Archive for March, 2009

Chelsea Green: The Publisher of the Transition Movement

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Are you living in a Transition Town? Does your community have a plan to begin the transition to a sustainable, localized future? Are you looking for resources to convince the undecideds in your area that you should? Chelsea Green has got you covered. Not only are we the publishers of the wildly popular The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins, but we’ve also just released The Transition Timeline by Shaun Chamberlin and Future Scenarios by David Holmgren—not to mention dozens of other titles that will help you and your community make the inevitable energy descent to sustainability a smooth one.Here is a list of our books that will help you and your community make your transition. Be prepared: begin building your transition library today!

We offer wholesale discounts to retailers, and non-profit/corporate/association discounts to groups ordering at least 20 books at a time. If you’d like to inquire about ordering books for your Transition Initiative, please contact your local representative.

Download this as a PDF here.

Featured Titles
The Transition Handbook
From oil dependency to local resilience

By Rob HopkinsThe book that launched a movement. Explains the context for Transition Town Initiatives, and how to start one in your community.$24.95 – Paperback
The Transition Timeline
For a Local Resilient Future

By Shaun ChamberlinFollows up on the Handbook with a more detailed vision of the path to energy descent.$22.95 – Paperback
Future Scenarios
How Communities Can Adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change
By David HolmgrenHolmgren’s newly released application of scenario planning to issues facing a world confronted with peak oil and a warming climate.$12.00 – Paperback
Additional Resources
Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability

By David HolmgrenHolmgren is one of the originators of the permaculture concept, and his seminal work explores how to use the principles of permaculture as a framework for energy descent.$30.00 – Paperback
Inquiries Into The Nature of Slow Money
By Woody TaschA philosophical defense of and exploration into the importance of investing in local food systems.$21.95 – Hardcover
Understanding and Creating Alternatives to Legal Tender
By Thomas GrecoA practical and inspirational manual for creating a vibrant and effective community currency system.$25.00 – Paperback
When Technology Fails
A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency

By Mat SteinAn encyclopedic reference for self-sufficiency, sustainable living, and surviving a crisis. Initiatives, and how to start one in your community.$35.00 – Paperback
The Winter Harvest Handbook
Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses

By Eliot ColemanFrom the bestselling author of The New Organic Grower and Four-Season Harvest, a revolutionary guide to year-round harvests of fresh, organic produce—with little or no energy inputs.$29.95 – Paperback
Four-Season Harvest
By Eliot ColemanTechniques for the home and market gardener for growing food year-round.$24.95 – Paperback
Gaia’s Garden
A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture
By Toby HemenwayNewly expanded introduction to permaculture for the home gardener.$29.95 – Paperback
Seed To Seed
Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Growers
By Susan AshworthThe best book available on edible plant seed saving.$24.95 – Paperback
Wild Fermentation
The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods

By Sandor KatzCookbook and how-to for making all varieties of fermented foods at home.$25.00 – Paperback
Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning
By Terre VivanteLow-energy techniques and methods of preserving food.

$25.00 – Paperback

The Carbon-Free Home
36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit

By Stephen and Rebekah HrenProjects for all budgets that can help reduce energy use at home.

$35.00 – Paperback

Wind Energy Basics
A Guide to Home and Community Scale Wind-Energy Systems
By Paul GipeA how-to for small-scale and community wind power projects, combined with policy advice for promoting energy independence.

$29.95 – Paperback

Fresh Food From Small Spaces
The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting

By R.J. RuppenthalMethods for home-based small-scale food production.

$24.95 – Paperback

Rainwater Harvesting
for Drylands and Beyond, Volumes 1 & 2

By Brad LancasterPrinciples and methods for capturing, directing, and utilizing rainwater.

Vol. 1: $24.00 – Paperback
Vol. 2:
$32.95 – Paperback

Food Not Lawns
How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden, and Your Neighborhood into a Community

By Heather FloresInspiration from an activist gardener on applying the principles of simplicity, resourcefulness, creativity, and community to the act of building a garden and to all aspects of life.

$25.00 – Paperback

The Uses of Wild Plants
Using and Growing the Wild Plants of the United States and Canada
By Frank TozerA detailed reference to the useful plants of North America: how they were used in the past, and can be used today.

