Regenerative Livestyle Blog

Sharing my regeneration journey, enjoying living in harmony with nature


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Stepping up

After years of learning, volunteering, practicing and talking about improving sustainability, I felt I needed to accelerate change. And I knew how to! Just discard diffidence and reach out. I hear a few of you thinking “at long last”! And the timing is perfect with climate issues becoming mainstream, at long last too.logo-bala

I’ve created Aim At Sustainability eco-consulting to support businesses, organisations and people willing to do their part.

How?

  • By applying he Natural Step framework to a business or organisation to implement solid sustainable practice now and into the future.
  • By conducting eco-audits to focus on a specific area (example Green office makeover)
  • By helping with certification, sustainability communication and education, etc.

Visit the website, like the facebook page or contact me if you want to know more, to give feedback or know someone who needs help, in the Wanaka, Queenstown, Cromwell and Alexandra and everywhere in the area.


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Climate change: there’s hope

Friday 22 April 2016 was Earth Day and Tim Flannery was keynote speaker of the first Aspiring Conversations, “Cool It: dealing with climate change”, with Suzi Kerr and Veronika Meduna. Here are my notes of the event.

Tim Flannery

There’s hope

Climate change is not a destination. It is a process. We decide on the tempo of the change.

December 2015, February 2016 and March 2016 were the hottest months in 150 years. O.3°C warmer than ever recorded. Two consequences were observed this year: The Arctic ice formation did not replenish as it usually does in winter and sadly, 93% of the great barrier reef has been hit by bleaching. way beyond anything we’ve seen before.

By now, we’ve released enough CO2 in the atmosphere to add 1.5°C to the earth temperatures by 2050. Lots of ecosystems are and will be in strife. Every year, we add 50 gigatons of CO2 in the atmosphere. In the last 2 years, emissions stalled. It is a very good news. What has just been signed in New York will limit/enable a 2.7°C to 3.3°C warming by 2100. Again it is very good news as if we were to continue as we are going, temperatures would rise by 4 / 5 degrees by then.

The hope is: we understand clearly now that there is a problem and we know what tools and what paths we can take. We are at the peak of emissions. Half of energy investments last year were in solar and wind energy. Existing coal plants need to stop. And this will only happen through regulations.

A basket of technologies

We can draw CO2 out of the atmosphere.

  • We can plant trees. However we would need to plant trees on an area as large as Australia to absorb 50 giga tons. So we can manage to absorb 2 Giga town with planting trees.
  • Fairly recent studies show how kelp can absorb CO2 and provide protein so kelp farming will be part of the solution.
  • Carbon negative cement will be part of the solution to the carbon dioxide emissions.
  • A University of Washington researcher has demonstrated that we can pull CO2 from the atmosphere and transform it into carbon nanofibersproducing a very strong plastic at a cheaper price than steel.
  • Other studies show that silicate rocks can absorb large scale CO2.

With all these creative solutions, we could absorb 40 to 50% of the carbon in the atmosphere by 2050.

It is difficult to imagine 2050. Think of 1916… horses, start of the war, first electricity supply scheme in NZ… and think of 1950, post war, growth, cars etc. It was unfathomable for someone in 1916 to imagine 1950. In the 21st century, technology and change has accelerated. So there is no way we can imagine what our world will look like in 2050.

If we take a good look at what we do wrong now, we give ourselves permission to be creative, to progress, to be positive, to hope.

Veronika Meduna

Adapting to change

Today is a turn. The Paris climate agreement signed today is saving us from the worst. There is hope but we are so late, change already happens so we need to think about adapting to it. It is a slow emergency. It is so hard to grasp the problem and the possible impacts that it is difficult to get started. If we knew about the local impacts then we could think of our own actions. New Zealand has a wide variety of climates, influenced by many factors.

NIWA is mapping climate change as locally as possible. Air and oceans are and will be warmer, sea levels rise and will continue to do so. In the mountains, the snow cover thickness is forecast to be 90% of what it is now in 2040 so there is minor change for ski resorts until then.

There will be however 50% more rain in winter and spring while there will be more dry days. This means storms, heavier, more damaging, more floods as well as more droughts. How do we adapt to that?

The higher winter temperatures mean insects don’t die in winter. How do growers adapt to more pests?

There will likely be more fires, worsened by wilding pines. What shall we do today to prevent the worse in the future?

