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Jason Lord - Defining Sustainability - Los Angeles Z-Day, 2016

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The Zeitgeist Movement ZDay 2016 Los Angeles CA Defining Sustainability Jason Lord This year, I chose the topic of sustainability. I wanted to spend some time on this word because we hear about it a lot these days. Even our own mission statement as a movement is that we are a “sustainability advocacy organization." And if you jump online and you type in the word sustainability, you're going to find many ideas on the subject, on how to achieve a sustainable world: thousands of groups, organizations, everyone with their own idea and their calls-to-action. So, there are a lot people wanting to move in a positive direction towards a world that works, and that’s healthy. How we think about sustainability is shaped by the frame of reference that we use. Whether it’s economic or environmental, political or spiritual, whichever frame you align with when thinking about a sustainable world shapes your personal values and beliefs. Ask yourself: What does a "sustainable world" mean to you? Depending on what your personal values are, the answer will likely look different. For example, what I find with the monetary value-set is that it externalizes structural problems, such as pollution, deforestation, homelessness, and unemployment. And it rationalizes these problems as sourced from a person, place or thing. Such as unemployment because of “lazy” people, theft and harm as an action by the corrupt, or supply and demand imbalances of the market as “other” than the market itself. There is no conversation within the monetary framework that examines itself as a root-cause generator of negative social outcomes. And when talking about sustainability, what we get inside of the monetary framework is that “Everything is OK.” I see this from the debris of abandoned political promises, the constant promotion of consumption in our TV and news outlets, and the glossing over of issues from world organizations. An example of this kind of economic window-dressing that we get from monetary-faithful institutions are reports such as this one. This is one of the first hits from a general online search for the world’s most sustainable cities. And the fact that this is a top hit comes as no surprise to me. This report references the UN’s definition of sustainability as “Cities that work well for their citizens in the present without causing problems for themselves and for the rest of the world in the future.” That’s their definition of sustainability. And they use a tagline of “planet, people and profit” as the three pillars of their sustainability index. Ranking 51 of the world’s major cities for overall sustainability, it places Frankfurt, Germany and London at the top of the list, and it goes down: Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Berlin, Seoul, Hong Kong, Madrid, all the way down- I couldn’t fit them all on here, and at the bottom of this frame is Los Angeles at #28, as the most sustainable city out of the 51 they surveyed. Now while this report includes social measures like crime rates and education levels, it is largely based on economic measures such as per-capita GDP, energy use, and the purchase of goods and services. Now also along with The World Bank (I’m sure people are familiar with the World Bank) they rank each country’s “regulatory regime” in terms of the “ease of doing business” - which is the biggest euphemism of this whole sustainable city index, because that is a glossy way of saying that if you don’t play ball with global banking power, then your sustainability is downgraded. Now I’m sure many good people believe publications like this will help pave the way for the future. But to imply in a color brochure that these cities represent some level of sustainability is absurd. As someone that lives in Los Angeles (I know most of you do), it's one of the dirtiest, most traffic-congested and socially stratified places that I’ve ever been. And the American Lung association ranks Los Angeles as #5 in the US for most polluted air. Now how does one “index” that as some measure of being sustainable? The reality that we need to face is that there is very little that is sustainable the way our current cities are designed, or the monetary-driven social values that people have adopted. Out here on the west coast, at best, we are scrambling to implement forms of resource-saving technology by passing laws, voting for public bonds to cover costs, but then end up bankrupting California in the process. And all the while we’re still draining water resources because of our drought, we’re burning a lot of coal for our power, and we’re dumping our pollution into the Pacific Ocean. Yet we’re on the world city index at #28 as “most sustainable.” It doesn’t make any sense. To touch upon another major framework moving society forward, is our political institutions. And with the circus of US elections going on right now, I won’t spend much time here. But both past and present show how this most-prized aspect of our political process has become nothing more than a reality TV show. And to be completely honest, I think we’re all better off if we just get a little Rick-rolled this election. Because as we all know he “will never let you down." (I threw that in for you.) Media portrayals aside, there is a more telling symptom in the political establishment as to how “unsustainable” current practices are for solving