#223  River Charters, Net Zero Cities and BioRegional Banks: Creating a Life-Ennobling Economic System with Emily Harris of Dark Matter Labs

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In this week’s episode of Accidental Gods, we dive into the visionary world of economic transformation with Emily Harris of Dark Matter Labs. Emily, a chartered accountant with an MA in regenerative economics, is not your average number cruncher. She’s at the forefront of reimagining our financial systems, exploring the intersection of technology, governance, and the natural world.

Join us as Emily unveils the bold concept of life-ennobling economics (LEE) and the radical aspiration of establishing bioregional banks — a system where money is no longer a mere transactional tool but a means to foster a thriving web of life. From a watershed-scale project in Scotland to the Sheffield River Don project, Emily details practical steps towards making these ideas a reality, including the creation of relationship registers and multivalent currencies like ‘river coins’.

The conversation also touches on the challenges of aligning current political and economic systems with these pioneering concepts. Emily shares insights into the Net Zero Cities team’s efforts, working with 112 mission cities to forge climate city contracts and policy labs that embody a mission-oriented methodology.

This episode is a call to action for all listeners to engage with these transformative ideas. If you’re inspired by the potential of a future where financial systems are in harmony with ecological and social well-being, then tune in, offer your thoughts, and be part of the change. Emily’s work is a testament to the power of collective imagination and the tangible steps we can take towards a regenerative economy.

For those ready to delve deeper into the mechanics of these groundbreaking ideas, visit the show notes for links to the thought-provoking blogs and learn how you can contribute to this evolutionary journey. Accidental Gods is the platform where we explore the edges of possibility — and this episode is a beacon of hope for a world in dire need of economic renaissance.

In Conversation

Manda: Hey people, welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible and that if we all work together, there is time to create a future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. I’m Manda Scott, your guide and fellow traveller on this journey into possibility, searching always for routes forward towards that more flourishing future that our hearts know is possible. The difficulty often lies in finding ways to bridge the divide between the many inspiring and invigorating ideas and actually making real change happen on the ground, in a time scale that will be relevant enough to be useful. In that regard, Dark Matter Labs is really one of the leading exponents both of the theory and the practice, and their work is a continual wellspring of inspiration and hope for me. And it’s a delight to return regularly to catch the latest of what they’re imagining and bringing into being. We spoke to Indy Johar in episode number 205, and before that we spoke to Emily Harris back in episode 176. I have put links to both of these in the show notes, because this week Emily is back with us again, which definitely qualifies as being a friend of the podcast. Emily’s a chartered accountant who trained with Deloitte in London and was a manager in their big ticket restructuring team during the 2008 financial crisis.

Manda: So she definitely knows what life is like on one side of the divide between business as usual and regenerative change. She also holds an MA in Regenerative Economics with a distinction from Schumacher College. And now she’s part of the new money team at Dark Matter Labs, focussed on challenging the imagined order of our financial and economic systems, exploring how we actually could achieve a transition to a regenerative economy. And ahead of today’s podcast, Emily sent me a couple of white papers on what DML are calling life ennobling economics; LEE. What it looks like, how it might work, how it could challenge the existing narratives in areas as diverse as governance and property rights and labour and capital and technology and care, and how we actually really integrate into the web of life. And as I say at the top of the conversation you’re about to hear, these are without question, amongst the most interesting concepts I have ever read. And I spend my entire life exploring this field.

Manda: To prove this, because I do sometimes enthuse about other things, I would like to read you the opening paragraph of the concept paper, which says: ‘Instead of focusing on labour, property, individual or democratic rights, this vision seeks to unfurl the full potential of a growing planetary consciousness. It’s an expression of practical realism embedded in a deep respect for all manifestations of life past, present, human, more than human, the sacred and the machine. This economy seeks to move beyond the everyday codes of property, labour, capital and private contracts. And break free from the constrictive dance of sociopolitical isms. It offers an unbounded understanding of agency, inviting the full range of adjacent possibilities, thus refuting the exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few’. And then a few paragraphs down, it says ‘at its core, this is a provocation of the heart. An invitation to cultivate lives of profound collaboration, dignity, psychological and physical freedom. It’s a framework meshed in human embodied experience that critically includes machine and non-human systems, integrating them into the same expansive, beyond paradigm of inter becoming’

Manda: And if that’s not what this podcast is for, I don’t know what is. The two papers are in the show notes and they are absolutely, totally worth reading. In the meantime, this conversation moved even beyond these into whole new areas, that yet again the DML breached the boundaries of my thinking, in a good way. A really good way. So people of the podcast, please welcome Emily Harris of Dark Matter Labs.

Manda: Emily, welcome back to the Accidental Gods podcast. It is a joy to be speaking to you again. How are you and where are you this beautiful sunny morning?

Emily: Thanks, Manda. It’s really lovely to see you and thank you for inviting me back as well. I’m very honoured and flattered. So I’m at home on the west coast of Scotland in my finally refurbished old farmhouse, which is very exciting. So I’m here, it’s a little bit sunny, it’s very stormy. I’m well, thank you.

Manda: It’s February, it’s meant to be stormy. We have to hold on to that. And is this an an old black house? Because you’re in crofting land. Is it one of the very old, very low, with super thick walls?

Emily: It certainly is. It honestly looks like a hobbit house. And we restored it with tree trunks still kind of coming through it. There’s not a single straight edge in the entire house, and I love it.

Manda: Okay. I will bring a tent and come and visit you sometime.

Emily: You’re very welcome. We have a sleeping loft Manda, you don’t have to bring a tent.

Manda: Okay? Right. That’s a date then, we’ll get to Scotland. We will get to Scotland. Faith’s going to spend a month in Shetland and I’m hoping that by the time she’s done that, we’re going to be okay let’s move to Scotland. That would be good. Leaving all that aside, back to the podcast. So there is so much going on with with everything you’re doing at Dark Matter Labs. The life ennobling economics papers are quite genuinely very near the top, if not at the top of the single most inspiring documents I have read in the whole time of doing this podcast, and it’s really hard to know exactly where to dive into these. So I thought I’d cop out and just ask you what is most alive for you at the moment, and let’s go from there.

Emily: Okay, let’s go with that. I suppose the first thing is to give you or your listeners, a very quick overview of what on earth life ennobling economics is. Which I will do and I know that you had Indy on the podcast and he was speaking about a lot of the philosophies that underpin this. But I’m also aware that sometimes it’s quite hard for people to perhaps unpack and really visualise some of the things that he’s saying. And we even have that within our own teams, so what I’d like to try and do is to give a summary of this life ennobling economics that Indy and I have been working on, with help from others. And then really, if I can try and ground that back to work that the team is doing on the ground. I think that would also be quite a good discipline for me, to be honest, because I think sometimes it’s a little bit easier to kind of hide behind these almost mysterious concepts. But actually, we haven’t always been great at grounding it, and I feel quite strongly that I would really like people to be able to interrogate this work and to ask questions and to build on it.

Manda: And to make it happen in the real world. Because that’s the key, isn’t it? We can have all the grand ideas, but if we don’t actually bring them into life, then they stay in the realm of grand ideas. So let’s see how we can do that. That sounds grand.

Emily: Okay, so how would I say it? Like elevate a pitch and then we can dig into some of it. So life ennobling economics I would say that it’s really a unifying vision. Also a call to action. And for me, it’s really an invitation to break free from some of these invisible hierarchies of our minds and to understand that our existing institutions and kind of value frameworks, I guess, are no longer fit for purpose. And then from there, I think to find joy in the kind of realisation that we can in fact choose where we put our attention and therefore what happens from there. II can see your face and I personally love a little bit of metaphysics, but on a more practical level, life ennobling economics is also a framework, I think, for what I would describe as like a really inclusive but continuous conversation. Perhaps if I had to summarise it, I would almost put it as a series of questions that we’re hoping to engage with, both within Dark Matter and externally.

