Date: December 4th, 2014
Place: TPM, Room E
Learning objective: To understand how context (trends, governance, legislation and regulations) influences sustainable transitions.
Towards the development of our proposals for a sustainable Texel, we have dreamed about a future for the island that requires setting a transition into motion taking into consideration the current state, trends and governance influencing the proposed initiatives. During the lesson sustainable developments in context, it was highlighted the need to ground the initiatives into the social, economic, environmental, cultural and legal context that will exert influence on their development, and the need to identify opportunities for further evolution and improvement after their implementation within those contexts.
This report aimed to collect the results of the collective reflections that were raised during the set of experiences proposed during the meeting, and pretended to remark the main questions that need to be addressed to contextualize sub-systems’ proposals from “utopias” to approachable first steps towards a sustainable transition in Texel. Firstly, Chapter 1 presents the general description of activities executed during the meeting. Finally, Chapter 2 presents the main reflections and questions raised.
1. What happened in this meeting?
The meeting was composed by three different activities to provide the needed insights for students to realize the importance of taking into consideration the context of a system when designing initiatives for sustainable transitions:
- Video: Paradise or oblivion - The Venus Project (Jacque Fresco)
- Lecture: Legal tools to stimulate sustainability (Nienke Saanen)
- Game: Harvest (Linda van Veen)
This chapter presents the general description of the activities and the main ideas of the contents shared.
1.1 Video: Paradise or oblivion - The Venus Project
As an initial point for further discussion, the video paradise or oblivion, related to the Venus Project, was presented. Some of the main ideas expressed by Jacque Fresco (leader of the project) and other team members are:
- We have the brains, technology and feasibility to build an entirely new civilization. Witnessing misery and war, and experiencing the great depression in the 30s has provided the incentive for Jacque Fresco to start his work toward a redesign of our culture in order to create a peaceful civilization where humans, technology and nature can coexist.
- Human suffering is not acceptable and rules of the game are not clear. The origins of our problems are the failed system we live in.
- We are on a collision course of our own making. Either we continue on this way, or we set up new kind of values towards sustainability.
- We have been brought up to fear what is new. To obtain needed resources, people will do this at a competitive cast, sometimes leading to violence and war.
- War is an inefficient waste of resources and lives. How to get along with other nations? Use soldiers to bridge the differences.
- Genes do not control values. If you have a better brain, and you live in a fascist country, you become a fascist faster. Our behavior and values are shaped by the culture we grow up in.
- Priority goes to profit, with a consequence of poverty for those who do not manage to keep up. Prioritizing profit over people’s well-being generates unnecessary suffering that law alone cannot avoid.
- The surrounding environment drives human behavior. Scarcity affects our patterns of behavior limiting our values.
- If there were enough resources, money would not be an issue. No one can write a constitution without contemplating the surrounding environment. We need to educate people to change their values. Not ethical people are needed to lead countries, but rather a way of managing earth’s resources for everyone’s well-being.
- To assure the selling of products, they are deliberately designed to deteriorate and wear out. This is called planned obscelence. We are plundering the planet, to make profit.
- We are moving towards a social collapse. If you let it alone, it will overthrow itself. If we want to make it through these turbulent times, we must adapt and change. We cannot continue trying to solve problems by thinking in the same way we did when we created them.
- Our social and economic system has not kept up with our technological development. Earth has enough resources to meet the need of all people, but only if managed correctly.
Fresco’s proposal: Resource-based economy
- Fresco proposes a resource-based economy, in which all resources are available to everyone, free of charge. The idea is to create abundance to eliminate greed and crime.
- All people ultimately depend on the same resources, clean air and water, medical care and education. Nations and people have to coexist. If you want the end of war, you must declare the earth as world heritage.
- Individuality will be emphasized in the new civilization. It does not call for uniformity, but diversity. Motivation and incentive exist when people have challenges. They will be presented with problems that need a solution. A new and innovative incentive system must operate, which is not monetary-oriented but problem solving-oriented.
- How can we use our technology to provide resources for everyone? A global inventory is needed to determine exactly what we have and what is needed. During the transition, we have to bring together the people working with technology and methods of delivering these resources. This means that we need a scientific government.
- Today more than half of the population live in cities. It is better to design cities from the ground up than using old ones.
- When working on technology for housing, we need to change the efficiency of construction as we know it today.
- Anything will be available without price tag. That means that we need to reach a high productiveness so products would not be scarce.
- In transportation, the priority is safety rather than low pricing.
- Education will be done through interaction with the environment and experience.
