19 November 2010

Making Australia Happy

Sourced from Australian Broadcasting Corporation web site, 19 November 2010

'The experiment begins in Marrickville, the heart of an area recently identified by Deakin University's annual wellbeing index as one of the unhappiest in Australia. As we meet the eight volunteers, we learn that their happiness levels are way below the national average. The team of experts has just eight weeks to change the volunteers' scores, and their lives.

How will socially phobic Cade cope with the challenge of connecting with strangers at the local mall? Can mindfulness really help stressed-out real estate agent, Tony? Will gratitude help father-of-four, Stephen, strike that elusive work-life balance? How can the youngest of the volunteers, Ben, benefit from writing his own eulogy?

Science claims that happiness is easily within our reach, but how will these scientifically validated techniques play out in the lives of ordinary Australians? The results are more than startling.'

Download Episode 1: WMV MP4

The World is Going to Get Rounder and Bigger Again | James Howard Kunstler

Reposted in full from the Post Carbon Institute, 18 November 2010

'James Howard Kunstler [is an] author and social critic. His better-known works include The Long Emergency, in which he argues that declining oil production will result in the decline of modern industrialized society and compel Americans to return to smaller-scale, localized, semi-agrarian communities; World Made By Hand, and its sequel, The Witch of Hebron, all published by The Atlantic Monthly Press. He writes a weekly blog is also a leading proponent of the movement known as "New Urbanism."

1. When will the average US citizen wake up to the perils of Peak Oil?

JHK: When a crisis comparable to the 1973 OPEC embargo - with lines at the filling stations and hefty price-hikes - whaps them upside the head. For now, what I call the psychology of previous investment is a massive impediment to the public's ability to think clearly. By this I mean mainly our sunk costs in suburbia, including all its furnishings and accessories. That's where we put so much of our "wealth" over the past sixty years. I regard these as tragic mis-investments, of course, because the wealth has gone into a living arrangement that has no future. The housing bubble crash is greatly aggravating the problem, because it is de-valuing the whole kit-and-kaboodle. But the net effect for now is only to generate more anxiety among the public, which leads to more confusion, more cognitive dissonance, more static in the collective imagination, and more political noise - in short, more obstacles to clear thinking.

2. There seems to be no political will to tackle the reality of Peak Oil. What might tip that balance (before we hit the proverbial wall)?

JHK: Leadership in America has been abysmal on these issues - and not just in politics, but in business, media, education, the enviro community, even the clergy. For the politicians, I have to suppose that the implications of Peak Oil are just too painful to face. They simply do not compute into any winning formula. They won't go near it.

I'm quite convinced that Dick Cheney and George Bush were informed about the oil situation, in particular its relation to the national defense. After all, Robert Hirsch arrived on the scene loudly in 2005 with his report, commissioned by the US Department of Energy, which was quickly suppressed because its conclusions were so stark. Bush made occasional remarks about our "dependence on foreign oil," but he didn't have the guts to spell it out further, and he was a tool of Big Oil, after all, which has run a PR campaign for ten years denying the Peak Oil story. Anyway, he didn't want to interrupt the fabulous credit-driven boom of the years leading to his final months in office, when things really did go south.

Obama is another story, of course. He couldn't be so poorly informed as to not know about Peak Oil in most of its contours and implications, especially vis-a-vis the military, which has issued more than one report while he's been in office. So I conclude that he is a kind of charming bounder. I'm not necessarily sorry I voted for him, because I think McCain would have been worse, entwined as he is with the lunatic right-wing and its toxic aura of paranoid unreality.

It's unclear whether the media is too dumb to get the complexities of our oil predicament, or if they are just bought-off lackeys of the various corporate interests. Probably a combo on that. It is rather hard to understand, for instance, the vapidity of The New York Times - in particular its op-ed pundits, Krugman, Friedman, Brooks. The Times's straight reporting on the oil scene has been scant and fatuous. The Wall Street Journal, ditto. TV news operates in its own special sewage canal of idiocy, so one might not expect much from there.

