Who’s causing the environmental crisis: 7 billion or the 1%?

October 26, 2011 -- Grist via Climate and Capitalism, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Ironically, while populationist groups focus attention on the 7 billion, protesters in the worldwide Occupy movement have identified the real source of environmental destruction: not the 7 billion, but the 1%

This article, published today on the environmental website Grist, has provoked a vigorous discussion there. Many of the comments defend variations of the “consumer sovereignty” argument,  that corporations only destroy the environment in order to provide the products and services consumers demand. We encourage readers to join that conversation.

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By Ian Angus and Simon Butler

The United Nations says that the world’s population will reach 7 billion people this month.

The approach of that milestone has produced a wave of articles and opinion pieces blaming the world’s environmental crises on overpopulation. In New York’s Times Square, a huge and expensive video declares that “human overpopulation is driving species extinct”. In London’s busiest Underground stations, electronic poster boards warn that 7 billion is ecologically unsustainable.

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich’s bestseller The Population Bomb declared that as a result of overpopulation, “the battle to feed humanity is over” and the 1970s would be a time of global famines and ever-rising death rates. His predictions were all wrong, but four decades later his successors still use Ehrlich’s phrase — too many people! — to explain
environmental problems.

But most of the 7 billion are not endangering the Earth. The majority of the world’s people don’t destroy forests, don’t wipe out endangered species, don’t pollute rivers and oceans, and emit essentially no greenhouse gases.

Even in the rich countries of the global North, most environmental destruction is caused not by individuals or households, but by mines, factories and power plants run by corporations that care more about profit than about humanity’s survival.

No reduction in US population would have stopped BP from poisoning the Gulf of Mexico last year. Lower birthrates won’t shut down Canada’s tar sands, which Bill McKibben has justly called one of the most staggering crimes the world has ever seen.

Universal access to birth control should be a fundamental human right — but it would not have prevented Shell’s massive destruction of ecosystems in the Niger River delta, or the immeasurable damage that Chevron has caused to rainforests in Ecuador.

Ironically, while populationist groups focus attention on the 7 billion, protesters in the worldwide Occupy movement have identified the real source of environmental destruction: not the 7 billion, but the 1%, the handful of millionaires and billionaires who own more, consume more, control more and destroy more than all the rest of us put together.

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The Down Side of Plastics

The Permaculture Movement Grows From Underground


Published: July 27, 2011

AS a way to save the world, digging a ditch next to a hillock of sheep dung would seem to be a modest start. Granted, the ditch was not just a ditch. It was meant to be a “swale,” an earthwork for slowing the flow of water down a slope on a hobby farm in western Wisconsin.

And the trenchers, far from being day laborers, had paid $1,300 to $1,500 for the privilege of working their spades on a cement-skied Tuesday morning in late June.

Fourteen of us had assembled to learn permaculture, a simple system for designing sustainable human settlements, restoring soil, planting year-round food landscapes, conserving water, redirecting the waste stream, forming more companionable communities and, if everything went according to plan, turning the earth’s looming resource crisis into a new age of happiness.

It was going to have to be a pretty awesome ditch.

That was the sense I took away from auditing four days of a weeklong Permaculture Design Certificate course led by Wayne Weiseman, 58, the director of the Permaculture Project, in Carbondale, Ill.

The movement’s founders, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, coined the term permaculture in the mid-1970s, as a portmanteau of permanent agriculture and permanent culture.

In practice, permaculture is a growing and influential movement that runs deep beneath sustainable farming and urban food gardening. You can find permaculturists setting up worm trays and bee boxes, aquaponics ponds and chicken roosts, composting toilets and rain barrels, solar panels and earth houses.

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Food Supply: 

The Cube Project

The Cube Project is an initiative of Dr Mike Page at the University of Hertfordshire who set out to build a compact home, no bigger than 3x3x3 metres on the inside, in which one person could live a comfortable, modern existence with a minimum impact on the environment.

Constructed from a variety of sustainable materials, the Cube provides everything that a single person (or two friendly people) might need. Within its 27 cubic metres it includes a lounge, with a table and two custom-made chairs, a small double bed (120cm wide), a full-size shower, a kitchen (with energy-efficient fridge, induction hob, re-circulating cooker hood, sink/drainer, combination microwave oven and storage cupboards), a washing machine, and a composting toilet. Lighting is achieved by ultra-efficient LED lights, and the Cube is heated using an Ecodan air-source heat pump, with heat being recovered from extracted air. It has cork flooring and there is two-metre head height throughout.

