Monday, June 30, 2008

Change in thinking

  1. Change in thinking - Introduction
    Systems thinking is the philosophy for the next economy. This is the introduction to the Change in Thinking video.

  2. Change in thinking - New Economic Age
    What analytic thinking did for the industrial revolution, systems thinking will do for the next economy. Ron Davison narrates the impact of a change in thinking on society and production.

  3. Change in thinking - Intellectual Capital

  4. Change in thinking - Learning

  5. Change in thinking - Disovering Systems Thinking

  6. Change in thinking - Systems Thinking
    Systems thinking mirrors ecological thinking - looking at the context for problems and situations, treating them as emergent rather than isolated. It involves a sensitivity to wholes that is missing in analytical thinking.

  7. Change in thinking - Leadership
    Leaders dealing with systems -- that is, any leader of an organization or community - need to begin adopting systems thinking.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Waste = Food (documentary)

  • An inspiring documentary on the Cradle to Cradle design concept of the chemist Michael Braungart and the architect William McDonough. Winner of the Silver Dragon at the Beijing International Science Film Festival 2006.

    OUTLINE: Man is the only creature that produces landfills. Natural resources are being depleted on a rapid scale while production and consumption are rising in na­tions like China and India. The waste production world wide is enormous and if we do not do anything we will soon have turned all our resources into one big messy landfill. But there is hope. The German chemist, Michael Braungart, and the American designer-architect William McDonough are fundamentally changing the way we produce and build. If waste would become food for the biosphere or the technosphere (all the technical products we make), produc­tion and consumption could become beneficial for the planet. A design and production concept that they call Cradle to Cradle. A
    concept that is seen as the next industrial revolution.

    • Design every product in such a way that at the end of its lifecycle the component materials become a new resource.

    • Design buildings in such a way that they produce energy and become a friend to the environment.

    Large companies like Ford and Nike are working with McDonough and Braun­gart to change their production facilities and their products. They realize that economically seen waste is destruction of capital. You make something with no value. Based on their ideas the Chinese government is working towards a circular economy where Waste = Food.

    An amazing story that will definitely change your way of thinking about production and consumption. Director Rob van Hattum Research Gijs Meijer Swantee Production Karin Spiegel en Madeleine Somer Editors in Chief Doke Romeijn en Frank Wiering © VPRO 2006.

  • Green Technology with DrGurminder Singh

Friday, June 27, 2008

Environmental documentary: Planet Earth (online watching)

  1. Planet Earth - BBC TV series

    Wikipedia: Planet Earth is an Emmy Award and Peabody Award-winning BBC nature documentary series narrated by David Attenborough and produced by Alastair Fothergill. It was first broadcast in the UK from 5 March 2006. The American version is narrated by Sigourney Weaver.

    The series was co-produced with Discovery Channel and the NHK in association with the CBC, and was described by its makers as "the definitive look at the diversity of our planet". It was also the first of its kind to be filmed entirely in high-definition.[1] The series was nominated for the Pioneer Audience Award for Best Programme at the 2007 BAFTA TV awards.

  2. CNN Environmental Coverage, Special Report - Planet in Peril

    In 2007, CNN took viewers around the world in "Planet in Peril," a four-hour documentary that examined our changing planet. This year, the worldwide investigation continues weekly on Anderson Cooper 360, culminating in a new special program in the fall, "Planet in Peril: Battle Lines," hosted by CNN's Anderson Cooper, chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and National Geographic host and "The Oprah Winfrey Show" correspondent Lisa Ling.

  3. National Geographic: Strange Days on Planet Earth

    Around the globe, scientists are racing to solve a series of mysteries. Unsettling transformations are sweeping across the planet, and clue by clue, investigators around the world are assembling a new picture of Earth, discovering ways that seemingly disparate events are connected.

    Crumbling houses in New Orleans are linked to voracious creatures from southern China. Vanishing forests in Yellowstone are linked to the disappearance of wolves. An asthma epidemic in the Caribbean is linked to dust storms in Africa. Scientists suspect we have entered a time of global change swifter than any human being has ever witnessed. Where are we headed? What can we do to alter this course of events?

    National Geographic's Strange Days on Planet Earth, premiering in Spring 2005 on PBS, explores these questions. Drawing upon research being generated by a new discipline, Earth System Science (ESS), the series aims to create an innovative type of environmental awareness. By revealing a cause and effect relationship between what we as humans do to the Earth and what that in turn does to our environment and ecosystems, the series creates a new sense of environmental urgency. Award-winning actor, writer and director Edward Norton (Primal Fear, American History X, Italian Job) hosts the series. A dedicated environmental activist, Norton has a special interest in providing solar energy to low income families. Each of the four one-hour episodes is constructed as a high-tech detective story, with the fate of the planet at stake.

The Olduvai theory and catastrophic consequences

Thanks to La Maguerite

The Olduvai theory and catastrophic consequences‘, a paper by James Leigh in Energy Bulletin, paints a very scary picture of what awaits us if we do nothing to prepare for the times ahead.

Will be wise enough and follow James Leigh’s recommendation?

. . . to cooperatively take urgent steps to ameliorate this looming situation and prepare for how we will live in a post-energy world and its civilization. A whole new sustainable, localized and agricultural based civilization is needed; with a new mindset of cooperation and care, and harmonious social behavior, along with alternative fuels for a less fuel-hungry society.

Published Jun 24 2008 by Energy Bulletin
Archived Jun 24 2008

The Olduvai theory and catastrophic consequences

by James Leigh


Our century-old industrial civilization and its luxurious standard of living may be about to end. The energy prime mover of this civilization, oil, is about to drastically dwindle in supply.

This dwindling oil supply in the face of escalating demand has rocketed up the price of oil. Ted Trainer (1997) predicted large and permanent increases in oil prices after the year 2000 due to increasing scarcity. In fact in March 2008, oil broke through the psychological ceiling of $100 a barrel, and later in early June rose to around $140 on the way to $150. Even the president of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) has warned of oil reaching $200 a barrel (Robertson, 2008). Goldman Sachs has announced that the $200 barrier could be hit any time within the next two years (Foroohar, 2008). Alexey Miller, head of the world’s largest energy company, the Kremlin-owned gas giant Gazprom, has predicted that oil will reach $250 a barrel “in the foreseeable future” (Fortson, 2008). Ferris-Lay (2008) has forecast that the black liquid gold could climb to an incredible $300 a barrel in the foreseeable future. In the slightly longer term we have been warned of an economically lethal price of $380 (Porter, 2005). The major cause for all these price hikes is the dwindling supplies as oil reaches exhaustion point around the world.

In this paper we will consider the implications of the dwindling supply of oil in light of the Olduvai Theory.

