22 January 2010

Too Many Choices May Be Unhealthy, Psychologists Suggest

...also see Barry Goldstein's TED Talk on The Paradox of Choice

Reposted in full from Scientific Blogging, 19 January 2010

'Thanks to capitalism and a cultural heritage of individual freedom, Americans enjoy just about ever modern convenience imaginable and do almost anything they want. But, according to psychologists from Standford University and Swarthmore College, the amount of choice that results from such a decadent lifestyle may be unhealthy. The researchers say that too many choices cause Americans to ignore how the rest of the world feels about choice and may even make us selfish and depressed.

In their Journal of Consumer Research study, the authors explain that this emphasis on choice and freedom is not universal.

"The picture presented by a half-century of research may present an accurate picture of the psychological importance of choice, freedom, and autonomy among middle-class, college-educated Americans, but this is a picture that leaves about 95 percent of the world's population outside its frame," the authors write.

The team reviewed a body of research surrounding the cultural ideas surrounding choice. They found that among non-Western cultures and among working-class Westerners, freedom and choice are less important or mean something different than they do for the university-educated people who have participated in psychological research on choice."And even what counts as a 'choice' may be different for non-Westerners than it is for Westerners," the authors write.

"Moreover, the enormous opportunity for growth and self-advancement that flows from unlimited freedom of choice may diminish rather than enhance subjective well-being."

People can become paralyzed by unlimited choice, and find less satisfaction with their decisions. Choice can also foster a lack of empathy, the authors found, because it can focus people on their own preferences and on themselves at the expense of the preferences of others and of society as a whole.

"We cannot assume that choice, as understood by educated, affluent Westerners, is a universal aspiration, and that the provision of choice will necessarily foster freedom and well-being," the authors write.

"Even in contexts where choice can foster freedom, empowerment, and independence, it is not an unalloyed good. Choice can also produce a numbing uncertainty, depression, and selfishness."'

Rescuing Food for People in Need

Media release from Australian Federal Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, 22 January 2010

'The Australian Government today welcomed Woolworths' commitment to provide two million meals and $2 million of grants to food rescue organisations to get surplus food to Australians who need it most.

Across Australia, families, retailers, restaurants and businesses throw out millions of tonnes of food, much of which could be rescued and turned into nutritious, healthy meals. Every Australian deserves access to food and the need for free and affordable meals is growing, with more people knocking on the doors of community organisations than ever before. Around 2 million Australians access food relief services each year.

The Australian Government has doubled emergency relief funding to help Australians under pressure as a result of the global financial recession, bringing total funding to over $120 million over two years. This funding is distributed through 750 community organisations working in around 1300 locations across Australia and will help around 1 million Australians each year.

The Australian Government is also providing Foodbank with $2 million over two years to help provide a more consistent, cost effective supply of staple foods such as pasta and pasta sauce, milk, breakfast cereal and canned foods.

Collaborations between governments, business and the community sector play an important role in ensuring more food and meals are getting to the most vulnerable in our communities.

Today's announcement is also a major boost for charities such as OzHarvest, Fare Share, Food 4 Life, SecondBite and Foodbank - organisations that turn food destined for landfill into healthy meals for people in need.

To help Woolworths meet their ambitious targets the Australian Government will use its expertise in administering grants to help them establish the $2 million grants program.

The grants will help these organisations, who rely on volunteers and only have limited resources to purchase infrastructure such as vehicles, storage and refrigeration, to make sure healthy food gets to the people who need it most.'

Face Up To Natural Limits, or Face A 1970s-Style Energy Crisis

Great piece, although I would say we will be facing a lot more than a 1970s-scale energy crisis...that is a slight understatement!

We are living in the biggest 'energy bubble' in human history.

Reposted in full from The Ecologist, 19 January 2010

'None of the various technofixes on offer alter the fact that humanity has to learn to stop living on the last drops of cheap energy, and to start living within its means.

Britain has a serious problem with its energy supply. After examining this issue for a few years now I perceive that the greatest difficulty we face is not that we lack energy resources (arguably we do), or that we are becoming precariously dependent upon imported energy (which we are), or that our large demand for energy makes reforming our economy extremely difficult (as evidently it does); the most significant problem is that the political and business community cannot accept that natural systems impose physical limits upon human society.

We may be told that our present problems can be solved through measures such as 'green growth', 'low carbon energy' or 'carbon markets', but such a view ignores the growing body of evidence concerning the relationship between the way the economic system operates and the physical nature of energy and material resources that the economy relies upon.

Cheap energy = cheap growth

If we look at how Britain's energy economy has changed over the last two centuries we can see an interesting trend emerging - one that demonstrates the evidence for a link between energy sources and the well-being of the general economy. Throughout its history, up to the Second World War, Britain was largely self-sufficient in energy. Then from the 1950s, on the back of the post-war consumer boom, this historic trend ended as imported oil gained a wider role in the economy and indigenous coal production declined. By the 1970s, when we imported about 50 per cent of our energy needs, the imbalances in the national economy caused a whole range of economic problems, essentially because Britain was trying to spend more than it could create through its national income.

What resolved this crisis, from around 1979/1980, was increasing energy production from the North Sea. Once again Britain became a net energy exporter, and once again the strength of the national economy improved. With the peak of North Sea oil and gas production, and with our demand for coal now largely met by imports, energy demand is once again becoming a drag upon the national economy.

The operation of the modern economy is predicated upon cheap and plentiful energy supplies, and so the role of energy sources within economic well-being is critical. For example, recent research on the causes of the credit crunch argues that it was high energy prices that initiated the crash, not sub-prime mortgages. The Government's own forecasts predict that we could be importing up to 60 per cent of our energy needs by 2020. As a result our dependence upon imported energy is not just an issue of 'energy security', these trends are redefining the basis on which the economy operates; and unless we act to change it the economic difficulties of the 1970s are likely to return over the course of this decade.

Recognising limits

What can be done to avoid this outcome? This again raises questions about how mainstream economists value different strategies, and only attach positive values to those strategies that can produce economic growth. Research suggests that up to half the value of economic growth is the direct result of adding additional energy to the economy, and a further fifth is the result of improving energy efficiency. For this reason changing the dynamics of our energy supply, through falling production and/or higher prices, invalidates many of the economic norms of the past few decades.

In biophysical terms, energy sources such as fossil fuels or renewable energy (and even food) have a value which they create through their production, and thus a financial and energetic return that can be recycled back into the economy. To complicate matters this value is based upon the factors intrinsic to their production, and so the only way to compare one resource with another is to use a value that represents its life-cycle operation, not simply its capacity for production or profit. For example, in general renewable energy does not perform in the same way as fossil fuels because its returns are lower, primarily because the thermodynamic quality of the energy sources involved are lower, and so fossil fuels have traditionally had an advantage over renewables.

The limits to efficiency

The other principle option to manage resources more wisely, improving the efficiency of use, is limited by the fact that it is not an open ended process; each improvement represents a one-time saving, and improving efficiency levels further requires that we invest in new technologies once more. This is because thermodynamics of efficiency dictate that each new generation of technology must, on average, save less than the previous generation, and so ultimately efficiency measures represent a diminishing return - eventually you will have to put more into the system to reduce consumption (e.g. by making new gadgets) than it will save overall. In any case, if we look at the trends of the last century or so, the value of economic growth has in most years exceeded the value of improving efficiency. That's because efficiency improvements create a confounding economic feedback - cost reductions in one part of the economy will spur consumption elsewhere. As a result most efficiency measures will usually only dampen, rather than reduce, the overall level of consumption.

If the emission of greenhouse gases were the only problem with our energy system today then we might be able to do something to address the problem. The unfortunate reality is that there are an inter-related group of difficulties (principally food production, water resources, energy/mineral depletion, population and climate change) that are systemically linked to the accelerating growth in human activity within a finite ecological system.

The past bites back

Whether it is the ability of the environment to mop up carbon, or of the Earth's crust to provide the energy and material resources required to continue the industrialisation of human society, human development over this coming century is going to be constrained by these ecological limitations. This is not a new concern; it was highlighted back in 1972 by the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth study, and by the Ecologist in its Blueprint for Survival. The difference today is that the limitations on our future development are even more stark, and thus the outcome of present patterns of economic activity are seemingly more intractable.

