04 December 2009

Worry Only About the Problems in Your Circle of Influence

Excerpt from The 99 Percent, 21 November 2009

'The author and leadership guru Stephen Covey encourages us to only focus on concerns that we have control over. He outlines the “circle of concerns” as all of the stuff that worries us – and then a smaller “circle of influence” (within the larger “circle of concerns”) that only contains stuff that we can actually control.

His point, of course, is that we should only spend our energy on stuff that we can do something about. Focus only on problems that lie within your “circle of influence.”

Easy to say, HARD TO DO! As creative people, our passion for our work makes it more difficult to worry selectively. Why? The more passionate you are, the more protective and perfection-driven you become. Any concern becomes exaggerated just based on your beautiful vision being obstructed. Regardless of whether or not you have influence, you will want to tackle every problem as it emerges.

This tendency is dangerous. Your energy becomes fractured as you start to obsess over details and situations that are beyond your control. Ultimately, your ideas and projects suffer.

When faced with a problem, here are a few questions that all creative leaders should ask themselves:

Is this REALLY in your circle of influence?

...Rather than obsess, time is better spent on changes that can still be made. Nevertheless, many projects suffer because a concern OUTSIDE of the circle of influence becomes the center of attention. The best practice here is to ask yourself, “what is the percentage likelihood that this problem can be reversed with further discussion?” If the chance of resolution is less than 10% then you need to cut your losses! Yes, attaining your perfect vision is nice, but not at the expense of maintaining momentum.

Is this even WORTH your influence?

If you can focus on just the “circle of influence,” then you’re in good shape! But this doesn’t necessarily mean solving every problem. You have limited energy. Challenge your judgments on whether or not these concerns are really worthy of your time...

In his bestselling book The Power of Now, spiritual teacher Eckart Tolle writes, "Ultimately... there are no problems. Only situations - to be dealt with now, or to be left alone and accepted as part of the present moment until they change or can be dealt with."

Great creative leaders are passionate about their work without allowing their perfectionism and/or anxiety to compromise their judgment. Challenge yourself to only worry about problems that you can solve.'

Copenhagen Climate Change Talks Must Fail - Jim Hansen [NASA]

Excerpt from The Guardian, 2 December 2009

'The scientist who convinced the world to take notice of the looming danger of global warming says it would be better for the planet and for future generations if next week's Copenhagen climate change summit ended in collapse.

In an interview with the Guardian, James Hansen, the world's pre-eminent climate scientist, said any agreement likely to emerge from the negotiations would be so deeply flawed that it would be better to start again from scratch.

"I would rather it not happen if people accept that as being the right track because it's a disaster track," said Hansen, who heads the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

"The whole approach is so fundamentally wrong that it is better to reassess the situation. If it is going to be the Kyoto-type thing then [people] will spend years trying to determine exactly what that means." He was speaking as progress towards a deal in Copenhagen received a boost today, with India revealing a target to curb its carbon emissions. All four of the major emitters – the US, China, EU and India – have now tabled offers on emissions, although the equally vexed issue of funding for developing nations to deal with global warming remains deadlocked.

Hansen, in repeated appearances before Congress beginning in 1989, has done more than any other scientist to educate politicians about the causes of global warming and to prod them into action to avoid its most catastrophic consequences. But he is vehemently opposed to the carbon market schemes – in which permits to pollute are bought and sold – which are seen by the EU and other governments as the most efficient way to cut emissions and move to a new clean energy economy.

Hansen is also fiercely critical of Barack Obama – and even Al Gore, who won a Nobel peace prize for his efforts to get the world to act on climate change – saying politicians have failed to meet what he regards as the moral challenge of our age.

In Hansen's view, dealing with climate change allows no room for the compromises that rule the world of elected politics. "This is analagous to the issue of slavery faced by Abraham Lincoln or the issue of Nazism faced by Winston Churchill," he said. "On those kind of issues you cannot compromise. You can't say let's reduce slavery, let's find a compromise and reduce it 50% or reduce it 40%."

He added: "We don't have a leader who is able to grasp it and say what is really needed. Instead we are trying to continue business as usual."

The understated Iowan's journey from climate scientist to activist accelerated in the last years of the Bush administration. Hansen, a reluctant public speaker, says he was forced into the public realm by the increasingly clear looming spectre of droughts, floods, famines and drowned cities indicated by the science...

Hansen has emerged as a leading campaigner against the coal industry, which produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other fuel source.

He has become a fixture at campus demonstrations and last summer was arrested at a protest against mountaintop mining in West Virginia, where he called the Obama government's policies "half-assed".

He has irked some environmentalists by espousing a direct carbon tax on fuel use. Some see that as a distraction from rallying support in Congress for cap-and-trade legislation that is on the table.

He is scathing of that approach. "This is analagous to the indulgences that the Catholic church sold in the middle ages. The bishops collected lots of money and the sinners got redemption. Both parties liked that arrangement despite its absurdity. That is exactly what's happening," he said. "We've got the developed countries who want to continue more or less business as usual and then these developing countries who want money and that is what they can get through offsets [sold through the carbon markets]."

For all Hansen's pessimism, he insists there is still hope. "It may be that we have already committed to a future sea level rise of a metre or even more but that doesn't mean that you give up.

"Because if you give up you could be talking about tens of metres. So I find it screwy that people say you passed a tipping point so it's too late. In that case what are you thinking: that we are going to abandon the planet? You want to minimise the damage."'

Rebranding opaleye to cruxcatalyst

Just a note to say I have changed the name and URL of this blog to tie in with Twitter ID - no point in having two different names!

'crux' is for southern [as in Crux, the Southern Cross] and catalyst is change agent.

03 December 2009

Climate Change Follies

...classic quote from one of my colleagues in response to my frustration today:

'If it requires change, then we need more science!'

My frustration was caused by an email doing the rounds [note: no references!] - this is what we are dealing with:

'Let's put this into a bit of perspective for laymen (and women)...read the following analogy and you will realize the insignificance of carbon dioxide as a weather controller.

Here's a practical way to understand Mr. Rudd's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

Imagine 1 kilometre of atmosphere and we want to get rid of the carbon pollution in it created by human activity. Let's go for a walk along it.

The first 770 metres are Nitrogen.

The next 210 metres are Oxygen.

That's 980 metres of the 1 kilometre. 20 metres to go.

The next 10 metres are water vapour. 10 metres left.

9 metres are argon. Just 1 more metre.

A few gases make up the first bit of that last metre.

The last 38 centimetres of the kilometre - that's carbon diooxide.
A bit over one foot.

97% of that is produced by Mother Nature. It's natural.*

Out of our journey of one kilometre, there are just 12 millimetres left. Just over a centimetre - about half an inch.

That’s the amount of carbon dioxide that global human activity puts into the atmosphere.

And of those 12 millimetres Australia puts in .18 of a millimetre.

Less than the thickness of a hair. Out of a kilometre!*

As a hair is to a kilometre - so is Australia 's contribution to what Mr. Rudd calls Carbon Pollution.

Imagine Brisbane 's new Gateway Bridge...

