Book of the Week (2): Towards a Commodity Ecology

“Commodity ecology is the local watershed democratization of commodity choice and their interactions”:

“Decentralized material sustainability is its own political sustainability. This means judging novel technologies and materials on more than simply soft sustainability (material sustainability), it means hard sustainability that integrates a degree of judgment on whether the technology or material can be implemented locally and in a decentralized fashion to avoid future cross-border political economic dependences that become the source of corruption in the watershed, and soon a source of a political developmentalism that encourages more unsustainability through more political corruption, etc., in a feedback loop of corruption that is political and material.” *

* Book: Toward a Bioregional State. Mark Whitaker, 2005.

I feel this book’s concept of a commodity ecology expands and deepens on Marcin Jakubowski’s crucial Open Source Ecology approach, by offering a broader (bio)regional context to localized efforts.

Mark Whitaker explains:

“The priorities of both commodity ecology and the watershed civic democratic institution are to familiarize a locality with its specific interactions of health, ecology, and economy, by making a venue in which we can discuss making our human material and technological decisions fit particular areas instead of destroying them–and fit in a way that provides for ourselves and other species in the process.

Ideally, there should be an ONGOING commodity ecology conference immediately where teams from each of the 71 different commodity choices—with material scientists, technologists, inventors, biologists, health workers, business owners, ecologists, consumers (who want something that no one is offering it in the area or who have an idea for what they would want to buy or phase out), and general citizens.

This is similar to the “Gaviotas”-sense of local interactivity. Gaviotas is a nice example of how user-producer relationships for the goals of sustainability and localism were institutionalized. They made group decisions about both technology and materials choice issues, in a form of democratic discussion in their community on how to optimize their material relationships synergistically, to reduce wastes and pollution as well as to generate novel material businesses and ideas for how to integrate.

In Gaviotas, it was only when the gruff “technological producer” preoccupied ‘professional worker’ adults were forced to share the same eating tables and forced to talk to the “user children” of their technological handiwork, did a large amount of technological innovation start to accrue. One example was the combining of the see-saw for kids with the water pump, effectively harnessing child play for water pumping, and making it fun as well instead of a drudgery, as well as putting children within the contributing world of the community instead of being external to its working life.

The school framework itself started to be bundled into these locally optimal user-producer relationships, by having classes visit various workshops in the actual material and technological world. In the process of questions and answers between the tech-adults and the roving class of children, many other user-producer links were discovered and implemented, with the children’s school thus benefiting the adults as well as the children. These are only two of several examples. There are many more.

Thus, in Gaviotas, the user-producer relationships were additionally child-adult relationships that came full circle as well. Such communication occurs only if all the different user-producer frameworks are regularly made aware of each other through some regular basis. I would argue this goes for suppliers and consumers in general.

It would be fine to do this at a dinner table. However, to systematize what is going on here, as well as to note how Gaviotas failed when it attempted to “scale out” its work, the suggestion is to have specific watershed COMMODITY ECOLOGY institutionalizations.

A watershed based institution is required to enhance and cultivate geographically optimal frameworks of technological innovation and materials choice. This is based innately upon the geographic specific dynamics upon how various other material choices, inputs, and outputs are arranged uniquely in each watershed–and require different solutions for different watersheds.

The goal factors are local economic durability, ecological security, and health optimalization. These are the goals that should be the keystone criteria in mind in these deliberations.

How can this be done? If it’s democratization and local input and oversight of material choice processes and procedures of decision making, this means that consumers are the ultimate power of authority in materials choice relationships and should have some type of institution in which they can do one of two activities: arrange or call attention to user-producer relationships in material choices that they want in their area (that they fail to have), as well as complain about existing separation of producers who ignore the three goal criteria for sustainability (health, ecology, and economic sustainability) in their technological choices as well as material choices.

These issues of materials choice decision making procedures are to be democratically nationalized (and watershed-based) issues, instead of exclusively a private issue taken typically with regard or even against the consumer interest (as in the current frameworks of “consumption without representation” in GMO foods for example). Instead, feedback from the public in consumer/user-producer relationships on what materials they want to consume in their watersheds, and which ones should be phased out, how to interlink each of them, and what technology is required to perform this, is involved here.”

Mark Whitaker continues:

“Most people I know consider that sustainability means only a form of agroecology, socially speaking, a continuation of the whole 1960s ‘back to the land ethic’ revisited–and little else. I have nothing against that, and it’s very important, though, however, food is only one of the 90* different materials and material choices (or lack of choices!) we consume daily in social relations….

Food can hardly be the alpha or omega of a movement of sustainability because it is only a small 1/90th part of commodity relations–however important food is.

What is required is a larger vision and knowledge base for how to integrate all materials in sustainable relationships–instead of only food. This post moves toward that commodity ecology.

