Greeks ditch middleman to embrace ‘potato revolution’

Mark Lowen, BBC news
The crowds keep building: hundreds of Greeks are queuing up to take part in what they’re calling the “potato revolution”.

It is a simple idea with simple products.

Thousands of tonnes of potatoes are sold directly from the farmer to the consumer, cutting out the costly middleman and so slashing prices by more than half.

The seed of the potato movement was planted in northern Greece a few weeks ago and is proving so successful that it’s now come down to Athens, growing ever more popular as Greeks struggle with the worst recession in modern history.

“Salaries are very low, taxes are very high and the price of products doesn’t seem to follow,” says Sofia Manidou, one of those waiting in line.

“We have to pay a lot of money for basic products like potatoes. This is the potato revolution and we hope to see revolutions of other types of food too because we are in great need of this.”

And that now seems likely, with similar schemes in the pipeline for rice, flour and olive oil. It’s a movement that benefits both sides, with farmers earning for what they produce, without paying large intermediary fees to wholesalers.

Some supermarkets have been forced to reduce their prices in response…
(15 March 2012)

International Conference on Degrowth in the Americas

Staff, Conference blog
Twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio, the linkage of sustainable development to economic growth requires profound rethinking. It has not offered a convincing solution to one of the most dramatic crises in history: how to avert ecological collapse while enhancing social justice and improving life’s prospects. In advance of Rio plus 20, our Conference seeks to challenge and move beyond the sustainable development agenda. A degrowth perspective will help us visualize and build towards a truly prosperous world.

Drawing from previous degrowth conferences in Paris and Barcelona in 2008 and 2010 respectively, the Montreal conference will focus on the particular situations and dynamics of the Americas. What does degrowth mean for our Hemisphere with its rich geographical, cultural, social and economic diversity? How can degrowth models apply to different contexts from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego? What does degrowth mean for the indigenous peoples of the Americas and their aspirations for their lands and peoples? How can degrowth concepts be made audible, understandable and acceptable to rich North Americans?

This gathering will bring together academics, activists, environmentalists and indigenous peoples to discuss our needs and hopes for diverse and more equitable societies in the Americas, on a post-growth healing earth.

The Organizing Committee of the Montreal International Conference on Convivial Degrowth in the Western Hemisphere has begun planning for an exciting “slow” conference to be held in Montreal during mid May 2012. The conference will bring together participants from throughout the Americas as well as Asia, Africa and Europe to look at the theory, practice, necessity and challenges of building a post growth world. In this first degrowth conference in the Americas, there will be special emphasis on responses from the Americas to the economic growth paradigm.

The current degrowth discussion focuses on five main areas: (i) injury to and loss of ecosystems and human livelihoods and communities due to human activities; (ii) the rebuttal of the idea that human-made capital can substitute for the loss of natural capital; (iii) commodification of interhuman and human-Earth relations and values ; (iv) a critique of growth as a social, economic and political imperative and of over-reliance on technology and industrialization to address ecological pressures; and (v) an examination of global and historical distributional inequalities through social justice perspectives.

To facilitate discussion of the above main areas, the following six proposed themes are envisioned to help advance the convivial degrowth debate from an Americas perspective. Submissions, academic or artistic, individual or collective, received in response to the call for proposals will be assessed by open review panels and sorted according to these themes. Thematic working groups will be convened and discussions will proceed in three stages. First, thematic working groups will address sub-themes. Second, panels composed of participants from different working groups will be formed to lead discussions within each theme. Last, panels composed of participants within each theme will be formed to lead cross-theme plenary discussions…

Grounding. What is a flourishing Earth and what worldviews enable it?…

Knowing. How can the physical, biological and social sciences help us in understanding how to enhance the flourishing of the Earth’s life systems?…

Relating. What means of relationship and exchange can help enhance the continual flourishing of the Earth’s life systems?…

Consenting. How can the major political, economic, development, social, technical, and scientific priorities of society be developed with broad and informed public dialogue and consent?…

Sharing. How can the radically unjust inequalities between people be eliminated; and how can the human fair share of the Earth’s life support systems be defined and achieved?…

Experiencing. What would a flourishing society look and feel like for individuals and collectives at various temporal and spatial scales?…
(May 13-19, 2012)

New Currency Brings Hope to Debt-Stricken City

Simon Broll, Der Spiegel
Can a new currency help a debt-stricken community get back on its feet? A Hamburg-based theater group is hoping to do just that in the German city of Oberhausen. Locals will be able to earn “coals” through voluntary work and exchange them for goods and services.

