Climate Change 101- and why we’re not stopping it

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Climate Change 101

Climate change refers to a series of changes in our global climate that are currently occurring as a result of global warming due to the emissions of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4).

To put it simply, the Earth receives energy (radiation) from the sun- this is why we see light and feel heat in the daytime. Most of the energy that comes from the sun to the Earth comes in the form of visible light, which travels in short wavelengths. The Earth’s surfaces (like land and water) absorb some of this energy and then radiate back longer light waves. These longer light waves, called infrared, are not visible to the human eye but can be measured using special instruments.

Back in the 1800’s, scientists figured out that if the Earth was absorbing the sun’s energy and then shooting it all back out to space, the Earth should actually be much cooler than it is today, so there must be something trapping some of this radiation on the Earth’s surface. What they later figured out was that the atmosphere of the Earth, which is composed of a number of gasses (N2, O2, CO2, H2O, CH4 and others), acts like a blanket by trapping heat within some of those gasses. They learned that gases like CO2, H2O, CH4 and others absorb infrared radiation and then emit it in different directions. Some of this heat does go back out to space, but some of it comes back to Earth, thus, making the Earth much warmer than it would be without an atmosphere. This is called a “greenhouse effect,” a term coined in the late 19th century, which implies that the Earth’s atmosphere traps heat much like the glass of a greenhouse traps heat.

* Take note that most of the radiation that comes directly from the sun is not absorbed by greenhouse gases, it is either reflected by surfaces like ice, or absorbed by things like land, water and living creatures.

The thicker the glass of a greenhouse, the better it will be able to trap in heat and the hotter it will get inside the greenhouse. The same thing applies to the Earth’s atmosphere. The thicker the atmosphere (meaning more molecules of CO2, CH4, H2O, etc.), the better it will be able to trap heat and the hotter the Earth will get.

Scientists have known about this effect for over a century, but today’s technology has allowed the scientific community to come to a general consensus that climate change is, in fact, happening, it is caused by the emissions of greenhouse gasses like CO2 and it is very much something that we need to be concerned about.

Some people may say, “Oh but climate change is still just a theory!” What they probably don’t understand, however, is that in science, a theory is not by any means the same as a theory in your day-to-day language. For something to be considered a scientific theory, it first needs to go through an enormous amount of scientific experiments made by many experts in many different fields. A scientific theory is not just something that scientists happen to “believe in,” it needs to be tested, observed and evaluated over and over and over again before it is considered a theory.

In fact, there is a group of thousands of volunteer scientists from all over the world that are dedicated to studying climate change to provide an objective scientific understanding of this theory. This organization is called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and every scientist involved is an expert in their field and offers their time and knowledge for free.

What does the IPCC do, exactly? Well, for one, they write big reports. They gather information from thousands of scientific papers and many different fields in science to give us a thorough understanding of what is actually going on with the global climate of our planet. There have been five assessment reports written by the IPCC since 1988. Each assessment report takes years to produce, it has to reach an agreement among hundreds of scientists, it is rigorously picked apart and questioned by governments and other agencies, and only indisputable facts are published.

This is an IPCC quote from the 5th assessment report:

“Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of green-house gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.

The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.”1

You can read the full report here yourself.

So yes, climate change is, in fact, caused by humans. Primarily by industrial activities such as the burning of fossil fuels. “Fossil fuels” are basically just a bunch of dead plants and animals that have been cooked and compressed under the ground for millions of years, eventually turning into things like coal, gas or oil. Because this stuff was once alive, it contains stored energy (energy that it got from the sun a long long time ago) -that’s what makes it so great to burn! So when we burn this stuff, we release energy that’s been stored for millions of years. This dead stuff also contains a lot of CO2, so when we burn fossil fuels, we release CO2 that’s been trapped under the ground for millions of years. The more we burn, the more CO2 we emit, the thicker that greenhouse glass will get, and the hotter it will get inside our greenhouse (meaning, on Earth). CO2 accounts for about 80% of all greenhouse gases and the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere has increased by about 45% since the start of the Industrial Revolution (from about 280 parts per million (ppm) in 1750 to about 413 ppm today).

You can see on the chart above that we haven’t seen such high levels of CO2 in our atmosphere for over 800,000 years. That’s a long time. So clearly, there has been an extremely fast jump in the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere in the last 150 or so years.

What does history tell us about such rapid changes in CO2 levels?

Well you may know that life on Earth did flourish even when the global climate was much warmer and there were high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, such as during the Jurassic or Cretaceous period. However, it is important to understand that this flourishing life had millions of years to adapt to such warm climate. Abrupt changes in climate, on the other hand, have caused mass extinctions.

You see, Earth, in a way, is like an aquarium in the vast universe. Everywhere else that we know of is too cold or too hot for us to walk around comfortably (plus, there’s a bit of an issue with gravity, oxygen, pressure, intense radiation and much more). Think about fish in an aquarium. They live just fine in their atmosphere as long as the temperature and composition of their water is stable and they have enough to eat. If you very slowly increase or decrease the temperature of their water tank, the fish will probably survive, especially if they continue to reproduce and their offspring have enough time to adapt to these gradual changes. But if you pour a lot of very hot, very cold or acidic water into their tank in a very short amount of time, they will probably die. They will also die if you stop feeding them and they don’t find any other food to eat.

That’s basically how mass extinctions work. Some kind of event (whether an asteroid, volcano, plant and/or something else) triggers a change in the balance of our atmosphere and that quickly changes the composition of our Earth-aquarium. Life that isn’t able to adapt to these changes fast enough dies out. When one species goes extinct, this affects other species who depend on that extinct species for food, habitat or something else. So when a change in climate causes one species to go extinct, this can cause a domino affect that kills off many other species in the food web. 

The most catastrophic mass extinction the Earth has seen so far, the Permian-Triassic extinction, happened about 251 million years ago and wiped out about 95% of all living species. There are several theories about why this extinction occurred, but it was most likely triggered by great volcanic eruptions that filled the atmosphere with ash, debris and gasses such as an enormous amount of CO2. This would have initially caused global cooling as ash and debris blocked off sunlight from entering the atmosphere, and would have followed up with global warming as a result of the release of tons of CO2. There is evidence that the average global temperature increased by at least 5°C, triggering a snowball effect when rising ocean temperatures caused the released of methane from the seabed into the atmosphere, raising the temperature even more, causing anoxia, the acidification of the ocean and a runaway greenhouse effect.2,3,4,5 Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that absorbs heat more than 25 times better than carbon dioxide. 6

* Note that the Permian-Triassic extinction probably happened in the course of about 100,000 years (which is considered to be extremely fast on a geological timescale) and it’s possible that the runaway greenhouse affect that led to the extinction was triggered by only a 5°C global average temperature rise.

And guess what’s going on today?!

We’ve managed to imitate these gigantic volcanic eruptions by releasing 2.2 trillion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere (just for comparison, today’s volcanoes release 260 million tons annually), raising the average global temperature by about 1°C in less than a century, and consequently setting off some of those “snowballs” that took off during the Permian-Triassic extinction. There’s another name for this type of “snowball effect,” actually, it’s called a “positive feedback loop” and we’re already witnessing a number of these loops start to take affect today. I’ll briefly mention just 3 (there are countless more).

Positive Feedback Loops

1. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas, therefore, the more water molecules there are in the atmosphere, the better the atmosphere will be able to absorb heat; so adding more water to the atmosphere is kind of like adding more layers of glass to your greenhouse.

From basic physics, we know that when the temperature rises, more water evaporates. Since we’ve caused the global average temperature to rise, we’ve also caused more water molecules to evaporate from oceans, rivers, lakes, etc. into the Earth’s atmosphere. Since these extra water molecules are able to absorb more heat, they will make the atmosphere hotter; when the atmosphere gets hotter, more water will evaporate; the additional water vapor will hold even more heat and will make the atmosphere even hotter, causing more water to evaporate, causing the atmosphere to absorb more heat and get even hotter, causing more water to evaporate…. You get why it’s called a feedback loop?

Studies show that water vapor feedback has the potential to double the amount of warming caused by CO2.

2. You’ve probably heard about the ice caps melting, right? Well, this isn’t only a problem for polar bears, it’s pretty bad for us and most other living creatures as well. You see, ice reflects sunlight (the thing that heats up our planet), so the more ice there is on our planet, the more heat will be reflected back out to space, and the less will be absorbed by our oceans and atmosphere. But when ice melts, it leaves in its place either land or water, both of which absorb heat. So melted ice not only loses its capacity to reflect sunlight, but the land or water in its place will absorb heat instead. More heat absorbed by newly exposed land and water will lead to a hotter atmosphere, which will lead to more ice melt, which will lead to more exposed land and water that absorb more heat, leading to a hotter atmosphere, melting more ice, exposing more land and water that absorb more heat, leading to an even hotter atmosphere, melting more ice… You get it?

That’s why warming in the arctic is happening at least twice as fast as in the rest of the world, and why we’ve lost about 75% of arctic sea ice in the last 4 decades.7 At our current rate of emissions, summer sea ice in the Arctic is projected to essentially disappear in the next 20-25 years.8

3. Remember that thing I said about triggering a huge release of that super potent greenhouse gas, methane, during the Permian-Triassic extinction? 

Well guess how much methane is in the atmosphere now!?

– According to these people it’s about 5 gigatons (billion tons).

And guess how much methane is trapped in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf?!

– Probably somewhere between 500 and 5000 gigatons. That’s up to 1000 times the amount of methane that’s in the atmosphere!

And guess what will happen when temperatures rise in the arctic?

– That’s right, this methane will be released, and so will other enormous amounts of methane and CO2 trapped in the permafrost (permanently frozen ground) that covers about 25% of the northern hemisphere’s land area. This happens because when temperatures rise, permafrost thaws and the methane trapped in the permafrost gets released into the atmosphere. Once the methane is in the atmosphere, it will be able to trap heat much more efficiently than CO2, so it will have the capacity to make the atmosphere much hotter, much quicker. A hotter atmosphere will cause more permafrost to thaw, releasing more methane and causing a dangerous positive feedback loop.

This is just starting to happen, and because climate models are not yet sophisticated enough to include abrupt permafrost thaw, the potential release of methane is not included in our current predictions of climate change. 9

So what does all of this mean?

Are the seas going to boil up?! Are we all going to die from heat strokes?!

Well, not exactly. More likely, we’ll experience more frequent, fiercer and longer-lasting natural disasters such as hurricanes, snowstorms and floods (fed by an increase of water in the atmosphere), heat-waves, droughts and wildfires (when the average temperature is hotter, heat-waves will be even hotter, and droughts and wildfires will be stronger), and other not-pleasant weather-related phenomena. Such natural disasters will devastate natural habitats and infrastructure, and will force millions of people to migrate. Living creatures that aren’t able to migrate or adapt to the changes in their habitat fast enough will be wiped out; that includes many unique and threatened species of plants and animals. The extinction of one species can have a domino effect on other species, causing a dramatic impact on food chains and entire ecosystems.

Natural disasters and a general change in the climate of a particular area can also alter the area’s crop-growing capabilities. And what happens when lots of crops fail?Famine! Migration! And sometimes, war!

The number of climate-related disasters has already more than tripled since 1980 and will very likely continue to rise and intensify as the average global temperature rises.

Another phenomenon that we’re already experiencing, and will experience more and more of as the Earth warms, is sea level rise.

Sea level rises because when water gets hotter, it expands, and also because gigantic hunks of ice are melting from the land and going into the ocean. Sea level is currently rising at a rate of 3.4 millimeters per year, but since the rate of melting ice shelves and glaciers is accelerating, so is the rate of sea level rise. If this current pace continues, sea levels are projected to rise by 65 centimeters or more by 2100. 10

This will be destructive for many cities and coastal regions, causing habitat loss for many plants, fish, birds and other creatures such as humans. Sea level rise can cause flooding, destructive erosion, powerful storm surges, salt contamination of aquifers and agricultural soil, and more.11 Cities such as Venice, Miami, Shanghai, Mumbai and hundreds of others will be affected by sea level rise. Countries like Bangladesh (population 163 million) and Indonesia (population 271 million) are already affected.

If all the ice from glaciers and ice sheets melted, the sea level would rise by over 65 meters (216 feet)! This is what an ice free Earth would look like. Some scientists say that it would take over 5,000 years to melt all of our planet’s ice, but if we continue to indiscriminately burn all of the Earth’s fossil fuels, it very well could happen. This would wipe out London, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Baghdad, Buenos Aires, Bangkok, thousands of other cities, the entire state of Florida, and entire countries like Bangladesh, the Maldives and the Netherlands. 12

Speaking of the ocean, did you know that about 30% of the CO2 that we pump into the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean? And do you know what happens when the ocean absorbs a lot of CO2?

Due to a series of chemical reactions, ocean water gets more acidic (you know, like lemon juice). When the ocean gets more acidic, this affects marine life such as clams, oysters, crabs, coral reefs, many types of plankton and other “calcifiers” because it makes it difficult for them to form shells and stony skeletons. With enough CO2 in the ocean, the shells of these organisms can even dissolve. Since coral reefs provide habitat for a quarter of the world’s fish and plankton are the food of many small fish that are eaten by medium-sized fish, that are eaten by large fish, that are eaten by seals, sharks, humans and their cats, you can probably imagine that losing the foundation of this food chain and ecosystem would be quite disastrous. This will have a huge negative impact on entire ocean ecosystems as well as on the 2 billion people who eat seafood as their main source of protein,13 not to mention all of those people who depend on the seafood industry to make a “living.”

As of now, about 60% of the world’s coral reefs are heavily threatened. If we somehow manage to halt global warming at a 1.5°C rise, we will probably lose about 70-90% of coral reefs by 2100. If we manage to halt global warming at a 2°C rise, we will probably lose more than 99% of our reefs.14 Unfortunately, at the rate we’re burning fossil fuels now, it’s likely that the average global temperature will rise by 3.5°C or more by the end of the century.15

The great thing about the ocean is not only that it has absorbed a lot of excess CO2, but it has also absorbed about 90% of the extra heat that’s been trapped by human-generated greenhouse gasses. As a result, the world’s corals are also bleaching.

