05 November 2009

OzHarvest to the Rescue of Wasted Food!

Ronni Kahn was interviewed today about how OzHarvest Sydney rescues surplus fit-for-consumption food from retailers and caterers and gets it to those in need - particularly relevant in light of today's revelation that Australians throw out $5 billion of unconsumed food [just in the home!] each year


'Founder of Oz Harvest, Ronni Kahn, is an Australian success story of the most admirable kind. Oz Harvest is a non-denominational charity that rescues excess food which would otherwise be discarded. Watch Ronni discuss the Oz Harvest story with Peter Switzer.'

What A Waste - Analysis of Household Expenditure on Food - The Australia Institute

Excerpt from The Australia Institute, 5 November 2009

Research shows Australians are throwing away food worth $5.2 billion a year, which is more than it costs to run the Australian Army every year, and is enough to meet the shortfall in the United Nations Emergency Relief Fund!

Similar research exists for UK and US, in essence one bag in every three of groceries goes straight to the bin...

'Australian households are throwing out $5.2 billion worth of food each year, which exceeds the amount they spend on digital equipment such as flat screen TVs, according to new research by The Australia Institute.

"To put this into context, the $5.2 billion worth of food that Australians throw out each year is enough money to meet the shortfall in the United Nations Emergency Relief Fund," said report author David Baker.

The Australia Institute is a partner in Do Something's 'FoodWise' campaign, which aims to reduce this high level of waste.

...despite a majority of households being concerned about food waste, they throw out mountains of food nonetheless. Respondents also expressed guilt about discarding food, which is likely to mean their assessment of the amount they waste is an understatement.'

04 November 2009

Carfree Cities - An Idea With Legs

Excerpt from Worldchanging, 2 November 2009

'A quarter of households in Britain – more in the larger cities, and a majority in some inner cities – live without a car. Imagine how quality of life would improve for cyclists and everyone else if traffic were removed from areas where people could practically choose to live without cars. Does this sound unrealistic, utopian? Did you know many European cities are already doing it?

Vauban in Germany is one of the largest car-free neighbourhoods in Europe, home to more than 5,000 people. If you live in the district, you are required to confirm once a year that you do not own a car – or, if you do own one, you must buy a space in a multi-storey car park on the edge of the district. One space was initially provided for every two households, but car ownership has fallen over time, and many of these spaces are now empty.

Vehicles are allowed down the residential streets at walking pace to pick up and deliver, but not to park. In practice, vehicles are rarely seen moving here. It has been taken over by kids as young as four or five, playing, skating and unicycling without direct supervision. The adults, too, tend to socialise outdoors far more than they would on conventional streets open to traffic...

Car-free areas of this kind, with anything from a couple of hundred to more than a thousand residents, exist in Amsterdam, Vienna, Cologne, Hamburg and Nuremberg, among others. There is even a small one in Edinburgh...

Groningen, the Netherlands' capital of cycling, has the largest car-free centre in Europe: half-pedestrianised, entirely closed to through traffic, with 16,500 residents, three-quarters of whom have no car in the household. Forty percent of all journeys within the city are made by bicycle.

Carfree UK...was set up to promote European-style car-free development in this country. We are not anti-car, we are pro-choice. We have recently run public meetings in London to set up a new car-free association for London, which is beginning to look at areas of the city from which traffic could be removed. We know considerable potential demand exists for traffic-free housing in London, and probably in a number of other major cities. Where else do you think might be suitable?'

Business As Unusual - Redefining Prosperity

Excerpt from The Ecologist, 2 November 2009

'Economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity. Higher incomes should mean better choices, richer lives, an improved quality of life for us all. That at least is the conventional wisdom. But things haven’t always turned out that way.

Growth has delivered its benefits, at best, unequally. A fifth of the world’s population earns just 2 per cent of global income. Inequality is higher in the OECD nations than it was 20 years ago. Far from improving the lives of those who most needed it, growth let much of the world’s population down. Wealth trickled up to the lucky few.

Fairness (or the lack of it) is just one of several reasons to question growth. As the economy expands, so do its ecological impacts. In the last quarter of a century an estimated 60 per cent of the world’s ecosystems have been degraded. Global carbon emissions have risen by 40 per cent since 1990. Significant scarcity in key resources – such as oil – may be less than a decade away.

On the other hand, when growth stalls, as it has done over the past year, things go quickly from bad to worse. Firms go out of business, people lose their jobs and a government that fails to respond appropriately will soon find itself out of office. Dynamics are vital here. Continuous improvements in technology mean that fewer people are needed to produce the same goods from one year to the next. So if output doesn’t expand, there is a downward pressure on employment and a spiral of recession looms. Growth is necessary within this system just to prevent collapse.

