appalachian son

Visions of a Free Society

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!

Protestors in Ferguson, Missouri chant "hands up, don't shoot!"

Protestors in Ferguson, Missouri chant “hands up, don’t shoot!”

A Teenager Slain

On Saturday, August 9, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was walking with a friend on the 2900 block of Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Missouri. He was on his way home on the hot, humid afternoon, walking down the middle of the street when the two were approached by Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson. Reports of what happened next continue to change, but in the final analysis, Brown tried to flee, the officer raised his firearm, and a series of gun shots shattered the peace. Six bullets pierced the young mans flesh. The teenager fell face down on the hot asphalt as the officer towered over his slain body, radioing it in, preparing for paperwork.

Brown was unarmed. Witnesses say he had his hands raised in the air at the time he was shot.

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!

The day following the shooting, police stated the officer had been pushed inside his car during a scuffle, noting Brown was shot multiple times after the incident and died on scene. A candlelight vigil was held for Brown later in the evening. After the vigil community members began protesting against police violence. In military garb, the police were ready to fight. As community members and police clashed, a riot ensued. When guns were aimed at the crowd, many protesters dropped to their knees and raised their hands toward the night sky, chanting, “hands up, don’t shoot!”

On August 11, protests against police spread throughout the town of Ferguson. In what are now dramatic images all over the Internet, a militarized police force launched tear gas at unarmed protesters. As violence erupted, it became clear that police were no longer “keepers of the peace” but rather “enforcers of the law.” As opposed to protecting property owners, police sought crowd control by aggressive tactics, aiming loaded automatic weapons at protesters. Violence escalated throughout the night.

By August 12, the eyes of the world were on Ferguson. “Hands up, don’t shoot” is now burned into all of our memories. Police in full combat gear, referred to as “warrior cops,” with automatic rifles, tear gas, and military vehicles turn their weapons toward an unarmed populace — “Hands up, don’t shoot! Hands up, don’t shoot! Hands up, don’t shoot!” The image is too powerful for words.

Nationwide social media explodes. Solidarity movements pop up around the country. At Howard University, students gather together and tweet a now iconic photo with #handsupdontshoot – it quickly goes viral. Many in the United States begin to question why the police are so heavily armed — “Why does a working class neighborhood look like a war zone? Why are so many guns pointed at United States citizens? My God, that could happen here. He could have been our son.” The warrior cop is now on the minds of millions.

On August 13, there is even more outrage as journalists are arrested at a local McDonald’s. The press is not free to report and information is being withheld from the public. That night, police violence again escalates. Somewhere in the crowd a protester fills a glass bottle partway with gasoline, inserts a soaked rag or t-shirt and lights a molotov cocktail, hurling it at police. Police respond with more tear gas and smoke bombs.

On August 14, there is a sea change. A block party of sorts starts as a less combative highway patrol, led by Ferguson native Captain Ron Johnson, patrol the streets as opposed to police force. The peace was short-lived, however, as a video of the murder is released to the public. The police came back, aggressive tactics were again used on the crowd and, as of August 19, the National Guard has now made its way into Ferguson.

Police order is crumbling, however, as there is growing strength in protest and crowds. “Hands up, don’t shoot!” is the theme of the revolution. The tables have turned, the state is looking for a fight — the protesters are looking to challenge the existing order . As explained by Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker who is present in the Missouri town:

The conversation here has shifted from the immediate reaction to Michael Brown’s death and toward the underlying social dynamics … disparity in education funding for Ferguson and more affluent municipalities nearby … Six black men I spoke to, nearly consecutively, pointed to Missouri’s felon-disfranchisement laws as part of the equation. “If you’re a student in one of the black schools here and you get into a fight you’ll probably get arrested and charged with assault. We have kids here who are barred from voting before they’re even old enough to register,” one said. Ferguson’s elected officials did not look much different than they had years earlier, when it was a largely white community.

We are all watching.

Hotter Than a Match Head

Dressed in camouflage pants and black body armor, wearing gas masks and military visors, it is clear the local police in Ferguson, Missouri are not out patrolling a beat to keep the peace, they are prepared for war.

This is no hyperbole, the very uniforms worn by police (and now the National Guard) can escalate the risk of violence in this already tense situation. As reported by Vox, former Seattle police chief Norman Stamper warns that when police dress in military uniforms, they contribute to an atmosphere of hostility. Stamper warns of the Warrior Cop mentality, noting the military garb can lead police to “view the community as the enemy. In the process they [police officers] become an occupational force where they are in charge — in the name of control, in the name of public safety, taking actions that actually undermine legitimate control.”

Accompanying the outfits is the military issue M-4 Carbine. The rifle is a favorite of United States military personnel. Weighing in, loaded, at roughly 7.5 pounds, the M-4 enables the police in Ferguson to engage the public in both close quarters and at extended range. It is an exquisite weapon, slowly replacing the M-16 as the military firearm of choice because it is shorter and lighter than the standard issue rifle. It is an automatic, and can also pump out three round bursts. The rifle is accurate and lethal. In the hands of police, it is being pointed at everyday people like you and I at will. Whether packed with live rounds, rubber or wooden bullets it is sure to instill fear.

Also making headlines is police use of tear gas. This past Sunday, August 17, an eight year old boy was left hysterical, sobbing and gasping for breath when a gas canister burst where he was standing. Tear gas is a chemical mist or gas that is utilized to irritate the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, mouth, and lungs. When used, the gas is fired from shells that serve as dangerous projectiles in their own right. Once ignited, the chemical agent not only produces tears, but can cause coughing or choking if inhaled. The symptoms are usually temporary, but they are frightening and in severe cases tear gas can cause asthma attacks, eye/nerve damage and chemical burns. Adding insult to injury, Vox further informs:

The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, to which the US is a party, prohibits the use of tear gas in combat. However, that treaty contains an exception for “law enforcement including domestic riot control purposes,” which allows tear gas to be used by police officers in situations like the Ferguson protests.

That means that using the gas in Ferguson doesn’t necessarily break the law, but the U.S. army would be violating a treaty if it used the same tactics in Afghanistan.

In addition, police are driving around in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs). These are military vehicles built to withstand land mines or homemade bombs. These rigs were designed specifically for the Iraq invasion, making their debut in the desert nation in 2007. They now line the streets of a working class American neighborhood, transporting warrior cops from street to street, intimidating American citizens.

And the protesters? It is August in the south. It is hot, but more than just the heat, it is thick and humid. The combat gear, the M-4s, the tear gas and the MRAPs are being deployed against folks in flip-flops, shorts and tank-tops.

It is this image, the warrior cop against the working class civilian, that has sparked outrage across the nation. The cops are not the good guys this time. The politicians, such as Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, are having their motives questioned. All eyes are on Ferguson, not because of civil unrest that threatens the fabric of a nation — but because of the nation. For the first time there is a clear line in the sand: It’s the state against you.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald recently wrote that the events unfolding in Ferguson are “the destructive by-product of several decades of deliberate militarization of American policing.” He is accurate in his statement. When Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) the federal government started arming police with military grade weapons. A provision in the NDAA allowed the military to transfer gear from the Department of Defense to local police, largely to fight the drug war. After 9/11 and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, police militarization was used for counter terrorism measures.

Nearly half a billion dollars worth of military gear was distributed to thousands of police departments in 2013 alone. As we can see, these weapons are not used for drug regulation or counter terrorism — they are used on an engaged populace. The people of Ferguson are rightly protesting the murder of one of their own by the hands of a cop. They now have an army of cops escalating violence in their grief-stricken community.

But the eyes of the world are with them. Solidarity campaigns are popping up everywhere. The United States government has been fending off a major rebellion for some time now. The events in Ferguson show systemic racism and classism. The events have opened old wounds while bringing new ones into discussions at the dinner table. Around the country, people are becoming less docile and we are questioning each other: “How does something like this happen, and more importantly, what are we to do?”

A Power Greater Than the State

It seems all the combat gear has done nothing to deter direct protest. To date, more than 50 people have been arrested in protests following the death of Michael Brown. Protesters have even chose to directly engage the police station. “They brought this on themselves,” says Adam Burcher of Ferguson. He has been standing outside the Ferguson Police Department with a sign that reads “Stop Killing.” In fact, even outside of Missouri, solidarity protests have popped up around the country and there are those who sympathize with protesters around the globe. The state has ensured its own fate in this situation, it responded in typical top-down fashion — use violence to create quiescence within the community.

