Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

Source: Peter Murray, Singularity Hub

Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town will be built from the ground up with the latest green technologies, including solar panel roofing, smart household appliances, and shared usage of electric cars and bicycles.

Panasonic has just partnered with eight other companies to build an eco-friendly town that uses the latest energy-saving and generating technologies. The houses populating the new town are expected to have virtually zero carbon emissions. It is Panasonic’s hope that the new city, expected to be completed by March 2014, will change the way cities are built in Japan and, eventually, across the world.

Unfortunately, it won’t.

I have no doubt the new city, to be named Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (SST), will be the greenest on Earth. But Panasonic should know that, in the end, the town will be more pipe dream than prototype. More helpful than creating a city with the latest in green technologies would be finding ways to incorporate those technologies in already existing city infrastructures. It’s a daunting task, and it’s an expensive task. Until we find cheap ways to replace shingles with solar panels, for example, we’re simply not going to do it.

That being said, you have to start somewhere.

Fujisawa SST will be built on a 47-acre vacant lot where a Panasonic factory once stood about 50 km west of Tokyo and will include aout 1,000 houses. Most of the technologies that will be on display at the town won’t be new, but their multi-layered incorporation will be.

By taking a ground up, green energy approach, Panasonic will be able to optimize the functionality and energy use of all the town’s equipment. Their energy management system will synergistically incorporate created energy, stored energy, and saved energy for maximal efficiency. The created energy will come from solar paneled roofing that will adorn all of the houses as well as public facilities. The energy harvested by the solar panels will then be stored in a new type of home-use lithium-ion storage battery that Panasonic developed itself. According to Panasonic the battery will be able to store enough electricity to power a house for a week. Efficient use of that energy will come from Panasonic’s ECO NAVI range of smart household appliances that sense their surroundings and adjust usage accordingly to reduce wasted electricity. The ECO NAVI refrigerator, for example, has four sensors: a door sensor to detect when it is open, an ambient light sensor that tracks the time of day the refrigerator is accessed, and ambient and interior heat sensors for optimal control of internal temperature. The refrigerator also learns the eating schedule of the household. In times of low access, such as during the workday or at night, it maintains a less cool temperature. Compared to conventional refrigerators, the ECO NAVI fridge reduces energy usage by up to 10 percent.

The developers aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the town by 70 percent compared to 1990 levels.

The layout of city blocks will be planned with the surrounding landscape in mind. A “green axis” of parks and vegetation will line the main roads and form wind paths. Solar panel design will be artistically rendered to blend with the town’s lush green landscape. And, of course, the car of choice for Fujisawa SST residents will run on electricity. Because they will require some electricity from an outside source when enough can’t be generated from solar energy within the town, the cars won’t be completely free of emission. But a city of electric cars well definitely minimize the carbon footprint compared to their gas-guzzling counterparts. Home garage and public facilities will be equipped to promote electrical vehicle ownership and sharing in Zipcar fashion. Currently under consideration is an alternative plan that does away with garages altogether. In their place would be sprawling yards and separate parking areas would hold the cars to be shared by the families in 10 to 20 homes. Electric bicycles will also be available for sharing among residents in an effort to further decrease the town’s carbon footprint.

In an effort to make Fujisawa SST both energy-efficient and safe, many of Fujisawa SST’s public spaces, such as parks, will have storage battery systems accessible by the public in the event of a catastrophe. Given Japan’s high risk of earthquakes, publicly available energy would be crucial in the event residential energy stores were destroyed.

Fujisawa SST’s optimally designed infrastructure will be connected by a power and information network, part of Panasonic’s comprehensive solutions. A Smart Energy Gateway system will connect the energy creation and storage devices as well as appliances on a single network for easy control at in-home displays. Field testing is currently underway for energy-saving technologies to be used in the town’s stores. Energy saving and storage equipment is being developed for efficient use of wind, light, heat and water. Check out the idyllic artistic renderings of the town in the computer-generated tour below.

