30 December 2010

Humans Only Have 200-300 Years Left on Earth - Former UK Environment Minister

Reposted in full from The Ecologist, 22 July 2010

'Former environment minister Michael Meacher on the place of humanity in the universe, intelligent design, the survival of the human race, Gaia theory and uncertainties over climate change

Tom Levitt: Your new book is focused on the destination of the human race, but what is our role, if indeed we have one?

Michael Meacher: Well 99.9993 per cent of time since the origin of the universe elapsed before we even came on stage. That doesn't say that it took all that time to produce this wonderful human species but it does seem odd and I think it shows that we are part of a cycle which is continuing. Ninety-nine per cent of all species are extinct - I don't think there is any guarantee of our survival especially if we remain as irresponsible and foolish as we are at the moment.

Irrespective of that I would expect the evolution of life forms to continue alongside and possibly surpass us. But we are an important part of it - we are the first species on earth in all that time that has a sense of morality and spirituality. These are very significant features of the human species which mark us out as very special.

I don't think the whole universe is about us and that's where we come to Stephen Hawking's point about us being exceedingly insignificant because we are on earth - just one of 8 planets in a solar system going round a sun which is one star, just an ordinary star, of which there are 200 billion in our galaxy, the Milky Way. And there are about 100 billion galaxies...

When you think of it in these terms, we are totally insignificant and almost invisible. So you have a contrast and paradox that is the size of universe, beyond are imagination and yet at the same time we are a very unique species. There is something very special about us. You have to somehow combine those two facts. How is it that a species in such a minute part of the universe should turn out to be so significant in the evolution of life forms? I don't think there is any obvious answer.

TL: Does that lead us to believe in a creator?

MM: The religious answer is that God created us in His own image but it does seem very odd that we have a universe of vast size to produce us and that it has taken an inordinately long time to reach this stage of life forms. It doesn't mean it is impossible but it does seem very odd unless you take the view that time is immaterial and we are only at the beginning of it and it will revolve for ever.

I don't believe science has invalidated religion and it can't because they are two utterly different paradigms of existence. Science has enormously increased the wonder of the religious message. It doesn't force us to believe in it but it is compatible with it.

TL: What will happen to humans - can we survive?

MM: We have become very clever in our improvements in technology and engineering over the last 100 years and the level of productivity and extent of exploitation has increased rapidly. But while the earth is extremely bountiful, there are limits to how many resources we can extract without replacing them or enabling them to be recycled and to recover.

We have an overdraft with the earth something in excess of 130 per cent. We currently consume something like 30 per cent over and above what we are replacing and rather like an overdraft at a bank that can't go on.

I don't think we have learnt to keep within the limits. They are quite elastic but there is a point beyond which they will break and then you will get a complete and massive change in the climate in which the survival of human species might not be compatible.

I think with the current rate of exploitation and current disregard for sustainability that our economy and our civilisation has, I think we will easily reach that point in the next 200-300 years.

TL: Will we destroy the earth as well as ourselves?

MM: I don't think so. I think James Lovelock's idea - that when an alien virus invades the human body it fights back and usually manages to surround and destroy the alien - is more likely. Earth will do everything it can to survive with us being the virus it is trying to destroy.

Climate change is one way it is doing it. It is changing the climate - the atmosphere, temperature, ocean acidity and sea levels - all massive changes cumulatively saying to us that we cannot go on as we are. And we cannot go on as we are because we will lose the basic resources which are essential to our survival.

TL: Can we reverse this situation and stop ourselves from heading towards extinction?

MM: We can - we are an intelligent species. The question is whether there is the political leadership in countries to act on what the scientists say. It's not perfect - the description of the atmosphere and the interactions between so many parts of the climate is very complex and I don't think the science is 100 per cent there, but it's 80-90 per cent of the way there, and is being refined all the time. We certainly know plenty more than is necessary to apply the precautionary principle.

The issue is whether there is the political leadership to guide people. The knowledge is there for them but it is the difficulty in actually getting that change in way of life which political leaders by and large are unwilling to press. They prefer to win elections: people in the west like their comfort zones and way of life and political leaders are not willing to press very far.

I think that will only really change when the human races begins to suffer some of the extremely severe consequences of climate change which may be some decades ahead. They will then realise, as we have with the financial crisis, that we are up against the wall and hitting the buffers and we have got to change.

It would be nice if human beings realised those limits and began willingly to act in accordance with them in order to produce more a harmonious relationship with our environment and greater sustainability. But all the evidence is that we are not wiling to do this until forced to. So yes we can change but I doubt whether there is yet the political will.'

The Fixer's Collective

Sourced from Kickstarter, 30 December 2010

'The Fixers’ Collective is a social experiment in improvisational fixing and mending. Our goals are:

1/ To increase material literacy in our community by fostering an ethic of creative caring toward the objects in our lives.

2/ To displace cultural patterns that alienate us from our things, by collectively learning the skills and patience necessary to care for them.

3/ To promote a counter-ethos that values functionality, simplicity, and ingenuity and that respects age, persistence and adequacy.

4/ To encourage our communities to take liberties with designated forms and purposes, resulting in mended objects that exist both as art and within a utilitarian context.'

29 December 2010

A Big Australia?

Reposted in full - Economics Editor Ross Gittins in the Sydney Morning Herald, 24 November 2010

'The Big Australia issue has gone quiet since the election but it hasn't gone away. It can't go away because it's too central to our future and, despite Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott's rare agreement to eschew rapid population growth, the issue remains unresolved.

This year Rebecca Huntley of Ipsos, a global market research firm, and Bernard Salt of KPMG, a financial services firm, conducted interviews with business people and discussions with 13 groups of consumers, showing them two markedly different scenarios of what Australia could look like in 2020.

In the ''measured Australia'' scenario, governments limited population growth, focused on making our activities more environmentally sustainable and limited our economic links with the rest of the world.

In the ''global Australia'' scenario, governments set aside concerns about the environment, promoted rapid economic and population growth, and made Australia ever more a part of Asia.

Not surprisingly, the business people hated measured Australia and loved global Australia. But even though global Australia was described in glowing terms - ignoring the environment apparently had no adverse effects - ordinary people rejected it. And although measured Australia was painted in negative terms - all downside and no upside - there were aspects of it people quite liked.

The message I draw is that if governments keep pursuing rapid growth to please business they'll encounter increasing resentment and resistance from voters.

Considering the human animal's deep-seated fear of foreigners, it's not surprising resentment has focused on immigration. It's clear from the way in the election campaign both sides purported to have set their face against high migration that they're starting to get the message.

But at the moment they're promising to restrict immigration with one hand while encouraging a decade-long, labour-consuming boom in the construction of mines and gas facilities with the other. And this will be happening at a time when the economy is already close to full employment and baby boomers retire as the population ages.

Their two approaches don't fit together. And unless our leaders find a way to resolve the contradiction there's trouble ahead.

Business people support rapid population growth, which really means high immigration; there's little governments can do to influence the birth rate, because they know a bigger population means a bigger economy. And in a bigger economy they can increase their sales and profits.

That's fine for them, but it doesn't necessarily follow that a bigger economy is better for you and me. Only if the extra people add more to national income than their own share of that income will the average incomes of the rest of us be increased. And that's not to say any gain in material standard of living isn't offset by a decline in our quality of life, which goes unmeasured by gross domestic product.

The most recent study by the Productivity Commission, in 2006, found that even extra skilled migration did little or nothing to raise the average incomes of the existing population, with the migrants themselves the only beneficiaries.

This may explain why, this time, economists are approaching the question from the other end: we're getting the future economic growth from the desire of the world's mining companies to greatly expand Australia's capacity to export coal, iron ore and natural gas, but we don't have sufficient skilled labour to meet that need and unless we bring in a lot more labour this episode will end in soaring wages and inflation.

