Invitation ~ Help build the new economy through activism, enterprise and social change

AELA Conference Banner

Today’s economy is built on the foundations of a global industrial and financial system with immense productive capacity, however the extractive nature of it has created extreme income disparity and social injustices as well as wrought devastation on the natural world.

There is an increasingly spirited debate about the need for a ‘new economy’, which has fertile and important implications for the legal and philosophical foundations of the current system.

What are different generative visions for this ‘new economy’, and how achievable are they? How can we re-imagine work, exchange, money, care, law and our relationship with the natural world through the prism of a new economy?

The Australian Earth Laws Alliance and the University of NSW are organising an important conference to explore the dimensions and future prospects of building a ‘new economy’.

New Economy Conference 2016
Tuesday 16 and Wednesday 17 August 2016
Glebe Town Hall, Sydney

The two-day conference will bring together activists, social entrepreneurs, economists, academics, lawyers and regulators, to discuss, showcase and weave together the explosion of experiments that are bubbling up around peer-to-peer initiatives, commoning, maker movements, sharing, buen vivir, collaborative economies, solidarity economies, localisation and cooperative movements.

Over two days, the conference will tease out the connections and tensions between these movements, with an eye to the practical lessons for projects and politics. The conference will include an interactive plenary session on Day 2, which will enable interested participants to co-design a Charter for a Coalition for a New Economy.

The call for participation opened on the 21 April  and closes on 30 June 2016.

All prospective participants  are invited to be creative with their proposals. Although some speakers have been invited in advance, the final program will depend upon what you submit. It will be crafted with an eye to the practical lessons for projects and politics, including a plenary session on ‘The City as Commons’ (exploring how different projects and ideas intersect with each other) and a second plenary exploring the idea of an Australian New Economy Coalition (whether for political advocacy, policy development or networking purposes).

The guiding question for the Conference is ~ How can we re-imagine work, exchange, money, care, law and our relationship with the natural world through the prism of a new economy?

The following types of participation are invited:

  • Panel discussions ~ between 20 and 40 minutes long (please contact us first by email to discuss your ideas about panel discussions)
  • Papers ~ presented for up to 20 minutes
  • Short performances or interventions ~ 5 to 10 minutes
  • Mini-workshops or facilitated games ~ up to 40 minutes
  • Posters

Finally, the program will also include time for open-space sessions.

To prepare your participation proposal, please use the Conference Template, which can be downloaded here and email to neweconomy@earthlaws.org.au.

Find out more ~ Conference Website

Floating solar solution for Lismore Community Solarfarm

In an exciting and unexpected turn of events, a floating solar solution is now going to be used for the East Lismore Community Solarfarm.

This change has been made at the sewage treatment plant to overcome the site limitations and maximise opportunities to expand the size of the solar array in the future ~ particularly given Lismore City Council’s plan for 100% renewable energy.

We think it’s wonderful that our prospective community investors can now consider what is an even more pioneering project, together of course with the high profile solarfarm planned for Goonellabah Sports & Aquatic Centre.

Here is an example of what the floating solarfarm may look like:

The two community companies for the projects ~ Lismore Community Solarfarm (Goonellabah) Pty Ltd, and, Lismore Community Solarfarm (East) Pty Ltd ~ have now been incorporated. These are the legal entities which will raise the funds for the two solarfarms, by offering shares for investors. In turn, once the investment offers are fully subscribed, each company will loan the funds to Lismore City Council to build the each of the solarfarms (Goonellabah Sports and Aquatic Centre and East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant).

A constitution for each of the companies has been fully executed and will be available on the Farming the Sun website in due course.

For this establishment stage of the community companies, Starfish Initiatives is the sole shareholder and has appointed Executive Director, Adam Blakester, as the sole director. Starfish will surrender their share, and Adam will resign as Director, as the community investors become shareholders and in turn nominate to be directors at the each company’s first General Meeting after the investment offers are completed.

