Scalability over Sustainability

I’m probably pretty close to the stereotype of the ignorant consumer, who thinks little about the sources of what he consumes, but occasionally feels a bit bad about it, and so is gradually contributing (when multiplied by huge numbers) to destroying the planet.

There are many important topics in the world to get serious about, but the average person does not directly engage themselves in any of them very much. This is human nature, and any scheme predicated on the opposite will fail.

That doesn’t mean that the vaguely apathetic mass doesn’t care at all, it just means that they need it to be made easy to do the right thing, and they will then do it, even at some personal cost. We of the apathetic mass don’t want to have to think. For things that I care about, but am not personally engaged in, I want to be given the answers. Just look at climate change - it’s not until practically all the experts are agreeing on the things people should do to help that everyone begins to act.

To save the planet, it isn’t enough for the moral to live sustainable lives, we need the masses to live sustainable lives. To make that happen we need a plan that can apply to almost anyone, that doesn’t just help the problem but fixes it. It’s ok for this plan to involve some sacrifice, but not an “unrealistic” sacrifice. If the sacrifices needed are unrealistic, we either have to adjust the plan, find technology to reduce the sacrifice, or reduce expectations or population.

The key thing here is not to find a “sustainable” lifestyle, or a minimal footprint, or a carbon neutral life, but to lead a scalable life.

I was reading about no impact man, and what he’s doing is brilliant. He’s going to be many things, but something he’s not going to be is scalable. We can’t all be journalists and writers, and make money from our unusual ecological experiment. If we all were, he would have nothing to sell. We need to estimate what size population we think the Earth should support, and work out a way of life that allows that many people to live on it, without depleting the Earths resources.

So, where are the studies explaining to the normal person how to live their lives in a scalable way? What can I buy, from whom should I buy it? How much energy should I use per day? Is there some way I can make up for the environmental damage I do by taking the train into work every day? How much travelling is it OK for me to do (can I go help people in Africa)? What energy sources should I be using? There is pretty much no energy source that doesn’t damage the earth in some way, geothermal and solar cool it (and would cause massive climate change and habitat loss if deployed enough to meet our energy needs), nuclear is almost the definition of non-renewable, what can we do about depletion of metals and raw materials? How often can I have a take away? Is it immoral to have children, given the worlds overpopulated state? Cinema: yes/no? Tv: yes/no? Radio: yes/no?

So, if those who do get involved with these things, could just come up with a simple plan that resolves all of these questions and gives me a plan for how to live my life, without giving up my job or friends and post it here in the comments, I’ll try to follow it. Thanks.

11 thoughts on “Scalability over Sustainability

  1. about time you got on to this subject – gear head that you are! The key mottos: reduce, reuse, recycle; and live simply so others may simply live are important.

    In terms of travelling and etc there are no easy answers, Monbiot talks about love miles being important, the travelling we do to help people or build/strengthen relationships. Some things are clearly immoral (seal clubbing as a recreational pastime, voting conservative, stuff like that) so dont do them. Some people shouldnt breed, (conservatives) others should (me), in fact you may simply find it easiest to ask me for adjudication on any life decisions you may have. A very modest fee is involved… ;)

    In all seriousness though, I think what is most important is attitude, a bit like what a holy man told a rich young guy who wanted to be his disciple, ‘if you are ready to give everything up for the sake of others, you arent going far wrong. If you arent prepared to do that… sling your hook pal.’

    Answers are difficult to come by, as knowledge changes and grows – what seems like the best thing today is later revealed to be not so good, without stepping out of the market economy all together, you arent going to get near the truth.

    … wonders off muttering to himself…

  2. “So, if those who do get involved with these things, could just come up with a simple plan that resolves all of these questions”

    Hayek predicted, and the various socialist experiments of the twentieth century confirmed, that it is not possible for any one human – or centralised body – successfully to aggregate all the information necessary to make large-scale decisions about resource allocation and social organisation.

    Anybody who offers you a “solution” based on the implicit assumption they can is, at best, a misguided fool.

