Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The bailout of the 99% by the 99%

Why should the 1% get all the bailouts? Now, an Occupy Wall Street offshoot has launched an exciting project called Rolling Jubilee that lets you turn a little cash into a helping hand for folks who deserve it a lot more than Bank of America does.

Here's the deal. Jubilee is an ancient biblical tradition in which, periodically, debts were forgiven, slaves were freed and slates were wiped clean. It was a time for starting afresh, of renewal. Now, Rolling Jubilee takes that concept to a new level. According to their website, it works like this:

Banks sell debt for pennies on the dollar on a shadowy speculative market of debt buyers who then turn around and try to collect the full amount from debtors. The Rolling Jubilee intervenes by buying debt, keeping it out of the hands of collectors, and then abolishing it. We’re going into this market not to make a profit but to help each other out and highlight how the predatory debt system affects our families and communities. Think of it as a bailout of the 99% by the 99%.

Millions of working people are still haunted by the debt they ran up while trying to stay afloat during the Great Recession. And while the government doled out hundreds of billions of dollars to big corporations and too-big-to-fail banks, normal folks have been pretty much left to fend for themselves.

By wiping out this debt, Rolling Jubilee spares thousands of hard-pressed people the agonies of getting pursued by aggressive collection agencies, many of whom use abusive, illegal practices to try and extract money from people who might be struggling to get back on their feet after losing a job, falling ill or other personal disasters.

So far, Rolling Jubilee says it's collected nearly $300,000 in donations, enough to extinguish more than $5m in debt. The group hopes to grow a broad debt resistance movement – and help build a non-exploitative economy that works for everybody.

Learn more: This trailer for the documentary film Maxed Out features professor (now, newly elected US senator) Elizabeth Warren explaining the predatory practices of banks and credit card companies. Then, if that doesn't make you angry enough, check out this ABC News expose of outrageous practices in the collections industry. More


Monday, November 19, 2012

Taking Stock: World Fish Catch Falls to 90 Million Tons in 2012

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projects that the world’s wild fish harvest will fall to 90 million tons in 2012, down 2 percent from 2011. This is close to 4 percent below the all-time peak haul of nearly 94 million tons in 1996.

The wild fish catch per person has dropped even more dramatically, from 17 kilograms (37.5 pounds) per person at its height in 1988 to 13 kilograms in 2012—a 37-year low. While wild fish harvests have flattened out during this time, the output from fish farming has soared from 24 million tons in the mid-1990s to a projected 67 million tons in 2012.

Over the last several decades, as demand for fish and shellfish for food, feed, and other products rose dramatically, fishing operations have used increasingly sophisticated technologies—such as on-vessel refrigeration and processing facilities, spotter planes, and GPS satellites. Industrial fishing fleets initially targeted the northern hemisphere’s coastal fish stocks, then as stocks were depleted they expanded progressively southward on average close to one degree of latitude annually since 1950. The fastest expansion was during the 1980s and early 1990s. Thereafter, the only frontiers remaining were the high seas, the hard-to-reach waters near Antarctica and in the Arctic, and the depths of the oceans.

The escalating pursuit of fish—now with gross revenue exceeding $80 billion per year—has had heavy ecological consequences, including the alteration of marine food webs via a massive reduction in the populations of larger, longer-lived predatory fish such as tunas, cods, and marlins. Unselective fishing gear, including longlines and bottom-scraping trawls, kill large numbers of non-target animals like sea turtles, sharks, and corals.

As of 2009, some 57 percent of the oceanic fish stocks evaluated by FAO are “fully exploited,” with harvest levels at or near what fisheries scientists call maximum sustainable yield (MSY). If we think of a fish stock as a savings account, fishing at MSY is theoretically similar to withdrawing only the accrued interest, avoiding dipping into the principal.

Some 30 percent of stocks are “overexploited”—they have been fished beyond MSY and require strong management intervention in order to rebuild. The share of stocks in this category has tripled since the mid-1970s. A well-known example of this is the Newfoundland cod fishery that collapsed in the early 1990s and has yet to recover.

