sustainability

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Making a Desk with 10,000 Recycled Chopsticks

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/09/2022 - 6:00pm in

Felix Böck remembers the evening five years ago when the solution popped into his mind while he was having dinner with his girlfriend at a sushi restaurant in Vancouver. The engineer and carpenter had just returned from a conference with 60 representatives of the biggest international woodworking companies, where he had presented sustainable solutions for wood waste. He had garnered applause for his presentation.

“I expected people to queue up after my talk, eager for more information about how we can log less timber and use more recycled wood instead,” Böck says, “but after they applauded, they all went for dinner.” 

While he was venting his frustration, “My girlfriend said, Felix, sometimes you have to start very small.” Still irked, he watched the waiter swipe the used chopsticks into the trash when the idea hit him: “What if I start really small, with chopsticks?”

“Suddenly, I understood that I had to show people how circular economy works instead of just talking about it,” Böck says passionately. “What if I could build a profitable, sustainable business based on something as small and insignificant as chopsticks? I immediately got going the next morning because as an engineer, I already knew it would work.”

Felix Böck, Founder, CEO, ChopValueSince CEO Felix Böck started ChopValue, the company has saved more than 70 million chopsticks from landfill. Credit: ChopValue

Most chopsticks are made from bamboo, a fast-growing plant that is very strong. With the need for wood increasing by 60 percent worldwide in the last 60 years — way more than can be logged sustainably — bamboo has often been touted as a sound alternative. Böck wanted to demonstrate bamboo’s potential as a wood replacement and keep chopsticks out of landfills. He set out to build a business that would do both, all while keeping the sourcing and production local.     

The next day after his sushi dinner, he took the first steps toward what would become ChopValue. He brought recycling bins to the restaurants in his Vancouver neighborhood and promised to come by every week to fetch the used chopsticks. He also got to work building the first prototypes made from chopsticks in his woodworking lab: coasters and cutting boards. “The restaurant owners were happy because they have less trash to get rid of; I am happy because I can use a precious resource, and the customer gets high-quality products.”

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He was driven “by the motivation as an engineer, to show what great product one can manufacture from something that is regarded as worthless, as trash.”

Böck estimates that in Vancouver alone, restaurants trash 100,000 chopsticks every day. In Asian cities like Singapore, the daily numbers are in the millions. He also chafed against the utensils being shipped thousands of miles for a half hour of use in a restaurant. “You cannot possibly feel good about this,” he says. 

According to ChopValue’s latest impact report, “If produced locally, bamboo has an even lower environmental impact than tropical hardwood and can grow on slopes deemed unsuitable for agriculture or agroforestry crops.” However, shipping bamboo over long distances and then discarding the sticks after a single use means wasting a precious resource. “The remanufacturing of bamboo chopsticks offers the opportunity to utilize this wasted resource and to treat it as a valuable raw material,” the impact report states. “Our resource is what others may view as waste — that means we don’t take virgin materials from the environment.”

Böck’s 35 employees now collect 330,000 chopsticks from restaurants in Vancouver every week, including from the food malls at Vancouver International Airport. “Wastewater is always an environmental burden,” Böck says. So, instead of using water to clean the used sticks, his workers disinfect them at 400 degrees Fahrenheit before pressing them in the hydraulic machines he designed “to achieve exactly the density needed for the various products.”

They build shelves, desks, wall panels, dominos, stairs and more. For a desk, Böck needs about 10,000 sticks. “Our material has a similar aesthetic to tropical woods, and we hope that the beauty in this chopstick-based material can inspire woodworkers to consider more sustainable alternatives rather than extracting new resources from the environment.”

ChopValue chopstick shelvesChopsticks are upcycled into furnishings like shelves, tabletops and more. Credit: ChopValue

ChopValue means more than kindling a niche project: By now, Böck has saved more than 70 million chopsticks from landfill — not only in Canada, but also in Asia and the US. He has licensed 60 ChopValue microfactories with two to 10 employees each, and 15 of them are already up and running: from Bali to Boston, from Singapore to Liverpool. He organized ChopValue as a B Corp; the company meets the environmental standards of Best for the World certification and reinvests the profits to expand. The World Economic Forum evaluated his data and confirmed that Böck is “creating jobs as well as using resources in the most sustainable way possible.” 

Böck already had the right chops for the job. The now 33-year-old German engineer learned traditional carpentry in rural Bavaria before studying wood engineering. During his studies, he specialized in sustainability and went to Vancouver for his thesis on sustainable business ideas. There, he met his girlfriend, now wife, and was looking to start a wood recycling project with discarded wood waste from construction sites, but he couldn’t find any partners.

He had also worked as a consultant for car and construction material manufacturers and had developed a formaldehyde-free glue. Thus, he immediately knew how to glue the upcycled chopsticks material without toxic chemicals. The only things he had to acquire were the machines and hydraulic presses. Within weeks he had the first microfactory up and running in a Vancouver warehouse in 2016. 

Chopstick PressingDisinfected chopsticks are pressed in a hydraulic machine. Credit: ChopValue

To accomplish his idea of a low CO2 footprint, he collects and uses the resource locally. “Ideally, when a customer in Singapore places an order, my colleagues in Singapore will manufacture his products from local chopsticks.”

His vision is to license at least 100 microfactories across the globe, to give new life to 1.5 billion chopsticks. But even this is only the beginning for him. “It might sound funny or crazy, but the idea with the chopsticks is the first international proof of a profitable circular economy.” Ideally, as in the Vancouver restaurant Pacific Poke, customers will eat their sushi on tables and in front of wall panels made from chopsticks previous customers have discarded. 

Because Böck has big ambitions, he also acknowledges that his form of upcycling is “just a drop in the bucket. We are effectively recycling 0.015 percent of the global trash problem.”

What he really hopes is that “in the future, every city adopts the concept of urban recycling instead of just transporting their trash out of town and say, great, now we’re done, the trash is gone,” Böck says, “because trash is never gone. If we can create an environmentally friendly method to redefine more or all of these materials so that we turn trash into a new resource and create new high-quality products, then I have done my part.”

The post Making a Desk with 10,000 Recycled Chopsticks appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Prospects for 负增长 Toward a Steady State Economy in China

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/09/2022 - 11:07pm in

by Yiran Cheng


Wen Jiabao: “We absolutely cannot again sacrifice the environment […] for high-speed growth.” (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, World Economic Forum)

China, as the world’s second-largest economy and a rising superpower, is an integral part of the discussion if a steady state economy is ever to be achieved at a global scale. China’s environmental impact grows by the day, yet serious consideration about intentionally slowing economic growth has seldom occurred, let alone the possibility of a sustained 负增长, the Mandarin translation of “degrowth”.

This is not to say China is oblivious to its environmental toll. Chinese citizens and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are well aware of the threat of carbon emissions and climate change. Unlike certain politicians of the USA, recent CCP leaders haven’t shied away from the fact that a balance needs to be struck between the environment and the economy. Starting no later than 2011, the ex-premier Wen Jiabao openly declared that economic growth cannot come at the expense of the environment—a political consensus that was passed on to the current administration under Xi Jinping.

However, even with such an understanding, the domestic discussion on combating climate change or environmental degradation remains interwoven with the premise of growth: green growth, smart growth, etc. I believe that understanding the rationale behind this fixation on growth in China’s unique political and cultural context is required for engaging China in the steady-state movement.

Historic Relationship of the Chinese People with Nature

The Chinese people have had a complicated relationship with nature throughout history. The legacy of this relationship is quite influential in shaping the way Chinese citizens perceive and interact with nature. Amidst all of this history are mythical tales and folk legends, perhaps none so important as the tale of “Emperor Yu Tames the Flood”.


Emperor Yu, tamer of the flood. (CC BY-NC 2.0 , speedygroundhog)

Essentially, the ancient Emperor Yu led the Chinese people to build geographically altering dams, thereby overcoming a flood of biblical levels. Furthermore, and especially in more recent times, Chinese nationalists have used this tale to argue that the Chinese people are perhaps uniquely equipped for conquering Nature. This leads to a core philosophy that is best summed up by a proverbial term known commonly as “人定胜天” (or “humans shall conquer nature” as a crude translation). This guiding philosophy has been around for thousands of years, echoed and reinforced within Chinese society.

