Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

Transition Culture has moved

I no longer blog on this site. You can now find me, my general blogs, and the work I am doing researching my forthcoming book on imagination, on my new blog.

24 Apr 2006

The UK Interdependence Report – A Review

nefThe UK Interdependence Report: How the world sustains the nation’s lifestyles and the price it pays by Andrew Simms, Dan Moran and Peter Chowla has just been published, and is essential reading for those of us promoting localised responses to peak oil. Produced by the excellent New Economics Foundation, it builds on the concept of ‘Ecological Debt’, as outlined in Andrew Simms’ book of the same name. The concept of ecological debt is straightforward. Once we start to live beyond our ecological footprint, we require the resources of other nations in order to sustain our lifestyles. It is a nonsense, Simms argued in ‘Ecological Debt’, to talk of third world debt, really we in the developed West have so plundered these nations for so long that we actually owe them the most enormous debt.

The report is easy to read and packed with useful ‘ammunition’ for those arguing for localisation. The authors calculate that the ecological footprint of the UK is 3.1 Earths, and say that if this is seen as a year, then the date when we exceed our ecological footprint and begin to live on ecological debt is April 16th, the day they call *ecological debt day*. The main focus of the report is exploring the concept of ‘ecological debt’ in relation to various aspects of life.

Firstly they look at food, and how the UK’s degree of self sufficiency in food has been declining since the mid-1990s. Domestic production, they argue, is now at its lowest point for 50 years, leading to an unhealthy degree of dependency on cheap imports. They also identify the incredibly wasteful and ridiculous way this dependency manifests. They discuss what the call the phenomena of “lorries passing in the night”, that is food being transported around the world for now obvious reason.

gingerbreadSome of the more compelling examples are that the UK exports half a million tons of gingerbread each year, and them imports exactly the same amount. Similarly, the UK imports 1.5 million kilos of potatoes from Germany and exports exactly the same amount to them. We import 43,000 scarves from Canada and send them 39,000 back. The list of examples goes on and on. Clearly this is absurd at the best of times, but with climate change and peak oil, this is not funny. We do not have the ‘luxury’ of wasting fossil fuels in this way.

In terms of energy, the UK also finds itself becoming steadily less independent. The UK lost its energy independence in 2004, and North Sea production is falling away much faster than anyone expected. NEF have argued for years, particularly in its excellent 2005 study Mirage and Oasis, for decentralised energy grids and renewable energy, and in this study they argue that this is essential in terms reducing our dependence on the rest of the world. Their published figures for where the UK sources its gas from were somewhat confusing, but I’ll look at these in more detail in a later post.

Other less obvious areas of dependence that they explore are the many ways in which the UK draws ‘human resources’ from around the world to drive the economy here. They explore the fact than many developing nations use precious resources to educate doctors, many of whom then leave to work in the UK. They quote a study by the WHO which suggests that more than 1 in 10 of doctors trained in India now live in the UK, Pakistan loses half of its medical school graduates each year, and in Ghana, only one-third of medical graduates remain once they have completed their training.

ArsenalSimilarly, the report looks at where the UK sources its footballers (!). It turns out that scouts from big UK football clubs are scouring African clubs for the stars of the future, resulting in what has become termed the ‘brawn drain’ from Africa. The worst offender in the UK is Arsenal (another reason not to like them), the first team, recently, to field a team containing not a single English player.

The report concludes that “the recent wave of ethical consumerism shows potential. But as much as we can consume better, nothing can hide the fact that we also need to consume less”. They also argue that our increasing levels of consumption have done nothing to increase our levels of happiness, “so having a larger ecological footprint is not even increasing our personal well-being”. Their final thought, which opens the door for those of us developing the Energy Descent Action Planning model, is to identify the need for “new survival maps for an island planet”.

A powerful, timely and informative report, which Transition Culture readers will find very useful. You can download it here or buy printed copies here.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


24 Apr 12:18pm

People have a view of progress in society being equated to the abundance of goods and materials. But progress is not just about the end result, it has to be about the rationale of the process in achieving that result.

Charities promote the idea of helping third world contries by setting up sustainable models, ‘teach the man to fish and he’ll feed himself for life’. Sensible, common sense, but when will we listen to the words we preach?

Progress, the development of trade, markets and golbalisation, creating a vast network of dependency. The amount of risk in the system increases. This is the trade race, the energy race, all races end.

We are all guilty of being lazy and that somewhere in our psyche we know this and long to rebel. The world is becoming more complex, less natural, less rational, more fearful. Stress is on the increase. We all dream of the simple country living, but refuse to leave the banquette. The destructive nature in our current generation is beginning to emerge, society will feed on itself before the last of us starve.

Nicholas Harvey
24 Apr 8:32pm

A nice bit of synchronicity this. There I was writing up an assignment on how countries could reduce their ecological footprints and specifically looking at trade, when I took a break and went online to find another excellent piece of information here at Transition Culture.

The more I read about current economic practices, such as ecologically wasteful trade mentioned in this report – importing and exporting the same quantities of the same produce (like duh!) – the more I want to rant and rave about how utterly stupid they are.

Anyway, I’ve plundered the report for a juicy reference for my assignment and will get around to reading it all later.

Cheers Rob