It was great to meet so many people interested in joining in the dialogue around community development at Future Perfect festival held recently in Vaxholm, just outside the Swedish capital, Stockholm. So much arose out of that dialogue that I felt it was worth recording a summary from memory here it is: WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
US drought threatens the food supplies of millions around the world, and as supplies dwindle before the next growing season produces more, we are likely to see food prices spiral upwards. That means the poorest citizens will be hit hardest and that in turn raises the threat of civil unrest.
The world food situation is worrying to say the least. Despite being able to point with pride to many achievements including traveling to the moon, hunger is prevalent in poor countries and sadly, even in rich countries. Our applicant from the USA, Growing Power, points out that 65% of children in Milwaukee are under-nourished.
A growing population, increased mechanization and fossil fuel dependency despite warnings we have reached the peak of cheap oil production, climate change, soil depletion are just some of the factors pointing to a coming food catastrophe.
What is worrying, too, is that Michael Klare couples the current situation to the narrative of the book and film Hunger Games. The film depicts a time when food shortages, having caused major unrest that was brutally crushed, dominate society and are used by the elite to keep a massive underclass subservient. The degree of control exerted goes to the point where citizens are not allowed to forage for their own food, grow their own food or even sell food to each other. A merciless state makes children compete to the death just for food baskets.
From my perspective, having the privilege of being insight into possibly some of the worlds most innovative approaches to food security creation, I also get an insight into the challenges facing our applicants and their communities. The situation is not getting any easier, either for the children of poor Milwaukee residents, or people living in villages in India affected by climate change.
The latest wave of extreme weather will have consequences: when the current challenged harvest has been consumed there may not be enough to go round. We need to prepare to show our best sides, we need community and we need kindness, kindness like that shown by applicants such as Incredible Edible in England. Making sure we all have enough food is too important to be trusted to supermarket chains, charities or governments: it is part of being human, understanding we all need food is part of our humanity. We feel good when we invite each other to food, and share meals together. We feel good when we see schoolchildren are well-fed like in the schools in the SEANET project. For government, peace organizations and even law enforcement personnel this could be a challenging time, hunger makes people desperate, even the threat of hunger raises tension.
I urge everyone to look around and consider, in your local community, in your garden, in your profession, what can you do to ensure water and food for all?
And please, as times may get tough, don’t make hunger a game.
I promised in my last blog in the series capitalism: a hobby to delve into the status of Sweden using my ideas of capital value. Before I do that, however I need to give readers an idea of the over-riding plans that Sweden has for energy intensity reduction. We saw from previous analyses that oil is a finite natural capital. As this is used, huge sums of natural capital are converted to financial capital and some are converted to man-made capital like buildings.
As you will see from my notes below, the plans seem rather sketchy. I have done my best to summarize what I know from reading official documents.The graph below shows my interpretation of possibilities for fossil energy descent. The Swedish Government has announced that Sweden will be fossil-free by 2050 and that 2030 the dependency on fossil fuel in the transport system will be broken.
The graph above shows the present oil import to Sweden to be about 350 barrels/day, reducing to zero by the year 2050 (horizontal axis).
COLORED LINES SHOW PHASE OUT SCENARIOS
The colored lines each represent a different scenario for phasing out oil. The red line is a fast phase out starting today, with an immediate transition to alternatives.The orange represents the opposite, a slow phase out at first, accelerating as the deadline draws near.The blue is a straight-line phase out and the green somewhere between the orange and the blue.
TWO OF THREE MAJOR SUPPLIERS WILL STOP IN THIS PERIOD To include external events I included two of three of Sweden’s major suppliers of oil: Denmark and Norway. According to several sources (see references below), these countries will not be able to supply their own needs around this time and soon after that their own production will cease.
FROM NOW ON, NEW INVESTMENTS IN TRANSPORT VEHICLES MAY BRING POOR RETURNS
Another interesting aspect of this analysis is financial capital investments in man-made capital. Cars and trucks represent huge investments, and the ones made today should be expected (unless an undue stress is placed on the economy) to be functional for 10 -20 years.This will be quite a challenge: as Denmark as a major suppliers stops supplying during the life-time of vehicles already built, Sweden will have to find alternative supplies of fuel at prices that allow use of this existing infrastructure.In economic terms, the red curve scenario seems unlikely. To make that work, the government would need to stimulate already today the conversion of vehicles to alternative fuels, as a rapid transition will mean rapid increase in alternatives.
BEFORE VEHICLES ARE READY FOR SCRAP THIRD LESS FUEL AVAILABLE
Indeed, following the linear descent (blue line), over a third of all fuel will be unavailable at the end of the lifetime of existing vehicles. Perhaps authorities have considered the notion of using vehicles 30% less than today. This would drastically affect the very life-style of Swedes and probably harm economic growth.
