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Solutions & sustainability - Nov 19

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Go forth and multiply a lot less

Briefing, the Economist
SOMETIME in the next few years (if it hasn’t happened already) the world will reach a milestone: half of humanity will be having only enough children to replace itself. That is, the fertility rate of half the world will be 2.1 or below. This is the “replacement level of fertility”, the magic number that causes a country’s population to slow down and eventually to stabilise. According to the United Nations population division, 2.9 billion people out of a total of 6.5 billion were living in countries at or below this point in 2000-05. The number will rise to 3.4 billion out of 7 billion in the early 2010s and to over 50% in the middle of the next decade. The countries include not only Russia and Japan but Brazil, Indonesia, China and even south India.

The move to replacement-level fertility is one of the most dramatic social changes in history. It manifested itself in the violent demonstrations by students against their clerical rulers in Iran this year. It almost certainly contributed to the rising numbers of middle-class voters who backed the incumbent governments of Indonesia and India. It shows up in rural Malaysia in richer, emptier villages surrounded by mechanised farms. And everywhere, it is changing traditional family life by enabling women to work and children to be educated. At a time when Malthusian alarms are ringing because of environmental pressures, falling fertility may even provide a measure of reassurance about global population trends.

The fertility rate is a hypothetical, almost conjectural number. It is not the same as the birth rate, which is the number of children born in a year as a share of the total population. Rather, it represents the number of children an average woman is likely to have during her childbearing years, conventionally taken to be 15-49.

If there were no early deaths, the replacement rate would be 2.0 (actually, fractionally higher because fewer girls are born than boys). Two parents are replaced by two children. But a daughter may die before her childbearing years, so the figure has to allow for early mortality. Since child mortality is higher in poor countries, the replacement fertility rate is higher there, too. In rich countries it is about 2.1. In poor ones it can go over 3.0. The global average is 2.33. By about 2020, the global fertility rate will dip below the global replacement rate for the first time.

Modern Malthusians tend to discount the significance of falling fertility. They believe there are too many people in the world, so for them, it is the absolute number that matters. And that number is still rising, by a forecast 2.4 billion over the next 40 years. Populations can rise while fertility declines because of inertia, which matters a lot in demography. If, because of high fertility in earlier generations, there is a bulge of women of childbearing years, more children will be born, though each mother is having fewer children. There will be more, smaller families. Assuming fertility falls at current rates, says the UN, the world’s population will rise from 6.8 billion to 9.2 billion in 2050, at which point it will stabilise...
(29 Oct 2009)


The new wave of urban farming (and fresh food from small spaces!)

Makenna Goodman, Grist
It’s always sunny in this Philadelphia community garden.

Do you dream of an organic garden, but don’t have a yard? A flock of chicks, perhaps, but don’t have a yard? Home-grown food, and lower grocery bills (but, alas, no yard!)? Dream no more, because you can have it, and without quitting your job, trading your bus pass for a pickup, or moving to the rural north.

A new wave of farming is happening in a city near you. While true, Old MacDonald had a farm (ee-i-ee-i-o), his offspring have some urban fish to fry. They’re working off loans, and can’t necessarily afford a parcel of land. They’re young parents who want to save money on cherry tomatoes. They’re newlyweds paying off healthcare debt, and growing taters in their trashcan. They’re students avoiding crappy dining plans. They’re urban farmers. Plain and simple.

In Fresh Food From Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting, author R. J. Ruppenthal turns a seemingly anti-urban idea—that farming has to be done outside, with a red barn and rolling fields of wheat—on its head. Because urbanites, too, can grow their own food indoors, in cramped spaces, and without access to land! For real.

So without further ado, I give you Ruppenthal’s comprehensive “how-to” info for growing fresh food in the absence of open land; it’s here for the taking. Nom nom. Here’s my discussion with him:

Q. Without the luxury of land or space, is it really possible for someone to grow and produce their own food?

A. You do not need much space to grow some of your own food...

Q. What are the top five things a city resident needs to know about urban gardening?

A. First, you need to know that you CAN grow a lot of different food crops in limited spaces...
(12 Nov 2009)


Urban farms a fertile idea

Aaron K. Chatterji and Christopher Gergen, Washington Times
Across our city landscapes, an age-old idea is redefining community development. From Detroit to Durham, N.C., the concept of "urban farming" is becoming common among urban planners and social entrepreneurs. The goal of urban farming initiatives is to take vacant plots of land in underused parts of our cities and convert them into productive farms.

