sustainability

Book Review: Falter by Bill McKibben

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 2:58am in

By Herman Daly

Thanks to Bill McKibben, not just for his new book but for 30 years of honest, eloquent, and insightful environmental writing and activism.

Thomas Merton Center dinner honoring Bill McKibben, 11/4/2013

Thomas Merton Center dinner honoring Bill McKibben. (Image CC BY 2.0, Credit: Mark Dixon)

He begins Falter by pointing out that the human game we’ve been playing has no rules and no end, but it does come with two logical imperatives. The first is to keep it going, and the second is to keep it human.”

What McKibben calls “the game” that we must keep going and keep human is similar to what C. S. Lewis called the “Tao” in his 1944 classic, The Abolition of Man. The Tao refers to the common morality informed by natural law and spiritual insight—the given yet evolving conscience and wisdom of mankind. The Tao also develops and evolves out of its own past. It is our best understanding of objective value. We cannot logically depart from it in any fundamental way—it transcends both subjectivism and naturalism.

In McKibben’s version, the “human game” has to continue and remain human. It is the second part that gets close to Lewis’ idea, who wrote long before the age of genetic engineering with CRISPR technology. Lewis’ “Conditioners,” social engineers in effect, were only educators and psychologists. Lewis granted them the complete power to mold their subjects, the same power that seems to be possessed by the modern genetic Conditioners of today, so his argument remains relevant, indeed becomes more so.

CS Lewis

CS Lewis (Public Domain)

Lewis’ argument is simple: the Conditioners want to create in their subjects a new artificial Tao, a “better” one. They have the power to do so. They may appeal to the traditional Tao for guidance on how to make the artificial Tao better. But then they are still servants of the Tao and not creators of a new Tao. In other words, they are developing the Tao, not replacing it. To replace the Tao, they must step outside of it to find the criteria for how to remake it. But in stepping outside, they step into an ethical void. “I should” or “I ought” comes from the historical Tao and disappears with its absence. What remains to motivate the Conditioners is “I want.”

The personal desires of the Conditioners, uninstructed by the Tao from which they have emancipated themselves, become the motives directing the “I can” of these all-powerful Conditioners. What appeared to be the collective power of mankind over the Tao has turned out to be the arbitrary power of some over many. The future subjects are no longer men but creatures of the Conditioners’ wants, whims, desires, and fantasies. Hence the title, Abolition of Man.

Lewis is not arguing against knowledge or technology. For each step in controlling nature, it may (or may not) be that the benefits outweigh the costs. He is insisting, however, that the last step of treating the Tao as another part of nature to be remade according to human desire is fundamentally different, like dividing by zero instead of by a smaller and smaller number. At this last step, the process does not continue—it blows up in your face.

McKibben’s argument is similar in form but different in its terms. The Tao is “the human game” that must continue and remain human. The continuation of the game is threatened by the fact that we are destroying the physical board (or sphere) on which the game is played. Much of McKibben’s writing and activism has been motivated by saving the biophysical board necessary to keep playing the game, specifically, saving a climate conducive to life. What is new in this book is the emphasis on keeping the game human or “within the Tao” in Lewis’ terms.

McKibben declares, “I am not great with eschatology; I don’t know the final destination. While I don’t know how to change the ‘system,’ the urgent nature of the climate crisis doesn’t let us simply put off action. The biophysics doesn’t allow it.”

One understands his reluctance to “go eschatological” and to stick with the biophysical. Yet McKibben is already neck deep in eschatology, and necessarily so, by emphasizing early on the apocalyptic consequences of the climate crisis. Some technocrats go on to argue that since our civilization is unsustainable anyway, we are justified in taking extreme technical risks to save it, like a dying cancer patient volunteering for any experimental treatment. But where things really get specific is in his reflections on the full-blown and frank eschatology of the Silicon Valley billionaire self-creationists.

As McKibben reports, a number of these folks are planning to live forever, not in the New Jerusalem or in a Platonic spirit world but here on the unredeemed earth. Either survive whole or freeze your severed head until the Singularity (Second Coming?) when science will resurrect you, or at least your consciousness, by uploading it into silicon memory chips. Where, oh Death, is now thy sting? What these Silicon Valley self-creationists ridicule as naive religious belief, a remnant of the old Tao, they recreate as a new technological religion, an eternal digital heaven on earth (or maybe Mars) populated not by mortal men, but by—what? Marxists had something similar (but much less extreme) in mind with their eschatology of the new socialist man and classless society.

McKibben is politely dismissive of the eschatology of these “self-rapturing” techies, noting their extreme individualism (stemming from their common hero, Ayn Rand) that leads them to appropriate a kind of heaven on earth for themselves. McKibben also reminds us that these are the richest people in the world, and what they believe is influential. Modern theologians have prematurely “closed the office of eschatology.” Now it has been reopened, under new management. G.K. Chesterton famously said that when people stop believing in God, the problem is not that they then believe nothing, but that they are likely to believe anything. Could be.

Cryonics Institute

Cryogenics: Abolition of Tao? (Image CC BY-SA 4.0, Credit: Dan)

Keeping the present creation going as long as possible is an ethical judgment in favor of longevity, not a logical imperative. Nothing in logic prevents extinction or death; indeed, evolution requires it for individuals and species. Whether the end is entropic heat death or new creation is the eschatological question—a question of reasoned hope rather than demonstrated knowledge.

We tend to dismiss eschatology on the grounds that the sun will last for some billions of years and thoughts about the final end will distract our attention from the immediate crisis. Fair enough, but the scientific materialism underlying Salvation-by-Singularity has given us the power to destroy creation without providing—indeed by undercutting—any reason to keep it going other than chanting the colorless abstract noun “sustainability.” Meanwhile, the Silicon Valley eschatologists are working out their personal salvation independently. They probably already have started marketing it to those who can afford it.

McKibben has explained that the climate threat is so pressing and so intermingled with current economic arrangements, that it provides the best possible lever for making profound change in other aspects of the economy…” I suspect that a serious effort to solve the climate crisis—or the biodiversity crisis, or water crisis, or political crisis for that matter—will soon lead to the recognition of their underlying common cause, namely the continuous growth of the human economy and its consequent displacement and degradation of the rest of our world.

Nevertheless, most discussions of climate change usually fail to make the connection to growth. The focus is on how to accommodate growth within the structure of complex climate models and their predictions. The main accommodation is to advocate a switch from nonrenewable to renewable energy resources but without recognizing that renewables effectively become nonrenewable, once growth leads to exploitation levels beyond sustainable yield.

Maybe, after repeated failures, a steady state economy will begin to seem like a reasonable policy to save whatever is left for however long it can last. That falls far short of a real eschatological vision, but it is better than the cryogenic rapture of the Singularity preached by the technical Gnostics. McKibben does not pursue his initial critique of Silicon Valley eschatology, and one cannot blame him because the topic is daunting. But the eschatological question of ultimate purpose and final end keeps breaking through into policy discussions, however unwelcome to present attitudes. In Falter, McKibben at least identifies this usually repressed issue.

Falter
by Bill McKibben
Henry Holt and Co., 2019
$28.00

 

Herman DalyHerman Daly is an emeritus professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Affairs and a member of the CASSE executive board. He is co-founder and associate editor of the journal Ecological Economics, and he was a senior economist with the World Bank from 1988 to 1994. His interests in economic development, population, resources, and environment have resulted in more than 100 articles in professional journals and anthologies, as well as numerous books.

