Tuesday, December 31, 2013

INTERVIEW: Vandana Shiva On Resisting GMOs - "Saving Seeds Is a Political Act"

Vandana Shiva on the "green carpet" ...
Vandana Shiva (Photo: Wikipedia)
by , Yes! magazine: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/how-to-eat-like-our-lives-depend-on-it/vandana-shiva-freedom-starts-with-a-seed

Sarah van Gelder interviewed Vandana Shiva for How To Eat Like Our Lives Depend On It, the Winter 2014 issue of YES! Magazine. Sarah is executive editor of YES!

Trained in physics and philosophy, Vandana Shiva is renowned for her activism against GMOs, globalization, and patents on seeds and traditional foods. 

She co-founded Navdanya, which promotes seed saving and organic farming and has more than 70,000 farmer-members. 

Sarah van Gelder: The seed has been a major part of your work. Could you say a little about what a seed is at its essence? 

Vandana Shiva: The seed in its essence is all of the past evolution of the Earth, the evolution of human history, and the potential for future evolution. The seed is the embodiment of culture because culture shaped the seed with careful selection - women picked the best, diversified.

So from one grass you get 200,000 rices.That is a convergence of human intelligence and nature’s intelligence. It is the ultimate expression of life, and in our language, it means “that from which life arises on its own, forever and ever and ever.”

van Gelder: So what is it worth?

Shiva: It’s priceless. There is no price to seed, which is why the commodification of seed is such an outrage. Every culture that I’ve come across believes that destroying seed is the ultimate sin. Communities have starved to death rather than eat the seed grain.

van Gelder: The prevailing worldview separates humans from the natural world, and it has had terrible effects. How are people healing this separation, and how are seeds part of that work?

Shiva: No matter what problem you look at, every ecological problem comes from this illusion that we are separate from nature. I believe overcoming the separation is a longing much deeper than the recent rise of ecological awareness.

The healing is coming from reclaiming our oneness with the web of life, with the universe itself. Some people do it through meditation and yoga, but a lot more are doing it by just planting a seed and growing a garden. In planting a seed you are one with the cycles and regenerative capacity of life.

We hear the same thing again and again from children we work with sowing gardens of hope with seeds of freedom. When you ask, “So what did you learn?” they always talk about the miracle of life - that a tiny seed bursts into a plant and gives an abundance, and they can harvest a seed from it.

A seed sown in the soil makes us one with the Earth. It makes us realize that we are the Earth. That this body of ours is the panchabhuta - the five elements that make the universe and make our bodies.

The simple act of sowing a seed, saving a seed, planting a seed, harvesting a crop for a seed is bringing back this memory - this timeless memory of our oneness with the Earth and the creative universe.

There’s nothing that gives me deeper joy than the work of protecting the diversity and the freedom of the seed. Every expression of diversity is an expression of freedom, and every expression of monoculture is an expression of coercion.

van Gelder: Can you say more about that? What is the relationship of freedom to biodiversity?

Shiva: Life is self-organized. Self-organized systems evolve in diversity. You are not identical to me, because each of us has evolved in freedom. The self-organizing capacity of life is expressed in diversity.

Diversity of culture, diversity of humans, diversity of seeds. Uniformity is constructed from the outside. It is coercive.

So a farm of only Roundup Ready soya is actually a battlefield. Chemical warfare is going on - spraying of Roundup to kill everything green, to kill the soil organisms, to kill the diversity, but also to kill the potential of the crop to manage itself and diseases.

Monocultures can only be held together through external control, and uniformity and external control and concentration go hand in hand.

van Gelder: How do we, the people, get strong enough to counter the enormous power of Monsanto and the like?

Shiva: We are dealing with life itself, so the first place we get power is by aligning ourselves with the forces of life. That is why the act of seed saving is such an important political act in this time.

And that is the part that is linked to self-organizing - organizing yourself to save the seeds, have a community garden, create an exchange, do everything that it takes to protect and rejuvenate the seed.

But at this point, industry is hungry to have absolute control. They will not tolerate a single farmer who has freedom in his seed supply. They will not stand a single seed that grows on its own terms.

van Gelder: If anything, things have gotten more dire since the last time we talked. How do you get energized and keep your own spirits up?

Shiva: You know it is true that on the one hand, the concentration of power is more than ever before. But I think the awareness about the illegitimacy of this power is also more than ever before.

If you take into account the number of movements, the number of protests taking place, and the number of people building alternatives, it’s huge.

The first place where I get joy as well as the energy to continue is the positive work of seed saving, promoting a peaceful agriculture, working with farmers, and now increasingly working with non-farmers.

In the course we are running on the farm right now, we have 55 young people - someone from a banking system, someone from a software firm, three filmmakers. No matter where in the world you are, people are realizing food is important.

They are realizing food begins with seed, and everyone wants to learn. When I see those processes get unleashed, when I see how rapidly gardening has become such an important way of healing violence - I just met a young man who’s working with ex-convicts to spread gardens.

That’s his work! He’s created a firm, and they are the owners, and the board members - how can you not be charged with energy?
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Monday, December 30, 2013

Annie Leonard: How to Be More than a Mindful Consumer

Stuff Coverby , Yes! magazine: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/the-human-cost-of-stuff/annie-leonard-more-than-a-mindful-consumer

Since I released "The Story of Stuff" six years ago, the most frequent snarky remark I get from people trying to take me down a notch is about my own stuff: Don't you drive a car? What about your computer and your cellphone? What about your books?

To the last one, I answer that the book was printed on paper made from trash, not trees, but that doesn't stop them from smiling smugly at having exposed me as a materialistic hypocrite. Gotcha!

Let me say it clearly: I'm neither for nor against stuff. I like stuff if it's well-made, honestly marketed, used for a long time, and at the end of its life recycled in a way that doesn't trash the planet, poison people, or exploit workers.

Our stuff should not be artifacts of indulgence and disposability, like toys that are forgotten 15 minutes after the wrapping comes off, but things that are both practical and meaningful.

British philosopher William Morris said it best: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

Too many T-shirts

The life cycle of a simple cotton T-shirt - worldwide, 4 billion are made, sold, and discarded each year - knits together a chain of seemingly intractable problems, from the elusive definition of sustainable agriculture to the greed and classism of fashion marketing.

The story of a T-shirt not only gives us insight into the complexity of our relationship with even the simplest stuff; it also demonstrates why consumer activism - boycotting or avoiding products that don’t meet our personal standards for sustainability and fairness - will never be enough to bring about real and lasting change.

Like a vast Venn diagram covering the entire planet, the environmental and social impacts of cheap T-shirts overlap and intersect on many layers, making it impossible to fix one without addressing the others.

I confess that my T-shirt drawer is so full it's hard to close. That's partly because when I speak at colleges or conferences, I'm often given one with a logo of the institution or event. They’re nice souvenirs of my travels, but the simple fact is: I've already got more T-shirts than I need.