It's been polished, painted and scrubbed by an army of workers till its 1 kilometre length is surgically clean. Except that Mr. Rudd says we Have a huge problem, the bridge is polluted - there's a human hair on the roadway. We'd laugh ourselves silly.

There are plenty of real pollution problems to worry about.

It's hard to imagine that Australia 's contribution to carbon dioxide in the world's atmosphere is one of the more pressing ones. And I can't believe that a new tax on everything is the only way to blow that pesky hair away.'

Hmmm - would you say a drop of arsenic is any less lethal because its only a drop? That a virus is ineffective because you cannot see it? Hands up who has had swine flu? The smaller we are, the MORE we need to be prepared: the argument that what smaller countries like Australia do is of little consequence, because emerging giants like China and India will dwarf our impacts, in fact strengthens the argument for swift action. If China, India and the rest of the world are increasing their demand for resources, and our economies and cities are not prepared for this competition, we will be the first casualty in a resource-constrained world.

Ice ages and interglacials occur by increase or decrease in parts per million of any climate warming gases [water vapour is also one, yes that is natural, so is the C02 we exhale - *digging up millions years worth of stored carbon and releasing it in 200 years is NOT natural]...the argument that its natural, the earth has always evolved etc - yes it has [not withstanding this*], but for the most part of human history we didn't have trillions tied up in infrastructure and crop growing that is not easily moved!!! We can't up stumps and move our cities in a 'fuller' world where land uses are already competing!

Without climate change, the earth will evolve, but with climate change, it will change in a much much shorter timeframe, and humankind will struggle to adapt:


Climate change of a few degrees [in this case cooling, from a volcanic eruption] in 500 AD created environmental change that caused crop failures, destabilised societies that then went on the march for new lands and created conflicts, expanded a disease-carrying rat population beyond their normal boundaries on the east coast of Africa and in doing so unleashed the Plague that wiped out a third of the population of Europe, and contributed to the downfall of the Roman Empire!

'A.D. 535-536 - a massive volcanic eruption sundering Java from Sumatra - was the decisive factor that transformed the ancient world into the medieval era. Ancient chroniclers record a disaster in that year that blotted out the sun for months, causing famine, droughts, floods, storms and bubonic plague. Keys, archeology correspondent for the London Independent, uses tree-ring samples, analysis of lake deposits and ice cores, as well as contemporaneous documents to bolster his highly speculative thesis. In his scenario, the ensuing disasters precipitated the disintegration of the Roman Empire, beset by Slav, Mongol and Persian invaders propelled from their disrupted homelands. The sixth-century collapse of Arabian civilization under pressure from floods and crop failure created an apocalyptic atmosphere that set the stage for Islam's emergence. In Mexico, Keys claims, the cataclysm triggered the collapse of a Mesoamerican empire; in Anatolia, it helped the Turks establish what eventually became the Ottoman Empire; while in China, the ensuing half-century of political and social chaos led to a reunified nation...'

We can't stop volcanoes from erupting, but we can address our own activities to prevent whatever consequences will happen from going a few degrees up instead of down...

Australians Have The World's Biggest Homes: Study

A dubious honour...

Reposted in full from Planet Ark, 3 December 2009

'Australia has overtaken the United States, the heartland of the McMansion, to boast the world's largest homes, according to a report by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

Research commissioned by the bank's broking arm, CommSec, shows the Australian house has grown on average by 10 percent in the past decade to 214.6 square meters (2,310 sq ft) - nearly three times the size of the average British house.

By contrast, the average size of new homes started in the United States in the September quarter was 201.5 square meter (2,169 sq ft), down from 212 square meter (2,282 sq ft), with the average U.S. home shrinking for the first time in a decade due to the recession.

In Europe, Denmark has the biggest homes, which takes into account houses and flats, with an average floor area of 137 square meter, followed by Greece at 126 square meter, and the Netherlands at 115.5 square meter.

Homes in Britain are the smallest in Europe at 76 square meter. But according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistic issued by CommSec, while Australian houses are getting bigger, so are the families.

The number of people in each household has risen to 2.56 from 2.51, the first such rise in at least 100 years.

"It makes sense. Population is rising, as is the cost of housing and the cost of moving house, so we are making greater use of what we've got," CommSec's Craig James said in a statement widely reported in the Australian media.

"Children are living at home longer with parents and more people are opting for shared accommodation ...Generation Y is already baulking at the cost of housing, choosing to stay at home longer with parents."'

Addicted to Money - Nowhere to Hide

Quote in Episode 2 @ 41 minutes re: massive bank bailouts being like 'Reverse Darwinism', survival of the unfittest!!!


02 December 2009

Land Grabbing & The Global Food Crisis

Slideshow from GRAIN, November 2009 - also available as a PDF or Powerpoint:

'...overview with data on the acquisition by corporations or states of large areas of farmland in another country and on a long-term basis for the production of basic foods that will then be exported'.

01 December 2009

Story of Cap & Trade

...hot off the 'press', from the makers of Story of Stuff: the Story of Cap & Trade!

[click on image]

Also read the critique of SoC&T in Grist, 1 December 2009

Sharing: Reimagining the Way We Do Business

Excerpt from the idea hive, 9 November 2009

'Why buy when you can share?...After all each item shared is an item not created, and that is the greenest item of all.

This is a long term trend, and one that is not going anywhere. All the systemic pressures driving it are only going to increase. We are on the cusp of shifting into a post consumption economy. From the perspective of a consumer it makes a lot of sense, however from the perspective of a business it spells trouble, as profits are generally driven by increasing consumption. Sharing in the virtual world has been disrupting business models for several years and now this ethos is moving into the physical realm. How can you re-imagine your business to align with this current rather than trying to swim against it? What are the new opportunities that are emerging? This is a classic case of the Innovators Dilemma at a very deep level...

To stay ahead of the pack keep your eyes on Shareable, a website...trying to document this emerging trend...'

Climate Change - Symptom of Deeper Economic Malady

Excerpt from nef Triple Crunch blog, 30 November 2009

'Climate change, important as it is, is nevertheless a symptom of a deeper malady, namely our fixation on unlimited growth of the economy as the solution to nearly all problems. Apply an anodyne to climate and, if growth continues, something else will soon burst through limits of past adaptation and finitude, thereby becoming the new crisis on which to focus our worries...'

From the new economics foundation

'Other Worlds are Possible, a new report on climate change and development published today, features contributions from...Dr Rajendra Pachauri (Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), Professor Herman Daly (Leading environmental economist and winner of Right Livelihood Award), Professor Wangari Maathai (Nobel Peace Prize winner), Professor Manfred Max-Neef (environmental economist and winner of the Right Livelihood Award), Professor Jayati Ghosh (economist) and David Woodward (nef fellow).

Building on the findings of previous 'Up in Smoke?' reports, 'Other Worlds are Possible' calls for new economic approaches to international development which are more in tune with the needs of people and the planet.

