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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Can Farming Make It In The Big City?

By Monika Vosough for Wall Street Journal Online on 15 Jul 2011

Entrepreneurs are looking to urban farms and rooftop gardens as an alternative to traditional farms. While start-up costs are higher, these efforts could pay off with long-term environmental benefits and better tasting veggies. Wall Street Journal's Monika Vosough reports.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Climate Change And The End of Austraila

It's near midnight, and I'm holed up in a rickety hotel in Proserpine, a whistle-stop town on the northeast coast of Australia. Yasi, a Category 5 hurricane with 200-mile-per-hour winds that's already been dubbed "The Mother of All Catastrophes" by excitable Aussie tabloids, is just a few hundred miles offshore. When the eye of the storm hits, forecasters predict, it will be the worst ever to batter the east coast of Australia.
I have come to Australia to see what a global-warming future holds for this most vulnerable of nations, and Mother Nature has been happy to oblige: Over the course of just a few weeks, the continent has been hit by a record heat wave, a crippling drought, bush fires, floods that swamped an area the size of France and Germany combined, even a plague of locusts. "In many ways, it is a disaster of biblical proportions," Andrew Fraser, the Queensland state treasurer, told reporters. He was talking about the floods in his region, but the sense that Australia – which maintains one of the highest per-capita carbon footprints on the planet – has summoned up the wrath of the climate gods is everywhere. "Australia is the canary in the coal mine," says David Karoly, a top climate researcher at the University of Melbourne. "What is happening in Australia now is similar to what we can expect to see in other places in the future."
As Yasi bears down on the coast, the massive storm seems to embody the not-quite-conscious fears of Australians that their country may be doomed by global warming. This year's disasters, in fact, are only the latest installment in an ongoing series of climate-related crises. In 2009, wildfires in Australia torched more than a million acres and killed 173 people. The Murray-Darling Basin, which serves as the country's breadbasket, has suffered a dec­ades-long drought, and what water is left is becoming increasingly salty and unusable, raising the question of whether Australia, long a major food exporter, will be able to feed itself in the coming dec­ades. The oceans are getting warmer and more acidic, leading to the all-but-certain death of the Great Barrier Reef within 40 years. Homes along the Gold Coast are being swept away, koala bears face extinction in the wild, and farmers, their crops shriveled by drought, are shooting themselves in despair.
With Yasi approaching fast, disaster preparations are fully under way. At the airport, the Australian Defense Force is racing to load emergency supplies into Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters. Entire cities have shut down, their streets nearly empty as I drive north, toward the center of the storm, through sugar plantations and ranch land. Dead kangaroos sprawl by the side of the road, the victims of motorists fleeing the storm.
With the winds hitting 80 miles per hour, I'm forced to stop in Proserpine, where the windows are taped and sandbags are piled in front of doors. Palm trees are bent horizontal in the wind, and the shingles of a nearby roof blow off and shoot into the darkness. It's as if civilization is being dismantled one shingle at a time.
"Welcome to Australia, the petri dish of climate change," an Aussie friend e-mailed me the day before. "Stay safe."
In the past year – one of the hottest on record – extreme weather has battered almost every corner of the planet. There have been devastating droughts in China and India, unprecedented floods and wildfires in the United States, and near-record ice melts in the Arctic. Yet the prosperous nations of the world have failed to take action to reduce the risk of climate change, in part because people in prosperous nations think they're invulnerable. They're under the misapprehension that, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Tom Schelling puts it, "Global warming is a problem that is going to primarily affect future generations of poor people." To see how foolish this reasoning is, one need only look at Australia, a prosperous nation that also happens to be right in the cross hairs of global warming. "Sadly, it's probably too late to save much of it," says Joe Romm, a leading climate advocate who served as assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration.
This is not to say that the entire continent will sink beneath the waves anytime soon. What is likely to vanish – or be transformed beyond recognition – are many of the things we think of when we think of Australia: the barrier reef, the koalas, the sense of the country as a land of almost limitless natural resources. Instead, Australia is likely to become hotter, drier and poorer, fractured by increasing tensions over access to water, food and energy as its major cities are engulfed by the rising seas.
To climate scientists, it's no surprise that Australia would feel the effects of climate change so strongly, in part because it has one of the world's most variable climates. "One effect of increasing greenhouse-gas levels in the atmosphere is to amplify existing climate signals," says Karoly. "Regions that are dry get drier, and regions that are wet get wetter. If you have a place like Australia that is already extreme, those extremes just get more pronounced." Adding to Australia's vulnerability is its close connection with the sea. Australia is the only island continent on the planet, which means that changes caused by planet-warming pollution – warmer seas, which can drive stronger storms, and more acidic oceans, which wreak havoc on the food chain – are even more deadly here.
How bad could it get? A recent study by MIT projects that without "rapid and massive action" to cut carbon pollution, the Earth's temperature could soar by nine degrees this century. "There are no analogies in human history for a temperature jump of that size in such a short time period," says Tony McMichael, an epidemiologist at Australian National University. The few times in human history when temperatures fell by seven degrees, he points out, the sudden shift likely triggered a bubonic plague in Europe, caused the abrupt collapse of the Moche civilization in Peru and reduced the entire human race to as few as 1,000 breeding pairs after a volcanic eruption blocked out the sun some 73,000 years ago. "We think that because we are a technologically sophisticated society, we are less vulnerable to these kinds of dramatic shifts in climate," McMichael says. "But in some ways, because of the interconnectedness of our world, we are more vulnerable."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Seeds of Deception

