Posts Tagged ‘rob hopkins’
by stuartbramhall in Going Non-Corporate, Sustainability, The Global Economic Crisis
Much of the work that went into the Voluntary Simplicity and Y2K movements (see prior blogs) has been incorporated into Transition Towns and other sustainability-related movements. There are now literally millions of groups worldwide focused on some aspect of bioregional sustainability. The most visible evidence of their success are the blossoming of home veggie gardens, urban community gardens and orchards and farmers’ markets; the 1,040 cities and towns (nearly 1/3 of the US population) which have signed onto the Kyoto accord; and the 125 communities voting to place citizens’ above corporate rights (see http://www.tikkun.org/article.php/jan2011kanner).
One of the most important factors in this success is the ability of the sustainability movement to address apathy and alienation head-on, by reengaging people in neighborhood and community life. For many people, local civic engagement leads on to re-engagement in the political process. I would never argue that progressives should focus on local community building to the exclusion of critically needed government reforms. Corporate lobbies still have the ability to overturn local and state laws in the courts by claiming that they violate alleged constitutional rights. Thus organizing to end so-called constitutional protections for corporations (which clearly run contrary to the intent of the founding fathers) – either through federal legislation or constitutional amendment (www.movetoamed.org) must be an extremely high priority. At the same time, I see the neighborhood and community sustainability networks playing a pivotal role in building strong grassroots lobbies to tackle banking reform, restoring of civil liberties or ending the wars in the Middle East.
The Basics of Sustainability Organizing
Sustainability-related work can be broken down into concrete, achievable steps, which also lends to its appeal. In preparing for the End of the World as We Know it, Y2K activists predicted local communities would need to prepare for breakdowns in the following services:
- Global commerce (food imports being the most crucial)
- Water and energy utilities
- Waste removal systems
- Telecommunications, Internet and mass media
- Financial institutions
- Transportation systems
- Governance and government services
- Health Care
- Institutions and agencies responsible for education, justice, manufacturing and security
In most places, organizers have found it easiest to begin with food, water and energy security – in part because they are most critical to human survival. However the bioregional economic network established as a first step in addressing food, water and energy security can also be used to prepare for breakdowns in other systems. For 99.9% of human existence people have relied on a bioregional economic model in which they have sourced the vast majority of their food and other essentials for life within a 100 mile radius. The process of re-creating this network is very helpful in learning to shift our thinking away from relying on national and multinational corporations to meet our needs.
Although the sustainability movement receives little attention in the mainstream media, it has it has been quietly building for nearly two decades – often with the support of state and local government (it receives the most state support in California). In Europe it receives national and EU support. The following is just a small snapshot of local accomplishments around energy, food and water security.
FOOD AND WATER SECURITY
- Increased local expertise in permaculture and biointensive agriculture techniques, as industrial fertilizers and insecticides (manufactured from fossil fuels) become unavailable and/or prohibitively expensive.
- De-paving – digging up private and public driveways and parking lots and replacing them with backyard veggie gardens and community orchards and gardens. In addition to improving food security, this restores watersheds by reducing run-off, a major threat to water security in the industrial world.
- Lawn liberation – replacing lawns and ornamental trees and shrubs with fruit and nut trees and veggie gardens.
- Support of local farmers through farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture Schemes (in which residents “subscribe” to weekly deliveries of fresh veggies and fruit).
- Neighborhood and municipal systems of rainwater collection and purification and gray water collection
- Adoption of active run-off management plans, in which lost groundwater is measured and minimized in development planning – and replaced, for example via the Blue Alternative (in which groundwater is replaced by digging small catchment pools in open spaces).
- Reduced fossil fuel dependence in transportation:
o Beginning work to create local consumer-farmer/consumer-retailer networks, including state and locally owned banks, credit unions and cooperatives. Given that local businesses struggle to compete (their costs and prices tend to be higher) with national and multinational corporations, this can be facilitated via the creation of local barter systems (example from Greece at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12223068) and/or local currencies, such as Ithaca hours, that can only be spent locally.
o Community and municipal initiatives to increase public and active transport (cycling and walking) through urban planning that incorporates growth management and sprawl reduction, creation of urban villages where residents live closer to essential services, and restricted permiting of malls and big box retailers (Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia are excellent examples).
o Community and neighborhood street reclaiming initiatives to make streets safer for people to use cars less and walk and cycle more.
o Increased uptake of car sharing schemes, employing efficient electric or hybrid vehicles or those run on regionally produced biomass fuels.