The report describes how the costs and benefits of global economic growth have been very unfairly distributed, with those on lowest incomes getting the fewest benefits and paying the highest costs. A wide range of examples of more positive approaches are given from the wide, practical experience of the agencies in the coalition. Altogether they paint a picture of more qualitative development that is not dependent on further global over-consumption by the already rich, in the hope that crumbs of poverty alleviation are perhaps passed to those at the bottom of the income pile.

'Other Worlds are Possible' notes that difference between success and failure in the international climate negotiations will be whether governments and financial institutions continue to support old, failed economic approaches, with their policy frameworks and our financial resources, or whether they will move to encourage and replicate new approaches that take account of our changed economic and environmental circumstances. This timely report makes the case in compelling terms that there is not one model of economic development; there are many.'

We Perform Best When No One Tells Us What To Do

now any teenager could have told us that! :)

This insight is also relevant to community/employee engagement/behaviour change...

Further to Dan Pink's TED Talk, The Surprising Science of Motivation, this article from Scientific Blogging, 24 August 2009

'How can companies get the best possible performance out of their employees? Let them do whatever they want! And furthermore, don't offer incentives. Sound counter-intuitive? Not if you look at what research has shown regarding the economics of motivation.

According to Dan Pink (lawyer, speech writer, author, and career analyst), the way to get the best original ideas out of people is to cut back on restrictions and rules regarding output, and stop offering incentives for work produced. This may sound a little backwards, but science has shown that sometimes when we offer rewards for output or production, it effects the quality of the ideas or work as opposed to offering no incentive. In his TED Global 2009 talk last month, Pink says:

"There is a disconnect between what science knows and what business does."

He goes on to say,

"Traditional notions of management work great if you want compliance, but if you want engagement, self-direction works best."

So does this mean we should cut back on bonuses and perks for good performance? Well, maybe.

In tasks that involve focused, clear objectives and goals, incentives do work. However, in tasks that involve creativity, innovation, and generating original ideas, offering incentives actually distracts from the mind's ability to freely think outside of the box and be open to creative insights...

When we are offered a reward for a behavior, part of our brain is focused on that reward, which is how incentives work. However, if we are doing a task that requires creativity, narrow focus limits the range of necessary flexibility of thought that is essential to creative output. When we are given no incentive and thus free to completely devote our mental efforts to just solving the problem, our mind is able to generate these creative solutions faster.

Pink talks of companies such as Google and Atlassian who have pre-set "free work times"; during these times, employees have no restrictions on what they can work on, what time they have to be in the office, even whether or not they have be in the office at all to do their work.

The only stipulation is that they have to get "something" done. It is these times, where they are basically free to work on whatever they want, that end up generating up to half of the total successful innovative developments for the company. Because the employees did not have to focus on anything like specs or any particular ideology, they were driven only by their own intrinsic motivation to work, thinking for the pure enjoyment of generating new ideas.

Autonomy, it seems, is the new form of management when it comes to creative output. In an age where computers are taking over computational tasks and more of the focused directional work, we rely heavily on the human capacity to be creative. Creativity has become vitally important for the advancement of society and the continuation of forward progress; development of new technologies, innovations, and even scientific theories are driven by creative ideation.

If we want engineers, scientists, or any type of worker to be able to function at their absolute creative best, allowing them to freely explore their ideas without having to worry about restrictive subject matter, methods, or ideology is the best way to reach that goal.'

The Morality of Economics

...concur with much of this, but perhaps the author should further examine Millennium Ecosystem Assessments before labelling concerns re: resources to support human population as an ideology!

Excerpt from article by Richard Cook on Bill Totten's weblog, 25 November 2009

'...For the past quarter century, economic life, under the rubric of globalization, has increasingly been based on such overt or covert precepts as, "survival of the fittest", "privatization", "might makes right", "money talks", "whoever has the gold rules", and "let the buyer beware".

All are basically reflections of the profit motive versus any ideal of charity, compassion, or service. Indeed, mention of such lofty motivations is even likely to evoke sneers among self-anointed "realists". But the fact is that laws and practices have been increasingly marked by greed for gain by some at the expense of everyone else, which is an indicator of a society-wide relapse into barbarism.

These trends have been abetted by the contention that economics is a science, somehow similar to physics, which describes the behavior of "forces" that are essentially amoral. The primary such force, perhaps, is the postulated existence of an impersonal "market", the functioning of which, even when appearing ruthless, supposedly results in the common good. A recent example may be found in a statement by Secretary of the Treasury Henry M Paulson to Fortune magazine predicting a global economic downturn. Paulson said, "It's just that we're not going to defy economic gravity". By placing his forecast on a par with the most relentless of all physical laws, Paulson lends an aura of inevitability to events which, if they occur, could be devastating to billions of people.

By implication, Paulson also denies the possibility of any political choice about the likely event, even though it would be at least partially a result of the housing bubble, the biggest such financial travesty in history, which the Federal Reserve, along with the last several presidential administrations, have contributed to creating in the absence of any genuine economic driver for the US economy.But such "forces" as policy-makers buy into are usually manmade. Further, more than people realize, the way a nation's economy functions is a reflection of its moral choices and values. The "market" behaves as it is designed to behave and distributes its benefits accordingly. The upside of this observation is that an economic system can be altered to reflect a higher moral vision...

Tribal and agrarian societies, including much of the United States through at least the end of the nineteenth century, were based on technologies that allowed people to survive at a subsistence level with minimal interference by outside experts or authorities.

The same was true of the agricultural and peasant classes of Europe until recent times. Even during the so-called "Dark Ages", the masses of people were able to subsist off the land even as the warrior castes slaughtered each other.

All this changed through the mechanization of work brought about by the industrial revolution. Now more could be produced by fewer workers. The first of many epoch-making innovations was the application of steam power to the operation of machines. Observers believed naively that mankind had now evolved to such a degree that the curse of labor had been lifted and that the human race would now be free from merely having to earn a living and could devote itself to higher pursuits.

But it turned out that the benefits of industrialization flowed mainly to those who controlled the processes of production. Those who did the work, or those whose work was no longer needed, were left out. The system which imposed this paradigm was capitalism. It was opposed by a variety of ideologies, including various types of socialism and trade unionism, which argued that the gains in productivity really should be viewed as the property of the community, not just a handful of those with economic and political power. In recent years, capitalism has conquered most of the world, even in countries that still may consider themselves socialist, such as China.

The brand of capitalism that has become the most powerful is finance capitalism, based ultimately on the lending of money at interest. Backing up this system is the greatest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction ever seen.

There was a time when such lending, particularly at excessive rates of interest, was condemned as usury, but no more. Now it is even a matter of official policy that the central banks of the world may raise interest rates as high as they wish if they are able to make the claim that they are fighting inflation or making borrowers more responsible. The name for this policy is "monetarism". But this justification of lending practices that many ethical authorities in history have regarded as criminal is an excuse, not a reason.

As a result of capitalism, much of the world's population has increasingly been left out of the prosperity and material security that industrialization once seemed to promise. Around the world, the benefits clearly have accrued mainly to the upper income echelons, while the majority of people are left to struggle. The results increasingly are un- or under-employment, poverty, lack of adequate nutrition or health care, or even, in many countries, starvation.