This notion that humans can overcome whatever obstacles Nature tosses their way has been quite influential in the decision-making process of Chinese rulers. From the construction of the world’s longest canal circa AD 600 to the much more recent attempts at desert reforestation, the gung-ho spirit to reshape nature as man sees fit can be readily observed. While some of these endeavors could have arguably bore positive results, many others have been ecological disasters; most notably the Three Gorges Dam project, notorious for its severe impacts on the environment.

Contemporary Perception of Growth

As of today, the CCP hasn’t openly expressed any political or economic principles concerning the merits of a steady state economy. In fact, economic growth is still among the top priorities. This is most evident in Xi Jinping’s remarks about economics and the environment in recent years. His speeches on greenhouse gas emissions, carbon neutrality, and the green economy heavily emphasize how such measures must be intertwined with “sustainable and high quality” economic growth.


The hammer and the sickle have swung swiftly at the base of the Chinese economy. (CC0 1.0 Universal, Marx FelipeForte)

This is by no means a matter of pure rhetoric. The Chinese National Development and Reform Commission, one of the most influential departments in Chinese bureaucracy through its agenda-setting powers in economic and political matters, has echoed Xi’s emphasis on growth in its most recent guiding document. The document establishes the objectives of lowering the carbon footprint and transitioning to a green economy while repeating the word “growth” more than 50 times and making it the ultimate goal.

The pursuit of growth is equally potent among the people. With the Chinese economy growing over tenfold in the last twenty years, a new wave of middleclass has appeared in China’s metropolises such as Beijing and Shanghai. Along with this new middleclass comes a wave of state-sponsored consumerism. The freshly minted middleclass is eager to buy the flashiest phone or dress or car to flaunt their newly acquired social status, betting on the economy to keep growing so they can continue enjoying this material comfort. Meanwhile, those feeling envious and left out are praying for another economic boom so they may finally join the ranks of the middleclass.

Multiple Causes of Fixation on Growth

The Chinese fixation on growth is caused by a myriad of factors. Firstly, the aforementioned historic spirit that permeates Chinese society no doubt has its influence over the top party officials and their economic advisors, who might be inclined to believe that sustained growth could be achieved for many more years, if not indefinitely, either through technological advancement or expansion of market access.


Despite furious GDP growth, millions of Chinese are mired in poverty. (CC BY 2.0, Taro Taylor)

Secondly, China is still a country that—in many regions—desperately needs growth. Li Keqiang, premier of China, noted in 2020 that there are still more than 600 million people in the country who have a monthly income lower than 1000 yuan (around 150 dollars). Much of this poverty is due to China’s maldistribution of wealth, indicated by a Gini coefficient of 0.47. However, even with a perfectly even distribution of wealth, China’s GDP per capita of $10,500 would still fall short of what most economists consider a “developed” economy.

In domestic politics, the prospect of growth is the central pillar of the CCP’s rule. As many scholars argue, the Chinese people are willingly trading their political rights for better economic opportunities, and without an ever enlarging economic pie, there wouldn’t be many incentives to tolerate the current political oppression.

Finally, there may even be a second cold war brewing; this one between the USA and China. If, as in the original Cold War, the score is kept with GDP, yet more pressure builds for Chinese (and American) economic growth.

Through the combination of all these elements, the CCP has put growth among one of its top priorities, even using GDP growth as the main measurement in performance reviews for its provincial and municipal party officials. Thus, it’s not hard to see why the CCP is so focused on growing the national economy and using it to measure the performance of its bureaucracy, without much regard to steady-state economics.

Outlook for Steady Statesmanship

While China’s mainstream reception of steady-state thinking is practically nonexistent, the situation is not entirely bleak. Economic scholars from some of China’s top universities such as Nankai’s Maochu Zhong and Tongji’s Dajian Zhu have openly acknowledged the validity of steady-state economics. These scholars have studied the works of Herman Daly and related scholars, and consider the steady-state model a possible alternative to the growth-orientated economic mindset.

Moreover, even though the CCP is fixated on growth, it has become increasingly adept at spinning rhetoric for a positive light when its political performance is ill-performing. An example is the use of the phrase 负增长—degrowth—at least as it pertains to China’s declining birthrates. Thus, if the CCP did decide to adopt the steady state economy as a policy goal, party leaders would simply frame it as a beneficial endeavor for the Chinese people.

The road to establishing broad social support for a steady state economy in China is an arduous one. Even with a better understanding of the Chinese cultural and political fixation on growth, China’s unique political structure and raging nationalist sentiments will prove to be difficult obstacles to navigate around. One thing is certain: The endeavor to reach across the aisles with steady-state words and action—to and from East, West, North, and South—can make or break the prospects for steady statesmanship worldwide.

 

 

 

 

Yiran Cheng is pursuing a Master of Public Policy degree at Georgetown University and served as a CASSE intern (summer 2022).

 

The post Prospects for 负增长 Toward a Steady State Economy in China appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Homesteading: A Steady-State Counterculture

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 19/08/2022 - 1:07am in
by Muhammed Al-Refai

A counterculture with a focus on self-sustenance, self-reliance, and lifestyles in harmony with the land and local communities has been steadily brewing. This counterculture is best embodied by modern homesteading, which encompasses a wide range of alternative lifestyles marked by principles such as growing your own food, being a good steward of the land, and keeping strong ties with your local community to help each other build a better life for generations to come.

Adults looking at plants on a farm.

The culture of homesteading helps to facilitate connections with the community. (CC BY 2.0 Bob Dass)

The homesteading counterculture has expanded due to even bigger paradigm-shifting events: the COVID pandemic, disruptions in supply chains, the beat of war drums, and murmurs of recessions and food shortages. But this way of life has been here since the founding of the USA, as it was embodied in the lifestyle of homesteading pioneers.

Homesteading versus the Status Quo

Justin Rhodes is one of many people who walk the talk of the homesteading lifestyle, and he teaches others how to homestead with his family-friendly YouTube channel. He shows over two million monthly viewers how he and his family grow their own vegetables, raise their own meat, and live intimately with their land. Justin is an advocate of permaculture, a sustainable approach to land management that focuses on nourishing the environment using the processes of natural ecosystems. The focus is on working with the land instead of fighting against it, as is common in conventional agricultural practices.

To the agricultural conglomerates of the world, this is a dangerous movement on multiple fronts. Justin and other leaders like him are enlightening us to an alternative method of farming, a method that goes against everything the industry lobbyists have worked for. Genetically modified and patented seeds, pesticide-soaked plants, and nutrient-depleted soils may be the status quo, but are bad choices nonetheless.

What’s America’s largest crop today? Grass! There are 40 million acres of lawn in the continental USA. What would happen if ten percent of Americans stopped watering and manicuring their lawns and instead used their land for growing food or raising animals for their families and community?

Chicken coop.

Neighbors in a homestead community can share excess crops, produce, meat, and eggs (CC BY-ND 2.0 Allan Hack).

Plenty of gardeners produce more zucchini than they know what to do with, and backyard chicken owners often produce more eggs than they can eat. Imagine if three million more Americans started keeping chickens in their backyard. How would factory farmers fare with millions of eggs being freely (or cheaply) given from one neighbor to another?

A New Culture

Growing your own food is only one part of this new movement. To assume this steady-state lifestyle, new values and priorities must be set. This means adopting a whole new cultural outlook of distancing oneself from senseless spending and the dysfunctional reliance on one-tap technological solutions.

Homesteading is a multi-generational marathon, not a sprint. It’s disciplined, thoughtful action that favors the long-term health of the land, the community, and the environment to create a sustainable lifestyle that can be passed on from one generation to the next. Following are the key values and intentions of homesteaders:

Produce it yourself — Many people are first drawn to homesteading for food security and to gain access to quality meat, dairy, and produce.

Homesteading is a challenging but rewarding lesson in steady-state economics. Producing what you consume on your own property provides a unique opportunity to learn some important economic truths. The trophic base, the limiter of all limiters, is the land. The amount of productive land will ultimately dictate the population of animals raised and how much crop can feasibly be grown.

Compost bin in garden.

Homesteading involves working with nature, such as turning scraps into compost for plants. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 London Permaculture)

Homesteaders also learn to turn their household waste into fruitful production. Food scraps? Turn it into compost. Withering plants? Chicken food. Toilet paper rolls? Seed starters. Why discard what can nourish your plants and animals?