Half of the Great Barrier Reef is already dead. And unfortunately, phytoplankton are also very sensitive to heat. Phytoplankton are incredibly important not only because they are the base of the marine food chain, but also because they perform photosynthesis and absorb about as much CO2 from the atmosphere as the world’s forests, making the ocean a very important carbon sink.16 So the more phytoplankton we lose, the more CO2 will remain in the atmosphere, the hotter it will get, and the more phytoplankton we will lose, the more CO2 will remain in the atmosphere, the hotter it will get, and the more phytoplankton we will lose … Sound like a positive feedback or what?

I’ll mention just one more potential climate change disaster, and then we can move on to today’s “solutions” and why they don’t work :).

Ever hear of the great conveyor belt of the ocean? (Technically termed the thermohaline circulation). It’s basically a giant circuit of currents that loops around our planet’s oceans, bringing warm water to the colder parts of our planet and cold, nutrient-rich water to the warmer parts. This on-going oceanic circulation is very important because it regulates our planet’s weather. This is actually the reason that it is so warm on the west coast of Europe even though Europe is located at the same latitude as the northern US and Canada- because the Gulf Stream (one part of the conveyor belt) brings warm water from the gulf of Mexico, across the Atlantic and towards Europe. Without this conveyor belt, weather would be much different in western Europe and many other parts of the world.

Another thing that would be different without this conveyor belt is life in the ocean. These great ocean currents are critical to marine life because they circulate oxygen around the oceans and bring essential nutrients from the depths of the oceans to the surface. This happens because cold water absorbs nutrients better than warm water and because there are a lot of nutrients (from dead, sunken organisms) at the bottom of the ocean. So it’s important that cold water currents bring these nutrients to the surface because living creatures like plankton depend on them. Without these nutrients, plankton and many other microorganisms wouldn’t be able to survive in the great quantities that they live in today. …And we already know what happens when a lot of plankton die, so let’s not go back there again.

Now that we know how important the thermohaline circulation is, lets go over how it functions. Basically, it works like this: wind currents drive surface water from the equator towards the poles. Once this warm water reaches higher latitudes, it cools down. At the poles, some of the water freezes and leaves behind salt (making non-frozen water saltier than before). Colder and saltier water is more dense than warmer, less-salty water, so it sinks- this drives the movement of deep water ocean currents. Once this water reaches lower latitudes, it gains heat and moves up towards the surface of the oceans, bringing nutrients with it. So in short, deep-water ocean currents are driven by differences in temperature and salinity. Without enough cold, salty water, the global ocean conveyor belt would shut down. If the conveyor belt shut down, it would cause a mass extinction in the ocean and crazy, unpredictable weather above the ocean.

Right now, scientists aren’t exactly sure whether human-driven climate change will cause the thermohaline circulation to shut down, but what they do know is that the Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the world average, sea ice and the polar ice sheets are melting at an alarming rate (adding light fresh water to dense, salty water), and that the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (one part of the conveyor belt) has slowed down by about 15% since the mid 1900’s.

In general, there are a lot of uncertainties about how fast (or whether) some of these apocalyptic events might unfold, but what scientists are quite sure of is that the more greenhouse gasses we pump into the atmosphere, the faster these scenarios will approach us, and the worse they will get.

Today’s “Solutions”

Now let’s take a look at what humans are trying to do to solve this global climate change problem:

In 1992, some of our planet’s tribes signed an international treaty called the The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (informally known as the Rio Earth Summit), which was an agreement with suggested limits of greenhouse gas emissions for each “country” that signed the treaty. The agreement was non-binding (not enforced by law) and did not include penalties. The objective was to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system.” (source) Today, there are 197 tribes involved in this agreement, and each year, they get together for international climate change conferences to assess the world’s “progress.”

In 1997, some tribes signed another treaty called the Kyoto Protocol. This treaty was linked to the UNFCCC but this time the agreement was legally binding (with penalties) and established obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions between the years of 2008-2012. One part of the agreement included an emissions trading scheme. There were no binding targets or penalties for developing countries such as China and India, and the US chose not to participate in this agreement. Together, those three tribes make up for more than half of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Canada later withdrew from the agreement because restricting oil production posed a financial threat to their economy. Although a few countries did manage to reduce their emissions, many simply paid their penalty fines and continued “business as usual.” Globally, greenhouse gas emissions increased by 35% from 1990 to 2010. The agreement was extended until 2020.

In 2010, the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference created an agreement stating that we, humans, should limit global warming to less than 2°C relative to preindustrial levels. They chose that number because the IPCC warned that if the global average temperature rose beyond 2°C, this will likely lead to “severe, wide-spread and irreversible impacts.” That is, it will likely trigger changes in our global climate that are beyond our control. The IPCC’s updated 2018 special report, “Global Warming of 1.5°C” made it clear, however, that it would be much wiser for the human species to keep global warming below a 1.5°C rise, as opposed to 2°. That report describes that even a 2°C rise can lead to disastrous consequences such as the extinction of over 99% of coral reefs, the triggering of an irreversible loss of the Greenland ice sheet and/or the collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet, and much more.

In 2016, our planet’s tribal leaders met in Paris to sign the most recent climate change “agreement.” This one was called the “Paris Agreement.” This is another non-binding agreement where each tribe that wants to participate can set their own goals and submit their own plan for how to lower emissions. This is basically a voluntary “pledge” and there are no penalties or enforcement mechanisms involved. The agreement urges humanity to keep the average global temperature from rising beyond 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.

According to the IPCC, such a goal is still achievable, but in order for us to avoid a rise above 1.5°C, humanity has to decrease carbon emissions by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.17 From a technical perspective, we have the means to do this- we’ve already developed renewable energy, we know how to plant forests and we’ve developed negative emissions technologies. If we treated climate change as a global emergency, we could certainly solve this problem.

But what are the world’s tribes doing today?

Instead of planting forests, switching to renewable energy and heavily investing into negative emissions technologies, humans are instead cutting down forests at the rate of one football field per second and are planning to produce 120% more fossil fuels by 2030.

“All major fossil fuel-producing nations—including the United States, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, Canada, and Australia—have ambitious plans to increase production.” (source)

Chinese companies plan to build more than 700 new coal plants around the world. The US plans to become the world’s largest oil producer by 2023 (source). Countries like Norway, Denmark, Canada, Russia, the US and France are fighting over the Arctic because the melting ice gives them new opportunities to find new oil and gas reserves and create new shipping and cruise ship routes in places that were previously frozen (source: 1, 2).

Meanwhile, the last decade (2010-2019) was the hottest on record and we’re on track to hit the 1.5°C mark somewhere between 2030 and 2052 (source). If “business as usual” continues, it’s likely that we will hit the 2°C mark well before 2100 and by the end of the century, we’ll be somewhere between 3.7 and 4.8°C above preindustrial levels (or up to 7.8°C if you include climate uncertainty).18

Millions of “young people” and “environmental activists” are screaming at their governments to do something about climate change, but somehow, “business as usual” overpowers their wishes.

It seems to have become “trendy” to protest for climate change and to “go green,” but somehow, every year, greenhouse gas emissions are higher than the year before, and the global average temperature continues to rise.

And it seems to me, that somehow, nobody seems to be asking the most important questions:

Why?

Why does this problem exist?!

Why are humans changing the Earth’s climate?

And why wont they stop?

You see, I don’t think we can solve such a big global problem unless we understand why it occurs in the first place. So let’s think about these questions.

Better yet, let’s try to access this situation from an outsider’s point of view. Let’s pretend, for a moment, that an alien from a distant planet came over to Earth and observed the current situation.

Just for fun, let’s pretend that an alien could have a conversation with a human. It might go something like this:

Alien: “Hey, humans! I see you’re heading into some trouble! What’s causing this climate change problem? Is it your sun? Is it another alien? Is it the trees? Or some weird disease?!”

Human: “No, no, it’s not the sun, aliens, trees or a disease. Actually, it’s us, humans, that are causing climate change”

Alien: “Well that’s silly! What’s causing you humans to do this?”

Human: “We started burning fossil fuels a couple of hundred years ago, when we realized that it helped improve our lives. Fossil fuels provided us with energy, powered all kinds of machines, allowed us to make really cool gadgets, cars, even airplanes!”

Alien: “So you humans haven’t figured out any other way to provide energy for your civilization?”

Human: “No, actually, we’ve created many alternative energy sources: solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, wave, and more… But it’s complicated, you see, throughout all of these years we’ve created an entire economy based on fossil fuels and that makes it really hard to switch to the renewable energy sources.”

Alien: “What’s an economy?”

Human: “Well, you know, it’s how we humans have organized ourselves on this planet. We have 7.8 billion people on Earth and they all need food, water, shelter, healthcare, clothes and a number of other things like phones and cars. Some people grow food and then trade it for money. Then they take this money and trade it for something else like clothes or electronics. Someone else sells oil, sews clothes, fabricates cars, does computer work or whatever else, and in return, they get money (that’s called “work” or a “job”), then they trade this money for other things like food, housing, cars, petrol, etc.”

Alien: “So your entire “economy” is based on trades?”

Human: “Yes, basically, you can’t really live inside of a house unless you trade money for living there. You can’t ride a bus or own a car unless you trade money for it. You can’t even eat unless you trade for the food. That’s how the economy works.”

Alien: “Why do you guys do this? Is there not enough food, homes, transportation, clothes or the other stuff that you need?”

Human: “Oh no, actually, we have more than enough of almost everything. We throw away 25-30% of the food that we produce, we have more empty houses than homeless people, we have an abundance of clothes, gadgets, cars, almost everything! But we don’t have access to this stuff unless we trade for it. And unfortunately, a few wealthy companies and people own and control most of the stuff that gets traded, and the rest barely have enough. Those guys have a lot of power, and some of them control the fossil fuel industries. They don’t want the world to switch to renewable energy because they want to continue to sell fossil fuels so that they can continue to get more and more money. Unfortunately, governments are also a part of this mess because they also want to have more money, and the more money the fossil fuel industries in their country make, the more money they will be able to have, and the better that country’s economy will be. ”

Alien: “Sorry if I missed this question, but what is money, exactly?”

Human: “It’s just some paper that we use to represent how much the stuff we trade is worth”

Alien: “That sounds quite stupid to be honest. You have enough resources for your entire population to live well, but you trade with each other for these resources and because of that you allow only a few humans to control them?

Human: “Yes, basically…”

Alien: “You have developed the technology to stop climate change, but those that control most of the resources don’t want to switch to it because they’ll lose this thing called “money”?”

Human: “Yeah…”

Alien: “Well, it sounds like you need to organize yourselves in a smarter way. I mean, it sounds like the point of your “economy” is just to make more and more “money,” not to solve problems. Actually, that seems to be getting in the way of you being able to solve problems. If you people care more about making “money” than you do about climate change, then how could you ever expect to solve climate change?

Human: “I don’t know.”

Alien: “Maybe you should figure out a way to make “money” irrelevant. If you already have an abundance of resources, then you don’t need to trade them. If you don’t trade anything, then you won’t need to use “money” or organize yourselves through this kind of “economy.” If you don’t organize yourselves through this kind of trade-based “economy,” then those “powerful” humans will be made irrelevant, and maybe then, you’ll be able to make decisions based on science, instead of making decisions based on who makes more and more “money.””

Human: “Well, that’s a pretty bold statement, Alien. How could we possibly do that?”

Alien: “The only advice I can give to you right now is to stop trading with each other. If you have an abundance of resources, then you don’t need to trade them.”

Human: “But how can we just “stop trading?!””

Alien: “I don’t know. I’m not your God, I’m just an alien. Try making trade-free stuff and tell the rest of your fellow humans to do the same.”

Human: “What do you mean make trade-free stuff?”

Alien: “You humans need to have access to the resources on your planet. Right now, the only way you can get access to resources is by trading money (or something else) for them. – That’s what needs to change: the need to trade.

So if you at least tell the other humans that “the need to trade” is a problem, then maybe some humans will try to fix this problem. Maybe some humans will make trade-free food, trade-free housing, healthcare, information, transportation, books, videos, gadgets, computer software, whatever else you need. If you do this on a massive scale, you would change the structure of your society.

Or maybe some humans would try to fix this problem some other way that I haven’t even thought of. What I am quite sure of though, is that you humans won’t fix your problems if you don’t understand them in the first place- and that’s where you seem to be at now.”

Human: “OK, alien. So what’s the first step then?”

Alien: “The first step is to understand the problem

My Bottom Line:

You cannot treat climate change as if it is a problem that’s separate from the structure of our society, because climate change is just a byproduct of our unsustainable system. 

When our system is based on profiting from an infinite amount of resources, yet we live on a planet of finite resources, it is inevitable that we will create waste, pollution, destruction, inequality, and a ton of other problems like climate change. If people are incentivized (with billions of dollars) to extract and burn fossil fuels, they will do that regardless of the cost that future generations will face.

Out of all of my years of traveling and learning about the world and its problems, I’ve only ran into a few groups that regard problems such as climate change from a truly global and holistic point of view.

These groups include: the Venus Project, the Zeitgeist Movement and TROM.

The Venus Project (TVP), created by Jacque Fresco, depicts an idea, or a vision for a world without the use of money, barter or servitude of any kind (so basically, without the need to trade). However, as I explained in this blog, this vision should be taken as inspiration, and as an idea to learn from, not as something that we can simply “implement” in the next few years.

TROM is a project that decided to take a different approach: rather than creating a vision for a new world, TROM aims to analyze the current system, understand the problem of the structure of our society, and take small steps to try to tackle it. As I explained in the dialogue above, we narrowed this problem down to “the need to trade” and explain this idea in detail through books, videos, podcasts and more.

If you’d like to learn more about this direction you can read the following e-books and visit TROMsite.com.

Why I Left the Venus Project

book, Uncategorized

Personal Story

When I was a kid, my father took my brother and me to places like Tunisia, Morocco and Mexico, where we saw other kids living on the streets and begging for money, or begging us tourists to buy bananas or souvenirs. I noticed homeless people everywhere, from Moscow to New York, to almost any place we visited and I couldn’t help but wonder, how can people just be ok with other people living on the streets like this? How can our society be so careless? Does it really have to be like this?

As I got older and traveled more, I saw more waste, more destruction, more people living in worse conditions, and I never wanted to just accept or ignore this, but I had no idea what I could do about it.

