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A horizonal look at social entropy

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In an interdependent world, we connect with and bump against each other in every action we take.

How we manage to keep peace in this storm of interactivity is a question we need to address. It turns on how we mesh with folks surrounding us in our plans and activities, which is an issue of functional organization and social system design. Strife is symptomatic of failure, raising questions of form, framing, culture and human nature.

By Frederic Jennings, originally published by Resilience.org, December 16, 2020

Entropy – disorder – refers to how heat is stored and dissipates as life flourishes or recedes. There is also a role for entropy in social science. Fifty years ago, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen educated economists on what entropy meant to economics and ecological process, almost a decade after Kenneth E. Boulding considered what we might do with an entropic index of organization and knowledge if we devised one.

The aim of this essay is to propose planning horizons as a directional measure of social cohesion. The relational linkage of human decisions, in line with these two authors’ suggestions along with those of Herbert Simon on our rational limits, is horizonal in this sense.

The presentation has seven parts. Part 2 reviews the need for a systems approach in social science to offer a context to this argument. Third, entropy is discussed. Fourth, the value of an entropic measure is addressed and, fifth, an ethical theory of planning horizons is introduced. Sixth, the promise of a horizonal research program is explored. The last part will summarize.

ENTROPY AND INTERDEPENDENCE

Among academics in general – and within economics in particular – an accepted mode of analysis is to split things up into parts and treat them as independent. This is why a partial lens is used to fashion equilibrium models of balancing forces, so to reap predictable outcomes.

To reassemble these scattered details into holistic conceptions is seldom ventured, however; that is a much more daunting endeavor. There are representative frames for this sort of analysis, though; indeed, systems theory emerged to bring interactive phenomena into holistic connection.

The issue of interdependence serves as a starting-point for institutional and ecological economics, which view evolution diversely. Both emphasize dynamic complex systems swimming in space and time. Multidimensional linkages slide into being; creative forces abound and dissipate as society opens into an ecologically active frame of factors shifting continuously along unpredictable lines. This unbounded dynamic conception departs from mainstream models.

Entropy is seen in physical terms as disorder; all organization degenerates into chaos and death. The view is dismal, though it need not be: life is emergent order, directing energy into itself at the cost of high entropy elsewhere. The big picture always spits out more entropy than it takes in, despite the local losses of entropy that vital life fosters.

Think of the entropic content of water at different temperature levels. Ice at zero degrees Kelvin – as cold as anything gets – is frozen in its place. As temperature rises, however, the molecules start to jiggle around. When this chunk of matter reaches 273 degrees (zero degrees Celsius), it uses energy in a phase change with temperatures stable.

This shift to water raises entropy as our jiggling crystal liquefies. Further heat jumps these particles through another 100 degrees, where liquid turns to gas. The rising entropy in transition from solid to gas simply evolves from fixity into vapor. The heat is usable if contained, turning from ice through water to steam, possibly in an engine.

But that is a physical view of entropy. Think of a living organism as a container of low entropy, organized for survival. Life is an integral system, where elements fit together. Its integrity yields resilience. Segmentation brings death. The whole is more than its parts.

The economist Georgescu-Roegen addressed entropy as energy, where evolution ends in chaos while life forms pockets of order. His focus on energy emphasized qualitative emergence. Boulding cast entropy as an organizational index of ‘goodness’ stemming from learning and knowledge, summarizing complex systems in a one-dimensional scalar. He called for an ethical calculus in natural and social science.

So Georgescu-Roegen’s entropy is about energy use for enjoyment, while Boulding’s view is institutional, linked to organization. The impact of private and social planning horizons on pricing, growth and efficiency offers a novel look at entropy as organizational slack, casting horizon effects along an entropic continuum, measurable in order.

ENTROPY IN ENERGY AND ORGANIZATION

Most treatments of entropy involve energy use, where endeavor raises local order and disorder elsewhere, exhausting a stock of fuel (low entropy) in achieving goals. But entropy can be social.

Georgescu-Roegen noted that interdependence and nonlinearity yield dangers for quantification, as ‘sameness’ shunts any qualitative variation of units subsumed. He accepts control and complexity as entropic concepts, but deems them unscalable. A horizonal index subsumes control and complexity into one measure.

