By David Seibert
The word economy emerges from French and Latin and references “management of the house.” This type of inquiry helps us ask a critical question: How might we best form decisions and take action in the house in which we live? Not coincidentally, and vital to BRLI work, are its parallels with the term ecology, literally “logic of the house.” How exactly are the parts of our house arranged, how do they function, and what parts are at shared risk to the inhabitants?
In order to begin to answer such questions, BRLI works to explore and activate restoration ecologies at fundamental scales, even prior to consideration of the term’s monetary aspects. For the entirety of human history (and in the opinions of many researchers, the primary reason that humans still exist at all), an economy has functioned as a system of exchange, no matter the ideas or objects exchanged. And systems of exchange depend strongly upon relationships so that they may continue—patterns of expectation, responsibility (the ability to respond), and obligation. This is as true for systems in which people pay for services according to agreement, as it is for hummingbirds that somehow coordinate their northward migrations with sequences of blooming plants that they need for food, and that in turn “require” the birds’ pollination services in order to set seed and reproduce.
A brief example will help illustrate the human side of the potentials within systems of exchange and relationship, of restoration economies, that are deliberately treated and nurtured as such. A typical landscaper with tools and a vehicle might or might not be considered part of a restoration economy. Certainly there are clients, work done on the ground to facilitate the flow of water, reduce weeds, and improve safety for the client’s house, all within the “house” of the earth. This person might participate in a system of relationships with clients and other practitioners, all restoring function to the landscape and fulfilling the client’s desires. But what about the owner of the local gas station? This person might be considered far outside a restoration economy because he provides thus-far unsustainable fuel that pollutes ecosystems. Or, he might be considered part of such an economy because he provides fuel for the landscaper’s truck, enabling him to complete valuable work although it’s expensive and supplies are sporadic in this scenario.
By considering both deliberation of effort and intention within the system of exchanges and relationships, however, we can strengthen the concept and its effective application. What if the landscaper’s day looked something more like this: After a full day of building water-harvesting structures and planting native plants to support pollinators on a degraded landscape—work which has been designed as part of a complementary system of exchange and relation, one that incorporates the worker’s need for monetary income as part of the larger system—the truck owner deliberately and with full intention chooses to fill up his gas tank at the local, expensive gas station with an unpredictable supply. Why? Because it has been agreed that tending the larger system and its human, non-human, and even abiotic parts in tandem might just create greater resilience for the whole.
Perhaps, with this form of relationship in place, the station owner increases his supplies of fuel because he knows that the worker needs it and will buy it (due to the increased predictability within the system afforded by an active restoration project that requires trucks and people working), and the worker agrees to pay higher prices in order to avoid long drives to other places, but also to keep one of his community members intact as part of the larger system--but also because the restoration economy has provided a platform for people to rethink not only how they relate to places and how to make a living by caring for them, but how they relate to and depend upon one another for many kinds of support at the same time.
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