Posts Tagged ‘open source’
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance
(Above) The first public website – reconstructed at http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html
April 30th marked the 20th anniversary of the technology behind the World Wide Web becoming available royalty-free to the public. On April 30, 1993 the Swiss group CERN made the software used to operate the World Wide Web available to the entire world at no charge. CERN or European Organization for Nuclear Research (French: Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire ) was originally established to operate the the world’s largest particle laboratory.
When the World Wide Web was first invented by British physicist Tim Berners-Lee in 1989, there was a royalty charge to use the software necessary to access it. Between 1989 and 1993 the physicists at CERN expanded and improved on W3 software to facilitate rapid document exchange between their physicists. Then in 1993 they made the momentous decision to “democratize the Word Wide Web” by making the software available royalty-free on an Open Source basis. This gift of W3 software to the “commons” was a marked departure from a growing drive by corporations to privatize other publicly held aspects by converting them into profit-generating commodities.
I love the first sentence about aiming “to give universal access to a large universe of documents.” Talk about understatement.
In their coverage of the 20th anniversary of the World Wide Web, World Business Report interviewed Joi Ito, director of MIT’s Media Lab. Under his leadership, the Media Lab seems to be carrying on in the CERN tradition of democratizing the Internet. Ito insists one of the main purposes of Media Lab is to foster technology that ensures everyone has access to the Internet and (surprisingly) that everyone learns to write computer code. He makes specific reference to a free computer coding program for children called “Scratch.” After checking out the website (http://scratch.mit.edu/), I’ve decided this is the appropriate level for me to start it – if I do decide to take up computer coding, that is.
Ito also talks about a concept referred to as “frugal engineering,” which is the specific application of design concepts to third world societies. Reportedly a “frugal engineering” approach led to the development of India’s $2,000 Tato Car released in 2009 (with a carbon fiber frame that’s far cheaper to manufacture than steel). It sounds to me this initiative is roughly comparable to what we called “appropriate technology” in the 1970s.
Finally he reminds us about other important Open Source Internet technologies that have developed in recent years including Linux (the free Open Source alternative to Microsoft Windows) and Voice Over Internet Protocol (first introduced as Skype). I wonder how significant it is that neither was developed in the US – Linux was developed in Finland and Skype in Estonia. If they had been, I seriously doubt either would have been freely publicly available as Open Source. I suspect American software developers (or more accurately, their corporate employers) would have succumbed to the temptation to exploit them for the profit-making potential.
by stuartbramhall in Going Non-Corporate
Bitcoins are a safe decentralized currency that’s ideal for businesses and consumers alike because it’s controlled by the people who use it, rather than banks.
Hate banks? Fed up with Wall Street incompetence and criminality? Concerned the impending economic collapse and/or runaway inflation will gobble up your savings? Are you already unemployed – or like many Americans, only one paycheck away from the streets? Do you yearn to opt out of the brutal and corrupt capitalist system but find yourself tied to a banker-controlled money system that controls virtually every aspect of your life?.
Welcome to the bitcoin (BTC), a safe, reliable open source alternative currency, created and maintained by volunteers, just like Wikipedia. Four years after their introduction, bitcoins seem to have reached critical saturation, at least in numbers of Internet and brick and mortar business who accept them. Internet merchants, especially, love bitcoins. There are no currency exchange charges and no secure payment site, credit card or PayPal fees. Even better, it’s totally anonymous. So if someone wants to donate to Bradley Manning’s defense or Wikileaks, they can be confident neither Homeland Security nor the FBI is opening a file on them.
The bitcoin, a decentralized international currency, was first introduced in 2009 by an anonymous web developer who called himself Satoshi Nakamoto. Bitcoins can be exchanged by personal computer directly through a wallet file or a website, without an intermediate financial institution. Bitcoin production is automated, limited, divided and scheduled (bitcoins are generated every 10 minutes) and given to servers or “bitcoin miners” that verify Bitcoin transactions and add them to an archived transaction log. Transaction fees may apply to new transactions depending on the strain put on the network’s resources. Each 10-minute portion or “block” of the transaction log has an pre-assigned money supply. Currently, 25 Bitcoins are generated every 10 minutes. This will be halved to 12.5 BTC within the year 2017 and halved continuously every 4 years after until a hard-limit of 21 million bitcoins is reached within the year 2140.
Bitcoins are traded like other currencies, and one bitcoin is currently worth around 43 US dollars. At present there are over 10 million bitcoins in circulation.