All around Europe, governments are cutting back on spending in reaction to the euro crisis. But in one small city in Germany, locals are bucking the trend. Fed up with austerity, they are planning to spend more, not less, money — and they are making it themselves.

The city of Oberhausen, in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, is broke. With debts of €1.83 billion ($2.4 billion) the future of the city, best known internationally as the home town of Paul the psychic octopus, is uncertain. But now a Hamburg theater group has come up with a radical solution to reverse the city’s ailing fortunes.

This Friday, at a premiere organized in the town, performers of the Hamburg “Geheimagentur” (“Secret Agency”) theater group will launch a new currency for the inhabitants of Oberhausen as part of a performance called “Schwarzbank” (“black bank”). The new money is named the Kohle, literally the German word for coal, but also slang for money and a reference to the city’s location in the mining heartland of Germany.

For two weeks, locals will be able to use “coals” to pay for goods and services in over 50 businesses which have agreed to take part in the project. Those wishing to spend the newly issued “coals” can choose from a range of goods and services, including specially developed confectionary treats, tattoos, a new hairstyle, cinema tickets, tours of the town and tickets for a football match.

Residents who want to earn “coals” can do so by engaging in activities which may be considered useful to the community. “We will finance ‘unpaid’ hours of work,” says one member of the group, whose policy is not to have its members identified by name. “People can suggest to us things that they do in their free time, or things that they’ve always wanted to do but never got the chance.” Participants will receive 20 “coals” in return for every act that benefits the community. It’s a fair price, considering that most of the goods and services on offer only cost five “coals.”

According to organizers of the “Schwarzbank,” the aim is not to replace the euro. Instead, the “coal” is intended to complement the existing currency and create a sense of community. “Poverty makes people lonely,” says one performer. “It makes one unable to take part in society.” The groups hopes that the new currency will promote a “stronger group dynamic.”
(16 March 2012)

A Global Redesign? Shaping the Circular Economy
Felix Preston, Chatham House

Summary points

  • A fundamentally new model of industrial organization is needed to de-link rising prosperity from resource consumption growth – one that goes beyond incremental efficiency gains to deliver transformative change.
  • A ‘circular economy’ (CE) is an approach that would transform the function of resources in the economy. Waste from factories would become a valuable input to another process – and products could be repaired, reused or upgraded instead of thrown away.
  • In a world of high and volatile resource prices, a CE offers huge business opportunities. Pioneering companies are leading the way on a CE, but to drive broader change it is critical to collect and share data, spread best practice, invest in innovation and encourage business-to-business collaboration.
  • Policy-makers should focus on accelerating transition to a CE in a timescale consistent with the response to climate change, water scarcity and other global challenges. Smart regulation can reward private-sector leadership and align incentives along the supply chain – for example, to deliver a step-change in remanufacturing rates.
  • Resource consumption targets that reflect environmental constraints should be considered at a global level. Coordination of national policies would help create a level playing field across major markets, easing competitiveness concerns and reducing the costs of implementation.
  • Introduction

    In the run-up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June 2012, there has been a renewed focus on pursuing meaningful action to reduce resource and environmental pressures. Even though many countries, including emerging economies, can point to impressive environmental improvement in the past two decades, the overriding global patterns of production, consumption and trade remain dangerously unsustainable.

    There is increasing recognition that resource efficiency and security are critical to future economic competitiveness and resilience – for countries and companies alike.

    This requires a fundamental rethink on the role and function of resources in the economy. According to McKinsey, cheap resources underpinned economic growth for much of the 20th century, but in the last eight years prices have returned to heights not seen since the 1900s – and barring a major macroeconomic shock, they are expected to remain high and volatile for at least the next 20 years.1 To meet this new resource price reality, new forms of value creation must be developed if the world is to maintain and increase prosperity.