Fujisawa SST’s timing couldn’t be better for Japan. March’s devastating earthquake knocked out one of Japan’s major sources of energy: the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. Another plant, the Hamaoka plant near central Japan is also being shut down due to safety concerns, further pinching energy resources. To minimize energy demands, the Japanese government has urged its people to save as much as it can. Companies were asked to cut their electricity use by 15 percent. At home, people are being asked to maintain a room temperature of 28 degrees Celcius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), use fans rather than air conditioners and to not leave gadgets plugged in.

Spurred largely by the earthquake, Japan’s Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, recently outlined a new future energy policy for his country. The policy calls for increased emphasis on solar and wind power. In addition the government plans to invest in future, as yet unrealized innovative technologies. In light of the country’s new green initiative, Panasonic is aggressively moving to position itself at the forefront of a market they expect to flourish in the coming years. The company acknowledges that if they stay exclusively in the business of audiovisual and white goods then their future growth will be limited. In the Fujisawa SST spirit of combining capabilities into a single multi-faceted toolset, Panasonic last year acquired Sanyo, one of Japan’s leading electronics companies. The acquisition turned Panasonic into Japan’s second largest electronics company after Hitachi, Ltd. The acquisition enabled Panasonic to develop the lithium-ion batteries planned to be used in the Fujisawa SST homes.

The Fujisawa SST project is a breath of fresh air in a world where efforts to go green are sadly limited. Unfortunately, the main impetus for a new city is the same reason green technologies are slow to take hold in old cities: it is much more feasible to incorporate green technologies into new infrastructures from the start than it is to retrofit old ones. For most buildings and houses, the cost of major remodeling with an already expensive technology is prohibitive. Panasonic’s “ground up” idea is a great one, but the world needs something better. I don’t think New York is going to be rebuilt anytime soon.

[image credit: Panasonic]

image: Fujisawa SST
video: Fujisawa SST

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Giving Nature Its Own Rights Might Avert Future Oil Disasters

Hundreds of lawsuits have flowed from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, filed by citizens, states and the federal government. And someday, perhaps, the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystems will also file suit.

Environmental philosophers and other people say that biological communities — ecosystems, habitats, species and populations — have a right to exist. They’re not just valuable because they’re someone’s property. Environmental lawyers say courts should recognize this right, and could allow people to represent nature as legal guardians or trustees.

Were nature’s rights recognized before the Deepwater Horizon wellhead blew, the destruction might have been avoided. In its aftermath, future disasters might at least be averted. If nothing else, pollution’s toll would be fully acknowledged in courts of law, not just public conscience.

“There is room in our legal system to expand the concept of guardianship,” said Patricia Siemen, executive director of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence. “The inlets and the marshes, the beaches that are damaged, species of birds that are threatened — each one may have its own guardian, with a right to speak for the interests of that being, and the legal authority to speak for that being.”

Legal recognition of ecological rights was originally proposed in 1972 by University of Southern California law professor Christopher Stone, who floated the idea as an academic exercise but became convinced of its justification. To Stone, arguments against the intrinsic rights of animals and ecosystems to exist were no more coherent than historical arguments against the rights of foreigners, children or women.

(Had Stone written a century earlier, he would have found a sympathetic ear in Charles Darwin, who in The Descent of Man wrote that humanity’s social impulses produced an ever-expanding circle of empathy. As mankind extended his regard “to the lower animals, so would the standard of his morality rise higher and higher.”)

‘The way our laws are constructed, anybody in the community can stand in the shoes of the river, so to speak.’

Stone’s landmark essay “Should Trees Have Standing?” (.pdf), was derided by some scholars. “Our brooks will babble in the courts / Seeking damages for torts,” chided one attorney. Others embraced it, including Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas. It became an environmental rallying point, and influenced legal activism in the decades to come.

In its modern form, natural rights are not usually framed in terms of individual creatures — though laws against cruelty to animals implicitly acknowledge their rights — but rather populations and ecosystems. In many ways, laws recognize those rights, too: The Endangered Species Act says that species have value. The Oil Pollution Act, which will guide the environmental assessment of Deepwater Horizon’s damage (.pdf) and ultimately determine what the U.S. government asks BP to pay for restoration, appoints various federal agencies as trustees of damaged Gulf habitats.

But there are important differences between the trusteeship sought by natural rights advocates and the trusteeship of the Oil Pollution Act. Under that law, only federal agencies can represent the Gulf of Mexico’s nature. Citizens and communities cannot. Meanwhile, the OPA’s trusteeship only kicks in after a disaster.

“Where natural rights would have the greatest influence in the context of oil and oil spills is before oil spills occur, when you’re trying to prevent damages from occurring,” said Kathryn Mengerink, director of the Environmental Law Institute’s Ocean Program.

A natural rights strategy for Gulf citizens can be found in statutes drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit group that’s worked with dozens of Pennsylvania communities trying to restrict natural gas drilling and sewage sludge dumping. The statues explicitly grant towns and cities — most notably, Pittsburgh — legal standing to enforce the rights of ecosystems and natural communities.

“The way that environmental laws work now, is that unless you experience direct harm, you don’t have legal standing,” said Mari Margil, the CELDF’s associate director. “The way our laws are constructed, anybody in the community can stand in the shoes of the river, so to speak.”

‘Nothing in the text of Article III [of the U.S. Constitution] explicitly limits the ability to bring a claim in federal court to humans.’

Similar statutes wouldn’t have allowed Gulf communities to stop deep-water oil drilling — indeed, many Gulf communities wouldn’t have wanted to stop it — but the statutes would have given the public a chance to participate in drafting drilling regulations. BP might not have been given a free pass.

“The guardian for fish, for seagrass, for whatever might be granted, can be at the table where those regulations are drafted,” said Siemen. “Obviously, it has to be someone with a conservation biology background, but they’d be there to give input.”

If Gulf communities became legal guardians for nature, they would also have recourse should the government’s estimate of Deepwater Horizon’s environmental damage prove low. This could happen if there’s political pressure to settle with BP, if the science becomes skewed by corporate or political pressures, or if some damages are simply overlooked.

The spill’s deep-sea effects in particular may be underestimated, with assessments focusing on wetlands, shallow-water fisheries and other ecosystems that are both commercially valuable and relatively easy to study, said Cynthia Sartou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network.

Under the Oil Protection Act, however, only state and federal government agencies can represent nature. People could hypothetically sue the federal government to do a better job, but it’s unlikely. “You are very limited in your right to sue. You are very limited in your right to even comment on what they do,” said Sartou.

“In a system of natural rights, it wouldn’t simply be the federal government who has the opportunity to support those rights,” said Mengerink. “It would be the public. If you don’t trust the government to do its job, this would be added support.”

Whether natural rights statutes will hold up in court remains to be seen. So far, judges have been inconsistent in their treatment of the idea, which has generally been advanced in connection to individual animals rather than ecosystems.

One promising sign came from the federal Ninth Circuit court’s 2004 decision in Cetacean Community v. Bush, in which the court had to decide whether “the world’s cetaceans have standing to bring suit in their own name” in challenging the Navy’s use of whale-harming sonar. The court ultimately ruled against recognizing the cetaceans’ standing, but wrote that “nothing in the text of Article III [of the U.S. Constitution] explicitly limits the ability to bring a claim in federal court to humans.”

But Siemen warned that laws alone aren’t enough. “For a natural rights movement to be successful, there has to be a huge shift in our consciousness,” she said. “If we adopt more environmental laws, and there hasn’t been a shift in the value system of humans toward caring and protecting, then those laws won’t be enforced.”

Images: 1) Striped dolphins swimming through oiled water (NOAA). 2) Community of creatures around a “cold seep” on the Gulf of Mexico seafloor (Derk Bergquist/Marine Resources Research Institute, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources).

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Brandon is a Wired Science reporter and freelance journalist. Based in Brooklyn, New York and Bangor, Maine, he’s fascinated with science, culture, history and nature.
Follow @9brandon on Twitter.

Law of Mother Earth expected to prompt radical new conservation and social measures in South American nation (but notice the exception created for infrastructure projects)

Bolivia is set to pass the world’s first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans. The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots social groups, redefines the country’s rich mineral deposits as “blessings” and is expected to lead to radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control industry.

The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the UN climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will establish 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.

Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.

“It makes world history. Earth is the mother of all”, said Vice-President Alvaro García Linera. “It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration.”

