Archive for November, 2009


So, the big news yesterday: Obama announces his Copenhagen plan, committing to cut America’s CO2 emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020.

(That’s 3 percent of 1990 levels, for those who are counting.)

The sad part is that this is more or less the best we could have hoped for. And I think most of us are glad that at least the US has decided to set itself firm mandatory targets, which it was never willing to do before. But, seriously…three percent? By 2020?

China’s announced its plans as well; it’s going to reduce its emissions by 40 to 45 percent per unit of GDP. Says researcher Qi Jianguo of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, “In 2020, the country’s GDP will at least double that of now, so will the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). But the required reduction of emissions intensity by 40 to 45 percent in 2020 compared with the level of 2005 means the emissions of GHG in 2020 has to be roughly the same as emissions now.” This does not strike me as grounds for optimism.

Meanwhile, the deniers continue their increasingly shrill tirades, buying radio ads here in Montreal and across the country. I’m not going to bother linking to them, as I have no interest in helping boost their search rank, but you’ve probably heard them.

The best suggestion I’ve heard on that topic comes from my friend Kielo, who wants to know why we can’t have that kind of nonsense classified as “hate speech against, y’know, the planet and stuff” and dealt with accordingly by the government. While I’m quite sure this proposal wouldn’t stand up to the scrutiny of, say, an actual lawyer (or probably of Ki himself if he were sober at the time), it does point up the glaring anthrocentricity (not a word out of you, Microsoft Spell Checker!) of the way we look at things.

Advocating harm to any group of people, that’s a crime. Advocating doing nothing while other species die, and pushing a lifestyle that actively implicates us all in their extermination, well…that’s free speech, it is. No, even better: that’s science.


Moral analysis

Here’s a great article about our project from Resurgence Magazine by Jack Santa Barbara, the Director of the Sustainable Scale Project and Associate of the Centre for Peace Studies at McMaster University.

The neoclassical economic paradigm that has been so successful at providing material goods is clearly identified as the main culprit in both the destruction of ecological systems and the creation of enormous inequities that characterise the current condition of our special planet. As the authors point out, the economy is about relationships, as is ecology. And the current relationships we humans have with both are wrong. They are wrong because our economic activities are destroying the life-support systems for the commonwealth of life that sustain us, and these same activities reward those who least need more and disadvantage those whose needs are greatest.

The authors’ analysis of the problem we face is not new, but what is different about Right Relationship is the moral basis for both the analysis and the solutions offered. And what may be even more refreshing for some is that the moral basis is not derived from a ‘sacred text’ but from the fundamental truths of science. Many of these truths are also included in sacred texts, so there is not a conflict but rather an integration of traditional spiritual values with the more recent perspective of current scientific inquiry.

Click to read the whole article.

More news: Right Relationship gets a good recommendation in the Maple Ridge News from BC.

Oh, and in the category of “making me feel like a giant wimp”, here’s Ryan Stotland, who is bicycling 12,000 km to raise money against skin cancer and climate change. Donations for his ride will go to the David Suzuki Foundation and the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal.

Whole Earth Economy business tips

Over at Geoff’s Eco-blog there’s a great new post on “Whole Earth Economy Business Tips”:

Tip 1: Spread the word about the need to re-think our economy. Business is the front line of the economy, the arena in which the exchanges take place that drive our ways of living. Business and consumer choices have an enormous impact on our society and our environment. It is crucial that members of the business community understand the ultimate, long-term ecological crisis our economy faces – a crisis much more serious than the economic and financial crisis of the past year. The problem is not just climate change. It’s also biodiversity losses, threats to ocean health, a nutrient cycle that is out of balance because of fertilization, deforestation, overpopulation and more. We must come to terms with the reality that the global human ecological footprint is greater than what is available, and that we therefore are running an ecological deficit, using up the Earth faster than it can regenerate itself. This means we have to envision a new kind of economy that recognizes the ecological limits of our finite planet Earth.

