16 January 2010

The Real Value of Work

Reposted in full from the new economics foundation newsletter, January 2010

'Hospital cleaners are worth more to society than elite City bankers, according to new analysis from nef. Our new report, A Bit Rich?, uses new quantification techniques to calculate the value created for society by a range of different professions. For each, the authors measured the conventional economic returns, such as the number of jobs created, as well as key environmental impacts, including climate change effects, and social impacts, for example contribution to individual or community well-being. Weighing up the positive and negative economic, environmental and social impacts produced an overall result for each occupation. The results revealed that the more poorly paid jobs - hospital cleaners, recycling workers and childcare professionals - were more valuable to society than the highly paid jobs, high-earning City bankers, advertising executives and accountants helping the most wealthy individuals and companies avoid tax.

The research highlights the fact that, at the moment, salaries are a very poor indicator of the contribution a job makes to society and that some of the most valuable roles are the least well-paid. nef believes that we need a pay structure which recognises all aspects of value and rewards those jobs that create most benefit to society, rather than rewarding work which generates profit at the expense of society and the environment.'

15 January 2010

Economic Growth a 'False God' - UK Financial Services Authority Chair

Excerpt from new economics foundation newsletter, January 2010

'Political fixation on growing the economy is becoming a 'false god' according to Lord Turner, chair of both the Financial Services Authority and UK government's Committee on Climate Change.

Speaking to nef Policy Director Andrew Simms on the BBC's World Tonight programme, Lord Turner said that not only was pursuing economic growth at all costs damaging the climate, it wasn't doing us much good either.

'All the evidence shows that beyond the sort of standard of living which Britain has now achieved, extra growth does not automatically translate into human welfare and happiness,' Lord Turner said...

Lord Turner's latest challenge to economic orthodoxy comes only months after an interview for Prospect magazine, in which he suggested that much of the work done by the financial sector was 'socially useless'...'

14 January 2010

Biodiversity Crucial to Lives of Billions

Why are we undermining our very life support systems as if we believe this is normal?

Reposted in full from
The Ecologist, 12 January 2010

'Ecosystems are buffering humanity against the worst impacts of global warming and also alleviating poverty, says United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

The continued loss of animal and plant species, and ecosystems such as forests, is causing poverty as well as environmental damage, said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner.

Speaking at the launch of the UN's international year of biodiversity in Berlin this week, Steiner re-iterated the economic value of coral and forest ecosystems.

Value of nature

According to estimates from the groundbreaking Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study published last year, coral reefs generate up to $189,000 per hectare in costal defence and even more in fisheries and tourism revenues. While continued deforestation and forest degradation is costing $2-4 trillion a year.

'The world's biodiversity and ecosystems might seem abstract and remote to many people. But there is nothing abstract about their role in economies and in the lives of billions of people,' said Steiner.

'The range of benefits generated by these ecosystems and the biodiversity underpinning them are all too often invisible and mainly undervalued by those in charge of national economies and international development support,' he added.

Coral and forests

Steiner said one fifth of coral reefs were already degraded or at risk of collapse due to over-fishing, pollution or coastal developments.

'If you factor the true value of coral reefs into economic planning, it is likely that far more rational and sustainable choices would be made in terms of development, emissions and pollution control and resource management.

'It is a similar story in respect to all of the planet’s nature-based assets, from forests and freshwaters to mountains and soils,' he said, adding that 15 per cent of the annual global carbon dioxide emissions currently absorbed by forests.

New body

UNEP is also due to decide next month whether to set up a body similar to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for biodiversity. The proposed International Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) would use the latest science to help drive forward policy recommendations.

Steiner said he hoped the new body would 'de-mystify terms such as biodiversity and ecosystems', and start convincing countries to include the value of natural capital in their national accounts and economic decisions.

Friends of the Earth said previous UN moves on biodiversity had not been successful.

'The 193 countries known as Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity have so far failed to significantly reduce the rate at which biodiversity is being lost, despite their 2003 pledge to reduce these rates by 2010,' said Friends of the Earth International’s coordinator of the Forest and Biodiversity Programme Isaac Rojas.'

Gore: Polar Ice May Vanish In 5 Years

Excerpt from Huffington Post, 14 December 2009

'New computer modeling suggests the Arctic Ocean may be nearly ice-free in the summertime as early as 2014, Al Gore said Monday at the UN climate conference. This new projection, following several years of dramatic retreat by polar sea ice, suggests that the ice cap may nearly vanish in the summer much sooner than the year 2030, as was forecast by a U.S. government agency eight months ago.

One US government scientist Monday questioned the new prediction as too severe, but other researchers previously have projected a quicker end than 2030 to the Arctic summer ice cap.

"It is hard to capture the astonishment that the experts in the science of ice felt when they saw this," said former U.S. Vice President Gore, who joined Scandinavian officials and scientists to brief journalists and delegates. It was Gore's first appearance at the two-week conference.

