Plex: 6 March 2024

Helping Donors Become More Powerful Givers; Tribal Broadband Update; A Business Narrative That Centers the Living World; Is Our World on Fire? Summer 1980–Lake Toba; Notre Dame Before the Fire; What Y2k Tells Us About Climate : A Can of Worms Unopened; Plex Conversation: Douglass Carmichael

Plex: 6 March 2024

The Biweekly Plex Dispatch is an inter-community newspaper published by Collective Sense Commons on first and third Wednesdays of each month. Price per issue: 1 USD, or your choice of amount (even zero).

In This Issue

  • Helping Donors Become More Powerful Givers (Kevin Jones)
  • Tribal Broadband Update (Todd Hoskins)
  • A Business Narrative That Centers the Living World (Gil Friend)
  • Is Our World on Fire? (Ken Homer)
  • Summer 1980–Lake Toba (Ken Homer)
  • Notre Dame Before the Fire (Ken Homer)
  • What Y2k Tells Us About Climate : A Can of Worms Unopened (Douglass Carmichael)
  • Plex Conversations (Peter Kaminski)
  • Douglass Carmichael with Peter Kaminski, 2023-12-18

charles blass

Helping Donors Become More Powerful Givers

by Kevin Jones (4 March 2024)

I’ve been asked to talk to the journeyman level farmers at the Organic Growers School tomorrow about our zero interest slow money loans to BIPOC farmers and biomedicinal farmers in our economic bioregion.

It’s a “giving to invest” fund on a new combined platform that lets people set up a sub account at a huge DAF (donor-advised fund) platform, impact assets, and then, using a local community development corp, invest out as low as $5k.

We are targeting local justice-focused nonprofits who have an existing donor base and who do good work. We can help their donors become more powerful givers in a way they feel and that keeps them engaged with the organization that got their philanthropic investment.

We want to do this model small and everywhere, teaching people how to give to invest, and discover that you have become a more powerful giver when the gift comes back, to be given again, without the nonprofit asking you for more money.

We want people to get the feeling of being effortlessly more powerful in their positive impact in the world. To get a boost they didn’t pay for. This is philanthropic investing designed as a luxury level experience for the donor.

Giving as a luxury good is the antithesis of investments that commodify people affected by your fund; relational funds are higher margin and people want to be around them more. They give an experience of connection when the money comes back, either to be kept and used for something special, or given out again to be recycled. These are dollars drenched in the social capital of reciprocity.

From our presentation:

The Watershed Fund is a zero interest loan fund
Our two pronged focus is
1. invest in BIPOC farmers across the state
2. invest in local biomedicinal producers, using Warren Wilson's
Guaranteed from Seed
propagation platform as one criteria for
investment; no wild harvested biomedicinals.
- The fund is a philanthropic investment fund; people give, get a tax
deduction, and then that gift is invested in the farmers' businesses.
When it is repaid the donor has become a more powerful giver.
Our two platform partners
We are working with $3.2 billion donor advised fund Impact Assets which has come out with a platform that lets people have a sub account, from which they can give to invest for as little as $250.
- We add on to that the capability of Eagle Market Streets Community Development Corporation, here in Buncombe County that lets a group of people who care about something, a group who already gives, to give as little as $5,000, for a group to give to invest.
- When the gift comes back, the giver has become a more powerful giver, with no additional effort and no more money contributed. When they give to invest in a farmer, the gift comes back to be given again.
To sum up
We have a platform that lets people give to invest for as little as $5,000. Those philanthropic investments can go to the Watershed Fund which invests in BIPOC farmers around the state and herb and plant medicine producers in the greater Asheville economic bioregion.
- Our ultimate goal is to see widespread adoption of give to invest,as a modality, while at the same time making local farmers more resilient through low cost capital.
- Thanks Kevindoylejones1@gmail. com

charles blass

Tribal Broadband Update

by Todd Hoskins

This weekend I will be driving southeast from Los Angeles for three hours for the 11th Tribal Broadband Bootcamp, 3-day immersive experiences to teach tribal leaders the fundamentals of building broadband networks. This bootcamp in the high desert of southern California will focus on fiber. We will be building a fiber ring on a ranch, shovels in hand. The bootcamps are one piece of a growing ecosystem aimed at increasing affordable internet access and developing sovereign networks for Native American tribes across the country.

The lack of broadband connectivity in tribal communities represents one of the starkest digital divides in the United States. According to the FCC, about half of households on tribal lands lack access to broadband as defined by minimum speed thresholds. But the data tells only part of the story - even where broadband exists, it is often unaffordable for tribes facing high poverty rates, and across many reservations they need electricity before they can think about connectivity. 

A Sea Change for Tribal Broadband

All of that is starting to change thanks to a new federal prioritization of digital equity for Native communities. The 2021 Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program provided over $1 billion for tribal broadband, and the 2022 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocated another $2 billion through the NTIA’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.

In total, upwards of $5 billion in broadband funding could soon flow to tribal lands across the country. It’s likely only half of what is needed to provide 100% access. But maximizing the impact of these dollars will require something that has been in short supply - native leadership and broadband expertise within the tribes themselves.

Developing that leadership pipeline has become the driving mission of the Tribal Resource Center (TRC), an organization I help steward under the leadership of Matt Rantanen, the tribal broadband warrior who has been building networks for nearly 20 years. The TRC emerged in 2021 as a hub for knowledge sharing, resource validation, and fostering connections across the 576 federally recognized tribes and partners that provide services.

