Sam Butler




Find a topic you feel pulled towards. This is in progress — feel free to edit, comment, or add sections of your own here.

Why am I disinterested in incentives?

Incentives made for others, by people without stake in the outcomes, imply decisions made for others without stake in the outcomes. In the worlds I’m interested in, decisions are made by people affected by outcomes, with stake. “A world in which many worlds fit”, to quote the New Zapatista movement (h/t Marisol de la Cadena).

Regarding the benefits of incentives, while they may create efficiences in measurable values —

Efficiency is often ineffective; we may be destroying an extremely effective system whose values we cannot measure in order to calculate the efficiency of ineffective systems.

— Dee W Hock, Community and the Exchange of Value

Why am I disinterested in carbon credits, ecosystem services, and the financialization of life?

These systems have been tried — and have failed. See Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. From a summary of the book by Paul Heft:

Watered-down climate actions, such as ‘market-based’ solutions, do not aim for a full transition away from fossil fuels. The failure of this polite strategy is beyond debate. … Businesses have gamed the cap-and-trade system implemented in Europe; carbon offsets don’t work very well. … In order for multinational corporations to protect their freedom to pollute the atmosphere, peasants, farmers, and Indigenous people are losing their freedom to live and sustain themselves in peace.

— Source:

These systems lead to wasteful and ineffective actions —

Forest restoration and forest-based carbon are alot more expensive than widely reported. There is tremendous waste. In this thread I will explain why, drawing on our new World Development paper, with some asides about program effectiveness and data transparency.

— Forrest Fleischman (@ForrestFleisch1) February 28, 2022

— in contrast to productive, evidence-based actions, like protecting Indigenous land sovereignty: cultures which have stewarded places for thousands of years up to today.

These systems do to our worlds what extraction does to our relatives: threatening the ability for a world to exist on its own, by extracting and poisoning its resources, so the world must participate in the market economy — trees, forests, mangroves, soil, wildlife, cultures, forced to work for credits and dollars, to keep their place in their world.

This happens over and over again. A place, an ecology, humans and more-than-human relatives, survive for time immemorial. An extractive project (fossil fuels, mines, water projects, even some renewables on greenfield sites) poisons the land, water, and food. Since our relatives can no longer live from the land, they now must choose whether they will participate in the extractive industry that destroys their way of life, or resist — and risk starvation, violence, and murder.

I have no interest in seeing this tragedy brought upon our more-than-human relatives. I have no interest in a culture that invades a place — a place that is surviving and living well — and divides it into reductions of trees (which home wildlife), wildlife (which nest in trees), soil (which grounds all), water (which gives life), people (which carry water). I have no interest in programs made without local context, which waste resources and opportunities. I have no interest in land grabs from Indigenous peoples and local cultures. I have no interest in endeavors that fail to learn or choose ignorance for the chance of personal gain — a race to the bottom, a race to end all of our worlds.

Without ecosystem services and carbon credits, how can we protect and support our worlds?

What is the problem? Is it that tress and wildlife aren’t earning dollars? When has that ever been a problem? (How often has it been a problem for any culture, outside of the industrialized world?)

One problem is extraction. A culture, a people, a corporation, a system, a nation — believing that our world belongs to them.

When they see open land, they only know how to take it.

— Jennifer Elise Foerster, Leaving Tulsa.

A place as nothing more than resources and obstacles, on the way towards progress — illustrated by the Futurama exhibit in the 1964’s World Fair, courtesy of General Motors:

The most viewed exhibition in the world in its time.

If we fail to understand that we belong to the world, we won’t have much to belong to any longer. To help our worlds flourish, we can simply belong to them.

How can we transcend cultures of extraction?

By respecting Indigenous and local rights. In places where people and ecologies have not been subsumed in market economies, and continue to live as they have for millennia, we can respect sovereignty. As long as these relatives of ours live, the lands and waters to which they belong will continue on — and we know it, because the lands and waters to which they belong are still alive to this day.

(This runs counter to colonial conservation practices from organizations like World Wildlife Foundation and the 30x30 initiative, which remove people and cultures from the places they have stewarded for millennia — failing to understand that there is a place to “conserve”, because the people of that place live conservation.

These practices also perpetuate the same paradigm of extraction — we can remove the people from this place, and put the plants and animals in a park, because humans do not belong in the picture of nature — the world belongs to us.

For more on this subject, hear Dr. Mordecai Ogada, watch this short video, and pick up Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.)

In places where extraction has already begun, we can support alternatives to extraction, which can provide income for people who have seen their ways of life threatened, without extracting from the place in the process. What can that look like?

