“Live More with Less” Conference: Sustainable Wasatch

Conference sessions- Oct 3, 2014 1:30–6:30 pm

This web site is still under construction.  It contains the conference schedule introducing all the speakers and sessions along with supporting materials. Conference attendants are encouraged to study the supporting materials prior to the conference, so that the main objective of the conference can be achieved, namely, the formation of a group of responsible consumers in Utah who publicly reduce their consumption and in this way become catalysts for social change.

1st session:  A Numb Culture

 1:30- 2:30 – The Biggest Obstacle is Ourselves

 An earlier informational page listed all the things that have to be done. Clearly, what is actually being done falls far short of this. Why is there such a disconnect between what has to be done and what is being done?  Many answers have been proposed:

  • The policies of Bush and Obama
  • the Chinese
  • international competition between countries
  • the fossil fuel industry
  • the capitalist system
  • climate change denial by the public.

But there is one elephant in the room, namely, the consumer.  Nobody is telling the consumers that:

  • modern technology is not sustainable because it uses up important low-entropy resources and contaminates the planet with waste products.
  • the level of consumption of people in the industrialized countries is taking up so much of the planet’s resources already now that the poor people in India and Africa will never be able to have comparable standards of living.

If we want our economy to be pass on enough resources to future generations instead of using it all up now, and if we believe that all humans have equal claim to the planet’s natural resources, then the average affluent consumer in the rich countries (and the increasing minority in the newly industrialized countries who can afford now similar lifestyles) must drastically reduce their consumption.

 A mitigation strategy:  

Getting rid of excess consumption is also an important mitigation strategy for global warming. The fossil fuels industry is expanding their capacity instead of shrinking it because today’s energy demand is so huge that renewable energy will not be able to meet it for decades. If protesters shut down one fossil-fuelled power plant, pipeline, or refinery, the fossil fuels will find other ways to the market because the demand is there and nobody else can meet it. They can only be successful if everyone demonstrates their willingness to get by with less. Most of the transformations listed here take many years and require the work of specialists or committed activists. The downsizing of consumption is an exception: this change can be made instantly, and this change has to be made by a large majority of the people living in the US or other industrialized countries. For now, until the institutions have been built to enable and force everyone to downsize their consumption, this downsizing has to be done voluntarily by a minority of committed pioneers. The rest of the conference will elaborate on this demand side strategy to mitigate climate change and build an organizational framework for it.

How to Overcome Denial

The actions promoted by this conference are easy to justify:

  • Climate change destroys our future.
  • Climate change is one of the symptons of humans over-using the earth’s resources.
  • Therefore those living in affluence have to consume less.

This is such an obvious conclusion that one must wonder why this conference is even necessary. The conference is necessary because too many people cannot draw this simple logical conclusion. They are in denial of the severity of the situation. Since this conference aims for full disclosure, it must address this denial. The 2014 conference will not have a specific session about climate denial, but denial will be implicit in all our conversations. Here are some videos which prospective conference goers should watch at their leisure.

  • Barry Bickmore gave a Climate Denial Presentation at the UVU college of science and health in 2011.
  • Many climate scientists are doing the exact opposite of what they are accused of by the outright deniers: instead of overstating the problem they understate it and paint a too optimistic picture. Kevin Anderson shows this in his Cabot lecture.
  • The 4-minute video about Global Warming Facts produced by NASA in 2010 shows the severity of the problem, yet this video also has to be criticized. Do you recognize what is wrong with it? (answer).

Here is a chronological list of videos with George Marshall, founder of the Climate Outreach Information Network (COIN). George Marshall also has his own blog at climatedenial.org, a helpful climate denial web site.