Instead of quiescence state action has sparked rebellion. Some protestors are meeting police force with violence, others with peace, all with resolve. Protesters have not been swayed by aggression, but in a twist that happens all too often, they have actually been empowered by it. When out gunned, the power of the crowd pulled them through. “Hands up, don’t shoot!” has painted the perfect picture for the eyes of the world.

What we are witnessing in Ferguson is the pure power of democracy. A movement has been born in the crowd. Contrary to what is being reported in the media, there is not true chaos in the streets. The elements of violence have been exacerbated by the police. What we do see, however, are cooperative individuals trying to achieve a mutual goal — the end of systemic racism, classism and liberation from police violence. The protesters have not lost their minds, they are united. There is solidarity in revolution and it proves social power is greater than state power.

In the days since the shooting the local QuikTrip gas station/convenience store, looted and burned on the second night of protest, is, now, a gathering place for organizers and activists within the community. As again explained by :

The front of the lot bears an improvised graffiti sign identifying the area as the “QT People’s Park.” With the exception of a few stretches, such as Thursday afternoon, when it was veiled in clouds of tear gas, protesters have been a constant presence in the lot. On Sunday afternoon the area was populated by members of local churches, black fraternity and sorority groups, Amnesty International, the Outcast Motorcycle Club, and twenty or so white supporters from the surrounding area. On the north side of the station, a group of volunteers with a mobile grill served free hot dogs and water, and a man stood on a crate, handing out bright yellow T-shirts with the logo of the National Action Network, the group led by Al Sharpton.

Folks are reclaiming their town. As much as systemic racism is part of the story in Ferguson, so is systemic poverty and abuse of power. As mass demonstrations rise (and they will continue to rise) we will witness a game change in our towns. We will seek the decentralization of power, rid ourselves of corrupt politicians, liberate markets, boycott exploitative business practices and seek equality. In order to do this, there will have to be a reclaiming of the commons — and that is exactly what is happening in Ferguson.

Henri Lefebvre was a French Marxist philosopher famous for his observation that there are no neutral places in the city. Power moves throughout public spaces, rendering them not public at all, but rather places of state. Capital again secures one status in the city, causing a rather large problem in low-income communities. Lefebvre argued being a community member should not be dependent on property ownership or access to capital, but by democratic participation. In reclaiming the convenience store, by taking to the streets at night and standing up to police and state enforced curfew, the protesters are sending a clear message: This is our town.

A fundamental issue being addressed right now is power and property dynamics. Will the folks in Ferguson be able to maintain control of their town from the state? Can they prevail against state power and state capitalism? As tax money is thrown at more affluent areas, can an Ostromite interpretation of common ownership build a more perfect community, liberated from top-down decree? Will it hold? Can the powers that be allow it? This is of course radically complex, but we have seen sparks of hope before — 300 citizens took back Taksim Square in Turkey, after all, while the burn of tear gas still occupied the air.

The ramifications of what is occurring in Ferguson go far deeper than the politics normally addressed, if sustained, it will start a wave of revolution — it may join the ranks of the Occupy and Liberty movements in the United States. Another age of change may have a chance to rise.

For the Long Haul

There is a growing sentiment today within political circles that folks are tired of tried and failed conservative institutions, existing solely to uphold the existing social order. There is also a distrust of high liberalism, seeking to empower these institutions even further. The ranks of people who no longer endorse the existing halls of power grow with each passing day. We do not want to play witness to a simple change in institutional order, we want to take our place in history and change how we organize our lives.

There is no electoral way to move forward on this goal — only direct action. Only in rendering institutions useless, only by starting our own alternatives will we be successful. There is no single answer to the problems that have given rise to the situation in Ferguson, there is no way top-down decree will ever successfully manage the lives of individuals who simply long to be free of institutionalized repression. Addressing problems from the top down, via the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on terror, and so on and so on only exacerbates the problems of everyday people.

No more can we look to vertical power structures. We need a polycentric approach. How liberating it will be to embrace the idea that we can manage ourselves! Is this not the very essence of the “hands up, don’t shoot!” movement? Is it not the idea that social power is the answer to police violence, racism within the justice system and class warfare? I think it is, we are looking at systems of power, noting how they are all related and seeking our individual and collective liberation. As we walk into this period of revolution, once we really start talking to one another, we will scale these problems up to all institutions — damn right a change is going to come!

I think it is healthy that we are doubting the dogmatism. Conservatives don’t think so, we are leaving their institutions behind. Liberals fear the populace, for we seek to strip them of their beloved institutions as well. It is libertarianism that empowers us the challenge and question the existing order, and it is anarchism that will allow us to dismantle systems of illegitimate authority and oppression. In Ferguson we are not taking the bait, we don’t believe the police are just trying to maintain the peace — a look at one photograph makes that notion ridiculous. Power should lie with the protesters.

Social power is continuing its rise against state power. The revolutionary spirit is incredibly human. It is my hope that we continue to reclaim the commons. If solidarity movements can spread like wildfire in the face of combat police, I have no doubt that we will win in our march toward liberty. In doing so, property and community will no longer be utilized to keep us apart, by reclaiming them we will come together. There is no greater way to invade the state than to demand agency. For this reason, and so many others, I am in solidarity with folks on the streets of Ferguson, in the hollers of Appalachia, the canyons of Utah, in the streets of Gaza, the halls of Israel and where all seek the destruction of illegitimate authority.

At this time, may we pursue absolute liberty? May we achieve the goal of dismantling coercive power structures as opposed to altering them? The current potential for societal change is astounding.

I don’t know what has given rise to past revolutionary movements. I don’t know what sparked radical politics at Berkeley in the 60′s, protests against the Vietnam War, peace movements, opposition to racism in the deep south, slave rebellions, establishment of the underground rail road, women’s liberation, confronting combat troops in the streets of Ferguson and so on — but in the face of all these entrenched systems of power people did rise. Today the people rise again.

It is time to earn whatever lies beyond the next great social movement. We will be better because of it — Hands up, don’t shoot!

Intellectual Property is a Hurdle to Self Direction

Perhaps the most rewarding experience of education is self direction. Here, the individual fully enjoys their own labor. Whatever ones interests are, self direction is achieved on ones own terms. Education promotes initiative, creativity, co-operative/mutual labor and healthy academic competition in ones field to cultivate a learning network.

This is certainly true in my own case. As a graduate student at the University of Tennessee, I was able to develop my education in the best way I saw fit. I took the classes I was interested in (for the most part) but, more importantly, my research topic, methods and field work were left in my control. My adviser was great, helped me along, but my experience was very much self-directed. I saw a problem, and gathered data on a topic I was fully engaged in.

This is the very basis of the scientific method. We are encouraged to doubt and question the existing order, to follow self-direction and formulate our own hypotheses to work towards possible conclusions. In fact, an old academic motto notes that learners are not empty vessels waiting to be filled, but instead respond in different ways to the stream of knowledge and its current. Science, by its very definition, is open source.

Under self-direction, peer-to-peer learning is incredibly important. Focusing specifically on Higher Education, particularly graduate academics, there is a need and reliance on empirical data. The goal of graduate research is to add to a body of knowledge that seeks understanding of a system or concept. In order to conduct such research, one must not only understand their field, but also be granted access to data, information and the methods used to obtain such data. In today’s academic institutions this is championed, but there do exist barriers to achieving this goal – one of the greatest is perhaps Intellectual Property (IP).

I have published everything as open source content, and my publication (coming soon to a journal near you) for my MS research will follow. I worked on the use of freshwater clams as sentinel species to monitor the health of streams receiving acid drainage from coal surface mine operations. I want the results of my data available to the public. I want my experiment improved upon, its methods updated and for the idea to further progress – just as I added to the work of others before me. Open source is key for progress, it allows the free flow of scientific information. IP keeps this from happening.