    The key to solving the problem is to recognise that the underlying issue is simple and is already well understood through the concept of externalities. If multiple people have a claim on a scarce, shared resource and the use by one person means other people have less (or have an impaired experience), I can think of few examples from human history where the exhortation to “use a little less” has worked in any sustainable fashion. No… any solution has to be based on incentives and pricing of externalities.

  3. I agree. The advice people give is good advice for leading an ethical life yourself (certainly an important thing), however the mass of individuals will not follow it, and so advice like “use a little less”, can’t address the global issue, only the question of personal morality. The problem is world-sized, and will require world-sized solutions, including changing the behaviour of many who don’t care. Compulsion based on appeal to peoples better nature will not reach enough people quickly enough, compulsion based wholey on force is unlikely to work, only economic compulsion will work.

    Sadly though, I don’t believe that a distributed solution will fix this fast enough. Afterall, we are talking about what is essentially the Prisoners Dilemma here. There is no Nash Equilibrium for the situation we’re in. Companies will fight tooth and nail to avoid paying for all of the damage that they do, and they have enough control over government and the marketplace to slow down our reaction to this massively. Only small groups of people can act morally, and be farsighted enough to plan beyond single lifespans. The market is the way you control everyone else.

    The simple fact is that we cannot give incentives for correct behavior. It’s like we’re currently dealing with a society where murder has never been punished, and we want to get to a society where it is. Offering people incentives for not murdering would destroy the economy – where would the incentives come from? Incentives could be part of a solution if the solution were spread over a very long period of time, but I think we simply don’t have that long.

    We’re discovering that the world has fewer resources than we thought – we have a lot of future debt that has to be paid off, in absolute terms, we are running the world at a deficit. Forcing people to pay for their externalities is, I agree, the only solution, but this will not be embraced voluntarily, it will have to be enforced, by exactly the governments and centralised bodies that you distrust.

  4. Well…. you combined quite a few separate issues there :-)

    “The advice people give is good advice for leading an ethical life yourself (certainly an important thing)”

    I’n not sure I agree. I dislike, at a deep level, the way that those with an avowedly anti-poor agenda have found it possible to label themselves “ethical”. If I’ve understood their beliefs correctly, they believe in localism, reductions in world trade and inefficient uses of resources. An agenda, such as this, that would keep the poor world poor (by not buying their goods) is not one I would label as ethical. However, that’s just me being pedantic I suspect :-)

    “We’re discovering that the world has fewer resources than we thought “

    Is that true? I thought the lesson of history was that human ingenuity creates resources faster than we can consume them? (consider uranium thousands of years ago… thanks to human ingenuity, it is now a valuable resource. Ditto for oil under the sea, oil in Canadian tar sands and so on. Not only this, any emerging scarcity is usually reflected in price, which provides a strong incentive to bring otherwise marginal resources into action. So, whilst I probably agree we have issues on the environmental front, I really don’t think it’s true to claim the world is running out of resources. Nobody who has ever claimed this before has been proved to be right. Therefore, we need to explain why it’s different this time.

    As for externalities, governmental intervention *may* be necessary. The government already taxes aircraft journeys and car fuel and, by many estimates, the tax rates more than cover the cost one could attribute to the carbon. A well-functioning global carbon market may, in time, be possible. Who knows? I wonder if I could sell some software to nascent carbon exchanges?! :-)

  5. The thing is that if we aim to manipulate others into doing what we think is right, we are being many things, but certainly not ethical.

    There are so many things that I disagree with – I dont know where to start, so I’ll pick out a few highlights…

    The question of a ‘solution’ – well there is a solution, but it does relate to personal morality, which I think was your original question. At the risk of being biased I would say that the teachings to love your neighbour, and your enemy as yourself, is radical enough to cover this.

    In terms of small verus large scale action – well history has a habit of being affected by the actions of small but dedicated groups of people. You say: “…it isn’t enough for the moral to live sustainable lives, we need the masses to live sustainable lives….” Well on the other hand, it is vital that the moral live sustainable lives, that the masses might live. At the moment they have a hard enough time doing that.

