19 February 2011

Reducing Food Waste in UK Schools

More brilliant work from WRAP in the UK

Reposted in full from Warmer Bulletin e-News, 18 February 2011

'Insight into the reasons behind the estimated 80,000 tonnes of food wasted in schools each year is revealed in a new report launched by WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme).

The research, Food Waste in Schools, was undertaken to understand more about which types of food are wasted and the reasons why this happens. It is hoped the findings can identify opportunities for schools and caterers to reduce food waste in schools.

The study looked at both the detailed make-up of the waste and where in the process the waste arose. It also talked to schools and school meal providers to understand their views about why they thought food was being wasted. Wastage seemed to be higher in primary schools than secondary schools - estimated at 50,000 tonnes compared to 30,000.

Phillip Ward, Director of Local Government Services at WRAP, said: "It doesn't make sense for food to be wasted if that can be avoided and in most cases it can. Apart from the cost and the carbon emissions, this waste means that pupils are missing out on balanced nutrition they need."

The research summarised possible changes into three main areas:

cooking meals to order

improving the dining experience

improving familiarity and appreciation of school meals.

The research was supported by some small scale trial interventions which suggest school-level changes can positively impact on food waste, without any negative implications for nutrition - indeed, many of these interventions might improve nutritional intake, if students are happier eating different and more varied foods, or less inclined to leave meals unfinished.

The reasons food is wasted are wide ranging, but can be grouped as operational - relating to policies and practices around school food, situational - relating to the environment in which school meals are eaten rather than the food itself, and behavioural - relating to individual actions and preferences. As the specific combination of causes of food waste will vary from school to school, a one size fits all approach to minimising food waste is not available.

In the cooking to order trial 71 per cent of all respondents rated the intervention as "highly successful" or "successful". Pupils received information on menu options in advance. Menu choices were recorded during registration each day and this information was communicated to the kitchen staff by 9.30am every morning. Pupils were given a coloured wrist band identifying their meal choice so there was no confusion at lunch time. This intervention requires a pre-pay system for meals within the school, as well as an efficient way to record and communicate student meal choices in a timely manner.

Information about the approaches tested in the trials is available for schools who would like to take action, at:


The report is available, in two forms, as follows, from WRAP's website:

Food Waste in Schools Summary Report (0.3 MB)


Food Waste in Schools Full report (1 MB)


Clothes Made From Used Blow-Up Dolls: Has Recycling Gone Too Far?

...highly amusing!

Sourced from Ecouterre, 7 December 2009

'Consider this NSFW attire: A Dutch artist by the name of Sander Reijgers is recycling inflatable sex dolls into clothing. Instead of shying away from the more anatomically correct “bits” (so to speak), however, he’s placing all the parts that make a blow-up doll a blow-up doll front and center. His raunchy, waterproof windbreakers and tracksuits are not for the prudish, but if you’re looking to make waves at your local Starbucks or, better yet, next PTA meeting, sporting one of these should draw some stares.

To make the clothing, Reijgers customized existing tracksuit tops with heads, breasts and other pieces from 50 blow-up dolls that he received from a “sponsor.”

“These dolls are so ugly and vulgar that turning them into something beautiful has become a challenge for me,” he says of the process. His inspiration came from reading The Malady of Death by Marguerite Duras, in which the main character is incapable of feelings for people. Reijgers says his goal was to allow the dolls to perform normal day-to-day tasks—and free them from their original purpose—by turning them into clothing...'

18 February 2011

Landshare Australia

...like a dating service for landholders and people who want to work the land!

Sourced from Landshare Australia, 18 February 2010

'Landshare Australia brings together people who have a passion for home-grown food, connecting those who have land to share with those who need land for cultivating food. The concept of Landshare began in the UK, launched through the River Cottage television program in 2009, and has since grown into a thriving community of more than 57,000 growers, sharers and helpers across the country. Now that Landshare is here in Australia, we welcome you to come and take part in this fantastic initiative.

Landshare is for people who:

  • Want to grow vegetables but don't have anywhere to do it
  • Have a spare bit of land they're prepared to share
  • Can help in some way – from sharing knowledge and lending tools to helping out on the plot itself
  • Support the idea of freeing up more land for growing
  • Are already growing and want to join in the community...'

The Beauty of Data Visualisation

Sourced from TED, July 2010

'David McCandless turns complex data sets (like worldwide military spending, media buzz, Facebook status updates) into beautiful, simple diagrams that tease out unseen patterns and connections. Good design, he suggests, is the best way to navigate information glut — and it may just change the way we see the world.'

16 February 2011

Money and the Steady State Economy

Money created out of thin air? Commodity money? Token Money? Fiat Money? Herman Daly explains how our 'funny money' system evolved - '...if our present system, seems “screwy” to you, it should...'

Reposted in full from The Daly News, 26 April 2010

'Historically money has evolved through three phases: (1) commodity money (eg. gold); (2) token money (certificates tied to gold); and (3) fiat money (certificates not tied to gold).

1. Gold has a real cost of mining and value as a commodity in addition to its exchange value as money. Gold’s money value and commodity value tend to equality. If gold as commodity is worth more than gold as money then coins are melted into bullion and sold as commodity until the commodity price falls to equality with the monetary value again. The money supply is thus determined by geology and mining technology, not by government policy or the lending and borrowing by private banks. This keeps irresponsible politicians’ and bankers’ hands off the money supply, but at the cost of a lot of real resources and environmental destruction necessary to mine gold, and of tying the money supply not to economic conditions, but to extraneous facts of geology and mining technology.

Historically the gold standard also had the advantage of providing an international money. Trade deficits were settled by paying gold; surpluses by receiving gold. But since gold was also national money, the money supply in the deficit country went down, and in the surplus country went up. Consequently the price level and employment declined in the deficit country (stimulating exports and discouraging imports) and rose in the surplus country (discouraging exports and stimulating imports), tending to restore balanced trade. Trade imbalances were self-correcting, and if we remember that gold, the balancing item, was itself a commodity, we might even say imbalances were nonexistent. But of course the associated increases and decreases in the national price levels and employment were disruptive.

2. Token money would function pretty much like the gold standard if there were a one-to-one relation between gold and tokens issued. But with token money came fractional reserve banking. Goldsmiths used to loan gold to people, but gold is heavy stuff and awkward to carry around. Token money was created when a goldsmith gave a borrower a document entitling the bearer to a stated quantity of gold. If the goldsmith were widely trusted, the token would circulate with the same value as the gold it represented.

