Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 14, No. 2, February 2018
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Best Practices for Solidarity and Sustainability


This page attempts to provide a synthesis of policies and best practices for the transition to a world of solidarity and sustainability.

1. Local, National, and Global Citizen Movements
2. Education for Sustainable Development
3. Net Energy and Energy Return on Investment (EROI)
4. Financial Transaction/Speculation Taxes
5. Shift to Land/Resource Value Taxes
6. Guaranteed Basic Personal Income
7. Professional Standards and Quality Assurance Practices
8. Accounting for Externalities in Production and Consumption
9. Fostering and Deploying Clean Energy Technologies

Energy Return on Investment

Charles A. S. Hall, Springer, 2017

"This authoritative but highly accessible book presents the reader with a powerful framework for understanding the critical role of the energy return on investment (EROI) in the survival and well-being of individuals, ecosystems, businesses, economies and nations. Growth and development are fundamental and ubiquitous processes at all scales, from individuals to food crops to national economies. While we are all familiar with the concepts of economic growth and living standards as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), we often take for granted the energy use that underpins GDP and our expectations for year-on-year growth. In this book, you will learn how these measures of “progress” are completely dependent on the balance that can be achieved between energy costs (inputs) and gains. Nothing is made or moved without an energy surplus, and it is the EROI of available energy sources more than any other single factor that determines the shape of civilization.

"Nearly all politics and economics assume that policy and market forces are the levers upon which future outcomes will hinge. However, this book presents many examples of historical and current events that can be explained much more clearly from an energetic perspective. In addition, a future scenario is developed that gives a central place to EROI in assessing the potential of governmental and private initiatives to substitute so-called renewable energy sources for diminishing stocks of fossil fuels. When cheap fossil fuels are no longer available in the abundance needed to mask economic problems and power business as usual, it will be EROI more than the plethora of “green” technologies that creates the boundary conditions for a sustainable future."

1. Local, National, and Global Citizen Movements

"The term Global Citizens Movement (GCM) refers to a profound shift in values among an aware and engaged citizenry. Transnational corporations, governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) remain powerful actors, but all of these are deeply influenced by a coherent, worldwide association of millions of people who call for priority to be placed on new vales of quality of life, human solidarity, and environmental sustainability. It is important to note that the GCM is a socio-political process rather than a political organization or party structure." Global Citizens Movement (GCM), Encyclopedia of Earth, November 2007.



Occupy Rio+20 - People’s Petition
Source: Occupy Rio+20

We, members of the Occupy movement and civil society, highlight the critical window of opportunity at the Earth Summit to vastly scale up political, financial & public response to the environmental, social & economic crisis of our time, & to raise ambition to the level that science demands. We are exceeding 3 of 9 planetary boundaries (climate change; biodiversity loss; changes to the nitrogen cycle) and our economy has outgrown the ecosystems we depend on. We denounce debt-created money and demand urgent regulation for a steady-state economy. We vow to respect and protect the beauty and diversity of life on Earth, realising our interconnectedness with nature. Governments, corporations and financial institutions must wake up and dramatically prioritise people & the planet over abusive exploitation for short-term profit & “growth”.

In defence of our rights, freedoms & future, we call for:

1. A direct participatory democratic UN: inclusive rights-based global decision-making; open-source communications. Prioritise youth, women, marginalised voices & civil society formally in negotiations.

2. Ending corporate capture of the UN: end compromising partnerships & transfer of officials. Exclude business lobbyists from talks. Expose & prohibit the bullying & bribing of poor nations by rich nations.

3. Realisation of new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by increased cooperation, commitment, funding & resources, strengthening the Millennium Goals (MDGs) & cancelling unjust poor country debt.

4. Peace & demilitarization, democratising the UN Security Council, a binding global arms treaty, SDG on peace & conflict, nuclear disarmament by 2030 & transfer funds to local sustainable development.

5. A Financial Transaction Tax, abolition of tax havens & a Global Carbon Fee on extraction of fuels, to transparently & equitably fund life-saving adaptation solutions, prioritising resilience & climate justice.

6. Ending fossil fuel subsidies now & extraction by 2020. Invest in non-nuclear Renewable Energy for All: global wind/solar/small-hydro/geo-energy; efficient stoves; zero carbon global electricity by 2030.

7. Outlawing Ecocide as the 5th International Crime Against Peace: prosecute destruction of ecosystems e.g. tar sands, oil spills, mountaintop removal, fracking. Protect the commons & Rights of Mother Earth.

8. Zero deforestation of Amazon rainforest by 2015 & globally by 2020. Rejection of pricing & trading nature, including forests, water & the atmosphere; and rejection of offsetting damage/destruction.

9. Food & water sovereignty & security. Ban land grabs. Protect Indigenous peoples’ land rights. Switch support for biofuels & industrial, chemical & GM agriculture to small organic farming & permaculture.

10. Indicators beyond GDP: measure wellbeing, participation, environmental health, socio-economic equity, gender equality, employment, provision for needs/services, protection of rights, & peace.

This is what democracy looks like. This is Harmony with Nature. This is the Future We Need for a just, resilient, thriving world. Join Global Days of Action on June 5th & 20th to raise our voice to challenge & bring hope to Rio+20.

A high priority of global citizenship is education, either informally through personal contacts and public means of communication such as the internet, or more formally via programs sponsored by educational institutions. At a time when both developed and developing nations seem to be engulfed in political and financial corruption, education in noviolence is especially important. If a global revolution is coming, let it be a nonviolent revolution!

If a global revolution is coming, let it be a nonviolent revolution!

2. Education for Sustainable Development

Gaia Education:
Empowering Communities for Climate Change Adaptation,
Regenerative Agriculture, and Sustainable Livelihoods

Sally Bogale

This article was originally published in
International Center for Climate Governance, July 2017


Gaia Education supports vulnerable communities to rebuild their social cohesion, adapt their settlements for greater sustainability and disaster risk management, improve climate change resilience and adopt regenerative agricultural and entrepreneurial practices, which mitigate climate-related changes whilst delivering more sustainable food security and livelihoods.