    Something else I take issue with: “…I dislike, at a deep level, the way that those with an avowedly anti-poor agenda have found it possible to label themselves “ethical”. If I’ve understood their beliefs correctly, they believe in localism, reductions in world trade and inefficient uses of resources. An agenda, such as this, that would keep the poor world poor (by not buying their goods) is not one I would label as ethical. However, that’s just me being pedantic I suspect :-)…”

    Well I think that perhaps you have a different perspective than me, I certainly dont have an anti poor agenda, quite the opposite. But I think that the biggest difference is the underlying assumption that the market will help countries develop and eradicate poverty. There may be some truth in this – in the few areas where we have a social rather than a purely economic agenda, but the vast majority of world trade will keep the poor poor, not enrich them. This is the trickle down myth. After all, if the poor world is not poor, what incentive will they have to produce goods for us? There always has to be the desparation of those at the bottom of the economic ladder in the capitalist system, to make it function. No desperation means no incentive to produce, which means no stuff for us.

    Efficiency is overvalued, arguably the most efficient leader in history was Hitler. It may be more efficient to produce things cheaply elsewhere (although it often isnt) but who does it really enrich. So far not the producers.

    And while I think about it – you know there’s all this talk of how the developing world countries are much worse polluters than the developed world nations, but per capita they are way behind us… and of course the smokey power stations in China are making power to power the factories which make goods for… us.

    We are after all locked into a consumer society which places paramount value on consumption and increased consumption as the key to economic and thus political development, therefore all we can do is reverse the trend, consume less.

    There may in the end be no way of changing the world without a plato style benign dictatorship (obviously a role which I could fulfill) – but the only moral thing we can do is change the behaviour of ourselves and and our friends, and make the lives of others as much better as we can.

    So I resubmit that reducing our consumption and changing our attitudes are the key to changing the world, not finding a way to get the rest of the world to change.

    On the other hand, I’m a bit of a winging leftie… ;P

  6. I’ve been waiting for you to respond :-).

    I disagree about the manipulation thing. It’s definitely wrong in relationships, but when you’re dealing with groups of people, it’s not only not wrong, it’s necessary. You probably think that the government should fine people who pollute, or that tax on fuel is a good thing, or that the government should tax low-emission vehicles less. If that’s not manipulation by economics, I don’t know what is. Fines or varying taxation is economic manipulation.

    Of course the solution relates to personal morality, and of course it will only happen if it’s effected by those who believe strongly in it, but I believe that the problem is severe enough that the solution necessarily involves more than just the people who think the same way as you. There are plenty of people who believe in “trickle down”, and their ethics lead them in a different direction to you. Convincing them all that they’re wrong is no solution, getting people of diverse views to work together is the solution, and I think the only way powerful enough to do that is economic.

    Being the change you want to see in the world is a good idea morally, but I don’t think it’s a good way of actually seeing that change take place. CFCs were phased out because those who believed they were bad put through regulation that compelled everyone to match their behavior, not because of the consumer action of those who believed strongly enough to change their buying habits.

    Now, in order to make sure that in this discussion containing three people there are at least three points of view, I shall also argue with Richards view :-)

    I’m a bit surprised that you think those who believe in localism, etc, have an “avowedly anti-poor agenda”. I can see how you think it’s antipoor, but it’s the avowedly I argue with. Practically all the people I know who take their green credentials seriously are also very concerned about the poor. The only way they’re anti-poor is that they don’t want there to be any. In fact, I believe that a besandelled eco-warrior chosen at random will care more about the poor than an equivalent invisible hand type. While there will be individual exceptions, I believe this so strongly that I’d be prepared to put money on it. If anyone wants to take me up, I suggest as a measure we use the amount of time each person spends directly helping the poor (we can’t use amount of money, as they may have radically different amounts of money, so it’s not comparable. They probably have roughly comparable lifespans).

