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The Importance of Social Capital

peak guy, The Oil Drum (NYC)
I am now near the end of my reading of Robert Putnam’s seminal work on Social Capital, “Bowling Alone”. Social Capital is one of those very hard to define subjects, but my interpretation is that it measures the level of trust, connectedness and mutual reciprocity in society. This is important for a wide range of issues from child rearing to economic development to how individuals (or communities) respond to a crisis situations. Social Capital could be the defining characteristic of communities that pull together in the face of high oil prices versus those that tear themselves apart in the ultimate tragedy of the commons.

Looking at a map of the US you can start to understand why North Dakota and Vermont, despite their cold winters may be better places to live than Mississippi or Alabama. And this is only state level averages – each state will have within them communities that are stronger than others. And each community will have individuals that have more social capital than others because of their level of civic involvement. Those individuals and those communities will be one of our greatest assets as peak oil forces us out of our private cocoons – McMansions and SUVs – run on high levels of energy consumption and forces us to live in more shared living spaces, carpooling, etc.

What is the state of social capital and what are the major measures available?

…Based on this I would say that high levels of social capital seems like a good thing to have in your area. The main causes of the decline in social capital based on the statistical data from Putnam’s book are:

1. Generational Change – The slow replacement of the highly participatory WWII “greatest generation” by the more individualistic Baby Boom and cynical Gen X & Y kids. (50%)

2. TV – The dramatic rise in TV viewing hours per day crowding out civic participation in many ways. (20%)

3. Sprawl – Increasing distances between home, work, shopping, friends, etc have decreased local involvement because of time pressures and less feeling of local attachment. (15%)

4. Work – The pressures of time and money, two career families, loss of the local merchant class through nationalization and globalization have removed many pillars of the community from their position of status in return for low everyday prices. (15%)

I haven’t completely made up my mind about what the answers are at a societial level, but at a personal level I plan to do the following:…
(16 June 2006)

Why Sustainability is Important to You

Willers, Daily Kos
In the short-sighted corporate “only the next financial quarter matters” world, everything’s fine. But in the real world we call planet earth, using petroleum-based chemicals by the boatload to kill every living thing except the cash crop you’re growing for profit is eventually going to be a fatal mistake. It cannot go on indefinitely.

It is not sustainable, especially considering how expensive these chemicals are becoming due to peak oil. Eventually, when there is no more cheap oil to be had at all, even the current level of pesticide use cannot be sustained.

Sustainability is a way of living that can be sustained indefinitely, either locally or globally.

It matters to every single living thing on this planet.

Including you.

Last weekend I gave a short talk on “10 Things You Can Do to Live More Sustainably.” These are things anyone can do, no matter what their income level, no matter where they live. In fact, you can save a lot of money by living a more simple, sustainable life. You don’t have to do all 10 – even one thing on this list is a step in the right direction:

* Buy Locally. Of every dollar you spend on cheap plastic crap at SprawlMart, over half (57 cents) leaves the local communityand takes the express train straight to corporate HQ. And that doesn’t even take into account how huge the US trade deficit has become because of these corporate mega-stores, and how much US manufacturing has been forced out of the country to stay “competitive”.

* Is this trip really necessary? Not only does gas cost you a lot more these days, but unnecessary driving around causes pollution, urbanization, and traffic wrecks. Before you hop in your H2 to get a pint of milk for tonight’s dinner from the store 4 blocks away, stop and think…. can you walk there? Can you stock up instead of getting smaller, overpackaged and more expensive portions? Can you combine trips or purposefully NOT drive a few days a week?

* Turn off the TV. Not only will you shut off the constant stream of BUYBUYBUY that’s shoved down your throat at maximum volume (thanks, President Reagan, for that corporate perk), but you will have TIME. Time to talk to your family. Time to read a good book (I recommend Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them). Time to take up a hobby that makes you happy. Time to exercise and take walks. Time to research issues important to you. Time to go to political meetings and help with campaigns and voter drives. I’m not saying stop watching ALL television (I recommend The Colbert Report), but at least stop suckling at its cold, hard teat so much.

* Teach your children well… [list continues]
(17 June 2006)

Labor Gains
New green/labor alliance brings Sierra Club and Steelworkers together

Amanda Griscom Little, Grist Magazine
Organized labor and environmentalists — engaged in an on-again-off-again flirtation for years — may finally be getting to third base.

Last week, Carl Pope, head of the Sierra Club, and Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers (USW) union, announced the formation of the Blue/Green Alliance, linking the nation’s biggest industrial labor union with the nation’s largest environmental organization. Their motto: “Good jobs, a clean environment, and a safer world.”

