The Death of Couchsurfing

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Couchsurfing- the Idea

The idea behind Couchsurfing is great:

– If I live somewhere on Earth and I would like to host travelers at my place, I can make a profile and offer my space. The space can be a couch, a room, a hammock, a tent, the backyard, the floor, whatever- you specify what you have to offer.

Why would I offer my space for free? – To meet travelers and like-minded people. To join the community. To do something nice, etc.  :)

– If I am traveling somewhere and I don’t want to stay in a hotel or hostel, I can search through Couchsurfing to see if there is someone available to host me. If I find a host that I would like to stay with, I will send them a message or a “couchsurfing request.” If they respond with a “yes,” I will stay with them for the amount of time that I specified in the message or request.

What if they want to rape you or something? Couchsurfing has a reference system. Once a surfer stays with a host, both people leave a reference.

As a general rule, I don’t stay with people who have few references or only have references from hot young chicks, even if all of those references are positive. I read through the host’s profile and references to have a good idea of who I am sending a request to.

The most important aspect of couchsurfing is that it should be trade-free. This means that when a host offers their couch, they should not expect money, gifts, labor, naked pictures or anything in exchange for the couch. The surfer should, of course, be respectful to their host and understand that they do not provide a “service” but a helping hand to them.

– You were also able to create events and meet-ups through couchsurfing.com. This used to be a great way to meet like-minded people.

Personal Experience

I was a huge fan of Couchsurfing for a long time. I joined in 2010. I hosted in Australia, Indonesia, the US and Russia. I surfed in Spain, New Zealand, the US, Mexico, Bulgaria, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Russia, Mongolia and Germany.

I hosted Couchsurfing meet-ups in the US and Russia and have joined dozens of meet-ups all over the world. I’ve met hundreds of wonderful people through Couchsurfing and have had amazing experiences with many of them. I met great friends, and even sailed across the Caribbean and along the North Island of New Zealand because of Couchsurfing.

I was amazed by the kindness that complete strangers showed me. And I realized that this kindness was contagious- it made me want to give back whenever I had the chance.

Couchsurfing gave me hope that maybe this world is not that bad after all :)

So What Happened?

When Couchsurfing International Inc. launched in 2003, it was a domestic nonprofit and the website was run by volunteers, but in 2011, they decided to turn it into a For-Profit corporation.

For-profit? Yes, so they profit off of people who simply want to help each other out for free. I offer you a free place to sleep. You accept. We are kind and genuine. Couchsurfing International, Inc. figures out ways to profit off of this.

They published a blog in 2011 saying that they were proud of becoming a company, that they will stick to their core values, and that “CouchSurfing will never make you pay to host and surf.” 

By 2012, Couchsurfing raised $22.6 million through investors.

Remember, when investors invest, they expect to get that money back plus a lot more.

A lot of couchsurfing members were upset about this turn of events, saying that becoming “for-profit” goes against the entire idea of couchsurfing and against the values of the community. As a result, the company decided to spend over $10,000 on “public relations” to educate its directors on how to respond to the public about this dilemma.

For me, the change wasn’t super noticeable at first. I really didn’t like the idea of couchsurfing becoming a for-profit company, but at least in the beginning, I still had access to everything I needed on couchsurfing. I surfed, hosted and created/attended meet-ups all over the world.

I noticed that the website changed from time to time, and in my opinion, it became worse every time they updated it. I never wanted or needed any fancy apps or features, the only thing that was important on Couchsurfing was to be able to connect hosts with surfers and to have a reference system. This is simple and it worked fine back in 2010.

So how does Couchsurfing make money?

1. Advertisement.

2. Probably through “sharing” data.

Couchsurfing says:

“We did not sell your data. We would not feel comfortable doing this. We think this is unethical. We did not do this. We will never do this. There are mentions on various social media channels of Couchsurfing selling member data. So we will say this once more, we have not and will not do this.”

But Google also claims that they don’t “sell” your data.

Here’s an article that explains how Google gets away with claiming that they don’t “sell” your data, but manages to make billions of dollars by “sharing” your data and “engaging” with third parties.

Interestingly, this is the same language that Couchsurfing uses in their privacy policy:

“We may engage a third party data provider who may collect web log data from you or place or recognize a unique cookie on your browser.”

“We may also share aggregated or de-identified information, which cannot reasonably be used to identify you.”

“We will not share information about you with outside parties except […]

-With third party vendors, consultants and other service providers who need access to such information to carry out their work for us.”

You can read their privacy policy yourself and try to figure out what they may or may not do with your data.

3. “Verification.”

The "Verification" Scam

If you want to be “verified” on Couchsurfing, all you have to do is pay money ($59.00, maybe more or less, depending on where you live), give them an address, then they “verify” the address and give you a “verified” badge!

They made it sound like this was such a “great thing” that would make the community safer, but in reality it was just a money-making scheme.

The truth is that paying money to Couchsurfing does not make the community safer, in fact it could make it more dangerous.

Why? Well because any creep-o can “verify” themselves and then use couchsurfing to invite unsuspecting girls or boys to their place. Since the creep-o will have a little green “verification” badge, these girls and boys (especially new users) might think that this person is totally safe to stay with even if they have no references, or very few references.

Paying money to Couchsurfing does not in any way prove that you are not a creep. -That’s why the verification system is bullshit, and nothing more than a money-making scheme. What’s important are the references, not the fact that you have money or that you’ve provided this company with some address.

 

The “verification” scam pissed a lot of people off, but in 2017, Couchsurfing went the extra mile and started restricting users who were not “verified.”

Now they said that they will limit you to only “10 introductions” per week if you are not verified.

This means that if you do not pay money to Couchsurfing, you cannot send more than 10 messages or request per week.

Again, they framed this as if it was good for the community, saying that this will make surfers send more meaningful requests to their potential hosts. -But this is complete bullshit, because if that was the truth, then why not limit everybody, rather than just the people that didn’t pay?

So this was a really shitty move but it worked for the company! It forced a lot of people to pay. Sending only 10 messages per week is very limiting, especially if you’re visiting big cities or if you visit more than one city per week (which a lot of couchsurfers do).

I never paid and will never pay Couchsurfing in any way. From 2017 on, I mostly used Couchsurfing to host and create meet-ups, but now I regret even that.

The Last Straw

On May 14, 2020, Couchsurfing imposed a mandatory monthly or yearly fee to use the website. They gave no warning to their users and cut off all access to the user’s own profiles.

Now, you cannot log in to your profile, you can’t get or see your own photos, your references, your contacts, messages or anything else unless you pay Couchsurfing.

When I go to couchsurfing.com all I can see is this:

I cannot access my profile at all.

Funny how they promised that “CouchSurfing will never make you pay to host and surf” back in 2011. 

Like I said, there was no warning about this, and now I can’t even contact some great people that I’ve met through Couchsurfing in the past. I also can’t delete my profile or even request a portable copy of my data through the link they provide.

When I click on that link it takes me to the “pay here” button and there is no other option.

This is sad, but predictable. This is what for-profit corporations do. They don’t care about their users or the community, their primary (if not only) concern will always be profit.

What really makes me sick though is how these companies frame their actions.

Remember that $10,000 “public relations” training? -Surely that was a good investment.

Right on the main page, where I can’t access my profile unless I pay money, it says: “All of us who are members of Couchsurfing believe in something greater than money, possessions, and status.” -This is why we make it mandatory to pay to access your profile! And why we didn’t even warn you about this! :D

Even people that had paid for a “lifetime” verification will have to pay this fee after one year if they want to use Couchsurfing. Hosts that only use Couchsurfing to let people stay at their home for free also have to pay.

