DaST / Welcome to our Vision
CHANGE OF PARADIGM
Oystein Dahle, former Esso Vice President for Norway and the North Sea observed, “Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth”.
As westerners we are hurtling along life’s vainglorious highways, allowing the modern assault of advertising to numb us into submission, not wanting to admit to the problems that face the world at large because facing it would mean that our comfortable existence has a shelf life.
But active participation can change that. Life is not found in empty words, or time blurred in the pursuit of mindless entertainment, but in action. Through a collective projects of environmental restoration, one’s self can also be restored, as one becomes vital, as part of something more, as part of something generational, and not consumptive.
Donne said, “no man is an island”. Well, neither is an island an island. Whether you are concerned about agriculture, water and energy or not, they do concern you! We must start to see our actions, not as isolated incidents but as serving part of the whole.
Since the rise of the Industrial age humankind in the west has enjoyed a life of increasing ease and prosperity, of massively increased mobility, of instant communication, and of seeming abundance, all possible due to an erroneous sense of having dominated nature, nature from which we do not live apart.
This la dolce vita has been such a success, and so well advertised via the global media, that each country now wishes to imitate it, as fast as possible. But the entire world cannot live like the west. Even the west can no longer afford to live like the west.
Today, the ecological footprint in most of the developed countries, and in the underdeveloped ones copying our model, exceeds their biocapacity. As a planet this means we are making more wastes than we can absorb back into the cycle, polluting and depleting the resources on which we all depend.
According to the last Living Planet Report , the USA had a biocapacity per inhabitant of 5 gha (global hectares), but their footprint reached 9.4 gha. So in 2005 the USA were using 4.4 gha outside their own territory to sustain their way of life.
Europe’s biocapacity at this time was 2.3 gha per capita. With a footprint of 4.7 gha Europe was outsourcing 2.4 gha from outside countries.
Looking at the three European nations currently experiencing the most dire economic problems, Greece, Spain and Portugal, one finds that they also have the highest deficit of biocapacity per capita, -4.2 gha, -4.4 gha and -3.2 gha respectively. Using more and more resources beyond one’s borders leads to an economic and biological imbalance, and to economic and biological bankruptcy.
If we look at the overall world figures by type of income we find that the high income countries, representing 1 billion people, have an average ecological footprint of 6.4 gha for a biocapacity of 3.7 gha. The medium income countries, with 3 billion people, have an average ecological footprint of 2.2 gha for a biocapacity of 2.2 gha. And the low income countries, with 2.4 billion inhabitants, have an average ecological footprint of 1 gha for a biocapacity on par with China, of .9 gha.
These figures demonstrate a simple truth. Our current way of living is discordant with what we have to work with. And it’s not just about consumption habits,shopping malls, drilling for oil or dumping our rubbish in China, or polluting with nitrates, pesticides and ,no ones knows what, our aquifer and our food it’s the whole setup that drive us to these extremities; the law, the tax system, the statistical data we work with, the financial and accounting rules, our education and health care, commercial agreements, our agricultural practices and prices, the way that Cities and States grant permission to build and to open factories, the process through which banks grant loans. Our model, our so-called ‘civilisation’, is doomed to collapse if we do not make the necessary changes.
An image comes to mind, of a sea captain who knows his position, the port he is making for, his velocity and his inertial force and yet does not change course when all his calculations demonstrate that he will hit the wharf and destroy his ship and all the people in it.
Certainly the challenge we face is a great one. For a paradigm shift in our thinking, our way of teaching, our way of living and consuming, will be at odds with the short term profit-seeking portfolio of most shareholders and patent holders, as well as with the ethos of most of the world’s top companies themselves.
The world community is very attentive and proactive. International organisations, Universities, Research centers, States, Cities, the EU, companies, ONG, professionals and many families have started since the 70’s working and acting on these issues.
