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Why economic growth is not compatible with environmental sustainability

Why economic growth is not compatible with environmental sustainability

Man walking with factory in background

Academic FEDERICO DEMARIA will be addressing staff at the European Commission today in a keynote speech about the crucial issues of economic growth and environmental degradation. He asks, is the well-being of the individual, societies and nations possible beyond economic growth? 

‘Growth for the sake of growth’ remains the credo of all governments and international institutions, including the European Commission.

Economic growth is presented as the panacea that can solve any of the world’s problems: poverty, inequality, sustainability, you name it. Left-wing and right-wing policies only differ on how to achieve it.

However, there is an uncomfortable scientific truth that has to be faced: economic growth is environmentally unsustainable. Moreover, beyond a certain threshold already surpassed by EU countries, socially it isn’t necessary. The central question then becomes: how can we manage an economy without growth? 

Enough is enough

Kenneth Boulding, the economist,  famously said that: “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist”.  

Ecological economists argue that the economy is physical, while mainstream economists seem to believe it is metaphysical.

Social metabolism is the study of material and energy flows within the economy. On the input side of the economy, key material resources are limited, and many are peaking including oil and phosphorus. On the output side, humanity is trespassing planetary boundaries.

Climate change is the evidence of the limited assimilative capacity of ecosystems. It is the planet saying: ‘Enough is enough!’. 

Mainstream economists – finally convinced by the existence of biophysical limits – have started to argue that economic growth can be decoupled from the consumption of energy and materials.

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

Against ‘Sustainability’ and Other Plastic Words

Against ‘Sustainability’ and Other Plastic Words

How techno-speak is robbing us of our feelings and our future.

DanielPauly.jpg
Marine biologist Daniel Pauly of UBC: ‘Sustainability is a deceptive goal because human harvesting of fish leads to a progressive simplification of ecosystems in favour of… fish species that are adapted to withstand disturbance and habitat degradation.’ Photo source: Common Sense Canadian video interview.

The word sustainability, were it up to me, would be extinct, wiped out, kaput.

It is hard to escape the word’s tyranny. 

Economists promise “sustainable economies” while business types explore “sustainability accounting.” 

Greens promise a “sustainable future,” and even greener pundits swear that technology will deliver “global sustainability.”

Miners promise to dig more sustainable holes and foresters propose to mow down old growth trees more sustainably. 

The United Nations champions “sustainable development goals” as though SDGs were a delightful venereal disease. 

But apparently every nation must set some SDGs, and go for it. 

Why, there are even research chairs in sustainable development at universities. And I suppose, somewhere, there are people proposing to be sustainable journalists.

We have forgotten the original meaning of sustain, which stems from the Old French sostenir, meaning “hold up bear; suffer, endure.” In the 14th century — a period of pestilence and famine, it meant endure without failing or yielding.”

As civilization collapses we are going to need that old word again. 

But well-intentioned greens took a word with historic meaning and turned it into plastic soup with the Brundtland report published by the United Nations in 1987. 

That document let the word loose on the world like feral cats in Australia’s outback by defining “sustainable development” as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

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

Why is Going Green So Hard? Because the System Isn’t

Why is Going Green So Hard? Because the System Isn’t

Every year around Earth Day, I’m reminded of papers I graded in an environmental sociology class. The assignment was to assess your values, explain how you thought you would live as an adult (about 20 years in the future), and then complete an online calculator to find out: If everyone in the world lived like you, how many planets would we need?

The students were all young and idealistic, and most of them cared deeply about the environment. In their papers, they professed how they would live their lives in the most sustainable ways possible — eating vegan diets, avoiding car travel, growing their own food, and so on.

Most were sure they’d find a way to make it work without sacrificing luxuries like international travel.

Then they calculated how many planets would be needed to support everyone in the world living with their ideal lifestyle. Every single student required more than one planet. Most needed about three.

That’s right: If everyone in the world lived like these idealistic, passionate environmentalists, we’d need three planets to produce enough resources for their needs.

These papers hit me hard emotionally. When I was their age, I was them. Their dreams were my dreams — only for me, those dreams are dead.

Even the most committed of them couldn’t get her environmental footprint down to what one planet can provide. There’s almost no way to live in the United States as it is now and be fully sustainable. Attempting to do so requires a constant, overwhelming amount of effort.

I know because I’ve tried to do it myself. It was exhausting, frustrating, and often unsuccessful.

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

Energy Return on Investment (EROI).