Oh but they say, “Your contribution will enable those in “unbanked” and developing countries to maintain free access to the Couchsurfing community. The diversity of the Couchsurfing community is what unites us. It is imperative, especially during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, that we demonstrate compassion and inclusion to those who may be economically unable to participate.

This is nothing but more “public relations” training put to use. If you’re so compassionate and inclusive, then why not also care about those who live in “developed” countries but are economically unable to participate? There are plenty of very poor people all over the world, you know.

Plus, it’s also more practical for them not to charge hosts from “developing” countries. Obviously most people in very poor countries aren’t going to pay, so in order for Couchsurfing to be a successful business, they need to keep their “Global diversity.”

Please don’t believe any for-profit company when they say that they care about you :)

In their blog, Couchsurfing framed this sudden change like this: “Poor us, we love you all and we need your help because of the pandemic!” But if you de-code the $10,000-public-relations-training language, what they really mean is, We’re not making enough money from you by advertising shit, collecting your data and scamming you with our “verification” scheme- so we need to force you to give us money now.

If Couchsurfing was not a for-profit company, they wouldn’t be suffering from the pandemic in the first place. Fewer people would use the website now and that would be fine. Their server would have less requests to deal with because fewer users would send each other messages, upload photos, search and overall visit the website. This would not be a problem if Couchsurfing was not looking to make money off of its users.

Many (including myself) would be happy to donate to Couchsurfing if it was a genuine and honest (not profit-orientated) organization. And I am sure that many volunteers would help maintain the website.

If Wikipedia, Trustroots and BeWelcome can work without being a for-profit business, surely Couchsurfing could have done it too.

But that’s not their aim! Couchsurfing is more like Facebook than it is like Trustroots, BeWelcome or Wikipedia. 

And just like bilionaire Zuckie cares less about a “better world” than he does about his $76.4 billion, I am sure that the CEO and others who work for Couchsurfing International Inc. would never even consider hosting a couchsurfer at their precious homes :).

"We Hear You"

Obviously, many Couchsurfing members were very upset about this sudden change, so Couchsurfing responded to the users with yet another smart “poor us” public relations blog called “We Hear You.”

They “sincerely” apologized for not warning their users about the change, saying that “sending millions of emails out to the community is not a simple feat.”

-As if you need to send individual users an email one-by-one?! Why not post a message on your website, just like you posted the “PAY HERE” message? :D Or send a newsletter? Or Write a blog? Or all of that?

The rest of this public relations blog is a bunch of bla-bla-bla about how wonderful they are and how they use this money to improve Couchsurfing. They even said that they spent up to $40,000 per month on Google Maps at one point!! :D

I’m sure that Couchsurfing did invest a lot of money into their website, but don’t forget that this is done so they could grow the community and profit off of it. Those expensive maps probably collected lot of your data so don’t believe the “We’re so wonderful, we made all of these great expensive improvements to the website so that your experience is better!”

If Couchsurfing actually “heard us,” they would at the very least give us access to our profiles, so please don’t believe their “public relations” talk.

Instead, let’s just say good-bye to couchsurfing.com and switch to an alternative platform.

Couchsurfing Alternatives

Whenever you use a service, you should always ask the question, “What am I trading?

To use Couchsurfing you clearly need to trade money. You also have to trade your data and you have to look at ads.

Are there trade-free alternatives?!

Yes! I found two that seem to be great! (Feel free to suggest other alternatives in the comments below).

1. BeWelcome

BeWelcome is a project of the French non-profit association “BeVolunteer.” It has all of the important features of Couchsurfing (connecting hosts with surfers, it includes references, groups, activities, discussions -and even a MAP! :D), yet it is not looking to profit off of its community. It does not feed you ads, sell your data, ask for a fee or any other trade.

BeWelcome is run by volunteers and raises the funds they need to pay for the project’s maintenance costs through donations. Their finances are transparent.

2. Trustroots

Trustroots is another great platform with a big MAP! :) And I’m sure they don’t pay $40,000 for it!

They don’t have a reference system yet, but they are working on it. Many Trustroots profiles are linked to Couchsurfing. This may be a problem now that Couchsurfing blocked its own user’s ability to access their profiles, so hopefully their own reference system will be up and running soon.

Trustroots is a UK based non-profit foundation that is run by volunteers and financed with donations. The volunteers believe that the world of sharing is being taken over by corporations that try to monetize people’s willingness to help each other, so Trustroots does not want to make a profit from its users. It does not show you ads, sell your data, ask for a fee or any other trade.

The same people that made Trustroots also created Hitchwiki, Trashwiki, and Nomadwiki.

Last Note

When Couchsurfing writes their “poor me” public relations blogs claiming that they absolutely needed all of those millions of dollars to run their platform, just take a look at some other alternatives and notice that it actually is possible to run such a project without creating a big business out of it.

The yearly donation goal of BeWelcome, for example, is €1300.

Oh but what about the server? Couchsurfing has 15 million members, while BeWelcome only has 129 thousand!

Well, why don’t you ask Wikipedia how they do it then? Or Internet Archive.

Wikipedia has published more than 53 million articles and has 1.5 billion unique visitors per month. It’s a volunteer-based collaborative project that’s funded by donations and it’s trade-free: to use Wikipedia, you don’t have to trade your data, money, attention or anything else.

Internet Archive is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more. It is also trade-free (and a lot more complicated than Couchsurfing).

In fact, there are thousands of great projects out there that offer all kinds of trade-free goods and services- so it is absolutely possible to create a great big project without aiming to make a profit. A few TROM volunteers recently started up a Trade-Free Directory to showcase some of these projects.

Why?

Because trade-free is the greatest form of charity :)

  • You help people but ask for nothing in return.
  • You create software and share it with the world without asking for their data, attention, or currencies.
  • You develop a healthcare system that caters for humans without asking for anything in return.
  • You create and offer, and thus you help others and yourself. Others because they will get access to trade-free goods and services, and yourself because there will be no force dragging you into “unethical” and profit-oriented behaviors.

By creating trade-free goods or services you are the utmost charitable creature there is.

A society where most of what people need and want is offered as trade-free, is a society void of most problems we see in the world today because there will be little to no incentive for people to create these problems in the first place.

 

I’ve added Trustroots and BeWelcome to the directory. Please feel free to contribute to this project and add more trade-free goods and services :)

Personal Update

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I’ve been in lockdown in Spain for over a month now, so my life hasn’t been extremely exciting lately, but I’d like to share some updates here:

1. I had an interviewed with Alex on the All Real podcast. Alex does a great job with his podcast, you can find part one of the interview here, and part two here.

In the interview, we talked about some of my travel stories and observations of the world, we also discussed my blog about climate change and my article called “Why I Left the Venus Project“. I explained some details about my experience with the Venus Project and I also talked about TROM and the idea of focusing on trade as the root cause of most of our global problems. 

2. We (TROM volunteers) created a new project called “Our Minds“.

The idea was to make a hub where we can all post our blogs, since some of us don’t have our own websites. Some of my blogs are posted there and you can also find blogs written by other like-minded people. See all of our “minds” here :).

*Since this is just a casual place for us to post our thoughts, you might find some rants and random thoughts in there. Just warning you :)

3. If you didn’t know, we also have a weekly podcast that we call “TROM-Cast”.

We try to get together once a week to discuss various topics, usually relating to our trade-based system. The discussions are casual and anyone is welcome to join. You can find all of the old episodes here or here and if you would like to join a future TROM-Cast, see our live updates or get in touch with us via our public discussions chat. We usually stream on Thursdays.

4. Also, we have a TON of great tools that you can use on TROMsite.com

We curate: news, videos, podcasts, illustrations, movies, courses, documentaries and software.

The idea is to provide people with great educational material and to remove the bs, click-bait and unscientific content you find elsewhere on the internet.

Our newest addition is illustrations ;)

5. And lastly, an update on my book.

At first it was a bit of a challenge to concentrate on my book because I couldn’t get my attention off of COVID-19 news. But after soaking in a bunch of information, writing a short blog and participating in three TROM-Casts about COVID-19, I said “enough is enough!” and I made peace with the coronavirus :D

In order to concentrate on my book, I had to rip myself away from the news (at least in the mornings). I realized that if I start reading the news in the morning, I won’t be able to concentrate on my book because all I’ll be able to think about are the horrible things that are happening all over the world. I’ll get pissed off and I’ll want to write a blog about it :D In fact, I really want to write another blog about the pandemic, but I won’t do it now because I think it’s more important to focus on my book instead.

Anyway, so my advice is- if you want to be productive and not spend the entire day thinking about the coronavirus and our shitty “economic” situation, just ignore it for the first half of the day. Put it to the side and read about it later in the evening. It was hard for me to do this at first but now I’m getting the hang of it so I’m finally making progress with my book.

I’ve been editing a lot. This has been taking a while because I’m re-writing a lot of parts, I’m creating new dialogues and making new chapters to make it flow better. I’ve edited 100 pages so far, I’ll have to edit about 80 more and then I’ll have to write some more and edit more. I never thought that writing a book would be this difficult :D

So, in short, this is why you won’t see many new blogs from me these days- I’m busy working on my book!

I hope you’re all dealing with this pandemic as best as you can :)

Here are our three TROM-Casts about COVID-19:

And one last note:

I know the situation is tough for a lot of people, especially for those that don’t know how to pay for rent or food now, or for those that are at high risk of having a severe reaction to the virus, but remember not to take out your anger or frustration on your loved ones, your roommates or family. The situation is what it is, so do what you can to stay safe and sane. If you feel upset, it’s probably not your fault, or their fault.

The entire pandemic could have been handled much better globally if we did not live in a profit-driven, trade-based society. Instead of spending billions of dollars on sports stadiums and shopping centers, we could have “invested” more money in hospital beds and ventilators. We do have the resources, after all. Instead of having patents on medical devices and essential equipment, we could have open sourced and distributed this stuff more efficiently. Instead of forcing 80% or more of our population to have “non-essential” jobs, most of which are pretty useless and can already be automated, we could have “invested” in training more people to provide essential services such as medical care. Instead of leaving people scared and stressed over not being able to pay for food and housing while they’re in lockdown, we could have provided basic needs for our entire human population. We do have the resources, after all.

But the truth is, none of those things are profitable, and therefore, not worth “investing” into in this society.

There are a million more things that I want to say about this situation, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

Big big thank you to Uwe and Benjamin, the two people who support me on Patreon, and to Roma and everyone else who has supported the fundraiser for my book. Your support has helped me survive the last few months and has put me into a great position to be able to work on my writing (I’m renting an apartment with Tio and we both have our own comfortable space where we can work). I was planning on getting a job in a bar or restaurant this summer to be able to continue paying for rent, but it seems like this might be out of the question now with this pandemic. Tio and I still have enough savings to pay for the next 3-4 months but after that we’ll either have to move out of here or figure something else out. If anybody else can and would like to support either me or the TROM project, we would really appreciate your help. But of course, make sure you take care of yourself first, I know that this is a tough time for many people.

Stay safe and well!

COVID-19 Shows Us That Capitalism Is Just Not Working

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About 3 weeks ago, I noticed a few bars, restaurants and dive shops starting to open up for the upcoming summer holiday season here in Catalonia, Spain. Everybody knew about the coronavirus back then, but nobody seemed too threatened because most cases were in China and Italy at the time. Everything in Spain seemed to be just fine. I was about to print out a new resume and apply for a job in an Irish pub, when all of the sudden, this pub and every other joint in town closed down.

Next thing we knew, Spain was in a state of emergency and on strict lockdown due to COVID-19. All non-essential businesses closed down and we were told that we were not allowed to leave our apartment except to buy food, medicine, take care of somebody in need or go to “work”. This nation-wide quarantine began on March 15th, when there were 7,988 confirmed cases and 294 deaths from the coronavirus in Spain. From that day on, the situation escalated quickly. The number of COVID-19 cases surged to 90,000 in just two and a half weeks and as hospitals became desperately overloaded, the death toll grew to over 8,000. As I’m writing this, the situation is only getting worse as hundreds of people are dying from this virus every day.

Here’s a great video that explains why the situation went from 0 to 100 so quickly (and why the same thing is likely to happen wherever you are):

As for me, I’m not afraid for my personal safety. The death toll and images of Spain’s hospitals look horrifying, but I do understand that the vast majority of people who catch this coronavirus experience only mild or moderate symptoms. However, I also understand that COVID-19 is a lot more dangerous for those over 60 or those with pre-existing health issues, and I would absolutely hate to infect other people with this virus. So I’m happy to stay in quarantine to help “flatten the curve” and protect those that are more vulnerable.

The situation may get difficult for me if we continue to stay in quarantine and I run out of money for rent and food, but I understand that I’m (by far) not the only one in this predicament, so I wanted to write down a few notes to point out the stupidity of this situation:

– So, there’s a pandemic: a disease that has spread across the globe. This disease is overwhelming healthcare systems and killing tens of thousands of people! Experts tell us that since we don’t have a cure or vaccine for COVID-19 yet, the best thing we can do now is slow down the spread of the virus by staying at home. “Just stay at home!” -They say, “so your healthcare system doesn’t get overwhelmed!” That doesn’t sound too bad, right? Governments are assuring us that “essential businesses” will stay open, so there will not be a shortage of food or other essential products that humans need. All we humans need to do is stay at home and try not to get infected/ infect others with the coronavirus.

“OH but that is bad!” -Say the people, “if we stay at home and we can’t go to our “jobs” then we won’t get any MONEY! If we don’t get money then we won’t be able to buy food or pay for the place we live in! Yes supermarkets will still be stocked with food, but we humans won’t have access to that food because we won’t have enough money to buy it!”

As stupid as it sounds, that’s the scenario that many of us will be in soon (or already are in)- and many people are more afraid of this than they are of the coronavirus itself.

“Non-essential jobs” are clearly not that important, and many (if not most) jobs can already be automated. But in this system, we “need” those non-essential (useless) jobs -not because they do something important- but because we haven’t figured out a smarter way to give people access to stuff like food and shelter.

Globally, there is no shortage of food or housing, so scarcity is not the problem. We have the technological capability to provide all humans with the food and essentials that they need using only a small fraction of our workforce. In fact, globally, we waste 25-30% of the food we produce, 1.7 billion people are overweight, 753 million are obese, yet 841 million people are undernourished and over 25 thousand die of hunger each day. [Source]

WHY? Not because there’s not enough food! But because in this system, the only way you can get access to food and other necessities is by trading for it. You trade your time and energy- and you get some money, then you trade this money for food and necessities. If you can’t trade- you get nothing and you might starve to death while food gets thrown away.

– Shouldn’t this be an obvious sign that this money/(trade) system is failing us? I mean, people don’t actually need money or useless jobs, they need food and a place to live in!

So (obviously) what we need to do is give people trade-free access to their basic needs. Since there is enough food already- we shouldn’t force each other to trade for it.