How New Bitcoins Are Mined or Created
The way bitcoin works is that instead of having one central authority which creates and controls the money supply (as central banks do in most countries), this work is done by thousands of bitcoin “miners.” Anyone with a computer can be a bitcoin miner. Miners who successfully create new blocks are rewarded in bitcoins according to a preset schedule. The way the bitcoin network makes sure block chains are reliable is by making them extremely hard to produce. Instead of being allowed to create blocks at will, miners have to compute a cryptographic hash of the block that meets certain criteria. Bitcoiners refer to this process as “hashing”. The only way to find a cryptographic hash that’s “good enough to count” is to try computing a whole bunch of them until you get lucky and find one that works. Experienced miners recommend the use of a GPU (graphics processing unit), which can try hundreds of millions of hashes per second.
How to Get Bitcoins
Anyone can purchase bitcoins with US dollars or other national currency from bitcoin exchanges, which operate like currency exchanges. The current value of the bitcoin is around $43 US. There are also a number of websites (see http://thebitcoinmaster.blogspot.co.nz/2013/02/websites-that-do-not-give-free-bitcoins_18.html) where people can earn bitcoins (usually 0.000007 – 0.000008 BTC) by completing surveys, viewing websites or previewing music videos. On the best paying website (http://www.bitcoinget.com/), a person can earn around .002 BTC (around 8 cents each) performing tasks such as updating business directories and about one quarter of that for flagging images with adult content.
People can purchase metallic bitcoins from numerous vendors including https://www.casascius.com/
Where to Spend Bitcoins
Most bitcoins are spent for online products and services, such as ebooks, graphics, music, ring tones, web hosting and creation, domain names and technical support (especially on Linux, Ubantu and other open source programs). An increasing number of brick and mortar businesses (especially in Europe where austerity cuts have made Euros pretty scarce) accept bitcoins as payment for products and services. With a growing shortage of American customers who can pay cash, more and more US retailers are accepting bitcoins, especially in New York and on the West Coast.
Brick and mortar merchants employ a protocol available at http://www.bitvendor.net/. It’s far easier (and cheaper) than credit card payment. It enables customers to pay in bitcoins via any text-enabled cellphone
For a list of on-line merchants who accept bitcoins check out https://www.coindl.com/
For a list of brick and mortar businesses accepting them, consult:
More information on how to get a bitcoin wallet and start earning and spending them at
To be continued with a discussion of potential risks and a great bitcoin crowd funding website investigative journalists (including bloggers) can use to finance specific projects.
Crossposted at Daily Censored
by stuartbramhall in Sustainability, The Global Economic Crisis
2011 Evolver Editions
Book Review – Part II
This review is divided into two parts. The second half covers some exciting solutions Eisenstein proposes for our broken economic system in Part II: The Economics of Reunion and Part III: Living the New Economy.)
The only weakness of Sacred Economics are some mistaken and contradictory assumptions Eisenstein makes about Marxism. He makes it really clear in Part I that capitalism needs to be replaced, but not in a “Marxist” way that removes any monetary incentive for people to produce goods and services that are useful to the community. In later chapters, he contradicts himself by arguing for the restoration of the gift economy, in which people are rewarded with public recognition, status and esteem for their contributions to the community. That being said, Einstein clearly believes that violent revolution to dismantle capitalism is unnecessary. He makes the case that major economic change can be accomplished through gradual evolution, pointing out that the process as already started via the global economic relocalization, Open Source and Creative Commons movements.
Eisenstein proposes to base his new “Sacred Economy” on the creation of local commons-based “negative interest” currency, something that worked very successfully during the Great Depression in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and a relocalization of economic and political power to cities and regions and away from central government.
Negative interest money was first proposed by Delvio Gisell in 1906 in his book Natural Economic Order. Gisell called it “free money” because it allowed people to exchange goods and services without paying interest to the owners of money (banks) for the right to do so. A negative interest system involves “demurrage” or natural decay in the value of money. If you know that a $100 bill will only be worth $90 in a year’s time, you have a powerful incentive to stimulate the economy by exchanging it for goods and services.
In the 1920s a negative interest currency called the Wana circulated in Germany. Towns that used the Wana had plenty of money for business expansion, workers salaries and public infrastructure and services – in contrast to towns that relied on the Deutschmark, which owing to deflation, was in extremely short supply. Austrian and Swiss communities introduced negative interest currencies (the Worgle and the WIR) in 1932. Owing to the threat these alternative curries posed to banks and wealthy elites, the German and Austrian governments banned the Wana and the Worgle in 1932-33. The WIR is still in circulation in Switzerland but no longer operates as a negative interest currency. During the post-World War II boom, the demurrage was eliminated to prevent the Swiss economy from overheating.
In the US more than 100 cities were preparing to launch demurrage currencies – to stimulate local communities ravaged by the Great Depression – when Roosevelt came to power in 1932. Roosevelt, who recognized the enormous threat this posed to central government, banned all “emergency currencies” by executive decree (as Thaddeus Russell writes in A Renegade History of the United States, Roosevelt set the dangerous and unconstitutional precedent of circumventing Congress to enact laws by executive order).