As goldsmiths evolved into banks they began to make loans by creating tokens (demand deposits) in the name of the borrower in excess of the gold they held in reserve. This practice, profitable to banks, was legalized. Statistically it works as long as most depositors do not demand their gold at the same time—a run on the bank. Bank failures in the United States due to such panics led to insuring deposits by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). But insurance also has a moral hazard aspect of reducing the vigilance of depositors and stockholders in reviewing risky loans by the bank. Fractional reserves allow the banking system to multiply the money tokens (demand deposits that function as money) far beyond the amount of gold “backing.”

3. Fiat money came when we dropped any pretense of gold “backing,” and paper tokens were declared to be money by government fiat. Currency is printed by the government at negligible cost of production, unlike gold. As the issuer of fiat money the government makes a profit (called seigniorage) from the difference between the commodity value of the token (nil) and its monetary value ($1, $5, …$100 …depending on the denomination of the paper note). Everyone has to give up a dollar’s worth of goods or services to get a dollar—except for the issuer of the money who gives up practically nothing for a full dollar’s worth of wealth.

Nowadays the fractional reserve banking system counts fiat currency instead of gold as reserves against its lending. The demand deposit money created by the private banking sector is a large multiple of the amount of fiat money issued by the government. Who earns the seigniorage on the newly created demand deposits? The private banks in the first instance, but some is competed away to customers in the form of higher interest rates on savings deposits, lower service charges, etc. It is difficult to say just what happens to seigniorage on demand deposits, but clearly that on fiat currency goes to the government. (With commodity money seigniorage is zero because commodity value equals monetary value—except when the mint purposely debased gold coins). Under our present system, money is currency plus demand deposits. Currency is created out of paper by the government, and no interest is charged for it; demand deposits are created by banks out of nothing (up to a large limit set by small reserve requirements) and interest is charged for it. For example, when you take out a mortgage to buy a house, you are not borrowing someone else’s money deposited at the bank. The bank is in fact loaning you money that did not exist before it created a new deposit in your name. When you repay the debt, it in effect destroys the money the bank initially loaned into existence. But over the next 30 years, you will pay back several times what the bank initially loaned you. Although demand deposits are constantly being created and destroyed, at any given time over 90% of our money supply is in the form of demand deposits.

If phase 3, our present system, seems “screwy” to you, it should. Why should money, a public utility (serving the public as medium of exchange, store of value, and unit of account), be largely the by-product of private lending and borrowing? Is that much of an improvement over being a by-product of private gold mining? Why should the public pay interest to the private banking sector to provide a medium of exchange that the government can provide at no cost? Why should not seigniorage, unavoidable in a fiat money system, go entirely to the government (the commonwealth) rather than in large part to the private sector?

Is there not a better way? Yes, there is. We need not go back to the gold standard. Keep fiat money, but move from fractional reserve banking to a system of 100% reserve requirements. The change need not be drastic – we could gradually raise the reserve requirement to 100%. This would put control of the money supply and all seigniorage in hands of the government rather than private banks, which would no longer be able to live the alchemist’s dream of creating money out of nothing and lending it at interest.

All quasi-bank financial institutions should be brought under this rule, regulated as commercial banks subject to 100% reserve requirements. Credit cards would become debit cards. Banks would earn their profit by financial intermediation only — i.e. lending savers’ money for them (charging a loan rate higher than the rate paid to savings account depositors) and charging for checking, safekeeping, and other services. With 100% reserves every dollar loaned to a borrower would be a dollar previously saved by a depositor, re-establishing the classical balance between investment and abstinence. The government would pay some of its expenses by issuing more non interest-bearing fiat money in order to make up for the eliminated bank-created, interest-bearing money.

However, it can only do this up to a strict limit imposed by inflation. If the government issues more money than the public voluntarily wants to hold, the public will trade it for goods, bidding the price level up. As soon as the price index begins to rise the government must print less, tax more, or withdraw some of the previously issued currency from circulation. Thus a policy of maintaining a constant price index would govern the internal value of the dollar (providing a trustworthy store of value and constant unit of account). In effect the fiat money would receive a real backing—not gold, but the basket of commodities in the price index. The external value of the dollar could be left to freely fluctuating exchange rates. These policies are not new—they go back to Frederick Soddy in1926, and to similar proposals by Frank Knight and Irving Fisher, the leading American economists of the 1920s. The fact that bankers and their friends in government and academia have willfully ignored these ideas for 90 years does not constitute a refutation of them, but rather is a tribute to the power of vested interests over the common good.

How would the 100% reserve system serve the steady state economy?

First, as just mentioned it would restrict borrowing for new investment to existing savings, greatly reducing speculative growth ventures—for example the leveraging of stock purchases with huge amounts of borrowed money would be severely limited.

Second, the fact that money no longer has to grow to pay back the principal plus the interest required by the loan responsible for the money’s very existence lowers the general pressure to grow. Money becomes neutral with respect to growth rather than biasing the system toward growth.

Third, the financial sector will no longer be able to capture such a large share of the nation’s wealth, leaving more available for meeting the needs of the poor. A steady state economy is not viable if it means a steady state of poverty for any significant proportion of the population.

Fourth, the money supply would no longer expand during a boom, when banks like to loan lots of money, and contract during a recession, when banks try to collect outstanding debts, thereby reinforcing the cyclical tendency of the economy. Reducing the risk of recession reduces the need to accumulate more to get us through the bad times.

Fifth, with 100% reserves there is no danger of a run on the bank leading to failure, and the FDIC could be abolished, along with its consequent moral hazard.

Sixth, the explicit policy of a constant price index would reduce fears of inflation and the resultant quest to accumulate more as a protection against inflation.

Seventh, a regime of fluctuating exchange rates automatically balances international trade accounts, eliminating big international surpluses and deficits. US consumption growth would be reduced without its deficit; Chinese production growth would be reduced without its surplus. By making balance-of-payments lending unnecessary, fluctuating exchange rates would greatly shrink the role of the IMF and its “conditionalities.” It also introduces more short-term risk and uncertainty into both international trade and investment. Many economists would see this as a disadvantage, but steady state economics favors a greater degree of national production for national consumption, and fluctuating rates would offer a bit of protection in the form of adding an extra element of cost (exchange rate risk) to international transactions. Like the Tobin tax it “throws a bit of sand into the gears” and reduces global commerce and interdependence to a more manageable level.