Dwindling Supplies

History, current changing world circumstances and dwindling energy-resource supplies suggest that the oil-fired industrial age is destined to be short lived. The bell curve below shows the levels of historic and prospective oil production over two millennia. This graph highlights the assertion that the life expectancy of Industrial Civilization is around 100 years – from 1930 to 2030 (Duncan, 2000; Rempel).

It has been the plentiful supply of cheap oil (increasingly from less developed countries) that was the main factor, along with the necessary natural resources and skilled manpower, that made the miracle of the industrial era, of about 100 years, possible in the Western more developed countries, and particularly in Europe and the United States.

However, the plentiful supply of cheap oil has been short lived. Even as predicted by Dr. M. King Hubbert’s bell curve method, the peak for oil production in the United States was reached way back in 1970. This “Peak Oil” method began with Hubbert, a Shell Oil geophysicist who determined that when an oil field was half depleted, it had hit peak production and was set for production decline. Not only did he estimate, in 1956, that U.S. oil production would peak around 1970, but also with this method he later predicted the world peak would be between 1995 and 2000 (Anderson, 2008).

Several internationally known and respected petroleum experts, Colin Campbell, Jean Laherrere, Brian Fleay, Roger Blanchard, Richard Duncan, Walter Youngquist, and Albert Bartlett (with various methodologies) all estimated a peak in conventional oil production would hit around 2005. Further, the CEOs of Agip and ENI SpA, (Italian oil companies) and ARCO (a BP subsidiary since 2000) also published estimates for peak oil to be reached in 2005. In November 1997, the International Energy Agency (IEA) convened an Oil Conference in Paris. Among the various papers presented, Jean Laherrere and Colin Campbell presented three empirical papers on oil depletion.

As a result of this conference, the IEA prepared a paper for the G8 Energy Ministers' Meeting in Moscow, March 31, 1998. The IEA adopted Laherrere and Campbell's view, and forecast an imminent peak in conventional oil for 2012. This represents a significant reversal of the IEA position from the no-limits stance of previous years (Hanson, 2001). In general support of the imminent peak in world oil heralding declining production levels, Hirsch (2005, p. 9) lists twelve highly respected oil studies, and eight of these predict peak oil by 2012.

In fact by 2006 not only had most countries reached their peak oil production and its subsequent fall-off in production, but declining world oil production levels set in, heralding dwindling oil on world markets and shrinking reserves in the ground. The graph below shows this state of affairs with world oil production having peaked in early 2006, and from there we see a trend of continual slow decline, and by 2030 oil production is predicted to drop to 40 mbpd, less than half today’s production (Bowman, 2008). Other analysts (for example most recently Zittel and Schindler, 2007) give similar analyses for oil supply drop-off beginning around now. This all shows that the general trend for conventional oil production over the last couple of years was one of overall decline. Actually the industry is harboring pent up forces for permanent steeper decline to set in.

Various comments are now being heard from high in the oil industry. Ali Naimi, the Saudi Oil Minister said, “Limited capacity along the entire supply chain is the real source of current global supply tightness and represents the greatest threat to ensuring adequate energy to fuel future economic growth”. Head of Libya’s NOC (National Oil Corporation), Shokri Ghanem admitted that “Very little can be done by anyone, there is not enough spare capacity” (Hoyos, 2008).

Olduvai Theory and Societal Implications

Obviously for the world there are critical implications for lifestyle and economic development of its peoples as a result of the emerging drastic shortfall in oil supplies and the impact on the Industrial Civilization.

Duncan (2000) elaborates in detail on the Olduvai Theory which predicts that the life expectancy of Industrial Civilization is around a hundred years, as measured by the world average energy production per person per year. In this theory Industrial Civilization began in 1930 and is predicted to end around 2030.

The following graph (Duncan, 2000) shows the Olduvai curve and events from 1930 to 2030. When published, the graph was historic from 1930 to 1999 and hypothetical values and events are shown from 2000 to 2030. Of course the first eight years of the third millennium is now history for us.

Eight anchor point events are highlighted. The first in 1930 (Note 1) marks the beginning of Industrial Civilization. The second event in 1979 (Note 2) shows the historic all-time world peak in energy production per capita. The third event in 1999 (Note 3) marks the depletion of cheap oil, when oil prices hiked over the year with a series of cuts in OPEC production. The fourth event on September 28, 2000 (Note 4) marks the escalation of Middle Eastern violence — the “Jerusalem Jihad” and this signals the end of the Olduvai "slope". Subsequently the world reaches the Olduvai “slide”. This begins in 2000 with war escalating in the Middle East, possibly a harbinger of the looming civilization clash between the West and Islam. The fifth event in 2006 (Note 5) heralds the all-time world peak of oil production. The sixth event in 2008 (Note 6) warns of the OPEC crossover event when the OPEC nations produce more than half of the world's oil and increasingly control the world's oil exports. Whenever this does actually occur, it will give incredible “petropower” to the OPEC cartel. Then in 2012 (Note 7) we come to the end of the Olduvai “slide” – the beginning of the next interval – the “cliff”.

This “cliff”, beginning 2012, is the final interval when permanent blackouts spread worldwide – first with rolling brownouts and temporary blackouts and then the electric power networks themselves fail. The final event in 2030 (Note 8) predicts a decline in world energy production per capita to the 1930 level – which was the beginning of the Industrial Civilization. The average rate of decline of energy production from 2012 to 2030 will cause increasingly dramatic effects.

The power shortages and interruptions will be the result of over-demand for energy from economic boom – the increasing use of energy-thirsty machines, and population growth – all in the face of falling energy supplies.

According to the Olduvai theory, Industrial Civilization is reliant on electricity: electricity is the quintessence of Industrial Civilization. World energy production per capita increased from 1945 to its all-time world peak in 1979. Then from 1979 to 1999 energy production per capita declined. Subsequently from 2000 to 2011, according to the Olduvai schema, world energy production per capita will maintain a steady decrease trend (the “slide”). Finally from around year 2012 there will be a host of permanent electrical blackouts around the world. These blackouts will then parallel falling energy production per capita, until by 2030 it will have declined to the same level it was a hundred years before, in 1930. The rate of decline from 2012 to 2030 is an unprecedented continuous decline of around 5% per annum (the “cliff”). The total duration of Industrial Civilization therefore is around 100 years.

The Olduvai “slide” from 2001 to 2011 may culminate in events that resemble the “Great Depression” of the 1930s – unemployment, breadlines, and homelessness. As for the Olduvai ‘cliff” from 2012 to 2030, there may be no precedent in human history. The instant the power goes out, you are back in the Dark Ages.

The permanent blackout of electricity is crippling. Without oil to continue to fire up our industrial society we will be without: public electricity, transport, industry’s processed products (food, clothing, packaging, and machinery), communication and computer services. A little bit of brainstorming shows that the society and its systems would come eventually to a standstill. A totally paralyzing set of circumstances with hunger and deprivation on an unprecedented worldwide scale.