The law, which is part of a complete restructuring of the Bolivian legal system following a change of constitution in 2009, has been heavily influenced by a resurgent indigenous Andean spiritual world view which places the environment and the earth deity known as the Pachamama at the centre of all life. Humans are considered equal to all other entities.

But the abstract new laws are not expected to stop industry in its tracks. While it is not clear yet what actual protection the new rights will give in court to bugs, insects and ecosystems, the government is expected to establish a ministry of mother earth and to appoint an ombudsman. It is also committed to giving communities new legal powers to monitor and control polluting industries.

Bolivia has long suffered from serious environmental problems from the mining of tin, silver, gold and other raw materials. “Existing laws are not strong enough,” said Undarico Pinto, leader of the 3.5m-strong Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, the biggest social movement, who helped draft the law. “It will make industry more transparent. It will allow people to regulate industry at national, regional and local levels.”

Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said Bolivia’s traditional indigenous respect for the Pachamama was vital to prevent climate change. “Our grandparents taught us that we belong to a big family of plants and animals. We believe that everything in the planet forms part of a big family. We indigenous people can contribute to solving the energy, climate, food and financial crises with our values,” he said.

Little opposition is expected to the law being passed because President Evo Morales’s ruling party, the Movement Towards Socialism, enjoys a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament.

However, the government must tread a fine line between increased regulation of companies and giving way to the powerful social movements who have pressed for the law. Bolivia earns $500m (£305m) a year from mining companies which provides nearly one third of the country’s foreign currency.

In the indigenous philosophy, the Pachamama is a living being.

The draft of the new law states: “She is sacred, fertile and the source of life that feeds and cares for all living beings in her womb. She is in permanent balance, harmony and communication with the cosmos. She is comprised of all ecosystems and living beings, and their self-organisation.”

Ecuador, which also has powerful indigenous groups, has changed its constitution to give nature “the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution”. However, the abstract rights have not led to new laws or stopped oil companies from destroying some of the most biologically rich areas of the Amazon.

Coping with climate change

Bolivia is struggling to cope with rising temperatures, melting glaciers and more extreme weather events including more frequent floods, droughts, frosts and mudslides.

Research by glaciologist Edson Ramirez of San Andres University in the capital city, La Paz, suggests temperatures have been rising steadily for 60 years and started to accelerate in 1979. They are now on course to rise a further 3.5-4C over the next 100 years. This would turn much of Bolivia into a desert.

Most glaciers below 5,000m are expected to disappear completely within 20 years, leaving Bolivia with a much smaller ice cap. Scientists say this will lead to a crisis in farming and water shortages in cities such as La Paz and El Alto.

Evo Morales, Latin America’s first indigenous president, has become an outspoken critic in the UN of industrialised countries which are not prepared to hold temperatures to a 1C rise.

John Vidal in La Paz for the Guardian

John Vidal reports from La Paz where Bolivians are living with the effects of climate change every day Link to this video

An interesting Ars Technica post, bringing into focus not only overfishing itself but also the rapidly growing, unsustainable use of fossil fuels used for it.

The oceans of 2050: will there be any fish left?

By Jonathan M. Gitlin

It’s no secret that I’ve been pessimistic about the state of our oceans. So when I saw there was a session entitled “2050: Will There Be Fish in the Ocean?” at this year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), I knew it would be one I’d attend. And while the message wasn’t particularly encouraging, it’s not all doom and gloom on the seas.

Reg Watson of the University of Tasmania started off by pointing out that humans have always fished; it’s just that we’ve gotten much better about it. Using data from a multitude of sources (predominantly the Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] and the European Union), the Sea Around Us project aims to study the impact of fisheries on the marine ecosystems of the world, and helpfully provides their data analyses and visualizations for everyone to use.

In order to do this, it was necessary to come up with a metric, a single unit to normalize the data. The University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Daniel Pauly, who is Principal Investigator of the project, suggested energy expenditure as a measure of fishing effort, expressed as total engine power and the number of fishing days in a year.

