Friday, February 26, 2010

The minimalism of veganism

This post will strike a nerve with some readers, as many minimalists or aspiring minimalists are die-hard carnivores. They love their meat and don’t want to hear anything against it.

Well, hear me out, please. If you could read to the end of the post before disagreeing, blasting me, or dismissing me, I’d be grateful.

In this post I’ll tell you (briefly) why I chose veganism and how it is the diet I believe is most in line with minimalism.

Minimal eating

Veganism, simply defined, is abstaining from animal products, from meat and fish and poultry to dairy and eggs and other such products. I also try for whole foods that are minimally processed, which means I mostly eat veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, some whole grains.

This is a limited, minimal diet, and yet it can be incredibly satisfying and maximally flavorful. It’s also very healthy, very light, and low on the budget (if you compare it to eating whole foods carnivorously).

A small amount of ingredients. Light on the palate and stomach. Easy to prepare, with a minimum of fuss.

The most sustainable diet

I won’t go into the figures here (they’re covered better elsewhere), but raising animals for meat, eggs and dairy is incredibly wasteful. For every pound of meat or dairy, many times that amount of plants must be used to feed the animals for those products.

Animals also produce a huge amount of pollution and contribute immensely to greenhouse gases, not to mention the machinery and fuel that’s used to raise, slaughter and transport them … and all the plants needed to feed them.

Eating only plants cuts that waste to a minimal amount, and is so much better for the environment. Minimalists who care about living lightly and sustainably would do well to research this and consider it.

Minimal cruelty

One of the main reasons for becoming a vegan is that we don’t believe animals should be held captive, suffer, and be slaughtered for our pleasure.

There is absolutely no need for humans to consume animal products to live a healthy life. Sure, we’ve eaten them for millions of years, but as millions and millions of people have proven, you can eat a vegan diet and be healthy.

And so, the only reason to eat animal products is pleasure — you like the taste and “can’t give it up”. Vegans don’t believe animals should suffer for our pleasure, and becoming vegan means you’re opting out of a society that treats animals with extreme cruelty and pretends it doesn’t happen.

Living lightly, not always conveniently

If your definition of minimalism involves always choosing the most convenient, easiest options, then veganism might not be the most minimal choice. It can sometimes be inconvenient, when eating at restaurants that aren’t vegan-friendly or at the homes of non-vegan friends or family.

That’s a reality, but in truth, it’s not that hard. I mostly cook my own food, with a minimum of preparation, and so most days I have no problems whatsoever.

More and more restaurants are becoming vegan-friendly, and the ones that aren’t can usually whip up a quick and simple vegetable dish on request. I usually avoid McDonald’s and most fast food anyway. When I go to someone else’s house, I usually bring a dish with me, and friends and family who know me best often will cook a dish for me out of consideration.

So it’s not that hard. My suggestion, if you’re interested, is starting small: try a couple vegan dishes this week, a couple next week, and so on. There’s no need to drastically change overnight, but in time you’ll find that vegan dishes are delicious and the vegan lifestyle is wonderfully minimalist.

Thanks for listening, my friends.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Planning for Climate Change in the West (Policy Focus Report)

Author(s): Carter, Rebecca and Susan Culp
Publication Date: January 2010
6 pages; Inventory ID PF024; English; Paperback; ISBN 978-1-55844-203-0
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Planning for Climate Change in the West 5.03 MB


Planning for climate change in the West requires an understanding of local political and cultural conditions. Local officials engaged in planning for climate change must focus on the economic savings of mitigating and adapting to climate change as they tailor federal and state efforts to suit local and regional needs, according to this Policy Focus Report, which acknowledges the critical role of local planners in confronting challenges posed by climate change. It also addresses the region’s many political, cultural, demographic, and geographic factors that can be barriers to innovation and effectiveness. The report includes a survey of government staff and elected officials in the Intermountain West indicating skepticism about climate change. Accordingly, Western planners are emphasizing sustainability or economic efficiency, rather than climate change, in their decisions to manage water supplies, reduce energy consumption, increase transportation efficiency, and protect open space. Planning for Climate Change in the West was a product of the joint venture partnership of the Lincoln Institute and the Sonoran Institute, now called Western Lands and Communities. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Goal of Bhutan, 'Gross National Happiness'

college_tsujisan02.jpg Copyright JFS
Lecturer: Tsuji Shin'ichi, cultural anthropologist, author, translator, environmental activist, and public speaker

The term "Gross National Happiness (GNH)" refers to a unique way of thinking. I would like to discuss what GNH means for us based on experiences from Bhutan, where the term was born.

Link to the article on JFS:

Living in Rapidly Changing Times

First, I'd like to talk about the history of GNH. Various changes have taken place in human history, which is thought to span six million years or so. In those years, we moved out to the savanna from forests, became upright to walk on two legs, made stone tools and began to use a fire. About 12,000 years ago, agricultural activities began, and agriculture and the raising of livestock spread throughout the world over a few thousand years.

About 5,000 years ago, what we now refer to as "civilization" was born. Humanity had reached most of the habitable locations on Earth by that time, and they began to develop unique cultures in various many of these. When the world was populated by about 100 million people, this lead to a so-called ocean of culture. There was a culture in each valley, and anyone crossing a mountain would find a new language and worldview. Humans had achieved a rare diversity. In this vast ocean of culture, a particularly alien culture spontaneously developed, as if it came from an undersea volcano. This culture became known as civilization, and soon spread throughout the world.

We often forget, however, that most civilizations in history have perished. I wonder about whether our modern civilization will ever perish, and if modern civilization is undying, what are the reasons?

