Solutions & sustainability - July 13
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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage
Soil Association - Peak Oil Appeal
The fact that the global supply of oil will soon be in terminal decline is a wake up call for us all. As oil becomes scarcer and energy prices rise rapidly, it is no exaggeration to say that, unless the western world begins to change course, we face the real possibility of crippling food prices and the risk of shortages within this generation...
The Soil Association, with the support of its members, is determined to press home the case for the rapid expansion of the only clear alternative: organic farming, linked to local food supplies.
We are convinced that this offers the best hope for securing our food supplies. We also know that it will take many years to complete the transformation on the scale required. For this reason it is vital that the pace of change is accelerated urgently. To do that we need your help.
To raise awareness of this amongst politicians and the public alike, we have decided to launch a concerted programme of activities, which we hope very much you will want to support.
To back up our case, research confirms that:
- Organically grown crops require 50% less energy than those produced by industrial agriculture – mainly due to zero use of artificial fertilisers which are produced from fossil fuel;
- Livestock production to high organic standards, based on high grass diets and free-range systems, has a much lower energy demand than intensively-reared animals housed indoors and fed on imported grain;
- Conventional agricultural systems are heavily reliant on transport. The distribution of food, animal feed, live animals and fertilisers accounts for 31% of all domestic freight in the UK;
- The food processing industry uses huge amounts of energy whilst reducing the nutritional value of fresh food;
- Conversely, the emphasis on using natural resources achieving self-sufficiency in organic agriculture, and on local food distribution systems, cuts the use of energy and transport substantially.
For once, economic pressures present us with a great opportunity. Our pioneering work over the last sixty years has led to the development of low energy organic farming systems. In the last decade we have led the rapid growth of direct sales via farmers' markets, vegetable box schemes and at the farm-gate. The 'Jamie Oliver effect', inspired by our Food for Life Campaign, has put organic and local food high on the Government's school meals agenda.
Thanks to the loyal support of our members, the Soil Association has already secured itself a position of key influence – through the combination of our powerful philosophy, our public interest priority and our track record.
Our plan now is to:
- Open people's eyes to the high vulnerability of the Western World's food supply by publishing a definitive report making the case for the expansion of energy-efficient organic farming.
- Raise awareness of the dangers ahead by launching a hard-hitting campaign so more people join us in creating a sustainable future by buying food which is grown organically and sold locally.
- Change attitudes to food-sourcing by challenging the Government to apply the Soil Association's Food for Life targets - 75% unprocessed, 50% local and 30% organic - to schools and hospitals throughout the UK.
- Promote a holistic vision of sustainable development at a major UN conference in 2007. By hosting the event in collaboration with other organisations, we can connect the critical issues of climate change, energy use, food security, health, and rural employment at the highest level.
Feeding the Deindustrial Future
John Michael Greer, Druid Report
Ask people today what they think future generations will consider the 20th century’s most important legacy and you’ll likely get any number of answers – the Apollo moon landings, computer technology, the discovery of the genetic code, or what have you. Past ages, though, were notoriously bad judges of the relative importance of the legacies they’ve left to the future. In the Middle Ages, scholastic theology was thought to be the crowning achievement of the human mind, while the Gothic cathedrals, the spectacular technological advances chronicled by Jean Gimpel in in The Medieval Machine, and the English feudal laws that evolved into parliamentary government and trial by jury would have been considered minor matters if anybody thought of them at all. Today nobody outside the University of Chicago and a few conservative Catholic colleges pays the least attention to scholasticism, while Gothic architecture still shapes how we think of space and light, a good half of the machinery that surrounds us every day runs on principles evolved by the inventors of the clock and the windmill, and the political and legal systems of a majority of the world’s nations – including ours – come from that odd Saxon tribal custom, borrowed by Norman kings for their own convenience, of calling together a group of yeomen to discuss new laws or decide who committed a crime.