In Britain we will have to reduce our economic activity - or 'have less' - to solve our present economic difficulties; Britain is in ecological and economic 'overshoot', and we're going to have to take action to resolve the problem before we just run out of energy, money, or both. The realistic way to reduce our impact on the environment, and manage the decline in resources, is to reduce economic growth - also called 'de-growth'; perhaps not directly, but because those strategies which make a significant difference to the level of energy and resource use will often lead to a reduction in economic activity.

For example, the best way to reduce consumption is not to make things 'more efficient' in their operation, it is to make them last many times longer by manufacturing them to higher standard - consequently less are sold, and as a result the standard index of growth, GDP, will fall; likewise, as most of the energy and resources used by modern gadgets is expended in their production, the best way to cut energy and resource use is not to simply recycle the waste products but to adopt measures that mandate the repair and reuse of goods - the result over time being lower economic activity and negative growth.

Britain was one of the first nations to industrialise - we 'made' the Industrial Revolution. Now, if we can abandon the delusional notion that human society is not subject to ecological limits, we have the potential to resolve the crises that will arise over the next few years by spurring a new 'Ecological Revolution' – one that addresses these past excesses through redefining markets and economic theory within ecological and biophysical limits.'

Info-Activism: Using Technology For Social Change


Reposted in full from The Ecologist, 15 January 2010

'A must-see documentary explores how campaigners are successfully using new technologies and tactics to change the status quo

The information age brings with it the power for us all to make change

What do local government corruption in India, bloated EU farm subsidies and police backhanders in Morocco have in common?

They have all been targeted by a new generation of info-activists - campaigners who are using new technologies to force social change.

Their stories are told by 10 tactics - a documentary produced by the Tactical Technology Collective (www.tacticaltech.org), so far screened in 16 countries.

Stephanie Hankey, co-founder of Tactical Tech, explained the rationale behind the film:

‘Technology and social media platforms have revolutionised the way we communicate and campaign on global and local issues. We have seen examples of the power of social media to shine a spotlight on oppression and hold governments to account, notably in Iran and Burma.'

But with powerful new media, come risks and responsibilities.

‘Technology and social media can also, however, carry huge risks for individuals in terms of security and visibility.'

With its practical tips and compelling stories, 10 Tactics is a must-see for anyone serious about affecting change in the information age.

And here is some of the advice that forms those indispensable 10 tactics...

1) Mobilise people:

Facebook and other social networks have become an essential tool for info-activists to gather support.

Facebook was instrumental in the pink chaddis or ‘pink panties' campaign in India which involved women's advocates asking supporters to send pink chaddis to members of a right wing group responsible for attacks on women seen drinking in pubs.

Three days after the campaign's launch, it had 16,000 followers on Facebook and just a few months later 50,000 were supporting the campaign.

The campaign drew intense media interest and, according to Nhamita Malhotra of India's Alternative Law Forum, allowed for ‘a conversation between ordinary people and the Hindu right'.

2) Witness and record:

Smaller and cheaper recording devices mean that it's not only a select few who get to tell stories. Everyone has the potential to broadcast what they see.

Witness, record, broadcast and expose was the tactic used by the ‘Targuist Sniper' who filmed police officers in Morocco taking bribes from motorists.

The videos, seen by hundreds of thousands of users on facebook, led the government to arrest the corrupt agents and adopt the same methods in controlling police activity.

In a different context, videos shot by info activists were important in recording events during the ‘saffron revolution' in Burma, when thousands of Buddhist monks rallied against the country's military dictatorship.

As Sam Gregory of NGO Witness warns: ‘In a digital era you can't assume that once a piece of footage is out there, it won't be copied, placed on You Tube and seen by the perpetrator or whoever is responsible for the event.'

3) Visualize your message

Animation can be an ideal way of visualizing a message, especially when confronted with language or literacy barriers or when the issue concerned is politically sensitive.

350.org created an animated video about climate change, which was viewed 100,000 times on You Tube. Using no words and strong visuals, people from across the world could access the film.
Another innovative way to visualise a message was that of Tunisian info-activists who created a Google Earth style 3D map and plotted human rights videos in the same location as the Presidential Palace.

It overcame the government ban on websites YouTube and Daily Motion which had been used to broadcast videos that implicated the government in human rights abuses.

4) Amplify personal stories

The ‘We the Women' campaign in Saudi Arabia asked women to fill in stickers answering the question: ‘to drive or not to drive?'

Participants posted their stickers in public places and photographed them for the flickr photo-sharing site.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo a grassroots video was made to show the experiences of child soldiers and their families. It was aired across Eastern Congo and started a debate within communities about the use of children in conflict.

Spurred on by their successes, info activists made a further video to be broadcast in the International Criminal Court, giving voice to hundreds of previously unheard child soldiers.

5) Just add humour

A laugh goes a long way in the world of info-activism.

The Belarussian President Victor Luschenko must have wished he had never criticised the internet when info-activists created a clone of You Tube called LuTube which satirised the President and his views.

The campaign showed how humour could be used to hold people in power to account and attract a wide audience.

Similarly, 10 Tactics tells the story of sex workers in Thailand who used comical karaokee videos to show how the law discriminated against them. Videos were aired across the country and led to their appearance at an international AIDS awareness conference.

6) Manage your contacts

Kleerkut was a campaign by Greenpeace to end the use of virgin wood fibre in the products of American company Kimberly Clark.

Using CiviCRM software, Greenpeace collected the contact details of people who visited the Kleercut website and then sent them campaign email alerts once or twice a month.

Central to the campaign's success was the software's ability to give people tools to self-organise:

‘Instead of five campaigners, we had 10,000 people able to do things in the physical world because of the tools we made available,' said Greenpeace campaigner Richard Brooks.

7) How to use complex data

The organisation FarmSubsidy.org used Freedom of Information requests to obtain data on the recipients of EU farm subsidies.

The challenge was how to make the huge amount of data accessible to viewers. Plotting the data on Google Maps allowed people to see what subsidies were going where.

The organisation also created tables to show the largest recipients across Europe and within the different countries.

In Britain, the revelation that sugar giant Tate and Lyle was being paid 135 million euros of public money each year was widely covered in the media, and led to further interest in the farm subsidy website.

8) Use collective intelligence

'Swarming' is the real time collaboration of a large number of people using online platforms such as Twitter.

10 Tactics shows how, during the Mumbai terror attacks, people on the ground used Twitter to give each other an idea of what was going on.

Added to the reporting of mainstream media, it allowed for a much clearer picture of what was happening and helped rescue services get to people who were in need. Similarly, a program called Frontline SMS was used during violence by the military and police in Madagascar. People sent messages to the Foko website detailing reports of violence, which were then checked for accuracy by a team of bloggers before being published on an online map.

9) People ask the questions

The Social Development Network in East Africa found that citizens were unable to get information about development projects in their area.

So they designed a system, using Infonet's Budget Tracking platform, which allows citizens to send text messages to get information on government funding for projects.

The technology also allows users to leave comments on each project or connect with a local social development group that can help them query the allocation and use of public funds.

So far, 36,000 development projects have been listed, and in its first month 25,000 people used the tool on their mobile phones.

10) Investigate and expose

One of the most memorable examples of info-activism told by 10 Tactics is that of Tunisian bloggers who discovered the presidential plane was being used for the first lady's European shopping trips.

Images of the aircraft on plane spotting websites were combined with a visualization using Google Earth to show the unusually busy schedule of the presidential plane.

The video released on YouTube led to further investigation by the mainstream media, revealing the extent of misuse of the plane. The government responded by banning YouTube and Daily Motion, but it was too late. Everyone was talking about the First Lady's trips to Paris, Milan and Geneva.'

London’s Olympic Stadium to Be Made Out of Recycled Guns and Knives

Reposted in full from Inhabitat, 20 January 2010

'As the world eagerly awaits the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, London is ramping up their own construction plans for the 2012 Olympics. And we just learned this exciting little tidbit about the super sustainable Olympic Stadium currently being built there that makes us even more anxious to see it – it’s going to be made out of recycled guns and knives! That’s right, confiscated weapons from the Metropolitan Police Department are being melted down into scrap metal and used to help build the stadium. That’s an anti-weapons and recycling program all rolled into one!