And of all the T-shirts I have accumulated over the years, there are only a few that I honestly care about, mostly because of the stories attached to them.

My favorite (no eye-rolling, please) is a green number from the Grateful Dead's 1982 New Year's Eve concert.

To me this T-shirt, worn for more than 30 years by multiple members of my extended family, is both useful and beautiful, not only because I attended the concert but because a dear friend gave it to me, knowing how much I would treasure it.

The label even says "Made in the USA," which makes me smile because so few things are made in this country anymore, as brands increasingly opt for low-paid workers in poor countries.

Who sews those Tees?

And that takes me back to a day in 1990, in the slums of Port-au-Prince.

I was in Haiti to meet with women who worked in sweatshops making T-shirts and other clothing for the Walt Disney Company. The women were nervous about speaking freely. We crowded into a tiny room inside a small cinderblock house.

In sweltering heat, we had to keep the windows shuttered for fear that someone might see us talking. These women worked six days a week, eight hours a day, sewing clothes that they could never save enough to buy.

Those lucky enough to be paid minimum wage earned about $15 a week. The women described the grueling pressure at work, routine sexual harassment, and other unsafe and demeaning conditions.

They knew that Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, made millions. A few years after my visit, a National Labor Committee documentary, Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti, revealed that in 1996 Eisner made $8.7 million in salary plus $181 million in stock options - a staggering $101,000 an hour.

The Haitian workers were paid one-half of 1 percent of the U.S. retail price of each garment they sewed.

The women wanted fair pay for a day's work - which in their dire straits meant $5 a day. They wanted to be safe, to be able to drink water when hot, and to be free from sexual harassment.

They wanted to come home early enough to see their children before bedtime and to have enough food to feed them a solid meal when they woke.

Their suffering, and the suffering of other garment workers worldwide, was a major reason the end product could be sold on the shelves of big-box retailers for a few dollars.

I asked them why they stayed in the teeming city, living in slums that had little electricity and no running water or sanitation, and working in such obviously unhealthy environments instead of returning to the countryside where they had grown up.

They said the countryside simply couldn’t sustain them anymore. Their families had given up farming since they couldn't compete against the rice imported from the U.S. and sold for less than half the price of the more labor-intensive, more nutritious native rice.

It was all part of a plan, someone whispered, by the World Bank and U.S. Agency for International Development to drive Haitians off their land and into the city to sew clothes for rich Americans.

The destruction of farming as a livelihood was necessary to push people to the city, so people would be desperate enough to work all day in hellish sweatshops.

Their proper place

The next day I called on USAID. My jaw dropped as the man from the agency openly agreed with what at first had sounded like an exaggerated conspiracy theory. He said it wasn't efficient for Haitians to work on family farms to produce food that could be grown more cheaply elsewhere.

Instead they should accept their place in the global economy - which, in his eyes, meant sewing clothes for us in the United States.

But surely, I said, efficiency was not the only criterion. A farmer’s connection to the land, healthy and dignified work, a parent's ability to spend time with his or her kids after school, a community staying intact generation after generation - didn’t all these things have value?

"Well," he said, "if a Haitian really wants to farm, there is room for a handful of them to grow things like organic mangoes for the high-end export market." That's right: USAID's plan for the people of Haiti was not self-determination, but as a market for our surplus rice and a supplier of cheap seamstresses, with an occasional organic mango for sale at our gourmet grocery stores.

By 2008 Haiti was importing 80 percent of its rice. This left the world's poorest country at the mercy of the global rice market.

Rising fuel costs, global drought, and the diversion of water to more lucrative crops - like the thirsty cotton that went into the Disney clothing - withered worldwide rice production.

Global rice prices tripled over a few months, leaving thousands of Haitians unable to afford their staple food. The New York Times carried stories of Haitians forced to resort to eating mud pies, held together with bits of lard.

But that's not all

Whew. Global inequality, poverty, hunger, agricultural subsidies, privatization of natural resources, economic imperialism - it’s the whole messy saga of the entire world economy tangled up in a few square yards of cloth.

And we haven't even touched on a range of other environmental and social issues around the production, sale, and disposal of cotton clothing.

Cotton is the world's dirtiest crop. It uses more dangerous insecticides than any other major commodity and is very water intensive.

Cotton growing wouldn’t even be possible in areas like California's Central Valley if big cotton plantations didn't receive millions of dollars in federal water subsidies - even as some of the poverty-stricken farmworker towns in the Valley have no fresh water.

Dyeing and bleaching raw cotton into cloth uses large amounts of toxic chemicals. Many of these chemicals - including known carcinogens such as formaldehyde and heavy metals - poison groundwater near cotton mills, and residues remain in the finished products we put next to our skin.

Well-made cotton clothing - like my 30-year-old Grateful Dead T-shirt - can last a long time, providing years of service for multiple wearers before being recycled into new clothes or other products.

But most retailers are so intent on selling a never-ending stream of new clothes to their targeted demographic that they quickly throw away clothing in last season's style.

And here’s one more problem with stuff: we're not sharing it well. While some of us have way too much stuff - we’re actually stressed out by the clutter in our households and have to rent off-site storage units - others desperately need more.

For those of us in the overconsuming parts of the world, it's increasingly clear that more stuff doesn’t make us more happy, but for the millions of people who need housing, clothes, and food, more stuff would actually lead to healthier, happier people.

If you have only one T-shirt, getting a second one is a big deal. But if you have a drawer stuffed with them, as I do, a new one doesn’t improve my life. It just increases my clutter. Call it stuff inequity. One billion people on the planet are chronically hungry while another billion are obese.

Citizens, not consumers

The problems surrounding the trip from the cotton field to the sweatshop are just a smattering of the ills that not only result from the take-make-waste economy but make it possible. That’s why striving to make responsible choices at the individual consumer level, while good, is just not enough.

Change on the scale required by the severity of today's planetary and social crises requires a broader vision and a plan for addressing the root causes of the problem.

To do that we must stop thinking of ourselves primarily as consumers and start thinking and acting like citizens.

That's because the most important decisions about stuff are not those made in the supermarket or department store aisles. They are made in the halls of government and business, where decisions are made about what to make, what materials to use, and what standards to uphold.

Consumerism, even when it tries to embrace "sustainable" products, is a set of values that teaches us to define ourselves, communicate our identity, and seek meaning through acquisition of stuff, rather than through our values and activities and our community.

Today we're so steeped in consumer culture that we head to the mall even when our houses and garages are full. We suffer angst over the adequacy of our belongings and amass crushing credit card debt to, as the author Dave Ramsey says, buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have, to impress people we don't like.

Citizenship, on the other hand, is about what Eric Liu, in The Gardens of Democracy, calls "how you show up in the world."

It’s taking seriously our responsibility to work for broad, deep change that doesn’t tinker around the margins of the system but achieves (forgive the activist-speak) a paradigm shift.