We need to get used to that so we can think about how to manage it.

presentation-brt-around-the-world-update-2012-47-638Suzi Kerr

Reduce emissions

Suzi has worked in Bogota, way back in the 80’s when the Columbia capital was a pandemonium of aggressiveness, danger and pollution. Today, Bogota is a prosperous and fairly safe city with a extensive public transport.

What happened? A visionary mayor, Antanas Mockus, created a social transformation by creativity and leadership. A bit crazy, one of his well-known action was employing young people to  ridicule drivers bad behaviours. In parallel, his associates created infrastructure and deep institution changes.

We don’t know where we go. We need to be creative. There is a lot of private energy and it is better if the government helps. Reducing emissions is a huge opportunity for electric cars. Creating big fleets will enable energy storage. We need to innovate. Politicians wait for people support to pass emission reduction laws. It is down to politics.

Planting trees is definitely part of the solution with lots of co-benefits. If the government commit to maintain a regular carbon price, then it is an incentive to plant more trees as it can double the yield of planting trees. Down to a technical issue…

Solutions exist, and when they don’t yet, we can create them if we look.

All we need is to put climate change at the top of our agenda.


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Climate Change Mitigation

This is a summary/extracts of the Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, Summary for Policymakers, IPCC. I’ve added some indicators: In red are the people’s potential for action, in green are the co-benefits.  I did not add any comment or anything that is not in the original 31-pages document.

Mitigation is a human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.

Climate policies, to be effective, need to cross over all sectors and societal goals, include all countries and collective interests, based on sustainable development and equity. Addressing climate change creates co-benefits or adverse side-effects. No one action can itself solve the problem but working on all aspects has the potential to keep temperatures within 2 degrees increase (that is 450ppm) over the century, on which this report focuses.

Without additional effort to reduce GHG emissions, temperatures will have increased from 3.7 to 4.8 degrees celsius by the end of the century.

Anthropogenic (=man-made) greenhouse gas are CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases. They’ve accumulated at an ever increasing rate in the atmosphere (+2.2% per year in the last 10 years).

GHG emissions

Now these gases come from these activities:

GHG by economic sector

It is demonstrated that the increase in population itself has not increased the CO2 emissions. It is the GDP per capita increase that has. Consumption has grown between 300% to more than 900% over the century.

Adverse side effect of mitigating climate change (within 2 degrees) is to reduce consumption growth by 0.04 to 0.14 percent points per year. Co-benefits include reduced costs for achieving air-quality and energy security,  significant benefits for human health and ecosystems. Overall, the potential co-benefits outweigh the adverse side-effects. Mitigation costs vary between countries.

Mitigation policy could devalue fossil fuel assets and reduce revenues for fossil fuels exporters.

 

ENERGY PRODUCTION

Energy demand will be reduced by efficiency enhancements and behavioural changes.

Energy use will be reduced by behaviour, lifestyle and culture change, complemented by technological and structural change.By Rama CC BY-SA 2.0

Decarbonizing (i.e. reducing the carbon intensity of) electricity generation is a key component of cost effective mitigation. The share of renewable energy, nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage (CCS) needs to increase to more than 80% of electricity generation by 2050 and fossil fuel power generation without CCS is phased out by 2100.

Renewable energy performance has improved and costs have reduced substantially, enable deployment on large scale.

Nuclear energy is a mature low GHG emission source of energy but barriers and risks exist: operational risks, and the associated concerns, uranium mining risks, financial and regulatory risks, unresolved waste management issues, nuclear weapon proliferation concerns, and adverse public opinion.

Natural gas power generation could act as a bridge technology.

Carbon dioxide capture and storage technology could reduce GHG emissions but has not yet been applied at a large scale. Also it raises concerns about operational safety and long-term integrity of CO2 storage.

Combining bioenergy with CCS offers prospects while it entails challenges and risks.

 

ENERGY USE

Transports

  • Technologies existing and in development improve vehicles performance: electric, methane-based fuel, biofuels (with CCS)
  • Integrated urban planning: investment in public transport systems and low-carbon infrastructure, transit -oriented development, more compact urban form that supports cycling and walking, high-speed rail systems…
  • Behavioural change to adopt these

A combination of the 3 strategies not only halve the transport contributions but also provide important co-benefits: improved access and mobility, better health and safety, greater energy security and cost and time savings.