To dismiss such sound policies as “extreme” in the face of the demonstrated fraudulence of our current financial system is quite absurd. The idea is not to nationalize banks, but to nationalize money, which is a natural public utility in the first place. This monetary system makes sense independently of one’s views on the steady state economy. But it fits better in a steady state economy than in a growth economy.'

Changing Models of Ownership

Excerpt from
Shareable, 8 February 2011

'From cars to CDs, houses to handbags, people are no longer aspiring to own. Belongings which used to be the standard by which to measure personal success, status, and security are increasingly being borrowed, traded, swapped, or simply left on the shelf. Various factors – arguably the most important being an increasingly connected and digitally networked society, regardless of economic development – are causing revolutionary global shifts in behavior. As quickly as a new laptop becomes yesterday’s technology in a brittle plastic shell, or a power tool idly collects dust in the garage, it seems that material possessions are changing from treasure into junk, from security into liability, from freedom into burden, and from personal to communal.

Through global research conducted as part of an investigation into the concept of ownership, Claro Partners was able to draw some conclusions about why it’s more appealing to have a car only when you need to move from A to B. We also started to ask questions about what new challenges people face in a climate where transient access to services – rather than permanent acquisition of products – is more efficient and actually makes more economic sense. Furthermore, from the cloud to the crowd, we asked whether the concept of ownership is even applicable to today’s world.

Ownership becomes a burden
In societies saturated by hyper-consumption, the joy of acquiring, of holding the new object in your hands and knowing with satisfaction that it’s yours, is familiar. Equally recognizable, though, is that creeping anxiety when the sheen starts to fade and your mind gets distracted with a new, better, life-improving version, and at this intersection, ownership becomes a pain, a burden. The product’s value becomes outweighed by concerns of maintenance, optimization of use, and finding a good home for your once-loved product, be it through recycling or re-use. This cycle seems to be becoming ever-shorter, especially in the Western world where gadgets rule and electronics are designed to fail, and both people and businesses are developing strategies to deal with the highs and lows of ownership.

The trade-off of ownership for access

Despite the infinite diversity of the human race, we’re actually quite similar in the kind of things we want to achieve on a day-to-day basis and, collectively, we’re beginning to realize that there’s little reason not to share the resources necessary to achieve these goals. With increased connectivity through modern technology, networks at both a global and local level are growing rapidly whilst new communities can develop and flourish through digital channels. These, in turn, allow for resources to be shared, swapped, borrowed, and traded while providing a platform where exclusive belongings are simply irrelevant.

As suggested by Rachel Botsman in What’s Mine Is Yours (2010), four factors – environmental concerns, reduced spending power, the resurgence of communities, and new technological platforms – have facilitated the rise of collaborative consumption and, in the current climate, alternatives to ownership are starting to seem like a good trade-off for not having the CD on your shelf or the car in your driveway.

Equally, this environment encourages new systems to grow organically from the bottom up, naturally streamlined and designed to be resilient from the start. Effectively, access to the products or the means to achieve a specific goal has become good enough in these circumstances and a viable and appealing antidote to individual ownership. Of course, Shareable.net is both an expert and a product of this movement and many examples of this approach to consumption/acquisition/life can be found within the pages here.

Filtering the data we can access

Replacing ownership with access is not without its challenges to consumption, however. As well as providing a platform on which to connect with people, the Internet has provided us with more data than we could ever want at our fingertips and, consequently, means that we have to spend effort in handpicking what we really want to focus on.

As stated by Seth Godin and later quoted by Chris Anderson in Free (2009): every abundance creates a new scarcity. Our finite time and attention is faced with a sheer abundance of information wanting to be found, read, heard, watched, and consumed, and we are faced with the problem of digital noise. Unfortunately, one Googler’s junk is another Googler’s treasure, and that means there’s no one definitive filtering solution, so people are adopting their own systems to deal with the influx of information, driven to use various ad-hoc methods to curate the content they encounter.

For example, in Sao Paolo, we spoke to someone who no longer reads newspapers and magazines, but instead displays constant Twitter feeds from friends on a large TV screen for a source of real-time news with the added value of the attached commentary. Another tech-minded interviewee in San Francisco collected films based on their ratings on a collection of trusted movie review sites and another relied on his network of friends for the latest YouTube memes.

Social networks play an important role in the filtering of the constant flow of new data; according to a recent study, 48% of young Americans find out about news through Facebook. Likewise, strategies for streamlining belongings are being applied to the physical world, where quality and access are ruling over quantity and material possessions. A U.S. research respondent consciously subscribed to a “less stuff, but better stuff” lifestyle, making decisions to acquire, consume, and keep only the things that he saw to be of value and never a burden...'

15 February 2011

Communicating Climate Change to Mass Audiences

Sourced from the Public Interest Research Centre website, 14 February 2011

'The Climate Change Communication Advisory Group (CCCAG) is made up of a diverse range of individuals from academia and the third sector, with expertise in climate change communication and engagement.

CCCAG’s aim is to use current academic research and practitioner-based expertise to best inform government and non-governmental climate change communications and engagement.

CCCAG’s first report was presented to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in August 2010.

Download the report'

Excerpts from the Seven Principles detailed in the report are:

'1. Move Beyond Social Marketing

...too little attention is paid to the understanding that psychologists bring to strategies for motivating change, whilst undue faith is often placed in the application of marketing strategies to ‘sell’ behavioural changes.

2. Be honest and forthright about the probable impacts of climate change, and the scale of the challenge we confront in avoiding these. But avoid deliberate attempts to provoke fear or guilt.

There is no merit in ‘dumbing down’ the scientific evidence that the impacts of climate change are likely to be severe, and that some of these impacts are now almost certainly unavoidable. Accepting the impacts of climate change will be an important stage in motivating behavioural responses aimed at mitigating the problem. However, deliberate attempts to instil fear or guilt carry considerable risk.

3. Be honest and forthright about the impacts of mitigating and adapting to climate change for current lifestyles, and the ‘loss’ - as well as the benefits - that these will entail.

