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Kosmos Seed Grant Recipient, Great Lakes Commons
When calculating the likelihood of the current economic system protecting our bond with clean, accessible, and life-giving water, the situation seems impossible.
There is no money to be made protecting water as the source of life. Financing Great Lakes care today comes through either altruistic charity or legislated compensation. Water restoration costs are a fractional expense for a pollution-based economic system. Advocating for a friendlier version of the current system denies its core impulses and interests. Let’s be honest — degrading the living earth makes obscene amounts of money and defines our current story about “progress”.
How can our collective and radical imaginations connect our desire for connecting money’s value with our values?
Money is not just a medium of exchange, but a disciplinary force on what we value, the story of a meaningful life, and our position within this story. We need a new story for money and a new currency can help us tell it. Right now our money commodifies time, ideas, muscle, relationships, and all of creation in order to create more money. But what if the value of money was based on caring for water?
Money works as a magic system. It is created out of nothing and yet becomes the measure of everything in our society. Money’s value is anchored to greed, commodification, competition, and scarcity. These are the human values behind the dollar value. Wished into creation by stimulus and debt, money performs the market’s promise of happiness, while a global audience suspends their disbelief.
Let’s not be fooled. These values degrade and destroy life and turn creation into a commodity by converting all life (mother earth and her human and non-human children) into slaves. Can we use the magic of money to transform the impossible into the possible? Can we trade in these greedy values for ones rooted in gratitude and care?
Imagine the experience of using a form of money (a currency) imbued with our collective effort and ethic of grateful reciprocity? We don’t have to choose between protecting water as a shared and sacred commons and growing the current economy.
Let’s imagine that the value of money is tied to the quality and availability of water to serve life in the Great Lakes basin. Since we are water, the water’s benefit is our benefit. We know economics is a sub-system of ecology and our money system should reflect this, not subvert it.
Let’s imagine that watersheds return as the de facto boundaries for trade and treaty making. Canada and the USA are not nations, but settler-states enforced through divine proclamation, genocide, and broken promises on Indigenous people’s homelands. The Anishinaabek nation and Haudenosaunee Confederacy have been living with the Great Lakes since these waters were formed. A new currency could promote common peace and prosperity.
Let’s imagine that the people of the Great Lakes co-created their own currency to see and reproduce commons and ancestral values such as: gratitude, reciprocity, mutualism, trust, reverence, and friendship. This is a currency of respectful relationship, not exaction, accumulation, and coercion.
Starting on August 1st we will start mailing 10 Great Lakes Commons currency notes to each of our Charter Declaration supporters. Each of these notes will be numbered and hold infinite value. This new currency is for re-imagining value.
Each note represents the act of giving gratitude or requesting action. Each note carries the most precious value: acts of thanks and care for the Great Lakes. Rather than based on dollars, the value of these notes is our collective agreement and intention to reward people for their water protection through past actions (saying “thanks”) or future actions (saying “please”). Because our current money systems only acknowledges economic utility and gain, our Great Lakes Commons currency needs a wildly different theory of value — such as past/future actions for water care.
Since Canadian and USA dollars are backed by pure faith and in service of growth and debt, these currency notes are rooted in our common and reciprocal care for what matters most: clean water. Making and sharing these notes is an investment in the world we want. Here’s how the exchanges and a new story of money are manifested: