18 September 2010

Too Big To Fail?

White House Releases Sustainability Performance Plans

Sourced from Warmer Bulletin e-news, 17 September 2010

'The White House has announced the release of a performance plan focused on environmental, economic and energy goals that marks the first time agencies have developed and submitted Sustainability Plans.

Channel 6 News reports that the Federal Agency Strategic Sustainability Performance Plans traces back to the Executive Order on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance signed by President Obama on October 5, 2009,

Under the Executive Order, Federal agencies were required to submit their plans to the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget.

The Executive Order also required Federal agencies to set a 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, increase energy efficiency, reduce fleet petroleum consumption, conserve water, reduce waste, support sustainable communities, and leverage Federal purchasing power to promote environmentally-responsible products and technologies.

Agencies were asked to develop, implement and annually update a plan that prioritizes sustainability actions based on a positive return on investment for the American taxpayer and to meet energy, water, and waste reduction targets.

The Federal government occupies nearly 500,000 buildings, operates more than 600,000 vehicles, employs more than 1.8 million civilians, and purchases more than $500 billion per year in goods and services.

As the single largest energy consumer in the U.S. economy, the Federal Government spent more than $24.5 billion on electricity and fuel in 2008 alone.

To promote accountability, annual progress will be measured by the Office of Management and Budget and reported online to the public.

Previous announcements related to this executive order include a goal of a 28 percent reduction by 2020 in direct greenhouse gas pollution, such as those from fuels and building energy use, and a 13 percent reduction by 2020 in indirect greenhouse gas pollution, such as those from employee commuting and landfill waste.

Combined, these two goals could result in a cumulative reduction of 101 million metric tons of CO2 emissions equivalent to the emissions from 235 million barrels of oil.'

Becoming the Greenest Government Ever

Sourced from Warmer Bulletin e-news

A new report published recently by the UK Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) shows that moves towards greater sustainability made by the previous administration already save government £60-70 million every year, and calls for the Coalition Government to step up its green ambitions in order to benefit from further efficiency savings.

Becoming the Greenest Government Ever: Achieving Sustainability in Operations and Procurement, is the fifth of the SDC's annual watchdog reports which scrutinise Government's progress towards more sustainable operations. It finds that the savings made to date are only the tip of the iceberg, and concludes that extending its commitment to become the 'Greenest Government ever' beyond carbon to a wider range of sustainability issues including water and waste would enable the new Government to save hundreds of millions more over the course of this Parliament.

Analysis of progress made under the previous Government suggests that, despite the slow pace of change, improvements in energy and water consumption, waste, recycling and road transport performance are likely to add up to £300-350 million over the next five years, even if no further progress is made. This includes:

  • £13.7M fuel savings from reduced road travel in 2008-09 alone. This also saved the equivalent of 1.7million hours of staff time - over 1,000 full time staff working a full year - without counting the savings from reduced car purchases, repairs and administration
  • savings of 18 million cubic metres of water - the equivalent of 7,200 Olympic swimming pools, adding up to £13M worth of water bills in 2008-09
  • landfill cost savings from reducing waste by 126,000 tonnes in 2009-08 - the equivalent of the total waste produced by over 250,000 UK individuals
The report estimates that, if the new Government succeeds in meeting its commitment to cut carbon emissions from Government offices by 10% over 12 months, this will result in benefits to society equivalent to £13 million, in addition to any reduction in energy bills.

However, it argues that focusing on carbon alone is not enough, calculating that:
  • cutting road transport by Government staff by a further 10% could save £7.5M in fuel costs, 14,927 tonnes of carbon, and around 102,000 days of employee time with minimal investment
  • a further 10% reduction in waste arisings and water consumption would allow Government to benefit from savings of a further £6.5 million annually
  • increasing the lifespan of staff computers from three to five years is already saving the Department of Work and Pensions £35 million. Adopting similar approaches to demand management across Government could multiply the savings many times
  • meeting the 2022 target for energy usage set out in the Low Carbon Transition Plan would deliver between £79 million and £235 million savings from reduced electricity, gas and petroleum bills'

Positive Money

Sourced from Positive Money

'If money makes the world go round - who gets to make money?

