A lesson for Britain: Brazil promotes food security and local food procurement, strengthening family farming « Localise West Midlands

A lesson for Britain: Brazil promotes food security and local food procurement, strengthening family farming « Localise West Midlands.

From the Localise West Midlands project comes this interesting piece on legislation to promote local food procurement in Brazil.  This is somewhat at odds with the country’s agricultural extractive policies (for example the industrial farming of soya for export), but consistent with some of its other policies such as the cero fome (zero hunger) programme.

“A School Meal Law (Pnae) was passed, requiring 30% of the public food purchases for school meals to be made locally from family farmers. It strengthened local and regional markets, fostered the circulation of profits in the region, recovered regional food habits and promoted the establishment of associations or cooperatives, which play an instrumental role in organizing food production and protecting the economy of the poorest sectors of the population.”   Read more here…

Having Enough Good Food for the Manchester Region; who we need to influence and what we need to do, to multiply our impact?

Twenty three people came together at a workshop organised by Steady State Manchester (SSM) on Saturday 18th October. In a spirit of shared learning participants generated priorities about WHO we need to influence and WHAT we need to do, to multiply our impact.

The workshop included people involved in urban agriculture and community food growing as growers, researchers and environmental campaigners. They came from Liverpool and Todmorden as well as Greater Manchester.

The workshop kicked off with six three minute presentations.

Mark Burton (SSM) briefly outlined what a viable economy is, why it is important and why SSM is interested in food, he said:

food is a lens through which we can look at our present predicament and start to visualise how to develop a viable economy – one which reduces inequality and conserves the planet.’

The speakers were asked to identify an issue which would make the most difference to multiplying our impact. They included Catherine Burgess from Unicorn Grocery in Chorlton, Lucy Danger from Manchester Emerge and Fareshare, Chris Walsh from the Kindling Trust and Nick Green from Incredible Farm in Walsden. Several speakers felt the key to progress was improvements at all stages of the supply chain.

All pre-registered participants had been invited to bring an issue to share which they felt would make most difference. During the course of the afternoon a range of issues were presented, explored, amended and by the end emerged in new forms. Issues which were transformed into actions concerned ensuring all food is used, communication and bringing Housing Associations on board with viable approaches to food. Many participants left with jobs to do.

Participants could see the great potential of ensuring that more of the food that is grown is used. Debbie Ellen, who had sent the issue she would have presented if she had not been unwell, reported that a frightening 30% of food that is grown is wasted because it is graded out as the wrong size shape or colour. She argued that changing European Union regulation change could reduce this. Workshop participants will make links with local European parliament members with a food remit to explore working with them to change European Union regulations. Others want to work with supermarkets to tackle waste.

In terms of who we need to influence, there was commitment to encouraging Housing Associations to more actively support viable food issues. Several ideas for getting together and improving communication at all levels gained support including: participants will interview one another about their successes and failures and post them on On the Platform; organising community meals which both connect people and encourage conversations about good food support for an existing project to establish a Greater Manchester Food Council and promoting provocative activities (watch this space for details on the last one!)

Don’t miss Steady State Workshop on Saturday – HAVING ENOUGH GOOD FOOD IN THE MANCHESTER REGION


Shaping a viable food economy to multiply our impact

18 October 2014, 1.30-5pm

Methodist Central Buildings Central Hall Oldham Street Manchester M1 1JQ

  • A participative, action orientated workshop for anyone who wants to see a rapid increase in the availability of good food in the Greater Manchester region for all.
  • Find out more about where your contribution fits in with others.
  • Organised by Steady State Manchester in order for us all to learn, generate ideas and plans to multiply our impact.

WE will kick off with 3 minute presentations from some local key players including Catherine Burgess from Unicorn, Lucy Danger from Emerge, Chris Walsh from the Kindling Trust, and Debbie Ellen. They will present the issue they think if implemented will multiply our impact. As well as networking all participants will be able to share their issue which they believe will have most impact in small groups. We plan to end with clear priorities, a sense of how we can work together to realise them. We will get there through good discussion and networking.

