Category Archives: In the bioregion

Having more, or living better?

This human community is in danger due to climate change which is related to the accumulation of riches by countries and social groups…. We have to change the belief that to have more is to live better”.
Evo Morales Ayma, President of Bolivia, 22 December, 2012

To see what this means in Manchester, see our reports, Living Well and In Place of Growth:  http://steadystatemanchester.net/our-reports/

Morales image

Evo Morales speaking on climate and accumulation at the celebration of the December solstice.

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“But we need growth to deal with poverty and fix environmental problems” – or do we?

Another video featuring the author of this blog (see these previous ones)

From steadystatemanchester.net

Steady State Manchester

“Together we have to prepare for the post-growth economy. We’re already in it, it’s just we don’t know it yet.
We – together – will produce a report on local prosperity, justice and climate safety and Manchester. We will do this by the end of October 2012.Doing that will be fun, it will be challenging and it offers fantastic opportunities for learning and for connection. And after that, the real work starts…

The next public gathering is on Thursday 19th July, from 6.30pm to 9pm (drop-in) at Madlab, 36 Edge St, Northern Quarter.”
Read more at steadystatemanchester.net

Manchester City Council and Steady State Economics.

Manchester City Council and Steady State Economics.

(read this as a Word document (with appendices): Manchester City Council and Steady State Economics

Manchester City Council’s Economic Scrutiny Committee has commissioned a report on Steady State Economics.  This is potentially a very positive move- few councils and government bodies are taking the need question of ‘limits to growth’ seriously despite the overwhelming evidence of these limits (from the early 1970s onwards) and the clear evidence that the planet has passed and/or is passing several of the planetary ecosystem limits after which irreversible and damaging change is probably inevitable.

Unfortunately, the report which is now available, is disappointing.

1)  The report appears to dismiss the concept of steady state economics from the outset and therefore does not review the growing body of work available (see the Appendix 1  for some of these sources).

2)  The report fails to address the critical question about mitigating the effects of growth.  As the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission (disbanded by the current government) showed convincingly in its report Prosperity Without Growth, improved efficiency of resource use comes about with growth (because of innovation in technology) but these improvements are only relative.  That is to say the proportion of emissions in relation to GDP reduces, but the problem is that while GDP is increasing, the absolute level of emissions (and resource use) also increases, although it is falling relatively.  The net effect of growth then is continued increasing ecosystem damage.  The report discusses these relative reductions but fails to consider the critical issue of absolute emissions.  Nor does it consider the Jevons paradox – that increases in efficiency do not produce reductions in resource use, but further stimulate resource consumption.

3) The report makes reference (in a rather obscurantist way) to endogenous growth theory.   This is contrasted to neoclassical economic theory.  But all this is really saying is that government intervention can promote growth.  The argument is not relevant to the question of a closed loop or steady state economy.

However, the idea of endogenous development is an interesting one since if taken seriously the idea of economic development (rather than growth) from within the region is relevant to the strategy of (relative) de-linking of the local economy from the global economy.   There is some discussion of these topics in the GreenDealManchester paper ‘Getting Started on the Economy”.  Not surprisingly this is incomplete work – this is difficult stuff, trying to construct alternative approaches in the face of an economic orthodoxy that is the lifeblood of the current system.  De-linking is implicitly ruled out by the report

4)  The council report is clear that there would be very tricky issues were it to promote a steady state economy (SSE):

“…even it were desirable there are no realistic prospects of developing an SSE in Manchester – as international and national policy is not geared to this goal, making any meaningful impact minimal, and seriously disadvantaging the city’s economic performance, to the detriment of its residents.”

But we need to counter this by asking “Is growth a realistic prospect anyway?” (see Appendix 2).  There has been very little growth since 2007 and there seems little prospect of the healthy (sic) 3% growth rate returning.  The city therefore needs an alternative strategy which as has been argued elsewhere would emphasise ‘good living rather than continued consumption’, increased equality, and changes in the way we live in Manchester.   Of course this cannot be done unilaterally and in isolation, but isn’t Manchester meant t be a leader, an innovator, a tail-blazer, a pathfinder – a place where tomorrow happens today?

