Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sustainable Living: Time banking: Toward a cash-free economy

From Transition California
by Steve Tanner
March 31, 2011

Could you use a little help in your life — maybe an afternoon of yard work or math tutoring for your child — but can’t really afford to pay someone for it? Do you also have something to offer, perhaps gardening know-how or plumbing expertise?

Hold on to your hard-earned cash and consider joining a community time bank.

It’s a great way to “pay” for services without spending a dime, while discovering your own otherwise untapped resources and getting to know your neighbors. After all, just because money is tight doesn’t mean we lack economic value — and by eliminating the cash transaction, we’re really just getting back to the roots of a civilized economy.

Here’s how it works: You spend an hour doing something for somebody in the community. This gets “banked” as a Time Dollar in a Web-based database (a time bank). Finally, you “spend” that banked Time Dollar by having someone help you for an hour. It’s really that simple, made feasible by the networking power of the Internet.

So, what does this have to do with sustainability?

Time banking emboldens communities with a powerful economic system that can withstand the shenanigans of Wall Street while sidestepping the perils of debt, creating a truly local and self-organized safety net. That’s the warm and fuzzy, community-building element to time banking — but all you need to know is that time banks are a powerful way to save money in a time of economic uncertainty.

The kinds of services and tasks that can be time-banked are limited only to your imagination, and no one’s time is more valuable than another’s, putting all members on an equal footing. Think of it as a bartering network for services. (By the way, New Earth Exchange in Santa Cruz is developing a formal bartering network in conjunction with its soon-to-launch local currency initiative.)

Thankfully, someone already has done the heavy lifting by creating a time bank for the greater Bay Area. It’s called the Bay Area Community Exchange and can be found at

Signing up is simple: Just click on the “sign up and start time banking now” link; provide your e-mail address, name and ZIP code; list services you would be willing to offer; describe your interests; and indicate which neighborhoods with which you would like to be involved.

Then, your account is ready to use. An even better way to connect with others in San Lorenzo Valley is to join the Transition SLV group within the BACE time bank. You don’t have to be a member of Transition SLV to join the group, but the grassroots community organization always welcomes new recruits.

When you log in to the BACE site, you’ll see a tally of hours given and hours received, a section with active bids and offers, and a listing of recent transactions. Anyone familiar with social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn) will find it intuitive, but it’s easy enough for newbies, as well, so don’t be intimidated.

Requests and offers are organized into the following categories: arts & crafts, building trades, business & administration, computers, education, entertainment, event production, food, gardening & yard work, gifts, goods, health & healing, home improvement, household services, legal/law, mechanical, transportation, urban homesteading and writing.

Examples of some current offers include child care groups, video production, data entry, foreign language tutoring, therapeutic massage, garden consulting and even grocery shopping.

Time banking is a simple yet powerful way to weather tough times while strengthening our local economy. And everyone has something valuable to offer.

Steve Tanner is a writer and journalist living in Ben Lomond with his wife, young daughter, dog and four hens. He is on the steering committee for Transition San Lorenzo Valley, a local nonprofit committed to creating a more sustainable and resilient community. For information:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Participatory Budgeting Comes to San Francisco (and Berkeley and Vallejo)

(Editor's note: I have been organizing this for the past few months after seeing really inspiring presentations from Toronto public housing, Chicago Alderman Joe Moore, and videos from Latin America where the model was initiated. There will be a private meeting at City Hall to go over the details and feasibility with government officials of different participatory budgeting models.)

From Budget Cuts to the People’s Budget: Participatory Budgeting
April 26, 6:30-9pm
Centro del Pueblo Auditorium
474 Valencia St., Second Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103
(wheelchair accessible, refreshments served, donation for space accepted)

Join the Center for Political Education, PODER, JASEcon, the San Francisco Community Land Trust, the Chinese Progressive Association, Bay Area Community Exchange and other community-based organizations for a discussion of Participatory Budgeting and how it could be applied in San Francisco with Josh Lerner and Alderman Joe Moore.

Participatory budgeting is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. Hundreds of municipalities all over the world have used this process to open up decision-making on municipal budgets to community stakeholders. It is an important tool to create more participation in proposal development, transparency of budget allocation, and to get resources to communities whose voices often go unheard and that are significantly under-served by budgets, especially in times of budget cuts. What would the people decide? More money for affordable housing, healthcare, community gardens, worker coop seed grants?

In 2009, Alderman Joe Moore, a member of Chicago's City Council representing the 49th Ward (a district that speaks 80 different languages), launched the first participatory budgeting process in the US, inviting residents of his ward to directly decide how to spend his $1.3 million discretionary budget. The initiative was a resounding success that engaged over 50 civic, religious and community organizations in the development of budget proposals, which culminated in a ward-wide election in April, 2010, where over 1,600 49th Ward residents voted on infrastructure spending priorities for 2010.

