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Bhutan puts farms before markets
Hopes to stem the brain drain of its young to the West

Tracy Worcester, BBC
…Inspired by their much-loved King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who believes that compassion must replace competition, the Bhutanese government has shunned the global economy and is protecting the rural economy with subsidies and tariffs.

They have reversed their school curriculum’s urban bias to produce “educated farmers” and have given grants to increase and diversify crop production and boost traditional crafts.

They have brought electricity and distributed health centres to the very remotest regions. They have devolved power to local councils and are researching Gross National Happiness as a more inclusive measurement of progress than Gross National Product.

Last year 80 scholars from around the world were invited to discuss how Bhutan would operate this revolutionary concept.

Internalised into the price of the product, the want to include the external costs to people and the environment of goods made with virtual slave labour and no environmental standards criss-crossing the globe. Only then will local trade be cheaper than global. …

At a time when governments across the world are grappling with urban slums, hunger, social breakdown and environmental degradation, Bhutan’s choice of development pattern could have global significance.
(18 August 2005)

Confronting the World’s All-Consuming Passions

Joel Makower, blog
Recovering the lost economic teachings of the world’s religious faiths may be the key to addressing the ethical challenges facing the growth of a global consumer class, and to boosting awareness of the ill-effects of consumerism on individuals, writes Worldwatch Institute Director of Research Gary Gardner in “Hungry for More: Re-Engaging Religious Teachings on Consumption,” a fascinating article forthcoming in the September/October issue of the organization’s magazine Worldwatch.

Recovering the lost economic teachings — not just of the Jewish and Christian traditions, but of many of the world’s faiths — could be enormously valuable to a global economy faced with unprecedented ethical challenges. Mass consumerism in wealthy countries has already broken the ecological bank, with a crippled climate, extinct species, scalped forests, and drained or polluted rivers standing as red ink. Now billions of citizens of China and India demand a piece of the global consumption pie. How can the legitimate aspirations of emerging nations be met without further damaging the planet — while safeguarding opportunities for the world’s poorest, especially in Africa, to stake their consumption claims?

“Mass consumerism in wealthy countries has already broken the ecological bank,” says Gardner. “How can the legitimate aspirations of emerging nations be met without further damaging the planet-while safeguarding opportunities for the world’s poorest, especially in Africa, to stake their consumption claims?” Previously dormant moral questions surrounding consumption may now have new power-power that might awaken the interest of faith communities in a contemporary context.

Consider, for example, the power of “Buddhist economics” to turn western notions of consumption on their heads. From its starting position — the purpose of an economy — the Buddhist approach is distinctive. As explained in E. F. Schumacher’s classic, Small Is Beautiful, whereas market economies are designed to produce the highest possible levels of production and consumption, Buddhist economics supports a different aim: to achieve enlightenment. This spiritual goal, in turn, requires freedom from desire, the source of all suffering, according to the Buddha. This is a tall order in societies of mass consumption, where advertisers conflate needs and desires and where acquisitiveness is a cultural norm. Thus the very attitude toward material goods is one of detachment, a sharp contrast to the frenzied grasping for stuff that often characterizes non-Buddhist societies.

(17 August 2005)
Mentioned by a skeptical Dave Roberts at Gristmill (Materialism and material).

Big game ‘could roam US plains’

If a group of US researchers have their way, lions, cheetahs, elephants and camels could soon roam parts of North America, Nature magazine reports. The plan, which is called Pleistocene re-wilding, is intended to be a proactive approach to conservation.

The initiative would help endangered African animals while creating jobs, the Cornell University scientists say. Evidence also suggests, they claim, that “megafauna” can help maintain ecosystems and boost biodiversity.

“If we only have 10 minutes to present this idea, people think we’re nuts,” said Harry Greene, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University, US.

“But if people hear the one-hour version, they realise they haven’t thought about this as much as we have. Right now we are investing all our megafauna hopes on one continent – Africa.”
(18 August 2005)
No connection to fossilised energy, but interesting on the ‘available energy’ front anyway. Also covered by Christian Science Monitor: New plan for the Great Plains: Bring back the Pleistocene. Comments by Jamais Cascio appear on WorldChanging

Food for thought: Crop diversity is dying

Elisabeth Rosenthal, International Herald Tribune
ROME José Esquinas-Alcázar regards the corn laid out in rows with the love and admiration that sommeliers reserve for bottles in a fine wine cellar. To the untrained eye, it is a collection of misshapen ears: Long, short, blue, yellow, white, spotted, covered in dirt.

“Look at this beauty!” he exclaims. “Some are good for starch, some for popcorn. Some grow in the cold. Some are good fried, some broiled. The taste for each is completely different.

“Diversity is what makes us happy, gives us choice and keeps us free. And it’s tragic because this is what we are losing.”

Esquinas, a top official at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, has spent decades campaigning to preserve plants that are used for food, which are becoming extinct at an alarming rate.

Last year, his efforts culminated in the adoption of the United Nations Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which requires countries to preserve existing crops and creates an international system for sharing crops and plant genes.

