17 October 2009

The Ruins of the Unsustainable = 21st Century Frontiers

"The ruins of the unsustainable are the 21st century's frontier."

Worldchanging ally Bruce Sterling

Excerpt from Worldchanging, 3 August 2009

austrini_300.jpg 'In North America, several decades of bad development (and the government policies that enabled and encouraged it) have resulted in unchecked sprawl and played no small part in our global financial meltdown.

Far-flung exurban areas have swallowed up miles of greenfield, replacing farmland and woods with pavement and lawns, and costing taxpayers a fortune in what's possibly the least efficient form of infrastructure: providing utilities and public services to a small number of people spread out over an large area. The social impacts of sprawl are arguably just as harmful. Sprawl is unhealthy for people who live in it. And as we know from the Housing & Transportation Affordability Index, people who have to drive everywhere they go are at an economic disadvantage, as well.

Now, due to increasing awareness of these issues, changing social and demographic trends, and a dramatic economic shift, the suburbs – once the American Dream – have fallen from grace. According to leading thinkers like Arthur C. Nelson and Christopher B. Leinberger, the majority of Americans no longer desire to live in auto-dependent suburban environments. Given the chance, many would trade large suburban houses for the walkability of an urban neighborhood. Middle-class North Americans are already beginning to move in large numbers back into central cities, while property values on the suburban fringe have plummeted.

The approaching end of sprawl is a good thing, but it leaves the future of the suburbs uncertain. Foreclosures, unemployment and retail losses have already been a disaster for many suburban towns, and experts warn that suburbs are fast becoming the next slums as middle-class residents are replaced by poorer people who've been priced out of the central cities. Already, much of the outmost ring of suburban North America is in steep decline. The suburbs have long been unsustainable, and now they are becoming ruins. What are the solutions for this new frontier?

Smart growth policies and long-term regional land use plans can prevent any more sprawl, concentrate growth in the urban core and help restore vitality to existing communities. But what are the best ideas for retrofitting the damaged environments that already exist? What will become of the empty malls and superstores, vacant parking lots, six-lane roads and McMansions this collapse leaves behind? Should the subdivisions be scrapped, or saved … and how?
Credit: flickr/jonny.hunter

The First Solutions

One major solution will be fixing the neighborhoods that have good bones. Some inner-ring suburbs already offer proximity to an urban center, and a dense Main Street-type area to concentrate on. Creating regional transit plans that extend public transportation out to that inner ring is a big step. Transit encourages compact development where businesses can thrive and residents can escape auto-dependence. In February, sustainable cities expert Peter Newman told us how this solution has worked for his hometown of Perth; in Germany, a transit-served suburb has already even gone as far as to adopt a "car free" standard.

Effective transit plans can be combined with other strategies for increasing density while enhancing character and livability. Incentives that encourage infill development are a good place to start. Some local governments, like Vancouver B.C.'s, have realized that it's beneficial to encourage homeowners to contribute to density by building accessory dwelling units; in Santa Cruz, California, the ADU program includes an initiative that makes plans for zoning-compliant prefab housing available to homeowners who want to become landlords.

Other places are harder to fix. It's the newer, outer-ring suburbs that need the most creative solutions, like deadmall and Big Box retrofits, shared spaces and creative reuse.

Empty Spaces

We now have far more buildings than we use. Former industrial centers like Detroit and Cleveland are becoming ghost towns, but even in prosperous U.S. cities, commercial spaces stand empty as more and more businesses are forced to cut costs or close their doors altogether...

Given the enormous amount of embedded energy that this existing development represents, our best bet is put these buildings to good use.

One solution is finding better ways to reclaim and rehabilitate neglected space. The National Vacant Properties Campaign works to educate communities about solutions for the very worst situations, when owners neglect properties to the point that they become hazardous to the community, or fail to meet their financial obligations. In the Campaign's words:

"Effective vacant property reclamation efforts are coming from a broad set of stakeholders – from environmental advocates who see property reclamation as a way to offset urban sprawl, to housing groups seeing to create affordable homes, to those interested in preserving a community’s history.

Through our Executive and Advisory Committees, we bring these diverse stakeholders together to create a unified coalition of organizations acting to make vacant property reclamation an attainable goal nationwide."

Reclaiming unused spaces is a hot trend, with pioneers rapidly innovating ways to make dead-space liabilities into repurposed assets (read some of our recent thoughts on this trend in last week's feature on Temporary Spaces and Creative Infill).

Resourcefulness like this has gone on for a long time in neglected urban spaces, and continues to make headlines during this economic contraction, as we've seen with artists in Detroit and Dumpster swimming pools in Brooklyn. Will it spread to suburbia?

Reuse or Waste?

Unfortunately, one main problem with the ruins of the unsustainable is that these buildings were never really designed to last in the first place. Big-box stores are generally designed to last only about 20-25 years, and the nature of retail leads to some stores closing much earlier. The cavernous shells...are suited for very few purposes beyond storing massive quantities of consumer goods. Often, old big-box stores are just abandoned, becoming centers of blight.

According to this article, however, some local governments are responding proactively, by requiring that big boxes be built with certain features that will make them more versatile should the retailer move on:

"More communities are introducing policies that require big-box retailers to help redevelop the spaces they leave behind. Some require them to tear down the stores if they're empty more than a year. Others have introduced design standards that require landscaping and more than one main entrance so that the building can accommodate multiple tenants in the future.

A retailer the size of Wal-Mart can make or break a town like Wisconsin Rapids, which has about 18,000 residents. "It changed us," Wisconsin Rapids Mayor Carson says of Wal-Mart's decision to leave downtown and build a superstore on the edge of town. The move eventually helped, she says. "We, as a city, now have a central location for our seniors that's better than having it on the outskirts of town," Carson says.

About 20,000 square feet of the old store were knocked down to make way for a community garden and benches. Inside, seniors now enjoy a library, meeting rooms, a walking track, pool tables and state-of-the-art kitchen and computer center. The center also holds aging and disability centers for two counties."

Ultimately, however, these buildings will need to come down, and adopting a long view as early in the construction phase as possible will mean less material is unnecessarily wasted. We've talked a lot about design for disassembly in the world of consumer products – smart designs that allow product components to be dismantled easily, so that they can be sorted and re-used as nutrients in the industrial cycle...

Design for Disassembly (DfD) is increasingly being studied and tested by building professionals. A DfD case study home was constructed in Georgia in 2006. While this project is residential, the interest on behalf of the industry is growing.

Sugar Creek Charter School, built in a former K-Mart in Charlotte, N.C.
Source: Big Box Reuse
It seems like big-box stores would be an ideal starting point for city-mandated building code that required adherence to DfD best practices. After all, if it's likely that the store will be defunct in less than three decades, it would be a major benefit to be able to take it down and return the massive pile of components to the building nutrient stream. What if you could dismantle a shopping mall and build a school? It's a solution worth thinking about.

What's truly uplifting, though, is that people are turning a crisis into opportunity, thinking of these frontiers as Special Innovation Zones. Because the ruins are worthless - or worth little - pioneering types with big, risky and exciting ideas have a better shot. In many cases, it seems that these up-for-grabs properties are inspiring a kind of experimental "what-if" boldness that's less common in established urban neighborhoods, where cost, regulations and NIMBY-ism can stand in the way. An abandoned home that's already been stripped of its conventional wiring and plumbing, after all, is an ideal frame on which to build a home energy system entirely out of renewables ... and the neighbors aren't likely to fuss...

However you imagine the future of the suburbs, one thing is certain: The one thing we can't do is keep them the same.'

Credit: flickr/mark.hogan.

Peak Population & Generation X

Great piece. Could somebody please tell all the politicians arguing for more growth and more people to pay for an ageing population about this...?!

Excerpt from
Worldchanging, 29 November 2008

'The babies born between 1965 and 1970 were historic. They were part of the highest global population growth rate ever achieved, 2.1 percent a year. As Joel Cohen writes:

"Human population never grew with such speed before the 20th century and is never again likely to grow with such speed. Our descendants will look back on the late 1960s peak as the most significant demographic event in the history of the human population even though those of us who lived through it did not recognize it at the time."

