Tag Archives: green

A sobering read – “The End of Growth”

Cover from "The End of Growth" by Richard HeinbergIf you get depressed thinking about the long running economic crisis and pending ecological meltdown, then Richard Heinberg’s book “The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality” is probably not for you.

Within a succinct 288 pages Heinberg provides an update on the Club of Rome’s 1972 critique of the ludicrous oxymoronic notion of perennial economic growth. He also covers at length the impact of resource scarcity on society (not only fossil fuels but other resources including precious minerals, water and soil) and the negative impacts of pollution on the biosphere.

As the book contains page after page of depressing statistics, I couldn’t bring myself to slog through it during my summer break. It was only over Easter that I finished the book.

I’m pleased I did as it is in the last two chapters that Heinberg sets out his prescription for citizens to respond to the end of growth.

If you don’t want to read through all the hard stuff, you can view a dazzling infographic presenting the book’s core thesis. Allow six minutes to get to the heart of “The End of Economic Growth” on YouTube.

It might seem alarmist, but I’m convinced that if we (ie humans) don’t consciously plan for a no-growth future, we’ll hit a wall. I’m not terribly keen to witness a crisis unfold, so I was particularly interested to understand what Heinberg rates as the top priority for action by citizens.

Number one is everyone making and sustaining meaningful connections with neighbours, friends and family in the area where they live. In other words, build social capital. Heinberg also suggests there are some big picture policy oriented measures within global financial markets that could buy some time, and things for individuals and families to do to get prepared.

For those committed to playing an active role in social change he suggests a number of areas to build connectedness. This isn’t really a prescriptive list of things we must do. It’s more an offering from a seasoned thinker, and doer.

The main initiatives he proposes are:

Given the magnitude of the changes confronting us, I find it hard to hold at bay my cynicism about relying on community initiatives.

From past experience I know how much it takes to successfully run things at the grassroots. There tends to be an over reliance on a core group, who won’t be taken for granted forever. Despite easily used, free tools, it takes a lot of effort to communicate within loose groups or networks. All this happens in a context of people with full-on home and work lives.

Yet, deep down I know this is the way to go. I’m drawn back to Mark Roseland’s work on sustainability, which I’ve quoted before:

To a considerable extent, the environmental crisis is a creativity crisis. By soliciting the bare minimum of public ‘input’, rather than actively seeking community participation from agenda-setting through to implementation and evaluation, local and senior-decision-makers have failed to tap into the well of human ingenuity”.

(Quoted in a think piece I wrote in “An e-government response to the climate change crisis: tapping into citizen creativity”, 2007.)

Getting to the bit about where these global concerns intersect with what I can do. It’ll come as no surprise, but to sustain and inspire my creativity I go online. Through the web I get fresh ideas, get challenged see things from all sides and learn from projects, successful or not. Examples I’ve come recently include The Story of Stuff and Do the green thing.

Part of the reason I decided to write this (long) post was an increasing sense of urgency about taking action. This is particularly so given the current political climate which I’d describe as being about BAU until our head, neck, torso, legs and feet are all in the sand.

I’d be the last person to urge anyone to read such a difficult book as “The End of Growth”. However, I’d say it’s important to engage in the ideas, Heinberg presents. Have you had the a chance to think about where we (ie humans) are heading? What does it mean for you? your family? friends? Is building social connectedness the key, or other there other priorities? This conversation didn’t start with this book (or post), but I hope it carries on with some vigour.

PS I’ve half a mind to share inspiring and hopeful projects, ideas and creativity I find on my travails travels on the web. Series working title: “Reasons to be optimistic”.

Reprint: “A leap into the unknown?”

Old fashioned poster encouraging people to grown their own food at homeIn something of a departure from what you’ll usually find here, I’m republishing a piece that I wrote quite a while ago. The article below appeared in the now defunct Political Review in mid-1993.

A photocopy of the article has been sitting near my computer ever since I became self-employed in 2007. I’ve been meaning to type in the story as I still think it’s relevant.

Talking over a wedge of cake at my son’s shared birthday party last Saturday has prompted me to do the typing. It didn’t take long after I started conversing with Sam to dig into permaculture, swapping garden surpluses, community organising and the like.