In 2010, I (accidentally) got into a course called “International and Global Studies” at the University of Sydney in Australia. This degree spanned across many different faculties in order to give us an understanding of the global and international world that we live in. I studied everything from the global economy, to global environmental issues, global politics, international conflicts, international business, laws and agreements, international cultural dilemmas, indigenous land rights, environmental disasters, deforestation, climate change, sustainability, sustainable development and more.

Basically, I learned more about how fucked up the world was, but this time from an institutional point of view. I learned a lot about how different people and organizations were trying to solve big global problems today, and how none of it was working.

I learned that more than half of the population is being exploited; enslaved, basically, to work in horrible conditions in clothing factories, mines and wherever else. I learned that our planet is being exploited. I learned that we have no global control over anything, no global limits to deforestation, no global limits to fishing the oceans, we have all the technology we need to solve climate change, but not the international or global cooperation that’s needed to put this technology in place. The best we have today are some international agreements, which are almost completely useless.

Some of my courses promoted the need to develop third world countries. I never quite understood this.  I mean, I don’t want people to suffer, I don’t want human beings or anything on our planet to be exploited. But how is developing these areas through capitalism going to help? Ok you give these people some business opportunities and perhaps their business will thrive and they will do better, but businesses require resources, so the more successful businesses there are, the more resources we will need. There’s no global control over the resources we use, so this will inevitably lead to more and more exploitation of the land and therefore, more problems. That means no sustainability. Real sustainability has to be global.

I quit university several times to travel around the world and try to make sense of what I had learned. One day, I flew to Morocco and reconnected with an old friend who introduced me to the Venus Project (TVP). He showed me the documentary, “Paradise or Oblivion.”

The first part of the documentary was like a trailer to what I learned in the degree I was studying- it outlined some of today’s global problems and showed that our current methods of solving these problems weren’t working. It also made it clear that the entire structure of our global society was not sustainable and it needed to change, which I completely agreed with. The second part of the documentary showcased an alternative holistic solution for these problems: a global resource-based economy (RBE). That is an economy that’s not based on money or trade, but on the carrying capacity of the Earth’s resources.

After we finished watching the documentary, I turned to my friend and said, “that is really nice :), but you know this will never happen.”

He replied with something like, “but Sasha, if someone like you says that it will never happen, then it definitely won’t.”

I grinned. I continued to be skeptical but decided to keep an open mind and look further into Jacque Fresco’s work and ideas. I spent the next few months watching every Fresco lecture I could find. I was intrigued by this little old man, he was so funny and charismatic, I loved his criticism of our culture and society, I loved his ideas and I agreed with almost everything he said.

I still didn’t necessarily believe that a resource-based economy was achievable, but after I read Fresco’s book, “The Best that Money Can’t Buy,” I decided that it was necessary.

So basically, it went something like this (except in a longer time frame :)):

I decided that whether an RBE is achievable or not, we need to do something -anything- to at least try to make it happen. If we don’t, we’ll very likely bring ourselves and most other living creatures to extinction in the not-so-far-away future.

I decided to go back to Sydney University and finish that damn International and Global Studies degree. I graduated in 2014 with even more confidence that we really do need a global resource-based economy. I also had more confidence that there was absolutely no point of “joining the system” and wasting my precious time on Earth trying to create some kind of career for money, or trying to fix these big problems from within the system (like through business or politics).

I was exhausted from this degree and I didn’t really know what to do or where to go so I ended up traveling for the next couple of years and just having fun. I spent time in Indonesia, Australia, Sri Lanka, Hawaii, California, the Caribbean, Russia and Europe (mostly just being a dirtbag, living on $10-15/day and doing extreme sports). After those two years of just having fun, I started to feel a little guilty :). I couldn’t forget about those kids begging on the streets, the entire disaster I learned about in university and all the problems that I saw around the world. I also couldn’t forget about Jacque and his ideas.

He put so much effort into designing a better future for us, and here I was, doing absolutely nothing useful…

I felt like I needed to make a change in my life and do something more important than just traveling around the world for fun. I couldn’t think of anything more important than the Venus Project, so I bought a flight to Florida to visit the TVP research center and meet Jacque Fresco in person.

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Meeting Fresco

It was 2016 when I met Jacque, so he was already 100-years-old. He was frail, skinny, and even smaller than me. He couldn’t walk on his own, his hearing and vision were very poor, and he could barely hold a stable conversation, yet he was still participating in these weekly seminars and still talking shit about humanity :).

It was sad to see him in this condition. It was also sad to see that only two other people came to this tour. Jacque had such great, big ideas… but nobody seems to care, I guess.

The research center seemed kind of old. The building designs were dome-shaped and looked interesting, but nothing else about the place seemed unique or modern. The buildings were cooled by these big old loud window air conditioners, it didn’t look like anything was automated and it just didn’t feel like all that much was going on there.

That made me a little sad, but not hopeless- that just means that we have A LOT of work to do! I’m ready! :D

I figured it was hard for Roxanne and everybody else to take care of Jacque at that age, and that was their priority, which makes sense.

I couldn’t have much of a conversation with Jacque, but I did get to speak to Roxanne and a guy named Saso about volunteering. I told them a little bit about my background and they said that they were actually looking for a bilingual Russian-English volunteer. They told me that the Russian-speaking team was the biggest TVP team in the world (20-30 active volunteers and over 200,000 supporters), but they had some communication issues with the rest of the teams and needed a good “link.”

That got me excited! I could be the missing link! :D I immediately volunteered to help and gave them my contact information. Saso said that they would get me into the next “orientation process” (OP) to become a Point of Contact (PoC) for TVP, but that this would take a few months.

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Volunteering for TVP

Nine months later I got an email from Saso, saying that they were ready to start the next OP and that if I wanted to be a volunteer Point of Contact, I had to take this quiz, have an interview (or “video chat”) with a ‘TVP Support’ admin and then I’d be able to start this 5-month long “OP,” which meant watching some TVP material, taking notes and then discussing this once a week with an admin and other potential volunteers. After I finished all of that (and signed a document with a bunch of rules), I would be an official “PoC” for the Venus Project.

I was a bit surprised to find out that there was such a long process just to volunteer, but I was very excited to get involved so it didn’t bother me.

The quiz was extremely easy, sometimes in a comical way, and the video chat went well. Then as soon as I started this “OP,” I was also added to the main admin chat of the Russian-speaking team. And what happened next, I did not expect at all.

It turned out that there were big BIG problems (not just communication problems) between the teams, and I was thrown right into the middle of a huge mess. I was introduced to problems upon problems upon problems. All internal issues, having to do with bureaucracy, laws, rules, trust and so on. The issues were so problematic that I actually flew to Florida a second time to meet Roxanne and talk about these problems with her in person. That didn’t end up solving anything, so then I wrote and translated a 22-page document to better explain what the Russian-speaking team wanted to communicate. But that still didn’t do much. Then I got into a series of long conversations with Roxanne and other TVP admins about all kinds of problems.

This is one example of one of the problems I tried to deal with:

As a result of a legal issue, Roxanne asked for all of the teams to change the name of their social media pages from “The Venus Project” to “TVP Support.” This might not seem like a big deal to an English speaker who knows that “TVP” stands for “The Venus Project,” but this is extremely confusing to a non-English speaker or anyone that has no idea what “TVP Support” means.

Just imagine this: a Russian speaker hears her friend talk about the Venus Project and wants to learn more about it, so she searches for “The Venus Project” in social media. If our team is not called “The Venus Project,” she will not be able to find the team’s social media page. If she sees a page called “TVP Support” she will probably ignore it because those letters mean nothing to her.

Just imagine if the English-speaking Venus Project page was called “Поддержка ПВ” -would you click on it if you were looking for information about the Venus Project? ..Probably not.

Even worse, there are “fake” groups in Russia who are working under the Venus Project’s name to make money or get attention. They say that they are the Venus Project (but don’t know anything about Jacque Fresco or TVP), they collect donations from people, and are even building “eco-villages” on the outskirts of Moscow, getting people to work for them for free- claiming that they are the Venus Project, and confusing the general public. The Russian-speaking team used to be able to block these scammers, and blocked 357 scammer groups back when they had “official status” but, about 3 years ago, one of Roxanne’s “close people” took away the team’s “officiality.” This apparently happened because of some rule violation, but as far as I could tell, it was because of a personal conflict, and as a result, the team is unable to block scammers. So now these scammer groups are on the rise, getting bigger and stronger. This is one of them, for example -this video has over 50,000 views. So, if the group changed their name from “The Venus Project” to “TVP-Support,” people would search for “The Venus Project” and instead of finding our “official” team, they would only find these scammer groups. Imagine how that would ruin the reputation of TVP.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, if you’re really interested in reading about these problems, you can read more here.

At the time that I was involved in this mess, I thought that solving these problems was the most important thing in the world, but in hindsight, I can see that it was really just a huge waste of time. I basically spent almost every minute of every day writing and translating messages, contacting different people from TVP and digging into as much information about the organization as possible (*note- I was not focusing on learning about or promoting Jacque Fresco’s work or ideas). I wrote and translated over 100 pages of texts and documents to try to fix these internal issues. I tried so hard to be this “missing link” but nothing worked and nothing changed, and eventually I realized that it wasn’t actually a link that they were missing.

I realized that the people running the main (English speaking) organization of TVP were very incompetent and were contradicting what Jacque used to talk about. They were just “normal” people with “normal” lives and “normal” values, emotions and ways of communicating. I realized that the whole organization was a strict hierarchy, with Roxanne at the top, and barely anything could be done without her permission. I realized that TVP was stagnating because of all of this. Jacque used to tell people to always question everything and everyone, to take in new information and keep yourself updated, to let experts in their field make decisions, to arrive at decisions through research, and so on, but it seemed to me that no one dared to question Roxanne or any idea behind TVP, and that Roxanne’s word was the final word, whether she was an expert on the subject or not, and other people’s advice and opinions weren’t really considered.

Then I found stories and resignation letters from other ex-TVP volunteers, which were all similar to my experience:

Lucy

Tio

Steven

Auravana

Ritta

Roberto

Response

 

So eventually I just stopped trying.

I finished the OP and became an “official” “Point of Contact” at the end of 2017. I stayed in the PoC chat because I still valued Fresco’s work, but I gave up on trying to fix these ongoing problems between TVP and the Russian-speaking team. The Russian-speaking team made some changes that Roxanne asked for but they were also fed up with TVP’s inability to communicate and collaborate with them, so they also took a step back from these endless discussions. I felt like the Russian-speaking team was much better at communicating and collaborating among themselves and with others, they functioned more how I would have expected the main TVP organization to function, except that they were restricted by the dozens of rules that TVP imposed on them. I stayed in their chat as well but didn’t participate much.

At the end of 2017, I decided to start my own blog and I also found out about the TROM project, which I was extremely impressed by. It was similar to TVP but much more detailed, with a 13-hour long documentary, dozens of free e-books and a bunch of other great tools. Then I realized that the person who made TROM had also worked with TVP and went through a similar experience to mine, but even more intense. I contacted this guy, showed him my new blog, and offered to help with TROM.

I spent the next year and a half learning more and more about TVP and TROM, writing blogs and hosting meet-ups on the TROM documentary and some Fresco lectures, both online and offline in Siberia. I called my TROM and TVP- based English Club “Better than your Average Conversation in Irkutsk” :D because it was :).

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The Plan

I didn’t give up on the idea of an RBE after learning about how TVP was run, but I did understand that it was extremely unlikely that this organization would be able to do anything to substantially impact society. Aside from having a rigid hierarchical structure centered on Roxanne (who I do not see as a competent leader) and being unable to communicate and collaborate, they also have a poorly detailed and, in my opinion, unrealistic plan for working towards a resource-based economy.

This is the plan: https://www.thevenusproject.com/faq/what-is-the-plan/

Here it is summarized by me (Sept, 2019):

Phase 1: raise awareness through things like books, documentaries, videos and the TVP research center in Florida.

Phase 2: raise more awareness through a major motion picture.

Phase 3: build an experimental research city.

Phase 4: build a theme park to raise more awareness.

*As far as I understand, another big part of TVP’s plan is to build a new “Center for Resource Management” and eventually build more and more technologically advanced and mostly self-sustainable experimental cities. You can find more information about that here.

So most of the plan has to do with raising awareness and educating people about Fresco’s work and the idea of an RBE. I agree that this is important and that’s probably the reason that I didn’t officially leave TVP until just last month.

The other part of the plan is a bit more complicated.

-Let’s say that we raised enough awareness for most people to understand the need for an RBE- now what? How do we make it happen? Tell me more about the plan!!

I assume that TVP battled with this question a lot and this is what they came up with (again, this is still just my summary, if you’re curious about this, look it up for yourself):

    • Build efficient, automatic, self-sustainable cities where people are well educated about their environment and Fresco’s work, and they do not have to work meaningless jobs (because most of those jobs will be automated).
    • If this city is successful, another one can be built. Then another, then another, then another and so on. If the environment is what influences values and behavior, then such an environment (these cities) should “breed” saner people. If there are enough of these cities and enough well-behaved people that come from this environment, then perhaps the world can eventually become a saner place, and perhaps eventually the cities can connect to form a global resource-based economy. As far as technology and physical resources are concerned, we do have what it takes to rebuild the surface of the Earth with efficient and sustainable cities.

This all sounds very nice and the more you listen to Fresco, the more you may be convinced that (maybe) this really can work.

But let’s not forget to ask questions!!!

Here are some important questions that come to my mind:

*The answers are the conclusions that I personally arrived at after having studied TVP, after being involved with them, and talking to PoCs and other volunteers. Again, if you’re really interested in this, go find out for yourself :)

 

1. How will TVP build such technologically advanced cities? Where will they get the funds or resources?

-Right now, the plan is to start small and not to build an entire city, but a ‘Center for Resource Management’ the size of a university campus. TVP estimates that they will need 18 million USD for this project and the plan is to raise 3 million USD in donations by the second half of 2019 and another 15 million by 2022 (source).