Within the United States alone, thirty-five million people are malnourished and almost a million are homeless, including some war veterans. No one could possibly argue that all of these people are personally at fault and that none are suffering because of the type of economy we have chosen to embrace. Yet for many, poverty and homelessness are a death sentence, whether through ill health, exposure, or violence, because in economics, due process and equal protection of the laws no longer seem to apply. Faced with such situations, another ideology has sprung up based on the idea that there are not enough resources on the earth to support the human population, so that many must simply die - with the exception, of course, of oneself, one's friends and family, one's co-religionists, or one's countrymen. Overly-pessimistic alarms about such phenomena as global warming also become part of the litany of doomsayers.

...Each individual should be granted, as a basic human right, a sufficient amount of money to survive at a subsistence level. Such an income should be made as a recurring cash payment by every government, or on a worldwide basis by the United Nations. Richer nations should provide poorer ones the means to do this if necessary. There is no reason except human ignorance why poverty worldwide could not be eliminated now through a basic income guarantee...

Credit should be viewed as both a public utility and a human right and should be made available at minimal cost - no more than one percent interest payable to whatever public agency is charged with administering the program. Banks have the privilege of creating credit "out of nothing". Governments, which grant banks this privilege, should have it also and could and should exercise it to the benefit of their populations...

...We must realize that as long as a single person on earth is unfairly denied sustenance, we remain barbarians. Everywhere in the world people are waking up to the fact that the work of applying enlightened concepts of morality to economics is the key task which mankind faces in the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, as of this writing, there are signs that those in power are making plans for another wave of warfare and violence to hold the day of reckoning at bay. But they cannot do so forever.'

Transparency - Food Waste

From GOODMagazine

High Rise Urban Farms of the Future

Reposted in full from Greenbiz, 24 November 2009

'Imagine a full-scale farm right in the heart of New York City, in the deserts of Darfur or on the moon. While you might have to wait some time for your lunar
lettuce, vertical farming technologies are increasing the possibilities of cultivating crops much more efficiently here on earth.

Moving farms into buildings might change the way much of humanity grows its food. And while vertical farming is on the cusp of blooming, the main hurdle isn’t technology; it’s one of engineering and funding.

"We know how to grow food inside," says Dickson Despommier of Columbia University. "That’s not the problem. What we don’t know yet is how to integrate that technology into a tall building. That appears to be a simple, but perhaps expensive engineering problem."

The End of Farming As We Know It

Known as the founder of the modern vertical farming concept, Despommier is a Public Health professor and stresses the urgency of changing the way humanity cultivates its food.

"We choose to live in cities," he says. "By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth’s population will reside in urban centers. The human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. If we don’t learn how to [vertical farm] soon, these will become horrible places."

According the UN, the amount of arable land per person decreased from about an acre in 1970 to roughly half an acre in 2000 and is projected to decline to about a third of an acre by 2050.

There will simply not be enough farmland to feed us.

Offland farming also uses a fraction of the water land farming does. This is why Despommier believes that vertical farming will take root first in "water challenged" areas of the world, like the Middle East.

Toil without Soil

Moving farms off land and into urban buildings offers a solution to land and water scarcity and a really impressive swath of other natural, health, economic and political challenges:
  • produces crops year-round; 1 indoor acre is equivalent to 4-6 outdoor acres or more, depending upon the crop (e.g., strawberries: 1 indoor acre = 30 outdoor acres)
  • avoids weather-related crop failures due to droughts, floods, pests
  • grown organically: no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers
  • virtually eliminates agricultural runoff by recycling black water
  • returns farmland to nature, restoring ecosystem functions and services
  • greatly reduces the incidence of many infectious diseases that are acquired at the agricultural interface
  • converts black and gray water into potable water by collecting the water of evapotranspiration
  • adds energy back to the grid via methane generation from composting non-edible parts of plants and animals
  • dramatically reduces fossil fuel use (no tractors, plows, shipping)
  • converts abandoned urban properties into food production centers
  • creates sustainable environments for urban centers
  • creates new employment opportunities
  • we cannot go to the moon, Mars, or beyond without first learning to farm indoors on earth
  • may prove to be useful for integrating into refugee camps
  • offers the promise of measurable economic improvement for tropical and subtropical Least Developing Countries (LDC). If this should prove to be the case, then vertical farms may be a catalyst in helping to reduce or even reverse the population growth of LDCs as they adopt urban agriculture as a strategy for sustainable food production
  • could reduce the incidence of armed conflict over natural resources, such as water and land for agriculture

Designing Towers of Sustenance

The many potential benefits from vertical farming have inspired a dazzling display of proposed projects that present novel architectural, energy, farming and recycling solutions.

Vertical Farms and Climate Change

Vertical Farms are the fruit of a global greenhouse movement decades in the making. Yet only as recently as last year-with the collaborations of artists, architects, city planners, farmers and politicians-did the concept reach high-profile media attention by way of an Op-ed in the New York Times.

The upsurge in vertical farm visibility might be linked to its role in the climate change debate. Land use (mainly forestry and agriculture) and its impact on the earth’s natural carbon cycle has been given much attention by policymakers looking to reduce carbon emissions.

"Every indoor acre you farm gives around 5-6 outdoor acres for the trees grow back and suck up more carbon," says professor Despommier. "

That gives someone a chance to catch up with the climate change issue. Vertical farming allows the possibility to giving land back to what it was intended for and that is producing hardwood forests."

Delivery Date for Vertical Farms

Despommier estimates that if a city were to give the nod, a viable vertical farm would spring up within a year."That’s why a prototype would be a good place to start, writes Despommier in the New York Times. "I estimate that constructing a five-story farm, taking up one-eighth of a square city block, would cost $20 million to $30 million. Funding for the farm should be a blend of public and private capital."

Part of the financing should come from the city government, as a vertical farm would go a long way toward achieving Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s goal of a green New York City by 2030. If a farm is located where the public can easily visit it, the iconic building could generate significant tourist dollars, on top of revenue from the sales of its produce."

Yet, the bulk of funding should come from private venture-capital investors who see the potential profits of vertical farms.Despommier cites a Cornell University project of hydroponic (soil-free, water-only) lettuce that produced each year 68 heads of lettuce per square foot. "At a retail price in New York of up to $2.50 a head for hydroponic lettuce, you can easily do the math and project profitability for other similar crops."

Despommier and the rest of the world-particularly the urban and arid world-are waiting to see which city will be the first to take off-land farming seriously. Apparently, Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer, has expressed interest in bringing a vertical farm to the city.In more ways than one, the sky is the limit.'

World Requires Radical New Economic Models to Fight Poverty & Mitigate Global Warming

GOOD CALL: "the challenge is for governments to stop clinging to old, failing economic theory that treats the Earth like a business in liquidation, and people as an inefficient factor of production."

Reposted in full from Mongabay, 30 November 2009

'A new report calls for a radical re-envisioning of current economic models in order to tackle poverty, mitigate and adapt to climate change, and solve other environmental problems. The report was crafted by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and was supported by The Working Group on Climate Change and Development, which includes a wide variety of well-known groups, including environmental, religious, and anti-poverty organizations.

