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Follow Cuba’s emissions standard

Richard Wilkinson, Guardian
Castro proves that equal societies perform measurably better on environmental goals

The difference between before and after New Labour is that time has been wasted and the world is nearer the brink of environmental disaster. Either we reduce carbon emissions by 90% over the next 40 years, or we face the consequences of runaway climate change and the conflict and disruption caused by growing scarcities of oil and other resources.

Consumerism is the biggest obstacle to sustainability and the pressure to consume is stoked by greater inequality. Inequality amplifies social status differences and adds to status insecurity and competition. People in more unequal societies struggle to keep up: they work longer hours, borrow more and save less.

Fairness is also key to policies to reduce global warming. Allowing rich nations or individuals to produce 10 times the carbon emissions of the poor is not a basis for agreement and effective enforcement.

Even if we have to accept lower living standards to reach the target for reducing carbon emissions, that need not reduce the real quality of life. Health, happiness and measures of wellbeing in the rich world have long been decoupled from economic growth. What matters is no longer whether the whole society is a bit richer or poorer, but how big the material differences between us are.

… According to the WWF, Cuba is the only country that has managed to combine an environmentally sustainable footprint per head of population with an acceptably high quality of life as measured by the UN Human Development Index. And if Cuba can do that without the latest and most economical technology, how much easier should it be for us?
(30 October 2008)

Sustenance for sustainability

Virginia Gewin, Nature
Scientists who seek intensely interdisciplinary study could be the beneficiaries of increasing interest in the emerging field of sustainability research, with new university programmes offering novel opportunities. Portland State University in Oregon and Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, are the most recent entrants to the field. They follow the example set by institutions such as the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Broadly defined, sustainability bridges disciplines to determine how to meet the resource needs of the present without adversely affecting future generations. In practice, that means assembling teams of ecologists, economists, biologists and social scientists to find solutions and strategies for big problems, such as meeting future energy needs.
(29 October 2008)
Recommended by Michael Lardelli.

Guardians of the past uncover green lessons for the present

Martin Wainwright, The Guardian
Stately homes and ancient barns may creak and leak, but their locally sourced, sustainable technology is praised in a report published yesterday as a model for tackling climate change.

Traditional coppicing and a device to supply power to the entire Yorkshire Dales village of Grassington are leading a return to green values by English Heritage, the National Trust and other guardians of the past.

Studying the systems of country estates, which were often self-supporting until the industrial revolution, has triggered modern versions, backed by new technology and energy-saving equipment.

“We need to relearn the old wisdom of self-sufficiency and sustainability,” said Maddy Jago, chair of the Yorkshire and Humber Historic Environment Forum, which is restoring the Dales hydroelectric plant, last used in 1946. Two Archimedes screws – historically used for pumping water upwards – will act as turbines to produce enough power for 100 local homes. “This project alone will help the future of an important historic building, and contribute to reducing greenhouse gases and reliance on fossil fuel.”…
(31 October 2008)

The Most Radical Thing You Can Do:
Staying home as a necessity and a right

Rebecca Solnit, Orion magazine
LONG AGO the poet and bioregionalist Gary Snyder said, “The most radical thing you can do is stay home,” a phrase that has itself stayed with me for the many years since I first heard it. Some or all of its meaning was present then, in the bioregional 1970s, when going back to the land and consuming less was how the task was framed. The task has only become more urgent as climate change in particular underscores that we need to consume a lot less. It’s curious, in the chaos of conversations about what we ought to do to save the world, how seldom sheer modesty comes up—living smaller, staying closer, having less—especially for us in the ranks of the privileged. Not just having a fuel-efficient car, but maybe leaving it parked and taking the bus, or living a lot closer to work in the first place, or not having a car at all. A third of carbon-dioxide emissions nationwide are from the restless movements of goods and people.

We are going to have to stay home a lot more in the future. For us that’s about giving things up. But the situation looks quite different from the other side of all our divides. The indigenous central Mexicans who are driven by poverty to migrate have begun to insist that among the human rights that matter is the right to stay home. So reports David Bacon, who through photographs and words has become one of the great chroniclers of the plight of migrant labor in our time.

… Will the world reorganize for the better? Will Oaxaca’s farmers get to stay home and practice their traditional agriculture and culture? Will we stay home and grow more of our own food with dignity, humanity, a little sweat off our own brows, and far fewer container ships and refrigerated trucks zooming across the planet? Will we recover a more stately, settled, secure way of living as the logic of ricocheting like free electrons withers in the shifting climate? Some of these changes must come out of the necessity to reduce carbon emissions, the unaffordability of endlessly moving people and things around. But some of it will have to come by choice. To choose it we will have to desire it—desire to stay home, own less, do less getting and spending, to see a richness that lies not in goods and powers but in the depth of connections. The Oaxacans are ahead of us in this regard. They know what is gained by staying home, and most of them have deeper roots in home to begin with. And they know what to do outside the global economy, how to return to a local realm that is extraordinarily rich in food and agriculture and culture.
(November/December 2008 issue)
For a permaculture methodology to make it easier to “live at home,” see my article: Adapting zones and sectors for the city (Energy Bulletin). -BA