- Reduced home/business fossil fuel dependence:
o State, local and power company subsidies for home insulation schemes and solar water heaters.
o Subsidies and reduced permit fees for Green Building (buildings purpose-built to be energy/water/waste self-sufficient).
o State and local regulations and subsidies (as per German model) to increase distributed energy systems based on alternate energy sources (solar, wind, tidal, etc).
o Active promotion of Open Source computer and information technology.
by stuartbramhall in Sustainability, The Global Economic Crisis
- This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time.
- Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy. Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.
- In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker’s Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects: first, it is slightly cheaper; and secondly it has the words DON’T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover. (Introduction to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams)
It’s old news by now. The global climate change conference in Cancun in December was a failure, just like the Copenhagen climate change conference in December 2009. In contrast to Copenhagen, Cancun rated hardly any mention in the mainstream media. As if failure was a foregone conclusion. Sadly, as each successive climate summit ends in disaster, hopes for an international climate treaty diminish substantially.
The governments that attended Cancun all know, by now, that to prevent catastrophic climate change (around 2050) developed countries must cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2030 – while developing countries limit emissions growth to comparable targets. Achieving these targets will require ending all auto and plane transport, closing all coal-fired power plants and insulating all homes and businesses.
US Responsibility in the Disaster at Cancun
The climate treaty the world hoped for didn’t happen, largely owing to the refusal of the Obama administration to buy into the major cuts he must know are needed. Partly because the US, like all developed and developing countries, is largely controlled by multinational corporations that make immense profits off car and plane travel – and war – one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions. But also because American voters are deeply attached to cars, plane travel, and energy guzzling home and electronic appliances that create demand for coal fired power plants.
My personal view is that our current attachment to cars and air travel is a bad habit bordering on addiction. Even climate change activists who ought to know better have difficulty cutting back their car and plane trips. I’m trying to start a 12-step program, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous, but it doesn’t seem to be catching on. Owing to the absence of affordable, reliable public transport alternatives, people who need cars for work or to access basic services can’t give them up. More importantly, one million individuals giving up their cars isn’t going to prevent catastrophic climate change – given that auto emissions only constitute 1/3 of greenhouse gasses. There has to be a simultaneous agreement to eliminate air travel and coal fired plants, as well as ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the US nuclear program and closing 1,000 foreign bases. If the Pentagon were a country, it would rate as the second largest producer of carbon emissions (see http://www.iacenter.org/o/world/climatesummit_pentagon121809/).
Such large scale changes require buy-in from the federal government. And despite all his campaign rhetoric, the best Obama can commit to is a 20% cut by 2020.
Are We Focused on the Wrong Crisis?
Richard Heinberg, Rob Hopkins (founder of the Transition Towns movement) and others believe we should be much more worried about resource scarcity (oil, natural gas, coal, uranium, water, top soil) than climate change – that this will cause an end to the world as we know it long before catastrophic climate change does. Because our modern system of industrial agriculture is only possible with plentiful, cheap oil (for farm machinery, transportation and shipping) and cheap natural gas (used to manufacture synthetic fertilizers), the end of cheap fossils fuels translates into a big increase into the cost off food production and a reduction in the amount of food produced. In fact, this is already starting to play out with the UN and relief agencies describing December 2010 as the worst month on record for global food insecurity (a record number of people unable to afford food). This was in part due to extreme weather events in Russia, Pakistan, Australia, China and elsewhere that drastically reduced grain production.
Eventually, Heinberg predicts, fossil fuels and synthetic fertilizers will become so expensive, world food production will decline to pre-industrial levels long before catastrophic climate change kicks in. Pre-industrial agricultural methods can only support a world population of 2 billion people. According to my math, this means we are looking at a potential die-off (famine, war, disease) of 5 billion (with current global population of 7 billion), unless we think of something fast.
To be continued, with a discussion of how sustainability activists are attempting to confront this dilemma. Remember, DON’T PANIC.