sustainability – edu blogs http://blogs.world.edu A worldwide network for education bloggers Mon, 02 May 2016 21:34:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The real story behind Brazil’s ‘greenest World Cup’ http://world.edu/the-real-story-behind-brazils-greenest-world-cup/ Mon, 07 Jul 2014 07:00:51 +0000 http://1.27027 This year’s World Cup was supposed to be the “greenest ever”, with FIFA taking measures to account for the event’s greenhouse gas emissions, including an estimated 2.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. As the biggest sporting event on the planet, FIFA is under pressure to take its sustainability measures seriously. It provides a unique opportunity […]

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This year’s World Cup was supposed to be the “greenest ever”, with FIFA taking measures to account for the event’s greenhouse gas emissions, including an estimated 2.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

As the biggest sporting event on the planet, FIFA is under pressure to take its sustainability measures seriously. It provides a unique opportunity to raise awareness among hundreds of millions of people around the world and the potential to leave a lasting low carbon legacy in the cities that host it.

Accounting for greenhouse gas emissions helps identify where carbon emissions can be reduced. But like any form of accounting it is not an exact science and it is important to be mindful of what matters, what’s the purpose and what can and should be changed.

What’s in…

The key to calculating the size of the carbon footprint of the World Cup is deciding what’s in and what’s not. FIFA applies the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Standard, which aims to guide organisations in preparing a greenhouse gas emissions inventory that represents a true and fair account of emissions in a standardised way. This allows comparisons, for example, with other sporting events.

FIFA states that its carbon accounting includes the preparation phase and staging both the Confederation Cup and World Cup. That is, FIFA does not just include the World Cup event itself, but all the events leading up to it such as the draws and associated banquets.

FIFA has committed to reporting more than the minimum expected in a greenhouse gas inventory by including what are known as “Scope 3” emissions – indirect emissions that are beyond FIFA’s control. Reporting of Scope 3 emissions is optional. FIFA’s strategy and work on this can be found here.

Scope 3 emissions, of which spectator travel makes up by far the most, were estimated to make up of 98% of the World Cup Staging phase, so when included they make emissions actually under FIFA’s control look relatively small.

…and what’s out

Despite “going beyond the minimum” with its Scope 3 measures, FIFA does not account for emissions associated with infrastructure (known as embodied carbon) arguing that they are not under FIFA’s or the Local Organising Committee’s control or direct influence.

Yet major events could have significant influence through their assessment of bidders for infrastructure projects, including on social and environmental responsibility criteria.

For example, two strategies were used to reduce embodied emissions in London’s Olympic Park. Firstly, the use of low carbon concrete mixes. And second, designing structures that used less materials.

Although not considering these matters within its purview, FIFA has included the construction and demobilisation of temporary facilities.

Without greater effort to reduce and avoid emissions, FIFA’s commitment to buying carbon offsets could be seen as a smoke screen. But FIFA is demanding that bidders now have to provide information against a number of criteria including the management and governance processes in place to ensure the integration of environmental issues in planning.

There are other options for reducing event emissions that are not revealed by FIFA’s accounting: using existing infrastructure wherever possible, minimising embodied carbon in new infrastructure (and making sure it’s used afterwards), as well as filling venues and using good public transport.

The power of sport to change the world

With increasing pressure to account for greenhouse emissions, cities like Melbourne whose economies rely on hosting events will need to invest increasingly in public transport, renewable energy sources, energy efficient accommodation and reducing emissions from waste.

As non-government organisations and others step up calls for transparency of the environmental impacts of events, cities that invest in measures to reduce those impacts are increasingly likely to be favourably viewed as venues. ClimateWorks Australia worked with the City of Melbourne on research to inform its approach to developing a road map towards a zero net emissions goal.

This identified a range of energy efficiency and other mitigation opportunities, including for large sporting facilities, which could reduce the city’s emissions by 30% by 2020. In the future such measures may make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful bid for a major event.

An independent United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report on the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa found that, while the event produced lower carbon emissions than expected, most of this was due to fewer people attending the event. The goal of the 2010 World Cup was “carbon neutral”, but funding constraints meant many planned strategies to reduce or offset emissions weren’t enacted. However, the strategies that were used did appear to work – particularly new, more energy efficient stadiums.

A key innovation of that event was an Environmental Forum comprising of representatives from government departments, host cities and international agencies, such as UNEP, as well as members of the World Cup Local Organising Committee. It’s an approach that will have a lasting influence – a legacy for hosting cities.

Sport is central to our lives and has an incredible power to change how we feel and how we behave. Indeed, under Nelson Mandela’s leadership, rugby went a long way to bringing black and white South Africans together at a critical time and in a way that nothing else could.

By using its influence as the world’s largest sporting event, FIFA could leave a lasting environmental legacy by looking beyond that which it currently measures. In this way it can become a model for sustainable planning of large international events in the future.

More information will perhaps become available in the coming months, but based on available information, it seems that FIFA is hiding behind data and carbon offsets and lacks a strategy to make a real impact.

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Learning (and unlearning) from cities http://world.edu/learning-and-unlearning-from-cities/ Fri, 21 Jun 2013 07:00:11 +0000 http://1.23764 In some ways, municipal efforts toward sustainability are outpacing academic ones. However, it’s easy to misinterpret the value and content of municipal sustainability initiatives. In fact, some of them seem intentionally to invite (encourage?) misinterpretation. Since one of my hobby horses is the need of the sustainability movement to define its terms, the first element […]

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In some ways, municipal efforts toward sustainability are outpacing academic ones. However, it’s easy to misinterpret the value and content of municipal sustainability initiatives. In fact, some of them seem intentionally to invite (encourage?) misinterpretation.
Since one of my hobby horses is the need of the sustainability movement to define its terms, the first element of any sustainability plan that I look at is the part titled “What is sustainability?” (or some reasonable facsimile thereof). And while campus sustainability plans often finesse their way past this question – most often by quoting the Brundtland Commission definition and pretty much leaving it at that – occasionally I’ve run into municipal sustainability plans that do a far worse job of answering their own question.

One example:

“A traditional and widely accepted definition of sustainability is “meeting the needs of people today without jeopardizing the flexibility of future generations to meet their needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development). However, traditional definitions are often difficult to implement ‘on the ground’. Being sustainable does not require fundamental lifestyle changes to established community values. The Sustainability Plan reflects a sustainability approach specific to the City of __________ which is guided by community values. Fundamentally, sustainability is about improving the quality of life and natural environment, while fostering economic development and wisely using and managing non-renewable resources.”

The first thing that struck me was the misquotation of the Brundtland definition, but what made my eyes pop out was the next two sentences: in a plan ostensibly all about sustainability, the second sentence lays groundwork for implementing something less and the third seems to reassure citizen readers that they won’t be required to make fundamental lifestyle changes.

My mind has always boggled at arguments that start with how big and comprehensive the sustainability problem is, but then go on to say how if we each do just a little we can make serious strides; to my mind, that math just doesn’t work. Here, we seem to have a municipal sustainability plan which has resolved that conflict by deciding that there’s no substantial problem with what we’re already doing, and so no need to change anyone’s behaviors or lifestyle very much. It may not be intellectually honest, but at least it’s logically consistent.

Were I much of an optimist, I might understand this statement as addressing a political necessity – an attempt to motivate citizens (and citizens’ groups) to get started (even slowly), on the premise that it’s harder to get a train moving from a dead stop than it is to accelerate it once it’s going forward.

As a realist, though, the prominence of “economic development” in the closing sentence of the paragraph worried me. As I read through the body of the plan, that worry turned out to be justified – far more emphasis was placed on sustaining or enlarging the level of economic activity than on sustaining or enhancing natural resources or social well-being, much less on shoring up infrastructure or restraining community sprawl.

For all of its 70-page bulk, full-color graphics and semi-reasonable strategic methodology (agree on goals, assess existing initiatives, identify gaps), this particular plan reads more like one more in a series of resource exploitation and real estate development plans than anything new, much less concerned with a planning horizon more than a generation (never mind seven generations) long.

Yet it was announced with appropriate fanfare, its adoption is trumpeted by local boosters, it probably qualifies the city in question for a certain level of federal or other subsidies – in every insubstantial way, it’s a success. The same kind of “success” we see on many campuses. The kind of success we’ll see more and more of unless we – those of us who take sustainability seriously — start defining our basic terms. First among them, “sustainability”.

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Unprecedented contribution of wind power in U.S. Midwest http://world.edu/iowa-and-south-dakota-approach-25-percent-electricity-from-wind-in-2012-unprecedented-contribution-of-wind-power-in-u-s-midwest/ Fri, 15 Mar 2013 07:00:06 +0000 http://1.22592 Defying conventional wisdom about the limits of wind power, in 2012 both Iowa and South Dakota generated close to one quarter of their electricity from wind farms. Wind power accounted for at least 10 percent of electricity generation in seven other states. Across the United States, wind power continues to strengthen its case as a […]

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Defying conventional wisdom about the limits of wind power, in 2012 both Iowa and South Dakota generated close to one quarter of their electricity from wind farms. Wind power accounted for at least 10 percent of electricity generation in seven other states. Across the United States, wind power continues to strengthen its case as a serious energy source.

Wind Power Share of Net Electricity Generation in Top 10 U.S. States, 2012

The United States now has 60,000 megawatts of wind online, enough to meet the electricity needs of more than 14 million homes. A record 13,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity was added to the country’s energy portfolio in 2012, more than any other electricity-generating technology. Wind developers installed close to two thirds of the new wind capacity in the final quarter of the year. Nearly 60 wind projects, totaling over 5,000 megawatts, came online in December alone as developers scrambled to complete construction by the end of the year to qualify for the federal wind production tax credit (PTC) that was scheduled to expire.

Net Annual Installed Wind Power Capacity Additions in the United States, 1981-2012

Texas, the U.S. leader in overall wind development, saw its wind power capacity grow to 12,200 megawatts in 2012, an increase of 18 percent over 2011. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the grid manager for 23 million customers in the state, reports that wind farms generated over 9 percent of the electricity it delivered in 2012. Only four countries outside the United States have more installed wind capacity than the state of Texas.

Cumulative Installed Wind Power Capacity in Leading Countries and U.S. States, 2012

California added more than 1,600 megawatts of wind in 2012 to reach 5,500 megawatts, overtaking Iowa for the country’s second highest overall wind capacity. State law requires utilities in California to get one third of the electricity they sell from renewable sources by 2020. Similar requirements have been adopted in each of the other top 10 states in installed wind capacity except for Oklahoma. But that state may have already exceeded its non-binding 2015 goal of 15 percent renewable electricity.