The offer documents, formally known as an Offer Information Statement, are being submitted to Norton Rose Fulbright, our legal partners, for final review and is expected for Launch by late May all going to plan.

As these community energy investments are a private offer, it will be only be made available to those parties who have signed onto the Investor Pledge. As at today, 136 people have signed the Investor Pledge. We would greatly welcome your interest as well! You can add your name to the list here.

The funds raised by private investment will be lent to Lismore City Council to build the solarfarms. In the event that there are any excess funds remaining, the terms of the loan provide that the Council may utilise these funds for other projects identified within their 100% Renewable Energy Master Plan.

The tenders to build the solarfarms are being conducted by Lismore City Council. These are now live!  These tenders will run in parallel with us releasing the investment offers to raise the funds for the two projects.

The tenders can be accessed via Lismore City Council’s Tenderlink. For more information, contact Lismore City Council.

In addition to all of the above good news and progress, Starfish is incredibly pleased and grateful for confirmation of a major donation from Diversicon Environmental Foundation. Diversicon’s donation will enable us to cover the full establishment costs for the two Lismore Community Solarfarm projects ~ Australia’s first community-funded and Council-operated projects of this kind. iversicon join with our other financial partners ~ NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, Lismore City Council and The Earth Welfare Foundation.

While this cash funding is essential, it is important to also recognise the substantial pro-bono investments being made by our other partners ~ particularly Embark Australia and Norton Rose Fulbright ~ which in total value are greater than our modest cash budget.

Starfish expresses its sincere gratitude to these Project Partners for their trust and investment in our collective vision and work.

The Farming the Sun collaboration is now working on the following priorities:
1. Finalising the private share offer after legal advice is received
2. Signing the loan agreements (between the two community companies and Lismore City Council)
3. Establishing administrative and financial systems for the community companies
4. Launching the Private Investment Offers

Useful links ~

Find out more about Lismore Community Solar ~

Read more about the floating solarfarm announcement ~

They wanted to share the tools in their garage ~ Now, everyone can

Sharing their tools

When Thomas was moving his family from Portland, Oregon, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, he started his housing search by looking to locate near a tool library in his new town. But where he eventually settled—northeast Minneapolis—there was none. His new neighbourhood was filled with a lot of older homes ~ and a lot of renovation projects. In a lucky turn of fate, Thomas’s new neighbours introduced him to Zachary, a fellow tool enthusiast who also wanted to start a tool library. They both knew friends and neighbours who needed equipment to make their home improvement dreams come true.

So they put the word out: send us your tools.

They couldn’t have predicted the tide of tools that people donated ~ and the swell of interest in the new idea. It took nearly a year, but the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library opened on May 2, 2015 with enough funding for a year, staff for the library, a logo and website, a dedicated space and an inventory of tools from its first tool drive. And still, the donations keep coming.

In some ways, starting a tool library is all about stopping waste. Says board member Carolyn Collopy: “So many people buy tools for a specific project and after the project is finished, never use them again. A lot of resources go into making tools that sit in people’s homes and garages gathering dust. The tool library allows people access without the burden of expense and storage. Like it says on our website, ‘Access Over Ownership.’”

She continues, “The tool library also connects people. We help people who have skills to share meet their neighbours who need the knowledge or confidence to take on a home repair project.

The tool library is a living example of how our communities are stronger without all of the stuff that our society perpetually pushes us to purchase and throw away.”

In less than a year, it had almost 200 members and an inventory of more than 1,000 tools. People are coming out of the woodwork to learn more and join ~ not only people from his neighbourhood but also from all around the city and even the neighbouring city, St. Paul.

“I have seen some really exciting projects come to fruition,” Thomas said. “I am happy to be a part of people finding success. That’s why I got involved in starting a tool library in the first place.”
Making the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library a reality is part of a broader vision on the part of the whole neighbourhood Its founders want to support their city in becoming more vibrant and resilient.

