02 January 2010

From a Failed Growth Economy to a Steady-State Economy

Reposted in full from The Oil Drum, 6 June 2009

The below is a speech Herman Daly made at the United States Society for Ecological Economics bi-annual conference in 2009.

'From a Failed Growth Economy to a Steady-State Economy

USSEE lecture, June 1, 2009
Herman E. Daly
School of Public Policy
University of Maryland

A steady-state economy is incompatible with continuous growth - either positive or negative growth. The goal of a steady state is to sustain a constant, sufficient stock of real wealth and people for a long time.

A downward spiral of negative growth, a depression such as we are entering now, is a failed growth economy, not a steady-state economy. Halting an accelerating downward spiral is necessary, but is not the same thing as resuming continuous positive growth.

The growth economy now fails in two ways:

(1) positive growth becomes uneconomic in our full-world economy

(2) negative growth, resulting from the bursting of financial bubbles inflated beyond physical limits, though temporarily necessary, soon becomes self-destructive

That leaves a non-growing or steady-state economy as the only long run alternative. The level of physical wealth that the biosphere can sustain in a steady state may well be below the present level. The fact that recent efforts at growth have resulted mainly in bubbles suggests that this is so. Nevertheless, current policies all aim for the full re-establishment of the growth economy. No one denies that our problems would be easier to solve if we were richer. The question is, does growth any longer make us richer, or is it now making us poorer?

I will spend a few more minutes cursing the darkness of growth, but will then try to light ten little candles along the path to a steady state. Some advise me to forget the darkness and focus on the policy candles. But I find that without a dark background the light of my little candles is not visible in the false dawn projected by the economists, whose campaigning optimism never gives hope a chance to emerge from the shadows.

We have many problems (poverty, unemployment, environmental destruction, budget deficit, trade deficit, bailouts, bankruptcy, foreclosures, etc), but apparently only one solution: economic growth, or as the pundits now like to say, “to grow the economy” - as if it were a potted plant with healing leaves, like aloe vera or marijuana.

But let us stop right there and ask two questions that all students should put to their economics professors.

First, there is a deep theorem in mathematics that says when something grows it gets bigger! So, when the economy grows it too gets bigger. How big can the economy be, Professor? How big is it now? How big should it be? Have economists ever considered these questions? And most pointedly, what makes them think that growth (ie. physical expansion of the economic subsystem into the finite containing biosphere), is not already increasing environmental and social costs faster than production benefits, thereby becoming uneconomic growth, making us poorer, not richer?

After all, real GDP, the measure of “economic” growth so-called, does not separate costs from benefits, but conflates them as “economic” activity. How would we know when growth became uneconomic? Remedial and defensive activity becomes ever greater as we grow from an “empty-world” to a “full-world” economy, characterized by congestion, interference, displacement, depletion and pollution. The defensive expenditures induced by these negatives are all added to GDP, not subtracted. Be prepared, students, for some hand waving, throat clearing, and subject changing. But don’t be bluffed.

Second question; do you then, Professor, see growth as a continuing process, desirable in itself - or as a temporary process required to reach a sufficient level of wealth which would thereafter be maintained more or less in a steady state? At least 99% of modern neoclassical economists hold the growth forever view. We have to go back to John Stuart Mill and the earlier Classical Economists to find serious treatment of the idea of a non-growing economy, the Stationary State. What makes modern economists so sure that the Classical Economists were wrong? Just dropping history of economic thought from the curriculum is not a refutation!

Here are some reasons to think that the Classical Economists are right.

A long run norm of continuous growth could make sense, only if one of the three following conditions were true:

(a) if the economy were not an open subsystem of a finite and non-growing biophysical system,
(b) if the economy were growing in a non physical dimension, or
(c) if the laws of thermodynamics did not hold

Let us consider each of these three logical alternatives (If you can think of a fourth one let me know):

(a) Some economists in fact think of nature as the set of extractive subsectors of the economy (forests, fisheries, mines, wells, pastures, and even agriculture). The economy, not the ecosystem or biosphere, is seen as the whole; nature is a collection of parts. If the economy is the whole then it is not a part of any larger thing or system that might restrain its expansion. If some extractive natural subsector gets scarce we will just substitute other sectors for it and growth of the whole economy will continue, not into any restraining biospheric envelope, but into sidereal space presumably full of resource-bearing asteroids and friendly highly-evolved aliens eager to teach us how to grow forever into their territory. Sources and sinks are considered infinite.

(b) Some economists say that what is growing in economic growth is value, and value is not reducible to physical units. The latter is true of course, but that does not mean that value is independent of physics! After all, value is price times quantity, and quantity is always basically physical. Even services are always the service of something or somebody for some time period, and people who render services have to eat. The value unit of GDP is not dollars, but dollar’s worth. A dollar’s worth of gasoline is a physical amount, currently about half a gallon. The aggregation of the dollar’s worth amounts of many different physical commodities (GDP) does not abolish the physicality of the measure even though the aggregate can no longer be expressed in physical units. True, $/q x q = $. But the fact that q cancels out mathematically does not mean that the aggregate measure, “dollars’ worth”, is just a pile of dollars. And it doesn’t help to speak instead of “value added” (by labor and capital) because we must ask, to what is the value added? And the answer is natural resources, low-entropy matter/energy—not fairy dust or frog’s hair! Development (squeezing more welfare from the same throughput of resources) is a good thing. Growth (pushing more resources through a physically larger economy) is the problem. Limiting quantitative growth is the way to force qualitative development.

(c) If resources could be created out of nothing, and wastes could be annihilated into nothing, then we could have an ever-growing resource throughput by which to fuel the continuous growth of the economy. But the first law of thermodynamics says NO. Or if we could just recycle the same matter and energy through the economy faster and faster we could keep growth going. The circular flow diagram of all economics principles texts unfortunately comes very close to affirming this. But the second law of thermodynamics says NO.

So - if we can’t grow our way out of all problems, then maybe we should reconsider the logic and virtues of non-growth, the steady-state economy. Why this refusal by neoclassical economists both to face common sense, and to reconsider the ideas of the early Classical Economists?

I think the answer is distressingly simple. Without growth the only way to cure poverty is by sharing. But redistribution is anathema. Without growth to push the hoped for demographic transition, the only way to cure overpopulation is by population control. A second anathema. Without growth the only way to increase funds to invest in environmental repair is by reducing current consumption. Anathema number three. Three anathemas and you are damned—go to hell!

And without growth how will we build up arsenals to protect democracy (and remaining petroleum reserves)? How will we go to Mars and Saturn and “conquer” space? Where can technical progress come from if not from unintended spin-offs from the military and from space research? Gnostic techno-fantasies of escaping earth to outer space, and of abolishing disease and death itself, feed on the perpetual growth myth of no limits. Digital-brained techies, who have never heard of the problem of evil, see heaven on earth (eternal growth) just around the corner. Without growth we must face the difficult religious task of finding a different god to worship. Too scary, we say, let’s try to grow some more instead! Let’s jump-start the GDP and the Dow-Jones! Let’s build another tower of Babel with obfuscating technical terms like sub-prime mortgage, derivative, securitized investment vehicle, collateralized debt obligation, credit default swap, “toxic” assets, and insider slang like the “dead cat bounce”. (If you drop it from a high enough tower of Babel even a dead cat will bounce enough to make some profit.)

Well, let us not do that. Let us ignore the anathemas and instead think about what policies would be required to move to a steady-state economy. They are a bit radical by present standards, but not as insanely unrealistic as any of the three alternatives for validating continuous growth, just discussed.

Let us look briefly at ten specific policy proposals for moving to a steady-state economy, i.e., an economy that maintains a constant metabolic flow of resources from depletion to pollution—a throughput that is within the assimilative and regenerative capacities of the ecosystem.

1. Cap-auction-trade systems for basic resources

Caps limit biophysical scale by quotas on depletion or pollution, whichever is more limiting. Auctioning the quotas captures scarcity rents for equitable redistribution. Trade allows efficient allocation to highest uses. This policy has the advantage of transparency. There is a limit to the amount and rate of depletion and pollution that the economy can be allowed to impose on the ecosystem. Caps are quotas, limits to the throughput of basic resources, especially fossil fuels. The quota usually should be applied at the input end because depletion is more spatially concentrated than pollution and hence easier to monitor. Also the higher price of basic resources will induce their more economical use at each upstream stage of production. It may be that the effective limit in use of a resource comes from the pollution it causes rather than from depletion—no matter, we indirectly limit pollution by restricting depletion of the resource that ultimately is converted into wastes. Limiting barrels, tons, and cubic feet of carbon fuels extracted will limit tons of CO2 emitted. This scale limit serves the goal of biophysical sustainability. Ownership of the quotas is initially public—the government auctions them to the individuals and firms. The revenues go to the treasury and are used to replace regressive taxes, such as the payroll tax, and to reduce income tax on the lowest incomes. Once purchased at auction the quotas can be freely bought and sold by third parties, just as can the resources whose rate of depletion they limit. The trading allows efficient allocation; the auction serves just distribution, and the cap serves the goal of sustainable scale. The same logic can be applied to limiting the off-take from fisheries and forests.

2. Ecological tax reform

Shift tax base from value added (labor and capital) and on to “that to which value is added”, namely the entropic throughput of resources extracted from nature (depletion), and returned to nature (pollution). This internalizes external costs as well as raises revenue more equitably. It prices the scarce but previously un-priced contribution of nature. Value added is something we want to encourage, so stop taxing it. Depletion and pollution are things we want to discourage, so tax them. Ecological tax reform can be an alternative or a supplement to cap-auction-trade systems.