Emily: So above all else, I think something that I personally ask myself, you probably do as well, but really, what would a desirable future economy be like? What would that actually look like? Then if that was to happen, what would need to shift for that to become a reality? Then really importantly, what does that mean in the context of our current social, political, economic realities? And then I think from there, the fourth question is what can we build or seed to try and test those assumptions? And that’s really important; they are just assumptions. Life Enabling Economics is not like some blueprint where we’re saying, oh, you know, we need to shift to this economy and it will have this, this and this. I think it’s more we really want to move beyond certain paradigms, and we want to invite people to explore it with us. And we want to continually ask these questions, go out, try and test them, fail. You know, things won’t sit or like the Overton window won’t be big enough and then come back and put the question again, right.

Manda: So we’d have to unpick the Overton Window for people who are new to the podcast. But let’s just take a step back from that, because this is exactly what this podcast is for, is how do we get to the flourishing future that we would be proud to leave behind and exactly what is the route map to get there? In the understanding that if we’re going to transcend paradigms, all we can do is step to the edge of our existing paradigm and then embody a value system and see what emerges. Because if we know exactly where to go, we’re still in the old paradigm. So in a minute, I want you to tell us what an Overton window is and how it could shift. But in framing these questions, we are back to ideas of emergence, ideas of inter-becoming, and what I would really think you’re aiming for and what I would like to get today is how do we make the first steps? What does have to change, and what does it look and feel like? And how can we as individuals, what little levers? Transcending the paradigms was Donella Meadows top lever of everything and I’m really exploring that, you’re right. This is my whole personal inquiry at the moment, is what does it feel like to transcend paradigms? What does it feel like to let go of the old paradigms? How scary is that? Because it’s basically walking out off the edge of the cliff in the belief that something will materialise under our feet. And that’s a really scary thing to do and yet you guys are doing it and are writing it in these documents. So tell us what an Overton window is. And then let’s get into the nitty gritty of what does have to change and how can we change it.

Emily: Okay, I’ll have a go. So the Overton window in my understanding is really what’s politically possible in the current moment. So we might want to do things like rapidly reduce our carbon, but is it possible for a government to actually bring in laws that would ban air travel? In the UK right now, no. So I would say that that Overton window is very narrow in that respect, but certain things have the power to really shift that and blow it open. And that might be something like Covid, for example. So a lot of things happened in Covid that really opened that window. Before that, if our government had told us to stay at home and only go out for one hour of exercise a day, it wouldn’t have been politically possible. So that’s how I would describe that.

Manda: So how do we go about shifting Overton windows? Because I am also very aware that, yes, the Overton window shifted during Covid, but certain forces put a lot of energy, effort, time and money into narrowing it back down again as fast as they possibly could, because they didn’t like the fact that it had shifted from from where it was. And if we watch our current media system, I don’t want to go too far down my paranoid conspiracy theory rabbit holes, but they are very good at shaping the Overton Window. They know where it is. They know where they want it to be. You know, Nigel Farage regularly is invited to pull it further to his side of weirdo populism, and people like Roger Hallam who might be considered the Nigel Farage of a different wing get no airtime at all. So how does your thinking look at us even making the Overton window more flexible?

Emily: I think there are lots of different ways, obviously, but one example that I would give is that we can take a concept that maybe is just almost ridiculous to express in our current situation. So let me say a statement like ‘self-adjoint technology can be embedded within entangled theory of care’, right? If I was to go on to the news and say that.

Manda: I don’t even understand what that means.

Emily: No. Exactly. But I’ll get to it. So if I was to say something like that, I wouldn’t get any air time, right? But then I think that we can start to experiment with things that might demonstrate that. So I’ll unpack that a bit, what I mean by that, and then tell you about something that we’ve been doing to actually make that possible and then wrap it up into something that can be used in a more widespread context. So let me try and step that through. So this is my attempt at the Overton window and technology being part of the web of life.

Manda: Okay. Yes.

Emily: So I think that technology is a part of whatever it is that we’re becoming.

Manda: Yes, I agree.

Emily: The question is then how do we understand that? Is it some kind of neutral tool or actually is it a threat or could it be a pathway to embodied intelligence systems and networks of learning for example. So an example that I think everyone can relate to, because that sounds really quite esoteric, is your phone. So if you wanted to really interact with the web of life, you might turn your phone off for a number of hours a day, or get rid of your phone even. But then if you really changed that perspective a bit, you could think, well, your phone actually is opening you up to experiences and relationships across geographies. Perspectives that you don’t have any access to in your local context. So it’s like, oh, actually, in that situation, the phone is enabling different kind of interactions with the world.

Manda: Yes, communities of purpose and passion that are not limited to place. It’s part of who we are in the 21st century. Gotcha. Okay.

Emily: Exactly right. So then where I would take that, is what about if we create embodied indicators? So perhaps these indicators might combine things like spatial computing. So things like fitness watches, so tech interacting with a human. And then perhaps they can also then combine distributed sensors. So things measuring air quality. And then maybe you could combine those with how people even feel about the indicator, and then suddenly it’s like where’s the boundary in that, between the technology and us? So that’s the theory. Let me tell you our attempt at that; I’m trying to give as many practical examples as I can. So we’ve got this initiative and it’s called the Cornerstone Indicators and we’ve tried to do exactly that. So they are literally measures where we combine multiple data points from all these different sources, and then we wrap them up into one single intuitively understandable indicator. And also they’re co-designed with the communities. So I’ll give you an example of one. It’s actually being used now live in the Swedish city of Västerås, and they designed it themselves.

Emily: And the indicator is the number of people who actively enjoy not owning a car. So it’s not just the fact that they don’t have a car, it’s the fact that they enjoy not doing so, right? So as a narrative, we might say what does that mean? People feel safe to mix, or perhaps they’re confident in their public transport services. They’re physically fit and they can use active transport and maybe they feel something like empowered to act on the climate emergency. So it has all of those things, but then behind it we have loads of dimensions and data points that are contributing to that indicator as well. So you might have things like subjective measures of trust or perhaps more distributed sensors like air quality. And maybe the reliability of the transport itself could be coming in via text sensors. So I think it’s super interesting and there you’ve got so many things going on, that are an interaction between technology, our lived experience and a theory of care. I can give you more detail about that and how they’re being used. But please come in.

Manda: Yes, yes. Because it feels to me we could we could spend the entire podcast just unpicking this! So I want to know how it arose, I want to know how it’s been taken. I want to know how to spell the name of the Swedish city, but we can sort that out at the end. Okay, let’s take a step back. Where I come from is we are where we are. We are an integral part of the web of life. We have got to where we are and either the web of life has made a terrible mistake, and I am well aware there are a lot of people who think that. And I don’t think it’s prone to making mistakes, and therefore we have the technological capacity that we have. It is our job to work out how to use it in a way that supports the thriving of life in all its forms on the planet. And exactly as we said, technology allows us to create our communities of passion and of purpose at a distance from our communities of place, and it allows us to do so much more. I always come back to the LLM, the guy who’s creating the large Land model, which I just think is genius, and there are some very bright young people that you and I both know who are right at the leading edge of this. My fear is always that technological development at the moment seems to be being pushed by the profit motive, by extraction, by commodification of our life’s energy and the life of the planet, and learning to trust that the gathering of my data is not going to end up with me being on a prison ship floating out somewhere in the Atlantic, because the people who own the data have decided that I don’t fit with their model of how they want people to be, is my terror point.