For more info, see article “Participatory Budgeting: Sharing Power Over Public Resources”, website Participatory Budgeting Project and video “Direct Democracy in Chicago”

Alderman Joe Moore is a member of Chicago 's City Council. Since 1991 he has represented the city's 49th Ward, which includes the Rogers Park neighborhood. Moore has been named the "Most Valuable Local Official" in the country by The Nation magazine, in recognition for his successful sponsorship of a resolution against the war in Iraq , measures requiring living wages for employees of big box retail stores, and environmental restrictions on Chicago 's coal-fired power plants. Starting in 2009, he launched the first participatory budgeting process in the US, inviting residents of his ward to directly decide how to spend his $1.3 million discretionary budget.

Josh Lerner is Co-Director of The Participatory Budgeting Project, a non-profit organization that works with elected officials, public agencies, and community organizations to open up public budgets to public participation. He served as a lead adviser to Alderman Moore for participatory budgeting in Chicago's 49th Ward, and he has also researched and worked with participatory budgeting processes in Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, Spain, and the UK. Lerner is a PhD candidate in Politics at the New School for Social Research and has taught at Fordham University, The New School, and the Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment.

media contact: Mira Luna (mira at

Also events in Berkeley (and Vallejo)
Wednesday April 27th, 5-7pm
UC Berkeley Campus, Wurster Hall
Room 112, 1st floor

San Francisco Passes Landmark Urban Ag Commerce Bill

Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Contact: Mayor’s Office of Communications, 415-554-6131



San Francisco, CA— Mayor Edwin M. Lee today signed into law an amendment to
San Francisco’s planning code that will explicitly allow for “urban
agriculture” in all areas of the City and the sale of produce from urban
gardens in all non-residential zones.

“The Urban Agriculture Ordinance will allow for greater local food
production within City limits,” said Mayor Lee. “This legislation will not
only help support our community through the increased production of fresh,
locally grown produce, but will also revitalize vacant arable land and
create green jobs.”

“Urban agriculture provides significant health, environmental and economic
benefits,” said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who co-sponsored
the Ordinance. “This bill puts San Francisco on the map as a national
leader in urban agriculture, and is a tangible example of how government
can create more sustainable communities.”

The Urban Agriculture Ordinance amends the San Francisco Planning Code to
recognize various scales and intensities of local food production, from
small scale gardens to larger-scale urban agriculture. The legislation
allows for the sale, pick-up and donation of fresh food and horticultural
products grown on-site in all districts, and for the sale of “value-added
products” such as jams or pickles where the primary ingredients are grown
and produced on-site in all districts except districts zoned for
exclusively residential uses. Food and horticultural products grown that
are used for personal consumption remain unregulated.

“The Urban Agriculture Ordinance will help San Francisco grow healthy food
within our own boundaries,” said San Francisco Planning Department Director
John Rahaim. “The Ordinance establishes parameters for urban agriculture
that will ensure that these gardens are operated in a way that is
compatible with and complimentary to our City's urban neighborhoods.”

The San Francisco Planning Department, in coordination with the Department
of Public Health, Department of the Environment and San Francisco Public
Utilities Commission, worked with numerous community stakeholders to draft
the Ordinance.

“With this change, San Francisco makes it clear that gardens and urban
farms are welcome in all parts of the city. The new law not only
encourages people to connect with food and build community by cultivating
fruits and vegetables in their neighborhoods, but also allows
entrepreneurial gardeners to earn a little extra cash or to make a living
selling what they grow,” said San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance
(SFUAA) Co-Coordinator Eli Zigas. “We commend Mayor Lee, Supervisor Chiu,
and the Planning Department for their leadership on urban agriculture.”

The Ordinance is an instrumental part of the City’s efforts to encourage
local food production in the region. In July 2009, former Mayor Gavin
Newsom issued Executive Directive 09-03, Healthy and Sustainable Food for
San Francisco, which directed all City departments to implement actions
consistent with the goal of fostering local food production in San
Francisco. The Ordinance, co-sponsored by Mayor Lee and Supervisors David
Chiu, Eric Mar, Ross Mirkarimi and Malia Cohen, passed the Board of
Supervisors on April 12th.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

BNotes:Group proposes alternative currency to support local economy

BNote bills could be used only at area businesses, keeping value in city

By Liz F. Kay, The Baltimore Sun
February 21, 2011

A Baltimore group wants to put civic pride in your wallet.