American council for sustainability; Portuguese one; Cities, Davis, BedZed (Beddington Zero energy); Masdar next to Abou Dabhi project commissionned by Cheick Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Hammarby-Sjostad in Stockholm, already more than 50% of the world population live in cities this % is to increase to more than 70% in the 20 coming years.
UNEP, the United Nations Environment Program, provides some hard facts: Buildings consume 48% of all energy, Transport 27%, Industry 25%. As almost all buildings are located in towns we can say that those 48% are used in cities and that 4/5 of the 27% allocated to transport are used in cities. Consequently 2/3rd of the CO2 produced is related to our way of life in cities.
What type of growth are we speaking of, and for whom.
The continuing growth of our modern economies over the past seventy years slowed dramatically during the last ten, causing our leaders to borrow funds in order to maintain the standard of living. In doing so they have impoverished their nations for decades if not more.
Under the supervision of the World Trade Organization international agreements to liberalise trade have been signed by 153 countries representing 97% of world trade, giving access worldwide to money, people and goods. These agreements, combined with the rules in force, have brought positive returns to the balance sheet of the big blue, but they have also increased dramatically the deterioration of the environment and reduced the autonomy of billions of people.
In the past 20 years numerous new statistical indexes have been built, more concerned with the quality of life than of the quantities we consume. Some of these indexes, whilst not yet perfect, show that quality of life often decreases, even as GNP increases.
Here are just some of the ways in which our quality of life has been reduced: voters are becoming more and more absent from the polls, both in local government and national elections; this lack of engagement fuels further distance between the needs of citizens and the desires of those in government.
The perception of time has changed dramatically among the world population. Some people are living on a time frame of a nanosecond, others on a 5-10 years one, the majority of the people have a day to day visibility:
- Huge increase of unemployed;
- With an aging population in many countries, the deficit in the Social Security spend is unsustainable, whilst retirement plans are both hard to finance and subject to the whims of the investment market. When the baby boomers start to retire en masse, the young will have to be further taxed to fulfil government promises;
- Salaries for the majority of people, coupled with unsatisfying work, provide little incentive for those who could instead live on Welfare and choose not to work;
- With tax payer’s money governments subsidise water, electricity production, highways, public transportation systems, health, education aso and then, give away control of those investments to private companies;
- Some of the more obvious by-products of a reduced quality of life are the negative effects on health. Stress, obesity, behavioural problems, over medication, sedentary lifestyles, drug use, all of these stem from lives lived in a world of polluted food and environment, where drug companies profit from our tendency to “pop a pill to make it better” instead of looking at a holistic way toward health.
The rules conducting our lives can be tuned for the benefit of all the people. Nothing is a fatality. Just a few examples:
- When we mine material from the Earth’s crust or produce new products there is usually no proper way of processing the waste, that is left behind: In a word, we have no room for our junk! When our waste emissions exceed our environment capacity to re-assimilate them, we have chaos. Chaos or disorder is the opposite of harmony, as competition is the opposite of cooperation.
- When we increase our productivity it’s mainly at the expense of the world biodiversity: In a word we are destroying the natural capacity of our ecosystems to regenerate life.
Imagine if you will, that your home is encased inside a glass dome (the size of your share of the earth land and sea). Now imagine everything in your life, everything you have ever purchased, eaten, worn, read, watched, driven,produced and thought destroyed, accumulating with you in that dome. This image can help you imagine how polluted and depleted our world is. Because that dome is the Earth. We only have One and it’s a closed system.
In Energy, Environment and Development, Professor Jose J. Delgado Domingos, IST Lisbon, published a very thorough analysis that should be studied in schools and given to politicians, given a leave of absence from office until they understand its full meaning and subsequently propose a right-minded plan for our countries. “Sustainable development has to be looked at from a global and integrated perspective or it will be doomed to fall into the contradictions among the excessive specializations.
