Monday, July 29, 2013

Creating the big shift

by Stephanie Draper

So how can we make sure the decisions we make now shape a better energy system? Governments, companies and civil society all need to develop and scale the best solutions and we need to be more sophisticated and joined up in the way we act.

This is not easy. But help is at hand. Today we are launching a report bringing together our thinking on how we can create big shifts in whole systems. It explores how Nike is shifting the materials system, and what is happening in shipping. It is a starting point in sharing our learning to date about the process of change, and the start of a bigger conversation we are calling #theBIGshift.

So check it out if you want to know more about diagnosing barriers and finding the right places to focus your efforts. Or perhaps you are more interested in how to innovate collaboratively or how to increase your chances of scaling. There are stories, examples and resources on all of these in the report.

And we want to know what you think. At Forum we are constantly learning and developing our approaches, and we hope that our combined knowledge, skills and experience can help create #theBIGshift in energy and other sectors that we are looking for.

But I guess I am on my own with the boiler.

Related links:


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sustainability is destroying the Earth

“Very provocative article that make us question what sustainability is really about and what alternatives we actually need to create different systems. Enjoy!” ~ Mabel

Don’t talk to me about sustainability.  You want to question my lifestyle, my impact, my ecological footprint?  There is a monster standing over us, with a footprint so large it can trample a whole planet underfoot, without noticing or caring.  This monster is Industrial Civilization.  I refuse to sustain the monster.  If the Earth is to live, the monster must die.  This is a declaration of war.

What is it we are trying to sustain?  A living planet, or industrial civilization?  Because we can’t have both.

Somewhere along the way the environmental movement – based on a desire to protect the Earth, was largely eaten by the sustainability movement – based on a desire to maintain our comfortable lifestyles.  When did this happen, and why?  And how is it possible that no-one noticed?  This is a fundamental shift in values, to go from compassion for all living beings and the land, to a selfish wish to feel good about our inherently destructive way of life.

The sustainability movement says that our capacity to endure is the responsibility of individuals, who must make lifestyle choices within the existing structures of civilization.  To achieve a truly sustainable culture by this means is impossible.  Industrial infrastructure is incompatible with a living planet.  If life on Earth is to survive, the global political and economic structures need to be dismantled.

Sustainability advocates tell us that reducing our impact, causing less harm to the Earth, is a good thing to do, and we should feel good about our actions.  I disagree. Less harm is not good.  Less harm is still a lot of harm.  For as long as any harm is caused, by anyone, there can be no sustainability. Feeling good about small acts doesn’t help anyone.

Only one-quarter of all consumption is by individuals.  The rest is taken up by industry, agribusiness, the military, governments and corporations.  Even if every one of us made every effort to reduce our ecological footprint, it would make little difference to overall consumption.

If the lifestyle actions advocated really do have the effect of keeping our culture around for longer than it would otherwise, then it will cause more harm to the natural world than if no such action had been taken.  For the longer a destructive culture is sustained, the more destruction it causes.  The title of this article isn’t just attention-grabbing and controversial, it is quite literally what’s going on.

When we frame the sustainability debate around the premise that individual lifestyle choices are the solution, then the enemy becomes other individuals who make different lifestyle choices, and those who don’t have the privilege of choice.  Meanwhile the true enemy — the oppressive structures of civilization — are free to continue their destructive and murderous practices without question.  This is hardly an effective way to create a meaningful social movement.  Divide and be conquered.

Sustainability is popular with corporations, media and government because it fits perfectly with their aims.  Maintain power.  Grow.  Make yourself out to be the good guy.  Make people believe that they have power when they don’t.  Tell everyone to keep calm and carry on shopping.  Control the language that is used to debate the issues.  By creating and reinforcing the belief that voting for minor changes and buying more stuff will solve all problems, those in power have a highly effective strategy for maintaining economic growth and corporate-controlled democracy.

Those in power keep people believing that the only way we can change anything is within the structures they’ve created.  They build the structures in a way that people can never change anything from within them.  Voting, petitions, and rallies all reinforce the power structures, and can never bring about significant change on their own.  These tactics give corporations and governments a choice.  We’re giving those in power a choice of whether to grant our request for minor reform.  Animals suffering in factory farms don’t have a choice.  Forests being destroyed in the name of progress don’t have a choice.  Millions of people working in majority-world sweatshops don’t have a choice.  The 200 species who became extinct today didn’t do so by choice.  And yet we give those responsible for all this murder and suffering a choice.  We’re granting the desires of a wealthy minority above the needs of life on Earth.

Most of the popular actions that advocates propose to achieve sustainability have no real effect, and some even cause more harm than good.  The strategies include reducing electricity consumption, reducing water use, a green economy, recycling, sustainable building, renewables and energy efficiency.  Let’s look at the effects of these actions.