The main advantages of commons-based negative interest currency are
- Money ceases to be scarce. As it becomes easier for small businesses to access money, jobs are created and people resume purchasing goods and services. Because the new currency is commons-based (see below), higher prices for ecologically harmful products serve as a brake their production.
- The ready availability of money eliminates the fear of never having enough, reducing greed to acquire more, one of the main causes of income inequality.
- Debts become easier to repay. People only pay back the original loan, without the compound interest.
- There ceases to be any incentive for corporations to convert natural resources to profit, as cash profits rapidly decline in value.
- Banks have more incentive to fund ecologically and socially productive projects with a low rate of return. They lose less by lending negative interest money than by allowing it to accumulate.
- As money loses its value and importance, there is gradual resurrection of both the gift economy and the commons, in which people work for a “social dividend” in the form of public recognition. Eisenstein sees this process already beginning with the thousands of volunteers who donate their time to create and upgrade Open Source software, Wikipedia and books, films, songs and blogs they share freely as part of the Creative Commons.
The Relocalization of Economic and Political Power
Eisenstein would like to see all local, regional and state governments issue commons-backed currencies to stimulate local business development and job creation, just as the Wana, Worgle and WIR did during the Great Depression. He applauds Ellen Brown’s work in campaigning for publicly owned state banks. At present. seventeen states have introduced legislation to create publicly owned state banks funded by interest free tax revenue rather than Wall Street. The latter would be in an ideal position to issue negative interest complementary currency.
How a Commons-Based Currency Would Work
Rather than being backed by gold or silver, Eisenstein proposes that these local negative interest currencies work like bearer bonds and be redeemable for the right to deplete the commons. Businesses could use them, in other words, to purchase the right to create an agreed amount of pollution or to deplete an agreed amount of a natural resource. Because these pollution/resource depletion quotas would be extremely expensive, corporations would be forced to internalize” (i.e. absorb the cost) of environmentally harmful production, rather than “externalizing” it (and making the public pay) as they do currently.
New Zealand economist Deirdre Kent has also proposed using land to back locally created negative interest currencies. Under her proposal, local government would issue negative interest vouchers as a “loan” to prospective home buyers. The vouchers could be used to repay these “loans,” pay property taxes (known as “rates” in British commonwealth countries ) or purchase goods and services from local businesses.This would offer new home buyers a far cheaper alternative than a bank mortgage, as well as discouraging property speculation, stimulating local businesses and producing additional revenue for local government.
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance
Book Review (Part II)
The Wikipedia Revolution
By Andrew Lih
(Aurun Press Ltd 2009)
The Birth of Wikipedia
In 2000, Y2K enthusiast Larry Sanger joined BOMIS, bringing a large number of followers from his on-line Y2K digest. The Y2K movement was an informal network of programmers and community activities that formed in the late nineties, out of concern for the two digit dates used in early computers. The fear was that computers built before 1990 would be unable to tell whether the two digit “00″ represented the year 1900 or the year 2000 – and crash. Disaster was averted, thanks to the frantic rewriting (in 1998 and 1999) of millions of lines of code on government and corporate computers
After Sanger joined BOMIS, one of the first projects they undertook was an on-line encyclopedia-style “blog” called Nupedia. Wales, Shell and Sanger drew in friends and on-line acquaintances to help with drafting and editing articles. However the process of editing successive drafted on-line turned out to be extremely slow and cumbersome. By January 2001, Nupedia had only finalized and posted two dozen entries.
BOMIS’ discovery of Cunningham’s Wiki protocol changed all this, enabling first hundreds, then thousands and eventually hundreds of thousands of computer users anywhere to register and post draft articles and to register and edit them. The beauty of Wiki software is that keeps a list of all edits made and the identity of the editor, which makes it possible at any point to restore an earlier version. Wales, Shell and Sanger registered Wikipedia Foundation as a non-profit in January 2001 The only rules were that Wikipedia had to be freely accessible to the public, have a Neutral Point of View (NPOV), and only describe existing research (in other words, original research was forbidden).
The Wikipedia project quickly drew in members of Slashdot and other techie communities to write and edit articles. Sanger was paid to oversee the project and used an electronic mailing list and occasionally the Internet Relay Chat (a precursor to instant messaging) to coordinate the work of core editors, administrators and system operators. Each article was divided up into a user page and a “talk” page, where editors could discuss how the article was progressing. In addition to hundreds of volunteer editors, a number of proven members were made administrators, who had the power to delete and undelete articles that contained copyright violations, libelous speech or inappropriate personal information. Above the administrators were System Operators who were charged with dealing with trolls and vandals who added inappropriate material to articles. The most common type of Wikipedia vandalism seems to occur in high school social studies classes, when students get bored and post lewd entries about their teachers and friends.
Does Occupying the Commons Lead to Anarchy?
