sustainability

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How to Make Your Cannabis Business More Eco-Friendly

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/05/2022 - 2:12am in

Many businesses across several industries are starting to look at ways to be eco-friendly in their business models and daily practices. By doing so, they might experience many benefits, such as customer appreciation and a smaller carbon footprint. However, knowing how to get started on your journey to eco-friendliness is not always easy. If you…

The post How to Make Your Cannabis Business More Eco-Friendly appeared first on Peak Oil.

Steering Away from a Car-Centric Society

by Mai Nguyen

Two lanes of car traffic in a city street.

Our car-centric society is in a jam. (CC BY 2.0, Oran Viriyincy)

Learning to drive scared me as a teenager. There was something terrifying about controlling a two-ton hunk of metal, and my drivers’ education teacher didn’t help by showing a graphic slideshow of injuries we could expect from a brutal car accident. This didn’t bother me much once I moved to the city; with buses, the metro, and bike or scooter shares, there are plenty of other ways to get around. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find these same options outside the city.

Cars are ubiquitous in the USA, with 286.9 million registered vehicles on the streets in 2020. That’s almost 300 million gas tanks to fill. The EPA reported that the transportation sector accounted for 29 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. Now, coming out (we hope) of the COVID pandemic, we’re seeing more traffic again with attendant emissions.

Some people are eagerly replacing their gas-powered cars with new, “green” electric vehicles. The intentions are a good sign, but we can’t “get sustainable” simply by exchanging some of the energy we consume.

How Bad Are Cars?

Cars are massive machines that require heaps of resources, from building the vehicles to fueling them for the road. The average vehicle requires 900kg of steel and 39 different plastics and polymers. A single tire requires about seven gallons of oil for its production. The aluminum content per vehicle is also steadily increasing, projected to reach 505 lbs in 2025.

Manufacturing is also immensely energy-intensive and complex. Stages of car manufacturing include extracting ores, transporting raw materials and components from around the world, and assembling the vehicle. Though each of these steps emit plenty of CO2, it can be difficult to put an exact figure on car-production emissions. Carbon footprint researcher Mike Berners-Lee breaks it down in How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything, finding that the carbon footprint of manufacturing a car ranges from 6–35 metric tons.

And the environmental cost doesn’t stop there. It’s no secret that fuel consumption contributes to air pollution, but a 2018 study found that, globally, passenger road travel accounted for 45.1 percent of global CO2 emissions, or nearly six times as much as passenger air travel (8.1 percent). Americans used a grand total of 123 billion gallons of motor gasoline in 2020, corresponding with 56 percent of transportation sector emissions.

It’s Electric!

The ubiquity of gas-guzzling personal vehicles can’t be a part of a sustainable future. For some, the solution seems obvious: electrify vehicles to remove the problems that come from gas-power. Tesla kicked off its precedent-setting electric vehicle (EV) line in 2008, and today car companies like General Motors and Honda are edging into the competition. (Ironically, GM could’ve led the EV revolution as early as the 90s with their wildly popular EV1 if they hadn’t killed the model for profiting less than their gas-guzzling counterparts.)

Image of a fancy electric vehicle parked in a spot that reads "Electric Vehicles Only."

Are EVs driving us to a sustainable future, or are they another guise for green growth? (CC BY 2.0, marcoverch)

EV innovations do, in fact, look promising. Though not exactly carbon-neutral, EVs emit significantly less emissions than gas-powered cars, and they can handle just as much daily travel. EVs don’t run on empty, though. Depending on how your local power is generated, charging EVs can produce carbon emissions, and a worldwide shift to EVs would only exacerbate the global power demand. While it is generally accepted that emissions over the lifetime of an EV may be lower than a gas-powered car, the construction of EVs emits substantially more than the construction of traditional internal combustion vehicles. Specifically, a 2017 study found that the manufacturing of parts and assembly of EVs resulted in approximately 37 percent more emissions per vehicle than that of combustion vehicles.

Even though EV sales are picking up fast, we can’t bank on them and other “green” alternatives to solve limits to growth without a plan to fully transition away from fossil fuels and reduce consumption. Take the trendy plant-based alternatives filling shelves at grocery stores, for instance. Despite its massive carbon footprint, the U.S. meat market still dominates its plant-based competitors by almost $160 billion, and we’re simply “gifted” with more choices when we shop. The development of eBooks was similarly predicted to overhaul the publishing industry, but print books still outsell eBooks four-to-one.

Even if we all switched to EVs, we’d be exploiting yet another fuel source: lithium, the rechargeable battery’s key material. In 2021, global extraction of lithium was about 100,000 metric tons, about a 20 percent jump from 2020 levels. A worldwide switch to EVs would entail a 500-fold expansion of EV-battery manufacturing capacity. With the new mining boom, lithium and precious metal mining will simply replace (some) oil extraction.

The environment around South American deposits would be hit especially hard, bringing perils like wind drift of toxic chemical residue from the mines. This not only endangers the ecosystems along the Andes mountains—where the continent’s largest deposit is located—but threatens the livelihoods of farmers.

Chasing Us off the Streets

The problem with cars extends beyond their immediate environmental impact. We must examine why we find it so difficult to rid ourselves of them. Today’s suburban sprawl and congested highways didn’t come as a result of innovation for the masses; it’s more like the aftermath of an auto-industry takeover. Roads were once public spaces made for the people. Pedestrians freely crossed roadways without designated walkways and children played in the open space, while streetcars and railways catered to commuters and travelers.

Robert S. Kretshmar, Executive Secretary of AAA's Massachusetts Division; Commissioner Thomas F. Carty, Boston Traffic Department; and Mayor John F. Collins celebrate jaywalking legislation by Boston City Archives

Robert S. Kretshmar (Executive Secretary of AAA’s Massachusetts Division), Commissioner Thomas F. Carty (Boston Traffic Department), and Mayor John F. Collins celebrate jaywalking legislation. (CC BY 2.0, Boston City Archives)

It all changed with the mass production of cars in the 1910s. Over the next two decades the public was outraged at the rise of car-related fatalities, most of which involved children. A battle for the roads ensued between the masses and the auto industry. Unfortunately for the masses, car companies held sway.

A 1923 Cincinnati ordinance was proposed to limit auto speeds to 25 mph, but car companies killed the proposal—despite the 42,000 petitioners backing the plan—with a racist ad campaign mocking the city and rousing car owners. Other methods to overpower pedestrians included a slew of anti-pedestrian laws, indoctrinating children to stay out of the streets, and shaming jaywalkers.

The campaign for cars cuffed another rival, too: urban railways. Public transit has always been a key connector between low-income communities and thriving cities. It remains a major aspect of social mobility. But in the 1920s, car drivers were allowed over streetcar tracks, disrupting routes and making it nearly impossible for efficient streetcar operations. This drove transit passengers to purchase personal vehicles, further crowding the roads.

GM and other auto and fossil fuel companies bought up railways spanning 46 transit networks, only to dismantle them immediately. And while this isn’t the only reason why trolleys have fallen from grace in the USA, trolley companies were convicted of monopoly in 1949.

With the road cleared of obstacles, the auto industry set out to sell more cars. With the help of designer Norman Bel Geddes, GM debuted Futurama, a diorama portraying a car-centric future dreamed up by the company, at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and introduced millions of visitors to something closely resembling today’s America. GM proposed a future centered around the convenience of the personal vehicle, complete with a massive interstate freeway system, suburban sprawl, and the extinction of public transportation.

The masses were sold on a car-centric America, and in 1956 President Eisenhower, with the help of Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson (who also happened to be GM’s president), leveled entire city neighborhoods to make room for highways. Minorities and low-income families comprised an overwhelming cohort of these communities, and they’ve been hit hardest by the environmental effects of “urban renewal” and the widened divide from their wealthy suburban counterparts.

Our Future Without a Map

Transportation in a car-centric society is far from sustainable or equitable. Gas-powered cars have a history of ravaging communities, and the growth of EVs won’t take us the distance. But we still need to get around, so what can we do?

Auto and fossil fuel industries fought hard in the past for political influence, but we can still take back our future. We are not fated to bumper-to-bumper traffic for the rest of our lives, and we can recenter our cities and towns around the people.

Image of several bikers riding through carless streets, with three women standing nearby a store as they pass.

In a steady state economy, communities are walkable, bikeable, and personable. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, UrbanGrammar)

One thing we can do is improve public transit. Access to public transportation is the key to an equitable future, but the system is in constant danger of underfunding. U.S. rail systems are far behind places like Japan, where trains are so convenient that car ownership is on the decline. Japan’s car ownership hit a low of 0.96 vehicles per household this year, while U.S. numbers have been creeping past three per household.

Fortunately, U.S. cities like Los Angeles and Indianapolis are upgrading their public transportation. Los Angeles has spent five years and $80 million on infrastructural changes to put the first electric metro bus line on the road. Meanwhile, Indianapolis is being transformed by the expansive Red Line electric bus system. These cities have shown us that commuters will jump at the chance to use public transit over personal vehicles.

Not only do our communities need access to better public transportation, but we need to foster pedestrian and cyclist lifestyles. Since 2016, Barcelona saw a 25 percent drop in pollution around the Sant Antoni market after experimenting with “superblocks,” nine-block grids of cyclist and pedestrian-first zones. Children there have room to play now, and walking and biking has increased.

In the Horta neighborhood superblock, 60 percent of survey respondents said they had become more comfortable walking on the streets and that accessibility had improved. People within the Poblenou superblock reported that the reduction in noise pollution resulted in more tranquility, improved sleep, increased social interaction, and overall improved mental wellbeing. One study estimated that widespread execution of superblocks could prevent almost 700 deaths annually.

Taking the roads back from auto and fossil fuel industries will be difficult. We‘ll have to re-envision the world around us; a world without the destructive congestion of cars. Our spaces need to be just that, our spaces, instead of streets and parking lots, dealerships, gas stations, auto parts stores, and repair shops. These profound structural and sociological changes will occur not by incentivizing the “greener” electric alternative, but by disincentivizing car culture altogether.

Widely-adopted free public transportation would be a huge step in connecting communities and promoting social mobility. We need to demand of our governments sustainable transportation for the people; that is, the expansion of our electric public transportation webs. Cars should be increasingly marginalized.

A carless society is one that is walkable, bikeable, and accessible for people with disabilities. Urban planners should prioritize the safety and mobility of the people, not cater to the automotive and oil industries. They should help us achieve a kinder, carless culture.

Mai Nguyen, editorial intern for Spring 2022 at CASSE.Mai Nguyen is the spring 2022 editorial intern at CASSE, and a junior at George Washington University.

The post Steering Away from a Car-Centric Society appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Morality in the Womb: More than Meets the Mass’s Eye

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/05/2022 - 1:12am in
by Max Kummerow

With the recent leaking of the draft decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the heated controversy over a woman’s right to abort—or voluntarily terminate—a pregnancy is again at the forefront of democratic discourse. At the heart of this debate are issues of morality and theology. Self-identified Christians make up 63 percent of the U.S. population, with Evangelical Protestants and Catholics representing an overwhelming portion of the “pro-life” camp.

The question of when moral and legal obligations to protect a new life should begin has been pivotal to abortion politics and policy. Throughout history, four primary theories have been proposed to mark the commencement of a new human life:

  1. Moment of Conception

The moment of conception refers to when the egg and sperm unite to create a zygote with a unique genetic code. Those who hold that this is when life begins may argue for the prohibition of voluntary terminations or contraceptives used after conception, such as IUDs and hormonal methods that prevent pregnancy; that is, the implantation of a fertilized egg to the uterine wall.

  1. Quickening

The mother’s first sensation of the fetus moving—known as quickeningtypically occurs between 16 and 20 weeks after the last menstrual period, or roughly the middle of the pregnancy. “Animus, soul, or life enters the body of the unborn infant when it first moves or stirs in the womb,” said the great 11th century theologian Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas and the Roman Catholic Church viewed the animation of the fetus in the womb as evidence of ensoulment, or the moment when a physical body has been joined with a human soul.

  1. Viability

The age of viability refers to the time during pregnancy when a fetus could be born with a reasonable chance of survival. The time at which a pregnancy becomes viable is typically around 24 weeks; however, babies born around this time have an increased risk of disability and other complications. Most delivered before the age of viability do not survive because the lungs and other vital organs aren’t sufficiently developed.

In Roe v. Wade, the Court divided pregnancies into trimesters. During the first trimester, the woman has sole discretion to terminate the pregnancy. During the second trimester, states can regulate—but not outlaw—voluntary terminations for the sake of the mother’s health. The fetus becomes viable at the start of the third trimester, at which time states can regulate or outlaw terminations in the interest of the potential life, except when termination is necessary to preserve the life of the mother.

  1. Breath of Life

The breath-of-life theory is that a new life begins at the baby’s first breath. This theory reflects the Christian creation story in Genesis 2:7, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” This theory makes the most sense to me. When, as a child, I helped my uncle pull calves, some died and some lived. To live, they had to breathe. My uncle himself died eventually, precisely when his breathing stopped.

Even birth and breathing haven’t always granted an individual protection under the law. Infanticide was common throughout the Roman Empire and many other parts of the ancient world, and has been documented in 27 countries. For instance, China’s one-child policy, implemented between 1980 and 2016, resulted in a wave of female infanticide. Scholars who have extensively studied infanticide have found a positive relationship between income inequality and female infanticide. These researchers concluded that societies with extreme poverty may use infanticide to conserve resources, reduce financial strain, or improve the family’s quality of life.

A purple bus with a large banner covering the back with a smiley face reading "We're pro-life."

What does it really mean to be “pro-life?” (CC BY-SA 2.0, infomatique)

While there are some denominational differences amongst Christians regarding ensoulment and the beginning of life, we can safely assume that those against a woman’s right to choose believe this divine moment occurs sometime in the womb. Scripture, however, provides no guidance on voluntary terminations.

The closest The Bible comes to the topic is in Exodus 21:22-23, where Moses writes, “If two men are fighting, and in the process hurt a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage, but she lives, then the man who injured her shall be fined whatever amount the woman’s husband shall demand, and as the judges approve. But if any harm comes to the woman and she dies, he shall be executed.” If the embryo or fetus was ensouled, wouldn’t the men have received a more severe punishment according to the “eye for an eye” doctrine? Such is the case if the men kill the living, breathing woman. In other words, Scripture clearly implies that the fetus does not have a right to life equal to that of a breathing person.

The Science of Reproduction

Galileo begged the Inquisition to “look through the telescope” to see the truth about the solar system. Those against abortion services should look through a microscope to observe the lengthy, complex processes of conception and gestation. The authors of The Bible did not have the benefit of microscopy, and accordingly wrote nothing on the science of reproduction. To reconcile theology with science though, we must understand the biological facts of conception, fetal development, and birth.

First, the terms “moment of conception” and “beginning of life” are misleading, as these processes don’t occur in an instant. The actual beginning of life took place circa 4 billion years ago when DNA (or possibly even simple RNA, ribonucleic acid) first replicated. Some of the earliest “experiments” may have blinked out, but for several billion years—while innumerable organisms have died and species have gone extinct—life has continued with no interruption.

Nor is conception a “moment,” but rather a multi-step process—prefaced by episodes of meiosis and the production of male and female gametes—taking several hours for a sperm cell (male gamete) to penetrate an egg’s (female gamete) cell wall, stimulate the zona pellucida to deploy (preventing other sperm from entering), shed its axial filament (the “tail”), burrow into the egg, and redeploy genetic material until the collective 46 chromosomes have been linked into 23 pairs. By then, a fertilized egg (zygote) exists, ready for mitosis and another very gradual process of fetal development, but precisely when did the fertilization transpire? And is that unclear moment equivalent to “conception?” Or would conception be more appropriately consigned to the first mitotic division of the zygote?

One thing we do know is that only a relative handful of the quadrillions of potential combinations of DNA win the lottery, manifesting in zygotes and ultimately children. People across the political spectrum can agree that life is sacred, but even in the absence of abortion, most potential humans—even after conception—never experience the breath of life. While often tragic for aspiring mothers, stillbirths and infant mortality are nonetheless common features of human biology. In 2019, the U.S. infant mortality rate was 5.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. In poorer parts of the world, infant mortality is in the hundreds per 1,000 born.

Even with the advancements in medical technology, maternal mortality is still a risk everywhere. In the USA, the risk of death associated with childbirth is roughly fourteen times higher than that with legal abortion, making responsibly provided abortion significantly safer than childbirth. This is a point worth pondering for those who oppose abortion because they value human life, especially considering the Exodus distinction between the value of an adult woman relative to a fetus.

The Odds of Life

Charles Darwin discovered not only how species evolve via natural selection, but explained why organisms produce so many more than can survive. All species have an innate propensity to multiply. More specimens are born than can survive to adulthood; far more in the case of most species.

Meanwhile, the way organisms interact with and adapt to their environment determines their survival and reproduction. In this way, the most “fit” organisms (given the environmental conditions) begin to overtake less fit organisms, passing along more of their genetic code for traits ranging from eye color to blood type and even cognitive ability (which is influenced by genetic and non-genetic variables). The species evolves, in other words, and—assuming moderate rates of environmental change—becomes ever more fit or “successful.” One of the prerequisites of this progressive process is a surplus of specimens, from which the most fit are naturally selected.

Ensouled or otherwise, Homo sapiens is no exception. In the process of ovulation, an egg is released from the human’s ovary each month for roughly 30 to 35 years of fertility. This amounts to 350 to 400 chances of pregnancy. Of the roughly 300,000,000 sperm ejaculated during coitus, only around 200 reach the fertilization site in the oviduct. Even when one lucky sperm fertilizes an egg in the fallopian tube, half of fertilized eggs fail to implant in the uterus, becoming lost after conception and before pregnancy.

Table 1 reflects the reality of surplus reproduction from conception onward. Even given the substantial “drawdown” of zygotes and fetuses in 2020, there were 140 million births and only 59 million deaths, resulting in 81 million more people on Earth.

Table 1. Global Conception, Pregnancy, and Fetal Drawdown, 2020

Total in Millions
% of Conceptions

Conceptions
475
100%

Pregnancies
238
50%

(Unintended Pregnancies)
107
45%

Involuntary Termination
47
10%

Voluntary Termination
50
10%

Births
140
30%

To the best of my knowledge, no woman has ever experienced 350 or 400 pregnancies. Cases such as the Octomom (fourteen children) and the Radford family (16 children) are famous because of how extreme they are (although a Russian woman supposedly produced 69 babies in the 18th century). What if all women could have fourteen to 16 pregnancies during their 30 to 35 years of fertility? Should that be the goal of a pro-life movement?

No society, even those with early marriages and lack of contraception, has averaged more than a dozen births per woman. Contraceptives and other family planning services have allowed most societies to reduce births per woman to more manageable levels. It would seem eminently logical that maximizing the number of human lives is neither desirable nor moral compared with moderating reproduction for purposes of healthy, happy, and sustainable lives.

Choosing Life

One of the cornerstones of steady-state economics is democratically stabilizing population; another is achieving fairness and quality of life. For these purposes, access to contraceptives, comprehensive sexual education, and family planning services are needed.

Abortion rights protest with signs reading "Pro-choice is Pro-life"

Considering the wellbeing of all life forms—or all God’s creatures—pro-choice is  congruent with pro-life. (CC BY 2.0, Debra Sweet)

Better contraceptives and family planning services have already proven to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions. In countries that restrict abortion, the percentage of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion has ironically increased from 36 percent to 50 percent over the past 30 years. In the end, if preventing the frequency of abortions is truly the goal, then widening access to sex education, contraceptives, and other forms of reproductive healthcare—even abortion itself—is the most effective course of action.

Ending abortions altogether, were it possible, would increase the number of children born each year by at least 50 million globally. These children would be born to families that, in many and probably the vast majority of cases, couldn’t afford them or are otherwise not prepared to assume the responsibilities of parenthood. Banning abortion would also increase maternal mortality and the presence of negative health effects in mothers and children.

In my opinion, an abortion should be considered a responsible parenting decision to the degree the pregnancy is unwanted. Unintended teen pregnancies are one of the leading circumstances for abortions in the USA. Among teens 15 to 19, 75 percent of pregnancies are unintended. Teenagers have many other chances (about 350 to 400) to be a mother when they are more prepared for the responsibility. An abortion allows the teenager to choose a better time to have a child who will grow up better cared for.