 

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KYIV COMMUNIQUÉ

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/11/2019 - 6:28am in

On the Environmental Impact and Economic Sustainability of Nord Stream 2 and Other Sub-Marine Natural Gas Pipelines

Kyiv, November 6, 2019

 

Summary

Representatives of the Ukraine National Academy of Sciences, National Technical University of Ukraine, Ukrainian National Forestry University, Naftogaz Board for Science and Technologies, Institute of Market Problems and Ecological Economics Research, Ukrainian Institute for the Future, and scholars from France, Italy, and the USA convened at the Presidium of the Ukraine National Academy of Sciences in Kyiv on 1 February 2019 to consider the environmental and economic issues associated with the Nord Stream 2 (NS 2) pipeline project. The resulting communiqué, refined in subsequent months and released on 6 November 2019, underlines the urgency of interdisciplinary research on the impact of NS 2 and other international sub-marine natural gas pipeline projects. We call for a detailed assessment of the environmental impacts, microeconomic efficiency, and macroeconomic sustainability of NS 2, as well as its consistency with international laws and agreements.

Signing of the Kyiv Communique

Drafting of the Kyiv Communiqué

 

Background

Construction, operation, and decommissioning of natural gas pipelines, as well as the indirect effects at each stage, must be viewed within the context of sustainability for present and future generations. Pipelines such as NS 2 are proposed and defended on the basis that they are useful for economic growth. However, it has become increasingly apparent in the 21st century that economic growth (increasing production and consumption of goods and services in the aggregate, indicated by growing GDP) is not perpetually sustainable and is causing serious environmental and economic problems in Europe, Asia, and the world. Therefore, it is entirely feasible that NS 2 would cause more problems than it would solve.

European authorities have already condemned the project. For example, the European Parliament’s Resolution of December 12, 2018 (Clause 79) “condemns the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline” and “calls for the project to be cancelled.” NS 2 is also under intense scrutiny pursuant to the fourth revision of the EU Commission’s Gas Directive (published February 4, 2019). The Gas Directive prescribes rules governing the EU’s internal gas market, and the revision extends the Directive’s applicability to pipelines from third countries.

NS 2 is also subject to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (UN 2015), the Paris Agreement (2015), the Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982), the Espoo Convention (1991), and the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992). These and other international obligations of NS 2 host countries include extensive environmental impact assessment, avoidance of environmental damage, and mitigation or compensation for damages already caused, all in the context of international collaboration and jurisdiction.

Despite the strong objections to NS 2 and the environmental obligations in force for its host countries, some NS 2 project activities have already commenced. This has created a situation of urgency with regard to NS 2 investigation, oversight, monitoring, and the enforcement of European and other international agreements.

We call attention especially to the need for advanced, interdisciplinary research of NS 2, with application to other large-scale natural gas projects. An international scientific team is needed to incorporate expertise in fields such as geology, climatology, limnology, biochemistry, wildlife ecology, conservation biology, and related natural sciences. Principles of ecological economics⁠—micro and macro—must be applied, and relevant principles and rules of international law and diplomacy must be explored in the attempt to ascertain the relative merits and legality of NS 2.

 

Establishment of International NS 2 Research Consortium

With beginning membership identified below, we hereby establish an international scientific consortium of experts under the umbrella of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and within the framework of the International Institute-Association of Regional Ecological Problems (IIAREP). The IIAREP “NS 2 Research Consortium” will:

  1. Elaborate a program of interdisciplinary research on the impact of NS 2 and other sub­-marine gas pipelines on the environment, energy security, economic sustainability, and social welfare of Europe, the broader region, and the global community.
  2. Describe the risks of NS 2 to human health and ecosystems as such and as a result of the prevalence of chemical and conventional munitions on or in the Baltic Seabed.
  3. Provide an analysis of international and European law relevant to NS 2 and other sub­-marine gas pipelines;
  4. Assess the consistency of NS 2 with the relevant international and environmental laws.
  5. Assess the feasibility of multilateral instruments that provide for Ukraine’s participation in ongoing and future Baltic sub-marine pipeline negotiations.
  6. Assist if necessary with the development of:
    1. a moratorium on the implementation of NS 2;
    2. mechanisms for compensatory payments to parties aggrieved by premature, ongoing, or future NS 2 project activities, and;
    3. educational programs in ecological economics to highlight the unsustainability of perpetual economic growth and large-scale, sub-marine gas pipelines.
  7. Call upon the relevant European states, institutions, industries, and non-governmental organizations for political and financial support for Consortium activities while stressing the necessity of transparent and independent assessment consistent with the transdisciplinary principles of ecological economics.

 

Signatures and Parties

Signatures

 

 

Print the official Kyiv Communiqué

 

 

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The Cars That Ate Paris, by Stephen Pascoe

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/10/2019 - 2:11pm in

There’s a feeling that has been gnawing at me for a long time now.1 Each time I go to the petrol station, take out the bowser and start to fill the tank of our family car, an overwhelming sense of guilt, dread and wastefulness comes over me. I can’t stop thinking about the profligacy embedded in this routine act of daily life: the energy-intensive life cycle of extracting, refining and transporting this oil halfway across the globe; the insanity of burning it for one’s personal mobility; the perilous environmental consequences of the carbon emissions from it; and the billion or so other vehicles like mine on the roads of the world.2

Yet here I am, along with my family, locked in this toxic relationship with the bowser, and with the internal combustion engine. Once upon a time, living in the inner city of Melbourne, we survived without a car. We took public transport, or we walked. Occasionally we borrowed a car to go shopping, or to get out of town. Being a carless household was difficult, but possible, in that particular urban environment. Now we live in the wide expanses of southern California: the infamously centreless, ever-expanding suburban periphery with its endless seas of cars pulsing on its prodigious freeways, and its vast tracts of housing built on the assumption of universal car ownership. Here, trying to survive without a car would be socially suicidal; and the imagining of alternatives feels near impossible.

Our quotidian reliance on the automobile is but one example of a more generalised politics of complicity that characterises our relationship to the making of an uninhabitable earth.3 By a ‘politics of complicity’ I mean the condition of being wholly aware of one’s participation in a destructive system, knowing the seriousness of this participation, but feeling powerless to do otherwise. This condition permeates nearly every practice of contemporary life, from using electricity powered by fossil fuels to travelling on aeroplanes, consuming meat and dairy products or negotiating the layers of plastic that wrap our material lives and suffocate the food chains on which we rely. Being complicit means being called upon to perform continuous, small acts of ecological destruction in order to satisfy a basic requirement, or as a precondition for participation in social life. Yet our complicity is unevenly distributed. It can be mixed up with virtuousness, such as when a vegan purchases jackfruit ‘crab’ cakes or plant-based ‘beyond meat’ burger patties, only to discover that their food is packaged in multiple, unrecyclable layers of plastic. Or we can be subject to competing complicities: is it better for me to draft this essay on recycled paper or to plug into a computer powered by coal-fired electricity?

In searching for a way out of the debilitating malaise of the present moment, we can look usefully to the frameworks of earlier generations of radical environmental critique. Alan Roberts (1925–2017), the Australian physicist and ecological theorist in whose honour this essay is written, provided one such example in his prescient and far-reaching critique of the bases of contemporary consumerism. While several strands of Roberts’ thought are of lasting significance to our present climate emergency, it is his politicising consumption from an environmental set of principles that I have chosen to draw on in the present essay.4 In The Self-Managing Environment, a collection of essays published in 1979, Roberts combined insights from Marx and Marcuse to argue that we had entered the ‘consumerist stage’ in the history of capitalism, a period based on a ‘majority dependence of the economy on prior and intensive shaping of the mass of consumers’.5 The atomised form of social life expressed through the nuclear family had led to the proliferation of energy-intensive lifestyles based on individual household units: domestic appliances, television sets, motor cars and various other gadgetries had become falsely synonymous with the ‘good life’.6 Consumerism had soullessly but effectively reduced the individual to his or her act of purchasing on the market, in place of more satisfying forms of social exchange. Identifying the emptiness and alienation at the heart of capitalism was a familiar refrain of Marxian cultural criticism; Roberts’ great contribution was to tease out the environmental implications of late-twentieth-century capitalism’s hegemonic consumerist ethos. In his analysis, consumer society threatened the environment because of its ‘unlimited appetite—unlimited precisely because its objects are so unsatisfying’.7

Whereas Roberts came out of a theoretical tradition promoting collective forms of social life and the deconstruction of individualism, many contemporary approaches fall into the trap of ‘lifestylism’—that is, the conviction that personal agency in consumption can be the catalyst for systemic change. According to the logic of lifestylism, if a sufficient number of enlightened and conscientious consumers cease purchasing problematic products, then production will necessarily shift to accommodate demand. The faulty logic of this blind faith in the magic of market forces is revealed upon even the most cursory examination. Firstly, as Roberts recognised, in a consumer society demand is not a given: demand is created through advertising. In other words, it does not objectively relate to some pre-existing need; rather, advertising shapes and determines consumers’ perception of need so that it aligns with the interests of producers. Moreover, the very possibility of ‘conscious consumer choices’ is structured around the differential terms of social class and purchasing power.8 Lifestylism’s ideology inevitably collapses into distinction seeking: a logic that asserts, ‘I can be exonerated of our collective sins by my individual virtue’. (I performed a subtle form of this in the second paragraph of this essay by implicitly lauding our household’s temporarily car-free existence.)

