Nature, and all members of the ecosystems have created an amazing variety of communication systems, both on land and under water. It is easy to be impressed since the speed, density and social commitment goes beyond what humans would consider. In this three part article we first explore how nature communicates, second we study the parallel between data and petroleum, and finally we discuss how a new generation of internet could look like: inspired by nature.
An internet model inspired by Nature
1. An economic growth and job generation model inspired by Nature
The world is trying to shrug off the economic and mental damage from a virus. There is a need to revive the economy from the bottom up. We know that data is the new petroleum and therefore, as part of a strategy to kickstart the economy we could use “data power” to provide the welcome and needed source of income. However, the main challenge is that nearly all revenue generated by data is earned by only a dozen players worldwide. The present structure of the Internet and the high concentration of earnings implies that the marked increase in internet use is “making the rich richer”. Worse, we are loosing an opportunity to democratize the internet, both its access and its income model. An estimated 50% of the world population is excluded from the full benefits offered by the internet, and the other 50% gets exploited over the internet through a business concept known as datamining which has no respect for privacy and rather resembles a modern day form of slavery and dependency forcing billions into polarized opinions.
In this article I propose that we first of all inspire ourselves in how nature communicates, before we enter into the details of the human-designed and centered internet. Could we emulate this surprisingly efficient system of exchanging data and trading information? If yes, then chats on social networks could resemble the trunks and branches of trees, supported by strong roots, strengthened by mycorrhizal fungi that ensure the connection of the local networks into a coherent system. We could establish secure connections of one pod (area) with another, while each has its own rules for data gathering and sharing, based on universal ethics engrained in human rights. Leaves and undergrowth will nourish the soil, provide the energy that makes microorganisms perform, combining the unique contributions of each of the five kingdoms of nature (bacteria, algae, fungi, plants and animals). Everyone is always learning and continuously inspired, finding pathways to improve performance and resilience, finding joy in the process of discovery. Once we grasp how Nature has evolved a data collection and communication system, can we then imagine a political and technical framework to redesign the internet based on Nature? I believe we can.
All information of a forest circulates within the local ecosystem. Few of us realize Nature, this amalgam of ecosystems operates the greatest communication network ever. It is self-sufficient in energy, and has been operating for millennia. While we may be impressed by the exploits of 5G or the 30,000 satellites that Mr. Elon Musk wishes to put in orbit, Nature’s information and communication system is proven to be much more performant and resilient. Surprisingly most of it operates just right underneath our feet, or in the vast water bodies of our oceans. This network is hidden from our eyes while it operates as an interface between plants, fungi, soil rich in microorganisms, and the soups of virus and bacteria, blended with plankton and micro algae in the seas. These systems work all the time and trade 24 hours a day with amazing stability, and diversity of communication methods. Its ultimate purpose is to take care of everyone, even considering the specific needs of the young and elderly, leaving space for new life and even new forms of life to emerge, like we have never imagined (and practiced) without our human-centered world. To our surprise, this highly performant internet originates in the seas since the beginning of time, and on land well before the Cambrian Revolution 450 million years ago.
The land-based underground network has received most attention - even though still very much in the margin of science - but has been wittingly called the “wood-wide-web’. This network connects and communicates intensively about available resources and imminent threats, balance of nutrients and density of water. The physical connection provided by these fungal networks is thinner than a silken thread, while their length can measure one kilometer in just 1 gram of soil. This is mind blowing. The amount of connectivity that is right under our feet is billions of times more intense than the one million connections of Internet of Things (IoT) per square kilometer that data mining companies are projecting. The fungi, who operate the core of this communication system exchanges and processes all information in return for sugars and fats. Ultimately, the responsibility of this “www” is to promote life. Can we ever emulate this level of sophistication?
The interspecies communications in the sea has reached a level of sophistication that has been left unstudied, thus it is not understood at all. Since the density of water is dozen times higher than soil, and nearly 800 times more than air, we can only imagine how the exchange of information has evolved in water bodies. While research is still in its infant stage there is an emerging consensus that information is exchanged and messages are swapped through the biochemical changes in the water caused by metabolism or anxiety; the electromagnetic shifts emanating from movements of organs; the subtle perception of changes in sound from everything but especially the heart beat which is audible over long distances through highly sophisticated filtration techniques permitting to zero in on that particular sign of life; to calls with perfectly pitched sounds; or, even the careful drawings that would resemble highly expressive art and the play with colors. All and more yet to be discovered are part of this diverse portfolio of communications.
1.1. From Anthropocene to Fungi-cene
Many modern day citizens think we created the Anthropocene times, where life is determined and dominated by humans. When our visionary computer scientists refer to the intelligence embedded in nature they usually point out the neural networks. True, it is easy to be impressed by the capacity of our brain. However, if you really want to be impressed, then spend a few hours exploring the magic of fungal networks which are nothing less than the largest living organisms in the world (100 square kilometers of filaments of mushrooms going through the soil all having the same DNA). And then take the time to explore the power of precision of data transmission through pheromones; or, study the varying content of whale songs and the diverse languages mastered by the sperm whales. Their capacity to express precise instructions and opinions in the same structure as language but with different syllables according to the oceans where they roam has baffled scientists.
We can only be self-confident about “our” internet and “our” brain as long as we do not realize how viruses, bacteria, fungus and micro-algae organize life, just like corals, sharks, and pufferfish. While we tend to observe our role in the destruction of ecosystems, habitats, animal and plant life, we seldom look at the burgeoning of Nature's internet in the soil, water and air. Just to illustrate: pheromones - these tiny molecules - pass very selective messages with very high precision of one part per billion through the air to reach a specific (future) partner or family member miles away. The Delicea pulchra, a red seaweed living in the Tasman Sea, which could be interpreted as a soup of microorganisms with one million virus and bacteria per cubic millimeter of salt water, has the capacity to jam the communication system of bacteria preventing the creation of biofilms and the spreading of viruses. Whales exploit salt gradients to communicate with their kin over thousands of kilometers in the oceans. These vast networks of communication deployed in soil, air and water have one main purpose: promote life and build up resilience. So, we will discover that the role of fungi in nature is much more than to degrade and decompose plant matter. Fungi could be viewed as the masters of this Nature's internet connecting on land everyone and communicating everything, while securing fairness in the process. This social element that is part and parcel of the fungi culture is new, and not expected from a world that has been described as “wild to be tamed”.
1.2. The Plant and Fungi Data
The reset we need for the internet controlled by a few players could be inspired by the plant and fungal networks as to permit an intense exchange of information. In Nature, all data is locally managed, bringing benefits to everyone. Information for what? Let us summarize the main content of the exchanges as science has understood it to date: fungi sense and register the presence and the amount of carbon. Based on their proprietary data - since there is no one else with the means to collect with great precision this information - fungi determine the price of sugar. This is not a cold calculation and price setting based on supply and demand. The fungi assess the value of an old tree, and its role in the ecosystem, while ensuring the connection with the hundred year old stump with its offsprings in the area. Based on this detailed set of observations driven by a search for a quality of life - not the maximum revenue - the fungus and the plants engage in trading whereby fungi deliver mainly carbon. The fungi ultimately decide how much plants and which plants pay what price expressed in an amount of sugar and fats.
We discovered through recent experimental field research that the price for carbon is not uniform! Take the example of an area where human activity has mined most of the carbon out of the soil: plants have to pay a higher price for acquiring carbon and some other trace minerals that are desperately needed. This higher cost limits their growth. However, this extra income for the fungi is partly redistributed to the needy, and partly used to rebuild the fungal network which was regularly destroyed by tilling. The fungus has a culture of taxing and redistribution of wealth. Could we imagine a human designed internet were we are thoroughly connected throughout a local area, and we would be able to exchange data and provide livelihood and robustness in a system that regenerates the soil as suggested above?
Nature creates and operates information networks that guide a market with fluctuating prices for carbon. In additional, fungi will engage in partnerships that take care of basic needs beyond food for all members of the ecosystem. The fungal-flora network, supported by microorganisms including bacteria and virus, considers the young and the old, with their specific needs and secures information and nutrition that is supportive to all life since the fungi learned over millions of years that the young, old and weak share the wisdom and the knowledge that go beyond the mere utilitarian goals of trade. This approach permits all present in the local system to share, learn and benefit . This strengthens the whole.
With sugar as the currency, and carbon as the main commodity, this trading system builds interrelations that turn into the building blocks of biodiversity. The services offered by this communications network extends to health and safety measures, even to emergency calls. Take the example of an approaching herd of elephants. These giant mammals rip off branches and leaves to still their grand appetite. This is painful for trees. Once the fungal network senses the arrival of the herd thanks to its pounding on the ground which reverberates through the region, it will quickly announce this imminent danger through its underground communication system offering a sense of direction and timing. It is like a remotely controlled burglary alarm, it even extends to a health and safety insurance, including preventive measures to reduce possible damage. By announcing the arrival of elephants with a ferocious appetite, plants will quickly shoot their leaves with plenty of acids, aided by the fungal network. This rapid exchange whereby liters of fresh chemicals are pumped through the tree’s twigs and leaves is only possible thanks to the data collection, communication and trading power of the fungi. The elephants taste the bitter leaves and quickly move on to avoid an upset stomach.
We are just at the very beginning of our discovery of how nature and its communication systems work. And we realize that have barely scratched the surface of underwater communications. It is now clear that the soil with fungi and flora is wired with ramifications beyond our comprehension. This newly discovered resilience in ecosystems permits local communities to thrive, strengthen the basis of life as we know it. This incredible reality beneath our feet and in the water offers us a chance to become humble instead of the -often arrogant- belief that we have computing and communication systems that are modern and unique. Reality is that compared to what is happening in the soil and sea even our satellite connections and our internet data exchange is a poor approximation of what Nature does.
The exchange of information at the core of these networks is local, all data is locally processed, stored, shared, learned from and acted upon? This inspires me to suggest how to evolve from datamining to data farming and data agroforestry. But before we enter into proposals, let us first study the economic power behind these proposals by drawing a parallel between data and petroleum.
2. Data: The New Petroleum of the Economy
When in late December 2020 the communication medium WhatsApp announced its new terms of service, imposing a novel policy about sharing private data with Fabebook, its controlling shareholder, tens of millions of users shifted in a matter of days to the alternative services of Telegram and Signal. The rush to the alternative messaging system spiked overnight since WhatsApp imposed a very tight deadline on accepting these new terms. While WhatsApp is not sharing content with anyone, which is claims is fully encrypted to the point that even the service provider cannot access the content, the app has announced that it will share all metadata: who sends a message to whom, when, and from where. WhatsApp openly says that its business model uses data related to its clients for profit. This is in contrast with the statement made in 2014 by Facebook when it took over WhatsApp: Facebook would not collect data from WhatsApp. However, as we now know, WhatsApp offers data to its mother company! There is always a fine line separating reality from intention and that is because “data is the new petroleum”.
Digital services, ranging from network infrastructure providers (like ISPs) to hosting services (like cloud storage providers), and online platforms (like social media and marketplaces) all consider that their future lays with data mining. Data mining is the business of getting privileged and even exclusive access to a rich and unlimited flow of revenue derived from exploiting data. The European Union with 450 million inhabitants has tried to impose strict rules on data collection and processing of personal information including profiling. Unfortunately, its good intentions have not resulted in a successful enforcement of its policies. The United States of America (330 million inhabitants) has been rather relaxed on the data mining and the privacy rules. The American Administration has tilted its policies towards a break-up of the technology empires that control this lucrative and powerful business. Whatever both regulators intend to undertake, only a small and very exclusive number of data miners today exploit the masses of information for commercial, political and strategic purposes. Also here we notice a grand difference between reality and intention … because data is the new petroleum.
The novel business of datamining is not much different from petroleum. Both data and crude oil require a central control to design, process and distribute products to clients. The petroleum industry - and the present format of datamining - is an antithesis of the natural model of information, communication and community service we have just described in the first part. However, the comparison between the two helps define clearly what is happening, what is needed and what has to be avoided. There are always different angles to study the same industry. For example: fossil fuels contribute largely to climate change, while a secure and abundant access to petroleum became the grease of the economy, without which everything would come to a grinding halt, or could never have taken off.
Petroleum, as a strategic commodity that powered growth enjoyed a century long expansion. Its influence goes beyond energy. Derivatives of crude oil include asphalt for roads, plastics and packaging, fertilizers and even microplastics for cosmetics. We could state that the petroleum industry could be considered as one of the most efficient users of raw materials: nearly nothing is lost. Data miners are looking for the same centralized approach to their business: all possible information is gathered, stored and processed ready to be sold.
Since the advent of the petroleum industry, it adopted a centralized command and control model. This is also true for datamining where a few powerful businesses dominate. This bias towards power in the hands of a few with disregard for for the local economy, citizen rights, especially privacy pushes policy makers to rewrite the rules of the game without much success. Worse, as each political authority creates its own set of rules they are easily manipulated by the powerful few that master the market dynamics. Numerous attacks on the centralization of power both the datamining and the petroleum powerhouses have been to no avail so both continue to thrive and expand their cloud.
Their business model emulates a simple logic: “more of the same” as prescribed by the economic model of globalization, standardization and economies of scale where the cutting of costs stands central. Shell demonstrated this with an amazing confidence by inaugurating in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (USA) the largest polymer factory in history crunching out one million tons of plastics a year. The pellets are distributed by more than 3,000 rail carriages to be turned into phone cases, auto parts and food packaging. Everyone knows that microplastics emanating from these plastic products will be lingering in the air, land and seas long after they have served their purpose. However, the projected growth in sales over the next few decades is so solid that it translates in more than a dozen additional facilities that will be built by Exxon Mobil, Dow and a handful players that dominate the market. What was and is true for petroleum seems even more true for data which is thriving on the massive expansion of communication networks and server parks
. Will it still be true in the future? That is up to us to decide.
2.1. Consider a Better Roadmap
The purpose of this article is not to criticise petroleum or data mining companies, and certainly not to demonize sectors that have brought a lot of development to societies and quality of life to individuals. Rather than arguing in favor or against any business we suggest in the next pages how we can design a different business model for data that serves the citizens of the world. Policy makers must know that there are choices to be made, and that if they do not stand by their promises, a new generation could take initiatives that transform the reality the world. Instead of the present roadmap for data which has an ever greater concentration of power than we witnessed for petroleum, we must undertake concerted efforts to create opportunities that will change not just the datamining industry, but the livelihood of the people it affects.
We must make a reflection on the importance of the consumption model that has been adopted for both petroleum and data. The energy model was carefully designed so that everyone would need a generous supply of fossil fuel for the rest of one’s life. The analogy is amazing: no one can imagine that anything would work without data, without communication networks and server parks.
2.2. The Merger of Computer and Communications (C&C)
Data is created and collected at the nexus of computer data and communication technologies (C&C). The owners of the early technology companies realized that the real money is not earned by moving boxes containing phones and computers with ever changing technologies and ever increasing investment costs. Real money is earned by handling the data itself. Data mining businesses designed a legal framework that ensures that all data from the smallest source like a sensor or a mobile phone would be forcibly channeled to server parks which emerged like mushrooms around the globe mirroring many times over all data as it is accumulated and stored. While Governments would be asked to foot the bill for fiber optic networks and satellite communications, few realized that this investment was only to serve a few who knew that data mining would dominate a digital world.
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak both realized that a desktop computer in every home connected to a phone line would gather much more precise and detailed data than the supercomputers in the basement of headquarters of Wang or DEC, companies that do not exist anymore. Hence, the quest was on to identify the ways and means of creating and capturing data, securing exclusive access, building of data highways including fiber optic cables crossing oceans and continents. The pioneers designed a portfolio of devices equipped with software that permits the effortless capture and the exclusive control of all metadata transiting computers, portable devices and phones.
In the same year that Apple was created (1976) Dr. Koji Kobayashi, the CEO and later Chairman of NEC, the Japanese computer giant coined the term C&C (computers and communications). He recognized the tremendous value in the merger of computer technologies and knew all too well that this would lead to an explosive demand for hardware, integrating previously two separate pillars of industries into one powerful new business conglomerate. However, he and many others only saw the hardware and never grasped that long strategic vision that underpinned the strategy of both Apple and Microsoft. Once computers and communications were connected, and a wide range of data transmission through ethernet, ADSL, T-1 lines and dial-up systems were established moving data through information pipelines it was Steve Jobs who took the whole logic to a different level with the ingenious creation of the iPhone.
2.3. Services and Commissions through Miniaturization
The strategy that unfolded has the stroke of a genius and impacts our connected world for decades. It has transformed our lifestyle. Many tried to imitate the business model of the iPhone, and while a few like Samsung succeeded surpassing the number of phones sold, no one has succeeded in turning as profitable, valuable and powerful. The revolution of the iPhone was building on the creation of the highly intelligent and mobile services (HIMS), a term that was first coined in 1980 by Nomura Research Institute, the research arm of the largest investment broker of Japan. The success of the “mobile” was more than the capacity to transport phones and computers. It was miniaturization as a fundamental third technological breakthrough that made the HIMS evolve into a phone with a very powerful computing capacity. The amount of devices, technologies, software and services cramped into a phone could only evolve as fast as it did thanks to the ever diminishing size of cameras, lights, sensors, supported by ever more performing chips, and the standardization of the SIM-card.
The master stroke of Apple was not just the endless services included in the iPhone, the real breakthrough is that this phone emerged as a must-have item as much desired as the Louis Vuitton bag for ladies. This smart phone was built on the business model that successfully negotiated a commission (and loyalty) on data volume: the mobile operators agreed to pay Apple a percentage of their earnings generated thanks to the ever increasing volume of data transiting the iPhone. At first most mobile operators resisted this commission. The first mobile phone company that cracked was ATT. As a late-comer to mobile telephones ATT bet on the success of the iPhone and found the high commission estimated at more than ten percent a fair price to pay. It paid off for both ATT and Apple.
2.4. Expand the Portfolio of Services and the Integration of Devices
The drive towards miniaturization with ever smaller functional devices integrated into a hand held phone and a three way loyalty (Apple, network provider and user) was further reinforced through a novel strategy of Apple to invite creative developers to imagine all possible types of apps that would exclusively operate on the iPhone thanks to a dramatic increase of functionality. This was not just a service like forecasting the weather in each city, it was the integration of dozen of pieces of equipment that used to be stand-alone into an integrated platform that was now soon called a smartphone. From an alarm clock and a stop watch to a high performing camera, even an electrocardiogram and a program to predict the precise time of ovulation, to moon cycles with full vision of astronomy, astrology, a flash light and a GPS. All these individual devices were bundled into one and only iPhone. This meant that Apple locked in the users to use more datatime and ensured the transit of an ever increasing amount of details about the daily whereabouts, professional needs and personal interests beyond work. Thus emerged a whole new culture around Apple. This approach locked in the users to Apple, and locked in the mobile telephony companies who enjoyed rapid growth who witnessed an exponential growth in the volume of data transiting their networks. Even voice left the telephone waves and converted into digital soundbites with the arrival of Skype. As the customer base grew, and the data flows turned into tsunamis, fortunes were made overnight. It was no surprise that mobile telephony operators offered phones nearly for free, provided the client would commit to operate exclusively with one operator. This business model resulted in customers exploiting the low rates within the network to acquire several phones. Instead of one phone in the house, within a decade, each member would have from a very young age their smart phone connected to dozens of IoTs and take this device everywhere. Imagine how unknowingly we offered anyone who provided us the network, the hand-held device or the applications the opportunity to invade our privacy.
The solid and ever rising revenues linked to an ever growing suite of digital services ensured a continuous and ever more detailed flow of data: this is nothing less than a well planned bonanza and the materialization of a vision. The continuous improvement of iPhones with the integration of new connectivity technologies switching quickly from one to the other upgraded continuously the streaming of data soon including high resolution pictures and even videos. Then another master stroke was the invention of iMusic, followed by Apple TV and a myriad of online games now good for more than 30% of the business. We often forget the sheer numbers; when iPhone offered a phone version of the game Tetris, fans of the game downloaded over 100 million times in a matter of weeks. Before anyone realized, and complemented by the novel developments with Pixar, Apple would bypass Disney, Universal, Vivendi providing access to music, film and entertainment of all sorts backed-up by an estimated 2.2 million apps. Just think about the massive pool of data this represents for Apple and its privileged partners. The C&C of computers and communications evolved to the C&C (exclusive) content and (total) control.
Then competition geared up and everyone learned from Apple’s success. Google Play bypassed Apple with 2.8 million apps but has not succeeded in copying the revenue model. Google focused its search engine - its original grip on the market with tremendous data collection, and then providing Google maps, and Google translate. This was powerful, and soon the two giants lived next to each other. The role and grip on the market by Huawei and its smaller but design savvy Oppo from China carefully emulated these strategies, adapting to a Chinese context. Samsung outshone its local competitor LG and focussed first on unit volume and then started aiming for the upper market. The amount of detail of data that can be gathered through these companies operating globally represents trillions of data transmissions per day.
Since Apple iOS and Google’s Android put the smart phones at the center of IoT (the internet of things), and offer the Cloud to store data and subscription services where a few can freely mine everything, one can only imagine the unparalleled opportunities associated with mega data. If one adds the likes of Facebook, Amazon, Tencent and Alibaba then we have listed the magnificent ten. Datamining is not just the petroleum of the future, it is the guaranteed cash flow for these (and a few other) technology giants. Every time we click on the cookies button, we hand over everything about us without ever considering the implications of trading free emails, free GPS, free translations, free weather forecast and free social media with the total loss of privacy and the hand-over of a trillion dollar revenue model.
2.5. It is only a beginning
In order for this strategy to maintain its momentum, there is a need to continuously improve the connectivity of mobile devices and take over ever more storage at central points. The Cloud is composed of millions of servers that operate like grand data homes in heaven. At the same time that many talk about the marvel of having everyone’s information in the Cloud this set-up is emerging as the biggest energy guzzler in modern history and growing. It is against this background the Cloud on one hand, and the energyvore system that has been deployed that we have to understand this massive push to get 5G in place: it permits the datamining industry to fill their reserves in the Cloud at rapid and fully controlled growth rates. 5G is not only a next level of datamining, it is an improved version of communications that avoids interferences, thus easing the flow of data from the most intense data users ready to pay a premium price to very selective hosts.
While in the beginning of the mobile phone, dropped calls and seamless connectivity was an issue that caused a lot of customer ire, now it has radio wave interferences and the permanent risks of hacking. The new communication technology made a major effort to strengthen the unencumbered point to point connectivity. This is necessary when the number of radio-based connections to phones on one square kilometer soon reaches the milestone of one million. Even though this is only a minute fraction of the density of the fungal network we described, this airborne communication system enters its next technical and performance challenge. The more connections per square kilometer, the higher the risk of one connection disturbing the other. Worse, the more unprotected connections with a very weak security protocol, the more hacking will take place. In addition to the datamining by the top 10, there is data theft, extortion and even datakidnapping planned and executed by millions of small gangs (and sometimes even political pundits). The users often neglect that the wireless communications were selected for ease of use, not for their secure connectivity.
This increased level of complexity of mobile communications has many side-effects. First of all, instead of roaming around, the new 5G antennas can only perform when these are in the line of sight with the device that must be connected. This novel technical requirement reinforces the digital divide between the heavily populated megalopolis and the thinly inhabited rural zones. In addition, this ever increasing complexity of a high concentration of users with ever more data transmissions over not more than 1,000 different radio frequencies explains why the industry does not want to go too fast with their expansion nor with too fast data transmission.
This may sound as a contradictory statement knowing the expectations of the market to have seamless, faster and ever more accessible communications. However, there is a hard logic. If speed of data measured in bits per second (bps) were a real top priority then the industry would embrace better performing technologies like LiFi, the internet over millions of light frequencies. The deployment of a large number of 5G networks supported by millions of newly placed antennas can barely offer one Gigabit of data volume. This is a fraction of the Terabits LiFi can be operating at. Why are the giants of the digital world and datamining reluctant to shift to better performing data transmission systems that is free and abundant?
2.6. It is Control over Data - Stupid!
Technically speaking the amount of data throughput could increase hundred fold, even thousand fold shifting the transmission technology from the present radio waves based on Bluetooth, satellites, 4 and 5G, to data transmission and geolocalization over light. Why does the industry not embrace the grand advantage that the light infrastructure is the largest and the cheapest in the world. If data miners were to opt for this cheaper, faster and health conscious connectivity, then there would be no need to undertake billions in capital investment to install antennas which face an increasing resistance from citizens worried about the electromagnetic frequencies.
The single reason why the datamining industries decided to stick to radio waves is that these can be tightly controlled by the few who have carved out their market in datamining. While everyone recognizes that radio waves are not at all secure, and are easily hacked, the datamining industry concluded that their control of their sources of information is more important than to provide a secure high speed connectivity. The light based transmission at super speed is uncontrollable, worse for the big operators it invites too many small competitors to nibble market share away, even potentially undermine the hegemony of the data control!
The interest of the consumer (speed, volume, protection from hackers) or the democratization of the internet (making access available to everyone) is not the main preoccupation of the industry. While the industry and the political supporters claim that this is important, we have concluded that after greenwashing there is something new called “datawashing”! This is why this article suggests that there is an urgent need for academia, policy makers and citizen groups to urge a shift in the focus from a narrow debate on 5G, to a broad debate on datamining. Unless we offer a solid alternative to datamining and its C&C infrastructure (exclusive content and total control) we will continue to be locked in a system that serves few, and consider each one of us as a data object as the term “The Internet of Things” clearly suggests. Would it not be more appropriate to design the internet of and for people?
Why does the datamining industry refuse to embrace a better and faster technology? The risk to loose control is well founded. Why? Light has a billion frequencies, and radio waves only have a thousand. This implies that when the standard of data capture and transmission were to use in parallel a billion light frequencies, then there is no chance to keep datamining exclusive. A Government can sell a few licenses for available radio frequencies at a high price and to stem budget deficits, while offering an exclusive access that ensures control of datamining for a few companies. However, the unregulated and free light frequencies are accessible to everyone! There is no chance to ask anyone to pay for using it. Remember, light frequencies are unregulated, while radio waves are highly regulated. Now you realize why the drive to expand the 5G network is so forceful: it is a race to widen the exclusive area for exploiting the petroleum and the lubricants of the economy of today and tomorrow: your data. Any effort to put a dent into this unrelenting drive will be bulldozed over.
Now that this control issue is clarified, we should take for a moment the position of the data provider. There are few credible initiatives to date that aim to protect privacy, distribute power and share the benefits of datamining with a wider audience. One of these exceptions is Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who is credited with the invention of the WorldWideWeb. He announced in 2018 his commitment to build a fairer and more decentralized internet. Finally, he created a dataplatform called Solid. The goal is to give internet users more control over how all their personal data moves and gets used across the internet.
Another initiative is called Holochain, founded by Arthur Brock and Eric Harris-Braun. They have similar objectives as Sir Tim. Their Holo project was created to bring the benefits of distributed apps to anyone with a web browser, redistributing the wealth and health made possible by our mounting interconnectivity. Both initiatives act in favor of a new form of internet concluding that concerted and open source action in their new generation of cloud is more effective since individual users, watchdogs of national governments and even the European Union have ultimately very little power to change the total control by a few. There is a need for an entrepreneurial approach to datamining that complements the highly necessary regulatory initiatives.
Now, the Solid and Holochain platform is not only about privacy, it is about the capacity to decide whereto your information goes and what do you permit that is done with it. While this is a very valid contribution to opening up of the market of data collection, storage and mining, we must point to the fact that Solid and Holochain’s clients are large corporations and national services. While we welcome alternative options like these we realize that this only softens the hard edges of datamining. We need to have a more fundamental shift in the business model that is underpinning the present drive towards datamining. That is the purpose of the last part of this article.
3. Shifting from Data Mining to Data Farming and the Internet of Life
The introduction of an internet based on light represents an exceptional opportunity to launch a completely new model: “Sustainable Data Farming”. This concept offers a chance to reverse “big datamining” which exploits every single piece of data with total disregard of dignity or privacy of the data provider who unknowingly signs off on a total hand-over of every detail of his/her life for analysis and resale in return for a free search engine, email address, or social media account. If there is a political goodwill that has the individual as a priority, and the entrepreneurial spirit as a guidance, then the existing light infrastructure can evolve into the core platform for data transmission. If this logic is pursued then we can cut energy consumption at least ten fold, democratize the internet, and we will turn the table on the existing powers. Just like the statement made about petroleum: we are not against, rather we are in favor of better. At the center stands the concept of “data farming”.
Just like the land is fertile since microorganisms, mushrooms, mosses, insects and plants interact with water, air and soil, data farming offers a rich understanding of the interactions within a family and a community. This content accompanied with sense and sensitivity will never be matched by IoT. This data is first and foremost local and can be collected into “pods” as Berners-Lee calls them. This permits the Internet of Things to evolve into the internet of and for people. Ultimately we hope that this will emerge as the Internet of Life (including people but also considering every other living species that is part of the ecosystem).
At the core of data farming is the understanding that “Life is learning”. And learning is finding connections that you did not see before. The key building blocks of the new internet as operated by the ten largest enterprises are (1) data collection, and (2) the Cloud. There is a third building block of the internet of tomorrow: (3)learning. While the first two are centrally controlled and are rather easy to control by the dominant internet operators, the third “learning” is where the dataminers are clearly and badly underperforming. This leaves a unique window of opportunities for local initiatives to stand up and perform in data services.
Learning about life cannot be done in the Cloud, unless you totally neglect culture, tradition, geography, and the ecosystems on which life depends in each part of the world. Learning can only succeed through interaction of people who live and share within a local and cultural context. So it is the time and place-based learning where data farming, even at a small and local scale can outperform the grand dataminers. How? Because real learning is by definition local and interactive! Learning cannot be centralized in supercomputers with loads of historic and user data exploited by smart algorithms, or even Artificial Intelligence. Learning builds on local culture and intelligence first, the capacity to grasp where and how people live. That is why data farming is in the first place offering a chance to build community and celebrate culture and tradition, instead of globalizing the world with the same games and uniform multiple choice questions that force children to regurgitate the known answers instead of discovering the questions to which there are no answers.
It is surprising that the giants of informatics have invested massively in infrastructure to gather data, and in the Cloud to store and process data to fit the same uniform criteria. These conditions offer dataminers the capacity to manage proprietary data. However, they do not invest at all - nor have the capacity to date - in learning systems. Their highly centralized approach greatly handicaps them learn from systems that permit to adjust to the local conditions and create a real empowerment to undertake a betterment of life. This is the competitive advantage that represents an unparalleled opportunity for data farming to emerge and operate successful in immediate vicinity of communities. Learning makes sense out of complexity and diversity for the common good, which is by definition different for each community.
This core concept has been worked on by pioneers of chatting services like Guillaume Asselot, the founder of Tree Chat, a game-ified chat for collaborative data gathering that starts within a small community and leads to joint actions through and seeing the connections. The chat grows just like trees where ideas emerge and merge until there is sufficient fertile to blossom, and pass on to action. Just like the tree in the central market sets the stage for a community around which local life evolves simply by providing shade and majestic beauty, this Tree Chat permits a natural and spontaneous evolution of information to gather and to increase in relevance. As people discover the common interests and a common vision in their communities, or simple and basic needs that were not recognized before, the local data farming takes root. It starts local and small scale by learning about each other.
3.1. From Global and Exclusive to Local and Human Scale
Data farming is local. While a data farm may seem insignificant, we may need to be reminded that the macro-economy is the amalgam of the micro-economy. Just like one tree is only a tree, and a flower is only a flower, a few trees, bushes, mosses and grasses evolve into a resilient and efficient ecosystem with a continuous enrichment of its biodiversity thanks to feedback loops and multiplier effects. Just like farmers created cooperatives and communities to jointly purchase materials, process the harvest, and sell together with the aim of having better revenues, strengthening the bargaining power, all at once we realize that the same can be undertaken with data.
The parallel logic is powerful: every house - even in shanty towns has light. Each light should be the most efficient LED saving energy like never before, that is equipped with a chip that permits to process and transmit data. This technology is available today. Technologies however are not the game changers. The business model that deploys clusters of technologies are the real frameworks that permit to transform reality.
Each device, from a phone to a tablet, a video game toolbox or a home television set can connect over the light network to a central server at home, or with a friendly neighbor. Today’s laptop computers have enough power to assume that role. This can quickly grow into a collective patchwork of small servers located in basements or attics without using any of the existing radio waves. Instead we can use existing copper cables which run through every house and every room. Later, when time is ripe, these can be complemented with optical fibers and expand to a patchwork of connected lights, laptops and LANs (local area networks).
Let us be clear: we are not against radio waves! We are in favor of high speed and volume, the democratization and inclusiveness of the internet, the sharing of the revenues from data farming, and especially controlling our own data as well as participate in the revenues associated. We wish to farm information into a useful set of interrelated facts permitting a better understanding of how to live sustainable, creative, healthier, even happier, and how to be of service, building resilience and strengthening the common good. This is not a romantic view, but rather a vision that can be rendered reality immediately thanks to its simplicity of execution: one data farm at the time.
3.2. From Concept to Reality
A few families can work together and join a community data farm with the support of a small village on the countryside, a city ward or a block that is part of a megalopolis. In a traditional framework of internet, there is the protocol known as the API (Application Programming Interface), which permits to access and exchange information. This is made available to small players on the internet who are keen on integrating themselves into the grand information networks like Google and Amazon. For example: the Metro of Paris, one of the giants of data, has an API agreement with Google. Since travelers will question Google (and not the Metro) on how to get from the airport to downtown, the Paris metro offers all its data for free to Google! Google then reserves the right to datamine this vast amount of Q&A generated thanks to the free provision of information by the metro company. The Metro, under the present legal framework has no leverage to negotiate Therefore, even as host of the Olympic Games in 2024, the Metro permits Google and others not just the free access to its updated information, it also allows to exploit all the data that can be mined and earn royally from online advertising.
Data farming as proposed, will create a shift in the concentration of power. The small and yet so valuable information of every detail of life that used to be captured through millions of applications could be hidden from large data companies through carefully designed data farms. At first, this will happen unnoticed. To the operators of datamining the amount of data lost is totally insignificant. However, this small intervention at a local scale could quickly grow into fertile tiny “data” veggie gardens where the “tomatoes” for local consumption are the local data built-up over time and connected with other related facts of high relevance for the local community. Everyone has the chance to discover new connections and has an opportunity to learn, steering the citizens to discover their potential, preferences and opportunities. Veggie gardens can grow under the canopy of trees protected from the harsh sun.
Each simple detail that anyone in town likes to consult about the services of the city, the music that the local community loves to hear, played by local musicians who will be discovered for the first time, the arts programs that are offered by local amateurs (who are often very professional), the transportation time tables, the hospital schedule, the local sports agenda. This information is farmed. It grows and is harvested with a most interesting factor: dramatic reduction in energy consumption and an end to this unparalleled control of data. How is this possible?
3.3. The End of Data Globetrotting
If you land in Tokyo, and do not understand the language, you query Google in your preferred language on how to get to your hotel. Even though Japan has an amazing fiber optic network and a very well functioning mobile telephony with some of the most professional companies like NTT, NTT Data and Softbank, a question entered on a phone in Narita or Haneda Airport travels through these companies around the globe, and is ultimately stored in at least 3 servers in unknown overseas locations. This needless shipment of data helps fill up the trans-Pacific optical fiber cables and its mirrored storage consumes so much energy emitting an excessive amount of carbon. Thousands of simultaneous demands are popping up all around the airport and one million questions are captured in 40 million data units: who, from where, whereto, time, arriving from … This flow of information covering every imaginable subject fills the data pipelines, and builds up the data tanks. If one were to use the data farming concept then the info on Tokyo Airport needed by someone in Tokyo Airport is responded to immediately from Tokyo Airport, and kept on local servers. Makes sense?
Actually it does make so much sense to mitigate the clogging of the information pipelines with so much data moving across oceans that only has one purpose: feed a dozen data miners. This subsequently puts pressure to build more transoceanic cables and to facilitate more infringement on privacy.
Data transmission companies supply the largest data mining companies an ever increasing amount of details on the life of billions. These local operators will seek investments, permits and guaranteed revenues from governments in order to unknowingly export all the national data out of the country. The data is not sent once, but many times over and kept on foreign servers. Data miners will even request government subsidies for transoceanic cables. If you analyze the legislation that accompanies these activities then we realize that citizens are data suppliers and are treated like slaves: no voice and no rights.
If on the other hand, the data is processed locally through the light infrastructure without the need for wireless communication or the global fiber optic cable networking, not even the satellite connectivity, then the information is gathered on site only (like a home, a community or an airport), and controlled on site. Thus, the relationship between data supply and data demand is direct, without intermediaries, nor analysis with the sole aim to sell and feed consumerism spurred by online sales where everything is available with a click.
The data farming is not only about our privacy, the capacity to learn about our own use and needs, it is like organic farming: ensuring that we replenish the soil, the community without an excessive consumption of energy. This permits to safeguard the integrity of the information and the privacy of the supplier and create a platform to learn about one self and become resilient by knowing who you are and what is really needed.
3.4. From Local Farming to AgroForestry of Data
Data farming will ensure local composting, cross fertilization, natural hybrids, local pest and viral control through simple interventions with complementary species, avoiding at all cost to go for monocultures and economies of scale. This puts a stop to pests and replenishes the soil. Just like the parallel of datamining and petroleum holds up all too well, so does the comparison between data farming and local organic farming. Just as if all the nutrients are gone from the local soil and we rely on a global food supply highly dependent on fertilizers, so we could understand the comparable logic that all data will be gone and local communities are deprived of their livelihood.
Local data farming secures growing and understanding local resources, the local weather and the social tissue that permits to have a captive and stable community. It is like an ongoing search for ever better, for synergies and complementarities. A network of data farms evolve into data agroforestry, with pillars of common interest structured around centers for data that are analogue to water, seed banks, localized weather forecast and sources of shade. Do we realize that a forest generates 500 tons of biomass per hectare per year often starting with a very poor soil that is enriched over time into a lush ecosystem, while a monoculture farming of soy and corn can barely provide 10 tons of biomass per year and depletes the soil, increasingly dependent on outside supply of chemistry, fertilizers, and even genetics. Data farming versus data mining represents exactly the same.
The revolution of data farming and data agroforestry sets the stage of how data gathering can be inspired by ecosystems and natural farming, not just the computational skills. It is the business model as well as the societal model that underpins this transition. Just as a fast urbanization facilitated datamining, re-ruralization or the return to life within the carrying capacity will promote data farming. This enriches the local community, using local clusters of information that offer a solid backbone to a resilient society with a culture of lifelong learning. The community masters all its data, provides all key available information locally without cluttering servers and fiber optic networks while saving up to 90% in energy. Now the internet turns into the promotor of the most efficient lights that merge with routers into one local data relay that is so precise, even unhackable that it makes 5G antennas look like dinosaurs even before their massive rollout.
Most important: this data farming sets up the communities to control their data, to protect their privacy but also to set them up to learn and to earn their fair share of income that is today totally beyond their grasp.
A search for the latest results of the Football Club Barcelona brings you to the website of the club. It only lets you read any of their public information if the visitor permits their system to insert over and above the cookies the growers is using an additional 788 cookies. These cookies are classified in detail as: 221 strictly necessary which you cannot refuse, 30 to add functionality, 194 for analysis and 343 behavioral advertising. Thanks to the European Union’s efforts you can decline 567, but not the first 221! The nearly 2,000 cookies within just 2 clicks from connecting to Bing and Barcelona is what is required to learn about the latest scores of your favorite club. This hard reality offers you an idea how far datamining has turned sophisticated. We suspect that a brand like FC Barcelona is able to put some pressure on Bing and Google to share the pot of gold, and that the search engines have advised Barcelona how to get more data and money out of the enthused fans. You and I are merely fodder for the system.
Therefore, it is time to focus on the new concept of data farming. Actually, this is not so new, it is the way the internet operated in its infant stage. Conscious communities, aware of the dramatic and adverse effects of datamining for privacy and the local economy have the capacity to create an enriching learning environment where discoveries are made and challenges are continuously addressed with care and attention for the common good, building resilience. Local entrepreneurs could create the initial building blocks of this novel approach, starting with a proprietary platform for data farming based on light transmissions. And, there are thousands (even millions) that will quickly join to build on open source concepts from software to hardware to facilitate access and governance. No one expects this to be a roaring success from the outset, however this will create a small opening into the world market of datamining. Just like a few cities in the world decided to aim early on for carbon neutrality and some companies want to be recognized as pioneers in zero emissions, communities will pioneer the data farming. Along the same logic, more and more “minorities” wake up to the fact that datamining permeated in a matter of a decade all our digital lives. Datafarming as a way of life, a new culture of caring for one and the other’s data, could follow the same path and prepare for a life long learning. While both datamining and data farming could live in the same space, at least - people are offered a choice.
Once data farming communities can exchange in all transparency, they will be able to build a diverse community that welcomes different opinions and where the points of view can be emotional, scientific or business-like, but all are respected. There is no private entity that dictates the rules to the participants and the community in small print and overt threats. On the contrary it is the community and its citizens that determine the core conditions that set the framework. Since there is such a proximity of all participants, and the platform is thriving on continuous learning that the overall spirit of the data farming permits everyone to contribute to the health and resilience, even those we do not understand.
We can even look our neighbors into the eye and smile.
And that is contagious.
 While the English language would prescribe the fungus to be described as “it”, we consider it difficult to accept this grammatical form when the level of intelligence of this sentient being clearly surpasses our expectations.
Over the past 30 years Governments have invited me to imagine how to relaunch their economy. Senegal opened its doors and with the support of ENABEL, the Belgian Cooperation Agency, and accompanied by Idriss Aberkane, we identified a first set of opportunities. This article gives you a lift to more positive insights of how we can transform the economy with each page you will read. We are planning the follow-up with action on the ground since the initiatives are obvious and the entrepreneurs are willing.
Reflecting on the first visit 40 years ago
When I first landed in Dakar in 1981, the capital city of Senegal, I was impressed it had maintained an amazing touch of simplicity with an extraordinary quality of life. Living with friends in the Corniche, the coastal zone bordering the city, we would walk in the morning to buy fresh fish caught in the early hours from abundant waters. My university friend was committed to create new business opportunities in Africa, opting for a base in Senegal. Traffic was chaotic, but everything moved at its slow pace and no one seemed bothered. The blend of French and African cooking style made each lunch and dinner a delightful discovery. The Mauritanian Silver Market of Dakar where arts from the Dogon were on sale, and a visit to Gorée Island from where hundreds of thousands of slaves were forcibly sent to America, places geopolitics and history in a dramatic context. One could feel the heart of Africa.
While we cannot change the past, we can certainly influence the course of the future. Life in Dakar has become as complicated as Lagos was forty years ago. However, traveling around the country and having exchanges with local entrepreneurs, the chambers of commerce, educators of novel farming concepts like agroforestry (which is only novel in name having been practiced for millennia), it is clear that Senegal still has a surprising blend of opportunities and necessities as well as a broad series of emergencies. The country is facing the permanent risk of malnourishment, especially children, while half the mango harvest rots away. The unemployment is so high that more young Senegalese die at sea trying to escape to far away islands than succumbing to the novel virus. The cities struggle dealing with solid municipal waste, and plastic litters the entrance of each village, and community. The lack of visible action to clean up this mess is discouraging, but not for long!