Urban farms can provide locally produced, healthy food, cut down on transportation costs and carbon emissions and build a fruit and vegetable oasis in communities where grocery stores with fresh produce often are not available. Furthermore, employment at these farms can provide valuable skills and a sense of pride for traditionally disenfranchised members of our communities, such as recently released convicts.

Chicago's urban farming community, driven by pioneers such as Les Brown and Erika Allen, is a model for the rest of the nation. Miss Allen's Growing Power enterprise runs three farms within the city limits: a traditional community garden next to the Cabrini-Green public-housing project; a half-acre site in Jackson Park used for high-intensity food production and community gardening; and a 12,000-square-foot downtown garden that produces more than 150 varieties of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. Farmed in part by local schoolchildren, much of this food ends up at local restaurants and farmers markets.

Another organization, Growing Home, runs three certified organic farms in the Chicago area. About half of the people working on the farms are homeless, and an estimated 90 percent have been incarcerated. Growing Home pays all employees minimum wage, provides them one-on-one work counseling and requires them to attend job training classes for six months. More than 100 people have graduated from Growing Home's program, with 65 percent in stable jobs and 90 percent in stable housing. Additionally, all proceeds from the farms - through sales to farmers markets and restaurants - go back into the organization, creating a sustainable social enterprise.

Like fruits and vegetables, these good ideas need rich soil to grow, and policymakers can support them in creative ways. Growing Home acquired its land through the Stuart B. McKinney Act, which specifies that when federal surplus property is distributed, preference must be given to organizations serving the homeless. Growing Home also benefited from investments from a Community Development Block Grant and a $175,000 social enterprise grant from the mayor's office...
(4 Nov 2009)


Summary Presentation for Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization

Earth Policy Institute press release

Download Slideshow in PowerPoint (12 MB)
Download Slideshow as PDF (8 MB)
(Click here for instructions)

Updates for Plan B 4.0 Slideshow Presentation

The Challenges: Food Insecurity and Climate Change

Some trends are worrying:

  • As levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide continue to increase, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that Earth’s average temperature will rise 1.1-6.4˚C during this century.
  • Our current trajectory is already outpacing these projections.
  • For every 1˚C rise in temperature above the norm, yields of wheat, rice, and corn drop 10 percent.
  • The glaciers feeding rivers like the Yellow, Yangtze, Ganges, and Indus, which provide critical irrigation water, are disappearing at accelerating rates.
  • The United States has been converting more and more corn into fuel for cars; yet the grain needed to fill an SUV’s 25 gallon tank once with ethanol could feed one person for an entire year.
  • World grain and soybean prices tripled from mid-2006 to mid-2008, causing riots and unrest in dozens of countries.
  • More than 1 billion people in the world are suffering from hunger.
  • In an effort to ensure their own food security, some affluent food importing countries, such as Saudi Arabia, China, and South Korea, have begun buying or leasing land abroad to grow their own food.
  • It was food shortages that led to the collapse of several ancient civilizations.

The Response: Plan B
We have the tools to reverse these negative trends and can choose to stabilize climate, eradicate poverty, restore the earth’s natural systems, and check unsustainable population growth. Some bright spots include:

  • The sunlight hitting the earth in 1 hour could power global economy for 1 year.
  • The wind potential in North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas alone could satisfy U.S. energy needs.
  • A worldwide switch to highly-efficient lighting would cut electricity use 12%, equivalent to closing 705 coal-fired power plants.
  • Denmark already gets more than 20% of its electricity from wind and is aiming for 50%.
  • China’s 27 million rooftop solar water heaters harness energy equal to the output of 49 coal-fired power plants.
  • In Germany a systematic shift of taxes from labor to energy reduced global warming emissions and created 250,000 jobs.
  • Iran has slowed its population growth from one of the fastest rates in the world through national literacy, health, and family planning programs.
  • By spending just 1/8 of the world’s current military budget, we could meet the Plan B goals for basic social improvements and restoring the earth.

These facts, and more, are featured in this guided tour through the Plan B blueprint to move the world onto a sustainable path. Based on Lester Brown’s latest book, Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, the presentation lays out the threats facing our civilization, including food insecurity and climate change, and presents the Plan B proposals for solving them.

