Archive for ◊ December, 2008 ◊

• Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

An excellent view of the challenges we face from a man who has been a comic and inspirational force. For those who choose not to read the full article, here is a summary of trends he sees:

  1. Hope will fuel a mini “euphoria” for the first few months of the Obama Presidency, then reality will set in. He expects the Dow Industrial Stock Average to end up at 4000 sometime in 2009.
  2. Thousands of companies will fail and millions of jobs will be lost. Downsizing will occur at all levels of society: government, business and family.
  3. A new “servant class” will be created as domestic workers will start moving in with their employers.
  4. A massive return to home gardening: “Gardening is the new Golf”
  5. Oil and gas prices will rise and there may be spot shortages
  6. The U.S. dollar will be 40% of it’s current value by the end of 2009
  7. An end of robust globalism – the world is round after all, Tom Friedman.

Via: Clusterfuck Nation

There are two realities “out there” now competing for verification among those who think about national affairs and make things happen. The dominant one (let’s call it the Status Quo) is that our problems of finance and economy will self-correct and allow the project of a “consumer” economy to resume in “growth” mode. This view includes the idea that technology will rescue us from our fossil fuel predicament — through “innovation,” through the discovery of new techno rescue remedy fuels, and via “drill, baby, drill” policy. This view assumes an orderly transition through the current “rough patch” into a vibrant re-energized era of “green” Happy Motoring and resumed Blue Light Special shopping.

The minority reality (let’s call it The Long Emergency) says that it is necessary to make radically new arrangements for daily life and rather soon. It says that a campaign to sustain the unsustainable will amount to a tragic squandering of our dwindling resources. It says that the “consumer” era of economics is over, that suburbia will lose its value, that the automobile will be a diminishing presence in daily life, that the major systems we’ve come to rely on will founder, and that the transition between where we are now and where we are going is apt to be tumultuous.

My own view is obviously the one called The Long Emergency.

Since the change it proposes is so severe, it naturally generates exactly the kind of cognitive dissonance that paradoxically reinforces the Status Quo view, especially the deep wishes associated with saving all the familiar, comfortable trappings of life as we have known it. The dialectic between the two realities can’t be sorted out between the stupid and the bright, or even the altruistic and the selfish. The various tech industries are full of MIT-certified, high-achiever Status Quo techno-triumphalists who are convinced that electric cars or diesel-flavored algae excreta will save suburbia, the three thousand mile Caesar salad, and the theme park vacation. The environmental movement, especially at the elite levels found in places like Aspen, is full of Harvard graduates who believe that all the drive-in espresso stations in America can be run on a combination of solar and wind power. I quarrel with these people incessantly. It seems especially tragic to me that some of the brightest people I meet are bent on mounting the tragic campaign to sustain the unsustainable in one way or another. But I have long maintained that life is essentially tragic in the sense that history won’t care if we succeed or fail at carrying on the project of civilization.


• Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it. May we all come to understand the predicament we live under in the developed world (East and West): an unsustainable way of living that destroys life itself, including our own.

The joy in this realization is that there is a new way of living at our fingertips. We just have to create to our liking what our lives would be like in the future and then let the power of our imaginations take over.

Rejoice, oh ye faithful!

Via: Energy Bulletin:

In a general sense, “societal overextension” is a condition in which a society is living beyond its means ecologically and economically. The significant consequence associated with societal overextension is that the society’s population level and material living standards exceed sustainable levels.

Societal overextension (overextension) occurs when a society’s lifestyle paradigm, its “way of life”, is enabled by the persistent overexploitation of ecological resources and economic resources.

In industrialized societies, ecological resources are the raw materials (natural resources) and waste repositories (natural habitats) that enable people to produce, provision, and utilize goods and services. Ecological resource overexploitation occurs when a society:

* Persistently utilizes renewable natural resources that are critical to its existence, such as water, croplands, pasturelands, fisheries, and forests, at levels greater than those at which Nature can replenish them;

* Persistently utilizes nonrenewable natural resources that are critical to its existence, such as oil, natural gas, coal, minerals, and metals, which Nature does not replenish; and/or

* Persistently degrades atmospheric, aquatic, and terrestrial natural habitats that are critical to its existence, at levels greater than those at which Nature can regenerate them.

