"Naturally Living"


Dear Pope Francis….

Pope Francis has decided to do something about climate change. Hurrah for that. A number of prominent scientists, not necessarily Catholics, have been recruited to write reports that show the extent of climate change and what can be done about it.

Unfortunately, His Holiness misses one vital point throughout; namely, that there are too many people on Planet Earth and the Catholic Church, among other religious groups, have done their best not to limit population growth,

That said, it is refreshing to see that the Catholic Church is raising awareness on a subject that everyone should by now be painfully aware of.

One of the most interesting papers in the series is “The Two Worlds Approach for Mitigating Air Pollution and Climate Change”, by Veerabhadran Ramanathan.

In this paper, the author splits the world’s population into two main groups – the T4B group, or the “Top 4 Billion” and the B3B or “Bottom 3 Billion”.  The B3B group, it seems, produce just 6% of CO2 emissions, but the 2,5 billion of the T4B group generate 85% of emissions. So, it should be pretty clear that something should be done to limit the CO2 emissions of the most wealthy of us .

However, the B3B group, while not generating CO2, still generate greenhouse gases (GHGs) because of their poverty and lifestyle. These people live predominently in rural areas and therefore use wood or poor quality coal, on open hearths for cooking, heating and rudimentary light.

The subsequent toxic black soot produced is responsible for some 4.5 million premature deaths a year – more than malaria and AIDS together. These victims are often women and young girls. The black soot is a short term GHG, which remains in the atmosphere for far shorter periods than CO2 – a couple of years as opposed to a centyury), but – and here is the point – black soot is many times more potent as a GHG than CO2. The black soot  creates brown clouds, which absorb solar radiation, restrict crop yields, land on glaciers leading to rapid melting and using forest wood depletes rainforests.

So what is the point of the T4B going green, when the poorest B3B produce over 30% of total GHG emissions just to survive? What can be done?

The report suggests that, in the absence of grid electricity, more efficient burning of  wood is required. This can be done and closed stoves can be 2.5 times more efficient – well under half the current amount of fuel is required and women will not have to walk so far to gather wood. Unfortunately, the open hearths produced light for a family, but if solar+battery lamps are provided, then we will come a long way.

The report proposes that the 1.1 most wealthy in the T4B group pay $22 per head to supply the B3B with the equipment. Fantastic idea! But how do we do that?

Now, I digress.

I was in Rome recently. I decided to visit the Vatican museum to see the treasures that have been accumulated over the last 2 millenia. Fantastic! The artwork is overwhelming. So are the crowds! There are so many people. The entry fee is about $18 at current exchange rates – not far short of the $22 needed for the clean-burning equipment.

According to Wikipedia, 5,978,804 people visited the Vatican Museum in 2013. That is an income of  some $100 million per annum.

So here is my proposal: Your Holiness, please put your money where your mouth is and donate every last cent for visiting your museum to  this excellent project. Who knows? You may even gain new members for your Church from the Far East! In any case, you will prove to the world that you are serious about Climate Change and how it affects the Poor.

Dare Challenge ‘food waste’

Passing through the happenings of a conference on resilience and sustainability, the music rang through me and out again. I understand now that talking about food waste is nonsensical. It made me laugh to think about the futility of just concentrating energy and resources on reducing food waste. This realisation still tickles me, it is simple! Coming up with schemes to reduce food waste is like putting a plaster on a life threatening wound. The plaster, like reducing food waste, does help momentarily but it does little to improve the wound.

Shipping an apple from Chile that has been transported, packaged....bought and then thrown in the bin is a huge waste of resources. It is no longer just about the apple as a food but about the time, energy, processes involved that use time, energy and more. Now, consider this other scenario; the apple is local, maybe even from the public gardens, and you have just bitten it once and thrown the rest away in a bush. Throwing most of the apple away is no longer waste. The apple will rot and provide nutrients for other plants to grow. Time, energy and more are out of the equation. Resources are not wasted.

