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Peak people: The world’s losing its workers

Doug Saunders, The Globe & Mail
… People around the world are living longer and having far fewer children – a consequence of increased female education rates and declining absolute poverty. Countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and Iran are now having so few children that their populations are on the verge of shrinking – as would Canada’s if we didn’t take immigrants.

But the consequence of smaller families is fewer young people. And family sizes have plummeted so fast, around the world, that working-age adults are being outnumbered by seniors and children, who tend to be dependent on state funds for their health, education and livelihoods.

The world is on the threshold of what might be called “peak people.” The world’s supply of working-age people will soon be shrinking, causing a shift from surplus to scarcity. As with “peak oil” theories – which hold that declining petroleum supplies will trigger global economic instability – the claims of the doomsayers are too hyperbolic and hysterical. These are not existential threats but rather policy challenges. That said, they’re very big policy challenges.

… Peak people will be an age when jobs compete for workers rather than vice versa. The cheapest labour will vanish.
(11 February 2012)

Is protecting the environment incompatible with social justice?

George Monbiot, Guardian
It is the stick with which the greens are beaten daily: if we spend money on protecting the environment, the poor will starve, or freeze to death, or will go without shoes and education. Most of those making this argument do so disingenuously: they support the conservative or libertarian politics that keep the poor in their place and ensure that the 1% harvest the lion’s share of the world’s resources.

Journalists writing for the corporate press, with views somewhere to the right of Vlad the Impaler and no prior record of concern for the poor, suddenly become their doughty champions when the interests of the proprietorial class are threatened

… But while individual policies can be bad for the poor, is the protection of the environment inherently incompatible with social justice? This is the question addressed in a discussion paper published by Oxfam on Monday.

Oxfam, remember, exists to defend the world’s poorest people and help them to escape from poverty. Unlike the rightwing bloggers, it is motivated by genuine concern for social justice. So when it investigates the question of whether concern for the environment conflicts with development, we should take notice. Kate Raworth, who wrote the report, has created an essential template for deciding whether economic activity will help or harm humanity and the biosphere.

… what happens if everyone below the social justice line rises above it? Does that push us irrevocably over the destruction line? The answer, she shows, is no.

For example, providing enough food for the 13% of the world’s people who suffer from hunger means raising world supplies by just 1%.

Providing electricity to the 19% of people who currently have none would raise global carbon emissions by just 1%.

Bringing everyone above the global absolute poverty line ($1.25 a day) would need just 0.2% of global income.

In other words, it is not the needs of the poor that threaten the biosphere, but the demands of the rich. Raworth points out that half the world’s carbon emissions are produced by just 11% of its people, while, with grim symmetry, 50% of the world’s people produce just 11% of its emissions. Animal feed used in the EU alone, which accounts for just 7% of the world’s people, uses up 33% of the planet’s sustainable nitrogen budget. “Excessive resource use by the world’s richest 10% of consumers,” she notes, “crowds out much-needed resource use by billions of other people.”

The politically easy way to tackle poverty is to try to raise the living standards of the poor while doing nothing to curb the consumption of the rich. This is the strategy almost all governments follow. It is a formula for environmental disaster, which, in turn, spreads poverty and deprivation.
(13 February 2012)

Film review: The Forgotten Space

Kalvin Henely, Slant Magazine
If you think of Wall Street as capitalism’s symbolic headquarters, filmmakers Allan Sekula and Noël Burch more or less show us in The Forgotten Space how the sea is capitalism’s global trading floor writ large. For as much attention as Wall Street gets, the global shipping trade is responsible for the exchange of 90% of the world’s goods, but since it operates at sea it exists “out of sight, out of mind.” By focusing mostly on this invisible maritime sector of world trade, Sekula and Burch expose the invisible lives of cheap labor needed to ship these goods and how capitalism runs on people like oil. The film’s centerpiece, and most recurrent visual, is the 1950s American invention that has made so much of this possible and that Sekula, in his overtly Marxist narration, compares to resembling dollars in a gangster’s briefcase: cargo containers.

Filming in the harbors of Los Angeles, Rotterdam, Bilbao, and Hong Kong, as broad as The Forgotten Space goes to follow capitalism’s tentacles, Sekula’s narration always feels personal. It’s this essayistic quality that makes the documentary more interesting than its subject alone, injecting, as it does, a critical edge into a film partly comprised of scenes of floating boats and people doing menial labor; the documentary-like interviews are revealing, but not on a macrolevel in and of themselves
(12 February 2012)

Robert Biel’s “The New Imperialism: Crisis and Contradictions in North/South Relations”

Louis Proyect
Robert Biel’s “The New Imperialism: Crisis and Contradictions in North/South Relations” (Zed Books, 2000) is everything that Hardt-Negri’s “Empire” is not. Starting with the premise that there *is* such a thing as imperialism–as opposed to some nebulous concept of Empire–Biel supplies the kind of data to support his argument that is ostentatiously missing from Hardt-Negri. And he ends with an embrace of local, precapitalist initiatives that are disdained by Hardt-Negri, who favor a kind of homogenizing and benign globalization that appears to critics as a leftwing version of Thomas Friedman’s “Lexus and the Olive Tree.”

For those Marxists rooted in grass-roots activism, it might come as a surprise that some of their academic brethren either deny the phenomenon of imperialism or–worse–welcome its existence through a kind of neo-Kautskyist self-deception. The late Bill Warren was the most notable example. Starting out with an undialectical appreciation of the Communist Manifesto, they assume that because Marx wrote, “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society,” it is necessary to stand with the bourgeoisie against every local initiative that would impede this process. Between the multinational corporation seeking to “modernize” agriculture in Mexico in order to step up the export of flowers or lettuce, for example, and the Mayan peasant seeking to preserve traditional corn-based subsistence farming, they might choose the former.
(no date)

The Entropy of Capitalism & Urban Ag: Interview with Robert Biel

Luke Miller Callahan, The Socio Capitalist, GroAction

The Entropy of Capitalism & Urban Ag: Interview with Robert Biel from GroAction on Vimeo.

In this interview we discuss the current reality of capitalism and urban agriculture, and what’s one the horizon for each. Specifically:

-His latest book, The Entropy of Capitalism
-The Policy of Urban Agriculture
-The Current Food Crisis

Robert Biel specializes in international political economy, systems theory, sustainable development, and urban agriculture. His latest book The Entropy of Capitalism aims to create a synthesis between systems theory and political economy.

Robert is also a practitioner of low-input agriculture as well as an activist in the Transition Towns Movement. Of particular interest to him is how a crisis can push a society into moving towards community resilience.
(23 March 2011)