Embracing Novel Business Models
The need to address food, fresh water and jobs has been a priority for policy makers for decades. Since I had the honor of meeting Leopold Senghor, the founding President and poet, and his successor Abdou Diouf, during what was heralded a peaceful transition, and exception in Africa at the time, I kept a special interest in the development of the country years after I left convinced in the early ‘80’s so much could be done. However, decades later we have to accept that the seas are overfished beyond repair and salt encroaches the aquifers destining large tracks of land into an expanding Sahel Desert. While millions of trees are planted in a persistent fight against desertification, licenses are still given for the wrong reasons, and the wrong farming species, Australian eucalyptus trees, which dry the land further. One wonders how it is possible the same errors are still repeated when these ill-fated decisions have been documented in extenso throughout the Continent. South Africa even declared war on the eucalyptus, singled out for drying out the whole nation and putting it on the brink of collapse, forcing billion dollar investments in desalination plants, while Senegal continues to permit its planting when it has a marvelous local biodiversity of palm and baobab trees.
Thanks to an invitation from ENABEL, the Belgian Cooperation Agency, in December 2020, I could experience first hand the extent to which Senegal is ready to embrace novel business models that are building on what is locally available. Senegal is inherently a very rich country, beginning with its extraordinary people and the yet to be discovered natural resources as well as its thriving ecosystems. The time has come to observe Senegal not through the eyes of an expert trained by a university in another part of the world with four seasons. It’s time to look at intrinsic values ready to be discovered and turned into a platform for social, ecologic and economic development while conserving culture and tradition.
There is no doubt the international community is prepared to reach out, support, and fast track wherever possible. When I returned, we first studied food and health opportunities as ENABEL, my host, had singled out as clusters for their assistance. And food is both an amazing opportunity and a dramatic reality. Senegal has only been able to keep up a steady volume of peanuts (arachides), mangos, and millet, thanks to the rapid rise of irrigation and the introduction of modern farming. The artisanal and small scale farming is making way for monocultures with economies of scale, supported by the widespread introduction of chemistry and even genetics. We all have seen the positive impact of water supply to the roots! However, we also have witnessed the long term adverse effects of this approach to water on soil fertility and its salinity. Experience shows that the short term solution often leads to a long term disaster. This is why the wide presence of agroforestry projects throughout the nation is so encouraging. A new concept recovers the dynamics that brings life to the rural economy. This is the basis of resilience.
The Factory of the Future: The Mangrove Ecosystem
Senegal has a natural tendency to lose land to the sea. This is not caused by human interference, it’s the result of a unique geography whereby sea-water encroaches up to 40 kilometers inland. The Sine and Siloum estuaries cover 1,000 km2 inland and varying degrees of salinity depends on rainfall during the seasons. This shift between rainy and dry seasons determines the rhythm of natural cycles. However, this massive areal of land and water mass mainly covered by mangroves has remained largely unexploited. Seldom have I seen such a large window of opportunity.
While shrimp are caught and wood from mangroves are occasionally harvested, the area three hours drive from Dakar, (which is the same size as La Boca in Buenos Aires which has one million people), does not even have a single public transport boat. This implies no one lives there - and no one will ever live there. It is difficult to imagine how this region will ever turn productive working with the natural cycles of the ecosystems when there are only a few private piroches - as the local flat ships are called- that crisscross the area. However, a visit to this area where the Government is investing in mangrove restoration one tree at the time, one can quickly imagine how an Indonesian experience of mangrove regeneration set up after the tsunami devastated the whole region, could not only secure economic and social development but also ensure that the ecosystem thrives - again, provided the right business model is chosen.
This is not about maximizing one output from the sea or the land, it’s about searching for a dynamic and optimal level of productivity that responds to the needs of communities and the ecosystem. A comparable initiative to the one in Indonesia has also been implemented in Eritrea indicating there are at least two solid exemplary experiences at large scale to potentially inspire Senegal to change and embrace the potential of millions. However, the success of this initiative does not depend on technologies, first and foremost what’s required is the preparedness to embrace a new model of production.
Idriss Aberkane, the French visionary entrepreneur and author of the bestseller “Libérez Votre Cerveaux” - “Free Your Brain”, the industrial farming and manufacturing mainstream model always accepted the notion of chimneys spewing black smoke and waste as standard. However, the biggest factory ever is nature, and while it produces, it increases biodiversity. Humanity needs to rethink the productive capacity of these mangroves, and ecosystems, since there is no need to decimate fauna and flora in order to produce the basic necessities for local communities. On the contrary, the creative approach developed by Indonesian scientists inspired by the Blue Economy concept, has demonstrated that one can work with Nature and attain levels of productivity and resilience that are way beyond the modern industrialized world.
Shrimp, Crab, Fish, Seaweed, Honey … and carbon sequestration
We are not referring to a theory, but to a vision that has already been implemented. The replanting of mangroves in the region of Surabaya was combined with the placement of metallic nets around the young trees. As the mangroves grow, shrimp nestle inside enjoying an abundance of algae, growing in size. They soon become too large to escape through the small holes in the nets and a natural farm that needs no feed is born. Instead, the ecosystem feeds its fauna and flora. This is a very competitive proposal. While the productivity of intensively farmed shrimp, and shrimp only, fed with imported feed mainly made from slaughterhouse waste and GMO soy, is certainly higher than the shrimps - only the shrimps (!) - in the mangroves nets, the total sum of the biomass is a multitude while the costs are only a fraction. The shift from a core business with one product is replaced by a cluster that emulates Nature as follows.
As shrimp found their home, milkfish and crabs naturally arrived. Harvesting has never been easier. The mangroves are cut short and pruned regularly just above the sea water line strengthening the root system, a valuable resource that captures volumes of greenhouse gases. The off-cuts of twigs and leaves provide feed to goats and sheep, that are 50% fresh water. We forget that mangroves are efficient producers of fresh water, hence an increase of milk productivity in livestock by feeding them the pruned remnants, which also supply a rich blend of minerals. An increased production of goats milk from one to two liters a day, doubling output without any need for additional grazing land. And the meat is not only tastier, it’s richer in nutrients.
Few people realize that both Korea and Japan feed seaweed concentrate to their ruminants. While they never thought about the impact of such a practice on climate change, wishing to ensure a richer mineralization of milk and meat, the fact is this blend of nutrition from the sea served in pellets reduces methane emissions by a surprising 80%. This offers an immediate platform of development for Senegal. The farming of seaweed, quickly dismissed as a food that no African would consider, caters to cutting back on greenhouse gases, while growing the economy. And there’s more! Since rice is -next to millet- a staple food for the local population, the question is why would Senegal continue to import genetically modified rice from Thailand, when it could make its saline fields lost to the encroaching sea available for farming salt resistant rice varieties that China has been offering to the world?
Transport, Salt and Health
Mangroves are at the crossroad of salt and fresh water, oxygen and lack of oxygen. In this stressful environment resilience is reinforced with an opportunity to discover the very best that has been hidden to traditional analytics. It should be no surprise that flowers in this ecosystem are abundant, and this creates an ideal environment for plants to thrive. The ecosystem of the mangroves is therefore internationally recognized as ideal for the hub of honey with productivity levels that are unheard of in the industry. This is an additional opportunity: all products from beehives are in abundance and ideal for commercialization - provided there’s transport. This relies on human intelligence, so it can be planned and implemented with the dynamics of the dry and rainy seasons.
Salt is a business of value. It created wealth for cities like Salzburg (Austria) and has been a currency for trade throughout history. The Sine Saloum region and the encroachment of the sea leads to a simple business: drying salt. While this is certainly an entrepreneurial initiative that is worth pursuing, only a few are able to make money out of it. There are two issues that require our special attention: (1) micro-plastics and (2) micro-nutrients. Since Senegal has not seriously dealt with solid waste management, plastics are found everywhere. While ultimately the big pieces of plastic waste could be picked up by civil society, the main issue at stake is the micro-plastics. A quick verification of the raw salt harvested in the region demonstrates an excessive presence of micro-plastics. This is no exception, unfortunately this is a standard around the world. It is not a comforting thought to realize that each one of us is eating the equivalent in plastic of a credit card every week, weighing approximately 5 grams! But now we have a challenge that the local salt - which is natural from the sea - is full of microplastics as part of this vicious supply chain that is detrimental to our health. Or would anyone stand up and pretend that microplastics are good for you?
The removal of microplastics from salt is a must as a precautionary principle. However, this has a cost. Hence the need to find more value in the salt that justifies the expensive removal through a simple centrifuge which will put the plastic particles -sometimes measuring only a few micron- at the top, while the salt crystals end up on the bottom. Now standing on a bridge, and watching the horizon, one easily spots the pinky shades adorning the edges of the water. This color is caused by naturally occurring micro-algae which thrive in salt environments. These small organisms are often affected by microplastics. However, they also provide a wealth of micronutrients including betacarotene and iodine. Both are needed, and are key in the fight against malnutrition. Iodized salt is critical in the fight against goiter, and indispensable for the development of the brain. So how can Senegal turn into the first mass scale provider of iodized and mineralized salt that’s certified without microplastics? This is a real window of opportunity that differentiates Senegalese salt from any other seasoning!
The Job Machine
The awareness around the need for iodized salt is very high and development agencies fund the addition of iodine and its distribution. Now, the salt that is freshly harvested on thousands of kilometers of shore in the estuary is cheap and abundant. Unfortunately, iodine evaporates quickly in the blazing wind and sun, leaving the iodized salt without iodine after just a few days. Nature always provides solutions! If we farm salt resistant micro algae and we ensure there are seaweeds, then we can blend dried seaweeds (which also a moisture absorber) into the salt, and enrich it with “encapsulated” iodine, meaning that it will not evaporate, and will additionally supply nutrients like fibers that improve intestinal tract functioning. During this entire process much needed jobs are generated. Just the thought of a future right at home is inspiring.
In order to secure such a shift in the mind of all, it is key to stop considering the errors of the past, and mangroves lost. We cannot see the saline fields only as fit for producing salt. We need to focus on a portfolio of initiatives that permit the fast reconstruction of the mangrove ecosystems with a thriving aquaculture, where instead of imported feed and hormone treated fish like the tilapia, one builds on the local biodiversity. We need to treat saline land as an opportunity to farm rice that generates a direct income for the local population, increasing food security while offering a blend of trace minerals that can only be obtained via these exceptional ecosystems that can be regenerated.
The Indonesian model has been implemented and created an average of 2 jobs per hectare. But if we extrapolate what we know from Surabaya, then Senegal could generate 200,000 jobs in this delta alone, improving the livelihood of more than a million people for the better. Even a minor fraction would be welcome.
While the world focuses on a viral challenge, the country has suffered more deaths of young who risk sailing from the Senegalese coast to find refuge in a far away island. If there is a political will to reverse the situation and embrace an economic development that gives hope, then mangrove regeneration is certainly one that would keep the best and the most dynamic at home, instead of risking their life. Remember: only the best and audacious risk their life to find a better future for themselves and their family.
The Marvels of Mangoes
As mentioned, one of the marvels of the Senegalese countryside are the mangoes. Introduced by the Portuguese from India, they have been planted across the country and the continent. From the annual 76,000 tons of harvest only half are valorized. The rest is left to rot. How could that ever happen? From an over abundance during a harvest season that’s too short, or an incapacity to organize? Mangoes should never be left to rot in a country facing a dire level of malnutrition. With the potential of local resources, how can children suffer from a lack of vitamins and trace minerals? Has a connection to the sea been severed due to overfishing? Or, is it an increase of processed foods imported from countries that produce cheaper and subsidize their farmers? Senegal could produce thousands of tons of fruit, vegetables and grains, and yet it relies on the ill designed model of “competitive advantages” where the cheapest wins, and imports gain over local farmers. Does this enrich a few, and drive the farmers off the land to join the extreme poor in shanty towns?
What is in a Loaf of Bread?
Due to impoverished soil caused by monocultures that mine the land, as well as well soil erosion due to changing weather and climate conditions, an unavoidable consequence of tilling, nutrition in grown produce is diminishing. Senegal can only secure a healthy generation once the Nation and its farmers produce better quality food. How? This requires a novel approach. The mango is a great case study. This is not just the flesh of the fruit, it’s the whole fruit. We forget that we should not value food by the ton, or by the kilo we eat, rather we should focus on the content measured in protein, lipids, vitamins and minerals.
There’s a solid case example that could deliver results within a year. A mango seed is not only huge, it is also highly nutritional. Many seem to forget that a seed has all that a young tree needs to grow into a fully fledged mango giant. Thus if the flesh of the fruit is rotting away, at least the Senegalese communities should not miss out on the nutrient-rich seed. Which is an obvious opportunity. The seed can be converted into a fine powder that resembles flour, which can be added to bread. As the baguette has become a standard in Senegal, left by the colonizers, this tradition should at least include the wealth of seeds that can be extracted using the same technology developed in Mexico for the recovery of all the goodies in avocado seeds, similar in size and nutrition as the mango. Seeds are too good to be wasted, cycled through the food chain instead is far more lucrative. Generating jobs and income, while providing the nutrition so desperately needed.
And what about the skin? We cannot only overlook the fact that the skin of any fruit is like leather, a vegetable leather that has exactly the same function in the world of fauna and flora: let in things you need, and permit stuff out you do not want. Fruit peel is taken off even though it is edible since it is a rich source of dietary fiber and contains considerable amounts of mineral and vitamins. It is advised to eat fruits along with its peel, however, since too many monocultures apply chemicals that should not be ingested some cautions should be kept in mind while eating and processing whole fruits.
Many cultures maintain the tradition to produce fruit leather: dried sheets of fruit pulp. These have an elastic, soft, rubbery texture and sometimes even a sweet taste. This leather can be made from most fruits, although mango and banana are amongst the most popular ones. Just like the seeds, the leather which has a shelf life of up to 9 months and this pulp can enrich cookies, cakes and ice cream. The process is simple: peels are turned into a puree, sieved to remove bigger fibers. It can be stored for months to plan the production of this “veggie leather” independent of the season. This fruit peel puree is poured in a thin layer of wooden trays. Entrepreneurs around the world are responding to an increasing high demand from the world of fashion to have cruelty free leather that - at the same time - this addresses food waste. The company Fruitleather in Rotterdam is already supplying the fashion world with samples and now manufactures to order with mangos peels that are discarded in the Netherlands. But Senegal wastes 50% of its harvest? The seeds and the peel generate such a potential income and jobs, while providing the nutrition that is missing dearly. It does not make sense to discard this opportunity.
The Boabab Surprise
While the mango tree has been adopted over the centuries as Africa’s own, there is one native tree which could not be more Senegalese than the baobab. These majestic trees have been maintained throughout the countryside with great respect. After all, the locals believe they house ghosts. The cutting down of this tree at an offering price of €400 is taking its toll in regions where poverty is rampant. However, across the board, the baobab continues to shape the silhouette of the Senegal’s savannah. Even with a dramatic lack of replanting, these majestic trees that take hundreds of years to grow to maturity, remain impressive. It is a surprise that the baobab -perhaps the most recognized flora from the Continent of Africa, so well known in the international community and closely associated with Africa, with a fruit that is recognized as a superfood- is not used to its full potential. There is more value to derive from it without even ever touching it.
Even when the fruit is widely recognized as a superfood, the highest value that can be derived from a baobab tree is not the annual harvest of its fruit but its yeast, which propagates around the fruit. When the fruit is ripe, microorganisms concentrate to feast on the abundance of sugars. Now, yeast is yeast, but no yeast is like baobab yeast. The harvesting of yeast during the rainy season, or when the fruit is ripening, is an opportunity without parallel. A small laboratory with a few experienced micro-biologists could identify the most virulent yeast species and propagate them for fermenting yogurt, bread, and even beer. This baobab yeast will be most valued in international niche markets. When I tabled the idea during a meeting with entrepreneurs in Kaolack, one of the attendants noted that “it is not even to be found on Google”!
The country has suffered from past exploitation and now needs to find its own pathway. However, Senegal cannot simply copy and paste what others have done elsewhere. It must find its own opportunities that are authentic and do not force to compete on price with the rest of the world. This brings us to a series of experiences that can be brought from around the world which offer novel opportunities to Senegal. Africa needs ideas and business models that use what is locally available. And yeast is in abundance. Is it not surprising that today just about all yeast needed in the country is imported. The tables can be turned around by offering the world one of the most exclusive yeast products ever - the one that thrives on a 4,000 year old baobab tree!
Coffee from Senegal?
Senegal does not grow its own coffee but has a unique recipe: Touba coffee. The latter was created in the late 19th century by Sheikh Amadou Bamba, a spiritual and charismatic leader of the Sufi Mouride Brotherhood, which is said to have introduced the use of coffee to the country. Touba coffee is flavored with cloves and jarr, known as Guinea pepper. It has a strong balsamic taste and, according to its inventor, it also has medicinal properties. The historical and political relevance of the figure of Bamba meant that his coffee became a symbol of identity and belonging for the African community. Today, Touba coffee is popular with the Senegalese, served in all Tanganas, street cafés of the suburbs, as a perfect example of local street food: sparsely furnished with benches and tables, they also serve food and are busy 24 hours a day. The world is in search for novel forms to enjoy this coffee that is served at a rate of 2.25 billion per day. Could 0.001% for the African diaspora out of Africa not be a fine niche of 2.5 million dollars for export with a high value added? And then grow to 0.1% accordingly!
The coffee market in Africa remains very small since most consumption is limited to the upper classes. Ivory Coast drinks only 0.9 liters per inhabitant per year while the average for the European Union is tenfold, the Fins drink twenty five times more. These coffee trends are to be considered with great care. Worse, the number of African coffee farmers has dropped by 50% over the past 50 years due to the pressure to farm more and cheaper. Senegal will only grow out of poverty and high rates of unemployment if it grows the rural economy. It is a marvelous opportunity to add value to agricultural produce such as cloves and jarr, while adding a brand to the nation, and offering a helping hand to neighboring coffee farming nations. There is nothing more powerful in marketing than the promotion of a product that carries the hearts of a nation.
Clean and Simple Foods
However, we are obliged to send a signal of caution to the growth of farming: the country needs to focus on the development of its own clean supply chain. As already mentioned, insisting again: the dramatic increase of plastics in all our food is exhausting our drive towards quality. This quality is needed to differentiate products on the market with the potential to command higher margins. Senegal really needs to take control of its plastic waste and consider a few bold statements. The waste needs to get off the street, alleys and land. Although it’s difficult to change bad habits, at the same time there are no strong policies at all in Senegal to curb massive pollution. I know all too well that solutions have been announced but are yet to be implemented. There are interesting options to destroy the plastics and this will be key to preserving the fertility of farms already under stress, and to ensure that the potential discussed for oysters, crabs, and fish is not undermined due to excesses of microplastics which could haunt the quality and price for decades to come.
This is why Senegal should embrace simpler superfoods that are easily translated into engines of employment like spirulina, found in the wild and quickly commercialized through farming on rooftops even in the center of Dakar. The cultivation of mushrooms on the wealth of fibers from the millet straw to the husks of nuts that are currently discarded, is another quick win. This is done in more than two dozen African countries. Senegal already has a series of small scale initiatives that have pioneered novel approaches, such as agroforestry in the Kaydara Center where young graduates learn how to create agroforestry around palm trees. The Mayor of the local village Fimela responded with a constructive approach: each graduate from the agroforestry course receives one hectare plot of land free to put into practice what they have learned. The first 100 HA have been allocated. This is so encouraging to see.
Termites as a Source of Inspiration
There is a need to reflect on the built environment as well. As Senegal progresses into an age of modernity, the temptation to emulate Western building styles is imminent. While a few hotels and lodges celebrate the century-old and proven building techniques based on rammed earth, most of the prestigious buildings are constructed out of steel, cement and glass. There is nothing more inefficient than buildings which are crunched out of a CAD-CAM computer without any creative contribution, nor consideration for the local environment. My argument is not just related to the style of buildings, but rather to the use of energy and the climate control inside edifices. More and more electricity is spent on heating and cooling buildings. Why is the installation of an energivore temperature control system preferred over the natural building designs that keep the inside climate fresh with ambient humidity … just like the termite mound. Nothing is more African in building design than a termite hill.
Termites are the first colonies in the world’s history that domesticated another species: mushrooms, delivering finely chewed wood to their favorite food. This secures a fertile feeding ground for the mushrooms that thrive when the climate is right. Termites learned how to provide the best growing conditions and wherever in the world, whatever the climate, termites maintain the same ideal conditions to farm their unlimited supply of food, provided they keep supplying chewed wood. A few architects have been fascinated by this ingenious approach to air circulation. It was Mike Pearce, the Zimbabwean building designer, who ventured the construction of the first ever 10 story office building and shopping mall in his home town Harare, demonstrating the ease and efficiency with which a building could emulate the wisdom of termites.
It is easy to imagine such new developments around the new city developments around the new Dakar Airport, embracing these age old techniques pioneered by both termites and the architects from Africa. This reduces the cost of operation, improves healthy working conditions and sets a standard that should be embraced with climate change as an imperative. These buildings also cut investment costs by 10% and energy spending by over 40%, making both business and health sense, while creating an image and positive reference point for the country.
The Democratization of the Internet
Once the decision is made to consider architecture as an instrument for cultural identity, ecological efficiency and modulation of the immune system, as well as economic management, it is timely to reflect on a necessary leapfrog for internet connectivity. Senegal has already invested a lot of money to strengthen its internet infrastructure. However, the reality is that its vast land area is not very densely populated. Therefore data mining companies will not offer the speed and bandwidth since the volume available does not justify investing. The last decade has clearly seen an expanding digital divide, and while there are some encouraging innovations, such as mobile phone banking originating from Africa, the largest majority of the population does not have access to a well functioning internet.
As long as data and geolocation is dependent on exclusive licenses for the 3-4 and 5G, and later the 6-7 Gs, there will never be the internet service communities need and deserve. Senegal could be an ideal nation to pioneer a novel technology known as internet over light, also known as LiFi. Pioneering this proven internet system would free Senegal from the present dilemma of investments falling short of business volume by combining multiple benefits ranging from access to communications, energy savings and the efficient provision of community services. The implementation of this breakthrough internet that only needs electricity lines and light bulbs would prepare the country to shift from datamining which only benefits overseas operators, to data farming that brings the benefits of the internet home, generating further jobs that are badly needed. While the exploration of this opportunity would require a separate paper (Datamining vs. Data farming published in January 2021 by the same author).
If Senegal were to take the political decision to embrace LED lamps as a standard, offering light with an 80% reduction in energy consumption since the energy is used to provide visibility and not heat, then the country can simultaneously introduce LiFi. LED lamps flicker millions of times per second. In between these flickers, chips can process the binary codes into a Morse code, which is sent over public and private light networks from one side of the village or country to the other without ever needing to involve a mobile phone operator. This is potentially the real democratization of the internet.
Whereas there are only a few hundreds of radio frequencies available, sold through a license for exclusive use at very high costs mostly to foreign investors who are subsequently offered monopolies, light has a billion frequencies. A billion available and unregulated frequencies render it impossible for Governments to make any serious money on the sale of a license. While this may be bad news for the state budget, it is great news for advocates of a local internet based on local needs and local information without the risk of hacking or datamining. This is exactly the opportunity that communities which do not meet the minimum requirements of large data conglomerates have to offer services to the communities at low cost and with great relevance.
From Data Mining to Data Farming
In this report, I have suggested the introduction of agroforestry at a larger scale. Now I strongly recommend that Senegal becomes a regional leader in data farming, instead of datamining. Senegal could follow the example of Morocco where private and public groups invested in the creation of the 1337 and the YouCode schools, training highly motivated youngsters with an unparalleled affinity for information into the hubs of entrepreneurship and accelerators of novel business models that lead to the export of talent, without any of the bright young leaving the country. This approach should shape the nation’s practices and policies towards the internet and education, creating an environment that supports the exploration of innovations. Hundreds of entrepreneurial initiatives will emerge from these schools.
Information locally should be shared and processed locally. It seems ridiculous that a question formulated by a member of the Kaolack Chamber of Commerce is sent over a transatlantic underwater cable to servers on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, to return to the neighbor with the sole purpose: extract all the possible information through datamining. Senegal does not have to accept this 21st century form of slavery. LiFi can operate anywhere there’s a lamp providing light. The street light in the city turns into the backbone of the internet, offering gaming at high speed. The home and office lights all convert into a hub for local and free communication. The beauty of this approach is it can be financed by savings in energy, since LiFi cuts the need and cost of electricity for light, and routers typically operate 24 hours a day to a fraction. The savings of two years of power at the old rates and volumes finance the internet transition from 5G to LiFi.
A Positive Approach: Always Search for Better
It needs to be clearly stated: we are not against monoculture, or 5G! We are in favor of much better solutions that permit countries like Senegal with such a tremendous potential to respond to the basic needs of all with what is locally available. This, combined with the capacity to control the whole value chain from farm to fork, from data to information, is what needs to guide policy makers in their wise and smart approach to economic development that brings also social justice and evolves hand in hand with Nature.
This model will not only improve the indices of poverty, and jobs, while reducing the chance that the best and the brightest risk their lives for a far away opportunity, this will create conditions for entrepreneurs for the common good to emerge towards discovering their unique role in society. When entrepreneurs stand up and take initiative, then a new class of investors will join: those who wish to leave a legacy.
Africa has genuine solutions for its serious challenges. It is time there’s a broader search for solutions that makes a difference for nature and communities. Cluster’s will be identified, and portfolios will be developed. The times in which Governments impose productivity and efficiency over and above resilience and the commons is over. Within this new framework many fresh opportunities will see the light, resulting in a full transformation of the local economy where growth is the norm, and poverty will be eradicated as full employment is achieved. Let us not forget in Nature there is no waste, everyone contributes to the best of their abilities and no one cheats!
How countries can leverage their economy with data mining
We are all keen on getting and staying connected. Billions are invested in infrastructure. But did we ask the right questions? Who benefits from our connectedness? It is increasingly clear that the greatest resource on earth if exploited all around the world just the same way as colonial nations treat ores and produce. It was theirs and nothing was ever reinvested. Are we ready to accept data serfdom, or are we using the technological breakthroughs like LiFi and the shift of 2D to 3D digital visualization in order to change the rules of the game?
Setting the Stage
Every nation will have to overhaul its information technology strategy. Every country needs to rethink its approach. The reason is simple: the world has been colonized by dataminers. Everyone despises colonialism, where a foreign power takes all resources without any consideration of the local needs, we have arrived at a situation whereby nearly every nation in the world has been colonized by those who take all data, without offering anything in return. It is amazing that no one is protesting, or are we not aware of the hard reality when it comes to the control and the processing of data?
Each nation that neglects to have a deliberate strategy for the “connectivity” of its citizens will without exception turn into one of the underdeveloped countries in the world of datamining. Even nations that have pursued a strategy with massive investments in digital infrastructure of all kinds will realize soon that these investments in hardware and software are all at the service of datamining by third parties who never pay taxes in the countries where the information was gathered.
Policy makers (and citizens) have to realize that with each new device equipped with IoT (Internet of Things) comes an opportunity to record, analyse and resell another detail of everyone’s daily life. As each individual accumulates more permanent data connections centered around one or even two mobile smart phones, so does each of us divulge ultimately the totality of our behavior - often unknowingly - to a remote dataminer who will convert trillions of raw data into gold and power.
Some countries are leading the debate in the world on key issues related to the Internet. Italy for example is leading the debate in the world on the “Constitutional Right to Connectivity”, one of the key policy proposals of The Five Star Movement. I applaud this visionary approach. There is only one country (China) that is deliberately establishing an industrial policy and a citizen data strategy. It is long overdue that the European political and business world needs go beyond the assessment of the technologies as well as the financing of infrastructure and consider three critical questions:
Who controls the profitable business of data-mining in Europe? Who is ready to shift the internet from 2D to 3D? and, Which legal and technological system can really protect citizens from digital exploitation?
Who Controls Data Mining?
Data mining will turn into the most strategic and most profitable industry ever. Datamining is poised to turn into a fastest growing sector generating income and influence to the operator like never before. It is not the one who controls the infrastructure to collect the data nor the media, rather it is the one who controls datamining through millions of servers and trillions of algorithms that will determine the game. This obscure operator, and limited today to only a handful, has the power to spread unbiased news (a Government task), to stop fake news, and to refuse to divulge news (like the prohibition to disclose suicide data which is in several population groups is higher than COVID death). China recognized this differentiation since years and deliberately blocked all American “dataminers” and “dataspreaders” from its market.
Whereas many experts discuss on fora technologies from communication innovations, to artificial intelligence, investments in infrastructure like fiber optics and satellites, the only business that makes and will make real money to pay for innovations and connectivity is datamining. Thus, there is the urgent need to coordinate all infrastructure investments, communication techniques, especially Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enable the design and the enforcement of “data mining” policies. Once these are determined, then countries can derive from it an economic development strategy. Without it, countries are colonized just in the same way as the Belgian King Leopold II took over Congo, with force and without remorse.
Let us not be conceited, just one fiber optic cable or one satellite connection would permit the undermining of any comprehensive policy. Whereas some may consider this a totalitarian approach, even a step towards endangering democracy, I argue that it is rather the opposite. Refusing to have an overarching strategy would endanger democracy since it turn the nation and
the citizens into a colonized data state. We may have to learn a few lessons from China which is the only nation that has closed its internet realm.
The real issue is not if you are connected, and at what speed, but rather who has the right to analyse your data when you are connected. Europe is nowhere in the debate and has blindly permitted foreign companies to connect to its networks while China and the USA deliberately block take-overs, and even outright operations. Worse, Europe has freely opened its leading companies for predatory acquisitions, and has permitted the use of both its infrastructure and the syphoning off of its data as if it were a 19th century colony. Actually, there are nearly no nations that represent an exception to this colonial style of rule. Actually, no one seems to have made a conscious decision: “it just happened” while policy makers and hardware suppliers were looking at the profitable contracts for the installation of fiber optic cables, satellites and 5G antennas.
Europe, and all other nations that have undergone this transition, needs to reverse the reality now, and deploy policy frameworks and business models that permit at least to mine its own data, to generate value from this raw information, to exchange its own processed information on equal trading terms, to design the new industries and professions that support data mining, and finally (and most importantly), it needs to figure out how to secure the data from its citizens as the law prescribes but is hardly ever applied. We often forget that with one click on the internet, everything on a computer is siphoned off without any trace to unidentified “new” owners of the data. The simple tick to connect the phone to a WiFi spot potentially sucks all the data out of a phone on to a server without ever asking permission. The innocent -looking prompter on a pop-up only asks the user to click on “Agree to the Terms and Conditions” to have free internet in exchange for a total handover of all information.
The Gross Data Product - is only the beginning
Academia have established criteria for the importance of “data” in the overall economy. This has lead to the ranking of world’s top “Gross Data Product” producers, according to four criteria:
Not one EU member state figures in the top five, and Switzerland conspicuously ranks above Germany, a nation with twenty times its population. Italy, once renowned as the home of the radio (Marconi) and electric typewriters (Olivetti) does not score well. Italy ranks only 16th after The Czech Republic, Sweden, and even New Zealand, and barely better than Mexico and Argentina.
In the framework of this article, we must point out that this ranking only relates to the Gross Data Product. If this exercise were to include the contribution of data mining to the national economy, then all European countries with the exception of the UK and Switzerland would realize they are not generating any value from their own data, nor from data that pass through its territory. On the contrary, not only are the data sent overseas, Europe pays billions to have access to the processed information.
Each European nation treats the data highways like the Belgians treat freeways: trucks from around Europe use it, no trucking company pays anything (not even a tax), no one stops to have a coffee and leaves a penny behind, while the massive number of trucks pollute the air with heavy diesel fumes and contribute to traffic jams that cost the locals millions of hours in lost working time. More disappointing at this stage of the debate is that no European country keeps any detailed statistics demonstrating the contribution (or rather the embarrassing drainage) of data deliveries and data mining to its economy.
In the run up to the European Unification in 1986-1990 the economy was suffering from the second oil crisis. When we pointed to the dramatic growth generated in the European economies by fast growing service companies, these sectors had been left unaccounted for as these were lumped together under the label “other services”. As soon as the European Statistics Office in Luxemburg adapted the data gathering and realized the role of security (Securitas), cleaning (ISS), catering (Sodexho), express postal services (DHL), quality control services (SGS, Veritas) and data transmission (like SWIFT and EuroClear) represented double digit growth sectors policies immediately came into place. The old adagio of management applied then, and applied now: you cannot have policies if you do not have data on datamining. The European Statistics on data mining requires immediate remediation.
Research undertaken by the ZERI Network has made provisional calculations and suggests that one way fiber optics (to supply data and entertainment services to households only - not to deliver nor to transform data) represents a drain of 100 million euro per year per hundred thousand inhabitants solely for home deliveries of data (€1,000 per citizen per year). This drain in cash for subscriptions, commissions and services online represents for a country like Italy an estimated € 5.5 billion annually and increasing at double digit rates. The number for Europe could reach €40 billion. Thus, foreign information arriving - and paid for - in the country through “connecting” each home to this high speed fiber optic networks linked with 4 and 5G represents one of the largest invisible losses of cash and purchasing power for local citizens. This implies that Italy (and all European nations with the exception of Switzerland) has a gross data IMBALANCE, and this is directly affecting the purchasing power of its citizens at a rate of €1,000 per device! And this imbalance is increasing. On top of that, all the data derived from these sales are profiting only the datamining companies which are not based in Europe! As indicated before, these corporations do not pay any taxes.
The Next New Technology Frontier
The race to install 5G, fiber optic networks, intercontinental marine cables, server parks and satellites is all geared towards one ultimate goal: the control of datamining. These investments will never offer a serious return when one is not considering the next big shift in data: the shift of the internet from a visual presentation of 2D to 3D. We overlook the fact that everything on this world wide web is a paltry 2D: documents, pictures, video. Even when there are games that offer a 3D rendering or a virtual reality, this is a far cry from what humans have been endowed with: a brain that processes everything in 3D with a sense of time (4D).
A child is born and sees a world in 3D. Then it is introduced to a “modern digital world” and it is forced to think, learn and play in 2D. What we call modernity is a step backwards in terms of brain capacity and thus brain development. We forget that a decrease from a 3D reality to a 2D virtual reality is also a decrease of opportunity for brain development! How can we ever compare the learning opportunity from a student led theater play with a repeated gaming of SIM City, or worse, the exercise of multiple choice questions? The recent confinement, school closure and forced masks obliging to breath their own carbon dioxide is further debilitating the capacity of children to develop their brain
The Power of the Eyes
Our visual system is the most perfected connection between the outside world and our brain. A soft artificial light, ideally similar to clarity of a full moon, stimulates our eyes to register the environment around us and to connect it with 120 million neurons ready to interpret everything in full 3D. Then our educational system forces the whole potential of the brain in its prime development years to 2D only, and puts children into an environment with artificial light that simulates bright daylight with a blue overtone. Do we realize what we are doing with our children?
The blue light system forces the pupils of children’s eyes to narrow down and now the visual impressions from a textbook, a screen or a blackboard are only connected to 5 million neurons, or 24 times less? Brain science is very conclusive, the health of the eye is critical for our life, but this simplification of visual communications in a world of bright blue lights and 2D requires an urgent correction. This is one of the reasons why we witness no improvement in learning, or in intelligence even with all the data and digital devices available. IoT is not making us more intelligent. On the contrary, the performance in science, mathematics, and engineering is dropping across the board. The only response the educational system is to cram more multiple choice questions into the minds of youngsters in order to increase the statistics on the passage of exams. We see a lot of data, a lot of screen time, but children formulate no vision, gain no knowledge and certainly no wisdom.
The next internet which will be built on fiber optics, AI and of course a new generation of data mining, will have to be a full 3D. The technologies from visualisation, dataprocessing and firmware at all levels are available. There is only one factor missing: the incapacity for wireless data to be transmitted in the superior volume required to operate in full 3D.
Radio-based data Transmission is the Bottleneck
The first editions of 3D computer and television screens launched last year in Japan which require no glasses. These operate with a light field with 150 million pixels that refreshes every 1/60th of a second. This compares to the top of the line 2D wall screen available today with 1 million pixels, refreshing (only) every 6th of a second. The amount of data for a full 3D image presented in a light field activating both the light waves and the photons in the space before the screen, bypasses the capacity of 5G by a factor 100. While this transmission of data is no problem for a direct connection between screen and an optical fiber, it does lay barren the grand mismatch of today: the fiber optic networks which transmit data between 3 and 10 Terrabits per second and the mobile communications which can barely handle one Gigabit per second (and that Gig has to be shared with all users of that antenna). The unfortunate conclusion is that the last mile of connectivity through wireless devices is totally incapable of delivering the quality of visuals our eyes and brain are designed for (and our children need). The whole digital system is only as strong as its weakest link.
The 5G (and 6G) are the bottleneck for the transition of the internet from 2D to 3D. The promise of 5G is not at all going to be delivered within the grand scheme that we described above. It is time for some precise context. The industry is desperately trying to keep up with the user networks in cities that evolve towards a density of one million IoT equipped devices per square kilometer. Now we quickly see that the rollout of 5G is tailored towards the need for mining data from everyone in dense areas, rather than offering the top of the line digital services. There is need for a dramatic broadening of the choice of technologies for wireless data transmission and light communication techniques are ideal for this. As stated in previous communications, we are not against wireless of any type, we are in favor of wireless that delivers the promise embedded in the words of the Old Testament “Let there be Light” (Genesis 1:3). We never seem to have understood the wisdom behind these words.
Number of Radio Frequencies
Before we enter into details about the issue of light, there is more to discuss: the choice of radio waves as key wireless transmission medium for the individual user connectivity contains an additional fundamental shortcoming. Few regulators seem to appreciate that the available number of radio frequencies is limited to approximately one thousand, since major portions have been reserved for security and military purposes. The only way to increase performance is to pump more energy through the antennas. This has the adverse by-effect that the antennas (and the servers to back these up) consume an exponential amount of energy, and increase exposure in the area to electromagnetic fields (EMF). This is a very sensitive subject that cannot be neglected by policy makers since hypersensitivity to EMF and the nocebo effect have both been recognized by health officials and the World Health Organisation. Thus, the massive density of OiT combined with the necessity to increase wireless power causes a trap with the carbon emissions and the citizens’ in between.
The necessity to provide connectivity to everyone over such a limited number of frequencies in a very densely populated area translates for business service providers into an opportunity to sell access and speed at prime rates. This means quality access is limited to the rich! This implies that regions with low population density will not be served. This scarcity of available frequencies and the costing of the volume per antenna constitutes one of the main hurdles for the democratization of connectivity. After all, companies paid billions of Euros for a license, and logically these enterprises wish to amortize their investments through prime rates for heavily advertised but only marginally better services. In addition, we should not loose sight of the fact that since the bandwidth available and the number of operators is limited, the datamining is automatically reduced to a few players.
Commissions as an Obstacle to Change
Then, there is an additional limiting factor which explains the resistance to any new technology that bypasses the established model of radio frequencies. Companies like Apple receive a commission on the data transiting through its devices. Thus the drive of Apple to have millions of apps for each possible need, drives up data transmission for which the company is paid. Each new app ensures that the data mining can enter any possible activity of daily life. The first company to break with the pack is OPPO, the Chinese smart phone producer which is preparing the launch in 2021 of a LiFi-empowered mobile phone operating on Android.
This explains why the present business model based on 5G is rolled out with such force: the most valuable companies in the world have built their cash flow and their future raison d’être on the commissions model. They have established themselves as the pillars of the system without which the whole hardware supply chain of data to the miners would collapse.
Connectivity through Light
The only way to facilitate 3D internet against all business models that are cast in stone, and to democratize connectivity is to complement the existing radio waves with transmission of data through light. The laws of physics are in favor - even when the business models en vogue are against: there are over one billion light frequencies that can be used for digital communications. This not only democratizes access, it also has the potential to increase transmission speed one thousand fold, thus enabling the fiber optic backbone to progress to full 3D interface. A million times more frequencies operating at one thousand times faster transmission clearly is a game changer that can catapult the internet into the next generation.
The shift to light-based transmission has the additional advantage that it can build on the available public and private infrastructure of light. Every public light can be enabled to provide the same services as a satellite ranging from data transmission to geolocalisation. The power of the innovation is that the shift from 2D to 3D internet requires only a limited capital investment in infrastructure as compared to all other options. There is no need for additional antennas. There is no need to change wires. The only requirement is to add local servers. Now most interesting in the framework of this paper on data mining, is that this light based technology opens the way for large scale data mining by thousands if not millions of operators in a controlled fashion (mainly through AI), and shield homes, cities and regions from data predators. The light-based data transmission could be fully secured when directly connected to fiber optic networks. Hacking from mobile devices which is a sport today, will become impossible.
The data revolution of 3D offers a huge potential for local entrepreneurship. It is not the hardware nor the software that will trigger the transformation. Rather, it will be the local control of data mining and the availability of frequencies for everyone, building up the new infrastructure from each town, community and city. This type of democratization - thanks to light which is one of the key factors of life - that has not been envisaged to date. It is a level playing field, and therefore this could permit a country to develop itself into a stronghold nation for datamining … if it so desires and decides.
We have come to the ridiculous situation, where a question submitted on an search engine by a citizen in Ravenna (Italy), about a restaurant in Ravenna is sent over mobile networks and a transatlantic fiber optical cable to a set of servers on the other side of the world that will have full control of the data. Then, Ravenna’s public or private organizations will pay these data miners for placing advertising in their home location. The platform will make these local players pay for being ranked on top of others when questions are raised on “where to go”, and so on. The data collected on the restaurants and the interested client are gathered overseas as well, and resold. The worst of all, these overseas datamining companies do not pay any taxes in Ravenna (or Italy). This is serfdom, not free search information!
Only when Governments embark on a dedicated strategy to ensure full data protection while offering local data mining, will there be a chance to have this industry develop in full confidence in the eyes of the public at large. Unfortunately, the radio communications chosen was never selected for its safety standards, and as a result over 30% of the world’s digital budgets are spent on … securing devices without much success. Since transmission of any data over light cannot be hacked, there is for the first time a window of opportunity that has been overlooked. Indeed, in order to recover data from light, one has to position a device between the sender and receiver, de facto disconnecting the transmission of data. This stands in stark contrast with radio wave based communications where one can steal data at hundreds meters distance with off-the-shelf equipment as Mrs. Angela Merkel had to learn the hard way when her secured calls were monitored from the American Embassy.
There is an urgent need to have an overarching strategy with integrated institutions that will ensure that nations have a chance to benefit from their own data. This implies that the present data serfdom is called to an end.