Energy Return on Investment (EROI).

This is the text of a book review that I wrote, and which has just been published online in the journal Science Progress.

Energy Return on Investment: A Unifying Principle for Biology, Economics and Sustainability. CHARLES A. S. HALL, Springer 2017 ISBN 9783319478203; xii + 174 pp; £37.99

The preeminent mathematical physicist, James Clerk Maxwell, famously described energy as being “the ‘go’ of things”. Thus, “energy” is the fundamental, underpinning driver and enabler of all processes in the universe. Since it takes energy to produce energy, in order to survive, animals must derive more of it from the food they stalk and hunt down than they expend in getting it, while to provide food and to serve all the other functions of a complex human society, it is necessary to recover very much more energy, overall, than is consumed in acquiring that energy. Such energy requirements may be gauged from Energy Return on Investment (EROI), the definition of which is deceptively simple: i.e. it is the amount of energy delivered to society, divided by the energy consumed in delivering it (and therefore not available to society for other purposes). As this ratio falls, fewer units of energy are made available for each unit of energy that is consumed in the production process. In the limit, for an EROI of 1:1, there is no net profit, since the amount of energy consumed is equal to that produced, thus rendering the exercise self-limiting and pointless (and for an EROI < 1:1, an energy sink is identified). EROI is a useful metric for determining the viability of an energy source, and we see that unconventional oil sources (e.g. oil sands and oil shale) tend to be more difficult to produce from than their conventional counterparts, and deliver fewer units of energy to society for each unit of energy that is consumed in the production process, i.e. a smaller energy return on investment (EROI).

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

Let’s get ‘creaturely’: A new worldview can help us face ecological crises

Let’s get ‘creaturely’: A new worldview can help us face ecological crises

No farmer has ever gone out to the barn to start the day and discovered that a baby tractor had been born overnight. For farmers who work with horses, the birth of a foal would not be surprising.

That observation may seem silly, but it highlights an important contrast: Machines cannot reproduce or maintain themselves. Creatures can.

The tractor comes out of the industrial mind, while the horse is creaturely. The tractor is the product of an energy-intensive human-designed system, while the horse is the product of an information-intensive biological process that emerges from earth and sun.

The implications of this difference are rarely acknowledged in the dominant culture, but we believe they are crucial to explore, especially with new political space opened up by the Green New Deal for discussing ecological sustainability and economic justice.

In the short term, humanity needs to devise policies that respond in meaningful ways to today’s multiple, cascading ecological crises (including, but not limited to, rapid climate disruption), which present risks now greatly accelerated and intensified well beyond previous predictions. If that seems alarmist, we recommend “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice” for details.

To put uncomfortable realities bluntly: In ecological terms, things are bad, getting worse faster than anticipated, leaving humanity with increasingly limited options. Everyone agrees that there are no quick and easy fixes, but we want to push further: Do not expect any truly sustainable fixes to emerge from the industrial mind.

That’s why we believe it’s crucial to discuss not only policy but the need for a new worldview, one that can expand our imaginations. The distressing realities of our moment in history need not be the end of our story, if humanity can transcend the industrial and get creaturely.

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

Deconstructing the 3 biggest LIES that attack organic farming

Deconstructing the 3 biggest LIES that attack organic farming

Image: Deconstructing the 3 biggest LIES that attack organic farming

(Natural News) Oh yes they did. There’s now a so-called “study” that’s been done which supposedly determined that organic farming creates a much bigger carbon footprint that torques up “global warming” more than ever. Yes, old faithful US News has regurgitated a chunk of claims published in the International Journal of Science, and somebody has to set the record straight.

If you read the entire review of the “study” and the study itself, you can feel the GMO community grasping for anything to save face, especially in the midst of a tsunami of Bayer/Monsanto lawsuits (of which people are winning huge payouts) regarding glyphosate poisoning from using Roundup. Folks, this is the same weed killer used on the inside and out (think genetic engineering here and “Roundup Ready”) of 90 percent of U.S. corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, beets, alfalfa, and the list goes on.

The whole insidious anti-organic industry needs a big PR win and fast, so they’re jumping on the “climate change” bandwagon and spewing infested lies about organic farming. It’s time to deconstruct the biggest ones and expose the fraudulent “news” updates.