According to the report: "there is not one model of economic development, there are many. But conventional definitions of development have been largely set by industrialized countries to favor their own economic interests and often imposed on poorer societies, regardless of place or cultural context." Entitled Other Worlds are Possible - Human Progress in an Age of Climate Change, the report argues that the current the economic growth-based model - largely imposed by wealthy nations - has unfairly placed high costs and few benefits on the world's poor.

Although natural resources have long been unfairly divided, climate change is now exacerbating the divide between rich nations and poor. And while the United States and Western Europe have largely avoided large climatic impacts so far, these wealthy regions are historically most responsible for the planet's warming.

"Current approaches to economic development are increasing the impacts of climate change on the world’s poor," explains Dr Hannah Reid, a senior researcher in the climate change group IIED, in a press release by the group. "This report demands a total rethink. It proposes sustainable alternatives that build the resilience of poor communities to face these impacts. Without these changes, the lives of millions in the world’s poorest countries will plummet into a degree of poverty from which it will not be possible to survive."

One of the report's writers, Professor Jayati Ghosh from India, argues that a new economic model must encourage less materialism, rather than more. Chilean Professor Manfred Max-Neef, also a contributor, argues that relying on economic growth alone will not solve the world's poverty problem. He posits future economic models that focus far more on regionalization and localization without ignoring environmental limits. Although there are many economic models that have been developed to better create a sustainable society aware of ecological constraints and to bridge the growing gap between rich and poor, many economists in wealthy nations seem unwilling to consider any changes.

"'There is No Alternative' is one of the most misleading claims of the market fundmentalists, [but] there are actually dozens of alternatives, many of them already being put into practice," said Duncan Green, Head of Research with Oxfam. The report urges an economic model based on qualitative development instead of overconsumption to feed consumerism in wealthy nations, a habit which the report argues negatively impacts poorer nations abroad. The report throws out the theory of 'trickle-down' economics wherein it is believed that by increasing wealth in the hands of the already wealthy, money will trickle down from the wealthy to the poorer strata of society. Currently the UN estimates that one billion are going hungry.

While most of the world's nations have agreed on the importance of tackling climate change, they are not facing up to the fact that current economic models are behind the carbon economy and must be changed if an international climate change agreement is to succeed, according to the report.

"Every government planning to attend the Copenhagen climate summit says they want to stop catastrophic global warming. Yet every government also promotes economic policies that guarantee disaster," says co-author Andres Simmons, policy director and climate change program director at NEF.

"None is steering us genuinely to live collectively within our environmental means. Without new economic development models that chart how to meet human needs within ecological boundaries, any climate deal will be set up to fail."

Dr. Alison Doig, Senior Climate Change Advisor for Christain Aid, says that while the current economic model has always been based on inequality, "climate change is magnifying the inequalities inherent in our current growth-based development model. This report shows that there are other approaches to development which are both fairer and far less dangerous to the environment on which we ultimately depend."

Simmons adds that "the challenge is for governments to stop clinging to old, failing economic theory that treats the Earth like a business in liquidation, and people as an inefficient factor of production."

The members of the Working Group on Climate Change and Development are: ActionAid International, Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy, BirdLife International, Cafod, Care, Christian Aid, Columbian Faith and Justice, IDS (Institute of Development Studies), IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development), Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Green New Deal Group, Medact, nef (new economics foundation), Operation Noah, Oxfam, Oneclimate.net, People & Planet, Practical Action, Progressio, RSPB, Tearfund, teri Europe, WWF, WaterAid, and World Vision.

30 November 2009

Teens Need Kitchen Counter-Culture

Excerpt from Take Part, 9 November 2009

'...Whether they're emos, hippies, neo-1980s punks or straight edge kids, teens are craving for self-expression and identity, often through their appearance. Although there have been some legal hurdles, students are increasingly able to dress as they choose at school. What they're not choosing to use for self-exploration and definition is their food.

...kids are united in their food choices. They're filling their ravished, growing, pubescent stomachs is the same, uniform diet. It's like a buffet created by the Gap, offering corduroy or denim in a few cuts and colors. No wild Van Gogh splashes of colors or Pucci prints; just timeless, well-worn styles that fit multiple generations at once. Why are kids consuming the industrial monoculture foods?

An article in the Washington Post cites a recent study that demonstrates the impact of behavioral economics (aka freakanomics) on what kids are opting for in the lunch room. First, they don't like to be coerced into doing something. I don't know how much money was spent to figure out this rather logical conclusion about kids eating behaviors, but at least there's now some data to back up this intuitive concept. Second, people prefer to feel a sense of empowerment in making their own choices. Applied to eat habits, this translates as the following: "when students think they are choosing to eat carrots, they like them better and are more likely to choose them outside the lunchroom as well."

Back over at the New York Times, editorial writer Verlyn Klinkenborg recently wrote about the plethora of apples at the turn of the 20th century (about 6,500 types) but most have disappeared from our kitchens. In our industrial, food system, it's the equivalent today of visiting a Jelly Belly factory with exorbitant amount of colors and flavors, ranging from grass to dirt to boring cinnamon, that are carefully crafted by Jelly Belly food engineers.

However, like the rest of our food system, we're opting for monoculture. We have limited food choices and they tend to be dull cogs of our industrialized food system that are serving us increasingly unhealthy, corn-laden, processed, uniform foods that are making us fatter. This is especially true in schools where cafeterias are serving up the same pre-cooked, uniform, un-nutritious foods nationwide. It's ironic that teens today are correctly pushing the social agenda in their schools to allow a diversity of identities to be expressed but they're consuming foods that have little nutritional value and are uniform.

Food author and activist Michael Pollan wrote about the origins of apples in his book, The Botany of Desire, diversity has dwindled to just a few hundred spoke recently about food sustainability. He noted that, "the science of ecology is that the best way to achieve resilience, in any system, is by diversity: biodiversity and intellectual diversity." This applies to the food we eat, the way we dress, our ideas and beliefs. Diversity makes things sustainable. He continued, "a sustainable system is one that can go on indefinitely, without destroying the conditions on which it depends - or without depending on conditions it can't depend on.

Diversity creates sustainable societies and helps them to survive. Teens, through their efforts to protect their self-identity at school are helping to enabling sustainable, diverse cultures. We need to translate this same approach to our food systems by helping to foster a kitchen counter culture that celebrates and encourages diversity, sustainability and health in our foods. Teens, as cultural trailblazers, can help to lead this movement. There are thousands of apple varieties which should make any punk, prep, jock or transvestite a creative, healthy, educated eater.'

The Economic Crisis And What Must Be Done

Reposted in full from Countercurrents, 24 November 2009

'...People have lost control of their ability to earn a living. But change could be accomplished through sovereign control by people and nations of the monetary means of exchange. This control has been stolen. It is time to take it back...'

Richard C. Cook is a former federal analyst who writes on public policy issues. He is an advisor to the American Monetary Institute on its model monetary reform legislation soon to be introduced in Congress. His latest book is We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform.