The conceptual structure that thermodynamics grants when applied to Earth as a thermodynamic system, to the living being as a conserver of energy and to the social and economic activities are a domain that can also be examined in terms of energy and information fluxes, where the fundamental physical principles are valid and applicable, open up a whole new world of possibilities. Portuguese scientific, engineering and political community has underestimated this concept of an integrated vision which, in fact, is the source for leadership and progress, finding justifications that discard too easily the specific aspirations that others may have envisioned.” Continuing, “If a company that overspends its capital goes bankrupt, what will the consequences be for a society that” while grossly overspending also completely “dilapidates its natural resources?”.
If we consider that everyone on this planet is entitled to the same privileges we have, then human life is unsustainable on Earth. Continuing on with our ‘civilised’ western ways is simply suicidal. If the majority of the world’s nations follow our lead and adopt our ways then we are heading for a violent crisis.
The changes needed cannot be made by the elected bodies of countries alone. They need the active participation of ALL citizens, and equally of corporations and industry.
«The world is a dangerous place not because of those who do evil, but because of the millions who do nothing» A.Einstein
When we look at Greece, Spain and Portugal, the three European nations suffering most from the economic downturn, we see an unparalleled decrease in the quality of life of their citizens. The various measures voted for in their parliaments will not be enough to save these nations. Their problem is not only that of fighting for competitiveness on the world stage, but of simultaneously evaluating what real resources they have at home and making the best use of them.
Resetting competitiveness and rationalisation of expenditures is a must but: In 1994 Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman published a paper in Foreign Affairs Magazine entitled Competitiveness: A Dangerous Obsession. “Let’s start telling the truth: competitiveness is a meaningless word when applied to national economies. And the obsession with competitiveness is both wrong and dangerous.” The present situation shows how right Paul Krugman was. The welfare state we benefited in the western world during the last 70 years is no more affordable. Hence, there is only one course of action. A new approach that can be orchestrated in the manner of a 10 year Plan. The plan would be clear and precise about what resources each country has to live on, which natural assets they are missing and what resources need to be improved upon, in quality and where appropriate, quantity, be it air, water, energy or agricultural production.
Nations need to serve themselves through their own agriculture, to not only lower imports, but to improve the quality of soils and bring back the biodiversity necessary for successful land stewardship and continuity of life.
All ages and social stratas must become active, in charge of themselves and their neighbors if need be outside the commercial structure. Clean energy solutions must be made the standard,in our houses ,factories,administrative buildings. To live sustainably we need to design systems that create more energy than they require to be built, to be run, to be maintained and be replaced.
Energy production should belong to each citizen. Public transportation systems, electrical cars and our biking lanes must be improved so that we rely less on fossil energy in the interim.
Taxes must be organised to benefit those citizens and companies who act with sustainability in mind. Anders Eldrup, CEO of Dong Energy said, in 2009, “I think the one most important thing would be to have a price, and I’m saying a significant price, on carbon, because if you have a high price on carbon that will divert the investments towards the new technologies and that is what is needed to make this transformation, which we must do”. Following this example all polluting factors need to be rolled into the prices of every product. The Earth’s natural resources are not spread equally and this has caused, and will continue to cause, innumerable conflicts. That we need to move beyond purely economic motives is obvious and we also need to move beyond sheer apathy. In terms of putting the environment first, we often think of those things we’ll lose, but not to those we’ll gain. With the knowledge we now have we can overhaul our production methods so as not to harm the living environment in which we all live. New technologies will create new and exciting industries and areas of employment, as well as areas of enjoyment. And because statistical methods: indexes drive our actions, let’s put in place ones that measure quality, not just quantity. Trade and the flow of information has been global for centuries now but with the further relaxing of tariffs and costs it has helped to bring millions into total dependency, has helped destroy traditional cultures, means of survival and biodiversity at large. If an American farmer is subsidised $900 per head of cattle, he is able to sell that meat to African nations at a cheaper price than those indigenous cattlemen can produce their own meat. So African farmers are left with little do do. Their way of life is destroyed. Their heritage is lost. And because they have lost their incomes they must sit and wait for subsidies themselves.