Over the past two years, the TRC has published over 300 articles and videos on planning, funding, deploying and maintaining tribal broadband networks. A team of native liaisons has conducted outreach while a help desk fields inquiries across eight topic areas. We’ve hosted ten intensive bootcamps reaching over 500 individuals from more than 175 tribes.

Each bootcamp brings together participants, instructors, and partner organizations for hands-on learning and relationship building. Bootcamps exemplify that spirit of cross-pollination, with representatives from tribal nations, universities, non-profits, government agencies and research networks all coming together. There have been more than 500 participants in the bootcamps thus far.

Training a New Generation of Native Leaders

But as the flow of broadband funding accelerates, one critical need has risen to the forefront - developing the human capacity for tribes to lead their own network buildouts and ongoing operations. There is a growing consensus that a lack of experienced native technology leaders could become the biggest bottleneck hampering tribes from maximizing this generational opportunity.

To meet this challenge, the TRC is preparing to launch a new “third leg” alongside our existing resources and bootcamps - the Native-Led Tribal Broadband Academy. If fully funded, the multi-year Academy would provide in-depth technical and business training to 100 native leaders, each of whom could then mentor others within their tribes.

Through hands-on and virtual learning, the Academy aims to cultivate expertise across five key workforce domains: technical leadership, network maintenance, broadband business operations, field tech installation, and grant writing. We are in pitch mode, having written 10 grant applications and spoken with various philanthropists.

Broadband is no magic elixir, but it is an increasingly vital prerequisite for economic opportunity, civic engagement, and social connection in the 21st century. The generational injustice of tribal communities being left behind in the digital divide is finally being acknowledged and addressed. But translating new funding into actual broadband access and affordability will require cultivating leadership from within.

I feel immensely fortunate to be part of a growing network building those connections - between tribes, between resources, between partners and allies on this journey. Because it’s only by coming together that we can bridge the divide, not just with fiber cables but with human bonds of trust. Affordable broadband means more choices for native communities, and more sovereignty over their collective futures.

Tribal Broadband Bootcamp video


charles blass

A Business Narrative That Centers the Living World

by Gil Friend

Originally published at: Sustainability? Nah. What About a Business Narrative That Centers the Living World?

Andrew Winston recently offered a wonderful post on LinkedIn asking ChatGPT for alternatives to “the core narrative or story that we’re living today.” Here’s a snippet of what he wrote:

Here are the 1-sentence versions, but the longer ones in my post are fascinating and worth a read.

Story 1: In a relentless pursuit of success and wealth, society’s purpose became a singular focus on maximizing prosperity, with governments measuring success through GDP, companies prioritizing short-term profit, and the economy fixated on perpetual growth, leaving the natural world and the powerless relegated to the sidelines.

Story 2: Rooted in compassion, society redefined its purpose to prioritize people over profit, with governments emphasizing citizens’ well-being, companies adopting ethical practices, the economy aiming for inclusive growth, and individuals realizing that success transcended financial metrics, fostering a world where the interconnectedness of all life was valued and uplifted.

I know which one I want to live in...

Me too. But I felt that something was missing. So I offered “ChatGPT Prompt #3”: “Now write an alternative story that puts the well-being of the living world at the center and purpose of our lives and our institutions.”

Here’s what I got (the bolding is mine):

A New Narrative: Centering the Well-Being of the Living World

In a world where the well-being of the living world takes center stage, society undergoes a profound transformation. Our story begins in a community where every decision, every policy, and every institution is guided by a simple yet powerful question: “Does this enhance the well-being of all living beings?”

The economy, once a juggernaut of endless growth, shifts its focus to sustainable prosperity. Companies measure success not by their quarterly profits but by their contributions to environmental health, social equity, and human happiness. The concept of “shareholder value” expands to include the planet and its inhabitants as stakeholders.

Agriculture transforms into a symphony of sustainable practices. Farms mimic the complexity of natural ecosystems, interweaving a diverse array of crops and livestock that support each other and the surrounding wildlife. Pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are relics of the past, replaced by organic methods that enrich the soil and protect pollinators.

Urban planning takes inspiration from the wisdom of the wild. Cities are designed as living organisms, with green roofs, vertical gardens, and permeable surfaces that allow rainwater to nourish the earth. Wildlife corridors crisscross the urban landscape, enabling animals to move freely, and citizens to live in close communion with nature.

Education systems instill a deep reverence for the living world. Students learn not only about the intricacies of ecosystems but also about their personal and collective responsibility to protect and restore them. Environmental ethics become a cornerstone of the curriculum, guiding young minds to envision a future where humans and nature thrive together.

Healthcare acknowledges the inseparable link between human well-being and the health of the planet. Medical professionals recognize that clean air, pure water, and a rich biodiversity of life are fundamental to preventing disease and promoting longevity. Hospitals and clinics become advocates for environmental conservation, understanding that a healthy planet is the foundation of human health.

In this world, finance is reimagined to support sustainable and regenerative practices. Financial institutions prioritize investments that contribute to ecological health and social well-being. Green bonds and impact investing become mainstream, channeling capital towards projects that restore ecosystems, promote renewable energy, and build resilient communities.

Regulation plays a crucial role in safeguarding the living world. Governments enforce strict environmental standards, ensuring that industries operate within the Earth’s ecological limits. Laws require businesses to disclose their environmental footprint and to mitigate any negative impacts. Policies incentivize circular economy practices, reducing waste and promoting the reuse and recycling of materials.