Boulding sees horizonal learning and teaching as evolution. Simon’s rational limits show entropy in the ‘fit’ of models to their realms of use. The match of assumptions to applications shapes our planning horizons.

Social theory – unfit to its setting – corrupts our range of vision. For example, if growth brings shifts in demand away from materials into intangibles, institutions should evolve for cooperation as well, or the advance is stifled. Competition is antithetical to complementary yields.

The realism of assumptions shall limit our reach of view. Realism matters, as will essentiality. Every outlook is selective, blind to all it ignores. Our ranges of vision imply a measure of entropic control.

TOWARD A HORIZONAL MEASURE OF ENTROPY

The issue is interdependence; systemic complexity is central to horizonal theory. Economists sidestep problems in networks: splitting complex systems into well-defined ‘markets’ of substitutes sets an answer into the question, kicking the can down the road.

The production of physical goods is subject to increasing returns; the larger your output, the less units cost. Markets evolve for concentration, to make competition impossible: small firms are absorbed. Does it end with U.S. Corp.? Will the system monopolize? Isn’t that Socialism?

Kaldor said increasing returns make complementarity “far more important” than substitution for all long-run theory, yielding a case for cooperation. Any organizational form is based on social relations swimming in networks with no market divisions: substitutes and complements join in a seamless swirl. This implies our industry model ignores social alignment. A wrong theory – unfit to its sphere – retracts planning horizons, splitting belief from truth. Realism matters.

Substitution makes a linear, disaggregatable world equilibrate due to negative feedback. Complementary interrelations are nonlinear, uncontained, unstable, with positive feedback: cumulative causation will unfold diversely forever. If so, scarcity yields to abundance on an uncharted terrain of forces subject to unpredictable license in an open field of fates settling only in death. This is the untamed dynamic chaos of vital living systems.

For any interconnected domain, organization counts. So will plan consistency and thus horizonal length, the range of which shapes social effects. The planning horizon is like conscience in its span of attention. If we think our needs conflict, we engage in a rivalrous struggle with no hope for resolve. With aims aligned, our voices join in harmonious song.

If models are ill-conceived, planning horizons shorten; they yield distorting guides to action. The fit of essential assumptions to the reality in which we live frames our reach of vision to the impact of all we do. The more extensive our planning horizons, the further out we project our results. Ranges of vision include understanding – and caring – about our effect on others. Among complements, efforts align. Rivalry yields disorder. Horizon effects serve as an index of organizational loss.

HORIZON EFFECTS AS A MEASURE OF ‘GOODNESS’

So what have I said? First, the planning horizon is set where anticipation is spiked by surprise. The closer the fit of theory to fact – the more appropriate our assumptions – the broader is our reach. The better we understand ourselves and each other, the larger our range of projection. Horizon effects spur economic cohesion and network control.

Second, horizon effects are contagious. We are role models for each other; learning is imitation. Horizons stretch or retract together with interhorizonal complementarity; they shape pricing and growth: the broader a price setter’s sphere of vision, the lower their cost, markups, and price, so the more output and growth.

Our world is one of uncertain knowledge in a dynamic, chaotic, complex swirl of social interrelations, so projecting consequence has speculative validity yielding unpredictable outcomes swamping anticipation. Our range of conscience shows in reactions. Do we care for others in how we internalize social effects? Horizonal length is an index of order, representing entropic control.

Boulding proposed the ‘wit’ as a unit of ethical organization, akin to a ‘bit’ of information, though wits are value-related. Also, we cannot tally them; all we have are changes – better or worse, longer or shorter – in a comparative frame mute on how much. Horizon effects as ordinal shifts shoulder the ethical load. Think of all economics has built on an ordinal link of prices to sales!

Like quantity and price are related, so are prices and planning horizons. The broader a seller’s span of projection, the lower the price and the more is sold. This applies to individuals in an exclusive venue. Now we deal with interdependence.

