sustainability

The Triangular Economy: Behind the Circular Flows

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/04/2020 - 3:23am in

By Brian Czech

The “circular economy” is a response to the environmental problems and resource shortages that arise as the human economy expands. The focus of the circular economy literature is on efficiency which, in terms of economic production, means more output per unit of input. All else equal, increasing efficiency means higher profits, too. That’s real motivation for the corporation.

Efficiency connects to the human propensity to innovate, too. From childhood on, humans enjoy tinkering and improving processes in order to get “more with less.” Plenty of pride is taken in jobs efficiently done.

As the latest model to highlight efficiency, the circular economy is sanctioned by dozens of influential entities ranging from Coca-Cola to the United Nations Environment Programme, all of whom collaborate on the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE). The principals involved in PACE see the circular economy as capable of “decoupling” materials (and even energy in some cases) from the process of economic growth, and thereby keeping the environment intact while growing GDP.

A Primer on Economic Growth

The meaning of economic growth is often taken for granted, leading to misunderstandings about its relationship to the environment and sustainability. Therefore, a brief revisiting of the concept is in order.

Economic growth is simply an increase in the production and consumption of goods and services in the aggregate. It entails an increasing population and/or consumption per person. Economic growth is measured with GDP, or Gross Domestic Product. GDP is the amount of money spent on (and conversely, income gained from) the final goods and services produced annually within the boundaries of a nation (or some other polity such as a state or province).

By definition, then, economic growth is a macroeconomic process. It is not equivalent to the growth of a business, a bank account, or an industry. Nor is it, for example, the appearance of solar panels here and the disappearance of coal-fired plants there. Such trends are sectoral adjustments, which may or may not be concurrent with economic growth.

While we eagerly conceive of certain businesses and sectors approaching a circular model of production—with very little waste and ultra-high efficiency—circularity is not an option for the economy at large. We can view the circular sectors as eddies or whirlpools in the Big River of GDP, a linear river drawing from the “headwaters” of energy and materials and depositing products (and pollutants) in the delta of the marketplace. That’s basic physics and the examples are everywhere. There’s no unburning of fuels, no recycling of rubber particles left on the roadways, and no way to perform any work whatsoever without the flow of energy.

So, in addition to the linear river and the circular eddies, a sufficient vision for sustainability requires us to consider one more geometric shape: the triangle.

The Triangular Economy

In the economy of nature, with its non-human species, nothing makes a living without the “producers” at the base. These producers are the plants; they literally produce their own food (C6H12O6—the basic sugar molecule) in the process of photosynthesis. When producers are sufficiently developed and widespread, a collection of “consumer” species may also be supported.

The “primary consumers” consume plants directly. When primary consumers are likewise sufficiently developed, “secondary consumers” may also evolve. They eat the primary consumers. A simple example of this fundamental food chain in the economy of nature is grass → rabbits → foxes (Figure 1).

Trophic levels

Figure 1. Producers, primary consumers, and secondary consumers comprise “trophic levels” in the economy of nature. (In ecology, “trophic” refers to flows of energy, nutrition, and body mass.)

Of course, it’s not as if we can support one fox with merely one rabbit. Nor can we support one rabbit with one blade of grass. Rather, a great deal of grass is required to produce a large number of rabbits, which in turn is needed to support a viable population of foxes. These proportions are what give our triangle its shape, with its broad base of producers.

It’s hard to beat billions of years of evolution for developing efficient practices and eliminating wasteful activities. Therefore, circular economy entrepreneurs look to nature for examples of highly efficient processes. In fact, “biomimicry” is a buzzword among the circular economy crowd. For better or worse, though, humans never really escaped nature. As classic omnivores (somewhat similar to bears) they occupy primary and secondary consumer levels, consuming a great variety of plants and animals.

Meanwhile in the human economy proper, some aspects of nature are built in as surely as gravity. One such aspect is the trophic structure comprising producers and consumers. The base of producers centers around agriculture and other food-producing activities such as commercial fishing and livestock production. Only when the producers supply sufficient food can there be any division of labor; otherwise everyone is busy growing or gathering their own food!

The extractive sectors such as logging, mining, and energy extraction fill out the producer base of the economy. Each of these sectors takes the rawest materials from nature, which may then “feed” the heavy manufacturing sectors such as lumber milling, steel smelting, etc. Moving up the trophic structure ultimately allows for the lightest manufacturing of cans, cameras, and computer chips.

What is the significance of this triangular structure? It provides crucial context for sustainability thinking. Imagine the manufacturing of aluminum cans becoming so efficient that each can is recycled. That certainly makes the can manufacturing sector more sustainable, vis-à-vis aluminum, but each act of recycling takes energy, and each can must be filled with something. The can, the energy to produce or recycle it, and the foods to fill it (and the fuels to ship it to market) all come ultimately from the producers at the base of the economy. So, here we have a circular flow of aluminum—an eddy in the Big River of GDP—helping to alleviate aluminum shortages while still requiring surplus production at the trophic base of the economy.

The Trophic Theory of Money: Simpler Than it Sounds

The triangle is the sturdiest shape in architecture and a veritable workhorse in geometry. From the ancient pyramids to the Pythagorean theorem, triangles have powerful properties. Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising, then, that the triangular economy comes complete with…a theory of money!

extractive resources in a triangular economy

Figure 2. Trophic levels in the human economy consist of agricultural/extractive sectors (producers), heavy manufacturing (primary consumers), and light manufacturing (secondary consumers).

The “trophic theory of money” is that money originates via the agricultural and extractive surplus that frees the hands for the division of labor into manufacturing and service sectors. Prior to agricultural surplus there was no money; indeed money would have been a meaningless concept. This seems like a no-brainer, yet it deserves close attention because it means that the money supply (a stock) and GDP (a flow) are invariably indicators of environmental impact.

Circular eddies in the manufacturing sectors may help prevent, for example, litter from aluminum cans. We can’t discount, however, the indelible holes and “forever” pollutants left by the original aluminum mining. Meanwhile the ongoing agriculture to fill the cans and energy extraction to recycle the cans has direct and inevitable impacts on the landscapes and ecosystems of the planet.

This is not to pick on the aluminum industry. Every manufacturing sector—and every service sector—exists only as part of the broader trophic structure; i.e., “the economy” at large. The structure cannot grow without more surplus coming from the producer base, which is essentially nature or the environment. This helps to explain why many scientific organizations have described a “fundamental conflict” between economic growth and environmental protection.