Narratives that focus exclusively on the ‘up-side’ of climate solutions are likely to be unconvincing. While narratives about the future impacts of climate change may highlight the loss of much that we currently hold to be dear, narratives about climate solutions frequently ignore the question of loss. If the two are not addressed concurrently, fear of loss may be ‘split off’ and projected into the future, where it is all too easily denied.

3a. Avoid emphasis upon painless, easy steps.

Be honest about the limitations of voluntary private-sphere behavioural change, and the need for ambitious new policy interventions that incentivise such changes, or that regulate for them. People know that the scope they have, as individuals, to help meet the challenge of climate change is extremely limited. For many people, it is perfectly sensible to continue to adopt high-carbon lifestyle choices whilst simultaneously being supportive of government interventions that would make these choices more difficult for everyone.

3b. Avoid over-emphasis on the economic opportunities that mitigating, and adapting to, climate change may provide. There will, undoubtedly, be economic benefits to be accrued through investment in new technologies, but there will also be instances where the economic imperative and the climate change adaptation or mitigation imperative diverge, and periods of economic uncertainty for many people as some sectors contract. It seems inevitable that some interventions will have negative economic impacts.

3c. Avoid emphasis upon the opportunities of ‘green consumerism’ as a response to climate change.

...Campaigns to ‘buy green’ may be effective in driving up sales of particular products, but in conveying the impression that climate change can be addressed by ‘buying the right things’, they risk undermining more difficult and systemic changes.

4. Empathise with the emotional responses that will be engendered by a forthright presentation of the probable impacts of climate change.

Belief in climate change and support for low-carbon policies will remain fragile unless people are emotionally engaged. We should expect people to be sad or angry, to feel guilt or shame, to yearn for that which is lost or to search for more comforting answers . Providing support and empathy in working through the painful emotions of 'grief' for a society that must undergo changes is a prerequisite for subsequent adaptation to new circumstances.

5. Promote pro-environmental social norms and harness the power of social networks

One way of bridging the gap between private-sphere behaviour changes and collective action is the promotion of pro-environmental social norms… There are different reasons that people adopt social norms, and encouraging people to adopt a positive norm simply to ‘conform’, to avoid a feeling of guilt, or for fear of not ‘fitting in’ is likely to produce a relatively shallow level of motivation for behaviour change. Where social norms can be combined with ‘intrinsic’ motivations (e.g. a sense of social belonging), they are likely to be more effective and persistent. Too often, environmental communications are directed to the individual as a single unit in the larger social system of consumption and political engagement. This can make the problems feel too overwhelming, and evoke unmanageable levels of anxiety. Through the enhanced awareness of what other people are doing, a strong sense of collective purpose can be engendered.

6. Think about the language you use, but don’t rely on language alone

… Whilst ‘getting the language right’ is important, it can only play a small part in a communication strategy. More important than the language deployed (i.e. ‘conceptual frames') are what have been referred to by some cognitive linguists as 'deep frames'. Conceptual framing refers to catchy slogans and clever spin (which may or may not be honest). At a deeper level, framing refers to forging the connections between a debate or public policy and a set of deeper values or principles. Conceptual framing (crafting particular messages focussing on particular issues) cannot work unless these messages resonate with a set of long-term deep frames.

7. Encourage public demonstrations of frustration at the limited pace of government action

Private-sphere behavioural change is not enough, and may even at times become a diversion from the more important process of bringing political pressure to bear on policy-makers. The importance of public demonstrations of frustration at both the lack of political progress on climate change and the barriers presented by vested interests is widely recognised – including by government itself.'

The Great Disruption

Keep an eye out for this new book from Australian author and activist, Paul Gilding, due April 2011

Sourced from Bloomsbury Press, 14 February 2011

'A bracing assessment of the planetary crisis that we can no longer avoid-and the once-in-an-epoch chance it offers to build a better world.

"One of those who has been warning me of [a coming crisis] for a long time is Paul Gilding, the Australian environmental business expert. He has a name for this moment-when both Mother Nature and Father Greed have hit the wall at once-'The Great Disruption.' "-Thomas Friedman in the New York Times

It's time to stop just worrying about climate change, says Paul Gilding. We need instead to brace for impact because global crisis is no longer avoidable. This Great Disruption started in 2008, with spiking food and oil prices and dramatic ecological changes, such as the melting ice caps. It is not simply about fossil fuels and carbon footprints. We have come to the end of Economic Growth, Version 1.0, a world economy based on consumption and waste, where we lived beyond the means of our planet's ecosystems and resources.

The Great Disruption offers a stark and unflinching look at the challenge humanity faces-yet also a deeply optimistic message. The coming decades will see loss, suffering, and conflict as our planetary overdraft is paid; however, they will also bring out the best humanity can offer: compassion, innovation, resilience, and adaptability. Gilding tells us how to fight-and win-what he calls The One Degree War to prevent catastrophic warming of the earth, and how to start today.

The crisis represents a rare chance to replace our addiction to growth with an ethic of sustainability, and it's already happening. It's also an unmatched business opportunity: Old industries will collapse while new companies will literally reshape our economy. In the aftermath of the Great Disruption, we will measure "growth" in a new way. It will mean not quantity of stuff but quality and happiness of life. Yes, there is life after shopping.'

Praise for The Great Disruption:

“We’re in the rapids now, heading for the falls, too late to swim for shore. But Paul Gilding offers some excellent insights into how we might weather that which we can no longer completely prevent--and how we can still prevent that which we won't be able to weather. If you’re planning to stick around for the 21st century, this might be a useful book to consult.”—Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth, founder of 350.org 350.org.

“Gilding offers a clear-eyed and moving assessment of our predicament but more importantly, he offers a plausible way forward and good reasons to think we will rise to the occasion. His message is that our situation is dire, but we will act because we must. Essential reading.”—David W. Orr, Paul Sears Distinguished Professor, Oberlin College, author of Hope is an Imperative and Down to the Wire.