Horizon effects are contagious; what you do wiggles me. We must embrace social effects with a compositional rule. ‘Industry’ falls short with complementarity joined to substitution: networks subsume both.

In a group, producers score each price: rivals want it raised (to divert sales to them), while complements seek cuts (to raise sales for both). Prices set individually diverge from those set by the group, posing a measure of interdependence. ‘Industry’ calls collusion bad, while complements shift together; here, rivalry harms! In networks, both are entwined; what is their best design?

There is no answer revealed – competition or cooperation; separation or integration – the optimal form is obscure. But the balance suggests a horizonal lead, as it turns on horizon effects! Longer horizons strengthen complements and weaken substitutes; so with horizons interactive, framing a rule of composition will open new understanding.

The difference between individual and group pricing gives us a measure of interdependence in any group. As horizons extend, the excess of joint to individual prices shrinks as substitutes cede to complements, showing greater resilience and more social cohesion. Plans align, increasing order; everything gets smoother as interaction knits together.

The problem becomes institutional: with more integration, our rivalry yields to cooperation. If systems don’t adapt, that development process is stopped. Complementarity yearns for alliance that opposition impedes, spawning cultural losses of foresight. This is how a competitive failure reinforces a myopic culture writhing in acts of violence.

A horizon effect – the extension or retraction of planning horizons – shows an ordinal shift in our ranges of vision. Due to interhorizonal complementarity, these shifts are contagious, shaped as well by environmental stability, information, knowledge, learning activity, energy and attention, encouragement, hope, self-confidence and other factors around and within us. Most are ignored in mainstream models; including them is an advance. With any economic system moved by planning horizons, coordination takes on new meaning.

Horizon effects supply economics with an ordinal measure of entropy; all human-caused ecological losses are horizonal. The problem is not with lasting effects, but how we anticipate them. If everyone acts separately in an interdependent domain, the quality and organic cohesion of choices will bring order.

If so, horizon effects open new ways to assess economics. Even the merest glance at current affairs suggests the importance of viewing them through a horizonal lens, in an increasingly myopic culture ripped apart by opposition. Horizonal theory invites some major revisions in how we organize systems, showing elementary errors in what we think we know. As Georgescu-Roegen once said: “The history of every science, including that of economics, teaches us that the elementary is the hotbed of the errors that count most.”

TOWARD A HORIZONAL RESEARCH PROGRAM

The economics of free markets stems from Adam Smith, who Kaldor said went wrong when he ignored increasing returns. Kenneth Lux saw an ethical loss in Smith’s support of self-interest. Both increasing returns and ethics suggest the need for a systems approach to organizational life. Including increasing returns secures a place for complementarity, yielding a role for planning horizons.

Seeing planning horizons as conscience sweeps ethics into view, while longer horizons shift social links toward concurrence. This suggests that personal growth encourages sensitivity, maturity, kindness and care for others. This is why horizon effects serve as a measure of order.

Planning horizons shape pricing and growth. There remains a lot to be learned about how they adapt to stimuli, and on how to find them in the patterns of daily life. For example, as social horizons extend, discount rates should fall, lengthening capital plans and terms, supporting greater ethical and ecological literacy. Even just to raise awareness of planning horizons shall likely yield new insight on how our rules shape us.

Two essential limits on neoclassical economics – safely in the core of the paradigm – are substitution and decreasing returns. Kaldor endorsed complementarity as a result of increasing returns; interhorizonal complementarity amplifies the claim. Static equilibrium models shun horizon effects, so are restricted to myopic concerns, steering attention directly away from more inclusive frames. The impact of competition on education and ecology yield dramatic confirmation of how rivalry fails. The short horizons so revealed derive from models unfit to their realms.

How will myopia emanate from unrealistic constructions? The answer resides in diverse symptoms of organizational stress stemming from human need deprivation. For example, interhorizonal complementarity means that treating adults like kids shall bring immature responses: signs of “frustration, failure, short time perspective and conflict,” according to Chris Argyris, a well-known management theorist. These symptoms show an organizational fragmentation through “rivalry … hostility and … a focus toward the parts rather than the whole.” A misapplication of frames shall lead to organizational loss, supporting conflict, competition, materialism, myopia and disruption. These pathological symptoms surround us, though neither seen nor recognized. As some wise soul once said: “Fish discover water last.”

