18 August 2009

Rice Field Art - Japan

From Hemmy.Net

'Every year, farmers in the rural town Inakadate, Japan creates rice field art by using red rice in with their regular rice in special patterns. A few others fields in rural Japan also followed the trend of this beautiful rice field art.'

Cumulative Epiphanies

From Fostering Sustainable Behaviour Listserv post by Eric Johnson of Alderspruce Sustainability Consulting Group (US), 16 August 2009

'Although it isn't "research" providing evidence, there is a Master's Thesis from Fielding Graduate University by Coleen Douglas that coins the term "cumulative epiphanies." This implies that most people need many small epiphanies about sustainability before they can shift to a deeper consciousness of it. There is a parallel concept in marketing and advertising that would certainly have empirically researched evidence of how marketing efforts need to be seen a certain number of times in the subconscious before they register in the conscious.'

Eat Ins Scheduled for 7 September's National Day of Action, Slow Food USA

From Slow Food USA via Twitter

'On Labor Day, Sept. 7, 2009, people across America will gather for public potlucks that send a clear message to Congress: It's time to provide our children with real food at school. This map shows where Eat-Ins are scheduled to take place. Yellow pins are Slow Food chapters; blue pins are new organizers who've signed up.'

'The Child Nutrition Act is a federal law that comes up for reauthorization in Congress every four to five years. It governs the National School Lunch Program, which sets the standard for the food that more than 30 million children eat every school day.

In the last few decades, as school budgets have been cut, our nation's schools have struggled to serve children the real food they need.

The deadline for reauthorizing the current Child Nutrition Act is September 2009. Unless we speak up this summer, “business as usual” on Capitol Hill will let Congress pass a Child Nutrition Act that continues to fail our children.'

17 August 2009

Modern Economics is One Step Away From Measuring Buttocks

Excerpt from the full article by Molly Scott-Cato @ The Ecologist, 17 August 2009

'Some of you may know that I live an exciting double life. When I am not writing for the Ecologist and playing the role of the radical critic of modern capitalism I am sitting demurely in an ivory tower masquerading as a university teacher. So far I have managed the tension fairly successfully, but my recent forays into curriculum development have unearthed what a trekkie might refer to as ‘an anomaly’.

For those of you who do not know university protocol I should tell you that each degree programme has an external examiner, who keeps the academics on their toes and protects the standard for students. Quite right too, I thought, until our external examiner recently questioned the content of a course I was teaching on Applied Economics, because of the absence of ‘formal models’. This resulted in some discussion with colleagues about exactly what a formal model is: we could not be certain but we shared a suspicion that it meant numbers and statistics.

You cannot teach economics without maths, apparently, although you can teach it without morality. And the converse also applies. Because if you are part of a discipline that cannot function without counting then it cannot properly value what cannot be measured. Moral considerations are, for this reason, excluded wholesale from economics as taught in our universities.

Mimicking Nature

Excerpt from full article @ Planet Ark, 7 August 2009

'At first glance, a humpback whale and a wind turbine don't have a lot in common. For that matter, neither do a shellfish and a sheet of plywood. But both sea creatures are the inspiration behind products designed using biomimicry, or looking to nature's designs and processes to solve human problems.

For those who know where to look, biomimetically inspired products can be found in almost every corner of the marketplace, from medicine to transportation. But where the emerging field has the potential for the greatest impacts, according to advocates and practitioners, is in changing the way we think about our built environment - not only in designing individual building products, but in conceiving of entire communities as biomimetic systems, not to mention businesses, government bodies and other "systems."

The launch of the Biomimicry Venture Group in 2008 by Paul Hawken and Janine Benyus, a naturalist and writer whose 1997 book, "Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature," defined the concept, could help seed the concept even deeper into the marketplace. And the recent launch of AskNature.org, a biomimicry encyclopedia for designers backed by industry giant Autodesk (Nasdaq: ADSK), shows the evolution of the biomimicry movement within the design industry...

AskNature.org, launched in late 2008 by both Autodesk and the Biomimicry Institute, is part social network, part library. The site matches nature's solutions to design problems, and lists ways such concepts could be applied to the human-built environment...

One of the most spectacular examples, the Swiss Re Building in London models the structure of a sea sponge: Gaps in each floor create shafts that naturally ventilate the entire building. Designed by Lord Norman Foster with Arup engineers, the building was designed to use half the energy of a typical building...

"We can't solve challenges by throwing a set of interesting technologies at them. ... I think that process is going to be as, if not more, important," Benyus says. "Problems in sustainability are all connected, we cannot solve one without solving them all-we've got a system of problems and it will take a system of solutions."

One way this could happen is through using biomimicry to design entire communities. "Making a bio-inspired product is one thing; making a bio-inspired city begins to change the world," Benyus said in a statement....

The Biomimicry Institute offers curriculum for K-12 and university students. And in 2010, the institute is graduating its first cohort of 16 practitioners in its Certificate in Biomimicry program, a two-year course of study to train professionals from a range of fields in biomimicry. Intended to be comparable to a Masters degree, the certificate program targets students with backgrounds in biology, business, building and engineering. Upon completion of the program, graduates should be equipped to start their own consultancies and bring biomimicry to existing companies and organizations.'

gO-Canada! Vancouver's Greenest City Initiative

Vancouver has announced it wants to be the world's greenest city - and released its QuickStart Recommendations in April 2009 (note: link goes to a 6MB file).

The Greenest City Team includes scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki, who is also on the Advisory Council of the Global Footprint Network.

'This new initiative will be an opportunity for you to share your ideas with leading thinkers in conservation, environmental management, sustainable development, and green economic growth.

The objective of the Greenest City Team is to provide a comprehensive 10-year action plan for addressing Vancouver’s environmental challenges that recommends targets, timelines, and actions that should be taken in the next three-year period. The action plan will identify best practices from leading cities around the world, highlight benchmarks that can be used to evaluate Vancouver’s performance, identify creative ways to finance environmental actions, and offer a suite of innovative recommendations for accelerating progress toward a prosperous and sustainable future.

An important component of the plan will be a set of ‘Quick Starts.’ These are environmental initiatives where expedited decisions and actions will have a significant immediate impact.

Additionally, the Action Team will:
  • specify policy changes required at the regional, provincial, and federal levels to facilitate Vancouver’s efforts to become a greener city; and

  • identify potential joint projects with businesses, non-government organizations, and other levels of government including Metro Vancouver, First Nations, the Province of B.C., and the Government of Canada.'

Ecological Intelligence = Collective Intelligence

Quote from Ecological Intelligence' by Daniel Goleman

"Psychologists conventionally view intelligence as residing within an individual. But the ecological abilities we need in order to survive today must be a collective intelligence, one that we learn and master as a species, and that resides in a distributed fashion among far-flung networks of people. The challenges we face are too varied, too subtle, and too complicated to be understood and overcome by a single person: their recognition and solution require intense efforts by a vastly diverse range of experts, businesspeople, activists — by all of us." '

Resisting Change

Excerpt from George Monbiot's Guardian column, 23 June 2009

a good explanation of how our neurology works against behaviour change...

'Our resistance to change is not peculiar to environmental issues. Even when confronted by crisis, we try to stick to the script. As the coaching theorist David Rock and the research psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz note, just one in nine people who have had coronary bypass surgery take their doctor’s advice to lose weight and exercise more. Part of the problem, they show, is that confronting change means making use of parts of the brain which require more energy to engage.

When you drive along familiar roads, for example, the brain’s basal ganglia function as a kind of autopilot, performing routine functions without the need for conscious thought. When you go abroad, and have to drive on the other side of the road, you must make use of the prefrontal cortex, which burns more energy than the basal ganglia. We perceive high levels of energy use much as we perceive pain. For good biological reasons we seek to avoid them. We engage with change only when we have to.'

Outsourcing Unrest

...puts a whole new perspective on Third World 'debt'...

'The great British adventure – three centuries spent pillaging the labour, wealth and resources of other countries - is over. We cannot accept this, and seek gleeful revenge on a government which can no longer insulate us from reality.'

Excerpt from George Monbiot's Guardian column, 9 June 2009

'I believe that the current political crisis has little to do with the expenses scandal, still less to do with Gordon Brown’s leadership. It arises because our economic system can no longer extract wealth from other nations. For the past 300 years, the revolutions and reforms experienced by almost all other developed countries have been averted in Britain by foreign remittances.

The social unrest which might have transformed our politics was instead outsourced to our colonies and unwilling trading partners. The rebellions in Ireland, India, China, the Caribbean, Egypt, South Africa, Malaya, Kenya, Iran and other places we subjugated were the price of political peace in Britain. Following decolonisation, our plunder of other nations was sustained by the banks. Now, for the first time in three centuries, they can no longer deliver, and we must at last confront our problems.

There will probably never be a full account of the robbery this country organised, but there are a few snapshots. In his book Capitalism and Colonial Production, Hamza Alavi estimates that the resource flow from India to Britain between 1793 and 1803 was in the order of £2m a year, the equivalent of many billions today. The economic drain from India, he notes, “has not only been a major factor in India’s impoverishment … it has also been a very significant factor in the Industrial Revolution in Britain.” As Ralph Davis observes in The Industrial Revolution and British Overseas Trade, from the 1760s onwards India’s wealth “bought the national debt back from the Dutch and others … leaving Britain nearly free from overseas indebtedness when it came to face the great French wars from 1793.”

In France, by contrast, as Eric Hobsbawn notes in The Age of Revolution, “the financial troubles of the monarchy brought matters to a head.” In 1788, half of France’s national expenditure was used to service its debt: “the American War and its debt broke the back of the monarchy”.

Even as the French were overthrowing the ancient regime, Britain’s landed classes were able to strengthen their economic power, seizing common property from the country’s poor by means of enclosure. Partly as a result of remittances from India and the Caribbean, the economy was booming and the state had the funds to ride out political crises. Later, after smashing India’s own industrial capacity, Britain forced that country to become a major export market for our manufactured goods, sustaining industrial employment here (and avoiding social unrest) long after our products and processes became uncompetitive.'

Back To Earth

From Australian Story, ABC, 1 June 2009

'Dr Maarten Stapper is a man with some fascinating ideas on how to manage our land better. He is unconventional, stubborn and difficult. Not even a near fatal car accident could slow him down in his mission to feed the world using less chemicals.

As an advocate for biological farming, Dr Stapper has paid a high price for promoting a greener, cleaner way to grow food. Originally a CSIRO scientist, he left when it became clear his views on biological farming were incompatible with his employer.

Today, he travels the country to educate farmers on how to use less chemicals in their soil and on their crops.'

'DR MAARTEN STAPPER: ...we have to start with the soil, the genes don’t make the crops better, it's the soil. I seemed to be the only one that was asking questions in the system. With the whole GM silence surrounding me, and me speaking up, I felt like a voice in the wilderness...the 15 years that I had worked on crops, on pastures, on paddocks, on farms, to improve the management on the farm the big missing part of that research was the soil biology that drives the whole system. We have to care for the soil biology to make the system work...So instead of chemicals we use the soil organisms, the microbes to feed the plant and to protect the plant and those microbes make minerals from the soil available to the plant and they feed the plant. It’s a wonderful system of nature where everything is balanced.'

'PETER COOK, FARMER: I believe that the biological way was getting back to what was done probably 50 years ago, in dollar terms I don’t really know how much we’ve saved, but probably in the vicinity of $20,000 a year in chemicals but the exciting thing is that we’re looking after the property, then if we’ve got good plants, then people are eating good food. There are good minerals passing from that food into the people. I’ve got a totally different outlook on it now, and I want everything I sell to be as clean and green as I possibly can.'

Examining the Abatement Potential of Australia’s Capital Cities

From 'Examining the Abatement Potential of Australia’s Capital Cities by 2030' report by consultants Kinesis for Lord Mayor of Sydney, 11 August 2009

'The following paper considers what the effective emission reductions would be if all Australian cities implemented the actions (or similar) outlined in the Sustainable Sydney 2030 strategy.

Australia’s capital cities represent a significant source of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and its abatement potential. According to the Centre for International Economics Australia’s residential and commercial buildings are responsible for 23% of greenhouse gas emissions.

The City of Sydney’s Sustainable Sydney 2030 strategy aims to reduce Sydney’s greenhouse emissions through a range of interventions including trigeneration, building retrofits, simple transport improvements and renewable energy.

This study has found that if these actions were replicated across all of Australia’s capital cities over the next 20 years there would be approximately a 50% emission reduction against business as usual across major parts of Australia’s capital cities by 2030.

Studies have suggested that the price signal from the CPRS will reduce emissions across all of Australia’s buildings by an average of 8MT per year. This will result in a cumulative reduction of 135MT by 2030.

The analysis outlined in this report, shows that a targeted strategy to reduce emissions in only a select part of Australia’s capital cities, could reduce emissions by 48MT in the year 2030 and result in a cumulative emissions reduction of 540MT between 2010 and 2030; a factor of four improvement over the CPRS impact on Australia’s buildings.

These reductions result in a 4% reduction against projected 2020 level emissions. This is the equivalent of meeting one quarter of the Federal Government’s unconditional 2020 reduction target.'

Built Environment Meets Parliament Summit

Australian Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett's Speech at Summit, 12 August 2009

'In so many ways, liveability and prosperity flow from sustainability — buildings that are more comfortable and enjoyable to live and work in, neighbourhoods with more amenity and green space, and design features, technologies and facilities that save money through reduced energy use, water use and waste...

...Of course, buildings don't exist in isolation — they sit alongside other buildings within neighbourhoods, within suburbs and cities.

Just as the structures we build now will be with us for 50 or even 100 years, the precincts and neighbourhoods we plan and redevelop and the infrastructure that services them will define our environmental impact for decades.'

Healthy Food Obsession Sparks New Eating Disorder

There is good reason to avoid or minimise lots of the things mentioned below...maybe if we had a healthier food environment/food systems, people would not a) be getting sensitive or sick, and intolerant to foods and b) worrying so much about what's going in their mouth!

Excerpt from full article @ The Guardian, 16 August 2009

'Eating disorder charities are reporting a rise in the number of people suffering from a serious psychological condition characterised by an obsession with healthy eating.The condition, orthorexia nervosa, affects equal numbers of men and women, but sufferers tend to be aged over 30, middle-class and well-educated.

...Orthorexics commonly have rigid rules around eating. Refusing to touch sugar, salt, caffeine, alcohol, wheat, gluten, yeast, soya, corn and dairy foods is just the start of their diet restrictions. Any foods that have come into contact with pesticides, herbicides or contain artificial additives are also out. The obsession about which foods are "good" and which are "bad" means orthorexics can end up malnourished. Their dietary restrictions commonly cause sufferers to feel proud of their "virtuous" behaviour even if it means that eating becomes so stressful their personal relationships can come under pressure and they become socially isolated.'

16 August 2009

Too Many People, Too Much Consumption

'There is no technological fix that will allow perpetual population and economic growth'


Excerpt from Anne and Paul Erlich (Stanford University) article @ Yale's Environment 360

Too many people — and especially too many politicians and business executives — are under the delusion that such a disastrous end to the modern human enterprise can be avoided by technological fixes that will allow the population and the economy to grow forever. But if we fail to bring population growth and over-consumption under control — the number of people on Earth is expected to grow from 6.5 billion today to 9 billion by the second half of the 21st century — then we will inhabit a planet where life becomes increasingly untenable because of two looming crises: global heating, and the degradation of the natural systems on which we all depend.

...The dominant animal is wasting its brilliance and its wonderful achievements; civilization’s fate is being determined by decision makers who determinedly look the other way in favor of immediate comfort and profit. Thousands of scientists recently participated in a Millennium Ecosystem Assessment that outlined our current environmental dilemma, but the report’s dire message made very little impact. Absent attention to that message, the fates of Easter Island, the Classic Maya civilization, and Nineveh — all of which collapsed following environmental degradation — await us all.

...We can create a peaceful and sustainable global civilization, but it will require realistic thinking about the problems we face and a new mobilization of political will.'

Hungry Planet - What The World Eats

...Hungry Planet is amazing work by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio which visually communicates what an average family from a range of countries eats in a week. I have a copy of this book, there is also a series of posters available.

What is striking is not only the variation in quantity of food, but type - especially the ratio of processed and packaged to fresh...

'In Hungry Planet, the creative team behind the bestselling Material World books, Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio, presents a photographic study of families from around the world, revealing what people eat during the course of one week. Each family's profile includes a detailed description of their weekly food purchases; photographs of the family at home, at market, and in their community; and a portrait of the entire family surrounded by one week's worth of groceries. To assemble this remarkable comparison, Menzel and D'Aluisio traveled to twenty-four countries and visited thirty families from Bhutan and Bosnia to Mexico and Mongolia.'

also see 'What The World Eats' Part II