problems. These are figures from last year’s campaign donation records, by lobbying firms and their corporate clients. I don’t know if you can read that, but at the top, US Chamber of Commerce ... $85 million. You’ve got Boeing on there, General Electric, you’ve got lots of-… AT&T, Comcast, CVS. And if you click through the top hit it consists of think tanks, lawyer firms, telecomm companies and such, all classified under Chamber of Commerce. Anyway, these are the last year’s campaign donations to lobby the government and influence our elected officials. The political power of this annual expenditure to influence our government, and to allow the donors a profit advantage for themselves is one of the driving forces that erodes social health. Or as Adam Smith stated in the Wealth of Nations: “…but to narrow the competition must always be against [the market], and can serve only to enable the dealers by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, [is] an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow citizens.“ This is from, what people consider the father of our economic system. Hopefully these examples give you an idea of where I’m gonna go with all this. There are numerous methods we could examine to discuss their measure of sustainability, but I want to turn the conversation towards examples of what is sustainable, because identifying a problem without talking about the direction you can go in, leaves you nowhere. A wonderful example of a sustainable system, or more accurately, a collection of integrated systems, is our natural world. If we understand sustainability in terms of the endurance of natural processes, then we look around our world every day and we see evidence of these processes and their longevity. And it is only by respecting our natural habitat within our economic philosophies that we will transition to a higher state of equilibrium with our home, such as is expressed in the Natural Law Resource Based model the Zeitgeist Movement talks about. From an atom all the way out to super-massive black holes, all of these systems are connected. Just as our earth system is dependent on the solar system, and we are dependent on the Earth. And as you may have heard us say before, we are all connected by this natural and technical reality. So, using the example of our city systems, what does sustainability look like in practice if the goal is to have cities that work well for us in the present, without causing problems for ourselves and the rest of the world in the future? What methods do you implement if sustainability is the goal? Well with that broadly stated, the method to employ that we advocate is the method of science. When unadulterated by the need to gain some kind of market advantage over a competitor, or simply for the sake of profit, this method works as a feedback mechanism for improving our understandings of the world around us through testing ideas through observation, and adjusting what we know based on the results of experiment. What would be a core attribute if our design strategy is sustainability? - not the only attribute but a core attribute. It would be Efficiency, in the methods employed to meet human needs. Food, energy, transport, production: all such needs would have efficiency as a core priority in their design. And in a monetary system, this is generally too expensive. What kind of approach could be used for organizing all of this? Well it’s known as a systems approach, which is an interdisciplinary method of problem solving, that focuses on how to design and manage complex systems, because our systems are complex. This approach concerns itself with both component parts - could be individuals, communication, everything that a system contains - and also with the whole system being studied. Therefore, it's sometimes referred to as a holistic approach because it considers the whole. So what is the most sustainable city on earth that you can think of? The commercial approach to sustainability has produced results like Masdar City; this is an artist’s rendering. This is a planned city project in the United Arab Emirates. Its intention is to be a fully self-sufficient city system in energy and resource use, employing the best that money can buy, in both technology and design. I’ve been keeping an eye on this project since I heard about it in 2008. Estimated to cost $22 billion, the first phase of only 6 buildings was supposed to be completed in 2010. To date, phase 1 has not been finished, and the project has pushed its completion estimates to 2025. This is an example of the problem of trying to create sustainability inside a for-profit paradigm. The cost is just too high. Another approach, taking the independent route, has been for people to engage in what is known as intentional communities. Especially in the '60s and '70s after the book ‘Walden Two’ gained in popularity, these initiatives often share similar characteristics such as being “Lo-Fi” (or lo-tech) in design, they’re very labor intensive for their members and they’re internally based generally on a labor-for-credit system. Joining such communities is not always, but it’s often driven by the desire to escape problems of society. And while I find that they do begin with good intentions, they all suffer from the inevitability that they are not immune from the problems of the world at large. And I know some TZM advocates find such initiatives appealing, and as a long-time volunteer and activist for the Movement it’s worth mentioning that this is not what