“The Blue/Green Alliance is one of the most important initiatives undertaken by the environmental movement in decades,” said Pope at the launch event. Gerard said the creation of good jobs requires sound environmental strategy: “We cannot have one without the other.”

The alliance already has “in the millions,” according to its director, David Foster, a longtime USW member; that includes grant money from foundations and funds the Sierra Club and USW are committing from their own budgets. The money will be spent on legislative lobbying, supporting political candidates with strong records on both labor and the environment, and doing educational outreach. At the start, efforts will be focused in four key states — Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington — where there are large numbers of both Sierra Club members and USW members, and where state officials have already shown notable interest in promoting clean energy.

The alliance’s main goals will be boosting clean-tech markets to create jobs, pushing fair-trade policies to aid American workers, and fighting for tougher restrictions on toxic chemicals

Greens and blue-collar workers in the U.S. have often been at loggerheads: Unions such as the United Auto Workers and United Mine Workers of America have earned anti-environment reputations for blocking progress on tougher fuel-economy standards and advocating resource extraction on wilderness lands.

At the same time, there have been notable collaborations between labor and environmental activists, from the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle to local campaigns against common corporate foes such as the tire manufacturer Firestone and Ravenswood Aluminum. Said Foster, “Invariably the companies with the worst labor rights had significant environmental violations.”

In recent years, enviros and some labor leaders have canoodled over federal-level goals, finding common cause in D.C.-based groups such as the Apollo Alliance, which promotes the creation of jobs through growing clean-energy markets.
(16 June 2006)
Re-posted at Working for Change.

Le Monde profile of Jerome a Paris

Corine Lesnes, Le Monde (translation by Jerome a Paris on Daily Kos)
An influential ‘X’

As a Polytechnique alumni, he works on investment projects in a big French bank in Paris. As an expert, he contributes to the energy section of DailyKos, the most popular political blog in the US. A star writer amongst the Democrats.

They’ve never heard of Polytechnique, but they know “Jerome a Paris”. That’s the name Jérôme Guillet, from the Polytechnique class of 89, uses on the most popular political blog in the US, DailyKos, which has between 500,000 and a million readers each day.

In real life, Jerome finances energy projects in a big French bank, whose name he keeps silent (“but you can just Google it”). In the blogosphere, he contributes to the energy section of DailyKos. Every day, he has tens of thousands of readers. He was in Las Vegas on June 8-10 for the first convention of the bloggers of the left wing of the Democratic party. A Frenchy amongst the “Kossacks” as the participants to the DailyKos website are called.
(19 June 2006)
Original article in French in Le Monde

Although Jérôme is an adherent of the peak oil thesis, he writes mainly on energy policy. Many articles of his are posted on Energy Bulletin with his permission. -BA

Ay, There’s the Grub
Bryant Terry, food-justice activist, answers Grist’s questions

Grist Magazine
Q: What work do you do?

A: I’ve committed myself to feeding people; illuminating the connections between poverty, malnutrition, and institutional racism; and working to create a more just and sustainable food system for everyone.

In 2001, I founded b-healthy (Build Healthy Eating and Lifestyles to Help Youth), a New York City-based food-justice organization made up of adult and youth social-justice activists, chefs, and mothers. Most recently, I initiated the Eat Grub project with Anna Lappé.

Q: How does your work relate to the environment?

A: How we produce our food and what we eat has an immense impact on the environmental health of our planet. Ask anyone who lives within a two-mile radius of a factory farm. They’ll smell — I mean tell — you a lot about this relationship.

…Q: What long and winding road led you to your current position?

A: I started learning about food systems and sustainable agriculture in my grandparents’ backyard gardens in Memphis, Tenn., when I was just knee-high to a June bug. When I was getting my master’s in history at New York University, I learned about the “Free Breakfast for Children” program started in 1968 by the Black Panthers. Within one year, the program spread across the country, and they were feeding over 10,000 African-American youth each morning. Other groups working to create social change (e.g., Brown Berets and Young Lords) replicated this model.

When I finished graduate school, I started working for an organization that gave training and technical assistance to youth development organizations throughout New York City. I was troubled that most of these organizations did not have programs addressing food-justice issues, given that many of the youth were in some way affected by lack of access to grub.

Inspired by the free-breakfast program, I decided to go to the Natural Gourmet Cookery School. I founded b-healthy to raise awareness about the need to improve individual and community health as part of building broader social movements.
(19 June 2006)