'The United States does not control its own destiny. Rather it is controlled by an international financial elite, of which the American branch works out of big New York banks like J.P. Morgan Chase, Wall Street investment firms such as Goldman Sachs, and the Federal Reserve System. They in turn control the White House, Congress, the military, the mass media, the intelligence agencies, both political parties, the universities, etc. No one can rise to the top in any of these institutions without the elite’s stamp of approval.

This elite has been around since the nation began, becoming increasingly dominant as the 19th century progressed. A key date was passage of the National Banking Act of 1863, when the system was put into place whereby federal government debt was used to collateralize bank lending. Since then we’ve paid the freight through our taxes for bank control of the economy. The final nails in the coffin came with the passage of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.

In 1929 the bankers plunged the nation into the Great Depression by constricting the money supply. With Franklin D. Roosevelt as president, the nation struggled through the decade of the 1930s but did not pull out of the Depression until the industrial explosion during World War II.

After the war came the Golden Age of the U.S. economy, when the working man, protected by strong labor unions, became a true partner in the prosperity of the industrial age. That era lasted a full generation. The bankers were largely spectators as Americans led the world in exports, standard of living, science and space exploration, and every measure of health, longevity, and culture.

Roosevelt had kept the bankers subservient to the interests of the economy at large. The Federal Reserve was part of the New Deal team, and interest rates were held at historic lows despite a large federal deficit. One main impact was the huge increase in home ownership. After World War II, the G.I. Bill allowed home ownership to grow further and millions of veterans to attend college. The influx of educated graduates led to productivity growth and the emergence of new high-tech industries.

But the bankers were laying their plans. In the early 1950s they got the government to agree to allow the Federal Reserve to escape its subservience to the U.S. Treasury Department and set interest rates on its own. Rates rose throughout the 1950s and 1960s. By the time of the interest rate hikes of 1968, the economy was slowing down. Both federal budget and trade deficits were beginning to replace the post-war surpluses. High interest rates were the likely cause.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon removed the dollar’s gold peg, allowing the huge inflation resulting from oil price increases that the international bankers engineered through control of U.S. foreign policy when Henry Kissinger was national security adviser and secretary of state. Nixon’s opening to China resulted in early agreements, also overseen by banking interests, to begin to transfer U.S. industry to overseas producers like China which had cheap labor costs.

By the mid-1970s, the U.S. had been taken over by a behind the scenes coup-d’etat that included events in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by a conspiracy that could only have been instigated by the highest levels of world financial control. In the election of 1976, David Rockefeller succeeded in placing fellow Trilateral Commission member Jimmy Carter in the White House, but Carter upset the banking community, thoroughly Zionist in orientation, by working toward peace in the Middle East and elsewhere.

I was working in the Carter White House in 1979-80. Unbeknownst to the president, Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, another Rockefeller protégé, suddenly raised interest rates to fight the inflation the bankers had caused by the OPEC oil price deals, and plunged the nation into recession. Carter was made to look weak and uninformed and was defeated in the election of 1980 by Republican candidate Ronald Reagan. It was through the “Reagan Revolution” that the regulatory controls over the banking industry were lifted, mainly in allowing the banks to use their fractional reserve privileges in making mortgage loans.

Volcker’s recession shattered American manufacturing and hastened the flight of jobs abroad. Under the “Reagan Doctrine,” the U.S. military embarked on an unprecedented mission of world conquest by attacking one small nation at a time, starting with Nicaragua. Global capitalism was also on the march, with the U.S. armed forces its own private police force. With the invasion of Iraq under George H.W. Bush in 1991, mainland Asia was revealed as the principle target.

The economy was floated by productivity gains through computer automation and a huge sell-off of assets through the merger-acquisition bubble of the late 1980s which ended in a recession. This resulted in the defeat of Bush by Bill Clinton in the election of 1992. Clinton was able to create another bubble through a strong dollar policy that attracted foreign capital.

The dot-com bubble that resulted lasted all the way through to the crash of December 2000. Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force led the way in the destruction of the sovereign state of Yugoslavia, whereby the international bankers took over the resource wealth of the entire Balkan region, and the U.S. military gained forward bases for further incursions into Asia.

Do we need to say that none of this was ever voted on by the American electorate? But they bought into it nevertheless, both with their silence and through participation in a generally favorable job market in the emerging service occupations, particularly finance.

By the time George W. Bush was inaugurated president in January 2001, the U.S. was facing a disaster. $4 trillion in wealth had vanished when the dot.com bubble collapsed. NAFTA caused even more American manufacturing jobs to disappear abroad. The Neocons who were moving into key jobs in the Pentagon knew they would soon have new wars to fight in the Middle East, with invasion plans for Afghanistan and Iraq ready to be pulled off the shelf.

But the U.S. had no economic engine available to generate the tax revenues Bush would need for the planned wars. At this moment Chairman Alan Greenspan of the Federal Reserve stepped in. Over a two year period from 2001-2003 the Fed lowered interest rates by over 500 basis points. Meanwhile, the federal government removed all regulatory controls on mortgage lending, and the housing bubble was on. $4 trillion in new home loans were pumped into the economy, much of it through subprime loans borrowers could not afford.

The Fed began to put on the brakes in 2003, but the mighty work of re-floating a moribund economy had been accomplished. By late 2006 another recession loomed, but it would take two more years before the crisis of October 2008 brought the entire system down.

The impact on the job market was immediate and profound. By the time Barack Obama was elected president in November 2008, the U.S. was mired in seemingly endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the worst recession since the Great Depression was picking up speed. In order to prevent total disaster, the Bush administration ended its eight years of catastrophic misrule with a flourish, by allocating over $700 billion in financial system bailouts to cover the bad loans the banks had been making since Greenspan gave the housing bubble the green light.

It is now November 2009. Since Barack Obama was inaugurated in January, unemployment has soared from 7.9 percent to 10.2 percent. A few hundred billion dollars were allocated for “stimulus” purposes, but most of that went to pay unemployment benefits and to keep state and local governments from laying off more employees.

A fraction has been distributed for highway improvements, but largely through the bank bailouts the federal deficit has been running at an annual rate of $1.5 trillion, by far the largest in history, with the national debt now topping $12 trillion. Ironically, those Americans who still have productive jobs continue to grow in efficiency, with productivity up over five percent in the last year.

So much federal money has been spent that the Obama administration has been struggling to make its health care proposals budget-neutral through a raft of new taxes, fees, and penalties, and by announcing in recent days that the government’ first priority must now shift to deficit reduction. The word “austerity” has been mentioned for the first time since the Carter administration. Yet Congress voted $655 billion in military expenditures to continue fighting in the Middle East. A U.S. military attack on Iran, possibly in conjunction with Israel, would surprise no one.

So where do we now stand?

At present, the Federal Reserve is trying to prevent a total economic collapse. Interest rates are near-zero, to the chagrin of foreign investors in U.S. Treasury securities, and close to half of new Treasury debt instruments have been bought by the Federal Reserve itself as a way of providing free money for federal government expenditures.