Money and banking is at the root of most of our social and economic problems. The global economy currently runs on a system called ‘fractional reserve banking’, this system causes huge recessions and piles incredible amounts of debt upon the ordinary people.

It is unstable, unsustainable, unproductive and unfair.

But it doesn’t have to be like this, we can fix it, and we need to fix it now. In order for us to really move society forward in the 21st Century, we need to move away from the fractional reserve banking system that is holding the economy and society back, and move to something that works.

Something that is stable, sustainable, productive and fair.

Positive Money is not anti-banks, or anti-bankers. We believe that money and banking can help society and unlock our productive potential – but not if the foundations of the economy are fatally flawed. We want to make money and banking constructive, not destructive, and positive, not negative. And we need you to get involved.'

15 September 2010

Rediscovering Simplicity: The Cyclists of Italy

See the original post for all the great photos, taken by the author in Lucca, Italy!

Excerpt from Daily Kos via Ecocity Builders, 27 August 2010

'Whenever I travel to different countries and cities, one of the things I’m interested in is how locals move around in their daily lives. Call me a transportation glutton, but I’m a sucker for trains, boats, rickshaws, trams, buses, gondolas, back alleys, and sidewalks.

Then, of course, there’s the most sublime transit invention of them all: the bicycle. It’s so simple — even a non-techie like myself understands how it works — and yet so deliciously useful, relieving traffic, getting you anywhere quickly, reducing CO2, keeping you in shape, letting you see a place and interact with its people.

One thing I noticed on my trip to Italy a few months ago was how much bikes were part of everyday life. With David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries as my companion I strolled through the streets of cities and towns, trying to capture the mundane beauty of cycling.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks in changing the ways we move around, eat, or do business, is the common perception that living a less fossil fueled life means sacrifice and inconvenience, even drudgery. In the case of the bicycle, the danger factor is often added to the list of reasons of why it would be such a bad idea to get out of our cars.

But aren't the 5000 pound metal boxes we use to schlep ourselves around in the very reason bicycling is so dangerous? What if there were more bikes than cars in the streets?

And what if the cars that were left to do the heavy lifting were much smaller, on eye level with bikes?

It's hard to imagine from an American perspective that cycling could be so safe you don't even have to wear a helmet. Understandably so, but it really shows how much cars have not only occupied our physical but mental space.

David Byrne makes an interesting observation:

I personally sense that helmets might be an interim step toward integrated urban biking. Although they might always be a good idea, the wearing of helmets implies that cycling is dangerous, which at present it often is in cities like New York and London. But in other cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin and Reggio Emilia in Italy, the bike paths and lanes are so safe that the riders don’t feel the need to protect themselves. Cyclists in these places — kids, young creative types, business people, seniors — also tend to ride upright with an elegant bearing; they're well dressed, and even sexy. It's a different attitude than the New York City head-down-into-battle approach.
As David continues:

Maybe, for some, part of the thrill would go away if urban cycling became safe. But that might be the price to pay if it means more people will start using bikes to get around. That thrill isn't really an appropriate thing to oblige schoolkids and seniors to be burdened with. Living in New York used to be a lot more dangerous in general, but that's hardly something to get nostalgic about. So, while we might need a cool, stylish helmet to be available right now, for everyone in a more perfect world it might be optional.
I think this really cuts to the heart of it. While it's still far from being a reality in U.S. cities and towns, in a post-carbon world the bicycle won't need to be an environmental, political or fashion statement. You can make the same case for everything from solar panels to urban gardens to pedestrian zones. If biking is just part of our daily routine it can't be marginalized and politicized as a boutique hipster activity, another "green" fad. And you know you have a bicycle culture when your elders are leading the way...

And speaking of running errands, doing it on a bicycle is only a drag if your infrastructure is completely skewed in favor of cars, and you're forced to traverse high traffic roads, breathe exhaust, and don't have any social interaction. Within that trajectory it's understandable how cycling would be considered a chore, a step backwards, a joyless sacrifice you only do because you want to do something good for the earth.

See how easily doing something good for the earth gets equated with drudgery? That's how the clever marketeers of cars and oil and big air-conditioned shopping malls like it. As long as we're stuck in their paradigm of what's normal, bicycling and so many other natural ways of living together will continue to be cute but marginalized "only for some" leisure activities.

