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sustainability

Exactly one month ago I casually noticed that Michel Bauwens was about to give a talk in Helsinki, an initiative of Pixelache and the University of Helsinki (along with the online journal Commons.fi  and Helsinki Timebank). It was worth attending, the conference was dense with information and examples of cooperation from all over the world: e.g. The Nutrient Dense Project, from Tasmania  or Wikispeed  (US), a collaborative process for car making.

While US prepare for presidential elections, in this small country like Finland today is municipal election day. Also the Pirate Party is present, with a high number of candidates. A good moment for talking about Peer-to-peer and the Commons.

Tasmania Sheffield

Bauwens is the founder of Foundation for P2P Alternatives: ex-entrepreneur, he has been developing a thought for “a new mode of civilization, where the core of decision-making should be located in civil society, and not in the market or in the State”. In the actual crisis of representative democracy there is space for new forms of horizontal egalitarism, on the model of computer networking, alternative to the classical hierarchical mode of organization. Renewing with the forms of cooperation of the past, of workers and peasants, a new economic thought can be developed.

According to Bauwens, the current system is based on a false idea of abundance of resources, supposed to be infinite, underlying the ideology of infinite growth. And on a false idea of scarcity, which makes us believe we always need to buy more. As we realize day by day and globally, sustainability is more and more necessary. The cost of this relentless expansion is the current stagnation.

New modes of production are being invented, such as peer production: “a for-benefit model” opposed to the “for-profit one, with a more positive impact on social happiness”. “A bottom-up mode of participative decision-making”, complementary to the democratic institutions but working for a “convergence between individual and collective interests”.

In a rapid and fascinating historical survey, Bauwens pointed out that the Roman Empire tried to get out of its crisis by re-localizing the productive resources. The emerging new system was fostered by the young Catholic Church, an open-source movement anti-litteram! Well before the Renaissance, the Templars in 12th century “moving money for pilgrims, invented the first bank accounts”.

While in capitalism the market relationship is based on unequality, in gift and/or exchange economy the relationship is more balanced, involving individuals voluntarily contributing to common projects. Even new currencies are being experimented, such as BitCoin  (valid to buy a Wikispeed car) and other alternative currencies

With open-source softwares such as Wikipedia, Linux and Arduino, shared property forms are increasing their weight (being in the US already 75% of the total). The underlying idea is universal availability, which implies the free circulation of knowledge. Under the pressure of the Internet, our world is becoming more and more controlled, copyright laws becoming more and more restrictive (the same fear which closes our frontiers?)

According to Bauwens and others, knowledge should be comprised among the Commons, that is a resource belonging to everyone. Intellectual property is a resource exactly as forests, atmosphere and ecosystems. New forms of licenses are already existing, such as General Public and Creative Commons Licenses.

“We need an entrepreneurial coalition to sustain the Commoners (…) Open business models go hand in hand with sustainable living”.

As it happened “with the Industrial Revolution, the arise of capitalism came along with a social change, the main system being in crisis. As at the end of the Roman Empire, when the pressure of Germanic tribes compelled to rethink a local strategy, in an emerging new system of values (Christianity); farmers were expelled by their lands, there were massive exodus: then peer-to-peer activities permitted to survive”.

Nowadays countries as Brazil succeed thanks to “a new way of thinking, solidarity economy”: Lula, as a ministry of Culture, encouraged open logistics projects, e.g. small coffees in the favelas with music, cinema and so on. Open research and crowdfunding make these experiences grow.

Bauwens wonders what the future political impact of this all will be: if sub-cultures need politics to defend themselves, a young generation of social entrepreneurs is emerging, “turning capitalism upside-down for social goals”. An ex. is the French Fair Trade Electronic, processes which imply “a direct intervention in the productive system”. As in the cases of the Greek potato movement, or the musical network in North-Eastern Brazil, its poorest state, with its internal currency.

With the end of welfare state and the subsequent devastation of civil society, good public infrastructure are needed; an ethical market place may be an answer to the decomposition of society, as capitalism was an answer to three centuries of religion civil wars.

We need to shift from the idea of scarcity to that of balance, optimize the resources, as in eco-villages or car-sharing agreements.

Nowadays it´s evident that “national States are uncapable to deal with the problems, a global orientation is needed, to p2p energy and technology”. We need to “manage the existing resources instead of fighting for scarce resources”, which may lead to “big social upreavals” in the near future. 50% of German energy is already produced cooperatively. With the support of the State the change may go double fast.

This process will lead to a transformation of the State in perspective, institutes for the Commons are needed, as Tommaso Fattori points out.

According to Bauwens, even “the invention of money has been a political choice, depending on a decision. In Middle Ages taxes did not depend on currencies. Money is design, not something given, and we can redesign it!

The challenge is to create new practices (as the Time Bank), de-monetized activities where people and nature come first. Creating an alternative circle to the current financial system.

