Category Archives: Sustainability As If People Mattered
Where are the experts when you need them? The BBC reports today that climate change scepticism is on the increase. Apparently only 26% of 1001 Britons asked this month think climate change is happening and is now established as largely man made – a massive drop of 15% since just last November, when those agreeing with this statement constituted 41% of the respondents.
Fifteen years ago today, this time capsule was ‘planted’ in Ness Gardens on the Wirral; and now we see sitting by it a little person who will be 35 years old when the capsule is opened. What will her world be like? Will we have made it a good and safe place for her and her own children to live in? And are we moving in the right direction, now, to ensure this will happen? Do we now understand what ‘sustainable’ living entails? Can we ensure that future generations – not the ones who felt obliged to ‘apologise’ in the time capsule letters – will manage to live sustainably and well?
Sustainability As If People Mattered
Here’s the text on this time capsule plaque:
Ness Botanic Gardens
World Environment Day
The Time Capsule placed near this plaque in June 1994 contains letters and objects linked to the many environmental concerns felt by the children of today.
Letters from the adults apologise for the overcrowding, pollution and resource scarcity we fear we will leave behind. They also state our commitment to overcome these problems through individual and concerted action, so that all species may share life together on a safe and sustainable planet.
Our goal is to make the apology unnecessary by the time the capsule is opened on 5 June 2044.
It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
And so, indeed, it is…..
Read more about Sustainability As If People Mattered and Wirral’s Ness Gardens, and see more photographs at Locations & Events
Ardnamurchan, the most westerly point of mainland Britain, is not the first place most of us would look to find the dramatic Shenandoah ‘Red Hot Poker’ or ‘Torch Lily’ in bloom; after all, the Kniphofia group of plants to which Torch Lilies belong originated in Africa. But the remote north-west UK location around Loch Sunart has been showing these spectacular flowers off in profusion during the amazingly hot (up to 24 degrees C) first weekend of June this year.
What will be the fundamental ‘currencies’ of the future? What, if we are serious about global sustainability in all its forms, should these currencies comprise now? It’s likely, if we collectively are ever going to achieve a level of long-term viability for the human race, that we will have to shift the emphasis from money (or the gold standard) to the really basic requirements for life on earth – carbon, water and nitrogen, plus knowledge of all sorts to keep the whole show on the road.
In the garden in early May last year, a broken piece of ivy jutting out from the hedge caught our attention.
Then a thrush darted into the greenery, and we realised this was in all probability the site of a nest – as indeed it turned out to be, a neatly solid little structure with three beautiful blue eggs in it.
Waiting patiently, carefully positioning the camera well away and using a zoom lens, this is what we then saw emerging, almost at our back door….
The other eggs hatched later, and we saw the adult birds going about their parental duties forseveral days thereafter, flying to and fro with titbits for their young. And perhaps the process is being repeated again this year, now the gap in the hedge has covered over, for the garden thrushes seem to be very active once more.
Read more articles about Living Things, Nature & The Seasons and The Philospohy Of Hedges, and see more photographs at Calendar & Camera.
For more information on thrushes, their nests and eggs, click here.
Earth Day, the annual event on 22 April, was devised in 1970 by a US Senator from Wisconsin. Today the Earth Day Network has a global reach. 2009 marks the start of The Green Generation Campaign, leading to 2010, the fortieth anniversary of this important day. A billion people already participate in Earth Day activities, now the largest secular civic event in the world. It’s time for us all to take the Green Generation route to the future.
Sustainability As If People Mattered.
We all have to ‘Go Green’…. and even back in 1970 many of us knew it.
Whilst we in the UK were busily promoting the then very new Friends of the Earth – at the time perceived by some as a dangerously radical organisation – our eco cousins in the USA were going about their business, it seems, in a rather more formal fashion, via a proposal by Gaylord Nelson, a then US Senator, that there be a national Earth Day.
Today (22 April 2009) sees the thirty ninth anniversary of what has evolved into International Earth Day, with a network of more than 17,000 partners and organizations in 174 countries looking forward the fortieth such event, to occur in 2010.
The Green Generation
Now, the focus is on the new-wave Green Generation, a cohort with unambiguously ambitious aims:
* A carbon-free future based on renewable energy that will end our common dependency on fossil fuels, including coal.
* An individual’s commitment to responsible, sustainable consumption.
* Creation of a new green economy that lifts people out of poverty by creating millions of quality green jobs and transforms the global education system into a green one.
Sharing responsibility for sustainability
People of every sort have begun to recognise their responsibility for sustaining the future of our shared environment. Those who have their own challenges, living in a complex multi-cultural society, work together sharing a common resolve to make things better, just as others also do.
But the further you are from where decisions are made, the harder it is to get the support you need to do your part. Sometimes it’s money and resources you require; other times it’s the encouragement of family, friends and neighbours who don’t always understand why wider environmental and community issues matter.
People at the grassroots can feel they have little power to change things.
Small actions are important
But every small effort is part of the greater scheme of things, with important ramifications.