Economic resources provide the “purchasing power” that enables people to procure goods and services. Economic resource overexploitation occurs when a society:

* Persistently depletes its previously accumulated economic asset reserves;

* Persistently incurs intergenerational debt, which it has neither the capacity nor the intention to repay; and/or

* Persistently defers indefinitely investments critical to its future wellbeing.

An overextended society and its lifestyle paradigm are unsustainable, and will inevitably collapse.

The prevailing American perception[31] is that “our system is broken” and must therefore be “fixed”, or “rescued”, or “bailed out”… This perception is fundamentally inaccurate; as a result, the proposed prescription is fatally flawed.

As the preceding analysis clearly demonstrates, we are irreparably overextended—living hopelessly beyond our means, ecologically and economically[32]. Our resource utilization behavior, which enables our “system”—our American way of life—is detritovoric[33]; that is, we are systematically eliminating the very ecological resources and economic resources upon which our ever-increasing population and our historically unprecedented living standards depend.

The inescapable conclusion is that our American way of life is not sustainable—it cannot, therefore, be “fixed”; it must be displaced[34]. Desperate and futile attempts to perpetuate our existing lifestyle paradigm simply waste remaining, and increasingly scarce, time and resources.

Our only recourse is to transition voluntarily, beginning immediately, to a sustainable lifestyle paradigm, one in which we live within our means ecologically and economically—forever. Should we fail to do so, quickly, the consequences associated with our predicament will be horrific.

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• Thursday, December 18th, 2008

When I was growing up, my mother bought a “beaker-brush” Christmas tree. It was all white and made of plastic and wire. Basically a bunch of beaker brushes from a high school chemistry class attached to an aluminum frame. Every year we didn’t have to buy (and kill) a baby spruce tree. It seemed like a sensible idea: buy a renewable tree that could be re-used year after year.

But a new study from a Montreal firm, ellipsos inc., says that buying natural trees for xmas is actually more sustainable in the long run. Here are their conclusions from the report:

The natural Christmas tree has lower impacts on the environment than the artificial tree, according to an independent Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) conducted by ellipsos inc., a firm of experts in sustainable development…“The results are astonishing”, says Jean-Sébastien Trudel, president of ellipsos and co-author of the study. “Considering that the artificial tree is reusable for many years, one would think that this choice is best since the natural tree requires annual trips to purchase it.”

While natural trees also have environmental impacts, the LCA shows that an artificial tree would need to be kept for at least 20 years to be equivalent! Currently, people keep it for six years, on average.

Interestingly, to compensate for the impacts of a Christmas tree, be it natural or artificial, one can offset the carbon emissions by carpooling or biking to work only one to three days per year, according to ellipsos. “Knowing this, the most ecological choice between the natural and the artificial Christmas tree becomes anecdotal. Regardless of the chosen type of tree, the impacts on the environment are negligible if compared to other activities, such as driving solo to work on a daily basis”, concludes Jean-Sébastien Trudel.

Still, getting no tree is the most sustainable solution of all.

Download the full report from ellipos: Christmas Tree Life Cycle Analysis

• Monday, December 15th, 2008

Here is a good idea from the U.K. that promotes local food production and local commerce. I love how the members try to “stay out of the supermarkets.”

Via: The Guardian

It’s a bizarre sight: rows of polished church pews, each dotted with neat piles of fruit or veg. Shoppers scoop heaps into baskets, trolleys, or crumpled plastic bags saved from previous trips to Tesco.