Manda: So that was my big ‘yes but’ that was arising. And then you said, let’s find quantification of the number of people that enjoy not having a car and suddenly I’m all sweet and fluffy and marshmallowy and kittens and baskets again, because that sounds like a really good thing. And also very hard for anyone except car manufacturers and the fossil fuel lobby to get upset about. I imagine they’d get quite upset about it, but that’s a whole separate thing. Because I did listen to someone on Nate Hagens the other day, who was clearly super bright, really interested in biophysical limits, and he said for goodness sake, stop worrying about electric cars. We just need to stop everybody having personal transport. And I thought, I live in the middle of nowhere. If I stop having personal transport, we’re back to I am walking, once a month probably, to the local town, and that’s not going to be fun. And I don’t want to do that. And how do we get around that in the world that we need to get to? And you’re right, the Overton window, it might be quite hard for any existing government to ban air flight and still stay in power for more than a week. But if you ban personal transport, you’re gone by tomorrow, mate. So exactly that.

Emily: Yeah totally.

Manda: The stacking up of questions is: This is a really interesting use of technology. Whose idea was it? Why is it there? What are you doing with it? And how do the people who are both engaged with it and who are not engaged with it, feel about it, and where is it going? And if we end up taking the whole podcast on this, that’s fine. You can come back and we’ll talk about something else, but let’s just see what’s possible because this is actually happening just now.

Emily: Yeah, it’s happening in three countries, so I can give you a bit of detail in each of them. So the original idea we co-developed with Catherine Trebeck, the lady that co-founded the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. But it was a slightly different beast at the time, that was more about creating these kind of narratives on top of the indicators, and then we’ve taken it in a few different directions. But certainly the idea was developed with her. And what I would say, just to pick up on something that you were saying about that almost fear of tech kind of becoming, almost like we’re creating a monster. Or, well, AI might create it for us, but we don’t want to go down that rabbit hole. And I totally agree with that. And that’s why I think it’s really powerful that these indicators include things like how people feel about them, because it’s very difficult to game.

Emily: So one of the ways that they’re being used, and I really enjoy this, almost like as buffer metrics. So like for example, I’m sure you’ve heard of outcomes based financing or results based financing. So the world Bank’s very keen on this; as you reduce carbon you get to certain milestones. You get some money, right.

Manda: Yeah. But then you end up gaming the milestones to get the money of course.

Emily: But even even if it’s unintentionally right. So you’re going to probably erode some of those unseen, unnoticed stocks and flows of value in pursuit of the defined one, which is the carbon. To give an example, someone in their city might decide let’s reduce bus services or put in more cycle lanes, because that’s going to hit this milestone. But then on the back of that, some of the older people become really isolated and mental health declines. Or there’s some old car park that is you know, wasteland or something, and you decide to fill it with solar panels, but you didn’t realise that actually it was really important for biodiversity. So where we are starting to see these indicators being taken up, and I think this is going to happen in Canada, is where a community goes into one of these schemes. Maybe they want to set up a community energy scheme, but they want to use these indicators of whether the scheme is successful, because it prevents intentional gaming, but it also starts to form this buffer of the sort of known unknowns being eroded.

Manda: And when you say they’re using this technology, this is AI generated? Are we getting to AGI with this?

Emily: I don’t think that we are getting there yet in our Canadian context. So as I said, we started in Sweden and they’ve got five active indicators. It’s really interesting. There’s things like the number of people that feel at peace on a Sunday night. Or the number of people that have a plan, dream or goal more than one year into the future. And one thing that I guess I do want to add to that is the strategic designer that worked with me on the project, a colleague called Vlad, and he illustrated them in the most incredible way. And I think those designs really gave the heart to the project, and I think otherwise it would have just really been a good idea, and I’m not sure that it would have been as successful. And I was thinking about this, because we were talking about Canada. So last week we did a workshop in Canada. Well, actually it was online, but the audience was in Canada. And a lady got quite emotional and she said it was the first time that she’d ever felt warm about indicators, and it’s because Vlad had illustrated these indicators as like graphic pictures, really, of people doing these things. And she was just like, oh, you know, it’s so different. So I just want to bring that in, because yes there is all the tech behind it, but I’m not sure that that’s the only thing that I would focus on.

Manda: Okay. So the tech-human interface is what matters.

Emily: Yeah, right. But some of the data being gathered can be quite simple. So in the Swedish city we have in supermarkets where people can press a button like ‘did you sleep well last night?’ Stuff like that. So it’s not all that we need really advanced technology to get these data points. Each indicator might have 50 or 60 data points behind it and a lot of that data is already available. So one of the pushbacks that we had from the politicians in fact, in some of these situations, was like, oh, we don’t need any more indicators. We’re drowning in them. You know, it’s not helping. And actually we’re not adding any data points, we’re just enabling people to feel agency over them.

Manda: How does that happen? How do people feel they’ve got agency, besides pushing a button in a supermarket saying yes or no.

Emily: Because they design them themselves. So the other half of this project is all about the participation. So we don’t go in and say, oh, this would be a nice indicator for you guys. So the part where you were saying in your rural location, if they took away the transport, what would you do? I would never profess to go in and say, this is what your community healthy should look like. This is well-being for your little area of Wales. Because I don’t know, do I? So we go in with participatory workshops and scenarios where we help people to play out into, say 2030, 2050. What would their community look like in this situation or that situation and how would they feel? And they play out day in the life, and then we take all the data from that and then sort of propose back to them, like what that could look like. And we use statistics and it kind of gets slightly more complicated, and then we iterate with them. So the first set of indicators that we proposed in Sweden, the community didn’t actually like very much. We were a bit crestfallen, but it was really good learning and it’s their indicators. So we changed them and now they are using them.

Manda: Right. Because they have ownership. Because they know what they’re doing, they know why they’re there and it’s fun and it’s exciting. And then we get to see the results. Excellent. So let’s just stay with this as a model, because this is real world stuff. This is taking the theory and making it actually happen in the real world. How did the number of people who feel good about not having a car arise as being a question that people in the city thought was a useful one to ask?

Emily: It didn’t. They didn’t come up with that question. They came up with things that were important to them, which was things like people taking the climate emergency more seriously, or the fact that because it was an old industrialised city that they really wanted to improve the air quality, or that they were very worried about safety and threats from security. So they didn’t come up with it. They came up with all the things that mattered to them and we combined that with national statistics in Sweden. And then we pulled all that together and looked at all the overlaps, and then suggested the narrative on top of that, which they then tweaked.

Manda: Right. Okay. That makes a lot of sense. And how long has this been running and are they happy with it?

Emily: Yeah, yeah they are. So it’s its first year of them being active and it certainly wasn’t always smooth. And we did have pushback from politicians, all this kind of thing. And one of the things that we came up with with them, was that individual politicians could champion certain indicators. Because really it’s outside of the electoral cycle, if you think about it. Because what they were worried about is like, oh, if it clashes with my mandate, for example. So if I’m pushing this indicator, but actually I got in on saying that I would improve roads or transport, then it’s going to clash. And we’re saying, no, it’s not. This is what your community is saying. So it doesn’t mean that you can’t build the road, but it does mean you’d have to add good cycle lanes. So it’s just helping people to see that. So they’re using it. And then the other two.

Emily: But we also did it in Scotland. But in that situation Manda we didn’t do the Indicators. We were really practising the workshops. It wasn’t such a deep dive, it was right across Scotland and we developed an online workshop playbook that different communities could use. We did that with Carnegie UK, collating all the data and then sending that back to the Scottish Government. And we did it as part of their consultation on the National Performance Framework. So it’s kind of like different uses. And I would say that each iteration of the project, we’re just trying to develop and learn. And then hopefully towards the end of this year we’ll put it all out, open source, on a website that anyone can pick up.

Manda: And use in their own communities for whatever that community wants it to be for.

Emily: Exactly.

Manda: In the examples that we’re looking at, Scotland, Sweden, Canada, are you finding a broad demographic of people engaging? Or does it tend to be the kind of people who would be listening to this podcast?

Emily: It’s a good question. I think it is broad, but that’s partly because we look for local community partners, because I can put the background thought in, but I can’t run a workshop in an indigenous community, you know, in Canada. It would be insulting. So we’re always looking for local partners and they have different interests, so I’d say that’s where the diversity of audience comes in.