3. Limit the range of inequality in income distribution

A minimum income and a maximum income. Without aggregate growth poverty reduction requires redistribution. Complete equality is unfair; unlimited inequality is unfair. Seek fair limits to the range of inequality. The civil service, the military, and the university manage with a range of inequality of a factor of 15 or 20. Corporate America has a range of 500 or more. Many industrial nations are below 25. Could we not limit the range to, say, 100, and see how it works? People who have reached the limit could either work for nothing at the margin if they enjoy their work, or devote their extra time to hobbies or public service. The demand left unmet by those at the top will be filled by those who are below the maximum. A sense of community necessary for democracy is hard to maintain across the vast income differences current in the US. Rich and poor separated by a factor of 500 become almost different species. The main justification for such differences has been that they stimulate growth, which will one day make everyone rich. This may have had superficial plausibility in an empty world, but in our full world it is a fairy tale.

4. Free up the length of the working day, week, and year

Allow greater option for part-time or personal work. Full-time external employment for all is hard to provide without growth. Other industrial countries have much longer vacations and maternity leaves than the US. For the Classical Economists the length of the working day was a key variable by which the worker (self-employed yeoman or artisan) balanced the marginal disutility of labor with the marginal utility of income and of leisure so as to maximize enjoyment of life. Under industrialism the length of the working day became a parameter rather than a variable (and for Karl Marx was the key determinant of the rate of exploitation). We need to make it more of a variable subject to choice by the worker. And we should stop biasing the labor–leisure choice by advertising to stimulate more consumption and more labor to pay for it. Advertising should no longer be treated as a tax deductible ordinary expense of production.

5. Re-regulate international commerce

Move away from free trade, free capital mobility and globalization, adopt compensating tariffs to protect, not inefficient firms, but efficient national policies of cost internalization from standards-lowering competition. We cannot integrate with the global economy and at the same time have higher wages, environmental standards, and social safety nets than the rest of the world. Trade and capital mobility must be balanced and fair, not deregulated or “free”. Tariffs are also a good source of revenue that could substitute for other taxes.

6. Downgrade the IMF-WB-WTO to something like Keynes’ original plan for a multilateral payments clearing union, charging penalty rates on surplus as well as deficit balances

Seek balance on current account, and thereby avoid large foreign debts and capital account transfers. For example, under Keynes’ plan the US would pay a penalty charge to the clearing union for its large deficit with the rest of the world, and China would also pay a similar penalty for its surplus. Both sides of the imbalance would be pressured to balance their current accounts by financial penalties, and if need be by exchange rate adjustments relative to the clearing account unit, called the bancor by Keynes. The bancor would serve as world reserve currency, a privilege that should not be enjoyed by any national currency. The IMF preaches free trade based on comparative advantage, and has done so for a long time. More recently the IMF-WB-WTO have started preaching the gospel of globalization, which, in addition to free trade, means free capital mobility internationally. The classical comparative advantage argument, however, explicitly assumes international capital immobility! When confronted with this contradiction the IMF waves its hands, suggests that you might be a xenophobe, and changes the subject. The IMF-WB-WTO contradict themselves in service to the interests of transnational corporations. International capital mobility, coupled with free trade, allows corporations to escape from national regulation in the public interest, playing one nation off against another. Since there is no global government they are in effect uncontrolled. The nearest thing we have to a global government (IMF-WB-WTO) has shown no interest in regulating transnational capital for the common good.

7. Move away from fractional reserve banking toward a system of 100% reserve requirements.

This would put control of the money supply and seigniorage in hands of the government rather than private banks, which would no longer be able to create money out of nothing and lend it at interest. All quasi-bank financial institutions should be brought under this rule, regulated as commercial banks subject to 100% reserve requirements. Banks would earn their profit by financial intermediation only, lending savers’ money for them (charging a loan rate higher than the rate paid to savings account depositors) and providing checking, safekeeping, and other services. With 100% reserves every dollar loaned would be a dollar previously saved, re-establishing the classical balance between abstinence and investment. The government can pay its expenses by issuing more non interest-bearing fiat money to make up for the eliminated bank-created, interest-bearing money. However, it can only do this up to a strict limit imposed by inflation. If the government issues more money than the public wants to hold, the public will trade it for goods, driving the price level up. As soon as the price index begins to rise the government must print less and tax more. Thus a policy of maintaining a constant price index would govern the internal value of the dollar. The external value of the dollar could be left to freely fluctuating exchange rates (or preferably to the rate against the bancor in Keynes’ clearing union).

8. Stop treating the scarce as if it were non-scarce, but also stop treating the non-scarce as if it were scarce.

Enclose the remaining commons of rival natural capital (e.g. atmosphere, electromagnetic spectrum, public lands) in public trusts, and price it by a cap-auction–trade system, or by taxes, while freeing from private enclosure and prices the non-rival commonwealth of knowledge and information. Knowledge, unlike throughput, is not divided in the sharing, but multiplied. Once knowledge exists, the opportunity cost of sharing it is zero and its allocative price should be zero. International development aid should more and more take the form of freely and actively shared knowledge, along with small grants, and less and less the form of large interest-bearing loans. Sharing knowledge costs little, does not create un-repayable debts, and it increases the productivity of the truly rival and scarce factors of production. Existing knowledge is the most important input to the production of new knowledge, and keeping it artificially scarce and expensive is perverse. Patent monopolies (aka “intellectual property rights”) should be given for fewer “inventions”, and for fewer years. Costs of production of new knowledge should, more and more, be publicly financed and then the knowledge freely shared.

9. Stabilize population

Work toward a balance in which births plus in-migrants equals deaths plus out-migrants. This is controversial and difficult, but as a start contraception should be made available for voluntary use everywhere. And while each nation can debate whether it should accept many or few immigrants, such a debate is rendered moot if immigration laws are not enforced. Support voluntary family planning, and enforcement of reasonable immigration laws, democratically enacted in spite of the cheap labor lobby.

10. Reform national accounts

Separate GDP into a cost account and a benefits account. Compare them at the margin, stop throughput growth when marginal costs equal marginal benefits. In addition to this objective approach, recognize the importance of the subjective studies that show that, beyond a threshold, further GDP growth does not increase self-evaluated happiness. Beyond a level already reached in many countries GDP growth delivers no more happiness, but continues to generate depletion and pollution. At a minimum we must not just assume that GDP growth is “economic growth”, but prove it. And start by trying to refute the mountain of contrary evidence.

While these policies will appear radical to many, it is worth remembering that they are amenable to gradual application. One hundred percent reserves can be approached gradually, the range of distribution can be restricted gradually, caps can be adjusted gradually, etc. Also these measures are based on the conservative institutions of private property and decentralized market allocation. They simply recognize that private property loses its legitimacy if too unequally distributed, and that markets lose their legitimacy if prices do not tell the whole truth about opportunity costs.

In addition, the macro-economy becomes an absurdity if its scale is structurally required to grow beyond the biophysical limits of the Earth. And well before reaching that radical physical limit we are encountering the conservative economic limit in which extra costs of growth become greater than the extra benefits, ushering in the era of uneconomic growth, so far unrecognized.'

Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch

Longish, but Michael Pollan wrote it = its worth reading!

Excerpt from The New York Times, 29 July, 2009

'...How amazing is it that we live today in a culture that has not only something called the Food Network but now a hit show on that network called “The Next Food Network Star,” which thousands of 20- and 30-somethings compete eagerly to become? It would seem we have come a long way from Swanson TV dinners.

The Food Network can now be seen in nearly 100 million American homes and on most nights commands more viewers than any of the cable news channels...The popularity of cooking shows — or perhaps I should say food shows — has spread beyond the precincts of public or cable television to the broadcast networks, where Gordon Ramsay terrorizes newbie chefs on “Hell’s Kitchen” on Fox and Jamie Oliver is preparing a reality show on ABC in which he takes aim at an American city with an obesity problem and tries to teach the population how to cook. It’s no wonder that a Hollywood studio would conclude that American audiences had an appetite for a movie in which the road to personal fulfillment and public success passes through the kitchen and turns, crucially, on a recipe for boeuf bourguignon...

But here’s what I don’t get: How is it that we are so eager to watch other people browning beef cubes on screen but so much less eager to brown them ourselves? For the rise of [TV cooking shows] — has, paradoxically, coincided with the rise of fast food, home-meal replacements and the decline and fall of everyday home cooking.

That decline has several causes: women working outside the home; food companies persuading Americans to let them do the cooking; and advances in technology that made it easier for them to do so. Cooking is no longer obligatory, and for many people, women especially, that has been a blessing. But perhaps a mixed blessing, to judge by the culture’s continuing, if not deepening, fascination with the subject. It has been easier for us to give up cooking than it has been to give up talking about it — and watching it.

Today the average American spends a mere 27 minutes a day on food preparation (another four minutes cleaning up)...It’s also less than half the time it takes to watch a single episode of “Top Chef” or “Chopped” or “The Next Food Network Star.” What this suggests is that a great many Americans are spending considerably more time watching images of cooking on television than they are cooking themselves — an increasingly archaic activity they will tell you they no longer have the time for.

What is wrong with this picture?

...kitchen work itself has changed considerably since 1963, judging from its depiction on today’s how-to shows. Take the concept of cooking from scratch. Many of today’s cooking programs rely unapologetically on ingredients that themselves contain lots of ingredients: canned soups, jarred mayonnaise, frozen vegetables, powdered sauces, vanilla wafers, limeade concentrate, Marshmallow Fluff. This probably shouldn’t surprise us: processed foods have so thoroughly colonized the American kitchen and diet that they have redefined what passes today for cooking, not to mention food. Many of these convenience foods have been sold to women as tools of liberation; the rhetoric of kitchen oppression has been cleverly hijacked by food marketers and the cooking shows they sponsor to sell more stuff. So the shows encourage home cooks to take all manner of shortcuts, each of which involves buying another product, and all of which taken together have succeeded in redefining what is commonly meant by the verb “to cook.”