For a woman already with children, a decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy lessens her family’s financial and psychological strain, and leaves more resources to be shared by her pre-existing children. In other words, terminating an unwanted pregnancy can reduce the burden on the mother, on society, and on the planet, or the fullness of God’s Creation for the faithful among us. In that sense, abortion too has a pro-life element.

Max Kummerow portraitMax Kummerow is a population activist and researcher, and author of the forthcoming book, Too Many People.

The post Morality in the Womb: More than Meets the Mass’s Eye appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The Colorado River: Devoured by Growth

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/05/2022 - 12:49am in
by Gary Wockner

“The nature of consumption is the consumption of Nature” – Jordan Perry

Map of the Colorado River Basin

The Colorado River Basin, a life source for the Southwest, is being drained for growth. (CC BY-SA 4.0, Shannon)

The natural environment of the American Southwest is sending out a loud call of distress, but few people in positions of power are listening. Economic and population growth are straining nature, especially across the Colorado River Basin, which encompasses parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, Nevada, and California.

From 2010 to 2020, Colorado gained about 725,000 people, Arizona gained 760,000, and California gained a whopping 2.3 million. At the same time, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico grew considerably, and the population even inched upwards in slow-growing Wyoming, the least populous U.S. state.

Similarly, the GDP of each Colorado River Basin state increased by two to four percent annually in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Despite the pressures of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, the collective GDP raced upward even faster.

Growth in the Southwest is largely due to state and local policies that incentivize, subsidize, or otherwise lure people into the area. A researcher could craft an entire career out of cataloguing pro-growth policies in just one state.

In Colorado (where I live), a succession of governors—including incumbent Governor Jared Polis—have promoted and celebrated every uptick in statewide GDP, consumption, and population. Thanks to these pro-growth attitudes and initiatives, the Colorado River Basin’s water, landscape, and biodiversity are continuously under assault.

GDP Goes Up, Water Goes Down

The Colorado River, which sustains over 40 million people across the Southwest, has been hit hard by climate change, drought, and resource exploitation. Nearly every month, news reports paint a worsening picture for river flow and the water levels of reservoirs. The two largest reservoirs in the USA—Lake Mead and Lake Powell, both on the Colorado River—are at their lowest levels in history with further decreases predicted.

Lake Mead levels are at historic lows.

Lake Mead water levels have dropped to historic lows. (CC BY-SA 2.0, Bureau of Reclamation)

The Bureau of Reclamation has announced “emergency” measures to increase Lake Powell’s water level so electricity turbines may continue spinning at Glen Canyon Dam’s hydropower plant. Meanwhile, California, Arizona, and Nevada have decreased their water diversions out of Lake Mead. Yet, as drought and climate change intensify, upper basin states—Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming—continue building more dams to support the growing population.

There’s not enough water to support the population and economy that already exists in the Southwest, but continued growth means stretching water supplies further by transferring water from farmers—who control about 75 percent of water in the basin—to cities. The city of St. George, Utah, for example, is struggling to find alternative water sources to accommodate growth. Officials recently warned that the “stalled water supply could put the brakes on the growth economy.”

The ecological health of river systems across the basin has been deteriorating for as long as I remember. Now, flows are at historically low levels, fish and aquatic life are suffering from low flows and warmer water, and pollution levels continue increasing. Furthermore, the parched landscape is burning more frequently and intensively, increasing the runoff of river-clogging soot and debris into the rivers and reservoirs.

Landscapes, Open Space, and Farms Disappear

Growth in the Southwest is devouring open space, farms, and wildlife habitats. A March 2022 comprehensive report, published by Numbers USA (which advocates for U.S. population stabilization) is titled, “From Sea to Shining Sprawling Sea.” The report offers state-by-state insights into the way growth is devouring the landscape in basin states. According to the report, from 1982 to 2017:

  • Colorado lost 1,126 square miles of open space, farms, and wildlife habitats due to growth and sprawl
  • California lost 3,420 square miles
  • Nevada lost 498 square miles
  • Utah lost 713 square miles
  • Arizona lost 1,744 square miles
  • New Mexico lost 1,018 square miles
  • Wyoming lost 251 square miles

Some policymakers and activists concerned about this loss of open land for growth argue that the solution is to pack people in more densely to reduce sprawl. However, as I have described in other columns and posts, dense housing increases the ecological footprint of growing economies and human populations as surely as sprawl does. The Global Footprint Network describes how Americans’ environmental impacts extend far beyond our housing choices and spatial arrangements.

Our ecological footprint includes the roads we drive on, the malls we shop at, and the pipelines that bring natural gas to our homes. It also grows with plane trips to Europe, electronic devices imported from China, produce shipped from South America, granite countertops sourced from Brazil, and even the various materials extracted to construct our houses. Any additional activity producing the goods and services we consume entails a larger ecological footprint.

Biodiversity and Habitat Fragmented and Diminished

In March, the New York Times published a series of maps illustrating the threat to biodiversity across the USA. The report included a disturbing image of nature being destroyed in the Southwest. Healy Hamilton, chief scientist at NatureServe, said, “There are hundreds of species known to be globally critically imperiled or imperiled in this country that have no protection under federal law and often no protection under state law.”

Panoramic view of a Southwest desert city overtaken by urban sprawl.

Natural landscapes across the Southwest are being overtaken by urban sprawl. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, scaredpoet)

The map shows the basin states as having some of the most imperiled biodiversity in the USA, most notably the Colorado River’s aquatic diversity. California—including Southern California, which receives Colorado River water—appears particularly stressed. The New York Times report quotes Wade Crowfoot, California’s natural resources secretary as saying, “We have this tremendous biodiversity, but we also have these major stressors, including that we built ourselves into the fifth-largest economy in the world with 40 million people.”

Several NGOs work throughout the Southwest to protect biodiversity. One NGO, Defenders of Wildlife, catalogues the biodiversity threats as “urbanization, agriculture, water diversion, fossil fuel extraction/conveyance/processing, and open-pit mining.” And, the so-called “green economy” is creating new threats.

Proposed lithium mines in Nevada and Arizona are some of the latest flashpoints of enviro-political controversy. These mines further destroy the landscape, pollute streams and rivers, and imperil biodiversity that relies on intact and healthy ecosystems.

America the Beautiful?

Given the extreme threats to water, land, and biodiversity throughout the Southwest, the U.S. government appears to be making an effort to manage the degradation caused by growth.

In May 2021, President Biden launched the “America the Beautiful” initiative with the goal of “conserving 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.” Sometimes called the “30 by 30” (or “30×30”) campaign, this initiative has been broadly embraced by conservation leaders, nonprofit groups, tribal governments, and eleven U.S. states. Further, in April 2022, Biden doubled down on the campaign, pledging a $1 billion investment to bring the 30×30 campaign to fruition.

Beyond the 30×30 campaign, however, other U.S. policies are absurdly designed to pursue more growth. It will be increasingly difficult, if not completely impossible, to accomplish the goals of the 30×30 campaign if the U.S. population and economy continue to grow.

At local and state levels in the Southwest, we routinely see tax incentives for new businesses, subsidies to cut development fees, and aggressive marketing campaigns aimed at luring new residents. Eliminating these growth subsidies and pro-growth campaigns is critical for any semblance of sustainability, but that elimination is almost unheard of in any local or state-level discussion throughout the region.

Steady-state policies, including an ethical approach to stabilize population, are the only options that can protect water, land, and biodiversity across the Southwest. We’ve been warned, “The nature of consumption is the consumption of Nature.”

Gary Wockner, CASSE's Colorado River Chapter DirectorGary Wockner is CASSE’s Colorado River Chapter director, and an environmental activist and writer.

The post The Colorado River: Devoured by Growth appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Icebreakers in the Arctic: An Overlooked Environmental Concern

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/04/2022 - 12:17am in
by Johanna Cohn

Global heating has a greater impact on the Arctic than the rest of the planet. In fact, the Arctic is warming at a rate almost twice the global average. This is due to Arctic ice’s high albedo, meaning the ice reflects a tremendous amount of sunlight into the atmosphere. As the ice melts, the sea water absorbs more sunlight than it reflects. The resulting water subsequently warms and evaporates, becoming a powerful greenhouse gas. A positive feedback loop ensues as warmer waters melt more ice, and more water vapor adds to Earth’s greenhouse effect.

Arctic nations—the USA, Russia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland—view the thawing Arctic as an asset for tourism, fishing, and trade. Never mind the risks that come with shipping across waters that may contain icebergs, thanks to large ships called “icebreakers.”

The USA has two icebreakers in its fleet, and at least three more on the way. Russia, on the other hand, has at least 50. These nations recognize the value of holding power in the Arctic, and having icebreakers is a means to power. Nations that effectively use icebreakers in their Arctic fleets can grow their economies faster, improve the safety and efficacy of Arctic travel, and conduct scientific exploration. But at what cost?

Why Are Icebreakers So Loved?

image of a researcher exploring an Arctic pool, with an icebreaker ship in the background, cutting through Arctic ice.

Icebreakers allow researchers to explore areas once considered unreachable, but at what cost? (CC BY 2.0, NOAA Photo Library)

The USCGC Healy, one of the USA’s two icebreakers, is primarily used for scientific research and is famous for its advanced technology. In recent years, scientists aboard the Healy have accomplished two notable feats. The first was the identification of a species previously unknown to science called ctenophores—organisms similar to jellyfish—distinguished by the groups of cilia they use for swimming (commonly known as “combs”). The second was the discovery of Chukchi pockmarks during the exploration of the Chukchi Plateau. Despite encountering treacherous winds and waters, the size and stability of the Healy allowed researchers to continue mapping and studying the pockmarked area.

Another important asset of the Arctic is the Northern Sea Route, which lies east of Novaya Zemlya, Russia, and runs along the Russian Arctic coast by Siberia to the Bering Strait. As Arctic ice continues to melt, this route becomes more alluring for transporting goods across the North Pole. With the help of icebreakers cutting through remaining ice that could impede travel, the route reduces transportation time and costs, making it the most efficient route.

Icebreakers are also invaluable in Arctic search and rescue missions. The Arctic Council (an intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by Arctic governments and indigenous Arctic people) has taken action to allocate search and rescue resources on an international level. All eight Arctic nations signed the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement in May 2011, making it the first legally binding agreement negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council.

Cold War Races in the Arctic

During the Cold War, the USA and the Soviet Union raced to pioneer new technology and discoveries, while competing for the greatest GDP. The Arctic was one arena for Cold War competition; whichever nation had the greatest presence in the Arctic would be better positioned to exploit Arctic resources and gain a significant advantage in climbing the GDP ladder.