Here is a tour of the interior, filmed by Allan MacDonald at the Edinburgh International Science Festival

A tour of the Cube from Mike Page on Vimeo.

and a 360 degree panorama of the interior is available here.

Bolivia enshrines natural world's rights with equal status for Mother Earth

Law of Mother Earth expected to prompt radical new conservation and social measures in South American nation


John Vidal in La Paz
Sunday 10 April 2011 18.17 BST

Bolivia is set to pass the world's first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans. The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots social groups, redefines the country's rich mineral deposits as "blessings" and is expected to lead to radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control industry.

The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the UN climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will establish 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.

Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature "to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities".

"It makes world history. Earth is the mother of all", said Vice-President Alvaro García Linera. "It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration."

The law, which is part of a complete restructuring of the Bolivian legal system following a change of constitution in 2009, has been heavily influenced by a resurgent indigenous Andean spiritual world view which places the environment and the earth deity known as the Pachamama at the centre of all life. Humans are considered equal to all other entities.

But the abstract new laws are not expected to stop industry in its tracks. While it is not clear yet what actual protection the new rights will give in court to bugs, insects and ecosystems, the government is expected to establish a ministry of mother earth and to appoint an ombudsman. It is also committed to giving communities new legal powers to monitor and control polluting industries.

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Turning Waste to Fertilizer -- Humanure

After last year’s earthquake in Haiti more than a million people were left homeless and without access to proper sewage facilities. A new pilot project is bringing composting toilets to Haiti’s camps, and turning human waste into fertilizer.

GELLERMAN: When you gotta go, you gotta go. But to avoid embarrassment, we use all kinds of euphemisms. We visit the porcelain palace, do number two, and powder our noses, then it’s down the sewer, out of sight, and out of mind - at least for most of us. But 40 percent of the people on the planet lack a sanitary method for disposing of their own waste.

Poverty is a large part of the problem and it’s made worse when natural disaster strikes. In Haiti, where more than a million people are still homeless after last year’s earthquake, euphemisms don’t help. The waste from people is literally piling up, leading to death and disease. So for the past year, the organization Give Love has been running a pilot program in Haiti to turn human waste into “humanure.” Alisa Keesey is the group’s program director there.

KEESEY: Even before the earthquake, 50 percent of city dwellers did not have access to a proper toilet. People were what’s known in the business as open-defecators, or using plastic bags to dispose of their waste, or sometimes poorly maintained pit latrines. So it wasn’t a very pleasant thing to do, and it’s a situation everyone has to deal with everyday. And there really weren’t a lot of options for people.

Food Supply: 

The Grilled Cheese Bus

The Grilled Cheese Bus is a converted school bus (with wings!) and will soon begin serving delicious grilled cheese sandwiches with locally sourced and seasonal flair at locations around the Triangle. The bus will be GPS-trackable via web and cell phone, and we will also be announcing its location via social media sites including Twitter and Facebook. To help create a delicious and sustainable menu, we have brought in several local foodies and talented chefs to consult on our offerings. We’re excited about what we have in the works!

The Grilled Cheese Bus is more than just a restaurant on wheels!

It’s a youth job training and community organizing project housed within a non-profit organization, Action for Community in Raleigh (ACRe). Our goals are to train and employ young people engaged in social change work, with a strong commitment to low-income youth of color. Our youth will learn entrepreneurial principles guided by a respect for community, the planet and each other; earn a living wage; and develop job skills & financial literacy. Youth participants will play an active role in the marketing, menu, staffing, and other decisions regarding the bus. Profits generated by the bus will be donated to community projects that better the planet and work for equity and justice.

Grilled Cheese Bus

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In New Food Culture, a Young Generation of Farmers Emerges

Tyler and Alicia Jones on their farm in Corvallis, Ore.
Published: March 5, 2011

CORVALLIS, Ore. — For years, Tyler Jones, a livestock farmer here, avoided telling his grandfather how disillusioned he had become with industrial farming.

After all, his grandfather had worked closely with Earl L. Butz, the former federal secretary of agriculture who was known for saying, “Get big or get out.”

