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Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

My spoof movie poster for a fictional 2027 newspaper

My spoof movie poster for a fictional 2027 newspaper

Sometimes, it seems, wishes do come true.

I spent much of last week designing graphics for some spoof newspapers which our Participation and Democracy team are creating to engage people in discussions about climate change. There are four different papers, all set in 2027 but each with a different climate change outcome, ranging from a sustainable future to a veritable apocalypse. I’d been asked to make a suitable film advert for each scenario and decided that a documentary called The Great Transition: The tale of how it turned out right was a good fit for the sustainable future paper. As I emailed the finished image to my colleagues, I wrote ‘I really hope they get a chance to make this one’.

Well, now they have.

The pioneering communities who make up the Transition Network have a film on the way, called In Transition, which promises to be perfect sequel to The Age of Stupid: providing the positive solutions to the climate change crisis. It’s premiering at 1.45pm on 23 May at the Transition Network Conference, which is now completely sold out, but you will be able to watch it streaming at http://www.mogulus.com/intransition (the link isn’t active yet, but bookmark it anyway).  Watch the teaser trailer here:

Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

corn

Yesterday's farm...

As if you weren’t worried enough about climate change, economic calamity and now swine flu, there is now a growing number of agricultural scientists who think we are heading for a food crisis. Dr Lester R Brown has a big piece in Scientific American this month, while over this side of the Atlantic Professor Douglas Kell has warned that rising temperatures and diminuishing energy supplies will lead to food riots unless the Government acts.

So far, so familiar to most environmentalists and oil peakists. But Kell has also called for £100 million of public money to made available for research into how crop yields might be maximised, so that the crisis might be averted. Now where do you think that money would go? From a cursory internet search I can’t find exactly what Kell, a professor of biotechnology, thinks about genetically modified food, but I would bet good money that this Government, with its affection for large, centralised, corporate solutions (think mega-banks, nuclear power, car manufacturers) would, in the face of a looming food crisis, cave in to the lobbyists and hastily push through a GM agenda.

I should add that I’m not a purist about these things. I have no fixed opinions about genetic modification, and my objections to it are more about corporate control, terminator seeds and copyrighted genomes than they are about the safety or ‘naturalness’ of the resulting crop.

What worries me is that the Government will hear people like Kell asking for research into increased crop yields and automatically think ‘GM’ rather than making the effort to explore the alternatives. A community gardening, “digging for victory” initiative would not only help tackle food scarcity at a minimum cost, it would also promote the kind of solaridarity and community spirit to see us through a major crisis. If we promoted food sharing to eliminate waste, we might not even need that much space. There is plenty of research which shows that a nation of small farmers tends to be  more productive than a nation of a few large farms, centrally controlled.

What’s more, there are ways in which small farmers and gardeners can maximise their plots for higher yields simply by attentive design. The permaculture movement, founded by the Australian biologist and conservationist Bill Mollison, has created a low-energy, low-maintenence and yet high-yield method of food growing, by copying the patterns of growth seen in thriving natural  ecosystems, such as woodlands. They have been doing this without corporate investment or government grants. According to Dr Martin Crawford of the Agroforestry Research Trust, a forest garden designed for maximum yield could feed around ten people an acre. That’s about twice as much as conventional agricultural farming, and with a fraction of the work and none of the fossil fuel energy.

forestgarden3

... and tomorrow's?

While the supporters of GM have been shouting from the rooftops and rallying an army of lobbyists to promote themselves as the saviours of a starving world, the permaculturists have been, in the words of Transition Movement founder Rob Hopkins, ‘far too long hidden up misty lanes in the middle of nowhere’, quietly experimenting. They now need to get out of those lanes, and show Governments, communities and individuals the potential of their revolutionary system. Whether or not GM can feed the future becomes a moot point. If permaculture can feed us for less money and energy, and by liberating people to feed themselves as opposed to locking them into corporate dependence, then  surely it’s infinitely preferable.

Earlier this year, the BBC made a fantastic documentary on permaculture solutions to the food and energy crises, called Farm for the Future. It’s just been made available again to watch on BBC iPlayer until 12 May. In my ideal world, Professor Kell, and the Government, would go and visit the pioneering food growers in this film first, and the GM corporations second.

Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

obamanewdealAs promised, here’s the second half of this week’s Green New Deal round-up, featuring none other than the 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama.

Yesterday afternoon, the relentless pace of thinking and doing that usually characterises life at nef headquarters was momentarily put on hold as we gathered to watch the inauguration speech. Murmours rippled around the office whenever Obama mentioned a topic which strayed into new economics territory. Early on, Obama spoke of the “greed and irresponsibility” which has brought the economy to its knees. Cue nods from those researching ethics in the new economy. Obama later described how “all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness”. Some whispers from our well-being team. But the new President received the most oohs and aahs from us whenever he touched on climate change and the environment. The issue wasn’t centre stage, but after eight years of denial and ignorance, we finally have an American government which is ready to make progress on these issues.

Which is just as well really: James Hansen – NASA climate scientist extraordinaire – has already warned Obama that he has only four years in which to act if we are have any chance at all of stopping extreme climate change. Hansen’s admonition is even starker than nef‘s One Hundred Months campaign, which gives us less than 95 months – or just under eight years – to make the necessary changes. But whether it happens in his first term, or his second, it’s clear that Obama is going to be the most pivotal figure in the fight to stop global warming.

