December 4th, 2012 by Mark Laurence

I came across an interesting article by Ruth Potts with the above title (, which summed up pretty well where we need to be headed as a society to make the transition to a resource-scarce future.  The crucial thing is, that this could be a much better future.  Aren’t we all exhausted with the endless demands on our time, energy and finances that consumerism makes?  In the run up to Christmas, how many of us are taking out loans or maxing out our credit cards to pay for the “pleasure” of giving, and how long will we remain in debt for that brief moment?

Christmas was ruined for me, only a few year’s ago, when I read that the quintessential Father Christmas as we know and love him, was “invented” by Coca Cola in the 1930’s (yes, I have now stopped believing!).  Fortunately, that is not quite true (about Coca Cola), but there is no doubt that the figure of FC has been mercilessly exploited by commercial interests, and this gets worse every year.  In fact, most retail shops now depend upon Christmas to make their yearly sales quotas and profit, so they are not likely to give up the “right” to promote consumerism any time soon.

You may wonder why I write about such things, since my interest really is focussed on vertical and urban greening; actually, my interest is in the survival of the human species and in the retention of a habitable planet, interests we should all have in common.  At the core of our dilemma is not carbon emissions: in our typically linear-thinking, reductionist way, we focus upon these as the problem, when in fact they are a symptom of underlying factors.  The biggest driver in all our systems is the act of consumption.  You can figure out for yourself that there are only so many resources to go around and that the more people you cram into the world, and the more those people demand, the less there is to share out; sooner or later there will be nothing left.  And we are hitting so many tipping points right now, we really should be far more concerned than we are, and should be taking far more action.  Yet to mention it is almost taboo.  We just don’t want to face it; it’s too scary.  And what can we do, the little people?  I would say quite a lot, actually.  As an example, look at how Zara, one of the world’s biggest retail chains, has been forced to commit to producing toxic-free clothing, all within the space of a two-week campaign run by Greenpeace.  That’s powerful.

Fact is, if we want a sustainable future, no; if we want a future, we have to kick the consumption habit, before it consumes us all.  If we don’t, no amount of urban greening will make any difference…


Posted in Economic Issues, Sustainability Tagged with: , , ,

October 30th, 2012 by Mark Laurence

I’ve just finished reading one of the most important books of our time; on the planet, climate change, the economy and the plight of humankind, so I’m going to review it here.  This should be at the top of everyone’s reading list if you want to understand what is happening to us at this moment in time.

McKibben is an environmental writer and wrote an important book on the subject 20 years ago, called “The End of Nature”; I never read it, I guess I wasn’t reading environmental books at the time, which is a pity. Twenty years ago we still had time to do something about the state of the planet, but we chose not to.  After all, we were having a recession.  In fact an earlier landmark publication put the writing on the wall for us back in 1972 – the Club of Rome issued a report called “The Limits to Growth”.  We didn’t listen then either, or rather we stopped listening, after we recovered from the shock of the OPEC oil embargo, and we went shopping instead.  Retail therapy.

McKibben’s book starts with the simple but stark premise that the old Earth is gone; that we effectively live on a new planet, one that is not so nice, and which will get worse.  He calls it Eaarth. His reasoning is simple, the Earth is now cascading through a series of tipping points, from which it cannot now recover from, at least not within a humanly conceivable time-scale. Perhaps the chief of these is the amount of carbon we are pouring into the atmosphere; currently around 390ppm and heading inexorably to >600ppm.  The safe level for a habitable planet is 350ppm.  See the problem?

McKibben links environmental change firmly with consumption and economic growth.  As I have been writing, we are fixated on this as the only possible way of living our lives.  Of course it is true that everything is geared for growth and the inevitable consequence of no growth is failure – or so we believe.

But the book, though stark, doesn’t just fill us full of doom; McKibben believes we can, with concerted grass-roots effort, get the carbon emissions back down to 350ppm and he in fact instigated a movement, to promote – with some considerable success – the need to achieve this goal.

I am reading a number of other books on similar subjects, including Richard Heinberg’s “The End of Growth”, which I shall review in due course.

Posted in Economic Issues, Environment, Sustainability Tagged with: , ,

October 23rd, 2012 by Mark Laurence

Here in the UK, we may not be following the US presidential election campaigns, but if you use twitter and follow any environmentalists, you can hardly fail to read the comments about the deafening silence coming from all parties.  It’s as if they’re in absolute denial about it; or perhaps they think it’s game over already…

Tweet #climatesilence and read this article in the Guardian:

Posted in Environment Tagged with: ,

October 16th, 2012 by Mark Laurence

What a title!  Yet it is becoming increasingly clear that this is where we are at.  What does it mean?  It means we have finished one phase of human development and we are about to enter another phase, that of the steady-state economy.  It is also increasingly clear that if we don’t adopt this approach, we will overshoot the Earth’s carrying capacity (indeed we already are in many respects) and cause long-term ecosystem collapse, taking us all down with it, along with many forms of higher life.

So it’s adapt or die time.  Does it feel like it?  Probably not; the sun is shining, life is busy, all feels normal – it’s just another day.  But we are on an exponential growth curve and the doubling effect has mind-boggling consequences, which are not apparent for many years.  To illustrate:  take a chess board.  Place a single grain of rice on the first (say bottom – left) square.  Place double the number of grains on each subsequent square; easy, right?  Wrong.  There are NOT ENOUGH grains of rice in the whole WORLD to fill the quantity needed for the last square.  This is exponential growth; by the time you get to the vertical bit of growth (where we are now) the consequences are catastrophic.

Human population is doubling every 35 years. In the last 35, we used 25% of the planet’s resources; in the next 35 years, we will demand 50%.  Now you can see plainly the consequences of our current trajectory.  We will crash, unless we change course.  Changing course is as easy as us all, or at least enough of us, deciding to do so.  It’s also as difficult as that, and looking at our short-sighted natures and inbred politics, what will actually happen is anybody’s guess.  And plenty are guessing…

I was travelling on the tube the other day and saw an advert which said: “Limits? I don’t think so!”, you know, said in that kind of voice.  This is a part of our cultural problem: we see limits as an affront to our personal freedom, our right to be who we are.  We are told to expect more; actually, we’re told to consume more.  All current economies depend on consumption, because consumption means debt, means interest, means growth based on debt.  I read somewhere recently: whenever you see the word credit, scrub it out and replace it with debt; that way, you understand more what is involved.  We’re all in debt, to our credit cards, banks, mortgages and lease agreements.  Next month marks a personal milestone: I will no longer be in any kind of debt.  We have to become personally resilient, and I would urge you to remove yourself from debt as fast as you can.  Easier said than done, as I know too well.

What do we do, once we have no debt?  Grow veggies, insulate your house – make it off-grid if possible – move if where you are is not conducive to independent living and build community, wherever you are. I’m working at the second-to-last and rubbish at the latter.

Most of all, we have to understand and talk about steady-state economies, energy decline and resilience. These subjects can make you unpopular, but doing nothing is not really an option.  I’m going to post some reviews on books I’ve been reading soon,  there’s some good stuff out there.  We have to be active, aware, doing something to change our lives.  Chances are we’ll all be better people for it anyway; closer to nature, closer to our communities, less demanding of the Earth’s diminishing resources, grateful even, for the simple bounties of life…

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