Work with nature — Homesteaders don’t necessarily need large acreages. They learn to be stewards of the land even when working with under an acre or a backyard patch in the suburbs.

For too long, “out of sight” has meant out of mind. Unless you’re driving past the stench from the Tyson’s factory, you don’t think much about where your food comes from. If you’re living on a homestead, putrid smells and toxic chemicals are a front-of-mind problem for you and your progeny.

Sustainability, then, is a generational mindset. You won’t be able to raise multiple generations of crops and animals, and pass down the homestead to your children, if you’re not thinking sustainably.

You want whatever you do to your land to be sustainable. The concept of sustainability has homesteaders turning to natural methods like “do-nothing” farming, permaculture, and rotation of animals and crops in order to ensure optimal health of the land.

Focus on local communities — Communities are essential to a homesteader’s lifestyle. Taking on a homestead is demanding. Animals must be fed, cows must be milked, and plants must be watered. Who’s going to milk your cows when you’re visiting a family member in another state? How will you keep your animals and plants alive when an emergency presents itself?

It’s not so bad being a neighbor to a homesteading family though. They might be producing a dozen extra eggs weekly. Maybe they’ve made too much zucchini bread and canned excess tomato sauce from an exceptionally good harvest. How much more intimate is a gift when it comes directly from your land and becomes a nourishing meal to your neighbor?

Homesteaders can’t do it all on their own. Someone down the road might have a backhoe needed for a small pond. Another might be a welder who can help with a goat stanchion. Another might produce spare compost. A mother might be a brilliant teacher, a father might be a great coach, and yet another person might have an extra outbuilding that can be used as a schoolhouse.

Communities decrease the length of supply chains and increase resilience. National or international supply shocks are less…shocking.

Child playing on mounds of dirt in a field.

Children of homesteaders can learn practical skills and connect with their environment. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Ezra Barnett Gildesgame)

Homeschool — Many homestead communities also tend to favor homeschooling, perhaps because of dissatisfaction with the public school system or needing people at home to tend to the property. This means either teaching your kids yourself or banding with local homeschoolers to educate children.

Invariably, homeschooling means that some parents will opt to drop out of the workforce when pursuing a homestead. For the steady stater, this should be celebrated. A decrease in the workforce will lessen GDP and its ecological footprint. With only one parent garnering a traditional income, consumption and waste decrease as well, while home-grown sustenance increases. In a homeschooled, homesteading society, luxury demand would plummet.

Homeschooling is also a major win for the children who get to spend more time outside in the sun, exploring and learning in nature, getting hands-on practical skills, connecting with their environment, and spending more time with their families. Children will, much like their parents, have a deeper understanding of the resources it takes to run their households, communities, towns, counties, states, and country by being highly connected to the building blocks that underline it all, starting with soil and water.

The counterculture of steady-state homesteading proves to be beneficial on many fronts: for children who get to experience homeschooling and the importance of the land and community; for parents who get to develop and enjoy rich social networks beyond Zoom calls and office buildings; and for the environment itself, keeping it productive for the next seven generations and more.

Muhammed Al-Refai is a journalism intern at CASSE.

The post Homesteading: A Steady-State Counterculture appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Biden-Harris Water Security Plan Springs a Leak

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 15/08/2022 - 11:19pm in
by Taylor Lange

The American Southwest is a bit parched at the moment. The region is in the midst of its 23rd consecutive year of drought, its longest and most extensive since 800 CE. The drought is so bad that California’s two largest reservoirs—Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville—reached critically low levels in March, when they should have been at their highest.

A depleted Shasta Lake in California

A depleted Shasta Lake in California.

The southwestern USA (and Mexico) is not the only place facing water shortages. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification released its Drought in Numbers 2022 report on May 11th, and the findings are grim. From 2000 to 2019, droughts impacted over 1.4 billion people worldwide, making them the second most pervasive disaster after flooding. Severe droughts impact Africa the most, as 44 percent of all drought events have occurred on the continent in the past 100 years. In Australia, the 2019-2020 megadrought fueled the megafires that killed 26 people, damaged 3,000 homes, and caused the most substantial loss of habitats for the continent’s threatened and endangered species since colonization.

As global heating ensues, droughts will become more common, more intense, and longer lasting. This will result in more people with limited access to safe water for drinking and sanitation. Water insecurity is a volatile issue that has played a role in many conflicts at the international and subnational level. For example, alleviating water insecurity in Crimea is likely a reason for ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine, and water has played a key role in strained relations between India and Pakistan. In the USA, rights to the Apalachicola-Chatthoochee-Flint water basin have strained relations among Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, with litigation reaching the Supreme Court multiple times.

The Biden-Harris Administration recently acknowledged the role that water security will play in future global and domestic conflicts and developed the “White House Action Plan on Global Water Security” in response. The plan summarizes the potential for conflict in transboundary water governance, particularly in arid regions, and outlines of how international cooperation can address the issue. However, the Administration’s focus on creating water security to fuel economic growth is glaring in its unsustainability.

Biden-Harris in Brief

The White House action plan is congruent with the UN’s 6th Sustainable Development Goal, which is to provide access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) to the world’s population. The plan rests on three pillars:

  1. “Advancing U.S. leadership in the global effort to achieve universal and equitable access to sustainable, climate-resilient, safe, and effectively managed WASH services without increasing greenhouse gas emissions.”
  2. “Promoting sustainable management and protection of water resources and associated ecosystems to support economic growth, build resilience, mitigate the risk of instability or conflict, and increase cooperation.”
  3. “Ensuring that multilateral action mobilizes cooperation and promotes water security.”

Overall, these pillars are hard to argue against. The focus on resiliency will be crucial as climate change progressively threatens water supplies, and building international institutions that support cooperation should lessen the threat of conflict and encourage equitable access to water. Even the language surrounding economic growth is mostly applicable to the Global South, where growth remains a necessary goal.

These strengths aside, the plan fails to acknowledge limits to growth, much less limits as a source of conflict. It also lacks reference to the contributions of large multinational corporations in causing water insecurity, particularly in Global South countries. Neglecting limits to growth and corporate responsibility demonstrates a misunderstanding of water’s role in the human economy, national security, and international stability. It also demonstrates a flawed understanding of how water supplies collapse.

Quantity and Function of Water in the Human Economy

Aside from being consumed for sustenance, water is critical to all economic sectors, starting with agriculture and extraction. Humanity uses over 60 percent of the fresh water supply not locked in glaciers. The Water Footprint Network (WFN), a think tank and advocacy group devoted to monitoring water, categorizes water use as follows:

  • Blue water – water stored in the ground (aquifers), or at the surface (lakes, rivers, etc.), that is put into a product or returned to that source unpolluted.
  • Grey water – water used to absorb and dilute pollutants, such as wastewater from a sewage plant or agricultural runoff contaminated with fertilizer and pesticides.
  • Green water – precipitation that is stored in the root zone of plants that is either used by them or evaporated. Only natural precipitation is calculated, not irrigation.

Water plays a vital role in resource extraction, particularly that of oil and gas via hydraulic fracturing. “Fracking” entails injecting water and additives into oil and gas wells to crack rock formations, and it has proliferated. Beyond the oil and gas sectors, water absorbs pollution from mineral and coal mines, contaminating ecosystems downstream.

Agriculture uses the most of all three kinds of water. Crops and livestock require water to grow, so considerable quantities are diverted from rivers and streams or pumped from aquifers for agricultural use. Though some of the water comes from green-water precipitation, irrigation constitutes the largest draw of blue water across the globe. To top it all off, copious water is contaminated with fertilizer and pesticides, increasing the grey water footprint.

Water Use and GDP

Water’s integration with the economy is indicated by its relationship with GDP. Global water use has continually increased since 1997 according to the AQUASTAT database of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO). The UNFAO conducts quintennial surveys of national water monitoring agencies, and most countries have been reporting since 1997. GDP has been rising since 1997 as well.

Global water use (dashed line) and GDP (solid line), 1997–2017.

Global water use (dashed line) and GDP (solid line), 1997–2017.

AQUASTAT includes only five full years of data; too few to calculate meaningful statistics. However, the WFN’s data on country-level water footprint from 1996–2005 can be used to test the relationship instead. Looking at the water footprint map, we see that the countries with the largest economies and populations use the most water; see for example the USA, China, and India.

Map of average water footprint globally.

Average water footprint, 1996–2005.