Great Expectations Meet the Maximum Power Principle

The ideal of circularity in the production process is a bit like the ideal of civility in electoral politics. It is commendable, everybody wants it, and many profess to pursue it. Yet harsh realities systematically diminish the odds of achieving the ideal.

All else equal, efficiency is more profitable, so it would seem that all businesses in all sectors would do their best to maximize it. The key phrase, though, is “all else equal” (the notorious ceteris paribus in economic jargon). One of the unequal variables, when we compare economic processes, is the speed of production.

The most rigorous approach to considering all these variables is the “maximum power principle” described by the great systems ecologist H.T. Odum (1924-2002). Odum was a master of physics and used the Atwood machine to demonstrate the principles. Fortunately, most of the formulae aren’t relevant or required for the current purposes, so I’m going to channel Odum’s principle and Atwood’s machine with a simpler device known to nearly all; namely, the teeter-totter (aka “seesaw”).

Imagine a tin can on the teeter seat, which sits on the ground. Your job is to lift the can to a head-high shelf. If you can manage to place a one-ton rock on the totter seat, and let it drop, the can will shoot up to shelf level in an instant! The job was performed, but nearly a ton’s worth of kinetic energy was wasted as the rock smashed—totter seat and all—to the ground.

Now imagine an identical set-up but, instead of using a one-ton rock, you place an identical tin can—plus a pebble—onto the totter seat. Assuming it’s a well-greased teeter-totter (and given a little boost of start-up energy) you’ll get the job done, but progress will be agonizingly slow. In purely physical terms, you were far more efficient, but you were hardly competitive in the market.

To maximize profits, you’d use a weight that moves the can quickly, but without wanton waste of energy or the likelihood of a disastrous wreck! In other words, you’d strive to perform the job with an intermediate level of efficiency, in order to get it done in a timely fashion for success in the can market. The tension between maximizing production (at market speed) and maximizing efficiency is another overlooked reality, even in those sectors where we hope for circular flows.

The Sustainable Solution

“The ultimate solution is truth.” Was it Plato, Copernicus, or Abraham Lincoln who spoke thus? Evidently none of them, if Google be our guide, yet doesn’t it sound like each? Perhaps they didn’t utter the words because the logic seemed too obvious. After all, if a proposed solution isn’t based on the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is it ultimately a “solution” at all?

Similarly, a big-picture solution cannot be arrived at without considering the entire picture. The entirety of the picture amounts to the wholeness of the truth. Wholeness, in the case of big-picture sustainability, is a triangular economy.

We should encourage as much circularity as can truly be achieved, especially in the manufacturing sectors where circular eddies can most readily form in the river of GDP. In all sectors, too, we should strive for as much efficiency as comports with a relatively free market (as opposed to dictatorial planning). Without a doubt, circular economies and efficiency in general will buy us some time for avoiding supply shocks and environmental calamities.

Yet if we are truly concerned with sustainability—natural resource conservation, maintenance of biodiversity, and a stable climate for starters—we must confront the truth that perpetual growth is impossible, much less reconcilable with environmental protection. Real sustainability boils down to a steady state economy with a stabilized population and per capita consumption. That’s the big-picture solution.

We live, after all, in a triangular economy.

Brian Czech is the Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The post The Triangular Economy: Behind the Circular Flows appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Book Review: National Accounts and Environmentally Sustainable National Income by Roefie Hueting and Bart de Boer

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/04/2020 - 1:59am in

By Gerry Greaves
National Accounts and Environmentally Sustainable National Income

National Accounts and Environmentally Sustainable National Income
by Roefie Hueting and Bart de Boer
Eburon Academic Publishers, Utrecht
$29.50

When CASSE’s Executive Director, Brian Czech, asked me if I would like to review a book on national accounts, my first reaction was, “Why would I care?” I was familiar with the national accounting system, but my concentration in environmental advocacy typically focused on climate change and its effects on economic inequality. My interest was piqued, though, when he explained that this book was different, because the authors had developed a system to incorporate environmental sustainability in the national accounts.

Thumbing through National Accounts and Environmentally Sustainable National Income, it was clear that the authors, Roefie Hueting and Bart de Boer, had dedicated much of their careers to reforming the national accounts, in particular for sustainability purposes. The authors’ biographies described how they had been constructing alternative metrics for decades—Hueting as far back as the 1960s. I opened the book expecting it to be detailed, complex, and probably abstruse.

Fortunately, the basic idea is straightforward, and the authors explain quite clearly how it works, step by step. National Income (or GDP) is the most widely-reported economic indicator. It is often used as an indicator of welfare, but it is a flawed, misleading indicator in many ways, and certainly does not account for environmental deterioration. Hueting and de Boer, on the other hand, hone in on environmental sustainability. They propose an “environmentally Sustainable National Income” and give it the acronym “eSNI,” drawing attention to the “environmental” modifier. To be environmentally sustainable, environmental services, or “functions,” simply need to be available to future generations.

The eSNI is essentially the limit to national income, given rates of technological progress. Monitoring eSNI concurrently with GDP allows countries to sense how close to the limit they are coming. For example, Hueting and de Boer calculated the eSNI for the Netherlands in five-year increments from 1990 to 2015. Their results show that in 1990 the eSNI was about half of GDP. By 2015 the eSNI had already become two-thirds of GDP.

Author Roefie Hueting

Roefie Hueting has dedicated much of his career to the development of the environmentally Sustainable National Income (eSNI). (Credit: R. Hueting)

It’s important to note, as the authors stressed, that eSNI is an index for environmental sustainability. It is not an indicator of wellbeing any more than GDP is. For wellbeing, indicators such as the United Nations Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) or the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) are needed. Yet eSNI provides crucial context for interpreting trends in the wellbeing indicators!

How often is eSNI used? Sadly, the answer is not very. This is not for lack of trying by the authors. The reasons seem to come in two baskets. The first is the uncertainty inherent to environmental conditions and technological progress. Yet plenty of uncertainty is folded into the calculation of GDP as well. The prudent approach would be to monitor both accounts for purposes of guiding public policy. In the meantime, economists—especially ecological economists in the case of eSNI—should conduct research to reduce the uncertainty.

The other basket is the political challenge posed by the growing ratio of eSNI to GDP. Two decades into the 21st century, the political system is still extremely pro-growth. Indicators that tend to undermine the pro-growth program are not yet allowed in policy circles.

In conclusion, this book is a satisfying examination of the factors that influence the economy’s size and sustainability limits. If widely adopted, Hueting and de Boer’s eSNI can provide crucial guidance in the transition to a sustainable, steady state economy.