But the U.S. economy shows no signs of coming back, with no economic driver emerging that could bring it back. For all the talk about alternative energy, there has been no significant growth of any home-grown industry that could possibly make up so much lost ground in either the short or the long-term.

The industries in the U.S. that are holding up are the military, including arms exports, universities that are attracting large numbers of students from abroad, especially China, and health care, especially for the aging baby boomer population. But the war industry produces nothing with a long-term economic benefit, and health care exists mainly to treat sick people, not produce anything new.

None of this provides a foundation that can bring about a restoration of prosperity to 300 million people when the jobs of making articles of consumption are increasingly scarce. On top of everything else, since government inevitably looks to its own requirements first, the total tax burden continues to increase to the point where the average employee now pays close to 50 percent of his or her income on taxes of all types, including federal and state income taxes, real estate taxes, payroll taxes, excise taxes, government fees, etc. Plus the cost of utilities continues to rise steadily and threatens to skyrocket if cap-and-trade legislation is passed.

The Obama administration has no plans to deal with any of this. They have projected a budget for 15 years hence that shows the budget deficit decreasing and tax revenues going way up, but it is all lies. They have no roadmap for getting us there and no plans for following the roadmap if it portrayed a realistic goal. And yet the U.S. military is still trying to conquer Asia. It is madness.

And it is madness because the big decisions are not made by the U.S., by Congress, or by the Obama administration. The U.S. has, for half-a-century, been marching to the tune played by the international financial elite, and this fact did not change with the election of 2008. The financiers have put the people of this nation $57 trillion in debt, according to the latest reports, counting debt at the federal, state, business, and household levels. Interest alone on this debt is over $3 trillion of a GDP of $14 trillion. Failure of our political leadership to deal with this tragedy over the past three decades is nothing less than treason.

But then again, at some point the decision was made that the U.S. and its population would be discarded by history, the economic status of the nation reduced to a shadow of what it once was, but that its military machine would be used for the financial elite’s takeover of the world until it is replaced by that of some other nation. All indications are that the next country up to bat as military enforcer for the financiers is China.

There you have it. That, in my opinion, is the past, present, and future of this nation in a nutshell. Great evils have been done in the world in the last century, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Except…. and that’s what each person caught up in these travesties must decide. What are you going to do about it?

In mulling over this question, it would be wise to recognize that the dominance of the financial elite has largely been exercised through their control of the international monetary system based on bank lending and government debt. Therefore it’s through the monetary system that change can and must be made.

The progressives are wrong to think the government should go deeper in debt to create more jobs. This will just create an even deeper hole of debt future generations will have to crawl out of.

Rather the key is monetary reform, whether at the local or national levels. People have lost control of their ability to earn a living. But change could be accomplished through sovereign control by people and nations of the monetary means of exchange.

This control has been stolen. It is time to take it back. One way would be for the federal government to make a relief payment to each adult of $1,000 a month until the crisis lifted. This money could be earmarked for goods and services produced within the U.S. and used to capitalize a new series of community development banks. I have called this the “Cook Plan.”

The plan could be funded through direct payment from a Treasury relief account without new taxes or government borrowing. The payments would be balanced on the credit side by GDP growth or be used by individuals to pay off debt. It would be direct government spending as was done with Greenbacks before and after the Civil War without significant inflation.

Another method increasingly being used within the U.S. today is local and regional credit clearing exchanges and the use of local currencies or “scrip.” Use of such currencies could be enhanced by legislation at the state and federal levels allowing these currencies to be used for payment of taxes and government fees as well as payment of mortgages and other forms of bank debt. The credit clearing exchanges could be organized as private non-profit regional currency co-operatives similar to credit unions.

These would be immediate emergency measures. In the longer run, sovereign control of money and credit must be returned to the public commons and treated as public utilities. This does not mean exclusive government control to replace bank control. As stated previously, it would be done in partnership between government and private trade exchanges. Nor does it mean government takeover of business, industry, or the banking system, though all should be regulated for the common good and fairly taxed.

This program would lead to a new monetary paradigm where money and credit would be available by, as, when, and where needed, to facilitate trade between and among legitimate producers of goods and services. In this way trade and commerce will come to serve human freedom, not diminish it as is done with today’s dysfunctional partnership between big government trillions of dollars in debt and big finance with the entire world in hock.

Such a change would be a true populist revolution.'

Record Bowls

Excerpt from eco-artware.com

'Jeff Davis' bowls, made from vintage 33 rpm vinyl records, put the right spin on entertaining. Use them to serve fruit, pretzels, wrapped candies, or to hold a small bowl of dip surrounded by chips. A mylar seal protects each record label and seals the spindle hole in the center. Do not use them to hold liquids or hot items.

To care for vinyl bowls, wash by hand with warm, soapy water. Do not place on or near extreme heat--stovetops, radiators or microwave ovens.'

Incredible Edible - Britain's Greenest Town

Founders Estelle Brown, Pam Warhurst and Mary Clear, standing in their 'grow your own' community garden in Todmorden

Reposted in full from
The Independent, 29 November 2009

'It's an ordinary small town in England, but its residents claim they've discovered the secret that could save the planet. And with world leaders preparing to gather in Copenhagen in just over a week's time to debate how to do just that, the people of Todmorden in the Pennines this week issued an invitation: come to our town and see what we've done.

In under two years, Todmorden has transformed the way it produces its food and the way residents think about the environment. Compared with 18 months ago, a third more townspeople now grow their own veg; almost seven in 10 now buy local produce regularly, and 15 times as many people are keeping chickens.

The town centre is dotted with "help yourself" vegetable gardens; the market groans with local meat and vegetables, and at all eight of the town's schools the pupils eat locally produced meat and vegetables every lunchtime.

"It's a complete turnaround," said Pam Warhurst, a former leader of Calderdale Council, board member of Natural England and the person who masterminded the project – called Incredible Edible – and motivated her friends and neighbours to join in. "Our aim is to make our town entirely self-sufficient in food production by 2018 – and if we can carry on at the same rate as we've done over the past 18 months since we had our first meeting and set this initiative up, we're going to make it."

And the scheme's leaders are now hoping to export their idea: two weeks ago the town held a conference on how to make Incredible Edible-style initiatives work elsewhere, and more than 200 people from across Britain attended.

They heard the story of Todmorden's transformation, starting with what Ms Warhurst calls the "propaganda planting" of vegetables around the town centre 18 months ago. Nick Green, who runs a converted mill that provides workspace for local artists, took on the job of doing the planting. He said he chose the first venue – a disused health centre – because it was in the middle of the town and would attract plenty of attention. "We wanted everyone to see what we were doing, so they could ask questions and ultimately join in," he said. "The old health centre has plenty of land in front, so it was ideal. I didn't ask anyone's permission: I just went there with my spade and my seeds and I planted cabbages and rhubarb."