I don't know about you, but to me the idea of riding a bike to the market and chatting with the farmers about which fruits and vegetables are in season is a lot more appealing than parking my car in a big concrete lot and then wandering through the aisles of a neon-lit supermarket in search for food that I don't know where it came from and how it got there.

Somehow we've come to believe that more technology always equals more progress, that the more metal, concrete, middlemen, and terrabytes we can get between us the more advanced, independent and emancipated we get. In turn, we've developed an innate suspicion of simplicity as something arcane and dreadful, leaving us permanently dissatisfied with where we are and what we have, yearning for new and ever more complicated ways to get to where we imagine ourselves wanting to be, without ever arriving.

And isn't what we humans ultimately still want the most — no matter how much stuff we own or how many miles we drive — to be connected, understood, treated with love and respect, and live a dignified life?

David quotes Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá (Colombia) who revolutionized the transportation and parks movement in that city:

Transportation is not an end — it is a means to having a better life, a more enjoyable life — the real goal is not to improve transportation but to improve the quality of life...All this pedestrian infrastructure shows respect for human dignity. We’re telling people, "You are important — not because you’re rich or because you have a Ph.D., but because you are human."
If people are treated as special, as sacred even, they behave that way. This creates a different kind of society.

Looking at the comfort and ease with which these Italians ride their bikes makes me think that perhaps our own propensity to create "convenience" by adding ever more invisible layers of complexity is like a road to nowhere that we need to get off of...

or pedal in another direction...

One of the ostensible paradoxes inherent in the realities of peak oil and climate change is that we have to take action while at the same time slowing our pace. Yes, there has to be drastic change politically and economically, but how can we possibly implement and live those changes if speed and consumption are branded in our minds as the vehicles to get us there?

I think we have to understand that the challenges we face will not be met by politics and technology alone. In order to change the infrastructure of our cities and towns, we have to change the infrastructure within ourselves.

...we have to build cities and infrastructures that support cycling not as a radical act for a few daredevils but as a common means of transportation. Can we shift the way we live, breathe and move as if normal is the new green? I think we can, but we've got to de-clutter our minds, slow the pace, and rediscover the power and joy of simplicity.'

14 September 2010

Researchers Fight To Save Fruits Of Their Labor

Reposted in full from National Public Radio, 30 August 2010

'Buried amid the stories of World War II heroism is this one: With German forces blocking food and supplies to the Russian city of St. Petersburg — then known as Leningrad — a group of scientists guarded a rare collection of potatoes and plant seeds. They feared years of research into food would be ruined.

The potatoes and seeds survived. The scientists, refusing to consume their collection, starved to death. Now, 70 years later, their research institute is under threat again — this time by real estate developers.

A court has cleared the way for the Russian government to sell off acres of land used by the Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry, which grows hundreds of varieties of fruit and berry plants there. The gardens — in the picturesque village of Pavlovsk, 45 minutes from downtown St. Petersburg — hold clues to how different strands of fruit and berries can survive harsh climates and provide important vitamins.

The collection is rare, scientists say, one in a handful of places around the world where scientists carefully study fruit that could sustain through future generations even if temperatures warm and the world's food supply is threatened.

A law gives clear authority for the government to sell off state-owned agricultural property that is deteriorating in order to meet the demand for housing. Government officials have visited the gardens, insisting they see little value, while suggesting the institute should just move its collection elsewhere. Scientists at Vavilov say moving thousands of plants that have been growing for decades would be impossible.

"They are doing everything right, from the point of view of the law," says Sergei Alexanian, the institute's vice director for foreign relations. "But we are talking about the morality."

Wealthy land developers are lining up to purchase the land from the government. The property is idyllic — near Catherine the Great's famous palace — and water, sewage and phone service are already in place. It won't take much for developers to turn the gardens into suburban living.

"These plots are not being used," says Andrei Anisimov, deputy director general of the government's Federal Fund for Housing Construction Assistance. "The buildings are neglected and going to ruin. That's why the commission has every reason to make this decision."

Gardens Flourish

After visiting the institute's Pavlovsk Experimental Station, it is difficult to come away with a clear picture. On a recent Friday afternoon, the acres of gardens felt close to abandoned, and weeds took over some spots.