Their data looks at the global picture from 1950, where the main effort took place around the European coast. By the 1980s, European fishing fleets started intensifying their efforts off the coasts of Africa, the Antarctic, and also in the deep ocean. Asian fishing efforts also ramped up around this time and, from the 1990s onwards, there has been a massive increase in fishing effort in the equatorial zones off northwest Africa and in the Pacific off southeast Asia. Around the same time, the global catch stagnated at around 70 million tons a year. Fishing effort was flat from 1950 until 1970, when it began to increase, ramping up to the 2010 level of 4.4 billion kilowatt days, a 54 percent increase over 1950 levels.

Having reached peak fish, the resulting fish stock collapses have meant that maintaining the annual landing of 85 million tons of fish in the 2000s became more and more energy intensive. Forty-seven million tons of fuel were used by the global fishing fleet each year over that decade, which works out to 1.8 tons of fish per ton of fuel, or 13.5lb of fish per gallon. Just as global agriculture has become incredibly dependent on fossil fuels, so too has global fishing, and it’s just as unsustainable.

Pauly pointed out that the recent FAO biennial report, which described the world fisheries as stable, was misleading, because it just measured catch, but not energy expenditure or the area being fished, which expands each year both in ocean depth and ocean area. Pauly thinks that consumers aren’t feeling this yet, since so much fish is imported from around the world, but that, within a decade, it will be more noticeable in the prices we pay at the supermarket.

Villy Christensen, also of UBC, tried to square the contradictory predictions of life in the future oceans. Unfortunately both these links require a subscription to Science, but the abstracts are free. The 2006 study predicted the global collapse of all taxa currently fished by 2048, but the 2009 study (which has many of the same authors) suggests that efforts to rebuild stocks are underway. According to Christensen, the 2009 paper is correct, at least for some regions.

Fixing the problems will require a more holistic approach to fisheries management than in the past, but there are signs that this is beginning to happen. The United Nations Environment Program is starting to work with the FAO to reduce the polarization between agriculture departments and environment departments across fishing nations. Even marginal reductions in fishing efforts now suggest that we could return to current fishing catch levels, but sustainably, by 2050. Unfortunately, not everyone who currently fishes can continue to do so—since that means taking away peoples’ livelihoods, reaching sustainability won’t be an easy sell.

Changes in fishing methods can also be successful; white sharks off the California coasts have recovered following a ban on drift nets. Increased use of marine protected areas will also be needed, but we can see these at work already—cod are recovering in the Gulf of Maine, for example. Alaskan fisheries are also doing much better since moving to a model that allocates each boat a catch share, rather than a limited number of fishing days. It’s not popular with everyone, since it effectively assigns property rights to the fish in the sea, privatizing a public resource. But, if the alternative is collapsed fisheries, then I think on balance it’s worth it.

Wow – with this technology in place I’d come to the funeral too of people I don’t know! 😉 – wearing of course some reality distorting glasses as not to start crying when I see other people sobbing ….

body-shattering-funerals.jpg

You know what sucks about funeralsEverything. There’s not a single thing I likeabout them. And that’s not even considering how bad they are for the environment. Whatever happened to dumping bodies in a volcano or leaving them out for animals to gnaw on? You know, like the good ol’ days. FEED MY ASS TO LIONS I DON’T GIVE A FUUUUUUUUUU.

A Swedish company called Promessa has come up with a crazy new way of handling the remains of the deceased, and it’s straight out of science fiction. First, a body is chilled down to 18 degrees Celsius. Then it’s entirely submerged in liquid nitrogen, which freezes it solid, and makes it brittle enough that it can be shattered and pulverized into dust using high power sound waves. Next, the dust (which is still about the same mass as the body was) is exposed to a vacuum which boils off all the moisture contained in the dust, reducing its mass by 70% or so. Lastly, all of the inorganic stuff that may be left over is removed with an electromagnet, and the dust is placed in a coffin made of corn starch, all ready for a shallow burial that’ll turn everything into compost within a year.

I’m not gonna lie, that would increase the entertainment value of funerals by at least a thousand-fold. Shit, add some dance music and a laser-light show and I’d pay to go to the funerals of people I don’t even know! Hey bro, got any E? I’m coming down already. It’s cool if you don’t but you could at least answer me. Come on dude, stop bein’ such a stiff. *CRASH!!* Oh shi-shi. *runs out rubbing nipples*

The latest in eco-funerals: Terminator-style nitrogen shattering [dvice]

Thanks to Martin, who doesn’t care how he’s buried just so long as it’s not alive. AMEN TO THAT, BROTHA!