Cumulative Installed Wind Power Capacity in Leading U.S. States, 2000-2012

At the national level, wind farms generated 3.5 percent of U.S. electricity in 2012, up from 2.9 percent the year before. Compared with conventional sources, this is still a small share. But wind generation has quadrupled since 2007, growing by more than 30 percent per year. Among the five leading sources of electricity in the United States, none comes close to matching wind’s recent rate of growth. In fact, generation from nuclear and coal plants is declining at 1 percent and 5.5 percent per year, respectively. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign reports that more than 140 of the roughly 500 U.S. coal-fired power plants are slated to retire, indicating even greater drops to come in coal-derived electricity.

Annual Growth in U.S. Net Electricity Generation by Top Five Sources, 2007-2012

As part of the broader federal budget deal in early January 2013 to avert the “fiscal cliff,” the wind PTC was extended for one year and modified to allow projects that begin construction by the end of 2013 to qualify. Unfortunately, wind turbine manufacturers had seen new orders plummet in anticipation of the credit’s expiration, making it likely that new wind capacity additions in the United States in 2013 will be much less impressive than 2012—perhaps 2,000 to 3,000 megawatts. Actual wind electricity generation, on the other hand, should see a substantial boost as the wind farms completed in late 2012 spend their first full year in operation.

According to Windpower Monthly, analysts expect installations to rebound to between 5,000 and 8,000 megawatts in 2014. Looking beyond the next year or two, a coherent, long-term national energy policy—one that levels the playing field for renewables relative to conventional sources—is needed to finally leave behind the boom-bust cycle of wind development and begin to take full advantage of this vast resource.

 

Copyright © 2013 Earth Policy Institute

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Best of 2012: World forest area still on the decline http://world.edu/world-forest-area-still-on-the-decline/ Sun, 30 Dec 2012 08:00:34 +0000 http://1.19856 Forests provide many important goods, such as timber and paper. They also supply essential services—for example, they filter water, control water runoff, protect soil, regulate climate, cycle and store nutrients, and provide habitat for countless animal species and space for recreation. Forests cover 31 percent of the world’s land surface, just over 4 billion hectares. […]

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Forests provide many important goods, such as timber and paper. They also supply essential services—for example, they filter water, control water runoff, protect soil, regulate climate, cycle and store nutrients, and provide habitat for countless animal species and space for recreation.

Forests cover 31 percent of the world’s land surface, just over 4 billion hectares. (One hectare = 2.47 acres.) This is down from the pre-industrial area of 5.9 billion hectares. According to data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, deforestation was at its highest rate in the 1990s, when each year the world lost on average 16 million hectares of forest—roughly the size of the state of Michigan. At the same time, forest area expanded in some places, either through planting or natural processes, bringing the global net loss of forest to 8.3 million hectares per year. In the first decade of this century, the rate of deforestation was slightly lower, but still, a disturbingly high 13 million hectares were destroyed annually. As forest expansion remained stable, the global net forest loss between 2000 and 2010 was 5.2 million hectares per year. (See data.)

World Forest Cover, 1990-2010

Global rates of deforestation do not capture the full damage done to the world’s forests. Forest degradation from selective logging, road construction, climate change, or other means compromises the health of remaining forests. Each year the world has less forested area, and the forests that remain are of lower quality. For example, replacing natural old-growth forests with a monoculture of an exotic species greatly reduces biodiversity.

The spread of planted forests has been accelerating, rising from an expansion of 3.7 million hectares annually in the 1990s to 4.9 million hectares annually the following decade. Planted forests now cover some 264 million hectares, comprising nearly 7 percent of total forest area. Plantations now have the potential to produce an estimated 1.2 billion cubic meters of industrial wood each year, about two thirds of current global wood production. Where forests have already been cleared, plantations can alleviate the pressure on standing forests.

Forests are primarily threatened by land clearing for agriculture and pasture and by harvesting wood for fuel or industrial uses. In Brazil—which has lost 55 million hectares since 1990, an area three fourths the size of Texas—land clearing for farms and ranches is the big driver. Home to the Amazon rainforest, Brazil contains 13 percent of the world’s forested area, second only to Russia’s 20 percent. Between 2000 and 2010, Brazil lost 2.6 million hectares of forest each year, more than any other country. Brazil is trying to reduce deforestation rates 80 percent from the 1996–2005 average by 2020 and has in fact seen a large drop in deforestation in recent years. But rising beef, corn, and soybean prices are likely to pressure the government to weaken its forest protection, further threatening the world’s largest rainforest.

Two other South American countries, Bolivia and Venezuela, have also felled large areas of trees, making South America the region with the largest forest loss between 2000 and 2010. The continent lost 40 million hectares of forest during that period.

Africa also suffers from extensive deforestation, having lost 34 million hectares from 2000 to 2010. Firewood harvesting and charcoal production are important drivers. Four sub-Saharan nations—Nigeria, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo—each cleared more than 300,000 hectares per year.

In contrast to South America, Asia has changed its trajectory from net forest loss in the 1990s to net forest expansion in the following decade, with China leading the growth in planted forests. After disastrous flooding in 1998, China realized the tremendous flood control and soil protection benefits of intact forests, leading it to ban logging in key river basins and to begin planting trees at a rapid rate.