International bestselling author Jeffrey M. Smith is the leading spokesperson on the health dangers of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). He documents how the world’s most powerful Ag biotech companies bluff and mislead critics, and put the health of society at risk.

His first book Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating became the world’s best-selling and # 1 rated book on GMOs. His second book, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, is the authoritative work that presents irrefutable evidence that GMOs are harmful. It includes 65 health dangers, linking GMOs to toxic and allergic reactions, thousands of sick, sterile, and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals. The book expertly summarizes why the safety assessments conducted by the FDA and regulators worldwide are built on a foundation of outdated science and false assumptions, and why GM foods must become the top food safety priority. Former UK environment minister Michael Meacher says the revelations in Genetic Roulette may “change the global course of events this century.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Will Transform Our Society

Energy regimes shape the nature of civilizations... how they are organized, how the fruits of commerce and trade are distributed, how political power is exercised, and how social relations are conducted. The locus of control over energy production and distribution is beginning to tilt from giant fossil fuel based centralized energy companies to millions of small producers, who are generating their own renewable energies in their dwellings and trading surpluses in info-energy commons.
Distributed Capitalism
The new era will bring with it a reorganization of power relationships across every level of society. While the fossil fuel-based First and Second Industrial Revolutions scaled vertically and favored centralized, top-down organizational structures operating in markets, the Third Industrial Revolution is organized nodally, scales laterally, and favors distributed and collaborative business practices that work most effectively in networks. The "democratization of energy" has profound implications for how we orchestrate the entirety of human life in the coming century. We are entering the era of "Distributed Capitalism."
The partial shift from markets to networks establishes a different business orientation. The adversarial relationship between sellers and buyers is replaced by a collaborative relationship between suppliers and users. Self-interest is subsumed by shared interest. Proprietary information is eclipsed by a new emphasis on openness and collective trust. The new focus on transparency over secrecy is based on the premise that adding value to the network doesn't depreciate ones own stock, but, rather, appreciates everyone's holdings as equal nodes in a common endeavor.
In industry after industry, cross-sector networks are competing with autonomous transaction-based business models, and peer-to-peer business practices conducted in commercial commons are challenging competitive business operations in siloed markets.
Distributed capitalism ushers in new business models, including 3D printing in the manufacturing of durable goods and performance contracting and shared savings ventures in the service and experiential sectors, which greatly reduces capital, energy and labor costs, and increases productivity. In the new lateral economy, the exchange of property in markets is increasingly subsumed by just-in-time access to goods and services in networks, purchased in the form of leases, rentals, timeshares, retainer agreements, and other kinds of time allotments.
When thousands of businesses -- large companies, SMES, and cooperatives -- connect with one another in vast networks, the distributed power often exceeds the power of standalone giant companies that characterized the First and Second Industrial Revolutions.
Beyond Right and Left
The emerging Third Industrial Revolution is not only changing the way we do business, but also the way we think about politics. The struggle between the older hierarchical power interests of the Second Industrial Revolution and the nascent lateral power interests of the Third Industrial Revolution is giving rise to a new political dichotomy, reflective of the competing forces vying for dominance in the commercial arena. A new political script is being written, recasting the very way people will view politics as we move deeper into the new era.
When was the last time you heard anyone under the age of twenty-five rant about his or her ideological beliefs? Something very strange is happening out there. Ideology is disappearing. Young people aren't much interested in debating the fine points of capitalist or socialist ideology or the nuances of geopolitical theory. Their political leanings are configured in an entirely different way.
Our global policy team began picking up on this phenomenon as we became more engaged in the political process in Europe, the United States and other countries. We have come to discover what we suspect is a new political mindset emerging among a younger generation of political leaders socialized on Internet communications. Their politics is less about right versus left and more about centralized and authoritarian versus distributed and collaborative. This makes sense.
The two generations whose sociability has been formed, in large part, by Internet communications, are far more likely to divide the world into people and institutions that use top-down, enclosed, and proprietary thinking, and those that use lateral, transparent, and open thinking. As they come of age, they are affecting a shift in political thinking--one that will fundamentally alter the political process in the twenty-first century.
While the First and Second Industrial Revolutions were accompanied by national economies and nation-state governance, The Third Industrial Revolution, because it is distributed and collaborative by nature, scales laterally along contiguous landmasses, and favors continental economies and continental governing unions. Continentalization is becoming the new path to globalization.
Sharing renewable energy laterally, in power, communications and transport networks that stretch across continents, like we now share information virtually in social networks across the internet, is going to radically transform the political world. The new energy relationships will require governing jurisdictions that are similarly lateral and networked and that encompass the outer limits of the TIR's geographical reach, which are the edges of continents. If not inevitable, it is at least highly likely that continental unions will become the new governing jurisdictions to regulate emerging continental markets around the world in the 21st Century.
The European Union is the first continental economy and political union to begin transitioning into a Third Industrial Revolution. Continental unions have recently been formed in Asia (The ASEAN Union), Africa (The African Union) and South America (The Union of South American Nations). In North America, the fledgling political associations forged between the northern states and Canadian provinces are a precursor to a potential continental union.
Although localities, regions, and national governments will not disappear in the coming century -- they will actually be strengthened -- continental unions provide an expansive political framework for overseeing integrated continental markets.
From Geopolitics to Biosphere Politics
The intercontinental era will slowly transform international relations from geopolitics to biosphere politics. A new approach to political life on the planet is just beginning to emerge, based on operating principles and assumptions that are more compatible with the dynamics of a Third Industrial Revolution economic model, and the ecological constraints imposed by the Earth's biosphere.
In the geopolitical world of the fossil fuel-based First and Second Industrial Revolutions, the Earth was conceived in a mechanical and utilitarian fashion. The planet was viewed as a container -- a storehouse -- full of useful resources ready to be appropriated for economic ends. Nation states were formed to compete with one another in the market and on the battlefield, to seize, secure, and control elite fossil fuel energies and rare earth resources.
The shift in energy regimes from elite fossil fuels to distributed renewable energies will redefine the very notion of international relations more along the lines of ecological thinking. If the earth functions more like a living organism made up of layer upon layer of interdependent ecological relationships, then our very survival depends on mutually safeguarding the well-being of the global ecosystems of which we are all a part. Because the renewable energies of the Third Industrial Revolution are ample, found everywhere, and easily shared, but require collective stewardship of the earth's ecosystems, there is less likelihood of hostility and war over access and a greater likelihood of global cooperation. In the new era, survival is less about competition than cooperation, and less about the search for autonomy than the quest for embeddedness.
The old geopolitics was accompanied by a scientific paradigm that viewed nature as objects; the new biosphere science, by contrast, views nature as relationships. The old science is characterized by detachment, expropriation, dissection, and reduction; the new science is characterized by engagement, replenishment, integration, and holism. The old science is committed to making nature productive; the new science is committed to making nature sustainable. The old science seeks power over nature; the new science seeks partnership with nature. The old science puts a premium on autonomy from nature; the new science, on re-participation with nature.
The new biosphere science takes us from a colonial vision of nature as an enemy to pillage and enslave, to a new vision of nature as a community to nurture. The right to exploit, harness, and own nature in the form of property is tempered by the obligation to steward nature and treat it with dignity and respect. The utility value of nature is slowly giving way to the intrinsic value of nature. This is the deep meaning of sustainable development, and the very essence of biosphere politics.
Biosphere politics facilitates a tectonic shift in the political landscape; we begin to enlarge our vision and think as global citizens in a shared biosphere. Global human rights networks, global health networks, global disaster relief networks, global germ plasm storage, global food banks, global information networks, global environmental networks, and global species protection networks, are a powerful sign of the historic shift from conventional geopolitics to fledgling biosphere politics.
Retiring Adam Smith
It's been nearly fifty years since I took my introductory class in classical economic theory at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. I have watched a transformation take place in the workings of the economy over the ensuing half century--most of which has never been integrated into the standard economics textbooks. The once-unquestioned value of unlimited economic growth has given way to the idea of sustainable economic development. The conventional, top-down, centralized approach to organizing economic activity that characterized the fossil fuel-based First and Second Industrial Revolutions, is being challenged by the new distributed and collaborative organizing models that go with a Third Industrial Revolution. The hallowed nature of property exchange in markets has been partially upended by shared access to commercial services in open-source social networks. National markets and nation-state governance, once the spatial milieu for all economic activity, are giving way to continental markets and continental governments. The result is that much of economics, as it is taught today, is increasingly irrelevant in explaining the past, understanding the present, and forecasting the future.
Although the term paradigm shift has been grossly overused in recent years, I think it's safe to say that when it comes to economic theory, the term is apt. Our children's understanding of economic theory and the governing assumptions of economic practice will be as radically different from ours as the market theorists' ideas are from the "just price" philosophy that governed late medieval commerce and trade.
Whether it's rethinking GDP and how to measure the economic well-being of society, revising our ideas about productivity, understanding the notion of debt and how best to balance our production and consumption budgets with nature's own, reexamining our notions about property relations, reevaluating the importance of finance capital versus social capital, reassessing the economic value of markets versus networks, or reconsidering how the Earth's biosphere functions, standard economic theory comes up woefully short.
On these and other accounts, the changes taking place in the way we understand human nature and the meaning of the human journey are so profoundly disruptive to the way we have thought over the past two hundred years that spawned the first two industrial revolutions, that it is likely that much of classical and neoclassical economic theory that accompanied and legitimized these two earlier industrial eras will not survive the newly emerging economic paradigm.
What is likely to happen is that the still-valuable insights and content of standard economic theory will be rethought and reworked within the context of the thermodynamic laws that govern the flow of energy and ecosystem dynamics. Using the laws of energy as a common language will allow economists to enter into a deep conversation with engineers, chemists, ecologists, biologists, architects, and urban planners, among others, whose disciplines are grounded in the laws of energy. Since these other fields are the ones that actually produce economic activity, a serious interdisciplinary discussion over time could potentially lead to a new synthesis between economic theory and commercial practice and the emergence of a new, explanatory economic model to accompany the Third Industrial Revolution paradigm.
A Classroom Makeover
Preparing the workforce and citizenry for the new society will require rethinking the traditional educational model, with its emphasis on rigid instruction, memorization of facts, reductionist thinking and autonomous learning.
In the new globally connected Third Industrial Revolution era, the primary mission of education is to prepare students to think and act as part of a shared biosphere.
In schools all over the world, teachers are instructing students, from the earliest ages, that they are an intimate part of the workings of the biosphere and that every activity they engage in --the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the car their family drives, the electricity they use -- leaves an ecological footprint that affects the well-being of other human beings and other creatures on earth.
A new generation of educators is beginning to deconstruct the classroom learning processes that accompanied the First and Second Industrial Revolutions and reconstitute the educational experience along lines designed to encourage an extended ecological self, imbued with biosphere consciousness. The dominant top-down approach to teaching, the aim of which is to create a competitive, autonomous being, is beginning to give away to a "distributed and collaborative" educational experience with an eye to instilling a sense of the shared nature of knowledge. Intelligence, in the new way of thinking, is not something one inherits or a resource one accumulates but, rather, a shared experience distributed among people.
