Archive for the month “March, 2015”

News update

Could Indias Coal Plans Derail the Global Climate?
Tobias Engelmeier, The Energy Collective
If India were to grow its electricity system based on coal (as China has done), would it derail the global climate? According to our calculations, under a “coal-heavy” scenario, India would need to increase is coal-fired power generation capacity from the 156 GW in early 2015 to 677 GW in 2035. What would be the CO2 implications of such a strategy?

Global water crisis causing failed harvests, hunger, war and terrorism
Nafeez Ahmed, The Ecologist
The world is already experiencing water scarcity driven by over-use, poor land management and climate change. Its one of the causes of wars and terrorism in the Middle East and beyond, and if we fail to respond to the warnings before us, major food and power shortages will soon afflict large parts of the globe fuelling hunger, insecurity and conflict.

The Global Water Crisis and Coal Fired Power Plants
Iris Cheng, Greenpeace
Despite the global water crisis being identified as the top risk to people across the globe, very few are taking a stand to protect dwindling water resources from the huge planned global growth of coal-fired power stations. The fact is that the planned coal expansion will contribute to water crises, as the energy sector usually wins against us when it comes to who gets access to this precious resource.

The Case for a Climate Goal Other Than Two Degrees Celsius
Diane Toomey, Yale Environment 360
Scientists and climate negotiators have largely agreed that limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius is an important goal. But David Victor, political scientist and lead author with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), disagrees, arguing that the benchmark is too simplistic and should be abandoned in favor of other indicators. He maintains that not only is the 2-degree goal now unattainable, the focus on it has almost unwittingly played into the hands of the so-called climate denialists.

The puzzling flattening of carbon emissions and the problem of global growth
Kurt Cobb
Last week we learned that maybe, just maybe, global carbon emissions were flat in 2014 even though the global economy supposedly grew by 3 percent. Carbon emissions have moved up almost in lockstep with economic growth for the entire industrial age except during recessions and one year of growth 40 years ago. But there is another obvious and plausible explanation for the flat carbon emissions, namely, that the global economy did not grow by the stated percentage, that it may have grown only a fraction of that amount or not at all.

China plans to build huge space solar power station 
The Economic Times 
China plans to build a huge solar power station 36,000 kilometres above the ground in an attempt to battle smog, cut greenhouse gases and solve energy crisis, much on the lines of an idea first floated in 1941 by fiction writer Isaac Asimov, state media reported today. The power station would be a super spacecraft on a geosynchronous orbit equipped with huge solar panels. The electricity generated would be converted to microwaves or lasers and transmitted to a collector on Earth, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Chinese control of Rare Earths and the future of energy 
Llewellyn King, Oilprice.com
The 17 rare earth elements have energy supply by the throat. They are used in everything from oil refineries to solar and wind generators. Today, 90 percent of the rare earths the world uses come from China. All U.S. defense manufacturers – including giants Boeing, General Electric and Lockheed Martin are dependent on China. Now China is demanding that U.S. companies do more of their manufacturing there: China wants to control the whole chain.

Agroecology: An idea and practice coming of age
Rupert Dunn, Sustainable Food trust
Agroecology is a holistic approach to farming and food production that could shape how we feed the world in the 21st century. It offers, at last, a means through which sustainable food sovereignty can be achieved across the globe. In February, at the International Forum for Agroecology in Nyeleni, Mali, a turning point came in the dissemination of ideas and practices of what is called ‘agroecology’.

Four Reports: Global Risks, Water, Food Policy & Natural Capital

Environmental Risks Dominate the WEF Global Risks Report 2015
Edge Environment
Surveyed responses ranked the risks of ‘Water Crises’, ‘Failure of Climate Change Adaptation’ and ‘Extreme Weather Events’ among the topmost likely and impactful global risks in the World Economic Forums Global Risks Report 2015. These potential risks were considered of greater importance than other possible responses such as ‘Terrorist attacks’, ‘Fiscal Crisis’ and ‘Cyber attacks’. Of the 5 umbrella risks areas assessed (Economic, Geopolitical, Societal, Technological and Environmental), the report identifies ‘Environmental risks’ as the area in which there has been the least progress over the past 10 years.
Read the article   View the report

