30 October 2010

Student Manifesto for New Economics

Great stuff - although this movement to tackle ecocon-neorat-ism began in France in 2000...

Reposted in full from Real Climate Economics, 27 October 2010

'Last week, an international student movement to free the economics curriculum from its neoclassical straightjacket was launched at the University of California at Berkeley. The movement calls on students worldwide to post the following manifesto on the doors of university economics departments. Their “kick it over” manifesto is posted below.

Economics departments may be the last places to heed the call for changing the basic tenets of economics. Paradigm shifts occur slowly, and a shift in economic theory and practice may have surprising little impact on how economic institutions in the real world function. But if ever the conditions were ripe for a paradigm shift it is now, with the world facing simultaneous economic and ecological crises. Perhaps this is why this student manifesto, as naive as it reads, will resonate with some economists.

The founding members of E3 network penned a treatise on the failings of neoclassical approaches to environmental economics several years ago. Our subsequent work in the climate change arena has confirmed how economics can both impede and inform progress. The purpose of this blog and website is to demonstrate rigorous economic support for climate action; but it is only necessary because so much “bad economics” has been published that has reached alternative conclusions.

E3 Network is not alone is calling for a better or new economics. The New Economics Foundation , the U.S. Society for Ecological Economics, The International Institution for Feminist Economics, International Confederation of Associations for Pluralism in Economics and heterodox economics programs including the University of Massachusetts Amherst, American University, New School, and University of Missouri at Kansas City, have all called for changes to mainstream economic theory and practice. These institutions, and many others I haven’t listed, do not necessarily agree on what is “wrong” with economics. But they do share the same frustrating realization that may compel students to tack the Kick-it-Forward manifesto to the doors of their economic departments: the world described so narrowly by neoclassical economics is neither the world in which we live or want to live.

Kick It Over Manifesto

We, the undersigned, make this accusation: that you, the teachers of neoclassical economics and the students that you graduate, have perpetuated a gigantic fraud upon the world.

You claim to work in a pure science of formula and law, but yours is a social science, with all the fragility and uncertainty that this entails. We accuse you of pretending to be what you are not.

You hide in your offices, protected by your mathematical jargon, while in the real world, forests vanish, species perish and human lives are callously destroyed. We accuse you of gross negligence in the management of our planetary household.

You have known since its inception that one of your measures of economic progress, the Gross Domestic Product, is fundamentally flawed and incomplete, and yet you have allowed it to become a global standard, reported day in, day out in every form of media. We accuse you of recklessly projecting an illusion of progress.

You have done great harm, but your time is coming to a close. Your systems are crumbling, your flaws increasingly laid bare. An economic revolution has begun, as hopeful and determined as any in history. We will have our clash of economic paradigms, we will have our moment of truth, and out of each will come a new economics – open, holistic, human scale.

On campus after campus, we will chase you old goats out of power. Then, in the months and years that follow, we will begin the work of reprogramming your doomsday machine.'

PassivHaus Construction: The Future of UK Housebuilding?

Reposted in full from The Ecologist, 22 October 2010

'German design, British location, tropical climate. Super-efficient PassivHaus construction makes for warmer homes and lower energy bills. So why aren't we all building this way?

Imagine living in a house that costs just £75 to heat a year, not because you have scrimped, saved and shivered your way through winter, but because of its subtle but super-efficient design. Welcome to the world of PassivHaus building, or ‘passive houses’ as they are known as in the UK.

The rigorous, meticulous design principles were developed by the PassivHaus Institute in Germany at the beginning of the 1990s. Since then more than 10,000 buildings, including houses, schools and offices, have been built to the standard, mostly in Germany and Austria.

Geoff and Kate Tunstall moved into one of the UK's first certified PassivHaus homes, a three-bedroom house in Denby Dale, Yorkshire, in May this year. The project was led and managed by the Green Building Store’s construction arm, the Green Building Company, with the help of Derrie O’ Sullivan Architects.

Is it easy to live in and run? ‘It’s passive!’ says Geoff. ‘It’s as easy to run as any house. The technology is in building it.’

Put simply, the PassivHaus ethos is about embedding high levels of energy efficiency into the house while it is being built. The result is a house that uses very little energy for heating and cooling – around 90 per cent less than standard UK buildings.