The best strategy forward would be to embrace not just the right to connectivity, but rather to aggressively promote the next generation of 3D internet which would open numerous ways to gain back control of datamining while offering citizens the jobs and the data security they need and deserve.
In the mean time, the take-over of European data infrastructure by foreign investors must be stopped until there is a clear alignment amongst all the key stakeholders. In addition, Governments should take pragmatic measures to protect infants and children like the French Government did with the “Loi Abeille” that prohibits the use of WiFi in kindergarden and elementary schools.
It is urgent to collect the data and to take reverse the “laissez-faire” attitude that has resulted in a drain of power and cash that must be reversed immediately. Once conscious, and once clear that a reversal is needed, then local economies can leverage this strategy for local growth, an impulse that is urgently needed.
The legalization of medicinal use of marihuana triggered a major growth in local economies. It unveiled how much money was circulating in the parallel economy. On the other hand, the absence of a federal framework leads to a void in the farming system. The legal obligations on one hand, and the drive for efficiency and productivity on the other hand, results in the vast use of chemicals that are turning the practice highly dependent on chemicals. Read more in this blog that is based on five years of personal contacts and exchanges.
1. When the citizens of Colorado voted in 2011 to legalise cannabis, little they knew that pot would become the engine of the local economy, picking up the pieces after the bust of the shale gas industry.
2. While the economy grows, and producers can hardly keep track of demand, the absence of any Federal health, safety and environmental regulation, has led to the emergence of cannabis as one the most polluting industries ever.
3. The present legal framework forces (nearly) all production indoors. The use of chemicals to control moulds and mites would make the cannabis sector unfit for human consumption in many parts of the world.
4. After the rush for farming pot, the sector should self-impose the design of facilities that emulate natural conditions, including the introduction of perennial cannabis plants as was the tradition in sub-tropical regions. Farming should be outdoors, then strains from the Himalayas and the Andes should be farmed locally.
5. The cannabis farming and processing generates massive volumes of waste. Its mix with chemicals and perlite is exacerbated by the regulation to destroy the plant's left-overs on site prior to hauling. A few changes would make this millions of tons of cannabis biomass an ideal source for biogas.
6. Regulations keep the cannabis industry local, small-scale and highly profitable, void of any competition except for the neighbor. Pharmaceutical companies are soon rushing in. However for now a new generation of entrepreneurs could build up a bio-business in this captive niche.
7. The money spent on painkillers, or the money flowing to drug lords, now stays in the local economy, generating a strong multiplier effect that demonstrates how much cash was drained from these communities into the pockets of outside players, and what an opportunity it is to change the logic of trade.
8. The entrepreneurs of the cannabis industry should take the initiative to quickly move from the present state of euphoria and money making to a professionalization that sets new standards for health and safety, natural farming and local economies. This standard could support transparency on this high growth market.
9. If approved on a Federal level, then cannabis would pump an additional $200 billion into the economy each year, that otherwise would have been paid to the mafia and would have continued to stress the legal and penitentiary system. If globally permitted, we are estimating at least a $500 billion annual injection into the economy.
When the citizens of the State of Colorado (USA) voted in 2011 to legalize marijuana few could have imagined the impact of this decision on the environment and the economy. Five years later the pharmaceutical industry had lost $165 million in annual sales of painkillers just in that one state, while sales of medicinal cannabinoids (known as CBD or Cannabidiol, and THC or Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol) to suppress pain surpassed in the same year and the same territory of 5.4 million inhabitants the one billion dollar mark. The 600 cannabis shops in Denver, Colorado surpass the number of branded coffee shops. It has been estimated that thanks to the investment boom in 2016 ten thousand people moved to Denver each month to tap into the bonanza of pot, as the drug is colloquially called.
Medicinal cannabis plant growing in Colorado © 2016, Shutterstock
The economic impact of the legalization of cannabis is beyond imagination of those who put the opportunity to a vote: real estate prices boom, minimum wages boom, the local government budget booms, the number of arrests for possession is down, the prison population is decreasing, and the boom and bust of the shale gas industry is alleviated by this boom in the fast emerging pot economy. On top of these benefits, the legalization diverts cash that would have left the local economy either to enrich out of state pharmaceutical companies or foreign mafias, into the local economy with predictable multipliers. It is a boom that surpasses the promises of shale gas which was concentrated in the hands of a few, by catalyzing a revolution in the economy driven by thousands of small entrepreneurs and investors. The multiplier effect of this cash injection into the region is phenomenal.
While there are many reasons to celebrate the economic and social benefits of turning an illegal trade into a legitimate one, few have focused their attention on the environmental impact of farming cannabis for recreation or medicine.
benign organizations. The industry of making medicinal and recreational drugs from cannabis is so profitable, and demand is so strong, that the race to produce always more and more makes everyone, with only a few exceptions, use toxic mixes that do not make any environmental sense. The science and the practice of farming pot is so dependent on toxic chemicals and is void of basic insights or oversight on how to farm with both growth performance, the health of the users and the neighbors as well as the preservation of Nature in mind that one wonders if the legalization of pot has not opened the gateways for chemical farming like no other crop farmed today.
Symbiosis with Fungi
While I worked extensively with bamboo, we had to argue all the time that this plant was not a tree, rather it is a grass. When discussing the practice of farming cannabis, it is key to remind the operators of the indoor plantations that they are growing a plant that behaves like a hardwood, while the whole treatment rather looks like an indoor flower farm. So, the industry should start with the biology of cannabis. The plant is not a hardwood, rather it acts like a hardwood. This behavioural game is a well-known phenomena in Nature: one sunflower species (Montanoa quadrangularis) behaves like a tree, but it not a tree. A naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) is neither a mole nor a rat, rather it is a type of porcupine that lives in colonies like ants and bees, While we are finally coming to terms with diverse preferences in society, where not everyone behaves according to its genes, we have to realise that flower farm practices do not serve the cannabis trade.
Hardwoods perform best thanks to their unique relationships with mycorrhizal fungi. This fungus lives around the outside of the roots. Based on hands-on experience at Las Gaviotas (Colombia), the regeneration of 20,000 acres of rainforest was based on this successful symbiosis of a plant with the right fungus (Pisolithus tinctorius). The cannabis farmers buy and test mycorrhiza. However, studying the formulations applied, no one seems to have figured out which fungus suits which cannabis plant variety. The practice of spraying a mix of spores on top of an emerging plant, as if it were an expensive pesticide. Once the industry determined which fungus is the one that is "most" synergetic with the various cannabis species grown today, it will have a basis for a higher biological productivity while relying less on chemistry. This seems a key point to be put on the industry's research agenda.
ease without relying on an overkill with chemicals. If in addition the indoor farming is combined with appropriate light, including ultraviolet rays that mimic the exposure under the sun and cleanses the plants of competing microorganisms, then the production system will evolve from strength to strength.
Perennials and Canopies
How could the obsession with the flower, that contains the highest concentration of the cannabinoids, neglect the biology of an ancient perennial. Cannabis moved from the subtropical regions where rain means winter and sun is associated with summer, to the the foothill of the Himalayas where the four seasons impose annual cycles. Now that cannabis is farmed indoors in Colorado, the ideal species would be the short-lived perennial ones. Perennials would reduce the cost of handling and cut the massive waste associated with single season farming. In the end the growers wish to have more flowers, and this relies on a plant that grows an expanded canopy in early life.
all attention goes to the flower, ignoring the fact that the broader the canopy, the higher the number of flowers. The basics are known, but the practice was already blinded by the desire to achieve one single objective: to grow as many flowers as quickly as possible at any financial and environmental cost. Since a sachet of marijuana could be priced at the store as much as $70 per unit (down from $110 a few years ago), while the cost is a mere $5 (x14), the strategy is solely focused on the short term production - whatever the volume at whatever the cost. As a result, the industry is neglecting the option to go back to basics (As hippies did in 60's) and search for the perennial varieties that grow outdoor
The Absence of Federal Laws and Guidelines
The Government, which is often colloquially referred to as "The Feds" (of the Federal Government) continues to consider cannabis farming illegal, and therefore the sector is void of any Federal guidelines from the indoor air quality, health standards, the use of chemicals on medicine and food, to waste management. This Federal prohibition on top of the state-wide legalization forces all cannabis cultivation indoors. While these plants would do best outdoors, and enjoy their stable periods in the dark of the night. Why is all production is forced indoors to avoid exposure to children who may stumble on these powerful and profitable plants. This regulations acts as if social media do not exist.
Forcing all cultivation indoors jacks up the cost and pollution beyond any reason, but no one complains since the margins are so high. A small facility that may not measure more than 500 square meters is cranking out at least $10 million in cash a year. Yes, cannabis is a cash business only, since the Feds do not permit the use of the Federally insured banking system for an illegal substance, even when it is permitted in the state. This explains why cannabis farmers even have their own security companies, cash transit trucks, and money vaults. By now, they have accumulated a few billion dollars in cash and pursue the logic of the mafia.
Moisture and pH
Many of the indoor farms have opted for aero- or aquaponics, providing all the nutrients through water in ponds or moisture in the air. Whenever the owner of a closed space opts to farm a monoculture, this equates to an invitation to mould attacks. Moulds are a fungus that thrives in a space that has a wealth of cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose (the very predictable three components that characterize plants). Moulds have the power to overtake their host, stunting growth and ultimately leading to its demise. Once the immune system of the plants is stressed through the creation of this (mandated) unhealthy environment, mites will have a chance to take over what the fungi have not already put under their control. The adverse impact on productivity, health and safety by forcing the industry to an exclusive indoor farming is devastating. The reaction of the owners is to comply with "whatever the Feds desire" even if this requires to spend without restraint to submerge the cannabis families in a toxic blend of metal oxides.
When the human species does not understand something, it is tempted to kill it. Moulds are no exception. Seldom have I noted environments where chlorinated compounds in all possible mixes are used with limited consideration to the health of the workers or the customers, not to mention its impact on outdoor air quality, ground water and soil. The patients keen on having a natural cure for their chronic pain do deserve a better product and a greater care, than those with the current quality. However, the farming of cannabis seems to have dropped all restraints since the market grows fast and the regulations are non-existent, except that it should be kept out of reach and out of sight of anyone who is underage (under 21 years).
The industry is new to the natural varieties of cannabis that would grow best in Colorado’s ecosystem. Colorado has a dry and continental climate, with extended periods of heat and cold. Biologists should opt for species that thrive in such environment. It was surprising to note the absence of any knowledge of Bhutanese strains, whereas the Afghan alternative is widespread - and we wonder why (sic)? Even when the plants are indoors, we could mimic a natural environment that would ensure a fit like a glove on a hand if the core selection would be akin to the ecosystem.
Cannabis growing wild in the city centre of Paro (Bhutan) © 2016, Google
This includes a smart use of shifts in pH, enhancing the facilities' design for an alkaline environment, the flows of chlorine free water, moisture that could carry moulds, air rich in carbonic gases when the lights are on, particles that enrich growth, light and darkness as means to ensure a natural flowering. This offers a window to embrace the wonders of nature, to drop costs, increase quality and safety of end flows improve. If on the other hand the industry sticks to what the farming experts know, this engine of the economy will go down in history books as another false promise. It will leave ghost towns behind like the Gold Rush did in the 19th century.
The Blue Economy is dedicated to positive whistleblowing: what opportunities is this wildly popular and profitable industry missing? A handful of site visits between Aurora, Durango, Fort Lupton, Fort Collins, Denver and Boulder convinced me that industry oscillates between these obsessive regulations around issues that hardly matter, and a total absence of regulations around the health and safety of workers, customers and the environment that should matter. Since I do not expect the policy makers to take any lead, due to the void created by the absence of Federal permits, laws and regulations, it is up to the industry to take the initiative and start converting its act from the reality of today to the potential of tomorrow. The approach we suggest, without wanting to be prescriptive, would combine the capacity to considerably increase output, while cutting costs, reversing the environmental damage, by putting this highly popular farming onto a track that promotes health, safety and sustainability.
The first step of course is to ensure that the biodiversity of cannabis plants is adapted to the ecosystems. While this sounds obvious, it is a first important step: avoiding standardization by ensuring that each growing condition is optimal for a few strains of cannabis plants. The second step is to ensure that the indoor facilities (assuming that this will remain a requisite for the permit) operate under a mould free environment, while the plants have the ideal symbiosis with mycorrhizal fungi. The focus on biodiversity and symbiosis strengthens the immune system of the plants and this is the best (perhaps even only) way to protect the plant from mites. If the use of chlorine (highly acidic) is replaced by a bacterial and fungal control based on a benign blend of hydrogen peroxide and vinegar produced on site when needed, then we have eliminated over 90% of the health risks associated with the present farming. Perhaps ignorance of the challenges the sector faces today, and ignorance of the solutions that are immediately available blind the goodwill that nearly all have once exposed to these observations.
Indoor farming of cannabis in Colorado ©2016, Shutterstock
The third intervention required relates to waste management. The extraction of the active ingredients, with an exclusive focus on the flowers, produces - as discussed - massive volumes of waste. It is estimated that the State of Colorado generates perhaps 5 million pounds per day. This is massive. This biomass goes to landfill. The toxic cocktail of chemicals is blended with a massive volume of organic matter and a growth medium ranging from cheap soil with a poor poor carbon content, to perlite that is mines and wasted
call to consider the potential social and environmental good by shifting to a business model that ensures profitability and sustainability like seldom seen before (in any industry). The lack of Federal regulations should be exploited for the good, and this degree of freedom must be celebrated for as long as it lasts.
Glass and Gas
Glass foam produced from a mix of green, white and brown bottles. ©2015, Pittsburgh Corning
The perlite challenge is worth dwelling on for a moment more. Perlite is mined. It is used as a growth medium and discarded after only one use. Since the separation of the mineral from the plant roots is difficult, all gets dumped according to the regulations, and the industry pays the full cost without complaining. If all greenhouses were to opt for glass foam as a growth medium which is not less than recycled beer and wine bottles, even recycled car windshields, then the industry would create an opportunity to get out of the "glass trap". Indeed, the demand for recycled glass has dropped to the point that many cities have stopped recycling altogether.
The cannabis trade spurs a strong growth in demand for a sterile growth medium, promoting the presence of beneficial microorganisms. This could put new life into glass recycling as over a dozen facilities throughout Europe have demonstrated, while generating jobs with a locally available waste. This converts a cost into a revenue, and facilitates the conversion of a mined material with one that can be recycled forever, while eliminating a nuisance for the city waste manager. This is clearly a win-win-win for all and it is profitable as soon as 5.5 million bottles can be guaranteed in a region.
If 40-50 operators of greenhouses collaborate, then there will be a business case that could be funded out of available cash flow, and … by the way, this reduces GHG emissions.
The same logic can be extended to the biomass that is now shredded on site and hauled to landfills. This does not make sense. The fact that cannabis is behaving like a hardwood ensures its long and powerful conversion into minerals through exposure to methanogenic bacteria. Cannabis is most likely one of the most effective biogas generators since the cannabis plant never converts stems to bark implying a high potential for the production of biogas. Just like breweries realized that their massive volume of spent grains could lead to large quantities of natural gas, mushrooms and bread, the same logic could be applied to the cannabis industry provided it cuts back on its toxic cocktails. The recent super-effective digesters that operate with 12 chambers produce so much gas that it cannot be neglected anymore as a source of revenues and wealth creation. If we add that the cannabis industry is the single largest new user of power in the State, then it makes sense to take on this opportunity. And, from the point of view of the "Feds", there is nothing more secure than the "transformation" of all cannabis waste into a mineralized form generating energy.
The rapid growth from an underground business to one that occupies 600 commercial buildings and just under 2,000 production sites in less than 5 years stresses the available stock of industrial and commercial real estate. While the price per square foot has increased tenfold, and more investments pour into the economy, the quality of the buildings leave lots to be desired for the industry, which has focused on the speedy occupation of available space. Now the time has come to design dedicated structures that take the specific needs of the industry into account. It seems that few have made any serious reflections on how such an indoor cannabis farming and processing unit should look like to boost output, but probably most important to meet the standards for a product that has medicinal value.
Cannabis store in Denver, Colorado ©2016, HGABMAG.com
There is sufficient science available to convince the pharmaceutical industry the unique medical value of cannabis extracts. When scientists discovered that the brain and the cells in the immune system have dedicated cannabinoid receptors, it seems that our health of body and mind has been designed for this natural agent. The capacity to control pain without the risk of addiction is an appealing proposal. The personal anecdotes always help to put this cannabis revolution in a homely context. A close friend in his 70's had been suffering for decades from debilitating backache and had developed allergies or addition to traditional painkillers. Frank V. finally found relief thanks to cannabis after the very first topical application, and could start dancing again much to the delight of his wife who recalls the fun times they had in the 60's on the dance floor. Frank and others are the new customers visiting cannabis stores without any restrictions or guilt.
However pain is only one of the applications that has caught the attention of the industry. The relief in epileptic seizures especially among children who have otherwise no effective medicine as reported by Scientific American (January 2016) is a breakthrough, that needs further study. The reversal of Alzheimer is another one. While the pharmaceutical industry clearly sees the sign on the wall, their hands are tied since the Federal law still prohibits the farming and commercialization of these products nationwide, and only "tolerates the business" where the citizens have voted through the ballots and the state has legalized.
While many applaud that cannabis integrated into the black economy, one that generates important tax revenue, few realize how this emerging industry creates a powerful local economy much different than the promise of globalization. Now, the restrictive oversight and control of the Government secures a debilitated competitive pharma force, while strengthening a highly fractionated farming and processing system with thousands of new entrepreneurs who claim their stake. This is the 21st century gold rush and a consolidation of the sector is not in sight. The hippies and the hemp capitalists have the federal regulators to thank.
Time to take initiatives
Just a short decade after the gold rush for cannabis started, its economic impact is clearly felt, but its ecological footprint has not been accounted for nor documented in full. Neither has there been a real chance to scientifically document the marvel cannabinoids potentially represent from chronic ache to epileptic seizures. Policy makers have a responsibility to serve society, and ensure that the benefits are shared with millions, not a few. To our surprise, the conditions for the cannabis trade seem to be more democratic than any emerging industry. The emerging corporations are squeezed between the key performance indicators of "growing more and faster all the time to keep up with demand" on one hand, and the very narrowly defined controls from the Government that has not set any ecological
so that the next generation will not look back at this explosive situation with the same dismay as we look at the scars from the gold miners who indiscriminately used mercury as it was the best performing chemical at the time.
While this short paper ticks only a few of the boxes that need to be addressed for this emerging cannabis trade, it is a broad invitation to the key operators in the industry to embark on a rapid transformation to an emerging business that undoubtedly can and will make a major contribution to the economy, but at the same time applies the science and the engineering that permits these production and commercial facilities will contribute to society and turn into pioneers for the best of humanity.
 Prakash Nagarkatti, e.a. in Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs, published by the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, accessible since 2010 through: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2828614/
Gasoline was blended with lead (Pb) for decades until we realized that its devastating impact on public health. Lead was banned. We are now facing biofuels full with the lead of modern times glyphosate. There is mounting scientific evidence that the strategy to promote biofuels is backfiring ... it is exposing citizens to airborne toxins which could dramatically affect our lungs.
We need to be aware and take precautionary measures. Waiting until the scientific proof is delivered, it like waiting for the enemy to invade your country before a nation starts preparing its defense.
Read more in this blog based on extensive scientific research coordinated by academics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Life on earth is a combination of the minuscule and the gigantic: from the cells that build an organ to the body of a sentient being, to the communities we live in, the ecosystems we depend on, and the tiny spot the Earth represents in the Universe. Life is not just a mix of matter, chemistry and biology - it consists of innumerable relations that have unfolded over millions of years of evolution and symbiosis. This “Web of Life” was first described by the Austrian scientist Fritjof Capra. The key characteristic is that the whole (life) is more than the sum of its parts (physics, chemistry and biology), something Leonardo da Vinci already described.
We are still in the process of discovering what life is and how it is organized. There are more bacteria living in our mouth than there are people living on earth. There are ten times more viruses in the sea than there are bacteria. There are a million bacteria in one cubic millimeter of seawater. One hundred million viruses descent every day on each square meter of land. Most are released from the waves in the sea into the air. The number of microorganisms in our body equals the number of human cells. No matter how well you wash and scrub, every nook and cranny of your body is covered with microscopic creatures. However, the greatest concentration of this invisible life thrives in the dark depths of our oxygen-deprived intestines.
That is where our immune system works with the precision of a nuclear clock following with great discipline each instruction of our genome. This sequence of chemical reactions and biological matter, known as our double helixes, harbors approximately 20,000 rules. While we have determined the structure and the content of the human genome, we still do not fully understand how it works. Our life force depends on these rules which are deployed on autopilot. If we add all the genes of the bacteria, viruses and fungi that call our body their home and that interact with our genes, then we are operating under more than two million “rules”. So if we understand “us”, we still need to grasp “the others” to metabolize food, to trigger a response from our immune system when a virus attacks, and to make vitamins, just to name a few. If we think we can master life through genetic manipulation, gene editing, and modern medicine “killing the bad”, then we should think again.
The war against enemies in us
Our view of bacteria, viruses and fungi, which determines how we could live happy and healthy, is wrought with ignorance and fear. Unfortunately, we systematically view these microorganisms as enemies. Worse, we are waging an open warfare against them. Antibiotics and vaccines are the weapons we unleash against smallpox, tuberculosis and many more. Yes, it is true that this warfare saved large numbers of lives. But more and more researchers and members of civil society are concerned that our assault on “the bad guys” has done (and is doing) irreparable damage to our good partners with whom we have built up a very effective synergy to promote and enhance life. Success in fighting pathogens has contributed to a whole new set of diseases that we now have to deal with. Worse, we make it impossible for our immune system to operate with its time-proven partners to bind the dangerous viruses, bacteria, and fungi for collecting and clearing debris and dangers.
The fight against life around us
Our modern day science and engineering does not only fight what is inside us; society embarked on an unparalleled and indiscriminate fight against life that surrounds us. Over the past fifty years we have applied pesticides, herbicides and fungicides as part of a ferocious warfare against anything posing a perceived risk to monoculture crops. Mass cultivation and mass processing of standardized food has been considered indispensable to achieve food security. The fact that we have neglected biodiversity, while not achieving the intended food security, is complemented by statistics that show devastating food, health and biodiversity trends. Somehow these facts have not motivated us to change course. As part of the strategy to achieve food security, the modus operandi pursues the indiscriminate killing of weeds, insects and vermin. Until recently, we did not realize that the pursuit of one objective (producing more food) has had many devastating side effects, including the killing of a whole pyramid of life. While the worst toxins like DDT and asbestos have been banned (in most countries and for most applications, but not all) there are thousands of other molecules that have been licensed for free dispersal. We should have known better.
The Failure of Cause and Effect
The challenge for regulators is that the approval of a novel product is limited to a simplistic assessment of “the cause and no effect on the health of people, and the health of Nature”. This direct causality may not be easy to prove, or to dismiss when the Web of Life of each living species operates by more than 2 million rules. The mere proposal that one must abide by the “scientific logic” of cause and effect, without considering the real complexity of life, implies an incapacity to deliver proof.
The reverberating impact of chemical cocktails on the Web of Life is beyond any doubt. Countries like Germany have reported a decrease of insects over the past 30 years of no less than 70 percent. And while bees have gotten their well deserved attention -and although we still fail to stop their demise-, there are thousands of most beneficial insects, which we cannot even name, that are exterminated without valid reason. This genocide of insects is considered a collateral damage in the fight for food security. Common sense confirms clearly that something is fundamentally wrong. However, how can policy makers move from the statistical proof with a very high degree of certainty that the system is collapsing, to prohibiting one specific synthetic molecule? Under the prevailing rules of the game, it will be impossible to ever stop the onslaught until irreparable damage has woken up civil society at large.
From non-GMO crops to biofuels
One of the chemical substances that has been under broad scrutiny for decades is glyphosate, the active ingredient of the herbicide Roundup. This is the most extensively applied chemical on GMO and non-GMO crops. It controls weeds and functions as a desiccant of the harvest. While many activists have been concerned with the traces of this herbicide as it travels through the food chain into our body and our excrements, we need to point to the abundance of the raw glyphosate molecule in biofuels. This volatilization of glyphosate is at the core of a chain of adverse effects we are discovering as we write. It is timely to increase awareness and investigate the impact of airborne glyphosate spreading through the air as more biofuels turn into a fixed part of the energy mix. The implications could soon be proven to be as devastating as the technique to mix lead (Pb - plumb) into gasoline. It made the engine run smoother but the volatilization of lead in the air and from there in the web of life through rain, rivers, soil and plants turned into a public health disaster which forced Governments to intervene and prohibit it.
Good Intentions with unforeseeable Side Effects
The starting point of this unfolding drama is a series of laudable intentions. Governments have been actively promoting biofuels as part of very diverse policies, which each make sense as long as we make abstractions of the unintended consequences. In the 1970s, Brazil wished to reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels. Since sugar lost its favor with consumers, its massive cane culture that had initially emerged on demolished Atlantic Rainforest land, was transformed into a biofuel industry. The billions invested saved the country billions in foreign currency per year by blending ethanol with petroleum, while it generated thousands of jobs. In 2001, the United States embarked on a deliberate strategy to increase demand for corn by turning it into a fuel. 25% of the American corn fields have been turned into ethanol farms. This additional demand secured higher prices for the farmers, just like the strategy to promote plastics from corn generated an additional boost in prices. The US Government dedicated billions of USD in subsidies each year to convert maize into biofuels and it turned the corn traders into billionaires, while the tortillas, the staple food for poor Mexicans turned prohibitively expensive.
Europe committed to reduce carbon emissions to reverse climate change. To do so, Europe decided to convert wasted biomass (excess olive oil production, spent kitchen oil, rapeseed oil, even wood) into fuels. Europe’s ambitions for biofuels far outpaced its capacity to farm and recover oils. Thus, the EU had to import in 2018 nearly four million tons of biofuels full of glyphosates. Much came from GMO Roundup-Ready soybeans (mainly from Argentina) and palm oil (mainly from Indonesia) cultivated on denuded rainforest that destroyed the habitat of the orangutan. Whatever the policy objective was or is, the fact is that all these biofuels burned by cars in Brazil, the USA, and Europe are contaminated with glyphosate. The consequence is that we have unknowingly polluted the air we breath and put an additional stress on our immune system.
After the success of biofuel for cars, the airline industry felt the pressure to join the bandwagon. The aviation industry has been actively blending vegetable-based oils into kerosene for over a decade. Los Angeles (LAX) was the first airport in the world to offer aviation biofuel in 2009. In 2011, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines became the first airline to use bio-kerosene made from used cooking oil. United Airlines, American Airlines and Air France joined soon after. The airline corridors are now airborne glyphosate corridors. Is there a correlation between the fact that Brazil, the United States and some European regions score the highest in the consumption of biofuels, and that they have been hit with proportionately more deaths from the coronavirus?
It is worth pointing out that Bhutan and Sikkim, the 2 regions of the world committed to 100% organic farming, and where aviation is very restricted have had zero coronavirus deaths reported. It may also be ironic that countries with a powerful oil and gas lobby but without a prevalence of biofuels like Russia and Saudi Arabia have lower incidence of coronavirus deaths - especially compared to Brazil and the USA. These are not proofs of cause and effect which are - as indicated - impossible to demonstrate with the present logic that neglects the system as a whole.
Strong Correlations refute Coincidence
Glyphosate is the major contaminant that according to its own specifications and permits to be used, is not supposed to be found in food, soil, rivers, lakes, groundwater, blood, urine and breast milk. Unfortunately traces are found everywhere! Due to the popularity of biofuels this doubtful molecule is increasingly present in the air we breath. It spreads like a virus through air corridors descending on us through rain and wind. Unless you live high up in the Himalayas, no one can be protected from exposure to it. By simply breathing, glyphosate settles in our lung tissue.
The correlation between the alarming rise of a series of chronic diseases and the use of glyphosate was confirmed through scientific research with a stunning p-value of less than 0.00001. This indicates that the match between illness and presence of glyphosate is no coincidence at all. An analysis of those who suffered and passed away in Lombardy due to the COVID-19 revealed that 99% of them had a chronic disease, and nearly half suffered from three or more illnesses that correlate with chronic diseases associated with glyphosate. Perhaps we should not insist on social distancing, rather Governments should finally enforce a dramatic reduction of the citizens’ exposure to glyphosate.
A growing list of scientific literature suggests that glyphosate may be damaging our lungs in such a way so as to induce an acute response to this new cold virus, leading to extensive damage to the lungs, difficult breathing, and an inability to efficiently clear the virus from the body. The correlation between glyphosate and chronic diseases is so strong that we can advance with certainty the hypothesis that “the degree to which persons are susceptible to COVID-19 is proportional to the degree to which they have been exposed to glyphosate”. Eating a European certified organic diet, staying away from major highways and avoiding the corridors of airplanes running on biokerosene may be among the best tools for protection from an acute reaction to COVID-19. The best response is to increase organic farming as especially Spain, Italy, Austria and the Baltic States are doing.
Policy Makers should Adopt a Military Strategy
When military intelligence confirms that an enemy is preparing an attack, then it would be absurd to wait to prepare for and build up a defense strategy until it has been proven that the adversary is belligerent, i.e. the attack has taken place. We cannot claim that it is proven that glyphosate weakens the immune system and damages the lungs and subsequently leads to an acute response to a simple virus. However, it is time to apply military logic. Why wait until it is proven? This should motivate the European Union to finally put a stop to glyphosate, which might very well be one of the key factors to reduce the risk of another pandemic.
Of course there will be scientists arguing strongly against this argument. I am prepared to face the threats and abuses because will stand for what I believe is right and people should know. Civil society listens to scientists, collects data, facts, knowledge and wisdom and then decides without fear but with a heart in the interest of the Common Good. Only 0.1% of the population qualifies as a scientist, so it is impossible that this minute number rules over 99.9% of the citizens who wish to pursue a happy and healthy life in harmony with their community and Nature.
I am grateful to Jennifer Margulis for her amazing background research based on peer group reviewed articles. She and Dr. Stephanie Seneff from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were my key sources in documenting this article.
 The smaller the p-value, the stronger the evidence that the null hypothesis should be rejected. A p-value less than 0.05 (typically ≤ 0.05) is statistically significant. It indicates strong evidence against the null hypothesis, as there is less than a 5% probability the null is correct (and the results are random).
 https://www.epicentro.iss.it/coronavirus/bollettino/Report-COVID- 2019 17 marzo-v2.pdf.
I hereby submit a series of scientific studies that substantiate the arguments advanced in the article above. This is only a small selection of articles reporting on studies undertaken by organizations independent of the pro-glyphosate lobby.
FC Chang, MF Simcik, PD Capel. Occurrence and Fate of the Herbicide Glyphosate and its Degradate Aminomethylphosphonic Acid in the Atmosphere. Environ Toxicol Chem. 2011; 30(3): 548-55.
A Samsel and S Seneff. Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases. Entropy 2013; 15: 1416-1463.
NL Swanson, A Leu, J Abrahamson, et al. Genetically Engineered Crops, Glyphosate and the Deterioration of Health in the United States of America. J Org Syst 2014; 9: 6-37.
T Houben, Y Oligschlaeger, AV Bitorina et al. Blood-derived Macrophages Prone to Accumulate Lysosomal Lipids Trigger oxLDL-Dependent Murine Hepatic Inflammation. Scientific Reports 2917; 7: 12550.
R Mesnage, G Renney, G-E Séralini et al. Multiomics Reveal Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in Rats Following Chronic Exposure to an Ultra-low Dose of Roundup Herbicide. Sci Rep 2017; 7: 39328.
S Gunatilake, S. Seneff and L. Orlando. Glyphosate’s Synergistic Toxicity in Combination with Other Factors as a Cause of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Origin. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2019; 16(15): 2734.
WK Ip, KH Chan, HK Law et al. Mannose-binding Lectin in Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Infection. J Infect Dis 2005; 191: 1697-1704.
R-M A Mackay, CL Grainge, LC Lau, et al. Airway Surfactant Protein D Deficiency in Adults With Severe Asthma. Chest. 2016 May; 149(5): 1165–1172.
DS Thakur, R Khot, PP Joshi et al. Glyphosate Poisoning with Acute Pulmonary Edema. Toxicol Int. 2014; 21(3): 328-330.
S Kumar, M Khodoun, EM Kettleson et al. Glyphosate-rich Air Samples Induce IL-33, TSLP and Generate IL-13 Dependent Airway Inflammation. Toxicology. 2014; 0: 42-51.
P Mehta, DF McAuley, M Brown et al. COVID-19: Consider Cytokine Storm Syndromes and Immunosuppression. Lancet 2020; 395: 1033-134.
SM Alif, SC Dharmage, G Benke et al. Occupational Exposure to Pesticides are Associated with Fixed Airflow Obstruction in Middle-age. Thorax 2017; 72(11): 990-997.
R Lozano, M Naghavi, K Foreman et al. Global and Regional Mortality from 235 Causes of Death for 20 Age Groups in 1990 and 2010: A Systematic Analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet 2012; 380: 2095-128.
Lombardy: Red Light for Diesels until March 2019. Wanted In Milan. April 3, 2020. https://www.wantedinmilan.com/news/lombardy-red-light-for-diesels-until-march-2019.html.
Dialogo entre Gunter Pauli & Patrick Busquet, Heloisa Primavera, Editora
En la clausura del evento Jornadas Internacionales Como Vivir Juntos En Paz 2020 (http://aisa-ong.org/) el 16 de mayo 2020, se estableció un dialogo muy fructífero entre dos emprendedores de características muy distintas y que resultaron muy complementarias; o sera que estoy tan desesperadamente buscando sinergias que las veo en todas partes.
El resumen de este dialogo en lo cual recordaba el auditoria las palabras sabias de Confucio: “Todos tenemos dos vidas. La segunda empieza cuando te das cuenta de que tienes sólo una.”
En la clausura del evento Jornadas Internacionales Cómo Vivir Juntos En Paz 2020 (http://aisa-ong.org/) el 16 de mayo pasado, se estableció un diálogo muy fructífero entre dos emprendedores de características muy distintas y que resultaron muy complementarias; o será que estoy tan desesperadamente buscando sinergias que las veo en todas partes… El primer regalo que aquí va es la obra 100 preguntas en 100 páginas, recientemente concluida en Bogotá (domingo de Pascuas), que puede ser descargada gratuitamente, en castellano, desde el mismo sitio de Gunter https://www.gunterpauli.com/uploads/7/0/3/0/70303643/100_quest_es.pdf. La obra empieza recordando a Confucio: “Todos tenemos dos vidas. La segunda empieza cuando te das cuenta de que tienes sólo una.”
Moderador: Se trata hoy de colocar en el centro de la mesa como enfrentamos JUNTOS el desafío de la supervivencia, que es un desafío de la humanidad como un todo. Necesitamos y podemos poner en marcha herramientas que ya tenemos (y otras que construiremos). Estamos trabajando en ese programa desde hace 4 años, no fueron solo charlas, hubo cantos, bailes, celebraciones. Estamos aquí para renovar el compromiso de construir un mundo de convivencia en altruismo, respeto por la diversidad y hacer realidad una economía del compartir antes que competir, hoy urgente.
Nos preguntamos qué clase de seres humanos somos: productores y consumidores? o conciencia de lo humano? De interdependencia de la vida en todas sus formas en el planeta?
Gunter Pauli es presentado como creador de un abordaje de la economía que hace foco en lo local y la armonía con la naturaleza, tal como desarrolló en LA ECONOMÍA AZUL. Le dicen el Steve Jobs de la sustentabilidad... pero no parece gustarle tanto. (pone cara rara...) gunterpauli.com zeri.org
Patrick Busquet es un periodista francés especializado en relaciones internacionales, en innovaciones sociales en el campo del periodismo; en 2006 lanzó la propuesta de INFOSOLUCION, una primera formalización para convertir al periodismo en una actividad dirigida a producir soluciones y no a buscar “acontecimientos”. Dirige la Fundación Hirondelle (Kinshasa, RD Congo) y desde 2019 dirige la Asociación Información para el mundo que viene (Informations pour le Monde Suivant), estando prioritariamente vinculado a la creación de empleo joven. Su último libro es “Nuestras palabras moldean la realidad”: cómo salimos de la cuarentena. Volvemos a lo de antes o hacemos algo más?
Gunter le cede la palabra a Patrick, que empieza diciendo que “estamos viviendo un feliz sufrimiento en ese mundo de complejidad, que nos deja en una sorprendente situación: O CAMBIAMOS O DESAPARECEMOS. Desde la Segunda Guerra nunca el cambio estuvo tan al alcance de la mano como ahora. Puede parecer una paradoja, por lo cual lo voy a explicar: los últimos 30 años de desarrollo de los medios de comunicación nos han conducido a una situación anteriormente impensable; la presión visual bajo la cual hemos vivido nos ha llevado a un punto de inflexión, a una saturación que ya no soportamos. Vivimos en un estado de ebriedad tecno-emocional, con un vértigo y una erotización exasperada de las opiniones, sin poder escapar de la seducción de las redes sociales. Aunque la tentación es permanente y muy grande, no podemos dejar que nos haga olvidar que existe futuro y que tenemos algo que ver con él!
Con Gunter, tenemos un periodo rojo de nuestras vidas, en el cual él fue un empresario exitoso y yo un (exitoso?) periodista de acontecimientos. Más tarde Gunter se dedicó a la economía verde hasta que constato que ella tampoco estaba preparada para proteger el ecosistema tal como venía… Yo me dediqué un tiempo a la responsabilidad social empresaria, hasta que me di cuenta de que estaba deglutido en la construcción de un nuevo relato sin fin. E inutile… Actualmente Gunter se dedica a la economía azul y yo me dedico con mis amigos a construir información para el mundo que vendrá: producir información útil de interés colectivo. Ha llegado el momento de fusionar nuestras palabras y nuestras acciones: estamos en un punto quiebre donde una le quita sentido a la otra, si no están juntas. Es por eso que es impp hoy hacer una conexión fuerte entre esas dimensiones: dar palabra a las acciones que estamos realizando y usar nuestras palabras para pensar acciones inéditas, como exige el momento.
Gunter Pauli reconoce que está gratamente sorprendido por la poesía de sus palabras, en esa lengua que es capaz de combinar con sutileza contenido y forma. Le pide ser su alumno. Agradece la invitación y cuenta que ya han hecho cosas juntos, siempre muy placenteras.
Empieza: Estamos en un momento de pasar de anécdotas y pasar a la transformación profunda que necesitamos. En los últimos 30 años se han hecho millones de iniciativas, altamente transformadoras, pero no han sido capaces de transformar las estadísticas. Las estadísticas hoy son aún peores que antes del covid-19: se estima en 135 millones de personas sub-alimentadas las que mueren por año, el hambre sigue siendo la causa que más mata.
Este año se llegará a mil millones 300 mil habitantes la población sub-alimentada y el Covid-19 ha impactado más fuertemente en los países subdesarrollados. Eso me ha llevado a poner a Italia, Francia y España entre los países en vías de subdesarrollo: si pensamos que Europa gasta 3 billones de euros por año en presupuesto de salud, como es posible que no haya podido ofrecer cuidados paliativos a pacientes afectados por un virus previsible hace rato? No es la primera vez que eso ocurre: hay 400 millones de enfermos de dengue y 200 millones hospitalizados! Tiempo hubo para preparar: no es una emergencia, pues. Es un descuido, una des-priorización que revela el valor que tiene la salud pública en la agenda de los gobiernos.
Es la primera vez que Europa y América se ven afectadas por una tragedia de esa magnitud. Es entonces el momento de visibilizar esas iniciativas marginales que muestran que es posible hacer las cosas de otra manera: en una GRAN INICIATIVA COMÚN. Tenemos que aceptar el reto. Cada muerte es dura, para quien se va y para su entorno, pero lo que podemos evitar es continuar a hacer las cosas que hacen muchas de esas muertes existan hoy. Llevamos 30 años en una crisis que no se ha acercado a ningún tipo de solución sistémica de la situación. Nunca se intentó pasar a una economía resiliente y productora de alegría. Es la primera vez en la historia en que los daños colaterales los vivimos en un momento de paz. Gracias a la constatación de que este modelo no funciona ni para la economía ni para la sociedad, tenemos la oportunidad de pensar en la resiliencia en vez de la eficacia como objetivo fundamental.
Si nos preguntamos ahora dónde se encuentra el punto de apalancamiento de esa transformación, es más que evidente. Hemos estado viviendo en una burbuja, asumiendo que todo podría seguir existiendo indefinidamente: como sociedad de consumo que apunta a poner en el mercado el producto más barato posible - sólo de eso se trata el modelo! - hay que pasar por encima de lo social, es decir competir y eliminar al más débil y deshacerse de la naturaleza, si molesta! Hemos llevado al paroxismo ese sueño de vender barato, para vender mucho, para acumular… y nos hemos olvidado de incluir esas consecuencias forzosas. Por eso digo que ahora estamos en momento de crear algo nuevo.
Descubrir oportunidades es la única opción que nos queda.
Y la creatividad humana es infinita.
Es el momento de pasar a la acción. Si fracasamos no importa, volvemos a empezar. Pero abandonemos el relato. “Hacer la guerra” contra el virus, desmovilizando a la gente, mandándola a la casa e impidiéndole pensar, de conocer los hechos reales, ha sido en el fondo desmovilizar, impidiéndole de pensar, haciéndole creer que alguien tiene solución para lo que vendrá… cuando lo que vendrá serán más deudas y problemas. Cuando entramos en guerra, nos movilizamos!
No hubo tal guerra, sino una mala preparación del sistema de salud para fenómenos ya anunciados. No hubo espacios de proposición, sólo de obediencia; meditación y construcción de nuevos relatos sobre la tragedia humana como maldición bíblica, sin posibilidad de aceptar las responsabilidades de una construcción política desfasada de su tiempo.
Patrick: gracias Gunter por rescatar al dengue como tragedia en curso, como el hambre infantil y otras tantas. Eso nos lleva a constatar al menos dos consecuencias de ese estado de desmovilización responsable: la pérdida de confianza en nosotros; la segunda es la pérdida de discernimiento frente a las situaciones que vivimos: somos víctimas de haber forzado nuestra mirada hacia una perspectiva unitaria de obediencia y resignado la pro-actividad a personas tan incompetentes como nosotros. Una tercera constatación es la cuestión colectiva que nos presiona cada vez más violentamente: salud, educación, el agua, el hábitat; la naturaleza, la seguridad y la paz, la investigación científica son cuestiones que no se pueden tratar aisladamente en cada país: esa es la verdadera globalización: debemos emprender soluciones particulares pero con el conocimiento globalmente disponible!!! Por ello la información es hoy un tema de interés colectivo; ya no se puede hacer uso de recursos que van en contra de la humanidad; de ahí mi gran admiración por la economía azul, que pone la naturaleza en el centro.