Buildings

The energy demand for building is in expansion, as wealth, access and lifestyles improve. Opportunities to stabilize or reduce global buildings sector energy use by mid-century exist:

  • Energy efficiency policies, strengthening building codes and appliance standards
  • Implement recent advances in technologies and know-how
  • Retrofit existing building can achieve 50-90% of reductions of heating/cooling energy use.
  • Life, culture and behaviour significantly influence energy consumption in buildings (three- to five-fold difference).

Co-benefits: savings, energy security, health, environmental outcome, workplace productivity.

Industry

Currently the biggest emitter; Opportunities to reduce Industry GHG emissions below the 1990 baseline exist:

  • Energy efficiency can directly reduce emissions by 25%.
  • Process optimization, substitutions,
  • Resource use improvement, recycling, re-use

It is not only cost effective but it also comes with co-benefits for the health and environment.

Waste reduction and recycling are key to reduce landfill emissions.

Agriculture, forestry and other land use

A quarter of global emissions come from deforestation, emissions from soil, nutrient (fertilisers) management and livestock. Therefore solutions are: By DarKobra Urutseg Ain92 (File:Tango icon nature.svg File:Blank_template.svg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

  • afforestation (planting trees), and sustainable forest management
  • building humus,
  • improving cropland and livestock management
  • changes in diet and reduction of food loss

These strategies also benefit biodiversity, water resources and limit soil erosion.

Bioenergy can reduce GHG emissions only if fast growing species are used, land-use is well managed, biomass to bioenergy systems are efficient and biomass residues are well used.


Human settlements, infrastructure and spatial planning

Urbanization is a global trend and will include 64-69% of the world population in 2050. It comes with income increases which are correlated to higher consumption. The next 2 decades are a window of opportunity to get it right as a large proportion of urban areas will be developed during this time and it’s quite locked in. Mitigation strategies involve:

  • co-locating high residential with high employment densities (reduce urban sprawl),
  • high diversity and integration of land use,
  • increasing accessibility in public transport and other demand (access oriented development).

Advantages are better air and water quality, time and health benefits.

Mitigations policies and institutions

Sectoral and national policies

Currently USD1,200 billion are invested each year for energy security. Large changes in investment patterns are required:

  • decrease of 20% in fossil fuel technologies (-USD 30 billions per year). The complete removal of subsidies for fossil fuels in all countries could result in reductions in global emissions by 2050.
  • renewable energy investments double (+USD147  billions per year)
  • investing in upgrading existing transports, buildings and industry systems require another USD 336 per year.
  • achieving nearly universal access to electricity and clean fuel for cooking and heating are between USD72 and 95 billions per year until 2030 with minimal effects on GHG emissions while improving lives, environments and equity throughout the world.

That is plenty of opportunity for business and growth and it creates large energy efficiency gains.

Policies integrating multiple objectives, increasing co-benefits and reducing side-effects have started to be experimented and reveal that:

  • Regulations and information (education) widely used are often effective.
  • Cap and trade systems for GHGs (carbon offsets) could be effective if the caps are constraining.
  • Tax-based policies (for example on fuels) raise governments income and allow them to be proactive or to transfer to low-income groups.
  • Technology policy include public funded R&D and governmental procurement programs.
  • By lumaxart (Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsPrivate sector can contribute to 2/3 to 3/4 of cost of mitigation with appropriate and effective policies, i.e credit insurance, power purchase agreements, feed-in tariffs, concessional finance and rebates.

 

International cooperation

Various cooperation arrangements exist yet their impact on global mitigation is limited. Many climate policies can be more effective if implemented across geographical regions.

 


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Graduated!

I enrolled in the Graduate Diploma in Sustainable practice in 2010 and I have finally graduated! I did not have to wear the black graduation cap but instead was offered this amazing pounamu / greenstone that connects me to the Earth and gives me strength to care for her. A mandate, a mission!

This is my final presentation, summarizing my years learning in 10 minutes!Click on the image then on the arrow to view the presentation

The most interesting part of my studies has been the development of the Yellow Blue Park concept. A public/private partnership contract has been signed in December and a task force is being set up in January to implement it.

I now feel ready and skilled to help businesses or organisations who-want-to-but-are-not-sure-how-to embrace sustainability. Exciting times ahead!


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Open letter to New Zealand Oil and Gas stakeholders

Oil is black gold. It has brought unprecedented growth in technology and innovations, easing lives, improving health in most countries, and much more… I have calculated: Less than 10 litres of petrol can bring my family, my shopping and my car home from our nearest city 80 km away in less than one hour. It would take me 3 years to walk the same distance carrying my kids, my shopping and the ton of steel and plastic that is my car! Oil is fantastic and I thank you all, the oil industrialists, for this wonderful era of success.