In this alternative story, the well-being of the living world is the guiding light for all human endeavor. It is a world where every action is taken with consideration for its impact on the Earth and its inhabitants. It is a world where humans live not as conquerors of nature, but as humble participants in the great web of life, dedicated to nurturing the planet that sustains us all.

You see, my “theory of change” has long been based on inviting people into #theworldwewant, not on building dissatisfaction with the one we’ve got. Inviting us to imagine it. To tell ourselves stories about. To notice the sprouts emerging everywhere, against all odds. And to bring it into being.

Because, as Kenneth Boulding would remind us: “If it exists, it’s possible.”

And that existence begins in our imaginations. Sometimes with a little help from our friends.

Your turn!

Is Our World on Fire?

by Ken Homer (February 2024)

In talking about the movie Oppenheimer with a friend of mine he raised a rather frightening question. Even though the tests at Trinity didn’t ignite a firestorm that would engulf the whole planet, is the Earth’s atmosphere on fire now anyway? 

At one point in the movie, as well as in real life, Edward Teller calculated that there was a very good chance that the explosive power and incredible heat from an atomic bomb could ignite the Earth’s atmosphere. Teller’s math chops were second to and he was taken seriously. We all know that thankfully, the test at Trinity did not set the atmosphere on fire. Or did it?

Recent data shows alarming increases in planetary temperatures worldwide. A post in the journal, Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, published in 2019 estimates that the amount of heat that Earth’s oceans are absorbing is the equivalent of detonating five Hiroshima atomic bombs every second over the past 25 years.

A post in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in 2020 notes that as of February 2020, our climate has accumulated the equivalent of 2.8 billion (yes, billion with a b) Hiroshima bombs worth of heat since 1998. That is a staggering number to contemplate!

We know this increase in heat isn’t due to nuclear weapons. Our Sun has entered midlife and is steadily increasing its radiant output just at a time when humans have decided to build an economy based on the burning of fossil fuels, which we all know, increases the heat trapped by our atmosphere. Our planet is running a high fever and the consequences of that do not bode well for humans and other Earthly lifeforms.

The originator of the Gaia Hypothesis – that the Earth is a self-organizing, living planet – James Lovelock pointed out in his final book, Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence, that both organic and inorganic intelligence aka, Artificial Intelligence, share the same goal: keeping Earth/Gaia’s atmospheric temperature below 47ºC (116.6ºF). Should average temps go above that, it’s game over for life on Earth – including artificial intelligence. (Is that a reason to hope AI takes over?)

In 2023 we saw temperatures soar to 53.3ºC (127.7ºF) in Death Valley, 54ºC (129.0ºF) in Kuwait, 53.9ºC (129ºF) in Iraq, with numerous places in Europe and the USA experiencing record-breaking temperatures such as Phoenix, AZ which had multiple days where the temp didn’t dip below 32ºC (90ºF) even at night! All indications are that our atmosphere will continue to heat up – every second that passes adds the heat of five Hiroshima atomic bombs to our atmosphere – with more and more heat records being shattered with each passing year.

I was long of the opinion that even if humans were to be so foolish as to wipe ourselves out, that in a few hundred million years there would be another Cambrian-like explosion of life to reseed our world. But Lovelock disabused me of that notion. Note the following passage from Novacene:

“High temperatures make us vulnerable. We are currently in a warm period of the glacial cycle and if we now suffered a catastrophe – an asteroid strike or super-volcano eruption – that led to a failure to pump down carbon dioxide, we could be in mortal danger. The Earth's average temperature could rise to 47°C (116.6ºF) and, comparatively quickly, we would enter an irreversible phase leading to a Venus-like state. As the climatologist James Hansen vividly puts it, if we don't take care, we will find ourselves aboard the Venus Express.”

It is long past time for humanity to wake up and smell the charring of our world and to take action to keep our planet cool. Failure to do so will almost certainly lead not just to our own extinction but to the end of all the life in the Universe that we know of. The time grows short – it is much later than most government and corporate leaders are willing to acknowledge it to be.


charles blass

Summer 1980–Lake Toba

by Ken Homer (February 2024)

When I was a young man
I spent ten months traveling
In Southeast Asia and India and Nepal
I jokingly refer to that trip as my
Sex and drugs and rock and roll tour
To be completely honest
There was very little rock and roll

In those days Lake Toba
On the island of Sumatra
Was surrounded by rainforest
I’m not sure that’s true today

My lodgings were simple
A bamboo hut with thatched roof
Openings for windows with no panes
Mosquito netting over the bed
A thin mattress and pillow
A small table and a couple
Of hooks for clothes
At age 23 I could sleep
In such digs with no problem
The cost was about $5.00 a night
Which included egg fried rice for breakfast
I traveled light in those days
My backpack was only half full

Just after sunrise one morning
I set out for a long walk
Taking a trail just wide enough
For two people to pass each other so long
As they turned sideways when they met
The trail often dipped close
To the shore of the lake
Then wound inland a bit
Before returning to shore again

The sun was still low in the sky
And while warm and humid
The air temperature was pleasant

As was my habit at the time
I smoked a joint of some fine
Sumatran reefer as I walked along
It didn’t take long to feel its effects
I was soon tuned into the jungle
My footfalls nearly silent as I strode along

About an hour into my walk
I turned a corner and came
To a complete and sudden stop
To my utter shock and horror
No more six feet in front of me
Was the biggest reptile I’d ever seen

It was maybe two meters from nose to tail
Thick dark scales covered its back
With lighter markings along its underside
Its four heavily muscled legs were
Strangely reminiscent of human arms
Bent as they were at the “elbow”
Each “hand” had five long fingerlike claws

