The Switch • DEC-JAN 2011

The Switch is a monthly newsletter distributed by the Northern Alliance for Sustainability (ANPED) on initiatives that are making the switch to a sustainable society. The Switch covers various campaigns, new book releases, academic papers, policy processes and more. It takes a holistic and progressive approach to the sustainability debate and does not shy away from addressing controversial topics. The Switch also keeps you updated on upcoming conferences and events. The Switch is open for your news, events and articles. For this or for for any other comments, don’t hesitate to contact the editor of The Switch, Nick Meynen, nick[at]

2012: not the end, but a new beginning

After 2011 we can no longer say the majority is apathetic towards the state we’re in. As predicted, oil prices rose in 2011, giving some local transition movements a boost. But the bigger, more visible and most uplifting development came from the streets. TIME elected The Protester as person of the year. A 93 year old Frenchman who wrote a brief pamphlet (Indignez-vous) became the hero of a growing movement in Spain that even resonated in the US and Chili. The Arab Spring sure gave reason for hope but part from small Tunisia, reaping long-term rewards will still need a sustained revolutionary spirit everywhere else. The occupy movement was the most hopeful start of a bottom-up movement against the injustice created by the dominating casino-capitalism, but it will need a big follow-up in 2012 if it wants to get anywhere. There was a tiny breakthrough when EU leaders decided to go ahead with a tax on financial transactions without the UK, but compared to what is needed in terms of taming the markets, this is still a drop in the ocean. In general, our leaders are still using the same thinking that created the problem in the first place: lower interest rates to support more loans, more consumption and economic growth at any cost. We have to make them think twice and talk about other ways to deal with the current problems we face. Alternatives exist and 2012 provides a huge once-in-a-decade opportunity to put them on the table and make them known to our leaders: the Rio+20 conference. Governance for sustainability is one of the two main themes. Let’s hope they don't translate the other theme, green economy, into green growth but instead understand it as a real shift away from subsidizing the gas and oil economy. Then we might later look back to 2012 not as the end of the world, but as a bright new beginning.  

Dirty Durban Deal

From the perspective of diplomats and politicians, coming home from Durban with the outlook for a deal between 194 nations on something that binds them all, legally, passes the test of being an ‘historic achievement’. More relevant to all of us: this ‘success’ means that they have in effect agreed to fix the world on a path to at least 3,5 degree Celsius warming, probably more. Which basically means that for example South Europe will probably become an extension of the Sahara and agriculture in Africa will be virtually non-existent (some even say 99% less). Scientists simply concluded that the Dirty Durban Deal equals to Catastrophic Climate Change. Take a closer look. Durban was supposed to deliver three things: a) a second commitment period for the weak and woefully insufficient Kyoto Protocol, b) a clear outlook on a legally binding emission reductions deal for all nations and c) a fund that actually also has money in it to help poor countries partly cope with the damage that mainly the rich countries made (70% of all anthropogenic carbon emission today in the air come from the industrial countries). The result? There’s nothing substantial on paper on the first goal, just another political accord and the promise of three countries to step out of the already weak Kyoto agreement: Canada, Russia and Japan. Leaving the EU, who emits 10 to 15% of all global emissions, as the last small club committing themselves to legally binding but insufficient greenhouse gas emission cuts. At a pace about halve of what scientists say is needed. The rest of the world can continue the carbon party until at least 2020. Then, all nations will be part of a global plan to reduce emissions. This ‘legally binding deal’ is framed in a way that it actually isn’t legally binding at all. Just legal, whatever that means. It comes way too late and says nothing on the scale of cuts. In line with what Naomi Klein recently put forward, the constitutional right to freedom of a US citizen (and his lifestyle) is still considered more important than letting the whole of Africa starve to death, or making the Southern coastline of the US inhabitable. Finally, there were no new bright idea’s to fill the fund needed to help poor countries adapt. Unless one defines the extension of tricks to channel money from a failed carbon market to an empty box ‘a bright new idea’. Carbon market prices already crashed from 30 euro/ton to 7 euro/ton. Most people agree that a minimum price of 50 euro/ton is needed as an incentive for change. Climate Justice Now summarized it all in the title of its press release: the only thing Durban did was to establish Climate Apartheid on a global scale.

