8×8 Festival

Throughout October, SUAS, an Irish development charity, have been running the “8×8” festival in Universities across Ireland. The last one will run next week, in Dublin City University – http://www.eventbrite.ie/o/dcu-8×8-festival-2015-8411631113.

Along with some talks and exhibitions, the main feature of the festival is a number of film screenings on the broad themes of development and environment, with different films showing at different Universities. So you don’t have to, I’ve gone ahead and trawled the internet for links to the films in question. Enjoy!

The True Cost: exploring “sustainable” fashion (available on Netflix)

How to Change the World: Greenpeace doc featured here a few months ago. Can’t get the full movie on the internet but their website is great:

http://howtochangetheworldmovie.com/

Trashed: Jeremy Irons-narrated documentary. Available to rent here: http://www.trashedfilm.com/purchase/

Meanwhile here’s the trailer:

Virunga: the plight of mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (available on Netflix)

No Snowflake: documentary on climate change by an Irish Student, Meghan Carmody

The Revolutionary Optimists: “child activists” in Kolkata – http://revolutionaryoptimists.org/about-film

Again, no full movie online so the best I can do is the trailer:

The Yes Men are Revolting – prankster climate change activists (how to watch: http://theyesmenarerevolting.com/screenings-events/)

UCD Smurfit/US Embassy Environmental Panel Discussion

A couple of weeks ago the UCD Smurfit School of Business hosted a panel discussion on  “rural development, green business and climate change”, co-organised with the US Embassy in Ireland. Along with Chair Lisa Ryan, a Senior Power Systems Researcher at the UCD Energy Institute, there were three speakers: Rick Larson (US) of the Natural Capital Investment Fund, Ray O’Neill (Ireland), Head of Sustainable Business at AIB and Mark Manis (US), Senior Climate Change Policy Advisor in the US Department of Agriculture.

Rick Larson spoke first of his organisation’s work in conserving forest land and funding “natural resource-based” SMEs. He also discussed the difficulty of selling carbon credits, and, interestingly, mentioned that they have been able to do this in California, which has it’s own cap and trade scheme (here’s a useful article from the Wall Street Journal explaining how the scheme works – http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-cap-and-trade-is-working-in-california-1411937795).

Natural Capital Investment Fund:

http://www.conservationfund.org/what-we-do/natural-capital-investment-fund

Ray O’Neill then discussed sustainability initiatives at AIB. He acknowledged that the bank’s biggest environmental impact is through its customers, and stressed that its role is to “wield finance to get customers to do something good”. Later, in response to an excellent question on the trade-offs of sustainability, Mr O’Neill mentioned that AIB’s decision to put solar panels on its headquarters was a financial loss, but the bank wished to encourage its clients to follow suit, thereby benefiting the environment at the expense of AIB. Athough he did not mention that AIB no doubt hope that its customers might require a bank loan to install their new solar panels, so it could in fact be a long-term financial win for AIB, not the altruistic trade-off it may first appear!

Another interesting point made by Ray O’Neill, and one particularly relevant to practitioners, was how he “sold” sustainability “projects” within AIB. His advice was to “sell” the project to every department e.g. finance, operations etc, and to do the project in small chunks, building up to big projects gradually (so people don’t notice what’s happening until it’s too late to protest?!)

The remainder of the session focused primarily on policy, perhaps inspired by Mark Manis’ interesting talk on his work with the US Department of Agriculture. He spoke of the complex negotiations undertaken by global and national bodies on climate change and food security. For reference, here are the bodies he mentioned, all of which offer some good information and resources:

Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (http://www.fao.org/gacsa/en/)

Global Research Alliance for Agricultural GHGs (http://globalresearchalliance.org/)

Climate and Clean Air Coalition (http://www.ccacoalition.org/)

Mr Manis also stressed the importance of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and it is particularly worth keeping an eye on their website in the run up to COP21 on 30th November (http://unfccc.int/2860.php).

The session closed with a Q&A from the audience, with many of the questions focusing on policy. Emerging most strongly from this was Rick Larson’s argument that a tax on carbon would have the biggest impact on climate change. Just think – a world where companies pay for the carbon they emit… we can dream!

Social Policy in Europe

University College Dublin is currently running a seminar series on the topic of  “Understanding the Eurozone Crisis”. This meant an illuminating talk today from Prof. Colin Crouch of Warwick Business School entitled “Can the European Union abandon social policy?”

Prof. Crouch spoke of increasing support from both the left and the right for a “division of labour” between the EU and its nation states, whereby the EU looks after markets and the nation states look after social policy. His view is that this could ultimately lead EU members in the ideological direction of a “nationalistic neoliberalism”. Drawing from the work of mid-20th century sociologist Karl Polanyi, Crouch argued that markets and social policy could be complementary, and discussed the possibility of a “European identity”.