Take the case of Diego Gomez, a 26-year-old Columbian Master’s student whose research interest is biodiversity conservation.Throughout his academic career, access to academic journals on global research databases was extremely limited due to lack of institutional resources. Because of this, Gomez became dependent on the Internet. The web allowed him to research, share documents and talk with colleagues. To further collaboration, when he and others came across relevant papers they shared them together over the net.

One such paper landed him in legal trouble when the author filed a lawsuit over the “violation of [his] economic and related rights.” Under the allegations of this lawsuit, reports EFF, Gomez could be sent to prison for up to eight years and face crippling monetary fines. His crime is violation of IP law – patentscopyright and trademarks that restrict human labor and innovation.

This is the curse of IP – excessive restrictions upheld by laws used to protect the “economic rights” of authors. Instead of promoting scientific progress we are instead beholden to copyright. Instead of allowing human innovation to flourish, we are told ideas should be owned.  IP reserves itself the monopoly of coercion, it does not exist to ease, facilitate and grant social innovation – it prevents such progress. IP is a hurdle to self direction and thus the inclined labor of human beings. The solution is to question and dismantle this authority, furthering our progress towards a free society.

Luckily, we are well on our way in the age of network mutualism. Falling communication costs are allowing us to build anew within the shell of the old. The open access movement occurring on the Internet is creating global markets for free association among social networks that educate and inspire – totally void of traditional power structures. The creative, innovative potential for human labor in the Internet age is astounding.

In a free society ideas will not be owned. Ideas are powerful and fundamental to human flourishing — they should not be caged by legal activism. Instead, imagine a different order – one crafted by creative expression, innate interests and the ingenuity of a free society. To achieve greatness we must continue to advance todays emerging, beautiful anarchic order. Open source content is fundamental to our success.


Network Mutualism

photo credit

photo credit

This post is authored by me, but originally appeared at C4SS. Enjoi!

Human communication systems offer incredible insight to the creative nature of human beings, spontaneous social order and emerging markets within our societies. For the first time in human history we are sharing ideas from the local to the global in scale. With the advent of the Internet, social media and growing social networks, communication costs are at an all time low. These falling communication costs, as at every time in our collective history, are allowing us to work around traditional power structures that have historically controlled the amount and type of information we receive. As the Internet is a mechanism for global communication, we are now cultivating ideas based on individual and collective interaction with people who hold similar interests.

The described collaborative nature of inclined labor in the freed market has far-reaching political and socioeconomic implications for our societies. Historical evidence suggests that social and cultural development are dependent upon active participation from people in their local communities (Kretzmann & McKnight 1993). Emerging communication technologies and the spread (and ease of access to) information can lead to a transfer of authority from centralized institutions to neighborhood or community organizations (McCook 2000). Human communication systems play a fundamental role in the empowerment of all people and provide a wide range of benefits to communities (Wilcox 1996). Altruism is alive and well in the Internet age. The collaborative nature of the Internet, the ease of access to information, and the development of local to global markets over the net are of particular interest to market anarchists. After all, what better place to work on a project with peers, or organize a rebellion? The Molinari Institute website defines market anarchism this way:

Market anarchism is the doctrine that the legislative, adjudicative, and protective functions unjustly and inefficiently monopolised by the coercive State should be entirely turned over to the voluntary, consensual forces of market society.

The market anarchist seeks differing and competing modes of social organization. Market anarchism maintains replacing the state with a decentralized society is desirable because of the feasibility of, and the liberating principles innate to, left-wing free market economics. What better example of voluntary social organization exists than the vast networks emerging on the Internet? Important here is the concept of information ecology. Information ecology is a system of people, practices, values and technologies in a particular environment (Nardi & O’Day 1999) or community. This idea of information ecology helps us better understand human communication systems and how information moves within them – how is information used, who needs certain types of information, who is impacted by access (or lack there of) of information and what does this mean for our communities?

As communication continues its decentralized evolution in the age of the Internet more stakeholders will take active roles in community development, empowering people like never before (Mehra 2009). The online encyclopedia “Wikipedia,” for example, explicitly restricts corporations or governments from uploading information to its online content, instead allowing only individuals to add, remove or change content on the website (Kaplan 2010). Driving this collaborative effort is the idea that the labor of many individuals leads to better availability of information than any single person or actor could individually achieve (Fama 1970). The idea is that collaborative projects lead to more efficient markets. Collaborative projects enable the creation of information by interested users and are incredibly democratic.

A political example of this democratization is occurring right now in China. Yang (2003) notes that civil society and the Internet are dependent upon each other. The Internet facilitates the activities of a civil society by creating new markets for citizen participation. Civil society facilitates further development of the Internet by creating the social capital (citizens and citizen groups) for communication and interaction (Yang 2003). This co-evolution of the Internet and society has big implications for China’s model of government (even as the Chinese government attempts to control access to social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook), as Yang explains:

The co-evolution of the Internet and civil society means that political control of the Internet in China will have to take the form of control of civil society as well, and vice versa. Both options are open to the state, but the simultaneous control of the Internet and civil society will add to the difficulty and complexity of control. The co-evolutionary process also means that civil society development will facilitate the democratic uses of the Internet as much as the diffusion of the Internet will shape civil society. This scenario may have long-term consequences for the development of the Internet and civil society in China.

Many more examples of networked decentralization exist across the net. Human beings are fond of organizing in groups and with new technology we are in the beginning phases of building a global market defined by collaborative social action.

The Internet, information technology and falling communication costs provide easy-access to local/regional/global/stigmergic networks. Communication networks are easily coordinated and create ‘‘virtual public spheres’’ (Langman 2005). Virtual public spheres are places in cyberspace where people and information intersect in virtual communities or subcultures (Langman 2005). Communities that are organized and cultivated on the Internet are just as real as the face-to-face interactions humans use on a daily basis. The Internet provides a space where people can acquire and share information as well as interact, debate and negotiate about issues pertaining to society (Langman 2005) – elevating the speech of all individuals, not just those in a position of power, like never before in human history. The Internet is incredibly empowering – the feedback loop between the Internet and civil society is an engine driving cultural evolution.

The rise of global communication, among all tiers of society, will have huge implications for the future of human civilization. It is important then, for all libertarian theorists, anarchists, and liberty minded individuals to recognize and challenge threats to the Internet. As empowering as network mutualism can be, technology also tends to centralize power – especially as it is the privileged intelligentsia that mainly moves innovation in this field forward. This gives the elite few the power of dominance over the many. Technology is often born in a system of bureaucratic control that champions a social structure based in top-down hierarchies. This is why the democratic nature of the Internet and our virtual public spheres are so unique – they deserve our protection. Wherever there is human flourishing, rest assured either a state or corporate bureaucrat (often both) discover a system they argue needs taxation, moderation, regulation and/or prohibition. Take Zach Epstein‘s warning  that a new privacy-killing CISPA clone is now a step closer to becoming law. He writes:

We all remember the outrage that swept the Internet and ultimately played a role in defeating CISPA, a proposed law that would have allowed government agencies and tech companies to exchange private information about United States citizens without their knowledge and without a warrant. Well, it’s time to get ready for another round of outrage because CISPA’s controversial successor is now a step closer to becoming law.

He is referring to the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2014 – approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee in mid-July. The new law (CISA) would allow companies to share private user data with local and federal law enforcement if the claim is made that it relates to any kind of alleged criminal activity. Another piece of legislation allowing the state-corporate apparatus to set-up wiretaps without warrant.

Now take the much more discussed Net-Neutrality debate. The Federal Communications Commission received more than 1 million public comments on the issue of net neutrality during a five-month commenting period for a proposal that would allow cable companies to charge content providers extra fees to deliver faster service. NPR reports it is the biggest public response the FCC has ever gotten on a policy matter in such a short period, and the second most commented-upon FCC issue, period. The overwhelming response from the public was that the internet should remain open in nature to ensure its benefits can be shared by all. In the same article, however, NPR asks George Washington University law professor Richard Pierce if the record breaking comments will even matter in the long run. Pierce notes that this has been extensively studied by academics and their research shows that rule-making or policymaking tends to be systemically biased to favor the industries that are affected by the regulation. NPR reprots:

In a recent example, Pierce points to the work of Kimberly Krawiec. Krawiec read all of the comments that were submitted in the rule-making that led to the Volcker rule — part of the Dodd-Frank Act’s banking reforms. She also reviewed the logs that described the meetings that agency decision makers had with parties who were interested in the outcome of that proceeding. Krawiec found that, while proponents of strict regulation of financial institutions dominated the comment process numerically, their comments were useless to decision makers, because the vast majority of them were identical form letters without data or analysis. The folks who do comment with the detail, data and analysis that can change minds? Deep-pocketed industries.