    Next point: efficiency. I would take a different tack to Rhymin here. What you probably think of as efficient is sending the work across to China, getting it done cheaply and then sending it back. This is where externalities come in. There are so many more externalities involved in sending the work to China, getting it done with fewer restrictions on environmental issues and human issues, and then sending it back, that in all probability, if the environmental damage cost and other externalities were added to the costs of production, such behaviour would not be more economically efficient than getting the work done locally. People who believe in localism do so because they want their costs to accurately reflect the externalities (such as environmental damage), and until there is drastic change, it’s the local costs that do that best. If all the externalities involved in sending work to China were rolled up into the cost, I think even a hardened eco-warrior would have no problem with it – it’d be more expensive, but it would guarantee that any environmental damage caused by its production would be put right.

    Now, resource depletion. The question of why I think now is different to any time in history is a good one. I do however have an answer for it.

    We really are living at a time that is unique in human history so far.

    It’s quite possible that I’m wrong about the timing and we’re not there yet, but there will definitely come a time when earths resources are depleted. At root, it all comes down to energy. We started as humans extracting energy by burning trees. This is easy, requiring pretty much no energy to extract it. Then our need for energy increased beyond what could reasonably be extracted from trees, and we move on to peat and coal, requiring more energy to extract. Energy from oil requires even more energy (and resources) to extract. Then Uranium, or wind, or solar. All of which certainly give energy, but require so much more energy and materials to extract. It’s basic physics. There is a limit to how much energy is stored in the Earth, and a limit to how much energy we receive every day. There is therefore a limit to how much you can take out of that without totally disrupting the environment. It’s not a case of human ingenity growing for ever. There simply is a limit of how much energy is available. If human ingenity is to grow for ever, it’ll have to reach the stage where it can leave the Earth and extract significant resources from off world before the time when our resources are depleted.

    Every time we use any material, we lose some of it in a way that requires significantly more energy and other materials to recover than was originally used. Many experts put the total global reserves of a number of different metals that we use regularly at less than a decades worth. Copper is already so rare that it’s too valuable to put in coppers. There’s a lot of good information about this in the 26th May 2007 issue of New Scientist, including this article.

    I accept that when we use a material, it doesn’t go away, and we will discover more and more things that we find useful, but I also believe that each of the new techniques for recovering materials and each of the uses of new discoveries will require more and more energy, not less and less. This is the lesson of history.

    There is a finite amount of energy available, and we’re using more and more. What’s worse is, we’re not just using our ration of daily energy, but using loads of historical energy that’s been stored up. That means that when we do reach the limit, it’s going to hurt.

    Perhaps you’re right and we’re not there yet, but that day is fast approaching. Mark my words!

  7. ah, its gone a bit brainy for me, as a intelligence deficient “besandelled eco-warrior” – albeit barefoot as I type, can I be the first say… I’m off. And anyway, I’m right! Lol. Speak soon mate, I’m off to burn some carbon – its all love miles though. Cheers.

  8. “Well I think that perhaps you have a different perspective than me, I certainly dont have an anti poor agenda, quite the opposite. But I think that the biggest difference is the underlying assumption that the market will help countries develop and eradicate poverty. There may be some truth in this – in the few areas where we have a social rather than a purely economic agenda, but the vast majority of world trade will keep the poor poor, not enrich them. “

    What makes you say this? From which evidence do you draw this conclusion? How do you explain the massive numbers of Chinese people escaping the misery of subsistence farming?

    “After all, if the poor world is not poor, what incentive will they have to produce goods for us? There always has to be the desparation of those at the bottom of the economic ladder in the capitalist system, to make it function. No desperation means no incentive to produce, which means no stuff for us.”

    Baloney :-) If being poor is the only incentive for people to work, I’m at a loss to understand what I was doing getting up at 6am today in order to get to a meeting with a client for my employer. I don’t recall feeling desperate when I woke up, but perhaps I was a little too tired and a little too focussed on all the things I’d have to get done. You don’t truly believe that people only work because they have to and that most employment contracts are entered into under duress do you? If so, you might like to try explaining why wages in parts of China are increasing at over 10% per year right now. Did employers suddenly get a little less greedy and exploitative?

    “Efficiency is overvalued, arguably the most efficient leader in history was Hitler.”

    He was? Murdering millions of potentially productive workers doesn’t strike me as being particularly efficient.

