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Solutions & sustainability - Sept 17

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


What we need to form Florida’s green economy

Eric Stewart, The Daily Loaf
Last October, an economy that had been running its course for the past three decades was laid to rest. Our country has been on a nearly 30-year credit bubble where we have binged on cheap credit to buy up homes at ever increasing values. This 30-year ascent made us think it could be forever. But this bubble was based upon unsustainable principles and ecological destruction. We destroyed as much land as we could to produce quickly and consume as much food, building supplies, minerals as we could get from the land as fast as possible. We utilize an extremely dense energy source — fossil fuels — to live lifestyles that are historically similar to those that kings lived before. In order to accomplish all this, we have put ourselves in debt for decades to come. We have borrowed from the future to live in the present for far too long.

Here in Florida the Ponzi scheme of real estate flipping ended as well. As my carpenter friend remarked: “We worked ourselves out of a job.” The University of Florida released a demographic report showing that 58,000 people left the state of Florida this year, ending our over 60-year growth pattern. This is a turnaround for a state that based its economic model on perpetual growth. An economy strictly based upon tourism and building is falling apart. We are already witnessing the vast decline in state resources and even our own governor is leaving for Washington D.C. But I’m here, and I’m a native of Florida and I’m not leaving my state any time soon. I’ve been researching a green economy for the past year and a half and I believe it’s the way to move forward for this state and our country. It’s based upon ethics, entrepreneurship and decentralization — a return to a local living economy.

Globalization was sold as a way to achieve this utopian vision of a consumerist society, constantly purchasing things on a rotary linear system that sucks resources from vast distances and transports them for fractions of what they truly cost. We have subsidized our present by utilizing credit from our future to pull that demand forward to the now. It is a grave error that we have thought no further past the next quarter or year for profits, not just in our economy but our ecology as well...
(8 Sept 2009)


Britain's first housing co-op leads the way in sustainable living

John Vidal, The Guardian
The unexpected stage for one of the most ambitious low-carbon developments in Britain today is not an executive estate in the Cotswolds or a pretty new eco-town, but a row of modest 1970s inner-city houses lived in by a 130-strong group of artists, students and others, just yards from where two French students were tortured and murdered last year.

Sanford Walk, a self-contained street of 14 co-operatively owned, shared houses and several flats built 35 years ago for single people in New Cross, south-east London, suffers every kind of historical and modern pollution. Wedged between railway lines, and downwind of one of London's giant incinerators, it was built on derelict industrial land almost on the site of the old Den, the notorious Millwall football ground. Its best feature is a vast 1980s peace mural by Brian Barnes, depicting Margaret Thatcher, Michael Heseltine and Ronald Reagan riding on cruise missiles.

But to see how Britain's first purpose-built housing co-op – which was novel enough to be opened in 1973 by Prince Philip, evolved into a low-carbon community fit for the climate-changing 21st century, you need to go back to the start, says Nick Raynsford, Greenwich MP and former housing minister, who worked with Shelter at the time and helped set up the co-op...
(16 Sept 2009)


No Impact Man and the Pursuit of Happiness

Jerusha Klemperer, Huffington Post
In dieting, I learned early on, exercises in extremes do not yield good results. Starve yourself of chocolate, and you can be sure the first thing you'll do when no one is looking is dive into a kiddie pool of chocolate, roll around in it and then lick your own arms. I once even tried to give up bread. After two weeks I sat down and ate an entire baguette, crusty end-to-end. Walk the middle ground, I decided, in food and all things.

Maybe it was this hard-earned (and hard-learned) lesson that led me initially to avoid Morgan Spurlock's Supersize Me. It reeked of gimmick, and seemed on the outside to offer no takeaway lessons. Nobody eats fast food all three meals (right?) so what could be the point?

I did see the movie later and had to admit that I was wrong. It turned out that the parameters of his experiment were more rigorous than I expected, and it also turned out that setting an extreme goal yielded behavioral and biological results that could be extrapolated for meaning in the not-so-extreme. And it turned out that, in truth, the way many Americans were/are eating is extreme. And I was forced to confront that extremity.

Similarly, I was wary of No Impact Man. I admired the gesture, and appreciated its Thoreauvian allusions (did I just make up a word?), but I wondered if there was anything of merit for me in there. Again, similarly, I had to admit I as wrong...
(X Sept 2009)


Enabling Inward Community Investment: insights from the DTA conference

Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture
Was in London yesterday for the conference of the Development Trust Association (conference programme here), a fantastic event. I was speaking in the first plenary session, but due to overall time overrun, I had to give a 20 minute talk in 10 minutes! A bit hectic but seemed to go down alright. Highlight for me though was a workshop I attended following my talk. It was chosen from a mouth-watering smorgasbord of great workshops (community food production and distribution, community sector trading, community land trusts, community energy initiatives, setting up community development trusts.. imagine… I felt like a child in a sweetshop…), and was called “Community Bonds and Shares”. It was brilliant, very thought provoking.

I often say in talks that one of the most vital things we need to do is to put in place models by which people can invest into their communities, ESCOs being one such, but the question of how communities invest inwardly in order to enable relocalisation to happen is a key one. There are, within the DTA, people who have been doing this for years, and there is generally no point reinventing wheels. It was opportune therefore to be able to go to a workshop on this very topic. I wasn’t able to stay for the whole thing (one of the downsides of cheaper rail tickets is that their times are fixed), but here are some notes from what I did stay for.