Paradójicamente, hay emergencia de la información como elemento subversivo que hace que seamos capaces de conectar iniciativas desparramadas por los cuatro cantos del plante: sería una forma de revertir esa deriva individualista hacia una colectiva, de modo de dar respuestas particulares (locales) a problemas globales de la humanidad. Como difundir eficientemente iniciativas que aportan humanidad a la humanidad, como la economía azul, es ahí que entiendo que la INFORMACIÓN puede jugar un rol fundamental de re-conectarlas entre ellas, a través de una especie de “coaching” colectivo que coloque en el centro la posibilidad de rediseñarse con sus propios recursos; esas experiencias aisladas existen pero la información puede vincularlas de modo inteligente, trascendiendo la tentación narrativa y dirigiéndose a la acción! La información narrativa puede ser motivacional pero no alcanza; debe incluir contexto, sistemas de evaluación de impacto.
Hoy no se da esa información porque no vende explicar cómo hay que hacer, con cuanto de cada cosa, etc. TUTORIALES PARA HACER, AL ACCESO DE QUIENES LO NECESITAN!
Cómo relanzar hoy los sistemas de producción?
Gunter Pauli. Cuando me llamó el primer ministro italiano para plantearme esa pregunta le dije “hay que inspirarse en la naturaleza: es la mirada que no falla. Cuando hay un incendio, la naturaleza reacciona muy claramente: cuáles son las plantas que crecen primero? Los animales que llegan ? Hemos perdido la capacidad de hablar con la naturaleza: solo hay que preguntarle cuales son los elementos que tiene disponibles para relanzar la economía local? Que atiende a las necesidades de la población local, es decir humanos Y naturaleza: solo así se puede construir resiliencia. Le pregunté entonces al ministro cuantas personas creía él que podrían empezar a hacer hongos con la borra de café? Dijo: Si. si, ya hay uno en Bologna! Le contesté: tiene que haber 3000! En dos semanas se hace la primera cosecha. Si ud. cree que es posible, es posible.
Si cree que no es posible, entonces no es posible… Dejen hacer a la gente. Hay que trabajar con lo que hay disponible localmente. Son efectos que se logran si se piensan como multiplicadores. También se puede volver a pensar que otra solución es que la Unión Europea emita millones y millones de euros que serán pagados por quién? cómo? Si no tenemos economías locales que se están relanzando desde abajo, no será desde unas sillas en el parlamento europeo que se hará… Es a partir de la periferia que se relanzará la economía. Con qué? Una vaca toma dos años para producir un bebé… no es el camino. La fuerza de la naturaleza está en las microalgas: los franceses consumen microalgas (spirulina y otras, diatomeas) importadas de México y Estados Unidos: alguien me puede explicar por qué??? Otro caso: con la cáscara de naranja y vinagre podemos producir un excelente producto desinfectante y limpiador de baños y cocinas, 10 días después de tomar el jugo de frutas…
Señoras y señores: son pequeñas iniciativas multiplicadas que permiten formar una generación de emprendedores para el bien común! Hay que llamar a la acción. Un niño cuando despierta no se pone a pensar, sale a buscar sus juguetes para jugar; si nos los encuentra, inventa y sale a jugar. Esa es la fuerza que hay que despertar en nuestras comunidades: usarla para que se exprese su creatividad para relanzar las economías, aun en este momento en que estamos digitalizados por estar confinados, hay que salir a inventar las acciones disponibles en nuestro entorno y útiles para nuestras comunidades!
Doy otro ejemplo: tenemos hoy una internet que es neandertaliana, por qué? Ya está creada y en funcionamiento un sistema francés que viene de la luz - el LiFi, que existe y está probada, y se hace muy fácilmente: si usted tiene una lámpara y la conecta con un cable cobre a la red, tiene… internet. El Hospital de Perpignan (Francia) ha podido re-diseñar todo su sistema en muy poco tiempo y los beneficios son enormes e inmediatos. Porque insistimos en usar radio-ondas inventadas hace 30 años? Estoy hablando de tecnología barata: la internet de la gente! Quien tiene electricidad, tiene internet. Actualmente ¾ de los chicos del mundo están confinados estructuralmente porque viven en favelas (villas-miseria). En Colombia, donde las escuelas están cerradas hasta septiembre, solo el 6% de los chicos tienen acceso a internet, zoom, video-conferencias, lo que equivale a decir que NO ES POSIBLE educar a distancia aquí!
Hace falta preguntar qué hay que hacer? Una mujer en Colombia que intenta salir de su casa para trabajar, debe pagar dos salarios mínimos de multa! Yo propuse una multa para las personas que no salen, no toman sol, que no ahorran agua: Lo que necesitamos hoy es la oportunidad de identificar lo que está disponible en nuestros territorios y puede ser extraída como plusvalía social: se pierde si no se la utiliza. Una economía no funciona por producir productos baratos, la economía que funciona - por definición - es la que es útil a la gente. El motor de la economía es la plusvalía social. Si tenéis algo en las manos que produce bienestar para la gente, eso se llama plusvalía social.
Voy a dar un ejemplo de lo que se está haciendo hoy en Italia: el cardo es considerado una mala hierba, la UE impone regarlo con glifosato para eliminarlo. Hace 40 años que intentan hacerlo, pero el cardo está ahí. Respetemos la fuerza de la naturaleza que está ahí! Qué podemos con él? El cardo tiene la propiedad de recuperar tierras que están saturadas de nitratos producidos por herbicidas esterilizantes. Nuestras 5 fábricas están trabajando con un récord total: cuando todo se para, el cardo sigue… El cardo tiene compuestos que reemplazan el glifosato, pero tiene un único problema: es gratis! Si puedo tomar un ejemplo de Europa hoy, en un periodo de confinamiento absoluto en dos meses, todo paro pero el cardo ha retomado los campos… Que se puede hacer con éso? Es un herbicida con el cual se puede trabajar con mucho más resiliencia! Si hablamos entonces de cardo, borra de café y cáscara de naranja tenemos que volver nuestra definición de salud verde.
Durante 5 años estuvimos bajo el mandato de las certificaciones bio: NO contiene pesticida, NO herbicida y NO transgénico; pero hay que decir ahora que SÍ contiene! Y que eso esté incluido en el precio de verduras y frutas: quiero pagar por contenido de nutrientes, no por peso bruto. En vez de pagar por peso (kilo) de papas, quiero pagar por cantidad de nutrientes. Casi nulo. Una manzana cultivada hoy tiene 5% de los nutrientes que tenía hace 50 años! Una manzana transgénica está prácticamente vacía. Esta pequeña introducción nos sirve para entrar en el debate de cómo llevar eso a la gente.
Moderador: Cómo se puede hacer llegar eso a la gente?
Patric Busquet : Sin duda, hay una parte que es llevar eso a la gente, que comprenda que éso es así y otra con eso que yo llamo periodismo de información de interés colectivo, no de acontecimiento, es decir, de estrellas, héroes, etc.
Hay un problema real con los actores: cuando alguien lanza un proyecto está tan tomado por la subsistencia del proyecto que no piensa (y la agencia mediática tampoco) que es importante acompañar todo el proceso y no solo el anuncio de los resultados. De pronto, el emprendedor tardó dos años en llegar a los resultados que llego, que no aparecen sus éxitos y fracasos, la influencia del entorno, etc y eso muchas veces da resultados decepcionantes para los dos: para la nota periodística y también para el dueño del proyecto, por eso es importante rever el proceso desde la base.
Una certificación solo quiere decir que NO has hecho eso o lo otro, pero no dice lo que SI has hecho: donde quedo? Si en cambio el actor mediático y el emprendedor caminan juntos - al menos con informes periódicos - los errores y los cambios en el curso del proyecto evitarán que otros cometan los mismos errores y tiene gran importancia para su replicación. Dicho de otra manera, ambos actores deben considerarse parte del proyecto como innovación social relevante para la comunidad como un todo, y no solo críticos u observadores interesados. Me gustaría también resaltar que los actores mediáticos se encuentran hoy bastante alejados de la ciudadanía, o sea, informan para tener impacto y no para servir.
Es casi bastardear la actividad periodística salir de la veta editorialista, opinativa, constructora de relatos interminables de cualquier tipo. Salir de esa lógica de la tensión permanente, de mirar solo lo negativo, del escándalo que rinde, me parece absolutamente necesario pasar a otra lógica proposicional y de interés colectivo, en la cual hay que incluir al menos las siguientes dimensiones:
Esa sería una forma de plantearse un nuevo tipo de periodismo de interés colectivo. La información debe ser tan detallada que parezca a un tutorial, que leyéndola otro se creería en condiciones de replicarla.
La presentación de los actores es un tema fundamental: no importa realmente si es Gunter Pauli quién está en la cabeza, porque no es él quien va a realizar el proyecto, son los otros; los resultados van a ser obtenidos por ellos, para /en/con sus comunidades. Hoy día está de moda personalizar a los actores, los héroes, cuando sabemos que los proyectos son realizados por otros, no tan héroes.
Las alianzas con otros actores de la sociedad son fundamentales cuando se trata de resiliencia, para que un proyecto penetre las capas de la sociedad en su totalidad y termine siendo de todos, todos se sientan dueños de los resultados, no solo del enunciado y los primeros “fuegos artificiales”.
Luego viene el tema crítico del financiamiento porque a veces (en general?) los financiadores se preocupan más con que se difunda que han apoyado el proyecto que con los resultados del mismo. Cada financiamiento tiene sus ventajas / restricciones particulares, que deben ser llevadas en cuenta y transmitidas, para corresponsabilizar a los financiadores con los resultados.
Por último y no menos importante, raramente se habla del impacto y permanencia en el tiempo: 1 año? 2? 3 años nos parece un plazo razonable para revisitar un proyecto y constatar qué resto de él para la comunidad, lo previsto y los aprendizajes, porque las innovaciones sociales tienen alta tasa de mortalidad. Hay que tratarlas con toda responsabilidad.
Gunter Pauli: la Super Francia ha sido un proyecto que nació de un twit que recibí hace unos dos meses, en el auge de la preocupación por la pos-pandemia. Compartiendo algunas ideas de base con Idriss Aberkane, experto en biomimetismo que se divierte liberando cerebros, hemos diseñado este viaje alrededor de la Francia profunda, es decir, sin tocar París, para dialogar con espíritus inquietos comprometidos con la acción, deseosos de empezar HOY la Francia de mañana. Con un equipo de 5 personas, tocaremos en 15 días 15 ciudades del país, para encontrarnos con grupos de 10 personas, varias veces por dia y poner en marcha proyectos de desarrollo local, high-tech o low-tech, pero sobre todo para descubrir los recursos ocultos que tenemos en nuestras comunidades y hacernos cargo de crear plusvalía social.
Si nos preguntamos si hay que desestabilizar a los poderes constituidos, no creo en la utilidad de la confrontación directa con los poderes oficiales, estado y empresas; en cambio sí creo que es la hora de la sociedad civil, el momento de mostrar con creatividad y responsabilidad que hay posibilidades que no habían sido ensayadas!
Patrick Busquet: Para cerrar, sin concluir diría que entre las cosas que debemos recuperar esta la capacidad de soñar. No tengamos más vergüenza de soñar, pero seamos SOÑADORES HACEDORES!
Aprendemos a poner acciones a nuestros sueños.
“Todo lo que es soñable es realizable” digo yo, Heloisa Primavera.
When you wage a war against injustice (or a virus), then you mobilize everyone. The fight against the coronavirus has been exceptional for two reasons:
1. 3/4 of the world population is immobilized by political decision, requested to stay at home and do nothing
2. Today there are more casualties from the side effects from the attempts to contain the virus than caused by the virus.
The observations are summarized in 2 editorials: 1. When you fight a war .... 2. From unintended consequences to collateral damage.
I look forward to receive your feedback.
Syndicated Article by Gunter Pauli
The arrival of the coronavirus came as a complete surprise. Every government was caught with its pants down, incapable to react, exposing how unprepared public services were. It felt like a stealth attack, invisible at first, everywhere the next moment. This unpleasant surprise was accompanied by myopic social and broadcast media that only monitor a few numbers while repeating instructions threatening with fines. This hard reality offered the ideal conditions for causing panic and obedience. When faced with despair then hardly anyone uses common sense. Emotions trigger a series of decisions and enforce behaviors which history will judge very harsh. When the World Health Organization declared a pandemic the political leadership did not wait to make the most drastic decisions ever: a lockdown of (nearly) the whole world. The following six observations should guide us towards a positive way forward.
1. The pandemic had been announced in very clear terms.
Void of any conspiracy theory, the Harvard Institute of Global Health had presented in January 2019 at the World Economic Forum a stinging report: pandemics will overwhelm us due to excessive pollution, excessive population density and climate change. The authors warned that Governments had to prepare themselves. These warning were not taken serious. Once the pandemic hit, societies at large were incapable to handle the rapidly rising demands for medical services and palliative care.
2. The Over-Confident European Union acted totally uncoordinated
While the EU tightly controls budget deficits and member states’ debt the only response it could imagine to the pandemic was to let each country decide to keep citizens like rabbits in their hutches like France, Belgium, Spain and Italy, or to let them regulate themselves like Sweden did. With its combined annual spend of €1.5 trillion the EU considered that its health care system would be able to handle any situation. Europeans for the first time since the Second World War had to queue at the emergency entrance of hospitals. African, Asian and Latin American nations face this reality every time another Dengue outbreak hits their communities.
Every year 400 million people are infected by the Dengue virus for which there is no vaccine. Then hospitals are overrun like Europe witnessed. More people die annually of Dengue than even the worst coronavirus scenarios predict. The world remains unmoved! The European industrial and social powerhouse faced a third world reality.
3. Experts take over when everyone is in despair
While it is wise and necessary to take counsel, one cannot only depend on the virologist. Indeed the virus expert only sees viruses. Virologists know that they spread fast. Every day on every square meter some 100 million viruses descend, transported by air streams from continent to continent. There are ten times more viruses than bacteria on earth. How can you protect anyone from viruses? Now if you decide to protect, then you can lock-down and only slow down infection rates. Over time without exception nearly 100% of the people will be exposed. If you know that everyone will be exposed anyway, why asphyxiate the economy? Or, was this lockdown necessary to cover-up the incapacity to handle a real fast hitting pandemic?
4. Mobilize everyone against the common enemy
This war against a virus is the first war in history where by political decision everyone is de-mobilized. This is an amazing situation. Confined at home, forced to stay put for months, arousing panic and fear, being forced to listen to experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci from the United States who owns vaccine patents and promotes a lockdown until the vaccine is available that will make him very rich. We should have mobilized everyone, instead we have immobilized nearly everyone, except medical staff.
5. Mobilize, Connect and Exercise
We need an immediate mobilization at two levels. First the best way to protect yourself from any viral or bacterial infection is to exercise. If muscles are not used for months, then bones and joints will weaken, the oxygen in the lungs insufficiently refreshed, bacterial plaque and biofilm will build up. Under these conditions everyone, especially children confined to computer screens are prone to succumb to the next wave of viral and bacterial attacks!
The same is true for our immune system. Without continuously exposing yourself to the wealth of microorganisms descending from the air, shared through water and food, spread through love, care, cuddling, hugging and kissing, then the immune system will weaken. Lockdowns weaken the immune system! The AIDS virus kills annually 800,000 people and no vaccine exists. Has any government prohibited intimacy? Everyone must exercise and ensure regular contacts with friends and family. Inactivity and lack of exposure to the sun represents a risk to the individual health I would impose fines on every able individual who is not exercising daily.
6. Unleash Entrepreneurship
The most important mobilization to get out of the mess we are in, is to wake up the entrepreneurial spirit that all have in us. We will witness a dramatic drop in GDP, we will have record high unemployment rates especially amongst youth and immigration will only be suppressed by force. We need to urgently list the 1000+1 activities every home, every city quarter, every village requires every day in order to live healthy and happy. This is the opportunity for an amazing renaissance of the entrepreneurs we desperately need to relaunch the economy with all available resources.
These entrepreneurs have a clear focus on responding to all basic needs, rebuilding communities, strengthening resilience, unleashing the creative mind that has been at the origin of every artifact around us. We should refrain from discussing “who was right and who is the culprit”? We need to inspire a whole population and generation that is now in panic mode impressed by al little zombie (the virus). Only concrete steps that move quickly from idea to vision using the best of science wisdom will convince people to transform the reality around us. Thus, we evolve from vision to new business models that serve people and not capital.
When you wage a war against injustice (or a virus), then you mobilize everyone. The fight against the coronavirus has been exceptional for two reasons:
1. 3/4 of the world population is immobilized by political decision, requested to stay at home and do nothing
2. Today there are more casualties from the side effects from the attempts to contain the virus than caused by the virus.
The observations are summarized in 2 editorials: 1. When you fight a war .... 2. From unintended consequences to collateral damage.
I look forward to receive your feedback.
Syndicated Article by Gunter Pauli May 16, 2020
When decisions are made in haste, seldom can one foresee all the consequences. Whatever the impact beyond the original objective of eliminating “the bad”, (he spread of a virus), are considered unintended consequences. However, once the facts are on the table, and the adverse side-effects are documented, it is necessary to take corrective measures. If the decision-maker knows that actions taken deeply affect the livelihood of people beyond the original objective, and takes no steps to mitigate the negative impact, then these are no longer unintended consequences, International Law qualifies these, as collateral damage.
We must remind ourselves that the International Court of Justice qualifies unintended effects as collateral damage based on three parameters: (1) necessity, (2) distinction, (3) proportionality. First the court determines if the inflicted pain was necessary and unavoidable under the circumstances.
Then it asserts if the decisions were made intentionally to achieve a specific objective (reduce number of people infected) and differentiated from the adverse impact on the rest of the population. Finally, the numbers of the adverse effects (especially death toll) must be considerably less compared with the benefits obtained for society at large (number of people saved).
While everyone recognizes that these three conditions are up for arbitrary interpretations, the following assessment indicates that an overwhelming majority of the policy makers lack understanding of the collateral damage they have caused (and are causing) in the process of trying to handle this pandemic.
Worse, it seems that some policy makers decided to wage an ideological war “to protect the people” ignoring the facts that they are causing even more damage beyond their objectives. Let us look at reality before us.
1. The UN warns: 1.2 million children could die in the next six months
Three quarters of the world’s children live in a country with a stay-at-home order. This unleashed the most lethal hazard of the pandemic: fear. Hospitals around the world report that they are empty, except for the emergency ward converted into a coronavirus ward. Midwives do not deliver babies anymore, expectant mothers are scared to get too close, and routine check-ups for mother and child have collapsed in most countries. Expecting mothers, parents of young children, simply do not go to the doctor anymore out of fear, or when they do it is too late.
The mass media creates a psychosis of fear with singular and even obsessive attention on four simplistic numbers pertaining to: (1) the number of people infected; (2) the number of patients in intensive care; (3) the number of people recovered; and, (4) the number of people who passed away. However the handling of the pandemic translates into harsh new statistics which are never reported: the child mortality rate caused by the decisions to contain the virus. John Hopkins University (USA) estimates that an additional 1.2 million children could die before their fifth birthday in the next 6 months! The mortality rate of mothers will increase by one third. This is the worst absolute number since 1960. This translates into1.5 million fatalities (and rising), 5 times the present death toll of the virus (and rising).
Politicians who claim “to save the poor from imminent death” are de facto condemning people to lead a life in fear and cause a death toll higher than the impact of the virus. This is collateral damage.
2. 135 million people are marching towards the brink of starvation
The imposition of a house arrest that confines as a standard 10 people to 20 square meters in shanty towns without running water or access to any food with the police enforcing the lockdown creates disastrous living conditions. The lockdowns are blocking access to food and water. These measures also keep poor people from earning their daily allowance, especially single mothers who make a living cleaning and cooking. Street vendors who provide a cushion in the economy for the poorest of the poor saw their client base evaporate. The perishable goods they used to sell straight from the farms are rotting away, depriving the countryside of much needed cash to survive.
Social distancing has disastrously slashed their income to zero. The world is facing a pandemic-induced hunger wave. The United Nations statistics added in May 2020 more than 135 million people suffering from hunger! The UN expects that a prolongation of the lockdown will double the number. Which means that in 2020 the world will count 1.15 billion people suffering from hunger, up from 880 million just one year ago. The subsequent dramatic growth in malnutrition leads to a death toll ten times higher from hunger caused by policies that were intended to protect people from the coronavirus. This is collateral damage.
3. Death from Suicide and Home Violence outpaces Coronavirus.
While pandemic-induced deaths described above may affect mainly Africa, Asia and Latin America, the third unfolding drama is suicide and home violence. This is even the worst in Europe and North America. First, the lockdown forces millions of women to be confined in a limited space with their abusers. Second, it has been estimated that the number of suicides hits all-time high. The number these victims in half of the 118 countries that impose a strict stay-home orders and social distancing is more than victims of the coronavirus.
The case of Colombia is shocking: with only 525 recorded fatalities from the virus to date, the estimated number of additional suicides and home murders is at least double that! Still the Mayor of Bogota fights the Central Government to permit a real opening of the country and the economy. Home violence reaches now a “guesstimate" of more than 100 per 100,000 citizens in Bogota (from 69/100,000 reported in 2015).
One third of the violence harms children. We are talking about 3,000 additional severe cases of violence caused by this mandatory lockdown of people in homes as small as 20 square meters! The number of suicides is estimated to double in the age group most affected by this dramatic lockdown: 500 young men between 20-24!
The increase in the total number of suicides in Colombia will surpass by those who succumbed to the virus. We have to be very careful with the number of suicides and fatalities from home violence since most Governments censure the media. Informal data gathering seem to confirm that the numbers are shooting through the roof, but the media is prohibited from reporting such facts. The censure and oppression of real news is worse than the spreading of fake news. How can politicians stick rigidly to the forced stay-home and even obsessive social distancing to fight the virus when the statistics from suicide and violence outnumber the oversimplified statistics of the virus. This is collateral damage.
4. The mafia is taking control of the situation.
The strict lockdown imposed by Governments cuts the revenues of criminal organizations (the mafia) whose traditional income from prostitution, drugs and extortion are crippled by the lockdown. This “gain" is fraught with complacency. The mafia always gains force when in crisis. The stay-at-home order eliminates income for those who live day by day. The incapacity to get to the street “to sell, clean car windows or steal” creates a painful shortage of cash. The mafia is a willing lender, especially to micro enterprises. They bankroll the operators of fledgling street businesses who are left without any clients. The mafia provides loans, organizes food, cellphone time, customers and deliveries. Then asks those who received money to hire someone, a favor that is difficult to refuse. Within no time the new person will manage the business with or without the will of the owner. The beneficiary of the “generous loans” is converted into a front man. The mafia will exploit position, relations, government funding and banking relations. Once the situation shifted, prostitution, drugs and extortion will count on a new web of business.
Fresh fruits are rotting away, medical supplies are in short supply due to closed airports, hence the mafia will undertake an aggressive move to control the supply chain of fruits, vegetables and medical supplies. The counterfeiting, substandard masks, gloves and pharmaceuticals, plus risky farm pick-ups and home deliveries buys allegiance and dependency. This is not collateral damage but a major loss for civil society. Politicians who pretend “to save the poor”, actually hand them over to the mafia! Continue to contain the virus without collateral damage.
Governments must face that they are responsible for collateral damage and the increased power of the mafia. The number of deaths caused due to hunger, lack of sought medical services, suicide and home violence as a direct result of the (mis)management of the pandemic by far outnumbers the individuals who succumbed to the virus.
The trends are getting worse by the day. As a result, it is urgent to curb the negative impacts with smart decisions. Governments which refuse to correct the course one day could be judged in Court for knowingly causing unnecessary harm causing a death toll that is blatantly disproportionate to the original intentional objective and fostered the rise of the mafia. Since the information is out, no politician can pretend “That he or she did not know”!
For more information you can download for free “100 Questions” (available in English, French, Italian and Spanish.)
In April 1999 I published a lengthy treatise on the state of the world. My writings were inspired by the book of Lester Brown who painted a grim picture of the hard realities before us. As I was preparing for the participation of the ZERI Foundation (then still a Swiss organization established in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development) at the World Expo, I wished to paint a series of solutions. While I shared the hard insights of Lester Brown, I did not agree with his predictions. I was - and remain - convinced that we can change course! In the context of the world's lockdown imposed by virologists, I suggest you read point 7 on page 16 to understand the challenges we are really facing in terms of health.
BACK TO ADAM SMITH
There is Light at the End of the Tunnel
Article by Gunter Pauli
Introduction to the Re-Publication 21 years later
When this article caught my eyes in this period of lockdowns, I realized what a methodological approach can teach us about envisioning the future. Here were my observations over two decades ago when I was preparing the present the concept of the Blue Economy and the standard where zero emissions and zero waste is the starting point - not an end objective.
1. Economics is not a science. Unfortunately now I have to conclude that many of the traditional sciences like biology and chemistry are in urgent need of a fundamental revision. As I have stated, most diplomas that are more than 20 years old have surpassed their expiration date. There is a need for a fundamental overhaul of what we teach our children.
2. Pollution as a parameter of success. Amazing we have exploited the Commons to the point of its collapse and the few pockets of Nature left are threatened because our goal was to protect, and we never had a standard requiring to regenerate.
3. Go Beyond Reduction. Indeed we need a business model that regenerates, uses what is locally available and ensures the resilience in communities to respond to all basic needs.
So I invite you to read this article and perhaps pay special attention to the section on page 16, dedicated to infectious diseases. The text in blue are my updates.
In a magnificent, informative, to the point and relevant publication “Beyond Malthus”, Lester Brown and his colleagues from the Worldwatch Institute provide a stunning summary of 20 challenges the world has to face since population will continue to grow for at least half a century. The projections are grim, the basis for hope is limited, especially when one realizes that whatever we do today is insufficient to alleviate the critical conditions of the billions who live in poverty, lacking the most basic provisions of water, food, health care, shelter, energy and jobs.
Nothing has changed! We only changed the objectives from Millennium Development Goals into Sustainable Development Goals after failing to change the reality for the majority of the poor. We do know the richer got much richer and the gap between rich and poor is increasing.
The production and consumption model which prevails clearly is not capable of responding to the needs of all communities in the world. It does not seem to be a matter of inequity by design, but rather a case of ignorance how to do better. The ways and means that have been implemented to produce goods and services are profoundly wasteful, and have not yet succeeded to incorporate the inherent efficiencies nature displays. Worse, the production engineers are confident of their success in productivity which they consider better than nature. The desire to produce more faster has lead to a processing system whereby chemicals, pressure and temperature is used to isolate one component, considering the rest as waste. The stress to consume more, more often, has lead to a wasteful society which is drowning in its own waste.
The capacity to produce much more with less is the basis of the homo economicus, and represents the heart and soul of economics. While all agree that the main objective and contribution of economics is its drive towards productivity and efficiency, responding to the needs on the market, it clearly has a long way to go before it can pretend to even have come close to that goal. Economics is a science which still operates in Stone Age, at a time when humanity has already entered Space Age.
If economists were to search for a new production model which is based on systems, inspired by nature, which emulate nature and which operate in harmony with nature, then this science is likely to succeed in providing the minimum of goods and services to all on the globe without exhausting the Earth’s limited resources, without engendering a collapse of the ecosystem on which we are dependent.
The main reason why the present economic model is incapable of doing exactly that is that it does not apply the most basic rules provided by its own theory: implement an always more productive way to combine labor, capital and raw materials through the continuous introduction of innovations which relies on a unique human characteristic - creativity.
This article, inspired by and a reaction to the analysis of Lester Brown who has motivated me for so many years, takes the assessments of the Worldwatch Institute, and indicates how some of the trends could change if economists were to apply their own theory. Since the Worldwatch Institute is dedicated to fostering the evolution of an environmentally sustainable society, the analyses outlined here could perhaps contribute to these objectives in a novel manner.
The key to change the macro-economic framework is to design new business models that shy away from everything that the MBA’s are taught.
Economics is hardly considered a science by physicist, biologist, chemists, even engineers have their doubts. These reservations are well-founded. There is no science which demonstrates in its practical implementation such a discrepancy between what it does and what it prescribes and teaches. Worse, while all sciences from psychology to biology have evolved to a systems approach, economists remain in practice at micro-economic level, generically called management science, impressively linear. It is therefore all the more surprising to see the magnitude of influence economics and management have acquired in our society.
The first shortcoming of economics in practice is its focus on only two of the three main input factors. Economic theory prescribes that the homo economicus searches for the most efficient combination of three input factors : labor, capital and raw materials. But, analyzing what business schools teach, and verifying what companies do, it is clear that the search for productivity only focuses on labor (producing more with less people) and capital (obtaining better returns with less risk). There is hardly any interest in the notion of material productivity. The result of such an incomplete approach is that the economy is generating more value added per employee, securing better returns for capital, slashing jobs. This leads to the false axiom that an increase in productivity goes hand in hand with an increase in unemployment.
It is quite amazing that this positive correlation between better productivity and higher unemployment has become a widely accepted phenomena. Economists hope that over time, new innovations and the identification of new business opportunities will secure a slow but certain absorption of a major share of the population into the work force. Reality is quite different indeed. While never in history so many people have had a job, never in history, so many people are desperately looking for a job.
While in Europe and Japan one could hope that the negative population growth will eventually solve the problem in one generation or so, economists seem to neglect that such a laissez-faire/laissez-passer attitude sends a most dramatic message to 20% of the world population and about 40% of youth : society does not need you! Rich nations can indeed afford such an attitude. Transfer of purchasing power through taxation can alleviate difficulties created by such an insensitive approach to joblessness. Developing nations on the other hand know all too well, that high rates of unemployment amongst the young generation which can represent up to 60% of society, is guaranteeing a road towards violence, insurgency and even disintegration of civil society.
Nothing has changed. The hard reality is that high rates of unemployment, combined with environmental degradation beyond repaid, and the disintegration of civil society (war) leads to an exodus that translates in large scale exodus where people risk everything to reach “the other side”.
Pollution as a parameter of success
The focus on productivity of labor and capital not only leads to high levels of unemployment, it is also the main reason that the present production model pollutes, and that consumption of products generates so much waste. The fact that economics and management is capable, but not prepared to respond to the needs in society through a systems design, results in a massive loss of resources, which become apparent under the form of waste, water and air pollution, landfills, incinerators and illegal dumps.
In the 1950s success was measured by the number of smoke stack chimneys, the brownish color of the local river, and the grin on the black faces of workers. Industrial success today is projected to society by trees and flowers, animals and blue skies. We know that the truth is different indeed. Over 100,000 synthetic products offer on one hand great comfort and luxury, but on the other hand generate problems we have not yet started to understand. Packaging outweighs increasingly the content of its product, and more energy is spent on transporting food than this nutrient could ever offer to its consumer. This is not a simple criticism of the present economic model, this is only an indication that we are far from applying what we have proposed as the final objective: doing more with less.
In a systems design, we can imagine how waste of one process can evolve into a source for other processes. We only have to observe a tree to know that it never could survive without mushrooms and earthworms converting its wasted leaves into humus, and how the excreta of the birds feeding on its fruits mineralizes the water providing additional nutrients. The linear and over-simplified modern industrial version of the tree would prescribe that all leaves from the forest would be gathered at a central point, where all the mushrooms and earthworms gather, after which one tries to make new leaves ... which would never work. Each tree has its own ecosystem which leads to the recovery of all the nutrients and energy, through a complex system, which ultimately permits the tree to continue to grow and procreate. This lesson from nature shows all too clearly that a recycling society, or a closed-loop economy, has no chance to clean up the environment, generate the value added needed, thus will never survive the test of time. The permanent recycling of nutrients in a closed-loop creates “mad cow disease” in animals, and incest leads to degeneration of humans. Why do we try to recycle through a closed system, feeding off our own tail?
There is a need for a (1) complex; and, (2) open systems design, which does not have to be difficult. The result will be a dramatic improvement of efficiency, one which permits to introduce the 10/60 rule, substituting the traditional 80/20 rule of thumb which has dominated economic thinking for the past century. The 10/90 rule prescribes that by merely using 10 percent of available space one can process all waste of one process, and generate 90 percent of total revenues. This capacity to generate value added from “nothing” using little space, permits the creation of jobs, thus securing a simple logic for a basic economic rule : increase of productivity generates more jobs, and is only possible when we use all materials. Once we have succeeded to fully use all matter and energy, the production model will have reached its optimum. If the production model has reached its optimum, then there will be no more pollution and we have reached the objective of zero emissions and zero waste. It will be an effort that will never end.
Beyond reducing waste and pollution
The major advantage of this production model based on what Adam Smith taught us two centuries ago, is not a mere elimination of waste, and the generation of jobs. The major breakthrough of this approach is that it permits us to envision how society can respond to the needs in society: water, food, shelter, health care, and energy. If economist evolve towards system thinking, managers can become systems practitioners, and society will harness this tremendous human energy embedded in its creativity, crystallizing its desire to provide a better future for future generations.
The focus on total productivity, one that reserves equal attention to labor, capital and raw materials, leads to a synergy which surpasses the possible achievements of a productivity program focusing on one or two of the three key components. But, one has to keep in mind that whereas it is possible to develop productivity programs for capital and labor within the industry or agroprocess itself, it is impossible to do so with raw materials, waste, weeds. One has to search for opportunities outside the core business.
A productivity program which targets raw materials, waste, and weed goes beyond the mere recovery and recycling. The search for productivity implies a search for value added, and optimizing the multiple outputs of a complete system with a given input. This is more than the recovery of heavy metals after consumption; this is more than the extraction of more cellulose from an existing tree; this goes beyond organic farming, eliminating chemicals. It is a production process which targets the full use of all components, time and time again so that nothing will be lost. And this can only be achieved when one operates in clusters of industries.
Whereas recycling programs are well known, the design of a system which permits the full use of all inputs is surprisingly only applied in the petroleum industry. There is no other industry which cracks molecules in such a precise manner that in the end nearly all is used. Interestingly enough, the petroleum and petrochemical industry is the only one which continuously searchers for new uses for its outstanding product, and continues to add value to its cracking of molecules. No surprise thus that is can be so much more competitive than similar products made from renewable sources. The natural products are always more expensive because one typically only focuses on one component, considering the rest as waste.
The application of system design in economics and management, the introduction of productivity for raw materials, waste and weed can help us see the light at the end of the tunnel which is dark and without promise. Here are some reflections on these points using the treatise of Lester Brown “Beyond Malthus” as reference. The 19 areas of for consideration are :
1. grain production
2. fresh water
5. fish catch
7. infectious diseases
8. crop land
11. climate change
14. protected natural areas
18. meat production
1. Grain production
Since grain, rice, corn and other major crops suffer from a per capita decrease in production, and since there seems to be no chance to increase access to new land, irrigation and fertilizer, we have to search for alternative ways of increasing production of nutrients. Since each crop mentioned produces a multiple of 10 in terms of straw, husks, cobs and the like, which are nearly always left to rot on the field, incinerated, generating carbon dioxide, or simply used to clean up cattle barns, their productive value extremely underexploited.
If we were to operate in clusters of production, then we can imagine how all this agro-industrial waste can -for example- be converted into substrates for mushrooms. Straw (Volvariella volvacae) and oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus spp.) fruit under ambient environment, especially in hot and humid climate, exactly the regions where demand for food is falling short of needs. Since the amount of straw is minimum 10 times the amount of grain, we could estimate that there is a potential 18.5 billion tons of straw. If a biological conversion rate of 50 percent is achieved, then this would lead to 9.25 billion tons of mushrooms (at 90 percent moisture content), or an additional 1.5 billion tons dry. And the spent substrate is an excellent feed for chickens.
Since the two mushroom species mentioned would fruit within weeks after inoculation, the nutrients would be available for immediate distribution and consumption. The additional land use could be limited to 10 percent of the land available for farming, generating a multiple of revenues. The mushrooms can be dried and kept for consumption for 2 to 3 years without any preservation agents.
Whereas Latin America does not have a culture of eating mushrooms, Africa and Asia both have a long tradition of harvesting and cooking mushrooms. The rich biodiversity of fungus, which is yet to be discovered and understood is one of the greatest potential areas for expansion of food.
The agrowaste to mushroom program counts today an estimated 5,000 initiatives worldwide. This is a success ... and a failure. The potential is at least one million production units and this can turn into a major engine of jobs and health in local communities.
2. Fresh Water
The main use of water for agriculture can be classified as highly inefficient. Studying the use of water in harsh conditions, such as the Namib Desert, offers a basis of inspiration on how it could be done differently, obtaining the same results using only a fraction of water. The Welwitschia mirabilis, the oldest living plant on Earth, survives in the Namib Desert for over 2,000 years, permitting ruminants to chew off its leaves as a source of moisture. This plant and insects from the same ecosystem are experts in the harvesting of moisture from the air. Whatever part of the world, there is always humidity in the air. The harvesting of fog has become a necessity for survival in Namibia and northern Chile, but is an unexploited opportunity everywhere else. When water was abundant there was no need to be creative, when water is scarce, one has no choice but to become ingenuous.
Somehow, when humans search for water, facing a lack of rivers and creeks flowing nearby, the only option considered is digging a hole. The air around them, even when there has not been any rain for weeks or months, is rich in moisture, seldom dropping below 15 percent. Even in these dry circumstances, moisture will rise every morning, declining to a minimum in the afternoon. Technologies can be developed inspired by nature’s response to the need to survive in the driest parts of the world.
The application of granulated dried seaweed can be applied as a soil component, offering a first concrete example of how nature can be used to reverse some of the climatological conditions which at first sight are without future. Since seaweed absorbs water up to ten times its weight, it represents an exceptional sources for water retention. In the morning, when moisture in the air is high, the soil is replenished with water captured in these granules of seaweed, while it is released slowly during the day.
Seaweed is one of the least exploited resources. The coastal zones in Latin America and Africa, where major concentrations of people emerge, are also the areas where high unemployment affects poor communities. It is therefore critical to see how the need to dramatically increase efficiency in water consumption for agriculture, could stimulate coastal industries, first cleaning up beaches, then planting, harvesting and transforming seaweed. The result is most beneficial for soil and crops, but even more important perhaps, one will be able to increase the absorption of trace minerals such as iodine, which are today lacking in the food cycle.
Industry has a second challenge. Since it is the second largest consumer of water, the linear thinking of water consumption imposed by law has emerged as a major obstacle. Food, wood and fiber processing industries are large consumers of water. Each liter of beer requires ten liters of water; each ton of cellulose requires 20 tons of water; each ton of recycled cellulose needs 40 tons of water; each ton of sisal fiber is produced with 30 tons of water. Each kilo of coffee required 35 liters of water .... . The conclusion is clear, there is a tremendous room for improvement in water consumption on the condition one is prepared to introduce new process technologies.
Coffee washing has slashed waster consumption from 40 liters to 0.2 per kilo. All waste water from a brewery should be used for fish and algae farming on site, without the neutralization of pH as is prescribed by law. The production of one ton cellulose from trees can be obtained using only 2 tons of water, introducing the steam explosion technology. It is perfectly possible to dramatically slash water consumption in industry IF one makes it a priority.
The introduction of stone paper cut water consumption per ton of paper to virtually zero, with no need to recycle water. Five factories have been built. The introduction of farming tomatoes with condensation water has resulted in a farming technique that produces water, while growing tomatoes. The first three mega farms are operational. Seaweeds have converted into agents of change, not the least through the capturing of microplastics and the generation of biogas while creating a refuge for juveniles regenerating biodiversity ...
While on one hand there is a massive loss of species, there is also a large amount of species which remains unknown. The second largest kingdom of nature mushrooms, has an estimated 1.5 million species of which only a mere 5 percent has been described taxonomically. And of these 80,000 species, scientists only succeeded in distinguishing male from female in about 15 percent. There seems to be a need to secure survival what we have, but there is an as urgent need to understand what we still have and put this to a productive use. Whereas there are germoplasm banks for seeds of crops, there are no germoplasm banks for mushrooms in Africa and Latin America, two continents which represent an estimated 45 percent of biodiversity. Scientists rightfully request a better seed bank for plant and crop varieties, while fungal species should be urgently added to the wish list.
There is a need to better understand the generative capacity of nature. As the Environmental Research Center Las Gaviotas (Colombia) has demonstrated, there is a unique capacity to create bridges between desolate regions where the environment has degraded, even where life is threatened, and the bustling zones of biodiversity. This unique dynamic reproductive model deserves more detailed attention. While this permits us to imagine how to protect nature, it also permits the regeneration of environments which could house and duplicate the unique reserves that remain available to us. What Las Gaviotas succeeded in Vichada, Colombia in an area of 11,000 HA, could be duplicated in the same part of the world covering some 6 million HA.
The attractive point of this exercise is that the recovery of biodiversity is self-sustaining. It only requires a start-up capital equivalent to one million dollar per 1,500 HA. The further financing is possible through the generation of drinking water, a challenge which was clearly identified in the previous chapter. If forestation and water management is effectively combined, then one can address two key issues at once. It is possible to find ways out of this challenge.
Las Gaviotas was the first to demonstrate how to regenerate biodiversity - giving nature a chance. Thanks to the popularization of farming techniques like agro-forestry and permaculture there is a broader understanding of how to invite all five kingdoms of nature to contribute to the productivity of food, nutrition and material cycling. Today we witness the regeneration of biodiversity of the forests of the seas (seaweed curtains and forests) and the forests on land.
There are numerous renewable energies which have been studied, though one remains largely unexploited both in developing and industrial nations alike: biogas from animal and plants waste. We could single out intensive piggeries as a major problem in terms of health hazards, nitrification of ground water, its opportunity for the generation of energy is largely neglected.
For every 1,000 pigs, one generates biogas equivalent to 100 liters of petroleum, or some 36.5 tons of petroleum equivalent per year. Several countries and regions are the home to millions of pigs. These regions can easily convert this waste issue into a major source of energy. In the case of Curitiba, a city proud of its environmental design, there are sufficient pigs to power all the buses in the state with biogas. At present the State is negotiating the construction of a 90 million dollar gas pipeline from Bolivia, it could actually put a pipeline to the piggeries instead.
Pigs are not the only source of biogas, water hyacinth, largely considered a pest in Africa, is another important potential source largely neglected. One kilogram of water hyacinth is capable of generating one cubic meter of methane gas. Considering that there are millions of tons of decomposing water hyacinth in African, Latin American and Asian lakes, there is a huge potential to harness this form of energy.
The digesters needed to convert this manure and plant pests into an energy source are cheap and easy to install. Designs are available for as little as 20 dollar a unit, but could also cost 2 million dollars for an industrial application in Japan. Benin was the first country to adopt the option of biogas from water hyacinth at the Songhai Centre in Porto Novo. This digester not only provides a great source of energy, but also provides a quality fertilizer. Since water hyacinth recovers all trace minerals and nutrients which washed off into rivers through soil erosion, it provides a chance to reapply to the soil what inadequate agriculture had taken off.
The transportation of numerous small producers of biogas to a central processing is considered the major challenge, but quite possible to solve. Just like a milk truck will collect cows’ output each day, so will a tank truck collect biogas generated the previous day. A daily collection and a daily revenue will secure daily maintenance. Unless there is income, there is no maintenance, a problem which was often lead in the past to a lackluster performance of digesters in rural areas.The gas is used in a limited form on the farm, since it would require double energy systems. It is in some circumstances better made available to the public transportation system at a competitive price. Simulating the potential in Latin America and Africa based on piggeries and water hyacinth offers us a real light at the end of the tunnel.
