Archive for the 'Sustainability' Category

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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New Public Policy Contribution

August 27th, 2010

In collaboration with the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise at Fairleigh Dickinson University, I have recently contributed to a new public policy initiative, to develop a sustainable growth strategy for New Jersey (many parts of which apply equally well elsewhere).

Download a copy of the paper here: NJSustainableEconomicStrategy23Aug2010b. If you have any comments, or want to to reference this in your own work, please email

How to Survive—and even Thrive—in this Recession

March 30th, 2010

Things are looking bleak in many parts of the world. Even some of the wealthiest parts are experiencing the consequences of the severity and persistence of the downturn. The chances of a further significant decline, both in the market and in the real economy, are now perhaps 50-50. According to some estimates, up to one-fourth of all commercial properties are in trouble; and 1 in 5 homes remains in danger of foreclosure. The effects of the stimulus program, weak at best, are now being offset by sharp declines in state and local government spending. The need for new economic policies is obvious, and yet such policies are not forthcoming.

In New Jersey, Governor Christie has taken an axe to the state budget, apparently with the approval of many voters; but he has not followed through on his commitment to stimulate the economy at the same time. On the contrary, he is looking to seize funds from the Clean Energy Program (which are ratepayer contributions, not tax revenues), which will cripple that fledgling industry; when he promised during his campaign to support renewable energy as the future engine of NJ’s economy. Is it possible to do both at the same time?

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Paying for Reform

November 13th, 2008

If we think about the challenges facing the new Obama Administration, at the top of the list has to be prioritizing the actions that are desperately needed, in so many different areas, and integrating them into a coherent strategy that will put the country back on track, that will get the economy going again, and will once again inspire both sacrifice and greatness.

Should the administration move first on health care, or on the environment, or on housing, or on the economy? Clearly the answer is that it has to do all of these. The question most often asked in the media, though, is how to pay for it.

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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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Toward a More Sustainable New Jersey

August 31st, 2008

Weaving together the state’s policies on energy, the environment, land use, and the economy, especially in the context of the state’s ongoing budget problems, is no easy task.

Over the past several weeks I have attended a half-dozen conferences on these topics, including sessions on the Energy Master Plan, the New Jersey Utilities Association Conference (where I moderated a panel), and PlanSmart NJ’s spring conference, as well as hosting my own event at Fairleigh Dickinson University on “growing the next generation of green ventures.” I’m left with the sense that we need a new dialogue, that connects the dots and provides an effective pathway to sustainability.

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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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What a Way To Go

October 14th, 2007

What a Way to Go is the strongest statement yet of the multiple crises that are facing us as a planet and as a species today. It differs from the other major documentaries we’ve seen recently – Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s The 11th Hour, in several important ways – both in scope and in emotional impact. For anyone concerned with the fate of America and the world, this is a must-see film. But you won’t find it in theaters. Buy, beg, borrow, or steal a copy, or see if your local environmental or peace group has a scheduled showing. And then steel yourself for something as disturbing as you have ever seen before.

What this movie is mostly about, not to put too fine a point on it, is the impending ecological suicide of our species; and the only question is whether we will just take some or all of the other living beings on the planet with us. As Daniel Quinn (author of Ishmael) states at one point, imagine that we live in a tall brick apartment building, and every day we go down in the elevator and remove 200 bricks from the bottom floor in order, so we say, to build the structure higher. This is what we are doing currently. Scientists estimate that we are destroying two hundred species every day, by destroying their habitats, changing their micro-climates, poisoning their food supplies.

The movie deals with four broad and interrelated topics: the end of oil, climate change, overpopulation, and mass extinction.

Of these, the least plausible for me has always been the argument about “peak oil.” Not that there’s any dispute about the numbers. The discovery of new oil reserves reached its highest level in the 1960s, and has been steadily declining at roughly the same rate that our consumption has been steadily rising, so that we now consume 3 barrels of oil for every new barrel that is discovered. The end is clearly in sight. What makes it questionable, however, is the conclusion that with the rising cost of oil our entire modern civilization, built as it is around the use of fossil fuels, will collapse. This seems to me implausible for several reasons: first, because we will tap other sources as oil becomes more expensive; second, because other forms of fossil fuel (such as coal) remain abundant; and third, because the end of oil does not mean the end of cheap energy.

Moreover, as oil becomes more expensive we will most likely begin to reposition it for “higher” uses (plastics, mostly) where its higher cost is not as much of a deterrent, and merely shift to burning other and cheaper resources – if we do not indeed begin to wean ourselves off our fossil reserves altogether. This seems to me the one area where a “technological fix” remains possible.

But the same cannot be said so easily for climate change, overpopulation, or the demonstrably irreversible process of mass extinction. It is possible that we have already set in motion climatic changes that will create an unstoppable positive feedback loop, leading to a catastrophic failure of the world’s ecosystems no matter what we do. It is probable that we cannot stop or reverse these climatic changes before they begin to impact us severely, by changing weather patterns, sea levels, and species habitats. And it is certain that if we do not change course sufficiently, either through ignorance or greed, we will overshoot and cause a massive global ecosystem collapse – on the scale of what is still an unmentionable threat, an accidental or deliberate nuclear winter. These problems cannot be resolved by any of our current technologies.

The truly overwhelming nature of this is, moreover, borne into us by the way it is presented. The story of how we got here is told through author, director, and editor Tim Bennett’s quintessentially American life story, from growing up in the hardworking and god-fearing mid-West, to trying to fit into a regular job and develop a conventional suburban life, to awakening into this unique moment in history and realizing just how fragile, how endangered, and how oblivious it all is. What is even better, Bennett does not show us an endless series of hurricane-ravaged resort areas, or images of the earth from space – images which have long since ceased to have the emotional impact they once had – but rather a series of scenes from old movies, mostly black and white, that show earlier and often more hopeful periods of American life, along with some strikingly prescient moments of foreboding.

For trailers and other reviews of the movie, visit The movie site also has links and resources, a book list, and some blogs, though nothing that speaks as powerfully as the movie itself. Watch it. Your life and your work will never be the same.

(Crossposted at

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