Pause for a moment – just imagine the catastrophic consequences of no electricity: no phones or computers, no industry which is electricity based, no dairy products or processed foods, no refrigeration, no water as the water pumps won’t work, no cars or transport because the petrol pumps won’t work, no schools or universities, no banks which can’t electronically process transactions, no employment, no income – dwindling stocks of everything as society collapses to unprecedented levels of chaos and deprivation.

These critical levels of human suffering, accruing from this worsened state of affairs, could massively frustrate the world at the geopolitical level, leading to, not only heated political engagement, but also military confrontation.

The post-2012 era of Olduvai has no precedent in history, and therefore the world will soon be entering totally uncharted waters. For sure nations and groups of nations will attempt to protect and maintain their economic development and living standard.

However, what we really need is for us all to cooperatively take urgent steps to ameliorate this looming situation and prepare for how we will live in a post-energy world and its civilization. A whole new sustainable, localized and agricultural based civilization is needed; with a new mindset of cooperation and care, and harmonious social behavior, along with alternative fuels for a less fuel-hungry society. And that is the topic of another paper.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

State of the world 2008

Table of Contents

Beyond the Book

Get more out of State of the World 2008 with additional resources from Worldwatch Institute, including:

Chapter 1. Seeding the Sustainable Economy

Gary Gardner and Thomas Prugh, Worldwatch Institute
Environmental decline and persistent mass poverty suggest that the dominant model for economies worldwide is in crisis. But alternatives to business-as-usual can steer most economies onto sustainable paths. Underpinned by a handful of key Big Ideas, economic innovations might just remake our world.
Download Chapter 1

Chapter 2. A New Bottom Line for Progress

John Talberth, Redefining Progress
GDP tells an important, if one-dimensional, economic story. But it’s not the only story or even the most vital one. Metrics that better measure the things people most value, and don’t count pollution and other “bads” as assets, are explored in this chapter.
Download Chapter 2

Chapter 3. Rethinking Production

Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism Solutions
Modern production systems specialize in huge volumes, incidentally producing massive wastes and toxic by-products. Futurethinking businesses are inventing ways to meet people’s needs with a fraction of current environmental impacts.
Download Chapter 3

Chapter 4. The Challenges of Sustainable Lifestyles

Tim Jackson, University of Surrey
“More is better”—the modern economic mantra—is under attack as the environmental, economic, and personal downsides of consumerism become evident. Harried, overworked, and indebted consumers are increasingly open to a focus on quality of life rather than more stuff.
Download Chapter 4

Chapter 5. Meat and Seafood: The Most Costly Ingredients in the Global Diet

Brian Halweil and Danielle Nierenberg, Worldwatch Institute
Consumption of fish and meat is growing fast worldwide, but producing these in huge livestock-raising operations generates enormous health and environmental problems. Alternative ways of meeting demand for meat and fish can protect the environment and small farmers.
Download Chapter 5

Chapter 6. Building a Low-Carbon Economy

Christopher Flavin, Worldwatch Institute
To avoid tipping Earth’s climate into a dangerous runaway warming mode, global carbon emissions must be slashed by upwards of 80 percent by 2050. Improved energy productivity, deployment of renewable energy technologies, and enlightened government energy policies are key to achieving this goal.
Download Chapter 6

Chapter 7. Improving Carbon Markets

Zoë Chafe and Hilary French, Worldwatch Institute
A world choking on carbon increasingly understands that measures for reducing national and personal carbon footprints are critical. But which ones, and how should they be implemented? This chapter sorts fact from fiction for policymakers and consumers.
Download Chapter 7

Chapter 8. Water in a Sustainable Economy

Ger Bergkamp, IUCN, and Claudia Sadoff, IUCN and International Water Management Institute
Water may be the critical resource challenge of this century, with farmers, cities, and the natural environment all claiming shares of a shrinking pool. But market mechanisms and enlightened regulations can supply water to all claimants, even as they reduce waste and protect aquatic ecosystems.
Download Chapter 8

Chapter 9. Banking on Biodiversity

Ricardo Bayon, Ecosystem Marketplace
Despite the spread of national parks and protected areas, species decline and and ecosystem destruction continue apace. Market mechanisms (such as payment for ecosystem services), when linked to conservation goals, can protect natural capital while providing regulated access to important economic resources.
Download Chapter 9

Chapter 10. The Parallel Economy of the Commons

Jonathan Rowe, Tomales Bay Institute
Commons were once a stable and crucial part of many preindustrial economies. As uncontrolled access destroys resources such as fisheries and the atmosphere, the potential of commons regimes to sustainably conserve and allocate scarce resources in a ‘full world’ is more critical than ever.
Download Chapter 10

Chapter 11. Engaging Communities for a Sustainable World

Erik Assadourian, Worldwatch Institute
Citizens disempowered by economic decisions made far away are discovering that building local economies and sustainable communities offers viable alternatives to globalization. Case studies illuminate what’s possible in creating sustainability at the grassroots.
Download Chapter 11

Chapter 12. Mobilizing Human Energy

Jason Calder, Future Generations
Billions in aid have been spent over the decades on developing economies, often with shockingly little effect. A key missing element has been strong input from the grassroots, which allows local people to claim ownership of their development futures. This chapter will examine successful cases of grassroots-led development and their lessons for governments.
Download Chapter 12

Chapter 13. Investing for Sustainability

Bill Baue,
Finance is a vital leverage point for steering economies in a sustainable direction. Financing activities at all levels—venture capital, socially responsible investing, and microfinance—are being examined for their potential contributions to building sustainable economies.
Download Chapter 13

Chapter 14. New Approaches to Trade Governance

Mark Halle, International Institute for Sustainable Development
Free-trade ideology has long mistaken means for ends in trade discussions. The global community’s goal ought to be sustainable and equitable economic development, an end that may not always be served by a blind adherence to free-trade doctrine. Reforms of the WTO and the broader global trading system could help promote sustainable economic activity.

Discussion guide

Chapter 1. Seeding the Sustainable Economy

Gary Gardner and Thomas Prugh
  1. In past years, nature was perceived as a seemingly inexhaustible resource. (p. 4) Why has this view changed, and in what ways is the change manifested?
  2. Netflix and Interface are two companies that have proactively reduced the waste associated with their products. (p. 10) How have they done this? What other waste reduction strategies might companies use?
  3. Why do so few people control such a large share of the world’s wealth? (p. 8) What can be done to change this?
  4. Consumers are driving trends in “green” products such as hybrid vehicles, organic food, and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). (p. 16) But some critics argue that our entire agricultural and production systems need to be overhauled to achieve sustainability. What are the different roles of individuals and institutions in building a sustainable economy?

