Thursday, August 31, 2006

Paper and Pulp industry leaves Sweden blaming energy prices

Sweden, although at the forefront of the drive to oil independence, sits powerless when industry finds national energy prices a little too high. The Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet reports on Thursday the 31 August 2006 that Rottneros, one of the world’s five largest makers of paper pulp, is closing its plant in Utansj√∂, in Northern Sweden. The plant will be dismantled and shipped to a country offering lower electricity prices. The move demonstrates the energy vulnerability of many industries, and how a permanent hike in energy prices, stimulated e.g by scarcity of oil, is likely to affect developed countries at least while there are countries offering cheaper energy. Capital and industry simple leave, while whole communities remain behind, unemployed.

The mechanical process used by Rottneros is energy intensive, and uses twice as much energy as the alternative chemical process. On the other hand, less raw timber is used and the process has environmental benefits. The plant is one of the most modern in the group, and can be easily moved and set up elsewhere.

The Utansjö community, which has hosted the paper and pulp industry since 1897, will be absorbing 150 jobless.

Other paper and pulp producers like SCA and the Swedish-Finish StoraEnso may soon follow suit. Both state to the newspaper that they have no plans to invest any further in Sweden. ITPS, the Swedish Institute for Growth Policy Studies - the Swedish Government's agency for understanding growth and for evaluating government policies - estimates 2-4 thousand jobs will disappear every year.

This is at a time when national supplies are unable to meet industry demand. Wood is in short supply, and Sweden is importing 10 of the 90 million m3 of forest it uses.

The move demonstrates that we cannot rely on industry to come up with a solution in the short term to higher energy costs. As managing director, you are bound by the terms of your contract to find a cheaper solution in the first place, not to apply all ingenuity to rework business processes and technology to find a less energy intensive or less environmentally challenging solution. And Government is not allowed to interfere according to EU competition rules. It also shows how any approach to a sustainable use of timber supplies is far off. If consumers demand paper products to a level where forests are depleted, the global force of industry is willing to supply it – without taking any responsibility for future generations ability to use the infrastructure and local natural resources.

Of those countries offering cheaper energy, we can only speculate as to the environmental risks associated with this “cheap” energy. Consumers get no say in the matter as they are left unaware of the environmental and social costs of the paper they are holding in their hands, as little as they are informed of the situation of thousands of workers in the oil industry in the long supply chain from the desert to their local petrol filling station.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Hats of f to Dave Pollard's work on cultures

Dave Pollard has ploughed thorugh anthropologist Hugh Brody's far-reaching and scholarly personal memoir based on extensive study of indigenous cultures, The Other Side of Eden, written six years ago.

Dave has crystallised out the essentials of a culture that is in harmony with the environment around it. These essentials are what we need to aim for if we (industrialied, petroleum people) are to be able to hand over a decent life to those who come after us.

I reproduce them here, I hope Dave has no objections:

Here, then, is the catalogue of my learnings and discoveries from this book. I think it takes us one step closer to an overall framework or theory for dealing with complex problems:

* indigenous peoples are almost never authoritarian with their children; children learn by doing, by making mistakes, and by hearing guidance and candid comments on their behaviour, not by being 'told what to do and not to do'
* knowledge is absolutely critical to survival in indigenous communities; exchange of knowledge is expected, automatic, urgent and completely candid, and deceit and hoarding knowledge is extremely disreputable behaviour (because it can expose others to danger) -- these are cultures of collaboration and detailed, exhaustive knowledge-sharing, not of competition for 'knowledge advantage'
* there is an expression "the land is made perfect by knowledge" that stresses that what is valued in these communities is knowledge and understanding of the environment, not control or ownership of it
* indigenous communications are generally extremely honest and forthright; the words that accompany greetings are those of great joy, not politeness
* words are as precise as they need to be, so there are completely separate words used to describe fish and other prey, and snow, and attributes of the land, not taxonomically but by need (e.g. there is a need for a separate word to describe snow suitable for the construction of temporary snow shelters, so there is such a word) -- this is not poetry or obsession, it's extremely practical, and word differentiation is a matter of necessity, familiar observability and, sometimes, valuable analogy
* part of the learning of indigenous languages is learning when to speak, when and how to listen, and even when and how to tease -- in oral cultures there is much more to language than just vocabulary, grammar and syntax
* stories are essential, detailed, and allowed to take as much time as they need to take to be told; interruption is considered extremely rude, though it is often acceptable to leave if you do not find the story of interest
* indigenous languages generally have no swear words (anger is considered 'childish' behaviour and scrupulously suppressed), and they also have no 'status' words (e.g. there is no concept of or words for rank or hierarchy or, in anything close to our sense of the term, ownership, in Inuktitut)
* these languages have evolved to facilitate analogy, as an essential tool of learning and imagination -- drawing analogies and use of inductive reasoning are not as 'forced' or deliberate a process as they seem to be in Indo-European languages
* from necessity, indigenous people have developed prodigious memories and mental maps of detail, and can often recall routes and places that they have seen only a few times many decades earlier -- in the process every landmark is given a name to help entrench its later memory, and great attention is paid to orienting and placing these landmarks in context
* these cultures have an overarching respect for all life, and again this seems more practical and adaptive than spiritual (others may disagree with me on this) -- caching extra food, wasting nothing, not hunting just 'for fun', not disturbing animals except for hunting, not spoiling the land, paying attention to the animals that are being hunted -- all these behaviours are oriented to encouraging prey to 'make themselves available' for the hunter as a matter of reciprocal respect (their self-sacrifice meets the hunter's real need for sustenance)
* indigenous peoples are part of the environment, and do not see the environment as something apart from them; they see themselves as co-stewards of the land along with other creatures (and in some cases, with the spirits)
* by definition, then, the place the people live in is ideal, has become so through millennia of evolution and adaptation, and any change made to that place is therefore necessarily for the worse
* the concept of gatherer-hunters as 'nomadic' and civilization cultures as 'settled' is precisely backwards -- it is the civilization cultures that despoil or exhaust the land and expand, move on, seek new frontiers, while gatherer-hunter cultures live in balance within large but mostly-fixed territories for millennia; the stories of indigenous peoples of how they 'arrived' where they now live are in total conflict with our history of them (e.g. that they crossed the land-bridge from Asia during ice age retreat) -- their stories are that the people emerged where they are now, rather than traveled to them
* they have a profound respect for individual decisions; after sharing of knowledge, if there is no consensus on action each individual is trusted to do what he or she thinks is right and responsible, and there are no recriminations for not conforming to what others (or some designated or self-styled 'leader') think is appropriate
* advice is rendered by the telling of stories and the answering of questions when asked, not by proffering instruction or unsolicited opinions -- this is a consultative process, not a hierarchical one (elders, chiefs, shamans are respected, but they do not have or seek power or authority over others the way the 'leaders' in our culture do)
* because of the vast amount of detailed information that is needed to thrive in a complex environment, people in these cultures do not depend entirely on the conscious mind to process that information -- they appreciate how the subconscious, dreams, and instincts play into and enrich our understanding, and allow these elements to play an important part in their decision-making process
* generosity (both with knowledge and material possessions) and egalitarianism are essential elements of these cultures, and produces an environment of great reciprocality and trust
* much of the activity of these cultures enables the building of great self-confidence, freedom from anxiety (fear of the unknown), freedom from depression, and high self-esteem: the acquired respect and trust of others, the respect for individual decisions, the granting of individual responsibility, the learning and practice and recognition of finely-honed skills, a culture of collaboration and consultation -- contrast this with our culture where so much activity has the effect of battering self-confidence and self-esteem, and stressing helplessness and dependence
* in many cases, these cultures carefully space the birth of children at least three years apart, in part for practical reasons but also in part to allow parents and adults to spend enough time and attention on each child to equip them with the important capacities and learnings they need to succeed; in some cases infanticide has historically been practiced when necessary to ensure this space and opportunity for each child, and in that case can be seen as an embracing rather than an abrogation of responsibility
* these cultures show profound respect for women as full equals, with roles determined by strength, stamina, skill and capacity rather than assigned automatically by gender, and many roles shared and alternating; the prevalence of men as hunters and of women as gatherers reflects only the biological fact of greater strength of most males and greater stamina of most females, and roles are changeable without shame for those whose biological qualities are exceptional
* there is a deliberate attention to uncertainty, unpredictability, qualification and imprecision in indigenous languages, with any declaration of absolute certainty seen as evidence of oversimplification, arrogance, or poor judgement; likewise, there is much less propensity in these languages to raise and dwell on dichotomies, the simplistic black-or-white contrasts that leave no room for subtlety, imprecision, nuance, change and uncertainty
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