The academic conclusion: Research (and history) shows public comments do not affect outcomes – money talks. But, our speech is empowered like never before over the net. The best thing we can do for the Internet is to keep up the trend of decentralization. So far, the national debate has presented us with only two options:

  1. We need the state to protect us from losing the internet to corporate control via regulation and legislative decree, or
  2. We need the state to protect moneyed interests so corporations can practice their rights in the (state) capitalist market.

We must remember there is a third option – maintain common, mutual control over the net. By the very nature of information ecology, we can keep the Internet innovative and free. All battles against the state and capital are uphill but we are all empowered by the Internet. As the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) notes, as long as we continue to build and provide access to new market opportunities and create safe havens for free speech, the Internet will continue to empower and equalize horizontal social organization as opposed to vertical, top down hierarchies around the globe. We are winning, simply because we talk and are inclined to labor with one another. Information technologies are allowing for revolutions in markets, thus effecting business, government and global culture. For the first time in human history there is truly global communication. Though it is still a large privilege to have access to the Internet, more and more people, of many different socio-economic statuses, are crossing the digital divideand beginning to talk. As Tim Malone writes in The Future of Work about the coming revolution:

The new revolution promises to lead to a further transformation in our thinking about control. Where does power come from? Who should wield it? Who is responsible? Once again the result will be in a world where people have more freedom. A world in which power and control are spread more widely than our industrial aged ancestors would have ever thought possible… Dispersed physically but connected by technology, workers are now able, on a scale never before imaginable, to make their own decisions using information gathered from many other people and places.

As Malone points out, emerging orders in society will continue the trend of decentralization. If left in common control the net will continually become democratic, highly organized, structured and efficient – it will be anarchic progress. There has been a constant push throughout human history to decentralize when the time is optimal. The emergence of democracy, for example, shows off this trait. Now, in an era of low communication costs and emerging technologies, we may see enhanced social evolution, a stronger push to decentralize and the emergence of small social networks that can cause big changes in how we live our everyday lives. Information technology is beginning to impact our neighborhoods, cities, work places and governance. We are connected and with each blog, tweet, event, post or review prove we are not neutral, but instead are revolutionaries for network mutualism.

Works Cited:

Fama, E. F. (1970) Efficient Capital Markets: A Review of Theory and Empirical Work. Journal of Finance, vol. 25 no. 2, 383—417. Kaplan, Andres and Michael Hanlein. (2010) Users of the World Unite! The Challenges and Opportunities of  Social Media. Business Horizons. Kretzmann, J. P. & L. McKnight. (1993) Building Communities From the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Communities Assests. Institute for Policy Research. Langman, Lauren. (2005)From Virtual Public Spheres to Global Justice: A Critical Theory of Internetworked Social Movements. American Sociological Association. Malone, Thomas W. (2004) The Future of Work. Harvard Business School Press McCook, K. (2007) A Place at the Table: Participating in Community Building. ALA Editions. Mehta, Bharat & Ann Peterson Bishop. (2004) The Internet for Empowerment of Minority and Margenalized Users. New Media and Society Vol6 (6):781–802 Mehra, Bharat and Ramesh Srinivasan. (2007) The Library-Community Convergence Framework for Community Action: Libraries as Catalysts of Social Change. Libri, vol. 57,  123–139. Nardi, B & V. O’Day. (1996) Information Ecologies: Using Information with Heart. MIT Press. Wilcox D. (1996) Inventing the Future – Communities in the Information Society. NCVO. Yang, Guobin. (2003) The Co-Evolution of the Internet and Civil Society in China. University of California Press, vol. XLIII, no. 3.

A Mountain Justice Summer

Mountain Justice Summer 2014

Mountain Justice Summer 2014

The temperate, deciduous, mountain rain-forests of Central and Southern Appalachia are recognized as a biodiversity hotspot of global significance. In Eastern Kentucky stands Pine Mountain, among the most beautiful and biologically diverse mountains in the region — equipped with gentle views, waterfalls, endemic flora and fauna and undisturbed forests. In June the mountain was also home to a community dedicated to a sustainable Appalachia — the folks of Mountain Justice.

Mountain justice is both a call to action, and a call for help, from communities in the Appalachian Mountains. Specifically, Mountain Justice is a gathering of numerous concerned citizens and coalitions who are part of a growing network to abolish mountaintop removal valley fill operations and transition mountain communities beyond coal.

To date, more than 520 mountains throughout Appalachia have been leveled by mountaintop mining. More than 1.1 million hectares (an area three times the size of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park) of temperate forest have been converted to moonscape  and more than 2000 km of streams have been buried. Though there are reclamation requirements, to date, there is no evidence to suggest the environmental impairment of this practice can be offset.

There is a large toll to human populations as a result of these operations as well. Numerous health risks exist in Appalachian communities as a result of air and water pollution and industrial disaster is rampant in the coalfields. As environmental health is depressed, so are markets. Billions of dollars in wealth have been extracted from mountain communities only to enrich extractive resource industries, energy monopolies, state governments and the federal government – leaving coalfield residents in immense poverty. Appalachian history is wrought with class struggle, environmental degradation and corporatism. The mountains are on the front lines of the war with the politically connected – and Mountain Justice is striking back.

For ten years now Mountain Justice has worked on a diversity of tactics to end the destruction of Appalachian coalfield communities — from “paper wrenching” to non-violent direct action. Mountain Justice summer camp has become a staple of the Appalachian movement, it is a community; many know each other and alliances are quickly made. Mountain Justice Summer lasted ten days and featured workshops, training sessions, and good old fashioned story telling about Appalachian history and culture. Of course what is a summer camp without traditional foot stompin’ mountain music, films, bonfires, home cooked meals and camping?  All were present at Mountain Justice, accompanied with a healthy dose of revolution.

Particularly interesting about Mountain Justice (and almost all of Appalachian organizing for that matter) is the leaderless coordinating style of the movement. Groups are organized, decisions are made and actions are carried out without top-down hierarchies, but rather cooperative decision-making. The movement operates in the tradition of anarchist, anti-authoritarian social innovation. I cannot claim the entire movement hopes for a stateless society, but it is important to note the decentralized themes prevalent throughout Appalachian transition. The movement strives for economic and environmental sustainability — all to be achieved by local and worker ownership of the means of production, community owned democratic energy systems and solidarity economics.

Most importantly, the movement is achieving its goals. These small scale, decentralized markets are rising in the Appalachian coalfields. In West Virginia, coal miners who lost their jobs to the mechanization of the industry have started developing environmental markets. Worker coalitions are helping communities save money via efficiency programsCoal River Mountain Watch is achieving democratic energyDirect action after direct action raises awareness and halts new coal generation, closes strip mines and alleviates poverty. Because of groups like Mountain Justice regeneration is coming to Appalachia.

Neighborhood Environmentalism: Building Sustainable Markets

Photo Credit: New York Times. China flattens mountains for economic development.

Photo Credit: New York Times. China flattens mountains for economic development.

At this blog, I try to keep things near and dear to issues impacting the Appalachian bio-region – though I do stray from time to time. In the past I have published blogs about national affairs and US foreign policy, and I sometimes slip and post things to this site in that vein, but I am trying to keep things at this blog as regional as possible, hence the name Appalachian Son (though you can find all of my political writing at

But, for this third “Neighborhood Environmentalism” piece I am going to stray a bit again and call attention to something that is happening in China. I am doing this because there is an incredible amount of ecological destruction happening in the country right now, and it is because of something all too familiar to Appalachia: Mountaintop Removal Valley Fill operations. Chinese scientists are also looking to the same tired environmental players within the United States to help mitigate the situation (but not stop it). It is an important story, and if we can adopt solidarity economics in Appalachia, then perhaps we can offer a new way forward for China as well.

