Calendar of Events

There are lots of Transition-type events going on in the Westchester area:
For full details, please refer to the calendar of the

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Economy and the Environment

Here are the notes from our "The Economy and the Environment" talk last Thursday (Feb 26) at a merged meeting of the Environmental Change-Makers and Transition Los Angeles.

First, we started with a review of where the economy is. We read an old Shoe cartoon (Jeff MacNelly) which proclaimed "the recession is over ... let the depression begin!" We mentioned the recent international economic conference at Davos where they spoke of "Depression 2.0" A look at the Dow Jones Industrial Average over time -- the "max" option at Yahoo Finance (linear scale) -- gives a remarkable and very realistic sense of where we are.

Biocapacity (ecological footprint) discussions bring the point home. We live in a "steady state" ecology: we have one single planet to support us all, and that planet isn't gaining any additional matter from outer space. Everything we have must be generated here, from the physical matter that is already here, through cyclical earth systems.

We observed how the Dow Jones Industrial Average over time remarkably resembled the peak oil diagram (ASPO scenario). And it also resembles the CO2 emissions, and the population curve. In view of these remarkable parallels, it's absolutely laughable to "blame the financial crisis" on 25 people who are alive today.

We did some group exercises to study biocapacity issues, including how our "overdraft" on the planet's ecology -- living beyond our means -- is created in three ways:

  • ghost acres - taking from other countries (raping and pillaging other continents)
  • draw down - taking resources from the future (examples: harvesting older fish which should be reproducing to assure the future of the species; harvesting old growth forests), leaving an increasingly degraded world to our children
  • fossil acres - taking from the past (fossil fuels like oil and coal ... ancient sunlight)
Our expectation of "fixing" this economy, of resuming the "growth," is all based upon falsehood. Our U.S. lifestyle already consumes approximately 4.5 times our fair share of planetary resources. (see ecological footprint diagram, measured in hecatres. "Fair share," or world resource availability divided by current world population, comes out to 2.1ha).

We lined up 4 large schoolroom globes and one tiny one down the center of our meeting space as a very visual display. If everyone lived like we do (U.S.), it would take 4.5 planets to provide for it all.

Clearly, we don't have 4.5 planets from which to "grow" this economy. The cover of the November 2008 Forbes magazine, which blasts CAPITALISM WILL SAVE US, becomes absolutely absurd. We must get back in touch with a one-planet reality; we must embrace REDUCE, to a single-planetary, fair-share level of consumption.

To study the issue still further, we reviewed David Holmgren's diagram of Energy Futures and provided a description similar to the one here.

What next? How do we address this changing course? How do we weather the coming storms of much, much deeper economic crisis; peak oil supply problems and energy price fibrillation; and widespread climate disruption?

We talked about the concept of Resilience. What does it mean, particularly for us in this massive city of Los Angeles? What does it take to create resilience in L.A.? The group answers:

  • created families for transfers (creating a local sense of Belonging, particularly when so many of us have moved here from other locations, leaving family miles away)
  • inventory of resources (what do we have here that could be used)
  • relearn social skills (the skills of working together, working with neighbors, conflict resolution, etc)
  • "going in" instead of going out (learning to appreciate what we have here at home)
  • common goal (revised by the group from "common enemy")
  • plugging the leaks (right now money flows in and out; cause it to circulate locally)
  • self-responsibility/empowerment (reversing the "helpless" factor into a "can do" approach)
  • local food production/preparation
  • local energy ... money ... health ... manufacturing
  • redefine "success" and "wealth" (we mentioned Dave Wann's book Simple Prosperity)
  • community focus (rather than our current individualism)
  • community support, community resources
We held a short discussion of local currencies and time banks, and the particulars of the Ithaca dollars, Totnes pound, and Echo Park time bank. The above bullet point "plugging the leaks" drives home why L.A. isn't yet ready for a local currency. What is "local" for that currency when we think nothing of driving crosstown to a specialty boutique in Santa Monica for just that special item? Where do the boundaries end? Until L.A. shifts its paradigm a bit, and begins to realize that "plugging leaks" is desirable, we'll have lots of difficulty getting acceptance for local currencies.

We then talked about "local resilience" -- why is the word "local" nearly always in there? The group answers: we won't have the oil to get around and do it the old way; the neighborhood around us is our real community.

We discussed the role of local business, and what were the RIGHT local businesses. What businesses do we need locally given what lies ahead? The group answers:
  • rainwater harvesting/water storage
  • carpentry/construction
  • local energy
  • food
  • greywater
  • bicycle manufacturing/repair
  • horses
  • fundamental redesign
  • medical/veterinary
  • appliance repair, repairs in general
  • humanure
  • shoemaker
  • finance
  • education
  • remanufacturing/repurposing
  • art/culture/music/celebration
  • mediation
The above bullet point "inventory of resources (what do we have here that could be used)" describes the next step in our process. An inventory of resources -- together with a positive vision for the future -- is the foundation of an Energy Descent Action Plan (see p.28-30 here).

If you would like to pursue this discussion further with others in our local area, contact us and join us for the March 19 core team meeting of Transition Los Angeles.

Here's the handout that we forgot to copy so didn't give out:

What is Resilience?

Resilience Indicators in preparing for an energy-lean future:
  • Cutting carbon emissions
  • The percentage of local trade carried out in local currency
  • The percentage of food consumed locally that was produced within a given radius
  • The ratio of car parking space to productive land use
  • Degree of engagement in practical Transition work by the local community
  • Amount of traffic on local roads
  • Number of businesses owned by local people
  • Proportion of the community employed locally
  • Percentage of essential goods manufactured within a given radius
  • Percentage of local building materials used in new housing developments
  • Percentage of energy consumed in the town that has been generated by local energy supply company
  • Amount of sixteen year-olds able to grow 10 different varieties of vegetables to a given degree of basic competency
  • Percentage of medicines prescribed locally that have been produced within a given radius.
(from Rob Hopkins, Transition Handbook p.174-175)

proposed additions to Hopkins' list:
  • Percentage of water use that was locally-captured rainwater
  • The ratio of non-permeable hardscape to surfaces adapted for rainwater capture and infiltration
  • The ratio of water sent to sewer versus onsite greywater reclamation
  • Degree to which existing buildings are insulated and retrofitted for passive solar attributes
  • Number of local “inner work” professionals (mental health professionals, counselors, spiritual and religious leaders, etc.) who are prepared to work with the issues that arise as people cope with a radically new direction for the future
  • Amount of trash sent to landfills and exported for “recycling” processing
  • Degree of participation in local area composting and soil building
From JP, Transition Los Angeles

Permaculture, Business, Resilience and Transition - Rob Hopkins' notes from his conversation with David Holmgren