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Solutions & sustainability - Jan 29

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


Oil Is Too Important To Burn In Cars

Lloyd Alter, treehugger
If there is one lesson to be learned from the designers, thinkers and curators presenting at Conversations in Design: A World Without Oil, it is the fact that we need the stuff for a lot of uses far more important than pushing boxes of steel around on roads.

When one realizes that we are using a cubic mile of the stuff every year (that is the Eiffel Tower on the right for scale), it becomes pretty obvious that this isn't going to continue forever, and we have to begin to think about what we are going to use it for.

...Nadine Gudz, Director of Sustainability Strategy for InterfaceFLOR Canada opened the session; Interface was the lead sponsor for the event, but did not give the usual thank you and hello. Interface isn't kidding when it says it is trying to be a sustainable company; they have pledged to be fossil fuel free by 2020, quite a challenge for a carpet company...

...Fritz Haeg of Edible Estates fame blames it all on Le Corbusier, who wrote in Radiant City:...

...Sheila Kennedy wants us all to generate our energy independent of the grid, in an oil-free world...

And more...
(22 Jan 2010)


Beyond rhetoric

Tim Jackson, RSA Journal
Where on earth is the next economy? What is the basis of tomorrow’s enterprise? How do we set about building a shared and lasting prosperity? These questions haunt the fragile truce of a still-faltering economy. It’s time we came up with some answers. It’s time we demanded them from our politicians.

The banking crisis of 2008 led the world to the brink of financial disaster and shook the dominant economic model to its foundations. It redefined the boundaries between market and state. It forced us to confront our inability to manage the financial – let alone the social or environmental – sustainability of the global economy. Consumer confidence was shattered. Investment stalled. Unemployment may still be rising. Trust in financial markets is likely to suffer for a long time to come. Public sector finances will be stretched for a decade or more.

Not to stand back now and question what happened is to compound failure with failure: failure of vision with failure of responsibility. If nothing else, the economic crisis has presented a unique opportunity to address financial and ecological sustainability together.

For the most part, that opportunity has gone unheeded. For a while, politicians paid lip service to the interesting idea of a ‘green stimulus’ – government spending to address simultaneously the demands of economic recovery and the investment needs of a sustainable, low-carbon society. “The contours of a resilient, low-carbon recovery are becoming clear,” claimed Gordon Brown at the World Economic Forum in Davos, barely a year ago. “Underlying all these measures is a common principle: the need to lay down now the infrastructure and the hardware to support a low-carbon recovery and the green economy of the future.”

...It’s even possible to identify a primitive blueprint for this kind of activity. Community-based enterprises engaged in delivering local services – food, health, public transport, community education, maintenance and repair, recreation – contribute to flourishing, are embedded in community, have the potential for low-carbon footprints and provide people with meaningful work. Let’s call these ‘ecological enterprises’. At the moment they constitute a kind of ‘Cinderella economy’, operating at best at the margins of the formal economy.

This Cinderella economy is problematic in conventional terms, however, because its potential for productivity growth is almost negligible. There are very good reasons for this. Human interaction lies at the heart of the value proposition. Reducing the labour content makes no sense at all here. In a conventional growth-based economy, this is potentially disastrous. In an economy geared towards providing capabilities for flourishing (including decent work) within ecological limits, it is a considerable bonus...
(Winter 2009-2010)
Tim Jackson's book Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet is published by Earthscan.


three paths to a low-car city

Jarrett Walker, Human Transit
If you want to live in a city with fewer cars, how do you get there? What do low-car cities have in common? Anything? Or are there in fact different ways to reach low car-dependence, demonstrated by very different cities achieving the same high scores?

All these questions came to mind as I perused Wikipedia's helpful list of the US cities over 100,000 population with the most zero-car households (thanks to commenter Alon Levy). I find the list so interesting I'm just going to copy all of it here, then add some thoughts at the end. The figure given for each city is the percentage of households that do not own a car.