A scatterplot comparing the average footprints and average GDPs of countries from 1996–2005 also suggests that countries with bigger economies have bigger water footprints. GDP and water footprint are highly correlated (r = 0.661).


Average water footprint and average GDP of 209 countries, 1996–2005. (Both axes are scaled using a log10 transformation.)

Correlation doesn’t prove causation, and a bona fide causal analysis would  account for other factors that influence GDP and water use. However, the evidence of water’s integration into the human economy is abundant, and that alone lays a solid foundation for a bi-directional causal story: GDP growth requires more water, and policies aimed at GDP growth will cause increased water consumption. This cycle exemplifies a positive feedback loop, which inevitably leads to collapse without proper intervention.

Water Is Renewable-ish

“Wait a minute Taylor,” I hear you thinking, “isn’t water a renewable resource? Doesn’t the water cycle continuously regenerate our water supply?” In a manner of speaking, yes, but not all water is consumed from sources that regenerate at the rate of use, and global heating will undermine the reliability of water renewal in many places.

Aquifers provide drinking water for almost half the U.S. population and roughly 2 billion people worldwide, especially in arid regions. While these underground reservoirs recharge, they do so at a much slower rate than above-ground reservoirs. To make matters worse, most withdrawal from aquifers far exceeds the recharge rate, leading to their depletion across the globe. As these aquifers are depleted (as they inevitably will be with unfettered growth), they will no longer fulfill the drinking, irrigation, and sanitation needs of populations and their economies; certainly not at current levels.

Droughts also impact the renewability of water, as decreased rainfall causes lakes, rivers and reservoirs to deplete faster. This puts even more pressure on aquifers, because populations dependent on above-ground sources will have to switch to groundwater supplies. Finally, droughts further decrease the recharge rate of aquifers, hastening their depletion.

It’s definitely time for water security action plans, but they need to acknowledge limits to growth. Though the Biden-Harris plan has potential, it is undermined by the goal to “support economic growth.” As the Administration rolls out more plans and policies, I hope to see a more regional approach to resilience, anchored with a steady-state perspective. If not, it just won’t hold water.

Taylor Lange is CASSE’s ecological economist.

The post Biden-Harris Water Security Plan Springs a Leak appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The Environmental Consequences of Putin’s War

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 05/08/2022 - 12:46am in
by Connor Moynihan


Perhaps the famous Vietnam-era poster should be amended: “Growthmanship is not healthy for children and other living things.” (CC BY-NC 2.0, qbac07)

Steady-state advocates know that peace is required for a stable and prosperous world. Herman Daly said, “It is hard to imagine a steady state economy without peace; it is hard to imagine peace in a full world without a steady state economy.” Brian Czech emphasized succinctly, “Peace is a steady state economy.” And peace campaigners have long connected their goals to the environment. For example, U.S. anti-war activists rallied behind the cry, “War is not healthy for children and other living things,” in response to the use of napalm and Agent Orange in Vietnam.

When Putin and Russia invaded Ukraine, over 1,000 multidisciplinary experts signed an open letter concerning the environmental hazards. They called attention to the dangers of fighting near nuclear plants and dams, which have since been assaulted. They also highlighted threats to the food supply and the economic weaponization of oil and gas reserves, as well as the potential impacts of the war on biodiversity:

Fighting in the Black Sea Biosphere Reserve—the largest protected area in Ukraine and a listed Ramsar wetland–has generated fires that can be seen from space…While we may not know the full environmental impacts of this war for some time, history shows that the effects will be far-reaching and long-lasting. Thus, there is a need for rapid environmental assessment, long-term monitoring, and accountability.

The environmental impacts of war are sometimes covered in mainstream outlets, but are seldom linked to the goal of economic growth. By examining the environmental consequences of this invasion, the role of growthism becomes clear.

The Biodiversity Impact of War

“Warfare ecologists” have surveyed 146 conflicts from 1950 to 2000 and found that 90 percent of them took place in a country with a biodiversity hotspot, and 81 percent had fighting in the hotspots themselves. Ukraine doesn’t have or comprise a biodiversity hotspot per se, but it’s disproportionately important in the European biodiversity context. Ukraine comprises only six percent of Europe’s total landmass, yet contains 35 percent of the continent’s biodiversity, including 81 endemic species (that is, species found nowhere else).

A sandy blind mole rat sitting on the ground with his large teeth showing.

Ukrainian endemic species such as the sandy blind mole-rat are lesser-known casualties of Putin’s war. (CC BY-SA 4.0, Максим Яковлєв)

Military operations have numerous effects on biodiversity. They tear up ecosystems and make them susceptible to invasive species, which in turn are frequently transported via military vehicle (on the ground, in the air, or at sea). Additionally, military operations emit noise pollution that’s harmful to animals, disrupting their behavioral and reproductive patterns.

Soldiers taking shelter in forests poach at higher rates, air-to-ground assaults defoliate forests, and sonar causes hemorrhaging in cetaceans. Sub-marine detonations can cause barometric trauma, or “overpressure,” in marine species, causing tissue destruction or instant death. Some of these risks have already been evident in Ukraine. Illegal hunting is a listed concern in Ukraine’s fifth report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, as 16 percent of their land is forest. There has also been a rise in cetacean strandings in the Black Sea that scientists suspect may be caused by Russian naval activity.

Beyond Biodiversity

Putin’s invasion was initially launched on multiple fronts in Ukraine, with most of the warfare concentrated in the south. Zaporizhzhia, an area of intense fighting, is home to two of the five iron mines in Ukraine. Before the war, Ukraine was the third largest exporter of pig iron with about half of their exports ending up in the USA. Ukraine has the world’s seventh largest coal reserves, with much of the coal found in the Donbas region. Mining activities impact the environment long after the projects are abandoned; adding explosive destruction to the mix only furthers this damage.

Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine; an icon of nuclear disaster and one of many targets in the Russian war of aggression.

As Russia targets Ukraine’s nuclear plants, memories of the Chernobyl disaster turn ominous. (CC BY-SA 2.0, IAEA Imagebank)

In 2020, Ukraine increased steel production to nearly 2 million tons. Many of the country’s steelworks plants, around a third of which are located near Mariupol, fell to Russian forces in May. Neon gas, a byproduct of steel manufacture, is another important product of Ukraine, with major refiners located in Odesa. Since turning their attention to the east, Russia has continued harassing the port city. In the absence of bombs, steelworks emit heat and fine particulates such as lime, oil, dust, and iron (bi)carbonates. How much more has been released into the air and water due to warfare?

Nuclear plants pose an entirely different level of risk. Half of Ukraine’s electricity is generated by 15 nuclear reactors. Nuclear radiation is associated with devastating health effects, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and acute radiation syndrome. In March, a fire broke out at Zaporizhzhia, home to Europe’s largest nuclear plant, and Russia took control of the plant. Luckily, five of the six reactors had already been shut down when the fire broke out and the radiation levels have since been reported as normal. The plant, however, continues to operate with Ukrainian staff under Russian control. Some suggest Russia is using Zaporizhzhia as a “nuclear shield,” as Ukrainians are loathe to fight fire with fire near nuclear reactors.

Early on fighting broke out near Chernobyl as well, as Ukrainian soldiers fought to prevent a repeat of the 1986 disaster. Despite being one of the most toxic places on Earth, Russian forces bulldozed through the nuclear site, exposing themselves and others to possibly dangerous amounts of radiation lingering beneath the surface. Russian troops ignored the restricted airspace around the site along with other safety precautions in place to lower the risks of radiation exposure to Ukraine, nearby Belarus, and beyond.

What’s more, a losing Putin could decide to use nuclear weapons. Russian military doctrine permits the use of nuclear weapons to defend Russian land. Therefore, if Ukraine counterattacks to reclaim lost areas such as Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, or Luhansk, Putin may justify nuclear warfare to protect the newly annexed territories.

War and Growth

Putin’s growthmanship has inspired an expansionist war for resources. Russia’s own territory is 49 percent forest, making it one of the most important carbon sinks in the world. About ten percent of its forest cover has been lost since 2000 due to fires, many of which are in boreal and Arctic regions, contributing to the melting of permafrost, turning some areas from carbon sinks into carbon sources. Sakha and Krasnoyarsk, the economies of which are heavily extractive, are losing forest the fastest. In Sakha, the main industries are mining and timber, while Krasnoyarsk is home to intensive aluminum production and other heavy industries.

