Tag Archives: Economy

Lexington 2030 – A Vision

What will we be like in 20 years?  20 years ago this summer, the first Bush war for oil began its intial stages.  Tim Berners-Lee was formulating his idea for the world-wide web – yeah the web as we know it hadn’t been born.  The world’s population was 5.2 billion humans.  (Today, it’s 6.8 billion. When I was born in 1964, it was 3.2 billion)

This vision acknowledges the imminent threats of energy descent, and climate change, and the end of globalization.  It accepts the fact that “local” is the path to independence.

This is based on Portland’s climate action plan primarily, as well as other peak oil plans such as Bloomington’s.

I’ve been thinking about what Lexington should be doing to prepare for its next comprehensive plan.  I’m betting on business as usual – denial is very strong here – but I’m also beginning now to sound the alarm:  business as usual will not improve or even maintain our quality of life.  And that’s really all we have, isn’t it?

This is not about my values.  This isn’t a choice between values.  The world is changing rapidly to the negative. We must act now to protect ourselves and our place.

Here’s the goal:  An 80% reduction in carbon usage by 2030.   

An 80 percent reduction of carbon emissions by 2030 will entail re-imagining the entire community— transitioning away from fossil fuels and strengthening the local economy while shifting fundamental patterns of urban form, transportation, buildings and consumption.

A vision:

■ In 2030, Lexington and Fayette County are at the heart of a vibrant region with a thriving economy, rich cultural community and diverse, ecologically sustainable neighborhoods.

■ Personal mobility and access to services has never been better. Every resident lives in a walkable and bikeable neighborhood that includes retail businesses, schools, parks and jobs. Most people rely on walking, bicycling and transit rather than driving. Pedestrians and bicyclists are prominent in the region’s commercial centers, corridors and neighborhoods.

Public transportation, bikeways, sidewalks and greenways connect neighborhoods. When people do need to drive, vehicles are highly efficient and run on low-carbon electricity and renewable fuels.

■ Green jobs are a key component of the regional economy. Products and services related to clean energy, green building, sustainable food, green infrastructure, and waste reuse and recovery providing living-wage jobs throughout the community, and Lexington is one of North America’s  hubs for sustainable industry and clean technology.

■ Homes, offices and other buildings deliver superb performance. They are durable and highly efficient, healthy, comfortable and powered primarily by solar, wind and other renewable resources.

■ The urban forest and green roofs cover the community, reducing the urban heat island effect, sequestering carbon, providing habitat, and cleaning the air and water.

■ Food and agriculture are central to the economic and cultural vitality of the community, with backyard gardens, farmers’ markets and community gardens productive and thriving. A large share of food comes from farms within the region, and residents eat a healthy diet, consuming more locally grown grains, vegetables and fruits.

■ The benefits of green infrastructure, walkable and bikeable neighborhoods, quality housing, and convenient, affordable transportation options and public health services are shared equitably throughout the community.

■ Residents and businesses use resources extremely efficiently, minimizing and reusing solid waste, water, stormwater and energy.

■ The Bluegrass region has prepared for a changed climate, making infrastructure more resilient, developing reliable supplies of water, food and energy and improving public health services. Policies, investments and programs are in place to protect the residents most vulnerable to climate change and rising energy prices.

What do you think?

If you care about these issues at all, the City of Portland and Multnomah County Climate Action Plan is a must read:  http://www.portlandonline.com/bps/index.cfm?c=49989&a=268612

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Collapse: 32 Months Away? YOU MUST READ THIS

I am keeping this as the top article for a while – folks, this is happening – read about it right now – This is from Guy McPherson at Nature Bats Last – very interesting and deep – very much worth your time – is it really happening this fast?

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It’s all the rage to talk about a double-dip in the industrial economy. That would be an economic trend in the shape of a W. I think an M is far more likely. The assumption of never-ending growth underlies all neoclassical economic assessments, but I think that assumption is about to break up on the shore of resource limitations.

