S.F. property owners to get tax break from creating urban farms

A new law taking effect next week will mark another innovation for San Francisco: The city will be the first in the country to offer a financial incentive for urban farming.

Starting Sept. 8, owners of empty lots could save thousands of dollars a year in property taxes in exchange for allowing their land to be used for agriculture for five years or more.

It’s part of the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, a state law spearheaded by local sustainable land-use advocates and state Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco. The law encourages would-be urban farmers to turn trash-covered empty parcels into gardens with the assurance they won’t be forced out after putting in a lot of time and money.

San Francisco will be the first to enact it because the Board of Supervisors has already passed the necessary local ordinance.

“It takes so much time to get a property in shape for farming, including building fertility in the soil and getting the infrastructure in place,” said Caitlyn Galloway, who has run Little City Gardens on a three-quarter-acre rented lot in Mission Terrace for four years. “That’s why this legislation is a step in the right direction.”

Little City Gardens supplies produce to local restaurants and Bi-Rite Market and is one of the only commercial farms in San Francisco, but educational farms can also take advantage of the law. Cities with much more open space, such as Los Angeles and Sacramento, are closely watching what happens in San Francisco.

The bill was conceived as a way to help cities reduce blight and give residents more opportunities to grow food, even to raise livestock where health codes allow it.

Long waiting lists
“I have heard from literally hundreds of residents who would like to have the opportunity to farm, but the waiting lists for a lot of our community gardens are over two years long,” said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who wrote the local legislation. “There is simply not enough space.”

This law could change that.

To qualify, a lot must be at least one-tenth of an acre with no permanent dwellings. The property would be reassessed at the average price for irrigated farmland, currently $12,500 per acre.

For a comparison, the double lot that houses the 18th and Rhode Island Garden has been valued at around $2 million – although its current assessed value is lower since Aaron Roland has owned it for 17 years. Still, after he applies for the tax reduction, his annual $6,000 tax bill will drop significantly.

Roland offered use of the property to permaculture gardeners Kevin Bayuk and David Cody in 2008, who turned it into a demonstration garden that offers permaculture certification courses and hosts school groups. The garden’s pathways and benches are open to the public, and volunteers harvest whatever food it produces for low-income residents.

Roland gets constant requests to sell the property, which has a view of downtown, but he wants to hold on to it partly in case his children want to build a house there one day.

“I also like what’s going on now with it. It’s this marvelous garden in the middle of the city that’s growing food,” he said. “Hopefully there are other people like me that eventually might want to do some development on their land but aren’t in a big rush, and meanwhile want to let it be used for this kind of public purpose.”

Karen Peteros hopes that Clear Channel, which owns the site of her educational bee farm, under a billboard in Visitacion Valley, decides to take advantage of the new tax break, which she estimates could reduce its current bill of around $21,000 a year to about $50.

A spot for bees created
San Francisco Bee Cause’s lease on the property is $1 per year for four small lots. In 2012, Peteros and her co-founders and volunteers removed two pickup trucks full of trash from the site, put down soil, planted fruit trees and other bee-friendly crops, and established a bee colony.

They teach beekeeping at the volunteer-run farm, and get funding from the sales of the honey. But about a year after they started, Clear Channel decided to take back half of the parcels to use as a parking lot.

“They swept the lot clean of all the great soil we had been building,” Peteros said. In the end, the company couldn’t get permits to finish the project.

Under the new law, the five-year contract stays with the property even if it’s sold, but if an owner wants to get out of it they can pay back taxes and interest. San Francisco’s ordinance limits the tax savings of individual property owners to $25,000 per year; if the savings are higher, an official review is necessary. City officials in Sacramento, Fresno, San Jose and San Diego have expressed interest, but haven’t yet passed the necessary local legislation.

Los Angeles is close to doing that, and Clare Fox of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council estimates there are 8,600 parcels within Los Angeles city limits that qualify.

“It’s about food security and food access, but it’s also about transforming blighted vacant places that are prone to illegal dumping into community places,” she said.

“It’s a way to beautify the neighborhood and stabilize real estate values. Plus, there are the environmental benefits. There’s a whole slew of reasons why urban agriculture makes sense.”

Tara Duggan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.