‘In its own quiet way our house is very impressive,’ Geoff says. ‘It’s like living in an ordinary house but with one big difference: the energy bills.’ The couple's gas bill for the first quarter was just £26, and electricity £17. Compared to their previous home, a 300-year-old double terrace house where the energy bills were around £1,800 a year, these figures are, as Geoff says, ‘phenomenal’.

The house is outliving their expectations. The Tunstalls describe it as low-maintenance, warm, comfortable and full of light (important to both of them as they have art and design backgrounds).

For an eco house it’s not what you’d expect. With PassivHaus homes there is little emphasis on actively generating energy through microrenewables. Viewed from the outside there tend to be no green giveaways. It’s the boring invisible bits that make it green.

How does it work?

Imagine wrapping a whole house in a tea cosy. Instead of just insulating the walls and lofts, the insulating layer is continuous. The emphasis is on super-insulation and stringent levels of airtightness to create a ‘tea-cosy effect’ (or minimal thermal bridging). The houses are also designed to optimise heat from the sun (passive solar gain). The only techie bit is the mechanical ventilation and heat-recovery system (MVHR), which provides the house with fresh air and helps to warm it by recovering heat from the extracted air and transferring it to the incoming air. In addition, most of the of heat generated inside – body heat from people and animals, heat from lighting and cooking, as well as solar gain – is retained within the building. As a result you hardly need any traditional heating or air conditioning systems.

‘I’m confident that this winter we’ll use very little heat,’ says Geoff. While the house was being built he visited it on several nights, when it was -14C in the garden and +10C in the house.

As backup the Tunstalls have a small gas boiler to heat one radiator and two towel rails. With the help of a local council grant, they also decided to fit some solar thermal panels and photovoltaics on the roof to help cover the cost of the energy during the day.


The Denby Dale PassivHaus is a pioneering project, so there was nothing similar in the UK for the Tunstalls to go and experience before theirs was built. They visited homes in Austria and Geoff was impressed: ‘They were warm, comfortable, modern and light.’

Although it’s possible to import a PassivHaus flatpack from Germany, many builders aren’t familiar with them, planning can be an issue and they don’t exactly blend into the local landscape. Plus importing houses is hardly very sustainable.

So Denby Dale was built locally, with all the stone coming from the builder's yard up the road. ‘Ninety per cent of the house is very traditional; any builder would recognise it,’ says Geoff. And unlike most PassivHaus buildings, which use a timber frame construction or solid walls with external insulation and render, his house has cavity walls. It proves that a traditional British house style can still be built to stringent standards – and that PassivHaus design can be given a UK twist.

Denby Dale also proves that eco homes are not just for the wealthy few: the budget was a modest £141,000. ‘We wanted to build a modest, low-tech house – as minimal, simple and easy as possible – not a bling, high-tech or high-end Grand Designs-style house,’ says Geoff.

So why has the UK been so slow to catch on to PassivHaus? Surely more newbuilds should be going this way? Chris Herring, director of the Green Building Store, puts it down to a combination of factors: suspicion of European ideas, the language barrier, the lack of a publicly funded body to promote best practice in construction in the UK since the privatisation of BRE, and the fact that the Government’s Code for Sustainable Homes has gone in a different direction (with a focus on renewables). Chris believes that PassivHaus, not costly microrenewables, is the best approach for newbuilds.

Will its standards ever be adopted on a massive scale in the UK? ‘Passivhaus is the only well-proven methodology we have to achieve reliably low-energy buildings,’ he says.

The biggest advantage PassivHaus methodology has over other low-energy buildings is that it has been tried, tested and monitored for 20 years. ‘We know PassivHaus works, whereas for any other methodology it will be years before we can be sure.’

Things are slowly beginning to change. The UK PassivHaus conference in London this February sold out in a week. A further conference took place in October in Islington, along with one for students. Approximately half a dozen PassivHaus buildings have been certified in the UK, including the Camden PassivHaus designed by Bere Architects, an office community building designed by John Williamson in Wales and a Centre for Disability Studies in Essex. There are around 20 more in the pipeline. Most are private houses but there are also pioneering social housing projects in development too.

‘It’s great,’ says architect Justin Bere, who designed the prototype for the Ebbw Valley project in Wales, a European-funded project with 700 houses. ‘It shows it’s not just something for rich people. It’s the poorer people suffering from fuel poverty.’

According to Bere, building to PassivHaus standards does cost approximately 14 per cent more than conventional construction methods, but because the energy costs are next to nothing the payback period is just 14 years. Building a terrace would also get the cost down because of economies of scale.