...[veteran food-marketing researcher, Harry Balzer]..."Here’s an analogy,” Balzer said. “A hundred years ago, chicken for dinner meant going out and catching, killing, plucking and gutting a chicken. Do you know anybody who still does that? It would be considered crazy! Well, that’s exactly how cooking will seem to your grandchildren: something people used to do when they had no other choice. Get over it.”

After my discouraging hour on the phone with Balzer, I settled in for a couple more with the Food Network, trying to square his dismal view of our interest in cooking with the hyperexuberant, even fetishized images of cooking that are presented on the screen...

Erica Gruen, the cable executive often credited with putting the Food Network on the map in the late ’90s, recognized early on that, as she told a journalist, “people don’t watch television to learn things.” So she shifted the network’s target audience from people who love to cook to people who love to eat, a considerably larger universe and one that — important for a cable network — happens to contain a great many more men.

In prime time, the Food Network’s mise-en-scène shifts to masculine arenas like the Kitchen Stadium on “Iron Chef,” where famous restaurant chefs wage gladiatorial combat to see who can, in 60 minutes, concoct the most spectacular meal from a secret ingredient ceremoniously unveiled just as the clock starts: an octopus or a bunch of bananas or a whole school of daurade...

These shows move so fast, in such a blur of flashing knives, frantic pantry raids and more sheer fire than you would ever want to see in your own kitchen...you do have to wonder how easily so specialized a set of skills might translate to the home kitchen — or anywhere else for that matter. For when in real life are even professional chefs required to conceive and execute dishes in 20 minutes from ingredients selected by a third party exhibiting obvious sadistic tendencies? (String cheese?) Never, is when. The skills celebrated on the Food Network in prime time are precisely the skills necessary to succeed on the Food Network in prime time. They will come in handy nowhere else on God’s green earth.

We learn things watching these cooking competitions, but they’re not things about how to cook. There are no recipes to follow; the contests fly by much too fast for viewers to take in any practical tips; and the kind of cooking practiced in prime time is far more spectacular than anything you would ever try at home. No, for anyone hoping to pick up a few dinnertime tips, the implicit message of today’s prime-time cooking shows is, Don’t try this at home. If you really want to eat this way, go to a restaurant. Or as a chef friend put it when I asked him if he thought I could learn anything about cooking by watching the Food Network, “How much do you learn about playing basketball by watching the N.B.A.?”

What we mainly learn about on the Food Network in prime time is culinary fashion, which is no small thing...

But the shift from producing food on television to consuming it strikes me as a far-less-salubrious development. Traditionally, the recipe for the typical dump-and-stir program comprises about 80 percent cooking followed by 20 percent eating...

The historical drift of cooking programs — from a genuine interest in producing food yourself to the spectacle of merely consuming it — surely owes a lot to the decline of cooking in our culture, but it also has something to do with the gravitational field that eventually overtakes anything in television’s orbit...

On a commercial network, a program that actually inspired viewers to get off the couch and spend an hour cooking a meal would be a commercial disaster, for it would mean they were turning off the television to do something else...

Buying, not making, is what cooking shows are mostly now about...[they have] helped to transform cooking from something you do into something you watch — into yet another confection of spectacle and celebrity that keeps us pinned to the couch. The formula is as circular and self-reinforcing as a TV dinner: a simulacrum of home cooking that is sold on TV and designed to be eaten in front of the TV...

To point out that television has succeeded in turning cooking into a spectator sport raises the question of why anyone would want to watch other people cook in the first place. There are plenty of things we’ve stopped doing for ourselves that we have no desire to watch other people do on TV: you don’t see shows about changing the oil in your car or ironing shirts or reading newspapers. So what is it about cooking, specifically, that makes it such good television just now?

It’s worth keeping in mind that watching other people cook is not exactly a new behavior for us humans. Even when “everyone” still cooked, there were plenty of us who mainly watched: men, for the most part, and children. Most of us have happy memories of watching our mothers in the kitchen, performing feats that sometimes looked very much like sorcery and typically resulted in something tasty to eat. Watching my mother transform the raw materials of nature — a handful of plants, an animal’s flesh — into a favorite dinner was always a pretty good show...

Yet even the most ordinary dish follows a similar arc of transformation, magically becoming something greater than the sum of its parts. Every dish contains not just culinary ingredients but also the ingredients of narrative: a beginning, a middle and an end. Bring in the element of fire — cooking’s deus ex machina — and you’ve got a tasty little drama right there, the whole thing unfolding in a TV-friendly span of time: 30 minutes (at 350 degrees) will usually do it.

Cooking shows also benefit from the fact that food itself is — by definition — attractive to the humans who eat it, and that attraction can be enhanced by food styling...

You’ll be flipping aimlessly through the cable channels when a slow-motion cascade of glistening red cherries or a tongue of flame lapping at a slab of meat on the grill will catch your eye, and your reptilian brain will paralyze your thumb on the remote, forcing you to stop to see what’s cooking. Food shows are the campfires in the deep cable forest, drawing us like hungry wanderers to their flames...

No matter how well produced, a televised oil change and lube offers no such satisfactions.

I suspect we’re drawn to the textures and rhythms of kitchen work, too, which seem so much more direct and satisfying than the more abstract and formless tasks most of us perform in our jobs nowadays. The chefs on TV get to put their hands on real stuff, not keyboards and screens but fundamental things like plants and animals and fungi; they get to work with fire and ice and perform feats of alchemy...

“You know what I love about cooking?” Julie tells us in a voice-over as we watch her field yet another inconclusive call on her headset. “I love that after a day where nothing is sure — and when I say nothing, I mean nothing — you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. It’s such a comfort.” How many of us still do work that engages us in a dialogue with the material world and ends — assuming the soufflé doesn’t collapse — with such a gratifying and tasty sense of closure? Come to think of it, even the collapse of the soufflé is at least definitive, which is more than you can say about most of what you will do at work tomorrow.

If cooking really offers all these satisfactions, then why don’t we do more of it? Well...for most of us it doesn’t pay the rent, and very often our work doesn’t leave us the time...

For many years now, Americans have been putting in longer hours at work and enjoying less time at home. Since 1967, we’ve added 167 hours — the equivalent of a month’s full-time labor — to the total amount of time we spend at work each year, and in households where both parents work, the figure is more like 400 hours. Americans today spend more time working than people in any other industrialized nation — an extra two weeks or more a year. Not surprisingly, in those countries where people still take cooking seriously, they also have more time to devote to it.

It’s generally assumed that the entrance of women into the work force is responsible for the collapse of home cooking, but that turns out to be only part of the story. Yes, women with jobs outside the home spend less time cooking — but so do women without jobs. The amount of time spent on food preparation in America has fallen at the same precipitous rate among women who don’t work outside the home as it has among women who do: in both cases, a decline of about 40 percent since 1965. (Though for married women who don’t have jobs, the amount of time spent cooking remains greater: 58 minutes a day, as compared with 36 for married women who do have jobs.) In general, spending on restaurants or takeout food rises with income. Women with jobs have more money to pay corporations to do their cooking, yet all American women now allow corporations to cook for them when they can.

Those corporations have been trying to persuade Americans to let them do the cooking since long before large numbers of women entered the work force. After World War II, the food industry labored mightily to sell American women on all the processed-food wonders it had invented to feed the troops: canned meals, freeze-dried foods, dehydrated potatoes, powdered orange juice and coffee, instant everything. As Laura Shapiro recounts in “Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America,” the food industry strived to “persuade millions of Americans to develop a lasting taste for meals that were a lot like field rations.” The same process of peacetime conversion that industrialized our farming, giving us synthetic fertilizers made from munitions and new pesticides developed from nerve gas, also industrialized our eating.

Shapiro shows that the shift toward industrial cookery began not in response to a demand from women entering the work force but as a supply-driven phenomenon. In fact, for many years American women, whether they worked or not, resisted processed foods, regarding them as a dereliction of their “moral obligation to cook,” something they believed to be a parental responsibility on par with child care. It took years of clever, dedicated marketing to break down this resistance and persuade Americans that opening a can or cooking from a mix really was cooking. Honest. In the 1950s, just-add-water cake mixes languished in the supermarket until the marketers figured out that if you left at least something for the “baker” to do — specifically, crack open an egg — she could take ownership of the cake. Over the years, the food scientists have gotten better and better at simulating real food, keeping it looking attractive and seemingly fresh, and the rapid acceptance of microwave ovens — which went from being in only 8 percent of American households in 1978 to 90 percent today — opened up vast new horizons of home-meal replacement.

Harry Balzer’s research suggests that the corporate project of redefining what it means to cook and serve a meal has succeeded beyond the industry’s wildest expectations. People think nothing of buying frozen peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for their children’s lunchboxes. (Now how much of a timesaver can that be?) “We’ve had a hundred years of packaged foods,” Balzer told me, “and now we’re going to have a hundred years of packaged meals.” Already today, 80 percent of the cost of food eaten in the home goes to someone other than a farmer, which is to say to industrial cooking and packaging and marketing. Balzer is unsentimental about this development: “Do you miss sewing or darning socks? I don’t think so.”

So what are we doing with the time we save by outsourcing our food preparation to corporations and 16-year-old burger flippers? Working, commuting to work, surfing the Internet and, perhaps most curiously of all, watching other people cook on television.

But this may not be quite the paradox it seems. Maybe the reason we like to watch cooking on TV is that there are things about cooking we miss. We might not feel we have the time or the energy to do it ourselves every day, yet we’re not prepared to see it disappear from our lives entirely. Why? Perhaps because cooking — unlike sewing or darning socks — is an activity that strikes a deep emotional chord in us, one that might even go to the heart of our identity as human beings...