POSSIBILITIES TO BUILD NEW INFRASTRUCTURE
Literature available puts new heavy technology changes at about 20 years to become widely available. If Sweden is to be fossil free by 2050, then at the latest a program of rebuild and retrofit needs to start in 2030. Big projects need big decisions, and these take time, with all the permits, political backing, financing, etc needed. It may well take 5 years to get started, so the planning needs to start at latest 2025. Before that, there should be, say, five years of envisioning and research. That brings us to 2020, so we are eight years away from launching the most radical technical transformation of the industrial age.
POLLUTING TECHNOLOGY IS SO LAST CENTURY Further conclusions can be drawn when you consider the life-time of a building where 90% of costs are from use, not construction. Investments being planned today will be operating in a completely different energy climate and a different regulatory climate. Those who plan for investments to look like those of yesterday are surely planning to lose money.The same should go for public sector functions like schooling, health care, care of the elderly, etc, Today, these operations are fuel dependent, thanks partly to centralization and increases in efficiency.
FOSSIL FUEL FREE TRANSPORT BY 2030?
What is most surprising from the simple exercise of counting backwards, is the proclamation of a fossil free 2030. Considering that a new vehicle program usually takes many years to commercialize, and considering that building out filling stations takes ten years, and that vehicles last 20 years, it is high time that Sweden went beyond vision and started the assembly lines rolling. According to the analysis from my graph, and if we say that a vehicle fleet not dependant on fossil fuels is where 50 % of vehicles have alternative fuel, and it takes 20 years to replace all vehicles, then it takes 10 years to replace 50%. (illustrated in yellow on my diagram)
So the new range of vehicles need to be rolled out commercially 2020. To do this they need 10 years of research and development, meaning that manufacturers are now, 2012, two years at least into the new generation of fossil-free vehicles.
I hope they are. They say they are, but the massive investment needed seems to be absent.
FOSSIL DEPENDENCY IS PLAIN TO SEE FOR ANYONE WHO LOOKS
The diagram below comes from the Swedish County of Jönköping, in their energy strategy document. On the left are inputs and on the right, uses.
Although it’s in Swedish I think international readers will get the idea. The black “blob” at the bottom shows the county reliance on fossil-fuel for transports, only a small percentage being funneled off to industry, agriculture, household heating etc.
Perhaps another view of how Sweden should invest financial capital and develop infrastructure is needed, but that is for a later blog.
Höglund postulated that the principles of control engineering that he had applied to make diesel engines burn clean could be applied to the economy.
Control technology is the application of control devices to a process to ensure it performs to requirements. In the case of the engine, advanced micro-processor and sensing technology is applied to a rather “dirty” invention like the diesel engine. Fast feedback, computer control and some final stage cleaning ensure that the combustion in the engine is controlled precisely.
The height of control technology is possibly the modern fighter jet that is unstable without the help of the advanced computer control.
In the old days, the economy was paper-controlled; it could take a long time to obtain an accurate picture of the state of the economy as reports needed collecting and summing by hand.
This is not the case today. Stock prices, oil prices and sales figures are available almost in real-time. Höglund saw that this fast feedback of the economy could form the backbone of a system that forces the economy to “run clean”.
Especially the old criticism that emission fees hold economic growth back is negated when the money from fees is channeled back into the economy as a general tax rebate. And no physical money changes hands. The fees can be distributed electronically to tax payer’s accounts as a credit at digital speed.
The other bugbear of emissions fees is that they are not effective: polluters continue to pollute and producers are slow to introduce clean-tech. Höglund’s innovation solves this by raising the fee at regular intervals until market behavior complies with requirements. Höglund says that market behavior will change as the fees become sufficiently high. As the fees are channeled back into the economy there is an equivalent amount of money available to either purchase the “dirty” service at higher prices or alternatives at relatively lower prices.
The Nordic Council investigation engaged a researcher to review economic literature. The idea of flexible control fees seems to have been sparsely investigated. A workshop involving some of Sweden’s leading sustainability experts and authorities focused on finding ways to drive sustainability into the economy utilizing market forces. The workshop looked at two emission problem areas: carbon dioxide and phosphorous. Most participants were positive to the idea of testing flexible fees in a limited area.
Karl-Henrik Robért, founder of the Natural Step, said:
– Hence, flexible fees offers an elegant pragmatic means for policy-making to support strategic sustainable development.
Anyone intereted in understanding the complexities of sustainable world food and water situation should watch this film. It carefull goes over the importance of theat which we give a negative namen to – dirt that may well be the most important piece of technology we have available to us!
What we call technology is actually a narrow practice including mechanics, electronics and computer science. This confusion is hampering human development, especially when the expectation is on not developing financial and social technology but demanding mechanical solutions when simple agreements could suffice. Modern technology is failing, we are not addressing the challenges in front of us. For some reason, our very use of language is holding us back and preventing us from thinking clearly. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Writing in the British newspaper, the Telegraph, today, Sir Richard Branson, co-founder of the Virgin Group, says
Business as usual is wrecking our planet. Resources are being used up. Air, sea and land are heavily polluted. The poor are getting poorer. Many are dying of starvation, or because they cannot afford life-saving medicine. Nearly half of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day and two out of three of these people have no access to drinking water.