Gerry GreavesGerry Greaves is a retired engineer and the CASSE Chapter Director for Upstate South Carolina.

The post Book Review: <em>National Accounts and Environmentally Sustainable National Income</em> by Roefie Hueting and Bart de Boer appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Normalizing Outbreaks in the Anthropocene: Growth Isn’t the Cure

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 11/03/2020 - 2:30am in

By James Magnus-Johnston
Streets in China

Quiet streets in coronavirus epicenters. (Image Source, Credit: Alex Kim)

Death rates. Infection rates. Handwashing. Handwringing.

May I re-frame the coronavirus conversation? Although the world is currently stunned by the rapid spread of this virus across the globe, we must understand that these kinds of outbreaks are simply going to happen more often in our climate-altered world, and they highlight the fragility of our growth-or-bust industrial system. But there is a silver lining: This moment requires industrial societies to emphasize wellbeing over GDP and to witness the vulnerability of global, energy-intensive supply chains. The norm of GDP and economic growth obsessions has been put on hold. Without diminishing human suffering, a few months of reduced industrial output can also demonstrate that a different mode of living is possible; even desirable.

While this outbreak could have a negative impact on people’s sources of income, it has also already cut emissions more quickly than years of climate negotiations. I’ve heard more than one colleague joke that they can’t wait for their employer to close the office so they can work from home.

Some people believe the coronavirus outbreak is but one in a cascade of events that will break industrial society. Whether or not that’s true, the conversations that are catalyzed should be similar: Industrial societies ought to reconsider their cultural and economic goals, especially if routine crashes are baked into the system.

The late economist Richard Douthwaite observed that in our present set of economic institutions, the choice is between growth and collapse, not growth and stability. In reconsidering the current economic system, industrial societies must contemplate the following: If the growth-or-bust imperative is so clearly maladapted to deal with these kinds of consecutive crashes—and crashes are bound to hit more often—why not embrace a more stable economic system that facilitates life-affirming modes of working and being?

Why Outbreaks Will Be More Routine 

Environmental breakdown—such as rising temperatures, melting glaciers, and changing precipitation patterns—are contributing to a rise in infectious diseases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) cautions that “worldwide, there is an apparent increase in many infectious diseases… This reflects the combined impacts of rapid demographic, environmental, social, technological, and other changes in our ways-of-living [sic]. Climate change will also affect infectious disease occurrences.”

Glaciers

Scientists recently discovered 28 new virus groups trapped in 15,000-year-old melting ice. (Image Source, Credit: Huzefa Bagwala)

New disease carriers and evolving incubation patterns contribute to the rise in rates of infection. So, too, do changes in land use. For instance, Himalayan glaciers are melting twice as fast as they were half a century ago. One team of scientists recently found 28 novel viral groups in 15,000-year-old melting ice, all of which were entirely new to science. And that amount only accounts for a small fraction of those that will be new to 21st-century humans.

Turning Toward Simplicity and Care

It’s hard to contextualize the present pace of social and environmental change over the long run of history. But it is short-sighted to think merely about death rates or the short-term impact of coronavirus on GDP and the stock market.

Many of the media narratives are, as required by their commercial format, recycling short-term questions. A lot of people are undertaking meaningful, precautious efforts to reduce the spread of the infection; however, headlines and advertisements reveal the illusion that in a growth economy many believe they can buy their way out of this mess by purchasing control mechanisms, such as masks and hand sanitizer. Canceled flights and shortened holidays are framed as inconveniences. Travelers even question the validity of risks of infection in order to maintain their reservations. The underlying assumption is that we’ll all get back to business-as-usual soon enough.

Alternatively, Richard Heinberg writes that this moment is one of the many black swan events that will accumulate and eventually take down industrial civilization. He argues this event “could trigger a major unraveling that would leave the world substantially less networked, less wealthy, and less secure” as a global financial crisis is triggered, leaving people jobless. Others notice similar themes emerging today to those that plagued (pun intended) the early 20th century: demagoguery, a global pandemic, high-debt rates in the rich world, and rising political tensions. People can instead turn toward one another and demonstrate kindness, resilience, and cooperation.

As flights are canceled, offices are closed, our favorite novelty items go out of stock, or the internet doesn’t quite work properly (God forbid), it’s possible that some of us will find this compulsory slower pace both humbling and life-affirming.

Social and Ecological Benefits—Can We Sustain Them?

Amy Jaffe, Director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Energy Security and Climate Change program, notes that the outbreak is shifting our work habits in ways that can have a longer-term positive effect on the society and the planet, including “working from home, video conferencing, working shorter weeks, or staggering office hours to reduce traffic.”

Person wearing mask because of the coronavirus.

Misguided commercial solutions to the coronavirus outbreak. (Image source, Credit: Juraj Varga)

It is heretical to point out that the broader global community of life benefits from a human slowdown. But China has reduced its carbon emissions by a quarter nearly overnight. Oil consumption will fall by, reportedly, its largest volume on record. How can we sustain the positives and also prepare for inevitable crashes and industrial slowdowns going forward?

In addition to all of the wise, immediate actions encouraged by experts, we can have even more consequential conversations about transforming our pro-growth economy into a sustainable one. This moment in history calls for us to have a global discussion about buying fewer consumer goods, the instability of our fragile debt-fueled and crash-prone economy, localizing supply chains, and producing our own goods. As the number of those infected by the virus rises, our society should consider spending more time caring for people’s wellbeing instead of monetary gain.

Growth isn’t always the cure for what ails us.

James Magnus-Johnston headshotJames Magnus-Johnston is a PhD researcher at McGill University in the Leadership for the Ecozoic program. He’s the Co-director of the Centre for Resilience at Canadian Mennonite University, where he teaches in the fields of business, political studies, and economics, and he serves as a board director with the Assiniboine Credit Union. James previously worked in finance, public policy, and as a social entrepreneur—helping to establish services in food, housing, and experiential learning. He completed his MPhil in Economics at the University of Cambridge, where he studied the growth requirement of the debt-based money system.

The post Normalizing Outbreaks in the Anthropocene: Growth Isn’t the Cure appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Beating Teflon Trump Entails a New Perspective on GDP

By Brian Czech

In the earlier months of Donald Trump’s presidency, Democrats were stunned by his popularity despite his racist rhetoric, acerbic arrogance, and international insults. Trump himself had meanly boasted that he could “shoot somebody on 5th Avenue” and not lose any votes. He knew the American political system—Dems included—worshiped at the altar of GDP growth. Trump, as the quintessential growthist, had skyrocketed to the throne of Untouchable High Priest, albeit in a sharply divided church of red and blue growthists.

