#176 Bridging from the Necessary to the Possible with Emily Harris of Dark Matter Labs
If the present system is broken – and is in fact the heart of the meta-crisis – how can we transform peacefully to something that will work to create the future we’d want to leave behind?
That’s the core question of this podcast and so it was with great joy, that I found Dark Matter Labs. DML says of itself, “We’re working to create institutions, instruments and infrastructures for a more equitable, caring and sustainable future.
Around the planet, we’re feeling the consequences of outdated institutions and inadequate infrastructures incapable of coping with planetary-scale challenges. At Dark Matter, we believe in taking on these challenges via a new, civic economy. An economy that’s community-led, and based on many-to-many relationships. An economy that prioritises mental wellbeing and Nature-based Solutions as platforms for further change. We’re an ambitious not-for-profit designing and building the underlying infrastructure to support this new civic economy, exploring how ownership, legal systems, governance … might begin to change.”
Which sounds exactly like what we need in our world as we head to the edge of total transition – and exactly what this podcast is about.
So I asked if there was someone I could talk to – and connected with Emily Harris. Emily is a Chartered Accountant. She also holds an MA in Regenerative Economics (Distinction) from Schumacher College and a BSc in Medical Sciences from Imperial College. She trained with Deloitte in London and was a manager in their Big Ticket Restructuring Team during the 2008 global financial crisis.
Prior to joining DML, Emily spent 11 years running her own consultancy business which took her all over the world and included a number of international CFO positions.
In our current meta crisis, Emily has a view from both sides of one of our major divides – and now she’s bringing all that experience, and a brilliantly sharp analytical mind to finding answers. Running after the conversations with Simon Michaux and Zahra Davidson, this feels like a further piece in the broader puzzle of how we are going to get from where we are, to where we need to be if we’re going to create the future we want to leave behind. We spent a long time exploring Emily’s background, so that I – and so you – would understand the depth she brings to this. And then we launched into what she’s actually doing and it was really very inspiring. There is hope, and Emily and the teams at DML are at the core of our potential. Be ready to grasp the depth of the problem – and the many possibilities for change.
Manda: Hey, people. Welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we do believe that another world is still possible and that if we all work together, there is still time to create the future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. I’m Manda Scott, your host on this journey into possibility. And this week we are moving right to the edge of our thinking. We know that the current system is broken. That’s a fundamental premise on which this podcast is based and I would say it is a demonstrable fact in the outer world. The problem clearly is that so many people have so much invested in business as usual, that it’s hard to break ground to new ideas. And in any case, as we so often say, unless and until we can create visions of a future that feels at least manageable, we are not going to gain any traction with the people who are deeply invested in business as usual. So back in podcast 152 Charlie Fisher told me about Dark Matter Labs and I went hunting. And Dark Matter says of itself, we are working to create institutions, instruments and infrastructures for a more equitable, caring and sustainable future. Which sounds pretty good. And then we go deeper and it says, Around the planet, we are feeling the consequences of outdated institutions and inadequate infrastructures, incapable of coping with planetary scale challenges. At Dark Matter, we believe in taking on these challenges via a new civic economy, an economy that’s community led and based on many to many relationships. An economy that prioritises mental well-being and nature based solutions as platforms for further change. We are an ambitious not for profit, designing and building the underlying infrastructure to support this new civic economy. Exploring how ownership, legal systems and governance might begin to change.
Manda: Which, I have to say sounds exactly like what we need in our world as we head to the edge of total transition and exactly what this podcast is looking for. So I asked if there was someone I could talk to and connected with Emily Harris. And Emily is amazing. She’s a chartered accountant. She also holds an MA in regenerative economics from Schumacher College. Yay! And a BSC in medical sciences from Imperial College. For her accountancy she trained with Deloitte in London and was a manager in their big ticket restructuring team (No, I don’t know what that is either, but it sounds important) during the 2008 global financial crash. For over a decade since then, she has been running her own consultancy business, which has taken her all over the world and included a number of international CFO positions. So we have someone who trained as a medic, and then after a period deep in the heart of the financial institutions, she ended up at Schumacher College doing the Masters in regenerative economics. And then she moved to Dark Matter Lab, which does sound like it’s really exploring the outcomes that we need. And it turns out she’s from Scotland. Actually, she’s from the west coast of Scotland and both of us have lost our accents, except I strongly suspect, when we go home.
Manda: So we have a lot in common, Emily and I. And more importantly, given the current meta crisis, Emily has a view from both sides of one of our major divides, and now she’s bringing all that experience and a brilliantly sharp, analytical mind to finding answers. And coming after the conversations with Simon Michaux and Zara Davidson, this feels like absolutely a further piece in the broader puzzle of how we are going to get from where we are, to where we need to be if we’re going to create the future that we want to leave behind. In the podcast you’re about to hear, we spent a long time exploring Emily’s background. So that I and you would understand the depth that she brings to this and the route that she took from the heart of Deloitte to DML, because that’s a route that a lot of people are going to have to take. And I really wanted to map out the steps and then we launched into what she’s actually doing and it was really inspiring. It gave me great hope. So people of the podcast, please do welcome Emily Harris of Dark Matter Labs.
Manda: Emily Good morning and welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. You’re in Cumbria instead of being opposite Jura, so I guess Cumbria is lovely, but it’s probably not quite as lovely as being opposite Jura. How are you this morning?
Emily: Morning Manda. Thanks for having me. Yeah, you’re right. The Lake district is beautiful, but I actually feel quite claustrophobic here compared to being at home on the west Coast.
Manda: Yeah, and able to see the sea and out to the islands, but having huge mountains. I remember always when I used to take girlfriends up to Scotland and we’d go and see Scottish mountains and then we would drive back to Newmarket through the Lake District and realised that what the English think of as big mountains are actually just hills. Yeah, exactly. Compared to Scotland. So sorry, I’m being Scottish.
Emily: No, it’s fine. It’s the same. Well, it’s a very expansive landscape up there and I think it gives you a lot of room to think. And even the smells are quite enlivening. And I find when I come down south to the Lake District, it’s gorgeous, you know, it’s very quintessentially British, isn’t it? But, you know it’s the walls. It’s the walls that make me feel funny. And in Somerset, it’s the hedges. It’s lovely, but I feel like I am not very generative when I’m here. It’s strange.
Manda: Interesting, isn’t it? Yes, because they’re beautiful stone walls and they’re beautifully made, but they do then cut the landscape.
Manda: And it feels like there’s a grid over the body of the earth. And then you’re on the West Coast and you’ve got Jura. And I would like you to say on the record, for Faith, that there are not too many midges where you are.
Emily: No, there are not. It’s a complete myth. Because we have coastal winds all the time, it’s very rare for there to be, you know, like that big cloud of midges that people talk about. It’s not really like that. And when they are there, it’s like a couple of months of the year and it’s for about an hour in the evening. I don’t quite understand the fear of the midge.