This is a weekly food shop, cooperative style – a model of food distribution where neighbours work together to take control of their local supply chain. The system is simple: find a supplier, buy in bulk and collectively cover the costs. Smaller co-ops will only buy what participants have ordered, whereas larger organisations operate as markets or even set up their own shops. Some of these “community” co-ops invite customers to become members. You pay a nominal fee to be able to shop from it, or have a say in how it is run. Others are more informal and open to all. There are also “workers’” co-ops, which are often much larger organisations, where paid employees share all key business decisions.

The concept, of course, is far from new, but it’s proving increasingly popular. “Interest is definitely growing,” says John Atherton of Co-operatives UK, an organisation that supports cooperative enterprise across Britain. “We’re seeing rising numbers of buying groups and community shops. It’s a trend that is set to continue.”

The motivations are many: fears about food security; food inflation; the power of supermarkets; the bruised image of capitalism; a lost sense of community.

Across Britain, food co-ops are sprouting up in school halls, community centres, farm sheds or even your neighbour’s front room – anywhere, in fact, where rent is free.

“I use the term ‘trust trading’,” says Dan Dempsey, manager of a project establishing food co-ops in Wales. In essence, he says, it’s about a return to traditional routes of trade: reconnecting farmers with communities, and countryside to cities; paying a fair price and avoid markups by middlemen.

With strong backing from the Welsh assembly, his team has helped to launch 180 food co-ops in the last three years, supplying 6,000 families and turning over around £1m. “We’re cracking the system,” he says. “Supermarkets don’t have to dominate.”

It was this notion of trust that inspired the Rochdale Pioneers, established in 1844 and widely regarded as the first successful food co-op. At the time, food adulteration was commonplace. Unscrupulous traders were known to whiten flour with alum (plaster of paris) and dry used tea leaves before reselling them. Not much has changed: from the current scare over pork contaminated with dioxins, to the melamine-in-baby-milk scandal in China, the parallels could not be more striking.

• Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

If only the solution were to make less, sell less and use less of everything…But that’s not how the economy is set up. It’s dependent on infinite growth. So, there will be a great embrace of sustainable economic practices in the future, without ever looking at the root causes of the problem.

Via Reuters

WASHINGTON – Add another economic worry to inflation and deflation: ecoflation, the rising cost of doing business in a world with a changing climate.

Ecoflation could hit consumer goods hard in the next five to 10 years, according to a report by World Resources Institute and A.T. Kearney, a global management consulting firm.

Companies that make fast-moving consumer goods, everything from cereal to shampoo, could see earnings drop by 13 percent to 31 percent by 2013 and 19 percent to 47 percent by 2018 if they do not adopt sustainable environmental practices, the report said.

The costs of global warming are showing up now in the form of worse heat waves, droughts, wildfires and possibly more severe tropical storms but they are not yet reflected in consumer prices, said the institute’s Andrew Aulisi after the report’s December 2 release.

Instead, these costs are paid by governments and society, Aulisi said in a telephone interview. That could change if President-elect Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress push for a system that puts a price on the emission of climate-warming carbon dioxide, Aulisi said.

This is unlikely to happen next year in time for a December 2009 deadline to craft an international pact to fight climate change but it is more likely to happen in 2010.

These rising costs and possible tightening regulation of greenhouse gas emissions are not necessarily a bad thing, he said.

“The message we don’t see in this study is that regulation is going to cost … a lot of money,” Aulisi said. “We think the analysis is a catalyst to convince companies to take greater action on these important issues.”


In fact, some companies are already looking at ways to cut their emissions in advance of any new regulation, said Daniel Mahler of A.T. Kearney.

One example is consumer giant Procter & Gamble, which has a team looking across the company’s varied laundry, hair-care and health-care businesses to see how they can use less plastic, a fossil-based material, Mahler said by telephone.

But the changes may need to go deeper and wider, he said, spreading to the basics of how supply chains are managed.

For instance, companies that presumed U.S. transportation costs would be low and U.S. labor costs would be high had their goods made in countries where employees would work for less. But a new cost to the carbon emitted by long-distance transport could change that equation, making foreign manufacturing less attractive, Mahler said.