Chapter 2. A New Bottom Line for Progress

John Talberth
  1. Critics increasingly question the value of many of today’s most prevalent measures of progress, such as GDP. (p. 19) What do they see as lacking?
  2. According to Irving Fischer, what type of value contributes to a product’s “psychic income”? (p. 19) Describe some goods or services that have a high economic value but provide little psychic income.
  3. In Deep Economy, Bill McKibben explains that when people achieve a per-capita income of $10,000 or higher on average, the correlation between happiness and money no longer exists. (p. 21) What does this say about a consumer-driven culture? What type of economic policy would this analysis inspire?
  4. Of the five microeconomic objectives for sustainability Talberth discusses, which one is poised to make the most impact: certification of products, operations, and supply chains; zero waste; eco-efficiency; workplace well-being; or community vitality? (p. 27)

Chapter 3. Rethinking Production

L. Hunter Lovins
  1. Pick an object nearby. Do you think it is recyclable, reusable, and/or re-manufacturable? How could the object be made more eco-efficient? (pp. 33–34)
  2. What makes large companies like Wal-Mart (pp. 35–36) and General Electric (p. 43) particularly poised to make significant improvements in energy efficiency and waste reduction?
  3. One company profiled in this chapter is guided by the concept “in nature there is no waste.” (p. 41) How can we integrate this outlook into our everyday lives?
  4. Companies are now urged to value a “triple bottom line” or “integrated bottom line.” (p. 44) What are some social and economic indicators that could be used to evaluate a company beyond its profit levels?

Chapter 4. The Challenge of Sustainable Lifestyles

Tim Jackson
  1. Describe the concept of “environmental space”? (p. 47) Do you think you are using more or less than your fair share of such space? Should every person in the world have the same share of environmental space?
  2. As incomes rise, people do not necessarily report more happiness or life satisfaction. (pp. 50–51) Why do you think this is? Would the ability to buy more things make you happier?
  3. Do you think efforts like “downshifting” or “Buy Nothing Day” are effective? (pp. 52–53) Would you consider participating in these? How would you respond to critics who argue that lower levels of consumption would throw an economy into recession, or worse?
  4. Each year, some $605 billion is spent on advertising worldwide, and ads have been linked to rising materialism, childhood obesity, and other maladies. (p. 59) Would you favor curbs on advertising? How would you respond to the argument that restrictions on advertising are violations of a right to free speech?

Chapter 5. Meat and Seafood: The Global Diet’s Most Costly Ingredients

Brian Halweil and Danielle Nierenberg
  1. What technological developments have lead to the fourfold increase in meat production between 1961 and 2006? (p. 62) In what ways does less expensive, industrially farmed meat “cost” more?
  2. What are some of the benefits of returning to a more natural method of meat production? (p. 64)
  3. What role do government subsidies play in meat and fish production? What alternatives do Halweil and Nierenberg suggest to the current system? (p. 67)
  4. What steps do you take in your own life to ensure that you are “embracing the ethical” with your food choices? (p. 69) What could government and industry do to make this practice easier for you?

Chapter 6. Building a Low-Carbon Economy

Christopher Flavin
  1. In which regions of the world are carbon emissions rising most quickly, and why? (p. 77)
  2. Why do buildings hold the greatest potential to increase energy productivity? (p. 80) What steps could you take to increase the energy efficiency of your home or office?
  3. Look at Table 6-3, “Estimates of Potential Contribution of Renewable Energy Resources.” (p. 83) Which of these renewable energy sources would be well suited for your region? How could renewable energy become more widely used in your area?
  4. Some argue that replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy is not sufficient to make energy sustainable, because of ever-greater energy consumption. (p. 79) How would you assess this argument?

Chapter 7. Improving Carbon Markets

Zoë Chafe and Hilary French
  1. Have you bought (or considered buying) carbon offsets? (pp. 101–4) Do you think these are effective in combating climate change?
  2. Should the current diversity of national and regional carbon markets eventually join to form one cohesive international market? What would the opportunities and challenges be? (pp. 105-6)
  3. Is the Kyoto Protocol effective for addressing climate change? What more needs to be done to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions? (pp. 98-101)
  4. Why is “carbon neutral” such a controversial term? (p. 103) Have you seen this phrase used before, and if so, do you believe the claims?

Chapter 8. Water in a Sustainable Economy

Ger Bergkamp and Claudia W. Sadoff
  1. Why is it so difficult to put a value on water as an environmental resource? (pp. 107, 112, 114) What are some innovative ways to measure the value of water?
  2. Why do diets in wealthy countries require significantly more water than diets in other countries? (p. 109) Do you think your diet requires relatively more or less water than average?
  3. Why might water pricing hurt the poorest users? (p. 118) What are some ways of pricing water that might encourage sustainable water use?
  4. How can cap-and-trade schemes, virtual water trading, and certification or ecolabeling, help with water management? (p. 121)

Chapter 9. Banking on Biodiversity

Ricardo Bayon
  1. Bayon writes that, “for eons, the price of nature has been woefully close to zero.” (p. 124) Why does he say this, and how is the practice now being counteracted?
  2. What is “wetland mitigation banking,” and how does it work? (pp. 127–30) In what situations can it be beneficial?
  3. When it comes to conserving biodiversity, when do you think government regulation, market mechanisms, or voluntary efforts should be used? (p. 124)
  4. What are “voluntary biodiversity offsets”? (p. 135) Why are some companies setting up these programs, and what do they hope to accomplish?

Chapter 10. The Parallel Economy of the Commons

Jonathan Rowe
  1. Describe some examples of “commons management” in your own community. (p. 138) Have they been successful? What obstacles confronted the public “owners?”
  2. What is an example of a privately owned management system that would lend itself to commons management? (p. 144)
  3. Explain what Rowe refers to as the “tragedy of the corporate.” (p. 142)
  4. What variable did Garrett Hardin not take into account in his seminal 1968 article, “The Tragedy of the Commons”? (p. 141) How does this oversight undermine his argument?

Chapter 11. Engaging Communities for a Sustainable World

Erik Assadourian
  1. Review the definition of “community” that Assadourian presents in Box 11-1. (p. 152) How does this definition lend itself to the concept of a sustainable community? How does Assadourian’s “community” deviate from a more conventional housing community?
  2. How is social capital a form of capital like financial capital? (p. 152) What “dividends” can be recouped from social capital?
  3. Explain the concept of a “third place.” (p. 156) Is there a particular location in your own community that you consider a “third place?” What purpose does it serve for you?
  4. What are some of the benefits of localizing food production? (p. 156)

Chapter 12. Mobilizing Human Energy

Jason S. Calder
  1. What does Calder believe is the greatest untapped resource in solving the problem of global poverty and environmental decline? (p. 167)
  2. What are the four common critiques of community-based development? (p. 170)
  3. Explain Arjun Appadurai’s concept of the “capacity to aspire.” (p. 172) How does this relate to community-based development?
  4. Calder acknowledges that the rich and affluent may need to reduce their consumption in order to allow the world’s poor to increase consumption, but he also suggests that poor countries should try not to emulate over-consumptive lifestyles. (p. 178) Can these seemingly contradictory recommendations be reconciled?