However, it is not sufficient to debunk the errors of lifestylism and to recognise instead that systemic factors precondition the terms of our individual choices. The consciousness of our manipulated personal participation in civilisational annihilation demands that we engage more systematically in the creation of alternative forms of social organisation as we move to decarbonise our way of life. I have chosen in this essay to focus on automobile dependence for several reasons. Of all our toxic ‘lifestyles’, the car mediates our relationship to fossil fuels in the most naked form, as my petrol-station anxiety suggests. It is also universal, posing a challenge to rich and poor countries alike. It affects the full gamut of settlement patterns, from city to country and the many spaces in between. It is also, arguably, the issue in which questions of social justice are most entangled. In a world that has been remade for automobility, the car has been constructed, mentally and practicably, as a key to economic empowerment and the right to mobility.

It is telling that the issue that ignited the revolt of the gilets jaunes was the price of petrol. This movement has had most traction among the communities of the périphérique, the people living in the forgotten zones outside the privileged urban centres. Such classes are reliant on the car as a consequence of the progressive disinvestment in France’s once-extensive rail network over many decades.9 The case of the gilets jaunes has captured most international attention, but similar protests have erupted elsewhere in recent years. When the government of Mexico removed price controls on gasoline at the beginning of 2017, the 20-per-cent rise in costs for consumers led the opposition to call for a ‘peaceful revolution’. Protestors blockaded freeways and petrol stations across the country for several weeks before thousands were arrested.10 In January 2019 a whopping 130-per-cent increase in the price of petrol in Zimbabwe inspired a similar nationwide strike that lasted several days until it was put down. The repressive government crackdown killed at least twelve people.11 It is communities such as these, across the globe, that will be most vulnerable to price hikes and sudden precarities in the supply lines of oil in the volatile years ahead.

The term ‘automobile dependence’ was coined by Perth-based academics Peter Newman and Jeff Kenworthy in their landmark 1989 Cities and Automobile Dependence: An International Sourcebook. It caught on quickly among researchers in the field of transport planning, as it suggested a collective pathology requiring urgent intervention. It captured what one writer has called the ‘insanity of normality’.12 The harmful symptoms of this societal sickness have been systematically documented elsewhere.13 Without wishing to exhaustively rehash them here, the car’s ‘externalities’ include the respiratory conditions that are endemic among residents living alongside freeways; the wasteful, land-intensive patterns of development that come with planning for car dependence; and the exclusion and alienation of non-drivers in places without adequate public-transport provision.14 The path dependency of automobile dependence is most extreme in the United States, where driving is inseparable from participation in the public sphere, and the practice of citizenship.15 (To illustrate: under ‘motor voter’ legislation, citizens are eligible to register to vote through the Department of Motor Vehicles when applying for a driver’s licence.)

The engineering of captive consumer economies dependent on the lifeblood of oil has occurred in the century since the First World War: a remarkably short space of civilisational time, and a blip in planetary time. First in the United States in the 1920s, then throughout most of the world in the post–Second World War period, the age of mass car consumption spread in tandem with the rise in home ownership, the electrification of cities, and the development of what Timothy Mitchell called our ‘carbon intensive lifestyles’.16 At every step of the way, the forces that engineered this great dependence—the car companies, the oil companies, the road builders, the paid lobbyists—have sought to discredit their critics, and to delay and defer action that would dent their profit margins. Employing tactics similar to those of the tobacco industry, fossil-fuel magnates have successfully contained the threat of regulation while expanding their reach into new markets of captive consumers. Their oil-stained hands have been implicated in numerous wars, coups d’état and violent occupations in petroleum-producing countries. However, the history of the automobile has not been simply a conspiracy of capital. Driving upon the monumental American freeway network stretching from coast to coast, financed by successive waves of tax dollars from the New Deal to the Reagan era, one rides on an artefact of public-minded ambition, the promise of progress, and the illusion of freedom. The automobile intoxicated the twentieth century with its seductive claims of liberation. We are all now paying the price.

The title of this essay pays homage to the 1974 cult classic that was the first feature-length film directed by Peter Weir. The Cars That Ate Paris is a searing mix of satire, black comedy and B-grade horror that still speaks to our unhealthy relationship with automobiles. The fictional ‘Paris’ is actually a small Australian country town (Sofala, New South Wales) that lures visitors with a series of signs on the highway promising work. Once they approach the town on a narrow, windy road, the unsuspecting drivers are blinded by bright lights, causing them to crash. The smashed-up cars are then towed into town, where the Parisians proceed to scavenge off the wreckage of the vehicle. If they have not been fatally maimed already, the driver and passengers are then taken to the local hospital, where a psychopathic surgeon performs ‘experiments’ that turn them into catatonic vegetables.

The film’s protagonist, Arthur Waldo, the survivor of an accident that has killed his brother, miraculously avoids this treatment when the mayor takes pity on him and adopts him into the family. Arthur is a diminished and traumatised subject who wanders the streets of Paris in a state of shock, gaslighted into believing that he has a serious psychological condition: a fear of cars. Meanwhile, in addition to Paris’ sinister organised racket, a band of hooligans driving repurposed wrecks from the town’s crash industry terrorise the townspeople with their crazed driving and prevent Arthur from leaving Paris by blocking the road out of town. After finally being brought to justice via a public burning of their cars, they return to exact revenge with their now-weaponised vehicles, covered with spikes. In the orgy of violence of the film’s climax, the hooligans gruesomely impale one of the town elders and destroy the buildings of the main street. Arthur is convinced to kill one of the hooligans by getting into the driver’s seat and reversing into him repeatedly inside a garage. Instead of recoiling in horror at his act, he declares with quiet satisfaction: ‘I can drive!’ Healed of his motorphobia, he drives out of town joyously to the soundtrack of sentimental French music as the credits roll.

The Cars That Ate Paris is a ruthless critique of the implicit violence and anxiety of the automobile age. It is a monument to the anti-consumerist spirit of the time and place in which it was made, animated by the same spirit that permeates Alan Roberts’ writing. Despite the potency of the campaigns waged in the 1970s by community activists, engaged artists and scholars, the automobile was culturally rehabilitated in the following decades.17 Before his untimely passing, the internationally renowned Melburnian transport scholar Paul Mees (1961–2013) used to joke that against all odds we had somehow learned, like Dr Strangelove, to stop worrying and love the car once more. In these crucial missed decades, the promoters of car dependency shock-absorbed their opponents’ criticisms and enacted reforms to their production processes. Improvements such as switching to unleaded petrol, increasing fuel efficiency and, most recently, developing electric engines have all promised to tame the car. They can be seen as successive chapters in the search for a technological palliative to soften the environmental impacts of car dependency but leave the basic condition intact (conveniently sidestepping its structural inequalities in social and economic terms).