We’re told to reduce our consumption of electricity, or obtain it from alternative sources.  This will make zero difference to the sustainability of our culture as a whole, because the electricity grid is inherently unsustainable.  No amount of reduction or so-called renewable energy sources will change this.  Mining to make electrical wires, components, electrical devices, solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal plants, biomass furnaces, hydropower dams, and everything else that connects to the electricity grid, are all unsustainable.  Manufacturing to make these things, with all the human exploitation, pollution, waste, health and social impacts, and corporate profits.  Fossil fuels needed to keep all these processes going.  Unsustainable.  No amount of individual lifestyle choices about electricity use and generation will change any of this.  Off grid electricity is no different – it needs batteries and inverters.

Water conservation

Shorter showers.  Low-flow devices.  Water restrictions.  These are all claimed to Make A Difference.  While the whole infrastructure that provides this water – large dams, long distance pipelines, pumps, sewers, drains – is all unsustainable.

Dams destroy the life of a whole watershed.  It’s like blocking off an artery, preventing blood from flowing to your limbs.  No-one can survive this.  Rivers become dead when fish are prevented from travelling up and down the river.  The whole of the natural community that these fish belong to is killed, both upstream and downstream of the dam.

Dams cause a lowering of the water table, making it impossible for tree roots to get to water.  Floodplain ecologies depend on seasonal flooding, and collapse when a dam upstream prevents this.  Downstream and coastal erosion results.  Anaerobic decomposition of organic matter in dams releases methane to the atmosphere.

No matter how efficient with water you are, this infrastructure will never be sustainable.  It needs to be destroyed, to allow these communities to regenerate.

The green economy

Green jobs.  Green products.  The sustainable economy.  No.  There’s no such thing.  The whole of the global economy is unsustainable.  The economy runs on the destruction of the natural world.  The Earth is treated as nothing but fuel for economic growth.  They call it natural resources.  And a few people choosing to remove themselves from this economy makes no difference.  For as long as this economy exists, there will be no sustainability.

For as long as any of these structures exist: electricity, mains water, global economy, industrial agriculture – there can be no sustainability.  To achieve true sustainability, these structures need to be dismantled.

What’s more important to you – to sustain a comfortable lifestyle for a little longer, or the continuation of life on Earth, for the natural communities who remain, and for future generations?


We’re made to believe that buying a certain product is good because the packaging can be recycled.  You can choose to put it in a brightly-coloured bin.  Never mind that fragile ecosystems were destroyed, indigenous communities displaced, people in far away places required to work in slave conditions, and rivers polluted, just to make the package in the first place.  Never mind that it will be recycled into another useless product which will then go to landfill.  Never mind that to recycle it means transporting it far away, using machinery that run on electricity and fossil fuels, causing pollution and waste.  Never mind that if you put something else in the coloured bin, the whole load goes to landfill due to the contamination.

Sustainable building

Principles of sustainable building: build more houses, even though there are already enough perfectly good houses for everyone to live in.  Clear land for houses, destroying every living thing in the natural communities that live there.   Build with timber from plantation forests, which have required native forests to be wiped out so they can be replaced with a monoculture of pines where nothing else can live.  Use building products that are slightly less harmful than other products.  Convince everyone that all of this is beneficial to the Earth.

Solar power

Solar panels.  The very latest in sustainability fashion.  And in true sustainability style, incredibly destructive of life on earth.  Where do these things come from?  You’re supposed to believe that they are made out of nothing, a free, non-polluting source of electricity.

If you dare to ask where solar panels come from, and how they are made, its not hard to uncover the truth.  Solar panels are made of metals, plastics, rare earths, electronic components.  They require mining, manufacturing, war, waste, pollution.  Millions of tons of lead are dumped into rivers and farmland around solar panel factories in China and India, causing health problems for the human and natural communities who live there.  Polysilicon is another poisonous and polluting waste product from manufacturing that is dumped in China.  The production of solar panels causes nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) to be emitted into the atmosphere.  This gas has 17 000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Rare earths come from Africa, and wars are raged over the right to mine them.  People are being killed so you can have your comfortable Sustainability.  The panels are manufactured in China.  The factories emit so much pollution that people living nearby become sick.  Lakes and rivers become dead from the pollution.  These people cannot drink the water, breathe the air or farm the land, as a direct result of solar panel manufacturing.  Your sustainability is so popular in China that villagers mobilise in mass protest against the manufacturers.  They are banding together to break into the factories and destroy equipment, forcing the factories to shut down.  They value their lives more than sustainability for the rich.

Panels last around 30 years, then straight to landfill.  More pollution, more waste.  Some parts of solar panels can be recycled, but some can’t, and have the bonus of being highly toxic.  To be recycled, solar panels are sent to majority-world countries where low-wage workers are exposed to toxic substances while disassembling them. The recycling process itself requires energy and transportation, and creates waste products.

Solar panel industries are owned by Siemens, Samsung, Bosch, Sharp, Mitsubishi, BP, and Sanyo, among others.  This is where solar panel rebates and green power bills are going.  These corporations thank you for your sustainable dollars.

Wind power

The processing of rare earth metals needed to make the magnets for wind turbines happens in China, where people in the surrounding villages struggle to breathe in the heavily polluted air.  A five-mile-wide lake of toxic and radioactive sludge now takes the place of their farmland.