Put another way, you might say that the birth of Generation X (which more or l
ess book-ends those years) was the beginning of our planet's era of peak human population.

It's easy to get blase about demographics; big, abstract numbers thought about over numbing time-periods, and recounted by people who love statistics. It would be a mistake, however, to fail to see peak population as a hugely important insight, because when we know that we are riding a wave of increasing numbers (and increasing longevity) that will crest sometime after the middle of this century, we can also see that

1) The longer population growth rates remain high, the more total people there will be on the planet when we reach peak population, so one of our biggest goals ought to be seeing to it by every ethical means possible that the wave of population growth crests sooner rather than later.

2) If we are successful in reaching peak population sooner, at a lower number of people, rather than later with more people, we will be much more able to confront the myriad interlocking crises we face - a comparatively less crowded planet is an easier planet on which to build a bright green future.

3) Since we know the single best way of bringing down high birth rates is to empower women by giving them access to reproductive health choices (including contraception and abortion), education, economic opportunities, and legal protection of their rights, empowering women ought to be one of our highest priorities...

4) Our other main task is to preserve natural systems and transform human economies in order to best withstand this wave of human beings, avoid catastrophe and leave behind as intact a world as we can - to save the parts (including not just biodiversity but also the diversity of human cultures and histories) so that future generations have as many options as possible.

5) Our best hopes for both avoiding catastrophe and preserving our heritage all hinge on our actions over roughly the next two decades. In that time we have enormous work to do: create at least the model of a zero-carbon, zero-waste civilization; begin deep and widespread impact reduction here in the developed world; sustainably raise the prospects of those (especially women) living in the developing world; and preserve as many working parts of our planetary heritage as we possibly can. After that time, all of these jobs will grow progressively harder, trending quickly towards impossibility.

Add all of this information together, and a generational imperative emerges. Generation X can be seen as the beginning of peak population; many of us (born between roughly 1960 and 1980) may live to see population peak in the middle of this century; and much of the most important work to be done to see us through to the other side of that watershed will need to be done in the next twenty years, when Generation X'ers are in their professional prime. We did not cause the crisis we face - unless you count us guilty at birth - but if the crisis is solved, it'll have to be in large part through the leadership of people born in my generation. Our historic call is to save the planet during peak population.

I am optimistic that we can do this. We have our first Gen X U.S. president in Barack Obama. We have a rising network of brilliant and dedicated worldchanging leaders. We live, despite the financial crisis, at a moment of great wealth. We have the motive, means and opportunity.

None of this is to say that Gen X will do it alone. In particular, if you're young today, you have a huge choice to make: this transition will be unfolding your entire career, and the role you choose to play in making it happen will be vitally important to your life, the planet and the future. You too are called.

At the same time, few 18 year-olds have the mix of experience, energy and resources for changing the world that, say, a 35 year-old has. Since the moment is now, it's those of us at the height of our powers that will have to lead the way.

Contemplating this journey beyond peak population, and the duty we have to lead it - well, it can weigh on you. I find it useful to remember that by changing the world today, we're building a better future beyond the crisis, that we work not only on our own behalf, but for children who will not be born within our lifetimes, and their children, and theirs: that we'll make great ancestors.

But I also find it helpful to remember that these are our lives, and this is our adventure; and though times are tough and the planet demands our hard work, it also needs people who are happy, healthy and creatively energetic. The world needs our best-lived lives, not our martyrdom....'

Green Consumerism Can Avert Climate Disaster, Say Top Firms

Interesting that they felt the need to say this - the postgrowth/steady state message must be starting to get out there and cause concern...

Excerpt from The Guardian, 16 October 2009

'Climate change catastrophe can be averted by "greening" consumer behaviour rather than by curbing economic growth and mass consumerism, leaders of some of the world's biggest businesses including Tesco, Coca-Cola and Reckitt Benckiser argued today.

They urged politicians to be braver at the Copenhagen talks on climate change in December, saying voters could be persuaded of the need to act. They were speaking, along with David Cameron and Professor Robert Puttnam, the sociologist and advocate of the importance of social capital, at a conference in London on the role of the consumer and business in combating climate change.

The degree of focus on climate change by the businesspeople would have been impossible five years ago. But some in the audience angrily insisted that they underestimated the need to slow consumerism.

Sir Terry Leahy, the chief executive of Tesco, told the conference that combating climate change was now the number one priority of his company, and announced that his multibillion-pound business would be zero-carbon by 2050. "Survival is the issue, not just for our business, but the entire planet," he said.

The president of Coca-Cola, Muhtar Kent, warned politicians: "Act now or you will fail, and so will the world. Politicians need to think like businesses and think about the long term." He claimed that consumers now put the environment at the top of their priorities in all of its customer surveys, including in developing countries such as Brazil and Mexico.

Bart Becht, the chief executive of Reckitt Benckiser, expressed his fear that a deal would not be made in Copenhagen. "Are we there yet? We are nowhere near. Government is not set up to handle global issues effectively. They have short time horizons, and elections, but we are institutions built to last."

Paul Polman, of Unilever, said: "We need a whole new business model, but it takes time."

The businessmen repeatedly argued that neither regulation nor government would be sufficient to bring emissions down, pointing out that 70% of emissions came from consumers...

[Kent] said: "I think it is a fallacy to think growth and a sustainable world are mutually exclusive."

Kent pointed out in the next decade there would be many millions more middle class people living in cities. "How can businesses continue to serve the needs of these new middle classes and yet embed sustainability into business plans? That is the goal."

Leahy praised the carbon reduction targets being set by governments, but said: "It is only by realising our potential as people, citizens, consumers, as users that we can turn targets into reality. It will be a transition achieved not by some great invention or some great act of parliament, but through the billions of choices made by consumers every day all over the world."'

In the words of George Monbiot, who also writes for The Guardian:

‘Green consumerism is a substitute for collective action. No political challenge can be met by shopping.'


Posted to the Steady Staters Google group - click on image to enlarge...

Mexican Rubbish Dump to Garden of Eden

Reposted in full from the
UK Telegraph, 5 October 2009

'A low-budget scheme has transformed a rubbish dump in an impoverished part of Mexico City into an urban garden, raising hopes for a new shade of green revolution.

Iztapalapa, a bustling borough of two million people within the greater sprawl of Mexico City's 20 million people, is an unlikely place to find an agricultural revolution.

But on a patch of land once strewn with the detritus associated with one of the world's largest cities, there now sits a 400 square metre (4,305 square feet) garden.

It is maintained by 40-year-old Irma Diaz as part of the district council's "agricultural development" program.

"We started in 2007 with 20 projects, we now have 82," said Edgar Duran, coordinator of the scheme, which has invested just 131,000 pesos, or around $10,000, and relies largely on volunteers to farm mini-plots where they are available.

In Iztapalapa fruit and vegetables are grown in mini-gardens, on roofs and even on the walls of buildings. The natural produce is in demand from the many chic restaurants that dot the capital.

"We grow tomatoes and dozens of vegetables: lettuce, beets, carrots, radishes, and all without fertilizers or pesticides," said Diaz, a nurse who entered the scheme with some friends.

"Everything is natural, 'bio', as they say. It is for our use, but we sell a little," she said.

Susana Duran, a project coordinator for Iztapalapa, explained the transformation of a shady area of the capital. "Here people were throwing their garbage, young people were using drugs," she said.

Juanita Galeana, 60, comes to work in the garden twice a week with her husband. They sell a portion of production with Diaz on Wednesdays and Fridays. "I lived in the country until I was 16. Like any kid, I planted seeds and I loved to harvest with my father," she said.

Now, she said, she sometimes sells the produce for a nominal sum of around 80 pesos (six dollars).

Eugenio Varga is at the plot every morning. He is responsible for watering, which he takes care to ration because supply is frequently cut.