How can that be done? I don’t care. If we can figure out a way to send people to space, I’m sure we could also figure out a way to give people food. For now, we can consider a basic income, or food stamps, or some kind of delivery service, or something else! If you provide people with their basic needs then they won’t want to kill themselves while in quarantine!

Actually, it’s not just a matter of people wanting to kill themselves due to stress during lockdown, another very real problem is people actually dying of hunger. Well you probably know that this was already an ongoing problem way before the pandemic began, but now it’s escalating rapidly.

Many poor countries recently either went into lockdown or closed their borders, leaving the majority of their populations with no means of getting an income for food.

In India, the nation-wide lockdown caused this insanity:

Not the best way to slow down a pandemic, I’d say.

Here’s how the situation looks in Kenya:

The Philippines:

Thailand:

Italy:

The same story repeats in many places all over the world, and sadly, this is only the beginning.

COVID-19 may kill thousands (or millions) of people, but I am sure that our insufficient trade-based system will kill many more.

How to Stay in Europe via Marriage

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If you’ve traveled to Europe before, you may know about the “90-day-rule”:

Citizens of the “lucky” (mostly rich) tribes like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Chile, Brazil and the other “green” countries in the map below are allowed “visa-free” entry to the Schengan Area for 90 days out of each 180 days.

The Schengan Area includes 22 of 27 European Union countries (France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland and others). It does not include Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus or Romania. Nor does it include the UK or Ireland.

If you come from any “gray” country in the map above (notice how most of these countries are poor) you will have to apply for a visa before you try to enter the Schengan Area. To get a visa, you will either need to be tied to a job that “sponsors” you and sends you to Europe for work, or if you just want to visit the place, you will need to prove that you have a lot of money, a job, possibly a house, possibly medical papers, and a ton of other documents. The number of documents depends on which country you come from. Generally, the poorer your country is, the more restrictions are imposed on you and the more of a disadvantage you have. Once you have all the paperwork done and you’ve paid a ton of money for the “official documents” and visa application, you might still be denied the visa (and you won’t get your money back). If you get the visa, and you try to enter Europe with your approved visa, you can still be denied if the “official guard” at the border doesn’t like you for whatever reason.

Side Note: I find it ironic that the European Union claims to be committed to protecting and promoting human rights worldwide while simultaneously discrimitating against people from the “gray” (poor) countries.

Anyway… Back to the “lucky” green ones.

As I said, the “90-day-rule” means that you can be in the Schengan Area for 90 days out of each 180 days. You can go in and out of the Schengan Area as many times as you want, as long as the total accumulative time you’ve spent in the zone doesn’t exceed that 90-day limit. How do they count that? It’s easy: count back the last 180 days of your life and see how many days you’ve been in the zone. The EU even made a special “visa calculator” to “help” people with this confusing rule.

But what if you want to stay longer?!

Well, it’s difficult.

I’ve researched this A LOT and couldn’t find any easy way to stay longer. This article outlines your options quite well and may give you some useful tips.

In short, these are your options:

1. Prove that you have a lot of money (tens of thousands of Euros, depending on which country you apply to stay in).

2. Prove that you have a steady income from which you get a lot of money each month (to stay in Spain, this means having an income of 2,500 euros a month- which is waay waay more than you need to live a comfortable life in Spain).

3. Find a job that sponsors you- this means that you have to be a full time slave to whoever “sponsors” you. If you lose your “contract”, you will lose your visa. Sound like slavery or what? Also, it’s not easy to get a sponsor unless you specialize in some job that locals can’t do.

4. Enroll in a college or university and get a “student visa”- for this you also need a lot of money.

5. Get a “working holiday” visa- this is the only good option if you’re eligible. Unfortunately, few “nationalities” are eligible to get such a visa and there are other restrictions (such as age). With my US passport, I was not able to apply for any working holiday visa in Europe (although you can get one for Ireland if you’re enrolled in or have just finished school or college).

6. Long-term-stay visas- a few EU countries offer visas that allow you to stay for 12 months or so, but this, again, is very complicated, involves a ton of documents, a ton of money, interviews with “officials” and a cavity search. Ok I’m just kidding about the cavity search, but it may as well be that :D

7. Marriage (I’ll get into this below).

In short, if you’re a poor nomadic-type human, you don’t have a job or a ton of money, and you’re not willing to be someone’s slave, you will not find an easy way to stay in Europe for more than three months. Don’t forget that any of these visas can be denied, and if you don’t have proof of enough money, they probably will be denied. 

What’s that about promoting “human rights” again, EU? I guess poor human beings don’t deserve to be treated the same way that rich human beings do, do they?

Anyway… So here’s how I did it:

I came to Spain in spring of 2019, met some really awesome people, and one particularly amazing human that I wanted to stay and live with. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to stay longer than 90 days because of this rule. So, I left for the summer. I found a 15 euro flight to the UK and spent three months there and in Turkey. I wrote about this experience in detail here.

After those three months were up, I came back to Spain. I was legally allowed to be there for another 90 days before I had to leave again. Tio (that amazing human) and I didn’t want to be split apart again after the “90 day period”, so we decided to cave into the system and “get married”.

Another side note: I think marriage is dumb. It is a nothing thing. A signature on a piece of paper means nothing. Neither does a party.

If you love somebody, then why do you need to prove that to yourselves or to anybody else? You should just be together, that’s all.

Unfortunately, in this world, the same “authorities” that promote “worldwide human rights” won’t let you “just be together” if you don’t have matching documents

The only way they will let you be together is if you perform this stupid ritual they call “marriage”.

You might think that this is easy, but in fact, it’s not.

The Marriage “Procedure”

Getting married involves a ton of documents, time and money. The exact documents you need vary from country to country, so I will only write about my experience in Spain and Romania (although as far as I can tell, other EU countries ask for similar documents).

Some details you should know:

– I have two passports: USA and Russian.

– Tio has a Romanian passport and Spanish residency (so he is a Romanian citizen living in Spain).

We first tried to do this in Spain.

These are the required documents for a marriage in Spain:

  •  Valid “ID” cards (passports) + “official” Spanish translations.
  • Original birth certificates + “official” Spanish translations. I had my birth certificate mailed from Russia, Tio had his in Spain.
  • A document to prove where you live. Tio had this document, I did not. The only “proof of address” I had was my driver’s license, which has the address of the last share-house I lived in for a few months on Hawaii (three years ago :)). The Spanish officials said that that wasn’t good enough. This was problem #1. 
  • A document to prove that you are not married. We both needed to get this document from our embassies. The Romanian embassy said that it would take 3 months for this document to be issued and “delivered” to Spain. 3 months was a convenient time period, since that’s how long I was allowed to stay in Spain. So by the time Tio would get this document, I would have to leave the Schengan Zone. Neither the US nor Russian governments have an official document that says that “you are not married” so the only thing the US and Russian embassies could provide me with is a $50 piece of paper that claims that “I swear” that I am not married. Does that make you laugh? Cry? Or what? :D The Spanish government asked me to get this expensive piece of paper from both embassies.
  • Another document to prove that you are ABLE to get married. We stopped trying to figure out what this document means because we realized that we wouldn’t be able to get the first ones on time anyway (or maybe ever). At this point we decided to give up trying to get married in Spain, and went to Romania instead, where Tio had family and people were easy to bribe.
  • But I should probably mention that after you have all of this paperwork (and official translations and “legalizations” (que?)) you also need to go through an interview where they ask you questions about each other. This may have also been a problem because neither Tio or I speak Spanish super duper well, and if we needed to hire a translator it would have cost a ton more money.

