Factor 20 Reduction

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John Thackara:

"When pressed, technical experts I have spoken to tell me that for our world to be ‘sustainable’ it needs to endure a ‘factor 20 reduction’ in its energy and resource metabolism – to five percent of present levels. At first I believed, doomily, that Factor 20 was beyond reach. Then, by looking outside the industrial world’s tent, I realised that for eighty per cent of the world’s population, five per cent energy is their lived reality today – and it does not always correspond to a worse life.

Take as an example, healthcare. In Cuba, where food, petrol and oil have been scarce for of 50 years as a consequence of economic blockades, its citizens achieve the same level of health for only five per cent of the health care expenditure of Americans. In Cuba’s five percent system, health and wellbeing are the properties of social ecosystems in which relationships between people in a real-world local context are mutually supportive. Advanced medical treatments are beyond most people’s reach – but they do not suffer worse health outcomes.

Another example of five per cent systems that sustain life is food. In the industrial world, the ratio of energy inputs to the food system, relative to calories ingested, is 12:1. In cities, up to 40 percent of their ecological impact can be attributed to their food and water systems – the transportation, packaging, storage, preparation and disposal of the things we eat and drink .

In poor communities, where food is grown and eaten on the spot, the ratio is closer to 1:1."


Urban Transport

John Thackara:

My favourite five percent example – a recent one – concerns urban freight. In modern cities, enormous amounts of energy are wasted shipping objects from place to place. An example from The Netherlands: Of the 1,900 vans and trucks that enter the city of Breda (pop: 320,000) each day, less than ten percent of the cargo being delivered really needs to be delivered in a van or truck; 40 percent of van-based deliveries involve just one package. An EU-funded project called CycleLogistics calculates that 50 percent of all parcels delivered in EU cities could be delivered by cargo bike.

According to ExtraEnergy’s tests over several years, an average pedelec uses an average of 1kWh per 100km in electricity. Once all system costs are included, a cargo cycle can be up to 98 percent cheaper per km than four-wheeled, motorised alternatives. Some e-bikers reckon that electric bikes can have a smaller environmental footprint even than pedal-only bicycles when the energy costs of the food needed to power the rider are added." (http://thackara.com/most-read/energy-thriving-on-5/)

The Egg Supply Chain as Demonstration of the Advantages of Localization

Ted Trainer:

""even most good green people do not grasp just how grossly unsustainable consumer-capitalist society is. There is a powerful numerical case that if by 2050 all the world’s people had risen to live as we in rich countries would then be living, given 3% p.a. growth, then resource and environmental impacts would be around 10 times their present levels, and approaching 20 times the levels the World Wildlife Fund estimates would be sustainable. (2019.) The belief that this will be made possible by technical advances which will “decouple” GDP growth from resource demand is contradicted by a massive literature. (Chris notes this, p. 84, but could make more fuss about it; it’s the standard rationale trotted out for resisting degrowth.) Thus there is no option but to accept that there must be massive degrowth down to per capita resource levels that are around one-tenth or less of present rich world levels. There is only one way to do this while ensuring a good quality of life for all. It cannot be done unless we abandon the present commitment to energy-intensive, industrialised, urbanised, globalised, travel and trade and tourism ridden, complex, financialised, growth and market obsessed extractivist systems… and above all the obsession with affluent lifestyles.

Our study of egg supply (Trainer, Malik and Lenzen, 2019) shows why simpler lifestyles and systems are the only way. We analysed the resource and energy costs of the typical supermarket supply path and those of supply via backyard and co-operative poultry keeping. The former path involves vast global networks involving fishing fleets, trucks and ships, fertilizer factories, agribusiness feed production, soil depletion and damage, poultry feed factories, chemicals factories, logistics, personnel departments, insurance and advertising and marketing industries, packaging waste, bored workers, car travel to the supermarkets, “waste” removal industries getting rid of poultry manure that cannot go to the soils which produced the food, computers and expensive personnel with degrees sitting at computers.

But the local path involves hardly any of this. We found that its costs per egg was around 1-2% of the supermarket egg.

And in addition consider the benefits of the local way, such as enabling the chickens to get much of their feed from free ranging in the orchards and gardens cleaning up pests, the occasional meat for the kitchen and feathers for pillows, and manures that go by bucket to methane digesters and compost heaps thus eliminating the need for artificial fertilizers.

This is an example of the way many of the things we would need for a good life in a sustainable society would (have to) be provided. That is, from small local firms and farms using local inputs, much voluntary labour, and simple technologies." (https://www.resilience.org/stories/2021-03-08/some-thoughts-on-chris-smajes-small-farm-future/?)