Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Going for a bigger blog

Regular readers may know that I have kept work on INVENTING separate from my consulting work with A Very Beautiful Place. Recently, realised that the two really do fit well together so I'm migrating my main blogging over to

I came to the realisation that peace and sustainable development go hand in hand. And that they are as much about realising who you are as knowing the benefits of e.g. urine separation.

Shall I post my imagestreams in future? I'm not sure. Your feedback is welcome!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


At the last meeting of our Oil Awareness group, one concern seemed to be shared by everyone present: ”why don’t they get it?”. What members are referring to is the feeling that colleagues, government, officers of authorities just don’t seem to ”get” the significance of
1) the vast amounts of energy we are using to sustain daily life
2) the sources of this energy are rapidly depleting
3) our current economic system is dependant on them

I know why they don’t get it. If you are interested in knowing bear with me. I need to tell you a few stories first.

When Christopher Columbus arrived in what is now America, natives standing on the shore did not see the ships approaching. The explanation is that they had never encountered anything like it in their life before, and their brain simply did not register it. A priest noticed strange wave patterns (the wake of the boats) and stared at them trying to make sense of them. Eventually he saw the ships, called others to him, and they stated to see the ships too.

The other story is of research I have read into perception. Researchers showed rather upper class middle aged women a series of pictures and words rapidly, and asked them to remember them. Interspersed with “ordinary” words were foul language expressions of the sort these ladies would never use. Interestingly when asked, these subjects remembered all the ordinary words but were certain they never saw the foul ones.

Obviously they “saw” the words, but in terms of perception, like the natives on the shores of America, they did not “register” them.

Countless other experiments and stories illustrate the same thing: that people do not always perceive what they are seeing. Sometimes because it is outside their experience, sometimes because to see it would change them in some way.

This is a powerful mechanism. People often do not perceive things in situations where their position in society, for example their job, would be threatened.

So why do our neighbours, politicians, not “get” the significance of the peaking of oil production and the consequences for life on Earth?

One reason is because it is not in their life experience to even contemplate a serious, long term global energy shortage. Another is that their jobs, position in society etc depend on it. You have to remember that we are flock animals. In our DNA, our wiring, is that exclusion means death.

For sustainable development fanatics this can have drastic consequences. Say, as a friend of the environment, you start to think how the bus lane over a narrow bridge into town could be used to promote lift –sharing. Say every car with three or more passengers would be allowed the fast route past the queues.

Good for the environment… so you think of proposing it. But, the unseen forces of flock pressure will work against you. Think about it…. That could be a third of the cars used, a third of the petrol, a third of the gas sales, a reduction in staff needed, a reduction in tax income.. and so on. What you are suggesting will impact economic growth, something the flock is committed to. That will make you an outsider. You will find many reasons why this suggestion should not go further. For example “ no one will listen to me anyway”.

So any good ideas that could come up get squashed by your internal monitoring machine that is wired to keep you OK with the flock.

There ARE ways around this machine. Something for my next post……

Monday, March 16, 2009

My darkest fears: faith in business as usual is being killed once and for all - intentionally

(Thanks to Paul Heft and Dave Pollard for contributing sections of this article via e-mail conversations.)

The New Scientist magazine, I believe, is an indicator for how those of us with a scientific bent (I see myself as one of them, despite my sojourn in business the last few decades) are thinking:

The article "How the economy is killing the planet" is one of them

Earth may be entering climate change danger zone

Sea level rise could bust IPCC estimates

Lastly, hacking the planet, the only solution left

These headings reflect the view of the science community: that climate change has gone into unacceptable risk, that the economic system is at the root of it, and that geoengineering is a serious option.

The schism between the scientific community and the economic one has gone so far that scientists, unable to communicate the risks, downsides and just plain nonsense of ”business as usual” are desperately turning to look at re-engineering the planet rather than adapting society to it.

I am scared of geoengineering, just as I am scared of genetic modification, nanotechnology, and nuclear energy. The unintended side effects could be huge. The book “the Black Swan” has demonstrated how events totally unforeseen can change whole endeavors for the worse.

Instead of helping business as usual and prolonging the inevitable, another path could be considered, It is just as risky but might be easier. Let the economy crash--since it's happening anyway. That might wipe out some of the parties interesting in maintaining our "non-negotiable" way of life. There's a chance that people will decide that the only way to continue forward is to drastically reorganize the economy (at a lower level), thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (Of course whether that's done along the lines of relocalization, fascism, or just chaos is a roll of the dice.)

But what does it mean that non-scientists are behaving in this way? (We biologists always look at behaviour nowadays after centuries of killing things and dissecting them)

Observed behavior: Despite evidence that end of oil means end of economic growth, despite evidence that the economic system is killing the planet, despite evidence that the market system of today is an abject failure at feeding the world, let alone providing a life in dignity, world leaders insist on taking measures to try to get it to work.

What follows are my darkest fears:

The OTHER explanation is that there is a master plan. Those whose job it is to “pretend” to fix the system have been promised jobs later, depending on how well they “perform” now.

Imagine the ”order from high”: Let the whole thing implode. Help it along with government loans, especially to failing and corrupt businesses. Prepare to release an abrupt about swing via the media that makes sure that people understand, once and for all;

1) economic growth is not possible in a finite world and that economists just simply got it wrong (let them go on spouting their theories so they give themselves enough rope to hang themselves with.)
2) corporations are NOT good for the common good. In good times they take all profits and in bad times they ask for handouts and use them for high salaries. They are basically ”taking the piss” as we Brits say. Make sure people feel bluffed by highlighting a trusted banker’s ponzi scheme.
3) the basic idea of national democracy is flawed. You cannot vote for a Prime Minister who says British jobs for British workers one moment and then spouts free trade and globalisation the other
4) the nationalistic approach will never get people to agree on emission targets as they are all jostling to get the best deal. Governments HAVE to, they have been voted in for that.

As the realization comes clear, the message will be given with a dose of ”we are all complicit” in this as we all "wanted a share of the cake”. Everyone should feel bluffed, lied to and guilty.

A new idea will emerge that people will clamour for, just as they clamoured for a central US bank. Remember that the master plan is to get people to clamour for what the plan intends. So much more effective than trying to convince anyone anything...

World Government. A world minimum wage, world emissions rules, world currency. It might start with three regions in harmony: EU Americas and Asia. It will sound so good that in some countries it will be the left that clamours the most, in other countries, the right. In some it will be the environmentalists, in other business as they like ”a level playing field”; in some the humanitarians. After all, one sixth are nigh on starving.

The ones who control the money are the ones who end up with true power in this scenario. We know already what a farce the world bank is so we can all see where this is headed.

The attempt at One World Government (lefty Peter Singer wrote the book on it), will never succeed, because ultimately, for better and for worse, no one is really in control.

As the cascading crises worsen, especially when the real impact of the End of Oil and Water kicks in, we're going to see more of the kind of alpha and non-alpha behaviours that Edward Hall describes in his work with rats in overcrowded situations in labs, specifically violent hoarding among the alphas and suicide and eating of the young among non-alphas. This is all hormonal chronic stress response stuff, what all creatures do when the normal short term responses to stress fail to alleviate the problem.

However, the real crisis is further off than we think, so for now we should be doing what we can and enjoying life and not worrying about what we can't change. The real crisis will befall our grandchildren in the second half of the century, and coping with it will not be our job.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sustainable development and volunteerism

It has been striking me more and more recently how the positive developments in sustainability are coming from a spirit of volunteering. ”Going along” is a central theme of my book, ”Inventing for the Sustainable Planet”. The book was imagestreamed and insights can take a long time to sink in. I see how I have emphasized the few technical solutions that came up rather than the social ones, even though these are the central thesis of the book.

Some signs: Firstly, the Transition Movement is picking up speed. There are now Transition Movements in every US state, and other initiatives like 1 Million gardens are gathering supporters.

Then there are the countless numbers of websites run by volunteers, with everything from Peak Oil to sustainable gardening.

I am getting a sense that the funnymoneyfest we have all been complicit in has brought a lot of people to their senses. The only business worth having as business as usual is the voluntary, or go along, business in a society that offers security. From the research in my book I’d suggest a number of reasons why this could be so.

One has to do with basic human nature and the need for security. If your security comes from the tribe, then you will gladly ”pay taxes” to the tribe, in the form of helping out, encouraging and teaching others.

For many years Sweden’s high rate of taxes was defended by citizens as actually giving good value for money in terms of social security and free schooling, low cost local transport, medical care, etc. Nowadays the level of service has been eroded, the burden is nearly as high, and there is much less a feeling of security. In fact, the tax authorities see it their role to ”make sure everyone does their bit” which sounds like extracting a pound of flesh with a modicum of threat.

Another reason might have to do with our genetic propensities. The reason you need to be in a group is because together the mixture of personalities, perspectives, feelings, inspiration of the moment, all combine to create an ideal pool from which to handle a situation.

In volunteering, the feeling comes from within each individual and whatever the person does is an expression of wanting to do something and feeling inspired to do it. Contrast this to the situation of work. Even work functions better when people can volunteer for jobs within their areas of responsibility.

I like the Transition Handbook's approach of mutual planning of what could be done or needs to be done, and then asking people to consider what they would LOVE to do, would feel UNCOMFORTABLE doing and what they would be GOOD at doing.

The prospect of Peak Oil, Peak money, Peak everything in a world that seems to be running on a delusion that economic growth is the only fix-it in town, seems daunting and cause for depression.

My advice is: look at what could be done, how you feel about it, and go out and volunteer for something you’d love to do. Who knows, it might just be the small effort that helped turn the tide.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Phosphorous: the key to sustainable agriculture

Find more videos like this on TRANSITION UNITED STATES

We present a second version of a film on sustainable agriculture. Just for you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Article from the future: community centres go sustainable

In this edition, we meet a design for a community center that cleans water, creates carbon minus soil improvement, recycles nutrients, grows food, captures solar energy.... and you shower and go to the loo!

A MUST READ for all sustainability fanatics!

Click on the picture or here to read it!.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

New series of Newsletters

As readers may well have understood, I have been using the techniques of Imagestreaming to envision a sustainable future.

To make the inventions more accessible I am offering a series of newsletters that offer stories depicting the inventions.

Some recent inventions, from after the book was published are also available in newsletter form.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Real Asset-based finance: Units of Trust concept released

As populations grow, and less and less oil is being found, the fossil fuel-dependent global supply chains and the banking system that supports them are becoming less functional. Relocalizing production and sales of daily needs reduces fuel dependence, waste, and increases local employment and community resilience. However, today’s financial system is more geared to large national and global corporations.

The lack of sustainability in the system is worrying. A sustainable solution would mean that sale and provision of basic goods and services would keep ecosystem and mineral resources intact, would reduce reliance on fossil fuel and create an investment that could be enjoyed by coming generations.

New thinking is required to make capital available to smaller, local businesses for this to be realized. One proposal is a savings bank scheme called Units of Trust (UOT). The scheme makes it possible for consumers to invest in local businesses and to receive goods and services at reduced price whilst their money is with the firm.

To create simplicity, transparency and stability, a support and coordination organization called UOTMC or UOT marketing company, could be set up, along with a fund scheme in a local bank. Unitization allows consumers to invest in a wide range of companies and spread their risk.

Other benefits include: providing local business with affordable capital and long term customers at the same time. Consumers get local produce and a long term secure supply of basic needs whilst investing in a green supply system that will withstand fossil energy shortfalls.

Read more about Units of Trust on the web (

Or see the film

Updated my website

Finally I understand what I need to do to help sustainable development.

It's is all about the stories we tell ourselves. We need to find, envision, invent our future and it starts inside us. What do we WANT, what IS our humanity, who we are...?

We start by envisioning our ideal future, and we do it by stepping aside from all the limitations we have learned from childhood. We do it to explore our humanity. And learn. Then we can start to invent and implement.

Envision. Explore. Study. Innovate. Implement.

So now I have started to redo my website. Join me!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Applications wanted: the Award for sustainable solutions for Water and Food for all

Water and Food are Human Rights that nearly 900 million of our fellow human beings are not receiving. The Award for the Humanitarian Water and Food project that shows effectiveness, innovativeness and potential will be presented in Copenhagen, Denmark in August 2009.

If you know of any project that may qualify for the prize, please direct them to the web page of the Award. and to download the application documents from

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Not your ordinary recession: a perspective from a visitor to the UK

My last trip to England showed a country being hit by the effects of the peak of oil production. My visit over New Year shows a country nose-diving into a new kind of recession: one that has no end.

Some examples:

UK’s refinancing timebomb Sunday Times 4 Jan 2008 – Some £50 billion in loans expiring will need refinancing and the prospects are not good.

Number of business failures set to surge in 2009

As the reams of newspaper articles laying out dismal prospects for 2009 appear before us, there is an underlying belief in the recovery will come in a few or at most ten years, and 2008 will fade into memory as a year unremarkable. Not so from the perspective of Oil Peak. We are looking into the tangled guts of a system that has stopped working because the cheap and easy oil that feeds it has peaked.
We are looking over the precipice into the long decline, aptly called the long emergency by James Howard Kunstler.

The logic of this is almost too simple, but not anything you will find explained in the mainstream media.
The system we call business as usual is full of disconnects – think of it like a plumbing system with faulty joints and bends. Despite leakages, the system still delivers water to the end user. However, when pressure drops, the taps run dry and the installation is not only useless, it wastes valuable resources as well.
In this case, money is rather like water. You want to stuff money into the system and see more come out. At least you would want to know you can get basic services like food water, shelter etc. Any business needs a supply of capital and cash to start up and keep going. If you borrow money, you have to be able to pay it back at, say, 4% interest a year.

Standing in front of the bank manager or an inventor you have to convince her that you will be able to expand your business to be able to pay the loan and the interest off in a reasonable time. Multiply this by the number of businesses around and you will see that in order for any money to come in to the system you must be convinced everybody will make more money than they are already doing, to at least pay off the debt from the interest.
When it works, this way of doing things creates jobs, provides an endless array of services and goods and generates tax income to run the civil sector.
When it does not work, you put money and your own time into the system and get very little out.

This is where the connection to oil comes in: look into any business plan of any business and you will find a massive reliance directly or indirectly on fossil fuel. Electricity, the life blood of any office, comes increasingly in the UK from gas fired power stations.
Energy price hikes make everything more expensive, reducing profits and undermining the logic of the business plan and indeed the whole set-up.

From this perspective you can see how we got into the situation we are in. Peak production of cheap oil in late 2005 started a process of price hikes and started to knock holes in the wealth generation machinery. First hit were airlines and transport sector, creating job losses and credit defaults. From there the spiral downward continues. In this context a much larger number of businesses cannot make the business plan work. Trying to kick-start the economy now that oil is cheap will only result in a new wave of price rises as economic activity grows, oil demand increases, the production ceiling hits and the bidding goes up to push oil back up.
The current wave of low prices is merely the receding of the wave of the economic tsunami that will inevitably come back to hit us again.
The current low price of oil means stalled investments in new wells or increased productivity. With 60 of 80 oil producing countries past their peak we cannot expect any increase in economic activity to be long lasting.

What does all this mean for the oil aware denizen in 2009?
Don't be fooled by oil-unaware arguments. True, Woolworth’s demise is partly their own doing in trying to sell everything, but there is nothing to say that just because a business is working today, it will be able to continue as more and more job losses produce more and more unwilling or unable to buy their stuff. No, all business plans are energy reliant and I would say 99% are energy unaware.
You need to become familiar with other economic models. Interest-free banking and cooperatives are two I recommend.
Interest free banking at least shares rewards and risks and is more human.
Cooperatives, especially those involved with community supported agriculture, are designed to provide their owners with economic security and /or basic services at below market prices.

In fact, finding ways to ensure a supply of the basic necessities for all will be a major challenge in 2009. The leader in the Telegraph from Jan 2 expects there will be some people going hungry in the UK during 2009.
The system we live in already has major homelessness and poverty, in my opinion evidence of abject failure.
Oil aware people need to start to speak up outside the confines of discussion forums to send a clear message to politicians and civil servants: the fossil-fuel dependent way of life is on its last legs. Energy and food security for all need to become the top priority. And of course the good side of all this: this means there will be meaningful work for all, we expect to see a kinder, more generous UK, less stress and pollution, more local business and solidarity. The time to transition is now, 2009, while we still can.

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