- When we do not have restrictions such as patents and laws, we can establish this society within a short period. If we do not live in harmony, we will kill each other and destroy the earth.
- The resource-based economy will be based on new values. People will shift from self-centered and materialistic goals towards achieving personal interests. It will take 10 years to change the surface of the earth.
For more information visit: www.thevenusproject.com
1.2 Lecture: Legal tools to stimulate sustainability
After finishing the reflections’ sharing around the video, a lecture by Nienke Saanen about the influence of government and legal regulations on the execution and planning of initiatives grounded the ideas about what to consider in order to transforms proposals to reality. The main ideas shared during the lecture were:
- For the assignments: Take into account that you are in a context. The local government of Texel is the municipality of Texel as a whole. How can we change our context?
- Government as a leading actor has legislative power, purchasing power and power to subsidize.
- Multilevel government, it is necessary to take into consideration all levels influencing our projects and the regulations and authorizations required from each level. There are four levels: international (EU), central (national), regional (provinces) and local (municipalities).
- The national level implements EU legislation while adapting it to the national circumstances.
- Be aware of the legal context you are working in and take into account the actor that are important within this context. Think about rewards for switching to making sustainable choices.
- Example of importance of following regulations: Texel used to produce a special type of sheep cheese that was green because of the use of liquids from the sheep’s’ dung after being treated. The production stopped after food regulations where set in place because the cheese was endangering human health.
- Even if you have a good idea, if national legislation do not approve techniques used or products produced, its implementation is not going to be authorized.
- The government can steer by using its purchasing power. Public procurement has two guiding principles: non-discrimination (equality) and transparency.
- Sustainable public procurement include social and green considerations.
- Sustainability is largely stimulated by the EU. EU looks for integrating environmental protection into EU policies, their efforts include: the buying green handbook (2005), the commission on communication on public procurement for a better environment (2008), and the handbook of buying social – social considerations in public procurement (2011).
- At local level, there are possibilities in the directives for public procurement. The process can be designed to have a sustainable solution as the end results. Sustainability conditions can be referred on technical specifications, selection criteria, award criteria and performance requirements.
- Government can stimulate sustainability through public procurement but have to be careful on the way they set conditions. Sustainability labels are not suitable as condition as they represent a certain sustainability value but cost money. Producers whom fulfill sustainability criteria for production but chose to spend more money on improving their product rather than paying for the label, can be discriminated if the label is set as a condition rather than the sustainability in the production process.
- A direct way of stimulating sustainable innovations is to subsidize. State aid can only be granted after the European Commission has approved the measure. You have to asses if you want to have a subsidy or if the government wants to grant a subsidy.
- When applying for a subsidy for an idea with a good cause, some exemptions prevail. It can address a general solution but it can also be aimed at a certain company. The General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) supports these projects. It gives them the possibility to apply without requiring authorization from to the EU, which will save a lot of time. This requires a specific set up for the project. If you design the subsidy along the regulations of the GBER you can get even a 100% subsidy.
- A government may only act if they have the formal competence to do so. That competence has to be given by the institution or municipality. If those competence give you the power of taxation of certain (less sustainable) products, they can.
1.3 Game: Harvest
After the lecture, a game leaded by Linda van Veen called Harvest was played by the class in order to gain further insights about the influence of context in sustainability. The indications of the game were:
- Class was divided in 6 teams, each one representing a fishing company.
- The goal of each company was to maximize their assets by the end of the game.
- Material required: one boat per group (paper glass), fishes in the ocean (initial number unknown - represented by marbles).
- The maximum sustainable population of the ocean is one hundred fishes. Thus, there was from fifty to one hundred fishes initially.
- We were supposed to play from six to ten rounds, each rounds represented a year of fishing.
- After every round played, the leader of the game would duplicate the number of fishes remaining in the ocean.
- Every team had to think about their long-term strategy: How are they going to harvest the ocean?
The game then started: at the beginning, some agreements for collective benefit and long-term sustainability of fishes in the ocean were set, but they were not followed during the three initial rounds and, then, the companies started facing scarcity until the ocean ran out of fishes at round 8. At the end, companies tried to make new agreements again on cero exploitation to try to recover the fish population, but they failed as well.
The results of the game were:
Number of fishes
2. Learning contribution of this meeting
After experiencing the diversity of activities proposed for this meeting, some reflections were held and questions raised towards the improvement of the proposals for each sub-system. This chapter collects the main reflection points and questions generated throughout the discussions.
2.1 Learning points from the video: Paradise or oblivion - The Venus Project
- The proposal by Fresco is seen as an utopia that have positive points to consider, but it was discussed that it lacked some insights about the importance of governance bodies, and rules and regulations for a civilization to prevail.