Manda: That makes me feel so good. That probably increased our chances of getting back to Scotland by about 90%. So there we go. That and the possibility of having a sane government would be pretty good. Anyway, let’s dive in to what feels as if it’s going to be a really expansive podcast, looking at systemic change from someone who understands what we need to do and how we could do it. Let’s start off by exploring how you came to Dark Matter Labs from a medical background. So tell us a bit of how you got to be where you are now.
Emily: Okay. Yeah, I will. It’s interesting, isn’t it when when we try and tell our story, it all always comes out differently. But I’ll try and tell you the more relevant bits. So yeah. So I went to study medicine at Imperial College originally. I really enjoyed the science, like I was good at it, but something about when I moved into clinicals, I’m quite a sensory person and I found it overwhelming but not in a good or manageable way. And I remember just thinking, I can do this, but it’s going to strip so much from me that I’m not even sure I’m going to do a good job. So basically the final straw happened, I won’t mention the hospital, but it was a diabetic ward and we were just gradually basically chopping more and more bits off people who just really had a bad diet and needed care. And, you know, it was just one of those moments, I suppose, when you think I don’t actually think that this is what I want to do.
Emily: So during that time when I was at medical school, I worked as a personal trainer in a gym to fund things. This is relevant because my route out was I had this idea to set up a business for specialised fitness training for pregnant women. Which at the time wasn’t a thing, obviously now it is. So I did. So I set up this business and, you know, launched it, did all this, and eventually I sold it. So I sold my first business when I was like 24. And I just remember thinking I’d been so extraordinarily lucky and that if I was going to do that again, I really should get some training. So a long story short, was that I went to Deloitte to do my chartered accountancy training, not because I wanted to be an accountant, I honestly couldn’t have thought of anything worse, but I thought if I had the ACA accreditation then I could go and set up more businesses that could do things. And that was the idea. So I was very lucky that Deloitte sponsored me through that and I did it all. And then actually I really enjoyed it. Well, when I say enjoyed it, there were some amazing people and it was intellectually really interesting and stimulating.
Manda: A very different from medicine. I’m just thinking it’s poles away.
Emily: Yeah I know, but I quite like different things. I mean, I can get interested in anything, to be honest. So as long as it’s like stimulating. So I went into Deloitte and then I joined the corporate finance department and specifically, restructuring services. And that was when the financial crisis of 2008 hit. So I was in the middle of it, and I guess that’s the start of my route to where I am now. My department was, well, we were restructuring the banks during the crisis. And I think, yeah, like I’d love to say to you I saw it coming, but I didn’t. And actually, even worse than that, I think despite being at the epicentre of it, I didn’t really understand what was happening.
Manda: Did anybody? I mean, I don’t think you can beat yourself up for that because I don’t think anyone understood what was happening.
Emily: No, no. I mean, I don’t. I think, to be fair, we did take it seriously, but I think looking back, I was just naive. We thought we were doing the right thing. But I mean, it’s interesting because I was working in a team that was bank side, so I was basically working on behalf of the banks to restructure them. But that basically meant going out to the corporations they had lent too much money to and deciding which ones to kill and which ones not to. And something about the whole thing, well, you can imagine it.
Manda: Feels a bit like chopping limbs off diabetics, actually.
Manda: You’re doing the wrong thing. Because you haven’t got to the systemic cause of why the bad stuff is happening.
Emily: Exactly. But I mean, I would like to say there was a lot of really well intentioned and good people at Deloitte. I still have a lot of good friends there, so.
Manda: A lot of well-intentioned people in the NHS as well. But you’re still chopping bits off people who don’t need it.
Emily: True. But I think the final kind of struggle, there are two things that happened there. HBOS was one of my biggest clients, so it used to be Halifax Bank of Scotland and that was one of the ones that got folded into Lloyds and it cost the UK taxpayers, I think it was about 200 billion. I might have that slightly wrong. It was around 200 billion and that was late in 2009. And then I think later the same year I received quite an unexpected and really early promotion and I resigned the next day and, and I honestly couldn’t really explain to you why. I think I gave some rubbish excuse about wanting to concentrate on my running or something, because at the time I was doing quite a lot of elite running. But it wasn’t true. It was just it completely threw me and I thought, you know, I can’t do this. So I left and then I went to work for innocent smoothies, before Coca-Cola took them over.
Manda: It’s still an innocent brand and a good brand.
Emily: So that was my first job after Deloitte. And then the Coca-Cola thing happened. And then I think that was the beginning of the end. I thought, Oh, okay, the whole thing’s broken. It’s not just that I’m not in the right part of it. So yeah, hence a little bit of a swerve. And then various things that don’t really matter. I think Schumacher was the moment that I admitted to myself that I wanted to do something really different.
Manda: And so I’m really curious, because this is the first time I’ve spoken to someone I think, in four years of podcasting, who has been really in the financial sector and then chosen to step out. In a way, Schumacher is very critical of the financial sector. At least it was when I was there. You know it’s, I think, still the only graduate program that takes as its foundation that the current financial system is broken beyond repair and that we need a new one. And you had been in the heart of the current financial system. Can you briefly, because I think it’ll then take us into Dark Matter Labs, talk us through what you remember of your transition from I’m in Deloitte and I’m being the best that I can be, doing what I believe to be right. I guess believing in these structures of what seems to me and has always seemed to me from the outside, to be a giant Ponzi scheme. But the people in it don’t see it as that, because the rules are the rules and you’re going by highly complex rules. And then you get to a place that’s going, Guys, this is all smoke and mirrors and we need something different. And you couldn’t have got to Schumacher without believing to some extent in the smoke and mirrors. How did you get through that? What was that transition for you?
Emily: It wasn’t immediate. So I think after I started to think, okay this isn’t right, I set up my own consultancy and I did a lot of jobs around the world and I tried to work for companies or organisations that I felt were doing positive things. And I think that through that experience I came to my own conclusions that actually that wasn’t possible. We can talk about that, but I think that the kind of constraints and deep codes, let’s call them, within the system, mean that even those companies have everything stacked against them.
Manda: What kind of companies were you thinking were positive? What were your criteria and your metrics for positivity? Were we talking climate positive or socially positive or both or neither?
Emily: Both. You know, I started really looking more for owner managed businesses. So for example, I worked for a big bakery in the UK that is still owned by the original family, because I thought well, at least they have control over decisions that they make. So, you know, they can choose to actually divert more of the profits towards things that matter and into investment and into equitable wages. So I didn’t have this list of what exactly is the company doing, it was more like does it have autonomy and how is it governed? And so I was doing that and it was relatively satisfying. But I think there was just this itch within me and I think it’s something to do with I really enjoy, like engaging with big esoteric ideas. I don’t find them frightening, I like diverse subjects. But I also quite enjoy or I guess I’m quite good at technical, granular detail. And I just started to think, okay, there’s this big gap and that actually I really enjoy trying to bridge that.
Manda: So can you define for us what the gap is that you are now bridging.
