Saturday, 30 June 2012

Defending future efficiency.

There has been a recent spate of new terminology that has sprung up around product design and sustainability, but how new is it really and what does it define?

I've picked two terms to delve into 'futurescapes and disruptive innovation' as being established theories or concepts, but which have recently found a wider audience and application within existing markets. So what are they, what could theyachieve and how might they deliver?

Futurescaps appears to represent quite a wide collaboration of writers, thinkers and designers who are trying to map out the future of products or landscapes, for example, in order to evaluate them in a future context. This could include more sustaianable product design, gaining recognition for adaptation in terms of planning and investment perceptions or how products and services can evolve to improve and change our future prospects for the better.

Disruptive innovation would seem to be a parallel concept that focuses on the value chain of a product or service and being able to evolve it in a way that creates new values or markets that will eventually cause displacementg of the old market or value chain.

Taken together these concepts could prove a major driver for change towards increased future proofing (or flexibility towards adaptation) and greater sustainability (mainly through improved resource efficiency). It could be a lot about reducing consumerism without reducing living standards, this will create winners and losers, as markets could evolve where growth is not implicit.

I do think however, that there are some challenges and questions yet to be answered and that they are quite significant. These concepts are not merely about marketing new technologies, they are about embracing change both in the perception of techno;ogy and how it helps us and also behaviours around purchasing and use.

The same is true for services, where it is highly likely that there will be off sets and compromises between biodiversity and recreation for example. This perhaps could be an area where an aging population can be a part of the solution as much as the problem.

The concerns are that as with all things, there will be leaders, who will stand to gain the most from alternative market models and value systems. The question remains as to whether or not they will have the critical mass to overcome the system inertia (this despite the pressures that are building) in time for it to be relevant. Some of this could be discounted also as an extension conventional corporate strategy to gain a market advantage in the shorter to medium term.

Another problem is with valuation itself, here you are having to enter the current system and metrics, in order to to evaluate, for example, ecosystem services that can then be forecast or projected to a new future with enhanced value. There are many circumstances whereby doing this might make a product or service more vulnerable, this might be particularly true in terms of protecting landscapes and biodiversity. certainly this could be a contradiction within the futurescapes concept, where some thinkers would like to abstain from current market valuation processes in favour of an index of wellbeing say.

If we can move to system that values resource and wellbeing properly (i.e. the measurement and costing of off-shore impacts and social justice), then I for one, would be in favour of hearing quite a lot more about these concepts.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Who Funds You? Promoting open, transparent think tanks

I'm sure that many us often look at the title of a think tank and don't see past the fancy wrapper. That's quite forgivable, after all they are doing honest research and faithfully reporting their findings, aren't they?

Unfortunately this is not always quite the case, in fact some think tanks are nothing more than thinly veiled lobby groups, especially where environment is concerned.

So I would ask everyone to at least ask a few questions about reports and policy suggestions from think tanks, before glibly accepting them. The link below is to a site that has started to rate the transparency of think tanks, I hope the results are interesting:

Who Funds You? Promoting open, transparent think tanks

Strikes me that the further right you move, the less is the transparency. This could be because of the greater opportunity to influence government, or it could perhaps be, that the more centre left organisations have a wider funding base, reflecting a rainbow of views. This would mitigate more to broader policy formulation than a narrow funding base that is more likely to tend towards lobbying.

Either way this is a very important aspect of our democracy, so we should all do more to be aware of who is trying to influence who and those who are the most likely to produce unbiased information.

Friday, 22 June 2012


Well, a text has been published, promptly to be shredded publicly by the NGO's, criticised by just about everyone and described as 286 pages of fluff by George Monbiot. Not a very auspicious lead for our commitment on climate then!

And yet it seems that the general consensus around the World is that we are in trouble and getting in deeper and faster, so why no hard and fast agreed targets, I would have settled for five bullets points in place of all those pages, just so long as everyone shook hands on them!