we’re about, because what we are interested in is a root-cause understanding of persistent problems, which points to the problems being systemic. Therefore, the system of economy is what needs to be addressed or our problems will simply worsen. The transition consists of impacting social values through our activism efforts, along with the fact that the economic model that we’re talking about - a Natural Law Resource Based model - is holistic and therefore it is global, since the Earth is the largest order system in meeting human needs. Now this brings me to my next point: finding the best example I could, which I feel expresses TZM’s train of thought. And I think I did find a good example of a city that employs the scientific method, prioritizes efficiency throughout its design, has a cooperative vs. competitive social structure, it’s very hi-tech, it's highly automated, and as a result of a systems approach in managing its complexity. And it’s not on earth. The International Space Station (or ISS for short) is a cooperative effort of 15 nations, headed up by 5 major Space Agencies including the US, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada. Commenced in 1998, the International Space Station was taken into space piece-by-piece and gradually built in orbit. It is currently a city of 6 people. Designed as a low-earth orbit, microgravity laboratory in which the international crew lives and works while orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes. The ISS is a research facility about the size of a football field, with the living space of about a 5-bedroom house. It is the most complex scientific engineering project in history, and the largest structure humans have ever put into space. Orbiting about 220 miles above the ground, it is a solar-powered laboratory for new technologies and a world-benefiting platform for environmental, medical and geological research. Life is not what we would call easy in microgravity - or people would say is weightlessness. They have workout requirements beyond what we’re used to in the Earth’s gravity to maintain physical health, muscle mass, and their immune system. They have to work out between 2 - 4 hours per day just to compensate for what gravity does for us here on the ground. But the space program is the first initiative we’ve undertaken that had to answer the question “What does it take for us to survive?” Where we had to scientifically understand what we call the Lifeground of human need: such as air, water, power, food, nutrition and health, since there is no life capacity in space. I’ve been fascinated by astronomy since I was a little boy, looking through a telescope over many nights in my parents' back yard, discovering objects in the night sky, also following our explorations into space. And sometimes it felt like science fiction had become real. Today I understand the profound impact these explorations have had on human civilization. And with that in mind, I wish to share an audio clip that has had a lasting impression on me since I first heard it, and it was also the inspiration for my ZDay presentation this year. [R. Buckminster Fuller] All I'm saying is that when we found out how to keep man alive in space, out of the biosphere, for the first time we found out how to take care of him anywhere in Universe. This is the first really important research on what the human beings need that we have never known because we never went into that because of [the Earth’s] excess. We’ve never looked at that. We've looked into repairing them medically but we never said “What do you need to make them a success? ” Only in the space program have we ever done that. That was a clip of Buckminster Fuller in 1975, giving a lecture, concerning his entire life's work. These sessions were thankfully recorded on tape, and I dug through 42 hours of these recordings to find this clip because it was important to me. You can find the full transcript at But I thought this statement really woke me up to the impact of our explorations, and to moving outside of our biosphere because we have to answer these questions. What does it take for us to survive? So a part of this long transition from way back in the Dark Ages, to post-industrial era, to some future form of a resource-based model, it is marked by our ability to manage complexity, and understand how complex systems exhibit behavior, just as we do. From human relationships all the way to our economic theories. To conclude, it is important to remember that our values and beliefs precede all technical applications of sustainability. Therefore we need our cultural awareness to be based on a valid recognition of the laws of nature to which we are all bound. When it comes to a sustainable world, it is not about right and wrong, but it's about what works or doesn't work. The integrity of our values and beliefs is only as good as how aligned they are with the Lifeground of human need, which is the common ground that we all share. Thanks. [Applause] The Zeitgeist Movement LA Chapter presents Z-Day 2016

Video Details

Duration: 16 minutes and 49 seconds
Year: 2016
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: The Zeitgeist Movement
Director: The Zeitgeist Movement
Views: 51
Posted by: ltiofficial on May 1, 2016

Jason Lord presents "Defining Sustainability", discussing how Sustainability is not a final state, but rather an ongoing process that is observable in both the natural world and technical systems.

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