President Donald Trump

Say no to economic bloating: It’s time for Democratic candidates to take a stand against growth-mongering. (Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Credit: Gage Skidmore )

The Democratic response to Trump’s resilient popularity was to double down on the corruption and general awfulness of Trump, all the way to articles of impeachment. Dems were stunned once again at the lack of buy-in. Yet no one in Big Money circles—nor their media-manipulated red states—cared about “abuse of authority” or even “contempt of Congress” when GDP was growing faster than anyone had hoped for in years.

Dems have also tried to take credit for the growing GDP, claiming it has more to do with Barack Obama’s policies than Trump’s. Right or wrong, that’s a claim that falls on deaf ears. The growth mindset is all about now; previous administrations are as irrelevant as climate change to red-state congregants of the GDP religion.

What else can the Democrats do, in the face of such pro-growth Trumpian triumph? Easy! They can challenge the assumption that growth is good!

Some Democratic strategists, still stuck on “It’s the economy, stupid,” shudder at the notion of questioning growth. Yet think how easy the argument is. Without batting an eye, Dems can say:

GDP isn’t everything. All it measures is the number of people and the amount they consume. Why should that be the number one goal? More and more buyers of more and more stuff…how is that helping at this point in history? More and more traffic, congestion, pollution, noise, and stress. That’s a good thing? All the while with less and less natural resources, green space, wildlife, peace and quiet, and even the peace of mind that comes with a stable climate! “It’s the economy, stupid” had its day as a slogan, but that was decades ago. Now, in the twenty-first century, pushing for higher GDP is the new stupid.

There have been some baby steps taken in that very direction by some of the Democratic 2020 presidential candidates. Cory Booker ventured out first during the June 27, 2019 Democratic debate by stating, “The indicators that are being used from GDP to Wall Street’s rankings [are] not helping people in my community. It is about time that we have an economy that works for everybody, not just the wealthiest in our nation.” While he wasn’t questioning the goal of growth so much as the distribution of GDP, merely casting doubt on the merits of GDP is right on the cusp of a growth critique.

Two more things are noteworthy about Booker’s comment. The first is especially relevant to readers of the Steady State Herald and to active citizens in general: Booker seemed to be following up on advice provided by CASSE at a meeting with one of Booker’s staff on April 11. We suggested that he merely question GDP as a measure of success, and that is exactly what he did. Second, this succinct questioning was enough to qualify as an NBC News “top candidate line.”

Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang challenged the merits of GDP as an indicator of success during his campaign. Who’s next? (Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Credit: Gage Skidmore)

 

 

At the July 31 debate, Andrew Yang went a step further: “What we have to do is, we have to say, ‘look, there’s record high GDP and stock market prices, you know what else there are record highs [of]? Suicides, drug overdoses, depression, anxiety.’ It’s gotten so bad that American life expectancy has declined for the last three years.”

Yang went on to say, “The way we win this election is we redefine economic progress to include all the things that matter to the people in Michigan and all of us like our own heath, our well-being, our mental health, our clean air and clean water, how our kids are doing.”

 

 

Yang’s sweeping statement was reminiscent of the words of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968:

Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things… Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

The fact that Kennedy made these points more than 50 years ago is not so much evidence of the prescience of Kennedy as it is of how far behind the times the Democratic Party (sans Booker and Yang) has fallen on limits to growth. After all, Kennedy already spoke in terms of “for too long.” Now, in the 21st century, with GDP approximately 20 times higher than the 1968 model, economic growth is causing far more problems than it solves. It’s a bad dirty deal that’s starting to look like an existential threat!

Yet GDP growth is Trump’s calling card. Big Money passes it around 24/7, while Dark Money sneakily funds research and “think tanks” to make it seem like growth is the solution, not the problem. The only way to defeat this phenomenon is to keep harping on the impact of perpetually pushing for GDP growth. We have to emphasize, too, that it’s not just environmental impact. The environmental deterioration caused by bloating GDP is a matter of common sense, yet it’s not rocket science to connect that environmental deterioration to economic unsustainability and national insecurity.

Aside from Booker and Yang, who are out of the running for 2020, the Democratic presidential candidates haven’t provided any leadership to speak of for raising awareness of limits to growth and the need for a steady state economy. That said, they have been far, far less growth-obsessed than Trump. In fact, taken as a whole, they’ve had so little to say about economic growth that columnist John O. McGinnis (also a professor of constitutional law at Northwestern University) claimed, “Democratic presidential candidates have abandoned the idea of economic growth.” That was an overstatement, though. Outside of Booker’s baby step and Yang’s follow-up, none of the candidates have capitalized on the potential of a 21st century growth-is-stupid strategy. Rather, they are too focused (according to McGinnis) on “taking” from the rich and redistributing it to the poor. According to McGinnis (and supply siders at large), Dems would do better to help the less fortunate by way of the seemingly ancient approach of GDP growth, that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Iowa State Fair

A sign at the 2019 Iowa State Fair reads, “Make Him Go Away, 2020.” Trump’s obsession with GDP growth is especially ripe for disposal. (Image: CC BY 2.0, Credit: Phil Roeder)

So, what is the political lesson? It is that the Democratic focus on helping the less fortunate would be far more effective if coupled with the message of limits to growth. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, especially,1 should be pointing out there is only so much “water” for a rising tide, and only so much room for “boats” on the water (not to mention the limited availability of boat-building materials). In the 21st century, we need a transition to a steady state economy for the sake of all boats.

All that said, a democracy is supposed to be “for the people, by the people.” Simply wishing that Sanders, Biden, or Warren will take a stand on limits to growth is about as productive as wishing that Trump would re-sign the Paris Climate Treaty. In order for a Democratic presidential nominee to handle the truth about limits to growth, he or she will need to hear from constituents to develop the knowledge and comfort to do so. So will Democrats (or other progressive candidates) running for county, state, and federal offices across the board. If CASSE’s one request of a presidential candidate quickly paid off with a rhetorical baby step that was then recognized by NBC News as a “top candidate line,” imagine what thousands of such requests across the country may accomplish.2

Teflon Trump’s obsession with GDP growth is not only ham-handed; it’s short-sighted, anachronistic, and stupid. It belongs in the dustbin of history, and the sooner it gets there the better. Let’s make sure it gets there by providing the alternative vision: the vision of the steady state economy.

1Elizabeth Warren would be too avowedly pro-growth to manage a steady-state paradigm shift, certainly within this election cycle.