Within the United States, there could be a move away from big, centralized manufacturing plants to smaller, more widely dispersed ones, according to Mahler.

“That is not a little tactical change,” he said. “It is an infrastructure change that we see companies … addressing much more aggressively than they had been in the past.”

Under the ecoflation scenario, the world’s major economies are likely to set a price on carbon emissions of $50 a tonne, Aulisi said.

That is between five and 10 times the price of carbon being traded on voluntary markets in the United States now. There is no mandatory U.S. carbon market, though the first regional market will begin trading in January.

• Sunday, December 07th, 2008

These ideas courtesy of the Organic Consumers Association

1) Buy your green or organic gifts locally: Support your local economy by buying from local businesses. Ideally, choose items produced locally. Even if the item isn’t produced locally, you are supporting a local business and recirculating your money back through your community.

2) Gift certificates: In a struggling economy, letting your loved ones choose what they want to buy can sometimes be the best gift. Consider buying gift certificates from your local co-op or natural food store, independent bookstore, or locally-owned restaurants.

3) Get crafty: Don’t be afraid to offer handmade gifts. Put together a book of family favorite recipes. Make your own calendar. Give your loved one a coupon book offering your free services for massages, chores, and hugs.

4) Donate to a nonprofit of your choice in your friend or loved one’s name. For example a gift membership to the Organic Consumers Association. Many organizations, like the Natural Resources Defense Council provide certificates or thank you cards, that you can give to your loved one, acknowledging that you have made a gift donation in their name.

• Thursday, December 04th, 2008

It’s time for Montreal and Quebec to develop it’s own local market for recyclables and not rely upon foreign, Asian countries to take our wastes.


Recycling will get dumped or have to be buried, quite literally, unless a solution is found to revamp the practice in Quebec.

The global economic crisis has drastically cut into what recycling companies earn for their recycled materials, and the resulting loss could end in our recycling being buried.

In order to avoid a backlog in the 38 recycling centres in the province, the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks, Line Beauchamp, has called on Recyc-Québec and Collecte sélective Québec to come up with an action plan in the next 15 days to help Quebec’s sorting centres deal with the crisis.

“The real question is ‘Can we afford to close our recycling centres?’ The answer is ‘no,’” says Karel Ménard from Front commun québécois pour une gestion écologique des déchets (FCQGED).

Last Friday, Beauchamp told Le Devoir that she has been aware of the difficulties facing Quebec’s recycling centres for the past three weeks – ever since China and India stopped their demands for recycled material to manufacture into new goods.

Mixed paper, metal, plastic and glass have gone from $150 to $40 a metric ton since September and in some cases processors are refusing to accept certain materials altogether. There is little money left to cover spending in equipment, workers and additional storage.

Groupe TIRU, the multinational that operates the integrated treatment and sorting of urban waste materials in Montreal is also in the mess. Owned by EDF (an energy company controlled by the

French government), they landed their contracts with both Montreal and Laval for a grand total of “zero dollars” per metric ton, says Ménard, expecting to generate revenues with the sale of the recyclables, often to developing nations.

Standards for Quebec companies are much higher than those in China. Most Quebec companies actually import used paper because recycled materials coming from Quebec don’t actually meet their standards, says Ménard.

Ménard and Beauchamp also agree we need to treat more of our own recyclables and improve the quality of recuperated materials, as well as our sorting practices, in order to make recycled materials conform to the norms of our own industries, which in turn must meet standards for export to the U.S.

“We must also admit that properly managing our waste materials has a real cost. [...] We can’t permit ourselves to backtrack 20 years after all this effort has been made to get every Quebec household recycling.”

In the next week, Beauchamp’s committee will recommend ways to improve the sorting and quality control of recuperated recycled materials in municipal sorting centres. Meanwhile, Ménard and the FCQGED have laid out the following recommendations for Quebec’s recycling industry in order to meet trying economic, and ecological, times.