    This paper explores the potential of a circular economy (CE) as a model for industrial organization that will help de-link rising prosperity from growth in resource consumption. Central to the CE is the idea that open production systems – in which resources are extracted, used to make products and become waste after the product is consumed – should be replaced by systems that reuse resources and conserve energy. The paper explores the concept of a CE, its key components, challenges and opportunities, and the importance of international cooperation.

    Moving towards the CE will require a paradigm shift in the way things are made – putting sustainability and closed-loop thinking at the heart of business models and industrial organization. This has profound implications for society, since ‘how we make things dictates not only how we work but what we buy, how we think, and the way we live’.2

    The 20th century witnessed two great shifts in systems of production. After the First World War, Ford Motor Company and General Motors led global manufacturing away from centuries of craft production into the age of mass production. After the Second World War, Toyota and other Japanese firms pioneered ‘lean manufacturing’ systems and the just-in-time business model: the ‘flexible production’ approach that rapidly became a defining characteristic of the global economy…
    (March 2012)

    A new economic narrative: Industrial revolution 3.0

    Jeremy Rifkin, Making It Magazine
    Internet technology and renewable energies are merging to create a powerful new infrastructure. Jeremy Rifkin explains how the five pillars of a third energy-communications revolution will create the foundations for the next great wave of economic growth

    Our industrial civilization is at a crossroads. Oil and the other fossil fuel energies that make up the industrial way of life are dwindling, and the technologies made from and propelled by these energies are antiquated. The entire industrial infrastructure built on fossil fuels is aging and in disrepair. The result is that unemployment is rising to dangerous levels all over the world. Governments, businesses and consumers are awash in debt, and living standards are plummeting everywhere. A record one billion human beings – nearly one seventh of the human race – face hunger and starvation.

    Worse, climate change from fossil fuel-based industrial activity looms on the horizon. Our scientists warn that we face a potentially cataclysmic change in the temperature and chemistry of the planet, which threatens to destabilize ecosystems around the world. We may be on the brink of a mass extinction of plant and animal life by the end of the century, imperilling our own species’ ability to survive. It is becoming increasingly clear that we need a new economic narrative that can take us into a more equitable and sustainable future.

    A new convergence of communication and energy

    By the 1980s, the evidence was mounting that the fossil fuel-driven industrial revolution was peaking and that human-induced climate change was forcing a planetary crisis of untold proportions. For the past 30 years, I have been searching for a new paradigm that could usher in a post-carbon era. I came to realize that the great economic revolutions in history occur when new communication technologies converge with new energy systems. New energy regimes make possible the creation of more interdependent economic activity and expanded commercial exchange, as well as facilitating more dense and inclusive social relationships. The accompanying communication revolutions become the means to organize and manage the new temporal and spatial dynamics that arise from new energy systems.

    In the 19th century, steam-powered print technology became the communication medium to manage the coal-fired rail infrastructure and the incipient national markets of the First Industrial Revolution. In the 20th century, electronic communications – the telephone and later, radio and television – became the communication medium to manage and market the oil-powered auto age and the mass consumer culture of the Second Industrial Revolution.

    …The five pillars

    The establishment of a Third Industrial Revolution infrastructure will create thousands of new businesses and millions of jobs, and lay the basis for a sustainable global economy in the 21st century. However, let me add a cautionary note. Like every other communication and energy infrastructure in history, the various pillars of a Third Industrial Revolution must be laid down simultaneously or the foundation will not hold. That’s because each pillar can only function in relationship to the others. The five pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution are:

    • shifting to renewable energy;
    • transforming the building stock of every continent into micro-power plants to collect renewable energies on-site;
    • deploying hydrogen and other storage technologies in every building and throughout the infrastructure to store intermittent energies;
    • using Internet technology to transform the power grid of every continent into an energy-sharing intergrid that acts just like the Internet (when millions of buildings are generating a small amount of energy locally, on-site, they can sell surplus back to the grid and share electricity with their continental neighbours); and
    • transitioning the transport fleet to electric plug-in and fuel cell vehicles that can buy and sell electricity on a smart, continental, interactive power grid.

    (14 February 2012)
    This one just reeks too much of “I desperately wish it could be so” to me. -KS