Now, you might say to me. How about feeding the planet? I will respond by saying that we have enough food to feed the planet three times over with the present production. Furthermore, if we changed from the agri bussiness that disinvests in its own production to an agriculture that invested in quality production we would have no problems watsoever to feed anyone.. Ahh, and furthermore, we would be employing more people and investing less in capital. We would reinvest in production – by supporting topsoil, diversity and people. More jobs! More food! Better health! Better planet! More satisfaction!

The day the food industry reconnects people to plants & animals and stops disinvesting (destroys its future ability to produce) then food waste will no longer be part of our vocabulary. 


A culture of food not fodder, please!

Now, to start with, how do we convince the public following the observation by a food industry director that despite efforts to present healthier food, people would still buy what is more convenient but not what is best. Maybe the answer lies that we no longer eat food but fodder and that fodder is per se impersonal. This is not so different from cyberbullying. Many cyberbullies would not dare say the same things they say in cyberspace to a real person right infront of them. The distance between the production of food to the food that we have on our plates is vast. This giant gap removes us from what we eat. Food should be simple, easy and personal. It is something we put into our mouths.

A culture of food verses a culture that demands little but fodder. That means seeing, smelling,touching and tasting food. That mean growing food in the places we live. Reducing the length of the supply chain and having a culture in which food is simple and easy....that means convenient! I refuse to be treated as a consumer with a belly to be fed. I want so much more! I want to be treated with respect, I want my food to be personal. To nourish me. I want real convenience and choice.

Why work hard to produce food and 'police' food waste that does not nourish people or the planet. Shorter supply chains to personalise food could support the wish for simplicity and convenience. Reconnecting people to plants&animals and reinvesting in the food industry will nourish, create employment and enhance the planet. Imagine local people everywhere taking local food (maybe from your garden, public gardens or any other public spaces) and preparing it freshly for you at your convenience.

Author: Alexandra Hayles

A ‘carrot’ to question culture

"Standing alone holding the hands of the two closest souls, I sometimes despair. Today is one of those days. I feel chained by my lonely commitments, solving one problem followed by the next. Many of the knots that where made sometime ago are now undone. The three of us are breathing yet there is still much to untangle before we are out in the open, without all those knots that confine us.  As the early spring light streaming through my window blinds me, I know that the stories that I will tell are born of a struggle. It is the warmth that comes from overcoming all those impediments that brings forth all insights."

As a society, we have plenty of baggage that makes change cumbersome. It sometimes feels that the struggle leads no where until you realise that untying the knots that hinder change is liberating. Suddenly, as the knots untangle you realise that it was the obvious thing to do. Yet, before one can untie them, one needs to see them. One way to see the knots that strangle us is to question the norms and laws of our culture. The act of questioning removes the blinds that obstruct the view. The knots that can be seen can now be untied. As we untie, a  culture that is for the living emerges. One can not assume that the rules and norms of today created in the past are suited to the needs of the present.

Author: Alexandra Hayles

20150311_134851_HDRThe video in the link below tells the true story of how a carrot growing in the city broke the law. One man took the challenge.....http://www.takepart.com/in-the-city-with


China “Under the Dome”

So much is done in the name of progress that the smog clouds the senses. Today watching the video from China I was reminded how the obvious is often apparently not obvious enough. The video portrays senseless production for the sake of what? for example, empty buildings to house the smokescreen of growth, to produce more pollution that kills thousands of people by the senseless misuse of poor quality coal.

Tackling some of the pollution largely from coal is feasible as portrayed in the video. That is however just the first stage to ground the economy and society to the requirements of a reality that has a stronger fundament to built upon.

(Please note that there are versions around with English subtitles)

Redane – Who is dreaming?

One should consider the possibility that it is the dreamers that are really and truly awake. They are the ones walking on solid ground. It is those that believe in the engine of economy that are like tailors stitching together illusions without a thread.  I am a dreamer. And when I dream I am alive, I am the sun thawing the winter that has left me cold for too long. I am the breeze that lifts the cobwebs of my mind. I can suddenly see more clearly the things that had previously been obstructed from my senses. I can now grasp reality as I walk  awake.
This is a film with a vision. The film takes facts and puts them in the context of Denmark.  The broad vision holds its ground. From the perspective of implementation, there are many considerations to take yet the blatantly obvious is exposed.
The film will inspire you.
Kind regards      Alexandra Hayles

ReDane from Elk Film on Vimeo.