China’s heavy planting can disguise the trends elsewhere in the region, however. As the world’s largest processor of wood products, China imports both legally and illegally logged timber, driving deforestation in other countries. Indonesia, where 82 percent of the land area was covered by lush forests in the 1960s, has been a prime target. Today less than half of that country is forested, with some 24 million hectares of forest lost between 1990 and 2010. The good news is that the deforestation rate of 1.9 million hectares per year in the 1990s fell to 500,000 hectares per year during the most recent decade.

Another large driver of deforestation in Indonesia is palm oil production; the country accounts for almost half of the global output of this product. Expansion of oil palm, which is largely planted on lands that have been logged or burned, threatens the remaining forests. To assess this risk and limit the country’s contribution to global warming from land use change, Indonesia instituted a two-year moratorium in May 2011 on new licenses to convert primary forests to oil palm or other uses. The temporary ban is meant to provide time for the government to devise a way to double palm oil production by 2020 from 2009 levels while protecting its forests. The effectiveness of this ban remains to be seen, considering the ambitiousness of the production goal and the government’s ongoing struggle to limit illegal logging.

Mexico is another country where the government is taking on deforestation. In the 1990s Mexico had the seventh highest rate of deforestation in the world. Recent efforts to curb deforestation and encourage plantations halved the rate of forest loss from 400,000 hectares of forest per year in the 1990s to 200,000 hectares per year in the 2000s. In Mexico and Central America combined, annual deforestation losses have shrunk from 700,000 hectares to 400,000 hectares.

Across the globe, Australia moved in the opposite direction, switching from a net forest gain in the 1990s to a net forest loss in the following decade. Australia’s persistent drought from 2002 to 2010 was double trouble for its forests: the drought restricted forest regrowth while simultaneously increasing fire risk. Wildfires, stoked by extended drought and high temperatures, burned millions of hectares of forest in Australia. Just one megafire on February 7, 2009, now known as “Black Saturday,” burned over 400,000 hectares—an area the size of the state of Rhode Island.

Wildfires, in conjunction with insect outbreaks, have also altered Canada’s forests. Around the turn of the 21st century, these disturbances released large amounts of carbon to the atmosphere, possibly transforming Canada’s boreal forests from a carbon sink pulling carbon dioxide from the air and storing it, to a carbon source. Carbon dioxide traps heat within the earth’s atmosphere, so whether Canada’s 310 million hectares of forests—the third most of any country—is a carbon source or sink can have large implications for future climate change.

The United States added a net 7.7 million hectares of trees between 1990 and 2010, around 380,000 hectares per year. Although the United States has experienced impressive forest regeneration within its own borders, it still contributes to deforestation as an importer of forest products—some $20 billion worth in 2011. The case in Europe is similar, where 2011 imports of forest products totaled $110 billion. Led by Spain, Italy, France, Norway, and Sweden, this region added a net 16 million hectares of forested area from 1990 to 2010.

Not all trees, nor all forests, are alike. Trees added in industrial countries in temperate zones, with different ecological attributes, cannot replace the bounty of biodiversity lost in tropical forests of developing countries. Global forest protection is a global effort.

Protection requires more than labeling an area of forest as off-limits to logging. By reducing consumption of paper and wood products, recycling paper, reclaiming wood, legally sourcing wood from sustainable plantations, finding substitutes for firewood, and stabilizing population by accelerating the shift to smaller families, our generation can help protect forests for future ones.

# # #

Data and additional resources at www.earth-policy.org.

Media:
Reah Janise Kauffman
Email: rjk@earthpolicy.org
Tel: 202.496.9290 ext. 12

Research:
Emily Adams
Email: eadams@earthpolicy.org
Tel: 202.496.9290 ext. 16

Earth Policy Institute
1350 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Suite 403
Washington, DC 20036
http://www.earth-policy.org

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Reflections on AASHE 2012 http://world.edu/reflections-on-aashe-2012/ Wed, 24 Oct 2012 07:00:53 +0000 http://1.20586 I spent last week getting to, attending, and then getting back from this year’s AASHE conference in Los Angeles. As I headed west, I had planned to post pretty much every day, giving my reactions to things I’d experienced at the conference. But as reality overcame expectation, I found I didn’t really have anything to […]

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I spent last week getting to, attending, and then getting back from this year’s AASHE conference in Los Angeles. As I headed west, I had planned to post pretty much every day, giving my reactions to things I’d experienced at the conference. But as reality overcame expectation, I found I didn’t really have anything to say on a daily basis. Indeed, it took me a while to form an opinion on the conference which — like all conferences everywhere, it seems — offered some interesting moments within a generally unremarkable context.

Speaking of context, let me clarify my personal one. Recently, I screened a speculative documentary about the impacts of climate change for a bunch of students. It looked at how local natural environmental events — storms, floods, droughts, fires, species loss, etc. — will likely be affected as global temperatures rise. Originally produced to air on TV, it took a moderately apocalyptic tone during the presentation of predicted outcomes, but then dialed that back a lot in the short final section about actions which might help avert the worst scenarios presented.

The students expressed an entirely predictable level of concern, verging on fear, after the screening. Pressed, they also described feeling effectively powerless to do anything about the problems described. That feeling of powerlessness was also predictable, since that’s what similar groups of students (and individuals of all ilks) have expressed after seeing similar presentations. In this case, the powerlessness may have been somewhat amplified because this film — perhaps more egregiously than some others — presented only “solutions” which were either way too small to be seen as addressing a problem of the scale which had just been portrayed or way too science-fiction to bet society’s future upon. Addressing the issues raised in appropriate scale — identifying the practices which are at the heart of the problem, identifying the social elements (priorities and active parties) promoting those practices, and proposing societal-scale political/economic changes to create a new set of priorities (and probably a new set of agents) — not only wasn’t mentioned, it was scrupulously not even hinted at.