2 Why not print this off and send it to your local Democratic Party candidates, staffers, and organizers? If they express an interest, follow up with a visit, or at least send them a copy of Best of The Daly News: Selected Essays from the Leading Blog in Steady State Economics, 2010-2018. Best of The Daly News is a primer for getting people—including staffers and candidates—quickly up to speed on steady-state economics. To order copies at the cost of printing for political candidate distribution, send an email to Casey Reiland, Managing Editor, at caseyreiland@steadystate.org.

Brian Czech, Ph.D., is the founder and executive director of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy. He is the author of three books, Supply Shock, Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train, and The Endangered Species Act, as well as more than 50 academic journal articles. He served as a conservation biologist in the headquarters of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1999-2017 and as a visiting professor of natural resource economics in Virginia Tech’s National Capitol Region.

The post Beating Teflon Trump Entails a New Perspective on GDP appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Meaning and Ethics in Ecological Economics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 20/02/2020 - 3:00am in

By Haydn Washington

The True Meaning of Ecological Economics

Cartoon about school of economics.

(Credit: Polyp)

Ecological economics has a problem: Pluralism is out of control, to the extent that “ecological economics” is starting to mean different methods, approaches, and values to different people. We need to know precisely what we mean by “ecological economics,” and to settle upon an ethical framework thereof.

The original thinkers in ecological economics, such as Herman Daly, were clear that ecological economics was an economics that operated within ecological limits. However, recent models associated with ecological economics do not make this clear, as seen in the following table:

 

Table 1: Models Associated with Ecological Economics

Model associated with ecological economics
Focus on population?
Focus on reducing resource use?
Focus reducing consumerism and advertising?
Focus on equity?
Refuses to be an “engine of growth?”

Steady state economy
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes

Degrowth
Mixed—depends on author
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes

Social ecological economics
No
Yes
Unclear, but Spash (2012) argues yes
Yes
Yes, though controlling growthism not key focus

Circular economy
No
Yes
No
Yes
No

Green economy
No
Yes
No
Yes
No

Sharing economy
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Unsure

Doughnut economics
No
Yes
Mentioned then ignored
Yes (key focus)
Growth “agnostic”

Population and Consumerism: Missing Factors in Today’s Models of Ecological Economics

The key problem indicated by the table above regards population and consumerism. Many so-called ecological economics models do not emphasize either factor. Discussion of population, especially, seems to be taboo! Proponents of all models want to reduce resource use, yet many fail to discuss or seek to change consumerism. All models address the need for greater equity (at least for humans). However, only two models are clear that they are not complicit with further economic growth (the steady state economy and degrowth).

Polyp cartoon about growth.

(Credit: Polyp)

Environmental scientists use the IPAT formula—Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology—to assess environmental impact. Accordingly, society cannot live within ecological limits if it ignores population as a driver of impact. Similarly, seeking to reduce resource use without tackling the worldview of consumerism is bound for failure. Yet, many models that are loosely described as part of or congruent with ecological economics fail to describe an economy that would actually operate within ecological limits. We must establish, clearly and unambiguously, that operating within ecological limits is the meaning of ecological economics. That means we must stop the denial regarding population and consumerism.

 

 

 

A Call to Create a “New” Ecological Economics

The other major problem ecological economics must face pertains to its worldview and ethics. Clive Spash notes that an all-encompassing pluralism has led to incoherence and a brushing over of fundamental conflicts among various worldviews. I believe it is time for a “new” ecological economics which foregrounds ecocentrism, ecological ethics, and ecojustice. An emphasis on these themes can assist society in reaching a sustainable future where it accepts nature’s intrinsic value and extends respect to, and an obligation to protect, the nonhuman world.

Anthropocentric era cartoon.

(Credi: Polyp)

The model from Table 1 that comes closest to foregrounding ecological ethics is the steady state economy. Most of the other models explicitly (or implicitly) represent a strong anthropocentric bias. With regard to any model, however, ecological economics should break free from neoliberalism, including the commodification of nature. The idea of “People’s Contributions to Nature” needs to replace the anthropocentric “Nature’s Contributions to People” (also known as “ecosystem services”).

Given the themes of ecocentrism, ecological ethics, and ecojustice, a research agenda for ecological economics will adhere to the following:

  1. Adopt ecocentrism and ecological ethics to give ecological economics the coherent vision that it has lacked since its inception.
  2. Investigate to what extent ecological economics has been influenced by anthropocentrism and subsumed by neoliberal ideology.
  3. Emphasize ecological limits while tending to ecological ethics and ecojustice. This includes a focus on the key drivers of population and consumption.
  4. Explore connections with Earth jurisprudence, particularly the broader call for systemic government reform.
  5. Embrace ecojustice and integrate it with social justice.
  6. Study what the economics of an ecologically sustainable (or regenerative) agriculture might be (e.g., organic farming, agroecology, permaculture, etc.).
  7. Apply ecojustice to nature conservation through the support of the “Nature Needs Half” vision where half of terrestrial lands are protected in conservation reserves.
  8. Examine to what extent the commodification of nature is driven by anthropocentric and neoliberal ideology and ethics.
  9. Investigate the deep denial in society and orthodox economics (and also perhaps lurking in some corners of ecological economics) of limits to economic growth.
  10. Determine why society and governments—if they speak at all of “justice”—speak only of social justice and ignore the need for ecojustice for nonhuman nature.
  11. Examine the concept of ecodemocracy, where nature is given representation in governance systems.

Completing this agenda will bring us closer to adopting the only model that emphasizes ecological limits, provides an ethical framework, and strives for ecojustice: the steady state economy. Only when we have a steady state economy, virtuous to nature, will the earth thrive again for its human and nonhuman occupants.

For more information on ethics in ecological economics, check out these works below:

Burkey, T.V. 2017. Ethics for a full world: or, can animal-lovers save the world? Clairview Books, West Sussex, UK.

Washington, H. and M. Maloney. 2019. The need for ecologic ethics in a new ecological economics. Ecological Economics 169.

Washington, H., I. Lowe, and H. Kopnina. 2019. Why do society and academia ignore the Scientists Warning to Humanity on population? Journal of Futures Studies.

Haydn WashingtonDr. Haydn Washington is an environmental scientist and writer with a 40-year history in environmental science. He also writes extensively on ecological economics and ecological ethics. He is an Adjunct Lecturer in the PANGEA Research Centre, University of New South Wales. His books include Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand (2011 with John Cook), Human Dependence on Nature (2013), Demystifying Sustainability (2015), A Sense of Wonder Towards Nature, (2018) and What Can I Do to Help Heal the Environmental Crisis? (2020). He is the co-editor of the 2019 Springer book Conservation: Integrating Social and Ecological Justice. Haydn is Co-Director of the NSW CASSE Chapter, board member of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, and on the advisory boards of the journals Ecological Citizen and Sustainability. He is also on the Steering Committee of the new group “GENIE” (www.ecodemocracy.net).

