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September 1, 2010

Practicing Law in a Sharing Economy

This article was originally published on Shareable.net, in slightly abridged form.

What do you call a lawyer who helps people share, cooperate, barter, foster local economies, and build sustainable communities? That sounds like the beginning of a lawyer joke, but actually, it's the beginning of new field of law practice. Very soon, every community will need a specialist in this yet-to-be-named area: Community transactional law? Sustainable economies law? Cooperation law? Personally, I tend to call it sharing law.

 

The Evolving Nature of Our Transactions

Contrary to what we see on lawyer TV shows, around half of lawyers primarily work as transactional lawyers, not courtroom litigators. Transactional lawyers advise on, negotiate, and structure the contracts that govern business deals, real estate transfers, loans, mergers, securities, insurance, and so on.

The evolving nature of our transactions has created the need for a new area of law practice. We are entering an age of innovative transactions, collaborative transactions, crowd transactions, micro-transactions, sharing transactions - transactions that the legal field hasn't caught up with, like:

  • Bartering
  • Sharing
  • Cooperatives
  • Buying clubs
  • Community currencies
  • Time banks
  • Microlending
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Crowdfunding
  • Open source
  • Community supported agriculture
  • Fair trade
  • Cohousing
  • Coworking
  • Consensus decision-making
  • Intentional Communities
  • Community Gardens
  • Copyleft

  • Transactions that Put the Lively back into Livelihood

    What will the world look like as these kinds of transactions become more and more common, and what are the legal implications? Let's look at one person's life as an example: 

    Lynne lives in an urban cohousing community and shares ownership of a car with two neighbors. Every day, she fluidly shares, borrows, and lends (rather than owns) many household goods, tools, electronics, and other items. She is a member of a cooperative grocery, through which she receives significant discounts in exchange for putting in a few monthly work hours. She grows vegetables on an empty lot and sometimes sells the veggies to neighbors. She has a successful rooftop landscaping business, which she launched using 20 microloans and investments from friends and family. She often barters, doing odd jobs in exchange for goods and services. She also owns a 5% share of a hot springs retreat center outside of town, which she acquired through sweat equity.

    You might say that Lynne has put the "lively" back in livelihood. With the help of sharing, cooperation, and collaboration, she has managed to craft an affordable, comfortable lifestyle, put her skills to use, do varied and self-directed work, and live/work in a supportive community. She has "financed" property ownership and launched a thriving business off of the traditional financial and banking grid.[i]

    Now, if only Lynne knew how to report all this to the IRS, and how to explain it to her car insurance company, the Health Department, mortgage lenders, the Secretary of State, the Department of Real Estate, the city planning and building departments, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and all of the other regulatory and bureaucratic entities that have a say over what she can and can't do.

    And if only Lynne could feel fully assured that her rights to partial ownership in the cohousing community, retreat center, car, shared goods, and consumer cooperative would be honored by her co-sharers, or, in the event of an unresolveable dispute, honored by a court of law. If only she could find affordable ways to manage the risk of her activities, since her activities don't fit into traditional insurance application check-boxes. If only there weren't so many legal headaches involved in living well and creating more localized, sustainable economies....

     

    Lawyers Are Going to Have a Ball With This

    Trying to unravel the legal issues that arise from Lynne's lifestyle would be like trying to unravel a gigantic, messy, tangled up ball of string. Fortunately, thousands of people go to law school every year because they enjoy solving tangled messes. The emerging generation of lawyers is going to have a ball with this.

    At present, there is not much literature explaining the legal implications of these kinds of transactions. To those of us who have made this our area of practice, many of the legal questions in this new field sit unanswered on our giant to-do lists. One-by-one, client-by-client, we are making headway. As the ground swells with people adopting more sharing and cooperative work and lifestyles, we can look forward to a growing body of law and literature on the subject.

    At the same time, the answers will never be clear cut, and lines we have grown accustomed to will be increasingly blurred. Until we evolve a new set of legal definitions, we'll dance uncertainly around the lines between "income" and "gifts," between "own" and "rent," between "employees" and "volunteers," between "work" and "hobby," between "nonprofit" and "for-profit," between "invest" and "donate," and so on. Our clients may have outside-the-box livelihoods and organizations, but it'll still be the job of lawyers to help them fit into boxes that are traditional enough to comply with the law.

