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Solutions & sustainability - June 30

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


Meg Wheatley – The Power of Chaos

Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture
Meg Wheatley spoke at Dartington’s Barn Cinema on Wednesday 14th June as part of Dartington Arts’ Arts and Ecology Lecture series. I attempted to take notes as best I could but she spoke quite fast and so these notes are intended to provide just an overview of what she covered. Any mistakes here are entirely my fault. If you would like to watch the film of the talk you can download it here, but only until Friday. After that you will be able to buy copies of the DVD of the talk here. After her talk she did a questions and answers session in the bar which was very illuminating, but which no-one recorded unfortunately. Anyway, here’s Meg.

"My work has focused on what I call ‘ethical leadership’, that is how organisations and leaders maintain both effectiveness and leadership. Chaos is a topic that lends light to ecology, art and to leadership. It is an ancient figure/topic/sensibility, which exists in all traditions. Chaos and Gaia both embody the creative principle. Gaia pulled life from chaos and gave it form, it is a fundamental part of life. Nowadays we are not willing to embrace chaos, yet we need that abyss, we have to face the emptiness and chaos before anything new can emerge, it is a partner in the creative process."
(29 June 2006)


We Must Preserve The Earth's Dwindling Resources For My Five Children

Brenda Melford, The Onion
As we move into the 21st century, it is our responsibility to think of the future of the earth—not for ourselves, but for those who will inherit what my husband and I leave behind when we're gone. If we do not join together and do what's best for this, our only planet, there may not be an environment left in which my five children, and their 25 children's 125 children, can grow up and raise large upper-middle-class families of their own.

Nothing less than the preservation of my descendents' lifestyle itself is at stake.

Imagine a world devoid of pristine wilderness for my progeny to explore on the weekends in the sport-utility-vehicles of the future, leaving my youngest son, Dylan, with nowhere to blow off steam on off-road adventures. Imagine a world in which my beautiful middle son, Connor, is denied his twice-daily half-hour hot showers because of water shortages. Picture what it would be like for my oldest boy Asher, preparing to start his first semester at Stanford, to have to go without basic amenities such as cable television, satellite radio, central air, or massage chairs, all because of the shortsighted squandering by his parents' generation of our non-renewable energy sources today.

Though it seems like a far-off nightmare, this terrible vision is all too possible. Would you want to live in a world where my five children had to endure such horrible deprivations? I know I wouldn't.
(28 June 2006)
Please note: satire.


If you're happy and you know it -- think again

Unnati Gandhi, Globe and Mail
Think you would be happier if you were richer? Think again.

Princeton University researchers have found that the link between a higher income and an elevated sense of well-being is greatly exaggerated and mostly an illusion.

In fact, economist Alan Krueger and psychologist and Nobel laureate in economics Daniel Kahneman have found, using a newly developed analytical technique, that people with above-average incomes do not necessarily spend more time doing things they enjoy.

“Happiness is inherently a subjective concept. There are different dimensions to it and there are different ways people view their lives as a whole,” said Prof. Krueger, also a research chair at the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research. “We're trying to get at the way people actually spend their time day to day.”

Until now, most surveys on happiness asked how people felt about their overall well-being. The answers were almost always “vast exaggerations.”

What the Princeton researchers and their colleagues found using the “Day Reconstruction Method” was that when it came to how people experienced the moment-to-moment experiences in their daily lives, income was hardly a factor. Their method creates an “enjoyment scale” requiring people to record the previous day's activities in a short diary form and describe the feelings they attributed to them.

“People, regardless of their income, are happier when they're socializing than when they're doing work around the house. They're happier when they're doing active leisure-type activities than when they're watching TV.” What Prof. Krueger found surprising was that those with higher incomes tended to devote more of their free time to tasks involving tension and stress - such as work, shopping, childcare and exercise.

In the article to be published in today's issue of the journal Science, the authors write that if people continue to think a higher income will make them happier, it may lead to “a misallocation of time,” with people going to such lengths as accepting longer commutes (among the worst moments of the day, Prof. Krueger notes) for higher-paying jobs and sacrificing time spent socializing with friends (among the best moments of the day).
(29 June 2006)


The Mayor Who Wowed the World Urban Forum
Bogota's Enrique Peñalosa's happy 'war on cars.'

Charles Montgomery, The Tyee
If you think the problems facing the world's exploding cities are insurmountable then you need to spend a few hours on a bike alongside the former mayor of Bogota. That's how I spent Thursday afternoon, and it left me with new hope for the global south, not to mention the bloated 'burbs of Greater Vancouver.