I had caught it by surprise
We gazed at each other
Measuring the frightfully short distance
That separated us
As I met its eye a line from Yeats
Flashed through my brain:
“A gaze as blank and pitiless as the Sun”
The pleasant buzz I’d been feeling
Evaporated into the tropical air
Replaced by instinctual fear
As if looking at Medusa I found myself
Completely unable to move

We stood and stared at each other
For what seemed slightly short of eternity
(It was probably less than five seconds)
It hissed at me and a forked tongue issued
Forth from its mouth that must’ve
Been at least a foot long
I think that tongue is what scared me most
This reptile was a primordial being
Utterly different from large land mammals
I felt I was confronting a dinosaur

During that short time the sounds
Of the rainforest faded from my ears
Replaced by a rushing of blood
The pounding of my heart was a roar
I had never been so close to a creature
That was so fearsome looking
And I have been face-to-face
With a bear in the Maine woods

While my brain was racing with all my
Neurons frantically working on a way out
Its brain had made a decision
Probably the same one my own brain
Would arrive at had I another
Moment to think: Run!

It moved with startling rapidity
I don’t know how it managed
To turn its long body around
In such a close space
But suddenly its arms and legs
Moved in graceful harmony with its
Powerful tail and it disappeared
From view in the blink of an eye

I was astounded at how fast it was
I was prepared to run away
I was in good shape having
Completed two marathons
In the previous year
And I figured I could outrun it
But no way would that have worked
Had it decided to charge at me

Later I realized that my camera was
Around my neck the entire time
But the thought of taking a pic
Never entered my mind

Fortunately with the help of Wikipedia
I was able to find an image
That will give you a sense
Of what I beheld on
The shores of Lake Toba that day

Image from Wikipedia: Kongkham6211, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Notre Dame Before the Fire

by Ken Homer (c. 2016)

What Y2k Tells Us About Climate : A Can of Worms Unopened

by Douglass Carmichael

Many people make connections between what they see as hysteria about climate change now paralleling hysteria about Y2K. There is a fundamental misperception here, the kind that is very hard to rectify. I worked in the White House in ’98 and ’99 with John Koskinen and visited many corporations and government offices and did workshops with the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. The issue was always what to expect from the date rollover and what to do. The message in ’98 was that we just did not know. We had examples of potential system failures from the inability to handle 4 digit years but no idea as to the distribution of problems. We know, much more about climate vulnerabilities than we did computer vulnerabilities in 1999.

But as awareness increased from reports from the field efforts increased, almost all behind the scenes. It early emerged that admitting to having a Y2K problem suggested to boards of directors that management had failed to do its job. The actual process of examining code accelerated. Companies like Fanny Mae built entire mirroring backup systems that cost millions of dollars. Submarines were basically taken apart. Many companies had for the first time a full accounting of the computer systems they had, and this led to systems mapping, simplifications and rationalizing, and upgrades. So much so that some of us were predicting a recession in 2000 based on the amount of money that was being spent on new equipment in ’98 and ’99. The treasurer of one New England state told me that they had spent their entire computer budget through 2002 on new equipment and consulting services in ’99. I was a daily participant observing these efforts and they were extreme around the world. I was able to join teams in Mexico and Greece where efforts were very sophisticated in assessing inventory and systems needs.

When the Y2K rollover occurred on January 1, there was little reported damage. I was aware of some failures that were not reported to senior management nor to the press, but for the most part, systems deemed vulnerable and rebuilt performed well. All of which suggests lots of really good efforts and great results. But there was nothing to report at the headline level. The culture among managers worldwide quickly emerged saying that it was a sign of weakness to have had a Y2K problem so narratives went to near zero.

The parallel now with Climate would be worth some serious time. What I see is that Y2K was internal to organizations so blame could be ascribed. Not true for climate change (except maybe in the energy companies). Moreover, Y2K had a goal–to fix the systems. There is, among thoughtful people, no goal of recovery to the previous state of the energy system. It is much worse with climate, but the underreporting is painfully similar. Part of the problem is that the work done was heroic and unappreciated. 


charles blass

Plex Conversations

by Peter Kaminski

I am continuing a practice of having one-on-one conversations with members of the Plex intercommunities, with the goal of helping us all know each other better, and to think better together.

I invite you to also have a conversation with another person, inside or outside of the Plex, and to share the best parts of that conversation with all of us. Send me an email at

Here is a conversation with Doug Carmichael.

Douglass Carmichael with Peter Kaminski, 2023-12-18

Thanks for speaking with me, Doug. What should we talk about?

Well, I guess a good place to start is what’s been on our mind a lot. For me, it’s in the post-COP28 period, where what we see is that nothing’s happening, except the amount of fossil fuel we’re using keeps going up.

To me, there’s the issue of fundamental logic and why people don’t follow it. So it’s obvious that we are going to keep burning more fossil fuels. The temperature is going to keep rising. The attempts to create efficiency or new ways of creating energy, instead of replacing fossil fuels, add on top of it. So the curve of use keeps rising and it’s the second derivative that’s going up. [“Second derivative going up” means that not only is use rising, but that the rate at which it is rising is speeding up.]

So there’s the obvious conclusion, which is, “Hey, we’re not going to make it.” And yet we live our lives as though the bus is not going off the edge. So I’m puzzled by that.

I’ve been trying to look at history and see how people in the past thought about difficult times. In the past, there was always the belief that there’d be tough times and then they would be over. We don’t have the luxury of that belief because the rising temperature could take out all the species. And of course, that would also take out our technical capacity. So the rebuilding is not an agenda that we can look forward to.

