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Archive Article: Earth Policy Institute

Designer Hayes - Saturday, February 28, 2009

There has been a great deal of media attention this week to the fate of the Kyoto Protocol. But there is some good news on the environment front.

Lester Brown created the Worldwatch Institute in Washington DC in 1974. It was one of the world's first environmental organizations. It remains one of the world's best environmental research organizations, with its material now published in 30 languages.

Lester Brown, while retaining some links with that Institute, has announced that he is forming a new organization, to deal specifically with building an "eco-economy": the Earth Policy Institute. The intention is to create a vision of an environmentally sustainable economy - an "eco-economy" - and a roadmap on how to get there.

An eco-economy is designed to mesh with the Earth's ecosystem instead of disrupting and destroying it. One of the Institute's projects will be to create ideas for taxation reform that will simultaneously reduce income taxes and raise taxes on environmentally destructive activities.

The Earth Policy Institute is also publishing monthly "Alerts" dealing with environmental issues. One "Alert" has dealt with the threat to China from the erosion of its agricultural soil. On April 18, a huge dust storm from northern China reached the United States blanketing areas from Canada down to Arizona with a layer of dust. Thus China now has an additional problem for the 2008 Olympics - making sure that there are no dust storms falling in Beijing. Providing Australia acts responsibly in its own farming techniques and takes care of its own environment, then it is well placed to sell even more food to the Chinese market.

Another "Alert" argues that fish farming may soon overtake cattle ranching as a food source. Fish farming is the fastest growing sector of the world food economy. It seems likely to overtake cattle ranching as a food source by the end of this decade. Over the last century, the world's population has relied heavily on two natural systems - catching fish at sea and farming cattle - to satisfy a growing demand for animal protein. But that era is ending as both systems are now reaching their productive limits.

Fish farming is not a new industry. China has been doing it for 3,000 years and it produces about two-thirds of the world's total harvest. By contrast, developed countries have been slow to do fish farming. I have visited one Australian fish farm, near Gosford (which is run coincidentally by someone of Chinese origins) and this is successful. There is more scope here for other Australian enterprises.

Yet another "Alert" deals with wind power. The global use of coal peaked in 1996 and it is now in decline because of its damage to the environment. Meanwhile, wind power is on the increase, with Denmark as the world leader. Once again, there could be some opportunities here for Australia to develop its own industry.

In short, while the news this week has been dominated by the problems with the Kyoto Protocol and climate change, there are some positive developments underway that need more publicity. The Earth Policy Institute is doing this. Australian businesses and other organizations have plenty of opportunities to learn from the Institute and so develop Australia's own "eco-economy".