But without a doubt, the plants themselves appeared well-maintained, exploding with colorful berries even after one of Russia's worst droughts in history. And scientists say that in gardens like this, a lack of people and activity on a given day does not mean the collection isn't vitally important.

It's been important for centuries, says Leonid Burmistrov, a fruit and crop researcher at the institute for 40 years. Scientists have left over the years, he says, as the government cut funding. But through it all, he says, the research station has collected fruit and berry varieties from around the world, stayed in touch with scientists abroad and cataloged everything.

"Like [what is] winter-resistant, resistant to different kind of fungi, diseases or bacteria," Burmistrov says. "What is the quality? What is the taste? And so, so on."

The idea of ripping these plants from the ground for the sake of development?

"No," he says sternly, standing amid fruit trees. "It's not possible to think about the possibility."

International Campaign

Scientists from around the world have rallied to Pavlovsk's defense. There's a campaign urging people to send tweets to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. And on Aug. 13, a surprise, Medvedev — or maybe the manager of his Twitter account — tweeted that the appeals had been noted and the president had ordered an 11th-hour inquiry.

So far, though, no final word from the Kremlin.

"To me, this feels like a watershed type of decision," says Hugh Pritchard, a veteran genetic resources researcher with Britain's Kew Gardens. With the world's population growing and temperatures warming, he says, future generations will increasingly seek new strands of fruit and crops that can survive tougher climates.

Pavlovsk's collection is rare, he says. "Probably three-quarters of it is not duplicated elsewhere."

Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says the institute's collections are sacred, as is the legacy of the scientists who died defending them. "In doing so, they provided a real model of drawing a line in the sand for biodiversity that's inspired everyone."

Just not so many people around St. Petersburg.

Dire Situation

Residents seem more fired up about another battle — to make sure the energy giant, Gazprom, doesn't build a massive skyscraper amid St. Petersburg's historic palaces. Many brush off the Pavlovsk situation as something typical in modern Russia: a spat over property that will just end up making somebody very rich.

There is also a perception that Pavlovsk — special as it may be — was lost long ago.

"Look at these gardens — they're neglected," says 78-year-old Antonina Khrestina, who lives nearby. "They used to have everything here — fruit and vegetables. Now there's nothing. Soon, they'll probably have to sell potatoes just to pay their workers."

In truth, the situation is even more dire. Barring action by the Kremlin, the first land auction could take place as soon as Sept. 23.

The Vavilov Institute, based in downtown St. Petersburg, would carry forward, and it has collections of grain and other crops that would be preserved, for now.

But losing acres of the Pavlovsk collection — including hundreds of varieties of strawberries, plums, blue honeysuckle and other fruits that appear at risk, depending on the precise plots sold — would be the latest chapter in a long story that may say a lot about Russia.

A Legacy Threatened

In 1940, Josef Stalin imprisoned the institute's namesake, Nikolai Vavilov, because he didn't agree with Vavilov's genetic research. Vavilov died in prison. But the land he chose at Pavlovsk, for its perfect soil and climate, was maintained by fellow scientists, some of whom starved during the German siege.

In the Cold War, the Kremlin was committed to science like this as a way to outshine the U.S.

Today, the man leading the Pavlovsk facility, Fyodor Mikhovich, waxes nostalgic about later Soviet times. He calls himself "a simple Soviet director" and says Communist leaders would have figured out a way to save his collection.

"This feels like deliberate destruction," Mikhovich says, "a continuation of the '30s, '40s and '50s, when famous scientists were destroyed, along with the science of genetics. Today, they want to bury the legacy of the genetics founded by the great scientist Nikolai Vavilov. What will we, the Russian nation, have to be proud of if we ourselves destroy this?"'

Wasted Food, Wasted Energy

Sourced from Warmer Bulletin, 27 August 2010

Wasted Food, Wasted Energy: The Embedded Energy in Food Waste in the United States by Amanda D. Cuellar and Michael E. Webber, both of the University of Texas at Austin, uses energy from agriculture, transportation (both from the field to the processor and from the processor to the store), processing, sales, storage, and preparation (home and restaurant) to calculate the amount of energy used in each step.

This work estimates the energy embedded in wasted food annually in the United States. The authors calculated the energy intensity of food production from agriculture, transportation, processing, food sales, storage, and preparation for 2007 as 8080 ± 760 trillion BTU. In 1995 approximately 27 per cent of edible food was wasted.