Click to read the whole article.

Economics Without Ecocide

Peter G. Brown and Geoffrey Garver wrote an article for the Montreal Gazette, Economics Without Ecocide, this past week, which has gotten some great responses from the community. It’s been reprinted at and Share The World’s Resources, among others. We’ve been getting a lot of good mentions around the internet; thanks very much to everyone who’s helping spread the message.

Economics Without Ecocide
November 12, 2009

Guiding the global economy now is apparently in the hands of the G20. In September, at their meeting in Pittsburgh (their third in a year), the G20 leaders adopted what they called a “Framework for Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth.”

The framework is cast as “a process for economic co-operation and coordination to help ensure that post-crisis policies avoid a return to dangerous imbalances that undermine long-term economic growth.”

Unfortunately, with the ecological base of the economy falling apart, the Pittsburgh framework will be looked back on as part of the fiddling going on as Rome burned – or, more aptly, as the planet heated up.

Its fundamental flaw? It falls hopelessly short of addressing – or even recognizing – the real crisis facing the economy: The global ecological crisis, and the unwillingness of the global community to steer the economy away from ecological collapse.

This flaw becomes starkly clear when the G20’s program for the economy is examined through the lens of five simple questions: What is the economy for? How does it work? How big should it be? What is fair? and How should it be governed?

Fortunately, an alternative is possible that provides better answers to those questions. It would move the economy toward a mutually enhancing relationship with a flourishing and prospering Earth – if the political will is found to seek a new way. We start by looking at the first two questions. Under the G20 framework, what is the economy for, and how does it work? And what are some better answers to those questions?

The economy is for enhancing ecological and human integrity.

The G20 framework: A key agreement among the G20 was to continue economic stimulus efforts until “recovery is secured” and then to responsibly wind down stimulus programs. But this whole program defines “recovery” in terms of Gross Domestic Product, with sustained growth in GDP as the overarching solution to all of the world’s economic problems – and, by implication, its other woes.

A whole Earth perspective: GDP is not a good in itself – we value growth in GDP because we see it as the means for assuring stability in employment, security of income, and access to what we need to be healthy and happy. But the great threat that now hangs over the world is massive ecological instability in climate, food supply, clean water, biodiversity, ocean health and much more. Rising numbers of environmental refugees are already tragic human emblems of the current degrading of the Earth. These instabilities are the result in large part of the global explosion in economic growth in the last century.

In short, the G20 has it backward. The overarching goal of the economy should be to ensure the Earth’s ecological integrity and resilience so as to prevent the collapse of Earth’s life support systems. Essential for achieving this goal will be either a strategy for decoupling growth from climate change and other ecological degradation (a virtually impossible prospect given trends) – or de-growth and steady state strategies, such as those developed by ecological economists like Peter Victor ( of York University and promoted by groups like the Centre for Advancement of a Steady State Economy, or CASSE (

The economy works according to the laws of science.

The G-20 framework: The G20 agreed to review at an international level the efforts by countries such as the U.S. to increase savings and by others like China and Japan to increase domestic spending and shift away from export-driven economies. This includes mechanisms for “mutual assessment” of each other’s performance on these matters, as well as review by the IMF.

A whole Earth perspective: The G20 approach to balance of payments shows no concern for the health of the biosphere on which the economy, and all of life, ultimately depends. Seeking more balance is a start, but trade policies should drive countries away from not hyperactive dependence on an import-export market that enhances carbon emissions and other ecological harms. Urgent action is needed to monitor the current behaviour and past record of nations with respect to their impact on the integrity and resilience of the Earth’s interconnected ecosystems. The monitoring must be connected to positive and negative incentives or sanctions to move the world’s nations toward responsible stewardship, with an emphasis on over consumers like Canada and the United States.