In the short-term, all of these alternatives — local filmmaking and media, local scientific research, agroecological forestry — may require more support and investment than is required for short-term extraction. At the same time, there are many forms of non-extractive and mutualistic exchange that can facilitate these capacity-building resources. For example, buying media, medicinal samples, and forest produce, in advance at a discount — providing resources to start these initiatives, benefits to customers, and creating mutualistic bonds between producers and customers. After the up-front capacity is established, that capacity will be available for generations, supporting ways of life — even in a market economy — in which we can live in harmony with and belong to our worlds.

Have ideas for other alternatives to extraction? Share suggestions and the possibilities you see!

Are there ways to transcend extraction, and belong to our worlds, in industrialized places?

When we buy foods from the frontlines of extraction — non-local meat, crops, delicacies — we accelerate extraction. When we buy oil from the frontlines of extraction — pipelines and wells on Indigenous and native lands, in our own countries and abroad — we accelerate extraction. When we burn gasoline to move 2,000 pound vehicles and heat our homes, we accelerate extraction — from our own worlds, and those of future generations.

Belonging to the world means that our worlds aren’t ours for the taking. If we wish to transcend extraction, and live in worlds that make sense — worlds that are resilient, worlds that survive, worlds that flourish — we must learn that more is less, and less is more. Possessions don’t bring meaning, fulfillment, or wellbeing. We buy more, eat more, drink more, consume more, watch more, numb ourselves more to fill the pit — but it only temporarily satisfies, and the pit grows deeper. We work more to afford the lifestyles of numbness, to afford these lifestyles for our children and dependents, and that inner unsettled feeling never goes away. That becomes our shallow not-life on this miracle of a planet, numb to our gifts from the sun, and waters, and wind, and sky, and biology, and our interconnected universe, every day.

Our lives are groundless — always shifting, always changing, never in our grasp. When we’re hungry, or thirsty, or feeling a moment’s anxiety — we can act on that impulse, to find ground (a false, short-lived ground) or we can sit with that feeling, and understand that life is groundless, and accept discomfort.

What happens with you when you begin to feel uneasy, unsettled, queasy? Notice the panic, notice when you instantly grab for something.

— (Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart)

We can leave off the television. We can forget about the phone. We can sit around the table — gathering, love, family, relations of unending varieties, in unending combinations. We can transcend our idol worship of products and goods, as David Foster Wallace showed us:

If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. … It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

— David Foster Wallace, Kenyon Commencement Address (May 21st, 2005). Listen to the speech.

We can live our lives in ways that matter to us, and we can explore how to get on with less. A lot less.

In practice, what does that mean?

Will it really make a difference if I do these things?

Who are you?

… Are you you — just you, alone, in the universe? Are you part of me? Are the waters we drink from, which fill 70% of our bodies, part of us? Are we part of the waters that fill 70% of our world? Are we bodies with microbiota forests in our stomachs? Are we microbiota forests with bodies around us? (Donna Haraway, Staying With The Trouble).

Are I/we connected in ways greater than we may realize? Religions, science, cultural wisdom all teach us this — our connection. In the Lakota language, a word commonly used to mean “sacred” — mistakenly interpreted by Christian missionaries as “God” — actually means relations, according to Albert White Hat (via Dr. Kim TallBear):

If we are entangled, connected, part of one another in these ways — when I/we act, it affects all of us. Likewise, there are ways that we can be more purposeful and impactful about involving our communities in the worlds we’re creating — collective action, becoming together, is magnitudes more impactful than acting in isolation.

Research like “Powers of 10” shows that neighborhood, village, township, municipality, and county scales are some of our most impactful scales of action.

(Thanks to Karen O’Brien for inspiration in this section, paradigm-shifting work, and the I/we terminology.)

So how can we act as community, when people feel distant and isolated as ever?

We can visit with neighbors. Ask each other questions. Listen to each other and re-connect. Open to the best versions of ourselves, open to the best versions of others, in every conversation and encounter.

Find the people we know — as well as the friends we haven’t met yet — and explore actions together, like chalking crosswalks at an intersection, or ordering sprouting seeds to grow in our kitchens, or organizing a gathering/party/festival in the neighborhood. Gather community — families, students, adults, businesses — and imagine ways we can get on with life on foot, bike, and wheels, free of the 2,000 vehicular cages. How we can live more with each other.

We can start by knocking on a neighbors’ door for a catch up. Asking someone how they’re doing — listening, being there, being together. Asking someone for help, even!

We can also start by showing up to a local event, meeting, gathering. Trying something new. Taking a risk.

Mainly … just start.

So … just, start?

Just start. Start making our worlds — where we, as places and cultures and relations, can make our own decisions and find our own ways to survive and belong to the world. Where we support Indigenous land sovereignty and alternatives to extraction in frontline communities. Where we live alternatives to extraction in our interconnected I/we worlds — using less, releasing ground, finding life, living more — and doing it as community, always as community. Where we are each other — biologically and as neighbors, humanly and as more-than-human relatives, waterly and as water carriers, humans with gut forests and gut forests with humans — and communities and families of new kinds of relations. Worlds where we live it.