UN report: Earth is facing a 40% shortfall in water supply by 2030
India Environmental Portal
Earth is facing a 40% shortfall in water supply by 2030, unless we dramatically improve the management of this precious resource warns this latest edition of the UN World Water Development Report. The WWDR 2015 demonstrates how water resources and services are essential to achieving global sustainability.
View/download the report

IFPRI: Global Food Policy report 2014-2015
International Food Policy Research Institute
This 2014–2015 Global Food Policy Report is the fourth in an annual series that provides a comprehensive overview of major food policy developments and events. In this report, distinguished researchers, policymakers, and practitioners review what happened in food policy in 2014 at the global, regional, and national levels, and—supported by the latest knowledge and research—explain why. This year’s report is the first to also look forward a year, offering analysis of the potential opportunities and challenges that we will face in achieving food and nutrition security in 2015.
View/download the report

TEEB Report: No top industry would be profitable if it paid for natural capital
Shareable.net
This recent report was undertaken by environmental consultancy Trucost on behalf of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) program sponsored by United Nations Environmental Program. TEEB asked Trucost to tally up the total “unpriced natural capital” consumed by the world’s top industrial sectors. (“Natural capital” refers to ecological materials and services like, say, clean water or a stable atmosphere; “unpriced” means that businesses don’t pay to consume them.)

Trucost’s big finding is that of the top 20 region-sectors ranked by environmental impacts, none would be profitable if environmental costs were fully integrated. Ponder that for a moment: None of the world’s top industrial sectors would be profitable if they were paying their full freight. Zero. That amounts to an global industrial system built on sleight of hand. As Paul Hawken likes to put it, we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP.
Read the article   Download the report (pdf) 

Four Reports: Global Risks, Water, Food Policy Natural Capital

Environmental Risks Dominate the WEF Global Risks Report 2015
Edge Environment
Surveyed responses ranked the risks of ‘Water Crises’, ‘Failure of Climate Change Adaptation’ and ‘Extreme Weather Events’ among the topmost likely and impactful global risks in the World Economic Forums Global Risks Report 2015. These potential risks were considered of greater importance than other possible responses such as ‘Terrorist attacks’, ‘Fiscal Crisis’ and ‘Cyber attacks’. Of the 5 umbrella risks areas assessed (Economic, Geopolitical, Societal, Technological and Environmental), the report identifies ‘Environmental risks’ as the area in which there has been the least progress over the past 10 years.
Read the article   View the report

UN report: Earth is facing a 40% shortfall in water supply by 2030
India Environmental Portal
Earth is facing a 40% shortfall in water supply by 2030, unless we dramatically improve the management of this precious resource warns this latest edition of the UN World Water Development Report. The WWDR 2015 demonstrates how water resources and services are essential to achieving global sustainability.
View/download the report

IFPRI: Global Food Policy report 2014-2015
International Food Policy Research Institute
This 2014–2015 Global Food Policy Report is the fourth in an annual series that provides a comprehensive overview of major food policy developments and events. In this report, distinguished researchers, policymakers, and practitioners review what happened in food policy in 2014 at the global, regional, and national levels, and—supported by the latest knowledge and research—explain why. This year’s report is the first to also look forward a year, offering analysis of the potential opportunities and challenges that we will face in achieving food and nutrition security in 2015.
View/download the report

TEEB Report: No top industry would be profitable if it paid for natural capital
Shareable.net
This recent report was undertaken by environmental consultancy Trucost on behalf of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) program sponsored by United Nations Environmental Program. TEEB asked Trucost to tally up the total “unpriced natural capital” consumed by the world’s top industrial sectors. (“Natural capital” refers to ecological materials and services like, say, clean water or a stable atmosphere; “unpriced” means that businesses don’t pay to consume them.)