They believe they can make their city better by reducing waste; connecting neighbours with neighbours; building the city’s sharing economy; creating inspirational spaces for collaboration; and serving as the kind of resource that allows the community to withstand tough environmental and economic challenges.

It’s a grand vision, but it’s rooted in the most practical of values: access for all; a focus on sharing; a belief in community space; and person-to-person connection.

The tool library has grown so quickly that it’s already looking for a much bigger space.

Thomas dreams of expanding the library’s offerings to other kinds of household equipment, like sewing machines and kitchen gadgets that people need for special recipes but don’t use often. “There are so many possibilities,” he added.

The tool library movement is spreading all around the world. “Libraries of Things” are cropping up across the United States, from Portland to Denver to Berkeley. It’s part of a bigger DIY and sharing movement that has spilled over into repair cafes, where people can bring items in to be fixed instead of throwing them away.

The movement is thinking big: some of the biggest players, like iFixit, have created The Repair Coalition to formally advocate for our right to repair our Stuff.

Re-post ~ They wanted to share the tools in their garage, now all of Minneapolis is in on it | Story of Stuff
See also:

Organic agriculture key to feeding the world sustainably

Organic versus agriculture

A review study, Organic Agriculture in the 21st Century, {pay wall} featured as the cover story for February issue of the journal Nature Plants, is the first such study to analyze 40 years of science comparing organic and conventional agriculture across the four goals of sustainability identified by the National Academy of Sciences ~ covering productivity, economics, environment, and community wellbeing.

“Hundreds of scientific studies now show that organic agriculture should play a role in feeding the world,” said John Reganold, Washington State University regents professor of soil science and agroecology  and lead author of the study. “Thirty years ago, there were just a couple handfuls of studies comparing organic agriculture with conventional. In the last 15 years, these kinds of studies have skyrocketed.”

Critics have long argued that organic agriculture is inefficient, requiring more land to yield the same amount of food. In contrast though, the review paper describes cases where organic yields can be higher than conventional farming methods. “In severe drought conditions, which are expected to increase with climate change, organic farms have the potential to produce high yields because of the higher water-holding capacity of organically farmed soils,” Reganold said.

However, even when yields may be lower, organic agriculture is more profitable for farmers because consumers are willing to pay more. Higher prices can be justified as a way to compensate farmers for providing ecosystem services and avoiding environmental damage or external costs.

Numerous studies in the review also prove the environmental benefits of organic production.

Overall, organic farms tend to store more soil carbon, have better soil quality, and reduce soil erosion. Organic agriculture also creates less soil and water pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions. It is also more energy efficient because it doesn’t rely on synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

Organic agriculture is associated with greater biodiversity of plants, animals, insects and microbes as well as genetic diversity. Biodiversity increases the services that nature provides like pollination and improves the ability of farming systems to adapt to changing conditions.

Reganold said that feeding the world is not only a matter of yield but also requires examining food waste and the distribution of food: “It’s not just a matter of producing enough, but making agriculture environmentally friendly and making sure that food gets to those who need it.”

Reganold and co-author, doctoral candidate Jonathan Wachter, suggest that no single type of farming can feed the world. Rather, what is needed is a balance of systems ~ a blend of organic and other innovative farming systems, including agroforestry, integrated farming, conservation agriculture, mixed crop/livestock and still undiscovered systems.

Reganold and Wachter recommend policy changes to address the barriers that hinder the expansion of organic agriculture. Such hurdles include the costs of transitioning to organic certification, lack of access to labor and markets, and lack of appropriate infrastructure for storing and transporting food. Legal and financial tools are necessary to encourage the adoption of innovative, sustainable farming practices.

Re-post ~ Organic agriculture key to feeding the world sustainably | Washington State University

 

Renewables for All ~ A Priority Energy Policy Agenda for Australia

CPA-Graphic

Late last year we shared  the launch of the The Renewables for All advocacy project. This innovative project is supporting the creation of a suite of policy settings and a regulatory and market context that allows all Australians to be able to directly benefit from clean energy solutions such as solar PV, storage and energy efficiency ~ no matter what their income or living arrangements.