The post Meaning and Ethics in Ecological Economics appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Print on Demand Services: Ways to Build a Sustainable Business Solution

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/02/2020 - 12:41pm in

“We cannot hope to create a sustainable culture with any but sustainable souls.” – Derrick Jensen, Endgame, Vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization Are you a business owner? Or, are you perhaps responsible for managing technology and printing services for your employer? The harsh reality is that the business organizational unit, irrespective of age, size,…

The post Print on Demand Services: Ways to Build a Sustainable Business Solution appeared first on Peak Oil.

Degrowth Toward a Steady State Economy: Unifying Non-Growth Movements for Political Impact

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/02/2020 - 2:02am in

By Brian Czech and Riccardo Mastini 

Limits to Growth and the Environmental Movement

No later than the 1960s, scholars wrote in rigorous terms of the limits to economic growth. Europeans such as E.F. Schumacher, Americans including Herman Daly, and European-born Americans (most notably Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and Kenneth Boulding) set the stage for later studies in ecological economics and sustainability science. Their scholarship, supplemented by the population focus of Paul Ehrlich and the modeling approach of Donella Meadows and coauthors (for the Club of Rome), resonated with ecologists and opened the eyes of millions of concerned citizens worldwide.

The “limits to growth movement” was allied in effect with the environmental movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. As indicated by the events of the first Earth Day in 1970, the environmental movement had a global aspect and was a major political phenomenon in many countries. It too had its progenitors. In the USA Rachel Carson, Barry Commoner, and David Brower were in the vanguard, and limits to growth were in their academic DNA. They were essentially “economists of nature” who were steeped in the concept of carrying capacity.

The cumulative movement—limits to growth and environmental protection—was characterized by a rapidly mounting concern over destructive economic activity. The critique of growth was therefore accompanied by skepticism about the behavior of corporations. In Europe, especially, the sustainability of capitalism itself was called into question, with or without Marxist leanings.

Although the critique of growth was focused on and in capitalist countries, astute observers noted an obsession with economic growth in socialist and communist countries as well. At the time, the most profound example was the Soviet Union. The Cold War, after all, was waged in terms of GDP, as described in meticulous detail by Robert Collins in More: The Politics of Economic Growth in Postwar America.

While the cumulative movement had some tangible successes, these were primarily of a regulatory nature for specific environmental protections, including clean air policies and the establishment of national parks in the UK and France. Meanwhile in the USA, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act were passed, and the Environmental Protection Agency was established to give the legislation teeth. The National Environmental Policy Act also helped to prevent the “sneaking” of environmentally devastating projects into the federal budget without copious public review and discussion.

The Cold War

The Cold War score was kept in GDP and was, therefore, highly unsustainable. (Image CC BY-SA 4.0, Credit: Carlos3653)

Little, on the other hand, was done to actually check the rates of economic growth in Europe or the USA. In fact, virtually nothing was done explicitly to that effect, and hardly anyone aside from Herman Daly even called for it in policy terms.

Perhaps the closest thing to macroeconomic reform was the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In the preamble, the 93rd American Congress found and declared that “species have been rendered extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development…” and went on to provide strict protections for threatened and endangered species. In essence, the Endangered Species Act was an implicit (and unintended, for most legislators) prescription for a steady state economy, albeit a steady state with a long list of species dangling from one last twig on the tree of life (see Czech and Krausman 2001).

The alternatives to growth were always obvious, starting with the opposite of growth; that is, recession, shrinkage, or “degrowth.” In between the two opposites was stability, equilibrium, or what Daly called the “steady state economy.”

Daly vs. Georgescu-Roegen: Less a Debate than a Different Frame of Time

When Daly started advancing the steady state economy as the sustainable alternative to growth, Georgescu-Roegen protested, as he had described in magnificent detail the unrelenting forces of entropy, which eventually brings down any economy on Earth as the sun runs out of hydrogen. But Daly acknowledged as much. Indeed Daly’s steady-state economics was born out of insights derived largely from Georgescu-Roegen, who was Daly’s Ph.D. advisor at Vanderbilt.

The contrast between Daly’s steady-state emphasis and Georgescu-Roegen’s entropy focus was hardly a political debate with policy implications. Instead it was theoretical and philosophical, applying primarily to the longest of long terms, not policy-relevant planning terms. Daly’s favorite metaphor of a long-term economy was a candle. The candle must first be lit, then will burn, and eventually must die out. The candle’s “production” can approximate a steady state for all but the lighting and the dying.

Unfortunately, however, the global economy was starting to look like a Roman candle with a suddenly vulnerable wick. Non-renewable resources—or “natural capital” stocks—were being liquidated, and the economy would have to recede to a level sustainable with renewable resources. This was a matter of common sense, yet the laws of thermodynamics were required to refute the notions of neoclassical economists who believed in perpetual substitutability of resources in an ever-growing economy.

There was a sort of middle ground: Within limits, additional mastery over the use of renewables could take up some of the slack as non-renewables were liquidated. Also during this adjustment phase, recycling of non-renewables would still be economic. An emphasis on efficiency has found renewed vigor with visions of a “circular economy.”

A Sustainability Slogan for the 21st Century: Clear, Accurate, and Policy-Relevant

Our focus for the current purposes, however, should be less on the technics of growth, degrowth, or the steady state economy, and more on the political common ground of degrowth and steady-state movements. The predominantly European “degrowthers” and the predominantly American (and Australian) “steady staters” would all have more cachet, influence, and success if they were united in their efforts to topple economic growth from the pedestal of politics and policy.

Our unified slogan ought not be simply “steady state economy” or “degrowth,” but rather “Degrowth Toward a Steady State Economy.” The slogan is perfectly clear, charts a path, and readily rolls off the tongue. It passes the test for effective slogans.

The vast majority of tips on communications, rhetoric, and marketing come from the context of business. While we can’t reduce social movements and statesmanship to salesmanship, the basics of effective slogans would seem to apply in all scenarios. Consider for example the “5 Tips for Writing an Effective Slogan” described by Dan Smith of Business Insider.

