Currency Commons: reimagining money to value water protection

This was a project we ran in 2017. We want to follow this up with another experiment in currency-making and reconnecting with the Great Lakes. Read up on the background of this project, it’s questions, proposals, and experiences. If you think you’d like to explore a 2.0 version of this, please get in touch.

Money’s Values

When calculating the likelihood of the current economic system protecting our bond with clean, accessible, and life-giving water, the situation seems impossible.

There is no money to be made protecting water as the source of life. Financing Great Lakes care today comes through either altruistic charity or legislated compensation. Water restoration costs are a fractional expense for a pollution-based economic system. Advocating for a friendlier version of the current system denies its core impulses and interests. Let’s be honest -- degrading the living earth makes obscene amounts of money and defines our current story about “progress”.

How can our collective and radical imaginations connect our desire for connecting money’s value with our values?

Money is not just a medium of exchange, but a disciplinary force on what we value, the story of a meaningful life, and our position within this story. We need a new story for money and a new currency can help us tell it. Right now our money commodifies time, ideas, muscle, relationships, and all of creation in order to create more money. But what if the value of money was based on caring for water?

Money works as a magic system. It is created out of nothing and yet becomes the measure of everything in our society. Money’s value is anchored to greed, commodification, competition, and scarcity. These are the human values behind the dollar value. Wished into creation by stimulus and debt, money performs the market’s promise of happiness, while a global audience suspends their disbelief.

Let’s not be fooled. These values degrade and destroy life and turn creation into a commodity by converting all life (mother earth and her human and non-human children) into slaves. Can we use the magic of money to transform the impossible into the possible? Can we trade in these greedy values for ones rooted in gratitude and care?

Imagine the experience of using a form of money (a currency) imbued with our collective effort and ethic of grateful reciprocity? We don’t have to choose between protecting water as a shared and sacred commons and growing the current economy.

Let’s imagine that the value of money is tied to the quality and availability of water to serve life in the Great Lakes basin. Since we are water, the water’s benefit is our benefit. We know economics is a sub-system of ecology and our money system should reflect this, not subvert it.

Let’s imagine that watersheds return as the de facto boundaries for trade and treaty making. Canada and the USA are not nations, but settler-states enforced through divine proclamation, genocide, and broken promises on Indigenous people’s homelands. The Anishinaabek nation and Haudenosaunee Confederacy have been living with the Great Lakes since these waters were formed. A new currency could promote common peace and prosperity.

Let’s imagine that the people of the Great Lakes co-created their own currency to see and reproduce commons and ancestral values such as: gratitude, reciprocity, mutualism, trust, reverence, and friendship. This is a currency of respectful relationship, not exaction, accumulation, and coercion.

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Each note represents the act of giving gratitude or requesting action. Each note carries the most precious value: acts of thanks and care for the Great Lakes. Rather than based on dollars, the value of these notes is our collective agreement and intention to reward people for their water protection through past actions (saying “thanks”) or future actions (saying “please”). Because our current money systems only acknowledges economic utility and gain, our Great Lakes Commons currency needs a wildly different theory of value -- such as past/future actions for water care.

Since Canadian and USA dollars are backed by pure faith and in service of growth and debt, these currency notes are rooted in our common and reciprocal care for what matters most: clean water. Making and sharing these notes is an investment in the world we want. Here’s how the exchanges and a new story of money are manifested:

  • Each Charter supporter will be contacted via email to tell them about the project and collect their mailing address.

  • They will then receive 10 numbered GLC currency notes with some celebratory guides on how to use them.

  • Each note will be approximately the same size as a dollar. One side will feature a beautiful and inspiring image of this new Great Lakes Commons currency and one side will briefly outline the project and connect participants to our website.

  • Each supporter will give 2 notes to 4 people/organizations/businesses/government representatives as a reward for their past/future water protection. They will spend 8 of their 10 notes to share a “thank you” or “please” with up to 4 other people or groups. It’s up to the giver to decide “what” action is worthy.

  • Now 4 new people or groups have 2 notes to learn about the project and continue the cycle of the gift. They too will keep one note as a token of thanks and spend one note towards a past or future action than honors water as a shared and sacred commons.

  • The one final note left over from the original 10 is a wild one. We can’t fully account for how this new water currency will flow between people and places. We can’t fully control the direction of this gift. But rather than put our faith in reducing the harm of the current money system, we want random people conspiring in our beautiful invitation. This final note is to be abandoned somewhere by the Charter Supporter and given the chance to awaken this call-to-action in a new participant.

  • During any part in this cycle a new participant can add their name to the Charter Declaration and receive 10 new notes to expand this care-currency-cycle even further.

  • Not only are we exchanging the human gifts of “thank you” and “please” we want to celebrate this network of care through stories. Participants will be asked to tell their story on our Great Lakes Commons Map. What was it like getting and sharing the notes? What kinds of conversations did it spark? What types of past/future actions did people reward? Where did their note go or where did it come from? See the video below on how to do this in a few steps.

  • The last element of this currency design includes an expiration date. Beyond the token GLC note that participants keep for themselves, this currency is for sharing not saving. The value of this currency comes through its use -- its current. The rules of today’s dollar system rationalize hoarding and controlling money to make more money. The needs of healthy people and living water are denied not because there isn’t enough money in the world, but because it makes “sense” to accumulate/hoard more and to spend it otherwise. Our GLC currency will all expire December 31, 2017. Contact us to explore how we can explore this currency project more for 2018 and beyond.

Comparing this Commons Currency to Current Dollar

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Foundational Questions

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Stories from project participants

We’ve got 24 stories up on on the Commons Map that tell the stories of how the notes were shared. There’s stories from Ashland WI, Port Huron and Marquette MI, Barrie, Guelph, Burlington and Perth ON, Wolcott NY and more. Filter the stories by ‘Currency of Care’ and cycle through them all — leave a question or comment if you like.

Leave us a question or comment below on what you think of this project and its approach to re-imagining the money system. If you have ways to design a 2nd phase for this work, please get in touch.