Bear with me. Consider for a moment the proposition that as a human activity, cooking is far more important — to our happiness and to our health — than its current role in our lives, not to mention its depiction on TV, might lead you to believe. Let’s see what happens when we take cooking seriously.

The idea that cooking is a defining human activity is not a new one. In 1773, the Scottish writer James Boswell, noting that “no beast is a cook,” called Homo sapiens “the cooking animal,” though he might have reconsidered that definition had he been able to gaze upon the frozen-food cases at Wal-Mart. Fifty years later, in “The Physiology of Taste,” the French gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin claimed that cooking made us who we are; by teaching men to use fire, it had “done the most to advance the cause of civilization.” More recently, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, writing in 1964 in “The Raw and the Cooked,” found that many cultures entertained a similar view, regarding cooking as a symbolic way of distinguishing ourselves from the animals.

For Lévi-Strauss, cooking is a metaphor for the human transformation of nature into culture, but in the years since “The Raw and the Cooked,” other anthropologists have begun to take quite literally the idea that cooking is the key to our humanity.

Earlier this year, Richard Wrangham, a Harvard anthropologist, published a fascinating book called “Catching Fire,” in which he argues that it was the discovery of cooking by our early ancestors — not tool-making or language or meat-eating — that made us human. By providing our primate forebears with a more energy-dense and easy-to-digest diet, cooked food altered the course of human evolution, allowing our brains to grow bigger (brains are notorious energy guzzlers) and our guts to shrink. It seems that raw food takes much more time and energy to chew and digest, which is why other primates of our size carry around substantially larger digestive tracts and spend many more of their waking hours chewing: up to six hours a day...

Also, since cooking detoxifies many foods, it cracked open a treasure trove of nutritious calories unavailable to other animals. Freed from the need to spend our days gathering large quantities of raw food and then chewing (and chewing) it, humans could now devote their time, and their metabolic resources, to other purposes, like creating a culture.

Cooking gave us not just the meal but also the occasion: the practice of eating together at an appointed time and place. This was something new under the sun, for the forager of raw food would likely have fed himself on the go and alone, like the animals. (Or, come to think of it, like the industrial eaters we’ve become, grazing at gas stations and skipping meals.) But sitting down to common meals, making eye contact, sharing food, all served to civilize us; “around that fire,” Wrangham says, “we became tamer.”

If cooking is as central to human identity and culture as Wrangham believes, it stands to reason that the decline of cooking in our time would have a profound effect on modern life. At the very least, you would expect that its rapid disappearance from everyday life might leave us feeling nostalgic for the sights and smells and the sociality of the cook-fire...

Interestingly, the one kind of home cooking that is actually on the rise today (according to Harry Balzer) is outdoor grilling. Chunks of animal flesh seared over an open fire: grilling is cooking at its most fundamental and explicit, the transformation of the raw into the cooked right before our eyes. It makes a certain sense that the grill would be gaining adherents at the very moment when cooking meals and eating them together is fading from the culture. (While men have hardly become equal partners in the kitchen, they are cooking more today than ever before: about 13 percent of all meals, many of them on the grill.)

Yet we don’t crank up the barbecue every day; grilling for most people is more ceremony than routine. We seem to be well on our way to turning cooking into a form of weekend recreation, a backyard sport...or a televised spectator sport we watch from the couch. Cooking’s fate may be to join some of our other weekend exercises in recreational atavism: camping and gardening and hunting and riding on horseback. Something in us apparently likes to be reminded of our distant origins every now and then and to celebrate whatever rough skills for contending with the natural world might survive in us, beneath the thin crust of 21st-century civilization.

To play at farming or foraging for food strikes us as harmless enough, perhaps because the delegating of those activities to other people in real life is something most of us are generally OK with. But to relegate the activity of cooking to a form of play, something that happens just on weekends or mostly on television, seems much more consequential. The fact is that not cooking may well be deleterious to our health, and there is reason to believe that the outsourcing of food preparation to corporations and 16-year-olds has already taken a toll on our physical and psychological well-being.

Consider some recent research on the links between cooking and dietary health. A 2003 study by a group of Harvard economists led by David Cutler found that the rise of food preparation outside the home could explain most of the increase in obesity in America. Mass production has driven down the cost of many foods, not only in terms of price but also in the amount of time required to obtain them. The French fry did not become the most popular “vegetable” in America until industry relieved us of the considerable effort needed to prepare French fries ourselves. Similarly, the mass production of cream-filled cakes, fried chicken wings and taquitos, exotically flavored chips or cheesy puffs of refined flour, has transformed all these hard-to-make-at-home foods into the sort of everyday fare you can pick up at the gas station on a whim and for less than a dollar. The fact that we no longer have to plan or even wait to enjoy these items, as we would if we were making them ourselves, makes us that much more likely to indulge impulsively.

Cutler and his colleagues demonstrate that as the “time cost” of food preparation has fallen, calorie consumption has gone up, particularly consumption of the sort of snack and convenience foods that are typically cooked outside the home. They found that when we don’t have to cook meals, we eat more of them: as the amount of time Americans spend cooking has dropped by about half, the number of meals Americans eat in a day has climbed; since 1977, we’ve added approximately half a meal to our daily intake.

Cutler and his colleagues also surveyed cooking patterns across several cultures and found that obesity rates are inversely correlated with the amount of time spent on food preparation. The more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower its rate of obesity. In fact, the amount of time spent cooking predicts obesity rates more reliably than female participation in the labor force or income. Other research supports the idea that cooking is a better predictor of a healthful diet than social class: a 1992 study in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that poor women who routinely cooked were more likely to eat a more healthful diet than well-to-do women who did not.

So cooking matters — a lot. Which when you think about it, should come as no surprise. When we let corporations do the cooking, they’re bound to go heavy on sugar, fat and salt; these are three tastes we’re hard-wired to like, which happen to be dirt cheap to add and do a good job masking the shortcomings of processed food. And if you make special-occasion foods cheap and easy enough to eat every day, we will eat them every day. The time and work involved in cooking, as well as the delay in gratification built into the process, served as an important check on our appetite. Now that check is gone, and we’re struggling to deal with the consequences.

The question is, Can we ever put the genie back into the bottle? Once it has been destroyed, can a culture of everyday cooking be rebuilt? One in which men share equally in the work? One in which the cooking shows on television once again teach people how to cook from scratch and...actually empower them to do it?

Let us hope so. Because it’s hard to imagine ever reforming the American way of eating or, for that matter, the American food system unless millions of Americans — women and men — are willing to make cooking a part of daily life. The path to a diet of fresher, unprocessed food, not to mention to a revitalized local-food economy, passes straight through the home kitchen...

Michael Pollan, a contributing writer, is the Knight Professor of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book is “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.”

Water Footprint: From Awareness to Policy

From the Water Footprint Network

'An increasing number of people recognise that the water footprint of humanity is unsustainable.

Consumptive water use exceeds available water resources in many places, which results in dropping groundwater and lake levels and emptied rivers in various places. Water pollution is widespread, but unnecessary. Through our consumption of daily goods, we all relate to these problems. Many individuals, businesses and governments have started to ask themselves: what is our contribution?

A number of major companies – including frontrunners Coca Cola, SABMiller, Unilever and Nestlé – have begun to assess the supply-chain water footprint for some of their products. They start discovering that the water footprint of their raw material strongly depends on where they source it from. For example: is sugar sourced from sugar beet or sugar cane? From a humid place or from a semi-arid place where water resources are being over-exploited? From a rain-fed field, an efficiently irrigated field or an irrigated system where most of the water evaporates before it reaches the plant?

By looking into the water footprint in detail – where and when, and what are the local impacts – hotspots can be identified. Next step: reduction of the water footprint in those places where most urgently required. Also national governments realise that for developing well-informed national water policy, they have to look into the water footprint.

Spain is running ahead by making it obligatory that river basin plans are based on a proper analysis of the water footprints of goods produced in the basin and by considering to which extent water-intensive goods for export are made in water-scarce basins.'

Beyond Bailouts: How a Circulation Charge Can Help Save and Transform Global Finance

What if money had an expiry date? What if it cost us to accumulate money? This approach was undertaken successfully in Austria to ameliorate the effects of the Depression!

Sourced from
Kosmos Journal

'The global financial crisis has created tremendous uncertainty about the future prospects of human society. Very few people saw it coming and even fewer, if any, can say with much degree of certainty what will happen next. National governments are currently injecting trillions of dollars into their financial systems and the broader economy simply to cushion the fall of equity prices, home values and employment rates. Several countries have already sought emergency support from the IMF and World Bank and several more may require extensive assistance down the road. Yet these international institutions were neither designed nor equipped to deal with crises of this magnitude.

Adding to our woes are the persistence of monumental global challenges such as terrorism, environmental degradation and climate change, which all must be confronted head on in the very near future. Given their worsening trajectory, one may now look back and realize that these problems were never going to be resolved from within the parameters of a financial system so conducive to myopic decision-making and growth for growth’s sake. Considering the awesome complexity of global challenges and the urgency with which scientists proclaim that humanity must change course immediately, then perhaps we will come to view this financial crisis as an Earth-shaking wake-up call and timely opportunity to align global systems and institutions with global challenges and complexities for the first time.

While many financial experts and politicians are focused on bailouts and the mainstream media is widely locked in to asking experts mundane questions about when the economy will recover, it’s time for global leaders and citizens to start asking the tough questions about what’s next for global finance. What’s beyond the bailouts and efforts to keep the global economy in one piece? Where do we go from here, not only to get credit flowing, but also to create a financial system that works in the service of all of humanity towards the effective resolution of global problems?