Large changes have taken place in the world over the past decade or two, markedly changing people's outlooks. The notions of "common sense" and "natural" have been called into question. The word "sustainability" has become more prevalent. People are now realizing that our existing lifestyle cannot be sustained indefinitely. We are living in such turbulent times, and as we witnessed the failure of large, long-established companies such as Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in the summer of 2008, many people began wondering whether describing this as the crisis of the century was over-optimistic. It is possible that a major transformation, the type seen only once every 1,000 or 2,000 years, is happening now.

Some of the most influential figures in human history, including Lao-Tzu, Buddha and Christ, appeared 2,000 to 2,500 years ago. They all warned mankind about our concepts of civilization, particularly the affluence at the heart of civilization.

Civilization Built upon Fantasy

According to the calculations by economist John Maynard Keynes, humanity achieved an average economic growth of 100% every 4,000 years until the industrial revolution, which works out to 1% every 40 years. A change of 1 to 2% in an entire lifetime is so slow that people would not have realized it. Thus, the concept of "economic growth" did not exist at that time.

Since the industrial revolution, however, economic growth has averaged 100% every few decades. At an estimated rate of 100% in a 40-year period, the economic growth rate is now 100 times higher than that before the industrial revolution.

But it is even higher today. In the 20th century, economic growth accelerated, particularly in countries like Japan, whose economic development was among the fastest in the world. When I was a child, the speed of rapid economic growth was more than 10% a year. We are now in an era with economic growth rates hundreds of times greater than those before the industrial revolution.

We have accepted an idea that the economy grows according to destiny or physical laws. Most societies have achieved economic growth with the aim of becoming more affluent. In other words, the fantasy of affluence has spread throughout the world.

However, I would like to question the differences between modern civilization and past civilizations that perished after flourishing for thousands of years. First, a quantitative different is outstanding. The speed of economic growth for modern civilization has followed an exponential curve, and such economic growth has spread worldwide (globalization). This does not have roots in traditional cultures or in specific areas, as was the case in the past.

How can a civilization become so large? This question overlaps with the question of differences between modern civilizations built upon the industrial revolution and other civilizations that perished. The biggest difference is probably the use of fossil fuels.

Before fossil fuels became popular, human used biomass energies. The current efficiency of biofuel is 1.34 times, which means that when you put in one unit of energy, you receive an output of 1.34 units. However, oil easily achieves 100 times that. This simple comparison also illustrates the degree of change from the era of biomass energies to the era of fossil fuels. In the last century, humans have been building their societies on the premise that we have 100 times the energy we used to have. Economics, politics, the legal system, international relations, military affairs and human relationships have been built under the notion that this energy excess provided by fossil fuels will last forever.

In other words, the world we live in is built on fantasy, as fossil fuels will not last forever. The peak oil theory has actively been discussed around the world. We have already used half of the world's oil reserves, and the cost is expected to soar in the near future. Conflicts for the control of fossil fuels continue in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, and will likely become increasingly severe. Global climate change is also a major concern. Conflicts and climate change, the results of building a world based on fantasy, now weigh heavily upon us.

Can We Measure Affluence?

It is possible to measure affluence. This is a major concept in economics. The most representative examples are GDP (gross domestic product) and GNP (gross national product). The term "product" refers to goods or services, and GDP and GNP are measures of the amount of money available to obtain such products. People have long thought that as the amount of money increased, the affluence of a society also increased. In addition, people believed that as GDP or GNP and affluence increased, society would become happier. Thus, within the concept of "affluence", "happiness" was set.

Philosophers who lived 2,000 to 2,500 years ago and modern day wise men such as Mahatma Gandhi or the Dalai Lama, have all said that the concepts defining affluence and happiness were error-prone.

In a campaign speech during the U.S. presidential election of 1968, Robert Kennedy asked the audience to consider what is included and what is not included in the world-leading American GNP. For example, the weapons used in wars are included in GNP calculations, while the welfare of children and empathy for fellow human beings are not calculated. Kennedy said that "Our motivation in life is completely different from GNP."
The king of Bhutan, a small country that had one of the lowest GNP values in the world, devised "GNH (gross national happiness)" in the 1970s. The new king, who took over the throne at the tender age of 16 after his father died, said GNH was more important than GNP. It may have been a simple word game for him to replace "happiness" for "product", but the Bhutanese took it seriously as a nation policy, after 30 years of discussion, in 2008, the term GNH was included in Article 9 of the first Constitution in the Bhutan history. The article says that guaranteeing GNH is the government's responsibility.

The four pillars of GNH are as follows: 1. affluence of natural environment; 2. conservation and promotion of traditional culture; 3. good government - Bhutan is a rare example, in that the king himself called for the peaceful change from a monarchy to a democracy; and 4. economic growth, or rather, "fair economic growth"; the idea is that a small minority of people becoming wealthy cannot be called economic growth.

Keyword of Culture is Happiness

We currently live in a sea of civilization, and different cultures are like islands barely staying afloat. What is the difference between civilization and culture? Some have said that civilization defines the limits of what people can do, and culture defines the limits of their actions. According to this, we could say that the theme of civilization is affluence and the endless desire to pursue it, while the theme of culture is happiness and wisdom to know how to obtain "sufficiency." 

The definition of happiness differs among different people and cultures. This is why we cannot truly quantify or measure GNH. Nevertheless, we are striving toward happiness. What is a happy society? Even the definition of happiness differs from person to person, and there might therefore be a minimum requirement to create a happy society. I think that the Bhutanese has the right idea with their four pillars.

After 100 years of consideration by cultural anthropologists, the definition of culture remains unclear. However, I believe that it is sufficient to say that there are three principles of culture; local, communal and ecological.

First, be local. Culture cannot be global; one's cultural roots are in local areas. Everything is essentially rooted in local areas, including the food we eat, the houses we build and the clothes we wear, as well as our concepts of values and views of life and death.