Although the phrase has been repeatedly associated with his economic and energy policies, Obama has been blowing hot and cold on the subject of a Green New Deal. Shortly after being elected, he seemed to rule out a New Deal-style programme by saying that “to simply recreate what existed back in the 30s in the 21st century… would be missing the boat”. But many of his promises to create jobs by rebuilding American infrastructure have certainly echoed Roosevelt’s earlier programme. And his address yesterday leaned further towards the Green New Deal, describing how the new America would “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories”. Let’s just hope that ‘soil’ translates as geothermal energy rather than biofuels. Check out BBC environment correspondent Richard Black’s very thorough dissection of the green content of the address at his blog.

Perhaps the most moving moments in the speech came towards the end, as Obama compared our situation today with that of America’s founders: “a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river” in 1776. He then quoted the words of Thomas Paine:

“Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”

Our ‘common danger’ today is not so singular: it is a triple crunch of climate change, energy depletion and economic meltdown, with all the associated conflict, famine and social upheaval which those crises fuel. But the broad point remains: the existence of a ‘future world’ very much depends on the decisions we make right now. Let’s make them good ones.

Bookmark and Share David Boyle is a nef fellow, a writer and the editor of nef‘s newspaper, Radical Economics.

Westfield Shopping CentreDisease caused by doctors is called ‘iatrogenic’. There is a lot of it about. But it maybe that we will have to come up with a new word, invented for the recession, for economic disease caused by regenerators. And the worst of the iatrogenic disease caused by conventional regeneration is the over-supply of heavily subsidised shopping centres.

Many of them, like the new Westfield shopping centre that now dominates Shepherd’s Bush, are now busily moving round retail business that existed before, draining existing centres and smaller shops in particular. Other new supermarkets, so excessive in their provision in the past decade, are now draining nearby high streets – making local economies and their populations more dependent and more vulnerable to global recession than they were before.

That has been the legacy of the expansion of Tesco in the UK and Wal-mart in the USA. More dependence, less enterprise.

Now we are in a global down-turn, these things matter enormously. Because their local councillors have colluded with powerful retailers to build a new supermarket, they will be poorer than they would have been.

So the first impact of the triple crunch on UK retailing is going to be a new way of measuring the impact of potential shopping infrastructure, working out the impact plans are likely to have on the local circulation of money. Will it keep money in local circulation and build local economic independence, or will it corrode it?

The other impact is going to come from the energy crisis. If oil is going to be a great deal more expensive – and it is – then the whole basis of our monopolistic retailing is going to have to change. We will no longer be able to fly in tomatoes from the Caneries, or shuttle vegetables down to Italy and back for packaging. We will have to reconnect local people with local production, because it will be affordable.

The third effect is going to be the increasing cynicism of people when they are faced with marketing, spin or corporate claims. There is already a growing demand for what is authentic, real, unspun, local and human – not yet by anything near a majority, but a growing minority nonetheless. This, and the other impacts, are going to change retailing enormously: shops will be smaller, and their networks will be more local, more responsive.

Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

A few picks from the web.

The Guardian has just put up a fantastic Carbon Atlas, which represents countries by the size of their emissions. It’s a very effective way of making the stats accessible – and astounding. Compare the United States with one our favourite little countries here at nef, the kingdom of Bhutan.

The Green New Deal is gathering endorsements so quickly that my regular round-ups can barely keep up. The lastest one comes from the International Energy Association. It’s worth bearing in mind that the IEA have been notoriously sceptical of peak oil. Getting their backing on this cause is therefore especially significant. The IEA’s Energy Director, Nobuo Tanaka, said:

The current volatility in global energy markets and the broader economic slowdown must not push us off-track from our efforts to address climate change. We must put in place the framework that will guide investment during the recovery and we must start the green infrastructure that will enable the sustainable economy going forward. We think there is an enormous opportunity to develop a ‘Clean Energy New Deal’ to achieve energy security, economic and environmental goals.

The Independent has a fascinating article about an ancient fertilization technique used by pre-Columbian Amazonian tribes which might help us sequester carbon dioxide. The idea is to grow thousands of trees, turn them into something called biochar and then bury it in the ground. The carbon dioxide take in by the trees will then be safely stored for thousands of years, improving soil quality in the meantime. And if you think that sounds like a dubious geoengineering or off-setting fix, consider that Professor James Hansen – godfather of climate science – is supporting the idea as a means of getting us back to the safety zone of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Finally, a video from timetolead.eu. Watch and then sign the petition.

Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

Today sees the release of two rather sobering reports. First up, we have the 2008 edition of the WWF’s Living Planet Report. It calculates that human beings are using natural resources up faster than the world can replenish them: this year we’ve overshot our ecosystems’ carrying capacity by 30%. Not surprisingly, WWF have chosen to describe this situation as an ‘ecological credit crunch’. Our estimated ecological debt in monetary terms is £2.5 trillion (about twice as much as this year’s credit crisis). More coverage of this at the Guardian and the BBC.

Next is the latest from Green New Deal co-author Jeremy Leggett and his colleagues at the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security. They warn that the UK is going to start feeling the pinch of peak oil around about 2013. We should expect oil prices far higher than the record $147-a-barrel of this summer. More on this at the Daily Telegraph.

It’s not all bad news, however. Only a few weeks after Ed Miliband, the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, announced that Britain will commit to an 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, it seems he’s now agreed to include aviation and shipping in the climate bill. These are some encouraging promises. Now let’s get on with that Green New Deal.


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nef employees blog in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the new economics foundation.