But much has already been lost.
(18 August 2005)

Farming with the Wild
Organic agriculture meets biodiversity protection

Dan Kent and Dan Imhoff, Tidepool
With a growing presence in southern Oregon’s Rogue valley, an emerging national movement works to integrate organic farming and biodiversity protection
Even as agribusiness is increasingly attracted to an organic farming industry that has mushroomed into a $25 billion-a-year global business and large-scale organic growers produce multi-thousand acre monocrops, there is good news. Life down on some farms and ranches is getting wilder. Around the country, farmers, government agencies, and consumers are finding that local farms can not only provide essential sources of nutritious food, but also protect wild biodiversity.

In the world of sustainable agriculture, we hear a lot about the term “biodiversity.” This can refer positively to the protection of soil organisms, such as earthworms or mycorrhyzal fungi. Or it could refer negatively to the devastating loss of traditional crop diversity, in terms of the dwindling numbers, varieties, and breeds of plant and animal species grown and collected for human uses.

It is less often, however, that we hear people speaking about “wild biodiversity” in dialogs about sustainable agriculture. By this, we mean the healthy habitats needed to support native flora and fauna in the areas where agriculture takes place. In some ways this is understandable. After all, agriculture at its very root, involves the domestication of the wild. Ultimately, agricultural operations reduce complex landscapes into zones of intensive production for just a handful of plants, or more often, a single monoculture.

What has become particularly apparent in North America, however, is modern agriculture’s role in the “biodiversity crisis.” Over the past two centuries, agriculture production has converted more and more native habitats to agricultural lands — from river valleys to grasslands to wetlands to uplands and woodlands. In order to compete in global markets, to pay for expensive machinery and inputs, or simply to create “clean” farms void of “weeds,” ever larger amounts of habitats have been erased from already cleared lands. With the clearing of habitat comes the loss of species. The result is that wild biodiversity has been pushed further and further into isolated pockets on the landscape. Agriculture has become the leading cause of species endangerment on the North American continent. And the situation is not that different in other regions throughout the world.

Fortunately, an increasing number of farms and ranches are incorporating the wild (integrating and protecting wildness in and around their operations) and working to enhance biodiversity. Helping to lead the charge towards protection of native biodiversity is Wild Farm Alliance (WFA), a California-based coalition of conservationists and sustainable farming advocates founded in 2000. WFA works nationally to reconnect ecosystems and food systems with a vision based on organic farming as the foundation of a new agriculture that embraces aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity.
(16 August 2005)

Big cities’ future is our future
Planning in the Pacific Northwest

Editorial, The Astorian
Why should we care about urban growth in the Pacific Northwest’s great cities? Quite simply, their future is our future.

As reported in recent front-page stories in The Daily Astorian and our Pacific County sister paper the Chinook Observer, the outside world has discovered the long-overlooked scenic and historical treasures we occupy at the mouth of the Columbia. This doesn’t mean Astoria will grow into a big city. But in a region where some people commute up to two and a half hours – each way in hellish traffic – to jobs on San Francisco Bay, decisions made in Portland and Seattle will have an impact on how our local communities look and on the quality of our lives.

In a fascinating overview that breathes life into the ordinarily dry topic of urban planning, the current issue of Seattle Weekly reports on the debate over Mayor Greg Nickels’ plan to lift the city’s strict limitation on downtown building heights. Although some question Nickels’ motives, there is general agreement that cities can reap great benefits from concentrating growth in their cores, as opposed to sprawling ever outward into suburbs.

Portland is often cited as a leader in this urban renaissance movement, and anyone who spends time there can testify to how dynamic and comfortable its downtown remains. Portland’s various distinctive neighborhoods are famous for their livability. But as Seattle Weekly notes, some of Portland’s most chic inner areas, such as the Pearl District, are unaffordable to all but the most elite.

A better model, according to Seattle Weekly, is Vancouver, B.C., where there is careful attention to fostering a downtown with street-level appeal and accessibility to middle-class families with children. Instead of hewing to the fashionable urban-planning theory adhered to in Portland of having grown-floor retail space with housing above, Vancouver has modeled itself on older cities like London and Boston where ground-floor residences are prominently distributed downtown.
(16 August 2005)

10th annual Solfest puts spotlight on solar energy

Mike Geniella, Santa Rosa Press Democrat
HOPLAND — In 1979, John Schaeffer’s Real Goods sold the nation’s first solar photovoltaic cell capable of producing electricity.

Since then, Real Goods has emerged as a leader in an industry that’s weathered a series of highs and lows. Today the industry is enjoying the biggest boom yet, posting 40 percent increases annually over the last five years around the globe.

The demand for products that produce solar power is so great that there’s a supply shortage, creating a backlog of orders.

“In many ways, it’s the best time ever for the industry, despite the supply problems,” Schaeffer said.

So on the eve of the 10th anniversary of Real Good’s Solfest, Schaeffer said it’s a good time for alternative-energy advocates to celebrate the solar success.

Solfest is scheduled this year for Saturday and Sunday at Real Goods’ 12-acre demonstration site on the east side of Highway 101 south of Hopland. The “Institute for Solar Living” is fully powered by solar and wind-generated energy.

In past years, Solfest has attracted as many as 10,000 visitors to the weekend event. Thanks to the burgeoning interest in solar power, Schaeffer said, this year’s event could be the biggest yet.
(16 August 2005)