Posts filed under ‘Consumerism’

Postcard From A Transition Movement Hot Zone

The following is a guest column written for The Oil Drum. Randy White is a municipal sustainability expert, was a member of Portland’s Peak Oil Task Force, and is the Founder of Bright Neighbor, LLC.

Greetings From Portland

It’s no secret that Portland is a pretty radical city. While mainstream America is still learning how to make the leap to full-time sustainability activities, Portland, Oregon is a major hot zone and leader in the human revolution. The intent of this article is to offer an opinion and insight into strategies, collaborations, and technologies that are occurring in our city to solidify life-supporting social constructs.

We All Have Our Problems
Portland is dependent on energy and money just like any other city. With over 500,000 people, we have the 23rd largest economy in the US at $88.6 billion dollars. We have crime, poverty, homelessness, and hard-working people who would love more time off to pursue more joys in life if only they didn’t have debts to pay.

The fact is, not enough people here have the skills, resources, or contribute to the system to say Portland can become a completely self-sufficient city. While science has determined the amount of calories and nutrition needed for human bodies to survive, only each individual can determine what is needed to satisfy each of our own living requirements. Right now, people around the world are searching within themselves to determine what this mother-of-all-market-corrections means in the context of their own life. In countries around the world, people are reflecting on survival, whether it means scrambling to meet basic needs such as food and shelter, or committing one’s life to helping others survive as we dismantle nuclear weapons.

Indeed, finance industries and governments continue to try and figure out how they can game the now collapsing currency market, and around the world thousands of loose-knit social movements and groups are acting together, radically altering the balance between commercial and non-commercial economies. Portlanders are trading sink repair for firewood, worm castings for books, and organizing into sustainability groups, meeting to discuss a multitude of survival strategies. The cool part is that it is in the most relaxed manner I could have imagined. You know something cool is happening when the art community gets involved. To see scholars, artists, chefs, teachers, farmers, faith leaders, bureaucrats and other various communities coming together to discuss survival in a civil manner is surreal. It is also the beauty of the Portland conversation, because empathy, understanding, and cooperation are now winning out over personal greed.

Let’s examine some of the conversations taking place, and how people are organizing to do what we can locally:

Food, Food, Food
Portlanders will practically strip naked and make love to the soil. Our city is full of a diverse ecosystem of people and cultures who love and worship local food, soil, and farmers. The cool thing to ask at parties is “So what do you grow”? Little kids wear shirts that say “I Love My Farmer”. They worship apples – and I’m not just talking about their phones and computers.

As mobile as the city is with its fantastic bus and rail system, we have no problem getting around to all the amazing restaurants that showcase seasonal, locally grown vegetables in their menus. Our chefs strive to use local ingredients, as long as the cost doesn’t put them out of business. Our citizens have one of the highest percentages of CSA subscriptions. The fact is, we love food. So when it comes to loud-mouthed know-it-alls, you can bet Portland likes to brag about it’s success with food.

Using a variety of technologies to list events, food experts are leading the conversation. If you know how to grow food, fix soil, and install edible landscaping, you are all the rage. Take a look at this quick video and you will see what the job of the future looks like.

Presently, Bright Neighbor offers a “Lawns to Gardens” service, helping match people to homeowners willing st share their lawns. We are connecting Gerding Edlen’s newest building CYAN/pdx to Portland land owners to help create more garden activity and boost our local local food system.

Our April 17th kickoff of the Bright Neighbor Community Revolution Tour will include boosting lawn farming production, water harvesting, and permaculture practices throughout the city.

This one is real easy. Portlanders either walk, bike, drive, ride, or rail it to and from where they need to be. If you need to get there, you can get there cheap, you just have to consider whether you will be exposed to the elements and how much time it will take. But we know we will get there somehow.

When it comes to fuel supply solutions, some Portlanders have electric vehicles, and many are discovering that you can make ethanol from hundreds of non-food supply threatening feedstocks other than corn. As for ride-sharing, people are getting to know their neighbors to work on cooperative projects and partake in resource sharing. For instance, if you need a ride right now, you can just call up your friends or discover your neighbors via one of the many Internet technologies. You can always use the Internet and phone to find a ride and share resources. The question is which technologies to use will make it easiest for communities.