"It distracted me," the 75 year-old said. "I am a widower, I live with my nephews. I take a few vegetables at home, they are tasty, fresh," he said.

Today, with Irma and Juanita, he is preparing a succulent salad of beets and tomatoes.

When the two women want to sell something they go to regular clients, who appreciate the freshness of the products and a slightly lower price than in the market.

"More than money, it's satisfying to take home good quality food, or when our customers tell us they had only seen carrots with their green stalks, as we sell them, in drawings," Irma Diaz said smiling.

She has one regret though, young people show little interest in the project, including her own son. It may not be a agricultural revolution just yet.'

Just Economics and Societies on an Unjust Planet

A great report - at some point, someone will surely make a comment about a left turn at Albuquerque!

Excerpt from Sharing the World's Resources, 14 October 2009

'With the relentless blare of commercial media, it is sometimes difficult to appreciate that lots of hopeful initiatives for social change are actually underway around the world. The problem is, most of them are too small or obscure for the mainstream media to care. That’s why Other Worlds, an Albuquerque-based social-change group, has produced Who Says You Can’t Change the World? Just Economies and Societies on an Unjust Planet.

The report, by Beverly Bell and her colleagues at Other Worlds, surveys dozens of citizen-led projects in social and economic reconstruction. Among the areas covered: access to health care, struggles to preserve fresh water, alternative education experiments, innovations in the “solidarity economy” and environmental justice, among others. Resources and contact information are included in the report so that interested readers can follow up with their own efforts. The point is to showcase the actual power and generativity of the “non-market economy.”'

16 October 2009

Finance's Five Fatal Flaws

Dead Peasant's Insurance!!!!!!!!!? If people were aware of all the shenanigans this writer has been privy to, they would be baying for blood...well, even more than they are now!

Excerpt from the Huffington Post, 12 October 2009

William K. Black is an Associate Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He is a white-collar criminologist and was a senior financial regulator.

'What exactly is the function of the financial sector in our society? Simply this: Its sole function is supplying capital efficiently to aid the real economy. The financial sector is a tool to help those that make real tools, not an end in itself. But five fatal flaws in the financial sector's current structure have created a monster that drains the real economy, promotes fraud and corruption, threatens democracy, and causes recurrent, intensifying crises.

1. The financial sector harms the real economy

Even when not in crisis, the financial sector harms the real economy. First, it is vastly too large. The finance sector is an intermediary - essentially a "middleman". Like all middlemen, it should be as small as possible, while still being capable of accomplishing its mission. Otherwise it is inherently parasitical. Unfortunately, it is now vastly larger than necessary, dwarfing the real economy it is supposed to serve...

We take people that could be conducting the research & development work essential to the success of our real economy (including its success in becoming sustainable) and put them instead in financial sector activities where, because of that sector's perverse incentives, they further damage both the financial sector and the real economy. Michael Moore makes this point in his latest film, Capitalism: A Love Story.

The financial sector's fixation on accounting earnings leads it to pressure U.S manufacturing and service firms to export jobs abroad, to deny capital to firms that are unionized, and to encourage firms to use foreign tax havens to evade paying U.S. taxes...

Because the financial sector cares almost exclusively about high accounting yields and "profits", it misallocates capital away from firms and entrepreneurs that could best improve the real economy (e.g., by reducing short-term profits through funding the expensive research & development that can produce innovative goods and superior sustainability) and could best reduce poverty and inequality (e.g., through microcredit finance that would put the "Payday lenders" and predatory mortgage lenders out of business).

2. The financial sector produces recurrent, intensifying economic crises here and abroad

The current crisis is only the latest in a long list of economic crises caused by the financial sector. When it is not regulated and policed effectively, the financial sector produces and hyper-inflates bubbles that cause severe economic crises. The current crisis, absent massive, global governmental bailouts, would have caused the catastrophic failure of the global economy. The financial sector has become far more unstable since this crisis began and its members used their lobbying power to convince Congress to gimmick the accounting rules to hide their massive losses.

3. The financial sector's predation is so extraordinary that it now drives the upper one percent of our nation's income distribution and has driven much of the increase in our grotesque income inequality.

4. The financial sector's predation and its leading role in committing and aiding and abetting accounting control fraud combine to:

* corrupt financial elites and professionals, and
* spur a rise in Social Darwinism in an attempt to justify the elites' power and wealth

Accounting control frauds suborn accountants, attorneys, and appraisers and create what is known as a "Gresham's dynamic" - a system in which bad money drives out good. When this dynamic occurs, honest professionals are pushed out and cheaters are allowed to prosper.

Executive compensation has become so massive, so divorced from performance, and so perverse that it, too, creates a Gresham's dynamic that encourages widespread accounting fraud by both financial firms and firms in the real economy.

As financial sector elites became obscenely wealthy through predation and fraud, their psychological incentives to embrace unhealthy, anti-democratic Social Darwinism surged. While they were, by any objective measure, the worst elements of the public, their sycophants in the media and the recipients of their political and charitable contributions worshiped them as heroic. Finance CEOs adopted and spread the myth that they were smarter, harder working, and more innovative than the rest of us. They repeated the story of how they rose to the top entirely through their own brilliance and willingness to embrace risk...

5. The CEOs of the largest financial firms are so powerful that they pose a critical risk to the financial sector, the real economy, and our democracy

The CEOs can directly, through the firm, and by "bundling" contributions of its officers and employees, easily make enormous political contributions and use their PR firms and lobbyists to manipulate the media and public officials. The ability of the financial sector to block meaningful reform after bringing the world to the brink of a second great depression proves how exceptional its powers are to corrupt nearly every critical sector of American public and economic life. The five largest U.S. banks control roughly half of all bank assets. They use their political and financial power to provide themselves with competitive advantages that allow them to dominate smaller banks.

This excessive power was a major contributor to the ongoing crisis. Effective financial and securities regulation was anathema to the CEOs' ideology (and the greatest danger to their frauds, wealth, and power) and they successfully set out to destroy it. That produced what criminologists refer to as a "criminogenic environment" (an atmosphere that breeds criminal activity) that prompted the epidemic of accounting control fraud that hyper-inflated the housing bubble.

The financial industry's power and progressive corruption combined to produce the perfect white-collar crimes. They successfully lobbied politicians, for example, to legalize the obscenity of "dead peasants' insurance" (in which an employer secretly takes out insurance on an employee and receives a windfall in the event of that person's untimely death) that Michael Moore exposes in chilling detail...

Caution: Never Forget the Need to Fix the Real Economy

Economic reform efforts are focused almost entirely on fixing finance because the finance sector is so badly broken that it produces recurrent, intensifying crises. The latest crisis brought us to the point of global catastrophe, so the focus on finance is obviously rational. But the focus on finance carries a grave risk.

Remember, the sole purpose of finance is to aid the real economy. Our ultimate focus needs to be on the real economy, which creates goods and services, our jobs, and our incomes. The real economy came off the rails at least three decades ago for the great majority of Americans.

We need to commit to fixing the real economy by guaranteeing that everyone willing to work can work and making the real economy sustainable rather than recurrently causing global environmental crises. We must not spend virtually all of our reform efforts on the finance sector and assume that if we solve its defects we will have solved the other fundamental reasons why the real economy has remained so dysfunctional for decades. We need to be work simultaneously to fix finance and the real economy.'

Trapped in a Phantom Wealth Economic Hole

Review of Thomas Greco’s “The End of Money and the Future of Civilization” by Richard C. Cook, from Richard Cook, 12 October 2009

'...The underlying cause of the crisis is in fact the debt-based monetary system, whereby the U.S. ruling class long ago sold out our nation and its people to the international banking cartel of which the Rockefeller and Morgan interests have been the chief representatives for over a century...