Conclusion

The challenges of a Steady State Economy are considerable, but the council report does not provide a basis for a serious consideration of the limits to growth, nor of the strategies that would need to be adopted to manage an economy with closed-loop and steady state features in these very challenging times of zero growth.

Living Well in Manchester.

A new short pamphlet from the Irwell Group looks at the zero-growth option for Manchester’s economy in the light of economic recession and the spectre of runaway climate change.  The old approach of trying to get 3.5% growth for ever is not going to work, and if it did the results would be increased inequality and climate suicide.

Go to the Irwell Group site:  http://irwellgroup.wordpress.com/2011/12/04/102/

Rescued – a landmark in bioregional thinking

Creating the Second Great Wood of Caledon:  A Rural Manifesto for the Highlands – Scottish Green Party, 1989

“Rather than being a poor follower of the south in its development, the Highlands has the opportunity to adopt an ecological strategy and be at the forefront of modern political endeavors: to live off the resources of the planet without destroying them and to share them justly amongst a population”.

In the scale of its imagination this document is still worth reading 22 years on.  Although in a different place and in somewhat different times (but not very different really) the Green deal for the Manchester-Mersey Bioregion was also trying to imaging a similar scale of sustainable economic and social development.  This kind of thinking and policy is still needed as it becomes plainer and plainer to see the bankruptcy of the dominant economic model with its emphasis on economic (Capital) growth with its inevitable breaking of the planetary support system’s limits.

Energy and emissions in the NorthWest: comparing ambitions, Jevons paradox and shale gas.

It is interesting to compare proposals for energy use and production as they apply to our region.

In the chart below I have plotted the carbon reduction proposals from the following documents:

1) Sustainable Energy Action Plan for Greater Manchester (SEAP), Commissioned by AGMA.

2) The UK Carbon Budget no. 3 from DECC.

3)  CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain, 2030 (ZCB 2030)

4) The World Wildlife Fund /ecofys Energy report (WWF / ecofys)

5)  The Welsh Assembly’s proposal, cited in the UK Carbon Budget paper.

Thee plans all propose to reduce carbon emissions but they differ greatly in the pace of change proposed.   As we will see they also differ in how they think they will get there.  The figure plotted is the proportion of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions as a percentage of the 1990 baseline.

Carbon reduction according to 5 different plans

click to see larger version

Below is the table of data that sits behind the graph.  To give a common basis for comparison I have had to interpolate some date and also because SEAP uses 2005 for its baseline year I have converted their figures to a 1990 basis.

1990 2005 2020 2030 2050
Carbon reduction target (target CO2e as % of baseline)
SEAP 100 95 62.7 38 11.4
UK carbon budget no. 3 100 95 66 45 20
ZCB 2030 100 95 40 0 0
WWF / ecofys 100 95 70 30 0
Welsh Assembly 100 95 60 44 24

The important points are:-

Both WWF and ZCB2030 propose a reduction to zero net carbon emissions while the three government sources do not envisage this.

As a result ZCB and WWF both have a more rapid decline in emissions, and this is critical – you have to look at the area under the line to understand the continued build up of greenhouse gases.   The ZCB plan notes that in the developed countries we need to go faster than the average because of our per capita higher emissions.

Rather lost in this summary are the assumptions.  ZCB in particular combines an an ambitious reduction in energy consumption (Power Down) with plans to replace the use of fossil hydrocarbons.  They also take account of land use emissions.  The government’s carbon budget does not include clear targets to Power Down.  WWF also propose a reduction, but to 85% by 2050 rather than ZCB’s 50% by 2030.  David MacKay in his book Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air makes an identical proposal to that of WWF – it is good they propose powering down, but this is likely to be too little and too late.  Perhaps someone would like to calculate the difference between WWF and ZCB in terms of CO2e put into the atmosphere?

Neither ZCB nor the WWF propose the use of Nuclear.

Here are some additional comparisons.  They are less complete due to the gaps in some of the plans (to be slightly charitable here, the government has noted that there are a number of possible pathways to its inadequate 80% 2050 target).  I have added David MacKay’s projection on reduced energy consumption and the SNP government’s impressive target for production from renewables (although it would be difficult to generalise from the Scottish case to the NW).