Emily: Or trying to. Yeah I can give you an example. I’ll give you a couple. So the other day something came up at Dark Matter Labs and it was like, oh, you know, cities should have a carbon treasury. So, you know, there should be a public commons governance system where we track all of the embodied carbon in the buildings and carbon emissions and future emissions. And we have it on this sort of like giant, let’s call it a registry, and then we could start to actually control that across regions and really plan out how we’re going to spend our carbon. Okay. So this came out of a dark matter conversation. The next day people were talking about this carbon treasury as if it existed, right? So this is just an example. I quite enjoy being the one to be like, okay, rather than just saying, Oh, that’s a wild idea, but never mind or just accepting that it somehow exists. I really like to then start saying, okay, well if we were literally going to do this tomorrow, or try to, like who would be involved? What kind of systems would we need to put in place? How would we even start? What things exist already that could begin building that? And I like asking those questions. And I think I suppose if anything, the 15 years or whatever it is that I’ve spent in the business and finance world, I do have an understanding of where things could slot in. And I really enjoy that. So we work with a lot of cities and I think that’s because risks and opportunities crystallise in cities at the moment. So we work with a lot of city administrations and they’re really receptive to bouncing these ideas around. So I went to dark matter to start bridging those two things, but I can give you more examples.
Manda: Definitely, Definitely. I want to get into Dark Matter Labs in a moment, but I just want to unpick a little bit your experience at Schumacher. Did it help to crystallise for you the nature of the problem and if so, in what way? Just talk us a little bit through the intellectual process that took you through Schumacher and then into Dark Matter Labs.
Emily: Yeah, that’s an interesting question, Manda. I’m not quite sure where to start. I guess there’s two sides of it. So I would say one is the more felt, heart side of it. Which was a big reason I went to Schumacher. Because I knew it was going to be a little bit uncomfortable for me. And I did consider going to LSE, but there was something in me that knew that I needed to explore that part and actually let myself feel it and lean into some of those discomforts.
Manda: Can you talk a little bit more about that? Because I’ve mentioned multiple times on the podcast that I did go to Schumacher, but I haven’t, I don’t think, with anybody really unpicked what that was. So perhaps together we can do a minor ad for Schumacher, or at least explore… Because exactly the same, I felt this is going to take me to the edge of myself, but that’s what I need. Actually, I had no choice. I had a shamanic imperative that absolutely was incontrovertible. But I also was quite aware that I was going to first of all, be the oldest person in the room by several decades. But leaving that aside, because you clearly weren’t, there’s that Schumacher takes us to places that if we have been intellectually motivated, we might have let wither or at least not expanded as well as we could have done. Can you say a bit more about that?
Emily: Yeah, and I’d love to hear your experience. I think if I’m honest, I was really frightened to connect the two sides of myself. So I’ve always thought that this kind of more sensual, really rooted, grounded part of me that is in a big way connected to where I grew up. And just like feeling this, I suppose, deep sense of connection to that place and to the earth there and to the way it smells. And just to, I don’t know, going to visit the same beach every day and seeing the otter and all this kind of stuff, I just felt like that was entirely separate from work. And I think I spent a lot of my working life as a bit of a human pendulum. So I would, you know, go into this Deloitte type world and just absolutely go for it. It’s something in my personality that does that. And then literally after I left Deloitte, I spent four months camping and climbing in Africa in the middle of nowhere. And I just felt like those two things couldn’t coexist. And I think Schumacher was the moment when I thought they’re going to have to. And perhaps this is one of the things that’s going wrong in the world, because if I can’t reconcile them, no wonder. This was the hypothesis that I wanted to test at Schumacher.
Manda: And how did you experience that? So let’s tell people; Schumacher You’re basically there for ten months and then two months or nine months, three months, I think of writing a thesis. But certainly when I was there, it was fully residential. Were you there during COVID, do I remember? So it was less residential?
Emily: Yeah, it was mixed.
Manda: Right. But still the intensive residential bits are really intensive. I was there when Della Duncan was leading and she led us through the work that reconnects for the whole of the first term. She did that as part of the practice. And so we went really deeply into Joanna macy work, as a group in our class. And I think speaking to people who’ve done the course before, that hadn’t happened. And it bonded us really quickly and it gave us a space to be really vulnerable, safely. Which I think is an integral part of what we’re doing. And we had we had some really intellectual people. We had a really lovely Israeli couple who’ve become some of my closest friends. And he, for part of his life, led a tank brigade. He was in the reserves and the rest of the time he was engaging in actions to try and stop the war. It was really interesting politically, really interesting meeting people from very, very different worldviews. And yet meeting in the place of we’re all here because we care and we’re all here because we’re lost and we’re all here because we don’t know the answers. But we know the system is broken and we want to try and find it.
Manda: So I think for us, the intellectual journey really centred around how do we get the smooth landing from the broken economy to an economy that works, instead of falling off a cliff edge which is going to see millions, if not billions of people destitute and probably dead. Finding possible answers to that gave us pinnacles of hope. Every time somebody would produce an idea or an example or… I remember the day I found Christian Felber’s Change Everything: Creating an Economy for the Common Good. Thank God somebody actually worked out a route from the existing economy to a different economy that you could do tomorrow, just by changing regulation. It’s not hard. And it’s not perfect, but it would get us a step on the way. And that stopped us from wallowing in despair, at the same time as we were going out and meditating with the forest. And I think that mix of the capacity to really engage spiritually, with people who took that seriously and intellectually with the same people, was what helped me to merge the two halves of myself. Does that sound like a reasonable mirror to your experience?
Emily: Yeah, it does. It was an extraordinary experience. I don’t quite know how to say this, but I feel like there was an element of kind of brutality and violence in it as well, through the beauty of it. For me, because like it was such an incredibly crafted and generative experience, and yet there was all this stuff that I hadn’t really taken out and faced up to. So I found it really cathartic and difficult and challenging. And I think what I’ve found, which is maybe interesting, was that I found it a lot easier to express it through writing. At the beginning of Schumacher, I really struggled to articulate some of it out loud. And I’d actually find myself like really quite sort of nervous, which is really strange because I’m very used and comfortable to public speaking. But I remember doing the Joanna macy exercise and I was like paralysed. It was just like all this stuff was coming out and later in the evening I wrote it all down and it was easy. So that was also interesting. And I thought, you know, there’s obviously a lot of repressed feelings and thoughts and and I guess just not even intentionally, just things that I hadn’t ever had the time or given myself permission to really think about.
Manda: Things that were how the system worked and and having been really deep in the giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, was that the brutality of it? Of coming up against that?
Emily: I think it was actually more the acceptance of what I did know, deep down. And no longer being able to justify that in a way that was authentic to myself. It was that side of it. So my dissertation thesis was actually about the role that the accountancy profession could play. So it was at a time when there was a lot of people sort of championing accountants as the new warriors and all this stuff. I remember Gillian Test from I think it was from the New York Times, I think she was there then. She wrote this piece and it became quite viral, about warrior accountants. And I was quite taken with this idea, obviously, because I was still grasping onto some kind of usefulness of my professional life. So I went into my dissertation with like, Oh yeah, yeah, we just need to shift the ontology of accounting and then they can be a big part of catalysing this transition to a regenerative economy. And I don’t know if Jonathan Dawson was there when you were there?
