Doughnut Economics: the long-sought alternative to endless growth

April 13, 2017 by  
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Finding a healthy alternative to the prevailing growth model that has strained the planet to bursting is the holy grail of environmental economics. And it looks like maybe we’ve found it. George Monbiot, the most dynamic environmental journalist I know, wrote about Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist , which “redraws the economy” in such a way that the planet and its inhabitants can thrive, with or without growth. It’s so similar to the kind of closed-loop thinking we see frequently on Inhabitat, whether in permaculture design or William McDonough’s new approach to integrating the carbon cycle , it seemed important to share. I’ll point out a few excerpts below, but please do read Monbiot’s longer analysis . It starts with what he says is the most important question: “So what are we going to do about it?” Monbiot writes: Raworth points out that economics in the 20th century “lost the desire to articulate its goals”. It aspired to be a science of human behaviour: a science based on a deeply flawed portrait of humanity. The dominant model – “rational economic man”, self-interested, isolated, calculating – says more about the nature of economists than it does about other humans. The loss of an explicit objective allowed the discipline to be captured by a proxy goal: endless growth. In her book, Raworth emphasizes that economics should provide a model that doesn’t require growth in order to meet “the needs of all within the means of the planet.” And, she offers one. As Monbiot points out, we have a messy situation where power rests in the hands of a few who really don’t seem terribly concerned to acknowledge the planet’s limits, or, therefore, the limits to economic growth, so mustering political might not be so easy. Here’s how our current economic system works, in a nutshell, according to Monbiot: The central image in mainstream economics is the circular flow diagram. It depicts a closed flow of income cycling between households, businesses, banks, government and trade, operating in a social and ecological vacuum. Energy, materials, the natural world, human society, power, the wealth we hold in common … all are missing from the model. The unpaid work of carers – principally women – is ignored, though no economy could function without them. Like rational economic man, this representation of economic activity bears little relationship to reality. Raworth’s model “embeds” economics into existing natural and social systems, “showing how it depends on the flow of materials and energy , and reminding us that we are more than just workers, consumers and owners of capital.” Again from Monbiot, writing for The Guardian : The diagram consists of two rings. The inner ring of the doughnut represents a sufficiency of the resources we need to lead a good life: food, clean water, housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, democracy. Anyone living within that ring, in the hole in the middle of the doughnut, is in a state of deprivation. The outer ring of the doughnut consists of the Earth’s environmental limits, beyond which we inflict dangerous levels of climate change, ozone depletion, water pollution, loss of species and other assaults on the living world. The area between the two rings – the doughnut itself – is the “ecologically safe and socially just space” in which humanity should strive to live. The purpose of economics should be to help us enter that space and stay there. It’s hard to understate how exciting this revelation is for those of us thinking of a way out of our current predicament. We need an economic system that works with the Earth, instead of against it, to provide for all of us – rather than too much for too few. Images via George Monbiot, Kate Raworth, Pixabay

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Doughnut Economics: the long-sought alternative to endless growth

50% of Earth’s species face extinction by 2100

February 27, 2017 by  
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Biologists, economists, and ecologists have gathered at the Vatican to discuss what actions humanity can take to preserve Earth’s biosphere . Attending the Biological Extinction conference, these researchers say one in five species are currently threatened with extinction , but that statistic could skyrocket to 50 percent of all species on Earth by 2100 if we do nothing to stem the preventable carnage. The conference organizers said endangered species like the rhinoceros or tiger may make headlines now and again, but we’re largely overlooking the peril other living things face. In case we think otherwise, Earth’s animals and plants are vital for the planet and for us: they provide food and medicine, absorb carbon emissions , purify the air and water, and regenerate soil, to name a few functions. The organizers said, “The living fabric of the world is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring.” Related: First mammal species succumbs to climate change Paul Ehrlich, a biologist from Stanford University , blamed the destruction of the environment on the lifestyles of rich Western countries. He said, “Rich Western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate. We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs , and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event. The question is: how do we stop it?” Researchers will be at the Vatican today talking about economic and social changes we could take to try and save the planet’s species. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences are sponsoring the workshop, which continues until March 1 to explore several ecological issues. Ehrlich said, “If you look at the figures, it is clear that to support today’s world population sustainably – and I emphasize the word sustainably – you would require another half a planet to provide us with those resources. However, if everyone consumed resources at the U.S. level – which is what the world aspires to – you will need another four or five Earths.” Via The Guardian Images via Pixabay and Pexels