Between the 1960s and the early 1980s, the Soviet Union launched Project 97, which added 32 new icebreakers into the Soviet fleet. These were a series of diesel-electric icebreakers, several of which are still operated by Russia today. The Soviets had plans to revive military bases on islands in the Arctic Sea, a move that would prevent the U.S. Navy from deploying into the Arctic.

During this time the USA also introduced a new class of icebreakers into its fleet, known as the Polar class. These two Polar class ships were designed to support science and research, provide resupply to remote stations, launch search and rescue missions, escort ships, protect the environment, and enforce laws and treaties in places other ships cannot reach.

In 2020, President Trump released a memo calling for a new fleet of icebreakers in the Arctic. This, in part, reveals the Trump administration’s concern about Russian and Chinese presence in the Arctic, a concern reflected throughout the U.S. population. When Americans were asked to rate their feelings toward Russia on a zero-to-100 scale, Americans averaged at 29, the lowest reading since 1982. The USA’s attitude towards China in 2020 was similarly negative, with 73 percent of people surveyed claiming an unfavorable view of China.

Since national sentiments towards Russia and China were overwhelmingly negative, President Trump produced a memo to address concerns. Trump announced his administration would create a plan within 60 days of the memo release to construct at least three heavy icebreakers by 2029 to compete with the growing Russian and Chinese presence in the Arctic. The Biden Administration has yet to retract this plan, so these icebreakers are still under construction.

What’s Missing from the Conversation?

Little information is available about the environmental concerns that icebreakers pose. Literature highlights the perceived “positives”—scientific exploration, search and rescue, trade and shipping, and competition amongst nations—as being more important than considering environmental degradation. However, here’s what we know.

Icebreakers break ice. As the broken ice melts, sunlight is absorbed, leading to increased temperatures, and thus more ice melting. An icebreaker cruising through the ice for 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), leaving an ice-free wake of ten meters (33 feet), would open an area of water ten square kilometers (3.9 square miles) over the entire cruise. Although the Arctic Sea covers about 4,000 kilometers (2500 miles), any amount of ice breaking harms the environment. With the continual use of icebreaker ships, the Arctic will continue to look more like ice cubes melting in a glass of water.

Birds-eye shot of an icebreaker ship in the Arctic, with patches of cracked ice floating atop the sea.

The Arctic: melting ice cubes bobbing in a glass of water.

As melting endures, we will continue to see environmental effects around the world. Changes in the Arctic Sea ice pattern leads to a rise in sea levels globally. Low-lying developed areas in the Gulf Coast and the mid-Atlantic regions are especially at risk from sea-level rise. The recent growth of coastal areas has resulted in larger populations and more valuable coastal property being at risk from sea-level rise. Major physical impacts of a rise in sea level include erosion of beaches, inundation of deltas as well as flooding and loss of many marshes and wetlands. Increased salinity will likely become a problem in coastal aquifers and estuarine systems because of saltwater intrusion.

Changes in Arctic ice patterns are also leading to more frequent extreme weather. In the past few years, such extreme weather has been seen particularly across the east coast of the USA, western Europe, and central Asia. These regions will continue to experience more extreme weather because of Arctic amplification, the enhanced sensitivity of high latitudes to global heating. Arctic ice melt has also been shown to distort the flow of and weaken the jet stream, resulting in more frequent periods of intense heat and ferocious cold.

There’s also evidence that the sound emitted from icebreakers is detrimental to marine animals, particularly whales and other large mammals. The sound interferes with their ability to communicate with their pods. Additionally, sound pollution likely has long-term effects that are difficult to predict.

Most of the Russian icebreaker fleet is nuclear-based due to the fuel costs of running an icebreaker. On average, an icebreaker working in regions with three-meter-thick ice uses more than 100 tons of fuel per day. However, nuclear icebreakers have obvious concerns as well. In fact, should an accident occur, the consequence would be as severe as the Chernobyl disaster and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill combined: devastating.

What Should Be Done?


Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers save on fuel costs, but flirt with disaster. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, GRIDArendal)

There is indeed much more research in support of the use of icebreakers than documented concern for the ships’ environmental impacts. Beneath the bias of growth, it’s clear that icebreakers are largely detrimental. By continuing to add more icebreakers into the Arctic and simultaneously ignoring the environmental consequences, we are making yet another mistake that could be avoided.

The best way to limit the use of icebreakers is by having Arctic nations sign a treaty. One of the main reasons for such large numbers of icebreakers is competition amongst the nations for control over the Arctic. This can be addressed in a treaty eliminating or significantly reducing the use of icebreakers. We’ve seen successful use of treaties in the Arctic through the Search and Rescue Agreement, so there’s no reason to suggest another one can’t be instated.

A potential treaty could manifest in many ways. One option is to divide the Arctic Sea into zones and designate certain zones as “no break zones,” where icebreaking would be illegal. This would allow nations to continue using icebreakers to a lesser extent while the international community monitors the environmental effects. With this option, zones could shift and change depending on weather and ice patterns.

An alternative could be a plan to phase out icebreaker ships over many years. This would allow nations to find other ways to accomplish important tasks that icebreakers achieve in the Arctic, such as search and rescue missions and scientific research.

However, before an anti-icebreaker treaty can be successful, there needs to be an international agreement on environmental protection in the Arctic. A common goal amongst Arctic nations must be concern for the environment, or we risk edging closer to a world in which the Arctic Sea looks like the Atlantic Ocean. Arctic nations must understand the impending doom that comes with breaking and melting Arctic ice. Once these nations take responsibility for protecting the Arctic environment, then an anti-icebreaker treaty can be developed and signed, and we can take one crucial step towards protecting the Arctic.

portrait of Johanna Cohn, environmental studies intern during spring 2022 at CASSE.Johanna Cohn is a spring 2022 environmental studies intern at CASSE, and a junior at American University majoring in environmental studies and political science.

The post Icebreakers in the Arctic: An Overlooked Environmental Concern appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

A New Model for OER Sustainability and Continuous Improvement

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/04/2022 - 12:30am in

I’ve been interested in sustainability models for OER for decades. (Longtime readers may recall that the research group I founded at Utah State University in 2003, the Open Sustainable Learning Opportunities group, became The Center for Open and Sustainable Learning in 2005, which I directed until I moved to BYU.) And for just as long, I’ve believed that there are useful lessons for us to learn on this topic from open source software – OER’s far more popular and influential sibling. The empirical work on the sustainability of open source software (e.g., Schweik and English, 2012) is significantly further along than anything in OER, and there have been many more interesting experiments in open source sustainability than in OER.

One of those experiments began in 1995 and was called the “Netscape Bugs Bounty” program:

The contest begins with the beta versions of Netscape Navigator 2.0 — available for Windows, Macintosh and X Window System operating environments — that are on the Internet today. As the rules will explain in detail, users who are the first to report a particular bug will be rewarded with various prizes depending on the bug class: users reporting significant security bugs as judged by Netscape will collect a cash prize; users finding any security bugs will win Netscape merchandise; and users finding other serious bugs will be eligible to win a choice of items from the Netscape General Store.

In other words, the program offered a reward or “bounty” to any user who could identify problems in Netscape Navigator 2.0 beta.

“We are continuing to encourage users to provide feedback on new versions of our software, and the Netscape Bugs Bounty is a natural extension of that process,” said Mike Homer, vice president of marketing at Netscape. “By rewarding users for quickly identifying and reporting bugs back to us, this program will encourage an extensive, open review of Netscape Navigator 2.0 and will help us to continue to create products of the highest quality.”

Bug bounty programs proved incredibly successful and have been adopted by many of the major creators of open source software. According to Wikipedia there are bug bounty programs at Mozilla, Google, Reddit, Square, Microsoft, and Facebook, among other companies and organizations.

Last week Lumen announced that we are revising and remixing the bug bounties idea as a way to engage a wider group of people in sustaining and improving OER. But before we could do that, we had to answer a few questions. Some of these questions were pretty straightforward to answer, while others required a little more creativity.

  1. What does “bug” mean in the context of OER? Because they’re educational materials – that’s the “E” – the primary job of OER is supporting learning. Inasmuch as that is true, a “bug” in OER would be some portion of the materials that don’t effectively support student learning.
  2. How would you find a bug in OER? This is exactly what RISE analysis is designed to do – use learning data in order to empirically identify the least effective parts of OER. (See this chapter for more about RISE analysis.)
  3. How would you fix a bug in OER? This has been perhaps the most fertile question to dig into, and has led me to a very rewarding insight which, for me personally, is of a similar magnitude to “education is sharing” and “openness facilitates the unexpected.” It’s this – “making changes is easy, but making improvements is hard.” By definition, anyone can make changes to OER. But do those changes result in OER that are merely different, or in OER that are better? And here we have, very helpfully, a clear definition of “better” – do the updated OER significantly improve student learning? This is an empirical question and can be answered objectively using a randomized controlled trial, or what in online circles is known as an A/B test.
  4. How would you incentivize a person to hunt for bugs in OER? Lumen can answer this question through RISE analyses. We’ll identify the “bugs” – the places where OER are less effective at supporting student learning – and share that list out.
  5. How would you incentivize a person to fix bugs in OER? The preferred method in higher education seems to be grants, and it makes sense for this effort to adopt that approach. RISE analysis is done at the individual learning outcome level, and a typical Lumen course has between 150 and 200 learning outcomes. So we’re talking about a grant that would fund the improvement of 1/150th of course – essentially a single topic in a single chapter.

The Improve It Challenge

Lumen’s Improve It Challenge is a grant program. Here’s how it works in a nutshell:

  • You choose from a list of ten less effective OER we’ve identified.
  • You write a very short (2 pages or less) grant application, describing the kinds of improvements you would make to the OER.
  • The top proposal for each OER is awarded $250 to make the proposed changes.
  • In the next semester, Lumen A/B tests your new version to see if it improves student learning.
  • People whose new version improves student learning receive a 10x bonus – $2500.

$2500 is what a lot of campuses pay faculty to write an entire textbook through OER mini-grant programs. With the Improve It Challenge, that same amount is available for revising / remixing a single topic – your revised OER just has to be more effective than what it’s designed to replace.

Our intention is for the Improve It Challenge to be an ongoing program with an open call twice each year – one with updated OER due in time for use in fall term, and another with updates due in time for use during spring term.