Manda: Yeah. Yeah, totally.
Emily: Right. So Jonathan Dawson for anyone that doesn’t know Schumacher, was the course leader and an incredible educator. So he took me on with that for my dissertation. And yeah, eventually, through a lot of late night and spirited discussions and, you know, soul searching, I did in fact conclude that they couldn’t. So I basically talked myself out of my next steps. Because I was planning to go back into the accountancy profession and work on it from the inside. That was my, you know, vague goal.
Manda: So why not? Because it seems to me if every accountant in the world went through the process that you’ve been through, the world would be a different place. And I’m guessing that’s where you started your thesis concept with. At what level did you decide it doesn’t work?
Emily: So I wouldn’t say that there isn’t a role. And I think that for sure accountants have a role to visualise things and, you know, if we use more holistic accounting and we use that accounting to enable people to make more value based decisions, that’s useful. But I don’t think simply changing the things that we include or don’t include actually is going to fundamentally shift the need for. I mean, you know, you’ve talked about this a lot, I’m sure, on this podcast, but growth imperative or any of these baked in kind of structural blocks. Just putting numbers on them doesn’t change it.
Manda: Okay. Perhaps I have an unfair assessment of the amount of power an accountant would have. Because yes, if you’re just crunching numbers differently, the generation of the numbers stays the same, then that’s not going to work, is it?
Emily: There is certainly potential, but not the potential I was hoping for. And actually what I would say on a more negative thread, is that I did speak to a lot of accountants in the higher echelons of the profession during my dissertation, and basically I felt that they were just grasping onto the technical aspects. So what happened during that year as well, I was part of a consultation with the IFRS. So the international foundation of reporting standards, the biggest global reporting standard setter in the world. And they were at that time looking about whether they would set up a sustainability standards board, so that we had, you know, comparability and cohesion across the world. Now that happened, Manda, but they basically completely, I think rejected a lot of the more thoughtful comments to that consultation. So in the end it has happened, but it’s all based on investor value. It was a real missed opportunity. I think it was very parallel to the COVID response. It’s like we had this moment where I actually thought, okay, wow. You know, because businesses, corporations, everything across the world, they have to comply with these standards. It came in after the 1929 crash to protect investors. And, you know, it does actually work to some extent. And I thought, okay, if we had the same clout, you know, across all these jurisdictions with sustainability reporting, this would be fundamentally different. So I think that the profession actually really copped out. It took the easy route out and it bowed to vested interests. That was part of my dissertation research.
Manda: Which gets us to the heart of the giant vampire squid. That the vested interest does know that there are other options and is choosing to continue on a trajectory that will take us to extinction, I have no doubt. But they presumably either don’t believe that or don’t care. We could go down that route. But let’s let’s head now, you finished Schumacher, did your dissertation and tell us how you found Dark Matter Labs and what it is and what it’s doing. Because that’s why we’re here and it sounds so exciting. And now we’ve got the grounding of you, as I think a deeply intellectual person, who’s also deeply connected to the Land and understands systems and systems thinking. And has the capacity now, I think, to bridge between the worlds, which sounds exactly what we need. So tell us the next step on the journey.
Emily: Okay. Yeah, I’d love to tell you about Dark Matter Labs because honestly, I think it’s more interesting than me. So if we can get into some of that work, that would be great. So yeah, just really quick answer to how I found them was that they gave a lecture to us at Schumacher, so that was my first connection to them. So I actively looked them up afterwards. So Dark Matter Labs, I think it means really different things to different people. And if you ask one of my colleagues today, What does Dark Matter Labs do? You’d probably get quite a different answer. So I think that’s a really interesting thing about it. So a couple of things about it is that we’re an entirely flat organisation, so there’s absolutely no hierarchy. We don’t even have fixed roles and our roles change even within projects. So we’re across five countries, there’s 60 of us, we’re all paid the same, on a flat mechanism. So there’s quite a lot going on even at that level. It’s really hard to describe it, but I’ll do my best. So we are 60 people and we’re spread across five countries and those countries are South Korea, Canada, Sweden,the Netherlands and the UK.
Emily: So that’s like official presence. But actually we’re as a team distributed right across. So we have people in, I don’t know, countries going from South Africa, Berlin, America, so we’re kind of all over the place. But we do meet up regularly and I’ve heard us described as a practical think tank or a strategic design agency. But I don’t think that that really gets to the core of it. So I’d like to try and tell you what I think is at the core of the philosophy. So I think even a year ago, we had a gathering and I think we would say, okay, what’s dark matter doing? We’re transitioning society, trying to, to a more just, caring and sustainable future. But I think even that’s shifted. And I know you’ve had Simon Michaux and people like that on the show. And I think it’s become really clear that we’re like fast moving to a post abundant, energy light, maybe even dematerialised economy. And that has really profound consequences for how we’re going to organise our societies right?
Manda: Sure does.
Emily: And I think so that kind of leads me to even amongst people that you hear on podcasts who really understand this reality, we still often hear this kind of, Oh yeah, you know, the government’s not listening to the science or ‘they’ are not using the right policies or the right accounting things or the right laws, or ‘they’ are not really appreciating that we can’t mine the minerals.
Emily: And I think for me, we are all ‘they’. And that is the philosophy behind Dark Matter Labs, I think, is that we are a big civil ‘they’. That’s what I think it is. I think that what we’re there for, trying to do, is say, okay, these things are coming. You know, I think we’re a bit beyond them not coming. And so we really need to put alternative systems in place to try and make the landing less brutal, basically. And I think that is Dark Matter’s work. So we’re the boring revolution. It’s like a kind of foundational layer of this next economy. But, you know, it used to be a more positive, okay, let’s work towards the next economy. That was a very Schumacher philosophy. I feel less optimistic about that. But I do think there’s work to be done that can still feel really meaningful in creating alternative systems and structures that can scaffold that.
Manda: Brilliant. And this is mirroring my own path. I think when I was at Schumacher, I still believed that there would be something akin to the systems that we have now, but more generative. And that we could move from degenerative to generative. And now post Simon Michaux Really, I’m realising that, you know, one of his fundamentals that we’ll get onto in a future podcast that hasn’t been released yet, is that we use 19 terawatts rolling at any point in the world, and that basically to be sustainable we need to get to five. And I think what I hadn’t realised before speaking to him was I can switch off lights, grow my own food, hardly drive the car, reduce my own personal emissions and and impact as much as I can. But I am part of a culture which has such a huge industrial base, that industrial base and the socio economic scaffolding that supports it completely overwhelms anything that I could do personally. And simply checking out, which I do sometimes get to as an option, you know, would it be better if I just left? Isn’t going to change that. And it’s so heartening to know that there are more people out there who get this.