We do this by using our holistic approach, where communities are encouraged to assess their settlements and livelihoods in relation to four key dimensions of sustainability: Social, Economic, Ecological and Cultural. They assess how climate change, natural disasters and unsustainable food production/livelihood practices have thrown these dimensions out of balance and how they can use the challenges as opportunities to re-align with natural processes.

Our approach has an impressive track record in building capacity of community leaders to guide their fellow villagers through sustainable village design and development, particularly in relation to the challenges of climate change, poverty and hunger. Same time we are training villagers in technical skills to make their visions for sustainability a practical reality. Trainings include climate change-adapted house building, disaster risk management, organic vegetable production, horticulture and fisheries projects, as well as social enterprise and food processing programmes.

We promote a paradigm shift in disaster management and food production from conventional relief-and-response practices to an integrated and regenerative risk reduction culture, whereby past victims become pioneers of regenerative actions. Beneficiary villages in Bangladesh, and also in India and Senegal, have made significant progress toward the realisation of self-sustaining communities, regenerating their bio-regions, and are now able to act as educators to a wider populations in their districts and regions.

Objectives and beneficiaries

We have recently completed a project in 66 communities of the coastal districts of Bangladesh, where cyclones, tidal surges, and extreme flooding have devastated settlements, agriculture and food production, increasing mortality rates and destroying the livelihoods and social cohesion of many communities.

More than 23% of the families in the region suffer from a shortage of food and over 50% of agricultural land is affected by salinity from tidal flooding during wet season and upward movement of saline ground water during dry season. In partnership with local organisation, BASD (Bangladesh Association for Sustainable Development), our objectives were to:

1. Build capacity and support villagers to work together in regenerative development and design and develop practical strategies for climate change adaptation and mitigation.
2. Increase food security through a food sovereignty approach with 27 community-led projects to grow organic food from integrated, regenerative agriculture
3. Build on strengthened communities with surplus produce by training in social enterprise and food processing skills to generate sustainable income through sales.

Example practices for climate change adaptation and disaster risk management in this bio-regional context were:

- Building low-roof houses on high plinth/platform and holding house with strong rope
- Making a high place /platform/ life-saving strong pillars to cling to
- Setting tube-wells in higher places for safe drinking water after floods
- Tree plantation to reduce soil dissolution and provide food and wood
- Using organic fertilizer to improve soil quality
- Hanging vegetable cultivation to reduce risk of damage during floods
- Local duck rearing, as more resilient than chickens during floods
- Introducing saline tolerant agriculture and species
- Establishing alternative livelihoods for less reliance on farming
- Developing seed bank in a safe place through cooperatives

Strong points of the practice

Main strong point is that we use our experience in sustainability design and regeneration practices to support communities themselves to turn climate change challenges into opportunities.

Gaia Education (GE) was conceived by a group of sustainability experts from a wide range of academic and professional disciplines, calling themselves "G.E.E.S.E" - Global Ecovillage Educators for a Sustainable Earth. For the last 11 years, GE has played a key role in the regeneration movement as a leading edge provider of sustainability and climate change adaptation education and project-based learning, transforming communities worldwide.

GE grassroots trainers have run over 200 programmes in 47 countries, across 5 continents, reaching over 12,000 people and 109 nationalities, in settings ranging from tribal communities to intentional ecovillages, from urban slums to universities. Feedback shows that our courses are ‘life-changing’ for many participants, with a 92% ‘excellent/good’ rating worldwide.

In 2012, GE responded to the demand for support beyond trainings and launched our long-term Project-Based Learning programmes, which use the wealth of knowledge from our global grassroots trainers coupled with project management support and finance for sustainable communities to implement learning and thrive whilst regenerating natural systems.

Expected results and benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation

Our results and benefits are already demonstrable regarding climate change adaptation for the communities we have worked with:

India: As part of the Grow your own Food campaign, which use new climate-resilient agricultural approaches, Gaia Education and our local partners have supported Koraput communities to grow drought tolerant plants combined with mulching, fortified composting, vermiculture and vermi-composting, herbal pesticides and green manures, which have improved the productivity of soils and the nutritional value of meals.

Results: High yields in participating villages were the result of community engagement, access to water & new skills acquired through agro-ecological capacity building activities. Villagers who experienced success in the first year by earning supplemental income through the sale of surplus produce encouraged and influenced fellow community members on subsequent years. The project reached a total of 750 tribal families over 2 1/2 years, raising their income, adapting their food production techniques to the changing climate effects, and strengthening their communities.

Senegal: A three-year food security project engaging 4 villages - developed 16 hectares of community land to produce organic food more efficiently, and increase the communities’ capacity to adapt to the effects of climate change. Farmers’ livelihoods in the 4 villages were in decline, with productive land privately sold & remaining soils drying up. Our participatory approach, benefitted 3,000 villagers, 85% women, & transformed desert to abundant gardens. By end-Y2, 100% of beneficiaries stopped using agrochemicals & enriched soil.

Replicability potential of the practice

Because our Whole Systems Design approach adapts to the needs of the communities on the ground and uses low-tech techniques to adapt to and mitigate climate change effects in settlements and livelihoods, it can be replicated anywhere where there is a need. We currently hope to expand our work in other districts of Bangladesh, as well as adapting our model to climate-affected areas of Rwanda and the Congo, where we have been asked to assist farming communities.


Sally Bogale is on the staff of Gaia Education, a leading-edge provider of sustainability education that promotes thriving communities within planetary boundaries.

3. Net Energy and Energy Return on Investment (EROI)

Inside the New Economic Science of Capitalism’s
Slow-Burn Energy Collapse

Nafeez Ahmed

This article was originally published in
Resilience, 22 August 2017
under a Creative Commons License

Flood in Budapest 2002 ~ Credit: Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Published by INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a crowdfunded investigative journalism project for people and planet. Support us to keep digging where others fear to tread.

New scientific research is quietly rewriting the fundamentals of economics. The new economic science shows decisively that the age of endlessly growing industrial capitalism, premised on abundant fossil fuel supplies, is over.

The long-decline of capitalism-as-we-know-it, the new science shows, began some decades ago, and is on track to accelerate well before the end of the 21st century.