The workshop has recruited very well and there are a few more places; please do tell anyone who might be interested to book now.Book a free place today! For more information contact Judith ipogworkshop@gmail.com/

07792 690 278


Future High Streets

high street

A grim reality: boarded up shops are a frequent sight for most Manchester residents

Earlier in the summer I attended the ambitiously titled ‘Prototyping the Future High Street Event’ at Manchester Business School. The aim of the event was to create a vision, via sharing ideas and using lego (!), of what various Manchester based stakeholders wanted high streets to look like in 20 years or so. Most of us will be acutely aware of the widely known problems that high streets have faced over the last decade or so. The caricature of streets lined with betting shops, pawn brokers, takeaways and empty units is all too evident in many of the most deprived areas of Manchester. However, even once highly sought after city centre locations such as King Street now also have many empty units. From my own perspective therefore, now would seem to be the perfect time to re-evaluate how we view the role and purpose of our high streets.

At the event itself a wide array of interests was represented through property developers, retail experts as well as local community leaders and academics. It was heartening therefore that despite the vastly different perspectives round the table a very clear consensus was formed. The picture painted was of a clean, green and secure space where people would want to simply spend time to socialise or otherwise without necessarily being on the high street in order to shop or spend money. The other part of the vision was that the high street should have a distinctive local feel which reflects the area in which it is situated. The conclusion was that this approach would not only yield obvious cultural benefits but also result in more money staying within the local area. Finally there was also an interesting concord in the room, not shared by me, that part of the high street should be ‘technology free’ zones where people were prevented from using their smart phones or tablets by a boundary disabling device. I felt this perhaps to be partly explained that for the first time in a while I may have been the youngest attendee as there was a conspicuous lack of young people present.

Part of the unique process of the event was that delegates could imagine their future high streets without constraining themselves as to what is or is not actually possible. In other words current technological or legal constraints are cast aside in the mind’s eye of the delegates. This technique is known as ‘science fiction prototyping’. Whilst the exercise was obviously fun and liberating it did leave rather a lot of unanswered practical questions to be answered if the group consensus was to be realised. The most obvious question of course is how to secure funding in order to improve transport links to the high street and convert areas into pedestrianised green areas. The other immediate obstacle standing in the way of achieving a broad array of shops and functions giving a high street a distinctive local feel is the fact that many high street units are owned by commercial landlords. Unsurprisingly the prime concern of most of these corporate entities is to extract the maximum possible yearly yields from their investments. Consequently high rents (as well as high business rates) can prevent start-ups and local enterprises from being able to establish themselves on many of our high streets in Manchester.

A traditional solution for local authorities would be to use their powers of compulsory purchase to acquire high street units for use as say venues for local pop up enterprises or community spaces. Whilst local authorities budgets are currently squeezed their ability to actually purchase sites or units is significantly limited. UK Local authorities currently generate 20% of their own income whilst the European average is nearer 50%. Perhaps then greater devolution following the Scottish referendum and more cash raising powers in Manchester would enable the council to have greater control over how its high streets look. If such powers were available it would be interesting to see how committed Manchester City Council would be to converting high streets in line with the vision imagined at the event. It would certainly mean a steer away from a reliance on retail and a radical perception shift in terms of viewing people as citizens rather than shoppers or consumers. It seems to be that if this refocus could be achieved and local authorities can secure the funding necessary to effect change, then our high streets could emerge radically changed and of real benefit to the communities in which they are situated.

Robert J Brown

Less levity Professor Stern! Economic growth, climate change and the decoupling question.

windmills in an arid landscapeSteady State Manchester has argued, along with most ecological economists that continued economic growth is incompatible with ecological safety. That is to say continued increases in Gross Domestic Product, (GDP and also Gross Value Added, GVA) cannot happen while reducing ecological impacts in general, and climate change-causing greenhouse gas (GHG)emissions in particular. It isn’t a popular message, and is one that is typically ignored, not least by our city leaders who still seem to think we can have some kind of ‘good growth’ while avoiding ecological catastrophe.

So what do we say to a well publicised international report that argues the opposite? This is not just any report, but one from the very well-resourced Global Commission on the Economy and Climate:

The Global Commission is chaired by former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón and comprises former heads of government and finance ministers, and leaders in the fields of economics and business. The Commission’s work is being conducted by a global partnership of leading research institutes. Reporting in September 2014, the project will make recommendations on actions and policies that can achieve high quality economic growth at the same time as addressing dangerous climate change.

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate was commissioned by seven countries – Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Norway, South Korea, Sweden and the United Kingdom – as an independent initiative to report to the interational (sic) community.

The Vice Chair of the commission and chair of its Economics Advisory Panel is none other than Nicholas Stern, Professor of Economics at LSE and author of the 2006 “Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change” (full text here). This report can take some considerable credit for helping to make the climate crisis a mainstream issue: as well as arguing that the climate emergency was evidence of a massive “market failure”, it argued that the economic costs of doing nothing would be greater than those of tackling climate change. A series of imitator reports, including Manchester’s Deloitte “Mini Stern” sought to cash in on the idea that there was money (economic growth) in climate change mitigation.

But let’s look at the new report.

The report’s conclusion is that countries at all levels of income now have the opportunity to build lasting economic growth at the same time as reducing the immense risks of climate change. This is made possible by structural and technological changes unfolding in the global economy and opportunities for greater economic efficiency. The capital for the necessary investments is available, and the potential for innovation is vast. What is needed is strong political leadership and credible, consistent policies.”

A strong claim. Now to be fair, the report has a lot of useful information and argument. It’s real target is those who want to “cut the green crap”, believing that actions to mitigate climate change would harm the economy. It is this focus that gives the report its emphasis which is on the actions that are needed. But what about that claim? The report makes a number of interlinked statements:

In this sense, the choice we face is not between “business as usual” and climate action, but between alternative pathways of growth: one that exacerbates climate risk, and another that reduces it. (p. 15)

Strengthening growth and tackling climate risk are therefore not just compatible goals; they can be made to reinforce each other. (p. 18)

And the crucial section is this:

The evidence for these conclusions has been accumulating over the last decade. The theoretical basis for them has been known for some time. What is new is the practical experience around the world. National and local governments as well as businesses that have adopted lower-carbon strategies and policies have found them associated with economic performance as good as or better than their high-carbon peers’.(33)

Much of this has been driven by recent technological advances. The decoupling of growth from carbon emissions in some of the best-performing economies, both in Northern Europe and in North America, demonstrates the gains that can be made in incomes, jobs, rates of innovation and profits from a low-carbon, resource-efficient model of growth.(34). (p. 18)

I was intrigued, because the evidence that I have seen suggests that, so far at least, it is not possible to decouple growth in carbon emissions from economic growth. We reviewed this evidence two years ago in In Place of Growth (see page 18). The relevant references are given below, together with a further one from New Zealand. So I looked up the reference notes (33 and 34).

33 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), 2013. Decarbonisation and the Economy: An empirical analysis of the economic impact of energy and climate change policies in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, UK and The Netherlands. Available at: http://www.pwc.nl/nl/assets/documents/pwc-decarbonisation-and-the-economy.pdf.

34 See: Brahmbhatt, M., Dawkins, E., Liu, J. and Usmani, F., 2014 (forthcoming). Decoupling Carbon Emissions from Economic Growth: A Review of International Trends. New Climate Economy contributing paper. World Resources Institute, Stockholm Environment Institute and World Bank.To be available at: http://newclimateeconomy.report.
Also: Brinkley, C., 2014. Decoupled: successful planning policies in countries that have reduced per capita greenhouse gas emissions with continued economic growth. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, advance online publication. DOI:10.1068/c12202.

Well, the Brahmbhatt et al. paper has yet to appear on the New Climate Economy website, a little extraordinary since it seems to underpin a key and very controversial claim. I couldn’t find anything by those authors elsewhere that threw any light on the claim either.