Manda: So let’s talk, as much as we can, through how do you and dark matter lab – So we’re using you now as a cipher for the whole of dark matter labs and I understand of 60 people you’re going to think differently – but as much as we can. Because yes, we are all They. But currently They hold reins of power that make it quite hard for us to make the regulatory changes that would make the shifts. And we already spoke about the fact that when you were hoping that the accountancy profession might change, vested interest ensured that that didn’t happen. And yet we need the boring revolution because the exciting one is going to have a lot of blood and pain. We need it to be peaceful. How do you see that unfolding and what are the steps that can be taken within the current system to reach the new system? Please write my next book for me, basically, yes.
Emily: I was going to say just a small opening question there, Manda! Thanks.
Manda: We can split this as much as we like. You can spend the rest of today if you want to.
Emily: Please jump in. I joke, but I have some things to say about that. So. Yeah, I suppose the first thing I would say is like, it’s an ecology of responses, right? I’m not going to sit here and be like, Yeah, there is definitely a huge gap between the necessary and the possible. Absolutely. I don’t think we can dispute that. But it’s not like Emily or Dark Matter sits in the middle and goes, okay, so we’re going to bridge that gap by one, two, three, four. I don’t see it like that. But I think perhaps a way of describing it, is do you remember that Game Connect four? Where you put the the widgets in and it’s like a big grid and you try and connect different colours.
Manda: Sounds good. I play World of Warcraft. It doesn’t really fit.
Emily: I think what I’m trying to get to is that we can connect small parts without each of us having to have the whole. I think we need to see the whole picture, but we don’t necessarily have to make these gigantic, heroic kind of initiatives with that.
Manda: Because this is an emergent process and we cannot see the new system that we’re emerging to. I think that is a given. But I think what interests me is bridging from the necessary to the possible, because it seems to me if the possible doesn’t meet the necessary, that’s where extinction lies. And we’d rather not have the extinction of 97% of life on earth, please. Thank you. So how do we bring the possible closer to the necessary? How do we decide what the necessary is? And how do we define the possible? And what are the conversations that a think tank like Dark Matter Lab is having, that are bridging those?
Emily: Yeah, there’s probably two projects that I’d love to talk to you about on that. So one is a civic empowerment project, like the metrics of radical civic empowerment. Maybe we’ll get to that next. That’s one thing that I’m working on at the moment. But the other one is this kind of trying to connect all the different dots together, or create enabling conditions for that to happen. And I can go into some detail on that, but I think what I wanted to say before is that I think people really struggle, in Dark matter and other places, with actually keeping a sense of agency with the necessary humility. So if you’re going to understand the problem space, you’ve got to have humility. But then you also want to keep some agency, otherwise you’re completely ineffectual. And it’s really hard to hold those two positions. So I think, you know Nora Bateson, the systems thinker? I think she’s an incredible thinker and I think she does this really well. She has heritage, right? So I recently listened to her. I don’t know why this is popping up in my head, but I think it’s quite a good synopsis of this.
Emily: So she invented a new word and it’s called I think I’m going to say this right, Aphanipoeisis. And it means life coalescing towards vitality in unseen ways. It comes from the Greek. So athani, I think means unseen and poesis to bring forth. So she’s invented this word, which I think really kind of brings to life what I’m trying to say, is that although the problem space is huge and complex and really overwhelming, if we can start to create small pathways within it that start to disrupt these kind of deep codes, patterns and behaviours, and let’s say we connect them. If we can visualise certain capabilities in the system, that’s maybe a way of putting it and I can go more into it, then we can break it down a bit. And I see the irony, right, of I’m going to break this down into some kind of reductionist boxes, but at least it allows us to perhaps look at parts of the picture without thinking we have to fill the whole thing in.
Manda: Yeah, because otherwise it’s overwhelming. We have to. We do have to. We are human and we cannot possibly see the whole picture. So we do have to at some level we do.
Emily: But I think we also need somehow to feel like a sense of trajectory in it. And I think that’s why I like the idea, in my head anyway, of almost having a mind map of different levels of the system and then asking what are those structural blocks that are enacting it, each of them, to keep certain behaviours and inequalities and destructive behaviours in place. And then from there, kind of moving across, you can start to think, okay, so let’s say like at the cultural level, let’s say like a failure of the imagination, for example, that could be a block. Then let’s say, okay, well what kind of new competency would we need to create if we wanted to shift that? So that might be like, okay we really need to have a widespread regenerative narrative and that’s a big ask. But we could start to work on certain pathways and that might be political advocacy or it might be demonstrating things at smaller scales, to give people a way into that cultural conversation. Or like if you were going to go to something, I suppose more technical, you could like go down to the political economy level, and you could look at something like, so let’s say, oh, you know how we actually make investment decisions. And that’s very much based on cost benefit analysis. So we take fixed resources, fixed amount of time, and then we allocate them apparently for the best impact.
Emily: But that’s completely ridiculous in a complex system. So you could say, we would need as a capability, let’s say, how could we start to create dynamic decision making frameworks? Let’s just say that. Well, okay, again, a really big ask, but then you could say, okay, well let’s think about that. What are some of the pathways that we could start to build towards that? And if we’re actually going to do that, we need to first visualise different types of value flow. So not just financial, you know, how can we actually; let’s just say we’re looking at a project, let’s say we are looking at an investment project. How can we start to actually think, well, okay, if we did that, the spill-over here would be societal trust on the positive side. Or, it might create some kind of blockage somewhere else. And we start to map these out and then that might feed back into this competency of being able to actually appraise value in a more holistic way. So I don’t know if it’s too much detail, but this is the way we’re starting to map it out. And then the hope is that we can really bring other people in as well. Like dark matter, you know, does not profess and doesn’t want to have all the answers within its organisational boundaries. I mean, that is frankly ridiculous. So I think we see ourselves as an ecosystem anyway, but we’re more actively starting to seek partners to work on these kind of pathways.
Manda: So many questions, Emily. So many routes we could go down. So the one that’s top of my head is the nature of the partnership. So we have a think tank that’s beginning to think really dynamically. And let’s take both of the examples you’ve used. So I think changing the narrative is partly what Accidental Gods is about and definitely what Thrutopia is about. And at some point I would love to talk to you actually about how we do that, creating a whole suite of separate narratives. And that then involves how do we change the nature of the legacy media, for instance. Let’s actually set that one to the side, because we talk about this a lot on the podcast and in a lot of the other things that I do.