Since business in America has resolved more and more into a set of rackets, one can't expect plain-dealing from that sector these days.

I've seen the failure of the environmental community up close. Two years in a row at the Aspen Environmental Forum, I listened to the cream of the Green movement rhapsodize over all the cool new "green" ways you can run cars other than on gasoline. You see, their base assumption - like everyone else in this society - is that driving cars incessantly is a God-given entitlement. They were in a techno-rapture over electric cars, bio-diesel, and so on. They didn't once mention walkable communities or public transit. They're just not into it. I consider their position utterly disgraceful.

The clergy is an interesting case. Notice especially how the Sunbelt born-again crowd are perhaps the staunchest defenders of suburbia - and everything that goes with it, including car dependency and and huge volumes of oil imports from unreliable foreign nations. They conflate suburbia with the constitution and Jesus. And, really, their belief system is so incoherent and ridiculous that it must really frighten the educated folk of other nations who see how we carry on.

3. If you were President and had free reign, what would be your energy plan?


I would commence a public debate on whether we go forward with a nuclear power program, to weigh the hazards involved - but, frankly, there may be no other ways to keep the lights on in a decade or so. It may turn out that we are too short of capital to carry out such a program, or our society may be too disorderly in the years ahead to run it, or we may decide the hazards are not worth it, but the discussion must start now.

I would direct major capital resources to repairing the conventional passenger railroads in the US, because commercial aviation as we know it will not continue another ten years, and ditto Happy Motoring, and this is a big continent-sized nation. If we don't get regular rail running, we may not be able to go anywhere. We should just put aside our fantasies about high-speed rail or mag-lev. We're too broke for that, and we need to temper our techno-grandiosity. But, believe me, Americans will be deliriously happy ten years from now if they can go from Des Moines to Chicago at 80 mph on time. During the Obama years, we've stupidly poured our dwindling capital resources into building more highways. This foolishness has got to stop. I would promote public transit at the smaller municipal scale as well, to go with regular rail.

I'd begin the task of rehabilitating our inland waterways so we can move more goods around the nation by boat - and in particular the port facilities that have been mostly removed in places like St. Louis and Cincinnati and around the Great Lakes.

I would put an emphasis on walkable communities. I would prepare the nation for the possibility of gasoline rationing, since events could shove us into criticality at any time.

I would begin closing down scores of unnecessary overseas military bases, and I would terminate the nation-building project in Afghanistan since there is no possibility that we can control the terrain or the population there for anything more than the shortest run.

I would direct the Attorney General of the US to mount investigations of the Bank of America, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and other big banks in connection with the massive swindles and frauds in house lending and the securitization of mortgages - because the rule of law requires that somebody be held accountable for the demolition of the banking system.

4. Now take out your crystal ball. What is the most likely scenario you see playing out in global energy supplies over the next few decades?

JHK: I see the USA getting blind-sided by events. We import nearly three-quarters of the oil we use, and much of it comes from very dodgy places. The ideas derived from Jeff Brown's Export Land Theory tell us that oil export rates are certain to go down very steeply and soon. Before long, exporting nations will have to ask themselves whether they ought to keep some of their oil around for their own people.

In the meantime, China is very busy spending its foreign exchange reserves on "favored customer" oil contracts, more or less cornering a lot of the market. I think that will lead to conflict between them and us. We may even invoke the Monroe Doctrine over Chinese oil purchases out of Canada.

Also meanwhile, we'll see the feedback loop of demand destruction leading to supply destruction as the oil industry becomes starved of capital to get at new production to offset worldwide depletions, and that will result in wildly gyrating oil prices - all of which will shove the global oil industry - production and markets - into fatal instability. Nicole Foss's rap on this dynamic is an excellent reference.

The prospects for gross geopolitical mischief around this are huge, of course, meaning war in some shape or form - and it will clearly be a war over dwindling resources. Also, of course, you can't overstate the potential for disorder in the Middle East. The king of Saudi Arabia is well over 80 years old now and his successor is also old and ill. I'd suggest we may see a Shia uprising on the western rim of the Persian Gulf (that is, the Arabian side) that would bring down the Saud royal family and ignite a major struggle all over the region.