Reviews for The Great Disruption:

“A leading advocate for action on climate change asserts that the world is already in the midst of a global emergency that will mark not the collapse of civilization, but a positive transformation of society…a remarkably optimistic view of the brave new world in our future—certain to be widely and strongly challenged.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Gilding’s confidence in our ability to transform disaster into a “happiness economy” may astonish readers, but the book provides a refreshing, provocative alternative to the recent spate of gloom-and-doom climate-change studies.” —Publishers Weekly

“[Gilding] backs up his arguments with plenty of facts and avenues for readers to pursue.” –Library Journal

14 February 2011

India's Rural Commons at Odds with Surging Industrialization

Excerpt from Shareable, 7 February 2011

'One issue largely absent from the agenda of this January’s global commons conference in Hyderabad, India was the idea of limits to consumption and material accumulation. There were presentations aplenty on how commons are being limited and threatened by development, land-grabbing, and ecological decay, but little discussion of how global consumption, notions of material ‘progress,’ and ‘development’ factor into the evolving equation of how humans and the planet will survive.

With Indian media reporting the likelihood of its nation producing the world’s seven-billionth human sometime this year, the 'inconvenient' question must be addressed forthrightly: how many cars, cell phones, satellite dishes, television sets, and other emblems of material ‘progress’ can the globe withstand? Beyond the more obvious urgency of climate change — the immediate need for radical emissions reductions and greatly expanded carbon sinks, among others — how much more room do the earth and the sky have for the material advancement of our ballooning populace?

I have long resisted the population question myself, rooted as it has been in subtle and sometimes blatant racism as well as echoes of imperialism. The blaming of poorer, developing nations for overpopulation neglects America’s vastly higher per-capita (and until recently, aggregate) carbon footprint — and the profound unfairness of limiting growth in these nations after the industrial and carbon-spewing excesses of the U.S. and Europe must be addressed.

But the facts of climate chaos and the dire need to cut global emissions require an aggressively honest assessment of limits starting with U.S. and other ‘first world’ nations’ concepts of growth and materialism, but also more critically re-defining ‘developing world’ growth in the context of ironclad climatological and earthly limits.

This challenge is acutely of the moment, not only in climate change negotiations, but for another reason that is as inspiring as it is distressing: the agrarian and pastoral commons of India and other developing nations are still with us, and their survival holds the key not only to rural livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people across the world, but very possibly for the planet itself.

While the survival struggles of small Indian farming villages may seem remote to our global future, these are, in fact, contested terrains that the planet-threatening industrialization process has not yet conquered — where there’s actually something left to fight for.

These are the very commons that more than 600 activists and scholars from across the globe defended at the International Association for the Study of the Commons 13th biannual conference in India — common pasture lands, forests, and arable lands upon which millions have relied for basic survival for centuries, under threat now from the unrelenting growth imperative.

Just as the U.S. features deep poverty and undernourishment amid phenomenal wealth and technological advancement, India's development is wildly uneven. A 2010 report by the United Nations found India has far more cell phones than toilets — 45 percent have cell phone access, while just 31 percent are afforded basic sanitation. ''It is a tragic irony to think that, in India, a country now wealthy enough that roughly half of the people own phones," so many do not have "the basic necessity and dignity of a toilet,'' said Zafar Adeel, Director of United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment, and Health.

The core problem is this: how do ‘developing’ nations, and the rural poor within those countries, improve their livelihoods and opportunities for a more comfortable and stable existence without replicating unsustainable Western-style ‘progress’? How can India, Bangladesh, and other nations with huge, largely impoverished agrarian populations find a new path for growth that does not entail climate-battering industrialization and mass material consumption?

These questions percolated as a smaller group of conference-goers ventured deep into the south Indian countryside to visit tribal villages dealing with ecological scarcity and the encroaching pressures of industrialization....

India is at once rising and crumbling. Even as the reminders of British colonialism are everywhere (from accents and a troubling economic and social subservience to an obsession with rules and hierarchy), India is surging economically, relentlessly growth-hungry, energetic, seemingly tossing away the final shackles of imperialism. There is an impatient industriousness in the air, furious activity, and plenty of pollution.

There is also a clear and decisive trajectory of industrialization and GDP growth at rates hovering around 9 percent, unheard of outside China. It’s true, as one businessman insists on a flight to Mumbai, that India is growing so rapidly in part because there’s so much room for growth. But there’s no denying that India is on a fast-track to Western-style development replete with booming industrialization, rising corporate power (both economic and political), and a ravenous thirst for middle- and upper-class lifestyles.

And India’s thirst for growth is nearly unrestrained; there is a significant state presence, but no communist- or socialist-style central planning to, at least, potentially check capitalism’s feverishly anarchic path (though state planning in China hasn’t led to any serious checks on air-choking industrial pollution, either).

Instead, what stands in hyper-development’s path are some concerned NGOs like my host and guide, the Foundation for Ecological Security, and a handful of politicians such as Jairam Ramesh, India’s controversial and erudite Minister of Environment and Forests who has blocked a number of dams on the upper Ganges River, much to the fury of fast-growth advocates and big business...

The question that simmers throughout my trip is how can India (not to mention China) possibly continue to ‘grow’ and ‘develop’ in the Western industrial manner, mining its earth and waters and farmlands for GDP and middle-class consumption without destroying itself, eroding its rich and vital agrarian lands, and hastening our ecological demise?

It is profoundly unfair to demand restrictions on India, China, and other emerging nations after the U.S. and Europe have sucked the planet dry for the past century and a half. But this is where we stand now, and reams of climate-change evidence show there is no turning back the ecological clock.

And as 'emerging' nations pursue the classic 'modernization' model of favoring industrial manufacture over agriculture, how will this undermine domestic and global food security? How do we create a new economic system that promotes sustainable agrarian and pastoral lands and livelihoods — beyond preserving selected commons even as the rest of the countryside is imperiled?

How can we ask India to restrain itself as it hurtles ahead to the very material comforts, profits, and pleasures that so many Americans and Europeans take for granted? The U.S. has zero — actually negative — credibility when it comes to setting ecologically responsible global standards, or for relinquishing any of its material excesses which contribute mightily to climate chaos. Not only have we already ‘had our fun’ plundering the planet, we continue to do so with the world’s largest per-capita carbon footprint, even as we pressure India and China to restrain their emissions.

Before demanding slower growth or less industrialization from India and China, it’s essential that the U.S. show some leadership in diminishing both production and consumption of non-essential goods mined from the earth. But that would require a direct confrontation with capitalism’s growth imperative (the unrelenting need for new markets and products, for ‘built-in obsolescence,’ and maximum profit). And that would run counter to the central underpinning of the once-vaunted American economy, now being replicated and steadily surpassed by other nations, eager to join the party.