But it comes with serious side effects, which I summarize below. Knowing this, is “growing NZ Oil and Gas capability” really the best thing to do? I am just asking you to reflect, to think. And I suggest ideas on how you could you use your skills and inventiveness, your investing capabilities and your leadership, to continue to innovate and bring progress while restoring life-sustaining resources and at the same time, improving your profits.

Take

Extracting substances from the Earth’s crust leads to a concentration of substances outside of the crust that nature cannot process. You are well aware of the first law of thermodynamics that states that both energy and matter cannot disappear. So extracting these materials that are normally tucked away in our Earth’s crust leads to their build up in the atmosphere and throughout nature. This results in, for example, rising levels of heavy metals in the soil, phosphate in lakes, cadmium in our kidneys and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The latter is our concern here because it comes inescapably from coal and oil combustion and it creates a greenhouse effect that has been proven to have devastating impacts on life on Earth. 97% of scientists agree that climate change is human induced. And this is a good news: it means we, humans, can actually do something about it.

There is enough oil left in the soils to raise the atmosphere’s temperature far above temperatures the biosphere can adapt to. Instead of focusing on extracting as much as possible, you can choose to help the world depend less on oil, for example by developing different engines or renewable energies generators.

Make

Oil is the raw material of many products that accumulate on Earth because they cannot be broken down and recycled by natural systems. Be it plastics that endure and pollute the oceans and its living creatures or PCB and fertilizers that are toxic to soils and concentrate in our bodies causing cancers, decreased fertility and other damage. Complexity and time-lags make it difficult to assess safe limits. Therefore the only precautionary option is to gradually phase out all non-biodegradable products. Your industrial capabilities could focus on replacing these artificial compounds with biodegradable substances with similar or better performance.

Break

Your activities result in degradation of the ecosystems by physical means and even worse, devastating spills, as in the Gulf of Mexico and other places, the toxic effects of which continue for decades. In a world where biodiversity has been reduced by more than 20%, it is time to choose what is important -the short term profits or ecosystems and their vital services, says the Convention on Biological Diversity, a United Nation agency

Moreover, as the easily accessed oil reserves are mostly emptied now, the techniques to extract oil are increasingly damaging to the ecosystems (e.g. fracking), or take place in increasingly difficult and sensitive places (poles or deep seas). These circumstances mean the effects of accidents will be more and more severe. Particularly in New Zealand, sitting on the Ring of Fire, any installation can, at any time, be toppled despite all the precautions taken. Instead of putting the Earth at risk, the responsible attitude is to start reorienting your activities now.

Share

Even socially, oil and gas production does not need to continue to increase. While some people still overuse petrol unaware of the issues, most people are unhappy to pay ever increasing prices at the petrol station and have started to reorganise their lives to travel and entertain differently, to buy locally and avoid using petrol based products. While the oil prices keep going up, its unaffordability becomes a social injustice. Arguing that emergent countries will need large amounts of oil simply does not work, as the Earth cannot sustain the consequent temperature levels. It is far smarter to invest now in renewable and affordable techniques rather than to make people believe that they can have all the benefits of oil without the consequences.

Financially, the oil and gas industry delivers shrinking profit margins due to the need for increasing investment required for each oil unit. Besides, its return on investment is insecure and also at stake is the relationships with with people, communities, associations and even governments. Social media enables increasing awareness and social action, and engenders unwanted side costs like the Denniston plateau lawsuit and many others. Meanwhile, you are subject to political change which can mean a revocation of contracts, such as in April 2013 in Belize.

Business for future generations

In this post-industrial era of change, carrying on with business as usual is not an option. However, if you think in terms of services (selling transport options, warmth, light, etc) rather than products  (oil, gas and electricity), then you can dream about creating energy efficient vehicles, insulating building materials, widespread solar and wind power and much more.

Many people are already working in these directions but are often lacking the necessary capital capabilities. There is huge opportunity in the economies of scale. If you want to learn more about these, watch this entertaining Amory Lovins TED talk and contact the Rocky Mountain Institute for advice.

In New Zealand, contact the Centre for Sustainable Practice, or you may be helped by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority.

