19 September 2009
'You have just come from your annual medical check-up, where your doctor assures you that you are in robust health.
Walking jauntily down the street, you bump into a practitioner of alternative medicine. He takes one look and declares: "You have a serious tumour. It must be removed or you will die."
You ignore him as you always have. One day later, a stabbing pain cripples you. You call your doctor, who initially refuses to send an ambulance because he knows you are well. Only when you lapse into a coma does he send one. Initially the doctor waits for you to revive spontaneously. But as your pulse starts to weaken, reluctantly he calls a retired doctor who has experience of a similar inexplicable malady in the distant past.
She prescribes massive doses of tranquillisers, painkillers, vitamins, and oxygen - all substances that had been removed from the medical panoply due to recent advances in medical theory.
After a year of expensive medical treatment, you return to health, and are released from intensive care. As you stride from the hospital, you bump into the practitioner of alternative medicine. "But they haven't removed the tumour," he declares.
One shouldn't have to spell out the details of such an analogy, but in times of widespread denial, it is necessary.
You are the economy; the tumour is a massive accumulation of private debt; your doctor is neoclassical economics; and the retired colleague is a so-called ''Keynesian'' economist (who doesn't know it - since her medical textbooks were poorly written - but she's actually following another economist called Paul Samuelson, not Keynes).
The alternative medicine practitioner follows Hyman Minsky's financial instability hypothesis (based on what Keynes actually did say - as well as the wisdom of Joseph Schumpeter and, in whispers, Karl Marx)...
According to Minsky's theory, capitalist economies can and do periodically experience financial crises (something believers in the dominant neoclassical approach to economics vehemently denied until reality - in the form of the global financial crisis - slapped them in the face last year).
These financial crises are caused by debt-financed speculation on asset prices, which leads to bubbles in asset prices. These bubbles must eventually burst, because they add nothing to the economy's productive capacity while simultaneously increasing the debt-servicing burden the economy faces.
When they burst, asset prices collapse but the debt remains. The attempts by both borrowers and lenders to reduce leverage reduces aggregate demand, causing a recession.
If the economy survives such a crisis, it can go through the same process again, with another boom driving debt up even higher, followed by yet another crash. But ultimately this process has to lead to a level of debt that is so great that another revival becomes impossible, since no one is willing to take on any more debt. Then a depression ensues.
That is where we were in 1987. The great tragedy of today is that naive neoclassical economists like Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke allowed this process to continue for another three or more cycles than would have occurred without their rescues.
Last year they did it again - only with methods they would have disparaged a mere year earlier (rational expectations macroeconomics, a modern neoclassical fad, preaches that government intervention cannot influence the level of economic activity at all - yet another belief that reality has recently crucified). This time, while the rescue has worked, the recovery they expect afterwards cannot happen - because there is almost no one left who will willingly take on any more debt.
This time, there is no re-leveraging way out. The tumour of debt has to be removed.'
Steve Keen is associate professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney
...not quite sure about this, but its an interesting idea!
Excerpt from Inhabitat, 11 September 2009
'Some people like suburbia for the wide open spaces, yards, and the sense of privacy, but the ‘burbs are not nearly as efficient as urban centers are. What if there was a way to bring all of the positive qualities of exurbia into the city while keeping all of the efficiency of an urban core?
What about stacking blocks of suburban space onto blocks of urban space, similar in theory to vertical farms, creating modular gardens, orchards, parks, playing fields, community centers and even homes? The concept is already out there. Dreamed up by two Sydney-based architects, Skyburbs introduces the qualities of the suburbs into denser urban environments...
Skyburbs could also contain a number of sustainable features depending on the types of amenities inside. Rain water collection and grey water recycling will help supply water for irrigation. Solar and wind power will help meet the energy demand and trombe walls, passive solar design and radiant heating will aid in heating homes and buildings. Each level is adaptable, flexible and changeable. Should an owner decide to change his/her own level, build or remodel, the levels can accommodate those additions.
The Skyburbs concept was developed by Mark Gazy and Neil Haybittel, both from Tzannes Associates in Sydney.'
Excerpt from Inhabitat, 10 September 2009
'We generate so much trash on a daily basis that it wouldn’t be surprising if future generations mistakenly thought that we actually worshipped all the garbage we toss into landfills.
That’s the idea behind Salzig Design’s Temple of Trash, a temporary structure built in a Rotterdam, Netherlands port area as part of the 2007 Follydock Festival. The waste-filled walls of the temple are constructed 100 tons of PET bottles pressed into bales!'
Excerpt from PARK(ing) Day 2009
'Originally created by Rebar, San Francisco art and design collective, PARK(ing) Day is an annual, one-day, global event where artists, activists, and citizens independently but simultaneously temporarily transform metered parking spots into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public parks.
Anyone can participate in PARK(ing) Day, though it is strictly a non-commercial project, intended to promote creativity, civic engagement, critical thinking, unscripted social interactions, generosity and play.'
Excerpt from 2002 paper subtitled 'Tactics in Global Activism for the 21st Century' by Wendi Pickerel, Helena Jorgensen, and Lance Bennett
'Jams are often aimed at exposing questionable political assumptions behind commercial culture, aiming to capture our attention so that, for a moment, we can consider the branded environment we live in. Culture jams refigure logos, fashion statements, and product images to challenge images of “what’s cool,” along with assumptions about the personal freedoms of consumption. Culture jams can help create a sense of transparency about a product’s production impact by presenting images that quickly communicate the realities hidden behind the slick corporate logos. The logic of culture jamming is to convert easily identifiable images into larger questions about corporate responsibility, the “true” environmental and human costs of consumption, or the private corporate uses of the “public” airwaves.
The basic unit of communication in culture jamming is the meme: the core unit of cultural transmission. Memes are condensed images that stimulate visual, verbal, musical, or behavioral associations that people can easily imitate and transmit to others (see Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, second edition 1989)...
