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Is it Too Late for Sustainable Development?

Is it Too Late for Sustainable Development?

Dennis Meadows thinks so. Forty years after his book The Limits to Growth, he explains why

Courtesy of Dennis Meadows

On March 2, 1972, a team of experts from MIT presented a groundbreaking report called The Limits to Growth to scientists, journalists and others assembled at the Smithsonian Castle. Released days later in book form, the study was one of the first to use computer modeling to address a centuries-old question: When will the population outgrow the planet and the natural resources it has to offer?

The researchers, led by scientist Dennis Meadows, warned that if current trends in population, industrialization, pollution, food production and resource depletion continued, that dark time—marked by a plummeting population, a contracting economy and environmental collapse—would come within 100 years.

In four decades, The Limits to Growth has sold over ten million copies in more than 30 languages. The book is part of the canon of great environmental literature of the 20th century. Yet, the public has done little to avert the disaster it foretells.

GRAPH: Australian physicist Graham Turner shows how actual data from 1970 to 2000 almost exactly matches predictions set forth in the “business-as-usual” scenario presented in The Limits to Growth.

To mark the report’s 40th anniversary, experts gathered in Washington, D.C. on March 1. Meadows and Jorgen Randers, two authors of The Limits to Growth, and other speakers discussed the challenges of forging ahead into a sustainable future at “Perspectives on Limits to Growth: Challenges to Building a Sustainable Planet,” a symposium hosted by the Smithsonian Institution and the Club of Rome, the global think tank that sponsored the original report.

I spoke with Meadows, who retired in 2004 after 35 years as a professor at MIT, Dartmouth College and the University of New Hampshire. We discussed the report and why he feels it is too late for sustainable development and it is now time for resilience.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXXIII–Overlooking Ecological Overshoot

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XXXIII

November 25, 2021

Tulum, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

Overlooking Ecological Overshoot

Today’s thought was prompted by an Andrew Nikiforuk article in The Tyee and my recent rereading of William Catton Jr.’s Overshoot.

I just finished rereading William Catton’s Overshoot. One of the things I’m coming to better appreciate is Catton’s idea that the ‘Age of Exuberance’ (a time created by human expansion in almost all its forms and mostly facilitated by our extraction of fossil fuels) has so infiltrated our thinking that we tend to view the world through almost exclusively human-created institutional lenses, especially economic and political ones. We have come to think of ourselves as completely removed from nature: we sit above and beyond our natural environment with the ability to both control and predict it; primarily due to our ‘ingenuity’ and ‘technological prowess’.

This non-ecological worldview is still very much entrenched in our thinking and comes through quite clearly in mainstream narratives regarding our various predicaments. Usually it goes like this: our ingenuity and technological prowess can ‘solve’ anything thrown our way so we can continue business-as-usual; in fact, we can continue expanding our presence and increase our standard of living to infinity and beyond (apologies to Buzz Lightyear).

What are by now increasingly looking to be insoluble problems appear to have been solved in the past by two different approaches that Catton describes: the takeover method (move into a different area via migration or military expansion) or the drawdown method (depend upon non-renewable and finite resources that have been laid down millennia ago). On a finite planet, there are limits to both of these approaches.

But because of our tendency towards cornucopian thinking, most analyses overlook the idea of resource depletion or overloaded sinks that can help to cleanse our waste products that accompany growth on a finite planet. It’s all about economics, politics, technology, etc..

Our traditional ‘solutions’, however, have probably surpassed any sustainable limits and instead of being able to rely upon our ‘savings’ we have to shift towards relying exclusively upon our ‘income’ which, unfortunately, doesn’t come close to being able to sustain so many of us. To better appreciate the increasing need to do this we also need to shift our interpretive paradigm towards one that puts us back within and an intricate part of ecological systems. Ecological considerations, especially that we’ve overshot our natural carrying capacity, are missing in action from most people’s thinking.