  • The earliest YouTube presence of George Marshall seems to be an Interview recorded Aug 26 2007. Denial does not mean not knowing something, but the unwillingness to engage something we know. Marshall compares here climate change denial with the denial of starvation in Africa or holocaust denial. 4:39 minutes.
  • Here are five short clips recorded on Oct 6 2008:
  • Here is a 2009 presentation by George Marshall at the University of the West of England, called “The Ingenious Ways We Avoid Believing in Climate Change.” It is broken up into 3 videos:
    • Part 1 discusses how climate change is perfectly configured to confound our ‘risk thermostat’ and why how our response to climate is like our response to human rights abuses. 8:45 mins.
    • Part 2 looks at the story lines and imagery around climate change formed, how environmentalists and the imagery of polar bears have dominated the discourse, and asks why human rights organisations talk less about climate change than ice cream. 8:44
    • Part 3 looks at the mechanisms by which we reject information on climate change and the images that express collective denial. 10:57
  • How to Talk to a Climate Change Dissenter 20 minutes long, recorded in 2012.
  • In June 2014, George Marshall took part in a panel at the British Library titled Extreme Weather: Climate Change in Action? (47 minutes)

In 2014, George Marshall publishes the book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change.

2nd session: The Party is Over

 2:30–3:30 pm: Richard Heinberg

 The only keynote speaker not coming from Utah is Richard Heinberg. This page will have supplementary materials for his presentation. What he is going to say is probably close to his Foreword to the book Fleeing Vesuvius.

 

3rd session: Building Beauty and Community

3:30–4:10 pm: Erin Silva

 The overriding rationale for the actions proposed at the conference is remedial, we are trying to prevent or mitigate a bad outcome—the conference deliberates how we can do what is necessary to prevent climate catastrophe. Nevertheless the effects of these remedial actions can also make things truly better for us. The changes necessary to prevent catastrophe make room for many beautiful and desirable possibilities that were off the table in a business as usual scenario. The interventions which we are forced to make because of climate and water will have beautiful effects for Utah. Let us take a peek what our end goal, a sustainable Wasatch Front, will look like.

For this we must define first what it means for one area of the planet to be sustainable. The conference organizers propose that a sustainable Wasatch Front must meet two conditions, one aggregate local and one individual global condition:

  • The local condition:
    • The total resource use of all people and production facilities located at the Wasatch Front must not exceed the resources available at the Wasatch Front. Enough water, food, energy must be available—either from local production or by imports from other areas—for all production and consumption located here. Enough water must flow out of the tap, no blackouts or brownouts, the air must be healthy to breathe, etc.
    • The Wasatch Front must not only have enough resources available but these resources must be sustainable. Economic activity at the Wasatch Front is not sustainable as long as it uses energy from coal fired power plants or water from the depletion of aquifers or food grown with fertilizers produced from fossil fuels.
  • The global condition:
    • The goal of every sustainability program must be that everyone living on this planet, including the residents of the Wasatch Front, must have a resource use or “footprint” small enough so that the resources of this planet will not be overused if everybody in the world had a similar footprint.
    • It is impossible to jump to radical equality of all humans instantly; the rich are locked into a path of overconsumption which takes time to build down; and those who consume fewer resources than average cannot be allowed to embark on a carbon-intensive path but they must leapfrog fossil fuels. The process of necessary adjustment of lifestyles has been called “contraction and convergence.”
    • Even though most of the contraction cannot be achieved by discrete changes but must be the result of a ramping-down process, parts of this contraction can and must indeed be done instantly—by a rethinking of what it means to have a good life and changes in the life styles of those who are affluent. In order to stay within the planet’s resources, far more modest lifestyles are necessary not only for the world’s top 1 percent, but for the majority of the people living in the highly industrialized countries.

In order to design a path towards a more sustainable life for the residents of the Wasatch Front, we must take into account the geographic and social peculiarities of the Wasatch Front, which will co-determine its trajectory until 2050 and beyond.