[Pinched from Geekologie]

The simple and pointed answer is: stupidity, ignorance and commercial interests. Stupidity on the side of bureaucracy, ignorance amongst the populous (and a lack of ability to collectively force change), and politicians beholden to the powerful interests of the fossil fuel industry. That’s my incredulous headshake argument.

Christine Rau in her The Age opinion piece doesn’t elaborate on these aspects (although she mentions the bureaucrats), but she nevertheless puts forward a passionate argument for installing solar panels in a sunburned country content with burning coal.

Put solar panels on every large rooftop
Christine Rau (February 8, 2011)
 

Sydney’s geography favours the wealthy. Nothing new there. But last week’s heatwave exacerbated the division between east and west and raised concerns about energy consumption.

With ocean glimpses unaffordable, most of us live away from ocean breezes in the demographic heartland near Liverpool or Parramatta. Our eastern Sydney cousins may complain about 35-degree “heatwaves” but for us, anything less than 40 degrees in the summer is mild. After six days of 42-degree heat, the fridge went on strike and the kids’ paddle pops turned to mush. Technology doesn’t like extremes.

The cheapest and most-populated Sydney housing is in the north and south-west, and it’s the city’s most unsustainable and energy-guzzling.

Which bureaucrat decided it was OK to release land in shrinking blocks to hold bloated castles without eaves or trees and with only minuscule backyards? When the neighbouring bricks of jostling houses are only metres apart, there’s only room for radiant heat, and none for cooling.

Few neighbourhoods in western Sydney have enough large shade trees. Natural shade, backyards and privacy have been sacrificed on the altar of the affordable sprawling McMansion with few people in it.

The modern castle has no protection from the sun. It can only stay liveable with ”climate-control” blocking out the real world.

Such planning mistakes have compounded with every land release, burdening the community with higher electricity loads and confining individuals to what was once the province of a sterile office. We increasingly live in a claustrophobic, windows-closed environment, in our cars and in our homes.

In any extreme weather, summer or winter, we get energy spikes. The obscene waste leads to rolling blackouts – ironically in the areas which are more sustainable – and ultimately those on modest incomes face crippling electricity bills.

Australia is one of the most scientifically literate cultures on Earth – the number of our science Nobel laureates is out of proportion to our population – yet we are lacking in logic and our complex tiers of government stymies coherent housing and sustainability plans. We get planning paralysis masked by pretence of action.

To get back to the science: it’s simple. What energy resource do we have above all else? The sun.

Yet those who can least afford roof-top solar panels are those with the most amount of sun and heat in the western suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne and in the regions.

Professor Andrew Blakers, the director of the centre for sustainable energy and solar energy systems at the Australian National University, says Germany does it better, and it has only 60 per cent of our sunshine.

“Roughly speaking, Australia installed about 200 megawatts of photo-voltaic solar cells in 2010 at a cost of about $1.2 billion,” he says. “Germany did about 5000 megawatts at a cost of about $25 billion.”

He says in Adelaide and Alice Springs the power from solar panels on roofs is cheaper than getting it from the grid, and that will be the case for everyone by 2014.

We should install solar panels at government expense on all rooftops where air-conditioning and heating systems overload the power grid. We should put them on every school, shopping centre and car park – anywhere with a large roof.

After centuries of dealing with climate extremes, we have lost the art of cooling ourselves and our houses naturally.

Our grandparents understood the basics of airflow, radiant heat and opening warm or cold parts of the house, depending on the season. They could cope with the heat and the cold; external louvres or shutters helped in the summer, and in winter they stuck to one warm room.

Now, unless it’s at the push of a button, people are bereft of ideas. Just as the GPS has the potential to kill navigation skills, air-conditioning can kill an experienced attitude to the weather rather than a fearful one.

Sydney has a desalination plant; surely it can do something with solar. All the unending waffle about the carbon emissions tax and the ephemeral idea of carbon credits seems hypocritical when we have the solution beaming down, and not only being wasted but making us burn coal to cope with it.