The latest chapter in this ameliorative history—as seen in the reification of Tesla, and the utopian promise of the electric car more generally—is a textbook example of what Roberts called the ‘technological fix’.18 (Mees, for his part, spoke of ‘technological fetishism’.) In searching for the technological magic bullet, techno-utopians engage in wishful thinking and a singular, unilateral approach to a complex problem. Applying the sort of methodical dissection that is a characteristic feature of Roberts’ essays, one can identify at least five objections. First, in a time when we have needed collective solutions, the electric car has catered to the few, offering a way for the rich to purchase away their guilt but leaving the many behind (a classic instance of the logic of lifestylism we dissected above). Second, current production levels are nowhere near those that would be required to solve the problem on a global scale, which in the crisis of climate change is the only scale that matters (to say nothing of all the energy implications of that production). Even if one can look past their other problems, the proportion of new electric vehicles will remain infinitesimal for the foreseeable future, the time in which we must radically act.19 Third, global levels of lithium, required for electric batteries, are fast being depleted and their extraction is polluting communities that lie close to mines.20 Fourth, the electric car offers no solution for the billion cars already on the road, unless manufacturers can accept or be subsidised into converting the engines of existing vehicles. Fifth, electric vehicles use the same synthetic rubber tyres that are now believed to be the largest contributors to the scourge of microplastics in coastal waters.21

Since the international accord was signed there in 2016, ‘Paris’ has come to stand for the last remaining hope of survival in the ecological emergency that is fast bearing down on us. It was in the French capital that the reluctant ratifiers of Kyoto—notably Australia and the United States—finally committed to meaningful targets for reducing emissions. The Paris framework allows each signatory to determine emissions-reduction strategy within its national borders. So far, few of the signatories have shown the stomach to address auto dependency. Of those countries taking tentative steps, France, which began clumsily to address the problem via a fuel levy, has seen the wrath of discontented and disenfranchised motorists in the form of the gilets jaunes. Whatever criticism one might make about the effectiveness of the agreement, the subsequent coming to power of climate-change-denying leaders in Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and Scott Morrison means we must fight for whatever scraps of its potential are left. There is every reason to legitimately fear that the cars of the world may eat Paris once more.

***

It’s 23 July 2019 and I am in the car with the kids, to whom I have yielded control of the radio dial. Against the background hum of the air-conditioning, the commercial-radio announcer declares that ‘it’s the start of a heatwave today. It’s gonna be in the 90s [Fahrenheit] in LA and the OC, up in the 100s in Inland Empire, but you’ll be much cooler in your new Jeep Wrangler! We’re giving away ten this week to lucky callers’. Meanwhile, Paris—the real city, not the fictional Australian town, nor the metonym for international coordination—is sweating through its hottest day ever recorded: 42 degrees Celsius. The time for action is long overdue.

No magic bullet will singlehandedly wean us off our dangerous dependence on the car. But we need nonetheless to break the cycle of contemptuous self-righteousness and find collective solutions. In implementing our post-petroleum future, we need to put people at the centre of planning once more, and to confront the vested interests that stand in the way. In doing so, we might try to recapture something of the spirit of the 1970s and the example of Alan Roberts. When Roberts appealed to the concept of ‘self-management’ as being necessary to confront ecological crises, he meant the meaningful control of social life by communities rather than the interests of corporations or bureaucratic managers. He recognised that the ‘massive change in popular values’ required to overcome individualised consumerism would only come about through the experience of struggle.22 As ‘consumers’ we do possess some power, but it needs to be properly politicised, and built on cross-class alliances as we imagine solutions beyond the strictures of our present automobile dependence. Instead of shifting what we buy and do as individuals, we should be taking to the streets together.

Instead of kneeling at the altar of consumerism and absolving ourselves of sin in the Tesla showroom, we need to fight for our collective right to universal mobility via high-quality public transport. It must be safe, reliable, affordable, and air-conditioned for the hot periods of the year that will now be the reality of virtually every region of the globe. Given the urgency of our crisis, we may not have the time, or the readily deployable budgets and labour power, to undertake massive-scale investments. It won’t all be high-speed rail and fancy underground trains. Much will be simple but effective thickets of on-road buses, powered from renewable sources. Cities from Curitiba to Toronto to Zurich to Kerala have shown how it can be done.

Such networks can be deployed on existing roads almost immediately, with minimal financial impost. For instance, when Melbourne held the 2006 Commonwealth Games, lanes on many of the key inner-city roads were temporarily repainted as exclusive lanes for official vehicles. It was implemented without chaos and road users adapted. It could be easily done again, this time for buses, with a particular focus on the much-neglected outer suburbs of the city. As I write this, the city of Los Angeles is considering a proposal to give over single lanes on city roads to dedicated busways.23 The plan is a decent start but should urgently be extended across the metropolis and into the contiguous suburbia of the surrounding cities. In order to wean people off the car, we must actively create incentives for public-transport use, thereby making the alternative a competitive option. Adopting the kind of ‘network planning’ advocated by Mees and others, we should design services on the basis of legibility, reliability and convenience. Expanded and interconnected public-transport networks need to meet the needs of users, not the narrow operational logic of transport bureaucracies limited in imagination.

We must demand a moratorium on the construction of all new freeways that cater only to individual motorists. On those that remain, we ought to immediately implement massive planting of vertical gardens on the columns and flyovers—as has been recently trialled in the ‘Via Verde’ project in Mexico City—to help absorb carbon dioxide and filter air pollution.24 On the same freeways, we should dedicate lanes to public transport, properly connected at crossroads to other lines. (This also has begun in Los Angeles, but all too often with poorly designed stops and interchanges that are hostile to users). We should also take advantage of previous investment in existing rail networks and continue to invest in them to make them accessible across all parts of the network. As we move to decrease our dependence on petroleum, we must acknowledge and take seriously the unequal impacts of energy transition on disadvantaged communities—the spatially isolated, transport-poor regions that will bear an uneven proportion of the rough shocks ahead.

Perhaps most important, we must transform our respective alienation—our quiet, individualised sobbing at the petrol station—into more constructive and empowering ends.

 

Notes

1 I thank Rachel Goldlust for reading a draft of this essay and providing me with helpful feedback.

2 ‘Number of Cars Worldwide Surpasses 1 Billion; Can The World Handle This Many Wheels?’, Huffington Post, 23 August 2011.

3 David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, New York, Tim Duggan Books, 2019.

4 I am drawing mostly on the essay ‘Consumerism and Its Needs’, in Alan Roberts, The Self-Managing Environment, London, Allison and Busby, 1979, pp. 32–50.

5 Roberts, The Self-Managing Environment, p. 34.

6 Hall Greenland, ‘Physics Teacher Became a Pioneer Ecologist’, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 January 2018.

7 Roberts, The Self-Managing Environment, p. 174.

8 For probing recent critiques of neoliberal consumerist individualism, see Martin Lukacs, ‘Neoliberalism has Conned Us into Fighting Climate Change as Individuals’, The Guardian, 17 July 2017; see also Vijay Kolinjivadi, ‘Why a Hipster, Vegan, Green Tech Economy Is not Sustainable’, Al Jazeera, 6 June 2019.

9 Ian Klaus, ‘To Understand American Political Anger, Look to “Peripheral France”’, City Lab, 12 June 2019; Olivier Razemon, ‘La France paie cher sa dépendance à la voiture’, Le Monde, 7 December 2018.

10 Kate Linthicum, ‘Protests Erupt Across Mexico over a Sudden Spike in Gasoline Prices’, Los Angeles Times, 3 January 2017.

11 ‘Uneasy Calm in Zimbabwe Amid Stay-at-home Fuel Price Protest’, Al Jazeera, 16 January 2019.

12 John Whitelegg, ‘Editorial’, World Transport Policy and Practice, vol. 20.2/3, May 2014, special edition in honour of Paul Mees, pp. 4–5.