At the moment PassivHaus in the UK only represents a small building niche, but that could be set to change. As Geoff Tunstall says: ‘What’s staggering is that the technology is already here. Britain should be building loads of these.’

For technical details of the PassivHaus standard click here. For those interested in building a PassivHaus or converting an existing house to PassivHaus standards:

• The first port of call for advice is the Passivhaus Trust, a UK-based organisation

• The Low Energy Building Database is a helpful resource in terms of showing you what is possible, featuring both newbuild and retrofit projects in the UK

• Find a certified PassivHaus designer or an energy consultant, architect or builder experienced in PassivHaus design and construction. The AECB (Sustainable Building Association) promotes PassivHaus design. Most of the experienced PassivHaus UK professionals are members

• Check that they use PHPP (PassivHaus Planning Package). To be a certified PassivHaus the project will have to be modelled using this key design tool. It is very hard to change a project into a PassivHaus after it has been designed

• For retrofits it is harder to reach the exacting requirements of the PassivHaus standard, but still possible to achieve vastly reduced fuel bills and minimal heating demands using its methodology. Find examples on the Low Energy Building Database

Watch Future Passiv, a Green Building Store film about the Tunstalls' PassivHaus, presented by Penney Poyzer'

UN Talks To Save Nature Zero In On Historic Deal

Wait until the Ecological Creditor countries work out how to organise themselves like OPEC and start playing hardball...

Reposted in full from Planet Ark News, 28 October 2010

'Ministers from around the world began on Wednesday a final push for a UN deal to protect nature, urged by the World Bank to value the benefits of forests, oceans and rivers on economies and human welfare.

Senior officials from nearly 200 countries have gathered in Nagoya, Japan, to set new goals for 2020 to fight animal and plant extinctions after they missed a goal for a "significant reduction" in losses of biological diversity by 2010.

The meeting hopes to push governments and businesses to commit to sweeping steps to protect ecosystems under threat, such as forests that clean the air, insects that pollinate crops and coral reefs that nurture valuable fisheries.

World Bank head Robert Zoellick, speaking at the start of a three-day session of mostly environment ministers, said finance ministers and businesses also needed to take note of the value that nature provides for food, medicines, tourism and industry.

"Productivity of the land and seas is diminishing, and with them the ecosystem services that are crucial for people to get out of poverty," he said. "Endangered species are fading away forever before our very eyes."

Envoys have been negotiating since last week for agreement on the new 2020 target and a 20-point strategic plan that aims to protect fish stocks, fight the loss and degradation of natural habitats and conserve larger land and marine areas.

But countries have been split on the level of ambition and have bickered over who will pay for the efforts. Current funding for fighting biodiversity loss is about $3 billion a year but some developing nations say this should be increased 100-fold.


Japan, chair of the talks, offered $2 billion to developing countries over three years from 2010, but it was unclear if Europe would match the efforts.

The United States has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity and is taking part in the Oct 18-29 talks only as an observer.

"We haven't really come here with a mindset of a pledging conference," Karl Falkenberg, head of the European Commission's environment department, told a news conference. "Europe, over the last eight years, has spent 1 billion euros annually already."

Poor countries have refused to sign up to 2020 conservation targets without more funding and agreement on a new U.N. protocol that would give them a fairer share of profits made by companies, such as pharmaceutical firms, from their genetic resources.

Developing countries could gain billions of dollars from the so-called access and benefit-sharing (ABS) protocol but envoys are divided over issues such as the scope of the pact and some businesses are worried about potential higher costs.

The plight of nature was highlighted in a study by more than 170 scientists showing that about a fifth of the world's vertebrates are threatened with extinction. They used data for 25,000 species from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of threatened species.

Brazil stressed the need to seal a deal, urging compromise and flexibility. "We are all tired of endless meetings which just postpone the solutions for the problems. We are also tired of decisions which are dissociated from real life," Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira told the meeting.

"In the last 10 days, we had time enough to see the difference that separate us. We have now only three days to see what unites us."'

New Generation of Eco-Filmmakers Challenging Broadcasting Convention

Reposted in full from The Ecologist, 26 October 2010

From the Age of Stupid to the End of the Line, and next year's Just Do It, independent filmmakers are innovating with radical film subjects and creating whole new funding streams, reports Laura Sevier

It was the kind of recognition that gives all budding, low-budget, environmental filmmakers hope.