  • The Wasatch Front is a metropolitan island encircled by wild natural areas: the Wasatch Mountains, the Oquirrh Mountains, the West Desert, and the Great Salt Lake. While residents of most other metropolitan areas in the US must travel hundreds of miles to reach one of the remaining areas of wild nature, residents at the Wasatch Front are less than ten miles away from such areas. Utah’s wilderness is not only important for tourism, its main beneficiaries are the Utahns. Humans need a connection with nature. The Wasatch Front can offer a rich metropolitan life without losing the connection with nature. It is the Switzerland of the United States.
  • Due to its topography between two mountain ranges at the bottom of the Great Basin, the Wasatch Front has frequent Winter inversions trapping air pollution. It must therefore have high environmental standards and become a home for the most pollution-free industrial activity.
  • The Wasatch Front is located in a region of the globe
    • with excellent solar and geothermal energy resources. It has several hot springs. Geothermal resources are not far below the ground. Utah also has some good wind resources.
    • rich in minerals, including fossil fuels. The western edge of the metropolitan area, the Oquirrh mountains, is home of one of the largest open-pit copper mines of the world.

    The mining operation must become the cleanest mining on the planet, while the refineries in the center of the city must be on the top of the list of refineries to be phased out. (The decarbonization of the US economy requires the phasing out of fossil fuel mines or wells, power plants and refineries.)

  • The Wasatch Front is far away from other metropolitan areas, and at the same time it is an important node on the network of interstate expressways and the railroad network.  Therefore, it needs to be as autarkic as possible, with efficient and sustainable traffic channels connecting it with the rest of the country. This means urban agriculture, and electrification of the railroads so that interstate freight traffic can be shifted from the roads to the railroads.
  • As a high elevation city at 40 degrees latitude, at the north end of the Southwest area which will get much drier (see EPA), it is already a destination for climate refugees moving north to escape heat, drought, fires, and sandstorms. This trickle may become a flood. For members of the LDS church living South of SLC who are driven out by fire and drought, SLC is a logical refuge.
  • The limiting factor determining how much population the area can hold is water. Right now, the Wasatch Front receives 95% of its water from snowmelt, and it drains its waste water directly into the Great Salt Lake. With diminishing smowfall and more torrential rains, the capability must be developed to absorb the rains into the groundwater for seasonal storage so that enough water is available during the dry season. This means, the land area must not be plastered over with low density urban sprawl. Instead, high density population nodes at locations which cannot be flooded must be interspersed by low density areas of flood plains for the Jordan River and the creeks coming from the canyons, and of urban agriculture.

The Wasatch Front is a leading candidate for becoming a stunningly beautiful biophilic citywith streams and rivers woven into the citysphere. Supporting materials for this session are

Unfortunately, the policies currently pursued by the Utah state government do not promote this vision but hinder it:

  • Environmental regulations in Utah are not allowed to be stricter than national EPA standards
  • Too low energy prices attract industries with high energy consumption while discouraging renewable energy
  • Instead of phasing out fossil fuels, the Utah state government promotes fossil fuel exploration.

 

Look at it as “Uncluttering” your Life

 Demand-reduction should not be mistaken as self-imposed austerity. It means getting rid of dead-weight which allows you to live more happily. There is solid scientific evidence that beyond a certain level, more consumption does not make people happier but burdens them. The German Professor Niko Paech has done interesting work about this:

 

Shorter Work Hours a Desirable Byproduct of Demand Reduction:

 The history of labor time reductions shows that the next reduction is over-due. Now is the time to press for a steep reduction in labor time along with an increase in hourly wages, especially an increase of the minimum wage. Such a wage increase is necessary so that people can afford decarbonizing their lives.

 

Session 4: How To Reduce Demand

4:10–4:50 pm: Practical Resources.

 Several individuals living in Utah, who are taking climate change seriously, have been invited to discuss with the audience how they have changed their lives. John Loveless from Kaysville has been invited for this presentation. One of the questions each guest will have to answer is:

  • how much of what they are doing is mitigation of and
  • how much is adaptation to the coming disaster?

Here are a few ways of demand reduction:

  • get rid of the third or fourth car in the same family and do more trips by foot, bicycle, or mass transit,
  • have as few pets as possible,
  • eat less meat,
  • make airplane trips only when absolutely necessary,
  • get a housemate or move into a walkable neighborhood,
  • chose a slower-paced life with more emphasis on relationships than things.

Carbon Calculator can tell us how much progress has been made. The same web site also has the useful e-book Emit This. Another footprint calculator is here.