Even "ethical consumerism" is generally limited to choosing the most responsible item on the menu, which often leaves us choosing between the lesser of two evils.

Citizenship means working to change what’s on the menu, and stuff that trashes the planet or harms people just doesn’t belong. Citizenship means stepping beyond the comfort zones of everyday life and working with other committed citizens to make big, lasting change.

One of our best models of citizenship in the United States is the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. It’s a myth that when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus it was a spontaneous act of individual conscience.

She was part of a network of thousands of activists who mapped out their campaign, trained to be ready for the struggles to come, then put their bodies on the line in carefully planned civil disobedience.

Consumer-based actions, such as boycotting segregated buses or lunch counters, were part of the campaign, but were done collectively and strategically. That model has been used, with varying degrees of success, in the environmental, gay rights, pro-choice, and other movements.

But consumer action alone - absent that larger citizen-led campaign - isn't enough to create deep change.

So yes, it is important to be conscious of our consumer decisions. But we're most powerful when this is connected to collective efforts for bigger structural change.

As individuals, we can use less stuff if we remember to look inward and evaluate our well-being by our health, the strength of our friendships, and the richness of our hobbies and civic endeavors.

And we can make even more progress by working together - as citizens, not consumers - to strengthen laws and business practices increasing efficiency and reducing waste.

As individuals, we can use less toxic stuff by prioritizing organic products, avoiding toxic additives, and ensuring safe recycling of our stuff. But we can achieve much more as citizens demanding tougher laws and cleaner production systems that protect public health overall.

And there are many ways we can share more, like my community of several families does. Since we share our stuff, we only need one tall ladder, one pickup truck, and one set of power tools.

This means we need to buy, own, and dispose of less stuff. From public tool lending libraries to online peer-to-peer sharing platforms, there are many avenues for scaling sharing efforts from the neighborhood to the national level.

We can't avoid buying and using stuff. But we can work to reclaim our relationship to it. We used to own our stuff; now our stuff owns us. How can we restore the proper balance?

I remember talking to Colin Beavan, aka No Impact Man, at the end of his year of living as low impact as he could manage in New York City: no waste, no preprocessed meals, no television, no cars, no buying new stuff. He shared with me his surprise at journalists calling to ask what he most missed, what he was going to run out and consume.

What he said has stayed with me as a perfect summation of the shift in thinking we all need to save the world - and ourselves - from stuff.

"They assumed I just finished a year of deprivation," Colin said. "But I realized that it was the prior 35 years that had been deprived. I worked around the clock, rushed home late and exhausted, ate take-out food, and plopped down to watch TV until it was time to take out the trash, go to sleep, and start all over again. That was deprivation."

Fortunately for the planet and for us, there is another way.

Annie Leonard wrote this article for The Human Cost of Stuff, the Fall 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Leonard’s “Story of...” series started with the 2007 “Story of Stuff” and now includes eight titles.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Six Things We Learned About Our Changing Climate in 2013

Drought (Photo credit: IRRI Images)
by Smithsonian.com: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/science/2013/12/six-things-we-learned-about-our-changing-climate-in-2013/

2013 was a great year for science. We discovered hundreds of exoplanets, found yet more evidence of ancient water on Mars and learned all about our species’ own evolution.

But it’s important to remember that, in terms of the long-term survival of both our species and all others on the planet, 2013 is remarkable for a much darker reason.

It’s a year in which we’ve pushed the climate further than ever away from its natural state, learned more than ever about the dire the consequences of doing so, and done as little as ever to stop it.

As greenhouse gas emissions soar unabated and the ramifications become rapidly apparent, here’s a rundown of what we learned about climate change in 2013:

1. There are record levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere

Starting in 1958, scientists at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii have tracked the general concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, far from power plant smokestacks or carbon-emitting traffic.

This past May, for the first time in human history, they saw carbon dioxide levels surpass 400 parts per million (ppm).

The planet hasn’t seen carbon dioxide concentrations this high anytime in the past million years - and perhaps anytime in the past 25 million - but what’s truly alarming is how rapidly they’re rising.

Pre-industrial levels were likely around 280 ppm, and the first measurements at Mauna Loa were 316 ppm. Now that we’re emitting the gas faster than ever, it’s not a stretch to imagine that people alive today could, as the Carbon Brief predicts, “look back on 400 ppm as a fond memory.”

2. Global warming may have appeared to slow down, but it’s an illusion

Over the past few years, average land surface temperatures have increased more slowly than in the past - prompting climate change deniers to seize upon this data as evidence that climate change is a hoax. But climate scientists agree that there are a number of explanations for the apparent slowdown.

For one, there’s the fact that the vast majority of the world’s warming - more than 90 percent - gets absorbed into the oceans, and thus isn’t reflected in land temperatures, but is reflected in rising sea levels and ocean acidification.

Additionally, even during a period in which average land temperatures continue to climb, climate models still predict variability for a variety of reasons (like, for instance, the El Niño/La Niña cycle).

Image via IPCC AR5 Report

But all this variability merely masks a consistent underlying trend. Break down the graph at left (which shows annual temperature changes) into decade averages, shown at right, and the overall picture becomes clear.

As physicist Richard Muller aptly described it in a recent New York Times op-ed, “When walking up stairs in a tall building, it is a mistake to interpret a landing as the end of the climb.”

3. An overwhelming majority of scientists agree that human activities are changing the climate

Healthy disagreement is a key element of any science - a mechanism that drives the search for new and ever-more-accurate hypotheses. But human-driven climate change, it turns out, is a particularly well-established and broadly-accepted idea.

A recent survey of every scientific study published between 1991 and 2012 that included either the phrase “global climate change” or “global warming” underscored this point.

In total, of the 11,944 studies the researchers found, 97.1 percent supported the idea that humans are changing the climate, and when the authors of these studies were contacted by the researchers, 97.2 percent of them explicitly endorsed the idea.

The initial phase of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Report, published in September, further emphasized this consensus.

The report, a synthesis of the research conducted by thousands of climate scientists around the planet, found that it’s “extremely likely” that human activities are the driving force behind the changing climate.

4. Climate change is already impacting your life

It’s tempting to think of climate change as a far off problem that we’ll have to deal with eventually. But an abundance of studies released this year show that the consequences of climate change are already being felt in a huge variety of ways, from the everyday to the catastrophic.

In terms of the former, climate change is forcing insurance companies to raise their premiums, driving up the price of coffee, altering the taste of appleshelping invasive species take over local ecosystems, threatening the suitability of wine-growing regions, reducing our ability to perform manual labor, melting outdoor ice hockey rinks and causing plants to flower earlier.

And, of course, there’s the most direct consequence: warming. Globally, we observed the hottest November on record, part of a string of 345 straight months with above-average temperatures compared to the 20th century average.