Trucost’s big finding is that of the top 20 region-sectors ranked by environmental impacts, none would be profitable if environmental costs were fully integrated. Ponder that for a moment: None of the world’s top industrial sectors would be profitable if they were paying their full freight. Zero. That amounts to an global industrial system built on sleight of hand. As Paul Hawken likes to put it, we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP.
Read the article   Download the report (pdf) 

Course: Environment, Society and Well-being (Pune, June 2015)

Kalpavriskh Monsoon School: Perspectives on Environment, Society and Well-being

As the world hurtles towards greater ecological devastation, inequalities, and social conflicts, a big question facing us is: are there alternative ways of meeting human needs and aspirations, without trashing the earth and without leaving half of humanity behind? Across India (as in the rest of the world), this question is being answered by a multitude of practices and initiatives, some new, some age-old, the visions and stories of which are rarely shared in dominant discourses or through mainstream media.

Situated within this context, Kalpavriksh is organising a week long monsoon course on Perspectives on environment, society and well-being. The course, being organised for the second year, attempts to reflect on the Indian environmental history and contemporary perspectives including ideas and practices in conservation, development and governance. It also discusses some of the existing alternative discourses in India which pay greater attention to social justice and environmental sustainability.

This course will comprise of a series of sessions focusing on sharing of experiences by some of the people involved in research, advocacy and interventions related to these issues through discussions, readings, screenings and a field trip.

When and Where
Week long course during end of June, 2015, in or around Pune, Maharashtra.

How to join us?
Anyone interested in these issues can be a part of the course. For further information on this, please email us at soonlgmom.
This is an initial announcement and further details about fee, venue and exact dates will follow.

Kalpavriksh

About the organisers
Kalpavriksh is a non profit organisation working on environmental and social issues. The group began in 1979 with a campaign led by students to save Delhis Ridge Forest. We work on local, national and global levels, are registered under the Societies Registration Act (S-17439) and are based in Delhi and Pune. Kalpavriksh believes that a country can develop meaningfully only when ecological sustainability and social equity are guaranteed, and a sense of respect for, and oneness with nature, and fellow humans is achieved.

www.kalpavriksh.org

News update

Goldilocks Is Dead
Richard Heinberg
Five years ago I wrote an article for Reuters titled “Goldilocks and the Three Fuels.” In it, I discussed what I call the Goldilocks price zone for oil, natural gas, and coal, a zone in which prices are “just right”—high enough to reward producers but low enough to entice consumers. Ever since the start of the fossil fuel era, such a zone has existed, but not any more. This will have staggering consequences throughout the economy for the foreseeable future.

Cheap oil, complexity and counterintuitive conclusions
Kurt Cobb
It is a staple of oil industry apologists to say that the recent swift decline in the price of oil is indicative of long-term abundance. Cheerleaders for cheap oil only seem to consider the salutary effects of low-priced oil on the broader economy and skip mentioning the deleterious effects of high-priced oil. They seem to ignore the possibility that the previously high price of oil actually caused the economy to slow and thereby dampened demandwhich then led to a huge price decline.

The oil glut and low prices reflect an affordability problem
Gail Tverberg
For a long time, there has been a belief that the decline in oil supply will come by way of high oil prices. Demand will exceed supply. It seems to me that this view is backward–the decline in supply will come through low oil prices. The oil glut we are experiencing now reflects a worldwide affordability crisis. Because of a lack of affordability, demand is depressed.  This lack of demand keeps prices low–below the cost of production for many producers.

Costa Rica uses 100% renewable energy for past 75 days.
How are they doing it?

Christian Science Monitor
The entire country of Costa Rica is currently running on completely renewable energy and has been for 75 days now. Relying mainly on hydropower, Costa Rica has not used any fossil fuels to generate electricity since the beginning of 2015. The heavy rainfall over the past year has kept hydroplants busy enough to power nearly the whole country, with geothermal, wind, biomass, and solar energy making up the deficit, according to a press release from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute.

Pollinating species declining, reveals first global assessment
International Union for Conservation of Nature
According to a new study by IUCN and partners, the conservation status of pollinating bird and mammal species is deteriorating, with more species moving towards extinction than away from it. On average, 2.4 bird and mammal pollinator species per year have moved one IUCN Red List category towards extinction in recent decades, representing a substantial increase in extinction risk across this set of species.

