Thursday, December 30, 2010

Good news from China

"For years, humans have tried to conquer nature, but in doing so, they themselves became conquered. They lost their connection with the earth. They destroyed the land they were tilling. In Buddhist belief, there are no pesticides, no bad insects, no good ones. There is only imbalance in the world. We must restore that balance." Says Han, a new farmer in China.

As a reaction to the last decades of breakneck growth and environmental destruction, similarly as what happened in western countries in the sixties and seventies perhaps, there is a counter reaction in China with an increased interest in organic food. Also, a number of people, mainly rich, take a step further and go back to the land, start farming. This all according to an article in the Washington Post. Read more. At least some good news at the end of 2010.

(oh my, it feels like the much feared Y2K (if you are below 25 I am sure you have no idea what Y2K means, and I almost forgot it myself, but came across it the other day, and smiled a bit) was just a few years ago. What happened with those 10 years. Someone stole them?).

Even if most people expect nothing good from China and the other BRICs when it comes to the environment, I believe the future of humanity rests in the hands of those rapidly growing economies, for the better and the worse. In Garden Earth, I write:

There will be winners and losers among countries, regions, organizations and individuals. The people that are privileged today, like myself, will see their privileges diminish. But to lose privileges mustn't be a disaster, it can also be liberating in the same way as the abolition of apartheid in South Africa didn't only liberate the blacks but also the whites from an undignified relationship. If I might venture a guess, it is that we will find the winners in the middle income countries. This may sound surprising as they are the ones that also are well known for break-neck growth and environmental degradation. But they are not yet stuck in the high energy society, and in any case, it doesn't offer them the same prospects as it did the high income countries as returns, both economic and energetic on the use of more energy are diminishing. They have, hopefully, learned something from our mistakes ad they can challenge the high income countries politically and economically. There is a middle class that can be engaged in a political change project. They also have a very big part of the world's population, so their choice is to some extent the choice of humanity. In Europe and the USA, environmentalists have for decades used a rhetorical question: “what will happen of the Chinese adopts western lifestyles and consumption patterns?” Now, this question is no longer a rhetorical question. It is reality; soon but it will not be answered by western environmentalists but by the Chinese themselves; because whatever the global impact is, the impact in China itself will be even greater. In 2006, there were 16 million electrical bicycles in China, in 2010 their numbers were probably 120[1] million (NYT 2010c). They are for sure no ideal and not unproblematic from an environmental perspective, they spread led from batteries and they need coal-generated electricity (ADB 2009). Nevertheless, they are clearly favourable compared to cars, and the infrastructure needs is the same as for the benign snail-bicycle, and they represent just one of many examples of how they can avoid the mistakes of high-income countries. China is also the number one producer of solar technology. Countries, such as the USA, which whole society is stuck in and fed by high-energy consumption and a world order where it has profited from the weakness of others will have difficulties to find new ways. The poorest countries, on their hand, will be stuck in the wish to be rich and they will also lack social, manufactured and human capital to make a comprehensive and fundamental change.

[1] In the Swedish edition of the book, I wrote: in 2009 there are probably 50 million...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Advise for Christmas

Don't buy too much stuff this Christmas!
Well, if you haven't understood that yet, you have some homework to do....

says anti-Santa Gunnar, here with the Sydney opera as a hat.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A model for fair trade.

"It takes a village to raise a child"

That is a Tongan Proverb. I am currently on a job for the FAO for the development of the organic sector in the Pacific. I am now in Fiji after visiting Solomon Islands and Tonga.
Similarly as in Samoa, which I visited earlier this year, and in Bhutan there is an interesting culture. While it is an old culture it might also have seeds for the future. The proverb is stressing the need for community. The Westerns view, or at least the view that has penetrated Western culture lately is based on an extreme individualism. According to Time magazine for this week, it has grown worse. Anyway, traditional cultures pay a lot more attention to family and not only that, at least in some cultures the local communities are also seen as essential, which is exactly what is expressed in that proverb. Ultimately we are a social being and not individuals. It is the social organization of humans that made us to what we were. If we had been "individuals" throughout history, we would hardly been different than any other animal. It is actually only the most primitive animals that are acting as individuals.
Society IS part of humanity.

An interesting feature in Tonga is how Tongans "trade" with the Tongan communities abroad, in particular in New Zealand. While someone in Sweden might send a box of Swedish stuff to some emigrated relatives the first years, Tongan families (extended families) fill a CONTAINER with taro, tapioca, coco nuts and whatever they have and send off to relatives in New Zealand. And some time later perhaps a container goes in the other direction with some building materials and household appliances. Or perhaps money is sent. It is a kind of reciprocal exchange which was how we all traded historically,before money. In old times, trade was about ecological adaptation and about strengthening ties between communities, gifts and bartering ruled. That was before "profit", "self-interest" and the "invisible hand" came into play. Why are we so blinded?