Fishing with Francis: 142 and …

As I listened to the gospel of Matthew 4:19 this weekend inviting us to be “fishers of men” — I heard not only Jesus’ voice, but also Pope Francis’s invitation:

“I ask you to be protagonists of this transformation… I ask you to build the future, to work for a better world.” ~ Pope Francis

I’d like to invite you to join me in developing our response to Pope Francis’s 2019 letter and invitation to people of good will everywhere.

Where We’re At

  • Screen Shot 2019-12-12 at 9.09.52 AM2,500+ young economists and entrepreneurs responded to Pope Francis’s invitation to meet with him in Assisi, Italy March 26-28, 2020 — here’s the event website.
  • 250 friends responded with interest to an invitation to gather that Elizabeth Garlow, Elias Crimm, and I sent out in November & December 2019
  • 155 people gathered virtually on December 16, 2019 – see video here. Speakers included:
    • Amy Uelman – “Pope Francis’ Inspiration for a New Economy: the Economy of Communion as a Case Study”
    • Nathan Schneider – “Cooperatives as Alternative Economic Praxis”
    • Melissa Hoover, Democracy at Work Institute – “The Emergence of Alternative Praxis”
    • Brian McLaren: “The Signs of our Times: Finding roots for a more just Economy.”
    • More than 50 of the attendees stayed on for an additional 30 minutes because they wanted to get more involvedScreen Shot 2019-12-16 at 1.24.19 PM
  • 142 people have joined the collaborative Slack workspace – you can join here as well. Thinkers, practitioners, observers — all are invited.
    • Conversations about Laudato Si, “Parishes-as-nodes”, “Mapping What’s working”, “Churches and Co-op Link Asset Mapping”, impact investing, changing the narrative, neighborhood projects, reading circles, are well underway — and looking for new voices and contributors.

What I’ve learned

I’ve spent the last 8 years organizing faith communities and schools to work together on their economic life. Mostly I’ve focused on where they spend their money (www.CPA.coop) and how they can make better decisions by coming together with peers wrestling with similar questions.

I’m excited to bring this learning to the broader movement-building space that Pope Francis has invited us to convene.

One Lesson Learned: The more we can hone in on exactly what problems we are wrestling with and specifically what difficult decisions we are facing, the more we can empathize, learn from, and join together with peers to make more powerful vehicles for change.

(For example, our CPA purchasing co-op has helped 121 participants come together on $17.3 million in contract spend and shift 58% of that to local small businesses — see our 2019 Impact Report here)

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What I enjoy the most

I want to help unleash people’s big project ideas, especially in this world of new economic praxis.

  • For example, I’ve loved accompanying Greg Brodsky as he launches, shepherds and brings on a co-director for Start.coop.
  • I love helping organizers and entrepreneurs get the resources they need to make their big ideas come to life.
  • I met Hays Witt in 2014. He advised me on a few things and we stayed in touch regularly. In 2018 he told me he wanted to go to business school. I tried to dissuade him and instead encouraged him on his passion project. He was about to incorporate as an LLC in late 2018, but I told him I’d help him find money if he did a co-op. He got into the first cohort at the Start.coop accelerator, which gave him $15,000 and the business frameworks he was seeking.
    • In 2019, Drivers Seat — a driver-owned cooperative committed to data democracy — came to life.
    • “We empower gig workers and local governments to make informed decisions with insights from their rideshare data.”

Virtual Workshops can Unleash New Projects

I created a CPA Incubator Workshop in October 2019, and from that have launched a new CPA Co-op in Boston and supported entrepreneurs in Miami, Cleveland, Detroit, Denver, Los Angeles, Lancaster, and Chicago in discerning whether this model might be for them. Screen Shot 2019-12-10 at 2.36.26 PM(You can meet the amazing cohort (see some of their faces above) by reading their work here.)

Right now, I’m looking for leaders in Boston and Chicago to help us with a multi-regional effort to aggregate our electricity consumption to build a powerful vehicle for change in our energy sector. Screen Shot 2020-01-25 at 4.09.20 PMWe’re calling all churches, schools, and any community-oriented property owner to submit their electricity bills to join us.

Here’s a 1-page flyer: “Power in Group Purchasing” – for folks in the Chicagoland region.

Movement Ecology: Where do you want to be?

I’ve learned that it’s helpful to consider the broader Movement Ecology. Where do you most want to contribute your gifts? I’ve learned that where I like to play the most is with people that want to create real alternatives.

I’ve begun to see and feel what leadership development really looks like. I’ve begun to learn what good facilitation tools feel like in practice — from Seth Godin’s Akimbo workshops to Technology of Participation (ToP) Methods for group Action Planning to deeper reflective spaces with Peter Block’s 6 Questions.