At Wildscreen's showy award ceremony for what some have dubbed the ‘Green Oscars' of the natural world, the most prestigious prize of all was won by Patrick Rouxel, a one-man-band from France who still considers himself an amateur.

The ceremony was the climax of Wildscreen Festival, the world's largest international wildlife and environmental film festival held in the Bristol this October.

In a room packed with high achieving filmmakers and heavyweight broadcast execs, I watched Rouxel collect his ‘best in festival' WWF Golden Panda Award to rousing applause.

His winning film ‘Green', the story of a half-paralysed, rescued female orangutan in Indonesia, makes for moving viewing. The film cuts between the ape's final days lying on a mattress with an IV in her arm and shots of the beauty and destruction of the rainforest - in this case, the devastating impact of logging and land clearance for palm oil plantations.

Watching the 48-minute-long film, free to view at www.greenthefilm.com, it's hard to believe this beautifully shot and cleverly edited piece is the vision and product of one man.

‘I filmed it all myself and edited it on my Mac,' he explained at an earlier seminar. ‘I am completely independent, I'm not a professional and don't look for funds. It doesn't cost a lot of money to make a film if you do it on your own. All it takes is time. I'm not married and I don't have kids so I have a lot of time.' Fortunately for Rouxel, who used to work in special effects, he has friends in post-production who helped him out a little, mostly for free. But the real struggle is ‘getting it seen.'

He distributed the film freely on the internet and sent it to film festivals worldwide and has since won a string of awards and gained a distributor - although he says that ‘no conventional broadcasters want to screen it.'

Getting on the big screen

Rouxel's filmmaking method is inspiring but rare. Most filmmakers rely on significant investment to get their films made and securing this can take years.

The End of the Line director Rupert Murray tells me he is currently making a film about climate sceptics that he's finding difficult to fund. ‘TV funding is minimal so lots of people are finding funding through other means - NGOs, companies, organisations or private individuals. This is fine if the story chimes with the funder's ideology. But the trouble with a film about climate sceptics is that if we try and seek out funding everyone will have an idea about the line we take. It would compromise the impartiality.'

With The End of the Line he was more lucky - the film was funded initially by the Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation. It was a case of ‘hitting the right issue at the right time.' However, he says that if you want to make interesting films the reality is that you generally have to subsidise them whether they are fully funded or not. ‘Even if it's fully funded it doesn't necessarily mean you are. You have to create a system that works for you or find another way of making money that pays.' For a long time Murray had to do corporate films to pay for it - ‘one for a meal, one for the reel.'

Dan Stone, the filmmaker behind At the Edge of the World which chronicles the controversial Sea Shepherd Antarctic Campaign against a Japanese whaling fleet says that most of the film's costs were paid out of his own pocket. But the payoff is that ‘an environmental film has the opportunity to open people's eyes, to inspire an emotional investment in crucial issues. You hope that viewers will be motivated to do what they feel is right.'

Bright horizons

It's not all bleak for environmental or social action filmmakers. Murray points out that there hasn't been a reduction in the number of films being made. ‘Films get funded and people make them all the time.'

Specialist production companies do exist, like Participant Media in Los Angeles which finances, produces and distributes social action films and documentaries (‘quality entertainment about meaningful issues'). On its slate are Food Inc, An Inconvenient Truth and The Cove.

Murray's advice to filmmakers is ‘follow your passion and never give up.' He believes that if you think up ingenious ways to get cash, it helps you make ingenious films. And with independent funded films, you get to make the films you want...

Crowd Funding

Some radical filmmakers are bypassing the usual funding routes altogether and are finding creative ways to fund their films.

‘Filmmakers all feel the traditional funding sources are closing or drying up,' says Emily James, director of Just Do It, an independent production about climate activists in the UK. ‘You have to look at new moulds. Especially if the subject of your film doesn't fit into the editorial agendas of broadcasters or is unlikely to be a box office sell out.'

What's intriguing about Just Do It (now in post-production) is the crowd funding model the filmmakers are using to produce it. ‘The model aligns with the nature and object of the film which is about the power of groups, swarms and crowds,' says James.

The Age of Stupid used a similar crowd-funding model which allowed people to either invest in the film (a minimum of £5000) or donate.
With Just Do It, you can donate as little as £10 or up to £1000 and receive free tickets, signed DVDs and other rewards accordingly.