First, a commodity ecology of a watershed would integrate all 90 commodity choices. (Just what these 90 are will be addressed in section two.) A commodity ecology will be a human invention of how to interact the 54 different commodity choices we all use worldwide, to fit a variety of different geographic concerns concerning issues of remediation as well as sustainability of commodity choices that potentially can be as different and perfectly suited to each microclimate, soil type, people’s political economic local desires, or general ecological specifics for each watershed worldwide. And if they get out of bounds with externalities, there is the political feedback from their neighboring watersheds in the bioregional state as well as from within their own as a political feedback because these watersheds are additionally electoral districts.

I personally see nothing the matter with economic scale expanding outside of a particular watershed (unlike more puritanical foodsheders, for example)–as long as externalities are successfully avoided within their home watershed. The issue of avoiding institutionalizing externalities in the first place is the greater point I think. If people wished to self-limit themselves to exclusively buying and selling within a particular watershed, well, who can or should critique that? That is the point. That is the “local jurisdictional dominance over developmental paths” that is important in the bioregional state:

Bioregional democracy (or the Bioregional State) is a set of electoral reforms (and commodity reforms) designed to force the political process in a democracy to better represent concerns about the economy, the body, and environmental concerns (e.g., water quality), toward developmental paths that are locally prioritized and tailored to different areas for their own specific interests of sustainability and durability. This denotes democratic control of a natural commons and local jurisdictional dominance in any economic developmental path decisions–while not removing more generalized civil rights protections of a larger national state.

There should be variation within the theme of sustainability. Sustainability is the theme of variability, institutionalized–institutionalized and protected from being undermined from environmentally degradative frameworks of commodity production elsewhere.

Second, as mentioned, this commodity ecology would be done on the criteria to minimize externalities in the beginning by entirely removing the whole category. Instead of a flippant after the fact “end of pipe” concern, materials as a group would be chosen holistically inside the factory wisely through a producerist-consumerist democratic process described below (in section three). [or described at links above: ]

Instead of attempting to deal with pollution politics AFTER pollution has already been institutionalized in the poor choices of material choices in factories via chemical/technological processes used–which puts producers typically at odds with the consumer politics of pollution remediation and safe health, ecology, and economy–instead the 90 different commodity producers get together in the first place led by their vision for sustainability for their watershed. In this sense then the consumer and the producers will be more of one family on the same side.

Third, another criteria of this human invented commodity ecology would be adjudicated on whether producers’ commodity choices for their positions can be integrative or supportive–instead of degradative–of the other 53 different commodity choices in a particular watershed.

To do this, it is suggested to institutionalize a producer-consumerist deliberative interaction between all 54 different commodity producers by a regular democratic process of collective work in each watershed to create this commodity ecology as a living practice. Each “watershed of 54 heroes” and their consumer feedback of improvement or critique can be supportive of cobbling together how to institutionalize local developmental paths that are germane and particularly suitable to a watershed. This is done by an open political process to suit and protect each specific watershed’s contribution to sustainability (which includes preservation of the local interaction of health, ecological security, and economic sustainability).

Each watershed can draw upon the experiences and “commodity ecology” plan of interaction of another watershed for ideas about the interactions in general, though each watershed would have a nugget of 54 interactions of commodities especially suited to its democratic producerist-consumerist process. This interaction of a democratic, watershed-specific developmentalism is where people, in the local area, can have jurisdictional dominance in the oversight of the demotion of their own pollutions and create their own ‘local wing’ solutions. This is implied in the short definition of the bioregional state. Each watershed has the dominant jurisdiction in its own health, ecological, and economic concerns, though within the larger civil rights rubric of the bioregional state. (See this other post for more details on this point.)

The challenge of sustainability is to integrate ourselves into ecology politically, with the mental focus that people used to devote to thinking up novel cogwheels or flywheel designs for clocks or heavy machinery. Instead, a means is required where we can integrate our politics and consumption into ecologically durable relationships, because it is the organization of our consumption choices that pays little heed to this which leads to environmental degradation and habitat destruction–instead of our consumption by definition in the abstract per se. However, a vocabulary for commodity ecology is lacking for the most part. I hope to provide a few ideas below for that by a comparison with some ideas that have been toyed with approaching commodity ecology without touching on it. I will show that each lack crucial material and/or socio-political insights that makes them far from sufficient for achieving sustainability as commodity ecology would. These insufficiencies relate to their lack of appreciation of socio-political institutional dynamics and/or knowledge of the major 54 commodity choice puzzle pieces. Many still view commodities as neutral abstracts. However, materials are always politically informed choices which have very different material and political ramifications.

As an introduction to commodity ecology and what I would call its applied science of ecological engineering, there are several different strategies aired in the past 20 years where I think all this is leading.

The mental prowess now required is for raising a generation of “ecological engineers.” This desire–actually this requirement–for sustainability means that such “ecological engineering” of human and environment to take each other into account from the start by knowing of the biological issues and material science issues and social science issues of each item chosen. Ecological engineering would ponder the long term iterative health, ecological, and economic durability issues with each policy, commodity choice, technology, or formal institutional design change, and how each change whether biological, physical or social will give rise to a whole different kind of interaction in a particular watershed.”

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.