Archive for the 'Events' Category

Doing Business Differently

November 30th, 2012

This item first appeared in Dead River Journal, 11/29/2012:

We know that the new economic and ecological realities we face require us to do something different in business, which in some cases also means doing business differently.

Certainly it’s possible to use a conventional business model to manufacture and install solar panels, build windfarms, etc., and we certainly need these kinds of things “at scale,” as they say, sufficient to offset the energy we get from coal, oil, and nuclear. But other kinds of businesses — local, community-based businesses focusing on food, energy conservation, community banking, and other elements of local “economic, social, environmental, and cultural development” — these it seems need a different approach to doing business altogether.

For one thing, getting people to invest in local projects is surprisingly difficult under the conventional business model. It’s just much easier, and assumed to be much safer and more profitable, to “diversify your investments” by putting them in mutual funds, bonds, and publicly-traded companies. What we need are local investments that are either super-secure, or where the risk can be spread over many different enterprises and investors.

Focusing attention on the local economy is one of the central tenets of “financial permaculture,” a movement that is growing out of the tradition of permaculture derived from the work of Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Tasmania in the 1970s.

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The Sustainability Movement in 2011, Part 3

January 26th, 2011

This little survey of the state of the sustainability movement going into 2011 would not be complete without looking further at policy and practice in a number of increasingly problematic areas, from water, to energy, to agricultural runoff, to education, and so on. As always, the rhetoric far outpaces the reality. But it’s important to know where each of these are, so we know where we’re starting, and what we need to move forward.

Despite the failure of climate change legislation to pass the Senate and become law, the Obama administration remains clear that the problem is an urgent one. In a speech on September 20, 2010, Education Under Secretary Martha Kanter led off the “Sustainability Education Summit” with the following:

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State of the Sustainability Movement 2011, Part 2

December 20th, 2010

As soon as I wrote the original post, of course, I started discovering new signs of our times that are not adequately reflected in my earlier assessment. Let’s consider a few examples, and see what conclusions we can draw about where we are in the process, and where we might be going from here.

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State of the Sustainability Movement 2011 (Part 1)

December 19th, 2010

In the Spring 1990 issue of In Context — which described itself as “A Quarterly Journal of Humane Sustainable Culture” — Robert Gilman described the state of the sustainability movement in his time, and I thought it would be interesting to review this and reflect on where we are today. (See “Sustainability: The State Of The Movement,” in Sustainability (IC#25), Spring 1990, Page 10.)

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Why Nuclear Energy is Still a Really Bad Idea

June 14th, 2009

After all the literature and public policy discussion and decision-making of the past 50+ years, it is hard to believe that there is still an industry – and a lobby – advocating for the expenditure of vast sums of money for the use of “controlled” nuclear reactions anywhere on this planet, let alone in the densely-populated Northeast.

But nuclear advocates have found new hope in the argument that nuclear power is “carbon-free.” New organizations have been formed to promote nuclear as “clean, affordable, and safe.” Continue Reading »

Financial Permaculture Course and Green Business Summit in Hohenwald, TN

November 3rd, 2008

I’ve just returned from a five-day workshop in Hohenwald, TN, a remarkable and inspiring event that sought to provide both an introduction to “financial permaculture” and the launch of several new enterprises – including a green incubator – in rural Lewis County (population <15,000).

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The Upside of a Down Economy

October 12th, 2008

There’s not much good news in the slow-motion global market crash we’ve witnessed over the past couple of weeks, but what is positive is the growing recognition that what matters is not the mostly fictitious Wall Street economy of credit default swaps and mortgage-backed securities but the “real” economy and the disastrous consequences of deregulation for the folks on Main Street. The fact is, as NYU economist Nouriel Roubini has pointed out, ordinary people have pretty much run out of money, stopped buying cars and homes, watched their retirement savings get cut in half, and begun to pull whatever they have left out of the stock market. We are witnessing a worldwide panic that will not be halted by Wall Street bailouts or technical manipulations of the money supply; we need fundamental reform of the economic system, and a reinvestment in infrastructure, jobs, and sustainable energy and other technologies.

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The Trickle-Up Economy

October 1st, 2008

We are currently living through the worst financial crisis since the great depression. This is a result not so much of a failure on Wall Street as a failure on Main Street in terms of the subprime mortgage mess. Mortgage brokers, many of them very local businesses, wrote no-doc loans for eager buyers and placed them with banks and finance companies, who in turn re-sold them to other lenders and institutional investors in “bundles,” which these lenders resold to private investors in the form of fractional securities.

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What To Do Now

December 10th, 2007

The world today is facing an unprecedented set of crises.

The most recent to burst upon public awareness is that of global warming, and it is indeed a matter of urgency and of critical importance. We have, according to the latest scientific estimates, only seven years in which to level off our greenhouse gas emissions – and then begin to reduce them sharply – if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. This alone requires a massive transformation of our infrastructure, our economy, our energy use, our way of life, our society.

But the climate crisis is not occurring in isolation, as if it were an asteroid hurtling toward the earth. It is a consequence of many other factors: resource extraction and fossil fuel use, industrialization and massive population growth, scientific and technological immaturity, and the willful perpetuation of ignorance and superstition. It is not separable from the many other crises that we see occurring on the planet, from the growing disparity between rich and poor, the violence and conflict that afflict many parts of the world, the fear and oppression visited upon our own people as well as upon our so-called adversaries. To solve the climate problem, we will need to address some other difficult issues as well, including the demands of other nations to reach our level of economic development and their willingness to imitate us in the unlimited pollution of our environment.

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Changing Our World, One Community at a Time

December 1st, 2007

It seems a strange thing to say, but we no longer live in “normal” times. By “normal” I do not of course mean “idyllic”; anyone who has any understanding of history knows that humans have been at war with each other, and with a large number of other species, pretty much since we emerged on the earth. But it is only around the middle of the last century that we discovered how to annihilate ourselves, and along with such annihilation destroy much of the rest of life on the planet. Remarkably, given our history, we have so far not chosen to do so; and most of us still regard it as a miracle that we did not blow ourselves up during the era of MAD (“mutual assured destruction”).

Of course, it could still happen. There are still enough nuclear weapons scattered around the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, not to mention China, India, Pakistan, Europe, Israel, North Korea, and perhaps a few other countries to destroy the planet a dozen times over, and it would only take a rather trivial accident (like a plane crash, or a major oil spill, perhaps) to trigger a completely unanticipated and uncontrollable launching of these aging weapons of mass destruction. But at least we understand the threat, and have learned to cope with it, and have put in place some hopefully effective fail-safe mechanisms to prevent it. It requires eternal vigilance, but not by all of us, and as long as no one makes a mistake or goes haywire we can get on with the business of life, having babies, quarreling with our neighbors, making a living.

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