As Himalayan Glaciers Melt, Two Towns Face the Fallout
Daniel Grossman, Yale Environment 360
For two towns in northern India, melting glaciers have had very different impacts — one town has benefited from flowing streams and bountiful harvests; but the other has seen its water supplies dry up and now is being forced to relocate.

The Politics of Extinction 
William deBuys, Tomdispatch.com
To grasp the breadth of the carnage now going on, it’s essential to realize that the war against nature is being waged on an almost infinite number of planetary fronts, affecting hundreds of species, and that the toll is already devastating. Among the battlefields, none may be bloodier than the forests of Southeast Asia, for they lie closest to China, the world’s most ravenous (and lucrative) market for wildlife and wildlife parts.

How do Empires hunt bears? The control of natural resources from ancient Rome to our times
Ugo Bardi, Resource Crisis
How did the Romans manage to keep their Empire together so well and for such a long time? It was, obviously a question of control. The entities we call states (and their more aggressive version known as empires) exist because the center can control the periphery. This control takes various forms, but, basically, it is the result of the financial system: money.

Challenging Thomas Piketty: Growth is not the answer to inequality

 Tim Jackson, The Guardian, UK

Those like me who fear that the continued pursuit of economic growth on a finite planet might be neither possible nor desirable face a different kind of challenge, brought home to us by Thomas Piketty’s 700 page tome Capital in the 21st Century. The astonishing popularity of the “rock-star economist” is itself a resounding testament to our concern for inequality.

But his painstaking analysis reveals an uncomfortable story. Piketty places the responsibility for rising inequality firmly and squarely on declining growth rates. Like Benjamin Friedman in The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, he implies that only growth can bring civility, in part because an expanding economy allows for a degree of ‘catching up’ by the poorest in society, without much sacrifice or compromise by the rich.

For those of us less than convinced by the mantra of growth at all costs, the idea that only growth can save us from disastrous inequality poses some pretty serious challenges to our endeavour. Serious enough, that two of us – my Canadian colleague professor Peter Victor and I – decided to spend a bit more time analysing Piketty’s arguments.

What we found was fascinating. Piketty’s hypothesis only holds when the growth rate, savings rate and return on capital remain unchanged over long periods of time. When they move about, as they usually do, the economy is always chasing equilibrium but never quite arrives. In some circumstances, Piketty is absolutely right: declining growth can lead to rising inequality. In others, the exact reverse can happen: de-growth can in fact be compatible with greater equality.

This was definitely good news of a kind. Even more striking were the circumstances that made the difference. It turns out that if we are serious about reducing inequality, we must pay attention to the quality – as well as the quantity – of work in our economy. The endless mining of working life in pursuit of productivity gains for the owners of capital is not just detrimental to prosperity, it is inimicable to social justice.

If the debate about inequality is really back on the political agenda, it seems important that we approach it sensibly, without resorting to comforting half-truths. It remains to be seen how that will play out in a political debate mired in trivialities. Read the original article

Read Tim Jacksons paper: Does slow growth increase inequality?
Read another article by Tim Jackson: The dilemma of growth: prosperity v economic expansion

Video: Lord Man Parable

This video uses images and text from the book Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot which speaks to how man once lived peacefully with all of the Earths beauty but has quickly taken-for-granted all the resources and animals causing great environmental and sustainability issues.

Hieronymus Bosch’s ghastly depictions of hell meet their match in many of the real-life images collected in this sobering new book edited by conservationist Tom Butler and published by San Francisco’s Goff Books in collaboration with the Population Media Center and the Population Institute, the book showcases more than 200 photographs that are as bleak as they are beautiful, highlighting the alarming consequences of growth and consumption around the world.

The book’s photographs, writes William Ryerson in the introduction, are “emotionally jarring. The thoughts expressed herein are not reassuring; they are deeply provocative. But that is the nature of wake-up calls. The way that human numbers and behavior are transforming the Earth, undermining its ability to support the human family and the rest of life, is apparent for all to see. The reality of this urgent moment calls us to think, to care, and to act.”

