23 July 2010

Germans Hold 60 Kilometres Long Party On Motorway

Reposted from Planet Ark's World Environment News, 23 July 2010

'About three million people turned a busy motorway into one of the biggest open-air festivals in Germany's history on Sunday.

A 60 km (36 mile)-long section of the A40 Autobahn between the western German cities of Dortmund and Duisburg was closed to motorists and turned over to pedestrians, cyclists, skaters and picnickers.

The event called "Still Life" was part of celebrations for the Ruhr region Cultural Capital of Europe 2010. The area, once Germany's industrial heartland, is home to 5.3 million people.

Some 20,000 tables were set up on the motorway for what organizers called "the longest banquet in the world." They said three million people had taken part.

Television pictures from the air showed crowds milling around on a road where cars usually race along at speeds of 160 kph (100 mph) or more.

Hannelore Kraft, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia state, was among the revelers. She rode a bicycle and said the event should be repeated.
"This is fantastic," Kraft said. "I grew up right next to the A40 and still live close to it. It's great to see it now without cars but with so many people and so much cultural variety."'

The Bean Counters Strike Again!

At the core of the sustainability challenge is the dysfunction of a system of economics and how it measures value.

This is **JUST TYPICAL** of the myopic stupidity of bean counters and razor gangs!!

No doubt the SDC is being dismantled - it was too effective!!! It costs 3 million pounds to run, and its work has helped govt save 70 million pounds!! Being more resource efficient with water, energy and materials STOPS WASTE and FREES UP money for important things!!

I wonder if all the efforts to 'internalise externalities' will come to no avail, because even when an initiative is saving their highest priority, their precious dollars, and providing an exceptional ROI, its STILL killed off!!

Let's hope this decision is not carried out.

Reposted in full from The Guardian, 20 July 2010

'The coalition government will on Thursday announce plans to axe its sustainability watchdog in order to meet targets for public sector spending cuts, it emerged today.

Proponents of the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) argue that its remit to advise government on reducing its carbon emissions and other resource use saves far more money that it costs.

The plan to scrap the Sustainable Development Commission is – ironically – scheduled to be unveiled on the same day that the agency will release its annual report into green improvements to the government's operations. This lists tens of millions of pounds worth of savings from fuel costs, water, waste and other things. Many of the changes were prompted by advice from the SDC which has staff of around 60 and a budget of just under £3m, and which was set up by the then deputy prime minister John Prescott in June 2000 after persuasion from Michael Meacher MP.

The move will be seen by many environmentalists as directly counter to David Cameron's pledge to lead the "greenest government ever". When meeting civil servants a week after the election he said, "There is a fourth minister in this department [energy and climate change] who cares passionately about this agenda and that is me, the prime minister, right. I mean that from the bottom of my heart."

Tonight Caroline Lucas MP, the head of the Green party, called the move an "absolute disaster". "The Sustainable Development Commission has been a vital source of well-informed scrutiny of government policy. The commission has come out with very sensible proposals."

"If the current government is to really stand a chance of getting its head round sustainability, the urgency of the threats, and the huge opportunities to benefit this country's economy as well as its people through green policies, we need the Sustainable Development Commission and we need it to have a strong and independent voice." She said she had tabled a parliamentary question asking the government assess the SDC's value to date.

The decision to scrap the commission, which is jointly owned by the UK government and the devolved administrations, is likely to raise tensions between the Welsh assembly and Whitehall after the assembly's business minister Jane Hutt said she was "concerned" about the government's review of arms length bodies and added "we will make representations [to the UK government]". Speaking to the assembly, she praised the SDC for playing "an important part" in the assembly's plans to move Wales to a zero-carbon economy.

Her answer was prompted by a question last week from Plaid Cymru's sustainability spokesperson Leanne Wood AM.