Peter McDonald, a leading demographer at the Australian National University, argues that governments don't determine the level of net migration, the economy does. When our economy's in recession, few immigrants come and more Aussies leave; when the economy's booming, more immigrants come and fewer Aussies leave. Governments could try to resist this increase, but so far they've opted to get out of the way.

To most business people, economists and demographers, the answer to our present problem is obvious: since economic growth must go ahead, the two sides of politics should stop their populist pandering to the punters' resentment of foreigners.

But it seems clear from the Ipsos discussion groups that people's resistance to high immigration focuses on their concerns about the present inadequacy of public infrastructure: roads, transport, water and energy. We're not coping now, what would it be like with more people?

And the punters have a point. In their instinctive reaction to the idea of more foreigners they've put their finger on the great weakness in the economic case for immigration.

As economists know - but don't like to talk or even think about - the reason immigration adds little or nothing to the material living standards of the existing population is that each extra person coming to Australia - the workers and their families - has to be provided with extra capital equipment: a home to live in, machines to use at work and a host of public infrastructure such as roads, public transport, schools, hospitals, libraries, police stations and much else.

The cost of that extra capital has to be set against the benefit from the extra labour. If the extra capital isn't forthcoming, living standards - and, no doubt, quality of life - decline.

If we don't build the extra homes - as we haven't been doing for some years - rents and house prices keep rising, making home ownership less affordable. To build the extra public facilities, governments have to raise taxes and borrow money. But they hate raising taxes and both sides of federal politics have sworn to eliminate government debt.

The interviews and discussion groups revealed both business people and consumers to be highly doubtful about the ability of governments - particularly state governments - to provide the infrastructure we need. As well they might be.

At present, our leaders on both sides are heading towards a future that doesn't add up.'

No Community Consultation in 2011

I LOVE this guy!!

Sourced from David Engwicht's 'Creative Communities' newsletter, December 2010

'Let’s face it. Community consultation is a failed experiment. All it has done is train-up professional axe grinders, then given them a forum in which to grind their axe. In spite of the best intentions of dedicated, hard-working public servants like yourself, the community consultation experiment has resulted in disengaged residents (apart from the professional axe grinders), lowest-common-denominator solutions, and decision-making mired in endless debate...

‘But,’ I hear you ask, ‘What am I supposed to do if I don’t do community consultation?’

Good question. Here are ten suggestions:

1. Abandon customer model. Implement citizen model instead

Over the past thirty years, cities have dramatically changed the way they relate to inhabitants.

For centuries, the concept of the city was built on a notion of ‘citizenship’. For the Greeks, citizenship in the polis was not so much a rank or reward as it was like being in a school, a kind of discipleship that would cultivate a new kind of being: a cultured citizen. As a citizen of the polis, you were part of a cooperative enterprise in building a nurturing environment in which others (including yourself) could reach their highest potential. For the Greeks, the streets and squares were the democratic heart of the city – the place of genuine citizen engagement.

But all this has changed. Instead of relating to inhabitants as ‘citizens’, cities now relate to them as ‘customers’. For example, when traffic colonises a residential street, residents demand that the city calm the traffic. As customers, they have paid (through rates and taxes) for a product – slower traffic in their street.

Under the citizen model, people take personal responsibility for fixing their own problems. If young people burn rubber in the street, they ring the door bell of the young people and work it out. Cost to the city, zero. Under the customer model, these same people ring the council and demand that the city traffic calm their street. Cost to the city, $400,000. Note that the customer model is only viable under conditions of affluence. Outsourcing your civic responsibility is not cheap. Outsourcing civic responsibility also demands ‘community consultation’. Instead of an informal meeting on the doorstep of the offending youth, residents now attend a formal meeting with city authorities to debate where the speed bumps should go. The tragedy is that the real issues, the residents’ psychological retreat from their street and abandoning of their civic duty, is not addressed. The consultation is a smokescreen for avoiding personal responsibility.

Note that this move from the citizen model to the customer model has been a two way street: cities have taken a paternalistic role and residents have abandoned their civic responsibilities. However, the role that cities have adopted is an impossible role. A vibrant civic life is not a ‘product’ that can be delivered by a city bureaucracy. It can only be created by civic-minded citizens working cooperatively.

2. Create authentic place, not more plans

Most community consultation is a substitute for a genuine, authentic experience of place – that is a real experience of community and civic life. The Greek concept of the polis was that each time a person went into the public realm, they would come home a little more civilised and a little more cultured. In a forthcoming book on place, I discuss the power of place-ness to transform us.

I once erected a throne that folds out of a suitcase in a deserted Los Angeles parking lot, home to homeless people. A homeless lady sat regally on the throne, and in that moment was transformed from a homeless lady into Queen of Los Angeles. Every time this homeless lady comes back to her home in the parking lot and remembers the night she sat on the throne, she is transformed once again. This is the essence of place making: creating memorable experiences that are transformative. Place-ness snaps us out of our preoccupation with set plans for the future, and opens up cracks in the wall of our ‘reality’. Through the cracks in the wall, we glimpse possibilities we never knew existed. Who knows, but on that warm, muggy evening in the parking lot, a future mayor of Los Angeles may have been conceived.

Community consultation talks about creating these transformative place experiences. Place making creates the experiences. As Place Maker for the city of Wodonga, charged with turning the main street into the civic heart of the city, the ‘community consultation’ did not involve endless meetings. Instead we organised a street party every Friday night for 12 weeks. People were invited to bring their lounge chairs and reclaim the street as civic space. We watched how people used the street, and as ‘home-maker hosts’ we found ways to enhance that experience – including permanent changes to the streetscape.

Place making is like home making. Part of feeling at home in a space is that you stop being an observer and you become a participant in the experience offered by that space. So, for example, when someone puts their feet up on the coffee table we say they are ‘making themselves at home’. They are making themselves comfortable in the space by taking psychological ownership of it. It is a genuine experience of an authentic place. It is not a hypothetical conversation about what they think would need to change for them to have an authentic experience. The host works with them in helping them construct this authentic experience - organically.

3. Return to incremental planning

By very definition, if you involve the community in the authentic making of place (rather than hypothetical discussions about creating place) then the process will be incremental. In Wodonga we started with a ‘low-hanging fruit plan’, things that we could do instantly that we thought would get the reclaiming of the street moving in the right direction. We also constantly experimented with our Friday night events, watching what worked and what didn’t work, then instigating changes based on these observations.

Sure there is a place for some master-planning in a city for things like future rail lines. But this must be balanced with an incremental, organic approach to the way places evolve. For example, in Beach Haven, New Zealand, the city had $50,000 to spend on the revitalisation of a shopping street. Normally this money would have been eaten up in creating a master plan. I convinced the city to put this money in the middle of a table. I then educated a group of 40 residents on what created great public space and then broke them into teams. They competed to find the most creative way to spend the $50,000. By the end of one-and-a-half days they had reached consensus, and formed a group to oversee the spending of the $50,000. Instead of a consultant’s report, the residents got $50,000 worth of improvements, plus significant altruistic contributions from various sectors of the community. The project is incremental in nature and the residents are involved in the actual creation of their civic space.

4. Stop fixing problems and create DIY Kits

Cities should develop a range of self-help kits that show residents how to address a range of issues, such as traffic and anti-social behaviour. Whenever residents complain about these issues they should be given the DIY kit and told to come back if the kit does not help them resolve the issue. Residents should not get physical design interventions in their street until they have demonstrated that they are taking civic responsibility. This probably means abandoning the Traffic Calming Department and calling it the Department of Civic Responsibility.