A collaboration with:
Dominic Balmforth - Susturb (http://www.susturb.com) and
Charles Bessard - Powerhouse Company (http://www.powerhouse-company.com)

More about Elk Film at www.facebook.com/ElkFilmCopenhagen

New Material Discovered to Produce Clean Energy

Thermoelectric material is material that can convert heat into electricity. Up until now, the efficiency has not been very high, but this discovery may change this and therefore heat that has been wasted in processes, may become available to generate electricty.

"Researchers at the University of Houston have created a new thermoelectric material, intended to generate electric power from waste heat — from a vehicle tailpipe, for example, or an industrial smokestack — with greater efficiency and higher output power than currently available materials.

The material was created through mechanical ball milling and direct current-induced hot pressing. It can be used with waste-heat applications and concentrated solar energy conversion at temperatures up to 300 degrees Centigrade, or about 572 degrees Fahrenheit. Typical applications would include use in a car exhaust system to convert heat into electricity to power the car’s electric system, boosting mileage, or in a cement plant, capturing waste heat from a smokestack to power the plant’s systems."

Read more at RenewableEnergy.Com



Tax the consumption of energy – and nothing else!

We do not live in a perfect world. There are many issues today. Take, for example, the monetary system; the recent financial crisis has proven that it is completely out of line with the​ "​real​"​ economy. Our monetary system is based on ​ ​the abstraction of ​ infinite growth, whereas ​ ​our economy is rooted to the physical and finite nature of the planet.

There are many reasons why we have the current monetary system. I will not dwell into all of these but ​ I would like to look at one issue/aspect of our monetary system and that is its link to taxation. I would like to argue that the current way in which taxation links to our monetary system does a disservice to humanity.  At present, government​s have given bankers the licence to print money in the creation of credit. ​This has not always been the case in the past. I argue that this pact is inherently unsustainable and broadly detrimental. Governments rely on a monetary system​  to be able to gather taxes. However, ​​ the monetary system is in the hands of a group -bankers- that do not have the broad interest of society - not democratically elected either - and are implementing a monetary system based on the unreasonable assumption of infinite growth.

However, let us imagine that we were able to bypass the current monetary system to gather taxes. ​What would be the benefits of an alternative system? ​​How would it work? What are the obstacles?​

Denmark is a country where a sizeable amount of tax revenue comes from energy taxes. We have the most expensive electricity in the world when all taxes and duties are taken into account. We still survive and thrive as an economic entity despite these high taxes.​ My view is that it would be sensible to go over to a system where taxes are paid on the point of consumption of energy.​ I will come back later to reasons why this would be largely beneficial.​

​A tax system based on the consumption of energy would however need to meet ​some conditions​ that are currently not in place​: ​firstly, a​ global market for the price of energy with some form of global electric grid to allow free transfer and exchange to fiat currency. ​Secondly, the provisions of large scale storage of electrical energy.​ Thirdly, to avoid non-payment of the taxes, all ​devices within a country would have to have their consumption measured in real time.​

The concept of having an energy-based system ​is not new​. It would allow for the recollection of taxation as​w​ell as a means of exchange, that is money. ​I would like to point out that the means of paying taxes can be attained in a radically different method than that used today.​ Also, that in so doing, we would also have a more reliable currency to buy and sell goods and services.

CountryTax spend (€ bn.)Primary Energy consumption (Twh)Kwh Tax (€/kwh)current overall tax burden (income, VAT, etc)
South Korea256.422,8270.0926.80%

Table 1: The value of the tax per Kwh for various countries based on their current tax spend and their primary energy consumption. *total taxes, at federal, state and local level. (data source: Wikipedia)

My ​suggestion​ is that the customs duties for imports should be based on the energy “content” of the product – taxed in the same way as if manufactured locally.