Manda: But the value systems. So dynamic value systems, changing value systems, moving away from a growth based profit based economy, seems to me one of the one of the sticking points. And I’m wondering, how are you imagining bringing in other partners and explaining to them that building societal trust has a value, that probably cannot be monetised, cannot have a dollar or a sterling or a euro amount slapped on it. They have an imperative to make money, because that’s what companies exist for, shareholder value. Kate Raworth probably came to talk to you at Schumacher, definitely came to talk to us and said, you know, you talk to these companies and you say, What is your core promise? What is it you’re here for? And they all have lovely flowery things.And she goes Are you funded by hedge funders and venture capital? And they go, Yes, of course. And she goes, So actually you’re there to make money and all the rest is just fluff and filters on the laser lens, that says you have to grow by X amount a year or somebody will pull your funding. Have you got ideas and are you having conversations? Because I’m thinking again, you said there are decent people in the middle of Deloitte, which does weird things to the inside of my head. But you were one of them and you’re clearly a decent person. So there must be. But they live in a completely separate reality, where the rules of the game are what they are. If they were to acknowledge that the whole thing is a Ponzi scheme, their lives would probably fall apart. And we’re not offering them, yet, alternatives other than, you know, come camping with me in Africa for three months and your head will feel much better at the end of it.
Manda: I remember a friend said that they had somebody inside Goldman Sachs who basically said, go and buy a pig farm in East Anglia, you’ll feel much better. To the people inside who were just crumbling. And now somebody told me the other day that a minister who shall remain nameless, that’s what they said to me, but we’re talking agriculture, so we can probably think of a few names. Had said to them that they would be really happy with 40% churn within agriculture within the UK. Which is to say 40% of small farmers going out of business because of the changes that the government is bringing in and it’s not other small farmers who are going to be buying that land. It’s probably people from inside the financial system who have got to the point where they can’t handle it, but they have many, many, many millions of pounds so they’re going to buy a small farm. Which is a whole other conversation. Who owns London? What do we do with it? We’ll hold that at some other point. But how do you within Dark Matter Labs, which feels to me that it’s really generative, it’s right at the edge of possibility. How do you start the conversations with the people who live in a different reality, that will affect the nature of their reality in order to get them to change it?
Emily: Yeah, it’s a really good question and I’m going to try and break it into three parts. So I think the first thing to say is that we don’t really work with businesses that widely. That’s the first thing. I know I come from a business background, but that’s not really my area of focus and maybe we’ll get into that another time.
Manda: Is it the area of anyone’s focus within Dark Matter Labs?
Emily: Not predominantly, but perhaps I can explain where we see business fitting in. Yeah. So I think the that the thing that I would start with is actually, so I’ve done a project recently with the Scottish Government and actually what we were doing was putting in the first steps for the next infrastructure investment plan and how to prioritise that investment spend, from a systemic multi-value perspective. So I think the first thing to say is that some of this stuff from my perspective, if it starts at that level, it will by necessity filter into into business decisions. Because if the Scottish Government is spending its 25 billion, I think it was pledged in 2001 when they put the last infrastructure investment plan out, but there’s more coming. If that kind of money is going to be spent with a different value structure, then actually the playing field changes.
Manda: So I’d really like to take a side step into that. Because changing government regulation is obviously a really central thing to what we’re doing. But it seems to me that one of the arguments within the Tory really strange, separate reality of freeports and things, is that if you give certain areas the capacity to set their own regulations, they will plummet the taxes and all of the businesses will move to those areas because that’s what businesses do. And the areas that want a more regenerative and different regulatory system will end up denuded of business. I am guessing that the Scottish Government is not unaware of that as a mindset and a belief system. But they must operate in a different mindset and belief system. What is their different mindset and belief system? How does it work? How are they hoping to make a business which has always seemed to me an inherent part of the problem, a part of the solution?
Emily: Well, so my experience of the Scottish Government is they are actually really progressive. There are certainly issues, but the fact that they even come to an organisation like Dark Matter Labs, and it wasn’t just us. So we did this in partnership with Scottish Futures Trusts and a Glasgow based consultancy called Ecos. The fact that they’re even asking us to look at these things, and in fact one of the points on our brief, the Dark Matter Labs brief, was to provide an element of provocation to the entire initiative.
Manda: This is Fantastic!
Emily: So I think, you know, just to say I think that should be applauded in the first place.
Emily: So maybe some context is interesting. So the Scottish Government had previously had a study done and that had concluded that there was actually no definitive link between infrastructure investment and wellbeing outcomes. Essentially that’s the synopsis of it. And so one of our roles in this study was to look at that. And I think the very first thing that dark matter or I was leading this project, I said, Well, what was their definition of infrastructure? Because, you know, to me that just seemed absolutely ridiculous. So we got this study and it was a well researched study. And, you know, they did draw, you know, solid conclusions on the most part. But they were not including things like intangible infrastructure or social infrastructure or human infrastructure or natural infrastructure. So that was the first thing. So we looked right across the international spectrum and came up with plenty of examples of things which were increasing wellbeing through investment in infrastructure.
Manda: So I have a really quick question. Do you think prior to Schumacher you might have considered infrastructure the same as the examining body had done? And that it was the the breadth of different experience that let you look at things differently? It’s just a different mindset. Is that fair?
Emily: Yeah, I think that’s fair. I mean, I definitely have always had a questioning mind. So I think if someone had told me that this was the conclusion, I probably would have poked at it a bit, but maybe not with the same intention. Because I think my initial reaction was like, that just doesn’t seem right. So we had a great team working on it and we looked at all of that. And so that was one part of that work. But I suppose we were talking about value and how you could use different frameworks and measurements. So then the second part of what we did was to say, okay, so if the Scottish Government is going to actually take these things seriously, then how could they first of all evaluate projects that are already happening. So this is quite immediate. And so we started to say, right, okay, we’re going to need to build more systemic decision trees and we’re going to need to think about dynamic analysis, bring in complexity science. All of these things. And they are using it. So I think that this is really fantastic news.
Emily: And then the next phase is to take that and then create a proper prioritisation framework using the evidence base that we’re now building up from that. So yeah, I think that where that whole slightly long story was going, is that I think if governments start to do this kind of thing. So you were saying, okay, well how is that going to affect the businesses in Scotland? Well, it will affect the businesses because if the Scottish Government is spending this amount of money with very different priorities and criteria, then the businesses that are going to be doing that work are going to be contracted in an entirely different way. So I think it does actually fundamentally shift the landscape. So that’s one example.
Manda: And I have questions arising. I can feel this becoming a multi-part podcast. It’s so interesting. So what we’re ending up with is an ecosystem of businesses within a nation state. We’ve got a geographic entity which has a different set of cultural and regulatory priorities based on a different value set. And then the businesses within that, the ones that stay, the ones that want to be in a Freeport will go to the Freeport, but the ones that stay presumably their business ecosystem will be more aligned with the value system of the government. Given the Simon Michaux constraints of material flows, he’s talking to the Finnish and Swedish governments and it seems that they are beginning to get their heads around what he’s telling them. Is the Scottish Government also, I’m dreaming now of a Nordic confederacy of places that get where we’re actually at and are actively building together towards a post-carbon future. Is that happening in Scotland or is that a step too far yet?
Emily: I don’t think that that is happening in Scotland, but I do have a good example of where it is happening.
Manda: Please. Yes, go for it. Yes.