This project is calling on governments to develop programs and support innovation in new social enterprise business models that increase access to clean energy for low-income households, renters, apartment dwellers and homeowners without solar access.

There are  now six policy briefing papers that set out what governments can do to support renewables for all.

An overarching policy briefing paper outlines the context of our changing energy system, the ‘social equality challenge’, and how a range of innovative new policy mechanisms and business models can address issues of clean energy affordability and accessibility and ensure all Australians benefit from a renewable energy future.

Solar Gardens are central solar facilities, where households and businesses own shares or a number of panels and the energy generated is credited on those customers’ energy bills. These facilities are especially useful for customers who are unable to put solar on their own roof. This may be because they rent, live in apartments, have shaded roofs etc.

The Rates-based financing and Rent-based financing briefing papers outline the role that council rates-based and rent-based financing can play in increasing clean energy accessibility and affordability in Australia and what state and local governments need to do to enable them. One of the key barriers to uptake of new energy technologies by low-income customers is the high up-front cost. To overcome this issue, a range of organisations are developing finance products and mechanisms that enable the customer to pay back the cost of clean energy over a period of time. One of these finance mechanisms is rates-based financing, whereby a council enables finance for clean energy measures on a property and then levies a special rate on said property to payback the cost of finance over time. Just as rates-based financing eases the burden of up-front cost for new clean energy technologies, rent-based financing provides an additional mechanism for both housing providers and their tenants to address the ‘social equality challenge’ and increase access to the benefits of clean energy technology. This policy mechanism is designed specifically for the most disadvantaged energy users; namely those in community or social housing.

The Community owned renewable energy briefing paper outlines the wide-ranging benefits that community owned renewable energy (CORE) projects typically deliver and the exciting role they could play in the Australian energy system, particularly with respect to increasing clean energy accessibility and affordability.

And lastly, this paper defines and gives an overview of the different approaches to mini-grids. It lines out some of the benefits for its adoption in Australia and specifies what policy changes and measures are to be taken to support this innovative approach to community energy. Mini Grids and embedded networks :mini-grids (also known as ‘micro-grids’) are one way to meet the electricity demand locally. As a combination of energy generation and distribution that typically operate as isolated systems in a range of 10 kW to 10 MW, they can serve tens to several hundred customers. Although mini-grids mostly exist in remote areas, there is also a growing interest in grid-connected or embedded mini-grids because it allows for greater control of the electricity generation e.g. from renewables and reduce network costs.

Discussion Papers
A series of state specific Discussion Papers  have been produced : NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia  and the ACT , which inform policy, and National Energy Market advocacy work to help state governments proactively support and better facilitate the uptake of new business models that enable energy consumers greater access to the benefits of new technologies.

Renewables for All is a strategic initiative of the Coalition for Community Energy, led by the Community Power Agency and auspiced by Starfish Initiatives. This project was funded by Energy Consumers Australia as part of its grants process for consumer advocacy projects and research projects for the benefit of consumers of electricity and natural gas.

To learn more about the project click here.

Re-post ~ Renewables for all- resources | Community Power Agency

Seeds of Salvation

Seed bank in Arctic
At the very edge of civilisation, on a rugged island north of Norway, sits a strange, jutting building that houses the most important collection of seeds in the world, stored away in the event of catastrophe.

The doors of what is known as the Doomsday Vault opened again recently on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, as new seeds were delivered from the US and Japan.

The Global Seed Vault, set up in 2008, houses hundreds of thousands of crop seed varieties from around the world. Svalbard was chosen to host the vault because of its cold climate and remote location.

Foreign dignitaries, scientists and media crews can go in when invited, but it is not open to those just wanting to have a look.

To get from the front door to the vault room you have to walk 130 metres, deep into the permafrost. As you go further into the mountain the temperature plunges, the seeds inside essentially frozen in time. Almost every country in the world is represented in the vault.