In the beginning detractors predicted that allowing thousands of strangers to post and edit articles would lead to total anarchy (I recall dire predictions in the mainstream media that the Occupy movement would result in anarchy). However the volunteers who keep Wikipedia going believe so passionately in the concept of a free and open encyclopedia that they volunteer literally hundreds of hours as administrators and System Operators to make it work. In fact, as in other forms of community organizing, stress and burn out has been a major problem among Wikipedia. The second half of Wikipedia Revolution describes at length various technical difficulties created by the encyclopedia’s explosive growth, and the solutions devised to address them. Many of the technical glitches related to adapting Wikipedia for non-English languages and cultures.
By January 2002, Wikipedia had 20,000 articles. In 2002, Derek Ramsey created a “bot” (short for software robot) capable of simultaneously adding census data from 3,000 counties and 33,832 cities. Ramsey’s contribution increased the number of Wikipedia articles from 50,000 to more than 85,000 in one week. In March 2003, Wikipedia had 100,000 articles, which was on a par with commercial (subscription) on-line encyclopedias like Britannica and Microsoft’s Encarta, and was being cited in mainstream sources.
A Question of Censorship
In 2003, Wikipedia had 480 active editors, 100 core editors and 48 administrators. By 2006, it became virtually impossible for manual editors to keep up with the encyclopedia’s explosive growth. The solution was a bot developed by a 13 year old Canadian hacker/programmer who called himself Tawker (aka Andrew Phillips). Tawker’s bot works like a spam filter by screening articles for objectionable sexually explicit or toilet terms that recur frequently. Encyclopedia Dramatica has a somewhat less flattering biography of Tawker that accuses him of deliberate censorship of political content (http://encyclopediadramatica.ch/Wikipedia_IRC_Bouncers)
As of 2009 when Lih published Wikipedia Revolution, Wikipedia had 10 million articles in 200 languages and an administrative structure in which several hundred administrators and System Operators make editorial decisions about controversial articles and edits. While the original goal was to have all administrative decisions made by consensus, this is no longer possible, owing to the sheer volume of traffic on the site. Critics accuse Wikipedia of a “pro-corporate” drift (i.e. censorship) in the process.
In addition to 2.5 million articles in English, the German Wikipedia has 800,000 articles. French, Polish and Japanese editions have 500,000 words each.
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance
By Andrew Lih
(Aurun Press Ltd 2009)
(I have divided this review into two parts. Part I describes Open Source innovations that were integral to the creation of the world’s most famous and popular encyclopedia. Part II describes the Wikipedia project itself.)
Lih’s Wilkipedia Revolution stands as a testament to the unsung heroes of the Open Source movement. From the outset, there has been a split between entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who have viewed the Internet as an opportunity to become enormously rich, and true visionaries like Jimmy Wales, who see it as a medium of social change with the potential to improve the lives of billions of people. I have always regarded Open Source activities like Wikipedia and Wikileaks as the Occupy Wall Street of the Internet. Like OWS, Open Source reclaims electronic communications as a “commons” – a public space to be jointly owned and used by all of us for the common good.
In Lih’s view, Wikipedia would never have been possible without the freely shared knowledge and software of the Open Source movement. He makes this clear by skillfully interweaving the personal biography of Jimmy Wales with the history of the Internet, the World Wide Web and the O S movement itself.
Hacker Ethics and the Open Source Movement
Wales, who has a master’s degree in finance, had a first career selling derivatives for Chicago Options Associates. In 1996, he used his programming and hacking skills to start a dot com in his spare time with Tim Shell, who he met through an on-line philosophy mailing list. Wales is a big fan of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, the belief in obtaining objective knowledge form measurement. This would ultimately inspire his faith in using measurement by the masses to create an on-line reference work.
Wales and Shell called their dot com Bitter Old Men in Suits (BOMIS). Their first project was a Yahoo-style directory for the city of Chicago. This was around the time (1996) that two Sun Microsystems engineers started DMOZ (directorymozilla.org), the first Internet-wide search engine. They did so with the explicit intent of employing volunteer labor and freely distributing it to the public, under the principle of “Copyleft” or General Public License that underpinned the free software movement (now known as Open Source). The latter was started by MIT hacker Richard Stallman had started in 1985 with an extensive on-line network of hackers.
The hacker community has a very strong ethic that it’s okay to hack into computers and steal software code provided you use it to improve and share the software. In contrast, refusing to share what you have stolen (and improved on) for personal profit is considered totally unethical. The phenomenal success of Open Source products is based on the principle that making your software code public, instead of keeping it secret, allows thousands of programmers to improve it. This is the main reason free downloadable Open Source programs have fewer operating and security glitches than Microsoft and other proprietary software.