    “It may be more efficient to produce things cheaply elsewhere (although it often isnt) but who does it really enrich. So far not the producers.”

    The ability to produce more with fewer resources (people or things) is how we create wealth: it is what frees up those people and resources for other uses… thereby expanding the amount of good “stuff” available. It is why we’re able to have train drivers and doctors and teachers today: we don’t need our entire population working in the fields. Once can argue that we have enough as it is, thank you very much. But that is a different argument.

    As for “producers”… you’re missing the point. To a first approximation, who care about producers? It’s *consumers* that matter. For every poor-world producer that is helped by an import tariff, countless thousands of poor-world consumers are impoverished through being forced to consume over-priced, low-quality product. Producers almost always have more effective lobbying capabilities… so you hear more from them. But don’t confuse volume of argument with merit.

    “On the other hand, I’m a bit of a winging leftie… ;P”

    Perhaps… but it’s no excuse :-)

    “ I’m a bit surprised that you think those who believe in localism, etc, have an “avowedly anti-poor agenda”. I can see how you think it’s antipoor, but it’s the avowedly I argue with. Practically all the people I know who take their green credentials seriously are also very concerned about the poor.”

    But that’s the problem! It’s no good being *concerned* about something if the policies you espouse would have the effect of making the problem worse!

    “In fact, I believe that a besandelled eco-warrior chosen at random will care more about the poor than an equivalent invisible hand type.”

    Who cares? Talk is cheap. You’re confusing intent with outcome.

    “ While there will be individual exceptions, I believe this so strongly that I’d be prepared to put money on it. If anyone wants to take me up, I suggest as a measure we use the amount of time each person spends directly helping the poor”

    Measured how? I would suggest that I, who deliberately buys goods manufactured in poor countries in preference to those made elsewhere and who argues, wherever possible against FairTrade spends more time doing good for the poor than somebody who goes out of their way to buy local goods and campaign for Friends of the earth. There’s a difference between *signalling* that you care (e.g. by wearing a fashionable wristband or throwing the word “ethical” around) and *acting* like you do (e.g. by buying things from the poor and fighting against sloppy economic thinking :-) )

    “If all the externalities involved in sending work to China were rolled up into the cost, I think even a hardened eco-warrior would have no problem with it”

    I wouldn’t be so sure. A lot of the local/ethical/fair-trade/organic movement (which I’m conflating for this part of the argument) is self-serving protectionism in disguise :-p

    (Apologies for not addressing the resource/energy questions…. I’ve already written too much!)

  9. Happy Planet Index

    Sorry for opening this up again. I can’t leave this thread looking so depressing! I’ve been developing my organisations Sustainable Development Strategy so I apologise to everyone I don’t know (and those I do) for going on and on here. Also, I can already hear cries of utilitarian but hey ho….

    First of all I agree with kyb. Resources are sustainable only if the rate of consumption is less than the rate at which they can be replenished or repaired. Many of the earth’s resources that have a slow rate of repair are, in effect, finite.

    One way of illustrating this is to estimate the total biocapacity of the world (the amount of biologically productive land area) and compare this with the actual amount of resources consumed. Biocapacity has been rising gradually as improvements in technology lead to better yield per unit of land in some sectors. But this modest increase is swamped by the increase in demand. According to calculations by the Global Footprint Network, the world as a whole went into ‘ecological overshoot’ in about 1986 (Figure 1). Since then, humans have been consuming more of the planet’s resources than can be replenished through the regenerative capacity of the biosphere. (Taken from Loh J and Goldfinger S (2006) Living Planet Report 2006 (Gland, Switzerland: WWF).

    I don’t necessarily think you can simply point at increased population, however. It is true that global population has been increasing, putting additional strain on biocapacity. However, the largest population increases have been seen amongst the poorest countries, whose
    per capita consumption was already, and has remained, very low.