The PWC report (2013) is certainly a very interesting one with a lot of detail. But the devil, as so often, is in the detail. Firstly it is chiefly focussed on energy supply. But secondly, it is critical to understand which emissions are being discussed. On page 17 we find a map showing the CO2 to GDP ratio reductions for the five European countries studied. They have all reduced the energy intensity of their economies. But the footnote tells us that “We use domestically created carbon emissions per GDP. This does not include emissions of imported goods (consumption based emissions).” [see a Manchester take on the Total Carbon Footprint here] And it turns out that the apparent decarbonisation of these economies, while partly due to increases in energy efficiency and changes in the fuel mix (in Germany and Denmark renewables play a big part), owes a lot to the outsourcing of production to the low wage economies of the ‘developing’ world. Or put it another way, as is all too familiar to those of us who have lived in Manchester over the last 3 decades, we have de-industrialised. Our increasing GDP includes our increasing consumption. Our expenditure on imports goes into the GDP growth figure, but the emissions created in making and distributing those goods do not enter into the GHG calculations. So the claim in the report that some of these economies have produced an absolute decoupling of GDP growth from GHG emissions, evaporates into….. the air.

What about the other, very new reference? It is so new that it only appears as a web preview of the article in press in the scholarly journal Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy. Those with University library access can see it here (others can only see the abstract). In this article, Catherine Brinkley “identified nine countries that have steadily decoupled per capita carbon emissions from GDP”. Her detailed study is again interesting, with a lot of pointers to where and how to make reductions in GHG emissions. But again, “Territorial emissions are emphasized in this research”, and as she notes, “some scholars argue that deindustrialization and commodity trading account for the majority of carbon emission reductions in wealthy nations, thereby distorting the true per capita carbon footprint”.

So this is the crux. While Stern and colleagues draw the conclusion that absolute decoupling is possible, they present no evidence for this, and the (available) sources they do cite, while rather airily talking about “absolute decoupling”, can only show either sectoral reductions (in energy use) or territorial reductions, that leave out all the outsourced emissions that are the sequelae of the rising GDPs.

But there is another problem – rebound, or the Jevons paradox. Suppose we follow the actions of Stern et al. and invest heavily in energy efficiency and renewables. My energy bills will go down. What shall I do with the money saved? I could go on foreign holidays, buy some more consumer goods (a new bike), eat more unseasonable fruits and vegetables, or fish (and if I weren’t mostly vegetarian, meat), build an extension. I could put the money into investments. All of these, as things stand, will generate more emissions. As Stern et al. are at pains to point out, the economy is complex and interconnected (just like the ecosystem!), but they themselves fall into a simplistic linear model that fails to take complex feedback effects into account.

So, the case that GDP growth and climate change mitigation are friends is not made.

Let’s look at what the real experts, the IPCC said earlier this year:

Globally, economic and population growth continue to be the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. The contribution of population growth between 2000 and 2010 remained roughly identical to the previous three decades, while the contribution of economic growth has risen sharply (high confidence). Between 2000 and 2010, both drivers outpaced emission reductions from improvements in energy intensity (Figure SPM.3). Increased use of coal relative to other energy sources has reversed the long-standing trend of gradual decarbonization of the world’s energy supply. [1.3, 5.3, 7.2, 14.3, TS.2.2] http://report.mitigation2014.org/spm/ipcc_wg3_ar5_summary-for-policymakers_approved.pdf

So there it is. A decidedly serious problem that won’t be resolved by optimistically thinking that we can have our cake and eat it. Less levity, I think, Professor Stern.

A lot more could be said, about, for example, the faith of these economists in the carbon price mechanism – using the market to correct the market. But the report is not all bad. It is a call to action and it focusses on the key sectors where emissions can be cut (cities, land use and energy). It is just that their basic assumption and some of their recommendations (e.g. putting a price on things like forests) are inconsistent with that imperative.