Then we discovered the seaweed forests which produce massive biogas as well. We can supply all energy needs of the USA with only 3.3 million square kilometers while increasing the livelihood of billions of fishes ...
5. Fish Catch
The Earth’s water bodies have a tremendous capacity to produce fish protein. Unfortunately, the fishing method used at high sea and the farming methods on land are largely neglecting the concepts of productivity in a systems context.
A modern fish farm will typically cultivate cat fish (North America) or tilapia, where genetically modified and manipulated native African fish species are hormonically treated in order to secure that no energy and feed is wasted on the production of eggs. This male and/or neutered mix of fish is farmed in shallow ponds, fed with special feed, laced with antibiotics to boost growth as well as fight potential diseases. The polluted water is continuously short of dissolved oxygen, requiring additional input of energy. This program offers not only a questionable result in term of quality of food and limited margins to the farmers, it does not celebrate the potential of local biodiversity.
The integrated fish farming concept, developed in China over the past 400 years permits the use of 4 to 6 local fish species which each feeds on different nutrients at their ideal trophic level. The art of Chinese fish farming is that no one feeds the fish, the system secures feed to the feed of the fish. This offers a highly efficient conversion of inputs into fish protein, reaching up to 15 tons of fish per hectare without having to buy fish feed. Marshlands, often ecologically degraded, offer a first unique opportunity to apply these concepts.
Many agro-industries, which generate both massive amounts of excess water are a second target to give a second use to their residual waters. In addition to their quality water, they often also have nutrients which are of direct interest to fish farming. The piggeries have been discussed before, the breweries fall into the same category but the most attractive may be the milk powder production units, like the ones in Scandinavia where one can even imagine cultivating tropical species using all their wastes, including the dried milk which does not meet the standards for human consumption and are discarded in warm process water sent to the treatment plant.
While we succeeded on the mushroom farming on agrowaste worldwide, we only have isolated examples in China and Brazil where the integrated biosystems have been successfully implemented. It is one of the areas where we have not advanced as we envisaged.
The challenge of massive job creation is impossible to overcome if one maintains the present production model dominated by core business strategy and productivity of labor and capital only. If one is prepared to apply the basics of economics and pursue as vigorously productivity of raw materials as labor, then a massive shift in the generation of employment can be expected. The ZERI concept leads to believe that it is perfectly possible to generate more jobs, while increasing productivity of raw materials.
The logic has been tested at micro-economic scale. It needs to be developed further at macro level, but the case is clear. If a beer brewer were to use all spent grain to bake bread, more jobs are being generated and sustained with the generation of value added, than if the spent grain were simply shipped off by truck to a landfill or a cattle farm. This bread competes and substitutes bread baking from freshly imported grain, but on the other hand, its overall production especially in Africa and Latin America will be available at lower cost with greater efficiency, thus bread will now be available to people who could not afford the price of imported grain.
How many jobs would be generated when all breweries in Africa were to apply the concept? How many jobs would be generated if all reforestation projects would also foresee the production and bottling of drinking water? How many additional jobs are feasible if coffee waste is used as substrate for farming? How many people can have work and get paid because social and sustainable housing is guaranteed with local construction materials?
The challenge of 1.7 billion additional jobs is massive, but the opportunities that emerge converting waste and weed into new productive inputs is easily understood.
Since “The Blue Economy” was launched in 2009, ten years after this article, another decade has gone by and just through the initiatives that we monitor an estimated 3 million jobs have been created. We are from from our goal, but we have succeeded in doing better than was expected by everyone else.
7. Infectious Disease
Modern medicine is focusing on killing the bad. As long as medicine has this clearly defined target, it will fail to stem the inroads of infectious diseases. Time has come to shift from killing the bad to strengthening the good. There are few programs which secure that the immune system which suffers from malnutrition, stress, burnout, tainted water, polluted air etc. can be strengthened. One of the problems is our diet. A second problem is the increasing reliance on antibiotics which over time are decreasing the capacity of our immune system to respond.
Our food intake has an insufficient component of immune modulating biochemicals which are found in mushrooms (triterpines, protein-carbohydrates), algae (betacarotene, iodine), vegetable oils (Vitamin E). Our high reliance on animal and fish protein does not offer us access to many of these valuable components. Worse, excessive processing of food and its preservation for long shelf life eliminates healthy and indispensable nutrients which are later added-in again at a premium price. The initiative to cultivate immune system modulating mushroom varieties (Lentinula edodes, Ganoderma lucidum) on agro-industrial waste streams provides an opportunity to increase natural substances which could even offer hope to the HIV infected orphans living in colonies in Southern Africa. They have a job, they have a purpose, they have nutrition which is key since the anti-viral drugs in undernourished body have fewer chances to succeed.
A balanced nutrient base enlarged with mushrooms, algae and vegetable oils not only strengthens the system, it is likely to reduce the dependence on antibiotics. One of the disadvantages of a regular use of antibiotics is the reduction and even the elimination of intestinal flora, up to the point that a large number of adults does not have the flora anymore to secure a good digestion. Especially the lack of bifidus and acydophyllus creates room for proliferation of E.colli and salmonella, two strains which cannot be completely killed by antibiotics.
The present scheme of providing health care is certainly well-intentioned, but carries with it a series of limitations which need to be overcome if a reversal of the present trends is to be expected.
We are subjecting our body, and the immune system to more and more stress of all types. And while air and water pollution, as well as malnutrition have been clearly described as causes of illnesses, there are numerous additional man-made shifts in living conditions which include radio wave and electromagnetic fields from high tension electric transmission to wireless communications. Science has not yet established cause and effect, but the correlations are increasingly evidenced. That is the reason why we have worked for the past decade on better communication, data transmission and GPS networks that use the infrastructure that is already available. We apply not just the cautionary principle, we point to better solutions!
The focus on cropland is limited. It needs to be enlarged to a broader food production system which goes beyond the mere availability of land. Since crops represent only a fraction of the total biomass, its residues, especially straw, offer unique and proven opportunities for the generation of proteins and nutrients, using the integrated biosystem widely applied in China. The case of some 10 million Chinese farmers teaches us that it is possible to use 10 percent of cropland to generate 60 percent of revenues. Though, the additional revenues would not be created if straw was not available in the first place.
The degradation of cropland through soil erosion is adversely affecting productivity of land. The use of fertilizers does not reverse the trend of decreased productivity. On the contrary, the overuse of non-soluble fertilizers seems to aggravate the situation. There are solutions to this problem. The water hyacinth accompanied by fast growing giant grasses and girasols can secure a recovery of the nutrients. Water hyacinth is an aquatic weed which thrives on water bodies with accumulated nutrients mainly from untreated organic waste or soil erosion. A continuous harvesting, chopping and inoculation of water hyacinth offers the chance to reapply a mixture of the trace minerals and nutrients to the soil, complemented with mycelia and bacteria.
The recovery of degraded land could also be achieved through temporary planting of degraded cropland with bamboo, which has a rich foliage could convert this into an improved soil, while providing construction material for social and sustainable housing. The complementary benefit is that bamboo secures the sequestration of 40 times more carbon dioxide per square meter per annum than a pine tree. This systems approach is likely to offer good results for degraded farm land in the tropics.
A sustainable world will replenish top soil all the time. It is part of the overall strategy from the production of food to the development of renewable chemicals and the treatment of organic solid and liquid waste. The priority is the design of a cycle of production and consumption especially in cities that permit to close this loop that has escaped the present economic model.
If we consider a production system for paper and cardboard which remains centered around cellulose from wood, it is certain to fail to respond to demand, even when the most successful gene manipulation promoting tree growth has been successfully implemented. The use of cellulose from trees is inefficient. Cellulose from sugar cane (bagasse), banana trees and bamboo grows faster and is superior to what can be obtained from trees. The only problem is that those who control the world market for cellulose and the related process technologies have evolved their business over the past 100 years in a temperate climate. The most productive sources of cellulose are found in the tropics.
A bamboo has per square meter per year approximately 40 times more cellulose than a genetically manipulated fast growing pine or eucalyptus tree. It does not make sense to search for sustainable forestry when readily available cellulose is not even considered seriously. Today, bagasse (48% fibers) is incinerated; bamboo, growing up to 25 meters per year is simply not harvested. The availability of 8 millions of hectares of sugar cane, a sector in crisis due to a dwindling demand for sugar (for obvious reasons since it creates plaque on teeth and is therefore substituted by synthetic sweeteners) would offer a new chance for farmers if the same price were paid for bagasse as for eucalyptus fibers (+400 dollars per ton) which exceeds the going market rate for sugar.
Cellulose of giant grasses can be used in large quantities for the production of paper, but one cannot use the same separation technologies which have been developed for soft and hardwood. It does not take an industrial engineer to realize that the giant grasses like sugar cane and bamboo have a fundamentally different structure than trees, and therefore are much better subjected to separation techniques which are appropriate to the tropics and to the grasses.
There are numerous initiatives to use all these biomasses for paper production but unfortunately few have succeeded. The reason is that the majority opted for the use of same chemical and mechanical separation processes which are used in temperate climate. The provision of paper and cardboard is not a problem on the condition that one is prepared to think in terms of the most efficient provider of the material. If one sticks at all cost to the production of paper using cellulose from pine trees, then one is bound to fail. The only one to gain is the forestry company which will see prices for cellulose rise.
If in addition to the production of the cellulose, other by-products could be extracted from either the tree, the sugar cane or the bamboo, then we are in an ideal situation. The production of lignin is an obvious choice since it is easily obtained and a rich source of energy. Now we can imagine an overall increase of productivity of the system which will make the process more efficient, generate income and jobs.
Stone paper offers an interesting complement to the market, but it does not absorb humidity. Therefore there is a need for more than just re-using waste. Our search for the past decades has always included multiple options and bamboo has emerged as a gift from Nature. The construction of the Bamboo Pavilion at the World Expo 2000 in Germany marked a shift not only for the use of bamboo as a core ingredient for paper but also as a construction material that outperforms any alternative. This is the new era of the vegetable steel.
If the present housing concept is maintained then indeed demand will be difficult to respond to. Though, if one introduces the concept of “grow your own house”, then there is a chance to succeed. Unfortunately housing construction around the world is exceedingly inspired by construction systems which dominate the regions of the world characterized by temperate climate. Unfortunately, these construction systems have served as models for the developing world, leading to an excessive consumption of steel, glass and cement.
The concept introduced by ZERI offers the chance to build a social and sustainable house using bamboo. Bamboo is widely available, there are over 1,000 species. The design by Colombian architect Simon Velez permits us to offer a cheap, functional and beautiful house of 65 square meters, using no more than 150 bamboos. The growing of one’s own house thus requires no more than 75 square meters. The harvesting can be done after 12 months, depending on the type of bamboo used. The preservation of bamboo can be secured with pyrolytic acid from the same bamboo, which is a stimulus to entrepreneurship, and which eliminates (imported) toxic substances against fungus and insects, used to protect tropical materials. Bamboo, and other tropical materials, treated with its own acids is not only beautiful in color, strengthens in structure, it carries a guarantee of over 50 years. The Japanese even offer a one hundred year guarantee.
The shift from steel, cement, asbestos and glass to a building dominated by tropical construction materials which grow rapidly on degraded soils offers a glimpse on how one could respond to the millions of homes without having to spend the money and the energy in non-tropical materials. The experience in Latin America, which is being repeated in Africa provides a good basis. The amount of bamboo needed can easily be supplied as part of recovery programs for degraded and contaminated land.
Bamboo offers a unique option, and this has been deployed throughout the world, generating thousands of jobs.
11. Climate Change
The reversal of the risk of climate change accompanied by intense heat waves, more severe droughts and floods, more destructive storms, more extensive forest fires requires an innovative portfolio of ‘productive ways’ to massively sequester and/or reuse greenhouse gases.
The recovery of methane gas, 21 times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, through the piggery digesters described before is a first step. Animal husbandry is recognized as the second largest source of methane gas. First, we seem to blame the wrong species. It is in the first place up to the human beings to provide better feed which does not generate such high amount of gas. A lot of waste material from industrial processes such as spent grain, leads to higher gas production. If we change food or include healthy ingredients like seaweeds, then cows and pigs do not have the same amount of methane. Second if gas is produced, we should find ways to capture and use it, giving it value instead of merely letting it evaporate in the air.
The sequestration of carbon dioxide has been debated at length. It resulted in reforestation programs around the world. But when one realizes that giant grasses such as bamboo on land and kelp in the sea, which used to form massive forests in Africa, Asia and Latin America, sequester up to 40 times more carbon dioxide per square meter per annum than trees. One wonders why these fast growing biota have not been the trend. Whenever energy companies announce a reforestation program to offset their excessive emissions, all they can think of is a pine tree and an eucalyptus. One reason may be mere ignorance about nature’s biodiversity, thus decision makers are guided by what they know from their own temperate climate. Another reason seems that there is a well known economic use for wood, but that those who live in the parts of the world subject to four seasons are not aware of the massive and long life uses for bamboo fibers, neither of kelp forests.
Brazil is after China and Russia, the third largest consumer of asbestos in the world. Asbestos has not been substituted for synthetic alternatives, as these are more expensive. Since asbestos is widely used in social housing, no political leadership has been found to impose a more expensive roof in return for a healthier living environment. If all asbestos in Brazil were substituted by bamboo fibers, then Brazil would need to forestate and harvest annually a roughly estimated 4 million hectares of bamboo. This would sequester the equivalent of 160 million hectares of fast growing pine forests. If Colombia were to substitute its asbestos - imported from Canada- then it would require thanks to its most efficient guadua species, an estimated 100,000 HA, or 4 million HA tree equivalent. China, a bamboo country by excellence would absorb all the carbon dioxide it emits to respond to the energy needs if this option would be taken.
Bamboo forests used to cover major parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. When the Spanish colonizers arrived in the South American highlands, they found huge bamboo forests. Actually the regions known today for coffee, once were bamboo covered. Bamboo fibers as a strengthening material in cement have a long economic life, securing that the carbon is not immediately released into the atmosphere. Everyone agrees that asbestos must be eliminated for health reasons, but Latin America, Africa and Asia continue to use this toxic mineral, or its expensive synthetic substitute, then we have a fine opportunity to reverse climate change.
Bamboo is not the only species that can be promoted, but since there are some 1,200 bamboo species of bamboo, one could be identified for nearly each type of climate, except temperate and cold ones. All the key areas of the world were asbestos is used, local species of bamboo available. Perhaps the most attractive element is that bamboo species do not need rich soil and would therefore not compete with agriculture. Steep hills, eroded land, brown fields laced with heavy metals, one can identify the main areas of the world which are of no economic use. Bamboo not only recovers the land through the creation of a new humus cap, it also assists in the recovery of the hydrological cycle, reintroducing ground water which had been debilitated due to top soil and vegetation mismanagement.
None of the goals established in all the possible agreements have been achieved. We refrain from participating in the large meetings and focus on the implementation of projects that are always based on the principle of zero emissions. By 2001, it was decided to release the trademark and have it available for free use by anyone.
Since the present production and consumption model only uses a small fraction of each of the materials produced by or extracted from the Earth, there is little chance to ever respond to the needs of the people, let alone tackle the massive waste production. When the soluble part of the coffee bush which ends up in a cup of coffee, represents no more than 0.2 percent, it is not a surprise that the coffee farmer has a hard time making ends meet. Farmers are subjected to volatile changes in international market prices. When the long fibers of sisal and fique only represent 2 percent and the rest is wasted, it is no surprise that the synthetic alternative quickly takes over the market. The list of massive generation of waste is long.
The use of bamboo for construction in the tropical highlands offers a very different perspective: a 20 meter long bamboo can be used nearly 100 percent. The main part of the stem -some 9 meters long- is used as (1) a structural building material, (2) the archlike roots are used as a support, (3) the top of the bamboo serves for smaller decorations, (4) the left-over of the stem is to be used as fuel for the immunization process, (5) the leaves are used for mushroom farming, and (6) the twigs also end up in the smoldering fire of the immunization. It has been estimated that wood used in a construction of an American home seldom represents more than 20 percent of the biomass originally generated by the tree. The complete use of material using tropical materials offers a clear view on how the production model of the future will be much better placed to respond to the urgent needs of the people.
The same logic goes for beer, typically produced in urban centers. The spent grain is today shipped off to cattle farmers hundred kilometers away, or simply landfilled or even incinerated. This option is not ideal. One could simply add a bakery to the brewery and then recover all the protein which otherwise would be lost. The book “UpSizing” (Pauli, 1998) offers hundreds of examples how our present inefficient use of materials can be reversed, leading to a new economy where the productive utilization of all components is certain to lead to a fundamental reversal of the present trends.
This crystallized in the core principle: use what you have, and generate value.
The major reversal to be designed is the reversal of the present rural push towards cities, to first a rural freeze and eventually a return to the rural areas. The present push out of the rural areas is the result of a lack of visible opportunities in the countryside as already small plots of land are divided and then divided again with each passing generation, until they become so small that people can no longer imagine how to make a living for them with the present production model, which only focuses on one materials and discards all the rest as waste. There are few cases which demonstrate that the trend can be reversed.
The average size of a Colombian coffee farm has dropped to 1.6 HA, from some 4.5 HA only 25 years ago. It is hard to survive with a family on such a small plot of land, only cultivating coffee. But, if one can grow mushrooms on the leaves, twigs and cases of coffee, a first and immediate additional revenue stream can be generated. If in addition, one can give value to the bamboos growing along the creeks in the steep hills were no coffee can be farmed, adding value through a simple immunization technique, yet another revenue can be secured. Soil erosion can be combated planting lemongrass along the roots, which is a popular essential oil with a global demand. One member of the family could become an expert in bamboo constructions, another in immunization, another in mushrooms, another one in essential oils and of course one maintains the expertise in coffee. The integrated coffee farm will look quite different from the present fazenda where the farmer has a hard time imagining how to survive. The family is not expanding land, or diversifying into new areas. It is merely using what it has available and what can be put to productive use. Time has come for humankind to become real “homo sapiens”.
The development of Las Gaviotas in the Colombian Llanos created a sustainable community of 11,000 HA out of nothing. If the same were achieved in 6 million HA of the Colombian and Venezuelan savanna, which faces the same challenge, then it will be possible to create some 120,000 jobs while massively forestating the region. The development of Northern and Amazon regions of Brazil along the similar principles is not only technically feasible, it has even a strong economic logic to underpin it. If the creation of jobs and value added is sufficiently demonstrated through the sustainable use of all resources, then it will be possible to not only keep people happy in the countryside, it will attract more families to establish a sustainable livelihood, instead of facing a bleak future in overcrowded cities.
The search for ever higher productivity in the State of Para lead to the closure of some 11 wood mills. Since the mills were located in the heart of the forest, it is difficult to imagine alternative job creation to this unsustainable use of an internationally protected natural resources. Though, the reuse of the water hyacinth as a soil replenisher, the harvesting of tropical/medicinal mushrooms, the processing of cultivated mushrooms using parts of the defunct woodmill, offers a clear idea how not only jobs can be created, but more important how it is possible to secure a recovery of the environment which has suffered from human intrusion.
While this approach is not feasible overnight, and may take decades to proof its viability as in the case of Las Gaviotas, it are these pioneering efforts that permits new vision to emerge.
This is why the new projects like El Hierro discuss the power of re-ruralization, instead of studying urbanization and the effects of life and communities. There is a need to strengthen the livelihood of the rural communities.
14. Protected Natural Areas
The main setback of protected natural areas is that these have been closed to human activity. Worse, the only economic initiative that has been permitted is the introduction of tourism, which in many cases offers the highest and fastest economic returns, but on the other hand has a negative impact as well.
The sustainable economic use of protected natural areas is a necessity. Whereas the omnipresence of man is not to be promoted, selective and well targeted activities can be undertaken which are designed to secure the long term viability of these areas. The Natural Park of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Martha, home of the highest coastal mountain range in the world, which rises some 5,900 meters from the seashore, is home to one of the wealthiest biodiversities on the globe thanks to its multiple microclimates. It is also home to the Lost City. Though, the park and the archeological sites are closed to the public. While security reasons related to the illicit drugs has to be recognized, it is on the other hand the home of a unique collection of orchids which could be propagated and sold at very high premium prices on international markets. It is also home of medicinal mushrooms which can be harvested without any risk of damage to the environment.
Outstanding initiatives of UNESCO related to the Man and Biosphere and the World Cultural Heritage offers an insight in both the problems that are created as well as the opportunities which are missed. There should be no doubt, the mere preservation of these areas does not offer a guarantee for its survival. A targeted strategy for sustainable economic activities can relieve the pressure through the generation of revenues, while providing the funds for a real preservation of the areas.
We evolved from protecting to regenerating nature reserves, designing ways to put Nature back on its evolutionary path.
The teaching methods today are clearly insufficient to equip people with the tools to become self-sufficient in their daily needs. The educational system which “exposes but does not impose”, which “reaches but not teaches” as applied by the ZERI Foundation (and others) offers a chance to reverse the present trends leading to insufficiency of self-reliance. The exercise at the Montfort Boys Town in Fiji indicates that when children not only learn a profession, but also acquire the capacity to provide their own food and energy after graduating and returning to any of the 600 inhabited islands of Fiji, that there is a chance for them to find comfort and quality of life in their remote areas on the globe.
The same approach has recently been introduced in the HIV infected orphan colonies in Mutare, Zimbabwe. The strategy to secure that people do not only graduate with a degree, learn how to read and write, but also acquire the capacity to provide themselves with food, water, health care and even shelter, also in the most adverse conditions, is probably one of the best remedies against poverty and one of the best contributions of education to local communities that can be imagined.
The education program has emerged as an amazing exercise in developing a new pedagogy which in the mean time has been adopted in China. There, all fables are distributed to all schools, and the books are recognized by the Alibaba Foundation is the best Nature Books of the country.
The conversion of old defunct cement plants as is undertaken is Stockholm, Sweden and is being planned in Colombia and Brazil offers the chance to fundamentally rethink the waste problem. On one hand defunct factories which symbolize social and environmental disasters are capable of converting themselves into engines for local development, while they return to agriculture and forestry which was taken off fertile land in the first place. The cement-turned-compost factory will also secure that there is no leaching, that the excess carbon dioxide is fully recovered and that CO2, and heat can be put to use for year round farming of salads and tomatoes at competitive prices.
Since most cement factories are fully equipped with silos and boat docks, the cumbersome transportation by truck can be drastically reduced, while the cost of production of compost can be slashed to the point that is can compete perfectly with synthetic fertilizer. With a production of 500 to 1,000 Tons per day, the link between urban and rural areas is not only secured, but also economically beneficial. The problem is not production, but rather the challenge to find buyers in the market.
The program initiated by Bedminster in Sweden and further developed by Taiheiyo Cement in Japan offers an insight in the potential provided by solid municipal waste, and identifies which waste issues need to be tackled in priority. It is clear that there no immediate and complete solution, but the accumulation for example of human organic waste in diapers, permit a search for a compostable plastic solution. It just does not make sense that human organic matter is “wasted” in non-compostable plastics with a half life of several years. Just a few months after the composting program of Bedminster was initiated in Stockholm, a group of entrepreneurs launched a compostable diaper which immediately received enthusiastic response from the market since everyone agrees that since the content is to be natural and its use is limited to a few hours, it does not make sense to package this in three different plastics which not only contaminate, it make composting of its content impossible.
The combination of sectors in order to ensure a conversion of waste in a resource has been implemented in various constellations: cement and composting of the organic component of solid municipal waste (SMW) was complemented by the blending of slurry from waste water treatment plants with SMW to generate gas in such a volume that the monies earned cover all the expenses of waste water treatment while cutting waste to landfill by half.
ZERI is working actively in one of the most violent societies in the world: Colombia. While the country is in clear social, economic and environmental crisis, it is also the nation where most efforts are undertaken to translate the present inefficient economic model into a production and consumption system from which the world could learn. Las Gaviotas in Vichada is not only operating in an environmentally highly degraded area, it is hostile to its inhabitants especially due to the lack of quality drinking water, which is responsible for 70% of all diseases. It is also the area where guerrilla and paramilitary are most active.
Still it is exactly there that a new self-sustainable society is emerging. One that is based on transportation by bicycle. If one were to use a car, the guerrilla would take the car at gunpoint, and if the guerrilla does not take the car at gunpoint, then the paramilitary is convinced one collaborates with the guerrilla, and may simply murder you. The bicycle is thus a symbol for a non-violent society since neither the guerrilla nor the paramilitary are interested in riding bikes.
The Colombian highlands have remained an island of peace. But with a drop in coffee prices by an estimated 17 percent, and an increasing pressure on land use due to population explosion, there is a lingering danger that the regions which have remained stable could fall to insurgency. It is therefore that a special effort is undertaken in parallel: one in Vichada were violence is already rampant, and one in areas which hopefully will never fall to aggression. The determining factor is simple: respond to the urgent needs of the people in terms of food, water, health care, shelter and jobs.
The ZERI programs include an innovative way to ensure conflict resolution. This has been published on the Blue Economy website.
18. Meat production
The focus on a simple conversion of vegetable into animal protein is the major bottleneck. There is a third source of protein which remains totally unused: mushroom protein. It is quite difficult to understand how it has been possible that the world has refrained from paying attention to this rich resource of nutrients, minerals and vitamins. After having farmed mushrooms on coffee waste, or rice straw, cellulose which is otherwise difficult to digest has been broken down, and the substrate is enriched with protein. Mycelium contains up to 38% protein, thus permitting direct consumption by cattle (when no wood is included), or indirect use (based on wood substrates) through the cultivation of earthworms, which are rich in protein.
Agriculture is discarding millions of tons of straw, husks, pellets, and there are massive resources in nature which are considered weeds such as water hyacinth, bamboo and rattan (which cannot be fed directly to cattle). All this can be converted to cattle feed through a fungal treatment. The potential is quite impressive, the technique is quite simple. The conversion could be complete in a few weeks time in a tropical climate. If one wishes to remain with a mushroom diet, the fruiting would be feasible in less than one month of inoculation. This is offering one of the most efficient generators of feed and food, with a unique capacity to adjust to consumer preferences in terms of vegetarian and non- vegetarian diets.
This process does require a conversion of the production model, but it offers a chance to secure a minimum supply of animal protein to perhaps even billions who have no access to protein from any source today. Whereas it does not make sense from a health point of view to merely convert vegetable and fungal protein to animal protein, it at least offers us one more light at the end of the tunnel that it is possible to respond to the needs of this critical mass of people.
The programs for food expand the portfolio from plants or animals, to include fungi and algae. This is also inspired by the fact that the speed to pass from seed to food is much faster than a plant or animal could ever imagine. In terms of capacity to produce nutrition, algae and mushrooms offer a multiple. This offers a perspective on food systems that could one day eliminate hunger.
“Global economic output, the total of all goods and services produced, grew from 6 trillion in 1950 to 39 trillion in 1998, expanding nearly three times faster than population. The growth in output from 1990 to 1998 exceeded growth during the 10,000 years from the beginning of agriculture until 1950. If the economy were to expand only enough to cover population growth until 2050, it would need to grow to 59 trillion. If the economy were to continue to expand at 3 percent per year, global economic output would reach 183 trillion in the year 2050.” (p. 105-108)
The economy has been growing at a near record pace. The bad news is that the economy, as now structured, is outgrowing the Earth’s ecosystem. This is because we have a production and consumption model which is linear, focused on core businesses, which totally neglect the need for material productivity, both at production and consumption level.
If the economic model is finally making full use of all raw materials, and is completely cascading the potential generation of energy, then the economy will be able to respond to this dramatic population explosion which we have to face anyway. Paradoxically, the only industry which is making nearly 100 percent use of its crude material as supplied by the Earth is the petroleum and petrochemical industry. The largest non-renewable industry dominates the world economy, deriving some 100,000 products from one singly crude source. It is making one of the most efficient uses of its available resource globally.
If all processing industries would crack raw materials with the same efficiency as the petroleum industry, then we would have a huge revolution in productivity, supplying more goods and services ever possible to imagine, while at the same time creating the millions of jobs (thus revenues), making it possible to respond to the massive unmet demand as is evidenced in the nearly billion people surviving in absolute poverty. It is this productivity increase that will generate the revenues which will permit the poor to buy the products these biorefineries will produce.
The first biorefineries were imagined in the 1990s and by now these have been implemented. These projects with investments running in the 100s of millions demonstrate an appetite to invest in new production models that offer income for farmers beyond the world market price offered. This will finally offer a reversal of the trend that farmers, fishermen and miners are the most poorly paid while they have to be the custodians of our ecosystems.
The present economic model is incapable of responding to the world population’s needs because it simply does not apply its own theory. A singular focus on productivity of labor and capital, while squandering massively and myopically natural resources is difficult to understand. Economists and management executives demonstrate an advanced state of “Homo non sapiens”, people who just do not seem to know how to respond to the needs of people with available resources.
The change in the structure of production and consumption is the biggest challenge. This is nothing less than a redesign of the economy, a true challenge of re-engineering. The production of additional goods and services must go hand in hand with the creation of value added, which leads to the generation of income, and jobs. Since there is massive unemployment, and since there are unparalleled unsatisfied needs, the world has a unique opportunity to design and evolve towards a production system which is capable of responding to the needs of the people. The concept of the biorefinery as promoted by Prof. Dr. Carl-Göran Hedén is central in this conversion of the economic model.
It is clear that we cannot rely on a central body, an intelligent brain that is capable of envisioning this for each and everyone, all around the world. The production model that needs to be installed has to evolve along simple principles of nature: “everything and anything which lives creates waste, but no waste is wasted”. Whatever is of no use to one, is an input to another, and as such the system regenerates thanks to the permanent input of sun energy. This offers the core conditions which permit alleviating poverty at first, and generating quality of life afterwards.
The rapid and successful implementation of this new production and consumption model depends in the first place of a pervasive decentralization of production, distribution and decision making. If the model of nature is emulated, then innumerous inefficiencies which are embedded in the present centralized system will be eliminated. Local jobs and income will be generated, and the massive waste problems which dominate concentrations of people will gradually evaporate.
The focus on total productivity (labor, capital and raw materials) permits us to imagine an economy which generates more jobs, more income, more products while reducing waste to nil. This is the socioeconomic model of the 21st century. It implies no revolution in economic theory, it merely expects the application of what Adam Smith (Smith 1776) envisioned so clearly over two centuries ago.
It is now that we finally have the chance to rethink and design an economy to contributed to the Common Good.
Brown, Lester and Gary Gardner. Beyond Malthus : Nineteen Dimensions of the Population Challenge. Norton Press, New York, USA, 1999, 168 p.
Pauli, Gunter. UpSizing: the road to zero emissions - more income, more jobs and zero pollution. Greenleaf Publications, London, UK, 1998, 224 p.
Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations. 1776
Gunter Pauli (1956) is trained as economist. He worked for five years with Dr. Aurelio Peccei, founder of the Club of Rome and was the publisher of the State of the World Report, the flagship publication of the Worldwatch Institute for several years in multiple European languages. He organized presentations for Lester Brown to national parliaments in Europe, and the European Parliament and was instrumental in the set-up of the Worldwatch Institute Europe. He is author of +20books which have been published in +40 languages. His books demonstrate a permanent and creative search for a new production model which permits to respond to the needs of people, especially in developing countries.
for further information
In June this year the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a globally respected organisation that consists of 1,300 Member organisations, comprising over 10,000 scientists that publishes the annual Red List of Endangered Species, published a report.
One line in particular caught my attention: "... shift from palm oil to other oil crops is not a solution as it may lead to further biodiversity loss”. My immediate reaction was wanting to know who funded this report? A decade ago, IUCN accepted a million dollars from Syngenta, the European leader in genetically modified seeds (now controlled by Chinese capital), with their blunt strategy to control food production – in total disregard of its impact on biodiversity. To me this report on palm oil appeared like yet another sell-out to corporate interests.
The issue of palm oil has been at the top of my agenda since 1993, when on a visit to Malaysia and Indonesia I witnessed the massive destruction of rainforests to make way for palm plantations. The argument then (and being repeated today), was that oil palm produces up to nine times more oil per acre than any other oil crop. As a high-profile producer of biodegradable soaps made from palm oil at the time, I immediately realized that the products produced in my green factory, one constructed from
wood, with employees cycling to work, was not sustainable at all. I was mortified that, by using palm oil, I was responsible for the destruction of the rainforest and the habitat of the orangutan.
There is no way to justify producing palm oil, and IUCN now stretches the argument that the only oil that could respond to rising demand is palm oil, as other less productive crops will require even more forest destruction and would therefore be a greater danger to biodiversity. Over the last two decades, I have been working hard at convincing others to correct this misguided logic of using palm oil (for which I had also fallen, until I came face to face with the reality) that as a monoculture of a non-native species, it completely destroys the habitat of these primates.
Even the certified sustainable corporates (including Unilever) refuse to sacrifice productivity and rejected the proposal of leaving a reserve of a one kilometer-wide corridor of land along rivers untouched, to provide a refuge to the remaining populations of orangutan and pygmy elephant (a subspecies of the Asian elephant).
The core logic advanced by IUCN centers around productivity. For decades, environmental economists have argued unsuccessfully that many industries produce numbers without considering the externalized costs. For example, the demise of existing alternative oil plantations that succumb in this competitive game controlled by a few giants in addition to the biodiversity loss, is not considered in any calculations. The fact that "we put an orangutan in our tank", blending palm oil in gasoline (especially in Europe) only worsens the overall impact of palm oil IUCN is now lending itself to offer a blanket of legitimacy.
The greatest surprise, however, is that IUCN does not mention natural marine oils. The sea covers 70% of Earth, and when we view this three-dimensionally, the immense amount of space it offers represents more than 98% of the useful area of the planet for cultivation.
There are an estimated 5,000 species of macro-algae, and scientists agree that at least 3,000 species have not yet been studied or described. The species that we already know of are capable of producing a multiple of the 2.7 tons of palm oil per hectare per year, which IUCN claims is the most productive on Earth. This claim is, unfortunately, unsubstantiated, as the most productive oil crop is derived from seaweed.
This high level of oil productivity of seaweed, of minimum 10 tons of oil per hectare, is easily explained: firstly, photosynthesis in the water focuses on growth – without a gravity counterforce. Secondly, kelp forests grow in three dimensions, easily reaching 25 meters in height, in a high population concentration. Thirdly, the rich Arctic and Tropical currents provide a food density that is 700 times higher than if grown in air and soil on land.
Another benefit of seaweed cultivation is that, apart from oil, it also produces biogas and fertilizer. Next, and most interesting, and the opposite of palm oil: various seaweed species are pioneer species, which aid in restoring marine resources that have been overfished and have become over-loaded with plastics. Seaweed cultivation offers us an opportunity to regenerate marine forests and (re)discover its rich biodiversity.
The ZERI Network has embarked on numerous seaweed cultivation initiatives around the world, the first one in Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia already in 1993. Our scientists, entrepreneurs and financiers aim to transform the present economic model and offer a future where we respond to the increased demand for food security – while ensuring restoration where damage has been caused through a lack of understanding of the negative impact of our actions in the past, which had unintended consequences.
From the moment we realize that harm has been done, we become responsible for the collateral damage caused, and we become responsible for reversing it, and taking steps to restore our forests, on land and in the sea. How can IUCN justify collateral damage caused by the stance they take on palm oil, and not take responsibility for the consequences, nor propose real solutions we desperately need?
We invited IUCN to provide information on the funding and suggested a dialogue on oil from seaweed. The management at different levels has remained mute to all our attempts to reach out and to jointly study the better options for biodiversity offered by the sea. This provides impetus to put further pressure on IUCN to come clean on this blanket approval of palm oil. After all, it is high time we stop putting orangutans in our tank!
The first seafaring vessel "Race for Water" arrives in Rapa Nui this week. Marco Simeoni, the initiator of the project federates the local population together in order to transform the island in an example of sustainability building on ancient wisdom, millennia of experience and recent innovations
At the beginning of August this year, Mr Sebastian Piñera, the recently re-elected President of Chile, sent a law to Congress that gives the South Pacific island, formerly known as Easter Island, back its original name: Rapa Nui. This renaming took nearly three centuries after the island, which has become
famous for its massive carved stone heads, the moai, was named Easter Island by Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, when he chanced upon it on Easter Day in 1722.
A return to its original name, and the right of Rapa Nui’s inhabitants to determine access to the island, is only a first step in the right direction. The next step, and one that is much more challenging, requires the involvement of the international community in returning dignity to the islanders, and showing them the respect they deserve for their culture and traditions.
A serious controversy, one filled with drama that caught the attention of the world, sprouted from the bestselling book Collapse by Jared Diamond, in which he describes how grand cultures disappear. One of his most epochal cases is the degeneration of Rapa Nui. His explanation, summarised in a few key concepts, is based on overpopulation and the overexploitation of natural resources through deforestation. Clans that were incapable of reconciling due to ego, as well as misguided efforts to produce those grand monoliths, aggravated the situation and resulted in extreme hunger and cannibalism. Exactly the kind of drama that would unfold before your eyes in a Hollywood movie…
A recent scientific interpretation of the fate of Rapa Nui may well paint Diamond’s theories as ‘fake news’. Other scholars have pointed to the destruction of the ecosystem as mainly due to the arrival of rats, which made their way over centuries from Vietnam, and ate the seed of indigenous palms, preventing propagation. Colonisers also enslaved the local people and decimated the population, if not by excessive force, then through the introduction of diseases.
Through the use of modern forensic technology, the facts have been now laid bare. While sensational information regarding the denuding the island and cannibalism gets all the attention, the true facts of slavery and the introduction of rats hardly make for good front-page coverage. This does not contain sufficient drama. As a result, the tourists who now enter the island, may well regard the locals as survivors of a self-inflicted disaster.
The inhabitants of Rapa Nui merit restorative justice – and more. They deserve to have the effects of man-made environmental disasters reversed and corrected. The Rapa Nui lived for centuries off sun, sea, and soil. They have the indigenous wisdom to their island turned into a shining example of the regeneration of an ecosystem, and their community into one that is deserving of its true history.
Time is of the essence. There is no time for ceremonies nor joint declarations, and certainly not for extensive or expensive studies. The 6,000 strong local population of Rapa Nui now needs to become self-sufficient as it used to be within this modern society that self-inflicts climate change, overfishing and plastics in the sea. They are in need of pragmatic actions that respond to their basic needs for water, food, energy, shelter,employment, health services and education.
Rapa Nui should take its future under its own wings, and start with the immediate creation of a local power and water company, one that is 100% owned by the locals. The financing can be guaranteed through a budget based on the import of diesel and gas. If that total is capitalised for ten years and converted into its present value there is a capacity to pay back. Add to this number the Government subsidies along the same accounting rules, and this will offer a cash amount for investment, one that surpasses the need of implementing a solar, hydrogen and kite power generation. Every roof of every
dwelling could be used for solar panels, and for rainwater harvesting. Everyone joins in. The ownership is local. This is not an act of rebellion, nor a first step in a declaration of independence, this is taking responsibility where others have failed to respond to the basic needs for over a century.
As the global plastic pollution crisis is unfolding in this part of the Pacific as well, thousands of tons of polymers can be collected and converted into fuel through pyrolysis. This landed waste is good for 20% of all power supply on the island. Then a mere one square kilometre of seaweed cultivation will provide sufficient gas for everyone, while generating about one hundred jobs. The solids from the gasification process provide a rich fertiliser, one urgently needed to restore the soil. As soon as all 5,000 vehicles are fueled by gas or electricity, the island will surpass the success of the grand case of El Hierro, the first island to become self-sufficient in providing water and power, for a population of 5,600 people. Their infrastructure permitted to expansion of over 10,000 inhabitants. The substitution of imported fuel by wind was so successful that all bank loans were repaid 12 years early. Rapa Nui deserves this approach.
In parallel to the basic infrastructure, there is also a need for fresh food. The island, of a 163 square kilometres, offers sufficient area to feed 25,000 people – provided the agricultural ‘experts’ refrain from introducing monocultures and animal feedlots. A smart agricultural system, which cascading nutrients, energy and matter will produce abundant fruit, vegetables, feed and meat. A local boutique slaughterhouse processes meat cuts according to local taste and offers local fish for extraordinary nutritious meals. Only a limited number of tourists are permitted on the island. We witnessed the high contribution to jobs and income when Bhutan applied strict conditions, justified by the fragile environment, and the need for wealth creation that values indigenous culture. This economic development philosophy brings all Rapa Nui around the table.
The marine vessel, Race for Water, will arrive on Rapa Nui early September this year. It is on its second around-the-world voyage – solely using the sun, seawater and the wind (kite) to produce power and water to tour the world. The President of Chile honoured us with a visit to the boat with five Chilean Ministers and the Lady Governor of Rapa Nui.
The ZERI Foundation created by the author of this article, and Race for Water are there to ensure that everyone can meet around a portfolio of timely solutions – ones that the Rapa Nui are ready to implement and fund through legacy investors. Who would not be prepared to stand with the Rapa Nui – to change the story of the past by charting the course of the future?
The ZERI Network will create a platform ZERI Pacifico, registered in Rapa Nui to support the design, implementation and financing of the strategy forward as described in the article above.
For an update on the Race 4 Water please consult: www.raceforwater.org
For information about ZERI and the Blue Economy go to: www.zeri.org - www.theblueeconomy.org
Drama unfolds in South Africa when frustrated fishermen, turned poachers according to Administration, turn violent. Can the strategy of regaining fishing grounds in El Hierro (Spain) inspire the ancient custodians of the First Nation?
When, on August 12, 2018, the frustrations of a group of dis-empowered fisherman boiled over after one man was killed, protest action led to the office and the residence of a Fisheries Department official in the outskirts of Cape Town being set on fire. This senseless violence and aggression, and the subsequent looting, is being condemned by the whole nation. The destruction of public property and the endangering of the lives of officials will lead to prosecution and prison time.
The question is how the collapse of public order could be explained? What drove the coloured people, who had ancestral rights to these fishing grounds for centuries, to turn to destruction? Let us remind the reader that the Cape is home to the descendants of one of the First World Nations, the Khoi and the San cultures. Indigenous people have practiced sustainable fishing along these coasts for millennia. Even during the Apartheid years the traditional rights to these fishing grounds were upheld.
Demand for seafood – like tuna, and especially luxury items such as rock lobsters and abalone – is rapidly rising. National Governments, like that of South Africa, saw a unique opportunity to generate revenue and have "professionalized" the fishing industry. Licenses to fish are granted to large corporations disregarding the ancient rights. It appears that only those well advised by legal experts who reserved "parts of the action" to Black Empowerment Groups, who had historically never fished, got quotas. This analysis is shared by Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, a former Managing Director of the World Bank and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town.