     

    A Collaborative World Calls for Collaborative Lawyers

    The growth of "community transactional law" or "sharing law" has implications not just for what lawyers practice, but how they practice - how they interact with clients, deliver services, determine fees, work with conflicts of interest, and so on. Working in this field will require not only the skills of legal analysis, but also the skills of open-mindedness, clear communication, collaboration, and an understanding of the role that human needs and emotions play in collaborative transactions.

    Collaboration between lawyer, client, and community is key. A lawyer brings legal knowledge, while a client brings practical knowledge, and the community provides the forum for the transactions. To the extent information is shared in all directions, thoughtful and innovative transactions will emerge. Lawyers typically don't freely share sample documents because charging for documents is a primary way that lawyers make money. Lawyers in this new field will need to develop new revenue models that encourage sharing of information. The free flow of information will ensure better informed clients, better quality documents, and communities that are empowered with an understanding of what is possible.

    Lawyers can also use sharing to make legal services more affordable, and therefore accessible, to clients. A lawyer sharing office space can keep overhead and fees far lower than a law firm built to look like the Emerald City. A lawyer open to receiving payment in time dollars or working in exchange for a bag of organic artichokes will make legal services accessible to a broader range of clients.

     

    Documents That Are Alive [And Even Make Sense]

    A large component of lawyers' work is drafting documents, like contracts and agreements about how organizations will function. In a world where people form babysitting co-ops, community gardens, open source creative projects, and other decentralized, participatory, fluid, and adaptable group projects, documents clearly describing these arrangements will be indispensible. That is, if people can understand them. In a typical lawyer-client transaction, the lawyer might prepare a document that the client looks at, often reluctantly and quickly. The document is then put into a file cabinet, never to be seen again (unless someone sues someone, in which case everyone hires more lawyers to interpret the appallingly long and confusing paragraphs).

    Documents should be living tools for a sharing organization. A readable governing document will: 1) help the group come to a well-thought-out plan, 2) serve as a handy reference for participants and encourage consistency in operations, 3) enable new people to join and get up to speed with the program, 4) promote group harmony by ensuring that everyone is on the same page, and 5) support other, similar programs, by making it easy for others to model a new program using the first one's governing document.

     

    Lawyers Become Facilitators

    In a more sharing world, attorneys might more frequently represent groups of people, rather than just individuals and business entities. In these situations, an attorney might simultaneously play a role as a lawyer and a facilitator.

    This deviates, to some extent, from traditional models of practice. For example, if three unrelated people decide to purchase a house together, and approach an attorney to draft their shared ownership agreement, the attorney might insist that each party will need his or her own attorney. Simultaneously representing multiple parties to the same transaction can put an attorney at risk of violating ethical rules, because the parties' interests could come into conflict with each other. Furthermore, joint representation means that each individual client will not have his or her own zealous advocate. (In case you wondered, "zealous," is a word right out of lawyers' rules of professional conduct.)

    Zeal, however, may not be the most important thing clients are looking for in a sharing lawyer. Perhaps they want one attorney who can learn about everyone's needs, help explain the benefits and risks for each person, mediate any conflicts that do arise, explain the legal framework, and then guide the group in developing a plan that works for everyone. Often, facilitating the growth of an open and trusting relationship among parties will be far more important than lobbying for favorable contract terms for a single party.

    At the same time, when the stakes are high, giving attention to individual interests will be essential. To this end, sharing law has much to learn from "Collaborative Law," which has been applied primarily to divorce cases, and sometimes to the preparation of prenuptial agreements. In the collaborative model, each party is represented by an attorney, and thus has an advocate helping to assert that party's interests. Typically, however, the attorneys are also trained mediators, and the parties come to the negotiating table in an open and cooperative spirit. In the same way that the collaborative approach has been used in negotiating prenuptial agreements, it could be applied also to co-ownership agreements, partnership agreements, and other situations where parties must balance concern for their own interests with the desire to come together and collaborate.