A map of temperatures recorded around the world during November, the hottest November on record. Image via NOAA

But it’s the catastrophic ramifications of climate change that are most terrifying. An altered climate will mean more extreme weather as a whole, something we’ve already begun to see all around the world.

India, for instance, has experienced a wildly unpredictable rainy season recently, with some years bringing disastrously weak monsoons, but this year’s was unprecedentedly heavy, with many areas receiving record 24-hour rainfalls and three times as much rain in total as average, leading to flooding that caused more than 5,700 deaths.

Meanwhile, the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall - with winds exceeding 190 miles per hour - hit the Philippines, killing at least 6,109 people.

While it’s impossible to link that one specific event to climate change, scientists agree that climate chage will make particularly intense storms more common.

Elsewhere, in 2013 we saw Brazil’s worst drought ever, Australia’s hottest summer on record, all-time heat records set in Austria and Shanghai, and what even the National Weather Service called a “biblical” flood in Colorado.

5. There’s not nearly enough being done to stop climate change

There have been some bright spots in 2013: Production of renewable energy in the U.S. has continued to increase, now accounting for a little over 14 percent of the country’s net energy generation.

Due to this trend - and the continued decline of coal, replaced in part by less carbon-dense natural gas - U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are at the lowest levels they’ve been in twenty years.

But this apparent good news simply hides another troubling trend: Instead of burning our coal, we’re simply exporting more and more of it abroad, especially to China. And unfortunately, there are no borders in the atmosphere. The climate’s going to change no matter where fossil fuels are burned.

This further emphasizes the need for an international agreement to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, something negotiators have repeatedly tried and failed to reach before.

Climate activists are hopeful that the 2015 round of UN negotiations, to be held in France, will result in a meaningful agreement, but there are a lot of hurdles to be cleared before that can happen.

6. There is one key formula to preventing catastrophic climate change

The amount of data and fine detail involved in calculating climate change projections can seem overwhelming, but a report released this summer by the International Energy Authority articulates the basic math.

Of all existing fossil fuel reserves that are still in the Earth - all of the coal, oil and natural gas - we must ultimately leave two-thirds unburned, in the ground, to avoid warming the climate more than 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit), a number scientists recognize as a target for avoiding catastrophic climate change.

If we can figure out a way to stay within this carbon budget before it’s too late, we can still avert a climate disaster. If we can’t, then we too might look back at today’s record-breaking temperatures, droughts and floods as a fond memory of milder times.
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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Bhutan's Environmental Success is a Pleasing Paradox

The Takin is Bhutan's national animal.
The Takin is Bhutan's national animal (Wikipedia)
by Ross Jeffree, University of Technology, Sydney

In a time of diminishing global biodiversity, Bhutan’s conservation achievements read like an environmentalist’s heavenly dream.

More than 50% of its land area is designated as protected in national parks, nature reserves and biological corridors.

More than 80% of the country is covered by natural forests, and it has a reafforestation program that is further increasing this figure.

And its record on carbon sequestration is greater than its national emissions by a factor of two.

Bhutan’s environmental successes are running so counter-current to most other countries, they represent a “pleasing paradox”. And they demonstrate that it is possible to preserve very high biodiversity while achieving sustainable development.

Bhutan’s counter intuitive development goals

For Bhutan, environmental sustainability is both the primary objective and the starting point for national development.

Within its 2008 national constitution, the government pledged to protect, conserve and improve its pristine environment and safeguard the biodiversity of the country. The flip side is that all Bhutanese are formally held responsible under the constitution to protect the environment.

The country is transcending the classical tension between economic development and environmental conservation by developing sectors that require continuing environmental protection to be sustainable.

This has included a “run-of-the-river” hydroelectricity development which requires the preservation of watersheds in natural forest. Their national needs for electricity are met while generating foreign exchange with India, which has expanding energy needs.

Bhutan has also developed a “low impact-high value” approach to tourism, guarding against some of the negative, culturally destructive aspects of mass tourism. Controlled pricing and limiting the numbers of tourists and their access to certain areas is also minimising unwanted impacts.

They have built an eco-tourism industry around protected areas. This ensures the conservation of biodiversity and landscapes that particularly attract the eco-tourist. It also generates income for communities living with problematic wildlife.

Resolving human-wildlife conflicts

Bhutan’s success in growing wildlife populations can often lead to conflicts with communities living within protected areas. Snow leopards can be very effective predators of domestic yak, often the primary source of livelihood and wealth of yak-herding communities.

These communities who experience high losses to snow leopards are renowned for their unbelievable level of tolerance to these beautiful predators that are so attractive to eco-tourists.

However, nationally it felt unjust that communities in prime snow leopard land should bear the full brunt of their predation.

Community-based compensation and herd insurance programs, funded by revenues from eco-tourism and non-timber forest products, are transforming snow leopards into an economic asset. This brings tangible benefits rather than liabilities to the local community.

Why is environmental conservation so important to Bhutan?

Part of the answer seems to lie in aspects of Bhutan’s metaphysical heritage. The original religion of Bon Shamanism inculcates reverence for the local deities and spirits that inhabit components of the landscape. Supernatural qualities are ascribed to animals.

Forests are seen as a valuable source of spiritual health, necessitating their conservation. Moreover, Mahayana Buddhism, that supplanted Bon, aspires to deeply perceive the interdependence of all things and events.

A very strong eco-ethical sentiment is found in the Buddhist belief that all actions should bring the most help and least harm to other sentient beings.

What can we learn from Bhutan?

It is important to firstly acknowledge that Bhutan’s Eastern metaphysics, which ascribe sentience to other animals, is a very similar viewpoint to the Western scientific tradition.

Our ultimate materialist, Charles Darwin, was willing to look for sentience in worms and he found it. Recent investigations have found sentience in a variety of taxa, beginning with ants. Moreover, Darwin proclaimed: “the love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man."

This is not so far from Bhutan’s ethic for compassionate conservation. But the priority we give to biodiversity conservation and sustainability is much lower in our list of concerns.

We could learn to celebrate our wildlife in festivals and art forms as the Bhutanese do, acknowledging they are also sentient. In doing so, we might care for them more.

And maybe the compassionate Australian ethic of a “fair go for all” could be extended to embrace all the sentient beings that we share our continent with.

Ross Jeffree does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
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Friday, December 27, 2013

How Cities of the Future Could See Cars Parked for Good

Traffic congestion at Kosmodamianskaya embankm...
Traffic congestion in Moscow (Photo: Wikipedia)
by Miles Tight, University of Birmingham

Is a car-free city possible? In many European cities walking and cycling already account for more than half of all journeys.

In Britain, the Sustainable Travel Demonstration Towns project between 2004-08 showed it’s possible to increase the number of people getting out of the car, encouraging sometimes up to nine times more journeys by foot or bike.