Prof. Crouch’s work is interesting from a sustainable business perspective because of his work which links sociology and corporate reponsibility, and which questions the increasing power of “capitalist interests”. Here’s a few of his many publications:

https://books.google.ie/books?hl=en&lr=&id=1OXkLJoOdhwC&oi=fnd&pg=PR5&dq=colin+crouch&ots=OB9lu7PyjQ&sig=gYtE2bEeZcZjv3v3KqghGEaTD8I&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=colin%20crouch&f=false

http://oss.sagepub.com/content/27/10/1533.short

https://books.google.ie/books?hl=en&lr=&id=_McX1y_a4y8C&oi=fnd&pg=PP2&dq=colin+crouch+and+maclean&ots=C2tAoTWbwU&sig=bZT79ErtVQnUerEnO8Ya-CH5NwI&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=colin%20crouch%20and%20maclean&f=false

Convergence 2015

Next week Cultivate Ireland, an organisation based in Dublin and Cloughjordan and focused on sustainability education, is holding its annual “Convergence” festival, a series of sustainability-focused events such as lectures, panels and food fairs, in various locations around Ireland. This year the theme is co-operatives, and the week features a number of events on community energy and some interesting workshops on funding social enterprises and successful small co-operatives. More details and the full program here:

http://www.cultivate.ie/images/Convergence20/Final_Co-operative_Convergence_schedule.pdf

Contemporary continental philosophy (and organisations)

In the Organisation Studies field you could be forgiven for thinking that all philosophers are dead and French (or German). Today I attended a seminar at which the presenters, Org Studies academics, explored the implications of the work of the contemporary French philosopher Meillassoux on “speculative realism” for global warming.

The implication of Meillassoux’s theories, they argued, is that a problem on the scale of global warming requires a new basis of ethics and behaviour, based on “thinking beyond the confines of human finitude”. Meillassoux thus encourages us to look outside our anthropocentric worldview and make the “universal lack of justice” our ethical platform. I think.

Along with Meillassoux, today’s presenters also highlighted a couple of other contemporary philosophers, Levi Bryan and Timothy Morton, and I was happy to find that they both have really interesting blogs. So here’s some references for contemporary continental philosophy, with an ecological focus:

http://ecologywithoutnature.blogspot.ie/

https://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/

Finally, because all that’s pretty heavy, how about another philosophy cartoon:

Jonathon Franzen on Capitalism

Earlier this week the American author Jonathon Franzen gave a reading and a live interview in Dublin. Franzen is known for his outspoken views on technology, the environment and capitalism, and during the interview he was asked why he is so suspicious of technology. He replied that although technology is presented as “ideologically neutral”, it is in fact “rabidly capitalist”, and encourages capitalist modes of behaviour e.g. competition, consumerism.

This reminded me of Franzen’s musings on capitalism in his 2001 novel The Corrections, where one of the main protagonists, “Chip”, moves to Lithuania to work for a man who is effectively privatising the country, marketing Lithuania Inc. as a “for-profit nation state,” to US investors. Investors are rewarded based on the number of shares they buy in Lithuania Inc.  e.g. $100 gets you a Lithuanian street named after you, $25,000 a “perpetual title to an eponymous town” (2001:147)

Eventually, Chip begins consider the deeper meaning of his employer’s actions, and when held at gunpoint comes to an epiphany, which Franzen uses to deliver one of the best descriptions of capitalism I’ve seen in fiction:

“Chip was struck by the similarities between black-market Lithuania and free-market America. In both countries wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few; any meaningful distinction between private and public sectors had disappeared; captains of commerce lived in a ceaseless anxiety that drove them to expand their empires ruthlessly; ordinary citizens lived in ceaseless fear of being fired and ceaseless confusion about which powerful private interest owned which formerly public institution on any given day; and the economy was fueled largely by the elite’s insatiable demand for luxury… The main difference between America and Lithuania, as far as Chip could see, was that in America the wealthy few subdued the unwealthy many by means of mind-numbing and soul-killing entertainment and gadgetry and pharmaceuticals, whereas in Lithuania the powerful few subdued the unpowerful many by threatening violence.

It warmed his Foucaultian heart, in a way, to live in a land where property ownership and the control of public discourse were so obviously a matter of who had the guns” (Franzen 2001:511)

Essentially, Franzen is suggesting that the only difference between the free market and the black market is in the manner of “subduing the unwealthy”; the former uses “mind-numbing and soul-killing entertainment”, while the latter uses guns.

Nearly fifteen years have passed since the publication of The Corrections, and the rise of social media has seen Franzen develop his capitalist critique further. Perhaps its most articulate incarnation is this excellent 2013 article in the Guardian, where he takes apart the “infernal machine of technoconsumerism”.

https://web.archive.org/web/20130915070641/http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/sep/13/jonathan-franzen-wrong-modern-world

Whatever the implications (if any) of Franzen’s anti-capitalist writings for the “captains of commerce”, it can only be a positive thing to have “alternative” views like this about technology, consumerism and corruption brought into the public domain by an author which such a large readership.