Youth Sue Government Over Climate Inaction

Now this is what I’m talking about — the youngest among us speaking truth to power. I loved this article, and this action. Blessings on all of these wise young people, fighting for their future.

Youth Climate Movement



the Buyerarchy of Needs









Practice Makes Perfect.

Urban Homesteading Gets the Thumbs Up

Climate Change Needs the Politics of the Impossible

We keep learning more about the catastrophe in front of us, but it isn’t helping us solve the problem.

It’s starting to feel like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change could keep issuing its reports from here to eternity. The Fifth Assessment Report, released just in time to avoid April Fool’s Day, continues a steady trend: our knowledge is increasing, just about everything that matters is getting worse, and all we can realistically hope to do is soften the edges of a slow-moving catastrophe.This pessimism may be the most realistic view of the climate crisis. Politics is the art of the possible, and climate change may be impossible to prevent or even shift. That leaves us trying to blunt its impacts with seawalls and mass relocations, which look more and more like the realistic way forward. But this realism is also a hasty and cheery despair. It gives up too much too quickly. Sometimes politics is the art of changing what is possible. That deeper realism is part of the answer that climate change needs.But first, back to the Report. Once again, deepening paleo-ecology research, ever-more refined computer modeling, and incremental gains in courage led the IPCC to say that “we”—the Global Community of Very Cautious Knowers—are a little more certain about trends in global warming, sea-level rise, and ocean acidification. The Report predicts more floods in temperate places like Europe and most of the U.S., more droughts near the Equator, with overall food production taking a nasty hit.

Everything that is already hard is going to get harder. Ecological zones will be reshuffled. With many species already in danger of extinction and conservation efforts focused on preserving habitat, lots of that hard-won habitat is going to be irrelevant—too warm, too dry, too something—as suitable habitat shifts faster than species can travel. Fisheries, already stressed by pollution and over-harvesting, will now confront warming and acidification. Droughts and food shocks may intensify political and military conflict: more resource wars, more grain-price revolutions.

Being poor, in particular, gets worse as climate changes.  Nature has always been hardest on the poor, because infrastructure, transport, medicine, and the rest of our capital-intensive technologies are the key ways we tame her violence.  To be poor—for an individual, and even more for a country—is to be vulnerable to the whims of the natural world.  Recall the very worst of Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the poorest parts of New Orleans in 2005 and then project those onto Bangladesh, a country of 155 million—almost half as large as the population of the US.

There’s lots of uncertainty about details—as the Report itself painstakingly documents; but most people not in denial have known the broad outlines of this picture for well over a decade.  It was 1989—when the Berlin Wall came down—writer Bill McKibben was already announcing “the end of nature” in the era of climate change.  But with every IPCC report, the optimistic scenario, where “the world” slashes greenhouse gases and stabilizes climate change, feels more like a weak deus ex machina.  Meanwhile, the drastic scenario—where everything accelerates, the Greenland ice cap melts sometime in the next century, sea levels rise 20 feet or more in our grandchildren’s lifetimes, and the Gulf Stream and the Amazonian forests both consider giving up the ghost—that scenario feels more and more like a weather forecast: unseasonably warm this weekend with a growing chance of apocalypse by Sunday evening.

But “apocalypse” is probably exactly wrong, even though floods, droughts, and storms are just the kind of thing that one might expect would presage an apocalypse.  Instead, living in a climate-changed world is becoming a post-normal normal, a chronic crisis.

The IPCC Report reflects this, spending four chapters on “adaptation” to climate change. Already, commentators are celebrating the move to adaptation as a win for gritty practicality over empty idealism, local and private efforts over “grand international declarations.”  Of course it’s true that we need adaptation, especially for the poor regions that are the most vulnerable and can’t wait while the waters rise.  But pretending that giving up on big climate action means a victory is nothing but rationalizing defeat.

This passivity is tempting because political action has done so little and doesn’t seem likely to do much about climate, and doesn’t exactly look poised to do more that is more than symbolic. Because climate change is distributed around the world and has a very long lag time, whatever we do about it here and now mostly helps faraway and future people. So it’s very tempting to come up with excuses for doing nothing, or just enough to feel righteous about what you’ve done.

