13 February 2010

21 Hour Work Week

Reposted in full from
new economics foundation, 13 February 2010

A shorter working week is set to become the new norm, according to a report out this week from nef (the new economics foundation), the UK’s leading independent think tank.

Published today (Saturday, 13 February, 2010) the study, 21 hours, forecasts a major shift in the length of the formal working week as a consequence of dealing with key economic, social and environmental problems. And this can be seen as a positive opportunity, say the researchers, rather than a threat.

According to nef, there are several forces pushing us towards a shorter working week: lasting damage to the economy caused by the banking crisis, an increasingly divided society with too much over-work alongside too much unemployment, and an urgent need for deep cuts in environmentally damaging over-consumption. These combine with a growing interest in people spending more time producing and delivering a share of their own goods and services – from co-produced care and neighbourhood-based activities, to food, clothing and other necessities.

“So many of us live to work, work to earn, and earn to consume. And our consumption habits are squandering the earth’s natural resources”, says Anna Coote, co-author of the report and Head of Social Policy at nef. “Spending less time in paid work could help us to break this pattern. We’d have more time to be better parents, better citizens, better carers and better neighbours. And we could even become better employees: less stressed, more in control, happier in our jobs and more productive. It is time to break the power of the old industrial clock, take back our lives and work for a sustainable future.”

If we are to seize these opportunities, says nef, the inevitable consequence is a much shorter standard working week, with 21 hours as the goal. The report shows that:

* Many people work longer hours than 30 years ago. Since 1981 two-adult households have added six hours – nearly a whole working day – to their combined weekly workload.

* Today, nearly 2.5 million people can’t find jobs. Cutting labour to save money without changing working hours means some are burdened with overwork while others lose their livelihoods.

* As a result of this growing inequality in working time, the unpaid components of life are suffering. Family life, neighbourhood networks, time with children and quality of life for older people are all diminished, with painful results for society that sometimes get lumped together and lamented as ‘Broken Britain’.

The authors of 21 hours argue that a much shorter working week could help to tackle a range of urgent and closely related problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life. It would enable many more people to join the workforce and allow for measures to reduce damaging levels of inequality.

Andrew Simms, co-author of the report and Policy Director at nef said: “The last two years revealed many to be consuming well beyond our economic means and beyond the limits of the natural environment, yet in ways that also fail to improve our well-being. Meanwhile many others suffer poverty and hunger. Our research shows that moving to a shorter working week could be the only way left untried to square this seemingly impossible circle. A cultural shift will throw up real challenges, but there could also be massive benefits for our economy, our quality of life and our planet. After all, hands up who wouldn’t like a four day weekend?”

The report examines the case for a radical re-think of what most people regard as immutable: a nine-to-five, five-day working week. Yet it is just a relic of the industrial revolution. John Maynard Keynes realised that there was nothing inevitable about it. In the 1930s, he envisaged that by the beginning of the 21st century, we would be working only 15 hours a week, having gained ‘freedom from pressing economic cares’. As the world struggles to cope with a range of current crises, the prospect of a 21 hour working week could be a silver lining to the gathering clouds.

Key findings and proposals

The study demonstrates that working just 21 hours a week – or the equivalent spread over a calendar year – could bring benefits across a range of areas:

* Healing the rifts in divided Britain: A 21-hour working week could help distribute paid work more evenly across the population, reducing ill-being associated with unemployment, long working hours and too little control over time. It would make it possible for paid and unpaid work to be distributed more equally between women and men; for parents to spend more time with their children – and to spend that time differently; for people to delay retirement if they wanted to, and to have more time to care for others, to participate in local activities and to do other things of their choosing. As work gets redistributed, incomes will become more equal, thus reducing the vast range of social problems associated with inequality.

* Low carbon, high well-being living: With a 21-hour working week, some people would find themselves earning less, but with a lot more time on their hands. This means that instead of relying on consumer goods – many of which are currently purchased for the sake of convenience in a busy life – people will be able to start doing things for themselves: growing their own food and cooking it rather than buying ready-meals, walking and cycling rather than using motorised transport, mending and repairing things that break rather than throwing them away. Living life at a slower pace, with more time to do everyday tasks, would cut carbon emissions and improve life satisfaction. A more egalitarian culture would also reduce the need for conspicuous consumption driven by people’s anxiety about where they stand in the social pecking order.

