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Capturing Community Currency


Wally Bowen‘s recipe book on community ISP’s and Mike Roselle on Mountaintop Removal, both on  Democracy Now,  along with today’s Znet article, Learning from the Union Model, made me think of Japanese energy/environmental activists, Yu Tanaka and Shuji Nakagawa. They reach their community energy production and community investment ideas in opposition to Nuclear Power and other ill national policies.

Community environmental projects might provide the kind of outreach (recruitment) opportunities shop stewards find. Working alongside someone give you chances to explain political views and find common values getting at each other’s throats. You can cut each other some slack while doing something together – even with someone you might end up battling to the death in a debate. Yu Tanaka started with fluron recycling and solar panel installations in his Tokyo neighborhood. He’s been taking his NPO bank and community project idea all over Japan – he’s even got celebrities involved. Shuji Nakagawa has been running a NPO solar organization and setting up Citizen Solar plants. They share this basic idea of keeping money in the community that Wally Bowen mentions here.

AMY GOODMAN: As newspapers fold, what is this nonprofit model you see?

WALLY BOWEN: Well, you know, at the media reform conferences, when I present our work, it’s always this paradox, because all of us are trying to find a new way to do journalism and alternative media, and yet every month people are writing a check to Verizon, AT&T, Charter. And so, all those digital dollars are flowing out of our communities and going to these big companies that are working in the interests of Wall Street and not in the interests of democracy.

And so, what the community-based nonprofit ISP, internet service provider, does is capture some of those digital dollars, keeps them in the community to support things like low power FM radio, public access TV. Eventually we hope to be paying journalists to do stories in our community using this revenue from our ISP.

Imagine if sustainable job creating wind farms in West Virginia were owned by the community, generating funds that would be invested back into the community. How much money is being drained out of those communities by electricity bills? Someone get Harvey Wasserman and Solartopia over there. Mike Roselle got a good review on a previous Democracy Now from a local ecologist, Judy Bonds Well, basically, it’s very significant because when a coal company actually orders someone to stay off their property, this—the gentleman that they’re ordering to stay off the property, Mike Roselle, has basically told me it’s going to take more than a temporary restraining order to keep him off an illegal activity. He’s exposing exactly what the coal industry is doing to Appalachia and indeed to all of America. So it’s pretty significant. That means that Mike is poking them pretty hard.

AMY GOODMAN: So how do you put all this together then?

MIKE ROSELLE: Well, the best way to maintain coal jobs in West Virginia is to end mountaintop removal immediately, because it employs a lot less people than underground mining. Underground mining is a lot less destructive to the environment, and it could be even less so if more regulations were enforced and new ones put in place.

But the blasting of the mountains removes any hope for any jobs in the future. And some of these mountains are very good sites for wind farms, and we’ve done studies on Coal River Mountain to show that it would actually produce more jobs if they were to develop the wind resources.

So this is not a jobs issue at all. This is an issue about an out-of-state company coming into West Virginia and extracting the coal, with the most profits, with the least amount of expenses, and then getting out of there. And it’s a cut-and-run operation. So, the forests are removed, the streams are buried. They’re just—plant these mountaintops, which is just basically gravel with a little bit of grass seed, and take a picture when it greens up, and then they leave. So it is really not about coal mining. This is about a company that has been exempt from the law. It’s about a state where federal laws don’t apply. And it’s about the Environmental Protection Agency, which has looked the other way because of the powerful politicians on the sides of the coal companies.

Shuji Nakagawa (Ja Agenda) urges people to start producing locally pointed out that our localities are impoverished if they can’t ‘capture’ their energy ‘dollars’ or yen. He comes up with some surprising figures. Our lightly (relative to the rest of Japan) populated Miyazaki sends 13 billion dollars (doing 100 yen per dollar for figures here) a year to the Kyushu Power Company. Most of that money could remain her in Miyazaki with local sustainable energy initiatives into solar, wind, biomass(I heard we have more cows and pigs than people in the Oyodo River Watershed.)  Twenty billion dollars flows out of the prefecture through Gasoline purchases. How can you calculate the amount of money that would circulate in a community if public transportion was cheap and popular? The mountain towns are losing population and revenue in Japan – schools are closing – they’re being forced to merge for funds – local politicians even work to bring nuclear facilities to their areas for the subsidies and revenue involved.

Nakagawa’s story of driving into the mountains stuck with me. He sitting down with some people and they asked him if he was cold and brought out a kerosene heater. The area’s main economic activity in the past had been producing charcoal. Now instead of heating themselves and getting paid to heat others they’re bleeding money out to multinational fuel companies. I feel like there’s  is something to this localization idea.

I have to spend some time to back up my old post on Z infra investment. The inspiration came from this idea of capturing community dollars for reinvestment and expansion. If you have money to invest why strangle yourself by putting it into stocks and corporations anyway. Locally I’m hoping to find opportunities to work with people but it would also be nice to see Z with some eco initiatives too. Another way to walk the talk. It’s been years since I bought one but I remember being impressed with the Earth Island Institute, or Earh Island Journals Kenaf paper  and soy ink publication. Stuff I can just rip up and put in some dirt or a worm box. Not that I ever doing being a pack rat with limited access to English language publications here in rural(ish) Japan.

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