How does one know what to believe, and who to trust? We’re surrounded by lies. During our finest moments, we don’t believe the media, the politicians we elect (from the very small slate of candidates selected for us), or the CEOs and NGOs to whom we give our money. Awash in misinformation yet surrounded by culture’s unrepentant, never-ending message, we vacillate between cynicism and swimming in the powerful current of culture.

Although the happy-talk Obama administration — and its proxy and partner in crime, the mainstream media — would have you believe the industrial economy has recovered, many signs indicate the impacts of the last oil price spike haven’t been fully worked out. The U.S. national debt rises every day, and it already exceeds the value of all currency ever produced and all gold ever mined. It cannot be paid off. Ever. If the notion of a Soviet-style default doesn’t give you pause, consider still-rising foreclosure rates, still-falling home prices, massive unemployment, financial bankruptcy at all levels of government, ballooning entitlement programs, and collapsing pension programs. This is merely the short list of economic issues we face. Needless to say, every single one of them is a profound surprise to the vast majority of neoclassical economists, few of whom saw this economic recession coming (as if passing the world oil peak didn’t provide sufficient warning, well in advance).

Knowing culture will lead us astray, we nonetheless invite scorn when we seek the truth beneath the cultural current of the main stream. Culture does not have answers to meaningful questions. But skepticism for the sake of skepticism is no virtue, either.

Applying reason as a path to knowledge (as I’ve suggested here and here, for example) is easy enough in theory. But in practice, it’s difficult to extract the facts and then synthesize them into a coherent message that guides the way. Much less the Way. And yet, we muddle along, individually and societally, relying on some inexplicable combination of faith and rational thought. For me, the guides include data (recognizing they are undoubtedly massaged before general release), historical anecdotes (ditto), my own dubious moral compass (shaped, necessarily, by culture), and an informed set of predictions from a variety of scholars. As with any gestalt, mine is formed from parts that don’t quite add up to the whole.

So how do we go from this list of economic issues to the notion of economic collapse? Continue reading

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8 Reasons the US has Become a Nation of Slaves

This isnt extreme at all – it just captures what’s really happening.

By Damien Hoffman

Posted on April 05 2010. // ShareThis

These days, the idea of retirement seems like either a bad joke or a utopian fantasy. I’ve already covered some main reasons the US economy is screwed, but here are 8 reasons why the US has become a nation of indentured servants:

1) Stagnant wages

Are you partying like it’s 1999? That’s because you’re earning money like it’s 1999. Over the past 11 years, the median household income has been flat as a corpse’s pulse.

If everything gets more expensive over time but no one gets a raise, workers will afford less goods and services. This means people will either work the same amount for less stuff, or work harder for the same stuff. Either way, it’s a shitty deal.

2) Dual-income Nation

We’re a country of family values, right? Wrong. We’ve built an economy that requires two incomes to attain middle class status. It has even become a luxury for one spouse to stay home to raise children! (But that’s more of an existential issue …)

The graph above illustrates one of the most basic tenets of economics: if there is twice as much cash floating around the economy, the cost of things simply rises in direct proportion. In this case, adding an extra worker per household has increased household income. As a result, sellers of houses, child care, health insurance, cars, etc. have upped their prices to take more of our dollars.

3) Energy and Food Inflation

Remember $4 gas? Well, we’re back to $3 (double last year’s low). Every time a car ride costs more, that’s less money left over for things other than getting from point A to point B. As oil prices continue to rise with global demand (and diminishing supply), we will spend more hours working just to get to and fro.

Food is the ultimate necessity. So, when prices rise, there’s not much to do if you don’t care for the taste of cat food. It’s harder to notice 20-30% food inflation when a $2 item jumps to $2.40. But when your average bill moves from $100 to $120, those $20 bills are no longer available for things beyond basic sustenance.