New solutions will require new values and new financial instruments to ground these values into the economic system. Without a practical means to change financial wisdom and shift the logic of investment and decision-making processes, new values are bound to remain peripheral and idealistically oriented, rather than central and integrated operating principles. One tool with the power to literally transform the economy and help restore lending emerged prior to another economic crisis, the Great Depression. Its inventor, Silvio Gesell, called it demurrage, a French term borrowed from the shipping industry. We will simply call it a circulation charge and explore its potential within the context that matters most: our need to save and transform global finance.

A Circulation Charge

In 1932, the town of Wörgl, Austria, was suffering from a 35% unemployment rate. The town’s mayor had a long list of projects and only 40,000 Austrian schillings in the bank to pay for them. Rather than spend the money on what would amount to only a fraction of the work that needed to be done, he used the schillings to back the creation of local currency with a unique feature.

The money was designed so that its holder would pay a small fee each month to keep it valid for circulation. Once the fee was paid, a stamp was placed on the back of the paper note to certify it for exchange.

After printing these notes, the mayor of Wörgl then used this currency to begin paying for public projects, thereby introducing it into the town’s circulation. Yet, it was only after this money was spent that the dramatic effects began to take hold. In less than two years from the start of the circulation charge, Wörgl became the first town in Austria to reach full employment. With the equivalent of a modest number of Austrian shillings in circulation, money expert Bernard Lietaer reported, “Water distribution was generalized throughout…. the town was repaved, most houses were repaired and repainted, taxes were being paid early, and forests around the city were replanted.” Clearly, when a town begins to experience full employment during a depression and citizens voluntarily decide to pay their taxes early, people will talk. Within a short period of time, the town’s revitalization garnered international attention and was branded the ‘miracle of Wörgl.’

The Science behind the Miracle

While a part of this marked turnaround came from the town’s revenues in collecting fees from the circulation charge, this was not the most significant force behind the dramatic transformation. Of greater importance were the extraordinary contributions from Wörgl’s increasingly engaged citizens. They were enabled to transform their community and do what was previously thought economically unfeasible after the average velocity of money throughout the town increased fourteen-fold because of the monthly expiration date.

In other words, with the introduction of a circulation charge, money changed hands fourteen times more frequently in the same period of time than did the national currency, the Austrian shilling. An increase in trade and activity of this magnitude represents a dramatic leap in economic activity and confidence that simply cannot be replicated by central governments through spending programs or tax cuts. The achievement truly was a miracle, yet backed by solid innovation and grounded economic strategy. Rather than rely on municipal governments or centralized powers, the people of Wörgl had created the means to take power into their own hands and directly accomplish things that would never have occurred solely through the meddling of relatively arbitrary and inefficient centralized bureaucracies. In a time of financial gridlock such as ours, a circulation charge also presents itself as an ideal economic tool to begin catalyzing lending and thereby melt frozen credit markets.

In his opus The Natural Economic Order, Silvio Gesell introduced the concept as an economic tool to effectively solve the problems of hoarding, interest and inflation. It was his original thinking that served as the basis for the successful stamp scrip currencies in Germany, Austria and America during the Great Depression. His work garnered notable recognition and approval from many of his contemporaries, including some of the most acclaimed economists of the 20th century, including John Maynard Keynes and Irving Fisher.

Going Global

Today, as members of the G20 and architects of the global Bretton Woods II convene to consider new financial instruments for building the 21st century economy, a circulation charge should be at the top of their list. A validation fee of this sort addresses the essential design flaws of the current economy that make it utterly impossible to reconcile finance with environmental sustainability and the alleviation of poverty. These flaws include compulsive exponential economic growth in a world of finite resources, the myopic discounting of the future and a regressive redistribution of wealth into the hands of the world’s wealthiest via the interest on money.

A circulation charge effectively goes to the root of these problems by changing the qualitative nature of how we hold money. It inherently shifts financial thinking towards longer time frames. It creates a natural incentive to lend money without the need for interest, which would mitigate compulsive exponential growth, lessen the costs associated with borrowing and investment and reduce social disparities. It is precisely by shifting these central financial dynamics that markets can naturally begin reversing the inequalities between the rich and poor, facilitate investments in alternative energy infrastructure and create a more resilient financial system.

The implementation of a circulation charge in the global financial system will require profound, unprecedented cooperation between nations. Much like any other global instrument, it will rely on widespread adoption and integration to take hold and succeed. It is for this reason that the G20, as a relatively broad and diverse group of nations, is an excellent starting point for considering this tool. In addition to serving as a catalyst for restoring lending and confidence in markets, it would simultaneously enable a pragmatic shift within the financial system towards achieving the 21st century objectives of sustainable development and the alleviation of poverty.

A circulation charge could be integrated into the financial system through its simultaneous adoption by several nations for their currencies. The tool itself, however, is more naturally predisposed to function as an integral part of a global currency. In fact, it could enable the realization of a global currency by transcending the present weaknesses in monetary policy that arise out of current national fiat currencies and policies. These limitations characteristic of today’s national economies include exponential growth, interest rates, hoarding and inflation. The diverse economic conditions of nation-states within the current economic paradigm mean that national monetary policies are often divergent and frequently irreconcilable. It is therefore only when a global currency is realized that the problems inherent to national currencies are likely to be resolved.

A fully digital currency would also strongly support the efficient and stable adoption of a circulation charge within a relatively short time period. If digitized, the currency could be programmed to automatically deduct the circulation charge instantly, at the time of its expiry date, from anywhere in the world. A digital currency would also enable a faster velocity of money in circulation, greater control and oversight of the money supply and the real-time monitoring of demand. The currency itself, as we saw in the case of Wörgl, also carries the power to quickly restore full employment and effectively decentralize wealth and power into the hands of citizens.

A circulation charge enables the adoption of a monetary policy of zero interest and the creation of a money supply equal to demand. Under such conditions, a global currency could transcend the limitations of national currencies and the arbitrary power and problems that emerge when a national currency, such as the US Dollar, functions as the international reserve currency. A digital global currency with the above characteristics could be far more effectively regulated by global institutions, such as a United Nations agency designated to oversee international currency stability.

While the parameters of this article can merely serve as an introduction to a very broad and important subject, it brings to light the urgent need to recognize that our relationship with money is at the very heart of our global crisis. The consideration and implementation of the requisite financial tools will require the world’s leading nations to forge a common vision for a global economy. Integrating global values and instruments such as a circulation charge into the heart of their monetary policies can help ensure the constant circulation of money and thereby help restore economic activity, lending and the opportunity to catalyze a free market system far more aligned with solving planetary challenges. These are precisely the qualities that will help enable global cooperation and insulate the international community from the inherent dangers that are destined to emerge in the midst of worsening global economic conditions.

A circulation charge also reveals the very real potential to align and reconcile global finance with global values and visionary thinking. Getting there, however, will require bold new approaches in economics and a broader understanding that money is a social creation of the utmost power and importance in our lives. Its understanding and control can no longer be left in the dark corners of arbitrary or centralized power. The true value of money in our lives must be consciously recognized and mastered by all engaged global citizens as a precondition for successfully enabling global transformation. When we do this much-needed work, we will truly hold in our hands the power to change the world.'

Jordan Bruce MacLeod is author of New Currency: How Money Changes the World as We Know It. He is a partner at the consulting firm Cornerstone Global Associates and co-founder of Elevator Software Corporation. Jordan also serves as Co-Chair for the Club of Rome’s tt30 and is the founder of www.NewCurrency.org

New Climate Strategy: Track the World's Wealthiest

Excerpt from Planet Ark, 8 July 2009

'To fairly divide the climate change fight between rich and poor, a new study suggests basing targets for emission cuts on the number of wealthy people, who are also the biggest greenhouse gas emitters, in a country.

Since about half the planet's climate-warming emissions come from less than a billion of its people, it makes sense to follow these rich folks when setting national targets to cut carbon dioxide emissions, the authors wrote on Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As it stands now, under the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol, rich countries shoulder most of the burden for cutting the emissions that spur global warming, while developing countries - including fast-growing economies China and India - are not required to curb greenhouse pollution.

Rich countries, notably the United States, have said this gives developing countries an unfair economic advantage; China, India and other developing countries argue that developed countries have historically spewed more climate-warming gases, and developing countries need time to catch up.

The study suggests setting a uniform international cap on how much carbon dioxide each person could emit in order to limit global emissions; since rich people emit more, they are the ones likely to reach or exceed this cap, whether they live in a rich country or a poor one.

For example, if world leaders agree to keep carbon emissions in 2030 at the same level they are now, no one person's emissions could exceed 11 tons of carbon each year. That means there would be about a billion "high emitters" in 2030 out of a projected world population of 8.1 billion.

By counting the emissions of all the individuals likely to exceed this level, world leaders could provide target emissions cuts for each country. Currently, the world average for individual annual carbon emissions is about 5 tons; each European produces 10 tons and each American produces 20 tons...

"You're distributing the task of doing something about emissions reduction based on the proportion of the population in the country that's actually doing the most damage," said Shoibal Chakravarty of the Princeton Environment Institute, one of the study's authors.

Rich people's lives tend to give off more greenhouse gases because they drive more fossil-fueled vehicles, travel frequently by air and live in big houses that take more fuel to heat and cool.

By focusing on rich people everywhere, rather than rich countries and poor ones, the system of setting carbon-cutting targets based on the number of wealthy individuals in various countries would ease developing countries into any new climate change framework, Chakravarty said by telephone.

"As countries develop - India, China, Brazil and others - over time, they'll have more and more of these (wealthy) individuals and they'll have a higher share of carbon reductions to do in the future," he said.