5. Establish a Red Tape Reduction Party

The customer model requires increasing levels of regulations. Moving back to a citizen model requires handing back responsibility, which requires a serious commitment to reducing red tape. The Red Tape Reduction Party would be charged with reducing red tape by a set percentage each year along with being a ‘can-do’ trouble-shooting group that helps citizens overcome red tape when it stops them from taking civic responsibility. This would seriously change the culture in the organisation. The first port of call for addressing any issue should be to build citizen capacity, not to introduce new regulations.

6. Take out the traffic signs

The late Hans Monderman was a Dutch engineer who pioneered the removal of traffic control devices from villages. His grand vision was the ‘re-democratization of public space.’ He said, ‘As an engineer, it is not my job to try and forecast every potential problem the village may have in the future and resolve that potential conflict, in advance, through design. Every time I resolve a potential conflict through a new regulation or white line, I de-skill the community in resolving its own conflicts. And resolving conflict is at the heart of building robust, resilient communities.”

7. Change your relationship with developers

There was a time when the creator of a building was allowed to place their building wherever they liked. But they had a civic duty to place the building in a way that contributed to the magic of the public realm. The result was the organic streets and public squares of Europe, full of surprise and inherent genius.

Today developers no longer have a civic duty to ensure their building adds to the magic of the public realm. Instead the city tries to create this ‘civic benefit’ through regulations and master plans. The result is a sterile public realm because the developer, like a naughty child, sees how far they can push the boundaries.

Change your relationship. State exactly what you believe a developer’s civic duties are and what your city’s expectations are. Set the bar high. Then give developers a choice. They can go the regulatory route or the expectations route. The rewards for going the expectation route will be greater flexibility, faster turnaround, and the warm inner glow that comes from altruistic actions.

8. Ban red dots. Real action plans only.

A lot of community consultation has become farcical. Residents (usually the professional axe-grinders) are asked to generate wish-lists on butcher’s paper. They are then given ten red dots to spend on their favourite items on the wish-list. The result is a community vision, with priorities indicated by the clusters of red dots. The butcher’s paper is rolled up, taken back to the office and stuck under a desk. That night, the community consultation fairies come out and sprinkle magic dust on the items with most red dots, and hey presto, they magically spring into being.

I refuse to run community conversations that are bitch and moan sessions or simply result in wish-lists. I have created processes, like ‘Speed Dating Action Plans’, that force every individual to think about what they are prepared to do, and make a commitment to that action. (Detailed instructions are available at www.creative-communities.com/?page_id=69.) People are not allowed to discuss what other people should do. If people are not prepared to take civic responsibility, I give them an opportunity to leave the conversation and go home.

9. Ban public meetings. Parties only.

Meetings provide a venue for professional axe grinders to bitch and moan. Cut them off at the knees. Ban public meetings and have a party instead.

10. Ban stakeholders. ‘Real citizens’ only

Community consultation, as currently practiced, encourages people to wear a ‘single-identity-stakeholder hat’. Every issue a city is asked to deal with is the result of the clash between inherently contradictory human needs. We all have a need to move, and we all have a need to ‘reside’. A sense of place requires us to become rooted to a locality. The conflict between ‘motorists’ and ‘residents’ is not therefore a conflict between two groups of people in the city, but a conflict between different ‘modes of being’ that are deeply ingrained in our psyche. When people arrive at a community consultation meeting, almost everyone will be wearing a single hat: resident, motorist, parent, business owner, environmentalist, cyclist, pedestrian, lover-of-order, lover-of-spontaneity, etc. If we allow people to stay in this single-identity (or worse still actively encourage it by making them a representative of a stakeholder group), we aid and abet citizens in abandoning responsibility for their internal contradictions, and allow them to externalise the tension between their internal contradictions. So, for example, the tension between the motorist and resident in their head is externalised into tension between one group of people wearing their resident hat and another group of people wearing their motorist hat. The result is that each group grinds the other down towards grey neutrality – lowest common-denominator solutions. The only way for people to reach highly creative and sustainable solutions is to own their internal contradictions.

If I am asked to run an already established community consultation process, the first thing I do is find a way to get people out of their single-identity mentality. For example, I may get everyone in the room to exchange identities with ‘their enemy’ and for the rest of the process they must role-play that person (after all, ‘their enemy’ is the part of their psyche currently locked out of the discussion about whatever the issue is that they are struggling with)...

Imagine a world where there are no more community consultation meetings.

Imagine a world where children, those with a disability, the elderly, the disenfranchised are once again part of authentic community, authentic civic life, all happening in authentic places...

If you would like to be on the cutting edge of what is happening in our cities, I am running a series of two-day workshops in 24 cities worldwide in 2011.

David Engwicht
61 (0) 7 3366 7746

27 December 2010

Rebuilding Families and Neighborhoods

Excerpt from YES! Magazine, 22 December 2010

When family members do not work or live well together we sometimes call the family dysfunctional. We prescribe professional help for the family or advocate for social policies that would support it - child care, parental leave, extended unemployment insurance, debt forgiveness.

But the real challenge to the family is that it has lost its job. The functions of the family have been outsourced. The problem is not dysfunction - that’s just a side effect. The problem is non-function, and this has much to do with the growth of the consumer society.

The End of the Functional Family

Consumer society has put an end to the functional family. We normally think of consumerism as buying stuff we want but don’t need, but it runs deeper than that. The essential promise of consumerism is that all of what is fulfilling or needed in life can be purchased—from happiness to healing, from love to laughter, from raising a child to caring for someone at the end of life. What was once the task of the family and the neighborhood is now outsourced. Aunt Martha is forgetful? Little Arthur is restless? Get them a diagnosis and a prescription. In this simple act, we stop being citizens—we become consumers.

Creating a more community-based way to live and find satisfaction, even when surrounded by a consumer culture, requires only that we act as if each of us has what we need.

The cost of our transformation into consumers is that the family has lost its capacity to manage the necessities it traditionally provided. We expect the school, coaches, agencies, social workers, probation officers, sitters and day care to raise our children. The family, while romanticized and held as a cultural ideal, has lost its function as the primary place to raise children, sustain health, care for the vulnerable, and ensure economic security.

The Rise of Neighborhood Incompetence

The neighborhood has also lost its function. Our neighborhoods and communities are no longer able to support the family in its efforts. In most cases, we are disconnected from our neighbors and isolated from our communities. The community and neighborhood are no longer competent.

A competent community provides a safety net for the care of a child, attention and care for the vulnerable, the means for economic survival for the household, and many of the social tools that sustain health. The community, particularly the neighborhood, has the potential to provide the extended support system to help the family in all these key functions. The usefulness that used to reside in the neighborhood is now provided by the marketplace.

Outsiders Raising Children

“It takes a village to raise a child” is an African saying repeated as a matter of faith by American leaders of all persuasions. Yet most of our children are not raised by a village. Instead, they are raised by teachers and counselors in school, youth workers and coaches out of school, juvenile therapists and corrections officials if they are deviant, television and computers and cell phones if they have spare time, and McDonald’s if they are hungry. What this means is that the space that the family and neighborhood once filled has been sold and is now filled with paid professionals, electronic toys, and marketing.

Until the 20th century, the basic idea in rearing children was that they become effective grownups by connecting with productive adults and learning from them the community’s skills, traditions, and customs. Youth learned from the community and had jobs to do: caring for the elderly and young, doing errands for the household, working on machines, helping with food. When they became adults, they were equipped to care both for the next generation and for those who had cared for them.

What we now know is that the most effective local communities are those where neighborhoods and citizens have reclaimed their traditional roles. The research on this point is decisive. Where there are “thick” community connections, there is positive child development. Health improves, the environment is sustained, and people are safer and have a better local economy. The social fabric of neighborhood and family is decisive.

Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods

Creating a more community-based way to live and find satisfaction, even when surrounded by a consumer culture, requires only that we act as if each of us has what we need. We have the gifts, structures, and capacities to substitute for our habit of consumption. We can decide to shift our attention toward building the functions of our family and neighborhood...

Creating competence starts with making visible the gifts of everyone in the neighborhood—the families, the young people, the old people, the vulnerable people, the troublesome people. Everyone. We do this not out of altruism, but to create the elements of a satisfying life.

This thickens the social fabric. It makes the community’s gifts more widely available in support of the family. If we do it, even in small way, we find that much of what we once purchased is at hand: carpentry, Internet knowledge, listening, driving a truck, math, auto repair, organizing ability, gardening, haircutting, wallpapering, making videos, babysitting, house painting, accounting, soccer coaching, artistic abilities, cooking, fitness knowledge, sitting with the old or the ill, health remedies, sewing. And some of those things will come from the elderly, the young, the isolated, and the unemployed.

With the consciousness of our gifts and the ability to connect them and make them practical and usable, we experience the abundance of a community.

These local connections can give the modern family what the extended family once provided: A place with a strong culture of kin, friends, and neighbors. Together we raise our children, manage health, support local enterprise, and care for those on the margin.

When we become competent again and have families reclaim their functions, we see emerging from our community culture those essential qualities of a satisfying life: kindness, generosity, cooperation, forgiveness, and the ability to live with our common fallibilities. These will all be given a home and nurtured by families who have reclaimed their function.'

Everything's Amazing - and Nobody's Happy

...very funny and very perceptive!

'...and then when you ran out of money, you'd just go 'well - I can't do any more things now...'

24 December 2010

Beijing City To Limit New Car Quotas In 2011

Reposted in full from
Planet Ark, 24 December 2010

'Beijing will cap its new small passenger vehicle quotas at 20,000 a month in 2011 as it moves to tackle the city's chronic traffic gridlock.

The monthly quota will be distributed among fleet buyers and first-time private buyers, according to a statement posted on the municipal government's website.

Only permanent residents of Beijing as well as those in police and military services are eligible and government agencies will not be allowed to buy new vehicles in the next five years, it added.

China eclipsed the United States as the world's biggest auto market in 2009, but worsening air quality and traffic have become hazards in major Chinese cities.

By 2012, Beijing alone will have 7 million vehicles on the road, versus 4.8 million now, according to official statistics provided by the municipal transportation authorities.

Shanghai's municipal government imposes a license fee of roughly 50,000 yuan ($7,524) for each car owned.'

23 December 2010

The Digital Story of the Nativity

Very, very clever...

‎'Avoid Romans' on Google Map Directions indeed!!!

Sourced from YouTube, 13 December 2010

22 December 2010

Australians Planning to Waste Hundreds of Millions this Christmas

Sourced from The Australia Institute's web site, 14 December 2010

'Last year six million, or one in three, Australians received one or more Christmas presents that they never used or later gave away, a new survey by The Australia Institute reveals...

The Australia Institute's Executive Director Dr Richard Denniss said that unwanted Christmas presents represent a staggering $798 million worth of wasted money, wasted time and wasted resources...

The survey also found that around one quarter of Australians expect to give presents to people that they would prefer not to. Alarmingly, around one quarter of these reluctant givers are unable to pay off their credit card...'

Three Rules for Crowdsourcing Your Sustainability Projects

Reposted in full from GreenBiz, 20 December 2010

'A new trend in the corporate pursuit of sustainability has emerged: crowd-sourcing via social media. While adoption has been easy, gaining useful ideas has not. By looking at three recent efforts - GE's Smart Grid challenge, eBay's Green Team, and a leading European retailer's green customer foray - three rules for companies considering crowd-sourcing of sustainability ideas are coming into focus.

Recently one of Europe's leading retailers launched an online campaign which sought ideas from its customers as to how the company could further its sustainability efforts. I spoke with the company's sustainability lead under the condition of anonymity to learn how the drive for ideas went. She noted that "the response rate was higher than expected, but the ideas were either generic or impractical." A sampling of the ideas included "use less energy," "recycle more," and "eliminate packaging." They have since closed the campaign with minimal to-dos stemming from the campaign.

Compare the retailer's experience with crowd-sourcing efforts at GE and eBay. GE launched the "GE ecomagination Challenge: Powering the Grid" in July 2010 with much fanfare. After all the company, along with four prominent venture capital firms, put up $200 million to fund ideas from society writ large to accelerate the development and adoption of a smart grid. GE created a new website for the effort, incorporated aspects of social media, and installed a committee to decide which ideas to fund.

Between July 13 and September 30, 2010, nearly 4,000 ideas were submitted; collectively these ideas garnered over 70,000 comments from nearly 70,000 registered users. Every idea was publicly available to both review and support. Jeff Immelt publicly announced the winners of the ecomagination Challenge on December 2nd.

Like GE, eBay created a Green Team program and website to tap into the wisdom of crowds. The program's mission is to "inspire the world to buy, sell and think green every day." To date, over 300,000 sellers - individuals who sell goods on eBay's platform - have signed up to share ideas and views aimed at making eBay a greener sales partner.

The eBay Box, a corrugated cardboard box designed to be durable enough to be used by sellers over and over again, is among the ideas that came from this community and have been rolled out.

So how can companies emulate GE and eBay's success while avoiding the challenges faced by the European retailer? Follow these three rules:

1. Be painfully clear about the results you want from your campaign.

The European retailer's campaign fell flat in part because it wanted basic ideas. While they might not have explicitly said that, they didn't provide any rules of substance to guide their participants" thinking. GE clearly indicated the three categories of ideas they sought (ideas for Renewable Energy, Grid Efficiency, EcoHomes/EcoBuildings). These guidelines served a dual purpose: they led to self-selection of respondents (you're less likely to respond to a smart grid call for ideas if you aren't versed in the smart grid) and they directed respondents to submit best thinking in a focused area.

2. Embrace transparency.

Transparency helps promote trust - it's easy to trust someone who doesn't have anything to hide. If your company runs a campaign but doesn't publicly display the results, then [potential] participants are left to draw one of three conclusions. Either your company: didn't receive any ideas, isn't paying enough attention to the "what should we do after we receive ideas" activity or doesn't believe the ideas received are good enough to be published. In each of these three scenarios, the observer is less likely to participate. To nurture dialogue among participants and embrace transparency, GE and eBay created websites to document the ideas submitted by participants.

3. Link the campaign to co-value creation.

GE and eBay implicitly demonstrated their belief that participants' time is valuable. They did this by asking participants to contribute their best thinking to create initiatives that can not only enhance the company's financial and sustainability performance, but also enhance an aspect of participants" lives. In GE's case respondents had the opportunity to pitch ideas in return for funding to pursue those ideas. And in eBay's case sellers were asked for ideas that would help grow their businesses in a sustainable manner - a classic example of aligning eBay's sellers" interests with the company's interests.

Crowd-sourcing sustainability ideas through social media is a low-risk, low-cost tactic to enhance sustainability performance. By following these three rules, companies will increase the likelihood of a successful crowd-sourcing campaign.'

19 December 2010

Nudge, Think, Shove: Shifting Values and Attitudes Towards Sustainability

Sourced from Involve web site, December 2010

Nudge, Think or Shove? [pdf]

'Pursuing sustainability requires widespread shifts in public behaviour. This briefing builds on a recent House of Lords roundtable jointly organised by the DEA and Involve to consider three broad approaches to influencing public behaviour: ‘nudge', ‘think' and ‘shove'.

The paper considers the benefits and drawbacks of each, and explores how the three approaches can complement one another.