Synthesizing these food loss figures with their estimate of energy consumption for different food categories and food production steps, while normalizing for different production volumes, shows that 2030 ± 160 trillion BTU of energy were embedded in wasted food in 2007. The energy embedded in wasted food represents approximately two per cent of annual energy consumption in the United States, which is substantial when compared to other energy conservation and production proposals.


Wasted Food, Wasted Energy: The Embedded Energy in Food Waste in the United States

Amanda D. Cullar, Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy, The University of Texas at Austin & Michael E. Webber, Mechanical Engineering, Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy, The University of Texas at Austin

Environ. Sci. Technol., 2010, 44 (16), pp 6464-6469
DOI: 10.1021/es100310d
Publication Date (Web): July 21, 2010
Copyright © 2010 American Chemical Society

Communities Get Gardening Bug

Reposted in full from The Ottowa Citizen, 24 August 2010

'New York City is dotted with more than 10,000 acres of unused land and Stacey Murphy would like to see it lush with tomatoes, cucumbers and arugula.

The architect-turned-urban farmer started a business in Brooklyn last summer that's turning backyards, vacant lots, and school property into organic garden plots.

With the motto, " You have the land, we grow the produce," Ms. Murphy's company, B K Farmyards, offers a new twist on sharecropping.

In exchange for some "seed" money and a sizable share of the harvest, her team will show up in private backyards and empty lots to install planting beds and irrigation systems, plant, and then tend to the crops for the growing season.

"Urban farming can have a direct impact on a very local community," says Ms. Murphy, a 36- year old Michigan native. "A lot of neighbourhoods don't have access to fresh produce." Her ultimate aim is to help create a financially sustainable model for urban agriculture with a large network of tiny farms throughout the city.

As little as 250 square feet can grow enough produce to feed four or five people for six months.

From two small backyard plots seeded in Brooklyn last summer, her business network has expanded to include a 50-hen chicken coop, rooftop honey-bee hives and a one-acre educational farm on the front lawn of a high school that sells low-cost produce to the community at a weekly farmer's market run by students.

Ms. Murphy's effort is part of a growing urban farm movement in cities across the United States.

While city gardens have often sprung up over the past century during economic downturns and wartime, the latest crop also has a new driver: food awareness and sustainability.

Many neighbourhoods in New York are "fresh food deserts," with no supermarkets to serve local residents.

In some communitie s , the dearth of food options besides convenience stores selling candy, ice-cream and soft drinks has led to chronic health problems for residents, a tremendous burden on the already financially ailing U.S. health-care system.

In New York, community gardens, which are typically cultivated on vacant lots owned by the city, have long helped fill that gap.

In most of New York's roughly 500 community gardens, members get their own plots to grow food to help supplement their needs.

Little is known about how much food New York's tiny gardens produce.

In an attempt to figure out the worth of the city's annual harvest, Mara Gittleman is corralling a group of volunteers with scales to weigh produce as part of a project she calls Farming Concrete.

"Quantifying how much farming is done would enhance the perceived value of these community gardens as public land and also give them a defined space in the urban food system," says Ms. Gittleman.

A similar project in Philadelphia found the city's community gardens grew around US$10-million worth of food in one season.

Typically, any profit generated by selling produce from such gardens at farmers markets is plowed back into the community gardens themselves.

Ms. Murphy's BK Farmyards launched last year is based on a different concept.

Unlike most community gardens, which usually only serve the needs of a limited number of residents, she wants to cultivate a network of tiny farms involved in high-yield food production, ultimately run by urban farmers who can make money at the ventures.

"Community gardens are an amazing resource," says Ms. Murphy, who grew up gardening in her mother's 2,000 square-foot plot in the Detroit area. "But it's a little different than what we're doing." Ms. Murphy says her company started out as a for-profit venture when it was mainly looking to convert people's backyards and other privately owned outdoor spaces into gardens.

One of her biggest projects to date is a youth farm in partnership with the High School for Public Service in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a mainly low-income neighbourhood with very limited fresh food options.