For Lasn, the best culture jam is one that introduces a meta-meme, a two-level message that punctures a specific commercial image, but does so in a way that challenges some larger aspect of the political culture of corporate domination.
'Photographer James Balog shares new image sequences from the Extreme Ice Survey, a network of time-lapse cameras recording glaciers receding at an alarming rate, some of the most vivid evidence yet of climate change.'
Excerpt from the New Scientist, 15 September 2009
'Fancy a three-day weekend - not just once in a while but week in week out? You may think your bosses would never agree to it, but the evidence suggests that employers, employees and the environment all benefit.
The four-day week comes in two flavours. One option is to switch from five 8-hour days to four 10-hour days, meaning overall hours and salaries stay the same. In August 2008, the state of Utah moved all of its employees, apart from the emergency services, to working 4/10, as it has become known. The hope was that by shutting down buildings for an extra day each week, energy bills would be slashed by up to a fifth...
The second form of the four-day week is to work the same number of hours per day for four days only, with a commensurate 20 per cent pay cut.
Not everyone will like the idea of working longer days or taking a pay cut in exchange for a 3-day weekend, but it appears most do. Rex Facer at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, [says] it was the crash of 1929 that led to the five-day week. "Before that it was common to work six-day weeks with 12 to 14-hour days. When the Great Depression hit, the idea was to share work around to get more people into employment."...'
Buy Nothing Day campaign is 'an international day of protest against consumerism observed by social activists. Typically celebrated the Friday after American Thanksgiving in North America and the following day internationally...'
Adbusters' ideas for marking BND are brilliant, perfect for Flashmobbers!
'As the planet starts heating up, maybe it’s time to finally go cold turkey. Take the personal challenge by locking up your debit card, your credit cards, your money clip, and see what it feels like to opt out of consumer culture completely, even if only for 24 hours. Like the millions of people who have done this fast before you, you may be rewarded with a life-changing epiphany. While you’re at it, what better time to point out real alternatives to unbridled consumption – and the climate uncertainty that it entails – by taking your BND spirit to the streets?
Credit Card Cut Up
Volunteers stand in a shopping mall with a pair of scissors and a sign offering a simple service: to put an end to extortionate interest rates and mounting debt with one considerate cut. Be careful though: in some first-world countries, carrying scissors in public can get you arrested as a "terrorist".
The cheerful dead wander around malls, marveling at the blank, comatose expressions on the faces of shoppers. The zombies are happy to be among their own kind, but slightly contemptuous of those who have not yet begun to rot.
This activity has the advantage of being most likely to piss off security personnel. You and nine of your closest friends silently drive your shopping carts around in a long, inexplicable conga line without ever actually buying anything.'
'Current climate initiatives that use carbon trading are more about privatising the atmosphere than about preventing climate change. We can only secure our future by rejecting market fundamentalism and bringing commerce within the laws of ecological sustainability and social justice, argues Vandana Shiva.
The science of climate change is now clear, but the politics is very muddy. Historically, the major polluters were the rich, industrialised countries, so it made sense that they should pay the highest price...
The Kyoto Protocol also allows industrialised countries to trade their allocation of carbon emissions, and to invest in carbon mitigation projects in developing countries in exchange for Certified Emission Reduction Units, which they can use to meet reduction targets. But emissions trading, or offsetting, is not in fact a mechanism to reduce emissions. As the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental think tank, has pointed out, the emissions offset in the American act would allow "business as usual" growth in US emissions until 2030, "leading one to wonder: where's the 'cap' in 'cap and trade'?".
Such schemes are more about privatising the atmosphere than about preventing climate change...
Carbon trading uses the resources of poorer people and poorer regions as "offsets" for richer countries: it is between 50 and 200 times cheaper to plant trees in poor countries to absorb CO2 than it is to reduce emissions at source. In other words, the burden of "clean-up" falls on the poor. From a market perspective, this might appear efficient, but in terms of energy justice, it is perverse to burden the poor twice - first with the impact of CO2 pollution in the form of climate disasters and then with offsetting the pollution of the rich.
In a globalised economy, addressing pollution by setting emissions levels for each country is inappropriate for two reasons. First, not all the citizens of a country contribute to pollution. As a result of China becoming the world's factory, its CO2 emissions outstrip those of the US, putting it in first place worldwide. In 2006, China produced 6.1 billion tonnes of CO2; the US produced 5.75 billion tonnes. But in the US, emissions were 19 tonnes of CO2 per capita, compared with 4.6 tonnes in China. And much of China's CO2 could be counted as US emissions, because China is producing goods for US companies that America will consume. Wal-Mart, for example, procures most of what it sells from China.
...while only 2.13 per cent of the world's emissions emanate from the UK's domestic economy, CO2 is created on the UK's behalf in China, India, Africa and elsewhere. The global carbon footprint of UK companies is not known, but estimates suggest that emissions associated with worldwide consumption of the top 100 UK products accounts for between 12 and 15 per cent of the world total. Thanks to industrialisation, the rural poor in China and India are losing out on their land and livelihood. To count them as polluters is doubly criminal. When global firms outsource to China or India, they need to be responsible for the pollution they carry overseas.
Regulating by carbon trading is like fiddling as Rome burns. Governments and the UN should impose a carbon tax on corporations, both for production - wherever their facilities are located - and for transport, which the Kyoto Protocol does not account for directly. Incentives for renewable energy are also essential. We face a stark choice: we can destroy the conditions for human life on the planet by clinging to "free-market" fundamentalism, or we can secure our future by bringing commerce within the laws of ecological sustainability and social justice.'
18 September 2009
'As a species we have reached an unprecedented situation: we have filled our planetary niche and now risk ecological collapse. In this two-part video I present my perspective on this predicament and what it implies for our civilization. The first part describes the general task: constraining our biological drives and moving into the conscious era of history.'
