Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Green Marketing

When we see that this company is more 'green' than the other, are we more inclined to purchase it? 
It is understandable that most of us (mankind in general, not just BES students) are biophillic. 
We are born to love the nature, our environment, mother earth, the animals. It in innate. 
However recently, there has been a trend of visual consumption of nature. That is, advertisements highlights beautiful natural areas, 
such as the video here: 
Basically, it is evident that major corporations are putting in the effort to look brand their products as green, tapping into the market of 'environmentally-friendly' people.
For instance, The Body Shop, known to not conduct animal testing and has been branded in a very 'natural' way, is actually under Loreal. 
It seems like these companies are simply trying to tap into a new market of consumers, and branding themselves as noble, caring and selfless companies. 
As to whether it is a good or a bad thing, we can never be too sure. 
Since some companies are branding themselves to be pro-environment, such as contributing to conservation of certain species, yet are not 'green' in their production efforts. Such as Newmont that claims to be one of the world's leading gold producers and in industry leader in safety and sustainability, actually contributes to the conservation of sea turtles in the local community. They blow up the pro-environment part, yet leave the pollution caused by their production method unspoken. 
Well things like CSR may seem like a great way to deal with environmental issues - playing on ethics, values and morals to encourage firms to become more environmentally friendly, but at the same time it could be used as a tool of diversion to keep the other environmentally unfriendly production methods under wraps. 

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Love your monsters - technology and how we use them.

This is the Anthropocene, an age for humans, by humans. It is undeniable that we caused extinction of many species while our species thrived – albeit not all of our species. On one hand we are saying guys, the earth is dying maybe we should do something about it, like being more sustainable in our activities. Then we say world population is increasing, we have to produce more goods in a more sustainable way to ensure our future generations can survive. Question: Why should we let human population to continue increasing? Is it actually necessary? It was natural selection, then artificial selection. Biodiversity has decreased drastically. What is next? Human selection? Survival of the fittest among humans? Let’s say there comes a phase whereby an environmental catastrophe caused food supply to run low and people start sacrificing some individuals for food. Then cannibalism issue becomes controversial. Is it ethical? If the problem of limited food supply persists, cannibalism persists. Even if the food supply increases over time, cannibalism would not cease to exist.  
What I am trying to say is, times change. And as times change, views change. That’s where we develop, that’s what makes us different from who we used to be. When we start questioning traditional conventional systems, a controversy happens. However, is it necessarily a good thing?
What is done cannot be undone, everything – past, present and the future, as well as nature, society and technology. Anthropocene seems like a compositional transition stage where we move from ‘organic’ to ‘inorganic’, from natural to technological. So was it better when humans were part of nature? Or will it be better if our world runs on technology? Or can we stay in the transition state for forever? Since the natural world is complex science which mankind cannot fully understand, we should not try to revert earth to how it was, by reducing consumption etc. Nor should we move forward with technology dangerously with ideas such as transhumanism emerging, since we know virtually nothing about the consequences.
Latour’s idea of ‘loving your monsters’ was idealistic. It requires a level of moral value, and the only recognised scientific field that includes ethical values is biological conservation. They believe that every organism has the right to live on this planet as much as humans do. Ironically, biological conservation preserves nature, while technology does the exact opposite. What incentive do scientists have to be responsible for their creations? To what extent does it mean to be responsible? What happens if the problems surface after they die? In fact, I think the idea of ‘loving your monsters’ is just another excuse for technological advancement, sugar-coated by the fact that more has been done to ensure that this technology is safe. How safe can transhumanism be? How can you be sure that your creations would not start having a mind of their own and become the villain we see in the movies? Humans are likely to be the cause of the end of the Anthropocene if we continue to live in the black box. Not fully understanding something and going ahead is risking. Risks can bring about great results, but it still is a gamble.
Rather than being caught up in our own vanity, maybe we should really turn back and truly understand nature before we start implementing changes. We could very well be as dead as any other planet out there in the universe. Maybe we should start appreciating all the things we have taken for granted, rather than try to manipulate something that has been there for millions of years, which could possibly result in an end to all these amazing things. 

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Its a good world.

Its absolutely amazing that I am part of a team working on a coffee table book to promote environmental protection. And because of that, I am contacting amazing individuals, reading up on successful environmental activists all over the world. It truly is amazing to read about all the inspiring individuals. I can't help but ponder. How did they become so successful in advocating for such a unconventional cause? How did they get funds? How did they convince firms to fund them? Its amazing. Maybe the world is not as 'business-y' as I thought it was. Maybe there can be times where ethics, morals, biophillia feelings are greater than capitalistic ones. Maybe the world is not as selfish as we think it is.