* New levels of civic engagement: It takes time to be an active citizen in a democracy. We need time to learn about political issues, get involved in decision-making and join and support political parties. Spending fewer hours at work would allow people to spend more time as active citizens in their local community.

* A robust and prosperous economy: In the wake of the financial crisis, the economy must start serving the needs of society, within the limits of the natural environment. With a 21-hour working week, businesses would benefit from more women entering the workforce, and from men living more rounded, balanced lives. Stress would also be reduced because employees would no longer need to juggle paid-employment with home-based responsibilities and family commitments. There is evidence that people who work shorter hours are more productive, hour for hour. And the 21 hours plan would put an end to one of the main causes of the credit crunch – the consumer debt bubble – by moving from an economy based on consumerism and economic growth, to one based around stability, resilience and adaptability.

* More time to care and work in the home: If the average time spent on housework and care for children and adults in 2005 in Britain were given a monetary value, based on the national minimum wage (then £4.85 an hour), it would together be worth almost £253.7 billion, equivalent to 21 per cent of the British Gross Domestic Product in that year. By moving towards a 21-hour week, unpaid care and housework would be seen as equally valued and important as paid employment, and men could take a more equal share of these home-based tasks.

* Stronger public services: Because of the large budget deficit and environmental constraints on economic growth, public services will need to learn to manage with much less money. One way to do this is to make more and better use of human resources - all the relationships, knowledge and skills that people have in abundance - to supplement public funds. With a 21 hour working week, people will have more time to care for each other, spend time with children children, keep healthy, and contribute to neighbourhood activities They will become ‘co-producers’ of public services, in active and equal partnership with professionals and other public sector workers.

The shift to a 21-hour working week would eventually bring these benefits. But there are big short-term challenges that need to be anticipated. The report outlines a range of measures to make the transition as easy as possible, including:

* Active training to combat skills shortages and to help long-term unemployed return to the labour force.

* Reform National Insurance so that costs to the employer are accrued in relation to the number of hours worked, not by the number of employees on the books.

* Discouraging overtime by rewarding employers for taking on new staff when more work needs to be done.

* Making earnings more equal through a higher minimum wage and restraints on top pay.

* Standardisation with flexibility building on the EU Working Time Directive, regulation would be introduced to standardise working hours while also allowing for as much flexibility as possible. This would allow for variations around the 21 hour model, include job sharing, school term shifts, extended care leave and sabbaticals.

Food for the Future

The Food Forest's Graham Brookman's thought provoking and amusing presentation at the 'From Plains to Plate' Food Convergence launch in Adelaide, 10 February 2010

The Food Food Forest is a permaculture learning centre and organic farm in Adelaide, South Australia.

'This lecture by permaculture designer and farmer Graham Brookman explores the challenge facing global food security and proposes a model for urban design which provides efficient public transport, closes a city's nutrient and water cycles and reclaims some of the city's public land for food growing. It was filmed at the opening session of the "From Plains To Plate" conference in Adelaide, 2010.'

'But Australia...[has] been exporting food for 200 years - surprise! Victoria is a net food IMPORTER, and Australia now spends more on imported food than it receives for food exports. If anything caused a decline in food production, our population would rapidly lapse into food security...do you think anything could go wrong that might compromise our food production capacity? Keep listening!''

Issue a Challenge, Barter with Exercise!

This works by posting a public challenge via Facebook and Twitter - what a great idea!

Get Up And Move!

12 February 2010

Jamie Oliver's Wish

Hot off the press, TED 2010 Prizewinner Jamie Oliver delivered his talk 'Teach Every Child About Food' in California on 10 February - try not to be moved by his passion! He is very emotional and makes a compelling case for action with some practical ideas that are soooo cheap compared to the cost of inaction [hmmm...sounds suspiciously like another critical issue...]