The Baltimore Green Currency Association, a nonprofit that aims to help small restaurants and mom-and-pop retailers fend off the big chains, is trying to build an alternative economy — mostly in Hampden. To do so, the group plans to issue a local currency called BNotes.

Customers wanting to buy local could use the currency at more than 25 businesses. And they would get a built-in discount because $10 would get you 11 BNotes, which could be exchanged dollar-for-BNote at designated merchants. The businesses would then be able to use the currency to purchase goods and services from each other.

BNote boosters plan to unveil the design for the bills on Friday and to put them into circulation in mid-April. They recently launched a campaign to raise money to print the BNote bills.

Local currencies have been implemented around the country, in communities such as Ithaca, N.Y., and the Berkshires in Massachusetts. And similar programs have been tried before in Baltimore.

A system known as "time banking," which allows people to barter hours of work for such services as graphic design, baby-sitting or carpentry, has been used in a number of communities around the Baltimore area, to varying degrees of success. An effort known as Baltimore Hours started in the early 2000s but did not last.

The latest currency association — all volunteers — focused on Hampden because it has a defined geographic area and a number of independent businesses. Restaurants such as McCabe's and nearby Woodberry Kitchen have agreed to accept the currency, as well as some outside Hampden including Zeke's Coffee in Lauraville. The merchant directory also includes computer repair servicer Little Shop of Hardware and vintage clothier Minas Gallery and Boutique.

Unlike dollars that could be spent anywhere, BNotes would be tied to participating businesses, and those who receive them would be motivated to put them back into circulation. The currency group's executive director, Jeff Dicken, said the BNote also would bring back a "social element" to business transactions.

The BNote "ends up circulating locally more persistently and more quickly than the dollar," Dicken said. "They're the lubricant in the economic system."

Steve H. Hanke, a professor of applied economics at the Johns Hopkins University and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, said the BNotes discount may offer a temporary impact, but usually forms of scrip sprout during tough times and don't last long.

"Whatever the benefits might be, the subjective valuations ultimately get swamped by the other set of subjective valuations, such as the cost and inconvenience of it," he said.

It's not illegal to print currency, though one cannot mint coins. And the bills would be counted like dollars for tax purposes.

The Baltimore group plans to base how much currency to put into circulation on several factors, including the total revenue of the participating businesses and the amount of demand.

Participating businesses can control how they choose to accept BNotes — restricting them to a certain percentage of each transaction, for example. Employers could pay a portion of staff salaries in BNotes.

If this small-scale experiment succeeds, the currency group hopes to one day offer interest-free business loans to invest in local supply chains — diversifying the local economy and eliminating the need to ship goods from long distances. Debit cards and electronic payments are another future possibility.

Patrick Ito, chef at McCabe's, said he envisions offering the BNotes to staff as bonuses, such as "employee of the month" awards. He hopes the currency group can persuade local farms that supply him and other Hampden restaurants to accept the BNote.

"The big selling point was trying to keep money flowing through and in the neighborhood," he said. "The more businesses that use it, the more effective it is."

Other business owners are taking a wait-and-see approach, said Benn Ray, co-owner of Atomic Books. He's also president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association, where he said some members have had questions. With the slow economy and limited sources of credit, having assets tied up in such a program could be a "tricky proposition" for a small business, he said.

"I have a feeling as with most of these things, there will be some businesses that greatly benefit and thrive from this, and other businesses that see it doesn't make much sense for them," said Ray, who added that he supports the group's intent.

Michael Reeder of Hygeia Counseling Services in Mount Washington said BNotes make sense given the current economic climate.

"It helps me out to be promoted by them, to be one of the initial few in my category," he said. "Anything that helps me differentiate from the competition, I'm there."

While some local currencies are no longer in circulation, others have become integral to the local economy. In the Berkshires, about $2.8 million worth of BerkShares have circulated since September 2006, with about $135,000 still in circulation, said Susan Witt, BerkShares co-founder and education director of the New Economics Institute.

"What local currencies are, ideally, is this extraordinarily flexible and targeted regional economic development tool," she said.

BerkShares currently is a very sophisticated "buy local" program, she said. "If you have BerkShares in your pocket, it's a reminder not to go to the Internet, not to go to big chain stores, but to go the local businesses that are part of your Main Street."

Any local currency requires time and education to overcome the perceived inconvenience and unfamiliarity, Witt said. "Our habits around financial transactions are deeply ingrained now," she said. "We don't look at the person we're paying. We don't have a conversation with them."