How could YOU use your finances, skills and creativity to bring energy breakthroughs?
I am looking forward to hear if you intend to ignore this information or to explore it and make your grandchildren proud of the difference you made to their world.

Thank you for your attention.
Kind regards.

Florence Micoud

A New Zealand citizen who cares
PS. Feel free to forward this letter to everyone involved, to your staff distribution list, to your shareholders… Feel free to reuse and discuss with colleagues… 


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Population popuLATION POPULATION

I invite you to read my  Population & Sustainability essay in PDF format.

I hope you will find it interesting. Feel free to leave comments below. Thank you.

 (Click here if you need to get Adobe reader to open the PDF)

Reflections…

While writing it, I have learnt that I need to choose a more precise subject for my learning journal entries. Such a LARGE subject as “Population and sustainability” required more than 30 hours work, and nearly a month to complete, while it is only a tiny part of my studies.

I had to revise my statistics. I enjoyed playing with the abundant data on the UN site and creating meaningful graphs. I had not been manipulating large numbers for a long time and it does stretch the mind !

I was keen to dig in depth of the subject and not only collate information but also to find connections and critically analyse what I read, to create an innovative interpretation on the subject.

In fact, the subject was disturbing to me because I did not quite comprehend it. It was like a needle  in my political point of views. I was amazed at my findings and even surprised I could actually conclude that the population issue is an opportunity!

When writing, the trickiest was to find appropriate words to name “rich” countries and “poor” countries. Helena Nobert-Hodge uses North and South but this does not apply well from a New Zealand perspective. Developed/developing is so biaised and wrong, I don’t like it but I did use it. Third World does not apply now that the bi-polar USA/USSR situation has disappeared. “Industrialised” does not mean rich… Over-consuming / surviving ? Nah! Capitalist or Occidental world or G10 perhaps  / then what are the other countries? Well there is not really such a divide but a whole range, so I have tried to name the countries, rather than making generalities.

Thank you, Alexis, for pre-reading and questioning as well as looking after the family while I study.


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Nitrogen cycle…

In the Core Concept document of our Graduate diploma for Sustainable Practice are listed Nine planetary boundaries, three of which are in the red zone “Li-mit ex-ceeded“! Climate change, Loss of Biodiversity: Yes this is sad, I know lots about these. And Nitrogen cycle. Exceeded by 200% ! What is that???? I need to go back to my biology textbooks and discover that many seemingly different problems are all Nitrogen issues. Acid rain? Water pollution by nitrates? Lakes eutrophisation? Ocean dead zones? Have you heard of them? I had, but had not connected them yet: they are part of the HUGE nitrogen cycle issue…

Nitrogen

Nitrogen is a crucial element in all living things, essential part of the structure of proteins and nucleic acids. Atmosphere is made of 78-80 % of nitrogen gas (N2). But this molecule, N2, is so stable that it is rarely available directly to organisms. It is in mineral form, nitrates (NO3) , that nitrogen is assimilable/available/incorporated to plants and animal tissues.

Natural cycle

How is Nitrogen oxidized to its mineral form: through a several steps process of ammonification and nitrification.

Ammonification: Nitrogen fixing bacteria fix atmospheric nitrogen and transform it to ammonia NH3. These bacteria are either:

  • Azobacter, found freely in the soil, producing 25kg/ha/year of ammonia
  • Rhizobium, living in root nodules of mostly legumes, producing 500kg/ha/year

Ammonia also comes from animal excretions (urea) and the action of decomposers on dead organisms.

Nitrification: Nitrifying bacteria, nitrosomonas, transform ammonia in nitrite NO2, then another nitrifying bacteria, nitrobacter, transforms nitrite to nitrate NO3, which is assimilable by plants and animals.

Of note: Lightning discharges can oxydise nitrogen directly to nitrate which ends up in the soil, but accounts for only 10kg/ha/year.

Denitrification: The last part of the cycle is the process of denitrifying by anaerobic bacteria pseudomonas, that return fixed nitrogen to the atmosphere. They can evacuate only 20% of soil nitrates.

The cycle is imperceptible and yet fundamental to life and growth. I am not sure I will remember these names, but I understood there is a variety of different of bacteria and an order in the process therefore the cycle can be bottle-necked.

Industrial N-fixation

At the end of the 19th century, it was discovered that it was possible to transform atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia. Its role on plant growth was identified but its making was long and difficult. Fritz-Haber discovered in 1909 how to make it industrially (at great pressure, at 600°C, in an iron catalyst and combined with hydrogen). It produced an explosive that is said to have given an advantage to the Germans during the wars.

After the second World War, it started to be used in agriculture as a fertilizer. Agronomists promoted its use to increase much needed food production yields. My Mum recalls when, in the 50’s, her respected teacher had spread nitrate powder on a field on a hill to form the letters A Z O T E (French for nitrogen) , so that a few months later, everyone could see from far away how greener the grass was when fertilized with nitrate. During the next forty years, the quantity of fertilizers spread on fields has increased fivefold. Today 100 millions tons of nitrogen fertilizers are produced and spread each year. The nitrogen deposition has increased:

  • over 200% in ecosystems,
  • 250% in the atmosphere (in various forms),
  • 400% in rivers…

Attention ! Not for the faint hearted!

Problems in waters

Nitrogen that is not used by plants is sent back to atmosphere by pseudomonas at a rhythm of only 20%, as seen above. The rest leaks in stream, lakes and aquifer waters. It causes:

Eutrophisation: in low stream waters, accumulation of nitrates grows algae which consume all the oxygen from the water and lead to the death of other aquatic life.

Water pollution: Human consumption of nitrates is dangerous as it becomes nitrites which inhibits oxygen assimilation in infants and, accumulated as nitrosamines, is carcinogenic.

Because of its long term impacts on food webs, nitrogen inputs are considered a major pollution problem in marine environments.

Problems in the atmosphere

Various Nr outputs in the atmosphere result in a decreased atmosphere visibility due to fine particule matters and an elevated ozone concentration. Both affect human health (respiratory diseases and cancers), global climate change and decrease agricultural productivity (due to ozone deposition). And acid rains further damage ecosystems and contribute to ecosystems acidification and eutrophisation.

Today, over one third of N2O emissions results from human activities, mostly from agriculture. But combustion of fossil fuels, in automobile engines and thermal power plants also produce various nitrogen oxides (NOx).

Nitrous oxide N2O is of particular concern because it lives up to 120 years and is 300 times more effective than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

Problems in soils and ecosystems

Adding nitrates to soils no longer improves productivity because soil also needs carbon and oligo elements to “digest” it. It only acidify the soils and leaks away. It is now counterproductive.

Acidification causes changes in the plant communities, aluminum toxicity, habitat loss, decrease in biodiversity, water turbidity, even hypoxia and dead zones…

We could add that this production consumes 2% of the world annual energy supply and have a thought for this well-intentioned teacher!…

The results of the first European evaluation for nitrogen Report announced during the Edimburg Climate Change and Nitrogen conference in April 2011 show that nitrogen-caused damaged are estimated at 70 to 320 billions of Euros each year, only in the European Union, that is 150 to 740 Euros per person and per year, that is more that the double of the benefits created by nitrate use in European agriculture.

Solutions

Solutions exist even in seemingly desperate situations. David Holmgren explains how in Africa, soils have been exhausted from the growth of a corn introduced to improve food supply. After a short time, nitrates were added to help the diminishing productivity but not only they were not affordable for the community but they also badly damaged local -rare- waters. Nitrogen-fixing legumes were introduced and used in crop rotation, which in two years restored the soil fertility, while adding nutritional value to the locals and the water improved.

Solutions need integrated approach on agriculture, transports, water sewage and individuals choices: work on Nr storage and de-nitrification in all areas, changing agriculture practices, reducing overall animal breeding, so eating less meet and dairy products.

As many years of research have shown, once nitrogen is oxidized, it globally “cascades through the environment” as detailed in this UNEP document http://www.unep.org/yearbook/2003/089.htm and addressing the issue is now recognized as one of the biggest challenge today.

Sources

  • Guide Illustre de l’Ecologie, by Bernard Fischesser. Paris: La Martiniere, 1999.
  • Year 12 Biology 2006 Student Resources and Activity Manual. Hamilton, Biozone, 2005.
  • Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, by David Holmgren. Hepburn: Holmgren Design Services, 2006.
  • Internet links included


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Economy & Sustainability

With an initial education in economics, I have a interest in the links between sustainability and economics. As well understood and skillfully demonstrated in the “Story of Stuff“,  consumer society is unsustainable.

Capitalism and the environment

Why don’t we stop over-consuming then? Because consumerism is intrinsec to the predominent economic system, capitalism. Here is how it works.