For some other criticisms of this flawed report, see this interesting critique from the “Sceptical Economist” who also wrote this useful summary of the decoupling question.

update 6 october., 2014:-
And some further critiques:-











And here are the other references on decoupling:

SERI, http://www.materialflows.net cited in O’Neill, D, Dietz, R, & Jone, N (Eds.). (2010). Enough is Enough: Ideas for a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources. The report of the Steady State Economy Conference. Leeds: Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, and Economic Justice for All.

Victor, P. A. (2011). Growth, degrowth and climate change: A scenario analysis. Ecological Economics. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2011.04.013 available at http://degrowth.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Victor_Growth-Degrowth-and-Climate-Change.pdf

Jackson, T. Prosperity Without Growth. London: Sustainable Development Commission, 2009. http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/publications/downloads/prosperity_without_growth_report.pdf , Næss, P., & Høyer, K. G. (2009). The Emperor’s Green Clothes: Growth, Decoupling, and Capitalism. Capitalism Nature Socialism, 20(3), 74–95. doi:10.1080/10455750903215753 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10455750903215753

Giorgetti, A (2007) A Discussion on Decoupling Economic Growth from the Emissions of Carbon Dioxidereport prepared for Environment Waikato & The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Wellington, New Zealand. http://www.waikatoregion.govt.nz/PageFiles/6131/tr07-02.pdf

(post updated 27 October, 2014)

Mark Burton
Steady State Manchester Collective

Trapped in techno-scientism; is this hindering Manchester becoming an eco-city? | Platform

Trapped in techno-scientism; is this hindering Manchester becoming an eco-city? | Platform.

This is a provocative and very well written article by Nadine Andrews on the shortcomings of the dominant ideology, and hence strategies, here in Greater Manchester.  It does make sense to question the prevailing ‘rational-scientific’ approach to social and ecological challenges, since the very nature of the problems we face have their roots in the modernist expansion of technological, Promethean, capacity, which, in hand with a profit-seeking economic system, extends its reach over all aspects of human life, right across the planet.  That doesn’t mean advocating a return to some former ‘golden age’, or to ignorance and drudgery, but it does mean critically asking whether many of the vaunted ‘solutions’ to our economic, social and ecological ills are themselves part of the problem.  This means focussing first on the fundamental, contestable, and decidedly tricky questions of the kind of society we want to live in, how to live well, with dignity for all, without harming the planet?  Our pamphlet Living Well, looked at some of these questions from an internationalist perspective.

What do you think?

Mark H Burton

(Upcoming Event) HAVING ENOUGH GOOD FOOD IN THE MANCHESTER REGION: Shaping a viable food economy to multiply our impact

Saturday 18 October 2014, 1.30-5pm, Methodist Central Hall, Manchester

Book a free place today!

Food DiagramThere are many dimensions to the value of food in our lives; we are spotlighting food as an economic issue as this is an area getting less attention than other dimensions. We will consider the implications of wider changes for example; food prices are likely to escalate in coming years and the nature of work and its value is changing. We recognise that no dimension can be separated from others; we need a whole system approach.

We will focus on how we can rapidly stimulate availability of enough food in the region which is safe, affordable, sustainable, healthy and available for local consumption to make the big difference needed.

Who will be at this workshop?

  • People with all sorts of relationships to food including growers, eaters and sellers, activists, ‘professional foodies’, academics and others.
  • People who are interested in a viable economy and /or sustainable food.
  • People who are curious to know more about where what they are doing fits into the jigsaw of ensuring food in this region is affordable, locally produced and sustainable.

What we will achieve? A sense of what we all need to do to:

  • multiply the impact of current brilliant food related work to ensure enough affordable, locally produced sustainable food is available.
  • stimulate movers and shakers especially in low income areas

By the end of the workshop we will have recommendations and know who else we need to involve and how. We will all be able to take our learning forward including at the Greater Manchester Sustainable Food Cities seminar in November

The workshop will be draw on all participants’ strengths. It will include 3 minute presentations and group work to familiarise participants with what we are all doing. Together we will develop priorities and agree how to make them happen.

What difference will a viable food economy make?

It will work towards:

  • Reducing carbon footprint by maximising local food production for local consumption and minimising waste
  • Providing jobs

In the first instance we may need to identify ‘quick wins’ to get politicians, businesses and housing trusts on board. What should they be?