First speaker was Jim Brown of Baker Brown Associates. His talk was called “Community Shares – promoting enterprise, equity and engagement through community shares and bonds”. He began by asking “what is community investment?” Its the practice of members of a community buying shares or bonds in an enterprise that serves a community process. It gives members a direct say in the success of an enterprise. It offers both a fair return on investment and also shares the social, environmental and community benefits of the investment. It is an enterprise that members of the community own...
(16 Sept 2009)


Squatters’ rights

Bibi van der Zee, New Statesman
Sixteen people - mostly male - are standing in a semicircle around a pile of joists and toilet seats. “Has any of you ever built a toilet before?" I ask.

“No. But we all had a good look at that one over there," says one volunteer, "and we're optimistic."

It is Thursday: set-up day at the Climate Camp. The previous day, the campers "swooped" and took possession of a chunk of land on Blackheath, in south-east London. By the end of the day, they had put up five tripods and several hundred metres of six-foot-high metal fencing; bussed in at least half a dozen lorryloads of equipment (marquees, hay bales, tubing and bits of wood); found the mains tap and connected up a water system;
and put nearly a thousand letters through the doors of local residents explaining why they were there and promising to tidy up after themselves.

The organisation of the Climate Camp might be the eighth wonder of the world. The whole thing is run by volunteers who meet once a month at locations around the country. There are subcommittees to deal with each aspect of the camp, such as media, process (how things are done) and the site; plans are presented at the meetings and OK'd or refined. Anyone who has been on one patch for too long is moved to another one in order to prevent de facto leaders emerging.

The toilets are a perfect example of the agonising but productive process behind each year's Climate Camp. All Thursday, every time I pass, the group is there, talking a lot more than hammering. "We're divided on the toilet seats," one of them says. "It's the great squatting debate. Hard work, you see."

“Ah yes," chips in another, "but great for your quads."...
(3 Sept 2009)


One Man’s Trash ...

Kate Murphy, New York Times
AMONG the traditional brick and clapboard structures that line the streets of this sleepy East Texas town, 70 miles north of Houston, a few houses stand out: their roofs are made of license plates, and their windows of crystal platters.

They are the creations of Dan Phillips, 64, who has had an astonishingly varied life, working as an intelligence officer in the Army, a college dance instructor, an antiques dealer and a syndicated cryptogram puzzle maker. About 12 years ago, Mr. Phillips began his latest career: building low-income housing out of trash.

In 1997 Mr. Phillips mortgaged his house to start his construction company, Phoenix Commotion. “Look at kids playing with blocks,” he said. “I think it’s in everyone’s DNA to want to be a builder.” Moreover, he said, he was disturbed by the irony of landfills choked with building materials and yet a lack of affordable housing.

To him, almost anything discarded and durable is potential building material. Standing in one of his houses and pointing to a colorful, zigzag-patterned ceiling he made out of thousands of picture frame corners, Mr. Phillips said, “A frame shop was getting rid of old samples, and I was there waiting.”...
(2 September 2009)
Make sure to look at the amazing slideshow-SO


Real people, real preparation, Part 5, Carolyn Baker Interviews Robin Rucker

Carolyn Baker, Speaking Truth to Power
...CB: When was the very first incident or event or experience that started you thinking about the current transition for which you are preparing? Please elaborate on that.

RR: Initially, I thought I had the perfect career. I believed in the pharmaceutical industry and the good I thought it was doing. Then, four years into my career at my first job, the biotech startup I worked at was swallowed by a huge pharmaceutical company. I began interacting with this large company and quickly realized how naïve I had been. That was the first clue that I needed to make a change because my career lacked meaning for me as I was supporting an industry focused on making money. Six years later I was totally burned out, so I quit work and traveled for 15 months. Extended travel had been an unfulfilled dream of mine. I left the country with the idea that I might live somewhere else completely. While I was traveling, someone told me about a documentary they had seen on CNN about the possibility of the world running out of oil. I remember feeling frightened. It was 2000 and I was three months into my journey, and I decided I had better keep on traveling because it seemed likely that the ability to travel would become impossible in the future. Eventually, I went back to work because I still had a large mortgage, but I was still really unhappy.

CB: And then what happened? What led to the next thing and the next, and so on? What books or documentaries influenced you? Which people influenced you?

RR: A few years later I met a man who was really educated about Peak Oil. He insisted that I read Richard Heinberg's "Power Down," Jim Kunstler's "The Long Emergency" and Matt Savinar's "The Oil Age Is Over." I was so terrified by Matt's book that I could only read it at lunch time or I couldn't sleep. I knew intuitively that all three authors were correct about the big picture of what they predicted, and I became very motivated to make big life changes. Talk about taking the red pill. I realized that as a middle manager in the biotech industry I had absolutely no practical skills and I really wanted to help people directly. I also knew that Silicon Valley would be an undesirable place to live during energy descent, so I decided to move. First, I moved to a small, rural community in Northern California. Although I learned a lot about homesteading and living off the grid (20 minutes from town, two and half miles up a dirt road), it was simply too remote for me. After a year I moved to a larger, progressive, semi-rural community that is less remote. I have been there for two years now and I love it. Many people in town are aware of what is happening, so I can talk about peak oil without getting a blank look in return...
(13 Sept 2009)

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