-8 years ago, 200,000 USD was raised to write a movie script (thevenusproject.com), but this movie still has not been made (I think even the script still hasn’t been completed). I understand that there were difficulties with this movie script, but there will certainly be more difficulties with a ‘Center for Resource Management,’ and of course with an entire city and future network of cities. If TVP hasn’t been able to produce a movie script in so many years with $200,000 of donations, then I just cannot be confident that TVP will be able to build such an expensive ‘Center for Resource Management,’ let alone an entire city and a network of cities that are supposed to change the entire world.

I’m not saying that this is 100% impossible, but in order for people to take this project seriously, TVP needs much much more detailed information available to the public about the entire project. I don’t see any transparency on the website- how much money has been raised so far, what, exactly, has been done with this money, etc., the best I can see are some very vague graphs (source).

I learned a lot about TVP’s incompetence when I tried to communicate, collaborate and fix problems between the Russian-speaking team and the main organization. Sure, we were dealing with some complicated issues, however, building an $18 million center (and an entire city!) will inevitably be more complicated than running some social media pages, so there will certainly be more (bigger) problems ahead. If TVP already can’t handle problems, I can foresee this entire ‘building something’ as a disaster and a huge waste of time and resources. Again, if TVP had detailed transparent information about this project, then maybe I could change my mind (maybe).

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2. Let’s forget about TVP’s incompetence for a moment and pretend like they really are capable of raising millions of dollars and building something. The next question that comes to my mind is:

Is it really worth it? In other words, is this plan likely to actually bring about the change we want to see in this world? More specifically, how will you ensure that the people living in these “experimental cities” are any different from “normal people” with “normal values” and shitty behavior?

– My main concern here is the influence of our global culture and society on the people living in TVP’s cities. Human behavior is extremely complex, and almost anything can influence the way you think and behave. If the people living in these experimental cities are not completely cut off from the outside world, they will inevitably be influenced by it. Even if the entire city was automated and self-sustainable, the internet will still surely continue to influence the people living in these cities.

– When I raised this question in the PoC chat, the replies I got were very vague. This is one example (you can read the whole discussion here if you’re interested):

“If my basic needs were met, meaning that if I had a home, food, water, and utilities at the ready for me; then you can absolutely say that my priorities would change. The whole reason for us working everyday is to be able to obtain and maintain the fulfillment of our basic needs. The shift in the paradigm of day to day living would change, people would start to focus more on their goals, hobbies, enjoyments, etc. Social media would most likely discontinue at some point, but you’re referring to a post-transition mentality.”

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– In my opinion, maybe this could work in a small community living in such a great environment, however, I’m afraid that the more you scale it up, the more influence you will get from the outside, the harder it will be to control people, their influences, values and behavior. I’m afraid that having your needs met may not be enough to change most people’s values if they are still influenced by Facebook, Instagram, dumb YouTube videos and smart advertisements.

Other people brought up the Sociocyberneering Education Project (SEP)– TVP’s only educational course, saying that this course will be one of the important factors that influence the values and behavior of the people in TVP’s cities (or “Center for Resource Management”).

– If you happen to have read through the dozens of pages of discussions I had with Sue and Saso, you may have noticed this course come up as a topic of conversation. I also had discussions about the SEP with Roxanne and Theofilos, the guy that’s teaching the course.

I started talking to them about the SEP because Roxanne told the Russian-speaking team that they couldn’t post anything except direct translations of what was on the main TVP Facebook page or website onto their own social media pages, unless somebody in the Russian-speaking team had taken the SEP. I told Roxanne that I could take the SEP and share it with the team so they could translate and automate it. She didn’t seem so thrilled about that idea and she also said that the SEP was not available. – There is only one teacher of the SEP (Theofilos, a pilot from Greece) and back then (2017) there were only two people taking the SEP- Sue and Saso, and Theofilos did not have enough time to teach it to anybody else (plus there was a huge waiting list anyway). As far as I’m aware, no one has ever completed the SEP, even today.

– So again, I have very little confidence in this SEP since I’ve never heard of anyone completing it, the PoCs don’t seem to know much about it and there is very little information about it on the TVP website. If it’s so important then there should be plenty of information about the details and progress of this course available online.

But what concerns me the most about the SEP is not the lack of detailed information about it, but the aim of this course. The aim is not really to educate the general public, it is to create “mentors” who can accurately represent TVP.

This is a document I received from Theofilos when I proposed to automate the SEP. It says:

“The Sociocyberneering Education Project, is a carefully planned educational course attempting to achieve a particular aim. This aim is in summary: To have people who must be able to discuss and teach The Venus Project material comfortably and with no requirement of any guidance from a mentor or founder. The student must be completely autonomous with producing new material, arranging events, representing The Venus Project in interviews, debates, discussions and events.”

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The fact that the aim of the SEP is to create “mentors” is scary in many ways. If you’re interested in reading more about this, see page 18 of this document.

Since the SEP is taught from person to person and seems quite inefficient (and there is very little information about it), I have very little confidence that it will have much impact on the people living in TVP’s center for resource management or experimental city.

But let’s pretend like TVP actually did create a fantastic course and most of the people living in this automated experimental city got to take it. You must realize that that’s still not enough!

Since humans are influenced by everything in their environment, it should be obvious that one course will not be significant enough to bring about a big change in the general population of an entire city. Yes, the people taking this course will be influenced by it, but 1- how can you ensure that everybody (or even most people) in this city takes this course? And 2- these people will not only be influenced by the course, they will also be influenced by their peers, their family, the social media they use, videos they watch, and surely by the internet and the outside world (unless you totally cut them off like North Korea :P ). Education and employment is by far not the only thing that influences your values and behavior.

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More Problems

Now let’s go a little further- let’s pretend like TVP is able to build a super technological, automated and self-sustainable city with a great educational course for all its people. Most jobs are automated, the people are well educated and have the time and opportunity to focus on challenges, goals, projects, problem solving and hobbies.

I still see big problems:

Mainly- Resources

Even if this city is super efficient and self-sustainable, it will still require some resources from the outside world, therefore, it will still have to use money and trade with the outside world.

– People may need certain building material, software, new gadgets, healthcare specialists for rare diseases and many other things.

– This means that people will still need to use money, regardless of whether they’ve made money obsolete within the city. And that poses a dilemma: now the citizens of this city have to figure out a way to make some money, whether as a group or through individual jobs.

If these people are still concerned about how to earn money so they can get some stuff from the outside world, then I really don’t see how building an “experimental city” would change anything.

We can already see many examples of self-sustainable communities in our world- Kibbutz in Israel is one example that started off as self-sustainable communities that provided for most of the needs of its members, but because these communities were still influenced by the larger society and still dependent on the outside world for some resources, eventually, many Kibbutz members had to get jobs and basically just become “normal people” again. They wanted to change the world by example, but after a few decades, the world changed them instead.

TVP would be naïve to believe that they are exempt from the influences of the outside world, especially if they depend on it for some resources.

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It’s important to understand that an RBE is nothing more than an idea.

Sure it’s a great idea, but unfortunately, that’s all that it is.

There have been many great ideas about how to better organize our society- technocracy, socialism and communism- were all nice ideas! But the implementation of all of these ideas was a whole other ballgame and, in every case, it was a great big failure.

See this documentary about the rise and fall of socialism and notice how the idea of socialism was never actually implemented:

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The idea of a resource-based economy could never be “implemented” or demoed through experimental cities; and the structure of our global society has never changed through demoing a better way to organize itself. Instead, society changes through problem solving.

Take a look at any problem- transportation: how do we get from point A to point B quickly and efficiently? – This was a problem and people dealt with this problem by coming up with different solutions. People didn’t envision an entire world of airplanes, trains and self-driving cars, they took the problem and created solutions- horses, bikes, cars, etc., eventually these solutions evolved. Today there is by no means a great transportation system, but it surely is much quicker and more efficient than walking.

Another problem: how to connect people over long distances? Radio waves, then fiber cables and the internet, today we have satellites and other means. How to fix infectious diseases? Again, tons of solutions. Problems change our society.

And the change comes gradually almost all the time- through education + infrastructure. Ford didn’t demo how a society based on cars is better than one based on horses. Stallman didn’t showcase how a free and open-source software society could work, he started to create free and open source software and educate people about it.

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So that’s the next challenge: Identifying the Problem

When I brought this up in the PoC chat, I realized that the PoCs didn’t have a unified agreement about the problem they were trying to tackle. I think that they generally agree that “the entire system” is the problem, but what does that really mean? What about the system is so problematic? Some said it was money, some named scarcity.

So let’s analyze these problems:

Money.

– Money is a medium that people use to store value and to trade goods and services. We can try to focus on getting rid of money, but since money is just a medium, other mediums can take its place without actually changing what it was used for. If you buy products with cryptocurrencies as opposed to traditional money, not much will change; if you trade your data instead of your money to use certain websites, there will still be problems; if money is replaced with social credits, this will solve nothing. By focusing on money, you ignore other mediums (trades) that could be used to replace money, but will not solve the actual problem.

But even if you forget about the previous paragraph and say that TVP wants to tackle the ‘core problem of money,’ how will this be achieved through TVP’s current plan? If there is still a need for the people in TVP’s “experimental cities” to buy some resources from the outside world, then you’ll still need to use money in the first city, and the second, third, hundredth, thousandth… and surely people will get corrupted by their need to use money. Society is extremely complex and TVP should not brush that aside too quickly.

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Scarcity.

Jacque talked a lot about scarcity and some of the PoCs named it as the ‘core problem,’ saying things like:

“Trade and/or the use of money comes from scarcity, and scarcity can be real, created or perceived.”

I agree that scarcity is a problem; scarcity usually leads to shitty behavior (fighting/domination/etc.) or to the need to trade (which leads to an imbalance of power). However, I don’t think that trade and/or the use of money comes only from scarcity, since in today’s world, we do trade things that are not scarce at all.

Think about what’s actually scarce in our world- not much. Take any example- H&M – it makes an abundance of clothes! There is no real, created or perceived scarcity of clothes in our world, yet H&M convinces millions of people to buy more and more clothes because its main incentive is to trade (to make a profit). You can sell bottled water even in countries that have perfectly clean and abundant drinkable tap water.

We already produce an abundance of food- we throw away something like 40% of it, yet people are still starving to death. If you go to any supermarket you will notice that food is not scarce, it’s just that some people don’t have access to the food because in order to get access to food or almost anything else, you need to trade. You can trade money to get that food, you can maybe trade bitcoin, labor, sex, other products or anything else, but if you don’t have something to trade in return for the food that you require, then you might starve to death.

How about the internet? YouTube- it’s abundant! There are hundreds of hours of YouTube videos uploaded every minute. But YouTube collects data from you- that’s a trade and this causes problems. Same with Facebook- it’s abundant (and ‘money-free’) but is based on data trading.

There are more empty homes than homeless people, so that means we already have an abundance of homes, but people don’t have access to these homes because of the need to trade (not because there is scarcity). Same goes for electronics, transportation and almost everything.

Some people pointed out that it doesn’t matter if there’s an abundance of YouTube videos, apartments, clothes or any particular item because the reason that trade happens is because something else is scarce, and in this case, that something is money.

I can’t really disagree with that, so I would say that scarcity -in this sense- can be seen as the root cause of most of today’s problems. However, the issue with this scenario is that focusing on scarcity like this gives you a completely unrealistic problem to work with. If the abundance of any particular item/service is not enough to solve the problem of scarcity in this world, and you need an abundance of absolutely everything, including money and anything people might be persuaded to want, then what can you possibly do about this problem? Even the richest person in the world wouldn’t be able to solve such a problem today.

*Notice that I’m not talking about abundance in an RBE, but in today’s world.

And, again, how is TVP’s plan working towards solving this problem of scarcity? If there is still a need for the people in TVP’s “experimental cities” to buy some resources from the outside world, that means that scarcity still exists and human values and behavior will still be influenced by it.

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In general, I think it’s a big red flag that TVP doesn’t have an aligned and detailed idea of the core problem their organization is trying to tackle. If you “have the solution” but you don’t know much about the problem, then your solution is nothing but a nice idea or fantasy. Compare this to the medical field- people with “solutions” but little knowledge of the problem are your shamans, chiropractors and spiritual healers. On the other hand, doctors who perform surgery or develop medicine for any specific disease have studied the disease in great depth- and that was how they arrived at a solution.

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So what’s the problem then?

Well, we analyzed money, which is one medium of trade, and we analyzed scarcity, which usually leads to trade. Some people say that “ownership” is the problem, and although that could theoretically be true, again, there’s just not all that much you can do about this problem; that’s similar to saying that “imagination” is the problem, since we wouldn’t be able to use money or hoard much wealth without our imaginations :).

So let’s just choose one core problem that we can actually work with. How about trade itself. The entire structure of our global society is based on trades. You go to work to trade your time and skills for money, you trade that money for food, shelter and other things. You trade your attention and data to use platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, so they can trade this data for money; you may trade cryptocurrencies for goods or services; you may trade your freedom for a good social credit score or a passport. There are tons of other trades, and if you pay attention to this, you will notice that the more that something (or someone) is influenced by this “force of trade,” the more corrupted it tends to get.

Trade encompasses many other big problems (such as money) and it actually gives you something realistic to work with. If trade causes shitty behavior, then make trade-free stuff so that people are less dependent on trades. And also, don’t forget to educate people about the problem.

Remember, problems are solved gradually, through education + infrastructure.

A very interesting thing to note, by the way, is that if you manage to solve this “trade problem,” you will consequently solve the “money problem” and probably also the “scarcity problem” because when something is trade-free, it is usually also abundant.

This idea of pinpointing “trade” as the problem is well described in this book, so if you’re interested in all of this, I would recommend reading it. And don’t worry, it’s trade-free ;)

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Conclusion

I feel like my “TVP journey” was really intense, but that’s not a problem because that’s usually what happens to me in life :D. I am very glad that I went through all of this because I learned a lot.