Check out last week’s official announcement of the Improve It Challenge on the Lumen website. And apply before May 31!

The Trophic Theory of Money, with Apologies to Peter Victor

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/04/2022 - 4:22am in
by Brian Czech

In my critical review of Peter Victor’s biography, Herman Daly’s Economics for a Full World, I focused on two major and several lesser weaknesses of the book. The two major weaknesses, in my opinion, are the confusion over GDP as an indicator of environmental impact, and the absence of CASSE in a book that, in many ways, CASSE helped make possible or at least more marketable. These two weaknesses turn out to be interrelated, as I’ll explain.

Portrait of Peter Victor

Peter Victor. (CCA)

But first, I must extend a sincere apology to Peter Victor. While I was left incredulous over the omission of CASSE, I overstepped the bounds of civility by speculating on a “fishy smell emanating from this biographic smorgasbord…[that] might emanate from a funding source, a competitive urge, a legacy-building strategy, or just a mere personal problem.” While I found myself fishing for reasons for the shocking omission of CASSE, it was irresponsible to invoke fish of such foul lineage. I ended up catching nothing for the effort but a bad case of flak. More importantly, the fishing expedition impugned Peter Victor’s character, and I regret doing that.

While “funding sources, competitive urges,” etc. do cause issues in the halls of academia, I have little reason to believe that such factors tainted the biography, especially after discussing the matter at some length with Victor. Rather, I have to acknowledge his explanation that he simply overlooked CASSE’s role in advancing and defending the work of Herman Daly. He knows the omission of CASSE was a mistake, lessening the quality of the biography and effectively damaging the reputation of CASSE. It happens to be an ironic mistake, to the extent that the biography was intended to advance the ideas of Herman Daly, particularly the steady state economy.

Steady State Economics: Bigger than Any Author

The phrase and concept of “steady state economy” is associated first and foremost with Herman Daly. I believe it always will be, and should be. What Adam Smith was to classical economics, or Alfred Marshall to neoclassical economics, Daly will be to steady-state economics. I, for one, will continue singing the praises of Daly, as I did in my chapter (“May There Be Dalyists”) of the Herman Daly festschrift.

It would be a grave mistake, however, to think everything written by Daly comprises the whole of steady-state economics, or that steady-state economics redounds exclusively to the writings of Daly. If such were the case, we could hardly expect the field to grow, much less flourish into a body of ever-evolving literature replete with timely political and policy relevance. What we need is not only Beyond Growth in the libraries, but “Beyond Daly” in the curriculum, politics, and policy. We need a supra-Dalyist steady-state economics that makes sense to all with an open mind and a sufficient conceptual toolkit.

In some ways, the world has passed us by in this endeavor (“us” referring to steady staters, starting with Daly). The linguistically efficient and rhetorically powerful “degrowth” has seemingly eclipsed “steady state economy” in the hearts and minds of sustainability-minded reformers. The eclipse has its technical merits; we need degrowth in the wealthy countries before a steady state economy can be sustainably settled into.

An image of binary planets coming into focus.

Degrowth and steady-state economics: binary planets coming into focus. (CC BY 4.0, International Gemini Observatory)

It needn’t be a total eclipse of the steady-state sun, however. A more virtuous metaphor would be that of binary planets, with degrowth and steady-state economics revolving around the existential gravity of limits to growth. The unifying slogan, then, would be “degrowth toward a steady state economy.”

Unfortunately, many European degrowthers seem to have developed something approaching disdain for the Dalyist vision of steady-state economics. They’ve thrown shade, exacerbating the eclipsing effect of the political Degrowth movement instead of brightening it with complementary steady statesmanship.

No doubt the aversive attitude is unwarranted—misplaced and unjust—and the perpetrators have been misleading with their portrayals of Daly. They’ve attempted to frame Daly as some apologist for capitalism, simply because he has recognized the market as a reasonable mechanism for the allocation of (rival and excludable) goods.

I learned a lesson with my ill-advised speculation over the possible motives of Peter Victor, so I’ll stop short of impugning the integrity or motives of the Daly critics in Europe. Perhaps in their idealistic zeal for social justice and economic reform, they spoke and wrote (in some of their cases) a bit too soon. It’s easy to empathize with that. That said, the Dalyist tradition of steady-state economics can’t be digested from a handful of tweets or a handful of papers. I’m not even sure it can be digested from a handful of years, unless those years are spent in focused steady-state economics, as in a graduate degree program uncensored by neoclassical faculty.

Cover of ecological economics second edition by herman daly and joshua farley.

Top choice for the Dalyist vision of steady-state economics. (Island Press)

The single best way to get started on a Dalyist education in steady-state economics is to carefully read Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications. It’s readily digestible by reasonably intelligent readers, including those without an economics background. It is a textbook, though, and if you can’t find the time, Beyond Growth is still a good bet. If you can’t squeeze that in, at least get the flavor of Daly’s writing and his thoughts on some of the biggest issues with Best of The Daly News: Selected Essays from the Leading Blog in Steady State Economics, 2010-2018. (The latter was the first book off the Steady State Press, CASSE’s imprint and a source for Dalyist and supra-Dalyist literature, hopefully for decades to come.) If you prefer listening to reading, you can hear what Daly thinks in his own words, on The Steady Stater podcast, about markets, capitalism, degrowth and the like. Getting it from the horse’s mouth is always preferable to secondhand accounts.

While it is important to clarify and defend the real Herman Daly—as CASSE has time and time again—the point remains that steady-state economics is not just Daly. Furthermore, while many of us (myself included) view Daly as an intellectual hero, hero worship is not a strategy for policy reform. Conceptually and politically, we need a supra-Dalyist program in steady-state economics, a program embracing the slogan “degrowth toward a steady state economy” as well as other contributions.

A Tragedy of the Uncommon

Just because steady-state economics should encompass more than Daly’s writings doesn’t mean much ground has yet been covered. Some of the usual suspects (for example, Phillip Lawn and Dan O’Neill) have provided perspectives and analyses clearly classifiable as steady-state economics. The contributions of European Degrowth Movement principals such as Giorgos Kallis and Timothée Parrique also ought to be considered so, even if they’ve largely eschewed the linguistics of “steady state economy.” As with any taxonomy, there are more ways than one of categorizing the literature and policy efforts of those addressing limits to growth. Parrique demonstrates this profusely in his Ph.D. dissertation, The Political Economy of Degrowth.

Peter Victor notes in Daly’s Economics some examples of scholarship that complement the steady-state writings of Daly. Unfortunately, given his overlooking of CASSE, he seems to also overlook certain CASSE activities and findings; quite a few of them, in my opinion. One of the most unfortunate results is that Victor leaves readers hanging about the relationship between GDP and environmental impact. This undermines the entire program of steady-state economics.

If we—steady staters, degrowthers, post-growthers at large—don’t recognize GDP as a reliable indicator of environmental impact, what separates us from the neoclassical economists we criticize? Sure, we might identify more negative externalities than they do. We might not buy into the “rising tide lifts all boats” metaphor. We might talk about the economy as a subset of the ecosystem. Yet, on the one crucial subject of how to manage GDP, the mother of all economic indicators, we find ourselves in the same conceptual and political place as the neoclassical growth economist! Our message becomes, without much twisting, “Don’t worry about GDP. We can figure out how to grow GDP while we protect the environment.”

Daly, Victor, and others have hedged their bets—our bets to the degree they would represent the field of steady-state economics—with the clever repartee, “OK, neoclassical policy maker, you think you can grow GDP without impacting the environment? Then let’s protect the environment, and you can grow the GDP all you want.” It’s a bit like the American Cancer Society attempting to rebuke the Seven Dwarves by telling the 103rd Congress, “OK, you think smoking isn’t cancerous? Then let’s protect against cancer, and you can allow all the smoking you want.”

As found in the context of Daly’s body of work, the “go for it” approach to GDP always seemed tongue in cheek, saving it from condemnation as a non sequitur per se, but it’s also been as useful as a rhino horn on a baby buggy. Furthermore, based on Victor’s assessment, there is little indeed in the writings of Daly to definitively establish the fact that GDP cannot be reconciled with environmental protection.

But there is in the supra-Dalyist steady-state literature, because that’s where we find the trophic theory of money (TTOM).

The Trophic Theory of Money and CASSE

I was shocked to hear, in the wake of my review of Daly’s Economics, the opinion of a colleague who thought the trophic theory of money “has not been a part of CASSE.” Aside from the irrelevance of such an opinion to the validity of the TTOM, any rumors of the apartness of the TTOM from CASSE would be greatly exaggerated. As the author of the TTOM and the founder of CASSE, presumably I should know!

One approach to the rumor would be to ignore it, but the rumoring colleague happens to be a significant presence in steady-state economics, so I take the rumor to be of some import. If it mattered to this colleague, I’m guessing it’s more relevant (albeit not to the validity of the TTOM) than I’d have guessed. So let’s take a trip down memory lane.

Screenshot of Google searchfor Seneca Sawmills

Seneca Sawmill scenes: generating money from the trophic base, perhaps unsustainably. (Notice the prominence of manufactured capital and lack of forest.)

The story of CASSE is largely a story of the trophic theory of money, the roots of which were set on the San Carlos Apache Reservation (east-central Arizona) in 1992. I tell the story in Supply Shock, how we (San Carlos Recreation and Wildlife Department) negotiated the sale of three elk tags for $43,000 apiece; a sale made possible because the reservation was known for the biggest elk antlers in the world. Two of the tags were purchased by the late Aaron Jones, who developed and owned Seneca Sawmill, one of the largest old-growth sawmills in the Pacific Northwest at the time. Two tags, in other words, fetched the tribe $86,000, unheard of even in the world of extreme trophy hunting.

For the current purposes, though, the take-home message isn’t that elk were “generating” money for the San Carlos Apache Tribe. Rather, it was the liquidation of old-growth stands of Douglas fir, western redcedar, and Sitka spruce that generated the money for Aaron Jones, who flew down to the reservation in a Leer jet piloted by “the other John Glenn,” Seneca Sawmill’s chief pilot. I guided Jones for part of his hunt, and the whole spectacle made an impression I’d never forget. None of it was more instructional, though, than the origin of all that money.

It struck me as an ecologist that the money originated at the trophic base of an ecosystem; namely the coastal forest of the Pacific Northwest. Ecologically, we were robbing Peter (not to be confused with Peter Victor) to pay Paul, a conundrum I discussed at length with John Stevens, a San Carlos Recreation and Wildlife commissioner who, as one of the most successful peridot miners in the USA and a member of the San Carlos Cattle Association, was continually active at the trophic base of the San Carlos economy. With the revenue from the elk tags, we bought out a cattle association grazing lease on the reservation, fencing out the cattle and devoting 6,200 acres to elk production, but only at the expense of Oregonian old-growth forest, spotted owls, marbled murrelets, etc. This observation—centered on trophic principles from ecology—helped lead me to the study of ecological economics (and my “discovery” of Herman Daly) during the latter stages of my Ph.D. research later that decade.

The trophic theory of money starts taking shape in Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train, a postdoctoral project of mine that was published by the University of California Press in 2000, shortly after I signed on as conservation biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. In 2001 I received my first gag order, prohibiting me from speaking about the conflict between economic growth and biodiversity conservation, including the trophic origins of money (which so clearly illuminate the conflict).

Pyramid illustrating the trophic structure of the economy.

Trophic structure of the human economy.

In 2003, frustrated by the gag order, I established CASSE, which allowed me to take leave from the government and wear a different professional hat at conferences, colleges, and universities. I was intent on touting the steady state economy and the name of Herman Daly, along with the nascent trophic theory of money. I drafted the CASSE position on economic growth (which was vetted by Daly and others) and began an aggressive campaign of signature gathering along with soliciting parallel positions by professional, scientific conservation societies such as The Wildlife Society, American Fisheries Society, Society for Conservation Biology, etc. The strategy was published in Bioscience.

Although the linguistic and conceptual progression from the “trophic structure of the human economy” (with the focus on the real sector) to the “trophic origins of money” (moving into the monetary sector) to the “trophic theory of money” (with the focus on GDP and money supplies as indicators of environmental impact) isn’t neatly demarcated, by 2009 CASSE featured an online briefing statement called “The Trophic Theory of the Economy,” and by early 2010 I published the first Daly News article on the “trophic theory of money” per se.

Since then, the TTOM has been a fixture at CASSE, in CASSE research projects, and in CASSE communications including presentations, books, the Daly News, Steady State Herald, The Steady Stater podcast, and social media, including YouTube. It’s as much a part of CASSE as the laws of thermodynamics or the concept of throughput. In fact, it builds upon said laws and concept, adding value such that a clear linkage between GDP growth and the growing ecological footprint can be clearly envisioned and diagrammed.

One critic has suggested that the TTOM, while correct, applies only to the evolutionary roots of money, but is irrelevant for thinking about modern monetary policy. My response is to invoke recapitulation theory from evolutionary ecology, summarized succinctly with the phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” Just as the development of a fetus in a placental mammal roughly mirrors an evolutionary pathway from a single-celled organism to the full-blown species, so does the trophic origin of money (that is, agricultural and extractive surplus) “authorize” the existence of real (meaning adjusted for inflation) money today. It’s not a perfect analogy, but metaphorically we might say, “Monetary ontogeny recapitulates monetary phylogeny.” The biggest difference is that recapitulation theory is shaky; not so with the TTOM.

You can judge for yourself, but I’ll conclude with a story—a lesson in epistemology no less—and challenge you to put yourself therein. You’re seated in a packed symposium on economic growth and fish conservation at the 2005 conference of the American Fisheries Society (AFS) in Anchorage, Alaska. A position on economic growth (modeled after the CASSE position) is being proposed for adoption by AFS. The speaker presents the position in a very deliberate manner, with one slide devoted to each of the 16 clauses. After each slide, he asks the audience if there is any disagreement. No disagreement adheres to the seven “whereas” clauses, so the presenter continues with the nine “therefore” clauses, including the “fundamental conflict between economic growth and fish conservation” clause. Again, no disagreement.

Next, in the discussion about AFS adopting the position—not a single clause of which has been disagreed with—three neoclassical economists complain vociferously that there must be something wrong, because there is no conflict between economic growth and fish conservation! You put on your psychotherapist hat and ponder the particular form of cognitive dissonance so bluntly displayed. End of story.

Now it’s true that a collection of phenomena can sometimes produce emergent properties; that is, subsequent, more sweeping phenomena that aren’t necessarily indicated by the “sum” of the lesser phenomena. Usually, though, any mystery is solved by the addition of lesser phenomena left out of the original collection. Wisdom might just boil down to parsimonious collecting of the relevant facts, as opposed to sophistic parceling of epicycles and equants designed to support a predetermined conclusion.

I’ll conclude with a challenge: Study the trophic theory of money as laid out most recently and see if you can find an invalid assumption or an unsound conclusion. If so, is it a fatal flaw, or something to be corrected conceptually? What is in most need of empirical corroboration? Does the TTOM supersede or counter any existing theories or concepts?

If the theory is sound, as I’ve diligently concluded, then we’re onto something. We have a contribution to a supra-Dalyist steady-state economics, one that gets us past the “Seven Dwarves Hump” of public policy futility. We can go straight to the policy table and call not only for “stabilizing throughput” (which might get us a wink and a prayer), but for stabilizing GDP itself, which will get us closer to stabilizing throughput than we’ve been in centuries.

That’s the mother lode of steady statesmanship.

Brian Czech, Executive Director of CASSEBrian Czech is the executive director of CASSE.

The post The Trophic Theory of Money, with Apologies to Peter Victor appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Book Review: Sustainable Finance in Europe edited by Danny Busch, Guido Ferrarini and Seraina Grünewald

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/04/2022 - 8:44pm in

In Sustainable Finance in Europe, editors Danny Busch, Guido Ferrarini and Seraina Grünewald bring together contributors to explore regulatory developments in sustainable finance in the European Union. This necessary book will enable readers to understand the latest regulatory activities in the context of growing global commitments to sustainability, writes Irina Bevza.

Sustainable Finance in Europe: Corporate Governance, Financial Stability and Financial Markets. Danny Busch, Guido Ferrarini and Seraina Grünewald (eds). Palgrave Macmillan.2021.

Sustainable Finance in Europe book coverSustainability means meeting our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (UN Brundtland Commission 1987). In other words, in our daily lives, we should consider ecological, social and economic limitations to secure the long-term prosperity of society. For example, to maintain environmental integrity, we need to ensure that natural resources are consumed at a rate where they can replenish themselves. Furthermore, social and economic integrity means that universal human rights and basic necessities are attainable by all people, with economic systems kept intact and activities such as secure sources of livelihoods made available to everyone.

In recent years, sustainability has become part of the global commitments promoted by regulators, corporations and citizens. In the European finance industry, in 2018 the European Commission introduced the Action Plan for Financing Sustainable Growth. This seeks to reorient capital flows towards sustainable investment; manage financial risks arising from climate change, environmental degradation and social issues; and foster long-termism in financial and economic activity.

In Sustainable Finance in Europe, editors Danny Busch, Guido Ferrarini and Seraina Grünewald have gathered views of academics and practitioners on the latest regulatory developments in sustainable finance in the European Union. While the rapid development of sustainable finance in the region is evident, there are many stumbling blocks in terms of implementation, driven by gaps and misalignments in regulation globally. This book offers contributions in various areas, including the fields of corporate governance and financial markets.

Plant growing out of pot of money

Image Credit: Photo by micheile .com on Unsplash

In ‘Sustainable Corporate Governance: The Role of the Law’, Alessio M. Pacces looks at sustainable finance through the lens of corporate governance and investigates the role that law plays in supporting sustainable developments. The intuition underlying sustainable finance is that individuals who care about sustainability prefer to invest in sustainable corporations. In practice, most individuals indirectly own shares via their pension savings plans and do not decide in which corporations to invest or how to vote on their shares. Institutional investors such as mutual or pension funds make such decisions on behalf of individuals.

Ownership of publicly held companies is concentrated in the hands of large institutional investors — for example, in the US and the UK the twenty largest investors own a majority of the capital of a typical company. Moreover, EU-based institutional investors are the second largest institutional investors in the world (161). Therefore, with such significant influence, these institutional investors can steer investee companies towards sustainability. They are well positioned to enact the sustainability preferences of the individuals whose investments they manage. However, these institutional investors might not do this because their own incentives may not align with the interests of these beneficiaries, thus creating an agency problem, or because beneficiaries may have different preferences for sustainability and disagree on how to foster it. Therefore, the obstacle for sustainable corporate governance is the alignment of institutional investors’ objectives with the environment-friendly preferences of their beneficiaries.

Pacces identifies two challenges to sustainable corporate governance: the transparency of institutional investor behaviour in relation to sustainability, as discussed above; and the clear specification of what is a sustainable investment in the context of particular activities. Practitioners need to have a usable and clear definition applied to sustainable investing that can be used consistently by everyone. When individuals meet their financial advisors and enquire about sustainability-oriented investment products, they should have a clear understanding of the investment products they will be putting their funds into, including how assets are selected for investment and how fiduciary duties are performed.

Pacces concludes that ‘the recent and upcoming EU law on standard sustainability indicators, transparency of voting behaviour, and disclosure of sustainable investment by institutional investors is likely to improve this incentive alignment, making institutional investors increasingly cater to the preferences of their beneficiaries for sustainability’ (174). The Revised Shareholder Right Directive (EU) 2017/828 established, on a comply-or-explain basis, the transparency of voting behaviour for all institutional investors. Taxonomy regulation (EU) 2020/852 introduced a legislative framework defining sustainable economic activities with reference to specified environmental objectives. However, ‘whether and to what extent sustainable corporate governance is compatible with the business model of different kinds of institutional investors remains to be seen’ (174).

In ‘Sustainability Disclosure in the EU Financial Sector’, Busch attempts to assess whether Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) (EU) 2019/2099 can successfully harmonise sustainability-related disclosure rules and fiduciary duties across EU member states, financial products and distribution channels. Harmonised sustainability-related disclosure rules are necessary for the comparability of different financial products and hence can further improve transparency and efficiency in the marketplace.

On the one hand, the SFDR offers uniform rules included in regulations, which will have direct effects, rather than in directives that would have to be transposed into national law to take effect within a member state’s national legal order. Thus, the SFDR could contribute to harmonisation by directly affecting entities falling under the regulation. On the other hand, the ‘comply-or-explain’ basis of the regulation means that entities may sometimes choose not to comply with certain sustainability disclosures as long as they provide an explanation. This can potentially negatively impact harmonisation. Ultimately, Busch concludes, ‘before we reach a sufficient degree of harmonisation of sustainability-related disclosure rules and fiduciary duties there is still a long way to go’ (442).