The economy must stay within the Earth’s ecological limits

The G-20 framework: The G20 agreed on “specific commitments to increase access to food, fuel and finance among the world’s poorest, with a new World Bank Trust Fund to finance investments in food security, a commitment to fund programs that expand access to renewable energy and a call to identify new ideas to strengthen the poor’s access to financial system.” This is done in the spirit of “making the policy and institutional changes needed to accelerate the convergence of living standards and productivity in developing and emerging economies to the levels of the advanced economies.”

A whole Earth perspective: Addressing poverty and working toward the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals is laudable, but raising developing world consumption without contracting “the levels of advanced economies” is a nightmare scenario. It ignores completely the Earth’s ecological capacity and the massive destabilization the of the Earth’s life support systems the economy is already causing. The G20 needs urgently commit resources and brainpower to a more rigorous evaluation of the Earth’s capacity to withstand climate change and other ecological impacts of the economy, and then to develop policies that ensure that the global economy respects those limits.

In the Sept. 24, 2009, issue of Nature, a team of researchers led by Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre proposed a series of “planetary boundaries” for ensuring the ecological stability of the planet. This is the kind of work the G20 should explicitly and urgently support and expedite.

The economy must be fair to people and other living things, now and in the future

The G20 framework: The G20’s disastrous goal of bringing developing world consumption levels up to developed world levels at least reflects a notion of fairness. The G20 also agreed to rein in compensation of bankers; yet took no action on a French proposal for a .005-per-cent tax on the $800-trillion global foreign currency market, which could yield $33 billion annually just covering the dollar, yen, euro and pound.

A whole Earth perspective: Fairness is about providing both human and non-human communities of life, and both present and future generations, equitable access to the Earth’s life support systems. Money gives people this access, along with the ability to lay down an ecological footprint. The G20’s timid gesture on banker compensation shows starkly the enduring power of the global financial elite to keep in place the current grossly inequitable system of access to the fruits of the Earth. The failure to rein in – or at least tax – rampant speculation in the global currency market, and to use the proceeds toward the Millennium Development Goals, is likewise a missed opportunity for fairer sharing.

Keeping in mind the millions of other species with which humans share the Earth, equitable access means not allowing people individually or collectively to take too much. The policy of bringing the world’s poor to developed world levels of consumption is a disaster if it does not address patterns of overconsumption in rich countries. Contraction and convergence, informed with rigorous information on the Earth’s ecological capacity, is fundamental to a fair approach to the economy.

Governance reform is essential for a human economy that lives within its means

The G20 framework: The G20 agreed that the G20 forum will now be the main venue for discussing global economic issues from now on. But the criteria for admission are based on GDP (the G20 represent 85 per cent of world output). The G20 also agreed to give greater shares at the IMF and World Bank to China and other Asian countries – several of which want explosive growth in GDP at the expense of the environment. They also agreed vaguely “to phase out fossil fuel subsidies over the medium-term while providing targeted support to help the poorest.”

A whole Earth perspective: Including more countries in the G20 is welcome. But, just as world leaders should include ecological economists and scientists among their top economic advisers, the G20 and global financial institutions would do well to give a strong voice to countries, like Costa Rica, with relatively low per capita ecological impact along with relatively high levels of well being. As to fuel subsidies, in a world facing catastrophic climate change, nothing less than urgent, expedited action to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and to support rapid transition to low or zero carbon alternatives is acceptable.

But the real global governance problem is the lack of strong global institutions to oversee the security of Earth’s life support systems. Increasingly, global environmental problems require a fully functioning global system of environmental rulemaking and enforcement, supported with greatly expanded research into the Earth’s ecological capacity and ways for the human economy to stay within it. Global rules and institutions also must recognize and respond to local needs and circumstances, and empower rather than overly constrain local efforts to maintain ecologically enhancing economies.