I mean look at amzing people like Jane Goodall.
Or the WWF
or any local organisations that are successful in protecting the natural areas in their community.
There are people out there who cares about the environment more than they care about their own well-being. And these are the people that inspires me, inspires us BES students everyday.
Change is possible. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Problem with science

The following post is a response to the following texts:
Taming Nature  and Monocultures of the Mind
After reading the 2 texts, I have a main takeaway. That is, nature is very complicated science, and mankind’s understanding of nature is insufficient and coupled with capitalism, resulted in homogeneity on a global scale today.
The moment we start growing crops, cultivation is happening, alienation and domination of nature is happening. We alienate as we separate from nature, by cultivating crops which we choose to consume. We dominate as we choose what stays in the ecosystem and what does not to a certain extent. Artificial selection is replaced by natural selection, and resulted in the following changes 
In the past
Little species (homogeneity)
Many species (diversity)
Very vulnerable to changes in ecosystem
Less vulnerable to changes in the ecosystem
Faith in science
Faith in religion
Mostly democratic
Different types of governing systems
Dependent on nature for economic activities
Dependent on nature for survival

Nature is complex science and by cultivating we are simplifying it and reducing it to something of a much smaller value. James Scott mentioned the benefits of polyculture which people did not see in the past. “The garden was a vegetable garden, an orchard, a medicinal garden, a dump heap, a compost heap and a beeyard.” It was a sustainable orchard garden which an economist would have seen as inefficient use of resources, failure to specialise and trade… As such, polycultures, which essentially is a ‘mini rainforest’, would be a better way of life compared to monocultures as it has higher flexibility, lower vulnerability and social values. Rather than developing and conforming to western values, the indigenous locals could have been better off if they stuck to their original way of life. However they could be seen as ‘poor people’ who needs help from the rest of the ‘richer population’. Maybe we should stop enforcing values on people who are different from us, thinking that is the best for them.

On Monday, Prof Jerome mentioned how breaking away of colonization and spreading the system of democracy was in fact increasing homogeneity, because the westerners believed that democracy was the best system and should be adopted all over the world and the act of removing other systems itself is a communist one, the same goes to how traditional knowledge systems are replaced by science.

Unlike other knowledge systems are usually intertwined with religious beliefs, science is the closest thing we ever had to the truth. However, many fail to realise that science could still be very well far away from reality. This is because scientific experiments involve keeping other variable constant except the variable that is in the hypothesis. The problem with science is that it is derived from keeping all else constant but nothing is constant in reality. If you happen to miss out any one factor or thing and not conduct experiments on it, that is where unintended consequences happens. I was having dinner with another Tembusian yesterday and a friend of mine, who is a political science student, was saying ‘why do we have to science the shit out of everything?’ If science isn’t even that credible, why are we not more careful when it comes to new technological advancements such as genetic engineering? 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Anthropocentric Vanity.

Last week, we talked about environmental accounting as a solution to environmental problems of today. As a matter of fact, holistic accounting methodology could be our best chance at achieving sustainable development today. There are a few ways we can achieve sustainable development and one of the ways is decoupling. Biofuels allow mankind to grow our own fuels instead of having to source for more coal or fossil fuels for energy production. Even though carbon dioxide is still released when biofuels are burned, biofuel crops take in carbon dioxide as they grow hence there is zero net carbon released into the atmosphere. Since production of energy using biofuels reduces our reliance on finite energy sources and has zero net carbon emissions, it brought us a step closer to decouple from nature by reducing reliability and mitigating global warming to a certain extent. Is that really the case? Other than the carbon cycle, mankind has tipped the nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorous) cycle as well. Land that are intensified and constantly produces crops will run out of nutrients eventually, especially if agricultural practices were unsustainable. Usage of chemical fertilisers would be increased hence pollution worsens in nearby water bodies. Are such costs included when considering the use of biofuels? 

Lets take a look at the carbon cycle:

Triangle – Zero net carbon change in the case of biofuels
Red oval – Processes accelerated due to human activities
Yellow box – Processes that should be accelerated