In short we find ourselves locked between the horns of an uncomfortable and deep-seated dilemma: growth may be unsustainable, but ‘de-growth’ – a contraction in economic output – appears to be unstable. Questioning growth in these circumstances is deemed to be the act of lunatics, fanatics or idealists.

Business as unusual

The prevailing wisdom calls instead for a ‘decoupling’ of economic activity from material throughput. Since efficiency is one of the things that modern capitalist economies are good at, decoupling has a clear appeal as a solution to the dilemma of growth...

But efficiency improvements are continually offset by increases in scale. Global carbon emissions rose by 40 per cent even as the carbon intensity fell. We need to be decoupling much much faster...

Rethinking basic assumptions

In this context, simplistic assumptions about capitalism’s propensity for efficiency are nothing short of delusional. A much deeper re-examination is called for. A different kind of economics is needed. The balance between consumption and investment, the split between the public and the private sector spending, the nature of productivity improvements, the conditions of profitability: all of these are likely to be up for re-negotiation in the new economy...

Fixing the economy is only part of the problem. Addressing the social logic of consumerism is also vital. This task is far from simple – mainly because of the way in which material goods are so deeply implicated in the fabric of our lives. But change is essential. And some mandate for that change already exists. A latent disaffection with consumerism and rising concern over the ‘social recession’ have prompted grassroots initiatives to seek out ‘alternative hedonisms’ – sources of identity, creativity and meaning that lie outside the realm of the market.

For at the end of the day, prosperity goes beyond material pleasures. It transcends material concerns. It resides in the health and happiness of our families. It is present in the strength of our relationships and our trust in the community. It is evidenced by our satisfaction at work and our sense of shared meaning and purpose. It hangs on our potential to participate fully in the life of society.

Prosperity consists in our ability to flourish as human beings – within the ecological limits of a finite planet. The challenge for our society is to create the conditions under which this is possible. It is the most urgent task of our times.'

'Culture Of We' Buffers Genetic Tendency To Depression

Excerpt from Science Daily, 30 October 2009

'A genetic tendency to depression is much less likely to be realized in a culture centered on collectivist rather than individualistic values, according to a new Northwestern University study.

In other words, a genetic vulnerability to depression is much more likely to be realized in a Western culture than an East Asian culture that is more about we than me-me-me.

The study coming out of the growing field of cultural neuroscience takes a global look at mental health across social groups and nations.

Depression, research overwhelmingly shows, results from genes, environment and the interplay between the two. One of the most profound ways that people across cultural groups differ markedly, cultural psychology demonstrates, is in how they think of themselves...

Collectivist cultures may give individuals who are genetically susceptible to depression a tacit or explicit expectation of social support...

The study compared genetic frequency information and cultural value data across 29 countries (major European countries as well as South Africa, Eastern Europe, South Asia, East Asia and South America). The serotonin transporter gene (STG) that the researchers studied has two variants - a short allele and a long allele. In Western populations, the short allele leads to a phenotype of major depressive episodes when people who carry it experience multiple life stressors.

Previous research shows that nations in the East Asian region have a disproportionate number of short allele carriers, and the Northwestern researchers replicated that finding. They also replicated cultural psychology research demonstrating that nations within East Asia are typically more collectivist.

What surprised them was the robust association they found between the degree of collectiveness of a particular nation and the degree to which a disproportionate number of people carried the short allele of the STG. Collectivistic nations were found to have significantly more individuals who carry the short allele of the STG. Even more remarkably, they found, collectivistic nations, such as East Asia, where nearly 80 percent of the population is genetically susceptible to depression, the actual prevalence of depression is significantly lower than in individualistic nations, such as the United States and Western Europe.

This research strongly suggests that medical doctors need to work with basic scientists to better understand the complex dance that biology and culture play in both mitigating and causing mood disorders, such as depression...

These research findings suggest that culture-based treatments may be equally if not more effective at reducing the risk for depression. Medical doctors who embrace scientific findings of global health trends and human cultures may gain invaluable insights about how our genetic heritage and cultural environments affect human behavior...'

03 November 2009

The Lava Project: Date-Stamping the Emerging Lithosphere

...love The Long Now! [the White Elephant Design Lab, hehehehehe!]

'Audience members at Arthur Ganson’s Seminar on September 14, 02009 were among the first viewers of The Lava Project Documentary, which premiered in our new Long Shorts series – short videos that explore, explain, or exemplify long-term thinking and responsibility.

The Lava Project Documentary
was created by White Elephant DesignLab, a group of designers who explore natural phenomena and experiment with various materials and their external influences.

Earlier this year, the group created a piece at the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii that was inspired by our promotion of long-term thinking through use of the five-digit date. Using a “02009″ stamp made of hardwood and aluminum, they imprinted the congealing surface crust of Pāhoehoe lava in order to equip the emerging lithosphere with its date of origin...'