$24.95 -Paperback

The New Solar Electric Home, 3rd Ed.
The Complete Guide to Photovoltaics for Your Home

By Joel Davidson and Fran OrnerA complete, concise, and reality-based education in solar electricity for your home.

$39.95 – Paperback

High Noon For Natural Gas
By Julian DarleyExplores the implications of the peak and decline of not only oil but also natural gas.

$18.00 – Paperback

The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook
Community Solutions to a Global Crisis
By Greg PahlShort case studies of successful community-scale renewable projects around the world.

$21.95 – Paperback

Natural Home Heating
The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Options

By Greg PahlExamines a wide range of alternatives to heating with gas and coal.

$30.00 – Paperback

How to Grow $500,000 on One Acre and Peace on Earth
By Anna EdeyA hopeful testimony to the potential of living sustainably, with practical approaches to growing food, greenhouse design and handling waste water.

$35.00 – Paperback

Low Carbon Diet
A 30-Day Program to Lose 5,000 Pounds
By David GershonWorkbook designed for groups of people wanting to support each other in reducing their carbon footprint.

$12.95 – Paperback

Coming Soon!
The End of Money and The Future of Civilization
Available April 30, 2009
By Thomas GrecoReviews the history of banking and currency and proposes a plan to democratize the economy and restore the “credit commons.”

$19.95 – Paperback

Riki Ott: Exxon Represents a Fundamental Threat to Democracy

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, writes about Riki Ott‘s (Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill) efforts to introduce legislation towards passage of a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would strip corporations of personhood in this article for Truthdig.

The power of ExxonMobil to battle tens of thousands of citizens has pushed Ott to join a growing number of activists who want to put corporations back in their place by stripping them of their legal status as “persons.” A 19th century U.S. Supreme Court decision gave corporations the same status as people, with access to the protections of the Bill of Rights. Ironically, this comes from the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection clause,” adopted to protect freed slaves from oppressive state laws after the Civil War. Corporations were historically chartered by states to conduct their business. States could revoke a corporation’s charter if it broke the law or acted beyond its charter.

Corporations’ “free speech” is interpreted to include making campaign contributions and lobbying Congress. People who break laws can be locked up; when a corporation breaks the law—even behaving criminally negligently, causing death—rarely are the consequences greater than a fine, which the corporation can write off on its taxes. As Ott put it, “If ‘three strikes and you’re out’ laws can put a person in prison for life, why not a corporation?” So-called tort reform in U.S. law is eroding an individual’s ability to sue corporations and the ability for courts to assess damages that would actually deter corporate wrongdoing.

Ott and others have drafted a “28th Amendment” to the Constitution that would strip corporations of their personhood, subjecting them to the same oversight that existed for the first 100 years of U.S. history.

With the global economic meltdown and welling public outrage over the excesses of executives at AIG as well as over other bailout beneficiaries, now just might be the time to expand public engagement over the imbalance of power between people and corporations that has undermined our democracy.

Read the whole article here.


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Gail Straub: Taking Back the Wisdom of the Feminine

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Rather than trying to live her mother’s unlived life, says Gail Straub, a woman must try to strike a balance between freedom and responsibility.

Author Gail Straub (Returning to My Mother’s House: Taking Back the Wisdom of the Feminine) considers the role of the modern woman—her feminine wisdom, power, and spirituality—in this interview with Justine Willis Toms of New Dimensions Media.

The interview will be free to listen to until April 8.

Listen Now

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LISTEN: Riki Ott Talks to Air America’s Lionel about Exxon Valdez’s Legacy

Friday, March 27th, 2009

This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the tragic Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, when the single-hulled supertanker ran aground, dumping somewhere between 11 million (Exxon’s estimate) and 38 million (independent estimate) gallons of crude into the water. It ruined lives, careers, communities, caused untold environmental devastation, and shined a glaring spotlight on the inequities of a justice system that can so easily be subverted to corporate interests.

Riki Ott, author of Not One Drop: Courage and Betrayal in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, appeared on Air America’s Lionel Show Wednesday to talk about the continuing impact of one of the biggest man-made environmental disasters in history.

Riki Ott the joins me. The Rachel Carson of our time. A commercial salmon “fisherma’am,” Dr. Riki Ott (PhD in marine biology) experienced firsthand the devastating effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill—and chose to do something about it. Ott retired from fishing and founded three nonprofit organizations to deal with lingering harm. Her previous book on the spill is Sound Truth and Corporate Myth$. She lives in Cordova, Alaska. Her book is a must read: Not One Drop:Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Twenty years ago it happened. And will happen again.