Horizon effects from organizational stress signify entropy; they open to an unmapped terrain of vital learning and knowledge. Orthodox economics shoves it all out of view. The positive fruits of further research shall lead to a new understanding.

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS

Georgescu-Roegen introduced entropy as energy; Boulding called for an ethical, entropic concept of organization. Planning horizons serve as a way to embrace entropy’s social effects. Our ranges of vision delineate how well our systems perform.

To wean mainstream models from substitution is a daunting task; committed to decreasing returns, standard theories of equilibrium mask contending outlooks, setting them aside. An Age of Denial lingers on, deflecting unexplored tracks. Network effects suggest the relation of value to rarity flips from scarcity to abundance as sources of worth: the more participants, the better for all. So is an old economic claim upturned by complementarity: what goes around, comes around, here.

Wrongly-applied models with unrealistic conditions shorten horizons. Standard theories of substitution do not apply to complementarity. The error reveals a myopic culture writhing in organizational loss, showing signs of frustration, anger, materialism and discord. These symptoms of organizational failure ring, confine and demean us, though we can only see the illness through a horizonal lens.

Academic closed minds, ethical and ecological losses, strife, fear, rage and division dun us at every turn. They are results of competitive frames set where they don’t belong: complements call for alliance. Here, rivalry fails. Substitution only applies to short-run effects; lasting connections are complementary, yielding cooperation as our route to broader horizons, so as well to entropic control.

In this sense, horizonal theory offers a more optimistic conclusion than orthodox economics. If competition – in keeping horizons short – is sabotaging efficiency, it confirms an important truth. Due to rational limits any theory is selective, and thus silent on all it ignores, set aside unseen. This is a case for open minds and multiple points of view, where each sheds light on the others. Holding horizons fixed – deeming knowledge as perfect – distracts us from our bounds. Such has special leverage in an uncertain, dangerous world.

Boulding criticized economics for ignoring human nature, realism and systemic concerns in equilibrium models. Simon appealed to colleagues for a larger range of view. Georgescu-Roegen warned us against “elementary” error. Kaldor called for a “major act of demolition” to orthodoxy. Boulding commended us all “to this unfinished task.”

Competition is failing us: a horizonal index of entropy indicates how. We must transform social relations toward cooperation. The symptoms of organizational stress alone would justify this, as an ethical route to ecological health and peaceful lives.

[*] This essay is based on a longer published paper found at: jpe.ro/pdf.php?id=7692.

Source: Resilience

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Truths or Consequences: Failing State or Shining Light?: The USA Role in the Twenty-first Century

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Note from the Publisher: In order to create the changes we want to see in the world, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the deep rooted systematic failures that corrode our abilities to truly thrive. Mobilized is proud to present our new slate of programming that takes a deep dive into the underworld of society so that we can shine a light on what’s not working so we can shine the light into systems, services and policies that we need for the optimal health and well-being of all life.  A special thanks to “The Other” Chuck Woolery for bringing this show to Mobilized and our special guest, “Monty G. Marshall.”

About Special Guest, Monty G. Marshall, Center for Systematic Peace
Dr. Monty G.  Marshall left the university system in 2010 after holding a position as both a Research Professor and Director of Research for the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University. He is now president of a private research enterprise: Societal-Systems Research, Inc. This private initiative will continue to produce the high quality information resources that form the foundation of the Center for Systemic Peace. Since 1998, he has been the director of the Polity IV project, which provides annual assessments of autocracy, democracy and regime transitions, and the Armed Conflict and Intervention (ACI) project, which monitors all forms of armed conflict and international influence structures. Also since 1998, Dr. Marshall has served as a senior consultant with the US Government’s Political Instability Task Force (PITF; formerly known as the State Failure Task Force). He has consulted frequently with the United Nations, US Agency for International Development, UK Department for International Development, the National Geographic Society, and many other national agencies and international organizations. Before taking his most recent academic posting at GMU, he was a Senior Research Associate at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM), University of Maryland, where he directed the Integrated Network for Societal Conflict Research (INSCR) program from 1998-2005. He is a co-founder and was principle author, editor and researcher for CIDCM’s Peace and Conflict series. He also co-authored the original Minorities at Risk data series (with Ted Gurr) and was a Co-Director of that project.