     

    Lawyers Can Also Create More Square Holes

    Trying to legally categorize cutting edge transactions will sometimes be like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. As such, lawyers working in this field will be in a good position to call for more square holes in our legal system. In other words, innovation and policy reform will also play a key role in the work of community transactional lawyers.

    In the course of their work, sharing lawyers will recognize how a state law or local zoning ordinance could be improved to encourage sharing, to incentivize urban agriculture, or to enable new forms of co-ownership. Lawyers can also be proactive architects of new kinds of organizations, new legal structures for sharing, and mechanisms for protecting the commons. In this same vein, for example, Creative Commons has already created a new licensing structure for the sharing of ideas and creative works.

     

    Greasing the Wheels of a More Sharing World

    In small pockets around the country, lawyers are beginning this work. Recently, Oakland-based attorney Jenny Kassan and I co-founded the Sustainable Economies Law Center, an organization that creates a space for this new field to develop, generates tools and resources for the public, and provides learning opportunities for law students.

    With any luck, law schools will start offering classes and clinics focused on these cutting-edge transactions. Soon, a new generation of "sharing lawyers" or "community transactional lawyers" will be able to enjoy rewarding work, interesting clients, and a field of practice that deviates, refreshingly, from the usual big-firm and government career paths.

    Years ago, I read a cynical article complaining that lawyers do nothing more than "grease the wheels of big business." It's unfortunate to the extent that it has been true, but I liked the phrase and I think we should simply roll it in a new direction. Now, our work is to grease the wheels of a more sharing, cooperative, and sustainable society.

     

    This article was written with input from attorneys Jenny Kassan and Emily Doskow.



    [i] Thank you to Morgan Gerard for using - and possibly coining - the phrase "living off the traditional financial services grid."

    August 16, 2010

    The Sustainable Economies Law Center Wants to Help You Share

    The Sustainable Economies Law Center was recently featured in the East Bay Express, including an interview by Bernice Yeung with Janelle Orsi.

    The Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) facilitates the growth of sustainable, localized, and just economies, through legal research, professional training, resource development, and education about practices such as:

    · Cooperatives
    · Community-supported enterprises
    · Barter
    · Sharing
    · Local currencies
    · Intentional communities, ecovillages, cohousing
    · Affordable housing and limited equity housing
    · Urban agriculture
    · Community-based renewable energy
    · Community land trusts
    · Social enterprise
    · Microlending
    · Local investing
    · Co-op banks/credit unions

    In addition to creating and making available resources to the public, SELC provides training to legal professionals, student interns, and others, empowering them with tools to bring about more sustainable, localized, and just economies.  SELC also convenes special working groups, bringing together experts and practitioners from various fields, for the purpose of investigating, collecting resources for, and developing resources in specialized areas.

    Based in Oakland, California, SELC is a fiscally sponsored project of Community Ventures, a California 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. All SELC projects are currently managed by volunteer attorneys.

    August 8, 2010

    New Book on Collaborative Consumption

    This is great - a new book about the sharing movement will be released in just a few weeks: What's Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. Check out their website, including a couple cool videos!

    September 27, 2009

    Sharing the Task of Nurturing Our Local Economies

    Yesterday, I moderated a panel discussion and had many great conversations at the Festival for Grassroots Economies, where brilliant ideas seemed to be generated, on average, every 2 seconds. My mind is still spinning from it all, but I thought I'd stop and try to capture at least a tidbit.

    A memorable moment was when attorney Jenny Kassan boldly suggested that we need a local stock exchange to serve as a source of finance for small local businesses and to keep our investments in the community (as opposed to putting our savings into mutual funds and financing who-knows-what kind of companies). It's really a genius idea - it could create a simple way for each of us to share in owning and nurturing the businesses that serve us. We would choose to finance the businesses we feel could successfully enhance the character of our neighborhoods, provide a needed local service or product, create local jobs, and be accountable to the community. Most folks trading on the New York Stock Exchange don't take any of this into consideration.

