Push and Pull

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Photo by Sporkist

By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

A surprising move by the French government has seen the ban of food waste in supermarkets. While this undoubtly are positive news, which are putting the focus on the practices of food management within the retail industries, there are also problematic aspects with this approach. I will take the opportunity to use this post to discuss some of the problems with punitive policies, and also to offer the contures of a more holistic approach.

moral

Moralism & Practical repercussions

The concept of morality has been an integral part of human social interactions for all of recorded history, and probably during the entire period of human sapience. Morality affects both laws, but also the institutions forming around our legal systems. It affects unwritten rules and etiquette, and provides a common cultural framework within which a culture is developing its values.

You may already have understood that there is a difference between morality and moralism as concepts. A moralist view of the world is defining the world from an antropocentric perspective in which actions generally are defined as good or evil, and where good actions should be rewarded and evil actions punished (moralists tend to weigh on punishments). Thus, the important thing is not the consequences for the greater good, but the intention of policies. For example, strict anti-drug policies may not work, but they send a signal that society does not accept “aberrant behaviour”.

Often, we imagine that moralism is the realm of political and cultural conservatives, who hold to social views where for example inner city neighbourhoods fraught with crime, poverty and violence are seen as entirely a result of bad upbringing, absent fathers and a lack of faith in scripture. I would not make any statements on where moralism is most usual, but it tends to varies between periods in time. For example, during the 1980’s and 1990’s, we have had “moral panics” regarding metal music, veganism and role-playing games (from evangelical fundamentalists), while during the first decade of the 2000’s and increasingly during the 2010’s, we’ve seen more moral panics regarding gender issues, racial issues and the issue of immigration.

When an issue has become a moralist issue, it is difficult to hold an adverse opinion on a matter, since the one opposing the “good” position is suspected of being tainted by evil.

That’s not saying that moralists cannot have good points, for in most cases, they strive towards a better society and they are putting the focus on for example social ills. But the discussion that is created around the subject tend to become increasingly shrill and symbols-focused, which reduces the ability to access the practical situation on the ground and build the foundation for an inclusionary discussion. This kind of dialogue – which really is a monologue from one party – can turn into a moral panic, especially if there is one “offending group” which is seen as representatives of evil. This can lead to a witch hunt, in which people’s personal lives and integrity are harmed. If the moral panic occurs from more than one direction, the results can be catastrophic.

However, to return to the retail policies of Valls’ cabinet, it seems to me at least as symbolic measures that are hitting on a seemingly random point in the linear resource chain. Firstly, a lot of food is thrown away or destroyed during the production phase, which is incredibly wasteful in its own right, especially as the food industry is more and more reliant on mono-cultures for every passing year. As you can see on the image below, every staple has an own linear chain like this, and at every stage, you can be sure that resources are wasted.

Food-Supply-Chain

If the French government has not anchored this new policy in the retail industry, the results will be that the retail industry maybe will buy in less food (as the best possible result), but that will affect other parts of the food production chain, and transport the waste there. Sadly, farmers are often in developed countries subsidized to discard food. The retail industry can also adapt by for example giving away excess food as aid to developing countries or to homeless people. But giving away the food as aid would probably hurt farmers in the Third World, outcompeting small family farms and inevitably replacing them with cattle ranches or mono-cultures (producing grain mostly used to feed cattle and sheep), contributing heavily to both freshwater waste, soil erosion, dependency on fertilizers and climate change.

So while this policy probably has both pragmatic and moralist foundations, it seems at the moment to be a random swing aimed at an industry which has immoral practices.

A holistic approach

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The Human Civilization can be defined both as an integrated network of eco-systems and as a super-organism. Our cities are visible as crimson and greyish spots from space, our monocultures have transformed Europe, China, North America and the Amazon Basin. To understand human activity on Earth and how profoundly it has transformed our planet, we must move away from an individualistic approach where we view the society as a fixed entity and the one with the choice how to act – the conscient agent – is always an individual.

We must understand that society is more than our consumer choices, more than our political or lifestyle choices, and even more than the culture we were born and raised in. Human civilization is – from a physical perspective – an intricate web of resource flows, and the infrastructure which both makes these flows possible and also is a result of their current. Civilization is an emergent meta-organism. Now, I am not saying that civilization is “evil”, nor that all civilizations (both real and imagined) are the same.