Dr. Marshall’s current research focuses on systems analyses of societal conflict processes and the impact of global influence networks on local conflict dynamics. His theory and evidence detailing the problem of political violence within the context of societal and systemic development processes and the diffusion of insecurity in protracted conflict regions are reported in Third World War: System, Process and Conflict Dynamics. Other recent publications include the Global Report annual series (2007-present) and Peace and Conflict biennial series (2001-2005); other recent publications are available here. Dr. Marshall holds degrees in political science from the University of Colorado, University of Maryland and the University of Iowa; he held a prestigious University of Iowa fellowship from 1990 to 1993. He began his professional career teaching courses full-time at the University of South Florida, 1994-1997.

About the Series
In this era of truth decay this program will focus on the “Truths” that “WE hold” “to be self-evident.” The fundamental truths derived from “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God”*  Drawing distinctions between such fundamental principles as:  inalienable human rights to life, liberty and health, no child should die before their parents,  preserving one’s freedoms and security requires virtue and responsibility and alternative principles humans invented like; ‘peace through strength’  ‘market forces or technology will solve the problem’. ‘national sovereignty’‘democracy’

*(Introduced in the Declaration of Independence.  A title that should have been the “Declaration of separation” given that independence exists nowhere in the known universe, but only as an illusion within our mind.  An illusion that is responsible for most of the death, suffering, and environmental destruction up till now.)

Produced by “The Other ” Chuck Woolery and Jeff Van Treese
Executive Producer is Steven Jay

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The Undertow: The Corrosion of Corruption: Cleaning up the Chaos with Heidi Cuda

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Note from the Publisher: In order to create the changes we want to see in the world, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the deep rooted systematic failures that corrode our abilities to truly thrive. Mobilized is proud to present our new slate of programming that takes a deep dive into the underworld of society so that we can shine a light on what’s not working so we can shine the light into systems, services and policies that we need for the optimal health and well-being of all life.  A special thanks to Mark Metz for hosting “The Undertow” and our first special guest, investigative journalist, Heidi Cuda.

 

Progressive change in every field is hampered by the confluence of comprised government officials, malign corporate interests, and transnational organized crime. In a word: Corruption. Referred to as The Iron Triangle by Robert Mueller in his 2011 speech to the FBI, this shadowy undertow on the common good is an invisible economy fueled by human suffering diametrically opposed to progress on climate change, human rights, or social justice.

Heidi Cuda is an expert journalist who has been tracking this dark phenomenon for over 20 years. In this essential conversation, you will grasp the scale of the problem and the latest exciting developments to clean up the playing field around the world. Learn how you can help make progress against corruption in your own community for the common good of humanity.

Heidi Siegmund Cuda is an Emmy award-winning investigative producer, broadcast journalist, author, columnist, music critic, screenwriter and free press activist. After 15 years as an investigative producer for Fox 11 News Los Angeles, she resigned to pursue TV development, screenwriting and social justice activism.

Known for her long-form work in the music world such as Crazy Fool, about Bradley Nowell of Sublime; The Ice Opinion, with Ice T; and Definition of Down, with Darlene Ortiz, she is rapidly becoming one of foremost voices on corruption, dis-information, and the battle against autocracy.

Current co-host of the RADICALIZED podcast and US politics reporter for The Byline Times. “It’s Komprocated” a 240-page compilation of her political writings from 2016 to early 2019 is available at Ko-Fi.

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How Our Grassroots Energy Projects Are Taking Back Power From Utility Companies

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From solar power that cuts NYC energy bills and powers streetlights in Detroit to affordable high-speed internet throughout the United States, grassroots utilities projects are delivering on their promises to underserved communities of color.