Manda: Ok. As long as they do, then that’s good. As long as there is a sense within the community that this isn’t the kind of weird group in the corner doing the stuff on their own. I listened to another podcast last week of compass, which in the UK is trying to create a coalition of broadly progressive political parties. And they have now got to the point in this place in Surrey, where previously the Tories owned the council and now the compass Group owns the council, and the compass Group is made up of Greens and Lib Dems and Labour. It’s still an outgroup until they manage somehow to create a sense of broader community within their geographic boundaries.

Emily: Something’s just coming up for me then, which is like, we’re talking about indicators, but I think it’s also interesting because… So something else pulling out of the Life Enabling Economics, to do with data. So we talk quite a lot about wanting to move to this new world of self-sovereign agents. Like what does that mean? So what I just wanted to pick up on is how numbers can actually be narratives as well. Just thinking about these indicators, but maybe taking it to a different context. So for me, when we’re talking about self-sovereign agents, we’re really talking about relationships and this idea that relationships are primary to the things that are related. So if we take that thought and then add these emergent technologies that we’ve just been talking about, we’ve got a really good shot at coming up with a new theory of value. So that’s something that we’ve again been starting to play with.

Manda: Okay. Let’s go deeper into this, please.

Emily: So it’s kind of building on the indicators, but then like where else can we take this? Perhaps into context like finance, or stewardship governance. So a recent project and I won’t say the name of the city because it hasn’t actually been published yet. It’s nothing like Cloak and Dagger, but I’m not sure of sensitivities. But a major European city asked us for help recently, because they need to pay for serious climate adaptation and they just can’t. The city itself just does not have the quantum of money. So what they wanted to do is try and bring in all these different stakeholders to contribute. So it might be the banks, it might be the mortgage holders, real estate developers, the utility companies.  So they were like, how can we get this to happen? So what I wanted to express is that for me, numbers can be a really powerful way of telling a story. And that might sound odd, but I build quite a lot of financial models, or I used to. And when I sit down to do that, I normally start with a totally blank spreadsheet. Because it’s almost like, oh, what story do I want to tell with these numbers? A lot of modellers don’t do that. They take parts of models and they stitch them together and then they build on top. But I don’t really like to do that. I’m like, what is it that I want to say with these numbers?

Manda: Because they’re doing that implicitly. It’s just that they think there’s only one story and so they get the numbers to fit it. You’re you’re being more honest about the ‘I am using these data points, and probably selecting these data points to say what I want to say’.

Emily: Yeah. But I think by doing that it also makes me more aware of the story. So this is what happened with this city. Because I was starting to try and think, oh, how am I going to show this? And then I was like, oh, this could actually be a really strong story. So what we decided to do in the end was we took a case study, a real area of the city. So it was about 0.3 kilometres squared. And my colleague Sofia actually used spatial analysis and mapping to just draw that out. So she literally could tell me how many metres squared of certain types of road or how many residential buildings, whether there was a transport hub. All of these things. And then she was also looking at probability of certain weather events happening, so she could map out the probability of this kind of flood happening, where it would get to, how many cars would get wiped out, all this kind of stuff. So we had all of this data and then my kind of part of this was to build on top of it and say what would that mean in monetary terms? Because it’s the way unfortunately. Right now that’s how we can convince people. So I’ll take you through it because it’s interesting. So we end up with this story. First of all, what would be the direct savings to all these people that are going to be convened in this city to talk about this? So if we do nothing, how much is it actually going to cost in terms of ruined things? Or if we spend the money doing certain adaptations? But then it gets more interesting as you start to layer it on top.

Emily: If we were to coordinate, for example. So utility company X coordinates with, you know. Then, who saves? Because actually there’s a lot of disruption reduced and therefore the tourism businesses don’t suffer. And so what’s the money there? And then you can layer it up again and say, well, if you put in nature based solutions to try and reduce flooding, then actually real estate prices go up and depression goes down and health costs. And you can start to actually put numbers against all of these things and take them through this story about why, actually, when we get to the end and we totally integrate the approach, and we say the department that’s looking at housing crisis could actually benefit in the same way as the department that is maybe looking at trying to reduce carbon, if we do mixed use space. Because then you might get intergenerational mixing, maybe social capital would go up, crime rates go down, blah, blah, blah. But it was really amazing because we could show them the pictures of what was happening in this case study. We could show all the floods and heat coming in, and we could put the numbers on it and show them all of the financial savings, as well as all the other things going on. So at the beginning, none of these people even wanted to speak to each other. I’ll let you come in and then I’ll tell you where it’s ended up.

Manda: My question is, how much does it break their heads? Because what you are doing is taking a neoliberal extractive mindset and in the space of the time it takes you to to tell them all of this, asking them to shift to a cooperative mindset. And I think that’s absolutely, utterly amazing. But I can imagine and maybe I’m projecting, but I can imagine the people who who are invested in the extractive mindset, this hitting their belief systems. It’s a bit like expecting medical doctors to take on board homeopathy. It hits their belief systems so hard that their limbic system rejects everything because they can’t shift their worldview to encompass what you’re offering. Did you hit that kind of resistance or did everybody just…

Emily: No, because I would kind of disagree with you. I’m not asking them to do that at all. I’m actually showing them how they’re going to save money. So that’s the whole point. Like we build the story, but then we put quite a fancy financial model on top of it and then show them why they’re all going to be better off. So it’s not actually even appealing to their kind of community solidarity or higher values. Because I think this has been the problem with a lot of these kind of narratives and aspirations of a wellbeing economy is that they couldn’t show people necessarily why, even under their current worldview, this would be a good idea. But it’s not all, like you say, it’s not quite so easy. So even though they then bought into this and we gave them the model so they could interrogate it. Because I didn’t want people to be like, oh, well, you didn’t take into consideration x, Y, or Z. So I set it up so that all the assumptions they could look at, they could change them, you know, they could decide that I wasn’t right about this probability. Fine, I don’t mind.

Manda: Did they? Because there’s a tendency to just trust something when you’ve been given it. You don’t want to do the work. You go, okay, it must be all right because you’ve let me look at it. Did they go away and interrogate it lots?

Emily: Yeah, I mean, nobody’s come back with any major… But I think that’s the power of a good model, is that it does allow people to interact with it and to fill out their own story. Because they might not agree with certain things, but that’s fine because we don’t know how it’s all going to play out, do we? But they can test them.

Manda: No! This is the emergent edge. That’s the point. So then what’s happening with this? Have they taken it on board?

Emily: Yeah. So what we’re proposing, going back a bit to what you’re saying, so even though they might now see that this has financial benefits and everything. And other benefits, of course they’re not all just about money. It’s like, how do we meet them where they are now? Because some of them, they have departmental budgets or whatever, and they can’t just invest into this collaborative fund. So what we’ve done is split it out into a phased approach. So let’s say in the first instance, everybody puts a percentage, like 5% of their budget into almost like a pay it forward fund. Then when the first set of benefits are realised, then the next stage for the coordinated benefits they put a percentage in and then we pay it forward. Essentially we’ve designed a phased financial instrument. ‘Financial instrument’ people always kind of glaze over. So financial instruments are like money, they’re social contracts. All it is, is you get people to agree on something, and then you go to some lawyers and you get them to put a contract on top of it. So I don’t want people to be afraid of financial instruments because I used to work with them. And that’s all it is.

Manda: Yeah, clearly. And that’s that’s the value is you know what they are and you’re not afraid of them. So the rest of us can trust you to sort them and bring them to us in a way that we understand and aren’t afraid of.

Emily: I’m not saying that that’s the exact financial instrument that will get used. So what we’re doing is now convening all of these people into a big conference. And the financial actors there, I’m hoping, will volunteer. So we’re going to get people to come out with proposed working groups. So I’m hoping that some of the banks will agree to work on the technicalities of said financial instrument that might be slightly different to the one I’m proposing.

