Summer has finally arrived in Paris, and it is truly glorious. One of the highlights of the past few weeks was the “greening” of the Champs Elysees on a holiday weekend Sunday: organized by France’s Jeunes Agriculteurs (Young Farmers), it was a heady display of farm production and biodiversity. Overnight, 8,000 plots of earth were transported to central Paris, and around 150,000 plants were installed – including 650 fully grown trees – at a cost of 4.2 million euros. Here’s a slideshow which features snaps of the visiting First Lady and President: Carla and “Sarko”.
Come June 1, and the only question on everyone’s lips is: “Vous partez quand?” (When are you leaving?)
So for those who haven’t already decided, here are some suggestions:
The lovely Atlantic coast island of Noirmoutier, home to fabled sea salt and tiny potatoes, now boasts a tempting high-end camping site called La Guérinière. Think luxury tents safari-style transported to a saltwater, pine-forested environment shot through by a fresh Atlantic breeze. Set in five hectares of sand dunes and pines by the sea, you can rent a tipi for 4 people for 129 euros/weekend or up to 650 euros/week.
2010 is UN Year of Biodiversity, and the CNRS scientific research centre in French Guyana is opening its doors for the first time this summer to allow visitors to share in France’s biggest natural reserve in the heart of the tropical rainforest.
For more information, check out the scientific travel section of the excusia.fr website.
The current round of global soul-searching about our blighted system of economic organization has led to an upsurge of activity in the field of alternative metrics. In France, on Sept 14, Nicholas Sarkozy unveiled the findings of a commission he appointed last year to study new, alternative measurements of social progress in a bid to move beyond GDP. Results of the findings are available here. The application of the findings will inevitably be political and self-serving, but the questions economists and statisticians are asking are vital to policy-making and the kinds of political choices we as citizens make in the coming years.
Joseph Stiglitz wants governments to move beyond "GDP fetishism"
For many years, researchers have been vexed by the paradox that rising incomes do not make people happier in the long run. A recent book, “The Spirit Level – Why more equal societies almost always do better“, documents the timely and provocative thesis that all social evils stem from inequality rather than differences in material living standards. They ask the million dollar question: Is sustainability compatible with retaining our quality of life? In response, they single out a study from the 2006 WWF Living Planet Report which analysed data relating the quality of life in each country to the size of the ecological footprint per head of population. Quality of life was measured using the UN Human Development Index (HDI) which combines life expectancy, education and GDP per capita. Guess what? Only one country was able to combine a quality of life above the WWF threshold of 0.8 on the HDI with an ecological footprint which is globally sustainable. It was Cuba. Despite its much lower income levels, its life expectancy and infant mortality rates are almost identical to those in the U.S.
Cuba - La Havana, from Rudi Heim
Thought for the day: “There is nothing in the world more favourable to genius than leisurely poverty” Miguel de Unamuno.
It’s only a matter of time now. London’s mayor Boris Johnson announced last week an ambitious scheme to grow food on 2012 plots of land across the capital by 2012. He has appointed a “Food Czar”, Rosie Boycott, to oversee this “Capital Growth” initiative. The London Development Agency is funding a pilot scheme to identify the first 50 spaces, at a cost of 87,000 sterling. How far behind can Paris be?
Driven by the perception that purchasing power is on the wane, community gardens have flourished here in Paris in recent years. In 2003, the Town Hall of Paris set up a special unit called the “Cellule Main Verte” (or ‘Green Thumb Unit’) to meet growing demand. “In five years, around 40 gardens have sprung up,” Alice Le Roy, member of the unit, told Le Nouvel Obs Ile de France. “And we have several pending initiatives.”
While some arrondissements, such as the 3rd, have no gardens at all, others, such as the 19th, have more than ten. How to get started? First you have to find the land, form an association, get approval from both the Town Hall of Paris and the mayor of your local arrondissement. Then the parcels have to be divided up and allocated. Many of them are really micro-parcels, as small as one square metre. But demand for them is fierce nonetheless.