Will anyone — can anyone — challenge the growth and consumption imperative, before it consumes us all?'

Crematorium To Heat Water For Town's Swimmers

A friend of mine has suggested this project be dubbed 'Ashes to Splashes'!

Reposted in full from Planet Ark News, 14 February 2011

'A local authority in England has given the go ahead for a swimming pool to use energy created by the next-door crematorium to heat its water.

The plan, the first of its kind in Britain, will see waste heat from the incinerator chimney used to warm up the neighboring leisure center and its new pool.

"The cremation process is a sensitive matter and we wanted to be sure our proposals had widespread support," said Councilor Carole Gandy, the leader of Redditch Borough Council in central England.

Eighty to 90 percent of people who contacted the council had backed the scheme, she said.

"Throughout we have been careful to explain how the technology would work, that it is tried and trusted, and that the practice is quite common in parts of Europe and especially in Sweden," she said.

"We already support our residents to insulate their homes and be energy-efficient, so it seemed only right for us to explore this re-use of energy."

However, local trade union officials are less than impressed with the plan, saying it was a reflection of the massive public spending cuts being implemented by the government.

"These proposals ... are sick and an insult to local residents," said Roger McKenzie, regional secretary for Unison, Britain's biggest public sector labor union.'

13 February 2011

Paul R. Ehrlich: Saving Earth

Interview with Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University researcher, professor and author for more than 50 years - a conservation biologist for decades, he is now turning his inquiry to human cultural evolution

Excerpt from the L.A. Times, 12 February 2011

'...However you draw the map of this melting, freezing world, Ehrlich is on it. He got there in 1968, with the sizzlingly, and to Ehrlich's mind now, regrettably titled book "The Population Bomb." It is replete with "ifs" and "whens" about the catastrophic collision of population versus resources, some of which have come to pass and some of which haven't - yet. On that score, Ehrlich is as gleeful at attacking his critics as they are at going after him.

In his latest book, "Humanity on a Tightrope," coauthored with Robert E. Ornstein, the tightrope could still turn into a lifeline if humans choose the right balance...

One thing I draw from your new book is that you're now calling on individuals to do what institutions have failed to when it comes to saving the planet and ourselves.

That's part of it. We now know more than enough about what the hell is wrong with the world. The climate, the toxification of the planet, the epidemiological environment, the chances of plague, losing biodiversity, the rate of extinction of species -- and we're doing nothing about it. We've had 10 failures now on international attempts to do something about climate change. If we don't figure out how to change human behavior toward sustainability, we're basically … screwed, I think is the technical term.

There's a mechanical model of what's happening to the world: Go into the smallest room of your house, and attached to the floor is a porcelain thing, and if you raise the lid on it and then you look into the bowl and press one of the levers, it will show you what's happening to the environment.

"The Population Bomb," which you and your wife, Anne, wrote more than 40 years ago, includes scenarios that haven't happened. Critics throw these back at you to prove you were wrong then and to suggest you are wrong now.

Scientists live by their reputations with their colleagues, not with Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin. I'm attacked almost daily on the blogs.

When we wrote it, there were about 3.5 billion people on the planet; about half a billion of them were hungry. Today there are 7 billion people on the planet and about a billion of them are hungry. We've lost something on the order of 200 million to 400 million to starvation and diseases related to starvation since the book was written. How "wrong" [were] we?

Of course all our predictions were not correct, but a lot of the stuff they say were predictions were scenarios where we said: These are not predictions; these are stories to make you think about the future.

We'd write an entirely different book [today]. We didn't know anything [then] about ozone depletion, what the threat was. The climatologists weren't sure whether it was going to be a problem of more cold or more heat. What we said is, if you're putting crap into the atmosphere, you're going to change the climate.

We mentioned the possibility of having to kayak to the Washington Monument; we also talked about the possibility of [global] cooling. We didn't know what was happening to the tropical forests. There's very little in the book on biodiversity [risks] because the work hadn't been done yet.

What was crystal clear then and is crystal clear today is that one of the major factors is the size of the human population. The I = P x A x T equation -- [human] impact is the product of the number of people, how much each one consumes and the technologies we use for consumption.

People are uncomfortable talking about population - it brings up such intimate choices and the specter of government control over who procreates - but they will talk about consumption. Does that address the problem more palatably?

Everybody who can count up to 20 without taking off their shoes is aware there's a population problem. But most politicians and many economists still think that more consumption is the cure for everything rather than part of the disease.

We know we can change our consumption habits very nearly overnight: In 1941, the U.S. produced almost 4 million passenger cars. Then came Dec. 7, and for the next several years we produced millions of military vehicles, tanks, trucks, thousands of military aircraft and ships, developed nuclear weapons and detonated them, rationed rubber, sugar, coffee, gasoline -- showing that if the incentives are right, [we] can change our consumption patterns, including the way industry works, basically overnight.

When people said Al Gore was crazy when he said we could [quickly] get all of our electricity without using coal, he was saying something that was politically impractical, but it was certainly possible. My research is going into cultural evolution; how you change the way we behave in order to get a sustainable society, when we're moving in the opposite direction.

Is the Obama administration's science leadership on board with this?

Probably. There's never been better science advice in the U.S. government. Obama knows what to do too.

I hear a "but" lurking in there.

This is obviously opinion, but a major problem is that we have corporations now considered to be individuals like you and me. The idea that corporations should have free speech, I think, is insane. The free speech of the corporations is the petroleum industry and their buddies setting up entire institutions to lie to the public about fossil fuels and so on. I'm pretty depressed about that.

If you think that corporations should be treated as individuals, then there's a whole slug of corporations that ought to be in Guantanamo right now being waterboarded.

Still, you sound more optimistic than I am that we can save the day.

[He laughs.] It used to be when people said, "Are you optimistic or pessimistic?," I'd say, I'm pessimistic about where we're going, but I'm optimistic about what we can do. Now I say: I'm very pessimistic about where we're going, and I'm optimistic about what we could do, but I don't expect it to happen. It's a real problem talking to kids. How do you strike the balance? What I usually say is look, there's a 15% chance of preventing the collapse of civilization, if we work at it really hard.

What about the word "conserve" do you think some conservatives don't understand?

I am in many respects a conservative. The idea is to pay attention to what's worked in the past and don't throw those things away until you're pretty damned sure that what you're replacing them with is going to be better.