In the last year, the Metropolitan Police have collected more than 52 tonnes of scrap metal from old keys, knives and guns. This valuable scrap metal is being sold for use in buildings around the city, namely the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. Populous (formerly HOK Sport) designed the eco-stadium to utilize a minimum number of materials and resources in order to have a lower environmental impact, and the recycled scrap metal is just one of those eco-elements.

The London Metropolitan Police have done an admirable job in the last year to lighten their environmental footprint and have performed environmental studies to see where improvements can be made. Interestingly, they have collected 3.3 million spent bullets, weighing about 28 tonnes and recycled them into photo frames and jewelry. Additionally, they have recycled old uniforms, including body armour, to be used in car production, as well as cooking oil and horse manure.'

Gunns Vows To Use 100% Plantation Timber in Bell Bay Pulp Mill

We all use paper and wood products and have to get it from somewhere - but we need to pressure the suppliers to ensure how we meet those needs has minimal impact on people and the environment, including the siting of these facilities and the production processes.

Then there is the matter of the actions/track record of the Gunns company...so this news about timber source is a start, but only a start.

Reposted in full from Ethical Investor, 20 January 2010

'Gunns’ $2.5 billion BellBay pulp mill will begin operation with 100 per cent plantation timber, following the news the timber company had secured access to the Great Southern timber resource.

Gay said discussions with project equity partners and the banking syndicate were continuing “positively”.

Gunns chairman John Gay said the appointment of Gunns as responsible entity for nine former Great Southern timber managed investment schemes gave the company the security of supply it needed.

“The BellBay mill has always been planned and designed as a plantation based mill,” Gay said.

“However, with Gunns’ existing resources, it was not possible for Gunns to guarantee supply to the mill of 100 per cent plantation timber until five years after commencement of mill operations.

“Securing the Great Southern resource is an exciting new development for Gunns that allows us to accelerate our plantation strategy to supply the Bell Bay mill with 100 per cent plantation from mill start-up.”

That meets a condition set by a possible Swedish investor, Sodra.

The Tasmanian Premier, David Bartlett, challenged environmentalists and the Greens to accept Gunns' proposed pulp mill, now that it will not use old-growth timber.

"My challenge to [Greens leader] Nick McKim, and his friends in the Wilderness Society, is to stop spreading misinformation about the use of native forest because clearly this is not true," he said.

McKim welcomed the move but says it does not change the Greens' opposition to the mill. He says it should be moved and use different technology.

A chief opponent of the mill,, TAP into a Better Tasmania, said its opposition chiefly related to the siting of the pulp mill in the TamarValley.

"The fact that Gunns now intends to use only plantation timber doesn't alter the fact that the TamarValley is completely the wrong place to build their proposed pulp mill," spokeswoman Anne Layton-Bennett said.

Gunns says it still needs its wood supply deal with Forestry Tasmania, even though its proposed pulp mill not use native forest timber. Forestry Tasmania extended the wood supply agreement a year ago, giving Gunns another two years to start building the mill.

Paul Oosting from the Wilderness Society says if that the mill can be totally plantation fed from the start, the deal with Forestry Tasmania is now redundant.

"The wood-supply deal should now be immediately axed," he said.'

Australian Super Waves Goodbye to Ethical Investing

You know you have not properly integrated sustainability into your practices if, at the end of the day, you trade it off citing 'fiduciary responsibility' - exactly how much more volatile can returns be from 'sustainable' options than the rest, given the recent economic chaos?

Maybe their sustainable investment strategy wasn't as strong as that of Australian Ethical [est. 1986], widely regarded as the 'deepest green' ethical fund in Australia, whose investment process applies both negative and positive ethical screens, as well as looking at the financial performance of the company ['best of sector' is not good enough - it can mean investment in the 'least worst' of an undesirable sector such as cluster munitions manufacturers, surely one of the most abhorrent industries - warning, graphic image].

Excerpt from Ethical Investor, 20 January 2010

'Australian Super has removed its ethical screen for its $270 million Australian Sustainable Share and Sustainable Balanced options, citing the need to meet its fiduciary duty to members and to smooth out volatile returns. The country’s largest super fund said it instead wants to ensure members continue to be provided with “sustainable investment options” that are both competitive and have the potential to provide strong long-term growth...

In the past, Australian Super’s investment manager, Perpetual, excluded from its sustainable options companies that it believed to receive at least 5 per cent from the manufacture or sale of alcohol or tobacco, the operation of gaming facilities or the manufacture of gambling equipment, uranium extraction or the manufacture of weapons or armaments.

Now, the investment manager will employ a ‘best of sector’ approach, seeking out sector-leading performance against environmental, social, governance (ESG) criteria.

Nicholas Taylor, principal of independent research consultancy Outcrop, says the announcement by Australian Super was especially significant, “not just because of its size, but because it had arguably gone further by offering its members an ethical option, only to then slip into the murkier waters of ‘sustainability’.”

“For instance, having previously excluded weapons manufacturers from their investment portfolio, now firms that produce cluster munitions — which are currently being addressed under international law — could find their way into the fund's investments,” he says in an article published in New Matilda.

Australian Super chief investment officer and deputy CEO Mark Delaney says using ethical screening gives the super “a very narrow investment universe, which to some extent made the product volatile.”...

Delaney says the change will more closely align the investment philosophy and the name of the option, ensuring they are ‘true to label’.

Asked if Australian Super has any concerns that its funds now may go some way to funding firms that produce, among other things, cluster munitions — which are currently being addressed under international law – Delaney says the ‘best-of-sector’ approach acts as a “positive incentive” for companies to improve their performance against the benchmark.

“AustralianSuper is required to maximise members retirement incomes, we endeavour to cater for member preferences by offering a range of investment options and from time to time adjustments need to be made to these options to enable us to continue to meet our fiduciary duty.”

He notes Australian Super is a signatory to the UNPRI and actively works with its fund managers to encourage companies to consider ESG issues.

Australian Super has been unable to determine in the timeframe (the switch was quietly announced on 18 December) the number of members switching in and out of the option “but I do know that the amount of money being switched in and out is about even,” Delaney says.'

21 January 2010

Deep Walkability

sorry, I couldn't help myself :)

Another excellent post from Alex Steffen, one for TOD advocates to pay close attention to - its not just density that counts, but quality of design and urban experience.

Reposted mostly in full from Worldchanging, 10 January 2010

'...Walkability is clearly critical to bright green cities. You can't advocate for car-free or car-sharing lives if people need cars to get around, and the enticement to walk is key to making density wonderful, to providing realistic transit options, to making smaller greener homes compelling and to growing the kind of digitally-suffused walksheds that post-ownership ideas seem to demand. So knowing how to define "walkable" is important.

That said, I'm skeptical of most measurements of walkability. Though I'm a fan of efforts like WalkScore, I think it's important to acknowledge their very real limitations. WalkScore, for instance, is a measurement not of walkability but proximity. If we're going to make decisions based on algorithms, we'd better make sure we're using the right formula.

The big thing I think falls out of most walkability formulas is a quality critical to the actual experience of walkability, and that's the extent to which the place in which you live is connected (by walking routes and easy transit) to other places worth walking to.

Unfortunately, in North America many great neighborhoods are islands of comparative pedestrian friendliness in seas of sprawl and pedestrian hostility. They may offer a lot of services close by - you may be able to walk to buy a quart of milk or drink a cup of coffee in the cafe - but going anywhere else involves a choice of long walks through forbidding surroundings and along dangerous streets or unhappy waits for inconvenient and underfunded transit.

To live in such a neighborhood is to understand the full impact of a half century of planning and public investment that treated a person walking as at best an afterthought, and very often as an inconvenience to cars that ought to be discouraged. No matter how great the cafes, sidewalks and street trees are in these 'hoods, they are not actually truly walkable because unless you want to feel like a prisoner trapped within their boundaries, you still must own a car.

The true test of walkability I think is this: Can you spend a pleasant half hour walking or on transit and end up at a variety of great places? The quality of having a feast of options available when you walk out your front door is what I'm starting to think of as "deep walkability."

It's this deep walkability that ought to be the top priority driving urban design and development in our communities. We ought to be looking at how to knit our walkable communities together and how to make friendlier the unwalkable streets between them.

In most cities, serious walkers (and bikers) share stories about the routes they've taken, hidden paths through the fractured landscape that let you walk safely and happily from one people-centered place to another. A killer urban ap would be one that revealed these urban songlines. A smart urban policy would be one that aimed to weave new walking routes through the whole urban fabric, until places walkers feared to tread were the exception rather than the expectation.