This leaves just 13 percent of oceanic fish stocks in the “non-fully exploited” category, down from 40 percent in 1974. Unfortunately, these remaining stocks tend to have very limited potential for safely increasing the catch.

These FAO figures describe 395 fisheries that account for some 70 percent of the global catch. Included are the small minority that have undergone the time-consuming and expensive process of formal scientific stock assessment, with the remainder being "unassessed" fisheries. There are thousands more unassessed fisheries, however, that are absent from the FAO analysis. In a 2012 Science article, Christopher Costello and colleagues published the first attempt to characterize all of the world’s unassessed fisheries. The authors report that 64 percent of them were overexploited as of 2009.

The top 10 fished species represent roughly one quarter of the world catch. Nearly all of the stocks of these species are considered fully exploited (most of these fish have more than one geographically distinct stock), including both of the major stocks of Peruvian anchovy, the world's leading wild-caught fish. Stocks that are overexploited and in need of rebuilding include largehead hairtail—a ribbon-like predator caught mainly by Chinese ships—in its main fishing grounds in the Northwest Pacific. (See data.)

Despite the unsustainable nature of current harvest levels, countries continue to subsidize fishing fleets in ways that encourage even higher catches. Governments around the world spend an estimated $16 billion annually on increasing fleet size and fish-catching ability, including $4 billion for fuel subsidies. Industrial countries spend some $10 billion of that total. More than $2 billion is spent by China, whose 15-million-ton catch is nearly triple that of the next closest country, Indonesia. More


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Wire Frame Rocket Stove

The 'Thab' style rocket stove is a template that utilizes unwanted wire hangers [or any stiff wire] from North America to assist in improving the portable dung stove used by Tibetan nomads.

A rocket stove is an efficient cooking stove using small diameter wood fuel which is burned in a simple high-temperature combustion chamber containing an insulated vertical chimneywhich ensures complete combustion prior to the flames reaching the cooking surface. The principles were described by Dr. Larry Winiarski from Aprovecho in 1982 and stoves based on this design won Ashden Awards in both 2005 and 2006. Interest in rocket stoves has led to the development of rocket mass heaters and other innovations.

A rocket stove is an efficient cooking stove using small diameter wood fuel which is burned in a simple high-temperature combustion chamber containing an insulated vertical chimneywhich ensures complete combustion prior to the flames reaching the cooking surface. The principles were described by Dr. Larry Winiarski from Aprovecho in 1982 and stoves based on this design won Ashden Awards in both 2005 and 2006. Interest in rocket stoves has led to the development of rocket mass heaters and other innovations.

The rocket stove operates roughly twice as efficiently, and substantially more cleanly, than the open fire cooking methods still used in many areas of the world. Furthermore, the design of the stove requires small diameter lengths of wood, which can generally be satisfied with small branches. As such, sufficient fuel for cooking tasks can be gathered in less time, without the benefit of tools, and ideally without the destruction of forested areas.

Because these qualities improve local air quality, and discourage deforestation, the rocket stove has attracted the attention of a number of Appropriate Technologyconcerns, which have deployed it in numerous third-world locales (notably, the Rwandan refugee camps). This attention has resulted in a number of adaptations intended to improve convenience and safety, and thus the size of the target audience. The Justa Stove, for example, is a cousin of the rocket stove adapted for indoor use and family cooking needs. More


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

UN Reports That Up To 90% Of Deforestation Is Due To Organized Crime



Environmental crime and the illegal grabbing of natural resources is becoming an evermore sophisticated activity requiring national authorities and law enforcement agencies to develop responses commensurate with the scale and the complexity of the challengeto keep one step ahead.

This report – Green Carbon, Black Trade – by UNEP and INTER-POL focuses on illegal logging and its impacts on the lives andlivelihoods of often some of the poorest people in the world setaside the environmental damage. It underlines how criminalsare combining old fashioned methods such as bribes with hightech methods such as computer hacking of government websites to obtain transportation and other permits. The reportspotlights the increasingly sophisticated tactics being deployedto launder illegal logs through a web of palm oil plantations,road networks and saw mills.