When it comes to the long-term value of a culture’s accomplishments, in other words, the future has the deciding vote. I don’t pretend to know for certain how that vote will be cast; you don’t get privileged access to knowledge about the future, I’m sorry to say, by being an archdruid. Still, I’m willing to risk a guess. A thousand, or two thousand, or ten thousand years from now, when people look back through the mists of time to the 20th century and talk about its achievements, the top of the list won’t be moon landings, computers, or the double helix, much less the political and cultural ephemera that occupy so much attention just now. If I’m right, it will be something much humbler – and much more important.
In the first decades of the 20th century, an English agronomist named Albert Howard working in India began experimenting with farming methods that focused on the health of the soil and its natural cycles. Much of his inspiration came from traditional farming practices in India, China and Japan that had maintained soil fertility for centuries or millennia. Howard fused their ideas with Western scientific agronomy and the results of his own experiments to create the first modern organic agriculture. Later researchers, notably Alan Chadwick in England and John Jeavons in America, combined Howard’s discoveries with methods of intensive gardening that had evolved in France not long before Howard began his work, and with the biodynamic system developed in the 1920s by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, to develop the current state of the art in organic intensive farming.
The result of their work is at least potentially a revolution in humanity’s relationship to the land and the biosphere as dramatic as the original agricultural revolution itself.
(12 July 2006)
The Anthropik Network has a recent audio interview with John Michael Greer in their podcasts section. -AF
(Audio) Stuart Hill: Designing Ecological & Caring Futures (MP3 - 25MB)
Under the Radar
Stuart Hill is Professor of Social Ecology, University of Western Sydney.
This talk was recorded at the 2005 EcoShow in Aukland.
Stuart has a background in psychotherapy and has worked worldwide on a number of sustainable agriculture projects.
This talk is about enabling change, a kind of benevolent 'how to make friends and influence people' approach to social change delivered in Stuart's unique and contagiously enthusiastic style.
More excellent recordings are available at the Under the Radar however the links are malformed. If you're tricky you can click on them then delete the extra 'http//' from your address bar to access the file.
Americans Going Green
Jerry Adler, Newsweek
With windmills, low-energy homes, new forms of recycling and fuel-efficient cars, Americans are taking conservation into their own hands.
One morning last week ... 29 years after president Jimmy Carter declared energy conservation "the moral equivalent of war" ... 37 years after the first reference to the "greenhouse effect" in The New York Times ... one day after oil prices hit a record peak of more than $75 per barrel ...
Kelley Howell, a 38-year-old architect, got on her bicycle a little after 5 a.m. and rode 7.9 miles past shopping centers, housing developments and a nature preserve to a bus stop to complete her 24-mile commute to work. Compared with driving in her 2004 Mini Cooper, the 15.8-mile round trip by bicycle conserved approximately three fifths of a gallon of gasoline, subtracting 15 pounds of potential carbon dioxide pollution from the atmosphere (minus the small additional amount she exhaled as a result of her exertion).
That's 15 pounds out of 1.7 billion tons of carbon produced annually to fuel all the vehicles in the United States. She concedes that when you look at it that way, it doesn't seem like very much. "But if you're not doing something and the next family isn't doing anything, then who will?"
On that very question the course of civilization may rest. In the face of the coming onslaught of pollutants from a rapidly urbanizing China and India, the task of avoiding ecological disaster may seem hopeless, and some environmental scientists have, quietly, concluded that it is. But Americans are notoriously reluctant to surrender their fates to the impersonal outcomes of an equation. One by one-and together, in state and local governments and even giant corporations-they are attempting to wrest the future from the dotted lines on the graphs that point to catastrophe. The richest country in the world is also the one with the most to lose.
Environmentalism waxes and wanes in importance in American politics, but it appears to be on the upswing now.
(17 July 2006 issue)
G.E.'s Green Gamble
Amanda Griscom Little, Vanity Fair
Can General Electric help solve the world's toughest environmental problems and still turn a profit? C.E.O. and chairman Jeffrey Immelt thinks so.