These obligations, based on the increasing number of rich people in various countries, would kick in as each developing country hit a certain overall level of carbon emissions. This level would be set fairly high, so that economic development would not be hampered in the poorest countries, no matter how many rich people live there...'

US Federal Bill on E-Waste Policies

Excerpt from Greener Computing, 21 July 2009

'... The Electronic Device Recycling Research and Development Act, a nearly identical version of which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in April, provides almost $85 million over the next three years to help spur the growth of electronics recycling practices in the U.S.

The bill, S. 1397, includes four main initiatives: providing grants for R&D into e-waste processes and practices, funding research into environmentally friendly materials for use in electronics, establishing educational curricula for engineering students at all levels to incorporate green design practices into electronics, and publishing a report from the National Academy of Sciences laying out the good and the bad in the current state of electronics recycling.

"For too long, too many people have been improperly dumping electronic devices without being aware of the dangerous effects on our environment," Senator Gillibrand said in a statement.

"This legislation is a win-win for protecting the environment and our families. It takes the right steps to develop the best methods to change the way we dispose of outdated and unused electronics, and the hazardous materials they often contain."

The largest chunk of the proposed funding in the bill - $18 million in 2010, $20 million in 2011, and $22 million in 2012 - goes to research in just about every area of concern in green electronics, from design to disposal or reuse:

(1) Increase the efficiency of and improve electronic device collection and recycling;

(2) Expand the uses and applications for materials recovered from electronic devices;

(3) Develop and demonstrate environmentally friendly alternatives to the use of hazardous and potentially hazardous materials in electronic devices and the production of such devices;

(4) Develop methods to identify, separate, and remove hazardous and potentially hazardous materials from electronic devices and to reuse, recycle, or dispose of such materials in a safe manner;

(5) Reconsider product design and assembly to facilitate and improve refurbishment, reuse, and recycling of electronic devices, including an emphasis on design for recycling;

(6) Conduct lifecycle analyses of electronic devices, including developing tools and methods to assess the environmental impacts of the production, use, and end-of-life management of electronic devices and electronic device components;

(7) Develop product design, tools, and techniques to extend the lifecycle of electronic devices, including methods to promote their upgrade and safe reuse; and

(8) Identify the social, behavioral, and economic barriers to recycling and reuse for electronic devices and develop strategies to increase awareness, consumer acceptance, and the practice of responsible recycling and reuse for such devices.

The bill also sets aside about $5 million per year for the next three years to train engineering students about green design and design for end of life issues.

But also quite significant is the $3 million per year the bill designates for building a database of green alternatives to the materials traditionally used in electronics.

As we're already seeing on other product-design fronts...having this kind of readily accessible database of green materials for product design creates a kind of snowball effect: as more and more manufacturers have access to this information, designing green becomes something approaching an industry standard rather than a product-differentiation feature, and (hopefully) a race to the top starts to take place.

The Senate bill, should it pass and be signed into law, would speed the adoption of new technologies for recycling and reusing electronic waste. But the law does not create a federal standard for takeback programs, which vary from state to state. There are currently 20 states with takeback laws on the books, the most recent being Indiana, although Wisconsin has a law currently wending its way through the state's legislature.

In addition to the patchwork of state laws, there are more than a handful of industry-led initiatives for dealing with e-waste, with the most notably green option being the E-Stewards Initiative launched at the end of 2008 in response to a weakening of a proposed federal program.

For a good overview of how companies are trying - but still oftentimes failing - to incorporate solid e-waste policies in the absence of federal standards, check out Robert Houghton's article 'Responsible Electronics Recycling: Turning Policy into Practice'. Houghton is the CEO of Redemtech, one of the companies leading the E-Stewards project, and has years of insight into the shortcomings of the country's e-waste policies.'

Strategic Development for Restoration - From New Urbanism to Ecocity Building

Excerpt from Ecocities Emerging newsletter, June 2009

'A lesson for the world: neither today's incarnation of environmentalism nor what's usually taken to be "smart growth" is right. Or rather, both are partially right and partially wrong. Here's the story; its lesson applies not only on the edge of the ocean near sea level, as in San Francisco Bay, but everywhere people build cities, towns and villages. Ecocities: one stop shopping for all your solutions!

Architect and New Urbanist Peter Calthorpe...is a well-known champion of New Urbanism and transit-oriented development. His designs are taken from the general arrangements of small towns in that era when towns were still cozy, say the 1940s, and there weren't enough cars or sprawl to give cars and sprawl the bad rap they get these days, as well they should for addicting us to oil and destroying the Earth's climate balance. They had the very temporary delusion in those days when almost everyone could own a car in the US yet nice towns were still with us that cars and cities could be development partners with mutual benefit. Calthorpe says growth is projected at 1.6 million new jobs by 2035 in the Bay Area assuming a healthy economy. It's far better, he says, to build his mildly compact New Urbanist kind of community to prevent the workers from settling 30 to 70 miles away in the Central Valley pushing out farmland and commuting enormous distances. He's right as far as that goes but he offers a very limited list of options: two.

There are a few problems with his proposal. The first is called Peak Oil and the relationship of sprawl to the real estate debacle we've seen practically destroying the banking world, almost the world as we know it...

Wait until gasoline gets even more expensive as petroleum runs short in the near future and people discover the replacement fuels take far more money and energy to provide than the cheap energy that built the suburbs...

Another problem with his proposal from the ecocity point of view is that the densities proposed are not that great, not really that urban and balanced in the sense that you can get around the proposed community in anything like the way real urban centers work to provide housing, jobs and great diversity of products and services at close proximity. Their objectiveis getting people out of their cars some of the time, not getting rid of their cars. Moreover there is something a little wasteful about encouraging people to own cars and not drive very much. Spend $35,000 then not do much about it? The New Urbanists are famous for what I call transit optional development but only the wealthier can afford the luxury to have a seriously polluting item and just not use it much - then feel righteously green in the deal...

But might they not - and Calthorpe too - promote the next step up from New Urbanism, which would be ecocity building? New Urbanism was a step in the right direction but they took it 25 years ago and are still stuck with the same line. With today's multiple crises maybe now is the time for a little more thorough and imaginative thinking on the subject - and some promotion (which developers always do anyway) for a much better yet project...

Another variable that's changed is climate change. There is close to universal agreement among scientists in the field that we are well into a period of global heating and rising seas...

Does rising water also then mean we can actually afford to build on, say, one half or one quarter of the land that will be newly covered by water in the not so distant future and come out way ahead in restoration of both wetlands and bay surface and volume while building too? Not only does ecology suggest we need to study more variables than we used to take for granted but climatology suggests yet even more variables into the future. One would think, then, we really should start taking a very broad perspective if we hope to develop in a way that is genuinely sustainable for this ever faster moving target called the future.

My very modest proposal is this: Given rising seas, why not take the opportunity to solve coastline development problems in a way that solves kindred design problems for all cities and towns everywhere? Maybe there are principles that prevail throughout. (There are!) One stop shopping for all your solutions you might call it, just one of many is the solution for development on low coastlines. That might sound overly ambitious but in fact makes sense, as you will see.

At the same time why not get systematic about slowing global heating and even opening up the discussion about cooling the planet back down a bit. Most scientists say it can't be done - give up. Roll over and play dead. But, nobody has tried yet. Absurdly ambitious? Well, cities are absurdly big, flat and damaging right now so maybe it's not so absurd as it seems at first glance. We need some gigantic thinking for a gigantic set of problems.

Interestingly the starting point in solving these problems is where cities started. In Mesopotamia in the Civilization of Sumer, the city of Ur in present day Iraq, first seriously large city in history, 50,000 to 65,000 variously estimated at its peak, was build on artificial fill. That was around 4,800 years ago. When the Euphrates flooded the city must have been a fantastic place to be, with a vast sea of water flowing past, as if the city were a great ship. That was a "compact" city, a pedestrian city and it simply rose above the flood. With the millions of acres dedicated to cars today, there is no way to raise cities designed for cars on fill, or Calthorpe's transit-optional cities designed to lull car drivers into a kind of 10% consciousness on the subject...

...we don't have a clear idea of what to build. Peter Calthorpe is better than negative or neutral on the subject but got stuck 25 years ago. He's stuck on the ever so bor-ing architecture seen coast to coast with his low to mid rise four story height limit missing the really exciting potential of ecocity architecture. Check out the DMB website for the Saltworks project and see the ever so comfortable and casual architects' upper middle class figures strolling about admiring several different views of green and bay without any imagery of a vital town center or building with any imagination in it featured: life as passive recreation. Calthorpe is missing the ecocity's radical pedestrian accessibility in three dimensions.

Where are the multi-story solar greenhouses, tall buildings terraced for public accessibility so that citizens and visitors can look out to the beautiful views from the buildings instead of always where the animals should be on the shoreline only? Where are the rooftop gardens justified in their relative expense by many users' pleasures? Where are the bridges between buildings, grand pedestrian alleys, gallerias and interior hallways like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul with beams of light falling through skylights into dramatic interiors buzzing with life, interior streets without stress, noise, poison and threat of physical harm from cars?...

If by accident of historical disastrous miscalculation, which was the building of suburbia and the burning of enough oil to keep it going, we have wrecked the climate system of a whole planet, we are now at a point where we need models of how to develop to reverse the phenomenon. The answer is to always restore much more land and waters than we consume in the development process. For every infill there must be a more than equal and opposite unfill development...

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area we could be showing the way to run cities on one-tenth the energy and one fifth the land the US behemoths now consume and leading the way in multiplying vastly the land and waters restored for not just biodiversity but farming too.