Capitalism is driven by profit. Profit is the difference between the market price a good (or service) is sold and the price needed to make the good (or service). The price to make a product (or service) comes from its raw materials and its work force, part of the machines and the processes needed to create it.

In agriculture, a fertile land will have high yields, with low production costs and create lots of produce. When demand for the produce grows, farming need to occur in less fertile lands, the work is harder to obtain the produce. The market price will rise so that this farmer can survive. Yet, for the fertile land farmer, the costs remain the same. Here are his profits. When the land fertility decreases, so do the profits.

In manufacturing, the costs can be lowered by asking workers to work harder and pay them minimally. Of course this is limited to the survival of the workers and social unrest. Many strategies have been developped to keep this to a minimum. From offering workers house and food near the plant so that they work longer hours, to make them happy enough with a brainwashing television, to delocalisation of course. With social awareness and movements this has become a limit so profits stagnate…

The other way to lower costs is to get the cheapest inputs. This is the whole colonisation business. Arrive with arms and declare it’s your country now and you can just take whatever resources you want for free. Over time, things have to be a little less obvious, hardly. But today there are rich and poor nations.

Nature has always been considered a reservoir of goods, the only cost of it is to extract it. Yet it is harder and harder to extract it, so again profits stagnate… Here also come the externalities issues, the process of not paying the whole cost of the products, for example by dumping waste in the air and rivers, or by letting the health system look after sick workers etc. These have been timorously regulated by governements in fear of delocalisation.

So we see how profits tend to decrease. To compensate for that, entrepreneurs need to find new ways of improving productivity (robotisation – inducing unemployment) and to invent new products (and sell them – consumption society). They need GROWTH. All is linked and inherent to the current economic system. And all in crisis…

From crisis to shift

OK – I did simplify but basically, that’s how it works.

While the coming of the crisis was visible way back in the 1960’s, we can understand the interest of keeping the consumerism system going by any mean to become richer. And in many ways, many people did become richer- which does not mean happier. But many people also became poorer, and the environment pays its tribute! The resources are finite, and the planet has natural boundaries, some of which are exceeded.

What we have…                  What we need….

   

 A major shift is required indeed, both in systems and mentalities…

Sustainable Economies

It is not new. In 1973, E. F. Shumacher published Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered which promoted the use of local and appropriate technology to empower the people in a world hit by the energy crisis and globalisation. The ideas are developped today by the New Economist Institute and its large network.

The concept of sufficient economy was supported by the King of Thailand and based on buddhist ideas, with three key principles: moderation, wisdom and built-in resilience. It has been developped in the Thailand Human Development Report published in 1997 and  adopted in the 10th National Development Plan as summarised below:
 

Here is an interesting article on “rethinking growth”, an interview of Herman Daly, ecological economist, published on Seed Magazine http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/rethinking_growth/

For the people, it is important to become active consumers. Do you really need to buy it? Choose where you spend your money wisely. Easy no? Concepts of frugality, simple living, intentional living, permaculture, the slow movement, alternative economics (and more – please suggest! ) are all different ways to deal with a common goal of moving out of the capitalism crisis.

Sustainable Practice in business is about finding innovative out-of-the-square-thinking ways of curving the line into a circle.
The line is: Take resources -> transform them into a product -> sell them -> products are used and dumped in landfill.
The circle is: take recycled resources -> process them with least waste -> use them -> recycle them

The example I preferred -so far- is Interfaceflor : from traditionnal carpet laying that goes to landfills in 10 years, they committed to Zero waste. Not only they choose non toxic materials, but they’ve arranged a way to separate materials after use so that they can be reshaped in new carpet. They lay squares of carpet so that used parts (entrance and ways) can be swaped with less used parts (corners) easily. Furthermore they found a way of recycling all their carpet: they ensure its maintenance overtime. Quite smart!

 I believe taking sustainability seriously is a wonderful opportunity to create economic and social systems that work in the long term for everyone and within the natural environment. It does not mean revolution. It does not mean “go back to the candle” as sceptics say. And it does not mean recession, as many fear. If we are to cover all basics needs for our growing worldwide population, there is huge scope for growth, which does not have to be destructive. We need to be aware, smart and innovative, and share… A big shift indeed! 

Knowledge, technology and tools exist and are taught in the Graduate diploma for Sustainable practice at Otago Polytech. I am studying towards it because I want to contribute to the shift.

Florence Micoud