Sure enough, in international negotiations, the U.S. has long refused to do anything meaningful until China and India “did their share,” while those countries answered that the U.S. had added more than its share to the problem and needed to lead in paying for the solution.  At all scales, down to the nation and even the individual, the same puffed-up hemming and hawing works out nicely for the living—who enjoy our energy-intensive lives now—and badly for the future.

Ordinary politics, with its self-interested deal-making just barely hidden under high talk, is a lousy tool for global problems that play out over centuries and would require the living generation to do something costly and inconvenient.  And there is not much that is more costly and inconvenient than retooling your infrastructure, from energy to transport to manufacturing, when that infrastructure is where we all live.

That leaves us with, basically, two ways out. One is extraordinary technology: either a silver bullet to produce cheap, renewable energy, or a reliable geo-engineering technique to adjust the global atmosphere-temperature-weather system directly. Either might happen—the first likely will, maybe too late to prevent permanent crisis; but waiting on clean energy is a very big risk, and geo-engineering brings huge risks of its own, from getting only half the problem to ending up making the system even more unstable. The “simplest” geo-engineering proposal is to bounce a bunch of earth-warming sunlight back into space by launching mirrors or particles into the upper atmosphere; but (1) it’s a half-measure, since the oceans would continue acidifying, stressing and maybe destroying many marine life forms and disrupting other global processes; and (2) if anything ever happened to the mirrors, sunlight would pour in and our carbon-enriched atmosphere would start to warm up like an oven.

The other way out is extraordinary politics: politics that goes beyond the usual interest-swapping and sets new commitments for the country and the world.  This, admittedly, is a desperate measure.  It is the last thing you want to rely on—other than, possibly, launching mirrors into space to adjust the planet’s atmosphere.  These, however, are desperate times, at least where the global climate is concerned.

One reason for hopefulness, even for measured optimism, is something our hyper-knowing, reflexively cynical political culture trains us to forget: extraordinary politics is a real thing, not just an idle wish.

Consider the end of slavery—not in the U.S., but in the British Empire, which abolished the practice thirty years before the Emancipation Proclamation, by an act of Parliament, with compensation to slaveholders.  The economic cost was huge.  For decades, historians assumed it must have been a subterfuge for someone’s economic benefit—otherwise, how would such a thing be possible?  But the historians’ view these days is that British emancipation was, in fact, a wildly expensive and disruptive moral commitment, executed through extraordinary politics.  The powerful thing about this example is its scale: the global economy of the British Empire was nearly as entwined with slavery as ours is with the fossil-fuel economy.  The change wasn’t just costly: it pulled some institutions up by their roots.  If that never happened, we’d really be out of reasons for hope on climate change.  But sometimes it does.

We should learn to look at climate change simultaneously through two very different lenses.  Keep one eye on the scientists’ reports, with their steady accumulation of reasons to worry, and the Silicon Valley technologists’ innovations, with their promise of landing on an extraordinary technology.  But cast the other on the activist kids who don’t know enough to realize they can’t win—the ones getting arrested outside the White House to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and pressing universities and pension funds to divest from fossil fuels, as if Exxon were R.J. Reynolds, or Apartheid South Africa.  And don’t forget the people who are experimenting with low-carbon living in their “transition town” projects, trying to recast energy sources and other infrastructure in a less carbon-intensive form.

It’s easy—ridiculously easy—to show that the activists shouldn’t expect to win, and that whatever they did succeed in doing wouldn’t be enough to stop this massive global problem.  But that is true at the beginning of every episode of extraordinary politics.  That why histories of abolition, the civil rights movement, even environmentalism, don’t begin with people who are powerful, realistic, or even normal.  They begin with people who don’t know better, and who find the world they are born into intolerable.

That is key, because if we end up tolerating a climate-changed world as the new normal, then it probably will last forever—or as long as anyone is around to care about it.

Our current normal is built out of principles that used to be considered impossible—gender equality, racial equality, democracy—and became common sense long after some people were too unrealistic to give up on them.  Once they win, these principles get absorbed into common sense—and, of course, get betrayed left and right, like any civic piety.  But a world where they are elements of common sense is still vastly different from one where most people accept that they are impossible.