Central bank warns of dangers of "local" currencies issued by municipalities

Editor's note: These currencies must be doing quite well to initiate propaganda against them by the Hungarian Central Bank. I do not know the specifics of these currencies referred to, however, most local currencies have more forge-proofing elements than national money, have more value than the destructive (backed by high interest debt) and inflation-prone national money, and I don't know how they could be less supportive of the local economy -that just doesn't make sense. Obviously a very short article that is unable to provide evidence of its claims. Three cheers for autonomous Sopron!

From the
April 14, 2011

There are several risks associated with so-called "local" currencies being issued by some municipalities in Hungary, the Hungarian National Bank has warned. Experts from the bank say they are easier to forge, have an uncertain value, and they do not support local economy.

A local currency was introduced in Sopron in 2009, while other regions and towns planning their own local currencies include Rábaköz, Pécs, Veszprém and Debrecen.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sharp Drop in American Enthusiasm for Free Market, Poll Shows

From World Public Opinion
April 6, 2011

American public support for the free market economy has dropped sharply in the past year, and is now lower than in China, according to a GlobeScan poll released today.

The findings, drawn from 12,884 interviews across 25 countries, show that there has been a sharp fall in the number of Americans who think that the free market economy is the best economic system for the future.

When GlobeScan began tracking views in 2002, four in five Americans (80%) saw the free market as the best economic system for the future--the highest level of support among tracking countries. Support started to fall away in the following years and recovered slightly after the financial crisis in 2007/8, but has plummeted since 2009, falling 15 points in a year so that fewer than three in five (59%) now see free market capitalism as the best system for the future.

GlobeScan Chairman Doug Miller commented: "America is the last place we would have expected to see such a sharp drop in trust in the free enterprise system. This is not good news for business."

The results mean that a number of the world's major emerging economies have now matched or overtaken the USA in their enthusiasm for the free market. The Chinese and Brazilians, 67 percent of whom regard the free market system as the best on offer, are now more positive about capitalism than Americans, while enthusiasm in India now equals that in the USA, with 59 percent rating the free market as the best system for the future.

Among the 20 countries polled in both 2009 and 2010, an average of 54 percent today rate the free market economy as the best economic system, unchanged from 2009.

Americans with incomes below $20,000 were particularly likely to have lost faith in the free market over the past year, with their support dropping from 76 percent to 44 percent between 2009 and 2010. American women have also become much less positive, with 52 percent backing the free market in 2010, down from 73 percent in 2009.

The poll was conducted by telephone in China and the US, and by telephone, in-person, or online in the 23 other countries between June 24 and September 18, 2010 by the international polling firm GlobeScan and its national partners. Before today's public release, only clients of GlobeScan's "Radar" reports have had access to these results. National results are considered accurate within +/- 3.0 to +/- 4.9 percent, 19 times out of 20.

GlobeScan Chairman Doug Miller added: "The poll suggest that American business is close to losing its social contract with average American families that has enabled it to prosper in the world. Inspired leadership will be needed to reverse this trend."

Fieldwork was conducted in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the USA. Interviews were conducted via face-to-face, by telephone, or online (Japan only) between June 24 and September 18, 2010. Polling was conducted by GlobeScan and its research partners in each country. Some urban-only surveying was conducted in certain developing countries, following generally accepted research standards in each country. The margin of error per country ranges from +/-3.0 to 4.9 percent, 19 times out of 20.

For more information about GlobeScan see

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Postcards from the Nuclear Apocalypse

I've been absorbed in work, writing an article on how to start a worker coop, and fleeing the radiation cloud. Yes, I fled the initial plume of radiation from Japan that hit California on March 18th for a week and a half.

I used to work as a nuclear policy analyst in the state legislature, with a nonprofit, and with the US Department of Energy on "safer" nuclear waste storage, then in nuclear news analysis for an international energy thinktank.

I can tell you that there is a media blackout of the radiation impact. What little media there is downplays the risk and makes ridiculous comparisons between chest x-rays, flights from SF to NY, and the serious risk we face by inhaling and ingesting radioactive particles that could easily lodge in our tissues and radiate us for the rest of our lives giving us all different kinds of serious cancers (in the case of cesium and other isotopes) and give us thyroid cancer in the case of iodine (particularly in children).

Think about it. Nuclear is being touted as a solution to climate change. Many nuclear power plants around the world and US are up for renewal and new ones want to be built. This is a multi-billion dollar industry highly subsidized by the government. If there was one bad accident, then would the public allow new plants to be built? Wouldn't the industry/government minimize the risk of radiation from that accident especially if the consequences wouldn't be clear for a decade or two?