Chapter 13. Investing for Sustainability

Bill Baue
  1. Of the four sectors of world sustainability investments (socially responsible investment, project finance, private equity and venture capital, and microfinance), which is poised to make the greatest impact on the economy? Why? (p. 181)
  2. Joe Keefe, the CEO of Pax World, refers to a “sustainability revolution.” (p. 183) What are the driving forces behind this revolution?
  3. Explain “regenerative investing.” (p. 185) What are the risks associated with this investment strategy?
  4. In his acceptance speech for the 2006 Nobel Prize, microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus declared poverty an “artificial creation.” (p. 191) What did he mean? How does microfinance help overcome systemic poverty?

Chapter 14. New Approaches to Trade Governance

Mark Halle
  1. Explain what Halle refers to as the “basic paradox of trade.” (p. 198) Why does such a seemingly beneficial economic system excite such disapproval?
  2. Halle describes “Third-worldism” as an automatic resistance to change among poorer countries to proposals that come from richer countries. (p. 207) What could be done to overcome this distrust?
  3. What conditions are necessary for trade liberalization to advance development goals such as social justice, human rights, equity, and a healthy environment? In what ways has trade hindered these goals in the past? (p. 207)
  4. What changes in trade policy can be expected as countries such as China and India become increasingly influential in the global economy? (p. 206)
Attachment Size
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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Basic science

From the Whistler Its Our Nature Series (2002)

See slideshow:

Back to basics

Some basic truths about the natural systems we depend on for life provide the foundation for our work. The Natural Step principles and approach to sustainability are grounded in the science underlying the Earth's systems.

These scientific laws are well known and accepted by scientists, and we all intuitively understand them, yet the implications resulting from these systems are largely overlooked by people in their day-to-day lives.

Nothing disappears

All mass and energy in the universe is conserved and energy may be converted into different forms, yet the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant.

This principle of matter conservation and the First Law of Thermodynamics are helpful in understanding the Earth as a system. For example, apart from the occasional meteorite or spaceship, the amount of matter on Earth has stayed the same for billions of years, and when matter is burned it is not destroyed, but transformed into waste predominantly in the form of visible and invisible gases.

Everything spreads

Energy and matter tend to spread spontaneously; everything has a tendency to disperse (the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or the Law of Entropy).

Although the total amount of energy remains constant, the quantity of energy available in a useful form decreases with each transformation and tends to dissipate through a system.

Entropy is a measure of the amount of disorder or randomness there is in a system, and in every isolated system - such as the universe - entropy always increases. Examples of this include food decaying, coloured dye in clear water dispersing, a car rusting and ice samples taken in the Arctic Circle containing measurable amounts of man-made PCBs.

Thus, materials generated by or introduced into human society eventually will disperse in nature, no matter what we do.

There is value in structure

We determine material quality by the concentration and structure of the matter that makes up a material. For example, food and petrol are valuable because they have a high concentration and structure.

What we consume are the qualities of matter and energy - the concentration, purity, and structure of matter, and the ability of energy to perform work. We never consume energy or matter because it is neither created nor destroyed. If you drop a teacup and it breaks on the floor, much of the value from its structure is lost, but each of the original atoms is still present.

Plants create structure and order by using energy from the sun

Net increases in material quality on Earth are generated almost entirely by the sun-driven process of photosynthesis. Chloroplasts in plant cells capture energy from sunlight and form bonds that provide energy for other forms of life, such as animals.

According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, disorder increases in all isolated systems. The Earth is a closed system with respect to matter, but it is an open system with respect to energy because it receives light from the sun. It is this flow of sunlight that continues to create structure and order from the disorder.

Sustainability at home: A toolkit
Decision-making help for your everyday choices.
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Monday, June 23, 2008

Earth Jurisprudence

Ian Mason

Published in Resurgence Magazine Marsch/April 2008

Humility, generosity, patience and restraint are the four pillars on which Earth Jurisprudence is founded. They will be the principles at the heart of the transition to climate stability, biodiverse environments and resilient livelihoods.

CONTEMPORARY PROBLEMS WITH climate change, loss of biodiversity and impoverished livelihoods are symptoms, not causes. The causes lie in the human psyche and result from losing connection with the natural world. Any strategy to resolve them requires the human race to reconnect with Nature in two ways: through the Earth in all its wonder, and through the spiritual wealth and beauty of human nature.

Earth Jurisprudence helps with both of these. Earth Jurisprudence is a philosophy of law that sees the Earth as the proximate teacher of a Great Jurisprudence in which the universe, not humanity, is the primary lawgiver. Where our technological culture and skill have persuaded us that humans are the masters of all things, Earth Jurisprudence invites humanity to engage as rational and loving participants in something much greater than we are.

Humility is therefore the first lesson of Earth Jurisprudence. This is the humility of the craftsman who surrenders to his materials, is guided by them and allows them to speak and sing for themselves; of the sculptor who finds and reveals the beautiful forms in the rock; of the teacher who finds and reveals the talents and strengths of her pupils and students; of the scholar who knows how little, not how much, we know of ourselves and this universe and contemplates their beauty and mystery in dumbfounded awe; of the lawyer who learns that law is discovered, not made, and that justice, not will, is the natural organising principle of human society and Earth community. It is the humility of the husbandman or woman who tends and cares for the soil and who loves its healthy and generous abundance.

Generosity is the second lesson of Earth Jurisprudence. Wherever we look Nature brings forth abundance. Everything is provided for through a wonderful web of giving and receiving, each as important as the other. To give and to give and to give is only to end up depleted and exhausted. To take and to take and to take is to end up engorged and even more exhausted. The natural balance is to give while receiving what is needed to be able to carry on giving. The economics of Earth Jurisprudence is not about scarce resources; it is about proper use, distribution and replenishment of natural abundance.

Patience is the third lesson of Earth Jurisprudence. In the universe and in Nature, everything comes in its own good time. Years follow the Earth round the sun, season following season with the tilt of the axis. Months and tides follow the moon; days and nights follow the spin of the Earth. Each has its own time providing activity and rest, harvest and replenishment, change and consistency, all in proper time.

With patience comes restraint, the fourth lesson of Earth Jurisprudence. This is how the natural balance of abundance is maintained. If any species, any person, takes more than its necessary due, there will be a shortfall somewhere. If the grasslands expand, forests and jungles contract; where the forests expand grasslands contract: each the inevitable counterpart of the other. Where human demands expand, Mother Earth’s other children lose their diversity and their livelihoods, and sooner or later people do too.