Christine Rau is a freelance journalist.

Ending the futile war on drugs

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Sydney Morning Herald

December 27, 2010

Prohibition has failed and we must redirect our efforts to the harm caused by drugs, and to reducing consumption.

The war on drugs is a lost war, and 2011 is the time to move away from a punitive approach in order to pursue a new set of policies based on public health, human rights, and commonsense. These were the core findings of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy that I convened, together with former presidents Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia.

We became involved with this issue for a compelling reason: the violence and corruption associated with drug trafficking represents a major threat to democracy in our region. This sense of urgency led us to evaluate current policies and look for viable alternatives. The evidence is overwhelming. The prohibitionist approach, based on repression of production and criminalisation of consumption, has clearly failed.

After 30 years of massive effort, all prohibition has achieved is to shift areas of cultivation and drug cartels from one country to another (the so-called balloon effect). Latin America remains the world’s largest exporter of cocaine and marijuana. Thousands of young people continue to lose their lives in gang wars. Drug lords rule by fear over entire communities.

We ended our report with a call for a paradigm shift. The illicit drug trade will continue as long as there is demand for drugs. Instead of sticking to failed policies that do not reduce the profitability of the drug trade – and thus its power – we must redirect our efforts to the harm caused by drugs to people and societies, and to reducing consumption.

Some kind of drug consumption has existed throughout history in the most diverse cultures. Today, drug use occurs throughout society. All kinds of people use drugs for all kinds of reasons: to relieve pain or experience pleasure, to escape reality or enhance their perception of it.

But the approach recommended in the commission’s statement does not imply complacency. Drugs are harmful to health. They undermine users’ decision-making capacity. Needle-sharing spreads HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Addiction can lead to financial ruin and domestic abuse, especially of children.

Cutting consumption as much as possible must, therefore, be the main goal. But this requires treating drug users not as criminals to be incarcerated, but as patients to be cared for. Several countries are pursuing policies that emphasise prevention and treatment rather than repression – and refocusing their repressive measures on fighting the real enemy: organised crime.

The crack in the global consensus around the prohibitionist approach is widening. A growing number of countries in Europe and Latin America are moving away from a purely repressive model.

Portugal and Switzerland are compelling examples of the positive impact of policies centred on prevention, treatment, and harm reduction. Both countries have decriminalised drug possession for personal use. Instead of leading to an explosion of drug consumption, as many feared, the number of people seeking treatment increased and overall drug use fell.

When the policy approach shifts from criminal repression to public health, drug users are more open to seeking treatment. Decriminalisation of consumption also reduces dealers’ power to influence and control consumers’ behaviour.

In our report, we recommend evaluating from a public-health standpoint – and on the basis of the most advanced medical science – the merits of decriminalising possession of cannabis for personal use.

Marijuana is by far the most widely used drug. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the harm it causes is at worst similar to the harm caused by alcohol or tobacco. Moreover, most of the damage associated with marijuana use – from the indiscriminate incarceration of consumers to the violence and corruption associated with the drug trade – is the result of current prohibitionist policies.

Decriminalisation of cannabis would thus be an important step forward in approaching drug use as a health problem and not as a matter for the criminal justice system.

To be credible and effective, decriminalisation must be combined with robust prevention campaigns. The steep and sustained drop in tobacco consumption in recent decades shows that public information and prevention campaigns can work when based on messages that are consistent with the experience of those whom they target. Tobacco was deglamorised, taxed, and regulated; it has not been banned.

No country has devised a comprehensive solution to the drug problem. But a solution need not require a stark choice between prohibition and legalisation. The worst prohibition is the prohibition to think. Now, at last, the taboo that prevented debate has been broken. Alternative approaches are being tested and must be carefully reviewed.

At the end of the day, the capacity of people to evaluate risks and make informed choices will be as important to regulating the use of drugs as more humane and efficient laws and policies. Yes, drugs erode people’s freedom. But it is time to recognise that repressive policies towards drug users, rooted as they are in prejudice, fear, and ideology, may be no less a threat to liberty.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a former president of Brazil (1995-2002), is co-chairman of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, and convener of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2010.