Over the next four years or so, BK Farmyards expects the one-acre farm on the school's front lawn to grow enough affordable and healthy produce for 80 families, as well as provide employment and educational opportunities for youth and adults in the area.

Because it's on public land, any money made on the farm goes back into the school and the community.

Now Ms. Murphy is weighing whether to split her company in two: a for-profit business, which would include her little farms on privately owned land, and a not-for- profit business that would focus on education and include her new partnerships on public lands, such as the high school project and city-owned public garden spaces.

"The logistics of having a for-profit business doesn't really fit well," she says. "When we're on public land, the big goal is to do education." More important than any profit, she says, "it's a basic human right to have fresh food."'

Lloyd's Adds its Voice to Dire 'Peak Oil' Warnings

Reposted in full from The Guardian, 11 July 2010

'One of the City's most respected institutions has warned of "catastrophic consequences" for businesses that fail to prepare for a world of increasing oil scarcity and a lower carbon economy.

The Lloyd's insurance market and the highly regarded Royal Institute of International Affairs, known as Chatham House, says Britain needs to be ready for "peak oil" and disrupted energy supplies at a time of soaring fuel demand in China and India, constraints on production caused by the BP oil spill and political moves to cut CO2 to halt global warming.

"Companies which are able to take advantage of this new energy reality will increase both their resilience and competitiveness. Failure to do so could lead to expensive and potentially catastrophic consequences," says the Lloyd's and Chatham House report "Sustainable energy security: strategic risks and opportunities for business".

The insurance market has a major interest in preparedness to counter climate change because of the fear of rising insurance claims related to property damage and business disruption. The review is ground-breaking because it comes from the heart of the City and contains the kind of dire warnings that are more associated with environmental groups or others accused by critics of resorting to hype. It takes a pot shot at the International Energy Agency which has been under fire for apparently under-estimating the threats, noting: "IEA expectations [on crude output] over the last decade have generally gone unmet."

The report says the world is heading for a global oil supply crunch and high prices owing to insufficient investment in oil production plus a rebound in global demand following recession. It repeats warning from Professor Paul Stevens, a former economist from Dundee University, at an earlier Chatham House conference that lack of oil by 2013 could force the price of crude above $200 (£130) a barrel.

It also quotes from a US department of energy report highlighting the economic chaos that would result from declining oil production as global demand continued to rise, recommending a crash programme to overhaul the transport system. "Even before we reach peak oil," says the Lloyd's report, "we could witness an oil supply crunch because of increased Asian demand. Major new investment in energy takes 10-15 years from the initial investment to first production, and to date we have not seen the amount of new projects that would supply the projected increase in demand."

And while the world is gradually moving to new kinds of clean energy technologies the insurance market warns that there could be shortages of earth metals and other raw materials needed to help them thrive.

Lloyd's also calls on manufacturers, retailers and the wider business community to reassess global supply chains and their just-in time models because the "current system is increasingly vulnerable to disruption."

The report says government needs to do much more to bring additional price stability and transparency if the global carbon market is to become a reality.

Richard Ward, chief executive of Lloyd's, said the failure of the Copenhagen climate change talks last December has helped lull many business leaders into a false sense of security about the challenges ahead. "We are in a period akin to a phony war. We keep hearing of difficulties to come, but with oil, gas and coal still broadly accessible - and largely capable of being distributed where they are needed - the bad times have not yet hit ... all businesses ... will be affected by energy supplies which are less reliable and more expensive."

This article was amended on 12 July 2010. The original referred to Chatham House as being the Institute of Strategic Studies. It is the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

UK Conservative Push to End Fractional Reserve Banking

This is intriguing, particularly as it comes from the conservative right in the UK - this bill would stop private banks being able to create money as debt, which is a key driver of the need to keep growing an economy.

Excerpt from conservative home | Centre Right, 13 September 2010

'...on Wednesday, immediately after Prime Minister's Questions, Douglas Carswell MP will be introducing a moderate and conservative ten-minute rule bill which would introduce sound property rights and contract to monetary deposits. It is potentially of profound importance and I am delighted to support him.

Allow me to explain.

If you deposit securities at the bank, they are held in safe custody, ready for immediate use. They are your property, not the bank's. If you wish to increase the yield of your securities by lending them, then you enter into a securities lending agreement with the bank, which borrows your shares for a period, lending them on at a premium. You have forgone your shares for a term in exchange for a fee. The bank is contractually obliged to return your property at the end of the term.