Whole mountain ranges are destroyed to extract the metals.  Forests are bulldozed to erect wind turbines.  Millions of birds and bats are killed by the blades.  The health of people living close to turbines is affected by infrasound.

As wind is an inconsistent and unpredictable source of energy, a back-up gas fired power supply is needed.  As the back-up system only runs intermittently, it is less efficient, so produces more CO2 than if it were running constantly, if there were no turbines.  Wind power sounds great in theory, but doesn’t work in practice.  Another useless product that benefits no-one but the shareholders.

Energy efficiency

How about we improve energy efficiency?  Won’t that reduce energy consumption and pollution?  Well, no.  Quite the opposite.  Have you heard of Jevon’s paradox?  Or the Khazzoom-Brookes Postulate?  These state that technological advances to increase efficiency lead to an increase in energy consumption, not a decrease.  Efficiency causes more energy to be available for other purposes.  The more efficient we become at consuming, the more we consume.  The more efficiently we work, the more work gets done.  And we’re working at efficiently digging ourselves into a hole.

The economics of supply and demand

Many actions taken in the name of sustainability can have the opposite effect.  Here’s something to ponder: one person’s decision not to take flights, out of concern about climate change or sustainability, won’t have any impact.  If a few people stop flying, airlines will reduce their prices, and amp up their marketing, and more people will take flights.  And because they are doing it at lower prices, the airline needs to make more flights to make the profit it was before.  More flights, more carbon emissions.  And if the industry hit financial trouble as a result of lowered demand, it would get bailed out by governments.  This “opt-out” strategy can’t win.

The decision not to fly isn’t doing anything to reduce the amount of carbon being emitted, it’s just not adding to it in this instance.  And any small reduction in the amount of carbon being emitted does nothing to stop climate change.

To really have an impact on global climate, we’ll need to stop every aeroplane and every fossil-fuel burning machine from operating ever again.  And stopping every fossil-fuel burning machine is nowhere near the impossible goal it may sound.  It won’t be easy, but it’s definitely achievable.  And it’s not only desirable, but essential if life on this planet is to survive.

The same goes for any other destructive product we might choose not to buy.  Factory-farmed meat, palm oil, rainforest timbers, processed foods.  For as long as there is a product to sell, there will be buyers.  Attempting to reduce the demand will have little, if any, effect.  There will always be more products arriving on the market.  Campaigns to reduce the demand of individual products will never be able to keep up.  And with every new product, the belief that this one is a need, not a luxury, becomes ever stronger.  Can I convince you not to buy a smartphone, a laptop, a coffee?  I doubt it.

To stop the devastation, we need to permanently cut off the supply, of everything that production requires.  And targeting individual companies or practices won’t have any impact on the global power structures that feed on the destruction of the Earth.  The whole of the global economy needs to be brought to a halt.

What do you really want?

What’s more important – sustainable energy for you to watch TV, or the lives of the world’s rivers, forests, animals, and oceans?  Would you sooner live without these, without Earth?  Even if this was an option, if you weren’t tightly bound in the interconnected in the web of life, would you really prefer to have electricity for your lights, computers and appliances, rather than share the ecstasy of being with all of life on Earth?  Is a lifeless world ruled by machines really what you want?

If getting what you want requires destroying everything you need – clean air and water, food, and natural communities – then you’re not going to last long, and neither will anyone else.

I know what I want.  I want to live in a world that is becoming ever more alive.  A world regenerating from the destruction, where every year there are more fish, birds, trees and diversity than the year before. A world where I can breathe the air, drink from the rivers and eat from the land.  A world where humans live in community with all of life.

Industrial technology is not sustainable.  The global economy is not sustainable.  Valuing the Earth only as a resource for humans to exploit is not sustainable.  Civilization is not sustainable.  If civilization collapsed today, it would still be 400 years before human existence on the planet becomes truly sustainable.  So if it’s genuine sustainability you want, then dismantle civilization today, and keep working at regenerating the Earth for 400 years.  This is about how long it’s taken to create the destructive structures we live within today, so of course it will take at least that long to replace these structures with alternatives that benefit all of life on Earth, not just the wealthy minority.  It won’t happen instantly, but that’s no reason not to start.

You might say let’s just walk away, build alternatives, and let the whole system just fall apart when no-one pays it any attention any more.  I used to like this idea too.  But it can’t work.  Those in power use the weapons of fear and debt to maintain their control.  The majority of the world’s people don’t have the option of walking away.  Their fear and debt keeps them locked in the prison of civilization.  Your walking away doesn’t help them.  Your breaking down the prison structure does.

We don’t have time to wait for civilization to collapse.  Ninety per cent of large fish in the oceans are gone.  99 per cent of the old growth forests have been destroyed.  Every day 200 more species become extinct, forever.  If we wait any longer, there will be no fish, no forests, no life left anywhere on Earth.

So what can you do?

Spread the word.  Challenge the dominant beliefs.  Share this article with everyone you know.