I learned that:

  1. Fresco’s ideas and the organization of TVP are two very different things.
  2. TVP (the organization) has a rigid hierarchical structure centered on Roxanne. Almost everything that goes on in TVP has to be approved by Roxanne, who is by no means an expert on everything.
  3. Many TVP people (especially “old-timers”) are so bad at communicating and collaborating with others that they actually contradict what they teach/ what Jacque used to talk about.
  4. Many TVP people are so emotionally attached to TVP that they will not question it (neither the ideas behind TVP nor the organization). I brought up topics like “how will the values of the people living in TVP’s experimental cities change if they are still influenced by the outside world” in the PoC chat before I left and some people replied that it was “inappropriate” to discuss this and/or TROM in the PoC chat. You can read my entire last discussion with the PoCs here.
  5. The aim of TVP’s only educational course (the SEP) is to create “mentors” rather than to educate the general public.
  6. TVP seems extremely incompetent and lacks transparancy in its projects; as a result, I doubt that they are capable of raising enough funds and building a multi-million dollar ‘Center for Resource Management,’ and later an entire city and network of cities.
  7. If they do manage to build anything, I doubt that it will have much of an impact on the world; most likely, the world will have a much bigger impact on it instead, making the whole project a huge waste of time and resources.
  8. TVP (the organization) seems to brush off the complexity of this society and its influence on human behavior.

*”TVP” refers to the main (English speaking) organization, not the Russian speaking team. The Russian speaking team is continuing to do what they can to popularize the work of Jacque Fresco.

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Despite all of this, I still respect Jacque and the work that he did. I still see Jacque as a very inspirational character and I still agree with a lot of what he talked about. If I was in Roxanne’s shoes, I would forget about building anything, and instead would concentrate on educating the public about Jacque’s work. The most efficient way to do that would probably be through a free online platform.

However, the most important thing I can take away from this big long blog and my saturated experience with TVP and TROM is that society changes through problem solving, not through envisioning or demoing a better society. Realizing this was the last straw that made me see TVP and even the idea of a resource-based economy as irrelevant- and that was why I finally left TVP.

Maybe we don’t know how to solve these gigantic problems of trade, scarcity, money, ownership or whatever else, but if we can identify the problem, then we will at least be one step closer to solving it.

Eastern Indonesia, 2011

book, Uncategorized

I have about 115 word-doc pages of my book written now and I’m up to the year 2011, which means I only have about five more years to write about! That might take me a while though, since those five years were kinda crazy :D

I’ll share one of my favorite adventures with you now. This one starts off after I quit university for the fourth time and traveled through Indonesia from Bali to Komodo National Park by myself at age 22-

*this font is what I wrote back in 2011

The default print is my narration of the story. Italics are my thoughts at the time. Hope it makes sense!

[… Chapter 13]

I decided to keep on going east, where there were no tourists. I wanted to catch a bus to Bajawa, which was the closest city to a number of interesting looking native villages. There weren’t many busses around, however, and I ended up catching a ride with a tour guide for the same price as a bus. It was that cheap only because the guide was going there anyway.

The drive from Labuan Bajo to Bajawa was incredible, it went through big lush green mountain passes, weaved around the side of the ocean and up and down colorful hills. It’s no coincidence that the Portuguese colonizers called this island “Flores.” The jungle was covered in flowers!

We stopped at the guide’s mother’s house, in a small village in the mountains on the way to Bajawa. She gave us some snacks and a fresh cup of coffee, then the guide explained some things to me,

“When I was kid, there was no road here. If you want go to Labuan Bajo, you walk for four days on this path. Now the path is road.

Things change too quickly here in Indonesia. Look at my mother, I gave her a cellphone so I can call her, but she don’t understand. I call her and it rings but she don’t know how pick it up. I explain but she don’t get it.

Environment is changing so quickly, but the people’s minds can’t keep up.”

I thought about this. I suppose that’s why there’s so much garbage everywhere you look. 30 years ago, the only garbage these people had were banana peels and coconut shells. It wasn’t a problem to eat a banana and throw the peel anywhere you want, but the people’s minds didn’t change when Western companies replaced those bananas with snickers bars and the peels with plastic.

After another four or five hour drive, we made it to Bajawa.

There, again, I could not escape the constant attention. Every 20 feet I walked in a public area someone would yell ‘bule’ (white skinned tourist) at me. The thing that bothered me the most was that I felt like I could not relate to anybody. I was always on the other side, always the ‘bule,’ never another human being. It seemed like everybody just wanted something from me, that I could not talk to another human being on a straight and honest level, and that nobody could be trusted.
I was angered by this and did not want to give my money away to anybody. Because of this, rather than paying for a tour or even a motorbike ride to the traditional villages, I walked. I walked for 20km and reached the village of Bena- where they asked me for money to enter the village…
It was an interesting looking village. The houses had thatched roofs and there were graves in the front yard. There were also big stones and little thatched-roof shacks and umbrellas on their territory.
The next morning, I woke up feeling fed up. I decided that I should no longer venture further east to my next destination, Kelimutu (the volcano with three different color lakes), because it was too frustrating to deal with the people here.
I decided to spend one more day in Bajawa, visit one more traditional village or see the hot springs, then head back to Lubuanbajo and eventually back to Bali (from where I could fly).
However, I felt like it would be a shame to leave these traditional villages without learning much about the people and their ways. I read a small bit of information in my guide book and tried to find more on the internet but was quite unsuccessful. Then I decided that it may be worth it to pay for a tour as long as the guide was very knowledgeable. There were several one-day tours available and also an over-night tour where you can sleep in one of the traditional villages.
The over-night tour seemed ridiculous to me- paying over $100 to sleep in someone’s house is not what I would call a meaningful experience. If you are paying to be a guest, you are still very much on the other side, and still learning very little. Finding an intelligent, English-speaking guide for a one-day tour also seemed unlikely, I got the feeling that these ‘tours’ were actually more just expensive methods of transportation rather than enriching guides.
So I walked again. I walked until my feet ached and then flagged down a bemo (minivan). I asked where it was going, looked at my paper map and said “okay, take me there!”
I was dropped off at a vibrant market; walked around it for about 15 minutes and then bumped into a young girl who started speaking to me in English (this was surprising because most people around Bajawa don’t know a word of English). After about a one-minute conversation, she invited me to visit her village. At first, I was a bit skeptical, thinking that maybe she wanted something from me as well, but she seemed very nice so I decided to trust her.
This was (and still is) a truly amazing experience. Right when I had had it and was about to give up on Indonesia, I was accepted and brought into the other side.
My friend’s name is Asry. She showed me her village, introduced me to her family, fed me and invited me to sleep in her house. Really funny and ironic isn’t it? Her and her family are the traditional Ngada people, from the same background as the people of Bena and Wogo, the villages people tour and pay big money to sleep in.
The entire family is very kind to me, they accept me and tell me that I am a part of their family. They feed me enormous amounts of food and ask for nothing in return.
On my second day in Mala Nusa (their small village), I was invited to a huge family celebration. This was something I never expected. Asry’s family dressed me up in their traditional black cloth and told me to carry the gift for the party on my head- it was rice in a traditional basket. When we arrived, swarms of people surrounded me! There were about 200 people at this party and I think that most of them had never seen a white person before. They dressed me up even more, adding a yellow band, beads and a headband to my outfit. Then they crowded around and observed me, making comments about my nose and white skin. No one except Asry knew a word of English, but it was easy enough to understand what they were talking about.
They gave me rice and grilled meat, then commented about the way I eat. They were surprised that I liked rice and that I could eat with my hands. It was a bit difficult to pick up rice, but I didn’t really have a choice, since there were no utensils at the party.
After they fed me, they sent me to not only watch the traditional ceremonial dance, but to participate in it! They shoved me into a circle of people in the middle of the ceremony and I tried my best to copy their dance moves. Luckily, it was an easy dance, just some foot shuffling and long hand motions.
I snuck off the dancefloor somehow, then the drum circle got louder, as did the powerful yells to the ancestors, and the animal sacrificing began.
Asry led me to a small room in the middle of the big house that this party surrounded. The room had a small door and was elevated above all the other rooms in the house. Asry explained that this was the spiritual room, where the family prays to their ancestors. The door is small so that you give respect by bowing your head when you enter.
Next, I hear a scream and loud banging drums- a large pig was sacrificed outside. I looked out and saw its neck split open and blood dripping into a bucket.
Asry explained that this party was a celebration of the building of the new house we were sitting in. This house will be the “main house” of a small village, the place where family members meet, have celebrations and pray together. Animals are sacrificed on this day and their blood is smeared onto large sheets of metal which are then placed on top of this elevated spiritual room to create a special trapezoid-shaped roof. The blood of the sacrificed animals is an offering for their ancestors.
Asry left the spiritual room and I sat there with 10 very old people that gave me more rice and grilled meat.
‘I sure hope their ancestors don’t like human blood.’
I knew it was crazy to think that they might want to sacrifice me too, but I couldn’t fully get that thought out of my head, especially since I had only met Asry two days before this ceremony and everything seemed so wild! The banging drums, the black cloths, the yells, the dancing, the blood!
But at that point, I figured that if they did want to, it was already too late to do anything about it now, since I was god-knows-where and outnumbered by about 200 people.
I laughed about the fact that if anything like that did happen, nobody would ever find me!

Yeah, these were still the days before I had a smartphone.

The second animal I saw being sacrificed was a dog. The tribal leader gave it three smacks on the head and it fell dead and was hung from a rope tied to a large wooden pole. A few minutes later, they tied a second dog to this pole while the dead one still hung in the air. As you could imagine, the living dog was absolutely shitting itself.
I did not see whether the second dog was sacrificed or not. I saw it tied to the pole for several minutes, panicking and emitting so much fear that I could practically see it, then a man untied the chain and lead it away.
This made me wonder more about fear. Manu told us that fear attracts spirits. Fear is powerful. Maybe they didn’t actually kill this second dog but were using its fear to attract the spirits of their ancestors!

I’m not saying that I believed in all this stuff, by the way, I just thought it was interesting to try to understand other people’s perspectives.

Asry’s family cooked and ate every part of every animal that was sacrificed, including the dog. During this celebration, 30kg of rice were cooked, everybody ate A LOT and each family unit took home a goody-bag of rice and meat in the same traditional basket they came in with.
Later, they put up the thatched-roof shacks and umbrella-like structures that I noticed in Bena. These structures are called ‘ngadhu’ and ‘bhaga,’ and they commemorate the male and female ancestors of each family unit.

No one attempted to sacrifice me during this party, so I ended up living in Asry’s village for over a week. I felt honored to be there and to have this experience.

Asry’s house was made out of bamboo. It didn’t have running water, a kitchen, much electricity or much furniture, but it was nice and cozy, especially in the mornings.

Each day I would wake up slowly as faint sunrays shined through the misty air. Sometimes it felt a bit damp and chilly in the morning, since her village was in the mountains. The smell of smoke, fire and coffee filled the air. I stretched out my arms, took a deep breath, then slowly made my way to the family room. There were always six or seven family members crowded around a fire inside the house in the morning. Somebody would always hand me a fresh cup of home-grown coffee, the best coffee I had ever had. Then I would sit quietly on a small stub of wood, sipping the coffee and getting lost in my thoughts and the crackling sound of the fire.

In the day, Asry and I walked around the village and met with more family members. They were all so nice and they fed me A LOT! They showed me their cows, their pigs, gardens, rice fields and coffee plantations. They showed me how they made their own knives, their own furniture, weaved clothes and crafted many other products.

Asry’s family also took me on a motorcycle trip to some hot springs. On the way, we stopped at a Virgin Mary shrine, where the family members prayed to a Mary covered in their traditional black cloth. This was always awkward. I assumed that the family would believe that I was evil if they knew that I didn’t believe in any religion, so I explained to Asry that I just had my own religion, but she translated this as, “Protestant.” I decided not to argue.

Almost everybody on the island of Flores, including all of the people involved in these tribal ceremonies, considered themselves to be Catholic. During the big celebration where Asry’s family sacrificed animals for their ancestors, they were also displaying pictures and cards of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

Since I knew that the locals were Catholic (and not Muslim), I didn’t think too much about what to cover my body with in these hot springs. I brought a towel and a bikini, nothing else. And once I had nothing but my bikini on, I noticed that every woman in the springs was in pants and a T-shirt and that every man was staring at my body. It was awkward but a bit too late to turn back now, so I just went in while everybody stared at me as if I was naked. I was kind of used to getting stared at at that point anyway.

I decided to leave Asry’s village after her brother and cousin drove in on a cargo truck and invited us to go on a road trip with them. They were delivering heavy equipment between Bajawa, Maumere and Larantuka (the eastern end of Flores) and were happy to bring family and friends along.

Seven of us squeezed into this giant truck- Asry, her brother, three of her cousins, me and for some reason, a five-year-old kid.

I don’t remember who’s kid he was, but I don’t think that he was the child of anybody in our truck. That didn’t seem to be so important to them though, since everyone in the family took care of all of the children. I would even get confused from time to time because Asry would sometimes refer to her uncles as her “father” and her aunts as her “mother,” even though her mother had died and her father was living with her. It was interesting to see a different perspective of the idea of a family and how to raise children.

According to the map, the drive between Bajawa and Larantuka is only about 400 kilometers, but since the road was not well maintained and weaved around like crazy, going up and down big mountains, the drive took several days.

It was a beautiful drive, nevertheless, and Asry and I had front row seats in this big truck. We drove through flowery mountains, passed by black volcanic beaches, rice terraces and lush jungles. We took breaks by the ocean and stopped to eat rice and curry in local eateries.

I remember walking into a busy lunch shack in a small village somewhere far east; we sat down, had a look at the menu, and all of the sudden the entire place turned silent. I lifted my head and every single person in the lunch shack was staring at me.

Everywhere I went, I was greeted with excitement and curiosity. Since I was now with Asry and her family, people didn’t seem to attack me for money like before, now they wanted to give me stuff instead!

We slept in the houses of Asry’s aunts and uncles in other villages on Flores. Their family members took us in and fed us until we could barely move.

October 7, 2011
Now I am in Moni, a small village below Kelimutu, the volcano with the tri-colored lakes. Tomorrow I am meant to see this volcano (leaving at 4:20AM to watch the sun rise above it!).
I am not sure exactly what will happen next, but I feel that it is time to leave Indonesia and move on to new lands…Plus, my friend is calling me to join him on his yacht in New Zealand on a two-month sailing trip!! So as long as they let me back into Aotearoa, I shall soon be writing of grand adventures in open seas.
I hope that you can now understand that although I am not in university, I am learning more about international and global studies than I ever have.