We sort of know this about human freedom and equality, even if we tend to forget it in practice.  But environmental issues tend to get cast as technical problems for scientists and bureaucrats, or as hopelessly politically divided between liberal greens and conservative climate-skeptics.  But that is only half the picture.  Historically, environmental attitudes have changed almost as dramatically as attitudes around gender and sexuality: Americans used to hate wilderness, love to see a forest burn, and wage war on wolves and other large predators.  Even more basically, they had no conception of the global web of life that we call ecology, or just “the environment,.”  A series of political movements and cultural revolutions changed this, beginning as far back as the nineteenth century.  Today’s climate activists are aiming at the same kind of change: to help see, and feel, a disrupted and dangerous world as their problem, their responsibility, something they love enough not to give up on it.

So the age of climate change doesn’t just need climate scientists, or even technologists, and adaptation engineers.  They are essential, but if we just rely on them, we’re likely to drift further into passivity and pessimism.  We also need, in incremental and experimental ways, to keep building up a real politics of climate change.  That politics will be both environmentalist and human-oriented, because there’s no separating the two in the age of climate change.  It will have to ask how the peoples of the world are going to live together and share its benefits and dangers, and also how we are going to use, preserve, and transform the world itself.  Braiding together human rights and distributive justice with environmental ethics and the human relation to the natural world isn’t just a nice-sounding, if daunting idea.  It’s quite simply the only way forward.

Any answers that we succeed in giving these questions will transform us as earlier extraordinary politics changed people: those who ask the question are no longer the same once they givereach an answer. That transformation, to a culture and economy that could change the trajectory of climate change, is exactly what seems impossible now. And that is why everyone should be paying respectful attention to the activists who refuse to believe in impossibility, and even more to the parts of ourselves that refuse to believe it, too. This isn’t idealism. It’s a higher realism, and should be scheming a little impossibility of our own.

reposted from the Daily Beast: 4/6/14 Jedediah Purdy: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/04/06/climate-change-needs-the-politics-of-the-impossible.html

Wave of Action

This moving appeal from Daniel Pinchbeck — another call to do anything we can to respond to the urgency of this moment. www.waveofaction.org


DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 23JAN08 - Rajendra K. Pacha...

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 23JAN08 – Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),  Davos, Switzerland, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)




“We are running out of time to change the direction of our civilization. The evidence on climate change paints a truly terrifying picture of what lies ahead for humanity if we don’t make a seemingly impossible transition. Through a worldwide movement, we can rally to change our fate and chart a new direction, but we need to act quickly. We must overcome the current paradigm and launch a new operating system for global society, based on principles of regenerative design. As individuals, we must choose to make this unfolding catastrophe the focus of our future lives – of our actions in the world.

According to new projections from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by the end of this century, the climate will be 6 degrees Celsius hotter than it is now – and large sections of the Earth will be unlivable for human beings. Alas, the IPPC’s projections may be conservative. We are discovering that the climate system is very complex, and warming can accelerate rapidly due to positive feedback effects. For instance, melting Arctic ice means that less sunlight is reflected back into space, while warming forests become drier and more prone to fires. We could easily see a 4 – 6 degree Celsius rise by 2050, unless we stop and reverse our momentum.

The scientist James Lovelock once predicted that the human population could be reduced to a few hundred thousand people by the end of this century, living close to the Arctic Circle. Without a rapid metamorphosis of global civilization, time may prove him right. It is also possible that humanity will drive itself to extinction, as sea levels rise and agriculture becomes impossible, leading to hundreds of millions of environmental refugees, acts of bioterrorism, and wars of desperation. These kinds of scenarios are no longer distant or faraway: They are likely in the next twenty to thirty years, within our lifespans.

Some people continue to believe that climate change is not caused by CO2 emissions, or that it is some kind of conspiracy. The evidence is truly unassailable at this point. The oceans, for instance, have become 30% more acidic over the last 40 years, as they absorb a large proportion of the excess carbon emitted by our cars, refineries, and factories. This is leading to the disintegration of the coral reefs and the collapse of huge chains of undersea life – a threat to our future almost as dangerous as what is happening to our atmosphere.

The majority of people simply avoid thinking about what is taking place. They have been indoctrinated and programmed by the media and our education system to be cynical, passive, distracted, and self-centered. They vaguely believe that some super-technology will appear to save the day. We must find a way to awaken the sleeping multitudes, explaining why change is necessary, while giving them hope and a new vision for the future.