Wood told the Guardian: "The Sustainable Development Commission was set up to advise government how to cut carbon emissions. To scrap this body now would suggest that the Conservatives are lukewarm when it comes to tackle climate change." She added that Plaid Cymru wanted the SDC to be retained in Wales.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs refused to confirm or deny whether the SDC would be cut. But a spokesperson said: "'In line with the coalition government's commitments, Defra is examining its large network of arms-length bodies ... No final decision has been made on other arms-length bodies and we are continuing to talk with them and with unions to ensure that essential policy and delivery areas are managed in the most efficient and cost-effective ways. Announcements on other arms-length bodies will be made in due course once this process has been completed."

On Wednesday, former energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband said: "The coalition has made some terrible decisions on the environment - scrapping the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters, shelving Labour's plan for the Green Investment Bank. They promised to be the greenest government ever but they're completely betraying that promise."

Will Day, the SDC's chairman, said: "Sustainable development is no peripheral, nice-to-have concept for prosperous times. It is the best way of delivering more for less, while ensuring that the drive for efficiencies doesn't cost more in the long run."

The SDC began as a tiny £350,000-a-year operation with a unique license to be a "critical friend" to the government, which could provoke and cajole ministers and civil servants into greener actions. Its first chair was the environmentalist Jonathan Porritt, the former director of Friends of the Earth. Porritt stepped down last year to make way for the current head Will Day. The SDC's current role involves independent advice to the prime minister, as well as the devolved administrations. Its brief is, through advocacy, advice and appraisal, to raise sustainability at the heart of government.'

22 July 2010

The Great Hunger Lottery

Excerpt from The Ecologist, 19 July 2010

''Risky and secretive' gambling on the price of coffee, cocoa and wheat is leading to unstable food prices and exacerbating poverty and malnutrition but creating billions of pounds for the banking sector.

Banks such Goldman Sachs are making huge profits by gambling on the prices of key commodity crops such as coffee, cocoa and wheat, according to the campaign group the World Development Movement (WDM).

By creating funds to allow investors to speculate on the price of food, in the same way they would invest in the shares of a company, banks are able to bet on the price of food.

However this is leading to higher and more volatile prices which make it more difficult for farmers to plan and invest and also lead to damaging price rises - such as those witnessed in 2007/8 - which hit the poorest families in less industrialised countries hardest.

Only last month, says WDM, the price of coffee jumped by 20 per cent in three days, after a trader called the bluff of hedge funds that had made millions by selling coffee contracts and betting on the price to fall. This left hedge funds scrambling to buy actual coffee beans, and the price shot up from the extra demand...

The biggest banks involved in the trading are Bank of America, Citibank, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan. Goldman Sachs alone is estimated to have made more than $1 billion from commodities trading in 2009.

WDM's new report, 'The great hunger lottery', calls for limits to be set on the amount that bankers can bet on food prices and for an end to secretive trading...'

20 July 2010

Eric Sun's Existential Lament

Reposted in full from The Age, 20 July 2010

'Eric Sun is not a happy little mobile phone. In fact, he's up to his aerial in the gloom of an existential crisis. After little more than 12 months, his owner has abandoned him for a sleek, sexy new model.

Perched uneasily on the edge of the couch in his psychologist's office, he pauses, gathers his thoughts, bottom lip quivering. ''I just feel really worthless,'' he stutters eventually. ''My career has only lasted for one year.

''I need a new life, doc, a new direction! There has to be more to life than being stuck in a drawer.''

Eric Sun is the chief protagonist of Life Psycle-ology, a short animated film to be launched on Thursday as part of the State of Design Festival broaching issues surrounding eco-design and the life cycle of consumer products. The difference being that the film, which is the first in the series The Secret Life of Things, does so with a smile.

''Eco-design has a PR problem and it's not being communicated very well,'' says Leyla Acaroglu, who developed and directed the film through her eco-design consultancy Eco Innovators. ''We're trying to use humour to engage people on another level.''

''A lot of the information that is around on sustainability and environmental stuff can be quite depressing and can be quite disempowering,'' continues the 27-year-old. ''Explaining all the facts and presenting all the doom and gloom side of things, on the one hand, is important, because we all need to get to a point of understanding about the issues, but we also wanted to empower people about what they can do.''

