Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Our goals for the next 15 years

The current state of the world makes it sometimes hard to be very optimistic about our future. Climate crisis, terrorism, geopolitical tension and economic turmoil all seem to make our outlook dimmer rather than lighter. It is easy enough to either give up hope or to completely ignore these challenges by assuming the future will be like our past.

Or we could set ourselves meaningful goals for all of humanity and get to work! This is in essence the approach the UN sustainable development goals for 2030 have taken. Broken down into 17 distinct categories, the UN and all world leaders have defined clear goals and some metrics for all of us to achieve. We are aiming at no less than to "end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all". Wow!

But how realistic is all this in the face of our potentially gloomy future prospects? How meaningful is it, if the UN declares some lofty goals?

Maybe more than you think. First, let's listen to Hans Rosling explain how we were able to  reach the 8 millenuim goals set forth by the UN in the 1990s. Due to the incredible economic rise of nations like China and India, we managed to half the world's poverty in the last 25 years. Not bad when we think back of how the chances of this were back then.

But it sure came at an incredible cost to our planetary resources, to equality and sustainability. This is why the next goals not only speak to developing countries, but all countries. Michael Green from the Social Progress Index explains how this could be done  in reality.

Our leaders have actually set out and defined a better future in terms of concrete goals and measures. It is up to us to hold them accountable for delivering on it by using our citizens right to vote for governments that make the most progress towards a better future. 

If we are looking for meaningful activities to focus on, let's start rowing in the direction of the Global Goals. It might just save us...

Sunday, November 29, 2015

To engage or not to engage

[I have not been active on this blog for a while since I have started a new effort to support in the refugee crisis. It is called lale.help, go take a look at what we are up to...]

With COP21 coming up in Paris this week, expectations of decisive and meaningful climate action are high among those that haven't given up on the political process altogether. In fact, signs going into the week are more positive than in prior years, after broad statements have been made during the G7 summit in Germany earlier this year, promising to phase out all fossil fuels by the end of the century. 

While political direction will be of immense importance for our future, our personal actions continue to be the key element in my view. We have to continue to find meaning and will to contribute to solutions for a more sustainable live. The lack of action is often rooted in a sense of overwhelm and insecurity about our future. We do the best to distract us from future scenarios that are plausibly outlined thought leaders of the post carbon society

At other times, we seek peace with the way the world is by transcending its problems and hiding in a place of spiritual contentment. After all, the world as we perceive it is an illusion in spiritual terms so if we practice non-attachment, we are doing the right thing. A recent article at Lions Roar provides a helpful explanation of why we must engage actively in the process of doing ecological good rather than detaching from the coming bad. While focusing on self improvement, we must still engage with the world for social change. In Buddhist terms, this is the way of the boddhisattva and it applies to ecological challenges as well.

In the 50s this was succinctly put by Erick K√§stner when he said 'Es gibt nichts Gutes, ausser man tut es' (there is nothing good unless you do it). 

Let's all, including the delegates at COP21, heed his moral advice.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Sustainism as a cultural direction

Thinking about sustainability can take many different forms. I mostly approach it as a purely scientific or technological exercise and try to find ways how existing processes can be transitioned into a more efficient and sustainable state. We can also view this as a moral or philosophical, even spiritual topic to ponder.  In a recent post I pointed out Rifkin's thoughts towards an empathic society.

But another angle is the how sustainability is represented in arts and our cultural interactions. In an interesting art publication Schwarz and Elffers have coined the term Sustainism as a sequitur to modernism in order to bring together the various elements. Sustainism is both global and local. It is also digital, connected, networked. It is community minded, transparent, equitable and diverse. It is both high tech and low tech. It realizes that things are interconnected and interdependent.  It is cyclical, seasonal, low-energy, minimal-resource, long-term. Do more with less, as Bucky Fuller would say. Sustainism transcends and includes modernism. Sustainist are participants in all aspects of sustainism.

While we can argue about the immediate value of such an approach of cultural framing, I often feel the context of Sustain-"ability" is to narrow in a sense that it mainly aims to minimize the consequences of today's economic models. It is also not forward looking enough. We need a new cultural paradigm, not just a small infusion of adjusted values into the existing modernist machine. Sustainism tries to establish that new paradigm. I would consider myself a sustainist for sure.

Music also tackles sustainability. Often in a less positive, yet not unsubstantiated way. Take a look at Muse's "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable". Awesome!