We currently possess the technical capability to transform our civilization rapidly, reducing and then eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels while we undertake global initiatives and distribute sustainable technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Through the Internet, we could organize global initiatives to plant trees and  urban gardens, paint all the rooftops of our cities white to reflect the Sun, reduce people’s dependence on consumer goods by developing cooperative systems based on sharing and conserving resources. Through a global project, we could transition to renewable energy, algae-based biofuels, and use Biochar, among other techniques, to sequester carbon. We could build eco-cities on higher elevations, designed as scaffolding for living systems, with food, energy, and industry on site.

However, we cannot accomplish the deep, structural changes that need to happen under the current paradigm of Neoliberal economics and corporate capitalism, which has caused this crisis. The movement for a post carbon world finds solidarity with the movements for social justice, against economic inequality. The private possession of the Earths’ resources, concentrated in the hands of the few, makes it impossible to build true sustainability, or resilience. This system requires constant economic growth to perpetuate itself. It threatens the future of our biosphere. We must transition from a model of ownership to one of stewardship, protecting our threatened resources for future generations.

For the wealthy, this means they face a choice: They can maintain the status quo for a few decades more, at maximum, or they can reduce their lifestyles and liberate their capital resources to feed the global movement of transformation necessary for the future survival of our species. The poor, of course, have less choice: As climate change accelerates, vast populations, particularly across the developing world, will face drought, floods, and famine. According to the Environmental Justice Foundation, in 2012 alone, 31.7 million people were driven from their homes due to extreme weather events. That number will, no doubt, grow exponentially in the years ahead.

As the author of a book on indigenous prophecies about this time, I also understand what is taking place on another level. I see it as a spiritual initiation for the human species, as a whole. We are being forced to shift from an individualistic and egocentric worldview to one that recognizes our interdependence and solidarity with one another and with all of life. I think it is possible that the sooner we, as individuals, make this shift, the more tragedy and trauma can be averted on a planetary scale. Such a change requires a breaking open of the global heart chakra, a revelation of empathy and compassion for all the beings who share this world with us.

While the changes we need, in a short time frame, may seem inconceivable, we find that transformations often take place in sudden and unexpected ways. Nobody predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or the 2011 Arab Spring. A change of consciousness can happen invisibly at first, before something new erupts. Unfortunately, the collapse of the Soviet Union or the uprisings across the Middle East did not lead to happy outcomes. A positive transformation needs a new social model and a defined infrastructure. We won’t have time to recover after a social breakdown; therefore, we must find a way to rapidly supersede the current political and economic system. We must use the system we have to build a new one from within it.

I think there is a great evidence that this can be done, when we look at what has happened with the Internet over the last decades. Facebook is only ten years old, and it unites 1.2 billion people. Google has an even greater reach. Facebook and Twitter helped the uprisings across the Middle East, as the people realized their solidarity.

New social technologies could give people the means to make group decisions, build cooperative, decentralized, and autonomous organizations together, and share their resources as well as ideas efficiently. We could create new virtual currencies that support different behavior patterns and social values. Every new media technology profoundly impacts society. We are only at the beginning of the Internet revolution.

At the same time, we need to interrogate and dismantle the mainstream faith of Neoliberalism and neo-environmentalism – the belief that rapid innovation in technology can solve all of the problems created by past technologies. This ideology is pervasive and influential. It is what we find at TED talks, in Silicon Valley, corporate boardrooms, and the world of mega-philanthropy, such as the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations.

Neo-environmentalists argue that we must continue economic growth. They would build thousands of new nuclear power plants, feed the world’s population through genetic engineering, create carbon trading markets to reduce CO2 emissions, and address climate change through gigantic geo-engineering projects, such as pouring sulfur particles into the atmosphere or putting reflectors in space to deflect the Sun’s rays. All of these initiatives have, potentially, traumatic and terrible consequences.

The arguments for and against these technologies require a bit of nuance and complexity. From where we are now, considering the severe threats that humanity faces, we must be careful to remain flexible and openminded and resist orthodoxies, whether of the Green Movement, or any other. For instance, I find myself strongly, intuitively against genetically engineered food, and when I have researched it, I find that the benefits have been over-stated while the risks ignored by profit-driven corporations, who conduct research in secrecy and have corrupted the regulatory process.