A large study carried out by researchers at the Universities of Leeds, Oxford, Salford, Manchester, and East Anglia, Visions 2030 explored different ways to increase the amount of walking and cycling in the UK.

This would improve public health, and considerably reduce the effects of carbon emissions in towns and cities by cutting traffic congestion, as stop-start traffic is the most polluting cycle of vehicle’s engines.

Our current journey patterns reveal there is great potential for change, as nearly two thirds of trips are less than 8km in length (38% under 3km), while 6% of car trips are under 1.6km.

Here the car’s efficiency is at its lowest, and the potential to easily swap it for other modes of transport is greatest. The rationale is partly to do with sustainability, but also improving the quality of life in our urban areas.

Business as usual: congestion, too many cars, cyclists and pedestrians crowded off pavements. Visions2030

The aim was to find ways to encourage more walking and cycling in cities for the year 2030.

Initially, this involved a lot of consultation to gather ideas about what the future might look like, and how cycling and walking could be better integrated into the design of towns and cities. This led to designing three different future visions.

European best practice

The first vision has walking and cycling account for around 45% of trips, a big increase on the UK’s 2010 figure of less than 30%. In this vision there is universal (or near) application of current European best practice in relation to walking and cycling in towns and cities.

Society is very similar to today’s and the government systems at national and local levels are essentially the same, though there is a heightened focus on the need for planning, in all sectors.

The mode of transport split for this vision is 32% walking, 13% cycling, 25% public transport and 30% car.

Share the road: cycling lanes and better visibility for pedestrians. Visions2030

Car-free transport

This vision is aimed at changing society’s values to encourage urban areas where walking and cycling account for around 60% of urban trips, with vastly improved public transport taking care of a further 35%.

This vision entails substantial provision to support walking, cycling and public transport, and represents a very large change in attitudes and move away from our car-centric society.

This has been brought about by major changes in society and values. Government is very different, more de-centralised, and with polices co-ordinated predominantly at the local level. In this vision split is 37% walking, 23% cycling, 35% public transport, and 5% car.

One size fits all: the road is a shared, safer space for travel by foot, bike and bus. Visions2030

Localised energy efficient future

This is a response to serious long term fuel shortages or high costs, where hugely increased use of leg-power on foot and by bike accounts for around 80% of journeys. Society chooses to deal with the transport implications by focusing on walking and cycling within cities.

Strong national government provides the direction for change, but also more power to decentralised local government than at present. The split for this vision is 40% walking, 40% cycling, 15% public transport and 5% car.

Cycle super-highway: with fuel shortages, work bikes and trikes are the road users de jour. Visions2030

We created visualisations and animations to give a better impression of how the three future visions of our hypothetical city of around 200,000 people would look, and outlined narratives to explain what might plausibly happen between now and our visions for 2030.

We carried out public surveys of adults and children to gauge how people responded to the proposals, how they would affect their lives, and how they might want to change them.

Good intentions

There were a number of significant findings from these surveys. Exploring general attitudes towards walking and cycling, respondents complained of poor support which, where provided, was rarely respected by drivers, and inconsistent.

Sometimes long travel distances or complex household routines thwart good intentions to walk and cycle, as do concerns over road safety (for cyclists) and fear of crime (for pedestrians).

We found considerable hostility from cyclists and pedestrians to the idea of “shared space” for different modes of transport, with respondents strongly preferring segregated routes. Streets' aesthetics and environmental aspects were felt to be almost as important as their function.

But in all cases, there seemed to be considerable disagreement about what the future of walking and cycling should be, with no single ideas held by the majority of each group.

We took our models, hypothetical narratives, and survey responses to decision makers in local authorities in Leeds, Norwich and Kirkcaldy, to explore how they might put our ideas in to place in their own districts, each with its own complexities and problems. We also held one workshop with national level decision makers.

These discussions were immensely useful. They identified problems and barriers to achieving the kinds of futures we imagined, but also highlighted the level of willingness among decision makers to get involved in such an exercise and think beyond the bounds of their day-to-day roles.

Not once were we told our ideas were impossible, and in many cases we developed firmer ideas of just how those futures may be achieved.

Miles Tight receives funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
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Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Nuclear Renaissance is Stone-Cold Dead

Hinkley Point 'B' power station
Hinkley Point 'B' power station (Wikipedia)
by Jim Green, Online Opinion: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=15860

This year has been the nuclear power industry's annus horribilis and the nuclear renaissance can now be pronounced stone cold dead.

Nuclear power suffered its biggest ever one-year fall in 2012 - nuclear generation fell 7% from the 2011 figure.

Nuclear generation fell in no less than 17 countries, including all of the top five nuclear-generating countries. Nuclear power accounted for 17% of global electricity generation in 1993 and it has steadily declined to 10% now.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has downwardly revised its nuclear power projections, and now anticipates growth of 23% to 100% percent by 2030. Historically, the IAEA's upper projections have been fanciful, and its lower projections are usually much closer to the mark.

So annual growth of a little over 1% is about as much as the industry can realistically hope for. And the IAEA will further reduce its projections when it factors in this year's annus horribilis.

Perhaps the most shocking developments have been in the United States, where the industry is finding it increasingly difficult to profitably operate existing reactors - especially ageing reactors requiring refurbishments - let alone build new ones.

Almost half of the world's reactors have operated for 30 years or more, so the problem of ageing reactors will increasingly come into focus in coming years.

Peter Bradford, a former member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, notes that by 2009, applications for 31 new reactors in the US were pending.

"The 31 proposed reactors are down to four actually being built and a few others lingering on in search of a licence, which is good for 20 years," Bradford writes.

"Those four are hopelessly uneconomic but proceed because their state legislatures have committed to finish them as long as a dollar remains to be taken from any electric customer's pocket. Operating reactors are being closed as uneconomic for the first time in 15 years."

This year alone, US utilities have closed or announced plans to close five reactors in addition to cancelled plans for new reactors and cancelled plans to increase the power of existing reactors; Forbes recently listed another six nuclear plants that could be next for the chopping block; and academic Mark Cooper has identified 38 US reactors in a similar situation to those that have recently been shut down.

The UK has finally made some movement towards replacing its fleet of ageing reactors. The capital cost for two planned large reactors (totalling 3.2 gigawatts) at Hinkley Point in Somerset: a staggering $29 billion.

Utilities can't find the capital, so the UK government is offering loan guarantees of $18 billion. And the UK government is guaranteeing French utility EDF a staggering 16 cents for every kilowatt-hour generated by the Hinkley Point reactors, fully indexed for inflation, for a staggering 35 years.

Ask Australia's nuclear advocates how much it costs to generate nuclear power, and they'll probably give you a figure 5-10 times lower.

Economic consulting firm Liberum Capital said "we are flabbergasted that the UK government has committed future generations of consumers to the costs that will flow from this deal" and that Hinkley Point will be "both the most expensive power station in the world and also the plant with the longest construction period."