Listen now:


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WATCH: Slow Food Heirloom Recipes from Italy with Heekin & Barber

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Caleb Barber and Deirdre Heekin are the authors of In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love and Libation, a Bitter Alchemy. In this video, they discuss their books, the operation of their restaurant, Osteria Pane E Salute, using only local foods, and their mission to preserve heirloom Italian recipes that are being lost to modernity.

This version of the video is four minutes long. We’ll have the full 30 minute version online soon. Enjoy! …And doesn’t that carbonara Caleb’s making look ridiculously good?!

Call to Makers for the HOMEGROWN Village at Maker Faire Bay Area

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

The 4th Annual Maker Faire is May 30 and 31 at the San Mateo County Expo Center in California’s Bay Area. What you may think of as on open-air Junkyard Wars is actually a lot more inclusive than fireball-spewing catapult robots (though I assume they’ll have those, too). The world’s largest DIY Festival is a “two-day, family-friendly event to MAKE, create, learn, invent, CRAFT, recycle, think, play and be inspired by celebrating arts, crafts, engineering, food, music, science and technology.”

Following on President Obama’s call to “begin again the work of remaking America”, Maker Faire 2009 will be organized around the theme of Re-Make America. Held in the San Francisco Bay Area on May 30-31, Maker Faire celebrates what President Obama called “the risk takers, the doers, and the makers of things.” The fourth annual Maker Faire will showcase individual creativity and grassroots innovation in the largest festival devoted to DIY culture and technology in the country.

Here’s the fun part, where you come in. Our friends at are looking for makers of their own for the Homegrown village: the farmers, the growers, the brewers, the sprouters—the makers of food and the builders of community.

That’s right, we’re curating a HOMEGROWN Village at Maker Faire that celebrates what YOU do: growing, preserving, building, sprouting, brewing, urban farming – anything DIY and homestead-y. This is THE most inspiring gathering of creative and passionate Do-It-Yourself-ers and promises to be a really fun time.

Here’s a little info on Homegrown:

This web site celebrates all of us who pioneer a HOMEGROWN way to live, eat, grow, and express ourselves. We connect to the land and to each other. is a place where we can learn from each other, share our questions, and show off how we dig in the dirt, grow our own food, work with our hands, and cook and share our meals – all things that we call HOMEGROWN.

Did you cook a kick ass meal with stuff from the farmers market?
Is there a mysterious veggie in your CSA box?
What is the soundtrack for your potluck dinner?
Are you thinking about growing okra?
What’s in your fridge right now?
Do you have a DIY tip to share?
Farm Aid founded with the mission to create a place where our love for food and the land evolves, deepens, and becomes something more fulfilling. A place where we can hear and appreciate the bigger stories that our food has to share – and connect to the source of our food: the land and the grower: The family farm. Where we see the connections between good soil, good farmers, good taste, and good times. Where the source of our food doesn’t feel like a stranger, but a fun and friendly neighbor.

That’s the spirit of A spirit that will mean more visits to the farmers markets, more backyard BBQs, more dirt under nails…more talking, touching, smelling, tasting. It will mean a more fulfilling life that people everywhere will come to call HOMEGROWN

Think you can make it? Find out more here.

NY Set to Repeal Strict 70s-era Drug Laws

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

The state of New York—which is to say, Gov. David Paterson and the new Democratic legislative majority—is set to roll back a set of overly punitive laws known as the Rockefeller drug laws, which have been on the books since 1973 when the city was experiencing a spike in heroin abuse and property crimes. The laws imposed mandatory minimum sentences on judges, and left the decision of whether a particular violation merited jail time or treatment in the hands of prosecutors.

Repealing the laws, which were seen as disproportionately targeting minorities, should—in the long run—help the city’s budget shortfall.

Whether this is an indicator of a growing tolerance of drug use and a popular movement advancing the decriminalization, or outright legalization, of marijuana remains to be seen. But a quick look at this morning showed that 4 out of the 5 top “financial stabilities” relate to legalizing marijuana (and the California initiative, specifically).

A growing trend? Let’s call it “gateway legislation.”