EJOLT: Environmental Justice, Liabilities and Trade

The failure of Durban was not for a lack of positive energy and idea’s circulating all over the summit. EJOLT members, a European project in which ANPED participates, participated in a range of activities and actions. They presented the EJOLT map of Environmental Justice, the newly translated CDCA database on environmental conflicts that will be launched online shortly, and the first findings of the EJOLT report on industrial tree plantations, putting such plantations in the context of the developments in the negotiations such as REDD and carbon credits. Leah Temper (UAB) also screened the EJOLT produced film ‘Delhi Waste Wars’, showing how the work of waste pickers cools the earth. EJOLT members also participated in a panel hosted by RIGAS, the Italian Network for Environmental and Social Justice and moderated by Lucie Greyl. The driving questions of the panel were: How can we build a new theory bringing together social and environmental justice with the objective of creating a new society; how can we build a social movement capable of having an impact on the present crisis? The aim was to encourage true discussion among the assembled social networks to build a truly global environmental justice movement that can confront the crises we face. EJOLT speakers included Ivonne Yanez from Acción Ecológica, Giusseppe deMarzo from CDCA, Nnimmo Bassey from ERA and Leah Temper from UAB. The challenge, as deMarzo put it, is “can we be here in Durban more than just as witnesses, or are we going to change the relations of power?” This rather fluently brings us from the almost surreal non-fiction in Durban to a very realistic science-fiction book of a UK family dealing with the first year of carbon rationing, put on the optimistic year 2015.

BOOK: Carbon diaries 2015

It doesn’t always have to be a dead serious facts and figures book that makes a person reflect on an issue of global importance so for the first book of this year, we selected a thrilling fiction book. Laura is a 16-year old UK teenager who keeps a diary of her life during the first year of carbon rationing in the UK, which is put on 2015. Forget about taking a bus without your carbon card. A car is something you only use on a Sunday, if you saved enough points elsewhere, and taking even a short flight would need something similar to hibernating for about two months before you save enough carbon points. She has a bad time adapting but not as bad as her sister. Kim can’t accept her gap year in the States being cancelled and goes into dealing on the black market for carbon. The life of their parents, a marriage kept together by convenience and material compensations, evaporates like snow before the sun. They are of course personally blamed for what they and their generation did to 'destroy' the life of Laura and Kim. Laura only escapes from going mad through love and her band. Then, climate change causes a perfect storm that looks set to give the final blow. Despite the depressing setting of carbon rationing, this book is extremely fun to read, if you can appreciate the teenage slang language. If not, your teenage kids will sure love it.

Resource Cap Coalition

At ANPED we prefer not to wait until a hurricane hits us so badly that the government decides to start carbon rationing. And for us, carbon rationing is not the end, but the beginning. We have to face the truth: many of our non-renewable resources are currently used at totally unsustainable rates and in very unequal and unfair ways. Climate change is said to be the biggest market failure but the same goes up for many other resources. If the market can’t deal with these issues, governments must. We just can’t stand by and allow further irreversible damage being made all over the world. In response to this threat, European stakeholders have established a coalition on capping resource use to decrease the pressure caused by humans and achieve sustainability within the EU. The Resource Cap Coalition (RCC) is an open platform for organisations advocating a global resource cap. The RCC was initiated by ANPED, CEEweb for Biodiversity and Ecologistas en Acción in 2010. It lobbies for a resource cap with a view to ensuring social justice and staying within the earth’s carrying capacity. It also provides a discussion platform for developing appropriate tools to achieve its aims. The network already counts 33 organisations and keeps growing. In 2011, this Coalition carried out surveys and organized events to substantiate and mainstream the idea of resource capping. Check here for more information on who they are, what the coalition proposes and where the next event will take place.