"The 2nd Law: Unsustainable"

All natural and technological
Processes proceed in such
a way that the availability of the
remaining energy decreases

In all energy exchanges, if no energy
enters or leaves an isolated system
the entropy of that system increases

Energy continuously flows from being
concentrated to becoming dispersed
spread out, wasted and useless

New energy cannot be
created and high-grade
energy is being destroyed

An economy based on endless
growth is unsustainable


The fundamental laws of
thermodynamics will place fixed
limits on technological innovation
and human advancement

In an isolated system, the entropy
can only increase
A species set on endless
growth is unsustainable


Logo taken from Michiel Schwarz & Joost Elffers, Sustainism Is the New Modernism, 2010 /www.sustainism.com.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

It takes a village to prosper

As I am immersing myself more into the concepts of a Collaborative Economy, I come across various attempts at defining and measuring how acting together rather than against each other increases our happiness and is more in tune with who we are as a species (or thrive towards at least).

Today we mainly measure prosperity in terms of GDP, in terms of  'more stuff'. Economic productivity is already widely and rightfully criticized as a measure of prosperity and I highly recommend reading Tim Jackson's excellent book 'Prosperity without growth' on the topic (you can start with the PDF, I ended up ordering it anyways). But there are also frequent references to the quality of social interaction and lived morals in a society to determine true prosperity. More stuff doesn't create better lives, but more meaningful engagement with fellow humans does, it seems.

I recently had a few first hand experiences that drove home the point for me. A few weeks back, I was in a department store in Ireland with my 4 year old son. As he had a particularly reasonable and grown-up morning that day, I considered his request to browse the nearby toy section by himself while I looked at kitchen supplies. He was going to check back with me and I would wander over within five minutes anyways. As it happened, he got excited about a toy and could not wait to carry it to the car. So he looked for me briefly and then simply ran out of the store into the car park to secure his new priced possession in our trunk like a natural born consumer. Luckily a shop clerk saw it, chased him down and brought him back to me safely. The staff were concerned about his well being, not the toy. I needed their help in looking out for my son, I needed the collaborative effort of society.

Today, I went for a run alongside the river Isar in Munich. As I was trotting down the path in the beautiful English Gardens, another four year old came running by and swiftly turned towards the bushes near the river with an excited skip in his step. I looked around and could see no adult nearby, but the gap between water and the boy getting smaller. Instinctively I dashed after him, grabbed his arm in time and lifted him up. Within seconds, I could see his father looking for him fifty meters away calling his name. I went over and handed him the boy, just like I had gotten mine handed by the Irish clerk not long ago. More impressively, another jogger saw me, a random adult, running after a blond little boy and snatching him up. He sprinted towards me to check that nothing improper was going on and only let me go when the real dad cleared it up. The jogger also was looking out for the boy, from a different but equally real risk.

These interactions reminded me how interdependent we all are in our society. I am sure everyone has similar experiences in their lives, but it left me with a strong feeling of meaning and moral integrity. It takes a village to raise children, but it also takes a village to work together as adults in a fair and sustainable way. Whatever our instinct is to look out for an innocent child is the very instinct we need to protect and grow when it comes to a broader interactions in the economy. It is in us, we need to give it its rightful room to unfold. We need to help each other to be successful and be able to make meaningful contributions to society.

How can we measure this form of quality in behavior? What increases it, and what diminishes it? Is it solely the role of religious institutions to promote morals or is our our joint obligation? Which forms of economic behavior support this and which ingredients need to be there for it to unfold? What kind of system would leave us with the same feeling of meaningful contribution? These are important questions when trying to undo the rigid cage of consumerism we are trapped in today.

Understand that we are all interconnected and interdependent. Receive kindness, do good and pay it forward. That might be a start to turn our lives into a direction of prosperity beyond stuff.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

OuiShare Fest coverage - day2

A rare occurence, I was interviewed along many other OuiShare attendees to share my thoughts on the conference in Paris. Everyone is trying to get from 'lost in transition' to the new model....

Monday, May 25, 2015

OuiShare Fest 2015

Last week, I spend 3 days at OuiShare Fest 2015 in Paris. The third annual gathering of its kind, it brings together players of the Collaborative Economy movement. The event was subtitled 'Lost in transition?' and did the important work of evaluating where the different strands of this new economy actually stand.

It was my first contact with OuiShare and many of the key topics. I have to say I was really impressed by the three days. The location at Cabaret Sauvage was the perfect setting to both attend talks and constantly connect with people in between. I cannot recall a conference where attendees where in fact this collaborative and it was easy to make connections and learn from all the folks there. A warm Thanks to the OuiShare team for putting all this together.