Americans who are struggling to work for a living are passive spectators as their jobs, savings, health insurance, pensions, and homes continue to erode in value or even disappear. Last Sunday the Washington Post reported a massive crisis in state and local government pensions. Reporter David Cho wrote, “The financial crisis has blown a hole in the rosy forecasts of pension funds that cover teachers, police officers and other government employees, casting into doubt as never before whether these public systems will be able to keep their promises to future generations of retirees.”

So what, if anything, can be done about it?

Well, the first thing an intelligent physician does is diagnose the disease. Thomas Greco, in his new book The End of Money and the Future of Civilization (Chelsea Green: 2009) , outlines the increasingly familiar story of how things got so bad, and he tells it as well as anyone has ever done. His style is precise and sometimes academic. Behind it, though, is a passion for truth and the type of rock-solid integrity that refuses to sugar-coat a very bitter pill.

More than that, Greco writes about how to change what has gone wrong. His credentials as an engineer, college professor, author, and consultant are impeccable. His book is among the most important written in this decade. It is truly a book that can alter the world and, if taken seriously, give large numbers of people a practical way to survive the gathering catastrophe.

But unlike most commentators, what Greco offers is not another phony prescription for what the financiers and government should do for us, whether through “restarting” lending or another round of stimulus spending. Rather it’s what we should do for ourselves, and could do much better, if we understood what to do and if big banking and big government just got out of the way.

As I said, at the root is the monetary system, whose failure cannot be understood without a history lesson...

The nation’s fate was sealed with the passage of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913. The deal was that the bankers would control the currency, and thereby the nation’s economy, while the government would be provided with an unlimited amount of inflated dollars to fight its wars.

The bookkeeper’s trick of creating money out of thin air, charging interest for its use, then forcing it down the throats of weaker nations by threat of violence, is what has allowed the Anglo-American empire, since the founding of the Bank of England in 1696, gradually to conquer the world. Though President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act into law, he saw what that action meant. Greco cites Wilson as writing: “There has come about an extraordinary and very sinister concentration in the control of business in the country….The great monopoly in this country is the monopoly of big credits.”

Among other ill effects, the system has ruined the value of the currency. The inflation caused by large issues of bank-created loans is seized upon by the government which goes along because inflation reduces the cost of its deficits. Investors buy Treasury bonds denominated in Federal Reserve Notes then watch their value evaporate over time. In fact Federal Reserve Notes have lost over 95 percent of their value since they were first introduced.

Moreover, it’s additional inflation caused by bank-generated interest that drives up the costs of goods and services, forcing everyone in the economy to try to defend themselves by raising their prices to the max. Greco spells this out too, which almost every economist in the world, with the exception perhaps of Australia’s James Cumes, overlooks.

Bank interest has other tragic effects. It was high interest rates, for instance, that destroyed the Idaho potato industry. A farmer from that region told me at a conference a few years ago that when interest rates skyrocketed in the early 1980s, he asked the president of one of the Federal Reserve Banks why they did it. The answer was they were “ordered” to raise interest rates by the international banking system.

Make no mistake, it’s the banking system, facilitated by the Fed, not unwary borrowers, who brought on the collapse of 2008.

Now, in 2009, the bankers, mainly those in the U.S., have so shattered the world economy by debt mounted on debt that there may be no reprieve except the creation of a slave society based on rule by the rich over the masses of whatever peons should happen to survive the downturn and its tragic effects on employment, health, the food and water supply, and even our ability to cope with climate change...

Greco...speaks of the end of an era when unlimited economic growth fed by massive influxes of debt-based money is no longer sustainable. He writes: “That our global civilization cannot continue on its current path seems evident….But I think our collective consciousness is beginning to change. We are becoming aware of limits and are reaching that part of our evolutionary program that says, ‘Stop!’”

Part of the awareness of how to stop must focus on the institutions responsible for the crisis. Greco praises Ron Paul for calling out the Federal Reserve in the 2008 presidential campaign. He cites a statement Paul made to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in a 2004 hearing where Paul told Greenspan that the power of the Fed “challenges the whole concept of freedom and liberty and sound money.” Thus Paul and other monetary reformers, though largely ignored by the mainstream media and political establishment, have made it clear that change must start with what really lies at the bottom of elite control: how money is made and who makes it.

Unfortunately, few progressive economists, including Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, and Robert Reich comprehend the monetary causes of today’s disasters. Instead of demanding reforms that would make money the proper servant of a sustainable economy, most call for more stimulus spending; i.e., more government debt, along with “reform” of a financial system that is corrupt down to its very DNA.

So do we really need the bankers’ fake currency, today backed by nothing but a federal deficit of $12 trillion and growing by the day?

Greco says we don’t, and this is what his book about. But it’s not about doing without the necessities of life, or heading for the hills with a gun and backpack. Nor is it about important efforts at macro-level monetary reform like those of the American Monetary Institute, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, or advocates for a basic income guarantee. Rather it’s about individuals, groups, and communities taking control of the monetary system at the grassroots level and creating an entirely new basis for trade than bank-owed debt.

Greco writes about “a new paradigm approach to the exchange function.” The solution, he says, “is to provide interest-free credit to producers within the process of mutual credit clearing. That is the process of offsetting purchases against sales within an association of merchants, manufacturers, and workers. It will eventually include everyone who buys and sells, or makes and receives disbursements of any kind.”

Greco is one of the world’s leading experts in describing alternative or complementary currencies. These are self-regulating systems that facilitate “reciprocal exchange,” not using government legal tender but which are still allowed under the currency laws so long as taxes are not evaded.

Greco discusses the large and growing worldwide “LETS” movement—Local Exchange Trading Systems, like the Ithaca HOURS system in Ithaca, New York. He describes the Swiss WIR Bank, the longest-running credit clearing system in the world, with over 70,000 members. He writes about the national and international barter exchanges that involve over 400,000 businesses trading at an annual level of $10 billion.

Greco also describes the world-famous Mondragon Cooperatives from the Basque region of Northern Spain. Started by a Roman Catholic priest in 1941, the Mondragon system, he says, is “the hub of what is probably the most successful and progressive social cooperative economy in modern history.”

He also tells the inspiring story of the Argentine trading clubs—the trueques—which, when used with “provincial bonds” issued by regional governments, rescued that country during the 2001 economic collapse brought on by the collusion between the Argentine government and the International Monetary Fund.

Credit clearing is not new. Greco traces it to the medieval European fairs. These exchanges are like banking clearing houses. The world’s largest is the automated clearing house—ACH—operated by the Federal Reserve.

But as Greco points out: “The clearing process need not be restricted to banks; it can be applied directly to transactions between buyers and sellers of goods and services. The LETS systems that have proliferated in communities around the world use the credit clearing process, as do commercial trade exchanges. Credit clearing systems are, in essence, clearing houses—but their members are businesses and individuals instead of banks.”

Alternative currency and trading systems, says Greco, are the wave of the future. Even though most only mount up to partial local successes, they show what can be done. Greco likens these efforts to the Wright Brothers’ first flight that covered 120 feet. They show, he says, that the potential exists for local, regional, then national and international money-free exchanges that eventually could be joined by a single web-based trading platform. This could eventually get rid of the corruption of debt-money altogether...

Greco writes, “The credit clearing exchange is the key element that enables a community to develop a sustainable economy under local control and to maintain a high standard of living and quality of life.”

This would be a real revolution. What can governments do to help? Perhaps only by removing, as Greco recommends, the privileged position of bank debt-money as legal tender. Instead, let bank money compete with market-based alternative currencies and credit exchanges, if it can.
Greco’s book is a how-to-do-it manual that updates and expands on his previous books, Money and Debt: A Solution to the Global Crisis, New Money for Healthy Communities, and Money: Understanding and Creating Alternatives to Legal Tender. Greco also operates a website that offers advice and support to worthwhile community initiatives.

My own view is that no one should wait to see who takes the lead in creating the monetary and credit-clearing systems of the future. The time is now. There is no more reason to delay. If the people of the world do not join together in this kind of action, they can likely kiss their economic future and perhaps their livelihoods good-bye...