The first thing one must do when found in a hole you want to extricate yourself from is to stop digging. Until and unless we can both individually and as a collective stop pursuing the infinite growth chalice, we travel further and further into the black hole that is ecological overshoot with an eventual rebalancing (i.e., collapse) that we cannot control nor mitigate. Our ingenuity can’t do it. Our technology can’t do it (in fact, there’s a good argument to be made that pursuing technological ‘solutions’ actually exacerbates our overshoot).

It is increasingly likely that a ‘solution’ at this point is completely out of our grasp. We’ve pursued business-as-usual despite repeated warnings because we’ve viewed and interpreted our predicament through the wrong paradigm and put ourselves in a corner. It is likely that one’s energies/efforts may be best focused going forward upon local community resilience and self-sufficiency. Relocalising as much as possible but especially procurement of potable water, appropriate shelter needs (for regional climate), and food should be a priority. Continuing to expand and depend upon diminishing resources that come to us via complex, fragile, and centralised supply chains is a sure recipe for mass disaster.

The 1970s Again?

For the United States and much of the rest of the world, the 1970s were a time of high oil prices, surging inflation, stock market swoons, political upheaval, and geopolitical tension. Add pandemic and climate change to the list, and it also sounds like a fair description of the world today, a half-century later.Psychoanalyst Theodor Reik once wrote, “It has been said that history repeats itself. This is perhaps not quite correct; it merely rhymes.” So, just how much do the 1970s and the 2020s rhyme?

Quick Takeaway: Some Similarities, Big Differences

Many commentators have based “1970s redux” analyses primarily on what was then called “stagflation”—inflation in the context of a stagnant economy. After World War II, the US economic growth rate achieved sustained, unprecedented highs. But then, in the 1970s, growth stalled. That’s partly because energy production also stalled (energy is, after all, the irreducible basis of all economic activity). US oil extraction rates started a long decline, the economic effects of which were greatly amplified by the Arab embargo of 1972 and the 1979 Iranian revolution, which sent oil prices soaring. Inflation surged. Averaged economic growth rates fell by half for the decades after 1980 compared to the two decades before, and interest rates topped out at nearly 17 percent in 1981.

But much is different now. Today’s global energy crisis is actually much worse, affecting not just oil but gas and electricity as well. As in the ’70s, high fuel prices are due both to resource depletion (then, declining US oil production; today, declining global production of conventional oil) and to geopolitical events (then, events in the Middle East; now, the Russia-Ukraine war). The ’70s energy crisis was eventually defused by increased petroleum production in places like the North Sea, Alaska, Mexico, and China….

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Increasing Our Gardening Resilience

Thoughts on increasing our gardening resilience

It feels like the world is moving faster and faster in directions I never would have thought possible just a couple of years ago. We knew resilience was important, but now it has become essential, critical to our well being and perhaps even survival. I am going to share some thoughts about pushing a garden to be more productive in ways within the capabilities and finances of most of us. My solutions reflect my agricultural zone (8b) and microclimate, but it is surprising what can be accomplished with very little.

Three resources I lean heavily upon, and will reference here, are: the books written by Eliot Coleman (Maine), Lynn Gillespie’s courses and information found at thelivingfarm.org (Colorado) and the interviews with Singing Frogs Farm (California) found on this website. All three provide a wealth of ideas and processes that those of us growing in residential areas can adopt on a “micro-sized” basis to be quite successful.

It takes knowledge and experience to be successful growing food on a small lot in a residential area, year-round, but it can be done! We can get a general idea of what we need to do through resources like those mentioned and seed company charts, but only dedication, season after season, brings us the knowledge and feeling that we need.