In civil affairs we take this law of restraint so for granted that we barely notice it. Human beings naturally live in human communities and that is only possible when we restrain our more aggressive tendencies. We are all moved, at times, by anger and fear, jealousy or desire but we are socially conditioned to restrain them in the interests of the human community. Such restraint in the civil sphere is the foundation of civil freedom. Earth Jurisprudence, the law of the Earth herself, teaches that similar restraint is a necessary condition of successful life in the community of Nature. It also teaches that Nature’s abundance is soon depleted if this condition is not observed. Just as in civil affairs, our freedom of action in Nature is curtailed by respect for a wider community.

IT IS NO mere coincidence that these lessons of Nature are also the lessons of so many traditions of spiritual wisdom. Human nature is part of the Nature of the universe, not separate from it. The very same principles that unlock and maintain the treasury of natural abundance also unlock the inner treasury of human nature. Shakespeare, through the voice of Henry V, was right to declare that “In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility…” Human nature offers the deepest peace, the fullest understanding and the profoundest happiness and satisfaction to those who follow and practise these simple principles taught by Nature.

Earth Jurisprudence as a philosophy of law can be taken as a personal code of self-development and as a founding philosophy of law for societies. Communities and societies embed their understanding of life, Nature and the world around them in the laws and customs they adopt for themselves. In earlier times the philosophy, or jurisprudence, of Natural Law gave us principles of human rights and government which are embedded in modern ideals of democracy and the rule of law.

But Natural Law jurisprudence, at least in its later interpretations, was mostly about human nature and the relations between humans and God. Earth Jurisprudence adopts a wider view. Seeing a divine presence in every detail of the universe, it draws its principles and conclusions from Nature’s lessons about the interaction of humanity and the universe in the immediate context of the Earth. Even if it is not seen as manifesting divine presence, this context remains the same and equally valid.

Where Natural Law gave principles of human rights and of obligations of the powerful towards the weak, Earth Jurisprudence adds obligations to the natural world. Where Natural Law taught us not to discriminate unfairly between human genders and races, Earth Jurisprudence requires that we respect the integrity and intrinsic value of the Earth and all its species, affording them rights and protections where human carelessness, rapaciousness or ignorance places them under threat.

At the level of states, nations and governments, Earth Jurisprudence translates into what Cormack Cullinan has called Wild Law and which also appears as Community Ecological Governance. Wild Law is the practical application of Earth Jurisprudence principles in the human law-making process whether through customs, statutes, common law judgments or international instruments. Community Ecological Governance is the customary regulation of life that people find who listen to the voice of Nature.

In short, Earth Jurisprudence offers principles for a natural way of living. It works at the individual level by offering lifestyle choices based on humility, generosity, patience and restraint. It works at the level of law and policy by pointing decision-makers towards the needs of the whole natural world, enabling humans to live according to universal regulations. It works at the spiritual level by being attuned to the spiritual needs and aspirations of human nature in wholesome harmony with the natural and spiritual universe. Perhaps most importantly, it works at the human level by reminding us that the human and natural worlds can co-exist in a mutually enhancing partnership where we are truly friends of the Earth.

Ian Mason is a barrister who is also Head of Law and Economics at the School of Economic Science.


Earth Jurisprudence: Aligning law and society with nature

IT IS CLEAR that our legal and governance systems need to change, radically.

We are raising the temperature of the planet to dangerous levels that threaten the wellbeing and survival of the Earth and its communities. Corporate driven solutions to agriculture and the new push for agrofuels are leading to higher food prices and creating a class of “new poor”, whilst also leading to more environmental degradation. In many parts of the world, biological diversity and the basic ecological resources communities need to survive are becoming more acute. If we continue consuming and polluting as we are doing, with little regard for the long-term health of our planet, we will almost certainly trigger far greater ecological catastrophes. We may even render ourselves extinct. Humanity faces very real and serious challenges if it is to survive. The planet is crying out for a change of direction. But what should this change of direction consist of and where will it take us? How can we rebuild a healthy relationship with our planet and with each other? And what policy framework and governance structures should we turn to in order to create a more harmonious relationship between humans, non-human species and the Earth?

Thomas Berry, cultural historian and visionary, states starkly that the western industrial legal system legitimises human destruction of our life support system because it prioritises short-term human needs and interests, turning its back on the welfare of the wider community of life on Earth – The Earth Community. He calls for a radical new jurisprudence that will transform the way we think about our relationship with the planet and the way we govern our territories, our institutions and education systems. Thomas Berry calls for us to define a new Earth Jurisprudence, a notion that challenges us to shift our thinking from a humans-only orientation to a more Earth centred approach based on an understanding of ourselves as an inextricable part of the Earth’s living systems.

Earth Jurisprudence is premised on the understanding that law and governance should protect the wellbeing and integral functioning of the planet so that all components of the Earth Community live in healthy ecosystems that sustain the diversity of the natural world. The mission must be to re-envision law and governance and work to open spaces that allow us to support the wellbeing of the Earth as a whole. This involves fostering mutually enhancing relationships among humans and nature based on reciprocity, restraining potentially damaging human activities and recognising the rights of nature.

There are many sources of inspiration for Earth Jurisprudence, including nature herself. If we are to understand these greater laws of the Earth – the Great Jurisprudence – then we are required to become eco-literate again. The complex spiritual and customary values of non-industrial and indigenous societies inform Earth Jurisprudence thinking. Their social and ecological governance systems are often founded upon the basis of customary lore, which is constituted through and informed by the inter-generational transfer of culturally-specific ancestral knowledge about their Story of Origin. Such lore tends to be based on the recognition that the health of the ecosystem as a whole is integral to the maintenance of human health and wellbeing. According to this view, if we take too much from the environment without giving nature its due or the respect it deserves, if we do not offer something back to nature in return, then our societies will fall ill. Indigenous people have evolved a range of norms, practices and taboos, which ensure they govern themselves in a way that maintains reciprocity and a healthy balance between the needs of the human communities, nature and past and future generations. Earth Jurisprudence recognises the importance of these ways of thinking and assesses the extent to which western governance systems can integrate and adapt them in a practical way in order to enable us to work towards a more sustainable future.

This radical and innovative approach to law and governance is guiding and inspiring a wide range of people and organisations in many different parts of the world.