Just Do It are currently seeking funding for it's £20k in 20 days campaign, which ends Friday 29th October. Lush (the soap company) have agreen to match donations to Just Do It pound for pound, to reach a total of £20K over 20 days. Click here to get involved.

‘Just Do It isn't commercial and probably won't be profitable, but nonetheless needs to be made. We want this film to be seen by 1 Million people in 2011,' says James defiantly. The film will be released under a Creative Commons non-commercial license.

That way, the documentary is free of any commercial and editorial constraints and can be distributed anywhere, anyhow. The plan is to make it free via free internet downloads, ‘free-ish' DVDs, film festivals and guerrilla screenings.

Although people in the industry are starting to see crowd funding as ‘quite forward thinking', James warns that it's ‘very time consuming and won't necessarily work if a lot of projects do it as the novelty helps. You have to be really passionate about the subject of the film. It's not necessarily a model for how everything should be made.'

Getting seen

If making the film is one challenge, distributing and getting people to see it is another. ‘It's becoming more and more difficult to sell films to cinemas and broadcasters,' says Terry Stevens, on-line coordinator of Dogwoof, the ethically minded UK film distributor behind major environmental hits such as The Age of Stupid, Food Inc and The End of the Line.

Dogwoof, a social enterprise, works in innovative ways with filmmakers to get the films seen. ‘Every film we take on we back with a campaign that is integral to the film to try and tap into an audience as early as possible,' Steven says. To help the growth of this issue-led audience Dogwoof is launching its Good With Film site this November, an online interactive ‘hub' where you can find out more about the films, the issues and how to take action as well as book tickets or buy downloads and DVDs.

Dogwoof MD Andy Whittaker admits that focusing on social issue films is a risk but says, ‘we believe in these films and want them to reach as higher audience as possible.' To mitigate the risk, it selects sponsors (NGOs and brands) who fit with the film's message.

But the biggest challenge of all facing filmmakers (as if there weren't enough), according to Whittaker is ‘to make a good film that people will want to watch.''

Rare Earths Next Big Thing Or Will The Bubble Burst?

Ha! Watch the Chinese block access to this stuff and see recycling of e-waste suddenly become the most important issue...and not because of environmental or social concerns, but because these rare earths are needed to manufacture all kinds of essential 21st century technologies.

One wonders who has shares in non-Chinese rare earth companies...

Reposted in full from
Planet Ark News, 29 October 2010

'China's increasing reluctance to supply the rest of the world with rare earths is whipping up a gold rush-like frenzy to find new producers of the elements needed to manufacture everything from high-tech weapons to mobile phones.

Producers and would-be producers are forging new supply pacts with consumers, and investors are scooping up shares in mining companies promising to replace the lost Chinese material.

But the ultra-quick global push to find alternative supplies also has investors asking if a classic commodities bubble is in the making.

The world's biggest money manager, BlackRock Inc, thinks it's possible.

"The ability to bring on production quickly in the higher-price environment means that the longer-term sustainability of those prices are questionable," Catherine Raw, a fund manager in BlackRock's natural-resources division, said on Wednesday.

"We are trying to invest on a three to five-year view, and longer, to identify where you can see long-term structural increases in commodities," Raw said.

"The jury on rare earths is still out."


The price hikes in rare earths has been meteoric: Cerium, widely used in glass-making is up nearly tenfold since 2009. Prices of neodymium and terbium, needed to make magnets, are up more than 40 percent.

This has propelled shares of Lynas Corp and Molycorp Inc., the biggest non-Chinese rare earth firms, to more than double since July, when China announced it was reducing exports by 72 percent in the second half.

Stock in Arafura Resources Ltd, another promising producer, has more than tripled in just a few months.

Beijing says it simply needs to conserve its mine reserves of rare earths for future domestic consumption or it will run out.

Others say it is using rare earths as a trade axe.

China, which produces 97 percent of the world's rare earths, last month halted shipments to Japan after a long-simmering territorial dispute with Tokyo flared.

"Strategic concerns overall toward China are shaping or increasing the level of worry over these export quotas," said Malcolm Cook, East Asia programme director for the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney.

The European Union and the United States on Tuesday said they were pressing for solutions to concerns China may be exploiting its stranglehold on rare earth metals.

Regardless of China's motives, its future commitment to exporting rare earth products remains questionable, leaving the rest of the world looking for 40,000-50,000 tonnes of material a year at today's consumption rate.