In the garden with the mini greenhouses with peppers and an A frame trellis for tomatoes behind

My garden is about 2000 square feet of actual growing area. It is divided into 40 beds, most of them raised. In this area over the course of a year 140 varieties of 40 vegetables and at least 20 different herbs are grown. Scattered around the rest of the property (a total of about 2 acres) we grow 15 different berries, 10 varieties of grapes, and trees for plums, peaches, pears, apples, cherries, hazelnuts and almonds….

click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate adaptation: resilience, self-sufficiency and systems change

Climate Adaptation: Resilience, Self-Sufficiency and Systems Change

This weekend marks the beginning of COP26. After being delayed for nearly a year because of COVID, diplomats, scientists, corporate lobbyists, NGOs, students, demonstrators, corporations, heads of state, and many, many other invited and uninvited guests are already making their way to Glasgow Scotland for what has been projected to be the most consequential U.N. climate change conference since the Paris Agreement was struck in 2015.

Earlier this week, the Arkbound Foundation published a new anthology, “Climate Adaptation: Accounts of Resilience, Self-Sufficiency and Systems Change.” The following is a (significantly reduced) transcript of a discussion I hosted with three of the co-authors, Morgan Phillips, Carol Manetta, and Ashish Kothari. You can listen to the entire conversation on The Response podcast.

Tom Llewellyn: “Climate Adaptation” takes the perspective that socioeconomic collapse is probable. Rather than giving up hope, it seeks to outline ways people and communities can adapt to it. Morgan, can you talk about the challenges that are leading us towards socio-economic collapse and explain what adaptation is and what it currently looks like.

Morgan Phillips: That’s a big question. I’d start off by saying that socioeconomic collapse is obviously a possibility — unless dramatic action is taken. What’s quite certain is that things are going to change, and it’s really kind of up to us whether we change them or whether we’re changed by them.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


 A publicly owned energy industry could help tackle energy poverty and increase renewables

Recent queues at petrol stations across the UK point to significant issues with fuel supply chains in the wake of Brexit. But a lack of fuel where it is needed has been causing problems in the UK for years.Before the pandemic, an estimated 13.4% of households – that’s 3.18 million people – lived in fuel poverty in England. According to research by fuel poverty charity National Energy Action, insufficiently heated homes kill nearly 10,000 people every year in the UK.

Now, we’re also facing the problem of sharp rises in gas prices. This hits especially hard in countries such as the UK, where gas is the major fuel used to heat households.

These problems reflect the ongoing “energy trilemma”: how to provide households and businesses with stable, low-carbon and affordable energy. By itself, nationalising energy systems wouldn’t solve all these problems.

Increasing public ownership of energy systems is one, more reasonable option. The growing threat of climate change, outside influences such as Brexit, and market pressures driving price increases would still exist. But publicly owned systems do have key advantages over their private counterparts.

Evidence suggests public ownership of gas and electricity grids alone would deliver huge savings to UK consumers compared with the current system. Instead of paying out rewards to private company shareholders, publicly owned and controlled transmission systems would ensure any financial surplus is either reinvested to improve the service or used to reduce energy prices.

Electricity pylons at sunset

The UK’s energy system is largely privatised. AshrafChemban/Pixabay

Private UK grid companies make good money supplying our energy needs. National Grid shareholders earned £1.4bn from the company’s profits in both 2020 and 2021 and a record £3.2bn in 2017, thanks to the National Grid’s decision to sell stakes in its grid to new private owners.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Changing Habits For Self-Reliance and Resilience

Changing Habits For Self-Reliance and Resilience

Hubs of Resilience

Five photos of hubRen at the Possible Futures Arts Trail featuring people looking at posters and information in a front garden of a house, a young person colouring in a picture of a future community, posters called 'Extract and Amplify' and 'Solastalgia', a flyer advertising an 'Ask a Climate Scientist' talk, and various books available to read on a wall.

Bristol Bites Back | Fruits & Roots of Radical Resilience in South-West England

Bristol Bites Back | Fruits & Roots of Radical Resilience in South-West England

Image courtesy of The Community Farm

A new e-book published by ARC2020 documents one community’s inspiring response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Download the free e-book

Every crisis has a silver lining. Last summer, as we reeled from the Covid crisis, Ursula Billington, a sustainability activist in Bristol (UK), reached out to ARC2020. Were we interested in stories about community-based food and farming projects in her corner of South-West England?