I pointed out to the audience that the reticence of the film-makers to focus on necessary societal change was hardly an accident. Since their target market was commercial TV, which is controlled (pretty much by definition) by corporate decision-makers, they didn’t want to bite the hand that they hoped would feed them. Pointing the finger of blame at fossil fuel companies (which often sponsor insipid environmentally-focused programming as part of their green-washing efforts) seemed unlikely to please many broadcast executives. Raising awareness that our current globalized, corporate-dominated, economically-driven social model has led to behaviors that got us into this mess, and seems entirely unlikely to lead to future behaviors which will help get us out of it, seemed even more unlikely to curry favor with those broadcast executives who are themselves employed by subsidiaries of some of the largest, most dominant global corporations. If the medium is the message, then whoever owns the media owns the messages, pays the pipers, calls the tunes.

I guess my expectations for the AASHE 2012 conference should have been tempered by a similar set of considerations. After all, the theme of the conference was “Investing in the Future” — a clearly business-toned message. Conference sponsors included Toyota (maker of the Prius, but also of the Sequoia SUV), Waste Management and NelNet. Toyota and WM I could kind of understand; a portion of the goods/services each offers is marketed in whole or in part on the basis of reducing environmental impacts. But NelNet? They’re in the student loan business. A business which probably wouldn’t exist — and certainly wouldn’t exist in anything like its current form — if our model for higher education in this country were anything close to sustainable. Which couldn’t survive in the absence of the implicit presumption that education is a private good measured by the increased earnings stream (and the increased product consumption it enables) accruing to college/university graduates. A business whose entire existence is directly tied to patterns of consumption and accumulative aspiration that can’t be sustained on the one planet in the universe known to support life.

Like TV programs about environmental issues, national conferences (primarily) about environmental issues have to shape themselves so as not to be too irritating to corporate funders. And the folks who present at such conferences earn their daily bread (as a rule) working at institutions that can’t afford to be too irritating to large corporate donors and the state politicians to whose campaigns major corporations (this year more than ever before) contribute.

I attended only conference sessions which described themselves as “advanced”. (There were quite a few of these, so I missed more than I was able to attend.) My hope was that at least a couple of them would take a step back from mainstream campus sustainability practices; look at why we’re doing what we’re doing; look at why we’re not doing what we’re not doing; form explicit linkages between at least some dominant economic and political practices and the social, economic and environmental problems which result from them; and at least begin to frame a set of educational goals which might lead us toward a more sustainable future — a future worth investing in the creation of.

For me, at least, that didn’t happen. Perhaps, in that sort of a venue, it never can.

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What we really care about, and how to lift sustainability’s real appeal http://world.edu/what-we-really-care-about-and-how-to-lift-sustainabilitys-real-appeal/ Thu, 12 Jul 2012 07:01:19 +0000 http://1.19279 New polls frequently announce that a significant proportion of the population is concerned about an issue or willing to sacrifice for a cause, from environmental sustainability to Third World debt. These polls create the sense that there is a public mandate for action on these issues – one that businesses and governments need to follow. […]

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New polls frequently announce that a significant proportion of the population is concerned about an issue or willing to sacrifice for a cause, from environmental sustainability to Third World debt. These polls create the sense that there is a public mandate for action on these issues – one that businesses and governments need to follow. However, standard polls don’t accurately measure people’s true beliefs.

Polls fail for two reasons

First, many issues are subject to what’s called social response bias. Vague questions about an issue will generally elicit responses that reflect what the respondent believes is seen positively by society or the surveying organization.

Second, there is no cost to responding to a poll. Answering “I am concerned” forces no real cognitive choice on the individual. There is no consequence associated with the opinion.

Case in point: surveys always indicated that Australians were very concerned about the environment. But after the government proposed a carbon tax, support for this environmental issue quickly declined. Suddenly, people realised that their support had consequences.

My colleagues and I developed a polling methodology that makes consequences real and gets at people’s true beliefs. Our approach assesses the relative value that people place on different issues, forcing individuals to make realistic tradeoffs. In other words, rather than being asked their opinion of an issue generally, individuals have to choose among issues in a way that reveals what truly matters when something must be taken off the table.

We have polled almost 10,000 people in Australia, Germany, the UK, and the US. We’ve found basically identical results across countries. Our findings for Australia are below.

This graph outlines the relative issue salience, or importance, for Australians of 16 general categories of social, economic and political issues (underlying these categories are 113 individual issues). The graph is read as indicating the likelihood (from 0% to 100%) that when an item appears it is considered to be salient (the ratio of the numbers indicates the odds that one issue dominates another).

This graph outlines the relative issue salience, or importance, for Australians of 16 general categories of social, economic and political issues (underlying these categories are 113 individual issues). The graph is read as indicating the likelihood (from 0% to 100%) that when an item appears it is considered to be salient (the ratio of the numbers indicates the odds that one issue dominates another).



Our findings and what they mean for sustainability

We find proximity matters: people care about issues close to their daily lives. These issues of high concern include food and health, crime and public safety, access to services, equality of opportunity, and individual economic well-being. Issues that seem more distant are lower priority.

