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.

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.


(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.


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.

From The Times Colonist:

A Canadian researcher is at the centre of a provocative new international study that puts an eye-popping price tag on the damage being done to the world’s oceans and fisheries - a cost that could reach $2 trillion a year by 2100 - from carbon emissions, over-fertilization, over-fishing and other human impacts.

University of British Columbia fisheries economist Rashid Sumaila, a leading critic of international fishing policies, is co-editor of the 300-page Valuing The Ocean report released last week at the high-profile Planet Under Pressure environmental conference in Britain.

The study, touted as a “unique,” monetary assessment of global ocean health and threats, is the latest attempt by ecosystem-conscious scientists to affix financial value to planetary resources taken for granted in traditional models of economic activity.

The project was coordinated by the Swedish-based Stockholm Environment Institute, which said in a statement that “the ocean is the victim of a massive market failure,” and that "the true worth of its ecosystems, services, and functions is persistently ignored by policy-makers and largely excluded from wider economic and development strategies."

Sumaila said that “the combined global and local threats to the ocean are unprecedented in human history. Incremental change and business-as-usual will not suffice.”

But the global ocean crisis “can be rectified,” the UBC researcher added, “if the ocean and the services it provides are placed at the heart of global efforts to build a green economy for the future.”

Check out the rest of the article here.

(Photo credit: Hani Amir via David Suzuki)

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.

(Graphic credit: Global Footprint Network)

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

"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.

From Fast Company:

Many consumer goods companies have environmental initiatives. Think of Dell’s e-waste recycling program, for example. Or P&G’s commitment to 100 percent renewable energy. Or the Chevy Volt, even. 

But, as laudable as these are, you might argue that they are secondary to a larger problem. All these companies still want us to buy more products. If a consumer goods company truly wanted to be sustainable, they might suggest that we consume a little less, or at least price their goods at a cost that reflects their true impact. 

Which is a crazy idea, of course. What company would ask us to consume less of their things, and make their stuff deliberately more expensive? 

Patagonia, for one. The Californian apparel company last month launched an initiative encouraging their customers to reduce, repair, reuse, and recycle their clothing and equipment. Their ad even features the line: “Reduce what you buy,” in bold caps, much like something out of an anti-capitalism rally. 

"We realized that what was really needed was a mutual responsibility between company and customer for the full lifecycle of stuff," Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia’s environment VP. "So we would try to reduce the amount of stuff that people buy, fixing products if they were broken, and asking people to clean out their garages and closets, so that if you have clothes you are no longer using, you put them back into circulation."

As part of its Common Threads scheme, Patagonia offers to repair its clothes (for a “reasonable” fee) on a 10-day turnaround. It also will help you sell its clothes via an eBay channel or at 

Specifically, Ridgeway points to analysis showing that humanity currently uses natural resources 1.4 times the rate at which the earth can restore them.

"The main thing is that we’re trying to get people to wake up, and we have a lot of loyal customers who appreciate our willingness to initiate dialogue like this," he says.

"We want to challenge other businesses too. The fundamental assumption that we can continue on a growth economy is flawed in the long term. We need to start talking about what we are going to do about it.”

"We don’t want to criticize people. We want to ask them to start thinking about their business practices and create a dialogue. All apparel companies have to ask where they are going to be in five, 10, 20 years’ time, when the natural resources of this planet are in increasingly critical condition."

Check out the rest of the article here. The story is also covered over at Time Magazine.

(Image credit: Ecouterre)

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’