The exclusion of all the local fishermen resulted in a major uproar. The operators of small boats, which based on local investigations with the community used to earn US$ 500 to US$ 800 per day, supporting a dozen families, made their frustrations known. The corporates offered them jobs. Their ancient fishing rights were replaced by a salary of barely US$ 300 per month (and this only during the fishing season). This in reality “guaranteed” that poaching would take place, as it is the only way of survival. From here onwards, the vicious spiral of dismantling of trust, and the desperate search for economic survival – combined with a black market for produce that pays a premium for out of season harvests –leads to the decimation of fish stocks, leaving an ecosystem incapable of producing sustainably. In the meantime, the local market is flooded with deep-frozen Argentinian shrimp and expensive Norwegian salmon – marketed as trendy and healthy.
Few people realise how globalisation has created a transparent pricing on the black market. This is leading to the total annihilation of tuna, abalone and lobsters in the Cape. As the sources turn more scarce, the price increases, which spurs the locals to accelerate over-harvesting, ensuring a total collapse. We have seen this pattern elsewhere. Few Europeans like to be reminded of the fact that the North Sea between Scotland, England, Belgium and the Netherlands once was home to 20,000 square kilometres of oysters. All were eaten, causing murky waters ever since. No steps were ever taken to redress the destruction of this ecosystem.
While there is no short term solution, there are long term options that work. This applies to South Africa, but is relevant for the thousands of fishing communities facing exactly the same dilemma. The steps are pragmatic, require discipline and an intergenerational approach. Reversing destruction does take time.
The first step is to declare no entry zones where fish can safely breed. Secondly, there is an absolute ban on fishing large female fishes with eggs. A yellowfin tuna needs 10 years to become fertile, and a 20-year old female produces millions of eggs. Everyone agrees to catch and release all mature females. Thus, the nets are replaced by lines. Each fish, lobster and abalone caught gets a tag with a GPS code when it emerges from the sea. This controls middlemen who cheat the whole system (both the large corporations and the traditional fishermen).
This program was implemented first in El Hierro (Canary Islands, Spain) and today fish density is ten times the average of Spain. The local fishing community, "La Restinga" looks like a higher-middle class town. The reversal is possible – provided one permits Nature to bounce back, just before its total collapse.
The ZERI Foundation (a network of 38 organisations) has accompanied fishing communities in Spain to ensure first their survival, and next their economic development with a strong identity. Now, the network of experts and entrepreneurs is committed to assist Rapa Nui (Easter) Island pursuing the same endeavors.
Who is Gunter Pauli?
The Huffington Post called him "The Steve Jobs of Sustainability". His Latin American friends rather call him "The Che Guevara of Sustainability". He prefers no reference to anyone who already passed away, and wants to be judged by his children only.
He has the ears of the CEOs of leading mining companies and is about to unveil his new model for extracting ores, especially gold from the ground that will triple the miners' cash flow and turn these formally brutal dynamite explosions into a surgical intervention. The Return on Investment is so good, that mining executives who have known Gunter for years believe that this could be the real revolution with share prices coming out of the deep (most lost +50% in one year) to triple and quadruple. The numbers are solid, the innovations have been proven, and the model is being tested as we speak in the Americas.
He partners with leading oil companies in Europe to help them get rid of their stranded assets. All investments in oil, gas and petrochemicals from the sixties and seventies are at the end of their useful life. Over-investments in Saudi-Arabia and China, plus the prospect of low crude prices for a few years more stalls investment. There are +100 petrochemical installations up for closure in Europe alone, but the social and environmental cost is too high, and the margins are too low to permit investments in a reconversion of the sector. Gunter sees great opportunities and a company he chairs in Italy have already transformed 5 petrochemical facilities into profitable operations. At the request of the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and in collaboration with ENI, this revival of competitiveness is considered so strategic for Europe that it is directly supported by the Presidency of the EU Commission.
The Belgian Government is open to his advise on how to transform the threat of rising sea levels while stimulating the creation of new industries. His proposal will be unveiled later this year, but is based on 3D sea farming that has been pioneered in China over centuries. Gunter believes that producing food 2D on land is out of date, time has come to massively produce food, feed, fuel, fertilizers and chemical feedstock from the sea. The first plant operates in South Africa, the Indonesian Government is offering 100 square kilometer concessions and the Belgian Government is ready to change the laws. The first operations are up and running in the United States, and dozens more are coming on stream.
The Chinese Government appreciates his hands-on approach. When a Taiwanese inventor converted rocks and plastics to paper for packaging and print, Gunter put his network behind this breakthrough that requires no water, no tree cutting and offers paper that can be recycled forever. Four factories in 4 years have demonstrated that this is not just a good idea, this is a new standard that will totally upset the forest, paper and pulp industry. It's better, it's cheaper and makes sense. Dozens of delegations from around the world visit the plants and soon (stone) paper plants will emerge in South Africa, Mongolia, Egypt ... all nations void of water and trees!
Gunter manages a loyal network of 3,000 researchers, keen on seeing their innovations put into practice. He also works with 850 doers, people keen to get their hands dirty. While these industrial projects that have mobilized $4 billion in investments the past few years, his biggest impact may well be in education. He agreed to produce for Chinese schools (cooperation with the Ministry of Environment Protection, Ministry of Education and the Normal Universities) a total of 365 fables bringing children a new reality (like "Paper made from Stone") that even the parents consider "fantasy". He has already produced and published 108 in China and has another 7 years to finish the rest. These books are now test-run in 5,000 schools and will soon go nationwide. The number of fables in Chinese schools (and elsewhere), make his "Blue Economy" book that sold 1.2 million copies in 39 languages look like a bummer.
He started as a small entrepreneur in Japan, then moved back to Belgium, created 12 companies in 12 years (2 failed) and was hired by the United Nations University in 1994 with the support the Japanese Government to help prepare the Kyoto Protocol. None of his proposals were accepted back in 1997. However, with the support of 2,600 corporations and a few game-changers in the UN, he decided to pursue his design of highly innovative business models that 20 years later offer a fresh look at how industry will compete, how the poor can join a thriving middle class, how we can respond to basic needs of all with what we have, and how regional development will outcompete the globalized economy.
His think tank ZERI has been ranked by the University of Pennsylvania as one of the most innovative in the world (#7 in 2016) and having interacted with over 100 heads of government, and with 200 projects implemented he knows how to translate science and innovation into disruptive business models and pragmatic government policies by generating more cash flow than even hedge funds consider possible.
"I have never been against GMO, petroleum or globalization. I am on a permanent quest to find much better!" Gunter Pauli
The question to be asked, reading this background: "Does this man consider himself a rebel?"
Here are his reflections on the question asked by Ilaria Bonacorsi of the Italian magazine "Left".
First: Stop Being a Diplomat
When the Ambassador of Belgium in Tokyo told me in 1981 that I should rewrite my report about how Belgian companies could penetrate the Japanese company, after I had rewritten it twice, I told him to write it himself and left for Italy to participate in the Club of Rome meeting organized by Dr. Aurelio Peccei, former CEO of FIAT and Olivetti. Little did I know that a diplomat was not permitted to leave his posting overseas without the permission of the Ambassador. When I sent a summary of my vision of how to do business in Japan to Baron Daniel Jansen, member of the Club of Rome and president of the Belgian Federation of Enterprises he confided that "these ideas are not mainstream but since nothing else has worked, we should give it a try".
This encouragement led to the creation of my first enterprise in 1981 in Tokyo, dedicated to implementing the vision I had, selling beer, chocolate and fine linen textiles, and soon after I succeeded in licensing Belgian pharmaceutical patents to Japanese enterprises, closing joint-ventures and coordinating direct investments. The Japanese took notice of this success and took the bold step to promote my initiatives overseas claiming that: "if this young entrepreneur can succeed, why can't large European and American companies?" An independent career was born, and a rebel imposed himself on the market. It was Aurelio Peccei who had argued that I should never work for a multinational and certainly not for the government and preserve at all cost my freedom to think and act as I considered best for all.
You have a Chance when you start Young with Mother's unconditional support
When the Huffington Post (France) named me in 2014 "The Steve Jobs of Sustainability", my Latin American friends were quick to respond that I should be named "The Che Guevara of Sustainability". Perhaps they were right, since I would never worry to please, rather always worry about doing what is considered the best for all, often upsetting many who would feel the pinch from this out of the box thinker and doer who pursues a clear vision: create a better world with what we have. It all started at a very young age when I was reading about the genocide of the Native Americans and decided that I should go to the United States to rescue whatever and who ever could be rescued. Barely 8 years old, I pledged to save all money and depart at the age of 18. Luckily, my mother fully supported this crazy dream and indeed upon graduating from high school I left for Nebraska where once the Sioux roamed the land. A rebel with a cause … and patience.
Only Worry About the Others' Weaknesses (and there are many)
One year later I returned to my motherland, frustrated but ready to embrace the realities of life knowing that sometimes it is not worth fighting for a lost cause. Rebels fights for the cause they (believe) can win, even when the chances are small. Where would we get the clarity from that this is worth pursuing? It was during my early years in Japan that Mr. Shoichiro Honda explained that he never studied business, and never undertook strategic assessments like the SWOTS analysis (strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats). As a fresh Master in Business Administration from a fine European school (INSEAD, France) I questioned how he could decide on a pathway for his company without knowing his strengths. How could he decide to produce cars when his only experience was motorcycles? His answer was compelling and has guided me ever since: "I have no strengths, and my list of weaknesses is long. However, when I make the list of weaknesses of my competitors and opponents, it is even longer and that gives me the courage to pursue what I think is best".
Fantasy for Others is My Reality
I realized that Mr. Honda was as much a rebel as Che Guevara whose silhouette adorned my bedroom during my teenage years, much to the dismay of my father who thought that communists will destroy the Western culture. When he destroyed our family nucleus by escaping to Iran with another woman after 28 years of marriage, I learned that his betrayal was my greatest chance in life: take care of mom. Rebels realize that in every bad news, there is good news. My mother who had encouraged me to hold on to my dreams for a decade, and who welcomed me after I realized it was a pipedream, deserved the unconditional love from her son, just like this son had an unconditional commitment to steering this world towards a much better horizon. It seems that rebels not only go for the impossible, with passion and perseverance, but that they are surrounded by an unconditional love that offers faith and clarity that few seem to have in their quest to achieve what other often consider as fantasy.
Rebels do not live in a world of fantasy. Their world is one filled with realities, and realities they want to change. The main challenge is that everyone else in society considers these realities fantasy. The rebel has the unique capability to not only take what others consider fantasy as their reality; they are capable to go beyond their dreams. That is what gives them the courage to continue on their evolutionary path throughout life, taking one strategic breakthrough after another without ever being concerned about the pitfalls that are known to cause trouble and pain. The rebel does not face up to problems, rather avoids them, sailing around, picking up force and speed from adversaries. And all the inflicted pains are considered a passage that allows soul searching for the inner truth and strengths towards a next phase of action. A real rebel does not operate in terms of war games with battles lost and battles won, rather a rebel sees nothing but opportunities, avoiding confrontation ensuring regular surprise flipping flashes of a transformation that are presented as if the rebels lives an atmosphere of toys and sweets. This explains why rebels hardly meet objections rather transform the complex in something clear and simple, even when it is not, savoring the sympathy, especially from the arts.
The Arts: A Rebel's Logic
Rebels translate complex situations into a clear logic, insensitive to though aware of the staunch opposition from vested interests, which are overcome through minimum winning coalitions. Rebels never look for a majority, knowing that the silent majority will only join when the shift is inevitable, and never before. The rebel rather looks for the few who will tip the balance in a tightly knit friendship and an unshakable alliance exploiting every leverage point in the social fabric. Rebels advance this new truth to a core group that is self-evident, and therefore quickly grasped by others, leading to action on the ground without any resistance. How could someone be against a paper that is made from mining waste, or marble cut-offs, that have accumulated over centuries and transform this with a minute amount of polymer into a paper for print and packaging that is recyclable forever. Unless, someone works for the paper and pulp industry and obviously sees the demise of a career and a business that was thought to be a safe heaven in a flash, it is hard to be against this logic.
How can you be against the farming of mushrooms on coffee, the moment we realize that we only value 0.2% of the biomass? How can you be against paying farmers 10% of the retail price for his produce when everyone else is taking commissions on top of his costs without any consideration for the survival of his family, the rural life, and the Earth? The disarming promise of freeing up millions of hectares of land for natural forests and food while cleaning up air, water and soil, and ensuring that those who work at the bottom of our value chain have a life worth living is too compelling. This is the power of the rebel: making the impossible seems so simple.
A Rebel is different from a Revolutionary
The rebel is always driven by the common good, an intuition that there is much better. Rebels do not fight the bad; that is the role of Robin Hood and Interpol. Rather rebels fight for the opportunities that no one sees. He or she is a positive whistleblower. Of course, a rebel is an altruist, since any rebel that has a strong ego, wishing to put the self in the center is a revolutionary. This distinction is light for the outsider but decisive for those who act on the ground and make things happen. A rebel is not in search of power, rather in search of massive and positive change, empowering the landless, inspiring the moody, enjoying each moment when small steps are taken in the right direction. A revolutionary wants total control - one day and keeps control of his troops whereas a rebel believes that a job well done is the job where one is not needed, quickly providing the space and time to embark on the next intervention that could be tiny and insignificant for those who do not grasp the full picture, but strategic and homeopathic for those who connect the dots between - at first sight - totally unrelated phenomena.
Rebels never create Waves - they Surf
The rebel navigates the web of life, knowing where the energy is strongest, and the resilience is greatest, only pushing the points where power is released and leverage can be obtained. The rebel understands the power of feedback loops and multipliers, where with little effort, grand shifts can be obtained. Steve Jobs worked tirelessly to iron out what seemed idiotic details to his entourage, but now that Apple has lost its rebel, loyalists since the beginning sense the difference and sense this love of unconditional strive, and yet once the product is out, it is self-evident. Che Guevara was a revolutionary, impatient with a firm believe in the power of arms, incapable to engage with the grassroots of the Bolivian rural communities. He was paid with a bullet in the head, while exhausted from a fight against the unknown enemy and his asthma attacks.
Rebels operate with the existing forces, never trying to be the wave as a revolutionary would attempt exerting an extraordinary (personal) effort, rather rebels ride the waves that shape society permitting a swift move across without ever making a special effort. The answer and the call for action is always just around the corner, any corner. Once a rebel always a rebel, but always bathing in a new light, able to transform and transcend the present, re-emerging and reincarnating as a master who is prepared to learn from students. The leadership of a rebel is therefore one that ensures that new leadership quickly emerges and space is not preserved for the one, rather it is vacated so that the future is secured. After all rebels are not appointed, nor elected, they put themselves in charge.
Rebels at home among Peasants and Royals
The rebel knows how to navigate in different worlds, from hard work with the peasants ensuring food, managing the creation of top soil and the flow of water, to dining with the royals, able to enjoy family and friends, while finding extended periods of solitude to nourish the mission which no one entrusted. Rebels thrive on clear ethics at the core, rejecting the double moral that characterizes society that is considers less bad … as good. To pursue this lifelong mission of a rebel in heart, soul and action, there are only two simple rules: first that there are no rules, and second that rebels never accept a no for a no … and are still able to smile even when it hurts.
In the end it is all about Responsibility
When I look at the 40 years of professional life, then I certainly have been a rebel, caused pain and discomfort which I regret while opening the minds of many who now believe they can do better their parents and they themselves ever believed. Now that the University of Pennsylvania ranked our creative network as one of the most innovative think tanks in the world it is clear that this rebellious diplomat failed in the foreign service but now has to accept the responsibility that comes along with recognition at a ripe age: Inspire the next generation to be even more rebellious.
The four obstacles that block an easy passage to a sustainable energy mix
The mere introduction of competitive renewable energies and all the related innovative technologies are insufficient to steer society and the economy towards a fossil free energy mix. First of all we have to realize that the financing of renewable energy projects cannot be based on the prevailing logic of risk and return on investment. Second we need to calculate the true impact of shale gas, and its toxic contribution to the environment. Third, there is a need to transform the production and the consumption model, beyond the energy model. However, the greatest obstacle may well be the millions of MBA graduates who are all trained to cut costs at all costs without any consideration of the impact of their decisions on the systems that support life.
The shift towards renewable energy is facing four major impediments turn the present energy mix into a strategy for sustainable and competitive economic development. The blocks are:
Once we understand these factors then we quickly realize that to achieve a world without fossil fuels, more is needed than new technologies or government regulations. We need to imagine pathways out of these traps to ensure that fossil fuels are indeed part of history. As we describe these in the article below, we turn increasingly motivated to design solutions that could have an immediate effect.
While the purpose of this article is not to design a menu with solutions, it does aim to outline clearly what is possible provided we have an entrepreneurial approach and take a high degree of freedom: the liberty to imagine business solutions without having any previous experience, being hampered by any of the technological-institutional lock-ins that characterize our modern day society, and the clarity that money is not a limiting factor.
Are you building white elephants?
When Javier Morales, then the deputy mayor of the island El Hierro, part of the Canary Islands Region of Spain asked me to support the design of a local economy that one day will be independent in water and fuel, it did not take long to propose a strategy based on wind energy, hydro-power and flywheels.
The goal was not just energy: the goal was to stimulate the local economy, building on tradition and the ecosystem. Instead of viewing enewable energy and abundant water as an objective on its own, these two key inputs to live and development on the island were to stimulate agriculture and local industries. The total investment for this project at the outset in 1997 was estimated at €67 million. The response from the political and financial world was that if this little island of no more than 10,000 inhabitants would require an investment of so much money to achieve self-sufficiency, then we were invest in a very risky project that is likely to fail and turn into a "white elephant". We often neglect how entrenched our thinking is! Let us look at the same logic from another angle.
The island spent at the time €8 million a year on the importation of diesel fuel to generate electric power. Oil tankers cannot avoid spilling oil, and even though this is rather the exception that the rule, the risk remains high. The diesel power installation was noisy and polluting leaving a cloud of black air on the East side of the island. Interestingly, this economic economic and energy model is considered normal and without risk. However, it does not take an economist to realize that the total expense by the local population for importing fuel, while assuming major risks and contributing to climate change, over a decade amounts to a drainage from the economy of €80 million. This one decade of expenses is enough to fund the capital investment required to warrant four decades of energy independence. In the 1990's, that money went straight to oil producers - none of which are based in Spain. So, we raised the question: "How can the import of polluting fossil fuels be considered normal, while the redirection of a guaranteed expense by everyone on the island into local renewable sources of energy that plough money back into the economy is considered a white elephant?"
The idea to convert El Hierro into the first water and fuel self-sufficient island turned into a reality at a total cost of €86 million. The additional €21 million in capital investments were imposed after a volcano eruption forced the construction of additional infrastructure reinforcements. The facility was inaugurated in 2013! The net cash influx into the local economy over the forty years that represent the economic life time of the renewable water and power system is a surprising €680 million. After paying for the installation over a decade (€80 million), the installation saves €8 million per year for 30 years or €240 million. Then the water and power company pays dividends to the Cabildo, the local government in the order of €3 million per year, or €120 million over the life time. This adds up to a surprising €360 million that is added to the local economy over 40 years, compared to an outflow of €320 million for fuel only, making abstraction of the capital equipment required for the diesel generators. This is an amazing "delta of €680 million", a fortune for a small island. We believed that the island controls its own future. Who is to claim that the numbers are wrong, give or take one hundred million?
Now, inspired by this successful transformation of the local economy based on renewables and sustainable water production, the islanders are decided to embark on the next step: all 6,000 vehicles must be electric within a decade. It is surprising that even after the successful implementation of the renewable grid, opponents formulate the same "white elephant" arguments. How can an island afford to spend €150 million in the conversion of a car fleet from fossil fuel to electric and invest in additional renewable power generation? Why would the island ever fund an expansion of the renewable energy system only to serve the automobile fleet? Again we formulated the same question as a response: "How can an island permit the annual expense of €12 million for the purchase of fuel and diesel to power vehicles on the island?" All this money is channeled outside the economy. And, what would it mean if the €8 million for power and the €12 million for fuel were staying and circulating in the territory?
The island of El Hierro wishes to create its own electric car leasing company. All taxis and rental cars will be electric with immediate effect, and when there are 500 electric vehicles on the island, then the car leasing company will initiate the installation of a smart grid which stabilizes the network delivering micro-currents when demand so requires, and stores excess energy in car batteries as surpluses become available. When there are 2,500 vehicles, the combination of wind, hydro, flywheels and car batteries will offer a level of efficiency that further drives the cost of water and power down. Water is life and for centuries this island has suffered from a dramatic shortage of both. Just imagine the turnaround thanks to renewables and a smart grid complemented by zero emissions mobility: double the amount of water on the island at half the cost.
El Hierro has enjoyed major international media attention as a pioneer in self-sufficient islands. ©2015
We all too often forget that energy is a medium, not a purpose. Our lives depend on water, food, housing, health, mobility and each one of these core activities of life require power. It is therefore important to shift from a debate on "renewables or not", or worse "for or against fossil fuels", to a debate about our capacity to respond to the basic needs of everyone in our society. If we are prepared to transform our intentions to one that is focused on meeting needs with available resources, then indeed the debate of fossil fuel quickly shifts to a constructive dialogue about the future of communities, and how to finance this transition with available financial, human and natural resources.
Time has come to go beyond the "for or against". This divisive approach to life where we pitch the good versus the bad forces people in society to take positions. We cannot neglect the fact that the convenience of fossil fuels and its abundance for decades has permitted too many to live in air conditioned atmospheres, unaware of the unintended consequences caused by the excessive incineration of coal, petroleum and natural gas. We need to lift the debate towards one that discovers the tremendous opportunities to create a thriving local economy using what is locally available. It is a shift from cheap and easy fuel, that permits us to cut costs with an inconvenient truth, towards local energy sources that permit us to grow a sustainable economy of the territory with readily available resources.
If you pull a thread in Nature, you quickly realize that it is connected to everything else.
Unaware of the Connections
Fossil fuel has hooked us on the habit of free spending on energy without any consideration of the amount of money that is drained from the local economy. When a small island can pump hundreds of millions into the local economy over one generation of 10,000 inhabitants, imagine what can be done if larger communities emulate this model, or when hundreds of island embark on the same direction. The fuel-based economy would loose its appeal in no time. The key to understand the success of this logic is that the actual cost of oil does not matter, it is the injection of cash into the local economy exploiting local resources and growing the local economy that makes a tremendous and yet overlooked difference.
Economists merely notice the impact on the balance of payment of a nation but seldom realize the profound leakage this addiction to oil causes. Importing hundreds of millions of oil imposes the need to generate export revenues to pay the oil import bill. A country like Argentina produces enough food for 400 million people in the world, or ten times more than its own population requires. However, the country has 750,000 children under 18 malnourished. How do you explain this blind focus on export growth, increased output and the neglect of food and nutrition at home? Argentina's drive towards food exports exacerbated energy consumption and at a rate of 100,000 barrels per day ($4 million per day, or $1.5 billion per year) it is responsible for the trade deficit even when petroleum prices are at an all time low.
Fossil fuel is like a drug, it blinds us of its impact and its consequences. Even if we know - we do not want to know. Social scientists realize that there is a dangerous new species populating the Earth: one that refuses to recognizes hard facts. One of the well documented unintended side effects of burning fuel are emissions, not just carbon but also nitrogen and sulfur oxides, popularly known as SOx and NOx, which not only contribute to climate change but also affect the health of every breathing species on earth. We needed a scandal of the magnitude of Volkswagen to realize that the maximum levels of pollution set by European and Californian authorities to safeguard the respiratory health of children were openly defied by the industry, up to the point that car executives of the leading German maker installed deceiving software cheating the public at large, and with impunity. First companies that bent the rules were considered
to large to fail, and were rescued. Now companies that openly deceive and cheat are classified as too large to jail, and are merely offered an exit paying billions of dollars in fines. While we are slowly awaking to the collateral damage created by these emissions we have no idea how we have unraveled the web of life on Earth from a permanent and diligent cycle of carbon sequestration and storage, to one that permanently emits carbon all the time. Let us take the example of silk.
A Fine Threat of Silk
A century ago, the world production of silk hovered around one million tons per year. Today output hardly reaches the 100,000 tons level. The arrival of Nylon, this synthetic polymer developed by scientists at Dupont de Nemours led to the knock-out for this natural polymer produced by the mulberry caterpillar (which the English mistakenly call a worm). The traditional ecological economists would enter the debate and calculate the amount of carbon emitted by one million tons of petroleum used to produce Nylon, and compare this with the carbon sequestered in the process of producing silk. While this is a correct approach it is largely incomplete.
Silk caterpillars with a cocoon. ©2015, iStock
When the Chinese embraced silk farming 5,000 years ago, their first interest was not the silk, rather the conversion of savannas into fertile areas. Indeed, it was quickly noted that the symbiosis of a caterpillar that would devour about 50% of the canopy of the mulberry tree left on the soil a rich mix of excrement so nutritious to micro-organisms that it triggered the creation of a healthy top soil. Within a decade, an area considered infertile, planted with mulberry trees would be ready for farming water melons. What few people realized is that the caterpillars triggered a soft and unnoticed chemistry that fixes carbon massively into the soil, creating a black earth that would continue to serve humanity for centuries. This ecosystem service was the game changer of the mulberry/caterpillar symbiosis. Silk was only a by-product.
Now, with the arrival of Nylon, we are not only substituting a natural silk with petroleum derivatives at high energy expense. Much worse, we are depriving the creation of top soil and the sequestration of organically bound carbon and nitrogen. The lack of a continuous cycles of top soil generation with a blend of minerals and nutrients through the creation of additional "ecosystem services" leads to the mining of carbon and nitrogen from the top soil up to a point that there is none left. As soon as carbon is less than 5 or 6%, then the farmer is obliged to "technify" his operations including irrigation and chemicals to maintain production. Irrigation is needed since carbon poor soil cannot retain water.
The loss of N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphor and potassium) and micro-nutrients force farmers to add synthetic fertilizers since the core composition (carbon) that secures thriving micro- organisms and a diverse ecosystem is too depleted. Of course water and nutrients are only available with the infusion of massive amounts of fossil fuels.
Silk is natural and resistant, and has a useful life of at least three generations or one hundred years. Traditional kimonos, the elegant dress for ladies in Japan, would last for hundreds of years. Nylon is a typical throw away product symbolized by ladies' stockings which are sent to the bin the day a minor damage is visible. Nylon is not recycled. So not only is the silk web of life a continuous cycling of carbon, the product itself stores carbon over decades. Nylon not only releases carbon in its manufacturing, the fibers themselves capture carbon during a useful life that spans at best weeks, and more often not more than a few days.
Once we realize that the petroleum-chemistry is not only about substituting a natural fiber (silk) with a synthetic one (Nylon), it is about substituting a system that cycled carbon with long retention times and storage systems, into one that leads to the permanent spewing of carbon into the atmosphere due to this throw-away culture, then we realize how difficult it is to put a cap on carbon emissions, unless we change our consumption patterns. This makes our addiction to petroleum even more debilitating. It is like a drug addict who is not only endangering his or her own life, but destroying the whole social tissue around the community by promoting illegal production and trade that enriches a few and leaves society with all costs for rehabilitation, violence, and the penitentiary services.
Reverse the System
The key question is how to reverse this trend? We cannot go back in time and suggest that silk has to pick up its past glory as a fashion for the wealthy. It is difficult to imagine the substitution of Nylon by silk. However once we take the time to study the real opportunities embedded in the chemistry of silk, then we realize that there is an exceptional product portfolio at our doorstep that could not only serve humanity, but that could also revive the silk farming, even beyond the levels of production practiced a century ago. The new fields include medical and cosmetic applications.
Prof. Dr. Fritz Vollrath, silk expert at Oxford University who spun off several start-ups ©2015, Vollrath
As Prof. Dr. Fritz Vollrath has demonstrated through decades of fundamental research predominantly at the Department of Zoology, Oxford University, silk has unique tensile strength, permits cells to grow on and in it, and is a natural inhibitor against the growth of fungus and specific bacteria. Actually, we have forgotten that silk protects a cocoon with a caterpillar inside against the tiniest predators around and has done so very successfully for millions of years. This natural design at the molecular level has been studied in great detail. Now an amazing reality unfolds before our eyes: silk can regenerate cartilage and thus avoids knee replacement based on titanium; silk provides the scaffolding for the regeneration of nerves after trauma including the potential to one day make quadriplegics walk again.
While this application will spur the demand for only small volumes of silk, the big market will be in cosmetics where synthetic emulsifiers have become the standard, causing marine pollution with micro-beats that have a great risk of ending up in our food chain. Everything from shaving foam for men to emulsifiers in night creams to reduce wrinkles can now be substituted with a natural alternative. The non-degradable plastics beads can be replaced by silk (and other natural polymers), and that would - conservatively - require the cultivation of 2 million tons of raw silk. We can now roll-out a strategy to operate a 20-fold of acreage for silk farms around the world, with a value added that outstrips the price commanded by luxury good maker Hermès. We are pointing to a demand potential that requires to double the output from the level of silk when it was at its peak production.
The mulberry tree fruits. © 2015, Rachel Rabinowitz
We have to realize that while our addiction to petroleum is causing havoc to the atmosphere and stresses Nature's capacity to perform ecosystem services, the reverse is also true. Wherever there is bad news, we can find very good news. With other words, if the medical and cosmetics industry - realizing the documented challenges that it is facing today were to revert to silk as an option, then we will have to embark on the same massive scale of tree planting that the Chinese, the Turkish and the Italian societies had embarked on throughout history. In those days it was to please the rich and wealthy with the finest clothing. This represents an exceptional opportunity to design better quality products at competitive costs while offering a chance to increase soil fertility and offer a response to the urgent need to have sustainable agriculture with a wealth of nutrition in the soil. It is an economic model that makes sense.
Once we realize that renewables are not white elephants and that natural system are capable of strengthening "The Commons" to provide us all ecosystem services, then we have to face the challenging task to overcome the desire of a silent majority to continuously search from more of the same. As Lester Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute stated: "the end of the stone age was not a lack of stones; the end of the petroleum age may well not be a shortage of petroleum." However we are stuck with a tremendous institutional-technological lock-in. While silk may create inroads in niche markets that make impact, the tenacity of the petroleum and gas industry to do more of the same is a proof of insensitivity to the reality of climate change, and its damaging effects on life on earth.
Silent Chemical Reactions
The battle for a healthy and sustainable world is not fought out through hard political battles in national parliaments or international conventions, it is turned into a reality through silent chemical reactions and predictable physical effects. The molecular structure of a few gases like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane trap heat in the atmosphere. So the more these simple yet stable molecules cover the Earth, the more heat is prevented from radiating out. This is basic physics. We have seen that all attempts to reduce carbon have made insufficient impact to date. We need go beyond the substitution of Nylon with silk, rather change farming, processing and uses. The drama now is that in the light of dwindling reserves of petroleum that are cheap to exploit (deep seas and extreme climate conditions), attention has diverted to natural gas which is considered cheap and abundant with at least one trillion cubic feet of reserves. That is enough fuel to supply the world for decades to come.
The promise of cheap energy in abundance is supposed to fuel the economy. Even President Obama was tricked into believing that the private sector would invest an additional $100 billion in factories that are attracted by low cost and less polluting natural gas. This magic would create - the White House believed - not less than 600,000 new manufacturing jobs. This sugar sweet perspective made the President promise to cut red tape to facilitate the transformation of the energy mix from coal to gas. The promise was hard to refuse, even by the environmentalists. Carl Pope, the long-serving director of the Sierra Club, after receiving a $25 million donation, was prepared to promote natural gas, even from doubtful sources such as fracking. Robert Kennedy Jr., one of the icons of environmental stewardship stated in 2009 that the "energy revolution over the past two years has left America awash in natural gas and has made it possible to eliminate most of our dependence on deadly, destructive coal practically overnight".
Bill McKibben correctly points out in his article in The Nation (March 2016) that the substitution of coal with natural gas is like shifting your diet from a high fat to a reduced fat. Have people not realized that after years of excesses we should not be having fat? Should we not be reducing carbon emissions and then feel a sense of pride since natural gas only emits half of the carbon compared to coal? The bad news is that we cannot only compare coal with natural gas on a ton per ton basis incinerated to produce power, we have to look at the whole system. When the statistics emerged that gas fields are leaking methane (which is officially 21 times worse in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide even when scientists claim it is rather like 100 times), then it became clear that even a minor escape of 3% would simply double the heat generating effect in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, with all the computing power in the world, science and industry are ill-equipped to sense, take stock and calculate the impact of a whole system of energy consumption. So the proposed shift to natural gas is not that convincing, on the contrary it is confusing, and more likely just more of the same. Even Robert Kennedy Jr. changed by 2013 his mind when he was faced with the hard realities and retracted his earlier endorsement.
Shale gas exploration © 2015, Justin Woolford for WRI/Flickr
A Completely New Game
Now enters the world of fracking. The process is well known: the injection of chemicals and steam under high pressure to release oil. Unfortunately, it has side-effects. The use of the word "side-effect" or unintended consequences is pejorative since the damage is well documented. However, there is not only a high level of sensitivity to the exploitation of this abundant and cheap energy, there is a remarkable scientific rigor imposed on anyone who claims anything negative about fracking. Whatever is being documented and analyzed is quickly dismissed through critique that advances that the study has flaws, is insufficiently documented, or discovered nothing more than a correlation without a proof of cause and effect. It is remarkable that industry wants to have an immediate permitting without any real due diligence for investments in shale gas operations, and a rapid deployment of capital as to enjoy positive cash flow, however all without restraints. Getting started needs no in depth proof that the process is benign, any critique will have to be substantiated with decades of research and data mining across the globe.
Few policy makers who negotiated in Paris realize the vast difference between methane and carbon emissions. Carbonic gases are stable and stay in the atmosphere for centuries. That is the bad news. The good news is that these molecules trap a moderate amount of heat. Methane is a rather unstable molecule and degrades in decades. That is the good news. The very bad news is that the amount of methane pumped into the atmosphere is rapidly increasing since natural gas is the wave of the day. This process accelerates the locking up of heat in the atmosphere. This causes rapid melting of ice caps, acidification of the seas, and rising sea levels. Introducing fracking as the main new component in the energy mix has a double sided effect: (1) the energy industry is closing coal mines; but, (2) it is opening methane geysers. This means that the oil and gas industry is riding the wave of more of the same, while the public and even the policy makers believe there is a tangible improvement towards a lower carbon energy mix. Sometimes we should ask ourselves why we are so easily fooled?
Statics based on satellite pictures demonstrate that natural gas in general but shale gas in particular (which is also sold under the label of natural gas) extracted in the United States is responsible for at least 30% of the increase in methane gas emissions around the world. In addition, fracking causes earthquakes as Josh Sandburn reported in March 2016 in Time Magazine. In 2007 the State of Oklahoma reported one earthquake with the power 3 on the Richter scale. In 2015 there were nearly one thousand earthquakes. The center state of fracking in the USA now has more earthquakes than California which lays on a known fault line. This phenomenon of earthquakes is nothing new. Groningen, the center of natural gas extraction in the Netherlands had no earthquakes before 1986, and now suffers from an average of fifty per year.
The power of these findings is that we know the source of the problem and we know what to do. Some of us would expect the political leadership of the United States, especially under a Democrat Party presidency, which pretends to be akin to measures to reduce carbon emissions, is to warn other nations not to follow the same route as the American oil and gas industry is proposing. WikiLeaks cables sent by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demonstrate that the American government was (is) doing the contrary: she was actively promoting fracking.
Mrs. Clinton successfully arm twisted the government of Bulgaria to sign a deal with Chevron in 2011 but relentless protests forced the government to ban fracking in 2012. The same happened in Romania, but there the protests were squashed by police and the Government decided to proceed with the Chevron deal supported by the US Government after the mayor of the town purchased a large area from his own city in order to hand it over to Chevron. Fortunately, France banned it, while Germany has de-facto banned even though this energy extraction process has been practiced in the country since 1975. While a few countries ban fracking, the largest leaks of methane that have already been created cannot be plugged.
Traditionally the industry fills shafts with cement, which contracts while drying. This leaving space for gas to dissipate into the atmosphere and there are no known techniques to plug them.
There are Options - and we know it
Over the decade that fracking has been practiced broad-scale in North America, the cost price of solar photo-voltaics has dropped 80%. That is good news. However, it is not good enough. We need to go beyond the mere substitution of one source of energy for another. The third reality we have to face is that we will only create a fossil free world if we change our system of production and consumption. The mere substitution of one source of energy with another will not steer societies towards a fossil free world, what is needed is a dramatic improvement of resource productivity: use what we have and do more with what nature produces and has stored, instead of forcing nature to produce ever more.
The case of coffee is one of these obvious examples that surprises many, and demonstrates once more how much more ignorant we are of the opportunities before us than of the damage we cause. Coffee is a globally traded commodity. An estimated 10 million tons of green coffee travels the world. Who is aware that only 20,000 tons are actually ingested, and a staggering 9,980,000 tons is discarded as waste. At best, this left-over from the coffee brewing process is composted, even though we know that between the moment of brewing and the moment of disposal there is already a generation of (once more) methane gas.
Shale gas and coffee are not that different. We all know that agriculture causes major methane emissions. But, what we do not know is that many of these emissions could easily have been avoided. The coffee processing industry, from the makers of instant coffee to the chains of coffee shops all have found their ecological solutions that unfortunately belong to the same category of "substituting high fat with regular fat", whereas we know we cannot have fat.
Only 0.2% of the coffee from farm to cup is ingested. ©2016, ZERI
The preferred solution of the coffee processing industry is burn its waste. While the incineration of coffee grounds, like so many other forms of agricultural residues, is often presented as an effort to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, we forget that the generation of methane gas and carbon emissions is not the most important missed opportunity. The whole supply chain could benefit from a fresh approach, since the substitution of fossil fuel with coffee left-overs is doing "less bad". We are in need of this logic that we can and must "do more good". Here goes our logic: coffee is treated either by heat or by inert gases to extract the soluble part that offers either a powder to produce an instant drink, or a hot coffee to enjoy. Since the biomass has been pre-treated it is ideal for farming mushrooms. Do we realize that 60% of the cost of mushroom farming is the sterilization of the substrate - and this energy is not required anymore if we use processed coffee and use the grounds on site? There is a broad portfolio of products that can be derived from a waste stream that is considered only good to be burned. It is a portfolio of opportunities.
The case of coffee is just one of the many examples that demonstrates that with a minor shift in handling and processing, we are able to create energy efficiencies that have not been considered viable. We can farm mushrooms with 60% less energy and no need to transport raw materials. The advantage is that most of these solutions do not require new technologies or complex engineering, neither heavy capital investments. These solutions are pragmatic and can be implemented by "you and me". The only way that we will succeed in the creation of a fossil free world is that we cascade matter, nutrition and energy just the way Nature does. It is not difficult, it is different. The book "The Blue Economy 2.0 : an update to the Report to the Club of Rome" offers insights in cases that have been implemented and inspire everyone to do much better than we ever imagined before.
The portfolio of coffee chemistry ©2016, Pauli
Epilogue: The MBA
The fourth and perhaps the greatest obstacle to achieve a world with renewables only will not be "the oil and gas lobby". The greatest impediment to turn into a green society are the millions of MBA's (masters of business administration) who have been brainwashed to only consider a core business, based on a core competence and focus on cutting costs at all cost. MBA's believe that cheaper is better, and the solution to competitiveness, thus stimulating mergers and acquisitions. As long as we are entrusting our youth to academia who are teaching the next generation of managers that more and cheaper of the same is the model forward for society then we will never have communities that will be capable of steering towards sustainability as El Hierro has done. However, when we are prepared to embrace business as Nature does, with respect for The Commons, all invisible interconnections, unseen feedback loops, multipliers and clear ethics including nothing is wasted and everyone contributes to the best of their abilities, then we will have no difficulties to achieve a fossil fuel free society.
For more information:
Please Visit www.TheBlueEconomy.org and www.zeri.org or
Write us to: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
This is a short treatise on the origins (and the end) of Empathy, Solidarity and Sharing.
At the start of the year I wanted to summarize my recent understandings of the origins of mindfulness and grasp the essence of the ecological, happy and healthy human being. Eighteen months of research back up this article. I have ventured into the history of the arrival of humankind on Earth some 4 million years ago. It includes the identification of the greatest inventions of humanity: the bag, the needle and bureaucracy! The findings changed my perspectives on human development. I hope you will be as fascinated with the discovery of the content as I was.
At the start of this year I reflect on the history of the arrival of humankind on Earth some 4 million years ago. The story unfolds in an amazing way since 99% of our history is reconstructed with approximately 1,000 fragments of skulls and skeletons of humanoids gathered from around the world. Scientific research on these few bones permits scholars to draw up hypotheses and put forward interpretations which plausibly reconstruct the emergence of our bipedal species spanning millions of years.
Then, after millions of years covered by well-informed guessing, finally less than 100,000 years ago the first writing is on the wall when the first written documents emerged. These painted messages, fragments of rock carvings or tablets provide a first hand glimpse of the development of humanity based on writings by humanity. It is interesting that in this whole study we only see evolution upwards: humanity is the crown of these millions of years of development. We study the arrival and the expansion of human presence as if after us nothing of importance is going to happen.
From the day that we observe how humans started to walk on two feet we believe that we had lifted ourselves from primitive life, and that we are engaged in a perpetual war for survival. We are convinced that only after Konrad Lorenz, the Austrian Nobel Laureate in Medicine, who studied birds and animals gathered a very pessimistic view of man's nature. He saw an aggressive species that battles for territory, wages war and creates a lot of suffering for his fellow humans as well as most species in Nature. Therefore, Lorenz believed that Man was destined to be checked, controlled and balanced by a rigorous system that could be called culture or government. It seems that the role of Government, responsible for approximately 50% of the world economy, and the millions of laws that regulate daily life around the globe has confirmed his analysis.
Man, as an individual, and organized through Government or even Religion and under a rigorous control can do incredible evil. The genocides systematically pursued by colonizers against local tribes in Namibia and the Congo, by the Nazis against members of the Jewish Faith, or by rival racial tribes in Rwanda demonstrate unfortunately that even governments need international powers to secure a check and control like the United Nations and its organizations like its Peacekeeping force. Humans need time to evolve into a humane species.
The characteristics of the human species were confirmed over millions of years. One of these qualities is a unique flexibility to adapt to new environments. Humans have transformed throughout evolution thanks to this innate capability to evolve over a few generations into something that could not be imagine at the outset. Humankind has this desire to go beyond known frontiers, as the emigration from Africa to every corner of the world in the span of 40 to 50,000 years has demonstrated. Humans have this capacity to determine a pathway and persevere, as the construction of the cathedrals throughout Europe demonstrated. All those involved in the decision to build knew at the outset of this huge undertaking that they would never get a glimpse of the final result, and yet they decided to commit up to 15% of all revenues of the city for over a hundred years to see this through.