What you do with the money you are saving is also very important:

  • work fewer hours
  • invest into home weatherization or solar panels or purchase more long-lived and repairable consumer goods
  • support individuals or organizations or electoral candidates who are fighting for all the changes enumerated in the third presentation.

Institutional Backup for Frugal Lifestyles.

What institutions and reforms are necessary so that demand reduction becomes something everybody can do, instead of being a luxury item affordable only to those living with a certain affluence today?

The entire capitalist public assistance system must be turned on its head. Its purpose in the past has been to serve as a safety net, which catches those who fall out of the system. In the US, this safety net is so disorganized, intrusive, and demeaning, that most people will want to re-integrate themselves into the system as quickly as possible.

With the uncertain future ahead, the fiction can no longer maintained that everybody who avails themselves of public assistance is doing this because of poor choices in the past. We all may become homeless on a few days’ notice. Therefore

  • Cities must be designed in such a way that one can live safe, healthy, and fulfilled lives also with a low income:
    • better mass transit
    • mixed-use walkable neighborhoods
    • Salt Lake City’s housing first program to help the chronic homeless is a good example.
  • The products which are produced industrially must
    • satisfy minimum quality and durability standards,
    • have standardized modularized parts.
    • The lifetime resource cost of the things we buy must be easily available so that people can make intelligent consumption choices.
    • Planned obsolescence must be discouraged by tax laws and regulation.
    • Industrial products must be consumed by more people by resource sharing (Deseret Industries is a good example here), must be maintained and repaired.
  • Health insurance independent of employment status,
  • The monetary system and tax system which depends on growth and promotes growth must be changed.
  • A minimum income must be established, people who are content with living modestly are doing everybody a favor and should not be pressured into wage labor.

If the system makes it easier for people to satisfy their basic needs, precautions must be taken that they money they are saving is not spent on additional high carbon activities such as more airplane trips to exotic vacation destinations. Policies must be in place which minimize the rebound effect.  The money saved from a simpler lifestyle must be invested in the new infrastructure or donated to environmental organizations. This presentation should emphasize that it is NOT our goal to impede the capitalist economy, but we seek to adapt the capitalist institutions so that our economic life can become sustainable.

 

5th session: Environmental Ethics and Religion

4:50–5:50 pm: Roundtable with Warner Woodworth and Others TBA: Role of the Churches

The global condition for sustainability expresses a compassion with the poor which is the mainstay of many religions, for instance is in the spirit of the Buddhist principles of non-harm and balance. Its ultimate aim is a state of the world where everybody alive on the planet has the same access to natural resources, although in this end state the total number or people living will probably be lower than today. The necessity that the affluent consume less is formulated in the Brundtland Report in paragraph 29: “Sustainable global development requires that those who are more affluent adopt lifestyles within the planet’s ecological means.” However unlike the Brundtland report, the conference organizers emphatically deny that this second condition of sustainability is compatible with economic growth in the rich countries. On the contrary, we have to simplify and unclutter our lives. This does not mean sacrifice but is a source of happiness and contentment through right livelihood and mindful living and overcoming alienation. There are many words for it, we will call it “authentic living.” It has deep roots in religious, for instance also Buddhist economy.

The Book of Mormon says in Jacob chapter 2: “[Y]e will seek [riches] for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” The podcast of an interview of BYU Professor Chip Oscarson shows the striking coincidence between Mormon Teachings and today’s necessities of decreasing our footprint on the planet.

Since modest living without excess is in many denominations a religious requirement, the churches are organizations which can help us develop these lifestyles. Professor Warner Woodworth is invited to conduct this important concluding session of the conference, along with the representatives of other denominations.

A resource for simple and autonomous living by T. Scott Daniels is Provide Your Own, however no link to climate change is apparent.

6th session: Deciding the Next Steps

5:50–6:30 pm: Plenary Session Deciding on the Next Steps

At the end of the day we have 40 minutes in which everybody, conference organizers, panelists, and the audience, is invited to plan the next steps. Those taking the northbound Frontrunner home should catch the northbound 830 bus at the UVU Roundabout at 6:45 pm, more details here).

 

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