Link to video -
So glad to be part of RW3# in a small small way
My mum, a benevolent economist, doesn’t get why biodiversity is important to humanity. She thinks its about being kind to the fish. The problem is I have never been able to convincingly explain the importance of biodiversity to her. She won’t buy the argument that nature is beautiful, awe inspiring and a source of joy. My mum is Indian and has seen a lot of poverty. There is no point of having a joyful landscape if a person can’t feed and educate themselves. Her point is valid and highlights the commonly perceived contradiction between sustainability and economic prosperity. Or does it?
I always thought that if I was able to explain to my mum why biodiversity matters, maybe I will begin to understand how the conflict between sustainability and economic prosperity can be overcome. In my view, cradle to cradle (C2C) philosophy offers just that possibility, that shift in paradigm that is so badly needed.
I won’t go into C2C philosophy here because although it is simple (all waste = food) there are many points of nuances. I would instead like to highlight what C2C says on biodiversity. In an ecosystem, all biological waste can only be used as food back into the system if the system is diverse enough -different organisms have differing food requirements. These diverse interdependent links between various wastes / foods and the ecosystem is only possible if the ecosystem is biodiverse in the first place. So, biodiversity is important to allow waste or useless materials (from a human’s perspective) to be converted back into food or useful materials (from a human’s perspective). Biodiversity is nature’s way of converting waste into resources. Beautiful.
McDonough and Braungart (2002), founders of C2C philosophy, compare biodiversity to a tapestry – “(…) a richly textured web of individual species woven together with interlocking tasks. In such a setting, diversity means strength, and monoculture means weakness. Remove the threads, one by one, and an ecosystem becomes less stable, less able to withstand natural catastrophe and disease, less able to stay healthy and to evolve over time. The more diversity there is, the more productive functions – for the ecosystem, for the planet – are performed” (p121-122).
Short analysis of Chris Goodall’s paper “Peak Stuff” published on http://www.carboncommentary.com/ - reported in the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/oct/31/consumption-of-goods-falling
As it currently stands, all Goodall’s analysis tells us is this: we might be making the right kind of progress in some areas. For example: local governments are becoming better at managing and recycling household waste; individuals are trading in their cars for bikes; companies are using less packaging; some sectors are beginning to establish effective recycling methods; the agricultural sector is using less chemical fertilisers; and perhaps some of our homes are more energy efficient than before. It is imperative we understand the reasons behind these trends so we can build on the successes and tackle our weaknesses. However, the argument that “peak stuff” may have occurred and therefore indicates UK economic growth is not increasing pressures on the environment is premature without further analysis.
It is also very important to remember primary resource extraction is only one dimension of environmental pressure caused by the economy. Other environmental pressures include: GHG emissions, landfill waste, air and water pollution, biodiversity loss, deforestation. These pressures are caused by the technological methods used to produce, transport, recycle and dispose of virgin and recycled materials, consumed by the economy. With the exception of landfill waste, Goodall has examined none of these pressures in detail in his paper.
There are many red herrings and unanswered questions in Goodall’s analysis. Could it be consumption has increased in some areas decreasing consumption in other areas? For example, Goodall couldn’t find reliable data for plastics, a significant part of our overall consumption and a significant source of environmental pressure. Goodall’s analysis of water pollution doesn’t include embodied water in consumed goods and services (water is also omitted from the MFA). Considering China, the world’s manufacturing hub, is experiencing severe water pollution, Goodall’s analysis on consumption of fresh water in the UK tells us nothing about the impact UK’s economic growth has on global water degradation. Goodall acknowledges this but I fear this is buried behind the grand proclamations made in the paper. Goodall’s analysis of peak cement consumption may also be premature – it is well known the UK is experiencing a severe shortage of appropriate housing and that demand has consistently outstripped supply for the last 30 years. Is peak cement consumption due to housing poverty rather than housing prosperity?
Peak stuff? I am not so sure.