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50% of Earth’s species face extinction by 2100

The mystery of Namibia’s desert fairy circles may have been solved

January 19, 2017 by  
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The truth is out there… in Namibia .  Inhabitat previously reported on the mysterious “fairy circles” that have appeared without explanation in the Namib Desert for millennia. Over the past several decades, scientists have sought to uncover what exactly is causing this mysterious phenomenon. Although recent theories have centered on local termites, scientists had been unable to determine how exactly these creatures created the fairy circles over such a wide range range. The most recent explanation points to aggressive desert plants that fill ecological gaps left by colonizing termites. The fairy circles appear as patches of barren land between seven and 50 feet in diameter that are defined as circular by a ring of prominent grass growth around the edge. Until recently, this was thought to be a uniquely African phenomenon. However, similar examples have been found in the Pilbara region in Western Australia . According to myths of the local Himba people, the fairy circles were created by Mukuru, their original ancestor, or are footprints of the gods. Some local tour guides also promote the legend that the circles are created by a dragon , whose poisonous breath kills the central vegetation. Related: How one researcher is hoping to tap into the life-saving secrets of fog and dew Ecologists at Princeton University used computer models to test the termite hypothesis, which posits that sand termites eat the roots of low-laying vegetation and allow for more moisture below the surface and barrenness above. In the computer simulations, the mounds only formed where termite colonies of similar size confronted each other and settled on a border. “The termites start with their own mound and go out and forage,” said Princeton researcher Corina Tarnita. “If they find a smaller colony, they simply kill it and expand their own territory. But if they run into a colony that is about the same size, they cannot do that, and end up with a boundary where there’s permanent conflict, but not a full-blown war.” Tarnita’s updated computer model took into account the natural competition that exists between desert plants. While rooted desert plants can initially provide shade and moisture for other plants, they eventually spread, pulling more water for themselves and away from more distant plants. “You find a much smaller scale pattern that’s driven by the plants self-organising in response to water,” Tarnita said. Although the researchers do not claim to have a definitive explanation of the fairy circles, their computer models seem to provide the most likely explanation. “We get a much more complete description of the patterns.” The fairy circles may appear to be supernatural, but their existence is a result of identifiable natural forces. “One of the most striking things about nature is that despite the complexity of all of its interactions and the many processes that act simultaneously, sometimes, and more often than we expected, you find these amazing regularities.” Via the Guardian Images via  Vernon Swanepoel/Flickr   (1)

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The mystery of Namibia’s desert fairy circles may have been solved

Eco-friendly Syrian refugee housing that anyone would love to call home

January 19, 2017 by  
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Building refugee housing often means fast construction at the expense of beauty and quality, but that doesn’t have to be the case if we take German architect Werner Sobek’s work as any indication. Sobek and the company Aktivhaus recently completed a modular development for 200 Syrian refugees in the German town of Winnenden. Prefabricated in a factory and swiftly assembled on site like Legos, the bright and airy homes are attractive enough for anyone to want to call home. Faced with an influx of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war , the German town of Winnenden turned to Sobek for a quick way to set up a housing estate for around 200 people in the Schelmenholz district. The development also needed to be flexible enough to be converted for different uses in the future and to be easily expanded on or deconstructed. To minimize costs, construction time, and waste, Sobek installed 38 prefabricated modules from Aktivhaus’ 700 Series. Each 60-square-meter module is constructed using timber frame construction and is stacked to create two stories. The airtight walls, clad in larch , are made with high levels insulation—consisting of hemp and wood fibers—to minimize energy demands. Most materials used are resource conserving and recyclable, with minimal concrete used. The windows are sealed with rubber strips instead of toxic polyurethane foam. Related: Sobek’s Activhaus produces enough green power to light up the house next door Sobek estimates that the modules could last hundreds of years if they are well cared for. The Winnenden development is intended as refugee housing for three years, after which they will be converted into social housing. The development also includes a technology module, two community rooms, and a multifunctional space with washing machines and dryers. The project was initiated and completed last year. + Werner Sobek Via Treehugger , zvw.de Images © Zooey Braun