Enrique Peñalosa presided over the transition of a city that the world--and many residents--had given up on. Bogota had lost itself in slums, chaos, violence, and traffic. During his three-year term, Penalosa brought in initiatives that would seem impossible in most cities, even here in the wealthy north. He built more than a hundred nurseries for children. He built 50 new public schools and increased enrolment by 34 percent. He built a network of libraries. He created a highly-efficient, "bus highway" transit system. He built or reconstructed hundreds of kilometers of sidewalks, more than 300 kilometres of bicycle paths, pedestrian streets, and more than 1,200 parks.

He did it all, in part, by declaring a war on private cars.

What makes us happy?

Peñalosa explained the philosophy behind this war--and Bogota's transformation--earlier Thursday during a plenary lecture at the World Urban Forum. He began with a sobering reminder to the mayors of developing world cities:

"If you base progress on per capita income, then the developing world will not catch up with rich countries for the next three or four hundred years. The difference between our incomes is growing all the time. So we can't define our progress in terms of income, because that will guarantee our failure. We need to find another measure of success."

The measure he came up with was shockingly simple. Happiness.

"And what are our needs for happiness?" he asked. "We need to walk, just as birds need to fly. We need to be around other people. We need beauty. We need contact with nature. And most of all, we need not to be excluded. We need to feel some sort of equality."
(23 June 2006; Hat-tip: Gristmill)


"Made to Break" reveals the roots of our throwaway culture

Elizabeth Grossman, Grist
What could be more American than reaching for something new? The U.S. is, after all, a nation founded on the rejection of tradition and a profound belief in invention. This urge has given us more than two centuries of powerful technology, but has also made Americans the world's most voracious consumers. The propensity to buy, discard, and buy again is no accident, explains Giles Slade in the engaging Made to Break, which chronicles the history and consequences of Americans' obsession with the next new thing.

"Deliberate obsolescence in all its forms -- technological, psychological, or planned -- is a uniquely American invention. Not only did we invent disposable products, ranging from diapers to cameras to contact lenses, but we invented the very concept of disposability itself," writes Slade, a Canadian cultural historian who has spent years teaching abroad and observes North American consumer culture from his home near Vancouver, B.C.

Having just written a book about high-tech trash myself, I called Slade recently to talk about the origins of this breed of consumerism. "We landed on the East Coast and had this enormous new continent to consume. We worked our way west killing things," he said, only partly in jest. "We had an ethic of conservation and reuse, but it was lost as new materials of the 19th century allowed for disposable goods, and manufacturers learned about the profitability of repetitive consumption."
(29 June 2006)


High Tech Trash: An Interview with Elizabeth Grossman

Sarah Rich, WorldChanging
In the grand scheme of things, the waste that weekly fills our curbside trash and recycling bins is mostly of a household variety: food containers, junk mail, used bathroom and cleaning supplies. We don’t throw out things like cell phones, computer parts and appliances very often, but when we do, this electronic waste ("e-waste") wreaks widespread havoc as it travels through a clumsy, poorly distributed global disassembly and decomposition process.

...Environmental journalist Elizabeth Grossman got a glimpse behind this curtain while researching point source pollution in the Willamette River in 2000. What she discovered was that over half that pollution came from high-tech industries -- chip manufacturers, silicone wafer manufacturers, and companies that make metals products for high tech were responsible for millions of gallons of solvents, nitrates and metals flowing down the river.

Grossman set out to investigate the systems that cart and dump high tech trash around the world. The result is the newly released High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health. It's not all digital doom and gloom, though. Grossman spends a great deal of time discussing the evolution of tech recycling, the advantages of mining circuit boards instead of natural landscapes, and possibilities for a cleaner, healthier tech industry. Her book ends with what she calls a Land Ethic for the Digital Age -- inspired by Aldo Leopold's momentous Land Ethic -- which points out that due to the nature of the industry, and the state of the world today, this is an issue in which we are all implicated. But because of the incredible speed and relative transparency of the digital world, we have before us the possibility for solutions to emerge and mature quickly and globally. As Grossman puts it:

Technology is not going to solve anything on its own, but the fact that we’re using high tech to look at these problems, make people aware of the problems, and implement solutions, is actually going to help solve them, because the minute somebody publishes a report, or a solution becomes available, everyone can see it.

I sat down with Lizzie recently to talk about her book. Below is a transcript of our conversation:

SR: Over the course of the two years that you were working on it did you find that the information available on this was escalating pretty quickly? It seems that this is starting to peak…

EG: One of the really tricky things about working on the book is that I really almost instantly discovered that there were no books on the subject. There was only one collection of papers that was published after I started working on this. It was quite academic -- incredibly useful, but very academic, technical stuff. But otherwise, there is a huge amount of information out there but it is all written for peer review journals. It’s either scientific -- sort of on the toxic end of things -- or for engineers or professionals who are in high tech. I think there is going to be more and more information on it, but I think my book is the only one that’s tried to put this together for a general reading audience. There are bookshelves full of things on tech or the high tech business, but almost none of them talk about materials or manufacturing.
(28 June 2006)

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