13 For useful introductions to the problem, see the work of Paul Mees, especially A Very Public Solution: Transport in the Dispersed City, Parkville, University of Melbourne Press, 2000, and Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age, London, Earthscan, 2010.

14 George Monbiot, ‘Cars Are Killing Us. Within 10 Years, We Must Phase Them Out’, The Guardian, 7 March 2019.

15 Gregory H. Shill, ‘Americans Shouldn’t Have to Drive, but the Law Insists on It’, The Atlantic, 9 July 2019.

16 Timothy Mitchell, ‘Carbon Democracy’, Economy and Society, 38: 3, 2009, pp. 399–432. 

17 For a highly readable account of historical battles over the automobile in Melbourne, see Graeme Davison, Car Wars: How the Car Won Our Hearts and Conquered Our Cities, Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 2004.

18 Roberts, The Self-Managing Environment, p. 24.

19 In recent weeks additional reports of Tesla’s financial woes have emerged. See Russ Mitchell, ‘Tesla Loses $408 Million as Technology Chief J.B. Straubel Departs’, Los Angeles Times, 24 July 2019.

20 Monbiot, ‘Cars Are Killing Us’.

21 Rosanna Xia, ‘The Biggest Likely Source of Microplastics in California Coastal Waters? Our Car Tires’, Los Angeles Times, 2 October 2019.

22 Roberts, The Self-Managed Environment, p. 175.

23 ‘Editorial: Want a Transit System That Actually Works? Then L.A. Needs Bus-only Lanes’, Los Angeles Times, 13 July 2019.

24 Notwithstanding legitimate concerns about the intentions and implications of this project, it at least represents a low-cost, immediately deployable strategy for mitigating some of the toxic effects of existing freeways. It should be seen as part of a wider solution, not itself the sole solution. See Lisa Martine Jackson, ‘Mexico City’s Vertical Gardens: Seeds of Change or Cynical Greenwashing?’, The Guardian, 30 October 2018.

Let Them Eat Larvae

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/10/2019 - 12:41am in

My visit to see the future of farming begins in an unlikely place, on the edge of a 60,000-square-foot insect farm in the suburbs of Vancouver, British Columbia. 

I am standing inside what workers at Enterra, one of the world’s most commercially advanced insect agriculture companies, call “the love shack”—a humid warehouse where adult black soldier flies reproduce and the females lay up to 600 eggs at a time.

The love shack is an unnerving place to visit: black soldier flies do not bite (they do not have mouths; the adults subsist on a small abdominal fat sack), but they are not shy about landing and crawling all over you. Most are contained by netting and stacked vertically. Virtually no land is needed for breeding, which is happening all around me. 

Enterra’s insect larvae (bug farmers prefer this to “maggots”) are technically livestock, making this, by population, one of the largest animal husbandry operations in the world—and part of an early-stage farming experiment that might be the start of the green future animal farming has been searching for.

In recent years, the $400 billion global animal feed market has grown hungry for alternatives to wild fish and soybeans, currently the two dominant animal feed protein sources. 

And it’s about time alternatives came around. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization issued a report in 2006 that found livestock is responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, they’ve discovered that it’s not livestock itself, but the food livestock eats, that produces almost half of those emissions. 

About a quarter of the world’s commercial fish catch today—mostly forage fishes like herring, menhaden and anchoveta—are reduced into protein meal and oil to feed livestock and other fish. Meanwhile, soybeans consume vast tracts of deforestedland, and are grown with herbicides and other polluting chemicals.

Companies like Enterra are betting that this unsustainable link in the food chain will be gradually replaced by insect protein, which feeds on food waste and is carbon neutral. If a handful of fledgling global bug farmers can be successful, 2019 could be a make-or-break year for insect agriculture, and an opportunity to eliminate vast water and land pollution, protect forests and global fish stocks, and slash runaway greenhouse gas emissions. 

It’s a simple premise: why feed our high-emission animals high-emission food when the world’s chickens, pigs, farmed fish and more can easily subsist on low-impact insect larvae that can be raised on the food and agricultural waste we currently discard? 

Enter the black soldier fly (BSF), a quick-to-mature, non-invasive insect that has a voracious appetite during its larval stages. At Enterra’s farm, they thrive on a diet of 100 percent pre-consumer food waste. The operation requires no water and a miniscule footprint of land, with negligible methane or greenhouse gas emissions.

Compared to other livestock raised as sources of protein feed, black fly larvae require a fraction of the space and emissions-producing resources to grow. Credit: EnviroFlight

“This is the future of food,” says Bruce Jowett, director of marketing for Enterra, a private Canadian company that sells farmed fly larvae products directly to commercial feed companies. “We are diverting food waste from the landfill, and black soldier fly larvae convert it into protein.”

On the cusp of a mass expansion, Jowett says Enterra will soon be ready to supply an industrial-scale stream of insects to a protein-hungry world. And they’re not the only ones. 

The race is on

Enterra is one of at least six early-stage insect agriculture companies around the world—based in Europe, Canada, the U.S. and China—engaged in a race to prove their own proprietary approaches to farming insects can supply animal feed on the scale required to be commercially successful.

Most of them raise black soldier flies, which are super-fast to mature, and whose bodies in the larval stages are rich in fat, protein and calcium. Their larvae are pressed into a fat-rich oil; their bodies are ground into a high-fat/protein powder meal particularly good for aquaculture; and their molted skins and feces (called “frass”) are processed to make an excellent fertilizer.

EnviroFlight opened its first commercial-scale farm near Cincinnati last year, while Enterra is set to begin commercial production at a new CAD$30 million (about USD$23 million) 160,000-square-foot insect farm in Alberta this fall, with new farms planned for Greater Vancouver and Ohio in the next five years.

The black soldier fly is a quick-to-mature, non-invasive insect that has a voracious appetite during its larval stages— perfect for converting waste into biomass that can then be fed to livestock. Credit: Wikipedia

Europe is a particular hotbed, home to companies like England’s AgriGrub, which produces about eight tons of BSF per year for fertilizer and bird and reptile pet feed, and Protix, one of the biggest companies, with farms in the Netherlands and Asia. 

InnovaFeed, a relative newcomer, has built the world’s largest insect production facility to date, producing 300 tons of insect meal per year in the north of France. But the company is scaling up, says spokesperson Maye Walraven, with a new facility opening in 2020 that is capable of producing 10,000 tons of insect meal annually—enough to feed 35,000 farmed salmon until maturity—with five similar-sized units planned for Europe, the U.S. and Asia by the end of 2022. This company made news earlier this summer when it signed a deal with Cargill, one of the world’s biggest agricultural food and animal feed companies, to jointly market its insect protein for the global farmed salmon industry.

The interest from Cargill, the biggest private company in the United States, bodes well for the future of the world’s nascent insect farmers. In 2015, Cargill paid over €1.35 billion (about USD$1.5 billion) to buy Norway’s EWOS, which produces about a third of the world’s feed for farmed salmon and trout.

“As aquaculture continues to grow, fish meal substitutes will be necessary, and this is where insects can play a key role,” says Cheryl Preyer, a spokesperson for the North American Coalition for Insect Agriculture, an industry trade group. “With amino acid profiles very similar to those of fish meal, insects can help by extending or replacing fish meal in those diets.”

Fish farmers could be forced to seek out protein from alternatives like insects sooner rather than later. Faced with dwindling wild fish stocks diminished by overfishing and climate change, the availability of wild fish is an open question moving forward. According to a June report by the FAIRR network of investors, warming waters in 2014 reduced anchovy yields in Peru, the world’s biggest exporter of fish feed. As a result, fish feed costs ballooned from $1,600 to $2,400 per ton.

Chickens, if given the choice, will devour all the bugs they can find, too. Last spring, Reuters reported that fast food behemoth McDonald’s is studying using insects as chicken feed to reduce its reliance on soy protein.