With capitalism-as-we-know it in inexorable decline, the urgent task ahead is to rewrite economics to fit the real-world: and, accordingly, to redesign our concepts of value and prosperity, precisely to rebuild our societies with a view of adapting to this extraordinary age of transition.

A groundbreaking study in Elsevier’s Ecological Economics journal by two French economists, for the first time proves the world has passed a point-of-no-return in its capacity to extract fossil fuel energy: with massive implications for the long-term future of global economic growth.

The study, ‘Long-Term Estimates of the Energy-Return-on-Investment (EROI) of Coal, Oil, and Gas Global Productions’, homes in on the concept of EROI, which measures the amount of energy supplied by an energy resource, compared to the quantity of energy consumed to gather that resource. In simple terms, if a single barrel of oil is used up to extract energy equivalent to 50 barrels of oil, that’s pretty good. But the less energy we’re able to extract using that single barrel, then the less efficient, and more expensive (in terms of energy and money), the whole process.

Recent studies suggest that the EROI of fossil fuels has steadily declined since the early 20th century, meaning that as we’re depleting our higher quality resources, we’re using more and more energy just to get new energy out. This means that the costs of energy production are increasing while the quality of the energy we’re producing is declining.

But unlike previous studies, the authors of the new paper—Victor Court, a macroeconomist at Paris Nanterre University, and Florian Fizaine of the University of Burgundy’s Dijon Laboratory of Economics (LEDi)—have removed any uncertainty that might have remained about the matter.

Point of no return

Court and Fizaine find that the EROI values of global oil and gas production reached their maximum peaks in the 1930s and 40s. Global oil production hit peak EROI at 50:1; while global gas production hit peak EROI at 150:1. Since then, the EROI values of oil and gas—the overall energy we’re able to extract from these resources for every unit of energy we put in—is inexorably declining.

Source: Court and Fizaine (2017)

Even coal, the only fossil fuel resource whose EROI has not yet maxed out, is forecast to undergo an EROI peak sometime between 2020 and 2045. This means that while coal might still have signficant production potential in some parts of the world, rising costs of production are making it increasingly uneconomical.

Axiom: Aggregating this data together reveals that the world’s fossil fuels overall experienced their maximum cumulative EROI of approximately 44:1 in the early 1960


Since then, the total value of energy we’re able to extract from the world’s fossil fuel resource base has undergone a protracted, continuous and irreversible decline.

Insight: At this rate of decline, by 2100, we are projected to extract the same value of EROI from fossil fuels as we were in the 1800s.

Several other studies suggest that this ongoing decline in the overall value of the energy extracted from global fossil fuels has played a fundamental role in the slowdown of global economic growth in recent years.

In this sense, the 2008 financial crash did not represent a singular event, but rather one key event in an unfolding process.

The economy-energy nexus

This is because economic growth remains ultimately dependent on “growth in material and energy use,” as a study in the journal PLOS One found last October. That study, lead authored by James D. Ward of the School of Natural and Built Environments, University of South Australia, challenged the idea that GDP growth can be “decoupled” from environmental impacts.

The “illusion of decoupling”, Ward and his colleagues argued, has been maintained through the following misleading techniques:

  1. substituting one resource for another;
  2. financialization of GDP, such as through increasing “monetary flows” through creation of new debt, without however increasing material or energy throughput (think quantitative easing);
  3. exporting environmental impacts to other nations or regions, so that the realities of increasing material throughput can be suppressed from data calculations.
  4. growing inequality of income and wealth, which allows GDP to grow for the benefit of a few, while the majority of workers see decreases in real income —in other words, a wealthy minority monopolises the largest fraction of GDP growth, but does not increase their level of consumption with as much demand for energy and materials.

Ward and his co-authors sought to test these factors by creating a new economic model to see how well it stacks up against the data.

Insight: They found that continued economic growth in GDP “cannot plausibly be decoupled from growth in material and energy use, demonstrating categorically that GDP growth cannot be sustained indefinitely.”

Other recent scientific research has further fine-tuned this relationship between energy and prosperity.

The prosperity-resource nexus

Adam Brandt, a leading EROI expert at Stanford University’s Department of Energy Resources Engineering, in the March edition of BioPhysical Economics and Resource Quality proves that the decline of EROI directly impacts on economic prosperity.

Earlier studies on this issue, Brandt points out, have highlighted the risk of a “net energy cliff”, which refers to how “declining EROI results in rapid increases in the fraction of energy dedicated to simply supporting the energy system.”

Axiom: So the more EROI declines, a greater proportion of the energy being produced must be used simply to extract more energy. This means that EROI decline leads to less real-world economic growth.

It also creates a complicated situation for oil prices. While at first, declining EROI can be expected to lead to higher prices reflecting higher production costs, the relationship between EROI and prices begins to breakdown as EROI becomes smaller.

This could be because, under a significantly reduced EROI, consumers in a less prosperous economy can no longer afford, energetically or economically, the cost of producing more energy—thus triggering a dramatic drop in market prices, despite higher costs of production. At this point, in the new era of shrinking EROI, swinging oil prices become less and less indicative of ‘scarcity’ in supply and demand.

Brandt’s new economic model looks at how EROI impacts four key sectors—food, energy, materials and labor. Exploring what a decline in net energy would therefore mean for these sectors, he concludes:

“The reduction in the fraction of a resource free and the energy system productivity extends from the energy system to all aspects of the economy, which gives an indication of the mechanisms by which energy productivity declines would affect general prosperity. A clear implication of this work is that decreases in energy resource productivity, modeled here as the requirement for more materials, labor, and energy, can have a significant effect on the flows required to support all sectors of the economy. Such declines can reduce the effective discretionary output from the economy by consuming a larger and larger fraction of gross output for the meeting of inter-industry requirements.”

Brandt’s model is theoretical, but it has direct implications for the real world.

Insight: Given that the EROI of global fossil fuels has declined steadily since the 1960s, Brandt’s work suggests that a major underlying driver of the long-term process of economic stagnation we’re experiencing is resource depletion.

The new age of economic stagnation

Exactly how big the impact of resource depletion on the economy might be, can be gauged from a separate study by Professor Mauro Bonauiti of the Department of Economics and Statistics at the University of Turn.