For those of us focused on sustainability, the results are reason for concern. Social and environmental sustainability are among the lower priority issues, especially when they are framed as global rather than local. In addition, people’s concern for environmental sustainability has declined dramatically over the last five years. In 2007, environmental sustainability was 4th out of 16 issues in terms of level of concern. In 2011, it was 8th out of 16 issues.

These trends are the same in the other countries we studied. A minor difference is that Americans are slightly less environmentally concerned than Australians, and Germans are slightly more concerned, with the UK in between.

It’s not clear why environmental concern is decreasing in the countries studied, although we do know the change is not related solely to the global financial crisis. It is conceivable that the high concern in 2007, the first year we studied, was unusual. In 2007, Al Gore won the Nobel Prize and an Oscar for his climate-change work; the year was a public relations watershed for the environmental movement. A real possibility is that the lower results in 2011 represent a more realistic view of people’s long-term values.

What is clear is that the global environmental movement is facing an uphill battle to keep vital sustainability issues on the agenda, against issues that appear more relevant to the individual members of our societies.

The lesson for sustainability advocates is that they need to make environmental issues as relevant to people as things like “access to medicine” or “freedom from discrimination.” Individuals will prioritise sustainability issues if they see their relevance to everyday life. With climate change, for example, people care about record-heat locally – more than they do about the fate of Arctic polar bears. They care about potential toxins in household products more than international pollution treaties. Companies should be alert to emphasising the ways that sustainability issues can hit home.

Advocates should be wary of speaking in grand terms – as with, for example, Greenpeace’s recent declaration that it is moving to a “war footing” to protect the world’s oceans. Unfortunately, ordinary people are motivated to act, not by a higher noble cause, but when they feel their basic rights and livelihood, and that of those around them, are affected.

More about our research

Our first report examines the results from over 3,000 people in Australia in 2007 and 2011. The full report is available for download here. The reports on the US, Germany and UK will be available beginning in September 2012.

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A glimpse of Africa’s future? Botswana’s conundrum of spectacular growth with hunger http://world.edu/a-glimpse-of-africas-future-botswanas-conundrum-of-spectacular-growth-with-hunger/ Mon, 21 May 2012 20:34:48 +0000 http://1.18544 GABORONE, BOTSWANA. You wouldn’t know there’s a food crisis in Botswana, one of Africa’s wealthiest and most stable countries, because it’s a silent one. This is not the doom and gloom Africa that we often hear sensationalized in the media as a place of coups, famines and corruption. No, Botswana is a model African state […]

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GABORONE, BOTSWANA. You wouldn’t know there’s a food crisis in Botswana, one of Africa’s wealthiest and most stable countries, because it’s a silent one. This is not the doom and gloom Africa that we often hear sensationalized in the media as a place of coups, famines and corruption. No, Botswana is a model African state which has lived carefully within its means, had democratically elected governments since independence, and is the world’s leading exporter of precious diamonds. Yet food prices are up here dramatically since last year and the rural and urban poor are hurting badly. Unless policymakers rethink their strategies on agriculture and development, ‘growth with hunger’ could be the rest of continent’s conundrum in 25 years time.

While the global economy struggles with its economic malaise, Africa’s resource rich economies continue to grow. In some regards, Botswana is a shining example of successful resource-financed development. It has carefully husbanded a valuable natural resource, diamonds, and invested the proceeds in infrastructure development and education. Botswana’s literacy rate of 86% is one of the highest in the world, and its road and hospital infrastructure is admirable. Its government is ranked as one of the least corrupt by Transparency International, it exports high quality, grass-fed beef and its high-end eco-tourism business is booming.

Yet, Botswana imports 90% of its food which has made it particularly vulnerable to rising global food prices. Last year, global food prices were the highest on average at any time since they began to be systematically recorded in 1990. Following a slight decline, prices are now rising again and are higher than they were in 2008 when they resulted in a good deal of social unrest.

Despite consistent growth, the problem is that Botswana also has one of the most inequitable income distributions in the world, second only to Namibia. As such, while Botswana is a prosperous middle income country, the median per capita household income in the capital city, Gaborone, is only $2 per day. With two-thirds of the city’s population spending nearly half its income on food, rising food prices present a particular problem. Recent surveys suggest that 63% of households in the capital are severely food insecure, and 21% of households in rural areas sometimes go for a day without eating.

Botswana’s problems could be those of the continent in the next 25 years if we stay on the current development trajectory. Botswana, while largely rural at independence in 1966, has been urbanizing at a phenomenal rate and now has 60% of its population residing in cities and towns. Although Botswana is ahead of its neighbors on this front, the continent as a whole is the most rapidly urbanizing region in the world.

While Botswana has anemic crop production (producing only 10% of its food), the poor are disproportionately dependent on this activity. Even the urban poor often depend on food shared with them by relatives in the rural areas.

It has been argued that it makes no sense for Botswana to try to produce more food. It’s a semi-arid country with limited water resources and rainfall is becoming even more erratic because of climate change. Its farmers can’t compete with large scale commercial agriculturalists in neighboring South Africa which supplies the majority of Botswana’s food. Farming is also under-remunerated because of the relatively strong Botswana currency due to diamond exports – which generally makes imports less expensive.

The economically rational thing for Botswana to do is simply exchange its revenues from diamonds, cattle and high-end ecotourism for food. And Botswana does have ample amounts of food, it’s just increasingly expensive. Therein lies the problem for this deeply unequal society. Climate change, the changing macroeconomic structure of the country, and liberalized food markets are killing subsistence, dryland agriculture, the long time safety net of the poor. No amount of good governance and welfare payments to the poor can seem to solve the resulting hunger if the price of imported food continues to rise.

