02 October 2009

The Consumption Explosion & Boomerang Trade

Excerpt from Warmer Bulletin e-news, 2 October 2009

'In spite of one of the biggest global recessions for a century - the trend toward ever greater over-consumption is hardly changing according to The Consumption Explosion: the Third UK Interdependence Day Report.

The report is published on the day - Friday 25 September - that the world as a whole goes into 'ecological debt', consuming more resources and generating more waste than ecosystems can produce and absorb.

After more than two decades of going ever earlier into ecological debt - in spite of the global recession there is set to be a delay, in effect, of just 24 hours before the world as a whole goes into ecological debt. This leaves the overall trend of our collective ecological footprint deeply negative with humanity still environmentally over-extending itself to a dangerous degree:

In 2009, World Ecological Debt Day falls on 25 September, allowing for a leap year, it means that the impact of a massive world-wide recession has slowed its arrival by just a single day compared to 2008, with the date still having advanced almost two weeks from 2007 when it fell on 6 October.

Andrew Simms, nef policy director and co-author of the report says: "Debt-fuelled over-consumption not only brought the financial system to the edge of collapse it is pushing many of our natural life support systems toward a precipice. Politicians tell us to get back to business as usual, but if we bankrupt critical ecosystems no amount of government spending will bring them back. We need a radically different approach to 'rich world' consumption. While billions in poorer countries subsist, we consume vastly more and yet with little or nothing to show for it in terms of greater life satisfaction. Defusing the consumption explosion will give us the chance of better lives."

The Consumption Explosion also reveals some of the crazy and wasteful ways that the UK does business with the rest of the world through so-called 'boomerang trade'. Because we do not pay the full environmental cost of transport, all around us there are ships, lorries and planes passing in the night, wastefully carrying often identical goods from city to city across the globe and back again to meet consumer demand. For example, the latest data shows that, in the UK:

We export 5,000 tonnes of toilet paper from the UK to Germany, but then import over 4,000 tonnes back again

4,400 tonnes of ice cream gets exported from the UK to Italy, and 4,200 tonnes is then imported back

We import 22,000 tonnes of potatoes from Egypt and export 27,000 tonnes back the other way

116 tonnes of 'Sweet biscuits, waffles and wafers, gingerbread and the like' (the official category for trade statistics) comes into the UK, rumbling passed 106 tonnes headed in the opposite direction...

"Our overuse of the Earth's resources has other, perverse impacts. Climate change, changes to people's diets, energy prices and shortages, and global competition for land between food and biofuels, have all increased the vulnerability of the international food chain. Exacerbating the problem, many wealthy countries are relying ever more on some of the poorest to guarantee supplies. Since 2006, large scale transnational land acquisitions by governments and multinational corporations based in countries like the UK, have targeted up to 20 million hectares of farmland in developing countries, an area equivalent to all the farmland in France.

The report also shows why a recently revived focus on global population as an environmental issue is a critical distraction from tackling over-consumption in wealthy countries. There are currently huge inequalities around the world in terms of environmental impacts per person.

For example, one person in the United States will, by 4am in the morning of 2nd January, already have been responsible for the equivalent in climate change causing carbon emissions that someone in living in Tanzania would generate in an entire year. A UK citizen would reach the same point by 7pm on 4th January.

Dr Joe Smith, co-author of the report and Senior Lecturer on the Environment at the Open University says: "Doom-mongering about global population growth is misleading at best. Globally birth rates are not rocketing out of control - on the contrary, and we know that the most effective way of tackling population growth is tackling poverty. Environmentally, the most pressing need is to take a radically different view on the nature and quality of 'rich world' consumption, in almost every area of life."

As The Consumption Explosion shows, the only effective and socially acceptable path to influence population dynamics is through poverty eradication and reducing inequality. Given environmental realities, this is hard-wired to ending rich world over-consumption. Average levels of consumption, per person, in poorer countries have changed little over many decades. In rich countries, however, we are each consuming vastly more and yet with little or nothing to show for it in terms of greater life satisfaction.'

Copenhagen Flashmob

Avaaz are planning a Flashmob event in Copenhagen - a team of Avaaz volunteers in Copenhagen are preparing a spectacular welcoming stunt to greet these leaders on Friday, but they need our help to fund the sound systems, props, and media recruiting to make it work.**

'News just broke that three major world leaders -Obama, Brazil's Lula, and Japan's Hatoyama -are personally traveling to Copenhagen, site of the crucial UN climate talks. The only problem is, those talks aren't until December - but the leaders are heading to Copenhagen this Friday to lobby for the 2016 Olympic Games.

Right city, gentlemen ... wrong issue.

However, if we can get Obama and Hatoyama to commit to return to Copenhagen in December, the world's hopes for a strong global climate deal will soar. It's one thing for decision-makers to send diplomats to negotiations. But when the heads of government go themselves and meet face to face - putting their reputations on the line for a good outcome - incredible things can happen.

That's why Brazil's Lula has already agreed to go. But what about the US and Japan - two of the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters? Let's give Obama and Hatoyama a chance to prove that they care about the fate of Planet Earth at least as much as they want the Olympics - by asking them to return to Copenhagen in December.

These fun stunts can make a difference: A similar campaign helped persuade UK prime minister Gordon Brown to pledge to attend the December climate talks. Avaaz members handed him a huge invitation at the G8 summit in July - and last Monday, on a phone call with an Avaaz member during the Global Climate Wake-Up Call, he made the promise to personally head to Copenhagen!

And even if these leaders aren't yet ready to commit to joining the climate talks, we can make a difference just by showing them, everywhere they go, that people around the world want action on climate change. Hatoyama and Obama have promised bold changes in their countries' responses to the climate crisis. It's all of our job to show them how critical it is that they keep their word.