Helene Ziv, director of risk management and sourcing for Cargill’s animal nutrition business, confirmed that the InnovaFeed partnership will go beyond aquaculture, to include using insect protein to feed chickens and piglets, and to explore the unique health benefits of insect oil for farmed animals.

“With a population that is growing exponentially and finite resources on our planet, Cargill is proactively looking for alternative feed ingredients and new proteins to feed the world. We are therefore encouraging the emergence of several alternative ingredients which will enable a growing feed and food industry.”

Ziv added that the appeal of the BSF is that it can be produced in a sustainable way using agricultural waste—all at a cost that is competitive.

Insects are happy to eat the food waste that we humans discard or ignore, converting it into high-quality protein and fat. And herein lies the great promise of insect agriculture. Starchy waste from corn and wheat processing feeds InnovaFeed’s bugs; AgriGrub is involved with experiments to use marine algae as BSF feed; and for Enterra, their larvae gorge on pre-consumer food waste, otherwise destined for the landfill.

Along the way, huge reductions in greenhouse gases are possible. InnovaFeed has calculated that by feeding insect meal to animals, the company can eliminate 25,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year with each 10,000-ton-production facility it operates—the equivalent to taking 14,000 cars off the roads.

Back at Enterra’s farm, I visit a food mixing warehouse, where waste food—much of it discarded due to appearance or expiry date—is collected from bakeries, food processors and warehouses. (Jowett estimates 30 to 40 percent of all food produced for human consumption is wasted). There are dozens of watermelons on the concrete floor, piled crates of ripe Roma tomatoes and about a ton of fresh pasta. The food waste is mixed together and fed to the larvae in liquid smoothie form. Getting the right dietary balance is so important, Enterra has a nutritionist on staff to ensure the optimal mixture for health and growth.

After the larvae are cooked and dried, which kills the insects and any pathogens therein, they are pressed for oil and the remaining solids converted into a powdery meal.

The lucky one percent that escape the kiln or press end up at the love shack, where this journey begins all over again.

Niels van Swaemen / YouTube

The post Let Them Eat Larvae appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

[Book Review] Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/09/2019 - 1:07am in

by Max Kummerow

In Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline (Crown Publishing Group, New York, 2019) Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson argue that population decline will bring many social and economic changes—some good, some bad. They assert that “In three decades, give or take…global population starts to decline.”

Women in education contributes to falling fertility rates. (Public Domain)

Women in education contribute to falling fertility rates. (Public Domain)

Note that their title is a bit misleading. World population will probably rise to over 10 billion before the slow decline would begin. The reversal of population growth is not a done deal. Growth still totals 80 million more of us per year.

The authors build a plausible case that fertility rates could fall more than currently projected by the United Nations (UN) as the world modernizes and urbanizes. Women with more access to education, careers, and family planning have lower rates of childbearing in many developed countries.

Readers of E.O. Wilson and Elizabeth Kolbert’s work on Earth’s sixth extinction event might expect the “empty planet” title to refer to a world with radically fewer birds, insects, polar bears, giraffes, whales, fish, and forests; a world less habitable for humans due to soil erosion, ocean acidification, and loss of millions of species; and a hot planet where people’s numbers collapse. The authors are two Canadians: a newspaperman and an opinion researcher. They don’t emphasize “carrying capacity” or “limits to growth” warnings from scientists.

A more realistic forecast would emphasize contingency—future population paths depend on yet-to-be enacted policies and family planning decisions. Continuing population growth is taking us from three billion people in 1960 to a UN projection of 10 billion by 2055. The title Empty Planet might sell books, but Overpopulated Planet seems closer to reality.

If current world fertility rates persisted unchanged, and the planet could handle such growth, the result would be a population of 24 billion by 2100. The UN’s 11.2 billion scenario in 2100 (compared to 7.8 billion now) remains contingent on fertility rates falling significantly in countries where high fertility rates have been persistent so far. A less optimistic scenario has low-fertility groups dying out and high-fertility groups inheriting an overpopulated, damaged planet.

The authors focus their discussion on fears of slower economic growth (fewer consumers buying fewer sofas and refrigerators) and the burdens of supporting higher percentages of older people. Yet plenty of data show that fewer numbers offer our best chances for universal prosperity. An economy can actually get smaller with a falling population, even while allowing individuals to enjoy higher incomes and quality of life. As population falls, land per capita increases, commodity prices decline, and damage to the planet decreases.

The problems of an aging population can be solved by maintaining a steady savings and older people working longer and/or part-time. Need more innovative young people? Try sending everybody to college. Spend proportionately more on research and development. Increasing productivity increases production with fewer workers.

Incomes are high and continue to rise in Germany and Japan where people are older and populations are declining. The global pattern is as follows: low-fertility countries are rich, while high-fertility countries are poor. (See Figure 1 examples.)

Figure 1: Countries with older populations do better on incomes and growth

Per Capita Income 1990-2018

Source: World Bank

Reduced population means cheaper housing, cheaper food, less crowded subways, and less polluted air. With half as many people, overpopulated Japan will be closer to self sufficiency. Hydropower and other renewable energy sources will comprise higher percentages of energy. Low-fertility countries like Germany, Japan, Norway, and Singapore are doing fine. China, during the one-child policy, benefited from GDP per capita growth.

A better title than Empty Planet would have been Falling Fertility Gives Hope for Prosperity. Business boosters forget that with more people there are not only more refrigerators sold, but also more competitors and higher-priced inputs. The data show that ending population growth makes people sustainably better off.

For example, in 2017 economists Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo looked at how rapidly GDP per capita grew between 1995 and 2015. They compared the GDP growth to how much the ratio of older people to working-age people changed over the same time period, expecting to find a relationship between GDP and age ratio. Yet there was no connection at all (Spross 2019).

Leaving out lamentations about lost refrigerator sales, Empty Planet contains good news: family size preferences change and fertility rates fall when women are educated and have access to family planning resources. If Bricker and Ibbitson are right, the transition to low fertility won’t be that difficult to accomplish. More family planning aid, an emphasis on educating women, and other sustainable policies can get it done.

 

 

References

Spross, J. 2019. Is an Aging Population Actually Bad for the Economy? The Week (July 2019).

Max Kummerow, Ph.D., is a retired business school professor and population activist who researches demography, ecology, and economic development. He has presented papers at ESA, PJSA, NCSE, PAA, and EAERE meetings showing the benefits of accelerating the world’s stalled demographic transition toward lower fertility rates.

 

 

The post [Book Review] Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


How To Save On Your Business Energy Costs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/09/2019 - 9:56am in

Smart business owners realize that they need to be continually cutting operational costs if they’re to endure for long in a competitive marketplace. Reducing your energy consumption is no easy feat in this day and age of digital devices. Furthermore, ever-changing government regulations can make it downright impossible for many business owners to make smart…

The post How To Save On Your Business Energy Costs appeared first on Peak Oil.

How our economy is like an out of control AI

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/09/2019 - 9:08pm in

article-13080-hero

By Warwick Smith | 8 September 2019, 12:30pm

First published at Independent Australia

Humans, individually, can be incredibly brilliant but collectively we’re often puzzlingly stupid.

To take a simple, uncontroversial example, we know that forests are critical for our survival. They influence rainfall, climate and the very atmosphere that we breathe. Despite essentially universal agreement about this fact, we’re continuing to destroy them at an extraordinary rate. It seems, despite our intelligence and our astonishing global communication infrastructure, that we’re collectively incapable of aligning what we know needs to happen with what we do.

There is a thought experiment about artificial intelligence, first articulated by Nick Bostrom, known as the paperclip maximiser — bear with me a moment, this is related to human intelligence and sustainability. In this thought experiment, we imagine that there’s an AI system used by a company that makes paperclips.

This AI is tasked with increasing paperclip production and is fed all the necessary information regarding paperclip making, including materials, labour, human motivation, supply chains and so on. Critically, it’s also capable of learning how to learn and does this at an exponential rate.