Such strategic thinking also enters the realm of rethinking climate change solutions. If we can roll back sprawl to small dense areas of ecocity development then the city can leave room for massive tree planting inconceivable without such change. How about radically reducing deaths in car accidents? How about pleasant streets where the smells, noises and threat of injury and death is non-existent because cars simply aren't there? How about cities that just rise up and let the waters rise around them, that provide enough housing, jobs and everything else that we can just withdraw from sprawl, car and oil addiction and just get on with being healthy? One stop shopping for all your solutions. We can do it if we just think about it but haven't yet. There's no time like the present.'

Costa Rica - Greenest & Happiest

Reposted almost in full from The Guardian, 4 July 2009

'Costa Rica is the greenest and happiest country in the world, according to a new list that ranks nations by combining measures of their ecological footprint with the happiness of their citizens.

Britain is only halfway up the Happy Planet Index (HPI), calculated by the new economics foundation (nef), in 74th place of 143 nations surveyed. The United States features in the 114th slot in the table. The top 10 is dominated by countries from Latin America, while African countries bulk out the bottom of the table.

The HPI measures how much of the Earth's resources nations use and how long and happy a life their citizens enjoy as a result. First calculated in 2006, the second edition adds data on almost all the world's countries and now covers 99% of the world's population.

NEF says the HPI is a much better way of looking the success of countries than through standard measures of economic growth. The HPI shows, for example, that fast-growing economies such as the US, China and India were all greener and happier 20 years ago than they are today.

'The HPI suggests that the path we have been following is, without exception, unable to deliver all three goals: high life satisfaction, high life expectancy and 'one-planet living',' says Saamah Abdallah, nef researcher and the report's lead author...

Costa Ricans top the list because they report the highest life satisfaction in the world, they live slightly longer than Americans, yet have an ecological footprint that is less than a quarter the size. The country only narrowly fails to achieve the goal of what NEF calls 'one-planet living': consuming its fair share of the Earth's natural resources.

The report says the differences between nations show that it is possible to live long, happy lives with much smaller ecological footprints than the highest-consuming nations.

The new HPI also provides the first ever analysis of trends over time for what are supposedly the world's most developed nations, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

OECD nations' HPI scores plummeted between 1960 and the late 1970s. Although there have been some gains since then, HPI scores were still higher in 1961 than in 2005.

Life satisfaction and life expectancy combined have increased 15% over the 45-year period for those living in the rich nations, but it has come at the cost of a 72% rise in their ecological footprint. And the three largest countries in the world – China, India and the US, which are aggressively pursuing growth-based development models – have all seen their HPI scores drop in that time.

The highest placed western nation is the Netherlands. People there live on average over a year longer than people in the US, and have similar levels of life satisfaction – yet their per capita ecological footprint is less than half the size. The Netherlands is therefore over twice as environmentally efficient at achieving good lives as the US, nef says.

The report sets out a 'Happy Planet Charter' calling for an unprecedented collective global effort to develop a 'new narrative' of human progress, encourage good lives that don't cost the earth, and to reduce consumption in the highest-consuming nations – which it says is the biggest barrier to sustainable wellbeing.'

Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?

What are we doing to prepare ourselves for the emerging trends Lester Brown [founder, Worldwatch and Earth Policy Institute] highlights? If we think we can insure ourselves from events internationally in today's global economy, we are kidding ourselves. Brown's main points from this piece are:

- Food scarcity and the resulting higher food prices are pushing poor countries into chaos.

- Such “failed states” can export disease, terrorism, illicit drugs, weapons and refugees.

- Water shortages, soil losses and rising temperatures from global warming are placing severe limits on food production.

- Without massive and rapid intervention to address these three environmental factors, the author argues, a series of government collapses could threaten the world order.

Excerpt from
Scientific American Magazine, May 2009

'One of the toughest things for people to do is to anticipate sudden change. Typically we project the future by extrapolating from trends in the past. Much of the time this approach works well. But sometimes it fails spectacularly, and people are simply blindsided by events such as today’s economic crisis.

For most of us, the idea that civilization itself could disintegrate probably seems preposterous. Who would not find it hard to think seriously about such a complete departure from what we expect of ordinary life? What evidence could make us heed a warning so dire - and how would we go about responding to it? We are so inured to a long list of highly unlikely catastrophes that we are virtually programmed to dismiss them all with a wave of the hand: Sure, our civilization might devolve into chaos - and Earth might collide with an asteroid, too!

For many years I have studied global agricultural, population, environmental and economic trends and their interactions. The combined effects of those trends and the political tensions they generate point to the breakdown of governments and societies. Yet I, too, have resisted the idea that food shortages could bring down not only individual governments but also our global civilization.

I can no longer ignore that risk. Our continuing failure to deal with the environmental declines that are undermining the world food economy - most important, falling water tables, eroding soils and rising temperatures - forces me to conclude that such a collapse is possible.

The Problem of Failed States

Even a cursory look at the vital signs of our current world order lends unwelcome support to my conclusion. And those of us in the environmental field are well into our third decade of charting trends of environmental decline without seeing any significant effort to reverse a single one.

In six of the past nine years world grain production has fallen short of consumption, forcing a steady drawdown in stocks. When the 2008 harvest began, world carryover stocks of grain (the amount in the bin when the new harvest begins) were at 62 days of consumption, a near record low. In response, world grain prices in the spring and summer of last year climbed to the highest level ever.

As demand for food rises faster than supplies are growing, the resulting food-price inflation puts severe stress on the governments of countries already teetering on the edge of chaos. Unable to buy grain or grow their own, hungry people take to the streets. Indeed, even before the steep climb in grain prices in 2008, the number of failing states was expanding.
Many of their problems stem from a failure to slow the growth of their populations. But if the food situation continues to deteriorate, entire nations will break down at an ever increasing rate. We have entered a new era in geopolitics. In the 20th century the main threat to international security was superpower conflict; today it is failing states. It is not the concentration of power but its absence that puts us at risk.

States fail when national governments can no longer provide personal security, food security and basic social services such as education and health care. They often lose control of part or all of their territory.

When governments lose their monopoly on power, law and order begin to disintegrate. After a point, countries can become so dangerous that food relief workers are no longer safe and their programs are halted; in Somalia and Afghanistan, deteriorating conditions have already put such programs in jeopardy.

Failing states are of international concern because they are a source of terrorists, drugs, weapons and refugees, threatening political stability everywhere. Somalia, number one on the 2008 list of failing states, has become a base for piracy. Iraq, number five, is a hotbed for terrorist training. Afghanistan, number seven, is the world’s leading supplier of heroin. Following the massive genocide of 1994 in Rwanda, refugees from that troubled state, thousands of armed soldiers among them, helped to destabilize neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (number six).

Our global civilization depends on a functioning network of politically healthy nation-states to control the spread of infectious disease, to manage the international monetary system, to control international terrorism and to reach scores of other common goals. If the system for controlling infectious diseases—such as polio, SARS or avian flu—breaks down, humanity will be in trouble. Once states fail, no one assumes responsibility for their debt to outside lenders. If enough states disintegrate, their fall will threaten the stability of global civilization itself.

A New Kind of Food Shortage

The surge in world grain prices in 2007 and 2008 - and the threat they pose to food security - has a different, more troubling quality than the increases of the past. During the second half of the 20th century, grain prices rose dramatically several times. In 1972, for instance, the Soviets, recognizing their poor harvest early, quietly cornered the world wheat market. As a result, wheat prices elsewhere more than doubled, pulling rice and corn prices up with them. But this and other price shocks were event-driven—drought in the Soviet Union, a monsoon failure in India, crop-shrinking heat in the US Corn Belt. And the rises were short-lived: prices typically returned to normal with the next harvest.

In contrast, the recent surge in world grain prices is trend-driven, making it unlikely to reverse without a reversal in the trends themselves.

On the demand side, those trends include the ongoing addition of more than 70 million people a year; a growing number of people wanting to move up the food chain to consume highly grain-intensive livestock products [see “The Greenhouse Hamburger,” by Nathan Fiala; Scientific American, February 2009]; and the massive diversion of US grain to ethanol-fuel distilleries.

The extra demand for grain associated with rising affluence varies widely among countries. People in low-income countries where grain supplies 60 percent of calories, such as India, directly consume a bit more than a pound of grain a day. In affluent countries such as the U.S. and Canada, grain consumption per person is nearly four times that much, though perhaps 90 percent of it is consumed indirectly as meat, milk and eggs from grain-fed animals.

The potential for further grain consumption as incomes rise among low-income consumers is huge. But that potential pales beside the insatiable demand for crop-based automotive fuels. A fourth of this year’s US grain harvest- enough to feed 125 million Americans or half a billion Indians at current consumption levels - will go to fuel cars. Yet even if the entire US grain harvest were diverted into making ethanol, it would meet at most 18 percent of US automotive fuel needs. The grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV tank with ethanol could feed one person for a year.

The recent merging of the food and energy economies implies that if the food value of grain is less than its fuel value, the market will move the grain into the energy economy. That double demand is leading to an epic competition between cars and people for the grain supply and to a political and moral issue of unprecedented dimensions. The US, in a misguided effort to reduce its dependence on foreign oil by substituting grain-based fuels, is generating global food insecurity on a scale not seen before.

Water Shortages Mean Food Shortages

What about supply? The three environmental trends I mentioned earlier - the shortage of freshwater, the loss of topsoil and the rising temperatures (and other effects) of global warming - are making it increasingly hard to expand the world’s grain supply fast enough to keep up with demand. Of all those trends, however, the spread of water shortages poses the most immediate threat. The biggest challenge here is irrigation, which consumes 70 percent of the world’s freshwater. Millions of irrigation wells in many countries are now pumping water out of underground sources faster than rainfall can recharge them. The result is falling water tables in countries populated by half the world’s people, including the three big grain producers - China, India and the US.