Read William Ryersons introduction to Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

News update

Arctic sea ice extent hits record low for winter maximum
The Guardian, UK
Arctic sea ice has hit a record low for its maximum extent in winter, which scientists said was a result of climate change and abnormal weather patterns. The US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) said on Thursday that at its peak the ice covered just over 14.5m sq km of the northern seas. This was 130,000 sq km smaller than the previous lowest maximum in 2011.

India: Machines drive 90% of power in farming, humans’ share drops to 5%
The Times of India
Silently, agriculture in India has gone through a far-reaching change in the past few decades. The share of human power available for carrying out the myriad operations in farming has shrunk to a mere 5% as has that of draught animals, the iconic oxen pulling the plough. More than 90% of the power is now drawn from mechanical sources: tractors and power tillers provide the bulk, 47%; electric motors 27% and diesel engines 16%.

Cheap Oil, Climate Change Mitigation and India
Shoibal Chakravarty, EPW
In this article, our objectives are twofold. We analyse the causes of the 2014 oil crash and its short-term impact
on the global economy. And we will complement this by considering the role that the oil crash might play in the long-term transition of the energy system that will be required to limit climate change. Finally, we discuss the outlook for India.

The Global Coal Boom Is Going Bust: Report
Mike Gaworecki, DeSmog Blog
A new report by CoalSwarm and the Sierra Club provides compelling evidence that the death knell for the global coal boom might very well have rung some time between 2010 and 2012. Based on data CoalSwarm compiled of every coal plant proposed worldwide for the past five years as part of its Global Coal Plant Tracker initiative, the report finds that for every coal plant that came online, plans for two other plants were put on hold or scrapped altogether.

Only Less Will Do
Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute
Almost nobody likes to hear about the role of scale in our global environmental crisis. That’s because if growth is our problem, then the only real solution is to shrink the economy and reduce population. Population has grown from 4.4 billion in 1980 to 7.1 billion in 2013. Per capita consumption of energy has grown from less than 70 gigajoules to nearly 80 GJ per year. And we see the results: the world’s oceans are dying; species are going extinct at a thousand times the natural rate; and the global climate is careening toward chaos as multiple self-reinforcing feedback processes (including polar melting and methane release) kick into gear.

The Global Economy’s “Impeccable Logic”
Steven Gorelick, Local Futures ISEC Blog
To suggest that conventional economic thinking lacks a moral foundation is not to say that corporate CEOs and IMF economists have no moral or ethical values: most of them probably contribute to charity, feel tender thoughts towards their children and parents, and may even be angered at certain forms of injustice. The question here is whether there’s a moral dimension to the way conventional economics regards wealth inequality.

The Science of Peak Oil
Andrew McKay, Southern Limits
Peak oilers are accused of changing the definition of what peak oil actually means, therefore the entire concept of oil production peaking is rubbish. Far from a valid criticism however, this is actually a scientific virtue. If any scientist dogmatically stuck with a rigid theory as the data repeatedly proved that theory to be incorrect then that would be cause for great concern.

Photo-feature: Climate change in the Marshall Islands and Kiribati, before and after
Rémi Chauvin, Guardian UK
In the low-lying Pacific atolls of the Marshall Islands and Kiribati rising sea levels have made every high tide a dangerous event. Regular floods wash through villages causing damage to houses, killing crops and poisoning drinking water. In December 2014, photographer Rémi Chauvin recreated a set of historical images depicting the first impacts of climate change in these countries where no one lives more than a few metres above the sea.

Report: A New Alignment of Movements?

New Report Explores The Commons as a Paradigm to Align Movements

David Bollier, Shareable.net

The proliferation of activist initiatives calling for systemic change around the world has never been more impressive. Yet collaborations among like-minded organizations, projects and movements have been disappointingly modest. As neoliberal economics and policies tighten their grip on American society—notwithstanding the dismal misbehavior of financial institutions, corporations and the two political parties—can leading alt-economic and social movements find ways to work more closely together?

In an attempt to explore this challenge, two dozen internationally minded activists from leading economic and social movements met in September 2014. While Margaret Thatcher had once insisted “There Is No Alternative” to her neoliberal agenda—inspiring the acronym TINA—the takeaway from this conclave of activists was quite the opposite: “There Are Plenty of Alternatives,” or TAPAS.

