Drawdown, A Book on Reversing Climate Change

Dear Friends,

I am very pleased to share with you the release of book Drawdown by
Paul Hawken. The book analyses and simulates climate impacts (reduction in atmospheric CO2 eq ppm) of 100 climate solutions which if implemented at scale could reverse global warming. I was fortunate to be part of the project and did a fellowship to contribute to two chapters 1) Reducing Food Waste (#3 in climate impact ranking) and 2) Family Planning (#6/7 in climate impact ranking). It was a wonderful experience to be part of the global fellowship and do the number crunching exercises with technical writing.

Source: http://www.drawdown.org/

The book is a first of its kind and a must read for everyone who is interested in sustainability, climate change, business, environment and even those who are climate skeptics. The solutions go beyond just climate change and offers future scenarios which could be useful for development of green businesses. The scope and potential is immense and the time to act is “Now”.

You can know more about the book, its solutions and buy a copy of it from http://www.drawdown.org/.

Please circulate it widely and we welcome your questions, thoughts and critics on the work.

Thank you,
Mihir.

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Presentations

These are a set of presentations on various topics which I have presented at different forums. It is being made freely available for non commercial use and source attribution would be highly appreciated. For any questions, clarifications or corrections please write to me.

Source: Presentations

The Idea of Localisation

Here is a note on my views of localization and why it is an effective way of achieving a sustainable society.

I welcome reader’s comments on this.

Vision: Communities thrive on resilient exchange of local goods and services in sustainable ecosystems for their overall well-being.
Mission: Enable social transformation towards more localized economy through regeneration and conservation of ecosystems and creation of local green jobs

Why go local?
Many reasons,
a. Learning is a feedback process. Behavior would modify if we receive feedback on our actions in relatively short time. Eg. While driving a vehicle the speedometer provides a feedback, similarly the fuel gauge also provides a feedback where we can take proactive steps to refuel in time. On these lines if our daily actions start providing us with feedback it will help us to be aware of the consequences our actions would have and affect behavior modification. Hence, it is important to collapse the space time between cause and effect. This is not possible if distant actions affect remote communities and ecosystems much beyond the temporal and spatial boundaries of the people living in those places. This delay creates blindness and hence restricts their learning process and awareness towards the consequences of their actions. The large delay involved between the unsustainable consumption practice and its impact on environment could very well close the window of opportunity where proactive actions could be taken to recover the situation or adapt to it. Thus it is important to go local and as much as possible have a close loop economy where what goes comes back in relatively short time. This could enable a self-governing system.
b. Complexity needs to be managed and harnessed. Tools which help us analyze data and make sense are good to understand situations which we don’t know. But at least here we are aware that we don’t know. Hence, it can be known through use of methods, tools, technology etc. But what happens when we don’t even know that we don’t know? The current situation of climate change, ecosystems degradation, governance issues, and economic uncertainty is interrelated, interconnected and interdepended in nature. I am not very sure how the tools which we use to understand complicated stuff would work in this complex situation. Hence, if the world is banking on technology, mathematical modeling and other forecasting tools to help us understand what we don’t know then it could be a recipe of disaster. The world has become too interconnected for us to comprehend its mischievous nature. Thus we need to decouple and start working with subsystems. We have to first make it manageable and then harness the complexity involved in it. Thus, going local is more manageable to develop models of change which may get adapted when the time comes.
c. Many subsystems make up the entire system. Top down approaches for development and policy often get disconnected with the local context. Hence set of best practices does not account for local diversity rather it relies on standardizing practices and one size must fit all type of approach. Rather a bottom up approach which self optimizes itself over a period of time would ideally take into account the local diversity and priorities. Policies and practices evolving from ground could have more acceptance and endurance as compared to top down planning.
How to go local?
a. Local but not isolated. Going local does not imply cutting ourselves from the external environment. It does not imply boycotting or living on isolated territories. In fact 100% local would not allow for risk transfers to take place through exchange of resources. Thus, it is only advisable to have semi closed economy where local substitution takes place for goods and services which are consistent with local priorities and are feasible in the near term.
b. Import substitution. Participatory appraisal would be the key for deciding on what to substitute, what resources are required for that substitution to take place, what their state is and how to maintain or achieve the desired state.
c. Green jobs. In most likelihood the state of local ecosystem and ecosystem services would be below the threshold for their sustainable consumption. Thus, it could very well be the case where regenerating and conserving ecosystems becomes the immediate action and people, institutions engaged in these activities earn their livelihood by providing their services. These could also be termed as local green jobs. It is of utmost importance that they earn through regeneration and conservation of ecosystems since this would provide them immediate incentives instead of motivating them for long term anticipated benefits.
d. Local currency. If green jobs are to be paid then a local revolving fund where the medium of exchange is not rupee but a local currency which cannot be used outside the locally decided boundaries but can be used for purchase and sale of local goods and services can be established. This initial infusion would then keep revolving within the community through exchange and transaction of local goods and services. But we will have to put more thought on the design of such a system.
e. Building credibility. Going local may not be the solution to all the problems and that’s not the idea of localization. It has to be seen as a systemic response to the multiple stresses of resource depletion, climate change and macroeconomic oscillations. The objective is to establish a proof of concept and test our assumptions in a safe manner. Most of our learning would come from failures and the pedagogy would evolve as we keep experimenting. Hence, the project should be done in the spirit of experimentation and not to prove success. We should seek to build credibility of the approach/concept and enhance our own understanding in an evolutionary manner.
f. Safe fail approach. It is only ethical that the size and nature of interventions should be such that even if they fail they don’t hurt the community or cause long term damage. They have to be small, diverse and must be developed in participatory manner.