Indeed it clearly spells out that illegal logging is not on the decline, rather it is becoming more advanced as cartels becomebetter organized including shifting their illegal activities inorder to avoid national or local police efforts. By some estimates,15 per cent to 30 per cent of the volume of wood traded globallyhas been obtained illegally. Unless addressed, the criminal ac-tions of the few may endanger not only the development pros-pects for the many but also some of the creative and catalyticinitiatives being introduced to recompense countries and com-munities for the ecosystem services generated by forests.

One of the principal vehicles for catalyzing positive environ-mental change and sustainable development is the ReducedEmissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation initia-tive (REDD or REDD+). If REDD+ is to be sustainable over thelong term, it requests and requires all partners to fine tune theoperations, and to ensure that they meet the highest standardsof rigour and that efforts to reduce deforestation in one locationare not offset by an increase elsewhere.

If REDD+ is to succeed, payments to communities for theirconservation efforts need to be higher than the returns from ac-tivities that lead to environmental degradation. Illegal loggingthreatens this payment system if the unlawful monies chang-ing hands are bigger than from REDD+ payments.

The World’s forests represent one of the most important pil-lars in countering climate change and delivering sustainabledevelopment. Deforestation, largely of tropical rainforests, isresponsible for an estimated 17 per cent of all man-made emis-sions, and 50 per cent more than that from ships, aviation andland transport combined. Today only one-tenth of primary for-est cover remains on the globe.

Forests also generate water supplies, biodiversity, pharma-ceuticals, recycled nutrients for agriculture and flood pre-vention, and are central to the transition towards a GreenEconomy in the context of sustainable development and pov-erty eradication.

Strengthened international collaboration on environmentallaws and their enforcement is therefore not an option. It is in-deed the only response to combat an organized internationalthreat to natural resources, environmental sustainability andefforts to lift millions of people out of penury. Download Report

Achim Steiner UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director

Ronald K. Noble INTERPOL Secretary General




Full Planet, Empty Plates: Quick Facts

With falling water tables, eroding soils, and rising temperatures making it difficult to feed growing populations, control of arable land and water resources is moving to center stage in the global struggle for food security. What will the geopolitics of food look like in a new era dominated by scarcity and food nationalism? Here are a few of the many facts from the book to consider:


  • There will be 219,000 people at the dinner table tonight who were not there last night—many of them with empty plates.
  • As a result of chronic hunger, 48 percent of all children in India are undersized, underweight, and likely to have IQs that are on average 10-15 points lower than those of well-nourished children.
  • Food prices are rising dramatically. The U.N. Food Price Index in June 2012 was twice the base level of 2002-04.
  • More than half the world’s people live in countries where water tables are falling as aquifers are being depleted.
  • A startling 80 percent of oceanic fisheries are being fished at or beyond their sustainable yield.
  • Between 2005 and 2011, the amount of grain used to produce fuel for cars in the United States climbed from 41 million to 127 million tons—nearly a third of the U.S. grain harvest.
  • In 2011, China consumed 70 million tons of soybeans, 56 million of which had to be imported. Almost all went into livestock feed.
  • Today, with incomes rising fast in emerging economies, there are at least 3 billion people moving up the food chain, consuming more grain-intensive livestock and poultry products.
  • Data for India indicate that 175 million people are being fed with grain produced by overpumping. For China, there are 130 million in the same boat.
  • In Ethiopia, a prime target for foreign land acquisitions yet also a major food aid recipient, an acre of land can be leased for less than $1 per year.
  • The 464 land acquisitions identified by the World Bank in 2010 totaled some 140 million acres—more than is planted in corn and wheat combined in the United States.
  • It’s not all bad news: 44 countries have reached population stability as a result of gradual fertility decline over the last several generations.
“In this era of tightening world food supplies, the ability to grow food is fast becoming a new form of geopolitical leverage. Food is the new oil. Land is the new gold.” – Lester R. Brown



Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity is available for purchase online. Get a sneak peek by checking out Chapter 1: Food the Weak Link or watch the five minute video below and hear from Lester Brown himself about the main issues raised in the book.




Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hope for Self-Sufficiency! Could Permaculture Influence Future Sustainable Development Policy?

Wales leads planning revolution as new Practice Guidance document is released to simplify the process of gaining planning permission on 'open countryside'.

A new advisory document has been released which will aid people in making planning applications for sustainable development on open countryside in Wales, but which could potentially also lead to change in the uk and abroad.

These developments, referred to as One Planet Developments must:

  • commit to provide for the income, food and energy needs of all the inhabitants, and manage their own waste
  • have either a positive or neutral effect on the environment, demonstrated through a footprint calculation each year, known as the Ecological Footprint Analysis (EFA)
Lammas in Pembrokeshire was one of the first One Planet Developments, where construction began in 2009. It is hoped that such examples, along with the new guidance, will help demystify the difficult process of gaining planning permission on undeveloped land in the countryside.

What the New Guidance Covers

It is usually almost impossible to gain planning permission for undeveloped land. Building your own One Planet Development offers a viable and satisfying way to live on open countryside, in harmony with the environment. This doesn't mean that you won't still be very closely monitored by planning officials, and there are some very important criteria that you must meet. The new advisory document explains in plain terms how to get started, laying out:

  • the practical requirements to complete a successful planning application for a One Planet Development
  • how to prepare a Management Plan (explained in more detail below)
  • the requirements of the Ecological Footprint Analysis (EFA) which is used to monitor the success of the development

A Place for Permaculture Design

Importantly, the advisory document specifically names permaculture as a sound option for achieving the objectives of One Planet Development – "as permaculture is intrinsically site-based and focused on low environmental impacts, it is so often linked to One Planet Development... Permaculture has a long association with development likely to meet the necessary requirements due to its intrinsically holistic nature." More



A Grim Warming From Science

One of the things that makes Sandy different from Katrina is that it’s a relatively clean story. The lessons of Katrina were numerous and painful—they had to do with race, with class, with the willful incompetence of a government that had put a professional Arabian horse fancier in charge of its rescue efforts.

Sandy, by contrast, has been pretty straightforward. It’s hit rich, poor, and middle class Americans with nearly equal power, though of course the affluent always have it easier in the aftermath of tragedy. Government officials prepared forthrightly for its arrival, and have refrained from paralysis and bickering in its wake. Which allows us to concentrate on the only really useful message it might deliver: that we live in a changed world, where we need both to adapt to the changes, and to prevent further changes so great that adaptation will be impossible.

Science and its practical consort Engineering mostly come out of this week with enhanced reputations. For some years now, various researchers have been predicting that such a trauma was not just possible but almost certain, as we raised the temperature and with it the level of the sea—just this past summer, for instance, scientists demonstrated that seas were rising faster near the northeast United States (for reasons having to do with alterations to the Gulf Stream) than almost anyplace on the planet. They had described, in the long run, the loaded gun, right down to a set of documents describing the precise risk to the New York subway system.

The same researchers who predicted events like this week’s horror have warned that unless we cease burning coal and gas and oil the planet’s temperature—already elevated by a degree—will climb another four or five. At which point “civilization” will be another word for “ongoing emergency response.”

As nature pulled the trigger in mid-October, when a tropical wave left Africa and moved into the Atlantic and began to spin, scientists were able to do the short-term work of hurricane forecasting with almost eerie precision. Days before Sandy came ashore we not only knew approximately where it would go, but that its barometric pressure would drop below previous records and hence that its gushing surge would set new marks. The computer models dealt with the weird hybrid nature of the storm—a tropical cyclone hitting a blocking front—with real aplomb; it was a bravura performance.

In so doing, it should shame at least a little those people who argue against the computer modeling of climate change on the grounds that “they can’t even tell the weather three days ahead of time—how can they predict the climate?” But in fact “they” can tell the weather, and in the process they saved thousands upon thousands of lives. They can tell the future too. No serious climate scientist believes that the sea will rise less than a meter this century, unless we get off fossil fuel with great speed; many anticipate it will rise far more. Think about what that means—as one researcher put it this week, it means that any average storm will become an insidious threat. More