The three days of discussion detailed the many exciting initiatives that progressive activists are pursuing: innovative forms of co-operatives, community-based finance systems, alternative currencies that benefit participating members, and commons-based models like community land trusts, participatory budgeting and municipal/commons partnerships. There are timebanks, local food systems, hackerspaces and FabLabs, software platforms for democratic deliberation, and open design and manufacturing communities for cars, furniture and farm equipment.

A report summarizing the key points of discussion was recently released by the Commons Strategies Group(CSG), the organization which had convened the twenty-five activists in Meissen, Germany. The report, A New Alignment of Movements? [pdf] was written by myself, as CSG cofounder, and Pat Conaty, a Fellow of the New Economics Foundation and Research Associate at Co-operatives UK. Support for the workshop came from the Heinrich Böll Foundation (Germany) and the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation (France and Switzerland).

Continue reading         Download report

Book: Ecological Agriculture in India

Ecological Agriculture in India Scientific Evidence on Positive Impacts and Successes
Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)

Note on the book by by Kavitha Kuruganti of ASHA:

Very often, when ecological agriculture (whether it goes by the name of organic farming or natural farming or bio-dynamic farming) approaches are advocated for large scale replication in the country especially in response to the severe agrarian distress in the country, the environmental degradation emerging with natural resources related to farming, the environmental health problems that are cropping up, the economic viability of farming getting eroded and in the context of climate change – there are many questions asked around the viability/profitability of organic farming, the productivity of organic farming, the scientific validation of many practices adopted by organic farmers, the environmental implications of adoption of organic farming, the socio-economic impacts related to organic farming (farm suicides, for example) and so on.

This compilation is on the scientific evidence readily available in India on the various benefits from organic farming, including on productivity and farm economics, on environmental impacts (soil, biodiversity etc.), on validation of various practices as well as on challenges facing organic farming. I chose not to bring in literature from outside India, just to point to the enormous evidence available right here. In this compilation, I also did not include a vast body of evidence on organic agronomic practices for System of Root Intensification (SRI). Similarly, evidence related to non-chemical IPM or NPM is also available as a large body of scientific literature.This is not an exhaustive compilation of all the studies that exist on the subject. As an area of emerging interest, it is seen that many doctoral theses are present in the NARS on the themes listed above, pertaining to Organic Farming. However, I was not able to tap into all such literature. Similarly, while searching for scientific evidence as part of this effort, I came across the abstracts and presentations made in two national seminars related to organic farming within the NARS in 2014 (Navsari and Palampur). However, it is seen that the soft copies of the hundreds of papers available therein are not readily available on the websites of the organizers. In fact it is this lack of ready reference material that this booklet seeks to address.This booklet is a preliminary effort which will be revised and structured better in future, and should be seen as work in progress. This compilation provides ample evidence on the scientific basis that underpins the practice of organic farming in the country. What is missing however is committed extension that takes the message to farmers. This booklet also shows that organic farming is not to be equated with only traditional farming as is often done, but is a scientific approach that effectively uses nature’s processes and products for sustainable management of productive resources for viability and profitability.

The papers that were included in the Challenges and Way Forward section also bring up an argument that organic farming needs a different appraisal and analysis framework, with different criteria and parameters to justify its impact on society and ecology. In the Indian agricultural research scenario too, this re-orientation is much-required. Papers that compared organic with chemical agriculture were put into the Yields/Productivity section while comparisons between various organic farming practices were categorized under the Scientific Validation section. It is seen that most research efforts are going into INM and very little into organic farming research.

I hope this compilation will be made use of, by various stakeholders, to ensure that ecological farming is promoted and practised on a large scale. Ananthoo of ASHA helped in collecting various papers and sorting them. Shamika Mone of Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI) also pitched in with some studies. I would like to acknowledge with sincere gratitude the support obtained from the Regional Centre for Organic Farming in the University of Agricultural Sciences-Bangalore (Dr N Devakumar in particular) and Prakash Selvaraj, Coimbatore. Parthasarathy VM created the Index painstakingly, crop-wise, practice-wise and location-wise.

Download a pdf copy of the book 

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