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Eco-friendly Syrian refugee housing that anyone would love to call home

Mother trees recognize kin and send them "messages of wisdom"

August 2, 2016 by  
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More information continues to surface that trees may be far more connected than we thought. Forest ecologist Suzanne Simard of The University of British Colombia gave a TED talk in June, during which she detailed research that shows mother trees recognize their kin. At a time when an increasing number of people are disconnected from the natural world, Simard hoped to persuade the audience to think differently about forests . In the talk Simard said, “…we set about an experiment, and we grew mother trees with kin and stranger’s seedlings. And it turns out they do recognize their own kin. Mother trees colonize their kin with bigger mycorrhizal networks. They send them more carbon below ground. They even reduce their own root competition to make elbow room for their kids. When mother trees are injured or dying, they also send messages of wisdom on to the next generation of seedlings…so trees talk.” Related: Researchers believe trees may have their own living Internet Trees send each other carbon through mycelium , or fungal threads, and it looks like the sending process isn’t simply random. According to Simard’s research, mother trees prioritize their offspring when it comes to providing them with key nutrients and other resources. Trees can send not only carbon through mycorrhizal networks, but also nitrogen, water, defense signals, phosphorous, and allele chemicals. Simard says mycorrhizal networks have “nodes and links.” Fungi act as links, and trees as the nodes. The busiest nodes she calls mother trees. Mother trees can sometimes be connected to hundreds of trees, and the carbon they pass to those trees is said to increase seedling survival by four times. Her findings are incredibly relevant for conservation . If too many mother trees are cut down, “the whole system collapses.” Simard thinks we’d be more careful about cutting down trees if we were aware of the deep connections between their “families”. You can watch her whole TED talk here . Via Treehugger Images via Pixabay ( 1 , 2 )

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Mother trees recognize kin and send them "messages of wisdom"

Dangerously low biodiversity levels could trigger ecological recession, researcher warns

July 15, 2016 by  
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Biodiversity has dropped dangerously low across more than half of the world’s land surface, according to a new report published in the journal Science . The study, led by researchers from University College London, the Natural History Museum, London, and the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), found that 58 percent of the Earth’s land, which is home to 71 percent of the human population, has surpassed a safe limit for biodiversity loss, threatening long-term sustainable development efforts. “It’s worrying that land use has already pushed biodiversity below the level proposed as a safe limit,” said Professor Andy Purvis of the Natural History Museum, London, one of the study’s authors. “Decision-makers worry a lot about economic recessions, but an ecological recession could have even worse consequences — and the biodiversity damage we’ve had means we’re at risk of that happening. Until and unless we can bring biodiversity back up, we’re playing ecological roulette.” Related: One in five plants on Earth are at risk for extinction The authors of the report analyzed 2.38 million records for 39,123 plant and animal species at 18,659 sites across the planet, finding that grasslands, savannas and shrublands have experienced the most biodiversity loss, followed by forests and woodlands. The safe limit is defined as a 10 percent reduction in the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), a measure put forward last year by ecological experts updating the planetary boundaries framework. Dr Tim Newbold, the study’s lead author and a research associate at University College London, suggested that ecological restoration efforts might be needed because if ecosystem functions begin to break down, it could impact the ability of agriculture to sustain human societies. “The greatest changes have happened in those places where most people live, which might affect physical and psychological wellbeing,” said Newbold. “To address this, we would have to preserve the remaining areas of natural vegetation and restore human-used lands.” + Report: Has land use pushed terrestrial biodiversity beyond the planetary boundary? A global assessment Via Science Daily Images via Wikimedia

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Dangerously low biodiversity levels could trigger ecological recession, researcher warns