Part 1: overshoot, the transition from the biological to the conscious era, redirecting intelligence
Part 2 addresses the specific problem of moving from capitalism to a sustainable economy
Excerpt from The Guardian, 11 September 2009
'Rich nations will need to reconsider making growth the goal of their societies, according to the leading economist who wrote the government's report on climate change.
Lord Stern said that although robust expansion could be achieved until 2030 while avoiding dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions, rich nations may then have to consider reining in growth.
"Will other restraints kick in? Probably, they will," said the former World Bank chief economist and author of the 2006 Stern review on the economic costs of climate change.
"At some point we would have to think about whether we want future growth. We don't have to do that now." The priority, he told the Guardian, was to break the link between carbon emissions and economic output.
In a speech at People's University in Beijing, Stern said the world's challenge was to reduce total carbon emissions from just under 50 gigatonnes now to 35 by 2030 and 20 by 2050. By that time, he said, the average for each of the predicted 9 billion people in the world would be two tonnes. If done equitably, this would require a cut by the US of more than 90% – each American now uses 25 tonnes of carbon a year.
To meet Stern's goals, the world's big economies, including China, would have to halve carbon emissions relative to GDP in each of the next two decades...
"The world has moved strongly in a good direction but … it is not moving fast enough," Stern said. A former lecturer at People's University, he said China's role would be crucial...
"China is so big that unless China does that, this is not going to work," said Stern, referring to efforts to curb greenhouse gases from human activity, especially carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. "This is never going to work unless developing countries are involved," he said.'
'I’ve heard economists boast that their discipline is based on a fundamental human impulse: selfishness. They claim that we act first out of self-interest. I can agree, depending on how we define self. To some, “self” extends beyond the individual person to include immediate family. Others might include community, an ecosystem, or all other species.
I list ecosystem and other species deliberately because we have become a narcissistic, self-indulgent species. We believe we are at the centre of the world, and everything around us is an “opportunity” or “resource” to exploit. Our needs or demands trump all other possibilities. This is an anthropocentric view of life.
Thus, when faced with a choice of logging or conserving a forest, we focus on the potential economic benefits of logging or not logging. When the economy experiences a downturn, we demand that nature pay for it. We relax pollution standards, increase logging or fishing above sustainable levels, or (as the federal government has decreed) lift the requirement of environmental assessments for new projects.
A fundamentally different perspective on our place in the world is called “biocentrism”. In this view, life’s diversity encompasses all and we humans are a part of it, ultimately deriving everything we need from it. Viewed this way, our well-being, indeed our survival, depends on the health and well-being of the natural world. I believe this view better reflects reality.
The most pernicious aspect of our anthropocentrism has been to elevate economics to the highest priority. We act as if the economy is some kind of natural force that we must all placate or serve in every way possible. But wait! Some things, like gravity, the speed of light, entropy, and the first and second laws of thermodynamics, are forces of nature. There’s nothing we can do about them except live within the boundaries they delimit.
But the economy, the market, currency – we created these entities, and if they don’t work, we should look beyond trying to get them back up and running the way they were. We should fix them or toss them out and replace them.
When economists and politicians met in Bretton Woods, Maine, in 1944, they faced a world where war had devastated countrysides, cities, and economies. So they tried to devise solutions. They pegged currency to the American greenback and looked to the (terrible) twins, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to get economies going again.
The postwar era saw amazing recovery in Europe and Japan, as well as a roaring U.S. economy based on supplying a cornucopia of consumer goods. But the economic system we’ve created is fundamentally flawed because it is disconnected from the biosphere in which we live. We cannot afford to ignore these flaws any longer.
Flaw 1: Beyond its obvious value as the source of raw materials like fish, lumber, and food, nature performs all kinds of “services” that allow us to survive and flourish. Nature creates topsoil, the thin skin that supports all agriculture. Nature removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and returns oxygen. Nature takes nitrogen from the air and fixes it to enrich soil. Nature filters water as it percolates through soil. Nature transforms sunlight into molecules that we need for energy in our bodies. Nature degrades the carcasses of dead plants and animals and disperses the atoms and molecules back into the biosphere. Nature pollinates flowering plants.
I could go on, but I think you catch my drift. We cannot duplicate what nature does around the clock, but we dismiss those services as “externalities” in our economy.
Flaw 2: To compound the problem, economists believe that because there are no limits to human creativity, there need be no limits to the economy. But the economy depends on having healthy people, and health depends on nature’s services, which are ignored in economic calculations. Our home is the biosphere, the thin layer of air, water, and land where all life exists. And that’s it; it can’t grow. We are witnessing the collision of the economic imperative to grow indefinitely with the finite services that nature performs. It’s time to get our perspective and priorities right. Biocentrism is a good place to start.
It’s time for a Bretton Woods II.'
'1. Less stress gets you what you want
You have less to deal with when you start applying minimalism to all aspects of your life.
Living a simpler, less complicated life takes some work in the beginning, but the rewards are great.
If you keep saying yes to everything, you will never enjoy or get anything finished.
Once you start cutting back on your commitments and your stuff, there is less to do, less to buy, less to take care of and what you do end up with, is exactly what you want.
2. Less of an impact on the environment
Buying less helps reduce the amount of items that are being overproduced for the environment. If we stopped purchasing new items every year that we don’t really want or need, the demand is less, and factories will produce less. In fact, they may produce just what we need, no more and no less.
Before you purchase new items, minimalism encourages you to re-purpose and re-use what you already own.
Cutting down on new purchases by learning how to cross-examine yourself for whether or not you need the items is a useful skill to have.
3. Less money is spent so you can save
Buying less, means spending less.
And if you spend less, you can save more for your future and financial well-being.
If you also purchase quality items, you will cherish and enjoy them longer, plus you won’t have to buy as many replacements in the future.
And don’t we love that?!