I could suggest some good bullet points that were floating around the debate:
  • An agreement to phase out (rapidly) all fossil fuel subsidies and introduce binding transparency on energy costs and subsidies (especially for nuclear).
  • A global route map for transition to low carbon economies.
  • A target for various methods of sequestration, forest protection and reforestation.
  • A commitment to move away from GDP to a broader set of measures for well being, to better reflect the 3 pillars of sustainability as equals.
  • Set targets to transform taxation and tariffs to reflect sustainable consumption and production (i.e. move away from labour tax to energy/water taxes and leverage for off-shore impacts, as this builds in an element of fair trade).
These are just my pick of the bunch, but at least it would be a start. I can't help but think that the document for this summit should have been replaced by a visit to the art, as this describes our problem and it would have been much more thought provoking:

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Rebound and revolution

We are constantly reminded how bad we are, should decide to drive rather than use public transport or should we errantly leave on a light! We all try, which gives us a warm glow, but sometimes fail and with that comes guilt, but should we really feel guilty?

In essence saving energy is a good thing and a behaviour to be encouraged, it is the right thing to do. But behind this lie a couple of inconvenient truths that need to be explored, in order to have a better understanding of what really needs to be done.

Firstly take rebound, the effect whereby you save energy and raw materials by turning down your heating and filling your recycling box! You have a sense of self worth and you have saved money on your bills as a result, so you decide to reward yourself with a weekend away, in Rome! You might wish to consider how many can you would need to recycle in order to offset that flight?

One passenger Rome return is about 250Kg CO2, that's the equivalent of turning all your lights off as you leave a room for 2 years!!

The more revolutionary view is that none of this really matters now, because we have passed the point where end of pipe consumer behaviours will make a dent in the numbers. In order to avoid serious (more than 2 degree) temperature rises, we now need to act at the point of production, only industrial scale sequestration will reign in the impacts of our energy production and consumption.

In fact, growing consumption of power and fuel in developing nations cannot be offset by changing consumer habits in the developed nations, a kind of global rebound. The only way to do this would be to capture and bury as much CO2 as is necessary to remain below the 2 degree threshold. That may still, at present be technically and economically feasible, however it would need to be manged and regulated on a global scale.

I don;t think it will be possible to reduce consumption sufficiently at the same time as maximising all available forms of renewable energy, to the point where we had a balance of energy production that would meet environmental thresholds. Some stark choices loom!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Development, but in name only.

I read an article (link below) about the growth of new towns and cities across India, it led me to many thoughts about our failures to recognise the need for environmental and social to be considered equally to those of growth and economics. I have plucked a few of these out, as I consider that they should also be paramount in our thinking around development and its impacts.
Firstly there is the issue of confidence in public servants to deliver an impartial and honest service. The very many hard working and highly trained people working in architecture, planning and so forth can so easily be undermined by a few corrupt officials, resulting in the free for all that appears to be emerging in India.

Secondly, this tale emphasises the need for and importance of good planning and integration of major infrastructure and resource. I think it serves to underline the inherent dangers of weakening of meddling with planning systems and allowing private investment a free rein. I think India would do well to look to Europe rather than America for a model to deliver development, and we should be looking at India to remind ourselves why we have a robust planning and regulatory regime.

Lastly, on a more humanistic note, I cant help but think that the wealth that is so evident in these new citadels, is not being transferred into social cohesion and a sense of well being, in fact quite the opposite! All the things that we try to protect and value are lost in these economically efficient developments, a salutary lesson about the triple bottom line and why living more sustainable is important to well being.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Round up of a busy week.

Where would you start?

The regime in Syria has reached a new low in the depravity stakes, it says a lot about Russia (and its leaders), that they continue to provide support.

Jobless figures are up in the US, recession looms and solutions look pretty thin on the ground. In the UK manufacturing has dipped and we are into a real double dip, with good jobs being lost, which will impact negatively on tax returns and spending. The ideological attack on public services and the capital expenditure it was delivering doesn't look so wise now!

Meanwhile, Greece is bleeding to death, the ECB has cut off the oxygen and deposits drain away by the day. The Euro zone wanted Greece in and bailed them out to preserve their own reputations, now that Greece has said it wants to stay but with a different mandate it seems Germany in particular are happy to see them leave.

What then will they do about Spain? Banking system implosion imminent!!!
I can see all the dominoes lining up!

Meanwhile the NOAA reports that CO2 levels at the Arctic monitoring stations have reached and exceeded 400 ppm. Not a critical threshold in itself, but a warning that we continue down a path towards a very uncertain future.

And in Bangladesh, Arsenic continues to be a serious problem in drinking water supplies.

Just as well we have a Jubilee to celebrate then, I'm sure that will take our minds off of all of this for a day or two!!!