    The inequality of resource consumption around the world has increased. Whilst it may be true that quality of life in the West is higher than in many developing nations, so it is also clear that the growing demand for energy, for food, for services and for consumer goods that has characterised economic development in the West at least since the Industrial Revolution has been the key driver of environmental change. The European Union contains around seven per cent of the world’s population, yet currently accounts for around 16 per cent of total planetary resource consumption (Taken from Living Planet Report 2006)

    This is where I come back to efficiency as a way of starting to answer your question. Efficiency’ refers to a ratio of output to input – the amount of something desirable produced for a given amount of something relatively costly or scarce expended. In itself, efficiency is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. But efficiency takes on a value when context is introduced. Efficiency is desirable when inputs are limited. So we have to look at how efficiently we are reproducing human society. If we consider efficiency on the scale of human society and human endeavour, the ultimate output of everything that occurs in society – economic transactions, social interactions, education, healthcare, governance and so on – I consider to be human well-being. A good, long, healthy, happy, meaningful life for ourselves and our families is the thing that most of us value above all else.

    A recent study tried to look at this efficiency measure throughout Europe. They called it the Happy Planet Index!! (New Economis Foundation)

    So Well-being is the output and resource consumption is the input. HPI poses two important questions:

    1. Do high levels of resource consumption necessarily lead to high well-being
    outcomes?

    2. Is it possible to achieve high levels of well-being without high levels of
    consumption?

    In other words, do the gains in well-being achieved by the richest Western nations
    justify the massive additional strain that these countries place on the environment?

    Incorporating subjective data on life satisfaction distinguishes HPI is different from existing development metrics because it includes subjective data. People’s experience of their quality of life is at least as important as their actual physical circumstances. It is no good, for example, arguing that someone with excellent health, high household income and a good standard of education must be satisfied with their life if that is not how they actually feel – many people in just such circumstances suffer from debilitating depression and anxiety, for instance (conditions which, it has been argued, are growing in Western society partly as a function of increasing affluence and the lifestyle changes that it brings). Similarly, it should not be assumed that people living in relative poverty or with chronic health conditions must necessarily be dissatisfied with their lives.

    Europe is one region of the world where high-quality data on life satisfaction is readily available. To ensure a robust measure of life satisfaction, the researchers took the mean of the national averages from four different cross-national surveys, Agreement between the surveys was very high.

    They also looked at Life expectancy at birth. It is an estimate based on the prevailing social, environmental and economic conditions in a country and is calculated through large-scale data collection of mortality rates at different ages. Life expectancy is popular as a metric of welfare across nations because it is strongly related to material standards of living in a country. For instance, it is extremely sensitive to the rate of infant mortality, which is itself a robust proxy indicator of access to sanitation and the state of healthcare. By including life expectancy as part of the definition of well-being, therefore, they are not suggesting that a long life is necessarily a good thing but that it captures objective factors about quality of life that are equally important as how people feel about their lives.

    The ultimate output of human endeavour is a long and happy life, then the fundamental input – the bottom half of the efficiency equation – is planetary resource consumption,represented in the HPI by carbon footprint. This is a measure of the land area required to support the plant life needed to absorb and sequester CO2 emissions from fossil fuels used by a country, based on its levels of consumption. This measure takes account of the fact that in a global economy people consume resources and ecological services from all over the world, and reallocates the carbon costs of such consumption accordingly. It also accounts for the ‘embodied’ footprint that is associated with the production of goods. For example, the carbon emitted in the manufacture of a car produced in Taiwan but bought by someone living in Slovenia will count towards Slovenia’s footprint, not Taiwan’s.

    What did they find? The most efficient countries in Europe measured by the HPI were Iceland, Sweden and Norway.

    I think this has some bearing on the discussion above:

    1. kyb thinks in terms of a global shift being required. This is probably true but we can act through Nation States who pursue different paths and Western developed countries have to shift first.
    2. Some contributions are suspicious of government but the Scandinavian Countries are the most democratic and most equal in Europe. Democracy works, equality is good for encouraging reductions in consumption!
    3. Some contributions are suspicious of capitalism but having to cut consumption doesn’t mean having to wait for a revolution. Norway takes up 1.98* its fair share of planetary C02, Sweden takes up 1.6* and Iceland takes up 1.06* its share. They have achieved this through conscious policy choices (Norway has lots of gas but chose not to use it for power generation) and because they are functioning democracies, this has melded with the behaviour of the citizenry.
    4. We can begin to measure our collective and individual environmental efficiency as well as impact!
    So… what you should do:

    1. Support the current Climate Change Bill by writing to your MP and toughen up the emission reduction targets.
    2. Support political parties that campaign for democracy, equality and decentralised energy
    3. Reduce how much you work and fill your leisure time with fulfilling activities requiring less consumption!