"The basic issue is that China needs to use the rare earths for domestic demand first and the left over amount can go to other countries," said Amy Lee, an analyst at Nomura in Hong Kong.

"They are concerned about the limited rare earths in China, so they need to control it."...

The Pentagon is due to report on its plans for securing rare earths to U.S. Congress this month....'

World Bank Launches Scheme To Green Government Accounts

Reposted in full from Planet Ark News, 29 October 2010

'The World Bank on Thursday launched a program to help nations put a value on nature just like GDP in a bid to stop the destruction of forests, wetlands and reefs that underpin businesses and economies.

The five-year pilot project backed by India, Mexico and other nations aims to embed nature into national accounts to draw in the full benefits of services such as coastal protection from mangroves or watersheds for rivers that feed cities and crops.

"We're here today to create something that no one has tried before: a global partnership that can fundamentally change the way governments value their ecosystems," World Bank President Robert Zoellick told reporters in the Japanese city of Nagoya.

More than 100 ministers are in Nagoya for a U.N. meeting that aims to seal a historic deal to set new 2020 targets to combat the rapid loss of plant and animal species from deforestation, pollution, over-hunting and climate change.

One of the targets before the ministers is to agree to include the values of biological diversity into national development plans, or possibly national accounts.

"For economic ministries in particular, it's important to have an accounting measure that they can use to evaluate not only the economic value but the natural wealth of nations," Zoellick told Reuters in an interview.

"It's not a silver bullet. It's a way of trying to help people understand better in economic terms the value of natural wealth."

While economists try to get a handle on the value of nature, scientists are struggling to get a full picture of the variety of wildlife species around the globe as climate change, exploitation and pollution threaten "mass extinctions," a series of studies published on Wednesday showed.


Envoys at the Japan meeting, the product of years of negotiations, are trying to win agreement on a 20-point plan that aims to protect fish stocks, fight the loss and degradation of natural habitats and conserve larger land and marine areas.

Greater financing from rich nations, possibly through redirecting subsidies from the fossil fuel, fishing and other industries is key.

Envoys are also aiming to clinch by Friday a new pact that sets laws for the sharing of genetic resources between governments and companies, such as drug and agri-resources firms.

Poorer nations want greater controls to protect their environment and to potentially earn billions of dollars in extra revenue from the benefits of trees to fungi, insects to frogs.

Delegates and greens say the talks are making progress ahead of Friday's deadline but were still deadlocked on some issues and negotiations were expected to continue deep into the night.

"There is definitely a positive atmosphere," Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim told Reuters. "Everyone wants to reach a consensus here."

The World Bank program will give developing countries tools to help them measure the value and benefits of their ecosystems. India's Environment Secretary Vijai Sharma said at the launch the tools would make impact assessments more objective when looking at bids by miners or steelmakers to set up operations in India.

India recently scrapped London-listed Vedanta Resources' plans to mine bauxite and expand its alumina refinery in Orissa over environmental concerns, worrying investors.

The government has also expressed concerns over a $12 billion steel mill planned by South Korean firm Posco.

The Bank and other groups also launched a "save our species" initiative in Nagoya aimed at getting businesses to contribute to new conservation fund.

"It's nice that you may have a tiger as a logo but what does it do for your logo if the tiger goes extinct?" Zoellick told Reuters.'

Science Struggling To Track Destruction Of Nature

Reposted in full from Planet Ark News, October 2010

'Scientists are struggling to get a full picture of the variety of wildlife species around the globe as climate change, human exploitation and pollution threaten "mass extinctions," a series of studies published on Wednesday showed.

The 16 studies in a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in London said science had an incomplete record of species from animals to plants and microbes at a time when they may be dying out faster than ever before.

Such concerns have led the United Nations to declare 2010 its International Year of Biodiversity, and governments are trying to agree new 2020 conservation targets at a two-week conference in the Japanese city of Nagoya, which ends Friday.

"There are very strong indications that the current rate of species extinctions far exceeds anything in the fossil record," said a summarizing paper, titled "Biological diversity in a changing world."

"We still have a very incomplete record of the biological diversity of the planet," the paper added, saying quantitative tools were needed to understand large-scale changes to the planet.

One area of particular concern was tropical forests, which have seen their area roughly halved since the start of the last century.

Scientists still do not understand the extent to which logging destroyed wider networks of wildlife species, and whether they could re-colonize areas which were allowed to re-grow, called "secondary" forest.