DEBUNKED: The 3 “consensus” lies about organic farming that true science completely tears apart

 #1. “Organic food is worse for the climate than non-organic food”

Big lie. First off, non-organic food usually means chemical-based fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides are doused on the farms by crop dusters and spread by tractor “boom” sprayers that spray millions of gallons of unsustainable, climate-destroying bug killer and weed killer over millions of acres. And that comes only after the scientists modify the crop seeds in a laboratory with the same chemical genes from the poisonous pesticides.

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

Deep adaptation, post-sustainability and the possibility of societal collapse

Deep adaptation, post-sustainability and the possibility of societal collapse

I write this piece primarily to get you to read an academic paper that has attracted relatively widespread attention. It is entitled “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy.”

It is remarkable in a number of aspects. First, it was written by a professor of sustainability leadership who has been heavily involved for a long time in helping organizations including governments, nonprofits and corporations to become more sustainable. Second, the author, Jem Bendall, has now concluded the following after an exhaustive review of the most up-to-date findings about climate change:  “inevitable collapse, probable catastrophe and possible extinction.” Third, his paper was rejected for publication not because it contained any errors of fact, but largely because it was too negative and thought to breed hopelessness.

It is important to understand what Bendall means by “collapse” in this context. He does not necessarily mean an event taking place in a relatively short period of time all over the world all at once. Rather, he means severe disruptions of our lives and societies to a degree than renders our current institutional arrangements largely irrelevant. He believes we won’t be able to respond to the scope of suffering and change by doing things the way we are doing them now with only a few reformist tweaks.

That this idea doesn’t go down well in sustainability circles should be no surprise. That’s because our current arrangements, even if “reformed” to take environmental imperatives into account, are in no way equal to the task ahead. Our existing institutions are structurally incapable of responding to what is coming and so consulting about how to reform them is largely a fool’s errand—not the way sustainability experts and consultants want to be thought of.

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

Why Liberals Should be Conservative: Climate Change, Excellence, and the Practice of Happiness, Part 2

Why Liberals Should be Conservative: Climate Change, Excellence, and the Practice of Happiness, Part 2

Ed. note: Part 1 of this series can be found on Resilience.org here.

The Resurgent Aristotelians: Hopkins, Fleming, Francis, and Holmgren

What then does a modern Aristotelianism look like?  How might we reconcile his ideal of a singular, philosophically deduced definition of a “good life” with modern pluralism and heterogeneity, and the Liberal insistence on individual expressive self-creation?  How do we define “good” or “excellence” without imposing an ideology or world-view on others who have their own?  Who judges and according to what standards?  If such a reconciliation is impossible, will we be required to make a difficult choice?  Or is there no real choice at all?

These are the questions that I will be considering, and to which in some cases I will hazard an answer, as we go forward.  To start that process, a quick recap may be in order.  I have outlined a philosophical and political standoff between Liberalism and a still-being-defined conservative Aristotelianism using common terminology, but in a particular way that may also need clarification.  I take Liberalism to represent the broad post-Enlightenment political and moral philosophy that has found its home in societies organized around a market economy, in which the primary location of agency, obligation, and desert or rights resides in the individual, who is freed from the “constraints” of “kinship, neighborhood, profession, and creed,” and given over to seemingly voluntary “freedom of contract” (Polanyi, 171).  Liberalism, as I use the capitalized version of the term, includes both political liberals or progressives of the sort that one might associate with Democrats, the Labor party, or Democratic Socialism, on the one hand, and “conservatives” (with scare-quotes) of the sort associated with Republicans, the British Conservative Party, and Christian Democrats, on the other. 

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

Global Collapse Accelerating Buy Gold Now – Chris Martenson

Global Collapse Accelerating Buy Gold Now – Chris Martenson

By Greg Hunter’s USAWatchdog.com

Futurist and economic researcher Chris Martenson says a collapse is “a process, not an event.” Martenson contends the long awaited global collapse, on many fronts, has not only started, but is picking up speed. Martenson says, “Our prediction at PeakProsperity.com is these collapse trends, we have been following for 10 years now, are accelerating and continuing. None of them are reversing at this point in time. These will impact people’s future in a huge way. Environmentally, we see these signs, but we also have $245 trillion of debt in the global economy. We have been accelerating that debt cycle as if we could just keep that trend going forever—we can’t. So, what we see are all these unsustainable trends converging. They are going to happen . . . and people need to be ready.”