It finds that:

- ‘Nudge' is effective for specific, limited shifts in behaviour such as recycling.

- ‘Think' is effective at building support and legitimacy for the big, transformational changes that we need in society, such as decarbonising the economy. ‘Think' can be particularly powerful in building people's ability and motivation to participate in and drive those transformational changes.

- ‘Shove' often helps to create the conditions under which ‘nudge' is most effective.

Building on these insights, the paper starts to sketch out an optimal mix of ‘nudge', ‘think' and ‘shove', which uses the best of all three approaches to transform social values and attitudes towards sustainability at the pace we need.'

14 December 2010

Leaving Neverland (Why Little Boys Shouldn't Run Big Corporations)

Sourced from Leaving Neverland

Leaving Neverland" (Why Little Boys Shouldn't Run Big Corporations) not only lampoons the perpetual boys that refuse to grow up but also offers Rites of Passage as a way out of Neverland and a way into growing up...
‎The Global Financial Crisis was proudly brought to us all by little boys in designer suits that convinced suggestible authorities that they should be left in charge of the banking cookie jar. Of course they helped themselves to our cookies because “self regulation” to a child means “grab every cookie you can while no one is looking.” The only real surprise is that people are surprised at all the missing cookies.'

13 December 2010

The Sixth Extinction

Sourced from The 6th Extinction web site

'In the Last 500 million years, the earth has experienced five mass Extinctions.

We are at a critical moment. What happens over the next 50-100 years will determine what the earth looks like for the next ten million.

Through interlocking stories, this documentary will probe the extinction crisis and examine solutions to protect the earth's gift of biodiversity.'

The Energy of Edible Cities

Reposted in full from the new economics foundation, 13 December 2010

'Listening to the BBC Food awards, it has become clear to me that food is not just enjoying a revival at the moment, but is also the most exciting area of entrepreneurship in this country – and has huge potential for revitalising our economy, one local economy at a time.

So much of this kind of idea emerges from the chattering south east, though the Transition Towns movement clearly emerged from the south west. But the north east now seems to be giving them a run for their money thanks to the emergence of the battery of ideas-in-practice around Edible Todmorden.

Edible Todmorden began with herb gardens, graduated onto planting and growing vegetables and trees around the town and then planted orchards. They are working with the council and other official bodies to find spaces of land – like the fire station and the railway station and local social landlords – to find tracts of land where things can be grown. Every school in town is now involved.

What is fascinating to me is that once you start down this path, building local economies, then history becomes far more important. Sure enough, they have a project called Dream Street that looks back into the past in order to imagine different futures.

Now that Edible Todmorden is thriving, and Middlesborough’s urban farming project is now moving in similar directions, the next Edible site is going to be York, followed by Boston in Lincolnshire.

York City Council is being urged to carry out an audit of land available for growing food throughout the city. Edible York has already joined forces with the council in July to transform an under-used plot of land by planting vegetables – and provided passers-by with salad, kale, squash, courgettes, beans and fresh herbs.

What they are doing is not that different from the Transition Towns, but it is exciting that the energy is emerging from a whole range of different transformational ideas at once. The antidote to impoverishment by supermarket monopoly and agribusiness giantism.'

An Irishman Abroad Tells It Like It Is

A few F-bombs, but too good not to share! God bless the Irish! There should be more of this calling a spade a spade...

Sourced from YouTube

09 December 2010

UN Development Programme Adds Footprint to Suite of Indicators

Sourced from Global Footprint Network newsletter, 8 December 2010

'Sustainability is an intrinsic part of people’s ability to live satisfying lives according to the United Nations Development Programme—which is why, for the first time it has included the Ecological Footprint in its annual Human Development Report.

The Human Development Report reveals countries’ latest rankings according to the Human Development Index, a measure that scores countries according to attainment of health, education and income. But, the report explains, “human development is much broader. Empowerment, equity and sustainability are among the intrinsic parts of people’s freedom to lead lives they have reason to value.” The report points out that Norway ranks highest in terms of HDI, but consumes 3.1 times what would be consistent with global sustainability (based on global biocapacity) while the US, which ranks 4th in HDI, consumes 4.5 times that of global biocapacity.'

Japan's Ecological Footprint

Sourced from Global Footprint Network newsletter, 8 December 2010

'A report on Japan’s Ecological Footprint, which identifies leading areas of ecological demand and offers policy recommendations to address them, has generated considerable interest in the country. The Japan Ecological Footprint Report was released this August in Tokyo to an audience of journalists and environment ministry representatives. Findings have been covered by more than 50 print and online news outlets, including a feature in Asahi, a daily newspaper with a circulation of 8.22 million.

Among the report’s findings (based on 2009 National Footprint Accounts data):

Japan’s Ecological Footprint in 2006 was 4.1 gha per capita, about one and a half times the global average, placing it within the highest 25 percent of countries.

Compared with the four countries closest geographically, only Russia’s Footprint exceeds Japan’s (by a small margin). Japan’s per capita Footprint is 10 percent higher than South Korea’s and more than double that of China. However, Japan is the only country in the group to have shown a significant decrease in the Footprint over the last decade. If trends continue, 2010 may well see South Korea’s Footprint surpass that of Japan.

Japan’s production of fisheries products exceeds the available biocapacity from Japan’s continental shelf by more than a factor of three. This strongly suggests that Japan may be at risk of collapsing its fisheries, and with effects that will be felt worldwide.

Japan’s demand on forest products is well within the rate of what its forests can regenerate. At the same time, it places a high demand for wood products on countries that are experiencing deforestation, such as Indonesia. Replacing imports with domestic supply would have positive international impacts.

Read the report in English (15 MB download)

Read the report in Japanese (18 MB download)'

07 December 2010

Taming the Vampire Squid


Sourced from the new economics foundation/The Great Transition, December 2010

'"A great vampire squid, wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money." That was how journalist Matt Taibbi described Goldman Sachs in a Rolling Stone exposé from 2008.

Now, after what is perhaps the biggest example of private-sector market-failure the world has ever seen, the banking system that fuelled the crisis is fundamentally unreformed. Even on its own terms the banking system is broken.

To design a banking system that is fit for purpose and able to underpin the imminent Great Transition to a new, low carbon, high well-being, and stable economy, we need to revisit the social and economic contract that banks have with society. We must take back our banks.

We need banking that is more like a public service, a utility that helps the productive economy function. This animation from the Great Transition campaign to take back our banks asks: when will politicians find the will to make it happen?'

'Launched to mark the start of bank bonus season, a new animation is setting out to increase public pressure on government to take on the banks and not sweep reform under the carpet. It ask politicians whether they have a plan to tame the bank, and if not, why not?

The minute-long animation is inspired by Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi's description of investment bank Goldman Sachs as a giant vampire squid "sucking on the face of humanity".

The animation is backed by a wide range of influential pressure groups including: nef, Compass, PLATFORM, ResPublica, 38 Degrees, WDM, Positive Money, Tax Research and the Post Bank campaign.'

05 December 2010

Letting Go of Bananas

...there is a lot in here to explain why it is hard to shift individual, let alone societal behaviour...and why the cult of growth is arguably our biggest banana!

'Some people get upset when you question their bananas...' - LOL!

Excerpt from Reverse Thinking, 5 January 2008

'...A banana is a fixation or a compulsion, which dictates inflexible, repetitive, self-defeating behavior.

The metaphor is taken from an ancient method for catching monkeys - still practiced to this day in parts of Africa and Asia. Here's how the capture works:

The Hunter lays down a wicker basket with a banana inside it, in a grove where monkeys are known to forage. The cage is so constructed that the monkey can get at the banana but can't pull it out because the bars of the cage are too narrow. Indeed, it cannot withdraw its hand at all unless it drops the banana. Most monkeys are smart enough to let go of the banana and go and look for better opportunities. But a minority don't - that banana just means too much to them. They stay put, holding their booby prize until the hunter comes and throws a net over them.