Manda: Okay. So if this were in the UK, let’s pick a city out of the sky, let’s say Manchester, Manchester decided to do this. The government would look at the fact that Manchester was somehow managing to make more money and would cut its funding proportionately so that there was no chance for Manchester to pay forward, because central government would (A)not like the ideology and (B) decide that they needed to cut the funding. Do you have a reasonable assurance from the broader governance of this particular region that if they managed to do what sounds to me quite a lot like a Preston model, and start to generate internal money, that their external funding will not simply pro rata decrease.

Emily: It’s a good question. Because it’s a whole city, it’s not just public money. We’re also asking the utility companies that are doing the wiring, or the banks, or a good example is the mortgage providers because their risk exposure is rapidly increasing. So they’re actually quite keen to contribute, but they want to do it in community.

Manda: Right. And the insurance companies must be very happy to do this of course.

Emily: And the reinsurance companies even happier!

Manda: Right. Who decides how much of the money that a company makes is a result of the changes they have made? Because again, you could get a change of CEO who goes I just painted everything in the office bright orange and that’s the reason we’ve been making this more money, and therefore we don’t have to pay into your fund. You know, capitalists will be capitalists, sadly. That was unkind to capitalists, but I don’t trust them as far as I could throw them. How do you lock in the the paying forward, continuing to pay forward and it doesn’t just become another way to pay our shareholders a bigger bonus?

Emily: Yeah, honestly I don’t know. But, I think it will be a governance structure put on top. So we would set almost like with the cornerstone indicators, we would try and set metrics on top of it that would bring in multiple different data points and how people were experiencing their city. So it wouldn’t be tied to individual companies for sure. Because I agree with you. If you just said, oh, a percentage of your profits, you’re right back down to the kind of gaming instinct, aren’t you?

Manda: Yeah. Because this is social technology and to an extent, this is metaphysical. I know we start with the metaphysics, but we always come back to that. It’s how do people feel? And if these are big companies, the interesting thing is going to be does the parent company look at what’s happening and go, this is a really good idea, let’s spread this further! Or do they just milk the cash cow and milk it dry, you know, become the giant vampire squid, drain it to its little husk and walk off and do something else. And the only way of knowing is, how do the people feel? And does their sense of well-being, which one assumes will have to increase, the increase in that wellbeing ripple back up the line to the point where other people want more of it, rather than just wanting the money? Who knows?

Emily: I think that’s true. But I would think on a slightly more harsh neoliberal slant, it will also, if the stuff that we’ve modelled is correct, which I think broadly it is; some of these increased social values will also transpire to monetary values. So the contributions into these funds, these funds can pay a return. I think when I was talking about it being staged, it’s because there’s a leap of faith to start it. So that’s why we’re saying a percentage at the beginning. But once we can actually prove that this integrated approach is making returns, suddenly that becomes an asset class of its own. And you’re not asking people to do it just because they want a wellbeing society. I think it’s kind of interesting. It’s a slightly greener city.

Manda: Okay. All right. Yeah. That makes sense for me as an asset class of its own. Makes all of my toenails curl inwards, but yeah.

Emily: I know, I know, but…

Manda: You’re right. You have to meet people where they are. It’s utter genius. Yeah. So we’re looking at the ways that we can really ground the ideas and bring them to an emergent edge. And what you said about cities sounds really exciting. So how do we measure the number of people who really enjoy not having a car? One assumes that if that’s a demonstrable number, we increase the number of people who want to try being happy at not having a car. Unless the car manufacturers and the fossil fuel industries come in with a countermove, then you end up with massively reduced personal transport in the city, and presumably that bounces into other ways of becoming a net zero city. And then in our other city, we’re looking at how do we mitigate the effects of climate change and how do we do it by harnessing private capital. Overlooking all of these and a lot of my edginess around this is what happens with the governance systems when our current governance is wholly owned by the nastiest of the death cult. I am imagining that its reaction will be largely what it was during lockdown, which is we don’t like what’s happening, we’re going to push back with all of the levers at our command. Of which there are many: mainstream media, social media and governance structures. Have you ideas of how we might go about transforming governance itself? Because it seems to me that underlies everything. If we can change the way governance happens, if we can bring power to those with wisdom and wisdom to those with power, then we have a chance of broader change. And I’m sure Dark Matter Labs is thinking about this. So does that sound like something we could talk about?

Emily: Yeah, it definitely does. I’m sat here thinking how to go into this, because I think we’re looking at it in really different ways. So perhaps I can touch on two threads. I’ll say them and then we can decide which one to go to first. So I think on a more practical, really gritty, hands on kind of thread, we’ve got our Net Zero Cities team who are literally working with 112, I think it is, mission cities right across Europe. And they’re trying to create the governance structures, really, to achieve carbon neutral smart cities by 2030. So that’s like a really practical example. And then right on the other end of the spectrum, in the kind of like way beyond paradigm horizon, whatever you want to call it. I’m laughing saying it, because it just sounds like kind of a ridiculous ambition, but we are trying to start anyway, the first distributed bioregional bank using multivalent currencies.

Manda: Oh my goodness.

Emily: These are two ends of the spectrum. And when I say that distributed bank it doesn’t really bear any resemblance to a bank that we would understand now, it’s more like a stewardship interface. We’re working on both things, so you can pick.

Manda: Oh but each of those is a podcast in its own right, Emily!

Emily: But you did ask. So these are two approaches to governance.

Manda: Oh, goodness.

Emily: I guess I know less about the net zero cities work, but I can give you maybe just some ideas about it, if that’s helpful.

Manda: And maybe you could connect me to someone on the team and we could have a whole podcast on net zero cities, because that’s a really important thing.

Emily: Yeah, definitely.

Manda: Give us a framework, so that people listening don’t feel that they’ve just been had a teaser that’s been snatched out from under them. Then please let’s look at the Bioregional bank, because that’s the whole of how money works.

Emily: Yeah, exactly. Let’s do those two things. Because I think what’s really important for me with the net zero cities work, is that Dark Matter, we have all these let’s say capabilities or goals that we’re working on, and we might sometimes do those in quite abstract ways. But then it’s actually our cities team that are there on the ground testing all these things out, in context, in the messy, knotty reality of trying to negotiate that across multiple stakeholders. I personally have such admiration. I’m not sure, I think I wouldn’t even last a day. I sometimes feel like I should do a secondment into the cities team, because I sit here with all my slightly wild ideas and they’re there doing it.

Manda: Right. Holding the conversations, getting the pushback and trying to make it happen.

Emily: Yeah, exactly. So there’s a part of it that they work on, something called the Climate City contract, and it’s a contract between individual cities and the European Commission. And really as a process that is a governance process. So it’s like, how can you bring in all these different actors and convene these stakeholders and I suppose it’s trying to create a collective vision of the future. And also they’re kind of holding a mirror up to the city. So like, what haven’t you thought of? So as you can imagine, this isn’t always very easy work. One of my colleagues who was also at Schumacher, she’s called Georgia and I would definitely recommend that you speak to her, so she’s really looking at the policy side of this. And she was saying it’s so interesting, because a lot of it is about deliverables, there’s often a knee jerk kind of response to go back to business as usual. So she’s trying to look at, for example, having policy labs that actually embody a mission kind of methodology, rather than just like a project based methodology.

Manda: And tell us what that is. I don’t understand the difference.

Emily: So if you’re just going project by project, you might say, oh, well, we’ll just like set up this many policy labs or we’ll do like this many webinars, for example. And, you know, get people thinking maybe slightly differently, like tweaking what they’ve done before. But if you were thinking about it as a mission, you would really be looking way out into the future and then maybe working with reflexive data driven type policy instruments.

Manda: And this is within DML? Or is this with each individual city? Because cities are going to be limited by the political time frame of the people who run them. If they get elected every four years, they can’t think beyond four years.