Listen to the Earth.  Get to know your nonhuman neighbours.  Look after each other.  Act collectively, not individually.  Build alternatives, like gift economies, polyculture food systems, alternative education and community governance.  Create a culture of resistance.

Rather than attempting to reduce the demand for the products of a destructive system, cut off the supply.  The economy is what’s destroying the planet, so stop the economy.  The global economy is dependent on a constant supply of electricity, so stopping it is (almost) as easy as flicking a switch.

Governments and industry will never do this for us, no matter how nicely we ask, or how firmly we push.  It’s up to us to defend the land that our lives depend on.

We can’t do this as consumers, or workers, or citizens.  We need to act as humans, who value life more than consuming, working and complaining about the government.

Learn about and support Deep Green Resistance, a movement with a working strategy to save the planet.  Together, we can fight for a world worth living in.  Join us.

In the words of Lierre Keith, co-author of the book Deep Green Resistance, “The task of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much personal integrity as possible; it is to dismantle those systems.”


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

8 Signs of an Extraordinary Boss

By Geoffrey James

The best managers have a fundamentally different understanding of workplace, company, and team dynamics. See what they get right.

A few years back, I interviewed some of the most successful CEOs in the world in order to discover their management secrets. I learned that the "best of the best" tend to share the following eight core beliefs.

1. Business is an ecosystem, not a battlefield.

Average bosses see business as a conflict between companies, departments and groups. They build huge armies of "troops" to order about, demonize competitors as "enemies," and treat customers as "territory" to be conquered.

Extraordinary bosses see business as a symbiosis where the most diverse firm is most likely to survive and thrive. They naturally create teams that adapt easily to new markets and can quickly form partnerships with other companies, customers ... and even competitors.

2. A company is a community, not a machine.

Average bosses consider their company to be a machine with employees as cogs. They create rigid structures with rigid rules and then try to maintain control by "pulling levers" and "steering the ship."

Extraordinary bosses see their company as a collection of individual hopes and dreams, all connected to a higher purpose. They inspire employees to dedicate themselves to the success of their peers and therefore to the community–and company–at large.

3. Management is service, not control.

Average bosses want employees to do exactly what they're told. They're hyper-aware of anything that smacks of insubordination and create environments where individual initiative is squelched by the "wait and see what the boss says" mentality.

Extraordinary bosses set a general direction and then commit themselves to obtaining the resources that their employees need to get the job done. They push decision making downward, allowing teams form their own rules and intervening only in emergencies.

4. My employees are my peers, not my children.

Average bosses see employees as inferior, immature beings who simply can't be trusted if not overseen by a patriarchal management. Employees take their cues from this attitude, expend energy on looking busy and covering their behinds.

Extraordinary bosses treat every employee as if he or she were the most important person in the firm. Excellence is expected everywhere, from the loading dock to the boardroom. As a result, employees at all levels take charge of their own destinies.

5. Motivation comes from vision, not from fear.

Average bosses see fear--of getting fired, of ridicule, of loss of privilege--as a crucial way to motivate people. As a result, employees and managers alike become paralyzed and unable to make risky decisions.

Extraordinary bosses inspire people to see a better future and how they'll be a part of it. As a result, employees work harder because they believe in the organization's goals, truly enjoy what they're doing and (of course) know they'll share in the rewards.

6. Change equals growth, not pain.

Average bosses see change as both complicated and threatening, something to be endured only when a firm is in desperate shape. They subconsciously torpedo change ... until it's too late.

Extraordinary bosses see change as an inevitable part of life. While they don't value change for its own sake, they know that success is only possible if employees and organization embrace new ideas and new ways of doing business.

7. Technology offers empowerment, not automation.

Average bosses adhere to the old IT-centric view that technology is primarily a way to strengthen management control and increase predictability. They install centralized computer systems that dehumanize and antagonize employees.

Extraordinary bosses see technology as a way to free human beings to be creative and to build better relationships. They adapt their back-office systems to the tools, like smartphones and tablets, that people actually want to use.

8. Work should be fun, not mere toil.

Average bosses buy into the notion that work is, at best, a necessary evil. They fully expect employees to resent having to work, and therefore tend to subconsciously define themselves as oppressors and their employees as victims. Everyone then behaves accordingly.

Extraordinary bosses see work as something that should be inherently enjoyable–and believe therefore that the most important job of manager is, as far as possible, to put people in jobs that can and will make them truly happy.


Less Work, More Living

by Juliet Schor

Working fewer hours could save our economy, save our sanity, and help save our planet.


Millions of Americans have lost control over the basic rhythm of their daily lives. They work too much, eat too quickly, socialize too little, drive and sit in traffic for too many hours, don’t get enough sleep, and feel harried too much of the time. It’s a way of life that undermines basic sources of wealth and well-being—such as strong family and community ties, a deep sense of meaning, and physical health.

Earn less, spend less, emit and degrade less. That's the formula. The more time a person has, the better his or her quality of life, and the easier it is to live sustainably.