With last week's global wake-up call, we showed - with events in more than 130 countries! - that people everywhere are ready for action. The sprint to Copenhagen has begun. Together, let's sieze this and every moment -we've no time to miss even a single step.'

** Just 2000 of us donating the price of a cup of coffee would cover the bill - click here to contribute: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/fund_the_copenhagen_flashmob

Greener Healthcare

'The Campaign for Greener Healthcare is a small, dynamic group. We work with partner organisations to get things done, without duplicating efforts already underway. Our activities include:

Diagnostics - helping hospitals and health centres find out what's wrong

Therapies - helping NHS Trusts choose the right path to become greener, by:

  • Pulling together the evidence on sustainable interventions
  • Practical Handbooks and Toolkits for healthcare organisations
  • Supporting doctors and nurses in leading clinical transformation
  • Showcasing all current efforts at Greening the NHS'

The End of Money and the Future of Civilization; The Constant Economy - Book Reviews

Excerpt from review of 'The End of Money and the Future of Civilization' by The Ecologist:

'Thomas H Greco Jr's new book on money challenges the growth fetish and gives practical examples of how community-based exchange systems can save the economy, and the environment, from collapse:

In the wake of the financial and banking crisis, this book is a timely reminder of the need to change a system that no longer works.

Aimed at social entrepreneurs, business people, government officials and anyone curious to know how money and the economy operates, 'The End of Money' is the fourth book by a leading authority on free market approaches to money and finance...

The author's central argument is that money as we know it now will become obsolete, though exchange will continue. How all this unfolds is explained in a chronological way, starting with the history of American banking and the export of such banking principles to countries around the world...

The present global monetary system perpetuates economic growth that is detrimental to the environment and democratic institutions and the fabric of society. The author contends that exponential economic growth is resulting in shortages in energy, fresh water and food.

In the age of climate change and the financial crisis, this is all too apparent. Exponential economic growth is not sustainable and Greco prophesises, ‘It seems that all our institutions and structures upon which we depend are breaking down.'

What then is the solution or solutions? Greco proposes a variety of solutions from a complete web-based trading system to creating local, community- based exchange systems which can be linked to regional, national and international networks. Examples of the ‘banjar' system in Bali, Indonesia and the Mondragon cooperatives in northern Spain shows a workable community based exchange system...

A refreshing read into the what ails of the current global financial system. The book leaves you thinking that given the political will and empowerment of grassroots and community -based systems, the environment and civilisation as we know it is not doomed after all.'

Excerpt from review of 'The Constant Economy' by The Ecologist:

'For most environmentalists, the title will be highly misleading. This is not a book about no-growth, low-growth or steady-state economics. It contains no mention of Herman Daly, and its only brush with economics is to decry our fascination with the metric of Gross Domestic Product as a means by which to measure social progress. If you’re looking for a treatise on radical economic models, look elsewhere...

A manifesto for real change...the book is structured by chapters into key issues – ‘An Energy Revolution’, ‘Built to Last’, ‘A Zero-Waste Economy’ – and each concludes with a panel of ‘Voter Demands’ – simple, realistic actions with which readers can either approach their local MPs, or use to hold those in power to account...

Several years of political report writing has given the author a huge command of ‘best practice’ examples that work in the real world. So it is we learn about ‘participatory budgets’ in Brazil, where local people make decisions on public spending; the huge success of decentralised combined heat and power (CHP) systems in Denmark; self-sufficient ecological housing developments in Nottinghamshire and cradle-to-cradle manufacturing models in the carpet industry.

Such is the scope of the book that it would almost be possible to sit with it on your lap during the Copenhagen talks, silently ticking or crossing off its welter of policy demands as they are discussed by UN negotiators. But this would be to miss the point: the book is designed to be used pro-actively, not retrospectively...'

30 September 2009

Ecopolis: Architecture and Cities for a Changing Climate

Ecocity pioneer Richard Register's review of Adelaide based architect and ecocity theorist/practitioner Paul F Downton's magnum opus, 'Ecopolis: Architecture and Cities for a Changing Climate'

'...why it is the climate change scientists, activists, politicians and sympathetic journalist STILL haven't figured out the connection between city design and layout and the disasters they are working so hard to solve. These issues are big. They are connected. And they are about 90% solved right there in his book.'

Excerpt from Ecocities Emerging, September 2009

'If you want to delve into the history of where all these ecocity ideas come from, where they were developed in theory and experience, from the chalk on blackboard kind of working out the essential geometries to the sweaty digging in the dirt, pouring concrete, working with wood, and planting rooftop and solar greenhouse gardens, you can find no better or more compete source.

Perfect for post docs in the field and field workers in the doc's office with blisters and bad sunburns. Perfect for all restless minds probing what's the meaning of building these here cities in the first place. It's a mind-bending book and THE tome to date, at 607 pages, for the ecocity movement. It's stuffed with illustrations, photos, charts and references enough to make one dizzy, with as many as seven scholarly references on some pages...

Our space is limited in this humble newsletter of boundless ambition so a quick list as to highlights of the cast of characters in "Ecopolis" may whet your desire to crack the covers.

They range from the ever famous Garden City pioneers, Kuala Lumpur/London eco-architect Ken Yeang, city re-arranger and first in the field mayor, Jaime Lerner of Curitiba, Brazil and storied architect and would be city annihilator Frank Lloyd Wright to those of us lurking about the grass roots trying to build new foundations such and Paul and myself.

Bucky Fuller is there with his sometimes random, sometimes universally organizing "pattern integrities," brilliance and engineer's single-mindedness (the fore-mentioned not always consistent), Ernest Callenbach of "Ecotopian" reorganization of politics, society and town design for that dig in the soil, watch the hawks circle, shoot your own meat, urban clanhood/neighborhood mix...

