Day 42: The alternative to ‘there is no alternative’

“Well, there’s no alternative.”

“Nothing will ever change.”

“It’s just the way things are.”

Take corruption. Discrimination. Mass incarceration. Inequality. Community break down. Global warming. Any issue — you name it — and you’re sure to hear these statements.

True, these issues are incredibly complex , involving several different systems— the economic, political, social, and media — which sprout and entangle their own roots.

But on the other hand, they represent the abdication of our moral imagination. Shirking of our individual and collective responsibility to ourselves, to each other, and to the planet. A full surrender.

Yet, beyond the complexity is another factor — fear and inertia in the face of the unknown; for just about anything new you do, you will face resistance. And that fear itself becomes a regulating force, which prevents you from trying anything new. (See Day 3: Samaj kya kahega for more on this).

For example, we once put a compost bin atop the roof of our office apartment building in Patna. Within 48 hours, I got a call from my dad in America. How did he know? People in the building complained to the superintendent, who complained to the mother of the owner of the apartment, who told her daughter in America (a family friend), who then called my dad.

He laughed, but he frequently asks me questions in a similar vein; whenever I tell him about a new idea we have at Project Potential, his first reaction is to ask me, “is anyone else doing it?” If the answer is “yes,” then he feels relieved; if not, he may directly or indirectly encourage me to try something else (though, in the long run, he always supports me and is just being a parent).

Shedding our fear and prejudices is an ongoing spiritual project that we must all begin today. It’s ongoing. Long-term. And one of the best ways to create change is to simply live it, which is catalyzed by information about possibilities.

For these reasons, I was super excited to watch Sacrée Croissance (Good Old Growth in English), a film on alternatives to our current economic, governmental, environmental, food, and energy paradigms. Here’s the trailer:

I don’t think the English film is online yet (though the French one is), so I’ll cover a few of the initiatives here, which might provide some inspiration:

Urban Farming: Fresh City Farms and Rosario, Argentina Municipality

Crops don’t grow in concrete, so most cities import their food from outside. In addition, urban consumers are increasingly demanding certain foods year round — for example, bananas grown in Mexico supplied in New York — twelve months a year, rather than seasonally. These demands often times require using techniques that deplete the land, and supply chains, which cause global warming and environmental degradation.

Fresh City Farms in Toronto, Canada is seeking to create an alternative by providing high quality, local, organic produce that they deliver to their customers’ doorsteps. Customers choose or create a “bag” — a mixture of produce and/or meats, which are then delivered to or picked up by customers.

They source their produce from their own six acre organic farm and 3,000 square foot green house, along with from other local farmers, who they work closely with.

According to their website, the average bag is 70% local, not 100% for the reason that “some items like bananas or oranges just don’t grow in Ontario and it’s also great to support farms in other countries by buying certified organic and fair trade produce from abroad.” But the focus is on remaining as local as possible, refusing to offer produce that was flown in.

Community gardens in Rosario

Lest you think that such experiments are only the purview of rich countries, Sacrée Croissance offers us the story of Rosario, Argentina. Rosario was badly hit by the 2001 economic crisis in Argentina and subsequent devaluing of the peso. Unemployment rates hit as high as 50%. Citizens were in dire straits, which led to protests and raids on super markets.

However, via an act of leadership and courage, citizens and the municipality came together to use municipal lands for organic farming (see more here). Those seeking work were able to work the fields and then sell their produce in markets set up by the municipality. Local farmers were also able to create other more lucrative products, like creams and cosmetics from the produce, which they also sold. Poverty, hunger, suffering? All down. Dignity, community, power? All up.

Alternative Energy: Samso, Denmark and Rural Nepal

Energy production and supply is the largest cause of global warming. Why? Because we mainly rely on fossil fuels like coal for power production.

While the technologies for renewable energies are still developing, there are alternatives that are available. The main issue, then, is one of how we can change priorities to fund further research to bring costs down and to subsidize the shift toward renewables until the cost comes down — instead of subsidizing harmful fossil fuels. In other words, it’s a human problem more than anything else.

However, there are examples of communities who have made it work. For example, Samso, an island off the cost of Denmark, where alternative energy policies are favorable, has become not only completely energy self-sufficient, but also an exporter of energy to the mainland. In 1997, the island won a government-sponsored competition to create a model community. Over the next decade or so, the island installed wind and solar capacity for electricity and geothermal and biomass for heating. Local people have been able to buy shares in the wind systems and local farmers sell much of their hay to the biomass plants, helping to secure their income as well.

What about examples closer to home, in South Asia? Nepal provides a useful example. Nepal has extremely poor power production, with power cuts of up to ten hours per day, even in the capital city of Kathmandu, while the mountainous terrain makes it difficult and expensive to extend the grid to remote corners of the country. However, beyond its beauty, the mountainous terrain is also a great resource for generating power.

Sacree Croissance provides an example of a community in rural Nepal, which has set up a micro hydroplant to achieve energy self-sufficiency. Dams and macro hydro-electricity plants are often criticized for their destruction to the river’s ecosystem. However, micro-hydro plants are much less harmful to the local environment. From National Geographic:

Micro-Hydro Plant (Source)

But micro-hydro plants basically just divert flowing river water, with no significant dams, and use the forces of gravity and falling water to spin turbines that generate power before churning the water back into the river for its journey downstream. In these “run of the river” systems water is channeled off through small canals, stored briefly in a settling tank to separate sediment, then dropped through a steep pipeline that delivers it into a turbine. The juice produced by the turning turbine is wired directly to local users.

Alternative Economy and Currency: Banca Palmas (Fortaleza, Brazil)

There’s a growing movement toward localization of economies to increase community ownership over the economy, improve community resilience to economic shocks, and minimize climate change caused via the transportation of goods over long distances.

Banco Palams in Fortaleza, Brazil, has introduced a local currency to do just that. The bank is set up in Palmeira, an area filled with favelas, or slums, and therefore does not require many documents or collateral for loans; these requirements, which banks almost universally have, end up excluding millions of people from the financial system. As such, Banco Palmas acts as an alternative to exploitative moneylenders with usurious interest rates and, often, devastating recovery methods.

Palmas

Banco Palmas offers provides microcredit loans in palma, the local currency, which can are tagged to the Brazilian real, meaning, one palma is equivalent to one real. Local businesses accepting the palma offer discounts of between 2% to 15%, which incentives local purchases. As a result, local purchases and business has soared; in 1997, 80% of purchases made by people from Palmeira were made from outside the community, but by 2011, 93% were made within the region.

There ARE alternatives

We’re sick and tired of a system that perpetuates inequality, racism, casteism, classism, police violence, mass incarceration, the branding of our children as failures, and the continual break down of a community and a meaningful existence. We’re ready for a change. Now.

In Commentaries on Living, J Krishnamurti wrote “being is the highest form of transformation…there is radical transformation only in the present, in being.” While this piece was more related to personal and spiritual transformation, our own interconnectedness with the systems we are in means that it’s on us to begin seeking out and building alternatives to this exploitative system now. And we have tools that we can begin exploring with.

So don’t let anyone tell you that “there is no alternative.” There are alternatives. And we will only continue to develop more and more one we liberate ourselves and enter a world of radical transformation.