Right, so all of that Caveot font about Indonesia was originally written for my mother’s birthday in October of 2011. Not sure if that was a good birthday gift, now that I think about it, I probably scared the shit out of her more than anything else. My poor mother…  

I did the short and easy hike up Kelimutu the next morning, watched the sunrise over the three different colored crater lakes (blue, green and black), then made my way all the way back to Bali. The trip back to Bali was much easier now that I knew a bit more Indonesian and I felt like I could communicate and relate to the local people better. I took buses back and made some stops along the way. I rented a motorbike in Mataram, Lombok, and drove around the south of the island by myself, then I took a ferry to Bali and flew out to my next adventure: a two-month long sailing trip around the North Island of New Zealand…

Part 4: Maui

book, Uncategorized

Emma went back to Australia, I got my new camera, then Aaron and I flew to Maui. Aaron had a friend named Bruce on Maui, who happened to be selling an old Honda Civic Wagon. We offered Bruce $600 and told him that we would give him back the difference once we sold it at the end of our trip. He agreed. We named the car Bruce.

We wanted to see the infamous Haleakala sunrise (at the top of Maui’s 3,000-meter volcano). You’re supposed to buy tickets for this phenomenon and reserve a spot ahead of time (several weeks ahead) but we found it hard to grasp the concept of paying money to watch a sunrise. So instead of doing that, Aaron and I drove Bruce up to the top of Haleakala before sunset, watched the sunset (which was just as spectacular as the sunrise), slept in the car on top of the volcano and woke up to watch the sunrise in the morning. Nobody bothered us or asked for tickets.

I used a free app called AllTrails to look for the best hikes on the islands. You can filter the settings to your liking- top rating + greatest difficulty will usually get you a pretty bad-ass trek, like the Skyline Trail :)

And the Sliding Sands Trail-

*You can see the trail through the lava field in between the two craters

The view from the Sliding Sands Trail was something that I would imagine on Mars, not Earth. The further we walked, the more dramatic the scenery got. Every color of the rainbow appeared inside Haleakala. Dried up lava formed black rivers between the dusty colors. Rare flowers that exist nowhere else on Earth emerged from red dirt- the Silverswords. So precious and unique.

I was profoundly touched by the beauty of Haleakala. It is like no other place on Earth. Cold, hot; dramatic but silent. Dry and still, yet radiating powerful energy.

Breathe it in. Live.

This is what I live for.

How about you?

The entire Sliding Sands to Halemau’u Trail was 11-12 miles long but took us all day because it was hard to walk with our jaws on the ground :). We walked out of the crater several miles away from where we parked the car and hitched our way back up. We were picked up by the first car that came by and got to watch the sunset one more time before heading back to the jungle.

*If you come up to Haleakala make sure you bring a jacket. It gets very cold!!

 

After sunset we drove the long and winding road down the volcano. We didn’t know where we would sleep that night but decided to drive south from Kula in order to take a new road that we hadn’t discovered yet- the south-side road to Hana. Unfortunately, this left us with no chance to shower after the long hike and it was very difficult to find a safe place for us to hang up our hammocks for the night. After driving through a few small towns and some farmland, we were too tired to go any further so we ended up tying one side of our hammocks to our car, and the other side to a tree that happened to be in someone’s back yard. It was dark so nobody bothered us at night, but I did have a nightmare that an evil vampire zombie was chasing me out of my hammock, then woke up to a man telling us that we had to get off of his property. It was good to get us up and on the road nice and early :)

We drove down the Piilani Highway (a dirt road for which you’re “supposed to have a 4wd”) to the Seven Sacred Pools, seeing lava fields and black ocean cliffs on the way. It was very windy and rugged, similar to the south side of the Big Island. You don’t really need a 4wd for this road, just drive carefully and honk before going around corners.

The scenery changes from rough, windswept terrain to dense jungle around a little town called Kaupo. There, we found out about a bamboo forest hike (the Pipiwai Trail) that leads to a 400 ft waterfall called Waimoku Falls.

You’re not really supposed to go anywhere near this waterfall because of the danger of falling rocks… but it’s hard to drag me away from a waterfall :). It was spectacular, but scary. The rushing water was so intense that I had to run away after a couple of minutes.

After this we played in the 7 Sacred Pools. -Another place with a “do not enter” sign :D this time because of a flood warning. We took our chances and swam in one sacred pool, climbed up its waterfall into another sacred pool, up another waterfall to another pool, and so on, until it was too dangerous to climb. The view from the biggest pool was incredible. Pool- waterfall-pool-waterfall-pool-waterfall- on and on until the freshwater reached the ocean and waves crashed against the falls. I think you would need a helicopter or a drone to get a decent shot of the pools, so unfortunately my photos don’t do this place much justice.

That night we hung up our hammocks in the campground by the pools, which was free with a national park pass. The park pass was about $25 for a year (for Hawaiian residents)- this includes Haleakala, the Seven Sacred Pools area, as well as the Big Island’s Volcanoes National Park.

We picked fruit (mostly jackfruit, mangoes, avocados, bananas and coconuts), bought rice and other cheap products and cooked over a fire or ate sandwiches. Our biggest expense was fuel, which was about $30-40 a tank (and you could drive around more than half of the island on one tank). I didn’t keep track of the money I spent during these adventures, but I’m sure that I didn’t even reach $100/week on everything.

We didn’t plan ahead of time, we just drove where we thought we wanted to go, talked to people, and found local secret spots along the way. One special place was called the Waioka Pond, a deep freshwater pool which was protected from the ocean by a rock wall. There were several fun spots to jump from, ranging from 1 meter high to about 8 meters.

We drove up and down the Hana Highway several times and swam under many waterfalls (highly recommended). We spent time on Hana’s exotic Red Sand Beach, nestled between rocks and deep green forest. The red sand comes from red and black lava cinders and is a spectacular contrast to the turquoise water.

We were not limited by time so we took our time to explore Maui. We talked to locals to find out about local life. We drove along every ocean-side road of the island, did many different hikes and explored new places every day. We slept anywhere we could hang up our hammocks and didn’t worry much about anything :)

At the end of the trip we sold Bruce (the car) for $1200 :)

We didn’t make a profit because we had to pay to register the car and gave the difference back to Bruce the man (as we promised), but at least we didn’t lose any money on island transport. We were able to sell the car for a decent price because we didn’t have a deadline. We hadn’t bought flights yet because we didn’t have to be anywhere on any particular day (i.e. we didn’t have to go back to work from vacation).

So, grand total of a fantastic month on Maui for two people-

Accommodation: $0

Transport: ~$250 (2 x plane from Oahu + ferry to Lanai)

Gas: ~$200

Food: ~$200

Phone credit: $60 (2 x $30 sim card)

National Park Pass: $25

Maybe some beer and an ice cream or so on top of that but not much else.

I didn’t buy any souvenirs because I didn’t go from Maui back to “home” (where friends and family expect gifts from a faraway land).

I didn’t have a “home” anywhere so I wasn’t paying rent or a mortgage. I didn’t have any bills. The closest thing I had to a bill was my $30/month phone credit. If I didn’t pay the $30 once a month the phone would just not work without wifi. Not a big deal. I didn’t pay for health insurance (I mentioned that here). Aaron registered the car on his name and decided to risk it with no insurance (I probably would have bought liability insurance if it was under my name but that was his decision). Everything else I explain on this page.

——–

Soo… grand total of 1 month on Maui=  ~$370 per person   :)

But there is an important point to understand here before I let you go :)

-The more you work, the less time you have to travel. Less time means more money because of restrictions and because of your own mentality.

 

Restrictions-

If you’re in a rush because you only have 1 or 2 weeks of vacation time, you will probably plan ahead to make sure that you can see everything that you came there to see. Anytime you book something off island (especially overseas) I can guarantee you will be paying 2-3, maybe 10 times the local price. You also need certain dates- these dates may be more expensive than other ones.

If your time is not limited, you know that once you get to know the place and the people there, you will figure out how the locals do things (by locals, I mean other people that have little money :)). You can find a way to do what you came there to do for the local price (or at least a much better one), because if you stay in one place long enough, you will become a “kinda” local yourself. That’s what traveling is all about for me. It’s not about ticking off a checklist of places I want to see, it’s about gaining a new local perspective of our world.

[See this blog.]

 

Mentality-

I think this is much more important than time restrictions.

What I mean by mentality here is the difference in mindset between being on vacation (holiday/leisure between periods of work) and traveling (living life in various places).

If you are going away for a set amount of time and have to come back home to your job on a certain date then your “traveling” is most likely just vacation. I don’t actually consider most forms of vacation as traveling but many people do so I will try to make the distinction here.

People go on vacation to relax from all the hard work that they’ve been doing. They call this traveling because they relax (and maybe see some sites) somewhere other than where they live.

Their time is limited because they have to go back home, usually to go back to work or school. As a result, their mentality is that they have to get the most out of this short vacation time (relax, have fun, etc.). In order to get the most out of vacation, they splurge on all kinds of stuff- fancy food, cocktails, nice accommodation, souvenirs, whatever. This way they can have fun, relax, not worry much and then go back to work.

Clearly this is not my idea of traveling.

In fact, I’m sure that all of my fellow moneyless nomads can agree that this is quite the opposite of traveling :)

5 star resorts are not traveling. Fancy restaurants are not important.

Just because you’re somewhere other than where you live, does not mean that you are traveling.

Traveling (by my definition) means taking your time to get to know the local people and place that you visit. It means trying to put yourself in the shoes of a local and taking time to see what is on the piece of Earth that you stand on.

Of course there are many grey areas between travel and vacation, like say backpacking through Europe for a month or two between semesters. If a person is making an effort to get to know the local place and its people, then I would consider this traveling. However, in my opinion, the purest form of traveling is when you quit everything and take off without a deadline or much of a plan. This is also the cheapest form of traveling because you free yourself from restrictions.

But more importantly, you free yourself from the mentality of being on vacation. Your mentality is not that you are relaxing/having fun for a short amount of time (so you can splurge on things), your mentality is that this is your life.

That’s just it. This is life! Traveling is life. There are some challenges to life on Earth but you just have to learn to deal with those challenges while living life. Most of these challenges have to do with money because in the world we live in today, we need money to survive. So basically, in order to travel, you have to learn how to deal with living with little money (i.e. having the opposite mentality of being on vacation :)). Every dollar counts- the better you learn to play this game, the longer you can travel, the less you have to work. The less you work, the more time you have to travel. The more time you have to travel, the easier it is for you to find cheap deals on anything you want to do.

Seems like a win win situation to me :)

And the opposite seems like a lose lose situation…

The more you work, the less time you have to travel. The less time you have, the more you have to spend while traveling (because of time restrictions and your mentality). The more you spend, the more you have to work again… the more you work, the more tired you get from working, the more you end up spending on vacation… the more you have to work again.

What are you working for anyway?

Funny thing is, because I travel all the time and never go on vacation, I never need to go on vacation. Life itself is even better than vacation.

But I do understand that not everybody wants to climb volcanoes, swim under waterfalls and pick mangoes from other people’s backyards while living out of a hammock :)

It’s not important for you to travel. What’s important for you is to do what you want. It’s also important for you to realize that all of this- this game we play (the job game/ money game/ trade game) is really just a game. Really. “The real world” is just a game.

Think about what you actually need to survive with: air, water, food and sometimes shelter and clothing. You can go into the jungle and live off of the land to survive, or you can follow by the rules of the game we’ve created to get what you need to survive.

Game meaning: job – money – food , shelter, etc.

The only reason you need a job is to get the stuff you need to survive with on Earth.

It doesn’t have to be so complicated. Get a job, get some money, buy some food. Or get a job for a little longer, save some money, quit, use this money to buy food for an extended amount of time. You don’t have to make your job your lifestyle if you just learn to manage your money well. I probably haven’t even worked for a quarter of my adult life and all of the jobs that I’ve had were ones that almost anybody can do (waitressing, bartending, babysitting, housekeeping, things like that).

Think about what this job really means to your existence as a living being on Planet Earth.

For sure a few of us make some amazing discoveries and scientific advancements for humankind, but the majority of us just work some mediocre (or shitty) jobs that basically only serve to keep the system going. And for what purpose? The system is destroying the environment that we depend on for survival.  -Climate change, pollution, deforestation and countless of other problems are all a result of the structure of our society.

– Our trade-based system is based on profiting from an infinite supply of resources, yet we live on a planet of finite resources. –

So why spend most of your life working to keep it going? What’s the point?

Many of these monotonous jobs can already be replaced by automation, and will be replaced as soon as it is profitable enough to do so. When automation takes away enough jobs, people will no longer have the purchasing power to buy the goods created. And there goes the game and the great collapse. That’s one scenario anyway, there are millions of others. The point is, there is no point of spending the majority of your life working simply because everybody else tells you that that’s the right thing to do. If you love your job, that’s fantastic! Keep at it! But if you’re not happy, and you’re stuck in this job because you’ve been conditioned to believe that that’s the only way to live on Planet Earth… and you’re one of those people who tell me they wish they could travel but can’t because of the money… then maybe you should read some more of my blogs :)

One day you will die. And what did you live for? Did you live just to play the game? Did you win?

Don’t kid yourself, nobody wins this game. One day we will all die out, the Earth will keep rotating, and we will all be big losers. We’ll be bigger losers, however, if we bring our own selves to extinction through our own shitty game.

Part 3: Emma on Hawaii

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My good friend Emma flew in from Australia on March 1st. Emma is the most bad-ass chick that I know, and one of the greatest influences of my life. I met her when I was just 18-years-old, in Whistler, Canada, and she basically showed me how to be a strong, independent woman and pay no attention to what other people say you can or can’t do.

Emma’s from the Northern Territories, Australia, and used to ride bulls for fun. Now she works as a fitter in a diamond mine- working 2 weeks on, 4 weeks off; so after every 2 weeks of slavery she has 4 weeks to do what she wants.

Emma and I traveled around New Zealand together in 2012 and through the Australian Outback in 2013. I visited her in Queensland in 2015, and now, in 2017, she came to see me on Hawaii.

We flew onto the Big Island because we had heard that the lava flow into the ocean had turned into a waterfall. It did. It was amazing. Mesmerizing. And this time there was a whale about 20 feet away from the lava.