Emily: Exactly. And like I think that’s one of the things that they’re really facing, which again, I don’t know that much detail about. But for example, these kind of policy and regulatory hurdles; bureaucratic processes are really hindering that. One example I heard one of the team talking about was in Galway, where they’re really struggling with some of the retrofitting work that’s going on in that city, because the policies that are there and the bureaucratic processes are just so complex that it’s leading to all these delays and increased costs, and people are losing their energy for it.

Manda: But you’ve just talked us through an example of a city, which I’m guessing might be one of the 112, where they’re bringing in private money and firms to invigorate exactly along these lines. I’m guessing, again, we go back to story. Because the conversations that you and I have are predicated on us understanding that we don’t have very long before we hit tipping points, beyond which business as usual is not an option. And yet, the people who are deeply involved in local and national governance seem to think, at some point they think in the next time frame of their political scale, but they’re also thinking 50 or 100 years ahead, where everything is skating along exactly as it is now. And there have been minor tweaks to the political trajectory depending on which way they want it to go. And it leaves me gobsmacked, actually, that they they don’t seem to get the urgency of this.

Emily: No, I think that’s true.

Manda: How do you do that? How do you bring that into the conversations without freaking people out, I guess?

Emily: I guess that’s maybe where the big opportunity is with this cities work, because it involves so many different stakeholders. So you might get the old guard who are really resistant, but then you’re going to have people perhaps from innovative, even tech companies, who are involved as well, because the whole point is it brings in all the different actors. So I think there’s huge potential in dark matter and we haven’t quite got it right yet. But we’re always evolving ourselves. We’ve got the cities mission and then we’ve got the work that Indy’s doing, or the work that our radical civics mission is doing, which I think you’ve read some of their stuff. And so we all met up in January and I don’t know if this is interesting, but we’ve started to formalise how we intersect in our different labs and missions, so that we’re kind of constantly asking those questions to ourselves. So the city team will come in and present or talk about maybe the orchestration that they’re doing. And then a lab like mine, so I look after the next economics lab, I can talk about that.

Emily: And I’ll be thinking, oh, okay, So how are the things that I’m working on in that lab intersecting with what the city’s team have just told me? And then, building on top of that, we might have studios which are like more special interest groups within Dark Matter Labs. And then they kind of intersect with both our missions and our labs, and they’ll be something like Civ tech or metrics. It’s really important actually, that I say this; I think what we’re trying to do is this compound learning in our own organisation, which then hopefully can ripple out. So I think, you know, what the cities team are doing actually is hugely important for us, because we are getting that live feedback. Right at the beginning of this podcast, I was talking about this grand aspiration of Life Enabling Economics, let’s call it LEE in future. And I was talking about these big questions that we’re asking, you know, what does this desirable future economy look like? But then I was talking about how important it is to go out and test it. If we didn’t have the Net Zero Cities team, I wouldn’t have access to really test some of the stuff that I might be doing, off on my slightly wild horizon three Bioregional distributed bank. So I think this push pull tension is really interesting and really important.

Manda: It’s really vital. I would like to suggest that we set up a fictional writing team within dark Matter, because I think a lot of these things, if we can get the stories out into the world. I could just imagine another hub where you guys feed in and we, there would need to be multiples of us, in real time turn these things into living stories that go out into the world. Because then, then people are not coming up against every time they switch on the television it’s business as usual. And yet their world, they’re trying to build something that’s new.

Emily: I would love to do that. Can we can we enlist you, please?

Manda: Yes, please! And please Georgia, if you’re listening to this, you are totally invited onto the podcast. I want to talk about this net zero cities in huge detail. But I also want to talk about the Bioregional bank, because that sounds like this is changing the nature of money.

Emily: That’s the hope.

Manda: And we have to change the nature of money and how we relate to it if we’re going to get forwards. In the same way we have to change the nature of our political system. And the two are so closely entwined. So please, Emily, tell us about the Bioregional Bank.

Emily: Well, I might have to come back to tell you about it because it’s still very early stages, but I’ll tell you the intention. And honestly, it’s probably the thing I’m most excited about at the minute. The most daunted, but also the most excited. It was interesting that you started off by saying we should put stories out, because that’s exactly what we’ve done. I can give you a link to it, but we’ve posted recently a series of blogs and essentially they are a future proposed speculative scenario of what a Bioregional bank could look like in the future. So in this blog series, we started off with the problems of money. One particular thing that I feel very strongly about is that it has this very dangerous intrinsic quality that it can self perpetuate itself endlessly. But the physical things that it can buy have diminishing utility the more you get of them. And it’s like, riddle me this. So part of the intention of these distributed bioregional banks is to try and set up responsible fundings. For example let’s say a whale’s life does not equate to a barrel of oil. And yet we have this kind of layer of money that lets us do that. It’s this abstract layer that allows this to happen. So one of the aspirations for this experiment at the moment, is how could we stop that happening? I’ll try and say what it is we’re proposing, and then maybe you can push back at me because I can already see your face and I understand…

Manda: No, no, no, I’m enthralled.

Emily: It’s quite tech crypto potentially enabled, and I understand so let’s let’s talk about it.

Manda: No, no this is good. I’m trying to think how we make this clear for the people listening. But go ahead and then I will summarise what I think you said and you can tell me if I’m wrong.

Emily: Okay. So what we want to do is within a bioregion, really visualising all the different value flows. So for example, if we’re thinking about a river, we can think about all of the different things that are coming from the river. So it might be fish health, but it also might be the joy of of teaching someone how to swim, or caring for the river by cleaning up rubbish or all of these different things. And then what we’re trying to do is think about how we can, first of all visualise and measure these different flows, and then how we could perhaps put on top of that a token that is not monetised. We’re calling it multivalent currencies. So we would have all these different tokens. One might represent let’s say soil integrity, or one might represent air quality, or another one might be actually social resilience. And all of these things would be linked to potentially tech sensors coming in. Again, a bit like with the cornerstones, it would also be people expressing their views. So we would have all of these different closed loop systems. It’s not you use this token and then you use it to buy this other token, what we want to do, and I’ll step you through how we think we can start this off; this is just the vision. On top of that, you would have a governance system which probably will again involve technology.

Emily: And I think that we want to look at kind of Bayesian statistical forecasting, so that you can continually feed back into this model and then it will start to look at how that might play out. So for example, you might get feedback from the the health of a forest and soil integrity, and then you would be able to predict what the carrying capacity might be of that lumber over a certain number of years. And then the bank might think, oh, well, in that case, I won’t issue any more debt, or however in this future we are using money, but I won’t issue any more for those activities, because it will exceed the carrying capacity of my base region. So we’re trying to stack these things on top of each other. That’s the aspiration. I’ll add one more bit to it, and then I’ll talk about what we’re going to do practically, because I have a feeling that people listening will be like, you’re what? It’s quite difficult to explain. We have sketched it out, if anyone wants to have a look. But then these regions should then be able to exchange with each other, because much as I’m all for local trade and people looking after their own, the way that we’ve connected all of our supply chains and everything we do actually need to be able to exchange I think, if we’re going to have a peaceful planet.

Manda: If we still want to drink coffee, we have to be able to trade with the people who grow coffee.

Emily: Yes, exactly, exactly. So, you know, how can we do that with contextually respectful exchange rates? Some kind of reserve currency that isn’t backed by military force, okay. So this is the grand aspiration, but I haven’t completely lost my sense of the fact that…

Manda: What America will do when you try to undermine their fiat currency? Yeah.

Emily: Well, there is that. Yeah. I’m not sure my husband was that pleased about that. When I first told him this story, he said ‘Oh, you’re going to go up against the greenback?’ And I was like, well, no, that’s not really the point.

Manda: It kind of is though.

Emily: I do realise that it might sound a little bit far fetched, although I actually am not sure that it is, because I think we probably already have the technologies to do these kind of things. It’s just how and when we put them together. I think from a more practical point of view, if it’s interesting I can tell you some sites, that we’re going to start this work and what it is we might actually do.