Netscape, Linux and Wikiwiki Web
DMOZ subsequently morphed into Netscape, which dropped out of public view after Microsoft pirated and monopolized the concept, by arranging for Microsoft Explorer to be loaded along with windows on every new PC. It was subsequently reborn as Mozilla Firefox, a free Open Source browser greatly preferred by many Internet users for its greater safety and reliability. Because the code that runs it is freely available to the public, it undergoes continuous quality improvement by the thousands of programmers who use it.
Despite its popularity among hackers, the free software movement remained virtually unknown to the wider public until 1992, when a Finnish hacker named Linus Torvalds created Linux, the first free Open Source operating system. Unlike commercial operating systems, such as Windows and Mac OS X, the code on Linux is publicly available, which means its users are constantly improving on it.
Other significant innovations that made Wikipedia possible were the creation of the World Wide Web in 1992 by Tim Berners-Lee and the creation of Wikiwiki Web by Ward Cunningham in 1994. Prior to 1992, there were a half dozen different protocols (including Gopher and WAIS) that had to be laboriously typed out to access documents posted on the Internet. Berners-Lee created a Uniform Resource Locator (URL), using a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (http) for finding on-line documents. Cunningham’s Wiki software enabled any user anywhere to edit any website without having specialized software or knowledge of programming or html (the language used to construct a web page).
To be continued.
by stuartbramhall in Global south, Inspiring Moments in Resistance
I encounter many long time activists in a quandary how to relate to #OccupyWallStreet. A vibrant, growing mass movement involving thousands of activists is always far more interesting and exciting than the ongoing drudgery (fundraising, event organizing, education and outreach, etc) of keeping existing grassroots organizations going. There is a strong temptation to abandon current organizing commitments to join the groundswell created by the OWS movement. While this might be the right move for some activists, it’s vitally important that others use their existing roles in union, peace and justice and environmental networks to bolster and support the anti-greed movement.
All Our Single Issues Have the Same Root Cause
There are strong strategic arguments for all unions and single issue peace and justice and environmental groups to get on board, in some way, with #OccupyWallStreet. All the corporate and government abuses our single issue groups are fighting have the same root cause – namely the corporate takeover of government. Yet many of us find it difficult to address the corporate tie-in from our single issue silos. Moreover there is already evidence that the current civil unrest in all major American cities is beginning to impact disastrous US policies in the Middle East.
How Do We Best Support OWS?
On the other hand, I question the value of long time union, antiwar, pro-democracy, peace and justice, homeless, sustainability and immigrants rights activists abandoning our existing commitments to camp out in the park. It makes more strategic sense to use our influence in the grassroots networks we have built up over decades to support and collaborate with #OccupyWallStreet. In this way we can provide inroads for younger, more militant OWS activists to sectors of society they might otherwise find difficult to access.
In my view, where existing union and community groups can best support the OWS movement is by providing logistical, material and tactical support as it expands into the productive sector. OWS can only exert real pressure on government, banks and other multinational corporations by disrupting business as usual – with corporate-targeted sit-ins, consumer boycotts, wild cat strikes or a combination of all three. In Egypt, it was the unions’ threat to shut down the Suez Canal that ultimately forced Mubarak to step down.
Many older activists, especially in the Open Source, sustainability and local democracy movements have already made significant gains in undermining corporate rule. The sustainability movement, for example, is responsible for an explosion of community-based alternatives to corporate controlled food, energy, transportation, education, health care and money. Equally impressive are the hundreds of communities in the local democracy movement which have passed ordinances restricting the right of corporations to build new hog farms, spread sewage sludge and deplete aquifers with bottled water operations.
Appealing to a Broad Base of Supporters
For their part, #OccupyWallStreet has already been remarkably effective in networking with existing groups. Good examples include the participation of OWS members in a march supporting Communication of American workers in their dispute with Verizon, an anti-eviction action OWS helped homeless advocates organize in Brooklyn, and the strong backing #OccupyWallStreet has received from organized labor. I attribute OWS coalition building success to their insistence on a broad inclusive vision (i.e. refusing to make specific demands). This enables them appeal to the widest possible base of potential supporters. I can’t count the number of large coalitions I have joined in the last thirty years that were scattered to the winds the moment we decided to formulate concrete demands. The last one was the 9-11 Coalition Seattle activists formed in September 2001 to protest the impending US war in Afghanistan. Over the five weeks we spent arguing over specific demands, our numbers shrank from one hundred plus to fifteen.
The November 2 general strike called by Occupy Oakland was the first test of OWS’s fragile coalition with labor. In a period of high unemployment, persuading unionists who still have work to put their own jobs on the line is no mean feat. While Occupy Oakland was unsuccessful in shutting the city itself down, a wild cat strike by Oakland longshoremen succeeded in closing down the Port of Oakland (http://tvnz.co.nz/world-news/occupy-oakland-succeeds-in-shutting-down-port-4499879).