There is currently a lot of hoopla over shale gas in the USA, but I think that will disappoint us, since it requires gigantic ongoing capital investment, and capital will be in ever-shorter supply. And this is not to mention the other problems and hazards associated with shale gas "fracking," such as the extreme forms of groundwater pollution and cancer clusters.

Bottom line: in ten years or fewer the USA will be starved for energy resources and probably on its ass in one way or another.

5. The economy's a mess. What's the best possible outcome to this and how does it come about?

JHK: The best possible outcome would be a peaceful re-set to a lower scale of activity - the whole downscaling and re-localization package. It's hard to see that happening smoothly.

It will be very painful because we're talking about liquidation and de-leveraging beyond even Great Depression levels. We have to allow a clearing of mis-investment. Unfortunately, this means not just the "toxic" paper from the colossal frauds and swindles of Wall Street, but much of the infrastructure of suburbia itself, which is losing value now even despite massive government efforts to prop up house prices and pretend that losses in commercial real estate haven't occurred. That clearing process is so tremendous that it is hard to imagine a way that it could occur without leading to gross political disorder - including the possible breakup of the USA into smaller autonomous regions. We're looking at institutional failure at never-before-imagined levels: pensions and Social Security lost, insurance companies and banks collapsing, the medical system in disarray, really the whole social safety net - and beyond just dissolving. This is a comprehensive economic collapse beyond the scale even of the Soviet collapse, which, Dmitry Orlov tells us, at least allowed people to stay in their homes and get around on public transit when all else failed.

One much-fretted-over outcome is authoritarian government in the USA. We can see the larval stage of that now with the tea baggers and the theocratic right-wing and a Republican Party that has made itself hostage to the John Birch Society - but I maintain, as I wrote in The Long Emergency, that it's more likely the federal government will become impotent and ineffectual, and therefore unable to carry out a "corn-pone Nazi" program, even if such characters got a hold of the offices.

In any case, America will be faced with rebuilding all the major pieces of its economy at a lower scale: farming, commerce, transportation, education, banking, you name it. This re-set will occur naturally - if we don't blow ourselves to Kingdom Come - but there's no telling how long the process might take. We do know that following the collapse of Rome, Western Europe endured nearly a thousand years of relative hardship. I'd add that societies are essentially emergent organisms and that this economic re-set would therefore be an emergent phenomenon - not something that required centralized planning or anything like it.

One notable side effect of all this will be a "time out" from technological innovation, which is destroying the ecosystem of the planet Earth, our only home. The human race needs a time out from all this techno-magic-mischief, a period to reflect on what we've done and how we ought to behave with this stuff. I don't even know for sure whether it's a time out or a game-over for technology, and I'm not convinced that we need to know at this point.

6. What steps are you currently taking in preparations for the upcoming “post-peak” years? What do you advise to those simply looking to protect the purchasing power of their current wealth?

JHK: Well, at 62 I've already outlived Babe Ruth, Mozart, Abe Lincoln, and George Gershwin, so however long I go from here is "gravy." But I do all I can to maintain good health. I eat mostly plants, as Michael Pollan would say. I get a lot of exercise. I lead a purposeful daily life. I stay current with the dentist. I made the formative decision of where-to-live over thirty years ago when I settled in a "Main Street" small town in upstate New York. My surplus wealth is invested for the moment in hard gold, the Sprott Physical fund, Australian and Canadian short term bond funds (cash equivalent), and potash mining. I am renting my dwelling, sitting out the housing collapse. I acquired the NY State handgun permit (not so easy). I have some tubs of brown rice, lentils, and curry powder, etc., stashed away. Alas, I didn't have the capital twenty years ago to get hold of forty acres and a mule - but that's not a bad idea for other people.

7. Are you able to tell (either based on your website viewership or book sales, or from any other source) in which parts of the country/population your teachings are gaining the most traction?