...An obvious caution: These are incorporated cities, which are things of very unequal size and shape bearing little relation to the organic form of urban regions. For example, Los Angeles at #49 would score much higher if the vast low-density San Fernando Valley were not part of the incorporated city, and high-density innermost suburbs like East Los Angeles (#39) were included instead.

If I then look across the whole list and try to identify factors that seem to explain, in different mixtures, each city's presence on the list, it seems there are three: age, poverty, and dominant universities (i.e. universities that are large relative to the size of the city). We might posit that these are the three most reliable paths low car ownership at the scale of an American city of 100,000 or more. Other things matter too -- obviously, it helps to be part of a larger urban agglomeration that delivers more transit service and adjacent activity. But every city's presence in the top 50 has an obvious explanation in one or more of these three factors...
(20 Jan 2010)


Saving Sub-Sahara Africa a Drip at a Time

John Perlin, Miller-McCune
The hundred thousand people of the Kalalé District in northern Benin, a country in West Africa, like billions in the developing world, are not connected to power lines. All but one out of 20 rely on farming for their livelihood, and most just scrape by. During the dry season from November through April, many suffer from malnutrition, a condition so common it gets its own name, kwashiorkor.

One Kalalian, Mamoudou Setamou, teaches about insects and integrated pest management at Texas A&M. He hasn't forgotten his roots and returns to Kalalé to participate in local community functions including district council meetings. At one such gathering in 2006, the council discussed ways of generating electricity when it became clear that the central government had no intention of bringing electrical lines into the district anytime soon. For his part, Setamou believed that photovoltaics best fit his countrymen's needs.

Back in America, he stopped at the headquarters of the Solar Electric Light Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based nongovernmental organization that traditionally focuses on using solar to bring electricity to poor, remote or rural areas — like Kalalé...
(25 Jan 2010)


How Can Haiti Be Sustainable?

Eric Michael Johnson, the primate diaries
As I wrote yesterday in my piece for The Huffington Post, the history of Western financial involvement in Haiti has been one of growing the nation's textile industry despite the fact that 70% of Haiti's annual income comes from agriculture. By emphasizing programs such as HOPE and HOPE II, the United States has increased the profits of American companies, but the livelihood of Haitian workers has decreased at nearly the same rate.

[A] 2009 report by the Congressional Research Service found that "assessments of the effectiveness of Hope I, however, were disappointing." Since 2004 Haitian exports to the United States increased by 32% while, during the same period, the Haitian minimum wage declined by 36%. Haiti's current trade imbalance is enormous and the country relies exclusively on foreign sources for basic commodities such as food and oil.

Another critical element has been the role of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in tying development loans to privatization of the nation's infrastructure and eliminating subsidies to agriculture. As a result, the heavily subsidized American farmers are able to sell their products in Haiti more cheaply than local farmers. One unintended consequence has been that, in order to make ends meet, local farmers have continued to erode Haiti's already decimated forest land. Today it is estimated that Haiti's once lush forests have been reduced to a mere 3% of what they had been when Columbus first arrived on the island. What can be done to reverse this trend while, at the same time, allowing the already impoverished Haitian farmers to improve their conditions?
(28 Jan 2010)
related: Tree by Tree: Reforesting Haiti


Straw Homes That Would Have Foiled the Wolf

Arnie Cooper, Miller-McCune
In the United States, the embodiment of permaculture can be found at a 450-acre parcel — the Quail Springs Permaculture Farm — tucked into a piñon- and juniper-covered canyon in Southern California's Cuyama Valley, 32 miles "as the raven flies" from the Pacific Ocean and about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Here at the base of two "sister mountains" on a windswept desert-like terrain sacred to the area's native Chumash Indians live 14 permanent residents, mostly teachers and "land stewards," along with a handful of interns. All work to restore a landscape laid waste by a century of clear-cutting and grazing, while also hosting seminars and workshops on topics ranging from safe water and green building to creating a carbon economy.

It's applied permaculture, a design science focused on integrating sustainable shelter, energy, food and water for human settlement...
(28 Jan 2010)

Editorial Notes: Photo credit: Quail Springs Permaculture Farm website

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