What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

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Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Half measures won't cut it! Business as Usual is out.

At the 2009 Gaining Ground Summit in Vancouver, speaking on the topic "Planning Down; What if Can Do... Can't? " Bill Rees the co-creater of the Ecological Footprint had much to say about the challenges we face. I paraphrase his main takeaway points below;

Perception is everything - we still see human civilization as separate from nature.

The past 8 generations of humans have lived in a completely anomalous phase, that of growth without bounds - as an ecologist he would see this happen in any other species and call it a plague phase and it would inevitably result in implosion. We see it as normal even though it is completely abnormal.

We have an intellectual understanding of the dilemma we face but our response to it is to make it worse by assuming we can green grow our way out of it. Assuming we can maintain growth through technological improvements, essentially "technology will save us". This is delusional.

The science, which is ignored in the above, says we need an absolute reduction of throughput of material resources in our economy of 80% by mid century. Any effort, whether personal or governmental that does not take that into account by bringing about an absolute reduction in use of resources is making matters worse, this includes green consumerism, recycling, etc... For example, the 2008 Green Car of the Year, the Tahoe hybrid, gets the lowest gas mileage of any hybrid on earth and weighs 3.3 metric tonnes. Clearly rushing out and buying one of these behemoths is not saving the planet. This perpetuates the illusion that cities should be built around automobiles. Additionally, from 1950 to 2004 the average American house increased in size by 135%. This was the time that the environmental movement was born, green rhetoric increased and family size decreased. A tiny fraction of these houses are about 25% more efficient than the previous houses. The point, it is completely delusional to think we are improving the situation.

Modern cities, if sealed off in a giant dome, would suffocate and starve simultaneously. No matter how green, they are in no way sustainable. We are not producers, we are parasitic consumers according to Mr. Rees. Every act of human production consumes vast quantities of resources. In contrast, balanced ecosytems are exactly that, balanced.

This abnormal period of growth has been enabled by a period of stable climate and an inheritance of millions of years of eco capital. The climate is no longer stable and the capital (including oil and soil) is no longer there for us to use in anything like the quantities we have come to expect.

Real data indicates that CO2 concentration is increasing 35% faster than expected in the worst case scenarios predicted in the year 2000. The rate of increase is doubling. One of the most respected climate research centers, The Hadley Center in the UK recently predicted we are unlikely to keep concentrations below 650 ppm without herculean efforts. That means at least a 50% chance of a 4ÂșC increase over the pre-industrial levels, this is catastrophic climate change. No country on earth is even coming close to addressing the levels of change required.

And now I quote Mr. Rees.

"There is no particular virtue in becoming more efficiently unsustainable"

Or put another way;

"Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all." -- Peter Drucker

To hear the full lecture from Mr. Rees go to Radio Ecoshock or go directly to the mp3 file at Smart Decline.

Similarly over at WorldChanging article "The Revolution Will Not Be Hand-Made: A Quick Sunday-Morning Rant", Alex Stefen says;

"We have inherited a whole set of solutions by conventional wisdom, many of them surrounding lifestyle choices. Almost all of us believe that someone who buys local food, who drives a hybrid, who lives in a well-insulated house, who wears organic clothing and who religiously recycles and composts and avoids unnecessary purchases is living sustainably.

They are not. As we've explored a bunch of times in different ways here on Worldchanging, the parts of our lives that actually fall within our direct control are the tips of systemic icebergs, and often changing them does nothing to alter those systems: not individually, not in small groups, not even in larger lifestyle movements. If we're going to avoid catastrophe, we need to change those larger systems, and change them for everyone, and change them quickly.... We can no longer afford to mistake the symbolic for the effective, or put our hopes in the mystical idea that if enough of us embrace small steps, our values will ripple mysteriously out through the culture and utterly transform it. We've been saying that for more than 40 years, it hasn't happened and we need to stop lying to ourselves that it will. Live the life that fits your values, but don't mistake that for changing the world."

I agree, the symbolic is vital but it certainly isn't adequate to the task. This brings me to the main point of today's post. A fundamental change in the energy density of our society is coming. We can wait for it to happen to us with all the attendant chaos that implies or we can plan for it.

We need to go for the big targets first, where are the biggest emissions coming from, Coal and oil fired electricity generation, industrial agriculture, and oil fueled transport. All three require government intervention to rectify. That won't happen if you don't get involved to make it happen. If you live in the US take the example from the UK where protests have caused Eon to shelve it's plans to build a new cola fired plant at Kingsnorth and Greenpeace protesters continue to occupy existing stations as well the roof of the Houses of Parliament. At the very least let your government representative know that you support strong climate targets, the cessation of construction of all fossil fuel powered power stations, the cessation of mountaintop removal and the cessation of the exploitation of the Alberta Tar sands. Go to a "Coal Country" house party to get educated and find others in your community that are involved in stopping dirty coal.

Realize that these actions are requiring a severe reduction in fossil fuel use in a very short time. It is important for the symbolic power but also for your own security that you powerdown your own life. Go car free, grow your own food, go off grid for your electricity, harvest rainwater, eliminate waste and debt fueled globalized consumerism from your life, start or join a Transition initiative to help your community powerdown and relocalize.

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