Like some monkeys, a lot of human beings would rather be slaves than let go of their bananas.

Here are some examples of common bananas:

  • I have to be liked
  • I should be in control
  • I must be successful
  • I must not let people down
  • I must never get angry
  • I should always put other peoples' needs first, no matter what happens to me
  • I must be strong

Notice that what makes the banana obsessional is the absolute demand to always act or be that way - as conveyed by the 'musts' and 'shoulds' contained in the injunction. There is nothing wrong with being loved, attracting success, and helping people out. The problem arises when no deviations from the rule are permitted. If that is the case then when we can't cope, we wear ourselves out. Or, when we meet with rejection, failure, bullying or stress, then we no longer know what to do. We go on repeating the same destructive behavior like a broken record. Hoping that, sooner or later, it will work.

Some people get upset when you question their bananas. Their Conscious Mind sees that as a threat to its grasp on reality. To such people, their obsession with the banana is an 'obvious' way to be. Not acting that way is deemed by them to be 'selfish', 'unrealistic', 'immature'. etc. So holding on to bananas - even when they don't apply - is viewed as a right way to be, while discarding them is bad, immoral or stupid. This explains their compulsive character. As does the fact that some people believe that something terrible will happen to them if they let go of their bananas.

This is why so many of us repeat the same toxic relationships over and over again - exploited by 'must-have' employers, abused by 'caring' partners, manipulated by 'helpless' children, let down by 'unlucky' friends', controlled by 'wonderful' parents. Meanwhile, Bodymind is sending us emotional signals to tell us about the way things really are and what we need to be doing about that - saying 'no' when we are tired, asking for help when we are overwhelmed, taking a break when we are frustrated, demanding fairness when we are angry. But if we go on ignoring our emotions, obsessing about bananas and dwelling in toxic relationships, we end up with depression, panic attacks, or what, in Reverse Therapy, we call non-specific illness.'

A Vision for Sustainable Restaurants

Wow!!! This guy is a lot more than a chef...

Sourced from TED, December 2010

'If you've been in a restaurant kitchen, you've seen how much food, water and energy can be wasted there. Chef Arthur Potts-Dawson shares his very personal vision for drastically reducing restaurant, and supermarket, waste - creating recycling, composting, sustainable engines for good (and good food).'

02 December 2010

Australia Faces Food Insecurity

Reposted in full from The Australian, 2 December 2010

'Australia faces a future of food insecurity unless urgent action is taken to transform the nation's production and processing systems, according to an expert review.

"If our population grows to 35-40 million and climate change constrains food production, we can expect to see years where we will import more food than we export," warned the group of industry and scientific experts, chaired by Peter Langridge, CEO of the Adelaide University's Australain Centre for Plant Functional Genomics.

In its report to the Prime Minister's Science, Engineering & Innovation Council, the working group's top priority is establishment of a national food security agency to implement a nationally-coordinated approach to food production and policy.

The food sector is overly complex, with over 15 federal, state and territory agencies involved in policy and regulation. Dozens of research, investor and industry bodies are also involved.

The PMSEIC group's call came yesterday as the National Food Policy Working Group had its inaugural meeting in Sydney. Established by Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, the group will advise the government on a National Food Plan.

"We support the need for a coordinated national strategy," said Ben Fargher, CEO of the National Farmer's Federation which is represented on both the PMSEIC and NFP working groups.

According to Mr Fargher, national food shortages are unlikely in the short term, but it's essential to prepare now for future food stress by building on existing expertise on food and fibre production.

"We can't take our food production system for granted," he said.

The nation's Chief Scientist and PMSEIC Executive Officer Penny Sackett agreed: "Australia is currently a net exporter of food, with considerable expertise in food production under resource constraints".

"However, the PMSEIC report suggest increased challenges to this important Australian industry including land degradation, population growth, long-term climate change, competition for arable land, scarcity of water, and nutrient and energy availability," Professor Sackett added.
The PMSEIC report recommended that the national food security agency be set up within a year's time and that it would implement the recommendations over the next five years.

Among those are an immediate increase in support for agricultural research & development, along with incentives to recruit and train a new generation of farmers, researchers and food production and processing professionals.

www.chiefscientist.gov.au '

27 November 2010

21st Century Enlightenment

Sourced from YouTube, 19 August 2010

'Matthew Taylor explores the meaning of 21st century enlightenment, how the idea might help us meet the challenges we face today, and the role that can be played by organisations such as the RSA.'

Beginning of a Monetary Revolution?

Reposted in full from new economics foundation, 14 November 2010

'"The essence of the contemporary monetary system is creation of money, out of nothing, by private banks often foolish lending."

These are the words, not of a monetary crank, but of The Financial Times' Chief Economics Commentator, a member of the national Independent Commission on Banking (ICB), and probably the most decorated and prestigious economics journalist in the country. Martin Wolf wrote them in an article last week defending the Federal Reserve's right to embark on a second round of Quantitative Easing. He went on to say: "Why is privatisation of a public function right and proper, but action by the central bank, to meet pressing public need, a road to catastrophe?"

Quite so Martin. The truth is, as was explained at a conference in central London this weekend organised by Positive Money in collaboration with nef, that banks are no longer just intermediaries of our money. Rather, they are the creators of our money. Most estimates suggest that between 97-99% of the money in our economy is created as interest-bearing debt by banks when they make loans to us, the rest being cash. These loans are made, quite literally, but typing some numbers in to a computer and creating a liability for you, the borrower and an asset for the bank. It costs them nothing. There are complex rules - the Basel Framework - requiring banks to hold a very tiny amount of capital reserves in case of a 'run' - but essentially this is how fractional reserve banking works today.

Or rather, doesn't work. Because these same banks that can issue credit out of nothing for whatever they want (and make money out of it and whose shareholders have limited liability) also hold on to our hard-earned savings. If they just so happen to make some bad investments and get 'over-leveraged', our savings can go too. Unless the state jumps in of course. Which as we have seen, it has had to at a crippling expense to each and every one of us. But there's no need for radical think tanks like nef to make this point any more. We can just quote the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, who pronounced in a speech on October 25th that:

“Eliminating fractional reserve banking explicitly recognises that the pretence that risk-free deposits can be supported by risky assets is alchemy. If there is a need for genuinely safe deposits the only way they can be provided, while ensuring costs and benefits are fully aligned, is to insist such deposits do not coexist with risky assets.”

The speakers at this weekend's conference were revealing. They included a Conservative MP, Steve Baker, the Director of a company who distributes fish and meat to 6800 retailers, a former stock-broker and banker, an eco-feminist academic as well as nef and Positive Money, both NGOs. In the audience trade unionists bumped up against city traders and young students schooled in orthodox economics cheered as they heard how most of what they had been taught was nonsense.

Left and Right appeared to be in substantive agreement over the problem. The monetary and banking system as it stand breaks all the rules of the free market and at the same time utterly fails to deliver socially just and ecologically sustainable outcomes. The alternatives will no doubt be discussed and argued over for some years to come. But it appears that a monetary revolution has just begun. As King went on to admit in his speech:

"Of all the many ways of organising banking, the worst is the one we have today."'

26 November 2010

Auction Unwanted Items, Raise Funds for Charity

This is a clever way of incentivising reuse and raising funds for charity - when the proceeds from successful auctions are deposited into the charity's bank account, the seller receives a receipt enabling them to claim a tax deduction.

Reposted in full from ProBono Australia, 25 November 2010

Australian community organisations are benefiting from an initiative, which enables people and companies to donate and sell goods and services online with the proceeds going to their preferred charity.