10 February 2010

The Un-Six Million Dollar Man

Admirable - of course, with some exceptions, its often the case that people get to this point after they have attained the lifestyle!

Reposted in full from Dangerous Minds, 9 February 2010

'Austrian millionaire Karl Rabeder wants to give away everything he owns. And he means everything, He’s actively in the process of divesting himself of over $6 million dollars of his wealth and look at him. Look at the expression on his face...

“My idea is to have nothing left. Absolutely nothing,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “Money is counterproductive – it prevents happiness to come.”

Instead, he will move out of his luxury Alpine retreat into a small wooden hut in the mountains or a simple bedsit in Innsbruck. His entire proceeds are going to charities he set up in Central and Latin America, but he will not even take a salary from these.

“For a long time I believed that more wealth and luxury automatically meant more happiness,” he said.

“I come from a very poor family where the rules were to work more to achieve more material things, and I applied this for many years,” said Mr Rabeder.

But over time, he had another, conflicting feeling.

“More and more I heard the words: ‘Stop what you are doing now – all this luxury and consumerism – and start your real life’,” he said. “I had the feeling I was working as a slave for things that I did not wish for or need. I have the feeling that there are lot of people doing the same thing.”

However, for many years he said he was simply not “brave” enough to give up all the trappings of his comfortable existence. The tipping point came while he was on a three-week holiday with his wife to islands of Hawaii.

“It was the biggest shock in my life, when I realised how horrible, soulless and without feeling the five star lifestyle is,” he said.

“In those three weeks, we spent all the money you could possibly spend. But in all that time, we had the feeling we hadn’t met a single real person – that we were all just actors. The staff played the role of being friendly and the guests played the role of being important and nobody was real.”

He had similar feelings of guilt while on gliding trips in South America and Africa. “I increasingly got the sensation that there is a connection between our wealth and their poverty,” he said.

Suddenly, he realised that “if I don’t do it now I won’t do it for the rest of my life”.
Mr Rabeder decided to raffle his Alpine home, selling 21,999 lottery tickets priced at just £87 each. The Provence house in the village of Cruis is on sale at the local estate agent. All the money will go into his microcredit charity, which offers small loans to Latin America and builds development aid strategies to self-employed people in El Salvador, Honduras, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Chile.

Since selling his belongings, Mr Rabeder said he felt “free, the opposite of heavy”. But he said he did not judge those who chose to keep their wealth.

“I do not have the right to give any other person advice. I was just listening to the voice of my heart and soul.”'

08 February 2010

Forget Dollars, We’ll Take Your Potomacs

'More and more, people want to know how much of their money falls into the hands of polluters, criminals, foreigners, and bailed-out bank and auto execs. The use of local currencies eliminates most if not all of these concerns...'

Reposted in full from
Worldwatch Institute blog, Transforming Cultures, 4 February 2010

'If you’re carrying around Potomacs in your wallet or purse, let it be known that you can spend them here. Here at the Worldwatch office, that is. Yep, one copy of State of the World 2010 will cost you twenty Potomacs. Come by the office and we’ll exchange you a book for one of those golden Harriet Tubman bills. We’ve already had some sales and will be using our Potomacs to purchase coffee at Qualia, just down the street.

No idea what I’m talking about? Unless you live in the DC area, you’re not really supposed to know. Local currencies are designed to strengthen and enrich communities of people who wish to be connected by more than the internet, highways, and credit card transactions. And such currencies are on the rise especially because of society’s newfound desire for economic transparency. More and more, people want to know how much of their money falls into the hands of polluters, criminals, foreigners, and bailed-out bank and auto execs. The use of local currencies eliminates most if not all of these concerns as participating businesses are typically well-rooted in the community and genuinely interested in its health and well being. Local businesses also tend to buy more from local suppliers, reducing the miles that their goods travel, and making the supply chain more traceable.

Potomacs were launched as DC’s local currency in May 2009 and are currently accepted at five businesses and one NGO (us!) in the District. So when a Potomac is spent at one of these places, it has nowhere to go beyond the cash register but on to another Potomac-accepting business. That means 100% of the value of a Potomac (1 Potomac = $1) stays in DC!