Solar Cabin: modular refugee housing with an energy-generating solar field

July 15, 2016 by  
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With prefabricated gypsum walls and a western red cedar facade, Solar Cabin is an aesthetically-pleasing design that offers profound environmental and social benefits. Comprised of a modular kit of parts that allows for a variety of configurations, the cabins can be stacked together or stand alone. The roof is comprised of a rooftop solar array , or solar field, that provides energy for the home itself and neighboring buildings. In this way, the housing serves two essential functions – sheltering displaced people while also increasing the overall clean energy share in any given city. Related: Transitional Liina Shelter requires zero tools for assembly The design also incorporates rainwater harvesting and a constructed wetland that helps to filter blackwater. The architects point out that because of its various green components, potential investors will qualify for various government subsidies, including the Energy Investment Allowance. Albeit designed for refugees as part of the Home Away From Home design competition, this project is equally suitable for students, graduates and other low-income residents, offering housing for up to 10 years. Along with the other five winners, Solar Cabin is currently on display at the White Nights Festival in Rotterdam until 17 July, 2016, and prototypes of the buildings will be on display in Eindhoven later this year during Dutch Design Week . The Solar Cabin crew notes that their design will enlist various sectors of society to work together to address the tragic increase in asylum applications – as a result of wars across the Middle East. dNA writes, “Investing in Solar Cabin is an investment in the environmental objective of the Dutch government in 2020 and a preview of Dutch Design with added value to other countries.” Of course it also offers a more dignified alternative to the shabby tents far too many people around the world currently call home, and we hope to see its widespread implementation soon – in the Netherlands and beyond. + Solar Cabin + dNArchitectuur

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Solar Cabin: modular refugee housing with an energy-generating solar field

Architect team weaves the Mississippi River’s only waterfall into Minneapolis’ urban fabric

December 5, 2014 by  
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Read the rest of Architect team weaves the Mississippi River’s only waterfall into Minneapolis’ urban fabric Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: ecology , Landscape Architecture , Minneapolis , Mississippi River , riverfront park , Rogers Partners , SCAPE , St anthony’s falls , Water Works , Waterfront Park

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Architect team weaves the Mississippi River’s only waterfall into Minneapolis’ urban fabric

Plants Know When They’re Being Eaten and They Don’t Appreciate it

October 23, 2014 by  
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Vegetarians and vegans pay heed, new research shows plants know when they’re being eaten. And they don’t like it. That plants possess an intelligence is not new knowledge, but according to Modern Farmer , a new study from the University of Missouri shows plants can sense when they are being eaten and send out defense mechanisms to try and stop it from happening. The study was carried out on thale cress or Arabidopsis as it’s known scientifically – that is closely related to broccoli, kale, mustard greens and other siblings of the brassica family and popular for science experiments. It’s commonly used in experiments because it was the first plant to have its genome sequenced, and scientists are intimately familiar with how it works. Read the rest of Plants Know When They’re Being Eaten and They Don’t Appreciate it Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: agriculture , biology , eaten , ecology , farming , know , MU , plant intelligence , plants , study , university of missouri

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Plants Know When They’re Being Eaten and They Don’t Appreciate it

VIDEO: Procter & Gamble’s Dirty Practices are Destroying the Forest and Making Orphans Out of Baby Orangutans

October 23, 2014 by  
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Many of you may be familiar with Procter & Gamble’s “ Thank You, Mom ” campaign, which features several cute tots learning how to walk, swim, and more. But there’s another, less than adorable side to P&G that they’ve worked hard to keep under wraps. After conducting a yearlong investigation , Greenpeace has revealed that P&G has been sourcing its palm oil (an ingredient used in shampoos and other health and household products) from plantations that have decimated the forests of Indonesia. What’s even more shocking is that  the remains of multiple endangered orangutans have been found scattered throughout and just outside land owned by two major suppliers of the palm oil. Greenpeace recently released a video showing some of the damage that’s been done to the landscape and to the habitats of these endangered animals. Please take a moment to watch it above and share it with your family and friends. And if you’re one of the more than 5 billion people who use their products—which range from Pantene to Tide and Gillette—do consider boycotting P&G products for those that use sustainably harvested materials. You can also further urge the company to do the right thing by signing Greenpeace’s petition asking them to make their products ethically. SIGN THE PETITION HERE > Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: deforestation , endangered species , endangered wildlife , Greenpeace , greenpeace investigation , indonesia , orangutan graveyard , orangutans , palm oil plantations , palm oil production , Procter & Gamble

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VIDEO: Procter & Gamble’s Dirty Practices are Destroying the Forest and Making Orphans Out of Baby Orangutans

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