Unfortunately, it seems that in recent times humans have lost that flexibility and this process of grasping what we are doing has become more difficult than ever before. With a wealth of facts before us, describing, documenting and proving the devastation we are causing and the unsustainability of our way of living, we seem incapable to evolve our behavior to a better one. We hide behind the complexity of life, even when we used to navigate it with great certainty.
We observe this massive man-driven extinction of species, a pervasive negligence and inaction around the emission of greenhouse gases and climate change, the over-consumption of resources. Our consumption goes way beyond the means of our planet. The destructive pollution of modern civilization, combined with a dominant focus on the individual by that same individual renders humanity increasingly unable to adapt to the new conditions it has created.
There is nothing more rewarding in life than seeing and understanding what we did and where we are doing, what unintended effects we cause and - perhaps most important - to realize that we have been ignorant about our impact, or mis-oriented when we pursued selfish interests such as the blind accumulation of cash. This renewed understanding allows us to evolve, to adapt, and to do better. The concept of the paradigm shift as propagated by some is healthy and exciting, but only for a minute part of the world's population. The large majority aspires to emulate a lifestyle that leads to collapse.
That is why I would like to explore again the origins of how humans turned humane, and hope that we recover what we seem to have lost. Did Humanity expel itself from this Garden of Eden? If so, then we have the capacity to recreate it as well.
It Started in Africa
The main line of thought until the late 19th century was that humanity emerged from Asia. Charles Darwin was the first to point to our close relation with chimpanzees and gorillas. The association of humans with primates was why he concluded that our origins were to be found in the tropical parts of Africa. Only one hundred years ago no one would have believed it. Now it is generally accepted that we descended from African primates from whom we diverged approximately seven million years ago.
There is a geophysical reason: while Europe and Asia were subjected to the Ice Age, Africa contained over the span of a few million years up to 90% of habitable land. Therefore the first communities could only live comfortably in Africa, move from the center of the Continent to the sea, where humans discovered the riches of life. Five million years ago, Africa started to dry out and the great forests where the primates thrived shrank. This forced our ancestors to adapt to new living conditions that drove them to search for new settlements. In the process of this search, the first stone technology emerged approximately 2.5 million years ago and the use of fire one million years ago.
We learned to walk on two feet well before our brains grew in size. The greatest innovation of all times was perhaps the invention of the bag. The bag permitted the hunter gatherer to carry 15 times more food than he would ever need himself to survive the day. The bag helps to create a home base, to divide labor, to share food, and to guarantee supply over a longer period of time. In addition, the invention of the bag simplified life of a mother who can haul an infant while gathering food. The bag made us human and helped us create community since now no one consumes on their own, and all what is carried is to be shared. The bag started the sharing economy.
The experience to come home with a bag full of food triggered in the human brain an "emotional sandwich". One one side there is stress caused by the high risk taken to walk on two legs, instead of four. Two legs move slower and less stable than four, but frees the hands. A control over hands combined with this innovative pouch allowed the transport of nutrition over distance. The other side of the brain is the emotional reward for the risk: a warm welcome by a family eagerly awaiting the arrival of food, and the emerging of a caring community based on a pattern of food security.
Community based on Empathy
This emotional experience of risk and reward led to a community based on empathy. This triggered perhaps one of the most critical moments in our development as a human. First, this provided a strong impulse to our emotional part of the brain and started a long process of development of different parts of our central nervous system. The artistic expression found a permanent and deep space in our emerging brain. Second, this helped to stabilize settlements, humans started to sing and dance well before anyone could speak, food and water remained available over all seasons. Humans differentiated from primates by learning the value of community, and the importance of caring, especially for offsprings. When humans stopped the senseless murder of infants by the alpha males simply because these children were not his - this new family of living species started to behave humane.
About 300,000 years ago a second desertification affected human life styles in Africa more profoundly than before. Communities of early humans were forced south and west to be stopped by the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. Here these new settlements lived on a rich diet of crustacea and fish, largely unknown. This new plate of nutrition fueled the physical growth of the human in general and the brain in particular. The greatest and most detailed discoveries to document these insights of early humankind were made in Southern Africa.
Humans possess innate possibilities and are the product of Nature and nurture. Humans are not pre-programmed machines. While we share 98.8% of our DNA sequence with primates, this does not mean that a minor difference in DNA makes us similar. Humans share 35% of genes with daffodils, and that does not make us one third daffodil. One of the major difference is speech, and the capacity to hear and understand language. But before we evolved the capacity to talk and listen, we already acquired the capacity for empathy millions of years before when our ancestors split from the primates. We learned to walk, care for each other, and created a culture of song and dance to strengthen empathy. The humans that emerged from this evolution lost the alpha male as the dominant figure in their community.
The Alpha Male and Monogamy
When we project man and society against its African primate origins, we quickly borrow the alpha male from the animal world to describe the importance and the dominance of the human male. However, it is not because we are closely related to primates that we behave like the alpha male, even though this particular role has been well publicized and received broad scientific attention.
The alpha male is part of the world of chimpanzees. He is aggressive, carnivorous, makes war and even turns into a cannibal. Chimpanzees eat fruits and therefore have to cover vast areas to find food all year around. The gorilla, also known for the male dominance, is sociable and a vegetarian. He mainly devours leaves that are within reach in a small area, limiting the need to travel, promoting the organization of small groups in tree branches. The bonobo on the other hand is peaceful, solves conflicts, has the same diet as the chimp, but has a completely different social organization in which females form coalitions to dominate males. Finally, there is the orangutan which lives like a recluse most of his life.
Scientific research points out that we share 99% of feelings and emotions with the chimps, ranging from jealousy, thirst for power, sexual attraction, fear, aggression. This is something we clearly do not share with fish. We also have a common moral system made out of punishment, reciprocity, distribution of food, reconciliation, empathy and sympathy, concern of welfare for the group. Still, there are fundamental differences and one is monogamy. Evolution has provided us with an instinct for faithfulness. When we switched from vegetables and fruits to meat, children needed a reliable and stable relationship between the hunter and the mother to improve survival.
The frequent walks upright to carry more food required an extremely extensive anatomical specialization which separates us from all other primates. To turn human, evolution had to reconstruct spine, thigh, knee and foot. No other mammal has undergone such an anatomical adaptation, except perhaps the whale that first roamed land as a dog-like animal, and then returned to the sea. The new anatomy improved the capacity to carry more food, made gathering more efficient, reduced the overall risk of speed and instability, and left the couple with much more time to be devoted to family and the community. This led to an increased sense of solidarity and hence a greater chance of survival. Mindfulness emerged as a core characteristic of human nature.
Another major difference between primates and the emerging human race is that young females started to leave their group reaching reproductive age looking for a life partner in another settlement. If both females and males were to remain with the original family group, then incest would lead to a degeneration of their offsprings. Evolution taught that young born to females who changed the group were stronger than the offsprings from those that had remained behind. This is the reason that females became endowed with this instinct to search for a partner outside the inner clan. This turned the female into a more flexible and naturally more adaptive being. Since the female could not return to her clan, the unity in the family required a powerful pair-bond which is unusual among mammals. However, this new life style allowed males and females to make a life-long investment in their descendants.
The metabolic rate of the brain is 22 times faster than that of major muscles. The brain accounts with the heart, liver, kidney and intestines 70% of the body's energy requirements. This was facilitated by a transformation of the human digestive system that could easily digest animal proteins complementing proteins from plants that made up the bulk of our predecessors' diet. A nursing mother requires the same number of calories per day as a runner preparing for a marathon. Time has come to stabilize relations and to trust each other.
Life Long investments and Reduced Risks
As a more powerful bond developed among our predecessors, ovulation became increasingly concealed. The female could copulate more frequently with the same male, which served to strengthen the bond and increases the probability that this individual is the father of her young. This
made it more profitable in genetic terms for the father to help the female and the young to get food. This in turn diminished the need for mother and child to look for food themselves which reduced risks. This emerging pattern of behavior markedly increased chances of survival. Within this new context, the female will choose a male inclined to help and protect her. She prefers a male with small canines who is dedicated to her and their children over a macho male which huge canines who is always ready to fight, and even kill her offsprings if he would be uncertain it were his as a means to establish and protect his supremacy.
Even though it was long believed that tools and language were the privilege of the human species, we have discovered that many animals are endowed with this capacity. The tool of language is not exclusive to humans. We do differentiate ourselves with our capacity to articulate consonants since many species can only make vowels. Our particularity is further demonstrated with genes that developed our hearing into language processing instruments. Improved insights through hearing, and the shift away from infanticide, stimulated early human society, based on the pair-bond, to consider internal tensions the most threatening. Life, and the very survival of the group depends on life-long cooperation. This cooperation is embedded in a collective memory and a learning process that is created and reinforced through storytelling, accompanied by song and dance.
As humans evolved over millions of years triggered by this emotional sandwich, the brain grew from 450cc to the 1,400cc of a modern human. In the process of growing our brain and crane, humans started losing canines. Whereas male primates possess these terrifying weapons to ensure respect and obedience, the humans apparently learned at a very early stage to manage anger and demonstrate dominance in other ways than showing off large teeth, threatening to fight and kill. Humans ultimately ended up with women's teeth!
This reduction of aggression and tension resulted in a greater likelihood for the young to survive. 37% of infant death among gorillas is murder by males. The additional benefit of the shift towards female logic is that the emerging homo in peaceful groups could concentrate all efforts to gather food and to protect the community collectively. The importance of cooking and eating together turns into a core characteristic of a human community. Acquiring and preparing food as an individual for oneself leads to an alienation of those individuals in society, undernourishment and early death.
Then, humans developed this exceptional capacity to breath at will, thanks to the ability to store a high level of haemoglobin in red blood cells. The control to close air passage at the base of the tongue, while inhaling air made more complex speech possible. Humans learned to communicate with one another like no other mammal has ever achieved. This enhanced the capacity to work together, and reinforces empathy. Humans subsequently learn to imagine how other people think and feel. This endowed us with the desire to do to others as we would be done by: evolution led to solidarity and strengthened our mindfulness.
Efficiency through Solidarity and Sharing
The efficiency of life reached an all time high when sharing became a tool of exchange. The early communities in and around the Kalahari Desert had a widely distributed knowledge amongst all members about food and nutrition. The clan lived on an extremely varied diet of +100 plants, 30 types of fruits, nuts and berries, 18 types of resins. Young women knew at least 300 different plants, how to prepare as food or as cure. One third of the diet is now meat, or approximately 100 kilos per person per year. During his lifetime as a hunter, early man would kill 100 animals. A single kudu of 400 kilos provides 600,000 kilo-calories, enough to feed a group of 30 individuals for ten days, equivalent to 50 days of gathering. Now the humans are gathering around a fire. This solidified and increased the sense of community.
The first humans in the Cape lived in a fynbos, one of the world's richest biotopes in botanical species. Here the humans could substitute the quantity of food with the quality of food, a variety of vegetarian and animal protein, enriched with crustaceans and shellfish. Seafood emerges as a key part of the diet which boosted the functioning of this energy intensive human brain over a short period. Although the brain is only 2% of bodyweight, it accounts for 20% of an adult body's energy. The oldest accurately dated finds of anatomically modern humans are found in conjunction with piles of seashells. This healthy and nutritious diet permitted the human species to develop an advanced sensory capacity. These first Africans carried out impressive works of art 77,000 years ago, twice as old as the oldest cave art in Europe.
These clans with fine arts had the ability to conceive the past, present and future. This capacity defines modernity in terms of intellectual capacity. Life in this relatively infertile Southern African environment, required only two to three hours of work to attain food security. This resulted in time for leisure, strengthening solidarity, building a resilient community, caring for the family, strengthening the will to stay together. Modernity emerged by chatting around the evening fire and having fun, being nice to each other, singing, dancing and learning different means to resolve conflicts.
The human dependence of the hunter-gatherer group was driven by their ability to share. This provides security over time and minimizes risk- taking with a powerful obligation to help one's neighbors. Social interaction was key, visitors were always welcome and extended contacts outside the nucleus of the group diminished the risk of inbreeding within the group.
Ownership and possession of the hunter-gatherer were very restricted in the course of his lifetime to approximately 10 kilos. That is all that could be easily carried when there was a need to move to a new camp. Life and culture of the hunter gatherer emerged over tens of thousands of years to minimize risk of violence within and amongst the groups. Those who managed best to ban conflict increased the chance of surviving to reproduce and so transfer their cooperative drive to future generations. Agreements were reached not by consensus, where everyone agrees, nor by majority plus one, but by reaching the point that no one had sufficiently strong opposition, leaving it to others to pursue what they considered important.
In a world where leadership is authoritative, rather than authoritarian, and where a cooperative spirit enjoys a high cultural status, life is geared towards conflict anxiety. Males and females were even physically comparable in size, which leads to an increased equality between sexes. So the harem gave way to a style of living together out of necessity. Since the brains of the babies were growing larger, meant that the children had to be looked after much longer. In a hunter gatherer society no mother would have succeeded without living together with the father, and the extended family.
Caring for each other was the best option in order to pass on the genes to the next generation. Here emerged self-confidence and self-esteem, an evolutionary drive to gain approval of the group and a caring for each other. This combines with a unique biological pecularity in our brain: perseverance, we simply do not give up and keep on trying. This drive for perfection is a unique human trait that is in strong contrast with the rest of the animal world. While we consider this a standard feature, the other primates must consider us mad. Nor would another ape get the preposterous idea of lying down and sleep next to someone one had just intercourse with. In the animal world, only mothers stick close to their babies, no one else.
While food from seas, lakes and rivers provided the energy, humans also developed language, which brought powerful tools such as devotion and guilt, creating deeper relationships while formalizing the daily contacts and develop maternal love, the most powerful and fundamental instinct in species. The group starts to provide proof of empathy. We are as human species unique in providing altruistic help to individuals outside our own group, even to strangers. However, empathy is the glue that binds socially complex communities together. We are born with a will to distinguish between good and bad, to do as we are done by. Our innate moral sense then went on to create religion. This was not only an environment that was good for Nature, it was also good for our souls.
These African communities started to travel and discover the world at a rate of 25 to 30 kilometers per generation. Around 10,000 years ago humans started keeping domestic animals, instead of hunting. We farmed land instead of gathering. This shift changed the way we lived (in one place) and what we ate (milk and cereals we barely consumed before). Our change in diet and our change in social organization made it possible to produce more food per hectare. However we do not seem to be aware that a diet based on large portions of grain and milk provided poorer nutrition then what the human race was accustomed to. The result is that we shrank in size as we learned from the comparison with the Neanderthals that lived in Germany. Not only did we physically shrink in size, even our brain started to contract again.
Left skull of modern human being, right skull of Neanderthal. The new agricultural communities provided a controlled, protected environment. The distributed organization of large numbers of people in different parts on Earth meant that humans gained power over the world around that no single animal ever attained. These sedentary communities displayed creative thinking, had the ability to reflect on mistakes and how to improve them with an ability to cooperate with different groups and invent forms of exchange with distant settlements. The networks of communities over large areas provided a form of life assurance in difficult times as help would be within reach at times of setbacks. These settlements built better dwellings and acquired the technologies to recreate the tropical conditions of origin thanks to solid housing, fire and woven clothing. The same technique of weaving produced nets for hunting and fishing approximately 30,000 years ago. Humans invented the needle and could sew clothing. That gave an advantage over any other skin protection.
Humans acquired long noses to allow hot air to cool, or cool air the warm up and moisturize it by a larger expanse of the mucus membrane. Tall people have it easier to radiate surplus body heat. Even our looks started to differ since a less frequent exposure to the sun acquired humans a lighter skin color that makes it easier for sunlight to penetrate the epidermis to help synthesize vitamin D which plays a key role in the production of calcium to reinforce the skeleton.
The diverse looks that evolved over millennia of migration to all corners of the world do not reflect the fact that genetically all humans are 99.9% alike. There are genetically speaking no races. The lack of genetic diversity among human beings is potentially a major problem. It makes us considerably more susceptible than any other species to viral and bacterial diseases, and to epidemics. That is why after a clear commitment to resolve conflict, humans accepted the duty to cure illnesses and to strengthen our immune system. The new role of healers emerged. At first, no one gained any special privileges, no matter how skilled one may have been. Healing originally equated to sharing spiritual gifts, and the cure emerged during dances where everyone is engaged in healing and strengthening everyone else, while strengthening solidarity. During these dances, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Humanity emerged in Africa singing, dancing and painting and it left to discover all continents keeping these traditions solidly in place wherever humans finally settled.
Throughout these new times for humanity art and religion assumed the responsibility to create metaphors. Common to all religions is that the lives of humans are ultimately governed and influenced by forces that cannot be analyzed using logic and science. At the same time humanity created a world of artifacts that are pure inventions and never existed before. We invent our world and change it through what we achieve together. No other species has ever achieved that.
Thousands year later, the advent of modern science assumed the responsibility to deconstruct metaphors and force a focus on what is real and what can be measured. For the Bushmen in Africa, shamanism and trance, as well as its expression in rock art was a responsibility shared by everyone. However, as populations emigrated to the far corners of the world, the European cave art and religious role of the shaman led to shift from an egalitarian to a hierarchical society. The first hierarchical societies were created where a few had power over many.
Dancing and singing strengthened the group. Language made it easier to resolve conflict, to cooperate, to reach agreement and to keep in touch over time. The idea that there are spirits we cannot see, but who influence our lives emerged as a powerful concept. Suddenly everything can be explained! Why the harvest is abundant, or why I am ill, how the children grow up healthy, and why there is rain when we need it. All subsequent civilizations evolved around the idea that these spirits must be kept happy. The emerging religious rites are performed in combination with rhythmic music that gives a powerful sense of well-being and continued coherence of the group. This becomes a fundamental part of us becoming human. The world that emerged now is fundamentally different from the one humans pursued for eons as hunter gatherers.
The End of the Garden Of Eden
The human settlements served early on as hosts for rites, and this permitted the ceremonial masters to acquire greater influence and thus emerged the first taste of power. The desire to transition from hunter gatherer to farmer perhaps had more to do with power than with food. As we learned, a new diet of grains and milk (gluten and lactose which only few could digest) reduced our size and even shrunk our brain by as much as 20%. So 8,000 years ago only a few hundreds of productive farming villages dotted the planet that were fundamentally hierarchical, organized power structures, with populations divided into social classes. After an estimated 2,000 years all humanity lived in this structured way.
Of course there was a clear necessity to get down to basics like storage and delivery. As a hunter gatherer, food was available all year following the rhythm of Nature. As a farmer, the entire yield needed to be guarded and consumption had to be carefully spread over the year. The granaries permitted the rise of guards who could demand part of the harvest, without ever having contributed to its production. That was a very new phenomena.
The transformation of a food chain of daily fresh supplies to year-long planning stimulated new ways of preparing (baking, boiling, brewing) and preserving food (pickle, sugar, salt). The power of wild yeast to preserve food, add taste, transform and release the unique nutrition embedded in produce and fruits led to the advent of wine, beer, yoghurt, bread, sauerkraut, tofu, kimchi, even coffee and tea, which are all the product of fermentation.
Soon walls were erected to protect the harvest and written language improved control and made it easier to exert power over a distance. This promoted more sophisticated arts and crafts and led to one of humanity's greatest revolutions: bureaucracy. Then the new form of life shifted the management of procreation. Nomadic civilization planned birth carefully in line with the carrying capacity of the land they roamed. The farmers perceived their capacity to feed as a freedom to procreate and this lead to a population explosion. However, the advent of agriculture and the strengthening of civilization created an environment that condoned and even promoted ego, selfishness and war.
We could conclude that this was the end of the first affluent society. Humans had evicted themselves from the Garden of Eden.
Life got violent and civilization turned out to be a lot more brutal than earlier phases of human existence. There was a need to defend the grain reserves which led to inventing cavalry and archery. This resulted in a new profession: the soldier who turned out very expensive, compared to the era of the hunter gatherer when every nomad was a warrior. But the waging of war and the cost of armies was not the only side-effect of civilization, the other was the rise of epidemics. The close proximity of animals, and the mutation of viruses unleashed entirely new plagues to which the human immune system had no defenses. The third impact of civilization was the destruction of the environment. A few centuries of irrigation (e.g. Mesopotamia) turned an entire fertile region into wasteland due to the accumulation of salt. Farming caused massive and uncontrolled soil erosion which led to the rise of the river beds which caused extensive flooding (e.g. Yellow River).
The advent of agriculture and civilization thus caused social conflict, environmental degradation and human suffering beyond anything experienced by humanity before peeling solidarity, reducing security and increasing risks to life ending the sense of community and belonging. Endless disputes often over trivial issues like access to resources and possessions blown up in importance by ego's that use their power to intimidate and to determine (armed) settlements.
This is a new world where The Commons were invaded, and human rights needed protection, since the core principles that had emerged and were embraced by all did not apply anymore. Individuals dominate, accumulate wealth beyond their capacity to consume in a lifetime, and often are prepared to squander everything, including the lives of others to satisfy their ego.
What a difference a couple thousand years make.
Reflections by Gunter Pauli, author of The Blue Economy on June 23, 2015 on the occasion of the 3rd graduation of the seniors from the Green School in Bali (Indonesia)
As I stand here in this student-made hall I remember the day 20 years ago I came for the first time to Bali at the invitation of Linda Garland. It is thanks to her that I fell in love with bamboo. Thank you Linda! John, Cynthia and Elora Hardy have taken my love for bamboo to a new level. This - the Green School and the Green Village - is not just about bamboo anymore, it is about a new paradigm, that embraces first and foremost education, living and sustainability. And I thank you for that.
However, driving through the rice paddy fields between the Green School and Ubud these days, I notice that part of the fields are taken over by genetically modified corn. I saw diapers floating in the irrigation channels, and was shocked to see concrete roads pulled straight to the once pristine horizons of Ubud. We knew the coast would be invaded by hotels, but we always believed that Ubud and the highlands would preserve their culture, tradition and integrity of its ecosystems.
It is against this background that I would like to share five core principles that I suggest would guide life after graduation from the Green School here in Bali. These principles cover happiness and joy, the end of a double moral, the challenge to create what did not exist, to stop distinguishing between good and bad, and finally the importance of life long learning.
1. Happiness and Joy at the Center of Your Development
In his remarkable book "Dawn over the Kalahari", Lasse Berg describes how humans became humane. When the future human decided to run on two instead of four legs, he took a risk. Indeed, running on two legs is slower and less stable than four, but the upside is that now hands are free to carry more food to the refuge. Now when risks are taken and anxiety rises, the warm welcome at home from family celebrating the arrival of food offers a unique emotional experience.
The study of the skulls of the "early Lucy's" confirm that the first development of the human brain in use and size is triggered by emotions. This provoked the subsequent growth of the motoric and sensory lobe. So it were our emotions and the experiences of risk, love, affection, appreciation that made humans humane, and develop more intelligence and agility with our extremities. And then it seems our brain growth from the size of one fist into two fists stopped. What happened?
It seems that after these enthralling experiences of risk and love, community and resilience, humans started redirecting their attention to their egos. New experiences emerged like jealousy and envy, aggression and anger, stress and bitterness, which colored society with a clear desire by a few to control power and subjugate others. That may very well have stopped both our amazing emotional development as a humane society and the growth of our brain.
If you want your life after school to be one that has a chance again to evolve with compassion and mindfulness, where we balance the sense of survival with a clear passion for life, joy and community, then we will have to embrace these original discoveries again of risk and love, for those dearest to us, those around us, including the social and the ecosystem webs of life.
2. Ethics at the Center of your Life full of Reflection and Actions
Life is not a machine. Rather is it a network of living organisms where we are more connected to bacteria than to plushy bears. Life is about connectedness, relationship, patterns of behavior, time and place-based context. That context is made out of the ecosystems that provide us free services like the creation of soil, the filtering of drinking water, and the buffering of natural disasters; as well as social systems that build up non- commercial capital like culture and tradition, and resilience during adverse times we, and our communities will always face the day we expected it the least.
I expect you as graduates to embrace ethical behavior at the center of your life. I especially hope that you will stop the double moral that my generation, your parents have displayed for too long. While we all agree that stealing is stealing, and stealing less is still stealing, we have different standards when we deal with the environment. How is it possible that we are happy to do less damage to the environment? Companies polluting less receive environmental awards! Stealing is stealing and polluting is polluting. No one should ever deserve recognition for doing less bad. Bad is bad.
However it is not only a matter of being content when someone pollutes less. Our double moral in society also permits individuals and companies to refuse to do more good. And that is bad as well. I expect you to be blunt and clear that this will not be tolerated any more. Permit me to share the reality of a major coffee company that produces millions of tons of coffee waste, extracting the active ingredient from beans to produce instant coffee. The company burns that waste, rightfully claiming to save energy and reducing carbon emissions. But, the company fails to highlight that the waste of the coffee could have produced millions of tons of mushrooms, and the waste after harvesting the mushrooms is great chicken feed, creating even more protein while generating hundreds of thousands of jobs. Are you on Earth to do less bad, and do you have the right to refuse to do more good? I trust you will accept the mission in our lives is to do more good.
I lived through this experience myself. When I took the leadership of a small Belgian detergent company we produced soap from palm oil. We manufactured in an ecological factory made from wood with a grass roof, a series of cleaning products using biodegradable and renewable ingredients. Still, we were not sustainable. How could I clean up the rivers in Europe, while destroying the rainforest in Kalimantan, and the habitat of the orangutan? We have to be clear that a sustainable life requires us to be unconditional about the ethics at the core and I expect you to lead the way where your parents failed.
3. Your task - Create what did not Exist - do what your parents cannot imagine
As graduates from Green School, I ask you not to follow the rules of the game but I am not asking you to break the rules of the game either. I wish you take it upon yourselves to create new rules for others to follow. The rules in the economy today do not reach out to everyone at least 40% of the world population has to survive on less than $3.5 a day, and 90% of Africans work on informal jobs. We are destroying the environment and we are taking social systems apart. We do not have a clear understanding of how life works and therefore we need to have a fresh look at reality.
Ask your parents: how did the apple get up in the tree? Or ask: how did the water get up in the coconut? Now may I submit that when you only know what comes down, and have no idea how it got up defying the law of gravity, what do you know? How can you ever design a sustainable society? Time has come to go beyond the economic system your parents and grandparents designed and participated in. It is one that focuses on cutting costs at all cost. You will change that by creating more value from what is locally available. We have to put a stop to this madness of always producing more of the same, where cheaper is better while we leave no more money to circulate in the local economy. How can we ever have the jobs for the next generation when we do not know what we have and how to respond with it to the basic needs of all. Once we decide to pursue this avenue in life, then you will be able to create what did not exist.
One of these new initiatives we have recently embraced is the making of stone paper. Imagine the waste piled up at mining sites, millions of tons that pollute the air with dust particles, and pollute soil and water. We take those crushed rocks, blend them with plastics and produce paper without a drop of water. This paper is recyclable forever. All graduates today at the Green School receive a copy of a stone paper note book as a small token to remember that you can and should create what your parents cannot even imagine. Stone paper not only undoes the errors of the past, it creates products that will save millions of trees and eliminates costly consumption of drinking water. We need to go beyond what we consider possible, and do the impossible.
4. Be guided by the fact that there is no good or bad
Our Christian logic has created a framework where we quickly separate the good from the bad. I suggest that you, Graduates of Green School of Bali, accept that everyone can always do better. Even when you are the best, you can do much better. And let us strive not only to always do better, but also to do faster and more. However if we want to do more we cannot use the tools that limit us. Let me share with you the work my daughter Chido is doing in Africa. When she sits together with workers on coffee farms in Zimbabwe who survive on less than a dollar a day, and she explains to them that the waste of the farm can be used to grow mushrooms, the women listen, get exited, get up, sing and dance, and they do it!
What does a modern day venture require? You first have to write a business plan, set- up excel spreadsheets, undertake a technology audit, build a pilot project, study the market, write reports, discuss it in a commission, set up to monitor progress, look for funding, and in the end - seldom anything gets done. We need a new generation that gets things done because we cannot simply waste time, we need to focus on implementation with passion and commitment, always striving to do better.
5. Embrace Lifelong Learning
Of course you will now graduate and remember your teachers. You will look for mentors who will guide you as I have benefited from so many mentors throughout the years. As professor at several universities I always maintained that the best moment to learn from my students is during the exams. No, I do not like to listen to the answers to exam questions I already know. I have started to turn the tables and suggest that the students ask me questions. The one who can ask me something I have no answer to gets the maximum of the points. Every year, I learn something new from my students.
The greatest that can happen to a professor in this quest for lifelong learning, is to learn from students. Now the professor is a master of his subject but thanks to the impulses from and interests of the students, the master can become a grand master, and the students may become masters. Now since a professor has many students, he can - provided he has the humility and the curiosity - become a grand master and perhaps motivate his students to be masters. Now once you reach the level of grand master then there is a unique window of opportunity in life to turn to this wisdom into immortality. Lifelong learning is not just about you learning throughout life, it is about building up a community, a social network that will always acquire new insights and always innovate, while at the same time build culture and social capital.
At this point I would like to conclude remembering the wise words of one of my mentors, Mr. Shoichiro Honda, who created the Honda Motor Company. He once said: "Some dream to escape reality, others dream to create a new reality."
Graduates : go, dream and create that new reality.
Reflections on How to Get Out of The Poverty and Jobless Trap through a Bottom-Up Scenario
The market economy is not capable of delivering to poor people as persistent rates of poverty and malnutrition demonstrate. The market economy is not capable of creating jobs to everyone as persistent rates of unemployment, especially youth unemployment confirm. There is a need to imagine a business model that performs much better; one that generates value, circulates money in the local economy and aims to provide products and services with inputs, capital, energy and human resources that are locally available. The cases of the Blue Economy published on www.TheBlueEconomy.org analyze the real opportunities.
Since traditional solutions like the “trickle-down effect” have not succeeded in overcoming basic challenges, the local economic growth model must allow for a transformation of the community from poverty to middle class. We have witnessed how this has been achieved in regions of violence and deprivation over the years. The core approach is to cluster water and energy tied to sanitation and affordable housing; food and nutrition related to health and safety; culture and education which bring knowledge and wisdom accumulated over generations; and mobility and energy. All of this combined, like all other linkages, will create jobs and bring innovations to the emerging communities.
Case 108 added specific details on the design of the cluster related to housing: how a new model based on an open market and entrepreneurial business initiatives can change the quality of living in the future. There is a tremendous need for housing. There has been no delivery during the past few decades, but there is no need to blame politicians.
The business model chosen to deliver affordable housing is to blame for the failure to deliver. This is where The Blue Economy intends to demonstrate that other business models are possible. The creation of local double-digit growth economy imposes a meticulous identification of all opportunities. This leads to the design of a bottom-up scenario where the eradication of poverty and the growth of the economy depends on the speed at which new business models prevail as dominant on the market.
The Objectives of Economic Growth
The claim of the communist intellectuals in the 19th century, and today a belief shared by many, that “the rich get richer and poor people get poorer” seems now confirmed.
Professor Thomas Pikkety demonstrates in his much debated book, based on two centuries of statistics, that the rich who control capital are getting richer, especially in a time of crisis. Pikkety argues eloquently that as long as the rate of return on capital is higher than the rate of growth of the economy, the poor will get poorer. The capital used to be land and then it was mainly equipment to manufacture. Today it is merely cash that expects to earn money on money through aggressive hedge funds or speculation in cyberspace. Have we ever had anything more perverse than the notion that money makes money?
We know that split-second trading through supercomputers in stocks and currencies is making billions for those who have billions. We know that those who make billions, both individuals and corporations exploit the loopholes of tax laws and if they do pay taxes, it is never more than a few percent on their profits or wealth. Nearly all profitable corporations and the wealthy limit their involvement in the social economy to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes that reach out to a few individuals. The pictures in the annual CSR report can most likely capture almost all of those who benefited. We should ask the fundamental question of whether we undertake to have corporate social responsibility because we have made so much money, or if we make money because we successfully assumed our corporate social responsibilities. In addition, all CSR initiatives are construed as tax deductible; in other words the community pays.
How many corporations really turn CSR into a corporate strategy in line with their products and manufacturing? We know that under these circumstances it is impossible that the poor can ever get rich unless they cheat the system. The only option to get out of the poverty trap seems to be illegal and illicit trade, ranging from drugs to endangered species. Extremely high unemployment rates close the opportunity for upliftment through hard work. Strict immigration rules force the most courageous immigrants to seek illegal entry.
Of course the reaction from the establishment when it is confronted with these facts is to debate the results, question the data, cast doubt over the sources and ultimately do what all establishments have done throughout history when a new truth is haunting: discredit the author.
This is normal. When the facts are finally accepted, are no longer the subject of heated debates and have become the preferred subject of social conversations, those who formulated the harshest critique will pride themselves on claiming that it was their original idea anyway. There has seldom been such a strong and fundamental reaction against the confirmation that “the rich are getting richer”. The fiercest critique against the theorem proposed by Prof. Pikkety comes from the Anglo-Saxon economists who stand by the “trickle-down effect”, which pretends that as the rich get richer, money and wealth is slowly but steadily transferred to poor people.
This is only supported by anecdotes and no statistics prove this argument. One of the reasons that the trickle-down never occurs is because the rich and multinational corporations do not pay a reasonable tax rate. As we have learned over the past years, all leading enterprises excel in avoiding taxes, bringing the real rate to perhaps 2% of profits. While a hard working family will see up to 50% of their gross income evaporate in taxes and social security, large corporations get a license to distribute quasi tax free income to their shareholders.
The wealth generation over the past two centuries has offered opportunities to Europeans to join middle glass. The accumulation of wealth in North America is an exceptional opportunity: a nation that grew from 3 to 300 million inhabitants in less than two centuries and appropriated all land and resources as their own from the natives has the capacity to spread wealth and propagate the "American Dream". Even under these circumstances, the rich always got richer over two hundred years except during the Great Depression and the Second World War. (The rich get richer and the poor get poorer especially at the time of the latest financial crisis in 2007.)
It cannot be neglected that until recently, growth in the United States in absolute numbers of middle class citizens rightly fueled the notion that the “American Dream” is possible. Unfortunately, the latest statistics suggest that never before have the rich Americans become so much wealthier. Ample evidence shows that two income families living in megalopolises like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, cannot make ends meet or put their children through college. Data indicates that in 1964, 23% of all children in the USA lived in poverty. Fifty years later, despite 16 trillion dollars of investments in poverty alleviation in the wealthiest nation of the world, 22% of all children in America still live in poverty3. Children living in poverty is only one parameter; the income gap between the US' richest and poorest metropolitan region has reached the widest on record in 2014.4 What happened to the American Dream?
The hard absolute numbers dampen the positive impression created by relative data. Statistics show that whatever argument anyone wishes to prove, sometimes you use absolute numbers and sometimes you use percentages and reality can be presented to suit either way. However, when it comes to poverty there is only one number that counts in our assessments: the absolute. It seems that efforts were directed to reduce the pain and discomfort of poor people by providing aid. While that is appreciated, some argue that this is the very reason for this persistent poverty trap: aid needs to be transformed into empowerment5. The hard reality is that aid programmes managed by governments, corporations and foundations have not been successful in securing access to the tools required to get out of that trap.
While poor people derive no benefit from the enduring low economic growth rates, they have lost wealth, jobs and income while investors have preserved their wealth and accumulated even more. Wealth funds will not release money under their control unless there is a high return on capital. Except for government bonds, no capital provider is satisfied with an annual return under 10 percent. Business plans that do not provide a minimum of 20 or 30 percent return on investments (ROI) are not considered. It is impossible to expect that even rapidly expanding emerging economies will enjoy a double-digit growth rate higher than the rate of return on capital. Now that the numbers are on the table and that the rich get richer, what do we do next beyond debating the facts any further? (Do you make money and then contribute to society; or do you make money because you contributed to the development of society?)
When I read r > g (r is the rate of return on capital, g is the growth rate of the economy) the question that should immediately be raised is how this simple equation could be inverted to generate the opposite: r < g. (How to evolve from r > g to r < g ?)
It is impossible to ignore the fact that poverty is spreading in absolute numbers. Even worse than poverty, youth unemployment is on the rise across the globe. This parameter is hitting alarming rates and indicates that the next generation has a limited opportunity to earn a minimum wage required to take care of a family. This means that poverty is not only on the rise, but it is likely to stay. Jobless youth is not limited to thedeveloping world. Countries like Spain, Italy and Greece have more than 50% of their most dynamic members of society left idle. Palestine is in a stranglehold that puts 98% of all the young people under the age of 26 out of a job. It is an unacceptable waste of human resources when an increasing number of trained and eager youth members are told that their willingness to work, their skills and passion are not needed. Governments accept this hardship and hide behind the need to pursue austerity while pursuing the impossible task to balance the budget. Corporations and the wealthy claim that the growth rate is too low and that consumption needs to pick up first before they can fund initiatives that carry a low risk and a high rate of return.
We need to ask ourselves how much more patience we are expecting from poor people? A mother whose children are going to bed hungry every night and a father who sees his teenage sons making rockets to shoot across an illegal fence cannot be satisfied with a promise that all will improve within a few decades, when corrupt governments have finally been removed and when free trade agreements have finally been agreed upon to provide access to cheap goods worldwide. Instead of embracing globalization, a system that has not succeeded in responding to the needs of all, the only option seems to empower poor people to care for themselves and design solutions with what they have. This requires a redesign of the business models that are able to respond to the basic needs, especially of poor people, while offering a reasonable return to investors. Many traditional economists consider this impossible. The Blue Economy demonstrates with one case after the other, that this approach does offer the chance to grow the economy from the bottom up.
Models to Empower the Bottom of the Pyramid
When there is rampant poverty and billions of unmet basic needs for water; food and nutrition; housing and community; health and healthcare; energy; waste management and mobility; education and culture; how is it possible that some claim there is no demand? How could free world trade ever ensure healthcare for newborns when the nation standing behind free trade has a hard core of politicians who reject any form of health insurance for the poor?
The typical response is that there is demand but no money. Prof. C. K. Prahalad and Stuart Hart demonstrated in their article that was first published in 2004, how 3 billion people who survive on $2.50 per day represent a staggering 2.7 trillion dollars in cash each year. The bottom of the pyramid does represent a market ready to be integrated into formal economy. How do we tap into this vast purchasing power with traditional business models and finance that has high expectations for its minimum rates of return? It is not easy for a traditional corporation to imagine how to transform themselves.
For example, Unilever was inspired by the “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” and put shampoo into small affordable sachets instead of the large bottle that is beyond the means of poor people. These micro-portions of shampoo are sold through network marketing and tiny neighbourhood stores. These initiatives do not empower poor people, nor do they provide access to quality products at competitive prices. On the contrary, the incursions into these emerging markets drain money out of these marginalized communities that have never used synthetic shampoos with artificial coloring and odors, in addition to polluting their scarce water sources. This shampoo rather fuels the enterprise’s drive to ever higher economic scales and better margins.
The strategy is to build up consumer acceptance and brand recognition so that the local distributor can soon be approached for selling more from the same vendor, or be replaced by large chains of distribution.
The Need to Change The Business Model
Over the past 20 years, I have been looking for better models than the best we have been able to imagine to date. This is not another critique but rather a search for the better. We can lift poor people out of poverty and reverse the trend of “the rich getting richer” by changing the business model beyond tweaking the present one. We need to design something completely new. It is surprising how few people are aware that inclusive growth in a sustainable society requires a dramatically better performance at all levels of the business model, not just the technology. This stronger performance is also within reach. However, so few are prepared to question the prevailing business models that aim to cut costs and few question the drive towards free trade and globalization, which is myopically considered to be the only opportunity to ensure growth and is therefore heralded by the traditional economist as the panacea for all socio-economic problems.
I am surprised that people still believe that “the free market” in general, the free flow of capital with investments in search of high rates of return, would turn the poverty trap around and one day resolve the unemployment challenge, while aid would soften the sharp corners, and scientific breakthroughs like nanotechnologies, genetic manipulation and smart grids will do magic that the market could never achieve. We have to realize that whatever we attempted with the best of our intentions is not making a fundamental difference for the three billion people living in poverty and the one billion living in complete misery without dignity. Worse still, we seem prepared to accept poverty as a fact of life. Instead, we should design, create and implement competitive business models that are capable of responding to the basic needs of all through a smart-growth strategy that we call “Blue Growth” and others call “Inclusive Growth”. If you do not like the colour or the adjective, then change the name and just focus on implementing new business models. (We need to recover leadership at the entrepreneurial level. We need a dramatically better performing business model.)
We need to place our primary focus on the business model and aim to recover the leadership at the entrepreneurial level. Macro-economic trends are the amalgamation of decisions taken and initiatives undertaken at the micro-economic level. So instead of attempting to mainly guide the world from the cockpit of a plane influencing interest rates, tax policies, currency exchanges and trade, while unilaterally deciding to flood the market with additional cash through a technique known as quantitative easing, we need to turn the economy around on the ground, starting where the needs are most urgent in places like the shanty towns in Asia, the townships in Africa, favelas in Latin America, and the unemployed everywhere. Let us call these the “Corridors of Growth”. How can we create and implement an inclusive growth strategy where not only basic needs are met, but where benefits are derived from integrating poor people and unemployed youth into the economy and a caring society, while also creating wealth for the most needy?
The Present Economic System: Incapable of Delivering to Poor People
It is critical to look at the reality today: the market economy is not capable of delivering to poor people. If the market is not capable, it is because the present business models are not capable. The result of the incapacity to deliver is that poverty and unemployment are the rule and must be accepted; that is hard to accept. The key economic players have adopted the logic of the economies of scale, searching for ever lower marginal costs while balancing quality with price to stimulate sales and obtaining higher profits, thus offering a better return on capital. Since the top priority is to always offer higher returns and lower costs, the economic system has turned into a harsh one where laying off people for the sake of productivity is the norm.
In order to create ever higher economies of scale for standardized products, there is a need to eliminate trade barriers. Free trade has been the name of the game, providing for free movement of goods, services and capital. At the same time, there is no free movement of people. Boundaries have never been more difficult to cross and issuing a visa has turned into a business of its own. When goods, services and capital are expected to move freely across boundaries, then the challenge is to remunerate people sufficiently within that “globalized” economy, so that they can overcome their poverty trap and lose the desire to emigrate at whatever cost. Those who see no exit, knowing that their parents and grandparents did not find any either, will find an exit as refugees in high-risk emigrations, violence, drugs, fundamentalism and terrorism.
The globalized economy claims to balance demand and supply through setting a market price. The modern economy has subjected everything to “a price setting” including something as necessary for life as water. This resource used to be a commons that was provided for free by nature and society; now it carries a price. Thus there will always be millions of people who will never be able to access basic goods and services. If we agree that the global model of product and service delivery is incapable of reaching poor people (otherwise they would not be poor and living in misery), then we need to ensure that people in those “corridors of poverty” can respond to their own needs with what they have. This is not in defiance of the globalized economy, but it is rather a response to the incapacity of the present globalized economy to be inclusive. If this delivery process fails by design, the only option we have is to change the model and implement a market economy that performs better.