Compare that with the Federal Reserve Notes you’re used to exchanging and which are nearly impossible for any single consumer to trace beyond their pocket: An economic impact analysis performed in Austin, Texas showed that for every $100 spent at a local bookstore, $45 re-circulated in the community. $100 spent at Borders bookstore, a massive national chain, yielded far more appalling results: only $13 re-circulated. These numbers speak to the economic resilience created by local businesses as well as the potential for local currencies to strengthen that resilience.

Since trading twenty bucks for my first wad of Potomacs I’ve asked a couple businesses whether they accept the currency – a bar and a pet store to be exact. The bar man didn’t quite have time for my explanation and the pet store owner was completely resistant to the idea, insisting that Potomacs are too easy to counterfeit. These are legitimate excuses. Not all businesses – even local ones – have the time to account for dollars and Potomacs separately or verify the authenticity of every Potomac bill. Then again, if we are to become a society that values, rather than ignores, the impact of our actions then our perceptions of time and economic value must change.

Local currencies are often named after rivers. For example, the Columbia Hour in Washington state and Anacostia Hour in Maryland, reflecting their purpose: to flow through communities, bringing neighbors and natural resources closer together. Thus local currencies are a bold economic step toward a vibrantly interdependent future.

Come by Worldwatch to spend Potomacs or find out more about them. Or visit here:


Ecological Debt in Africa

'For centuries, richer countries have imported resources from Africa to support expansive economic growth and increasing levels of consumption. But the African continent, rather than Europe, will suffer the impacts of the resulting ‘ecological debt’, says Andrew Simms.'

Another great piece from Andrew Simms of the new economics foundation...

Reposted in full from Sharing The World's Resources, 19 January 2010

''The conquest of the earth… is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.’ Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

The elephant is still standing. And, still dead. Around its feet glisten hundreds of coins thrown by museum visitors. They could be wishes made on the soul of the departed animal. Or, small gestures of recompense in lieu of the fate of the land that was once its home. Room after room is full of animals stuffed and perched rigidly against crudely realised backdrops of African forest and grassland. Another long room surveys Africa’s global economic contribution, maps on the wall dissect and label each country, tagging them like the worn, stuffed big cats and apes, and fish pickled in jars.

This is Africa as a cornucopia of natural wealth to be mined, harvested, picked, squeezed and taken. The maps reduce the continent in general, and the Congo in particular, to a series of carefully plotted locations for the extraction of: oil, cotton, coffee, sugar, rice, maize, jute, palm oil, diamonds, cobalt, tin, copper, and gold. One term for it, is the 'resource curse.’ It was personified in King Leopold II’s brutal Central African reign at the height the first ‘scramble for Africa’ in the 19th century. He sits proudly still in the museum’s central courtyard, with an imperially up-turned chin, a statue in honour of international relations built on murder, theft and deception, carried out on a massive scale.

Is his presence shocking because things are so different today, or because there remain dark continuities? Driven by European-style consumption patterns, a new report from nef (the new economics foundation) reveals humanity in 2009 going into ‘ecological debt’ on September 25th. It’s based on the ‘ecological footprint’ measure. This adds up all the natural resources we consume and the waste we generate, and compares them with what ecosystems can produce and absorb.

Like with financial planning, spend more than you earn and before the year’s out you go into debt. The earlier it happens, the worse things are. This year ‘ecological debt day’ falls a day later than last year, but still two weeks earlier than the year before. It’s been shifting ever earlier in the year since first going into the environmental red in the mid 1980s. Strikingly, it suggests that global over-consumption has been barely affected by the recession.

No rich country can support its lifestyle without huge imports of resources. Now we are racking up these ecological debts in a way that looks a lot like a new scramble for Africa.

Since 2006, for example, large scale transnational land acquisitions and leases – so-called ‘land grabs’ - have targeted up to 20 million hectares of farmland in developing countries, to grow food and biofuels for consumers in wealthy nations – an area equivalent in size to all the farmland in France. Countries caught up in the current wave include Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, and Cameroon – all poor and troubled in various ways.