4. Less cleaning to do
The more you own, the more it owns you.
You have to take care of the things. Maintain them. Polish them. Upgrade them. Add more to the collection. Yell at people who go near your figurines.
It gets exhausting, devoting so much time to loving things.
The less stuff you have, the less you have to clean and the less you have to maintain.
And you can devote your appreciation and love to the few things you own, that you truly cherish and value.
5. Less time wasted
You will be picking, choosing and prioritizing what is really important to you to get done, rather than trying to do everything all at once, and feeling unfulfilled.
Everyone needs a little down time, sometimes. And if you’re constantly putting your resources towards things that don’t hold any meaning for you, you will be stuck dealing with time wasters that don’t benefit you whatsoever.
Clutter for example, is just a form of visual distraction and the more we have in a home, the more our brain has to process.
Having a minimalist life and home also lets you find your things quicker.
Instead of hunting for that rogue working blue pen, you have them all in one area, ready to be used.
Or how about having all your keys and items ready at the door before you leave in the morning?
That also cuts down on having to scream in frustration at 7.59 a.m., while frantically searching through your pockets, cursing the amount of stuff you own and have to check before you find your keys.'
'Green Reformism is a widespread response to the current ecological crisis. The term refers to the support for improved technology and resource efficiency combined with a commitment to the logic of capitalism...
Decarbonisation appeals to many thinkers because it links to the most serious indication of overshoot, peak oil and climate change, and emphasises technology based solutions....it provides a superficially attractive synthesis while avoiding impolite discussions about...the overall rationality of our civilisation...Overshoot is a unique event in human history, requiring us to revolutionise our economic principles and to redirect our ecological trajectory...'
Excerpt from Canada's Toronto Sun, 17 September 2009
'OTTAWA — Adbusters has a green light to take broadcasters to court for rejecting its anti-consumerism ads.
The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed a technical challenge and cleared the way for Adbusters to sue in the lower courts.
The group, best known for its Buy Nothing Day, took legal action in 2004 against Global Television and the CBC.
Adbusters said the networks’ refusal to carry ads against consumerism and obesity violates its right to free expression.
One of the so-called social marketing spots featured a burping pig superimposed on a map of North America.
Global moved to discredit the legal merit of the case and have it thrown out, but the high court dismissed its challenge.'
Background, excerpt from Wikipedia:
'On September 13, 2004, Adbusters filed a lawsuit against six major Canadian television broadcasters (including CanWest Global, Bell Globemedia, CHUM Ltd., and the CBC) for refusing to air Adbusters videos in the television commercial spots that Adbusters attempted to purchase.
Most broadcasters refused the commercials fearing the ads would upset other advertisers as well as violated business principles by “contaminating the purity of media environments designed exclusively for communicating commercial messages”.
The lawsuit claims that Adbusters' freedom of expression was unjustly limited by the refusals. Adbusters believes the public deserves a right to be presented with viewpoints that differ from the standard. Under Section 3 of the Broadcasting Act, television is a public space allowing ordinary citizens to possess the same rights as advertising agencies and corporations to purchase 30 seconds of airtime from major broadcasters. There has been talk that if Adbusters wins in Canadian court, they will file similar lawsuits against major U.S. broadcasters that also refused the advertisements. CNN in America is the only network that has allowed several of Adbusters’ commercials to run.'
17 September 2009
'According to the UN, population growth is a driving force behind emission increases yet it will not be on the agenda at any of the upcoming climate talks. World population has doubled to more than 6 billion in the past 50 years. It’s expected to reach 9 billion by 2050...
Given the gulf in carbon emissions per capita it is hardly surprising that few politicians or environmental groups want to raise the issue...
‘G8 countries make up 13 per cent of the world’s population yet they account for 45 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions,’ said international climate campaigner Tom Picken.
‘Tackling the global inequality in resource use is the fastest and most practical way to bring down global emissions’.
Greenpeace says any attempt to raise population growth at Copenhagen or other preliminary negotiations would be counter-productive.
‘The discussion between industrialised and less industrialised countries are so sensitive and fraught with distrust that introducing an issue like population growth would cause anger,’ said Greenpeace International spokeswoman Stephanie Tunmore.
But while environmental lobbyists remain reluctant to tackle it, reports continue to cite population growth as a grave ecological issue.
WWF’s Living Planet report, published last year, said continued growth in population and per person footprint was unsustainable.
'With the world already in ecological overshoot continued growth in population and per person footprint is clearly not a sustainable path,’ said the report.
It said population growth was not only an environmental issue but also affected development.
‘Rapidly growing populations create barriers to achieving development goals in many low-income nations...as populations rise, less biocapacity (capacity to produce natural resources) is available to meet the needs of each individual, increasing a nation's dependence on biocapacity from elsewhere.
‘Rapid population growth can be slowed and its negative impacts on human well-being alleviated by empowering women with greater education and economic opportunities and improving access to voluntary family planning counseling and services for women who want to delay, space or limit births.’
Many of the emission projections being made are also based on continued declines in world population growth.
However, if future fertility rates level off or continue to climb then emissions growth could be well above the top of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s scenario range.
Despite the fact that most countries, less-industrialised included, have policies aimed at reducing their population growth, the UN estimated in 2004 that more than 137 million women wanted but were unable to access fertility treatment.
A further 64 million women were using less effective contraceptive technologies.
The Optimum Population Trust, of which Jonathon Porritt and David Attenborough are patrons, says family planning is cheaper than many other methods of reducing carbon emissions.
A report they commissioned from London School of Economics (LSE) estimated a $7 cost of abating a tonne of CO2 using family planning compared with $24 (£15) for wind power, $51 (£31) for solar and $57-83 (£35-51) for coal plants with carbon capture and storage...
OPT chairman Roger Martin said it was time for the taboo on discussing the issue to end.