It seems quite possible that organic agriculture and permaculture could satisfy the nutritional needs of the world’s population in a less risky fashion, as studies have surmised. Cuba provides one model. However, I can imagine that the potential to create drought-resistant crops able to grow in rapidly heating climates, or vegetables that can fix their own nitrogen in the soil without needing industrial fertilizer, could become critical in the next decades. Such research needs to be taken out of the hands of private corporations. It should be conducted carefully and conscientiously, publicly and transparently, for the collective good.

The block in the minds of Neoliberals and neo-environmentalists is that they cannot imagine that society could change significantly. They believe that human nature is fixed. My argument would be that “human nature” is, largely, a social construction, as the potential range of human values and beliefs is incredibly vast. In fact, the hyper-individualism and hyper-consumerism of contemporary society is an aberration. For over a hundred thousand years, human beings lived nomadically, with few, if any, possessions, where each person deeply identified themselves as part of a tribe.

We are all members of the single tribe of humanity, and humanity, as well, is an expression of the living biosphere, a planetary super-organism. We are that aspect of the biosphere that has become self-reflective, capable of directing our own evolution. We have the potential to transform ourselves in almost any way we choose. I think we can recognize the rapid development of technology as a semi-autonomous process, which is happening through us. It may be that humans are incubating technology, on behalf of the Gaian matrix of life. It is possible that our destiny is to bring the living biosphere to other worlds. But first we must overcome our shortsightedness.

We have tremendous potential – yet we are approaching a threshold of runaway climate change that threatens the existence of all life on Earth. This really is the “final exam” for our species, as the design scientist Buckminster Fuller foresaw. How much of the carbon spewed by our cars and industries supports wasteful, senseless activities? Can we imagine that, in a few years time, none of it will? Can we imagine centering human thought and activity on what will ensure our future flourishing, along with the Earth?

I support the Worldwide Wave of Action because I believe we can – we must – rise to this challenge by building a planetary movement of civil society toward rapid, systemic change. I hope and I pray that you will join us.



Mother Earth News

New article on Urban Homesteading frontlining Mother Earth News this month. Written by Rachel, with some photos by K. Ruby. Check it out at  http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/guide-to-urban-homesteading-zm0z14amzrob.aspx

Photo by K. Ruby

This is the online version, you can also find it in magazine format at newstands and grocery stores.

Follow the Leaders














Isaac Cordal’s “Follow the leaders.” Berlin, Germany, April 2011.

“Politicians discussing global warming” — that’s what social media users have dubbed this tiny puddle sculpture by Spanish street artist Isaac Cordal. With sea levels projected to rise up to three feet by the end of the century, it’s a stark reminder of our collective failure to act on climate change.

Or maybe not.

As it turns out, Cordal’s sculpture is actually called “electoral campaign” and it’s part of a larger street art installation called “Follow the Leaders.” The tiny cement figures, arranged in bleak scenes of urban disintegration, represent the faceless businessmen who run our capitalist global order.

“These pieces reflect our own decline,” says Cordal. “We live immersed in the collapse of a system that needs change.”

Exploring How Living Systems Change

last year, I was exposed to a series of group facilitation and participatory democracy strategies that go forth into the world under the name of “The Art of Hosting.” Some were familiar to me – some not. I am sharing here an article that comes from the work of Chris Corrigan, one of the movers and shakers in the Hosting community, about a process known as the “Two Loops”. It gives us an opportunity to look at how the old order is dying and the new order is struggling to be born. Each one of us lives and works on at least one part of this spectrum. My work as a therapist lives in the “hospice” spot in the upper loop, but the work of urban homesteading lands squarely in the spot of  Nourishment, on the lower loop. I think it’s important to do work in both places — stewarding the death of the old, and bringing to life the new order.


The Two Loops are a context-setting piece, not a roadmap of ‘change management’. I’ll touch on some of the core skeleton and not all the flesh and bones  and as we walk through it think about the systems you are connected to.