Perhaps it’s ‘only’ planting some vegetables with the kids in an urban space, or explaining to our children why they need to respect their environment – or indeed digging up the White House lawn to plant organically produced vegetables, as Michelle Obama has just done – but from these acts the idea can grow. We’re all part of the same shared world.
The environmental movement is growing quite quickly now, even in inner cities. People undertake small projects – helping with a city farm, supporting older people who want to shop locally, or whatever – but over time the ripples of these activities will begin to overlap, as more and more people join in.
Individual initiatives become communal
You may start a small project almost alone but, as others start also do the same elsewhere, there is somehow a change in perceptions.
Through sharing ideas and action we begin to see why everyone must understand that there is only ‘one planet’ to live on, and that we all have to do our bit to save our environment. Big supermarkets or small traders, there is now an active acknowledgement green issues and eco-initiatives.
All together in common cause
But there’s another important thing here too: It doesn’t matter where you come from, or what your culture, gender or age is. We must all to ‘Go Green’, and quickly.
Different people from different places will start in different ways, but we all need to rely on each other. Nobody can ‘save the planet’ on their own: Environmental sustainability is quite a new idea, no-one rich and powerful ‘owns’ it.
The idea of sustainability belongs to us all. Here is something we can all contribute to.
A green leveller
The ‘green agenda’ is a great social leveller, because we are all part of the problem and likewise all part of the solution. Environmental actions, even tiny ones, are critical if we are to sustain our fragile planet; and, happily, sharing our concerns and our ideas for action can bring us together regardless of creed or nationality.
It’s not easy to work, often unpaid and in small ways, protecting the environment and looking after the people in local communities. You can feel alone and perhaps unappreciated. But that work is vital and slowly it is being recognised – which is the first step to the work being properly supported.
With luck the Green Generation Campaign and the run-up to Earth Day 2010 will help to make that happen.
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The new economics foundation (nef) tells us that, as of today, the UK has used the levels of resources it should consume during an entire year, if it were environmentally self-sufficient. In 1961, nef calculates, the UK’s annual eco-debt began on 9 July; by 1981 it was 14 May, but in 2009 it falls on 12 April, Easter Sunday. But how can we help people in their daily lives to address and cope with these frightening calculations constructively, rather than such information just causing further alarm? Science and ‘facts’ alone won’t get us where we all need to be.
Sustainability As If People Mattered.
I’m not sure that those of us already concerned with sustainability approach these matters in the best way to engage others yet to be converted – nef* says Easter Sunday (eco-debt day 2009) is ‘a day which for many has become synonymous with over-indulgence’. That’s a pretty unempathetic perspective on one of the UK’s few annual family holidays.
Sometimes perhaps the force of our convictions and fears about sustainability can make us sound a bit crass.
Offering hope, not inferring guilt
Inducing guilt and/or alarm is not often the most effective mode by which to gain mass support, in an open democracy, for complex and uncomfortable change. Personally, I’d rather see Easter as an occasion with a message, whether sacred or secular, of new beginnings and hope – an opportunity for positive reflection on the future.
Eco-protagonists and scientists are vitally important to our understanding of what’s happening to the environment. But they’re not always good at helping people in the wider community to face up to the enormous environmentally-related challenges which, we must urgently acknowledge, are already upon us.
Research findings and predictions based on rational calculation do not always translate as clearly as the scientists imagine into policy acceptable to the wider citizenry. To the person in the street it can all seem just too difficult and scary, well beyond the scope of ‘ordinary folk’.
Engaging people for positive change
Nonetheless, the UK’s increasing eco-debt is desperately alarming, and something we need to get everyone to think about, right now.
The question is, how?
[* Andrew Simms (2009) Ecological Debt: Global Warming and the Wealth of Nations, cited in Transition Network News, March 2009. Andrew Simms is nef Policy Director and Head of the Climate Change Programme.]
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The past few days have convinced us that Spring is finally on its way.
The daffodils in Sefton Park are a glory all of their own – the focus of hope in so many ways, at the equinox when people begin once more to populate our park’s wonderful space, strolling by in chatty groups, with prams, on bicylces, running to raise funds for charity or simply stopping to enjoy.
And then, as the daffodils begin to fade, we see the promise of the next great gift of nature, the delicate blossoms of almond and cherry to delight us yet a while….
The Economist magazine has had an online debate on the proposition that ‘We’re all Keynesians now’. The outcome was not encouraging. By two-to-one that proposition was rejected in favour of a free-market position. Perhaps some economists have yet to learn that the current day physical realities of the context itself keep shifting, and that the science of human behaviour is in the end an art, with outcomes that depend on how we handle the interaction between fact and feeling.
In 1936 the British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946) pointed out that in a downturn the economy is operating below its potential, so expanding demand can create supply, which will in turn give people jobs and more prosperity, thus creating (to quote the view in 2009 of the US economist James Furman) an economic ‘virtuous circle’.