‘Each additional person, especially each rich person in the OECD countries, reduces everyone’s share of the planet’s dwindling resources even faster. Non-coercive population policies are urgently needed in all countries,’ he said.
The UN’s top climate official, UNFCCC executive secretary Yvo de Boer remains reluctant to bring the issue into talks at Copenhagen.
‘A lot of people say population pressure is a major driving force behind the increase in emissions, and that's absolutely true but to then say “OK, that means that we need to have a population policy that reduces emissions,” takes you onto shaky ground morally,’ he has said.
He told a conference audience earlier this year that, ‘for many people in Africa, a child is a pension.’
But Lester Brown of the respected Earth Policy Institute says the issue is a moral one for tackling global poverty.
‘Nearly all of the 80 million people being added to world population each year are born in countries where natural support systems are already deteriorating in the face of excessive population pressure, in the countries least able to support them. In these countries, the risk of state failure is growing,’ says Brown in A Civilizational Tipping Point.
The UK government’s new chief scientific advisor John Beddington said earlier this year that population growth would contribute to a ‘perfect storm’ by 2030 as demand for food and resources increased.
‘If we don't address this, we can expect major destabilisation, an increase in rioting and potentially significant problems with international migration, as people move out to avoid food and water shortages,’ he told the Guardian.'
Excerpt from George Monbiot's blog, 14 September 2009
'Creationists and climate change deniers have this in common: they don’t answer their critics. They make what they say are definitive refutations of the science. When these refutations are shown to be nonsense, they do not seek to defend them. They simply switch to another line of attack. They never retract, never apologise, never explain, just raise the volume, keep moving and hope that people won’t notice the trail of broken claims in their wake.
This means that trying to debate with them is a frustrating and often futile exercise. It takes 30 seconds to make a misleading scientific statement and 30 minutes to refute it. By machine-gunning their opponents with falsehoods, the deniers put scientists in an impossible position: either you seek to answer their claims, which can’t be done in the time available, or you let them pass, in which case the points appear to stand. Many an eminent scientist has come unstuck in these situations. This is why science is conducted in writing, where claims can be tested and sources checked...
As the professor of astrophysics Michael Ashley wrote, “It is not ‘merely’ atmospheric scientists that would have to be wrong for Plimer to be right. It would require a rewriting of biology, geology, physics, oceanography, astronomy and statistics.”...But instead of answers, Plimer sent me a series of dog-ate-my-homework excuses and a list of questions of his own (you can read both sets on my Guardian blog). While mine address only what Plimer purports to know, his appear designed to be impossible to answer: they are less questions than riddles. Were you to take them seriously, every answer would require several years of original research. Gavin Schmidt, a senior climate scientist at NASA, examined them and found that most are 24-carat bafflegab, while the rest have already been answered by other means...'
16 September 2009
If you are on Facebook, please join this event and viral market through social media to raise awareness and help end overshoot!
“It’s a simple case of income versus expenditures,” said Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel.
“For years, our demand on nature has exceeded, by an increasingly greater margin, the budget of what nature can produce. The urgent threats we are seeing now – most notably climate change, but also biodiversity loss, shrinking forests, declining fisheries, soil erosion and freshwater stress – are all clear signs: Nature is running out of credit to extend.”
2. join Global Footprint Network on Facebook
Do We Fit On The Planet?
Ecological Debtors & Creditors
Footprint & Human Development
Global Footprint Network
tel.: +1-510-839-8879 x 302 (-0800 GMT)
Global Footprint Network
tel: +1-510-839-8879 x 320 (-0800 GMT)
mobile: +1 707-315-8431
"It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.
For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favour; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.
Thus it arises that on every opportunity for attacking the reformer, his opponents do so with the zeal of partisans, the others only defend him half-heartedly, so that between them he runs great danger."'
Excerpt from The Independent, 14 September 2009
'The official measure of political success should be "revolutionised" to include happiness and well-being as well as growth, President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested today.
The French president said that he would lead a "fight" – starting at the G20 summit at Pittsburgh next week – to remove the "cult of figures" and the "cult of the market" from international definitions of progress and achievement.
Instead of material growth alone, he said, GDP (gross domestic product) should be expanded to include measures of genuine well-being, such as "leisure time" or the "quality of public service". France would start compiling such figures immediately, he said, and would battle to change the statistical systems used by all international organisations.
President Sarkozy was speaking at the Sorbonne University in Paris after formally accepting a report which he commissioned 20 months ago from a team of left-leaning or unorthodox economists, led by Joseph Stiglitz from the US, Amartya Sen from India and Jean-Paul Fitoussi from France. The report calls for a global "statistical system which goes beyond commercial activity to measure personal well-being."...
Since the near collapse of the world banking system a year ago, Mr Sarkozy has been arguing the need to "re-found" capitalism on greener and more "moral" lines. "For years, the official figures have boasted of more and more economic growth," he said yesterday. "It now appears that this growth, by placing the future of the planet in danger, destroys more than it creates? All over the world, people are convinced that we are lying to them, that the figures are false, or worse, faked. Nothing could be more damaging to democracy."
The President...suggested that the new figures should include some way of measuring the benefits of leisure time, the quality of public services and also "personal services provided within a family circle". France, the country of the 35-hour week and good but expensive state health care, would score much higher in such an index than, say, Britain or the United States.
President Sarkozy is also planning to pick a more specific fight with other G20 leaders next week. His office let it be known yesterday that he would walk out – repeating his threat at the London G8 summit earlier this year – unless world leaders endorsed his plans for curbs on bankers’ bonuses'
Ben Elton's (BBC's 80s cult classics The Young Ones, Blackadder) explanation of economic crashes from his 1989 book 'Stark':
'At the beginning of the day a factory full of jars of jam might be worth a thousand pounds. At the end of the day; a day of 'good trading'; a day of 'rallies' and 'confidence', we might be told that the same factory is worth two thousand pounds.