A Russian timber truck carrying a load of logs in the name of GDP growth.

Carbon sinks cut for economic growth. (CC BY 3.0, Druschba 4)

Russia’s historical emphasis on manufacturing has come at great expense to the environment, with one river surpassing mercury standards by 2,000 percent. Soviet-era dumping is largely responsible for today’s widespread water pollution, the country’s most pressing environmental issue. Forty percent of surface water and 17 percent of spring water in Russia is impotable due to excessive amounts of chemicals, sewage, and toxic waste.

Russia exports fourteen percent of the world’s crude oil and eight percent of its natural gas. Its largest energy source after fossil fuels is nuclear. Although agriculture makes up only six percent of Russia’s GDP, agroindustry is of paramount importance to Russian leadership. Russia’s parliament and presidents have pushed for agricultural self-sufficiency since 2000, and the country has moved from being a net importer of grain in the 1990s to a key exporter in merely a decade.

In 2010, the agriculture industry set extra-high production targets, and recently increased them again in 2020. In 2014, Russia responded to U.S.-led sanctions by banning certain agricultural imports, and these policies have reduced competition in Russian agriculture and exacerbated inequality in an already unequal society. Furthermore, the oligarchic industry has kept food prices high, despite the ramped-up production.

What emerges is a clear, big picture familiar to steady staters. The economic requirements and ecological costs of growthmanship don’t stop at national borders. Instead, they spill over violently in the quest to maintain the upward trajectory of the national account. Perhaps the old anti-war slogan should be revised to reflect the reality that “growthmanship is not healthy for children and other living things.”

Connor Moynihan, environmental studies summer 2022 intern at CASSEConnor Moynihan is an environmental studies intern at CASSE.

The post The Environmental Consequences of Putin’s War appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Big Beefing

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 01/08/2022 - 10:59pm in

Delusions of bovine sustainability.

Don’t Fence Me In: Exnovation for Degrowth

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/07/2022 - 11:56pm in
by Gregory Mikkelson

A fence post in the foreground holding barbed wire stretched in either directions and midwest plains in the background.

Rewilding means tearing down the fences that disconnect biotic communities.

During recent visits to my family’s woods in northern Wisconsin, I have methodically snipped, pulled out, and recycled a half-mile of long-abandoned barbed wire. By doing so, I hope to help the biotic communities on either side of the old fence line to reconnect. The work is great exercise, and deeply satisfying.

I have not yet figured out who installed the wire or when, but the stuff was invented by Lucien Smith in 1867, and perfected by Joseph Glidden in 1874. This innovation spurred much economic growth. For example, it made “intensive animal husbandry… practical on a much larger scale” and became “a major feature of the fortifications in trench warfare.”

The ecological consequences proved devastating. By the early 21st century, the livestock industry had become the number one driver of terrestrial habitat loss, greenhouse gas emissions, and freshwater depletion and pollution. Meanwhile, barbed wire itself maims wild animals the world over. For all these reasons, we now face the daunting task of undoing this deeply entrenched invention.

Exnovation for a Steady-State Economy

Management scholars use the term “exnovation” for the process of undoing harmful inventions. In growing economies, new marketable inventions replace most of those that get exnovated. In order to stop economic growth, it is crucial to prevent most exnovated devices from being replaced, or at least fully replaced, in this way. This certainly applies to fencing and other instruments of the livestock industry that must shrink substantially to forestall mass extinction, mitigate climate chaos, and protect rivers and streams. But it also applies to internal combustion engines, plastic bags, big box stores, pesticides, artificial fertilizer, fossil fuels, etc.

When these items get phased out as they must, our capitalist bosses will strive mightily to replace them with products that create even more opportunities for growth, and thus do even more harm to the biosphere. For example, several decades ago a federal ban exnovated DDT from the USA. This allowed various wildlife species poisoned by DDT, such as bald eagles, to recover. However, newer pesticides replaced DDT, to the point of decimating even more wildlife populations, such as bees. How much better it would have been—and will be—to cut down rather than continuing to build up overall use of artificial pesticides.

In the transportation sector, the electric car will not make a better-enough replacement for the gas guzzler. Electric cars, just like non-electric, use up too much material and space, not to mention that they inflict too much death and disability through “accidents,” obesity and other health problems from lack of exercise, political dysfunction festering out of isolation from fellow citizens “packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes,” etc. The only truly green option is to hack down use of private automobiles. Public transportation and bicycles will take up part of the slack, but having stores, workplaces, schools, and other public spaces within walking distance of home for most people will reduce the overall need/desire for transportation.

Making Room for Innovation in Nature and Culture

Talk of exnovation might seem to imply a focus on the negative. But it’s really about giving nature and culture a break to facilitate normal tendencies toward innovation in both realms. Over billions of years, natural innovation (or, the evolution of new species) outpaced natural exnovation (or, the extinction of old ones). Over tens if not hundreds of millennia, cultural innovation (indicated by the appearance of new languages) outpaced cultural exnovation (or, the disappearance of old ones). Our capitalist growth economy has now wrought mass extinctions of species and languages. It has thereby stifled biological and cultural innovation, each of which builds upon existing diversity. Conversely then, constraining the economy just might liberate society and nature.

1955 black and white image of fort tri-motor spraying DDT in Oregon.

Harmful inventions like DDT have damaged ecosystems. Exnovation is a promising remedy.

More broadly, we must bring the economy into harmony with the global ecosystem that contains and sustains humanity, along with our 10 million fellow species. This means weakening and/or breaking many of the commercial ties that have come to dominate our lives. This, in turn, will permit the strengthening, reestablishment, and/or establishment anew, of social and ecological ties now preempted by economic growth.

Going back to the example of automobiles—one of the greatest drivers of economic growth—the more traffic suffered by a neighborhood, the less social interaction occurs within it. Conversely, reducing car traffic increases social interaction. And reducing the infrastructure devoted to cars—i.e., road lanes and parking spaces—allows for restoration of green space. The Plateau borough of Montréal, where I live, has melded these ideas into practice, through the social innovation of the car-free green alley. Today birds, berries, dogs, children, flowers, pedestrians, and other beings interact to create a much richer place than monotonous—and far more dangerous—car traffic once did in our alley.

More than a century of explosive economic growth has overfilled our world with harmful inventions like DDT, private automobiles, and barbed wire. This has impoverished us ecologically and socially. By exnovating these devices, and preventing their full replacement by other commodities, we will help to free nature and culture to resume the kinds of innovation we now need most.

Greg MikkelsonGregory Mikkelson is an interdependent scientist and activist.

The post Don’t Fence Me In: Exnovation for Degrowth appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Economic Growth Takes a Bite out of Fishing

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/07/2022 - 2:12am in
by Stephen Coghlan

“A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work,” proclaimeth bumper stickers throughout my neck of the woods in central Maine. No disagreement here! For humans, fishing is fun and mentally and physically stimulating. Fishing also engenders respect for nature, relieves stress, and sometimes provides a tasty meal; though not so much for the fish.

Man holding a small fish up to the camera.

Hardly a lunker, but “a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.”

Fishing is deeply embedded in American culture, in part due to public-trust doctrine of wildlife management, legacy of subsistence fishing by poor rural folk, and postwar economic growth and widespread affluence allowing suburbanites and city-slickers the means to enjoy nature. But that economic growth has degraded and threatens to destroy many freshwater fish and recreational fishing opportunities for current and future generations.

Freshwater fish are some of the most imperiled biota in the world. Threats vary by species and location, act synergistically, operate through many pathways, and include overfishing, deforestation, pollution, damming, irrigation, exotic species, habitat loss, and climate heating. But all of these are merely symptoms of the ultimate cause: overshoot.

Empowered by fossil energy, lubricated by debt-based money, and justified by faith-based economics, the human ecological footprint has grown beyond planetary carrying capacity;  we’re depleting resources faster than can be replenished, producing waste faster than can be assimilated, and destroying biodiversity faster than it can evolve. The global economy acts as a mindless, self-organizing, energy-hungry amoeba designed to grow, incapable of recognizing any limits. We’re incessantly turning nature into more of us, our things, and our effluents, leaving less nature for future generations and other species.