Michelle Roncin, who represents the Ile de France at the Federation Nationale des Jardins Familiaux et Collectifs, notes that there are currently 3,500 people on the waiting lists. The federation is also working with projects to build eco-neighbourhoods, such as Le Raquet near Douai, equipped with community gardens on-site.
via Le Nouvel Obs Ile de France
Urban wasteland: source of biodiversity
Earlier this year I wrote about the taboo subject of rationing. Yves Cochet, a deputy for the Green party, made an important speech to parliament last month on the financial crisis in which he tackles the subject head on. Here’s an excerpt of his speech, without the backdrop of the inevitable booing and hissing from his right-wing colleagues.
“The current disaster is not a financial, economic, ecological, political, social or cultural crisis. It is all those at once, which makes it totally unprecedented…It is an anthropological crisis. To understand it, we need to call into question all our belief systems..We need to think the unthinkable.
“All our actions need to be guided by the will to diminish the ecological footprint of the OECD countries….We are not at the dawn of a new phase of material or industrial growth, but in the terminal phase of capitalism.
“We have to put in place something which is entirely new, a society based on sobriety:
First, local and regional autonomy in energy and food supply, in the north and the south.
Second, geographical decentralization of power – towards a federal France in a federal Europe.
Third, a relocalisation of economic activity.
Fourth, rationing and quotas for food and energy.”
via Yves Cochet’s blog.
The Attali plan to boost economic growth in France is out, and President Nicolas Sarkozy has said that he plans to implement most of it. The plan consists of 316 measures designed to administer an electric shock to the French economy, currently on track to deliver just under 2 percent growth in GDP this year. Sarkozy, who named Jacques Attali (former advisor to socialist president Francois Mitterrand) to head the commission, said this week that he supported most of the conclusions and would convene a ministerial commission next month to decide which measures would be implemented first. The only two points he rejected outright were Attali’s opposition to the precautionary principle (which is enshrined in the French constitution) and his recommendation to do away with the administrative grid of France which breaks the country up into departments.
Some of the measures included liberalising the retail sector to break down barriers to entry and remove price protection, opening up protected profession such as taxi drivers, focusing research and development tax credits on sectors such as technology, health and nanotechnology and the construction of eco-towns between now and 2012. One controversial recommendation was to boost immigration to target sectors which are unable to meet demand, such as the construction sector.
Opposition to the plan comes from many quarters, notably from environmental NGOs, who have protested that the plan is at odds with the final consensus which emerged from last year’s Grenelle on the environment. Les Echos ran an opinion piece this week by its oldest editorialist, Favilla, questioning the logic of a government which appears to be saying that it can pursue a growth-at-any-cost strategy alongside a strategy to marry economic growth with sustainability and the safeguarding of biodiversity. He points to the fact that Sarkozy announced earlier this month that he had sought advice from Nobel economists Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz on a revamp of the way France calculates its GDP to factor in quality of life elements and asks: “How should we reconcile the productivist orientation which is at the heart of the Attali report with the exactly opposed logic of the Grenelle on the environment and that which underlies the order issued to Nobel prizes Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz to rethink the very concept of Gross Domestic Product?” Ironically, the issue of “green” economic indicators was dealt with in one of the working groups at the Grenelle, but somehow never made it into the final conclusions.
“When one has to choose between Attali and Sen,” writes Favilla, “we are not longer in the realm of the sectorial. These are two systemic strategies which are hanging in the balance.”
This is a micro-niche for the moment, but it is actually happening. The horse is coming back as an alternative, green transport option in some communities in France. Stéphane de Veyrac, quoted in a recent article in Le Monde, is currently working on a feasibility study for the Haras Nationaux, France’s state-funded equestrian body, to find ways to expand horse tranportation in urban areas. “In the new context which is emerging, an alternative energy source such as that of the horse becomes credible,” De Véyrac said. His current mission – part of a wider goal of the Haras Nationaux to promote horses in local development policies – is to come up with a “professional offer” of horse services to local officials which moves beyond the pastoral, nostalgic paradigm. He says that horses are perfectly adapted to waste collection over short distances with frequent stops as this suits the placid pace of the draught horse. The challenge is to integrate horse transportation into regular urban transport systems in places where, for example, the town centre is closed to vehicles. Horse-drawn buses have already been tested in Brest in Brittany and Beavais in the Oise and a number of small communes are currently using horsepower to bus young children to pre-schools.”The intelligence of the city is its ability to associate multiple complementary solutions,” he said.
via Le Monde