I find all this totally perplexing. And in particular, the emotional attitude to hold towards it. For instance, I’m having a good time talking with you. How can I be having a good time in the midst of all this? It’s really a puzzle.

So, one of the differences between now and anything historical is that it’s global and species-wide. In the past, people have gotten out of tough situations, but of course, there were civilizations that collapsed. So while all of humanity didn’t collapse, that civilization did.

Although from their point of view, the known world was collapsing. So it has more similarity to now than you might think. Their reaction should still be instructive.

What I’ve been thinking about, and maybe I’m going to jump right to the punchline of the interview, is that the state, the nation state, which is an entity bounded by borders and contains rules and regulations, seems to not have the leverage to change anything fundamental.

But if you look at history, civilizations make big moves like from feudalism to industrialization. Maybe we’re missing something by not looking at the civilizational level.

An example, when Princess Diana died in the car crash, the worldwide reaction of grief was intense and almost immediate. It was a real surprise to me. It was like everybody in the world was tied into her. I was in Greece at the time and the reaction was amazing.

So what that points to is that there is a current of culture and feeling that flows beneath the nation state or on top of the nation state. And it’s quite different in quality. Imagine the nation state as a glass of water. All the water is in the glass and none of it’s outside.

But with human civilization, it’s like everything around the glass is wet. And in that wetness, ideas and imaginations can flow in ways that are powerful. And maybe that’s where we need to look for leverage to change what we’re doing. It’s at the civilizational level. The nation state is too weak, too pathetic, too small to do the kinds of things that are needed.

So where is civilization? How do we touch it? How do we influence it?

That’s a good question. I mean, it might be that we don’t have it at the moment. Or it’s so fragmented. I mean, I think we live in a time that all our ideas are fragmented.

I’ve been playing with the metaphor of the sandcastle. When you take your hands and you shape a sandcastle, you’re pushing every grain of sand into being part of the form of the castle. But when it’s falling apart, all the form is lost and each grain of sand becomes part of the cascading falling.

Maybe that’s where we are, that we’re in a kind of falling and coming apart, which makes it very hard to connect people across the structures because they’re each in their own fall. I don’t know if that’s a good way of looking at it, but...

It makes sense to me. I think also as the sandcastle falls, you get subsidiary structures which maybe aren’t as pretty, but they’re a little bit more stable. And so you get subsequent restructuring. So I like that metaphor, the way you can kind of come back to some structure. Maybe then you can have a substrate for civilization, I guess.

You probably are playful enough that you’ve done things like put a drop of water in a cup of coffee and watch how it cascades down and it doesn’t go right to the bottom. It goes down a ways, and then it spreads out in a kind of explosion and continues down, and then spreads out again. That’s beautiful. Maybe that’s the kind of situation we’re in.

Yeah, that makes sense.

Another topic. Is our approach to solving problems inherently limited by our current thinking?

It’s a little bit like adding rungs up a ladder. When you do that, you’re building a structure up from the ground. That defines, in a way, a closed space of the current status of the ladder. Now, an alternative that I’ve been thinking about is that maybe building from the ground up is always limited, because it can never reach much beyond itself.

If you start from the other end and build from the top down, let’s say from God or some kind of equivalent nature, and we look down at the world, we see it as a whole. And our thinking has holistic implications in ways that the ladder can’t, because the ladder is always accruing upwards.

We’ve got to be smart about these metaphors and theories about thought and action.

So tell me more about building down from the top. How does that work?

Well, I think that the idea that the universe is made up of things which become parts of forms, which become parts of who, well, what’s up there? It’s my belief that you cannot do something like look at the coffee cup that’s on the table in front of you without attributing to it that it’s in the universe. It’s part of the act of perception. No machine can do that. But it might be the essential place to start is that humans are capable of experiencing universes. And that the solution to climate is at that level, not at the level of the techniques and the machines.

Yeah, that makes sense.

There’s a very interesting social historian, Pitirim Sorokin, who was head of sociology at Harvard for many years, who has written a book, “Society, Culture, and Personality,” where he’s basically saying that humanity goes through big shifts from seeing the world in material terms, and seeing the world in idea terms. And that these shifts are huge and involve the whole of humanity.

His text is pretty compelling. Not so much that he’s right, but that it’s a really interesting line of thought. And we don’t have much discipline in pursuing that. I’ve been reading a lot of political theory. We don’t know anything about political theory. We just don’t read it. And that’s going to cost us. I know there was no grammar for that thought.

“Society, Culture” is from the 1940s. Did somebody pick up from Sirokan?

A few, but not many. It didn’t fit the more mechanistic, atomistic tenor of the times, which is divide and conquer. We’re supposed to have grown up with our grandmothers saying, “Take the problem, divide it in parts, solve each part, and then put it back together again.” But when you divide it into parts, something gets lost. And so, we’re stuck with a bunch of social institutions that are related to silos, fragments, and there’s no hope. So, a half-completed thought. So, all of this, in my mind, is really related to what’s happening with climate change.


And the logic. For example, people say, “Well, it’s easy. We just replace fossil fuels with solar panels.” That’s great. What are you going to do? Buy them at the truck store? Where are they coming from? They have to be manufactured. The iron has to be dug out of the earth. It has to be smelted with tremendous energy requirements. It’s a no-brainer that it’s a bad-brainer. It doesn’t work. Why don’t people see this?