Many of the acquisitions were triggered by the food and fuel price spikes of 2008 when the wealthy suddenly became aware of how vulnerable had become the global markets upon which their material security depended. As a result, direct ownership of resources looked more attractive than depending on the casino of the commodity markets.

There is a walk you can take that leaves opposite the museum in Brussels. It goes into the woods ‘in the footsteps of Stanley.’ He once boasted of throwing himself down the Congo, ‘shooting down terrified natives left and right,’ so it should be lively. Yet, today, there appears to be no shortage of volunteers willing to take up the offer.

With China now in more obvious competition with Europe and America, there is talk of a new ‘scramble for Africa.’ Where China is concerned, of course, many of Africa’s raw materials end up as Chinese manufactured goods for sale in Europe. India, too, chasing the European development model is using ‘resource diplomacy’ in the new scramble.

Over half of the money flowing into Africa as foreign investment alone goes straight to the oil sector according to the UN’s World Investment Report. The UK’s recent charm offensive toward Libya shows how quickly the promise of oil can burst the most pompous denunciations of dictators. By 2015 the US is expected to get one quarter of its crude oil imports from West Africa, and established a continent wide military command in 2007. The fossil fuels oil and gas are implicated in bloodshed from Angola, to Nigeria and Sudan, and potentially on the borders of Somalia and Ethiopia. Chad, Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Equatorial Guinea are also key producers.

Parts of Europe like France, Germany and even, falteringly, the UK, are patting themselves on the back for the first, flickering signs of recovery from recession. Small glimmers of economic growth may hearten old-style finance ministries, but they also mean going back to the days of debt-fuelled over-consumption that got us into the problem in the first place.

It’s easy to see how it all adds-up through a combination of direct consumption and the crazy way the world does business. The UK’s relative dependence on imported energy has risen fivefold since we lost our self-sufficiency in 2004. We are less self-sufficient in feeding ourselves now than we were 40 years ago and engage in some very bizarre forms of ‘boomerang trade.’ Not having to pay the full environmental cost of fuel we end up exporting 5,000 tonnes of toilet paper from the UK to Germany, then importing over 4,000 tonnes back again, and exporting 4,400 tonnes of ice cream to Italy, and importing 4,200 tonnes back. There are many more similar examples.

Today, of course, all respectable European powers must profess commitment to global poverty reduction and sustainable development. They boast of leadership on climate change.

But Europe is still hungry for Africa’s resources and, for all its sophistication, less energy efficient today at delivering a given level of ‘life satisfaction’ than it was four decades ago. We’ve grown vastly more materialistic, with barely any improvement to our well-being. And, others are paying the price.

Projections for the impact of consumption-driven climate change show potentially catastrophic impacts on Africa over coming decades – a continent that has made only a negligible contribution to the problem. And, they coincide with the on-going rapacious international exploitation of the Congo’s tropical forests, the world’s second largest after those of the Amazon.

Expected deforestation – to feed the demand for garden furniture, wood floors and ministerial front doors - up to the year 2050 is set to release over 34 billion tonnes of CO2 – somewhere close to the UK’s entire emissions over the course of sixty years. Overall, up to a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions are thought to come from the clearance of tropical forests. Things went badly after the World Bank began lending, post-conflict, to the DRC in 2001. In four years from 2002, 107 new contracts to log a total of 15 million hectares of forest were signed. But, promised benefits to local people from the trade failed to materialise, and tax avoidance and timber smuggling are reportedly rife.

In late 2008, the Democratic Republic of Congo again stood on the edge of full-scale conflict and calamity. Even before then, in just a decade from 1998, 5.4 million people were estimated to have died from war-related causes in the Congo. Whether, oil, wood, diamonds or minerals the continent is still seen as a lucky dip of natural resources with little concern for consequence.

I’d gone to the museum in Brussels to understand better an ‘official’ version of the events that have seen Europe and Africa emerge with such different fortunes after two and a half centuries of rapid global economic expansion and massive divergence between rich and poor. Such unequal development has been paid-for in large part by the creation of a huge ecological, or carbon debt, in the form of global climatic upheaval. We’re left in a world divided, volatile and living beyond its environmental means.