The G20 leaders pledged to do their utmost to achieve agreement on climate change at Copenhagen. A new climate treaty could serve as a starting point for the structural changes to global governance needed to face up to the stark reality that for the first time in the millennia of human history, the human economy is now running down the Earth’s ecological capacity faster than it can regenerate. We will find out in Copenhagen whether the G20 will provide leadership in that direction. But the Pittsburgh summit was not promising.

Peter G. Brown and Geoffrey Garver are co-authors of Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy (Berrett Koehler 2009)

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

Just Finance from the WCC

Hey, back to the actual topic of the blog this morning! All right!

The World Council of Churches recently published their “Statement on just finance and the economy of life”. Some excerpts:

“The current financial crisis presents an opportunity to re-examine our engagement and action. It is an opportunity for us to discern together how to devise a system that is not only sustainable but that is just and moral. Economics is a matter of faith and has an impact on human existence and all of creation.”

“Today’s global financial crisis, which originated in the richest parts of our world, points to the immorality of a system that glorifies money and has a dehumanizing effect by encouraging acquisitive individualism. The resulting greed-based culture impoverishes human life, erodes the moral and ecological fabric of human civilization, and intoxicates our psyche with materialism. The crisis we face is, at the same time, both systemic and moral.”

“Unfortunately, churches have also been complicit in this system, relying on popular models of finance and economics that prioritize generating money over the progress and well-being of humanity. These models are largely oblivious to the social and ecological costs of financial and economic decisions, and often lack moral direction. The challenge for churches today is to not retreat from their prophetic role.”

I urge you to read the entire statement over at their website.

Sock and awe

So…socks, right? Just about everybody wears them, especially in Montreal this time of year.

(Note: this is probably not going to be one of those “useful” or “coherent” posts, because I didn’t get hardly any sleep last night. Just FYI.)

Anyway, socks. I seem to be getting low on socks without giant holes in them, and while I do darn my own socks of course, sooner or later they get so patchy as to be unwearable. At which point they can be reused as dustrags or (if they’re made of actual wool rather than cotton and manky elastic) disassembled for their component yarn. But I still need new socks.

So obviously going to Wal-Mart and buying socks made by Cambodian children out of pesticide-ridden cotton grown on former rainforest land is not the best option here.

Can I get Canadian-made socks? Not at any store within five kilometres of my house, certainly, according to my unscientific and time-consuming survey. Let’s do some googling. The first result for “socks made in Quebec” is some children’s book; the second is The Great Canadian Sox Co. Inc. Hey, that sounds promising. Locally made socks, that’s good, right? Let’s look around their site a bit more. And…their yarn is made by Monsanto and Dupont. Huh. Maybe I’ll give that one a pass.

Okay, back to The Google. Sock monkey doll kit…no. Les Bas de Julie…okay, that’s better. Hand-finished wool socks made in Waterloo, Quebec. Definite bonus points for being local and non-sweatshop. Doesn’t say where the wool is gotten from – it says “Shetland wool” but I think that’s the breed of sheep? I don’t know much about sheep. I could phone them and find out, but…the socks are $34.95 a pair. I need at least five new pairs of socks at the moment, so that’s going to be a problem on a part-time paycheck.

The thing is, I don’t actually know what’s a reasonable price for socks. I mean, I know how much you generally pay for them: you can get made-in-China-and-sold-in-a-plastic-wrapper socks about five for $12 at the PharmaPrix. But I don’t know what the materials cost of a pair of socks is, I don’t know how long a pair takes to make (at least, on a machine; by hand it takes frickin’ days), I don’t know how much skilled labour it takes to operate a sock-knitting machine…There’s a lot about the sock industry that is a mystery to me.