Second, be communal. Humans tend to form communities. This is why we have been able develop complex language, communication, compromise and cooperation behaviors. If such communities are broken up, even for short periods, people can suffer, experience loneliness and even die. Humans can be very weak and fragile. However, for this reason, life is significant, meaningful and pleasant. Although living together with other people is often associated with burden, empathizing with one another provides joy and motivation in life.
Third, be ecological. Our ability to survive is dependent on the natural environment. We cannot live without air, water, soil, the sun and biodiversity. All cultures are built upon this condition.

Slow, Small and Simple

These three principles of culture can be thought of as the three "S"es: Slow, Small and Simple. "Slow" refers to the idea that we should not exceed a certain speed. Parents often have to wait for their small children, but when parents get older, they ask their children to wait for them. We wait in order to avoid leaving some people behind, and we ask other people in order to avoid being left behind. We live in a human network with other people, invariably trying to keep pace with other people and asking other people to keep pace with you. At the same time, we live within a living ecosystem. Every relationship needs time, which is essential and should not be omitted.

"Small is Beautiful", written by E.F. Schumacher, explains the details of "Small". When we exceed local restrictions, we have an enormous impact on the natural environment or create an unsustainable lifestyle. As Schumacher said "Man is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful", we should use this human-size lifestyle as a base.

"Simple" refers to the notion of not increasing quantities, or the idea of "getting to know sufficiency". Philosophers all over the world have said that the way for humans to become happy is to understand their own sufficiency.

Young people should not rely so much on our generation, as we have repeated many of the mistakes of our ancestors, and it is no use simply assigning blame. The next generation will have to strive to create a better world. This is not simply a matter of refining existing systems, but will require radically changing many of the world's systems themselves. It will be tough, but satisfying work.

Therefore, you will need to return to two basic concepts; "affluence" and "happiness." I would also ask that you to reconsider what "happiness" and "affluence" are in the real sense of the terms.


Tsuji Shin'ichi, known as Keibo Oiwa in English, is a cultural anthropologist, author, translator, environmental activist, and public speaker. He lived in North America for sixteen years and holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Cornell University. Since 1991, he has taught in the International Studies Department of Meiji Gakuin University. The founder of the Sloth Club, an ecology and "Slow Life" NGO, he gives lectures and workshops on social and environmental issues. 

Oiwa is the author or editor of over 20 books in Japanese, including Slow is Beautiful: Culture as Slowness and Yukkuri de Iindayo ("It's Okay to be Slow"). His books in English include The Other Japan (co-authored by David Suzuki and originally published in Canada and Australia as The Japan We Never Knew) and Rowing the Eternal Sea. Four of his books have been translated into Korean, and Stone Voices: Wartime Writing of Japanese Issei (Vehicle Press) won the 1992 Canada-Japan Book Award. His Japanese translation credits include Our Future Selves: Love, Life, Sex, and Aging by Merrily Weisbord, David Suzuki's You Are the Earth, and Robert F. Murphy's The Body Silent. He is also a regular contributor to Japanese monthly magazines Be-Pal and Ecocolo

He lives in Yokohama with his family and every year grows rice with his seminar students at Maioka Park adjacent to the university campus.

Biodiversity leads to resilience and ecosystem services

By Dr Ruth Young
The diversity of life - biodiversity
The diversity of life - biodiversity (image: R Young)

The United Nations declared 2010 to be the International year of biodiversity. This year we will celebrate life on earth and the importance of biodiversity. It also presents an occasion for us to think more about biodiversity. What exactly is meant by biodiversity? Why it is so important?

Biodiversity is best defined as the variety of all living things. It covers everything from genetic diversity through to the mix of animals and plants that make up an ecosystem. The greater the variety of life the greater the biodiversity.

Different species within ecosystems fill particular roles, they all have a function, they all have a niche. They interact with each other and the physical environment to provide ecosystem services that are vital for our survival. For example plant species convert carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and energy from the sun into useful things such as food, medicines and timber.

A bee pollinating a flower
A bee pollinating a flower (Image: ClearlyAmbiguous Flickr)

Pollination carried out by insects such as bees enables the production of ⅓ of our food crops. Diverse mangrove and coral reef ecosystems provide a wide variety of habitats that are essential for many fishery species. To make it simpler for economists to comprehend the magnitude of services offered by biodiversity, a team of researchers estimated their value – it amounted to $US33 trillion per year.

“By protecting biodiversity we maintain ecosystem services”

Certain species play a “keystone” role in maintaining ecosystem services. Similar to the removal of a keystone from an arch, the removal of these species can result in the collapse of an ecosystem and the subsequent removal of ecosystem services.

The most well known example of this occurred during the 19th century when sea otters were almost hunted to extinction by fur traders along the west coast of the USA. This led to a population explosion in the sea otters’ main source of prey, sea urchins. Because the urchins graze on kelp their booming population decimated the underwater kelp forests. This loss of habitat led to declines in local fish populations.

Sea otter
Sea otters are a keystone species once hunted for their fur (Image: Mike Baird)

Eventually a treaty protecting sea otters allowed the numbers of otters to increase which inturn controlled the urchin population, leading to the recovery of the kelp forests and fish stocks.

In other cases, ecosystem services are maintained by entire functional groups, such as apex predators (See Jeremy Hance’s post at Mongabay). During the last 35 years, over fishing of large shark species along the US Atlantic coast has led to a population explosion of skates and rays. These skates and rays eat bay scallops and their out of control population has led to the closure of a century long scallop fishery.

These are just two examples demonstrating how biodiversity can maintain the services that ecosystems provide for us, such as fisheries.

One could argue that to maintain ecosystem services we don’t need to protect biodiversity but rather, we only need to protect the species and functional groups that fill the keystone roles. However, there are a couple of problems with this idea.

First of all, for most ecosystems we don’t know which species are the keystones! Ecosystems are so complex that we are still discovering which species play vital roles in maintaining them. In some cases its groups of species not just one species that are vital for the ecosystem.

Second, even if we did complete the enormous task of identifying and protecting all keystone species, what back-up plan would we have if an unforseen event (e.g. pollution or disease) led to the demise of these ‘keystone’ species? Would there be another species to save the day and take over this role? Classifying some species as ‘keystone’ implies that the others are not important. This may lead to the non-keystone species being considered ecologically worthless and subsequently over-exploited. Sometimes we may not even know which species are likely to fill the keystone roles.

An example of this was discovered on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. This research examined what would happen to a coral reef if it were over-fished. The “over-fishing” was simulated by fencing off coral bommies thereby excluding and removing fish from them for three years. By the end of the experiment, the reefs had changed from a coral to an algae dominated ecosystem – the coral became overgrown with algae.
When the time came to remove the fences the researchers expected herbivorous species of fish like the parrot fish (Scarus spp.) to eat the algae and enable the reef to switch back to a coral dominated ecosystem. But, surprisingly, the shift back to coral was driven by a supposed ‘unimportant’ species – the bat fish (Platax pinnatus). The bat fish was previously thought to feed on invertebrates – small crabs and shrimp, but when offered a big patch of algae it turned into a hungry herbivore – a cow of the sea – grazing the algae in no time. So a fish previously thought to be ‘unimportant’ is actually a keystone species in the recovery of coral reefs overgrown by algae! Who knows how many other species are out there with unknown ecosystem roles!

In some cases it’s easy to see who the keystone species are but in many ecosystems seemingly unimportant or redundant species are also capable of changing niches and maintaining ecosystems. The more biodiverse an ecosystem is, the more likely these species will be present and the more resilient an ecosystem is to future impacts.

Presently we’re only scratching the surface of understanding the full importance of biodiversity and how it helps maintain ecosystem function. The scope of this task is immense. In the meantime, a wise insurance policy for maintaining ecosystem services would be to conserve biodiversity. In doing so, we increase the chance of maintaining our ecosystem services in the event of future impacts such as disease, invasive species and of course, climate change.

This is the international year of biodiversity – a time to recognize that biodiversity makes our survival on this planet possible and that our protection of biodiversity maintains this service.


From Talking


How World Peace Is Possible

Just because something is hard doesn't mean it's impossible 

When I was in grammar school learning about World War II, I remember thinking how grateful I was that society had finally matured to the point in the intervening years that war no longer ever broke out. Today I can hardly remember what bizarre thought process led me to conclude that people had actually become less barbaric with time. I do remember I also believed racial prejudice had died out decades ago and that the pronouncement of guilt or innocence by our justice system reflected actual guilt or innocence.
But I've forgiven my earlier self this embarrassing naivete because I think his conclusions weren't based entirely on ignorance as much as on a hope for how things could be. And though for many years I scoffed at the notion, I have to confess now that I've become convinced world peace is indeed possible.

Countries don't go to war. The leaders of countries go to war. They marshal their reasons, stir up the public, dehumanize the enemy (as I wrote about in an earlier post, The True Cause Of Cruelty), and send out their forces. The number of people actually responsible for the decision to go to war can usually fit comfortably inside a single large-sized room.
Leaders, of course, only occasionally represent the best of what humanity has to offer so they usually exhibit the same failings and weaknesses as the rest of us. They get angry when they shouldn't, let their egos motivate them more than they should, and are entirely too concerned with doing what's popular rather than what's right. They suffer from the same three poisons as the populations they lead: greed, anger, and stupidity.
The true cause of war lies in the unchecked rampaging of these three poisons through the hearts of individual people. Though the situations confronting world leaders that lead them to decide to wage war often seem complex, the only way in which they're different from conflict that erupts between two people standing in a room is that they occur on a larger scale. But if in civilized societies we expect people to work out their differences amicably (whether themselves or with the help of the courts), why don't those same expectations apply to differences between civilized countries?

In a world in which tyrannies continue to exist, war may in fact sometimes be justified. In the same way it's necessary to fight to defend oneself when attacked, so too it's sometimes necessary to go to war to put down injustice, or even the possibility of injustice when its likelihood is great enough. Rarely, however, is this given as a primary reason. Even democracies seem to be roused to war only by self-interest.
Fair enough. But when any leader chooses war, he or she should do so with a heavy heart. As the original Buddha, Shakyamuni, once said when asked if killing was ever to be permitted: "It is enough to kill the will to kill." In other words, we should strive to kill the the idea that killing others should be anything other than the very last action we ever permit ourselves to take. Shakyamuni was a realist. He knew the world would always be filled with people bent on committing evil, people whose ideas about how to live involved oppressing and killing others, and though he felt compassion even for them would speak loudly and passionately about the necessity of standing against them in concrete, practical ways.

To achieve world peace—to create a world in which war ceases to break out—seems impossible because of the sheer number of people who haven't yet mastered themselves, who haven't tamed their ambition to raise themselves up at the expense of others, and who haven't learned to start from today onward, letting past wrongs committed by both sides remain in the past. In short, it seems an impossible dream because we're in desperately short supply of human beings who are experts at living.
An expert at living isn't a person who never experiences greed, anger, or stupidity but rather one who remains in firm control of those negative parts (which can never be entirely eliminated), who's able to surmount his or her darkest negativity, and displays a peerless ability to resolve conflict peacefully. What generates this expert ability to resolve conflict? Wisdom and joy. Wise people are happy people, and happy people are wise. If enough people in the world's population became happy and wise, violence would be used far less often to solve conflict. If this pool of experts at living became large enough, we'd start seeing some of our leaders being picked from among them. And if enough leaders were experts at living, war, too, would be used far less often to solve conflict and further the interests of nations.
I'm no Pollyanna. I fully recognize that as long as there remain inequities between classes, as long as people feel they have little hope for a good life and remain unable to tolerate others believing differently than they do about important issues, violence and war will continue. Which means the real path to world peace can't be found in the passing of more laws, in diplomacy, or even in war itself. It can only be found in the actions individual human beings take to reform the tenets they hold in their hearts in order to become experts at living. Some argue human nature being what it is precludes the possibility of world peace, but I would counter that human nature doesn't need to change—it only needs to be managed. Haven't countless numbers of us already learned to do this every day, denying our baser impulses in order to contribute to solutions instead of problems?