The group presented two new reports updating fast-moving developments in Antarctica, the autonomous Danish territory of Greenland, and the rest of the Arctic...

Gore and Danish ice scientist Dorthe Dahl Jensen clicked through two slide shows for a standing-room-only crowd of hundreds in a side event at the Bella Center conference site.

One report, on the Greenland ice sheet, was issued by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, an expert group formed by eight Arctic governments, including the United States. The other, commissioned by Gore and Norway's government, was compiled by the Norwegian Polar Institute on the status of ice melt worldwide.

Average global temperatures have increased 0.74 degrees C (1.3 degrees F) in the past century, but the mercury has risen at least twice as quickly in the Arctic. Scientists say the makeup of the frozen north polar sea has shifted significantly in recent years as much of the thick multiyear ice has given way to thin seasonal ice.

In the summer of 2007, the Arctic ice cap dwindled to a record-low minimum extent of 4.3 million square kilometers (1.7 million square miles) in September. The melting in 2008 and 2009 was not as extensive, but still ranked as the second- and third-greatest decreases on record.

Last April, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that Arctic summers could be almost ice-free within 30 years, not at the 21st century's end as earlier predicted...

"Some of the models suggest that there is a 75 percent chance that the entire north polar ice cap during some of the summer months will be completely ice-free within the next five to seven years," Gore said. His office later said he meant nearly ice-free, because ice would be expected to survive in island channels and other locations.

Asked for comment, one U.S. government scientist questioned what he called this "aggressive" projection.

"It's possible but not likely," said Mark Serreze of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. "We're sticking with 2030."

On the other hand, a leading NASA ice scientist, Jay Zwally, said last year that the Arctic could be essentially ice-free within "five to less than 10 years."

Meanwhile, what's happening to Greenland's titanic ice sheet "has really surprised us," said Jensen of the University of Copenhagen.

She cited one huge glacier in west Greenland, at Jakobshavn, that in recent years has doubled its rate of dumping ice into the sea. Between melted land ice and heat expansion of ocean waters, the sea-level rise has increased from 1.8 millimeters a year to 3.4 millimeters (.07 inch a year to .13 inch) in the past 10 years.

Jensen said the biggest ice sheets – Greenland and West Antarctica – were already contributing 1 millimeter (.04 inch) a year to those rising sea levels. She said this could double within the next decade.

"With global warming, we have woken giants," she said.'

12 January 2010

The Ignoble Prize for Economics

'The Real-World Economics Review Blog is holding polls to determine the awarding of two prizes:

  • The Ignoble Prize for Economics , to be awarded to the three economists who contributed most to enabling the Global Financial Collapse (GFC), and
  • The Noble Prize for Economics , to be awarded to the three economists who first and most cogently warned of the coming calamity.

It is accepted fact that the economics profession through its teachings, pronouncements and policy recommendations facilitated the GFC. We also know that danger signs became visible long before the event and that some economists (those with their eyes on the real-world) gave public warnings which if acted upon would have averted the human disaster.

With other learned professions entrusted with public confidence, such as medicine and engineering, it is inconceivable that their professional bodies would not at the very least censure members who had successfully persuaded governments and public opinion to ignore elementary safety measures, so causing epidemics and widespread building collapses.

To date, however, the world’s major economics associations have declined to censure the major facilitators of the GFC or even to publicly identify them. This silence, this indifference to causing human suffering, constitutes grave moral failure. It also gives license to economists to continue to indulge in axiom-happy behaviour. Nor has the economics establishment offered recognition to those economists who were not taken in by fads and fashion and whose competence, if listened to, would have prevented the collapse.

These two silences reveal a continuing moral crisis within the economics profession. The Ignoble and Noble Prizes for Economics are being offered as small first steps towards a cure.

Poll Procedures for the Ignoble Prize for Economics

Stage One: Nominations and Evidence

Nominations for both prizes are open to the international community of economists, rather than limited to a closed and secret shop. For each nominated economist an evidence page will be opened on this blog to which people can leave evidential comments. In this way a documented case for (and against) each candidate will be built up.

There are two ways, one direct and the other indirect, by which you can nominate and post evidence.

Direct Method

You can nominate economist X or economists X and Y, or X, Y and Z (maximum of three) by leaving a comment on the Nominations for the Ignoble Prize for Economics page for which there is a link near the top of the right hand column. Your comment needs only to say “I nominate X . . . for the Ignoble Prize for Economics.”

You can post evidence regarding a nominated economist by leaving a comment on their evidence page, which in most cases will be opened within 24 hours of their nomination. These pages are sub-pages of the “Nominees and Submission of Evidence” page and will be link-listed in a box near the top of the right hand column.