Emily: The second project. I’ve been quite busy recently. The second project that I’ve just been working on is in the built environment in Europe, and that has been specifically looking at the constraints landscape that you’re just talking about. So we basically looked at the deep trends in the built environment. So if we’re going to have a just transition, towards a regenerative economy or society, forget the economy, you know. What does that mean for the built environment specifically? So we’re talking buildings and land really in Europe, housing especially. And that was for the Lauder Foundation. I don’t know if you know them? They’re a very big philanthropic foundation. We could talk about them, because they’re also really interesting. You might want to get them on the podcast actually from a totally different perspective. But their kind of overarching mission, let’s say, is to transition society towards something more generative, regenerative and sustainable and just. But their focus is on catalysing industry. So using industry as a force for good. So that’s just a little bit of background to this project because we’re talking about business. So I’ll get back to the constraints.
Manda: Let’s have a look at the built environment because that’s where a lot of the material flow is going to impact.
Emily: Exactly. So the project was about that. So we did this big deep trends analysis of Europe and we basically came up with four key constraints that we think are going to shape the future of the built environment. I’ll give you the four and then we’ll go into them a bit. So one was materials, Simon Michaux style. We did reference him. Another was energy. So really the Nate Hagens kind of arguments, but also biodiversity and labour. And what I think is interesting and different about this, is we were then using this kind of conceptual framework to say, okay, so if these are the constraints and we can go into detail of some of them, what does that mean for our implied response strategies? Like what does that mean in the built environment, right?
Emily: So if we can’t mine these materials for our heat pumps, like if we can’t, then let’s move beyond impossible and let’s start actually thinking about difficult. So we can’t mine them. We can’t do heat pumps. Well, not for everyone, not in any kind of just way, we can’t. Then we can’t retrofit the entire building stock of Europe. Perhaps that’s an impossibility. If so, let’s start thinking about, like, space use justice instead. So, you know, 16% of homes in Europe are unoccupied. I mean, that’s an insane statistic. I think it’s something like 35% under occupied.
Manda: That’s like 1 In 3 houses.
Emily: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So, maybe if we’re not going to have the energy or the materials, perhaps we have to think about a no build future, right? And when you start thinking about that, it really starts to shift how we organise and what we’re doing. So I put that into perspective. I did some really rough calculations, but I was looking at, let’s just say, if we are going to honour the Paris Agreement, then the carbon budget for us in northern Europe for sure we’re going to need to reduce it by like 96%. And when you actually look at that in the built environment and what that means for building houses. So we actually calculated that that would be around 15,000 new homes per year in the UK. That’s it. And like 176,000, I think it was across Europe. But that’s in the context of there are 700,000 people homeless per day in Europe and in just Germany alone, they’re building 400,000 new homes per year.
Manda: So it’s tiny, tiny, tiny fractions.
Emily: Yeah, but you know, what’s actually possible is minuscule. And that’s before reparations, Right? Just to be clear, that’s before reparations.
Manda: Also listening to Simon, his concept, insofar as I understand it, is that cities are actually not going to be viable because of needing to feed people and that actually we need to move to hubs. His specific example is there’s a hospital, you decide how many people you need in the hospital, how many homes you need around that, how much land you need to feed the people in the homes to feed the hospital and that’s your hub. And that then connects maybe to an industrial hub that’s, I don’t know, manufacturing stuff. I get a bit stuck on particularly hospitals. Because you and I have both been in hospitals and they are incredibly product intensive places. Let’s leave that aside for a moment because I don’t see frankly, how Western industrialised medicine survives what’s coming. But I am also quite stuck with Simon’s idea, because thinking if we’re going to move to this more modular way of living, which I can see makes a lot of sense, that too is going to entail huge materials, use huge energy use. How much material energy do we have? And is it even possible to do that? And what I’m hearing from you is it probably isn’t.
Emily: Yeah, I don’t think that there’s any question of that. So then the question for me anyway becomes, okay, so how do we radically reimagine and share differently, you know, the spaces that we do have? So we’re just talking about unoccupied buildings and that’s kind of like low hanging fruit. But these conversations are not happening at scale. So housing is a human right. It’s in the UN charter, but we don’t hear it in mainstream politics. So I think that what came out of this, you know, we can share it with you, I think. There’s a series of blogs, we’re publishing the first one next week so I can share it with you. If people want to get into the detail.
Manda: I’ll put it in the show notes for sure. Yes.
Emily: Yeah. So I think what came out of that was like a load of strategic implications. And what we did with that was we basically then went out and looked for organisations across Europe, that were starting to address them and we mapped them all out. We spoke to them, we interviewed them.
Manda: There are organisations across Europe looking specifically at housing we’re dealing with now? At bringing people into unoccupied houses. That’s pretty amazing.
Emily: Yeah, yeah, there are, there are incredible organisations and you know, it’s small pockets, but this is the part that Lauders is interested in. So they’re trying to connect these people. That’s one of their big central core parts of their mission. So yeah, it’s a really progressive foundation. I think, to be fair, what we didn’t find, like we didn’t find incredible industry based solutions that had inclusivity at their core. We didn’t find that.
Manda: I’ll bet.
Emily: No. So a lot of the things that we found that were really innovative and promising were actually more like civic society led. So more like collaborative housing cooperatives, especially in Spain. So there are hundreds of examples, but more promisingly, of course that’s promising but in terms of bringing in mainstream industry, we did start to find some really strong collaborations. So there’s a city in Germany, it’s called Chemnitz, and there’s this agency which is a private sector agency, and it’s been set up to coordinate in the city. And so they coordinate between different actors. And what they do is they actively approach owners of dilapidated or vacant housing and then they offer to broker a deal with them. So then they’re speaking to the city agency. There’s a co-operative that’s involved that’s then brokering the deal between people who actually need housing. So I think that was one really strong example. And that city is now starting to network with this other, it’s called the Outbound Network. So it’s starting to then share that knowledge with cities in Romania and Estonia. So I think that is interesting. And then we also found a charity in Ireland called the Peter Mcverry Trust, who are starting to use their campaigning arms to really push. There’s a new law in Ireland because of them, that is called the empty housing pillar of their housing strategy. So, you know, I think there are sparks of potential and this is where it starts to get exciting. And it’s just like, okay, where is this going to go next?
Manda: Brilliant. So that would be a question, where is it going to go next? I have again, multiple questions. Because you talked about materials, energy, biodiversity and labour as your constraints. I am thinking that food, partly because I live on a farm and producing food is kind of part of my own ethos. But high densities of people, they can definitely grow, you know, incredible edible Todmorden has shown you can grow an awful lot of food in your own city, but you probably can’t sustain the city from within the city. And transport of fresh food from the surrounding area into the city is going to become a rate limiting step. Is that something that you’ve looked at and begun? Can you tell us a bit about how we can get around that?.
Emily: Not me. We have definitely looked at it. I didn’t look at it in this project because it was very specifically about housing and buildings. But we have and there are blogs up on our medium site about the food system, which I would really recommend. So yes, definitely that is a key constraint. And I think, the other one is the money system. Like, you know, this one comes up over and over again.