Anyway! Round two: Romania!

We flew to Romania about 9 days before my “90-days” ran out. Luckily, Romania is not a part of the Schengan agreement and I was able to enter Romania visa-free for three months with my US passport. There, we started all over again:

These are the required documents for a marriage in Romania:

  •  Valid “ID” cards (passports) + “official” Romanian translation.
  • Original birth certificates + “official” Romanian translation.
  • A piece of paper to prove that the foreigner is not married. This was the same paper Spain asked for, but in Romania, they asked to get it only from one embassy (not from both the US and Russian embassies). I went to the US embassy in Bucharest. The “officials” at the embassy told me that the US does not issue such a “document” but they can provide me with an “official letter” that may or may not be accepted by the local Romanian government. To get this sacred letter, I had to stand in front of a “US official”, put up my right hand and state that “I, Alexandra Rashidovna Davletshina, of 59 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, Hawaii, swear that I am at least 18 years old, I am not married, and I am eligible to marry Tio.” 

Are you laughing now or what?!?!  haaaaahaha. It would have been more funny if it didn’t cost $50! And if we didn’t have to drive 8 hours to get this stupid paper!

  • Two declarations from the foreigner stating that she is not married, she’s at least 18 years old and is “eligible” for marriage. We were able to get these from a “notary office” in the nearest city. I needed an “official translator” to accompany me for this “official declaration”.
  • A medical paper. We had to get an HIV test (I’m not even kidding!). Tio’s father picked up both of our results and brought them home, then we went to the hospital to show these results to the family doctor. When we walked into the doctor’s office, the doctor was listening to loud music and smoking a cigarette! Right in the same room where she treated patients. She looked at me from across the room and said, “she looks great! She’s healthy!” And signed that medical paper for us. 

All of this paperwork + “official translations” took a few weeks. Once we had everything that the zombies in the “marriage office” (or whatever it’s called) asked for, we brought them all of the paperwork.

They didn’t like the paper from the US embassy, but eventually accepted it when they noticed a second piece of “officially stamped” paper that said something like “the US does not issue a “proof of no-marriage” document, so this “declaration” is the only thing we can provide for you”. Luckily that was good enough for these zombies.

But then… the zombies noticed that there was another problem! The translation of my Russian birth certificate was slightly different from the translation of my US passport!

In Russian, my name looks like this: Александра Рашидовна Давлетшина

The “official translator” translated it into:
First name: Alexandra
Father’s name: Rashid
Last name: Davletshina

In English, my name looks like this: Alexandra Rashidovna Davletshina

The “official translator” translated it into:
First name: Alexandra Rashidovna
Last name: Davletshina

Big fucking deal!

Yeah they made a big fucking deal out of this. Had to call a bunch of people, get super dramatic, and then they said that they cannot approve our marriage unless the translations matched.

We went back to the “official translator” and bribed him to translate the “official document” as the zombies wanted it. Then we bribed the zombies in the marriage office and “set a date” for the final ritual.

We had to pay another “official translator” to come to the final ritual, but luckily, in Romania this was quite cheap (about 20 euros). All of these documents, translations and “notarized” bullshit was much much cheaper in Romania than in Spain. Plus, I don’t think you would be able to bribe an “official translator” or any other official in Spain (well at least not with perfume and cookies :D ).

The ritual itself was very dumb. The mayor came dressed up in a Romanian flag :D Tio and I had to dress up too (for reasons I won’t get into in this blog. If you want to read all of the details you can read Tio’s blog here.)

We stood in front of the Mayor and the translator as they played the “marriage song”, then he read some Romanian words, asked us “yes or no” and then told us to sign a piece of paper!

And that was it! Wheeww! A lot of fucking work for a stupid piece of paper, you might say!!!

Just imagine what an alien might think, if it looked down on our stupid society. “What are you humans doing this for? Why all these documents? What are documents anyway?”

Our answer would be: “We need this document so we can live together”

Alien:“You can’t live together without signing a piece of paper?”

Us: “No, we can’t. Other humans wont let us live together anywhere on prison Earth unless we sign this stupid piece of paper.”

What a fucked up society.

So finally! We thought it was over!

It wasn’t over

On the official EU website, we read that once you are married, all you have to do is “register” as a family member. Since Tio is a resident of Spain, we can register in Spain. According to the EU website, you can easily register at a police station or immigration office by showing them your passports, residency card, marriage certificate and form “EX-19”. We were eager to get back to Spain, so we bought the earliest cheap flights we could find (for one week after the final ritual).

I didn’t know if the same 90-out-of-180-days rule applied to me if I was now married to an EU citizen, but I figured that it wouldn’t be a problem as long as I applied for a family member card before my 90 days was up.

According to that “90-day-rule” I had 9 “legal” days left in the Schengan Area. We thought it would be easy to submit that paperwork in nine days.

We were wrong!

We went to the police station in the town we live in, they sent us to the national police station in Girona (1 hour away). The national police station sent us to the immigration office on the other side of Girona. We went there but they didn’t let us in. They told us to make an appointment on their website. We tried to make an appointment and it was impossible! Every time we filled one or two pages of the online form, it said, “sorry, no more appointments available”. We went back to the immigration office and said that we couldn’t make an appointment. They just said, “you have to try more. Try between 7:30 and 9am”.

We tried over and over and over again. We spent hours each day doing this! We couldn’t make this fucking appointment! It is a crazy abuse to make this kind of “appointment system” – to just make people fill out a form over and over and over again until they get lucky or what? If there are no appointments available now, we should be able to schedule one for next month, or 3 months from now, or a year from now- whenever there is a fucking appointment available! This is abuse!

So my 9 days ran out and I didn’t know if I was now overstaying my visa or if it was legal to stay with my European “husband”. We searched all over the internet and only found confusing and unclear information that scared the shit out of me. The EU website only confused us more. We called a Spanish friend who studied law- he looked over the same “official websites” and couldn’t figure out what the laws actually were. He called another Spanish friend who was involved in law and that friend also couldn’t figure it out.

Now I was terrified that I was overstaying my visa and that I could be denied residency in Spain because of this!

So we booked flights back to Romania!

We packed our bags that night and tried to convince ourselves that Romania is ‘not that bad’. We also decided to give it one last try at the immigration office the next day.

The next day, we stuffed our bags in the car and were ready to go to the Barcelona Airport, making one last stop at the immigration office in Girona on the way.

Tio’s sister came with us and helped us communicate, since she knows Spanish much better than we do. We went from one office to another, begged some security guards to let us speak to somebody, then we were passed from one immigration police officer, to another one, until we could finally speak to some head officer. That head officer took my passport and left the room for several minutes. I got a little worried.

Eventually he came out and said that if you two are married, then you can stay here forever! It’s no problem!

Wheeewww! That was a huge relief! I thought he was going to kick me out of the country! :D

So- in case this isn’t clear- because it is SO UNCLEAR on the official websites- if you are married, you are legally allowed to stay with your partner in Spain. However, it’s possible that different EU countries have different laws, so make sure you check with your local immigration office (beg them to let you speak to somebody!), if you ever run into this dilemma.

So we didn’t catch that flight to Romania after all. As of now, I still haven’t been able to make this freaken appointment but at least we’re happy, living by the beach :).

Oh and one more thing, if you “congratulate” us for this marriage, just think for a moment what you’re actually “congratulating” us about:

You’re congratulating the fact that we live in such a fucked up society where tribes that promote “human rights” actively discriminate against people born in poor countries, and against poor people worldwide.