To cut a long story short, the AI gets better and faster at making paperclips at a rate that far exceeds human capacity to keep up or to adapt. Eventually, it turns the entire universe into paperclips, with all humans and the biosphere being consumed quite early in the process. The thought experiment, not meant to be taken too literally, was designed to explain that AI doesn’t need to have general intelligence and self-awareness to be a threat but can be a threat simply by being single-minded and able to adapt faster than we can react.

I recently heard Daniel Schmachtenberger taking this thought experiment in a very interesting and thought-provoking direction by saying that human society is already the paperclip maximiser but instead of making paperclips we’re making dollars – which are primarily just zeros and ones in bank databases. Our collective intelligence system has one overriding purpose – to turn everything into money; trees, labour, water, human babies. Everything. It’s also very good at learning how to learn and is extremely good at eliminating threats.

The paperclip maximiser economy is not controlled or driven by anybody, it’s just a product of our global corporate capitalist economic model. The rules of the game are such that if you don’t strive to turn everything into dollars then you’ll likely be defeated (in whatever you’re trying to do) by somebody or some institution that is.

There are plenty of people, organisations and political parties who are desperately trying to assert that some things are more important than money. Most people agree with them, but the money-making paperclip maximiser continues on regardless, barely diverted at all by even the most strident, most well-supported initiatives, such as reducing tropical deforestation or reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As Nietzsche prophetically warned, god is dead, and we have replaced him with the paperclip maximiser. Our collective intelligence system has no alternative, so even if we were to somehow collectively stop buying palm oil, for instance, Indonesians would still clear orangutan forest habitat to produce the next most profitable commodity.

Just as we know that destroying the forests of the world is destroying our future, we also know that consumerism doesn’t make us happy. Evidence abounds that the important things for human flourishing are connections to other humans, connection to nature and feeling needed and supported. The paperclip maximiser has us sacrifice those things in order to work hard and earn money.

In part, we need to make a lot of money so that we can afford housing that’s become ludicrously expensive because, instead of being primarily about shelter, housing has been captured by the paperclip maximiser and its primary purpose is wealth accumulation. Without irony, our newspapers can have articles side by side bemoaning the rise in homelessness and discussing the details of the “housing market”.

However grim this might seem, it is possible to beat the paperclip maximiser. We already know that the consumerist treadmill isn’t good for our mental or physical health. All we need to do is talk to people (real people, face to face) and work out what our core values are. Then we need to consciously and deliberately build a new story for humanity to move towards. The story of state-corporate capitalism has run out of puff. Most people aren’t buying it any more but there isn’t another well-championed narrative to orient ourselves by.

Social media platforms are the paperclip maximiser’s best friend. We’ve taken some of the brightest minds in the world and turned them to the task of designing addictive systems that keep us online for as long as possible in order to put advertising in front of us. These systems are personally tuned to the things that each of us will find addictive.

Keeping us online instead of in the real world keeps us lonely, sad and vulnerable to all the wiles of the paperclip maximiser. We shop and we strive for higher-paying work that will allow us greater status and more virtual praise from other sad, lonely, isolated people.

Have you noticed that when you’re having a great time with friends or family you don’t feel the need to check your social media feeds as much? The paperclip maximiser relies on us being plugged into the system of control, the system of polarisation, the system of artificial wants and needs.

Ancient Futures author, Helena Norberg-Hodge is fond of saying ‘our arms have grown so long that we can no longer see what our hands are doing’. It’s my personal belief that, as part of this change, we need to re-localise our shopping as much as we can so that we can see the faces of the people affected by our choices and the environmental impacts.

It’s time to unplug and work out what our real wants and needs are and to build a new collective intelligence system that will deliver those needs. There are efforts already underway to do just this in Australia with Australia remade being one great example.

Not only will doing this save the biosphere but it will make us more connected and more satisfied with our lives. Who wouldn’t want that?

This is an edited version of an essay that was runner up in New Philosopher magazine’s “being human” writer’s prize and was first published in issue #25 of the Magazine.

Warwick Smith is an economist and writer and is an honorary fellow at the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. He tweets @RecoEco.

 

 

Key Factors for the Durability of Community Currencies: An NPO Management Perspective

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/09/2019 - 1:17am in

Jeremy September Tohoku University Graduate School of Economics and Management in Sendai, Japan; jeremyseptember@gmail.com Abstract This paper investigates key factors for the durability of community currencies (CCs) by conducting a comparative dual case study on two long lived CCs in Japan. CCs both in Japan and abroad have exhibited effectiveness in developing social capital however […]

How to Build a Creative Ecology

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/08/2019 - 8:11pm in

In places that are not major arts hubs, sustaining an art career can be difficult, which is why artists in these places often move to other cities where it’s easier to make a living. Some cities, however, are finding ways to retain those local artists by cultivating the conditions that allow them to support themselves by making art. But how does it work? 

The World Cities Culture Report 2018 cited some of the ways culture is currently fostered, like mobile arts venues in Hong Kong and refugee artist residencies in Paris. In a vacuum, however, none of these efforts give rise to a self-sustaining arts scene. That requires a network of interconnected and interdependent actors and entities. Artists, funders, collectors, institutions and communities must achieve a symbiosis. There is no single way to do it (it’s more art than science) but there appear to be conditions that give rise to a creative ecology. 

Fellowships that retain artists

You can’t have a sustainable art scene without artists. But before emerging artists can make a living off of their art, they need time to develop—and the financial security to do so. To this end, several fellowship programs are designed to retain new and lesser-known artists who may otherwise be forced to move to bigger art hubs in search of funding or other creative jobs. 

The decade-old Kresge Artist Fellowship offered by the Kresge Foundation awards fellowships to artists from metro Detroit. Each fellow receives a $25,000 “no strings attached” grant along with a full year of professional practice support that includes workshops, networking opportunities and seminars. The “no strings” component is key. By letting the artists themselves decide how to best spend the money, the grants allow them to use the funds to pay bills and other expenses so they have room to work. As Detroit recovers from economic devastation, rising rents are displacing some artists—many of whom were pivotal in revitalizing derelict areas of the city. The fellowships help ensure they can stay there.

The Kresge Foundation’s Detroit program has funded the city’s Motown Historical Museum. Credit: Ted Eytan/Flickr

It appears to work. The Kresge Foundation released an impact study of the model, which found that “over 75 percent of these artists reported that fellowship funds were used to support critical life and art making expenses—from paying for burial expenses of a family member to replacing a roof on a house; from creation of an outdoor sculpture garden to travel to broaden horizons and make new contacts.”

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the arts have helped revive a neglected downtown with a cluster of institutions, like a satellite of the Philbrook Museum of Art and the Woody Guthrie Center, both opened in 2013. But here again, urban revitalization and the draw of more established arts centers make artist retention a challenge. The Tulsa Artist Fellowship is focused on retaining these local artists. Several of its spots are reserved for indigenous artists—its fellows include writer Joy Harjo, recently named the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate. And in addition to their unrestricted grants of $20,000, each recipient is given a year of free housing and studio space in the downtown district, allowing them to create without worrying about being priced out.

“We are dedicated to solving systemic challenges that have historically impacted artists and arts workers,” says Tulsa Artist Fellowship Director Carolyn Sickles, adding that the fellowship positions fellows for homeownership and offers education in business practices for the arts. “Tulsa is becoming a place where arts practitioners—many for the first time—are living healthy and sustainable lives.”

At the same time these fellowship programs allow local artists to stay local, these creative professionals contribute to a more sustainable and diverse economy at home. In its 2015 findings on the economic impact of the nonprofit arts and culture industry, Americans for the Arts found that the sector generated $166.3 billion in economic activity and supported millions of jobs. The $27.5 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments from this industry exceeded the $5 billion in arts allocation. “This study puts to rest a misconception that communities support arts and culture at the expense of local economic development,” the report concluded. 