Ursula’s stories of the sustainability movement couldn’t have come at a better time.

As we faced into a second wave of Covid and another round of restrictions in the autumn, struggling to picture the new normal, Ursula regaled us with tales of agroecological transition in and around Bristol.

A balm to our beleaguered spirits, these stories are tangible, practical proof that ecosystem-based approaches to food, farming and sustainability do indeed bear fruit for their patient protagonists – in some cases after decades of going against the grain of a productivist mindset.

In the spirit of ARC2020’s Letters From The Farm series, Ursula also widens the lens beyond the farm gate. Her focus on the people behind the projects and the wider community ties into broader issues of environmental and social justice, striking parallels with our Nos Campagnes en Résilience project in France.

What really comes across in these stories is the web of community that ties them all together, as the same names crop up like old friends. It’s a reminder of the importance of sticking together in the wake of another crisis – that of Brexit. Europe is, after all, more than the institutions of the EU – it’s we the people.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Keeping Up Morale in the Fourth Turning

The first nine months of the pandemic, I spent hunkered down on our property in the mountains of North Carolina. We stopped going to major stores, including grocery stores, on January 31, and we have not been back. Part of the reason for this was that after nine months of isolation on our mountain, I became pregnant with our first child. At this point, we thought adoption many years down the road was the only way children would play a part in our lives.

All of a sudden, I was deemed as being in a high-risk group. Going to prenatal appointments and ultrasounds had to be done alone. It was 20 weeks before my husband even saw a picture, and that was only because they print them out for you. I have to admit I was a little scared of pregnancy during COVID-19. Pregnant women are four times more likely to need hospitalization and a ventilator, for example. The long-term effects on a fetus are unknown.

That is my story. I think I have handled it better than average because even before lockdown, we tended to keep busy at home and didn’t enjoy going out to shop. Most people are not like that. It is probably not good for anyone to stay at home for months at a time without going anywhere at all or seeing people besides immediate family.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Resilience Doctrine: an Introduction to Disaster Resilience

The Resilience Doctrine: an Introduction to Disaster Resilience

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Part 1 of a 4-part Primer on Disaster Collectivism  in the Climate and Pandemic Crises

Climate change and pandemics are sad and frightening topics, but they can also be viewed as an unprecedented opportunity for 21st-century societies. These crises can become an excuse to quickly make necessary changes for a healthier future for people and the planet that otherwise may take many years to implement. Times of disaster, whether or not they are triggered by climate or health catastrophes, are opportunities to focus on the need for social and environmental change, and our response to disasters may contain the kernels of a better world.

One cartoon depicting a climate change summit sums up the irony. The conference agenda displays the desperately needed measures to lessen greenhouse gas emissions: “Preserve rainforests, Sustainability, Green jobs, Livable cities, Renewables, Clean water, air, Healthy children.” A perturbed white man turns to a Black woman and asks, “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”

The cartoon could just as easily depict a COVID-19 summit, which advocates instituting universal health care and unemployment relief, suspending evictions and deportations, building the public sector, and promoting mutual aid among neighbors.

Joel Pett, Planning.org.au.

Public attitudes to climate change are often shaped by direct experience of climate instability and disaster. Climate change is accelerating disasters such as wildfires, floods, heat waves, droughts, storms, and landslides, depending on where one lives. But a wide range of other natural and human-made disasters also shape human society and consciousness, including pandemics, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic activity, wars, mass violence, and radioactive and toxic leaks.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

5 Winter Homestead Tips To Help You Prepare

5 Winter Homestead Tips To Help You Prepare

It’s easy to decide to create a homestead, however, the ways in which we go about it can be difficult. But here are a few tips to help you as winter approaches if you want to live on a homestead or improve your self-reliance.

Even though things slow down on the homestead during winter, there is still work that needs to be done! Having some winter chores prepped will keep you ahead of the game so you can stay inside more. Below are some winter chores to keep in mind when tending to a homestead.