Just as Appalachia, the mountains and alpine forests of Central China are home to an incredible array of flora and fauna. The botanical richness of the high desert bioregion alone make the Chinese mountains a biodiversity hotspot. Specifically, the area provides crucial habitat to avian species, mammals and endemic vascular plants.

In a time of precipitous biodiversity loss, on course to yield the sixth great extinction, there should be high priority placed on protecting biodiversity. Instead of curbing habitat loss, the leading cause of extinction, however, the Chinese government actively pursues it. In the rich bioregion of central China, home to numerous species of endemic plants and animals, the state is leveling 700 mountains for economic development.

An article published earlier this June, by Chinese Scientists Peiyue LiHui Qian and Jianhua Wu, in the international journal, Nature, argues “the consequences of these unprecedented programmes have not been thought through — environmentally, technically or economically.” The authors go on to argue that such projects ultimately result in air and water pollution, soil erosion and large-scale geological hazards such as land subsidence. The authors conclude this project will lead to vast destruction of forests and agricultural fields – endangering rare flora and fauna.

State controlled media offers an alternative story, however, noting the loss of mountain habitat in the region will “lead to the creation of an environmentally sustainable economy based on energy-saving industries.” In their Nature article, though, the Chinese scholars note: “Many land-creation projects in China ignore environmental regulations, because local governments tend to prioritize making money over protecting nature.” The authors close by arguing the Chinese government needs to further research the project, recruiting help from other government organizations such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency, United States Geological Survey and an international association of hydrologist’s from the United States and Canada. Though I agree more environmental protection would relieve some ecological stress, these recommendations do not strike the root of the problem – state economic power.

There is a strong tendency among environmentalists to empower the state, which is odd as there is a continual process of compromise between conservationists, big business and government courts that results in ever more encroachment on wilderness. If we instead apply laissez-faire politics to land management we may begin to view land as it is (natural, beautiful and important) as opposed to how it should be.

American libertarian and political philosopher Karl Hess Jr., in his book Visions Upon the Land: Man and Nature on the Western Range, attributes the decline in health of natural lands to inherent problems in government policy, ecological destabilization due to government intrusion and the destructiveness of sweeping land use policies. Hess believes that instead of looking for more laws and regulations to manage natural resources (inevitably enhancing state economic power) we should instead seek an economic system based on voluntary market interactions without the involvement of the state.

This adaptive approach to ecological protection yields incredible results. Take for instance the work of Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom. Her work reveals environmental sustainability is not the product of government intervention, but instead a result of self organized institutions where key management decisions are made as organically as possible. It is also wise to remember the old community based, sustainable management of village lands – suppressed by the great landlords, the communist state and the neoliberal state in succession.

Homogenization is dangerous for both world ecosystems and economics. Nature and human civilization are incredibly complex and dynamic – neither will be sustained by sweeping ideas of natural resource management.

Ecological systems and free markets share an affinity for diversity and both long for sustainability. The dissolution of power and control will advance best management practices. For this reason, we should not look vertically to state institutions, but horizontally to one another in the market. The goal should not be expanding the floor of the cage, the goal should be abolition. Neighborhood environmentalism will build sustainable markets — and markets are beautiful.

Neighborhood Environmentalism: Toward Democratic Energy

Phto Credit: TheNews.Coop - Democratic Energy Transition

Phto Credit: TheNews.Coop – Democratic Energy Transition

As a boy in the southeast African nation of Malawi, William Kamkwamba harnessed the wind.  In 2002, drought and famine — common problems in one of the world’s least-developed countries — forced the boy and his family to forage for food and water as thousands starved.

Kamkwamba, however, knew if he could build a windmill he would bring water and electricity to his family. So he pulled together scrap metal, tractor parts and bicycles, constructing a peculiar, but functioning, windmill. The contraption was viewed as a miracle — it powered four lights and turned a water pump that ameliorated the crisis. News of his “electric wind” spread quickly and was emulated.

Kamkwamba’s story is one of democratic energy and neighborhood environmentalism. Access to information left the boy free to replicate the science of windmills. After construction, his work spread throughout the region. This is a prime example of social power. The boy who harnessed the wind is testament to the power of two ideas: Open source content and co-operative labor.

It is this kind of market approach, not sweeping policy from a centralized authority, that will meet the demands of the 21st century .

Take the newly proposed United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation that aims to reduce carbon emissions. Hailed as a historic action, its mechanisms leave much to be desired.

Target emission reductions will be set for individual states. To meet these targets, states could renovate existing coal-fired power plants with “clean burning” technology — but clean coal is a dirty lie. States could switch to natural gas which produces less carbon — but natural gas emits methane at 21 times the greenhouse impact of carbon dioxide. State incentives to residents to be more energy-efficient are low hanging fruit that can do much, but alone cannot likely get the job done. Or states can work under a cap-and-trade program through which offsets undercut reductions, allowing big polluters to continue business as usual.

Furthermore, there still remain state enforced laws such as compulsory pooling and eminent domain which allow big polluters to disregard property rights and wreck natural habitats that naturally offer the ecosystem service of carbon sequestration. There still remain intellectual property laws that permit patent monopoly, producing a barrier to competition in the market that could drive polluters under the regulation standard.

Conflict currently exists between the regulatory state and the energy elite, but it is latent. Utility monopolies such as Duke-Progress Energy and the Tennessee Valley Authority (among others), coupled with industry giants King Coal, Big Oil and Fracked Gas have a lock on the energy market. Because of the state-capitalist system other market players (and people like you and I) remain economically dependent on these elite. The state knows this and is loyal to them. Its economic strength is fueled by the energy industry.

The very institution of the state encourages environmental degradation and closed markets. It’s time to dismantle such an illegitimate authority.

Taking democratic control of these institutions may be difficult, but for what it’s worth, I remain an optimist. We continue to strive for the beautiful ethic of liberty. Until actualized, may we begin to disassociate as much as possible and take a lesson from the boy who harnessed the wind. In the open source technological age, with the resources and infrastructure available to us, we can labor for neighborhood solutions and begin the magnificent struggle for democratic energy. In fact we already have.

Neighborhood Environmentalism: Protecting Biodiversity

South Loop Trail - Knoxville Urban Wilderness

South Loop Trail – Knoxville Urban Wilderness

The environment, specifically climate change, is recieving some much deserved attention as of late. Discussion of climate change is healthy and necessary, but it seems the politico-media complex exclusively discusses climate, leaving other urgent crises to fall under the radar.

One such crisis is Earth’s impending sixth mass extinction. We live in a time of precipitous biodiversity loss — on par with the extinction rate that ended the age of the dinosaurs. A complete tally of recent extinctions and imperiled species (along with causes) can be found at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) website –

Stuart Pimm of Duke University, a recognized expert in the field of conservation biology, has published a landmark study in the peer-reviewed journal Science. Pimm’s publication describes the current plight of flora and fauna around the planet. Pimm notes that species are disappearing at least 1,000 times faster than the natural background rate – ten times faster than ecologists previously believed. “We are on the verge of the sixth extinction,” Pimm said in a statement about his research. “Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions.”

There are a number of factors causing species decline. The major culprit, however, is not climate change — it’s habitat loss.

Over 50% of the human population now lives in cities, as populations expand, so too does urbanization. This creates an incredible challenge to species conservation as the total size of urban spaces in the United States now exceeds the total size of areas protected for conservation. It is important, then, for markets to develop that encourage biodiversity conservation.

Pimm is right: Whether or not we avoid a biodiversity crisis depends on our actions. It is time to embrace neighborhood environmentalism and reclaim the commons.

“Growth at any cost” economics, the dogma of neo-liberalism and government institutions, utilizes precious landscapes and resources needed for ecological subsistence. Even programs that seek mechanisms for conservation, such as the United Nation’s REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), inadvertently promote the total exploitation of natural areas, simply because regulation diverts resource extraction to unprotected land/seascapes.

Enclosure movements (acquisition of territories for the state or private capital) more often than not exploit natural landscapes. To the contrary, democratic management of natural areas has resulted in best sustainability practices.