To be continued, with a discussion of the effect of OWS on foreign policy.
by stuartbramhall in Going Non-Corporate, Sustainability, The Global Economic Crisis
Much of the work that went into the Voluntary Simplicity and Y2K movements (see prior blogs) has been incorporated into Transition Towns and other sustainability-related movements. There are now literally millions of groups worldwide focused on some aspect of bioregional sustainability. The most visible evidence of their success are the blossoming of home veggie gardens, urban community gardens and orchards and farmers’ markets; the 1,040 cities and towns (nearly 1/3 of the US population) which have signed onto the Kyoto accord; and the 125 communities voting to place citizens’ above corporate rights (see http://www.tikkun.org/article.php/jan2011kanner).
One of the most important factors in this success is the ability of the sustainability movement to address apathy and alienation head-on, by reengaging people in neighborhood and community life. For many people, local civic engagement leads on to re-engagement in the political process. I would never argue that progressives should focus on local community building to the exclusion of critically needed government reforms. Corporate lobbies still have the ability to overturn local and state laws in the courts by claiming that they violate alleged constitutional rights. Thus organizing to end so-called constitutional protections for corporations (which clearly run contrary to the intent of the founding fathers) – either through federal legislation or constitutional amendment (www.movetoamed.org) must be an extremely high priority. At the same time, I see the neighborhood and community sustainability networks playing a pivotal role in building strong grassroots lobbies to tackle banking reform, restoring of civil liberties or ending the wars in the Middle East.
The Basics of Sustainability Organizing
Sustainability-related work can be broken down into concrete, achievable steps, which also lends to its appeal. In preparing for the End of the World as We Know it, Y2K activists predicted local communities would need to prepare for breakdowns in the following services:
- Global commerce (food imports being the most crucial)
- Water and energy utilities
- Waste removal systems
- Telecommunications, Internet and mass media
- Financial institutions
- Transportation systems
- Governance and government services
- Health Care
- Institutions and agencies responsible for education, justice, manufacturing and security
In most places, organizers have found it easiest to begin with food, water and energy security – in part because they are most critical to human survival. However the bioregional economic network established as a first step in addressing food, water and energy security can also be used to prepare for breakdowns in other systems. For 99.9% of human existence people have relied on a bioregional economic model in which they have sourced the vast majority of their food and other essentials for life within a 100 mile radius. The process of re-creating this network is very helpful in learning to shift our thinking away from relying on national and multinational corporations to meet our needs.
Although the sustainability movement receives little attention in the mainstream media, it has it has been quietly building for nearly two decades – often with the support of state and local government (it receives the most state support in California). In Europe it receives national and EU support. The following is just a small snapshot of local accomplishments around energy, food and water security.
FOOD AND WATER SECURITY
- Increased local expertise in permaculture and biointensive agriculture techniques, as industrial fertilizers and insecticides (manufactured from fossil fuels) become unavailable and/or prohibitively expensive.
- De-paving – digging up private and public driveways and parking lots and replacing them with backyard veggie gardens and community orchards and gardens. In addition to improving food security, this restores watersheds by reducing run-off, a major threat to water security in the industrial world.
- Lawn liberation – replacing lawns and ornamental trees and shrubs with fruit and nut trees and veggie gardens.
- Support of local farmers through farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture Schemes (in which residents “subscribe” to weekly deliveries of fresh veggies and fruit).
- Neighborhood and municipal systems of rainwater collection and purification and gray water collection
- Adoption of active run-off management plans, in which lost groundwater is measured and minimized in development planning – and replaced, for example via the Blue Alternative (in which groundwater is replaced by digging small catchment pools in open spaces).
- Reduced fossil fuel dependence in transportation:
o Beginning work to create local consumer-farmer/consumer-retailer networks, including state and locally owned banks, credit unions and cooperatives. Given that local businesses struggle to compete (their costs and prices tend to be higher) with national and multinational corporations, this can be facilitated via the creation of local barter systems (example from Greece at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12223068) and/or local currencies, such as Ithaca hours, that can only be spent locally.
o Community and municipal initiatives to increase public and active transport (cycling and walking) through urban planning that incorporates growth management and sprawl reduction, creation of urban villages where residents live closer to essential services, and restricted permiting of malls and big box retailers (Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia are excellent examples).
o Community and neighborhood street reclaiming initiatives to make streets safer for people to use cars less and walk and cycle more.
o Increased uptake of car sharing schemes, employing efficient electric or hybrid vehicles or those run on regionally produced biomass fuels.
- Reduced home/business fossil fuel dependence:
o State, local and power company subsidies for home insulation schemes and solar water heaters.
o Subsidies and reduced permit fees for Green Building (buildings purpose-built to be energy/water/waste self-sufficient).
o State and local regulations and subsidies (as per German model) to increase distributed energy systems based on alternate energy sources (solar, wind, tidal, etc).
o Active promotion of Open Source computer and information technology.