It’s easy to decide to create a homestead, however, the ways in which we go about it can be difficult. But here are a few tips to help you as winter approaches if you want to live on a homestead or improve your self-reliance.

1.Have Backup Heat – A wood-burning stove is a great option especially if you live near a wooded area with a lot of dead trees ready to be harvested. Back up heat will come in handy if the power is knocked out and the heat is incredibly soothing. It also offers that added security of being more self-reliant.

2. Store Enough Water for Animals – You will need to take into account all of your animals when storing water. Plan at least a gallon per day per person, and dog.  Cats need less but should be counted too.  Make sure you plan for your ducks, chickens, goats, horses, rabbits, etc. Be sure to plan enough water storage for livestock, cooking and cleanliness, house pets, and your family’s daily consumption. Also, prepare for your worst-case water outage scenario.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Toward an age of low tech for a more resilient and sustainable society

Can Changing Habits for Self-Reliance and Resilience help society avoid the worst of unfortunate futures?

Our release of chapter 25 from RetroSuburbia: the downshifter’s guide to a resilient future as a free downloadable pdf is another small gesture to spread positive messages in a time of pandemic. This is especially so for all those locked down in Melbourne, the geographic focus of the book and our further efforts to stimulate a wider a retrosuburban response in the wake of the pandemic. While our primary appeal is to people already voting with their feet to retrofit their own lives, not having these strategies recognised, let alone debated, in the mainstream media continues to act as a break on their wider adoption. Even the much-vaunted capacities of social media to allow communities of interest to share and adapt their activities are increasingly constrained by corporate and other powerful interests’ ability to manage and manipulate the proliferation of content through social media platforms.

A lesser recognised constraint is the dearth of academic investigation of options for more radical behaviour change. It is still true that most ideas to change society get a good working over in academia and policy think tanks before they surface in the mainstream media. For example, mainstream media discussion of the concept of “degrowth” is recent and introductory, even if the academic discourse and activism in this field has been intense for nearly twenty years.

Permaculture was unusual in the way it burst into public consciousness after very little exploration in academia. Research and investigation into the logic behind permaculture strategies has always been sparse, but in recent years we are starting to see increasing recognition that permaculture (including retrosuburbia) is more than a fringe green lifestyle choice. Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary is the first academic book to recognise the critical nature of retrosuburbia and kindred strategies in dealing with the Limits to Growth crisis.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Local Resilience in a Time of Crisis by Jay Tompt.

Local Resilience in a Time of Crisis by Jay Tompt.

To state the obvious, political and economic change happens in all kinds of ways including through crisis and calamity.

For those of us working for change at local, municipal and regional scales, this is the moment when many of the solutions we’ve been promoting are needed and the conditions for building the foundations for longer term change are favourable.

There’s much to explore on this topic, obviously, but let’s just focus on a few points which might inspire immediate action and kick off a continuing conversation in our wider community of changemakers, and especially here in the South West, UK.

My friend and fellow Devon-based organiser, Ben, provides the perfect jumping off point with his recent question:

“Are there economic moves we can make locally that might start addressing our needs outside of the main economic system to maintain incomes, access to the essentials, exchange our labour, distribute goods etc?”

The first move to make is one of attention. Let’s learn the lessons this crisis is teaching about the importance of economic inclusion, decentralisation and bioregionalism, as well as about the divisive patterns of rivalry, blame and authoritarianism.

And let’s be especially observant, noticing the practical opportunities to facilitate more diversity, local ownership and provisioning, positive influence on local government actors, and citizen participation.

Second, organise and work online using collaborative tools of all sorts. The work of organising is, above all, about education and information sharing, spreading knowhow, building relationships and working collectively, and ultimately, developing political and economic power.

Until now, the barriers that have limited participation for many citizens have been time scarcity and physical distance. Now, these barriers have shifted, creating new opportunities to spread knowhow, build coalitions and collaboration.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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