Basically, that would mean redevelopment and curative street design, which in turn often means making a conscious choice to slow down car traffic, to convert road lanes to train rails or bike trails, and to disincentivize parking and auto-oriented development in favor of sidewalk-focused density and transit-oriented development.

I think we need to recognize that the idea we can "balance" cars and sidewalk life is a dangerous illusion. The only way to make pedestrians and bikers safe and welcome is to slow cars down, to make it clear that the place through which they're driving is one in which they need to pay attention, and, whenever possible, to get those cars off the streets and out of way of trains, bus, bikes and strollers.

Assert the primacy of people enjoying the act of walking, and density begins to become community, transit begins to become an essential amenity rather than a safety net, and life begins to orient around experiences and access rather than accumulation and convenience. The act of walking is, I think more and more, at the very foundation of every other bright green possibility.

A place that embraces deep walkability could almost be considered the very definition of a great city.'

The Real Cost Of Stuff

Reposted in full from Steadfast Finances, 16 December 2009

'I’m fascinated by the consumerism trend of acquiring stuff. Somehow, consumer psychologists and advertising geniuses the world over have joined forces and sought to convince all of us that it’s in our best interests to buy “stuff.”

Regardless of whether they tapped our false belief that acquiring goods will boost our perceived self worth (or our social status), preying on our emotions since sad people spend more money, or you simply felt that you had to buy because everyone else was buying… it’s been a highly effective PsyOps campaign.

To counter this pseudo propaganda, I’m going to throw out my own visual representations of how I view the anti-consumerism movement and perhaps one of these images will burn itself into your brain and haunt you the next time you’re thinking about signing away away a few additional years of your life by taking on additional liabilities.

#1 – How much time do you work for XYZ object?

For simplicity, let’s say you bring home $200 per day after taxes, insurance and retirement savings. If you have a $2000 mortgage due every month, you’re working for 10 days or 2 whole work weeks just to keep a very expensive roof over your head. If you have a $500 car payment, you’re working 2 and half days. Throw in the mandatory fees that come with these two items (insurance, taxes, etc.), and you’re talking another 2 and half days of bring home pay.

This means you have just 8 working days in the month of December where your money is actually your money, and not on a predetermined course to repay one of your creditors. One could argue that this money isn’t really even your money anymore because if you don’t repay your debts, you won’t have a house to live in or a car to drive.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the cell phone, cable bill, past credit card debt you may or may not have, and any other regular expenses and liabilities you may owe every month.

(Please note, I was highly generous in not including any other liabilities/expenses on the calendar.)

If this example intrigues you, learn how to create your own “How Much Your Stuff Owns You Calendar” in just a few minutes and some basic math.

#2 – How much product must you churn out?

The world always needs ditch diggers (as the adage goes), and let’s just say that it’s your job to dig ditches in order to get paid. So every day, your calloused hands and aching back have to shovel X pounds of dirt at Y depth for Z miles.

Which is an pre-algebra word problem method of asking: how productive do you need to be to generate XYZ dollars to keep your stuff?

If you’re a writer, how many articles do you have to write per day? If you’re a football player, how many tackles or touchdowns do you need to make per year to keep your multimillion dollar salary?

(Have you noticed the ditch is never ending yet?)

Units produced to cover your outgoing cash flow is a very effective metric to reduce your spending when you actually consider how much you have to work to meet your financial obligations.

#3 – Who really owns your stuff?

Home ownership is a bit of a misnomer for anyone who has a mortgage. If you disagree, just ask your mortgage lender what happens when you stop paying your monthly bill.

Which poses an interesting dilemma: if your mortgage banker owns your house, and you’re paying him for the right to live there, does he really own you since you’ve obligated yourself to repay what you owe? Debt is slavery after all!

If you have a healthy disdain for the banking industry, you might want to considering joining the fight against the Too Big To Fail banks. By simply ceasing to do business with them and refusing to buy their #1 product (e.g. money), you’re sending a message to the folks sitting in the ivory towers that the cash cow lending business is going to shrink by a factor of you!

#4 – How much does your stuff cost you to move, store, or maintain?

Have you run out of places to keep your stuff? Is it so valuable that you can’t throw it away, but so invaluable that you can’t keep it in your house? Do you have to visit your stuff like you would a extended member of your family – once every 3 months as a chore?

When you’re paying to keep stuff outside of your primary residence without a very good reason, you might want to re-assess your life goals on what is important to you, and what isn’t.

#5 – How much are losing by selling your stuff second hand?

Everyone knows that buying a new car is a bad financial decision. Why? Because most new cars lose half their value within the first two years of ownership.

So why should your less expensive stuff be any different? If you’re fortunate enough to know that hoarding your gifts away in a storage unit is a bad idea, you’re probably smart enough to figure out that buying a stereo for $100 and selling it in a garage sale for $25 is a terrible investment. Unless, you don’t mind losing 75% on every investment you make. (If so, hope you have a pension plan and not a 401k!)

Remember, if you don’t buy it, you never have to yard sale it!'

How Your Stuff Owns You

click on image to enlarge

A brilliant way of visually representing how your 'stuff' owns you! Reminiscent of Vicki Robin's Your Money Or Your Life...

Excerpt from Steadfast Finances, 12 January 2010

'Due to the popularity of the visualizing how your stuff owns you post from several weeks ago, I thought it would be beneficial if I documented exactly how I use a simple monthly calendar and a few personal finance metrics to visually represent how many hours, days, even weeks, I had to work in order to maintain “ownership” of my stuff when I first entered the workforce...

How to Calculate your “Stuff per Hours Worked” Metric

Generating this graphic is very simple and takes just a few minutes. All you need to know is your annual salary and how much you pay every month on each individual bill.

Calculate your daily post tax bring home pay. Take a look at your pay stub or direct deposit receipts, and convert this number to your annual, post tax bring home salary. Then, divide this number by the number of days you work each year. For example, assuming you work a standard 9 to 5, five day a week job, let’s say your biweekly direct deposit total is $1500 post taxes, retirement contributions, etc. Simply multiply $1500 by 26 paychecks, then divide this number by 260 work days. In this example, the total will equal $150 per day.

How many days you work to pay each individual bill and liability. Let’s assume your mortgage (or rent) is $1500 per month. If you bring home $150 per day, you will need to work 10 days at this pay rate to stay in your home. So take your calendar, and draw a line through the first 10 business days, and label them as “mortgage payment”, “rent” or as I did, “my townhouse owns me”.

Repeat Step #2 for every bill or liability you currently have. If you have a car, add how much you pay each month for your auto loan, your monthly auto insurance payment and any personal property taxes you might have. Do this for your student loans, credit card debt, and any other long term contractual agreements. Of course, don’t forget that having a home means you have an electric bill, water bill, in-home entertainment and telecom costs just to keep the place habitable. And finally, you still have to pay fuel costs to and from work, keeping yourself clothed and presentable just so you can keep your job. Feels like I’m forgetting something. Oh yeah… you still have to eat!..'

The Empathic Civilization - From Geopolitics to Biosphere Politics

Insightful article from Jeremy Rifkin concerning the cultural underpinnings of our current sustainability crisis...peer-to-peer energy and the emerging 'biospheric consciousness'...see green text for key paragraph.

Excerpt from The Huffington Post, 11 January 2010

'...In December 2009, world leaders from 192 countries assembled in Copenhagen to address the question of how to handle the accumulated entropy bill of the fossil fuel based industrial revolution-the spent C0₂ that is heating up the planet and careening the earth into a catastrophic shift in climate. After years of preparation, the negotiations broke down and world leaders were unable to reach a formal accord.

Neither the world's political or business leaders anticipated the economic debacle of July 2008, nor were they able to cobble together a sufficient plan for economic recovery in the months since. They were equally inept at addressing the issue of climate change, despite the fact that the scientific community warns that is poses the greatest threat to our species in its history, that we are running out of time, and that we may even be facing the prospect of our own extinction.

The problem runs deeper than the issue of finding new ways to regulate the market or imposing legally binding global green house gas emission reduction targets. The real crisis lies in the set of assumptions about human nature that governs the behavior of world leaders - assumptions that were spawned during the Enlightenment more than 200 years ago at the dawn of the modern market economy and the emergence of the nation state era.