The reason most scoff at the notion of achieving world peace is because if you buy the principle that individual human revolution is the real solution, then literally some billions of people would need to actively embrace the notion of devoting themselves to continual self-reformation. But—if you buy the principle that enough people becoming experts at living would create world peace, then you can't argue world peace is literally impossible—just extraordinarily unlikely.
I don't believe world peace will be achieved in my lifetime. But I do believe it won't be achieved in any lifetime after mine unless I make causes for it to happen now. How can I-and you-make those causes? As Gandhi famously said, by becoming the change we wish to see. Strive to become an expert at living. Be good to those around you in concrete ways. Create an island of peace in your own life. If you do, it will spread. If enough of us do this, our islands will meet, ceasing to be islands and becoming whole continents. World peace exists literally in the actions each one of takes in our own lives.
The most significant obstacle to achieving world peace isn't the extraordinary difficulty involved in becoming a genuine expert at living, though. It's that those most in need of reforming the tenets they hold in their hearts, who most need training in how to be an expert at living, are those least interested in it, a point well articulated here.
The only real lever we have to pull with such people is their desire to become happy. We must convince them to follow our lead by becoming so happy ourselves—so ridiculously, genuinely happy—that they decide on their own they want to be like us, that they want what we have. And then we have to show them how to get it. Good ideas are our weapons. When people come to deeply believe in notions that promote peace, peace will follow like a shadow follows the body.
To say this strategy is long-term would be an understatement. But all other solutions seem to me even less likely to succeed than the one I'm proposing here. You may think me as hopelessly naive as my younger self who thought war had already been eliminated for continuing to hope that widespread, lasting peace is possible, but as John Lennon famously sang, I'm not the only one. The ultimate dream of every Nichiren Buddhist is the accomplishment of world peace by the achievement of individual happiness.

We need to summon the courage to even voice a commitment to the goal. We can't worry about if it can be done at all, or how long it might take. It can be done. It will take a long, long time. But the argument that it can't be done and therefore shouldn't be attempted is the argument of cowards. If there weren't people throughout our history who refused to listen to that logic, we'd all still be living in caves. Look again at the last word in the title of this post.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to explore Dr. Lickerman's home page, Happiness in this World

Monday, February 22, 2010

Are you a Leader or just a Boss?

I often find that many people onfuse leadership with positional power. We tend to believe that a person in a position of authority or someone with a title, has their position or title due to their leadership qualities. However, in many cases there is no correlation between someone’s position and their leadership ability. Just having a title does not make you a leader, leaderships is about influence. Title only buys you time to exercise true leadership, and in this time your leadership either increases or diminishes and eventually fails. There is a huge difference between being a boss  and being a leader…! Consider the following…
“The boss drives group members; the leader coaches them.
The boss depends upon authority; the leader on good will.
The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm.
The boss says ‘I’; the leader says ‘we.’
The boss assigns the task, the leader sets the pace.
The boss says, ‘Get there on time’; the leader gets there ahead of time.
The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown.
The boss knows how it is done; the leader shows how.
The boss makes work a drudgery; the leader makes it a game.
The boss says, ‘Go’; the leader says, ‘Let’s go.’“
– Author unknown

People follow the boss because they have to if they want to keep their jobs. People follow leaders because of who they are and were they are going.  Too many leaders today rely on their position to lead. How about you?

The SymbioCity concept: Combine and benefit

The SymbioCity concept saves your environment and money at the same time. The secret: Combine your urban systems and benefit from the synergies. Read about the SymbioCity concept, how it has been put into practice in Sweden, and how you can make the journey to implementation short and comfortable with the help of our consultants, contractors and suppliers.

Liveable SymbioCity

Economy, environment and improved well-being? Yes! The SymbioCity approach is centered around our needs as individuals and families. Symbiosis means the integration of two or more organisms in a mutually beneficial union. This also describes the idea of SymbioCity. Looking at the city as a whole, we find benefits through synergies in urban functions – turning waste into energy instead of landfills, for one. In Sweden this is the way we have been saving our natural resources and money for over fifty years. It is our way to a prosperous, secure and comfortable future for all citizens. In our experience the SymbioCity approach is applicable to other countries, no matter the circumstances.

Our Concept

Our Concept The SymbioCity approach

It takes more than one petal to make a flower. SymbioCity promotes holistic and sustainable urban development. We find potential synergies in urban functions and help to unlock their efficiency and profitability.

Combine urban functions - and prosper

The image shows the urban functions that support a working city. There are many ways to make an urban function effective. But focusing on them individually means you miss out on the real treat: the synergies that can be found between them. These synergies can only be found with a holistic approach and do not just improve the environment. They are also truly profitable.    

Turning water into...

Take water – a scarcer resource than ever. Modern cleaning technology can produce drinking water from household wastewater. Along with household biowaste, this wastewater could serve as a resource for biogas production. And there you go: two urban functions (water supply and sanitation), combined with waste management, just gave you the means to run your city bus fleet and keep your farmers stocked with quality fertilizer.

Create your own SymbioCity

SymbioCity offer working models to help you identify the synergies between urban functions and to engage all the necessary players - public and private - who should be involved in the project. We can assist you at every level of making it all come to life. 

Scalable Solutions Applicable almost anywhere in the world

An automatic waste disposal system for an entire city – or a biodegradable plastic bag collected by bicycle. Every subsystem of the SymbioCity-model offers a matrix like this; from cutting edge technology to functional low-tech solutions. SymbioCity is a scalable concept, applicable almost anywhere in the world. The level of engagement is entirely up to you, your needs and your means. Our holistic principle remains the same.