JHK: My only index of that is the size and mood of audiences where I speak around the country. The Pacific Northwest is always a lively spot. The people who show up are intelligent, informed, and interested. In Southern California I seem to be utterly unknown. Parts of the Midwest, such as Wisconsin and Minnesota, seem to be organizing for a different economy, but other parts (rural Illinois, Indiana, Ohio) are sheer zombie-land. New York City and Washington exist in bubble-fantasylands of their own. Rural New England is pretty Peak Oil aware, though the Boston-Cambridge hub is locked into transports of techno-rapture, probably due to the techno-grandiose culture of MIT. The baleful influence of Harvard shows up in the urban design and architecture field, where they are preoccupied with narcissistic careerism rather than repairing the human habitat. Dixieland is hopeless, what with their thrall to the born-agains and the misfortunes of their demographic (namely "Cracker Culture," which celebrates ignorance and violence). I don't follow my book sales, frankly, and my website manager knows more about the activity on my site than I do.

8. You speak to a lot of audiences and groups. What has shifted over the years and what, if anything, gives you hope in those trends?

JHK: I must tell you that I think almost nothing has shifted among the body politic except perhaps the levels of angst and desperation for individual citizens brought on by personal calamity involving job losses, debt, house repossession, family breakup, and related effects of our economic collapse. Meanwhile the distractions from all this pain and stress are ever more moronic - Dancing with the Stars starring Bristol Palin - can it get any worse?

Mr. Obama, who I voted for, has done almost nothing to address our energy predicament, and the 2200-page financial regulation bill he signed does little to reform the problems in capital finance - so, here we are eight months after Fin-Reg entering another stage of the banking crisis. We are still absolutely sleepwalking into the future.

9. It seems inevitable that the suburbs (with 60-mile commutes) and places like LA will suffer badly in a Peak Oil future. Do you still hold the view that some regions are going to fare substantially better than others?

JHK: It ought to be self-evident. I mean, compare Phoenix and Portland, Oregon. Phoenix is utterly toast in a few years. They can't grow any food there without expensive and heroic irrigation. They have water problems. They're slaves to their cars. They're in a place where even the hamburger flippers need air-conditioning to survive. It's quite hopeless there. Portland, on the other hand, has turned itself into one of the finest walkable cities in the USA and the Willamette River Valley is one of the most productive farming micro-regions in the world. Human beings will continue to live and thrive to some extent there. Similarly, I think the Great Lakes region is undervalued these days. It is whole lot of good ag land surrounded by the world's most extensive inland sea - kind of a Mediterranean of fresh water. I remain pessimistic about Dixieland, which I think will be prone to violence and political disorder. In the longer run I believe it will become what it was before World War II: an agricultural backwater. But, really, everybody in every region of the country will be touched by the problems of the long emergency.

10. What question didn’t we ask, but should have? What’s your answer?

JHK: Will China dominate the world further into the 21st Century?

A lot of people think so. I'm not so sure about that. They have problems that are orders of magnitude greater than ours with population overshoot, dwindling fresh water, industrial pollution, relatively little oil of their own, and legitimacy of governance. They've become net food importers.

We look at them and their recent accomplishments in awe - and they've come a long way from the point thirty years ago, when most Chinese lived like it was the twelfth century. But they came to the industrial fiesta very late. They are making some rather dumb choices - like, trying to get their whole new middle class in cars on freeways, putting up thousands of skyscrapers. Their banking system is possibly more corrupt and dysfunctional than ours - since it's run by the state, with very poor accountability for lending. As a Baby Boomer, I well remember China's psychotic break of the 1960s, when the country went cuckoo under the elderly, ailing, paranoid Mao Tse-Tung - which is to say, they're capable of flipping out on the grand scale under stress. They are reaching out these days in a resource grab using their accumulated foreign exchange reserves. At some future time - say, if the global banking system implodes, and their forex reserves lose value - I wonder if they will reach out militarily for resources, and how the world might react.