Ramblings of a Middle-Aged Fish-Squeezer

Most of my adult life has revolved around studying and catching freshwater fish, but I didn’t grow up in a “fishing family.” My maternal grandfather grew up dirt-poor on a farm in Central New York during the Great Depression and did his share of sustenance fishing and hunting. This was about 40 years after the worlds’ largest population of landlocked Atlantic Salmon was driven to extinction in his backyard and Onondaga Lake was well on its way to becoming the most polluted lake in North America, but about 30 years before PCB contamination made fish in Skaneateles Creek unsafe to eat for generations. Grandpa sat me in his lap and read from Field and Stream and taught me about local fish and wildlife, recounting stories of monster brown trout in North Brook. Fascinating, but I was content with armchair natural history.

Onondaga Lake in New York

Onondaga Lake in New York State: a place to fish, if not healthily. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, NYS DEC)

My father wasn’t outdoorsy, but he enjoyed rural Cape Cod in the early 1960s (before urban sprawl and tourism chewed up forests, fields, marshes, and beaches), when alewife ran so thick he could catch a mess in an old hubcap. When I was about five, Dad took me fishing twice, once at Owasco Lake (long before septic tank runoff and toxic algae closed beaches) and once in Crane Brook behind the brand-new Finger Lakes Mall (which sparked more sprawl into surrounding countryside, destroyed local businesses, and now is a ghost town anchored by a fizzling Bass Pro). Catching rock bass on worm-and-bobber was fun, but Star Wars was more interesting.

Later, a family friend introduced me to angling for lake-run rainbow trout and dip netting for rainbow smelt. Back then, “No Trespassing” signs were scarce, April 1st was cold and snowy, and a piece of orange sponge soaked in tuna oil was magic. Tiny streams literally “ran black” with smelt and you could catch your limit five-gallon-bucketful in a few minutes.

Something stirred within me. I bought a cheap rod, practiced my casting, tied crude flies with fur from my Shepard-Husky mix, Sam, and bided my time until I could drive. I spent many mornings on Dutch Hollow Creek as the bus delivered kids to high school without me. I sought help from a local fly shop (eventually driven under by Bass Pro) and the owner, Mike, was patient and generous. I fished hard but rarely caught, and wondered if trout even existed. Mike assured me they did; he had pictures to prove it.

One gorgeous fall day, I happened upon a spawning pod of lake-run brown trout in Mill Creek and watched with fascination as males fought, females dug, jaws gaped, bodies quivered, and gametes spilled. I had an epiphany, knowing I must spend my life studying these creatures and eventually catch some. College friends and professors helped immensely. Twenty years later I’ve caught a few fish and squeezed a few more, but the more I learn and experience, the less confident I am that recreational fishing has much of a future.

Economic Growth: No More Fish Stories

Recall those fish-threatening “proximate causes” that arise from economic growth. Many of these threats contribute to economic growth: clearcutting a watershed for lumber, damming rivers to generate hydroelectricity, dumping toxins in rivers to increase profits. Let’s consider some of the biological and ecological impacts, using examples from New York and northern New England, my home range as ecologist and angler. We’ll focus on a few popular “sport fishes” that I happen to value: salmonines (the salmonids comprising trout, salmon, and char) and panfish (sunfish, bass, perch, etc.). I do, however, realize that this distinction of “value” is laden with Euro-centric cultural biases; so, apologies to my Indigenous friends.

Atlantic Salmon cannot tolerate a large and expanding human footprint, and most salmonines are just as sensitive. Sea-run and landlocked Salmon were native to Northeastern USA before European invasion, as were brook trout, lake trout, and Arctic chars. Rainbow and brown trout were and are introduced widely, and some have become naturalized. Hatchery and naturalized coho and chinook salmon exist in Lake Ontario. We can generalize that most or all salmonids are intolerant of heat, low oxygen, and toxins. They also require clean, cold water, express complex life-histories, and need access to diverse habitats. Lastly, they evolved in forested watersheds with seasonally-reliable temperature and flow regimes.

Links between economic growth and salmonine declines are clear. Sea-run Atlantic salmon once swam up the Penobscot River in hundreds of thousands (and in other coastal rivers from Connecticut to Russia), along with millions of river herrings. A nascent industrial economy grew by building dams that blocked migration to spawning grounds, deforesting huge swaths of Great North Woods, destroying stream channels with log drives, poisoning rivers with toxic effluents, overfishing for profit, and ultimately killing more salmon than could be sustained.


A spent salmon in waters warmed by a bloated GDP. (CC BY 2.0, Robert Couse-Baker)

Eventually, the Clean Water Act and others helped buffer the Penobscot from the worst insults and improved water quality, but salmon kept declining. Hatcheries and the Endangered Species Act have postponed extinction, and the Penobscot River Restoration Project has removed dams and improved habitat. River herring runs seem to be recovering, and this could benefit Atlantic salmon by fertilizing streams and providing cover from predators. But climate catastrophe (itself a consequence of economic growth) is almost certainly the last nail in the salmon’s coffin.

Across Maine (and almost everywhere), quickly heating rivers and more extreme droughts and floods are leaving less habitat suitable for survival, growth, and reproduction. Invasive and heat-tolerant smallmouth bass have spread throughout most watersheds, and are dangerous predators and competitors of salmon. Climate-driven shifts in ocean food webs, along with loss of genetic diversity, skews spawning runs towards smaller and less fecund fish.

Similar stories exist for other salmonines. Landlocked salmon were driven to extinction in Lake Ontario and Finger Lakes watersheds by damming, deforestation, overfishing, pollution, and exotic species introduction. Brook trout have declined or been extirpated across their native range, with few strongholds limited to high-elevation, sparsely-populated watersheds from Adirondacks to Aroostook—again, for similar reasons.

Short-lived, slow-growing brookies are vulnerable to overfishing and require strict limits on harvest; most populations are sustained by stocking. Unfortunately, anglers tend to target and remove the largest fish, leading to “unnatural selection.” Although rainbows and browns are nonnative, and may outcompete native salmonines, they have similar niches and responses to stressors. Spawning streams in the Finger Lakes suffer more extreme heat, floods, and droughts, especially in deforested watersheds, so fewer wild fish exist and more stocking is required to support angler demand.

Of course, some examples exist of where local economic growth has benefitted local salmonids. For example, hydroelectric dams in the Delaware watersheds created deep reservoirs, cold tailwaters, and thermal refuge for browns and rainbows.

Hooked on Growth

Economic growth also threatens fishing. Motivation and skill vary among anglers, but I’d say most people prefer to catch more and larger fish in more pleasant settings. (Anglers desire remote but easily accessible areas—don’t we all!) It follows that fewer, smaller, harder-to-catch fish in fewer, more crowded, uglier places diminishes the fishing experience.)

Although the number of licensed anglers has decreased significantly, it’s unclear whether overall fishing activity has declined. It might have (due largely to poorer fishing), but sometimes it feels like the fishing pressure has simply become more concentrated. The old saying goes that 10 percent of anglers catch 90 percent of the fish. That 10 percent can be awfully stubborn, and for the rest, remember the motto, “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.”

Several people fishing on the shore.

They managed to find a fishing hole. Will they find their way to the town hall to object to the county’s growth plan? (Shutterstock)

Heavy stocking masks the collapse of wild fisheries and attracts anglers who otherwise might not fish. Legal protections from ESA prohibit recreational angling, like for Maine Atlantic salmon. And the ultimate economic insult is fish so contaminated with mercury or PFAS that they shouldn’t be consumed.

Catchability varies among individual trout. Some are prone to capture and removal quickly, leaving frustratingly difficult fish. Naïve trout are caught-and-released easily once but learn quickly to reject flies and hide from anglers; experienced trout acclimate to anglers but remain skeptical of flies.

Increased crowding makes fishing more challenging, exemplified by Magalloway River in northwestern Maine, known for large wild brook trout and heavy pressure, concentrated in a short stretch of tailwater that increases over summer as nearby rivers heat. Catch-and-release ensures that some fish are caught repeatedly, and none are (legally) removed.

These trout tax my patience and skill, yet the occasional reward (including a five-pounder caught before sunrise on the summer solstice) outweighs the long drive and increasingly crowded streambanks. But for how much longer? As global heating proceeds, anglers must travel farther to catch salmonids (burning more fuel and emitting more CO2 in the process), if not discouraged by high gasoline prices or disrupted by energy-economic shocks.