Grassroots arts infrastructure

Making sure artists can afford to live in their home cities is one part of the equation. Cultural institutions to help make their work better known are another. But not every institution needs to be the Bilbao—sometimes smaller works just fine.

Guatemala City

In 2012, Stefan Benchoam and Jessica Kaire founded NuMu, the only contemporary art museum in Guatemala. It is artist-run, open 24/7, and tiny—an ovate kiosk originally built as a drive-through egg stand. It followed Benchoam’s 2009 co-founding of the Guatemala City gallery Proyectos Ultravioleta, which has been housed in unconventional spaces like a shopping mall basement and a wood mill. Both projects provide vital community space in a place with little contemporary art infrastructure.

The tiny NuMu museum. Credit: C-Monster/Flickr

“Operating from a context where there is hardly any support for the arts, be it private or public, one of the things we have been most focused on is supporting and empowering our artists’ visions so as to develop their work in the best possible way, whilst simultaneously participating in international art fairs to promote their work and generate a favorable economy for them and for the space,” says Benchoam. 

Community-oriented galleries and unconventional exhibition spaces allow artists to create art that reflects their culture. Proyectos Ultravioleta, for instance, provides more than just a gallery for artists. It shares space with Creatorio Artístico Pedagógico (CAP), which offers weekly programs on art history, art making and critical thinking for teens so that they can pursue artistic careers in Guatemala City, too.

While the influence of grassroots arts organizations on communities can be hard to quantify, there is evidence that thriving culture is important in connecting people to the place where they live. Over three years, concluding in 2010, Gallup and the Knight Foundation interviewed a random sample of 400 adults in 26 U.S. communities. They found that the availability of arts and cultural opportunities was rated higher than other social offerings in influencing their attachment to their communities. In 2012, the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham released its own study on grassroots arts activity in the U.K., and found that arts groups “played a key role in sustaining and promoting community identity.”

Lagos

Lagos, Nigeria, has also met the challenge of a lack of major arts institutions with a network of galleries and grassroots arts spaces, propelled by the 2017 launching of the Lagos Biennial and the 2016 founding of Art X Lagos, the first international art fair in West Africa. As the New York Times explored in a 2019 article, artist-run spaces in Lagos have been pivotal in keeping artists there, too. The first Lagos Biennial took over a disused railway yard, and the Revolving Art Incubator, tucked into the back stairwell of a shopping mall, has hosted installations and artist talks with visitors hanging out on the stairs. Tushar Hathiramani, the founder of the 16/16 and H-Factor arts spaces, told the Financial Times in 2018, “The absence of art infrastructure means that artists are going around finding rogue ways to show their art, sometimes in very random places.”

Tehran

In Tehran, a growing art fair has also been significant in supporting Iran’s artists. This June’s Teer Art Fair had nearly twice as many exhibitors as in previous years, even while sanctions make international sales a challenge. The fair included galleries from around the country. 

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“It’s important to have an annual art fair in Tehran because of the same reason it’s important to have art fairs in many other cities,” says Maryam Majd, director of Teer Art Fair. “The Iranian art scene is very vibrant and it needs an art fair for a more focused and extensive exposure.” It’s also vital for networking with foreign collectors, gallerists and art enthusiasts who travel internationally or locally to the fair. “This way they can see many galleries gathered under one roof,” Majd added. “This also improves the infrastructure for establishing other art events such as biennials.” 

As the Observer reported in July, even though art is exempt from sanctions, “gallerists, artists and collectors are forced to navigate a complex system of global transactions to keep their businesses afloat.” Iranian artists have a strong presence at the 2019 Venice Biennale, demonstrating the cultural community of Iran’s resilience through the decline in its currency and difficulties in shipping and selling artwork due to U.S. sanctions. 

Loans for collectors

A sustainable creative ecology supports not just artists, but buyers, too. This September, Belgium’s Kunst Aan Zet is launching in Flanders and Brussels. The government program offers collectors interest-free loans for works costing between €500 to €7,000 (USD$560 to $7,800). These loans are only for pieces created by local artists, making them a critical stimulus for artists early in their careers. A recent study by the Flanders Arts Institute revealed that visual artists in the first 10 to 15 years of their careers have some of the lowest incomes in the Flemish cultural sector. “Buying a work of art should be possible for everyone, even if you’re not an expert and don’t have a big budget,” Sven Gatz, Flemish minister for culture, said in a release

Kunst Aan Zet replicates the proven success of similar long-running loan initiatives, namely Collectorplan in the U.K. and KunstKoop in the Netherlands. Collectorplan, operated by the Arts Council of Wales, offers interest-free loans for the purchase of work by Wales-based artists. One collector told Wales Online that he had purchased over 50 pieces through Collectorplan and had “paid less per month for my paintings than the cost of a meal for two but still have them to inspire and cheer my spirit.” The 2018 report on Collectorplan stated that the scheme had generated over £1 million of sales in artists’ work over the past year, with 1,181 loans used to purchase art (up from 1,177 in the previous year). KunstKoop, run by the publicly financed Mondriaan Fund, offers Dutch collectors a service to pay for works by living artists in installments as small as €22.50 (USD$25) a month without interest. It currently involves around 125 galleries and continues to expand in supporting the Dutch art market and encouraging a connected system of collectors and artists. 

Creative placemaking

A sustainable creative network comes full circle to contribute to the community that originally supported it. This can occur when creative placemaking centers arts and culture within local planning and development. 

The California Endowment’s “Building Healthy Communities” initiative, for example, has included community engagement with arts and culture in its strategies for transforming 14 of the state’s communities now challenged by health inequities. Its 2017 report on “Approaching Community Health Through Heritage and Culture in Boyle Heights,” created with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, examined how a pilot project in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights revealed the importance of cultural assets, including ones that might not be immediately recognized, like street vendors contributing to a sense of identity and home. Considering what is meaningful for the neighborhood is especially relevant as there have been recent anti-gentrification protests over art galleries being established in the predominantly Latino area.

In 2011, ArtPlace America launched as a 10-year collaboration to bring together a diverse network of foundations, federal agencies and financial institutions. With $104 million invested so far, it is focused on growing creative placemaking by involving the arts and culture sector in community planning, not necessarily solely to support art projects, but to employ creative skill sets in solving current issues.

Their funded projects have ranged from a series of Rube Goldberg machines by the Denver-based nonprofit Warm Cookies of the Revolution in which local artists constructed contraptions representing the participatory budgeting process, to artist Caroline Armijo’s sculpting of hazardous coal ash in Walnut Cove, North Carolina, for a new park to draw attention to the region’s environmental issues. Each project has artists working in partnership with public officials, developers and planners to envision solutions to community needs. When the work ends in 2020, ArtPlace America plans to collaborate with local networks so they’ll have the resources to continue the placemaking started through the projects. 

“From 2018-2020, with the goal of building a stronger creative placemaking field, we are building on this work in three ways,” says Adam Erickson, Director of Communications at ArtPlace America. These three initiatives are supporting local practice by transferring the oversight of funds to local leaders, sharing knowledge and resources within local networks like higher education and community development practitioners, and bringing together creative placemaking individuals so they can work together to share ideas. “Each of these areas will require partnerships with organizations that share our values and goals of creating healthy, equitable, and sustainable communities and to help strengthen the field of creative placemaking,” says Erickson. 

This story is part of a collection called Art is Everywhere: Stories of artists making a living in unexpected places. Read more here

The post How to Build a Creative Ecology appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

A failure of collective intelligence

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/07/2019 - 2:32pm in

By Warwick Smith
An essay I wrote has won second prize in New Philosopher magazine’s latest writer’s prize and has been published in the magazine.


As I did with my last New Philosopher essay, I’ll probably publish this in another outlet after the next edition of New Philosopher comes out. If you want to read it in the meantime, pick up a copy of NP.

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