Today, we are living with strong remnants of the Newtonian world view – the mechanistic view. Where the prevailing view of change was to separate the system into its parts, analyze them, find the ‘faulty part’ and switch it out for a new better one. Except that rarely resulted in the kind of changed leaders hoped for. Instead, they were confronted by eight new problems caused by their initial solution (and the original problem might be back, only bigger this time). We can never do sufficient planning to avoid these unintended consequences, because we can’t possibly see all the connections that are truly there. When we take a step or make a decision, we are tugging at webs of relationships that are seldom visible but always present.

The irony is that our struggles for how to create change – change in our organizations, communities and personal lives – takes place in a world that changes constantly and is quite adept at change. In the last 100 years we have learned different ways about how the world works, and that living things operate differently than mechanical things. It isn’t that Newton was wrong, but that the story didn’t end there.

A map or model that is helpful in describing a living systems view of change comes from the work of Margaret Wheatley and the Berkana Institute. Margaret suggested our metaphors for organizing and leadership are outdated, and if we treat humans like machines we are in big trouble. She looked to the new science of chaos, quantum physics and living systems, and began applying those metaphors to ways of working in the world.

This map – or model – is called the Two Loops. It tells the story of how systems die and new systems emerge. It happens at every scale – can easily be a map of ideas, a map of life, of a family, of a community, and organization or large systems like the fossil fuel economy. It works on all kinds of levels.

It has two lines – but it isn’t a linear timeline. More like a top map. Here is the story of the two loops….

As systems ascend and become the dominant system, they become more powerful and more entrenched. At the top of their game – life is great!  Using fossil fuel economy as an example… oil was discovered, we found we could use it as an energy source, and then over time all of our world economy was structured around fossil fuels as an energy source.

The system begins to teeter… starts to lose its significance and influence over time… it peeters out.  But right around when it’s at it’s peak, there are some people that drop out – or walk out – and the new system starts being born. They can see that the system curves down! (Oil is a non-renewable resource!) People drop out and walk out, innovating something new. The look at the way things are – those deeply held beliefs that underpin the current system and see that something else might be possible. This is a radical act – stepping out. Not everyone walks out of the current system, not everyone can. Some are needed to stay behind and maintain as best as they can because the new system isn’t ready yet.

The leadership action here is to name what is going on with the walk outs – what they are doing… so they can find each other (then they can Google each other!). What are you working on? Green economy… hey I know someone else who is looking into that! This generates energy. It can be very lonely as an innovator. They might be working on their idea and be unaware that there are others working on the same thing.

The next leadership role in nurturing the emergence of the new system is to connect; to network and build social capital. What we have learned from living systems is to create a healthier community, connect it to more of itself.  To make a system stronger, we need to create stronger relationships. So once we’ve named the walk-outs, they can find each other (or be connected) and begin to learn from each other in networks.

So the leadership move here is to help the walk-outs, the innovators find each other – help those connections happen. This may mean creating gathering spaces—both real and virtual—so that people can meet, exchange ideas and resources, and develop relationships. These gatherings are a rich source of ideas, inspiration, consolation and confidence. They infuse pathfinders with clarity and motivation to keep experimenting and discovering solutions to their most pressing issues.

Next comes the role of communities of practice, of experiments and rapid learning. Failing forward and upwards as the new system continues to emerge. The leadership role here is to nourish. If pathfinders are to persevere and be successful, they need to be nourished with many different kinds of resources –things like time, space, money, expertise, skill building, mentorship. It’s also about weaving loose connections – not spend two years trying to nail down terms of reference. There is a time and place for that kind of structure, and its not here.

To help turn the corner and begin the upward journey as the new system, the leadership role is to illuminate, to make visible and share the stories.  Illuminate what is possible, illuminate what you are learning. Tell the story – this is useful! You can come over here… there is a bridge that is created. It is Compelling enough they are willing to jump and go there.

Many times, efforts that are based on new ways of thinking are either ignored, misperceived or even invisible. When they are noticed, they are often labeled as inspiring anomalies that do not cause people to change their basic beliefs, worldviews and practices. It takes time, attention and a consistent focus for people to see them for what they are: examples of what’s possible, of what our new world could be like.

There is also a leadership role here of protecting what is emerging so the current system doesn’t oust it; like antibodies forcing out a perceived threat – an autoimmune reaction. When, how, and to whom to illuminate is a careful dance. Sometimes when illumination might be TOO early and instead what is needed is a cloak of invisibility.