The rapid development in sustainable finance in the EU has been evident over the past few years and is changing the finance industry. Recent and upcoming EU regulations have had significant impact on market practitioners who have had to redefine their business models and incorporate requirements outlined by the regulations. As Pacces and Busch both conclude, although the regulations are promising, their impact is yet to be seen. But will all the hard work related to sustainable finance regulation lead to a more sustainable world? A continued discussion on sustainability is essential for regulators and practitioners to track whether their activities will answer this question. Sustainable Finance in Europe is necessary because it outlines current discussions on the subject and allows the reader to understand ongoing regulatory activities in the context of global commitments to sustainability.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

 

Game On or Game Over for the Environment?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/04/2022 - 1:14am in
by Mai Nguyen

In January 2022, Microsoft announced that the company planned to buy the videogame company Activision Blizzard for almost $70 billion, giving it control of franchises like Call of Duty, Candy Crush, and World of Warcraft. This signaled to the world the potential of gaming for the tech industry’s pursuit of speedier growth despite technology being an already high-demand industry.

Activision Blizzard sign at gaming convention.

Microsoft bought Activision Blizzard, usurping many profitable franchises, most notably Call of Duty. (CC BY-SA 3.0, Dinosaur918)

I understand the appeal of video games; I own a couple of consoles, and I keep up with the latest gaming news. While many dismiss them as a waste of time, video games are a medium that enable us to tell incredible stories in a way that movies or books can’t quite replicate. They provide a level of interactivity and customizability that allows the player to immerse themselves in a grand story. I’ve fought to protect my family from Japanese crime society in Yakuza and lived my fantasy life as the homeowner of a castle in The Sims. And just like any other hobby, fans can find communities centered around their favorite games.

But while video games flaunt a unique (and at times addicting) charm, with every growing industry is a dark side of depleting resources.

Growth of the Industry

Video games have come a long way since their simple beginnings, starting with a simple tic-tac-toe game in 1952 before ballooning to a billion-dollar industry. Later, the 70s and 80s brought the release of several milestone game consoles like the Atari 2600 and the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). In 1989, Sega released the Genesis to compete against the NES, triggering the first “console war” and the release of scores of popular games for both consoles.

At the end of 2021, Newzoo reported 2.95 billion gamers worldwide and predicted 3 billion by 2023. The market for video games has only grown in the past few years, thanks partially to the pandemic. As time at home increased, so did new hobbies. From 2019 to 2020, the number of U.S. console gamers increased by 6.3 percent and console sales surged 155 percent worldwide by March 2020.

Nintendo sold more than 14.3 million units of its Nintendo Switch console during the pandemic, likely due to the release of the relaxing life-simulator game Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Similarly, PlayStation experienced an 83 percent boom in game sales in the first quarter of 2020, 74 percent of which were digital downloads.

The Internet has played a large part in video game success, and not just because of online play. The Internet made it possible to play video games as a profession, not just a hobby. YouTube videos, especially “Let’s Play” videos, made it possible for viewers to experience games they were unsure about buying, often with comedic commentary. YouTuber PewDiePie spent 2013 to 2015 as the most subscribed YouTuber thanks to his Let’s Play content and continues today with 111 million subscribers.

esports

Gaming: once merely a hobby, now a global “esport” phenomenon. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Maxime FORT)

Twitch also played a significant role in shaping the gaming industry by allowing viewers to interact with their favorite gamers in real time, from voting on how the streamer will play a game to sending direct messages. YouTube, too, has a streaming feature. Polygon reports that YouTube streamers put in 54.9 million hours of content in 2020, versus 55.4 million hours in 2019. Don’t let the slight decline in total content fool you, though. Viewership nearly doubled to 6.19 billion hours in 2020 from 3.15 billion in 2019.

Esports, or competitive video games, is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, with a total audience of 335 million in 2017 rising to 645 million in 2022. The growth of esports and their viewership means more energy and resource consumption required for gaming equipment. Hardware companies encourage customers to invest in the most powerful parts in the market, from processors to entire PCs, a strategy many believe drove the industry to a $1.5 billion value in 2017. And while esports are still a relatively small source of revenue for the gaming industry, BITKRAFT predicts that figure will grow with the introduction of new competitive games.

Today, the gaming industry has at least a $175 billion value (BITKRAFT suspects it’s even bigger), but it could more than double by 2028 as the industry takes advantage of the increasingly widening platform offered by mobile gaming.

A Look inside the Game Case

While the gaming industry has internal issues like the lax attitude towards toxic workplace culture, beefing up the industry spells out something even more ominous for the environment.

Like cell phones, with the hype of each new-generation console, there lies a danger of gamers trashing old consoles for the new model. As of 2022, Nintendo sold 103.5 million Switches. PlayStation sold 116.9 million PS4s, and PS5 consoles braved shortages and hit 17.3 million sales. Of course, these shiny new models come at an ecological cost. To conduct electricity, consoles depend on mined materials including copper, nickel, gold, and zinc. The circuit board and other parts are tucked into a plastic case, which is formed from crude oil and natural gas.

There is more room for customizability with PC gaming. Gamers can buy prebuilt computers with their desired specs, or they can build one themselves. In both cases, however, gamers tend to go for the parts with the most powerful specs. These components require huge amounts of power, with some GPUs using over 300 watts in a ten-minute test run. Such excessive energy consumption is also exacerbated by incredibly tight release dates between new parts. The GPU giant Nvidia consistently releases components collections several times a year.

Nintendo has launched initiatives for recycling hardware and complying with e-waste regulations, but recycling should never be our first resort to solve the waste problem. While e-waste recycling seems like the obvious step to making the industry sustainable, the current state of e-waste recycling has a host of problems. In the formal recycling process, waste is mechanically separated and shredded for further sorting by hand. To avoid the costs of adhering to safety and pollution-control regulations in the USA, companies often export the waste to developing countries for informal recycling. At these workshops, workers recover valuable metals by burning away the plastic devices, leading to hazardous conditions and increased emissions.

Photo of a dumping site for e-waste, which includes video game consoles, PCs, and other hardware.

Old consoles and PCs get dumped for the newest tech, resulting in considerable e-waste. (CC BY 2.0, Curtis Palmer)

However, nowadays, next-gen gaming is taking on a sleeker look with digital downloads and cloud gaming. But while gaming is moving away from physical game discs, experts say that digital services won’t be the cure-all to gaming-related emissions. Gaming represents 34 terawatt-hours of energy and 24 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year, equivalent to 85 million refrigerators. Cloud-based game subscriptions like Google Stadia or PlayStation Now, which allow players to stream from an online library of games to their device, are highly demanding of servers. These subscription services allow users to stream games from huge data centers, which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build, are extremely energy-intensive, and take up almost as much space as ten football fields, all while producing tremendous amounts of heat.

The increased use of centralized technology will pressure game companies to consistently stay up-to-date on the latest equipment, which could contribute even more to the e-waste problem. One study found that cloud-based gaming requires significantly more energy per hour than similarly powerful local gaming equipment.

Video Games for Good

On the bright side, many of the thousands of video games in existence have environmental messages. You can fight as Cloud Strife against the evil Shinra Electric Power Company in Final Fantasy VII, or run renewable energy projects in Sims 4’s Eco Lifestyle pack. You can even explore Central Park through the eyes of a bee and defend your hive from humans in Bee Simulator. Games like these help spread environmental awareness and push the world towards sustainability in a way that no advertisement campaign can; at least, the UN believes so.

Mirai is the protagonist of E-Line Media’s educational underwater diving adventure game Beyond Blue, inspired by the BBC nature docuseries Blue Planet II. The player guides Mirai, leader of a deep-sea research team, as they investigate whales and sea turtles and uncover the secrets of the deep. Alan Gershenfeld, co-founder of E-Line Media, told DW, “The more gamers care about the ocean, the more they want to explore the ocean, avocational or as a career. I believe, that’s the key towards ocean preservation.”

In Eco, players must collaborate to use natural resources to build a civilization and develop the technology to destroy a planet-threatening asteroid. The game gives the players the option to build governments and economies, and each of the players’ decisions has the potential to benefit or harm the environment. Eco is currently still in development and is available for early access, but it already has thousands of positive reviews lauding the game’s teamwork mechanics under its belt.

Knowing minds like this exist in the game industry makes me optimistic, especially considering the growing number of gamers worldwide. And with the industry becoming more mainstream, it’s important that these gamers come to terms with the industry’s flaws and strive to become a force for good.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Even if game companies were to wholly commit to environmental protection, the fact remains that gamers never want to buy the least-powerful equipment. These game systems are incredible, and the games look and feel as fun as they do thanks to the massive amounts of resources required to make them. Perpetual growth of any industry can never be sustainable. However, we can also tell that video games aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

To tackle this issue, we can find gaming’s steady-state potential by focusing on increasing our hardware’s lifespan instead of buying more than we need. While next-gen system release dates largely line up with the end of the predecessor’s lifespan, backwards compatibility between consoles is a rare sight; you can’t play your PS3 games on your new PS4. Providing ways to play older games and extending the life of consoles seem like good first steps.

Digital stores like My Nintendo Store and PlayStation Store offer libraries of classic games, not to mention the new games in development for older consoles. However, whether it’s buying a console or building a PC, it’s tempting to give in to upgrade trends and buy the latest, most powerful innovation in gaming technology. But you don’t necessarily need the very best specs and up-to-date tech to have a quality gaming experience. You’ll survive without a 4K-capable graphics card and butter-smooth frame rates; it’ll be easier on your wallet as well.

But scaling back on new gaming purchases is just one part of the solution. We can also take notes from games like Beyond Blue and Eco by actively using the medium to spread the word about sustainability and steady-state economics. CASSE developed Limits to Growth, a playground game that introduces kids to fairness and sustainability in the context of steady-state economics. To the play the game, players go through rounds within their individual houses, represented by a hula hoop, and one planet represented by a rope. In each round, players have the option to “upgrade” their house by adding another hula hoop. Once the planet is filled up with hula hoops, some students might “die.” This is a fun and easy way to teach children about the foundations of steady-state economics, but developing a limits to growth video game could bring it to the next level.

What if CASSE Joined the Game?

The multiplayer open-world survival genre with sandbox elements is the perfect playground for bringing the message to life. Imagine starting in a virtual world much like our Earth, except it’s completely untouched by human civilization. The virtual Limits to Growth game (perhaps Stable Planet has a catchier ring) begins with choosing the biome—aquatic, grassland, forest, desert, or tundra—where the game will take place. While exploring, players can observe and learn about the biodiversity of their chosen environment. Players may catch lion cubs play-fighting in a savanna, gawk at Galápagos penguins gliding through cool waters, or admire the crystal-blue sky occupied by a V-formation of geese. Players are simply dropped into the colorful, virtual world with nothing but a few basic tools (like a hatchet, bow and arrows, and fishing rod) in their inventories, and they must find food and build shelter to survive.

Mockup Xbox game cover for the hypothetical game "Stable Planet" inspired by CASSE's position on economic growth.

Mockup game cover for Stable Planet. Do you have what it takes to create a sustainable civilization?

Like in Eco, players live together in a civilization server and make decisions that impact the world around them, from hunting a single deer to clearing out a forest for a village. While collaboration is encouraged, individual players may choose (or not) to build and upgrade their own homes at the expense of natural resources like timber and fisheries. Certain upgrades require more advanced tools, which call for even more raw materials.

Players can eventually vote to build communal structures, such as a power plant for electricity or ports for trade with visiting non-player characters (NPCs) representing different civilizations. Of course, these major upgrades require substantial resources; the gamer sees these resources decline in quantity and quality. Open-world games like Minecraft encourage players to grind away at virtually infinite resources like wood and stone, but Stable Planet would make it clear that resources, including occupiable space, are finite or not quickly renewable.

In the game, with each collective and individual decision, consequences to GDP and the environment follow. The server’s GDP appears as a scoreboard overlaying each player’s screen. The number starts at zero and stays a cool green color until players’ economic activities proliferate. This is a major mechanic in the game, as it may—and eventually should—serve as a driving force for players’ decisions.

One group of players may decide to chase a high GDP and expand production far beyond sustainable, survivable levels. In this case, GDP continuously grows on the scoreboard, with digits increasing on a spinning meter (similar to the CASSE website). If players’ choices lead to furious growth, the scoreboard’s visuals would intensify, the number pulsing red with sparks flying off the board. Some players may interpret this as a good thing. After all, a booming economy is a healthy economy, right?

The state of the environment, however, reflects that high GDP in a different light. To expand iron trading, for example, players may build a huge plant to make mining easier, but a host of environmental consequences ensue; emissions visibly cloud the air and players’ health bars gradually deteriorate, lands lose arability, and wildlife species recede into extinction. While players may simply choose to move their settlement someplace else on the map, the “open” world is not infinite; this process can only be repeated so many times before they run out of space. With nowhere else to go, players die one by one from starvation or illness.

On the other hand, smart players may decide to manage GDP differently. They have the option of building a civilization based on what’s needed to survive. Instead of perpetual building, they can spend more time playing with friends and family, or joining other players in “town hall” meetings. GDP growth will slow, with the scoreboard once again emanating a cool green glow.

One civilization may enjoy an abundance of high-tech toys and a sky-high GDP—with all the problems that come with it—but yours can enjoy the bounty of nature and other pleasures of a good life. Like many open-world games, Stable Planet has no definite end, and instead encourages players to explore different ways to interact with their environment and other players, for better or for worse.

Mai Nguyen, editorial intern for Spring 2022 at CASSE.Mai Nguyen is the Spring 2022 editorial intern at CASSE, and a junior at George Washington University.

The post Game On or Game Over for the Environment? appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Signs of LIFE: Assessing the European LIFE Programme

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 05/02/2022 - 5:20am in
by Adel Ramdani

In November 2021, the European Commission approved an investment package of €290 million to support 132 new environmental projects through L’Instrument Financier pour l’Environnement, or the “LIFE” programme. LIFE is designed to help reach the environmental goals outlined in the EU Green Deal, and it’s the only EU funding programme entirely dedicated to environmental, climate, and clean energy objectives. With certain adjustments, it could be more aligned with steady-state principles.

What is the LIFE Programme?

Environmental finance is crucial for fulfilling the goals of the EU Green Deal, including Europe’s goal of becoming climate-neutral by 2050. Fortunately, the EU has a long-standing commitment to financial assistance for environmental protection. In the late 1980s, for example, Europeans shocked by the devastating effects of the Chernobyl catastrophe called for more action on environmental protection. Other issues, including ozone layer deterioration over the poles and climate change, prompted further EU action. Finally, in 1992 the EU adopted an all-encompassing fund for the environment, the aptly named LIFE programme.

From 2014 to 2020, LIFE had a €3.4 billion budget divided into two major sub-programmes, one for environment (comprising 75 percent of the programme) and one for climate action (comprising 25 percent). LIFE’s funding has since increased to €5.4 billion to be spent between 2021 and 2027 for the following areas:

Chernobyl disaster monument

The Chernobyl catastrophe monument and immediate action following the disaster are a testament to the EU’s dedication to environmental protection. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Matt Shalvatis)

  • Nature and biodiversity
  • Circular economy and quality of life
  • Climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Clean energy transition

The Nature and Biodiversity sub-programme focuses on the protection and restoration of nature throughout Europe to stop (and to the extent possible reverse) biodiversity loss. It supports projects that help implement the EU Birds and Habitats directives and achieve the objectives of the EU’s biodiversity strategy for 2030, as outlined in the EU Green Deal.

The Circular Economy and Quality of Life sub-programme aims at “facilitating the transition toward a sustainable, circular, toxic-free, energy-efficient, and climate-resilient economy” and “protecting, restoring and improving the quality of the environment, either through direct interventions or by supporting the integration of those objectives in other policies.” Specifically, this sub-programme includes projects aimed at recovering resources from industrial and agricultural waste, as well as recycling materials from discarded and out-of-date goods. Additionally, it establishes environmental governance authorities to execute these programs smoothly and expediently.

The Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation sub-programme administers the shift towards a “sustainable and resilient economy.” For climate change mitigation, LIFE supports projects pertaining to farming, land use, peatland management, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. For adaptation purposes, the sub-programme focuses on urban land-use planning, infrastructure resilience, flood management, and coastal planning in the face of sea-level rise.

Lastly, the Clean Energy Transition sub-programme focuses specifically on the renewable energy transition. The fund goes towards coordination and support efforts, and engages local authorities, nonprofit organizations, and consumers in the clean energy transition.

Given its size, budget, and mandate, LIFE should not be underestimated in its potential to shape a sustainable Europe. LIFE takes a comprehensive and integrated approach to climate change by simultaneously targeting energy, climate change mitigation, and the economy. However, by analyzing specific projects we realize that LIFE fails to bridge the gap between financing environmental initiatives and reforming the economic system that causes environmental deterioration.

Case Study: Fish Conservation in Marine Ecosystems

Overfishing is one of the greatest drivers of declining ocean wildlife populations. The EU’s fishing policy aims to address the problem of catching fish faster than stocks can replenish. The number of overfished stocks has tripled in 50 years, and one-third of assessed fisheries are depleted beyond biological limits. Therefore, the EU has financed several conservation projects to improve the status of fish species “from unfavourable to favourable.” LIFE is financing local partners to eliminate or mitigate major threats, restock rivers, improve habitat quality, and update fishing regulations.

Another key target of LIFE-funded projects is the Mediterranean seafloor, where human activities (like trawling) have dramatically reduced biodiversity. The EU has funded the LIFE ECOREST project, coordinated by the Spanish Institute of Marine Sciences, to restore the natural condition of seafloor habitats off the Catalan coast impacted by fishing activities. Among other measures, the project intends to restore no-take zones (through habitat restoration and fish restocking) over the continental shelf, an action that should “return 75,000 individual organisms into the sea.”

These promising projects are only a few of the more than 5,000 projects already co-financed by LIFE to date. But, with so many projects and money invested in the environment, why don’t we see significant progress towards the expected changes? According to the European Environmental Agency (EEA), Europe will not achieve its 2030 climate and energy targets “without urgent action during the next 10 years.” Meanwhile the agency argues that European biodiversity remains the biggest area of “discouraging progress.”

Limits of LIFE

Many argue that the biggest challenges to fish conservation are outdated fishing regulations and increased international trade. While those factors play a key role in the degradation of marine life, the increasing  water pollution and invasive species have been just as damaging. Yet the ultimate factors are the growth of the human population and its consumption: that is, economic growth. Although LIFE addresses some of the consequences of our economic activity on commercial fishing, the program falls short of tackling the root of the problem—the economic system itself.

LIFE funds projects believed to advance the EU Green Deal goal of achieving “economic growth decoupled from resource use.” In fact, a significant portion of LIFE and the larger Green Deal is devoted to projects supposedly congruent with a circular, zero-waste economy  of “sustainable growth.” But, the second law of thermodynamics, the entropy law, stipulates that a zero-waste economy is impossible, and decoupling growth from resource consumption is likely a hopeless fantasy. So why are we expending more energy and consuming more resources for such a doomed pursuit?

"Greenwash Detected" protest sign

Climate activists beware buzzwords like “decoupling,” “zero-waste,” and “sustainable growth.” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Mike Langridge)

If the LIFE programme is to truly make a difference in economic and ecological matters, it must be informed by limits to growth. The issue of aquifer depletion, for instance, is linked with agricultural demand and urban development (including the proliferation of manufacturing and service sectors), meaning protection of marine ecosystems cannot be achieved without addressing the broader economic system.

Limits to growth is not a new debate in Brussels, where many EU institutions are seated. Eric Heymann and Norbert Walter have already explained that it’s “possible to have a higher standard of living—including a clean environment—for everyone, while at the same time consuming less resources and respecting the wellbeing of future generations.” But, reducing consumption won’t happen until policymakers acknowledge the fallacy of endless economic growth and the shortcomings of our debt-based economic system when developing policy.

A key strength of LIFE is indeed its bottom-up approach, solidly grounded in its willingness to finance local and community-driven projects. However, we will not reach the transformational change we require by focusing solely on such initiatives. While these projects are profoundly necessary, we need a bold, systemic change in our economic paradigm to adequately address the climate and ecological crises.

The post Signs of LIFE: Assessing the European LIFE Programme appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

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