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Sustainable food production

Last summer I met a guy from United Kingdom who was doing some volunteering work in Slovenia and I had a chance to interview him about his views on sustainability, agriculture and food. I knew he was a vegetarian and he talked a lot about his views, so I thought that it would be great to film him and do a video about this subject.

Now I have finally edited the footage from the interview, so you can watch the final video below. First I will just outline a few points he makes in the video:

  • meat and dairy industry is one of the biggest contributors to climate change
  • if you focus on plant-based diet from an environmental perspective, there is no reason to be a complete abolitionist – it is good enough if you reduce your consumption of animal products to a practical minimum
  • eating meat and raising farm animals was important for the development of humanity, but nowadays the environmental impact of farm animals is just too big
  • most people can be perfectly healthy on a vegan diet; some may possibly need some dietary supplements
  • another good source of animal protein that is much better for the environment than meat and dairy are insects (see also the additional video at the end about the booming American edible insect industry)

The interview:

“The Gateway Bug” – documentary film trailer:

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Shareconomy (Documentary)

A few days ago I stumbled upon an important project in the making: a feature documentary film about the sharing economy movement, titled “Shareconomy”. Two key people working on this film are co-directors-producers Greg Westhoff and Jillian Suleski.

This film will follow the rise of the sharing economy movement, the legal and regulatory issues and battles bubbling up across the United States and the world, as well as very personal stories of transformation through sharing. The film will feature thought leaders, CEOs, economists, legislators, sociologists, anthropologists, lawyers, sharing economy entrepreneurs, and more. They will scrutinize both the benefits and the drawbacks of the sharing economy.

The sharing economy (also called the peer-to-peer or collaborative economy) has a lot of potential to reduce resource consumption and thus hopefully represents a step towards a sustainable society.

Here you can watch a sample reel of already produced footage:

The film crew is currently more than 10 months into the production phase and have already conducted more than 50 interviews. Last month they have launched a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo in order to secure enough funds to continue with the production.

I believe that this topic warrants a thorough examination, so I donated a small amount of money to their crowdfunding effort myself, and I invite you to do the same (or at least share this post with your friends).

Indiegogo page: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/shareconomy

Official site: http://www.shareconomythemovie.com

Not Business As Usual (Documentary)

Screenshot of Not Business As Usual

A few days ago I found and watched a documentary film titled “Not Business As Usual” by Lawrence Le Lam and Institute B. The film features stories of local entrepreneurs who decided that they want their business to have a cause beyond profit. We are talking here about the concept of Triple bottom line, which adds social and environmental considerations to the traditional notion of profit.

Basically, this film is a testimony of a new movement among some entrepreneurs that can be described as a “conscious capitalism”. Only time will tell whether or not these modest beginnings of conscious capitalism will ever become part of the mainstream. However, it is clear that governments and non-profits are insufficient agents (although still necessary) for solving our social and environmental issues.

Any new idea is therefore welcome and may be part of the solution. Like the idea of benefit corporations (B corporations) – a corporate form designed specifically for entities that want to address social and environmental concerns, not just look for a maximum profit.

What do you think? Does conscious capitalism have any chance for success on a large scale? Watch this documentary and then discuss it in the comment section below.

Theory of Change

Archery

Recently, I engaged in a short discussion in a comment section of a blog post titled “For effective sustainability results, focus on systems and processes, not targets or goals.” (link) written by Simon Wild.

Now I want to share a short summary of that article and the subsequent discussion, and that’s going to lead us to another article titled “Theory of Change” by Aaron Swartz.

~

So, in his post, Simon Wild actually expands on the ideas put forward by James Clear (link), who wrote that having goals is not enough to achieve success. In his own words:

“I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress.”

What does Clear mean with “systems”? How are they different to goals? He explains:

“If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.”