His new paper published in February in the Journal of Cleaner Production assesses data on technological innovations and productivity growth. He concludes that:

“… advanced capitalist societies have entered a phase of declining marginal returns?—or involuntary degrowth—with possible major effects on the system’s capacity to maintain its present institutional framework.”

Bonauiti draws on anthropologist Joseph Tainter’s work on the growth and collapse of civilizations. Tainter’s seminal work, The Collapse of Complex Societies, showed that the very growth in complexity driving a civilization’s expansion, generates complex new problems requiring further complexity to solve them.

Axiom: Complex civilizations tend to accelerate the use of resources, while diminishing the quantity of resources available for the civilization’s continued expansion—because they are continually being invested in solving the new problems generated by increasing complexity.

The result is that complex societies tend to reach a threshold of growth, after which returns diminish to such an extent that the complexification of the society can no longer be sustained, leading to its collapse or regression.

Bonauiti builds on Tainter’s framework and applies it to new data on ‘Total Factor Productivity’ to assess correlations between the growth and weakening in productivity, industrial revolutions, and the implications for continued economic growth.

The benefits that a certain society obtains from its own investments in complexity “do not increase indefinitely”, he writes. “Once a certain threshold has been reached (T0), the social organisation as a whole will enter a phase of declining marginal returns, that is to say, a critical phase, which, if ignored, may lead to the collapse of the whole system.”

This threshold appears to have been reached by Europe, Japan and the US before the early 1970s, he argues.

Insight: The US economy, he shows, appears to have reached “the peak in productivity in the 1930s, the same period in which the EROI of fossil fuels reached an extraordinary value of about 100.”

Of course, Court and Fizaine quantify the exact value of this peak EROI differently using a new methodology, but they agree that the peak occurred roughly around this period.

The US and other advanced economies are currently tapering off the end of what Bonauiti calls the ‘third industrial revolution’ (IR3), in information communications technologies (ICT). This was, however, the shortest and weakest industrial revolution from a productivity standpoint, with its productivity “evaporating” after just eight years.

In the US, the first industrial revolution utilized coal to power steam engine and telegraph technology, stimulating a rapid increase in productivity that peaked between between 1869 and 1892, at almost 2%.

The second industrial revolution was powered by the electric engine and internal combustion engine, which transformed manufacturing and domestic consumption. This led productivity to peak at 2.78%, remaining at around 2% for at least another 25 years.

After the 1930s, however, productivity continually declined, reaching 0.34% in the period 1973–95. Since then, the third industrial revolution driven by computing technology led to a revival of productivity which, however, has already tapered out in a way that is quite tepid compared to the previous industrial revolutions


Axiom: The highest level of productivity was reached around the 1930s, and since then with each industrial revolution has declined.

The decline period also roughly corresponds to the post-peak EROI era for total fossil fuels identified by Court and Fizaine.

Thus, Bonauiti concludes, “the empirical evidence and theoretical reasons lead one to conclude that the innovations introduced by IR3 are not powerful enough to compensate for the declining returns of IR2.”

Insight: The implication is that the 21st century represents the tail-end of the era of industrial economic expansion, originally ushered in by technological innovations enabled by abundant fossil fuel energy sources.

The latest stage is illustrated with the following graph which demonstrates the rapid rise and decline in productivity of the last major revolution in technological innovation (IR3).


The productivity of the third industrial revolution thus peaked around 2004 and since then has declined back to near 1980s levels.

Bonauiti thus concludes that “advanced capitalist societies (the US, Europe and Japan) have entered a phase of declining marginal returns or involuntary degrowth in many key sectors, with possible major detrimental effects on the system’s capacity to maintain its present institutional framework.”

In other words, the global economic system has entered a fundamentally new era, representing a biophysical phase-shift into an energetically constrained landscape.

Going back to the new EROI analysis by French economists, Victor Court and Florian Fizaine, the EROI of oil is forecast to reduce to 15:1 by 2018. It will continue to decline to around 10:1 by 2035.

They broadly forecast the same pattern for gas and coal: Overall, their data suggests that the EROI of all fossil fuels will hit 15:1 by 2060, and decline further to 10:1 by 2080.

If these projections come to pass, this means that over the next few decades, the overall costs of fossil fuel energy production will increase, even while the market value of fossil fuel energy remains low. The total net energy yield available to fuel continued economic growth will inexorably decline. This will, in turn, squeeze the extent to which the economy can afford to buy fossil fuel energy that is increasingly expensive to produce.

We cannot be sure what this unprecedented state of affairs will herald for the market prices of oil, gas and coal, which are unlikely to follow the conventional supply and demand dynamics we were used to in the 20th century.

But what we can know for sure from the new science is that the era of unlimited economic growth—the defining feature of neoliberal finance capitalism as we know it—is well and truly over.

UK ‘end of growth’ test-case

The real-world workings of this insight have been set out by a team of economists at the University of Leeds’ Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, whose research was partly funded by giant engineering firm Arup, along with the main UK government-funded research councils—the UK Energy Research Centre, the Economics and Social Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

In their paper published by the university’s Sustainability Research Institute this January, Lina Brand-Correa, Paul Brockway, Claire Carter, Tim Foxon, Anne Owen, and Peter Taylor develop a national-level EROI measure for the UK.

Studying data for the period 1997-2012, they find that “the country’s EROI has been declining since the beginning of the 21st Century”.

Energy Returned (Eout) and Energy Invested (Ein) in the UK (1997–2012)
Source: Brand-Correa (2017)

The UK’s net EROI peaked in 2000 at a maximum value of 9.6, “before gradually falling back to a value of 6.2 in 2012.” What this means is that on average, “12% of the UK’s extracted/captured energy does not go into the economy or into society for productive or well-being purposes, but rather needs to be reinvested by the energy sectors to produce more energy.”

The paper draws on previous work by economists Court and Fizaine suggesting that continuous economic growth requires a minimal societal EROI of 11, based on the current energy intensity of the UK economy. By implication, the UK is dropping increasingly below this benchmark since the start of the 21st century:

“These initial results show that more and more energy is having to be used in the extraction of energy itself rather than by the UK’s economy or society.”