You’re congratulating the fact that this system makes me feel like a criminal just for being a human being with the wrong piece of paper on a piece of land that one tribe claims as their own.

You’re congratulating the fact that two humans can’t live together unless they have matching documents. They can’t live together anywhere on Earth, that is (except in the Arctic Circle). See the interactive map that Tio made to demonstrate this fact.

You’re congratulating the fact that most of the human population is so lost in this world of fantasies and documents that they believe that a piece of paper and a party somehow creates “unity” between the two humans. These humans can’t just be together, trust and love each other without rings, papers and parties.

You’re congratulating us for the abuse we had to go through due to discrimination. I didn’t have the right papers, so I had to leave, and I couldn’t be with the person I wanted to be with unless I got the right papers. If you don’t see that as discrimination and abuse then I’m sorry but you’re a zombie. We wasted over a month of our lives, about 1000 euros, and a shit load of energy over these bullshit papers. Thanks for the “congratulations”.

You’re congratulating us for the fact that people are obsessed with documents- and we got screwed by this over and over and over again. And are still getting screwed. Thanks.

I’m sorry but I don’t believe in Jesus, Allah, Buddha or Marriage. I see marriage as nothing more than another religion. So if you congratulate us for the “marriage”, you may as well pray for us too! ;)

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.

Prison Earth

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So I’m in Romania now with Tio and his family :). I had to leave Spain (again) because by law, I can’t stay there for more than 3 months at a time. It’s funny because I didn’t break any laws or hurt anybody, I haven’t done anything wrong, but because I don’t have a piece of paper that “proves” that I am an “official member” of the “European” tribe, I have to leave. If I try to stay longer than my allowed time, I would have no rights to work, no healthcare, and even if I never do anything “illegal,” I could be “caught” living in this tribe without “permission” and I could be deported.

Welcome to Prison Earth. If you’re a very well-behaved inmate, you might not even realize that you’re locked up. If you never try to step outside, if you never question the guards or the other prisoners, and you do as they all do- work, work, work- slave your life away, and take “vacations” only when they let you, for as long as they let you- you might never even question the prison. You might be numb to it, quietly existing, working in the system, perhaps drinking or taking pills to cope with the lack of meaning in your imprisoned life.

I hope you’re not like that. I hope you question, and take a step outside, at least with your own mind.

I’d like to tell you a story, but this one won’t have an ending because it’s still unfolding:


I’ve spent my whole life in Prison Earth. I was born in jail cell R, but immigrated to jail cell U in 1997.

It wasn’t easy to make the move between the two prison cells because all the cells in the prison have very strict rules about who can enter and exit each cell and for how long. The walls between each prison cell are strictly patrolled by guards and it’s almost impossible to leave your own cell without granted permission. To be granted permission to leave your cell, you first need to get a small booklet that has your details written on it: your name, date of birth, inmate number, which prison cell you come from, where you were born, etc. Most prisoners can leave their cells by showing this booklet to the guards, but some cells have rules that don’t let their inmates out without special permission. Before 1992, my birth cell would not allow us to go in and out of the cell without special permission, but now they do.

 

For most prisoners, getting out of their own jail cell is the easy part, the harder part is entering into a new cell. You see, there is no “free” or “common-area” in the prison. The entire prison is strictly divided into jail cells, and each cell has it’s own rules that you have to follow. The booklet that I told you about dictates which cells you can enter and for how long.

Some cells are pretty nice and even provide healthcare and education for their inmates, some are really bad, where people suffer, slave in awful conditions, and barely earn enough to eat. If you’re born in a good jail cell, like the ones in Area E, you’re quite lucky not only because you’ll have access to healthcare and some good services, but also because you can leave your jail cell and temporarily enter many other cells just by showing your booklet to the guards. Of course, if the guard doesn’t like you for whatever reason, he can refuse you entry even if you come from a “good” cell. That’s happened to me.

 

If you’re born in one of the bad prison cells, you’re unlucky because it will be very difficult for you to leave or to improve that cell. Most likely, you’ll be very poor and the prison guards won’t let you into the good cells without special permission. To get special permission, it can be very difficult. Not only do you need to show them the booklet, but you also need to show the guards a special stamp called a “visa” that you can only get from the “authorities.” To get this stamp, you either have to have a lot of money, you have to sign into a contract to be a devoted slave for a company in the good jail cell (that will only happen if you’re very skilled), or perhaps if you perform a ritual called “marriage” with someone from that jail cell. Performing this ritual can be difficult as well, due to the complications of getting in and out of the cells, and due to all of the documents required for the ritual to be considered “official” by the authorities. Once you have the documents and the stamp, the guards can still refuse you entry into their cell if they feel like it.

 

Back in 1997, jail cell R was a bit rough, it wasn’t the worst cell in the prison, but it wasn’t exactly safe either. Cell U was considered to be much better, so my father entered into a slave-contract in that cell so that my mother, brother and I could move there. Later, my mother also had to become a full time slave so that we could stay in cell U permanently. After many years of living in prison cell U, I was able to obtain a new booklet from them. This was great because the jail cell U booklet is one of the best that you can get from the prison- not only does it allow you to live in cell U, where you can slave for a pretty high wage, but it also gives you a great amount of freedom to go from prison cell to prison cell. That’s because many of the other prison cells “respect” (or fear) cell U and allow its inmates to temporarily enter their cells without that pesky stamp.

So once I got this booklet, I used it a lot, I’ve been to about 35 prison cells in the last 10 years. I followed all the laws of each prison cell, entering only when I was allowed in, and exiting when my time was up. Every prison cell has its own rules about how long you can stay, some only let me stay for one month or less, some for three months, and a very few let me stay a whole 6 months. Sometimes you can stay for your allowed time, then leave and come back straight away, sometimes you have to leave for three months or longer before you can re-enter. The guards only watch over their own prison cells, so they don’t care which jail cell you go to next, so long as you leave their cell before your time is up.

I kept on moving from one cell to another, to another, without consistently coming back to cell U for slavery, but most prisoners spend their entire lives slaving in their designated jail cell and only visit other prison cells for short “vacations” or “business trips.” The prison has more than enough food and necessities to feed, clothe and house all of its prisoners, but since this is a prison, everyone, including the guards, are forced to slave for their needs and wants. If you don’t slave, then you won’t eat. Maybe you’ll beg for food or money, or you’ll starve to death, even in the “good” cells.

I’m forced to slave sometimes, so I can feed myself, but I try to keep that slavery to a minimum. I slave for as short a time as possible, only when I really have to, then I leave to explore the prison cells that I have access to. Sometimes I try to tell the other prisoners what’s going on, and that none of this makes sense, but most don’t get it. They’ve been trapped in this prison for so long that they think that that’s the best way to organize people- to lock each other up, treat each other unequally- by their assigned booklet, and to force each other to slave. Millions of inmates starve to death every year, yet the prison throws away almost half of the food that it produces. There are 100 million inmates sleeping on the ground, yet the prison has over 100 million empty beds. Many things are trashed and wasted. 

After years of traveling from one cell to another, I ended up in jail cell E-S, where I met a group of people that understood this dilemma. I had a fantastic time with these people- we explored the cell, bonded and shared many ideas. We were excited and passionate about understanding the prison, the world outside of the prison, and our own existence in relation to the prison and the world. We felt that we were humans, and that we shouldn’t be imprisoned by our own selves.