I’ve begun to try to take a more “Emergent Strategy” approach to my work — thanks to the wonderful wisdom adrienne maree brown shared in her book: Emergent Strategy.

What’s Next?

Here are some ways you can get involved:

  • We gather again on February 19, 2020 at 7:00pm ET (virtually via video / Zoom) – RSVP here so we can keep you informed — even if you aren’t able to make it: http://bit.ly/FrancescoEconomyUSFeb19
  • March 2020 – I will be headed to Assisi with a few others and will be sharing some videos / quick 1-2 minute interviews with others I meet — likely via LinkedIn — feel free to connect with me there, if we aren’t already connected.
  • April 2020 – We’ll likely have another virtual video call in April.
  • May 2020 – Several of us may be at this Faith+Finance gathering in San Antonio: https://faithfinance.net/
  • June 2020: I hope to launch a workshop for leaders and investors hungry to actualize their most important work. (Email me if you’re interested – felipe@cpa.coop)
  • October 6, 2020 – We’ll be gathering in Washington DC. Please Save the Date. The National Coop Business Association has their Co-op Impact conference on October 7-8, 2020.

So, where does that leave us?

My sense is that people are looking for others with an idea, a plan, and a deep desire to make something worth talking about.

We’re soliciting your ideas to lead a small group session on February 19th — share your pitch here.

I hope you’ll join us on February 19 or join our Slack Workspace.

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I look forward to seeing you there.

Carbon Offsets: To Buy or Not To Buy? A Short Guide

Three of my best friends from college just texted me telling me they’re planning to buy carbon offsets and wanted my two cents. The problem is: I’m having difficulty reducing my thoughts to a text.Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 10.05.12 PM

A little more than 10 years ago, my work as a climate change and clean energy consultant led me to writing a paper on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Offsets. Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 10.06.24 PM The more I learned, the more I realized the complexity inherent in trading money for “emissions reductions” in other places. The problems begin with the complexity of the basic criteria for what makes up an offset (additionality, measureability, complete accounting, verifiability, enforceability, permanence).

Here is an excerpt from my 2010 IHS CERA Report where I explain these 6 criteria.

Assuming you’re looking for a less technical response, I like this below excerpt from Josie Wexler of Ethical Consumer’s “A Short Guide to Carbon Offsetsbecause she emphasizes some DIY offsetting options and also reminding us that the most important thing is to reduce our own emissions.

Recommendations from Ethical Consumer

We recommend offsetting at the level of individual projects (rather than just giving to a company’s whole portfolio) because this is the level at which there is most information available. Accordingly, most of this feature deals with how best to choose such a project. In the process it also looks at criticisms of specific types of offsets, and of the whole concept.

If you want to buy official offsets, we recommend giving to Gold Standard-approved wind or solar energy projects. You can find Gold Standard VER projects on the Gold Standard website and you can buy Gold Standard CERs directly through the UN’s platform.

Alternately, if you fancy DIY offsetting and want to give to educational projects, the fantastic website Skeptical Science (which largely tackles climate sceptic misinformation) lists some that are crowdsourcing.

Lastly, you should always take promised emission cuts with a pinch of salt, bearing in mind that independent research has cast doubt on them, even in the case of the most reputable standards.

The best thing to do is reduce your own emissions in the first place.

Does it matter if it’s less than a drop in the bucket?

Voluntary vs. Compliance

One of the biggest problems I have is that individual purchases of carbon offsets are like a fraction of a fraction of a contribution to what’s needed.

Carbon offsets were created under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism as a way for countries to comply with their emissions “cap”. Because entities in the EU and in other places have had to comply with these regulations, its created a need for offsets for “compliance” purposes. The vast majority of offsets are purchased from “Compliance” buyers.

The rest of us are “voluntary” buyers — including companies and universities and others.

Then of the “voluntary” buyers, companies buy 98% of the market and individuals (like you and me) buy less than 1%.

Again, to quote the Ethical Consumer:

Corporations, mostly multinationals, bought 98% of voluntary carbon offsets in 2015. Individuals bought less than 1% of them, and their share has been shrinking.

Despite the impressive growth of the voluntary offset market, its current effects are not even drops in the bucket of what is necessary for meaningful climate-change mitigation.

But something is still something, right?

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Well, if you want the mainstream, neoclassical economic analysis on carbon offsets, here’s an articulation of the public good and the free rider problem by Matthew J. Kotchen in the Standford Social Innovation Review “Offseting Green Guilt.”