The work of Nobel Prize recipient Elinor Ostrom demonstrates environmental protection increases with Common Pool Resource InstitutionsArun Agrawal, in his work Environmentality, notes sustainable forest policy emerged in the Kumoan region of the Himalayas as a result of decentralized, democratically controlled resource management. In our cities, the establishment of urban wilderness areas popping up around the globe, from the labor of civic sector institutions and private citizens, are protecting large expanses of forest and crucial habitat from economic exploitation – my favorite example hails from the Scruffy City of Knoxville, Tennessee, where over 1,000 acres of forested habitat has been preserved.

There are many more examples of freed markets protecting wilderness and ecosystem services. This protection simultaneously provides ancillary benefits to all flora and fauna — including humans. Government institutions and concentrations of private capital are all too often hurdles to the implementation of policies that can ease the current biodiversity crisis.Neighborhood Power is the way of the future — conservation depends on it.

A Pox on the King

Image Credit:

Image Credit: – Coal Fire Power Plant

Of all the complex wicked problems addressed by the current environmental movement, perhaps the most urgent is climate change.  The scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that ecosystems are rather vulnerable to changing climates, with a large number of species (upwards of 40%) at risk of extinction if current warming trends continue. It is well noted in the peer-reviewed literature that concentrations of  important greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) in the atmosphere have increased markedly since the advent of industrial society – a product of anthropogenic utility of fossil fuels (though factors such as deforestation have also played a role). Beyond the human race, the success or failure of the environmental movement holds great implications for all flora and fauna and all of Earths most vast and wondrous landscapes and seascapes

Fossil fuels are the primary source of energy for industrial (and industrializing) societies. Particular to the United States, fossil fuels provide 85% of the nation’s energy. Of the three pillars of the fossil industry – oil, natural gas and coal – coal is king. Coal is the primary source of energy for the United States, providing over half of the electricity consumed by Americans. Coal is king because it fuels the grid of industrialized society. Coal also just so happens to be the most carbon intensive fossil resource. A kilowatt-hour of electricity from coal produces 2.4 lbs of carbon dioxide which is more than double the amount for oil and natural gas. Though responsible for just half the electricity generated in the United States, King Coal is responsible for 80% of the carbon dioxide released by utilities.

Imagine the sense of urgency the environmental movement must have felt, then, in the spring of 2007 when Energy Department analyst Erik Shuster circulated a document proposing 151 new coal-fired power plants be slated for construction. What to do about such a crisis?

Climate Hope, creit to

Climate Hope, credit to

I have just finished Climate Hope: On the Front Lines of the Fight Against Coal by Ted Nace. This summer I hope to make progress on a study for The Center for a Stateless Society – Flowers of the Dark: A Libertarian Analysis of the Appalachian Coalfields. Nace’s Climate Hope was the first book on my reading list because it describes the extraordinary organizing methods and political engagement of environmental activists that empowered them to halt the construction of 109 of the proposed plants.

Climate Hope is a relatively easy, incredibly engaging read. Climate Hope is a testament to the power of democratic social movements, protest and the mobilization of citizen coalitions. The book tells the story of how organized people, from sit ins at coal surface mines, to blockades of large financial institutions, were able to deliver an incredible blow to what is arguably America’s most powerful industry.

Nace takes a comprehensive look at what the climate and anti-coal movements have experienced first hand – social movements that advance and uphold public welfare, seek justice and progress society. Climate Hope is a first person narrative of the authors own involvement in the environmental movement. The early chapters of the book describe his transformation from a concerned citizen to an activist, while the latter chapters describe in detail the growing anti-coal movement.

Nace opens his narrative with a discussion of climate scientist Dr. James Hansen. In May of 2007, Dr. Hansen, a prominent figure in the climate movement himself, argued that by simply moving beyond coal, 80% of the anthropogenic climate problem could be solved. Hansen, at the time, was a leading climate scientist at NASA and his declaration of “the 80% solution” is what inspired Nace to begin his activist work.

Nace then describes the environmental movement. He starts by looking at the campaigns of rather well-known (NRDC, Sierra Club, RAN, etc) civic sector institutions and how they proposed the United States move beyond coal. To his dismay, there was little being done on the “80% solution,” so Nace started what is now which serves as a global reference center about coal. The site contains information about coal plants (existing and proposed), strip mines, pit mines, industry officials, coal companies, coal politics and local to global environmental groups and actions.

Nace also informs readers about the heart and soul of the anti-coal campaign – democratic social movements. Though large campaigns are very important, those on the frontlines of the fight against coal are self-organizing. Of particular interest to the libertarian is the description of the modern environmental movement. Nace writes:

It was the famed leaderless coordinating style of the youth climate movement. Although direct action is most often associated with protesting against something, the youth climate movement can also be seen as a large, far-flung experiment in new ways to run groups and make decisions without top-down hierarchies and arbitrary authority. This puts the movement in the wide tradition of anarchist, anti-authoritarian social innovation.

And he is dead on with this description. If those of us in the environmental movement are to resist power and domination in our communities, how can we tolerate such forces in our movement? In my own experience organizing against mountaintop removal coal mining I have seen first hand, and been amazed at, how successful this stigmergic organization actually is.  Nace does a great job describing the actions of those from across the nation, from the Great Pacific Northwest to the gentle Appalachian Valley and Ridge. Here are some of the activists, scientists, and political leaders profiled in the book, along with the coal executives they opposed (from

  • Attorney Carol Overland, whose startling revelations of runaway costs eviscerated proposed coal plants in Minnesota and Delaware.
  • Coal baron “Buck” Harless, who rallied his industry to win West Virginia for George Bush in the 2000 election, ensuring that destructive mining practices would continue unabated for eight years.
  • Navajo activist Elouise Brown, whose impromptu blockade in subzero weather turned the tide against Blackstone billionaire Steve Schwarzmann’s Desert Rock power plant.
  • Climatologists James Hansen and Pushker Kharecha, whose calculations identified a phase-out of coal as the key measure capable of staunching climate chaos.
  • Appalachian coalfield activists and Goldman Prize winners Maria Gunnoe, Judy Bonds and Keepers of the Mountains Activist Larry Gibson.
  • Coal flak Bob Henrie, who masterminded the industry’s “clean coal” campaign.
  • Organizer Ted Glick, whose Washington, D.C., hunger strike and Vietnam-era organizing skills inspired and instructed a new generation of activists.
  • Youth activists Hannah Morgan, Kate Rooth, and scores of other direct action protesters who conducted lock-down blockades at mines and coal plants, despite repeated police use of pepper spray, taser guns, and pain compliance holds.
  • Attorney Bruce Nilles, who forged the Sierra Club’s pioneering campaign against coal while most other national environmental groups sat on their hands.
  • Benedictine monk Terrance Kardong, whose 30-year fight to halt the spread of strip mining in North Dakota culminated in a “win for the mouse.”
  • Rainforest Action Network leader Mike Brune, whose organization’s protests against banks exposed the coal industry’s financial underbelly.
  • Organizers Dana Kuhnline and Sierra Murdoch, whose Power Past Coal campaign sparked over three hundred grassroots protests.

Of particular importance to me is his chapter “War Against the Mountains,” which touches on the subject of mountaintop removal coal mining. Coal mining has a long history in Appalachia. The deep pit mines and the “canary in the coal mine” are reminiscent of a mining method whose time has, for the most part, past. The “new school” method of coal extraction is coal surface mining. Through much of Appalachia, the preferred surface mining method is mountaintop removal/valley fill – a process that literally blasts away the tops of mountains and pushes the left over material, deemed overburden, into the valleys and streams below. Since the 1970’s, over 520 mountains have been leveled by the mining technique (an area three times the size of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park) and waste from this process has added toxic pollutants to over 2000 miles worth of Appalachian waters. This mining method is rather contentious in the region and in recent years arguments both for and against have grown increasingly heated. On one side of the issue are folks concerned about their cultural and natural heritage, on the other side are those worried about losing the only economic boon in the coalfields. Nace describes this tug of war in Climate Hope, recalling a protest he was part of in a West Virginia holler:

As I watched these scenes of chaos, it was obvious what motivated both sides of the controversy. On the one side were West Virginians whose families had long treasured these beautiful mountains, in some cases for over two hundred years. Most Americans, faced with the destruction of their homes, would fight just as hard. On the other side were workers who feared for their livelihoods and their families. Though they had been manipulated into serving thugs for an unscrupulous corporate boss, their personal concerns were no less valid.