4) Skyrocketing costs for Health Care and Education

One of the biggest thieves of retirement has been the unconscionable rise of health care and education costs. With health insurance costs jumping 10-25% per year, a worker with stagnant paychecks is on the long road to bankruptcy. (See Health Insurance Companies Price Gouging the US Economy)

Got a child or two? Do you want them to go to college? Well you better get rich, fast. The College Board’s study of college pricing trends shows costs have exploded 300% since 1980. That’s especially interesting since median household wages are up only 10-15% over the same time period. Maybe home schooling is better than the poor house.

5) Mauled Retirement Accounts

Have you seen those new John Hancock commercials where the boomer couples are instant messaging each other about either moving in with their children or fearing the longevity of their retirement account? Well, that’s a good reflection of how bad retirement accounts were hit after a decade of bubbles bursting. And without money for retirement, we work until we drop dead.

6) No Savings

The Employee Benefit Research Institute’s annual Retirement Confidence Survey shows that 43% of Workers have less than $10,000 saved for retirement. Really? Then the word retirement does not apply to these people because $10,000 is surely not enough to live off when even a generous 6% annuity would be paying only $600 a year before taxes.

But the scariest stat from the survey is 54% of workers are “clueless” about saving for retirement. This stat is a direct indictment on how crappy our school systems have become — and I’m talking about colleges too.

7) Trillions in Debt

Can we dig ourselves out of a $12.7 Trillion hole? If we can, it’s going to take a backbreaking amount of labor … and that’s just to fill the hole.

This debt is directly reflective of slavery. For every dollar of our debt, we owe a creditor who lent us the money. So, before we can use all our tax dollars to add value to our domestic economy and society, we have to skim a lot off the top to pay our masters their due.

8) Jobs Exported Overseas

If we are going to deal with all the costs above, we need to earn money. However, while we were drunk on credit card debt over the past 30 years, our Congressman and once domestic corporations shipped millions of middle class jobs to whichever country would do the job cheapest.

Think only the middle market has been affected? Now some of the brightest and most ambitious minds are accepting jobs in hot markets like China and Singapore. These people aren’t dumb: if the jobs move, they realize they must too.

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Still think that we can trust the “powers that be” on peak oil? Look how well they did on the whole finance thing

April 4, 2010
Op-Ed Contributor

I Saw the Crisis Coming. Why Didn’t the Fed?

By MICHAEL J. BURRY

Cupertino, Calif.

ALAN GREENSPAN, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, proclaimed last month that no one could have predicted the housing bubble. “Everybody missed it,” he said, “academia, the Federal Reserve, all regulators.”

But that is not how I remember it. Back in 2005 and 2006, I argued as forcefully as I could, in letters to clients of my investment firm, Scion Capital, that the mortgage market would melt down in the second half of 2007, causing substantial damage to the economy. My prediction was based on my research into the residential mortgage market and mortgage-backed securities. After studying the regulatory filings related to those securities, I waited for the lenders to offer the most risky mortgages conceivable to the least qualified buyers. I knew that would mark the beginning of the end of the housing bubble; it would mean that prices had risen — with the expansion of easy mortgage lending — as high as they could go.

I had begun to worry about the housing market back in 2003, when lenders first resurrected interest-only mortgages, loosening their credit standards to generate a greater volume of loans. Throughout 2004, I had watched as these mortgages were offered to more and more subprime borrowers — those with the weakest credit. The lenders generally then sold these risky loans to Wall Street to be packaged into mortgage-backed securities, thus passing along most of the risk. Increasingly, lenders concerned themselves more with the quantity of mortgages they sold than with their quality.

Meanwhile, home buyers, convinced by recent history that real estate prices would always rise, readily signed onto Continue reading

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Lexington homebuilders, realtors, and affordability: which is it?