However, without a realization that food waste is a part of a civilization based on a destructive way of utilizing the environment, rather than an aberrant outlier in an otherwise “good” civilization, we would just continue to create new ecological crises until we’ve exhausted the ability of the planet to maintain an advanced human civilization. One central problem is of course that governments – as one of the commanding tops of what can be called the consciously organized part of Civilization – must base their existence and legitimacy around the idea that our current civilization is ultimately good and at least better than any conceivable alternatives. Cultural memes are also largely centered around reinforcement of norms and values that will support the existence of the civilization and its structures (given that, western civilization has undercurrents that allow for criticism in certain directions, this criticism can later be applied and included into the process through democratic and academic means, thus creating a greater degree of adaptability than in other cultures).

To return to the main point, policy-makers must realize that ecological issues (avoid the term environmental issues) are not just a policy area amongst others, but the base on which civilization rests. Therefore, a thorough set of ecological policies must be arranged in such a manner that they have a profound effect on all activities inside the Civilization, and with a good overview over not only resource flows, but also financial flows and population flows.

The goal of such an approach would be a long-term transition towards a sustainable circular economy which can exist within the limits of nature.

Push and pull policies

graphicdesign.stackexchange.com

graphicdesign.stackexchange.com

Governments can not alone form or lead the transition. It requires an integrated approach from political leaders, financial leaders, community leaders, civil society, non-governmental organisations, economic actors, grassroot groups and individuals and families. What governments can do is however to install the legal framework to affect behaviour amongst different segments of society.

Such frameworks can be designed  to punish bad habits or rewarding good habits. Punishing bad habits can for example be to increase taxes on fossil fuels, or on companies selling fossil fuels, or to outright ban certain practices (another example would be to reduce or take away all parking spaces in city centres). Rewards can be to install subsidies for green energy solutions, or to reward car owners for swapping into eco-friendly cars. It can also be to for example create free public transit.

Given this, we need to discuss how an effective transitional approach would work – and that is depending on two factors. Firstly, how grave is the ecological situation right now within the area you want to affect positively (I advice you to look into the article about the Three Criteria for an elaboration on information-gathering). Secondly, exactly what kind of transition do we want to foster?

The direction of for example subsidies or taxes, or more legalistic measures like outright bans would shape the outcome in some way, and the question is how large ripple effects one could get.

What is certain is that both push and pull methodologies are necessary within the framework of today’s financial system in order to make effective transformations possible. In general, bans are not advisable, especially not of processing aspects of industrial systems (of which the retail industry is an example). Rather, it would be more effective to tax unsustainable food management practices and make additional fines if the industry is not compliant.

Then it is of course a matter of how large taxes there should be. Ideally, for example the meat industry should be taxed with so high – even punitive – tax rates, that it ceases to be able to operate. That will sadly have adverse effects on everyone from butchers to Argentinian gauchos and Fast Food employees, but unemployment is ultimately an insignificant problem in comparison with the future of the Planet.

There does however also need to exist rewards, and investments into alternative ways of managing resource flows. Instead of just focusing on aspects of production, we must analyse the energy weight of entire production chains, and policies should be shaped after the realization that our civilization is an integrated physical system. Therefore, revenue taken from the processes that are damaging the planet could be invested into projects that facilitate processes that are either neutral towards or would improve the long-term well-being of the biosphere.

Ultimately

The Earth Organisation for Sustainability has come to the conclusion that to create a sustainable civilization on Earth, we need a way of managing resources that is profoundly different than today’s. We need to know how much resources we can take from the Earth, we need to arrange these resources within a circular economy, and we need to provide basic sustenance to all human beings.

But to reach that point, to go from here to there, we must employ the available tools of the current system, both to create new tools, to manage and reverse ecological decay, and to transition our socio-economic system. Only by employing a holistic approach can we reach constructive results for the future of our planet.

P.S – also do not forget to Like our Facebook page.

The 6th of January Conference

For being a small movement, EOS is characterised by a determination to move where most other organisations don’t, and to engage in a very broad variety of projects that aim to shape the future. On behalf of EOS, I want to express gratitude towards everyone who have decided to partake in the struggle to build a sustainable future for coming generations. The Biodome Project in Umea represents but the beginning of many projects which would be undertaken on the local, regional and global level to help to shift humanity towards a more sustainable future. eos_2013_1

To achieve this, we are dependent on the public. We are dependent on you.

But we are also keen to listen to your concerns and interests, and therefore invite you to partake in our forums, our facebook group, or our various meetings. If you have ideas which you want to realise in terms of sustainability and a transformation of the way in which we humans on a grand scale are dealing with our planet and our society, you are welcome to join EOS. We are not the kind of organisation where everyone is obliged to do the same thing, or where talented young people are wasted away to carry litter boxes, standing outside windy days and gather petitions or similar. We want to gather the brightest minds and most active hearts to make a qualitative change which would resonate through society.