SPREAD: sustainable lifestyles

In that other FP7 project where ANPED is involved, two events were recently held. The EU Stakeholder Conference in Brussels was a public event held in the hart of the European neighborhood where policymakers got first hand information. Four thematic groups of participants also worked out their vision on how Europeans will live in 2050, focusing on moving, living, consuming and society in general. Presentations are here. The harder work happened in Helsinki, with a two day counting backwards workshop. Experts got together to hammer out a vision for 2050, after which they counted back to 2011 to see how to get there. Presentations are here. This was a follow-up of a looking forward workshop in Milan, earlier in the year, which worked the other way round. Finally, the recently released report “Sustainable Lifestyles: Today’s Facts and Tomorrow’s Trends” provides a synthesis of research, leading policy and practice, and stakeholder views on potential pathways toward sustainable lifestyles. Its purpose is to provide the necessary background information to support the SPREAD social platform participants in creating a holistic vision of sustainable lifestyles in 2050 and recommendations for a plan of action.

Lets go swapping

An interesting ‘promising practice’ presented in the SPREAD conference in Brussels was this Finish start-up company called Netcycler. Netcycler is a free online service for swapping, giving away and receiving secondhand goods. Consumers can acquire items they want and need by offering things they don't need anymore. One of their main goals is to extend the life of manufactured goods by making it easy to reuse existing items and thus reduce the environmental burden caused by consumption. After spreading Netcycler from Finland to Germany and the UK, the swaps increased from just a few to more than 100 a day now and the scope for growth is huge. Next big step is the start-up in the US, coming later in the year. CEO and Co-Founder Dr. Juha Koponen: ‘the value of the stuff people own is on average 9 times the amount of money they have in their bank account. Still, if we need something, we only look at our bank account to trade in our money for the stuff we want. We want people to look in their closets and cave’s first’.


VIDEO: the story of broke

You might think twice before throwing away those old & dusty skaters once Netcycler comes to your country. If you want that to happen, just put your name on a list on their site. There’s this idea growing on people in Europe and the US that our economies are broke and that, as a result, we can no longer afford subsidies to the green economy, better public transport or health care for all. This video is a massive wake-up call to this carefully constructed myth. The 10 billion dollar used on subsidizing the oil and gas industry in the US alone could be used to bring solar energy to about 2 million households, retrofit half a million homes and create 100.000 new jobs. And that is just one small example in a long row presented in the by now well-established Annie Leonard trademark way, which truly is to the point. Her video focuses on the US economy, but Europe also has a long way to go in the same direction. Despite having conferences like these:


European leaders

The “European Sustainability Leaders, Champions and Front Runners” conference in the EESC in Brussels, held on 21 December, was host to a lively panel discussion on sustainability best practices and cooperation. Very high-level UN and EU representatives moderated a panel of speakers representing industry, finances, scientists, NGOs and policymakers. Panelists represented the leading edge in sustainability and discussed both what excites them and what needs to happen to push forward. They expressed the following idea's: the adoption of a framework for the absolute reduction in natural resource use, global equality, investment in social innovation, creation of financial instruments to support and award sustainable management, the establishment of regional SD councils and the importance of Culture as the fourth pillar of Sustainability. The EU should play a lead in all this.  The transition regions and towns were considered one of the best ideas to retain. One sentiment prevailed: we will have to do more on a voluntary basis, as individuals or businesses, instead of waiting for legislations to force us to change.  As Mr. Brice Lalonde, UN RIO+20 Executive Coordinator stressed, “The future of the world is at stake but nature will adapt and go on, it’s only mankind that will not survive if we don’t change.” But we are not going to leave you despairing, because yes, solutions do exist:

The Great Transition 

The nef (new economics foundation) works on “economics as if people and the planet mattered”. Which is lacking in the free market economy. To illustrate that another economy isn't anything like communism or living in caves, they make detailed reports of how that other economy looks like, today and in the future. A different future is not just necessary, it is also possible and it is already taking shape in small corners. We should study these good examples and build on them, which is why this report is valuable. It shows life after transition and the ways to get there. For some upbeat literature to start the year full of good intentions, The Great Transition report is highly recommended!