In any case, I take issue with the Tom Friedman notion that the world has become permanently flat. The world is going to get rounder and bigger again. We'll discover - surprise! - that the global economy was a set of transient economic relations that obtained only because of a half century of cheap energy and relative peace between the big nations. Ahead now, I think you'll see the big nations shrink back into their own corners of the world. I'm not saying we'll see no international trade, but it will be nothing like the conveyer belt from China to Wal-Mart that we've known the last few decades. And the prospects for conflict are very very high.'

Positive Money's Submission to the Independent Commission on Banking

Reposted in full from Positive Money, 18 November 2010

'Positive Money, nef (the new economics foundation), and Professor Richard Werner of the University of Southampton, have just made a joint submission to the Independent Commission on Banking. The Commission will be reporting back in September 2011, and the government should - in the absence of lobbyists - be prepared to accept and implement their proposals.

What Have We Recommended?

We've recommended the implementation of full-reserve banking for the UK, with power over the issue of the nation's money supply kept out of the hands of both vote-seeking politicians and profit-seeking banks. It is a proposal that could be implemented quickly (comfortably within 12 months) and that would have huge benefits for the economy as a whole. It may not be perfect, but it would be many times better than any banking system that we have had in the last 500 years. Download the submission below and let us know what you think.

Download the ICB Submission here (PDF, 1.1mb)

But Will they Listen?

Is the Commission really independent? Will they be sufficiently radical to address the real problems, or just patch up the existing system? The signs so far are pretty encouraging.

Firstly, one of the members of the Commission is Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Editor of the Financial Times. Here's what he had to say about fractional reserve banking (the current business model used by almost every bank globally) just a few days ago:

“The essence of the contemporary monetary system is the creation of money, out of nothing, by private banks’ often foolish lending.”

Martin Wolf, Financial Times, 9th Nov 2010

Martin Wolf has also been promoting John Kay's Narrow Banking proposals and Laurence Kotlikoff's Limited Purpose Banking, both ideas which would abolish fractional reserve banking. And guess who the other main proponent of these ideas is? None other than current Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, whose take on the current banking system is pretty clear:

“Of all the ways of organising banking, the worst is the one we have today...eliminating fractional reserve banking explicitly recognizes that the pretence that risk-free deposits can be supported by risky assets is alchemy. To work, financial alchemy requires the implicit support of the tax payer...For a society to base its financial system on alchemy is a poor advertisement for its rationality.”(Mervyn King - download this brilliant speech here)

So if the top guy at the Bank of England, alongside one of the most respected economists in the UK, both believe the current banking system is 'a poor advertisement for rationality', we might hope that the Commission's final recommendations do not simply involve patching up the existing system.

But most encouraging of all is the fact that the Commission's remit already includes two proposals that would eliminate fractional reserve banking. Those of Kay and Kotlikoff both make it impossible for commercial banks to create money out of nothing through their "often foolish lending". These two proposals were a late addition to the Issues paper, and we believe may have been added at the request of either Martin Wolf or Mervyn King himself. Fingers crossed that the Commission will be radical and make take on board the points outlined in our submission:

Download the ICB Submission here (PDF, 1.1mb) and let us know what you think by leaving a comment here.'

18 November 2010

The Value of Story

Reposted from The Workbook Project, 17 November 2010

'Michael Margolis is the President of Get Storied, an education company that teaches people how to feel, think, and see in narratives. As an evangelist for storytelling and the creative process, Michael works with clients ranging from Audubon, Omnicom, and Zappos.com . Michael is also author of Believe Me: a Storytelling Manifesto for Change-makers and Innovators, which is available as a complimentary digital download.

WorkBook Project: How do you see storytellers adapting to changes in authorship and the realities of a participatory culture?

Michael Margolis: Ownership is a false and outmoded concept. If you’re a Digital Native, you accept that everything you do online is recorded, and therefore shareable. You naturally borrow, adapt, and remix. Anyone who is creatively using the web, can’t help but recycle existing ideas, graphics, and concepts. It’s just inevitable. In a word of infinite knowledge, everything is a derivative in some fashion. We have to learn to let our egos get out of the way.

WBP: What are some of the interesting approaches that you’ve seen in regards to storytellers embracing these changes in authorship?

MM: Don’t get me wrong, we all deserve to be compensated for our hard work and efforts. What people will pay for is packaging the idea in a variety of formats, from freemium content to deluxe packages and premium experiences.

Especially if you’re trying to make a name for yourself. Since trust is low, you have to break through the noise and lower the risk of trying/experiencing your content. Musicians, book authors, and consultants all embrace this concept.

Consider the Gift Economy – which is a primal human instinct to offer gifts as the social lubricant of relationship building. In indigenous culture, gift economy is a demonstration of status and power. You are so confident and secure in your position, that you can share your bounty with others. That’s how you build and gather a tribe in today’s information overload environment.

Give away something of high perceived value, and through familiarity and rapor – the money will follow.

WBP: In your opinion what’s the value of creating a personal brand and what’s the best way to go about it? Can you give us 5 things to consider?

MM: Perception is reality. You already have a personal brand: it’s called the stories that people tell about you. So whether you’re thinking about it or not, people are forming an impression in their mind as who you are, what you stand for, and what they share in common with you.

Personal branding from a story perspective is about inviting people into relationship.

1. What do you want to be known for? (how can you embody that?)
2. What is your back story? (We want to know where you come from)
3. What are you willing to fight for? (People want to hear a point-of-view.)
4. What imperfections can you share? (quirks, vulnerability, make it real)
5. What myth or archetype do you embody (think of a persona others will relate to)

WBP: It’s been said that story will drive the next generation of social networking and app development can you explain why?

MM: We have entered the Age of Storytelling. Because in a era of infinite knowledge, we are struggling to find real meaning and understanding. As humans, narrative is how we make sense of things. Narrative is how we express ourselves. And narrative is how we connect with each other. There’s no accident that storytelling is a huge cultural meme reshaping the landscape of media and communications in all forms. There is a movement a foot to rehumanize business and culture. It’s no wonder our more basic human technology, storytelling is at the center of the equation.

WBP: What’s thing that you’ve learned the hard way that you wish someone would have told you?

MM: The old adage – that we teach what we need to learn most. In my case, storytelling is my medicine. My father is an inventor and my mother an artist – so living in a world of possibilities always came easy. I also grew up across many cultures, and in the process often felt lost in translation. As a social entrepreneur, I experienced my share of success and failure. Yet, I could never shake the feeling of being misunderstood. No wonder, I’ve devoted the past decade on decoding the role of narrative in our work and lives. Sort of like – we create the drama we seek.

Yet, as I continue to imbibe my medicine, I not only heal myself, I heal the world. And thus take a few steps further in fulfilling my mission.

So, what’s the riddle you’re trying to solve? Get clear on what’s driving you forward, what fuels your curiosity and passion. There’s a new level of clarity that emerges when you learn how to shape the stories that shape you. We are no longer a victim of our own story. Instead we get to reinterpret the arc of our lives as we see fit. That’s the heart of reinvention.

WBP: Why the Reinvention Summit and why now?

MM: We’re in the midst of a dramatic shift. Just about everyone I know is in the midst of reinvention. redefining their careers, rethinking values, revitalizing an organization, or rebuilding community, etc…Talking with thousands of people over the past year, I discovered how reinvention is the new normal. The old assumptions of how the world worked are no longer true. For one, job security is an illusion. So why not follow your passion and live your truth?

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have a vocabulary for how to navigate through the reinvention process, or translate that desire into a sustainable economic path.

Connect that with the power of storytelling and its ability to reinvent our world. Narrative is the fundamental language of reinvention. So we all need to learn and deepen our knowledge of narrative principles. That’s the intention behind the Reinvention Summit: 2-weeks, 32 sessions, 400 participants, who all believe that story is core to their work and mission.

We’re gathering a new tribe of storytellers: change-makers, marketers, creatives, innovators, and seekers – who see storytelling as fundamental to their work and mission. And in the process, the Summit is breaking out of the silos - exploring the role of narrative across a range of topics: branding, marketing, social change, community building, transmedia, career development, spiritual growth, social media, and more. Its a bold experiment to expand the discussion and re-story possiblities.

Hope you’re readers decide to join us, they can still register and join midstream. Sessions are also all recorded for playback. www.reinventionsummit.com/program'

17 November 2010

Enough is Enough

Hot off the press from the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, 'Enough is Enough', the report that evolved from the proceedings of the Steady State Conference held in Leeds in June 2010.

Keep in touch with Steady State news from CASSE via Facebook, and also the South Australian chapter.

'Do you suspect that the idea of perpetual economic growth on a finite planet is folly?

Are you searching for ways to solve our profound social and environmental problems?

Do you want to know how we can construct an economy that (1) meets our needs without undermining the life-support systems of the planet and (2) achieves sustainable and equitable well-being for all people?

Enough is Enough is the single most complete collection of policy initiatives, tools, and reforms for an economy that makes enough its goal instead of more.

The report, generated from the inspirational ideas of the Steady State Economy Conference, consists of three parts:

Part One describes why economic growth is becoming an obsolete goal and provides a crystal-clear description of the desirable alternative — a steady state economy

Part Two examines ten key areas where change is needed to achieve a steady state economy

Part Three provides a blueprint for moving boldly from ideas to action.

Please read the report, discuss the ideas contained in it, and do what you can to help get us on the path to a better economy. If you are interested in engaging with others in online discussions of report topics, then please visit the SteadyStaters Google Group and request an invitation to join.'

15 November 2010

Time to Stop Selling off the Farm

Food security alert! Front page of the paper today - good to see this in the mainstream, but still focused on the symptoms and not fitting it into the big picture of increasing resource pressures elsewhere...

We need to be looking after our farmers better than we look after our bankers!! These are the people who are stewards of our land, of biodiversity, they grow our food and between the ogliopoly of retailers and the screws bankers put on them, their task is made a very difficult, thankless one.

Reposted in
full from Adelaide Now, 15 November 2010

'Every farm sold to foreign investors will be tracked and details published on a national register in a plan to ensure Australia does not run out of viable land to grow food.

Concerns about an overseas buyout of Australia's prime farming land have been raised as foreign governments and private companies invest billions of dollars to feed their own people.

The big sell-off has raised alarm bells - in the bush and in Canberra.

New laws, to be debated in Parliament over the next fortnight, would toughen up foreign investment rules and potentially block sensitive sales to overseas parties.

MPs from across the political spectrum are worried and are demanding greater transparency to ensure Australia's own food supplies are not jeopardised.

Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten has flagged plans to conduct an audit of farm sales and is keen to "further strengthen transparency" of foreign ownership in agriculture.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, who will introduce a private member's Bill, said the present rules around foreign investment were a "joke".

"No one is even monitoring how much of our farmland we are selling," he said.

"We shouldn't be allowing foreign governments to buy up Australian land to feed their population, when our own Government hasn't stopped to ask whether we are going to have enough production in the future to feed all Australians."

Australia, with its rich and fertile lands and sophisticated farming techniques, is a key target for some of the world's biggest agricultural enterprises.

An investigation by The Advertiser can reveal senior Chinese Government figures will arrive in Australia next month with cheque books ready to invest in agriculture.

More than $9 billion of prized agricultural assets have been sold to offshore interests in the past two years.

Some of Australia's best known farm brands, including Golden Circle, SPC, Dairy Farmers, CSR Sugar, SunRice and AWB, have fallen into foreign hands.

Tens of millions of dollars are being invested in water licences, with American and British investors hoping to exploit a burgeoning $3 billion "market".

Spanish Ebro Foods is bidding $600 million to acquire SunRice while Singapore-based Wilmar International won a $1.75 billion bid for CSR's sugar and renewable energy business.

The global financial crisis triggered food shortages in many countries and is responsible for the big investment push by China, the Gulf States, South Korea and others worried about future food supplies.

President of the Australian Zhejiang International Business Association (AZIBA) Bill Liu said his organisation, representing Chinese entrepeneurs in the eastern coastal province, had billions of dollars to invest in property, mining - and farming.