The Enlightenment thinkers - John Locke, Adam Smith, Marquis de Condorcet et al - took umbrage with the Medieval Christian world view that saw human nature as fallen and depraved and that looked to salvation in the next world through God's grace. They preferred to cast their lot with the idea that human beings' essential nature is rational, detached, autonomous, acquisitive and utilitarian and argued that individual salvation lies in unlimited material progress here on Earth.

The Enlightenment notions about human nature were reflected in the newly minted nation-state whose raison d'ĂȘtre was to protect private property relations and stimulate market forces as well as act as a surrogate of the collective self-interest of the citizenry in the international arena. Like individuals, nation-states were considered to be autonomous agents embroiled in a relentless battle with other sovereign nations in the pursuit of material gains.

It was these very assumptions that provided the philosophical underpinnings for a geopolitical frame of reference that accompanied the first and second industrial revolutions in the 19th and 20th centuries. These beliefs about human nature came to the fore in the aftermath of the global economic meltdown and in the boisterous and acrimonious confrontations in the meeting rooms in Copenhagen, with potentially disastrous consequences for the future of humanity and the planet.

If human nature is as the Enlightenment philosophers claimed, then we are likely doomed. It is impossible to imagine how we might create a sustainable global economy and restore the biosphere to health if each and every one of us is, at the core of our biology, an autonomous agent and a self-centered and materialistic being.

Recent discoveries in brain science and child development, however, are forcing us to rethink these long-held shibboleths about human nature. Biologists and cognitive neuroscientists are discovering mirror-neurons - the so-called empathy neurons - that allow human beings and other species to feel and experience another's situation as if it were one's own. We are, it appears, the most social of animals and seek intimate participation and companionship with our fellows.

Social scientists, in turn, are beginning to reexamine human history from an empathic lens and, in the process, discovering previously hidden strands of the human narrative which suggests that human evolution is measured not only by the expansion of power over nature, but also by the intensification and extension of empathy to more diverse others across broader temporal and spatial domains. The growing scientific evidence that we are a fundamentally empathic species has profound and far-reaching consequences for society, and may well determine our fate as a species.

What is required now is nothing less than a leap to global empathic consciousness and in less than a generation if we are to resurrect the global economy and revitalize the biosphere. The question becomes this: what is the mechanism that allows empathic sensitivity to mature and consciousness to expand through history?

The pivotal turning points in human consciousness occur when new energy regimes converge with new communications revolutions, creating new economic eras. The new communications revolutions become the command and control mechanisms for structuring, organizing and managing more complex civilizations that the new energy regimes make possible. For example, in the early modern age, print communication became the means to organize and manage the technologies, organizations, and infrastructure of the coal, steam, and rail revolution. It would have been impossible to administer the first industrial revolution using script and codex.

Communication revolutions not only manage new, more complex energy regimes, but also change human consciousness in the process. Forager/hunter societies relied on oral communications and their consciousness was mythologically constructed. The great hydraulic agricultural civilizations were, for the most part, organized around script communication and steeped in theological consciousness. The first industrial revolution of the 19th century was managed by print communication and ushered in ideological consciousness. Electronic communication became the command and control mechanism for arranging the second industrial revolution in the 20th century and spawned psychological consciousness.

Each more sophisticated communication revolution brings together more diverse people in increasingly more expansive and varied social networks. Oral communication has only limited temporal and spatial reach while script, print and electronic communications each extend the range and depth of human social interaction.

By extending the central nervous system of each individual and the society as a whole, communication revolutions provide an evermore inclusive playing field for empathy to mature and consciousness to expand.

For example, during the period of the great hydraulic agricultural civilizations characterized by script and theological consciousness, empathic sensitivity broadened from tribal blood ties to associational ties based on common religious affiliation. Jews came to empathize with Jews, Christians with Christians, Muslims with Muslims, etc. In the first industrial revolution characterized by print and ideological consciousness, empathic sensibility extended to national borders, with Americans empathizing with Americans, Germans with Germans, Japanese with Japanese and so on. In the second industrial revolution, characterized by electronic communication and psychological consciousness, individuals began to identify with like-minded others.

Today, we are on the cusp of another historic convergence of energy and communication - a third industrial revolution - that could extend empathic sensibility to the biosphere itself and all of life on Earth. The distributed Internet revolution is coming together with distributed renewable energies, making possible a sustainable, post-carbon economy that is both globally connected and locally managed.

In the 21st century, hundreds of millions - and eventually billions - of human beings will transform their buildings into power plants to harvest renewable energies on site, store those energies in the form of hydrogen and share electricity, peer-to-peer, across local, regional, national and continental inter-grids that act much like the Internet. The open source sharing of energy, like open source sharing of information, will give rise to collaborative energy spaces - not unlike the collaborative social spaces that currently exist on the Internet.

When every family and business comes to take responsibility for its own small swath of the biosphere by harnessing renewable energy and sharing it with millions of others on smart power grids that stretch across continents, we become intimately interconnected at the most basic level of earthly existence by jointly stewarding the energy that bathes the planet and sustains all of life.

The new distributed communication revolution not only organizes distributed renewable energies, but also changes human consciousness. The information communication technologies (ICT) revolution is quickly extending the central nervous system of billions of human beings and connecting the human race across time and space, allowing empathy to flourish on a global scale, for the first time in history.

Whether in fact we will begin to empathize as a species will depend on how we use the new distributed communication medium. While distributed communications technologies - and, soon, distributed renewable energies - are connecting the human race, what is so shocking is that no one has offered much of a reason as to why we ought to be connected. We talk breathlessly about access and inclusion in a global communications network but speak little of exactly why we want to communicate with one another on such a planetary scale. What's sorely missing is an overarching reason that billions of human beings should be increasingly connected. Toward what end?

The only feeble explanations thus far offered are to share information, be entertained, advance commercial exchange and speed the globalization of the economy. All the above, while relevant, nonetheless seem insufficient to justify why nearly seven billion human beings should be connected and mutually embedded in a globalized society. The idea of even billion individual connections, absent any overall unifying purpose, seems a colossal waste of human energy. More important, making global connections without any real transcendent purpose risks a narrowing rather than an expanding of human consciousness. But what if our distributed global communication networks were put to the task of helping us re-participate in deep communion with the common biosphere that sustains all of our lives?

The biosphere is the narrow band that extends some forty miles from the ocean floor to outer space where living creatures and the Earth's geochemical processes interact to sustain each other. We are learning that the biosphere functions like an indivisible organism. It is the continuous symbiotic relationships between every living creature and between living creatures and the geochemical processes that ensure the survival of the planetary organism and the individual species that live within its biospheric envelope. If every human life, the species as a whole, and all other life-forms are entwined with one another and with the geochemistry of the planet in a rich and complex choreography that sustains life itself, then we are all dependent on and responsible for the health of the whole organism. Carrying out that responsibility means living out our individual lives in our neighborhoods and communities in ways that promote the general well-being of the larger biosphere within which we dwell. The Third Industrial Revolution offers just such an opportunity.

If we can harness our empathic sensibility to establish a new global ethic that recognizes and acts to harmonize the many relationships that make up the life-sustaining forces of the planet, we will have moved beyond the detached, self-interested and utilitarian philosophical assumptions that accompanied national markets and nation state governance and into a new era of biosphere consciousness. We leave the old world of geopolitics behind and enter into a new world of biosphere politics, with new forms of governance emerging to accompany our new biosphere awareness.

The Third Industrial Revolution and the new era of distributed capitalism allow us to sculpt a new approach to globalization, this time emphasizing continentalization from the bottom up.

Because renewable energies are more or less equally distributed around the world, every region is potentially amply endowed with the power it needs to be relatively self-sufficient and sustainable in its lifestyle, while at the same time interconnected via smart grids to other regions across countries and continents.

When every community is locally empowered, both figuratively and literally, it can engage directly in regional, transnational, continental, and limited global trade without the severe restrictions that are imposed by the geopolitics that oversee elite fossil fuels and uranium energy distribution.

Continentalization is already bringing with it a new form of governance. The nation-state, which grew up alongside the First and Second Industrial Revolutions, and provided the regulatory mechanism for managing an energy regime whose reach was the geosphere, is ill suited for a Third Industrial Revolution whose domain is the biosphere. Distributed renewable energies generated locally and regionally and shared openly - peer to peer - across vast contiguous land masses connected by intelligent utility networks and smart logistics and supply chains favor a seamless network of governing institutions that span entire continents.