Manda: But the money system can be changed. Money is an idea that we share. I mean, it seems to me that just needs a mindset change. Economists would like to think that it’s a given law of nature like gravity, but it actually isn’t. Whereas the amount of food that you can get into somebody really is. But. Sorry. Go on. Yes.
Emily: No, no, I totally agree with that. It’s just the way that it’s going to unwind is where I see the constraint. It might fall apart, but it’s going to be the poorest and the most vulnerable that get hit the hardest. This is what I’m worried about. So, I mean, at the moment, our debt is doubling every eight and a half years and our GDP is doubling every 20. And what that means is our future claims on the earth, on people’s labour, everything, is just totally out of whack to the amount of money that we’re creating. And and when that falls apart, when the music stops, it’s going to be the most vulnerable that get hit. So I think this is another constraint. We just do not have within a debt based system, although like amounts of money now are almost meaningless. It matters and it becomes meaningful and it becomes tangible when those structures fall apart in a disordered way. So I think this is another constraint that we do actually need to start looking at, but that wasn’t really part of that project.
Manda: That feels like a whole other podcast. I’d be interested in coming back because it seems to me, somebody threw the factoid at me and it may not be correct, but that the American Fed created more money recently in the Credit Suisse SVP thing in one day then it had created in the whole of its previous history. And that is not a sustainable system. I mean I know it all goes into people’s yachts eventually, but this can’t continue. And actually how, if you, as a previous Deloitte accountant, really have begun to get your head around how we could shift the economic system, I would really like to talk about that. But I think that I want to give it a lot of time and we’re already hitting up time constraints. If you would genuinely be prepared to come back and talk about that.
Emily: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It’s actually something that’s really front of my brain. So I would love to. It’s something that we’re thinking about in a lot of detail and we’re actually starting to take the first steps probably with the city of Amsterdam, but also with some cities in Sweden, to start actually trying to play some of this stuff out. So, I’d love to come back and talk about it.
Manda: Brilliant. So in the last few minutes, because I’ve already held you much longer than I had said I would. Cities. It seems to me the C40 cities have a huge amount of power. Over half the people in the world live in cities and there are some very progressive cities within nations, that are otherwise ruled by people who bow to Steve Bannon. So where is that taking you? And can you just give us another flavour? I think we can feel podcast number five or so coming up. But what cities can do and are doing and what they could potentially do.
Emily: Yeah, well so we do a lot of work with the Net Zero Cities Consortium. So we’re working with cities right across Europe on that. We’re looking at something that we’re calling system demonstrators. So we’re trying to build, I suppose you call them like lighthouses, so you can see the impact in the city. So it might be like really innovative use of vacant space, for example. But then we’re trying to look at the different layers of it. So we’re trying to look at like, okay, well, you know, for that to happen, what kind of infrastructure support would there need to be? Would we need a carbon treasury or would we need like many to many governance systems within that? And I think for us to do this kind of work, we really need the authority and the teeth really to do it. And I think the only place that we’re really going to be able to make that meaningful, is in cities. So that is also something that we’re starting to explore. But yeah, what I would say is that the cities that we’re working with, they have incredible pockets of innovation.
Emily: I think and I probably would say this, one massive block to it all is the financing for it. So the systemic financing just is missing. And it’s a constant kind of complaint. Because a lot of cities, they are very vulnerable to where the EU decides that this amount of money should be spent. Or,if this bank thinks that something’s viable rather than them being able to actually take the decisions in a joined up systemic way. So I think that the financing of these multi faceted systemic changes is a huge missing part of the puzzle. And I’d like to say that we have answers to it, but that wouldn’t be truthful. But we are starting to at least map it out. So I have this giant challenge map of systemic financing that keeps me awake at night, but I think that’s what I’ll move to next. I’ve been quite busy with other stuff, but it’s definitely on the radar.
Manda: Oh, and I so want to talk about this, because you’re right. Where the money comes from, where it goes to, how it’s created, what it’s used for and what it values is at the core of our entire system.
Emily: Right. Exactly. And you know how Democratic. The way that it’s created, the way that it’s allocated. It’s absolutely not.
Manda: And but it could be you know, this is a choice that we make. It isn’t a logistical constraint in the way that, you know, finding copper might be. It just isn’t. And we could change it if we could convince enough people that it needs to change.
Emily: No, exactly. It’s an ideological constraint.
Manda: If there was anything that you wanted to say about DML as a close, I think this would be a good place to stop. Money is ideological and let’s look at the ideology of money in the next podcast. But between now and then, is there anything else to leave people with? Is there anything that people could or should do? To support you or to feed into you, or as a result of what you’re doing? That’s probably useful.
Emily: Yeah. Thank you. I think my biggest request is that we like ideas and we like challenge and we like provocation. So the most important thing you can do for us is to engage with the things that we put out and, and engage with your whole critical provoking self. And yeah, so if you go on to Dark Matter Labs medium, we have blogs, we have a lot of stuff on our website. We always ask for feedback and we do mean it and we do take it and we look at it and we incorporate it and we use it to challenge ourselves. So, you know, we have internal debates and downloads and forums for that. So it is definitely worth poking us if you feel that there’s something that you would like us to look further into or if you just want to contribute. So that would be my big request.
Manda: Fantastic. I will put links in the show notes.
Emily: Keep us sharp.
Manda: All right. There we go, people, that’s this week’s challenge. Emily, thank you so much. This has felt so generative. For all that you’re doing and for taking the time to talk to us. And definitely we will nab you for another time.
Emily: All right. It’s been a real pleasure.
Manda: Thank you. And I hope the coast looking out to Jura is beautiful when you get there.
Emily: Thanks so much.
Manda: And that’s it for another week. Huge thanks to Emily for all that she is and does. I was feeling a bit crushed recently and talking to Emily has given me hope again, that there are some supremely bright people working with the world as it actually is. Exploring the possibilities beyond anything that I could imagine, and then finding out the ways to make them actually happen in the world. And this is happening at so many levels, at governmental level, at city level, at business level, at personal level. It genuinely feels really inspiring. So if you want to get involved in any way, I’ve put the links to Dark Matter Labs in the show notes. Please do follow them up and we’ll be talking again to Emily about the economy in October. I am booked into October. How did that happen? I have no idea. And in the meantime, go and look at the links, there on accidentalgodslife. If you go to the podcast section. And if you’re listening through Apple Podcasts or whatever, it’s on the show notes section.
Manda: So that apart, we will be back next week with another conversation. And in the meantime, huge thanks to Caro for wrestling with the sound and for the music at the head and foot. Thanks to Faith for the website and the new searchable function in the blog section where you can search all the podcasts by name or by topic. Yay! Thanks to Anne Thomas for the transcripts. And as ever, a huge thanks to you for listening. If you’ve got a couple of minutes spare, five stars and a review is always a good thing, I gather. But otherwise, please just send the link to anybody you know who wants to understand that there are answers and there are people looking for them and there are ways that we can all become involved. So exciting. Anyway, that is it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.
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