EDF plans to build European Pressurized Reactors (EPRs) at Hinkley Point. Two other EPR projects - in Finland and France - have been disastrous.

The estimated capital cost for the EPR in Finland has ballooned from $4.5 billion to $12 billion. The estimated cost for the EPR in France has ballooned from $5 billion to $12.8 billion.

Thus we have a rule-of-thumb for estimating the true capital costs of nuclear power: double the initial estimate and add a few billion for good measure.

While the costs of renewables are falling - and in the case of solar PV, plummeting - nuclear power is subject to a 'negative learning curve'.

Economic boffins at Citigroup explain: "The capital cost of nuclear build has actually risen in recent decades in some developed markets, partly due to increased safety expenditure, and due to smaller construction programmes (i.e. lower economies of scale)".

"Moreover the 'fixed cost' nature of nuclear generation in combination with its relatively high price (when back end liabilities are taken into account) also places the technology at a significant disadvantage; utilities are reluctant to enter into a very long term (20+ years of operation, and decades of aftercare provisioning) investment with almost no control over costs post commissioning, with the uncertainty and rates of change currently occurring in the energy mix."

Academic Richard Tanter noted that 2012 was a "busy year for nuclear corruption". The same could be said for 2013.

South Korea is one of four countries that is supposedly driving the nuclear renaissance (along with China, India and Russia).

But plans to expand nuclear power to 41% of electricity supply by 2035 have been reduced to a 29% target in the wake of a major scandal involving bribery and faked safety certificates for thousands of reactor parts, and another scandal involving the cover-up of an accident that sent the temperature of a reactor core soaring.

One hundred people have been arrested including a former chief executive of Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP), a vice president of Korea Electric Power Corp., and a former deputy minister in charge of energy.

In September, the chief executive of KHNP issued a public apology, saying "our domestic nuclear project is facing the utmost crisis" and noting that public trust has "hit the ground" because of the Fukushima disaster and the corruption.

The proportion of South Koreans who consider nuclear power safe fell from 71% in 2010 to 35% in 2012, while a 2011 survey found 68% opposition to new reactors in South Korea (and 69% opposition across 24 countries).

Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland plan to phase out their existing nuclear power programs. Russia and China have reduced their projections for nuclear power growth.

Public opposition forced the cancellation this year of a planned nuclear fuel processing plant in China and a planned power reactor near Kaliningrad in Russia - the first time in both countries that public opposition has stopped nuclear projects.

Canada has abandoned plans for new reactors. The French President has pledged to reduce reliance on nuclear power from 75% to 50% of total electricity generation (though it may turn out to be a broken promise).

The government of Brazil, the world's fifth most populous country, recently announced that apart from one reactor already under construction, plans for new reactors have been put on hold indefinitely.

The head of Brazil's energy planning agency, Mauricio Tolmasquim, said: "This is wind power's moment. There's been a revolution in terms of cost."

South Africa - the only country in Africa with power reactors - abandoned plans for new reactors in 2008, revived them, then abandoned them again earlier this month.

In the Middle East, only Iran has a nuclear power reactor, while Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are pursuing nuclear power programs with greater or lesser intent.

But a swag of countries in the Middle East and North Africa have put nuclear power on the back-burner, including Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Israel, Morocco, Algeria and Libya.

And on it goes. No reactors are operating in Japan - some will restart in the coming years but plans to add another 25 or so reactors to Japan's fleet of 55 reactors are dead and buried.

Plans for a new nuclear power plant in Taiwan motivated 200,000 people to participate in protests in March, led to a physical brawl in Parliament in August, and both major parties are promising an eventual phase-out of nuclear power.

Any number of other countries have decided since the Fukushima disaster not to engage or re-engage in nuclear programs, including Singapore, Greece, Italy, Peru, Portugal, Thailand, Venezuela, and many others.

The nuclear renaissance is dead ... stone cold dead. And the prospects for nuclear power in Australia are dead.

If nuclear power is economically prohibitive (or nearly so) in nuclear nations such as the UK and the US, it is far more so in Australia given that we have little relevant infrastructure or expertise.

The major parties seem to be well aware that nuclear power is a non-starter, so the nuclear debate in Australia is reduced to the slow, repetitive drum-beat of a small but vocal nuclear lobby.

Australia's uranium mining and export industry is also in a world of trouble.

Uranium accounted for a lousy 0.19% of Australia's national export revenue in 2011/12. The spot price for uranium has halved since the Fukushima disaster in March 2011. As John Borshoff, head of Australian-based uranium miner Paladin Energy, noted this year, "the uranium industry is definitely in crisis".

Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Australia.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Water Supply Will Struggle to Meet Demands of Thirstier World

The "burning embers" diagram above w...
The "burning embers" diagram (Wikipedia)
by Jacob Schewe, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

There are already many countries where the scarcity of water affects people’s lives.

While water for drinking may be first to come to mind, as agriculture is the largest use of water worldwide water scarcity first and foremost is a threat to food supply.

And as many industrial processes rely on water availability, it also hampers economic development.

In the simplest sense, water scarcity is supply falling short of demand.

Demand for freshwater will increase in most regions of the world due to population growth. Between eight and ten billion people are expected to live on Earth in 2050, as opposed to six billion today.

But as for supply, water resources will be affected by projected climate changes due to unabated greenhouse gas emissions, for instance through changes in the amount, pattern and timing of rainfall and evaporation.

While rising demand is hard to end, climate change could still be contained. This is why our study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tried to identify the relative impact of climate change on water scarcity. The effect turned out to be substantial.

Assembled by an international team of researchers, simulations using a large range of hydrological models suggest climate change is likely to put about 40% more people at risk of absolute water scarcity than would be the case without climate change.

From scarcity to absolute scarcity

This is not a far-off future. The steepest increase of global water scarcity might happen before global warming reaches 3°C above pre-industrial levels. Which means the internationally adopted target of limiting warming to 2°C is very relevant to global water resources.

But as the world seems largely set on “business as usual”, we are set to burst through that 2°C limit within a few decades.

Today, between one and two people out of a hundred live in countries with absolute water scarcity. Allowing for a 3°C rise in temperature and rising population, this could increase to ten in a hundred.

Physical and economic water scarcity, 2012. UN/World Water Development Report 4

Absolute water scarcity is defined as less than 500m3 per person, per year. Some industrialised countries can cope with such a small amount through advanced water management and processing techniques.

But in many others, the necessary infrastructure simply isn’t there, and absolute water scarcity puts lives and livelihoods at risk.

The planet’s changing water cycle

The impact of climate change is not uniform across the world, and there will be large differences from region to region.

For example, the Mediterranean, Middle East, the southern states of North America, and southern China will very probably experience a pronounced drop in available water.

In contrast, Southern India, western China and parts of Eastern Africa may see substantial increases in average water resources from increasingly tropical, wet weather.

