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Go bright green

Josh Lacey, Guardian

Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century
edited by Alex Steffen

How shall we save the world? Here’s one way. We must stop flying. We must switch off our cities and get back to the land. We must renounce all the dirty pleasures of modern life. Never again will we eat a fresh mango in March. Alex Steffen and the other contributors to – and this big book which the website has spawned – describe that puritanical branch of ecological thought as “dark green” and, in opposition, describe themselves as “bright green”. Dark greens demand that you dismantle your car and get a bike instead; bright greens recommend you upgrade to a Toyota Prius. Dark greens say the world is already overpopulated; bright greens suggest that with more efficient farming, we could feed another few billion.

Worldchanging isn’t quite the bright green’s bible, but it is a vision of how things might look if the geeks inherit the Earth. Six hundred pages of ideas, ideals and enthusiasm are crammed between hard covers, suggesting a thousand ways for making the world a better place.
(17 March 2007)
I don’t see the touted conflict between “bright green” and “dark green.” It’s more a matter of emphasis, rather than deep philosophical convictions. The WorldChanging website actually does cover dark green ideas such as gardening and localization. -BA

Time for True Market Reform

Hazel Henderson, WorldChanging
The mantra of economists, central bankers, the World Bank, the IMF and others advising developing countries calls for , above all, market reform. Un-packing the jargon, they mean de-regulation, free trade, privatization, convertible currencies, export and debt-led growth and flexible labor markets – summarized as the “Washington Consensus.” Today, the call for market reform is morphing into demands for reforming markets and capitalism itself.

Today, this one-size-fits-all conventional recipe for economic growth is being challenged not only on social and environmental grounds — because it is widely seen as failing. Corporate CEOs at Davos worried about global climate chaos and their US-CAP group urged mandatory caps on their own carbon emissions. Soul-searching continues on the failure of WTO trade talks, the growing gap between rich and poor, the effects globalization and offshoring of blue and increasingly, white-collar jobs. There is little to reassure American that any serious policy re-think is afoot.

China has long rejected the Washington Consensus model and modified it to create its path of a social market economy where markets are seen as “good servants but bad masters.” Europeans favor the mixed social market economy and now most Latin American countries are rejecting the US formulas in favor of the Chinese and European models. In earlier years, the economies of Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore grew on the Asian model of markets steered and regulated by governments.

HAZEL HENDERSON, futurist,syndicated columnist,author of many books including Ethical Markets: Growing The Green Economy (2007), also co-created the Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators, updated.
(2 April 2007)
Hazel Henderson has been very influential in her critiques of current economic thinking. It’s good to see her writing for WorldChanging. -BA

Architecture: Green and Greener

Sarah Rich, WorldChanging
A new report from the UN Environment Program (UNEP) released last week (downloadable here) [re]confirmed what many of us already know, but what policy-makers and giant development corporations still need to hear from places like the UN: that the building sector plays a huge role in achieving the greenhouse gas reductions necessary to effectively combat climate change.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said:” Energy efficiency, along with cleaner and renewable forms of energy generation, is one of the pillars upon which a de-carbonized world will stand or fall. The savings that can be made right now are potentially huge and the costs to implement them relatively low if sufficient numbers of governments, industries, businesses and consumers act”.

“This report focuses on the building sector. By some conservative estimates, the building sector world-wide could deliver emission reductions of 1.8 billion tonnes of C02. A more aggressive energy efficiency policy might deliver over two billion tonnes or close to three times the amount scheduled to be reduced under the Kyoto Protocol,” he added.

Indeed, governments, industries, businesses and consumers are starting to jump on the bandwagon, having realized the validity of the economic argument towards building greener and operating our buildings more sustainably. But they aren’t necessarily the early adoptors in this game. The early adoptors are the architects, designers and urban planners who’ve seen for years now that a smartly designed building, planned into an intelligently conceived urban context, can not only make a hugely positive impact on health and the environment , but revolutionize our quality of life.
(3 April 2007)
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Energy Use Study Demonstrates Remarkable Power Of Social Norms

Association for Psychological Science via Huliq
Most people want to be normal. So, when we are given information that underscores our deviancy, the natural impulse is to get ourselves as quickly as we can back toward the center.

Marketers know about this impulse, and a lot of marketing makes use of social norms. This is especially true of campaigns targeting some kind of public good: reducing smoking or binge drinking, for example, or encouraging recycling. The problem with these campaigns is that they often do not work. Indeed, they sometimes appear to have the opposite of their intended effect.

Why would this be? Psychologist Wesley Schultz of California State University, San Marcos believes that despite the fact that we want to be normal, most people are very bad at estimating what normal human behavior really looks like. For example, many people probably think it’s typical to spew 11 tons of carbon into the world every year, while others might think that a couple tons is probably closer to the mark. But, when Al Gore tells us that the national average is in fact 7.5 tons, he likely is sparking two very different reactions: Some feel guilty for being so gluttonous. But others probably react: whew, did something right for a change.

Some may adjust their thermostats out of guilt, but those feeling self-righteous are not going to do that. It would not make any sense. Indeed, Schultz and his colleagues suspect that people who are already performing better than the norm may also adjust-but in a socially undesirable way. That is, they also move toward the center, seeking out the average, but in their case by increasing their energy use. This boomerang effect could in theory offset any greening of behavior and account for the overall ineffectiveness of such marketing strategies.

Schultz decided to test this idea in the real world. He enlisted nearly 300 residents of San Marcos, California, who agreed to let him monitor their home energy consumption. He measured their energy use once to start, again soon after, and once again several weeks later. Throughout the experiment, he gave them information about their actual energy use and how it compared to the average energy use in San Marcos.

Schultz wanted to test one additional idea. With some of the households, he did not just deliver straight information. He attached an emoticon to the information sheet. If the homeowners were below the community average in energy use they got a smiley face; if they were consuming more than their neighbors were, they got a frowning face. He wanted to see if social approval or disapproval-conveyed by the emoticons-might moderate people’s behavior, for better or worse.

The results were clear. As reported in the May issue of the journal Psychological Science, the residents who got just straight information changed their behavior as predicted. That is, wastrels became more conservative, and the frugal became more licentious. There was a boomerang effect in other words. However, the greener consumers who also got praise, in the form of a smiley face, did not become more wasteful. The message they were getting was something like: “You’re doing better than most on the environmental front and society applauds you for this. Keep it up.” And they did.

How about the frowning face, the stinging symbol of society’s disappointment with you? Well, people who earned a frown did moderate their consumption, but no more than those who simply learned of their excessive energy consumption.
(April 2007)