Incredible Edible was originally funded out of the participants' own pockets. "We were very clear that we didn't want to look at what grants were available and mould our projects to suit them," said Mr Green. "We felt that what would work was to start with the town and what it needed. We'd look for money later on." What the project leaders found was that a lot could be achieved with small amounts of cash. And awards and grants have followed – the latest is the Kerrygold Farmers' Co-operatives Awards last week, when Incredible Edible won the "most inspirational community project" and £1,000.

One of the founding principles of the movement has been to make it as inclusive as possible; in this it differs from transition towns, said Ms Warhurst. "We are working with people who would find transition towns hard to identify with. Our project is all about finding the lowest common denominator, which is food, and then speaking in a language that everyone can understand. Plus we don't have strategies; we don't have visiting speakers; we don't have charters and documents. We just get on with things: this is all about action."

The project has been moulded to fit with where people in Todmorden are and the lives they lead. Many live in homes without gardens, and the local social housing landlord, Pennine Housing, has given out more than 1,000 starter packs of seeds and growing troughs, and invited tenants to cooking and gardening classes. "There are people here who don't own a recipe book and who don't have a garden, but we want to show them that they can still cook and grow vegetables," said Val Morris, the tenant involvement officer for Pennine Housing.

Other town-wide initiatives include a foraging course, on which participants learn how to find food for free, and then how to make preserves, jams and chutneys with their findings – and, more controversially, a workshop on how to kill and pluck your own chickens. "It's not for the faint hearted, but there's something entirely honest and right about killing the chickens you're going to eat," said Lynne Midwinter, a physiotherapist in the town who took her eight-year-old daughter along. "For my daughter, it's entirely normal to see chickens being killed and to help pluck them. "Some parents might think you can't let your kids see that, but what I'd say is, what kind of a life did the chickens your child usually eats have? Our chickens have a good life; they die a quick death, and seeing all that teaches the connection between rearing animals and eating them, which has been lost in much of the Western world today."

Ms Midwinter has also helped persuade local businesses to support Incredible Edible. "One of our early initiatives was to give all the stalls in the covered market a blackboard on which they could advertise any local food they were selling, to encourage them to sell more local food and to shout about it when they did," she said.

"And it's definitely worked. You now see most of the stalls advertising the fact that they're selling local beef and lamb, pork and bread, vegetables and even cheese – the first-ever Todmorden cheese, which is called East Lee, is now produced by the Pextenement Cheese Company at a farm on a hillside above the town."

Another venture has been the planting of apple, pear and plum trees at the town's newly built health centre. "The PCT was all set to grow the usual prickly bushes around it, and we said – hold on a second, why not food?" said Ms Warhurst. "They agreed, and we're going to encourage people to pick their fruit whenever they're passing the doctor's. Apart from giving them fresh fruit, maybe putting the trees there will help people make the connection between healthy eating, and being healthy."

Other projects in the pipeline include a 50m-long polytunnel being set up to grow bigger amounts of food and vegetables on a site just outside the town, a drop-in jam-making centre, a woodwork shop to supply chicken huts and greenhouses, and a vegetable garden at elderly people's care homes in the area which will be designed so that residents will be able to garden and pick vegetables from their wheelchairs.

There are also two herb gardens, one beside the main road and one at the new health centre. "Anyone can pick the herbs. They're a great way to get people enthused about cooking," said Helena Cook, who looks after the gardens.

She is also involved in trying to infect other local communities with the Incredible Edible spirit. "I'm a primary school teacher in a neighbouring town, Littleborough, and I've set up an Incredible Edible growing project with my pupils," she said. "The great thing is that it pulls the parents in as well, and I know some of them have already started growing their own vegetables at home. All of us who are involved in the Todmorden project try to export it to other neighbourhoods we have contact with."

The next project on the horizon is a fish farm that's being set up on land adjacent to the high school. Incredible Edible has applied for a lottery grant of £750,000 to set the farm up, and Ms Warhurst says she's confident their bid will be confirmed soon. There are also plans to offer a diploma in environmental and land-based studies to 14 to 19-year-olds, using local growing and food production initiatives as a resource. "That's fantastic because it's making our school a centre of excellence at teaching this vital skill – and it's kids who go into this kind of work who are going to be most useful to the world of tomorrow," said Ms Warhurst.

"The vital thing about Incredible Edible, and the thing that sets it apart, is that it involves everyone in the town and it's genuinely a grass-roots project. I honestly believe it's a blueprint for every neighbourhood. What we're doing here could easily be rolled out anywhere. It's all about involving people, giving them ownership, letting them realise it can be fun and interesting and that the food is delicious, and giving them space to set up their own ideas and run with them."

Ms Warhurst and the rest of the Incredible Edible team are now looking forward to their Christmas treat – a home-cooked dinner of turkey and all the trimmings in a local church centre, with every ingredient sourced locally. "We're growing the potatoes and sprouts on a special piece of land we call the Christmas dinner patch," said Helena Cook. "All the food, including the turkey, will be from Todmorden.

"There are even crumbs from locally baked bread, and local fruit, in my secret recipe Christmas pudding!"'

Sand Animation Storytelling

Amazing! The winner of Ukraine's Got Talent was a young Ukrainian girl, Kseniya Simonova, who tells an entire story by pushing around sand on a table. She uses nothing but sand and her hands to create these images [best to have sound if possible].

Counting Food Waste in Calories

Reposted in full from The Economist, 26 November 2009

'In many countries one of the side effects of the second world war was to breed a generation that could not abide waste. Newspapers, jars and string were diligently saved and reused. Glass bottles were returned to their makers. Most importantly, though, food was never, ever thrown away. Leftovers were recycled into new meals, day after day. Fast forward to today and things have changed. There are reports of rich countries throwing out 25-30% of what is bought. Add in what never even makes it to the cupboard or the refrigerator, and the scale of the problem is considerably larger.

Reliable data, though, are scarce. Existing reports usually collate small-scale studies of households' leftovers and rubbish bins and then extrapolate the results across a country. So Kevin Hall and his colleagues at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, in Bethesda, Maryland, decided to look at the problem in a new way.

As they report in the Public Library of Science, they calculated the calorific consumption of America's population based on data in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey carried out by the country's Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. They then compared that figure with recorded levels of food production, modified for imports and exports.

They found that the average American wastes 1,400 kilocalories a day. That amounts to 150 trillion kilocalories a year for the country as a whole-about 40% of its food supply, up from 28% in 1974. Producing these wasted calories accounts for more than one-quarter of America's consumption of freshwater, and also uses about 300m barrels of oil a year. On top of that, a lot of methane (a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) emerges when all this food rots.

Food that is not eaten cannot, of course, make someone fat. Nevertheless, Dr Hall and his colleagues suspect the wastage they have discovered and America's rising levels of obesity are connected. They suggest what they call the 'push effect' of increased food availability and marketing is responsible. The upshot is more food in the waste-bin, as well as more in the stomach.

That is probably not the whole story, however. The cheaper food is, the more likely it is to be thrown away even before it is sold to someone who might actually eat it. Such supply-chain waste can be built into the price, and usually makes economic sense. Throwing away leftovers is often better business than risking running out of stock. Yet any waste of a valuable resource is offensive at a visceral level. Just ask those who lived through the war.'