Monday, November 15, 2010

Ecological and Social Theory, Practice, and the UK's Baywind Co-op, etc.

      Mendonca, Lacey, and Hvelplund wrote a 2009 article in Politics and Society journal called “Stability, Participation, and Transparency in Renewable Energy Policy: Lessons from Denmark and the United States,” which I think is a well-articulated argument which combines diverse dimensions of the problem of the energy sector's economic foundations, advocating renewable energy strategies and including political and social perspectives.
       Mendonca et al refer to their perspective as the "concrete market institutions and innovative democracy" model in response to current conditions, in which “(the) economy is embedded in a human-made concrete institutional market design…. (T)he design of the concrete market institutions are, and historically have been influenced by the large actors in the energy scene, such as the large power and fossil fuel companies, and that the institutional market design often has been developed so that it benefits these companies.” (p.390) 
          Herman Daly's theoretical work on ecological economics at least is fundamentally concrete in his philosophical premise of economic processes and activities and ecological physical realities, and when combined with pragmatic descriptive work like that of Cobb et al's 1995 "...GDP's Up, ... America Down?" in the Atlantic, Clive Ponting's Green History of the World, Jared Diamond's Collapse, Michael Conroy's Branded, Paul Hawken's Blessed Unrest, and Lester Brown's Plan B 3.0 can then deliver a combined perspective with strong theoretical and descriptive power.  
          Unfortunately, economists with some progressive dimensions such as Jeff Sachs reveal the problem with an insufficient appreciation for the ecological, physical, and social foundations of human society as indicated by his support of nuclear power despite its fundamentally severe toxic waste and accident-risk concerns, for example.  Joseph Stiglitz also showed his own restricted assumptions in his frequent references to "a failure of aggregate demand" after the 2008 Wall St. mortgage derivatives crash.
          One favorite phenomenon of mine in the middle of these views is the Baywind Renewable Energy Co-op in England 
      who gained their initiative through the entrepreneurial effort of a Swedish group following the Danish co-op model in the early 1990s.  Despite the Thatcherite energy markets and policies favoring the established and large concerns there in the UK, the Baywind co-op group ingeniously worked within the procedures without falling prey to the weighted system.  While the UK Parliament passed feed-in  payment legislation that was implemented in 2010, Baywind had begun entrepreneurial development shortly after the year 2000.  Thus, the co-op local enterprise of Denmark from around 1980 to 1999, Germany beginning at a slightly later date, and to some extent in Holland had found a basis in the oppressive energy market conditions of the UK.  Despite the UK's industrial prowess, large wind energy technology has had no success by homegrown engineers and entrepreneurs.  Perhaps the Baywind group will be a foundation for such an enterprise themselves.
         In a similar vein, co-operative enterprises in Germany have been the foundation of the wind sector's development there, in a different fashion than the residential and policy incentive nature of the solar sector.  Moreover, the small-scale developers Solarcomplex a.G. in Germany have worked with towns like Mauenheim to promote local hybrid renewable energy projects, combining diverse technologies in their efforts along with the existing policy incentives of feed-in payments.
         The US has policy barriers to entrepreneurial co-operative development of renewable energy, as discussed by John Farrell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.  Nevertheless, a smattering of the substantial number of existing energy co-operatives have made token efforts.  Moreover, some valiant efforts at entrepreneurial co-operative renewable energy have taken root, such as the DC-area Maryland solar co-ops. 
       While the UNEP Year Book of 2009 amplifies the tragic ecological impacts of economic activity far beyond that of climate change emissions, these community-oriented business efforts join a range efforts as discussed in books like Conroy's Branded, including Fair Trade and organic foods.  While the co-operative model may not be familiar to many, ample examples can be found in the international co-operative organization ICA's Global 300 project at  While Herman Daly pioneered ecological economics following Georgescu-Roegen, the Mendonca et al model of market institutions and innovative democracy makes a fine combination of social and economic perspectives.  I also want to refer to Mark Lutz's anthology of social economics in his books, Jaroslav Vanek's participatory economy, David Ellerman's work on the labor theory of property, Anna Milford's fair trade co-operative economics, Paul Singer's solidarity economics, and Boaventura Santos on the World Social Forum, among many others.  William Greider's less formalized writing in The Soul of Capitalism is a trenchant discussion based on his diverse research of stakeholder activism, and includes strategic discussion of both Daly and Ellerman's work.   Herman Daly himself is not oblivious to social concerns, and his 1996 book contains his discussion of executive salary limits with reference to moral sources. 

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