Martenson lays out the case to blame central banks for much of the geopolitical and economic friction in the world today. Martenson says, “The economic pie is not expanding anymore. It’s kind of stagnant. So, if you have one tiny group taking their fair share and the pie isn’t growing, it means they are taking from somebody else. This is the essence of central banking. They don’t create wealth, they redistribute wealth. When the Federal Reserve crams rates to zero, the savers lose out, but lose to who? The winners and losers are being picked by the central banks, and they have decided that the .01% should be the winners in this story and everybody else should be the losers. . . . Central bank policies have really benefited the elites at the expense of everybody else. This brings up the most important point and that is central banks are not our friends. They are redistributive organizations.”

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

Debt and Deficits: They’re Unsustainable

Debt and Deficits: They’re Unsustainable

Economic growth won’t save us, not without serious cuts in government spending.

The most important issue facing America today is the national debt and increasing federal deficits. Our national debt now exceeds yearly gross domestic product (GDP).

The U.S is the wealthiest country in the world, but our government has the largest spending deficits and national debt in recorded history.

The budget deficit in FY 2018 was $800 billion, but the debt increased by $1,300 trillion, and is now $21,500 trillion dollars. Government accounting (oxymoron) allows for spending and loans outside of the budget. The practice of underreporting deficits is fraud and is not legal in the private market.

Note the US Debt Clock (here).

In simple terms, the national debt consistently increases more than the federal deficit, which will cause a devaluation of the dollar and eventually, a major financial crisis.

In FY 2019, the federal budget projects the following:

  1. Total revenue $3,422 trillion or 17% of GDP
  2. Total spending $4,407 trillion or 21% of GDP

In the best of times, regardless of tax rates, the federal revenue rarely exceeds 18% of GDP. This means based on projected spending, we cannot grow or tax our way out of the deficit because spending is projected at 22% of GDP.

To balance the federal budget in FY 2019, it would be necessary to cut all spending by 22%. 

Yes, this means Social Security, Medicare, defense, food stamps and college loans. A cut of 22% would be devastating to our economy, which means we must begin now to reduce federal spending and debt as a national priority.

During the last major recession in 2008, we had a national debt of $10 trillion. Now, in 2018 we have a debt of $21,500 trillion. On average the debt is increasing at 1 trillion per year, but last year it increased by $1,300 trillion.

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

More vegetables, less meat for all our sakes

More vegetables, less meat for all our sakes

Spanish market: Vegetable-rich diets make for a healthier planet. Image: By ja ma on Unsplash

Researchers are clear: the healthy diet for a healthy planet is more vegetables, less meat. What matters is the food that’s served, and the way it’s produced too.

LONDON, 17 January, 2019 − An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, wholegrains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor’s orders, tomorrow’s farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

A commission sponsored by one of the oldest and most distinguished medical journals in the world today provides what it calls the first scientific targets for a healthy diet, from a sustainable food production system, that operates within what its authors term “planetary boundaries.”

The commission is the result of three years’ consultation by 37 experts from 16 countries, among them experts in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, economics and political governance.

Goal within reach

It addresses the twin problems of global food supply: altogether 3 billion people are either under-nourished, or approaching clinical obesity because they are too well-nourished.

And global food production in its present form is helping to drive global warming and climate change, trigger accelerating biodiversity loss, pollute the rivers, lakes and coasts with ever greater levels of nitrogen and phosphorus run-off, and make unsustainable use of both land and fresh water.

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” said Tim Lang, a food scientist at the City University of London, and one of the authors.

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

Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal

Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal

“For Sale” signs have replaced “Dairy of Distinction” on the last two dairy farms on the road I drive to town. The farm crisis of the 1980’s that never really went away has resurfaced with a vengeance. In 2013, aggregate farm earnings were half of what they were in 2012. Farm income has continued to decline ever since. The moment is ripe for the movement for a sustainable agriculture to address the root causes.

Just as in the 80s, a brief period of high commodity prices and cheap credit in the 2010’s resulted in a debt and asset bubble.

Then prices collapsed. Meanwhile, ever larger corporations have consolidated their dominance in the food sector resulting in shoppers paying more, and a shrinking portion of what they pay going to farmers. At first this mainly hit conventional farms, but in 2017, processors started limiting the amount of milk they purchased from organic dairies and cut the price paid below the cost of production. As a result, family-scale farms of all kinds are going out of business. Reports of farmer suicides are increasing dramatically.  Despite the shortage of farm workers, their wages remain below the poverty line.  People of color and women are often trapped in the lowest paying food system jobs and many are forced to survive on SNAP payments. The tariff game of #45 is only making things worse. The farm consolidation that has taken place has grave consequences for the environment and for climate change as well. The newly passed Farm Bill barely touches the structural and fairness issues that led to this on-going disaster for family-scale farms and the food security of this country.