Manda: I want to know. We might have lost half the listeners, but I am completely enthralled. So keep going. It’s my podcast.

Emily: Okay. I’m sorry if it went a bit a bit far out.

Manda: It’s okay. We can bring it back.

Emily: So there’s two sites where we’re… And it’s supposed to be aspirational, let me just say that, we realise that. This is about feeling right into the edges and then seeing what we can try and build. It’s okay that it sounds a little bit out there. So we have a partnership with a site in Scotland and it’s the Findhorn Watershed initiative, and we’re just starting this. They are very committed to obviously restoring the biodiversity and everything of their watershed, but they’re also wanting to ensure that there’s a just transition, so that the way that this happens really benefits and flows back to that community. So as part of that, they’re creating a river charter. So this is where we’ve come in and said, oh, can we try some of the things that we want to build in this context, that will also help you do that. So the first thing that we’re going to do is create a relationships register. It’s a bit of a play on the Scottish Land Registry system, but we want to show all the relationships going on. So we might start off with like spatial data, but then put on top of that how community is interacting with the river, or like what the industries are doing and all of these different things.

Emily: So we’ll use that to create like a base map of all the different values that I was talking about in this bio region. So this is obviously a smaller area. We’ve got to start somewhere. And then on top of that we can really start to gather this data. And then on top of that we’ll try and create a couple, probably just like 1 or 2 of these token currencies. But it will probably be more of a cultural demonstrator. We’re aiming to do it so that people can start to think about how their relationship to the river is evolving. And they might not use this let’s call it a river coin. They might not use it to pay for anything. They might not even use it to exchange. It could just be a sign of peer respect at the start. I don’t think it needs to get that complicated that quickly. Some of it is just about people starting to feel into this. But then what we also want to do there is use this value mapping and then quantification to help them create business cases. A bit like what I was talking about in that city.

Emily: We can then put numbers on top of some of these value flows so that when they do get some investor coming in, which has happened quite a lot and good for them, they’ve kind of pushed back and said, well, we’re not sure we want it because we’re not sure that we know how to protect ourselves. So what we’re hoping to do, having gathered all this data and used these tokens as ways to visualise it, is to then put these numbers in place so that they have this model that they can then use and pick and choose from. These are kind of practical pockets, I would say, of things that we think we would like to test as part of our aspiration for this Bioregional bank. We’re not sure how it will all fit together. We’ll test it. Also in Sheffield we have a project with the River Don, so we might try and test some bits there. And then what I really want to do is find a university, if anyone’s listening, I want to find a university that’s really using this kind of Bayesian statistical forecasting that I don’t know much about, but I’ve done a bit of research and it is starting to be used in ecological forecasting. I want to partner with a university and actually understand what it can do. And then I might bring that in.

Emily: So I think there’s lots of little components that when you break them out a bit you’re like, oh yeah. And actually we had an incredible response to these blogs. We had a gentleman in Japan get in touch who said, I’m willing to prototype this for you in this Japanese community. So we’re going to speak to him on Friday. And it’s like, well, great. We’ll give you all the information that we’ve got and how interesting, because I have no idea about that context or the reactions. So this is kind of the goal. So we’ve put the blogs out as a like we’re thinking/working out loud and please let us know. And actually people have offered all sorts of support. People have sent me unpublished work, people have offered to connect us to the geospatial community. I think how it evolves is going to be really exciting, but I am definitely at the edge.

Manda: Utterly unpredictable. Yeah. Okay, let me reflect back to you what I think I’ve heard. And then I’ll start mining my stack of questions. So we exist in a system at the moment where I have recently heard money described as commodified pain or commodified grief, which it’s extractive and a dead whale is worth more than a live whale, or a forest cut down is worth more than a forest alive. Because our entire system is based on the schism between humanity and the web of life and we have ceased to value anything other than money. Except we haven’t, but we tell ourselves the story that money is the only value. In order to shift that you’re creating bioregional banks. And a bioregion is often predicated on the watershed of a river, because that’s a measurable thing and it’s also the way that life flows within the web of life within a region. I am watching now the replays of Joe Brewer’s big seven generation conference in Toronto, which was amazing, talking all about bioregions. If people are interested, I’ll put a link to that in the show notes too. I should have read your blogs, they sound Fascinating. So  a Bioregional bank will be linked to a specific biological region and you’re going to create tokens, which I guess are cryptocurrency tokens?

Emily: I imagine so

Manda: And they are not at the moment linked to a fiat currency. So it’s not that you get a river coin and it’s worth a pound. You just get a river coin. So a bit like the Hull coins we’re going to be talking about in a future podcast. So we’ve got a cryptocurrency which creates a unit of value, which we’re going to call a river coin, and people could choose to turn those into a form of currency. I’ll give you three river coins if you come and babysit for me for an hour, would be a perfectly valid thing for people to say. In the same way you could say I’ll give you three biscuits if you come and babysit for me for an hour. It’s outside the existing economy and it’ll be really interesting to see how it works. In the longer run, the bank will have the capacity to evaluate how it allocates its currency, which, if we get this right, notice we’re now in first person plural, because I think this is exceedingly exciting and I want to do it. We would end up with a worldwide reserve currency not predicated on violence, not predicated on extraction and commodification of pain and grief, but actually created and predicated on life and the thriving of life. And decisions would be made at a local level as to whether a particular project which required funding was to the greater benefit of the bioregion. And you’ll be using the highly complex but increasingly interesting to me concepts that you’ve got in the cornerstone project, to evaluate how we can tell whether it is of value to the system. One of the things that I’ve watched with Joe Brewer is he spends a lot of time just going out and talking to the rivers.

Manda: And I’m wondering within this, at the moment we have lots and lots of feedback loops of people. How are people feeling? You know, can you hit the thing in your local supermarket saying, did you have a good night’s sleep last night or not? How do we evaluate what the river feels, separate to what the people feel. Because in the end, that has to be part of the metric is the river is thriving in itself. And you said we had things like soil resilience, and I’m guessing we have fish stocks, and whether the local water company has recently dumped entire amounts of sewage into it or not would be quite intrinsic. And we still have to convince the moneymen who think it’s perfectly okay to flood sewage into the rivers, because otherwise they would be spending money doing something else, that they don’t want to spend, that there is value to them. Or we just shut off their funding. That’s also an option and one that I would be quite happy with. But that’s a governance issue. In your wildest dreams, if we take this and we have a global reserve currency, how does it work? How do you see this working at the moment? And I completely get we’re right on the edges of things. If I was living in a bioregion that only had funding from a bioregional bank, there was no other source of value, exchange, store and account. How does it work?

Emily: Okay, so I guess your first question was like, you know, we talk about asking humans how they feel and how can the river communicate that for itself. So how does the river become self-sovereign, I guess is the question. So the radical civics team are actually working on that in Sheffield. They are looking at how the River Don in Sheffield becomes Self-sovereign.

Manda: Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Emily: I know, it’s really amazing and it’s worth looking at some of this. They are very much grounded in reality, so they are starting with things like how can we have human guardians, let’s say, for the river to start with, who can communicate for the river. Because we don’t yet know how to do it. So they’re starting to do things like, having interviews with people, and they would ask them questions such as if you were a fish, would you like to live in this river? And why do you say that? Or if you were a bee, would you be interested to hang out around this river and why?

Manda: You need to talk to Ruth Catlow down in London at Finsbury Park. She does the LARPing, the live action role play where you spend a day, I think sometimes even a weekend, being a tree or a blade of grass or a stag beetle. And by the end of it, when you’re asked what you think and how you feel, it’s as authentic as I think we’re going to get as an expression of what it is to be that, so that we could bring that into the figuring maybe?

