacturers find themselves competing with foreign producers that pay their workers pennies an hour and freely discharge toxic pollutants into the air and water.
As local businesses close their doors, wages fall, once thriving main streets that had served as centers of community life are abandoned, and ugly automobile-dependent strip malls, big box stores, and shopping centers dominate the countryside. The disruption of community life and the loss of natural beauty and biologically productive open space come at an enormous, but largely unacknowledged cost in lost social and environmental capital and increased physical and mental stress.
Creating a New Living Economy Reality One Community at a Time
Most of the work of rebuilding community and ecosystem function is necessarily local. It is akin to hundreds of thousands of species and trillions of individual organisms cooperating to optimize the energy capture and life support capacity of a forest ecosystem. As nature knows well, responsive adaptation to the limits and opportunities of local terrain and climate can only be achieved through radically decentralized self-organizing processes that maintain a creative tension and dynamic balance between individual competition and cooperation — between innovation and stability. Call it a “law of life.”
As awareness of the consequences of Wall Street colonization spreads, towns, cities, and states are leading the way to the New Economy by declaring their independence from Wall Street and breaking with conventional, money-centered economic growth policies. They seek to build real community wealth—the shared real wealth of healthy vital people, social relationships, and natural environments that secures well-being through good times and bad.
They strive for local independence by rebuilding local food systems based on family farms and environmentally friendly farming methods that rebuild the soil, maximize yields per acre, reduce food travel miles, minimize the use of toxic chemicals, and create opportunities for the many young people who are returning to the land. They seek energy self-reliance and carbon neutrality by reducing dependence on cars and supporting local businesses that produce locally, promoting renewable-energy technologies, and retrofitting buildings to green building standards. The leaders are striving for carbon neutrality and zero harmful waste discharge.
The people, businesses, and governments of these leading edge living economy communities are supporting local independent businesses, rebuilding their physical infrastructure using advanced living building and living community technologies to create walkable, bicycle-friendly, energy-efficient communities with efficient public transportation, nurture the relationships of community, recover farm and forest lands, and restore natural water flow and regeneration. They are working to bring people closer to their work and essential facilities, reclaim public spaces, and reverse existing patterns of physical segregation (ghettoization) by race and class.
To these ends, living economy communities favor values-based living enterprises and pursue the idea of a true ownership society in which every family has the opportunity to own its own home and to have an ownership stake in the enterprises on which its livelihood depends.
While learning to live within their own means, keep ownership local and continuously recycle their own money and resources to grow real community wealth, local living economy communities freely share ideas, technology, and culture and engage in balanced cooperative exchange in goods and services with their local and global neighbors to benefit from real economies of scale and natural comparative advantage without sacrifice of local values and control. They seek to limit penetration by corporate predators while building mutually supportive relationships with neighboring communities and economies that share their commitment to living economy principles.