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance, Sustainability
As strange as it may sound, switching to Open Source operating systems and software – and getting your boss, co-workers, friends and relatives to do so – can save a lot more carbon emissions than getting them to change their lightbulbs.
I myself have switched to Firefox (instead of Microsoft Explorer) and Open Office (instead of Microscoft Word) and plan to download Linux soon to replace Windows. As a community organizer for 30+ years, Microsoft has been the bane of my existence. Most of the activists I work with use MS Word (and before that MS Works) to create documents. Predictably Microsoft has come out with a new version of Word that is unreadable by older versions. This is obviously a calculated maneuver to force businesses and other network users to continuously upgrade their Microsoft software.
Opening Pesky Docx Files
This time, however, I followed the advice of a fellow Green Party member and downloaded Open Office, which Sun Microsystems provides free on the Internet as Open Source software. Thanks to the Open Source movement, every time Microsoft comes out with a new world processing program, Open Office upgrades to enable businesses and individuals who can’t afford to spend $150 on new software to continue to communicate with those who can. Not only does it open those pesky docx files, it also opens zip files and probably does a lot of other things I haven’t discovered yet.
The other great thing about Open Office is that, like other Open Source software, it runs faster, crashes less and is less likely to have security problems than Microsoft products. For the simple reason that the code that runs Open Office is made freely available for computer users all over the world to improve and build on. Computers aren’t like soup. In general the more people who contribute to code, there more likely someone will discover bugs and security problems.
How Open Source Reduces Carbon Emissions
So, people ask me, how does this reduce carbon emissions? There are obviously small energy savings (related to DVD production, packaging, transportation, etc) when an individual downloads software instead of buying it off the shelf. However the big emissions savings occur when large companies that maintain vast amounts of data switch to Open Source. Recently the Bank of New Zealand reduced their energy costs and carbon emissions by converting their front end systems to Open Source. See http://cio.co.nz/cio.nsf/spot/B5D33290A0CB8EFFCC25754B0017C4D8
The savings derives from streamlining, speeding up and simplifying their data processes with a single (Red Hat Linux) program (instead of relying on three or four for different functions) and in many cases, replacing real life computer work stations with virtual ones.
Companies Going Open Source
In response to the global recession, the immense cost savings is leading many companies worldwide are switching to Open Source for part or all of their data processing. The best known (among many others) are BART (Bay Area Transit System), Burlington Coats, CISCO, Conoco, the Mobil Travel Guide (Exxon’s consumer website), Royal Dutch Shell, Panasonic, Hilfiger, Toyota Motor Sales USA, US Army, US federal courts and the US Post Office bulk sorting facility.
For the most part these systems cost less – not because the software is free (companies usually need to pay a vendor for installation and technical support) – because they are simpler to run and reduce power consumption.
Countries Going Open Source
Third world countries are also learning how much money Open Source systems can save. Brazil was the first to mandate Open Soft systems for all their government offices. See http://geospatial.blogs.com/geospatial/2009/07/index.html India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam are thinking of following suit. Of course the International Intellectual Property Association is threatening to take them to the WTO see http://opensourceforamerica.org/opensource-attack for it. However attacking the third world, in light of the global recession and food crisis, tends to make you very unpopular these days.
Open Source Design: Not Limited to IT
Engineers, architects and climate change activists in the Open Sustainability movement (see www.worldchanging.com) are expanding Open Source Design beyond its computer applications to spread sustainable living ideas and technologies virally in a way that allows others to improve and build on them. What I find most exciting is their current focus in the third world – in part because developing countries are more receptive to the concept of Open Source Design. At the same time, it also seems a really ingenious, non-conflictual way to get them on board with reducing carbon emissions while simultaneously saving money. In the best tradition of “leapfrogging” – a mode of development that skips inferior, less efficient, more expensive or more polluting technologies and industries and move directly to more advanced and efficient ones.
Other examples of Open Source Design:
1. Open Source Scenario Planning – Sweden’s Martin Borjesson is the pioneer in this area http://www.well.com/~mb/scenario_planning/
2. Open Source architecture (creating smart green buildings that use less energy because they are planned more efficiently) – see Jamais Cascio’s website http://openthefuture.com/
3. Collaborative Solution Seeking – see Alex Steffen article http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/004140.html
4. The Creative Commons developing world licensing scheme – allows green inventors to patent their work in the developed world only, enabling unlimited access for the developing world. See http://creativecommons.org/about/licenses
5. Singularity University http://singularityu.org/ – “a grand scheme to assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies to address Humanity’s Grand Challenges.”
6. Open Source Sustainability – http://www.open-sustainability.org/wiki/Main_Page
7. Open Source medicine – following the example of South Africa, which in 1997 passed laws making AIDS antiretrovirals affordable by producing generics locally.