Emily: Exactly. So definitely there’s that side of it. And then you can combine it, because you can have sensors about the quality of the river, can’t you? You can actually look at what the fish health is and all of these different things. And then the human kind of guardians or stewards can feed that back up to the river token, to start with. But then over time, as the technologies improve, the river can start to mint its own money. And at that point, it’s the river that’s deciding what the value is. But then something that I find really important is that it can’t just all be tech. So I think when I was saying on top of this, there’s a kind of governance layer that I haven’t figured out yet. But within that, whether it’s this Bayesian forecasting or whatever, we definitely need to have human, I think anyway, interaction again. For example, perhaps one community might upregulate river health because they feel that it’s really important, so they would feed that back into this model. This is how I’m imagining it. So it won’t always get it right.

Manda: Upregulate means value it more highly than other things?

Emily: Yeah. If you imagine all these different closed loop systems are feeding into I call it the regen coin. So let’s say the top coin is the regenerative potential of that bioregion and that is calculated or it’s a factor of the health of all of the things coming up to it. But how those are then combined might be weighted differently, because in some bioregions the river might actually be more important to the integrity of the bioregion. Maybe trust in that community is already really high, so we don’t need to upregulate it.  So I think it’s really important that we do still have this kind of felt sense coming back in and it doesn’t become a technology focussed enterprise.

Manda: You just have iterative cycles that keep coming back to how do we feel about this?

Emily: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And that’s why I want to work with the universities on this, because that is what Bayesian forecasting does. It constantly updates itself, depending on the inputs coming in.

Manda: Yeah. And then presumably over time, we need to stop soon but this is just so interesting, because I sit in a lot of circles and you go around and you ask people how they feel and for a lot of people that’s a very challenging question. They have no idea how they feel and they don’t really want to to explore it, because how they feel is not good. In the end, they’ve come to sit in the circle and we can find ways of helping them to feel in to how they feel that are not going to tip them into crisis. But I’m imagining that once this is functioning, the kind of data points that you’re getting are from people who are increasingly comfortable with assessing how they’re feeling, and it matters more, instead of what they’re thinking. Because a lot of people, you ask them what they feel and they go, ‘well, I think that I’m a bit tired’. And you’re going, yeah, I didn’t ask you what you thought, how do you feel? I wouldn’t be as brutal as that usually. But after a while you get people who are going to be able to sit there and go.

Manda: I’m remembering actually, I had a particular morning in the cottage I used to live in, and I was sitting with my altar and I was doing my morning meditation, and I had a sudden feeling of absolute trauma from up the hill. And I went running up the hill, and the rabbits had stripped the lower six inches of all the trees in the apple orchard, and I was extremely unhappy. But I was in time to go out and get some bitumen and put it on and and repair the apples and all but one of them survived. And I’m not suggesting that I am in any way uniquely connected, but I had put a lot of time and effort into being connected to that land. And so given the time and the space and the privilege to do that, you get people who are able to say, you ask them, how do they feel? And they’re going to say, I feel that bend in the river someone just dumped something in it, and this isn’t good and we can go and clear it up. And so the level of feedback that you get changes in its depth and content, I would imagine, quite quickly. And just studying that would be the PhD that I would like to do please, thank you. When you get the academic systems going.

Emily: Right! I love that you just said that because I’ve sat here in my slightly more panicked moments thinking, what on earth am I doing? You know, is this just pointless? Whatever. But I think even if the whole thing is a bit of a flop

Manda: No, don’t say that. It won’t be.

Emily: I don’t think it will be. But even if it was, in the process of doing this, in the process of like actually mapping out these values and interviewing people about the rivers and all of these things that we’re going to do in these places, if by doing that have perhaps connected, when they’re making a transaction it starts to connect them to feeling what’s beneath it, then that’s already a win, right? So I suppose I just don’t want people to come away from this conversation, listening to it thinking that’s all a little bit tech focussed, because it’s not. That’s not what this is about.

Manda: It’s using technology for its best ends. It’s using it to do the things that it can do, to let us do the things that we can do, which is the feeling and the connecting.

Emily: Exactly. And also, I think the problem of money and the fact that we are so disconnected from what our transactions are doing and how it is eroding everything that matters, I think that these kind of interventions can really start to kind of break that. So that’s actually quite a big part of the aspiration.

Manda: Well, I never thought we’d get to here. And that was when I started with the fact that what you guys had written in those two documents was amongst the most exciting things I had ever read. I could literally talk to you all day. I’m sure you have other things that you need to be doing. I would like to invite you back again in about six months to see how we’re getting on, if you can bear it. And in the meantime, you and I need to be designing the fiction writers feed into this. Because can you imagine if every time you switched on and watched a soap, the soap was being set in a building bioregion instead of, you know, a dysfunctional business as usual whatever? It would change the nature of our reality overnight. And if we could get people understanding this and beginning to bring it out as the background music to the world that we live in, we begin to build new stories. So Emily it’s just so exciting. Have you got anything else? We do need to draw to a close because we’ve gone way over time. But is there anything that you wanted to say?  I’ll put the blogs, anything that you want to send me, we’ll put it in the show notes. And is there anything that people can do besides reading those? And if they have ideas, they get in touch with you? Anything else?

Emily: Yeah. So I think if people are willing to read the blogs, then we would just be really grateful for any insights and questions. And actually pushbacks and critiques is really important as well, because we’re definitely at the edge of our understanding as we embark on this. So we’re really interested to hear from people. So really, that’s my only ask.

Manda: Yay! Well, I hope if people have got through what’s going to be about an hour and a quarter of podcast, they definitely have time to go and read the blogs. Guys, if you can’t read them, just tell me and I will record them and you can listen to them as a podcast, because they’re really, really important. And this is the edge of inter-becoming. You guys are working right at the edge of where things are actually happening. And if we’re going to have change, it has to move into the real world. So thank you. Thank you for all you’re doing. Thank you for taking the time to come on to the podcast.

Emily: Oh thank you. It’s a pleasure. Thanks, Manda.

Manda: Well, there we go. That’s it for another week. Such huge thanks to Emily for the depth and the breadth of her thinking, and for the rest of the Dark Matter Labs teams, for taking it out into the world and making it happen. We will definitely have a podcast with the Zero Cities team and anybody else who wants to come and tell us about what the teams at DML are doing. In a world where our media so often tells us about the things that are going wrong, we don’t get to hear about the people who are working really hard, right at the edge of reality, making things happen under the radar without the eyes of predatory capitalism being turned their way. Which is probably just as well. But we need to know this. And Dark Matter Labs is there, having the ideas, holding them up to the light, offering them in open source so that we can all read them. And we can all offer opinions, additions, criticisms, anything that will help it to move forward, that comes with good heart. So please do read the papers. Read them in good faith. And if there’s any way that you can help, get in touch. Let’s make things happen. We’ll come back and talk to Emily I hope in about six months time, sometime in the autumn, probably September time, just to find out how things are going, because this edge of the world is moving really fast. And I think part of what keeps me, and I hope you moving forward, is the understanding that these things are actually happening.

Manda: And that there are tools that will let us bring them into our own communities of place, of purpose or of passion. So if there are ways of integrating these ideas in your community, then please get out there and do them. This is the year of turning points. There is no business as usual anymore. What matters is how fast, how deeply, how interconnectedly we can create the change in the world around us. So go for it.

Manda: And in the meantime, we’ll be back next week with another conversation. Huge thanks to Caro C for the music at the Head and foot. To Alan Lowles of Airtight Studios for the production. To Anne Thomas for the transcripts, and to Faith Tilleray for the website, for keeping the tech moving, and for all of the conversations that keep us moving forward. And as ever, enormous thanks to you for listening, for engaging, for having the ideas and for bringing them into being in your own world. I get so many emails from people who are making things happen, and it absolutely makes my heart sing and gives me hope that we will actually create a world where future generations will look back at us and think we might have made a lot of mistakes, but we did actually get it enough half right in the end. So if you know of anybody else who wants to be part of making that future happen, then please do send them this link. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.

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