Meeting your needs

The matrix shows waste management examples but is equally practicable to other elements in the SymbioCity concept. Depending on your needs and resources, SymbioCity can help found a new, state-of-the-art, ultramodern, high-tech city district. Or help you create a single system or building that acts as a touchstone, driving interest in sustainable building – step by step. Apply SymbioCity to both new towns and renewal of existing urban districts.

Efficiency is key

On a small scale, composting might be the most efficient solution. On a large scale, the whole waste issue could be fully automated – both in terms of transport and energy sourcing. The most efficient solutions are not always the most high-tech. SymbioCity helps you find your own best combinations.

The Swedish Experience Change is always possible

The world’s population is growing. Fast. By 2050 there will be 9 billion of us, up from 6 billion today. A majority will live in cities. The impact on our environment will be tremendous. Every economy simply must build sustainable urban areas to ensure human well-being today and tomorrow.  

Finding the right way

Cities are and have always been the very centres for cultural life and economic growth. The main challenges are well known: water and food supply, transport systems, waste disposal, threats to fauna and flora and, of course, CO₂ emissions and climate change. Managing these areas of urban growth is crucial to every decision maker – and SymbioCity is all about finding the best and most profitable ways.

Sweden – once a troubled nation

By the 1970s, decades of heavy industrialisation had finally taken their toll on Sweden. Polluted air, dead forests, wastelands and toxic water were everyday news. To cap it all, Sweden was the most oil-dependent country in the industrialised world.

New policies - new ideas

Eventually, the negative events triggered political action and tougher legislation, spurred cooperation between local, regional and national authorities and private industry – and got ordinary citizens involved, too. Suddenly, companies began to turn sustainable ideas into reality, finding new ways to treat water, insulate buildings and develop automatic energy saving systems and alternative fuels. A new insight: these innovations also turned out to be really profitable.   

Oil habit broken

In the past decades these innovations have been put into practice on a wider scale, cutting the amount of oil that Swedes use for heating and electricity by a stunning 90%. When it comes to sulphur emissions Sweden is back at pre-World War I levels.

Economy up - emissions down

And there is more. The new environmental legislation did not seem to clash with the economy. In fact, it was the other way round. Since 1990 CO2 emissions have been reduced by 9% while the economy has been growing at stable speed. Seemingly, the goal of sustainability does not have to hamper economic growth. Maybe it could even drive it. Not to speak of all the social benefits coming from a better environment.

Finding the money

The financing of SymbioCity investment projects follows the same procedures as for any other investments. By applying a holistic, long term planning approach, it is often possible to increase revenues or reduce costs, thereby improving your net income. On this basis, the alternatives are either public financing or seeking capital on the financial markets. 

A large number of organisations have infrastructure finance as their main market offer, e.g. the World Bank, African or Asian Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development just to mention a few. Sometimes, international development aid could also provide an opportunity to finance for example feasibility studies. 

There are a number of Swedish financial institutions that are experts in finding potential financial solutions in the fields of infrastructure, energy and sustainable construction, with experience from all over the world.

SymbioCity Scenarios

SymbioCity Scenarios Practice makes perfect

SymbioCity Scenarios aims to increase the awareness of some of the numerous possibilities local governments have available to steer their cities towards a more sustainable development. Within this area there are many valid and different points of views and small and large scale solutions depending on various conditions and cultures. Swedish expertise offers support and knowledge to help you to create your plan towards a more sustainable city.

We recommend a screen resolution of 1280x800. Click "F11" for a full screen experience. For support or questions, please contact

A World of Possibility Programs

Living a Simpler Life

Betsy Taylor

Seeking a Richer Life Rather than Seeking to Get Rich

Paul Ray

Understanding Ourselves Through Philosophy and Religion

Mara Keller

Reconstructing Community: Breaching the Walls Between Us

Joe Van Belleghem, Peter Calthorpe, Chrisna du Plessis, Bill Reed

The Coming Rural Renaissance

John Ikerd, Mark Ritchie

A Sense of Place

Larry Cleverley, Betsy Marston, Ed Marston

Sharing Fortunes, Advocating Responsible Wealth

Chuck Collins, Jenny Ladd

The Quest for More Meaning Rather than More Money

John DeGraaf, Alisa Gravitz

Working Toward More Socially Constructive Ends

Timlynn Babitsky, Jim Salmons

Vanishing and Re-emerging: Reviving Biological and Cultural Diversity

Urban resilience

How resilient are cities? And what is resilience?

Written by Fredrik Moberg 

How can urbanization be directed so that cities can function as generators of innovation, and core contributors to future sustainability? The answer may very well be spelled “resilience”, claims a new article in SEED Magazine.

After Hurricane Katrina coastal restoration has emerged as a top priority both in New Orleans and at national level in the US. Researchers have calculated that restoring 1 kilometer of wetland would reduce the wave height during a hurricane by one meter, and now efforts are underway to begin rebuilding the southern Louisiana coastline. Likewise, New York City has decided to plant one million new trees as these will have a cooling, shading effect, will reduce air pollution, and will sequester megatons of carbon from the atmosphere. Moreover, a recent study found that tripling the number of street trees could reduce asthma among children by 25 percent. These are two examples of how cities around the world can become more resilient, put forward in an interesting article on the website of the bimonthly science magazine SEED.

The article defines resilience as "How much shock can a system absorb before it transforms into something fundamentally different?". It then describes resilience theory as based on two radical premises: (1) Humans and nature are strongly coupled and co-evolving, and should therefore be conceived of as one “social-ecological” system; (2) The long-held assumption that systems respond to change in a linear, predictable fashion is simply wrong. "According to resilience thinking, systems are in constant flux; they are highly unpredictable and self-organizing, with feedbacks across time and space. In the jargon of theorists, they are complex adaptive systems, exhibiting the hallmarks of complexity".