Since some processes in the carbon cycle are accelerated cause of humans, other processes in the cycle should be occurring at a higher speed as well so that ‘carbon equilibrium’ can be maintained. Evidently, the best solution to ensure carbon equilibrium is to restore carbon back into the form of coal or fossil fuels or any equivalent, a process also known as carbon sequestration. However, little attention or resources has been allocated to research in this area as there are no economic benefits from doing so. Furthermore, finding a solution of that sort would mean an end to the climate change crisis. If we think about it, the climate change issue has been beneficial to various industries such as the air-conditioning, irrigation, renewable energy industries etc., albeit to different extents. Hence, attention and resources are diverted to sustainable development which focuses on creating new technology to ensure continuity of human survival such as Genetically Modified Food and biofuels. New technology bring about a new set of problems which are usually resolved by creating another type of technology that creates more problems. It is a positive feedback that does not stop. We ‘develop’ as we innovate, create new problems, then innovate again to solve new problems. So are we working towards absolute decoupling or deviating away from it? Why are we not finding the missing link in the carbon cycle (sequestration) to solve this problem once and for all? It is not wrong to say that anthropogenic development happens because of vanity. We create problems to solve and feel clever and great about ourselves after solving it. 

Friday, 25 September 2015

Putting an economic value on environmental costs, viable?

In the previous post, we talked about how development could be natural. However, not everything that occurs naturally are good. Things seem to go wrong when economic values are attached to the resources. For instance, rubber trees used to be of little economic value before people knew how to collect latex. Thereafter, capitalists start destroying natural forested areas to make way for rubber tree plantations. Introducing and using biofuels as a major energy source will only increase value of certain crops (first and second generation mainly), exacerbating artificial selection. In the past, humans may not have realised the possible environmental nor social consequences of human activities thus values of a product only comprise of commercial marketable value. Today, externalities such as social and environmental costs can be calculated and included in official financial accounts via costs of ecosystem services as people increasingly see the importance of sustainable development. Including socio-environmental costs into the capitalist system is a great idea since it has always been missing in the capitalist equation. Hence, the increasing attention given to biofuels can be attributed to this new holistic accounting method. However, there are a few problems associated with it. How do we know if the environmental values are ‘correct’? Are we able to accurately to translate socio-environmental values such as ‘lesser carbon footprint’ into economic values that can be included in the calculation of traditional economic accounts? Putting aside the technical problems, let us take a look at the practical problems. Is it actually viable to capitalise on the social and environmental aspect of anything? In the capitalist world, there has to be revenue, costs and self-interested capitalists who strive to maximise profits. Social and environmental costs can be calculated but private firms are not interested as the benefits (revenue) are non-excludable. In other words, firms will be incurring higher costs which benefit the society as a whole and not oneself. There is no incentive for a capitalist, whose primary aim is to maximise profits, to include such costs. In other words, traditional economic and capitalist ideas are still deeply ingrained in the international market. Then why are biofuels gaining so much attention from the LDCs such as Malaysia and Indonesia who wants to become major biofuels powers?Even though biofuels are often marketed as environmentally friendly fuels, capitalists are intrigued by other characteristics of biofuels – renewability and low costs of production. Being renewable means that it will never run out unlike coal or fossil fuels, so producers worry less about volatile prices of biofuels. On top of that, unlike other renewable resources, biofuels can be assimilated into the current energy supply chain with minimal technical adjustment hence have much lower costs comparted to renewable energy such as hydroelectric, wind or nuclear energy where power plants and infrastructure has to be built from scratch. In other words, socio-environmental accounting has little significance in affecting the biofuels market, which essentially still is driven by traditional economic factors. 

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Technological advancement, natural?

Technological advancement, domination of nature, all natural processes? Recently I did a research on biofuels and there are a few interesting ideas I have come across, which i will discuss in the span of a few weeks from today onwards.
First generation biofuels (corn) are biofuels that can be both food crops and biofuels, second generation biofuels (jatropha) are those which are not of any other commercial use and third generation biofuels are genetically modified oil-producing algae. (Generations of Biofuels - Energy from waste and wood, 2015) Biofuels are of course, resources of nature and they can be signs of mankind dominating nature. Third generation biofuels are clearly dominated by us because they are ‘creations of mankind’. Others argue that domination started before that. Plants are commonly seen as the basis of life as it is the source of energy for almost all living things on earth. Yet we are using these resources for our own consumption in a way that population size and survival of these species are human-dependent. In other words, domination starts when we start planting crops consciously, thereby replacing natural selection with artificial selection through manipulation of nature to suit our own needs. Does that mean discovering fire and creating tools back in the Stone Age are evidences of domination of nature? Or are they simply our means of survival? Darwin would say that technology is a tool mankind used to out compete other species (survival of the fittest). Evolution will not happen without domination – it is a natural process. Today, it seems like we dominate other species more than we are supposed to such that these species are no longer 'natural'. However if domination and evolution are natural processes, human domination of other species, domination of evolution or even nature can simply be argued to be the work of nature herself. Hence every artifact we have on earth today – cars, societies, economies, technological development, economic development, they are all a result of natural processes?