AidArena has been established by a group of Queensland business people and developed over the past two years. AidArena provides an online market place to help charities nationwide by capitalising on the value of items often thrown or given away by householders.

AidArena Spokesman Don MacMillan says the online platform is excited to provide an equal opportunity for all Australian Charities, regardless of their size, or nature.
He says the Salvation Army, the RSPCA and CanTeen are among the high profile charities to join forces with AidArena. However, AidArena is available to any organisation with a DGR status, including school funds.

MacMillan says the motivation for setting up AidArena was to assist a wide variety of charities in challenging economic times and help fill the donation shortfall by utilising goods and services rather than seeking cash.

The concept of AidArena was to provide a means for people and companies to donate goods and services while receiving a tax benefit. A tax deductible receipt is issued for the full sale price of the donated item when the resulting cash donation is deposited into the bank account of the chosen charity.

MacMillan says individuals can donate any household items they aren’t using anymore such as appliances or other electrical goods, sporting equipment, furniture, art works or valuables such as jewellery.

He says instead of donating money, companies can donate obsolete or dead stock and feel great that their goods and services are being auctioned for a good cause.

AidArena uses PayPal to provide buyers with a secure online account for the payment of items. Distribution of funds is handled by AidArena, which allows the charities to seamlessly receive the funds directly into their account.

AidArena is free for everyone to use, there are no joining or subscription fees. All donated items are being welcomed but must have a starting value of $9 and already high value items have been listed.

MacMillan says besides donating goods; trade, business or professional people, could auction their services online to raise funds for charity. The donor creates an online voucher and when successfully sold it is automatically emailed to the winning bidder.

He says the AidArena website – www.aidarena.com – was designed to be easy to use and navigate even for people with limited online skills, and if donors can use a digital camera and a computer they are well on their way to enjoying tax effective giving.

AidArena is free for everyone to use, there are no joining or subscription fees. AidArena will take care of all the administration work, monitor the auctions, and will transfer the funds raised (less the administration fee that ranges from as little as 4.4% to 14% depending on the final sale price) to the charity.

AidArena asks that all charities involved promote AidArena to their support base and corporate sponsors and encourage them to donate items for auction on their behalf.

Charities, buyers, and donors, and the general public, are encouraged to follow AidArena on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/aidarena) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/#!/AidArena).

Fresh Food Rescue in Australia

Reposted in full from Woolworths, who are supporting OzHarvest and Foodbank in SA.

'Ever wondered what happens to the fresh food that is not sold in our stores?

Each year households, retailers, restaurants and businesses throw out millions of tonnes of food which then finds its way into landfill sites. Although not always fit for sale, much of it is good quality and can easily be rescued and turned into nutritious, meals for the needy or vulnerable in our society.

The Woolworths Fresh Food Rescue program aims to rescue surplus fresh food from the waste stream and turn it into meals for the needy. With a target for 2010 to provide two million meals for those in need and $2 million for those who serve them, this extensive program will help address an underlying social problem in Australia.

View the community groups that received Fresh Food Rescue grants in New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania.

Woolworths recognises it has a significant role in ensuring that fresh edible food, which for various reasons cannot be sold, is put to the best possible use by turning it into meals. To do this, many Woolworths stores across the country currently work with organisations such as Foodbank, OzHarvest, FareShare, The Salvation Army and SecondBite. However, these organisations only have limited resources to collect and distribute the rescued fresh food that is so desperately required.

The Woolworths Fresh Food Rescue campaign will support these food relief charities at two core levels:

1) Expanding fresh food rescue from Woolworths stores to food relief charities. Already, over half of Woolworths supermarkets are rescuing surplus fresh food, which would otherwise go to landfill. Woolworths aims to substantially increase its partnerships with local food relief charities and soup kitchens and is actively seeking new community partners to work with stores right across the country.

2) Building additional capacity through a major grants scheme. Woolworths is contributing $2 million to help charity groups expand their operations and ensure thousands more people can access healthy, nutritious food. Over 100 food relief charities have benefited from infrastructure grants for vital items, such as vans, refrigerators, freezers and kitchen equipment.

With an ambitious target to reduce organic waste to zero by the year 2015, the ultimate aim is to have all 810 supermarkets in local partnerships. Local organisations who are keen to be part of the Fresh Food Rescue program should speak to their local Woolworths store manager.'

Latin American Nations Declare: Nature Has No Price Tag!

Can we...could we...find a way to make decisions to protect our life support systems without having to give them a monetary value? Latin American nations say: 'Yes, We Can!'

Reposted in full from Climate and Capitalism, 15 November 2010

'Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela declare: “Nature is our home and is the system of which we form a part, and therefore it has infinite value, but it does not have a price and is not for sale.”

Ministers, Authorities of the Ministerial Committee for the Defense of Nature of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Republic of Cuba, Republic of Ecuador, Republic of Nicaragua, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas – Treaty of Commerce of the People (ALBA-TCP), gathered in the city of La Paz in the Plurinational State of Bolivia, from November 3rd to 5th, 2010.

Considering that:

1. There is within the United Nations is a push to promote the concept of a “green economy” or a “Global Green New Deal”[1] in order to extend capitalism in the economic, social and environmental arenas, in which nature is seen as “capital” for producing tradable environmental goods and services that should then be valued in monetary terms and assigned a price so that they can be commercialized with the purpose of obtaining profits.

2. Studies are being carried out and manipulated, such as the Stern Report on the Economics of Climate Change and the study on the Economy of Ecosystems and Biodiversity,[2] among others, in order to promote the privatization and the mercantilization of nature through the development of markets for environmental services, among other instruments.

3. Those who promote this new form of privatization and mercantilization of nature wish to develop a new kind of property rights which are not exercised over a natural resource in itself, but rather, over the functions offered by particular ecosystems, thus opening up the possibility of commercializing them in the market through certificates, bonds, credits, etc.

4. Under this capitalist conception that seeks only to guarantee benefit for those few who wield economic power: water should be privatized and distributed only to those that can afford to pay for it, forests are only good for capturing emissions and for selling on the carbon market that allows rich countries to avoid reducing emissions within their own territories, and genetic resources must be appropriated and patented for the enjoyment of those who possess modern technology.

Recognizing that:

The right to safe drinking water and sanitation is a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life, which has been endorsed by the United Nations and can only be guaranteed through the recognition and defense of the rights of Mother Earth.

Convinced that:

States are responsible for guaranteeing the sovereignty of the peoples over their natural patrimony and natural resources.

We declare:

1. That nature is our home and is the system of which we form a part, and that therefore it has infinite value, but does not have a price and is not for sale.

2. Our commitment to preventing capitalism from continuing to expand in the spheres that are essential to life and nature, being that this is one of the greatest challenges confronting humanity.

3. Our absolute rejection of the privatization, monetization and mercantilization of nature, for it leads to a greater imbalance in the environment and goes against our ethical principles.

4. Our condemnation of unsustainable models of economic growth that are created at the expense of our resources and the sovereignty of our peoples.

5. Only a humanity that is conscious of its present and future responsibilities, and states with the political will to carry out their role, can change the course of history and restore equilibrium in nature and life as a whole.

6. That instead of promoting the privatization of goods and services that come from nature, it is essential to recognize that these have a collective character, and, as such, should be conserved as public goods, respecting the sovereignty of states.

7. It is not the invisible hand of the market that will allow for the recuperation of equilibrium on Mother Earth. Only with the conscious intervention of state and society through policies, public regulations, and the strengthening of public services can the equilibrium of nature be restored.

8. Cancun cannot be another Copenhagen; we hope that accords will be reached in which developed countries truly act according to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and effectively assume their obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, without making climate change into a business through the promotion and creation of carbon market mechanisms.

9. That, committed to life, the countries present at this meeting agree to include in our permanent agenda, among other actions, the realization of a referendum on climate change and the promotion of the participation of the peoples of the world.

10. That it is urgent to adopt at the United Nations a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.

[1] Global Green New Deal, 2009
[2] The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Creative Houses from Reclaimed Stuff

'In this funny and insightful talk from TEDxHouston, builder Dan Phillips tours us through a dozen homes he's built in Texas using recycled and reclaimed materials in wildly creative ways.'

Sourced from TED, November 2010

24 November 2010

Who Creates Money?

Dire Straits were closer to the truth than everyone thought when they wrote 'Money for Nothing!

Sourced from
Positive Money, November 2010

Revisiting Donald Appleyard’s Livable Streets

It's true: The less cars in your street, the more friends you have.

Sourced from Streetfilms, 1 November 2010

'Donald Appleyard [was] a scholar who studied the neighborhood environment and the ways planning and design can make life better for city residents. In 1981, Appleyard published "Livable Streets" based on his research into how people experience streets with different traffic volumes. The Second Edition of Livable Streets will be published by Routledge Press in 2011.

Today we're revisiting Appleyard's work in the second installment of our series, "Fixing the Great Mistake." This video explores three studies in "Livable Streets" that measured, for the first time, the effect of traffic on our social interactions and how we perceive our own homes and neighborhoods.

"Fixing the Great Mistake" is a new Streetfilms series that examines what went wrong in the early part of the 20th Century, when our cities began catering to the automobile, and how those decisions continue to affect our lives today.'

23 November 2010

From Crop to Swap - The Journey of Jeans

Sourced from Planet Ark, November 2010

'The way we dress reflects our personality and our lifestyle choices, and increasingly, we're thinking about the environmental and social impacts of our clothes. What really goes into making them? What are they made of, who made them and how were they made?

This video follows the journey of a pair of jeans from crop to swap. It's narrated by Melissa Doyle, co-host of Sunrise on Seven and Big Aussie Swap ambassador.

You can also check out our Companion Guide to the Crop to Swap video. It paints a more detailed picture of the journey of jeans and includes some handy hints on how to reduce the environmental impact of your wardrobe.'

21 November 2010

Remembering JFK

22 November 1963 - President John F Kennedy was assassinated 47 years ago today.

Sourced from

Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) Final Courtroom Speech, JFK (1991), sourced from YouTube

Closing argument in the trial of Clay Shaw. Kevin Costner gives the speech of a generation, laying bare not only a compelling case against Shaw, but an indictment of the machinery of our government.

"Hitler always said: "The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it."

Lee Harvey Oswald, a crazed, lonely man who wanted attention and got it by killing a President was only the first in a long line of patsies.

In later years, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, men whose commitment to change and peace would make them dangerous to men committed to war would follow, also killed by such lonely crazed men.

Men who remove our guilt by making murder a meaningless act of a loner. We've all become Hamlets in our country, children of a slain father-leader whose killers still possess the throne.

The ghost of John F. Kennedy confronts us with the secret murder at the heart of the American Dream. He forces on us the appalling questions: Of what is our Constitution made? What is our citizenship, and more, our lives worth?

What is the future of a democracy where a President can be assassinated under conspicuously suspicious circumstances while the machinery of legal action scarcely trembles?

How many more political murders disguised as heart attacks, suicides, cancers, drug overdoses? How many airplane and car crashes will occur before they are exposed for what they are?

"Treason doth never prosper," wrote an English poet, "What's the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason."

The American public have yet to see the Zapruder film. Why?

The American public have yet to see the real X-rays and photographs of the autopsy. Why?

There are hundreds of documents that could help prove this conspiracy. Why have they been withheld or burned by the government?

Each time my office or you the people have asked those questions, demanded crucial evidence, the answer from on high has always been "national security."

What kind of "national security" do we have when we have been robbed of our leaders?

What "national security" permits the removal of fundamental power from the hands of the American people and validates the ascendancy of invisible government in the United States?

That kind of "national security," gentlemen of the jury, is when it smells like it, feels like it, and looks like it, call it what it is - fascism.

I submit to you that what took place on November 22, 1963 was a coup d'etat. Its most direct and tragic result was a reversal of President Kennedy's commitment to withdraw from Vietnam.

War is the biggest business in America worth $80 billion a year.

President Kennedy was murdered by a conspiracy that was planned in advance at the highest levels of our government and carried out by fanatical and disciplined Cold Warriors in the Pentagon and CIA's covert operations apparatus - among them Clay Shaw here before you.

It was a public execution and it was covered up by like-minded individuals in the Dallas Police Department, the Secret Service, the FBI, and the White House - all the way up to and including J. Edgar Hoover and Lyndon Johnson, whom I consider accomplices after the fact.

The assassination reduced the President to a transient official. His job, his assignment is to speak as often as possible of this nations desire for peace, while he acts as a business agent in congress for the military and their hardware manufacturers.

Now some people say I’m crazy, a southern caricature seeking higher office. Well, there is a simple way to determine if I am paranoid.

Let's ask the two men who have profited the most from the assassination - your former President Lyndon Baines Johnson and your new President, Richard Nixon - to release 51 CIA documents pertaining to Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby, or the secret CIA memo on Oswald's activities in Russia that was "destroyed" while being photocopied.

All these documents are yours - the people's property - you pay for it, but because the government considers you children who might be too disturbed or distressed to face this reality, or because you might possibly lynch those involved, you cannot see these documents for another 75 years.

I'm in my early 40's, so I'll have shuffled off this mortal coil by then, but I'm already telling my 8 year-old son to keep himself physically fit so that one glorious September morning in the year 2038 he can walk into the National Archives and find out what the CIA and the FBI knew. They may even push it back then. Hell it may become a generational affair, with questions passed down from father to son, mother to daughter. But someday somewhere, someone may find out the damned truth.

We better. We better or we might just as well build ourselves another Government like the Declaration of Independence says to when the old one ain't working – just – just a little farther out West. An American naturalist wrote, "a patriot must always be ready to defend his country against its government."

I'd hate to be in your shoes today. You have a lot to think about. You’ve seen much hidden evidence the American public has never seen.

You know, going back to when we were children, I think most of us in this courtroom thought that justice came into being automatically, that virtue was its own reward, that good would triumph over evil. But as we get older we know that this just isn't true.

Individual human beings have to create justice and this is not easy because truth often poses a threat to power and one often has to fight power at great risk to themselves. People like S.M. Holland, Lee Bowers, Jean Hill, and Willie O'Keefe. They’ve all taken that risk. They have all come forward.

I have here some $8000 in these letters sent to my office from all over the country - quarters, dimes, dollar bills from housewives, plumbers, car salesmen, teachers, invalids - these are the people who cannot afford to send money but do, these are the ones who drive the cabs, who nurse in the hospitals, who see their kids go to Vietnam. Why?

Because they care, because they want to know the truth - because they want their country back, because it still belongs to us, as long as the people have the guts to fight for what they believe in.

The truth is the most important value we have because if the truth does not endure, if the government murders truth, if we cannot respect the hearts of these people, then this is not the country in which I was born and this is certainly not the country I want to die in.

Tennyson wrote “Authority forgets a dying king.”

And this was never more true than for John F. Kennedy whose murder was probably one the most terrible moments in the history of our country.

You the people, the jury system, sitting in judgment on Clay Shaw, represent the hope of humanity against government power.

In discharging your duty, in bringing the first conviction in this house of cards against Clay Shaw, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

Do not forget your dying king.

Show this world that this is still a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. Nothing as long as you live will ever be more important.

It's up to you.'