In 1972, Sicco Mansholt, then President of the European Commission, asked if Europe will, “continue to produce, ‘bigger, faster and more’ for ‘some’ to the detriment of the global environment and the welfare of the “rest”?” As long as Leopold’s statue stands in the capital of the heart of Europe, the answer is probably, yes.'

07 February 2010

Hot, Dry and Crowded - Australia's Expanding Population

Interesting to note that this is being raised in an economics publication...with a comedic twist at the end!

Reposted in full from The Economist, 6 February 2010

Can there be too many Australians?

'As he prepares to call an election later this year Kevin Rudd, Australia's prime minister, is hoping his government's handling of the global financial crisis might help him win a second term. Australia was one of the few rich countries to avoid a recession. Unemployment in December fell to 5.5%. But a report published on February 1st announces an even bigger challenge for the economy: a population explosion.

The report, from the federal Treasury, foresees Australia's population growing by almost two-thirds over the next 40 years—to 36m—about 25% higher than the Treasury had predicted just three years ago. Some of the boom will be home-grown, as young Australian women are having more children than did their baby-boomer predecessors. But a larger proportion will come from immigration. Up to last year, Australia had been taking about 244,000 immigrants a year.

The big intake will at least help to compensate for an ageing population. Almost 90% of today's immigrants are younger than 40, compared with only 55% of native Australians. Nonetheless the number of Australians aged between 65 and 84 will more than double by 2050, and the number of those aged over 85 will more than quadruple. So many oldies will mean almost half of government spending going to health care and support for the elderly. Yet the proportion of working-age taxpayers will be only about half as big as now.

Mr Rudd has said he believes in "a big Australia". More people, he argues, will contribute to the country's prosperity and boost its influence in Asia. But since these latest demographic projections, he has been touring Australia's big cities warning that the country must lift productivity, or risk unsustainable budget deficits later on.

Some experts argue that the environmental costs of a big Australia are an even bigger worry than the fiscal ones. A decade of drought has left the country's water supplies depleted. Until recent rains, the Lachlan river had stopped flowing in some of the farming regions of New South Wales, the most populous state. The Treasury's report says climate change poses as serious a threat to Australia as does the ageing of its population. This week Mr Rudd's government brought back to Parliament a bill to create an emissions-trading scheme, though the upper house rejected it twice last year. He seems determined to force a showdown over the issue.

Ken Henry, the head of the Treasury, questions the capacity of a country as hot and dry as Australia to sustain so many people. He is also pessimistic about the prospects for biodiversity. He recently cited the granting of permits over the past decade that have allowed the commercial slaughter of 50m kangaroos "primarily to give household pets a bit of variety in their diet". This suggests, he said, that even with only 22m people, "we haven't managed to find accommodation with our environment."

The Treasury report does not include a kangaroo-population forecast.'

Creative Litter Campaign

Clever approach documented in Bliss Blog, 18 September 2008

'Everyday the rubbish found around the bus shelters was picked up and placed inside the bus shelter. This should increase the awareness for the waste disposal.'

[click to enlarge]

Slow Down Week 8 - 12 February

Adbusters have designated 8-12 February 2010 as 'Slow Down Week'...are they kidding? Have they seen my diary this week?!

But a damn fine plan nonetheless!

'Slow isn’t necessarily a pace, it’s a philosophy – a way of approaching life. We can slow down simply by addressing the disconnect that makes life feel anxious, alienating and fast. Try simple things like shopping at a local farmers’ market rather than a big box store. Knowing the provenance and history of your food will change the way you experience eating. Instead of hopping in your car and heading to Starbucks, walk to an indie coffee shop. Chat with the owners, smile at a stranger and sip your latte from a mug rather than dashing off with a cardboard cup. Explore what your neighborhood has to offer and experience the simple, provincial pleasure of purchasing cheese from one store, bread from another. To slow down, we don’t have to stop moving – we just have to move in different, more meaningful ways.'