Imagining a world in which jobs take up much less of our time may seem utopian, especially now, when a scarcity mentality dominates the economic conversation. People who are employed often find it difficult to scale back their jobs. Costs of medical care, education, and child care are rising. It may be hard to find new sources of income when U.S. companies have been laying people off at a dizzying rate.

But fewer work hours for people with jobs is a key step toward solving the unemployment crisis—while giving Americans healthier lives. Fewer hours means more jobs are available to people who need them. Living on less pay usually means consuming less, making more of the things one needs at home, and living lighter, whether by design or by accident.

Today, driven both by necessity and the deliberate choice to live simply, more Americans are shifting toward fewer work hours. It’s a trend that, if done correctly, could get us out of our current economic crisis and away from unsustainable economic growth.

Finding Time

Water fountain piggyback photo by CSuspect

Economists today focus solely on growth as a mechanism for job creation. But for much of the industrial age, falling hours have been roughly as important a contributor to employment as market growth.

The grueling schedules of the 19th century undermined health and prevented people from achieving what we now call quality of life. Hours of work in the United States began to decline after about 1870—from about 3,000 a year to 2,342 by 1929. In 1973 annual work hours stood at 1,887 (fewer than 40 hours per week, on average). If hours hadn’t fallen, unemployment would have grown even before the 1930s Depression.

Since the 1970s, Americans have been working longer. According to government survey data, the average working person was putting in 180 more hours of work in 2006 than he or she was in 1979. The trends are more pronounced on a household basis. Many more men are working schedules in excess of 50 hours a week. (Thirty percent of male college graduates and 20 percent of all full-time male workers are on schedules that usually exceed 50 hours.)

Not surprisingly, over the last 20 years, a large number of U.S. employees report being overworked. A 2004 study found that 44 percent of respondents were often or very often overworked, overwhelmed at their jobs, or unable to step back and process what’s going on. A third reported being chronically overworked. These overworked employees had much higher stress levels, worse physical health, higher rates of depression, and a reduced ability to take care of themselves than their less-pressured colleagues.

Doing it yourself, or self-provisioning, is now on the rise, both because of a culture shift and because in hard times, people have more time and less money.

But there are recent signs that a culture shift toward shorter hours has begun. In 1996, when I first surveyed on this issue, 19 percent of the adult population reported having made a voluntary lifestyle change during the previous five years that entailed earning less money. In a 2004 survey by the Center for a New American Dream, 48 percent did.

The stagnant economy, difficult as it is, represents an opportunity for expanding the norm of part-time work. In the first year of the recession, many businesses avoided layoffs by reducing hours through furloughs, unpaid vacations, four-day workweeks, and flex-time. By mid-2009, one study of large firms found that 20 percent had reduced hours to forestall job cuts.

Unfortunately, a lack of institutional support for short hours policies reversed many of those programs, as economist Dean Baker argued in a recent paper. Baker hypothesizes that businesses would provide an additional 1 to 2 million jobs a year if workers could collect unemployment insurance when they are on short schedules.

One thing we do know is that people who voluntarily start working less are generally pleased. In the New Dream survey, 23 percent said they were not only happier, but they didn’t miss the money. Sixty percent reported being happier, but missed the money to varying degrees. Only 10 percent regretted the change. And I’ve also found downshifters who began with a job loss or an involuntary reduction in pay or hours, but came to prefer having a wealth of time.

The Wealth We Make Ourselves

Earn less, spend less, emit and degrade less. That’s the formula. The more time a person has, the better his or her quality of life, and the easier it is to live sustainably. A study by David Rosnick and Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research estimated that if the United States were to shift to the working patterns of Western European countries, where workers spend on average 255 fewer hours per year at their jobs, energy consumption would decline about 20 percent. New research I have conducted with Kyle Knight and Gene Rosa of Washington State University, looking at all industrialized countries over the last 50 years, finds that nations with shorter working hours have considerably smaller ecological and carbon footprints.

There’s also a small but growing body of studies that examine these questions at the household scale. A French study found that, after controlling for income, households with longer working hours increased their spending on housing (buying larger homes with more appliances), transport (longer hours reduced the use of public transportation), and hotels and restaurants. A recent Swedish study found that when households reduce their working hours by 1 percent, their greenhouse gas emissions go down by 0.8 percent. One explanation is that when households spend more time earning money, they compensate in part by purchasing more goods and services, and buying them at later stages of processing (e.g., more prepared foods). People who have more time at home and less at work can engage in slower, less resource-intensive activities. They can hang their clothing on the line, rather than use an electric dryer. More important, they can switch to less energy-intensive but more time-consuming modes of transport (mass transit or carpool versus private auto, train versus airplane). They can garden and cook at home. They can meet more of their basic needs by making, fixing, doing, and providing things themselves.

Doing-it-yourself, or self-provisioning, is now on the rise, both because of a culture shift and because in hard times people have more time and less money.

In April 2009, according to a national survey, one in five Americans said they were making plans to plant a garden that year. After the recession hit, service-oriented businesses such as salons, pet groomers, and nannies experienced a decline in business as people began doing these things for themselves. An annual expo called Maker Faire that started in California has been attracting growing numbers of do-it-yourselfers and inventors. It’s spreading to new locations around the country, and attendance has reportedly quadrupled since 2006.