When Sam comes to dinner I’ll show him some of the books I’ve acquired over the years on different aspects of social ecology, over-consumption, reimagining cities and mending our ways generally. For now, this article will have to suffice as a sweeping introduction to some thinkers that have helped form my thoughts on ‘sustainability’.

If I decided to re-write this article today, many of the issues raised are still pertinent almost 20 years later. Taking just one example, on my reading list is a new take on Ted Trainor’s arguments: “The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality” (2011) by Richard Heinberg.

I’d be tempted to find out whether Ted Trainor is still so optimistic about neighbourhoods being the locus for social change. My limited involvement in the Brooklyn Transition Towns food group, a variety of organic food co-ops and sundry other practical projects, shows what hard work it takes to get people working together, and the rewards that are possible when things take-off.

I could go on at length, but you might not end up reading the actual article. So, without prolonging the preamble, here’s the full unexpurgated text of “A leap into the unknow?”

A leap into the unknown

A shift to Ted Trainor’s self-sufficient ‘radical conserver’ society requires a bold leap. But as Stephen Blyth discovers, it is not a vision that is completely unknown.

Ted Trainor, Australian social ecologist and activist, has a radical idea about the way we can live. It’s a vision that denies a central role to the market. Instead needs are met locally, people are not exploited nor is the environment. It’s a vision that requires that we “Abandon Affluence”, as the title of his 1985 book suggests.

Although a radical leap, Trainor’s ideas are grounded in values from the past. His vision relies on old time values of thrift and frugality. A more self-sufficient way of living. When Trainor spoke in Christchurch last October he suggested that many in the audience would remember a time of greater self-sufficiency. It was not that long ago.

Read the rest of the article

Photo credit: P J Chmiel

Green distractions galore

Everyday this week I’ve bumped into references to environmental websites. I can’t help wondering if this is meant to mean something.

I chortled when I saw the reference to Unscrew America. I imagined a website all about people challenging such things as climate change denial, the Iraq war, etc. The zany, psychedelic website is actually about promoting energy efficient light bulbs.

The Garden Girl TV website gives no cause for confusion. Patti, the garden girl, wants us to adopt Urban Sustainable Living. She has one hundred hours of video tape and is releasing new how-to videos weekly. Pond care, hand spinning, eco-friendly christmas and care of bantam chickens are just some of the topics covered. Folksy, funky and practical.

Paul Reynolds, blogging at McGovern Online, pointed his readers to a posting from The Times (of London) Green Central blog that listed “The Top 50 Green Blogs”.

My top pick from the list is called The City Fix, a blog exploring sustainable solutions to the problems of urban mobility. It’s global, authoritative and kinda fun. Every post has a photo or graphic.

Of course, I got distracted into looking at links listed by City Fix and spent ages scanning through The Copenhagen Bike Culture Blog. Again, it was the photos that captured my interest. A fury Mountaingoat Bike, bike rack statement sculpture, loads of different cargo bikes, and even the cycle lockers on the new Auckland bus-lane were all pictured.

It was when riding down Willis Street that I came across billboards for the “Change the World” book. There’s something like 50 actions listed that will help you make a difference to the health of the planet and society.

The book has been sweeping the world, and Aotearoa is the latest to have its own version. This is almost two years after it was released in Australia – I should know as I’ve got a copy sitting in front of me. The price has jumped from $10 everywhere else to $15, but hey good value. When you go to the accompanying website, We are what we do, you can watch people as they progress toward changing the world and even sign up to note down your achievements. Exhausting, but barely any mention of getting political.

Well, my last website of note is a reference to a new book from AA Travel UK listing 100 eco-friendly places to stay around the world. The Guardian story, Go Lightly, highlights several hotels, an inn, apartments, a homestay and a treehouse. Yes, a treehouse, well actually a comfy cabin built into a 200-year-old chestnut tree (called www.perchedansleperche.com).

Thoroughly distracted, but somewhat better informed, it’s time to actually do something practical. A dozen silverbeet seedlings are waiting to be planted.