Originally conceived as an educational resource for design students, the film traces Eric Sun's emotional journey through past-life regression therapy. He learns of his source materials: gold from South Africa, palladium from Brazil, platinum from Russia, silver from Mexico and nickel from Australia. He recalls the joy of regular use and the dismay of failing memory and shortened battery life, only to learn of the possibilities of disassembly, resource recovery and reuse in other electronic products such as USB flash drives and digital cameras.

The mobile phone - something of a poster child for the new generation of high-turnover, comparatively disposable consumer technology - seemed the perfect hook through which to launch the film series. Indeed, according to a recent global consumer survey by Finnish telecommunications company Nokia, only 3 per cent of mobile users internationally recycle their mobile phones. Other studies have the figure even lower.

''The whole thing is based around the idea of product life cycles and trying to come up with a clever way to sort of portray that,'' says animator Nick Kallincos, who originally came up with the Eric Sun character. ''The mobile phone just felt right.''

''This is a thing that we all use all the time and are largely unaware of all the materials and all the hidden things beneath it.''

Acaroglu agrees. ''Here were all these quite complex issues, but when Nick came back with this idea of this sad little mobile phone going to his doctor's office having this existentialist crisis and past-life regression therapy, you just knew instantly that it was perfect,'' she says.

The Secret Life of Things launches at 6pm on Thursday at the EPA Offices, Carlton. Phone: 8669 2046.

Life Psychle-ology screens at 2pm and 6.30pm daily at the Federation Square Big Screen until July 25.'

19 July 2010

Africa Looks to Vast Forests for Carbon Credit

Reposted in full from Planet Ark, 19 July 2010

'They inhabit a polluted part of Ivory Coast's main city with few jobs and a swelling population, but residents of Abidjan's slums have a rare respite: a stretch of pristine rainforest.

From their wooden shacks and unpainted concrete houses by motorways on the edge of Banco National Park, the millions who live in north Abidjan need no lesson on its worth.

"This forest is a great thing," said textile worker Sebastien Coulibaly, 35, in front of the sky-scraping green mass of vines and broccoli-shaped trees.

"It helps us to breathe better - we live at ease because of it. Sometimes we walk our children there. We must protect it, because our planet will be nothing without forests."

Logging, farming and armed conflict still threaten Africa's jungles, which include the Congo Basin, the world's second largest after the Amazon, but analysts are hopeful.

A new global study on illegal logging by London's Chatham House think-tank on Wednesday found that it had halved in Cameroon, once one of the worst sources of illicit timber, since 2002, a decline of twice the global average.

Earlier this year the European Union signed deals with Ghana, Cameroon and Congo Republic to tighten restrictions on logging, ahead of an EU ban on illegally harvested timber that was passed this month and takes effect in 2012.

"We've dared to sanction firms, from withdrawing permits to big fines," said Cameroon Forest Minister Elvis Ngolle.

Logging bans don't directly address forest loss from other threats such as agriculture, but officials are hoping that a potential money spinner - carbon offsets - will.

A UN scheme to reduce emissions from deforestation or degradation (REDD) has enabled Indonesia, which houses the world's third biggest forest but is being deforested by palm oil and timber firms, to get $1 billion from Norway in May to revoke those firms' forestry licenses.
Deforestation makes up a fifth of world CO2 emissions and the REDD fund is worth a total of $4 billion so far.

Unlike Asia, African states have been slow to capitalize on climate aid - they account for 2 percent of developing nation carbon projects. But many hope to change that.

An African Development Bank fund was established in 2008 for the Congo basin, a forest of half a billion acres (200 million hectares) spanning nine countries and storing, the bank says, 25-30 billion tonnes of carbon, which currently trades at 14 euros per tonne in Europe.

The fund aims to harmonize forest tax, share ecological data, cooperate on policing and sponsor community projects that encourage forest protection, like honey-making.

"Expectations are extremely high that this will allow us to preserve the forest, restore what's been degraded and pay these countries for their ecological services," Patrice Wadja, the fund's operations officer, told Reuters.