In my ideal world, all energy would be consumed in electrical form from renewable sources. All electrical devices would be connected to the Internet and there are consumption measured in real time. The tax would be charged in kilowatt hours (Kwh). If citizens had deposits of electricity in large scale storage devices, then as they use the electricity, the tax amount of this electricity would be transferred to the government.

So the tax would become due only when the electrical energy was dissipated. Otherwise there would be no other taxes at all-no income tax, no VAT, no property taxes-just energy tax.

Actually, it would not be so necessary for all energy to come from electricity, as the energy in say, petrol or gas, can be compared by taking the megajoule value. A kilowatt of electricity is equivalent to 3.6 MJ. A litre of petrol (Euro 95) is 43.5 MJ; therefore it will follow that a litre of petrol is worth 9 kW hours. A litre of LPG has a value of 26 MJ, equal to 7 Kwh.

In which case, a litre of petrol in Germany would cost €3.28 as opposed to €1.39 today (including supplier’s price). So what about the poor?  I hear you say. This tax is entirely about consumption and the choices people have. If someone chooses to live in a small, well insulated house in the country and live off the land, collect rainwater, then they do not require too much income to achieve this.

Bear in mind that people would have a lot more disposable income – unless wages would fall so that countries would remain competitive. All that negative economic growth! But there would not be a loss of growth, just a re-basing.

As in Denmark today, the incentive for individuals and businesses would be to produce goods more energy efficiently. Is this a bad thing? No. In fact we could go over to a system where a car company might produce a car and lease to the customer for the life of the vehicle, the tax being amortised over the period. When the car is returned to the manufacturer, it would be best to re-use the components, because melting iron or aluminium ore would be incredibly expensive in energy tax terms.

In Denmark, 43% of the tax revenue is paid in welfare handouts, so it may be feasible to transfer Kwh in the form of electronic credits to pensioners and the other people living on transfers. People could then sell the credits or otherwise use the credits to buy food and pay rents, but only pay tax if they use energy. (I propose that renewable energy in the form of solar panels will also attract tax on consumption).

Is this tax system otherwise fair? If a citizen purchases a car that has a 40 kW motor, he may use around 25 kW hours per hour to get from a to B. If a wealthier (in monetary terms) citizen purchases a car that has paid 200 kW motor he may use five times the amount of electricity and pay the tax for it accordingly. If the citizen does not want to pay any tax, he would ride a bicycle-as they do in Denmark. He may also choose to use public transport, which being proportionally less energy intensive would be far cheaper than driving a car.

People and utilities producing renewable energy would be free to sell electricity on the market without being taxed. However, if the energy produced was from a fossil fuel source, a tax in terms of kilowatt hours would be paid at the point of sale to market.

Is it possible to monitor all the energy use? Not now, but at some stage with the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data. Real time 24/7 communications, it will be, And then it will be very hard to be a tax evader. Burning fossil and bio fuels directly would be banned without heavy carbon taxation (paid in Kwh). Thus, externalities such as SO2 and NO2 pollution would be held in check.

So, there are several parameters that are not quite there yet , but could be there as technology develops.

Enough to digest for now. I would appreciate comments, so we can start a discussion on this subject and I will follow up with further, more detailed investigations into the “whys” and “why nots”

Sources of research and inspiration:

NEF   - Energising Money by Josh Ryan-Collins, Senior Researcher, Monetary Policy,Tony Greenham, Head of Finance and Business,Leander Bindewald, Researcher/Project Manager, Complementary Currencies, Ludwig Schuster , Consultant and Researcher, Complementary Currencies

"Fuel's Paradise: Energy Options for Britain"  by Peter Chapman (published in 1979!) available on Amazon.