And they keep saying, “I mean, take the funny thing around 1.5.” It was big, that COP that we’re supposed to be reaching for 1.5. How can we reach for it? Here’s the problem. The 1.5 is measured from some point in the past as an increase, where the temperature is going up. The point that was picked for a comparison in the beginning in the ‘50s was the early 1700s.

When it got clear that the curve was rising, and it looked like we were going to get into trouble, they redefined it to the 1800s as the baseline, thereby lowering the average temperature increase by half a degree. Scientists did this. Shame on them. I mean, it’s really terrible. The whole logic around energy use.

There’s a guy, you might have seen him in some of my blogs, Simon Michaud, a mining engineer, said, “We’ve got to understand where the materials are coming from to do this trend of replacement of the fossil fuel regime.” He said, “Let’s take the periodic table.” He goes square by square. “Okay, take this square. How much of it is there? Who owns it? How is it being gotten out of the earth? What are the trend lines it costs?” “Okay, that’s that one.” He goes to the next one.

He went through the whole periodic table. It’s an incredible method. Any of us could have done it. It’s made him world famous in energy circles. He’s being listened to by governments, militaries, corporations. It’s an incredible career path based on that one method. He’s a very interesting guy. He’s very free thinking. That’s pretty amazing.

What he shows is there’s no way. There are key elements that just don’t even exist in the earth and quantities that are needed. Our imagination is so far off. To get two pounds of lithium, we have to mine 20 tons of earth. Wow. Too many scientists and intellectuals don’t know those numbers.

If you take things like how much CO2 is there in the atmosphere? If you get the numbers right, the total weight of the CO2 in the atmosphere is about equivalent to the weight of all the automobiles in the world, 4 billion of them. People think we’re going to pull that out and put it in the earth. It just doesn’t make sense.

These are scientists. What the heck happened to our ability, not only our ability to think, but our interest in thinking? Since I’m a Feynman fan, what’s the word for when you follow the band around, groupie? I learned a lot about his way of thinking. He just would not let that go by. It’s your curiosity. You should say, “What the hell’s going on here?” We’re not doing it.

The result is we’re stuck then, basically with a world divided into two groups. One group thinks that climate change is still a business opportunity without realizing that any business activity at all, any, generates more CO2. Any. There’s no way out.

For the fun of it, I took Christmas cards. I said, “What if we just stop Christmas cards? What would the implication be?” I looked up on Google and found out we sell 2 billion Christmas cards each year in the US alone. Two billion? How many trees is that? How many chocolates? How much print? I was shocked. Anyway, why isn’t our science community thinking?

It’s a great question. My guess at the answer is humans have never really done much thinking or much curiosity. I’m not surprised that we can’t think our way out of this because I don’t think humans do that.

I’ve been convinced for a long time that ordinary people are smarter about these issues than we think they are. Their task in life is to think about what’s important to them, which is not energy, it’s relationships. How are my children doing? How’s my mother doing in the old lady’s home? Whatever. About that stuff, they go to the limit of what they can do. They don’t get much help from the rest of us.

Yes. A simple thing is to express to everybody in the world, this is how it affects your parents or your kids. But thinking of a scientific thing, bootstrapping off of thinking your relationship to your kids, most people just don’t get there.

Where are you going to go with that? With climate change, where are you going to tell your kids that you’re going to burn up? We’re going to have huge food decrements in the next growing cycle? It’s hard to tell that to yourself, much less to your family.

It’s true.

But the kids know. That’s also the striking thing. How do they figure it out? But I think most of the world’s children have a pretty articulate view of what’s going on.

There’s the atomized people, all in parts, divide and be conquered, or the Lego pieces of people or something, that can’t think about a big problem because they’re too atomized. But then there’s that other side that you’re talking about, building from the top down. There’s civilization or whatever’s at the top, which is where it seems like the problem needs to be solved. Or thought of, actually.

The fragmentation is so real. Being fragmented, you can’t think very well about anything that’s substantial. You immediately run up against interests. You can’t stop my industry because it’s going to cost 100,000 jobs. So we back away from that solution.

And we’re empty-handed because an adequate response to climate change means that we must stop burning fossil fuels, at least in some program over the next 10 years. We don’t have one.

There’s no real example of cutting fossil fuel use. There are examples of substitutions, but the cost of the substitutions is not taken into account. People will compare EVs with gasoline burning cars, but that’s at the price of the pump. But they don’t include in the cost, the cost of the pump and the infrastructure to get the electricity there, which is huge.

So I think science is going to come out with a bad name here because it’s not doing the thinking that we need. There are a few people like Simon Michaux, or a guy named Paul Beckwith, or a guy named Nate Hagens, who are really trying to think things through.

What’s striking is in the most progressive examples of this, there’s very little talk about the political and social structures and what they need to do. It’s like the whole thing can be done technically. At the worst, it’s the view that you can just go into a store and buy the solutions off the shelf. And you’ll hear people, smart people say, “We have the solutions. All we need is the political will.” Political will to do what? They won’t tell you. So anyway, I’m really frustrated. Trying to cope with that frustration.

It’s hard. Let’s go there. But first, I want to come back to science getting a bad name. I think throughout the history of science, it’s never really had a great name, except maybe here and there a little bit for a little bit of time. Is that true? Has science ever really shown, has it ever been a hero? And then maybe in this past 100 years or something, science has helped humanity significantly. We got hooked on that. Now we’re just like, “Oh, well, science will save us because it’s been saving us for 50 years. It’ll keep doing that.” Maybe it’s outsized expectations or something.

Yeah, I agree with that. Clearly, science had a good name among people who are technocratic professionals, which has become the backbone of, for example, the Democratic Party, which means the Democratic Party no longer reflects the people, but the professions. Where to go with that? It’s so hard to know.