Increase in renewable production
SEAP 2 6
ZCB 2030 100
WWF / ecofys 100
Proportion of energy from fossil hydrocarbons
ZCB 2030 0 0
WWF / ecofys 0
SNP 0
Energy demand (%) of baseline)
SEAP
UK carbon budget no. 3
ZCB 2030 50
WWF / ecofys 100 85
MacKay 100 85

Here the lack of ambition of the SEAP report becomes clear.  While they do leave out some areas of potential change as outside the scope of the Greater Manchester decision makers / local authorities / AGMA, nevertheless the very limited renewables projection really requires challenge.  Likewise the lack of clear and challenging power down targets.  On the positive side, there are some indicators that if applied will enable us all to track progress within the bioregion.

This point about Power Down is absolutely crucial.  We now know very well that increases in energy efficiency, if not accompanied by clear proposals for powering down will just mean that more energy overall is used.  This is called the Jevons Paradox.  Why so important in the North West now?  Because of the new threat of exploitation of the Bowden Shale for gas.  This involves natural gas,  trapped in shale rock, that has to be extracted by a process of pressurised injeuction of huge quantities of water, sand and solvents, called fracturing.  As this preliminary report from the Tyndall Centre makes clear, exploiting this resource may have some significant risks (although the methods being used in USAnia that have caused such concern will -probably- not all be used here), but most important will (despite the propaganda from the prospectors) have a negative impact on greenhouse gas production, delaying necessary action.

So far as I can see AGMA’s environment commission hasn’t commented on this burning (well not quite yet) issue on our doorstep – further argument for a bioregional approach rather than focussing on the urban conurbation as the definition of the subregion.  However, the Co-op (which funded the Tyndall research), the Green Party and the Labour Party have opposed the drilling (the latter provisionally.  Of course the risks and assessments have been ignored by our golpista prime minister.

Stop Peat Extraction Here in Manchester

Campaigners from Save Our North West Green Belt have called for people to object to new  planning application for peat extraction on land owned by Peel Holdings …… William Sinclair Horticulture Limited have submitted a revised application to Salford City Council to continue extracting peat for another 15 years,  after having its Environment Statement rejected last August 2010.  
read more (Mule)

read more (Wildlife Trust)

This is vital – peatlands are a very important carbon store and we just can’t have them continually destroyed for the sake of profit – especially when better alternatives exist.


The Replacement Economy – new pamphlet published

We are living in an ecological emergency and an economic crisis. This pamphlet brings together three contributions to what will have to become an ambitious but alternative strategy for real change in the way we all live. The three essays printed here start from the recognition that endless economic growth is not possible. Getting Started on the Economy also points to the incoherence of competition in the global economy as a national or regional economic strategy, sets out some alternative principles for building the replacement economy and suggests priorities for activists to help bring them about.  Sustainability, Utopian and Scientific offers a constructive critique of what has become mainstream green economic thinking. Concepts for Bioregional Development is an attempt to synthesise a new integrated vocabulary for the new economics of social and ecological justice.  It should be read in conjunction with our first pamphlet:  A Green Deal for Manchester-Mersey Bioregion.

Buy a printed version of The Replacement Economy
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Buy a printed version of A Green Deal for Manchester-Mersey Bioregion
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

A local renewable energy grid

Scottish island of Eigg wins green energy prize

Hebridean islanders build renewable electricity grid

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jan/13/eigg-wins-green-energy-prize

“The success of the project proves that when communities are incentivised, empowered and supported they become a compelling force in solving some of society’s biggest challenges.”

ALthough the conditions are very different in the Mersey/Manchester bioregion, this kind of intelligent self reliance, reducing our dependence on imported energy and using complementatry sources linked togeher,  is what we are after here.

And in Manchester, One of the actions from ‘A Certain Future’ is to

Produce a Manchester Energy Plan that provides the framework for establishing a city-wide decarbonised energy generation and distribution system and local energy plans supported by the LDF and Strategic Regeneration Frameworks.  Establish the partnerships and investments needed to develop and deliver the Energy Plan and the structures needed to integrate projects sharing heat, power and ‘smart grid’ information, and to manage them.

And did you miss this story last summer? –

Manchester’s manure to fill gas grid from 2011

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE55E1BP20090615

The figures in this story are interesting – a lot of gas, but nowhere near enough to power all our homes – let alone all the vehicles.   There really is no alternative to reduce reduce reduce our energy horizons.