Another worry was oceans, where climate change was causing fish populations to shift, and in the case of tropical areas would destroy some habitats altogether as these became too warm.

"To date, warming within the world's oceans has been variable in magnitude though unequivocal in scope," said a paper on the impact on fisheries, called "Transitional states in marine fisheries: adapting to predicted global change."

"Fisheries in some areas are expected to collapse in response to repeated acute disturbance and increasing temperature," the paper said.'

Cities Under Pressure To Balance Trees And Skyscrapers

Reposted in full from Planet Ark News, 29 October 2010

'The fight against the destruction of nature can start in cities, even as urban centers around the world face the challenge of accommodating more people, skyscrapers and transport systems.

While green groups at a UN environment meeting in Japan focused on the need to save rainforests and oceans, mayors at the talks said conserving nature in cities was equally vital.

"We must work on two levels. First, the preservation of ecosystems but also the integration of biodiversity in the city and in all policies," Evelyne Huytebroeck, the Brussels' region minister for environment, told a news conference.

"Biodiversity must be seen as part of the solution for the city, for sustainable urban planning, not as a problem."

Half of world's population is now squeezed into cities and the urban population is expected to grow to 70 percent by 2030.

Urban development should not have to clash with the need to restore ecosystems and biological diversity in cities, whether it be trees, plants or insects, delegates from 230 local authorities meeting on the sidelines of the Oct 18-29 UN talks said.

UN studies during the talks in Nagoya have highlighted the value of ecosystems to livelihoods, such as insects that pollinate crops, trees that clean the air and plants that are the source of food.

But waste, industrial emissions and pollution from transport have all led to ecosystems being destroyed in cities. Such changes were already posing risks to health, said David Cadman, a Vancouver city councilor.

"Mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus, Dengue fever and malaria are coming into places where they have never come before," said Cadman. "If you think preserving climate change, biodiversity is expensive, look at the coming costs to health care."

Cadman said cities were already working to preserve wetlands, save rivers and deal with waste responsibly. Brussels juggles the need to preserve trees and build homes and offices by requiring flat roofs bigger than a certain size to plant rooftop gardens.

"Maybe you say it's nothing, but it's a lot for a city when you see how many flat roofs you can have in the city," Huytebroeck said.'

UK Needs Green Economics Minister

What? Can this possibly be common sense in economics?!! And why do we need this?


Reposted in full from BBC News, 24 October 2010

'The UK government should create a new ministerial post for green economics, an international policy group that includes MPs past and present has said.

The minister would play a role similar to the Treasury chief secretary, but looking after "natural capital".

The recommendation comes from Globe International, whose members include ex-Environment Secretary John Gummer - now Lord Deben - and Zac Goldsmith MP.

Its report was launched at a major UN environment meeting in Japan.

Other countries should modernise their government structures for similar ends, it says.

"The chief secretary looks after the 'national economic interest' in the narrow sense," Lord Deben told BBC News.

"But we have to expand that to take in the natural capital that we'll lose if we don't look after it."

Lord Deben - currently Globe's president - and Mr Goldsmith are regularly credited with having helped to "green" the Conservative leadership, partly through leading the 2007 Blueprint for a Green Economy project, which reported to David Cameron.

Last week, the final report from a UN-backed study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb) reaffirmed that degradation of nature - deforestation, water pollution, destructive fishing, and so on - is costing the global economy $2 trillion each year.

Natural accounting

In addition to creating the new posts, Globe says governments should draw up comprehensive sets of "natural capital accounts" that would place financial values on components of the natural world such as undeveloped land, woodland, rivers and marshes.

These valuations would take into account projections of long-term change, and assessments of what countries might need in future.

Lord Deben said had such a system been in place in the UK, a number of decisions might have been made differently.

"For example, when we build, do we take into account the losses that building creates?" he said.

"We know there's going to be a huge problem in feeding the world - the era of cheap food is over - and we could build all the houses we need on previously used sites rather than taking more natural land.

"We must price natural land properly, rather than allowing the immediate price to be what determines what happens to it."

Proper natural capital accounting, he added, would also have meant a wiser and more efficient use of North Sea oil.

'Bold intervention'

At the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting in Nagoya, Japan, many conservation experts are hoping previously reluctant governments will be persuaded that protecting nature is worthwhile.