  • In the USA, community associations have been drafting their own ordinances in partnership with their local government to secure their constitutional rights to a healthy environment by prohibiting corporations from polluting in their boroughs. This bottom-up approach to law making has been particularly effective in recognising the rights of natural ecosystems – for the first time in modern US history.
  • In Europe, communities are using ecological mapping processes to initiate consultations and dialogues with their governments over matters of biodiversity protection and access to traditional fishing areas. The EU Water Framework Directive includes elements of Earth Jurisprudence thinking. The Directive includes provisions for more public participation in decision-making processes over water environments. Its implementation through river basin management plans offers opportunities for the introduction of ecologically based systems of governance that are rooted in the historical and cultural experiences of the communities that surround the river. Several communities along the River Thames are now eager to embrace opportunities to nurture Earth Jurisprudence and Community Ecological Governance in a western urban fluvial context.
  • In Africa, rural and indigenous communities are increasingly looking to their customary lores and norms as a means to govern themselves and their relationship with the environment. In Ethiopia, organisations are working with forest dwelling communities and the regional government to strengthen community involvement in ecological governance to protect key ecosystems from the expansion of large export-oriented tea and coffee plantations. In Kenya, after years of struggle and negotiation, important water catchments are now being protected by community associations. They are being governed in a way that replenishes the natural ecosystem and benefits the local people and non-human species that depend upon them for survival.
  • In Latin America, indigenous communities govern huge areas of territory according to strict culturally embedded ecological principles. In Colombia, traditional indigenous authorities are managing a territory of approximately 21 million hectares, are developing their and their own education and health systems, and are pioneering an ecologically based governance path. Ecuador is poised to become the first country to recognise the rights of nature in its national constitution, which is being decided upon in July 2008.
  • In Asia, through the Navdanya Movement, farmers are organising around the principles of ‘Earth Democracy’ by strengthening community governance over their lands. They are building community seed banks so that local farmers can have access to and exchange GM-free seeds in times of drought and famine. They are defending their right to produce healthy, organic, diverse and GM-free food for local markets.

Why is Earth Jurisprudence important?

  • Earth Jurisprudence encourages us to challenge our perceptions of the source, function and effectiveness of law, governance, education, economics and religion.
  • Earth Jurisprudence provides a practical, theoretical and spiritual framework that allows us to develop strategies for survival in today’s climate of governmental, economic, environmental, social and spiritual crisis. We find ourselves at a critical time in humanity’s history. This crisis requires radical and innovative responses.
  • Earth Jurisprudence informs governance and law making in relation to a wide range of subjects and issues, such as climate change, the conservation of sacred sites, food and agriculture, indigenous rights, land and territory, forest protection, public participation in ecological governance, and many other areas.
  • Earth Jurisprudence encourages us to change our mindset and realise that law is not made but discovered from nature. Indigenous people provide inspiration for us because their governance systems are highly dependent on maintaining a healthy relationship between nature and humanity.
  • Looking at law and governance through an Earth Jurisprudence lens provides us with an opportunity to re-vision our governance systems and personal practice towards the environment so that they are more responsive to the needs of the biosphere.
  • Earth Jurisprudence allows us to become eco-literate again, thereby strengthening our calling to protect nature and giving us a greater sense of our place on and responsibilities towards the planet.
  • Earth Jurisprudence provides us with an ethical code of thinking and practice that can assist us in the personal transformation that is needed to enable us to become better Earth Citizens.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Developing with Sustainability

Sunita Narain is one of the most important voices from India concerning global warming, water harvesting, air quality, and toxic contamination of consumer products. She addresses issues relating both to water and forest resource management.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Reducing waste

"Reducing waste" — what a huge topic! The Web site doesn't claim to be the last word on ways to reduce waste, but this list should give you an idea of what you can to expect within the site.

How to compost your organics

Reducing waste at home

Creating less trash at school

How to grow a healthy no-waste lawn and garden

Reduce trash when you shop

Reducing waste in the workplace

Reducing waste when traveling

Reducing "junk mail"

Reduce toxic chemicals in your home

Compost your organic waste

Reduce waste by composting

If you have a yard that generates most any kind of green waste, you probably have the right ingredients and enough room to set up your own compost bin.

Composting is easy and cheap, you can cut down your garbage by hundreds of pounds each year, and create a mixture that can be used to improve the soil.

You could be growing instead of throwing

Home composting is a way for you to speed up the natural process of decomposition and return organic materials to the soil. Yard trimmings and food scraps make up nearly 1/6 of what the average household throws into the garbage.

Why throw this stuff away when it can be put to good use in your yard and garden?

By composting, you can convert organic wastes — yard trimmings, leaves and many kinds of kitchen scraps — into a dark, crumbly mixture that can be used to improve the soil and reduce your use of fertilizer and water.

In Minnesota, yard and tree wastes have been banned from garbage since 1992. Don't trash it!
Don't trash it!

Composting Biology 101: The simple science

Composting is a natural process. You don't need fancy equipment or expensive artificial additives to break down your organic scraps and turn them into something useful. Take a moment to learn about what makes composting work.

Guess who's coming to dinner
Check out who the real compost workers are

Composting is done by a wide variety of organisms that are found naturally in organic matter. They work together, feeding on your pile (and each other), to break materials down.Composters

  • Bacteria perform the primary breakdown of organic materials. Bacteria aren't added to your compost pile — they're found in almost all forms of organic matter. There are several different types, and they will flourish and reproduce rapidly under the proper conditions.

  • Nonbacterial composters — fungi, worms, and a variety of inveratebrates — go to work on your pile. Some feed directly on plant tissues, helping bacteria in their role Squirmy wormsof primary decomposers, while others will actually eat the bacteria. Bugs like centipedes and beetles will feed on the smaller invertebrates.

What's compostable? (and what isn't?)
Learning the basics: "Green" and "Brown"

Like any simple recipe, you'll get the best results if you use the right mix of ingredients to make your compost. The key materials are nitrogren-rich "greens," carbon-rich "browns," water, and air. All of these are essential, but they're easy to mix together for quality compost.

Greens provide nitrogen, and act as a source of protein for the microbes that are hard at work in your compost pile.
  • Green leaves
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Plant trimmings
  • Raw fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Hair
Browns are a source of carbon, and provide energy for the microbes.
  • Dried grasses, leaves and some weeds
  • Straw
  • Woodchips
  • Twigs and branches
  • Sawdust
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Corncobs and stalks

As living things, the microbes in your compost pile need water and air to work and live. Water allows microbes to grow and travel around in the pile to decompose materials. Turning your pile each week with a spade or pitchfork will provide air to aid decomposition and control odors.

  • Food with meat, dairy or oils
  • Pet feces (dog, cat or bird)
  • Diseased plants
  • Weeds gone to seed
  • Ash from charcoal or coal

Just say no. While many materials can be composted, there are some items that you should keep out of your home compost pile. Excluding foods with meat, dairy or oils will minimize odors and keep your pile from attracting scavengers like dogs and raccoons. Since compost is generally used for a soil amendment, you want to keep it free of plant diseases and unhealthy bacteria.

Want to get started? Let's break it down!

Getting your own compost bin started can be boiled down to three simple steps: Make a compost bin or buy one, throw in your kitchen scraps and yard waste, and mix it up with a shovel or pitchfork once in a while.

1. Begin with the bin

    Pallet compost bin

    Inexpensive materials like pallets, snow fence or chicken wire can be used to make simple compost enclosures.

    Wire compost bin.