Dont ya just love the Lexington Homebuilders  Association and Realtors? These guys simply change the message to suit whatever load of crap they are trying to push at the moment:

Right now it’s HOUSING IS AFFORDABLE! From a Realtors press release last week:  “The Lexington area is affordable compared to most markets and the local affordability has improved and is below the national average.”  Here’s Homebuilders XVP Todd Johnson: “This is great news for the community. In addition to housing affordability, the real estate industry groups employ thousands of people and provide over twenty percent of Lexington’s economy.” I wont even go into the fallacy about the real estate industry making up 20% of the local economy – see this post for that: http://steveaustinlex.wordpress.com/2010/03/07/wall-street-journal-to-homebuilders-it%E2%80%99s-time-for-america-to-find-itself-a-new-economy/

But in 2006 it was HOUSING ISN’T AFFORDABLE! From the Homebuilders in 2006:   “Looking into the future, the housing market is predicted to remain solid for the next several years. Because access to developable land is defined by the urban service boundary, an artificial inventory of land establishes supply while demand for housing remains constant or actually increases. As a result, costs go up. As those land prices go up, it greatly affects the affordability of housing in Lexington.”

I also won’t even go into the laugher that those guys thought the housing industry was going to remain “solid for the next several years…” HA!  It was already tanking.  Either they were just ignorant, or it could be something more sinister…..   Anyway, back then they used the “affordability” issue to push for more land to be added to the Urban Service Boundary.  They didn’t get what they wanted – no land was added – but guess what:  HOUSING IS NOW AFFORDABLE!

So, let’s recap:  No new land was added to the Urban Service Boundary in 2006.  Cries of “unaffordability!”  Now, in 2010 – with NO NEW LAND HAVING BEEN ADDED IN THE LAST 4 YEARS, cries of “We’re affordable!” And “affordability has even improved!”

This is a credibility killer. Especially to the providers of “20% of Lexington’s economy.”

We are in the peak oil time.  Peak oil leads to both peak credit and a permanent state of recession – these spell the doom of the 1950s model of housing provision.  What will take its place?

Read the full details here: Continue reading

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Planners and Landscape Architects Don’t Get It

I am a member of both the American Planning Association and the American Society of Landscape Architects.  As such, I get to read the publications of both organizations.  With each new one I see, my astonishment at the lack of understanding of the new reality grows.   The new reality is simply this:  peak oil has changed our economy.  We will endure what I call a perma-recession, as complexities are wrung from the current economic system.  The new level, whenever we reach it, will be one of much less economic activity.   Simply put:  economic growth is no longer possible due to this reality, and trying to maintain it somehow will put our survival as a society, perhaps even as a species, at risk.

This isn’t my wish, nor is it a personal “value”.  This is simply my reaction to the understanding that has been created by some very smart people:  nature has limits and we have crossed them.

Planners and landscape architects should be the leaders in helping us adapt to the new reality.  Instead nearly everything I read mentions “recovery” in some fashion.  There seems to be a collective intellectual paralysis among these groups.  They tout plans that have “economic growth” and “environmental sustainability” as twin goals, yet no one has the courage, or perhaps the intelligence, to say that those two things are mutually exclusive.  They quote practitioners – people that are trying to shape our futures – as having faith in return to the status quo:  “We’re more poised for recovery than the last recession, with diverse, strategic plans,” says the director of San Diego’s planning department.  What a crock of shit. 

 We are in deep trouble as a society when the people who should be leading us forward instead are looking backward.  The next 20 years will not be like the last 60.  We are in a time of great transition. We don’t need people fine tuning “smart growth.”  We need smart people to help us figure out how a steady state economy can work in our city.  We need smart people to help us create a distributed energy grid.  We need smart people to help us plan for rainwater harvesting and treatment. We need smart people to create a local food economy.  We need smart people to help us create energy descent action plans.  We need smart people to help us retrofit our buildings.  We need smart people to help us adapt to a changing climate. We need smart people to devise alternation transportation plans.

 The one thing we absolutely don’t need is anyone planning for recovery.

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Breaking the Growth Habit: A Q&A with Bill McKibben

Continuing today’s theme of the new economy, read this and see what you think:

If humankind is to survive, it must change society’s economic model from relentless, unbridled growth to maintenance of wealth and resources

By Mark Fischetti   (Scientific American)

bill-mckibben

BILL MCKIBBEN: The environmentalist author argues that growth as an economic principle must be abandoned to save Earth.