You are very welcome to join in on our Teamviewer conference on the 6th of January 2013!

With kind regards

/Enrique

The rise of nationalism

All over Europe, East Asia and North America, Nationalism is growing. In Sweden, the third largest party amongst the youth are the xenophobic and formerly fascist Sweden Democrats. The Green Party and the Sweden Democrats are fighting on the national scale on who should be the third largest of Sweden’s 8 parties. While the Green Party commands a lead for the third place amongst those born in the 70’s, the Sweden Democrats are comfortably winning amongst those born in the 80’s and 90’s.

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I would argue that the comparative failure for the Green Party to get on the drum in terms of youth politics is due to a failure to correspond how their policies could matter to the issues that are important to youths. In Sweden, unemployment lies around 7-8% persistently, and almost 25% of the youths are unemployed. If you are unemployed and low-educated, you will have a problem entering the labour market. Imagine that you and four-hundred other people are hunting the few low-qualified jobs that pop up then and then. It also affects your ability to get housing, especially as the population has increased with over one million since the 1990s (and most new building projects are middle class rather than working class-focused, meaning that youths moving out could stand in lines for years waiting for an affordable place to live in.

With a lack of pro-active initiatives to give people access to a working labour and housing environment, there is no surprise that those affected by the lack of policies or solutions in these areas would look for ways to reduce the population growth, even if it means tougher immigration laws.

Combine that with the stupid, self-defeating, alienating and bizarre policies undertaken by various local public officials regarding Swedish or western cultural heritage, and people become offended. This obsession with symbol issues which pervades through parts of the bureaucratic establishment for unclear reasons is slowly producing a backlash, a generation for which the most rebellious thing is to watch Astrid Lindgren films, eat Kalles Kaviar, hoisting the Swedish flag and listen to Sabaton and Raubtier. In the 1990s and early 2000s, that kind of patriotism was associated with the most backward countryside holdouts – but nowadays it seems to be mainstream, and pervade deeper into society.

The Greens do still have an edge in one area. The youths who are voting on the Greens tend to be more socially conscientous, have a higher degree of knowledge about poverty and sustainability issues and have a higher likelihood to engage in the Green Youth and later the actual Green Party. But Democracy is ultimately an exercise in numbers, not in the quality of the engagement. The recent scandals with the Sweden Democrats could actually even endear them more to the youths working for them.

I would say that the main problem why the Green Party fails to attract support is that they have been “too rational”. Triangulation is the most rational vote maximising strategy, and since 2002, the Greens have successfully employed that to move from the fringe to the mainstream. The mainstream, however, is not static, and future voters tend to identify themselves in opposition to the preceding generation. For example, the Baby Boomers identified themselves in opposition to the Greatest Generation, and brought the Civil Rights Era and Sexual Revolution. The yuppies of the 1980’s defined themselves in opposition to the hippies of the 1960’s, and the young adults of the 1990’s and 2000’s (gen x-ers) were generally more focused on social justice once again. In Sweden at least, it seems like the rebellious thing today is a form of “revolutionary conservative trolling”, marked by such communities as Flashback and news like Avpixlat. The Green Party is not considered hip, it is considered mainstream, and therefore not as “cool” for youths to identify themselves with it.

The Swedish cultural and political establishment is largely composed of Baby Boomers. Therefore, there have been a focus of rebellion against gender roles, patriarchy, christianity, hetero-normativity and traditional bourgeois national symbols such as the monarchy. What they have forgotten is that they are the establishment today, and the reaction is a weird situation where the rebellious thing is to become a christian conservative monarchist. I am certainly not saying that is any form of progressive development. I am just saying that it is the reality of the counter-identity that is formulated more and more. One of the reasons for being anti-establishment is to become something that “the adults” cannot approve of. If you draw a dick on the head of a photo of the Swedish Prime Minister, you can get an expo at a museum or arts gallery. If you draw a traditional national-romanticist painting, you evoke an uproar and become “the black sheep“. And one of the points with evoking controverse is to become the black sheep with the establishment.

To win support amongst the youths, the Green Party has to:

– Become more edgy and more hip. Youths generally mistrust establishment politicians.

And more importantly…

Access the issues of housing and employment in a believable manner.

– Communicate all of that in a “good” way.