The conference tracks explored the key topics of Collaborative Consumption (fka 'sharing stuff'), Crowdfunding (and cryptoequity), OpenSource and the commons, Makers and distributed manufacturing, future of work, horizontal governance, etc. While all tracks were pretty well curated, I was particularly interested in Sharing, Makers, Funding and OpenSource business.

Here are some notes, in no particular order:

1. It is all about the BlockChain. If you haven't geeked up on bitcoin, etherium, smart contracts and the blockchain, do so now (start here and here!). The promise of a trustless system to store any data is huge in a decentralized world. In fact, Lisa Gansky of MeshLabs referred to the blockchain as the next huge transformative force of the digital age. Personally, I still struggle with some technical scalability aspects of the hash game of the blockchain, but smart minds are fully enchanted so I'll go with it for now.
2. It is all about access capacity: Robin Chase's new book 'Peers Inc' lays out the concept where we can tap into the excess capacity by peers networking through professional platforms (the Inc). This is our path to higher utilization and a shot at a sustainable economic activity. I very much liked her approach and recommend the book.
3. Where is the money? There is an inherent conflict with the sharing economy's lateral approach and the predominant innovation funding model of VCs. While there are many crowdfunding platforms supporting many efforts, the largest players in the space are still traditionally backed startups with massive evaluations (the 1% owns the sharing economy, like it or not). A new approach pioneered by thinkers like Matan Field of Backfeed (and LaZooz) or Swarm or Koinify are cryptocurrencies and a decentralized participation model of cryptoequity. Very interesting trend there for decentralized collaborative organisations (DCOs). Essentially any contribution to an organisation can afford a share in the virtual worth in form of tokens, as long as the group itself defines the value.
4. The collaborative economy is spreading: Jeremy Owyang of Crowdcompanies presented his updated version of the 'honeycomb 2.0' to map out the rapidly expanding scope of how access capacity is used by sharing. Existing companies will quickly need to consider a strategy to play in this interconnected world as business moves laterally.
5. Makers between tinkerers and innovators: The maker movement sometimes gets trapped in the chasm between the personal creativity of FabLabs and the commercial interest in crowd innovation. Existing players try to tap into the maker movement with co-owned maker spaces, but there is no seamless and financially viable paths yet to go from individual creator to a scalable business. Both funding and intellectual property rights pose hurdles here.
6. We need to change our mindset: Apart from all the exciting possibilities of the new collaborative economy, there is a deep rooted understanding that we as individuals need to rewrite the narrative about our most fundamental beliefs. We are not simply consumers, we are creators, community members, collaborators and even giver of gifts - we have just forgotten it. Unless the mental process of our daily behavior is reformed to include the broader 'We', a transition to a robust new model seems implausible. This dimension must not be forgotten and might prove the hardest of them all.

See much more on OSFESt at #osfest15. Looking forward to next year already...

Monday, May 4, 2015

An empathic civilization

[note by author: I have been abstinent from posting to this blog in the last months. This is because I started to work on a book project and all my writing energy goes towards this goal. I will, however, periodically post some of my writings to Sustain3 and would be grateful for any feedback on my ideas.]

Much of the existential crisis humanity is facing in the coming century requires a radical shift in our behavior. We need to act differently in order to sustain life for coming generations, let alone live in prosperity while increasing our planet's population. Bringing about this type of behavioral change will be next to impossible without a change in our intrinsic motivation. By laying down regulations and curtailing freedoms, we will at best minimize the negative consequences of our consumer lives. In order to bring about a robust and reliable change, we need to also change the narrative we have of ourselves. Maybe we are not intrinsically selfish and competitive? Maybe we are much more geared towards collaboration and altruism, as Yoshai Benkler proposes in his recent book 'the penguin and the leviathan'?

Noted economist and author Jeremy Rifkin suggests that we are on an evolutionary path towards collaboration by the emergence of an empathic society. Can homo empathicus develop a shared consciousness with all sentient being and the biosphere as a whole? Can we extend the scope of our empathy beyond the fiction of our tribal blood ties, religious affiliations or nation states, but instead consider the whole humans race and biosphere as our concern? Modern technology is rapidly changing who we interact with and how we empathize. Many new paths to altruistic acts are now being offered by online emergency aid, donations or micro loans. People, in fact, like to help other people. We should recognize and encourage this as we see it manifesting all around us, it might be just what saves us in the end.

'The Empathic Civilization' - by Jeremy Rifkin