*I hadn’t received my new camera yet, so all we have are very bad quality shots. Sorry :-/

We rented a car and slept on a different beach every night. We explored every corner of the island- from the black sand nudist beach in the south, to the jungles in the north; from Mauna Kea down to Kalapana.

We woke up one morning to a naked hippie dancing by his fire. Behind him, there was a pod of over 50 dolphins. I ripped off my clothes and ran straight into the ocean. Last time I noticed dolphins swimming, I actually managed to catch up to them and swim among them as they played around with each other. No luck this time but it was a perfect way to wake up regardless.

We put on some clothes, left the nudist beach and spent the whole day driving north. It was getting dark and started raining heavily as we approached a small town called Hawi, at the northern-most tip of the island. We didn’t know where we could sleep that night since there wasn’t much space in our small rental car and we didn’t have a tent or any cover.

So as adventures go when it comes to me and Em, we decided to go to the bar (well it was more of a restaurant, but that was the closest thing we could find to a bar). Hawi is a tiny little town and one of the very few remaining places with a strong Hawaiian presence and culture. Everybody in the restaurant knew each other, there was an amazing Hawaiian band playing and people would occasionally get up to dance the hula. A white guy came in from outside of the restaurant, asked to use the microphone of the band and made an announcement to the people, thanking them for their wonderful hospitality, then left.

“Strange,” we thought.

A couple of Mai Thais down and we were best friends with the local aunties. They were incredibly nice; they shared food with us, laughs and stories, they even bought us cocktails and pu-pus.

A couple of more Mai Thais and we were best friends with everybody in that place. The band was going off, the dance floor was packed and everybody was stoked. At the end of the night, every person in the restaurant got onto the dance floor, held hands in a circle, and sang a Hawaiian departure song for Emma and me, wishing us luck in our travels. This was very very touching. What an amazing group of people they were, to show so much care and love for complete strangers from another land.

When the bar shut, we were invited to sleep at one of the Hawaiian guy’s houses. All aunties confirmed that he was a good, trustworthy guy. And he really was :).

Next, we wanted to do the infamous Big Island night-dive with manta rays. We didn’t want to pay $100 each for the standard snorkel tour, so we came up with a better plan. We rented dive torches for about $8 and found out where the dive boats were located (the ones with the big lights that attract manta rays). Thankfully, my friend Aaron, a lifeguard, flew in from Oahu and joined us for this adventure. If there’s anyone I trust in the ocean, it’s Aaron. We found the spot- big jagged rocks led to the dive boats in the ocean just behind the Sheraton Hotel in Kona. The swell frightened me a bit as it moved up and down, crashing against sharp stones in the darkness. I jumped in when Aaron said, “go!”

And there we were in the black ocean…

Stars above. Dive-boat 50 meters away.

A bit scary. I tried not to think about sharks. That wasn’t too hard as the fear of the big swell and current was distracting enough.

Just swim.

Got to the dive-boat!

This was spectacular! There were several huge manta rays sweeping gracefully from the deep black ocean to the fluorescent boat lights. The guys in charge of the dive-boat started to get angry at us for poaching their boat lights… but luckily you can’t hear much under water  :D

I dove down to get a closer look at the manta. I don’t know what I was thinking as this manta ray was gliding towards me (probably just “aaahh”), when all of the sudden, I realized that I was way too close and directly in front of this sweeping giant, and the manta rammed straight into my arm! The poor thing was terrified! It squiggled up like a worm and swam upward. I had to go upward too. That hurt. I had no idea that mantas were so bony. I got a massive bruise for the next few weeks.

Totally worth it  :D

These adventures didn’t take much money. It was about $20/day for the car rental (with no insurance). We slept on beaches and bought food in supermarkets or farmers markets. Apart from that, we paid for gas and a drink here or there- the same stuff you might normally buy at home anyway. I wasn’t paying rent anymore, so traveling at that point was even cheaper than living in one place.

We went to the Kalapana night market one night to sell Wacky Whistles (funny sounding whistles from Australia) and earned about $100. I decided that I could just do that all over the world! And I won’t ever have to waitress again!

What can you do with $100 on Hawaii? Not much, right? That’s why it’s best not to need much! You can buy a bag of rice, a bag of beans and $30 of fresh fruit and vegetables- this can last you 3-4 days. Spend the other $50 on gas- that will get you more than half way around the Big Island. What else do you really need? Car rental, I guess. I usually don’t like to rent cars but Emma was short on time and it happened to be cheap so it was most convenient. By the way, I believe that car rental companies actually make money through selling insurance, not through renting cars. If you already have a vehicle somewhere (perhaps in a different State or island), you should check if your insurance covers the rented vehicle- this can save you a lot of money.

If somebody had paid for a week of accommodation in a 5-star resort for me on Hawaii, I would probably have slept there 1-2 nights at the most. I think that staying in a hotel highly restricts you because you waste so much precious time going back and forth from your hotel room and “getting ready.” I never realized how much time I wasted in life just “getting ready” until I lived out of a car. “Getting ready” mostly means just organizing your crap. Remember, a hotel room is just a place where you can sleep and store your crap.

For me, the feeling of “freedom” is at its highest when I don’t know where I’m going to sleep at night and I don’t care because I’m so stoked about where I am and what I’m doing.

And the adventures didn’t stop there! We went back to Oahu and climbed Pu’u Manamana and Ka’au Crater, surfed, snorkeled, camped at Kaena Point and Makua, jumped off a 50 ft cliff by Hanauma Bay, climbed to the Makapu’u Tide Pools, paddle-boarded to the Kaneohe Sandbar, sailed in Honolulu and danced to Tavana (amazing one-man band).

None of this cost much money at all! Hiking, surfing, snorkeling, camping and cliff diving is free. The paddleboards and sailboat belonged to friends. Tavana’s show is also free. And awesome! So even Hawaii can be cheap if you want it to be.

At the end of the trip, Emma was dead asleep by a campfire and I hear someone shout out, “Sasha, you’ve killed Emma!” :D

Tavana. You can find him at Hawaiian Brian’s in Honolulu any Tuesday ;)

Part 2: Playing It Right

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Waves the size of houses crashed on the North Shore of Oahu. I’ve seen many waves in my life, but I have never seen anything like this. Across the street from our house was Keikis- the heaviest shorebreak on the island. You could feel our house tremble a bit on a big day.

I’d go straight to the beach after work, just to stare at the waves under moonlight. The energy was so powerful that it frightened me sometimes. So much weight coming down at once, crashing, bursting, vibrating, resonating, then being sucked out to sea like air through a vacuum.

I need these moments alone in life. To think and not think. To sit on lumpy sand between monstrous waves and the shadows of mountains. Kaena Point in the distance. The universe above my head.

The stars were so bright on the North Shore.

On my 28th birthday I saw humpback whales breaching very close to shore, right in my backyard. Then I climbed a volcano and swam naked under a waterfall.

Everything changed after that day in the jungle.

I was rejuvenated. I knew exactly what I was living for. I had 2 months to save as much money as possible and then I’d be a free slave again.

Now I really got down to business. I worked so much that I was getting in trouble for how much over-time I was building up (because they had to pay us something like $11 an hour for overtime). I was no longer depressed. I was excited, happy and enthusiastic. I met interesting people at the restaurant like Jack Johnson and John Jackson :).

I got into intriguing conversations with my guests. I shared travel stories with them, my ideas about the world, the Venus Project, everything. One nice older couple was so impressed by me that they tipped me $200 three nights in a row on a $100 bill, and $500 on their last night in Hawaii. Unfortunately, I had to tip out half of that money, but those moments inspired me not as much for the money, but more so because they made me realize that I was actually able to influence people.

I realized that people actually listened to me and cared about what I had to say. If I can impress somebody enough to give me $1000 just by telling them a few stories in between courses, maybe I can do something much greater.

In the two months between the day in the jungle and my final quitting date, I made more money than anybody else in that place, bartenders and managers included. I saved over $10,000 in just two months. I understand that you cannot earn this much as a waitress in most other countries no-matter how hard you work, but this was the first time in my life that I had ever earned that much and I am still living off of that money now (June, 2019).

March 1st, I quit.

I sold my car and moved out of my house. I bought 4 things that were important for what I wanted to do: a good camera, a good backpack, a laptop and a lightweight hammock. Altogether, this stuff added up to a bit less than $2,000, so you could say that I traded my car in for these things (I eventually bought a smaller and safer car in fear of the gunk van exploding).

I stayed on the Hawaiian Islands for about 3 more months, living out of my hammock and exploring as much as I could.

Part 1: The Job Game

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I was surfing in Nicaragua last time I realized that I was running out of money and would have to go back to slavery again to continue to live on Earth. I considered staying in Central America and getting an English teaching job; I even applied and was accepted to teach at a school in Honduras, but then I thought about the 9-month contract I would have to sign and realized that it would be much easier to just go back to the US, work in a bar for a couple of months, save, quit, then return to Central or South America and travel around without being tied to a job.

I had two options in my head- Vegas and Hawaii. Vegas would be dreadful, but I was confident that I could quickly and easily find bar work there and save several thousand dollars in 2-3 months (US bar work pays very well in tips). Hawaii is expensive and not as promising for work, but it’s like a playground for me- mountains, ocean, surfing, diving, climbing, fishing, mangoes and avocados, and some good friends!

I looked at flights. There was a cheap one to Hawaii.

Fuck it. 3 days later I was all Aloha.

One thing to note is that I’ve never revolved my life around making any kind of career for money. I recognize that I need money to live in society. I know that I need to work in order to get money. So for me, work is simply a means to get money. Nothing else.

I’ve never even considered merging my life (the stuff I like to do) with a long term means of making money. I don’t even know how I could have done that… become a professional snowboarder? That would have taken a lot of effort and may have ruined the fun of snowboarding. Professional photographer? But then I would have to take pictures of what other people want me to take pictures of, not what I want to take pictures of. I would also probably have to stay in one place for a long time or go where other people tell me to go. I’d much rather just make money as quickly as possible, quit and then do what I want to do after.

So I try to view work as a game… Let’s play the “job game” again for a couple of months so I can get it over with and continue to live on Earth.

In all my years of traveling, I’ve never set up a job for myself ahead of time, before arriving in a new city or country. I don’t have anything against doing this, but I think it’s unnecessary and a bit of a waste of energy. Wherever there are bars and restaurants there is work for me. That’s the kind of work I usually look for because it doesn’t take much background knowledge and, in the US, you can make 3-4 times more money bartending than almost any other ordinary job. Plus, people come and go in hospitality all the time, so there’s always work to be found and it won’t kill the business when you leave.

Of course, when I apply for work, I have to pretend like I’ve been living in one place my entire adult life and like I will stay in this new place for the rest of my life. I don’t like lying or holding back the truth about myself, but, you gotta do what you gotta do in a world where you need money to survive. If they know you’re a gypsy, they won’t hire you.

I was determined to get a job on the North Shore. I didn’t want to live anywhere else on Oahu and couldn’t afford a flight to another island. I found out that there was a new restaurant called Roy’s opening up in Turtle Bay (fancy beachfront hotel). Everybody said that this would be the best work on the North Shore; I even met people who wanted to quit their management positions just to serve tables there.

I applied as a bartender but said I that could waitress if they really needed it (although last time I served tables I told myself it would be the last time).

I got in! They said to come to training in four weeks.

I would never usually wait that long for the “job game” to start, but so many people assured me that Roy’s would be a goldmine and that it would be worth it, so I waited.

Four weeks on Hawaii… -500 dollars. What to do? I had to borrow money to buy a van to live in. The van was $900 but it drove and had no back seats. I acquired a mattress then sanded down and painted the ceiling of the van because the foam and cloth that you would normally find on the ceiling of a vehicle had deteriorated into a brown moldy gunk. I thought it would be ironic if I worked in a fancy restaurant in Turtle Bay and lived in a gunk van.

I showed up to training 4 weeks later. The place looked nice- right on the beach, new furniture, beautiful bar facing the ocean. I had never been a part of a restaurant opening before, but Roy’s was serious business. I was impressed. They gave us a binder that was about 2 inches thick- half filled with recipes, half with ‘front of house’ business. Roy came in. We all introduced ourselves, then we split the front of house and back of house. Started learning the “Roy’s ways.”

The training was intense. It went on for 6-7 hours a day for 3 weeks and we were paid minimum wage during this time (about $8/hour). After a few days of training, we were separated into categories- bartenders, waiters, food runners and bussers. They called us out name by name.

They called me to the busser section. I almost had a panic attack. “Me? A busser?!” I applied to be a bartender! I just wasted over a month failing at this stupid “job game,” waiting for this training to start. What the hell kind of money could I make cleaning tables?!

Someone else that was called to the busser section put down his apron and walked out. I kept it cool, tried not to tear up. Went through the training, learned how to pick up dirty dishes and pour water into water glasses.

At the end of that day I pulled Chris Pirrone, the hiring manager, to the side and asked him what the deal was. He said that I could train with the servers the next day and “see how I go.”

“See how I go.” Ok. No hope for bartending then. I was devastated, but at least there was hope for serving tables. Fuck.

In the training we got to try all of the food, which was some of the best food I’ve tasted in my life. We also had to learn what was in every dish, how it was made and how to ‘spiel’ it. I stayed up until 5 in the morning each night, learning every single ingredient in every dish, every spice, exactly how it was cooked, the freaken origin of every fish that was served, what it was fed, what its middle name was. I learned that masago was caviar from a small forage fish in the smelt family which grazes on plankton at the edge of ice shelves in the North Atlantic, North Pacific and Arctic oceans. Yes, it has scales. I learned all the ingredients in shichimi, I learned that hoisin sauce has msg, and that soy sauce is not gluten free…. I learned what was nori, namasu, browning, braising, blanching… Ask anybody in that place if my spiel made them cum. It sure did. I aced every test. I made sure I would be a fucking waitress.

And I got it! Yes!

The restaurant opened. I messed up a few times. Everybody did. It’s okay.

I worked more and more. Wasn’t making much money. We (servers) had to split about 50% of our tips with everybody else (food runners, bussers, bartenders, etc.) so I was only making about $50 a lunch shift and $100 a dinner shift. That’s very little for restaurant work on Hawaii.

 

Two months on Hawaii and I was still in debt.