Implement an elimination tax of between $10 and $40 a metric ton, paid by everyone, which is returned to the municipalities so they can run their recycling plants. Up the tax further for industries that pollute, so they contribute their fair share to the municipal collection of recycling. This would reduce the general quantity of material for recycling and provide municipalities with the necessary funds to support their recycling centres in tough economic times, says Ménard. (At present, municipalities have no rights over the nature or quality of the products put in circulation by industry, but are responsible for their collection and treatment.)


Enact a unified province-wide collection and sorting practice and execute a national campaign to sensitize citizens about recyclables. Remove certain irritants from the system, like plastic bags and wine bottles, items that contaminate other recyclables and reduce resale value (SAQ could institute a deposit return policy for their own empties).


Develop a viable recycling industry at home. Currently companies aren’t required to include the percentage of recycled materials in the goods they distribute or produce – whether papers, plastics or bottles. But we already have laws on environmental quality that could be used to create such standards.

To view the full set of FCQGED recommendations, go to

• Tuesday, December 02nd, 2008

While the idea sounds appealing, it is hard to see how any single person could have any authority over the 19 boroughs that share the island. Perhaps a better idea would be to create a green committee to share information and build cooperative relationships amongst all the “green” city leaders from each borough.

Via: Financial Post

As CEO of the third largest city in the United States, Sadhu Johnston is responsible for implementing Mayor Richard M. Daley’s environmental initiatives across city government.

“My role is to bring the department of environment into each department,” Johnston, who is also the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, has said of his job.

Similarly, in Calgary, the role of spurring environmental action across city government belongs to Dave Day, the city’s director of environmental and safety management.

Day leads a team of 60 people who oversee green programs and targets for municipal departments under the city’s internationally-certified environmental management system.

“I’m the environmental champion for the city,” Day says.

Unlike Chicago and Calgary, Montreal has no civil servant perched atop the municipal bureaucracy making sure the green tint runs to its core.

So while Montreal has a new 20-year transportation plan aimed at boosting public transit and decreasing car use, it’s moving ahead with a redesign of Notre Dame St. E. that’s expected to increase the number of cars and trucks using it.

And while the city has raised its annual contribution to bus and métro service by 40 per cent, or $95 million, since 2002 to woo riders, it has hit riders with the other hand by hiking the price of a monthly transit pass by 40 per cent, or $20, in the same period.

To its credit, Montreal has developed green bylaws restricting pesticides and car idling, built a park over a former landfill in St. Michel and has become a leader in soil decontamination.

But the city and its 19 boroughs also engage in contradictory actions, critics say, leading them to conclude that Montreal is rudderless on the eco wave.

What if someone in Montreal’s community of 23,000 civil servants were a designated eco chief, forcing Montreal to improve its green record? Imagine the progress that could be made in transit, building, pollution and waste management.

“We have lots of policies in Montreal, but it’s not all coherent with what the city is doing,” André Porlier, executive director of the Conseil régional de l’environnement de Montréal, said.

For Porlier, the city’s most maddening contradiction is on green-space protection.

On the one hand, Montreal has a four-year-old policy for preserving natural habitats, which targets protecting six per cent of the island’s land mass and two per cent of waterways.

On the other hand, Rivière des Prairies-Pointe aux Trembles borough voted last year to build a borough office and cultural centre in René Masson Park, an area comprised of marshland, a creek, mature trees and fields. Ironically, construction will incorporate Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines.

And Côte des Neiges-Notre Dame de Grâce voted last year to raze several hundred square-metres of green space to replace an outdoor pool in Benny Park with a new LEED-standard indoor sports and community centre.

CRE-Montréal helped the city prepare its 2005 sustainable development plan, and devised 20 indicators to help a cell of five civil servants in the city’s environment department track progress by the city and its 160 business and community “partners” on the plan’s 36 goals.

But nothing requires the city or boroughs to attain those goals, Porlier said with frustration in his voice. “You need a concerted effort, and we don’t have that right now in Montreal.”