In the back corner of the freezing storage room, there is a little piece of Australia ~ a stack of bright blue boxes containing 11,000 seeds, the majority of them deposited in 2014 by the Australian Grains Genebank and the Australian Pastures Genebank. More deposits of Australian seeds are planned for next year.

Next to the Australian boxes sits the Austrian collection, and close by collections from a host of countries, including Russia, Ukraine, India, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Germany and Peru.

This truly is a global project, and nothing underlines that more than the presence of two cherry red wooden boxes from North Korea.

North Korea seedsThe Croptrust, which funds and runs the vault in conjunction with the Norwegian Government, sees this as evidence that here deep in the Norwegian permafrost seed safety takes precedence over politics.

Bente Navaerdal’s job involves checking that the vault remains at a steady -18 Celsius. If a computer in her office indicates a slight fluctuation she immediately sends in one of her technical people to check it out. Her screens will also register any intruders, not that it’s likely.

“That has never happened,” she says. “I can’t imagine anyone wants to try to break into the vault, because no-one breaks into anything up here on Svalbard. We don’t have that type of crime up there.”

The Seed bank has assisted earlier than expected: the bloody conflict in Syria has left scientists at an important gene bank in Aleppo ~ where new strains of drought- and heat-resistant wheat have been developed over time ~ unable to continue their work in recent years.

Now, with no sign of conditions in Syria improving, scientists last year began recovering their critical inventory of seeds, sourced from around the Fertile Crescent and beyond, that have been in safekeeping beneath the Arctic ice at the Global Seed Bank.

The seeds are being planted at new facilities in Lebanon and Morocco, allowing scientists to resume the important research they’ve been doing for decades, away from the barrel bombs of Aleppo.

Re-post ~ Seeds of Salvation | ABC 
See More ~ Arctic ‘Doomsday Vault’ opens to retrieve vital seeds for Syria | CNN

Village built by Australian man for Fiji’s poor survives cyclone unscathed

Koroipita
Cheap, sturdy houses designed by an Australian man have survived Fiji’s devastating cyclone with barely a scratch and provide a potential blueprint for reconstruction efforts.

In Koroipita, on the north-west coast of Fiji’s main island Viti Levu, residents are cleaning up after Cyclone Winston. But it is not a massive effort like those seen in other cyclone-ravaged parts of the country. Instead, a handful of men are repairing a small section of a collapsed retaining wall. Of the 230 houses, none sustained any significant damage after Cyclone Winston swept through the Fiji islands.

The man who designed the houses, Peter Drysdale, explained why the houses were so strong by pointing to the roof of one of the structures.

“Have a look at this connecting roof. You can see the strapping details. We use about 14 coils of steel strapping in every house,” he said. “And we use about 58 kilograms of nails. It’s all in the fixings.”

Mr Drysdale built Koroipita for people who had been living in squalid squatter settlements. He designed the small, simple houses to be tough after decades spent rebuilding cyclone-damaged homes in rural parts of Fiji.

“All the way from the pile, the stump, there’s no weak connection all the way through to the top of the roof,” he said. “There is 1,000 roofing and wall screws that go into one house. Roofing screws, not nails.”

There are a few houses neighbouring Koroipita and all of them have been badly damaged. But there is barely a scratch on the houses inside the community.

Villagers thank Drysdale for saving their homes

Ashika Kumar lives in one of the houses in Koroipita with her six young children. She said it was a terrifying experience when Winston struck, but she and her family were safe inside their house.

“It’s very scary but it’s easy for us to stay inside the house. Nothing happened inside the house to our children, so we are very lucky,” she said. “We also thank Mr Peter to give us a good house in Koroipita.”

In the wake of Cyclone Winston the Fiji Government has called for tenders to rebuild damaged homes in rural areas. Mr Drysdale said the houses in Koroipita could be built in five days and cost just $13,000 each.

“It’s here for the replicating if they want to. We don’t have any patent on this. We’d like to see them spring up all over the place,” he said.