New lateral learning environments, including virtual global classrooms and service learning in the community, break through the conventional classroom walls, making education a more expansive and inclusive experience. Peer-to-peer learning compliments the traditional, authoritarian model of teaching, by emphasizing students' responsibility to also learn from and teach each other in structured cohort groups.
Interdisciplinary learning, multicultural studies, empathic scientific experimentation, and a systems approach to integrating knowledge, are among the cutting-edge teaching practices that are forcing a fundamental change in the educational process and preparing students to live in a complex, multidimensional, global society.
The new distributed and collaborative approach to learning mirrors the way a younger generation learns and shares information, ideas, and experiences on the Internet in "open source" learning spaces and social media sites. Distributed and collaborative learning also prepares the workforce of the 21st Century for a Third Industrial Revolution economy that operates on the same set of principles.
The Dream of Quality of Life
The Third Industrial Revolution changes our sense of relationship to and responsibility for our fellow human beings. We come to see our common lot. Sharing the renewable energies of the earth in collaborative commons that span entire continents can't help but create a new sense of species identity. This dawning awareness of interconnectivity and biosphere embeddedness is already giving birth to a new dream of "quality of life," especially among the youth of the world.
The American dream, long held as the gold standard for aspiring people everywhere, is squarely in the Enlightenment tradition, with its emphasis on the pursuit of material self-interest, autonomy and independence. Quality of life, however, speaks to a new vision of the future -- one based on collaborative interest, connectivity and interdependence. We come to realize that true freedom is not found in being unbeholden to others and an island to oneself but, rather, in deep participation with others. If freedom is the optimization of one's life, it is measured in the richness and diversity of one's experiences and the strength of one's social bonds. A life less lived is an impoverished existence.
The dream of quality of life can only be experienced collectively. It is impossible to enjoy a quality of life in isolation by excluding others. Achieving a quality of life requires active participation by everyone in the life of the community and a deep sense of responsibility by every member to ensure that no one is left behind.
While Enlightenment economists were convinced that happiness and "the good life" was tautological with the accumulation of personal wealth, a younger generation, at the cusp of the Third Industrial Revolution, is just as likely to believe that, while economic comfort is essential, it is not sufficient to ensure a full life, and that one's happiness is equally proportional to the accumulation of social capital.
The change in thinking about the meaning of happiness is beginning to affect one of the key indices for measuring economic prosperity. The Gross Domestic product (GDP) was created in the 1930s to measure the value of the sum total of economic goods and services generated over a single year. The problem with the index is that it counts negative as well as positive economic activity. If a country invests large sums of money in armaments, builds prisons, expands police security and has to clean up polluted environments and the like, it's included in the GDP.
In recent years, economists have begun to create alternative indexes for measuring economic prosperity based on quality of life indicators, rather than mere gross economic output. These new indices measure the general improvement in the well-being of society and include such things as: infant mortality and longevity of life, the availability of health coverage, the level of educational attainment, average weekly earnings, the eradication of poverty and income equality, affordability of housing, the cleanliness of the environment, biodiversity, the decrease in crime, the amount of leisure time, etc. The governments of France, the UK, and the European Union, as well as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations are each creating formal quality of life indexes with the expectation of relying increasingly on these new measurements to judge the overall performance of the economy.
If quality of life requires a shared notion of our collective responsibility for the larger community in which we dwell, the question becomes "Where does that community end?" In the new era, our spatial and temporal orientation gravitates beyond political boundaries to encompass the larger community we all inhabit -- the biosphere itself.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