By Aric Sleeper, – US, United States –

As power outages caused by extreme weather events become more intense and frequent, the efforts by federal, state and local legislators to abate human-caused climate change may seem futile to those on the front lines, who are left sweating or freezing in their homes after the power goes out unexpectedly and at the worst time possible.

Without intervention, these events will only become more recurrent. According to data provided by the National Centers for Environmental Information—which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and maintains and provides national geophysical data and information—there was an average of around three “weather and climate disasters” per year in the 1980s, compared to a staggering 22 extreme weather events in 2020.

The Biden administration’s participation in COP26, which took place in Glasgow from October 31 to November 13, 2021, was a step in the right direction to address climate change, compared to the previous administration, which derailed any progress made by the U.S. to address the current climate crisis. President Joe Biden, however, still did not go far enough at the international climate conference in terms of addressing environmental justice, systemic environmental racism and the disproportionate support for repairing the damage caused by extreme weather events in impoverished countries and underserved communities in the United States. The actions and projects needed to address these issues and bring about real change on the ground are, meanwhile, being championed by grassroots organizations led by women and people of color who are taking steps within their communities to move away from fossil fuels, power their neighborhoods with clean energy, and stay connected with community-created broadband infrastructure.

In New York City, Making Solar Power Affordable and Accessible Is About ‘More Than Just Putting Panels on Rooftops’

Working at the intersection of climate change and environmental justice in the heart of New York City is the Latino community-based nonprofit UPROSE. Founded in 1966, and based in the city’s largest maritime industrial district, the nonprofit organizes sustainable development projects and advocates for policies in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sunset Park and throughout all five boroughs. Their Sunset Park Solar project, which “will be New York City’s first community solar project owned and operated by a cooperative for the benefit of local residents and businesses,” will save its participants about 15 percent on their monthly electric bill, once the solar system has been installed and is operational.

The road to the project’s completion has been long and challenging due to the slow-moving gears of the existing governmental processes, according to Summer Sandoval, energy democracy coordinator at UPROSE.

“Sunset Park Solar is about more than just putting panels on rooftops; it’s about creating a scalable and replicable community-led model for the development of solar projects that build long-term community wealth and exhibit a Just Transition,” Sandoval says. “This project builds on the traditional community solar model but is vastly different from anything that’s been done before, and it’s challenging to navigate our way through processes, financial models and incentive programs that weren’t built for projects like this.”

Sunset Park Solar would allow for about 200 subscribers to utilize renewable energy and would not require any of them to install solar panels on their homes or pay any upfront costs, as UPROSE and its partners in the project have already done the heavy lifting. The panels for this project will be installed on the Brooklyn Army Terminal rooftop and will provide 685 kilowatts of clean electricity. In addition to the tangible cost-saving benefits to residents, the project has shown that community-led clean energy projects are possible.

“Even before construction, this project has demonstrated that the climate solutions are coming from the people on the front lines, and hopefully decision-makers see that as well and invest their resources directly into those front-line communities,” says Sandoval.

A Bright Spot in Detroit With Solar Streetlights

In Highland Park, Michigan, a city that sits within the City of Detroit, the nonprofit Soulardarity has been fighting for energy democracy since 2012.

“The idea of energy democracy is essentially focused on ensuring that the people who are affected the most by the decisions in energy should be the ones with the greatest amount of say in the process,” says Soulardarity Program Director Rafael Mojica.

Energy costs for city residents have been skyrocketing for decades (and continue to do so). The rate hikes were largely at the hands of the investor-owned, state-regulated utility company, DTE Energy, which made an interesting demand when Highland Park residents could no longer afford to pay the maintenance bill for their streetlights.

“In 2011, DTE gave [an] ultimatum to the City of Highland Park that they [either] pay the debt associated with the streetlights’ maintenance costs or lose them, and unfortunately, the city was in no position to pay their debt, so DTE followed through and removed more than 1,000 streetlights from the city,” says Mojica. “They didn’t remove everything. They left the stumps as a reminder to the community of their presence.”

When like-minded community members, led by Highland Park resident Shimekia Nichols (who is now Soulardarity’s executive director), organized as a result of the streetlight removal, they formed Soulardarity to bring light back to the community. After gathering funds from local residents, the first solar-powered streetlight was erected in 2012 in the neighborhood known as Avalon Village in Highland Park.