Human empathy is something you pin your hopes on in the new book. But to me, the sci-fi trope - until the aliens arrive, humans will always find reasons to fight each other - is pretty true.

One of the cheery things I think, and you haven't heard a lot of cheer from me, is we have the built-in capacity to put ourselves in others' shoes. The issue is, can we spread that empathy to 7 billion people? Just in my lifetime, we've spread empathy, making more "us" and fewer "them." If we had another 1,000 years, I'd be an optimist! I'd be saying, well things are going in the right direction, slowly, and by my great-great grandchildren, things could be pretty good. I have a great-granddaughter now; that child is not facing a great world.

You practiced what you preach and had a vasectomy after having one child. Aren't most people only going to do what is convenient and cheap?

I think lots of people are willing to do more but just can't believe it's going to do any good. That's a real problem: You can see what needs to be done, but you say, if I give up meat eating, what difference is it going to make? We are fundamentally social animals, and we've got to organize ourselves into groups. There's lots of groups trying to do good things.

Part of the blame is [on] what we've let happen to our public education system. Think about it -- you can get all the way through most California schools and then get a PhD at Stanford and not have a clue where your food comes from -- [you can] think it comes from the supermarket.

People are desperately trying to spend time getting more income; people don't have any idea about nature now. They think seeing a film about the Serengeti wildebeest migration is equivalent to being there.

You've got to spend time in nature, and that means more than watching a film. It's not that nature films aren't important; it's that they're not a substitute...

One problem ecologists have talking to the general public is that we tend to think in much longer terms than the average economist and even the average person. The average person is concerned with everyday affairs, and to a large extent rightly so, but they've got to [make] some time for the longer term, if they care about their children and grandchildren.

What practical efforts to keep population down would work? I hate to get phallic about it, but how much carrot and how much stick?

Population is the background driver. The standard line, which I really agree with, is, whatever your cause, it's a lost cause without population control.

First, you work on the rights of women -- job opportunities for women, education, giving women rights -- and in most parts of the world, that would get us where we want to be, a gradual population decline over the next century.

And you get some leadership. If an American president got up and said, "Patriotic Americans stop at two [children]" -- that's where you need some guts. Consumption is equally important. I'd think the biggest problem is figuring out what to do on consumption. We don't have any consumption condoms.'

Good Debt, Bad Debt

David Korten provides another clear, no-nonsense explanation of debt and money...

Reposted in full from YES! Magazine, 8 February 2011

'It appears that we are a nation addicted to debt. In 2009, U.S. public and private debt totaled $57 trillion. Of this total, $42.5 trillion is private household/business/financial sector debt and $14.7 trillion is federal/state/local government debt. Of the private debt, $13.5 trillion is household debt, accounting for 122.5 percent of annual disposable income. Of the total U.S. debt, $14 trillion is owed to foreigners. Current U.S. GDP is $14.3 trillion.

So is this a problem?

Most of the money in circulation is created as credit when a bank issues a loan. By the nature of this system, no debt means no money. Now that would be a really big problem in an economy that cannot function without money.

More important than the size of the debt is the question of whether it is good debt or bad debt. So what’s the difference?

Let’s start with good debt. The underlying logic of a debt-based money system rests on the assumption that the money banks create by issuing loans is invested in ways that expand society’s productive capacity and thereby the available pool of real goods and services.

The problem facing the United States is that most of our outstanding debt is bad debt—it isn't backed by real assets.

It further assumes that the benefits produced are shared equitably among all who contribute. The savers and investors who defer their consumption to build the bank’s capital reserves receive a fair share as interest. The bank employees receive a fair share as salary and benefits. The governments that provide the legal, social, and physical infrastructure required to do business receive a fair share as taxes.

The problem facing the United States is that most of our outstanding debt is bad debt. It was issued to fund consumption andphantom wealth speculation and in aggregate cannot be repaid, because it is not backed by real assets.

This didn’t just happen. It is the result of bad public policies and can be corrected only by better policy choices. Let’s take a look at four examples.

Gambling Debt: Borrowing at interest to gamble on asset bubbles and loan pyramids can inflate financial asset statements, but produces nothing of real value and the assets can deflate in a heartbeat, leaving the loans unsecured and unpayable. This is a direct consequence of the financial deregulation that allowed Wall Street players to take control of the money and banking system and reorient it from financing investment in the real-wealth economy to financing speculation in the bubble economy.

Private Consumer Debt: Borrowing at interest to support current consumption beyond one’s income is a dead end. At issue here are policies relating to trade, unions, wages, employment, public services, and taxes that suppress the incomes of working people relative to the cost of living—while inflating the incomes of the investing class. This forces the majority of households to borrow from the investing class to cover basic consumption expenses.

Public Consumer Debt: Much of the current debate about debt centers on public debt. Borrowing by governments to invest in things like education, research, infrastructure, and even temporary economic stimulus directed to creating jobs in the real economy builds the nation’s future productive capacity and is logical and sensible. Borrowing to fund war,tax breaks for the rich, and current government operations is neither. Tragically, most of our public borrowing has been for the latter.

Arguments focused on the size of the U.S. public debt will get us no place, unless we address the failed economic theories and policies that have mired us in all four of the major varieties of bad debt.

Foreign Debt: Perhaps the most dangerous of all bad debt is that owed to foreign countries to pay for current consumption beyond what we produce for ourselves domestically. Our foreign debt is largely a result of unsound trade policies that lead to outsourcing jobs in manufacturing, research, and technology and increase our dependence on imports of manufactured goods, agricultural products, and services. These policies also play a major role in driving down domestic wages and forcing households to borrow against their credit cards and home equity to meet basic consumption needs. They place our children in a position of potentially permanent debt slavery to the children of other nations—a very bad idea indeed.

Arguments focused on the size of the U.S. public debt will get us no place, unless we address the failed economic theories and policies that have mired us in all four of the major varieties of bad debt. To get out of this mess, we need policies that favor productive investment over speculation, living wages and quality public services over consumer debt, public investment in education, research and infrastructure over war and tax breaks for the rich, and domestic production over outsourcing and imports.'

Empty Handed

Sourced from YouTube, and Million for a Billion, 13 February 2011

'Empty Handed tells the story of women's lack of access to reproductive health supplies in sub-Saharan Africa, and its impact on their lives. The film documents the challenges at each level of the supply chain and identifies key areas for improvement. Empty Handed aims to provoke discussion and mobilize support for reproductive health supplies.