In other words, you either deposit your securities on demand or you save them by lending them to the bank for a term.

I was once intimately involved in the design of a securities lending system for a major international prime broker. There was no requirement to take securities held in safe custody and lend them while maintaining a liability to return them on demand. Lending securities not contractually designated for the purpose would have been an infringement of property rights in breach of trust, that is, a fraud.

While banks maintain clear property rights in securities on deposit, the same cannot be said of monetary deposits. Thanks to a base of judicial decisions, when you deposit your money on demand at the bank, ready for immediate withdrawal without penalty, it is not your property, but the bank's. Banks can lend money held on demand and of course they do so.

This is fractional reserve banking and it may not be the good thing most bankers think it is.

Fractional reserves on demand deposits allow banks to extend credit in excess of real savings. That leads to the creation and destruction of fiduciary media: claims on money for which there is insufficient money to meet all claims. It is what makes bank runs possible. It means that, as the great economist Irving Fisher wrote in 1935,

our national circulating medium is now at the mercy of loan transactions of banks; and our thousands of checking banks are, in effect, so many irresponsible private mints.

As I explained in my maiden speech:

Unlike the situation in respect of any other commodity, in the case of money, price controls do not drive the product off the market. Artificially lowered interest rates increase the demand for credit, and decrease the supply of savings, but the legal privilege granted to banks means that they can meet demand by extending credit that is unbacked by real savings. There is a good argument to say that that causes the boom-and-bust cycle, the misdirection of resources in the capital structure of production, and over-consumption by consumers.

And since the money supply contracts when banks lend less, we find central banks injecting new money through QE, further distorting an economy already distended by excess credit expansion, in an attempt to cope with the anarchy of money creation and destruction caused by fractional reserve banking.

To repeat: demand deposits of money are not subject to the same principles of property and contract as any other commodity. Banks enjoy the legal privilege of open access to money which they are liable to return on demand. In concert with the central planning of interest rates and a range of government interventions, this is what is wrong with capitalism.

It is around this point that scholars of banking theory begin disagreeing, often with very great passion. However, it is a fact that various economists of the three great traditions - Keynesian, Monetarist and Austrian - have, at various times and for various reasons, proposed ending the system of fractional reserve banking.

Douglas's Bill would assert property rights over demand deposits. Real savings - term deposits - would be loaned to entrepreneurs, delivering an economy built on save and invest.

There is a great deal to communicate on this subject, some of which you can find through the links below. In the meantime, I will conclude with some remarks by Nobel Laureate James M Buchanan at the Mont Pelerin Society in 2009:

The market will not work effectively with monetary anarchy. Politicization is not an effective alternative. We must commence meaningful dialogue with acceptance of these elementary verities.
Let us not waste this set of crises by exclusive recourse to jerry-built efforts to patch up the failed monetary anarchy we have witnessed.

Douglas is attempting to begin the process of correcting capitalism by asserting sound property rights and contract in banking. I hope Parliamentary colleagues and activists will hear him out, particularly those who wish us to have an economy built on the investment of real savings.'

12 September 2010

Let The Environment Guide Our Development

Sourced from TED, July 2010

'Human growth has strained the Earth's resources, but as Johan Rockstrom reminds us, our advances also give us the science to recognize this and change behavior. His research has found nine "planetary boundaries" that can guide us in protecting our planet's many overlapping ecosystems.

Johan Rockstrom is a leader of a new approach to sustainability: planetary boundaries. Working with a team of 29 leading scientists across disciplines, Rockstrom and the Stockholm Resilience Centre identified nine key Earth processes or systems - and marked the upper limit beyond which each system could touch off a major system crash. Climate change is certainly in the mix - but so are other human-made threats such as ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity, chemical pollution.'

The Happy Planet Index

Sourced from TED, July 2010

TED Talk by Nic Marks of the new economics foundation

'Statistician Nic Marks asks why we measure a nation's success by its productivity - instead of by the happiness and well-being of its people. He introduces the Happy Planet Index, which tracks national well-being against resource use (because a happy life doesn't have to cost the earth). Which countries rank highest in the HPI? You might be surprised.'