Do we need a shared vision of what a viable food economy for Greater Manchester looks like?

A vision may include:

  • What food would we be eating – meat, dairy, cereals….?
  • The role of hi-tech methods
  • What kind of economic production? To what extent will food be produced by households, communities, small, medium and large scale enterprises? What does this mean in terms of what work may look like?
  • Cost and access issues – how will food be distributed?

Book a free place here

For more information contact: ipogworkshop@gmail.com

Vermont re-orientates Economic Strategy to ‘Genuine Progress’ « Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy

In this post from CASSE Eric Zencey explains how the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) has been adopted as a measure of success by Vermont’s ‘Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy’. It aims to improve the GPI  by 5% over 5 years.

The GPI subtracts from GDP the social and environmental costs of economies, and includes other measures of value and prosperity, which are left out by the measures broadly used to gauge economic success, like GDP and its regional variant GVA.

The GPI takes into account the costs of crime, pollution, commuting and inequality, and the value of education, volunteer work, leisure time and infrastructure.

The above all sounds pretty agreeable and also un-exceptional for ‘community strategies’ or ‘economic development strategies’, isn’t this the kind of stuff public policy makers weigh up already?

The significance of bringing these social and environmental factors into a single metric like GPI, which is not without its dangers, is nevertheless demonstrated in graphs like this below.

Globally GDP and the broader measure of progress GPI rose in tandem to a peak in the mid 70’s after which the relationship breaks down with the GPI going into reverse. The increases in incomes are cancelled out or outweighed by increasing environmental and social costs. GDP growth, or the aggregate economic development pathway pursued, has arguably become uneconomic.

The graph for the UK where recession, unemployment and austerity in the 80’s caused a lurch in the GPI followed by a recovery, shows the fragile and complex relationship between economic stability and genuine prosperity. GPI cannot be restored by simply sending GDP into reverse.

Recession and austerity destroyed progress in the GPI by an order of magnitude higher than the downturn in GDP. This highlights the importance of a post-growth economics being about a coordinated approach to employment, incomes and well-being. Not, as it is sometimes misconstrued by those unable to see outside of the orthodoxy, a blasé attitude to recession.

Nevertheless, although GPI eventually recovered in the UK there has been little progress in the 20-30 years since the 70’s, despite continuous growth; GDP has not been a very good measure of economic progress for quite some time.

It demonstrates what economists are so familiar with at the micro-economic level, that diminishing marginal returns result in an equilibrium condition and an optimum size for an economic enterprise.

The national and global economies are the total of economic enterprise, subsets of the planetary eco-system and also have an optimum size defined by the finite nature of the planet. In developed countries we have exceeded our share.

This does not mean economic development ends. We must have more economic change not less and improve the social and ecological inefficiency of our uneconomic system. There is still plenty of room for the deployment of more ecologically efficient technologies, but most importantly, and most often overlooked, qualitative development in the organization of employment, well-being and quality of life. We need to work and consume less and focus on equality.

The adoption of GPI as a measure in Vermont, Maryland and Oregon is a good example for regional and local government in the UK to focus on economic development that better serves there citizens, as opposed to a blind pursuit of GDP. It is not however a fix-all.

Vermont’s Economic Development strategy still aims for growth in GDP, incomes and jobs alongside an increase in the GPI. Which as Zencey points out, suggests a failure to realise the impossibility of infinite GDP growth. It is nevertheless an important step in re-examining the way economic development is pursued.

The adoption of GPI won’t make bring a sustainable, prosperous, post-growth economy into being by itself. There are significant national and international reforms needed to do that. But a focus on genuine progress would be a vast improvement on current regional economic development policy making.

It would be interesting to see how Manchester has performed in relation to the GPI in recent years, I have yet to come across an attempt to measure this. What priorities for economic development would it now throw up?

Chances are it would throw into question some of the priorities currently taken for granted under the deceptive idea that Economic Growth is still a relevant measure of economic progress or prosperity.