The European Union is the first continental governing institution of the Third Industrial Revolution era. The EU is already beginning to put in place the infrastructure for a European-wide energy regime, along with the codes, regulations, and standards to effectively operate a seamless transport, communications, and energy grid that will stretch from the Irish Sea to the doorsteps of Russia by midcentury. Asian, African, and Latin American continental political unions are also in the making and will likely be the premier governing institutions on their respective continents by 2050.

In this new era of distributed energy, governing institutions will more resemble the workings of the ecosystems they manage. Just as habitats function within ecosystems, and ecosystems within the biosphere in a web of interrelationships, governing institutions will similarly function in a collaborative network of relationships with localities, regions, and nations all embedded within the continent as a whole. This new complex political organism operates like the biosphere it attends, synergistically and reciprocally. This is biosphere politics.

The new biosphere politics transcends traditional right/left distinctions so characteristic of the geopolitics of the modern market economy and nation-state era. The new divide is generational and contrasts the traditional top-down model of structuring family life, education, commerce, and governance with a younger generation whose thinking is more relational and distributed, whose nature is more collaborative and cosmopolitan, and whose work and social spaces favor open-source commons. For the Internet generation, "quality of life" becomes as important as individual opportunity in fashioning a new dream for the 21st century.

The transition to biosphere consciousness has already begun. All over the world, a younger generation is beginning to realize that one's daily consumption of energy and other resources ultimately affects the lives of every other human being and every other creature that inhabits the Earth.

The Empathic Civilization is emerging. A younger generation is fast extending its empathic embrace beyond religious affiliations and national identification to include the whole of humanity and the vast project of life that envelops the Earth. But our rush to universal empathic connectivity is running up against a rapidly accelerating entropic juggernaut in the form of climate change. Can we reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary collapse?'

Why We Need a Cultural Revolution in Consumption

Excerpt from GreenBiz, 13 January 2010

'"It's no longer enough to change our light bulbs. We need to change our culture."

So says Erik Assadourian, senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute and project director of a provocative and timely new book called 2010 State of the World: Transforming Cultures from Consumerism to Sustainability. Its argument is simple: The most important driver of the world's ecological crises, including climate change, is not venal oil or coal companies or indifferent politicians but western consumer culture - that is, us.

Global consumption has grown dramatically since World War II, reaching $30.5 trillion in 2006, up sixfold since 1960. This is, in part, a very good thing - billions of people have emerged from poverty - but today's prevailing consumption patterns are, quite simply, unsustainable. The rich (meaning you and me) are the worst offenders but ecologists say that even at income levels that we think of as substandard - say, $5,000 or $6,000 per person per year - people are consuming at rates that will deplete the earth's resources, cause catastrophic climate change, wipe our species and generally trash the only planet we have. About a third of the world's people live above this standard, and the others, presumably, aspire to do the same.

This is not a message that either business or mainstream environmental groups want you to hear, which is why you don't hear it often. Most businesses, though not all of then, are in the business of persuading people to consume more. They shaped the consumer culture. And enviros have found that telling their members and donors to buy less stuff is a downer, and not an effective fund-raising message, especially among the well-to-do.

But, as Assadourian said during a conference call with reporters, consumer culture is not only causing environmental havoc, it's often failing to deliver the well-being that it promises.

Most people understand - and psychological studies of happiness confirm - that after we have achieved basic economic security (itself a cultural norm), what really makes us happy are close relationships, meaningful work, connections to community and good health.

You can't buy those things at the mall.

"Two centuries of intentional cultivation of consumerism has led to us seeing it as perfectly natural to define ourselves primarily by what and how much we consume," he said.

Consumerism is so embedded in our culture today that, most of the time, it's as invisible as the air we breathe.

Here's how Assadourian explained the oft-hidden impact of culture on our lives:

The fact that we see it as normal to be able to identify hundreds of brand logos and jingles, while few of us can identify more than a few species of wild plants and animals - that's culture.

The fact that we feed our children diets high in sugars, fats, and processed ingredients, even when we know this is making them fat and sick - that's culture.

The fact that when loved ones die a ritual intended to lay them to rest requires injecting them with toxic chemicals and sealing their bodies up in expensive and ecologically costly caskets - that's culture.

And the fact that we spend thousands of dollars each year on pets that we now see as part of the family, buying them food, toys, even health care that's better than many people in the world can afford - that's culture.

It's all true, if mildly depressing. The Independent newspaper quoted one critic who said people need to be persuaded of the benefits of tackling climate change, rather than be presented with a "defeatist and doomsday scenario."

So how do we get from here to where we need to go? "The good news," Assadourian went on, "is that we can replace our consumer culture with a culture of sustainability."

How, exactly, isn't entirely clear. The Worldwatch book is a useful place to start - it includes contributions from about 50 writers and thinkers, including Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel laureaute, who wrote the foreword, and such cultural critics and analysts as Juliet Schor, Michael Shuman and John DeGraaf. Ray Anderson of Interface...co-authored a chapter on how business cultures can adapt to a culture of sustainability...

Governments are created "choice architectures" to promote CFL bulbs and discourage plastic bags. School lunches are slowly getting healthier, at least in Britain, Rome and Grenoble, France, according to a chapter of the book titled Rethinking School Food: The Power of the Public Palate.

Religious leaders could, in theory, lead this cultural revolution and, in fact, some are stepping forward. A group called Interfaith Power & Light is organizing churches and synagogues to coordinate a religious response to global warming...

If advertising and media sold us on the value of consumerism, maybe the same tools can be used to sell us on the value of a more sustainable culture. Jonah Sachs, creative director of Free Range Studies, who cowrote a chapter in the book called "From Selling Soap to Selling Sustainability: Social Marketing," noted during the conference call that the tools of advertising are now low-cost and ubiquitous.

"People can find stories that appeal to them, share them with their friends and create explosive and cheap campaigns," Sachs said. Social marketing, he writes, has helped discourage smoking, promote seat belt use and raise awareness about obesity. If advertising and marketing helped create consumerism in just a few decades, social marketers could undermine it...'

Perth CBD Good Enough To Eat

Excerpt from G Magazine, 19 January 2010

'Perth residents have welcomed a new, sustainably-designed addition to their inner CBD, with the opening of the unique 'Greenhouse' bar.

Not only is the garden and bar made entirely from recycled and recyclable materials, with floors made of recycled car tyres, furniture crafted from packing crates and retired road signs and old wire twisted into new lampshades, Greenhouse is good enough to eat - literally.

The exterior walls host 4,000 pots planted with cascading strawberries, and the rooftop garden grows many many of the herbs, fruit and vegetables that the European-style bar uses in its menu. Food scraps are fed back into the garden's worm farm, and there are even plans to start a beehive, which will produce the honey used in the Greenhouse's dishes.

Designed by Melbourne floral artist and 'waste wizard' Joost Bakker, the bar was originally conceived of as a pop-up installation in Melbourne's Federation Square. After a warm reception there, it has moved to Perth on a permanent basis.

Bakker...said he wanted to create a rooftop garden which was not only self-sustaining, but that would not leave a trace of itself once dismantled.

"The idea was that the building could be totally pulled apart and recycled - every single bit," he said.

As well as including heavily recycled and recyclable components, Bakker's realised vision also includes wall cavities filled with fire-safe straw bales, providing insulation for the building without the need for large cooling or heating systems...

For example, Bakker believes rooftops are an untapped resource which could transform the way we grow and consume food. He points out that regular suburban lawns take up lots of space and resources and are often covered by shade, which can make growing some fruits and vegetables difficult.

"The average house in Australia is 28 square metres, and if you just had the external part of the house planted with vegie bins, it would be enough to provide four families with," he said...'

20 January 2010

Post Growth - New Blog

Dear Crux Readers,

Over the silly season, myself and two other sustainability/steady state/postgrowth economics writers and activists launched a blog called 'Post Growth'.

It's still a 'baby' blog - only a handful of posts thus far, and still working on the template to make it look pretty.