Personally, I thought that this may be a cool play on words, but how deep of an insight is it? I was not entirely sold on this concept, so I wrote this comment on Simon Wild’s post:

“I think that goals are a helpful TOOL. But they are only helpful if we use them wisely. For example, if your major goal is to run a marathon, that will only be useful if you follow up with a lower level goals: to run 10 miles every other day, for example. James Clear calls that “Your system”, which is your training schedule for the month. Whatever. You can call it anything that rings true to you.

So, completely ignoring your goals and focusing only on your system actually means that you focus on the lowest level goals, on a moment by moment basis. For instance, if you are a professional basketball player, you don’t think about the game next week – instead, you stay focused on your practice that you are doing RIGHT NOW. You stay present. Your current goal is to practice free throws. So, you stay focused on shooting free throws.

If you do this, then your current happiness is not reduced.”

The last sentence above is referring to James Clear’s statement that goals reduce your current happiness. As I explained, that’s true only if you lose your presence and constantly ponder about the future. Simon Wild agreed with that, but then he continued:

“I guess what I was postulating was whether a long term goal in relation to sustainability, like zero carbon by 2030, is something that drives us to long term change? Or is creating systems of change that focus on the task that is needed today going to be more effective in the long run?”

This was my answer to him:

“As I see it, this is not an either-or option. Having a “zero carbon by 2030” goal is absolutely useless if we don’t follow up with lower level goals, or if you prefer James Clear’s terminology, with a system for realizing that goal. It’s always both: the goal, and the system.

System alone won’t be of much use either. “Creating systems of change that focus on the task that is needed today” may do some good, but will not go very far.

For example, the system that we set up may be some carbon tax law. If you are a car company and your cars produce more CO2 than a certain threshold, then your product gets additional tax. OK, great. The companies will either work to reduce CO2 footprint of their cars, or their cars will cost more, fewer people will buy them, and the effect will be similar.

But, if you don’t have a higher goal, then what do you do next? How do you convince people that this carbon tax is not the final destination, if you don’t even have a higher goal to point to? You would have to continually come up with newer and newer systems, and continually to gather support for their implementation. The real danger is, that you may stray off the path toward sustainability during that process.

You can’t hit a target that you don’t see. That’s why long term goals are important, too.


P.S.: Also read Aaron Swartz’s (R.I.P.) post titled “Theory of Change” on his blog”

I have since embraced the concept of “systems”, as I realized that they include not only your lower level goals, but the entire spectrum of things that you consciously do or set up in order to achieve your main goal. Your system as a runner is not only your training schedule for the month; part of your system is also your running buddy who trains with you and gives you additional motivation, or your portable music player that you use while running. Your system is not only your training schedule itself, but also the format in which you keep track of your training schedule (could be a calendar, a spreadsheet, a diary).

So, James Clear was onto something after all:

“Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process is what makes the difference.”

It’s always both: the goal, and the system.

~

Aaron Swartz. Photo: Fred Benenson/www.fredbenenson.com

Aaron Swartz. Photo: Fred Benenson/www.fredbenenson.com

Now we’re going to jump to the blog post written by Aaron Swartz, which I have already mentioned above. Its title is Theory of Change and it inspects two different ways in which you can tackle a problem.

The first way he calls a “theory of action”: you act forwards from where you are, in the direction of your goal. Swartz gives an example of a professional writer who thinks that the size of the U.S. defense budget should be decreased, so he does what he knows best: he writes a book on this subject.

The other strategy is a “theory of change”:

“A theory of change is the opposite of a theory of action — it works backwards from the goal, in concrete steps, to figure out what you can do to achieve it.”

So, if we want a decrease in the defense budget, we ask ourselves: how do we achieve that? The answer: a majority of the House of Representatives and of the Senate has to vote for it and then the President has to sign it.

Then we go one level lower; we ask ourselves: what motivates politicians to support something? What would motivate us, if we were politicians? Swartz gives us some suggestions:

“Well, on the one hand, there’s what you think is right. Then there’s what will help you get reelected. And finally there’s peer pressure and other sort of psychological motivations that get people to do things that don’t meet their own goals.”