ALBANY — Gov. David A. Paterson and New York legislative leaders have reached an agreement to dismantle much of what remains of the state’s strict 1970s-era drug laws, once among the toughest in the nation.

The deal would repeal many of the mandatory minimum prison sentences now in place for lower-level drug felons, giving judges the authority to send first-time nonviolent offenders to treatment instead of prison.

The plan would also expand drug treatment programs and widen the reach of drug courts at a cost of at least $50 million.

New York’s drug sentencing laws, imposed during a heroin epidemic that was devastating urban areas nearly four decades ago, helped spur a nationwide trend toward mandatory sentences in drug crimes. But as many other states moved to roll back the mandatory minimum sentences in recent years, New York kept its laws on the books, leaving prosecutors with the sole discretion of whether offenders could be sent to treatment.

“We’re putting judges in the position to determine sentences based on the facts of a case, and not on mandatory minimum sentences,” said Jeffrion L. Aubry, an assemblyman from Queens who has led the effort for repeal.

The deal comes as the state is facing a $16 billion budget deficit for the coming fiscal year. And finding the money needed to pay for drug addiction programs, which could reach near $80 million, will prove difficult, those involved in the negotiations said.

But in the long run, the changes are expected to save money because sending offenders to treatment is less expensive than spending $45,000 a year to keep them confined.

New York already has one of the most extensive drug-treatment networks in the country. Drug policy experts said that with the proposed changes in the law, the state could have the sentencing policy it needs to fully utilize those treatment programs.

“New York could actually become a national leader,” said Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance, a national group that urges relaxation of certain drug sentencing laws. “We’re going in a public health direction here. We’re making that turn, and that’s what’s significant.”

Read the whole article here.


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Building Your Own Home: The Benefits of Rammed Earth

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

My girlfriend and I often toss around the idea of buying or building our own home. We often find ourselves talking in circles about the advantages and disadvantages of each. For example, we’d like to buy an old home and fix it up because we like the idea of recycling a house, but why put all that money into something that was built without any thought toward efficiency and sustainability? We want to BEGIN with efficiency, not just tack it on. So we argue that building our own home would be cheaper and more sustainable, but then we shudder at the thought of developing previously undeveloped land. So what do we do?

We don’t want to build (or live in) an inexpensive inefficient hunk of 2x4s. What happened to building homes that would last for centuries and house generations of your family? Solid brick construction, a natural slate roof, full basements? It seems all the new developments with the ego-facades are built with the idea that a family will move in or out every 10-20 years. They’re certainly not homesteads. They’re so inefficient. They’re so toxic. They’re so … Jersey. In the grand scheme of things, they’re dressed up temporary emergency shelters. As John Abrams points out in this video, all the cathedral builders are gone. We don’t look past our own noses to future generations.

Luckily, I work at Chelsea Green and have access to a wealth of insanely great sustainable building and sustainable retro-fitting books that I can spin my head around these questions all day long. My current fancy is building a rammed earth home: sustainable, natural, durable, and cheap!

Read about how great they can be!

The following is an excerpt from The Rammed Earth House by David Easton:

There’s a certain magic one feels inside a house with thick earthen walls. It’s hard to describe, but easy to notice. Just take a step inside one on a hot summer day and you’ll feel it immediately. It’s cool, of course—everyone knows adobe houses are warm in the winter and cool in the summer—but there’s something else to the feeling that’s a little harder to name. It’s quiet; the house feels solid and sturdy, calming, comfortable, timeless. Inside, you are reacting to the coolness emanating from the walls themselves and the buffering of ambient sounds, but inherently the “je ne sais quoi” of an earthen French country farmhouse or a California mission is actually a part of our evolutionary memory: We are hardwired to be at home in earth.

The idea of what makes a house has changed as much over the millennia as what a house is made of. Long ago, shelter was, well, shelter. Then, gradually it evolved. As human tolerance for discomfort decreased, the desire for features like warmth, spaciousness, and eventually, style, increased. At first houses were made of whatever was available, usually raw earth and raw wood. Over time, a range of manufacturing processes were developed for modifying earth and wood into other shapes and forms. Fired bricks and clay roof tiles are made of earth. Cement, concrete, stucco, and sheetrock also have their roots in earth, since each is the result of mining and processing minerals. The timber industry has progressed from hand-hewn logs to sawn boards to framing lumber and now even to wood chips glued back into the shape of boards.

