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‘Dear Humanity, We Have A Systems Problem’

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Reprinted from Common Dreams – Originally Published Thursday, April 02, 2015

‘Dear Humanity, We Have a Systems Problem’:  New Project Aims to Promote Deep Solutions, Radical Transformation

‘It’s time to talk about alternatives,’ says team of thinkers behind the Next System Project

“It’s time to talk about what’s next.”

“It is time for Americans to think boldly about … what it will take to move our country to a very different place, one where outcomes that are truly sustainable, equitable, and democratic are commonplace.”

Those are the words of academic and author Gar Alperovitz, founder of the Democracy Collaborative, who—alongside veteran environmentalist Gus Speth—this week launched a new initiative called the “Next Systems Project” which seeks to address the interrelated threats of financial inequality, planetary climate disruption, and money-saturated democracies by advocating for deep, heretofore radical transformations of the current systems that govern the world’s economies, energy systems, and political institutions.

As part of the launch, the Next Systems Project produced this video which features prominent progressive figures such as actor and activist Danny Glover, economist Juliet Schor, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben, labor rights activist Sarita Gupta, and others:

According to the project’s website, the effort is a response to a tangible and widespread “hunger for a new way forward” capable of addressing various social problems by injecting “the central idea of system change” into the public discourse. The goal of the project—described as an ambitious multi-year initiative—would be to formulate, refine, and publicize “comprehensive alternative political-economic system models” that would, in practice, prove that achieving “superior social, economic and ecological outcomes” is not just desirable, but possible.

“By defining issues systemically,” the project organizers explain, “we believe we can begin to move the political conversation beyond current limits with the aim of catalyzing a substantive debate about the need for a radically different system and how we might go about its construction. Despite the scale of the difficulties, a cautious and paradoxical optimism is warranted. There are real alternatives. Arising from the unforgiving logic of dead ends, the steadily building array of promising new proposals and alternative institutions and experiments, together with an explosion of ideas and new activism, offer a powerful basis for hope.”

The mission statement of the project—articulated in a short document titled It’s Time to Face the Depth of the Systemic Crisis We Confront (pdf)—has been endorsed by an impressive list of more than 350 contemporary journalists, activists, academics, and thought leaders from various disciplines who all agree  the current political and economic system is serving the interests of “corporate profits, the growth of GDP, and the projection of national power” while ignoring the needs and wellbeing of people, communities, ecosystems and the planet as a whole.

The statement addresses the dire crisis that now confronts humanity, but also marks the important element of optimism which undergirds the project. It reads, in part:

“The good news is that the inability of traditional politics and policies to address fundamental challenges has fueled an extraordinary amount of experimentation in communities across the United States—and around the world. It has also generated an increasing number of sophisticated and thoughtful proposals for transformative change. Together these developments suggest that it is possible to build a new and better America beyond the failed systems of the past and present. […]

It is time for Americans to think boldly about what is required to deal with the systemic difficulties facing the United States. It is time to explore genuine alternatives and new models—’the next system.’ It is time to debate what it will take to move our country to a very different place, one where outcomes that are truly sustainable, equitable, and democratic are commonplace.”

As part of the official launch, the team behind the project published a kick-off report—titled The New System Project: New Political-Economic Possibilities for the 21st Century (pdf)—which lays out the problems and the proposed set of solutions in more detail. Key goals of the project, as listed in the report, include:

  • To crack through the national media silence and to radically shift the national dialogue about the future away from narrow debates about policies that do not alter any significant decaying trend to awareness that what must be changed is the nature of the political-economic system itself.
  • To stimulate national debate about how best to conceive different possible models of a radically different system based on genuine democracy, equality, ecological sustainability, a peaceful global foreign policy, and a thorough-going culture of cooperative community based on non-violence and respect for differences of race, gender, and sexual preference.
  • To give publicity to the many “next system” models and approaches now being developed and refined in many parts of the nation and around the world.
  • To engage committed academics, on the one hand, and activist organizers and thinkers, on the other, in an ongoing process of close collaborative work and common development in furtherance of such work.
  • To help develop concrete “elements” that will likely be required to deal with the structural reorganization of any next system design— and, at the same time, to invest in and work with others to help nurture a rising generation of young scholars who can carry the work forward over the coming decades.

Next month, as part of the project’s public engagement strategy, key members and supporters—including Alperovitz and Speth—will participate in an online webinar in order to expand the conversation about these ideas with people across the country.

According to Alperovitz and Speth, bringing people together around these ideas is one of the key aspects of the new project. As they note in an essay published on Common Dreams, “If we can roll up our sleeves and get organized and serious about really tackling the system question, about building a new system of political economy, there are grounds for optimism that deep and far-reaching change is possible.”

Let the conversation begin.

Natural, Safe (and Probably Free) Allergy Relief

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With each passing minute I type this, I can feel my allergy symptoms disappearing. Luckily, my pollen allergies are mild, short-lived and only occur fairly early in Spring, but I know that’s not the case for everyone. I don’t know what causes my allergies but relief is an easy, tasty fix found in my garden or around my neighborhood.

Allergy relief is very big business. Whether it’s for pollen or animals, most people take a pharmaceutical antihistamine and/or steroid and/ decongestant to relieve their allergy symptoms. These drugs block the production of histamine, a chemical we produce for immune response and many other reasons. However when you have an allergic reaction to something, pollen or animal dander for example, your immune system considers the substance an invader and really cranks up fennelhistamine production, causing cellular irritation which manifests as sneezing, itching, runny eyes and other allergy type reactions. Antihistamines prevent this by not allowing histamines to irritate the cells. Using pharmaceutical antihistamines usually means dealing with side effects that may be as inconvenient as what created the desire to take them in the first place: drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, slow reaction time.