(Since the market economy is not capable of delivering to poor people, poverty and unemployment are the rule.) The immediate reaction to this straightforward conclusion is that “this is not possible”. The explanation is that if this were possible, then it would have been done a long time ago and would have been scaled up to reach everyone. However, if new business models are fundamentally different, then what was ever practiced before? It is therefore unlikely to have a global acceptance at first sight. It took the free trade economists Adam Smith, the author of “The Wealth of Nations”7, and David Ricardo, the inspiration for the theory of comparative advantages8, over a century to see their theory prevail as a dominant economic logic. Neither of these two economists had access to statistics or empirical data. Why is it now necessary to deliver proof of concept at a worldwide scale immediately? This is why The Blue Economy is committed to building up microeconomic case studies before we derive macro-economic conclusions.
Respond to Basic Needs and Circulate Cash Locally
Business models that respond to people’s basic needs with what is locally available could improve livelihoods. However, the money earned cannot be drained out of the community, as is the case now. Rather, the hard-earned funds should continue to circulate within the communities. If people have earned one hundred dollars, then this cash is used to alleviate their most urgent needs . The money must be spent locally and the most very basic needs should b e sourced locally as well; this creates a catalytic effect in the local growth cycle.
The Double Digit Growth Model:
(1) Respond to basic needs
(2) With local products and services, and
(3) Circulate the cash in the local economy
As more money circulates faster, the locally produced portfolio of products and services diversify further so that added money moves faster and more is kept in the local community as capital. This is a possible double-digit growth model. If the money is not circulating within, then cash brought back from work will flow out of the community, in turn stunting growth.
Of course, one wonders how much human resources, capital, materials and energy are locally available to ensure these transformations can be pursued at a rapid rate. Will this proposed double-digit growth lead to shortages, price increases and even imports? Of course there are limitations and there will be challenges, but the present model of standardization and globalization based on an unending drive to cut costs keeps poor people poor since all of their cash spent on basic consumption is flowing out of the community. Do we realize that in South Africa, 34% of the purchasing power of poor people who survive on less than $2,500 dollars per year is reserved for food; those who survive on $600 per year spend 47% on food; and whatever is eaten is supplied from outside of the community?
While many questions arise, the main purpose of The Blue Economy is to develop this inclusive growth concept in more detail and apply it to the creation of new communities in an increasingly urbanized world. We therefore need to present the conceptual development of a real development project in detail, offering insights on how the intention can be converted into a reality. While each of the programmes and initiatives mentioned have been implemented somewhere in the world, the scale of the investment and the magnitude of impact is ready for a large-scale implementation.
The dozens of cases that are published on www.TheBlueEconomy.org offer a glimpse of the science, the entrepreneurs and the patience that enabled us to implement hundreds of ideas into business realities around the globe. It is an honor and a privilege to have gotten this chance to play a role. The question is now, how can we speed up the process and strengthen its impact.
THE DESIGN OF THE BOTTOM-UP SCENARIO
That is why we undertake the "Blue Economy 2.0". Our goal is to steer society towards sustainability, while enhancing the capacity to respond to basic needs with locally available resources. In 2005 the ZERI Foundation initiated a research program in cooperation with the Biomimicry Institute entitled "Nature's 100 Best". Inspired by pragmatic solutions developed by thousands of species, we opened the quest to identify which technology, based on which research demonstrates a pathway towards sustainability. Janine Benyus and her team studied the details of the science behind the individual species which became the basis of the acclaimed website "AskNature.org" with thousands of academic papers. Gunter Pauli and the ZERI teams focused on the ecosystems instead of finding out the scientific details of isolated species and derived from it new business models. The two organizations parted, and ZERI maintained a strong focus on entrepreneurship, innovations, job generation and meeting basic needs with available resources. This focus offered fresh insights in economic development known as "The Blue Economy", a Report to the Club of Rome that was first presented in Amsterdam in November 2009. This report has been translated in +30 languages.
How the Quest is organized
The ZERI network of organizations, known as the "Think Tanks" and the emerging Blue Economy network recognized as the "Do Tank" tracked the original one hundred cases. Through an intensive program of monitoring emerging science and businesses, dialogues with academia and practitioners, interactions amongst committed individuals and institutions from around the world as well as exchanges of experiences, the isolated technologies, the pioneering scientist and the daring entrepreneurs evolved from inspiring stand-alone cases into networks of academia and clusters of businesses. As these clusters of local economic growth were documented systematically, a transparent world of interconnected innovations and successful capital raising combined with smart adaptations to local conditions demonstrated that a new economy is emerging. These newly documented cluster cases are posted on www.TheBlueEconomy.org.
The Shift from Old to New Business Models
Growth in the economy has been elevated as the prime target of life, and attaining growth is equated with improvements in productivity and efficiency. The much heralded free trade and the elimination of tariff and non-tariff obstacles secure the unrestricted flow of product, energy and services (but not people!). The goal is to cut costs and reduce prices under the generally accepted theory that lower prices improve the buying power and increase the wealth of people. This model has certainly led to the creation of wealth, but it also has led to a persistent unemployment, especially amongst the young.
Furthermore, ample evidence has been gathered to demonstrates that "the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer". While this statement has been widely contested by academia and policy makers, the hard reality of the statistics indicate that while improvements in wealth creation can be pointed to billions cannot access basic services. Worse, the dominant economic growth model does not reach poor people in general and the young in particular.
The economic proposal of the Blue Economy suggests a different approach, which still pursues a growth strategy but starting with locally available resources and leveraging the buying power of people, especially those who survive on one dollar per day, as well as governments The quest for development evolves from improving productivity to reduce costs, to improve productivity by generating more value from existing materials, nutrients, and energy. Resource and energy efficiency leads to reduced costs. The driving force are the millions of minute expenses that respond to immediate basic needs. Locally produced water, food, health and housing requirements generate local jobs, increase revenues, decrease the need for transport and channels local purchasing power into the local economy.
The faster circulation of money, bypassing banks through local currencies or digital monies stored on cell phones speeds up the flow of money, triggering further economic growth. The capacity to deliver urgently needed products and services lifts people out of poverty while competing against global companies. Poverty and unemployment are a confirmation that the global economy does not reach that segment of society, and that there is no local economy to substitute that lack of primary, secondary and tertiary activities. So if we wish to eliminate the shanty towns, then we have to create the local economy, and redirect the existing one that drains all cash out of the community, to one that circulates money in the community and creates
New social capital
Changing the Framework
These new business models part ways with what is taught in business schools, and fundamentally differ from the economic growth models promoted by traditional economists. Indeed instead of a core business based on a core competence, these Blue Economy cases have multiple cash flows generated by cascading matter, nutrients and energy offering multiple benefits to society. Companies make money, because they respond to the basic needs in the communities, as opposed to companies that make money by selling their products and services irrespective of the importance and the value to society, and then contribute to society once they made a profit reserving a part of their profits. The focus is not on cutting costs, or economies of scale, rather it is on generating value using available resources. The result of this bottom-up approach is that there is less need to operate and compete on a global scale, and that the impact on society can be measured in the accumulation of social capital, food and water security, decrease of greenhouse gas emissions, the creation of jobs, while being competitive and building up resilience. One of the key parameters of success is the improvement of purchasing power, especially amongst poor people.
Celebrating Clusters of Innovations
An internal review by the "Think Tank and the Do Tank" came to the conclusion that it is timely to summarize the developments of the past 6 years. This led to the design of a program to write and publish the next 100 cluster cases of the Blue Economy. Instead of celebrating an individual with a unique science and a start-up, the Cases 101 to 200 tell the story of how it all started and who inspired each case, celebrates the researchers from the Think Tank who contributed to the strengthening of the science, and points to the groups of entrepreneurs who are converting this know-how and wisdom into growth companies that successfully raise money, employ staff and bring new products to the market. When the first seven cases were written and mapped on the globe, the green squares (science) and the blue dots (entrepreneur) quickly filled space on all continents.
We can highlight which initiatives are successful, and what makes them so different from the traditional development model.
Thousands of Researchers and Thousands of Start-ups
Now that the next 100 cases are in production, we can fast forward to the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 where more than a thousand researchers are identified by name, institution and subject of research, as well as thousands of companies that are pursuing this clustered approach. This map, which we call the bottoms-up steering of societies towards sustainability, demonstrates that the Blue Economy has moved from an interesting set of anecdotes to a visible trend, with common denominators. It is against this background and pioneering work that the ZERI network in cooperation with the Club of Rome, wishes to undertake the next step: deepen the clusters with more detailed information on the social impact, the technologies, the environment including biodiversity and ecosystem services, the job generation and the shift in skills, the educational transformation, the resource efficiency. We have to strengthen the participation and have reached out to transversal research organizations that could bridge this need.
From a broad wave to a deep understanding
The objective is that the briefing that ZERI supplies per cluster (101 and onwards) is expanded to perhaps 100 pages covering in detail the elements that are required to grasp in detail the opportunity to impact both the local realities in terms of livelihoods, as well as the global sustainability and resilience. This "deep dive" is only possible in cooperation with the leading research institutions which have signaled an interest to participate including The Club of Rome, Development Alternatives (India), Monterrey Institute of Technology (Mexico), Wuppertal Institute (Germany), Stockholm Resilience Center (Sweden), MISTRA (South Africa), and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (e.g. only).
From a detailed map to an interactive mathematical model
The findings will offer over a period of 2 years a detailed map, science data, business numbers, social and environmental statistics. This will then be translated into a mathematical model based on the well established systems dynamics that allows the charting of the impact of these clusters of small initiatives based on fundamental shifts in business models that steer societies towards sustainability. This model then asks the questions: what are the policy options for local and national governments, multilateral institutions, financial organizations, research networks in order to speed up the transformation that is emerging. It is expected that approximately 2 years will be required to fine-tune this model, permitting us to present it by the end of 2017, early 2018 "The Bottom-Up Scenario".
The Bottom-up Scenario
The Bottom-Up Scenario differs fundamentally from the traditional Club of Rome approach. Instead of working through macro-data at a global scale, we work through thousands of local facts, shifts in business models that are like embryos. However the hard facts, and the pragmatic measurement of impact, allows us to take a fresh approach to the world challenges standing on the pillars of science and entrepreneurship (risk). This would lead to a series of scenarios that provide the immediate opportunity to move from scientific discovery and policy measures, to applied research and the inspiration of entrepreneurs like it has happened with our coffee waste to mushrooms project which now accounts for at least 2,000 enterprises across the world.
The urgent transformation of the theory of economics and the science of business
Doing less bad - is not good
The onslaught of bad news about the environment, poverty, unemployment, human rights abuses and the inaction of policy makers combined with the business as usual approach by corporations leaves many concerned citizens baffled. The data before us are clear: climate change is advancing, there is no chance to absorb the hundreds of millions of unemployed youth while competitiveness of most of the nations around the world continuous to erode. The only solution economists imagine to all the problems and the wrongs is growth driven by more consumption for which citizens are expected to accumulate more debt.
There is a lot of time and effort spent on the analysis of all available information. While many desperately search for alternative solutions, there is not one, or a few that seem capable of reversing the negative trends. There is a blind belief in one solution: growth and those nations that lack growth should first pass through a period of austerity. Every expert approaches the bulk of information from her or his perspective framed in a clear silo, robbing the world of the knowledge that is required to create a vision indispensable to design a fresh and effective pathway forward. This article attempt to open our minds.
The lack of comprehensive knowledge of how economic and social systems operate leaves no space for the wisdom urgently needed to mobilize the best minds and the committed individuals to evolve from analyses of the unfolding dramas to a pragmatic portfolio of initiatives. In my view, too much effort is reserved to analyze the problems, to theorize solutions and fiercely debate these options as if the prevailing theory is considered a dogma. Hardly anyone focuses on the demonstration on the ground that it is possible to outcompete the present growth model by performing better - even according to their parameters of success.
A recent exchange with the Rt Hon Anders Wijkman, co-president of the Club of Rome and one of the thought leaders in policy design towards sustainability, it became clear that few people have realized that analysis and theory, concept development and case studies cannot make a dent in the present negative trends unless there is a fundamental shift in the business model. We should evolve from the logic of economies of scale and cost cutting towards a society that uses what it has, responds to basic needs of all first, and circulates the newly gained purchasing power in the local communities.
Blind Belief in Growth
While we can imagine many shifts and models, there is one factor that determines the corporate world's culture and modus vivendi: the focus on the core business and the unfettered belief in growth ad infinitum. Whatever is imagined, from tax policies, to international conventions, and new innovations to recycling programs will fail to steer society towards an environmental and socially competitive model unless we overhaul the business model itself. While I very much appreciate the efforts by many thought leaders like Walter Stahel, Michael Braungart and Ellen McPherson, and I believe in the best of their intentions and those of many others, their valuable proposals all remain trapped in the logic of the MBA: the Master of Business Administration.
The millions of students aspiring to a better financial reward thanks to their investment in an MBA diploma hardly realize that they are all learning the same business models that was once conceived at the world famous Harvard Business School. The MBA is as much a product of economies of scale and standardization than the industries they are supposed to manage in the future. Everything is translated into financial results, market share, economies of scale and ranking. This dominating model prescribes that you sell what you produce and that growth combined with market dominance will not only offer the best return on investment to the shareholders, it will even align performance through the management of rewards and bonuses. And if the company were faced with pollution scandals or social problems then the system will do its best to cut pollution and reduce the social injustice. We know that doing less bad simply is no good. Business needs to embrace the opportunities to do much better.
This prevailing business model that has guided the corporate world is framed by a simple logic: compete on the basis of price and quality. This core adagio has been translated into the theory and the practice of the economies of scale, with an unrelenting search for ever lower marginal costs through standardization, leading to a dramatic concentration of production with only a few market leaders determining the standards on the market. The obsession to cut costs, especially the reduction of labor input, has lead to a logic which confirms that merging companies that lay-off thousands of workers are immediately rewarded by the stock exchange with a higher stock valuation.
The sheer size of these mega-mergers leads companies to focus on their core business only building on their core competence eliminating all outside activity through outsourcing and a strict discipline known as supply chain management. Let there be no doubt: companies are on a permanent search for low cost and are continuously sacrificing quality in order to ensure growth through multiple consecutive sales. And if this strategy needs to be pursued through the design of service models, then there are the consultants to implement that part of the new strategy to generate more profit and a secure cash flow.
The logic of free trade enhanced the rapid globalization of fewer players through the adoption of this business model driven by lower costs. Amazing, people are prepared to buy 3 refrigerators over 25 years saving 30% on the first one and 50% on the third one, not realizing that over a generation lasting a quarter of a century double the amount of disposable income has been spent on imported cheaper goods than on the "good old local manufacturer" who produced white goods that lasted 25 years and would have offered ongoing opportunities for maintenance services, while dramatically improving resource efficiency and cutting back on the waste management.
The sales and marketing strategies have successfully blinded the customer with a lower price and the promise of the latest innovation, as well as the best energy efficiency not realizing that in the end of the day this strategy leads to the predictable collapse of local industries. Worse, the monies that used to circulate in the local economy are now channelled outside the community leading to a deceleration of local development, a loss of competitiveness and an increase of unemployment draining more purchasing power out of the community. This is where the notion of “under-developing nations” emerges.
The Urgent Shift
The core shift in the business model is to go beyond this relentless cost cutting drive and to embrace a business strategy that aims to generate more value with what is locally available. This fundamental shift requires companies to get out of the straight jacket to only focus on one product portfolio. This is a major challenge, since it is fundamentally different from what MBA’s have been brainwashed to believe is the pathway to success.
The upside is that this new business model offers opportunities to generate multiple revenues with resources that are within the immediate reach of enterprise and entrepreneur. The surprise is that when one generates several income streams from available resources then one can extract its business from the hard game of world market prices! Imagine, farmers and miners can look at the flashing numbers on their Bloomberg screen and relax: it is only an indication of one of their revenue streams and does not decide on life and death anymore.
How often are farmers or small scale producers booted out of the market by overseas competition that can beat the prices including transport, and that finds a ready partnership with local distribution that is indifferent about the generation of local purchasing power? What would the remedy be? It is quite obvious that if the workers' compensation is reduced to one dollar per day, that the European social security is subjected to a free fall into bankruptcy with the urgent call of all industrialists that the market should become more flexible. But even African and Latin American wages cannot match the dumping in salaries that is applied elsewhere in the world.
The call for “flexible labor markets” is a sublimation for a demand to cut labor costs and social security. The elaborate assessment of the competitiveness of nations is determined on the basis of the core business logic where the overall cost performance decides the position on the market. While this game is successfully played by less than one percent of the largest corporations in the world, the remaining 99 percent has hardly any chance of survival. As a result consumers are increasingly purchasing globally sources materials, nutrients and energy provided by a few players who control the capital. Europe seems to have accepted the inevitable demise of its social system and imagines solutions that are based on "more of the same", like the free trade agreement with the United States claiming to create a level playing field for 800 million consumers.
Use local resources first
The new business model which we have tested in over 100 sectors of the economy will generate not only more value locally, it also secures that more money will circulate locally. Better: it outcompetes the present globalized model in return on investment, cash flow, poverty alleviation, and the capacity to respond to the basic needs including jobs without the need for subsidies. Governments can now dedicate time and effort to ensure that there is a level playing field.
We cannot stress enough the difficulty to pursue a smart and inclusive growth strategy in any region or nation when cash is permanently drained out of the economy. When the primary and the secondary sectors are not capable of competing with the prices dictated by the international market, then the hard earned income leaves the local economy engendering an unemployment and economic contraction that has become characteristic of the majority of the Europe and Japan (and other nations). The only way to reverse the trend of high unemployment and the downward spiral of economic development is to ensure the generation of more value added with available resources creates more money that flows through local businesses. While this logic goes against the prevailing dogma of free trade at the macro-economic level, and ever lower costs at the micro-level, based on our experience on the ground, we see no other way to extract societies out of the poverty and unemployment trap.
Well there is another way, that is to dramatically reduce cost of labor, even to embrace social dumping and saddle the government with health care, unemployment compensation and pension costs which translates into an untenable increase of government debt, which is followed up by a long period of austerity in order to keep the tax burden that is already too high for a dwindling working population within limits. Let us not forget that global corporations do not pay taxes, and therefore the burden is squarely on the shoulders of the citizens only. Now if we accept that the increase of government expenditure, and the widening of the government deficit beyond the 3% of GDP are not options to embrace, then there is an urgent need to change the rules of the game because the present correction to the misguided spending has only one option: austerity.
Thus the first and foremost rule of the game that needs to be changed is the shift from "ever lower costs" to "ever higher generation of value" with what is locally available. The ZERI Foundation which is in reality a network of organizations throughout the world, has demonstrated through study and practice that this shift is not only viable, it can be implemented short term. We have seen the mobilization of €4 billion and the implementation of +100 projects that generated 3 million jobs and embraces this logic with such ease. The pursuit of value - and not the urge to cut costs - very quickly brings additional products and services to the local market which can also and quite easily outcompete the internationally traded merchandise. This puts the local economy into a growth spiral that goes beyond overconsumption of scarce resources. This is counter- intuitive, yet easy to explain.
China is the leading supplier of photovoltaic panels to the world. The cost per unit has dropped so low that it is within cents of competing with traditional sources of fossil fuels. However, an innovative technology from Sweden permits the combination of energy from the PV, with hot and cold water generated by the capillary pipes inside a sandwich of PV. This is a thicker panel that now is strong enough to be the roof, instead of being put on the roof provided that the base is heat resistant, ideally made from recycled heat resistant plastics offering more jobs since this substitutes aluminum. The cascading of benefits continues since now water is stored at high temperature, not only killing bacteria, but also storing energy, replacing the batteries that all too often make renewables uncompetitive. The break-even of local assembly is reached with only 200 units per month sold. The combination of all these benefits translates into a cost per kilowatt hour that is a fraction of solar. This is not a game of beating the Chinese PV makers on cost, it is winning the competitive game by generating so much more value! It is not surprise that Solarus won this year the innovation price for process industries in China!
The coffee case has been at the core of our work for the past 20 years. The recent developments amply demonstrate this internationally traded commodity has a tremendous growth potential that goes way beyond the cup of coffee. Both at the farm and in the city, coffee waste can be converted to a substrate for mushrooms. The spent substrate, the left-over after harvesting the mushrooms can be converted to animal feed, generating three revenues instead of one. Now the cost of protein (mushroom and animal feed) is lower than the cost of imported food and feed. Better, this generates local jobs and local income. Whereas this program has been dismissed as too little too late, we need to remind ourselves that the worldwide volume of coffee waste surpasses the 10 million tons, good for 10 million tons of mushrooms and 4 million tons of animal feed, all produced locally. And now new biochemical industries have emerged selling UV protection and odor control. If one could earn the same per ton a soy today, then the triple income stream adds another 14 billion dollars to the coffee economy, a cash that not only comes in, it is a cash that does not flow out of the local communities!
Any Change is Hard
Large corporations have great difficulty to embrace this multiple revenue model, incapable of explaining to the financial analysts on the stock exchange their shift from a core business to a multiple cash flow model beyond the established markets. This situation is exemplified by Nestlé’s response to the opportunity of mushroom farming. Indeed, the largest coffee processing company in the world, with an guesstimated 3 millions tons of waste, decided to recover energy from coffee waste, reducing its reliance on fossil fuel. Whereas the generation of power from waste figures prominently in its sustainability report outlining the performance of this food group to cut its carbon emissions, it inscribes itself into the traditional logic of cutting costs. This case would be celebrated in the traditional business logic. Waste that needed to be discarded at a cost now generates power and adds to the bottom line. This fits perfectly in the prevailing business model where the company demonstrates its social and environmental responsibility by “doing less bad”! Would it be possible to convert the strategy to one that is “doing more good”?
Imagine that Nestlé would have shifted from the "cost cutting" to the "value generation" model. The financial, social and ecological benefits from burning a few million tons of coffee waste would look very pale compared to the generation of healthy food at low cost (edible mushrooms offer a healthy nutrition), and the provision of feed for animals that now rely on the importation of soy from Brazil or the conversion of slaughterhouse waste. One does not need to be an experienced economist to quickly calculate the impact of mushrooms and feed on the local economy. The internal opposition to the proposal cites first that mushrooms are not one of Nestlé’s businesses. Second, we often hear in the grapevine that mushrooms are not part of our daily diet. Our response is that hamburgers and corn flakes were not part of the daily food intake either. However, the greatest obstacle the pervasive logic of the food and feed proposal is that Nestlé has determined it is not in the mushroom nor in the animal feed business. Therefore Nestlé will not pursue this chance to add a few billion dollars in turnover.
We realize that companies are not prepared to embrace this business model, and the millions of MBAs who leave the thousands of business schools around the world are all impregnated with the same logic streamlining competition with the search for cost cutting as the safe way to improve cash flow. This imposes a tight discipline on the supply chain enforcing strict adherence to the financial objectives outlined in budgets, reducing the number of suppliers and putting the screws on only price negotiation. These budgets determine the management's bonuses and so secure that everyone performs as is expected. Whatever insensitivity that may be perceived is then quickly overcome through a corporate social responsibility program that projects the company as a responsible citizen even when it just reneged on the opportunity to generate thousands of jobs and provide millions of tons of quality feed at local cost stimulating the local economy with readily available resources and helping to stamp hunger out of this world - not through genetic modification that puts the seeds in the hands of a few producers in the world - but rather by using readily available resources.
We need to shift from the present model to an inclusive growth model, and that can never be achieved through massive additional taxation on citizens nor by a forceful austerity program throwing thousands out of a job, cutting pension plans and reducing health care programs. Time has come to accept that the only way forward to change the way we do business. That will require more than one economist who is preaching to the converted, it requires a minimum winning coalition ready to demonstrate on the market that this new model can outcompete whatever has dominated the logic until today. After all, we are not against anyone or anything, we are in favor of much better.
La Economía Azul aplica el código abierto, mientras fomenta el espíritu empresarial positivo
Cuando tienes soluciones que llevarán la sociedad a la sostenibilidad, capaz de responder a las necesidades básicas de todos por agua, alimento, vivienda, cuidado de la salud y energía, ¿realmente querrías ser el dueño exclusivo y obtener beneficios principalmente para ti mismo? Cuando creas un concepto que aclara la lógica y la práctica de direccionar negocios y comunidades hacia la sostenibilidad, ¿realmente deseas restringir su uso mediante marcas, acuerdos de licencia y hasta modelos de franquicia, impidiendo así a otros implementar soluciones probadas a menos que los participantes te paguen una regalía? ¿Tiene algún sentido hacer dinero primero y principalmente para uno mismo antes de crear puestos de trabajo y valor en una comunidad? ¿No hemos aprendido que la promesa de hacer donaciones una vez el ego ha satisfecho sus necesidades egoístas crea dependencia, mientras que empoderar e invertir en la capacidades de las personas para avanzar en pos de su bienestar es el camino para erradicar la pobreza ?
En los últimos 20 años de trabajo, siempre hemos perseguido el concepto de código abierto con nuestro trabajo, y he compartido los modelos de negocio innovadores libremente. Esto no nos impide respetar las patentes individuales y los derechos de propiedad intelectual (PI) asociados con el trabajo duro y creativo. El respeto por la PI no significa que no pueda compartir los avances en el modelo de negocio diseñado en torno a clusters de innovación, creando múltiples ingresos que van más allá de la tecnología. Mientras que yo poco juego un papel en el desarrollo actual de las tecnologías, mi experiencia es generar dramáticamente mayores ingresos con los recursos disponibles a nivel local. A medida que el pastel se hace más grande, la distribución es más fácil y la participación de todos es positiva.
Muy a mi pesar, crecer el tamaño de la torta tiene un efecto secundario negativo que no puede ser ignorado: las grandes ideas en el campo de código abierto atraen la atención de gente que quiere considerarlas como una oportunidad exclusiva suya a pesar de que todo haya sido compartido con código abierto y sin restricciones. La descarga gratuita de ideas, experiencias y conocimientos hace que algunos individuos deseen un esquema exclusivo para hacer dinero. Y ya que nosotros rara vez queremos hablar de lo negativo, es oportuno abordar la manera de manejar esta situación desagradable sin caer de vuelta en lo negativo, ya que esta explotación ha surgido entre personas que pensamos eran protagonistas del código abierto.
Tomemos el caso de Chido Govera, quien aprendió a cultivar setas a la edad de 11. Gracias a una pequeña subvención, ella y algunas compañeras huérfanas fueron expuestas a la oportunidad de cambiar su situación de víctima por la de líder de la comunidad que sabe cómo proporcionar seguridad alimentaria y recuperar la dignidad. Aprendimos a nuestro pesar que estas huérfanas son abusadas rutinariamente. Sin embargo, en el momento en que ellas pudieron conseguir su seguridad alimentaria, el abuso simplemente no fue tolerado más. Chido obtuvo su libertad a través de la perseverancia y el trabajo duro con el apoyo de una amplia comunidad local e internacional que creía en ella. Ella exploró el mundo de las setas desde recuperar especies silvestres como recurso genético, hasta el cultivo de tejidos y técnicas de cultivo simplificadas, mientras lidiaba con su propio estrés post traumático agudo. Chido concluyó tras más de una década de exploración, que quería dedicar su vida a mejorar la difícil situación de los huérfanos en África, especialmente en su país de origen, Zimbabwe.
Chido tiene un destacado historial en aprender, compartir e inspirar. A través de los años, construyó un nombre genuino y fama por perseguir y hacer el bien, mientras superaba sus traumas personales. Ella trabajó con escuelas en la India, agricultores de café en Tanzania y Colombia, comunidades remotas de Ghana, mientras continuaba su desafío en aprender más acerca de las setas a través de cursos intensivos en China adaptados a su interés en los hongos medicinales. Chido quiere hacer el bien y obtener resultados sobre el terreno en el Norte como en el Sur. A través de sus programas prácticos de capacitación, Chido ha ahorrado cuidadosamente sus escasas ganancias que le dan la oportunidad de invertir en un sueño: crear un centro de formación para los huérfanos en Zimbabwe.
Ahora, ¿podrías imaginar que alguien quisiera apropiarse de esta rica experiencia de vida y de visión para el futuro a través de un trademark bajo la marca "Setas de Chido" y después convertir esta imagen en un modelo de franquicia sin el involucramiento detallado de Chido, para finalmente venderlo a los clientes con la promesa de que "un día" la comunidad de los pobres en alguna parte del Sur se beneficiará de una parte de los beneficios obtenidos con los ricos? Muy a nuestro pesar, este no es un caso hipotético, esto es una realidad. Mientras Chido (y muchos de nosotros) cree automáticamente en las buenas intenciones de todos y presupone automáticamente que quien se beneficia de su bondad sería corresponderle a ella siguiendo la misma línea, la dura realidad nos enseña que esto no es, por desgracia siempre el caso. Las excepciones confirman la regla.
Si bien estamos profundamente afectados por esta falta de continuidad en la cadena del bien, la pregunta que debemos plantear después de despertar a esta dura realidad es "¿cómo podemos evitar que los que disfrutaron del acceso de código abierto a Chido (y otros), no adhieran a la misma cultura ? ¿Cómo nos aseguramos de que los que se benefician sean igualmente generosos? Chido siempre estará encantada con propuestas de organizar estructura y disciplina para las decenas de peticiones que recibe para que comparta su conocimiento y llegar a públicos más amplios. Entonces Chido estará encantada de explorar mecanismos de cooperación para entrenar, compartir e incluso invertir sus propios recursos para crear plataformas de difusión del bien común para más personas.
Aquí es donde surge un dilema basado en las experiencias negativas: " ¿Confías en las personas que se involucran contigo para adoptar el código abierto y la cultura de compartir, o recoges esta relación desde el principio dentro de un marco jurídico estricto para proteger la forma de vida del código abierto? " Todos sentimos que el alboroto legal a partir de acuerdos de confidencialidad, acuerdos de exclusividad y licencias de marcas es contraproducente y socava el enfoque entusiasta donde a uno le gustaría creer que el "otro" entiende el espíritu y la cultura del enfoque de Chido.
Para nuestro pesar – y el de Chido no es el único caso - nos dimos cuenta con el tiempo (y demasiado tarde) que el único interés de los supuestos socios europeos era su nombre y fama. El objetivo final de estos socios era embarcarse en un negocio bajo el pretexto de una empresa social. La dura realidad es que su propuesta no era (ni es) para nada social. Cómo se siente uno cuando el núcleo de la empresa se reduce a cumplir una estrategia de marketing y un plan de financiación pre-determinado que se basa en la exclusividad bien reforzada a través de marcos legales como los contratos de franquicia. Aquí surge la primera dicotomía: Chido (y la Economía Azul) cree que la tecnología de base puede ser la misma (es decir, las setas de la granja en los desechos del café), sin embargo, el desarrollo del negocio debe adaptarse a las oportunidades locales y por lo tanto puede llevar a modelos de negocio totalmente diferentes, incluso en una misma ciudad. Por lo tanto, no se puede estandarizar nuestra estrategia de código abierto en un contrato de franquicia .
Cuando uno se da cuenta de que un enfoque personalizado está forzosamente estandarizado mediante la explotación de una historia apasionante como llegar a los huérfanos a través de una estrategia de comunicación superficial, cuando encima de eso, las decisiones de plataforma se realizan sin la participación de Chido mientras que una estrategia de fondo es adelantada por una dama que se posiciona a sí misma como emprendedora social local, entonces es obvio que Chido es explotada. Está claro que no hay otra opción para Chido que separarse de este equívoco. Cientos de amigos desde España, los Países Bajos hasta el Reino Unido fueron testigos de la pérdida de la ética en este negocio adoptado por unos pocos y se comprometieron a liberar a Chido de este corsé.
Situaciones como éstas son difíciles -especialmente para los que han creído en servir al bien común mientras generan ingresos personales. Ahora bien, esta situación se vuelve aún más difícil de tolerar, cuando quienes explotan a Chido han sido expuestos públicamente por Chido, y luego por una red de amigos y simpatizantes estrechamente tejida. Los autores no encuentran una forma más inteligente de reaccionar frente a la demanda para que detengan el mal uso del nombre y la fama que llevar cada persona a la corte lo que habla en contra de este tipo de esclavitud del siglo 21. Las frustraciones asociadas a la diatriba legal en contra de casi una docena de personas no pueden ser respondidas con más contrademandas legales en nombre de la defensa. Entonces, ¿cómo reaccionas? Podemos reformular esto: ¿cuánta justicia a través de tribunales buscas para este flagrante abuso? La clave, primero, es permanecer fiel a tu ética propia y segundo, aprender las lecciones asociadas con esta desafortunada experiencia.
Hay que evitar convertir el mal comportamiento del otro en mal comportamiento de uno mismo. Creo que no es necesario buscar la justicia por nosotros mismos, ya la justicia llegará. En lugar de tratar de tomar la iniciativa para responder a esta forma de agresión con otro tipo de agresión, vamos a centrarnos en hacer mayor bien. Considerando que este enfoque de no violencia se ha descartado por ingenuo, es importante que abrazamos y reiteramos nuestro conjunto valores cuando no apoyamos el ojo por ojo. Queremos garantizar que todas nuestras energías permanezcan bien enfocadas en lo positivo. Cuando aquellos que anteponen sus propios egos e intereses económicos por encima de los comunes, perdemos la energía positiva de unos pocos individuos que creíamos erróneamente con nosotros. Si además de la pérdida de unos pocos nos disponemos a canalizar lo mejor de nuestras energías combinadas en tornarnos también negativos, entonces el mundo es perdedor neto.
La comunidad de código abierto debe desplegar una respuesta a estos abusos permaneciendo ausente de toda forma de violencia (incluso legal) y debe canalizar toda la energía hacia la implementación rápida y amplia de más y mejores iniciativas. Aún más, el abuso de la confianza de unos pocos no puede ser respondida reteniendo la confianza de los nuevos interesados , ni disponiéndonos ante aquellos que demuestran un gran interés con estrictas documentaciones legal con el fin de evitar el tipo de abusos que acabamos de sufrir. No podemos desviar los recursos financieros y humanos escasos hacia actividades no productivas, ni podemos bloquear el flujo positivo de la energía. Al demostrar exitosamente cómo cultivar hongos en el café puede ser de código abierto y al ampliar las referencias de unos pocos aquí y allá hacia cientos e incluso miles en todas partes, entonces cualquiera en el universo sentirá la energía positiva que se desprende del " Camino de Chido" y la Economía Azul.
A través de la canalización de todo esto hacia el lado positivo, con aplicaciones más amplias , es como el "otro" lado perderá el interés del universo. La atención se dirigirá únicamente hacia los mejores ejemplos de Chido y se sentirá atraída por su enfoque genuino y positivo a pesar de los abusos en su juventud y el abuso comercial ahora en sus años de adolescencia. La cultura negativa quedará expuesta y ese modelo de negocios en última instancia, fracasará. La dificultad de hoy se convertirá en la anécdota del mañana. Esta es la mejor manera de hacer justicia -con una sonrisa y sin pérdida de energía hacia el bien.
Traducción libre: Oscar Ayala A.
The Blue Economy applies open source while encouraging positive entrepreneurship
When you have solutions that will turn society sustainable, capable of responding to the basic needs of all for water, food, shelter, health care, and energy do you really want to be the exclusive owner, and derive profit first and foremost for yourself? When you create a concept that clarifies the logic and the practice of steering business and communities towards sustainability, do you really want to restrict the use through trademarks, license agreements and even a franchise model, thus prohibiting others from deploying proven solutions unless participants pay you a royalty? Does it make any sense to make money first and foremost for one self before creating jobs and value in a community? Have we not learned that the promise of donations after this self has satisfied its egotistic needs creates dependency, while empowerment and investment in the capacities of people to evolve beyond their best is the way to eradicate poverty?
Over the past 20 years of work, we have always pursued the concept of open source with our work, and have shared the innovative business models freely. This does not prevent us from respecting individual patents and intellectual property (IP) rights associated with hard and creative work. The respect for IP does not mean that I cannot share the breakthroughs in the business model designed around clusters of innovation, creating multiple revenues going beyond the technology. Whereas I seldom play a role in the actual development of technologies, my expertise is to generate dramatically more revenue with locally available resources. As the cake gets bigger, the sharing is easier and everyone's involvement is positive.
To my regret, growing the size of the cake has a negative side effect that cannot be ignored: great ideas in the realm of open source attract attention of people who want to consider this as their exclusive opportunity even though all was shared open source without restrictions. The free download of ideas, experiences and know-how causes a few individuals to desire an exclusive money making scheme. And, while we seldom like to talk about the negative, it is timely to address how to handle this unpleasant situation without tailspinning into the negative since this exploitation has popped up amongst people we thought were the protagonists of open source.
Let us take the case of Chido Govera who learned to farm mushrooms at the age of 11. Thanks to a small grant, she and a few fellow orphans were exposed to the opportunity to change their predicament from a victim to a community leader who knows how to provide food security and regain dignity. We learned to our dismay that these orphans are routinely abused. However, the moment they could provide for their food security, abuse was simply not tolerated anymore. Chido gained her freedom through perseverance and hard work with the support of a broad local and international community that believed in her. She explored the world of mushrooms from the recovery of wild species as a genetic resource, to tissue culture and simplified farming techniques, while dealing with her own acute post trauma stress. Chido concluded after more than a decade of exploration, that she wishes to dedicate her life to the plight of orphans in Africa, especially in her home country Zimbabwe.
Chido has a remarkable track record of learning, sharing and inspiring. Over the years, she construed a genuine name and fame for reaching out and doing good while overcoming personal traumas. She worked with schools in India, coffee farmers in Tanzania and Colombia, remote communities in Ghana while continuing her plight to learn more about mushrooms through intensive courses in China tailored to her interest in medicinal mushrooms. Chido wants to do good, and get results on the ground in the North and in the South. Through her hands-on training programs, Chido carefully saved her meagre earnings offering her the chance to invest in a dream: create a center for orphan training in Zimbabwe.
Now could you ever imagine that someone would like to appropriate this rich life experience and vision for the future through a trademark under the brand "Chido's Mushrooms", then convert this image into a franchise model without a detailed involvement of Chido, and ultimately sell it to customers with the promise that "one day" the community of the poor somewhere in the South will benefit from a fraction of the profits made with the rich? To our great regret, this is not a hypothetical case, this is a reality. Whereas Chido (and many of us) automatically believe in the good intentions of everyone, and automatically presuppose that whoever benefits from her goodness would reciprocate to her along the same lines, hard reality teaches us that this is unfortunately not always the case. Exceptions do make a rule.
While we are deeply affected by this failure to continue the chain of good, the question we need to raise after waking up to this harsh reality is "how can we avoid that those who enjoyed open source access to Chido (and others), would then not adhere to the same culture? How could we ensure that those who benefit will be equally generous? Chido will always be enchanted with a proposal to organize structure and discipline for the dozens of requests she receives to share her know-how she reaches a broader audience. Therefore Chido will be happy to explore cooperative schemes to train, share and even invest her own resources to create platforms for dissemination for the common good for more people.
Here is where a dilemma based on the negative experiences emerge: "Do you trust the people who engage with you to adopt the open source and sharing culture, or do you cast this relation from the beginning into a tight legal framework to protect the open source way of life?" We all sense that the legal hoolahoop starting with non-disclosure agreements, exclusivity arrangements and licensing of trademarks is counterproductive and undermines the enthusiastic approach where one would like to believe that the "other" understands the spirit and culture of Chido's approach.
To our regret - and Chido is not the only case - we realized over time (and too late) that the only interest of the supposed European partners was her name and fame. The ultimate goal of these partners was to embark on a business under the pretext of a social enterprise. The harsh reality was that their proposal was (and is) not social at all. How does one feel when the core of the business is reduced to abide a marketing strategy and a pre-determined financial plan that builds on exclusivity tightly enforced through legal frameworks like franchising contracts. Here emerges the first dichotomy: Chido (and the Blue Economy) believe that the core technology can be the same (i.e. farm mushrooms on coffee waste), however, the business deployment must adapt to the local opportunities and therefore can lead to totally different business models even in the same city. Thus, one cannot standardize our open source strategy in a franchise agreement.
When one realizes that a personalized approach is forcibly standardized by exploiting a passionate story of reaching out to orphans through a superficial communications strategy; when on top of that decisions in the platform are made without Chido's involvement while a slick strategy is pursued for one lady to position herself as the local social entrepreneur, then it is obvious that Chido is exploited. It is clear that there is no other option for Chido to separate herself from this misnomer. Hundreds of friends from Spain to the Netherlands and the UK witnessed the loss of ethics in this business venture embraced by a few and committed to liberate Chido from this corset.
Situations like these are hard - especially for those who believed to serve the common good, while generating personal revenue. Now this situation turns even harder to tolerate when those who exploit Chido are publicly exposed by Chido, and then by a closely knitted network of friends and supporters. The perpetrators find no smarter way to react against the demand to stop misusing name and fame than taking every person to court who speaks out against this 21st century type of slavery. The frustrations associated with the legal tirade against nearly a dozen people cannot be responded to by more legal counter-action in the name of defense. So how do you react? Can we rephrase this: how much justice through the courts do you seek for this blatant abuse? The key is first to stay true to your own ethics; and, second to learn the lessons associated with this unfortunate experience.
We must avoid turning bad behavior of the other into bad behavior by oneself. I believe that we do not need to seek justice ourselves, because justice will be done. Instead of trying to take the lead in responding to this form of aggression with another type of aggression, let us focus on doing more good. Whereas this approach of non- violence has been dismissed as naive, it is important that we embrace and reconfirm our set of ethics when we do not endorse an eye for an eye. We wish to ensure that all our energies remain clearly focussed on the positive. When those who put their own economic interests and egos above the commons we lose the positive energy of a few individuals we wrongly believed in. If on top of the loss of a few we were to channel the best of our combined energies into getting negative as well then the world is a net looser.
The open source community must deploy a response to these abuses by remaining absent from all forms of violence (even legal), and channel all energy towards the fast and broad implementation of more and better initiatives. More, the exploitation of trust by a few cannot be answered by withholding trust from new interested parties, nor descending on those who demonstrate a keen interest with strict legal documentation in order to avoid the type of abuse we have just suffered. We cannot divert scarce financial and human resources into non-productive activities, nor can we block the positive flow of energy. By successfully demonstrating how mushroom farming on coffee can be open source, and by expanding the references from a few here and there to hundreds and even thousands everywhere, then anyone in the universe will sense the positive energy that emerges from "Chido's Way" and the Blue Economy.
It is through the channelling of all this to the positive side with broader applications, that the "other" side will loose interest from the universe. Attention will be solely directed towards the best examples of Chido and will be attracted to her genuine and positive approach in spite of the abuse in her youth and the commercial abuse now in her adolescent years. The negative culture will become exposed and this business model will ultimately fail. The hardship of today, will become the anecdote of tomorrow. This is the best way justice is done - with a smile and without a loss of energy towards the good.
The aim of this blog is to present a fresh look at realities around us. Whereas I do not pretend to present the truth nor a definite position, I do wish to push the reader to think beyond the obvious. After all, time has come to dramatically improve the plight of millions, and that requires more than the predictable. Sometimes it forces us into spheres of discomfort.