    Location, location, location. Pick a spot in your yard that's at least partially shaded and at least 2 feet from a structure like your house or a fence. Other considerations:

    • Convenient for you to add materials
    • Access to water
    • Good drainage

    Containers. You can compost in a simple pile, but using a container or bin helps your compost pile retain heat and moisture and look neat. To get started, it's easy to go with a single bin system. As materials are added and mixed together, the finished compost settles to the bottom of the bin.

    Materials. Bins can be built from scrap lumber, old pallets, snow fence, chicken wire, or concrete blocks. Typically, several types of composting bins are sold at hardware or lawn and garden stores.

    Size. A pile that is 1 cubic yard (3 feet high, 3 feet wide, 3 feet long) is big enough to retain heat and moisture, but small enough be easily turned. Home compost piles shouldn't be larger than 5' x 5' x 5'.

2. Add the first materials

    If you're just starting a compost pile, you can measure out greens and browns to create a good mix of materials — for example, an equal mixture of brown autumn leaves and fresh grass clippings will give you an optimal composting combination. But new composters shouldn't worry about getting the right mix; it's very easy to add new materials that will adjust the pile's performance.

    1. Lay a base. Start with a layer of browns, laying down 4-6 inches of twigs or other coarse carbons on the bottom of the pile for good air circulation.
    2. Alternate greens and browns. Add layers of nitrogen and carbon materials. Make layers about 4-6 inches thick. Once you turn the pile the first time, these materials will get mixed together and compost more efficiently.
    3. Size does matter. Most materials will decompose faster if they are broken or chopped into smaller pieces, as it makes more surface area available to your composters and water.
    4. Water as you go. Your compost pile should be moist, kind of like a wrung-out sponge. Squeeze a handful of compost; if small beads of water appear between your fingers, you have enough water. Your pile will get water from rain, as well as the moisture in the greens — for example, fresh grass clippings are nearly 80% water by weight. If the pile gets too wet, you can turn it more frequently to dry it, or add more dry brown materials to soak up the excess moisture.

3. Mix up the pile: As the compost turns

Turn your compost

Turning your pile with a pitchfork or shovel mixes up the greens and browns, brings oxygen into the pile, and helps break up materials into smaller bits.

    Once you build your pile, the real composters get to work — bacteria, fungi and insects help break down the materials in your compost bin. As the organic materials decompose, your pile will get hot on the inside and you might see some steam. In about a week, your compost will be ready for turning.

    Use a pitchfork or shovel to mix up the layers of green and brown and move materials toward the center of the pile. You can empty your bin and re-layer, or just work materials around inside the bin. Break up clumps of material and wet the pile as needed.

    Repeat until it's complete. The composting process can be pretty quick in the summer months. Your compost pile may no longer heat up after just a few weeks. Look in your pile for finished compost — material that is dark and crumbly, fresh-smelling, and no longer looks like what you originally put into your bin.

Using finished compost

Your compost can really pay off in the yard or garden. While compost is not a fertilizer, it can contain nutrients which improve plant growth. By using compost, you can improve the soil and reduce your use of fertilizer and water.

You'll learn why gardeners call compost "black gold."

  • Mix in compost to improve soil. In sandy soils, compost acts like a sponge, reFinished composttaining water and nutrients where it can be reached by plant roots. In clay soils, compost makes the ground more porous, creating tiny holes and passageways that help soil drain more quickly.
  • Spread compost on your lawn to help fill in low spots.
  • Use as a mulch for landscaping and garden plants. Mulches cover the soil around plants, protecting the soil from erosion and the drying effects of wind and sun.
  • Mix compost into pots for potted plants.

Common problems and solutions

Home composting isn't very complicated, but the typical composter will likely run into one or more of these common challenges.

The pile doesn't heat up.

"Recycle" yard and food wastes

Composting is a way to recycle yard and food wastes back into the soil.

  • Size matters: A pile that's at least 3 feet wide and tall will help "hot" composting by conserving heat and moisture.
  • Moisture. Try the squeeze test: Pick up a handful of compostable material, make a fist and squeeze it in your hand. If you do not see beads of water between your fingers the pile is too dry. Turn the pile and water thoroughly with a hose.
  • Nitrogen: If the pile is new, you may need to add more "green" to your pile. Try grass clippings or fruit and vegetable scraps. In a pinch, use a scoop of nitrogen-rich plant fertilizer.
  • Aerate: A compost pile needs to breathe to function efficiently. Use coarse materials such as wood chips to create air spaces in the pile and add carbon to the mix.
  • Maybe it's done: If your pile is old, and you've turned it a few times, you may already have finished compost. Use a screen to sift off bigger pieces and use the compost in your garden or on your lawn.
There's an odor: Methinks your compost stinks.
  • Rotten egg smell: Your pile may not be getting enough air because it's too wet. Turn the pile with a shovel or pitchfork to let in air and mix things up. Wood chips or some other bulking agent could be added to increase air flow.
  • Rotten egg smell, part 2: If your compost pile is too compacted it won't get good air flow. Again, turn pile to fluff up the contents and create air pockets. If particle size is small, under one inch, add a bulking agent such as wood chips that are around 2 inches.
  • Ammonia odors often indicate too much "green." Add more carbon materials: dead leaves, non-recyclable paper, or straw. Mix the pile thoroughly and see that the moisture content passes the squeeze test.

The pile is attracting scavengers and insect pests.

  • Nonfat diet: No food wastes with oils, meats, or dairy; odors from these can attract scavengers like raccoons or mice.
  • Keep it covered: Keep new food wastes covered with materials high in carbon and in the middle of the pile. Covering the bin will help keep out larger pests.
  • Insects are a normal part of composting, but an active pile will create enough heat to kill their eggs and reduce the nuisance insects.

Links to resources

There are a lot of terrific online resources that you can access for more information.

Online tutorials

Videos for loan

The Education Clearinghouse at the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance offers a lending library of educational videos to Minnesota residents. Videos are offered for a free two-week loan (the borrower pays for return shipping.) Call the Clearinghouse at 651-215-0232 or 800-877-6300 toll-free, or e-mail them at

  • Compost: Truth or Consequences (15 minutes)
    Designed to take the mystery out of home composting, this video teaches how to create the right conditions for quality compost, avoiding odors and getting a "hot" pile that decomposes rapidly.
  • Home Composting: Turning Your Spoils to Soils (17 minutes)
    This video describes how easy it is to start a compost pile at home for yard and kitchen waste, as well as explaining the benefits of mulches and leaving grass clippings on the lawn.
  • It's Gotten Rotten (20 minutes)
    The science of composting literally goes under the microscope in this video, with amazing up-close photography. A high school science lab provides the set for applying biology, life and physical sciences to understand how the composting process breaks down organic matter and turns it into a useful soil amendment. Includes a reference copy of "Composting in the Classroom," a comprehensive teacher's guide with research projects for high school students.

Manufacturers of compost bins

    If you don't want to make your own bin, check out this site's extensive listing of commercially made bins and accessories from national manufacturers.

National organizations