What has happened? Only a few hours have passed. The factory has not changed. There is no more jam in it than there was. There has been no time for the new slogan 'Let him dip his fingers into something fruity, Mum' to take effect. The slimmers' version still tastes bloody awful. Nothing has happened and yet the factory is 'worth' twice as much. Where has the extra cash come from?
Nowhere, that's where. It doesn't exist. It is entirely theoretical and if people choose to dispute the theory, if they all choose at once to say 'but that's impossible. All right then, give me the cash...', the money would instantly disappear, like the puff of smoke it is...'
There is growing consensus among environmental scientists that the scholarly community has adequately detailed how to deal with the major issues of the human predicament caused by our success as a species – climate disruption, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, toxification of the planet, the deterioration of the epidemiological environment, the potential impacts of nuclear war, racism, sexism, economic inequity, and on and on. I and my colleagues believe humanity must take rapid steps to ameliorate them. But, in essence, nothing serious is being done – as exemplified by the “much talk and no action” on climate change.
The central problem is clearly not a need for more natural science (although in many areas it would be very helpful) but rather a need for better understanding of human behaviors and how they can be altered to direct humanity toward a sustainable society before it is too late.
That’s why a group of natural scientists, social scientists, and scholars from the humanities decided to inaugurate a Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior (MAHB - pronounced “mob”). It was so named to emphasize that it is human behavior, toward one another and toward the planet that sustains all of us, that requires rapid modification. The idea is that the MAHB might become a basic mechanism to expose society to the full range of population-environment-resource-ethics-equity-power issues, and to sponsor broad global discussion involving the greatest possible diversity of people. It would, I hope, serve as a major tool for promoting conscious cultural evolution.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) serves as a partial model for the MAHB. The IPCC involves hundreds of scientists from nearly every nation representing diverse disciplines, from atmospheric physics, chemistry, and ecology to economics and other social sciences. A major role of the IPCC is to sort out the scientific validity of claims and counterclaims of competing interests. It also puts a strong emphasis on finding equitable solutions. The sessions are open and transparent, and representatives of various governments, interested industries, and environmental organizations also participate as observers.
An endeavor that might serve as another partial model for the MAHB is the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which was developed by environmental and social scientists to assess the condition of Earth’s life-support systems. Hundreds of ecologists and earth scientists all over the world gathered information to feed into a major report that was released in 2005. It included not only an assessment of the state of the world’s ecosystems but also projections of alternative future trends and consideration of related policy choices. What both lacked however, were broad open forums where people from different societies and with different viewpoints could discuss what humanity is and should be all about.
Plans are for the MAHB to be kicked off with a world megaconference, more of less like the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The purpose of the first MAHB conference, which we hope to hold in 2011, would be to initiate a continuing process; the MAHB will be created as a semi-permanent institution. The MAHB is now at a very preliminary stage – although interest seems to be building rapidly. Our nascent web site has just been opened to the public. If you are interested in learning more or being involved go to:
As you will see it is a work in progress, but there you will find our preliminary mission statement, sign up to get the newsletter when it is produced (click on “for more information”), read some of MAHB-pertinent articles (they will change over time), and/or leave a comment on a blog. And that means you can help us shape the entire program from the foundation up.
Join us in trying to get humanity to do what is obviously required but thought to be impractical. Become a MAHB Pollyanna, tilt at windmills, spread the word, help develop a view of a decent future, and give humanity a little push toward a sustainable society. We’re not even asking you to help us get money (yet!).
A global consensus on the most crucial behavioral issues is unlikely to emerge promptly from the MAHB - or any other international forum. But, since the MAHB is envisioned as an ongoing, large-scale global effort, not all the goals would need to be reached immediately. And if the scientific diagnosis of humanity’s collision with the natural world is accurate (and Anne and I believe it is), what alternative is there to trying? Thanks for listening.
If you can, please call our start-up effort to the attention of as many friends and colleagues as you can. Spread the word!
Paul Paul R. Ehrlich
Bing Professor of Population Studies
President, Center for Conservation Biology
Department of Biology, 371 Serra Mall
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5020
Ph 650-723-3171 Fx 650-723-5920
15 September 2009
“It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.” - Samuel Adams
Every email, every conversation stokes the fire, adds a penny to the piggy bank of change, raises the level of 'chatter', changes the frequency...
'...If your life is busy, eating can become something to fit in while you’re on the move or catching a spot of TV. But it may be that slowing down, making eating your priority and consciously enjoying your food, is the way to become both healthier and happier. And there’s scientific evidence that it may help you control your weight as well.
A number of studies have linked eating quickly with overweight. A 2008 Japanese study which followed over 3,000 adults for three years, questioned them about their eating habits. They found that those who reported eating quickly and until full were three times more likely to be overweight than those who said they did neither. The researchers said that while previous studies had revealed a link between eating quickly and weight gain, which held regardless of total energy intake, their study showed that the combination of eating quickly and until full “may have a substantial impact on being overweight”.
A 1996 American study which followed the weight gain of 438 fire fighters over seven years also linked eating quickly with increased weight gain.
Making the time to sit and down and share meals with others may help with controlling your weight. A 2009 University of Minnesota study which surveyed almost 1,700 young adults on their eating habits found that eating dinner with others was significantly associated with better diet including higher consumption of fruit and vegetables. On the other hand, eating on the run was associated with more fast food and increased intakes of soft drinks and fats.
A small but intriguing experiment investigating how TV affects food intake in teenage boys suggests that, if you are trying to keep your food intake under control, it might be wise to turn the TV off at meals.
Canadian researchers from the University of Toronto, provided pizza lunches to 14 boys aged nine to 14. They “preloaded” some of the boys with sugar drinks 30 minutes before the lunches to see if the boys compensated for the extra energy by reducing their food intake, and also looked at what happened if the boys were allowed to watch episodes of The Simpsons while they were eating.
When there was no TV, the researchers found that the boys tended to naturally reduce their food intake, compensating for the extra calories they had consumed in the sugar drink. But when the TV was turned on the effect tended to disappear. The distraction of watching TV meant that the boys’ normal feelings of satiety from eating a meal were delayed.'
'Going far beyond the organic vegetable garden and playground made from recycled materials, President Barack Obama intends to get the White House LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. That's the word from an article on Sierra Club's Green Home website.
From the article:
White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) spokesperson, Christine Glunz, says the effort to get the White House to LEED certification includes energy and water systems as well as waste. She believes it is vital to consider toxicity and life-cycle when making purchases for facilities. CEQ is looking to reduce the carbon footprint of the White House by implementing computerized energy management systems, automatic light sensors that turn off in unoccupied rooms and low-flow water valves. Paints and sealers with low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), biodegradable cleaners and recycled equipment will all be used by White House groundskeepers and engineers, according to a White House spokesperson. Window films that will lower UV rays and save energy will also be added. According to an article on the National Geographic website, any leftover materials from White House renovations and demolitions will be donated to local reuse organizations.
If President Obama continues to enforce such eco-friendly changes throughout his term, he will be on the right track to making the White House more of a "green house," proving with a LEED certification that he can lead Americans to a greener world...
Even if greening the White House itself would have just a small impact on the nation's capital, its symbolic importance would be considerably greater.'
The nonprofit group, Fresh Farm Markets, already operates several farmers markets in Washington and Maryland...
“It gives D.C. more access to good, fresh food, but it also is this enormous potential revenue-maker for local farmers in the area,’’ he said. “Those kinds of connections can be made all throughout the country, and — and has to be part of how we think about health.’’'
'The controversial practice of carbon offsetting, via which U.S. polluters send money overseas in exchange for promised pollution reductions elsewhere, came under fire last week in a new report published by Friends of the Earth...
“It is suicide to base our future on offsets. Offsets provide the illusion of taking action to stop global warming when in fact they often allow emissions to rise,” said Michael Despines of Friends of the Earth, one of the authors of the report. “People need to realize how dangerous offsets can be--they provide a false sense of security because they often do not deliver as promised.”...
“A cap-and-trade system contaminated by offsets can open the door wide to what’s known as ‘subprime carbon,’” said Michelle Chan, author of Subprime Carbon, a report released by Friends of the Earth this spring. “When offset credits don’t deliver promised greenhouse gas reductions, they can collapse in financial value, harming broader financial markets. We need to reduce actual emissions, not create a new source of financial risk.”'
14 September 2009
Excerpt from nef TripleCrunch blog, 13 September 2009
'As this astonishing interactive graph from the New York Times shows, big finance, after shrinking from $1.87 trillion dollars market capitalisation in the summer of 2007 to just $290 billion in March 2009, has now tripled in size from this low back to to $947 billion. Some of the banks got knocked off along the way of course, meaning some of the survivors – such as JP Morgan Chase – are even bigger than they were before the crash. And the sector as a whole is even more concentrated and, arguably, poses more of a systemic risk.'
'Wendell Berry's now-famous formulation, "eating is an agricultural act" - is perhaps his signal contribution to the rethinking of food and farming under way today.
This article is adapted from Michael Pollan's introduction to Bringing It to the Table, a collection of Wendell Berry's writings out this fall from Counterpoint.
A few days after Michelle Obama broke ground on an organic vegetable garden on the South Lawn of the White House in March, the business section of the Sunday New York Times published a cover story bearing the headline 'Is a Food Revolution Now in Season'? The article, written by the paper's agriculture reporter, said that "after being largely ignored for years by Washington, advocates of organic and locally grown food have found a receptive ear in the White House."
Certainly these are heady days for people who have been working to reform the way Americans grow food and feed themselves - the "food movement," as it is now often called. Markets for alternative kinds of food - local and organic and pastured - are thriving, farmers' markets are popping up like mushrooms and for the first time in many years the number of farms tallied in the Department of Agriculture's census has gone up rather than down. The new secretary of agriculture has dedicated his department to "sustainability" and holds meetings with the sorts of farmers and activists who not many years ago stood outside the limestone walls of the USDA holding signs of protest and snarling traffic with their tractors.
Cheap words, you might say; and it is true that, so far at least, there have been more words than deeds - but some of those words are astonishing. Like these: shortly before his election, Barack Obama told a reporter for Time that "our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil"; he went on to connect the dots between the sprawling monocultures of industrial agriculture and, on the one side, the energy crisis and, on the other, the healthcare crisis.
Americans today are having a national conversation about food and agriculture that would have been impossible to imagine even a few short years ago. To many Americans it must sound like a brand-new conversation, with its bracing talk about the high price of cheap food, or the links between soil and health, or the impossibility of a society eating well and being in good health unless it also farms well.
But the national conversation unfolding around the subject of food and farming really began in the 1970s, with the work of writers like Wendell Berry, Frances Moore Lappé, Barry Commoner and Joan Gussow. All four of these writers are supreme dot-connectors, deeply skeptical of reductive science and far ahead not only in their grasp of the science of ecology but in their ability to think ecologically: to draw lines of connection between a hamburger and the price of oil, or between the vibrancy of life in the soil and the health of the plants, animals and people eating from that soil...'
'Tony Geraci, the food-service director for Baltimore’s public schools, doesn’t look like a reformer. He’s no nutritionist or lunch lady. He’s a stocky, blunt guy who grew up in the projects of New Orleans—“I know what welfare cheese tastes like”—and faced weight problems and diabetes. He owned and operated six successful restaurants before working as a food broker for 14 years...Geraci, 52, is one of several go-ahead national leaders whose names always come up at conferences on childhood obesity and school nutrition when charismatic dreamers have been dismissed and everyone is in despair over how to get children, especially poor children, to eat better food.