Ecosystem Services

IMAG4399 Ecosystem Services is claimed to be a construct well suited to the language of economics. I know that it is not just me that feels distant to this construct. I have been wondering why? I completely acknowledge and actively campaign for the importance of ecosystems to provide fresh air, clean water, materials, food, medicines, etc... Perhaps  it is because the construct feels like the vocabulary found in an economic dictionary. As an economist, the term ecosystem services pigeon-holes different denominations of our society/economy. We are consumers or producers providing products and services.  We, the people, have a narrow purpose and are put into very narrow boxes. We also have households that provide labour, businesses products and services and now ecosystems provide services to our ecomomies. These terms are being questioned, but not enough.  Also, by treating society as a chest of drawers with each drawer having a specific label, we loose sight of something. It might make it easier to talk about the different aspects of the society we live in but the labels themselves restrict our ability to do much else. We people are either consumers or producers....that is it! Are you happy with that? Is this all that we wish to be considered as? Many of the roles that we have and what we do  to support well-being - that define us as human beings, often have little if no value or consideration.  How about re-organising our society so that all that, that supports well-being is strengthened.  This is what I will come to in the blogg, so please read on. You can also

The idea is that Ecosystem Services becomes a convenient add-on that fits in with existing parameters, instead of being the re-writing of economic theory as it should be. If we accept and do not question the labels, it will be difficult to change the way we organise our societies to encompass humanity - a more sustainable way of living. A society that encompasses humanity is one that is supported by values that are common to us all such as sharing, respect...These values support a broad vision of people as guardians, mentors,  nurturers....This is material for another blog. Otherwise, have a look at The New Economic Foundation (nef) who supports this line of thinking:

  • "Value and strengthen the core economy of unpaid work, everyday wisdom and social connections on which all our lives depend."

    "People, planet, power: towards a new social settlement" nef

How about addressing "ecosystem services" as part and parcel of us, as active actors in our cities and urban environments to make and share: food; materials; medicines; clean air; clean water; spaces to play, learn pick flowers and loose track of time and more. "We are an active part of an ecosystem and we choose to make life easier by knowing how to adapt together with the spaces that surround us" The conventional way of describing the ecosystem as a separate entity that provides a service removes the ecosystem from our daily reality...

Author: Alexandra Hayles

In Denmark, we give energy away!

Come and get it! When the wind blows hard, we have a surplus of electrical energy, and not only do we give it away – we pay others to take it away!

There are downsides to producing renewable energy – especially from wind. One is that you cannot decide when the energy is to be produced,. The answer is blowing in the wind, for sure. The other is that you cannot effectively store it when is produced in abundance!

The former problem is one of abundance caused by a cubing of the energy output from wind turbines. If you double the windspeed, you triple the output. Nice – if you can handle the output. Because the wind pretty much blows at the same speed over the whole country in a storm, this produces the surplus.

The latter problem is that there is no local method of storing the energy. The CHP network in Denmark would be ideal, but because of the rules and regulations and the desire to use biomass in the CHP plants in Denmark, it is not possible to store the heat in this way.

Luckily, we are in a grid and have a market link with Norway and Sweden where we can sell the electricity to pump water into lakes with hydroelectric powerplants, where the electricity can be re-generated. Much to the benefit of the Norwegians!

What we need is another method of transforming the energy. For example, converting electricity to natural gas . In Denmark, there is a good natural gas network and this gas can be used in CHP plants to further store electricity as heat.

I wonder why this is not being done? Red tape and taxation no doubt.

Steve Pickering

Circular Economy Report launched

A lack of awareness of the principle and poor clarity regarding the terminology of the circular economy are major stumbling blocks to its progression, a new CIWM report has found.

Written by Ray Georgeson, Director of Ray Georgeson Resources, and Dr Jane Beasley, Director of Beasley Associates, ‘The Circular Economy: what does it mean for the waste and resource management sector?’ report was released by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) at an event at the House of Commons yesterday (4 November), as part of John Quinn’s 2014/15 presidency.