And there are many others from Berkeley's out-front Integral Urban House's Sim Van der Ryn to Paul Hawken's theory of nice business people taking the lead. There is Kropotkin, Illich, Caine, Haggarty and Crump (not a law firm). Guadi and Hundertwasser, New Urbanists, and Bateson, Newman and Kenworthy, Chris Alexander and Frampton and Mollison. There is a lot you can cover in 607 pages determined to say it all and hopefully it will stick. We need to change the world and this is a rock-solid attempt at it. The theory is pretty well represented therein too, including a good deal offered by Paul himself based on his decades-long research and the designing of several built partial "urban fractals," notably Christie Walk a five story strawbale apartment structure (maybe the world's tallest) with work at home space, solar rooftop garden, pedestrian walkway, many recycled building materials, fabulous native plant gardens, lively design and bright colors, etc. right in downtown Adelaide, Australia.

Remembering meeting Paul reading his paper in that now-no-doubt-obscure Greenhouse Gas Conference Report of 1988, 21 years later and counting, I ask again why it is the climate change scientists, activists, politicians and sympathetic journalist STILL haven't figured out the connection between city design and layout and the disasters they are working so hard to solve. These issues are big. They are connected. And they are about 90% solved right there in his book.'

Two Views of Density and Driving

Consider how a pedestrian could navigate each of these urban layouts - one is more permeable than the other! A good walking environment is about more than density - its about whether its desirable to walk, of which density is one influencing factor, along with good design, safety, shade/shelter and the general quality of the urban environment...

Of course it takes time to redesign a city and roll back sprawl - that's why we can and should start now! Ecocity Builders has been working on the 'how-to' of this for decades...

Excerpt from Worldchanging, 29 September 2009

'...neighborhood design exerts a powerful influence on how much driving we do. Living in a mixed-use neighborhood - with a mixture of single family homes and multi-family housing, with some stores, transit, and other services nearby - might cut the average person's driving by perhaps a third to a half, compared with car-dependent sprawl.

Living in an even more compact urban neighborhood, with lots of stores and jobs within walking distance, might cut per capita driving by a half to two-thirds, or perhaps more.

At the level of an entire metropolis, the effects of compact design can be signficant...

And yet the study also notes that land use can't change overnight...[but] the fatalistic view of land use - essentially, that changing land use is just too much hard - is not merely unhelpful, but unethical. Rather than bemoan how hard it is to make progress, I'd rather buckle down and get to work.'

29 September 2009

Maldives' Cabinet - Underwater Meeting

...now THAT'S how to make a point!!

Excerpt and images from 350.org

'Recently we reported about the extraordinary plans for the underwater Cabinet meeting to be held in the Maldives a week before 24 October.

Yes, these photos are of the Maldives Cabinet members training in underwater diving in advance of this historic underwater meeting and resolution for 350...

Do You Know Where Your Money Comes From?

Understanding this issue is critical for anyone who aims to be a serious student of sustainability - the control of the money supply, and how it is spent into the economy [created] is of paramount importance to understanding debt, growth and consumption...

...incredible how these sentiments are articulated over and over through history, across cultures and the political spectrum, and it persists to this day!

Quotes from Money Masters on the Origin and Nature of Money by:

US Presidents

Thomas Jefferson [in the debate over the Re-charter of the Bank Bill, 1809]:

'If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks...will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.... The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.'


'I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.'

James Madison:

'History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling money and its issuance.'

Andrew Jackson:

'If congress has the right under the Constitution to issue paper money, it was given them to use themselves, not to be delegated to individuals or corporations.'

Abraham Lincoln:

'The Government should create, issue, and circulate all the currency and credits needed to satisfy the spending power of the Government and the buying power of consumers. By the adoption of these principles, the taxpayers will be saved immense sums of interest. Money will cease to be master and become the servant of humanity.

Theodore Roosevelt:

'Issue of currency should be lodged with the government and be protected from domination by Wall Street. We are opposed to...provisions [which] would place our currency and credit system in private hands.'

Woodrow Wilson [who signed the 1913 Federal Reserve Act wrote a few years later]:

'I am a most unhappy man. I have unwittingly ruined my country. A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men. We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated Governments in the civilized world no longer a Government by free opinion, no longer a Government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a Government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.'


Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, 1815:

'When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes...money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.'

Otto von Bismark (1815-1898), German Chancellor, after the Lincoln assassination:

'The death of Lincoln was a disaster for Christendom. There was no man in the United States great enough to wear his boots and the bankers went anew to grab the riches. I fear that foreign bankers with their craftiness and tortuous tricks will entirely control the exuberant riches of America and use it to systematically corrupt civilization.'


William Paterson, founder of the Bank of England in 1694, then a privately owned bank:

'The bank hath benefit of interest on all moneys which it creates out of nothing.'

Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812), founder of the House of Rothschild:

'Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws.'

The Rothschild brothers of London writing to associates in New York, 1863:

'The few who understand the system will either be so interested in its profits or be so dependent upon its favours that there will be no opposition from that class, while on the other hand, the great body of people, mentally incapable of comprehending the tremendous advantage that capital derives from the system, will bear its burdens without complaint, and perhaps without even suspecting that the system is inimical to their interests.'

Economists & Entrepreneurs

Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company:

'It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and money system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.'

John Kenneth Galbraith, former professor of economics at Harvard:

'The study of money, above all other fields in economics, is one in which complexity is used to disguise truth or to evade truth, not to reveal it. The process by which banks create money is so simple the mind is repelled. With something so important, a deeper mystery seems only decent.'

Planet of Peril, Planet of Promise

A good clip for all of us from Global Mindshift - and especially useful for a conversation with young people:


'A meme is a unit of cultural information that can be transferred from one individual to another. Like genes for the body, memes help cultures evolve.'