There’s really no reason for you to deal with them any longer. There are many herbs that people have used safely through history as natural antihistamines. Among the most powerful is fennel (left), often viewed as a garden weed, it contains a significant amount of the anti-oxidant quercitin. Eating a small amount of fennel leaves and/or stem completely eliminates my symptoms in maybe 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, I eat a little more without concern for side effects.

A friend of mine who was staying with me a couple of years ago suggested (insisted really) that I try some fennel when we realized that I was having a reaction to one of her cats. I was miserable, sneezing at a record pace and producing tears in volume, reddening my nose and eyes. I was skeptical but there was no harm in trying some fennel sprigs. And I’m glad I did because those leaves totally eliminated all my suffering within half an hour. Thanks Heather!

If you can’t find any fennel to pick, or aren’t confident about confirming it’s identity, you can buy some, but get it organic. Spread the word, your allergic friends and family will thank you.

News Story – The Economics of Happiness

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econhappyI spent this past weekend at The Economics of Happiness conference, recording talks, meeting some amazing people, and conducting and setting up future interviews. While it’s a huge challenge to condense many hours of content into a few minutes, I feel like this news story I produced for KBOO, provides a reasonable summation of the event. I have almost 10 hours of audio to produce and will begin loading it here soon, so check back regularly.

Here’s the intro read by the news anchor prior to playing my piece:

Portland hosted the fourth ‘Economics of Happiness’ conference this past weekend. Inspired by a film of the same name, both of which were produced by the International Society for Ecology and Culture, the conference shared many key aspects of global economic re-localization efforts. Andrew Geller was there and filed this report.

GMO Apples? Bite Me.

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granny smith applesThe apple has joined the long list of genetically engineered foods approved by the US Department of Agriculture. Last Friday, the USDA declared that the Arctic Apple, in Golden Delicious and Granny varieties, “doesn’t pose any harm to other plants or pests.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says they aren’t required to approve it, but will conduct a ‘voluntary review.’ There hasn’t been (and won’t be) any safety testing regarding human health.

Created by Okanogan Specialty Fruit, these apples won’t brown after being cut or bruised. Seemingly geared toward restaurants and institutional purchasers, this apple will give consumers no visible indication that it should no longer be eaten due to age. Imagine being served apples slices that were cut several weeks ago.

Using technology called RNA interference, these apples have extra copies of certain naturally occurring genes. These extra genes turn off the chemical compound that causes oxidation which is why apples turn brown. Unfortunately, that same chemical compound enables the apple tree to fend off pests, which means these apples will likely require heavier pesticide applications to remain viable. Some advancement huh?

According to a recent analysis of recent USDA data by the Pesticide Action Network, apples tested positive for 42 pesticides. They also top the Environmental Working Group’s list of (non-organic) foods most heavily contaminated with pesticide residues.

This new apple, like much of its GMO predecessors solves nothing regarding real food security, nutrition or safety issues and exists primarily to serve business interests, according to Katherine Paul, who works with the Organic Consumers Alliance. She wrote this piece on the issue last week. The apples are expected to be available in 2017.

Want to avoid GMOs? Use these resources and buy organic.

EPA Sued Over Nanotechnology Pesticides

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The Center for Food Safety (CFS), in conjunction with several other groups, filed a lawsuit last week against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the agency’s failure to regulate new nanomaterial pesticides. The lawsuit results from several years of EPA inaction on a 2008 legal petition demanding that they regulate these pesticides.  George Kimbrell, a senior attorney with CFS said “Six years ago we provided EPA a legal and scientific blue print to address to regulate these novel materials under its pesticide authority. The agency’s unlawful and irresponsible delay ends now.”

Nanotechnology involves manipulating materials at the atomic and molecular level. Nanomaterials are so small that they cannot be seen with an ordinary microscope — a strand of human hair is 50,000 to 80,000 nanometers wide. Beyond being really really small, nanomaterials often behave differently because of their size, in ways that are unpredictable compared to the same material/s produced at a larger scale.

These unknown properties increase the potential for biological interaction and toxicity. If nanomaterials enter the blood stream, they can move freely through all organs and tissues. As Jaydee Hason, CFS senior policy analyst puts it, “Nanomaterials are novel technologies that pose unique risks unlike anything we’ve seen before.”

Nano-silver is the most common nanomaterial in consumer products, often used for its antimicrobial properties. However, since they are intended to kill bacteria, the products qualify as pesticides , which the EPA recognizes. In their petition six years ago, CFS identified 260 nano-silver consumer products, a number that is now over 400. While a definitive number is hard to find since there are no labeling requirements for nano-scale products, The Project on Emerging Nanotechnology says there over 1600 consumer products using nanotechnology.

According to the EPA, “silver nanoparticles have been incorporated into many consumer products…dietary supplements, laundry detergents, body soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, disinfectant sprays, kitchen utensils, clothing and children’s toys.”  This despite a lack of knowledge regarding “release of silver nanoparticles” from these products, how and where they may travel once loose, and an inadequate understanding of “the physico-chemical properties of nanoscale silver [regarding] transport, transformation, exposure, and bioavailability of this element.”

CFS is representing itself, its sister nonprofit, the International Center for Technology Assessment, as well as, Beyond Pesticides, the Center for Environmental Health, Clean Production Action, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in the lawsuit.