This also implies that the UK has had to sustain continued economic growth through other mechanisms outside of its own domestic energy context: in particular, as we know, the expansion of debt.

It is no coincidence, then, that debt-to-GDP ratios have continued to grow worldwide. As EROI is in decline, an unsustainable debt-bubble premised on exploitation of working and middle classes is the primary method to keep growth growing—an endeavour that at some point will inevitably come undone under its own weight.

We need a new economics

According to MIT and Harvard trained economist Dr. June Sekera—who leads the Public Economy Project at Tufts University’s Global Development And Environment Institute (GDAE)—net energy decline proves that neoclassical economic theory is simply not fit for purpose.

In Working Paper 17–02 published by the GDAE, Sekera argues that: “One of the most important contributions of biophysical economics is its critique that mainstream economics disregards the biophysical basis of production, and energy in particular.”

Policymakers, she says, “need to understand the biophysical imperative: that societal net energy yield is falling. Hence the need for a biophysical economics, and for policymakers to comprehend its central messages.”

Yet a key problem is that mainstream economics is held back from being able to even comprehend the existence of net energy decline due to an ideological obsession with the market. The result is that production that occurs outside the market is seen as an aberration, a form of government, state or ‘political’ interference in the ‘natural’ dynamics of the market.

And this is why the market alone is incapable of generating solutions to the net energy crisis driving global economic stagnation. The modern market paradigm is fatally self-limited by the following dynamics: “short time horizons, growth as a requisite, gratuitous waste baked-in, profits as life-blood.” This renders it “incapable of producing solutions that demand long-view investment without profits.”

Thus, Sekera calls for a new “public economics” commensurate with what is needed for a successful energy transition. The new public economics will spur on breakthrough scientific and technological innovations that solve “common-need problems” based on “distributed decision-making and collective action.”

The resulting solutions will require “long time-horizon investment: investments with no immediate payoff in terms of saleable products, no visible ROI (return on investment), no profit-making in the near-term. Such investment can be generated only in a non-market environment, in which payment is collective and financial profit is not the point.”

The only problem is that, as Sekera herself recognizes, the main incubator and agent of the non-market public economy is government—but government itself is playing a key role in dismantling, hollowing-out and privatizing the non-market public economy.

There is only one solution to this conundrum, however difficult it might seem:

Citizens themselves at all scales have an opportunity to work together to salvage and regenerate new public economies based on pooling their human, financial and physical assets and resources, to facilitate the emergence of more viable and sustainable economic structures. Part of this will include adapting to post-carbon energy sources.

Far from representing the end of prosperity, this transition represents an opportunity to redefine prosperity beyond the idea of endlessly increasing material accumulation; and realigning society with the goal of meeting real-world human physical, psychological and spiritual needs.

What will emerge from efforts to do so has not yet been written. But those efforts will define the contours of the new post-carbon economy, as the unsustainable juggernaut of the old grinds slowly and painfully to a protracted, chaotic halt.

In coming years and decades, the reality of the need for a new economic science that reflects the dynamics of the economy’s fundamental embeddedness in the biophysical environment will become evermore obvious.

So say goodbye to endless growth neoliberalism.


Nafeez Ahmed is a bestselling author, investigative journalist, international security scholar, policy expert, film-maker, strategy & communications consultant, and change activist. The focus of Ahmed's work is to catalyse social change in the public interest by harnessing radical, systemic approaches to understanding the interconnections between the world's biggest problems, while developing and highlighting holistic strategies for social transformation. Whether it be foreign policy and terrorism, climate change and energy, or food and the economy, Nafeez deploys the techniques of critical, rigorous and interdisciplinary analysis to join the dots and challenge power, with a view to bring forth constructive change.

4. Financial Transaction/Speculation Taxes

Financial transaction/speculation taxes are a disincentive to excessive greed in pursuing financial transactions of dubious social value, such as the so-called "financial derivatives."


The following section is about reforming tax codes so as to protect the integrity of the human habitat. The following is a excerpt from one many recent reports calling for taxing financial transactions to support the transition to clean energy:

Reclaiming Power: An energy model for people and the planet, Friends of the Earth,
2 December 2011.

"New research by Friends of the Earth presents an alternative energy model that would tackle climate change and enable everyone to gain access to energy.

"Our current energy model is not working:

  • Our dependency on fossil fuels is driving dangerous climate change
  • Our traditional energy model fails to serve 40 per cent of the world's population adequately
  • 1 billion of those without electricity will never be reached by expanding national grids

"The alternative:

"Friends of the Earth proposes an energy model based on a system of global feed in tariffs whcih guarantee cash back for local renewable energy generation. This model would help to:

  • Tackle climate change by shifting energy away from polluting fossil fuels
  • Deliver low-carbon, decentralised energy
  • Address poverty and development through universal access to clean, reliable, affordable energy
  • Rapidly lower the cost of renewable energy technology, making a low-carbon transition easier and cheaper worldwide

"This mechanism should be publicly funded by rich countries who have committed to help developing countries adapt to climate change

"Sources of funding could include:

5. Shift to Land/Resource Value Taxes

Land: A New Paradigm for a Thriving World

Martin Adams

Originally published by North Atlantic Books and Unitism, 2015
under a Creative Commons License


Synopsis by the Publisher: "What if we lived in a world where everyone had enough? A world where everyone mattered and where people lived in harmony with nature? What if the solution to our economic, social, and ecological problems was right underneath our feet? Land has been sought after throughout history. Even today, people struggle to get onto the property ladder; most view real estate as an important way to build wealth. Yet, as readers of this book will discover, the act of owning land—and our urge to profit from it—causes economic booms and busts, social and cultural decline, and environmental devastation. Land: A New Paradigm for a Thriving World introduces a radically new economic model that promises a sustainable and abundant world for all. This book is for those who dream of a better world for themselves and for future generations."


Many of us already sense that our current economic system creates inequality and also engenders the ecological destruction of our planet. What we don’t seem to understand is why: For example, why does it lead to financial insecurity for many, even for those who, by all accounts, shouldn’t have to worry about money? And why exactly are we destroying our planet in our frantic conversion of nature into digits and little bits of paper we call money?