Shorter winters and thinner, less dependable ice cover also threaten ice fishing. Many salmonine fisheries are closed or tightly regulated then and impossible to access without snowmobiles. Enter panfish. Panfish generally tolerate more human disturbance and are found closer to population centers, but this means easier access and crowds.

Pumpkinseeds are highly desirable and fished hard in New York, but nearly ignored in Maine. Small, sheltered ponds freeze quickly and provide excellent early-season fishing but may suffer from anoxia later on, especially in agricultural watersheds. Black crappie are slowly invading northeastwards, and newly established populations seem to provide about a decade of spectacular harvests before intraspecific competition kicks in and word spreads among anglers.

Prolonged heavy fishing eliminates largest and oldest fish, leaving many runts. I’ve been testing my pet hypothesis that sustenance ice-fishing for panfish is a smart investment in self-reliance to buffer against economic and ecological shocks from overshoot. One skilled angler can harvest lots of biomass, but every calorie of fillet demands at least 50 calories of mostly fossil energy—worse than industrial agriculture!—and only so many anglers could attempt this before fisheries collapse. Nevertheless, ice fishing will soon be just a fond memory.

Speaking Trout to Power

Auditorium of people learning about climate change.

Town hall meeting. Notice the incongruent slide: “Improving life on earth and protecting our planet…Strengthening U.S. economy through science and technology.” Anglers in the audience should be ready to rectify. (CC BY 2.0, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Old-timers have always lamented “fishing ain’t what it used to be,” but hardly anybody blames economic growth directly. Aside from a few of my like-minded fishing buddies and students, most anglers and biologists I encounter fail to see the connection. Anglers who grumble that northern Maine is turning into Massachusetts see the trees but miss the forest when in the next breath they argue that rural communities need economic growth. After all, what else could possibly convert the Great North Woods into the Bay State but economic growth?

Many die-hard anglers resist acknowledging the climate emergency, even though objective data and lived experiences say otherwise. Central New York fishing guru and local icon Mike Kelly advocates passionately for protecting trout and streams from direct human insults (he’s seen them all in 60+ years of fishing), but devotes one dismissive sentence to global heating: “Since Central New York residents were just digging out from one of the coldest winters in the last half-century…I’m not quite ready to concede that we are seeing the results of ‘global warming.’” I wonder if the last eight years of record-breaking heat have changed his mind.

Even my own university, that prides itself on “sustainability” and expertise in fish and wildlife management, seems to justify its existence on grounds of promoting economic growth. However, a very near-exception to this rule is Trout Unlimited. TU is extremely proactive in identifying proximate threats to cold-water fish and fishing, and is actually achieving results through lobbying, public education and engagement, and on-the-ground conservation and restoration. At times they come tantalizingly close but stop just short of admitting that a growing economy is incompatible with their mission. Maybe they need just a little nudge from us steady staters, and others will follow. Fish need breathing room too.

Stephen Coghlan is CASSE’s Maine chapter director and an associate professor of freshwater fisheries ecology at the University of Maine.

The post Economic Growth Takes a Bite out of Fishing appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

West Virginia v. EPA: A Setback for the Steady State Economy

by Sydney Lyman

Throughout the month of June, many Americans frantically refreshed the Supreme Court’s website each morning, as immensely important cases appeared on the docket in rapid succession. It turned out to be a disorienting month. The freedom to get an abortion was stripped from 40 million people of reproductive age, gun control efforts were stymied, and the separation of church and state in public schools was weakened.

In the chaotic wake of these historic rulings, another monumental decision was lost on much of the public. The Court released its decision on West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the afternoon of June 30th, the last day of the annual session. Basically, the Court dropped an environmental bomb and left for vacation.

In its most significant environmental decision yet, the Court ruled 6–3 that Congress had not granted the EPA authority to establish “generation shifting” emissions caps when it passed the Clean Air Act in 1970. Littered with abnormalities, the ruling has already been called a “political act poorly disguised as a legal opinion” devised by the Court’s conservative justices, marking the Court’s swift swing to the right.

Bizarre from the Beginning

Protest sign that reads "Defend Our Constitution" held up in a crowd outside the U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. citizens protest the recent series of regressive Supreme Court rulings with a simple demand: “Defend Our Constitution.” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, vpickering)

The origins of West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency (hereafter, West Virginia) can be traced back to the EPA’s 2015 Clean Power Plan proposal. President Obama had made bold promises to act on climate change. So, when he found himself fighting with a deadlocked Congress, Obama turned to the power of the administrative state to get things done.

Obama’s EPA proposed the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The plan included “strong but achievable” goals such as cutting CO2 emissions from electricity generation by 32 percent over the subsequent 15 years. However, the CPP, initially thought to be one of Obama’s greatest achievements in office, never took effect. As soon as the rules were published in the Federal Register, 28 states and hundreds of companies filed suit in the DC Circuit Court, giving birth to West Virginia. In response, the Supreme Court ordered the EPA to halt enforcement of the law until a lower court ruled on the case; the first time the Court had intervened with regulations before a lower court could conduct its own review.

The plaintiffs issued three main challenges. First, they argued that the EPA couldn’t regulate CO2 using § 7411(d) of the Clean Air Act, because the House and Senate versions of § 7411(d) were never reconciled in the 1990 amendments. In fact, both versions had been codified. The Senate version covered CO2 emissions while the House version did not. In developing the CPP, the EPA followed the Senate’s version of § 7411(d), with the understanding that courts generally defer to an agency’s interpretation of the law pursuant to the principle of judicial deference. However, the plaintiffs claimed that the House version was more consistent with the law overall and should thus prevail.

The second challenge was that the EPA had overstepped its authority by mandating actions “outside the fenceline.” The EPA does have full authority to create standards to be met at each individual plant. However, the CPP’s requirement that states develop clean energy sources and increase efficiency of coal plants couldn’t be fulfilled at the actual power plants themselves. Such a requirement, then, was outside the fenceline.

Lastly, the plaintiffs claimed the CPP violated the Tenth Amendment by inappropriately delegating federal power to the states.

While the DC Circuit Court considered the plaintiff’s arguments in September 2016, the inauguration of Donald Trump and subsequent reorganization of the EPA four months later rendered the case moot. Trump’s EPA clearly stated its intent to repeal the CPP and did so in August 2018, replacing it with the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule.

Compared to the CPP’s 32 percent target, the ACE established a far less ambitious target of between 0.7 and 1.5 percent reduction of CO2 emissions. In turn, the American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association filed suit against the EPA, arguing that it was neglecting its duty to reduce emissions and improve public health. The Court ruled 2–1 in favor of the plaintiffs on January 19, 2021, vacating the ACE rule and allowing the EPA the opportunity to reinstate the CPP rule.

The very next day, President Joe Biden took office and the fear felt by industrial red states was reignited. Nineteen attorneys general and five power companies petitioned the Supreme Court to review the DC Circuit Court’s ruling before the Biden administration had even reinstated the CPP. The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case at all, then, is questionable. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote:

The Court’s docket is discretionary, and because no one is now subject to the Clean Power Plan’s terms, there was no reason to reach out to decide this case. The Court today issues what is really an advisory opinion on the proper scope of the new rule EPA is considering. That new rule will be subject anyway to immediate, pre-enforcement judicial review. But this Court could not wait—even to see what the new rule says—to constrain EPA’s efforts to address climate change.

In addressing the hastiness of her colleagues and the fact that the Court had no place in the matter, Justice Kagan waves a red flag about the Court’s political activism, which seems outside a fenceline of its own.

Major Questions About the Major Questions Doctrine

Authoring the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts invoked the “major questions doctrine” as the decision’s main justification. He claimed that, because the CPP was so unprecedented and transformative, the Court had a “reason to hesitate” before confirming that Congress actually intended (via Clean Air Act) to provide the EPA with the authority to make such drastic changes.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan

Despite the conservative majority, Justice Kagan holds fast to precedent. (CC BY-SA 3.0, Steve Petteway)

In the end, the Court did far more than hesitate. The majority held that Congress didn’t intend for the EPA to attain such authority, preventing the CPP and any other similarly comprehensive regulation from becoming law. In essence, the CPP created more change than the Court’s conservative majority was willing to accept, so they ruled it unconstitutional.

The principle of judicial deference is essentially thrown out the window should a case fall under the major questions doctrine. Adding to the confusion, the public doesn’t know if the Court will apply this doctrine in any particular case until the decision and opinion is released.