Back to Google. BonjourQuebec plugging Les Bas de Julie to tourists. More sock monkeys on eBay. Le Plein Air d’Abord, a shop in Quebec City. Well, they do sell socks, let’s see who their suppliers are. Acorn and Smartwool. Acorn’s website does list “Animal-Friendly” and “Eco-Friendly” collections, but the Eco-Friendly set (“featuring all-natural, renewable materials that are sustainably grown, biodegradeable and organic”) doesn’t include any socks. They don’t say anything on their website about where their socks are made. But they’re made of “fleece”, which is one of those things that everyone knows what it looks like but if you ask them what it’s actually made of, they’ll go “duh…goats maybe?” Actually there are two things called “fleece”, one of which is unprocessed wool (like the Golden Fleece); the other one is made of petroleum. These socks look like the second kind. I think maybe I don’t want extra-flammable socks.

Smartwool looks better; their website has a lot of stuff about sustainability and caring for the planet. They sponsor a lot of programs about conservation, wilderness education for urban kids, bicycling, and so on. I would feel good about giving money to this company. They do, however, import their wool from New Zealand. Admittedly, they talk a lot about animal welfare and take great pains to assure customers that these are very happy sheep, but still…New Zealand to Quebec, that’s a long way even direct, let alone with detours to wherever the socks are actually made, which I couldn’t find.

Googleoogleoogle…ballet slippers on shopbot, Winter Clothing in 19th Century Quebec Thematic Tours, some article that I have to sign up for an account to read, so I won’t. That’s page one. I’ve now spent about forty-five minutes on this, and seeing as I’m a child of the internet age, that’s, like, forever.

Maybe it’s time to look at some other options. What about used clothing stores? Okay, I do buy most of my jeans at the Salvation Army, likewise my current winter coat, etc., but I think I’m going to have to draw the line at socks. (And well before underwear. Okay, I don’t know if they actually sell underwear, but they sell swimwear, which is basically the same thing. Ew.) There’s something kind of gross about wearing socks that used to be somebody else’s. Possibly I’m being overly squeamish on this, but you know what, I’m okay with that.

Right, so if that’s no good, what about making my own socks? Ontario and Quebec certainly have quite a number of sheep farms, some of which sell wool, and my local yarn store could probably order me some locally made yarn.

Digression: Rose Haven, back in my parents’ hometown in Ontario, sells locally made yarn with adorable photos of baby sheep on the label, and you can also order lamb meat direct from them. Which made some people squeamish, but seriously, folks, where do you think it comes from? (I’m not vegetarian – tried it a few times, ended up in a bad way medically each time, can’t figure out why and please no comments about how the world will be saved by the miracle of flax seed oil or something, because I have talked to dieticians and so on about it and that isn’t it.) Anyway my point is, if you can’t bear to think about the idea that your lamb roast used to be a cute little furry critter skipping about the meadows, perhaps you should not be eating it, right? Either embrace your ancestral omnivorousness or don’t, but don’t delude yourself. Cause that’s just annoying.

Meh, that aside, it’s a lot easier to find local yarn than local finished socks. So this looks like the best option so far, in terms of locality, non-exploitation of workers, and using natural renewable resources. (Yes, I know animal farming is far less efficient and eco-friendly than plants. But try growing cotton up here.)

The only other downside is the time it takes. I knitted a pair of socks for a friend this past summer, and it took I would say about 10 hours per sock (I’m a slow knitter though). So, 20 hours a pair, and about $15 for the yarn…suddenly that $34.95 up above starts to look pretty reasonable actually.

On the other hand, it’s not like I don’t have the time. I’ve got a half-hour commute every morning and evening, and even if I only get a seat on the metro about half the time, that’s still some good knitting time, there. Plus it happens to be something I actually enjoy and find relaxing, which is helpful.

So, it looks like the project for this month is sock knitting. I’ll let y’all know how it goes.

News Flash: Everything Sucks

Well, not really (kinda?), but here are some interviews where Peter Brown talks about how bad things are and what we’ve got to do.

“Our next guest calls North America a region of vast overconsumption and wastefulness, and Peter Brown is out to change that.”

Let’s talk about cap and trade!

Also, seeing as how I hate ending things on a down note, here’s a link to an essay on simplicity by Chris Baskind that I found particularly inspiring this morning.