True Wealth book cover

People are returning to lost arts practiced by earlier generations—woodworking, quilting, brewing beer, and canning and preserving. They are also hunting, fishing, and sewing. People engage in these activities because they enjoy them and they yield better-quality products or products that are not easily available. Producing artisanal jams, sauces, and smoked meats, or handmade sweaters, quilts, and clothing makes these pricey items affordable.

Self-provisioning is also getting popular in housing. For example, the movement toward straw-bale homes has taken off in the Southwest. Straw-bale construction has become prevalent enough that some localities have introduced code for it, and there are even banks that lend for these structures. People are also experimenting with the use of compressed earth bricks, poured earth, “papercrete” (which uses recycled paper and a small amount of concrete), and a variety of other materials. New Englanders have revived the colonial-era tradition of community barn-raisings, only now they’re coming together to build yurts.

As failed housing markets around the country stagnate, one can expect more real estate refugees to construct their own debt-free shelter with recycled, low-cost, or no-cost materials.

Self-provisioning is also a spur to entrepreneurial activity. Most people who practice it don’t self-provide everything. They find some productive activities they prefer, are more skilled at, or can do more easily. They trade or sell what they’re best at producing. With this specialization, self-provisioning becomes a pathway to incubating a set of small businesses that will flourish as the sustainable economy takes off.

A large-scale switch to less work and more production and self-provisioning at home will require some collective solutions. We need systems that provide basic security to all individuals and families—from childhood through old age. Access to basic needs such as education and health care must be widely affordable.

But it’s possible for many people to take small steps—right now—toward fewer job hours and more self-sufficiency. There are challenges, to be sure, but for many, the switch from paper-pushing to gardening has been welcome. Self-providers value their newfound skills, love the chance to be creative, and are getting satisfaction and security from constructing a more self-reliant lifestyle. The ability to work for oneself is highly valued. They are nourished by connection with the earth. Perhaps most important, they are rewarded by the opportunity to live without endangering others and the planet.

Juliet Schor is professor of sociology at Boston College and the author of the national bestseller, The Overspent American. This article is adapted from True Wealth by Juliet Schor, reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) Juliet Schor, 2011.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

How to Design Our World for Happiness

How to Design Our World for Happiness is a free e-book that is chock full of inspirational stories, tips, and case studies that encourage Placemakers to think Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper, and get started on transforming their communities today. Click here to download the PDF.

The following list is excerpted from the new e-book How to Design Our World for Happiness, edited by Jay Walljasper and the ace team at On the Commons.

The Commons Framework:

The best reason for creating community is that it will enrich all of our lives. / Photo by Woodley Wonder Works under a CC license

The best reason for creating community is that it will enrich all of our lives. / Photo by Woodley Wonder Works under a CC license

E.F. Schumacher (author of Small is Beautiful) offered timeless advice about how to boost our communities, “Perhaps we cannot raise the wind. But each of us can put up the sail, so that when the wind comes we can catch it.”

Here’s a handy list of ways you can capture the breeze in the place you call home. And we’re sure you’ll discover more ideas of your own.

1) Challenge the prevailing myth that all problems have private, individualized solutions.

2) Notice how many of life’s pleasures exist outside the marketplace—gardening, fishing, conversing, playing music, playing ball, enjoying nature, and more.

3) Take time to enjoy what your corner of the world offers (As the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire once declared, “We are bigger than our schedules.”)

4) Have some fun. The best reason for making great places is that it will enliven all of our lives.

5) Offer a smile or greeting to people you pass. Community begins with connecting—even in brief, spontaneous ways.

6) Walk, bike, or take transit whenever you can. It’s good for the environment, but also for you. You make very few friends behind the wheel of your car.

7) Treat common spaces as if you own them (which, actually, you do). Pick up litter. Keep an eye on the place. Tidy things up. Report problems or repair things yourself. Initiate improvements.

8) Pull together a potluck. Throw a block party. Form a community choir, slow food club, Friday night poker game, seasonal festival, or any other excuse for socializing.

9) Get out of the house and spend some time on the stoop, the front yard, the street—anywhere you can be a part of the river of life that flows past.

10) Create or designate a “town square” for your neighborhood where folks naturally want to gather—a park, playground, vacant lot, community center, coffee shop, or even a street corner.

11) Lobby for more public benches, water fountains, plazas, parks, sidewalks, bike trails, playgrounds, and other crucial commons infrastructure.

12) Take matters into your own hands and add a bench to your front yard or transform a vacant lot into a playground.

13) Conduct an inventory of local commons. Publicize your findings, and offer suggestions for celebrating and improving these community assets.

14) Organize your neighbors to prevent crime and to defuse the fear of crime, which often dampens a community’s spirits even more than crime itself.

15) Remember streets belong to everyone, not just automobiles. Drive cautiously and push for traffic calming and other improvements that remind motorists they are not kings of the road.