Watch the full documentary at

World Cities: Where to Put Their Oncoming Billions?

Reposted in full from CitiWire, 12 February, 2011

'The cities of the world are on a great growth tear, gobbling up land as a dizzying rate.

The expansion has ground to a crawl in recession-impacted America and Europe. But just check what’s happening across the developing world.

Most attention gets focused on “megacities” of 10 million-plus people, such as Mexico City, Cairo, Mumbai, Karachi, Calcutta, Dhaka and Shanghai — and all have grown, with huge suburban peripheries.

But cumulatively, the unfolding land consumption will be the most extreme in cities above 100,000 and below the 10 million mark. There are 3,646 of these in the world. And many tell amazing growth tales.

Take Accra, capital of Ghana. Between 1985 and 2000 (latest available count), its population grew 50 percent — from 1.8 to 2.7 million. But its urban land cover spiraled 135 percent.

Using a Landsat-based sampling of physical expansion of 120 word cities between 1990 and 2000, Shlomo (Solly) Angel and his associates at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy found they were all growing physically at least twice as fast as their populations were actually increasing.

It’s a startling trend. If it continues, it means the world’s total urban land cover could double between now and 2030. Taking the entire period 2000 to 2050, and looking just at the potential land use demand in developing countries, it might increase as much as 326 percent, according to the analysts’ conclusion in their new report, “Making Room for a Planet of Cities,” based on research originally commissioned by the World Bank.

They suggest the trend is inevitable — that density of cities, anywhere, declines rapidly when people can escape packed inner-city neighborhoods to find more space but still have access to jobs. It occurred rapidly in the U.S. when omnibuses, horse-drawn cars, trolleys and then commuter buses and rail lines began to proliferate in the late 1800s. And when automobiles became Everyman’s property, especially after World War II, we suburbanized so fast that for some years people saw little future at all in the old central cities. Only in recent years, with help from New Urbanism and the smart growth movement, have we begun to revalue traditional, more compact neighborhoods.

But what’s the prescription for the developing world? With its explosive population growth, is there any choice but “let ‘er rip” — quickly open up land for new settlements, maybe even ahead of demand, to prevent land price escalation?

That’s the thrust of the Lincoln Institute report. It calls for expanding metropolitan limits enough to accommodate up to 30 years of urban expansion. It’s filled with admonitions not to duplicate what it calls the “containment” approach of European cities or the U.S. smart growth movement.

The authors do, though, suggest some order to the expansion free-for-all. They recommend that cities, well in advance of population advance, should designate an ample array of parks and other “green” areas for livability.

Plus, they say that cities should map out and reserve an arterial grid of major roadways, about 1 kilometer apart, to assure future mobility for trucks, autos and strong public transit systems.

Presetting a “grid” is a sound idea– American cities actually did it historically, inviting development to fill in (rather than the post-World War II style of letting private developers dictate urban form).

What the Lincoln Institute report seems to lack is fine grain sensitivity — the very issues advanced by the smart growth advocates it disparages. It’s an eye-opener on massive land needs of our times, notes, Eduardo Rojas of the Inter-American Development Bank, but it tends to embrace “low cost energy and cheap transportation assumptions.”

Its emphasis on big multi-lane arterial roads might, for example, be intimidating for cyclists and pedestrians. Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota, has suggested exclusive bike and pedestrian roadways planned early on for developing areas — a way to improve livability, health, and safety.

The report fails to mention the value of planning early and carefully for suburban town centers, interspersed through its arterial pattern, serving as shopping, transit and social gathering spots. It doesn’t caution, as a curb on lands that should be opened up, the dangers of development in flood and landslide-prone areas. It dismisses the value of more compact development (for example mid-height apartment buildings) as one of the world’s best ways to curb carbon emissions. And it largely ignores local agriculture, which may loom large as a food security — and quality of life — issue for the world’s urban dwellers.

Still, by soberly reminding us of the spiralling needs for land to accommodate the world’s multitudes of city dwellers — as they rise from 3 billion in 2000 to 5 billion in 2030, then to 6.4 billion by 2050 — it performs a vital public service.

Or in the words of Billy Cobbett, director of the Cities Alliance which supported the report, it represents a “pragmatic and affordable” direction “to achieve a planet of cities, not a planet of slums.”'

Growing Pains - UK Population Growth Needs To Be Reversed

Reposted in full from The Ecologist, 9 June 2010

'Sustainability watchdog argues for an end to larger family tax benefits and a bigger political debate on reducing population growth and its impact

Population growth is not just a 'poor world' problem and needs to be reversed in the UK too, says sustainability NGO Forum for the Future.

The UK's population is forecast by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to increase from 61.4 million today to 70.6 million by 2030.

Forum for the Future says that whilst a population of 70 million is not inherently unsustainable, managing that level of population sustainably will require an 'extraordinary combination of planning, investment, and innovation'.

In a new paper, 'Growing pains: population and sustainability in the UK', the group says that the UK should aim to reduce that growth and its impact through more targeted family planning and an end to GDP-led growth.

'Most classical economic theory still supports the expansion of population as a means of creating an economic surplus. This analysis is now dangerously outdated because classical economics has ignored the 'boundary conditions' set on the economy by the ecological and physical limits of the planet.

'We should, therefore, aim for the redefinition of human well-being and quality of life in terms of a much broader basket of economic, social and ecological factors,' the report says.

Reform family benefits

One key recommendation is to reform tax benefit policies so as not to encourage larger families.

'Current tax structures and family leave structures give us a system where taxpayers and employers have effectively agreed to provide continually increasing levels of support for a family of any size (e.g. tax credits, tax-beneficial childcare vouchers and increases in statutory maternity pay).

'There would clearly be very difficult issues in reframing these benefits whilst creating a family-friendly society where no child is in poverty, but government may need to rethink the direction of incentives.'

The report also supports proposals to raise the retirement age to 66 in 2016 to shift attitudes away from seeing older people as a burden, as well as allowing people to 'rethink how to spread work, take time out for rearing children or caring for family or for learning throughout our lives'.

It says the obsession with immigration is wrong, and while limiting it would help to reduce UK population growth and associated impacts, it would have no impact on the global population picture.'