Sir Richard believes that
Probably the greatest frontier is in creating businesses that protect and harness our natural resources – and reduce our carbon output – one of the biggest entrepreneurial opportunities of our lifetimes.
Maybe you aren’t thinking of 2012 yet, just trying to organize Christmas and New Year. But the end of the year is a good time to take stock. What have we learnt during 2011? What has become clearer? For many of us with a sustainability focus, the urgent need to reverse economic, energy and environmental trends is growing by the day. This video, THE OIL JOURNEY produced by the Post Carbon Institute and narrated by actor Peter Coyote, says it the clearest.
Accenture's ad reflects a strange view of nature and its own capabilites. The hubris of the modern corporation?
What is the best way to organise society? That question has been around since we started to be able to talk. In my world I like to add “what is the best way to organise society so it develops resilience and sustainability”.
I have pointed to writers like Aldous Huxley who, in his book “Brave New World revisited” , argues that our urbanization brings forth the desire for “the good order” and that the desire for “the good order” gets misued and turns into some kind of dictatorship. In Huxley’s case the Brave New World he refers to is his vision of a future Britain, where every child is produced in a test-tube to ensure genetic suitability.
One aspect of “the good order” is the idea that corporations are a good way to organize our activities. The basic design is neat: shareholders take the risk and share in the rewards, the corporation contributes to society by paying tax, and the corporation provides people with what they need and with jobs. So pervasive is the the idea that corporations are the best way that they can become the standard solution for a myriad of problems. Problems with healthcare? Privatise. Fed up with looking after support staff like reception, cleaning, etc? Bring in a company to do it. Got a business problem? Bring in a consulting company. Want a job? Look for a company to work for. Need new technology developing? Give a research grant to a company. The list goes on.
All corporations get income directly from the individual pockets of citizens (nowadays called consumers) or indirectly via authorities spending on behalf of citizens (like selling arms to a nation’s defence). Now, in this system corporations line up to compete for capital and to compete for the income from consumers. They also need to compete by pressing prices down and income up.
However, once you let this piece of societal DNA code loose – this corporate legislation – it may have unintended consequences. This is the idea of COPORATOCRACY – when corporate influence grows so large it manages in practice to side-step democracy and influence decision-making only for the good of the corporations. Corporacracy can go so far as to convince citizens that it is better to live in a corporacracy than a democracy – with arguments like “you get cooler gadgets and definitely better cars”.
Are we in that situation already? The recent US decision to allow corporations to spend limitlessly and anonymously on political campaigns would point to that we are dangerously close. And is this the situation we want? Maybe it is right, that our societal evolution should go from democracy to corporacracy.
To help you judge for yourself I list the characteristics of corporations below – against each one you can ask the question – has this gone too far out of all proportion to the point where it is actually threatening the way we live?
They need to grow. Growth brings the ability to pay equity owners a dividend, it brings economies of scale to push costs down, it makes the corporation more present and able to reach wider markets. It also means more taxes paid and a rise in popularity with local authorities.
They need to control. To ensure costs are kept down, to ensure competitors do not take their markets , to ensure consumers keep a friendly view of them – a level of control is needed.
They need to monetise. If anything is free it should not be fun. People having fun without paying is a lost business opportunity.
They need to inspire awe, to keep competitors away, to keep customers from complaining, to keep authorities from regulating them etc.
They need investors and consumers to believe in them. If you adopt the corporate model – where for example you get your milk from a corporation and not from a farmer – then you need to believe in that product is OK and that the corporation will do what it says it will do. You need to accept that the corporation has the power to deliver so you need to give the corporation the same level of trust you earlier put in the man who ran the local shop or the local farmer.
They need to standardise and repeat. Standardization means it is easier to control, and also reduces costs. The world run by corporations is one very much standardised. And they need repeat sales to keep the income flowing in to pay investors.
They need to communicate basic messages often. They will define concepts for their own benefits and convey messages as truths, regularly to keep up a profile and customers coming back for more.
They need to constantly get more money out of their system, for example by cutting input costs, raising prices or getting more out from what they put in.
The economic system we have is incapable of delivering the transition to a zero or negative carbon system we need, says professor Tim Jackson.
The system pulls economic resources through the system. If we not buy the system crashes, but if it continues we are in debt with a degraded environment. This is about people being persuaded to spend money they do not have, to buy things they do not need that create impressions that do not last on people they do not care about.
So people want to save. But it would be better if we spend. It is the system that creates these paradoxes.
Acting in gratitude, appreciation and using all our gifts - intelligence, innovation, hope and determination - I believe we can create settlements for ourselves that are truly very beautiful places - reflecting the Very Beautiful Place inside.