The Opposite End of the Earth

Adelaide's mirror - the North Atlantic

Ever wonder if you’d be able to reach China if you started digging in your backyard?

Now you can find out just what lies on the other side of the earth with this mapping application:


Should We Seek to Save Industrial Civilisation?

Long, but worth reading, as it pulls no punches/no 'green sugar' coating, and captures a lot of the thinking people are grappling with...

Excerpt from George Monbiot's Guardian column, 18 August 2009

'A debate with Paul Kingsnorth
Published in the Guardian, 18th August 2009

Dear George,

Sitting on the desk in front of me are a set of graphs. The horizontal axis of each graph is identical: it represents time, from the years 1750 to 2000. The graphs show, variously, human population levels, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, exploitation of fisheries, destruction of tropical forests, paper consumption, number of motor vehicles, water use, the rate of species extinction and the totality of the gross domestic product of the human economy.

What grips me about these graphs (and graphs don’t usually grip me) is that though they all show very different things, they have an almost identical shape. A line begins on the left of the page, rising gradually as it moves to the right. Then, in the last inch or so - around the year 1950 - it suddenly veers steeply upwards, like a pilot banking after a cliff has suddenly appeared from what he thought was an empty bank of cloud.

The root cause of all these trends is the same: a rapacious human economy which is bringing the world very swiftly to the brink of chaos. We know this; some of us even attempt to stop it happening. Yet all of these trends continue to get rapidly worse, and there is no sign of that changing soon. What these graphs make clear better than anything else is the cold reality: there is a serious crash on the way.

Yet very few of us are prepared to look honestly at the message this reality is screaming at us: that the civilisation we are a part of is hitting the buffers at full speed, and it is too late to stop it.

Instead, most of us - and I include in this generalisation much of the mainstream environmental movement - are still wedded to a vision of the future as an upgraded version of the present. We still believe in ‘progress’, as lazily defined by Western liberalism. We still believe that we will be able to continue living more or less the same comfortable lives (albeit with more wind farms and better light bulbs) if we can only embrace 'sustainable development’ rapidly enough; and that we can then extend it to the extra three billion people who will shortly be joining us on this already-gasping planet.

I think this is simply denial. The writing is on the wall for industrial society, and no amount of ethical shopping or determined protesting is going to change that now. Take a civilisation built on the myth of human exceptionalism and a deeply-embedded cultural attitude to ‘nature’; add a blind belief in technological and material progress; then fuel the whole thing with a power source which is discovered to be disastrously destructive only after we have used it to inflate our numbers and appetites beyond the point of no return. What do you get? We are starting to find out.

We need to get real. Climate change is teetering on the point of no return while our leaders bang the drum for more growth. The economic system we rely upon cannot be tamed without collapsing, for it relies upon that growth in order to function. And who wants it to be tamed anyway? Most people in the rich world won’t be giving up their cars or holidays without a fight.
Some people - perhaps including you - believe that these things should not be said, even if they happen to be true, because saying them will deprive people of ‘hope’, and that without hope there will be no chance of ’saving the planet.’ But false hope is worse than no hope at all. As for 'saving the planet’ - what we are really trying to save, as we scrabble around planting turbines on mountains and shouting at ministers, is not the planet but our attachment to the Western material culture which we cannot imagine living without.

The challenge now is not how to shore up a crumbling empire with wave machines and global summits but to start thinking about how we are going to live through its fall, and what we can learn from its collapse.

All the best,

Dear Paul,

Like you I have become ever gloomier about our chances of avoiding the crash you predict. For the past few years I have been almost professionally optimistic, exhorting people to keep fighting, knowing that to say there is no hope is to make it so. I still have some faith in our ability to make rational decisions based on evidence. But it is waning.

If it has taken governments this long even to start discussing reform of the Common Fisheries Policy; if they refuse even to make contingency plans for peak oil, what hope is there of working towards a steady-state economy, let alone the voluntary economic contraction ultimately required to avoid either the climate crash or the depletion of crucial resources?

But the interesting question, and the one that probably divides us, is this: to what extent should we welcome the likely collapse of industrial civilisation? Or more precisely: to what extent do we believe that some good may come of it? I detect in your writings, and in the conversations we have had, an attraction towards - almost a yearning for - this apocalypse, a sense that you see it as a cleansing fire that will rid the world of a diseased society. If this is your view, I do not share it.

I’m sure we can agree that the immediate consequences of collapse would be hideous: the breakdown of the systems that keep most of us alive; mass starvation; war. These alone surely give us sufficient reason to fight on,however faint our chances might appear. But even if we were somehow able to put this out of our minds, I believe that what is likely to come out on the other side will be worse than our current settlement.

Here are three observations:

1. Our species (unlike most of its members) is tough and resilient.
2. When civilisations collapse, psychopaths take over.
3. We seldom learn from other people’s mistakes.

From the first observation, this follows: even if you have somehow hardened yourself to the fate of human beings, you can surely see that our species will not become extinct without causing the extinction of almost all others. However hard we fall, we will recover sufficiently to land another hammer blow on the biosphere. We will continue to do so until there is so little left that even Homo sapiens can no longer survive. This is the ecological destiny of a species possessed of outstanding intelligence, opposable thumbs and an ability to interpret and exploit almost every possible resource - in the absence of political restraint.

From the second and third observations, this follows: instead of gathering as free collectives of happy householders, the survivors of this collapse will be subject to the will of people seeking to monopolise remaining resources. This will is likely to be imposed through violence. Political accountability will be a distant memory. The chances of conserving any resource in these circumstances are approximately zero. The human and ecological consequences of the first global collapse are likely to persist for many generations, perhaps for our species’ remaining time on earth. To imagine that good could come of the involuntary failure of industrial civilisation is also to succumb to denial. The answer to your question - what will we learn from this collapse? - is nothing.

