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Saturday, September 23, 2017

We pick up the pollution bill and go hungry while corporations get the profits

Posted by steve on April 26, 2013

In a recent article in, journalist David Roberts explains that

None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use

Citing a recent report [PDF] by environmental consultancy Trucost on behalf of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) program sponsored by United Nations Environmental Program, David Roberts explains

The notion of “externalities” has become familiar in environmental circles. It refers to costs imposed by businesses that are not paid for by those businesses. For instance, industrial processes can put pollutants in the air that increase public health costs, but the public, not the polluting businesses, picks up the tab. In this way, businesses privatize profits and publicize costs ….. if we take the idea seriously, not just as an accounting phenomenon but as a deep description of current human practices, its implications are positively revolutionary.

What is the actual tab that is being picked up by us? Trucost estimates that greenhouse gas emissions account38% of the use of natural capital. The effect on food security?

The British met office estimates (see their web page here) that some regions could benefit from climate change, while in others it may offset gains in food security from economic and social development. However, in the overall analysis some projections suggest that 100-200 million additional people could be at risk of hunger due to climate change by 2050.

So the costs of emitting green house gasses alone are negatively affecting the lives of millions. They are clearly picking up the tab, but not sharing in the profits.

The triple-circle economy

Posted by steve on April 18, 2013

Combining the full circle of biological, technical and financial products we can create the sustainable society

This diagram comes from the Swedish Sustainable Economy Foundation 

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Community finance briefing #5: the canvas overview

Posted by steve on April 13, 2013


The community finance canvas consists of a set of community building blocks, each with a set of questions. The purpose of the canvas is to help you design your sustainable community and get to a stage where you can start to produce a financial plan. The canvas can be printed out or copied onto large paper and hung on the wall or spread out over a large table. When going through the canvas we let our imaginations produce a picture of how the community could be when it is fully developed.

To view the full canvas download it here.


Visit to the eco-centre, Ipema, Brazil

Posted by steve on April 6, 2013


We visited IPEMA – Institute of Permaculture and Eco-village of the Atlantic Rainforest. The center is an example of the growing energy and insight that is manifesting itself as practical projects and organisations working towards sustainability in Brazil. Combining permaculture and eco-village thinking, the center has made huge headway in creating housing of 100% natural materials powered by renewable energy, and at the same time inspired hundreds of course participants.
We were guided around by Marcelo, who started 12 years ago after visiting the permaculture institute in Australia. He bought this parcel of land with about half a dozen friends and started building and teaching permaculture on the site. The land is 50 hectares, but lies within the state park. Regulations require they can only use 10 hectares of the 50 to build on and cultivate.
The site houses both the offices and teaching rooms of the Institute and the residential village.

One of the houses in progress

One of the houses in progress, Marcelo left

A lot of the buildings are works in progress, improved each time a natural building course is held on the property. The main activities are courses in natural building and permaculture. They have about 30 participants at any one time and run one or two courses a month.

The extreme climate (100% humidity and more rain than the Amazon) explains much of the design and construction of the buildings. Most of the houses have steep roofs to handle the rainfall.

A sheet of the material made from recycled toothpaste tubes

A sheet of the material made from recycled toothpaste tubes

Roofs are covered in corrugated sheeting made from recycled toothpaste tubes, a material which is used quite extensively as sheets in in other parts of the buildings.
Says Marecello “We always get the roof up first. Then we can build out of the rain”
“We don’t use adobe as the climate, extremely humid as it is, means it just crumbles.”

2013-03-20 14.36.28

This machine presses rammed earth bricks into shape.  These bricks are easy to build with and withstand the humid climate better than Adobe.


Bricks from rammed earth.

Bricks from rammed earth.

A lot of food is available just by picking what is growing naturally: bananas, pineapple, cacao, jucara, and several types of nuts. Just now the food production has not been fully developed. They are trying two approaches, one of composting and creating food beds, the other is food forestry.
The food forest area close to the communal meeting room has been going several years. The trees provide shade that prevents the grass from growing (which otherwise in this country smothers everything). They have been cutting the forest back frequently because of the speed of growth. This area is amazingly productive: masses of sunshine, heat and water create the ideal growing conditions, explaining some of the appeal of the Atlantic Rainforest area as a place to establish an eco-village. (The sub-tropical Atlantic rainforest is not to be confused with the tropical rainforest of the Amazon).

Rain water is led from the gutter to a nearby cistern.

Rain water is led from the gutter to a nearby cistern.

The main source of water is the two rivers above the property, but they are avid collectors of rainwater, after running off the gutter the water passes a simple net filter and goes into the holding cistern. The river water is purified in a simple filter before drinking.

This pit receives the grey waste water from the communal kitchen

This pit receives the grey waste water from the communal kitchen

Waste water.
The main source of waste water is from the communal kitchen. The grey water is led over a bed of stones that acts as a biological filter. From there, the water goes into a small pond before being led from the property back into the river.


water from the stream above the settlement is led in pipes to this simple turbine.

Water from the stream above the settlement is led in pipes to this simple turbine.

A pipe runs from a waterfall above the property in 3cm pipes down to a generator housed in a plastic drum. The generator is connected to several batteries via a converter. The batteries supply 12 volt dc to the property.
Says Marcello ”people wanted us to bring mains electricity to the site and I resisted, even being called extremist at one point.”
But Marcello points out that people are happy with the arrangement and the whole system works well, they have more electricity than they need.

Energy for cooking
The communal kitchen is well-equipped with running water, a rational wood-fired stove and a gas stove.
The site is served by simple dry toilets, which collect the waste in buckets and the buckets are emptied at regular intervals.
“We don’t use urine separation as in this climate the urine collecting basin starts to smell badly after only a short time,” says Marcello.

General impressions

I loved the creativity of the buildings, the natural feel of the rounded cob walls and the effects of putting glass bottles in the walls.

Wonderful patterns in the cob walls  made by inserting bottles

Wonderful patterns in the cob walls made by inserting bottles

Having a totally productive site has its drawbacks of course, trees grow so fast the village is easily encroached by the forest which can feel overpowering. And then there are the snakes…
But generally you have to admire Marcelo, who has two small children living on the site, in pressing on with developing the village and centre and inspiring many others with courses and by just getting on with it.

Visit the website at

Posters of transition

Posted by steve on

A recent collection of posters from the 2nd world war, adapted for the message of Transition.


Transition to biomass society with a complementary currency

Posted by steve on April 4, 2013

Cover_biomass_currency This white paper discusses the challenge of replacing fossil-fueled supply chains with less energy-intense renewable solutions whilst rapidly reducing the carbon in the atmosphere. It suggests that a complimentary currency, backed by carbon fees and pledges from landowners to sequester carbon using soil and biochar, could be the answer.

Read the paper here. A complementary currency R4