Fixing our local commerce system
One high-brow conversation among Portland communities is talk of fixing our money system and the restructuring of the economy based on a non-fiat based local currency. The challenge with this movement is an assumption that outstanding debts can or will be canceled or repaid using any new system. The beauty of this movement and conversation is that even if we don’t solve the new riddle right away, the conversation is fascinating and the beer is great. Even thinking about the idea of replacing the world’s current broken money system is exciting in and of itself. The questions being asked have to do with real value, the meaning of real wealth, and property rights. It is being talked about by all political parties, all religions, and all citizens.

We are asking:
Who grows my food?
Who supplies my fuel?
Are my water need secured?
What is worth more, a knife or a variety bag of seeds?
How does the community determine each person’s value?
How do we know who is trustworthy and who isn’t?
How long will dollars matter?
Am I capable of doing what it takes to survive?
What is my purpose if not to make money?

The conversation in Portland revolves around a common realization that our community is quickly developing an entirely new system of accepted social values, logistics, and supply chains. I will end this postcard from a transition hotzone with the opinion that emerging businesses are using a variety of technologies to bring new food supplies into pop-culture at maximum velocity. More of our citizens are contributing real value to the community through hyper-involvement at the neighborhood level, and Portland will continue to lead the way in defining modern community survival trends.

What’s cool that is going on in your city?


March 3, 2009 at 5:15 pm 1 comment

Ideas For Turning Waste Into Useful Stuff

Please send us your discoveries from around the Internet on turning waste into useful stuff and we’ll keep updating this post with ideas!

Plastic Bottles Used As Solar Water Heaters
This is one of those “Duh” things that are so simple, yet so many people haven’t thought about doing yet. Thanks to Solarray.

Plastic Bottles Solar Water Heater

Plastic Bottles Turned Into Building Blocks
Just look at the neat things you can come up with when you are living near a trash heap. Thanks to Jeremy Faludi.

trash heap useful
trash heap blocks

Yogurt Cups As Slug Repellent
I came up with this one, but I’m sure other people have thought of it as well.
Slug Trap

And check out all the slugs I got drunk by offering them a beer!

Slug trap with beer

Here are some other ideas for managing with less and finding new uses for old items:

– Use empty prescription bottles to store garden seeds as you gather them
– Clothes pins are great for drying washed plastic bags

February 14, 2009 at 2:02 pm 4 comments

How To Profit From America’s New Shopping List

Barack Obama Shopping List

Hey America, if you are paying attention, you can make a lot of money right now!

President Obama just told us his shopping list for his three year plan (funny, it takes three years for fruit trees to produce). Obama is about to get a check for $825,000,000,000 dollars and he wants to buy all sorts of cool new things for America, such as:

10,000 school renovations – Great for all the folks who can help kids learn about chickens and growing vegetables and neat stuff like that

Improved local community communications networks – Hey, I sell those things!

75% of Federal building to be more energy efficient – You mean like ride sharing? Light bulbs? Turning computers off?

2.5 Million weatherized homes – Wow, whoever makes bricks and insulation from waste plastic bags & stuff will make a killing!

Double America’s renewable energy – Woo hoo! I sell hooch making machines! I’m gonna be rich!

Anyway, I am writing about this because the secret is, and always will be, to be a master of markets for things people really need. That means neighborhood collectives can team up and go legally harvest firewood and split it up among the community, where people volunteer their labor in exchange for good and services they need.

Money, as we know it, is just a means of representing value. What has real value to you? Probably the same things that have value to everyone else: Food, shelter, transportation, water, electricity, friends, resilient neighborhoods and communities, skills and stuff the community can use.

That’s the power behind Bright Neighbor. We offer a machine that helps fix community economies and ecology. Think about it this way…

Chickens are egg machines.
Gardens are fruit and vegetable machines.
Trees are fruit and nut machines.
Worms and mushrooms are soil fixing machines.

Bright Neighbor is a communications system, a carbon reduction machine, a money saving machine, and a community repair machine all-in-one. We have implemented it in governments, businesses, faith communities, private corporations, and with individual community organizers who want to fix their community. Our customer base now ranges in all of these markets, and if President Obama wants to buy any of these things, Bright Neighbor is one of America’s post-petroleum startups now open for business.

Three cheers for the Three Year Plan! I hope you make oodles of money.

– Randy White

PS: If you are interested in setting up a Bright Neighbor community communications system, please fill out this form.

January 24, 2009 at 3:36 pm Leave a comment

The Recession and Depression of Plenty

Homeless Cell Phone

Have you noticed how even homeless people have cell phones?

The peak oil community, for the longest time, has been freaked out about running out of resources. There have been all sorts of efforts to help people prepare for a society fighting over the remaining resources. The problem with our society and economic system, however, is the opposite of the normal peak oil argument – we actually have too much stuff, not the other way around. Granted – there are people that go without things like ipods – but they make due.

Poor man Wii

In general, we have created an over abundance of cars, toasters, programmers, and advertising sales people. The problem isn’t ‘stuff’ depletion as much as money depletion. We have plenty of stuff. Which is why with food available, people aren’t trying to learn how to garden – they are just trying to land another job to pay their bills.

The fight is really between human laws and mother nature’s laws. We are at the peak of everything, but the cash is scarce – having been sucked into corporate officers’ pockets. Right now, CEOs and lawyers are still fat and happy, while your average worker is getting laid off due to their redundancy. The system hasn’t collapsed – it has retracted. Without any money in savings, the ability for people to live at the same level of comfort is what is threatened, not the monetary construct. We haven’t created a new economic system to replace the old one, so suffering is occurring as the old system ceases like an engine without oil.

If we all defaulted on our debts to banks – could the banks kick everyone out of their homes at once? We aren’t there yet, we are still in the peak oil ‘collections period’.

This means while jobs and money become more scarce, we are back to people trying to sell off their goods and services to make ends meet – creating a surplus of Nintendo Wii consoles on Craigslist. All the people with money have to do is wait longer, and the prices will come down even further. Yes, the general population has been fattened for the slaughter, and the feasting has begun.

So, what to do?

Well, I created a sharing system for friends and neighbors (or anyone in a geographic region or community for that matter) to share resources. If groups of people would inventory their stuff, they could share things. But sharing stuff only helps save money – it doesn’t generate it, unless you rent out your stuff when you let someone borrow it.

For instance – many people have tools. The stores have plenty of tools, too. So when someone needs a drill, they can either borrow one or they can buy one. But lots of people already have drills – and the folks at the drill factory are being laid off as the realization that we have materialized enough stuff for everyone kicks into our consciousness.

And when there is no more market demand for cars, toasters, or whatever has been produced enough – people get laid off. Those workers still need to make payments for bills and debts, however. So they ask for assistance from the government – racking up more claims and causing a drain on government resources.

How long can the government hand out food stamps and heating assistance before it is overwhelmed and more people are taking than adding to it? We are seeing it happen in front of our eyes.

So as this recession continues, it is the quest for continued sources of money – not the quest for ‘stuff’ that is the way the average person is experiencing peak oil. I think we will continue to see more people living together rather than having their own private nests.

At least we have lots of Nintendos to play.

December 15, 2008 at 2:32 pm 2 comments

Do You Know How To Conquer The Ether?


I am writing a new book, called “Conquering The Ether“.

It’s about how to fix the world. Sort of.

You see, I am a marketer, just like everyone else. I try to be as ethical as possible while making a living, but every single person is in sales. We spend our lives trying to convince other people of our worldview so we can maximize our experience on planet earth. After all, we humans are all born as consumers. While some of us are born into wealth and privilege, most of us have to claw our way through life trying to just survive and thrive in the slog. It’s scary out there, and we had better get a hold of chaos again before we wipe ourselves out.

But, it seems there will always be arguing over what kind of dinosaur Jesus used to ride or who’s God and beat up the other people’s false God and belief system. But if we got past religion and hate, we would realize the things we humans all universally have in common are amazing and simple.

We all pop out of our mother, eat, drink, pee, poop, mate, and hope our IRA doesn’t tank* before we die.

It’s all the stuff in-between that is the Ether.

Just what is the Ether, and how does one conquer it?

The Ether is the new world. It lost its virginity when radio was invented, picked up new territory when television first broadcast, and now is as big as the finite universe with the Internet. I contend that the election of Barrack Obama to the position of President of the United States was a great battle between the combined power of TV and Radio against the Internet.

We now know which major technology reigns supreme over the Ether, don’t we?

It’s you and me. We won. We won the battle – the collective human spirit is closer and closer to freedom than ever before. But the mental prisons we allow ourselves to remain in are there, as is laziness. So we continue to allow a very small amount of people to control the world – but all of that is quickly changing.

Thanks to human ingenuity – the Internet has become the de facto way to control pieces of both the real physical world and the telepathic electrically charged world. If you are creative, have the right team of people, and a valuable human and ecological cause – you can conquer anything your mind can project. Like money, for instance. People love to hoard money. But what happens when money is only an idea?

What is selling?

You tell me what they are selling. And how. And what feelings it emits inside you. It is only one example of conquering the Ether. Anyone can own it, actually. It is only a matter of time before some kid living on a few dollars a day owns a part of the Ether.

You can certainly own it – anyone with enough brainpower can own the ether, because it is cheap to own the Internet. That’s why Internet Domain name sales are still going strong, even in a crap economy. All you do is take out a plastic card, type in some numbers, and PRESTO! You own something that both exists and does not exist at the same time. Take Google. They own the Ether. They have mentally hacked your brain – and when they change something, it affects your brain patterns that have become life habit. When they change their interface, it changes the consciousness of millions of people at once. The same with other pillars like MySpace, Facebook, etc.

What will mental hackers do with these new powers?

When you make a recommendation to someone, does he or she listen and act based on what you said? If you can get people to do things you suggest – you are a power referrer. It’s when you have the power to refer and are respected for your status in the community that you wield additional power in the Ether. Your community can be reached with e-mail messages – because e-mail is an ingrained life operation for modern humans. But what does e-mailing your community mean these days? Defining community in a globalized, mentally connected world is difficult. What is community? Is it the amount of people you know where you live, or is it the size of your mailing list? Is it that starving child digging through trash for food in Zimbabwe, or is it your next door neighbor? Perhaps it is both?

The more people come online, the more important it is to be able to groom your real life interactions, as well as those that only take place in the Ether. Throw in that we are told the planet is running out of food, water, natural, unmolested ecosystems and money – and we have serious problems.

Especially when our global economies demand that we sell, sell, sell – whether it is a seminar or a candy bar – we are stuck in a world of consumptions. We can’t possibly pay back all the debts accumulated via the present money system. Because our present money system also lives in the Ether.

It didn’t used to be that way. Money used to be the thing of value itself. Remember fur traders? What is the key to understanding money that lies in the words fur traders? And what is the reason that the only sustainable option for human continuity is to go back to zero, everyone is where they are presently at on the game board, and we divvy up a fair system where able bodied people take part in various labor? But that won’t happen without massive violence – I can hardly see home owners opening the doors to any old stranger.

So what will happen to prior debts and agreements of ownership? Capitalism as we have known it is dead. I am open to anyone’s suggestions of how to navigate these new waters with so many prior debts and rules. The whole world is at tabula rasa.

But did you know about a system of farm tenancy once common in some parts of the United States called sharecropping? In the United States the institution arose at the end of the Civil War out of the plantation system. Many planters had ample land but little money for wages. At the same time most of the former slaves were uneducated and impoverished. The solution was the sharecropping system, which continued the workers in the routine of cotton cultivation under rigid supervision.

Economic features of the system were gradually extended to poor white farmers. The cropper brought to the farm only his own and his family’s labor. Most other requirements—land, animals, equipment, and seed—were provided by the landlord, who generally also advanced credit to meet the living expenses of the cropper family. Most croppers worked under the close direction of the landlord, and he marketed the crop and kept accounts. Normally in return for their work they received a share (usually half) of the money realized. From this share was deducted the debt to the landlord. High interest charges, emphasis on production of a single cash crop, slipshod accounting, and chronic cropper irresponsibility were among the abuses of the system. Farm mechanization and a marked reduction in cotton acreage have virtually put an end to the system.

My question is – who is responsible for screwing up the entire system, and now who owns what?

It is guns, law, debts, and order that keep us in line. The law and order in the United States since 1913 has been the Federal Reserve, and they have the guns, the laws, and used to own the debts. Now they owe the debts. In 1913, they took over the gold system of money, then the oil system of money, and now guess what we don’t have enough of to cover our debts to the world?

We are trillions of dollars in debt here in the United States. Most humans can’t even fathom what that truly means. Tell me how America can ever pay that back, especially when the market has decided that it can’t afford any more new gasoline powered cars?

That’s why I learned how to grow food at home. Because things of real value will always matter. You know what will always have value?

Food. Smokes. Booze. Drugs. Sex. Influence. Rock and Roll.

Man, that sounds like living to me! Except when you die from too much of any of it. But you will die from something, so you may as well be a good person and have a good time while helping other people live a better life. You’ll live longer that way.

All in all, I am enjoying the launch of Bright Neighbor. Portland is responding very well to our new sharing system that removes money from the equation. It’s a virtual commune, money saver, neighbor greeter, business network, skills database, transportation solution, and ecological sustainability technology system. I am pleased with it so far, and there is much more of the Ether and the real planet to tend to as we grow and perfect the system.

I have very busy days now, and I write when I can. If you want to get a signed copy of my book, you can pre-order “Conquering The Ether” now.


Randy White
Founder, Bright Neighbor

* Obviously not everyone has an IRA.

November 18, 2008 at 6:16 pm Leave a comment

When Governments Fail, Markets Evolve

Peak Oil evolution

Our world governments have failed humanity. Every nation in the world has to do more to avert the darker impacts of the energy crash, and it will be a “Bottoms-up” people’s revolution that kicks business and government into high gear ( I love reading the work of famous dead economists).

As markets are slow-crashing around us, we are seeing America enter into the “Behavior Modification” era of peak oil. We are witnessing people’s consumption habits change, which is reflected in a consumption based currency with values mostly pegged on a framework of continuous growth. Since our economy is contracting, even if the government prints more money into existence, our present value system attached to energy is declining in worth. That means consumption power is grinding to a halt as financial difficulties multiply for Americans and people around the world.

America has been a main prop for globalization. As we restructure our country, the entire global banking system will need to restructure itself, which could mean the breakup of nation states into smaller, more viable and resilient communities. The future is a mashup of everyone’s execution of their visions. How well communities thrive or how bad they fall apart depends on the vision, skills, and ability of the people within that community to cooperatively work together for the greater good. The idea of community is to live a happy life, not just ‘survive’.

This is why I am convinced America will pull through this leadership and economic debacle. Maybe not all of America, but at least those communities with enough people able to tolerate one another trying to learn and adjust to a less energy-intensive lifestyle. For, as capitalism reinvents itself through collapse, the public will learn that markets and leadership fail in order to evolve better solutions.

There will always be markets. Even if everything collapsed and we were pummeled into global human cannibalism, you would still see markets around for trading (trade you two arms for a leg?)

I happen to follow the Social Networking economy very closely. Once ridiculed for predicting the current depression the advertising and media industry are reeling from, now I am sought out as a consultant for how these businesses can thrive in a post-peak oil economy.

Here is the big secret: My company Bright Neighbor has developed a technology (Launching in three weeks!) that will outperform Google, MySpace, Facebook, Meetup, Craigslist, and Evite. The secret is in our company values, our interface, and functionality.

My opinion is that MySpace and Facebook are just toys. As my friend Mark puts it, “They are the modern day inside of a school locker”. They of course, have the ability to change their interface and functions on the fly and present changes instantly to a vast universe of present users. This makes them formidable foes.

As humanity (and especially Americans) come to terms with our global fight-for-oil predicament, it is more modern, innovative local solutions such as Bright Neighbor that will lead the way for better local living. The larger technology companies will either swallow technology-driven, for-profit activist companies whole or assimilate their competitive advantages.

Either way, the market will win where governments have failed – which means we have a real possibility of a peaceful energy transition to much more earth-aligned living styles.

July 21, 2008 at 12:16 pm 2 comments

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