The purpose of this blog is to:

  1. connect the dots of many social and environmental symptoms and how these link to 'growth fetishism' - rather than just discussing what's wrong with economics, which can be a little abstract for people
  2. offer original thought on life in a post growth world - rather than just pointing out what's problematic about the 'uneconomic growth' world
  3. provide several high quality original posts per month - rather than a large volume
  4. invite people into the conversation through questions and encouraging comments
  5. provide a toolbox of resources and ideas that help people take action [to be progressively developed]
  6. approach a number of people with a profile in this area to contribute guest posts [in due course]
Here is a summary of what Post Growth is about:

'Post Growth is a blog about ditching “bigger” for “better.” It turns out that economic growth and human prosperity aren’t one and the same – and too much growth can harm both our societies and the planet’s support systems. So let’s move beyond growth and find a better alternative: a sustainable economy whose purpose is something greater – like the well-being of people and nature.

Earth is finite – and governed by a set of natural laws written by physics, chemistry and biology. Neither people, trees, animals or stars can grow forever. Yet somehow, we seem to think that the human enterprise can grow forever. More people, more growth, more consumption. How long can this go on for? Is there a limit? What happens when we reach it?

Where is the point at which the costs of growth outweigh the benefits (and not just those that can be counted in dollar terms)? How would the world work, post-growth? And why would it be in our individual and collective interests to pursue that world?

This blog is a collaborative project dedicated to imagining our post-growth world. We hope you’ll join the conversation, challenge others, yourselves and us – and contribute to the evolution of a world where we choose to grow better, not bigger.'

Please subscribe to this blog or follow us on Twitter if you are interested in these issues, and send this link to any contacts you feel may be interested.

One thing we don't yet have is a snappy logo, so if you are graphically skilled/willing and able to help a bunch of wordsmiths work up an idea we have, please let us know!

Thanks for subscribing to cruxcatalyst!

Jamie Oliver Takes on the USA!

If you care about food, care about kids, care about living well, care about the personal and financial cost to the community of diet and lifestyle related illness - you will be just as revved up as I am to support Jamie's latest initiative after watching this clip.

I love, love, love this man and what he does with all his awareness raising and change agent work for better food and healthier communities, he is a champ!! He has changed so many lives for the better through his work on the Fifteen Foundation, School Dinners, Ministry of Food and more, and he doesn't have to do it - he does this because he really cares about it and believes in it, and it comes at a personal cost to him in terms of time with his family.

Jamie, you have done it before, you can do it again, and never forget, bringing about change is the hardest and often most dangerous thing you can do, but any results you get - even if you don't quite reach the goals you set - are worth it!

19 January 2010

Harrods of London Set up a Productive Rooftop Vegetable Garden

Excerpt from Sky Vegetables, 4 April 2008

'World famous departmental store has started growing vegetables on the rooftop of its building in the Central London.

Harrods, which is owned by Egyptian businessman Mohammad Al-Fayed, will produce a range of vegetables including six varieties of lettuce, broad beans, garlic, lemons, potatoes, radish and tomatoes all which will go on sale in the fashionable Knightsbridge store’s Food Hall within an hour of being picked.

According to media reports, the store spread over 4.5 acres, has obtained permission from the City Government, London, to initiate the project...

With over 1 million square feet of selling space in over 330 departments, the Harrods is one of the largest department stores in the world. According the store spokesman, the fresh produce from the garden on the rooftop tastes better than food that has travelled around the world. Up to 300, 000 customers visit the store on peak days.'

Study Finds that 14,000 Acres of Available Rooftops in NYC could feed 20 Million

Reposted in full from Scotsman News, 7 June 2007 via Sky Vegetables:

'New York is better known for tall buildings and crowded streets than farms but a group of environmentalists say Gotham's rooftops could be used to grow enough vegetables to feed the entire city and reduce dependence on far-away farms. New York Sun Works has opened an environmentally friendly Science Barge to prove its point. Moored on the Hudson River, it grows and harvests lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes in a greenhouse using rain and energy from solar panels and wind turbines and biofuels.

The nonprofit group says that if similar outfits, with hydroponic systems using water and no soil, were installed on the city's 14,000 acres (5,665 hectares) of unshaded rooftop, it could feed as many as 20 million people in New York City and the surrounding metropolitan area year round.

"If we planted those rooftops with hydroponicgreenhouses...we could grow comfortably more than enough fresh vegetables for the entire population of New York City," said Ted Caplow, head ofthe group behind the project.

Cities such as Havana, Hanoi and Singapore produce much of their food, but New York ships in almost all its food.

Caplow, an environmental engineer uses the barge, which cost $250,000 (126,000 pounds) tobuild, to show city kids how vegetables grow and to promote making New York more self sufficient.

Growing local produce could cut carbon emissions, seen by scientists as a key cause of global warming, by reducing the need for trucks to deliver vegetables from long distances.

While many city residents have no access to rooftops, much less the permission to build farms on them, Caplow believes there could be possibilities for entrepreneurs or communities to useroofs of public buildings, or stores.

He envisions growers selling produce at farmers markets, to neighbourhood groups or at city chain stores like Whole Foods.

In the three weeks since the project opened, Caplow said he has had inquiries from roughly a dozen groups looking to set up similar operations, with questions coming from people as far away as the Middle East and Uruguay.

Other interested groups include city schools looking to help teach horticulture and science and potentially provide food for the cafeteria.

Gioya Fennelly, a science teacher at Eleanor Roosevelt Intermediate School in Manhattan, said she is working on a plan to build a rooftop garden to help with classes.

"I've been toying with this for many years," said Fennelly, who started a garden in the school grounds about 10 years ago but favours a rooftop greenhouse to avoid vandalism, improve hygiene conditions and to make winter garden classes possible.

New York has other similar horticulture projects. Brooklyn's East New York Farms produces food in community gardens and young people sell the food locally. And volunteers in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn work at the nonprofit Added Value, which grows plants on a 3-acre (1.3-hectare) plot that was once a dilapidated playground.

But since ground-level space for community gardens is limited, Caplow favours use of the city's unused rooftops, which have about 10 times more space than the total US ground covered by greenhouses. He also notes that greenhouses produce seven times more food than traditional farmland using four times less water.'

South Africa Invests In Urban Farming

Reposted in full from Nourishing the Planet Worldwatch blog, 13 January 2009

'Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa is most well known as the scene of massive protests and violence under Apartheid. Today, it is place of contradictions. While many of South Africa’s wealthiest citizens live there, it’s also a community plagued by poverty. Many of the residents live in shacks with tin roofs and don’t have running water or electricity.

But like the residents of other cities in Africa, including Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi (See Vertical Farms: Finding Creative Ways to Grow Food in Kibera and Farming on the Urban Fringe), the residents of Soweto are growing foods, including cabbage, kale, spinach, and other vegetables in their yards. While Johannesburg doesn’t have an official policy supporting urban agriculture, the government in Cape Town, South Africa has invested $5 million rand ($671,670 USD) to help the city’s poorest residents grow vegetables and fruits and raise livestock.'

Portland Pursues an Open Platform

I'm not au fait with all the technical infrastructure that underpins this, but the concept is intriguing...

Excerpt from New Currency Frontiers, 7 August 2009

'[Portland City Hall] has declared interest in building an "open platform" to enable multiple different currency efforts. In the last week three currency related efforts (CENPDX, The MotiveSpace Coalition, and the PDX Timebank) have collaborated in drafting a document that defines some basic requirements for such a platform. The city hasn't agreed to these requests yet, but they want to know more....

While this specific effort is currently in Portland, I see no reason for it to be limited to any geographic area. I would like to see these basic requirements endorsed by a wide variety of currency efforts around the world, so we can build a strong use case for this approach. Currencies (in the broader sense of currencies) will be stronger when they exist in a global context interlinked in a rich ecosystem of processes rather than as stand alone clubs...

The Challenge:

Dozens of groups around Portland, including CENPDX, the MotiveSpace Coalition, and the PDX Timebank, are developing innovative programs which measure and mobilize resources and capital. We refer to strategies, systems, or programs such as these as "wealth building processes" - that is, as innovative new processes which track the creation and exchange of value, within a specific community of users.

Examples of wealth building processes:
  • Buyer loyalty programs (such as choose local programs, point systems, rebate systems, etc.)
  • Reputation systems (such as user reviews, consumer ratings, etc),
  • Exchange systems (such as commercial barter, CENPDX, Time-banking),
  • Asset sharing systems (bike sharing, tool library, car sharing, office space sharing),
  • Cooperative asset building programs (such as MotiveSpace's Community Asset Funds program)

Each of these processes track flows of economic activity, and structure incentives which reward community friendly behavior. One of the largest costs common to all of these processes, is the development of a robust, secure, and user-friendly information infrastructure which enables their programs, and maximizes their reach.