So coping. If you know that inevitably, the world is going to fall apart, how do you cope?

Well, one thing is to try and understand why it’s falling apart. So I have a view that humans were based on curiosity and productiveness, including sexuality. We’re going to fill the world up with stuff that they’ve invented. And if we do things like what you and I are doing right now is in a slow way, building a relationship. When this call’s over, we still have that relationship. And everybody’s doing stuff which makes relationships.

The result is everything is woven tighter together. And it’s going to continue until it’s so tight that you can’t change. The tightness defeats creativity. The result is that this is probably inevitable because it comes about because of sexuality, productivity, and curiosity is going to weave this structure.

If that’s true, the great place to have lived is in the middle, not at either the beginning or the end of the structure. The beginning is too long, the end is too catastrophic. But the creativity to make the weaving that’s going to do is in is in the middle.

I kind of believe that theory at the moment, that it was inevitable. So coping is not possible. And so I would recommend that doing things personally in the arts, write a poem, write a letter, draw a picture, doesn’t matter if it’s good, try to enjoy the process, then do it. And maybe the best we can do is be witnesses to the failure.

Along with that, of course, we should take very seriously the need to protect and help people who are hurt by the process. And it’s going to be a lot of people. We’re not doing anything to make a lifeboat world to help people out. And it’s coming on really fast. And we’ll just throw up our hands in despair, rather than try and name it.

Naming it is really good. I’ve done things like notice that if I write a sentence, the next sentence comes to mind. But that sentence would never have come to mind if I hadn’t written the first sentence. It’s an amazing process. So it just says, get in there, try and make sense of your world, write about it, talk about it. Who knows what the outcome of that could be? I don’t think it’s going to solve the problem. But it’s going to give a lot of dignity, and a lot of courage.

So create, and then share, right?

Well, create your experience. I think experience is one of the unexplored topics. For example, in thinking about how to teach poetry, the standard way is for the professor or the teacher to say, here’s this great poem written by this incredible guy. Write down what you think of.

The alternative is, here’s a poem, what does it evoke in you? And what’s striking is bad poems are as evocative as good ones. You can do a lot with it. And evocation means you’re getting into what’s called up in you by the experience of reading the poem. That’s where I think there’s a real opening.

If you would, compare for me the experience of doing that just yourself, and the experience of doing it with somebody else.

So here we get into a piece of, I guess it’s called theory. I believe that the human mind, brain... By the way, just if you say he got shot in the brain, makes sense. You say he got shot in the mind, doesn’t make any sense at all. That difference is huge right there. And we’re not paying attention to that difference.

Okay, individually versus together.

I believe that our thought requires interaction with other human beings to complete itself. We can’t get from one part of our mind to another part just by ourselves. But interacting with somebody else provides lots of pathways from one brain to another, going outside the brain to complete the loops of thinking and conversation.

That dependency of our mind on others is, it’s beginning to be explored in neurology. Neurology with its predilection in the post-World War period, from metaphors around telephones, telephone switchboards, that the mind is like that.

So you got to connect two neurons together. What they didn’t take into account is that the neurons don’t touch. There’s this little space there. And in that space, there’s a fluid filled with ions and they carry information and affect what the two neurons do. So you have an infinite variety, infinite variable between the two neurons, which can take on an infinite number of states. That changes the whole way we think about what the structure is.

Nets, which are lines and nodes, just doesn’t do it. The brain is wet and every part of it is infinite in its capacity. I think that’s where we need to go. And in that, humans interacting with each other, connecting their wetnesses one with another. And interesting things happen.

I believe that a mind cannot grow by itself. It needs the outside. If you’re thinking about, well, think about it, thinking about a cat. There’s one school of thought that says the thought about the cat is in your brain. Well, not so. The thought about the cat goes through all your senses out into the world and makes loops back in from other connections that are outside. Besides which, if we think that some thinking is internal and some is external, have you ever tried to catch an internal thought? You can’t find one. They don’t exist. They don’t exist. And yet people keep talking about in my mind, in my brain. And they do models as though thinking is going on in an isolated brain, isolated in a particular person. And it probably just is not that way. It’s much more field dependent.

Thank you. I have a different question, on writing a poem. In this day and age of technology, I can use something really low tech to write a poem. I could use a piece of paper and a pencil, or a little bit higher tech, maybe a fancy pen. Or I could use a typewriter. Or I could use a computer. Or I can use a computer for a computer, I can use a chatbot that understands language and give it a hint about what poem I want to write. And it’ll write a poem. And I say, that one’s not the right one. Write another one until I get the one I want.

So up that technology chain, where would you suggest people stop and work on evoking something from the poem, rather than letting the machine take over for you?

Well, I think paying attention to your experience, wherever you are in that process. And I think the experience of, well, as we know, the Odyssey and the Iliad were recited for a couple of hundred years before anybody even wrote them down.

It’s that evocation of the verbal that’s so powerful. And it is very experiential. And I think, I mean, my own experiences with the chatbot, that I find myself, I don’t know, a combination of disgust and frustrated, whatever, by the fact that there’s not a person there that I can figure out. Whereas in speech, 90% of my activity is trying to figure out why did that guy say that? And that question doesn’t make good sense for chatbot.

So I think it’s real trouble. And the progression you gave, I mean, if you go from the pencil to the pen, to a fancy pen, you’re already beginning to lose something because the fanciness takes over. And the typewriter is such a primitive beast compared to writing with a pen or a pencil. And I think that the chatbot output, which are evocative, I mean, there’s no question about the poems that the chatbot writes are evocative things. But without a person, who cares? I just don’t care anymore. I want to find a person that I can run away with.