In many ways, Botswana’s present condition could be a foreshadowing of the continent in 25 years time if the region assiduously follows the advice of development practitioners. This should be a rosy picture. Well run, corruption free governments that judiciously manage export-based economies emphasizing commodities for which they have a comparative advantage (gold, diamonds, oil, natural gas, platinum). In those areas of the continent not overly affected by climate change, agriculture adopts the full suite of New Green Revolution technologies (hybrid seeds, pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation) and large commercial farms produce the majority of food for significant urban populations.

But here’s the rub. Resource-based economies are often undiversified and produce deep inequalities. Furthermore, high-input agriculture, while good at producing lots of food, is also heavily dependent on fossil fuel energy and only practiced by wealthy farmers. As energy prices rise, so does the cost of food production. And the combination of expensive food and deepening inequality means that hunger will persist even if Africa’s leaders do everything ‘right.’

An Africa free of hunger requires a completely different approach to development. It means a move away from a productionist-based approach to agriculture (more is not always better), to thinking about farming as a livelihood that can sustain a segment of the population, provide fuller employment, and buffer people from fluctuating global market conditions. African economies must also aggressively seek to diversify beyond resource exports. This will likely mean a return to some protectionism, and greater regional cooperation, so that new industries may be established. While diversity may be inefficient, it often produces more resilient economies that offer greater employment and a better distribution of wealth.

William G. Moseley is a professor of geography at Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN USA, and currently visiting scholar in the Department of Environmental Science at the University of Botswana, Gaborone.

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Why Jim Young Kim was the more radical choice for World Bank President http://world.edu/why-jim-young-kim-was-the-more-radical-choice-for-world-bank-president/ Tue, 01 May 2012 20:22:45 +0000 http://1.18255 GABORONE, BOTSWANA. While I am an American, I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment that it is inappropriate for the United States to have a strangle hold on the World Bank Presidency. I also sympathize with the frustrations of many Africans that one of their own, highly qualified Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was not […]

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GABORONE, BOTSWANA. While I am an American, I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment that it is inappropriate for the United States to have a strangle hold on the World Bank Presidency. I also sympathize with the frustrations of many Africans that one of their own, highly qualified Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was not selected for the post. That said, the Korean-American nominee, Dr. Jim Young Kim, was the more radical choice in this instance.

Other than Jim Young Kim, the other two leading nominees for the post of World Bank President, Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former Colombian Finance Minister Jose Antonio Ocampo, were both economists. Having worked for the World Bank for a short time in the early 1990s (the heyday of structural adjustment), I quickly came to learn that this was an institution dominated by economists. The supremacy of economic thinking within the World Bank has been reflected in its leadership. In the near 70 year history of the institution, its presidents have almost always been economists, bankers or lawyers. The second most powerful person at the Bank is the Chief Economist which, as the name suggests, is always an economist.

The Need for Disciplinary Pluralism in Development Institutions
While I have nothing against economists, and the World Bank is a ‘Bank”, it is also a development institution. As such, the world’s most powerful development agency has often suffered from rather reductionist and narrow thinking on its approaches to poverty alleviation and improving human welfare. It is for this reason that JimYoung Kim, who holds a PhD in anthropology and is trained as a medical doctor, is the really ground breaking choice for the presidency of the World Bank.

While Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Jose Antonio Ocampo would have brought the perspective of those born and raised in the Global South, their training as economists would have allowed them to fit in easily with the economistic framing of development questions which pervades at the Bank. While it would have been a symbolic victory for the world had one of them won, a highly doubt this would have produced a significant shift in the approach of the institution.

As medical doctor and an anthropologist who has a long history of working on development questions (from the grass roots to the policy level), Jim Young Kim is much more likely to question the status quo thinking at the World Bank and to bring a fresh perspective to the many development questions this institution seeks to tackle. It is Kim’s different disciplinary perspective which is truly revolutionary because it could de- stabilize the dominance of economics on development policy thinking in the Anglo-American world.

Of course, it is also not lost on me that Obama’s father was an African economist while his mother was a development anthropologist who long worked in Asia. It’s anyone’s guess, but I’ve got to believe that Obama would have absorbed some of his mother’s thinking on development questions, and the need for greater disciplinary pluralism in the world’s major development institutions.

The President’s father may yet win round two of this affair as a second term Barack Obama facing lower election stakes, and increasing world pressure, will be much more open to making compromises on US hegemony in world affairs.

The Need for Formal Reform of the Selection Process
Moving forward, a necessary and important step will be formal reform of the way presidents are selected at the IMF and World Bank (breaking the European lock on the IMF and the American grip on the World Bank). Doing this well in advance of the next round of appointments will help clearly separate debates about what has been an inherently unfair selection process from discussions about the merits of individual candidates.

William G. Moseley is Professor of Geography at Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN USA and, currently, Visiting Scholar in the Department of Environmental Science, University of Botswana, Gaborone.

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Green Corporations… Can you trust them? http://world.edu/green-corporations-can-you-trust-them/ Sat, 21 Apr 2012 20:39:54 +0000 http://1.18052 Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Sprint, KFC, Shell, Chase, Ford, Staples, CVS and the long list goes on. These larger than life brands immediately conjure up images and thoughts of our past experiences that have either helped or hurt these companies perception regarding sustainability. Of the ten companies above, 100% are doing something around sustainability issues related […]

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Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Sprint, KFC, Shell, Chase, Ford, Staples, CVS and the long list goes on. These larger than life brands immediately conjure up images and thoughts of our past experiences that have either helped or hurt these companies perception regarding sustainability.