Use the slides to gain a basic understanding of Plan B, to anchor a lesson in the classroom, or to spread the word within your community on why and how we need to mobilize to save civilization.  You are welcome to modify it to suit your needs. It is designed to be shared, so feel free to pass along the link to others who might be interested. We ask only that you appropriately credit EPI and the photographers, notably Yann Arthus-Bertrand, eminent French photographer and friend of EPI, whose works appear within...
...
(12 Nov 2009)


The next Industrial Revolution will be people-powered

Miguel Mendonça, the Ecologist
The way the world appears to work is as follows. Those with influence, generally at the centre of concentrations of wealth and power, are able to influence public policy. This goes deep into the core mindset of the policymaking machinery, and shapes whole nations on many levels. Contemporary governments in industrialised nations have become little more than facilitators for big business - businesses so big that they have little-to-no national allegiance, sometimes become ‘too big to fail’ and can hold governments to ransom over the creation of conditions wherein they will deign to operate and provide jobs.

Dealing with such disempowering and destructive power relations is critical, and some have suggested that decentralised energy may play a key role. But the transition may be more difficult than ‘simply’ swapping the energy sources we use to power the whole show from conventional to renewable.

The good news is that in doing so we can not only begin to get at the roots of some key problems of the modern world, but also create a whole swathe of positives that conventional energy generation can never achieve.

First, it can allow true citizen and community participation in climate- and environment-protecting activities.

Secondly, renewable energy involvement creates an automatic awareness of, and hence improvement in, energy efficiency.

Thirdly, the awareness-raising and job and industry creation that it drives creates a much wider stakeholder group in the proliferation of green policies and practices – no longer will decisions be made solely by a clique of policy wonks and industry reps.

Fourth, it creates a democratisation of energy production, which can break up the monopoly stranglehold on markets and allow more innovation and progress.

Fifth, it controls long-term energy costs, protecting against supply interruption, especially through geopolitical influence.

And sixth, the creation of a new industrial economy, based on renewables and their attendant technological, supply chain and service requirements, can generate enormous earnings, exports, tax receipts and other economic activity...
(5 Nov 2009)
From the Ecologist website:
Miguel Mendonça is a researcher, author and campaigner. His new book is A Renewable World – Energy, Ecology, Equality (Green Books, £14.95)... -KS


Sustainability and Social Justice: Do the Math

Rex Weyler, Vancouver Observer
Most people I talk to support 'sustainability' and 'social justice' goals. Ecology teaches us that we need to frame these human aspirations in relation to the biological capacity of the Earth, the energy, and the resources that support our burgeoning populations and economies.

As human society sets out to achieve ecological sustainability and social justice on Earth, we face two serious challenges. Firstly, humanity already over-consumes the biological capacity of the planet. And secondly, humanity suffers from a vast gap between rich and poor.

Free-market fundamentalists claim we'll close this gap and restore the planet by growing our economies, perhaps with 'green' jobs - but this business-as-usual approach fails to account for ecological reality.

Start with these facts:

1. Total human consumption = 130% of the Earth's capacity
2. The rich 15% use 85% of the stuff, and the poor 85% use 15% of the stuff

...Even if humanity could make this simple change - the rich cut consumption by half, the poor double their consumption, and we achieve sustainability - we still face two problems.

First of all, we currently add 75 million new people to the planet every year. What stuff are they going to use? To live decent lives, these new humans would need the infrastructure services roughly equal to a nation such as France, Germany or Egypt. And then again, every year.

...The second challenge we face is that we share this planet with millions of other species. These non-human earthlings possess a right to life and habitat as much as we do. Furthermore, humanity relies on the benefits of biological diversity and symbiosis within the ecosystem...
(17 Nov 2009)


Greening Portland - Your City How To
(audio)
Resilient Cities conference interviews, Radio Ecoshock
Summary: Why is Portland such a livable city? What can your city learn from these green leaders? From the Resilient Cities conference, Mayor Sam Adams plus sustainability directors Susan Anderson and Erin Flynn. What works, and what doesn't. Plus Sarah Severn on Nike and climate change. Nike "Air" was actually a global warming gas.
(21 Oct 2009)

Editorial Notes: I almost renamed this post "Sustainable Deep Thought" because of the substantial nature of most of the articles. -KS

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