First Japan/TEPCO said there was no risk outside the evacuation area, then there was no risk to Tokyo, then the ocean. There was no breach of the containment vessel at reactor 3 with MOX plutonium fuel. Then the workers got high radiation from leaking water. Then there was plutonium found in the soil outside the plant But not to worry, there were only small amounts of plutonium - only the most toxic and longest living radioisotope known to man. President Obama said radioactive fallout will not reach the US. Then it was here in small amounts. Now it's in the water, drinking water and food.

When I worked in this field I was exposed to cover-up after cover-up of the nuclear industry and the government's own data. The nuclear industry had bought off most the higher level government officials and it owns most of the mainstream media.

Then there were many who were conveniently just ignorant. My housemate was a nuclear fuel engineer. He said he opted out of a health physicist class when he was doing his nuclear program. He admitted he didn't really know the dangers of radiation even though he designed nuclear fuel.

That is not to say that I know we are being exposed to significant levels of radiation but it is quite clear that we do not know we are not (although we can assume there will be no immediate acute radiation poisoning health impacts in the US- the impacts will be long-term if any). Certainly the risk after Chernobyl was drastically downplayed. Only hundreds of people would get cancer according to mainstream sources, now decades later the numbers reach beyond a million extra cancers. The EPA (which is not a beacon for truth telling on issues of environmental health- I worked in that field for another 4 years) took down many of its radiation monitors the week the radioactive plume arrived for "repair". They are also considering raising the safe levels of radiation standards.

According to Physicians for Social Responsibility and NIRS and there is no safe threshold for radiation, especially for internal radiation. Every added dose creates a greater likelihood of cancer and other significant health problems. Even the harmless xrays the media throws in for comparison are not harmless. Mammograms increase breast cancer risk and CT scans can cause brain cancer. Though there are no controlled scientific studies that I am aware of that subject people to ingested radiation so we don't know how much radiation it takes for a person to get cancer. It probably depends a lot on the person- age, sex, immune system, life style, other carcinogenic exposures, etc.

We do know that there is now radioactive iodine and cesium in the rainwater and some kinds of foods and radioactive iodine in the drinking water from UC Berkeley's Nuclear Engineering Department There was an article about this posted on BBC, which disappeared. It is most certainly censored in the US as it is a prime worry on many people's minds, yet no news???

It is one thing to not want to be afraid, it is another thing to turn a blind eye to potential danger. At least admitting the potential danger we can take basic precautions and we can start working towards a nuclear free future.

What does this have to do with alternative economics? EVERYTHING. As I drove through the deserts of Utah, I reevaluated my life. Have I acted with the utmost care and urgency that the care of our Earth and ourselves need now? NO. I keep participating in the system that feeds nuclear power. I still pay taxes, though not much and only because they take it out of my tiny check each month, which goes towards nuclear power subsidies from the government. I still use power from the grid that is partially derived from nuclear energy. I still to some degree put my energy into an economic system that feeds corporations that consume and pollute our sacred mother Earth. Though I am urgently trying to create a new economic system that takes energy away from the bad and feeds it into the things that we value and care about.

I saw a movie a couple nights ago called Living Without Money. The old woman in the film felt such intense urgency about not participating in this destructive system that she has tried to drop out and hasn't used money for the last 14 years. This reminded me of a meeting of community members in West Texas where a nuclear waste dump was going to be built nearby over the largest aquifer in the country. They said "Let's never use their energy again, let's burn our energy bills and build wind power plants." Today they are making that happen.

When will you feel the urgency to take drastic action? Do your kids have to get cancer? Do all the fish have to be gone first? As the Cree Indian prophecy says, "Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money." Derek Jensen advocates blowing up dams and destroying other property that is implicated in irreversible environmental destruction. Maybe this isn't the best way to deal with things although I appreciate his sense of urgency. Franklin Lopez who produced a film about him said one thing we can do is rebuild our local economy and local government. It's the only scale where we can have significant impact given the corruption, lack of transparency, and accountability at higher levels of government and in big corporations. And if we withdraw our energy from the corporations and Feds we might just have a chance at winning this battle.

What can you do today? Will you just go back to work tomorrow, come home and watch the news until it depresses you enough to turn it off?

Drop out of the dominant economic system as much as possible and tune in to help us build new healthier local economies. Invest locally and directly your time, energy, resources and money into making the transition to a sane economy. An economy that cares for the foundation of our existence- the Earth. One that cares for everyone - we are all interconnected. One where you move towards your true happiness and those around you. Join a transition town group and begin nonrenewable energy descent in your area. Start a timebank or local currency. Grow more food locally. Use human powered energy. Join Slow Money and your local credit union.

Each day of your life you make a choice to go along and watch the disasters unfold on the news or to stop now, stand up, and build the world we all wish we lived in.