This could be beneficial if the extra water comes at the right time and if the means to use and manage it is in place.

If not, it may just add to problems from water-logging, flooding, and causing sewage and drain systems to fail - something that happens regularly in Europe even now. The overall risks are thus growing along with the rapid changes in the global water cycle.

And these changes are still far from completely understood. Our study is part of an unprecedented worldwide scientific effort to more systematically assess the impact of climate change. We used a suite of hydrological models, fed with different future climate scenarios.

But all these models show a similar trend; while the numbers differ, reflecting the underlying assumptions, water is increasingly scarce. Evaluating the differences between the model simulations will help us better understand what lies ahead.

Jacob Schewe has received public project funding from the German Ministry for Research and Education (BMBF).
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
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Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Movement to Live More Simply Is Older Than You Think

by , Yes! magazine: http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-movement-to-live-more-simply-is-older-than-you-thought

Roman Krznaric, Ph.D., wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Roman is an Australian cultural thinker and cofounder of The School of Life in London. 

This article is based on his new book, How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life (BlueBridge). www.romankrznaric.com @romankrznaric

Diogenes. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes took simple living to the extreme, and lived in an old wine barrel. Painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, used courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
When the recently elected Pope Francis assumed office, he shocked his minders by turning his back on a luxury Vatican palace and opting instead to live in a small guest house. He has also become known for taking the bus rather than riding in the papal limousine.

The Argentinian pontiff is not alone in seeing the virtues of a simpler, less materialistic approach to the art of living.

In fact, simple living is undergoing a contemporary revival, in part due to the ongoing recession forcing so many families to tighten their belts, but also because working hours are on the rise and job dissatisfaction has hit record levels, prompting a search for less cluttered, less stressful, and more time-abundant living.

At the same time, an avalanche of studies, including ones by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, have shown that as our income and consumption rises, our levels of happiness don't keep pace.

Buying expensive new clothes or a fancy car might give us a short-term pleasure boost, but just doesn't add much to most people's happiness in the long term.

It's no wonder there are so many people searching for new kinds of personal fulfillment that don't involve a trip to the shopping mall or online retailers. If we want to wean ourselves off consumer culture and learn to practice simple living, where might we find inspiration?

Typically people look to the classic literature that has emerged since the 1970s, such as E.F. Schumacher's book Small is Beautiful, which argued that we should aim "to obtain the maximum of wellbeing with the minimum of consumption."

Or they might pick up Duane Elgin's Voluntary Simplicity or Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin's Your Money or Your Life.

I'm a fan of all these books. But many people don't realize that simple living is a tradition that dates back almost three thousand years, and has emerged as a philosophy of life in almost every civilization.

What might we learn from the great masters of simple living from the past for rethinking our lives today? 

Eccentric philosophers and religious radicals

Anthropologists have long noticed that simple living comes naturally in many hunter-gatherer societies. In one famous study, Marshall Sahlins pointed out that aboriginal people in Northern Australia and the !Kung people of Botswana typically worked only three to five hours a day.

Sahlins wrote that "rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is intermittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the daytime per capita per year than in any other condition of society." These people were, he argued, the "original affluent society."

In the Western tradition of simple living, the place to begin is in ancient Greece, around 500 years before the birth of Christ.

Socrates believed that money corrupted our minds and morals, and that we should seek lives of material moderation rather than dousing ourselves with perfume or reclining in the company of courtesans.

When the shoeless sage was asked about his frugal lifestyle, he replied that he loved visiting the market "to go and see all the things I am happy without." The philosopher Diogenes - son of a wealthy banker - held similar views, living off alms and making his home in an old wine barrel.

We shouldn't forget Jesus himself who, like Guatama Buddha, continually warned against the "deceitfulness of riches." Devout early Christians soon decided that the fastest route to heaven was imitating his simple life.

Many followed the example of St. Anthony, who in the third century gave away his family estate and headed out into the Egyptian desert where he lived for decades as a hermit.

Later, in the thirteenth century, St. Francis took up the simple living baton. "Give me the gift of sublime poverty," he declared, and asked his followers to abandon all their possessions and live by begging. 

Simplicity arrives in colonial America

Simple living started getting seriously radical in the United States in the early colonial period. Among the most prominent exponents were the Quakers - a Protestant group officially known as the Religious Society of Friends - who began settling in the Delaware Valley in the seventeenth century.

They were adherents of what they called "plainness" and were easy to spot, wearing unadorned dark clothes without pockets, buckles, lace or embroidery.

As well as being pacifists and social activists, they believed that wealth and material possessions were a distraction from developing a personal relationship with God.

But the Quakers faced a problem. With growing material abundance in the new land of plenty, many couldn't help developing an addiction to luxury living.

The Quaker statesman William Penn, for instance, owned a grand home with formal gardens and thoroughbred horses, which was staffed by five gardeners, 20 slaves, and a French vineyard manager.

Partly as a reaction to people like Penn, in the 1740s a group of Quakers led a movement to return to their faith's spiritual and ethical roots.

Their leader was an obscure farmer's son who has been described by one historian as "the noblest exemplar of simple living ever produced in America." His name? John Woolman.

Woolman is now largely forgotten, but in his own time he was a powerful force who did far more than wear plain, undyed clothes.

After setting himself up as a cloth merchant in 1743 to gain a subsistence living, he soon had a dilemma: his business was much too successful. He felt he was making too much money at other people's expense.

In a move not likely to be recommended at Harvard Business School, he decided to reduce his profits by persuading his customers to buy fewer and cheaper items. But that didn't work.

So to further reduce his income, he abandoned retailing altogether and switched to tailoring and tending an apple orchard.

Woolman also vigorously campaigned against slavery. On his travels, whenever receiving hospitality from a slave owner, he insisted on paying the slaves directly in silver for the comforts he enjoyed during his visit.

Slavery, said Woolman, was motivated by the "the love of ease and gain," and no luxuries could exist without others having to suffer to create them. 

The birth of utopian living

Nineteenth-century America witnessed a flowering of utopian experiments in simple living. Many had socialist roots, such as the short-lived community at New Harmony in Indiana, established in 1825 by Robert Owen, a Welsh social reformer and founder of the British cooperative movement.

In the 1840s, the naturalist Henry David Thoreau took a more individualist approach to simple living, famously spending two years in his self-built cabin at Walden Pond, where he attempted to grow most of his own food and live in isolated self-sufficiency (though by his own admission, he regularly walked a mile to nearby Concord to hear the local gossip, grab some snacks, and read the papers).

It was Thoreau who gave us the iconic statement of simple living: "A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone." For him, richness came from having the free time to commune with nature, read, and write.

Simple living was also in full swing across the Atlantic.

In nineteenth-century Paris, bohemian painters and writers like Henri Murger - author of the autobiographical novel that was the basis for Puccini's opera La Bohème - valued artistic freedom over a sensible and steady job, living off cheap coffee and conversation while their stomachs growled with hunger. 