With Deaths of Forests, A Loss of Key Climate Protectors

The Forest for the Trees: In Arizona, trees are cut down to save forests from massive fires and to combat climate change.

WISE RIVER, Mont. — The trees spanning many of the mountainsides of western Montana glow an earthy red, like a broadleaf forest at the beginning of autumn.

Temperature Rising

Trees at Risk
Articles in this series are focusing on the central arguments in the climate debate and examining the evidence for global warming and its consequences.

Forests and Climate Change

Justin Gillis is taking questions on climatic threats to the world's forests and the implications for the earth's future. He will respond next week on the Green blog.
A blog about energy and the environment.

Readers’ Comments

But these trees are not supposed to turn red. They are evergreens, falling victim to beetles that used to be controlled in part by bitterly cold winters. As the climate warms, scientists say, that control is no longer happening.
Across millions of acres, the pines of the northern and central Rockies are dying, just one among many types of forests that are showing signs of distress these days.
From the mountainous Southwest deep into Texas, wildfires raced across parched landscapes this summer, burning millions more acres. In Colorado, at least 15 percent of that state’s spectacular aspen forests have gone into decline because of a lack of water.
The devastation extends worldwide. The great euphorbia trees of southern Africa are succumbing to heat and water stress. So are the Atlas cedars of northern Algeria. Fires fed by hot, dry weather are killing enormous stretches of Siberian forest. Eucalyptus trees are succumbing on a large scale to a heat blast in Australia, and the Amazon recently suffered two “once a century” droughts just five years apart, killing many large trees.
Experts are scrambling to understand the situation, and to predict how serious it may become.
Scientists say the future habitability of the Earth might well depend on the answer. For, while a majority of the world’s people now live in cities, they depend more than ever on forests, in a way that few of them understand.
Scientists have figured out — with the precise numbers deduced only recently — that forests have been absorbing more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide that people are putting into the air by burning fossil fuels and other activities. It is an amount so large that trees are effectively absorbing the emissions from all the world’s cars and trucks.
Without that disposal service, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be rising faster. The gas traps heat from the sun, and human emissions are causing the planet to warm.
Yet the forests have only been able to restrain the increase, not halt it. And some scientists are increasingly worried that as the warming accelerates, trees themselves could become climate-change victims on a massive scale.
“At the same time that we’re recognizing the potential great value of trees and forests in helping us deal with the excess carbon we’re generating, we’re starting to lose forests,” saidThomas W. Swetnam, an expert on forest history at the University of Arizona.
While some of the forests that died recently are expected to grow back, scientists say others are not, because of climate change.
If forests were to die on a sufficient scale, they would not only stop absorbing carbon dioxide, they might also start to burn up or decay at such a rate that they would spew huge amounts of the gas back into the air — as is already happening in some regions. That, in turn, could speed the warming of the planet, unlocking yet more carbon stored in once-cold places like the Arctic.
Scientists are not sure how likely this feedback loop is, and they are not eager to find out the hard way.
“It would be a very different world than the world we’re in,” said Christopher B. Field, an ecologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science.
It is clear that the point of no return has not been reached yet — and it may never be. Despite the troubles of recent years, forests continue to take up a large amount of carbon, with some regions, including the Eastern United States, being especially important as global carbon absorbers.
“I think we have a situation where both the ‘forces of growth’ and the ‘forces of death’ are strengthening, and have been for some time,” said Oliver L. Phillips, a prominent tropical forest researcher with the University of Leeds in England. “The latter are more eye-catching, but the former have in fact been more important so far.”
Scientists acknowledge that their attempts to use computers to project the future of forests are still crude. Some of those forecasts warn that climate change could cause potentially widespread forest death in places like the Amazon, while others show forests remaining robust carbon sponges throughout the 21st century.
“We’re not completely blind, but we’re not in good shape,” said William R. L. Anderegg, a researcher at Stanford University.
Many scientists say that ensuring the health of the world’s forests requires slowing human emissions of greenhouse gases. Most nations committed to doing so in a global environmental treaty in 1992, yet two decades of negotiations have yielded scant progress.