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Solutions and Sustainability
(Time for a Schumacher revival)
Alexander Zaitchik, Freezerbox Magazine
The New York Times recently reported on a curious conference held in Nova Scotia. The pow-wow brought together economists, social scientists, CEOs and government officials to inquire into the sources of human happiness, and why there seems to be a shortfall of this precious product in so many countries. Discussion focused on how governments might quantify and increase this contentment, once its elements were isolated and some sort of formula worked out. Participants all shared the assumption that the metrics of traditional economics–G.D.P., rates of growth and employment–were useless in gauging well-being. In determining quality of life, as opposed to mere standard of living, they agreed that the usual stats hid as much as they revealed about a society. The star of the conference was thus the only current government attempt at such a project–the Gross National Happiness Index maintained by the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan, which was heavily and happily represented in Nova Scotia.
The idea of a Gross National Happiness index–of measuring such economic “externalities” as a healthy environment, time spent with family, enjoyment of work, quality health care, spiritual life–is, as the Times writer pointed out, straight from the playbook of the German-born British economist and social critic E. F. Schumacher, most famous for his bestselling 1973 book, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered.
…It’s perhaps no coincidence that interest in Schumacherian ideas seems to be emerging from the margins just as talk of looming permanent oil shock gets louder. For while E. F. Schumacher’s assault on traditional economics is at heart a humanist-spiritual one, its urgency and appeal have always shared their roots with harder stuff. Small is Beautiful proposes a scaled-down, resource-thrifty version of modernity not just because the author thought we’d all be happier (much), but because he felt it would eventually be forced upon us anyway, the result of a forceful revelation Schumacher had in the 1950s.
While chief economist at the British National Coal Board, studying the energy consumption patterns of Western Europe, it occurred to Schumacher that the obsession with growth that was the religion of both the Western and Eastern blocs failed to take into account the finite resource base upon which their economies rested.
…Thirty-two years after the publication of Small is Beautiful, the world faces the prospect of a permanent oil-shock to make the jolts of the 1970s seem like ripples in a pond.
Alexander Zaitchik co-founded Freezerbox in 1997. He is currently at large, somewhere in India.
(20 October 2005)
Peak oil and permaculture
Nina Ruski and Tim Winton, Burma Indymedia
Peak Oil and Permaculture explains the dynamics of the impending peak in global oil production and the implications for our country. Declining energy availability will spell the end of global economic growth and the consumerist culture it supports.
Permaculture is introduced as one of a number of related, radical cultural alternatives that can be adopted for the transition to a post-consumer world
As long as we can adjust our consumption then things could be all right. Studies show that people are happiest when they have enough wealth to meet their needs and a few of their wants, but no more. Energy descent may not be so bad, if it removes a few of the things that are making us unhappy, while leaving us in a position to meet our needs. The challenge lies in learning to change our expectations and take on a whole new set of understandings and behaviours necessary during the coming era of decreasing energy availability.
This is where permaculture comes in. Permaculture is the only discipline that has been created to deal with the energetic aspects informing sustainability. From a permaculture point of view, peak oil marks the end of the growth phase of global industrial society. This is a natural part of the life cycle of any dynamic system. First there is a growth phase, and after the concentrated, high-grade resources have been used up and total resource availability starts to drop, the system starts to decline. Permaculture is about learning the principles and practices that allow us to work with natural energy flows rather than relying on fossil fuels.
Permaculture is only partly about growing food and living more self-sufficiently. Permaculture is a design science that uses the patterns of nature to mimic ecological systems. Natural systems have evolved for millions of years to maximize the energy available from the sun. If we are to live well in the post-fossil fuel world, we will have to learn to do the same. Permaculturists have organic gardens because it is a way to grow good food on a low energy budget. They use clever design to make life easier and agriculture more productive. When the oil is gone, permaculture will offer some of the best strategies we know of for maintaining high levels of well-being. Permaculture is undergoing a renaissance as a set of principles and practices for the post-oil world where individuals and communities can learn to live well while we ride the downside of the energy availability curve.