Redefining luxury for the twenty-first century

What all the simple livers of the past had in common was a desire to subordinate their material desires to some other ideal - whether based on ethics, religion, politics or art. They believed that embracing a life goal other than money could lead to a more meaningful and fulfilling existence.

Woolman, for instance, "simplified his life in order to enjoy the luxury of doing good," according to one of his biographers. For Woolman, luxury was not sleeping on a soft mattress but having the time and energy to work for social change, through efforts such as the struggle against slavery.

Simple living is not about abandoning luxury, but discovering it in new places. These masters of simplicity are not just telling us to be more frugal, but suggesting that we expand the spaces in our lives where satisfaction does not depend on money.

Imagine drawing a picture of all those things that make your life fulfilling, purposeful, and pleasurable. It might include friendships, family relationships, being in love, the best parts of your job, visiting museums, political activism, crafting, playing sports, volunteering, and people watching.

There is a good chance that most of these cost very little or nothing. We don't need to do much damage to our bank balance to enjoy intimate friendships, uncontrollable laughter, dedication to causes or quiet time with ourselves.

As the humorist Art Buchwald put it, "The best things in life aren't things." The overriding lesson from Thoreau, Woolman, and other simple livers of the past is that we should aim, year on year, to enlarge these areas of free and simple living on the map of our lives.

That is how we will find the luxuries that constitute our hidden wealth.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

China Roars Ahead With Renewables

Little wind turbines (coupled with little sola...
Wind turbines with solar panels, China (Wikipedia)
by John Mathews, Macquarie Graduate School of Management and Hao Tan, University of Newcastle

China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) has just released some remarkable data on the addition of new electric generating capacity in 2013.

China’s electric power system has been growing at a tremendous rate to keep up with the country’s breakneck expansion of its manufacturing industry over the past decade.

China’s growing renewables

Between 2010 and 2011 China’s power system passed the 1 million kilowatt mark (kW), making it comparable in size to the US. In the years 2010, 2011 and 2012 the system was growing at around 10% a year, by amounts varying between 83 million kW and 94 million kW each year.

But in 2013 so far (the first 10 months, Jan to Oct), the National Energy Administration revealed that capacity additions have slumped. They total just 63 million kW so far, and might amount to perhaps 88 million kW for the year. The total power system in China appears to be levelling out.

The remarkable feature is that the share of renewables has leapt in significance.

Whereas non-fossil fuel capacity additions totalled 31 million kW in 2012, these renewable and nuclear power stations have totalled 36 million kW so far this year - and could be projected to be 43 or 44 million kW for the whole year.

That’s one new non-fossil power station of 1 million kW nearly every week!

But the even more astounding feature is that the additions powered by renewables now exceed those powered by fossil fuels (coal and gas) and nuclear.

Capacity additions involving hydro, wind and solar PV have totalled 33.8 million kW so far this year, while capacity powered by fossil fuels amounts to 27.0 million kW and by nuclear is just 2.2 million kW - or 29.2 million kW for fossil fuels plus nuclear.

The renewables plus nuclear in 2013 make up 57% of new capacity additions, while those powered by fossil fuels alone are down to 43%.

This is one small blip on the statistical chart. But it is one giant leap for China. It means that the growth of its electric power system - that underpins the entire modernisation and industrialisation of the country - is now being powered more by renewables than by fossil fuels. Wind and solar are growing at a great rate, while nuclear is barely moving.

We summarise this data in the chart below.

Authors, based on NEA data

Authors, based on NEA data

Authors, based on NEA data

China’s 12th five year plan

It is a further remarkable coincidence that in the same week as the energy administration figures were released, China Railway revealed the building of the country’s high-speed rail network passed the 10,000 km mark - by far the largest in the world.

China’s high-speed rail is massively more efficient as an inter-city transport system than private automobiles and air. The country is also greening its electric power systems and consequently saving huge quantities of carbon emissions.

These results for 2013 reveal just how strongly China is swinging behind renewables as its primary energy resource.

This is consistent with the 12th Five Year Plan (running from 2011 to 2015) which projects that China will be generating 30% of its electric power from non-fossil sources overall by 2015. This is a level far higher than comparable industrialized countries.

And it is consistent with the allocation of capital to strategic industries including those producing cleantech goods, which are anticipated to be growing at 15% per year by 2013 - or at twice the rate of the country’s GDP growth overall.

In other words, renewable energy and cleantech industries are seen by the country’s leaders as becoming a pillar of the industrial economy - along with the steel and automotive industries.
It’s just that it is happening even faster than China anticipated.

China’s 12th five year plan is committed to increasing non-fossil fuel sources of energy. Flickr/Land Rover Our Planet

A lesson to be learnt from China

What a contrast with the situation in Australia. Here we find the new government using their “mandate” to abolish the carbon tax as an excuse to jettison any progress that has been hard won in Australia in renewables and cleantech industries.

A bill to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) - Australia’s Green Bank and fabulously successful in driving the financing of new cleantech ventures, was passed in the House of Representatives with Coalition support, but rejected in the Senate.

This probably gives the CEFC a reprieve of six months until there is a new Senate in place on July 1 next year - but the tide might have turned by then and the government might be less anxious to do away with an obviously successful CEFC.

Ministers in the new government take every opportunity to deride the renewables and cleantech sector, even though it is one of the few sectors to show any growth in Australia.

By contrast they take every opportunity to promote coal and gas extraction - as if that could possibly be where our future lies. A new report from Oxford University underlines the fact China’s demand for coal is dropping, and Australian coal infrastructure could become “stranded assets”.

Australia should be looking to build new manufacturing industries in cleantech and renewable industries - for our own benefit, and to take over some of the jobs lost as the vehicle industry shrinks.

China shows that smart countries build their energy security on strong foundations of manufactured systems - wind turbines, solar PV cells, and solar thermal arrays - rather than on mining and extraction of ores.

Manufacturing industries will underpin the urbanized world of tomorrow, and the firms that contribute to them will reap increasing returns. Firms contributing to mining and extraction of resources will inevitably be forced to accept diminishing returns as the resources get harder to access.

The fossil fuels sector is promoting “alternative” fuels like coal seam gas and tar sands oil as the next bonanza. In the US this has reached a crescendo, with big fossil fuel companies (and Australia’s BHP Billiton) falling over themselves to become part of the new oil rush.

But while it relieves the country of its heavy dependence on Middle Eastern oil, it does nothing to modernise the energy system through renewables and cleantech - and consequently China moves further ahead as the lead player (along with Germany and to some extent Japan).

The new data from China’s energy administration reveal just how committed China is becoming to its renewables sector - and how that will underpin the country’s energy security.

It is worth pointing out that this will have a dramatic impact on China’s carbon emissions, slowing their growth and hastening the year when they will actually start falling.

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
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