In the article, Professor Thomas Elmqvist of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, talks about several new initiatives taken by his research group in urban ecology, including a Social-Ecological Urban Atlas website and a 12-city urban research network that will both be showcased during the World Expo in Shanghai later this year.

– We are going into a very interesting new era when it comes to global governance. We will have nation states, but we will also have very powerful cities raising their voices about the future and the nature of sustainable development, Elmqvist says.

By 2030, the planet’s current 2.9 billion urban residents will rise to a staggering 5 billion, according to UN estimates. By 2050, humanity may well be 80 percent urban. The key question now, according to the SEED magazine article, is how urbanization can be directed so that cities can be harnessed as generators of innovation, and core contributors to future sustainability: “As scientists make headway on these macro-issues, can they develop tools to help decision-makers build for social, economic, and ecological resilience?”

More at:
 Seed Magazine on Urban Resilience by Garry Peterson

Urban resilience

The Urban Resilience program will focus research on the major challenges facing urban systems and the landscapes they comprise. The same questions arise for urban as for regional social-ecological systems: how much and which kinds of disturbances can urban areas absorb without shifting to alternative less desirable system regimes?
The Research Prospectus (available for download below) provides a framework for science organization and delivery that will help the RA connect with other research groups, as well as provide a platform for engaging with related global initiatives.
The first phase of research, to be undertaken over the next 3-5 years, will develop and explore a set of robust propositions or working hypotheses about the dynamics and resilience of urban systems and their landscapes. Organised around four key themes of inquiry - (1) metabolic flows, (2) social dynamics, (3) governance networks, and (4) built environment - this research will be grounded in a select set of comparative urban case studies. It will be led by an established network of urban researchers from CSIRO, Australia, Arizona State University, USA, and Stockholm University, Sweden.
What this work aims to provide is a multi-level understanding of the resilience of urban systems which recognises the role of metabolic flows in sustaining urban functions, human well-being and quality of life; governance networks and the ability of society to learn, adapt and reorganise to meet urban challenges; and the social dynamics of people as citizens, members of communities, users of services, consumers of products, etc, and their relationship with the built environment which defines the physical patterns of urban form and their spatial relations and interconnections
To learn more about the Urban Resilience program please download the prospectus below.

Urban Resilience Research Prospectus (475 KB)
CSIRO, Australia; Arizona State University, USA; Stockholm University, Sweden   download...

Resilience Assessment

See also the Workbook Wiki for the latest new modules:

From RAWorkbook

Jump to: navigation, search
Assessing and Managing Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems: A Practitioner's Workbook

New Modules:
Specified and General Resilience (Section 1.5, by Brian Walker)
Social Networks among Stakeholders (Section 4.2 , by Orjan Bodin & Beatrice Crona)

The workbook wiki is based on Version 1.0 of the Practitioner's workbook "Assessing and Managing Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems". The workbook is structured around a set of key concepts that underly resilience thinking and provide a framework for assessing the resilience of natural resource systems. Each concept is explained by way of an example and a summary list of key messages, which is followed by a set of activities designed to help users explore system parameters and management options for their own system of interest from a resilience perspective.

There are five main sections to the workbook:
1: Resilience of What, to What?
2: Assessing Alternate States and Thresholds
3: Assessing Cycles of Change
4: Adaptability and Transformative Change
5: Next Steps: Interventions

Please keep the feedback coming:

Stockholm Resilience Centre

What is resilience?
Resilience is the capacity to deal with change and continue to develop. 
Resilience refers to the capacity of a social-ecological system both to withstand perturbations from for instance climate or economic shocks and to rebuild and renew itself afterwards. 

Loss of resilience can cause loss of valuable ecosystem services, and may even lead to rapid transitions or shifts into qualitatively different situations and configurations, evident in, for instance people, ecosystems, knowledge systems, or whole cultures.

The resilience lens provides a new framework for analyzing social—ecological systems in a changing world facing many uncertainties and challenges. It represents an area of explorative research under rapid development with major policy implications for sustainable development.

Why resilience?

Sometimes change is gradual and things move forward in roughly continuous and predictable ways. At other times, change is sudden, disorganizing and turbulent reflected in climate impacts, earth system science challenges and vulnerable regions. Evidence points to a situation where periods of such abrupt change are likely to increase in frequency and magnitude. This challenges the adaptive capacity of societies.
The resilience approach focuses on the dynamic interplay between periods of gradual and sudden change and how to adapt to and shape change.

Research at the Stockholm Resilience Centre will address these challenges in order to generate a deeper understanding of interdependent social-ecological systems for improved governance and policy.

Useful links

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Master on Urban Development Planning

Dear Madam/Sir, Dear project partners, Dear interested parties, Dear students, Dear friends,

As Academic Coordinator of the Master of Science Programme “Urban Development Planning” at the Vietnamese-German University in Ho Chi Minh City, I would kindly like to inform you of the APPLICATION procedures of our new study course:


Vietnamese-German University (VGU) in Ho Chi Minh City offers the full time two years (four semester) Master of Science Programme - URBAN DEVELOPMENT PLANNING - in cooperation with the University of Technology Darmstadt and the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus.

In the following, you will find more detailed information related to the application procedure.


The application is still possible until end of February 2010.
The application form is attached.
The application can be made by e-mail:


(1) Bachelors Degree in architecture, building engineering, geography, environmental sciences (planning and management), social sciences and other subjects related to urban development.

(2) English level has to be TOEFL 550 (PBT), 79 (IBT) or IELTS 6.0.: Applicants that cannot supply appropriate certificates have to participate in the VGU English entrance exam. Dependent on the test results, applicants might be required to participate in an intensive language course organized and offered by VGU.