Indirect Method

Because of the current nature of the economics profession, some economists will fear that going public with their professional views on these matters could jeopardize their careers or those of people associated with them. Therefore nominations and evidence can be put forward anonymously by emailing them to pae_news@btinternet.com, preferably with the subject heading “Nominations and Evidence”. The editor will then post the material on the relevant pages. Strict confidentiality will be maintained.

Stage Two: Short List

After an appropriate interval, most likely one month, nominations and the submission of evidence will be closed. Through consultation, authors of the Real-World Economics Review Blog will compile a short list of the strongest nominees, probably 10 or 12. At this time a final dossier, based on the evidential comments posted on the blog, will be compiled and posted for each short-listed candidate. Voting will then open.

Stage Three: Voting

The voting will be conducted using PollDaddy. Its system uses cookies to prevent repeat voting. A voting box showing the short-listed candidates will be displayed prominently on the home page of the Real-World Economics Review Blog. Close by will be links to each candidate’s final dossier. Voting is open to all interested parties. Each voter can vote for up to three of the listed candidates. The ballots are secret. Voting will remain open for several weeks. No results will be announced before closing the poll.

Stage Four: Results

Within 24 hours of the closing of the poll, the results will be announced. The three economists receiving the highest number of votes will be declared the joint winners of the prize.

General Rules

Only economists may be nominated, and they must have been active during part of the last quarter century. Joke nominations (e.g., Baker, Keen or Roubini for the Ignoble Prize) or ones suspected of being motivated by malice or for which no supporting evidence is forthcoming will not be accepted or allowed to stand. Likewise evidence submitted must be substantive, accurate and presented in good taste.

Poll Procedures for the Noble Prize for Economics

These will be approximately the same as for the Ignoble Prize, but may be adjusted in view of lessons learnt. It is expected that nominations and submission of evidence for this prize will commence when voting for the Ignoble Prize begins.

Nominations and submissions of evidence for the Ignoble Prize for Economics are now open.'

Global Search For Sustainability Leaders - Melbourne, Sydney

The Centre for Sustainability Leadership is looking for people with the drive and potential to become sustainability leaders.

The Centre's Fellowship Program has, for the past five years, produced more than 150 graduates working in business, law, science, engineering, health, government and arts - many of them awarded for their significant efforts towards sustainability.

“Our aim is to create sustainability leaders in every sector of society,” said the Centre's founder and Executive Director Larissa Brown. She said the Centre's motto was simple: “We've tried to get people in positions of power to care; now we're going to get people who care into positions of influence.”

The Fellowship Program equips emerging leaders with a network of like-minded people, skills such as creative thinking and problem solving, effective influencing, relationship building and media advocacy, as well as in-depth knowledge of behavioural and social change.

The course comprises weekly evening workshops, one-to-one coaching, intensive retreats, a mentoring program and project work.

The Centre is currently looking for participants to apply for the 2010 Fellowship Program run in Melbourne and Sydney. Only 25 places are available in each city and applicants from all over the world are welcome.

The program runs from April to November and scholarship places are available.

Further information can be found at www.csl.org.au. International applications close 3 February 2010 and Australian applications 28 February 2010.

Out Of Room

Time for some fun - too good not to post!

Sourced from Bizarro Blog, 30 December 2009

11 January 2010

The Package Deal

Cutting carbon emissions 80% by 2020, stabilising population under 8 billion, ending extreme poverty, restoring natural systems is a package deal' as Lester Brown so eloquently put it; the health of natural systems and the stability of the climate will affect how we grow food, where we grow it, how much we can grow, competition for it...

Excerpt from
Integral+Life's, State of the World Forum, an event which will be held in Washington 28 February - 3 March 2010

Interview with Lester Brown [mp3 only]

'Lester Brown and Jim Garrison discuss the real-world consequences of climate change, especially as it pertains to the global food supply. Lester also offers a summary of his new book, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.

Topics include:

Tipping points: A discussion of Dr. Rajendra Pachauri's statement that if we do not decisively address the issue of climate change by the year 2012, "ecological forces could synergize out of control and humanity could lose any capacity to influence events.

Our melting future: Some of the dramatic impacts climate change is already having upon the Arctic region

The politics of scarcity: The direct effects of climate change upon India and China's wheat and rice harvest, as well as the rest of the world's food supply—culminating in nations purchasing vast quantities of property in other nations, just so they can grow food and send it back home.

System shock: Some of the reasons why the world's governments have yet to form a global response to climate change

Good under pressure: Examples of how humanity has been able to quickly restructure itself and adapt to crises in the past

Plan B 3.0: A discussion of Lester's new book, a survival strategy for our early 21st-century civilization.

Final Words: Lester’s recommendations to help governments respond to the climate change issue; including cutting carbon emissions, stabilizing population growth, eradicating poverty worldwide, and restoring natural resources (replenishing forests, fisheries, aquifers, soil, etc'