That, says Furman (along with many others) is ‘the paradox of economics in a downturn. Normally, the only way to grow the economy is the old-fashioned way: delaying gratification through reduced deficits and increased savings to encourage more investment. But in a downturn, these steps would just compound the problem and worsen the vicious circle of rising unemployment, underutilized capacity and falling consumption.’
We can argue the toss about how much economic ‘growth’ we should pursue in a world which already uses far, far more than it should of environmental resources, but intentionally causing devastating poverty by restricting government and other large-scale spending – the preference of the free-marketeers and monetarists – won’t help.
Socio-economic expectations and sustainability
Sustainable futures depend not only on what will in theory happen next, but what’s happening now.
There is a cost attached to severe recession: the people whom it hurts on a daily living basis get very upset. And upset people become disenfrachised and disaffected – which is in no-one’s interest.
Those of us engaged in regeneration and renewal know only too well, despite the apparent logic of the free market position, that this cannot be the way forward.
The Economist debate
The Economist debate on the theme that ‘We’re all Keynesians now’ is therefore timely; but disappointingly it transpired to be very largely a discussion – or so it seemed – between a cohort of people who work in the financial sector, mostly in the USA…. and who also therefore have huge influence on the lives of us all.
Doing his best for the Keynesians we had Prof. Brad DeLong, professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and in the Clinton administration a deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury.
Those opposing the Keynesian position were led by Prof. Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, co-author of Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists, acclaimed as “one of the most powerful defenses of the free market ever written”, and co-creator of the Financial Trust Index, an indicator of the level of trust Americans have in financial markets. Prof. Zingales’ position was to defend the idea of the Free Market.
Money or men and women?
There was little discussion in the Economist debate of people as people, and almost none about the extraordinarily complex issues we now face in our global physical environment.
Money and Monetarism or at least the Free Market (themes favoured by the Chicago School of economics) were the positions which, from my reading of the proceedings, ruled the day.
But when we start to disaggregate socio-economic outcomes and impacts in respect of the diverse downturn experiences of different people (gender, age, physical state, cultural background and other factors) it is very hard – in both the intellectual and the affective sense – not to go for Keynesianism.
Haves and Have Nots
Other, more austere, approaches may seem attractive in the long-run to people who won’t in the interim really go without; but surely even they recognise that the legacy of a deeply disenfranchised social hinterland – under-educated and sick children, depressed and impoverished families without focus, and all the rest – will not be an advantage in times to come?
We have to keep people in work as far as possible (preferably eco- and socially sustainable schemes), or we risk more than we may gain. It’s how the Keynesian approach is handled that really matters.
Sustainability is no longer a given
Yet most commentators continued to debate as though everything ‘except’ the economy will stay the same. It won’t; and the versatility of neo-Keynesianism surely helps us here more than the strictures of the Chicago School .
Gas /oil, carbon, water… one or more of these will become the major financial ‘currency/ies’ of the future; and my guess is that the new gold-standard currency will soon be simply knowledge.
If economics can’t take account of these factors in meaningful, rather than soul-less, ways, we’re in for a rougher ride even than needs be already.
Keynes was creative
Nor did I see much about John Maynard Keynes the person in this debate.
Wasn’t Keynes a man with a wide range of interests, a member of the Bloomsbury Group (that intellectual and progressive force in the London of the 1930s), married to the ‘Bloomsbury Ballerina‘ Lydia Lopokova, a talented Russian ballet dancer?
Wouldn’t Keynes have been worried to read about the sterile dehumanised theoretical models which continue to be proposed by the Monetarists and Free Marketeers? What if anything, he might have asked, has been learnt in the past eighty years?
Imagination in the face of multiple challenges
Only Keynesian-style approaches accommodate the changing realities of life across the globe for millions upon millions of different people (men and women in many diverse cultures, all cruelly hit by the credit crunch) who simply can’t live without jobs of some sort, because they have no resource other than their daily labour.
Surely Keynes would have urged us to use imagination as well as mathematical models, to try to resolve the dilemmas we now face.
How can we cope, all at the same time, with economic crises, climate change, famine and much else, unless we seek the application of intentionally humane and decent economic frameworks?
Decision-makers and destinies
It’s worrying that so few of the Economist’s debaters looked outside their models to the contexts in which we actually live. They are after all also generally the people in the private sector (and in right wing governments) who decide what to do with ‘their’ economies.
The Free Market folk undoubtedly believe they have incorporated human motivation and behaviours into their models. The problem seems to be that – the behaviour perhaps of economists themselves apart? – rationality has little to do with behaviour in reality; and in any case the language of the Chicago School does belies an understanding of the human condition for ‘ordinary’ people.
Perhaps – could it have been said before? – such people simply don’t count in the face of the Free Market?
Humanity and economics are inseparable
Recent experience in developing sustainable communities has seen those in regeneration forced to understand it’s not just logic which influences how people behave; we ignore their humanity and need for stakeholding and inclusion at our peril.
The same applies in the face of terrifying outcomes if we get the economics wrong. A lot more insight into the day to day realities of the human condition is required.
Read more articles about Economics Observed.