"Until now, governments have largely focused on economic growth, ignoring the impacts on the natural resources base and all associated benefits," commented Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation programmes at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

"If this bold practical political intervention by Globe is implemented, it will help to ensure we have an economic system that accounts for the value of nature, enabling politicians to make informed decisions with an understanding of the true costs and benefits to society."

Globe - Global Legislators for a Balanced Environment - brings together members of parliaments across the world, including major players such as China, India, Brazil and several EU nations.

Its current report - the Natural Capital Action Plan - is designed to help governments implement the findings of the Teeb project, and work natural capital into their national accounting and policymaking frameworks.

Among its authors is Sir John Bourn, former head of the UK's National Audit Office, while former environment minister Barry Gardiner is a prominent Globe member from the opposition benches.

The Natural Capital Action Plan launch here precedes a two-day forum on the sidelines of the CBD, scheduled to feature a number of high-profile speakers headed by Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.'

French Towns Swap Rubbish Trucks for Horse-Drawn Carts

Imagine the possibilities - running a tote on recycling rates among councils...a recycling 'palio' (that crazy horse race in Siena) in the city square mile...co-branding on Adelaide/Melbourne Cup Day...

Excerpt from The Guardian, 1 October 2010

Perpignan is one of 60 French towns that have struck upon a cheaper and greener way to collect household waste – ditching the dustbin lorry in favour of a horse and cart

'...a growing number of French towns are returning to horse-drawn kerbside waste collection, as a better way to recycle.

For Jean Baptiste, mayor of medieval Peyrestortes, near Perpignan and one of 60 towns now using horses to collect waste, the benefit above all is practical. "You can't turn a waste collection vehicle around here. We used to block streets to traffic and keep waste in open skips." He sold off a dustbin lorry and acquired two Breton carthorses instead. Asked whether the changes are saving money, he says: "It's too early. But money isn't the only reason. The exhaust smells have gone, the noise has gone, and instead we have the clip-clop of horses' hooves."

In Saint Prix, however, in Greater Paris, Mayor Jean-Pierre Enjalbert is certain he is saving money as the novelty of the horses has increased recycling rates. "By using the horse for garden waste collection, we have raised awareness. People are composting more. Incineration used to cost us €107 a tonne, ridiculous for burning wet matter, now we only pay €37 to collect and compost the waste."

Well-established horse-drawn collections also succeed in Trouville, and in Vendargues near Montpellier, but many ventures last only a few months. Sita, France's second biggest waste management and recycling company, has now integrated the "collecte hippomobile" into three refuse collection circuits in the Aube d├ępartement in central France.

Sita's Alexandre Champion, who instigated the idea, points to several factors behind the failed ventures: unsuitable horses, untrained workers or inadequate terrain, poor equipment. Housing estates or old town centres with flat terrain work best, with a circuit of under 20 km a day, he says. But even terrain problems can be overcome, and this autumn Sita starts horse-drawn collection in hilly Verdun, with a pair of strong carthorses."...

In Sicily, another place bringing back four-hoofed transport, Mario Cicero, mayor of 14th-century town Castelbuono, disagrees. He pioneered glass and cardboard collection using two packsaddle donkeys in 2007. Three years on, Cicero has done his sums and calculated a cost saving of 34%, as well as winning over a sceptical population and putting more donkeys to work.

"Compared with €5,000–7,000 annual running costs for a diesel truck, an ass costs €1,000–1,500 and can live 25-30 years. A truck costs around €25,000, lasts around five years and can't reproduce," says Cicero, whose four asinelli have now produced 25 offspring, so he won't even be buying any more.'

29 October 2010


...since we all need some fun and whimsy...check out this lot!

Sourced from Planet Ark, 28 October 2010

Giant pandas eat carrots at Bifeng Gorge Breeding Base of Wolong Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in Ya'an, Sichuan province October 27, 2010.

26 October 2010

Sourced from The Crisis of Life

'We do not burn down the Louvre. We do not set fire to the Library of Congress. So why do we go on erasing the database of life itself?

By exploiting the living world, we are dangerously impoverishing our planet, putting our own welfare in danger.

Every day, species are dying, never to come back. Ecosystems around the world are unravelling, leaving many people without access to healthy food, clean water, and other essentials for their daily needs. This is a Crisis of Life, and it is up to us to stop it.

In the "Crisis of Life" video project, ecologists and activists talk about ways to stop the ongoing biodiversity crisis to ensure the survival of all living beings, including ourselves.'