As someone who has been at Greenpeace for a long time, I’ve been wondering lately what are we doing? What am I doing? What is this all adding up to? Are the victories we send all-staff email about really meaningful? It doesn’t always feel like it to me anymore. I know the organization is trying to decentralize but sometimes it’s hard to remember what that’s even about anymore.
In a meeting with Kumi, our international ED, this year he said that overall we aren’t winning. And the approach to tackle each issue one by one isn’t working. We need to take a step back and look at what’s behind the issues we work on. Look at consumption. Look at capitalism. Our monetary system. This was the first time I’ve really heard a leader at Greenpeace speak to this. This seemed like a really important shift. And excited too to hear Annie, our new US ED, echoing these themes.
So the title of this conference (and the list of speakers) got me – “Where do we go from here?” What are other people in our movement saying about where we’re going? And what exactly is the “commons”.
I think Greenpeace has been dancing around this. But we’ve lacked the vocabulary and context that ties it all together and tells you what the internet and the ocean have in common. A guiding principle that all staff understand and can use.
So what do they have in “common”?
It starts with the knowledge that everything is connected. And not in a trite way. But really. This is how biology, ecosystems and the world really works. When David Bollier talks about about how everything is connected, words like “equitable, humane, well being, open, relationships,” start getting used.
You start seeing how air, water, culture, soil, knowledge, the internet, human genome, mathematical formulas and seeds are all part of the commons. None of us as individuals (or corporations now defined as people) should have rights to patent or privatize these things – to say “mine” and exclude other people (or other life forms). It’s everything that we create and inherit together. We all have a part in it – and we all have responsibility to it.
This responsibility means no one gets to check out. And this is where citizenship comes in.
What happens when you “enclose” in the commons?
Vandana Shiva will tell you that when you patent a seed for example, you stop evolution. You interfere with the process that has brought about life for thousands of years. There’s a downside to this! You lose resiliency, you hamper natural intelligence.
Seeds must be kept “open source.” You see parallels with open source software. Open collaboration leads to expedited development. Things move freely and quickly. Things change – and that’s the nature of well, nature.
The collaborative commons
Jeremy Rifkin will tell you that the shift is already underway. Capitalism is giving birth to a new sharing economy built on the collaborative commons. Younger people don’t want to “own” things anymore. They want access to things. Things like cars, homes, music. Everyone is more connected than ever – 45% of the planet has access to the internet and China is about to release a $25 smart phone – so this is only growing.
(And no, Uber, is not the model of the sharing economy. Corporations like to jump on the sharing bandwagon and try and capitalize on it.)
With the maker movement and 3-D printing you see that distributed knowledge getting everyone in on production.
The last big stranglehold is on energy. Oil companies fighting the shift to distributed renewable energy. But as he kept saying – check out Germany! They’re showing us how it’s done.
How does this apply to my work?
Greenpeace must articulate and demonstrate a commitment to open source platforms.
We must manage these systems in the same distributed and collaborative ways that we expect our users to use them.
Everything must be scalable.
Everything must be accessible.
Winone LaDuke is a badass. She was on the board of GP when I started. It was great to hear from her and how a lot of indigenous knowledge bypassed the whole colonial, corporate-owning mentality that we’re now trying to get out from under.
I had high expectations for Van Jones and he exceeded everything I thought I was in for. He’d just come from Ferguson and gave a very emotional talk about that, about what it’s like when the Koch Brothers take you down, and about still having hope. Green jobs is still a good idea. Don’t let Fox news fool you.
The term “self organizing” kept getting used. And I like looking at the force that got particles in the universe to get together to form life – as a model. Two forces at play: entropy and self organizing. If it worked to form the universe – probably a concept we can learn from.
We started every session with a 5 minute meditation. The conference being at Omega – there was a lot of talk about change having to start from within. I really liked doing this. It seemed to shift the energy of myself and the whole room to have these mini meditation/ yoga sessions sprinkled throughout.
Here are more details on the conference: