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Tereza Coraggio

Third Paradigm is an out-of-the-box thinktank on community sovereignty and regenerative economics.

We look at how to take back our cities, farmland and water; our money, production and trade; our media, education and culture, our religion and even our God.

We present a people's history of the Bible and a parent's view on how to raise giving kids in a taking world.

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Past Shows


The Comedy of the Commons

June 28, 2009

3P-033 Show Information (includes MP3 download link)

Welcome to the 33rd episode of Third Paradigm, entitled The Comedy of the Commons. The Tragedy of the Commons is a trope pulled out whenever overpopulation is to be blamed for deforestation or pollution, or the folly of communism is to be denounced. You know the parable: a community of herders has an empty field that's open for anyone's use. Each family has a couple of sheep or a cow and everything's fine. Then one family realizes that they can increase their personal gain while externalizing the cost by putting more sheep on the land. Soon everyone follows, to grab their own share of the dwindling resource until the common good is used up. But we believe this forces a false dialectic. We'll take look at how real-life commons work in other cultures, illustrated by a Greek peripherea. Then we'll apply this sovereignty solution to the commons called Wilder Ranch State Park, and ask if a working eco-ranch would be truer to the Wilder spirit.

In the meantime, we'll look at the real tragedy – the tragedy of the monopoly. According to economist Susan George, three-quarters of all land in the world is owned by 2.4% of landowners who have 100 hectares or more, which is already a small percent of all the world's people. Over half of all land is owned by .23% of landowners. With food insecurity rising, cash-rich countries have engaged in a global land grab that's a reverse feeding frenzy – more like a hoarding frenzy. Persian Gulf states are working out land deals in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. India has set up agricultural projects in Brazil. South Korea recently tried to buy up nearly half of the island of Madagascar.

The scale of the deals is unprecedented. The Economist reports that whereas land deals in Sudan used to be around 240,000 hectares, today's deals are three times as large.Saudi Arabia has acquired land in Sudan to plant wheat, which is inefficient to grow at home. China is also buying up large tracks of land throughout Africa to produce biofuels and to produce food. India's companies have formed a consortium to invest in corporate farming of oilseeds in Latin America, most notably Uruguay and Paraguay. In many developing countries where land acquisition is taking place, the populations are already food insecure. So why are they exporting food crops instead of feeding their populations? For example, Ethiopia is the largest recipient of food aid from the World Food Program, but is also outsourcing food to Saudi Arabia. Cambodia, Niger, Tanzania, and Burma are other examples of countries receiving aid and also serving as host countries for foreign land acquisition.

In the Amazon, land grabs are at the heart of the recent conflict. More than 33 million hectares have been auctioned to petroleum companies, and over 3000 Andean communities are living with mining interests contaminating their water and fragmenting and privatizing community land titles.

The US-Peru Free2Raid Agreement not only sanctioned but mandated the opening of the Amazon for exploitation. After 56 days of peaceful indigenous protest, the State responded with the Bagua massacre. At the Pathways to Prosperity meeting days before, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed the Peru Free Trade Agreement as "good environmental stewardship." On our own home ground last year, the Interior Department doubled the rate of logging for 2.6 million acres of federally-owned Oregon forest. 221 scientists signed a letter to Bush to stop logging of US-owned forests, which brings in $4 billion a year. Even in commercial terms, this doesn't make sense since recreation brings in $224 billion.

In a unique side-event at the United Nations, President Evo Morales of Bolivia and President Correa of Ecuador had a dialogue entitled "Peoples' Rights not Corporate Profits: Closing the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, and challenging free trade agreements." The ICSID is the international tribunal in which communities and countries are sued by investors if labor, environmental, and human rights laws interfere with their projected profits. The event was been organized by Our World is not for Sale, the Hemispheric Social Alliance, Friends of the Earth International, Jubilee South, Social Watch, Linking Alternatives, and the Transnational Institute. It focused on the role of trade liberalization in causing the financial crisis, the continued imbalance between countries' sovereignty and corporate investors' rights, and the need to construct a new just financial architecture that supports human rights.

We'll now break for Bruce Cockburn with If a Tree Falls in the Forest, which I'll overlap with a poem by Mark Jarman called Coyotes, going from the rainforest to the desert but in a hopeful way. I'm not implying that turning rainforest into desert could be a good thing, only that the world is resilient and ready to partner with us in the healing process as soon as we choose that route.

[Bruce Cockburn – If a Tree Falls in the Forest]

* * * * * * *


Is this world truly fallen? They say no
For there's the new moon, there's the Milky Way,
There's the rattler with a wren's egg in its mouth,
And there's the panting rabbit they will eat.
They sing their wild hymn on the dark slope,
Reading the stars like notes of hilarious music.
Is this a fallen world? How could it be?

And yet we're crying over the stars again,
And over the uncertainty of death,
Which we suspect will divide us all forever.
I'm tired of those who broadcast their certainties,
Constantly on their cell phones to their redeemer.
Is this a fallen world? For them it is.
But there's that starlit burst of animal laughter.

The day has sent its fires scattering.
The night has risen from its burning bed.
Our tears are proof that love is meant for life
And for the living. And this chorus of praise,
Which the pet dogs of the neighborhood are answering
Nostalgically, invites our answer, too.
Is this a fallen world? How could it be?

~ Mark Jarman ~
From The Atlantic, May 2003

That was the music of Bruce Cockburn with If a Tree Falls in the Forest. While Cockburn talks about burgers and methane dispensers on the hoof, soy plantations are the leading cause of deforestation in Brazil. Being vegetarian isn't a yellow brick road to the Oz of culinary innocence. We're all struggling to find an ethical way to live, which, I believe, means moving in a direction of localization and greater involvement. The cautionary tale of the Tragedy of the Commons has been used to discourage small-scale sustainability. It promotes privatization, arguing that the desire for continued market profit will drive conservation of the resource. However, privatization isn't homeowners fencing in their backyards. These days, privatization means a faceless corporate owner, the ultimate in externalizing costs, slipping out of personal risks, and concentrating wealth. Privatization means monopoly.

The other way to avoid the tragedy is seen as government regulation, putting the commons under a centralized bureaucracy that keeps it pristine as a tourist attraction. Garret Hardin, who posed the dilemma, later said it should have been called "the tragedy of the unregulated commons." A Quaker Universalist, Don Seeger, writes, "Never has a philosophical problem been more urgent," citing environmental degradation and overexploitation of natural resources, caused by "the enormous growth of human populations in modern times, and the intensive use of resources which contemporary life involves." However, we who are living this intensive contemporary life aren't the ones directly using the resources, at least not until they're turned into products. The problem isn't overpopulation, it's overpopulation by the wrong people: consumers who are willing to partner with profiteers and corrupt governments. No amount of regulation is going to protect natural resources if our concern is just a wink and a nod while we pull out the credit card, while preserving some nature theme parks to walk around in.

When Peru's President Garcia justified shooting into the crowds of indigenous protestors, he said that the Amazon belonged not just to them but to all Peruvians, invoking the language of the commons. They're being selfish, he said, not to allow oil, gas, mining and logging. From his point of view, the indigenous tribes are hoarding a value that all Peruvians are entitled to. But when the resource can be more readily controlled by elites concentrated in a smaller territory, the US invokes the language of sovereignty and secession. This was attempted with Bolivia. The US ambassador was found to have funded paramilitary groups to incite the rebellion towards secession, for which the embassy was thrown out.

The same thing is now being attempted in the Honduras. President Manuel Zelaya, affectionately called "Mel" has 80% popular support, but the minority controls Congress, the army, and the press. Today, June 28th, Honduras was to vote on a referendum asking whether, in the November national elections, Hondurans should vote on whether or not to convene an assembly to write a new constitution. The current constitution was written under a US-backed military regime with 14 military bases and an atmosphere of State terrorism. Although the referendum is still three steps removed from having a new constitution, powerful interests are taking no chances. After promising logistic support, the Army reversed its position and held the ballot boxes hostage. President Zelaya fired the General and the Minister of Defense resigned.

The National Congress then drafted a letter of resignation for Zelaya and strategized ways to block election observers from entering the country. Influential political figures told voters that if they participated in the referendum, they could face 10 to 15 years in prison.

At midday on Friday, President Zelaya and thousands of civilians left the presidential palace in city buses and headed to the Air Force base, where they broke down the gates. An emotional Zelaya said,

"They don't want the people to be consulted, to speak, to have opinions, to have participation, nor do they want democracy in Honduras."

Zelaya picked up the boxes of election materials himself and carried them to waiting trucks. This is the culmination of many positive measures by Zelaya, such as raising the minimum wage, re-nationalizing energy and phones, and improving labor conditions for teachers.

But at 1 am this morning, the day of the referendum, a military coup led by School of the Americas graduate Romeo Vasquez has just kidnapped President Zelaya and flown him to Costa Rica. Television has been taken off the air with electricity, phones and cellphone lines cut. Despite the heavy presence of the military, and the detentions of civil leaders supporting the referendum, the people have taken to the streets. The European Union and several Latin American governments have spoken out against the coup and for Zelaya, but Obama's statement is ambiguous. Agencies urge US citizens to call the White House and ask what kind of democracy we stand for – democracy for people or for guns and money?