…Tim Winton is the founder and managing trustee of The Permaforest Trust, a not-for-profit sustainability education centre on the far north coast of New South Wales, Australia.
(15 October 2005)
It’s hard to tell from the original article, but I think the short introductory remarks are by Nina Ruski, and the main article is by Tim Winton. -BA
Sustainable agriculture information links & resources
John Gay, Washington State University (College of Veterinary Medicine)
The purpose of this webpage is to provide veterinarians, veterinary students, livestock producers and consumers links to materials on the complex and inter-related issues impacting agricultural resilience, sustainability and food security. As many of these issues are controversial because they involve public policy decisions impacting major stakeholders and infrastructures on local, national and international scales, I’ve included materials from all sides of such issues…
- Food Security – Sustainability and Resilience
- Hydrology / Water Sustainability & Security
- Energy Sustainability
- Global Climate Change
- Systems and System Dynamics – Earth Systems / Ecology / Ecosystems
- Economics – Resource / Environmental / Agricultural
- Environment / Environmentalism
- Genetic Diversity – Invasive Species / Genetically Modified Organisms
- Population Expansion / Societal Collapse
- Evolutionary Anthropology / Psychology
- Sustainable Agriculture
- Life Cycle Analysis / Industrial Ecology …
- Alternative / Contrarian / Heretic / Provocative / “Rock Turner” Viewpoints
(21 October 2005)
The largest listing I’ve seen of links on sustainability. There are entries on energy and peak oil. The list was just updated on October 21. Well done, John Gay! -BA
The ENLIVEN Report: how rural communities can grow again (multiple PDF files)
Historically, communities developed in places where resources were available. Today however, many rural communities are in decline because the use of fossil fuels has devalued their renewable energy sources, made the growing of many non-food crops irrelevant, and exposed their food products to price competition from places where land is more abundant.
This project is based on the premise that the tide may be about to turn. Restrictions on the use of fossil fuel in response to the threat of climate change and because of oil and gas depletion are about to make energy supplies scarcer and more costly. Handled correctly, this could create the circumstances in which rural communities will again be able to grow by developing their local resources, particularly those of energy.
The project focuses on what that ‘correct handling’ involves and breaks a lot of new ground. It takes two small neighbouring communities in rural Ireland, chosen only because largish housing and other construction projects were being planned, and assesses their renewable energy potential. It then looks at how that potential can be realised in ways that would benefit everyone living in the communities at present and those who might move there in the future.
ENLIVEN stands for Energy Networks Linking Innovation in Villages in Europe Now.
Japan’s sustainability down 19%
Japan for Sustainability (JFS)
Japan for Sustainability (JFS) has chosen 20 headline indicators for sustainability based on an analysis of over 200 data sets in several sustainability-related categories. This is the first ever numerical evaluation / trial calculation of national sustainability for Japan. Results show a score of 33.5 points for 2005 in relation to a hypothetical perfect score of 100 projected for 2050. Japan’s score for 1990 was 41.3 points, meaning sustainability in Japan has declined about 19% since 1990.
Aims of establishing Sustainable Indicators
In Japan, a number of environmental-related efforts and initiatives are underway by a variety of players. Some say, as a whole, the level of activities in this field could be among the most advanced in the world. Yet regrettably, these positive endeavors are not strong enough to reverse the trends of global warming, environmental destruction and pollution, which steadily continue with no apparent end in sight.
To what degree do individual initiatives and achievements by each ministry, corporation, municipality, NGO and citizen contribute to a collective advancement towards an environmental sustainable society?
As a result of these efforts, is Japan closer to sustainability, compared to the year before? Have we moved forward and closer even by an inch? Or somehow have we moving backwards, farther from sustainability?
In order to make answers to these questions visible, we at JFS envision defining indicators and work little by little to draw a big picture of a “Vision of a Sustainable Japan” or “The shape of a sustainable country.”
People do something only after they realize those problems. We aim at raising the people’s awareness by visualizing and quantifying the “Vision of a Sustainable Japan.” We hope the indicators will give an opportunity for many people to look at the “Overall Picture of Sustainable Japan”
(5 September 2005)