Unfortunately, my friends and I are powerless against the guards and the other inmates, and according to the rules of jail cell E-S, I have to leave that cell for 90 days out of each 180 days. I’ve done that twice so far and am afraid that if I keep on going in and out of jail cell E-S, the prison guards might get suspicious and deny me entry (that happened to me once already with cell A). It’s also a pain in the ass to have to leave the place you want to live in and person you want to be with for a whole three months, every three months, and to have no working rights or healthcare. So this week, I came to jail cell E-R to try to hack this prison and settle this problem. Let’s see if it works.

Trekking in Turkey

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While I was in Bristol this past summer, my friends from Syberia Top (the guys I used to hike with in Russia) called me up and asked if I wanted to join them for a two week “gig” hiking in Turkey. They were planning on taking a group on a 100km trek along the Lycian Way in the south of Turkey and then doing a “photo tour” in  Cappadocia. They said they needed my help translating between Russian and English and helping out with things like cooking, taking photos, and making sure that nobody gets lost :). Since this trip was planned for September 28th- October 11th (just two days after I could legally re-enter Spain), and Syberia Top offered to pay for everything, including my flights from the UK to Turkey and Turkey to Spain, I couldn’t really refuse this trip :). Since I have so few savings left, I basically need to take any job I get offered.

So on September 28th I got off the big jet plane in Antalya, Turkey, and basically got straight to hiking with this group of about 15 Russian people.

We weaved up and down the mountains of the southern Turkish coast, walked through white rocky canyons and glanced out past the steep, tree-lined cliffs along the Lycian Way.

The Lycian Way is a nice trek that goes into the mountains and along the coast, passing by a few interesting sights such as a gigantic 600 year-old plane tree, Yanartaş (a fascinating rocky slope with dozens of constantly burning natural fires), and ancient ruins. The entire trek is about 540km long, so we only did a small portion of it.

The Lycian Way also passes through vineyards, pomegranate and apple gardens, small Turkish villages, and what seemed like a few people’s backyards :).

This was nice because it allowed us to come in contact with some very friendly Turkish villagers and take a rest at their little cafes and fresh juice shacks. So after every few hours or so of hiking, we were rewarded with fresh pomegranate juice, figs, apples, or grapes. This was convenient (or so I thought) not only because of the fresh fruit, but also because a lot of these shacks and cafes happened to have free WiFi.

I was used to taking people hiking in Siberia, where we never had phone service, let alone WiFi in the wilderness, but along the Lycian Way, we rarely spent a day without an internet connection. As a result, I got to witness the powerful effect that the internet (or more specifically, Instagram) had on “vacationers”.

You see, back in Siberia, I noticed that most people we took hiking were a bit obsessed with having photos taken of themselves, but I wasn’t too concerned about this obsession because I didn’t feel like it took over our entire hiking experience. We’d hike to a beautiful spot, enjoy the view, take a bunch of photos, hike some more, etc. We had time to enjoy the view and the present moment even while dedicating some time to photos. But in Turkey, I noticed an entirely new dimension to this photo obsession.

People were no longer just taking photos of pretty sights or special moments, now, because of Instagram “stories”, they felt the need to record absolutely everything they did! And when I say everything, I really mean everything.

Walk down the street– photo! Get on a bus– video! Sit on the bus– photo! Get off the bus– another short clip! Eat food- photo! Roast a marshmallow– photo! Eat it- video! Swing on a swing– photo! Do some yoga– photo! It’s like people no longer do stuff just to do stuff, they do stuff only for a photo.

Then as soon as we hit the wifi zone, most people were face deep in their phones uploading these posts and “stories”, then checking “likes” and replying to people’s comments.

I noticed that it wasn’t only our group that was doing this- it was almost everybody I came in contact with!

We climbed to the top of a 2,500 meter mountain to a sea of puffy drifting clouds, the view was fantastic! But on top of this mountain there was a gondola that brought up rich tourists and a cement building with WiFi. There, I noticed all kinds of random people frantically uploading photos of themselves onto Instagram and then commenting on these posts.

I noticed people filming absolutely everything, almost everywhere we went, and anytime we reached a particularly beautiful spot, everybody kind of photo-freaked. Their immediate reaction was to pose and get as many photos of themselves as possible. That seemed to be the goal.

I know what you’re thinking… “this is not new or surprising…” :D but I think it’s important to analyze what’s happening here…

 

We live on an incredible planet, filled with breathtaking mountains, clouds, oceans and canyons. Our time here on Earth is precious, we should enjoy as much of it as possible. Many of us have the opportunity to explore this planet, to see the wonders of plane trees, fires, sunsets and big ancient ruins. To gaze out past the cliffs, to smell lush forested mountains and to simply enjoy the moments of life. But if you’re so busy recording and uploading every single thing you do, to broadcast the best moments of your life to a public audience- are you really fully engaged in these moments? Are you even living these moments or are you just taking pictures?

After the Lycian Way, we took an overnight bus to Cappadocia, a fascinating region in the middle of Turkey. Cappadocia stands on a high plateau below several volcanic peaks. The plateau is covered in unique rock features that were formed from volcanic ash that coated the region millions of years ago. With time, this ash formed into soft, malleable rock called “tuff,” which eventually was eroded down by wind and water, leaving harder rock in the form of domes, pillars and penises up to six stories high.

Cappadocia’s famous mushroom shaped caps are a result of a tougher layer of basalt that formed over the tuff. Since basalt erodes slower than tuff, unique shapes were formed through weathering.

During the Roman period, prosecuted Christians fled to Cappadocia and soon realized that these unique domes and pillars were very malleable. They built homes, churches, stables and storehouses by carving into the rock, so some of these giant penises also have doors and windows :D Underground cities were also carved out and used as hide-outs for up to 20,000 people.

Cappadocia has a rich history and extremely unique landscape, but most of the tourists in Cappadocia seemed to be A LOT more interested in having photos taken of themselves than they were in the place itself.

This makes me wonder what these people are “traveling” for. Are they interested in discovering a new place, learning something new or simply enjoying a special moment in a beautiful spot? Or are they more interested in recording themselves and impressing others with their photos?

I mean, if you’re really having the time of your life and you’re so excited about the place you’re in and the present moment, then why would you bother proving that to other people? Why waste this precious time?

Maybe because most people in today’s society are constantly seeking for approval and appraisal from others. Being “liked” may be a lot more important than learning or discovering something new. This is created by the competitive environment we’re brought up in- people are taught to want to be better, hotter, and more bad-ass than the rest, and companies like Instagram (Facebook) take advantage of this and push people to compete for attention. Why? Because the more attention you get on Instagram, the more data they can collect. More likes, more clicks, more swipes – more data. More data means more money for Facebook.

Individual people seek for more and more attention on social media because attention can be rewarded and translated into “success”. 500,000 people like your page?! That’s “successful” because now you can make money. Companies will come to you to sell stuff through you, and the more attention you get, the more money you can potentially earn.

Keep in mind that these are all trades- you trade your time (the precious moments of your life) for post “likes” and attention. You trade your data (from posts, “likes”, etc.) to use the platform. Your data is traded for money (by the platform). If you get enough attention, you can also trade it for money or goods. But don’t forget that very first trade- your life. How much is it really worth?

Why I Left the Venus Project

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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.

   –

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.

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 :).

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).

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.”

– 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.”

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.

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.

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ;)

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.

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.

How to (or not to) get a passport overseas

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I got robbed nine and a half years ago while I was in Naples and every valuable thing that I had was stolen, including both my US and Russian passports. I went to the US embassy in Naples and got a replacement US passport within a month (the Russian one I applied for later in Sydney). The US replacement passport was no different from a normal passport and expired 10 years from the date that it was issued.