Soulardarity’s mission isn’t only to illuminate their streets with solar energy but also to shine a spotlight on the failed model of electricity production that for-profit, investor-owned utility providers like DTE Energy represent.

“DTE increases the rates they charge customers on a regular basis, exacerbating financial distress [for] communities of color, and despite the profits they’re raking in, they’re not using it to reinvest in their infrastructure. As a result… [the communities in Highland Park] have a poor level of service,” says Mojica. He adds that in the summer of 2021, “for example, Southeast and mid-Michigan experienced a huge number of blackouts, which are in DTE’s service area.”

Mojica points to the rippling effects of frequent power outages, especially in the summer and winter months, which can lead to refrigerated groceries that cost hundreds of dollars going bad as a result of these outages or can lead to rising hotel costs that may cripple the budgets of poor families living from paycheck to paycheck.

Currently, Soulardarity has been sifting through the language of the latest budget bills to ensure they provide funding for renewable energy projects in communities like Highland Park. Specifically, Soulardarity is seeking funds from the Department of Energy’s Communities LEAP program, which provides “supportive services valued at up to $16 million for community-driven clean energy transitions.”

Soulardarity has also completed an analysis in partnership with the Union of Concerned Scientists to outline what a clean energy, net-zero future would look like in Highland Park in the future called Let Communities Choose.

“Ultimately, we want to break free from DTE, and in this analysis we found that it is doable,” says Mojica. “Not only that, but there are a number of community benefits that would come with the transition to renewable energy in the form of job creation and economic development, and our communities would be healthier and safer—basically, dramatically improving the quality of life for all community members.”

Internet Access for All American Communities as a Gateway to Democracy and Equity

While the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy sources like solar is essential to preventing further global warming and boosting local economies, power also comes in the form of information. When access to high-speed internet is controlled by corporations that operate in a similarly monopolistic manner as utility companies like DTE Energy, underserved communities suffer, especially during situations like the ongoing pandemic.

“If you aren’t fortunate enough to live in a place with affordable and reliable high-speed internet, you are essentially locked out of participating in modern society in so many ways, whether it’s distance learning, telemedicine, entertainment or even civic participation,” says Sean Gonsalves, senior reporter for the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative. “These problems really came to the fore during the pandemic.”

Currently, the high-speed internet market and broadband infrastructure, especially in rural communities, are inadequate, according to Gonsalves. When internet service providers are for-profit monopolies, large segments of the country either can’t afford reliable internet service, or don’t have access to high-speed broadband.

“When a community is reliant on outdated technology like DSL, they can’t even have a Zoom meeting, and good luck sending an email,” says Gonsalves. “In a healthy functioning market, people have choices, but when it comes to broadband, there aren’t options, which leads to high prices, poor customer service and bad coverage.”

To gain more reliable and affordable internet service, cities across the United States have formed their own municipal broadband networks to compete with the existing monopolies. Cities like Longmont, Colorado; Wilson, North Carolina; and Chattanooga, Tennessee, have transformed their economies and communities after organizing to create their own municipal broadband networks.

“The golden child is EPB in Chattanooga, which is a city-owned utility,” says Gonsalves. “Not every community can do what Chattanooga has, but in terms of benefits, the return on investment was $2.7 billion in the first 10 years of operation.” With federal legislation like the American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act setting aside resources to increase and strengthen community broadband networks, Gonsalves and others at the Community Broadband Networks Initiative are hopeful that more communities will organize and take advantage of these opportunities and create their own broadband networks with the use of federal funding.

“The infrastructure bill represents a watershed moment in terms of the largest investment by the federal government in broadband ever,” says Gonsalves. “Even private investors are showing interest in community broadband, and now is the time for communities to start planning and pushing forward in an organized and strategic way.”

This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.


Aric Sleeper is an independent journalist whose work, which covers topics including labor, drug reform, food and more, has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and other publications local to California’s Central Coast. In addition to his role as a community reporter, he has served as a government analyst and bookseller.

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