Greco is implying that the power of the elite is not only dated but illusory. Thus the way to proceed is not just to oppose them. If they are opposed, they’ll do what they always do, which is to roll out the SWAT teams, the military in the streets, the tear gas, the sound cannon, the concentration camps, the Patriot Acts, the torture chambers, because that is all they know, and it’s what they do best.

The money monopoly translates into a monopoly on violence on an ascending scale. We know that the U.S. sells more weapons abroad than any other nation, and we know that it is war above all that makes the bankers rich.

So let them have their weapons and wars. With all due respect to those brave enough to protest, it’s time for people simply to walk away and set up their own economic and monetary systems as a prelude to a rebirth of humanity as ethical beings in sustainable communities of choice.

The keys, says Greco, are simple: “Promote the establishment of private complementary exchange systems—and use them. Buy from your friends and neighbors wherever possible. Contribute your time, energy, and money to whatever moves things in the right direction.”

Greco also recommends that the unit of exchange for alternative currencies be based on the value of commodities—not necessarily gold or silver, which bankers and governments manipulate, but those commodities readily available within a trading system. State and local governments should do everything possible to protect, encourage, nourish, and participate in these systems.

The irony is that what may appear on the surface to be technical changes in how the exchange of goods and services takes place can have such profound effects. The answer is that systems of exchange reflect entirely different perceptions of the world. Bank-money exchange reflects and creates a system of elite control and human slavery. Reciprocal credit exchange reflects and creates a democratic system on a level monetary playing field.

The difference points to the fact that such reform is, above all, a spiritual endeavor. Thomas Greco has devoted decades to this quest and is one of its foremost visionaries. In an Epilogue he writes: “We will either learn to put aside sectarian differences, to recognize all life as one life, to cooperate in sharing earth’s bounty, and yield control to a higher power—or we will find ourselves embroiled in ever-more destructive conflicts that will leave the planet in ruins and avail only the meanest form of existence for the few, if any, who survive.”...'

Richard C. Cook is a former federal government analyst who writes on public policy issues. His latest book is We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform (Tendril Press, 2009). For a listing of over 170 alternative currency systems worldwide, along with other resources, see the website for the Complementary Currency Resource Center.

Making Life Hell for Car Drivers

...see the last two sentences!

Excerpt from Globe & Mail, 13 October 2009

'From his second-floor office overlooking a Baltic-fed canal, Andreas Rohl ponders a daily question: How can he make life hell for the car drivers of this Scandinavian capital? Mr. Rohl, you see, is the bicycle program manager for the city government of Copenhagen. And it's his job to get more of the almost two million Danes living in Greater Copenhagen out of their cars and onto bikes. And to do that he must find ways of making a daily commute on two wheels more attractive than one on four.

“This is what we work on a lot,” said Mr. Rohl, an every-day cyclist who does not own a car. “It's all about normalization: making the experience of getting in and around the city on a bicycle as normal and hassle-free as possible.

“We have reached the point where riding a bike is a far better mode of transportation than a car. You can get almost anywhere faster on a bike than in a car. We focus a lot on increasing bike speeds from point A to point B, and one way you can do that is slowing car speed over that same distance.”

When you think of rush hours in major world centres, you imagine cars inching along, going nowhere fast. But the morning and afternoon commute in Copenhagen is something else entirely. It is a spectacle involving tens of thousands of cyclists roaring down dedicated lanes in tight packs, past cars moving at half the speed, if at all.

Copenhagen is the cycling capital of Europe, and likely the most bike-friendly city in the world. An amazing 37 per cent of those living in Greater Copenhagen use a bicycle to get to work or school every day. That number jumps to 55 per cent if you look only at people living inside the city limits.

Bikes are everywhere: in vast lots outside train stations, leaning against buildings, locked to racks that are as ubiquitous as Carlsberg signs. The people riding them are dressed for all occasions. You see men in pin-striped suits and women in skirts and high heels. Few ride anything but old, traditional one-speeds.

As many cities around the world take the first tentative steps toward building bike cultures of their own, Mr. Rohl has become in demand as a speaker. People want to know how Copenhagen did it. Mr. Rohl tells them it took time and uncommon political courage.

Today, cyclists rule the roads in Copenhagen. There are far more bikes than cars. Where cities in North America focus on easing car congestion, in Copenhagen it's bike jams people like Mr. Rohl are trying to solve. In some cases, that has meant taking space away from cars and handing it to cyclists. It's meant building bridges for bikes and pedestrians over busy thoroughfares.

“Part of finding ways to get even more people biking is to make the experience for cyclists as pleasant as possible,” said Mr. Rohl. “So if you can create peaceful routes for cyclists and give them pleasant views, it makes the trip more enjoyable and they'll be more apt to continue doing it.”

Imagine this: Traffic lights that were once co-ordinated for car speeds were adjusted to cater to the pace of the average cyclist, allowing them to travel long distances without ever getting a red light. To increase safety, stop lines for cars are five metres behind those for bikes. Cyclists get a green light up to 12 seconds ahead of cars to help increase their visibility.

In the winter months, bike ridership drops off 20 per cent. Still, an armada of plows is ready to clear bike lanes when snow flies. They get priority over routes for cars.

You would think that with so many cyclists on the road, the number of accidents and deaths would be enormous. In fact, each year sees an average of two or three deaths, although there were five in 2008. There have been about 120 serious accidents annually in the past few years, a figure that has declined as the number of cyclists on the roads has increased.

Surprisingly, few cyclists in Copenhagen wear a helmet, a matter that local politicians often debate. But there has been a general reluctance to make them mandatory because it might discourage people from riding. The benefits of cycling, both environmentally and healthwise, outweigh the risks of riding without a helmet, Mr. Rohl said.

It's not all perfect, of course. Cyclists want more parking, and the holes and bumps along certain routes repaired. They want dedicated lanes widened to accommodate their growing numbers. But overall, people are happy with the job Mr. Rohl and others have been doing on their behalf.

By the way, if you think the Danes are doing this to save the planet, you're wrong.

Only 1 per cent of those recently surveyed by the city said they were riding a bike to help the environment.

The rest said it was just easier to get around that way.'

The Influencer - Book

This might be a useful resource - there is also a more in-depth review via The Right Mind.

'This book in particular focuses on a specific set of strategies that anyone can use to influence people in difficult situations.

Part 1 - The Power to Change Anything

The premise of the book is based on learning from the best influencers in the world and everything is presented clearly based on various real life studies that demonstrate each of the author's findings perfectly. The reader is encouraged to learn more by seeking out and studying the best examples in the areas of interest and the author's have certainly put that into practice throughout the book as well.

  • you're an influencer
  • find vital behaviors
  • change the way you change minds

Part 2 - Make Change Inevitable

The second part of the book focuses on the strategic model that works to master influence. Its outlined with great clarity using specific real life examples of each of the 6 sources of influence. However, the book challenges you to change your thinking and to look outside your normal view when wanting to have more influence.

  • make the undesirable desirable
  • surpass your limits
  • harness peer pressure
  • never go it alone
  • design rewards and demand accountability
  • change the environment
  • become an influencer'

Climate Change May Trigger Earthquakes and Volcanoes

World Vision CEO Tim Costello was attacked in a number of Letters to the Editor in The Advertiser today for for linking climate change with tectonic [earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions] disasters.

Maybe even the experts don't know all there is to know about complex systems like the earth - the proponents of the plate tectonics theory were similarly ridiculed within living memory. Closed minds are not going to help us address this challenge to humanity.

Excerpt from the New Scientist, 26 September 2009

'...even slight changes in weather and climate can rip the planet's crust apart, unleashing the furious might of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and landslides.

That's the conclusion of the researchers who got together last week in London at the conference on Climate Forcing of Geological and Geomorphological Hazards. It suggests climate change could tip the planet's delicate balance and unleash a host of geological disasters. What's more, even our attempts to stall global warming could trigger a catastrophic event (see "Bury the carbon").