    Jenny Kassan cited Michael Shuman, author of The Small-Mart Revolution. Shuman recently blogged about the concept of local stock exchanges. A major reason we don't have local stock exchanges now, Shuman points out, is that securities laws have made it prohibitively expensive for small businesses to make a public offering. Shuman writes:

    "The regulations prohibit the average American from investing in any small business, unless the firm is willing to spend $50,000 to $100,000 on lawyers to prepare private placement memorandum or public offering--thick documents with microscopic, ALL CAPS PRINT that no human being has ever been observed actually reading."

    But Shuman suggests some simple changes to the securities laws, that could make it a lot easier for small businesses to seek investors. For example, he suggests that we could exempt from securities regulation any small businesses that issues $250,000 or less in total stock, offers the stock only to people living in the state, and allow each investor to purchase no more than $100 worth of stock.

    In the same way that many of us have made micro-loans through organizations such as Kiva, we could make investments of a comparable size in businesses locally. We'll see the returns in many ways - not only in the growth of our investment money, but in the growth of flourishing businesses all around us.

    August 4, 2009

    Picture the Sharing Revolution, Part 3: Our Streets

    What will our world look like when the sharing revolution takes to the streets? First of all, in a world where there are carsharing programs, neighbors sharing cars, carpooling, dynamic ridesharing programs, bikesharing, and better public transportation, each household could probably get by with one car, as opposed to 2.28, the national average. That would mean half as many cars parked on the streets, much less traffic, and a lot of potential to get rid of some streets.

    Why cut out some of our streets? There are many reasons, and here's a few:

    1. Isolated neighbors. The more traffic on a street, the less likely parents will allow their kids to play outside, the less likely neighbors are to have ever met each other.

    2. Sleepless nights. People get a better night's sleep when they live on a quiet street.

    3. Runaway water. Streets interrupt the natural flow and percolation of water by creating impervious surfaces. Fewer paved streets would allow water to penetrate the soil, reducing storm floods and polluted run-off, and promoting healthy groundwater supplies.

    4. Hot hot hot. Asphalt absorbs the heat, contributing to the urban heat island effect, and tempting people to fry eggs on the pavement to see if it really works.

    5. Crash. Wider streets make people drive faster, which makes for more accidents.

    In many cities and suburbs, neighborhoods have grid layout. Here is a picture of this rather uninteresting design:
    Street grid graphic.jpg

    Now what happens if you take that grid and plunk a park down in the middle of some of the intersections? You get a neighborhood full of fun parks that are also quiet because they are surrounded on four sides by cul-de-sacs (see graphic below). You get many more quiet streets (in grey) and relegate the thru-traffic to a few streets (in black). These aren't just typical cul-de-sacs where it feels like a private and isolated dead-end road. Pedestrians, bicyclists, skaters, and scooter-ers can all pass through easily. Does this look like a fun neighborhood?
    Street heaven graphic.jpg
    Grey = Quiet Streets; Black = Busier Streets; Green = Fun Parks!

    Ready to transform our neighborhoods? Check out these great resources:

    July 15, 2009

    The Carsharing Revolution Comes to Utah

    The Salt Lake City Council approved a new ordinance this week allowing a carsharing company to start operating there. The city code had to be amended to make it happen, but U Car Share will start serving Salt Lake City residents within the next three months. U Car Share is a subsidiary of U-Haul, meaning it's probably more profit-driven than mission-driven like some of the original carsharing companies. But hey, it's one more city with a carsharing program and that is a good thing.

    July 9, 2009

    Picture the Sharing Revolution, Part 2: Driveways

    Today, the average household has about 2.28 cars. If every household gave up one car and met any transportation gaps with carsharing, carpooling, bicycling, and public transportation, we'd free up a ton of driveway space. Here are some thoughts about what people can do with all of this newfound space:

    • Driveway Movie Theater. My partner pointed out that with a long extension cord and projector, we could turn our driveways into good old-fashioned outdoor theaters (not "drive-ins" mind you, because no one will be driving). Wait until sunset, cover the garage door with a sheet, set up some chairs in the driveway, fire up the popcorn popper, and press "play."
    • A Mural at Every House. Garage doors are great spaces for murals, and murals are a wonderful way to bring communities together and make the world a more beautiful place.
    • Chalk Art Studio and Gallery. Along the same lines of beautifying the neighborhood, you can turn one driveway into a chalk art studio and gallery. Keep a bucket or two of good chalk around, and let the creativity flow. A sloped driveway would be especially good for this, because it makes for easier viewing by awestruck passers-by.
    • Skating Rink and Skate Park. Create a barrier at the end of the driveway so that no one rolls into the street, install a grinding rail, and set the kids loose to skate to their hearts' content. (With proper supervision, of course, and only if everyone is using wrist guards and helmets. I'd also recommend knee, elbow, and -- oof -- butt pads.)
    • Basketball Court. That's a no brainer.
    • Parking for the Neighborhood Electric Cars. You can use one driveway as a charging station for the shared electric vehicles in the neighborhood.
    • Container Herb and Vegetable Garden. Install a container garden in one driveway so that all neighbors can all come grab a sprig of oregano or rosemary when a recipe calls for it.
    A note about removing driveways: Another option is to remove all or part of a driveway and put in a garden, lawn, or playground. But before you convert parking land to park land, check your local zoning laws and get permission from your city. In many neighborhoods, it's a requirement that each house have a certain amount of driveway space. This is how cities control crowded street parking conditions. There's a possibility that your driveway is larger than your zoning law requires, so it may be worth checking into the possibility of partial removal.
    July 7, 2009

    Picture the Sharing Revolution, Part 1: Garages

    A sharing revolution will transform everything about our world -- it will transform our streets, our neighborhoods, our work, even our garages. Especially our garages. This is Part One of a series. I'm going to start, piece-by-piece, examining what our world would look like once the sharing revolution takes hold.

    Starting with garages.

    More than half of all U.S. households have them, and more often than not, they are like GIANT CLOSETS -- filled to the brim with stuff we use infrequently: lawn mowers, weed whackers, ladders, snow blowers, sports equipment, tools, junk you've been meaning to get rid of but haven't gotten around to yet, etc.

    But to a sharing neighborhood, each garage is 400 square feet of pure potential. If everyone on a block gets together and consolidates their stuff (getting down to one lawn mower on the whole block, for example), if they get rid of some cars and plan more carpooling and carsharing, have a huge neighborhood yard sale, repurpose each garage, and give everyone access, the neighborhood could be transformed into a virtual resort. Picture a block where 8 neighbors repurpose their garages:

    • Garage #1: The Gym. Drawing from neighbors' existing equipment, put in the stationary bike, a treadmill, an elliptical machine or two, weights, and so on, and give everyone access during reasonable hours. Cancel your gym memberships and save some money, too.
    • Garage #2: The Music Room. Soundproof the heck out of one garage, roll in a piano, put in a drum set, DJ's decks and a disco ball, and the neighborhood garage bands will be off and rockin'. Sometimes open the garage door and have a dance party in the driveway.
    • Garage #3: The Workshop. Consolidate tools, workbenches, and other useful items into one garage. Be sure to carefully label everything or take inventory so you don't forget whose tools are whose. All neighbors can come to repair broken household items, or do wood working projects.
    • Garage #4: The Rec Room. Give it a cozy feel with some carpeting and couches, fill it with toys, games, and a ping pong table, and let the fun begin!
    • Garage #5: Art Studio. This would be a place for folks to share art supplies, spread out with their art projects, and store their works in progress.
    • Garage #6: Stuff Library. This is where you store that one neighborhood lawn mower, and any other items that neighbors are willing to lend to each other -- bread machines, sewing machines, camping gear, volleyball net, and so on.
    • Garage #7: Dry Goods "Store." Neighbors who want to save money could make bulk orders together and store goods in once place, and maybe come up with a ticket system for dividing expenses. For example, neighbors could buy 500 rolls of [recycled] toilet paper and store them in Garage #7. Each time a neighbor needs to stock up, he or she can go in the garage, "pay" 4 tickets per roll, and take home what is needed. It's like having an informal grocery cooperative on your own block.
    • Garage #8: The Library. Carefully label your books and DVDs and shelve them here. Come up with a system for checking items out. Add a couch or two, and the library becomes a quiet place for anyone to come, relax, and get lost in book land.
    This all sounds like a huge and possibly daunting project, but the idea can start small. You can start by teaming up with one neighbor. Store things in one neighbor's garage and turn the other neighbor's garage into a gym or rec room. When it feels right, propose the idea to another neighbor, and turn their garage into a workshop, and so on. Then add another neighbor. And another!
    July 5, 2009

    Sharing Revolution v. Big Grey Cloud

    With all the excitement around the release of The Sharing Solution, I have been daydreaming lately about the sharing revolution. The sharing revolution. Hmm... that seems to merit capital letters: THE SHARING REVOLUTION!