‘Roy’s was a mistake,’ I realized, ‘I could have saved plenty of money by now working somewhere else…’

I couldn’t turn back now. ‘Work harder. Work more!’

I did. The more I worked, the faster I got, the more I could handle, the more tips I made. That’s the thing about hospitality jobs in the US- the harder you work, the more money you make.

Serving tables really is hard work. You need to have a good memory and be very organized inside your own head. Little things like, “can I have some ketchup” can easily throw off your organization when you’re slammed. You need to keep a constant list of priorities in your head, and this list is continuously changing, every few minutes or so. If you know how to properly manage the list, you can be a good server. Double check everything and you won’t make mistakes. Calm yourself and don’t get overwhelmed in stressful situations. Don’t forget that it’s just a game.  

I worked a lot; I worked well. I won every single competition in that place– from bottles of wine, to beer, gift certificates, I even won a costume contest.

On Halloween they offered a $100 prize + a bottle of wine for the best costume. At that point, I lived in a share house across Keiki Beach with a bunch of friends. It was the kind of house where a lot of people come and go all the time (surfers and hippies stay for a few months and then leave… leaving their crap behind). So there was a lot of crap- clothes, shoes, toys, etc. that didn’t belong to anybody.

I was determined to win that contest. The night before Halloween I found a box, duct tape, clothes, shoes and a giant stuffed panda. I turned the clothes into a little body and put it into the box, which I turned into a cage using the duct tape. Then I found a fluffy black sweater. I put it on and stuffed the panda into the back of the sweater so that the panda’s head popped out above my head. I made a hole in the back of the box and inserted my head into it, making my head look like the head of the little body inside the cage. My real body then looked like the body of the evil panda, who’s face I painted with “blood”.

I was pleasantly surprised that it actually turned out like I had hoped- giant evil panda holding a miniature captive (me) in a cage.

So Roy’s is a pretty fancy restaurant. The kind that people with little bow-ties and fancy dresses go to. The meals were about $50-60, apps $20-30. Proper wine service. And we were supposed to spiel every table.

My first table on Halloween was a party of 7 rich people celebrating something. A couple of them laughed at my costume, but I could tell that some of them were not very pleased at having an evil panda + miniature captive spiel them and serve them expensive food. It was great, I spieled the shit out of them :D. I presented and served a $100 bottle of wine for them in my costume, but couldn’t reach the table when I tried to pour them the wine because the cage was in the way. Luckily, my coworkers helped me out a lot that night.

It was hard to work in that costume, it was very hot and I couldn’t hold a tray or see anywhere but straight ahead of me. It wasn’t a very productive night but totally worth it.

$100 up ;)

In November, my friend Dave flew in from Australia. Dave has cerebral palsy, so he cannot walk without crutches and has a hard time using basic motor skills, yet this is the second time he had left his country with absolutely no assistance, to visit me on a faraway island. Actually, he visits his friends all the time, all over the world. Doctors have been telling Dave that he should be in a wheelchair for many years, but he refuses. He walks. Slowly, but he walks :).

I took 5 days off work to go to the Big Island with Dave. We rented a van, which we slept in and drove all around the island. We drove to the top of Mauna Kea for the supermoon (November 14th, 2016- the biggest and brightest moon in 60 years). We found out that there are telescopes you can use for free in the information center’s observatory.

We stepped out of the van to the blistering cold wind on Mauna Kea; it must have been close to freezing that night. The wind was so strong that it was knocking Dave off of his crutches. Dave grabbed the biggest telescope to support his entire body, having no idea that telescopes could move so easily. The telescope went sliding away, crutches dropped to the ground, and about 5 people ran over to help Dave. He was fine, just a bit shocked and worried about the telescope. We peered at the moon with caution, it looked absolutely surreal.

Just past the observatory, there was an unpaved road that led to the summit of Mauna Kea; at the entrance of the road there were a bunch of warning signs:

Danger! 4-wheel drive only! And so on.

I looked at the gravel, looked at Dave. It looked fine, he looked ok. We ignored the signs and drove the van up the volcano (this rental van was in much better shape than my gunk van). Halfway up, it started getting really steep and a bit scary in the dark, so I stopped the van and parked on the side of the winding dirt road. We slept there for the night. No one bothered us but the supermoon. The moon was so massive and bright on top of Mauna Kea that I felt like it was energizing my entire body, soon to take over my mind! I could barely sleep with it peering through the car window all night. Nevertheless, it was absolutely incredible.

We drove to the summit in the morning.

Mauna Kea (“White Mountain”) is the highest point in the Pacific Basin, and the highest island-mountain in the world; it rises 9,750 meters (32,000 ft) from the ocean floor to an altitude of 4,205 meters (13,796 ft) above sea level, which places its summit above 40 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere. (ifa.hawaii.edu)

The summit of Mauna Kea was cold, windy, brown and barren. Like another planet altogether. Sparse dark brown cinder cones poked out of the lava plateau.

Hawaii is Earth’s connecting point to the rest of the Universe.  The summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii hosts the world’s largest astronomical observatory, with telescopes operated by astronomers from eleven countries. The combined light-gathering power of the telescopes on Mauna Kea is fifteen times greater than that of the Palomar telescope in California — for many years the world’s largest — and sixty times greater than that of the Hubble Space Telescope. (ifa.hawaii.edu)

We contemplated trying to sneak into the observatory but decided against it… Mostly because of the cold wind.

We got back in the car and started driving down the mountain. The drive down Mauna Kea was a bit frightening because there was a storm moving in and I was afraid of it snowing on this “Danger! 4WD only!” road, since we didn’t have 4WD or chains.

We made it down slowly, then drove to the beach to warm up. It is amazing that on Hawaii, you can encounter such a radical difference in climate in just a couple of hours of driving- from winter on Mars to a tropical rainforest! You can even snowboard on Mauna Kea in winter, then drive down the mountain and go for a surf.

We drove to South Point, where I jumped off of a 40-foot cliff, then to the Green Sand Beach. The Green Sand Beach is an impressive site after a ride through the barren south shore landscape. It is located in a beautiful turquoise bay, there are rocky cliffs on both sides of the water, and a steep hill of soft moss-green sand leading down to the waves. I tumbled down the steep sandy slope to get to the water. The ocean was messy, there was very strong current and small choppy waves. I didn’t go in.

The next day, we drove up Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth. Rather than the cinder cone that you typically imagine on a volcano, Kilauea has a collapsed pit crater called Halemaʻumaʻu, which holds a lava lake that you can see from the observation platform at the Jaggar Museum. There are telescopes that you can use for free to see the lava turn, splash and burst out of its pit. According to Hawaiian mythology, Halemaʻumaʻu is the home of Pele- goddess of fire, lightning, dance, wind, volcanoes and violence.

We took a long drive through the national park, from the crater pit to the ocean. It was a powerful sight- a steady mountain slope of dried up black lava meeting bright blue endless water. We drove for hours, gazing at black dusty rivers of Pāhoehoe (smooth, unbroken lava) over steep slopes covered in ʻAʻā (rough lava blocks). Amazing.

Dave and I didn’t plan our trip ahead of time; we just knew that Mauna Kea was the largest island mountain in the world, we knew that the supermoon was on its way and were aware of the active volcano on the island. Since we didn’t pay for accommodation, we weren’t bound to any particular part of the island; that gave us the flexibility to go where we wanted, when we wanted and to simply explore. We parked anywhere we wanted and slept in the van or on beaches. We kept food to a minimum budget as well, mostly buying from supermarkets or farmer’s markets.

We found out about the Kalapana night market, a lively local festivity that happens every Wednesday night on the south of the Big Island. On our way to the markets, we accidentally passed the right turnoff and drove all the way to the dirt road that leads to the south end of Volcanoes National Park, where you can see lava pouring into the ocean. Unfortunately, you can’t drive all the way to the lava, you can either walk there or go for a two-hour bike ride.

The end of the paved road was filled with bike rental stands and I noticed a few bikes with attached baby strollers. Some of them looked pretty decently sized.

Hmm. The sun was just about to go down. There was an active volcano. There was lava. There was the ocean. There was Dave. There was a bike. No other way to get there. There was Dave. There was a bike stroller. There was Dave.

Next thing you know Dave’s in the baby stroller and I’m hauling ass towards the lava.

The looks on people’s faces were priceless as I passed by them, dragging a hairy, loud-mouthed, 30-something year old man up a volcano in a baby capsule. It was a great workout.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get Dave all the way to where the lava poured into water because there was a rough 150 or so meter walk over uneven, dried up ʻAʻā; but I think that he enjoyed the bike ride, sunset and ambiance of Volcanoes National Park regardless.

I was mesmerized by the sight of lava meeting the ocean. The mix of energy, red hot magma spewing onto ocean waves crashed against black cliffs. It is magical to see the island grow with your own eyes.

How damn lucky I felt to have this privilege.

Dave flew out a few days later and I got back to the job game. I continued to slave away through November and December. I worked many doubles which ran from 9:45am to up to 1:00am, usually with no break (sometimes I would get 20 minutes or so to change clothes). After a double (and I often did 2 or 3 doubles in a row) I would need an entire day of bed rest just to recover (after which I would have to come right back to work again).

I basically ate nothing but Roy’s employee meals, which were usually tasty but not the healthiest, and I had severe back pain that I couldn’t get rid of because of the stress of the job and because I had no time to deal with it. By the end of December, I started to feel depressed.

What was I doing?

I took a day off and went into the jungle.

I always liked this quote from the movie, The Power of One:

“any question you have, the answer you will find in nature.”

I walked around the jungle barefoot and alone. Felt the mud slip in between my toes. Think.

5 months in the job game and I have little to show for it. I paid back my debt, saved a few thousand dollars but not nearly what I would expect from 5 months of work. I wasted 2 months- one month waiting for the stupid game to start, one month training, getting minimum wage. I have serious back pain. I’m not happy.

Come back to reality. What am I doing?

I am a little person on a giant sphere that we call Earth, moving through a vast infinity of wonder we call the Universe. I am so insignificant. This “job game” is so meaningless.

I felt deep empathy for those who don’t see it as a game, but allow it to engulf their entire life. How can you just live and accept this? How lost and confused must some be.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

I have to do something about this!

But what?

I grabbed a guava tree. Looked at its intricate beauty. The interwoven shapes of its bark. The colors- red, pink, brown, even blue. The colors were weaving.

Think.

I spent the last 9 years of my life traveling all over the world. If I died today, I wouldn’t regret a minute of it. I don’t believe in the system we live in, I have no desire to settle down and join it. I know I will quit this job soon.

Why am I so confused then?

When I left Nicaragua, I broke up with Chris, the greatest love of my life. He was so perfect. So beautiful inside and out. He understood me deeply. He was funny, witty, sexy and smart. I miss him.

Was that a mistake?

It didn’t feel like a mistake. I couldn’t handle it anymore. We spent two and a half years traveling around the world together- 3 months in one country, 2 in another; 3 months together, 4 months apart. We had 4 passports between the two of us, but none that allowed us to live and work in the same place. I couldn’t be torn apart anymore. I needed to be on my own for a while. It felt right.

What is it then?

I’m just overworking myself. I don’t have a plan. A date. Where am I going next? What am I doing? 

What am I doing?

I thought about the last few of years of traveling- Australia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Caribbean, Lake Tahoe, Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Nicaragua.

I need more.

Not more places or more adventures, but more purpose. More depth in my life.

I started to feel guilty. Guilty for taking advantage of the system and just having fun, knowing that the whole world was so fucked up.

Look at these people. Look at what we’re doing to our planet. We’re killing it all for the job game! Can’t they see that it’s just a game?

No, they can’t.

Think.

I struggled with university, but managed to finish in 2014. I graduated with a degree of International and Global Studies from the University of Sydney. This was a brand-new degree, I was in the 2nd group of people that had ever graduated with it, so it was very disorganized but its aim was to give us a perspective of the ‘international and global’ world that we live in. The degree spanned from studying international political systems, to international business, to cultural issues, international conflicts, war, environmental degradation and so on, going across many different faculties of the university.

The core subject analyzed global and international problems and looked at how different types of institutions dealt with different types of problems. For example, I once analyzed how UN Women (a government organization) dealt with the issue of rape being used as a weapon of war vs. how Amnesty International (a non-government organization) dealt with the same issue. My conclusion was that neither organization helped much at all because neither one of them dug to the roots of the problem- and these roots are very, very deep.

My conclusion to the entire degree was that our whole system needed to be completely dismantled and recreated in order to solve any global issue. Gaining this kind of perspective from a ‘prestigious’ institution did a lot for me, because it basically confirmed my suspicions about how screwed up our society was and it backed up my belief that there was absolutely no reason for me to make any effort to build some kind of career for money or to live a boring ordinary life.

I thought about this and stared into the guava tree.

It is so beautiful.

How could I live without this guava tree?  Without the forest, without the extraordinary biodiversity of our oceans, our Earth.

We cannot live without life on Earth.

I have to at least try to do something.

But what? And how?

The Venus Project. -This was the only organization that I knew of that proposed an in-depth holistic plan for how to redesign the entire global culture and system starting from the very core- human values, mentality and behavior. Any other form of activism seemed pointless to me because the hard effort would eventually be wiped out by the money system or some other symptom of trade.

I picked a guava.

How to join the Venus Project? I had been wondering that for years.

In spring of 2016, on my way to Nicaragua, I flew to Florida to meet 100-year-old Jacque Fresco, the founder of the Venus Project (TVP). While I was at the TVP research center, I also met co-founder Roxanne Meadows and a guy named Saso Luznar. I told them that I was Russian, and they said that the Russian speaking team was actually the biggest TVP team in the world, but that they had some communication issues and needed a good Russian-English link.

That got me excited! I could be the missing link!

I immediately volunteered to help and gave them my contact information. Saso said that they would get me into the next orientation process to become a Point of Contact for TVP, but that this would take a few months.

Ok. I cleared my head. Dropped the squashed fruit from my palm.

I just had to wait. TVP is in my near future. For now, get a grasp of reality. Don’t lose it. Don’t let the ‘job game’ get to you. Remember your insignificance in the vast universe.

Make a deadline: March 1st– I quit no-matter what. Bust it out, save as much as possible, quit and go. It doesn’t matter where, just quit the stupid game!

I walked out of the jungle.