16) Buy from local, independent businesses whenever possible. (For more information see American Independent Business Alliance and the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies).

17) Form a neighborhood exchange to share everything from lawn mowers to childcare to vehicles.

18) Barter. Trade your skill in baking pies with someone who will fix your computer.

19) Join campaigns opposing cutbacks in public assets like transit, schools, libraries, parks, social services, police and fire protection, arts programs, and more.

20) Write letters to the editor about the importance of community commons, post on local websites, call into talk radio, tell your friends.

21) Learn from everywhere. What can Copenhagen teach us about bicycles? India about wellness? Africa about community solidarity? Indigenous nations about the commons itself? What bright ideas could be borrowed from a nearby neighborhood or town?

22) Become a guerrilla gardener, planting flowers and vegetables on neglected land in your neighborhood.

23) Organize a community garden or local farmer’s market.

24) Roll up your sleeves to restore a creek, wetland, woods, or grasslands.

25) Form a study group to explore what can be done to improve your community.

26) Think yourself as a local patriot and share your enthusiasm.


On the Commons


Are you concerned about our air, water, food, and the state of our communities?

These are our commons. They belong to us all and must be protected—not only for the health of our society, but also for each of us and future generations.

Our new e-book demonstrates how people—in their own backyards and across the globe—are rising up to reclaim and protect our commons on every scale from climate to community gardens.

Get your free download of Celebrating the Commons now!

Our book not only gives you a close look at what’s happening in the emerging commons movement, but also suggests how you can use a commons approach to help shape a healthier, safer, and more vibrant future for us all.

Turning Houseboats into a Creative Eco-Hub

by Joe Peach

What’s your workplace like? Though the buildings and spaces we work in can vary considerably, chances are you aren’t working in an environmentally-friendly creative cluster made from discarded houseboats. But if that kind of thing floats your boat (so to speak), keep your eyes on De Ceuvel – “a planned workplace for creative and social enterprises adjacent to the van Hasselt kanaal in Amsterdam North.”

De Ceuvel is currently a work in progress, located on a heavily-polluted brownfield site leased from the City of Amsterdam for ten years. The project began as a competition to reimagine a former industrial plot, with the team responsible for the winning concept calling their vision “the most unique and sustainable urban development in Europe.”

So what is so unique about De Ceuvel?


The project will be made up of retrofitted houseboats connected by a winding bamboo path. The boats will house offices and workshops for creative and social enterprises along with a bed and breakfast and the obligatory teahouse. Land surrounding the development will be home to soil-cleaning plants, working to cleanse the site of its toxic past; a process with some beneficial side effects:

The heavily polluted soil will be purified by phytoremediation techniques, in which plants are used to clean the soil. A specially selected combination of plants is used to stabilize, break off and take up pollutants. This organic way of cleaning the soil will result in a working landscape, cleaning the soil while creating habitat and producing low-impact biomass. The biomass from the area will be used to develop products and energy. A small biomass gasifier at the site will convert the biomass into energy, which is used in the houseboats on site.

Water is a defining force in Amsterdam, so reusing houseboats that would otherwise have been thrown away is both fitting and sustainable. This act of reuse is also partly driven by the temporary nature of the project. With a defined life of ten years, erecting a permanent structure was never on the agenda. The winding bamboo path that connects these houseboats is the result of the plot itself – the pollution resulting from its former industrial purpose means excessive direct contact with the site is best avoided.

circular metabolism

In addition to the unusual built environment (or should that be boat environment?), De Ceuvel will also be home to an experimental system known as the Cleantech Playground, which will be responsible for the site’s resources:

The Cleantech Playground is both a decentralized cleantech utility and a demonstration and testing site for new technologies that can transform how we produce and consume resources and public services in cities. Throughout the site, solar technologies will convert energy from the sun into heat and electricity. Green roofs and water collection systems are designed to collect, purify, and store rainwater for when it’s needed. Sanitation systems will extract energy, nutrients, and water from the waste produced for on-site food production. A network of sensors provide information on performance and user behavior.

Indeed, the team behind the project believe it could demonstrate a new way forward for cities.

The houseboats may be stranded, but that doesn’t mean De Ceuvel isn’t going anywhere.

You can read more about the project on the De Ceuvel website.


Monday, July 15, 2013

The critical decade for action

The Critical Decade 2013

Download full report: The Critical Decade 2013

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Two years ago the Climate Commission warned that 2011-2020 is the ‘Critical Decade’ for tackling climate change. In particular, this is the Critical Decade for turning around rising emissions of greenhouse gases and putting us on the pathway to stabilising the climate system.

One quarter of the way through the Critical Decade, many consequences of climate change are already evident, and the risks of further climate change are better understood. It is clear that global society must virtually decarbonise in the next 30-35 years. This means that most of the fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground.

Downloadthe full report; The Critical Decade 2013 Climate change science, risks and responses.

Download the Key Findings.

Download the summary; The Critical Decade 2013: A summary of climate change science, risks and responses.

Download images.

Read statements of support for The Critical Decade 2013.