Most Americans have grown up with the idea that a house is a lightweight box with walls assembled from thin sticks covered on both sides
with even thinner skins. (Some societies think of this as a tent.) The floors and roofs are also built of sticks with equally thin skin coverings. As energy costs increased, builders started using an expanded petrochemical substance— fiberglass insulation—to fill the empty spaces inside the walls, floors, and roofs. Then as energy costs continued to increase, the industry invented another petrochemical product—Tyvek, a sort of plastic bag—to wrap around the entire house. The fiberglass insulation and wrapping are intended to reduce heat loss through the building elements. The image this conjures up for me is of wearing a fiberglass sweater encased in clear plastic wrap. This is a far cry from the magic of thick earth walls.

Not that long ago, houses were built to last for generations. People actually lived in a house long enough to think of it as home. People died in the same house in which they were born. It made sense to invest in longevity if one’s children, grandchildren, and even their grandchildren would be living there. Times have changed of course, and in our fast-paced world few of us expect to die in the same city we were born in, let alone the same house. This doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t still appreciate the special qualities of a house built solidly enough to last for several hundred years.

Think of the savings in natural resources that would result if today’s houses were built to last longer. We could reduce the need to demolish houses and bury them in landfills, and we wouldn’t need to harvest and process virgin resources to rebuild them. A structure constructed of solid materials, whether earth, brick, concrete, or stone, requires a larger investment on the front end, but as the generations roll by and stick houses roll into the landfill the environmental benefits are expressed in healthy dividends. Over time a building settles into its site, creating a sense of attachment and belonging. Trees and shrubs grow to maturity around the building. Successive occupants make their individual contributions to the personality of the house.

This book is about building a house for longevity. It’s about a shift in attitude that takes into consideration the effects our choices have on future generations. Decisions about what materials to use, whom to buy them from, and how far to transport them have an impact on the longterm health of the planet. Even though you may one day move out of the house you have built and away from the garden you nurtured, the attitude of building for the future can benefit everyone.

The techniques described in this book are compiled from thirty years of experimenting with ways to build houses that grow out of their landscape. I’ve been on a personal mission to reconnect people with natural materials and resources available on site. The material I am drawn to is raw earth. Most of this book deals with techniques for how to build using earth, primarily rammed earth.

In the mid-1970s, I was making plans to build my own house. Since I had far more time and energy than I had money, using a free resource, earth, for building the walls seemed logical. I had come across articles about the use of soil and cement by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers during my studies in the civil engineering department at Stanford in the late 1960s and I had even conducted some small testing of soil cement. In terms of load-bearing walls, however, I had no knowledge of any earth-wall system other than the sun-dried adobe bricks used to build the California missions. When I was young, my family traveled to all the missions, teaching us about California history. I remember how those big, shady, cool buildings felt inside. Perhaps it was those early impressions that inspired my life’s work.

I discovered rammed earth while looking for more information on adobe. What I found were dozens of old articles about this other method for building earth walls. As it turned out, the rammed earth technique had enjoyed widespread popularity during the first half of the twentieth century. I obtained copies of the current information—Ken Kern’s The Owner-Built Home and Australian George Middleton’s Build Your House of Earth—and many other old publications dating as far back as 1780. What I read, that moist soil compacted directly into movable forms yielded immediately load-supporting walls, seemed too good to be true. As an industrial engineer, I was always working toward increasing efficiencies, and with no sticky mud, no waiting for the bricks to dry, no mortar to mix, and no bricks to lay, rammed earth seemed like a big improvement over adobe. I calculated rammed earth would use one-fifth of the water, one-quarter of the mixing time, and less than 2 percent of the drying time. Then I asked myself the question, if this technique is so much more efficient than adobe, why isn’t it in wider use?

Thirty years and a million cubic yards of moist soil later, I’m still asking myself the same question. The answer may not be hard to find. For one thing, rammed earth is a lot of work. As labor costs rise, labor-saving systems dominate the building industry. The trend is for lighter-weight elements that are quick to assemble and as close to finished in the factory as possible. The goal is to reduce the on-site labor costs and decrease the total number of days spent from groundbreaking to owner occupancy.

The problem with this method of building is that with the primary emphasis placed on speed of construction, decisions of what materials to use and where to buy them tend to be driven by the bottom line rather than by the more important criteria of sustainability and environmental responsibility.