I like that.

So, part of the problem for humanity is for a long time, we humans lived on the surface of the earth. We did a little bit down in the body, pulling food out of the earth with roots that went down maybe 12 to 14 inches. But basically it was living on the earth.

Then for complicated reasons, which are not the normal ones that we think about, we discovered coal and started digging it up. And that turned out to have a lot of interesting uses. And you could burn it in machines and put the output in the products and in the pollution. So, we filled up the air with all this stuff that used to be under the ground and now it’s in the air. That’s what we did. That’s how smart we are.

We took coal under the earth and pumped it up and ran it through machines and pumped it into the sky. We’ve done so much of that, that it’s probably hard to back up. I mean, if you think of looking at a freeway, we’ve got one, I’m in Malaysia at the moment, by the way, but we’ve got several freeways that are eight lanes in each direction, often quite stuck. Every car is pouring out CO2. It just doesn’t make good sense.

For example, the whole system of cars could be replaced by Uber, sponsored by the state or the city that would subsidize it so that anybody could get an Uber to go anywhere they wanted at any time of the day or night. It would solve a tremendous number of problems, free up a tremendous amount of land. Nobody’s going there. Why? Because we’re not willing to cross the oil companies and the oil companies who lobby for let’s have lots of cars.

We keep adding more cars. I think we’re close to the point where we’re going to come to a universal gridlock. Nobody can go anywhere. Wow. Talking like this is fun. The face of the catastrophe, the thinking, it’s still fun. There’s a paradox there, which I don’t understand because I notice how often I’m in conversations where I ought to be sober and somber, but I’m not. I’m laughing and smiling at every other time.

Yeah. Brain to brain, mind to mind. Marching into the end. We’ve got seven, eight minutes left.

Can I talk about what I think the best possible outcome would be?

I think the social structure is going to fall apart, but not uniformly. There are going to be patches of survivability. It’s going to be really important to support those and try and expand them if possible, but keep them going as long as possible.

Each patch needs to be a combination of food growing and growing people. What’s striking to me is that people who talk about the future have no vision of what it could look like. I think only by having a vision, can you make it attractive enough for people to want to go there. My view is that if you put gardens and habitat in the same place, it’s safe for children and safe for old people. The food gets taken care of about as good as it possibly can be.

I’ve called this GardenWorld, as a direction to go in. It’s an image. It’s a vision. The Old Testament says without a vision, the people are lost. Plato was clear that you can’t have politics if you don’t have a vision of what the goal is that you’re trying to achieve. You can change it, but you got to have one.

GardenWorld is trying to work out how to get that image much more widely spread and acted on. Actually, there’s a lot going on in town movements and things like that all over the world. There’s a lot. The thing is to get past the utilitarian view of putting gardens and growing people together and add to it the aesthetic dimension

If you watch a farmer plow a field, the way they bring their tractor up to the end and make the turnaround always has an aesthetic dimension to it. They’re paying attention to how the rows that they’re hauling now fit the ones they’ve already done. The aesthetic intention is very strong. If you watch people pile lumber, wood for fires, logs, they’re always looking at the aesthetics of the pot. That’s an extraordinary thing.

If we have the aesthetic dimension to going after food and habitat, I think we have a workable goal. That’s what I’m doing. I’m involved with a project here in Malaysia of trying to do GardenWorld in the jungle. It’s going to be really interesting. All sorts of ways to fail, but we’re going to learn a lot.

Nice. Do you ever think 100 years into the future when some few patches of humanity have created their GardenWorlds and maybe population is a lot less? Do you see what comes after that?

My fear is that we will carry in the future habits from the past. The first thing that people want to do is figure out who owns private property, what’s the hierarchy and how does the hierarchy get rewarded.

If we can avoid that and stay more equal, and by the way, The Dawn of Everything suggests that that’s possible. Alternative ways of thinking and organizing are possible. Are we smart enough to be able to hold on to more open democratic, egalitarian forms of working together? That would be the hope.

I think that it’s in the context of the arts and education. How to help each other get educated without machines. It’s going to be interesting, really interesting. There’s the story about the old rabbi and one of his students in Poland in the early 1800s. They get beset upon by a group of bandits who robbed them of everything. The bandits run off and the rabbi says to the students, “So what do we do?” He said, “You’re the rabbi, you’re supposed to tell me what to do.” He said, “I don’t have an idea. Don’t you have an idea?” One of them finally says, “Well, we could start at the beginning.” “Well, where’s that?” “A, B, alpha, beta.” “Hey, now we’re on our way. Let’s keep going.”

Stories like that give me courage. What it will look like, I mean, the problems of all the problems of political history, that the survivors will be beset upon by people who are failing. The tendency to militarize the situation is going to be very intense. What history says is the militarized win in the struggles. Can we do better than that? Maybe, maybe. Worth trying.

Maybe that’s a good place to leave it. “Worth trying.”

I’ve got my pen and pencil right here to take the next step. Write a sentence and see what happens.

Thanks, Doug. It’s always a pleasure.

Okay, talk to you soon.


charles blass

Thank you for reading! The next edition will be published on 20 March 2024. Email Pete with suggested submissions.

Grateful appreciation and many thanks to Charles Blass, Douglass Carmichael, Gil Friend, Ken Homer, Todd Hoskins, and Kevin Jones for their kind contributions to this issue.

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