Smith’s tips 1 and 2 overlap substantially. Tip 1 is, “Highlight a key benefit. The point of a slogan is to differentiate your product or brand from that of your competitors, while also underscoring the company’s general mission.” Tip 2 is, “Explain the company’s commitment… differentiate the company from other competitors.”

How could we possibly explain our commitment more clearly with a handful of words? “Degrowth Toward a Steady State Economy.” This is our vision of sustainability, including environmental protection, economic sustainability, and peace among nations. As for differentiation, in calling for a clear alternative to growth, how could we be more differentiated from Wall Street, the World Bank, and most governments of the world, each of whom are competitors for the macroeconomic vision of the 21st century?

Tip 3. “Keep it short. Slogans should never be longer than a sentence and ideally should hit the sweet spot between six to eight words.”

“Degrowth Toward a Steady State Economy” weighs in at precisely six words comprising eleven syllables.

Tip 4. “Give them a rhythm, rhyme, and ring. A slogan longer than a single word should fulfill at least two of these three criteria.”

Well, there’s only so much you can do with a topic as heavy and demanding as limits to growth. We’re not selling paper towels here (the example provided at Smith’s article). Given the scope of the topic, it’s a relief that “Degrowth Toward a Steady State Economy” contains no problematic phonetics and causes no tongue-twisting. Also, in the context of discussions, articles, or media coverage, after the slogan has been introduced it can be referred to with the shorthand, “degrowth toward a steady state,” which rolls off the tongue more readily yet. For those so inclined, even rhyming is not out of the question. It isn’t difficult to imagine the late Kenneth Boulding quipping, “Degrowth toward a steady state—do it ‘fore it’s way too late.”

Tip 5. “Stay honest. When writing a slogan, it’s extremely easy to get carried away; however, it’s imperative that the slogan accurately reflects the business. In other words, hyperbole is extremely discouraged.” 

How could we be more honest about what “business” we’re in? We’re offering the sustainable alternative to growth, not some dishonest oxymoron such as “green growth” or “sustainable growth.” Nor are we exaggerating with, for example, “degrowth toward Heaven on Earth,” or “degrowth for infinite ecstasy.” We are advocating, quite clearly, for degrowth toward a steady state economy. Why not call it precisely that?

Disharmony Between North American and European Sustainability Advocates?

Herman Daly and Serge Latouche

Herman Daly (left) and Serge Latouche (right), champions of the steady-state and degrowth movements, respectively. (Left Image: credit by Herman Daly; Right image: Image CC BY-SA 3.0, Credit: Niccolò Caranti)

One wonders why “Degrowth Toward a Steady State Economy” hasn’t proliferated already among degrowthers and steady staters. Certainly the connection got off to a promising start in 2002. That’s when Herman Daly and Serge Latouche were honored side by side in Rimini, Italy, each with a Medal of the Italian Government for their groundbreaking work in steady-state and degrowth economics, respectively.

At CASSE, we use “degrowth toward a steady state economy” a lot, especially in speeches and social media, helping to empower the degrowth movement along with steady-state economics. The slogan works perfectly fine in academic articles as well (see for example O’Neill 2012, Sapinski 2015). In 2018 the nascent DegrowUS adopted the mission statement, “Our mission is a democratic and just transition to a smaller, steady state economy in harmony with nature, family, and community.” Yet the phrase “steady state economy” seems glaring in its absence from the European scene today, even in English-speaking venues. We can think of several potential reasons, and heretofore we hypothesize briefly about two.

Might it be, ironically, that Americans from broader sustainability circles are largely responsible? Many elder Americans, especially, still have Cold War sensitivities, whereby the phrase “steady state economy” evokes thoughts of the Soviet Gosplan, the central economic planning apparatus of the Soviet era. Such sensitivities may be largely subconscious, as several generations of Americans were essentially “programmed” into fear or loathing of the Soviet Union and, by association, central planning of economic activity. Self-aware scholars and sustainability leaders, while themselves long past the Cold War, may strongly suspect—perhaps correctly—that much of the American philanthropy community (which tends to be elderly by its nature) would not cotton the phrase.

Avoidance of the phrase “steady state economy” for fear of being politically marginalized (and losing out on grant money in academia and the non-profit sector) is understandable, but it hasn’t been helpful for advancing the steady state economy, much less degrowth, in politics and policy. If only American leaders in environmental protection, economic sustainability, and international diplomacy had spent some time sharpening their steady-state rhetoric over the past five decades, “steady state economy” would be far closer to vernacular. Only when explicit discussion of the steady state economy is in the vernacular can we expect American policy reforms conducive to degrowth toward a steady state economy.

The second hypothesis pertains to a small but vocal group of Marxists from several continents who have stubbed a collective toe on the work of Herman Daly. Daly has acknowledged the relative efficiency of markets for allocating a very specific and limited set of goods; namely “rival and excludable goods” (basically the small stuff such as boots and tin cans), and definitely not public goods and services (the big stuff such as environmental protection and national defense). Daly has also proposed solutions that entail tightly regulated market mechanisms, such as cap-and-trade systems conducive to sustainable scale, just distribution, and efficient allocation. Furthermore, Daly and generations of students, including textbook co-author Josh Farley, have recognized in detail the types and sources of market failure, even among the widget sectors (see for example Daly and Farley 2010).

Despite Daly’s careful, nuanced, and discerning assessment of markets and market-like mechanisms, the handful of vocal reactionaries seem to view him as an apologist for laissez-faire capitalism! This incredibly ironic misinterpretation of Daly’s life and work has furthermore led additional folks to overlook, ignore, or even object to steady-state economics itself, the highlight of which is, of course, the steady state economy as macroeconomic goal. Steady-state economics might be the biggest baby to ever be tossed with any bathwaters.

Degrowth conference

2014 Degrowth Conference, Leipzig University. Hundreds of degrowthers have signed the CASSE position on economic growth at degrowth conferences since the beginning of the movement. (Image CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, Credit: Eva Mahnke)

To the extent that sustainability advocates are misled into thinking of Daly—and even all of steady-state economics—as a capitalist enemy instead of a perfectly natural ally, it cripples the collective non-growth movement.

Coming Full Circle

Whenever a question arises about the macroeconomics of sustainability, it behooves us to consider the three basic alternatives: growth, degrowth, and the steady state economy. Neither growth nor degrowth are sustainable in the long run. This is most obvious in the case of degrowth. Meanwhile, the full body of work by Herman Daly, CASSE, and our many friends and colleagues in ecological economics (not always well-represented in Ecological Economics) makes it obvious enough regarding growth as well. This leaves the steady state economy as the sustainable alternative.