One of the main reasons our current economic system doesn’t work for everyone is because the revenue flow from the commons—which include all gifts of nature—has been privatized. For example, when an oil company makes money, it not only charges money for its effort and for the machinery it uses to extract oil from the ground, it also makes money from the value of the oil itself. The same can be said of the money that people make through their private ownership of land—and what banks make through their financing of private landownership via the mortgage. This privatization of the revenue flow from nature is one of the root causes of economic recessions, ecological destruction, as well as social and cultural decline.

All of nature is community wealth, including—and especially—land. People give value to land through the goods and services they provide to their communities. For example, because people offer more goods and services in the city than in the countryside, urban land tends to be much more expensive than rural land. As communities become more attractive to live in, some property owners—but mostly the financial institutions that finance them—then extract this value by making money from real estate (buildings, like cars, decrease in value over time, but land increases in value the more prosperous a community becomes), and this extraction is one of the root causes of wealth inequality, ecological destruction, and even economic recessions.

Land—even undeveloped land—costs a lot of money in our society. Why is that? It’s because land has an intrinsic value to human beings: We all need land. And because we all need land, those that own land can make money by buying and selling land at the expense of other people who have to pay money to live on it. Under our current land ownership model, property owners only pay other property owners for land as well as the banks that finance property ownership.

While land can certainly be privately used, its value is created by the community and therefore belongs to the community. Land has to be owned in common, and whenever people use land, they need to reimburse their local communities for their exclusive use of it. They can do this by making community land contributions for the land they use. A land contribution approximates the market rental value of land, and the rental value of land is a measuring stick that reveals the financial value of the benefits that land users receive from their exclusive use of land. In most nations around the world, the value of land has already been privatized: If communities were to suddenly impose land contributions upon existing property owners, property owners would end up having to pay twice for their ownership of land—first to the previous landowner (from whom they bought land), and a second time to their local communities.

In order to transition from a land ownership model to a land stewardship model, therefore, local governments and community land trusts would either have to financially compensate existing property owners for the land value portion of the properties in question or offer a transition plan that would allow new property owners to acquire exclusive use of the land without obtaining ownership of the land itself. Land users would then be required to share the value of land with all members of their community through community land contributions. And finally, these contributions would then have to be redistributed to all community members in the form of Universal Basic Income to prevent gentrification, reduce wealth inequality, and create a truly fair economy for all participants.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Martin Adams is a systems thinker and author. As a child, it pained him to see most people struggling while a few were living in opulence. This inspired in him a lifelong quest to co-create a fair and sustainable world in collaboration with others. As a graduate of a business school with ties to Wall Street, he opted not to pursue a career on Wall Street and chose instead to dedicate his life to community enrichment. Through his social enterprise work, he saw firsthand the extent to which the current economic system causes human and ecological strife. Consequently, Martin devoted himself to the development of a new economic paradigm that might allow humanity to thrive in harmony with nature. His book Land: A New Paradigm for a Thriving World is the fruit of his years of research into a part of this economic model; its message stands to educate policymakers and changemakers worldwide. Martin is executive director of

6. Guaranteed Basic Personal Income

Basic Income and the Growth of Economic Democracy

Michael Howard

Originally published in
Resilience, 19 December 2017
under a Creative Commons License


For those who see worker cooperatives and other forms of economic democracy as the alternative to capitalist enterprises and the seeds of an alternative, egalitarian society, there are at least three paths one might envision to that egalitarian society. First, one might imagine worker control legislated by the state, enfranchising all workers (at least of enterprises above a certain size) with rights of representation or ownership in their workplaces. This is unlikely to happen in the United States without a radical displacement of Democrats by independent leftist legislators, or the equally unlikely takeover of the Democratic party  by leftists. Absent this egalitarian commitment, even a rare economic crisis such as the 2008 meltdown, which resulted in temporary state ownership and control of vast financial and capital assets, will not result in an expansion of the commons, or an extension of democratic rights in the workplace.

A second route is the steady displacement of capitalist enterprises by cooperatives, in virtue of the superior efficiency of the latter. While there is significant evidence of efficiency advantages of worker ownership, especially when combined with worker participation, if this path were realistic, we would by now have in the US and other countries much larger cooperative sectors than we now see. Market competition, then, is insufficient for a democratization of the capitalist economy.

What we are left with as the third possibility is the slow, steady, development of cooperatives, public banks, and other seeds of economic democracy, the occasional seizing of an opportunity for favorable legislation like that which led to the flourishing of ESOPs, study of existing cooperatives and other forms of economic democracy for best practices, all with a view to developing a cooperative sector of the capitalist economy. The further expansion of this sector would require the coalescence of political forces that is not easy to produce or foresee, but an indispensable condition is the existence of a sector to expand.

Erik O. Wright has described a basic income as a “permanent strike fund.”

All this brings me to basic income. In the course of writing Self-management and the Crisis of Socialism, I came to the realization that the democratization of work—work as we know it—could not start with a model of work that was fast disappearing: work in full-time jobs, over a decades-long career, in a single company. Already in the 1990s, people entering the labor market were finding themselves in part-time, temporary, employment, in and out of the labor market, seeking further education and training, etc. If anything, these trends have accelerated, under pressure from global competition, and even more, automation. The old model of work was paired with an old model of the welfare state, in which all income not going to capital or government goes to labor, with exceptions for old age, disability, involuntary unemployment, and poverty. What we need today is a partial decoupling of income from labor, for many reasons.

First, we should acknowledge that there is much useful work being done outside paid employment: child care, elder care, community service, etc. Second, precarious employment is insufficient to enable people to meet their basic needs and live a life of dignity. An income floor independent of wages will enable people (a) to refuse the low-end, and poorly paid jobs, and bargain with employers for better conditions, and (b) to take on fulfilling employment, internships, and other work that without the income floor would be economically infeasible. In both respects, a basic income, of say $12,000 per year, can help in the development of cooperatives. Erik O. Wright has described a basic income as a “permanent strike fund.” And so it would enable workers more easily to withhold their labor from employers paying too little or offering unsafe working conditions, or in some cases, to become worker-owners. Wright also sees a basic income as a capital fund, giving workers resources with which to start cooperatives.  Recall that the Mondragon Caja Laboral Popular was capitalized by donations from the community. Basic income could be a source for such capitalization, particularly if paired with policies encouraging such use of a basic income. Basic income alone may not lead to these results, but the unconditional nature of the cash, and its fungibility, are much more enabling of such alternatives than temporary, conditional, and means-tested benefits. If we truly believe that workers, if free, would choose cooperation over workplace oligarchy, then give them the resources to exercise their freedom.

