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Green from the Grassroots

Elinor Ostrom, Project Syndicate
(Note: Elinor Ostrom, the first and only woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics, died today at the age of 78. In her final syndicated column, she champions those local communities that have not waited for global agreements or policies from above, but have taken it upon themselves to create ‘organic’ policies to manage shared resources and adapt to current global challenges and the ones ahead.)
Comment from Common Dreams.

… Decades of research demonstrate that a variety of overlapping policies at city, subnational, national, and international levels is more likely to succeed than are single, overarching binding agreements. Such an evolutionary approach to policy provides essential safety nets should one or more policies fail.

… When it comes to tackling climate change, the United States has produced no federal mandate explicitly requiring or even promoting emissions-reductions targets. But, by May last year, some 30 US states had developed their own climate action plans, and more than 900 US cities have signed up to the US climate-protection agreement.

This grassroots diversity in “green policymaking” makes economic sense. “Sustainable cities” attract the creative, educated people who want to live in a pollution-free, modern urban environment that suits their lifestyles. This is where future growth lies. Like upgrading a mobile phone, when people see the benefits, they will discard old models in a flash.

Of course, true sustainability goes further than pollution control. City planners must look beyond municipal limits and analyze flows of resources – energy, food, water, and people – into and out of their cities.

Worldwide, we are seeing a heterogeneous collection of cities interacting in a way that could have far-reaching influence on how Earth’s entire life-support system evolves. These cities are learning from one another, building on good ideas and jettisoning poorer ones.

Elinor Ostrom, a Nobel laureate in economics, was Chief Scientific Adviser to the Planet Under Pressure conference and is Professor of Political Science and Senior Co-Research Director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University.
(12 June 2012)

Reflections From Netroots Nation: Seven Years Later

Ilyse Hogue, The Nation
Last weekend, the annual Netroots Nation conference in Providence, Rhode Island, drew 2,700 progressives to discuss the state of the movement. Since the event fell two days after Governor Scott Walker won his recall election in Wisconsin, I expected a collective mood approximating either a massive group therapy session or a giant wake. I found neither

… Netroots Nation 2012 seemed to reflect a growing progressive sentiment that favors sass over suits and an emphasis on power building over power wielding.

… The thousands of conversations elicited some common themes on lessons learned and moving forward. Here are five of my top points; I’d love to hear yours in the comment section below:

1. A powerful movement is defined by values, not tactics. Occupy. Consumer Boycotts. Shareholder Activists. Netroots Progressivism. While some argue these are independent movements; I see them as different tactics in a singular movement committed to economic opportunity, social and political equity, and environmental sanity. Despite having experienced a growth decade in the progressive political power due to the emergence of online communities, the national political sector is often the lagging indicator in social change.

… 5. Microtargeting is for voters, not movements. It is high time that we stop using the words “online” and “off-line” in front of organizing. Organizing is organizing. Netroots are grassroots. Many organizers and funders who share the analysis that we are losing have an inclination to go back to what they know best — funding direct service and traditional Alinsky-style organizing. I fear this future. While service providers are absolutely critical in addressing immediate need, they alone will never be able to alleviate the inequality that plagues our nation. And no one refutes that traditional community organizing will always have lessons to teach us about building power. Still, there’s no going back to the 1990s. Community organizers are wired now and mobile platforms represent the best hope of engaging anyone under thirty. Only when we lose the artificial distinctions will we fully embrace our power and the possibilities of a united cohesive movement
(11 June 2012)

America’s Love Affair With the Motor Car Is Running on Empty

David Burwell, The Guardian/UK
The country once wedded to driving is having its eye turned by other forms of transport – but policymakers are oblivious

… In the early years of the 21st century, something very interesting happened. Individual vehicle travel in America lost its glamor – and its connection to economic growth.

… VMT [Vehicle Miles Traveled] per capita is receding as well, with each American now traveling less than 9,500 miles annually.

America is not alone. The UK has experienced similar trends, with a 13% drop in annual trips by cars and vans since 1996, and a 4% reduction in annual distance traveled over the same time period. The ratio of vehicle miles traveled to GDP in the core EU 15 states has dropped by more than 10% since 2000.

There are a number of explanations for why VMT is no longer growing at the same rate as GDP. Demand for shopping and business trips has slowed as these activities are increasingly conducted electronically. Internet-based social networks are fast replacing hanging out at the mall as a teenage pastime. Then there is the cost: fewer young people can afford car ownership – the cost of insurance, fuel, and maintenance on even a used car is simply too high.

Transportation policy has been slow to respond to this change in the way we prefer to travel and, at times, actively resists the shift in customer demand for cheaper, cleaner, on-demand travel choices.

… In the absence of policy leadership, Americans are taking matters into their own hands. Baby boomers are giving up the suburbs for communities with more travel choices. Younger adults are delaying getting a driver’s license and, when they do, they are not buying cars or using them as much. Instead, they are embracing new forms of “collaborative consumption” – sharing vehicles through car-share and bike-share programs.
(12 June 2012)

IMF chief Christine Lagarde warns world risks triple crisis
(falling incomes, environmental damage and social unrest)
Phillip Inman, Guardian
Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, has warned that the world risks a triple crisis of declining incomes, environmental damage and social unrest unless countries adopt a more sustainable approach to economic growth.

Ahead of the Rio+20 Earth summit later this month, she said the rich should restrain their demands for higher incomes while there are still 200 million people worldwide looking for a job and poverty is on the rise.

Giving her clearest backing yet to green taxes and a range of measures to protect the environment, she argued for taxes on petrol-guzzling cars among a range of green measures to tackle climate change.

… Lagarde, a right-wing former French finance minister, recently caused a storm of controversy after she accused Europeans of blocking progress to end the current financial crisis. Asked if she sympathised with Greeks impoverished by austerity measurers demanded by Brussels, she said the children of Niger were more her concern. It also emerged that Lagarde pays no tax on her $467,940 (£298,675) a year salary.

Ahead of the summit, she said taxes on petrol and other carbon fuels could raise billions of dollars for green investment projects. “Right now, less than 10% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are covered by formal pricing programmes. Only a handful of cities charge for the use of gridlocked roads. Farmers in rich countries are undercharged – if charged at all – for increasingly scarce water resources.”

She added: “Many countries continue to subsidise polluting energy systems. These subsidies are costly for the budget and costly for the planet. Countries should reduce them. But in doing so, they must protect vulnerable groups by tightly focusing subsidies on products used by poorer people, and by strengthening social safety nets.”
(12 June 2012)