It’s his business experience, Geraci told me when I recently met him, that helps him push through the kinds of changes he made, and made fast, as soon as he got to Baltimore last summer.
Vending machines? They were already out of all but the high schools, and he “got rid of the crap food” in the ones that were left. “You’re in charge of what’s in them,” he said, to my surprise, as so many of his colleagues had told me that schools are addicted to their share of the profits. All it takes, he said, is the backing of the school board and its “wellness policy,” which every district must now write to get federal meals funding. Geraci redirected the profits away from the principals and coaches who generally get them and toward food programs—something he highly recommends, even if it takes some wrestling.
In the Baltimore schools that, like most of the schools in this country, have nothing more than heat-and-serve kitchens, he stocked vending machines with box lunches that met the wellness policy’s nutritional requirements. Students who qualify for food assistance swipe a card, and others pay the rate set by the school board. This encourages more students to actually eat school food. It is the number of students who do—instead of buying, say, chips and soda from vending machines, or “à la carte” burgers and fries from cafeteria fast-food kiosks—that determines how much money the government will give schools for meals.
Local produce? His colleagues tell me they can never find enough, transport it, or beat the price of commodity food. They don’t look hard enough, Geraci told me. He found farmers who would sell him, and deliver, all the peaches they could grow—for less than he would pay for commodity peaches packed in syrup. Even commodity apples are more expensive than small ones from local farms...
Shortly after he arrived, Geraci found a long-disused city-owned orphanage on 33 acres, hired a farm manager, and turned it into an organic farm run by schoolchildren. The project keeps growing, and Geraci keeps finding money to run it—and to build central kitchens for the school system’s 80,000 students. “You have to hustle,” he says.
Other food directors aren’t taking no for an answer either, and are quietly making real progress. Jean Ronnei uses a central kitchen to make from-scratch meals for the 40,000 students in the St. Paul, Minnesota, school system, and removed à la carte junk food. Her program runs in the black, and her success was a large part of an analysis by economists at the University of Minnesota that came to a contrarian conclusion: “Healthier school meals are possible without higher government spending to fund nutrition education programs or increased reimbursement rates.” Labor costs may go up, but only initially—and food costs, as Geraci has proven with local food, go down.
What unites these local leaders is not grand ideology but hardheaded realism about maneuvering through chronically underfunded systems. Kelly Erwin, head of the Massachusetts Farm to School Project, told me how Donna Lombardi, a school nutrition director in Worcester, Massachusetts, a city hard hit by the recession, is getting sugary drinks out of her schools’ vending machines. Lombardi “hit roadblocks,” Erwin said. “She’s taking them down, one at a time.” '
Excerpt from Science Daily, 11 September 2009
'The world faces a compounding series of crises driven by human activity, which existing governments and institutions are increasingly powerless to cope with, a group of eminent environmental scientists and economists has warned.
Writing in the journal Science, the researchers say that nations alone are unable to resolve the sorts of planet-wide challenges now arising...
“Energy, food and water crises, climate disruption, declining fisheries, ocean acidification, emerging diseases and increasing antibiotic resistance are examples of serious, intertwined global-scale challenges spawned by the accelerating scale of human activity,” say the researchers, who come from Australia, Sweden, the United States, India, Greece and The Netherlands.
“These issues are outpacing the development of institutions to deal with them and their many interactive effects. The core of the problem is inducing cooperation in situations where individuals and nations will collectively gain if all cooperate, but each faces the temptation to free-ride on the cooperation of others.”
There are few institutional structures to achieve co-operation globally on the sort of scales now essential to avoid very serious consequences, warns lead author Dr Brian Walker of Australia’s CSIRO.
While there are signs of emerging global action on issues such as climate change, there is widespread inaction on others, such as the destruction of the world’s forests to grow biofuels or the emergence of pandemic flu through lack of appropriate animal husbandry protocols where people, pigs and birds co-mingle.
“Knowing what to do is not enough,” says Dr Walker. “Institutional reforms are needed to bring about changes in human behaviour, to increase local appreciation of shared global concerns and to correct the sort of failures of collective action that cause global-scale problems.”
“We are not advocating that countries give up their sovereignty,” adds co-author Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.
“We are instead proposing a much stronger focus on regional and worldwide cooperation, helped by better-designed multi-national institutions. The threat of climate change to coral reefs, for example, has to be tackled at a global scale. Local and national efforts are already failing.”...
“To address common threats and harness common opportunities, we need greater interaction amongst existing institutions, and new institutions, to help construct and maintain a global-scale social contract,” the scientists conclude.'
"What we do for ourselves dies with us - what we do for others and the world remains and is immortal..." - Albert Pine
"…the culture of idealism is under siege, beset by materialism and narcissism and all the other isms of indifference and their defense mechanism knowingness, the smirk, the joke…Rock music to me is rebel music. But rebelling against what? In the Fifties it was sexual mores and double standards. In the Sixties it was the Vietnam War and racial and social inequality. What are we rebelling against now? If I am honest I'm rebelling against my own indifference. I am rebelling against the idea that the world is the way the world is and there's not a damned thing I can do about it. So I'm trying to do some damned thing." - Bono, Address to Harvard University Graduating Class, 11 June 2001
"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act" - George Orwell
"Today's mighty oak is just yesterday's nut that held its ground" - David Icke
"Only a rat can win a rat race - Michael Franti, Spearhead
"All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism." - unknown
"When self-important people and powerful institutions are governed by illusion, history has a way of biting back" - William Greider, Debtor Nation
"Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist" - Kenneth Boulding
"Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made, and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings" - Nelson Mandela
"Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up" - Anonymous [graffiti]
"Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted, counts" - Albert Einstein
"Mathematics misused can be no less lethal than arsenic" - William Krehm
"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete" - Buckminster Fuller
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea" - Antoine de Saint-Exupery