Of the ten companies above, 100% are doing something around sustainability issues related to their respective industries. Some are improving energy, some reducing waste, some have take-back programs, some are are even developing products for the eco-conscious consumer. Whatever the companies are doing, a larger issue is hiding just under the surface… trust!

We have all felt and witnessed corporate green-washing, but is this simply the beginning of the change process, we all have to start somewhere, right? Corporate sustainability and CSR are poised to be the next evolution of business trends, similar to how IT changed the game. How can we know that these companies are sincere, committed and really able to transform their impact? Should we care or shop elsewhere?

A tougher issue many of us already know, is that the base product lines of these companies don’t exactly help people or the planet. There are health studies, insider videos, user testimonials, advocacy groups and other opposing groups asking us quite directly ‘not’ to support some of these companies. Are these really the opposite of the shop local movement, considering others in our community are employed there?

So, what’s a good socially responsible citizen to do? More over, what is a newly socially responsible corporation to do, when they have the realities of their industry and various product lines to transform?

Here is a fast recap of just some of the eco-positive moves BIG companies are undertaking:
1. CVS is rewarding consumers for bringing reusable bags with their Green Bag Tags
2. Sprint has a new line of eco-friendly mobile phones with less environmental impact.
3. Ford is releasing an electric vehicle on the way called the Focus Electric.
4. Staples is directly crediting shoppers for taking back used ink cartridges.
5. KFC has released the first ever reusable side container in the fast food industry (just don’t tell the SF Soup Company)

Hopefully this corporate sustainability trend will continue and grow until the “S” word is removed and sustainability is just part of doing good business, that serves the triple bottom line. I guess we will have to call this LOHA then?

If you want to read more about what the world’s largest companies are doing please pop over to triplepundit.com and do a search for any company. Some news is positive, some negative and some down right controversial, but all of it interesting and forces us to question our beliefs.

Jared Brick is completing his MBA in Sustainable Management at the Presidio Graduate School in SF. He is working on creating the first ever reusables tracking platform, rewarding consumers everywhere in their retail experiences.

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Pesticide tied to bee colony collapse http://world.edu/pesticide-tied-to-bee-colony-collapse/ Wed, 11 Apr 2012 19:44:09 +0000 http://1.17814 The likely culprit in sharp worldwide declines in honeybee colonies since 2006 is imidacloprid, one of the most widely used pesticides, according to a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The authors, led by Alex Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology in the Department of Environmental Health, write that the […]

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“The significance of bees to agriculture cannot be underestimated,” says Alex Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology. “And it apparently doesn’t take much of the pesticide to affect the bees. Our experiment included pesticide amounts below what is normally present in the environment.”

“The significance of bees to agriculture cannot be underestimated,” says Alex Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology. “And it apparently doesn’t take much of the pesticide to affect the bees. Our experiment included pesticide amounts below what is normally present in the environment.”

The likely culprit in sharp worldwide declines in honeybee colonies since 2006 is imidacloprid, one of the most widely used pesticides, according to a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

The authors, led by Alex Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology in the Department of Environmental Health, write that the new research provides “convincing evidence” of the link between imidacloprid and the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), in which adult bees abandon their hives.

The study will appear in the June issue of the Bulletin of Insectology.

“The significance of bees to agriculture cannot be underestimated,” says Lu. “And it apparently doesn’t take much of the pesticide to affect the bees. Our experiment included pesticide amounts below what is normally present in the environment.”

Pinpointing the cause of the problem is crucial because bees — beyond producing honey — are prime pollinators of roughly one-third of the crop species in the United States, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and livestock feed such as alfalfa and clover. Massive loss of honeybees could result in billions of dollars in agricultural losses, experts estimate.

Lu and his co-authors hypothesized that the uptick in CCD resulted from the presence of imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid introduced in the early 1990s. Bees can be exposed in two ways: through nectar from plants or through high-fructose corn syrup beekeepers use to feed their bees. (Since most U.S.-grown corn has been treated with imidacloprid, it’s also found in corn syrup.)

In the summer of 2010, the researchers conducted an in situ study in Worcester County aimed at replicating how imidacloprid may have caused the CCD outbreak. Over a 23-week period, they monitored bees in four different bee yards; each yard had four hives treated with different levels of imidacloprid and one control hive. After 12 weeks of imidacloprid dosing, all the bees were alive. But after 23 weeks, 15 of the 16 imidacloprid-treated hives had perished. Those exposed to the highest levels of the pesticide died first.

The characteristics of the dead hives were consistent with CCD, said Lu; the hives were empty except for food stores, some pollen, and young bees, with few dead bees nearby. When other conditions cause hive collapse — such as disease or pests — many dead bees are typically found inside and outside the affected hives.

Strikingly, said Lu, it took only low levels of imidacloprid to cause hive collapse — less than what is typically used in crops or in areas where bees forage.

Scientists, policymakers, farmers, and beekeepers, alarmed at the sudden losses of between 30 percent and 90 percent of honeybee colonies since 2006, have posed numerous theories as to the cause of the collapse, including pests, disease, pesticides, migratory beekeeping, or some combination of these factors.

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