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

The suburbs are the spiritual home of overconsumption. But they also hold the key to a better future

Once is the defining image of the good life under capitalism, commonly held up as a model to which all humanity should aspire.

More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Yet with the global economy already in gross ecological overshoot, and a world population heading for more than 11 billion, this way of living is neither fair nor sustainable.

To live within our environmental means, the richest nations will need to embrace a planned process of economic “degrowth”. This is not an unplanned recession, but a deliberate downscaling of economic activity and the closely correlated consumption of fossil energy. We don’t argue this is likely, only that it is necessary.

You might naturally assume this will involve pain and sacrifice, but we argue that a “prosperous descent” is possible. Our new book, Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary, envisions how this might unfold in the suburban landscapes that are currently emblematic of overconsumption.

The well-known documentary The End of Suburbia presented a coherent narrative of a post-petroleum future, but got at least one thing wrong. There is not a single end to suburbia; there are many ends of suburbia (as we know it).

Reimagining the suburbs beyond fossil fuels

Suburban catastrophists such as James Kunstler argue that fossil fuel depletion will turn our suburbs into urban wastelands. But we see the suburbs as an ideal place to begin retrofitting our cities.

This won’t involve tearing them down and starting again. Typically, Australia’s built environment is turned over at less than 5% per year. The challenge is to reinhabit, not rebuild, the suburban landscape. Here are some of the key features of this reinvigorated landscape:

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

Saving the Environment: Is Degrowthing the Answer?

Saving the Environment: Is Degrowthing the Answer?

Photo Source Anahi Patricia Jasso Aleman | CC BY 2.0

A friend recently sent me a piece by Jason Hickel, arguing that growth can’t be green and that we need to move away from growth oriented economics. I am not convinced. It strikes me both that the piece misrepresents what growth means and also confuses political obstacles with logical ones. The result is an attack on a concept that makes neither logical nor political sense.

In the piece, Hickel points out the enormous leaps that will be required to keep our greenhouse gas emissions at levels that will prevent irreversible environmental damage. He then hands us the possibility, that even if through some miracle we can manage to meet these targets with the rapid deployment of clean energy, we still have the problem of use of other resources that is wiping species and wrecking the environment.

Hickel’s points about the imminent dangers to the environment are very much on the mark, but it is not clear that has anything to do with the logic of growth. Suppose the Sustainable World Party (SWP) sweeps to power in the next election. They immediately impose a massive tax on greenhouse gas emissions, which will rise even further over time. They also inventory all the resources that are in limited supply and impose large and rising taxes on them.

Furthermore, they pay developing countries large sums to protect regions that are important for sustaining species facing extinction and for the global environment. The new administration also hugely increases spending on research on clean technologies and has massive subsidies for zero emission vehicles and even more importantly for mass transit. As the SWP implements this policy, it has very stimulative fiscal and monetary policies.

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

The battle for the future of farming: what you need to know

It is widely agreed that today’s global agriculture system is a social and environmental failure. Business as usual is no longer an option: biodiversity loss and nitrogen pollution are exceeding planetary limits, and catastrophic risks of climate change demand immediate action.

Most concede that there is an urgent need to radically transform our food systems. But the proposed innovations for more sustainable food systems are drastically different. Which we choose will have long-lasting effects on human society and the planet.

Suggested innovations in food systems can be broadly understood as either seeking to conform with – or to transform – the status quo.

The future of farming is ours to decide. Raggedstone/Shutterstock.com

A technological future

Some want to keep the agriculture industry as close to existing practices as possible. This is true of the increasing number of corporate and financial actors who seek to solve the food crisis by developing new technologies. These technologies are envisaged as being part of what is being called the “fourth industrial revolution” (4IR). The “answer” here is thought to lie in a fusion of technologies that blurs the lines between physical, digital and biological domains.

For example, the World Economic Forum is currently supporting agricultural transitions in 21 countries through its “New Vision for Agriculture” initiative. This initiative supports “innovation ecosystems” to re-engineer food systems based on “12 transforming technologies”. In this imagined future, next generation biotechnologies will re-engineer plants and animals. Precision farming will optimise use of water and pesticides. Global food systems will rely on smart robots, blockchain and the internet of things to manufacture synthetic foods for personalised nutrition.

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

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