This is a particularly important quote. For some in the environmental movement it is easy to disregard the arguments and emotions of coal miners. It is rather important, however, to carefully consider where they are coming from. Remember, coal is king in Appalachia, and for many, mining coal is what keeps food on the table. Coal mining itself has deep, romantic cultural roots throughout the region. I was happy to see Nace alert readers to the fact that we should be standing with coal miners. Mine workers are being lied to by industry suits, the mechanization of coal is costing thousands of miners their livelihood. Coal surface mining replaces working people with machines, explosives and specialized, outsourced, labor. The promise of a new Appalachia, beyond coal, is a promise to liberate all individuals from economic centralization.

For all the great things Climate Hope is, the book is not an endorsement of  liberty, statelessness or pure democracy. Though direct action is thoroughly discussed, my one objection to the book is its endorsement of wind, solar, geothermal and other “green industry” pathways to transition the United States, and world, off of coal. His economic arguments about the true cost of coal are spot on, and his analysis of falling prices in the green energy sector are largely accurate as well, but I find it disturbing that we are to endorse other large industries as the answer to our energy woes. Don’t get me wrong, these resources are incredible and should absolutely be utilized, but we must transition away from large, hierarchical  industries and allow communities to democratically manage their energy needs in the open market place – no more energy “kings,” no matter how green the alternatives.

In the final analysis, I highly recommend this book. It is an incredible narrative that pays homage to the self organized movement against coal. The book praises numerous citizens groups and individuals that have networked together to take on the challenge of climate change – standing up to one of the most powerful industries on the planet. The movement is incredibly diverse, composed of  coalfield residents, coal miners, climate scientists, religious leaders, students, academics, city slickers (such as myself) and many more from across the planet – all working together on the 80% solution.

This movement has seen crushing defeats along its journey, but has also garnished great triumphs. When feeling low, Nace’s narrative is a great resource to turn to. The environmental movement has the momentum. Climate Hope tells the story of when we fought King Coal and we won.

Climate Hope: On the Front Lines of the Fight Against Coal by Ted Nace, published by Coal Swarm. $4.00



A Libertarian Earth Day

Photo Credit - From Footprints filled with muddy water in a rice field, phto by Robb Kendrick/Aurora/Getty Images

Photo Credit – From Footprints filled with muddy water in a rice field, photo by Robb Kendrick/Aurora/Getty Images

The United States has a varied history with environmentalism. Americans have always taken pride in their natural heritage. The conservation movement of the 1890’s, championed by the likes of John Muir, gave rise to civic, public and private sector institutions dedicated to conservation. The industrial revolution, however, coupled with the rise of modern capitalism, the era of the New Deal and the economic boom following WWII assimilated Americans into growth economics.  This varied history, two opposing Americas, came to a head in the decade of change, the 1960’s. The modern environmental movement finds its roots in the discourse of this era.

This modern environmentalism, fueled by the energy of a growing anti-war movement, bore the first nationally recognized Earth Day — April 22, 1970. On this day, 20 million Americans occupied streets, parks, college campuses and public squares to build a social movement for sustainability.

As a result, the floor of the cage expanded. The sustainability movement yielded the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency along with the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. Though progress was made and the floor expanded, the cage still remained.

Progress can be good or bad, regardless, it is unavoidable in nature and human society. Since the rise of industrial capitalism and then Reagan era neo-liberalism, “progress” has been gauged by growth — the cage: More roads, more cars, bigger government, bigger corporations, bolder nation-states and a too big to fail financial sector. The very institutions that the modern environmental movement helped craft are part of this cage. Don’t get me wrong, there are very concerned, dedicated and intelligent people fighting the good fight within the current power structure, but alas, their efforts are bounded by the cage. Regardless of the moves made on behalf of public and environmental health, the nation-state remains the largest wrecker of climate, air, soil, rock, water, flora and fauna of all time.

Our species, however, is driven to ask questions. On this Earth Day, and ever afterward, I ask that our intrinsic, inquisitive nature be turned to manufactured political boundaries. Why is the greatest threat to the environment great militarized nation states? If we are to take pride in democratic values, are these values not the anti-thesis of concentrated authority? Does the concept of continual growth in the name of “progress” allow for sustainability? Or should we perhaps rid ourselves of this cage and redefine progress?

As a species humans are incredibly adaptive. If given the chance we can and will plant the seeds of a future society that will make life on Earth worth living for our posterity. We can liberate our labor from the current economic system, decentralize our institutions, respect natural boundaries such as bio-regions and cultivate a society in which every individual will have a genuine say in the decisions that impact their lives. This is the fight of the 21st century — to rid ourselves of the cage and claim democratic control of society.

Individual agency over our institutions, society, labor, property and person is the ultimate libertarian praxis.  In such a society we would be freed to protect our cultural and natural heritage, place connections, watersheds, landscapes and biodiversity. Our inclined labor and disposition to liberty will free society from centralized economies and hegemonic governments.

On this Earth Day may we realize that all the complex problems facing humanity — climate change, hunger, war, corporate colonialism, extinction, depreciating ecosystem services, etc. — are tied to the current state system. May we also realize that we have an answer to these problems — that answer, as always, is liberty.


Managing the Anthropocene

Photo Credit: The Age of Anthropocene: Should We Worry? - NY Times

Photo Credit: The Age of Anthropocene: Should We Worry? Opinion Piece via New York Times

In this age of the Anthropocene natural resource management is incredibly important. There currently exists a true human dominance over the biosphere. This dominance effects a range of topics from human health to the politics we address. Our dominance raises an important question: How, and perhaps more importantly, by whom, did this dominance arise and how, and by whom, should these ever important issues be addressed?

This ecological challenge requires constant revision of natural resource management/policy. If we are honest about the limitations of our natural ecosystems, however, and implement policies that best fit the needs, health and demands of an informed society and its natural heritage, then we also need to take conversations about the nature of governance very seriously. What is governance, where should its power lie, how can its influence best support a healthy, sustainable, ordered biosphere?

Arun Agrawal, in his book Environmentality: Technologies of Government and the Making of Subjects, offers key insight to the nature of governance, landscapes and place while offering a promising direction natural resource management can take. In his book, Agrawal introduces us to Komoan villagers who reside in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains. Their natural heritage is enriched by tremendous valleys and expansive rivers – the product of tectonic forces that continue to mold the region. Of incredible importance to the villagers is the bio-regions forests tracts. The ecosystem services the Kumoan forests offer the villagers are immeasurable. These forest tracts were, at one time, very beneficial to the colonial British state as well. Often at odds, the Kumoan people and the British state had very different ideas as to how the forests should be managed. Agrawal opens his books with a discussion of intense conflict in the region. As his book progresses, it becomes a story of decentralization, community empowerment and best management practices. Agrawal provides readers with a historical overview of natural resource management in the Kumoan region and explains the emergence of collaborative management, environmental identity, sense of place and changes in the relationship between the state and the local.

Villagers in the Kumoan region of northern India set ablaze hundreds of acres of forest in the early 1920′s. The fires were set in protest of colonial British rule – particularly the rules and regulations placed on the Kumoan people by the British state that served to “protect” and manage the local environment. The villagers used forests at the time to construct their communities, for fodder and other forms of subsistence. The British state saw extensive military resources – specifically a vast forest that could be utilized for expanding the navy. What followed the forests fires and initial protests was a period of decentralization. This decentralization allowed the Kumoan villagers to conserve their forests very carefully – a total transformation from the age of protest.

Agrawal’s investigation offers support for an ongoing trend in natural resource management: Adaptive Collaboration. Adding to the themes of Elinor Ostrom, Agrawal builds his premise that community based forestry is not only possible, but more sustainable than centralized governance. His book is a story of transition, from centralized policy making to adaptive collaboration – from state to village.  This story holds rather large implications for traditional leadership. The success of decentralised policies can be used as an argument to promote the redistribution of power, to rethink the common perception of authority, and perhaps most importantly, to rethink property – the success of decentralised policy making (not only in the Kumoan) builds the case for public, as opposed to state, ownership of the commons. This idea of collaborative governance ultimately empowers the populace, it takes power from authority and promotes the concept of self governance.