Ever since the 1970s, there has been a segment of the architectural community and the home-buying public that has remained committed to environmentally responsible solutions, but it was small in size and limited in voice. The manufacturers of building materials had no financial motivation to improve their products, either to reduce the chemicals that went into them or the energy expended in processing them. As this book is going to press, however, a strong resurgence of interest in green building methods and materials is underway. Judging by the articles in architectural magazines and trade journals, it is apparent that energy conservation, chemicalfree materials, natural light and ventilation, and CO2 reduction are now on the A-list of design guidelines. Judging by the advertising in these same publications, it is patently obvious that the industry senses a tremor in the force. Is it the realization that global warming is not a myth, or is it that one day we really will run out of oil? Are there sufficient profits to be made in the green building movement to initiate a change of course for the “supertanker” that is the construction industry?

Unfortunately there is limited opportunity to capitalize on earth construction. Raw earth is, after all, practically free. The process of converting it into finished walls presents a few opportunities for mechanization and hence profits, but not many compared to manufactured houses. It is yet to be determined what role thermal mass can play in mass-produced housing. If economics favor longevity over speed, the tortoise over the hare, then perhaps earth, be it ever so humble, will at last have its day.

Converting raw earth into human habitat possesses a beautiful simplicity; it’s an alchemy that I have always enjoyed. To other builders, it’s just plain hard work. But if you succumb to the magic of rammed earth, you won’t regret the effort.

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We Cannot Go Back: This Recession Must Lead To A Sustainable Economy

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Robert Costanza, a professor at the University of Vermont, released the following paper—which was picked up on The Oil Drum—on our best path to a sustainable economy. He argues that this current financial recession is the result of an economic system that depends on perpetual growth boiling over. Perpetual growth is impossible. What’s needed now is a new economic system that takes into account human well-being, instead of just marketed goods and services.

Here’s an excerpt:

Real economic efficiency implies including all resources that affect sustainable human well-being in the allocation system, not just marketed goods and services. Our current market allocation system excludes most non-marketed natural and social capital assets and services that are critical contributors to human well-being. The current economic model ignores this and therefore does not achieve real economic efficiency. A new, sustainable ecological economic model would measure and include the contributions of natural and social capital and could better approximate real economic efficiency.

The new model would also acknowledge that a complex range of property rights regimes are necessary to adequately manage the full range of resources that contribute to human well-being. For example, most natural and social capital assets are public goods. Making them private property does not work well. On the other hand, leaving them as open access resources (with no property rights) does not work well either. What is needed is a third way to propertize these resources without privatizing them. Several new (and old) common property rights systems have been proposed to achieve this goal, including various forms of common property trusts.


The long term solution to the financial crisis is therefore to move beyond the “growth at all costs” economic model to a model that recognizes the real costs and benefits of growth. We can break our addiction to fossil fuels, over-consumption, and the current economic model and create a more sustainable and desirable future that focuses on quality of life rather than merely quantity of consumption. It will not be easy; it will require a new vision, new measures, and new institutions. It will require a redesign of our entire society. But it is not a sacrifice of quality of life to break this addiction. Quite the contrary, it is a sacrifice not to.

Read the whole article on The Oil Drum.

Collapse or Carbon-Free? The Case For Making a Decision…and Quick!

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

The following is an excerpt from The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit by Stephen and Rebekah Hren. It has been adapted for the web.

Fossil fuels waited like buried treasure for millions of years until humanity had the technological capacity to exploit them. They allowed for the creation and use of countless gadgets and laborsaving devices and the proliferation of the automobile. First we marveled at these objects, then we bought them and used them with wonder, then we took them for granted, and then we became dependent on them for everything. For our food and mobility, our health and entertainment, even our very own identities. We became what we bought and what we had, a commodity among heaps and piles of other commodities.

It’s fall in the year 2007 as we write this, and the sun is setting on these stranded pools and piles of long-ago sunlight. Like rich, spoiled children who have gorged themselves on an excessive inheritance, we have no idea what to do now that we are faced with the fact of our wealth’s inherent destructive properties and vanishing existence. To live on our annual income of energy seems impossible without binges of Jet Skis, airplanes, SUVs, candy bars, video games, and all the rest. How will we ever survive without them?