    That's better.

    We are on the brink of something exciting, something with the power to transform our world. I love to imagine the near future, when people everywhere share cars with their neighbors, start local tool-lending libraries and childcare cooperatives, do regular mealsharing with friends, and form casual cohousing arrangements in every neighborhood. What's more, the value of all of these things is somehow greater than the sum of their parts, and the potential of it all makes me gasp.

    First of all, I've seen all those tiny green sprouts popping up all over the place. They are everywhere: sprouts of hope, new technologies, new attitudes, social justice, green collar jobs, and community building. They are sprouts of community gardens, solar panels, bicycle lanes, buy-local initiatives, recycling programs, fair trade, microlending programs, restored creeks, and so many other beautiful things.

    Okay, granted, there's a huge grey cloud making it hard to see these little sprouts. It's true that the economy, the environment, war, unemployment, evictions, foreclosures, homelessness, contamination, water shortages, businesses closing, and the disappearance of fish in the sea, to name a few, make for one very large grey cloud (VERY LARGE GREY CLOUD).

    But the sprouts are most definitely there. What I'm wondering is: When are these sprouts going to grow enough to overtake the grey cloud? Seems to me that if they grow just enough, they'll create fertile ground for more growth, and more, and more! But for now, their growth is frustratingly slow. Too slow?

    I could think of ways to speed them up, but many ways require change mostly beyond my control. There are top-down changes, like getting the government to put money into green-collar job creation, instead of, say, prisons. But I'm not holding my breath -- and I'm not expecting our government to catalyze the growth of the sustainability movement (though I truly appreciate that our President is on the right track).

    What about all those millions of people with wonderful ideas, great intentions, and the will to change the world? The grassroots! Couldn't they (I mean, we) get this new green revolution going? Unfortunately, with the way things are going, I'm worried that we won't. So many of us are overworked, burnt out, struggling to make ends meet, and worried a lot about our own survival right now. It's not easy contending with a large grey cloud.

    But I only say all this to emphasize the importance of the missing ingredient: Sharing! Or, perhaps I should say: SHARING! Sharing has the most potential to add momentum to the changes already taking place, getting us to the tipping point where a sustainable and socially just world is truly possible. Sharing is not just the fertilizer that helps those green sprouts grow bigger. Sharing is more like a catalyst -- one small ingredient that you can add to the mix that makes everything just explode.

    The power of sharing is unique in a handful of ways:

    • Sharing, unlike recycling, is naturally contagious. Sharing opens up a pattern of generosity and mutual caring that breeds on itself. A lot of other things we do to change the world aren't quite so viral. One person reducing his or her waste, for example, may or may not inspire a neighbor to do so. But offering to let your neighbor use your basketball hoop or eat strawberries from your patch opens up the flood gates of generosity.
    • Sharing is self-serving, so we'll want to do it. Sharing helps us meet our needs more efficiently and cheaply, and sharing our snow blower with a neighbor might mean that she will let us use her hot tub. (Yessss!) Sharing builds community, which makes us happier people, and cooperation has been shown to release endorphins. So there's no need to force anyone to share -- people will naturally start doing it to enjoy the benefits.
    • Sharing reverses the drain on our time, energy, and resources. For those of us who are spread way too thin, sharing saves resources, money, time, and energy, thereby freeing us up to garden, compost, recycle, hang our laundry, ride our bicycle, volunteer, advocate for social and environmental justice, and do things to help ourselves and the planet. We'll all get a little more rest, the support of a community of sharers, and the strength we need to get all the sprouts growing. In short, sharing gives the grassroots the time, energy, and resources we need to grow a better world.
    • Sharing connects all of our isolated world-changing acts and boosts their potential. As I noted, the sprouts are everywhere -- people planting urban food gardens, composting their food waste, and installing solar panels. But many of these are things we do in isolation -- and when we can find the time and energy. Sharing adds the element of community, which boosts the potential and the impact of everything we do -- neighbors can get together to jointly purchase or bargain for solar power, or they can start a neighborhood compost project. It's more efficient, and each additional person who joins the effort compounds the benefit to the earth and to the others in the group. Much of what we do to save the world can be done better if we organize and cooperate, and it can be much more fun that way, too!
    • We don't have to wait for someone else to hurry up and do anything. We don't have to wait until our government starts a new program or provides needed funding. We don't need to change the laws. We don't have to wait until a scientist invents a solution. We don't even need to form a nonprofit or fundraise to get started. We just start sharing. Today.
    • Every single one of us can share. I've been known to say things like: "I can't afford to make a donation;" "I don't have time to volunteer more;" and "I don't know how to install solar panels." It's all true. But it's hard to say, "I can't afford to share," or "I don't have time to share," or "I don't know how to share." Sharing is something that everyone can do. Even a curmudgeon, even a poor person, even a busy person. I think the hardest part is getting started, then ironing out the details, understanding everyone's expectations, and figuring out the logistics. But my friend Emily Doskow and I just wrote a book to help everyone through that part. So otherwise, there's nothing stopping any of us from sharing.
    • Sharing is a clean and easy way to get rid of the big grey cloud. Somehow or another, we need to get rid of that cloud. Otherwise our future looks like, well, a big grey cloud. There are all kinds of approaches to this -- some folks reform the system, lobbying, advocating, and making changes bit-by-bit. This is an important thing to do, but it's way too slow. Others propose bringing down the system in one fell swoop, which usually involves an uprising, or a full-blown violent revolution. I can only imagine that this would be messy. Very messy. The system has very large weapons, and even if we do succeed in taking out the system, we will then be faced with the task of rebuilding something on top of a big mess. Fortunately, we really don't need to remove the system before we can start replacing it. Even while the grey cloud is still hanging out, we can start sharing, nourishing our local economies, going organic, and creating rewarding green-collar job opportunities. The spouts of our new system will simply overtake the cloud with time.

    First, there's the "grow or die" economy -- where companies must compete in order to survive, grow in order to compete, and create increasing demand for their products in order to grow. And the best way for a company to sell a lot of a product is to create a culture of "self-reliance" and "convenience," convincing all people that they should have one of their OWN. This culture of "self-reliance" is so ingrained in us that it would feel awkward asking the guy in the neighboring apartment unit if he would like to share a vacuum cleaner. Vacuum manufacturers would want us to believe that we should each have a vacuum, or even two.

    Second, there's the fact that, until recently, we could maintain this lifestyle without actually seeing the impact of it. Now we have seen how perpetual growth is eating away at the planet's natural resources, melting the icecaps, and undermining a stable economy. Now the images of factory farms and third world sweatshops have made their way into our minds, and we are all searching for a more compassionate and sustainable way.

    In the meantime, we have gotten out of practice with sharing. Sharing and cooperation are arguably as old as civilization itself. But today, much of the sharing and cooperation we do are managed by the government or businesses via incredibly complex systems of global cooperation. As consumers, we mostly just experience the end-products, such as electricity, water, manufactured goods, and food. So while we benefit greatly from cooperation, we have lost the ability to do it directly and face-to-face. In this sense, we are a vulnerable culture. We are blinded to the harms that our consumption inflicts on the world, and we are not prepared to meet our needs if or when the complex system crumbles.

    So we might as well roll up our sleeves now, gather our friends, family, and neighbors, and get creative. Solar power cooperatives, neighborhood rainwater catchment installations, a cooperatively owned water purification system, community supported agriculture, neighborhood fruit tree harvests... The possibilities are endless and they will completely transform our world. That's why it's a sharing revolution. Not a trend, not a movement, but a REVOLUTION. Goodbye grey cloud. Sharing is here to save the planet.