Gabon's President Ali Bongo seeks to be first in line. He has banned raw wood exports and in May set up a climate council that must come up with a REDD plan for the 80 percent of its original forest that remains before December's climate talks in Cancun.

Despite the challenges, experts think Africa's forests have at least as good a chance as Brazil or Indonesia.

The rate of forest destruction is generally slower: 0.16 percent a year in the Congo Basin, compared with 11 percent in Indonesia, Wadja said, because Central Africa has been largely spared large-scale clearing for agriculture.

West Africa's deforestation is much higher, driven by logging and clearing to plant cash crops, especially cocoa, a topic so sensitive that Reuters could not get permission to visit some forests in top grower Ivory Coast.

"At independence, we had 16 million hectares of forest. We today have 6 million - the lost area is now all farms," said Ivorian forest and water technician Yamani Soro.

Improving yields with fertilizer and pesticides is key, although reforms have been blocked by Ivory Coast's post-civil war political crisis.

Drier nations in the semi-desert Sahel belt with scant forest are meanwhile planning to plant trees. Presidents from Senegal to Djibouti agreed in Chad last month to build a "green wall" thousands of miles long with IMF funds.

But even as Africa curbs illicit logging and plants trees, another threat looms: Asian palm oil companies are eyeing Africa's forests to feed their growing populations. Liberia has signed deals with two and China on Thursday proposed a vast project in Democratic Republic of Congo.

"The big unknown are the Chinese," said conservationist Terese Hart who has worked in DRC for decades. "They are looking at the interior for exploitation, including palm."'

Transformer Man!

Excerpt from Planet Ark, 19 July 2010

'A boy takes photos in front of a ten-metre-high (32 feet) Transformer-style statue constructed from recycled material, at the Green Dream Park near the Olympic Stadium in Beijing July 16, 2010.

The theme park features exhibits constructed out of recycled materials, and promotes environmental protection through sustainable lifestyles...'

The Food and Climate Connection

Reposted in full from Slow Food USA, 13 July 2010

[click the play button - the clip is there, the preview image is not showing for some reason]

'How we farm and eat is simultaneously one of the greatest contributors to climate change and one of its greatest potential solutions. The same global food system that is making us sick, increasing food insecurity, and polluting the environment is also contributing to climate change. Climate change, in turn, is contributing to rising rates of hunger and food insecurity. As much as 1/3 of greenhouse gas emissions come from the food system.

Want to know more about that?

WHY Hunger has released a brand new online film called “The Food and Climate Connection: From Heating the Planet to Healing It,” that highlights the impact of today’s global food system on the climate and how a community-based food movement around the world is bringing to life a way of farming and eating that’s better for our bodies and the planet. Featuring interviews with farmers, community leaders, and sustainability advocates, the film highlights how the industrial food system is among the greatest contributors to global warming and how sustainable farming practices can pose a powerful solution to the crisis.

The movie was done in collaboration with Anna Lappe, author of the recently released “Diet for a Hot Planet,” which also explores this crucial intersection between how we grow and transport our food and how that affects the planet—not to mention how the changes in our environment willl affect the way we grow and transport our food moving forward.'

Word Spy - apocalypse fatigue

Sourced from The Word Spy, 15 July 2010

'apocalypse fatigue n. Reduced interest in current or potential environmental problems due to frequent dire warnings about those problems.

Example Citations:
Heading into one of the most important climate-change summits ever, global warming has an image problem. For the first time in 25 years, a majority of Americans rank economic concerns above environmental ones, a major poll shows. People also are exhibiting signs of what some environmental experts call "apocalypse fatigue." —Mike Lee, "Climate-change skeptics getting warmed up," The San Diego Union-Tribune, December 6, 2009

The lingering question is whether the collapse of the climate campaign is also a sign of a broader collapse in public enthusiasm for environmentalism in general. Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, two of the more thoughtful and independent-minded figures in the environmental movement, have been warning their green friends that the public has reached the point of "apocalypse fatigue." —Steven F. Hayward, "In Denial," The Weekly Standard, March 15, 2010