Nine and a half years later (July, 2019) I lost that passport somewhere in the UK. I went to the embassy in London and was surprised at how easily I was able to apply for a new one. At first, I stressed out about collecting all the documents and copies of documents that I thought I needed as proof of citizenship, but when I got to the embassy, all they asked to see was my driver’s license. They said that my application was approved straight away and all I had to do was pay a $145 processing fee and buy a special envelope to get the passport in the mail. I got my new passport within 10 days and at first glance it looked great! Legit little booklet with 52 pages! But when I took a closer look it turned out that the expiry date was not 10 years from now, but only 1 year from now, in August 2020.

This might not be much of an issue for somebody that lives a “normal” life and just goes overseas for their 2-3 weeks of yearly vacation, but this is a problem for me. For one, I don’t have another $145 to spare on another little booklet, and two, I may need a “full validity passport” (one that doesn’t expire in 1 year) to get certain documents, to apply for certain visas (like a working holiday visa) or even to get into some countries.

I emailed the embassy and searched online to see what I can do about this. I found out that you can change your “limited validity passport” for a “full validity passport” by applying at the embassy in London, and there is no fee to exchange this passport for a full validity one. So I made an appointment and went back to London to exchange this one-year passport for a ‘real’ passport.

I took a bus from Bristol to London yesterday at 4am, got to London by 7:00 and walked to the embassy just on time for my 8:00 appointment. The guy at the US embassy counter seemed to accept my application but told me that I needed to pay another $145 for a new passport. I showed him a printed piece of paper from the US embassy website that said there was no fee for exchanging this passport for a full validity one. Then he told me that this didn’t apply to me because I didn’t get an emergency passport. I got a “normal” passport, but the expiry date for this passport was one year from now because I had lost my passport more than once in the last 10 years.

I told him that I didn’t have another $145 to pay for a piece of paper, but I need a real passport, not one that expires one year from now. This guy talked to his “big boss”, then this boss came up to me (with quite an attitude) and told me that even if I pay the fee and apply for a full validity passport, I will probably only get another 1-year passport. And actually, any time I apply for a new passport, they can basically deny me from getting a “full validity passport” if they feel like it. And I won’t know what passport I’ll be given until I get it.

So basically, they have a huge amount of control over my life because not having a “full validity passport” will restrict me from being able to do a lot of things. – And that, to me, is really fucked up, and not all that far from China’s social credit system. China is at least transparent with all the information they collect about their citizens, whereas in the US, no one knows what information they’re gathering and what they do with it. If they can restrict you from getting a “full validity passport” as much as they feel like- that is a big deal.

 

Citizenship is a Forced Trade

Many Americans think that they’re so “free” but they have no idea how restricted they really are, how restricted we all are, actually, by our own modern-day tribalism and bureaucracy. You might not realize this when you live inside the system and follow the rest of the sheep herd, but as soon as you try to step outside, you’ll see that you’re hardly free at all.

I mean, you’re born on this planet and you’re assigned a citizenship (something that’s imaginary but upheld by the people in the tribe you were born in)- you have no choice but to take this citizenship, and when you do, you have to follow the laws and regulations of this tribe, and the laws and regulations of other tribes that tell you what you can or can’t do as a result of the place you were born in.

All these 1st world countries preach for racial and gender equality, yet they have absolutely no problem with discriminating against people born in the wrong tribes.

Take just one example: “oh you want to come to the US for a holiday? – Show me a piece of paper that shows you come from Australia, Western Europe or another rich country, and you can come right in, no problem. But if you come from Indonesia, Nigeria or any other poor country, OH NO NO NO- you can’t just come in here! You need to prove that you have a fulltime job, perhaps a house, lots of money, a ticket there and back, perhaps medical papers, and a lot of other crap”. You’ll have to spend months collecting all these documents and filling out forms, spending tons of money on all of this plus the visa application fee (which of course, is greater than the average person’s salary in your country) and then you can still be denied the visa, even if all your paperwork is solid. And even if you get the visa after all of this, you still may be denied entry into the country, just because the agent you speak to at the airport might “feel like it”.

You can’t just “travel around the world” if you were born in a 3rd world tribe- other countries won’t let you in! – And in today’s world, this is not considered “inequality” or “discrimination”, it’s just considered “the law”.

Understanding Language

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When you travel around the world, you have to learn to communicate with a huge variety of different people. Many of the people you encounter will use different languages, will have different values and beliefs, and may express themselves in unfamiliar ways.

When I was in Bulgaria, for example, I learned that the locals shake their heads from left to right to signal “yes”, and up and down to signal “no”. Imagine how confused I was trying to order food in a local cafe :).

Auto-translators don’t always work so well. See the wonderful English translations of this Bulgarian menu:

As I traveled, I tried to keep our limitations to communication in mind. A language barrier was, of course, a problem here and there, but I always seemed to manage to communicate simple things like asking for directions or ordering food, no matter where I was. More complicated communication, however, requires much more than a common language. It requires a common understanding.

So how can you manage this communication problem?

I felt like I had learned a lot about communication when I went through the orientation process to become a point of contact for the Venus Project. I listened to Jacque Fresco’s lectures about the inadequacy of language and people’s limitations to communication and realized that this language problem was not only a problem for travelers, it was a problem for all people, regardless of whether they ever encounter a foreigner.

After digging a bit into this topic, my understanding was that we could improve communication if we:

 

  1. Understand our limitations to communication-

– Understand that many words and sentences can be interpreted in many different ways, therefore the people you speak to might not interpret what you say in exactly the way that you interpret it, and vice versa.

– Understand that our different degrees of background knowledge about any particular topic limit our ability to discuss that topic.

 

  1. Try to understand each other better while communicating-

– Think about a person’s background and why they may be saying what they’re saying.

– Think about their intention to communication.

– Try to be understanding rather than emotional and defensive, even if you disagree with whatever is being said.

– Keep calm while communicating and try to stop your emotions from getting triggered by any particular words or phrases.

 

  1. I also considered the idea that a better-designed (less abstract) language with words based on physical referents would help people communicate properly.

 

This video might give you a better understanding of what I mean:

The above video was made by Tio (TROM), but after its release, Tio spent a year researching this topic and working on a book on language; as a result of his work, his thoughts on this topic evolved and he no longer agrees with this part of his own documentary :).

And I have to say that after reading the TROM book on language, the same thing happened to me. I realized that the ‘solutions’ that I previously had in mind were really just patchwork to a massively complex problem. I didn’t understand how much of a problem it was, actually, until after I read this book.

What I understand to be Fresco’s solution to our current problem of language and communication does not seem to be sufficient. Just because words are based on a physical referent doesn’t mean that the people using those words have sufficient background knowledge (/the same cultural context) to be able to communicate properly. It works with engineers and physicists because they share similar background knowledge and cultural context.

But the world is so complex and dynamic that this could never be achieved in an idiotic society that’s pushed and shoved by consumerism, irrelevant information, pseudoscience, etc. The only way to make a saner language is to create a saner society, because language is all about the context. If the context is insane and unscientific, the language will mirror that; if the context is based on science/a scientific way of thinking, the language will mirror that.

If you’re interested in delving into this topic, I highly recommend this book. In the book, you can find tons of interesting analogies, pictures, videos, and interactive tools that help you easily understand the complex topic of language and communication. In the end, you will even get an idea of how to create your own language, as that is what Tio started to create.

Before I read this book, I not only didn’t realize how important this topic was, but I also had no idea how interesting it is.

Thanks again TROM for creating such interesting, relevant material and making it trade-free ;).