The old is dying, the new is struggling… a leadership move up here is the graceful use of power. Are you hanging on to the old in a way that is completely toxic? Or might you be able to support both the people trying to maintain the current system with duct tape and bandaids long enough until the new system is ready, and be funnelling some resources, connections, support and more to the innovators below?

Naming fear and shadow is also important work here. What are we afraid of? Leaving these unspoken does incredible damage. And we will cart these fears into the new system and build our structures from them.

There is also the important work of hospicing the dying system. And grieving, letting go of the old. It’s a leadership role to host both the hospice and the grieving. The old system dies a dispersive death, and all parts of the system get recycled (we aren’t starting from scratch every time!). This is the compost heap: decomposed, restructured material and energy that is released into the environment for the new system to build from.

This is a powerful skill – not to just walk away, but to harvest what we have learned, relationships, people; what do we want to remember? Everything is used. What is still needed in the new that will serve us well?

As both systems are on the down-ward direction, can host a conversation between those in with power and resources in the old system and those innovating the new – where might resources be freed up? What’s needed?

It’s important to note that we absolutely need people who are working on different parts of the two loops.  The work of creating the new is absolutely dependent on someone being willing to hold together the existing.  Bridges are built in both directions from the old to the new and from the new back to the old.

When I was preparing this for us today, I thought about another important leadership move – less of a move and more of a capacity: to sit in uncertainty. To be able to sit in the swamp of uncertainty for a LONG time – maybe far longer than you ever imagined. How to stay there, gracefully, on that edge…. Using your personal leadership practices to work with your fears and limiting beliefs around uncertainty, of not knowing, of attaching to outcomes, of not be able to control.


So think about your system and come and stand where your work is on these two loops.

Make a little constellation with some folks around you and talk about what it is like for you on this part of the loop.

Frack Off

I don’t go to a lot of demonstrations these days. I’ve got plenty of good excuses – too busy, too much work, too many family demands. And the most nagging – they don’t work. But I am up at night worrying about fracking, cause 3:00 a.m. seems to be my time to worry about water. Fracking seems to be to be so psychotic, so off the charts flat out DUMB and suicidal and I just want it to stop. So when a bunch of organizations pulled together a Don’t Frack California demonstration in Sacramento, I decided to take my whole family there. Because it’s a good thing to do. Because my daughter should know about resistance culture. Because you never know. Because sometimes it’s important to stand up and be counted. Even if it doesn’t “work.”
In the end, my daughter conveniently caught a cold and her dad stayed home with her, and I went with two friends who share my concerns and commitments about the environment. We were glad we managed to extricate ourselves from our family lives and show up. The whole thing gave me a good opportunity to explain to my daughter how you can go to a demonstration and not get arrested, and what you can do if you want to get arrested. I said, “Well, you just sit down when they tell you to move.” And she said, “That’s all it takes, to get arrested?” And I said, “Sometimes that’s all it takes.”

I sat down a lot at the demo, under the beautiful trees in front of the Sacramento Capitol building, but no one arrested me or anyone else, so far as I could tell. I listened to the speeches, and read the signs and posters. I got a t-shirt for my partner that said “Those who have the privilege to know have the responsibility to act,” because we’d been talking about privilege a lot and what it demanded of us. He hasn’t worn it yet because he thought the tag line of “to know” was a bit arrogant, but I think that’s just him avoiding the truth – he does know, he must act.

I don’t know what the demo “did” for the anti-fracking movement except bring people together and energize us to imagine our collective resistance can make a difference. There is a pending piece of legislation in Sacramento now that would put an anti-fracking moratorium in place. Perhaps showing up in this peaceful way helps our politicians do the right thing. It’s the sorry best we can hope for. Democrats control both houses in California, which makes the passage of this amendment more possible, but let’s face it; Democrats are no guarantee of environmental protection. Look at Jerry Brown. And Barack Obama. And etc.

Still, heading to Sacramento to stand and be counted felt meaningful, and is something I would do again. I’d even drag my daughter there next time, cold and all.

Here are some photos from the event: http://www.flickr.com/photos/120397232@N02/13180229555/in/photostream/

Fracking’s a fantastic risk to the water supply in communities everywhere. Hook into your own local anti-fracking movement and work to protect the waters.


All that Does Not Suck