- It was pointed out that his claims lack of evidence to support his hypothesis, but it was also consider that there is no way some of his claims (like the effect of being borne in a culture where competition is not relevant) can not be proved under the present conditions.
- It was also claimed that scarcity is not the only source of war and misery, the human condition of power seeking was not considered and it is a critical cause of lots of conflicting situations and inequalities in the world.
- There were some discussions regarding the motivation of people to contribute to such society is everything is given for free as scarcity and self-preservation are main drivers for innovation and willingness for contribution.
- In terms of governance, it was discussed that a form of government is needed to handle the possible “free riders” and to maintain the facilities operating. It is not clear if the technical government proposed it would be the more efficient.
- The step to start the transition towards such a system state was not clear during the video, and even though they remarked the importance of education to achieve their goals, there is no further explanation about how to achieve the transition.
- The video talked about encouraging diversity in the uniformity of the civilization. Another reflection point came from the fact that the world is full of a diversity of civilizations that have roots far in history. The idea of universalizing those civilizations have deeply implications in people’s behavior and it would be a source of huge resistance, especially around civilizations with opposite values than western society, where they have different perspectives of power and scarcity.
- Another reflection point came from the population control and ways to manage the proper resources distribution. Because some resources are non-renewables and are needed to build the cities as design by the program, and the approach toward this consideration was not presented in the video.
- The sustainability of such cities were discussed in terms of housings, the most efficient thing to do would be to have a number of houses according to the number of families, how to control this?
- The final questions for further reflection were How to make the transition? What are the flaws of this project reasoning?
2.2 Learning points from the lecture: Legal tools to stimulate sustainability
Questions for further reflection:
- How can regulation impose limits to your ideas and timelines?
- How can you adapt your project to regulations to facilitate its implementation?
- What kind of authorization and from whom does your project need to be implemented?
- How can Texel authorities facilitate your sustainable ideas?
- How can your initiative or actors take advantage of state aid?
Information to take into consideration:
- Gemeenschappelijke Regeling Waddenfonds have done no problems with EU regulation.
- Check projects which have already been subsidized by the Gemeenschappelijke Regeling Waddenfonds.
- Make sure you have the knowledge to use legal rules in the most optimal way!
2.3 Learning points from the game: Harvest
- It is important to keep the overview of the overarching system to understand how individual actions’ affect the entire system.
- This is a tragedy of the common example, where individual incentives leaded to collective disaster, as the long-term interests of the group were endangered by the depletion of limited resources (Fishes in the ocean)
- It was talked about how technology have accelerated the depletion process.
- In terms of context, it was experience through the game how the uncertainties influence the system management and they have to be expected as part of reality.
- It was discussed how individual strategies resulted from each groups’ understanding of the game objective and when and how it should end.
- It was discussed how the collective agreements failed and it was set as the initial point for further reflection on the sub-systems’ proposal related to set proper strategies to ensure a sustainable behavior of society and to control resources depletion (It was also pointed out how difficult it is to define this strategies and ensure their compliance!).
- Reflection question: How to handle the fishing sector for the ocean not to be over-exploited in the short-term?
Many contextual factors influence sustainable transitions, it is necessary to realize that initiatives will be executed in a world full of rules and regulations, where the dependencies to local, regional, national and international authorities have to be defined in order to establish the needed connections. Moreover, the relationships and interdependencies with other actors in the field have to be defined in order to define common strategies to reach long-term sustainability goals. Finally, it is necessary to have clarity about the initial steps that will set the path towards a possible sustainable future, taking into consideration the uncertainties and limitations to be faced: it is necessary to ground sustainable initiatives into reality in order for them to stop being considered utopias!
In terms of the Texel case, this meeting presented key points to be taken into consideration regarding the context of Texel and the uncertainties and opportunities that lay into regulation and society values in order to create feasible proposals for Texel to become a sustainable island. After checking this report, we have a final question for you:
How the design of your sub-system will be shaped by the insights obtained from this meeting?
Last but not least: Important notifications about class’ activities!
- Columns: Try to write your weekly column and to check others’ proposals to mark your favorites!
- Next meeting: Mid-term review. Make sure the results of steps 1-4 are online to receive feedback and that your group is going to be represented in the meeting.
- Interviews: For next meeting all reports on interviews need to be uploaded, every group needs to perform interviews for either the Texel system or their own sub-system.
- Site research at Texel: Make sure to prepare your research plan for our week at Texel, it has to be sent by mail before December 19th.