Of course it is very convenient to have worldwide access to goods that improve our quality of life but one condition should prevail, the impact of those imported goods on the environmental well being of the country should be reduced to zero through a simple tax system. The ‘real’ cost of the goods then acknowledged, the tax dollars should then be used to offset the pollution caused. Implementing this tax system on a sliding scale, over a period of ten years, will provide the producers of these goods time to put in place cleaner production methods and use more environmentally friendly raw or recycled materials, before they lose their customers through the inevitable price increase.
Tightly regulated financial markets that were set up in the 30’s, in America were dismantled in the 80’s (Glass-Steagall, 1933) and new. Another area that requires a rethink on ‘real’ cost is patents. Often the result of huge investments, patents are privately owned and zealously guarded. The effect being to privatise all means of production. In the case of patents related to natural assets, any rights granted to any company or private group should integrate any costs to the environment and a special Natural Assets Fund should be set up to offset those costs. In the case of patents having an impact on air, water, energy, seeds and cells, these patents should very soon belong to the world community.
All nations will have to come together in this way, sharing a single vision for a sustainable future, for a swift and effective action. Fear is the price we pay when confronted to the unknown, but all these issues are known, they only lack the right and full exposure, a deliberate agenda, precise control and reporting procedures.
Separate governments and corporations have already started working in these directions, but by working in isolation and without a precise and simple chart of action,understandable by everyone, they lack the single, grand vision. Because we all share the Earth we need to do this together. The path needs to be designed and the project articulated. Educational programs need to be implemented to train responsible and healthy young citizens. Village by village, town by town we will procure the seed money and then enjoy the results of progress made by all citizens. And best of all, when smart sustainable systems are put in place there will be more leisure time for us to enjoy life again, to enjoy the quality and beauty that has been lost.
In the 30’s the Keynesian proactive monetary policy coupled to the war necessities brought the western world huge wealth. Today let us put in place a new Keynesian policy aimed at reshaping our little planet city by city village by village, country by country for the benefit of all human beings. Let’s not forget John Locke when he wrote in the 17th century “(…) Every man being naturally free and nothing being able to put him into subjection to any earthly power but only his own consent. The difficulty is what ought to be looked upon as a tacit consent,and how far it binds,i.e how far any one shall be looked on to have consented,and thereby submitted to any government,doth thereby give his tacit consent and is as far forth obliged to obedience to the laws of that government during such enjoyment…”
Today some have solid possessions and thus are obeying the laws but most people have what the society has provided them social security, retirement plans, social welfare (which are their only possession after a whole life dedicated to work but the maoelstrom all nations are sharing, financial crisis, unemployment, aging population, absence of growth).
We do not live apart from nature, we cannot be blind to our connectedness with her. So let’s start a new Age of Discoveries. But this time let the discoveries be not beyond the seas but local, concentrating on what we have here now and expanding on that with creativity. Opportunities for improved agriculture, for increased energy generation, for less competition and more community, for better health, for more happiness, for more beauty in life. The choice is ours. We will either lose our current lifestyle through our failure to see it’s deficiencies, or gain a richer one by meeting the challenge with relish. Surely, with your children’s children in mind, there is only one option. And it is the more exciting one for sure!
Imagine a future Portugal as strong a leader as during the Age of Discoveries, as proud, as autonomous, as in control of it’s own destiny. It is all possible. The human ingenuity is always there,and has access to the high tech and knowledge needed. We must simply tap into it. But first we must shift our thinking a little.
With our present set of International, National rules and financial interests at stake, such a move is impossible to test on a large scale. Our goal is to develop, test and monitor the model on a small country; Portugal.
«La societe ideale serait celle qui conduirait a fabriquer toujours plus d’ordre dans la culture sans qu’il faille le payer par un accroissement d’entropie dans la societe.» Claude Levy Strauss