Low Carbon Pathways are not enough…. Consumption Cuts a Must!

The article, which we published recently, argues that:

  • Economic growth based on consumption is dependent on the exploitation of natural resources
  • Sustainable development demands lifestyle changes as much as technology and innovation
  • De-growth of the wealthiest economies rather than clean technology is the need of the hour

Aricle Link: http://www.scidev.net/south-asia/sdgs/opinion/sustainable-development-and-de-growth.html

Local Exchange Systems – Building Resilience

Local Exchange Systems

Here (above link) is a discussion paper, “Local Exchange Systems – Designing Community Incentives” which pitches localisation as one of the systemic and strategic ways of building adaptive capacity of communities towards climate change and potential risks of economic globalization. This was part of my Climate Change Adaptation work at WOTR (www.wotr.org)

It examines the role of alternative economics to provide incentives in form of coupons, vouchers, tokens, rewards etc. to people for ecosystem regeneration, local production and consumption of goods and services. The objective of the paper is to facilitate a discussion on the potential local economics holds in building adaptive capacities of communities to facilitate adaptation.

Lets create a discussion thread on this!!

Below is the abstract of the paper:

Abstract: Economic Globalization in its current form is a centralizing juggernaut which often causes large-scale resource depletion in remote eco-systems, unpredictable price variations in essential commodities and lead to macroeconomic upheaval. Coupled with this is the potential of widespread impacts of Climate Change which increases the vulnerability of human settlements especially the resource poor within. In context of the dual risks of economic globalization and climate change, Localisation appears to be the most systemic response mechanism. Localisation is the manifestation of a decentralized, democratized economy that allows communities to develop ecosystems based Climate Resilient Economies.

Energy Math and What to Expect

The basic premise of all living beings is that they have surplus Energy all the time. This surplus energy is the net remainder of energy invested against energy received. For humans the energy received is mainly through food we eat against the energy we invest in our daily lives at office, home and otherwise.

The calorie intake minus calorie burned needs to have a positive balance for us to remain alive. Some have a high positive balance and often end up being obese!!! Same principle can be applied to the world we see around. Our world also suffers from obesity, having 7 billion people and plenty of waste around.

All modern activities are funded by energy, mainly fossil fuels. It is quite evident that we have a current surplus of energy and thus are able to feed 7 billion people plus invest heavily in modern technologies and infrastructure expansion. The dense, rich source of fossil energy has provided tremendous leverage to humans to live life king size. However, it is worth estimating how long will the party continue and what indicator seems most promising to tell us when the lights are gonna go dim.

Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI)

The current Energy Return on Energy Invested for Crude Oil is in the range of 20 (State of the World 2013, pg 107) implying for every 1 barrel of oil energy invested we get 20 barrels back.  Now if the EROEI starts coming down, which it will because finding new oil is becoming increasingly difficult owing mainly due to geological reasons, the math says that oil prices would continue to go up, stay at high levels and arrest world economy growth. Lets take an example.

The relation between Profitability and EROEI for oil production.

As we write this, the prices of oil (WTI & Brent Crude) are in range from $100-110 per barrel (www.oil-price.net) with global average cost of production (excluding energy cost) being $40 a barrel[i]. For every 1 barrel of energy invested we are getting 20 barrels back, thus a revenue of $2000 (20*$100)  for every 1 barrel of energy input. The other costs for extracting and processing 20 barrels is around $800 ($40*20), add to this the 1 barrel of energy input $100.

So a total investment of $900(800+100) fetches $2000 of revenue, making for a profit margin of around 125 percent. At such prolific rates of return we have close to $50 trillion world economy growing at modest rates of 2-3% annually (Wikipedia).

Now as the easy oil available in the wells is used up what remains is the deep, heavy, viscous oil which requires more energy to extract and process. So we will have a higher energy input, higher operating costs resulting in higher selling prices. Now let’s see what happens to profitability if EROEI falls from 20 to 15, estimating cost of production increases to $50 per barrel keeping the selling price constant.

At EROEI of 15 barrels for every 1 barrel, the revenue would be $1500 (15*$100)  for every 1 barrel of energy input, with other costs of $750 (15*$50) plus $100 of energy cost. So the total investment of $850 would fetch a revenue of $1500, making for a profit margin of around 75 percent.

To sum up, profitability falls by 50 percent with a 25 percent fall in EROEI.

This indicates that a falling EROEI has a high degree of negative impact on profitability which then puts pressure on oil prices to go up. Now in order to maintain the same levels profitability, the prices of oil has to be adjusted upwards. Thus, in the above case, to maintain a desired profitability of 125 percent, the oil prices would have to soar and reach $130 a barrel. With every fall in EROEI the oil prices would keep increasing, further if EROEI falls to 10 then in to maintain a 125% profitability the prices would have to go up to $175 a barrel (estimating cost of production to increase to $60 a barrel).

This implies that oil prices may never be able to come down and the world would have to accept inflating oil prices.

With the more difficult forms of oil produced from tar sand, shale oil etc. coming online for supply, the EROEI would definitely witness declines. Soon Light Sweet Crude will be a thing of the past and the world would have to submit to the heavy, waxy and viscous quality of oil which may not yield the same amount of net energy. This indicates that cheap oil era is coming to an end.

Under such circumstances, maintaining economic growth at current rates seems rather difficult since there is hardly any potential substitute close enough to replace crude oil which currently represents 35 percent of the world’s primary energy source and contributes 90 percent fuel to the world transport industry.[ii]

Relying only on monetary/economic indicators to understand the state of the world may not enable us to take proactive steps to adapt to the decline in energy curve and an uncertain economic future.

 

[i]Oil and Gas, Global Cost Study by BMO Capital Research, Fall 2007 http://energypolitics.org/view.htm

[ii]http://www.oildepletionprotocol.org/getinformed/oilandtransportation

INDIA’S MESSAGE TO THE WEST

India stands for living Humanity as against inert matter; for more equitable distribution of wealth ; for less luxury and more  brotherhood ; for less industrial conflict and more co-operation; for wealth as a means as against wealth as an end; and for finding happiness not in restless self-serving but in the consecration of life to the welfare of Society and Humanity – The Foundations of Indian Economics Pp. 459-61, 465-7- (year 1916)

What an unbelievably short, precise yet holistic narration of what Indian economy is made up of. Nearly 100 years hence, we struggle to save our culture and strive for sustainability by trying to redesign our economy, while the truth is we started from being sustainable, moved towards unsustainable ways in great hurry and exuberance, and now sit in the progress trap. A learning worth preserving so as to create a space from where new thinking should emerge.