Evidence of a link between climate and the rumblings of the crust has been around for years, but only now is it becoming clear just how sensitive rock can be to the air, ice and water above. "You don't need huge changes to trigger responses from the crust," says Bill McGuire of University College London (UCL), who organised the meeting. "The changes can be tiny."

Among the various influences on the Earth's crust, from changes in weather to fluctuations in ice cover, the oceans are emerging as a particularly fine controller. Simon Day of the University of Oxford, McGuire and Serge Guillas, also at UCL, have shown how subtle changes in sea level may affect the seismicity of the East Pacific Rise, one of the fastest-spreading plate boundaries.

The researchers focused on the Easter microplate - the tectonic plate that lies beneath the ocean off the coast of Easter Island - because it is relatively isolated from other faults. This makes it easier to distinguish changes in the plate caused by climate systems from those triggered by regional rumbles. Since 1973, the arrival of El Niño every few years has correlated with a greater frequency of underwater quakes between magnitude 4 and 6.

The team is confident that the two are linked. El Niño raises the local sea level by a few tens of centimetres, and they believe the extra water weight may increase the pressure of fluids in the pores of the rock beneath the seabed. This might be enough to counteract the frictional force that holds the slabs of rock in place, making it easier for faults to slip. "The changes in sea level are tiny," says Day. "A small additional perturbation can have a substantial effect."

Small ocean changes can also influence volcanic eruptions, says David Pyle of the University of Oxford. His study of eruptions over the past 300 years with Ben Mason of the University of Cambridge and colleagues reveals that volcanism varies with the seasons. The team found that there are around 20 per cent more eruptions worldwide during the northern hemisphere's winter than the summer (Journal of Geophysical Research, DOI: 10.1029/2002JB002293). The reason may be that global sea level drops slightly during the northern hemisphere's winter. Because there is more land in the northern hemisphere, more water is locked up as ice and snow on land than during the southern hemisphere's winter.

The vast majority of the world's most active volcanoes are within a few tens of kilometres of the coast (see map). This suggests the seasonal removal of some of the ocean's weight at continental margins as sea level drops could be triggering eruptions around the world, says Pyle.

The suggestion that some volcanoes erupt when sea levels drop does not necessarily mean that sea levels rising under climate change will suppress volcanism. In Alaska, Mount Pavlof erupts more often in the winter months, and previous research by Steve McNutt of the Alaska Volcano Observatory puts this down to a local sea level rise of 30 centimetres every winter due to low air pressure and high storm winds. Pavlof's location means that the extra weight of the adjacent sea could be squeezing magma towards the surface.

In other regions, additional ocean weight at continental margins as sea levels rise could bend the crust, reducing compressional conditions, says McGuire. Magma may then find it easier to reach the surface at adjacent volcanoes.

All these examples may seem contradictory, but the crucial point is that any change in sea level may alter regional stresses at continental margins enough to trigger eruptions in a volcano already primed to erupt, he says.

Small changes in rainfall can also trigger volcanic eruptions. In 2001, a major eruption of the Soufrière Hills volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat was set in motion by particularly heavy rainfall. This destabilised the volcano's dome enough for it to collapse and unleash magma within. Now it seems even typical tropical rain showers could trigger an eruption. And climate models suggest that many regions, including parts of the tropics, are likely to get wetter with climate change...

Perhaps the greatest geological hazards during climate change will be the result of melting ice sheets. Apart from the risk that loose sediments exposed by melted ice could slip into the sea as tsunami-generating landslides, the removal of heavy ice could also trigger volcanic eruptions...

For example, Iceland's Vatnajökull ice cap sits over a plate boundary and several volcanoes. That ice is likely to disappear within the next two centuries. "If that happens you'll get rid of an awful lot of weight that will allow an increase in volcanic activity," says Russell. In the wake of the last ice age, volcanism was up to 30 times greater in northern Iceland compared with today (Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, DOI: 10.1002/esp.1811)...

For now, it is unclear just how much climate change will affect the frequency and intensity of quakes and eruptions, says McGuire, because Earth's sensitivity to climate is only now emerging. There is not yet enough data to build predictive climate models linking the two systems. But it's crucial that we consider just how easily our actions could provoke the planet, he argues. "It's serious science, not scaremongering."'

Integral Quadrants

Integral Quadrants is useful for students of behaviour change...and for thinking in terms of dilemmas [a range of variables], rather than problems [one variable for which there is a solution].

Food Wasted in UK, Europe and US Enough to Feed The Starving World Seven Times Over

Excerpt from Breaking News 24/7, 6 July 2009

'A new book has determined that the waste in the UK, Europe and the US would be enough to feed the world’s starving seven times over...

The book, called ‘Waste’, by small-scale farmer and food industry analyst Tristram Stuart, lifts the lid on the obscene levels of produce ending up in landfill.

Traveling from Yorkshire to China, from Pakistan to Japan, Stuart has investigated the excess food produced. His investigation discovered that food chucked away in households in UK alone could feed 113 million people, which means on an average, people in the country discard enough good food to save two people from hunger.

Stuart also found that 30 per cent of potatoes, nearly one in every three that are sold, are discarded in Britain.

British farms and processors produce just under one million tons of potato waste each year - or one sixth of the national supply of spuds.

It was also revealed that between 40 per cent and 60 per cent of all fish caught around Europe are thrown back into the sea.

The market value of cod, haddock and whiting thrown away by UK trawlers comes to 50 million pounds.

According to Stuart’s findings, British homes discard 484 million pots of unopened yogurt and 370 million pounds worth of bananas.

Stuart levels particular criticism at supermarkets, which are very protective of the information they release about the amount of food that goes to waste.

Sainsbury’s send an estimated 60,000 tons of food waste to landfill sites each year. Estimates suggest that Asda throw away around 75,000 tons.

A survey by waste company Biffa has estimated that up to half of all British fruit and vegetables grown for supermarkets are rejected.

This is primarily due to tight specifications on size, blemishes and appearance.

Stuart argues that the world’s mountain of surplus food is not just a tragedy, but also a great opportunity, as it can feed 900 million malnourished people in the world.

All of them could be lifted out of hunger with a fraction of the food wasted.

In a plea to farmers, consumers, shops and supermarkets, Stuart said, “The UN has backed a call for food waste to be halved by 2025. But, the target could be achieved even faster with the co-operation of businesses, governments and the public.”...'

Veterans Receive Farmer Training, Participate in Local Food Movement

Reposting in full from Worldwatch blog Nourishing the Planet, 14 October 2009

'Matthew McCue’s memories of the time he spent in Iraq as a soldier are probably not what you would think. Along with the checkpoints, daily patrols, and desert heat, Matthew remembers vegetable gardens, carts brimming with watermelons, and local farmers. It is these vivid memories of Iraqi farmers and their produce that inspired his love of agriculture.

These days he lives in California and runs his own farm with his partner, Lily Schneider, in Suisun Valley. Growing food for local farmers’ markets and providing fresh produce for a more-than 90 member CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), Matthew has also become an advocate for connecting other veterans with farmers to form mutually beneficial partnerships.

“Watching people stare down the barrel of a gun with a cart full of produce because they are trying to get to the market to sell it to other members of the community got me thinking about agriculture in a way I hadn’t before,” said Matthew when I spoke to him on the phone the other day.

Matthew came home from Iraq and spent the next couple of years learning to farm. After serving with the Peace Corps in Niger, where he worked with a small community of farmers, Matthew came back to the United States, started his own small-scale, organic farm, and became an active member of a growing movement to rehabilitate returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder through farming.

“To go from knocking down peoples’ doors and arresting them as a soldier to growing food and helping feed communities was a powerful experience for me. It can be hard to function as a veteran after existing in the context of a war, and learning farming skills can be a good way for soldiers to learn a new kind of job.”

Matthew is on the board of the Farmer-Veteran Coalition (FVC), an organization that helps place returning Iraq and Afghan veterans at small-scale organic farms where they can learn new skills while also making the often difficult transition back into civilian life.