See http://sciencereview.berkeley.edu/articles.php?issue=7&article=disease and http://salilab.org/pdf/Maurer_PLoSMedicine_2004.pdf Both sites emphasize that drug research dollars are increasingly scarce and that the patent-protected profit motive fails to promote research for the greater good (see Sept 14 blog “How Capitalism Stifles Intellectual Life”)
8. Open Source research – besides PLoS (Public Library of Science), there is also a growing movement to make all scientific and medical research Open Source. This would save hospitals and medical schools hundreds of dollars a year that they currently pay for subscriptions to professional journals, most of which have a conflict of interest as they also carry drug company ads. See http://bacteriality.com/2007/12/11/opensource/
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance, Sustainability
It occurs to me that I and other climate change activists may be entirely wrong in the way we approach organizing around this issue. Up till now we have envisioned pressuring government to adopt carrot and stick policies (a combination of tax credits and subsidies) that would somehow motivate billions of people to undertake the behavior change necessary to reduce the carbon footprint of the (mainly) developed world. This clearly isn’t working. I feel like I’m butting my head against a brick wall.
I have recently stumbled across a website (and some innovative thinkers) who propose quite a different approach – one involving far reaching guerrilla-style tactics that don’t require government buy-in for success.
The Challenges of Organizing Around Climate Change
Organizing around climate change – at the community, national or global level – presents three unique challenges. First and foremost is the massive scale of the problem. Climate scientists tell us that that the only way to avert climate catastrophe is for entire population of the developed world (1.2 billion) to drastically reduce consumption to bring down their carbon emissions by 80% – and do it by, well like, yesterday.
The second major hurdle is that multinational corporations – which exert virtually totalitarian control over both the world economy and the world’s governments – don’t want 1.2 billion people to reduce their consumption owing to the disastrous effect this would have on profits. Every message climate change activists put out is immediately countered by 100 messages from corporate advertisers pressuring people to increase consumption (and a few denying climate change is happening at all).
The third major hurdle involves the dilemma of the growing middle class in the Third World. As opportunities open up in China and India for their large middle class populations to adopt more comfortable western lifestyles, it’s unrealistic to ask them to return to subsistence agriculture to preserve their low carbon footprint. Especially as they, too, are constantly bombarded by corporate messaging to increase consumption.
Approaching Climate Change from an Open Source Perspective
The website www.worldchanging.com and the book World Changing: a User’s Guide for the 21st Century tackles the problem – of getting billions of people to drastically change their behaviour immediately and simultaneously – from a totally new angle. Whereas most climate change activists point the finger at corrupt and unresponsive governments, the innovators who started worldchanging.com see the hang-up over intellectual property rights as the main problem. The problem, in their eyes, is a mindset that holds people back from sharing new ideas and innovations unless money changes hands.
In other words what they feel is lacking in the sustainability movement are vehicles for sharing solutions that already exist for reducing global carbon emissions.
They also point out that many of these “vehicles” already exist in the Open Source movement, a guerrilla movement (which, to my surprise, is nearly as old as computers) built around the premise that monopoly and intellectual property rights stifle innovation (for reasons John Strachey outlined in 1932 – see Sept 14 blog “How Capitalism Suffocates Intellectual Life”). The movement has grown like wildfire in the last few decades – with the widespread use of Wikipedia, Linux, Firefox, Open Office and other alternatives to the Microscoft monopoly. The basic principle underlying the Open Source movement is that society as a whole benefits from sharing technology (rather than restricting its use via monopoly and intellectual property rights), by allowing other innovators to improve and build on it.
Now www.worldchanging.com is linking climate change activists, green architects, renewable energy engineers and other innovators from all over the world to facilitate sharing, improving, building on and widespread implementation of new sustainable technologies and lifestyles. At present most of this seems to be taking place in the Third World, though the concept is rapidly catching on in Europe.
To be continued, with examples of specific Open Source vehicles that are enabling appropriate development concepts and technologies to take hold in the Third World.
The Most Revolutionary Act on radio:
(click on link)
Chris and I discuss how I was first targeted, following my decision to support the occupation (of an abandoned school) that led to the formation of Seattle’s first African American Heritage Museum – as an alternative to the crack cocaine epidemic among the city’s African American teenagers. We also talk about my research into HIV AIDS, my hospitalization and the Veterans Administration psychologist I worked with who also helped GIs illegally stationed in Cambodia in the sixties and seventies (and terrorized into keeping quiet about it).
(click on link – show is syndicated – fast forward the music to hear interview)
Rob and I discuss the phone harassment, break-ins, attempts to run me down – and my psychiatric hospitalization. We also talk about the political activities that seemed to lead the government to target me – including my research into HIV AIDS – and my inability to get help from the Seattle police. Then we cover the whole area of conspiracies in general, which are more accurately called State Crimes Against Democracy (SCADS)