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None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use

None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use
The notion of “externalities” has become familiar in environmental circles. It refers to costs imposed by businesses that are not paid for by those businesses. For instance, industrial processes can put pollutants in the air that increase public health costs, but the public, not the polluting businesses, picks up the tab. In this way, businesses privatize profits and publicize costs. While the notion is incredibly useful, especially in folding ecological concerns into economics, I’ve always had my reservations about it. Environmentalists these days love speaking in the language of economics — it makes them sound Serious — but I worry that wrapping this notion in a bloodless technical term tends to have a narcotizing effect. To see what I mean, check out a recent report [PDF] done by environmental consultancy Trucost on behalf of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) program sponsored by United Nations Environmental Program. Here’s how those costs break down:

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This sobering map shows you all of America’s food deserts The USDA’s new Food Access Research Atlas is a map of all the places in the country where people live in food deserts — places where it’s difficult to access fresh food. There they are, above. (Click through to go to the interactive map.) Solar panel owners and utilities battle it out in California This story is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. Solar power is having a major moment. It’s growing faster than any other energy source — in 2014, a new system was installed in the United States every three minutes — while the price of a typical panel has dropped 63 percent since 2010. By 2016, experts predict that solar will be as cheap or cheaper than conventional electricity in most states. A World without Landfills? It’s Closer than You Think by Jen Soriano Two recipients of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize are working to abolish the practice of sending trash to landfills and incinerators. And the idea is catching on. posted Apr 17, 2013 Goldman Prize recipient Nohra Padilla at a recycling facility. Photo by the Goldman Prize.

This geoengineering scheme could halt climate change — but it’s probably a terrible idea This story is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. Back in the late 1990s, Ken Caldeira set out to disprove the “ludicrous” idea that we could reverse global warming by filling the sky with chemicals that would partially block the sun. A few years earlier, Mount Pinatubo had erupted in the Philippines, sending tiny sulfate particles — known as aerosols — into the stratosphere, where they reflected sunlight back into space and temporarily cooled the planet. Some scientists believed that an artificial version of this process could be used to cancel out the warming effect of greenhouse gases.

The Benefits of Sustainability-Driven Innovation The majority of managers who say that their company’s sustainability activities have added to profits also say that sustainability has led to business model change. What connects corporate sustainability with business profits? According to our 2012 global executive survey on sustainability, an important factor is business model innovation. Managers who say that their company's sustainability activities have added to the company's profits are more than twice as likely to say that sustainability has caused their organization to change their business model than not. This is the fourth year that MIT Sloan Management Review has teamed up with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) on our Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study. Our inquiry includes a survey to which more than 2,600 executives, managers and thought leaders from around the world and from a wide range of industries responded.

Finance Is Not the Economy By Dirk Bezemer and Michael Hudson The authors thank the editor and two anonymous referees for helpful suggestions that greatly improved this article. Bezemer wishes to thank the Equilibrio Foundation and the Institute for New Economic Thinking for financial support. The Self-Hating State Devolving policy to “the market” doesn’t solve the problem of power. It makes it worse. By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 23rd April 2013

China Threatens Polluters With The Death Penalty The Chinese government announced just days ago that defendants in serious pollution cases might end up facing the death penalty. This comes on the heels of a number of other reforms meant to tackle China’s air pollution crisis, including introducing a carbon tax and reducing the amount of damage that must be caused by a polluter before they can be prosecuted. It’s easy to understand why the government is taking such an extreme stance when you look at what everyday life is like in many Chinese cities. (For a vivid illustration, check out the image above — an actual photo of smog over the Great Wall.) In a recent New York Times article, mothers in Beijing report that the air quality is so poor, their children are not allowed to play outside or visit friends.

How Ayn Rand became the new right's version of Marx It has a fair claim to be the ugliest philosophy the postwar world has produced. Selfishness, it contends, is good, altruism evil, empathy and compassion are irrational and destructive. The poor deserve to die; the rich deserve unmediated power. It has already been tested, and has failed spectacularly and catastrophically. Yet the belief system constructed by Ayn Rand, who died 30 years ago today, has never been more popular or influential. Black Friday is Buy Nothing Day (Here are 10 Films to Spread the Shopping-Free Cheer!) By Tim Hjersted Since 1997, the biggest shopping day of the year in North America has also been known as Buy Nothing Day - a playful protest against the cultural and commercial pressures that compel us to consume more every year, grow more in debt to prove our love to our loved ones and find temporary happiness in that euphoric moment of purchase. It's a movement that has been growing internationally every year, despite the commercial pressures now enveloping even Thanksgiving in the holiday madness. More and more people have had enough and are choosing to celebrate with their loved ones a different way - by not buying anything! In the spirit of the shopping-free holiday, here are 10 of the best documentaries that give inspiration to the day (click the links to watch online): Explore more films on consumerism here.

Pee all and end all: Nepal posits new approach to the compost question Dung and dusted … A Nepalese man carries compost in the village of Khokana, on Kathmandu's outskirts. Photograph: Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images Human urine is superior to urea, a common nitrogen-rich mineral fertiliser, according to the results of a study carried out in a farmer's field outside Nepal's capital city. Researchers who tested the effects of applying different combinations of urine, compost and urea on sweet pepper, Capsicum annuum, found that urine synergises best with compost. Urine for the study was sourced from mobile public toilets in the city and compost prepared from cattle manure. Results of the study, published in Scientia Horticulturae, showed that urine-compost mixtures produced the tallest plants and bore the most fruit.