His conclusion is as follows:

My own view is that purchasing carbon offsets is better than nothing, assuming that you are careful about where you buy them. Yet when considering ways to reduce your own carbon footprint, you should compare offsetting to the more certain alternative of directly reducing your own emissions. As offset provider Carbonfund.org states, your motto should be, “Reduce what you can, offset what you can’t.”

If I wanted to encourage you in purchasing offsets, I’d sign off here, given that I like Carbonfund.org’s great tag line.

However, I’ve become quite a skeptic and I believe it’s important to also read through the critique of carbon markets and offsets in particular. The Corner House in the UK provides one of the better critiques on carbon trading.

The report describes the financial aspects of carbon trading and how the carbon market has changed over the past few years as new interest groups and complex financial arrangements have become involved. As a result, carbon quota prices have become more volatile, speculation in the carbon market has increased, and the market is increasingly delinked from its original objective of providing an effective cost-management tool to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Their synopsis document is called, “Designed to Fail“. Here’s an excerpt from page 7:

Advocates of the offset system point to the many world-wide carbon-reduction projects that are funded by the system; the savings to industry (and thus consumers and society at large); the flow of money from North to South; the export of new technologies to developing economies; and how innovation in low carbon technologies has been incentivised. FERN [the author] believes that these claimed benefits very rarely exist in reality, and are heavily outweighed by the significant, systemic failure of offsetting to reduce emissions at all, which we discuss in the last section of this paper.

Another point they make is that “of the US $ 144 billion carbon market, only US $ 3,370 million goes to project developers and only a fraction of that will go to communities who host projects.”

I think some of their critiques help remind us that fundamentally carbon offsets weScreen Shot 2019-07-25 at 10.04.37 PMre created to make it easier for us to do more “cost effective” emission reductions. The reality is also that emissions reductions may be  cheaper in other places in the Global South.

Thanks to our mainstream neoclassical economic theories and practitioners — with our focus on markets, free trade, individuals, & utility maximization — we’ve created a carbon trading market allowing us to continue doing what we’re doing with our fossil intensive energy infrastructure and pay others to make reductions.

The challenge is: can we create a commodity from a reduction in emissions?

This brings us back to the point of what are the 6 criteria for offsets: additionality, measureability verifiability, complete accounting, enforceability, permanence.

Is our money well spent investing in the financial markets creating these offsets projects, the financiers, administrators, marketers, developers, and verifiers? Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 10.04.43 PM

Is it better spent on a specific project you do in your house to reduce some of your emissions? Or a project with somebody you know? In your city or in a community you have relationship with and an understanding of abroad?  Or might our money be better spent on advocacy or organizing? If we could pass climate policy — with a cap on emissions — on state or federal levels — that would do the most good. What about giving $10 to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network — they’re one of the local groups who I most respect in their organizing and advocacy work. On a national & international level, I believe 350.org has done and continues to do some incredible work. For me it comes down to building power and better vehicles for change.  So that’s where I’m investing my money. What are the vehicles I believe are capable of building the power needed to help people, institutions, systems make the hard decisions/investments to decarbonize? And what are the paths to getting states, regions, countries to implement the policy and regulatory changes we need to decarbonize our electric & transportation sectors?I have a few ideas… but I’ll leave that for another post.

Democratizing Economics: I believe

I believe our economics can embody a greater democracy.Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 11.17.46 AM

I believe our economic institutions can be more democratic and fair.

I believe the plurality of thought in economics would bring great benefit to society.

 

I believe in culture and that our culture is the sum of the ideas floating around inside of it.

We all know it’s much easier to take in others’ ideas than it is to create and share the unique combination of ideas your experiences bring to bear.

Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 11.28.26 AMI believe we need to be talking more about certain ideas.

I believe George Saunders rightly characterized our media situation with his essay, “Braindead Megaphone”.

 

I believe our most important work is really matters.

I also know how easy it is to be distracted.

I believe that you spending more of your time on your most powerful work will change you.

 

I believe that creating tension is essential to producing work and creating change.

In organizing, we call it an “agitation”.

Agitation is the art of challenging a person to be true to their values, true to self and to act on those values out of their own self-interest. It is the art of pointing out the contradictions between what a person professes and how she or he acts.” ~Gameliel National Training Manual

I also believe new kinds of connection are possible.

New curated cohorts learning together can cement new relationships that move us deeply.

I believe in coaching, good feedback, holding up a mirror, reflecting back to each other what’s most important and what we see.

 

This is the heart of it: Learning to see.

Learning to see inside ourselves.

Learning to see beyond the next turn.

Learning to really see the other. Be with them and help them see themselves.

Is that a gift you are ready to give?

 

I think our economics needs it.

I think our economy needs it.

Will you join me?