“Overcoming the experience of wartime takes a lifetime,” said Matthew. “Working on a farm or receiving training for new skills helps ease that transition by allowing them to participate in the more pure, almost righteous, activity of farming.”

“Small-scale farmers are in trouble here in the United States,” said Nadia McCaffrey, founder of the McCaffrey Foundation and a board member of FVC, whose son Patrick was killed in Iraq in 2004. “Farmers and veterans working together is a perfect union because the veterans benefit from the training and the work, and the farmers benefit from the support and help on their farms.

The McCaffrey Foundation, which comprises small farms and veteran support groups around the country, has ambitious plans to create a large training farm in Minnesota, where veterans and their families will receive around-the-clock support in addition to training in farm skills.

“There is nothing more basic than producing food,” said Matthew. “Everyone buys vegetables and everyone who grows them eats them and sells them. It’s happening all over the world, even in the middle of war, and when you do it at our level it’s almost completely self-sustainable.”'

Is The Tide Turning Against Offsets?

Excerpt from The Ecologist, 15 October 2009

'One of the first travel companies to offer carbon offsetting to customers has decided to remove the facility from their website Responsibletravel.com, which introduced an offsetting option in 2002, said the travel industry's priority must be to 'reduce carbon emissions, rather than offset'.'

Too often offsets are being used by the tourism industry in developed countries to justify growth plans on the basis that money will be donated to projects in developing countries,' said responsibletravel.com managing director Justin Francis.

'Global reduction targets will not be met this way,' he added.

Mr Francis said his company was now advising its customers to fly less, travel by train and take holidays closer to home.

'We will continue to offer a more responsible choice of overseas holiday so that when tourists do fly they can 'make their holiday count' by choosing a more responsible holiday,' he said.

It is not clear whether other travel agents will follow responsibletravel.com's lead...'

15 October 2009

Sky Vegetables: Taking Green Roofs to New Heights

Excerpt from GreenBiz, 7 October 2009

'"Hi, I'm Keith. We take underutilized space in urban areas and grow food there, creating green jobs, providing access to fresh produce, localizing the economy, and creating a better life by building communities through growing vegetables."...

Keith Agoada's young company, Sky Vegetables vision is both simple and elegant: green rooftops, not just as gardens, but as urban agriculture hubs for herbs and edible greens, utilizing off-the-shelf hydroponics and aquaponics equipment in greenhouses to grow food to sell for profit within the community.

The idea came to Agoada just before his senior year at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, from which he graduated last year. "I saw the community gardens in Chicago and thought that it was fantastic that they were building community by growing food and doing it in the city," he told me recently. "So I went back my senior year at Wisconsin and received three credits for doing a feasibility study to see if rooftops could be commercial farming locations."

He quickly learned that it was possible to grow a myriad of things in the middle of a Wisconsin winter, "when it's below zero and it's covered in snow." That led to a business plan competition, which he won, garnering local press coverage and investor interest...

Agoada walked me through the basics. "We come in on the rooftop as a tenant of the building. We rent the rooftop space. We pay for the upgrade, the insurance costs, the fixed costs for planning and development and the soft costs of architects, etc. We take all of that on. We outsource the equipment. We don't invent technologies. We're taking existing proven technologies and applying them to this rooftop. Then we make our money off the sale of the produce. The technology is controlled-environment greenhouses, year-around systems keeping constant temperatures and controlling the environment there. No pesticides, no herbicides, all integrative pest management systems and composting and trying to use paper and food waste from the building as the nutrient stream for our plants."

A typical project covers about 20,000 square feet - about half an acre - and fairly efficient, says Agoada. "Our growing techniques use somewhere between 5% and 10% of the water that they're using to grow lettuce out in Salinas Valley," in California's Central Valley, considered the nation's breadbasket. Given that around 80% of water use in the state goes toward agriculture - and about a fifth of the state's total energy use goes to move and treat water - such efforts could create significant water-efficiency and greenhouse gas benefits, should the Sky Vegetables model catch on.

That remains to be seen, of course. Agoada has done small-scale projects but is searching for his first major rooftop, most likely in my home town of Oakland, Calif., a city that marries a hunger for attracting green businesses; countless warehouses with large, flat roofs; high unemployment; and vast "food deserts," impoverished areas that lack easy access to grocery stores offering fresh produce. It's a perfect laboratory.

For now, it's merely a terrific vision, one I'm rooting for, but it doesn't necessarily stop with simply selling rosemary or romaine. "One of the projects we're looking at is a mixed-use building with a lot of residents," says Agoada. "Our pitch is to hire some of the people part-time and start to train them. Maybe one day, they become full-time there. Another idea we had was to let the building have open spaces. Maybe the building rents them out and people create their own pesto sauce or their own pressed soap business. We might contract with them. Or we'll grow mint or lavender or basil and turn these added-value products where we're creating more jobs down the line."...

Says Agoada: "If you look at how many rooftop spaces are out there that can handle a 10,000 to 40,000 square-foot farm, you just keep adding zeroes to it. The economic potential of what we're doing is mind-blowing. But from a more general perspective, we'd be a catalyst in trying to localize food systems and localize vegetables, and protein perhaps as well."...

Sky Vegetables has unlimited potential to fill a hunger - not just for nutritious edibles, but for a simple but powerful model of food production that feeds all of our appetites for creative and conscious capitalism.'

OzHarvest - Adelaide Bound!

OzHarvest are looking to set up in Adelaide and seeking funding partners - if you or anyone you know is interested, give me a hoy!

'OzHarvest is a non-denominational charity that rescues surplus food which would otherwise be discarded. This excess food is distributed to charities supporting the disadvantaged and at risk in Sydney, Wollongong and Canberra.

OzHarvest is a firm believer that good food should not go to waste. In fact, by distributing it to those in need, they turn excess food into a resource and save thousands of kilograms of food from being dumped as landfill each year, and have saved a few lives in the process. This service is provided at no cost to both the food donor and the recipient. They deliver about 85,000 meals a month, and last November they delivered their 3 millionth meal!'

14 October 2009

The End of Poverty?

Opens in the US in November...

The feature-length documentary The End of Poverty? won critical acclaim at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and is narrated by actor Martin Sheen. It is a daring, thought-provoking and very timely documentary by filmmaker Philippe Diaz. The film takes a hard look at world poverty and challenges capitalism and the American way. In a world of plenty, why are so many families around the planet still living in abject poverty? Looking beyond the popular "solutions" for poverty, The End of Poverty? asks if the true causes of poverty today stem from a deliberate orchestration of resource misallocation started in colonial times.'

Neoliberalism As Water Balloon

With simple materials found around the house, you too can conduct an experiment to see what has happened to the economy!

Neoliberalism As Water Balloon from Tim McCaskell on Vimeo.

Carbon War Room

...see the site for counters of C02 emissions, deforestation, oil, solar and wind power installed...


'The Carbon War Room has been founded to harness the resource and skills of the Planet’s entrepreneurs and institutions to urgently deliver solutions that enable humanity to prosper beyond the carbon economy.'

Piano Stairs - Fun Theory

GOLD MEDAL!! Love Sweden's The Fun Theory!

'We believe that the easiest way to change people's behaviour for the better is by making it fun to do.'

Grow Suburbs, Not Vegies: Developers

...if we can design fridges with TVs and internet, why can't we have affordable housing AND protect our hinterland so that we have local food supplies?

This is not about food self-sufficiency, its about food security!

Excerpt from Sydney Morning Herald, 13 October 2009

'Preserving the farms on Sydney's fringe in the name of agricultural self-sufficiency will cripple the city's growth, putting extra pressure on renters and home owners, a property developers' lobby group says.

''The costs of that are further restrictions on our supply of new housing. Sydney has already seen over the past 10 years what happens when you don't allow for adequate growth outward. Rents have gone up by 22 per cent in the past two years for three-bedroom houses,'' said Aaron Gadiel, chief executive officer of the Urban Taskforce.