If you are still curious, you can watch Bauwens´ talk here.

The OKFestival week closed on September 22nd with an inspiring side event, the Good Map Summit, a seminar organized by Cindy Kohtala and Helsinki Green Map at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. As the organizers put it: “Whether they are interactive location-based technologies or beautifully hand-drawn cartography that captures a place’s uniqueness, maps are everywhere“. Designers, geographers and thinkers gathered in Kiasma to discuss how to use technology to enhance local business, environmental quality and a new sense of community. A special guest was Wendy Brawer from Green Map System, a featured speaker at the OKFest as well.

Good Map summit Helsinki 22.9.2012

The first project presented was Green Riders, a platform which makes possible to freely share car rides. Founded in 2010 by Željko Bošković and his team, this online and mobile service helps people to easily find car rides, with the aim to reduce CO2 emissions. Free for private users, it also has a business edition for companies, which is increasing its activity. One would expect Finland to be one of the less motorized countries in Europe, but it´s not the case: the number of vehicles is rapidly increasing, in 2011 being almost 3 millions over a population of about 5.4 millions (car density per capita is anyway lower in the most inhabited areas of Finland, as this Europe motorisation rate map shows). Italy was the second country with most cars in 2010, after the US. It´s a poor consolation to see that it also has the highest amount of natural gas cars in Europe. France is doing even better than Finland; the less motorized European areas are between Northern Germany and Denmark and the lest ones in Eastern Europe. There is more and more need to track emssions, which in many countries is becoming also obligatory. Instruments are being developed, such as Global Reporting , or the company targeted Carbon Disclosure Project, and Green Riders might be of help as well.

Pekka Sarkola, geodata expert and entrepreneur, guest programme planner for Open Geodata at OKFest, talked about different kinds of socially useful online mapping: Blindsquare is a derivation of Foursquare, the site which helps you to locate services and exchange points in your neighbourhood. It allows people with sight handicap to locate for ex. cafés or post offices by maps they can hear. Other useful ideas are the Light Map,  showing the concentration or scarcity of artificial lightning. Or noise level maps, showing how noisy a place is.

Green Map discussion at Kiasma

But the most interesting platform is Open Street Map, a not-for-profit organization founded in 2005, with more than half a million volunteers worldwide. Using Google Map as a basis, OSM activists tag the maps with all sort of useful information. In emergency situations OSM proofed to be an important tool, locating in real time the collapsed buildings, but also schools, hospitals and so on. In OSM anybody may add his/her own information, add the maps attribute info tags (highway, cycleway, building, residential etc.) – “a democratic, but also an anarchical idea”, according to Pekka. Contrarily to what we may think, “there is a huge work left to do, there are many missing areas, streets, paths” still waiting to be mapped.

Pauliina Seppälä presented Cleaning Day, a citizen initiative “for friends of flea markets and recycling”. A worldwide event, it took place for the first time in Helsinki in May, and a second time on September 8th. The town´s streets, parks and yards filled in with people selling whatever unnecessary they had at home: the idea is to clean up your home and enhance the culture of re-use in the place of that of endless consumerism. Cleaning Day too would not be possible without a customized Google Map, where you can see (and add) the nearest available marketplaces. Second-hand culture is quite popular in Finland, in many Helsinki districts (as in Töölö or Kallio) you can find cozy shops with furniture, clothes etc.

Green Map local food icon

But the funniest moment of the day was a practical one, a walk in Kiasma area to find out where are the points of environmental interest: the task was to tag them on a mobile map, using the Green Map icons, a set of icons developed by Wendy Brawer and her team: an international platform founded in 1995, Green Map gathers people of local communities to make them more conscious about sustainable everyday choices. Map making is not limited to internet users but it is also encouraged as a manifold handicraft activity, by drawing, painting, sewing and so on. Our action too was carried out with non conventional means: we used blueberry organic colours to tag the places of green interest! Thanks to Elissa Eriksson, from Multicoloured Dreams, who provided the colours, and to some patient architects and designers, we cropped and painted the icons on the ground in front of the shops. An ephemereal idea, considering the autumn rains, but the results are still visible on this web map.

Icons making at Lasipalatsi, Helsinki

Part of the idea was also to tag outdoor places suitable for new artworks: the Multicoloured Dreams art group invites people to find their town´s places in need of a more coloured look. Whoever may become a street artist, previously contacting the City Architect for permission. Contributing to own town´s outlook is also a way of caring about it, hopefully diminishing the acts of vandalism and indifference (such as throwing litter on the street, an increasing problem in Helsinki).

As reported at OKFest Sustainability Stream, Green Map initiatives multiply in Europe: Four Bees Hive (4BsHive) is a transnational project involving four river cities, Bristol, Berlin, Budapest and Bistrita. It was made possible thanks to Grundtvig, an EU programme supporting non-vocational adult education. For a recapitulation of OKFest Sustainability Stream have a look here.