Earliest Citation:
I think the problem, Larry, is that we keep on seeing this science by press release with these apocalyptic pronouncements. If we were in California, we'd probably say the people are getting apocalypse fatigue and each one of the these things has to be hyped more and more and more, and you know that. —Pat Michaels, "Crossfire," CNN, February 10, 1992

Although the phrase apocalypse fatigue as been around for a while, its recent popularity is thanks to a paper by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Schellenberger called Apocalypse Fatigue: Losing the Public on Climate Change (PDF document). Many thanks to Richard Dooling for passing along this phrase.

New UN Body To Put Value On Planet

All well and good, but I do wish we could find some way of making decisions and understanding values without having to reduce everything to dollars...

Reposted in full from Planet Ark, 16 July 2010

'The world relies on a range of services nature provides - water filtration by forests, pollination by bees and a supply of wild plant genes for new food crops or medicines.

If nature charged for these, how much would it cost?

Most such values are excluded from measures of national economies and from prices and markets which would force businesses and governments to recognize them, and the result has been a bias toward development over conservation.

UN states have proposed a new body, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), to advise on valuing nature and conservation targets.

An early priority should be measurement, said Pavan Sukhdev, study leader for The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) UN initiative, which published a business and biodiversity report this week.

"For a country to say 'let's increase biodiversity', it's quite difficult because it's not measuring biodiversity," Sukhdev said.

"That is a big challenge for the IPBES, to create a right set of metrics. The logical sequence is first establish what is biodiversity, what are you measuring, agree on it, so that countries are doing it pretty much the same way."

The UN General Assembly is expected officially to endorse IPBES later this year.

"It's bringing the world's best scientists together under an inter-governmental body, so governments can commission specific questions to that body, to provide them with guidance," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program.

In a further political step, on the agenda at a UN meeting in October in Japan is an "access and benefit-sharing" regime for countries which are home to plants and other species valued by agriculture or the pharmaceutical industry.

The idea is to give such countries a share of profits from product development.

"It has major implications for the economic benefit of conserving biodiversity," said Steiner.

Damage to natural capital including forests, wetlands and grasslands is valued at $2-4.5 trillion annually, UN reports estimate, a figure excluded from measures of the global economy, or GDP.

Of 48,000 species assessed for extinction risk as of 2009, some 2 percent were already extinct or extinct in the wild, says the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Part of the difficulty in recognizing nature is the problem of assessing its various services using economic markets.

In the fight against climate change, a pure market approach has been devised to put a value on carbon-free air in the European Union's emissions trading scheme, by generating tradable carbon permits.

While some of nature's services could be similarly traded as commodities, such as proposed "rainforest bonds" which would pay for forests' wildlife, fresh water and carbon storage, most biodiversity cannot be valued or traded directly.

"We should probably be thinking about biodiversity less like the carbon market and more like a real estate market, these are very distinctive, unique assets, they can be graded and valued but they're not interchangeable," said Joshua Bishop, chief economist at the IUCN.

"It's not a commodity like carbon dioxide."

Less direct, private sector opportunities indirectly tied to conservation are booming, such as eco-tourism and organic food, UNEP argued this week in its business and biodiversity report.

And forest markets were still on track, said Sukhdev, pointing to a deal to raise about $4 billion to pay tropical forested countries not to chop their trees.

"It is complex but at the same time I think there is a huge willingness," said Sukhdev. "It will take time."

18 July 2010

The Crises of Capitalism

Reposted from My Direct Democracy, 7 July 2010

'David Harvey, the British-born geographer and Professor of Anthropology at CUNY, spoke at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) in London recently on the Crises of Capitalism. The RSA, in turn, produced this short animated feature.

Dr. Harvey, who is perhaps best known for his critique of neo-liberalism, remains one of the leading exponents of Marxist socio-economic thought...

The principal question that he addresses is it time to look beyond capitalism towards a new social order that would allow us to live within a system that could be responsible, just and humane?'