The junkie in the gutter has asked himself that same question many, many times. But the realities of our situation are unavoidable. The ice caps are melting at a rate faster than anyone expected, imperiling thousands of species as well as towns and villages around the globe. Oil production has stagnated for several years even as prices reach record highs, and a nearterm peak seems all but certain. What’s more, as oil and other fossil fuels run out, we’re turning to dirtier forms to make up the shortfall. Tar sands are difficult to exploit, and huge amounts of energy (and water) must be expended to extract them. We burn coal of lower quality every year. Facts like these mean that even if we behave exactly as we did the year before, we will contribute more CO2 into the atmosphere every year.

“What can I do?” you ask. The problem seems so overwhelming that action is pointless. But we can’t forget that the problem is the cumulative result of our individual actions. If Americans would only just put their electronics on power strips and turn these off when not in use, eliminating phantom loads, we could save enough electricity to power the continent of Australia. A little bit of extra effort and we’ve got one continent taken care of.

As to what a life is like without fossil fuels, we can tell you. We won’t claim that no fossil fuels are ever burned for our benefit (a goodly amount were burned to make the book you’re holding in your hands, for instance), but we do go about our daily lives without using them. We have hot water and electricity, and we cook, and use our computer, our washing machine, and our stereo. When we walk outside we’re greeted with hundreds of different species of plants and flowers that are visited by bumblebees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. We live a short walk or bike ride from our friends and our favorite hangouts. We save over $10,000 every year because we have few bills and, more importantly, only one car. This means we can work less and drive less and spend more time sipping homebrew with neighbors or reading books on our green roof. Much of our food is grown either in our yard or by friends who live nearby in the countryside.

When we do want to work, we have more than enough of it, because interest in renewable energy is exploding. There’s a lot of solar-water panels and solar air heaters that need installing out there, and a little job security never hurt anyone. All in all, it’s hardly the apocalypse lots of folks talk about when they imagine the oil running out.

When our children have become grandparents, more than likely they will not be using fossil fuels and their derivatives in very many aspects of their lives. Not only are fossil fuels finite in quantity and being depleted at an accelerating rate, but the harm their use entails to this planet that sustains us all is now undeniable even by half-wits and madmen.

We are now presented with a choice, a choice that is likely unprecedented by any species in the history of earth, because of its scale but also because of our cognitive ability to understand the problem and change our behavior. We can attempt to continue on with our lives as they are now for as long as possible, doing whatever it takes to feed our habits of growing consumption of the earth’s limited resources until we are forcibly made to stop by disruption and exhaustion of the supplies this requires. Or we can choose to live within our annual budget of energy and materials, as every other species on the planet does. We won’t be living in hollowed-out logs like many of the animals of the forest, however, as our own story can testify to. Our intelligence and dexterity will allow us to use our more limited budget as effectively as possible, with lives as comfortable as the ones we live now.

Two generations may seem like a long time, an era that will never come. We are now in the darkest hour, when our dependence on fossil fuels is almost absolute. Ignoring the goal of a carbon-free civilization and carrying on as before seems like the easier choice. In the short term, no doubt, this is true. But two generations is about the same amount of time it takes for an acorn to sprout and grow into an oak tree in a clearing in the woods. When the seedling first pokes its head through the leaves, imagine if its first response on learning that it had to grow 100 feet tall to reach the canopy was, “Aw, screw it, that’s too far. I give up!” Just because we have only begun to grow our renewable energy economy and convert our lives to carbon freedom is not any reason to feel despair. It’s not anything we can do in a year, probably not even in a decade. But in a year we’ll be a little bit farther along, and in a decade we’ll be able to imagine what it will feel like to reach the top.

The time for debate has ended. We must decide one way or the other, by inaction and acceptance of the status quo, or by grabbing our toolbox and getting busy. The need for making our homes and our lives carbon free is well understood and of the utmost importance. Indeed, even the means of making our homes and lives carbon free have already been discovered. Both the problem and the solution have been identified. Now it is only a matter of learning and implementing and, once you have done this, to teach others.

We won’t lie to you. Getting to a carbon-free existence will require a hell of a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Once there, it’ll require a little more attention and involvement than our previous ignorant and fossilized existence. Like every long journey, it’s one you have to take a step at a time. One thing is for sure: if you don’t do anything, you won’t get anywhere! Good luck!

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