For further information I refer you to the attached flyer.
Regarding further details and individual applications, please feel free to contact me.

In addition, we would be grateful if you could assist us in the promotion of our Master Programme URBAN DEVELOPMENT PLANNING by forwarding this information further to additional interested candidates and parties.

Yours Sincerely

Harry Storch

Dr. Harry Storch
Vietnamese-German University
Academic Coordinator
Master of Science Programme
Mobile: 01267123783

Urban Development Planning - UDP

'Urban Development Planning' is a full time two years (4 Semester) Master Program offered at VGU by the University of Technology Darmstadt and the University of Technology Cottbus. The language of instruction is English.
The postgraduate Masters course 'Urban Development Planning' addresses problems of rapid urbanization in newly industrializing nations and adequate responses to the issue arising from an interdisciplinary understanding. It is taught by a team of internationally renowned professors. Students with a first degree in Architecture, building engineering, geography, social sciences and other subjects to urban development will mostly come from Vietnam and other ASEAN countries, but possibilities exist for exchanges with, or subsequent PhD studies at Universities in Germany. The course opens creative employment perspectives at municipal, national and international level in a sector marked by the challenge to improve living conditions for more than half of the globe's population.

Competencies and Learning Goals:

Students are expected to acquire a comprehensive and interdisciplinary understanding of interrelated processes determining modern urbanization processes and on this basis to develop adequate development strategies with reference to international experience. After completion of the course they will be familiar with the highly complex process of urban development in a quickly urbanizing country, be able to analyse typical urban problem in a new and specific context, know up-to-date principles of both tested and emerging intervention techniques and preventive strategies. This will enable them to respond to the previously identified problems and to develop new and innovative approaches if indicated. Most of this capacity will be built up from the following study contents.
- Foundations:  comprehensive understanding of urban issues and bridging the gap between the following sector oriented modules.
- Urban development theory: Issues of growth and governance of huge and medium sized cities in the South are analysed in the national, regional and global perspective. Different possible policy responses are being discussed.
- Urban management, governance & housing policies: Intra-urban and municipal administrative, management and affordability issues are being addressed.
- Physical planning: introduction to rational and responsible urban design respecting ecological principles and contributing to a city’s international reputation. Basic design principles will be taught with special attention to course participants without a professional urban planning background.
- Sustainable urban infrastructure & technology: familiarization with urban technologies appropriate for countries in the South, including a large variety of alternative technical solutions for sanitation, mobility, energy, communication and building construction demands – including many solutions not normally considered in conventional university curricula. Although these technologies will not be covered in full detail, the basic principles, advantages and limitations are being highlighted.
- Urban environmental planning, management, law and administration: ecological degradation and global climatic change have set a new and mandatory focus to urban development, which is being dealt with in all its multiple aspects.
- Conviviality and culture: A basic knowledge of urban sociology issues and a good consideration of cultural or religious context are being introduced as key factors for the success of urban intervention projects to be implemented in a particular region.
- International  co-operation skills: donor imposed mmethodologies for project identification, appraisal, funding, supervision, evaluation of projects are not only an indispensable tool for acquisition and management of foreign funded  projects but also a useful skill for dealing with institutional or commercial investors in urban development. Students of the course will obtain understanding and training in these methodologies.
- Academic skills: The necessary knowledge of methodological and formal requirements for successfully completing the master thesis – and possibly a subsequent PhD thesis - is being explained to those students not yet familiar with established research methodologies. 

Job Perspectives:

Graduates from this course will be prepared to critically analyze and assess the growing problems in urban areas internationally and to develop appropriate solutions in terms of architecturally, socially, economically and ecologically sustainable urban development. They will have acquired necessary skills direct and coordinate multidisciplinary teams and to understand potentials, scope and limitations of individual project or program elements without necessarily knowing all the technical details of the many tasks to be executed by specialists belonging to a single discipline. The multi-national and multidisciplinary background of both participants and academic staff helps the students to build up a world-wide network of professional contacts - an indispensable asset in an increasingly globalizing working environment. Graduates of this course are expected to be employed at decision maker's level in public administration, international institutions, and private consultancy or foreign aid agencies. They will be awarded a German diploma which will qualify them to apply for PhD studies within the European Union and enter an academic career.

Who can apply?

The interdisciplinary postgraduate Master programme (M.Sc.) “Urban Development Planning” at Vietnamese-German University (VGU) has been designed for students and professionals from multiple professional backgrounds intending to work in the context of sustainable urban development planning for Vietnam and South-East Asia. It aims at qualifying students to conceiving and directing forward-looking urban management approaches that comprehensively incorporate physical, managerial, ecological, economic and social elements. By definition of its complexity, the urban development process needs to be multi-sector oriented; it requires the skills of coordinating interlocking interventions and of detecting and mediating possible conflicts. These qualifications are equally needed for professionals who intend working at the leading and/or decision making level in public, private or civil organizations.
Students who plan to apply for the Master of Science Programme 'Urban Development Planning' have to fulfil the following requirements:
- a Bachelor degree in Architecture, Urban Planning, Civil Engineering, Sociology, Geography or a related field with an above average result
- write a motivation letter.
- English skills in upper-intermediate level to be proved through a minimum IELTS score of 6.0 (or equivalent) at the start of the program.
The next start of the programme is in March 2010, the application deadline is 26.02.2010.  Please read here for further information about the application procedure, the tuition fee and VGU's generous scholarship system

If you are interested please contact for further information the following adresses:
- about 'Urban Development Planning': - about the application procedure:  


Prof. Dr. Kosta Mathey
TU Darmstadt
KMathey@aol.comDr. Harry Storch
TU Cottbus


Factsheet: 'Urban Development Planning'
UDP Schedule:
Semester 1: download
Semester 2: download
UDP Module Description:
UDP List of Lecturers:
UDP Public Lecture Series: