A Must Read – Sustainable Architecture
In the long term democracy is critical to the achievement of environmental sustainability. It is only when the community is free to raise uncomfortable issues and then to see that reflected in Parliament and in the actions of governments that the environment can be protected. So it is very relevant to the pursuit of environmental sustainability to consider the changes to architecture guidelines submitted to the Australian Senate and proposed by the Minister for Sustainability. You might therefore be interested to read the review of the book i just finished below. My heart is broken and uplifted at the same time. Why? Well…. I have just read a book which has made my PhD superfluous and has said it all so much better than I can. If you have ever wanted a book which neatly summarises why we are were we are, why sustainability is now coming to the fore front and where architecture is and can be placed within this movement, this is the book for you. If you are doing any research or planning to do so in sustainable architecture, planning or any other built environment discourse this book will save you a lot of time in framing your research. The book is Terry Williamson’s, Antony Radford’s and Helen Bennetts’s ‘Understanding Sustainable Architecture’ by Spon Press ISBN 0415283515. Thank you guys for writing this, congratulations and I hope other thinkers out there get as much out of it as I have.
My Response To Senator Brandis – Re Democracy and Sustainability May 2012
I was please to have my letter to the editor published in the ‘Australian’ newspaper (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/) last week. It was in response to comments from Senators basically saying that democracy will stifle Sustainable Development Policy in Western Democracies – my response: “Given that you don’t think that democracies can deliver strong DOs and DON’Ts how do you explain the the fact that the scandinavian countries are the world leaders on the envitonment and are also probably the world leaders in democracy. I’ve been following the Singapore case (I used to live there as a child) and it is a rare example of a dictatorship that has remained fairly well tuned to the needs of the average citizen without turning into into a terror state or having forms of corruption that throw the government off meeting the needs of most citizens farly well. I’m not sure that there institutions are strong enough to stop a fully fledged anti-people dictatorship emerging at some time in the future though. What I don’t know enough about is the extent of within-party democracy in the People Action Party (PAP) – the governing party in Singapore. It may be that much of the democratic to-ing and fro-ing that we have happen in Parliament actually does on in Singapore within the PAP. In which case it may be that there is a democratic process of a sort occurring which keep Singapore from sliding into tyranny (key issues being – can anyone join the PAP and can they have a democratic say on how the party is organised and what it does as a government). If there is solid democracy within the PAP then Singapore is not a pure autocratic model anyway. Singapore I think looks after it’s people as the price the party dictatorship pays to keep in power – so it does the things that are needed to improve the living environment for people – but I don’t think it’s very good at doing nature conservation that would conflict fundamentally with powerful ecoomic interests. So if I had to work hard to emulate another country’s approach I’d rather try the scandinavian model than Singapore.”
The Marshall Plan – Revisited – May 2012
I don’t know how it worked, really, but there is plenty of information available on the net. http://www.marshallfoundation.org/ is a start. I’ve just scanned through it. Part of it is that while large sums of money were given as grants, the fact that the European countries then had US$$$ in the kitty allowed Americans to invest in Europe and know they could bring their profits home. So in the end, the dollars would have done the usual circuit — contributed by taxpayers, and ended up in the rich end of town’s pocket! (And let’s not forget the US companies which received war reparations for damage to their investments in Germany and elsewhere that their own country bombed! Where did he get the idea for “Catch 22″?) The Marshall Plan assisted the capital side. It should never be forgotten that in Germany at least, the Brits assisted the labour side by helping the Germans to set up very, very effective, enterprise/industry-based unions. The Brits themselves could not get organised in the same way in Britain because of the organisation they already had in place, and they suffered for it later (and still are suffering for it, perhaps), but the Germans were effectively starting from scratch, so an ideal framework could be put in place. I would argue that at the time, the enterprise/industry based model was the way to go but today, the situation has turned around — because of the mobility of the workforce and the flexibility of job and skill definitions and boundaries with changing technology, unions based on quite different ideas from the ones current in Australia and Germany would be better. I have a notion that the Americans did the same for the Japanese — helping to put in place a structure thatwould have been considered subversive if not downright treasonous, if implemented in the USA! Apart from the precise structure of the capital and labour initiatives in Europe, I do know one important factor that helped the Europeans who had been under German control, and the Japanese, to recover — in general, industry had been rendered more or less non-existent (see the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan). Thus they rebuilt from scratch with all new equipment and ideas, which leapfrogged them ahead of e.g. Britain, and to as lesser extent, the USA (and, of course, Australia) which was full of factories with worn out, old fashioned machine tools and capital and labour ideas which were worn out and old fashioned as well. Germany and Japan got a big jump on Britain as industrial nations at that stage because they moved straight away to the latest and greatest so they were more efficient, more precise, etc. The steel industry in recent decades is another good example. More or less greenfield sites like Korea were able to leapfrog from iron and steel as literally a backyard operation to the latest techniques while Australia, the USA, etc. struggled along with their old techniques and equipment — because they had the investment and structures in place, couldn’t afford to write them off or wouldn’t change them, and start from new. Then Australia got an advantage by leapfrogging — now that has worn out. And so it goes. In addition, Japan, Korea, etc. fiercely protected their domestic markets so they could build an industry like steel and associated industries, cars, ships, etc. I would suggest that the indications are that to get the best and latest introduced, you go for the developing nations so that they leapfrog straight into the lead. That forces the old nations to catch up. BUT, of course, now we have the World Bank and the IMF acting on behalf of the current top countries, counselling/coercing developing countries to start up by taking over the “dirty” industries from the most developed countries who still want the goods but don’t want the mess. That’s just one more cunning way of keeping the developing countries down. Note that in marketing terms, the products of the dirty industries are commodities, so overwhelmingly, they are not very profitable. NOBODY, developing or developed, is going to get rich on commodities. In pricing terms, look at how Australia is screwed by Japan all the time on coal. Look at how, under current arrangements of mobile capital and fixed labour (i.e. money can move freely around the globe, but people cannot), the big marketing organisations (e.g. Nike) can jump from place to place in search of the cheapest product. If developing countries really want to be competitive industrially, they should launch with the latest and most efficient and they need to defy the World Bank, the IMF and the developed nations. Okay — it seems to me that the same applies to sustainability. In the developing countries, you don’t necessarily need a change of mindset — or at least, you need a smaller change. Many ways that people in developing countries work already are closer to nature and through that fact alone, lend themselves to sustainable development. Barbara Kingsolver, in “The Poisonwood Bible”, identifies some of the problems Europeans brought to the Congo. One was that you must have food production concentrated, industrialised and separated from the consumption centre. This was a catastrophic development in a wet tropical area. The same framework has been applied all over the tropics with disastrous results. (If you haven’t read “The Poisonwood Bible”, by the way, I recommend most strongly that you buy it today and be prepared to weep for the whole awful, ugly tragedy of it. It is a novel but you, of course, will learn from the carefully researched factual background, which is exactly what Kingsolver wrote the book for you do to.) In short, if we are going to work on a change of mindset in developing nations to move them to an industrial/trading level that allows them to advance their standard of living, let’s get busy and rather than have them follow the path which developed nations have followed or become slaves of developed nations’ capital, work towards them leapfrogging the developed nations in the world of ideas. We in Australia and other developed nations are struggling with the idea that we need to move towards sustainability — can we help developing nations go straight there by: (a) Providing them with the strong support they need to keep the rapacious element of the developed nations at bay so they can follow their own path instead of being dragged off on a path which suits the developed nations. (b) Providing them with the models and tools which they can fit into their systems to take them on a direct path to sustainability, insofar as they aren’t there already. (c) Working with people on the ground so that we are looking at a people driven movement rather than a top down imposition — but working with the top too so that anti-sustainability forces within developing nations are blunted and controlled, and frameworks are put in place to provide the conditions for people to develop sustainable solutions. (d) Providing the means for people in developing countries to provide to the developed world models and frameworks which help the developed world move towards sustainability. (e) Working within our own communities to maximise movement towards sustainability both at the people level and in terms of providing appropriate frameworks and structures to support it. Think in terms of traditional agriculture in, say, China versus Australia. In the early 1900s, the guy who had the contract to run the dunny truck service in Shanghai was not paid for the job, HE PAID a very handsome price for the privilege of emptying the community shit cans … because he was selling the shit on for fertiliser to the market gardeners who ringed the city. Go back to those roots, introduce an essential composting step to kill the pathogens, and you have … a big step towards sustainability. Check Jenkins Publishing for some interesting discussion about this stuff. You can download the book in a rather crummy PDF (the pages were just scanned; it is not a proper PDF of the book as typeset) — even better, buy it by phoning the Rotaloo/worm farm people (Environment Equipment P/L, (03) 9587 2447). I can remember from my childhood in Mentone, then the Cranbourne of the south, i.e. the immediate post-war growth area, WE (the community) PAID the dunny man to collect the cans and he demanded and received a premium wage because it was such a shitty job. The fate of the collection? Don’t know, I presume it was stuffed into the sewer at some point and washed away to Werribee, or perhaps it was dumped into one of the ubiquitous sand pits around the place. I remember the sewer coming through Mentone. At the time, Melbourne was ringed by market gardens — half my school mates at Cheltenham State School were the progeny of market gardeners — now most market gardening is 50-100 kms distant. While the developing world might usefully move upscale somewhat, we need to move downscale to achieve sustainability. Local composting sewage works, protected areas for local food production, and so on. A concern — the proposal by the Victorian Government to make use of water and whatever (I think just water) from Melbourne’s Werribee sewage treatment plant, to power a vegetable and flower growing industry in the area is ultimately anti-sustainable. It is NOT local enough. It will set up a structure that demands high water flows to carry sewage to the area so that the water can be harvested for the horticultural industry area. It provides a justification for continuing to develop the current, highly wasteful sewer system. It puts in place a small group of industrial farmers who, having profited mightily from the supply of water, will demand continuing supply, even when the limitations on its sustainability finally reaches the “obvious as dogs’ balls” stage … or sue for loss of livelihood! An Australian firm, Hassell has been designing a new subdivision in China which is of interest. Unfortunately, it is not up on their website yet. (Somewhere, deep in the 4000+ messages which is currently clagging up my in tray in Eudora, is a media release about it — I will be cleaning out the in try today and if I locate it, I will post it.) Some needs I see: (a) Carrot (locally grown, of course) and stick (local plantation, naturally) to be applied in a variety of ways to e.g. food chains. Transport is the big thing, to my mind. Absolutely full cost of transport must be paid, including all the externalities of pollution, from cradle to grave. So for truck transport, we would be looking at covering everything about trucks, fuel, roads, etc., including clean-up at the end of the process, loss of water absorbed into the land through urban road networks, and so on. This would encourage local production and where distant production was a must, efficient transport — of necessity, rail. At the same time, protection of land for local growing with community composting, etc, to provide venues, with limits on land ownership (to ensure competition and to keep stuff at human scale) plus floors on production levels and certain regulations regarding use of the land (i.e. very light tread machinery, mandatory worm counts, and so on). We should be looking at urban developments, for example, which not only have local environment protection built in, but also have local food production built in too. (b) Learn from tropical and old time farmers — go for variety and diversity. We in the industrialised countries might have two or three species selected from a few dozen in total, on our plates at dinner time; in a New Guinea village, dinner time might involve a dozen species or more, selected from a menu of two or three hundred species. (See, for example, “Yes, we have no bananas” below. This is one of the very important lessons people from developing countries can teach those in the industrialised countries.) Yes, we can build market demand for variety. Carrots and sticks again. (c) Control of capital movement to be more in accord with the availability of people movement. There are some realistic limits to people movement very much tied to sustainabilty. Some control of capital movement would result if we worked harder on the “fair trading” notion. Would unions in Australia, for example, be amenable to providing support in the marketplace for goods which are produced by workers in other countries who are guaranteed a decent wage? Just by capping demand for the cheapest, we could stop a lot of movement of capital and encourage more “near source/market” production On the capital side, we need dedicated green capital funds and limits on distant funding. Papua New Guinea became independent with a very nice investment limitation built into its constitution — it would accept investment only for things that PNG could not do itself and which provided new industry for the country. This kept out exploitative foreign investment like Kentucky Fried Chicken, for example, which simply creams profits and takes them away. PNG said: “No thanks, we can cook a chicken”. In addition, any investment had some very stringent training requirements attached to do, plus progressive local investment. Needless to say, these thoughtful provisions came under huge attack from investors, and eventually were smashed. Clearly, every nation, every state within a nation, and every municipality or village, needs to think about these things. The best investment is the caring investment and no investor will care more about undesirable outcomes of their investment than the investor who has to live in the swamp too. (d) Control of market size and market power. This is the notion in the USA’s now fatally flawed anti-trust law. We should go for monopoly, government owned and controlled, on such things as transport and communications infrastructure, energy and water (yes, I know the horse has bolted up to a point, but I’m a big fan of the man from Snowy River — if you have the guts and the horse with a touch of Timor pony, you can catch the runaway and stuff it back into the stable), and limit market power in other things. Monopoly is a simple necessity for e.g. communications, so that you can develop the most efficient systems towards meeting 100% of demand. The fact is, in the end, no private enterprise model can supply 99.9% service — which is what we require in these kinds of fields. They MUST stop at about 95-97% to make a profit since the costs of supplying that last few percent towards 100% are astronomical, and in addition, private enterprise at the big end works best by NOT INNOVATING BECAUSE IT COSTS MONEY. In the 1980s, I was at a conference where a Telstra (still wholly government owned) planner discussed the future, and told how they had thrown out their “10% better every year” target which they were meeting and exceeding. Instead, Telstra had looked forward to the future and based their planning on that. Their aim was that by 2000, every dwelling, office and factory in Australia would be routinely cabled for communication as it was built, refurbished or altered, just as it is plumbed for gas, water and waste, and wired for electricity. Then they laid out a plan for developing the appropriate technologies, staffing, systems, operations and legal structure to make that happen. Along came idiots like Hawke, Keating, and Howard and that was all thrown out of the window in pursuit of the totally stupid notion of competition in a natural monopoly market. Instead of service improvement and technological innovation and service development to the max for the whole community, the so-called competition policy has seen services go backwards (in reality, compared to what they could have been), and investment funds have been squandered on duplicated cable roll-outs and insane marketing. Our local communications industries have collapsed while the money we should be investing in that and in our future we spend money on mindless telephone selling of illusory price cuts. The other side of the problem, control of market power is illustrated by Coles-Myer in Australia. A few years ago, it was taking 25 cents of every dollar spent in retail — my belief is that this has grown even further with its move into office supplies (OfficeWorks), petrol and liquor retailing. I was told the other day that OfficeWorks, as a unit, is yet to make a profit. In other words, it can run at a loss for years while it drives smaller retailers out of the market — then when it has developed dominance, it can drive the market where it likes to the total detriment of all consumers AND suppliers. It simply has too much power in the market place. No single corporation (looked at in its entirety) should be allowed to own more than, say, 10% of any market and that should mean “any broad market”, i.e. “all of retail” rather than just “grocery”. Vertical integration must be limited similarly. Takeovers or ventures into any country’s market by foreign investors should take into account the foreign might of that investor. Rules like those originally developed by PNG should apply, so that foreign investments end up with majority local ownership. Also rules are needed about aggregation of investment so that everyone can participate — not all to the same degree necessarily, but all to some degree. Structures like cooperatives should be encouraged. (e) Appropriate regulation and overt encouragement of individual and community participation to help towards the adoption of the “small is better” notion. The need for this is so obvious that it is almost unarguable. As an example, a government-owned monopoly electricity supplier could encourage privatisation of supply through cogeneration arrangements, e.g. domestic power generation through solar panels on roofs, industry generation through using “waste” heat. In some European countries, hot water from industry’s “waste heat” is piped through other commercial and domestic premises for heating, and so on. Property developers would have to meet strict transport requirements and meet requirements for on-site absorption and use of rain water and sullage, and so forth. An interesting aside — in recent days on the publishers’ forum (small publishers, mainly USA-based), we have had discussion of a USA book, “How to Shit in the Woods”. I kid you not. It literally instructs you how to shit without leaving mushy stuff for the next walker to squeeze between the toes. At the same time, we have had a spirited discussion about taking responsibility for what we are really doing — one person reported driving half an hour and queueing for 45 minutes for a box of Krusty Kreme doughnuts (interesting that this franchise emanates from the south and has the initials “KK” — hmmm). I suggested that she was krazy in the kokonut and should think about the fact that thousands of Iraqis have just been killed so she can have the petrol to drive 30 minutes for a doughnut on a whim. But things like the shit in the woods book, and the extensive actual need for bottled water or some form of clean water not drawn from the local area (versus the “want” in “me too” consumer cultures like that of Melbourne) are straws in the wind about how much pressure we are putting on the environment. There are more and more Americans on fewer and fewer trails. The story of the doughnut is telling us about the kind of thing we need to get real about and change. Sorry, people, I got a little carried away here. I originally wrote a few paragraphs to Phi Brent at the S.M.H.l, he suggested I post it, so I felt I should expand a ittle and make it all a little more ordered. There goes Saturday morning! Now for the local shopping …