Agrawal personally visited forty villages in the Kumoan region. At each village he assessed the health of surrounding forests, conducted interviews with locals and investigated their historical records. His book is an interpretation of the data he gathered. What he illustrates in this book is how decentralized, adaptive, and collaborative strategies in natural resource management change the relationships between states and the local stakeholders within a community as well as the individuals connection to place. Feeding off of Foucault’s “Governmentality,” Agrawal investigates how decentralization efforts have better protected forests. In this book, Environmentality is the theme – as villagers become more empowered and knowledgable they are able to produce policies that best conserved their natural resources. It is a remarkable success story of decentralized natural resource management.

So what exactly is Environmentality? This concept, put forth by Agrawal, is a new way to understand environmental politics. Agrawal’s concept suggests the differences and changes in knowledge, politics, institutional arrangements and human subjectivity concerning the environment “are of a piece and are best understood when considered together.” Concomitant study of these changes then helps extend contributions from three types of interdisciplinary environmentalists scholarship – the three pieces of environmentality: common property, political ecology and feminist environmentalism. Environmentality, he writes, is a unique way to think about environmental politics:

(1) The formation of new expert knowledges;
(2) the nature of power, which is the root of efforts to regulate social practice;
(3) the type of institutions and regulatory practices that exist in a mutually productive relationship with social and ecological practices and can be seen as the historical expressions of contigent political relationships; and
(4) the behaviors that regulations seek to change, which go hand in hand with the process of self-formation and struggles between expert or authority-based regulation and situated practices.

In short, the idea of environmentality allows Agrawal to examine how environmental governance has changed over time in the Kumoan while providing a framework for analysing the problems with centralized governance and the success of decentralized decision making. Instead of “Governmentality” (molding human beings to the wishes of the state), “Environmentality” (human beings collectively deciding to better manage natural resources based on environmental pressures) produced a conservation ethic among the people of the Kumoan. It is communal natural resource management, as opposed to centralized authority, that is achieving sustainable forestry practices.

Agrawal builds his case by first investigating the relationship between power, knowledge and nature. He then investigates the technologies of government and the results of decentralization. In his book, Agrawal builds the case for decentralization noting how destructive centralized control was to the environment (after all, colonial Britiain wanted strict management of forests so they would have resources to exploit for weapons of war). In the opening passages it is clear the British state used the DAD approach to resource management – Decide, Announce, Defend (or perhaps more appropriate: Enforce). The state initially viewed the forests and land for exploitation. It is this view of forest, and the corresponding regulation of Kumoan villagers that led to massive protests and revolt across the region – cumulating in the large, expansive forest fires.

The state’s vision of the forests evolved over the decades in response to village uprisings. Moving from resources for exploitation, there emerged an idea among officials that foresters should view extensive woodlands as commodities and manage them as such. At this time forestry officials continued to insist that the state was needed for proper control and conservation of forests. The DAD approach, though adjusted, was still in full swing after initial uprisings. Government officials continued to work to expand their authority. Conflict and dissent, coupled with internal struggles, soon become more political fodder, however, for the Kumoan villagers. The continued resistance forced Administrators to increase representation, collaboration and policies of decentralization.

Agrawal’s book is a great example of how the cost of bureaucratic control always falls on locals. This burden forces democratic change. The regulatory mechanisms separated the Kumoan villagers from their natural heritage. The burdens of regulation and revolt lead to a decline in ecological health which manifested itself throughout the population. As a result, the Kumoan villagers began to organize – the principles of democracy and the ideas of self governance lead to the development of forest councils. It is during this stage of transition, from revolt to organization, that the state was forced into ceding its power. The entire relationship between the state and community was transformed – there were more channels for the flow of power. This empowerment caused stakeholder participation to increase and best management practices shifted from the centralized state to communities.

The process of decentralization changed how Kumoan’s viewed the forest. The woodlands were now in their control. This responsibility, the reclaiming of natural heritage, generated a needed concern for conservation. Best sustainability practices flourished simply because the Komoans were empowered – those in an environment, as opposed to a displaced authority, better understand human impacts to said environment and how subsistence is bettered/tied to natural resources. This makes sense – humans are part of nature, but nature continues to exist outside of human civilization. It is reckless and ill-informed human actions that pose a great risk to natural areas. The conclusion of many, that in order to protect our ecology there must be a strong government to over see our natural areas, is refuted in this book. The state saw the forest as a commodity, first and foremost, but the empowered Kumoan’s viewed it as their natural heritage. It was decentralization, not authority, that produced sustainable forest management.  The anarchist, who is usually fighting on the front lines for the environment, knows the idea of state management has disastrous consequences. Anarchists will find an ally (somewhat) in Agrawal. Self-governance and the co-operative nature of human beings is celebrated in this text, though Agrawal, much like his mentor Ostrom, never discusses absolute liberty.

None the less, Agrawal’s book echos a theme prevalent everywhere today. As natural resource management has evolved over the years, traditional views of the environment and human relationships between nature and sense of place have too evolved. Today, resource management is characterized by certain “wicked” problems making it difficult to place responsibility of certain issues within one dimension of government decision-making . The complexity of resource problems today often fall outside the realm of traditional policy making. This has paved the way for more adaptive management styles which utilize alternative stakeholder approaches to environmental issues. These new approaches are formally bringing government institutions and the public together to develop best sustainability practices. This new style of adaptive governance is formally educating stakeholders about the challenges and demands of resource management today. As societies ethical considerations of the environment continually evolve, so to are considerations of government. Today, as more people relate to the great outdoors and come to respect nature, the collaborative management between stakeholders and institutions are naturally moving towards decentralization.

The trend is indeed welcome to libertarians and environmentalists. States tend to view natural resources as a means for maximizing utility – especially when considering military strength (as is the case in Agrawal’s book) and neo-liberal economics. As nation states rise to power they continually wage campaigns to acquire more land and resources. The concept of Environmentality offers an alternative to the states view of natural resources. Furthermore, Environmentality offers the method of achieving sustainability – reclaim the commons, understand the nature of power and the making of subjects and dismantle illegitimate authority. It is this unique intersection of common property, political ecology and feminist environmentalism that makes Agrawals book stand out – it is an incredibly concise argument for decentralized governance.

Perhaps most interesting about the concept of Environmentality is its play on Michel Foucault‘s “Governmentality.” Governmentality describes a system by which governments work to produce a populace best suited to carry out the operation of said government. Agrawal departs from the government narrative and instead investigates how the environment itself will influence human action. His book describes the metamorphosis of revolt to sustainable management, based simply on the transfer of power from a centralized authority to local villages.

Environmentality is a success story. It informs the populace that we the people must continually challenge our institutions to ensure their practices are just and sustainable. No longer can we as a species afford to allow ourselves, nor our institutions, to utilize resources to serve self interests. To ensure this practice, we need to step up and take more responsibility in our everyday lives. The growing importance and successes of collaboration, decentralization and partnerships indicates the need for an informed, engaged and empowered citizenry to develop sustainable resource policies that protect both the land and biosphere.

The current environmental movement is a vast, worldwide movement that holds great implications for the future of human civilization.  Beyond our human species, resource management will decide the fate of all flora and fauna, and all of Earth’s vast and wonderous land and seascapes. What are the human dimensions of resource management then? Should human management of resources be the product of states? The product of a system that utilizes natural resources to secure political boundaries – or is a different order more desirable? Political institutions work for their own self interests. This suggest we make careful consideration of our subjected relationship with the environment and our governance – we should not simply accept preexisting interests. Indeed this shift is happening as we progress decentralist themes throughout our society.

Agruwal’s book is an incredible account of how, by simply increasing liberty, common property management results in best sustainability practices. For the libertarian, it is another body of evidence that rejects the idea that sustainability can only be achieved if there is a strong centralized authority. To the contrary, the structure of governance must fundamentally change if sustainability is to be realized. When we tear down the structures of large, centralized governments we liberate ourselves from manufactured political boundaries of the state and rediscover our natural heritage – under the principles of Environmentality the biosphere will take care of the rest.

Environmentality: Technologies of Government and the Making of Subjects (New Ecologies for the Twenty-First Century) by Arun Agruwal, published by Duke University Press. $18.40


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