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Sustainability on the Mind: ‘Externalities’

From Sustainable Man:

David Suzuki explains the fallacy of conventional economics, in an interview done for the BBC. The song is “Outro” by M83.

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Thinking Sustainability: ‘What if Can Do Can’t? The Vulnerability and Resilience of Cities’ 

Bill Rees, co-originator of the "ecological footprint" concept, explores how our green buildings, smart growth, hybrid cars, renewable energy, other hopeful techno-fixes alone won’t be enough to solve our climate and energy crises. He argues changes to our thinking and culture are fundamental to addressing them. 

You can access his presentation slides here. The video was shot in October 2009 at the 'Gaining Ground: Resilient Cities' summit in Vancouver, Canada.

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(Source: Gaining Ground Summit)

Leaders in Sustainability: RIP Dr. Elinor Ostrom, First Female Recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics

In this short video for the Stockholm Resilience Centre Dr. Ostrom: 

explains how people can use natural resources in a sustainable way based on the diversity that exists in the world.

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Leading scientific groups and most climate scientists say we need to decrease global annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least half of current levels by 2050 and much further by the end of the century. And that will still mean rising temperatures and sea levels for generations.

So why bother recycling or riding your bike to the store? Because we all want to do something, anything. Call it “action bias.” But, sadly, individual action does not work. It distracts us from the need for collective action, and it doesn’t add up to enough. Self-interest, not self-sacrifice, is what induces noticeable change. Only the right economic policies will enable us as individuals to be guided by self-interest and still do the right thing for the planet.

Every ton of carbon dioxide pollution causes around $20 of damage to economies, ecosystems and human health. That sum times 20 implies $400 worth of damage per American per year. That’s not damage you’re going to do in the distant future; that’s damage each of us is doing right now. Who pays for it?

We pay as a society. My cross-country flight adds fractions of a penny to everyone else’s cost. That knowledge leads some of us to voluntarily chip in a few bucks to “offset” our emissions. But none of these payments motivate anyone to fly less. It doesn’t lead airlines to switch to more fuel-efficient planes or routes. If anything, airlines by now use voluntary offsets as a marketing ploy to make green-conscious passengers feel better. The result is planetary socialism at its worst: we all pay the price because individuals don’t.

It won’t change until a regulatory system compels us to pay our fair share to limit pollution accordingly. Limit, of course, is code for “cap and trade,” the system that helped phase out lead in gasoline in the 1980s, slashed acid rain pollution in the 1990s and is now bringing entire fisheries back from the brink. “Cap and trade” for carbon is beginning to decrease carbon pollution in Europe, and similar models are slated to do the same from California to China.

Alas, this approach has been declared dead in Washington, ironically by self-styled free-marketers. Another solution, a carbon tax, is also off the table because, well, it’s a tax.

Never mind that markets are truly free only when everyone pays the full price for his or her actions. Anything else is socialism. The reality is that we cannot overcome the global threats posed by greenhouse gases without speaking the ultimate inconvenient truth: getting people excited about making individual environmental sacrifices is doomed to fail.

High school science tells us that global warming is real. And economics teaches us that humanity must have the right incentives if it is to stop this terrible trend.

Don’t stop recycling. Don’t stop buying local. But add mastering some basic economics to your to-do list. Our future will be largely determined by our ability to admit the need to end planetary socialism. That’s the most fundamental of economics lessons and one any serious environmentalist ought to heed.

A long, but important quote from an opinion piece by environmental economist Gernot Wagner in the New York Times, 'Going Green But Getting Nowhere'.

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Global Sustainability | ‘Paul Gilding: The Earth is Full’

From TED Talks:

Have we used up all our resources? Have we filled up all the livable space on Earth? Paul Gilding suggests we have, and the possibility of devastating consequences, in a talk that’s equal parts terrifying and, oddly, hopeful.

Paul is an independent writer, activist, and adviser on a sustainable economy. 

You can read more about his work and ideas here and here.

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(Graphic credit: Global Footprint Network)

Sustainability: ‘The Story of Bill Rees and the Ecological Footprint’


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"Do you know your ecological footprint?"  You can measure it here.

(Graphic credit: Global Footprint Network)

Dr. William Rees on ‘The Dangerous Disconnect Between Economics and Ecology’

From The Institute for New Economic Thinking:

The world economy is depleting the earth’s natural resources, and economists cling to models that make no reference whatsoever to the biophysical basis that underpins the economy. That’s why ecological economics is needed, says William Rees in this INET interview.

Standard economics portrays the economy as a circular flow: households pay money to firms in exchange for goods and services, and firms pay wages to households in exchange for labor. Textbooks describe this circular flow as self-perpetuating, capable of infinite expansion. William Rees argues that the textbooks get it wrong; he says the production of our goods and services depends on the extraction of material from ecosystems, causing resource depletion on the one hand, and excess pollution on the other.

William Rees, best known in ecological economics as the originator and co-developer of ‘ecological footprint analysis’, says the United States is using four or five times its fair share of the world’s total bio-capacity. In order to bring just the present world population up to the material standards enjoyed by North Americans, we would need the biophysical equivalent of about three additional planet earths.

More here.

Growth, Sustainability and ‘The Impossible Hamster’

From the New Economics Foundation via Vimeo:

There are reasons in nature, why things don’t grow indefinitely. As things are in nature, sooner or later, so they must be in the economy. As economic growth rises, we are pushing the planet ever closer to, and beyond some very real environmental limits. With every doubling in the global economy we use the equivalent in resources of all of the previous doublings combined.

For more, check out the report released along with the video, Growth isn’t Possible: Why we need a new economic direction’