It may be objected that basic income is no less utopian than economic democracy. Why should we waste our efforts campaigning for it? However, it does seem to be moving from the margins toward the mainstream. Outgoing president Barack Obama said that something like a basic income may need to be considered as the effects of automation spread. Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor, has been saying this repeatedly and more forcefully. Prominent billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg have begun calling for basic income as a necessary complement to automation. And places from Finland to Ontario have been launching basic income pilot programs. We need to take care that the kind of basic income is not the right-wing version that displaces needed public goods like health care and education, and leaves the less advantaged worse off.

Nevertheless, basic income can be introduced by degrees, and in conjunction with other needed policies. Confronting climate change requires a carbon tax (or cap, with auction of permits). To avoid the inequity of regressive consumption taxation, and to get people politically on board with a steadily rising tax over decades, it makes sense to distribute the proceeds as dividends, which, as the policy ramps up, will be at the same order of magnitude as Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend. Although not enough to enable anyone to refuse a job, such income could still give workers bargaining power, and some extra resources with which to form cooperatives.


Michael Howard teaches Philosophy at the University of Maine, and is the author of Self-Management and the Crisis of Socialism and the coordinator of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network.

7. Professional Standards and Quality Assurance Practices

Engineering for Sustainable Communities
Principles and Practices

Edited by William E. Kelly, Barbara Luke, and Richard N. Wright

Book published by
American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), 2017

Description in the ASCE book website:

"Engineering for Sustainable Communities: Principles and Practices is a comprehensive resource for sustainable engineering methods throughout the lifecycle of infrastructure projects and systems. As stewards of the nation’s infrastructure, civil engineers are called to lead and advocate for sustainable design, programs, and development. This book provides the tools to support engineers in this effort.

Drawing on the expertise of more than 40 authors, this book is divided in to four topic areas.  First, chapters define sustainability and give historical background on the roles played by civil engineers, infrastructure systems, and pioneering projects in making communities sustainable and resilient. Second, engineering principles and infrastructure-specific sustainable practices are examined in detail. Third, a collection of case studies focuses on sustainable engineering practices in real-world situations. These case studies cover buildings, transportation networks, water resources, urban development, and industrial facilities. Finally, the book includes additional resources, as well as looks at the positive and negative effects that infrastructure can have on sustainability.

This resource will be valuable to all practicing civil engineers, as well as engineering faculty and students interested in planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of sustainable infrastructure projects and systems."

All humans have a propensity to cut corners. Regardless of how income is taxed (Section 5) and returned (Section 6) to tax payers, there is a continuing need for quality standards in all kinds of human work, and all kinds of industrial production and consumption. Methods and tools for this purpose have been developed in such fields as industrial engineering, operations research, and system dynamics. Industrial engineering is specifically concerned with improvements in manufacturing productivity and efficiency. The International Standards Organization (ISO), an agency of the United Nations, has veveloped a comprehensive set of standards, guidelines, and best practices. The IEEE, and other professional organizations, have developed useful quality management standards for manufacturing, health care, education, and other professions.


What about quality standards for financial institutions? ISO 9000 could be used, but it would seem that the financial services industry should have a dedicated five digit standard. ISO-26000 on social responsibility is a guideline, not an auditable standard. Both stricter regulation and auditable standards are urgently needed for the global financial system. Furthermore, quality standards should ensure that dangerous biotechnologies are not used, even if they are financially profitable:

8. Accounting for Externalities in Production and Consumption

Make Polluters, Not Taxpayers, Pay For Destroying Nature

Lorraine Chow

This article was originally published in
EcoWatch, 20 September 2017
under a Creative Commons License

Andrew Hart/Flickr

Erik Solheim, the head of the United Nations' Environment Program, made an interesting point during a recent speech in New York: Companies, not taxpayers, should pay the costs of damaging the planet.

"The profit of destroying nature or polluting the planet is nearly always privatized, while the costs of polluting the planet or the cost of destroying ecosystems is nearly always socialized," Solheim said Monday, per Reuters, at the annual International Conference on Sustainable Development at Columbia University.

"That cannot continue," Solheim added. "Anyone who pollutes, anyone who destroys nature must pay the cost for that destruction or that pollution."

In a recent article, climate experts Peter C. Frumhoff and Myles R. Allen argue that companies like Exxon and other Big Oil and Gas giants—which purportedly knew about the link between fossil fuels and climate change for decades—should shoulder the billions of dollars in damages caused by extreme weather events such as hurricanes that are exacerbated by Earth's rising's temperatures.

Frumhoff and Allen write:

Using a simple, well-established climate model, our study for the first time quantifies the amount of sea level rise and increase in global surface temperatures that can be traced to the emissions from specific fossil fuel companies.

Strikingly, nearly 30% of the rise in global sea level between 1880 and 2010 resulted from emissions traced to the 90 largest carbon producers. Emissions traced to the 20 companies named in California communities' lawsuits contributed 10% of global sea level rise over the same period. More than 6% of the rise in global sea level resulted from emissions traced to ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP, the three largest contributors.

The scientists point out: "It may take tens to hundreds of billions of dollars to support disaster relief and recovery among Gulf coast communities affected by Hurricane Harvey. ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP have collectively pledged only $2.75m."

During his comments in New York, Solheim noted that economic growth and environmental preservation are not mutually exclusive. In India, for example, the promotion of renewable energy is bringing human health and environmental benefits as well as spurring the economy.

"Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi realized he can electrify the villages and provide any number of green jobs—he can provide high economic growth, he can take care of his people, and take care of the planet by the same policies," said Solheim.

Solheim said that a "pollution-free planet" is achievable but the world must take immediate action to meet that goal.

"Change is happening," he said. "Economic-wise, we are on the right track, but we need to speed up because the challenge is so big."