...By any standard, G.E. is the oldest and most diverse industrial conglomerate on the planet. Founded more than 125 years ago by Thomas Edison, it is today the biggest manufacturer of power plants, jet engines, locomotives, and medical equipment worldwide; it owns NBC Universal and boasts enormous health-care, plastics, commercial-finance, and venture-capital divisions.
It is also responsible for more greenhouse gases than most American cities, more toxic-waste sites than almost any other company in the nation, and one of the highest-profile environmental scandals in U.S. history: between 1947 and 1977, G.E. discharged 1.3 million pounds of health-threatening polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in New York's Hudson River from electrical-equipment plants in Fort Edwards and Hudson Falls. To this day, the waterway is reputed to be the largest hazardous-waste site in the nation.
Nonetheless, [G.E. CEO] Immelt comfortably joked about matters green, including his newly announced plan to dredge the Hudson River (he agreed to negotiate a cleanup with the E.P.A., but environmentalists still contend that the plan is inadequate). The chairman went on to address the intensifying threat of hurricanes (which was a factor in his decision to shed G.E.'s sizable insurance division this year) and the prospect of federal greenhouse-gas regulations in the U.S. (which he has openly pronounced necessary and inevitable, much to the discomfort of some of his colleagues). When addressing this latter point, Immelt trotted out his favorite new motto—"Green is green."
This, he insists, is no laughing matter. It's the slogan for the new "Ecomagination" campaign Immelt unveiled last year, a sweeping initiative to lighten G.E.'s environmental footprint and ramp up its development of cleaner technologies—from billion-dollar power plants to two-dollar compact fluorescent light bulbs. The meaning of the motto is simple: Good environmental strategy fattens the bottom line. Or, in Immelt's own words, "My environmental agenda is not about being trendy or moral. It's about accelerating economic growth."
...There's no question that today's mercurial climates—both atmospheric and geopolitical—impose entirely different demands on global executives than the relatively tranquil conditions of the 80s and 90s. In the last five years, the twin forces of high oil prices and escalating conflict in the Middle East have dramatically altered the discussion around energy. Now the voices clamoring for a shift away from fossil fuels go well beyond the environmental community, whose demand for efficient and renewable energy technologies has long been denounced as a threat to commercial progress.
Since 9/11, Greens have been joined by a throng of new clean-energy allies—hawks who fear dependency on foreign oil, fiscal conservatives who scorn undue military spending on wars tied to oil, evangelicals who worry that global warming is threatening God's creation, motorists who are feeling the price pinch at the pump, and homeowners beset with exorbitant heating bills. And slowly but surely, another ally is coming to the table: corporate executives who see a tremendous commercial opportunity in the technologies that can allay these concerns.
Amanda Griscom Little publishes a weekly column about energy and the environment on Grist.org and syndicated on Salon.com. She has written for Rolling Stone and The New York Times Magazine, among other publications.
(11 July 2006)
Vanuatu ranked as happiest place
AFP, Sydney Morning Herald
The tiny South Pacific Ocean archipelago of Vanuatu is the happiest country on Earth, according to a study measuring people's wellbeing and their impact on the environment.
Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica and Panama complete the top five in the Happy Planet Index, compiled by the British think-tank New Economics Foundation (NEF)
Island nations performed particularly well in the rankings. But Vanuatu, with a population of around 200,000, topped them all...
"Don't tell too many people, please," said Marke Lowen of Vanuatu Online, the republic's online newspaper.
"People are generally happy here because they are very satisfied with very little," he told The Guardian.
"This is not a consumer-driven society. Life here is about community and family and goodwill to other people. It's a place where you don't worry too much."
(12 July 2006)
Wow. Colombia. United States is ranked 150 of 178, Australia 138. The index does consider environmental harm as well as life satisfaction, but it's interesting to note that drug cartel rule, guerilla warfare, murder squads, massive recession, indiscriminate aerial pesticide use, might not be so much more damaging to the psyche as playstations, cable TV and shopping malls.
Related: Ron Paul: Why Are Americans So Angry?