Usually aquifers are replenishable, but some of the most important ones are not: the “fossil” aquifers, so called because they store ancient water and are not recharged by precipitation. For these - including the vast Ogallala Aquifer that underlies the U.S. Great Plains, the Saudi aquifer and the deep aquifer under the North China Plain - depletion would spell the end of pumping. In arid regions such a loss could also bring an end to agriculture altogether.

In China the water table under the North China Plain, an area that produces more than half of the country’s wheat and a third of its corn, is falling fast. Overpumping has used up most of the water in a shallow aquifer there, forcing well drillers to turn to the region’s deep aquifer, which is not replenishable. A report by the World Bank foresees “catastrophic consequences for future generations” unless water use and supply can quickly be brought back into balance.

As water tables have fallen and irrigation wells have gone dry, China’s wheat crop, the world’s largest, has declined by 8 percent since it peaked at 123 million tons in 1997. In that same period China’s rice production dropped 4 percent. The world’s most populous nation may soon be importing massive quantities of grain.

But water shortages are even more worrying in India. There the margin between food consumption and survival is more precarious. Millions of irrigation wells have dropped water tables in almost every state. As Fred Pearce reported in New Scientist:

Half of India’s traditional hand-dug wells and millions of shallower tube wells have already dried up, bringing a spate of suicides among those who rely on them. Electricity blackouts are reaching epidemic proportions in states where half of the electricity is used to pump water from depths of up to a kilometer [3,300 feet].

A World Bank study reports that 15 percent of India’s food supply is produced by mining groundwater. Stated otherwise, 175 million Indians consume grain produced with water from irrigation wells that will soon be exhausted. The continued shrinking of water supplies could lead to unmanageable food shortages and social conflict.

Less Soil, More Hunger

The scope of the second worrisome trend - the loss of topsoil - is also startling. Topsoil is eroding faster than new soil forms on perhaps a third of the world’s cropland. This thin layer of essential plant nutrients, the very foundation of civilization, took long stretches of geologic time to build up, yet it is typically only about six inches deep.

Its loss from wind and water erosion doomed earlier civilizations.

In 2002 a UN team assessed the food situation in Lesotho, the small, landlocked home of two million people embedded within South Africa. The team’s finding was straightforward:

“Agriculture in Lesotho faces a catastrophic future; crop production is declining and could cease altogether over large tracts of the country if steps are not taken to reverse soil erosion, degradation and the decline in soil fertility.”

In the Western Hemisphere, Haiti - one of the first states to be recognized as failing - was largely self-sufficient in grain 40 years ago. In the years since, though, it has lost nearly all its forests and much of its topsoil, forcing the country to import more than half of its grain.

The third and perhaps most pervasive environmental threat to food security - rising surface temperature - can affect crop yields everywhere. In many countries crops are grown at or near their thermal optimum, so even a minor temperature rise during the growing season can shrink the harvest. A study published by the US National Academy of Sciences has confirmed a rule of thumb among crop ecologists: for every rise of one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above the norm, wheat, rice and corn yields fall by 10 percent.

In the past, most famously when the innovations in the use of fertilizer, irrigation and high-yield varieties of wheat and rice created the “green revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s, the response to the growing demand for food was the successful application of scientific agriculture: the technological fix. This time, regrettably, many of the most productive advances in agricultural technology have already been put into practice, and so the long-term rise in land productivity is slowing down. Between 1950 and 1990 the world’s farmers increased the grain yield per acre by more than 2 percent a year, exceeding the growth of population. But since then, the annual growth in yield has slowed to slightly more than 1 percent. In some countries the yields appear to be near their practical limits, including rice yields in Japan and China.

Some commentators point to genetically modified crop strains as a way out of our predicament. Unfortunately, however, no genetically modified crops have led to dramatically higher yields, comparable to the doubling or tripling of wheat and rice yields that took place during the green revolution. Nor do they seem likely to do so, simply because conventional plant-breeding techniques have already tapped most of the potential for raising crop yields.

Jockeying for Food

As the world’s food security unravels, a dangerous politics of food scarcity is coming into play: individual countries acting in their narrowly defined self-interest are actually worsening the plight of the many. The trend began in 2007, when leading wheat-exporting countries such as Russia and Argentina limited or banned their exports, in hopes of increasing locally available food supplies and thereby bringing down food prices domestically. Vietnam, the world’s second-biggest rice exporter after Thailand, banned its exports for several months for the same reason.

Such moves may reassure those living in the exporting countries, but they are creating panic in importing countries that must rely on what is then left of the world’s exportable grain.

In response to those restrictions, grain importers are trying to nail down long-term bilateral trade agreements that would lock up future grain supplies. The Philippines, no longer able to count on getting rice from the world market, recently negotiated a three-year deal with Vietnam for a guaranteed 1.5 million tons of rice each year. Food-import anxiety is even spawning entirely new efforts by food-importing countries to buy or lease farmland in other countries

In spite of such stopgap measures, soaring food prices and spreading hunger in many other countries are beginning to break down the social order. In several provinces of Thailand the predations of “rice rustlers” have forced villagers to guard their rice fields at night with loaded shotguns. In Pakistan an armed soldier escorts each grain truck. During the first half of 2008, 83 trucks carrying grain in Sudan were hijacked before reaching the Darfur relief camps.

No country is immune to the effects of tightening food supplies, not even the US, the world’s breadbasket. If China turns to the world market for massive quantities of grain, as it has recently done for soybeans, it will have to buy from the US. For US consumers, that would mean competing for the US grain harvest with 1.3 billion Chinese consumers with fast-rising incomes - a nightmare scenario. In such circumstances, it would be tempting for the US to restrict exports, as it did, for instance, with grain and soybeans in the 1970s when domestic prices soared. But that is not an option with China. Chinese investors now hold well over a trillion US dollars, and they have often been the leading international buyers of US Treasury securities issued to finance the fiscal deficit.

Like it or not, US consumers will share their grain with Chinese consumers, no matter how high food prices rise.

Plan B: Our Only Option

Since the current world food shortage is trend-driven, the environmental trends that cause it must be reversed. To do so requires extraordinarily demanding measures, a monumental shift away from business as usual—what we at the Earth Policy Institute call Plan A—to a civilization-saving Plan B...

Similar in scale and urgency to the U.S. mobilization for World War II, Plan B has four components: a massive effort to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent from their 2006 levels by 2020; the stabilization of the world’s population at eight billion by 2040; the eradication of poverty; and the restoration of forests, soils and aquifers.

Net carbon dioxide emissions can be cut by systematically raising energy efficiency and investing massively in the development of renewable sources of energy. We must also ban deforestation worldwide, as several countries already have done, and plant billions of trees to sequester carbon. The transition from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy can be driven by imposing a tax on carbon, while offsetting it with a reduction in income taxes.

Stabilizing population and eradicating poverty go hand in hand. In fact, the key to accelerating the shift to smaller families is eradicating poverty - and vice versa. One way is to ensure at least a primary school education for all children, girls as well as boys. Another is to provide rudimentary, village-level health care, so that people can be confident that their children will survive to adulthood. Women everywhere need access to reproductive health care and family-planning services.

The fourth component, restoring the earth’s natural systems and resources, incorporates a worldwide initiative to arrest the fall in water tables by raising water productivity: the useful activity that can be wrung from each drop. That implies shifting to more efficient irrigation systems and to more water-efficient crops. In some countries, it implies growing (and eating) more wheat and less rice, a water-intensive crop. And for industries and cities, it implies doing what some are doing already, namely, continuously recycling water.

At the same time, we must launch a worldwide effort to conserve soil, similar to the U.S. response to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Terracing the ground, planting trees as shelterbelts against windblown soil erosion, and practicing minimum tillage - in which the soil is not plowed and crop residues are left on the field - are among the most important soil-conservation measures.

There is nothing new about our four interrelated objectives. They have been discussed individually for years. Indeed, we have created entire institutions intended to tackle some of them, such as the World Bank to alleviate poverty. And we have made substantial progress in some parts of the world on at least one of them - the distribution of family-planning services and the associated shift to smaller families that brings population stability.

For many in the development community, the four objectives of Plan B were seen as positive, promoting development as long as they did not cost too much. Others saw them as humanitarian goals - politically correct and morally appropriate. Now a third and far more momentous rationale presents itself: meeting these goals may be necessary to prevent the collapse of our civilization. Yet the cost we project for saving civilization would amount to less than $200 billion a year, a sixth of current global military spending. In effect, Plan B is the new security budget.

Time: Our Scarcest Resource

Our challenge is not only to implement Plan B but also to do it quickly.

The world is in a race between political tipping points and natural ones.

Can we close coal-fired power plants fast enough to prevent the Greenland ice sheet from slipping into the sea and inundating our coastlines? Can we cut carbon emissions fast enough to save the mountain glaciers of Asia?

During the dry season their meltwaters sustain the major rivers of India and China - and by extension, hundreds of millions of people. Can we stabilize population before countries such as India, Pakistan and Yemen are overwhelmed by shortages of the water they need to irrigate their crops?

It is hard to overstate the urgency of our predicament...Every day counts. Unfortunately, we do not know how long we can light our cities with coal, for instance, before Greenland’s ice sheet can no longer be saved. Nature sets the deadlines; nature is the timekeeper. But we human beings cannot see the clock...'

Lester R. Brown, in the words of the Washington Post, is "one of the world's most influential thinkers." The Telegraph of Calcutta has called him "the guru of the environmental movement." Brown is founder of both the Worldwatch Institute (1974) and the Earth Policy Institute (2001), which he heads today. He has authored or co- authored 50 books; his most recent is Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. Brown is the recipient of many prizes and awards, including 24 honorary degrees and a MacArthur Fellowship.'