But what if—as indeed is clearly the case—the present economy has already grown too large for sustainability, much less optimality? (Think especially of American, European, and global economies.) Well, that brings us full circle:

No later than the 1960s, scholars wrote in rigorous terms of the limits to economic growth. Europeans such as E.F. Schumacher, Americans including Herman Daly, and European-born Americans (most notably Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and Kenneth Boulding) set the stage…

 

Literature Cited

Collins, R.M. 2000. More: The politics of economic growth in postwar America. Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K. 299pp.

Czech, B., and P.R. Krausman. 2001. The Endangered Species Act: History, conservation biology, and public policy. Johns Hopkins University Press. 212pp.

Daly, H.E., and J. Farley. 2010. Ecological economics: principles and applications. Second edition. Island Press, Washington, DC. 544pp.

O’Neill, D.W. 2012. Measuring progress in the degrowth transition to a steady state economy. Ecological Economics 84:221-231.

Sapinski, J.P. 2015. Climate capitalism and the global corporate elite network. Environmental Sociology 1(4):268-279. (http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23251042.2015.1111490)

 

About the Authors

Brian Czech, Ph.D., is the founder and executive director of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy. He is the author of three books, Supply Shock, Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train, and The Endangered Species Act, as well as more than 50 academic journal articles. He served as a conservation biologist in the headquarters of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1999-2017 and as a visiting professor of natural resource economics in Virginia Tech’s National Capitol Region.

 

Riccardo Mastini is a Ph.D. candidate at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, where he specializes in ecological economics and political ecology. He is a member of the academic collective Research&Degrowth and one of the editors of Degrowth.info,. Previously with Friends of the Earth Europe, he is also CASSE’s Barcelona Chapter Director.

The post Degrowth Toward a Steady State Economy: Unifying Non-Growth Movements for Political Impact appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Reducing Friction and Expanding Participation in the Continuous Improvement of OER

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 01/02/2020 - 2:19am in

I’m going to write a post or three about some of the friction that exists around using OER. There are some things about working with OER that are just harder or more painful than they need to be, and getting more people actively involved in using OER will require us to reduce or eliminate those points of friction.

I’ve been writing about continuous improvement in the context of OER for a few years now. To date, I’ve written about and worked on reducing the friction involved in a relatively centralized model for continuous improvement of OER – a “top down” approach, if you will:

Today I want to write about the other side of continuous improvement – a complementary, “bottom up” approach to facilitating broad participation in the continuous improvement process based on individual’s experiences as opposed to data analyses.

It’s a well established principle in open source software, open content, and other volunteer settings that when it’s hard to contribute, not many people contribute. When it’s easy to contribute, more people contribute. In fact, one of the most important keys to unlocking participation by a community is removing any friction they might experience in the process of participating.

Stop and think for a minute about how the process of suggesting an improvement to an educational resource typically works. It generally happens in one of two high-friction ways. In the first model, you send an email to an errata@publisher.com or errata@oerpublisher.org email address. In that email you have to try to describe exactly where the improvement should be made, probably by including a URL or page number, followed by a description of where on the page the change is supposed to go (“in the second sentence of the seventh paragraph…”). Then you can finally describe the specific change you think needs to be made. Or perhaps the provider wants you to use their ticketing system, and you end up in a piece of software like Zendesk. Once you figure out how to create a ticket, then you can write one up that includes all the information described above (you might even be asked to do some tagging of your ticket). Either way, if they choose to make the improvement you suggest it will likely be months or years before students in class benefit from your suggestion since it will be rolled into the next edition.

In other words, there’s a ton of friction in this process. And because it’s so painful, countless suggestions are never made that would have been made if the process were easier.

This semester at Lumen we’ve launched a continuous improvement pilot in which I believe we’ve removed just about all the friction that’s possible to remove from this process. Here’s how it works:

  1. There’s a new button at the bottom of every page of content. It says “Improve this page.”
  2. When a student or teacher or other user from the public web clicks the button, they’re linked directly to a Google Doc which includes all the content from the page. The Google doc is shared publicly and has Track Changes turned on. So you can just begin typing or commenting immediately, and your suggestions are highlighted and tracked.
  3. You’re done making your suggestion!

How easy is it to suggest an improvement to OER now? Faster than 30 seconds easy!

The pilot is active in three courses and we’re already receiving great feedback. Much to our excitement many of the suggestions appear to be coming from students. And they’re sending everything from spelling errors they catch to suggestions about how to make course content more inclusive.

The awesome folks on Lumen’s continuous improvement team have developed some tools and workflow that allow us to track the amount of time it takes us to vet these suggestions and get them implemented in the canonical copy of the courseware.  We’re averaging well under 24 hours from the time a suggestion is made until it’s vetted and implemented, and we think we can continue to be that responsive even as the number of suggestions grows after the pilot.

And here is where Lumen’s model particularly shines – since our courseware is embedded in the LMS via LTI (rather than copied and pasted into the LMS), all these improvements are immediately available to everyone using the courseware the instant we make them. The OER is literally getting a little better every single day – benefiting both the teachers and students who have formally adopted in their LMS as well as the informal learners who access our OER on our website. That’s the beauty of transclusion – the OER embedded in the courseware and the OER published on our public-facing website are the same copy of the OER. Update once, improve everywhere.

So far the suggestions people are making aren’t something you could openly license and attribute – they’re either high-level ideas or lower-level issues like fixes to spelling or grammar (i.e., not copyrightable works that can be licensed and attributed). So to make sure people are recognized for their efforts to make things better, we’ve created a new Acknowledgments section on the About This Course page in the pilot courses, and we’re adding the names of everyone (faculty, student, and otherwise – it doesn’t matter who you are) who uses their name when making suggestions that we integrate into the courseware.

 

Four principles for practising and evaluating co-production – a view from sustainability research.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/01/2020 - 10:00pm in

The co-production paradigm has become commonplace across many disciplines as a means of orchestrating the production of useful knowledge aligned to different social needs. Drawing on the expertise of 36 co-production practitioners in the field of sustainability research, Dr Albert Norström, Dr Chris Cvitanovic, Dr Marie F. Löf, Dr Simon West and Dr Carina Wyborn, present … Continued

The PISA Problem

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/12/2019 - 12:34am in

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! That was the reaction when the PISA results were announced – the global ranking of 15-year-olds. But scholar Oren Pizmony-Levy tells Have You Heard that he thinks it’s time to junk the test, and that the opt-out movement in the US may point the way forward. And Have You Heard announces big plans for 2020. Full transcript of the episode here.

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