Personally, I did actually expect that Gustaf Fridolin would help to increase the support of the Green Party above 10% and possibly up to 15%. The reason why the success of the Greens was stalled is probably that it isn’t 2002 any more and Gustaf Fridolin, who was an edgy rebel in the early 2000’s, nowadays is like any young politician. At last, he has not become Captain Obvious, like Annie Lööf. Of course, very few people care for politicians that doesn’t have any ideas on how to improve the things that matter.Lowenzahn_in_Mauerfuge

The Green Party has become a very blueish type of Green Party, which is sad. But yet, they have an orientation (internationalist, pro-sustainable) which is agreeable and should be supported. Their ideas are not bad, but they are not the best at advocating them and connecting them to the issues people feel for in everyday life. In contrast, nationalists like the Sweden Democrats have no solutions on any of the major problems today. They don’t even see those problems. That is not due to them having a bad programme, but rather a bad ideology. Nationalism, an ideology which is centred around the reveration of the nation, is probably the worst ideology you can have if you want to address global problems. Therefore, the loss of the youth to the far right – which is not only a Swedish phenomenon – represents a large and growing challenge for progressives.

Enrique Lescure,

Sequence of Relations Director,

the Earth Organisation for Sustainability

How the European project could save itself

The current Nobel Peace Prize award in Oslo is an attempt to verify the European Union as a “peace project”, comparable with Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Bono. This decision has been met with criticism both due to the fact that the EU has not always contributed positively to global peace, and as an obvious attempt to try to redefine the EU brand from being associated with a limping economy, an Euro on the verge of collapse, austerity, national governments that are radar-controlled from the ECB in Frankfurt, political ineptitude, xenophobia and the rise of poverty and far right groups.

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The enlightened, managerial establishment of Europe (of which the Norwegian Nobel Committee is a part) is using this prize as a form of therapy bear, and hopes that it would make those “unwashed rabble” who are threatened by unemployment, homelessness, a plummeting quality of life and perpetual debt to forget about their plight and come miming together to Beethoven’s Ninth. Not gonna happen. The prize does not elevate its possessor, but the possessor can elevate or denigrate the prize. Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama are inspiring human beings who have paid for their convictions by tremendous personal sacrifices. They also are likeable people who are charismatic and photogenic.

For the echo chamber, for the liberal media (of which many newspapers became either irritated at the EU peace prize reward, or stayed indifferent to the whole debacle) and for those who are invested in the EU, they thought it would increase the status of the Union. Instead, it sunk the value of the prize – again, and comes of as a desperate, Soviet-esque attempt to award oneself medals. To a very great extent, the EU has been the darling project for the managerial-bureaucratic classes in the European countries, no matter if these countries are a part of the EU or not. Norway is not a member of the EU, and only 18% of the Norwegians want to join the EU.

It remains a mystery what concrete, tangible things the European Union has done for peace. KFOR? SFOR? Peace-keeping missions? On that ground, the peace prize could have been awarded to every country or organisation that holds peace-keeping troops in other countries. What we should discuss is not so much peace-keeping as peace-building. And what we should discuss in this post is whether the EU brand forever is soiled.

I don’t think its necessarily that way.

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But “building a Pan-European identity” is so quaint today. It was perhaps progressive back in the 1930’s, when most of the world consisted of European colonies. It is true that there are a lot of youths who attach their identity to  something larger than their nation – but these youths are not very fond of the European Union and they don’t want to be Europeans. They want to be Earthlings. Earth inhabitants. Tellusians.

Terrans.

They travel to Ghana to help with ecological farming projects, are travelling to the Arctic to canoe with Polar Bears, are going down to Palestine, to Sudan, to Chiapas, to Ecuador, to Uganda and to Nepal. They certainly don’t identify themselves with Barroso, Van Rompuy or Ashton. They don’t want to build a “glorious United States of Europe”, because that dream of the interwar era has since long been superceded by a vision of a planet which knows no borders, of a sustainable planet, of a planet where humanity is unified, in the pursuit of life, of human dignity and of ecological sustainability. They are struggling for fair trade, women’s rights and indigenous rights.

If the European Union should ever become a successful project, it must engage itself whole-heartedly in the process for global justice, human well-being and sustainability, instead of being a conduit for corporate and bureaucratic interests. Otherwise, it will continue to suffer from shrinking approval rates, until the only logical conclusion is reached.

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The European Union will never succeed if it cannot evoke love and passion. And passion can only be evoked by passion.

In the 21st century, it should be passion for the Earth.