    “There are many visions of a good society. The treadmill is not one of them”. JK Galbreith.

  10. Cool argument, I will be reading more about the HPI. I was surprised not to find Switzerland on your list since they are very self-satisfied and almost all of their energy is produced from hydro electric. (And they’re very democratic).

    2. Support political parties that campaign for democracy, equality and decentralised energy

    I’m afraid I’m disillusioned enough to find it hard to believe such a party exists in the UK or the USA. Are you thinking of the greens?

  11. Just as I was reading your comment I received this news release about new housing developments in Switzerland!

    I guess the Swiss are so rich and the Climate is such that they haven’t really concerned themselves with housing in terms of insulation and energy efficiency? Do they have really big houses, or are there lots of flats in cities?

    WWF unveils blueprint for eco-living

    Conservation group WWF Switzerland has announced plans to create eco-communities in Geneva to counter over-exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources.
    The organisation says it is in advanced negotiations with three of the city’s communes to construct thousands of homes meeting the strict ecological standards of its One Planet Living (OPL) label.

    According to WWF Switzerland, the country requires the equivalent of three planets to sustain its needs. It wants to reduce Switzerland’s ecological footprint by 15 per cent over the next eight years and sees sustainable communities as the way forward.

    Similar OPL projects are underway in eight other countries, including South Africa, China, Portugal and the United States. The programme, which is a joint initiative between WWF and the environmental organisation BioRegional, was launched in 2004.

    The aim is to create communities that produce zero carbon emissions, no waste, have green transport systems and are built with sustainable materials.

    Gaël Léopold, OPL coordinator for French-speaking Europe, said the construction costs would be around 3-8 per cent more expensive than a normal housing project. But the associated health and transport benefits plus reduced energy consumption would see the cost of living for residents fall by 15 per cent, he added.

    “It has taken a long time – the first steps in sustainable construction were taken in the 1970s – but we are really now starting to reach a critical size where big companies are interested in sustainable development and sustainable construction,” he told swissinfo.

    “The public is also ready for this. Studies show that most people would buy and accept to pay a premium for a ‘green’ house.”

    However, Catherine Martinson, director of regional projects for WWF Switzerland, said there was still some way to go to persuade the Swiss population to live more ecologically.

    “But I think with good projects we can overcome this. At the moment living ecologically feels like a constraint. It must be made agreeable and practical,” she said.

    Urban planning

    Martinson said other European countries such as Germany and Scandinavian nations were further ahead than Switzerland in this respect. She called on the Swiss authorities to take the lead in ensuring more sustainable urban planning, saying there was currently a lack of coordination.

    “When I hear the mayor of London say he wants to decrease carbon emissions by 60 per cent, that’s something that would be unthinkable here. It’s too drastic for us because our culture is too conservative,” she said.

    Léopold pointed to Britain’s largest eco-village, Beddington, south of London, as an example of what could be achieved. The £15 million (SFr36 million) project, completed three years ago, has attracted around 15,000 visitors.

    “We will never have One Planet Living communities all over the world but the idea is to focus on key cities like Geneva, Paris, London, Durban, Washington and create flagship communities,” he said.

    I suppose it depends on what I mean by support and whether we are talking international, national, regional or local levels! At a local level I can find myself voting Labour if I look at their policies and delivery but at a national level I’d go Green and be lumped as part of the overall protest vote! You have the option of joining groups which aim to change Labour party national policy for instance, the Compass Group. You can also support the MPs who follow that sort of line through campaigning organisations like the World Development Movement (Colin Challen is an MP in Leeds who often uses the research WDM do to highlight development issues) with money or timely lobbying.

    Disillusioned? Use your illusion!

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