The April issue of Scientific American includes an exclusive excerpt from Bill McKibben’s new book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, plus an interview that challenges his assumptions. Expanded answers to key interview questions, and additional queries and replies, appear here.

McKibben is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont and is a co-founder of the climate action group, 350.org. He argues that humankind, because of its actions, now lives on a fundamentally different world, which he calls Eaarth. This celestial body can no longer support the economic growth model that has driven society for the past 200 years. To avoid its own collapse, humankind must instead seek to maintain wealth and resources, in large part by shifting to more durable, localized economies—especially in food and energy production.

[A Scientific American interview with McKibben follows.]

You entitled your book Eaarth, because you claim that we have permanently altered the planet. How so? And why should we change our ways now?
Well, gravity still applies. But fundamental characteristics have changed, like the way the seasons progress, how much rain falls, the meteorological tropics—which have expanded about two degrees north and south, making Australia one big fire zone. This is a different world. We underestimated how finely balanced the planet’s physical systems are. Few people have come to grips with this. The perception, still, is that this is a future issue. It’s not—it’s here now.

Is zero growth necessary, or would “very slight” growth be sustainable?
A specific number is not part of the analysis. I’m more interested in trajectories: What happens if we move away from growth as the answer to everything and head in a different direction? We’ve tried very little else. We can measure society by other means, and when we do, the world can become much more robust and secure. You start having a food supply you can count on, and an energy supply you can count on, and know they aren’t undermining the rest of the world. You start building communities that are strong enough to count on, so individual accumulation of wealth becomes less important.

If “growth” should no longer be our mantra, then what should it be?
We need stability. We need systems that don’t rip apart. Durability needs to be our mantra. The term “sustainability” means essentially nothing to most people. “Maintenance” is not very flashy. “Maturity” would be the word we really want, but it’s been stolen by the AARP. So durability is good; durability is a virtue.

In part, you’re advocating a return to local reliance. How small is “local”? And can local reliance work only in certain places?
We’ll figure out the sensible size. It could be a town, a region, a state. But to find the answer, we have to get the incredibly distorting subsidies out of our current systems. They send all kinds of bad signals about what we should be doing. In energy we’ve underwritten fossil fuel for a long time; unbelievable gifts to the “clean coal” industry, and on and on. It’s even more egregious in agriculture. Most of the United States’s cropland is devoted to growing corn and soybeans–not because there’s an unbelievable demand to eat corn and soybeans, but because there are federal subsidies to grow them—written into the law by huge agricultural companies who control certain senators. Once subsidies wither, we can figure out what scale of industry makes sense. It will make sense to grow a lot of things closer to home.

It’s plausible to “go local” in, say, your home state of Vermont, where residents have money and are forward-looking—and their basic needs are met. But what about people in poor places; don’t they need outside help?
Absolutely. The rich nations have screwed up the climate. It’s our absolute responsibility to figure out how to allow poor people to have something approaching a decent life. What happens to the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world? They get dengue fever. The fields they depend on are ruined by drought or flood. The glaciers that feed the Ganges will be gone, yet 400 million people depend on that water. We are not helping the poor by destabilizing the planet’s systems. Meantime, what works best for them? Local, labor-intensive, low-input agriculture: It provides jobs, security, stability and food, and helps make local ecological systems robust enough to withstand the damage that’s coming.

U.S. debt is rising to insane levels because the country has lived beyond its means, which supports your call to switch from growth to maintenance. But how do countries like the U.S. get out of debt without growing? Do we need a transition period where growth eliminates debt, and then we embrace durability?
My sense is that all of this will flow logically from the physics and chemistry of the world we’re moving into, just like the centralized industrial model flowed logically from the physics and chemistry of the fossil-fueled world. The primary political question is: Can we make change happen fast enough to avoid all-out collapses that are plausible, even likely, under the patterns we’re operating in now? How do we force global changes that move these transitions more quickly than they want to move? We have an incredibly small amount of time; we have already passed the threshold points in some respects. We best get to work.

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