Now referred to as a “legal theory,” the major questions doctrine is a seldom-used concept stemming from FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco (2000). The FDA Court claimed that, given the “economic and political significance” of the tobacco industry, Congress couldn’t have possibly intended for the FDA to have regulatory jurisdiction over tobacco when it passed the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) in 1938. FDA created a dangerous loophole that allows the Court to reject the principle of judicial deference whenever the majority believes a decision might have “vast economic and political significance”—whatever that means.

In her West Virginia dissent, Justice Kagan included a few “major questions” threads in the red flag she wove: “Apparently, there is now a two-step inquiry… The majority claims it is just following precedent, but that is not so. The Court has never even used the term ‘major questions doctrine’ before.”

The major questions doctrine has been described by Progressives as a move toward juristocracy, giving nine unelected judges from the least democratic branch of government the final say on society’s most controversial issues. Perhaps the doctrine should be applied to the Supreme Court itself. After all, overturning a 50-year-old precedent that upheld legal access to abortion would have vast political significance. Perhaps the public, too, has “reason to hesitate” before concluding such a transformative decision is within the Court’s authority.

Consequences Beyond the Courtroom

In April 2021, the Biden administration announced its plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. The administration was relying on three approaches to accomplish this ambitious task.

The first approach was the development of a national network of electric vehicle chargers and new standards to make EVs more reliable and affordable. The second was the Build Back Better Act, a substantial part of which was dedicated to clean energy and reducing carbon emissions. Thanks to coal-powered Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, however, the bill is stuck in reconciliation and is unlikely to be salvaged in earnest.

Joe Biden, walking past signs about climate change on his way to discuss conservation and emissions reducing plans.

Hopes of halving emissions by 2030 fade into the distance as Biden’s strategies get stymied at every turn. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, Biden For President)

The final approach included sweeping regulations enacted by the EPA to address smog, cross-border pollution, mercury, and toxic contaminants produced by power plants. These regulations were also intended to compel plants to adopt renewable energy. West Virginia has sent the agency back to the drawing board, leaving only the first of the administration’s approaches in effect.

Stripped of its ability to fully execute its climate action plan, and short of plans to degrow the economy, the White House will likely see its target of halving emissions by 2030 slip further into mathematical impossibility.

Worse yet, the consequences of the decision don’t stop with the EPA and climate action. Richard Revesz, a professor at NYU School of Law, contends that the “court’s pointedly vague invocation of the major questions doctrine casts a long shadow over the future of regulation,” regardless of which agency is doing the regulating.

This poses a significant problem for advancing the steady state economy. West Virginia leaves the USA idling in the depths of neoclassical, pro-growth economics, if not mired in the ancient tar sands of laissez faire. In a steady state economy, regulations would be “part of the landscape,” from tax code changes and banking reforms to restrictions on extractive industries and outright bans of certain practices. West Virginia makes such regulations profoundly more difficult to develop, uphold, and enforce.

With hyperpolarization and constant gridlock in Congress, the executive branch is perhaps the most promising channel for advancing necessary nationwide changes. Combating an unprecedented threat like environmental breakdown will certainly call for an unprecedented transformation of government. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the kind of change the Supreme Court has chosen to undermine.

Headshot of Sydney Lyman, a summer 2022 journalism intern at CASSESydney Lyman is a summer 2022 journalism intern at CASSE.

The post <em>West Virginia v. EPA</em>: A Setback for the Steady State Economy appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Book Review: Reimagining Sustainable Cities: Strategies for Designing Greener, Healthier, More Equitable Communities by Stephen M. Wheeler and Christina D. Rosan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/07/2022 - 8:37pm in

In Reimagining Sustainable Cities: Strategies for Designing Greener, Healthier, More Equitable CommunitiesStephen M. Wheeler and Christina D. Rosan explore ways to make urban places more sustainable, drawing on examples from across the world. This book presents a rich and useful starting point for reimagining and reinvigorating cities today, writes Helen Traill

Reimagining Sustainable Cities: Strategies for Designing Greener, Healthier, More Equitable Communities. Stephen M. Wheeler and Christina D. Rosan. University of California Press. 2021.

Find this book (affiliate link):amazon-logo

Reimagining Sustainable Cities coverReimagining Sustainable Cities is a wide-ranging book, drawing together examples from across the world (but with a stronger focus on the US and Europe) to explore ways to transform urban places towards sustainability. The scope of the book is broad, combining research on the economy, energy, inequality, transport, green space, democracy and the power of changes that people can make in their everyday lives.

As an introduction and guide to possible urban futures, Reimagining Sustainable Cities chimes with the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that suggested that we already have everything we need to get to net zero carbon. Yet, much like Karl Marx’s refusal to write recipes for the cookshops of the future, authors Stephen M. Wheeler and Christina D. Rosan are not prescriptive about what the pathway to a more sustainable future must look like. Instead, they introduce the reader to the myriad practices and possibilities that exist as experiments, ideas or already implemented policies. In this sense, they succeed in laying out the shape of the broad and multifaceted urban sustainability question. The book’s plurality recalls the experimental and piecemeal fashion through which cities across the world are attempting to piece together a climate-adapted future (see particularly Harriet Bulkeley and Vanesa Castán Broto, 2021; and Bulkeley et al, 2018).

Photo by Vuitton Lim on Unsplash

The book is structured around a series of questions that move across different scales and foci, such as ‘How Do We Get to Climate Neutrality?’ and ‘How Can Cities Better Support Human Development?’ Each chapter explains the problem and a series of solutions, helpfully set out in a table and with additional useful tables to quickly illustrate the suggested pathways. The conclusions to each chapter also act as summaries of what a sustainable future might look like, often written in the future tense, which is somewhat unusual for a text authored by academics.

The structure works well for producing digestible chapters and should enable the reader to dip back into and find ideas easily, though it can be slightly repetitive for those who start at the beginning and read to the end. That said, the explicit aim of the book is to reach a wide audience and present the material accessibly. In this, it generally succeeds. The downside to this approach is that while the book collects a dazzlingly broad array of ideas and examples, it tends to lack a great deal of detail in the examples it offers, taking a path that demonstrates breadth rather than depth. To this end, it often signposts more than it fully explains, leading it to skim across lots of different spaces and ideas.

The core aim of the book is to address the need for ‘dramatic change’ (2) towards sustainable futures, not only as a technical problem of emissions but as an opportunity to pursue broad social change and urban justice. Sustainability is treated as ‘a process of continually and actively moving in directions that promote ecological health, social equity, quality of life, cooperation, and compassion’ (4). This sense of plural and broad sustainability guides the book, emerging throughout in bold statements about the need for ‘Personal values [that] emphasize giving back to the world, not profiting from it’ (192). Not everyone will agree with some of the ideas around wide-ranging taxation, rent control, economic redistribution and the necessity of centring ‘care and community and healing’ (192). Nonetheless, there is a strong radical imagination within the book that enables it to cover a range of terrains from the technical details of planning systems through to strategies for reinvigorating democracy.

The book’s tone is unusual for an academic text, in part because it aims to be accessible and in part because of its focus on solutions. The insistence that sustainability is an opportunity reflects the self-stated goal ‘to be constructive and empowering rather than depressing and paralyzing’ (2). At times this feels like a slightly off-putting insistence on positivity, with an appropriately utopian way of approaching planning to ‘promote happiness, quality of life, and fulfilment of human potential’ (205). This all becomes much clearer as an approach when it is explored in greater depth in Chapter Twelve on ‘How Can Each of Us Help Lead the Move toward Sustainable Communities?’ When the reader reaches this point, it becomes evident how strategic the tone and direction of the book actually are, though its insistently sunny presentation of solutions does at times grate. Starting here may allow the reader to more easily read with this book if they are approaching it as an academic who is perhaps more used to critique as both tone and approach.

Nevertheless, while there might be small details to quibble – such as the claim that many urban sustainability and greenhouse gas reduction plans ignore consumption and lifestyle questions – the book is generally a helpful guide to the range of potential sustainable city action. Wheeler and Rosan present a rich and useful starting point for reimagining and reinvigorating cities with a deliberately kaleidoscopic and relatively non-prescriptive approach. In this, I suspect the reader of Reimagining Sustainable Cities will find many ideas to take further.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

Banner image credit: Photo by Victor on Unsplash

 

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