But several weeks before his grandfather died, Mr. Jones broached the subject. His grandfather surprised him. “You have to fix what Earl and I messed up,” Mr. Jones said his grandfather told him.

Now, Mr. Jones, 30, and his wife, Alicia, 27, are among an emerging group of people in their 20s and 30s who have chosen farming as a career. Many shun industrial, mechanized farming and list punk rock, Karl Marx and the food journalist Michael Pollan as their influences. The Joneses say they and their peers are succeeding because of Oregon’s farmer-foodie culture, which demands grass-fed and pasture-raised meats.

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Top EIA Energy Trends Watcher: No Definitive Count on Dirty Energy Welfare

The national conversation about wasteful welfare for highly profitable dirty energy corporations has gone from the dramatic statement by the Chief Economist of the International Energy Agency that fossil fuel subsidies are one of the biggest impediments to global economic recovery (“the appendicitis of the global energy system which needs to be removed for a healthy, sustainable development future”), to a speech by Solar Energy Industries Association President Rhone Resch (in which he called the fossil fuel industry “grotesquely oversubsidized”), to a call by President Obama to cut oil company welfare by $4 billion. Not to be outdone, House Democrats are now calling for a $40 billion cut.

Dirty energy welfare defenders have, predictably, responded with ridiculous, Palin-esque denials of reality, but the voter demands that wasteful spending be cut begs the question: just how much of our tax money is going to ExxonMobil, Massey, etc.? With the new deficit hawks in Congress going after insignificant items like bottled water expenses, you’d think they’d want to know the size of the really wasteful stuff, right?

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Trends in Water Privatization

The Post-Recession Economy and the Fight for Public Water in the United States

Confronted with daunting budget shortfalls following the recent economic downturn, various cities and towns across the country have considered cashing out their water utilities to generate revenue. But rather than ease fiscal pressures, the sale or lease of water assets would likely further weaken a locality’s long-term financial health and saddle consumers with debt.

Food & Water Watch reviewed 200 prospective and completed sales and concessions over the last two decades and uncovered five aspects of this new trend in water privatization:

As of October 2010, at least 39 communities were publicly weighing the possibility of selling or leasing their water infrastructure. That’s more than five times as many systems as were sold or leased in a typical year over the last two decades.

Read the full report.

Read the fact sheet.

Many cities and towns explored sales and long-term concessions of their water and sewer systems since 2008. There were five times as many prospective deals in 2010 as there were completed transactions in a typical year over the previous two decades.

Prospective privatizations, if actualized, would affect an unprecedented number of people. The typical water system put forward for privatization in 2010 served around 45 times more people than the average system sold over the last two decades.
Budget constraints drove the surge in potential privatization deals. Previously, the need for expensive improvements to water infrastructure was the main factor in a municipality’s decision to sell or lease its water system. Since 2008, several cities have considered privatizing well-maintained water systems to shore up weak budgets.

Possible sales and concessions were clustered around the Rust Belt. Although the surge in interest was a nationwide phenomenon, prospective deals were concentrated in the Rust Belt, where cities were hit particularly hard by the recession.
Strong public opposition hindered privatization. Public resistance thwarted at least 17 possible sales and concessions from 2008 to 2010 and seemed likely to block many more prospective deals. In fact, despite new attention on the idea, the number of sales and concessions completed each year remained small.
Problems with Sales and Concessions

They saddle consumers with debt. The funding that a city receives by selling or leasing its water system is effectively an expensive loan that a water company will recover from consumers through water bills. A Food & Water Watch analysis estimated that the typical interest rate on this loan would be 11 percent. This is 56 percent more expensive than public financing through a typical municipal revenue bond.

They result in high water rates. A review of the 10 largest sales and concessions surveyed in this report found that water rates increased on average by 15 percent a year after privatization.


Many communities have saved money with public operation. Public operation of water and sewer services averaged 21 percent cheaper than private operation, based on a Food & Water Watch review of 18 local governments that stopped contracting and brought water systems in-house.

Sales and concessions of water systems are not a smart recovery plan for distressed local governments. Public officials should pursue more responsible courses of action and avoid such quick fixes that jeopardize long-term financial well being.

Instead of cashing out water assets, governments need to invest in their water systems. The country needs a dedicated source of federal funding to help renovate our water infrastructure.

Food Supply: 


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