Report findings

Setting out to explore what the circular economy means to and for the waste and resource management sector, the study has been based on responses from over 600 CIWM members and other industry leaders from across England, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

It found that while there is still uncertainty over what the circular economy means and what it can achieve, more than 80 per cent of respondents were either ‘very’ or ‘reasonably’ familiar with the term. The majority of respondents said that they thought the circular economy was associated with moving away from a linear economy towards both greater resource efficiency through increase recycling of products and materials, and the ‘designing out of waste’.

Further to this, around one third of respondents said that term is used frequently within their organisations, although 44 per cent said they thought that the term was not understood by the business (with 36 per cent saying that their businesses did understand the term, and 19 per cent 'uncertain').

Despite this acknowledgment of the circular economy being used in business, only 27 per cent of respondents said they were doing even a ‘modest’ amount of planning for the circular economy. However, there was firm disagreement over the belief that the circular economy is a theoretical principle that cannot be put into practice (with only 63 respondents agreeing with this statement).

A lack of awareness and poor clarity of terminology regarding the circular economy, along with feelings of ‘little’ or ‘fragmented’ leadership on the issue, were identified as key barriers to its take-up. Other hurdles identified included short-termism (41.7 per cent), economics (38.5 per cent), and lack of a policy framework (37.8 per cent).

Of all UK nations, respondents cited Scottish and Welsh ‘policy makers, research organisations, reprocessors and consultancies’ as the best prepared for the circular economy, while local authorities and English policy makers and retailers were identified as the least prepared. (This reinforces the messages of recent reports released by the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee, which outlined that although the UK central government ‘recognises the opportunity’ of resource efficiency and the circular economy, rather than ‘scaling up its work, it is cutting it back’ and is generally ‘lacking leadership’ in this area.)

Report recommendations

As such, the report recommends that CIWM help clarify the meaning of the circular economy and bring about its wider uptake by:

  • developing a Circular Economy Action Group to engage stakeholders within and beyond the waste and resource management sector, focusing initially on four priority areas: communication; knowledge; skills; and influence;
  • developing a Circular Economy Policy Statement that signals to stakeholders outside the industry the intent of CIWM to develop the circular economy;
  • delivering an Action Plan with a route map to assist organisations in moving towards a circular economy;
  • embedding the circular economy into CIWM’s training and membership offering, as well as its internal structures, strategies and future planning;
  • facilitating the dissemination of circular economy developments and practice; and
  • supporting other circular economy initiatives, such as the RSA’s The Great Recovery.

Circular-economy thinking a ‘mammoth task and one that cannot be accomplished single-handedly’

The 2014/15 CIWM President, John Quinn, said: “Circular Economy is about collaboration, none of us deal with it working alone. This report is just the starting point – many people have a role to play and there is a real opportunity to be taken.

“We should be helping to bring the different parts of industry together, championing and communicating to a range of audiences the role we play in collecting, sorting and reprocessing quality secondary materials that are essential to the success of the circular economy concept…This means building circular-economy thinking in at all educational levels which is, of course, a mammoth task and one that we cannot accomplish single-handedly.”

Touching on government leadership, Quinn concluded: “One of the messages we will be seeking to emphasise is the need for more joint working and discussion between the four UK governments; all of them have good ideas, but none of the have a monopoly on them.”

Lord Deben, Chairman of the Climate Change Committee (pictured, right) and former Secretary of State for the Environment, added: “If you set high standards then you get high standards. Take Scotland, for example, which has set high targets which are very difficult to reach, and hasn’t met for the last two years, but they are a lot further than they would be if they had set a standard which would have been easy to get to. So I do beg of you to raise the standards and be on the side of better standards, even though it’s more uncomfortable. If you don’t do that, we’ll never move forward fast enough to solve the problems we have.

“We need to make laws that are effective, not just make laws to obey them. In party politics, we don’t always get things right. So we in business, who carry things through, have got to try all the time to see the legislation achieves its end. So that’s why it’s important that we help make the legislation on producer responsibility, packaging, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), do what we want it to: renew and recycle. We spend our time making the best of the resources we have been given, which seems to me to be central in our battle against climate change.”

By Annie Kane

See original article on Resource here


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