Download the accessible version of The Critical Decade 2013.

Link to the animation, Critical choices in The Critical Decade.

1. Our understanding of the climate system has continued to strengthen.

  • Over the past half-century rapid changes have been observed across the world in many features of the climate system, including heating of the ocean and the air; changing rainfall patterns; reduction in the area of Arctic sea-ice; mass loss of polar ice sheets; increasing sea level; and changes in life cycles and distribution of many plants and animals.
  • There is very strong consensus that the climate is changing and that human activities, like the burning of fossil fuels, are the primary cause.
  • Scientists are now moving to new challenges, for instance, improving our understanding of shifting rainfall patterns and of potential abrupt or irreversible changes in major features of the climate system.

2. We are already seeing the social, economic and environmental consequences of a changing climate. Many of the risks scientists warned us about in the past are now happening.

  • Heatwaves: The duration and frequency of heatwaves and extremely hot days have increased across Australia and around the world. The number of heatwaves is projected to increase significantly into the future.
  • Bushfire weather: Climate change has already increased the risk of extreme fire weather in some parts of Australia, especially the populous southeast.
  • Rainfall patterns are shifting. The southwest corner of Western Australia and much of eastern Australia has become drier since 1970. The southwest and southeast corners of Australia are likely to remain drier than the long-term average or become even drier.
  • Sea-level rise: Global average sea level is now rising at a rate of 3 cm per decade and will continue to rise through the rest of this century and beyond, contributing to an increased frequency of coastal flooding around the world including Australia. For example, Fremantle has already experienced a three-fold increase in high sea level events since 1950.

3. The changing climate poses substantial risks for health, property, infrastructure, agriculture and natural ecosystems.

  • Health: Heat causes more deaths than any other type of extreme weather event in Australia. Increasing intensity and frequency of extreme heat poses health risks for Australians and can put additional pressure on health services. Changes in temperature and rainfall may allow mosquito-borne illness like dengue fever to spread south.
  • Property and infrastructure across Australia has been built for previous climatic conditions and much of it is ill prepared to cope with increasingly frequent and/or intense extreme weather.
  • Agriculture: Changing rainfall patterns and increasing risk of extreme heat and bushfire weather present challenges for Australian agriculture. Production of temperature- and water-sensitive broadacre crops, fruit, vegetables and wine grapes need to adapt to these changing growing conditions or move to locations where growing conditions are becoming more amenable for their production.
  • Natural ecosystems: Many Australian plants and animals are already responding to climate change be changing their distributions and the timing of life cycles. Climate change, in combination with other stresses, is increasing the risk of species extinctions and threatening many iconic ecosystems including the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu National Park and the alpine zone.

4. Three years into the Critical Decade it is clear: substantial progress is being made globally to reduce emissions. However, far more will need to be done to stabilise the climate. The decisions we make from now to 2020 will largely determine the severity of climate change our children and grandchildren experience.

Overspend in the carbon budget

Overspend in the carbon budget. Each CO2 symbol represents 10 billion tonnes of CO2.

  • There has been meaningful global progress in the last two years. All major economies, including China and the United States, are putting in place solutions to drive down emissions and grow renewable energy. It will take some time to see the impact of these policies.
  • Carbon dioxide concentrations are at the highest level in over one million years. Despite global efforts they continue to increase at the fastest at a rate much faster than at any other time on the recent geological record.
  • Most nations of the world, including Australia, have agreed that the risks of a changing climate beyond 2°C are unacceptably high. The temperature rise is already approaching 1degrees Celsius above pre-industrial, nearly halfway to the 2°C limit.
  • The best chance for staying below the 2°C limit requires global emissions to begin declining as soon as possible and by 2020 at the latest. Emissions need to be reduced to nearly zero by 2050.
  • Stabilising the climate within the 2°C limit remains possible provided that we redouble our efforts this decade and beyond.

5. Most of the available fossil fuels cannot be burnt if we are to stabilise the climate this century.

  • The burning of fossil fuels represents the most significant contributor to climate change.
  • From today until 2050 we can emit no more than 600 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to have a good chance of staying within the 2°C limit.
  • Based on estimates by the International Energy Agency, emissions from using all the world’s fossil fuel reserves would be around five times this budget. Burning all fossil fuels reserves would lead to unprecedented changes in climate so severe that they will challenge the existence of our society as we know it today.
  • It is clear that most fossil fuels must be left in the ground and cannot be burned.
  • Storing carbon in soils and vegetation is part of the solution but cannot substitute for reducing fossil fuel emissions.

Download The Critical Decade 2013: Climate change science, risks and responses.

Note: in the print version of the report, correct values for the y axis of Figure 18 are (in descending order): 300, 100, -100, -300, -500, -700, -900.

Author: Climate Commission
Tags: Australian climate change, carbon bubble, carbon budget, climate change science, Climate Commission, climate impacts, enhanced greenhouse effect, greenhouse effect, Lesley Hughes, risks of climate change, temperature increase, The Critical Decade 2013, Tim Flannery, Will Steffen

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