So this is why, despite everything, I fight on. I am not fighting to sustain economic growth. I am fighting to prevent both initial collapse and the repeated catastrophe which follows from it.

However faint the hopes of engineering a soft landing - an ordered and structured downsizing of the global economy - might be, we must keep this possibility alive. Perhaps we are both in denial: I because I think the fight is still worth having; you because you think it isn’t.

With my best wishes,

Dear George,

You say that you detect in my writing a yearning for apocalypse. I detect in yours a paralysing fear.

You have convinced yourself that there are only two possible futures available to humanity. One is what we might call Liberal Capitalist Democracy 2.0. Clearly your preferred option, this is much like the world we live in now, only with fossil fuels replaced by solar panels, governments and corporations held to account by active citizens and growth somehow cast aside in favour of a 'steady state economy’...

What we face is what John Michael Greer, in his book of the same name, calls a ‘long descent’ - a series of ongoing crises brought about by the factors I talked of in my first letter, which will bring an end to the all-consuming culture we have imposed upon the Earth. I’m sure 'some good will come’ from this, for that culture is a weapon of planetary mass destruction.

Our civilisation will not survive in anything like its present form, but we can at least aim for a managed retreat to a saner world. Your alternative - to hold on to nurse for fear of finding something worse - is in any case a century too late. When Empires begin to fall, they build their own momentum...

All the best,

Dear Paul,

If I have understood you correctly, you are proposing to do nothing to prevent the likely collapse of industrial civilisation. You believe that instead of trying to replace fossil fuels with other energy sources, we should let the system slide. You go on to say that we should not fear this outcome.

How many people do you believe the world could support without either fossil fuels or an equivalent investment in alternative energy? How many would survive without modern industrial civilisation? Two billion? One billion? Under your vision several billion perish. And you tell me we have nothing to fear.

I find it hard to understand how you could be unaffected by this prospect. I accused you of denial before; this looks more like disavowal. I hear a perverse echo in your writing of the philosophies which most offend you: your macho assertion that we have nothing to fear from collapse mirrors the macho assertion that we have nothing to fear from endless growth. Both positions betray a refusal to engage with physical reality...

Strange as it seems, a de-fanged, steady-state version of the current settlement might offer the best prospect humankind has ever had of avoiding collapse. For the first time in our history we are well-informed about the extent and causes of our ecological crises, know what should be done to avert them and have the global means - if only the political will were present - of preventing them.

Faced with your alternative - sit back and watch billions die - Liberal Democracy 2.0 looks like a pretty good option.

With my best wishes,

Dear George...

Civilisations live and die by their founding myths. Our myths tell us that humanity is separate from something called ‘nature’, which is a ‘resource’ for our use. They tell us there are no limits to human abilities, and that technology, science and our ineffable wisdom can fix everything. Above all, they tell us that we are in control.

This craving for control underpins your approach. If we can just persaude the politicians to do A, B and C swiftly enough then we will be saved. But what climate change shows us is that we are not in control, either of the biosphere or of the machine which is destroying it. Accepting that fact is our biggest challenge.

I think our task is to negotiate the coming descent as best we can, whilst creating new myths which put humanity in its proper place. Recently I co-founded a new initiative, the Dark Mountain Project, which aims to help do that. It won’t save the world, but it might help us think about how to live through a hard century. You’d be welcome to join us.

Very best,

Dear Paul,

Yes, the words I use are fierce, but yours are strangely neutral. I note that you have failed to answer my question about how many people the world could support without modern forms of energy and the systems they sustain, but two billion is surely the optimistic extreme. You describe this mass cull as “a long descent” or a “retreat to a saner world”. Have you ever considered a job in the Ministry of Defence press office?

I draw the trifling issue of a few billion fatalities to your attention not to make you look like a heartless fascist but because it’s a reality with which you refuse to engage. You don’t see it because to do so would be to accept the need for action...

You appear to believe that though it is impossible to tame the global economy, it is possible to change our founding myths, some of which pre-date industrial civilisation by several thousand years. You also believe that good can come of a collapse that deprives most of the population of its means of survival. This strikes me as something more than optimism: a millennarian fantasy, perhaps, of Redemption after the Fall. Perhaps it is the perfect foil to my apocalyptic vision.

With my best wishes,

Sustainability by Design - Australian Green Infrastructure Council

The intent of this is to provide an infrastructure equivalent of the Green Star rating system for buildings...

Excerpt from WME Magazine, September 2009

'The Australian Green Infrastructure Council is creating a scheme to encourage innovative sustainability outcomes in the design, delivery and operation of infrastructure.

Infrastructure is a relatively small and often deemed unglamorous area of human endeavour. Yet the major structures and facilities that support our way of life can leave huge environmental footprints across large tracts of land and long spans of time.

On the other side of the coin, infrastructure can be a driver for change if properly harnessed. This includes focusing on infrastructure that lessens our dependence on fossil fuels, delivering more sustainable outcomes for society and future-proofing against adverse climatic change...

Infrastructure firms [have] few tools to help them assess and prioritise their efforts to build in ecological and social performance from the outset.

This is a key gap in the capabilities of our built environment sector, one the Australian Green Infrastructure Council aims to close by creating the world’s first sustainability rating scheme for infrastructure. Similar in concept to the Green Star scheme for buildings, it will establish sustainability performance benchmarks in the design, construction and operation of infrastructure. Unlike Green Star, it will cover both new projects and existing assets...

AGIC’s key focus is on roads and rail, distribution grids, landfills, ports and airports, water infrastructure, telecommunication facilities and coastal management. We’re leaving mining out at this stage.

As you can imagine, it was not easy to develop a checklist of sustainability risks, opportunities and obligations flexible enough to meet the diverse needs and practices of all these sectors. However, through a series of workshops and iterations emerged seven sustainability assessment categories.

Within that framework, we developed 27 subcategories and in May appointed authors to develop each subcategory. We have drawn up a robust process of peer review and project trialling to practically test and fine-tune the assessment tool.

Each category will be weighted on an overall scoring spreadsheet and contain a series of scored questions and performance criteria.The rating scheme is proposed to be self-assessable. Some companies, such as GHD, have already started structuring projects and tenders in accordance with the subcategories in anticipation of the scheme’s introduction.

But here’s the catch – we need $1.25 million in funding to bring the vision to reality and are currently seeking funds from both state and federal governments.

Every government department we approached has expressed support for the scheme, and officers in Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese’s office are working to identify the funding avenue. We hope to secure the funds in this current quarter and then take 12 months to develop, peer review, pilot and roll out the tool and ratings scheme.

It’s all very well to push the tool, but we also need to develop pull factors within industry, which is why AGIC is also embracing an education, training and advocacy role. The suite of resources will include a technical manual, a library of good practice case studies and references to assist in achieving sustainable outcomes...'

Green Infrastructure Indicators

1. Project Management & Governance
1.1 Purchase & procurement
1.2 Reporting & responsibilities
1.3 Climate change vulnerability
1.4 Making decisions
1.5 Knowledge sharing & capacity building

2. Economic Performance
2.1 Value for money
2.2 Due diligence
2.3 Economic life

3. Using Resources
3.1 Energy use
3.2 Water
3.3 Material selection & use

4. Emissions, Pollution & Waste
4.1 Greenhouse gas management
4.2 Discharges to air, water & land
4.3 Land management
4.4 Waste management

5. Biodiversity
5.1 Functioning ecosystems
5.2 Enhanced biodiversity

6. People & Place
6.1 Health, wellbeing, safety
6.2 Natural & cultural heritage values
6.3 Participatory processes
6.4 Positive legacy for current & future generations
6.5 Enhanced urban & landscape design/aesthetics
6.6 Knowledge sharing, shared IP

7. Workforce
7.1 Safety, health & wellbeing
7.2 Capacity building
7.3 Increased knowledge of applied sustainability
7.4 Equity


Excerpt from Inhabitat, 28 July 2009

'“How do you grow your own food in the big city if you ain’t got no land?” Easy - do what these Brooklynites did and start a Truck Farm! True, you don’t usually think 1986 Dodge Ram when you think 'green vehicle', but this pickup with ripe rows of arugula, lettuce, broccoli, herbs, tomatoes and habaneros thriving right in its flatbed, is definitely an exception...

Getting Truck Farm started wasn’t quite as easy as just dumping a bunch of dirt into the bed of a truck and tossing some seeds in...

Alive Structures, an NYC-based company that specializes in rainwater management lent a hand with a root barrier, erosion blanket, drainage mat and cups which are usually reserved for green roofs. Last, but not least, the soil that lies in Truck Farm’s bed is not just regular dirt - it is a special lightweight blend of styrofoam, gel, organics, and clay.

So what happens to the veggies that grow on/in Truck Farm? Believe it or not, the Truck Farm has its very own CSA plan...

A truck that drives your veggies to customers to pluck straight out of the soil with their own hands? You have to admit that’s quite a bit fresher than Fresh Direct.

Okay, we know what you’re thinking - a truck with a farm in its backseat still guzzles gas. This is one aspect of the Truck Farm that was plaguing us too. But the guys from Wicked Delicate seem like they take great care in making sure the logistics behind their project are sustainable (heck, even the camera they use is solar-powered) that we think there must be an explanation.

Perhaps they don’t actually drive the truck around that much? Although it is certainly worth considering how the vehicle itself could be made greener, we think it’s important to focus on what Truck Farm represents - a new, improved way of thinking about how we get our food in the concrete jungle. Keep on truckin’/farmin’!!!'

The Virtues of Deglobalization

Excerpt from Yes Magazine, 25 September 2009

'As leaders of the G20 map out a new economic order, protesters are making it known that they don't want it to be like the last one. Walden Bello outlines 11 principles of a deglobalized economy that promotes equity and quality of life rather than growth and environmental destruction:

The current global downturn, the worst since the Great Depression 70 years ago, pounded the last nail into the coffin of globalization. Already beleaguered by evidence that showed global poverty and inequality increasing, even as most poor countries experienced little or no economic growth, globalization has been terminally discredited in the last two years. As the much-heralded process of financial and trade interdependence went into reverse, it became the transmission belt not of prosperity but of economic crisis and collapse...developments thought impossible a few years ago are gaining steam. "The integration of the world economy is in retreat on almost every front," writes the Economist...

Focus on the Global South first forwarded deglobalization as a comprehensive paradigm to replace neoliberal globalization almost a decade ago, when the stresses, strains, and contradictions brought about by the latter had become painfully evident. Elaborated as an alternative mainly for developing countries, the deglobalization paradigm is not without relevance to the central capitalist economies

11 Pillars of the Alternative

There are 11 key prongs of the deglobalization paradigm:
  1. Production for the domestic market must again become the center of gravity of the economy rather than production for export markets.
  2. The principle of subsidiarity should be enshrined in economic life by encouraging production of goods at the level of the community and at the national level if this can be done at reasonable cost in order to preserve community.
  3. Trade policy — that is, quotas and tariffs — should be used to protect the local economy from destruction by corporate-subsidized commodities with artificially low prices.
  4. Industrial policy—including subsidies, tariffs, and trade — should be used to revitalize and strengthen the manufacturing sector.
  5. Long-postponed measures of equitable income redistribution and land redistribution (including urban land reform) can create a vibrant internal market that would serve as the anchor of the economy and produce local financial resources for investment.
  6. De-emphasizing growth, emphasizing upgrading the quality of life, and maximizing equity will reduce environmental disequilibrium.
  7. The development and diffusion of environmentally congenial technology in both agriculture and industry should be encouraged.
  8. Strategic economic decisions cannot be left to the market or to technocrats. Instead, the scope of democratic decision-making in the economy should be expanded so that all vital questions—such as which industries to develop or phase out, what proportion of the government budget to devote to agriculture, etc.—become subject to democratic discussion and choice.
  9. Civil society must constantly monitor and supervise the private sector and the state, a process that should be institutionalized.
  10. The property complex should be transformed into a "mixed economy" that includes community cooperatives, private enterprises, and state enterprises, and excludes transnational corporations.
  11. Centralized global institutions like the IMF and the World Bank should be replaced with regional institutions built not on free trade and capital mobility but on principles of cooperation that, to use the words of Hugo Chavez in describing the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), "transcend the logic of capitalism."

From the Cult of Efficiency to Effective Economics

The aim of the deglobalization paradigm is to move beyond the economics of narrow efficiency, in which the key criterion is the reduction of unit cost, never mind the social and ecological destabilization this process brings about...

An effective economics, rather, strengthens social solidarity by subordinating the operations of the market to the values of equity, justice, and community by enlarging the sphere of democratic decision making. To use the language of the great Hungarian thinker Karl Polanyi in his book The Great Transformation, deglobalization is about "re-embedding" the economy in society, instead of having society driven by the economy.

The deglobalization paradigm also asserts that a "one size fits all" model like neoliberalism or centralized bureaucratic socialism is dysfunctional and destabilizing. Instead, diversity should be expected and encouraged, as it is in nature. Shared principles of alternative economics do exist, and they have already substantially emerged in the struggle against and critical reflection over the failure of centralized socialism and capitalism. However, how these principles—the most important of which have been sketched out above—are concretely articulated will depend on the values, rhythms, and strategic choices of each society.

Deglobalization's Pedigree

Though it may sound radical, deglobalization isn't really new. Its pedigree includes the writings of the towering British economist Keynes [who stated]...

"I sympathize…with those who would minimize rather than with those who would maximize economic entanglement between nations. Ideas, knowledge, art, hospitality, travel—these are the things which should of their nature be international. But let goods be homespun whenever it is reasonably and conveniently possible; and, above all, let finance be primarily national."'

Smart Trash - Reinvent Recycling with a Cash Incentive

Interesting idea, provided the investment of dollars and effort is outweighed by the gains...and privacy concerns can be addressed.

Excerpt from Warmer Bulletin e-news, 25 September 2009

'Envision a distasteful trip to the curb to take out the trash as a pleasant - and profitable - stroll. Some juiceless batteries - those are good for a few cents. An old keyboard might fetch a couple of bucks. Even that empty box of Pop-Tarts might be worth something.

Physorg reports that there is no need to sort these discards: the trashcan has already done it, inventorying all contents and calculating the worth of this waste. Next month's garbage bill could be accompanied by a check.

"Recycling and consumer waste are still managed with 1950s technology," said Valerie Thomas, Anderson Interface Associate Professor at Georgia Tech's School of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

"...The flow of products out of the household needs to be managed with at least as much intelligence as the flow of products into the household..."

This is the concept behind "Smart Trash," an approach developed by Thomas that has caught the attention of major corporations and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Smart Trash systems not only provide sustainable and productive ways for discarding items, but also can redefine the relationship people have with their garbage...

Two essential elements are involved in making Smart Trash function.The first is a Universal Product Code (UPC) or radio frequency identification (RFID) tag that identifies specific merchandise. A scanner equipped within a trash receptacle would be able to immediately record what is being disposed, allowing consumers to track their trash and determine what pieces are potentially valuable.

The second component is a retrofitted recycling truck or recycling center that can sort trash that can sort recyclables. Valuable items could be sent to auction sites where the proceeds could be sent directly back to consumers. Items with hazardous components could be shunted aside for appropriate management.

A Wi-Fi connection provides the bridge between the trashcan and the recycling service, relaying information that can anticipate and properly organize the contents.

Recyclable items with significant value - such as consumer electronics - would be forwarded to online auction services where the maximum value could be actualized. Consumer recycling credits could also be issued for something as insignificant as a frozen pizza box or a shampoo bottle. Any money garnered from this waste could be applied to a consumer's monthly sanitation bill or sent as a check...

Depending on the nature of the product, there would be some reasonableness about how much information you would want to keep about something," Thomas said. "There's no reason for people to know how much cereal you eat."...

UNEP Green Meeting Guide 2009

Excerpt from Warmer Bulletin e-news, 25 September 2009

'The UNEP Green Meeting Guide 2009 is designed to assist organisers and hosts of small to medium-sized meetings in including green considerations as early as possible in the preparation of the event. It describes the issues to consider in the planning phase and provides a very simple and concrete check list to pick and choose concrete actions to carry out.

The Guide consists of five different elements:

Section 1: Green meetings: What to Know

Part A: Introduction - an introduction to the concept of greening meetings, and the benefits this can bring to the organisers...

Part B: Management and Communication - guidance on management and communication aspects of greening meetings.

Part C: Greening your meeting - an overview of the key environmental impacts of a meeting, and how these may be minimised - especially venue selection, accommodation, catering, local transportation, logistics.

Part D: Climate neutrality - proposals for offsetting greenhouse gas emissions generated by a meeting, especially through the impacts of long-distance travel in order to leave a positive 'Climate Legacy'.

Section 2: "Green Meetings: What to Do"

Part E: The Greening Meetings Checklist - detailed greening recommendations for the day to day preparation of a meeting...'

Australia's Population Fairytale

Encapsulated in this question is the entire sustainability conundrum for governments and societies everywhere - the 'eat more' message of economic growth, population increase and consumption undermines the 'eat less' message of use less energy [less C02 emissions], water, resources...can we just admit it and get on with how we are going to tackle this?!