His comments follow revelations in a report by Peter Malcolm and Riad Fahd from the NSW Department of Industry and Investment that agriculture is shrinking dramatically in the Sydney basin and just 1050 vegetable farms remain.

The report recommended a review into whether these farms should be expanded to make the metropolis more self-sufficient in produce, but Mr Gadiel said that retaining existing agricultural land may not improve the carbon footprint of the city's vegetable consumers.

Using giant warehouses and large trucks to bring produce from outside Sydney may be more carbon efficient than relying on smaller city-fringe farmers with small vehicles requiring numerous journeys, he said.

The remaining farms cover an area of 2025 hectares - less than the City of Sydney council area - and more than half will disappear when the north-west and south-west growth areas earmarked by the Government are developed over the next two decades, the researchers found.

Some farmland is set to accommodate industrial centres providing employment, said Mr Gadiel.

''Should we … deprive ourselves of housing and job creating industries to prop up an industry which is not economically viable?'' he asked...

However, the chairman of the NSW Farmers' Association horticulture committee, Peter Darley, said that the city needed to retain its farms because they had a more reliable water source than those further west, especially during drought.

''You must also maintain food security close to your population base,'' he said.

Sydney farmers can eliminate the ''middle man'' because they are within 50 kilometres of the market, but if they moved further west, they would have to employ more people to move the produce, increasing the cost of vegetables, he said.'

Tour de Work

The Tour de Work is a fun and free workplace based challenge that encourages more people in the City of Adelaide to give cycling a go!

Organisations in the City of Adelaide will compete to see who can get the most staff to ride a bike to work, for transport and recreation. You can also win some great prizes by cycling to work during the challenge.

How Do Innovators Think?

This article by Bronwyn Fryer 'How Do Innovators Think' explores the topic based on a comprehensive 6 year study of 3,000 creative executives. The study shows that there are five 'discovery skills' that distinguish them:

Associating - a cognitive skill that allows creative people to make connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas.

Questioning — an ability to ask "what if", "why", and "why not" questions that challenge the status quo and open up the bigger picture.

Observation of details - particularly the details of people's behavior.

Experimentation — trying on new experiences and exploring new worlds.

Networking - with smart people who have little in common with them, but from whom they can learn.

Amazing Race: E-Waste Violators' Best Friend

oh dear!!! what were they THINKING?! maybe it was done deliberately to create a controversy and draw attention to the issue?

Excerpt from Greener Computing, 6 October 2009; images from CBS.com

'Fans of the TV series Amazing Race were treated to a disturbing and disheartening spectacle Sunday night, as competitors used cutters, hammers, screwdrivers, and their bare hands to tear apart electronics, throw them haphazardly into piles, exposing themselves, onlookers, and the environment to dangerous toxins. All this in the name of supposed recycling. Perhaps the show should be renamed Amazing Waste? The (re) blog from asset recovery firm Redemtech calls the TV show to task for the appalling spectacle, and with good reason. The e-waste travesty was taking place in Vietnam, and the blog points out that many unscrupulous U.S. firms have been using developing nations as their own personal dumping grounds for e-waste. The blog notes acerbically that what the contestants were throwing around after destroying the electronics included broken fragments of electronics - everything from circuit boards and wiring to plastic frame - which either contain such toxins as lead, mercury and cadmium or release poisonous toxins into the air when incinerated.

As for cultural insensitivity, the show apparently had that in spades as well, according to the blog:

'As with all Amazing Race challenges, Sunday's episode reflected cultural situations and included local people who demonstrated how the tasks should be done. The people who routinely perform the disassembly of electronics were indeed represented and continued to work - even though it was clear that they were indigent; sitting barefoot amid all the twisted metal, wearing no gloves or eye protection, no masks or filters to block the inhalation of the dust from the broken electronics.'

The blog sums up everything wrong with the way contestants handled e-waste in this way:

'There is nothing fun or entertaining about the e-waste crisis, and the countries where electronics are dumped by the ton are becoming giant landfills of unwanted toxic materials torn from countless devices. Amazing Race did not show what happens to the piles of broken parts torn from the machines or how they are melted down via primitive methods to extract the metals. The show failed to relate the detrimental long-term health effects of the workers who strip wires for copper with their fingers or melt lead solder from circuit boards so that the toxins are released into the air. The show also did not address how serious the e-waste crisis has become or how it affects everyone around the world...'

11 October 2009

Reframing: Moving from the 'Problem' Mindset to the 'Dilemma' Mindset

An important distinction - emphasis added by me...

Excerpt from the
Post Carbon Institute blog, 8 October 2009

'A couple of weeks ago Jerry Mander and I were discussing the best word to use in the heading for the back cover copy of a new short book being co-published by International Forum on Globalization and Post Carbon Institute, Searching for a Miracle: "Net Energy" and the Fate of Industrial Societies (I wrote the main text, Jerry wrote the Foreword). Jerry liked the word "conundrum," while I argued for "dilemma." We were in basic agreement, though, about a word we didn't want: "problem."

Problems can be solved; humanity's energy and environmental crises will not be "solved," in the sense that there is no realistic strategy that will enable us to continue, as we have for the past few decades, to enjoy continuous growth in population and in consumption of resources and use of energy. If we are to survive, we will have to accept profound and fundamental changes to our economies and lifestyles.

The word dilemma characterizes a situation in which one must choose between two disagreeable options. This is a good description of the human condition in the early 21st century. Had our species foreseen and begun to adapt to resource limits back in the 1950s or even the '70s, the transition to non-growing, sustainable levels of population and consumption might have been fairly painless. But now there really are no easy paths from here to a workable future. This is not how we would like things to be. We want problems with solutions.

Problem: climate change. Solution: renewable energy.

Problem: poverty. Solution: more economic growth (a rising tide will lift all boats, we are told).

Problem: slow economic growth. Solution: more cheap energy (i.e., coal).

As should already be evident, the "problem" mindset can be maintained, in the current instance, only by narrowing our focus to just one variable. As soon as we begin to take multiple variables into account—population, economic instability and inequality, climate change, resource depletion, limits to capital investment—it quickly becomes apparent that some "solutions" just exacerbate other "problems."

So it's powerfully tempting just to ignore some of the limitations and trade-offs we face. Many environmentalists, viewing the human predicament almost solely through the lens of climate change, see our choice as follows:

*Dead planet and dead fossil-fueled economy
*vs. living planet and thriving renewables-based economy

Framed this way, the correct choice is obvious. But economists who see continued growth as the key to ending poverty, and who understand that the build-out of renewable energy sources is currently constrained by practical limits, might frame our choice this way:

*Dead energy-constrained economy incapable of solving its problems
*vs thriving, problem-solving economy weaning itself from fossil fuels only as quickly as alternative energy sources are capable of picking up the slack

Well, when you put it that way . . . naturally, option two looks better.

But in both cases the preferable second option is unrealistic, because factors that have been omitted from the framing of the problem preclude that option's realization.

A more comprehensive statement of our choice might be this:

*Dead planet and dead economy (if insufficient effort is mustered toward reducing carbon emissions, population, and consumption)
*vs crippled planet (so much climate change, and so many species extinctions are already in the pipeline and cannot now be averted, that a healthy planet is just no longer a real possibility, for at least the next many decades) and sharply downsized economy (if we do reduce carbon emissions, population, and consumption, that will constitute a form of economic contraction that will mean the end of prosperity as we have come to think of it)

That, friends, is a dilemma. Yes, the second option is still mightily preferable, as it is our only realistic survival option; but it's a very tough sell for policy makers at every level, and for the general public as well...

It's far more palatable simply to ignore a few factors, assume we have only a "problem," and then set out to "solve" it...

Very few people would actually deny the notion that there is something wrong in the world, but framing the situation as a problem rather than a dilemma enables us to avoid harsh reality while appearing not to do so. Indeed, the energetic pursuit of problem solving enables one to strike a heroic pose...'