But to connect the global and local question of whether the Commons are a tragedy or a comedy of errors, let's break for David Rovics.

[David Rovics – The Commons]

That was David Rovics with The Commons, talking about our right of birth. Let's look at an example of how another culture seems to coexist peacefully with nature and one another. Cookbooks are one of my favorite things to read. I found this tidbit in The Olive and The Caper by Susana Hoffman.

"All Greek towns and villages possess a periferia – an area in the encircling outskirts that is shared by the community's inhabitants. Though the fields in the periferia are most likely privately owned, the area is utilized by all for gathering wild plants, foraging for wood, and taking a stroll. It also provides the hunting grounds, for it is within these outskirts that the men build bird blinds, women gather snails, and everyone picks greens...

Despite thousands of years of agriculture and animal husbandry, Greeks today still love the hunt and savor the flavor of the wild: boar over pig, pheasant over barnyard hen, and the wily hare instead of domestic rabbit. In the Greek view, the wild birds and animals are part of the free food God provides."

Kleopatra Georgiou & her husband own Opa! Family Restaurant, greeting cookbook author Susanna Hoffman with kisses on both cheeks. Hoffman was in Tarpon to promote her book, The Olive and the Caper.

It would be possible, I assume, for an enterprising person to get in the business of claiming God's free food and selling it in the next town. I'm sure there are city folk who can't be bothered to hunt their own quail, but want a dozen for their next dinner party. Why doesn't this happen? Surely they have no more accountability to each other than a community of herders, who can't move on to the next fringe forest.

This cookbook also talks about the demo-kratos or rule of the people, who inscribed their vote on the inside of an oyster shell, since paper was scarce and few could write, and then tossed them in a pile. From this comes the phrase, "casting a vote," and the word ostracize, meaning to expel, kick out, or give someone the oyster shell. If only we could toss out our own swine by casting mother of pearl before them.

Speaking of swine, the international action group Avaaz stopped traffic in Geneva delivering 225 cardboard pigs to the World Health Organization. This represented the 225,000 people who had signed their petition to research the link between the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, and the Smithfield factory farm where it originated. Initially, the Director said no link had been found, but then admitted that scientists have seen more disease breeding and mutating between animals and humans with the massive increase in industrial meat production. He agreed that Smithfield's farming practices were dangerous, and that food biosafety politics are dominated by the industrial meat lobby.

If we wanted to scale down and personalize meat production, where in Santa Cruz could we do it? What is our right of birth to get sustainable? When I think of public spaces around Santa Cruz, all are heavily-regulated. You can't plant flowers around a school without getting the district's permission. You can't find an empty field and plant corn. We wanted to hand out apricot-caramel shortbread at the farmer's market, to attract people to our charity fundraiser for the Amazonians in Peru. No go unless it was made in a certified kitchen with a license. There is no common market for homegrown or homemade goods.

As California goes bankrupt, over 200 state parks are on the chopping block to close. Last weekend was an SOS mobilization – people went to the parks in droves wearing green ribbons and signs that said Save Our State Parks. Either the land rights will be sold to large-scale for-profit corporations, or they'll be funded by the public, at a loss, as vast outdoor museums. They're either pristine and unproductive relics of the past, with concession stands and sweatshop-made tourist goods, or commercially-logged moonscapes.

So here's my vision for Wilder Ranch, if the State decides it can't afford to keep it open. First, give it back to the county or city. It's ours. California, as the eighth-largest economy in the world, can't do anything small-scale. Then, let's model a plan that's a cross between the Greek periferia and Farmlink, that matches underutilized land with landless farmers and ranchers, who both share in the goods produced. Partnering with the county and with people who have old-fashioned skills would be a community of low-level investors, who want to share in a dairy co-op or a pig palace. The historical aspect could become a deep reality rather than a veneer. In the film about Cuba's abrupt energy descent, The Power of Community, they revived farming with mule teams, which fertilize and don't pack down the soil.

[The Community Solution – The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil]

We could bring back the heritage breeds of chickens. Half of my incubated eggs are coming up roosters, and just learning how to crow. At six this morning, there was a sound like a dying animal with laryngitis stuck under a fence. Our choices are to eat them or outplace them, but they're beautiful Americanas, Silkies, and Cochins. It would be nice to allow chickens to breed naturally, but not as pets – as useful food animals. But when my daughter, who's a docent there, came to bake rooster pie in the wood-fired stove, she could still wear the bloomers and petticoats.

This has been Tereza Coraggio with Third Paradigm. Thanks to Skidmark Bob for production, editing, and music. Our last song is India Arie with A Beautiful Day.

[India Arie – A Beautiful Day]

Thanks for listening.