To create public infrastructure (a Community Wealth Building Platform) for the city of Portland that reduces the technical costs for groups developing wealth building processes, and allows groups to easily interact with one another in a rich ecosystem of processes. We believe the city of Portland can leverage its interest in creating an open platform to the benefit of numerous groups by embracing the requirements outlined below.


The Community Wealth Building Platform must be able to address the specific requirements of existing initiatives such as CENPDX, MotiveSpace, PDX Timebank, and others.

It must minimize the cost of adoption by participants, in particular merchants and end-users, which implies leveraging mobile phone, POS payment, and web infrastructures.

Beyond its initial development costs, the Community Wealth Building Platform should look to its own community of users for its administration and maintenance costs.Basic Requirements:

Accessibility: An "open" platform is one where the means by which wealth building processes are created and transacted in are open to all, and not contingent upon participation in any given program. Any organization or individual wishing to devise and track a wealth-building process must have equal access to all Community Wealth Building Platform user interaction interfaces. These interfaces may include but are not limited to, magnetic swipe cards, smart cards, SMS, web interface, and RFID chips. Community buy-in will be leveraged by engaging a broad swath of groups.

Configurability: An Community Wealth Building Platform must encourage the creation of new wealth building processes rather than predefine the scope of what is possible. A wealth creation process should be defined by the types of accounts within it, and the relationships and interactions that are possible between those accounts. In the interests of making this platform as easy to use as possible, predefined options should be available, but users wanting to innovate must not be limited by them.

Skinability: Not every group will share intent, style, or values. It is therefore paramount that this platform allow groups to brand their use of it however they like, without forced association with other groups.

Integratability: Data generated with these wealth building processes should be able to be seamlessly integrated into existing portals.

Openness: In addition, the platform itself must be able to evolve to suit the needs of its users so that it can stay relevant in the long run. Making the platform open source and creating open APIs for third party innovation are key to realizing this goal.

Organic Cross-Referencing: In order to build the richest possible ecosystem, wealth building processes should be enabled for cross-referencing. In other words, groups or individuals should be able to build wealth-building processes on top of other wealth building processes through reference. For instance, one group’s reputation system measuring a business's performance in sustainability might effect the credit limit of that business in an unaffiliated commercial barter system. Users and groups can choose whether or not and how much of their data to make open. By allowing the users to define the way wealth building processes interact, a rich fabric of interrelated wealth building tools can emerge.

Group-specific authentication schemes: Access to the Community Wealth Building Platform should not be contingent upon hard authentication. Rather, authentication should be defined by the groups who use the platform. For instance, a user may be required to give their SS# or EIN# to participate in a commercial barter network, but not have the same requirement for joining a loyalty program or time-bank.

Integrated Marketplace Connector: Groups will have specific needs for enabling their marketplaces. For instance, a marketplace for a tool library will have different needs from CENPDX. However, these marketplaces should be connected using standard formats whenever possible. This would allow search between marketplaces. An API for third-party developers would allow data to be filtered in a variety of ways. The level to which an offer or request is open to the public should be up to the users.

Privacy levels: Data in the system should be able to be restricted to people who are participating in a specific process, or made be open for all to see. Choices about the openness of data should be left to the users and groups. Groups should be able to define multiple layers of privacy specific to their needs.

Dollar Cost to Users: Access to the platform should not be contingent upon a fee structure. Individual wealth building processes may have pay-per-use structures, but the platform itself must be entirely free and open to both users and innovators.

Maintenance and Administration: The Community Wealth Building Platform provides multiple avenues by which to remunerate administration, and maintenance of the platform. Contributors to the platform should be incentivized using the same processes the platform enables.

Distributed Architecture: The Community Wealth Building Platform should be resilient, in that if a single server crashes, this wouldn't affect other servers or the ability to interact within the system as a whole. Similarly it should be easy to add new technologies (POS, 3rd party add-ons, etc) to the platform without affecting other portions of the platform.'

The Immobility of the Traffic Commons

Interesting that its driver frustration over wasted time and costs rather than greenhouse emissions that is - pardon the pun - the driving factor getting people out of their cars...

'The car promised mobility, and in a largely rural United States it delivered. But with four out of five Americans now living in cities, the growth in urban car numbers at some point provides just the opposite: immobility.' - Earth Policy Institute

Reposted in full from Warmer Bulletin, 15 January 2010

'America's century-long love affair with the car may be coming to an end.

The Earth Policy Institute reports that between 1950 and 2008 more cars were added to our roads virtually every year as the total fleet expanded steadily from 49 million to 250 million vehicles. In 2009, however, 14 million cars were scrapped while only 10 million cars were sold, shrinking the fleet by 4 million vehicles, or nearly 2 percent.

With record numbers of cars set to reach retirement age between now and 2020, the fleet could shrink by some 10 percent, dropping from the all-time high of 250 million in 2008 to 225 million in 2020.

The United States, with 246 million motor vehicles and 209 million licensed drivers, is facing market saturation. With 5 vehicles for every 4 drivers, the 4-million-vehicle contraction in the US fleet in 2009 does not come as a great surprise.In a largely rural society, more cars provided mobility, but in a society that is now over 80 percent urban, more cars provide immobility.

A combination of driver frustration and the soaring congestion costs associated with wasted time and fuel are leading to a cultural shift that is reducing the role of the automobile as people turn to alternatives.

Almost every major US city is either building new light rail or express bus systems, or expanding and upgrading existing ones to reduce dependence on cars. The peak fleet may now be behind us.

The number of US teenage drivers has declined from a peak of 12 million in 1978 to 10 million today, dropping the share of driving-age teenagers with licenses from 69 percent to 56 percent. An increasing number of Americans are growing up in urban environments in families without a car. This trend, combined with a shift in socialization habits among young people away from cars to the Internet and smart phones, means that the car no longer holds the allure of years past.'

Water Footprint Network Launches Calculation Standards

Reposted in full from Water Footprint Network news, 18 January 2010

'In the field of carbon footprints we have seen how detrimental can be the absence of shared definitions and calculation methods. One common language is crucial, otherwise it is difficult to share information about actual footprints and reduction targets.

Many individuals and organisations have asked the Water Footprint Network for a manual that contains a complete, consistent and up-to-date overview of the method of water footprint assessment. For this purpose, the network has produced the Water Footprint Manual.

The document covers a comprehensive set of methods for water footprint accounting. It shows how water footprints can be calculated for individual processes and products, as well as for consumers, nations and businesses. Besides, the manual includes methods for water footprint sustainability assessment and a library of water footprint response options.'

Download the manual: www.waterfootprint.org/downloads/WaterFootprintManual2009.pdf [1.8 MB, 131 pages]

Green Stars Under Cloud

Reposted in full from Environmental Manager News, 18 January 2010

'The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has accused the Green Building Council of Aust (GBCA) of endangering native old-growth forests by "caving into pressure" from Australia's forest practitioners.

GBCA late last year said it had settled a three-year dispute over its refusal to accredit domestic sustainable timber products for its "six-star" green building credit rating.

In response to lobbying by the CFMEU, Australian Forestry Standard Ltd and other stakeholders, GBCA recognised the Aust forest certification scheme (AFCS), effective from January 1.

ACF Healthy Country campaign co-ordinator Lindsay Hesketh said GBCA's new criteria would not help exclude illegal timber from being used to construct Aust buildings.

"GBCA's core business is to drive the adoption of green building practices through market-based solutions," he said. "How can we trust that GBCA will represent the sustainable property industry when they approve use of timber from old-growth forests?"

The issue revolves around the definition of sustainable timber. In the past, GBCA backed the Forestry Stewardship Council's (FSC) certification scheme. FSC is a strict international code that classifies just 5% of global timber as coming from sustainable sources.

AFCS is an industry-backed scheme and accredits 90% of all timber logged in Australia as sustainable. ACF, which has a seat on the board of FSC's Australia chapter, wanted GBCA to maintain its backing of the FSC. A GBCA spokesperson said she was confident its accreditation process was fair and reasonable.'