He said the design could also be useful elsewhere in the Pacific to deal with other potential natural disasters.

“It’s more than just houses, this is a community we built here, and it’s a complete holistic solution for settling people moving into the cities and urban drift,” he said.

“In time this is a very critical model for settling large numbers of people due to climate change as climate change refugees.”

Re-post ~ Cyclone Winston: Village built by Australian man for Fiji’s poor survives unscathed | ABC News
See more ~

Uniting Communities becomes Australia’s first carbon neutral charity

Uniting Communities is carbon neutral

Uniting Communities have become the first registered charity in Australia to receive certification under the Australian Government’s Carbon Neutral Program.

Uniting Communities provides a range of community services including aged care, alcohol and drug support and mental health counselling.

The Carbon Neutral certification follows a five year commitment to significantly reducing the organisation’s carbon footprint. The project, named Towards Carbon Neutral, was spearheaded by a steering committee that oversaw policy, strategy and progress. A working committee continues to be responsible for developing emissions reduction initiatives.

“Uniting Communities committed to our Carbon Neutral program in 2010,” said Chief Executive, Simon Schrapel. “Becoming carbon neutral makes sense for our organisation; we have a strong moral compass and research tells us that climate change will most affect people in our client base ~ the elderly, socially disadvantaged and people on lower incomes.”

Their actions to become carbon neutral included:

WASTE

  • Reduction in waste to landfill through more effective management of recyclable and organic waste
  • “Y-Print” campaign – staff commitment to reduction in printing and paper consumption

POWER

  • Lighting upgrades to energy efficient LEDs
  • “Switch off” campaign – staff commitment to lowering emissions through switching off power sources when not in use, including PCs, lights and air-conditioning
  • Energy reviews of sites via the Green Hub program through the Conservation Council SA
  • Energy reduction reviews by our Uniting Communities Energy Workers

FUEL

  • Transition of company fleet to hybrid petrol-electric vehicles
  • Purchase of carbon offsets for fleet vehicles through CMI Toyota
  • “Drive Green” campaign to encourage staff to develop more fuel-efficient driving habits and purchases
  • Joined Adelaide Carpool to encourage car sharing for employee commuting

And lastly, the purchase of Australian Gold Standard Carbon offsets to bring emissions to zero.

“It’s a tremendous example of a locally based company taking leadership and ‘walking the talk’ to reduce emissions and transit to a low-carbon economy,” added Shrapel. “We are hoping other businesses will follow suit and take up the challenge and opportunity to become carbon neutral.”

Uniting Communities will continue ongoing implementation of building energy efficiency upgrades and further emission reductions through its procurement policies, such as converting the company fleet to diesel electric.

Re-Post ~ Australia’s first carbon neutral charity | ProBono

Read more ~

Kelly Smitham rejoins Starfish Board

Kelly SmithamStarfish’s Board are pleased to announce Kelly Smitham’s return ~ which was approved late last year at the 2015 Annual General Meeting.

Kelly was one of the founding directors of Starfish (2012), however needed to resign to pursue a significant career opportunity in Western Australia.

Kelly is passionate about seeing rural areas thriving ~ with employment, services and education opportunities that are comparable to metropolitan standards. Particularly as a parent, and as someone who has grown up in the New England North West region of NSW, she would like for her family to have a few to all these things ~ and to stay in the area if they choose to!

With fourteen years experience in human services, Kelly is particularly interested in providing great services to our most vulnerable populations by way of building the capacity of service providers through strong business and quality management systems.

Kelly is currently NSW/ACT & QLD Operations Manager for St Ives Group and has previously worked as a Quality Improvement Coordinator for St Vincent de Paul’s nationally renowned Freeman House as well as a case manager with Uralla Shire Council (Tablelands Community Support Options) and the New England Brain Injury Service (NSW Health).

Kelly has a Master‘s degree in Human Services Management and Policy (Charles Sturt University) and Bachelor’s degree in Social Science & Psychology (University of New England). Her full profile is available on LinkedIn.