Then we go another level lower and inspect all of these suggestions, one by one. We may come up with a strategy of how to persuade politicians that cutting the defense budget is the right thing for the country. Or we may organize a constituency in their districts that would demand cutting the defense budget.

I believe you now have an idea of where this is going: we continually go to lower and lower levels, until we reach something that we are capable to do without much trouble.

Then we do it. And since we’ve already devised the whole blueprint for change, the path toward our goal is straightforward (unless new obstacles arise).


If you are interested in more thoughts from Aaron Swartz on social change then also watch this video.

7 Things I Would do if I Won a Lottery

Photo: posvudusha.com

Photo: posvudusha.com

Recently, I brainstormed on the things I would do if I won a lottery. It’s extremely unlikely that this will ever happen, partially because I ceased buying lottery tickets, and mostly because with lottery “The odds are never in your favor”, if we paraphrase the slogan from The Hunger Games.

Still, I think it’s a valuable exercise to imagine what would you do if you had no financial limitations since it prompts you to look inside and discover what’s important to you and what your ideals are.

Keep in mind that the following are just the things that came out in a brainstorming session, not results of a thoughtful analysis.

Without further ado, here are the 7 things I would do if I won a lottery:

Day 1:

On the first day, I would set up a matching donations campaign for non-profit organizations that I like and find important. They include:

As you can see the list contains organizations that deal with subjects such as free and open-source software development, culture of sharing and collaboration, and privacy and whistleblowing issues.

I would match donations to these organizations up to a certain amount, let’s say 10% of what I had won. I believe that a majority of issues in the world could be greatly improved by developing tools and standards that support democracy and the freedom to create and share.

Privacy of communication and protection of whistleblowers are two of the pillars of democracy, because it’s very difficult to hold governments accountable without them.

Sharing of ideas in private and in public is crucial for solving our problems, so it’s important that we have good and easily accessible tools that can facilitate this.

Day 2:

I would set up and host a Diaspora node in my country, that is, I would hire tech-savvy computer guys to do that.

Diaspora is a nonprofit, user-owned, distributed social network based upon free software. It consists of many independently owned nodes (called “pods”) which interoperate to form the network.

I don’t hate commercial social networks like Facebook, but I think that we also need decentralized networks where we can share without the fear of censorship and surveillance.

Day 3:

The level of gratitude that you experience is a major predictor of how happy you will be. Most people in developed countries could use a little more awareness of the fact that they are doing pretty well, actually. That’s why I like things such as First World Problems meme and sites like GratitudeLog, where you can express what you are grateful for.

I would offer to invest some money in GratitudeLog (to improve their website) and I would promote the site everywhere I could.

First World Problem

Day 4:

On day four, I would set up a task force with the objective of promoting legalization of marijuana in my country.

There are three reasons for why I think pot should be legal for adults:

  1. it’s less harmful than alcohol and tobacco (source);
  2. it offers pain relief and appetite improvement for patients with chronic illness, and probably even has some medicinal qualities;
  3. it would bring additional tax revenue;

The war on marijuana (cannabis) is an example of a terribly wrong set of incentives in a society. By prohibiting the use of a relatively harmless substance that is in high demand we raised its price and created a highly profitable black market. So, in addition to wasting police resources on a pointless goal, we actually created an excellent source of income for drug cartels.

Cannabis less harmful than alcohol and tobacco

Rational scale to assess the harm of drugs (mean physical harm and mean dependence)

Day 5:

On this day, I would found a non-profit institute for sustainability studies. This would be a think tank that would research and promote everything related to sustainable development. The focus of study would be on the role social networks (online and in real life) could play in our transition toward a sustainable society.

Day 6:

I would commission a complete overhaul of my blog on health, wellness and personal development, and I would start paying authors for guest writing for my blog. I’m not the most productive writer ever, so it takes me a lot of time to write anything of quality.

Currently I’m working on Manifesto for sustainable living and you are welcome to check it out:)

Day 7:

Giving away so much money and setting up all these projects is a hard work. On day seven, I would just chill out on some awesome beach with my friends, listen to good music, and relax.