Lorraine is a reporter for EcoWatch.

9. Fostering and Deploying Clean Energy Technologies

Everyone in the World Should Be Taxed
on Their Energy Footprint

Iason Athanasiadis

This article was originally published in
Aeon Media, 6 December 2017
under a Creative Commons License

Executive jet. Photo by dktrpepr/Flickr

Technological advances and historically unprecedented income inequalities have raised living standards while enabling a new global elite to enjoy lifestyles more lavish in energy consumption and environmental impact than those enjoyed by any aristocracy in the past.

Real-life illustrations of elites show the excesses afoot. In one instance, a businessman oversees his economic activities across several Central Asian, Middle Eastern and North African countries from a base in Dubai. He largely evades tax through an intricate tax-haven/residence arrangement concocted by his wealth advisor, giving him leeway to engage in the pleasures of modernity: frequent jet travel, the consumption of imported goods, and the ability to use as his playground a country whose extreme climate requires energy-intensive technology for much of the year.

In another instance, a civil servant for the United Nations lives in the diplomatic district of the capital of a developing nation. Despite her strong commitment to improving the world, her work- and play-spaces remove her from the society she’s supposedly serving, while revolving around a carbon-heavy diet of jet travel and imported goods and experiences.

Both these lifestyles, hatched in the 20th century and continued in the 21st, show disregard for ecological costs associated with global networks, alongside a culture of wasteful consumption. Yet such behaviours have only increased: a third example represents the 21st century’s remote workers, freelancers and consultants. Employed as web-designers, interpreters or editors, they boost mobility by leveraging online jobs, cheap airline tickets, powerful passports and unregulated sharing technologies such as Airbnb and Uber.

This fluidity of movement allows this class, to which I belong as both a freelance journalist and a former UN official, to transcend the 20th-century model of a white-collar job tied to the country of residence and taxed income, and relocate away from expensive London, Geneva or Hong Kong to affordable peripheral foreign capitals such as Lisbon or Hanoi. But the money saved comes at the expense of massive energy outlays associated with disposable, socially detached living, and the kind of frequent international travel required to tap into the cost benefits achieved by inhabiting cheaper nearby countries. Members of this class show scant consideration for the huge environmental footprint their transnational lifestyles incur, and their calculations are driven by financial rationale and market-driven competition.

So, if our current tax systems don’t penalise damage to the planet and can be side-stepped by the nomadic, hybrid lifestyles unlocked by technology, one solution could be to shift from disconnected national taxation systems to a collaborative global regime, whereby individuals are charged on the basis of their personal energy footprint. Those eating and living locally, rarely travelling on airplanes, and using recycled or multi-purpose materials would be taxed less than high-living internationals fuelling their lifestyle with imported products and jet travel. Equally, those whose job requires frequent travel and a high-energy footprint would pass the tax bill on to their employers, compelling companies to factor ecological impact into their bottom line.

Imagine being able to access a real-time summary of all your energy choices over your smartphone, not unlike a calorie-counting or ebanking app but vastly more omniscient. It would allow individuals and companies alike to follow, in a simplified way, how and why they are taxed on a range of retail consumer and travel transactions.

The system, administered by an international body, would know – and charge tax payers accordingly – for choosing, say, a bottle of mineral water shipped over from France over a locally bottled one. It would also track consumption, and reward retrospectively: refunds would flow when packaging gets recycled instead of ending up in landfill.

Once established, this would be a tax system of synchronised complexity, simultaneously tracking a multitude of transactions across the planet in supermarkets, airports, real-estate agencies and gas stations. Construction companies would get taxed on the quantity of materials and their transported distance, and penalised for the surplus discarded. Those anxious to acquire the latest cellphone would find their passion reflected in their tax bill. All legally sold products – from electronics to cans of beer to houses – would be fitted with sensors tracking the energy generated in their creation, transport, consumption and disposal. The value assigned at the end of the process would be split between the producing company and the consumer.

Empowered by artificial intelligence, this new form of taxation would track off-base comportment, too. For example, when estimating the charges incurred by a holidaying tax payer, the system would take into account the distance travelled, mode of transport (trains generally being more energy-efficient than airplanes) and the total amount of energy consumed. Choosing to leave the hotel air-conditioning on throughout one’s stay, or to take a hot-air balloon sightseeing trip rather than a hike, or to consume foreign-grown rather than local foods would all contribute towards a higher tax bill. Thoughtfulness would always be rewarded.

The futuristic-sounding technology supporting this system has existed for some time, whether in the form of RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips, nanobots or interconnected sensors hooked up to the Internet of Things and verified by blockchain, a form of triple-entry accounting also known as a distributed ledger. The only innovation would be in bringing them together in an integrated, global structure.

Undoubtedly, there is something massively intrusive about a digital panopticon capable of tracking our every move and choice in a personalised, real-time manner. Concerns could be managed through a more limited version based on a comprehensive consumption tax that would slowly fold out into the fuller system.

But companies and intelligence agencies have already deployed this technology for years – with our explicit or implicit consent – when tracking consumers and criminals. Rather than hiding behind platitudes, would it not make sense to embrace technology’s power, and reach for the mass good by consciously encouraging ourselves to live more responsibly, while initiating a public debate on how our data is shared and among whom?

An energy footprint-based tax system would accelerate our transition to a regenerative economy and help us fight climate change. The system holds societal advantages, too. Taxing us on the basis of our energy consumption counters the creation of migration choke-points, and encourages local innovation by downplaying imports, while reducing the kind of inequality between more and less economically developed countries that was baked into our global system of trade and consumption. It would compel the 1 per cent to pay its rightful tax share by eliminating avenues of evasion such as moving to tax havens or renouncing citizenship. Finally, the tax would encourage us to demand that transnational corporations behave ethically, by annulling the partial economies that they pass on to us, and which encourage our silent consent.

Only a radically new tax system, one that affects everyone’s bottom line, can compel the environmental transition in consciousness that we so clearly need.


Iason Athanasiadis is a writer, photographer, political analyst, and television producer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Spectator and Al Jazeera, among others. He is based in Tunis, Istanbul, and Athens.

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