High on the acquisition "hit list" are dairy assets but Mr Liu said AZIBA was reluctant to buy dairy farms outright. "We just want to guarantee supply of milk powder," he said.

Greens' deputy leader Christine Milne is pushing for stricter controls.

She said countries such as China, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia had "begun a massive buy-up of agricultural land and water with a view to feeding their own people through the next crisis".

"It is now imperative Australia protects its land and water as part of national sovereignty," she said.

Richard Verner, who runs a 1700ha cropping and sheep farm 50km north of Adelaide, said he would rather sell his land to locals than to foreign investment.

"Most farmers would like to keep it local, the long-term profits for Australia are better," he said.

"Inevitably, most farmers would be controlled with their wallet, I think everyone has a tipping point."

He said overseas investment usually had a positive effect for the community but it would offer a threat to Australia's foodbowl if foreign governments started buying up "extreme" amounts of land.

"(Foreign investors) buying a paddock here and a paddock there will not present a problem, as long as it does not compromise Australia feeding itself," he said.'

Call to Build a Dubai-style oasis in Outback

...of course, in a world approaching (or at) peak oil and a country where water is a serious limiting factor, this idea would come from those paragons of wisdom, economists...

Excerpt from Adelaide Now, 15 November 2010

'Australia should look at building a Dubai-style oasis in the middle of the desert to boost its tourism potential, a leading economist says.

Access Economics director Professor Ian Harper, who will speak at the Australian Tourism Directions Conference in Canberra today, said Australia's share in the international tourist market would drop within three years if it didn't urgently invest in new experiences and infrastructure, such as hotels and airports.

"We need to be imaginative and think very laterally," he said. "It might make sense to build a dedicated facility in the desert which would be a major distributing hub for other parts of Australia.

"We are on the cusp of the largest movement of people into the middle class that the world has ever seen, and there's going to be plenty of demand from China and India and other parts of Asia...'

14 November 2010

Top 100 Questions for Global Agriculture

This paper can be downloaded free...

Sourced from publisher

'A new paper, published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, identifies the top 100 questions for the future of global agriculture.

Despite a significant growth in food production over the past half-century, one of the most important challenges facing society today is how to feed an expected population of some 9 billion by the middle of this century. To meet expected demand for food without significant increases in prices it has been estimated that the world needs to produce 70-100% more food. A multi-disciplinary and team of 55 agricultural and food experts from the world’s major agricultural organisations, professional scientific societies, and academic institutions was appointed to identify the top 100 questions for global agriculture and food. Some of the most pressing questions include:

What will be the risk of mass migration arising from adverse climate change, and how will this impact on agricultural systems? · How can intensive livestock systems be designed to minimise the spread of infectious diseases amongst animals and the risk of the emergence of new diseases infecting humans?

How much can agricultural education, extension, farmer mobilisation and empowerment be achieved by the new opportunities afforded by mobile phone and web-based technologies?

Who will be farming in 2050, and what will be their land relationships?

If addressed and answered, it is anticipated that these questions will have a significant impact on global agricultural practices worldwide. They offer policy and funding organisations an agenda for change. The questions are wide-ranging, are designed to be answerable and capable of realistic research design.

Professor Jules Pretty of the University of Essex, lead author and Editor in Chief of the journal said:

“The challenges facing world agriculture are unprecedented, and are likely to magnify with pressures on resources and increasing consumption. What is unique here is that experts from many countries, institutions and disciplines have agreed on the top 100 questions that need answering if agriculture is to succeed this century. These questions now form the potential for driving research systems, private sector investments, NGO priorities, and UN projects and programmes.”

This research was funded by the UK Government’s Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures project.'

Money & Life

Sourced from Money & Life

'MONEY & LIFE is an essay style documentary exploring the many faces of money. This cinematic odyssey asks the questions: What is money? What is the current global financial situation and how did we get here? What is the creative opportunity in the face of the concurrent breakdown of the financial system, the ecological system and culture?'

Money & Life documentary trailer from StormCloud Media on Vimeo.