Excerpt from Sydney Morning Herald, 28 September 2009

'Today Australia's population is 21,995,000. Because it is increasing by more than a thousand people a day, we will reach the 22 million threshold on Friday. Maybe even Thursday night.
Which leads me to the only time I have ever asked Kevin Rudd a question in his capacity as Prime Minister. His reply was not truthful. As in, not the truth. I asked him why, when he was committed to a surge in lowering Australia's carbon emissions, he had also committed Australia to a population surge that was one of the largest in our history.

''We're increasing [immigration] off a low base,'' he replied.

Nonsense. The Howard government left behind a robust immigration program of more than 120,000 net immigrants a year...

The Rudd Government promptly ramped everything up. It set a target of 190,000 migration places in 2008-09, a 20 per cent increase over the previous year's target. It increased the working visa program to double its size four years earlier. Not a word was said about this during the 2007 election campaign. Not a word about implementing the largest three-year increase in Australia's population during the Government's first term.

Instead, Rudd campaigned about global warming, climate change, water shortages and the need to sign the Kyoto protocols on reducing carbon emissions...

While the Prime Minister was away, figures were released by the Treasurer in Canberra, and by the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, which showed Australia had the fastest-growing population in the industrialised world, and it is projected to reach 35 million in 40 years...

Without significant immigration or fertility change, Australia's population will be 26 million within 10 years. It will be 30 million within 20 years.

Australia's demographic change is speeding up. This presents Rudd with a dichotomy: he talks a good game about reducing greenhouse emissions, but has only committed Australia to a minimum 5 per cent cut in carbon pollution, at 2000 levels, by 2020. Why? Because in 2000 Australia's population was 19 million, but by 2020 it will be about 26 million, a 37 per cent increase...

Strong population growth...brings strong environmental pressures. Above the greater need for energy and transport and land, the carbon cost of Australia's food infrastructure, with food grown far from where it is consumed, and supposedly fresh produce refrigerated, preserved, packed and freighted long distances, represents a real conceptual challenge which governments - federal, state and local - have not yet seriously addressed.

All this will become evident when the new energy tax, known as the emissions trading scheme, starts to flow through the economy and the cost of food begins to rise, along with inflation, and higher interest rates, the legacy of decisions taken by the Rudd Government.

In the meantime, we are being fed the fairytale that Australia is enjoying world-beating growth that is all gain, no pain.'

Snow Job!

Excerpt from the environment report for the Australia Antarctic Division:

'The warehouse ordered 5,044 reams of A4 and A3 paper on behalf of the office and stations'

...what the hell are they doing down there at McMurdo, building paper maiche igloos?!!!!!

In other news, the real cause of global warming has been determined...

How to Short-Circuit the US Power Grid

Another reason to move to distributed [decentralised] power generation [and water supply] at an appropriate scale...

Excerpt from the New Scientist, 11 September 2009

'...network analyst Jian-Wei Wang [has] worked out how attackers could cause a cascade of network failures in the US's west-coast electricity grid - cutting power to economic powerhouses Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

Wang and colleagues at Dalian University of Technology in the Chinese province of Liaoning modelled the US's west-coast grid using publicly available data on how it, and its subnetworks, are connected (Safety Science, DOI: 10.1016/j.ssci.2009.02.002).

Their aim was to examine the potential for cascade failures, where a major power outage in a subnetwork results in power being dumped into an adjacent subnetwork, causing a chain reaction of failures. Where, they wondered, were the weak spots?...

To their surprise, under particular loading conditions, taking out a lightly loaded subnetwork first caused more of the grid to trip out than starting with a highly loaded one...

The US Department of Homeland Security is reviewing the research, says John Verrico, the department's technology spokesman, who adds that countermeasures are already in the works...

These precautions are well and good, but there are easier ways to bring a grid down, says Ian Fells, an expert in energy conversion at Newcastle University, UK.

"A determined attacker would not fool around with the electricity inputs or whatever - they need only a bunch of guys with some Semtex to blow up the grid lines near a power station."'

Ponzi Demography

Excerpt from the Christian Science Monitor, 17 August 2009

'Forty-five nations face a population “bust” that has some leaders wringing their hands. They worry about the costs of supporting an aging society and the loss of national and economic power...

But notions that population growth is a boon for prosperity – or that national political success depends on it – are “Ponzi demography,” says Joseph Chamie, former director of the population division of the United Nations.

The profits of growth go to the few, and everyone else picks up the tab...

This trend toward fewer births is accelerating. In the rich, developed nations, the average age is rising at the fastest pace ever, UN demographers note. Today they have 264 million aged 60 or over. By 2050, that number is expected to rise to 416 million.

By that time, the world’s population should stabilize, if UN predictions are correct. The population surge in poor countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East would be offset by declines in much of the developed world.

Some nations facing decline are fighting back with incentives for families to have more children. The United States is bucking the trend with its relatively high immigration rate.

Growth, whether through immigration or natural increase, is a plus for some groups. For business, it means a boost in the demand for products. It also means a surge in low- and high-skilled workers, which can keep a lid on wage pressures. Religious and ethnic groups want more immigrants of their own faith and ethnicity to raise their political and social clout. The military regards young immigrants as potential recruits.

But the public pays a cost for a bigger population.

Mr. Chamie speaks of more congestion on highways, more farmland turned into housing developments, more environmental damage, including the output of pollutants associated with climate change...

Of course, there are also costs for countries with stable or declining populations. They will need to spend more looking after older citizens and, yes, some industries like housing will shrink. But governments won’t have to spend as much on children...

The goal should be gradual population stabilization, Chamie says. The costs of an aging but stable population would be more manageable than those of a population boom...

A stable or falling population, he says, “is not a disaster. It is a success.”